Simple Stone – Through This Dark

 Simple Stone – Through This Dark

Simple Stone – Through This Dark – Album Review

Coming out of the gate swinging harder than hard, Australia’s own Simple Stone gets the energy racing at a fever pitch from the very first moments you’ll hear on Through This Dark with their opening track “Secrets.”  Somewhere in the realm of Alt-Rock-meets-Hard-Rock with a touch of what’s probably now considered to be Classic Rock in there as well…you get the point – they’re all-things-Rock, and they play like it.  “Secrets” has wicked guitar riffs, thunderous drumming, and vocals that provide the extra bit of attitude you wanna hear to help’em stand out in their own way within the most crowded genre there is.  I might be a little scattered for my own personal tastes within this style of music, but that’s neither here nor there and probably the least important thing I ever write about in any review…what matters is that you can instantly hear Simple Stone fired up & kicking ass like the well-oiled machine they’ve become.  “Secrets” reminds me a bit of how I felt when I first heard Panic Channel’s album start up way back in the day…it’s got that explosive energy you wanna find in this type of music & it’s definitely a great start.

Lead-singer Matt drops a highlight for his vocals & lyricism early on in the set with “Inner Sanctuary” – I’d probably argue that you’ll find discernable hooks in every part of this song from verse to pre-chorus to chorus, and the guy sings this really well.  All-in-all, you won’t find the three pieces of Simple Stone ever really coloring outside of the lines too much…they know what they’re doing and they’re dialed-in to the kind of music they wanna make collectively.  It’s fair to say that, despite there being hooks in all the parts I’ve cited & every in between, “Inner Sanctuary” would still qualify as a deeper cut on this record, with versatility to it that almost makes it risky to find this early into the lineup.  There’s actually a lot in common with something like…let’s say Live for example…the older records and opening tracks, themes, guitar chops, tones, and frequencies…I could see the people out there that wishes they got a bit more of the hard stuff from Ed Kowalczyk digging into Simple Stone…they kinda carry on where he once left off.

Not only does Tim hit with commendable precision track-after-track, the dude gets some extraordinary sounds out of his drums as well.  “Passing Through” is a stellar example of how well this guy uses his kit.  Tim’s kind of like a hunter that uses the entire animal, know what I mean?  He’ll find a way to use each and every tom, beat the living daylights out of his snare, kick the hell outta his kickdrum, and make sure each cymbal gets some lovin’ as he plays.  And right ON for that if you ask me…what’s the point in having anything more than a snare & a kick if y’ain’t gonna use it, am I right?  Tim makes sure each piece gets its part…dude’s a quality drummer.  “Passing Through” passes quickly…it’s a blazer at less than three-minutes in total length, but I could definitely hear this track making an impact on the people out there.  I’d probably even go as far as to say it’d be one of my own favorites from this lineup of songs too – the attention to detail is staggering, the performance is as professional as it gets, the hooks are SHARP – and you can’t really ask for much more than that out of any song you’re listening to, you feel me?  Like I was tellin’ ya earlier…personal preference will always play a role in what we all listen to…that’s the nature of the game – but the most crucial thing is really putting yourselves in a position to win people over by what you put into your material.  “Passing Through” is audible proof that Simple Stone has gone all-in with their latest material & are giving it everything they’ve got – to me, that’s all that ever matters.

I’m sure I feel “All The Same” as I did about this lead-single when they released it back in October of last year and I wrote about it in a review…my opinions don’t tend to change a whole lot in most scenarios, and if there’s one person out there that reads my work less than YOU do, it’s ME.  Anyhow…without actually checking, I’d be willing to bet I wrote about the commitment you hear…the riffs are killer, the vocals too…the bass from Shanks is always the steady backbone that keeps them grounded & reliable – all in the instrumentation is notably on-point, but that’s really because of the way they play their parts.  These guys are all into what they create, and rightly so they should be…tracks like “All The Same” show that to us close-up without question.  Is it THE single of all singles on this record?  Honestly, I don’t know about that…I think there are some qualified candidates that would give this track a decent run for its money, and I’d probably argue that for my own personal taste, I like the first three cuts on this record a bit more than this one.  That’s fairly typical of how I feel towards most singles I guess…it’s still a good track.

The contrast of feeling that way, is listening to a cut like “Another Limb” and instantly knowing it’s the kind of track you really dig.  The more I listen to Simple Stone, the more I really feel like Live is a really valid comparison to this band.  I mean…I wouldn’t write it otherwise to begin with, but you get the idea – the way Matt sings tends to draw out a whole bunch of similarities…he might even want to lean into that tribal way Ed used to sing as well one day just to see where it really takes him.  Hooks-wise, they both have that aspect nailed down tight.  “Another Limb” is probably my favorite of the first five tracks on this record…I think it’s one of those cuts that meets us halfway as listener.  The creators don’t really have to compromise their own sound, yet there’s a tangible degree or two more accessibility in this cut than you’ll find in many of the others too, and that’s instantly on display from the moment you push play on “Another Limb.”  Probably more hooks in the verses ultimately than you’ll find in the chorus, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing…plus it tends to challenge the masses and what they normally expect.

If Matt chose to add a bit more venom into his vocals and was a bit harsher in how he delivers the melody he uses, a track like “Beginning” would probably come out like a real close cousin to something you’d hear from Three Days Grace.  I’ll let y’all decide if that’s a good or a bad thing.  At the end of the day, I think Simple Stone has done really well to stay within the boundaries of the sound they want, as opposed to try and be too close of a comparison to anything else that’s out there.  It’s already tough enough to find the real estate you need in the Hard Rock realm in order to not drown in the sea of sameness…but one of the best ways you can fight through that is to continue to do what you do as well as you can do it, almost like you’ve got blinders on to what’s happening in the rest of the scene.  I like “Beginning” well enough…it’s not Three Days Grace, it’s not quite old-school Faith No More either – it’s somewhere in between those poles of measurement, and perhaps that’s the space that Simple Stone will thrive in the most successfully.  Major hooks are as much of a priority to “Beginning” as many of the rest of these tunes, but there still are enough tangible ones to get you listening…for me, it was all about the instrumental section and the way they bring this track back with a whole extra level of energy to finish this track off with a strong finale that gives you plenty of rhythm that’s right in the pocket for’em.

“Girl In A Red Dress” might be the cut from the first half of this record that I was the most on the fence about.  Execution-wise, you really can’t find a whole lot of fault in what Simple Stone creates and how they go about playing their songs…they put the right power & emphasis into the music where you’d want to find it, and they know how to make things have the punch it should have.  Thematically, I’m not as jazzed by “Girl In A Red Dress” in comparison to the rest we’ve heard so far…I’m not saying it doesn’t have the occasional line here & there that catches my attention, but overall it seems a bit more scattered and somewhat searching for a real idea that matches the strength you find in the music.  You might not feel the same way…and if that’s the case, right on & high-five – no one says you gotta…maybe you find “Girl In A Red Dress” to be the most turn-uppable cut on the entire record.  As I tell ya all the time here on these pages, we like what we like & we love what we love…Simple Stone gives their songs everything they’ve got  each time, which sets up any of these tracks to be your own particular favorite.

Absolutely dig the guitar chord progression on “First Time” and the way this track starts up…solid energy and hooks that definitely work well here as things shift into the main meat of the song.  Rhythm section is as on-point as ever, and great use of the vocals from the lead to the layers of harmonies & echoes and whatnot.  Another track from the record that I’d argue is a couple degrees more accessible to the masses, infusing more noticeable Pop vibes into the thick of it all…ain’t no shame in that y’all, it works.  “First Time” is the kind of track that’ll open a few more doors for Simple Stone for where they can play live and where their music can be played on the airwaves & whatnot…it’s got that crossover element to it.  So before you go hatin’ on’em for softening the raw edge they started out with on “Secrets” as they opened up this record, consider the fact that it’s songs just like this one that ultimately help expand their audience and potentially spread their music that much further.  Dig the way they’ve got the intro of this tune somewhat muted as it comes in and springs to life…it’s the audible equivalent of something like watching visuals go from black & white to full color.  It’s details like this, and trying new ideas along the way that really help the dynamics in a lineup; these are the kind of moves that retain your attention.

Even the whistling that starts “Out Of Nowhere” afterwards…anything different is bound to help things stand out and provide that separation between songs.  The reality is, most artists/bands don’t really add a whole lot in that regard…the vast majority of records you’re ever going to listen to are song after song after song, starting and stopping as most do.  When you put the focus on the smallest of details, you can come out with the biggest wins…to me, it seems like that’s the approach Simple Stone has taken overall.  Great guitar solo in this tune and the one right beforehand too…Matt’s been on fire and lightin’ up that axe of his.  Drummer Tony Le Rhodes, aka TLR, is beating the living daylights out of his set on “Out Of Nowhere” when you really listen to it too…it’s actually quite remarkable that it doesn’t sound like he’s taken over this entire song with how much he’s really playing in this track – credit to a smart mix on that.  As for Shanks?  Like I’ve been tellin’ ya all along…he’s the glue that holds these maniacs together…essential for his reliability, but not the kind of flashy player that seems to need any of the spotlight.  He does what he does, and I dig that.  “Out Of Nowhere” is probably a mid-pack tune for myself personally…I had times where I spun through this record and really thought it contributed to the lineup, and a few times where I didn’t feel like it was anything nearly as crucial in that regard…one of those mood-dependent type tunes.  Memorable hooks, I’ll give’em that…but that’s the natural effect of repetition somewhat too…the important thing is that they use it to their advantage.  Musically, I felt like they had a real opportunity around the 2:40 mark to expand that particular moment or bring it back again & they never did…I definitely would playing it live.

I feel like we should all be thankful we don’t hear the Van Halen and G&R influences on Simple Stone creeping in a hell of a lot more than we do, because you KNOW these dudes are crankin’ that shit up on their own free time.  Apologies…that’s the guy born Grunge in me that flares up from time to time and tries to rebel against anything that’s too straightforward…which I think they might have been on “Smile.”  I’m not gonna go as far as to say that it should have been left off the record…I still think that it fits well enough cohesively…I’m just not nearly as sure that it adds significantly to this lineup of songs either.  They play it as well as any other…but yeah…if I’m being completely honest with ya, the majority of the main hooks you’ll find are within the surrounding instrumentation more-so than within the verses or chorus.  I like that it’s like…not really Van Halen and not quite G&R…it’s more like what it’d sound like if The Cult were to cover either of those bands…which gives it a bit more of a murky & mysterious edge, but I’m not entirely sure they got the most out of this particular song’s potential.  I think there are some parts from the lead guitar chiming-in along the way that could have been more significant in the mix, they’re smart additions with great melody to’em, and just needed a bit more of a starring role to be what really drives this song.  I think turning that up might have made all the difference on this track for me…but with that being said, it honestly does sound like this track is probably a lot of fun for them to play.  If that’s what secured its spot in this lineup, you’ll find no resistance from me – that’s as good of a reason as any other could ever be…turn up those amplifiers and rock out the way that you wanna y’all.

Ayyyy!  Tell me you don’t hear that comparison to Live NOW will ya?  If you’re missing it at the start of “Without” dear readers, dear friends, dear LISTENERS…then I just cannot help ya.  Go back and listen to your Live catalog and get your Throwing Copper on – you shouldn’t be able to miss the comparisons and similarities in the verses of “Without.”  Personally, I really dig that about Simple Stone – they’ve basically singlehandedly reminded me just how crucial that band was to the Alt-Rock scene, and while I might have worn grooves in those records well-over a decade ago now, I feel like I’m now ready to return to’em to spin’em loud and proud all over again.  Anyhow.  “Without” is a good tune…Shanks gets his deserved moment in the spotlight and is really what drives this particular cut at the heart of it all.  I don’t know that it’s going to be the number one track for the masses out there as it’s got a bit more of a complex design in terms of its movement and structure…but if we’re talking about hooks in the verses alone, I’d tell ya that “Without” is “Without” a doubt one of the record’s strongest tunes.  I don’t mind the chorus at the end of the day, but I’d probably tell ya that the pre-chorus makes more of an impact.  The real bottom line is that each individual aspect of this song offers ya something significant…I don’t know that the average everyday listener is going to be able to hang with its twists and turns and mid-tempo structure as much as the real musicians & more dedicated among us, but so what?  Not every song is always gonna reach every one of us…I’m siding with “Without” – I think they’ve got a quality cut here that hits differently than the majority of this record, and contains one of my favorite guitar solos.

When they hit that savage crunch in their sound, you realize that the band is every bit as much of a sonic force to be reckoned with as the DeLeo brothers with Eric Kretz in Stone Temple Pilots.  Like, at its most intense moments, a track like “Lights” isn’t all that far removed from something you’d find on No. 4, and that’s pretty badass if you ask me.  Ultimately, “Lights” is much more of a hybrid overall, adding in doses of noticeably accessible sound in the main hooks, and tangible drama within the verses & Matt’s vocals.  I dig that the payoff is there in listening to this track…it’s like each piece of this song takes it up a notch to that next level, and progressively as it plays, “Lights” takes you on a real ride as you listen to it.  That’s not one of the easiest things to accomplish with any given tune you listen to…we somewhat expect that a chorus is going to achieve that, or that the instrumentation will be a bit of a breather…and when you find out that each element actually raises the stakes instead like they do on “Lights” you just wanna pass out a whole bunch of high-fives for a job well done.  Even things like the breakdown/bring-back work perfectly, or how they add in backing vocals later towards the end…again, it’s the attention to detail that has led Simple Stone to some of their most noticeable victories not only for what they’re playing, but for how they play it.  Solid ideas, solid execution, stellar variety & versatility, hard-hitting ideas that connect – there’s a whole lot to love about “Lights” & I think this could be a huge highlight playing it live onstage.

“T.I.M (To Immortalize A Man)” snaps into place quickly and creates a quality finale…maybe a bit more like a track they’ve got designed to close out their shows prior to an encore where they give the people what they want with one more tune, but I could see this be another highlight in their set more-so than the cut that people are going to be craving in its recorded form, make sense?  Doesn’t make it a bad tune whatsoever, it just demands a different type of listening, and features moments that would be more effective from the stage than you could ever get to on a recording…and that happens from time to time.  As far as I know, Simple Stone is known to take their music to the people where it belongs by playing live on the regular, so keep your eyes peeled…they’re bound to be out there a lot this year as they support this behemoth new record of theirs and prove me right when it comes to how LARGE a moment like “T.I.M (To Immortalize A Man)” becomes live in comparison to the recorded version.  I mean…it’s already HUGE, it’s just gonna reach an epic status of its own when played live…that’s all I’m saying & feel free to quote me on that.  Through This Dark is a record that represents this band extremely well overall  from what they play to how they play it, proves that they thrive under pressure & know how to rock in ways that’ll reach their audience, and contains an explosive set-list of songs that levels-up from their original debut.

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