Universal Dice - birth, love, hate, death
The sixteen song rock opera from New York area based Universal Dice dubbed birth, love, hate, death is a truly dizzying spin through an array of dyed in the wool rock tunes of various sorts. It’s a rarity, as well, for another key reason – the album’s conceptual nature is a far cry from a modern scene where mainstream rock albums are frequently diminished to grab bags of by the number riffage. Songwriter, musician, activist, and lead singer Gerry Dantone’s avowed intent is to make audience’s feel and think when they hear his songs and he accomplishes that with this collection thanks to his own abundant gifts and a first class cadre of supporting musicians behind him. It’s a stellar effort from front to back and Dantone’s obvious as a heart attack flair for writing songs from a character’s point of view proves to be super convincing throughout.
He definitely favors some traditional elements in his songwriting. The instrumental wind-up kicking off the album opener “Welcome to the World” is a recurring motif of his work and it’s a charmer every time. It gives the album an effortless lift off with some great, tasteful electric guitar and a breezy rhythm section performance pushing everything along. “I Wish I Could Tell You This” gives listeners an interesting change of mood almost immediately and the sinewy attributes of Dantone’s singing are just as effective turned toward a higher register and much more balladic material. “Your Son” is a very emotive piece with a dramatic movement to it that does every bit as much as Dantone’s words to augment the storytelling. Dantone and his musical partners in this band have done an outstanding job of creating musical landscapes for this work that are just as gripping, in their own right, as the array of voices Dantone “tries on” for this song cycle. “The Prophet” is one of the few inklings of a hard rock side emerging from Dantone’s songwriting and the powerful drums are especially memorable. The production captures them blasting away with a raw, near-tribal spirit.
The presumed musical centerpiece of the album, based on its length alone, is “Take Me Home”. There are a number of moments on Universal Dice’s fourth album aspiring to classic rock balladry and this is the album’s premier example of Dantone and company’s experiments with the style. “Danielle” has a good match up of bright, surging guitars and an equally personable piano track underpinning its melodic strengths while Dantone delivers a nicely exuberant vocal performance. “I Know What I’m Doin’” and its follow up “Better Man” presents two distinctly different musical sides. The first embodies much of the nuance characterizing the album’s tracks and probably rates as the most effective character “piece” on the recording while “Better Man” has a much rockier presentations thanks to the more forceful presence of lead guitar. It has a very Tom Petty-like amble to it that many will enjoy. The final two cuts on birth, love, hate, death definitely show Dantone and the band settling things down for a gradual ending rather than a ham-fisted one. Universal Dice’s fourth album is a real winner from the first and has the sort of realized ambition that keeps listeners coming back to a release again and again.