Tacoma heavy metal band Sanction VIII has a winner on their hands with their new album. The band consists of Justin Knight on lead vocals and guitar, A.J. Ortiz on guitar, Aaron Nelson on bass and Kenny Sprague on drums. Knight and Ortiz are original members, forming the band in 2005 while stationed at Fort Lewis. Both have done tours of duty in Iraq and that experience comes through in the band’s lyrics.
The album is dedicated to the armed forces of the United States. The title track is a salute to the military personnel who have risked their lives in service to the nation. “Under our flag we won’t back down/ heroes’ hearts are forged from steel/ kill oppression with aggression/ others that refuse to kneel.”
Knight and Ortiz are big fans of Pantera, arguably the greatest American metal band of the 1990s. Sanction VIII bears some resemblance in its mix of aggressive and melodic music and vocals that convey anger while allowing the lyrics to be understood. The guitar solo on this song is precise without being too flashy.
“Ashes For Tomorrow” is a good example of their utilization of time changes.
“Blood Hungry” has a bit of a punk rock feel to it. The lyrics are about someone pondering the dark places in his mind.
“#@(%.Spit.Hate.” is very fast for the first 90 seconds. A time change slows the tempo considerably, with a guitar playing an arpeggio while Sprague taps cymbals. Knight delivers some vocals spoken-word style: “Break down your walls, I live in pain/ I try to wash away, but the stain remains/ just look inside and you will see/ just what it’s like to be me.” The solo that follows has a tortured sound that fits the lyrics perfectly.
“Make You Dead” is a menacing number. “I’ll slit your throat while you sleep/ my dreams come true to death you’ll bleed.”
“H8 Train” begins slow and melodic, with guitar playing an arpeggio in a minor key. About 35 seconds in the tempo gets fairly fast. It appears the lyrics here were inspired by combat duty. “Wondering when I will die/ who will run and who will hide?/ you own my breath, my heart and soul/ this train of fire will take me home.”
The songs were recorded at Grit City Studios and mastered by Geoff Ott at London Bridge Studios. The CD has strong production values; clearly Sanction VIII spent the time and money to do this right.
The album artwork, done by Knight and Sarah White, is ideal for the lyrical themes of the songs.
Sanction VIII plays Central Avenue Pub in Kent on March 2.
Reviewed by John Larson
In a moment of futile resolve, Gregor Samsa, the unfortunate man-turned-insect in Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” determines to cling at his last vestiges of humanity by keeping his room as it was before his transformation. “Had he really wanted to have his warm room, comfortably fitted with furniture that had always been in the family, changed into a cave, in which, of course, he would be able to crawl around unhampered in all directions but at the cost of simultaneously, rapidly, and totally forgetting his human past?” Samsa’s desperate attempt to reclaim his vanished life is one familiar in principle (though far more unusual) to many that long for years past, which seem preferable to the grey, careworn life they now must endure.
Now, why do I mention this in a review of a Seattle band called The Hoot Hoots? I have two reasons: (1) the music featured in their newest EP “Feel the Cosmos” is saturated with the joy of youth and (2) I am sure these childlike souls would love to think of a guy turning into a huge bug.
I have not yet begun to understand the attraction of childhood nostalgia. I am still a callow lad, but I remember my early years as a now-embarrassing time of incontinence, belief in Santa Claus and crippling shyness. The idea of wishing to return to this time is vaguely repellent, and I question the lucidity of those who possess it. I believe it is far better to carry your happy memories and attitudes forever – if they are never lost, they will never be missed. I will hazard that The Hoot Hoots, with their love of aliens, ice cream and (probably) giant man-insects, would agree.
The songs found on “Feel the Cosmos” are fine syntheses of buoyant exuberance and musical maturity. All instrumentals benefit the songs; the bass skips along rather than plunks, and the lyrics are free of undue pretension. Every track is lively, filled with catchy hooks, memorable vocals and fuzzy keyboards. The band’s enthusiasm is infectious and their outlook is sunny. I appreciate the rejection of angst-filled and angry themes – and this is coming from someone who was introduced to rock via Alice in Chains.
When listening to “Feel the Cosmos,” expect no more sadness than that which comes after wasting a day playing video games, hilariously depicted in the opening track “Go For a Walk” (“Oh no/ it’s not day anymore!/ I don’t want to be alone anymore...”). The Hoot Hoots have achieved the commendable feat of drawing upon the best of their youthful sensibilities while never becoming obnoxious or boring.
But, to my pleasant surprise, levity is leavened with something approaching wisdom. In the alien-abduction tale “Friend or Enemy,” the darkly comic thought of the visitors judging humanity as “only suitable as pets” is strangely thought-provoking, especially when considered with “And we get accustomed to living in a cage/ passing the time with sex and video games….”
In the final choruses of “Circles,” The Hoot Hoots seem to recognize their entrapment in their lives (“I am running in circles/ I am spinning my wheels/ and I will never find a way out of here….”) Thankfully, they do not seem at all sad about it.
Accessible, entertaining musical and lyrical themes shaded by deeper musings make “Feel the Cosmos” a universally enjoyable album and earns my genuine respect for the songwriters. Albums like this one renew my faith in independent, little-known pop-rock. I am sure The Hoot Hoots would become beloved by many if more people had the chance to listen to them. They are certainly more talented than a lot of popular bands. Their fast, catchy songs are perfect respites from worry and stress, and their unabashedly optimistic tone is heartening. Rediscover your vitality and childhood with “Feel the Cosmos.” It will be better than faded nostalgia. Send a copy to Samsa – the album is bound to cheer up even an insect. “Let’s just expect the best with what we have,” The Hoot Hoots entreat. If you have “Feel the Cosmos,” expecting the best is absolutely reasonable.
The Hoot Hoots play Comet Tavern in Seattle at 9 p.m. on Feb. 16.
Reviewed by Henry DeMarais