Tag Archives: Music

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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]

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MY LIFE IN MUSIC: DATASTACKS 0.2

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About sixteen months ago, I opened this series of blogs with an uncomfortably-geeky look at my music collection and extraction of a whole bunch of statistics on a whole bunch of inconsequential data.

It’s been long enough now that it’s time for an update, so let’s begin with a brief breakdown of what my music collection currently consists of:

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Unsurprisingly, standard long-play albums make up the vast majority of my collection (93.7%); not a shock. Of the remaining 6.3%, though, two-thirds are EPs or collections of B-sides and rarities, while the remaining third consists of ‘Greatest Hits’ collections or live-recorded albums. In many ways, and in this age of digital interfaces and the ability to release small collections of new material online or through mechanisms like Bandcamp, it’s arguable that the humble EP is going extinct; though the meteoric rise of vinyl in the last few years might be its saving grace.

Still, I’m minorly proud of my collection of 576 long-play albums, so let’s investigate what’s changed in my collection since my last blog. The most interesting findings lie in the genre breakdown of my CD collection since March of last year:

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In general, the proportions remain fairly the same: my most favourite genres grow whilst the lesser ones continue to trickle on. There’s been a slow expansion in both my flavour for “Steampunk” (mainly due to finally acquiring the entire Steam Powered Giraffe back-catalogue as well as the smashing new record by The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing last year) and, more recently, black metal coming with growing respect for the genre. Equally, I’ve seen my interests decline in the likes of thrash metal, power metal and metalcore but become no less intense; it seems that my taste continue to evolve rather than undergo full-scale revolution.

Plotting these growths on a logarithmic scale (comparing the new additions to my collection with the genre counts as of 19/03/2015), one can see the fourfold increase in “Steampunk” records on my shelf but also observe the fairly consistent growth in genres across the board. I’ve always been aware that my musical taste is eccentrically-broad (who else can boast a music collection that features both Cradle of Filth and Ke$ha; Fleetwood Mac and Mr. Bungle?), but it’s reassuring that the trend continues.

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The notable gains on the swing-o-meter come under the category labelled “Indie”, and there’s a fine reason why: “Indie”, at least in this little project, has come to classify anything that can’t – for particular reasons – be described as full-on “Rock”, but is something lighter; more atmospheric; or ‘different’. In the last couple of years, I’ve absorbed more and more interest in the genre of post-rock (c.f. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Sigur Ros, 65daysofstatic, God is an Astronaut et al.) and fuelled by a rampant voyage of discovery at festivals like ArcTanGent.

On this second iteration of Datastacks, it’s high time to devolve the “Indie” category a little further and delve into the numbers. Whilst ‘indie’ might, these days, have only grazing reference to the truly “independent” music scene, it’s come to mean catchment to a lot more than simply one musical style; much in the way that “rock” encompasses a thousand sub-genres. So, let’s have a look to see what that means in terms of my collection:

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Unsurprisingly, my ever-expanding collection of post-rock makes up most of the category; particularly emphasised with a raft of spectacular albums released in 2015 and 2016 by the likes of Explosions in the Sky (The Wilderness), Three Trapped Tigers (Silent Earthling), God is an Astronaut (Helios/Erebus) and Godspeed You! Black Emperor (Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress).

Of the remains, post-punk (in this study, meaning the likes of Killing Joke, Hüsker Dü and The Cure) hoovers up what isn’t what I’d call the more ‘traditional’ indie fayre (Death Cab for Cutie, Chairlift, KT Tunstall, Snow Patrol), whilst the couple of entries tentatively labelled “swing” are delivered by the mighty Dresden Dolls.

So, there you go. Naturally, I’ll retroactively modify the genre split for the next Datastacks, so I can properly track how my tastes are evolving. I’d apologise for being such a massive maths/music nerd, but we both know that I’m by no means ashamed at all. So, nyer.

Anyway, let’s take a look at how the geographical split has divvied up in the last sixteen months:

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No spectacular changes, but there’s some interesting mini-growths: Canada and Sweden showing particular, short spurts for no pre-arranged reason; and new entries coming from Luxembourg and Ireland thanks to my interests in post-/math-rock stalwarts Mutiny on the Bounty and And So I Watch You From Afar. I’d expected Norway to be surging ahead, given the sheer amount of Norwegian black metal I’ve been getting down my ears in the last few months, but maybe the charts haven’t fully caught up with things quite yet. Hopefully the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union won’t affect (too much) the trickle of European rock/metal into the United Kingdom; even if it will negatively influence my access to cheap metal records from the continent. *grumble grumble*

That being said, it’s minorly interesting that the advances of homegrown artists in my collection almost matches the progress of US bands; again, through no particular alignment but reflecting, perhaps, efforts to fill back-catalogue gaps in my collection for the likes of Bowie, Muse, [spunge], Cradle of Filth and Funeral For A Friend. Not surprisingly, the NATO countries still dominate my collection, as evidenced by PIE CHARTS: clearly, were NATO to deploy heavy metal-based warfighters towards invasion of the rest of the world, then it’s likely that they would annihilate the opposition.

[FYI, the non-NATO countries reflected here are Finland, Japan, Australia, Ireland and Sweden, who I’m sure would all put up a good fight.]

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Upon moving flat, I recently took the opportunity to bolster my music shelving with a few more bookcases and fully alphabeticised my collection by artist name; something I’d been meaning to do for a long time but had never gotten around to. Anyway, beyond the satisfaction of filing everything neatly onto the shelves, the exercise also highlighted some interesting facts about the alphabet.

For clarity, bands are sorted by name (any “The” bands, e.g. The Birthday Massacare, are sorted by the next word in their time) and solo artists are sorted by surname. Let’s take a look:

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Clearly, I own a buttload of ‘A’ artists, which owes a lot to AFI but also to the likes of Alkaline Trio, Alice in Chains, Amen, American Hi-Fi, Akercocke, Avenged Sevenfold, Audioslave, Alestorm, yada yada yada. I do wonder whether bands are inherently more likely to choose monickers which are closer to the head of the alphabet for the sakes of prominence in record stores; something that’s far more a study in sociology than I’ll attempt to address here.

Curiously, I haven’t bought a single record by any artist beginning with ‘J’ in the last sixteen months; and only a single album each to the ‘E’ and ‘Q’ categories. In the positive side, though, there’s finally a tally in the ‘Z’ column thanks to the wonderful new self-titled album by Zoax, so let’s continue to watch the progress with interest.

And on that bombshell, I’ll leave things until the next time. Boo-yah.

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[Zinar7]

 

 

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In my last, mid-week post I detailed a little bit about what my physical music collection looks like in the year MMXV. So, to flesh out the journey of how I got here a little bit, for my regular Friday blog I thought I’d explore a little of why music means so much to me.

I’d always been ‘into’ music, even as kid. Maybe I hadn’t quite figured out at that point which aspect of it was calling me most strongly, but I was always drawn to listening to – and playing – music. I’ve always been a sucker for a beat; something primitive like a rhythm overlaid with a melody. That was always there from birth and never really went away but, to properly engage with the wild, unexplored territories of rock, metal and punk (at least, unexplored by me), I needed some sort of sonic sherpa to pilot me ‘thru the wilderness.

That guide was Mary Anne Hobbs.

I recall, with enormous fondness, staying up every Tuesday night to listen to the BBC Radio 1 Rock Show which started at midnight; listening to it with my headphones until at least 0030, when my tape recorder would kick and record the final hour-and-a-half using a 90-minute cassette tape. Already, on the Wednesday morning at college, we’d discuss what new songs (or old songs) we’d heard on the show before we had to go to bed; before going home after school to immediately pop our recorded tapes into our Walkmans (Walkmen?) to catch up with what we’d missed. There was no iPlayer back in 2001, only whatever (now completely archaic) analogue technology you had to hand. And I fucking loved it.

I can pinpoint the exact moment that I fell in love with rock music: it was a Rock Show sometime in March 2001, and the show opened with Foo Fighters’ ‘This Is A Call’ followed immediately by Tony Iommi’s ‘Goodbye Lament’ (which features Dave Grohl on vocals). From that humble point on, I was a complete acolyte to the distorted guitar.

The Rock Show ushered in introductions to some of my very favourite bands – Amen, Funeral For A Friend, Rammstein, Deftones, The Mad Capsule Markets, Pitchshifter and Rival Schools. I remember first hearing Biffy Clyro’s ‘There’s No Such Thing as a Jaggy Snake’ and having my mind absolutely blown, and Cradle of Filth’s ‘Bitter Suites to Succubi’ alerted my ears to the wondrous delights of black metal. I recall those times being a killer time for UK post-hardcore: Hundred Reasons hooked me for life when I first heard ‘Remmus’, and it was a time when Lostprophets were still very much among the underground and letting loose the likes of ‘Shinobivs.dragonninja’ which still holds up today (even if the legend of Lostprophets has sort of taken a bit of a critical hit in recent years).

Not long afterward I became a discipline to the Church of the Rock Show, I became a Kerrang! devotee. I know that it’s cheesy to have nostalgia for things that used to “good” in the past but are “rubbish now”, but Kerrang! was totally one of those things: it was properly glorious in about 2001-2003; covering the full gamut of rock and metal and punk, and being (relatively) unaffected by the fads or the tastes of the mainstream. Naturally, I suspect that I’m looking through rose-tinted goggles at K!s ‘golden’ years, but I genuinely miss the days when – once every few months – the magazine would be adjoined by a free, mix CD containing new music. Again, before the widespread popularity of digital music and downloads (ha, you try downloading a full album on a 56.6k modem 😛 ), the free K! CDs were the fuel to my fire and ushered in discovery of many of my now-favourite bands.

For mega nostalgia, some awesome person (hint: not me) catalogued all of them over here: Discogs.com/Kerrang Magazine. Without them, I’d never have gotten into Weezer and Jimmy Eat World (‘Knock-Down Drag Out’ and ‘A Praise Chorus on Hot Stuff: The Noise of the Summer); The Distillers (‘Sing Sing Death House’ on The Devil’s Music: Vol. 4); Silverchair and Finch (‘The Greatest View’ and ‘New Beginnings’ on The Best of 2002); and Probot, Murderdolls & Turbonegro (‘Centuries of Sin’, ‘I Take Drugs’ and ‘Sell Your Body [to the Night]’ on Reload). Picking up a copy of Kerrang! nowadays may fill me with disappointment at both the dumbed-down journalism and the downgraded quality of the music being covered, but I still hold massively fond memories of my formative years with the K! brand that I still find it hard to hold a grudge against it. I never found the same sort of charm in other magazines like Metal Hammer or Rock Sound as I did with K! itself; and the walls of my room were sprawled for most of the tail-end of my teenagedom with tiny pictures (and strips of the Pandora comic) cut out of various issues.

But yes; while I may have made my peace with the demise (or deterioration) of my favourite music magazine, I still miss the Radio 1 Rock Show the most. Mary Anne left full-time duties of the show in 2003 or so, and despite both Mike Davies and then Daniel P. Carter being very competent hosts ‘right up ‘til the present day (or so I’m led to believe, when I’ve caught the odd show in the last few years), I was never quite as enthralled by the music as I was when Mary Anne was at the helm. I kind of drifted away from the show around the time that I moved away from home to start University and my time as a weekly Kerrang! subscriber kind of came to an end. If I’m being brutally, brutally honest, then my years of college – absorbed 100% by music and the joy that it brought me to passionately engage with it with my friends around me – are the ones from the past that I look upon with most fondness. Sure, it’s probably fairly common for thirtysomethings (or, in my case, almost thirtysomethings) to go a bit glazey-eyed about their time as a carefree 17/18-year old, but it’s with valid reason.

Of course, you can never go back. But if you could, then if I could be transplanted back into the sixteen year-old me once again then I would fucking love to go back and make of my mistakes again; at least, this time, I’d do it safe in the knowledge that they were some of the best times of my life, accompanied by some of the most life-changing noises that I’d ever hear.

Never forget, never surrender. Keep your heart open to music; always.

[Zinar7]

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My Life in Music: Datastacks 0.1

Datastacks1

You may not know it, but we’re currently living in exciting times.

The major news media may be ignoring all discussion of such world-changing events, but monumental waves of excitement are currently rippling away from my general area.

I’ve been re-organising my music collection. Oh yeah.

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A few years ago, a catalogued all of my favourite albums from all of the years that I’ve been alive. You can find them 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)

But yes, while re-organising all of my various musics, I’ve taken the opportunity whilst doing so to properly catalogue everything I have and to generate some tedious statistics about all of it. For example: as of 19th March, I own 466 full albums and EPs (after having a bit of a prune of those records I’m not likely to listen to again). Furthermore, 4.07% of those albums/EPs are AFI albums or EPs. That’s quite interesting, right?

So yeah, because I’m a nerdy engineer and I like looking at pages and pages of data, I’ve made a spreadsheet listing every CD; the year it was released, the country that the band is from and what genre it inhabits. You may say that that’s a colossal waste of time, but I say “nyer” :P. Thus, on that immature little note, let’s probe into the stats and see what we can uncover.

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Interestingly, my music collection seems to be predominantly ‘punk’. There’s a significant chunk of it already taking up my shelf-space it seems; especially when you add the ska-punk total to the mix as well. I was well aware that punk is one of my primary musical outlets, but I’m not sure I would’ve predicted that it occupy quite such a large proportion of it. [Of course, this fact is perhaps a little skewed by the fact that I’ve divided ‘metal’ up into more sub-genres than I have done for punk – the whole range of punk stuff from Green Day to Turbonegro to Amen to Sum 41 is all under one umbrella whilst I’ve split metal more into its established sub-genres]. Broadly, AFI would probably come under ‘punk’ as well if I didn’t separate them into their own genre, so there’s that to add up, too.

On that note, here’s a little chart of how many records I own from the top ten bands in my collection:

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AFI obviously take up a significant proportion of my collection, and I own literally every LP and EP they’ve ever put out on compact disc (and, in most cases, own multiple copies of them to reflect different versions or covers or international editions); even the super-rare stuff like The Days of the Phoenix EP, which only ever had 500 copies. [For further AFI geekery, I own both a legit copy of it as well as a fake/bootleg version].

But yeah, it’s satisfying that my collection is (broadly) even across the many sub-genres of rock ‘n’ roll: to establish this, let’s have a look at the pie chart because PIE CHARTS.

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For clarity, “Popular Rock” encompasses stuff like Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age; pure pop (Ke$ha, Bowie, Prince) is lumped in with “Dance/Electronic”; all types of rap/metal crossovers and stuff like RHCP and RATM all slip into “Nu-Metal”; and heavy metal stuff like Iron Maiden, AC/DC and Black Sabbath were immersed in with “Thrash/etc.”.

I’m a little sad that my “Steampunk” section still rounds down to 0% of my collection. Granted, it currently consists of just The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing Cannot Be Killed by Conventional Weapons and Professor Elemental’s The Giddy Limit, but I’m working on it: hopefully I’ll import the whole Steam Powered Giraffe back catalogue sooner rather than later, and TMTWNBBFN will soon have album #3 under their belts. Boom.

Okay, so where are my albums from? Let’s have a look.

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No big surprise; most of my music hails from across the pond. The US dominates so much of rock ‘n’ roll music that you can tell how much of an influence it wreaks upon my own listening. It’s still good to see that around a quarter of my music comes from our own shores; although mildly strange that nothing hails from the Republic of Ireland. Naturally, there’s a strong Scandinavian contingent given my predilection for power metal and Finnish folk-metal. Canada has a strong showing, but it’s worth noting that most of those are Rush albums (15 in total). Furthermore, all of my records from Italy are associated with Rhapsody or Rhapsody of Fire (or Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody). Aw yeah.

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Proportionally, of course the US absorbs more than half of my shelf-space. Interestingly, though, the entirety of the rest of my collection comes either from Europe, Australia or Japan. Before the 2015 cull, I did at least have a few things from Brazil (mainly Sepultura), but it’s curious to know that there are vast swathes and surface areas of the globe (the whole of Africa!) that have never even come close to seeing a position on my CD shelf.

Another question that my CD re-shuffling was aiming to answer was: “When Was My Collection Released?”. Naturally, I expected that a sizable chunk of my collection would have come from around 2001-2005, where my main musical addictions were formed (and I’ll talk about these in a little more depth in my next blog). While this is certainly not untrue, I was a little surprised to find that the most prolific years were actually 2012 and 2013 (with 28 and 27 albums from them, respectably); probably arising because, at the time, I was deep in the wrangles of trying to finish my PhD and research stuff and hence likely to want to hear nice, new and noisy things in my ears to take away some of the pain.

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I also anticipated that 1994 would be a bumper year, given that some of my very, very favourite albums were released in (or around) that year: [1993 // In Utero, Siamese Dream; 1994 // Punk in Drublic, Superunknown, Smash, Weezer (The Blue Album), Stranger than Fiction, Dookie, Welcome to Sky Valley, Burn My Eyes, The Downward Spiral; 1995 // Mellon Collie…, Foo Fighters, King for a Day/Fool for a Lifetime]. But yeah, whilst the hit rate of what albums were released in 1994ish and those which are cemented as some of my favourites is incredibly high, it turns out that I don’t own as much from that period as I thought I did. Huh.

I know I probably seem a little like a bit of a dinosaur for continuing to rely on (and thrive upon) little shiny, plastic discs containing lovely things destined for my ears. But yeah, I have 466 CDs in my collection. That’s pretty cool.

Please don’t burgle me.

[Zinar7]

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F005

I’ve struggled a bit, recently, with identity.

This has always been a bit of a weakness for me, partly because I’ve never really felt like I’ve fit in anywhere, and because I’ve sometimes felt like I never will. But given my seven-month break from full-time employment and recent changes to my relationship status, I’ve relaxed into a pattern of feeling merely ordinary.

I know that we can’t all be special gothic snowflakes and, as humans, we have no right to feel ‘special’ through every second of every minute of every day but lately, I’ve felt merely like one of the crowd; yet, a crowd in which I don’t truly ‘fit in’ with. Yes, I am aware of the glaring oxymoron: how can you feel just part of a crowd if you feel like you stand out as ‘different’ within it? I don’t know; maybe I feel camouflaged by the other, regular, shambling humans of the world and obscured by the lights that burn brighter in society. I’m not saying that I deserve to stand out or be praised for my achievements/’me’-ness, I just mean that I’m too keenly aware of my role as merely a bipedal mammal in a overpopulated society of bipedal mammals and so have become disillusioned as to how I can make a meaningful impact on the bipedal mammals in my close proximity or the bipedal mammal population as a whole.

Maybe if I believed in religion – or a higher purpose for each and every one of us – then I could have the faith to recognise that we’re all part of highly connected and social society, and that the network of friendships and familyships (and the love that is transmitted along the conduits between them) is what arguably leads to social (and individual) progress. It’s my background as a scientist and engineer, though, that makes me see human society as simply one of thousands of other species; and that the individual populants have no God- or chance-given right to feel anything but part of the hive. I’m not trying to put an outright downer on anything; I’m just expressing my grounded view that – as humans – we’re nothing special. At least, not in the context of the Universe as a whole.

But: you know what? Even in that functional view of the world, we all still have our place and our unique roles. We’re all cogs in the machine; cogs of all different shapes and sizes and functions. I am different. At the very least, I am unique from all the other bipedal mammals in the world, and I have my own – unique – thoughts, talents and abilities that cause me to mean something to the bipedal mammals around me and, who knows, maybe one day mean something special to someone.

So, in the spirit of self-improvement and recognising all of the elements that make up ‘me’ and ‘me’ alone, I thought I’d set myself some homework: use the alphabet (A-Z) to list all of the things I enjoy and that work together to construct the unique bipedal mammal that is ‘me’; what you’d find if you cut me open and performed some mass spectrometry on my chemical formula (FYI: I’d rather you didn’t cut me open, but it’s really up to you).

[A] AFI, Assassin’s Creed

[B] Board Games, B-Movies

[C] Clerks, Chiptune

[D] Daft Punk, Dieselpunk

[E] Earl Grey, Edgeworth (Miles)

[F] Final Fantasy, Formula One

[G] Game of Thrones, Gory Horror Films

[H] Half-Life, Houmous

[I] Inception, In-Line Skating

[J] Japanese Cinema/Animation, Jam on Toast

[K] Kickstarter, Ke$ha

[L] Less Than Jake, Lovecraft (H. P.)

[M] Monkey Island (the Secret of), Monty Python

[N] Nine Inch Nails, Night-Time City Lights

[O] Okami, Orbital Mechanics

[P] Point-and-Click Adventure Games, Peep Show

[Q] Quizzes, QI

[R] Rush [the band], Rez

[S] Star Wars, Scott Pilgrim

[T] Turisas, Terry Pratchett

[U] Ümlaüts, Unending Sarcasm

[V] Velociraptors, Victorian London

[W] Wes Anderson, WASD + mouse

[X] Xenoblade Chronicles, X-Files (the)

[Y] YouTube Parties, Your Mum

[Z] Zelda (The Legend of), Zombie Nazis

 

Furthermore to this activity, I also recently started a self-imposed task to enrich my life with more positive, affirming music that encourages me feel good and awesome and other positive words. I called this task #Rule32, from Zombieland’s wise words to “Enjoy the little things”. So, I now have a Spotify playlist with which, each day, or at least every day I remember to, I add a new song that makes me feel like an awesome person. You can find it here:

Today’s song (013 // Foo Fighters – Something from Nothing) has particular meaning for me on this journey, so I’m going to write a few words about it: Foo Fighters were the first band that I properly got into on my journey to rock/metal addiction, around the time of There is Nothing Left to Lose. All of Dave Grohl’s work has properly captivated me (from Nirvana to Probot to Them Crooked Vultures to his drumming with QOTSA, Ghost, Tenacious D, yada yada yada), but Foo Fighters have always hit me direct in the heart.

‘Something from Nothing’ hits doubly hard, because it rings true with me: in truth, I’ve made something from nothing; I’ve made a something of myself, all on my own. Everything I’ve done and achieved in my life, I’ve done on my own. I’ve had very little in the way of leg-ups in life, and I’ve worked fucking hard to make everything I’ve made for myself. I’ve been lucky as well, but everything that I’ve gathered around me and left in my wake is the result of an incredible amount of perspiration, dedication and persistence.

I came from a tiny, rural town in the middle of nowhere, escaped the trappings of being overweight, lonely, picked-on, confused, afraid and whatever-the-hell-else to push myself hard enough to get through ten+ years of hard work to become a Master of Aerospace Engineering (with Astronautics) and, latterly, a full-on Doctor of Philosophy in space-y type stuff. I’m soon going to be starting a new job that continues this career path, and pushes me even higher and harder. Even if my brain sometimes try to convince me otherwise, I’ve achieved an incredible amount and have turned into a person that I’m proud to be.

I am something from nothing. I, more than anyone, need to remember that.

[Zinar7]

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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?

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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]

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Sinister Reviews: Best of 2013

2013

As the new year approaches and 2013 draws to a close, it’s just about time for my annual review of the good, bad and ugly things from the past year (for reference, here’s my one from last year).

It’s been an eventful year: from finally finishing The Thesis and handing in the beast to partying hard at the likes of Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and Knife Party; from jetting all around Europe on various work-related shenanigans, to gallivanting up and down the country to visit family, friends and loved ones; from finding gainful employment in academic research, to presenting that research at various important conferences and meetings including the UK Space Conference and the European Conference on Space Debris; from all of the good times with spent with the ones I love, to the lessons learned and the personal growth. 2013 has been spectacular, like a bright star in the night’s sky.

There’s a lot to wrap up so, without further ado, let’s boogie:

Mov

Best Movie ~ RUSH. Ron Howard, you did F1 proud.
Runners-Up ~ Wreck-It Ralph,  Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, Star Trek: Into Darkness, The World’s End.
‘Didn’t Think Would be Good but was Actually Brilliant’ of the Year ~ Robot and Frank.
Movie Performance of the Year ~ Daniel Brühl getting Niki Lauda’s mannerisms down to a tea. Well played, Brühl.
Runner-Up ~ Tim Key as the flawless Sidekick Simon in Alpha Papa. “I think I handled it pretty well.”
Most Disappointing Movie of 2013 ~ I don’t think I went to see any bad movies in 2013. Sure, The Great Gatsby could’ve done with a few more car chases and buildings blowing up, but it was still pretty damned good.
Unnecessary Movie Sequel of the Year ~ A Good Day to Die Hard.
Debatable Physics of the Year ~ Gravity. Great film, but even the most die-hard fan must admit that the science is a little, well, shaky.
Best TV Show ~  Game of Thrones season three. That show just keeps getting better and better
Runners-Up ~ Top GearWeekly Wipe, The Ambassadors, QI.
TV Moment of the Year ~ Game of Thrones‘ Red Wedding. Nothing can ever compare. So many feels.

Review_Games

‘Didn’t Get To Play But Really Want To’ of 2013 ~ Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Tales of Xillia, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, The Stanley Parable, Broken Sword: the Serpent’s Curse, Gone Home, The Cave, Puppeteer.

Best Mainstream Game ~ Grand  Theft Auto V. So ambitious, so entertaining, so perfect.
Runners-Up ~ Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, Bioshock Infinite.

Best Downloadable Game ~ Papers, Please.
Runners-Up ~  Organ Trail: Director’s Cut, DLC Quest, Lilly Looking Through, Anodyne.

Disappointment of 2013DuckTales: Remastered. It promised so much, but couldn’t deliver.

Video Game Character of 2013 ~ Trevor (Grand Theft Auto V). Unhinged, uncompromising, unbelievable.
Runner-Up – Elizabeth (Bioshock Infinite).
The 2013 ‘Development Hell’ Award ~ Team Ico’s The Last Guardian. Perhaps the rise of the PlayStation 4 will finally give us a release date to get excited about.
The 2013 ‘Hidden Gem’ Award ~  Lilly Looking Through: a delightful (but short) point-and-click adventure game, funded through Kickstarter and brought to life by Geeta Games.

Review_Music

Best Gig ~ Iron Maiden (London O2 Arena).
Runners-Up ~ Karnivool (Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms), The Ataris (Southampton Joiners), [spunge] (Southampton Cellar), Knife Party [Haunted House] (London Brixton Academy), Black Sabbath (London O2 Arena).
Best (Rock/Metal) Album ~ Turisas – Turisas2013.
Runners-Up ~ AFI – Burials, Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork, Biffy Clyro – Opposites, Karnivool – Asymmetry.
Best (Electronic/Dance) Album ~ Daft Punk – Random Access Memories.
Runners-Up ~ Kavinsky – OutRun, How to Destroy Angels – Welcome Oblivion, Anamanaguchi – Endless Fantasy, Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks, Chipzel – Spectra.
Disappointment of 2013 ~ Alkaline Trio – My Shame is True. Not bad, just disappointing.
Mash-Up of the Year ~ Isosine – ‘Little Sickness’ [Disturbed & Of Monsters and Men] (video link).
Song of the Year ~ Daft Punk – ‘Get Lucky’, VERY CLOSELY beating Turisas’ equally superb ‘For Your Own Good’.
Runners-Up ~ AFI – ’17 Crimes’, Sound City Players – ‘Mantra’, Nine Inch Nails – ‘Copy of A’.
Best Cover Art of 2013 ~ Kavinsky – OutRun (link).
Comeback of 2013 ~ Black Sabbath. The heavy metal Gods return, and what a return it is; a superb album (13) and an even more superb live show, the Sabbath once again prove why they’re not only the inventors of heavy metal, but also it’s saviours.
Steampunk Anthem of the Year ~ The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing – ‘The Gin Song’ (link)
‘Why Won’t it Go Away?’ of 2013 ~ Bloody Robin bloody Thicke’s bloody ‘Blurred Lines’.
Music Video of 2013 ~ Peter Serafinowicz’s glorious version of ‘Get Lucky’ (video link).

Review_Motosport

F1 Driver of the Year ~ How can it not be Sebastian Vettel? The man was flawless from lights to flag, and fully deserved to take his fourth consecutive title.
F1 Best Race ~ Monaco. It’s not often  that Monte-Carlo offers excitement and the spectacle, but this year it really nailed it.

F1 Overtake of the Year ~
Fernando Alonso’s stunning start in the Spanish GP. Shows what “home advantage” can do.
“Should’ve  Gone to Specsavers” of the Year ~ Hamilton stopping at the wrong (McLaren) pit box in Malaysia. LOLOLOLOLOL.
Most Improved of the Year – Romain Grosjean. The boy’s come of age, finally.
Team Orders of the Year ~ Sebastian Vettel in Malaysia. “Multi-21, Seb. Multi-21!”
Crash of the Year ~ Kamui Kobayashi on an empty circuit in Moscow :S (video link).
EverythingElse

Best Purchase ~ It’s a toss-up between my LEGO Sopwith Camel and my GeekyJerseys ‘Rogue Squadron’ hockey shirt. I love them both 😀

Best Book ~ Kaja & Phil Foglio – Agatha H and the Airship City // Davey Havok – Pop Kids // Toby Frost – Space Captain Smith: A Game of Battleships

Best Internet Video ~ BirgirPall’s superb I Broke Star Trek (video link). SPAK LET ME IN. HLEP ME KIRK.

Best Photo of 2013 ~ Bill Murray from ‘Reasons my Son is Crying’ (link).

Most Apt Phrase to Sum Up 2013 ~ “Pope Francis and the Chelyabinsk meteor totally came in like a wrecking ball but then the badgers moved the goalposts in one of their drunken stupors.”

Person of 2013 ~ Andrew W.K. The man is a complete god. He tweeted to me for my birthday, for crying out loud.

Looking Forward to in 2014 ~ Season four of Game of Thrones. Less Than Jake & Reel Big Fish at Portsmouth Pyramids. Turisas at Southampton Talking Heads. The Hobbit: There and Back Again.  (Hopefully) passing my PhD viva and becoming a proper Doctor of Philosophy and shit. Final Fantasy XV. Formula One getting shaken up to its core. Watch Dogs. The LEGO Movie. Porsche’s return to Le Mans and endurance racing. The Grand Budapest Hotel.

BEST MOMENTS (no order)

New Year’s fun and frolics in Southampton; The SUMMER Party; BTCC action at Thruxton; WEC 6 Hours of Silverstone; LEGOland wizardry for Ben’s stag do; Jorge Cham (PhD Comics)’s seminar at Southampton University on the ‘Power of Procrastination’; birthdaying in London and the QI Christmas special; #Ockfest frolics; weddings for Alice & Ben and Ben & Sarah; #IronSunday and #BlackTuesday with Maiden and Sabbath at The O2; adventures in London for Knife Party’s ‘Haunted House’ and the game of #GetTheHeckOutOfBrixton at 4am; Andrew O’Neill is Easily Distracted at The Art House; not-crashing the weddings of Alice & Ben and Ben & Sarah; emitting Eurovision-based LOLz at Shez’s place; THE SUMMER PARTY in sunny Lugwardine; work trips to Darmstadt, Friedrichshafen, Glasgow, Toulouse; gigs for [spunge], The Ataris and Karnivool; Many #TabletopNight meeple action with the usual crowd; and plenty more besides.

Everyone, you’ve been awesome.
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And, to finalise, here’s a delightful electronic/punk rock playlist to celebrate December and calibrate 2014. It’s called 013/12 – The Long Road to Redemption.

Playlist_01312

2013 is dead. Long live 2014. 

[Zinar7]

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PhD Fraud #13: The Doctor Dilemma

PhD_13

Given that I’m soon to be submitting The Thesis for critical review and that it’s very possible that, in less than three months’ time, I could technically be a Doctor, it’s time to properly think about the implications of completing the PhD process and entering the world as a proper Doctor of Philosophy.

Should I pass the viva examination, one of the first big decisions will be: what the hell do I call myself? After four years of hard work and much perspiration and  consternation, I will officially be allowed to call myself ‘Dr. George’. In itself, that’s a terrifying thought, but is it what I want?  Much as this series of blog posts has been titled “PhD Fraud“, the feeling that ‘it’s all been some big mistake and the examiners have accidentally awarded me a doctorate by mistake’ is not likely to go away; I will probably still continue to feel like a bit of a fraud and that I don’t deserve such accolades. I’ll therefore feel immensely awkward as introducing myself as ‘Dr. George’ rather than just a simple ‘Mr.’, and anyway ‘George’ isn’t a surname that suits much of the ‘Doctor’ prefix: I’ll just sound like I’m local GP or something, whereas I have only a rudimentary knowledge of medicine and certainly wouldn’t be any use if a passenger’s head just exploded on a passenger plane. No, if I’m going to keep the title of ‘Doctor’, the least I can do is to have a surname that’s worthy of using the prefix, and the only logical answer is ‘Thundersmash’.

All Joking aside, while I’m not going to be rushing out  to properly change my name straight after my viva, I’m certainly considering how I’m going to approach introducing myself to new people. Already, I kind of feel awkward talking about my research with anyone (not even other grad students), let alone with the general public who perhaps aren’t as aware of ins-and-outs of academia. I’m generally a pretty quiet and humble sort of chap who doesn’t like to blow his own trumpet, so tend to end up acting pretty bashful when non-academic friends/people ask what my research is about (and, usually, find it a heap more interesting than the reality actually is).

When I talk to my friends outside of academia, I kind of feel like I’m not much of a success: my best friend works for a Formula 1 team, whilst the other does media/filming stuff and so gets to go to swanky things like major film premieres and whatnot. Meanwhile, I’m stuck in the same office every day, staring at the same bits of MATLAB code and faffing around with the same Word document (The Thesis). It’s sometimes difficult to visualise what effect your research has on the world at large – often, research is so incremental and focussed that it can be difficult to make a connection to the real world, or value its relevance; certainly not in the same way that a doctor, firefighter or even coffee shop barista can measure what they’ve done for other people. So yeah, sometimes I end up feeling a little unimportant when I’m striving away at research at the same desk day in, day out, and so perhaps getting a few letters either before or after your name helps to reinforce the ‘value’ of your research efforts.

Despite all this, cruising around thinking of myself as ‘Dr. George’ – or even just being known as ‘that Doctor guy’ – is still going to feel intensely strange; I’d rather people just call me by my first name than have to get all tangled up in surnames and honorifics. Staying in academia following graduation implies that one must call oneself ‘Doctor’, since it effectively describes ‘rank’ on the academic ladder. Away from academia though, and the necessity to retain the new prefix is far from critical, and likely comes down to personal choice: for me, maybe I’ll add a ‘Ph.D’ suffix after my name on business cards or CVs just to make myself sound more important than I really am, but I’m certainly not going to come across all Alan Sir Sugar Lord if you don’t use the correct title.

Thundersmash Business Card

Anyway, how close am I to finishing? Well, not too far off (I hope). Last month, I submitted a 95% complete draft to my supervisor, which was returned with some helpful comments. I’m currently bouncing around trying to add the final 5% of work and tidy up everything that was there before. I’ve just negotiated to have my thesis deadline extending by a couple of months in some recompense for the year or so I’ve been doing other (unrelated) research, such that I can submit final copy somewhere in November/December. I’m certainly intending to get final draft to my supervisor by the end of October, which should provide sufficient turnaround to address comments and feedback before I commit to submission.

I’ve heard from various people that this part of the ‘write-up’ process is the hardest, and I can’t argue with that sentiment: it’s the most nerve-wracking, as you desperately try to wrangle the more slippery parts of The Thesis into some sort of shape, but also the most frustrating since you’re so, so close yet you can’t cross the finish line quite yet. There’s also a continuing frustration that you’ll never get it into a perfect state that you’re completely completely happy with, and at some point you just have to push it out of the door and hope that it’s ‘good enough’. I’m nearly at the point where it’s going to have to be pushed out of the door regardless of my satisfaction with it, and that inspires both terror and relief in almost equal measure. In many ways, I know I’m so, so close to the end, but things still feel a way off yet. Nearly there!

[Zinar7]

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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]

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[ 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 }

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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

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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]

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