UVTraveler - 3 (2019)
In the 70s, the music scene was dominated by 2 main genres: hard rock and progressive rock. In that sense, UVTraveler should have been called TimeTraveler, because it brings those 2 distinct sounds of 70s together and back to the future. The recording style carries 70s rock's perfect imperfections with fast-sloppy drum riffs, high register guitar frenzies and screaming vocals. Randy Sepe, the solo musician behind this project, says that he "[likes] the music to sound raw" and that he "[doesn't] like glitzy over-produced digital recordings." Prog rock-wise, the album's sound is closer to Jethro Tull and Rush than anything else, especially the acoustic parts in Rooted in the Ground and Like Seasons Change. Other tracks include experimentation in rhythmic variations in 4/4 time, which is an important aspect of more accessible and still progressive music, and song structure, which presents itself as songs divided into one upbeat part and one more atmospheric and light part. He says that he's "always trying to write stuff that has hooks but also a lot of deeper levels of music," and that's absolutely apparent to the trained ear.
After the passing away of the great EVH, it is now impossible not to realize how he affected rock music in an irrevocable way. One way or another, most of the rock guitarists have some of Eddie's characteristics in their songwriting and guitar sound. In this very specific example, the opener instrumental track Amaranth has got its share of EVH touch: the strumming style and the flanger effect decorates it(no need to mention the harmonics and tapping). While being mostly a guitar-based track, the song doesn't bore the listener at all—even if one can question if there is any place left to discover with this straightforward rock music. They manage to keep the music interesting with many changes in dynamics, benefitting from all of the instruments. Considering this, probably the most effective member of the song in terms of creating the balance is the drummer. There is solid and consistent drumming throughout the track, which constantly explores different beats to get involved with the music. The guitar duo offers most of their technical ability to the audience with intense shredding, fast-playing, and most importantly tasteful riffs that seem like a tribute to their early influence. All in all, Amaranth cannot be judged as a separate piece from the album and it doesn't show the full songwriting potential and the identity of the band. It is a jam piece that sets the mood for the album and introduces the audience to their realm of tasteful, classic rock-based fast pace music.
2. Desert Rites (4:17)
Unlike the opener and many more straightforward rock tracks, Desert Rites immediately opens up with beautiful atmospheric guitar loops—instantly reminding a combination of Radiohead's experimental work and 80s-90s guitar-based rock music. The heavenly intro resembles well with the rest of the song, which makes us glad to see that they were able to compose the song in a way that the intro complements the other parts. With the entrance of the verse, we again hear a sweet Mixolydian (dad rock) riff that they built the song around. Interludes are filled up with instrumental jams that carry the characteristics of UVTraveler, and some human dialogs/monologues that don't avert the atmosphere of Desert Rites. It would be majestic to see them using the intro's guitar motifs in the rest of the song in any way possible since it remained underrated throughout the song. Composition-wise, the band approaches to the structural elements of the song creatively—where they don't follow a cliche structure(the mid-section guitar solo is the ultimate evidence for this). Although the song has a decent production overall, the vocals feel a little bit feeble and divergent to other instruments—and even to the other vocals. Though the vocal performance sound pretty well, the mix and production weren't representing the best outcome for the rest of the song. This issue is generally present in the album, but this also shows a way for improvement as aspiring musicians.
3. Rooted in the Ground (4:28)
The angelic voice of Sarah Matthews opens the track with an acoustic guitar, as an apparent idea that they got from the Southern folk-rock music of the 60s and 70s US. With her addition to the album and the band showing their softer influences, we get a further understanding of what UVTraveler is and what more can it be in the future. The melodies played by swell-in guitars in between choruses and verses undoubtedly enrich the song; and with the addition of the electric guitars to the choruses, you get a combination of Fleetwood-Mac's tenderness and Led Zeppelin energy. Probably the most obvious reference to prog-rock, the outro of the song shows and represents their prog-esque songwriting choice combined with their love of instrumental partitions. The whole album's production feels very raw and straightforward, which may not suit all of the songs' atmospheres; but this is the ultimate piece that the rawness is the best production choice that could be made in order to give a certain retro feeling to the song with an uplifting soundscape. After hearing how well it sounds with the guitars, you will wish that they used the synth more on the album. It is probably the best moment of the album, if not; one of the 3 highlights that you'll go back and listen to again and again.
4. Trapped (3:44)
Starting with a heavy guitar riff, reminiscent of Jethro Tull, the song is a direct contrast to the more acoustic "Rooted in the Ground". The duet between the guitar and the drums can also be influenced by the opening of King Crimson's "One More Red Nightmare". But UVTraveler showcases their difference by leaning more into a bluesy sound. With the entrance of Sepe's vocals, which itself reminds the listener of Robert Plant's singing style, the band's aim to make the album sound like a live recording really achieves its purpose because the intimacy created by the bluesy feeling is fueled by how the vocals sound: cozy and nearby.
The song, in the middle, breaks into a bluesy guitar solo. It's clear that the band wanted this section to feel calmer than the rest of the song. But here, the very decision that made the song feel like a "live recording" is what prevents it from fully showcasing a dynamic range within the song. But still, without the heavily effected vocals, this section feels different: Michael Schiavo's bass is easily audible and seems to play his own little solo while Vince Ayala contributes some very cool fills behind the drum kit.
Although the effects on the vocals can go past unnoticed, the delays and layerings are more apparent with headphones. However, the song seems to be indecisive whether it is a blues or, as Randy himself puts it, a "90s alternative rock flavored" song. The effects suggest the latter but the overall feeling is hard to deny too.
5. Sacrifice (3:29)
One of the shorter tracks on the album, "Sacrifice" continues to show the hard rock influences of UVTraveler. With energetic guitar riffs and catchy vocal melodies, the listener gets a sense of the signature sound of the band. The opening riff actually changes each time it is played (sometimes greatly, sometimes in details) which helps to not bore the listener while it repeats several times. It should also be noted that the drums responding to these changes with different fills of its own creates a sense of unity and organization (evidence for the band's attention to detail) that is sometimes forgotten in small bands.
A very short (approximately 10 seconds) guitar solo, might be even considered a preview, is utilized to break apart the verses. It is very clever and doesn't interfere with the flow of the song while still presenting a relief from the repeating verses. One can even argue that more breaks like this could've made the album more interesting to listen to and even more progressive. The song also features what could be called a drum solo (Mike Marceante's cymbal work here really shines through), and even though the song is short, it's nice to know that the band put so much energy into it.
Overall, the song has potential, but the performance could be tighter (a full lock-in between the drums and the guitar is expected for a complex riff like this). However, it is with these imperfections that guitarist Repe wants the band to distinguish itself in a genre filled with emerging bands and we hope with songs like these, it will achieve its purpose.
6. The Abyss (5:07)
Yet another energetic track by the band, the song again features influences by early Black Sabbath, considering produces James Boblak's involvement with the band. The song has a very distinctive intro (ending with Sepe's guitar literally wailing with tension) that leads directly into the main riff of the song. It catches the listener, who might as well be waiting for another bluesy section, off-guard; but perhaps the band could've entered a little later in order to fully connect the different sections.
Although Sepe considered the riff "dark" and "hypnotic", we wanted to add "menacing". Playing repetitive triplets over the constant 4/4 rhythm (emphasized by the unchanging crash cymbals) creates a feeling of contradiction while still absorbing the listener into it. The vocals sound like another layer of a guitar riff and their interaction gives the section its catchiness. To add more dynamic to this section, the band placed what could be considered a short half time part that really makes a difference for listener. Perhaps the band could've embraced this idea more throughly since it acts as a reminder for how fast the song actually is.
Like the fourth track, "Trapped", the song features a guitar solo in the middle that in the end connects to another verse. Although this is a very straightforward organization of a rock song, it can become predictable when noticed. Since the song mainly revolves around one guitar riff, altering it could've created more interested sections for the band to play out their ideas.
7. Stephen Dedalus (3:39)
Stephen Dedalus is the anti-hero of James Joyce's Ulysees. The name comes from Daedalus in Greek mythology. Daedalus is the architect of King Minos's labyrinth that imprisoned Minotaur. He was shut up in a tower so as not to reveal the secrets of the labyrinth, and later constructed a pair of wings to fly himself and his son Icarus out of his place of imprisonment.
The song, first written by Sepe's dad in the 70s and then fashioned into prog rock by Sepe, reflects this story. The soft acoustic guitar intro bursts into a rollercoaster ride describing Daedalus's imprisonment and flight. There are 2 main parts of the lyrics: "Stephen Dedalus, why can't you be one of us?" is a reference to Daedalus's time in the tower, when he couldn't live with other people because he would reveal the secrets of the labyrinth. The verse about Daedalus's flight reveals the true reason this song was written. He is portrayed as a self-reliant man who can make his situation better by his own means. Just as Joyce was using this character as a symbol for himself (and his alter-ego), Sepe Sr. must have had written this song as a metaphor for himself.
8. Last Journey to the Dawn (5:02)
Last Journey to the Dawn keeps the listener on edge for the whole time it's playing: it feels as if the whole song is a buildup with angsty electro guitar riffs and high pitched vocals. The song starts off with a twenty-second acoustic guitar melody, which is definitely not a preview to the rest of the song, as the remaining melody is nowhere near as serene. On the other hand, the sudden transition to the fast-paced drum beat and the guitar riff is very skillfully done and doesn't feel out of place at all. UVTraveler describes the song with adjectives such as "dark" and "haunting," and this 4/4 beat and heavy focus on the guitar definitely backs them up. As this dark pattern continues three times, on the third time another transition takes the listener to a beat that is now accompanied by vocals. "I can't see past the noise in my head," "Confusion drills my thoughts" being a few quotes from the lyrics, the vocals contribute to the dark atmosphere of the song: Last Journey to the Dawn is certainly a song one can listen to when it's hard to "see past the noise" in one's head. There seem to be two singers during these vocals, and the voices do fit together though sometimes they can get a little out of calibration. The vocals leave their places into a solo which is backed up by a drum beat, and it's hard not to be impressed by the way the guitar climbs up and down the notes with such speed. The song, for one last time, builds up to a similar melody as the start and finishes with the vocals repeating "Until the dawn." The five-minute-long build-up releases the tension at last and the listener can take a deep breath from the journey.
9. Embryo (2:01)
Embryo, a short instrumental piece, pairs a synthesizer and a classical guitar to bring closure to the album (as songs 10 and 11 are bonus pieces.) Though the two instruments wander off in their own paces and patterns, there is a nice collaboration between the two, and the deep electronic sound of the synthesizer balances the acoustic melody of the guitar. The song is almost hallucinating: it's easy to focus on the back and forth of the sounds from the synthesizer. The song is oddly peaceful and creates a contrast between the song before, Last Journey to the Dawn, which was a buildup of tension. It might be that the release of this tension from the subsequent song is done in this instrumental outro. It's interesting to hear only two instruments, which are so different in style, create such a balance while also following their own routes.
10. Like Seasons Change (5:46)
"Like Seasons Change" is one of the two bonus tracks of the album. While re-recorded in 2019, the song first appeared in UVTraveler's 2012 EP "Objects Appear Closer, Vol. 2." The intro and guitars that run throughout have a bit of a clean tweed tone, sounding a bit like southern rock. This tone matches the melancholic and relaxed mood of the lyrics, which are about an acceptance of change and moving on. The modal interchange - or should I say a temporary tone shift - at the end of the verses and at the second half of the chorus add an interesting flavor to the harmonic structure of this song. The post-chorus sounded to me a bit like Wishbone Ash's more rock 'n roll-inspired songs such as "The King Will Come." After the solo, the chorus lifts everything up inch-by-inch. I felt like there was a Mariah Carey modulation coming in the last repetition, but the song ended with a short and sweet outro.
11. Rooted in the Ground Wg (4:27)
Even though this track is the same as the 3rd one, we wanted to review them separately—since the vocals create whole versions even if the other parts stay untouched. Another great song from the album, Rooted in the Ground revolves around the melodies coming from an acoustic guitar. UVTraveler took inspiration from "the great bands of the 70s," and though this song is more acoustic and calmer than some other songs in the album, it definitely gives off the strong 70s classic rock vibes. The vocals deserve kudos especially in this song: Wade Greenwood, a founding member, does a great job in completing this impression the song created in the introduction. The balance that is created between the drums in the background, the volume and pitch of the vocals, and the guitar riff that continues on is also another impressive aspect of the song. The bass enters at the third-minute mark, and as a listener, I could listen to the bass-line by itself for a little longer before the other instruments come into play. As the electro guitar joins in, all together build up to a combination of sounds that propel the song until the end. This kind of layering of instruments is hard to perfect as it's prone to sounding messy, but UVTraveler again shows the skill and attention that went into this song, as the sounds match perfectly. One of the more specific inspirations to UVTraveler was Rush, and the remnants from their inspiration can be heard in this song: Rooted in the Ground resembles Closer to the Heart at a first impression. Overall, this bonus track really fulfills the band's wish to create "quality music."