Monday, December 22, 2014

Favorite Albums of 2014

This year has been simply amazing for music. There was so much cool stuff that came out and so much cool stuff I found. I briefly considered reworking the format I normally use but decided against it. Just know that it was really hard to narrow it down to five. Hard. I even considered making one of the spots a tie. There are so many albums I feel like should be here… Amaranthe, Icon For Hire, Tom Petty… oh gosh, I’d better stop. I will never be able to play the whole “which albums would you need on a desert island” game. As always, my picks don’t necessarily include stuff that came out this year – it’s just stuff I discovered this year. Anyway, without further ado…

My Favorite Albums of 2014

Haken, The Mountain – There were two prog-rock albums that pretty much dominated the first few months of the year: Haken’s The Mountain and Maschine’s Rubidium. Both of them are just fantastic albums from start to finish. The only reason why Haken is here and not Maschine is because I flipped a coin. Literally. That’s the cold, clinical kind of analysis you can expect from me!

Xandria, Neverworld’s End – In my original review I called Xandria “Loreena McKennitt metal.” I still stand by that. This year I got into a lot of cool symphonic metal bands like Within Temptation and Epica. Their albums were great but Neverworld’s End was the one I went back to the most. I think it’s that Celtic flair. Xandria’s new album, Sacrificium, is good too but Neverworld’s End is better.

Tess Wiley, Little Secrets – This actually came out two years ago so I’m just hopping on this train. Oh my word, this is such a good record. I wish that radio stations would play more pop music like this instead of some of the insipid garbage they play now. It’s simple, catchy, fun, and most of all, genuine.

Weezer, Everything Will Be Alright In The End – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: welcome back, guys. Everything is exactly what we need to hear. It’s one of the few times where a band’s “we’re going back to our roots” claim is actually true. This album was actually written by the guys who wrote Blue and Pinkerton. It’s not perfect but I can say, without hesitation, that it is the best album since Pinkerton.

Steve Taylor and the Perfect Foil, Goliath – I’ve already reviewed this one so I won’t say too much about it here. Actually, no I’m going to talk about it more. It’s so good, guys. I’ve been listening to it for weeks and I’m still not done. I just hope and pray they make more!

Honorable Mentions

Knifeworld, The Unraveling

Devin Townsend Project, Z2

Bigelf, Into the Maelstrom

Dissapointments of 2014

None! – That’s right! With everything I listened too this year I did not encounter a single album that I could describe as a “disappointment.” How awesome is that? Years like this are rare as latinum and I will always treasure 2014’s music offerings!

Best Reissue of 2014

Daniel Amos, Doppelganger – We had some pretty good classic Christian metal reissues from Roxx with Deliverance and Vengeance Rising. However, the Daniel Amos reissue really took the cake. It’s got a great remaster, great packaging, great liner notes, an extra disc packed full of demos and such. The original was long out of print and impossible to find for a reasonable amount of money so this edition is a blessing.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Steve Taylor & The Perfect Foil - "Goliath"

Steve Taylor & The Perfect Foil - Goliath
2014, Splint Entertainment

1. Only a Ride
2. Double Negative
3. Goliath
4. Moonshot
5. Rubberneck
6. The Sympathy Vote
7. Standing In Line
8. In Layers
9. Happy Go Lazy
10. A Life Preserved
11. Comedian

The thing that surprises me about Goliath is not its high quality. With this group of guys I don't think there's any way this could have ended up anyway but excellent. No, I'm surprised by its brevity. The whole album clocks in at a mere thirty-nine minutes. Many of the songs are under three minutes. Yet in that short amount of time this band accomplishes more than most bands can in double. The songs feel complete and weighty and after several listens over two weeks I'm still thirsty for more. I'm also surprised at just how aggressive Goliath is. "Only a Ride," "Rubberneck," and "In Layers" will rock your face off. Age has not slowed down any of these guys one bit. Steve's trademark wit and satire is in full force but the lyrics are a bit more vague, more akin to Chagall Guevara than his solo stuff. I think once the band is done doing this album they plan to go back to their day jobs. I would implore them not to. Please make more albums. Please. 

Useless Fact: Peter Furler from Newsboys plays the drums. I have very intense negative feelings toward the Newsboys but as it turns out Mr. Furler is a pretty good musician. Maybe I'll have to give the Newsboys a second chance. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

McKennitt, Loreena - "A Midwinter Night's Dream"

McKennitt, Loreena - A Midwinter Night's Dream
2008, Quinlan Road

1. The Holly & The Ivy
2. Un Flambeau, Jeanette, Isabelle
3. The Seven Rejoices of Mary
4. Noel Nouvelet!
5. Good King Wenceslas
6. Coventry Carol
7. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
8. Snow
9. Breton Carol
10. Seeds of Love
11. Gloucestershire Wassail
12. Emmanuel
13. In the Bleak Midwinter

This disc has been on my "Christmas wish list" for a long time. Loreena McKennitt and Christmas music go together like peanut butter and chocolate. One think I like about this album is that it's not full of the same stuff you've heard a million times. There are some recognizable tunes, for sure, but there are a lot of different songs you don't often hear. I've never heard "The Seven Rejoices of Mary" but it's one of my favorite tracks. Also, while you do hear the first verse of "Good King Wenceslas" often enough in movies and television, people don't usually sing the whole song. I quite like this song as well. Basically, if you're a fan of Ms. McKennitt's music you're going to want this album for all your holiday rituals.

Useless Fact: Some songs on this album first appeared on a little Christmas EP called A Winter Garden.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Connick, Jr., Harry - "Harry For the Holidays"

Connick, Jr., Harry - Harry For the Holidays
2004, Columbia

1. Frosty the Snowman
2. Blue Christmas
3. The Christmas Waltz
4. I Wonder as I Wander
5. Silver Bells
6. Mary's Little Boy Child
7. Santa Claus is Coming to Town
8. The Happy Elf
9. I'll Be Home For Christmas
10. I Come With Love
11. Nature Boy
12. O Little Town of Bethlehem
13. I'm Gonna Be the First One
14. This Christmas
15. Nothin' For New Year
16. Silent Night

I can't believe this isn't already on the blog. I've had access to this for years. I borrowed a friend's CD and copied it to the collection. It's only recently I got a hard copy for the vault. I like this one just as much as the other one. I especially like "Frosty the Snowman" and "The Christmas Waltz" which are probably my favorite versions of those songs. I also didn't realize how much I liked "Mary's Little Boy Child" until I heard it on this album. Not too much more to say. If you're getting this album you already know what you're in for and you will not be disappointed.

Useless Fact: Apparently almost every CD has to end with "Silent Night." It's like a law or something.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Devin Townsend Project - "Z2"

Devin Townsend Project - Z2
2014, Inside Out

DISC ONE: Sky Blue
1. Rejoice
2. Fallout
3. Midnight Sun
4. A New Reign
5. Universal Flame
6. Warrior
7. Sky Blue
8. Silent Militia
9. Rain City
10. Forever
11. Before We Die
12. The Ones Who Love

DISC TWO: Dark Matters
1. Z2
2. From Sleep Awake
3. Ziltoidian Empire
4. War Princess
5. Deathray
6. March of the Poozers
7. Wandering Eye
8. Earth
9. Ziltoid Goes Home
10. Through the Wormhole
11. Dimension Z

Z2 is the long awaited sequel to Ziltoid the Omniscient. It's been a long time coming too. Devin has said he's been working on it off and on throughout Casualties of Cool and Epicloud. I honestly don't think Devin really wanted to do a sequel. In fact, most of this album isn't even about Ziltoid. It contains two separate albums: Sky Blue - which is just the Devin Townsend Project, and Dark Matters - which isn't really even a sequel to Ziltoid but just another different story. There's no continuity between the two.

Sky Blue definitely evolves the sound that DTP had on Epicloud. While it's still got Devin's signature "wall of sound" chaos going on, it's a lot less commercial, a bit more melancholy, more contemplative. The theme seems to be "life is short so live and love while you can." Devin truly embraces his inner Enya here, especially on tracks like "A New Reign," "Sky Blue," and "Forever." It's also mixed in with some full throttle rockers like "Fallout" and "Silent Militia." He weaves some pretty compelling tapestries on this album that took a bit to grow on me. Anneke van Giersbergen returns to share lead vocal duties, which is always welcome.

Dark Matters is set up like an old fifties radio show with cheesy narration and everything. Dark Matters is certainly heavier and more progressive than Sky Blue but the songs are also simpler and for more melodic hand hook-laden overall. Honestly, the first few tracks kind of run together for me until "War Princess" where I feel like the album really kicks in and starts to get good. I have the three disc edition which includes a raw mix of Dark Matters without all the narration. I actually prefer that to the original as you can really hear what's going on musically.

If it sounds like I'm not quite as excited as I should be about new Devin it's because I still just don't know how I feel about this album. I don't hate it, far from it. I like it better than Epicloud for sure. In fact, I think this is actually my second favorite Devin offering right after Addictied! So I guess I'm saying I don't know what my problem is.

Useless Fact: My buddy Uvulapie actually sings background vocals as part of the Universal Choir.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Cole, Nat King - "The Christmas Song"

Cole, Nat King - The Christmas Song
2009, Capitol

1. The Christmas Song
2. Deck the Hall
3. O Come All Ye Faithful
4. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
5. O Tannenbaum
6. O Little Town of Bethlehem
7. I Saw Three Ships
8. O Holy Night
9. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
10. A Cradle in Bethlehem
11. Away in a Manger
12. Joy to the World
13. The First Noel
14. Caroling, Caroling
15. Silent Night
16. Buon Natale
17. All I Want For Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth)
18. The Happiest Christmas Tree
19. The Christmas Song (ft. Natalie Cole)

I've wanted to replace my Chestnuts Roastin' Nat King Cole collection with a proper one for a long time. This year I finally did it. If you're looking for a Nat collection, this is the one to get. I like that the balance of songs on here is more toward the hymns and carols and less to the silly, fun songs. Not that there's anything wrong with silly, fun songs - I just like more of a balance. Now I just have to get some Frank Sanatra and I'll have the "holy trinity" of Christmas performers.

Useless Fact: I am happy to report that there is no version of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" on this disc.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Vengeance Rising - "Released Upon the Earth"

Vengeance Rising - Released Upon the Earth
1992/2014, Roxx 

1. Help Me
2. The Damnation of Judas and the Salvation of the Thief
3. Released Upon the Earth
4. Human Dark Potential
5. Instruments of Death
6. Lest You Be Judged
7. Out of Bounds
8. Bishop of Souls
9. Tion
10. You Will Be Hated
Bonus Tracks
11. Interview (Daniel & Johnny)
12. Interview (George Ochoa)

Released Upon the Earth is a much better album than Destruction Comes. I think this is due in part to Roger having some help from people like Jimmy Brown (Deliverance), Johnny Vasquez (Sacred Warrior), and Jamie Mitchell (Scaterd Few). I think Roger wanted to move to a more death metal sound as a few tracks on this album boarder on that ("Human Dark Potential" and "Instruments of Death"). Still, it's not quite up there with the first two albums. Simplistic riffs still abound but the fantastic drumming, Roger's unique lyrical style, and overall vibe manage to make it enjoyable. There's even some pretty good bass work by Victor Macias (Tourniquet). Specifically, the bass line in "Lest You Be Judged" is just sick - one of the best tracks, by the by. It's odd that the album begins with a six-minute "almost instrumental" with "Help Me." It's a plodding and ponderous song that's quite unsettling when you remember just what was going on with Roger at the time. Hearing him scream "HELP ME! SOMEBODY HELP ME!" kind of puts chills down my spine. 

Released has just been... well... released by Roxx Records. It has been remastered and expanded a little bit. There are a couple interviews included as bonus tracks along with some liner notes by the touring guitarist. The remaster sounds great and the artwork and design is awesome too. They even kept that strange font the song titles were written in on the original edition. That earns some definite points with me. 

Useless Fact: "Tion" will rip to your Itunes as "Zion" so keep that in mind.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Pentatonix - "That's Christmas To Me"

Pentatonix - That's Christmas To Me
2014, RCA

1. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
2. White Winter Hymnal
3. Sleigh Ride
4. Winter Wonderland/Don't Worry Be Happy
5. That's Christmas To Me
6. Mary, Did You Know?
7. Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy
8. It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
9. Santa Claus is Coming to Town
10. Silent Night
Bonus Track
11. Let It Go

I heard about Pentatonix on Facebook. One or two of my Facebook friends were writing statuses like, "ZOMG! PENTATONIX IS THE BEST THING EVAR!!!11!!!" Or something to that effect. So I asked my wife if she knew who they were and then she pulled them up on You Tube for me. Holy smokes! They may not be the best thing ever but they are dang good. I'm not even really into a capella music that much. The things they do with their voices and song arrangements are really a thing of beauty. This Christmas album is superb - definitely an instant classic. Everyone's voices are so smooth! So wonderful! This album is such a success because they give all these holiday classics a unique twist that you're not going to hear anywhere else. I mean... they do "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" just with their voices.... and it rocks. I would go as far as to say that if you can't find something about these kids to like then you're an idiot.

Useless Fact: The bass singer looks like Josh Grobin. The tall white guy looks like a Twilight vampire.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Amaranthe - "Massive Addictive"

Amaranthe - Massive Addictive
2014, Spinefarm

1. Dynamite
2. Drop Dead Cynical
3. Trinity
4. Massive Addictive
5. Digital World
6. True
7. Unreal
8. Over and Done
9. Danger Zone
10. Skyline
11. An Ordinary Abnormality
12. Exhale

Imagine my surprise when I found out Amaranthe was releasing a new album this year. I'd only just gotten into The Nexus earlier this spring. Amaranthe is one of those bands whose music instantly puts me in a good mood. Massive Addictive continues the metal/pop/dance fusion with plenty of high energy, upbeat songs. However, while the pace on the last album seldom let up, the band slows things down ever so slightly and lets the songs breath a little. There are a lot more mid-paced songs here - the first single, "Drop Dead Cyincal" and the title track being a perfect examples. With the slower pace comes a lot more variety and creativity I think. Not to say the band has gone soft - far from it. It's just not a non-stop high speed train to the end of the disc anymore. My biggest complaint is the song lengths. Most are just over three minutes and some have enough life that they could linger a bit longer. Amaranthe seems to be getting some traction in the U.S. now having opened up for Within Temptation. I hope they catch on here in a big way because they're a great band.

Useless Fact: They've switched growlers but I can't remember the name of the old one, nor the new one. Also, I think "Unreal" is a song about soccer.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Weezer - "Everything Will Be Alright In The End"

Weezer - Everything Will Be Alright In The End
2014, Universal

1. Ain't Got Nobody
2. Back to the Shack
3. Eulogy For a Rock Band
4. Lonely Girl
5. I've Had it Up to Here
6. The British Are Coming
7. Da Vinci
8. Go Away
9. Cleopatra
10. Foolish Father
11. The Futurescope Trilogy
          a. The Waste Lands
          b. Anonymous
          c. Return to Ithaka

I was pretty much done with Weezer after Raditude. A lot of people were. Raditude was such a light inconsequential album. There was one good song that I remember and the rest was just filler and fluff. Shortly thereafter they released Hurley which I didn't even bother to investigate. I was justified in doing so by the reviews which amount to, "not as bad as Raditude." I'd written off Weezer as a band who'd never make another good album again. However, a couple months ago a Rolling Stone article passed before my eyes announcing Weezer's new album and their "return to their roots." I usually roll my eyes at this because waning bands have a tendency to say this whenever a new album comes out. It's usually all smoke and mirrors and the band makes whatever album they feel like. I did hold a cautious hope that maybe this time was true...

Then I heard, "Back to the Shack." A song were Rivers Cuomo pretty much states outright that, "Yeah, all those albums weren't very good because I was trying to be world famous." "Back to the Shack" was a fun song and my hope for a good album burned brighter. It also takes a a certain kind of person to write an apology song like that. Now that I've digested this album for almost a month do I have good news or bad news?

Good news. Great news. Everything Will Be Alirght In The End is a fantastic album. It does represent a return to their roots in some aspects. "Ain't Got Nobody" sounds like it could have come from Pinkerton and "Lonely Girl" echoes the thick chords and down picking that characterized a lot of the Blue Album. I think the thing that really makes this a good album, aside from some of the best songs the band has put out in fifteen years or so, is the energy. There's so much infectious energy here! You can tell the band decided that, successful or no, they would put out the absolute best album they could without worrying about the charts. Heck, they've even got an epic closing track ("The Futurescope Trilogy") that's dang near progressive. I kind of like seeing that side of them. Welcome back, Weezer! We missed you!

Useless Fact: "The British Are Coming" is about the American Revolution. No, really. I guess they wanted to write an Iron Maiden song in Weezer style!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Five Years of Adam's Ipod!

Holy Cow!

Has it really been five years? Here's a video of me rambling on about it! Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - "Hypnotic Eye"

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - Hypnotic Eye
2014, Warner Bros.

1. American Dream Plan B
2. Fault Lines
3. Red River
4. Full Grown Boy
5. All You Can Carry
6. Power Drunk
7. Forgotten Man
8. Sins of My Youth
9. U Get Me High
10. Burnt Out Town
11. Shadow People

I wasn't quite as impressed with the one Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers album I have (as opposed to just Tom Petty himself) and at first I thought the same was going to be true with Hypnotic Eye. My first listen was kind of... underwhelming. However, it soon grew on me and I really enjoy it. It's not anything ground-breaking that's for sure, but I think that's part of its charm. Tom Petty is always reliable. I don't think he's capable of doing anything "bad" per se. That's what this album is - simple, unpretentious rock n' roll. It tastes great and goes down smooth.

Useless Fact: I don't really have any obscure Tom Petty trivia, unfortunately. I think he's a White personality-type... if you're familiar with the Hartman color code of personality.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Blood Stain Child - "Epsilon"

Blood Stain Child - Epsilon
2011, Coroner

1. Sirius VI
2. Forever Free
3. Stargazer
4. S.O.P.H.I.A.
5. Unlimited Alchemist
6. Electricity
7. Eternal
8. Moon Light Wave
9. Dedicated to Violator
10. Merry-Go-Round
11. La+
12. Sai-Ka-No
Bonus Track
13. Royal Sky

So yeah... that is some swell cover art isn't it? Good grief. I don't know who the artist is but this is amazing. Definitely among my favorite pieces in the vault. The music rocks too. It's "Japanese trance metal" - at least I think that's the official designation. Basically it's a combination of electronic dance music and metal not unlike Amaranthe. While Amaranthe is more on the pop/commercial spectrum, Blood Stain Child is more on the metal side. There's also a lot more growling. Probably won't surprise anyone to say that I really enjoy this style of music, and this band in particular. I think I could do with a little less emo/hardcore growls and more singing here though. For example, "Stargazer" has nary a growl and is one of my favorite songs.

Useless Fact: I think this band started out as more death metal in style.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Jacob's Trouble - "Jacob's Trouble"

Jacob's Trouble - Jacob's Trouble
1993, Frontline

1. Wild, Wild Ride
2. Lovehouse
3. Desiree
4. This Moment
5. It's a Boy's, Boy's, Boy's, Boy's World
6. Best Part of Me
7. Time Bomb
8. Better Part of Me
9. Tears of an Angel
10. Lovin' Kindness
11. Way of the Cross

Back in the day I had a friend in my youth group who loved this band. Of course, she was a big fan of the Monkees as well. Jacob's Trouble's first few albums were kind of Monkee-esque (or so I hear) and that's probably why she was so rabid for them. I was never a huge fan and I'm not sure what possessed me to buy this self-titled album other than I was at Kingdom Bound and had money burning a hole in my pocket. This album actually represents a shift in their sound to more of a modern (at the time) alternative rock sound. I'd say it's not unlike Uthanda's first album. Despite never being a huge fan I really dug this album at the time and, being inspired to buy it by the band's appearance on Frontline Rewind, really dig it now. I don't think I'll every explore the band's back catalog but I do love this one.

Useless Fact: When I opened up my CD I found that there was still a little Compassion International ad flyer stuck in there. That was the big thing then - to sponsor a need child through them. My mom did it... sponsored one kid for years and years until she grew up and didn't need it anymore. That's how cool my mom is. Anyway, a lot of Christian artists got involved - in the advertising anyway. I remember ads featuring Phil Keaggy and Cindy Morgan to name a couple.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Knott, Michael - "Strip Cycle"

Knott, Michael - Strip Cycle
1996, Tooth & Nail

1. Sugar Mama
2. Tattoo
3. Rockstars on H
4. Transistor Sister
5. Light My Fuse
6. Burnin' On Fire
7. Bad Check
8. Milk & Peas
9. Supergirl
10. Everything
11. Am I Winnin' Somthing?
12. Too Long
13. Denial

Okay, so I guess I am a Mike Knott person after all because I seem to like the stuff I find. Strip Cycle is no different. It's an all acoustic rock album with catchy tunes and the poignant lyrics Knott is known for. Much cello is present as well, which is never bad. I can't believe this actually came out on Tooth & Nail. Were they like... sick or something? I mean, Mike Knott is an established artist with a history and everything. A bit different from the dorky kids and their punk and hardcore that pretty much made up the T&N line up back in the day (Starflyer 59 notwithstanding).

Useless Fact: I don't know if the "H" in "Rockstars on H" is censored on purpose or what. Probably, knowing how weird we Christians can be about nonsense like that. It stands for "heroine" by the way. I believe the song also appeared on an Aunt Bettys album.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Wiley, Tess - "Little Secrets"

Wiley, Tess - Little Secrets
2012, Rolpolrecords

1. Little Secrets
2. It Rained
3. Tornados
4. Hestia
5. Sticks and Stones
6. My Heart
7. Rescue Me
8. How Much I Love You
9. Sad Clown
10. Good What We've Got
11. Light Of My Life

I had a huge crush on Tess Wiley back in the day. I had fantasies that Sixpence would play at Kingdom Bound and I'd meet her there and we'd hit it off. Well... they did play at Kingdom Bound but by that time Tess had left to form her own band, Phantasmic. I had an old CD called Fluffy vs. Phantasmic. I really enjoyed the Phantasmic tracks. Hated the Fluffy ones, though. That was when they were in their "endless feedback noise" phase. Anyway, fast-forward fifteen or so years and I randomly searched for Tess one day to find out what she was up to. Turns out she's making awesome pop music. Little Secrets is a stellar pop record. It's mostly acoustic with some upbeat tracks tailor-made for the radio (like the title track or "Tornados"). There's also some more introspective and moody tracks like "It Rained." The lyrics are honest, heartfelt, and genuine and make me feel ALL THE FEELS. Especially when she sings about her kids ("How Much I Love You"). It's also little touches like the lyrics to "Hestia" where Tess confesses that sometimes she'd just rather watch television than write songs. It really sucks that I will not hear any of these songs on the radio. There is no justice, I tell ya!

Useless Fact: As far as I know Tess now lives in Germany with her husband and two children.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

New Vlog: September Pickups and Reissue Discussion

Hey! I've got a new video up on You Tube. In this episode I talk about September's acquisitions and talk a little bit about reissues and what I like to see in them.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Cooper, Alice - "Raise Your Fist and Yell"

Cooper, Alice - Raise Your Fist and Yell
1987, MCA

1. Freedom
2. Lock Me Up
3. Give the Radio Back
4. Step On You
5. Not That Kind of Love
6. Prince of Darkness
7. Time to Kill
8. Chop, Chop, Chop
9. Gail
10. Roses On White Lace

Remember way, way back in my review of Firehouse's debut album where I talked about how they were an example of everything that was good about Eighties hard rock? Well, here's another good example. The Coop continued the direction he'd begun in Constrictor with Raise Your Fist and Yell. It's textbook Eighties hard rock... in a good way. The riffs are fast and furious. The songs are to the point and catchy. I'm kind of surprised by how heavy this is. I mean, it's not Brutal Planet heavy, but it's pretty heavy considering the time. You know from the opening notes of "Freedom" that the Coop has arrived and he's taking no prisoners! The mood is appropriately dark as well. I would say it's essential listening for Halloween. Or possibly before or after a horror movie marathon. Now I never heard this album when it originally came out but listening to it totally activates my Eighties nostalgia chip. Especially the during the heyday of slasher movies and what not. Hey, remember when they used to market stuff from Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street to kids? Remember how, for the most part, parents were okay with it? It was just part of popular culture back then and I don't think people were so worried about how it would effect children. Weird. Anyway, this is definitely one of the best Cooper platters I've listened to.

Useless Fact: I think "Freedom" was the hit off this album.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Knifeworld - "The Unravelling"

Knifeworld - The Unravelling
2014, Inside Out

1. I Can Teach You How To Lose a Fight
2. The Orphanage
3. Send Him Seaworthy
4. Don't Land on Me
5. The Skulls We Buried Have Regrown Their Eyes
6. Destroy the World We Love
7. This Empty Room Was Once Alive
8. I'm Hiding Behind My Eyes

I own The Unravelling because of You Tube. I guess those algorithms can actually do some good! One day Knifeworld showed up on my You Tube feed, specifically "Send Him Seaworthy." It was a curious mix to say the least. It sort of sounded like... I don't know... Roger Waters with a woodwind band. I have no idea how to accurately describe it other than "progressive" and "psychedelic." There's bassoon in it. And not just a little, either. Like, it's a prominent part of the band's sound. However, it's not just the weirdness that turned me on to the band. There's a lot of melody here and a lot of lush musical soundscapes. Take the aforementioned "Send Him Seaworthy" - it's got one of the most beautiful piano parts I've ever heard. A couple songs take on a more sinister edge, like "The Skulls We Buried Have Regrown Their Eyes," which is dark and moody and quite creepy. Certainly one of the most unique albums in my collection.

Useless Fact: I don't really know this band well enough to give you a fact. Oh, wait, here's one. The lead singer used to be in a band called The Cardiacs.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Sepultura - "Chaos A.D."

Sepultura - Chaos A.D.
1993, Roadrunner

1. Refuse/Resist
2. Territory
3. Slave New World
4. Amen
5. Kaiowas
6. Propaganda
7. Biotech is Godzilla
8. Nomad
9. We Who Are Not As Others
10. Manifest
11. The Hunt
12. Clenched Fist
Bonus Tracks:
13. Chaos B.C.
14. Kaiowas (Tribal Jam)
15. Territory (Live)
16. Amen/Inner Self (Live)

Years ago I was a member of this little CD trading website called LaLa. For a year or two it was pretty cool. You'd send out your unwanted discs and you'd get stuff on your want list for a dollar. That is how I got Chaos A.D. originally. I liked it but got rid of it for some reason. I cannot for the life of me remember what that reason was. However, I stumbled upon this disc again and immediately repurchased it for the the vault. Seriously, what was my deal? This album is a thrash metal classic. I've never been a huge fan of the band as a whole, I absolutely love this album. While it's light on intricate riffing the band makes up for it with sheer power and groove. It's amazingly heavy, yet very accessible at the same time. Great for long car trips. Don't worry, little Chaos A.D., daddy will never send you away again....

Useless Fact: Sepultura is the Brazilian word for "grave." 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Adam's Ipod: The Vlog!

Here's a new video from yours truly! In this episode I talk about how I met Leigh Nash from Sixpence None the Richer and how Roger Martinez from Vengeance Rising randomly called me on the phone!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Knott, Michael - "Rocket and a Bomb"

Knott, Michael - Rocket and a Bomb
1994, Brainstorm

1. Jan the Weatherman
2. Jail
3. Make Me Feel Good
4. Serious
5. John Barrymore, Jr.
6. Train
7. Bubbles
8. Kitty
9. Adrian
10. Skinny Skins
11. Rocket and a Bomb

My family and I used to take annual trips to Ocean City, NJ every summer for most of my teenage years. One year we found this little Christian bookstore somewhere in town. I remember they didn't really have that much. Well... they didn't have much that I didn't already have, that is. Thus, Rocket and a Bomb was purchased because it was one of the few tapes I didn't have. I listened to it for most of that trip. I was having a hard time sleeping that year and I remember some late nights listening to this album while the rest of my family slept. I didn't really like it at the time. I think it was just too mellow for me - a little too mature. However, as often happens with me, hearing this now makes me fall in love with it. It's sort of a concept album about the people Michael Knott lived with in an apartment building. There's "Jan the Weatherman" who often comes over and "wants to join the band." There's "John Barrymore, Jr." who's got sixteen cats and a dog and apparently used to give acting lessons to Steve McQueen. Particularly poignant is the story of "Bubbles." He was a drug addict that was kidnapped and beaten on the day Michael was supposed to pick him up and take him to rehab. The whole album is full of emotion and I really connected with it on this second round. I guess I'm going to have to take back the whole "I'm not really much of a Mike Knott person" thing. 

Apparently, Down the Line magazine wants to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Rocket and a Bomb. They've got a Kickstarter campaign up and running. I'm seriously thinking about backing it.

Useless Fact: "Skinny Skins" is reportedly about The Choir's Steve Hindalong.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Now You Can See Me!

So I decided to make videos! I will probably make more as time goes on. It was kind of an adventure learning how to do some of this stuff. Check it out!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Cooper, Alice - "Brutal Planet"

Cooper, Alice - Brutal Planet
2000, Spitfire

1. Brutal Planet
2. Wicked Young Man
3. Sanctuary
4. Blow Me a Kiss
5. Eat Some More
6. Pick Up the Bones
7. Pessi-Mystic
8. Gimmie
9. It's the Little Things
10. Take It Like a Woman
11. Cold Machines

A friend in college gave me a copy of Brutal Planet and I think it was my first exposure to Alice Cooper. I think I still have that burned copy somewhere. Anyway, I liked it then but for some reason or another lost track of it. Sometimes I am a crazy person who loses track of good music. Anyway, this disc is absolutely the heaviest thing the Coop has done. It's got thick, chunky guitars, and heavy production. There's a bit of a nu-metal vibe here, I think. The songs are immensely catchy with most being up-tempo rockers. It's probably one of the darkest albums Alice has recorded, thematically speaking, but it's also (ironically enough) one of his most Christian.

Useless Fact: This album and the next, Dragontown form sort of a duology as it's been said that Dragontown is the worst city on Brutal Planet.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Lovewar - "Soak Your Brain"

Lovewar - Soak Your Brain
1993, Pakaderm

1. Soak Your Brain
2. Golden Rule
3. Take Me
4. Welling Up
5. Space and Time
6. You Win
7. Keep Your Hands Off My Stuff
8. In the Sea
9. Just the Same
10. You Are Not Alone

After hearing Rex Carroll & The Bleed I found out that Lovewar featured none other than Tim Bushong. I really enjoyed Take Back a Life so I picked up Lovewar's one and only album. Soak Your Brain is one of those albums that, had it come out just two or three years earlier, would have really taken off. It's sort of a combination of Fear Not and King's X. Tim Bushong must really be a fan of King's X because it's all over the music here - harmonies galore. It's also got a lot of groove too. In my review for the Bleed I think I gave most of the credit for the music to Rex Carroll. That was definitely a mistake because, as this album proves, Tim Bushong is plenty talented himself. Definitely worth picking up. It's dirt cheap now too. I can't believe I didn't get this the first time around. How in the world did I miss it?

Useless Fact: This album was produced by John and Dino Elephante. Though the production isn't quite as shiny and clean as it usually is. That's a good thing for this album, though.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Carman - "Addicted to Jesus"

Carman - Addicted to Jesus
1991, Benson

1. Our Turn Now
2. Holy Ghost Hop
3. Satan, Bite the Dust
4. 1955
5. Hunger For Holiness
6. Come Into this House
7. Addicted to Jesus
8. Jesus is the Way
9. The Third Heaven

Addicted to Jesus was sort of the apex of Carman's career. Everyone knew who he was and most everyone I knew liked him. However, he was starting to attract some controversy regarding his act. Some people thought he was skirting the edges of heresy. Some were put off by his relationship with Rev. Carlton Peterson. Some people took issue with the whole "Addicted to Jesus" thing - specifically that it made light of addiction as a disease. Honestly, I think that Carman was just an easy target. As for the album itself, Addicted to Jesus isn't as good as Revival in the Land, but I still love some of the songs on here. I like both "Holy Ghost Hop" and "Come Into this House." I also like the title track, which has DC Talk as guest stars. Carman's raging hard on for the Fifties rears its head too. We've got "Our Turn Now" (guest starring Petra), a rock song about how everything went to pot after they took prayer out of schools. Then there's "1955" - I actually really like this song. It's more genuine nostalgia and not a diatribe, also very catchy. The story songs ("Satan, Bite the Dust" and "The Third Heaven") have not aged well. Addicted to Jesus is kind of a hit-and-miss for me.

One more thing about Carman...

He once said in an interview that his mission was "to unite the denominations and the generations." And you know what? For a few years there in the late eighties/early nineties he totally did it. I liked Carman, my friends liked Carman, my mom liked Carman. It was hard to find a person that didn't like him. His concerts were filled with people of all ages from all different kinds of churches. So yeah... kudos to Carman.

Useless Fact: Much like Revival a VHS video was produced with videos for "Our Turn Now," "Addicted to Jesus" and others. This one was not a concert like the previous.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Yankovic, "Weird Al" - "Mandatory Fun"

Yankovic, "Weird Al" - Mandatory Fun
2014, RCA

1. Handy
2. Lame Claim to Fame
3. Foil
4. Sports Song
5. Word Crimes
6. My Own Eyes
7. NOW That's What I Call Polka!
8. Mission Statement
9. Inactive
10. First World Problems
11. Tacky
12. Jackson Park Express

I am pleased to say that "Weird Al's" latest (and probably last tradition) album entered the Billboard charts at number one! It's about time! I think part of that was due to the media blitz surrounding the album. Al released eight music videos in eight days to promote the album. It worked perfectly. Honestly, I'd be surprised if Al gave up doing traditional albums, especially after this. Mandatory Fun is pretty fun as per usual for a "Weird Al" disc, but overall I don't think it's as strong as Alpocalypse. For instance, while "Sports Song" and "Mission Statement" are amusing they do wear out their welcome. I mean, "Sports Song" is a march - which isn't a style that people just listen to. "Mission Statement" is a great sounding song (in the Crosby, Still, and Nash vein), but the lyrics, filled with corporate double speak - aren't really funny in the long run. Also, the parody of Imagine Dragons "Radioactive," here titled "Inactive" is just as inert as the title suggests. Thankfully, there are some seriously awesome parodies here. "Handy," "Word Crimes," and "Tacky" are all top shelf Yankovic. I also really like the original song "First World Problems." It's a decent album but I don't think it's as consistently funny as the last one was. I will say that I hope Al doesn't give up on traditional albums... y'know... for us old folks.

Useless Fact: Mandatory Fun is the last album in "Weird Al's" record contract. He's admitted that the album title might have something to do with that.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Epica - "The Quantum Enigma"

Epica - The Quantum Enigma
2014, Nuclear Blast

1. Originem
2. The Second Stone
3. The Essence of Silence
4. Victims of Contingency
5. Sense Without Sanity - The Impervious Code -
6. Unchain Utopia
7. The Fifth Guardian - Interlude -
8. Chemical Insomnia
9. Reverence - Living in the Heart -
10. Omen - The Ghoulish Malady
11. Canvas of Life
12. Natural Corruption
13. The Quantum Enigma - Kingdom of Heaven Part II -
Bonus Track
14. In All Conscience

1. Canvas of Life (acoustic)
2. In All Conscience (acoustic)
3. Dreamscape (acoustic)
4. Natural Corruption (acoustic)

Epica is another symphonic metal band I had the pleasure of discovering while on vacation. While Within Temptation's focus is on more commercial appeal (at least on Hydra) and Xandria has the operatic/Celtic flavor, Epica is a lot more gothic and metal. Sure, there's the big choirs and strings and such - but there's also a lot of growling in the vocals, blast beats, and crushing riffs. It's all suitably... well... epic. I must praise the bonus track "In All Conscience" for a minute. It is one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard. Just the chorus melody itself gets me every time. Simone Simmons could be singing about waiting in line at the DMV and I would still be close to tears. It's stunning. The second disc has some acoustic remixes and is well worth the time. I'm happy to have found Epica. The Quantum Enigma is a great album!

Useless Fact: Oh, look. Simone Simmons also sang on Ayreon's 01 album.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Theocracy - "As the World Bleeds"

Theocracy - As the World Bleeds
2011, Ulterium

1. I AM
2. The Master Storyteller
3. Nailed
4. Hide in the Fairytale
5. The Gift of Music
6. 30 Pieces of Silver
7. Drown
8. Altar To the Unknown God
9. Light of the World
10. As the World Bleeds

Theocracy has been around for awhile but for some reason I never really investigated them. That is, until recently, of course. They're and American power metal/progressive metal band that sounds a bit like a combination of Dream Theater and early Stryper. They've got a lot of epic songs. Take the very first track, "I AM," which is an eleven minute opus about the characteristics of God. However, they've also got a lot of strong hooks as well. It is kind of nice to hear something new but at the same time rather familiar. I get a little bit nostalgic for the glory days of Christian metal when I listen to this. I imagine if this came out then they would have been THE band. It's also nice to hear such good quality, well put together metal with some good old fashioned Jesus lyrics. Not the "turn or burn" variety, mind you. They're a bit more worshipful - sometimes they deal with the human condition. Either way, it's nice to hear.

Useless Fact: I'm told the boys in Theocracy are Catholic. "Nailed" is a song about Martin Luther. Not against him either. So... yeah... I wonder what's going on there. Not that I mind - it's a great song!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Wiley, Stephen - "Rhythm and Poetry"

Wiley, Stephen - Rhythm and Poetry
1990, StarSong

1. Attitude
2. Colorblind
3. Soulfood
4. Love God Hate Sin
5. You're My All
6. Peace
7. Fight to the Finish
8. On the Devil's Case
9. Teenage Mutant Youth Group Member

I remember Stephen Wiley because back in the day my mother bought this tape. Not for me, mind you. She didn't think it was rap. I think she thought it was going to be like Larnelle Harris or something. Yes, yes, I see the letters of the album spell "R A P" too. I don't know why she didn't see it. Anyway, I liked it okay but was never too enamored with it for whatever reason. He's got an old school rap style with early 90's hip-hop music. I actually enjoyed it more now than I did then. Go figure. Extra points for using the Inspector Gadget theme in "On the Devil's Case." Also, "Teenage Mutant Youth Group Member" features a cornucopia of pop-culture stuff - the Ninja Turtles, Pee-Wee Herman, etc. Of course here's the *sigh* rap ballad, "You're My All." Folks, there's the thing, at some point you're just talking. That's what "You're My All" is. He's just talking over slow music. ARGH! I. HATE. RAP. BALLADS. Other than that though, it's a fun little CD, and a fun little trip down memory lane. Like I said, I enjoyed it a lot more now than I did then.

Useless Fact: From what I've read Stephen Wiley was one of the first Christian rappers ever with his song "Bible Break." Also, Rex Carroll of Whitecross fame plays guitar on the rock/rap mashup "Love God Hate Sin."

Monday, July 21, 2014

Rex Carroll & The Bleed - "Take Back a Life"

Rex Carroll & The Bleed - Take Back a Life
1996/2011, Retroactive

1. These Shoes
2. Love Over All
3. Sake/Round the World
4. Hose Me Down
5. Let the Rain Fall Down
6. Me, My Orb, and Mine
7. Take Back a Life
8. Lies/That's the Way Life Goes
9. Too Late (Time Has Come)
10. Stay the Same

Take Back a Life is an interesting little piece of Christian rock history. Originally released under the name "The Bleed" with the album title of Ouch!, this disc was an attempt by Rex Carroll (of Whitecross) to reinvent himself. I remember seeing this in my local bookstore and even listening to the demo. I actually was impressed but then, for whatever reason, never got around to buying it.

After leaving Whitecross, Rex teamed up with Tim Bushong to try and create an album that would mesh well with the current music scene. Of course, most people know that by the mid 90's Rex Carroll had become persona non grata. In fact, the original record company, Rugged, didn't even list Rex or Tim in the liner notes. The question becomes, did this bid to be modern actually work? Well... no... and yes. It definitely didn't work commercially. I think part of the problem is that mid 90's music was made by emotionally hurt kids singing emotionally hurt music. Even in the Christian scene it was hard to find any kind of upbeat anything. Rex and Tim do not appear to be so tortured as they were adults with lives and a little perspective. As a result their music is lacking that sort of emotional writhing and suffering that was so common. Also, their lyrics, while not as evangelistic as Whitecross were still down right "in your face" compared to - let's say - a Tooth and Nail or Blonde Vinyl record.

So do they work musically? Absolutely. This is freaking Rex Carroll here. Imagine a mix of Alice in Chains with King's X and you have a good idea of what's going on. You can tell that Rex and Tim are professional musicians in every note. From the short little guitar ditty "Sake," to the almost bluesy/modern worship sounding "Let the Rain Fall Down," to the cool riff of the closing track the quality bleeds through. Ironically, I think it's another reason this album failed commercially. It was just too high quality at a time when Christian rock was loud and noisy punk inspired amateur hour. Or ska. Or swing. Remember when that was a thing? I suppose it's just not sloppy enough for true "grunge!" It's got too much precision. Anyway, this is a fine album that deserves to be enjoyed. It's cheap too, so you have no excuse!

Useless Fact: Here's what the original, awful cover art looked like:

Monday, July 14, 2014

Bigelf - "Into the Maelstrom"

Bigelf - Into the Maelstrom
2014, Inside Out

1. Incredible Time Machine
2. Hypersleep
3. Almost Gone
4. Alien Frequency
5. The Professor & the Madman
6. Mr. Harry McQuhae
7. Vertigod
8. Control Freak
9. High
10. Edge of Oblivion
11. Theater of Dreams
12. ITM

Here's something completely different. Bigelf is a progressive rock band, but instead of being clean and precise like Flower Kings, Transatlantic, or Spock's Beard they're dirty and heavy. There's just a mess of influences here. I hear Black Sabbath, Led Zepplin, the Beatles, Pink Floyd, and ELO. The guitar and bass tones are fat and fuzzy. It's just cool, cool stuff from start to finish. Definitely a refreshing band that's really different from the stuff I'm used to listening to. The lyrics have a distinctly sci-fi slant to them - I almost want to say this is a concept album, but I'm not sure. Some people have complained about the mastering on this album as being horrible. I guess it just proves that I don't have the "magic ear" because I never had any problems with it.

Useless Fact: Ex-Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy bangs the skins for this disc.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Iron Maiden - "Number of the Beast"

Iron Maiden - The Number of the Beast
1982/1998, Sanctuary

1. Invaders
2. Children of the Damned
3. The Prisoner
4. 22 Acacia Avenue
5. The Number of the Beast
6. Run to the Hills
7. Gangland
8. Total Eclipse
9. Hallowed Be Thy Name

When I was growing up Number of the Beast was like numero uno on any Christian watchdog's hit-list. Just look at the cover art! There's Satan! The chorus of the title track says "666!" They're evil. Case closed. I mean looking at the lyrics and understanding the context would get in the way of sensationalism - and that crap sells! So yeah... contrary to popular Christian belief the song is far more "horror story" than "evil worship song." In fact, the narrator is expressing horror at what he's seeing, desperate to call the authorities. Also, let's take a look at that cover art again. Is the devil on strings like a puppet? Were Iron Maiden actually commenting on the true sovereignty of God? Um... probably not, but I think it's interesting nonetheless. It's got great anthemic songs - "The Prisoner" and "Run to the Hills." I don't have to tell anyone reading this that The Number of the Beast stands as a metal classic. An essential disc for any metalhead, Christian or no. Walmart chains regularly carry this album so you have no excuse not to buy it!

Useless Fact: While on the surface "22 Acacia Avenue" is about a hooker at said address. Of course, like a lot of Iron Maiden songs, a little digging reveals that it's actually against such things. It pleads for the lady to wake up, value herself, and get out of the situation.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Xandria - "Sacrificium"

Xandria - Sacrificium
2014, Napalm

1. Sacrificium
2. Nightfall
3. Dreamkeeper
4. Stardust
5. The Undiscovered Land
6. Betrayer
7. Until the End
8. Come With Me
9. Little Red Relish
10. Our Neverworld
11. Temple of Hate
12. Sweet Atonement

Sacrificium finds Xandria with their third vocalist in three albums, Diane Van Giersbergen (related to Anneke, maybe?). She's not quite as operatic as the last, but she does well and I really like her voice. I do miss Manuela though. They've also refined their sound a bit. I think the Celtic influences have faded back a bit, giving way to a more commercial sound. Slightly. I still prefer Neverworld's End over this one but I can confidently say that Xandria is one of my new favorite bands.

Useless Fact: I don't know this band well enough to have a fact. Other than the three vocalists in three albums thing.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Xandria - "Neverworld's End"

Xandria - Neverworld's End
2012, Napalm

1. A Prophecy of Worlds to Fall
2. Valentine
3. Forevermore
4. Euphoria
5. Blood on My Hands
6. Soulcrusher
7. The Dream Is Still Alive
8. The Lost Elysion
9. Call of the Wind
10. A Thousand Letters
11. Cursed
12. The Nomad's Crown
Bonus Track
13. When the Mirror Cracks

The first time I heard samples from Neverworld's End I thought, "This is like Loreena McKennitt singing metal." Indeed, along with the crushing riffs and epic symphonies there's vocalist Manuella Kraller. She sounds like a more operatic version of McKennitt or, if the internet is to be believed ex-Nightwish singer Tajra. Not that that matters to me at all. The combination sounds awesome. The band also has, at least in this album, a distinct Celtic flavor - especially in songs like "Call of the Wind" and "Cursed." So yeah... Xandria: Celtic McKennitt metal. And it's awesome.

Useless Fact: Vocalist Manuela Kraller was only on this one album.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Choir - "Shadow Weaver"

The Choir - Shadow Weaver
2014, Galaxy 21

1. Shadow Weaver
2. What You Think I Am
3. It Hurts To Say Goodbye
4. Get Gone
5. We All Know
6. Two Clouds Are One
7. White Knuckles
8. Everybody's Got a Guru
9. The Soul of Every Creature Cries Out
10. Frequency of Light
11. Rhythm of the Road
12. The Antithesis of Blue
13. Shadow Weaver Reprise

I've had some problems reviewing the last few Choir albums. I'd listen to them, love them for the first two weeks, write a glowing review, then realize that I didn't end up really liking them as much as I did initially. I wanted to eliminate that problem with Shadow Weaver. I've been listening to this for months, marinating in it, waiting for the "honeymoon" period to be over. I think I can talk about it a little bit more objectively. It's the band's very first Kickstarter release (a campaign which I supported!). I think they really wanted to take their time with this one - get the whole band to write songs together and not worry so much about time or funding. I think all the hard work shows as this is the strongest album the 2010's albums. Where Midnight Sun was solid, but suffered from a boring middle bit and Loudest Sound was just completely light-weight, Shadow Weaver is a step up. Steve's lyrics are leaps and bounds better than the previous album - striking that perfect balance of personal, universal, poignant and beautiful. And while the choruses can be pretty simplistic at times I really connected with the songs. The music is just as weighty. I would be remiss to mention "What You Think I Am" which is probably the darkest, heaviest sounding song the band has done. Shadow Weaver isn't perfect, but it is more than sufficient to scratch my Choir itch.

Useless Fact: "It Hurts To Say Goodbye" is based off the band member's daughters moving away. It makes me think of the day my little girl will have to move away. It also makes me appreciate how much my own mother sacrificed in letting me go.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Symphony X - "The Odyssey"

Symphony X - The Odyssey
2002, Inside Out

1. Inferno (Unleash the Fire)
2. Wicked
3. Incantations of the Apprentice
4. Accolade II
5. King of Terrors
6. The Turning
7. Awakenings
8. The Odyssey
Bonus Track
9. Masquerade

After listening to and loving the monster album that was Iconoclast I decided to check out some older X. The Odyssey lays the groundwork for that dark metal juggernaut by being reportedly a good deal heavier than their previous outings. However, it's still very much progressive with all the hallmarks of the genre. I would be remiss not to mention "The Odyssey" - a twenty-plus minute epic based on the epic poem of the same name. Some superb guitar work here, for sure. Face-melting leads abound! Russell Allen is a fantastic vocalist with a great range. He can go from snarling thrasher to power metal wailer to melodic crooner... sometimes in the same song. I confess this album was a little bit of a grower for me, but remains a textbook example of progressive metal.

Useless Fact: My edition came with not only the lyrics but also liner notes covering each song. I wish every album would do that.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Amaranthe - "The Nexus"

Amaranthe - The Nexus
2013, Spinefarm

1. Afterlife
2. Invincible
3. The Nexus
4. Theory of Everything
5. Stardust
6. Burn With Me
7. Mechanical Illusion
8. Razorblade
9. Future on Hold
10. Electroheart
11. Transhuman
12. Infinity

I stumbled upon Amaranthe while searching for new much on Amazon and iTunes. One Amazon reviewer said it was a mix of music from the Mega Man series, death metal, and pop. So yeah... pretty much had to check that out. The review is quite accurate. The band has three vocalists - one guy, one girl, and one growler. It actually works pretty well and gives the album some variety. Most of all, the album is a lot of fun! The momentum never lets up as the tracks are up-tempo rockers with cool, crushingly heavy riffs infused with some pop hooks. They take a slight breather with the "ballad" "Burn With Me" - which really should be on top 40 radio - but the pace remains. I think there's supposed to be some sort of concept or storyline here but I have no idea what it is. Doesn't matter, though it's still awesome.

Useless Fact: I don't quite know enough about this band to have an obscure fact. Other than that the girl singer is pretty. But you can see that for yourself.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Within Temptation - "Hydra"

Within Temptation - Hydra
2014, Nuclear Blast

1. Let Us Burn
2. Dangerous
3. And We Run
4. Paradise (What About Us?)
5. Edge of the World
6. Silver Moonlight
7. Covered By Roses
8. Dog Days
9. Tell Me Why
10. The Whole World Is Watching

I picked up Within Temptation's newest album at Walmart. I can only assume this means longtime fans think that Hydra is a "sell out" album. It's certainly got the makings of a sell out. It's got several guest vocalists like Howard Jones (from Killswitch Engage) and Tajra (ex-Nightwish). It also has Dave Pirner from Soul Asylum. You mean "Runaway Train" missing kids video Soul Asylum? The very same. It also has... Xzibit. Yes... Pimp My Ride Xzibit. I have no idea how that happened but it happened and it's here on this CD. Despite all the guest appearances I'll say this: if this is a sell out it's a dang good one. The songs are tight, heavy, bombastic and radio friendly. I especially like "Paradise (What About Us?)." It's such a monster tune and the addition of Tajra on vocals just makes it that much more epic. Also, Xzibit, while still sounding out of place, still does a decent job. He doesn't completely ruin the song - quite the opposite the combination of symphonic metal and rap... ain't half bad. I know, it surprised me too. If you're looking to dip your toes in the symphonic metal pool, Hydra isn't a bad place to start.

Useless Fact: This album came with a two-disc digipak edition. The second disc featured covers of "Radioactive" and "Summertime Sadness." Also, vocalist Sharon del Adel performed on Ayreon's 01 album.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Sherinian, Derek - "Black Utopia"

Sherinian, Derek - Black Utopia
2014, Armoury

1. The Fury
2. The Sons of Anu
3. Nightmare Cinema
4. Stony Days
5. Starcycle
6. Axis of Evil
7. Gypsy Moth
8. Sweet Lament
9. Black Utopia

I bought Black Utopia while I was on vacation based on name alone. As most prog fans know, Derek Sherinian used to play in Dream Theater. This album also features guitar legends Yngwie Malmsteen and Zakk Wylde. I did not know it was an instrumental album when I bought it. I'm not much for instrumentals for some reason. Despite that I enjoy this album as the music is exactly as stellar as you think it would be considering the people involved. There's a LOT of shredding. However, it's not a frequent player for me and is usually relegated to background music.

Useless Fact: This is actually a reissue. I think the original came out in 2002 or something.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

King's X - "Out of the Silent Planet (Collector's Edition - Remastered and Reloaded)"

King's X - Out of the Silent Planet (Collector's Edition - Remastered and Reloaded)
2014, Rock Candy

1. In the New Age
2. Goldilox
3. Power of Love
4. Wonder
5. Sometimes
6. King
7. What is This?
8. Far, Far Away
9. Shot of Love
10. Visions

Recently I learned that a British record company had reissued Out of Silent Planet - remastered with extensive liner notes and such. I had to have it. I imported it all the way from the UK. The original album had very little in the way of liner notes and such. Well... this edition is a cool find for collectors. The liner notes contain, along with the lyrics, an extensive interview with Dug Pinnick about the early days of the band. Pinnick talks about the band's early work with Petra and Phil Keaggy and their start as The Edge and Sneak Preview. There's also many photos and the original Kerrang review of the album. Cool stuff for someone like me. The music is stellar of course. It's the same fantastic album you've come to know and love (at least you should know it, you Philistine!). It's been remastered but there was never anything really wrong with the original master in my opinion. There aren't any extra tracks but an album like this doesn't need any. I hope Rock Candy does the next four albums as well! I will be importing them for sure!

Useless Fact: Apparently Dug isn't wild about the band name, King's X. He's not even sure what it means. I've always liked the name because it was unique and distinctive.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Vanden Plas - "Chronicles of the Immortals - Netherworld [path one]"

Vanden Plas - Chronicles of the Immortals - Netherworld [path one]
2014, Frontiers

1. Vision 1ne
2. Vision 2wo, The Black Knight
3. Vision 3hree, Godmaker
4. Vision 4our, Misery Affection Prelude
5. Vision 5ive, A Ghosts Requiem
6. Vision 6ix, New Vampyre
7. Vision 7even, The King and Children of Lost World
8. Vision 8ight, Misery Affection
9. Vision 9ine, Soul Alliance
10. Vision 10n, Inside

While listening to Chronicles the first time I was thinking I was going to be done with Vanden Plas. I didn't like the last album. It seemed boring to me. It's clear to me that the band is far more interested in making "theatrical metal experiences" than they are albums with songs on them. However, I soldiered on. Eventually I started to warm up to the album and now I would say I really like it. The songs have some meat to them and it holds my attention a lot better than Clockwork. I think there's some really great melodies and choruses here especially in "New Vampyre" and "Soul Alliance." The addition of a female vocalist adds some welcome variation too. The whole putting-numbers-in-where-letters-should-go thing kind of annoys me though. Christ 0 is still my favorite but I'm not quite ready to give up on Vanden Plas yet. I'll see what [path two] or whatever they come up with next before I make a final judgement.

Useless Fact: The concept of this album is based on a long running series of fantasy novels by German author, Wolfgang Hohlbein. Man, that is one German name right there.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

DC Talk - "Free At Last"

DC Talk - Free At Last
1992, Forefront

1. Luv is a Verb
2. That Kinda Girl
3. Greer
4. Jesus is Still Alright
5. Say the Words
7. Socially Acceptable
8. Free At Last
9. Time Is...
10. The Hardway
11. 2 Honks & a Negro
12. Lean On Me
13. Testimony
14. I Don't Want It
15. Will Power
16. Word 2 the Father
17. Jesus is Still Alright (Reprise)

I have no idea how I've gone so long without actually owning this album. I also don't know how, despite having never owned this album until this year, I know almost all the words. I remember when Free At Last came out because it had come out the same time as Tourniquet's Pathogenic Ocular Dissonance. Most of the kids in my youth group bought Free At Last, but I think you all know what I bought. It was around Christmastime and all of us were geared up to go to a Newsboys concert but had to turn back because of the weather. Free At Last was the soundtrack to that trip. I am surprised at how much I enjoy this album. It's certainly a huge improvement over Nu Thang. The vibe is a lot more "genuine hip-hop" and less "Sister Act 2 finale." Toby's rhymes have improved immensely and by this point he's developed his own style. The songs themselves are classics. This disc even has little "skits" like hip-hop albums used to have back in the day. They're short and fairly amusing so they don't wear out their welcome. Like I said, I don't know why it took so long for me to finally get a copy.

Useless Fact: My youth group made up a little dance for "Jesus Is Still Alright." I can almost remember it the steps too.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Iced Earth - "Plagues of Babylon"

Iced Earth - Plagues of Babylon
2014, Century Media

1. Plagues of Babylon
2. Democide
3. The Culling
4. Among the Dead
5. Resistance
6. The End?
7. If I Could See You Now
8. Cthulhu
9. Peacemaker
10. Parasite
11. Spirit of the Times
12. Highwayman

I don't always go on vacation, but when I do I end up buying an Iced Earth CD. Chalk it up to my relaxed attitude toward money-spending while on vacation. Even though I described their last album as "perfectly pleasant" I figured even if that's all it is it won't be a total loss. Luckily, it is better than just "perfectly pleasant" in that at least I can remember many of the songs and actually have some favorites. Stu Block continues to perform admirably and their's a little bit more variety in terms of song tempos. Also, no mention of single mothers anywhere. Plagues is quasi-concept album. The first six songs have a story arc continuing the band's Set Abominae mythos while the latter half is stand alone songs. Much like I prefer the non-conspiracy episodes of the X-Files, I prefer the stand-alone songs better. They're not tied down with the, frankly, inane story and that helps them resonate with me more. All I have to say about the story itself is that it includes zombies and I am so sick of zombies. I wish the general public would get over their fascination with them. On the other hand we have "If I Could See You Now." It's a great song about the pain of losing a loved one. "Cthulhu" is about, as the name suggests, a man named George Wimberton and his struggles in getting his family to church on time. Ha ha! I'm kidding, of course. It's about - you guessed it - the national debt crisis. Okay, all kidding aside I think I would have rather had a concept album about the Lovecraft stuff than the Set Abominae stuff. I guess I'm still in the very small minority that likes The Glorious Burden the best.

Useless Fact: Russell Allen (Symphony X) and Hansi Kursch (Blind Guardian) lend some guest vocals. Kursch and Scheaffer put out a couple albums together as Demons & Wizards.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Icon For Hire - "Scripted"

Icon For Hire - Scripted
2011, Tooth & Nail

1. Overture
2. Theater
3. Make a Move
4. Get Well
5. The Grey
6. Off With Her Head
7. Fight
8. Up In Flames
9. Iodine
10. Only a Memory
11. Pieces

Icon's debut, Scripted, lacks some of the pop, hip-hop, and electronic flavor of their self-titled album, but it's still a great debut. It manages to set itself apart from the Fireflights and the Letter Blacks of the world. The hooks are strong and the lyrics are insightful and clever (for example: "Crazy's I believe the medical term/ When we want to recover/ But we don't want to learn..." from "Iodine"). I will admit that it does sound slightly more generic than their self-titled but I think that's to be expected as the band is still refining their sound. However, their heart and attitude shine through - especially on tracks like "Make a Move" and "Off With Her Head." I would almost compare them to Christian metal legends, Bloodgood, in terms of having that special type of passion that just breaks out of the music. Having listened to both albums time and time again I can say that this is a band I will be keeping an eye on.

Useless Fact: Lead vocalist, Ariel, makes and sells her own clothes on Etsy.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - "Into the Great Wide Open"

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - Into the Great Wide Open
1991, MCA

1. Learning To Fly
2. King's Highway
3. Into the Great Wide Open
4. Two Gunslingers
5. Dark of the Sun
6. All or Nothin'
7. All the Wrong Reasons
8. Too Good To Be True
9. Out in the Cold
10. You and I Will Meet Again
11. Makin' Some Noise
12. Built to Last

For some reason Into the Great Wide Open was kind of underwhelming. I've never really loved "Learning to Fly" as I think it's kind of a pedestrian fluff song. The rest of the album kind of follows suit neither being bad but not really demanding my attention either. There are some songs I really like besides the title track which I've always loved. "Two Gunslingers" is a cool song with a cool story and lyrics. I also really like the rocking "Makin' Some Noise" and the sort of 50's-inspired "Built to Last." The rest of the songs just sort of play without really capturing me.

Useless Fact: I think I mentioned that Johnny Depp starred in the video for the title track, didn't I? Well, I'm mentioning it again.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Audio Adrenaline - "Don't Censor Me"

Audio Adrenaline - Don't Censor Me
1993, Forefront

1. Can't Take God Away
2. AKA Public School
3. Soulmate
4. Big House
5. My World View
6. Jesus and the California Kid
7. Don't Censor Me
8. Let Love
9. We're a Band
10. Rest Easy
11. Scum Sweetheart

I became familiar with Audio Adrenaline through their debut album. It was awful. It's mostly remembered (if it's remembered at all) for two "black sheep" songs, "DC-10" and "My God." Both of these sounded like License To Ill era Beastie Boys or maybe Anthrax's I'm the Man. Anyway, I actually liked these songs. The rest of the album was lame, generic Christian pop. I'm not really even sure how those two songs made it on the record. I mean... they are really different. Their second album, Don't Censor Me was still Christian pop but the song writing was a lot better and they were starting to find their own sound. While they wouldn't quite achieve their own identity until Bloom, this is a decent album - leaps and bounds better than its predecessor. I loved this as a teenager but I don't think it's aged well. I still love "Let Love" and "Scum Sweetheart." I will also defend "Big House." Yes, it's cheesy and corny but it was supposed to be that way. It's just a fun song and there's nothing wrong with that. I'll accept it in the spirit it was intended. The rest of it is alright except the fantastically boring ballads, "My World View" and "Rest Easy." I wonder what world we would live in if the band had chosen to emulate "DC-10" and "My God" instead?

Useless Fact: Audio Adrenaline were "discovered" by DC Talk if I remember correctly.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Petty, Tom - "Wildflowers"

Petty, Tom - Wildflowers
1994, Warner Bros.

1. Wildflowers
2. You Don't Know How It Feels
3. Time To Move On
4. Wildflowers
5. It's Good To Be King
6. Only a Broken Heart
7. Honey Bee
8. Don't Fade On Me
9. Hard On Me
10. Cabin Down Below
11. To Find a Friend
12. A Higher Place
13. House in the Woods
14. Crawling Back to You
15. Wake Up Time

Next stop on the Tom Petty train is Wildflowers. It's got my other two favorite tracks: "You Don't Know How It Feels" and "You Wreck Me." The latter in particular is a hard rocker with a great groove that instantly improves my mood when I hear it. Wildflowers is, with a few exceptions, quieter and more intimate than Full Moon Fever. It's more ponderous as well. I've heard Petty was going through a divorce when he wrote this album. The music leans a bit more toward folk and Americana. "Don't Fade On Me" is one of the most incredible songs I've ever heard from the man. The chorus riff alone gives me a music-gasm. I think I might slightly prefer Full Moon Fever over this one, but just slightly.

Useless Fact: Rick Rubin produced this album.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Icon For Hire - "Icon For Hire"

Icon For Hire - Icon For Hire
2013, Tooth and Nail

1. Cynics & Critics
2. Nerves
3. Sugar & Spice
4. Hope of Morning
5. Sorry About Your Parents
6. Pop Culture
7. Watch Me
8. Slow Down
9. Rock and Roll Thugs
10. Think I'm Sick
11. Fix Me
12. Counting On Hearts

Here's a conversation that transpired about Icon For Hire:

          Me: "Hey, I found this new band you might like. They're called Icon For Hire, they're pretty cool."
          Wife: "Yeah, I know. They've been on my YouTube feed for months."
          Me: "Oh. Well... I guess even a broken clock is right twice a day."
          Wife: "You're a turd."

So what does Icon sound like? Well, take some Paramore and make them heavier. Then throw in some electronica, maybe a little dubstep. Then add, because why not, some white girl rap. Mix it all together and you've got Icon For Hire. Their music is accessible, but heavy, catchy but not obnoxious. Vocalist Ariel may not have quite the range of your Hayley Williamses, but she makes up for it in pure attitude and heart. You can really tell that the band has put their all into this record. Something I think is rare these days. Even the "white girl rap" parts (like in "Sugar & Spice" and "Think I'm Sick") totally work. I would also like to point out that there is no filler here either. All the songs are really good and the album is best listened to as a whole. Icon For Hire has risen to the status of "family's favorite band" as of this writing. And if you don't think a four year old singing the lyrics to "Sugar & Spice" is not the cutest thing ever, then you have no soul. I guess kids these days really can make good music!

Useless Fact: One of the band members has a huge mohawk. When I see it I laugh and laugh and think back to the days when I thought Joey Daub's (of Believer) half-shaved-mohawk-thing was just the coolest thing ever.