Review Summary: An exhilarating slab of infectious heavy rock.
It’s been particularly interesting to watch the development of Maryland-based Lionize over the past decade. Formed by singer and guitarist Nate Bergman, keyboardist Chris Brooks, and bass player Henry Upton, Lionize have gone from being a volatile funk band on their debut, through refined reggae purveyors on Space Pope And The Glass Machine
(2008), to a unique hard rock outfit that released two full-length albums in 2011. The second of which Superczar And The Vulture
paired their genre-bending tendencies with remarkably potent, often poignant songwriting that was augmented by the contribution from Streetlight Manifesto's trumpet team to scintillating effect. This stimulating fusion of groove-heavy hard rock and dark reggae resulted in Lionize's magnum opus which set them up for a helluva future of their own.
Since Lionize have always been endorsed by Clutch, the band's new offering Jetpack Soundtrack
is set to be released by these stoner rock titans' own record label. Additionally, Clutch's drummer Jean-Paul Gaster shares production duties with Machine whose modern approach was paramount to Earth Rocker
's resounding triumph last year. Concise, diverse songwriting is the name of the game regardless of the genre these days, and Jetpack Soundtrack
has this in spades. It's clearly the group's most streamlined and efficient record that adroitly integrates funk-echoing deep grooves with irresistible hooks. The routinely excellent Nate Bergman strikes a fine balance between the bravado of heavy rock and sheer soulfulness in his multifaceted vocal delivery, often teaming up with Chris Brooks to create infectious harmonies. Their newly found inclination for vocal interplay lends the title track a blast-off chorus, but also glistens through 'Lazarus Style,' an absolute stunner of a song that ideally encapsulates the record's hook-centric, no-frills aesthetic.
The playing on Jetpack Soundtrack
is intuitive and totally indicative of musicians who have worked together for a long period of time. Tight rhythms and sturdy riffs combined with imaginative Hammond Organ parts make for a nuanced sound that hardly ever fails to draw in the listener. The intention to simplify the structure of songs in order to gain in clarity is especially commendable on such up-tempo heavy rockers as 'Evolve' and 'Reality Check' which manage to sound exhilarating on the grounds of top-notch musicality and fluid shifts through the gears. The sole drawback of this approach is that the dark reggae influence has been significantly toned down, majorly highlighting only an exquisite final cut. At once bouncy and ominous, 'Sea Of Tranquility' is a rare beast of a track that sees Lionize experimenting with overdubs and foreboding soundscapes to evoke a chilled-out atmosphere. More moments like that would certainly expand the album's sonic palette, blurring its sometimes striking stylistic kinship with Clutch's output.
Similarly to some of the outfit's previous endeavors, Jetpack Soundtrack
revolves around outer space themes which are not only reflected in music, but also in metaphorical sci-fi lyrics. The cinematic 'Intro' effectively signals what's going to come with its spooky keys juxtaposed with grandiose guitar stabs. 'Electric Reckoning' should be included in the soundtrack for a space odyssey (or a reboot of Pixar's The Incredibles
) as the number's airy passages, built around a robotic use of keys and nimble guitar soloing, accompany the stories of space invasions. The Southern rock stomp of 'Replaced By Machines' tackles the anxiety connected with advanced technology, while 'Amazing Science Facts' reflects on conspiracy theories in its engrossing rapped verses. These timely subjects have been previously covered in rock music many a time, yet Lionize have an uncanny knack for embellishing them with great vitality and humor. The clever lyricism adds gravitas to the space rock vibe the album emanates.
The fifth full-length release from Lionize is not a massive leap from what the group composed before, nor was such vaulting progression needed. Their novel formula, which was already impeccably realized on Superczar And The Vulture
, hasn't overstayed its welcome yet. Even though Jetpack Soundtrack
may not exactly match the burning ambition of its phenomenal predecessor, the outfit have come up with their most widely appealing collection of songs thus far. Providing a concise snapshot of what Lionize are about, the album is also a perfect place to start for anyone who's not familiar with the trio's ingenious take on heavy rock.