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Best User Reviews: February 2023

Our first installment after the new wave of promotions! The following user write-ups stood out to us this past month -- congrats to all included below! This also seems like a good time to reiterate what criteria needs to be met to make a list like this. This series looks for writers focusing on relatively new albums (usually within 3-4 months of release date, although I try to be lenient), and is limited to USERS (if you are a contrib or staff, we already know about your work!) who are exhibiting writing that's up-to-par or better. If you have any questions about why your piece wasn't included, feel free to shoutbox me!
The Artist in the Ambulance (Revisited)

"Not only can they faithfully recreate the songs from The Artist in the Ambulance, but in a lot of ways they sound even better here. Thanks to a more organic sound and a mix that provides more separation and clarity, the riffs are fatter, the bass features prominently, and the drums hit harder. Despite a mostly faithful recreation, there are subtle musical changes throughout the songs but most of them are of the ‘blink and you miss them’ variety. At best they make the songs sound a little more fleshed out, and at worse they’re simply there but don’t detract from the quality." --TerraIncognita
The Wonders Still Awaiting

"One leaves this album feeling like they were part of a special event. It’s not simply the closing epic (Asteria) that produces this swelling of accomplishment, it is the entire experience. Instrumentally, the album is a gold mine, with the drummer giving the performance of a lifetime. The production is immaculate, and the new lead singer is absolutely riveting. This is easily one of Xandria’s best albums, and if that isn’t a selling point I don’t know what is." --pizzamachine
3Caroline Polachek
Desire, I Want To Turn Into You

"Everything feels so delicately placed on this record, both in sound and lyrics. Some might find the sheen a little too shiny, a little too mechanical, I imagine. To that I say - listen to this woman's voice. It is so smooth and pitch perfect, it doesn’t really deserve anything but the best of the best in terms of production. And Danny L. Harle, bless him, somehow makes this record very rarely feel overwhelming. The closest it gets has to be the opener, but that itself is supposed to be the wild statement piece, the taste of everything to come. It gets to be like that. Sophie devotional I Believe also approaches a too-full roundhouse of sound with its big synth stabs in the chorus but the dialed back verses keep the airy sound of the album intact." --gryndstone
Homicidal Ecstasy

"There’s a lot more energy in the riffs while still retaining their caveman brutishness. Special praise goes to drummer Cody Davidson for his flexibility around the kit, a highlight being the drum solo to “Proclamation of the Frail” where spry hi hat hits dance around oozing, chugging guitars. While I wish the guitar playing was more adventurous (the 45 minute runtime doesn’t help matters), the quartet flow through lumbering grooves effortlessly buoyed by appropriately disgusting production. In fact, that straightforward sense of groove is probably why they’ve caught on with the hardcore crowd as much as they have, enough to where they’ve enlisted Jesus Piece vocalist Aaron Heard to provide a guest verse on “Face Ripped Off”." --DavidYowi
Time's Arrow

"Time’s Arrow sees the band lean further into the dream pop influences first prominently observed in Gravity the Seducer, although it’s the more conventional songwriting to be found in tracks like City of Angels and Faces which immediately catches the ear, each feeling not so far removed from the best material that consensus magnum opus Witching Hour had to offer. The drive, directness and sheer presence to be found within what are otherwise basic song structures align perfectly with Ladytron’s alchemistical track record of polishing common-as-copper verse-chorus pop progressions into regal synth gold. The grand and enchanting Misery Remember Me meanwhile speaks positively to the potential of their gradual shift in sound over recent years with its larger-than-life anthemic chorus, oscillating between the delicate and euphoric amidst its majestic soundscape." --Sinternet
6Kali Malone
Does Spring Hide Its Joy

"But the more I listen to Does Spring Hide Its Joy, the more impressed I am with the sheer focus and craft that must have gone into it, the hypnosis it invites despite the constant sense of anxiety and anticipation that underlies it all, because, again, this music that seems so simple and static is in fact constantly changing; listening to this, I always think anything could happen at any moment. Even if many of my listens have been in the background while going about other tasks, it’s always something of a draining experience. Fortunately, since each track is a unique performance of the concept, they play well individually, and when strung together, at the very least there are brief moments of release between them, allowing a brief respite to catch my breath." --theBoneyKing

"The only real moment of the record which makes a case for itself to appear in your 2023 playlists is the sole pop banger "Mad at Me", a fleeting moment in which Samia brings us that youthful bite which was such a strength on her debut. This is of course immediately followed up by another rather banal piano ballad "Sea Lions", by which point if you're on your first listen through, you've probably come to accept that the oversaturated vocals and damp whole note piano chords are a large chunk of what little Honey has to offer. The subsequent attempt to pick "Sea Lions" up in the second half of the song with a driving drum machine track feel half-hearted and uninterested. Even where The Baby mellowed out, it was far more interested in engaging textures and attention to detail than what the instrumentals on Honey contain." --Jasdevi087
The Coral Tombs

"“Mobilis in Mobili” is the harshest vocally on the record due to the lyrical proclamations of what’s likely the monster ranting against the travelers. The ambient section halfway through acts as a breather for the creature before it continues its growls. Dread, sorrow, and the transition between the two on “A Coral Tomb” is remarkably demonstrated with the chilling instrumental crawl of the first half. The second half slips into a somber key backing the eulogy that follows the body discoveries. It’s a simple concept, but it works amazingly around Ahab’s death-doom expertise. “Aegri Somnia”, the longest song on the record, works as a great parallel between the final act of 20,000 Leagues and the penultimate cut of the album, bringing with it some solid grime and melody into a twelve-minute package." --BlazinBlitzer
9The Winery Dogs

"Resembling a freight train The Vengeance assuredly maintains its course speed, but feels as heavy and saturated due to touches of progressive and heavy metal. The track Pharaoh, which unsurprisingly includes Arabic guitar motifs, is a busy, sound-filled canvas that is shaken and smoothed out with skillful compositional strokes. Also notable are Kotzen’s vocals. He easily switches between tenor and falsetto, sprinkling everything with his trademark hoarse quality, all in short intervals occasionally." --Batareziz
10Disheveled Cuss
Into the Couch

"I should also make it clear that the back to basics approach is a preference rather than a rule; this album presents some really awesome moments of noisy weirdness and guest features, it's not just a guy singing with his guitar. Like "Abbott" -- bursting out of a stark, tense, relentless rhythm into a wide open collage of saxophone, free drums, and gentle electric piano raining down on top. Or "Silver Atomic", with Jimmy Chamberlain smashing out a drum solo while synthy guitar smears and stutters over a bouncing acoustic riff. Things seem to change over the course of the album into a more experimental place, but in such a natural way that you don't notice because the noise makes perfect sense." --robobitron
11Pierce the Veil
The Jaws of Life

"For fans of Pierce the Veil - this album will likely come off as a disappointment upon your first listen. And that's okay, and perfectly understandable! It's been a long seven year wait for The Jaws of Life, and though it's far from being a bad album, it lacks the energy and ferocity that made Pierce the Veil stand out during their peak years. It's easy to hear the abundance of downtempo tracks and think that Pierce the Veil has lost their passion/edge, but there are a plethora of little moments sprinkled throughout The Jaws of Life's 41-minute runtime that give purpose to repeated listens. Plus, Vic Fuentes and company certainly haven't lost their ability to write some killer hooks." --JoyfulPlatypus
This Is Why

"The rest of the album is honestly kind of boring and even funny to watch unfold at times. Some of the cuts here play like B-sides from Williams' solo projects, even copy and pasting her overly rudimentary and borderline unflattering vocal tones and tendencies. "Big Man, Little Dignity" is probably the biggest offender in that regard. What saves This Is Why from being a lot worse than it could have been is the diverse range of talents of its starring frontwoman and a newfound sense of continuity that gives the album a bit of ebb and flow. If Paramore had tried reaching back for their mall punk roots, this could have been a lot messier." --Shamus248
13Young Lions
Make a Rainbow and Put It in the Sky

"It's no question that Zach Britt's vocals stand out as a highlight of Young Lions as a group, but the song-writing and lyricism posed here is a bit short of the goal line. Not that Zach's lyrics and song structure have been anything truly captivating before, but at least there was a consistency to the efforts previous. However it's hard not to be drawn in by the infectious energy that the band poses in their performance on this album. Zach's vocals continue to soar as much as they always have and it's hard to not follow along. All in all, it's a step, albeit a little bit of a disappointing step but no less an excellent addition to the discography." --KillingMoon
14The Arcana
Pastel Painted People in Candy Coloured Crowds

"In our 'not quite' post-pandemic times, A song of unrequited love Finally Fade Away appears to harken back to a simpler time of romance, much of which seems to be still absent in the 2020s. Observational in it's description and theme portrays a time when just walking past someone in the street regularly could be considered as a love affair. Famous for their orchestral arrangements Every Mountain might easily be something that would feature at the beginning of a 'Bond' movie. The Orchestral arrangement is stunning and stands, for me, as the pinnacle of the album. What the song lacks in electric guitars and drums makes up for in grandiose orchestral arrangements." --ultrabluecat

"Album highlights like "Farewell" and "Keepsake" make up for their slower pace with wonderful guitarwork and some quality vocals. And the drumming is exactly what you would want from an album like this: pounding, powerful beats that simultaneously take center stage while also being a proper fixture of each song's darkened landscape. I feel that the album could have used a little more variety in its structure. This isn't an issue that I strictly have with Distressor though; a lot of shoegaze bands fall into this trap of songs sounding a little too similar across a tracklist. Even one or two stronger songs would've made this a genuine contender for this year's best, at least for me." --SandwichBubble
Stronger Than Death

"The real meat of the album comes in the synth-pop ballad "Prayers In The Dark," which is followed by the brooding interlude "Reaper." This leads seamlessly into the epic "Die For Something," which slowly transitions from the poppish and electronic elements into something more organic. Zhana's husband (under the stage name "NESDAM") brings an almost emo-like flair to the track with his expressive tenor, while the music builds in tension and drama until it culminates in a pounding rhythmic bridge and final chorus. The album closer, "Anything But Destiny" trades some of the electronic elements for strings in a finale that matches the theatre of "Die For Something," but with less intensity and more delicateness." --Clifgard
17Admire the Grim
Rogue Five

"I was hooked by the first riff on the song " The Flood" which reminded me of a riff I would hear off a Children of Bodom song. Powerful and flashy and yet colorful to the ear. When the vocals came in it reminded me of an old-school death metal vibe and a late Angela Glassow Arch Enemy vibe and then switches to more of a power metal style of vocals which is a great balance due to how much the vocals in this genre could come off a one dimensional. The next song " Mad Queen of the Second Sun" definitely has a darker tone which gave me "Wages of Sin" era vibes with a thicker bass tone and heavier riffs to compensate to match the vocal performance. This is an excellent song and my god blast this if you can." --Eyes4you
18In Flames

"It’s easy to call Foregone the best In Flames record since Come Clarity. With energetic instrumentation, effort put into the vocals and good nod to their glory days, it seems that In Flames have finally reignited their passion. Even with its grating flaws, Foregone could possibly be signaling the start of a new era from the band, but whether or not In Flames will continue on this route is still a bit of a mystery. We all known just how far they’re willing to stay away from their melodeath roots, but here’s hoping that the positivity from their fans, both old and new, will help steer Anders and co. in the right direction. For those who abandoned this group so many years ago, chin up. There might actually be something here for you, and that’s the genuine truth." --Toondude10
Warlocks Grim and Withered Hags

"While the longer tracks are nothing short of impressive, the shorter, typical blackened thrash metal tracks still leave a powerful impact. Goat Vomit Nightmare starts off with a great heavy metal-esque riff, and the song eventually crescendos with an instantly memorable and extremely melodic guitar solo. Following a similar style, Poison Womb (The Curse of the Witch) contains even more high octane guitar playing, but it also demonstrates the potency of the vocals, as the chorus is perfectly shaped to fit McBain’s vicious barks. This makes the track feel even more intense than it would otherwise be, and it would be absolutely perfect for the live setting." --Zac124
20U.S. Girls
Bless This Mess

"Maybe the point was to just have fun. Maybe the point was to create feel-good tunes and move away from the social commentary that drives most of the previous outputs. That could explain the fact that Meghan Remy scales things back to the grooves found on In A Poem. Or maybe the skillful pen exemplified in previous albums is long gone and U.S. Girls direct and daring writing has been traded for anonymous lyricism and more energetic production. In total, it’s an improvement over Heavy Light, but that’s to a fault. In A Poem wasn’t so good because of its sound or themes, but for its impeccable blend of both. Bless This Mess has enough of the former and little of the latter." --PanosChris
Lighting Up the Sky

"However, that argument lost its lustre about a decade ago, a point driven further home with the tediously milquetoast, “experimental” project When Legends Rise. It became clear at that point that this band, even when they ever so moderately deviate from their tried and true formula, is ultimately unwilling to truly try something new. Indeed, even this LP more interesting moments (ballad “Truth” is one of the most authentic pieces on this travesty and “Best of Times” is a relatively dynamic rocker that manages to sport an enjoyable (and surprisingly audible!) bass line) ultimately fall short, by Godsmack's own standards no less. The tunes are not only flawed themselves, but are too little too late on a record that lost its thunder less than five minutes in." --cycosynner
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