It’s been four years since Minneapolis-based rockers Semeron released their debut album “Destroying the Monster.” And, it has been seven months since the band last performed on stage. But, all this time out of the spotlight has given the guys some much needed time to put pen to paper to craft their sophomore release “Breathing Scarlet.” The album raises the bar vocally and challenged the musicians to write deeper, more colorful lyrics, as evident in the album’s title. The 10-song release is a testimony to just how talented this band is and how a little time away from it all can produce one hell of a new record.
Opening the 45-minute album is the smooth, electric sounds of Afro Blue, a track that quickly invites the listener into the true sounds of Semeron. The song, the band admits, is actually a cover song of a John Coltrane jazz tune. The interlude is all music and showcases the talents of guitarists J.R. Westberg and Berklee-trained Nick Ford. This song quickly sets the tone for the sound of the entire album and reveals just how polished the group has gotten during their time in the studio of John Laing.
“We definitely put more time into this album, but the polish comes from a lot of other things as well,” Westberg said. “’Destroying the Monster’ was our first time recording an album and we were still looking for ‘our sound.’ This time around, we knew what we had to do to make a good record and we had a better idea of how to properly prepare for studio work – which is long and grueling.”
Effortlessly moving into the second song on the album, which was also the first single, Can’t Take Me Alive is everything you’ve expected of the band. Featured on the third volume of Decibel Compilations, “Can’t Take Me Alive” is fast, catchy and is sure to get the heads banging. Lead singer Adam Hanson, accompanied by bassist Jeff Gyllen, immediately sounds far superior vocally to the band’s debut record yet still processes his individual character.
“We had a lot of discussion about this when we were wrapping up mastering,” Westberg said about the powerful song. “It’s the most intense song on the record and we wanted to make a statement – let everyone know that we were back.”
While Westberg said the song may not be ideal for radio play, the band is in the running (and running away with the votes) for St. Cloud-based Rockin’ 101 Minnesota’s Homegrown May Band of the Month. So, maybe we’ll get to hear it played over the wire after all.
Cherry Blossoms is the title track of the third song on the album and introduces the vocals right up front and the gritty undertones have Hanson displaying how passionate he is about this song. A blend of heavy guitars and acoustic sounds is the introduction of layers the band spoke about last year when previewing the record.
“There are multiple layers to every song and it’s rare that we play the same section throughout the song identically,” Westberg said last year. “This was very hard to do, but hopefully makes the music more dynamic and interesting.”
Vocally, this is the most layered song as Hanson gets sensual during a verse and powers through the final chorus in the end. Per usual, “Cherry Blossoms” has the signature closing – the all music outro that they have become famous for.
Coming in fourth is a song that many fans will recognize as it’s a tune that gets the band moving from one side of the stage to the other during a show. Trees brings back the gang cheers and the familiar “one grows” screams yet the sound has been enhanced and a slight lyric change. Formerly “don’t you know that the trees are evil,” to now “we know they’re evil inside, we’re here for the fight so long as we’re all right.”
Once again, “Trees” has had some layers added and is given an almost haunting feel to it. A ghostly echo follows Hanson’s voice just before the chorus as the guitars and drums kick in. The vocals are polished and guitars on point. Drummer Jesse Farrell has no problem keeping up with the quick pace of the song and the upgrades to a song that has been on the set list for many shows are on point.
“Everything we write is a work in progress and the songs are always changing and evolving for our shows,” Westberg said. “Playing a song the same way every time is hopelessly boring. During the recording process we had to walk a fine line. We were constantly coming up with new ideas for layering, but if you get too crazy it becomes impossible to play live. Semeron made a solemn oath to never play automated backing tracks on stage.”
Halfway through the record is the fifth song titled Honalee, a personal favorite since first hearing it in 2011 when we first met the guys of Semeron. The song takes on a slight resemblance to the Receiving End of Sirens, especially in the chorus when Gyllen asks:
Narnia where is your dragon roar?
Autumn misted shore.
Doubting dug your grave,
and we are brave.
The song, which seems to refer to the mythical, magical dragon, also is the first and only instance on the record where the title is actually used in context.
Peel away from the Earth, oh falling starlet.
Nowhere left to run.
Turn the water to fire I’m breathing scarlet,
“Honalee” is the perfect showcase for Hanson and Gyllen’s immensely polished vocals and is the perfect upgrade to an already great song. The darker tone, fanciful lyrics, and just plain ridiculous guitar notes set the stage for one supped up Land of Honalee.
Slowing the record down is the next song Ship of Fools. The vocals are the clearest on this track and a bit of angst comes through in the chorus with the person in question is reaching out for support.
See the dead will rise.
And they just want, they just need
Someone to tall them beautiful,
someone to seek them out,
to reach in where hurt pools.
Once again, the strings section of this band takes center stage as the last near two minutes is devoted to the choreographed jam session. “Ship of Fools” is a beautiful break in the middle because the next song will crush the relaxed sentiment to bits.
Coming in at no. 7, Crusher has quickly become what Westberg said is the “dark horse favorite” of the group. It takes on a life of its own with the emergence of a desirable yet unattainable woman and becoming one of the band’s boldest songs to date.
“The song really emerged during the mixing process,” Westberg said. “We wanted to make it sound like an old 50s monster movie being played through a radio. All the other songs are pretty deep and thematically heavy, so we wanted to write something that was a little more lighthearted. Plus, Adam challenged us to write a song that people could dance to.”
The beginning drum beat gets the song started off right and quick fingers on the guitar add a sinister sound to the track. The vocals alongside the deliberate drum pound channels the old school feel Westberg described yet brings it back into this era with an extremely catchy chorus.
Here she comes… to take down all mankind…
All the world trembles now.
We’re all just toys.
That girl’s a crusher.
King Kong’s got nothing on her.
The challenge to make this a dance tune has been accepted and exceeded. “Crusher” is going to have the dance floor moving and people singing along.
Rain is the next song and another track that fans of Semeron will recognize. Once again, the familiar tune has undergone a subtle facelift while keeping the integrity of the music. However, it has been given new life with a more polished production. Throw in a few background echoes, a guitar riff that refuses to quit, and one talented drummer, and you’ll get “Rain.”
This song is one of the best lyrically on the album and has one of the most memorable choruses on “Breathing Scarlet.”
Out in the rain.
Love will come true.
Come hell or high water I’m here with you.
Out in the rain.
With you by my side.
Holding on tight for the rest of our lives.
A quick minute-and-a-half musical eargasm appropriately titled Prelude is a chance for the band to catch its breath and provide listeners with a serenade before belting out the last and longest track on the album, Our Sky. The prelude leads right into “Our Sky,” which is another upgraded version of its former self.
Played many times on stage, “Our Sky” is another all-time favorite track from Semeron. The layers on this song are many and each adds significance to the tune which plays out like an epic novel.
Oh, can we go away from here?
To our sky, our sky.
Seven minutes of pure musicianship pass all too quickly as electric vocals and a running drum beat take the listener on a rollercoaster of emotions and ends with an unbelievable guitar solo that is becoming common place for the music of Semeron. The perfect album ending, “Our Sky” incorporates various speeds of play and doesn’t skimp on a good story line.
“We also were really pushing to make the album an experience to listen to,” Westberg explained. “Lots of really subtle layers that in some cases you have to strain your ears to hear everything that’s going on. Hopefully people can catch something new on each listen. Ultimately though, we just want people to have fun with it. The hard rock scene is kind of stale right now, so this is our attempt to breathe a little life and energy back into the genre.”
“Breathing Scarlet” literally does exactly that. The album not only breathes new life into the Minneapolis scene, which like winter has been a little frozen lately, but it also breathes new life into a band that has been anxiously waiting to jump back on stage.
The accomplished talents of engineers James Harley and Ian Combs and the impressive facility at Waterbury Studios allowed the creation of a record that will be held in high regards in the Twin Cities music industry.
“The heavy lifting mixing work was Harley and his crew– Combs and Brett Lengacher – with some others behind the scenes,” Westberg said. “We can’t speak highly enough about those guys. They really whipped the album into shape. The album was mastered by Greg Reierson – Rare Form Mastering – who is fantastic.”
The band’s sophomore release is truly a cut above anything they have ever produced, and the quality of the writing combined with the talents of each musician is going to make “Breathing Scarlet” hard to top.
“This album is a culmination of a tremendous amount of energy and work,” Westberg said. “We are really excited to get to share it with everyone.”
Top Three Picks:
2. Can’t Take Me Alive
Semeron is hosting an album release party on Friday, May 3 at the Fine Line Music Café in Minneapolis. Advanced tickets are $5 and can be obtained by contacting the band directly via their Facebook or Twitter account. Tickets are $8 at the door.
Other acts include The Phoenix Philosophy, Tepetricy and Battlefish. Semeron will take the stage at 10:30 p.m.
For more information about the release show, visit the event page.