First Impressions – Coheed and Cambria – The Aftermath Ascension

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This is my review of the first of the two “Aftermath” albums by Coheed and Cambria.  Look for the second installement on Monday.

Background – Coheed and Cambria are one of my favorite bands.  They are essentially my generation’s Rush, combining a mix of hard hitting, progressive metal songs with a great songwriting sensibility.  However, their last album Year of the Black Rainbow, proved largely lackluster.  That is not to say it didn’t have its moments, but as a whole failed to live up to expectations.

Now, Coheed has released their new album, The Aftermath: Ascension, which is the first of two albums, which follow the same storyline as their previous albums.  As a band, every album is a concept album, all of which tie to the same concept as their previous albums, though I will admit to having no idea what that concept is.  That all being said, I have high expectations going into this and I am really hoping for a bounce back album, so let’s go.

1) The Hollow – Ok, we start off with a music-box sounding intro, not dissimilar from many of the previous Coheed releases.  These spoken voices are pretty creepy…and this has a pretty creepy vibe in general.  Ok, let’s get to the album….

2) Key Entity Extraction I: Domino the Destitute – This intro is pretty bizarre…its one part Iron Maiden and one part Lollipop Guild.  I dig this off-timed verse, cool stuff, but we’ll see if it pays off in the chorus.  Well, that wasn’t bad and it was pretty catchy.  The distortion they are using on this song is pretty weird and almost sounds like Jimi Hendrix fuzz.  The last album almost felt too distorted and noisy, so I’m down with this less is more approach.

This bridge is really cool and really everything I’ve come to like about Coheed.  And what’s that, yep the gang chant, a staple in the band’s catalogue, going back to their second album.  And this is one of those choruses that are better every turn through the song.  If this track is any indicator, this could be a real return to form.  Great kick in the teeth to kick things off.

3) The Afterman – Do we have a Coheed and Cambria ballad here?  I think so.  This is sounding a lot like Joshua Tree era U2.  This is the kind of song which could seem really good, depending on how the rest of the album is.  On its own, this may not be the best, but if its put between two other good songs, then it could really tie things together.  This one will all depend on where they do with the next one.

4) Mothers of Men – This one started off a little weak, with the rocking little riff, but it picks up for the chorus.  They are using a little too much of the off-beat drumming for their verses so far, but the choruses are very strong and tie it all back together.  I will say though, that this song isn’t really strong enough to bring the previous track up.  This is a decent song, but not one I imagine myself coming back to a whole lot.

5) Goodnight, Fair Lady – This reminds me of a clean version of “The Suffering” from the band’s 4th album.  The lyrics and delivery are a little cheesy and they are using too many devices which they have come to rely on far too foten.  This sounds much more like classic Coheed than their previous effort, but the payoff isn’t nearly as good as the early albums.

6) Key Entity Extraction II: Holly Wood the Cracked – Right off the bat, this sounds like a strange Danzig track from the late 90s.  I don’t really like the distorted vocals or the overly fuzzy guitar.  Meh, this sounds more like a song you’d hear a local band play on a Friday night than anything else.  I do not care for this song at all.  This is getting annoying…this has to get better.

7) Key Entity Extraction III: Vic the Butcher – This one starts with some promise and is picking up speed; let’s see what they do here.  Damn it…there are parts to this song which could be cool, like when they open up during the chorus, but then they throw all of these annoying vocal moves and samples in…why is there a need for so much extra noise during these songs.  And the little syncopated “hang em up” line is not coming across well.  This song had a lot of potential, but ultimately doesn’t deliver.

8) Key Entity Extraction IV: Evagria the Faithful – This intro is pretty creepy sounding and gets me on edge, almost like it could be the music to the ending of “Requiem for a Dream.”  I like how it went from that weird intro/verse part to the open and resolved pre-chorus, nice transition….but no chorus yet….lets see where this goes.  Well, I guess that pre-chorus part is actually the chorus…fair enough.  I don’t know, this just goes on and on….this song needed a lot more.

9) Subtraction – A whole track with a weird heartbeat monitor effect on it.  In the middle of a good album this would be a cool track, but at the end of a bad album, this just upsets me further. Damn it.

Final Thoughts – Other than the second track, this album kind of blows.  I don’t know, I was really hoping for a great comeback album and instead I got this.  I can honestly say that I will hopefully never listen to this album again.  I’m bummed now and I’m going to go sit in the dark and think about what Coheed and Cambria did and didn’t do.  For shame guys, you are better than this.

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Dream Theater and the Dark Side of Musical Obsession

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Obsession is a dangerous beast.  I am too much of a macho shithead to ever visit a shrink, though if I did, I know they would tell me I have some issues.  You see, I have an obsession.  That obsession is music.  I know you’re thinking, “Don’t be an asshole, everyone is obsessed with music, what makes you so special?”  Well, my friend, good for you.  I can only hope to have other labored souls to share my torment with.  Because, my musical obsession takes me to a place where no man should go, a place so dark and lonely that I will die a downtrodden alcoholic because of it.  That place is Dream Theater.

Let me be clear about one thing right off the bat.  I cannot in clear conscience say that I even like Dream Theater all that much.  I rag on them all the time, I think Jordan Rudess will be convicted of picking up Malaysian school boys in a 1992 Econoline one day, that John Petrucci and his massive guns are even more of a joke than his over indulgent guitar playing, that Mike Portnoy is the most self-obsessed person this side of Scott Ian and that Nicki Minaj can carry a tune better than James Labrie.  As for the Asian guy, he’s ok.  But I digress; I have to, because even though I am not a Dream Theater fan, I own their entire catalogue!  Yeah, you heard me, that’s like 47 fucking CDs (compact discs for you young kids who insist on buying vinyl).  But it goes beyond that…so far beyond.

The year was 2000.  As a young metalhead, with dial-up internet, I did not have the luxury of hearing new music in any way other than spending the money I made working at the Amoco gas station on bands I had heard about in metal and guitar magazines.  As such, Dream Theater was a band that would always pop up.  Guitar nerds have long been known to have a real hard on for John Petrucci and my first exposure to Dream Theater came in an interview with guitar world.  They were pimping some new project they were doing with him at the time.  I read and found out about his bands and whatnot.  On a whim, I picked up the Dream Theater album Awake at my local Blockbuster Music (Kids, Wikipedia this.  Back in the early 2000s, we had to actually go to stores to buy music.  And CDs only cost a nickel….wait, they cost $19, but that’s neither here nor there).  I had made my first mistake…I liked the album.

Awake never blew me away; I just dug some of the songs, mostly “6:00” and “Caught in a Web.”  To this day, I still think album and songs are pretty good.  Around the same time, a friend of mine really got into prog-metal and he was always playing Dream Theater when I was around.  It did not take me long to realize I would never be as into this band as him.  Their songs were 90 minutes long, without being interesting, their vocalist, the aforementioned James Labrie, never sat well with me and I was deep into a death metal phase and could care less about what I conceived to be sissy music.

There was one exception though.  Dream Theater’s 1999 album, Scenes From a Memory really gripped me.  This concept album, which tells the story of a young man framed for murder, was awesome!  The songs were great, the musicianship while not only being top notch, was also very tasteful and I loved this thing front to back.  I still consider this Dream Theater’s only great album.  I bought the album, I bought the live CD where they played the entire album live and I bought the DVD where they also played the entire album live….that last sentence captures Dream Theater entirely…god, they are so into themselves!  If only I had never liked this album.  If only….

Liking this album led me down my dark path of obsession.  In a series of tactical errors, the kind that would make Fredi Gonzalez gasp, I thought to myself, “Maybe I really do like Dream Theater.”  When they released their next album, 2002’s Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, I bought it right away.  This double disc featured one CD with a few songs on it and a second disc with one 42 minute long song.  The album sucks, except it had one track, “The Glass Prison,” which is one of the best metal songs ever written.  I would throw on the CD, just to listen to this one song, every day for about two years.  During this time, Dream Theater put out another crappy album, Train of Thought, which I bought.  I also bought a couple of their mid-90s discs…which REALLY sucked.  I realized at this point, I was not a Dream Theater guy.  I mean, I owned five of their albums at this point and like one and a half of them.  Seeing as how this isn’t baseball, batting .300 did not bode well for the guys.

I could have stopped right there.  I could have bowed out and left Dream Theater to the AIMers (shout out to my ATL peeps!), but I didn’t.  I bought another DVD, a career retrospective, complete with commentary, in which they tell you what Starbucks coffee they ordered!  At this point I began to violently shit on Dream Theater whenever I could.  When a fan boy would pump up how intricate Jordan Rudess’ keyboard solos were, I would throw raw meat at him and perform voodoo curses on his future children.  And I use the pronouns him and his, because there is not one woman alive who is into Dream Theater.  If you have ever been to a Dream Theater show (I’ve been to three), you will know exactly what I am talking about.

And yet, I still didn’t stop.  I, by and large, hated Dream Theater and hated their fans even more, but I heard great things about 2005’s Octavarium, and my musical obsession, holding me with its heroin-esque grip, forced me to pick up the album at my local Best Buy.  I hated it.  And it was there, right there, where the person suffering from musical obsession proves themselves different from the rest of humanity.  While a normal person would simply say enough, the afflicted person can’t stop.  You see, I had most of their catalogue.  I had to get the rest.

Over the next several years, I bought it all.  I bought their dreadful first album, which has several laugh out loud moments.  I bought all of their newest works, one of which caused me to vomit profusely and call out of work for two months it was so bad.  I will admit, there were times, like the song “Pull Me Under,” where I would think it was all worthwhile, but mostly I just hated myself.  I attended Dream Theater Anonymous meetings and even got my six month chip.  I bought great albums, by real metal artists and thought I was well on my way to recovery.  After all, I had never bought 2009’s Black Cloud and Silver Linings.  But then, on a quiet Saturday afternoon in Clarksville, Tennessee, in a Hastings Entertainment store I saw a CD for sale and the price tag said $5.  In this state, this vulnerable, affordable state, I did something which caused me regret I will take to my grave.  I bought a James Labrie solo album.

I got into my car, cracked open the cellophane, sniffed the CD (all of those suffering from musical obsession do this) and broke down into tears.  You see, as bad as all of the other members in Dream Theater are, James Labrie is by far the worst.  He is a Canadian, first of all.  I know I have said this before, but the man really can’t sing.  His hair is constantly teased in an irritating way, he does not seem like he would be a cool guy to have a beer with, his mother is probably ugly and HE CAN’T SING!  I listened to the album.  It sucked.  But at this point, I was already done.  I gave into the inevitable.  Since this horrific event, I have bought the Liquid Tension Experiment albums, both of which were also on sale at Hastings, I got multiple Mike Portnoy side projects and I watched the insufferable YouTube series, where the band tried out a new drummer.  I accepted that as a man with a musical obsession, I had to have the collection complete, no matter the costs.

As of now, I am sitting in a room, 7,000 miles from home, surfing Amazon, with the latest Dream Theater release sitting in my cart.  To the rest of the world, I am a strong, confident man.  But my soul looks like Emperor Palpatine after fighting the Snakes on a Plane guy.  Inevitably, I will buy and not like the album.  I will continue to shit on Dream Theater and their fans whenever I get a chance, but I will never be whole, because Dream Theater will never die.  Long after its members have gone to prog-metal heaven, I will still be buying tribute and bootleg live albums, because I simply can’t help myself.

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Afghanistan: Insight into the Phases of Deployed Desperation

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There are many feelings you discover upon spending a year in Afghanistan.  There’s the depression that can only be felt when you’re forcibly separated from your loved ones.  There’s the sadness in seeing a country ripped apart by more years of war than you’ve been alive.  And there’s the anger that sets in when you realize that you feel like you have had all you can take and you still have 11 months to go.  But then there’s a different kind feeling….pure manic desperation.

For me, this desperation manifested itself in strange movie and music habits.  There is ready access to enough illegal downloads in Afghanistan to give Lars Ulrich a kidney stone.  There are hard drives sitting around, which mostly contain half-rate pornography, but which also contain endless amounts of movies and music.  Throughout many excavations of these hard drives, I found myself becoming a cliché of deployment. 

There are three phases of Afghan infused desperation.  First, you go through the Bad Movie Phase, second is the Bad 90s Band Phase and finally the Gross Out Phase.  Come with me on a journey into the mind of a man who hasn’t breathed clean air in months and has been kept at altitude far far too long.

The Bad Movie Phase – One of the major misconceptions about being deployed to Afghanistan is that you have a lot to do.  Sure, there are days where you work 18 hours and are out on the roads, seeing the beautiful countryside.  By and large, however, for POGs like me, are days where you sit at your desk, stare at the wall and count down the hours.  That being said, you run out of good movies to watch in about four weeks.

Now, most people raised in the ironic Family Guy era, where having an in depth knowledge of obscure cheesy 80s movies is only a YouTube click away, know and love any number of “bad” movies.  Actors such as Steven Seagal and Jean Claude Van Damme have clung to relevance due to their awesomely bad movies.  But in the Bad Movie Phase, you aren’t watching awesomely bad movies; you’re just watching bad movies.  And since military guys seem to have a never ending hard on for flicks which involve their profession, you find yourself inundated, even obsessed with really bad flicks about superhero soldiers.

I have watched Shooter three times!  Three fucking times.  I appreciate Mark Wahlberg as much as the next man, but good lord is this an awful movie.  Why have I watched it three times you ask?  I honestly can’t remember…but I can assure you that each time was by choice and of my own free will.  But it gets worse!  I have also watched Jarhead, I can quote Blackhawk Down, and I even willingly sat down for a second offering the dreadfully self-indulgent The Hurt Locker.  I mean seriously, “oh war is so hard and buying cereal was so hard, I had to go back to war….boo fucking hoo.”

I could easily watch The Godfather for the 500th time, or at least enjoy some cheesy horror franchises.  But no, deployment desperation has you in its icy grasps.  The only thing more horrifying is the fact that it gets worse.  After you have worn out every possible bad movie in the library, you go to a much darker place…

The Bad 90s Band Phase – In a recent Facebook discussion with a party who will remain unnamed for his own safety, I made a startling admission.  “I have something to tell you,” I nervously typed.  “I’m really digging this Crash Test Dummies album.”  My friend, another veteran simply said, “that happened to me too man.  I went through a big Spin Doctors phase.” 

With all of this free time and music on my hands, I could easily be getting more familiar with the catalogues of obscure Norwegian metal bands.  I could explore the works of Miles Davis or Merle Haggard.  But instead, I find myself listening to Fiona Apple’s When the Pawn… and the Third Eye Blind debut.  Even more terrifying is the fact that you not only listen to these albums, but thoroughly enjoy them.  It happens to every soldier, I assure you.  Right now, in Herat, there is an Air Force Colonel rocking out to Sister Hazel, in Kabul there is a contractor struggling to take All Saints off his iPod and in Kandahar, there is a young sergeant arguing about the merits of the deep cuts on the debut album by The Proclaimers.

There is no salvation for your actions.  Much like any atrocity of war, the general public simply looks the other way when it comes to an Army major singing “I Saw the Sign,” the incredibly hooky number by the vastly underrated Ace of Base.  But if the public only knew that this phase passed and much more sinister one took its place….

The Gross Out Phase – What happens when you take tens of thousands of lonely soldiers, all of which have seen every bad movie and are hopped up on the Goo Goo Dolls and then throw in open access to youtube?  A contest of sorts evolves.  Gone are the times when you surf the web for news stories, sports scores and email.  Instead, you and your counterparts enter into a contest to see who can find the most disturbing, horrifying videos imaginable.

I have seen men trying to insert numerous objects into places they do not belong, women try eating various concoctions and not throw up (they always fail) and more broken bones that I ever thought possible.  If freedom of speech and expression are among the rights we are supposed to be defending over here, nowhere is that more liberally taken than on the internet.  If you can dream it up, there is a video of it to be found on the web.  Want to see a human get eaten by an alligator?  No problem!  Want to see footage of various human atrocities?  You betcha!  No scene is too heinous and no act is too vile for this extreme phase of your Afghan experience.  And what makes it worse is that you always have to one up the next guy.  Word of mouth spreads fast and this vicious cycle never ends until someone throws up in their mouth or on their friend.  And if there is a camera handy, then you are only someone else’s fodder.

There is no defense of this malicious undertaking.  We could all be doing productive things, making the world better, but that’s simply not the reality.  When your loved one gets home, ask them.  I can guarantee you that at least 40 hours of their time overseas were spent in someone’s attempt to gross them out.  And if 40 hours doesn’t sound like a long time, try doing anything for that long.  And if you aren’t Sting and you aren’t having sex, then you’ll realize just how long that is.

Conclusion – A year spent in Afghanistan is one of the most memorable and intense experiences one can have in this life.  You go through thrilling highs and crushing lows.  Yet, it is in these three phases that your experience is truly solidified.  The day to day explosions/boredom/work pales in comparison to the scars that bad movies, bad 90s bands and gross out videos will have on me forever.  I have four months left.  Lets just hope there are no more of these scary phases left to go.

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First Impressions – Helloween – Straight Out of Hell

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And so continues a new 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 – Helloween are the greatest power metal band in the world.  As I chronicled in a post earlier this year, these guys have consistently persevered through lineup changes, shifts in popularity and subtle changes to their style, to remain at the top of the power metal genre.  Straight out of Hell follows up the fantastic 2010 release, 7 Sinners, and sees the band return with a lineup, largely unchanged for almost 10 years.* This consistency in lineup has allowed a greater level of contribution across the board, as the liner notes inform us that every band member has contributed to the songs here, whereas singer Andi Deris has written much of the material on the last several albums. 

*This is only the second album for drummer Dani Löble, though everyone else is unchanged.

Will a more varied level of band contribution make this another solid release from Helloween?  Will this album be as balls out heavy as their last album?  As these guys have settled well into middle age, they have only gotten heavier and better.  A new Helloween album is always a great event in my household, so I am very pumped to start listening to this thing.

1) Nabatea – Whereas 7 Sinners started off with a slow groovy track that is not the case here.  This Andi Deris pinned tune kicks right in with the power/thrash speed that we have come to expect of recent Helloween releases.  I like this chorus, though I’m not blow away by it.  It uses somewhat of a strange melody on the opening “AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH Nabatea,” which is interesting, but doesn’t resolve the melody as well as I’d like.

After the second chorus, we go into an interesting slow down section with a solid heavy guitar behind it, but where they go from here will make or break this song….and um….its decent I guess, a solid guitar harmony melody, even if once again, I’m not blown away.  And this is getting strange.  Structurally, this one is all over the place, all the while trying to incorporate these chords progressions which aren’t typical for Helloween.  They went to a breakdown section, fast again, then a clean section and then the best part of the song comes at almost six minutes in, the end of the bridge before the last chorus. 

All in all, a pretty cool track, but not overpowering…the mid-eastern vibe just never allowed this one to totally come together.

2) World of War – Yes!  You can tell right off the bat you’re in for a classic Helloween jam here.  Those guitar melodies to start things off just have me feeling good.  What in blazes????  This one changed very fast into an almost Symphony X styled verse, extremely heavy with a lot of double bass.  This one was written by youngest member, guitarist Sascha Gerstner, so it has a bit more of a modern feel to it.  This is really unlike any Helloween song I’ve ever heard.  If you were to just listen to the verses, you’d never know you were listening to Helloween at all.  The chorus sounds like a classic power metal offering and is cool and the solo/bridge is pure melodic awesomeness!  All in all a cool, if different song for the band.

3) Live Now! – This track, co-written by Deris and Gerstner is a mid-tempo rocker, which is somewhat forgettable upon first listen.  About halfway through this track, I was hitting my spell check and completing the listing of the tracks on the album.  Not a terrible song, but I really was not moved by it at all. 

4) Far From the Stars – Now we’re talking! Bassist, Marcus Grosskopf, gets his first credit and provides us with a track which is classic Helloween.  You have an awesome melodic opening, a great heavy verse and a huge open sing along chorus.  This is everything you want in a Helloween song and sounds a lot like the class “Keeper’s Era” of the band.  It is songs like this where Helloween are at their best.

5) Burning Sun – This Michael Weikath penned tuned starts off with a nice guitar melody and some heavy riffing.  In what is reminiscent of some of the mid-90s Helloween-era tracks, this one is heavy and melodic at the same time.  The chorus doesn’t quite pay off as well as I would like, but this is still a pretty decent track.

6) Waiting for the Thunder – The guys slow things down a bit on this track, adding a piano to the main guitar riff.  The lyrics here are pretty terrible though, with additions like “sometimes I am tough and bold, just sometimes I am frightened.  Sometimes I’m dull and cold, sometimes I’m enlightened.”  The cheesy lyrics, combined with a song which honestly just doesn’t do much, makes this one a bit of a dud.

7) Hold Me In Your Arms – This one starts off with an acoustic guitar and has the feel of a ballad coming.  Following right after another slow track, I would question the logic of putting this one here on the album.  And sure enough, we have a pure ballad here.  Another rather forgettable track…the lyrics are corny and the chorus doesn’t salvage anything else in this song.  Meh.

8) Wanna Be God* – Dedicated to Freddie Mercury –  Fascinating.  I never would have figured Helloween to write a tribute to Freedie Mercury, so this should be something.  Umm…this one is largely drums and vocals.  The lyrics are pretty terrible and the chorus made me laugh.  I have no idea what they were trying to accomplish here and I also have no idea how this relates to Freddie Mercury.  Bad, bad track.

9) Straight out of Hell – Grosskopf is gonna try and save the album here.  While being largely predictable, this is a good, fun song, which has a nice opening melody and good chorus.  You will not be blown away by this track, but it’s a solid offering nonetheless.

10) Asshole – Maybe letting Gerstner write so many songs wasn’t a good idea.  This is another track which doesn’t really sound much like Helloween.  The pre-chorus is kind of cool and it is heavy, but what we really end up with is another forgettable track.  And while Helloween have never been known for having incredibly thought provoking lyrics, the choice of words in this chorus is incredibly laughable.  The inclusion of the words Asshole and Mother Fucker just made me laugh out loud.  I can’t wait to play this for my buddies and see if they laughed like I did.  Pretty bad song.

11) Years – This is a really strange song.  It has all the elements of a great Helloween song, but it fails to deliver on all levels.  Taken individually, all the parts are here to have a fantastic song, but when put together, this one just left me scratching my head.  I’m starting to think this album is really a bust.

12) Make Fire Catch the Fly – Another boring track.  Once again, this one has the elements which should make it a great song, but I was left doing Wikipedia research two minutes into the thing.  I just heard the chorus to this song and I have already forgotten it.  Damn it!

13) Church Breaks Down – A solid offering to close things out.  This one is heavy and fast, even if the chorus leaves a lot to be desired.  Despite its faults, this is probably one of the best tracks on the album.  What disappoints me is, this song would have been among the worst songs on the last album.  You win some and you lose some I guess

Conclusion – Shit.  I hate to admit this, but I am completely underwhelmed by Straight out of Hell.  I guess I can’t really complain too much, as Helloween hasn’t had a misstep since 1993.  You could certainly do a lot worse than this album, but coming off one of the band’s strongest releases, I certainly had high expectations.  All in all, if you are a serious fan of the band, pick this one up.  If not, there are so many other releases you could go with to get you into these guys.  2/5

 

 

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Four Forgotten Sports Teams

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In the day and age of the 24 hour news cycle, which encapsulates the world of sports, just as it does the news media, it is a wonder that we would ever miss anything.  It would seem that no story is too small to escape.  Of course to a point that’s true….of certain teams or entities.  If Dwight Howard is overly flatulent after eating a pre-game meal, ESPN will spend no shortage of hours covering the event.  Same for the rest of the upper-echelon of the drama-filled, cash cow that are ESPN’s favorite topics, i.e. Tim Tebow, Manti T’eo, RGIII, or teams like the Lakers, Knicks or Eagles.

However, a friend and I recently had a discussion about the long term frontcourt issues which would face the Milwaukee Bucks.  What begat this conversation was actually seeing the Bucks on SportsCenter, a pretty rare occurrence.  We both mentioned how average fans could easily forget that certain teams exist.  Me, I am not what you would call an average fan, but it got me thinking…are there teams I completely forget about?  Absolutely!  From those ignore by the mainstream sports media, to those mired in a long spell of mediocrity, even in this day and age, entire franchises can fly below the radar.  Below are my four completely forgotten sports teams. 

1) Seattle Mariners – In 1995, I was in the 6th grade and the Seattle Mariners were the shit.  This young team, headlined by the likes of Ken Griffey Jr. had it all; cool new uniforms, a young team, a dominant ace and most of all, a winning record.  When I wasn’t the Braves, I always played as the Mariners on World Series Baseball ’95.  This team had the aforementioned Griffey, Randy Johnson, Edgard Martinez, the psychopathic Jay Buhner and others

Today’s Mariners are a sad shell of those glory days.  Gone are the A-Rods and Ichiros and in their place are bunch of schlubs you’ve never heard of.  Off the top of my head, I will try and name as many Mariners as I can….lets see…Felix Hernandez, that guy who is really good on defense in centerfield, um, Guerrerez or Gutinez or something like that, Chode Figgins and that catcher they got in the Yankees trade.  Seriously…that’s it for me.  I follow baseball religiously and can’t tell you anything about these guys.  They are a bad team, completely obscured in a very good division and they produce no offense at all.

I dare you without looking, right now, to name as many Mariners as you can.  If you get more than six, I will send you an autographed copy of my new book, “People Who Are Liars: Those Who Claim They Know Any Seattle Mariners.”  I bet you Felix Hernandez couldn’t even tell you six guys on his own team.

2) Toronto Raptors – When will the sports world realize that Canada has not, nor ever will do anything to deserve a sports team.  What made people think, “oh yeah, those whitebread cooks in winterland will love going to see giant African Americans play a game, which not a single Canadian this side of Steve Nash cares about or understands.”  American cities like Las Vegas, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Nashville do not have NBA teams, but Toronto does?  Get out of my face!

Vince Carter and “that other guy who plays in Miami,” are THE list of basketball players from the Toronto organization that have mattered in the NBA landscape.  Sure, I love watching Jose Calderon play the point and DeMar DeRozan has a lot of capital letters in his name, but if the Raptors fell of the face of the earth right now, would anyone even notice?  I would say no.  What are the Raptors most famous for?  They are the team whom Kobe scored 81 on.  Oh, and they may be on record as having the most ridiculous uniforms in NBA history.

Which will lead me to my final point regarding the Toronto Raptors; how did a team from Toronto get the name Raptors?  I do not know the history of this and I simply would never want to.  In my mind, it is because Jurassic Park did so well here, it was a move they had to make.  And when you think about it, what other options did they have?  The Toronto Corny Accents?  The Hosers?  The Dan Akroyds?

3) Jacksonville Jaguars – It takes a special kind of skill to be forgotten in the NFL, which makes the Jaguars impressive in their own special way.  I mean, even the fucking Chiefs get an occasional sports center nod.

Once a fun, young team, coached by a even then old ass Tom Coughlin, the Jags made the AFC Championship game in only their second season.  They had a shit hot young quarterback in Mark Brunnel, an awesome receiver in Keenan McCardell and their uniforms looked pretty cool too.  After a nice little run with a few visits to the playoffs, the Jags fell off, drafted Byron Leftwich and have been MIA every since.  I mean, sure they have the occasional playoff appearance(though they probably won’t for a long time now), but even when they do make it to television, it is pretty hard to watch.  Doctors have proven that watching the Jaguars play football has been known to cause 17% of all American comas and may be linked to Lupus too.  I dare you, no DOUBLE DOG dare you to sit through a Jags game.

4) The NHL – At various points in my life I have tried giving a shit about hockey.  The first was when I got the excellent video game NHL ’95 for my Sega Genesis.  I would always play as the Hartford Whalers, cause I thought they had a cool name and would have a blast.  I figured if the game was this good, then real life hockey would be awesome.  I watched a game on TV and still have never gotten those two hours of my life back.  So I gave up and just played the game.

Then Hockey came to Atlanta.  I went to Thrashers games and enjoyed them.  Any live event can be made into a good time.  But, like most of Atlanta, I never bought into it.  Our team sucked and mostly, I just didn’t care.  It was fucking hockey… the sport with a 17 month season and too many dudes with too many vowels in their names.

A month after this NHL season got shortened by yet another labor dispute, I found out.  I literally had no idea the season was on hold.  According to the internet, there are teams in Columbus, Ohio and Minnesota.  Good for them, I guess.  For this guy’s money, hockey is something meant to be enjoyed in video games exclusively.


And so, there’s my list.  Who would you add?

 

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First Impressions – Holy Grail “Ride the Void”

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And so continues a new 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!

BackgroundHoly Grail, from Pasadena, California is a part of the new wave of retro-thrash bands coming out in the last few years.  This heavy metal retrofitting has been a gift and a curse to the genre, as often times the bands never surpass the original material in which they are imitating.  Yet, out of the muck has come some great bands, such as Municipal Waste and In Solitude, so there’s always a chance you’ll uncover a hidden gem.

It is due to a highly favorable review at one of my staples, metal-rules.com, that I picked up their new album, Ride the Void, which was released by Prosthetic Records on January 22nd.  The review states that this is pretty much “a perfect thrash album.”  I look forward to hearing this, as great new bands are tough to come by.

1) Archeus – We’ve got an interesting little vocal/clean guitar intro going here. OK, throw in some distortion and a tasty guitar melody and we’re hopping now.  Oh boy!  We’re getting some minor harmonies thrown into the mix.  At only two minutes long, it looks like we’re in for an instrumental opener.  Fuck yeah…this is awesome so far…great solo to go along with some backing vocals.  Awesome intro to kick things off.

2) Bestia Triumphans – This one kicks off with a vocal/guitar intro.  Oddly enough, vocalist James Paul Luna sounds a lot like Chris Jericho of Fozzy.  As a matter of fact, this track sounds like it could be on one of the more recent Fozzy releases.  This track has fairly cool verses, in which guitarists, Eli Santana and Alex Lee really show off their chops.  The chorus is catchy and all in all a good, if not great song.  This is one of those songs which will be better if the album as a whole is great.  Time will tell.

Holy shit!  I got done writing for this song and they went into a pretty badass solo/post-solo section….totally remade me think the whole song.  The chorus starts off a little slow, but really kicks in and then it goes into a fantastic breakdown and the final chorus really meshed well with that solo part.  I like this song a lot more now.

3) Dark Passenger – It creeps me out how much this dude sounds like Chris Jericho.  More polished and more talented in the vocal department, but the reminders are there. This one starts with a solid mid-paced gallop.  Yet, even with a solid chorus, this one isn’t as good as the two opening tracks.  That being said, the guitarists grow on me more with every song.  Every solo is tasteful and a lot of fun to listen to.  You can tell these guys really gel with each other….great stuff!  Great outro too!  Man, this is twice I think I’m done with a song and they come strong at the end.

4) Bleeding Stone – An Exodus-like intro kicks this one off.  I really like how this vocalist just sings and doesn’t try to switch styles to a growl and screech.  Too many bands today try and mix too many genres and things get so muddled.  Luna can sing his ass off and a good vocalist is something sorely lacking from a lot of today’s metal bands.  This song starts off at a slower tempo with some killer riffs and then goes into an awesome thrashy middle-section, with once again, badass guitars.  Wow…ole boy at metal-rules may have been spot on with this one.  Each song keeps getting better!

5) Ride the Void – Well well…the slow acoustic intro.  We knew it was coming….but what does it lead to?  FUCKING YEAH MAN!  I thought I was going to be stuck with a ballad.  Not here, my friends, it’s a thrasher!  I would like to mention here that I really appreciate that these songs are short and to the point (none check in at over 5:30 minutes), yet they all get their points across.  No four minute solo breaks, no super extended intro, just straight to the point metal.  This song has another great chorus.  I keep waiting for one of these tracks to miss a step, but it ain’t happening so far.

6) Too Decayed to Wait – A lot of soloing kicks this one off.  This is an old school thrasher with a nice half-time chorus which really delivers.  I’ll tell you, halfway through this thing and this is the album I’ve needed for a long time.  I bitch all the time that no newer bands just put out an album with great songs, awesome vocals and no agenda.  These guys are just what the doctor ordered.  By the way, back to the song, this one has a very cool bridge, before going right back and thrashing til the end.

7) Crosswinds – Well shit, I have to nit-pick somewhere don’t I?  Well, here it goes.  The vocals don’t exactly match up with the super thrashy riff in the intro.  But that’s seriously looking for flaws in a diamond, because this song rocks and has the best chorus so far.  This track reminds me of some of the newer Masterplan albums.  Hmmm…a little death metal part before it goes into another sweet solo…I can dig it!

8) Take it to the Grave – Damn it!  Every time I think “oh, this is good, but not as good as the rest of the album,” they’ll hit me with a chorus or solo or something that totally sucks me in.  This is a fast track with a really interesting chorus.  This chorus is almost like if X Factor was a great Maiden album instead of a turd.  That kind of feel though.  And I keep saying it, but these solos are so tasty!  Very good and intricate, without going on forever, every solo has a really cool rhythm part which underlies it and has used outstanding harmonies.

9) Sleep of Virtue – OK.  This one has a ballad sounding intro!  Is this the track which finally brings them down?  Not a shot!  Instead of staying with a ballad, they just go into an awesome guitar melody.  These dudes rule!  I’m nine tracks in and I already can’t wait to start listening to this album again.  Sleep of Virtue is another great track, with another great chorus.  I have failed to mention how good this band is at pre and post choruses as well.  Each pre-chorus is unique and ties into the song a different way.  And the post-chorus usually involves a great melody either by the vocalist or the guitarist.  I am man crushing on this band so hard right now!   And just to prove how much they own me, they go to the ballad part again, before kicking my ass with another chorus.

10) Silence the Scream – This intro riff is rad as fuck!  I swear to god, eventually I’m going to run out of nice things to say about these guys, but I like it so much.  I am definitely going to annoy all of my friends and make them listen to this album until they buy it.  Probably the weakest song on the album so far and it still absolutely kicks ass.

11) The Great Artifice – I’m not sure what an Artifice is, but I would imagine it has something to do with another consistently good thrash metal tune.  And this fucking solo bro….whoah!  I haven’t heard harmonies this good in such a long time.

12) Wake Me When It’s Over – An acoustic instrumental track which leads us into the final song.  This album has delivered in every way possible.  Now we only need to close it out to get the coveted 5/5, A+ rating.  God I hope these guys do well enough and don’t break up.  I’m so excited about this last track….lets go….

13) Rains of Sorrow – Starts off slow, building on the acoustic piece.  Kind of interesting, as there is some use of keyboards and a more synthetic bass sound…certainly more progressive than the rest of the album.  This pre-chorus is really good, now for the chorus…what will they do.  Ok…so I’ll admit, that chorus didn’t blow me away.  But hell, if you want to throw something a little more experimental, the end of the album is a fine place to do it.  And this song isn’t bad, by the way, just a little slower, moodier and doesn’t hit me as hard as the rest of the songs.

Conclusion – It’s hard to say that an album will be “Album of the Year” in January, but it is going to be tough to top this one.  I am seriously going to finish this review, post to wordpress, and then go right back and listen to this again.  And I want to make one thing clear; I don’t really get the “retro” labeling with these guys.  This is just a straight up thrash/heavy metal band.  The production is fantastic, the music shows influences, but does not rip off any bands and there is enough of a modern edge for this to really stand on its own. 

Ride the Void blew me away, through and through.  I am going to go back and pick up anything this band has released.  As I said earlier, if you want a great metal band, with incredible guitars, a talented vocalists and enough hooks to keep you coming back for months, then this is the album for you.

5/5 A+++

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First Impressions: Steve Harris – British Lion

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And so continues a new 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 – Steve Harris has been Iron Maiden’s bassist and principle songwriter for more than 30 years.  He is best known for his galloping bass style and ferocious stage presence.  More recently, he’s known for putting his bass too high in the mix and for his attractive, yet talentless daughter.

It is with some trepidation that I go into solo albums, particularly by anyone other than the singer of a band.  Time and time again, I have picked up albums by guitarists, drummers, and bassists, nearly all of which have been disappointing.  Glenn Tipton, GZR, Echobrain have been but a few of the terrible albums put out by various non-frontmen.  However, this is Steve Harris and a cast of nobodies and the album is called “British Lion,” and so I figure I owe it to the guy to at least give it a shot.  Three questions I always ask when listening to solo albums:

1)      How does it compare to his main body of work?

2)      Is it stylistically any different than everything else they’ve done?

3)      Should this person consider a true solo career?

We’ll see how these questions get answered with Steve Harris.  Here we go!

1) This is my God – Well, one thing is at least apparent.  Steve Harris still doesn’t know how to properly mix an album.  Richard Taylor has a pretty clean and almost has a Chevelle-esque vocal style.  The guitars aren’t really doing anything and sounds pretty sludgy…but not in a good sludge way…I mean a sloppy sludge way. 

This song isn’t bad, but it’s really not good either.  It sounds like the kind of track that would play in a 90s comedy when they are doing the pan shot as we meet our characters in a bar shooting pool.

2) Lost Worlds – I mean, come on….these guitars sounded like they were recorded by me…and I have no idea how to record guitars.  This is Kevin Shirley, legendary Iron Maiden producer here.  He couldn’t get a better guitar sound than this?  As for the song, it has been on for over two minutes and I forgot all about it.  I’m more focused on this killer game of Vegas-style solitaire I have open right now….seriously.

3) Karma Killer – One thing I’ll at least give Steve Harris credit for is trying something different.  This album sounds nothing like Maiden, which is a commendable thing.  This song is a relatively interesting track, in 6/8 time, which kind of sounds like The Verve Pipe.  That is not to say I would ever be interested in hearing this song again, but for one listen, it is ok.

4) Us Against the World – Well, this intro sounds a lot like Iron Maiden actually and it’s the best thing I’ve heard on the album so far.  Although, a minute in and I am left wondering how much better this would be with Bruce Dickinson singing.  I also wonder how much better this song would be with two badass guitarists playing on it, instead of Steve’s drinking buddies.  This is a pretty cool song all in all though, so I’ll give credit where it’s due.

5) The Chosen Ones – This is corny as hell.  When the vocalist hit with the “Come On,” I laughed out loud.  The pre-chorus is pretty catchy, but this lame ass chorus kind of ruined the vibe.  And the bass is so up front in the mix that you are left scratching your head at the whole thing.  And did I mention this is a cheesy song?  From the lyrics, to the half assed guitar solo, you feel like this is the exact kind of song which would have benefited from a healthy dose of Adrian and Bruce helping Steve write.

6) A World Without Heaven – This intro sounds like “Shot in the Dark,” by Ozzy, right down to the vocal melody in the first verse.  And it appears that the resemblance to a mediocre Ozzy song is the only redeeming quality this song has.  Damn.  When a twin guitar melody can’t save a song, you know you’re in bad shape.

7) Judas – If this album had been produced better, and was mastered as to be so quiet, that intro could have been pretty rocking….but it wasn’t.  Oh, this is a jaded love song, where the woman is the Judas here.  She really upset Steve and inspired him to write some pretty awful lyrics….dirty concubine.

8) Eyes of the Young – Hey Steve, Mott the Hoople called and they want their B-Side back.  Never did I think I would have to compare Steve Harris to such a low standard, but here we are.  This song is making want to get a copy of the worst Iron Maiden album and frame it and perform some kind of strange voodoo ritual in its presence.

9) These are the Hands – zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

10) The Lessson – An orchestra to start things off….could be a sign of a great song to end the album.  But no, all we have is a lame ass four minute ballad.  That is pretty ballsy, as I cannot recall a single Iron Maiden ballad, and this is outside the box.  But if you are going to go outside the box, at least write a track that kicks ass, not this pile of turds.

Final Thoughts – This album pretty much sucks.  It also goes a long way to carry on a fine tradition of bad solo albums by guitarists/bassist/drummers.  As for my questions, it pales in comparison to his huge body of work, which is ok, cause his body of work is pretty amazing.  There are moments reminiscient of Maiden, but this is not a mockery of his own style, so I will once again give him credit for that.  And as for the final question….NO, please just stick to Iron Maiden, Mr. Harris.  Do yourself a favor and go buy the Bruce Dickinson solo collection instead of wasting a cent on this one.

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