Best music, 2016.

Every year I usually list the albums that left the biggest impact on me. These are from no particular genre, and fall in no particular order. As a note, while I try to listen to a pretty diverse pool of artists every year, I generally fall back into a few favorite genres. If you’re looking for a massive, all-encompassing end of the year deal, this ain’t it.

Anyway, to the albums:

Sorceress – Opeth: So, I’ll jump right to the cut: this album is the only one in Opeth’s catalog that really suffers from bad production. That might seem like an odd way to start a review, but after sitting with it for quite some time (and also having the chance to see them perform three of the tracks live), I’m convinced that something odd happened here. Tom Dalgerty isn’t a bad producer, Mikael Akerfeldt knows what a good record sounds like — and like, everyone knows Steven Wilson, right? Seriously, though. What happened?

Looking past that, Sorceress is a much more memorable record for me than Pale Communion. The title track, Chrysalis, A Strange Brew, and The Wilde Flowers are all standouts. But is the rest of the album good? Eh. I feel like it Heritage’d me, in that the record is actually really fucking good, but I can’t get past what it could have been. When the title track first dropped I thought Akerfeldt might’ve wanted to bring more doom into the mix. Sadly, that isn’t really the case. Still, it is heavier than the past two records — it feels like it should’ve been the record that came between Watershed and Heritage. I realize I’m not doing a great job of “selling” Sorceress, and there’s a reason for that. I like it, and it’s here because I’m an Opeth fanboy, but I can’t really see this being anyone’s favorite record of 2016. Choice track: Sorceress

The Fall of Hearts – Katatonia: With the exception of The Great Cold Distance, there hasn’t been a single Katatonia record I’ve really loved upon first listen. Yet, six months after the album drops, suddenly it’s all that I’m listening to. The Fall of Hearts is no exception. At release, there wasn’t a single song that caught my attention. It sounded, more or less, just like the last few albums Katatonia has released.

Yet, Katatonia has kind of quietly been killing it with their unique brand of… whatever this is. Quiet metal? Alt-rock doom? Post-doom? Heavier-than-alternative-but-still-alternative? Gothic rock? Gothic doom? Seriously, since The Great Cold Distance they’ve essentially formed a genre, party of one. There are other bands that copy their drab style, but Katatonia isn’t really about any particular feature (sans Jonas’s voice, which should probably be sold as a recommended item alongside a particular Hitachi product). There are many other bands who try to make this kind of music, but none own it like Katatonia does. This whole album drips with a weird, Scandinavian jazz swagger draped in melancholy. Choice track: Serein

Magma – Gojira: Let’s start this with a confession: with the exception of, like, two or three songs, I’m not a fan of Meshuggah. Gojira is the reason why. Gojira has always sounded like the band I wanted Meshuggah to sound like. Yes, there’s rhythmic complexity. Yes, there’s the feeling that you’re slowly being John Proctor’d by sound. But Gojira is just more interesting. Instead of settling into this place where rhythmic complexity is all there is (with everything — even the vocals — falling into a wall of chug), Gojira layers in catchy as fuck (but still brutal) little hooks. Stranded is the epitome of this, as is Pray.

I’ve seen some people say that this isn’t as good as the rest of their catalog, because it’s a tad more chuggy. Who cares. Listen to this album. Choice track: Magma

RTJ3 – Run the Jewels: just this Choice track: Call Ticketron

Holding Patterns – Devin Townsend Project: Wait, what? For the unaware, Transcendence’s deluxe edition contained a second CD titled Holding Patterns. It’s a scattered collection of ideas, some of which are very fleshed out. Okay, I lied: they basically are all fleshed out. Polished? Not really, but if I’m going to slip on an Opeth album that has terrible production, why not let in on a bonus disk full of demo material?

None of this is to imply that Transcendence is a bad record. It isn’t. If you are a fan of Devin Townsend, or prog metal in genre, it’s a must have. But the bonus disk? This shit, team.

There’s a song called Canucklehead that’s a metal/country mashup about how the world is garbage, but Canadians are really friendly. There’s another song called Time Overload which is an industrial track that I demand to hear live (but know I never will). Oh, and there’s Victim: a track that I’m pretty sure is a Strapping Young Lad B-side.

Oh, and Failure is a great track of the record this is attached to. Choice track: Time Overload

Lighthouse – iamthemorning: 2016 was a shit year. Surprise! I’m positive that’s a unique opinion I share with no other human. But yeah, personally it was bad, and while it’s easier to listen to something angry, hateful, or just generally CHUG CHUG CHUG FUCK THIS SHIT, WHERE’S KILLER MIKE? BURN IT DOWN FUCK, the reality is that no amount of pouring acid down your gullet into a pool of bile is going to help you with the process of dragging one stump and putting it in front of the other. That isn’t a ruler to the knuckles of anyone who surfed on seven layers of justifiable rage in 2016, though. Like, I get it. You do you.

But I aint that, and I have reflux, and once the agony and pH just tap my esophagus in just the right way, I’m not getting anywhere (though the contents of my stomach might).

Lighthouse is piano heavy. It’s very acoustic, very contemplative, and very playful (even when it’s nibbling at very dark bits of story). But it’s creative, fresh, and just good in ways that are very unique to my ears. Choice track: Libretto Horror

Outer Edges – NOISIA: A lot of people are pretty happy with considering NOISIA “bass music” and, hey, why don’t we talk about The Avalanches? Or Elysia Crampton? But nah, that ain’t my jam. To the former: alright, but disappointing. The latter, on the other hand, reminds me of being in a particular grad class as a student gave a presentation on his end of semester paper. I remember feeling uncomfortable as he read through his plans. It wasn’t coherent. It was just a mess of ideas, loosely used out of context, with no form or reason or purpose. I was expecting some sense of worry from the professor. None came. A fellow student told me later that he thought it “sounded interesting.” We attended a conference together later, and I got to hear his finished product. It was not interesting.

Outer Edges, though, is. NOISIA have essentially made a career out of picking off sounds from neurofunk and darkstep drum and bass, mixing in their own taste, and then just letting ‘er rip. The end result isn’t always to my taste, but it always gets my attention. Outer Edges is an album that’s more or less full of tracks like that: I don’t necessarily like them all, but they deserve to be listened to. Much like Deadmau5, they have a lot of critics, but there’s no doubt that you can hear a single blip from a track of theirs and know exactly who it is — even if you don’t know where it’s going to go. Choice track: Collider.

Voice of the Void – Anciients: This list isn’t in any particular order, but if it was, this would be my number one — and while RTJ3 comes close, nothing else does. When Anciients came out in 2013 with Heart of Oak, they received a ton of attention. This release, for whatever reason, didn’t receive as much. That’s fucked up, though, because this is a better record. With Void of the Void, Anciients have cut out a huge chunk of the Mastodon influence that hung over their past record. In that same place, they’ve put riffs. Just riffs. Just a lot of fucking riffs. Oodles of riffs. Riffs of riffs. A volcano of riffs. Just a fucking lot, okay?

Anciients lives or dies by the strength of those riffs. That isn’t to discount the rest of what’s here, but hey, the band knows what you like, and they throw them at you knowing full well this is what you came for. One of the reasons I’m so okay with Opeth going full-on prog is because Anciients popped in to fill the void that they left. Just listen to the choice track if you don’t believe me: there are like a million Opeth-clones now (or at least bands that are so very obviously influenced by repeated listen-throughs of Blackwater Park), but Anciients shits on all of them and deserves your ear. Choice track: Following the Voice

As far as other stuff, there are a few mentions:

Eponymous – Cabinets of Curiosity: This is the debut EP of MY WIFE’s band. It’s good, obviously.

Thief – Thieves Hymn in D Minor: I ordered this EP on a whim earlier this year, and I love it. It’s chilled out, dark triphop that heavily samples Gregorian chants. Outside of a spin of Tarkus (:(), it was the only thing that sat on my turntable all year.

From Wolf to Peacock – The Vision Bleak: This song, off of The Unknown, is awesome. I wasn’t huge on the rest of the album, but… yeah. It’s gothic metal that’s a little harder than most of what’s out there — very much in the vein of something like Ghost Brigade.

Winter’s Gate – Insomnium: This gets its own space, not because it doesn’t deserve to be up there with the other albums, but because it’s just… different. First, a bit on Insomnium. As a band, Insomnium has always had a special place in my heart. Above the Weeping World is, easily, one of the best melodeath albums of all time. It’s perfect. With that said, since that album, Insomnium has been opposite In Flames. Instead of evolving, they’ve stayed in their lane. As is such, they’ve released a bunch of average albums. When someone asks me about ’em, I say grab Weeping World, and stream the rest to find a few songs you like.

Winter’s Gate, though, is different. They didn’t just make an album that includes a few new melodic tools, they made a 40 minute long song that twists and turns, bringing in every trick they’ve ever learned in their career (and a few new ones). The result is a project that is just purely memorable. It’s weird to be proud of a bunch of dudes you don’t know, but yeah. That’s this album.

Into the Night World – Machinae Supremacy: Another one that (probably) would have been up there, but two things: first, I’ve only really listened to it twice since it came out. Second, following Phantom Shadow, it’s a much less ambitious record. It’s catchy, and it delivers everything you’d want from a Machaine Supremacy album (and if you’re new to the band, it’s as good of a place to start as any), but man, Phantom Shadow was such a high point that it’s hard not to compare this to it.

 

 

Yo friends, check your proverbial six (because you’re doing bad things)

Feminism is not a switch, nor is it a binary. You do not get to turn it off. You do not get to decide intersectionality is too cool for you.

Feminism is not a switch, nor is it a binary. You do not get to turn it off. You do not get to decide intersectionality is too cool for you.

It’s fair to say that my musical tastes don’t align with MTV. While I don’t mind pop, I also don’t seek it out, so the VMAs aren’t exactly a “thing” with me. I don’t watch them and I don’t care about them.

But considering the overwhelming clusterfuck that was my Twitter and Facebook feed last night — well — I feel like I might as well have watched them.

You see, apparently Miley Cyrus did some things. By “some things” I mean perform on stage, the way many other performers have. Except, of course, there was some sexuality thrown in.

The result is an endless tirade of bullshit being flung at Cyrus. She’s a slut. A whore. A good ol’ jezebel. Oh, and she’s ugly. And fat. And her butt is gross. As is the rest of her body.

There are problems with this. Let me list them.

1.

Other lady performers (Gaga, for example), can literally parade around nude (and semi-nude at award shows) and not an eyebrow is raised. But Miley — that’s different. Miley is supposed to be the virginal pop starlet, she’s supposed to be the good down home gal, playing country guitar and singing folksy songs about… shit, I don’t know, cows or something. But when she breaks this narrative — when she dares, as a 20-year-old woman, to show her sexuality (in a flamboyant way, no less!) she is decimated.

This young adult performer is, apparently, not supposed to be like that. She’s supposed to be a role model for young girls — and lord knows that the only thing they should learn about sexuality is that it’s for men and bad and no no no no no~

2.

What the fuck, feminist friends?

I’m going to be honest — I don’t really care about Cyrus at all. I don’t. I can’t. I did not care at all about any of this until I saw some of the responses my (otherwise) feminist friends were making — everything from “that shouldn’t be on TV!” to critiques of her body.

Why.

Why. Why. Why.

Instead of going after the potential cultural appropriation issues, instead of going after the system that might make Cyrus feel like she has to sexualize her act to make money, instead of talking about Robin Thicke, instead of talking about the dwindling musical relevance of MTV… we get this?

How does that logic work?

“Objectification is bad! But totes not if we don’t like the woman in question!”

Which brings me to…

3.

The sound of the entire ocean cascading over the heads of everyone both patting Justin Timberlake on the head while simultaneously tearing into Cyrus.

Yes, yes. NSYNC is back.

On one hand, you criticize a lady who — by her own agency — decided to do something sexual in a performance on an adult show on an adult network.

On the other, you forget that the group (of men) you are cheering literally made their names on sex. What, did you think NSYNC was totally about… like, what? JT sells what, exactly?

Did you think Giddy Up was about horses? Did you think Let’s Take a Ride was about a wonderful drive through the enchanted forest?

Did you think FutureSex was talking about, shit, god, can you see the problem — do I have to continue? Can we remember — during a certain Super Bowl appearance — who helped a nip to slip? Man, who did that controversy fall on? I bet it totally was evenl–

OH WAIT

4.

Finally, let’s just step aside for a moment and acknowledge that yes, there is potentially a problem if women feel that they are forced to sexualize themselves in order to “make it.” That is serious shit. That’s something to write about.

But, here’s the thing — when you are writing about it, when you are talking about it in a serious way — you don’t target the woman who is the victim of the complex. You target THE COMPLEX.

And if you handwave all of this away under the guise of “it’s just good fun! cultural touchstones!” then realize you are basically the guy in the back of the room saying “it’s just a joke!” or “it’s just a MEDIATYPEHERE!”

Likewise, if you critique Cyrus by calling her a whore/slut/pr0n*/whathaveyou, you are basically saying “hey, sexuality is bad unless it is on our terms*.” Also, slutshaming. That’s a thing.

Basically you’re part of the problem, stop it.

Or, for a more philosophical angle — take a lesson from Foucault. If everyone around you is screaming the same things, maybe you should consider why they are screaming those things, and understand the social methodology that makes you feel obligated to do the same.

* — Whatever conservative, straight, white cis-gendered male middle-America is comfortable with.

Strange music for the end of summer

Music can be weird.

Weird can be awesome.

Unfortunately, weird music is often shunned — it is often pushed away into the shadows. The creative freedom of embracing “weird” is obvious, yet in mainstream music it simply doesn’t have much of a place.

This article celebrates that creative freedom. It’s about the experimental and the weird.

I think that there’s something to that weirdness. I think embracing it — even just long enough to make it through a single song — can be productive. Dissonance can be creative fuel. It can be like a drug, opening up connections and igniting areas of our brain that have gone previously unnoticed.

The following albums haven’t been picked because I love them. No — they’ve been picked because they move me in some way, even if it is weird and uncomfortable. None of these listens are “easy,” and most are incredibly alienating.

But please. Give them a try. See what they make you think.

 

Sunn O)))

Sunn O))) – Monoliths & Dimensions

Tracks: Big Church, Alice

Sunn O))) is classified as “drone” metal. That, um, should give you a good idea of what you’re about to hear.

Sunn O)))’s discography is filled with lengthy tracks composed of nothing more than the sound of down-tuned guitars played at earthquake-inducing frequencies. Of course, these tracks are layered over a bunch of other down-tuned guitars, some ambient noise… and well, the result is mystifying.

M&D takes this formula and ramps it up quite a bit.

When I first listened to Sunn O))), I laughed. How is this music? Who could listen to this? I didn’t make it fifteen seconds before turning it off. A few months later my playlist happened to randomly play one of their tracks, and I decided to begrudgingly listen through it (mainly because I was too lazy to hit next).

I found myself staring out the window. At nothing. I found my thoughts gone.

Hungarian chanting echoed in my head. Nothing else.

One of Sunn O)))’s albums is called “Void.” Honestly, I can’t think of a better word to describe their music. Void metal, really. Listening to their music is like staring into a dark, dark place that swallows up your energy, your thoughts, and just about everything that makes you, you. It isn’t the sort of thing you turn on for pleasure — at least not the same musical pleasure you get from listening to, well, normal music. It’s the sort of thing you turn on because you want to go somewhere that you just can’t go without it.

 

Blut Aus Nord – The DesanctificationBlut-Aus-Nord-777-The-Desanctification

Tracks: Epitome VII, Epitome X

But Aus Nord is a mix of black metal and industrial. It is coated in mysticism, but it’s also uniquely stripped of it. It’s completely painful to listen to at times — nothing but walls of dissonance and discord — yet, moments of beauty manage to sneak in, breaking up those passages.

A thousand black metal bands could fit in this space, but Blut Aus Nord just… well, they fit more than most.

For all its seething rage, black metal tends to feel synthetic. The layers of corpsepaint and satanism all seem to go nowhere. It’s all for image. Blut Aus Nord rebels against that. There is no shouting at society here, no devotion to angsty teenage causes. Everything is cloaked. Everything is hidden.

To uncover what’s beneath is painful.

Is it worth it? I’m not quite sure. I sure as hell haven’t yet.

 

Storm Corrosion – Storm Corrosion30289084_700x700min_1

Tracks: Ljudet Innan, Storm Corrosion

Storm Corrosion is a winding, 48-minute journey through a strange musical idea that is situated somewhere between progressive rock, psychedelia, and ambient/drone music. Arguably, it even has some subtle metal elements, although finding them (and pointing them out) would be a difficult task.

Storm Corrosion is technically “lighter” than many other pieces on this list. Yet, despite this it manages to create an atmosphere that is just as dark. If Sunn O))) or Blut Aus Nord are like being punched in the nose, Storm Corrosion is like a thread moving subtly against your skin. No, you won’t feel the impact quite as soon, but you’re sure it is there.

While there are cohesive ideas at play, the album tends to wander quite a bit. Instruments and sounds pop up on a track only to be completely forgotten — perhaps their melody remembered later, but in a ever-so-slightly-dissonant way. Of course, it all feels strangely in place. This isn’t random thoughtless generation. It’s intentional, and that’s clear — but it isn’t obvious why, and that’s what makes it so interesting.

Perhaps the best part is the fact that this album was essentially created by two minds moving past each other. While all albums are like that in a way, this one specifically features two powerful minds (Mikael Akerfeldt and Steven Wilson) coming together — briefly — to form an album. Opeth, on their album sleeves, refers to their albums as “observances,” and I feel that label is perfect here, too. This isn’t really an album, no — it’s a musical observance. It’s a series of ideas and thoughts that could only come together in that specific place.

While I maintain a certain distance from most album’s on this list, Storm Corrosion sticks close to my heart — for that reason among many.

 

Hexvessel – Dawnbearerhexvessel-dawnbearer

Tracks: I am the Ritual, A Stranger’s Grave

Hexvessel is, strangely enough, the most normal band on this list. Their tracks have form, and for the most part they aren’t all that dissonant (well, okay, they have dissonance — but at least it is melodic dissonance).

Depending on who you’re talking to, Hexvessel either falls into “occult rock” or “neo-psychedelic folk.” I’m not really sure, to be honest, and I don’t think it matters much at all, especially when you consider how unique their sound is.

Hexvessel essentially plays a sort of folksy, creepy music that is filled with fairly straight-forward guitar sections that twist and turn, morphing into something else entirely. Atmospheric elements pour in as the songs tumble on, organs, bells, haunting voices — you name it.  As can be expected, heavily “spiritual” lyrics are layered on everything. Oh, and tritones are pretty much everywhere once you get to the meat of most the songs.

Their inclusion on this list might seem strange at first, especially by the above description. Where does this band fit in here?

The secret lies in the combination of all the elements: it is clear that this is not the work of a group of guys interested in creeping you out. It’s the work of a group of guys who believe their music has a higher purpose. And that is chilling, in the strangest way.

Just like the other artists, this isn’t music that can be idly listened to. You’ve got to dig at it — you’ve got to really listen in to get the full experience.

But if you do… well, you get to see why some people refer to it as “psychedelic” folk.

I hate apologizing for metal fans

I love metal. I love metal. The first time I heard Ghost of Perdition was a religious experience. When I played Man Made God for the first time, I… well, I didn’t stop playing it for weeks. I can remember the first time I heard Player One. I know exactly where I was, what I was doing, and what I felt.

Earlier this year my fiance brought me to what was, basically, my dream show. Katatonia and Opeth. VIP passes.

I met my favorite band before proceeding to headbang for four hours, losing my voice somewhere in the process. I felt light headed. I was in heaven. I will never forget that moment. It was perfect.

I love metal.

It’s the energy — but not quite. There’s more to it than that. It’s the spirit, the absolute release. Sometimes that goes in an evil direction. Sometimes, though, it can go in an incredibly positive one.

But you know what?

Metal fans kind of irk me.

Not all of them, mind you. I’ve met plenty of great metalheads in my life. I’ve had dudes stand behind me (and my fiance who had to take off her boots!) during a Devin Townsend show to protect us from flying bodies. I’ve met metalheads at college who have been incredible people, helping me out whenever I’ve needed it. And hell, the metal musicians I’ve met have been incredible. Opeth? Class act. That Devin Townsend show? I watched as Devin sat down on the stage after the show ended, talking to every fan that walked up to him.

I don’t even have to mention the numerous stories about the legends. Just say the name Dio, and you know what you’re in for.

But — despite all of that — there’s… well, those fans.

You know — the ones that always think they are more hardcore. That they are totally kvlt cuz’ they listen to black metal or deathgrind bands that are so obscure you’re fairly certain they might be made up.

The ones that immediately drop the “metal quiz” on you. Or — worse yet — the ones that claim that band X really isn’t metal, because… well, because, man.

The thing is, these guys don’t bother me. They really don’t. I’m not in high school. I don’t need someone to validate my musical taste.

No, I dislike them because they have turned “metal” into a tag that tends to mean “taste elitist.” In the past month I’ve had three people come up to me, talking about music. As soon as I let the metal flag fly (usually by casually mentioning I’m a fan — nothing obscene!) I get a stare, followed by a look of fear.

“Oh… well, I don’t listen to anything like that. You probably wouldn’t like my music that much.”

Usually it’s followed my nervous laughter. You can just tell they’re waiting for their musical taste to be cross-examined.

I have to immediately backpedal. I bring up the fact that I dig prog rock too (which sometimes elicits the same response!), and hey! underground rap is pretty cool, and the mainstream stuff can be pretty okay too! I usually casually mention that I like a lot of industrial stuff, and that I was on a pretty huge drum n’ bass kick for years. I even have Lady Gaga on my playlist!

At this point there’s usually a bit of relief. Which is good! After all, I love talking about music (hell, I can hardly go a day without linking something on Facebook)!

It’s just… I know why they have that reaction. I just wish they didn’t have to have it.

Certainly, metal isn’t the only “thing” with this problem. While metal fans are notoriously outspoken, virtually every other genre of music has its elitists. And then outside of music, you’ve got all the other forms of media, each with its own brand of asshole.

And yes, there are much worse cultural problems than music elitists. Certainly.

But shit, guys. It’d be nice to have one hobby that I didn’t have to apologize for.

Review: Kamelot – Silverthorn

Kamelot has, really, always been king of symphonic/power metal mountain. At least as far as I’m concerned, they’re the only band that’s producing interesting material within the genre. There’s good reason for that, too. Thomas Youngblood is a fantastic guitarist (and now producer?) and his composition is usually fairly tight. Likewise, Casey Grillo and Sean Tibbetts are both impressive in their ability to nail down rhythm. Oliver Palotai is great as well — though a tad overshadowed by his buddies.

But, okay, let’s cut to it – Roy Khan. Roy Khan has always been the reason you’ve listened to Kamelot.

As good as all of those other elements are, what really pulled Kamelot together was Khan’s incredible voice. It was unique, it was powerful – it was signature Kamelot.

But after Poetry for the Posioned Roy Khan decided to find God, and that sort of left us all wondering: what happens to Kamelot?

They answered by picking up Tommy Karevik (Seventh Wonder). Now, almost a year later they’ve released Silverthorn. So, can Kamelot live on without Khan’s fire?

Continue reading

2010, Metal.

Ah, 2010.

Musically, it was a pretty good year. A handful of great albums were released, covering just about every genre I care about. As far as metal went, I had a hard time choosing only 5 albums to absolutely recommend. In fact, I was going to do a “top 5” style article at first, but realized I couldn’t really do that in good faith — especially considering how diverse my taste in metal has become. I can’t say I’ve listened to absolutely everything this year, but I tried to keep up on as much as I can. Hopefully this means there is something for every metal fan on the list!

High On Fire – Snakes For The Divine

High On Fire is often described as stoner metal, putting heavy emphasis on repetitive, distorted riffs that can only accurate be described as “chugging.” This specific style has defined HoF since their inception. About the only thing that changes with their albums is the amount of refinement in their production, as their sound basically stays the same. For most bands, this can mean stagnation. After all, no one wants to hear the same album every two years. High On Fire manages to escape this by just being creative enough to pull in newer fans while not alienating their older ones.

Songs like the title track, Ghost Neck, and Fire Flood & Plague carry this album. While the other tracks are great, these three just stand out and push the album from simply good to solid. They bring in all the elements the band is known for while pumping in a ton of fist-clenching rage. Nothing like listening to twisted riffs while your ears are being hammered by mechanical drumming that just never ends. Quite frankly, it’s metal.

Kamelot – Poetry for the Poisoned

Kamelot stands out from the rest of the power/symphonic metal crowd. I feel that Roy Khan’s vocals combined with the creative direction they’ve taken since The Black Halo has made this band absolutely unstoppable. An album filled with dark, romantic (and murderous) undertones is almost expected of them by this point. After all, while Ghost Opera’s melancholic look at the world was pretty good, it just didn’t have that Kamelot edge that really made me stick TBH or Epica on repeat.

Poetry for the Poisoned, however, brought it in full. The album is dark, extremely so in parts — the first single, The Great Pandemonium, even has guest vocals by Bjorn “Speed” Strid of Soilwork fame. Not to mention the 4-part title track that explores the twisted love of a incubus-like vampire and his mate. The whole thing is just incredible.

…but, it isn’t quite as good as The Black Halo. Still, though, it is a definite buy.

Machinae Supremacy – A View From The End Of The World

A View is Machinae’s most versatile, energetic album ever — which is saying quite a lot, considering Machinae’s past albums. While it isn’t perfect, it is damned close. In a lot of ways this album is a return to form for the band, as they’ve gone back to home-producing just about everything.

Every track is loaded with “SiD” — the gaming-style electronic synth sounds that arguably made them who they are. Throw in some talented (and catchy!) riffing, and a much-improved lyrical style and you’ve got a recipe for kick ass metal.

Machinae has also gone back to their roots with their lyrics, choosing to switch between both up-beat, bouncy type anthems and revolutionary, fist-pumping warnings to the non-digital world. It is a combination that grabs you by the throat and holds you there for the entire album’s length. While I’d love to see a Flagcarrier style ballad, I honestly don’t mind as One Day In The Universe is one of my favorite tracks, ever.

I’ve got to say, if this was a top 5 list — I’d absolutely stick A View at the very top. It is that good.

Soilwork – The Panic Broadcast

Also known as: Welcome back, Soilwork.

The Panic Broadcast is a roaring, destructive and cataclysmic release. This is Soilwork grabbing their melodic death metal flags and flying them as high as they possibly can, declaring war on everything in their path. From the first track to the last, the album is absolutely brutal. While Soilwork has spent their last handful of albums searching for a “new” sound, TPB shows that all they really needed to do was perfect their old one. While this doesn’t quite sound like their founding albums, it does have that same sort of death groove that is intense (with an honest tablespoon of funk, seriously) yet melodic. It’s great.

Soilwork basically shows the world that you don’t have to kill the melodeath sound to make catchy, brutal songs. Late For The Kill, Early For The Slaughter and Deliverance Is Mine show that it is possible to have catchy choruses without making a song formulaic.

Now if only In Flames could do the same…

Blind Guardian – At the End of Time

Blind Guardian, while always pretty good, really hasn’t done anything groundbreaking for quite some time.

I’m happy to say that At the End of Time ends that trend. While this is quintessential power metal, the addition of extremely bombastic, symphonic elements really brings their sound back to the spotlight. While this sort of thing isn’t new for Blind Guardian or even the genre, it is done so fluidly that it increases the intensity of the traditional band.

With this album, Blind Guardian chose to focus their songwriting on various stories (such as both the Wheel of Time series), using them as inspiration for their direction. It seemed to work out pretty well for them, as while all the tracks stand on their own, the album feels pretty connected. Honestly, I was surprised that they managed to pull off such separation between the songs while keeping them sounding “together.” I’m not sure many other bands could do the same.

The intro track, Sacred Worlds, really is one of the main reasons I’ve thrown this album on here, though. It is just incredible and really serves as a great starting piece for the rest of the album. Even if you aren’t much of a Blind Guardian fan, I’d strongly suggest that track — though don’t forget about the rest of the album if you like it!

Album Review: A View From The End Of The World

Machinae Supremacy has entered the fray once again with a new album.

The self-described “SiD Metal” band from Luleå, Sweden is known for a kind of music that isn’t really found anywhere else. This is band that combines metal, punk and video game music — a band that gained its momentum in the early 2000s by releasing tons of free songs through their website. From their origins as a internet-based act, they managed to get picked up by Spinefarm — an action that some fans feared as they thought it meant that the rebellious, pro-piracy band had sold out. However, when the band released Overworld all doubts seemed to disappear. Praised by both fans and critics alike, it seemed to cement them as a band truly loyal to their unique sound.

Does A View From The End Of The World follow in these footsteps or does it fall flat?

Let’s be honest — if you’ve been following Machinae Supremacy since their earlier days, then the answer shouldn’t surprise you.

In many ways, Machinae have gone back to their roots. This isn’t to say that Redeemer or Overworld explored extremely different paths, but they both “evolved” the band’s signature sound in two different directions. While they both were very solid albums, they left me personally feeling like something else could’ve been there — a rebellious, hopeful spirit that was present in the earlier web releases and Deus Ex Machinae. In short, it seemed like they matured just a tad too much.

When Robert and gang went back to the drawing board it seems like they felt the same thing. According to an interview, the band wanted a bit of their “old” style back, so they decided to record a good portion of the album in their own home brew fashion. I’m not sure exactly what extra control or tools it gave them, but it worked. Everything just seems much crisper compared to the past two albums.

Possibly where the “old stuff” shines through the most on this album is in the lyrics and just general tone. Yes, their are some serious undertones on some of these songs but there is also a bouncy, cheerful “gamer” sort of thing going on here. Songs like Indiscriminate Murder is Counter Productive and Crouching Camper Hidden Sniper seem to be Machinae purposely being silly, playing directly to the gamer culture that they are undeniably part of. It is easy to be critical about the lyrics and content (a song about camping in Call of Duty? Teabagging?) but if you go down that path you are completely missing the point. This isn’t Insomnium, kids. These songs are made to bang your head to when you need a jolt of energy. Or, better yet, listened to while smashing skulls online.

Another thing this album brings back is the hopeful, fist-pumping songs that they did so well during their early career. Remember tracks like Player One and Hero? They have some company in Persona, Action Girl (which could get away being called Player Two) and my personal favorite — One Day In The Universe, which is a track that tackles long distance (specifically online) dating.

These guys have just stepped it up everywhere for this album.

While Overworld was without a doubt a landmark as far as Robert’s vocals go, A View really shows us what he can do. He still has a unique sound going for him, but it is just incredibly refined compared to their earlier work — and that truly is an excellent thing. Not to mention lyrically, these choruses are outstanding. Every song on the album begs to be belted out (like a fool) while you are driving down the freeway.

Jonas, Andreas and Johan pull off some awesome stuff here as well, all of the riffing on this album feels like a perfect mix between the serious, dark riffing and the bouncier, punk-based stuff from earlier tracks. Force Feedback and Cybergenesis both hit the mark perfectly when it comes to the strings. Seriously though, the verse riff in Cybergenesis is so Machinae that I honestly have no idea how else to describe it (and it isn’t the only one).

There was also some worry that the new drummer, Niklas Karvonen, wouldn’t be able to carry the torch passed to him by departing long time band member Tomas. Have no worries though as while Niklas’ style is noticeably heavier than his predecessor, he manages to fit in just fine.

And — of course — the “SiD.” Fans seem to always want more and the band certainly has delivered here. I can’t remember a single song on this album that is missing the stuff. More importantly though, it doesn’t feel forced or sprinkled on. Machinae continues to use it just like any other instrument so it never feels gimmicky (clearly, Machinae doesn’t go for those casuals). In fact, I couldn’t imagine any of the songs without it. Some of them are completely set off by the SiD, like Action Girl, Remnant and Shinigami.

My only real complaint is that major diversity is only really found on the bookends of the album. While the middle tracks are great, they can easily bleed into one another. This is really just because Machinae has such a solid sound now that even when songs go off in a “punk” or “metal” direction, they still sound very similar. If you’re the kind of fan who likes a lot of diversity in sound like on, say, Redeemer, you might be a little disappointed.

What A View From The End Of The World really shows is the band’s passion for their music (and the culture around it). Sure, they might have a label now and a few albums under their belt, but at heart these guys are still the same group of music-loving gamers that gave us Deus-ex Machinae.

In short, remember that feeling that you got when you first picked up an SNES controller? Yeah. This album is just like that.

9.5/10

Buy A View From The End Of The World directly from the band here.

For a few song samples, check out Machinae Supremacy’s Youtube page.