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Brace yourselves: this is rap-rock. I know what you're thinking, a genre that has Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit as the forerunners can't be good. And you're right. What these four guys from Elizabeth, New Jersey (E-town, for the uninitiated) have been doing--and yes, they've been doing this since you were still in your grunge phase--is write their own book on rap-rock. I'm giving the wrong impression for the sake of generalizing; this is more of a metal/hardcore band than anything else. After you hear the first grinding riff from guitarist David Mondragon, you'll figure out where you are. But someone was sneaking around with the hip-hop venom when they first got together and infected the whole band. You could say it's the style of lead vocalist and lyricist Anthony Martini which gives the music that hip hop edge, as he proclaims himself: "A rock singer with a rap mentality." But you'd be wrong. Certainly Martini's vocals are an enormous part of the hip-hop sound this band has, but the rhythm section of Eric DeNault (bass) and Theodore Panagopoulos (drums) make this one of the tightest bands I've heard in a long time.
That's a refreshing thing because the very nature of hip hop focuses on tightness. You won't, however, find any sequencers or drum machines on The Renaissance. They'll definitely fool you, take "So Many Nights" for instance. You've got an acoustic guitar working in the background, then you've got this driving hip hop beat and bass line that you would swear was done in Dr. Dre's studio. Then you take a second and realize you're listening to a band here, and that's where E-town makes every act that's ever tried to do the rap-metal thing get down to their knees.
Since their first label debut Time To Shine on Resurrection AD Records, they've known how to incorporate hip hop with heavy music. At that time, Martini was a rap style vocalist in front of a hardcore band. The new millennium saw E-town Concrete switch to Triple Crown Records and start developing a true hip hop style which included plenty of bouncing rap rhythm breakdowns. Yeah, you heard me, rap breakdowns! Picture yourself on a metal rollercoaster: You're thrashing away, riding ridiculously heavy hardcore riffs in metal-head bliss. All of a sudden the car you are in is taken off the tracks and now you're cruising down in Compton, hydraulics and all, bumping a hot hip hop track that has everyone in the streets grinding.
Same thing applies for this release, except now Anthony Martini decided he'd like to try a hand at developing melodies for his vocals, belting them out in many of the choruses. This addition creates an irresistible hook that you will (at least try to) sing along to. I don't know where this vocal talent came from; perhaps he's taken some vocal lessons or he's been too shy. Whatever the cause, the effect is tremendous. Now that Martini has melody in his arsenal, he's a force to reckon with, and he's not shy about that: "I'm more than incredible, track record is impeccable … So many hits I can pick and choose, I'm rocking out like this was Motley Crüe." Martini's lyrics are quite incredible, they speak of growing up in one of the shittiest parts of New Jersey, having an abusive father and the haters who never wanted to give his band the credit they deserve-yet certainly they will get.
Instrumentally, The Renaissance is a masterpiece. There's only one guitar in this band and I struggle to find parts where David Mondragon has tracked more than that. Drummer Theodore Panagopoulos should receive the most credit; he's making complex hip hop and metal rhythms with only four limbs and without the help of electronic equipment. You don't know what to expect from this guy, which means he's creating and not following a formula. Eric DeNault shines during the most extreme hip hop moments; he'll take you into that zone in your head you didn't know could be tickled. Everything sounds huge and it's all in your face.
The small flaw to be found on this album is E-town's habit of producing overly repetitive choruses. Yes Anthony, I know you feel strongly about your hardships, but I got it the first, second and third time you said it. If the choruses were shortened, the message would be more substantial.
E-town Concrete has been working hard since 1995 and these four guys deserve all the credit they have received and then some. The video for "Mandibles" is already in rotation on MTV2 and they are currently on a National tour. You might not like rap, you might hate rock-rap, but I challenge you to listen to this album and tell me this band isn't creating some of the most diverse music that's being put out.
Fuck the world, E-town will take this world by storm.
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