Brennan Heart and Jonathan Mendelsohn – Follow the Light

Brennan Heart and Jonathan Mendelsohn - Follow The Light

Ah, the melodic territory. Something I haven’t immersed myself in for the longest time. To return to this spectacular sub-genre, to a track composed by none other than the veteran, Brennan Heart, is an absolute honour. This is one of those moments where I feel blessed to have ears.

I would never have imagined that ‘Imaginary‘ (pun intended) could have a sweet little sibling. Mendelsohn’s vocals, in this particular song, gave me strong Coldplay and Maroon 5 vibes. If I ever heard this live, I’d like to say to the person next to me: “I promised I wouldn’t cry, but I did.” Mendelsohn’s vocals have a charming, soothing quality, yet the falsetto just brings out all the strongest emotions.

Of course, how could I forget the master behind the knobs, Brennan Heart? The notes in this track are not too squeaky, thanks to the jittery effect. Every segment, well timed; every transition, well planned.  Kicks, mild yet rich in flavour with a bit of coarseness, as though it were refined by the ups and downs of life.

I’m reviewing this in 2018, with the purest feelings of thanks to this magical duo.


Headhunterz and Sub Zero Project – Our Church

Headhunterz and Sub Zero Project - Our Church

It seems that Heady has been back in the Hard Dance scene for quite a while now. Also been a while since I can honestly think “hoooly” when I listen to the intro to a track. Of course, there’s more than just that: The “kicks”, if I can call it that, are definitely something people might be surprised by.

The beginning was like a call to arms. I felt as though my spirit was marching into an alternate reality. The music video reminded me of what was in Heady’s first comeback song ‘Destiny‘, which had a pretty obvious reference to ‘Outlast‘. Except, this time, the church visuals matches the music perfectly. I know it sounds like I’m complimenting the visuals in the video, but if you can listen to a piece of music and feel as if it paints a picture of something very clearly, you know it’s done well. Also, the “kicks”: I’m not even sure it would be considered a Hardstyle kick. It’s more like a generic Hard Dance kick, with a Hardstyle ring or influence to it. Pumping a hard-hitting sound in it’s own special, muffled way. What a lovely surprise.

The downside for me, would be the Heady-style melody that comes in at around the 2.05 mark of the music video. Some might say that if you can recognise something from an artist, their own little trademark sound or style, then they’ve done a (good) job. However, times change, tastes change, people change, music evolves. I will give the same advice as I have in many blog posts I’ve done in the past: Do not use it as an excuse for non-improvement. I will admit that as a listener, there are things that I want to be kept the same, but I want to be excited by what I’m hearing too. Even a slight, miniscule change will do. I want Heady to give me something that says: “This is Heady, but it’s 2018 Heady.” Not: “Oh, it’s Heady again.” I think a lot of Hardstyle artists are afraid to tip that scale by even just a little bit, which is a shame.

Nightfall ft. MC Sik-Wit-It – Whispers of Twilight

Once again, I have emerged from my cave. Sometimes, I deprive myself of the music I love most so that I can come back to it and go absolutely crazy, but you should know that it takes a lot of stimulus to draw out a hermit who is so picky about music. My Hardstyle senses decided to make ‘Whispers of Twilight’ my lullaby for tonight, so I couldn’t resist writing about it.

After a few cricket noises, the track starts of with a connected string of long notes, held by a lady with a wonderful voice. Was it intentionally manipulated to sound unnaturally connected? Or did the lady take a super deep breath before she sang? I don’t know, but the technicalities don’t matter here. It was a risk that paid off. If this unsettling segment went on for too long or repeated too often, I would have gotten annoyed and lost interest early on. Thankfully, this unnatural vocal component only lasts briefly, allowing this segment to become an interesting intro that doesn’t turn people off for sounding too whiny.

This hint of artificiality from the beginning marks the beginning of an epic journey. I feel as if Nightfall wanted to sprinkle this handful of magical sand from the get go, causing his listeners to become unconscious and unable to comprehend the words that were sung. As the darkness descends and listeners fall “in the dark”, they slowly awaken in the alternate, magical realm. The main melody slowly begins to emerge amidst well-controlled variations of volume and compression: Subtle, balanced and not too frequent or drastic.

I would disagree with the part where the MC says “all hell breaks loose”. In fact, the imagery I conjured in my head was rather different: Drifting across the Sahara desert on a dark night, we marvel at the aurora lights. I can imagine the sound waves, reflecting or refracting navy, neon pink and violet lights across the night sky. Honestly, this track can light up any stage. The rich, ascending chords of the chorus are gracefully enveloped by the velvety kicks like mist around a pond. Of course, one must also acknowledge the amazing screeches, which are not too sharp because they are kept under control with the right amount of compression. As a whole, every element of this track is adequately balanced.

Hardstyle doesn’t have to always be about chaos or hell. It takes a lot of skill to produce a piece that is beautiful yet powerful at the same time. I don’t know if my interpretation and feelings towards this track goes against the composers’ or the MC’s intentions. All I can say is, this track is magnificent to my ears.


Advanced Dealer and Kutski – Killscreen

Advanced Dealer and Kutski - Killscreen

I’ve always associated the name Kutski with UK or Happy Hardcore and never expected him to produce something slightly darker. Looks like I was wrong. Kutski’s collaboration with Advanced Dealer, titled ‘Killscreen’, is filled with a flurry of effective combos that hit some targets nicely. Although I wouldn’t say the track is completely flawless, I did think it was a decent track.

Let’s start by talking about MIDI sounds. I think MIDI sounds are more likely to be enjoyed by an older crowd that has played games which make those sounds when they were very young, because it evokes nostalgic feelings. I can applaud Advanced Dealer and Kutski for creating original MIDI melodies. However, I can’t help but think that the MIDI melody should make reference to actual games at some point of the track. After all, I was able to feel more joy from listening to a Hardstyle track like ‘Game Over’, which makes a direct and obvious reference to Tetris.

The other element that bothered me in this track was the fact that Advanced Dealer and Kutski decided to distort, repeat or tune a vocal snippet and a siren, then turn it into notes of its melodic segments. The melody was enjoyable, but not when those sounds were repeated in such frequent succession. I think they should have made things less harsh and forceful, because it takes away the fun it started off with. Or, at least make the transition from fun to sinister a bit smoother.

Now that I’m up to the fun part, let’s talk about the positive aspects of this track. Around the one-minute mark, I could instantly identify a Kutski style and the speed added excitement. Apparently, the vocal snippets and sirens actually sound less annoying when the track is sped up. Perhaps it’s because I was more able to identify those sounds as a vocal snippet or siren when it was at a much slower tempo and the brevity of these effects made things forgivable. Or, perhaps I’m just a biased Hardcore lover who finds tracks at a faster tempo more energetic. Who knows?

Do I have any complaints about the kicks? Nope. In fact, I adore how its trails are followed by the Mario-ate-a-mushroom MIDI effects. Around the 3.05 mark, it sounds as if the kicks and MIDI effects have tug-of-war, before exploding into the Hardcore kicks reverted to the initial tempo.

I would look forward to hearing more Kutski collaborations with Traxtorm artists. Alas, I have a feeling that it would be a rarity and that’s what makes this track quite noteworthy.


B-Front and Alpha2 ft. Snowflake – Lost

B-Front and Alpha 2 ft. Snowflake - Lost

To hear such a title from B-Front and Alpha2 was something I didn’t expect. As soon as I hit play, the sombre intro gave me an indication that this was going to be interesting. In fact, it didn’t disappoint, for what it had to offer gave me an emotional experience.

The majority of the track consists of dark kicks. Its depth and low pitch adds weight to the track and keeps it grounded, allowing it to match the piano and wispy vocal echoes perfectly. The vocals serve a somewhat important purpose despite their muffled and minimal involvement. In fact, its hardly audible quality is what makes this track universal. No matter where you’re from or what language you speak, hearing those vocals sing in that tone instantly evokes a feeling of sadness.

B-Front and Alpha2 maintain a balance between intense impact and soft cries of sorrow, soothing their listeners despite their use of contrasting effects. Although there will be times when you feel lost in a deep sea of troubles, you’ll still find solace from music that conveys your feelings perfectly. I consider this to be one of those tracks.


Hard Attakk – Nasty Bass

Hard Attakk - Nasty Bass

When I first heard the this song on Unleashed 034 and heard the chorus, I instantly thought of ‘Carol of the Bells‘ and wondered whether Hard Attakk got their inspiration from that piece. After all, even Zatox turned to classical music for ideas and Da Tweekaz certainly didn’t mind snatching a cradle melody. It’s always great when you can find links between different genres. Of course, what’s even more satisfying is knowing that it can be turned into utterly devastating monstrosity.

The kicks for this piece are quite abrupt and the tempo is just a little bit faster than the usual Hardstyle tempo, which is cool for those who have an appetite for fast impact. On top of that, the radio edit wastes no time with bringing its listeners straight into the crux. You can sense the impending evil even when the chorus melody is in its phase of decompression.

What I also love about this track is the way Hard Attakk brings in about three or four different kick variations, featured in brief intervals right before the next breakdown. Each of these are special in their own way, but the track would have been quite messy if the intervals were longer than what they were in the radio edit. In addition, the original kick that was used for this track is charming enough to leave me entranced. This led me to wonder whether the little segments of these kicks were a way of displaying the kick development process: How it evolved into its final, chosen form.

Get dirty, get gritty and get your gabber gear ready. Kick up some dust with this nasty bass and don’t miss out on the fun!

PS – I may be a bit late to the party, but as I always say, better late than never!


Nightfall – Distorted Reality

The Nightfall duo, DJ Jeffrey and producer Sven, were signed to Fusion quite recently. Around the time ‘Distorted Reality’ was released on the 2nd of November 2015, it also managed to gain the support of Digital Punk on Unleashed 032.

Compared to Nightfall’s first EP release with Fusion, ‘Boom Like’ and ‘No Surrender’, ‘Distorted Reality’ is a pretty big improvement. To make a specific example, their first EP placed too much reliance overpowering, high-pitched melodic segments. Fortunately, ‘Distorted Reality’s melody was more twisted and compressed, allowing the powerful kicks to have the attention they deserve. There were even moments where Nightfall isolated elements or turned it down to create suspense, before bringing up the volume to create an impact. This is a rather simple effect to apply, and some may think of it as a cliche. However, I think the dark force contained within the track had such a strong ability to engage its audience, that they could easily let that slide. I know I’d just be super keen to get to the point where everything is at its loudest whenever that happens. Nightfall certainly knows how to keep the party people on a hook!

Side note: I thought I already wrote about this track, but I didn’t! I was so sure that I even did a search on my own blog to make sure. Usually, when I repeat something a lot, I have every intention of writing about it afterwards. I was probably either too busy or just forgot about it. Anyway, I’m glad I remembered!


Digital Punk and Adaro – Whiplashed

On a dark laser night, a set was interrupted by a voice emerging from the very decks that they were playing on. The DJs, intimidated by its commands, started spinning at various speeds. Unsatisfied, the voice threatened them, and that seemed to be just the thing they needed to make things right.

No, this is not based on actual events. The aforementioned paragraph just seemed exactly like the story the track could be telling. I thought of beginning this review with very typical remarks, but felt that they won’t do justice to just how amazing the track was.

My amazement doesn’t just stop with the voice clips. The main attraction – the kicks, are absolute showstoppers. The static noise that pulses and fizzes as it diminishes, the deep bass that doesn’t lose its depth and weight no matter how fast Digital Punk and Adaro manipulate the tempo. Of course, the fizzes become less prominent when they are slightly overpowered by the melody in the climax, but think of that as a variation rather then a letdown. After all, the dark bass and harsh punches are to die for.

‘Whiplashed’ was released on Scantraxx Records on the 2nd of December.


Simple, but Hardstyle

I briefly scratched the surface of some of the more recent Hardstyle releases through both my inbox and YouTube today. That allowed me to find two releases I’d like to mention here: One from D-Block and S-te-fan, and the other from Da Tweekaz and Neilio. The reviews of these tracks will be combined into one post for two reasons: One, because both are considered to be melodic tracks; Two, both of them still manage to make decent tracks just by keeping things simple, which is something I think any budding producer should learn how to master.

Let’s begin with D-Block and S-te-fan’s ‘Higher’. Personally, I felt as if the introduction built up to the climax more slowly than the other Hardstyle tracks I’ve heard. However, this also allowed for any variations that followed to stand out. Specifically, when the low-pitched vocals said “let the music take you higher”, snippets of the ‘er’ syllable get repeated, then tuned into notes that form a melody, merging itself into the rest of the composition. This was followed by alternations between chord notes and notes of the main melody. Very blissful indeed. Unfortunately, the biggest weakness of this release is repetitive lyrics. Catchy and addictive, but repetitive. I would have loved to loop this more if there were better lyrics.

The next track by Da Tweekaz and Neilio, titled ‘Freedom’, is an attempt to make something that Hardstyle lovers can dance to gloriously. I used the word “attempt”, because although I did enjoy the melody, I felt as if the words carry a lot of weight. Those lyrics may be more suited to something rougher or tougher, like Ran-D’s Defqon.1 2015 anthem. However, I didn’t find it difficult to let that slide, because if anything, this track can still make people feel something on the dance floor: It’ll make people want to celebrate. The octaves in the kick-chord-kick-chord alternations sounded like a carnival theme. Combined with a twinkling melody and synth twists, you can’t help but imagine colourful lights flying past your eyes.

If you’re a producer looking for some introduction to the very core of what makes Hardstyle work, but don’t want to dive into the depths of ancient history, these new tracks are certainly worth looking into. ‘Higher’ has been released through Scantraxx Records and ‘Freedom’ from the Dirty Workz label.


Atmozfears ft. David Spekter – Release

Sometimes, no matter how cliche a track might be, it can still strike a chord within your soul. Although Atmozfears’ ‘Release’ shares similarities with other melodic Hardstyle tracks that were recently released, I still had an irresistible urge to play this at work, again and again.

I thought about how I only wrote about Atmozfears a few weeks ago about his incredible raw style, only to be struck by another one of his more emotional creations so soon. Despite its downsides, I suppose I can consider it a guilty pleasure to play this on repeat. Without further ado, I shall now write about the most positive aspects of this track. If you would like to read about its weakness, feel free to refer to my previous review of ‘Our Dreams‘ by Bass Modulators, because both ‘Release’ and ‘Our Dreams’ have the same flaw.

The reason why ‘Release’ sounds so uplifting is not just because of its lyrics and soothing vocals, but also the intervals in the melodies and the way it was mastered. The echoing effect seems to spread across a vast space, which really enhances the ethereal feeling produced by the ascending intervals. Instead of an explosion of anger, this track pops a great big balloon that was inflated with joy. Contrary to dark themes, it reminds its listeners of what it feels like to be on the top of the world.

I only need four words to sum it all up: Exhilarating, exciting, energetic, ethereal. Even if I might get tired of it at some point, I’m glad I enjoyed this at some point of my life.