First Impressions – Soilwork – The Living Infinite

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And so continues a segment, in which I will listen to an album for the first time and give my impressions of said album as I go through.  I will provide background information, a track by track review and then final thoughts.  Enjoy!

BackgroundIn addition to being one of my favorite bands, Soilwork are one of the most consistent and hardworking bands in the business.  The Living Infinite represents the band’s 9th release in 14 years.  It is also the second release (though not consecutively) without their primary songwriter, guitarist Peter Wichers.  Being a double disc, I am skeptical about this album as I can probably name on one hand the number of albums that merit that second disc worth of material.  But, I will always give the benefit of the doubt to a band with such a great catalogue.  And so, here we go inside of The Living Infinite.

Disc 1

1) Spectrum of Eternity – A strings quartet leads into one of the most old school riffs, I have heard out of Soilwork…well, ever.  This lead riffs sounds like straight up mid-90s Norwegian shit.  The verse is heavy as hell and the pre-chorus/chorus is tight, with some awesome guitar work.  The new guitarists don’t miss a beat with some great melodies/soloes in the breakdown.  Great opening track.

2) Memories Confined – After the blazing opening track, the guys settle into a slow groove on this one.  I have never really heard Soilwork do a song like this one… its mid-tempo throughout, with a huge focus on the melodies with both the guitars and the vocals during the chorus.  I like it though.  A very cool change of pace for the guys.

3) This Momentary Bliss - Whoah!  This intro!  The guitar melodies are fantastic and this really reminds me of the guitars on A Predator’s Portrait.  An awesome verse leads into a decent pre-chorus.  The thing with Soilwork is you never really know if you are listening to a pre-chorus or chorus until the second time around the song.  I view that as a positive, because their pre-choruses are strong enough to be choruses for many bands.  But yeah, that was the chorus.  Not the best thing I’ve ever heard, but the great guitar work more than makes up for that.

4) Tongue – A cool slide guitar melody starts things off, before leading into a crazy pre-chorus which sounds like the first Soilwork album.  The chorus is huge and very catchy.  Speed is keeping to the intense scream he picked up on the last album for the verses, but he has lost none of his touch on the clean choruses, making for a nice contrast, which the guys are known for.  And the bridge/outro to this song sounds more like Steve Vai than anything else I could compare it to.  Really cool track.

5) The Living Infinite I – Well, considering it’s the title track and its part I, I would think this is supposed to be a pretty important track and statement stylistically.  After an atmospheric intro, this one goes into a mid-tempo rock style verse.  There aren’t many clean vocals to speak of, with the chorus being in a semi gang shout style.  Not a bad song, but didn’t blow me away.

6) Let the First Wave Rise – This one opens with blast beats and intensity.  The guitar work in this song is insane, lots of nifty rhythm work going on.  The band has not focused on the twin guitar melodies since A Predator’s Portrait, but they have upped the ante with their rhythm playing overall.  Not a lot of melody in this song, but I don’t think that was the point here.  This one is about anger and chaos.  Another solid, but not great song.

7) Vesta – A mixture of classical and slide blues guitar give way to a crushing verse.  It all comes together in a fantastic chorus with a lot of atmosphere and some great lyrics.  Drummer, Dirk Verbeuren, kills it on this track!  Another very solid song!

8) Realm of the Wasted – Probably the most straight ahead song on the record so far, this one rips right from the bat.  The guitar work uses some of the forgotten twin guitar melodies I thought the band had forgotten.  And we have another chorus, where the vocals are good, but what really makes it is the lead guitar parts added to the background.  This song sounds made to be played live, especially if they can pull of this amazing bridge live.  Great stuff!

9) The Windswept Mercy – I didn’t see this coming.  This one starts off with a Devin Townsend-eqsue mid-tempoed, cleanly sung verse, before going into some nifty guitar work mixed in with some crazy screams.  It all leads to a chorus which leaves you a little let down, considering how good all of the parts leading up to it were.  Son of a bitch!  I got fooled by the aforementioned Soilwork “Chorus or Pre-Chorus” game.  This chorus is awesome!  Throw in a great outro and you have a really cool, different song.

10) Whispers and Lights – The opening riff sounds like Down!  Another cleanly sung verse….Soilwork is really changing it up a bit on this first disc.  I’m a sucker for 6/8 time signatures, so I can probably bet I will like this song.  I was right!  Love this chorus…very progressive sounding.  I like the mixture of styles from the southern metal verse to the Incubus sounding verses to the progressive, very well sung choruses.  The first disc is a big hit with me!

Disc 2

1) Entering Aeons – A strange, almost Meshuggah inspired riff kicks off our second disc.  And while at a slow tempo, the drums are going nuts.  I guess this one is an all-instrumental intro.  Like I always say, how good the intro tracks are depends on what follows.  We’ll see what they do from here on out.

2) Long Live the Misanthrope – A nice driving riff kicks this one off.  This one is pure Soilwork.  If you are a fan of the last album, The Panic Broadcast, you will dig this track.  A frenzied verse leads to a catchy chorus and there really is a lot to love about this one.  Great guitars, great drums, great vocals combine to make this one a fantastic song.  I can’t imagine them not playing this one live for years to come.  The guitar harmonies at the end of the song cap this one off very well. 

3) Drowning with Silence – More of the same, which is not a bad thing!  The guys seem like they aren’t letting up so far.  The chorus feels a bit odd and is not as catchy as the last song, but this is still a solid song.  On a double album, if this is the worst thing they do, I could barely complain.

4) Antidotes in Passing – A nice progressive clean intro kicks this song off….a bit reminiscent of some of the mid 90s Annihilator instrumentals, though Speed sings over this part.  I am very curious to see where they take this verse.  STRANGE!  This one doesn’t sound like Soilwork at all.  I’m not really sure of what to compare this to.  All clean singing and a very unconventional style for the band.  Seems as if the band is trying to branch into some new territories on this album, with this one sounding a little like an extremely heavy Faith No More song.  I would be lying if I said this song was especially memorable, but it is very interesting, nonetheless.

5) Leech – The pace is picked back up as we are treated to another ferocious track.  Speed sounds vicious here, while the guys are going nuts behind him.  This madness transcends into an almost Peter Gabriel styled chorus, which is really cool.  Although short, the chorus of this song is well worth the payoff.

6) The Living Infinite II – We’re back to the title track, now faced with Pt. II.  Much like part one, this one is a solid track, with nothing bad per say, but nothing that really pushes it over the top either.  I dug the atmosphere the chorus creates, and I could see this one being a grower, but I am not rushing to repeat it for now.

7) Loyal Shadow – Another instrumental, this time with the boys focusing on some great guitar playing.  If you like guitar harmonies and sweep picking, like me, then you will like this song a lot.

8) Rise Above the Sentiment – A great riff/guitar harmony opens things before going into an extremely heavy mid-tempo verse.  The chorus is another one which will probably have to grow on me a bit and this is one of those songs that I could see becoming one of my favorites as time goes on.  The guitar solo is really solid, as is the song overall.

9) Parasite Blues – Speed really stands out vocally here, hitting some notes I have never heard him hit before.  This one is structured pretty weird and the main riff catches you off guard a bit, but as this one went along I liked it more and more. 

10) Owls Predict, Oracles Stand Guard – Perhaps the goofiest song title I have seen in some time, this one starts with the slowest tempo I have ever heard Soilwork play in….I’m wondering what this is building to.  Well, there you go….after two and a half minutes, the song goes straight death metal before fading out on some thrash inspired riffs.  Strange way to close out the album…

Conclusion – When I saw that Soilwork had lost their primary songwriter and were putting out a double album, the whole thing screamed “letdown” to me.  However, I turned out to be pleasantly surprised by The Living Infinite.  While there are three or four tracks that you could probably throw away, most of this material is excellent and its great to see a band labeled as melodic death metal branch into some new styles.  While I wouldn’t recommend this for a first time Soilwork listener, the long-time fan should be more than happy with this album.

 

 

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2013 MLB Preview and Predictions

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In what is guaranteed to prove itself a useless, yet entertaining exercise, I am going to cap off baseball week with my end of season predictions.  I know about as much as the next asshole about what will happen throughout the seemingly 134 month long season.  Injuries, trades, an unexpected prospect or a fading veteran can all wreak havoc on anything you thought you knew about the season at hand.  That being said, there is nothing more satisfying as a sports fan than reading my insight and telling me why I’m a douchebag for thinking it.  So, enjoy as I predict division winners, wild card attendees, and the major award winners.

Oh, I absolutely promise to follow up on these predictions at the end of the year.  I always hold myself accountable.

AL East
1) Toronto Blue Jays – They saw an opportunity and will achieve the takedown
2) Tampa Bay Rays – Great pitching staff, solid lineup and the X-Factor, Joe Maddon.
3) New York Yankees – A combination of old men and older men will result in sad faces in the Bronx.
4) Baltimore Orioles – A big regression will see the Orioles fall back to earth.
5) Boston Red Sox – Shane Victorino is your 5 hitter.  Need I say more?

Thoughts – You have to respect the Blue Jays for seeing the potential to finally climb atop the normally monstrous AL East and taking a shot.  The Jays will combine a good pitching staff with an already dangerous lineup to take the division.  The Rays will remain solid behind the work of the best coach in the game and an incredibly smart GM.  The Orioles will not prove so lucky with so little talent this year.  As for the Yankees and Red Sox, please excuse this writer for taking a lot of joy in seeing these two once mighty franchises fail miserably this year.

AL Central
1) Detroit Tigers – All around goodness will see these guys win the division yet again
2) Kansas City Royals – Placing second speaks more to the state of the division than the Royals greatness.
3) Chicago White Sox – A great mixture of old and unknown players will be enough to secure third place.
4) Cleveland Indians – If everything comes together for the tribe, they could be higher on this list.
5) Minnesota Twins – Things are going to be ugly in the Twin Cities this summer.

Thoughts – This is the easiest division to pick in baseball.  The Tigers will once again ride their outstanding lineup and very good pitching staff to the central title.  The Royals added enough pieces to at least get fans in Kansas City excited about baseball again.  The White Sox are largely a mystery to me…I keep up with baseball religiously, but there are enough unknowns on their team to not allow me to put them any higher.  The Indians have added some interesting pieces, but they lost pieces too.  The Twins will at least win the “All-Name” team with a dude named Plouffe playing third base.

AL West
1) L.A. Angels – Have you looked at this lineup???
2) Texas Rangers – Will give the Angels a run for their money.
3) Oakland A’s – Billy Beane’s group of weirdos are back to re-claim third place in the division!
4) Seattle Mariners –Despite this offseason, they don’t have enough offense and King Felix can’t pitch five days a week….I think.
5) Houston Astros – This may be the worst baseball team I have ever seen assembled.

Thoughts – The race between the Angels and the Rangers is going to be a fun one.  Can the all-around good Angels hold off the still strong Rangers?  I think so, but I would not be surprised to see Texas take the division.  The A’s, coming off a great year will see some regression, but will benefit playing the Astros so many times…as will everyone.  The Mariners continue to leave me unimpressed and those Astros….Jesus Christ!

NL East
1) Washington Nationals – The rich got richer…this pick hurts me.
2) Atlanta Braves – Uptons, baby!
3) Philadelphia Phillies – Can the pitching staff put together enough to carry an aging offense?
4) New York Mets – If all goes perfect, the Mets COULD win 80 games.
5) Miami Marlins – The Miami Pennypinchers will be awful awful awful this year.

Thoughts – As a diehard Braves fan, it kills me to say it, but the Nationals are only going to be better this season.  The Nats had a fantastic offseason and quietly improved their rotation and lineup….fuck.  The Braves made a lot of noise this winter and will give the Nationals a run for their money.  The Phillies are just so damned old.  If Halladay can be the old Halladay, then the Phils have a shot.  The Mets continue to rebuild, while Marlins owner Jeff Loria will prove to be the most hated man in Miami since someone named Andrew wrecked the town roughly 20 years ago.

NL Central
1) Cincinnati Reds – An even better version than last year’s division winner.
2) St. Louis Cardinals – The birds will probably ride another mediocre year to postseason success…bastards.
3) Milwaukee Brewers – Great lineup, weak pitching staff.
4) Pittsburgh Pirates – The 20 year rebuilding project continues unsuccessfully.
5) Chicago Cubs – Notre Dame’s former token white receiver is their opening day starter…that’s gotta hurt!

Thoughts – The Reds added some great pieces this offseason and with a solid rotation, should win the division again.  The Cardinals won’t be great, but they will do enough to secure one of the wild card spots.  The Brewers window closed two years ago and isn’t opening again any time soon.  The Pirates and Cubs will fight an arduous battle for last place in the division.  All of these teams wish they still had ole Houston to kick around.

NL West
1) San Francisco Giants – Pitching, pitching, pitching…with just a little offense sprinkled in for flavor.
2) L.A. Dodgers – The 200 million dollar experience will at least be worth watching all of the SportsCenter coverage as yet another L.A. team collapses.
3) Arizona Diamondbacks – This “scrappy” team will play the game the right way ….all the way to third place.
4) San Diego Padres – Will be much better than most expect.
5) Colorado Rockies – Who is going to pitch for these guys???

Thoughts – The defending champs will continue to ride their horses to yet another division title.  The Dodgers and their mediocrity will be sports most tired story by June.  The Diamondbacks baffled with their offseason moves and rightly so.  They should be an incredibly average team.  The forgotten Padres may make a push towards second place if the pieces fall right and the lowly Rockies will underwhelm again.

Wild Card Crapshoot Game
AL Wild Card – Tampa Bay Rays vs. Texas Rangers – Predicting who will win a one game playoff is a silly endeavor.  But I’ll say the Rangers…just because.

NL Wild Card – Braves vs. Cardinals – The ghost of Chipper Jones will see the Braves take an exciting game for the Cardinals.

Divisional Series
Detroit Tigers vs. Texas Rangers – The incredibly strong Tigers will fall in the postseason, once again, to the hot Rangers

L.A. Angels vs. Toronto Blue Jays – The return of playoff baseball to Canada will see the Jays fall in five games to the Angels

Atlanta Braves vs. Cincinnati Reds – The Braves will win in a Game 7 started by Aroldis Chapman, winning by a walk-off hit by pitch.

Washington Nationals vs. San Francisco Giants – The Giants postseason mojo finally runs out behind strong starts from the Nationals great front line.

League Championship Series
L.A. Angels vs. Texas Rangers – The Rangers go up by two games early over their division rivals, only to see Pujols launch a few balls to Mars in Game 6 to secure the series for the Angels

Atlanta Braves vs. Washington Nationals – In their excitement over their first postseason series victory in like 100 years, the Braves forget to show up in the LCS, but Atlanta fans are still relatively happy.

World Series
L.A. Angels vs. Washington Nationals – You think I’m going to pick the American League????  Yeah, I am.  The Angels will win another boring World Series in five games.

Awards
AL MVP – Mike Trout – Avenges last year’s loss by playing out of his mind all year long

NL MVP – Jason Heyward – The Braves’ future puts it all together in an amazing season

AL Cy Young – Jered Weaver – With this lineup, he wins enough games to overshadow a more deserving candidate

NL Cy Young – Stephen Strasburg – With no innings limit, Strasburg shows us why he was worth so much coverage on ESPN

AL Manager of the Year – John GIbbons(Blue Jays) – He should give this trophy to his GM, but won’t.

NL Manager of the Year – Davey Johnson(Nationals) – In his final year, he takes the award home.

 

You got better predicitions?  Lets hear em!


 

 

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10 Random Facts I Learned Doing Research on Atlanta Braves’ Outfields

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In the process of putting together my article on the best outfields in Atlanta Braves’ history, I came across some interesting information.  These facts did not really fit into the other blog, so I just included them in a post here.  Enjoy!

1) The average WAR of Atlanta Braves’ outfields, all-time, is 9.1.

2) The worst outfield in Atlanta Braves’ history was 1977’s crew, which featured Gary Matthews Sr., Rowland Office and Jeff Burroughs. Burroughs mashed 41 home runs had had a .882 OPS, but defensively, the right fielder proved terrible, being worth negative 3.4 WAR and committing seven errors.

3) After Hank Aaron’s last year in Atlanta, 1974, Atlanta outfields did not have a combined WAR of over 10 until 1987.  That year, Dale Murphy proved worth 7.4 wins all by himself, with the total being 11.3.

4) I mentioned, in my list, the highest win total for the outfields of the Braves run of 14 straight division titles, the 2002 outfield of Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones and Gary Sheffield.  The lowest….the 1991 squad, which proved only worth 5.1 wins.  That is even lower than the strike shortened 1994 team, which had a WAR of 5.5.  The 1991 outfield included Ron Gant, David Justice, Lonnie Smith and Otis Nixon

5) Braves fans may want to forget the dreadful 2008 outfield.  This group, which only complied a WAR of 2.8 featured Gregor Blanco, Mark Kotsay and Jeff Francouer.  Other who got some playing time included Matt Diaz and Brandon Jones.

6) 2010’s outfield compiled  a WAR of 7.1.  Jason Heyward accounted for 6.3 of those wins, or 89 percent.

7) Someone asked me about how the outfields of the early 90s performed.  Well, only the 1993 team is really worth mentioning.  That years, Ron Gant and David Justice put together fantastic years, with solid contributions from Otis Nixon, for a combined WAR of 14.2, good enough for the sixth best Braves outfield of all time.

8) Between 1966 and 1973, the Braves only had one year, 1972, where the combined outfield WAR was not over 10. Between 1974 and 1986, they only did not have a single outfield with a combined WAR of 10.

9) The average WAR of the outfields of the 1991-2005 Braves was 10.9.

10) Lest we forget 2008’s outfield, once again, which had a WAR of 2.8 and featured such offensive bombshells as Mark Kotsay, Gregor Blanco and Jeff Francouer.  There’s also 2009’s opening day starting outfield which consisted of Garret Anderson, Jordan Schafer and Jeff Francouer.  I say those two to say, we can all be very happy with what we’ve got.  We’ve been through some hard times.

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The Best Atlanta Braves Outfield?

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Atlanta Braves’ fans are more excited than I can remember in a long time.  With the offseason acquisitions of brothers Justin and B.J. Upton and the presence of Jason Heyward, the Braves believe they have the pieces in place to make a run at their first division title since 2005 and to make it out of the first round of playoffs for the first time since 2001.  With such a great, young outfield, many fans are asking if this group has the potential to be the best Braves’ outfield of all time.

To answer that question, we have to first look at Braves’ outfields over the course of their history.  I went back to 1966, the Braves first year in Atlanta and compiled the Wins Above Replacement (WAR)* of the three best outfielders from each season.  I will list the five best years below and then talk a little bit about the potential for this year’s outfield to surpass those numbers.

*Baseball-Reference WAR

5) 1969 – Rico Carty, Tony Gonzalez, Hank Aaron – 14.5 WAR – When you take an excellent year from Hank Aaron and combine it with solid years from two professional hitters, you get a pretty solid season.  Aaron, at the age of 35, mashed 44 home runs and put up an OPS of 1.003.  He also finished third in MVP voting for the year.  In short, just another solid season for one of the greatest hitters the game has ever seen.  Rico Carty was the professional of his day, comparable to a Jose Guillen or Mike Sweeney of recent years.  If he could have played a decent left field, he would have been an even more productive player.  Gonzalez came to Atlanta in an early season trade from San Diego and put up 3.4 WAR in only 89 games.  This outfield led the Braves to the playoffs in 1969, where they lost to the Miracle Mets in a three game sweep.

4) 2003 – Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones and Gary Sheffield – 15.3 WAR – What an outfield!  Three of the best hitters of the last twenty years provided one hell of a middle of the order.  Chipper, playing left field while Vinny Castilla played third, put together a classic Chipper year  He hit 305/.402/517, mashed 27 homers and collected 94 walks.  Andruw Jones, playing in the prime of his career put up 36 home runs and collected yet another gold glove.  Sheffield, playing in his second and final season in Atlanta put up the highest WAR of the three, with 6.6.  He also finished third in the MVP voting.  Want to see something very similar, check #3 on this list…

3) 2002 – Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Gary Sheffield – 15.9 WAR – This is obviously the same outfield, with the only different being Andruw Jones using some great defense to lead this group with 6.6 WAR.  A solid outfield with one surefire Hall of Famer and two borderline candidates, this was a fun couple of years to be a Braves fan, even if this group never made it out of the NLDS.

2) 2012 – Martin Prado, Michael Bourn, Jason Heyward – 16.9 WAR – Last year, the Braves outfield combined the best defensive outfield in baseball, a bounceback year from Jason Heyward and a career year from Michael Bourn to have the second best Atlanta Braves’ outfield of all-time.  One could argue that the Braves could have just kept this outfield in place and been fine, but when you consider that the moves made this offseason took our outfielder’s average age from 27.3 years old to 25.3 years old and the fact that Michael Bourn is at an age where he may well see his best asset decline, I am more than ok with the moves.

1) 1966 – Rico Carty, Hank Aaron, Felipe Alou – 18.2 WAR – In the Braves’ first year in Atlanta, Hammerin’ Hank led this group, as well as leading the league in home runs and RBIs.  He also stole 21 bases as a 32 year old.  Felipe Alou split time between first base and all three outfield positions to put together a fantastic season in which he hit .327/.361/.533.  Rico Carty finished out this group with a very solid 4.4 WAR.  And so, this is the group that this year’s group must surpass in order to be the best outfield the Braves have ever had.

The 2013 Outfield’s Chances – Can the 2013 outfield surpass the extremely high standard of the 1966 team?  The answer is possibly, though probably not. The guys would need to average 6.06 WAR in order to match that 1966 team.  If you combine the best seasons had by each of the three players, you get Heyward’s 2010 season with 6.3 WAR, Justin Upton’s 2011 season with 5.7 WAR and B.J Upton’s 2007 season with 4.7 WAR.  That combines to be 16.1 WAR, which would be good for third all time.

The common theme with this entire outfield is unseen potential.  All three players have put together fantastic careers thus far, yet all have not reached the perceived ceilings which fans and scouts have placed on them.  It is not outside of reason to think that these guys, the oldest of which is B.J. at 28 years old, could each put together a 6 win season or that Heyward or Justin Upton could have a breakout year with 7 or 8 WAR each.  However, Justin is coming off a 2.1 win season and B.J. hasn’t been worth more than 3 wins since 2008.

And so, while I think there is a good chance that this team will crack the top five, I do not believe they will be our best outfield of all-time.

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First Impressions: Kvelertak – Kvelertak

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And so continues a segment, in which I will listen to an album for the first time and give my impressions of said album as I go through.  I will provide background information, a track by track review and then final thoughts.  Enjoy!

Background: Kvelertak.  There has not been a week in the last year or so that I have not heard my friends gush about this band.  Through Facebook, text messages and in person conversations, I have heard great things about these guys.  I am admittedly skeptical when that many people talk so highly of a band.  This is strange, because you’d figure that if everyone you know and respect likes a band, you will dig them too.  But sometimes, especially with us stubborn metalheads, that simply isn’t always the case.

Anyways, it came to my attention that Kvelertak has a new album coming out.  I mentioned to my friends that I never heard the first one, they scolded me, told me to pick the album up and do a first impressions review on it.  And so, here I am.

I will tell you what I know about this band going into it.  They are Norwegian, the dude from Baroness does their album covers, their song titles took me a long time to spell correctly, especially with this damned auto-correct thing I can’t seem to turn off and their songs are about drinking Viking beer from sheep’s heads.  I may have made that last part up.  Other than that, I honest to god have no idea what to expect here.  The only time I got even a snippet of this band, I was so drunk that I could have been played the new Bright Eyes and thought it was a great heavy metal album.  Speaking of which, when I got this album in the mail, some dude came into my office and said, “is that the new Of Montreal?”  Just a weird random though.  So, with no expectations, knowledge of the band’s sound or anything, I listen to Kvelertak for the first time.

1) Ulvetid – This starts off like more of a rock and roll song than metal, then goes into an almost black metal styled riff/drumming.  The vocal style is a high pitch scream, mixed in with some hardcore styled shouting, which is in a language I don’t speak.  The verse of this song is cool, but that “driving” main riff was pretty boring.  After the second chorus, they go into a pretty cool bridge that ends up in a solid solo.  Not the greatest opener, in my opinion, as this sounds like a song that would have done fine later in the album, but a solid track all the same.

2) Mjod – I think I am starting to get an idea of what this band is about.  This is pretty much sleaze rock, ala Jet or the Hives with a lot more distortion, no melody in the vocals and in Norwegian.  As for this song, its pretty boring, the same drum beat as the first track.  That being said, if I was just the right level of drunk, you know that ”happy state,”  I’d be all over this.

3) Fossegrim – For a second when that lead guitar did its thing in the beginning, I got really excited. Some cool harmonies and nice breakdowns make this the heaviest song on the record so far.  Those little moments make this track pay off and I dig it.  They did some things to actually change it up on this one, like palm muting a guitar and using a different drum beat.

4) Blodtorst – This one starts off with another  repetitive drum part and Queens of the Stone Age inspired everything down-stroked riff.  As a matter of fact, this song reminds me of Queens of the Stone Age…without the melody of course.  Another breakdown and hey Kvelertak, the Foo Fighters want their bridge back.  Luckily I’m a Foo Fighters fan, so I can dig it.  When these guitarists aren’t being utterly lazy, they’re pretty good.  Their riffs are largely boring, but they do have some very cool lead parts.  This song did not blow me away though.

5) Offernatt – Yeah!  I really dug that opening guitar harmony.  Best part of the album so far.  This opening riff is HUGE!  This verse rocks!  Lets see where they take it for the chours…oh….that….again. The same guitar part….and drum part….again.  They guitars do some cool stuff in the second chorus though, which I dug.  I will say that everything, besides the far too repetitive, for the album, chorus, this is a bad ass song.

6) Sjohyenar (Havets Herrer) - This is my favorite song on the album so far.  There is this part in the middle where they start playing a cool lead guitar part, they throw in some acoustic guitars, then go balls out for the rest of the song.  I really dug this one, as it’s the most “different” track I have heard so far.

7) Sultans of Satan –These words don’t look Norwegian to me!  Anyways, what the hell is going on here…after a shrieking scream for six songs, we have the first vocal melody of the album.  Sandwiched between the often aforementioned guitar/drum part they put in every song, is a catchy chorus.  Ok…now we’re in the bridge and we’re getting into some nice Sabbath inspired territory.  Decent track.

8) Nekroskop – This one starts off with the same drum part again!  You want to write a Kvelertak song, do this:  Have your guitarist downstroke eighth notes over and over, the have your drummer play eighth notes on the bass drum with snare hits on the two and four.  You will have 75% of this album.  Giving credit where its due however, these guys are good at taking a simple guitar part, adding a layer to it and making it sound much more full.  The chorus to this song is a death metal inspired, weird part that didn’t fit to well with the rest of the song for me.  But at least it changed things up for a few seconds.

9) Liktorn – We start off with what sounds like a Dark Funeral track, then it sounds like Mastodon, then the music abruptly stars, then it sounds like “Revelations” by Maiden for a second, and holy shit!  They made it two minutes before they went to the “Kvelertak Riff/Drum.”  Well done guys.  That was a cool intro, but the rest of this song is more of the same.

10) Ordsmedar Av Rang – The main riff to this song really rocks!  I’ve never quite heard anything like it.  Hard to describe, but its very good.  The chorus leaves a lot to be desired, as it just comes across as noisy and muddled, but this one riff goes a long way towards making this a good song.

11) Utrydd Dei Svake – Whoah…easy there fellows….going crazy with the off timing riff.  Then its more of the same before they go into more of the same.  There are some clean vocals again during the chorus which made me wish I spoke Norwegian.  There are some things to like in this song, but nothing which especially pushes it over the top.

Conclusion  – I know my friends will crucify me for this, but I didn’t care for the album.  I’d rather go throw in a Queens of the Stone Age album, because it sounds exactly the same, except you actual get some great vocal melodies and far more variety.  I think Kvelertak would be a great live band to see, as their music lends itself to the stage quite well.  Getting a few brews in you and seeing these guys tear up a small club would be a blast. As for listening to the record, its just not my cup of tea.  They need to add much more variation, particularly in the vocal department for me to get excited about these guys.  I don’t hate them by any means and I respect what they do, it just doesn’t do much for me.

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Ben Folds and the Steps to Non-Metal Music Obsession

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Want to hear a secret?

Beneath the façade of a jean jacket and a scowl, every metalhead has a deep love of a band or artist they have no business liking.  While, as a whole, metalheads are a closed off, if knowledgeable group when it comes to music outside of our comfort zones, we all have a soft spot for a few skeletons that rest beside the bullet belts in our closets.  For instance, I know this one guy who is a stone metalhead, but gets weepy when he listens to Morrissey.  This other fellow, who may or may not write a fantastic blog about tradition and the tyranny imposed by it, has an unquenchable thirst for Michael McDonald and the Doobie Brothers.

As for me, my non-metal obsession is Ben Folds.  In keeping with a recent theme regarding musical obsession, I will chronicle the steps that one goes through when getting into and ultimately falling in love with a band or artist.  I could have just as easily done this with any number of metal bands, but I feel that by looking at a non-metal artist, I can give away a little piece of myself and provide some kind of unnecessary insight into the mind of a metalhead.

Step 1 – The Spark a.k.a. Discovery – To love an artist, you first have to have that initial connection with them.  I heard Ben Folds in the same way as many others; when the song “Brick” by Ben Folds Five came on the radio in 1997.  Being 13 years old, I didn’t know exactly what this song was talking about, but I knew it was dark and that it was deeply personal.  All these years later, I am hard pressed to think of another hit single which talks about going through an abortion with your high school sweetheart.  “Brick” really caught me and I loved the song.  Yet, Metallica and Slayer records needed to be purchased and I never heard another Ben Folds song on the radio, and so, while intrigued, I never pressed the matter further.

Step 2 – The Album – Once you have made a musical connection with a song by an artist, the next step is to purchase an album to see if they can hold you for a whole record.  January 3rd, 2009.  That is the day I bought my first Ben Folds album.  You’d probably consider it strange that I would remember the exact day I bought the album, but besides being a very unusual human being, that date holds some level of significance for me; it was the day I decided to join the army.

In January of 2009, mine was a life in shambles.  My personal life was a complete wreck, I had roughly 40,000 dollars in student loan and credit card debt, I was going nowhere at my job, I had recently been through some tough personal experiences that shook me to my foundation and I found myself experiencing a desperation and loss of control the likes of which I had never felt before and haven’t again since.

The 3rd of January, a Saturday, started with a trip to a local thrift store.  While there, I found the Ben Folds Five CD, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner.  Remembering how much I enjoyed the song “Brick” and considering the $2 price tag, I picked it up, went home, threw it on a shelf and forgot about it.  Later that night, after getting some bad news from a friend, the Falcons lost in a playoff game.  Immediately afterwards, one of my best friends and I got into a heated argument, which resulted in him leaving my house on bad terms.  Completely dejected, I went into my room, loaded the newly purchased CD into my stereo and began to look into the last option for a desperate man in desperate times; the US Army.

While half listening to the first few tracks, I began to realize that I would uproot everything in my life and join the military.  Now, four years later, this seems almost normal.  But at that time, I shocked my friends and family by doing this.  I changed everything I knew in my life and found a new path.  While going through all of this a track title “Army” happened to come on, where the first lyric is, “Well, I thought about the Army, Dad said song you’re fucking high.”  I couldn’t believe it.  The song chronicled exactly what I was dealing with at the time.  I immediately restarted the CD and listened front to back.  This album touched me deeply on a personal and emotional level and I still consider it to be a masterpiece.  The song “Mess” brings back a startling rush of emotions and other tracks, like “Narcolepsy” are musically so similar to the best songs of Queen, it’s ridiculous.

Most importantly, Mr. Folds had me.  I was now a convert and musically obsessed.

Step 3 – Completing the Discography – Over the next couple of years, I picked up, and loved the entire Ben Folds catalogue.  From the “punk rock for sissies” Ben Folds Five debut, to the newest (at the time) Way to Normal, Ben’s fourth solo release, I couldn’t get enough.  His songs ranged from straight ahead rockers like “Song for the Dumped,” to extremely touching ballads on topics such as a fighter in his twilight years.  I could relate to every song on some level, I could feel confident that there was enough musical talent to justify my love and at the same time, enough pop sensibility that I could play the song around ladies, and they wouldn’t have the same visceral reaction as when I’d throw on my Bolt Thrower discs.  I now owned the collection.  But I couldn’t just stop there.

Step 4 – Completing the Discography (the collector’s version) – When you go all in on an artist, there is never enough material to satisfy you.  There is no EP too obscure, no live disc you can pass up and no bootleg not worth having.  Luckily for us Ben Folds’ fans, he has enough oddball releases to get us through for quite some time.  Besides a disc of live tracks and rarities, he has several EPs, a side project which features William Shatner, acapella tributes, and a live album just featuring Ben on a piano.  I can only hope your musical crush gets you as far as mine did.

Step 5 – The New Release – If you are all in on an artist, you are going to pick up whatever they put out, as soon as it comes out.  Ben Folds has continually put out new music nearly every year for the last eight years, so it’s a bit of a boom time for me.  But, whenever I hear a new Ben Folds release is going to hit, I get giddy.  I ponder the direction, artwork, lyrics and everything else and I check YouTube for snippets of new songs.  Greatest Hits coming out?  No problem, I’ll take the 3-disc deluxe version!  Got an experimental collaboration coming out with a British author?  Shit yeah!   And this proclivity to purchase an artists’ material immediately upon release also leads to our next step…

Step 6 – Defend at all Costs – Upon putting this much time and effort into an artist, you pretty much tell yourself they can do no wrong.  Was the aforementioned release where Ben Folds did an album with author Nick Hornsby his best release?  Probably not, but I still found so many redeeming qualities in it and eventually fell in love with it.  And you know what?  I’ll be completely honest, I am into Ben’s music so much at this point that even if he just read the Wall Street Journal for an hour and put it out, I’d still probably defend it to my friends and tell them how smart it was.

That’s the funny part about metalheads and our non-metal crushes.  We are taking a chance by putting ourselves out there and that puts us in a defensive place to begin with.  Shit on this music and we’ll fight back like a god damned grizzly bear.  You remember my pal who loves Morrissey?  He knows in his heart of hearts that Morrissey is a bit of douche and many of his actions and views are childish and reprehensible, but god damn it, he’s going to stick with him.  There is some nobility in this and I am there with my man, Mr. Folds, so just understand that.

Step 7 – Phone a Friend – The final and most futile of all the steps, this is where you try in vain to get all of your friends to see the same thing in this artist that you see.  You can’t imagine a world in which everyone doesn’t feel that “Fred Jones Pt. 2” is one of the saddest and most well written songs of all time.  You refuse to believe that your buddies don’t find the same humor in “Underground” that you do.  And you’ll always know that Ben Folds is the best thing to happen to pop music since the Beach Boys, even if your pals think you’re gay.

Conclusion  – In my last blog, I talked about the negative side of musical obsession.  This article is meant to be the ying, to that article’s yang.  Because, this obsession involves branching out of a comfort zone and opening yourself to new possibilities within music, which is really what its all about.

Who are your non-metal musical obsessions?

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First Impressions: Coheed and Cambria – The Aftermath Descension

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And so continues a segment, in which I will listen to an album for the first time and give my impressions of said album as I go through.  I will provide background information, a track by track review and then final thoughts.  Enjoy!

Background – Coheed and Cambria are one of my favorite bands.  They are essentially my generation’s Rush and combine a mix of hard hitting, progressive metal songs with a great songwriting sensibility.   The first offering in the “Aftermath” series pretty much blew, so I am not really sure of what to expect with part II, The Aftermath: Descension.  Will this be an album that redeems the band and gets me into them again, or will this be another let down.  Lets find out….

1) Pretelethal – We’ve got a lullaby/acoustic intro…sounds like King Crimson so far.  Things are getting heavier, but this song is very firmly rooted in “intro track territory.”  That is not necessarily a bad thing, but you know the law with intro tracks; their ultimate success or failure depends upon the following songs.  There certainly isn’t enough here in and of itself to make a great song.

2) Key Entity Extraction V: Sentry the Defiant – There are clear guitar tones, so this is already a step above anything on the Ascension album.  Ok, I am through the first chorus and this is a solid track.  Sounds like something that would be a solid track on the first couple of albums.  There is nothing mind blowing here, but there is solid structure and a pretty good chorus.  There are also some of those really nice backing guitar parts that Coheed are known for. All in all, this is better than any song on the Ascension album….good start guys.

3) The Hard Sell – This one kicks right in with a funky little verse, before going into a decent enough chorus.  Much like the last song, I am not blown away or feeling the need to listen to this one again, but its solid enough and would have worked well as a deeper cut on any of their previous albums.

Have I ever mentioned that I know nothing of the overarching storyline that connects all of Coheed’s music?  I am a huge fan of this band, but I have never taken the time to learn what in the hell they are singing about.  This is strange, because I usually dig pretty deep with bands.  But, honestly, I just take their songs and give them my own meaning, instead of trying to think about what I perceive to be a strange sci-fi based theme.  I bring this up, because there are weird spoken vocal effects after every song that probably would have some meaning if I knew what in the hell they were talking about.  But I don’t.

4) Number City – This is probably the only Coheed song I can think of that starts off with a baseline.  Ummm….electronic bass, a ska type guitar/beat thing going on and I am left utterly confused.  There are electronic drums too.  What in the hell is going on here????  The verses in this song sound like a half assed No Doubt/Finger Eleven ripoff. 

You notice how I didn’t even talk about the chorus?  That’s because its not worth mentioning.  It is almost as if Phil Collins took a dump and called it a chorus.  That’s about the nicest thing I can say about it.  I am sure this song is supposed to be interesting.  But, I am really disturbed and underwhelmed by this.  And the outro….they count from one to nine over and over again.  This fucking blows.

5) Gravity’s Union – Oh jesus…uber distorted guitar.  And not in a death metal kind of way, but in a you can’t make anything out kind of way.  I really despise that sound and no band, Metallica, Annihilator or even Coheed can make it work.  That aside, this song has a confusing, off-timed verse and forgettable chorus.  I’m going to get a bottle of water.

6) Away We Go – With an intro reminiscent of “Feathers,” off of Coheed’s best album, No World For Tomorrow, this one has potential, but the story will truly be told in the chorus.  DAMN IT.  Not a good chorus and some lame ass lyrics combined to make that chorus a pile ‘o poop.  This album is starting to enter some bad territory.  I am two thirds of the way through and I have only half liked two songs.  Is this the end of my relationship with Coheed?

7) Iron Fist – With a title like “Iron Fist,” this song may be the last hope for this album.  Guys, please don’t let me down.  Acoustic guitars, soft spoken lyrics and electronic drums; so far, this is more like a Michael Jackson fingerless glove than an iron first.  And it just stays like that for the rest of the god damned song!!!!!!!!!!  There’s nothing about this song to indicate an iron first.  This just sounds like music to go through menopause to.  I’m getting dangerously close to throwing this CD out the window and throwing some Morbid Angel on.  The lyrics at the end of this song got me physically upset.  I’m shaking right now.

8) Dark Side of Me – Another, slow tempo, crappy, forgettable song and I am left debating on if I ever liked this band at all.  If one of my friends, who have dealt with me gushing over this band for years heard this album, they’d challenge me to a duel.  I need a beer.

9) 2’s my Favorite 1 – Right off the bat, this is one of the lamest song titles I have ever seen before.  And guess what?  The crappy music, matches the crappy title.  Another weak ass, slow jam.  I am throwing my hands up, writing my conclusion and taking a shower. 

Conclusion – I haven’t heard an album that made me sweat it was so bad in a long time.  This makes three bad or mediocre releases in a row for the band.  I am a patient man and willing to give the benefit of the doubt most of the time, but Coheed and Cambria seem like a band without a direction right now.  Gone are the well written, prog-metal classics and in their place are whiny ass, electronically infused dog turds instead.  Coheed are being put onto the backburner.  If I hear great things about a future album, I’ll give it an honest shot, but this is the last time I rush to buy a new record that they put out.

 

 

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