Monday, May 29, 2017

SweetKenny - "Epic" Album Review!!

For our 95th monthly CD review at The Sault Metal Scene, here's a surprise look at an album we haven't even covered on the site yet, namely Dafter, Michigan solo hard rock artist Ken "SweetKenny" Sutton's 20th solo album "Epic"! Quietly released on February 28th via Google Play and iTunes (though curiously not Bandcamp) via Waterfall Records, this is SweetKenny's seventh album designed to be utilized as a film, TV, or video game score, going along with his general focus since late 2015, with only "In Your Face" breaking pattern as a traditional rock album with sung vocals during this period. Ken's actually released two score albums in 2017, joining the brand new "Music Composed For Film", but I chose "Epic" for this month as it is a heavier release. And yes, stay tuned on the site this week for full news write-ups on both albums. "Epic" is available at the above links for $9.49, and can be streamed for free at this link, but consider buying it to support SweetKenny's work!

Featuring 15 songs running for 29 minutes, let's begin our "Epic" review with the first song, "Drums of Power"! Self-described as a "drum layered track with a slow groove" that would be good for work in the action genre, this song has more of a tribal vibe that admittedly doesn't give off a "powerful" sense, but it is effectively performed for what it is! Given the drum-heavy instrumentation, it's not optimal listening for fans of Ken's typical rock music, and it does get repetitive, but you can easily loop it for longer stretches, and that appears to be intentional. Second is "Maddy's March", inspired by the survival horror video game The Last of Us, though I don't know that game to have a character named Maddy. This is more of a fully realized song with dramatic piano input, a darker ambiance, and some orchestral tinges, and it's a solid number for what it is that could serve as an introductory number or credit roll song!

Next is "Bangkok", named after the Thai capital and described by Ken as an "Eastern style track". You do get a far eastern vibe here, but the song also has some ominous orchestration to start, and it seems to relish in exploring different sounds and effects to make it distinct from the first two songs. That said, the song ends before it really starts to get going, but compared to later songs on "Epic", it's actually on the longer side of things when you look at the full track order. The fourth song is "Invading Force", which runs for an album-long 4:35, but actually has the fastest tempo yet on the album. The song preserves some of the ethnic feeling of "Bangkok", while also giving off the vibe of a chase or approach involving enemies, so the title is accurate to the song! Is it wrong that I got notes of the Terminator theme and Oil Ocean Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog 2 in here? The drum beat is also catchy, if not pounding, and while it's not aggressively heavy, the song does what it says!

Song #5 is "Marrakesh", which is similarly "Eastern" themed like "Bangkok", though the title here alludes to a city in Morocco. Given the different nationality, you'd be correct to expect that the song wouldn't be too similar, with it the most like a "hard rock" song yet on the album, while also containing a slight Middle Eastern flavour and some catchy percussion rhythms. Unfortunately, it does share the sudden ending before it really starts like "Bangkok" had, but it's a quality early number on "Epic"! Sixth is the "full mix" of the song "Viking Village", and the title will make sense once this song itself wraps up. If you were hoping for this to be a sudden foray into viking metal, you'll be disappointed, as it's more of a techno-influenced rock instrumental with some backing female vocals for effect purposes, plus more prominent percussion. Despite the title's intended locale, the song has a bit of a dance vibe to it, which may not have been intentional, but it's a fun song on it's own merits!

Now, why was "Viking Village" called the "full mix"? Well, the 7th-13th songs on the album are all isolated cue tracks containing portions of that song, all but one under a minute in length, presumably so SweetKenny can sell them or propose use of them by themselves for effect or mood depending on usage in an intended score. In the three score albums of his I have reviewed on the SMS, this is a new one, but he must really be proud of the final product to offer it in this form too! I won't re-review each cue track, but they include "Intro Mix", "Percussion", "Demented Vocal Part 1" & "2", "Kalimba" (an African instrument used in the song), "Dogg Bass", and "Ambience", with the second-fourth cue tracks running for just 29 seconds each. For casual listeners, I'd stick to just the full "Viking Village" song, but if you're interested in using the score or breaking down the song's components for research or instructional means, the cue tracks could be very handy!

The final two songs on "Epic" are alternate versions of an electronic song called "Out For A Drive", one being the full mix and the other having no vocals. The only song on the album that includes Ken's vocals in any substantial form, you just hear him saying "I'm a winner" and "I can feel it" off and on in his usual Elvis-like drawl, plus other voices saying "Is everybody happy?" and "Here we go!". I assume the intent was to use the song for a racing portion of a work, but the no-vocal part is naturally completely up for interpretation. The song proper is a lively techno track that would not be out of place at a dance club, but it's a thematic jump from earlier songs on this score, and honestly, I don't really associate it's vibe with a driving or racing feel, with or without vocals.

So, what are my final thoughts on SweetKenny's seventh score CD? While I still aren't as knowledgable about reviewing an album like this compared to our usual fare, "Epic" does a solid job of evoking intended themes, and if the right person comes along to want these songs for score purposes, they should get solid audio! That said, it is clear that "Epic" doesn't a thematic concept encompassing every song like "The Hitman Files" & "Gator's Bayou", Ken's other score albums that we reviewed on the SMS, and as a result, there isn't as much of a cohesive thread. I assume that was the intent, but the album's all over the place, from dark and orchestral to Asian-inspired rock to full on techno. I appreciate the diversity, but for me, my favourite songs were "Bangkok" & "Marrakesh", despite ending so soon. Also, the album lost some substance to me when 1/5th of it was chopped up portions of an earlier song, but again, this is intended for usage as a score, this isn't a direct follow-up to his last traditional rock album "In Your Face".

Of the three SweetKenny scores that I have reviewed, I still prefer "The Hitman Files" for it's rock themes and evocative intended storyline, but "Epic" has a lot of plusses depending on your preferences as a fan, filmmaker, or game designer, so check it out at the above links, and hopefully Ken has a new regular music album in the works for later this year along with his continued score focus!

I hope you guys liked this month's CD review, but what's coming up in June? At this juncture, I don't know, but here's what I can say. A new release is definitely first in line if an album comes out, and be sure to follow our next "Where Are The New Albums?" post on Friday for hints as to who might have an album coming out soon! In any event, our next album review will not be of another SweetKenny album, as we have a 6 month buffer period in place to avoid possible accusations of having a bias for or against anyone. Based on acts playing next month, an archive review could come from bands like The Din, The Bear Hunters, A Fall From Innocence, or I.S.O.M. to tie in with artists playing locally next month, so keep an eye out in any event for word on our next CD review subject, and stay tuned for more news and updates soon on The Sault Metal Scene! Thanks everyone!

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