Sunday, April 29, 2012

Reviews and Corrections March-April

I'll likely be too busy to write this tomorrow, so I'm going to go ahead and do it now. Also, I know this has been a slow month for my reviews. There are several things which just came out that I plan to review but haven't had a chance to listen to yet, so hopefully over the coming weeks I'll get some of those done.


Dyscarnate - And So It Came to Pass (death metal, Grade: A-)
Naglfar - Téras (melodic black/death metal, Grade: B)
Svartby - Elemental Tales (folk metal, Grade: B+)

March Corrections:


(A) means I loved this album. An album does not have to be absolutely perfect to get an "A" grade from me, but it does need to really stand out as something special.

(A-) means the album was excellent, and I really enjoyed it. There are just a few flaws which stop me from giving it the top grade.

(B+) means the album was very good. Usually this grade means it was an otherwise fantastic album with one major flaw that I couldn't get past, or it was very strong but lacked the real "it factor" impact of a great album.

(B) means it was a good, solid album.

(B-) means it was a good solid album, but I have a gripe of some kind with it.

(C+) means this was an okay album, nothing worth going out of your way to get.

(C) means the album was mediocre.

(C-) means the album was weak, but not offensively bad.

(D+) means the album was pretty bad, but it had some small redeeming factor.

(D) means the album was bad.

(D-) means the album was really bad.

(F) means the album was absolutely horrible and I hated it. I would play it on a loop to torture my enemies.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

It's over 9000!

I just noticed that my blog's views have passed 9000, and since I'm a dweeb I couldn't resist the opportunity to drop such an overused meme.

Admittedly, 9000 total views is not very high, but who cares?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Dyscarnate - And So It Came to Pass

Wow. I'd never heard of this English death metal trio until I listened to this album, which they released back in February. It's the band's second full-length, and after hearing this I think I'll have to go check out their 2010 album as well.

This record comes at the listener in a full-on aural assault. It's got stylistic roots in old school death metal, but amped up with a level of ferocity you just don't hear in those old records. There are also occasional examples of modern flair, like the odd echo on a vocal line here and there, that help to stylistically establish this as individual and independent from its older influences.

I'm tempted to call this brutal death metal because of the sheer power it packs, but the sound doesn't fit the Suffocation clone style I typically associate with the "brutal" label. Regardless of the exact tag you stick to it, this is heavy as hell. The drumming is relentlessly fast, though it is a little bit low in the mix in some places. The beefy guitar drives the songs with solid riffs that avoid excessive complexity but don't fall into simplistic power-chord chugging either. There are some breakdowns scattered throughout the record, but they are used sparingly and appropriately.

Overall, though, greatest virtue of this record is the vocal attack. Slightly deeper than mid-range, the vocals are savage and powerful. All too often the heavier end of death metal is filled with what amounts to inarticulate burping, so focused on reaching the lowest possible register that power and quality go right out the window. Instead of falling prey to that common malady, Dyscarnate's joint vocalists roar into the microphone with all the violence and aggression that death vocals are meant to have, while still clearly sticking to actual lyrics.

The entire package is pulled together with production that is just right, neither too murky nor too polished. With the very minor exception of the occasionally-too-quiet drums, everything in this album's production sounds great. Stylistically, it balances new and old just as effectively as it balances heaviness with structure. There are a few places where they tread dangerously close to deathcore, like in the less-than-stellar "Seizure", but they never quite cross that line.

As a side note, I like their choice of album cover art. It's nice to see something that looks like it belongs on a death metal album without looking like something you've already seen a million times.

Grade: A-
Excellent modern death metal from a relatively young band. So long as they don't find themselves drifting further into deathcore territory on future releases, Dyscarnate could be a really outstanding death metal band for years to come.

[Edit: The original video I had here was removed, so I selected a new one.]

Nerdy WoW List

I like World of Warcraft. I like lists, especially totally arbitrary and pointless lists. Thus, it seemed logical to combine these two to create a totally arbitrary and pointless list based on WoW. For a long time I've been caught up on the aesthetics of the race/class combination. For those of you who don't play, there are currently 12 races which players can choose from when they create characters, and there are 10 different classes a character can be. Each race can be any one of about 7 of those classes, though the exact number available varies from one to the next. Anyway, back to my point. When making a new character, the two most important initial decisions are the race and class you will play, as your appearance, abilities, starting area, and general game play experience will be shaped primarily by those two factors. Thus, those decisions should be made carefully.

While it is true that every race/class combination in the game is perfectly playable at all levels, there are some which seem "better" than others. Part of this is the right blend of racial bonuses and abilities that compliment a given class. A bigger part, to me, is whether or not the two feel right together. For example, an Orc can be a rogue. But a beefy, muscular barbarian sneaking around quietly like a ninja just doesn't seem quite right.

With this basic idea in mind, I set out to make a list of the ten "best" race/class combinations. I basically looked at a combination of the feel and suitability, the standing within the game's community and lore, my personal preferences, and the functionality of special attributes and bonuses. I then asked my best friend and each of my siblings (since all of them play the game) to compose similar lists, using their own criteria. That produced a total of 5 lists between us. I then took those lists and used them in combination to form a collective list of the top 10 race/class combinations.

Keep in mind (for those of you who play the game) that this is mostly based on our personal ideas about what feels right. It's not a judgment of what is statistically optimal. So with that, here is our list.


#10. Tauren Warrior

#9. Troll Druid

#8. Troll Hunter

#7. Undead Warlock

#6. Orc Death Knight

#5. Dwarf Hunter

#4. Orc Warrior

#3. Troll Shaman

#2. Night Elf Druid

#1. Human Paladin

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Svartby - Elemental Tales

A Russian group who released their debut album in 2007, Svartby are the type of bouncy, almost clownish, folk metal band that is almost impossible to take seriously. If the album's cover art is any indication, though, they don't care. They're just having a good time, and they're taking you along for the ride. The music's lighthearted nature may be off putting to more serious metalheads, but for those of us who just want to kick back with a beer and be entertained, this album is an absolute pleasure.

The folk instruments really take center stage on this record. Rather than being accents that enhance the sound, they are instead right at the core of the songs. They are all simulated on keyboards, and since the production is very clean anyway, this can cause the music to come across as a bit sterile and electronic. Additionally, the simulated organ can get a bit circus-like in places. The overall sound of the riffs and guitar tone is derived more from power metal than from the black metal where most similar music has its roots. This moves the album even further from the cold northern wastes of the Vikings. The vocals are primarily mid-range death metal growls, which do add a little bite, though not enough to make this sound really heavy.

In summation, it's a purist's nightmare. If you're looking for organic orchestration, tastefully minimal folk instrumentation, or bloody northern brutality then you'll have to look elsewhere. If, on the other hand, you don't take yourself or your music too seriously and you just want to listen to something light and fun, you will probably enjoy this. The best comparison I can think of is Alestorm, but without all the pirates.

Grade: B+
Fun, bouncy, and entertaining. Elitists, purists, and snobs will hate it. Clowns and goofballs will love it. The rest will have to hear it for themselves to see what they think.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Naglfar - Téras

Naglfar are a Swedish group in the melodic black/death metal vein, and they have been around since the early 90s. Just last month they released their first new album in five years, Téras. Since Naglfar was one of the first extreme metal bands I got into back when I was finding my own musical niche, I was excited to hear what this new record had to offer.

With this return, Naglfar have taken on a slightly different tone than on some of their previous work. The core sound is still them, with hoarsely venomous vocals, pummeling black metal drums, and sharp thrashy riffs. The overall product, however, has stepped back a bit in terms of straight out aggression.The tempo changes enough to keep things interesting, but it has slowed a bit in general, frequently settling into a solid mid-paced range. The sound is more melodic as well, drawing more heavily on the early Gothenburg acts than their previous albums did. There are also more atmospheric elements than on their other albums. The effect is that this feels less violent than previous records, but it's more dramatic and epic as well. At times, like during the grand closing track "Dying Flame of Existence", this feels almost as much like a Viking metal record as a melodic black metal or death metal album.

None of this is to say that hostility and aggression have been totally leached from the music. Several tracks still feature fast, biting sections. This is particularly true early in the album where the faster, shorter tracks reside. The record does slow down as it progresses, but it does so in a natural enough way that it feels more like an epic unfolding than like a loss of steam. I do enjoy the general sound that results from this shift, though it does lack the punch of some of their earlier efforts.

All in all, I enjoyed this album. It didn't blow my mind, but it kept me entertained. If you've liked Naglfar records in the past, then fear not; this was a respectable return for the band. On a side note, I can't help wondering if the Monty Python reference in my selected song's title was intentional.

Grade: B
This is a good, solid melodic black/death metal release.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Athens International Film and Video Festival

One nice thing about living in a college town is that events like this rolls around every year. Yesterday was the first day of the Athens International Film and Video Festival (AIFVF), which will be going on until the 19th. It's a good opportunity to see an assortment of low budget and/or foreign films, as well as a ton of shorts. The best part, if you're a cheapskate like me, is that OU students get tickets for free.

Last night I went with a friend to see "This is Not a Film", which is kind of a peculiar slice of life recorded by an Iranian director who is currently under a 20 year government ban from filmmaking. Supposedly it was smuggled out of the country in a cake and brought to Cannes. In any event, things like that make for an interesting viewing experience that falls somewhat outside my ordinary movie-going range. Over the next several days I expect I'll be watching a lot more stuff, and as I type this I have the full festival program in my lap, looking at other upcoming movies and shorts to go see.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Another Guest Review

I wrote another guest review for Full Metal Attorney, and it's just been posted over on his blog. I'd suggest you check it out, both for my review and for the mountains of other cool stuff he's got on there.

p.s. I just noticed this is evidently my 300th post. So, I guess that's cool.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Big Bang

A while back, I wrote a series of posts talking about the 12 albums that shaped my current musical tastes. I pretty much started that off with my first rough introductions to the metal world, and then progressed from there. While making the 3+ hour drive back from my parents' house last night, I got to thinking about my musical journey. It occurred to me that when I wrote that, I left out the albums that brought me to the place where I was even able to to take those first steps into the metal world.

Growing up, I was very sheltered from pretty much all newer music. I listened to oldies and bits of classic rock because that's what my parents played. Mushroomhead and Shadows Fall were some of my earliest forays into heavy music, and they helped enormously to shape my musical taste, though at this point I feel like I've outgrown them. That being said, you don't go from Herman's Hermits to Mushroomhead in one leap. There are more steps to the transition than that.

Before I could get into even the most pop-oriented end of the modern metal spectrum, I needed to make my way into the world of modern rock. And something had to start me down that path. I did in fact do just that. I listened to Cold, Maroon 5, Three Doors Down, Three Days Grace, Chevelle, My Chemical Romance, Good Charlotte, Nickelback . . . need I go on? Pretty much any metalhead will look at that list and cringe. A few may even throw up a little bit in their mouths. Nonetheless, those bands were an important part of my musical journey, because they bridged a gap between my starting point and my destination. Even now, long after that general class of music has faded from my focus, I'll occasionally play some of those songs and get all nostalgic for the days of hanging out with my friends back in Nevada.

So the question, then, is what took me from the primordial soup of the oldies I'd known my whole life to that string of modern rock bands? Well fortunately, I have no trouble whatsoever in identifying the band, the song, or the date. The first modern rock group that ever caught my attention and got me wondering what other music might be out there was Breaking Benjamin. The first modern rock album I ever bought was their debut Saturate. And the reason I bought it was because my friends got me the first volume of the Halo 2 soundtrack for my 20th birthday. That album, which had a few "inspired by" songs in addition to the actual game music, included the Breaking Benjamin track that would spark my interest in them.

So on April 5th, 2005 I first heard the song "Blow Me Away", the pebble that would start an avalanche. This single track had, in the total scope of things, a bigger impact on my musical life than any other song before or since. My evolution into a metalhead hadn't yet begun, but in terms of my current musical universe, this was the Big Bang.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Random Rambling

I've been at my parents' house, a few hours away from my own apartment, for the past couple of days. I'll be here until Sunday evening. I love spending time with my family, but this does throw a bit of a wrench in my reviews since I don't really have the time to listen to, digest, and review an album while I'm here. Instead, I've decided to give you just a little of the "etc" in my blog title.

First off, I had one of those "I'm getting older" moments when I got my new drivers license Thursday. It looked like I had a bald spot in the front on my picture, and I lied about my weight by about 30 lbs.

Secondly, I'll give my brother a plug. He's got a pretty enjoyable blog where he does movie lists and reviews, which any interested party can find here.

Thirdly, I've had a little time to get used to the new Blogger format. I still hate it.

Fourthly, my parents are finally going on a trip to Ireland. They've been talking about doing it for years, and now the tickets are finally purchased. This summer they'll be celebrating their 30th anniversary with the trip.

Fifthly, I'm now being hassled to get off the computer and get going, so that's it for this poor excuse for a post.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Happy Birthday to Me

I've spent all day playing games and overeating with my family to celebrate my increased level of oldness.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Fantasy Baseball

Today was draft day for my annual, hyper-competitive friends and family fantasy baseball league. I took Ryan Braun in the first round, so here's hoping that MLB doesn't succeed in getting that 50 game suspension reinstated. Overall I'm not sure how I feel about my team. My hitting is rock solid (possibly the best in the league), and my bullpen is fine, but my starting pitching is quite weak and could end up losing me games against the most balanced teams. Anyway, it was fun as always, and I just spent an hour and a half surveying the aftermath with one of my brothers.

I'll be going to watch a friend's band play tonight. They're called Princess, and they play an indie pop-rock style that I typically don't listen to, but it should be a good time regardless.

And in closing, happy April Fools Day. I hope nobody did anything too terrible to you this year.