Universal Dice – birth, love, hate, death
Universal Dice is one of those bands that have been plugging away on the margins of the mainstream music scene for a number of years and never getting the widespread attention they deserve. Their latest effort, a sixteen song rock opera called birth, love, hate, death, will likely make some head way with them raising their artistic profile while still throwing down a gauntlet of sorts for listeners. These are easily digestible tunes, but main songwriter Gerry Dantone isn’t happy with just entertaining audiences with some snappy collection of cuts – instead, he brings accessibility and intelligence together in a single package that manages to balance giving a good time to the audience while still asking them to involve themselves with interesting characters that Dantone’s songwriting gives powerful voice to. It’s an effort from front to back that should more than satisfy the band’s longtime fans and earn them reams of newfound respect.
“Welcome to the World”, “The Prophet”, “Take Me Home”, and “Danielle” are representative of a particular style that works well for Universal Dice over and over again on this release. The mid-tempo rock strut or slide, with accompanying strong guitar work and drumming, repeatedly gets a workout on birth, love, hate, death and finds its finest expression in the aforementioned songs, especially the second and third. “Welcome to the World”, however, shouldn’t be glossed over as a great opener for an album is an increasingly rare thing. There’s a more considered line of attack taken with their slightly slowed down counterparts like “Your Son”, “I Love It When They Hate It”, and “I Know What I’m Doin’”, among others, and that’s evidence of a moodier character driving these songs and they are as artfully handled as any of the earlier tunes. Dantone largely avoids the ballad form on the album until its well into its second half, but the early cut “I Wish I Could Tell You This” perfectly embodies how these tunes come across like there’s considerable personal stakes involved in this work while still existing within the confines of Dantone’s storytelling.
The album’s final lap ranks among its most interesting features. Like any good plotter, Dantone realizes he needs to wind down his storyline in a considered way that listeners who’ve stuck it out with the album will appreciate and the final tally of “Man Enough, “I’m No Good for You”, “Sleeping Alone”, “One Day at a Time”, and the ending “Forever” moves the audience through a variety of musical touches with the same skillfulness we’ve experienced earlier, but conscious that things are coming to a close. The acoustic strains of the final two songs stands out against the largely rock leanings of this effort and finishes off birth, love, hate, death with the discerning sensibility you might expect. Universal Dice has produced progressively bolder and bolder works since they first debuted and their latest ranks among the most ambitious efforts released in recent memory. Gerry Dantone’s rock opera is a fully realized heart and mind experience.