Monday, February 25, 2008

The Top 100 Songs of the Year (70-61)

70:
The Unthinking Majority
Serj Tankian
Elect the Dead

Despite the radical politically charged lyrics and a title like “The Unthinking Majority,” it seems both odd and disappointing that the most significant aspect of Serj Tankian’s first solo single is that it marks a return to old System of a Down style that fans fell in love 10 years ago. Daron Malakian’s horrendous vocals and the increase in pointless comedic filler left many System of a Down fans disappointed over the last few years, and those who hated them to begin with only had more reason to hate. Even if “The Unthinking Majority” does absolutely nothing new or unique, just hearing Serj’s voice over a quality song in early System of a Down style is enough to bring out the inner fan in anyone who once cared about System of a Down. Unfortunately, that novelty is only a novelty. It may sound like heaven to past System fans, but it’s hard to imagine anyone else finding much at all to like with this song. Serj’s political lyrics are nothing new, and there really isn’t anything here that couldn’t have been done with System of a Down. It’s almost impossible to praise “The Unthinking Majority” without comparing it to early System of a Down, and that’s both why it’s on this list and why it isn’t in the top 50.

69:
Been There All the Time
Dinosaur Jr.
Beyond

In 1987, Dinosaur Jr. recorded what could very easily be called one of the greatest alternative rock albums of all-time with You’re Living All Over Me. Unfortunately, the band hasn't done much since then. Still, it seems like most critics have once again fallen in love with Dinosaur Jr., as their reunion album has been garnering a large amount of press amongst indie critics. This critic may not love the new album as much as everyone else, but “Been There All the Time” is an exceptional single that is reminder of how to play indie rock right. It may not compare to the band’s classics, but it ranks among both the best indie rock songs of the year, as well as the best Dinosaur Jr. songs post-You’re Living All Over Me. The song itself isn’t particularly unique, but it’s an example of when sound itself is the most important factor. Dinosaur Jr.’s sound is the epitome of great indie rock, and the return of that sound is not only great music, but also a blueprint for the type of dark yet soothing and catchy yet deep sound that every indie band strives for. “Been There All the Time” doesn’t have the substance to be called an instant Dinosaur Jr. classic, but it’s the type of song that can make any indie fan reminisce about the influence that this great band has had. Whether or not the song’s greatness stems from You’re Living All Over Me, any song that can instill that pleasant memory in its listener deserves to be mentioned among the best songs of the year.

68:
Driven
Sevendust
Alpha

Even though “Driven” doesn’t stray far from Sevendust’s basic formula, it’s also a song that takes the band back to their roots and serves as a reminder of just how far Sevendust has come. On paper, their style of heavy metal verses mixed with accessible melodic choruses isn’t a unique one. However, Sevendust’s sound is far better than the typical mainstream hard rock band. Unlike the “nu-metal” bands that either faded or became obsolete over time, Sevendust has the talent and songwriting ability to be able to create a sound that manages to be heavy, melodic, soulful, and not at all watered down. Over the years, the band has replaced much of the metal riffs in favor of an overall more melodic hard rock feel, but “Driven” sees the band returning to their heavy metal roots. The mix between Morgan Rose’s and Lajon Witherspoon’s vocals are appropriately rough during the heavy riffs of the song’s verses, but Lajon’s biggest asset continues to be his passionate and powerful vocals during the song’s more melodic chorus. This is the heaviest Sevendust has sounded since their debut, but “Driven” is an example that the band has progressed immensely since then. “Driven” is just as accessible as it is heavy, while the songwriting has improved dramatically in the last ten years. On top of that, Sonny Mayo is finally settling in as a guitarist, which immediately makes “Driven” far superior to anything off of their previous album, Next. “Driven” may be only slightly different from typical Sevendust, but typical Sevendust is still worthy of praise.

67:
Hump de Bump
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Stadium Arcadium

Despite a disappointingly generic music video directed by Chris Rock, and a surprisingly poor chart placement, "Hump de Bump" is one of the most fun songs the Red Hot Chili Peppers have done in some time. It may not have the same lasting appeal that you'd expect from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but it's still a fun alternative rock song that remains catchy and enjoyable throughout. That being said, it's really the chorus that makes "Hump de Bump" such a great song. The verses are a little lacking in substance, and the repetitive pre-chorus is a bit too catchy for its own good. However, the well written chorus makes the song more than just a funky alternative tune. It's actually a bit odd that the chorus in "Hump de Bump" has more substance than the verses because strong and meaningful verses are at the forefront of the some of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' greatest songs. Excellent verses propel songs like "Can't Stop," "Californication," "Under the Bridge," and "Otherside," while many of those songs feature a rather brief chorus. "Hump de Bump" spends very little time with verses, and instead has a lot of fun, albeit repetitive, funk inspired moments. The first part of the song isn’t anything special, but it's the last repeat of the chorus that makes "Hump de Bump" more than just filler. The catchy and even somewhat beautiful chorus is one of easily one of the highlights from 2006’s Stadium Arcadium, and while the rest of the song isn’t quite as spectacular, “Hump de Bump” is simply one of the most fun songs the band has recorded in years. Considering that fun and funky sound is painted across the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ roots, a song like “Hump de Bump” is long overdue.

66:
Never Enough
Epica
The Divine Conspiracy

“Never Enough” is not only one of the weakest songs off Epica’s The Divine Conspiracy, but it’s also a very poor representation of the band’s sound and talent. “Never Enough” sounds very similar your typical female-fronted hard rock song, and it unfortunately forces comparisons to mainstream artists like Evanescence. However, “Never Enough” is the only Epica song of its type, while the rest of the album is made of up of far more unique symphonic metal tracks. Compared to similar songs that have come out this year, however, “Never Enough” is slightly ahead of the competition. After Forever’s “Energize Me,” Within Temptation’s “What Have You Done,” and Nightwish’s “Amaranth” all use a similar pop-metal style. What puts Epica on top is simply the talent and creativity of the band. There are more subtleties in “Never Enough” than what is to be expected of pop-metal, and it’s clear that Epica has more talent than most of the aforementioned bands they have be compared to. Simone Simmons doesn’t give her best vocal performance on this song, but even Simone Simmons at her worst ranks among the best of the year. She has more versatility than any other female vocalist on this list, and she pulls off the more pop-oriented style of “Never Enough” exceptionally well. The rest of the band is equally as impressive, especially guitarist Mark Jansen, who’s distinct riffs add a touch of personality to the song. As an Epica song, “Never Enough” is somewhat of a failure. However, it still ranks among of the best singles of the year, as well as the best songs of its kind.

65:
September Sun
Type O Negative
Dead Again

Much like “The Profit of Doom” before it, nearly half of the album version of “September Sun” has been cut for the single. However, the song’s epic feel has been left intact. “September Sun” shows both the beauty and variety of Type O Negative, as Peter Steele and Kenny Hickey demonstrate the full spectrum of the band's vocal talents. Steele’s powerfully deep voice creates a truly haunting vibe when combined with Type O’s gothic riffs and excellent keyboards. Then Hickey is able to come in and transition into a higher and equally powerful voice that perfectly compliments the heavier riffs of the chorus. More than anything, “September Sun” is distinct and varied, and the contrast between Steele and Hickey’s vocal styles adds to the epic nature of the chord progression. “September Sun” could very easily be called a progressive metal song. There are numerous subtleties that can be found throughout the song, particularly in the vocals. There is already a ton of emotion in the song, but Steele’s subtle yet powerful cry of Elizabeth after the first line of the chorus is an example of the subtle passion found deep within the already passionate sound of “September Sun.” As a whole, this is one of the best, most diverse and most passionate songs in Type O Negative’s discography.

64:
Frozen
Within Temptation
The Heart of Everything

Within Temptation has gone through a fairly drastic style change since their last album, and although The Heart of Everything doesn’t have anything on the same level as “Ice Queen” or “Mother Earth,” songs like “Frozen” have made their transition into a more accessible style of symphonic metal a successful one. The instrumentalists of the band are certainly talented, but it’s Sharon den Adel’s vocals that continue to take center stage on Within Temptation’s strongest songs. “Frozen” is no exception, as den Adel’s vocals are nothing short of magnificent. This may just be her strongest vocal performance yet, and that’s saying something. The instrumentals do an adequate of job of complimenting her voice, but nothing outside of Sharon’s performance is truly spectacular. In terms of structure, “Frozen” is a pretty typical power ballad, and it’s only Sharon’s voice that ascends it to greatness. Nearly every symphonic metal band has at least one song that shows off what their vocalist can do. Not only does “Frozen” stand out from the rest of the pack in terms of the quality of the song itself, but Sharon den Adel also stands out as one of the best vocalists in the genre. Credit the rest of Within Temptation for making the song worthwhile on its own, but Sharon still deserves the bulk of the praise for delivering one of the best vocal performances of the year.

63:
Papyrus Containing the Spell to Preserve Its Possessor Against Attacks from He who is the in the Water
Nile
Ithyphallic

Is an explanation really necessary for this one? The song is called “Papyrus Containing the Spell to Preserve Its Possessor Against Attacks from He who is the in the Water.” That warrants a spot on this list by itself, as Nile easily wins the award for “best song title of 2007.” However, there is more to “Papyrus Containing the Spell to Preserve Its Possessor Against Attacks from He who is the in the Water” than just its name. It also happens to be one of the most brutal yet oddly accessible death metal songs of the year, and its intentionally over-the-top nature makes it simply one of the most awesome songs of 2007. Any song that can be analyzed with simply the word “awesome” is great in of itself, but the real triumph of the song is that Nile has made brutal death metal fun. “Papyrus Containing the Spell to Preserve Its Possessor Against Attacks from He who is the in the Water” is completely ridiculous, but it still follows the formula for great death metal. Overly fast drumming, double bass pedals, heavy riffs, low growling, and a fast tempo are all aspects of the song’s sound. Nile isn’t a particularly unique band, but they perfectly execute death metal fundamentals, and “Papyrus Containing the Spell to Preserve Its Possessor Against Attacks from He who is the in the Water” is yet another example of a typical death metal song that is simply more brutal, heavy, clear (especially in terms of vocals), and just plain more ridiculous than the competition.

62:
Silent Waters
Amorphis
Silent Waters

Both the biggest strength and flaw of Amorphis is their willingness to reinvent their sound on each new album. When it works, it works well. However, there have been numerous times when the band has regressed or made unnecessary changes that only hindered their sound. Thankfully, “Silent Waters” is mostly a triumph. The lack of harsh vocals may disappoint fans of their heavier sound, but the excellent riffs and fantastic vocals should please just about anyone else, and the lyrics stemming from Finnish mythology are interesting to say the least. However, the most impressive aspect of “Silent Waters” is what’s missing. That is to say, "Silent Waters" lacks a distinct genre. There is not a single subgenre of metal that can properly classify this song, as “Silent Waters” combines nearly every genre the band has experimented with over their last few albums. Doom, gothic, progressive, and even a touch of melodeath in terms of structure. The only style that’s missing is traditional death metal, and that may be for the better. The darkness in the sound comes from the doom and goth influences, and despite a slightly cleaner sound, this is one of the darkest songs Amorphis has done. The melodic guitar work is something that comes from Amorphis’ melodic death metal days, although the clean vocals add a sense of beauty to the riffs. “Silent Waters” is a song that has both beauty and darkness, and it’s quite astonishing that band somehow puts their influences together to create a somewhat progressive single that contains nearly everything that makes Amorphis great.

61:
The Miracle Field
The Reverse Engineers
The Miracle Field

Despite only recently being signed to an indie label, The Reverse Engineers are already one of the best alternative rock bands in music today. “The Miracle Field,” a non-album single released in the spring of 2007 is not one of their better songs. However, the diverse instrumentals and optimistic lyrics make “The Miracle Field” one of the most interesting songs released all year. The band’s sound can be described as a mixture between the progressive structure of Rush with the more simplistic and soothing sound of 80s and 90s alternative rock. The result is almost an alternative rock version of Rush, although calling The Reverse Engineers anything other than original would be inaccurate. “The Miracle Field” has a sound all its own, and its progressive overtones add a layer of depth to the optimistic and somewhat mysterious lyrics. There is a perfect balance between simple and complex, both in the lyrics and music. This is a song that shows a ton of promise, and while it doesn’t quite reach the level that the trio reached on their debut album, Max Q, fans of progressive or alternative rock would be wise to give The Reverse Engineers a listen, and pick up a copy of Max Q while their at it.

Thanks for reading! More updates coming soon.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The One They Got Right

Firstly, no I haven't abandoned this place. I've been sick the past few days and I've been dealing with a lot of shit this past week. I have, however, been writing, so expect frequent updates in the near future, especially on the top 100 list. I also would like to extend the invitation to my friend Noah (if he's reading this) to record the video blog for the 10 best and worst albums of the year if you're up to it. I'd like to do that soon, so let me know if you're still interested. Either way, I'll be posting my list for the best albums of 2007 soon, but I'm hoping we'll be able to have some sort of debate to switch things up a bit.

That, however, wasn't the reason I posted this. Even though my voice is unlikely to be heard by any member of the Academy, I would like to thank the Academy Awards for once against being an example of a quality award show and for getting the most important award. No, I'm not talking about Best Picture (especially since the only Best Picture nominee I've seen is Michael Clayton). The award I'm referring to is that of Best Original Song, and although I was disappointed that Enchanted got 3 nominations while Edder Vedder was snubbed, I'm happy to say that the Academy made things right in the end. For those who missed it (and shame on those who did), the winner was "Falling Slowly" from the absolutely brilliant indie film "Once." Not only is this song nothing short of fantastic, but it comes from one of my favorite movies of 2007. If you haven't seen it, rent it immediately. It's simply a beautiful motion picture, and it contains some of the best music of the year. The winning song, "Falling Slowly," can be heard below.


Congrats to Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova for a well deserved award, and thank you for making such a great movie and song, as well as for an acceptance speech that was actually worthwhile.


Now, this wouldn't be a true Oscar post without naming my favorite movies of 2007. Granted, I have yet to see No Country for Old Men, Juno, There Will Be Blood, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Persepolis, Into the Wild, Sweeny Todd, The Assassination of Jessie James, and many of the other highly rated films from 2007. Still, out of the 18 films I've seen from the past year, here are the 10 best:
  1. Gone Baby Gone
  2. Once
  3. Superbad
  4. Micheal Clayton
  5. Zodiac
  6. Ratatouille
  7. The Bourne Ultimatum
  8. Rescue Dawn
  9. Paprika
  10. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
And with that, I thank you all for reading. Plenty of updates will be coming in the near future.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Top 100 Songs of the Year (80-71)

80:
Within Me
Lacuna Coil
Karmacode

Lacuna Coil may not be known for their ballads, but each of their albums up this point have contain have contained at least one exceptional ballad. In a Reverie and Unleashed Memories had the truly fantastic “Falling Again” and “Cold Heritage,” respectively, and Comalies had the beautiful and mostly Italian title track. “Within Me” is the only ballad from Lacuna Coil’s fourth album, Karmacode, and while it isn’t anywhere near as good as the band’s past ballads, it’s still an exceptional song. The song doesn’t have one major flaw in particular, but many of its aspects are relatively generic. That being said, Cristina Scabbia’s vocal performance is top notch, and the lyrics are some of Lacuna Coil’s best and most beautiful. Even male vocalist Andera Ferro delivers a passionate performance, and the story behind the lyrics is certainly meaningful. There’s little doubt that “Within Me” is a formulaic song, but strong lyrical content and passionate vocals more than make up for its flaws.

79:
The People
Common
Finding Forever

The editors of Blender Magazine should ashamed of themselves for naming Common one of the worst lyricists in music. No, he may use the most clever metaphors or unpredictable rhymes, but Common is one of the most real rappers out there. I may not be an expert in rap music, but it’s hard not to appreciate a well known modern day rapper that refrains from glorifying drugs, sex, violence, and other common themes of modern mainstream rap. More than anything, however, Common is pleasant. Obviously, Common is not the only quality rapper left in the genre, but no one else in modern rap has as much of a positive presence as Common. Even rap artists like Immortal Technique and Jedi Mind Tricks focus on the negative, and Lupe Fiasco took listeners to a dark world with The Cool. Common, on the other hand is pleasant and likable for the simple fact that his music is down to earth and real. “The People” is a song that could almost be called a “slice of life.” It starts out with an almost uplifting intro and then continues into a very down to earth story about the people of Chicago and the power of music. It isn’t complicated by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s real and sincerely pleasant, and that’s exactly what rap needs more of right now.

78:
Atomic Firelight
Pagan’s Mind
God’s Equation

“Atomic Firelight” isn’t the most original power metal song out there, but it’s one of the strongest examples of why the formula for progressive power metal is a strong one. For what’s it’s worth, “Atomic Firelight” isn’t generic, and it does make subtle changes to a formula that Pagan's Mind plays as well as anyone. It just doesn’t stray from the formula as much as one would want a band as talented as Pagan’s Mind to. Talent is something that the members of Pagan’s Mind have quite a bit of, and formulaic or not, it’s hard to criticize a song with such powerful vocals and riffs. Nils Rue’s high vocals are gripping during the song’s chorus, while the instrumentals range from complicated and heavy to simply soothing. Considering Symphony X nearly revolutionized progressive power metal with Paradise Lost earlier in 2007, it’s difficult to praise “Atomic Firelight” for being anything other than a display of talent. That being said, Pagan’s Mind shows off an enormous amount of talent in this song, and it’s one of the most instrumentally complex singles of the year.

77:
The Profit of Doom
Type O Negative
Dead Again

The single version of “The Profit Doom” may be less than half the length of the album version, but both versions of the song are examples of gothic metal at its finest. Many of the progressive undertones of the 10 minute version are lost in the shortened version, but the unique chord progression, varied vocals, and meaningful lyrics that have made Type O Negative a great band can be found in the single as well. Gothic metal is a genre can’t be played using a specific formula. Type O Negative understands that, and they are never reluctant to evolve their sound with each new album. “The Profit of Doom” is a song that shows the band’s willingness to try new sounds, as it combines the slower gothic guitar work and deep vocals with progressive experimentation and various doom metal influences. Not everything they try works, but the song’s dark tone gives off an overall haunting sound that goes a long way towards making the song a truly distinct entry into the long list of Type O Negative greats. By combining talent with consistent creativity, Type O Negative continues to set the standard for gothic metal. “The Profit of Doom” doesn’t necessarily set the bar any higher, but it mostly succeeds at evolving the sound of one of the best gothic metal bands in the genre’s history.

76:
Capital G

Nine Inch Nails
Year Zero

Trent Reznor may claim that the “G” in “Capital G” stands for greed, but it’s hard to imagine anyone believing this song isn’t related to George W. Bush in some way, shape, or form. Lyrics like "I pushed the button and elected him to office / He pushed the button and dropped the bomb" and Ain't gonna worry about no future generations and uh / I'm sure somebody gonna figure it out” are “oddly” reflective of our current administration. Granted, most of the song’s lyrics do fit with Reznor’s claim that the song is about greed, but it can’t be denied that there is a much more specific theme here. Considering, Reznor’s political views are well known, it’s odd that he would attempt to hide the song’s political nature. The truth is that this is one of the most intelligent and well-written anti-Bush songs to come along in some time, and Reznor deserves an enormous amount of credit for that. Reznor understands politics, and his lyrics prove that he is passionate about his opinion. Despite what Trent may say, “Capital G” is political, and it serves as an excellent example of how to write an effective and intelligent political song.

75:
Resurrection
Chimaira
Resurrection

It’s really quite amazing how far Chimaira has come since their nu-metal beginnings. What once was an up-and-coming band searching for mainstream acceptance in a genre that lacked aggression and fine musicianship is now an impressive groove metal band with one of the most aggressive sounds in modern music. “Resurrection” is a song that lacks the fine-tuned vocals and significant lyrics of many of the other metal songs on this list, but there were few songs of any genre in 2007 that came close to matching the aggression and intensity that fuels “Resurrection.” From start to finish, the sheer adrenaline of the song is staggering, and the musicianship is of surprisingly high quality. Chimaira has been struggling to find their sound for some time now, but the intensity of songs like “Resurrection” are forcing their sound to become progressively heavier and more distinct. Couple that with the continuing evolution of the band’s musicianship, and this very well may be the first Chimaira song to fit all of their pieces together. “Resurrection” is not only one of the year’s angriest, most aggressive, and most intense metal songs, but it also represents one of the most surprisingly breakthroughs of 2007.

74:
O Katrina!
Black Lips
Good Bad Not Evil

Like most Black Lips songs, “O Katrina!” is energized, catchy, simplistic, meaningful, unique, and deceptive. What appears like a simple and fun indie rock song from sound alone is actually a lyrically concise commentary on both Hurricane Katrina and the way it was portrayed in the media. Through only 5 lines of actual lyrics, “O Katrina!” makes a point that can be taken in a way that is somewhat controversial, and is told in an oddly light hearted manner. In a way, the lyrics are deceptive of not only the fun nature that the song is performed in, but also the literal meaning of the lyrics themselves. The Black Lips are clearly critical of the portrayal of the hurricane in American media, but it’s only clear because of the almost sarcastic delivery of the lyrics and the overly simplistic word choice. However, Black Lips make their point by presenting the lyrics in such a simple but unorthodox way that it makes the listener think about not only the lyrics and song as whole, but also the media portrayal of the disaster in general. “O Katrina!” is the type of song that can be more appreciated than liked, although the simple catchy melody makes it easier to do the latter as well.

73:
What Have You Done
Within Temptation
The Heart of Everything

“What Have You Done” is one of many songs at this point in the list that suffers from originality. However, like most of the others on this countdown with the same flaw, it makes up for it by doing a few things exceptionally well. In the case of “What Have You Done,” it’s the vocal duet between Sharon den Adel and Life of Agony vocalist Keith Caputo. It has a striking similarity to duet between Amy Lee and Paul McCoy in Evanescence’s “Bring Me to Life,” but “What Have You Done” far exceeds that song in nearly every way. Sharon den Adel is a fantastic vocalist who sings with passion, and Keith Caputo is solid in his range as well. On top of that, the instrumentals are heavier and full of more emotional than what is typically found in hard rock duets. An orchestra part also adds a touch of emotion to the song, and the lyrics are well written are simple but still well written overall. “What Have You Done” doesn’t break new ground, and it’s not an example of Within Temptation at their best, but this is easily one of the best hard rock duets of the last few years.

72:
Energize Me
After Forever
After Forever

After Forever hasn’t been the same since guitarist Mark Jansen left to help create Epica, but “Energize Me” is one of the best songs the band has recorded in some time. It’s not exactly the most unique symphonic metal song out there, but Floor Jansen gives one of her best vocal performances yet. What “Energize Me” lacks in originality, it more than makes up for with the pure energy of Floor’s voice. It’s the power of Floor’s vocals that propels “Energize Me” into territory that After Forever has had trouble reaching on their last few albums. The biggest difference between After Forever’s other recent work and this particular song is that the vocals are far cleaner. Despite her phenomenal range, Jansen has had trouble controlling her voice at times. The often random shifts to operatic vocals have plagued them in the past, but the band thankfully avoids it on “Energize Me.” The result is an almost beautiful pop-metal song that contains some of the best and most energized vocals of not only the year, but also of recent After Forever songs as well.

71:
I Walk Alone
Tarja Turunen
My Winter Storm

Former Nightwish vocalist Tarja Turunen delivers one of the best vocal performances of the year on “I Walk Alone.” Just hearing Tarja’s voice again, particularly in a symphonic metal song, is enough for the song to reach greatness as a whole. However, it’s hard to not to compare “I Walk Alone” to her work with Nightwish, and the song disappoints from that respect. The lyrics are nothing more than average, the instrumentals lack creativity, and the structure of the song itself is rather generic. The vocals are the most important aspect though, and as previously stated, Tarja does an excellent job from that perspective. Unlike many other opera metal vocalists, Tarja doesn’t show off her operatic range at seemingly random times. Her vocal progression fits in perfectly with the rest of the song, and her voice simply sounds great in all areas of her vocal range. There isn’t a whole lot to “I Walk Alone,” but what’s there works well. It’s hard to imagine anyone being excited to hear Tarja Turunen's solo debut for any other reason than her vocals. In that regard, this is one of the best songs of the year.

Due to a busy weekend and a ton of homework the last few nights, this entry took longer than expected. I'm hoping I'll be able to catch up on the list during Mid-Winter Break, which is next week for me. If everything goes as planned, I will have reviews of the new Ayreon and Avantasia albums up by the end of the week. As always, thanks for reading!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Some Tour Information

Since I'll need another day to polish off the update that I had planned to post tonight, I thought I might as well write an old-fashioned entry that isn't a list or a review (after all, this is the only blog I'm currently using). In the last month, details and tour dates for some major tours have been released, and I'd like to provide a bit of commentary on some of the bigger ones. The first of which is a new festival that was recently announced. It's called "Rockstar Energy Mayhem Tour" and it appears to be an Ozzfest clone filled with mainstream hard rock bands that have been a part of Ozzfest tours in the past. In fact, 10 of the 13 bands are Ozzfest alumni, and almost all of them are ones that I'm personally ecstatic about not having to endure at Ozzfest again this year. The official bill is as follows:

Main Stage:

SLIPKNOT
DISTURBED
DRAGONFORCE
MASTODON


J├Ągermeister-Sponsored Second Stage:

SEVENDUST
AIRBOURNE
FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH
36 CRAZYFISTS

J├Ągermeister Battle of The Bands Winner

Second Stage #2:

MACHINE HEAD
BLACK TIDE
SUICIDE SILENCE
THE RED CHORD
WALLS OF JERICHO

Since this isn't a review, I can be as much of a subjective ass I want to be, and thus will say that this tour is the epitome of suck. Unfortunately, a number of my friends are huge Slipknot fans, so I will almost certainly be asked to come. Of course, I don't have to accept, but the music geek in me will likely reluctantly accept in order to see the Mastodon, Machine Head, Sevendust, and DragonForce (albeit for the third time).For what it's worth, Disturbed puts on a great live show too, although I can't say seeing them for a second time would be a selling point to me. However, the combination of Slipknot, Airbourne, Five Finger Death Punch, Suicide Silence, and Walls of Jericho is nothing short of vomit inducing. Also, how the hell can you have a "second stage #2"? Wouldn't that just make it the third stage? And why exactly is Machine Head, probably the best band on the tour, on the third stage? I'm probably going to go to this and regret it later, but I can safely say the first Rockstar Energy Mayhem tour looks to bring the suck. The cities that will be subjected to this unfortunate tour are as follows:

Jul. 09 - Seattle, WA @ White River Amphitheater
Jul. 11 - Sacramento, CA @ Sleep Train Amphitheatre
Jul. 12 - San Francisco, CA @ Shoreline Amphitheatre
Jul. 13 - Irvine, CA @ Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
Jul. 15 - Fresno, CA @ Selland Arena
Jul. 16 - San Diego, CA @ Coors Amphitheatre
Jul. 18 - Phoenix, AZ @ Cricket Pavilion
Jul. 19 - Albuquerque, NM @ Journal Pavilion
Jul. 20 - Denver, CO @ Coors Amphitheatre
Jul. 22 - Kansas City, MO @ Verizon Wireless Amphitheater
Jul. 23 - St. Louis, MO @ Verizon Wireless Amphitheater
Jul. 25 - Dallas, TX @ Smirnoff Music Centre
Jul. 26 - San Antonio, TX @ Verizon Wireless
Jul. 27 - Houston, TX @ Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
Jul. 29 - Tampa, FL @ Ford Amphitheatre
Jul. 30 - Miami, FL @ Sound Advice Amphitheater
Aug. 01 - Atlanta, GA @ Hi Fi Buys Amphitheatre
Aug. 02 - Indianapolis, IN @ Verizon Wireless Music Ctr.
Aug. 03 - Buffalo, NY @ Darien Lake Performing Arts Center
Aug. 05 – [to be announced]
Aug. 06 - Detroit, MI @ DTE Energy Music Theatre
Aug. 08 - Toronto, ON @ Molson Amphitheatre
Aug. 09 - Pittsburgh, PA @ Post Gazette Pavilion
Aug. 10 - Chicago, IL @ First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre
Aug. 12 - [to be announced]
Aug. 13 - Boston, MA @ Tweeter Center for the Perf. Arts
Aug. 15 - Camden, NJ @ Tweeter Center At The Waterfront
Aug. 16 - Washington DC @ Nissan Pavilion
Aug. 17 - Hartford, CT @ New England Dodge Music Center
Aug. 20 - Saratoga, NY @ Saratoga Performing Arts Center
Aug. 21 - Holmdel, NJ @ PNC Bank Arts Center

Now we go from a terrible tour that I most likely be attending to an outstanding tour that doesn't come anywhere near me. The tour I am referring to is the 2008 run of Gigantour, which features Megadeth, In Flames, Children of Bodom, Job for a Cowboy, and High on Fire. With the exception of Job for a Cowboy, that is one outstanding bill! Since there is no WA date, there is a 99.9% chance that I will be missing this one, but I'd highly recommend seeing it if the tour comes near you. The tour dates are as follows:

April
Sat 12 - Denver, CO - The Fillmore
Sun 13 - Albuquerque, NM - Journal Pavilion
Tue 15 - Dallas, TX - Nokia Theatre
Wed 16 - Corpus Christi, TX - Concrete Street Pavilion
Thu 17 - Houston, TX - Verizon Wireless Theatre
Sat 19 - Louisville, KY - Louisville Gardens
Sun 20 - Atlanta, GA - Tabernacle
Tue 22 - New York, NY - Hammerstein Ballroom
Thu 24 - Worcester, MA - Palladium
Sat 26 - Baltimore, MD - Merriweather Post Pavilion
Mon 28 - Quebec City, QC - Pavilion De La Jeunesse
Tue 29 - Montreal, QC - Bell Centre
Wed 30 - Toronto, ON - Arrow Hall
May
Thu 1 - London, ON - John Labatt Centre
Sat 3 - Detroit, MI - DTE Music Center
Sun 4 - Cleveland, OH - Time Warner Cable Amphitheater
Tue 6 - Chicago, IL - Aragon
Wed 7 - Milwaukee, WI - Eagles Ballroom
Fri 9 - Minneapolis, MN - Myth
Sat 10 - Winnipeg, MB - Convention Center
Sun 11 - Saskatoon, SK - Prairieland Exhibition Hall
Mon 12 - Edmonton, AB - Shaw Conference Center
Wed 14 - Calgary, AB - The Corral
Fri 16 - Vancouver, BC - Pacific Coliseum
Sat 17 - Salem, OR - Salem Armory
Mon 19 - San Jose, CA - Event Center @ San Jose State
Tue 20 - San Diego, CA - Cox Arena
Wed 21 - Los Angeles, CA - Long Beach Arena
Thu 22 - Phoenix, AZ - Mesa Amphitheatre

The final tour is by far the best, and I am thankful beyond belief that it will be coming to Seattle. That tour is called "Progressive Nation," and it features the fantastic combination of Dream Theater, Opeth, 3, and Between the Buried and Me. As some of you may know, I love Opeth as much as a 17 year old male can love a Swedish progressive metal band, and Dream Theater and Between the Buried and Me are also excellent. I've already seen Between the Buried and Me live, but I would love to see them in a longer set. They were incredible at Ozzfest in 2006, and their musicianship has been improving with each new album. I will do whatever I can to go to this tour, no matter what the cost, and I'm hoping that we'll be able to get a large group of us to attend. The tour dates are as follows:

May 02 - Los Angeles, CA - Gibson Amphitheater
May 03 - Oakland, CA - Paramount Theater
May 05 - Seattle, WA - Wamu Theater
May 06 - Vancouver, BC - Orpheum
May 9-10 - Calgary, ALB - Macewan Hall
May 12 - Minneapolis, MN - Myth
May 13 - Chicago, IL - Rosemont Theater
May 14 - Detroit, MI - The Fillmore
May 16 - Columbus, OH - LC Amphitheater
May 17 - Cleveland, OH - Time Warner Amphitheater @ Tower City
May 18 - Albany, NY - The Armory
May 20 - Boston, MA - Orpheum Theater
May 21-22 - New York, NY - Terminal 5
May 26 - Washington DC - DAR Constitution Hall
May 27 - Richmond, VA - The National
May 28 - Atlanta, GA - Tabernacle
May 30 - Miami, FL - The Fillmore
May 31 - Orlando, FL - Hard Rock
Jun. 01 - Tampa, FL - Ruth Eckerd Hall

Thanks for reading. An actual update will be posted tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Other Reviews from 1/29/08

I obviously won't be able to write full reviews of every album I listen to, so this is a good way for me to give my opinions on new albums that I have time to write full reviews of. If you have any questions regarding these albums, let me know, and I will do my best to answer them.

Airbourne- Runnin’ Wild

It’s been nearly two years since Wolfmother made it big with their catchy retro-rock single “Woman,” but it seems that the success of that single has once again brought a trend of 70s and 80s hard rock riffs to the mainstream. Airbourne is yet another recent band that is been heavily influenced by classic hard rock, and although it could be argued that they are the first of the modern day retro-rock bands to successfully mimic the style of AC/DC, there is really no reason to listen to Runnin’ Wild when AC/DC has been playing this same sound better for over 30 years. Unlike Wolfmother, who would have fit in alongside their influences as a separate band in the 70s, Airbourne make the mistake of copying only one specific band, as opposed to simply being a modern band that plays a classic style of rock. The biggest problem with trying to copy a band like AC/DC is that their style is exceptionally basic and easy to copy, and it’s not the style itself that made AC/DC timeless in the first place. Back in Black and Highway to Hell have stood the test of time, not because they did anything particularly complicated or unique, but instead because the songs contained heavy yet catchy riffs that almost begged to be air guitared along to. Runnin’ Wild is proof that even the most accurate of copies can’t replace timeless riffs. Airbourne brings nothing new to the formula, and the flaws of the AC/DC-influenced sound are far more apparent in 2008. That being said, this is one of the most accurate AC/DC clones out there, and it can be mildly recommended to those who are willing to settle for a forgettable clone until the next AC/DC album is released.

Grade: C-

Protest the Hero- Fortress

Much like Protest the Hero’s 2005’s debut, Fortress is a unique and creative album that is sure to be hated by many metalheads. Mixing elements from punk rock, metalcore, and progressive metal, Fortress is not a typical album by any means, and it’s one that takes multiple listens to understand. Protest the Hero attempts more here than on their debut, which was rather ambitious in its own right, and deserves praise purely from that perspective. Not everything Protest the Hero attempts works, but part of the album's greatness is that it sounds like an ambitious mess as a whole. The lyrics of the album can be dissected and interpreted in a number of different ways, which is something that is rarely found in metalcore. The vocals take a bit of getting used to, and there will be many who won’t be able to take more than 30 seconds of Rody Walker’s high pitched screaming, but those who can get past the vocals and breakdowns will find an intelligent and creative album that attempts far more than most. Fortress certainly lacks focus, but it probably wouldn’t be as exciting of an album if it wasn’t fueled by raw energy and ambition. One of the album’s biggest strengths is the energy that the band has put into their sophomore release, and that pure adrenalin more than makes up for the many flaws that come with the album’s unfocused ambition. Because that ambition allows a number of different sounds and styles to be experimented with throughout the album, there are many times when Fortress is not nearly as developed as it could have been. There are moments where it sounds like each member is trying to go in a different direction, while other times where the album appears to have no rational direction to speak of. Most of the time, however, Fortress is a unique and creative album that is interesting and engaging throughout.

Grade: B


As always, thanks for reading! Full reviews of the new Ayreon, Avantasia, and Jack Johnson albums will be up soon.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Top 100 Songs of the Year (90-81)

Sorry for this one taking so long. The next ones should come fairly rapidly.

90:
Amaranth
Nightwish
Dark Passion Play

Much like “Eva,” the first single from Dark Passion Play, “Amaranth” is a good but not great song that works best as a showcase for what new vocalist Anette Ozlon can do. Despite what many will tell you, the reason that “Amaranth” can’t quite achieve greatness is not Ozlon’s pop-like vocals. It is because it doesn’t attempt to be more than simply a catchy pop-metal song. “Amaranth” is not a song that shows what Nightwish can do, but instead a fun and forgettable song that still contains enough of what makes Nightwish great to make it better than the average pop-metal tune. More than anything, “Amaranth” is filler. However, even Nightwish’s filler songs are better than the best of most bands. “Amaranth” is an example of that, as its one of the worst songs on Dark Passion Play, but still one of the better songs of 2007.

89:
The Human Stain
Kamelot
Ghost Opera

“The Human Stain” is the type of song that doesn’t do any one thing particularly outstanding, but it comes to together in the end to create a quality product. It’s not the outstanding work of art that many have come to expect from Kamelot, but the song’s unique sound makes it one of the better symphonic metal songs of 2007. “The Human Stain” straddles the line between symphonic and power metal, but there are certainly more symphonic influences throughout both this song and the entire Ghost Opera album. Roy Khan’s classical vocal training is shown more here than usual, and new keyboardist Oliver Palotai plays a prominent role in the song’s instrumentals. However, Kamelot’s biggest strength has always been Thomas Youngblood’s outstanding guitar work. Youngblood has proven that he can shred with the best of them, but it’s his ability to change between power metal shredding and melodic riffs that make him one of the most consistent guitarists in metal. His work on “The Human Stain” is more melodic than fast, but the brief solo shows his ability to let loose. That, combined with the aforementioned vocals are what makes “The Human Stain” good, but it’s the rest of the band that makes it great. It may not be one of Kamelot’s best songs, but every member of the band does their part to make it stand out.

88:
Kingdom of Doom
The Good, The Bad & The Queen
The Good, The Bad & The Queen

Depending on your perspective, Damon Albarn’s latest single is either an example of creative brilliance or a pretentious disappoint that isn’t nearly as clever as it should be. In all actuality, it’s somewhere in between. Compared to Albarn’s usually exceptional work, “Kingdom of Doom” ranks as one of the more mediocre singles he’s released in years, and it doesn’t quite impress on first listen. However, “Kingdom of Doom” is also a creative song that is just as intelligent as it is catchy. The lyrics are deep and well written, and the whole project could easily be called more mature than the Gorillaz or Blur. The sound itself is where The Good, The Bad & The Queen falls a bit short, as it’s no where near as experimental as what Albarn has done before. That’s not to say “Kingdom of Doom” is dull or unoriginal, but it doesn’t quite have the staying power that has become the norm for Albarn’s music. For what it is though, “Kingdom of Doom” is a well written song that ranks as one of the year’s best alternative rock singles.

87:
The Arms of Sorrow
Killswitch Engage
As Daylight Dies

Despite almost all of As Daylight Dies being exceptionally brilliant, Killswitch Engage’s sound is based on a fairly strict formula. Their combination of heavy metal riffs, screaming, some of the best clean vocals in metalcore, and exceptionally beautiful moments of softness, is simply the best in American metalcore. However, the moments where they stray from that formula aren’t quite as remarkable. “The Arms of Sorrow” is one of those moments, and while the song is certainly worthwhile, it’s not a very good example of what Killswitch can do when they’re at their best. The accessibility of the song is its biggest strength, and that’s why it works well as a single. Howard Jones’ excellent vocals and the band’s well written lyrics are on display here, and it’s easily the most accessible way to experience Killswitch’s sound. The vocal combination of Jones and guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz is truly a work of beauty, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to call this Jone’s best vocal performance yet. The emotion in Jones’ voice is worthy of high praise, and even though the lyrics aren’t among Killswitch’s best, they are still outstanding compared to the average metalcore song. Aside from the vocals, “The Arms of Sorrow” doesn’t do anything particularly great compared what Killswitch Engage has shown they are capable doing, but it’s still a solid song that works as a gateway for the heavier and more varied Killswitch tracks.

86:
Bloodrocuted
Dethklok
The Dethalbum

Dethklok, the cartoon death metal band from the hilarious Metalocalypse series, may be judged first and foremost by the comedic value of their music, but they work just as well as a death metal band. “Bloodrocuted” isn’t exactly the best song on their debut album, but it still works as both a hilarious comedic metal song and as one of the year’s best and most accessible death metal singles. Accessibility is something the death metal genre has lacked for as long as the genre has existed, but Dethklok’s mix of humor and brutality is easily the most accessible death metal the genre has to offer. From strictly a musical perspective, “Bloodrocuted” is a song that has enough brutal death grunts, crushing riffs, and simply insane drumming (courtesy of Gene Hoglan from Death and Strapping Young Lad) to please any fan of death metal. As comedy, the over-the-top metal parody commonly found in Metalocalypse works exceptionally well, and the humor can be appreciated by anyone that understands even the basics of metal music. Both as comedy and music, “Bloodrocuted” is nothing short exceptional.

85:
Moonlit
Octavia Sperati
Grace Submerged

“Moonlit” isn’t a song that reinvents the formula for female-fronted goth metal, but it makes enough subtle changes to stand out. Ocatvia Sperati’s oddly accessible mix of goth and doom metal is reminiscent of what can be found on early Lacuna Coil and Tristania albums, but the inclusion of the slower and darker doom metal influences add a touch of uniqueness to the sound. “Moonlit,” in particular, is an example of the band’s doom influences existing alongside their melodic core. The verses are as dark and slow as anything previous doom and goth metal crossovers have created, but the melodic chorus is where the more accessible Lacuna Coil-style influences begin to truly separate “Moonlit” from what’s usually found in the genre. The subtle influences found in the song come together to create some of the most pleasant doom metal out there, and although Octavia Sperati aren’t ready to be mentioned alongside the elites of female-fronted goth metal, “Moonlit” is an impressive song that is worthy of praise.

84:
3’s and 7’s
Queens of the Stone Age
Era Vulgaris

Queens of the Stone Age are an anomaly among mainstream rock. It’s rare to find a unique and creative band in popular music these days, but “3’s and 7’s” is an example of song that is full of subtleties that are rarely appreciated in the mainstream. As is generally the case with Queens of the Stone Age (or really any Josh Homme project), the unique riff is the first noticeable aspect of the song, and it doesn’t disappoint on “3’s and 7’s.” The riff is wonderfully strange and unique, but still as catchy and heavy as any fan could hope for. However, its not just unique instrumentals that have made Queens of the Stone Age a silver lining in mainstream rock. Lyrics are a major part of why Queens of the Stone Age has been successful over the years, and “3’s and 7’s” is yet another strange and thought-provoking song from the twisted mind of Josh Homme. The combination of the unique lyrics and instrumentals make this possibly the most interesting song played on the radio all year.

83:
No I in Threesome
Interpol
Our Love to Admire

Interpol’s “No I in Threesome” is a beautifully written song that demonstrates both the strengths and flaws of the band’s third album. On the positive side, Interpol has once again demonstrated that they know how to write ballads. Like most of Interpol’s softer works, “No I in Threesome” is lyrically stunning. The somewhat cryptic nature of the lyrics can be interpreted on multiple levels, while the wordplay is excellent to say the least. Instrumentally, the simple but catchy bass line is reminiscent of their 2004 single, “Evil,” and it has the same effect this time around. The bass line and beautifully simple riff add to the multi-layered darkness that makes up the lyrics, while still maintaining a sense of simplicity. However, the biggest flaw with “No I in Threesome” is that it may be a bit too reminiscent of Interpol’s past ballads. As great as it is, the song doesn’t break new ground, and it may be the first Interpol single to lacks signs of growth in the band. As previously mentioned, it bears resemblance to 2004’s “Evil,” as well as other softer Interpol songs, and it doesn’t quite reach the level of greatness that “Evil” did. “No I in Threesome” may not show a large amount of progression, but it’s yet another beautiful ballad from one modern alternative’s finest.

82:
The Pieces
A Band Called Pain
Broken Dreams

The genre of post-grunge has become arguably the most generic genre in rock music. For a genre with “grunge” in its name, it’s somewhat surprising that its biggest problem is a lack of emotion. For the most part, it’s become such a mainstream phenomenon that there’s little room for bands that are original, overly talented, or understand the purpose or even sound of grunge. There's a fine line between copying Alice in Chains and actually understanding their sound enough to use it. A Band Called Pain straddles that line, and even something as simple as that is progression for the genre. It’s somewhat ironic that the one band that in the genre that understands their influences and has at least some talent to speak has gotten very little radio play and is still deep in the underground. “The Pieces,” the first single from their re-released debut, may not be the most original song in the world, but it doesn’t sound like yet another generic mainstream rock song either. The heavy metal influences, somewhat dark riffs, and vocals that are actually raw (a major part of grunge that has apparently been lost in translation with post-grunge) make “The Pieces” one of the best post-grunge songs of 2007. Keep in mind that A Band Called Pain is a young band with room improvement, and that the members have previously been part of rap and jazz projects, and this band’s potential is massive. It’s not all there yet, but “The Pieces” is a promising start to the career of one of the most intriguing young bands in rock music.

81:
Jambi
Tool
10,000 Days

Compared to the impressive array of progressive music released in 2007, Tool’s third single from 2006’s 10,000 Days seems rather forgettable. Released as a single early in the year, “Jambi” could have been one of the top progressive songs on last year’s list, but is instead reduced to being the first of many progressive rock songs to appear on the 2007 countdown. However, “Jambi” still has enough quality aspects to warrant a spot on the list. Lyrically, it doesn’t quite live up to what Tool has shown they’re capable of, but the precise instrumentals and unique talk box solo make “Jambi” an exceptional song on its own. It could certainly be argued that “Jambi” lasts a bit too long or that not every part of the song is significant, but the overall product is both unique and compelling. Porcupine Tree (among others) may have rendered this song nothing more than forgettable prog rock in 2007, but “Jambi” is still one of the best radio singles of the year.

Thanks for reading! As promised, I would also like to personally thank DF and Tad for continuing to read my entries and comment.