Friday, December 10, 2010

Album review: The Ocean - Anthropocentric

The Ocean: Anthropocentric
Year: 2010
Click here for the artist's site

I was blown away by The Ocean's earlier release this year, Heliocentric. (So was Peter.)  But deep down, I knew it wasn't quite complete - and here is presented its complement.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Album Review: Star One - Victims of the Modern Age

Star One: Victims of the Modern Age
Year: 2010
Click here for the artist's site

Well, it's 2010, so that must mean time for another Arjen Lucassen release, right?  I mean, this guy has been cranking out the music lately.  With that, there has to be a bit of burn out and fatigue, right?

I wouldn't be so sure about that.

Don't get me wrong, Arjen's take on prog isn't for everyone.  You have to accept a certain amount of cheese and camp.  His latest release with side project Star One, Victims of the Modern Age is no different.  But it is the willful embracing of camp, coupled with Arjen's unmistakable sound and songwriting prowess that makes it such a delicious trip to take.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Album Review: Enslaved - Axioma Ethica Odini

Enslaved - Axioma Ethica Odini
Year: 2010
Click here for the artist's site

There are some truly ground-breaking albums that have been released in recent years. Take, for example, Opeth's monumental Blackwater Park.  It was a masterful blending of death metal stylings with folk and prog.  It introduced a whole new group of people to the band.

Axioma Ethica Odini should be right there next to it.  While it may have yet to truly stand the test of time, I honestly believe that this, too, will be remembered as a ground-breaking album, a masterful melding of black metal with progressive rock/metal, that should introduce a whole new generation to this increasingly fascinating and brilliant band.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Album Review: Kamelot - Poetry for the Poisoned

Kamelot: Poetry for the Poisoned
Year: 2010
Click here for the artist's site

Kamelot blew me away with their 2005 release, The Black Halo.  It was a fascinating mix of power metal, some progressive elements, and a dark edge to the entire experience.  However, their follow up release, Ghost Opera, didn't quite live up for me.  While I appreciated its continued emphasis on their more progressive tendencies, it just didn't click with me on the same level.

So just where does their latest release, Poetry for the Poisoned fit in?  Well, that is a tough question to answer.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Album Review: Swans - My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky

Swans - My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky
Year: 2010
Click here for the artist's site

Swans is one of those bands, like Neurosis, that all the kids claim are a huge influence on them, but that the general populace remains woefully ignorant of.  And it's obvious why; they were never released on a major label, and they haven't put out new music since 1997, the band having gone on to do many other things in other groups (most notably Jarboe, who has worked with just about every experimental metal group at this point).

Thank heavens, however, that bandleader Michael Gira decided it was time to get the band back together - and while Jarboe doesn't return, Gira enlists former bandmate Norman Westburg with some new faces and has created one of the most electrifying albums of the year.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Five desert island songs.

I've been thinking about what I would consider really seminal pieces of music, examples of cinema, works of literature, et cetera today.  So I decided to craft a list of my five desert island songs and why they're worth picking as the only music I would ever listen to again - if I had to.  (Thankfully, that's not going to happen.)

In no particular order.

Eric Whitacre - Water Night

I still remember the first time I ever heard this piece of music.  It was the lead-in from an intermission at a friend's choir concert.  I spoke to her during the break, and she proclaimed, "I just wish I could see your face during the first song of the next set."

Perplexed, I asked her why.  She responded, "You'll see."

I did see that night.  I saw things I never had seen before about music; what it can do, what it can mean, how it can be made.  It caused a complete paradigm shift in me - and forever altered my perception.

One listen and you can see why.  There's so much going on in this for being a piece of a'cappella; there are up to fifteen parts coursing in and out of each other at one point.  It's an overwhelming piece of choral music, and every time I hear it I get goosebumps.

Rush - Natural Science

Anyone who knows my taste for tunes knows the importance of Rush in my formative years.  The first album I ever owned was Grace Under Pressure; I can probably sing every single song of theirs off the top of my head, simply out of beautiful repetition.  But after all is said and done, and heaps upon heaps of great songs, my favorite Rush track is "Natural Science".  It's a wonderful amalgam of different tunes, telling a story of the microcosms we each are trapped in and how we don't understand how ephemeral and transitory everything is.

I could listen to this a million times.

Samuel Barber - Adagio for strings, Op. 11

I heard Barber's Adagio for the first time in an uncharacteristic place - during the opening sequence to an old video game, Homeworld.  (That was a great game, by the way.  One of the best.  And way, way too hard for its own good.)

It was the choral version rather than the strings version, and was truncated to two minutes, but I remember vividly sitting there watching the opening sequence and hearing this song and my heart pumping a million miles a minute, and sitting back and thinking, "What was that?!?  That makes my person ache with loveliness."  Needless to say, I did my research and hunted it down, and have been enamored by this song ever since.

Art Tatum - L'Elegy

I don't know what else can be said about the inimitable Art Tatum.  He was the best jazz pianist.  Like, ever.  Even in this day and age where there have been so many sages at the ivories, he remains The Man.  Just listen to it.  It's the greatest piano solo of all time - so far, at least.  Goosepimples every time.

Opeth - Blackwater Park

I may not listen to heavy metal very much these days, but metal is still in my core.  Deep down in my bits.  And Opeth will forever be the band that introduced me to brütal heavÿ mëtal.  (With umlauts.)

And this is their most compelling single song.  (Their last album, Watershed, is easily their best, but I digress.) It starts with such forceful energy, and then recedes to the corner, content to seethe for two minutes of distressing calm, before erupting once again.  And it just gets heavier and meaner, until there is just a moment of clarity at about the nine and a half minute mark - where you're staring into the abyss at the edge of the cliff, and then you get kicked off and plummet.  (Sorry this crappy video cuts the last twenty seconds off the song.)  Ah, this tune.  Certainly not for everyone.  And certainly not what I usually listen to.  But so very, very good.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Portnoy leaves Dream Theater

I actually wanted to write about this back when the announcement came out, but just wasn't doing much writing at the time, so it passed me by.  Plus, I was just not sure how much I cared.

On September 8th, 2010, Mike Portnoy announced he was leaving Dream Theater.  Talk about shock of shocks.  After all, Mike was one of the original, founding members of the band.  Likewise, he has seemed to be taking a more and more active role in the band (for better or worse), writing more lyrics, contributing vocals, and just generally being the public face of the band.  (To his credit, he has been, for many years, very interactive with fans on his own website).

But the reasons behind his departure are, in my mind, the most uncomfortable part of the entire drama.  His press release is very clear in stating that he did not want to leave the band, rather just wanted things with Dream Theater to slow down a bit.  It would seem he just wanted a break.  However, the rest of the band apparently was not content with this idea, and wanted to continue on, with or without him.

It looks like it will be without him.

This really is sad news.  While my interest in Dream Theater's music has waned over the past few releases, there is no doubt that albums such as Images and Words and Awake (and to a lesser degree Scenes From a Memoryare seminal, essential progressive metal releases.  They really are the band that introduced me to "progressive metal".  And throughout it all, Portnoy's very technical, impressive (at times too impressive) drum work has been the back bone of the band.

After so many years, it just seems sort of cheap of them to ignore his wishes to take a break.  If that take is the truth, it is pretty low class.  I wish Mike the best in his endeavors (did anyone else realize he was now the official drummer for Avenged Sevenfold?).  As for Dream Theater, I think I will pass on their next album (again).  Unless Gavin Harrison or Mark Zonder is announced as the replacement.  Then I won't have a choice but to listen, as I will listen to whatever either of those two do.  

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Album Review: Sepultura - A-Lex

Sepultura - A-Lex
Year: 2009
Click here for the artist's site

Stalwart.  That is the best word to describe Sepultura.  For years now, they have been championing their own mix of death, thrash, and groove metal.  Many fans cast them by the wayside after the departure of Max Cavalera (and later his brother Igor).  But now, with 5 albums with Derrick Green (just one shy of what Max contributed to), they continue to marshall onward. 

In fact, their last two releases have entered some really interesting territory, with the previous album Dante XXI being based on The Divine Comedy, and their latest A-Lex based on the novel A Clockwork Orange.  But with such heady (for such heavy metal) lyrical inspiration, how is the music?  In one word: amazing.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Album Review: The Ocean - Heliocentric

The Ocean: Heliocentric
Year: 2010
Click here for the artist's site

Never a group to settle for the same old thing, The Ocean (often known as The Ocean Collective) have impressed me with every album.  A mix of ambient sounds, progressive metal, classical music, electronica and post-hard core, they really are one of the more unique bands playing heavy music.

Their latest release, Heliocentric, is no different in that regards.  And yet, it is undoubtedly their most mature, focused and varied work to date.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Point-Counterpoint: My Dying Bride - 34.788%...Complete


Make no mistake about it, My Dying Bride has become, in the past year, one of my very favorite bands.  Their entire library is full of epic, amazing British doom.  Yet plunked just about right in the middle of the oeuvre is the singularly unique 34.788%...Complete.

Taken on its own, it is an interesting piece of artistic expression.  A very mellow, chill, electronic inspired take on doom metal, there is, in fact, very little doom on it.  A cursory listen reveals an album that sounds nothing like My Dying Bride.  But don't let that fool you.  Closer inspection demonstrates hidden layers of heavy, ponderous MDB riffs.

But where this album really shines is taken in the context of all their albums.  Sandwiched directly between Like Gods of the Sun, the pinnacle of their early evolution to more melodic metal, and The Light at the End of the World, their darkest, most bleak and crushing album, 34.788%...Complete truly stands out as fascinating.  What has come since this album is amazing doom metal, so I can't complain.  But this is one album to not be overlooked.

From the trippy, "Blade Runner" style interrogation (questions are asked by a female voice, in Japanese played backwards, then answered by lead vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe in English) in "The Whore, the Cook and the Mother", to the almost groove-metal of "Under Your Wings and Into Your Arms", the album is full of fascinating moments.  "Der Uberlebende" is the closest the album comes to doom, with a slow, dirge-like pace.  "Apocalypse Woman" is carried by a rapid, groove laden bass line.  Finally, the first song that really caught my attention was "Heroine Chic".  I find it to be the most interesting MDB song ever, with electronic percussion, spoken vocals, (almost) self-censored lyrics (listen closely with headphones to see why I say almost), a lilting female vocal over the top of it all, and moments of thunderously heavy riffs, it is just fantastic from start to finish.

Final verdict: Explore it (though I adore it, it is different and unique enough that I gotta say explore first, though you may come to adore it as well)


I think it's taken me as long as it has to counterpoint this album because I still don't know what to make of it.

I'm not as familiar with My Dying Bride as Peter is, obviously.  Before working on this article, the only exposure I'd had to them was their latest release, 2009's For Lies I Sire, which is certainly a shining example of melodic doom metal.

However, for a lot of reasons, I think 34.778% is a superior album.  As has been documented previously, I have a lot of love for well-done electronica.  (I can't stand most of the stuff they'd play in clubs and such; but when a group or artist is good at creating electronica - groups such as F*ck Buttons or Röyksopp or the inimitable Daft Punk - I can listen to it all day.)  The subtle, electronic music found intermingled here with some pretty crushing metal is very good, and helps create an ambiance that most albums of this ilk only hope to duplicate.

It really is a great album, and the more times I've listened to it, the more I've felt that way about it.

Final verdict: this surprises the heck out of me, but Adore it (at night.  In the darkness.  Hidden under your covers.)

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Point-Counterpoint: Cloud Cult - The Meaning of 8


I'm not exactly sure how I found out about Cloud Cult - what website or who introduced me to the wonder of my favorite band.  (After Rush.  Of course.)  All I know is that I've loved everything they've done for half a decade now.

While my love of most indie music is something that's come about in the last year or so, even when I was in the midst of my most brütal hëavy mëtal moments of life, I've still been able to listen to Cloud Cult and find joy, honesty, and the truths of human emotions laid bare.  They're not your typical indie band, not one that you'd imagine all those hipster kids from New York listening to - there's something fundamentally different about their music, from their harmonies to their deceptively simple seeming guitar work.

The Meaning of 8 is no exception.  Until Monday of this past week when they released their newest album, Light Chasers, on their website, I would've told you it was their very best album.  It's full of catchy songs, lilting melodies, a message about overcoming and the everlasting nature of love, and it's just a wonder to behold.  Since 2000 and the passing of lead singer / guitarist / keyboarder / songwriter Craig Minowa's son, their music had tended towards melancholy, but with this release, they strike a happy balance between the sadness that's obviously still there (especially in songs such as "Your 8th Birthday", written for the boy on what would've been that day), but there's a sense of hope and faith in the future here, too.

I love this record.  It's got some of my favorite Cloud Cult tunes on it - from the unique love musings of "Chemicals Collide" to the melancholy of "Dance for the Dead" to the beautiful tragedy of "A Girl Underground" to the poignant "The Deaf Girl's Song".  It's hard to even point out one thing that's out of place on this disc - it's nineteen tracks of perfection.

Every Cloud Cult album is a listening event - and this one, specifically, is a marvel.

Final Verdict: Adore it (and pick up everything else they've ever done, too - especially their brand new one)


My brother is on a quest.  A quest to cure me from my Philistine ways.  Such it is with this latest selection.

Cloud Cult scratches the indie-but-not-dirty-hipster itch very well.  The music is slick and polished, without the need to appear rough and raw (like too much indie music).  This album is replete with happy moments without being saccharine. The music is a vehicle, not a weapon.  A vehicle to gently propel the listener on to the end.

In these ways, the album succeeds.

However, for it to succeed for the individual, you need to have that itch that needs to be scratched.  And, frankly, I don't.  It would appear I have no indie itch.  That doesn't surprise me.  So in the end, this was a brief diversion, but that is all.

Final verdict: Explore it (if you find you have an indie itch, scratch with this, not some of the other absolute dreck that is out there)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Mini Mixtape for Melancholic Meditations

This is part of a potential series of mixtapes I'll be doing over the next few months, depending on their popularity.  It's a perfect mix of downtempo, pensive songs that are ideal for chilling and hanging out to.


1. The National - Sorrow
2. Regina Spektor - The Flowers
3. Tegan and Sara - Nineteen
4. Death Cab for Cutie - Summer Skin
5. Midlake - Winter Dies
6. PJ Harvey - Dear Darkness
7. Sufjan Stevens - Seven Swans
8. Eluvium - An Accidental Memory in the Case of Death

Yeah, I know it's indie-heavy.  (This is not a mixtape for you, Peter - but more metal-centric ones are to come.)  Give it a listen, enjoy, and by all means, let us know how you like it.

Click here to enjoy this soothing, melancholic adventure.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Essential Album Review: Neurosis - Through Silver in Blood

Neurosis: Through Silver in Blood
Year: 1996
Click here for the artist's site

*Disclaimer: I have written this review in my head at least a dozen times.  However, actually putting it down has been nigh unto impossible.  Such is the task that stands before me.

Every once in a while, music comes along that leaves one completely gobsmacked.  Such an one is Through Silver in Blood.

Not Neurosis' first album.  Nor their first groundbreaking album either (I give that nod to Souls at Zero).  However, it is their very finest album and in my opinion the most important metal release that you've never heard.

Beginning as a hardcore/punk band, it didn't take long for Neurosis to evolve into something much darker, much more inventive and much more influential.  That evolution (which continues to this day) hit a peak with their fifth album, Through Silver in Blood, released in 1996.  From the very first track, the titular song, Neurosis proves that they are unequaled in the metal world.  Beginning slowly with ambient/industrial sounds, followed by tribal drumming, the song takes a full 2:45 to build to its first crescendo of drumming, guitar, bass, and guttural howls and tortured screams.  From there it never lets up to the very end of the album.

That isn't to say that the entire album is one loud wall of cacophony.  Rather, Neurosis truly perfected the ebb and flow of music.  Songs rise and fall like the waves of the ocean.  Moments of quiet tranquility are wiped out by torrents of noise and rage.  When suddenly, you don't know if you can take anymore, the songs switch directions, offering another moment of peace.  But the peace is perhaps even more sinister.  It is foreboding, brooding, menacing.  It gently lulls you, while hinting that something truly terrifying is coming.

Two sub 2 minute tracks of speaking and noise are the only moments of apparent respite amongst the other tracks, most of which are > 10 minutes long.  Yet even these shorter tracks only serve to build on the disquiet the rest of the albums thrives on.  They serve a greater purpose in constructing the album as a whole.

Every track is powerful, and the album ends on two monstrous tracks.  "Aeon" builds slowly from a mournful, plaintive piano and string melody to a crushing, thundering mass of epic proportions.  "Enclosure in Flame" finishes the album in a furious manner with Scott Kelly's tortured howls leaving your skin crawling as it gently fades to silence.  This is an album that leaves and indelible mark on the listener.

Through Silver in Blood is the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.  It is Beethoven's 9th Symphony, bringing to a close the Classical period and ushering in the Romantic.  It is a complete game changer.  One comes out of the experience of listening to Through Silver in Blood a different type of music fan than one went in.  Such is its import, its power, and its lasting legacy.  There is no question that I listen to music differently now than before I experienced Neurosis in general, and this album in particular.  It is, as I mentioned earlier in this review, the most important album you've never heard.

Final verdict: Adore it
Through Silver in Blood is a true essential album.  It is epic in scope, with a breadth and depth that has yet to be rivaled in modern music.  It is supremely influential to those who are willing to work their way through it (because it certainly takes work).  I cannot recommend it highly enough, while readily recognizing that it will be a terrifying experience for many who listen to it.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Point-Counterpoint: Testament - The Gathering


Music is a fickle beast.  Music fans can be even more fickle.  Fads come and (thankfully) go, all in a short amount of time.  Bands and artists that find success with one fad will often find they either evolve or die.  And every band knows, they have just as much of a chance with every album to loose fans as they do gain new ones.

Yet amongst the fads, there are the stalwarts.  Those solid, stable, reliable factors that you can count on.  Likewise, certain musical styles become reliable enough to stand the test of time, supersede fad status and become bona fide genres.  Such it has been with thrash metal.  I won't go into too much depth regarding the genre, it is sufficient to point out that it arose as an angrier, heavier cousin of speed metal, in reaction to the gloss, pop and pomp of glam metal.

Emerging from the "Bay Area" thrash scene, Testament proved themselves to be one of the stalwarts of this new and evolving genre.  Even when when grunge and subsequently nu-metal were overtaking the radio waves and record sales, Testament pressed on, sticking true to their trash roots while evolving in new directions.  The pinnacle of that evolution is witnessed on The Gathering.  Easily their heaviest album ever, and possibly one of the heaviest thrash albums ever recorded, it represents a big middle finger, straight up into the air, aimed directly at Korn and their ilk.

The Gathering is a magnificent example of American thrash.  It is fast, technical, heavy as all get-out, and more furious than the hounds of hell.  Chuck Billy brings back a bit of his singing growl that was mostly absent on Demonic, but he retains much of the fierce style he used on that record.  Eric Peterson proves he is one of the best metal guitarists and songwriters around, completely owning the entire record.  And Dave Lombardo, well, it's Dave freaking Lombardo.  He owns the kit.  From the beginning track, "D.N.R", through the album highlight "Ride the Snake" to the final track "Fall of Sipledome", The Gathering never lets up.  It is a pummeling ride to the very last moment.

Final Verdict: Adore it (just keep the Advil handy)


Blech.  Finally, Peter has picked something that I can unequivocally say I don't like.

Thrash has never really been my thing - I love Persistence of Time because it's a classic, and ...And Justice For All doubly so.  I can stand Megadeth, and that's really about the extent of my relationship with thrash.

As far as this CD goes I can concede to almost everything my compatriot said regarding its musicality (and especially the talent of Mr. Lombardo in the kit), but it just doesn't appeal to me.  It's ugly and abrasive, and not in the ways I like.  My metal-listening time is metered; I don't feel like wasting any more of it on this album.

Final Verdict: Ignore it (and listen to better metal instead)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Point-Counterpoint: Yes - Close to the Edge


Even though Yes is one of the original progenitors of the progressive rock genre, it's taken me years to be willing and able to truly process their music.  I can't really describe why that was; but be that as it may, two years ago I finally decided I needed to see what all the fuss was about.

Because Yes has been around so long, like any older group they have some albums that are stellar and some that are just "meh".  Thankfully, Close to the Edge is the former.  With only three tracks and clocking in at barely under forty minutes, it's a behemoth to try and digest, but doing so is more than worth the while.

The first song (in fact, in the original vinyl, the whole first side - not unlike Rush's "2112" or "Hemispheres") is the title track, one that starts with ambient sounds before erupting in a funkadelic beat.  The bass, guitars, and keyboards are all going in different directions, soaring and weaving into one another, until vocal harmonies break through, silence everything, and it all coalesces into a wonderful whole, until the motif for the song is presented.  The vocals are nearly always in harmony, and it flies quickly from quiet to loud with abandon, and the lyrics are mystical and spiritual.  The real shining instrument here is Rick Wakeman's keyboard - he stands out among other very talented musicians, especially during that vibrant, effulgent organ section.  It's one of the best examples of early progressive rock you'll ever hear.

This continues throughout the next two tracks as well, "And You and I" as well as "Siberian Khatru".  The former continues an eastern, mystical motif musically and lyrically; it is about renewal and rebirth, whereas the latter seethes with energy and has a great beat and catchy syncopated guitar work.  Both also exemplify what early progressive rock was, and it's obvious why this is regarded as many to be Yes' best album.

Final verdict: Adore it (with a mind for expansion)


Ah Yes.  One of the quintessential progressive rock bands, even though they probably need it, they should require no introduction.  Certainly groundbreaking, often innovative, Yes has long been a rotating cast of very skilled musicians.

Oh, and they are boring.

Yeah, I said it.  Boooooooooring.  Like insomniac curing boring.  In fact, there is really only one song of theirs I can even stand.  "Roundabout" is a decent track that wears out its welcome if you aren't hearing the radio edit.

So what can I say about Close to the Edge?  It is an epic, sprawling work that is full of pseudo-mystical lyrics, impressive yet incredibly subdued music (even when "energetic"), piercingly high vocals and ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. . .

Final verdict: Ignore it (unless you need some help with your insomnia)

Friday, June 11, 2010

Random thoughts on music news.

1.  First off, Thom Yorke of Radiohead has decided that the music business is folding - and fast.  Radiohead had a very successful release of their last album, In Rainbows, digitally - and at whatever price you felt like paying for the album.  (I paid a sufficient sum for the record - and it is one of their finest.)  Because of that, he's now claiming that the whole business is going to go under within a few months:
"[It'll be] only a matter of time,"Yorke says. "Months rather than years before the music business establishment completely folds." 

Advising aspiring musicians not to tie themselves to such a "sinking ship", Yorke adds that the fall of the music business will be "no great loss to the world".
 That's fine and dandy for him to say, but the fact of the matter is that Radiohead succeeded in digital self-release because they are a well-known act with multiple platinum releases to their name.  I don't think upstarts are quite ready for that - nor do I think that the music industry gigantor, for all its hideousness, is that ready to die.

No matter how bad it is.

2.  If music IS dying (and sales point to yes, at least as far as physical media goes), there is at least one shade of silver to that cloud - the Melvins broke the top 200 for the first time in their storied career.  It wasn't a huge sell for them, and not even their best first week - but hey, this is The Melvins.  They should've broken it every time they've sold a thing, so just smile and be happy for them.

3.  More evidence to the continuing of awesome music - Sufjan Stevens is FINALLY following up 2005's amazing, mind-blowing Illinois.  And he's not doing it alone - apparently he's been hard at work with The National.  Word is, it sounds like nothing Sufjan's ever done before - but if my favorite indie artist is working with one of my favorite indie bands, this can only end in piles of awesome.  [/hipster]

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Point-Counterpoint: Heaven & Hell - The Devil You Know


Black Sabbath needs no introduction.  They are the de facto fathers (grandfathers?) of heavy metal.  Even if you aren't that familiar with all their work, you are undoubtedly familiar with the band.  But what many people might not realize is that Black Sabbath has been a revolving cast over the years, with 22 musicians having been in the band at some point.  Too often, people think of Ozzy when they think of Sabbath.  The real person to think of is Tony Iommi.  Over the past 42 years, he has been the single constant in the band.

I mention this for those unfamiliar with Heaven & Hell.  Named after the 1980 album from Black Sabbath (the first with Ronnie James Dio as vocalist) of the same name, the band is, for all intents and purposes, Black Sabbath.  Comprised of Dio, Iommi, Geezer Butler and Vinny Apice, this is the group from the early 80s (and again in the early 90s).  What resulted was The Devil You Know.

As such, I was anticipating some straight up heavy metal.  You know, down-tuned guitars, plodding, ethereal tempos, and somewhat theatrical vocals (thanks to the inimitable Dio).  However, what I did not anticipate was just how much this album would rock.  Right from the start, the guitars and deep, throaty and thundering. This is trademark Sabbath.

Some of the tracks are a touch faster (the energetic "Eating the Cannibals" for one), and others are funereal in the pace (the standouts "Bible Black" and "Breaking into Heaven").  In between you have the expected mid-tempo tracks.  They never veer too far from the template, but hey, this is a template these guys freaking created, so they can stick with it.  Especially when done so well.

As mentioned, the guitars have a fantastic heavy metal sound.  The drums and bass fill out the rhythm perfectly.  And Dio's voice sounds as good as it ever has.  Powerful, rich, somewhat operatic in nature, it is everything that made Dio such a respected vocalist.  It is a shame to have lost him, but what an album to go out on.

Final Verdict: Adore it (and relish in the celebration of heavy freaking metal)


Honestly, there isn't much to say that my counterpart here hasn't said.  Sabbath is wonderful; Dio era Sabbath all the more so.  Ronnie James just had a voice that was perfect for heavy metal - it soars, it's emotive, and it rocks.

I mean, this is essentially the guy who introduced the devil's horns symbol to heavy metal.  He is metal incarnate - and this album showcases it more than almost any other I can think of.

Whew.  It's big, ugly, and wonderful.

Final Verdict: Adore it (I'm pouring drops of (root) beer out for you, Dio.  You will be missed)

Monday, June 07, 2010

This drummer is mad.


I'm just going to leave this here for you all.  It's music related.  And it must be lauded.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Album Review: Nevermore - The Obsidian Conspiracy

Nevermore: The Obsidian Conspiracy
Year: 2010
Click here for the artist's site

In life, there are few things you can reliably count on.  So it is welcome when you find those things.  For example, you can bet on the sun rising in the east in the morning.  Chances are pretty good that in the Northern Hemisphere, July will be warmer than January.  If you throw something up in the air, it will most likely fall to the ground at some point.  You can count on these things.

Guess what else you can count on.  Nevermore releasing killer music.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Album Review: Rush - Caravan Single

Rush: Caravan Single
Year: 2010
Click here for the artist's site

I know that I recently wrote about my lack of excitement for the upcoming Rush tour. One of my biggest complaints was that this was a tour before album sort of situation.  There were some hints of surprises, but nothing definite.  Needless to say, I haven't been planning on going.

Today, that all changed.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Do this now, thank Trent later

Back in early 2009, Trent Reznor stated that it was time for NIN to take a bit of a break.  Shame, to, as he was really gaining steam in his march against the music industry.

Well, no more worries.  Tomorrow, the eponymous album from his new band How to Destroy Angels (with his new wife Mariqueen Maandig) will be released.  The best part? Head here today and you can preorder the new EP, and immediately receive one track ahead of time.  

Oh, and in case I forgot to mention, as long as you are happy with the 320 kbps .mp3 version, it is free.  Yep.  Free, gratis.  Pretty awesome.  That little thing over there on the left?  That is just if you want a physical CD.  Heck, for $2 you can upgrade to a lossless format if you are one of "those" people.  

Thanks Trent and co.

Point-Counterpoint: AC/DC - Iron Man 2 Soundtrack


I've never said this out loud before.  (And I guess this is written, so I've still never said it out loud.)  I'm a closet AC/DC fan.

In fact, I have been for years.  In fact, I've mostly ridiculed them when other people have mentioned them.  Never have I liked them enough to buy an album or anything (mostly because, let's be honest - an AC/DC album is mostly filler, with a few really shining moments of awesome).  But I don't need to anymore.

Thanks to the Iron Man 2 soundtrack.

This has compiled all of the AC/DC songs that are worth remembering and listening to into one compact little package.  And it is a doozy - it's got "Highway to Hell", "Back in Black", "TNT" and "Thunderstruck", among others.

And it isn't until you start hearing them all together in this way that you see how pervasive AC/DC is as a band.  You know the riff from just about every song on the album - they've been heard in just about every time and place imaginable.  It's nothing complex or technical, but it's darn fun - and I can legitimately say that it's really great to drive with.  You feel just like Tony Stark (that is, if Tony Stark drove a Hyundai Accent).

Final verdict: Adore it (just don't get pulled over while cruising to it)


The Iron Man 2 Soundtrack.  "Okay," says I when my partner in writing suggests this.  I head to to check it out, and it has some big AC/DC title on it.  So I read up a bit.  Turns out, someone must have wanted to save time and make a little extra cash on the side.  'Cause guess what folks?  This is a cheap cash grab, nothing more.

Sort of a "greatest hits" group of tracks here, what you have are some classic AC/DC tunes, mixed in with some not so great songs.  There is no question that tracks like "Back in Black", "TNT" and "Thunderstruck" are classics.  But do you really need to hear them again?

I mean, any track worth listening to on this album can be heard in any 90 minute span on any classic rock or rock radio station.  And if you aren't so familiar with them that you kind of throw up in your mouth every time you hear them, well then I think you are the type of fool they are looking for.  You know what they say about a fool and his/her money. . .

Final verdict: Ignore it (as the blatant money grab it so obviously is)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Album Review: Deftones - Diamond Eyes

Deftones: Diamond Eyes
Year: 2010
Click here for the artist's site

While sitting on my high horse, I had shunned the Deftones for a few years.  I considered them to be "nu-metal" and thus, below me.  However, when my brother recommended I check out White Pony, I acquiesced and gave the band a listen.

And was pleasantly surprised.

Diamond Eyes, their latest release, and the first since serious trauma to the band in the form of a car accident involving Chi Cheng (he remains in a "minimally conscious state").  And it is the work of a band that is feeling the result of this trauma.

Point-Counterpoint Classic: Anthrax - Persistence of Time


Okay, this one isn't even fair.  I totally am cherry picking here.  But as I said in a previous article, I have been feeling the need to just sink my teeth into something I already know I love.  Welcome, then, to my brief trip back to High School, and one of the albums that opened my eyes and mind.

I always knew I liked rock.  I gravitated to the sound of a distorted electric guitar early on.  Songs like "Money for Nothing", "Pour Some Sugar on Me", and "Modern Day Cowboy" captivated my tween year old mind in the 80s.  But it wouldn't be until the 90s that I realized that I really was a metal head.  In respect to my good upbringing, I had veered far away from any of those "evil" metal bands, and Anthrax was just one such band.

That all changed when a friend lent me Persistence of Time.  I was completely blown away.  I suddenly realized that yes, this band played heavy freaking metal.  But what I didn't expect was the talent I was met with.  Amazing guitar work, powerful, rapid drumming, and surprisingly politically/socially conscious lyrics all culminated to create an album that sent my musical world reeling.  Suddenly heavy metal wasn't evil.  It was awesome.

Since that time, my musical tastes have broadened (somewhat, though admittedly no where near as broad as my brother), but metal remains at the roots of it all.  And in there, with the best of any of those albums, you will find Persistence of Time, an example of one of the very best thrash metal albums of all time.  The songs still hold up today, 20 years later, just as well as they did back then.  The lyrics, while admittedly simplistic and heavy handed at times, deal with issues we still are dealing with today (racism, divorce, hate).  In short, I love this album as much, if not more, than I did when I first heard it so many years ago.

Final verdict: Adore it (as one of the seminal albums in American thrash metal)


There's nothing wrong with a bit of cherry picking when it comes to album reviews - how better to introduce people to your favorites, so that they can put your other opinions in context?

However, I don't hold this album in quite the regard Peter does.  I remember picking up a used copy years ago, but I never really got into it (thrash isn't my thing, I guess - I can't really think of ANY thrash CDs I own anymore).  I must've given it away or sold it back used to a place, because I couldn't find it for the life of me when my co-conspirator here decided this should be our next joint article.

However, I can honestly say that it's a great album - a perfect example of what American thrash was, and what it can be again.  It's ugly, grating, complex, and blistering.  As Peter mentioned, the lyrics are inane, but inane in a way that only wonderful eighties bands can be - it's endearing rather than off-putting.

As mentioned, I do have broad tastes - arguably TOO broad for some people.  However, re-listening to this gigantic album has brought me back to my heavy metal roots and has made a perfect accompaniment to my workouts for the last week.

Final verdict: Adore it (with a smile and a nod to the old-time thrash masters)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Introducing a new series: Essential Albums

Since our recent revamp of the rating system here, I have had one nagging doubt about the move: How to distinguish true masterpieces from other really good albums.  For example, there are a LOT of Rush albums that get the Adore it rating.  But those are certainly not all equal.

So, I have decided that for certain albums, they will be introduced as "Essentials" right in the review title.  The rest of the review will follow the same format, but those albums get that extra special label.  And to kick it off, the first review will be for a doozy of an album.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The S:L ratio

While working on some of the recent albums we have taken a look at here on the site, I realized that I had, unconsciously, created a sort of mathematical formula in my head when working on a review.  I believe that trying to review music in a strictly objective manner is rubbish, as what makes music so powerful is its inherent ability to be subjective.

However there are objective criteria that can be applied to music.  For example, Enemies of Reality by Nevermore was a stunning example of bad mastering.  The initial release was muddy, incoherent, poorly mixed.  This is objectively bad.  Likewise, the remix which corrected these flaws was clear, precise, well balanced.  This made the album objectively better.

Yet the intangibles are often more important than the tangibles.  This last week I realized I had this measurement in my head that tried to balance the subjective to the objective.  I call it the Skip to Listen ratio, or the S:L.  It is simple really.  A ratio of 1 means I am skipping as many songs on the album as I am listening to.  An album with a ratio that hovers around 1 will get an Explore it rating.  Go much higher than 1 and you can bet there will be an Ignore it at the end of the review.  In other words, the smaller the ratio the better.  You know, inversely proportional.

Sadly, too much of the stuff I have been listening to lately has been > 1.  That makes for an unpleasant listening experience.  So don't be too surprised if you see a few reviews that are purposely chosen because they have low ratios.  I need some music that really gets me going, not music that feels like a chore.  Also, don't be surprised if you start to see the S:L ratio showing up in reviews at times.

Point-Counterpoint: Queens of the Stone Age - Songs for the Deaf


I came to Queens of the Stone Age the long way around - never mind the fact that they've been playing these guys on x96 for years.

I had a friend online who was a huge fan of Masters of Reality, and I started listening to them.  They typify everything great about the misnamed "stoner rock" scene, and through them I came to start listening to other bands in the genre - of which QotSA is the best example.

And this is their best record.  It's loud, brash, unapologetic, and mean.  It starts heavy and stays heavy throughout, with moments of calm hidden throughout, but even in the quiet passages, the loud is right around the corner once again - which is just the way I like it.

One of the things that I've come to love about the album is something that initially annoyed me a bit are the radio station interludes - the whole album is presented as the soundtrack to a drive, and in between many of the songs there are the sounds of tuning around the dial, with each station playing different songs off of the record.  Yes, I found it a little weird and off-putting from the beginning, but it's become one of its many charms.

And the songs in between all these interludes are memorable.  Album opener "Millionaire" starts the disc in just the right place, followed by the single and the song you've probably heard off it if you've heard anything - "No One Knows" is a catchy, lucid tune.  Sort-of album titler "Song for the Deaf" is mean and grungy, and the similarly titled "Song of the Dead" is equally so.  And everything else in between?  Also great.

Final verdict: Adore it (and enjoy it when you're feeling persnickety)


Two key points to get out in the open right up front.  First, these point-counterpoints are not full album reviews. They just aren't.  That will be important later.  Second, I am a very finicky music fan.

As to the first point, that means that I don't feel the same onus to really, really listen to all these choices.  That is good for me because, to be entirely honest, I don't have that much time to listen to music.  I have to actually work it in to my day.  It is an effort to listen to music.  This plays directly into the second point (almost called it number two, but thought that would be juvenile, so I didn't).  Because I have to actually work music into my day, I can be very picky.

Now that that is all out of the way, let's get down to this album.  I was aware of Queens of the Stone Age, but had not knowingly heard their music.  So when Braeden selected this as our next album I welcomed the excuse to familiarize myself with the band.  What you have here is a fuzzy, raunchy mix of solid rock with some metal overtones.  On paper that looks great.

Unfortunately, something about this album just kept itself distanced from me.  I never really felt interested by the songs.  I enjoyed the "radio" theme they had going on, and thought it was an interesting twist on the album.  And the music certainly had moments.  But the moments were not enough to draw me in.  I often found myself fighting the urge to hit "next" on the iPod about halfway through each track.

I suppose the fact that I have already deleted this from the iPod tells the story.  While I didn't have the immediate rejection of it that I have with some others, I just didn't find anything that interested me or made me want to go back for more.  As such, I won't discount this one out of hand, but I personally won't be going back for seconds.

Final verdict: Explore it (just explore it without me, I'm done exploring this one) 

Monday, May 24, 2010

Album Review: The National - High Violet

The National: High Violet
Year: 2010
Click here for the artist's site

Ah, The National.  I feel like a traitor to my progressive metal roots even mentioning them.  But you know what?  I'm going to mention them anyway, even though everyone else on the internets is mentioning them right now, too. (Quiet, little prog-metal imp in my head.  You just shut right up.)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Album Review: Foals - Total Life Forever

Foals: Total Life Forever
Year: 2010
Click here for the artist's site

I came upon the debut album by Foals in a strange way.  It was about two in the morning and I was channel surfing with my little sister.  We stumbled upon the music video for their song "Olympic Airways" and we were suitably impressed.  I jotted the name of the band down, determined to check them out in the morning and expecting to be disappointed once I heard them while awake and fully cognizant.

I wasn't.  Instead, Antidotes was one of the single best albums to come out in 2008, a poppy, guitar driven math rock record filled with silly lyrics and catchy melodies.  Even the slower songs had a sense of seething intensity that boiled just under the surface, ready to erupt and any time.

With a debut like that, it's obvious that I was very excited about the follow up.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Point-Counterpoint: Novembre - The Blue


Novembre is another band I discovered through the wonders of the internet and  They showed up on my Katatonia station as another example of the melancholic, haunting music those Swedes are so adept at.  And with good reason.

The Blue is their most recent effort.  Novembre is an interesting band.  They started out as an Italian death metal band.  However, over the years they have evolved into something much more interesting, and nowhere is that more evident than on The Blue. Yes, there are harsh, death metal style vocals.  Yes, there is thunderous double bass drumming.  Yes, there is no shortage of crushing metal guitars.

However, there is also an almost ethereal quality to the music, a sense of artistry that takes these heavy element and crafts them into something exquisite, with an almost porcelain beauty.  There are moments when it is easy to forget just how heavy this album can be because of the delicate aspects of so many of the songs.

Novembre expertly balances all their influences on The Blue.  From distorted to clean acoustic guitars, from light, airy vocals to harsh growls, the album keeps you always guessing as to what will come next.  This is only heightened by the unorthodox song structure.  Gone is the ABABCBB song structure that is so common to modern music.  Novembre will take you from A to F, but how it gets there is a real mystery and treat.  Some tracks will have repeated motifs, but most move gently from one passage to the next with little to no repetition. It is a breath of fresh air.

Final Verdict: Adore it (and don't let the harsh vocals get you, there is real brilliance here)


The real beauty of this disc is hidden in the carefully crafted, subtle guitar melodies that weave through each song.  They're flying by so fast and are mixed really low in the mastering, so you don't even notice they're there half the time - and more's the pity.

In fact, that's my only genuine complaint about the album - I would have made the melodic guitar parts more prominent and mixed the rhythm section a little lower.  But if that's my BIGGEST complaint, that's proof positive how great this album is.

It seethes with honesty and beauty.  It feels like the kind of thing that took years to create, but seems simultaneously effortless and smooth.

Final verdict: Adore it (and let the melodies take you away on wonderful journeys)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The passing of another legend: ISIS breaks up

It's official - ISIS is breaking up.  In a surprising announcement earlier today, they've decided they're calling it done after their upcoming tour.  They went on to say,
This end isn't something that occurred over night and it hasn't been brought about by a single cataclysmic fracture in the band. Simply put, ISIS has done everything we wanted to do, said everything we wanted to say. In the interest of preserving the love we have of this band, for each other, for the music made and for all the people who have continually supported us it is time to bring it to a close.
It's a shame to watch them go - they've been one of the great progenitors of the post-metal movement, and their effort from last year, Wavering Radiant, is one of the essential metal albums of the last decade.  My sister and I had the opportunity to see them live a year ago, and they put on one of the better shows I've ever seen - and it was hearing the songs live than sold me on their last album.

I'm sad to see them go, but they're leaving on top.  Good luck with your musical endeavors, guys.

Point-Counterpoint: Jaga Jazzist - One Armed Bandit


I love jazz.  I really, really do.  I know that people think I'm weird sometimes because of that, because jazz is often seen as an intellectual effort that is at best ignored, at worst reviled.  But I'm not one of those revilers - I find it a wonder.

And experimental jazz?  Even more so.  I like music that pushes the envelope and demands attention from its listeners, regardless of the genre.  And when it comes to experimental jazz, there is no group that does more than Jaga Jazzist.  Their 2005 release, What We Must, is certainly one of my favorite albums of all time - and a seminal jazz release.  So how does their follow up from this year, One Armed Bandit, hold up to the hype they generated five years ago?

Better than I ever could have hoped.

There is more of a focus on rock influences, and one could make a case that much of this album feels more like a post-rock band rather than a Scandinavian experimental jazz group.  But there's more than that going on - there's bits of electro, fuzz, and even shades of Mannheim Steamroller when you hear the harpsichords coming in.  And don't forget plenty of seventies-era psychedelic progressive rock . . .

"Prognissekongen" and "Toccata" are the clear standout tracks for me, with heavy bass and polyrhythms flowing every which way, but there are plenty of great songs that all flow into each other and create a sense of completeness.  "One Armed Bandit" starts the album out strong, and "Music! Dance! Drama!" have big horn sections, lots of electronica, and melodies that captivate.

Final Verdict: Adore it (with a virgin daiquiri and plenty of time to chill out)


Another new one for me.  I was aware of my brother's love of Jaga Jazzist, having seen countless plays on and with his recent review of their previous release.  When he picked this album, I was excited for the opportunity to check out his band he so adores.

Now, after listening, I have to say that my excitement is somewhat tempered.  But only somewhat.  Jazz is one of those styles of music I appreciate more on an intellectual level than on a visceral level, and One Armed Bandit exemplifies this well.  There is a lot of fascinating music to be found.  Rhythmically, the album is very interesting.  The multitude of different styles that are pulled into the music keeps the listener on his/her toes.

However, in the time I have spent with the music, it has not connected with me on any level other than intellectual.  With time, it is possible this could change and I could develop more of a connection to the music. But this will certainly take time.  As such, I can definitely state that I find the music fascinating, but not captivating.

Final Verdict: Explore it (but you will need to let it sink in)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The passing of a true legend: Dio will be missed

Holy DiverThe Holy Diver has passed.

After an earlier post that was later confirmed to be inaccurate, the inevitable happened.  The great Dio has died after a battle with stomach cancer.  Who knew, the guy was from Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  Just down the road.

You don't have to be a fan of the theatrics, you may not have even liked his bands (though to dis the mighty Sabbath, along with Rainbow and Dio is musical heresy if you ask me), but you cannot deny the man's impact on metal and rock in general.  He was one of the great vocalists of the past decades, and a real pioneer in the creation and identity of an entire genre.

Ozzy may be better known, but Dio was by far the better vocalist, and will definitely be missed.

Point-Counterpoint: Gordian Knot - Emergent


I came to Gordian Knot in a roundabout sort of way.  I first became familiar with Sean Malone due to his stellar bass work on the first OSI disc.  I then came (far too late) to the party that was Cynic.  I was blown away.  I had to hear more.

Enter Emergent, the second album from Gordian Knot.  The band really is Sean Malone's project, with a rotating cast of supporting players.  At the heart of it, you have a jazz inspired rock/fusion.  There is no shortage of electric guitars and dynamic bass playing.

However, Sean Malone isn't afraid to really embrace the jazz aspect.  There are plenty of moments that have an organic, jam feel to them.  Other moments feel very thought out and focused.  And while there certainly is rock, rock isn't the only side to the music here.  "Mutterspache" is a fantastic way to kick the album into high gear after a lovely bass intro in "Arsis".  For me, though, the highlight is the achingly beautiful "Grace", a live version of a song off the first album.  It is sweet, plaintive and simply one of the most memorable and sublime songs I have ever heard.  While the first Gordian Knot album was lacking in a few areas, Emergent is a fully realized, moving and powerful record.

Final Verdict: Adore it (and make sure to take the time to let this sink in)


Everything Peter said about this album is true - it is a great fusion album, filled to the brim with impressive musicianship and meticulous songwriting.  Malone is a bassist unlike most others, with a sense toward jazz style and improvisation that most rock bassists wish they could have and never will.

Moreover, the guest musicians that Malone brings in are cream of the crop people with years of experience in progressive rock and other media.  We've got Steve Hackett of Genesis fame, Jim Matheos (mastermind behind that all-important archetype of progressive metal, Fates Warning), Bill Bruford - who has spent time playing with both Yes and King Crimson, among others.  Each of their contributions can be felt in little ways in the overall style of the record, from the more psychedelic stuff to the heavier aspects.

And it all just works together so well.  At heart, this album is truly a jazz record; the fact that they use rock instruments and musicians does nothing to deter the fact that it has all the style, grace, and sophistication of basically any other great jazz fusion album.  In the classic tradition of Miles Davis' Bitches' Brew, the Weather Report's eponymous album, or Chick Corea and Return to Forever's seminal Light as a Feather, Emergent combines everything I love about jazz - the fluidity, the improvisation, the exploration - with the tropes of great rock.

Final verdict: Adore it (and sit back, zone out, and enjoy)

Friday, May 14, 2010

Album Review: Zero Hour - Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond

Zero Hour: Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond
Year: 2006
Click here for the artist's site

Zero Hour managed to fly under my radar almost completely for a few years.  I actually had a copy of Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond shortly after release due to a recommendation, but had never really listened much.  It wasn't until their 2008 release Dark Deceiver that they caught my attention.  I was blown away by that album, and couldn't really imagine technical progressive metal done any better.  

That was when I noticed this two year old album in my collection.  Boy, was I wrong.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Point-Counterpoint: Extra Life - Secular Works


If there is one way to describe Extra Life's debut album, it's overwhelming.  Purely, sublimely, overwhelming.  Secular Works is not the kind of album you come to really get your first or second (or, to be honest, even your tenth or twentieth) time through.  It's such a hodgepodge of musical ideas, I'm not even sure where to start talking about it.

I suppose I'll start, arbitrarily, with the vocals.  In terms of voice quality, they're nothing overwhelming or worth writing home about - but it's in the melody lines that are sung that the true genius lines.  They weave through uncomfortable, foreign modes, far from the realm of normal, acceptable music.  Here, the vocals are far more an instrument as part of the mix rather than the focal point for the listener.

And the rest of the music is equally baffling.  The guitar work is frenetic and driven, while feeling completely improvised and free.  So too are the violin and bass - all seem to be playing whatever they want, and yet they coincide at the necessary moments (signaled by the loud, brash drums) and the cacophony finds unity and harmony.

The music is not what one expects - it sounds like modal Gregorian chant ran headlong into an improvisational heavy metal outfit, pushing it into the side of an experimental violinist.  It's not for the faint of heart, and I'm not surprised when people hear it and don't like it.  But I do - a lot.

Final verdict: Adore it (with a mind for befuddlement)


Wow.  Just wow.  This was my first introduction to Extra Life, and what an introduction it is.  There is sort of a "kitchen sink" mentality going on here.  But that is odd, because it isn't as if there are tons of instruments or such here.  It is more the feeling.  The songs have so much going on rhythmically, melodically and harmonically that they feel packed to the brim, even in the more sparse moments.

The vocals certainly stand out.  I'm still not sure if that is a good thing or not, but unique they are.  The vocal melodies often contrast against the music, and seem almost haphazard.  However, I have no doubt that, despite the apparent chaos in the music, it is all very planned out.

The end result is music that is anything but comfortable.  You aren't going to be humming any of these songs when the disc is done.  In fact, you probably aren't even going to remember most of the music when it is over, until you have listened again and again.  It is, however, interesting and fascinating if you can get over the high "price of admission".

Final Verdict: Explore it (but you're going to need to be very sober to not be nauseated by the musical twists and turns)

Friday, May 07, 2010

Essentials of the last decade: More Metal

When I wrote the first installment of the metal portion of this list, I didn't realize how much longer it needed to be.  So there will be two more (including this one), both of which will contain metal that may or may not be deemed "progressive".  I'm not snooty enough to care about separating the remaining albums - they're all to good for segregation.  If you really need an identifier for these five albums, they're all deathly, deathly ugly.  (And that's not a bad thing.)

So, without further ado, let's get five more essentials explained!

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Point-Counterpoint: Moonspell - Night Eternal


Too often in modern culture the term "gothic" brings to mind lame, pseudo-emo kids who are trying to be a bit more edgy.  There is nothing gothic about wearing black and white stripped leggings.  Keep trying.

Moonspell is a Portuguese band that delivers fantastic gothic metal.  And that is nowhere more evident than on their latest album, Night Eternal.  The album is a nonstop crushing blend of black metal sensibility with gothic metal overtones.  Orchestration and hauntingly beautiful keyboard layers (including ethereal choral tracks) add depth to the pummeling double bass onslaught.

Harsh vocals are juxtaposed with clean, deep baritones passages and occasional whispered lyrics.  Every track is dripping with a distinctly dark, gothic atmosphere.  "Shadow Sun" is the prime example, vacillating between slow, brooding verses and frenetic driving choruses.  Yet even in the frantic moments, the album retains its funereal mood.  Finally, the guest vocal work of Anneke van Giersbergen on "Scorpion Flower" is worth the price of admission alone.  If you aren't familiar with her uniquely angelic voice, go.  Listen.  Now.

Final Verdict: Adore it (but leave the black lipstick and nail polish at home, this isn't for poseurs)


I've never been much of a fan of gothic metal, and usually when a singer has a really noticeable accent, it turns me off to the music altogether.

And yet I've spent all day wrapping my head around this CD, and I'm surprised to say that I quite enjoy it.  Sure, the accent is a little distracting - especially in the spoken word opening.  And yes, the cover is goofy looking.  But the music is pretty awesome levels of brutal - just the right mix of heavy and calm.  It oozes sensation; it seethes like a perfect storm.  (And, as Peter mentioned, any reason to hear Anneke van Giersebergen is reason enough to give an album a try - her work with Devin Townsend, Arjen Lucassen and especially with her own bands The Gathering and Agua de Annique are all impeccable, and her voice sounds as splendid as ever here.)

The level of musicianship here is really quite astounding - and the production is clean, effective, and punchy.  The bass is plenty thumpy, the drum work is effective, the keyboards are wispy and unobtrusive, the guitars are fun and melodic.  This really is a pretty great album.

Final verdict: Explore it (while reading a moody, gothic book - but no vampires, please)

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Essentials of the last decade: Progressive Metal

It's time for another installment of essential music of the decade.  

While I may have cut my music-loving teeth on progressive rock and alternative rock, it was metal that introduced me to the wider world of heavy, crushing music.  I've spent years listening to and enjoying it, and there is a veritable cornucopia of great albums that I've adored as time has gone by.  While I don't listen to heavy metal nearly as often as I used to, it remains the music that I've heard the most and probably the type of music I own the most of.

Since there is such a plethora of essential recordings in heavy metal, I've chosen to split the sizable list into two - one for progressive metal and one for more vanilla heavy metal.  (And to be perfectly honest, these divisions are rather arbitrary - something you may call progressive will end up on the other list, and vice versa.)  They're not in any particular order, so just make sure to pick them all up.  As such, today's list is going to focus on the progressive greats!

Monday, May 03, 2010

Point-Counterpoint: Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest


I love music that is challenging, complex, and layered - but oftentimes that results in music that is difficult to decipher and kind of ugly. Sometimes, however, it's nice to find music that may not be complcated and off-putting, but simply sounds so pretty. Grizzly Bear is one of those latter bands, and Veckatimest is their strongest, most beautiful work.

It's filled with delicate acoustic guitar work, quiet swells, and careful vocal melodies and harmonies wrapped in a comfortable, unobtrusive rhythm section. This is music that is clearly composed, not just written - everything is precise and lushly orchestrated. The strings are beautiful and effulgent; the electric piano is in perfect harmony with the rest of the record.

Every track on this album is a keeper. From album-opener "Southern Point" to wonderfully kick-butt closer "I Live With You", it's a beautiful cacophony. The lyrics are poignant and filled with melancholy (especially the sad refrain in "All We Ask"), and the harmonies are painted like masterpieces. It's as though the culmination of everything beautiful about music in the last four hundred years has coincided in this one moment - and the future couldn't look brighter.

Final Verdict: Adore it (with lots and lots of smiles)


One of the most exciting aspects of these point-counterpoint articles is that my bro and I have the opportunity to introduce each other to music we may not be familiar with previously.  Such was the case with Grizzly Bear and Veckatimest.  Not only had I not heard the album, I was not familiar with the band.

As the album started, I was intrigued.  There was a lot going on here, and most of it was working for me.  Then the second track hit.  The electric piano evoked a visceral, somatic response in me.  And that response centered around one word, a description I could not avoid: hipsters.  These guys were hipsters, playing hipster music.  I wasn't even surprised when I saw pictures of the band with their American Apparel skinny jeans and hipster oh-so-cool carefully mussed hair.  I knew it was coming.

The album is a flashy, well executed blend of folk and hipster indie rock.  They pull it off very well.  Their sound certainly hearkens back to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.  For some, that will be a great thing.  For me, well, I can't stand CSN&Y.  Yeah, burn me for the musical heretic I am.  Overall, not a good combo.  CSN&Y AND hipsters.  No thanks.

Final Verdict: Ignore It (I mean seriously, if there is one thing I find more terrifying than Wild Things, it is dirty hipsters)

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Album Review: Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record

Broken Social Scene: Forgiveness Rock Record
Year: 2010
Click here for the artist's site

Broken Social Scene is one of those bands that it seems like everyone's heard of, but no-one's actually heard.  They're spoken of in hushed tones amongst the hipster crowds, like some sort of secret password that you, as a plebe, are not allowed to be privy to.  It's difficult to find copies of their albums in stores around here (thank you, the internets) and, truly, more's the pity.  (Apparently outside of the Utah Music Bubble they're quite big.  And thank goodness for that.)

Album Review: My Dying Bride - For Lies I Sire

My Dying Bride: For Lies I Sire
Year: 2009
Click here for the artist's site

Music can have a powerful effect on the mood and the psyche.  There are some songs that, no matter what is happening, if I hear them my mood improves.  There are other songs that evoke less positive emotions, leading to a powerful catharsis.

And then there is My Dying Bride.

For Lies I Sire carries on a long tradition of amazing albums from this seminal British doom metal band.  But this is not the place to look if you want music that will pick you up.  This album also carries on their tradition of lyrics that are soul-crushingly bleak.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Point-Counterpoint: Porcupine Tree - Signify


Porcupine Tree blew me away with In Absentia.  I decided I needed to hear more.  I picked up Deadwing shortly after it was released (that is another album for one of these point-counterpoint articles).  Then, while browsing a Borders in Detroit, on my way to yet another residency interview, I picked up Signify.

When I finally had a chance to put it in and listen to it, I was initially thrilled.  The opening track is more of a "noise" track, but sets up the rest of the album.  "Signify" is a fabulous instrumental number with a great bassline that propels the track.  Then the organ intro to the third track kicked in.  Suddenly I wasn't in Kansas anymore.  I'm not even sure I made it through the entire album on that long car ride from Knoxville, TN, to Raleigh, NC (360 miles FYI).

Signify has some great moments, no doubt.  However, there are too many skip-worthy tracks on this album for it to be a frequent item on any playlist of mine.  There are really strong tracks here.  But there is also too much psychedlia/spacey pop stuff for me.  Porcupine Tree is a fantastic band, but I definitely prefer their latter work.

Final Verdict: Explore it (probably best explored with mind-altering substances, though no first-hand experience)


In Absentia was also my first foray into the world of Porcupine Tree (because, of course, I was introduced to them by Peter.  It happens).  Following that, I gobbled up every PT album I could get my hands on - and one of the very first I found was Signify.

Porcupine Tree really has three eras in their music - the first was a psychedelic experiment in ambiance, the second was a time of melody-driven power pop, and with In Absentia on it's been heavier and more crushing.  As far as that first epoch of their sound goes, Signify is the bright shining example of what Steven Wilson and crew could do.

In points, it's loud and cacophonous; in others, it's spare and empty, carefully weighing the use of sound and silence to the greatest degree.  It's filled to overflowing with samples of old radio programs, grounding it in musical history; the bass is very loud (just the way I like it); the drumming by former drummer Chris Maitland (who has gone on to greatness in Guilt Machine) is poppy and slick; and Wilson's guitar work is always detached, antiseptic, and awesome.

In short: I love this album.  It's the best thing PT did in their first decade.

Final Verdict: Adore it (with a virgin daiquiri and plenty of time to sit back and enjoy)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Essentials of the last decade: Alternative Rock

It's time for another installment of my series of articles dealing with the best albums of the last decade.  Today, I wanted to focus my attention on my first true love in music - alternative rock.

I cut my teeth on alt rock - the local alt rock station, x96, has been basically the only thing I've listened to over the airwaves other than NPR.  Like, ever.  Consequently, I have a lot of love for this genre, even if it's not one I listen to much these days.

Regardless, there have been some resounding efforts that have impressed me in the last decade.  (Keep in mind, I still have to do indie rock, so it could be that what you think may be missing from this list could show up there.)  But enough lolligagging!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Essentials of the last decade: Progressive Rock

Seeing as how everyone else has been making end of decade lists (whether you regard the decade as having been 2000-2009 or 2001-2010 is irrelevant), I decided in the shower this morning I wanted to do the same.  

However, in the name of shorter articles, I'm going to do this by genre, therefore making it a less daunting task.  These are albums that I feel every music fan should have in their collection.  Eventually I'll write one of these for each big genre of music I listen to (metal/prog metal, indie, jazz, etc.) but first up: Progressive Rock!

Friday, April 23, 2010

The death of the "Review"

For a few years now (though admittedly in an inconsistent fashion) I have been writing "reviews" here at Progged.  Heck, I even had a brief stint as a writer over at  In that time I have discovered something.

Reviews are rubbish.

At least as I have been trying to write them.  See, all reviews about entertainment are subjective.  Sure, there are objective things that can be measured and perhaps quantified: is the mix even, is the production done well.  But so much is ethereal.  Particularly when it comes to music.

There are albums that I love because of what I relate them to, the memories they evoke.  Likewise, many songs/albums evoke certain emotions that strengthen or weaken the music.  And those are unique to each person.  So trying to review objectively equals one thing only: Fail.

As such, here at Progged, after discussion with my bro, we are going to be moving to a less precise, more general type of review.  It will likely be a three tiered system that will break down something like this: Great music, okay to good music that is at least worth checking out, but maybe not owning, and crap.

Yeah, that middle one is long and awkward.  We're working on it.