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Portland Rock

Master Splinter – Ronin (Cross the Sea): An Alt-Rock Allegory for Resilience and Hope

We have always expected the unexpected with Master Splinter, and still, they managed to catch us off-guard with their evocatively expansive, melodically compelling latest alt-rock single, Ronin (Cross the Sea).

Even though they’ve stayed consistent in their tendency to use fantasy tales as conduits for emotional expression, beyond the histrionics in the vocal performance, the tale of the story unravels as a heart-wrenching allegory for emotional upheaval and hard-fought battles which leave you depleted and raw.

The instrumental builds and breaks decorate the grungy hit with a sense of furore that serves to amplify the lyrical messages of resilience in the face of almost certain destruction. Tune into the release and lock into an experimentally sludgy rock opera that delivers a message of hope.

In an era when optimism can all too easily feel like the outlook of the naïve, there are profound lessons to take from Ronin (Cross the Sea). But the biggest takeaway is that Master Splinter, with this newfound vulnerability, is one of the best alt-rock outfits to follow in 2024.

In Master Splinter’s own words:

“The story is about a samurai who is in a losing battle and his master is killed. When a samurai is without a master, he becomes “ronin”, which in Japanese vaguely translates to something like “lost warrior”. The land he called home is overtaken by enemies and forced to flee, he takes to the sea. He lands on an unfamiliar shore and sees that this land is also stricken with war. He does the only thing he knows how and joins in the fight against the invaders. The warrior is gravely injured and falls to the ground, accepting his fate and loses consciousness. But, when he awakens, he discovers that he’s been nursed back to health by a mysterious man who becomes his new master and grants him a magical katana that the warrior wields with newfound strength. The story ends ambiguously but is meant to express triumph.”

Ronin (Cross the Sea) will hit the airwaves and exhibit a softer side to the Portland-hailing psychedelic Senseis on March 1st. Stream the single on Spotify.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

A&R Factory Looked Behind the Veil of Master Splinter’s Latest Single, Ronin

Few stoner rock bands stitch a tapestry as rich and enigmatic as Master Splinter. Our latest tête-à-tête with these fantasyweavers delves into the meta realms they inhabit. We uncovered the layers of their latest single, “Ronin”, set to captivate audiences on the 1st of March.

This seminal release is a portal into the band’s soul, offering a glimpse into their unique blend of head-pounding instrumentation and fantastical storytelling. “Ronin” stands as a testament to their evolution, infusing personal experiences with a newfound vulnerability, setting it apart from their previous work while still packing their signature style of furore and fervour. The interview touches on themes ranging from the creative genesis of their songs to the emotional odysseys they embark upon, painting a vivid picture of why “Ronin” is an unmissable addition to the stoner rock universe.

Master Splinter, welcome to A&R Factory! We’ve loved getting acquainted through your eclectically eccentric discography and can’t wait to hear more about your upcoming release which is due to hit the airwaves on the 1st of March. What can your growing fanbase expect? 

Mick: Cheers for the opportunity to talk, and for your succinct and dead-on-accurate reviews of our work thus far!  With this next single, our fans can expect the same head-pounding instrumentation and fantastical storytelling that they’ve become familiar with.  But the difference with Ronin is a noticeable increase in dynamic, both in sound and emotion.  Ronin is firmly connected to personal experiences, so expect a bit more vulnerability compared to our previous releases.

Can you share with us the initial spark or moment that led to the creation of this song?

Mick: That’s actually a pretty complicated story, but I’ll attempt to give a cliffnotes version. I wrote the music, and some vaguely similar lyrics in 2017 while living in Shenzhen, China.  I have a good friend, a very talented vocalist and lyricist out of the UK called Rhythmical Thinker, and we first began working together as a songwriting team around that time in Shenzhen.  He’s responsible for a percentage of the song’s overall theme and aesthetic, but the original incarnation of this song bears little resemblance to what it has become with Master Splinter.  The way that I see it, the song’s skeleton was constructed back in 2017 by me and RT, and the ensuing years of experiences I had were the flesh and blood added to it later.  It’s almost as though the song knew what it was before I did, before I could have known what it was, because the things that the song came to represent to me had yet to happen. So, I guess you could say this song was built slowly over time, layer by layer, with periods of dormancy in between.

The narrative in your upcoming track is layered with metaphors and fantasy elements. How do these creative choices reflect the emotional and personal journey you’ve undergone from 2020 to 2023?

Mick:  Well, you may be among the most familiar with our predilection for hyperbole and fanciful whimsy.  We are big nerds, and we also enjoy experimenting with different ways of communicating things.  What this song came to represent was a story of prolonged struggle, characterized by a terrifying level of uncertainty.  My personal experiences that this story metaphorically attempts to parallel were as intense as they were because I spent a significant amount of time in limbo, waiting for a terrible thing that I knew would happen, but had no idea when or how severe it would be, and also did not know what life would look like for me after these things finally played out.  Once they did, my whole existence was turned upside down, I was thoroughly traumatized by all of it, and my coping mechanism was to involuntarily become a walking callus for about 2 years.  I knew I had things to confront, but I had absolutely no idea how to begin that process, and so I didn’t.  Until I recorded this song.

Schauer: I’m just as emotionally fucked as I’ve always been but playing this song is gives me a chance to forget all that and just be in the moment. As far as growth goes I think I’m up 20lbs.

How cathartic was the writing and recording process? 

Mick: Honestly, I didn’t really know the meaning of cathartic until this song took form.  When it found its feet and I knew what it was, the walking callus that I spent the last 2 years living as became an open wound, and I obsessively listened to the song on repeat and had one emotional breakdown after another for around 4 months straight.  At the end of all that, I felt like myself again and leveled up every single part of my being in ways I never thought possible.  This isn’t just a song to me, it’s an extension of my soul.

Schauer: I love the idea of using sound waves to fuck with people’s brain chemistry. The physics and biology behind it are fascinating and playing an instrument is like having a cheat code. You all are lucky I don’t have a compelling back story, some facial scars and an ambiguous sense of morality.

How does the song fit in with the rest of your releases, and what sets it apart from the previous singles? 

Mick: I think it fits in neatly with our other releases from a stylistic perspective.  I’d like to think that Master Splinter is pretty eclectic, and our listeners have picked up on that they should “expect the unexpected” with us.  The main consistency with us is that whatever we put out there is authentic.  It’s a blessing to have a bandmate and co-leader like Schauer, because the authenticity that rings out of our songs, whether they’re collaboratively written or not, becomes a single, identifiable vibe. I don’t worry about whether or not any new song presented is keeping to any specific formula.  We’ve been charmed in that way.  He can write anything he wants, and I can write anything that comes to mind, and so far it always sounds like Master Splinter.

Schauer: it fits because it’s honest and we like it. Once those two parameters are met, we put in the work and then after it’s been vetted, out into the ether it goes. Preferably like an astronaut’s ass strapped to a SaturnV rocket.

This song in particular though takes its time to build a world and a narrative where the listener becomes the protagonist in the story. I expect at some point to be walking down the street and see a listener acting out the story with zero fucks given to the nervous looks from bystanders. Don’t let me down people.

Given the emotional weight of the single, are you anxious about how it will be received or stoked for it to be finally out there? 

Mick: Nah, not nervous at all.  I’m stoked for it to finally be out there.  That is probably due to the fact that I spent 10 months mixing, re-mixing, re-recording and re-doing every little tiny thing in this song a million times before it finally sounded right.

Schauer: anyone who doesn’t like this song will either enjoy or not enjoy our other songs. And to those people I say “Hello!”

Seriously though we stand with our work. We have zero incentive to write for anyone but ourselves. Writing for the likes, views and comments only undermines the whole point of making music in the first place, which is to make a good and lasting connection with the listener.

For your new listeners, how would you sum up the vibe of Master Splinter, and what is the dynamic & ethos of your band? 

Mick: The vibe of Master Splinter is a celebration of the sonic landscapes that are created with heavy music and an invitation to anyone feeling hesitant about heavy music to join the stupid fuckin party.  Heavy metal and hard rock is a very versatile little corner of popular music.  To me, I’ve always been so drawn to how it can blend aggression and humor so seamlessly that they almost become one thing.  That’s what we’re doing.  We’re trying to make sounds that can only be described as “badass” and “hilarious”.  Maybe a few other words can be thrown in sometimes, but those 2 words are the matter that makes up the majority of our universe.

Schauer: Our vibe fuckin’ rocks dude. We’re excited to be doing it, and if you feed on that kind of energy we’ll unload an all you can eat buffet into your skull

With such a deeply personal and artistically significant release on the horizon, what are your aspirations for this song and the future of Master Splinter? 

Mick: Of course I’d love to see Ronin get into as many ears as possible.  I’ll be doing my usual promotional efforts, maybe in a slightly elevated manner since this song is my “baby”.  But really, the song has already changed my life in ways that I probably don’t fully understand as of now, and I’m just very happy that it exists and that soon others can hear it.  I hope some people can dig through the layers of metaphors and find something they can relate to.  I think some people will.  Maybe it can help them in some way.

Schauer: Pay off the house, do music full time and roll into your town (yes you 😉 with a big fucking truck, loaded with big ass Amplifiers.

Stream Master Splinter’s latest single, Ronin (Cross the Sea) on Spotify from March 1st.

Interview by Amelia Vandergast

Master Splinter took their stoner rock sound into an arcane new realm in ‘Dragon’s Blood’

Master Splinter, the Portland-based hard rock powerhouse, has unleashed a storming renegade of a track with Dragon’s Blood, which opens the gateway into the realms of arcane fantasy and fiction, a territory where bands like Gwar and Nekrogoblikon have previously ventured, but Master Splinter carves out their own unique path with an anthem of escapism and empowerment.

The powerful and melodic vocals tie the whole ensemble together, creating a sound that is both classic and refreshingly innovative. Songwriters, Mick Arrell and Jason Schauer, have a knack for weaving epic stories, using metaphorical characters and scenarios to express complex emotions and experiences in a way that is both clever and subtle – perfectly exemplified in Dragon’s Blood.

The track itself is a journey through a fantastical landscape, where the tales of prevailing against adversity are enough to psyche up any listener to smite their challenges. It is stoner rock perfection from a band that continues to adorn our radar with riff-charged insanity, and we eagerly anticipate what they will conjure up next.

Dragon’s Blood dripped onto the airwaves on December 15; stream it on Spotify.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

Rooftop Screamers metamorphosed nihilism into euphoria with their power pop hit, Dead in the Water

With angular echoes of Interpol-esque lines feeding into the palpitatingly anticipation-rife instrumental arrangement, the prelude and opening verse in Rooftop Screamers‘ latest single, Dead in the Water, throws you into the depth of the earworm headfirst before the subsequent verses veer from Placebo reminiscence to exuding the fervid electricity found within the Manic Street Preacher tracks that know exactly how to melodically ignite the soul.

It is a significant sonic shift from the sound Rooftop Screamers used to gain our attention earlier this year. They’ve left the dreaminess and romanticism of Another Life behind the anthemic 90s Britpop adrenaline, but you’ll still be enveloped by the scintillating synths as they add colour to the guitar lines which may as well have been riffed by James Dean Bradfield himself.

The track featuring Rob Daiker is an impossible-to-ignore attestation to the cultivated gravitas of the Portland-hailing award-winning singer-songwriter who alchemically metamorphosed nihilism into euphoria for superlative power pop catharsis.

Dead in the Water was officially released on December 15; stream it on Spotify.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

Fox 2 warped the lineage of rock n roll to define its future with their debut LP, Sidewinder

Sidewinder by Fox 2

Fox 2’s debut LP, Sidewinder, is a seismic shift in the rock landscape, a thrilling fusion of reverence and revolution. From the streets of Portland, Oregon, this dynamic duo – ex-fighter pilot Paul Shamy and drumming maestro Jason Van Abrams – have unleashed a debut that doesn’t just walk the tightrope between homage and innovation; it riffs right across it.

Imagine the raw, gritty essence of grunge, the soulful depth of blues, and the rebellious spirit of punk, all colliding in a supernova of sound. That’s Sidewinder. Each track is a masterstroke of musical alchemy, where classic rock sensibilities are not just revisited but reinvented. The album is a kaleidoscope of eras and styles, yet it remains unmistakably Fox 2.

Shamy’s vocals are a revelation. He’s a powerhouse of emotion that can whisper in one breath and roar in the next. His guitar riffs are incendiary, igniting each track with a white-hot intensity. And then there’s Van Abrams, a rhythmic juggernaut whose drumming is both a foundation and a force of nature, driving the music forward with unstoppable momentum.

From the haunting melodies of The Grey to the frenetic energy of Phila, each song is a journey in itself. But it’s in tracks like Fly where Fox 2’s genius truly shines, blending bluesy undertones with garage rock grit to create something entirely new yet timelessly familiar.

Following the release of Sidewinder, the outfit is expanding their sound by strapping in bassist Pierce Guderskiand and is set to release swathes of hits in Summer 2024. Ensure Fox 2 is on your flight radar for the drop.

Stream and download Sidewinder on Bandcamp and Spotify. Follow Fox 2 on Instagram to stay up to date with their latest releases.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

From the cockpit to the mosh pit, the fighter-pilot rock duo Fox 2 played it hard, dirty, and bluesy in their debut LP, Sidewinder

Sidewinder by Fox 2

When the members of the fighter-pilot rock duo, Fox 2, aren’t in cockpits, they’re starting mosh pits with their dirty, hard, and bluesy hits. Last November, the dualistic powerhouse debuted its first LP, Sidewinder, and staked the claim of being one of the hottest rock acts in Portland, Oregon.

Delve into the title single and you’ll be hypnotised by the adrenalised swaggy blues guitar bends in the reverent rock n roll hit, which melds modernist production styles and percussive assertion in the same veins of Royal Blood with classic blues rock cuts to orchestrate an era-spanning testament to their talent, cross-over appeal, and authenticity.

Sidewinder will be a tough record to follow, but something tells us that Fox 2 has plenty more innovative firepower to ignite an onslaught of ensnaring hits; watch this space and feel the heat.

Sidewinder is available to stream and purchase via Bandcamp.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

Master Splinter – A Caustic Version: Mike Patton Spawned a Stoner-Rock Monster

If the Alice in Chains discography hit a little bit harder and attacked their song crafting with an infectious sense of facetiousness, their grungy tracks would roll with the same vitriolically zany punches as Master Splinter’s latest single, A Caustic Version, which also runs in the same Machiavellian vein as some of Mike Patton’s most maniacally unhinged tracks.

With the vocals taking on swathes of different guises to amplify the unpredictability of the hard rock hit, your speakers will be smoking the wildfire ignited by the Portland, Oregon-based outfit’s determination not to take themselves too seriously.

If you’re sick of the brooding narcissists who proliferate rock and metal scenes across the globe and want a taste of eccentrically elemental stoner rock ingenuity, sink your teeth into A Caustic Version

A Caustic Version was officially released on October 17th; stream it on Spotify.

Review by Amelia Vandergast