Category Archives: Sinister Sevens

Sinister Sevens: Best Records of 2016

records2016

Well, Twenty-Sixteen is almost at an end. In lieu of the formal run-down of all the yearly comings-and-goings that I’ve elaborated in previous years, what lies beneath is a quick review of my seven favourite musical cuts from the past twelve months; crafted with aching love for all of the superb musicians that have made my ears so, so happy during 2016.

Without further ado, let’s crack on.

Divider

1. Alcest – Kodama

Make no bones about it, Kodama is the most magnificent thing to have graced my ears during 2016. In its concise forty-two minutes’ length, Alcest construct an almighty portrait from the most dark and earthy of component noises; but one that is built from such a beautiful, dark-scaped presence that gently caresses both brain, heart and soul. Layer-upon-layer of delicious blackgazing post-metal weaves throughout Alcest’s almighty sonic diorama; riddled through with blistering melodies amongst crushing dischord. Alcest have always walked the tightrope between harmony and rage, but the mix reaches such a superlatively-honed crescendo on Kodama that the effect is truly staggering.

Undoubtedly, this is the record that spent the longest on my stereo of all, the one that’s almost melded with my mind, such is the level of connection that I feel with it.  It’s become a guide through the drifting hours of sleep; companion through the dark bearing a flame of enlightenment; and is deafeningly, delightfully, endearingly brilliant on every conceivable plane. Majestic.

Divider

2. If These Trees Could Talk – The Bones of a Dying World

2016 was, despite all the politics- and celebrity death-based disappointments, a spectacular year for the genre of post-rock. With high-profile releases from many of the genre’s big-hitters (cf. 65daysofstatic, MONO, Explosions in the Sky), us music nerds have had a veritable banquet to feast upon; balancing out, at least partially, the loss of such a genre-defining band as Maybeshewill in April of 2016. At the head of the pack, Trees’ spectacular The Bones of a Dying World is a progressive masterpiece; the sort of which still continues to reveal bright new facets of its crushing, post-metal soundscape.

It’s light in times of light, heavy in times of heavy; the whole spectrum glistening in the burning fire of Trees’ particular prism of post-rock, and it’s a flame that goes from strength to strength with every subsequent release. Bask in its warm, sultry glow and absorb its rays of grandeur with every fibre of your being.

Divider

3. Blink-182 – California

Following the departure of Tom DeLonge from the Blink stable (and replacement in a live capacity by Matt Skiba from Alkaline Trio, who would later join the band full-time), few would have predicted that the yoke of this dissolution would later bear Blink’s weightiest work in years. California harks back to a classic age of the band not seen for fifteen years; colliding sweet, high-octane pop-punk melodies with that evergreen Blink-182 lyrical cheek that’s backed up with some genuinely remarkable songwriting.

In truth, this is the best thing that Blink-182 have produced since Enema of the State, and the arrival of fresh blood appears to have genuinely reinvigorated the formula and given new lease of life; unshackled by the tight bounds that “musical differences” previously fettered. The result is an absolute punk-rock riot, so sit back and drink it in.

Divider

4. Metallica – Hardwired…to Self-Destruct

It’s a testament to the quality of the preceding three entries in this list that Hardwired… isn’t at the head of my end-of-year rundown. The first (proper) Metallica double-album ever, and clocking in at almost eighty-minutes in length, one is truly spoiled by the sheer amount of metal that’s housed within its gatefold prison that demands to be set free. Death Magnetic hinted at the re-affirmed power of Metallica at their peak, but yet – some thirty-odd years into their career – they continue to evolve and age in the most graceful way possible.

Lead singles ‘Hardwired’ and ‘Moth Into Flame’ battered into the psyche at first contact, but the other eight cuts on Hardwired… hark with equal venom upon the eardrum. Sure, they’ll never reach their 80s apex of Kill/Lightning/Master/Justice, but if Messrs. Hetfield, Hammett, Ulrich and Trujillo are still capable of producing work that’s almost asymptotic to that Golden Age, then you can be sure that the world of heavy metal is in pretty fine fettle, indeed.


Divider

5. Russian Circles – Guidance

Russian Circles are an enigma. They’re desperately, desperately heavy and yet do not feel at all out of place among the more ‘twinkly’ end of the post-rock/metal spectrum because they don’t sound at all heavy. Such is the craft that goes into an instrumental Circles record, it feels like everything is all part of the plan; an atmospheric soundtrack to a journey that just happens to be made of doom-like guitar chords and brutal drum-beats.

Where previous album Memorial melded this approach with an almost orchestral, operatic feel, it almost feels like Guidance experiments with the twin masters of Light and Dark; wafting soft, dulcet acoustics over you before wiping you out with a majestic tidal-wall of sound. Rarely can music feel both wild and tamed at the same time, but Guidance perfectly treads the tightrope between domestication and rage, like a lion wearing slippers: it treads lightly when it wants, but can unleash an unholy racket when (and if) it truly wants to.

Divider

6. Prophets of Rage – The Party’s Over EP

In terms of so-called “super”-groups, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more exciting fit than Prophets of Rage – burning bright from the ashes of Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave, with the three (non-Zack de la Rocha) quarters of Rage pooling resources with the primary components of Public Enemy and Cypress Hill, it’s a perfect fit for a revival of Rage’s definitive breed of rap-rock. Landing their The Party’s Over EP alongside a flurry of live shows, it delivers one new song (‘The Party’s Over’) along with retoolings of the component band-members’ previous work: ‘Prophets of Rage’ as a studio cover and live recordings of ‘Killing in the Name’, ‘Shut ‘em Down’ and ‘No Sleep ‘til Cleveland’.

While the formula doesn’t deviate from the Rage style we know and love, it’s still a wonderful feeling to know that there’s something new to spin on the stereo for the rest time in sixteen years. Arguably, there’s still a Zack-shaped hole in the proceedings, but the new (and expanded) vocal line-up rises to the challenge and raises the game. This EP might just be the starter, but it whets the appetite for what’ll undoubtedly be a stonking main course. Let’s tuck in.

Divider

7. MONO – Requiem for Hell

Of all of the members of post-rock royalty, MONO are undoubtedly one of the revered greats and, quite rightly, weigh in with a spectacular weight of expectation that comes with every new release. And yet, they never fail to deliver, because Requiem for Hell is, itself, a spectacular career-defining demonstration of MONO at their most crushing. Rarely does sound truly feel like it is made of matter and form, but Requiem for Hell builds up to noises that have such heft to them that it can scarcely be believed that it’s not made of the tectonic plates of the universe clashing and rubbing asunder.

The centrepiece is a seventeen-minute title track, undulating with such force and veracity that the momentous turbulence that culminates is a truly spellbinding spectacle for the ears that almost bypasses the aural nerve-endings and penetrates the brain intravenously. Have you ever felt like music was directly probing into your head and moving all of the levers that controls all of your emotions? Yep, that’s what listening to MONO feels like.

Divider

Of course, it’s not been a year full of celebration, as we’ve lost a complete plethora of musical talents; Bowie [RIP], Maybeshewill, Funeral For a Friend, Prince [RIP] and Chairlift pulling the heart-strings the greatest within my world. Then again, there were also cracking new albums by the following that, while they didn’t meet my top-seven list, still deserve a mention: Deftones, Blaqk Audio, Thrice, Weezer, Tiger Army, 65daysofstatic, Jambinai, Eldamar, Justice, Show Me a Dinosaur, Ineferens, Biffy Clyro, The Lounge Kittens, Chairlift, Three Trapped Tigers; the list goes on.

Anyway, Twenty-Sixteen is at an end. Here’s to Twemty-Seventeen; you gorgeous beast, you.

[Zinar7]

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sinister Sevens: Designer Board Games

BoardGamesSevens

I admit it; I’m a desperate, ravenous tabletop board gamer. This frenzy has been sweeping over me for many years now, but it’s only within the last 3-4 that it’s truly taken over every sense and synapse, and led to full-on obsession.

Since I’ve been a kid, I’ve absorbed myself in games: both console and tabletop. Whilst most of my intervening years have been dominated by video games, the recent resurgence of family-based, tabletop strategy board games in the last decade has led to Euro-style physical games falling evermore into the mainstream and many games store being drowned in an avalanche of high-quality wooden pieces and plastic/linen cards; and, consequently, my living room.

In tribute to this passion, then, I’m going to run down my favourite seven games on the market and detail a little bit about why they mean so much to me. Perhaps, through my amateurish words, I can inspire yet more people to absorb themselves in my rampaging hobby. Let’s go for it.

Divider

 

1. Carcassonne (Klaus-Jürgen Wrede, 2000; published by Hans in Glück)

In almost every respect, Carcassonne is my favourite tabletop game of all time, and that will likely never change. Dismissed by some as simply a gateway game offering passage to more complex titles, one should not confuse simplicity and elegance with adolescence. A tale of tiles, Carcassonne revolves around drawing land pieces at random, placing them on an ever-expanding ‘board’, and assigning miniature wooden people (“meeples”) to be knights, farmers, robbers and priests to score points for your growing empire. However, other players are aiming to do the same, and will interfere with your progress; either by trying to steal cities, roads and farms from your possession, or placing tiles inconveniently to block your developments.

Whilst the main game mechanic opens up a significant of luck (coming down to the tile you draw on your turn), you rarely feel completely at the mercy of misfortune and there is still plenty of opportunity for backstabbing and hindering of other players, even if you continually draw unhelpful tiles. Despite the compactness of the base version of Carcassonne, there’s also a supreme amount of expansion available to elaborate on the vanilla game if you so wish, with new features and expansion sets still regularly being released.

It may be passé to claim adoration of such a simple or ‘plain’ game in a world of complex titles but, to be honest, I’m having so much fun that I couldn’t care less.

Carcassonne

Divider

 

2. Takenoko (Antoine Bauza, 2011; Asmodee)

A modern classic (ish) by Antoine Bauza, Takenoko, to me, is known by only one name: Pandas.

Pandas is…a difficult game to describe: it has elements of tile-placement, hidden goals and random interference, yet fits ideally into none of these formats. The primary success of Pandas, though, lies in it daring to be different. From theme to mechanics to player engagement, it feels fresh; unburdened by restrictive gaming customs, and bringing something genuinely ‘new’ to the table (pun intended). Players build an expanding bamboo field, tended by a moving gardener and devoured by a roaming panda, aiming to complete ‘goal’ cards that are based on varying conditions. Complete seven goal cards, and it’s the end of the game.

The game is superb for player interaction, with an expanding playing area upon which bamboo pieces grow on on irrigated field tiles, and the unhelpful movements and culinary habits of the eponymous panda can destroy your finely-honed bamboo field whilst benefitting someone else. A further bonus to the main mechanics are the wonderful design strokes and charming artwork: delightfully colourful playing pieces, tiles bamboo pieces being lovely to both sight and touch, and cartoon-like miniatures representing the roving panda and gardener. Takenoko is a triumph, and one that I would introduce to any gaming environment; an entertaining romp for both newbies and seasoned gamers alike. Pandas!

Takenoko

Divider

 

3. Agricola (Uwe Rosenberg, 2007; Lookout Games)

Agricola is a behemoth in the tabletop world; both in influence/acclaim and its actual, physical bulk. A game about the driest of the dry (farming in the 17th Century), it’s a heavy worker-placement game played over thirteen turns where you can do never do everything you’d like to, and compromise is the order of the day. Since its release, it’s been acclaimed as one of the greatest modern designer board games, routinely holding position near the summit of BoardGameGeek’s top 100 games. However, it’s totally an experience that takes time to drink in and appreciate; perhaps one reason why it never won Spiel des Jahres upon its release, but instead was given a special prize as “Best Complex Game”. Certainly, I don’t feel that I’ve spent enough time with Agricola to come anywhere near truly mastering its art but, one day, I will and that will be a glorious epiphany.

There’s an outstanding amount of range and variability that can be present between successive plays, thanks to huge decks of cards that dictate what occupations can be taken on and what farm improvements can be built – make no bones about it, this is a delightfully complex game that rewards those who explore every aspect, think logically and react to changing circumstances. It can be mightily brutal though, too: making sure you can feed your family, when there are a bunch of other things that you’d like to do too, can be a heartbreaking decision.

In Misery Farm, everyone dies.

Agricola

Divider

 

4. 7 Wonders (Antoine Bauza, 2010; Repos Production)

As is probably becoming clear from my selections for this list, I totally have a soft spot for games designed by Antoine Bauza. To date, 7 Wonders is probably his most acclaimed game title, winning the Kennerspiel award at Spiel des Jahres 2011 for “best complex game”, and there’s a valid reason for that. It’s wonderfully put-together and crafted, with simple (concurrent) turn mechanics, fast & engaging player interactions and lovely artwork; making each player’s (of which there may be up to seven, or eight with the ‘Cities’ expansion) process of building a Wonder of the ancient world an absolute pleasure.

It’s rapidly quick; the concurrent turn order keeping things active and away from tedious Analysis Paralysis (AP); and the points salad options for points-scoring means that there’s plenty to think about in each turn/round/game. Spread over three Ages, in each one players begin with a hand of (n + 1) cards; taking one and playing it, then passing the hand to their neighbour, whereby the process continues until all cards are played. Players must build up resources, use them to construct cities with marketplaces, cultural focal points, commerce, military strength and, of course, their individual Wonder.

It’s elegant in every conceivable way, short in terms but not in terms of complexity, and with a heap of replayability that makes it a great choice for a medium-weight ‘filler’ game that makes city-building an absolute delight.

7 Wonders

Divider

 

5. Tokaido (Antoine Bauza, 2012; Funforge)

Tokaido is, categorically, the prettiest designer board game ever designed (FYI: the Kickstarter collector’s edition is even more a delight), for which we have Xavier Gueniffey Durin to thank. Yes, it’s yet another Antoine Bauza title in this seven-strong list, but it accurately typifies his penchant for deriving completely novel themes and abstract (yet sensible) game mechanics, as players take on the role of Dynasty-era travellers migrating up the eponymous Tokaido Road on Japan’s coast; visiting picturesque view, hot springs and teahouses, and meeting a swathe of friendly characters and merchants.

In essence, it’s a ‘race’ game, but one which is full of charm and quirks – players cannot occupy the same ‘spot’ and the rearmost player always moves, therefore compromise must be made as to whether to jump ahead to guarantee visit to special locations, or to maximise visits by moving to the next available space. Points are awarded based on a variety of goals, with a ‘Points Salad’ approach allowing players to tackle different strategies (focussing, perhaps, on visiting particular locations or collecting certain souvenirs) and to react to other players’ circumstances. The fact that this is wrapped up in the most aesthetically-pleasing artwork is, admittedly, a bonus; but one which simply adds to the overall feel and gives the genuine feel of players going on a scenic, rewarding journey over the course of the game.

Tokaido is, at heart, a delight. Wonderful.

Tokaido

Divider

 

6. Love Letter (Seiji Kanai, 2011; AEG)

Elegance is the only word that can be used to adequately describe Seiji Kanai’s microgame, Love Letter. Mechanics, artwork, components; it’s all simple, streamlined and with solid pick-up-and-playability. Formed of only sixteen cards, a beautiful velvet bag and a handful of cubes representing ‘tokens of affection’ from the Princess Annette, players must play cards until the deck runs out, attempting to draw favours from a range of colourful characters in order to deliver a letter of love to the Princess at the end of the day. The winner of the round is the player holding the highest-valued character card once there a no more cards to draw, and in the face of other players attempting to eliminate and backstab one another out of contention.

In a grand best-of-thirteen, the first player to accumulate 7/5/4 tokens of affection (for 2/3/4 players) secures the Princess’ heart and wins the game. It’s wonderfully simple and compact, and takes only minutes to pick up before players are guessing, bluffing and socially-engineering their way to the royal heart. It’s quick, easy to teach, simple to master and yet open to a wide range of strategies and opportunities for bluffing. I love it, so hard.

Love Letter

Divider

 

7. Rampage [aka Terror in Meeple City] (Antoine Bauza & Ludovic Maublanc, 2013; Repos Production)

For my final choice, what remains to be selected but yet another Antoine Bauza game? Furthermore, one that is about as far removed from a traditional modern designer board game as it is possible to get, whilst still retaining a board, power cards, and wooden meeples.

Unlike all of the other titles on this list which require strategy and brainwork, Rampage is all about dexterity. Taking on the role of city-smashing monsters, (up to) four players must systematically destroy the buildings and towers of Meeple City, topple all of the resident meeples and gobble them up, using a choice of four different actions: moving your monster (by ‘flicking’ its feet across the board), smashing a building (by dropping the wooden monster pawn onto a building), breathing toxic fumes (by resting chin on monster pawn and blowing buildings down) and by lobbing vehicles (by placing a wooden vehicle on top of the monster’s head and ‘flicking’ it into buildings or other monsters).

It’s a dazzlingly physical game, and the natural antidote to the tedious end of the cube-shunting Euro game genre. In Rampage, Bauza and Maublanc have created the ideal bridge between hardcore tabletop action and the family, party game. You can’t help but be engaged by Rampage, and get sucked into the sheer fun and lunacy of a very interactive, hands-on game that’s in full flight. The snobs may dismiss it as merely a sideshow, but once you’ve played it it’ll change your mind about how tabletop games can truly bring people together in laughter.

Rampage

Divider

 

So, there we have it. My top seven tabletop board games ever (or, at least, until some other awesome get released and bump some of these out of the charts). Mention should also go to some other games, which I list here for the sake of completeness:

Alhambra – Dirk Henn, 2003; Queen Games.

Thurn und Taxis  – Andreas & Karen Seyfarth, 2006; Hans im Glück.

Coloretto – Michael Schacht, 2003; Abacus Spiele.

Le Petit Prince: Fabrique-moi une Planète (The Little Prince: Make Me a Planet) – Antoine Bauza & Bruno Cathala, 2003; Ludonaute.

Splendor – Marc André, 2014; Space Cowboys.

Revolution! – Phillip duBarry, 2009; Steve Jackson Games.

[Zinar7]

 

Images from BoardGameGeek: (Carcassonne – Robert Hawkins; Takenoko – Johnathon Er; Agricola – Will McDonald; 7 Wonders – Babis Tsimoris; Tokaido – Henk Rolleman; Love Letter – Casey Lynn; Rampage – Henk Rolleman).

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Sinister Sevens: Sonisphere 2014

Sevens_2

Okay, let me start off by making one thing clear: Sonisphere 2014 was just EPIC. For four days, Knebworth was host to wall-to-wall awesomeness, and I suppose that it’s now my job to try and boil that down into a short(ish) summary of all the rad stuff that happened, and the major outcomes of the festival. In that spirit, then, here’s a quick run-down of the seven bands I enjoyed the most over the course of Sonisphere 2014, along with the recounting of a few memories. Let’s crack on, shall we?

Divider

 

1. Metallica [By Request]

Without a doubt, Metallica were the band of Sonisphere 2014. They may have shared headlining duties with the mighty Iron Maiden (and The Prodigy), but you could just tell that Metallica were going to be the band hitting the top gear. This was pretty clear once we entered the arena on Sunday morning to find that Metallica had completely torn down most of the main stage and replaced it with their own setup (and still hadn’t finished it, meaning that Gojira came on late). From the entire backdrop of video wall, the ‘D’ walkway out into the crowd, and the beach ball-deployment mechanisms (see later), Metallica meant business.

And what business it was. With a setlist constructed by the fans, Metallica By Request was always going to be some kind of monster and from the opening twangs of ‘Battery’, the show was unstoppable through ‘Master of Puppets’, ‘Welcome Home (Sanitarium)’ and onward toward more choice cuts from Kill ’em AllRide the Lightning…And Justice for All and Metallica [the Black Album]. Despite the popularity of Death Magnetic, the only songs extracted from beyond 1991 were ‘Whiskey in the Jar’ (which went down a storm) and the steamrollering ‘Fuel’, which led to one of the biggest sing-alongs of the night. Even “the new song” ‘Lords of Summer’ went down a treat, along with the standard classics like ‘One’, ‘Creeping Death’ and ‘Enter Sandman.

The master-stroke, though, comes in the final moments: out of nowhere, hundreds of black “Metallica by Request” beach balls fall from the heavens of the stage into the front of the crowd; ricocheting around the arena during the closing songs with gay abandon and a sense of universal glee shared by both band and audience. And heck, when { Metallica } are having this much fun, you know you’re in for a real treat.

p.s. SIT DOWN, LARS

KillEmAll

Divider

 

2. Ghost (B.C.)

I’ll be honest: before Soni 2014, I’d only really heard of Ghost (B.C.) in passing. I’d only ever really encountered them visually, and so had (not unjustly) assumed that they were a standard Scandinavian black metal band after having seen their outlandish stage garb and semi-religious iconography. Oh, how wrong I was.

Earlier in the weekend, a friend described Ghost as “black metal channeled through surf rock,” and yet that doesn’t really reflect what Ghost is and are: they’re simultaneously the heaviest and not-heaviest band; a bizarre mix of style that you wouldn’t think would work on paper, and yet triumphs spectacularly. The band themselves are anonymous; five bemasked Nameless Ghouls providing the backing noise over which Ghost’s frontman vigilantly presides. Papa Emeritus (II), naturally, is the band’s lifeblood and conduit with the audience, yet he’s so unconventional a frontman that it’s almost refreshing how much an antidote the band are to the traditional ‘rock star’ image and caricature.

Throughout the set, Emeritus paced the stage with a gentle, faux-papal demeanour, gesticulating to the crowd like a preacher addressing his congregation. If the band’s fascinating music-scape is anything to go by, ‘congregation’ is an appropriate term to reflect the awe in which the Sonisphere masses drank in Ghost’s performance, undoubtedly winning over a large swathe of new followers; me included. Certainly, their foray through a handful of album tracks along with a cover of ‘If You Have Ghost(s)’, they most definitely affirmed their place as [my] “Discovery of Sonisphere 2014,” and guaranteed a place for their entire back catalogue in my ever-expanding music collection. (F)rock on.

IfYouHaveGhost

Divider

 

3. Karnivool

I admit it, I ❤ Karnivool so hard. They’re a monumentally good live band, and one that seems to constantly be on tour in some form or other (this is the fifth time I’ve seen them in less than five years). Hitting the Saturn stage in the middle of Sunday, even I must concede that I was worried that the Vool’s meandering, progressive rock/alt-metal would wither in the daylight and without their ambient, atmospheric lighting and stage presence. I needn’t have worried, though, since the music – as ever – is perfectly capable of transporting you to a hypnotic, dreamlike world of robust prog-metal, regardless of the time of day.

Karnivool’s forty minutes on stage were woven from their typical headline set; drawing from 2009’s Sound Awake and last year’s Asymmetry albums. There are no surprises in the order, nor ad-hoc song changes; just the regular Karnivool machine delivering the tight, sonic experience that they’re expertly-programmed to output. Whilst fellow Aussie band Airbourne were vomiting forth faux-rock’n’roll and pre-planned ‘spontaneous’ acts of rebellion, Karnivool graced the Saturn Stage with maturity, charm and precision. Sound is the factor which holds it together.

Karnivool

Divider

 

4. Babymetal

Of course, a lot of the pre-Sonisphere hype circulated about the inaugral UK (and European festival) appearance of “internet sensations” (yuk) Babymetal, and how they’d go down in front of a stoic heavy metal crowd that would, later in the day, be gearing up for real metal delivered by Anthrax, Iron Maiden and Slayer. The three girls from Japan were accompanied to the stage by projection of a tongue-in-cheek ‘back story’ video, heralding their status as the new Goddesses of Heavy Metal, before launching into album openers ‘BABYMETAL DEATH’, ‘Megitsune’ and ‘Gimme Chocolate!!’.

Of course, while Babymetal will forever be associated with The Girls, they’d be nothing without the juddering metal backdrop. The backing band provide the foundation for Babymetal’s cosmic stage presence; painting the musical stage on which The Girls sing, dance and cavort around with choreographed abandon. Inter-song solos and noodles from each of the members also goes light-years to proving that they’re not just a dance/pop band; they’re an (albeit constructed) machine of genuine musical talent and merit under the curtain of semi-contrived gimmick.

It’s a shame that, at least for the day, Babymetal could only grace the Apollo Stage for a fleeting half an hour, but it’s certainly enough to satiate the ravenous and (maybe) convince a few of the naysayers to rethink their stern opinions. Either way, for thirty minutes on a gloomy Saturday in Hertfordshire, we were witnesses to the arrival of the new Goddesses of heavy metal; and how refreshing that was. The revolution is here; the time is now.

BabymetalDeath

Divider

 

5. Hundred Reasons

The assembled crowed at the Saturn Stage on Saturday afternoon felt small, but perfectly formed. After a few years of splitting-up, re-forming, playing comeback and anniversary shows, Hundred Reasons haven’t released new material for seven or so years. Sonisphere 2014 saw them going back in time twelve years, with a full rendition of their essential debut album, Ideas Above our Station; addressing a small but rabid fanbase who can sing along with every word.

Throughout their set, 100R looked for all the world like a band enjoying themselves. With each member now otherwise invested in other projects, the Sonisphere semi-reunion (they got together back in 2012 to do a few proper renunion shows to celebrate the Ideas… ten-year anniversary) had all the feeling of a weekend get-together rather than a run-of-the-mill show. Dutifully, Colin Doran’s lyrics soared over the backing provided by Hibbitt, Gilmour et al. and the voices of the assembled congregation, delivering an atmosphere worthy of a band in their heyday rather than one that’s been off the circuit for far longer than most of us would like.

If nothing else, Hundred Reasons reminded us why 2002’s post-hardcore soundtrack meant so much to so many, and convinced us (if we ever needed convincing in the first place) that the UK music scene is a poorer place without Hundred Reasons in it. Boys, you’re sorely missed.

ShatterproofIsNotAChallenge

Divider

 

6. Max Raptor

…And the award for “Craziest Moshpit of Sonisphere 2014” goes to Max Raptor!

I’m not sure what I expected when I walked into the Satellite Stage tent to settle in for Max Raptor. What became clear was that, within seconds of launching raucously into their opening song, most of the central area of the tent was taken up by a frenzied [mosh/circle] pit that continuously ebbed and flowed with the motion of bouncing limbs and beaming smiles until well after Max Raptor had left the stage.

Not elsewhere across the weekend did I witness such a constant whirlwind of bodies, fervour and fun as during Max Raptor’s short (but sweet) set – the boistrous (but cordial) moshing throughout the show was accompanied by a jovial wall-of-death and, at one point, the sight of two guys dressed as 1970s long-distance runners sat on each others’ shoulders and jousting across the pit.

I wasn’t familiar with any of Max Raptor’s material before I saw them; even now, I’m almost tempted to keep it that way. Because, you see, to hear them on CD and in the manacles of a recording studio would ruin the memory of witnessing a true punk rock band being completely let off the musical leash for a festival show. They’re a band to see in the flesh, not just on record. Their debut album (Mothers Ruin, fact fans) might be the best ever written, but I’ll never know because I’ll never listen to it; nothing can compare to the real Max Raptor experience, smiles abound.

MaxRaptor

Divider

 

7. Nirvana Defiled

I’m not sure what I was expecting to hear from Nirvana Defiled; a regular, main stage hardcore(ish) band [The Defiled] playing an 11pm show in a titchy tent as a Nirvana tribute band. I think, in the main, I was just hoping that they wouldn’t screw it up – having watched The Defiled play their regular set on Friday and not been bowled over, a friend and I headed into the Bohemia Stage on a high and settled in to watch the potential car crash of the same band attempting to raid the Nirvana back catalogue. Instead, what we got was one of the most enjoyable musical experience in recent memory, and hats well and truly eaten.

Nirvana Defiled took to the stage in complete costume – ragged cardigans, plaid shirts, pink hair, bras and baseball caps; even with the other (redundant) member of the four-piece The Defiled dolled up in drag as Courtney Love being pushed around in wheelchair – before belting into a perfect rendition of ‘Breed’. For the remainder of the show, The Defiled crushed through the likes of ‘In Bloom’, ‘Negative Creep’, ‘Rape Me’ and ‘Heart-Shaped Box’, before sending the entire tent into a mass frenzy with an intense rendition of the obligatory ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ before exiting the stage and leaving genuine smashed guitar all over it.

It may now be twenty years since Kurt left this world, but for forty or so minutes in Knebworth, late on a Sunday night, Nirvana were alive and well and full of the kind of reckless energy that took them from mere rock band directly to musical legend. And, without a shadow of doubt, it was glorious.

SmellsLikeTheDefiled

Divider

So there we go; my brief (if a little late) review of most of the awesomeness from Sonisphere 2014. Honorable mentions should also go to all of the other bands I managed to watch over the course of the weekend: Hounds, Atari Teenage Riot, 65 Days of Static, Anti-Flag, Limp Bizkit, The Prodigy, Fort Hope, Centiment, The Virginmarys, Alestorm, Deftones, Devin Townsend Project, Reel Big Fish, Alice in Chains, Kerbdog and The One Hundred. Special mentions should also go to the ‘extra-curricular’ activities over the weekend, from the Official Unofficial Sonisphere Bin Joust International Invitational to the Toolbox Hill-Descent Masters. For four or so days, my life was filled with music and other tomfoolery, and it was spectacular.

Thanks, Sonisphere; you were awesome. Same time next year, yeah?

[Zinar7]

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sinister Sevens: Resolutions 2014

 

Sevens_1

Right, it’s that time of year; that time when people reflect on the past and vow to make positive changes for the future. A day late and a dollar short, I don’t usually go in for New Year’s resolutions; but since I managed to nudge The Thesis into touch at the end of 2013 and I’m keen to put in place a robust post-Thesis regime, I’m determined to make the start to 2014 a positive one and this means that it’s time for some challenges.

So, in the spirit of coming up with a bunch of things I’ve like to get done in 2014, here I’ve come up with a short, seven-heavy shortlist of the major challenges I’d like to overcome in the coming year. Let’s do this!

Divider

1. Get Fit.

The importance of this first resolution cannot be underestimated. It’s not so much about getting fit per se, but at least getting my mis-shapen body back to something resembling slimness: I’ve got a ton of clothes that my tummy has grown too large to fit in properly (including an awesome assassin/pirate coat) that I would like to wear more often, which therefore means application of the following sub-resolutions:

1 (a). Go out inline skating more often.
1 (b). Do more skanking to ska-punk songs (skankercise).
1 (c). Eat less crap.

Of course, these remain fairly vague and without any particular time constraints or individual goals, so I will qualify my resolution by aiming to do each of them at least once a week, with a more permanent focus on maintaining resolution (c) at something approximating 100 % of the time. Looking at the wider picture, I’d like to be able to fit (and look good in, though that’s a far more ambitious/impossible task) my new assassin/pirate coat by, say, March, and to still be able to wear it on Xmas Day 2014 without it feeling very much like a whale that’s been squeezed into a corset. Game on.

2. Play More Point-and-Click Adventure Games (at least one per month) and Blog About Them.

and

3. Read More Books (at least one per month) and Blog About Them.

By no means a surprise, Resolutions Two and Three are a natural response to the sudden increase in free time (and motivation) that I anticipate will come my way now that I don’t spend every waking – and unwaking – moment either fretting about The Thesis or busily doing it. When I first realised that I couldn’t do all the leisure activities I wanted to do when I entered the world of academia, ‘books’ and ‘point-and-click adventure games’ were among the first things to be abandoned, much to my sadness. As such, the number of books I’ve not read, and adventure games I’ve not played, have been steadily increasing and the time to stop the tide is now.

To guarantee my commitment to both causes, I’m vowing to write reviews and thoughts about both here: an adventure game review once per month, and a bi-monthly post describing my thoughts on two books. Even if no-one reads them, I hope they’ll encourage me to look at storytelling media in a more academic light and to contribute my own thoughts to literature and video game criticism.

4. Make a Gordon Freeman Costume.

This. This is happening.

There’s no particular reason why; only that I’ve kept meaning to do it for years and years and years, and that I’ve got the right beard and the right glasses to justify cosplaying as video games’ most famous silent protagonist. Since there’s no better motivator for making a costume than needing a costume for a convention, I’m also resolving to have it ready and made by May in order to head to either to the London Film and Comic Con or the MCM London Comic Con dressed in Dr. Freeman’s HEV suit from Half-Life; made even more poignant given that (hopefully) I will also be a fully-qualified PhD scientist by that point as well. It’s ambitious and achievable, and my enthusiasm for getting this done is remarkably high right now. To the workshop!

5. Properly Give up Coffee and Alcohol.

I think most people now are aware that I don’t drink alcohol because of the bad effects it seems to have on my body (specifically bad effects meaning ‘having an intolerance to digesting/assimilating it’ bad effects, not ‘holy shit I drank so much last night’ bad effects) but, disappointingly, I appear to be developing similar problems with respect to drinking highly-caffeinated beverages as well. So, in the interests of trying to keep myself just about as healthy and not making myself really ill from just one cup of coffee or one pint of cider, I’m hitting the nail on the head and removing them from my diet (and conscience) altogether. I’d love to inbibe both, but it’s just a sad fact that my body won’t handle it anymore so I have to stop 😦

6. Watch at Least 52 Movies from my Project 500 list (one for each week of 2014).

A few of you may be aware of my ongoing Project 500 film challenge to watch every one of the five-hundred greatest movies as selected by Empire magazine in a special feature that they published a few years back. 2011 and 2012 were prolific years for film-watching, but 2013 was comparatively fruitless and little progress was made. For 2014, I’d like to kick that back into gear by watching at least as many ‘great’ movies as there are weeks in the year: I’m currently on 360/500, so I’m aiming for 52 more movies from the list which will take me to 412/500. Of course, I’m still not closing in my 500 target just yet, but hopefully the process will once again reveal more of cinema’s treasures that I’ve managed to miss in my film-watching career thus far; it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.

7. Be Happy 100% of the Time, No Compromises.

This is an obvious one, really. Too often in 2013 was I feeling down, depressed or lonely; feeling adrift in the world and yet not making positive steps to change that. Well, I’m aiming for 2014 to be one of happiness, contentment and satisfaction, and not one of regret or self-pity: no dwelling on mistakes, no having regrets, no moping around; just a positive outlook and a willingness to make changes in areas I’m not happy. It sounds like a small thing, but to me it’s a big thing; probably the most challenging thing on this list altogether.

In many ways, Resolution Seven is just a commitment to Be Better At Stuff and Not Being Sad. It’s essentially the ultimate trump card, but also the easiest pitfall to fall down and the simplest resolution to dismiss or break. Hence, by writing it down here I therefore commit myself to keeping it through a written contract and through the rule of New Year’s resolutions that if other people know about them then it’s harder to just ignore them and pretend you never made them in the first place. So, with that in mind, I wish both you and I a happy, prosperous and glory-filled 2014; may we all be carried upon the backs of soaring dragons to a magical world of merriment, success and inexhaustable supplies of Toblerone. Godspeed!

[Zinar7]

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

My Life in Music: B-Sides

Bsides Following last week’s blog posts about the best albums from ever year I have been alive, this (final) post acts as a quick round-up of what has gone before and a short summary of other records that (ideally) would have been on the list as well. As a recap, my previous blogs in this series can be found here:

Part 1: From Out of Nowhere (1985-1991)
Part 2: Where Boys Fear to Tread (1992-1998)
Part 3: Dancing Through Sunday (1999-2005)
Part 4: Set Fire to the Hive (2006-2012)

Since I could only choose one entry per year, it wasn’t possible to include every of my favourite albums in this series; as a result, some of the finest musical works have not been represented here. In an attempt to redress the balance, here are a supplementary seven records that lost out (maybe because of very competitive years) that should not be overlooked. Here we go!

Dream Theater – Images and Words (1992)

1992

Despite losing out (just) to the mind-blowing Angel Dust for the 1992 crown, it shouldn’t be underestimated what a landmark record Images and Words is in modern progressive rock/metal. There’s a killer amount of depth to the sophomore album that brought the band to the attention of the masses, and it still remains a stone-cold classic that kicks off with perhaps the defining Dream Theater compositions; the enthralling ‘Pull Me Under’. Where their first release (1989’s Where Day and Dream Unite) was a competent and promising debut, their potential is fully realised on this, their follow-up, which reaps the benefits of greater musical gestation along with the addition of James LaBrie’s vocal talents. Images and Words, then, covers a broad spectrum of DT’s vein of prog-metal, hitting hard on the likes of ‘Take the Time’ whilst remaining delicate and light on slow, atmospheric peaks like the swirling ‘Wait for Sleep’ and the crossover with the deeply progressive ‘Learning to Live’.  Dream Theater would later rack up more classic albums (2005’s delightful Octavarium, in particular), but Images and Words will ever be the epitaph that will grace DT’s tombstone when they finally hang up their instruments; something we should all hope they don’t do for a good while yet.

Song Choice: [Pull Me Under]

Tool – Lateralus (2001)

tool_-_lateralus

As will become clear over the next few entries, choosing a winner for 2001 brought on more heartache than for any other year; even though Daft Punk’s Discovery deserves nothing less the God-like status, it did mean that near-perfect albums like Lateralus had to be left out. More accessible than Ænima and less meandering than 10,000 Days, the science of intelligent, progressive metal is well and truly mastered on Lateralus. Home to swirling melodies, mathematical time signatures and unsettling noises, Tool’s output always sits closer to ‘art’ than ‘music’; something that Lateralus‘ beautiful packaging and artwork do little to dispel. More important is the mathematical detail; the whole album subject to numerical concepts and support to an overarching Fibonacci sequence portrayed in musical form (seriously, look it up). More so than any of Tool’s other work, Lateralus is perhaps the most elusive; feeling sometimes like a soaring eagle rather than a metal behemoth. It also captures time in such a way that each successive listen will bring back to the first time you played it, with the full force of art and music in perfect harmony. Lateralus will never be bettered, but then again, the pinnacles of a whole genre rarely are.

Song Choice: [Lateralus]

Weezer – Weezer [the Green Album] (2001)

GreenAlbum

After a somewhat lukewarm reception to their (undoudtedly superb) sophomore album Pinkerton, Weezer went into hiding for five long, wilderness years before dropping their follow-up with very little announcement and only minor fanfare. Taking the opportunity to reboot themselves, Weezer brought forth another self-titled output (lovingly nicknamed by fans as the ‘Green Album’) that recalls much of the powerpop/rock from their debut Weezer (the ‘Blue Album’) and contrast with the darker tone(s) on Pinkerton. Clocking in at just shy of thirty minutes in length, the Green Album blisters through ten catchy, simple songs that define the classic Weezer powerpop formula; Rivers Cuomo’s faultless writing and melodies latching onto the brain’s nervous system and never really letting go. The rejuvenated band would later release the equally superb Maladroit scarcely a year later, on the back of critical and artistic success. That being so, the Green Album remains a landmark entry in Weezer’s (now-) prolific output and, twelve years on, still utterly essential. The Blue Album may be the universal classic that will be remembered for decades, but The Green Album is my nominee; completely encapsulating a time and place in my life that may never be bettered.

Song Choice: [Hash Pipe]

Andrew W.K. – I Get Wet (2001)

I_Get_Wet

What is there to say about this record that can’t be gleaned from the cover image alone? This a party record; designed solely to (sonically) destroy your face and to make you party hardier than is humanly possible. From beginning to end, this is 100% solid balls-to-the-wall rock and roll, and unashamedly so. Wearing its motives on its sleeve with pride and power, I Get Wet is pure, unadulterated fun, condensed into twelve, 3-minute pop songs with overdriven guitars, keyboard and drums beaten at a breakneck pace. A more un-pretentious, entertaining statement-of-intent you will not find. Here, Doctor Andrew finds the formula for PARTY, distils it into musical form, and prescribes doses to be taken (at least) twice a day to the aural senses. The haters may hate, but find me a (true) music fan that doesn’t adore AWK’s simple message for partying hard and I’ll eat my own head.

Song Choice: [Party Hard]

Cave In – Antenna (2003)

Antenna

In the extensive Cave In back catalogue, Antenna feels like both an anomaly and a delight. The 2003 album was critically applaud upon its release (indeed, the likes of Kerrang! poured bountiful plaudits over it for many months, nay years), but it marked an evolutionary change in sound from its predecessor, Jupiter,  and a more harmonious appearance than its successor, Perfect Pitch Black; both of which contain lyrics, compositions and screams much harder than anything that can be found here. While Cave In themselves found much to dislike on Antenna, the rest of us can plunder from its pulsating, emotive alt-rock and revel in its handling of raw themes drifting in and out of infectious musical refrain. It’s the least abrasive entry in the Cave In library, and as such feels far more cutting than some of their more post-hardcore or metalcore releases; which, in their roughness, often lose connection in therefore their primary source of power. The endurance of Antenna comes from the passion and prowess contained within its dozen tracks, and is likely display further longevity for many years to come.

Song Choice [Inspire]

Justice – † [Cross] (2007)

Justice

Much like another certain French electro-house duo, Justice are the master conductors of the kind of grandiose EDM soundscapes that were always destined to be played to gigantic crowds to great acclaim. Despite two subsequent live albums and another studio release, 2007’s masterwork, † (Cross), remains their enduring studio recording, and one that’s home to a million samples/electronic compositions lifted from the breadth of pop, rock and electronica. From the opening track (aptly-titled ‘Genesis’), it’s clear that Justice mean business – where Daft Punk were always about art and music in equal measure (those helmets and the Instella 5555 movie withstanding), Justice are 100% about the music. The first thing that’s noticeable is the relative lack of voice: the majority of Cross is instrumental, feeling like some sort of lumbering, electro-mechanical machine and the inner-workings on this are most clear on grinding, chugging monsters like ‘Stress’; regardless, the likes of ‘D.A.N.C.E.’ and ‘DVNO’ demonstrate that Justice know intimately how best to fill a dancefloor. In spite of all this, however, the only place to properly experience Justice is in the live setting, and their arena spectacular is truly a joy to behold; one that I encourage everyone to seek out.

Song Choice: [Genesis]

Ke$ha – Animal/Cannibal (2010)

AnimalCannibal

For many people, it’ll probably be a bit of a shock to see something like Ke$ha on this list; those that truly know me, though, will not be surprised (although they may still be slightly appalled). In many ways, this is the sister album to Andrew WK’s staggering I Get Wet (which only just missed out on the 2001 award and which will be reviewed in the upcoming ‘B-Sides’ post); the absolute embodiment of party. Regardless of what you think of her, Ke$ha has some mighty catchy songs (although a minor inability to spell things correctly): ‘Tik Tok’. ‘We R Who We R’ and ‘Your Love is My Drug’ and but a few. The sneerers may sneer and the haters may hate, but music was invented to be fun, and not everything has to push the boundaries of musicianship or art: sometimes you just need to kick off your shoes, shuffle over to the dancefloor and go crazy. We were born to break the doors down; fight until the end. #Warrior

Song Choice: [Your Love is My Drug]

Divider

[ Final Words ]

There we are, so that’s it: thirty-five of my most precious albums ever ever; all rounded up and brought together into the world’s most giant mixtape. It’s been fun: the process has certainly given me ample opportunity to re-assess a few albums I’d previously dismissed, and see them in a different light.

It’s certainly interesting that the most difficulty I had (with choosing a winner for each year) came for 2001-2004; arguably my formative years for getting into rock and metal. It’s not necessarily that these years held ‘better’ music than any of the others (although Daft Punk’s Discovery is and will always be the greatest musical achievement of humanity), but that my emotional connection to them is strongest.  Perhaps my rather scattershot rock/metal music tastes have been justifiably represented in this list – certainly my tastes have gotten a whole lot more eclectic in the last few years; perhaps that’s a sign that I’m getting old. My passion for music doesn’t seem to be abating any, though: I still consume a truckload of music, as my Last.FM profile will attest to. I have no idea what the next seven years may hold in store; whether the choice albums from those years will be ones by bands already covered in this list, or populated by a whole raft of new artists.  We can but wait and see.

But like any good Oscars speech, there are a heckload of other contenders that I’d like to address, and thank for the joy they’ve brought and the passion that they’ve inspired: here’s an attempt to do justice to the many other albums that have graced my ears again and again and again, and that remain very dear to me. I’ll stream them as a big list here, as footnote to to those I’ve already covered in more detail. Thanks everyone; you’re the best.

Pearl Jam – Ten (1991)
Soundgarden – Superunknown (1994)
Machine Head – Burn My Eyes (1994)
Green Day – Nimrod (1997)
Air – Moon Safari (1998)
Nine Inch Nails – The Fragile (1998)
AFI – Black Sails in the Sunset (1999)
Slipknot – Slipknot (1999)
Jimmy Eat World – Clarity (1999)
American Hi-Fi – American Hi-Fi (2001)
Rival Schools – United by Fate (2001)
Alkaline Trio – From Here to Infirmary (2001)
Jimmy Eat World – Bleed American (2001)
Queens of the Stone Age – Songs for the Deaf (2002)
Funeral For a Friend – Casually Dressed and Deep in Conversation (2003)
The Ataris – So Long, Astoria (2003)
Brand New – Deja Entendu (2003)
Jimmy Eat World – Futures (2004)
Hayseed Dixie – Let There be Rockgrass (2004)
The Explosion – Black Tape (2004)
Power Quest – Neverworld (2004)
My Chemical Romance – Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge (2004)
Still Remains – Of Love and Lunacy (2005)
Nine Inch Nails – With Teeth (2005)
Dream Theater – Octavarium (2005)
Funeral For a Friend – Tales Don’t Tell Themselves (2007)
Owl City – Ocean Eyes (2009)
The XX – The XX (2009)
Ensiferum – From Afar (2009)

[Zinar7]

{ coming soon: My Life in Games and My Life in Movies }

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

My Life in Music IV: Set Fire to the Hive

Music_4

Continuing on from where we left off yesterday (link), here’s the fourth and final part of my quest to examine and document my favourite full-length records from each year that I have been alive. This post covers 2006 to the present, demonstrating an even greater diversity in my listenings and revealing trends for the future and (perhaps) what I’ll be listening for the next seven years. Next week, I’ll round up those albums that couldn’t quite make the cut, but still deserve to be on the list.

Doing this series has been a pleasure and a joy; allowing me to re-review a lot of my favourite albums, and to provide opportunity to put my stamp on what defines me, at least musically. There’ve been no huge, gargantuan, revelations along the way, but the process has re-affirmed some of my most dearest records and given some of the other a new ‘ear’ and re-discover them after a long time.

This isn’t the last post, though, as I’ll be providing a quick run-down in the next post about some of the albums that didn’t make the cut; usually because they were in a competitive year and I could only choose one. In the meantime, I hope you’ve enjoyed this little amble down musical memory lane and without further ado, here’s the rest of it:

2012: Rush – Clockwork Angels

Clockwork+Angels

Since the release of Rush’s 2007 cracker Snakes and Arrows, the enduring Canadian prog-rockers have ridden a wave of resurgence which is (arguably) the highest they’ve seen since their 1970s/80s heyday. It’s with fine reason though, since their consistently superb live shows have been supported by albums that show some serious form – Clockwork Angels pulls together some of Rush’s finest songwriting, conceptual imagery and lyrics since 1981’s Moving Pictures. ‘Caravan’ opens proceedings with a barrage of distorted guitars and by the time that second track ‘BU2B’ kicks in, it’s clear that Clockwork Angels is possibly Rush’s heaviest album to date; at least sonically. Evoking ideas of time travel, alchemy and anarchy, Neil Peart’s top-score lyrics deliver a compelling story through the likes of ‘The Anarchist’ and the stonking ‘Headlong Flight’; both of which must surely become setlist regulars from now on. Overall, it’s a barnstorming lesson in modern progressive rock, drawing inspiration from the band’s forty-year career and with that proviso, remains utterly, utterly essential.

Song Choice: [Caravan]

2011: Rhapsody of Fire – From Chaos to Eternity

From+Chaos+To+Eternity+cover

In an ideal world, From Chaos to Eternity would win the 2011 award based on its superb cover art alone, but we’re here to judge the music, not the cover art (though that gives me an idea for a future blog series…) and on that basis, there’s plenty to love here. Where the previous year saw Rhapsody release a returning masterpiece that recalled some of their best work, From Chaos to Eternity raises the bar yet further for orchestral power metal; injecting even more heavy metal riffs into the Rhapsody cauldron and cooking up an even darker tone, albeit with no compromise on epic symphony. The titular song that opens proceedings is infectious and tempestuous, whilst the likes of ‘Tempesta di Fuoco’, ‘Ghosts of Forgotten Worlds’, ‘Aeons of Raging Darkness’ and ‘I Belong to the Stars’ are heavenly slices of symphonic power-metal, capturing some of their best material since, well, ever. This would, unfortunately, be the final album that the power trio of Alex Staropoli, Luca Turilli and Fabio Lione would make together; instead deciding to amicably split into two Rhapsody-canon bands: Rhapsody of Fire (Staropoli, Lione) and Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody (Turilli). If it means that we now get twice as much Rhapsody as before and if it’s anything like their output in the last few years, I’m all for it.

Song Choice: [From Chaos to Eternity]

2010: Rhapsody of Fire – The Frozen Tears of Angels

266842

I felt slightly guilty putting two Rhapsody albums for consecutive years, but when the prolific Italians insist on releasing two stellar 60-minute albums and a killer 35-minute EP in the space of fourteen months, what’s a guy to do? After a brief hiatus following 2007’s lukewarm Triumph or Agony, Rhapsody took time off to adjust their view; the time off allowing them space to derive more lore, lyrics and lilts and for the continuing ‘Dark Secret’ saga (which was last touched on in 2004’s Symphony of Enchanted Lands II and which took my award for that year). The result is a powerstorm of ideas, themes and expressions spouting from the orchestral nerve centre that is the combined Alex Staropoli/Luca Turilli hive-mind:  ‘Sea of Fate’ is classic Rhapsody, full of vim, vigor and galloping, exploratory guitar/key solos; ‘Raging Starfire’ lives up to its monicker, delivering a clash of symphonic, charging riffs and orchestral tones; whilst the eponymous final track is some of the darkest Rhapsody that exists in the canon, but equally some of the most essential; rounding off a blinding return to form.

Song Choice: [Sea of Fate]

2009: Karnivool – Sound Awake

Sound+Awake+PNG

I was first exposed to the Australian five-piece when they played support to Skindred on their 2009 autumn tour; I was instantly blown away. Even as a mere support act they oozed class, but they’re also a band capable of delivering a live show that’s so tight and note-perfect (even when delivering their multi-layered, progressive rock/metal), and with a quality and professionalism rarely seen in a band so ahead of their years. Their debut record, Themata expresses their hallmark sound with a raw, undeveloped energy, but it’s on their sophomore, Sound Awake that you hear a band in total harmony, and delivering a noise-scape of dream-like quality that’s been delicately crafted and refined. The result is staggering, monumental slab of unpigeonholable sound, and an album that instantly latches onto your synapses and merely gets better and better. You may not have heard of them, but I highly, highly recommend you seek out Karnivool while they’re still (relatively) undiscovered by the masses.

Song Choice: [Simple Boy]

2008: Less Than Jake – GNV FLA

GNVFLA

Twenty years into their punk career, the fact that LTJ can still produce bodies of work of GNV FLA‘s quality is testament to the band’s monumental talent and presence in the ska-punk scene. The follow-up to 2007’s disappointing In with the Out Crowd feels like the work of a band reinvigorated, finding their direction once again – the ska is back, the horns are turned way up, and the likes of ‘Does the Lion City Still Roar?’ absolutely commits to everything that makes LTJ one of the very finest live and touring bands in the genre. Perhaps the inspiration for this return to form lies in their hometown of Gainesville, Florida (providing the title of the record), resulting in a re-discovery of ideas, values and sounds. Whatever the cure, the solution is a sight (and sound) for all to see, and an accomplishment equal to the stunning Hello Rockview exactly a decade previous.

Song Choice: [Does the Lion City Still Roar?]

2007: Turisas – The Varangian Way

Turisas-VarangianWay

After inventing a whole genre with their stonking 2004 debut Battle Metal, their sophomore record represents Turisas’ first fully-conceptual album, telling the story of Scandinavian (Varangian, in Greek and Slavish) warrior longship expedition to join the Byzantine Varangian Guard. The story begins in Holmgard (Novgorod, in modern-day Russia) near the Baltic Sea in ‘Holmgard and Beyond’, passing through Kiev and down the Dniepr river in ‘The Dnieper Rapids’, before arriving in Constantinople in ‘Miklagard Overture’. The battlers’ fable is told with the usual Turisas power and ferocity; boiling down the tale into 8 folk-/power-metal songs infused with Viking spirit and atmosphere. Their folk-metal cover of Boney M’s ‘Rasputin’ (included here as a bonus track) may be their most famous output, but Turisas are most formidable when given free rein to create stories of their own.

Song Choice: [To Holmgard and Beyond]

2006: Scar Symmetry – Pitch Black Progress

Pitch Black Progress

Of all the music-years that I’ve compiled in this list, I think 2006 was the most difficult purely because I couldn’t think of anything that really fit the bill. Sure, there were some great releases (Foo Fighters’ Skin and Bones, Iron Maiden’s AMOLADKillswitch Engage’s When Daylight Dies, Tool’s 10,000 Days), but nothing quite hit me square in the heart; the effect being that 2006 was the last year I committed to, and written at the very last minute. Pitch Black Progress is a strange choice, then, but not quite one chosen in the heat-of-the-moment. It’s a defiant release by the least well-known band on my list; a splatterhouse of metalcore, melodic death metal and prog-metal; melted down to their constituent parts and revealing gold in a warped form of mechanicalchemy. It’s a chaos of gutteral-/melodic-vocals, crushing guitars and ferocious percussion, but there’s order in the disorder and it’s an undeniably accessible body of work, revealing new facets with time. A kaleidoscope of Scandinavian metal, then, but assuredly a stout fit for this compliation.

Song Choice: [The Illusionist]

[Zinar7]

Tagged , , , , , ,

My Life in Music III: Dancing Through Sunday

Music_3

Continuing from yesterday’s post (link), here’s the third part of my quest to examine and document my favourite full-length records from each year that I have been alive. This post covers my third seven years: 1999-2005, in which I flip-flop between goth-punk, post-hardcore, epic symphonic power metal and electro-house. Tomorrow will mark my final post of this series, checking off the last seven years to date, and covering everything up to 2012.

But without me waffling on for even longer, let’s get this done:

2005: Thrice – Vheissu

Vheissu

Thrice have always been a mighty band, but none more so than on Vheissu: where 2003’s The Artist in the Ambulance hit the post-hardcore chord square in the face, the follow-up attempts something far more ambitious. There’s a far more melodic tack on Vheissu than Thrice display previously, but that’s not to say that there’s any lack of power on show: ‘Between the End and Where We Lie’ is just as hard-hitting as anything else the band have delivered.  The band draw inspiration from other sounds, and sciences, that diversify the soundscape; embracing touches of electronic and instrumental sounds to accent Thrice’s raw, honed, sludgy post-hardcore. There are more progressive elements as well, and sounds that only permeate into the brain upon numerous listens before they really take hold. Where The Artist in the Ambulance felt like the work of a band of supreme competence but perhaps not confidence, Vheissu is the product of a group who’re confident to branch out and hollow out a niche of individuality in a sea of imitators and luminaries. It pays off supremely, conluding with the authoritative ‘Stand and Feel Your Worth’ and the haunting ‘Red Sky’, drawing the curtain on a true classic.

Song Choice: [Image of the Invisible]

2004: Rhapsody – Symphony of Enchanted Lands, Part II

Rhapsody - Symphony of Enchanted Lands II

Symphonic/power metal hasn’t had a strong showing on this list, despite the significant amount of it that I seem to funnel into my ears; well, here’s changing that. The mighty Italians’ 2004 opus delivers another slab of their Tolkien-flavoured fantasy ‘Hollywood’ metal; once again expertly mixing their trademark bombastic, symphonic landscape of orchestral metal with Fabio Lione’s soaring vocals. Aside from the gripping musical backdrop, the real innovation is the pitch-perfect narration from Christopher Lee; now a knight of the realm and a firm fixture in the Rhapsody/Rhapsody of Fire/Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody canon. Rhapsody’s brand of epic, orchestral, symphonic metal sure as hell ain’t subtle (there’s genre-standard songs about dragons, mages and orc-slayers a-plenty), but it’s performed with a superlative level of bombast that must rival some of the best contemporary songwriting and mucisianship which are present in the field. Alongide its 1998 predecessor, Symphonic of Enchanted Lands II remains a peak in the elegant Rhapsody back-catalogue, and (undoubtedly) the background noise for a million D20 rolls.

Song Choice: [Unholy Warcry]

2003: AFI – Sing the Sorrow

2001

First things first, let’s get some things straight: Sing the Sorrow is my favourite album ever ever ever. It’s unlikely that any other record will have such a special place in my heart nor surpass it from my thinking that it is utterly, unashamedly perfect in every single way. I don’t think it’s the greatest album ever made (Discovery, discussed below, must surely take that accolade), but its extraordinary connection with both my ears and my heart mean that, to me, it is the greatest musical achievement in mankind’s history. It’s also proof of the ever-evolving AFI sound; ditching the goth-hardcore-punk from The Art of Drowning and encompassing a whole raft of new musical ideas and themes. The fact that it’s also a well-veiled concept album about life, death and rebirth (complete with the still-unsolved Clandestine/337 mystery) mean that there’s a remarkable depth to this record that, a decade on, still has only scratched the surface. I will never tired of this album; radiate, recognise one silent call as well all form one dark flame.

Song Choice: [Girl’s Not Grey]

2002: Finch – What It Is To Burn

WhatBurn

Sadly, Finch’s lifetime as band was too short-lived; disbanding in 2006 before they really had time to get into their stride. What it is to Burn remains a prime slab of the early-noughties explosion of top-score post-hardcore (rhyming semi-intentional) that hasn’t withered an inch in time. It remains true to its hardcore roots, with plenty of crushing guitars, slamming drums and melodically-screamed lyrics pouring out emotion before the scene was diluted and curtained by aesthetic and hairstyles. ‘Letters to You’ sticks out as a classic, but the true glories lie in the more experimental excursions from the genre stock: the aptly-titled ‘Project Mayhem’ is a vision of organised chaos featuring Daryl Palumbo of Glassjaw, whilst the progressive, swirling ‘Ender’ and ‘What It Is to Burn’ conclude a record that draws inspiration from many sources but which is adapted into a definitive Finch noise-scape. The follow-up, 2005’s Say Hello to Sunshine would dilute the composition, but What It Is to Burn remains a staunch reminder of the band’s post-hardcore talents.

Song Choice: [Letters to You]

2001: Daft Punk – Discovery

Discovery++PNG

As I alluded to in the mini-review of Sing the Sorrow, I genuinely think that Daft Punk’s masterpiece, Discovery, is the greatest musical achievement of this century, if not ever. Of course, being a super-nerd for everything The Robots put out makes me more than a little biased, but from the opening notes of ‘One More Time’, there’s no denying the album’s influence on the whole genre of Electronic Dance Music; repercussions can be felt further afield, too. With the rise of The Robots reaching higher peaks with the glorious Random Access Memories in 2013, there’s been a resurgence in disco-tinged electro/pop, the roots of which can be found here. Discovery‘s first few tracks are a lesson in how to put together a genuinely-staggering streak of  brilliance: from the sublime opening of ‘One More Time’, through ‘Aerodynamic’, ‘Digital Love’ and ‘Harder Better Faster Stronger’, that’s almost a ‘Best Of’ Daft Punk right there. The rest of the record doesn’t disappoint, and concludes with the ten-minute epic ‘Too Long’ which recalls much of their 1996 debut, Homework, reminding just about everyone why Daft Punk are the best people in the business.

Song Choice: [Digital Love]

2000: AFI – The Art of Drowning

ArtDrowning

To their credit, AFI have always pushed the boundaries and their musical talents; aside from their early hardcore/punk releases, no two AFI albums sound the same. Where its predecessor Black Sails in the Sunset added increasingly dark & gothic influences to their punk stylings, The Art of Drowning relinquishes yet more hardcore tones and adds a Tim Burton-esque atmosphere to proceedings. In addition to those presented on Alan Forbes’ exquisite cover art, dark themes permeate through waspish tracks like ‘Sacrifice Theory’, ‘A Story at Three’ and well-chosen single ‘The Days of the Phoenix’, and AFI finally tame the goth-punk, Misfits-esque beast that they’d been wrestling  with for the past two albums. The band also reached a career-peak in the wolfish howls and “wo-oah”s that ventilate the band’s fast-paced backing and the result is a perfectly-refined and well-honed goth-punk record; streamlined, crafted and perfected to the delight of the band’s older fans. As ever, we remain, in shadows; growing wings.

Song Choice: [Days of the Phoenix]

1999: The Ataris – Blue Skies, Broken Hearts…Next 12 Exits

The_Ataris_-_Blue_Skies,_Broken_Hearts...Next_12_Exits

If there was ever to be a punk soundtrack to break-ups and heartache, then there’s a fair chance that it would be entirely filled with songs by The Ataris. Kris Roe is the undoubted God of heartbreak, weaving his emotive lyrics delightfully into catchy, three-minute pop-punk songs, and Blue Skies… typifies the best cuts from the Ataris canon. To me, The Ataris were always the most heartfelt of bands that rose to glory during the punk rock/emo ascendancy of the late 90s/early 00s: they pitch-perfect straddled the two genres, welcoming both the skatepunks, the indie kids and everything in between. Each song a window into Kris Roe’s relationships and life, it felt like Dawson’s Creek to the tune of pop-punk, and delightfully so. ‘San Dimas High School Football Rules’ remains the crowning glory, but in actuality this is a flawless compendium of punk rock with a ferocity that would be tamed in later releases. Still wild, still relevant; never forgotten.

Song Choice: [San Dimas High School Football Rules]

[Zinar7]

Tagged , , , , , , ,

My Life in Music II: Where Boys Fear to Tread

Music_2

Continuing from yesterday’s post (link), here’s the second part of my quest to examine and document my favourite full-length records from each year that I have been alive. This post covers my second seven years: 1992-1998, which describe a fondness for grunge and alt-rock. Tomorrow, I’ll examine 1999 through to 2005 before culminating in the most recent seven years.

So without further ado, let’s boogie:

1998: Less Than Jake – Hello Rockview

Hello Rockview

To the untrained eye, this probably seems a more obscure choice than others on this list; however, Hello Rockview was one that was a shoe-in from the get-go. Less Than Jake are one of my very, very, very favourite bands but as good as they may sound on record, it’s nothing to their consistently skank-tastic live show. But we’re not here to judge to judge live performances but recorded output, and Hello Rockview remains the pick of the bunch. Where LTJ hit their 20th anniversary in 2012, Hello Rockview remains the high-water mark for their album output: after a few scruffy (but solid) entries to the third-wave ska movement in Pezcore and Losing Streak, they really hit the sweet spot with their third album release. Sure, a ska-punk album is never going revolutionise the world, but finely hones the tropes of its genre; delivering  there’s a deft balance between horns and guitar, catchy tracks and insatiable lyrics superbly delivered by Chris DeMakes and Roger Manganelli. The whole is a near-flawless package, epic-ly catchy and perfectly skankable; polished off with some smooth production values that sand the rough edges into a clean-cut bundle of fun.

Song Choice: [All My Best Friends are Metalheads]

1997: Foo Fighters – The Colour and the Shape

1997

In my humble little opinion, Dave Grohl is probably the most talented and influential rock musician of this generation. Out of the ashes of Nirvana came Pocketwatch!; a self-penned side-project which later developed into Foo Fighters, undoubted kings of stadium rock in the 21st century. Stepping out from behind the drums to create debut album Foo Fighters, on which Grohl played every instrument on the record before assembling a band for the live setting. It was only on the follow-up, The Colour and the Shape, that the Foo FIghters display a true group effort, and it shows. Count the classics: ‘Monkey Wrench’, ‘My Hero’ and ‘Everlong’; never mind a whole raft of other favourites like ‘Hey, Johnny Park!’, ‘Enough Space’ and ‘February Stars’. More so than their eponymous debut, there’s a barrel of emotion contained on this shiny disk, demonstrated by the powerful ‘My Hero’ and legendary ‘Everlong’, but it’s also still (arguably) the heaviest and most chaotic that Foo Fighters have been in their 18-year career. A masterclass in modern rock, it’s also a gateway between alternative rock and the heavier stuff, and undoubtedly has ushered many an indie kid into a full-blown rock and roll. Perfect in every way, a remarkable icon for an enduring band.

Song Choice: [Everlong]

1996: Tool – Ænima

1996

Tool aren’t the most immediate of bands: the undoubted rulers of the prog-metal kingdom, their material can sometimes be overlooked since it’s sometimes deeply unsettling, progressive and leftfield. This is no more true than on Ænima, their sophomore effort which builds on the momentum gathered from debut Undertow, yet refuses to yield to accessibility. There’s a greater range of confidence on display than on its predecessor and while there’s the immense sense of craft that typifies any Tool release, it’s got the feeling of a slightly ‘rougher’ (perhaps “abrasive” is more appropriate) object of still considerable weight: I’ve no doubt that it’s all in Tool’s design; the endless struggle to trouble the listener with abstract ideas, sounds and images and disrupt the status quo. The formula would later be perfected on 2001’s Lateralus but regardless, Ænima represents an epic of  immense bulk, and an absolute classic in the progressive metal canon.

Song Choice: [Stinkfist]

1995: Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Inifinite Sadness

1995

It took me almost five years to ‘get’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness; more accurately, five minutes to ‘get’ the first disc (‘Dawn to Dusk’), but five years to fully appreciate the second (‘Twilight to Starlight’). I first picked it up after hearing a few of the Pumpkins’ hits, like ‘1979’ and ‘Today’, and immediately fell in love with the first disc: the songs felt dream-like and wonderous (none more so than ‘Tonight, Tonight’), whilst others (such as ‘Bullet with Butterfly Wings’ and ‘Muzzle’) felt like pure-bred rockers. The second disc, on the other hand, is a lot more rough, inconsistent and meandering: the alt-rock anthem ‘1979’ is followed directly by ‘Tales of a Scorched Earth’, a song that could well have come from the back catalogue of any noisy alt-rock upstart. Like the band itself, Mellon Collie typifies the excesses and indulgences of the post-grunge period, but documents a stellar-esque jaunt through some of the Pumpkins’ most dreamlike lilts and lullabies which, to this day, remains a sheer delight.

Song Choice: [1979]

1994: Green Day – Dookie

1994

Since Green Day’s ‘second coming’ circa American Idiot, it’s sometimes easy for the music mainstream to forget their first career. It’s also easy to forget that this album is nearly twenty years old, which is astonishing, given that this remains pretty much the pinnacle of punk rock and top of the ‘suggested playlist’ for teenage converts to the rock/metal scene: alongside the endeavours of The Offspring, Weezer and Blink-182, Dookie still ranks among the most influential albums to emerge from the Nineties pop-punk resurgence and feels no less relevant now. In between the classics (‘Basket Case’, ‘Welcome to Paradise’, ‘Longview’, ‘When I Come Around’) are ten other, equally superb punk rock anthems which reinvigorated the punk rock scene  and drove thousands to pick up a guitar and replicate Green Day’s signature three-chord sound; myself included. Cut me in half, and you’ll see Dookie scoring my bones and tissue, like rings on a tree trunk, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Song Choice: [Welcome to Paradise]

1993: Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream

1993

For me, Siamese Dream is the ultimate Pumpkins record. It instills their skilled grunge leanings with a vision of the overblown, rock behemoth that they’d become on Mellon Collie… and beyond; yet keeping everything in check to deliver a lean, mean rock record that stands the test of time. Opening with the killer ‘Cherub Rock’ and soon following with the equally-brilliant ‘Today’, the album then opens up into an abrasive mix of short rock tunes and 7-plus minute epics in a way only the Pumpkins could pull off.  Sure, things get a tad bloated in the middle, but it’s rounded off magically with the maniacal ‘Silverfuck’, and then the two shortest songs of the record but which are also the most touching.  The Pumpkins may forever struggle to capture their heyday of the early 1990s, but thankfully with Siamese Dream, we have a snapshot of their brilliance that we can return to, again and again.

Song Choice: [Cherub Rock]

1992: Faith No More – Angel Dust

1992

For the 1992 crown, there was a long-fought tussle between this and Dream Theater’s sublime Images and Words. For both bands, they represent a high-water mark in not only their back catalogues, but their respective genres as well. Indeed, according to a 2003 Kerrang pollAngel Dust is the most influential album of all time; Images and Words doesn’t appear on the list, which I can only assume is due to some typographical error. The Real Thing may have the more famous tracks, but Angel Dust is the connoisseur’s delight: ‘Midlife Crisis’ is the killer app, but the quality of the rest is still consistently superb and with a far more diverse musical genre-set than before. Representing FNM’s second album with Mike Patton, it’s here that his experimental, offbeat musical bandwidth really begins to reveal itself, nestling perfectly inside the band’s evolving, genre-straddling style. The result, then, is a musical tapestry of almost criminal brilliance; one which deserves infinite high regard.

Song Choice: [Midlife Crisis]

[Zinar7]

Tagged , , , , , , ,

My Life in Music I: From Out of Nowhere

Music_1

Over the next four days, I’ll be posting a series of entries about one of the things closest to my heart: music. Most of my post-puberty life has been spent adoring the plethora of (primarily) rock-based sounds that the world has to offer, and so I thought an interesting study would be to examine and document my favourite full-length records from each year that I have been alive.

These are, of course, my opinions now, not at the time (because I didn’t take note of these things), and obviously I wasn’t listening to G’NR and Metallica, etc. when I was three years old. However, I think it’s an interesting study since it follows not only the trends in my listening habits in the 10-12 years that I’ve been intimately following the rock/metal scene, but also the trends in how genres have developed or evolved over time. The primary measure which I’ve used to measure this is the ability of certain albums to never grow old to me: those records that I could listen to over and over again, without tiring, and which consistently stir emotions and passions inside me in a way that sometimes only music can.

This post covers the first seven years: 1985-1991, which describe a fondness for the rise of thrash metal and kicking ass. I kick off with 1991 because over the next three days I’ll be posting the remaining three parts of this chronology, followed by a quick round-up of those records that didn’t make the cut. And on that bombshell, let’s get going. Enjoy!

1991: Metallica – [self-titled]
(aka The Black Album)

Critics and fans unite may unite in the opinion that 1986’s Master of Puppets is the definitive Metallica album (and I don’t deny that it’s the more technically accomplished and defining), The Black Album remains my personal pick. Beneath it’s black-weathered cover, there’s evidence of the evolution of Metallica’s sound from their thrash era in the ’80s; in particular with the presence of slow-paced songs like ‘The Unforgiven’, and the haunting, ethereal ‘Nothing Else Matters’. Metallica still feels like the uncontrolled, charging beast it once was (nowhere is this more plain than on monsters like ‘Sad but True’), but now a band that has learned to pace itself every so often. It’s also reassuring that Metallica still know how to write a killer opener in ‘Enter Sandman’ (still the most accessible song for the masses, and kicking the record off spectacularly like ‘Blackened’ and ‘Battery’ did on …And Justice for All and Master of Puppets before it) and a snorting, raging closer in ‘The Struggle Within’. 1991 may be best remembered for the explosion of grunge, but for me, Metallica still take the crown.

Song Choice: [Enter Sandman]

1990: Pantera – Cowboys from Hell

Cowboys from Hell

Judging from my record collection, 1990 was a bleak year. Out of it all, Cowboys from Hell was pretty much the only release that fits the bill, but that shouldn’t really detract from the quality of the record. Bridging the gap between Pantera’s lesser-known glam-rock phase and the full-on thrash/groove-metal destruction which commenced with Vulgar Display of Power, from the get-go (the iconic ‘Cowboys from Hell’) there’s a sense of the brutality that would come to define Pantera’s later career in ‘Primal Concrete Sledge’ and much of the middle-ground of the record. It also remained a stark reminder of how spectacular Pantera could be in their prime, and how the combination of Phil Anselmo’s harsh vocals, Dimebag Darrell’s superlative guitars, Vinnie Paul’s solid percussion and Rex Brown’s grooving basslines can combine in perfect harmony. Defiantly my favourite Pantera record, it’s a sonic barrage of skilled musicianship summed up by Cowboys‘ closing song: ‘The Art of Shredding’; and what an art it is. Long may it reign.

Song Choice: [Cowboys from Hell]

1989: Faith No More – The Real Thing

1989

On every audible level, The Real Thing is an absolute triumph. Faith No More showed superb promise on their previous album Introduce Yourself, but it’s the addition of Mike Patton (replacing previous vocalist, Chuck Mosley) that is the real turning point in the band’s trajectory: Patton brings both vocal skill and unbridled energy to the combo; rousing genuine excitement from the listener with his unique, avant-garde style and diverse range. Sure, Patton’s arrival brings the band into their own, but it’s nothing without the consistent spine of FNM and solid backing delivered by Mike Bordin et al., streamrolling through the likes  ‘From Out of Nowhere’, ‘Epic’ and onwards. Never a band to be pigeonholed, FNM’s grungey-metal is supplemented by a diverse range of funk, jazz, prog rock, hip hop and soul;  and finishing with the sublime cover of Black Sabbath’s seminal ‘War Pigs’.  with such a range of influences and new things to hear with each subsequent listen, The Real Thing is the gift that keeps on giving.

Song Choice: [Epic]

1988: Iron Maiden – Seventh Son of a Seventh Son

Iron Maiden - Seventh Son of a Seventh Son

This was a tough year to call; one of the first in this chronology that had no clear victor. In the end, Maiden’s conceptual opus just sneaked past the post over Metallica’s (undoubtedly great) …And Justice for All. Introducing more of the prog-rock and keyboard elements which had developed on Somewhere in Time two years prior, Seventh Son… represents a full-blown Maiden concept album, full of nods to mystical powers, the paranormal and subject matter which matches the musical ambiance. There’s certainly no lack of Maiden’s usual galloping flavour of NWOBHM but this time comes bundled with a more introspective and story-driven tack, most prevalent on the album’s singles ‘The Evil that Men Do’, ‘The Clairvoyant’ and the seminal ‘Can I Play with Madness’. Sadly, the album also represents an end to Maiden’s killer run of records, since the formula couldn’t be recreated on the subsequent No Prayer for the Dying, but if ever there was need to remind oneself of how persuasive and poetic Maiden can be when they’re in the zone, this is it.

Song Choice: [Can I Play with Madness?]

1987: Guns ‘N Roses – Appetite for Destruction

1987

‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ may be the seminal song from the album, but Appetite for Destruction is major accurately summed up by opener ‘Welcome to the Jungle’: unhinged, bombastic and rock ‘n’ roll as hell, G ‘n R leap out of the box with a pocket full of arrogance and a sneer at the establishment, but possess skills enough to back up their anarchy. There’s a staggering number of classics on here: in addition to the two previously mentioned, it’s difficult to name a song that isn’t a surefire hit: ‘Paradise City’, ‘Mr. Brownstone’, ‘My Michelle’ are but a few. It’s a cohesive effort: an example of how, when working together, Axl, Slash, Duff, Izzy and Adler could produce something truly special and where ego doesn’t dominate. G ‘n R may have lost the plot going into the Nineties, but they’re far better when ignoring the nine-minute epics and the haunting strings and remain focussed on playing straight-up rock and roll. An undoubted classic, it’s also a benchmark for every rock band that has come since, and with good reason. A triumph.

Song Choice: [Welcome to the Jungle]

1986: Metallica – Master of Puppets

1986

What can be said about Master of Puppets that hasn’t been said already? The ultimate metal album, almost flawless in every regard, this is the sort of occasion when the stars align and eight songs are crafted with such beauty and brutality that the like of which will likely never happen again. There’s not a dud song on here; in fact, quite the opposite. ‘Battery’ still has (probably) the most killer intro of any metal song ever; ‘Master of Puppets’ still the rampaging, furious steamroller it ever was. The album’s crowning glory, however, is ‘Orion’: an eight-and-a-half minute instrumental epic that ebbs and flows and rages and quietens in an almost dream-like fashion. It’s a huge shame that this would be Metallica’s final album with bassist Cliff Burton, as one can only imagine where the Bay Area titans would have gone had his untimely death not occurred, but instead we got Jason Newsted and …And Justice For All a mere two years later; a clear reaction to Cliff’s passing. Puppets remains Metallica’s masterwork, though, and inspiration for every metal band existing today. An absolute powerhouse.

Song Choice: [Battery]

1985: Iron Maiden – Live After Death

Live After Death

I debated for a long time about whether I wanted to include a live album on this list. A long time. But heck, I figure that if you’re going to bend the rules, you may as well bend them for (arguably) the greatest live album of all time. Live After Death is a double-album of Maiden hits culled from the ‘World Slavery’ tour in support of Powerslave and featuring live versions of Maiden classics across ‘2 Minutes to Midnight’ through ‘The Number of the Beast’ across to the classic show-closer, ‘Running Free’ – as such, it effectively summarises the band’s first five years of recorded history; a live ‘best of’ compilation of some of Maiden’s best work; delivered at the height of their mid-80’s power. A finer live metal band you will never find, and Bruce Dickinson’s glorious crowd-pleasing and teasing still inspire goosbumps nearly thirty years on.

Song Choice: [2 Minutes to Midnight]

[Zinar7]

Tagged , , , , , , ,

PhD Fraud #08: Songs in the Key of Strife

PhD8

It’s sometimes unnerving how much ‘music’ has me in its clutches, and purely at its bidding: often, I won’t know how much of a ‘low’ mood I’ve been feeling until I listen to something that delivers a ‘hit’ of pure energy (Exhibit A) or nostalgia (Exhibit B), that I’m mentally put into ‘overdrive’ and gain access to some unknown, hidden source of vitality with which to, at least for the duration of that song or record, overcome (almost) any obstacle. In this vein, I’ve at least learned a few tips about what tunes to put on when I’m struggling with work; of which I’ve provided a brief run-down of here:

1. Fixing Matlab and Shit

Coding is one of the key parts of many PhDs, primarily those in the sciences. However, sometimes you’re forced to use Matlab or something equally painful, and therefore writing, fixing or debugging code can often be a drag. Sticking on some sort of electronic/dance music usually helps; delivering a shot of both energy and mindlessness that kind of lets you see ‘through’ the code to see the inner workings of Matlab rather than the numbers, letters and symbols presented onscreen. Kind of like the Matrix, except it’s still Matlab we’re dealing with so you still have to put up with the constant desire to headdesk when your code fails for NO APPARENT REASON. But hey, at least you’ll have a better soundtrack to do it to, yeah?

2. Getting Shit Done

Sometimes, you just need a kick up the backside to get you going, or it’s getting towards the end of the day and you’re starting to slack off a bit. Well, thankfully, a man was placed on this Earth to help solve just that problem. His name is Andrew W.K. For a 35-minute burst of pure motivation, insert I Get Wet into your CD drive, push ‘play’ and let the productivity commence. WHEN IT’S TIME TO RESEARCH WE WILL RESEARCH HARD

3. Getting Inspired and Shit

Sometimes we all need some sort of muse with which to dig into our inner psyche and bring forth creativity, inspiration and ideas. Anyway, it turns out that my musical muse is Ke$ha. A slight disappointment, since it could so easily have been someone with an actual modicum of musical talent, but we all play the hands we’re dealt and instead of fighting it, I’ve come to embrace it. Animal/Cannibal is supremely glorious piece of work (essentially the I Get Wet of this decade), elevating me to a higher level of knowledge and reasoning, and while it continues to do so, I will feel no shame at bopping along to her white-trash, catchy slut-o-rama. Long may it reign.

4. Kicking Writer’s Block in the Face and Shit

Writing up research work is an essential part of being an academic. Getting gob-smacking results is all very well unless you’re able to communicate that to the general public or the rest of your field, and thus putting pen to paper, or finger to keyboard is essential. It can be a miserable business sometimes though, when you can’t figure out what to say, how to say or why.  I find that progressive metal is a delicious solution to this conundrum; offering a sense of elevated intellect and distinguished literary ability that is largely absent from, say, the works of Sir Snoop of Dogg-shire. Let it wash over you , and you’ll absorb complex time-signatures, lyrics and musical interludes almost by osmosis and as a result, see your written work flourish into a burgeoning manuscript of academic prowess. See, it works.

5. Calculating Shit with Maths and Stuff

The basis of most science is, somewhere, based on some sort of theory or set of equations which hope to explain the physical world in terms of a variety of numbers and letters. Often, calculating those numbers or deriving that set of formulae is boring as hell, and some sort of external energy drip is required to keep you on mission. Step in Anamanaguchi with the 16-bit chiptune punk, and the superlative Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game original soundtrack. Suddenly, maths is made of brightly-coloured pixels, chirpy sound effects and SPEED RUNS. So, plug in your controller, give the cartridge a blow and press UP, UP, DOWN, DOWN, LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT, RIGHT, A, B to Falcon Punch those equations into touch.

6. Getting Shit in Just Before the Deadline

Despite best efforts, a lot of things which are produced to a deadline (abstract/paper for a conference, research proposal, getting stuff ready for a supervisor meeting) are often only finished and sent off seconds before their actually due, and there is an important lesson to be learnt about how to get it all done on time and not end up in a mad panic. Something calming, soothing but upbeat is the order of the day, and you can do a lot worse that drinking in the swirling, dream-like qualities of lo-fi, acoustic/electronic indie-pop. I recently discovered Gregory and the Hawk, whose floating melodies helped dispatch a journal paper right near the deadline whilst keeping me safe from full-blown insanity; may she rescue your mind from oblivion, too.

7. Crying and Shit When Things Inevitably Go Wrong

Okay, so you’re doing a PhD. Things will inevitably go wrong; that’s, like, programmed into the DNA of the PhD process. Quite possibly, like in my case, things will go horribly, horribly wrong and you’ll have to re-do months of work or start again from scratch. This can be seriously harrowing, and lead to severe doubts of depression and anxiety that are probably not great for the mental well-being of any sane person, let alone someone who was unstable enough (at least at some point) to think that doing a PhD would be an enjoyable thing to do. What’s the musical remedy for this, then?

Power metal. And lots of it.

Think about it, it’s like the perfect cure: catchy melodies, uplifting lyrics, powerful vocals; it’s pretty much just Katy Perry with bearded men, leather codpieces and songs about dragons. And if that’s not something to instantly warm the soul and make you forget about your plethora of research problems, then I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.

[Zinar7]

Tagged , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: