Sunday, January 1, 2023

Favorite Albums of 2022

 

Well here we are again. Another year in the books. It was…definitely a year. With like…months in it and holidays and whatnot. Life did improve and there is definitely light at the end of the very dark tunnel that has been my life for the past few years. Luckily, this year was absolutely fantastic for music. So many new releases, reissues, and random stuff I found that I didn’t know how I was only going to pick five favorites. I did manage it somehow… and without further ado…

 Favorite Albums of 2022

Voivod, Synchro Anarchy – I got into a Voivod kick at the tail end of 2021. Imagine my good fortune when I found out they were releasing a new album in ’22. I’m not a long-time fan but Synchro Anarchy certainly seemed like it came from a band that had not lost one ounce of energy since their glory days. I know they’d lost their guitarist who really developed the sound of the band. But I’d put Synchro up against Dimension Hatross or Nothingface any day.

Chagall Guevara, Halcyon Days – At first glance this could almost be considered a disappointment – it’s only nine songs long and half of them are older ones that just never made it on an album and I think there’s…two covers? But….it’s just so good! I listened to it over and over – its brevity being a strength in that regard. I do wish this had at least two more tracks on it, but it’s a stellar record and I’m glad I kickstarted it.

Imperial Triumphant, Spirit of Ecstasy – Ah, yes, another band where I said “I don’t think I’d want album after album of this oops I bought more albums.” This album hit at a time where the chaotic avant-garde black metal jazz was exactly how I was feeling inside. Also features Kenny G on one track.

King’s X, Three Sides of One – Come on…there was probably no way this wasn’t going to make the list. It’s a different sort of release for this band. Dug Pinnick isn’t quite as out front as usual which allows Ty and Jerry to sing more. Some of the tracks on here are the best they’ve written in a long time. Not every track is a winner (“Festival” for example), but overall this is a great release from a great band and hopefully we won’t have to wait another friggin’ fourteen years or however long for the next one.

Queensryche, Digital Noise Alliance – Queensryche was pretty terrible after Chris DeGarmo left and Geoff Tate took over. It became more of a Tate vanity project than anything else. Todd LaTorre is a phenomenal vocalist and a perfect addition to the band after Tate left and lost the rights to the band name. The albums with LaTorre, however, have been…good…but not great. They’ve always seemed to be missing something. Digital Noise Alliance was the first LaTorre album that I felt complete. Nothing was missing. The band was firing on all cylinders and every track was a banger. I hope this trend continues!

 Honorable Mentions

The Reconciled, Skin and Bones

D’Virgilio, Morse & Jennings, Troika

Skid Row, The Gang’s All Here


Disappointments of 2022

Star One, Revel In Time – I used to love Arjen Lucassen but lately I’ve been getting the feeling that I’ve kind of heard everything he has to offer. I’m familiar with all his tricks. Nothing has really wowed me from him since maybe The Source. Revel In Time is definitely not a bad album. But it’s not ground-breaking. It doesn’t offer anything new that you haven’t heard on any other Ayreon or Star One album. It’s perfectly pleasant but totally forgettable. And I can say that because I completely forgot this album while I was listening to Voivod and Amorphis.

Devin Townsend, Lightwork – Much like Arjen Lucassen, I feel like I’ve heard all of Devin’s tricks. Lightwork is actually a good album. Probably the best thing he’s done since Z2 in 2014. But even with some of the smooth Peter Gabriel-esque pop that comprises the bulk of Lightwork, I can still hear a lot of old Devin tropes. And I’m not sure whether the problem is on my end or what. I enjoyed my time with Lightwork but I don’t quite salivate at the prospect of a new Devin album like I used to.

 Best Album from 2021 I Didn’t Find Until 2022

Flotsam and Jetsam, Blood in the Water – I am a full on Flots fan at this point. Blood in the Water released sometime in ’21 but I snagged it in January of ’22 and it pretty much dominated the first quarter of the year. Huge hooks, infectious riffs, tight vocals. Everything you could want from a Flots album and a great album in general.

Best Reissue of 2022

Slamcat, Greatest Hits and Misconducts – Slamcat was a band I heard about back in the day but never got to listen to. Roxx reissued the band’s El Gato De La Slam and combined it with all their demo material – this comprises Greatest Hits and Misconducts. If I would have heard this when it came out in ’95 or ’96 I would have adored it. Tons of groove. Lots of hooks. I’m glad they put this collection together because it made the spring a little easier to deal with.

I Have to Talk About Camelot 21

Deliverance released the rerecording of their 1995 album Camelot-in-Smithereens. The original was a good album. Maybe not one of my absolute favorites, but it was good. It was a concept album that was kind of robbed of its concept. The original plan was to have voice-overs and a book to tell the story of the album. Jimmy Brown always wanted to redo this album and make it what he always wanted. Boy howdy did he succeed. This is like the difference from watching a tv show on an old tube television to watching a show on a HD4K curved television. Everything about this album is a million times better than the original.  

Best Random Album I Found in 2022

Phil Keaggy, Beyond Nature – I’m not usually one to groove on instrumental albums, but this is an exception. I found a copy of this at Goodwill. Once I listened to it, it got in my bones. I listened to it almost every day in the summer. I would literally start each day with a listen of Beyond Nature. Truly a masterwork of guitar if there ever was one.

I think that just about wraps it up for this year. I feel like I’m missing some things. We got new albums from Soccer Mommy, Alvvays, and Megadeth that were all wonderful. I listened to a ton of cool death and black metal albums from the likes of Marble Tomb, Drudkh, Artificial Brain, and GODIA. Amoprhis put out a new album that was absolutely amazing. So much good stuff. I was truly blessed to hear as much great music as I did this year. I can only hope 2023 brings a good bounty as well. See ya’ll next time!

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Favorite Albums of 2021

Boy, these years don’t get any better do they? Not only did we still have COVID everywhere, I got divorced, lost my mom, and got diabetes. Oh, and there was some other not fun stuff too that I don’t want to talk about here. As far as music goes… not much for new releases. At least, new releases that weren’t death metal. So this is more of a “favorite stuff I found this year.” There’s gonna be a LOT of death metal here. No apologies. Well, without further ado….

Favorite Albums of 2021

Imperial Triumphant, Alphaville – This came out in 2020 but I found it in January. The band’s brand of chaotic, discordant avant-garde jazz black metal is just what I needed. Not sure I would listen to album after album of this but Alphaville is compelling and disturbing in the best possible way.

Detritus, Myths – I was super excited for this one because I’ve always loved this band from my short pants days. Myths did not disappoint. It’s a little more on the progressive side than the thrash side but the songs were all earworms. It also seems like there’s some LGBTQ support in the lyrics which is a good thing to see from a Christian band.

Mangled Carpenter, Under the Shadow – Good heavens…this is probably the most intense thing I’ve ever listened too. Just crushing and brutal and wonderful. I’m still not convinced there isn’t like four drummers in this band.

Shadowmourne, The Frozen Throne – I heard “Frostmourne Hungers” from somewhere and I was instantly hooked. Death/black metal with a sort of atmospheric edge to it. It’s haunting, dark, and cold. Awesome sounding growls (a weird thing to compliment, I know).

Frost Like Ashes, The Fellowship of Suffering – I’ve always heard of Frost Like Ashes but never actually listened to them. Their new album is awesome. It’s short but in a good way that leaves you wanting more.

Gospod, Israel’s Exodus – Hey, who wouldn’t love some Russian Orthodox death metal about Israel’s Exodus? In all the extreme music I heard this was definitely a novel take on the genre and great album in its own right.

XL’s Innovation, Dynamics of Relation – XL takes a break from doing his rap/metal combo to put out a jangly alt-pop record. Who’d have known this would, hands down, be one of my favorite albums this year. The songs are so catchy and will get stuck in your brain forever. The lyrical content, regarding XL’s marriage struggles, nearly wrecked me sometimes. I really hope he does a couple more of these because this was top tier.

Favorite Band I Discovered This Year

Vials of Wrath – You ever find a band that is just what you need at just the right time in your life? Vials of Wrath was that for me. It was atmospheric, ambient black metal. It’s intense yet oddly peaceful at the same time. The lyrics center around communing with God in nature and seeking peace in solitude. I never got tired of listening to this band. I immediately bought everything I could get my hands on. Seeking Refuge, Days Without Names, and Dark Winter Memories are the full-length albums, but they have other EPs and stuff that I devoured as well. I love this band so much they might join the great four (i.e. my four favorite bands of all time).

Favorite Reissues of this Year

Petra – Girder Records released a slew of Petra reissues this year: Washes Whiter Than, Never Say Die, More Power To Ya, Not of This World, Beat the System, Back to the Street, This Means War, and On Fire! I didn’t buy all of them because no one likes Washes Whiter Than and I already have the original of On Fire! But I did pick up the rest. These are probably the most high-quality reissues I’ve ever seen. Everything is fantastic – from the packaging to the remastering. I could have maybe used some liner notes or reflections from the band members but that’s nitpicking. I’m so glad they reissued these because my vault had a big hole where these albums needed to go.

Undercover, Balance of Power – Missed out on this one back in the day but this reissue is awesome. Great packaging, naturally. I think this one was Kickstarted.

Disappointments of 2021

The Choir, Deep Cuts – I didn’t have a good feeling about this album when Steve Hindalong posted a video of him reading some of the lyrics from the title track. They seemed…well….kind of generic. And unfortunately, the album also seems kind of generic. Granted there are some great tracks here that I really like. But there’s also too many tracks I can only describe as “lazy.” Like…these guys are not interested in innovating any more. It’s not a bad album, but these guys can do way better.

Starflyer 59, Vanity – I really enjoyed Young In My Head when it came out. This album, like Deep Cuts, isn’t bad. Just…really mellow. But not necessarily in a good way. I listened to it several times and it just didn’t make much of an impression on me.

Well…that’s what I got. I’m glad to see this horrible, wretched year end. I’m not even sure I can say I have “hope” for next year. I just need it to be a little easier than this year. Even a fraction.

Until next time!

 

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Summer Recap 2021

 I’ve toyed with the idea of bringing back full reviews. Honestly, though, I quite like the “round up” format. It lets me review music but not have to stick to any schedule and not have to stress out over it. It also lets me sit with albums for longer so I can really figure out how I feel about them. So… I think round ups is how I’m going to do things from now on. Buckle your seat belts…there’s a lot. Guess I’m going to have to stop calling these quarantine posts.

 Music

Trytan, Celestial Messenger – This is Trytan’s first album. It’s definitely the most Rush-like of their discography. It’s definitely not a bad album, but it’s not my favorite of the three, either.

Barren Cross, Rattle Your Cage – By the time this album came out (1994), I don’t think anyone cared if Barren Cross had a new album out. I know I didn’t. I missed out, though, as I am confident in saying this is the band’s best album. They’ve modernized their sound just enough to not sound dated but not so much that they don’t sound like the same band. It also makes the album their heaviest. Great stuff. Wish I would have caught this the first time.

Xalt, Under the Ruins – File this one under “really cool album covers.” The music is great too. I mean, it’s traditional heavy metal without any bells and whistles but the songs are strong, and the hooks are good. The production hurts it, though. This is a remaster, which does help – but there’s only so much you can do if the recording was flawed. Glad this one got reissued.

The Choir, Deep Cuts – I was kind of ambivalent about this one. I wasn’t wild about the lyric samples Steve posted on You Tube and I was kind of afraid that without a marriage to write about we’d get another Loudest Sound. Well… it’s not so bad as that. There are some really great tracks on here. Unfortunately, there’s also several “fluffy” love songs that just don’t seem to have much weight to them. Happy Choir is not the best Choir, methinks. Not their worst by a long shot, but I’m not sure I’ll be reaching for this one first when I want my Choir fix.

Plank Eye, Spill – Sometimes my “awesome oldies” aren’t quite as awesome as I once thought. Such is the case with Spill. I wore out my tape of this back in the day. Now, however, it sounds kind of repetitive. Doesn’t quite speak to middle aged me like it did teenage me. Oh well.

Rage of Angels, Rage of Angels – Hey kids! Do you like Poison and Motely Crue? Do you want them to sing about Jesus? Then Rage of Angels is for you! Okay, I’m bagging on them, but this album isn’t bad for what it is. I think they had some potential, but this album has a lot of “rockin’ for the rock” type stuff. I think this band got really screwed by the record label and it’s one of the reasons they only made one disc. Some of the guys went on to play in the secular band Steelheart.

Veni Domine, Light – Oh wow. Like…I enjoyed their first album years ago (Fall Babylon Fall) but didn’t keep up with them after that. Don’t know why – this is amazing. It’s their final album and now I want to get all the albums in between. The ten-minute epic “In Memoriam” was like…just the tune I needed. The whole album slaps.

Royal Anguish, Mysterion – Royal Anguish was a band I was only familiar with because I’d heard their name in various Christian metal zines from back in the day. They had (and still have) a really cool logo. They put out a few demos but never got on any of the big labels. This album is sort of a mix of gothic metal, death metal, and progressive metal. It’s got a lot of growls but also clean female and male vocals. Overall pretty compelling. Quite enjoy this one.

The Jelly Jam, The Jelly Jam – This is a side project of King’s X guitarist Ty Tabor, Dream Theater bassist John Myung and…some drummer. Who I am too lazy to look up. It sounds pretty King’s X-ey which is right up my alley. Now if only King’s X would release their new album at some point…

Mangled Carpenter, Under the Shadow – I think this ties with Revulsed for the most intense music I’ve listened to. Like… this is just not for beginners or the faint of heart. The label says there’s only three guys in this band, but I’m convinced there’s at least four drummers alone. This is the apex of death metal. I love it it. Give me more.

Horde, Hellig Usvart – So I skipped this one back in the day because I thought it’d be too heavy for me. Well, now that I’m all about death and unblack metal in my old age I gave it a shot. Turns out, it’s just as awesome as I’ve heard it was. Completely written and recorded by Jayson Sherlock (ex-Mortification, Revulsed) it actually caused a stir in the Norwegian Black metal scene back in the day.

Hortor, Dios De Dioses – Hortor is a Mexican unblack metal band in the tradition of Horde. So, it probably goes without saying that I pretty much love this. Everything is in Spanish but since it’s all growled, I guess it doesn’t really matter. These guys even do the whole face paint thing – which I find ridiculous. Unless you’re KISS or King Diamond you need to put down the face paint.

Traxter, Rock N’ Race – Yes, that’s Traxter – not Trixter. There’s a difference. I think my cousin brought this to youth group ages ago and we all kind of made fun of it because of the Traxter/Trixter thing. Truth be told it’s not a bad album at all. I think if these guys would have been on Intense or REX or something they probably could have gotten farther.

Lightforce, Mystical Thieves – Lightforce is basically what Mortification was before they were Mortification. I saw the tape at a Christian bookstore back in the day but passed it up for Bride’s Live to Die. A correct decision, I feel. Though this album isn’t bad. A lot of people complain about the vocals but I kind of like them. The guy’s Australian accent comes through pretty clearly and I think it gives them a little bit of a punk feel. It’s also good to hear Steve Rowe’s bass just right out front.

Day of Atonement, Cremation of the Guilty – Speaking of Mortification, Day of Atonement features two former Mortification alums in a more intense version of their former band. Like…if Mortification went more death metal after Scrolls of the Megilloth. That’s kind of the vibe here. Good stuff. Too bad they only did one album.

Sacrificium, Cold Black Piece of Flesh – Another technical death metal band a la Crimson Thorn. Nice thick, chunky riffs. Feeds the soul, it does.

Undercover, Balance of Power – A lot of people cite this particular album as their favorite of the band’s catalogue. I can see why. I missed out on it the first time but went ahead and snagged the reissue. It’s brilliant. A classic for sure. And I can see why people prefer this one over Devotion or Forum. Might actually end up being my favorite as well.

Demoniciduth, Enemy of Satan – Unblack metal again. Good stuff. Just sort of stumbled on it on You Tube and then had to have the album. I don’t know what happened and why I’m so ravenous for super intense music, but here we are.

Kekal, Acidity – I’ve been aware of this band for a while. Never really gave them a shot though. They used to be death/black metal but I guess they’ve gotten a lot more progressive. I would classify this album as progressive metal with death/black influences. Heavy on the prog. I’ve only listened to it twice but am looking forward to listening to it more.

Video Games

Bravely Default II – I wasn’t wild about the original Bravely Default. It was decent but the super-repetitive endgame definitely put me off. I never played Bravely Second for that very reason. I’m happy to say that Bravely Default II avoids that pitfall and ends up being really fun. The boss battles seem more like puzzle battles because it’s usually more about experimenting with abilities and jobs than power leveling. I played for about 75 hours and reached the very final for reals boss. Can’t seem to beat her though. I’ll probably pick it up again and try at some point.

Double Dragon/Kunio Kun Collection – I had some online credit and this was on sale so I got it for three bucks or something. It’s a collection of all the Double Dragon and River City Ransom type games. I’ve mostly played the first Double Dragon because I’ve been trying for thirty years to get past that part on Mission 3 with the two Abobos. I can finally do it pretty reliably but still haven’t actually finished the mission.

Star Wars Squadrons – Ugh. I heard a lot of good things about this one, so I picked it up on sale. It’s definitely not for me. Way to heavy on the simulation part and not the shooty laser part. I never really got the hang of the controls. I also was made at my AI teammates because it seemed like I had to do everything. You guys can’t handle that one shuttle? C’mon. I rage quit this one.

Mass Effect Legendary Edition – I freaking love Mass Effect. Love It. Replaying these three games has been an absolute joy. Here’s some thoughts on each game:

Mass Effect: The remaster looks fantastic. The reworked HUD is nice. This game was so good at world building and character building right off the jump. The story is still as engrossing as it was. The Mako hasn’t improved any, though. And the actual combat is still light and floaty. I’m also kind of miffed that they didn’t add a galaxy tracker or something to mark off what systems you’ve explored. Despite those complaints this still remains a gem of a game and worth playing. Seems a bit easier than I remember.

Mass Effect 2: This one is just about perfect. The combat has weight to it and feels really good. It’s easy to use a mix of powers and guns. The cast is beyond stellar. The writing is superb. The side quests are fun. Tali is ultimate waifu. Seems harder than I remember.

Mass Effect 3: Honestly, I think this one is great too. I think a lot of the flaws are due to EA meddling and wanting this to be out by a certain time so they could make their first quarter numbers. As a result, a lot of corners got cut originally. This version includes all the DLC which alleviates some of those flaws. But the ending still boils down to a choice of three colors. And the Reapers motivations still really don’t make any sense. The combat is exquisite and probably the most fun to engage in. I think that it’s still amazing even with its flaws. Tali is still ultimate waifu. Also, should have had the option to have a Shepard wins and retires with his love interest ending. Seems way easier than I remember.

New Pokemon Snap – I only played the original on a kiosk at Toys R Us. I loved doing that one level though. I jumped at the chance to play a Snap game in its entirety. It’s very relaxing and fun to take pictures of all the different Pokemon and interact with them to get different photos. However, it can get a little boring when you have to just go through a track again to level up and unlock another track. Still want to see this one through to the end.

Mega Man 3 – Ran through this one last night. It’s probably one of my favorites even though I’m not super wild about the Doc Robot revisit stages. I even used the rewind feature because I’m old and don’t have anything to prove anymore.

 

 

 

 

Friday, March 26, 2021

Quarantine Bonus Post 3: Tokyo Drift

 Let’s see…when was the last time I did one of these? JULY?! Wow. Okay I guess it’s time to update a little. I never even did a year end favorites list. Life’s been kind of chaotic lately and I haven’t been that motivated to write much. Let’s change that today!

 Albums

Gama Bomb, Sea Savage – I love Gama Bomb. This album is no exception. While I don’t think it’s quite as good as their last two it’s still a pretty good one – and honestly, for me, any Gama Bomb is good Gama Bomb.

Bride, Here is Your God – Someone should really tell these Christian metal bands not to put images of God on their covers. Anyway, Here is Your God is better than their last effort, Snake Eyes. Partly because it’s allowed to be its own thing instead of a sequel to Snakes in the Playground and partly because the songs are just better. It’s decent, but like the last one, still feels like it’s missing something.

Warbringer, Weapons of Tomorrow – Dang. Now this is some thrash. Fast. Heavy. Lyrics about war and what not. Riffs galore. This was a fun one and I’m glad I found it. I think it was Scott Waters from No Life Til Metal that had it on one of his You Tube videos.

Michael Peace, Outta Control – I never heard this one the first time it came out because I think the Christian scene was kind of done with Michael Peace by 1994. At least I never saw it in any store at the time. It’s…okay. I mean you kind of know what you’re getting. I disagreed with a lot of the lyrics for various reason. One in particular where he’s arguing against the legalization of drugs and says something to the effect of “What if your surgeon was high on crack because it was legal?” My response is “I could probably sue him because jobs have regulations about what you can and can’t do on the job. That’s why you can’t work drunk.” But, whatever. It was nice hearing this but it won’t ever overtake Loud N’ Clear or Threat to Society that’s for sure.

Paramaecium, Echoes From the Ground – Paramaecium is one of those bands I’ve warmed up to over the last couple years and now absolutely adore. Echoes is a concept album about a man visiting the Holy Lands in order to find justification for his faith. Goes without saying that I like it. It’s not as deathy as the previous albums but that’s okay.

Corpse, From the Grave – An obscure Christian death metal band. They only put out one album and it’s pretty decent. Not groundbreaking or anything but a solid listen. The mastering is kind of crap though.

Imperial Triumphant, Alphaville – Usually this kind of thing wouldn’t be for me. Honestly, I’m not really sure it’s for anyone. It’s a combination of death metal/jazz/Avant Garde craziness. It’s discordant and chaotic. It’s weird and unsettling. It’s utterly compelling and I’ve been digging it way more than I thought I would. They lyrics are mostly about the how awful the rich are. Gives me total Bioshock vibes.

Detritus, Myths – I’m so glad these guys came back. I’m a huge fan of their first two albums. This new one is a lot less Metallica/UK thrash and a bit more experimental but still very heavy. They also seem to have some LGBTQ supporting lyrics here and there. It’s nice to see since that sort of thing is rare in Christian music and even more rare in Christian metal.

Taking the Head of Goliath, Self-titled – More death metal. Contains Luke Reno from Crimson Thorn and I loves me some Crimson Thorn. Not surprisingly I love this EP too. Can’t wait for a full length.

Trytan, Blood of Kings – Christian music has their own version of Rush, it’s Trytan. Well, that’s not fair. Trytan is a lot more on the metal/hard rock side than Rush is. It’s mostly the vocalist who is a dead ringer for Geddy Lee. However, the music is absolutely stunning. I think this is probably the most progressive album they’ve done, but also the heaviest. However, being the bleeding-heart liberal I am some of the lyrics didn’t sit well with me, but I’m kind of used to that by now.

The Prize Fighter Inferno, My Brother’s Blood Machine – This originally came out in 2006. How in the world did I not sit down and listen to it before now? This is a side project of Claudio Sanchez of Coheed & Cambria. It’s acoustic electronica and it’s just as catchy as Coheed stuff. So if you like Coheed you’ll probably like this too. I know I did.

Video Games

Kingdom Hearts 3 – For some reason I got it in my head to play the Kingdom Hearts series again. The good thing was that I was able to enjoy KH2 in a way I hadn’t before. KH3 is kind of a mixed bag though. Like…they added a little too much to the combat. KH2’s was pretty much perfect. The environments are gorgeous, however. The story is… a story. I kind of resent that the series makes the player be familiar with twenty-some odd games across several platforms to be familiar with the story. Also, after a while, bopping around these worlds just wasn’t that fun anymore. I’m glad I played it but KH2 is still the best in a flawed series.

Neir: Automata – The concept of this one is cool. You’re an android in a post-apocalyptic world destroying machines for humans on the moon. There’s more too it, of course, but I never got to see it. See once you beat the game once it wants you to beat it again with only slight variations in the campaign. I think you have to do this three or four times to get all the story. I don’t have that kind of time and combat wasn’t fun enough to motivate me to care.

CTR: Nitro Fueled – I’ve owned this for awhile but haven’t given it much attention. I decided to beat the main campaign to unlock some racers. This version suffers from awful micro-transactiony stuff and some horrible rubber band AI. I don’t remember the original being so bad about that. I’d stick with the original if possible. Though the upgraded graphics are beautiful.

Resident Evil 3 – I never played the original but this version is awesome. Loved every minute of it. If they ever remake 4 with modern controls I will be there in a heartbeat.

The Legend of Zelda – This game is 35 years old! Nintendo didn’t feel like doing anything to celebrate so I did a vanilla run. After doing two swordless runs this was like playing on easy mode. It also inspired me to download a randomizer and do a randomizer run for You Tube which I still have to finish recording.

Super Metroid – I’d been watching a lot of one You Tube person’s Super Metroid runs and got inspired. I wanted to see if I could do some sequence-breaking tricks like he did. I’m proud to say I’ve figured out wall-jumping, mid-air morphing, and was even able to pull off the mock ball and skip Spore Spawn. I ended up with 91% of items collected which is my highest amount ever. May do a run of this for You Tube.

Mega Man X Collection – I’ve had this one for awhile but hadn’t given it much attention. I finally sat down and really dug in and learned some new things:

                Mega Man X: Still awesome and wonderful and pretty much perfect.

                Mega Man X2: Just as awesome. And if you have the skill you can really minimize                                  backtracking (I do not have the skill).

                Mega ManX3: Ugh. This was way worse than I remembered. Too hard and too much stuff to                  collect. You’ll have to revisit stages several times to get everything. The upgraded X-Buster                    sucks too.

                Mega ManX4: A nice return to form. You get to play as Zero if you want. Gorgeous graphics.                  Liked this one a lot more this time through.

Persona 5 Strikers – I loved both Persona 4 and 5 (even though I never finished 5). It was great to get to spend more time with these characters. I also enjoyed the action-oriented battle system. Honestly, it was nice to play Persona without the stress of the time crunch and worrying about building skills and confidants. Story was good too, serving as a direct sequel. No option to carry over your romance option from the original though. I had to settle for asking Ann on a chaste date to the Ferris wheel instead of a real romance. I spent about 45 hours with this one but if you really wanted to grind the post-game I could see someone putting in 60-70 hours.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Just started playing this one. I’d always heard about this series but never played it. Never really played any kind of “visual novel” game period. This one is pretty engaging – especially the trail scenes. It’s also fun to figure out the holes in the witnesses’ testimonies and see what you have on hand to disprove them. Looking forward to going through this one all the way.

 Books

Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh – I really loved Hyperbole and a Half and have read it several times. This one, however…yeesh. It’s…depressing. I know she has struggled with depression so of course that’s going to come out in her writing. But man…this is just bordering on nihilistic at times. Which, honestly, wouldn’t be a problem if it was funny. Unfortunately, I didn’t find a lot of it funny – just really depressing.

Jesus and John Wayne by Kristin Kobes Du Mez – This one was interesting. If you’re like me and wonder how Christians could follow someone like Trump despite him being pretty much the opposite of what one would consider Christian, this book will give you some insight. Tracing misogyny and patriarchy throughout decades. And how conservative Christians have sought political power and allied themselves with anyone who could give that power whether or not they were Christlike. If you’re conservative, you’ll probably hate this book.

Star Trek, Voyager: To Lose the Earth by Kristen Beyer – Kristen Beyer’s run on the Voyager books has been nothing short of amazing. I would say that I almost like the book versions of the crew better than the show. Beyer knows exactly what makes all these characters tick and she’s got a knack for putting them in compelling situations to boot. I’m disappointed that this will probably be her last Voyager novel and that this continuity is invalidated by Picard. I mean, I’m glad we got Picard but still. She was also involved in that show and I hope she gets to do more in the future.

 

 

Monday, July 27, 2020

Quarantine Bonus Post 2: Electric Bugaloo

Oh, look. COVID is still around. I mean…we’ve done almost nothing to stop it. I’m surprised that didn’t work. Anyway, while we do go out a little more than we used to, we are still very much at home. The school year is delayed and my oldest is going to be doing the online option versus the in class option. However, this leaves a lot of time for music and games and what not, so here’s what I’ve been into lately.

Albums

Hayley Williams, Petals for Armor – I do agree with Crash Thompson that staggering the release of this album kind of hurt the buzz. However, it’s great. Melancholy yet hopeful. Kind of minimalist instrumentation. Honest lyrics. I’m glad she didn’t go total pop or country or whatever the flavor of the day is. It really is unique and well worth your time.

Rose, Crazy Little World – I hated this album originally. It is just so far removed from the band’s stoner metal/Danzig-esque output that I just couldn’t bring myself to like it. Now, however, I can dig it. It’s still not my favorite Rose disc, but I can appreciate what they were doing and enjoy it for what it is.

My Silent Wake, Shadow of Sorrow – Still on my doom/death metal kick. My Silent Wake features Ian Arkley, formerly of Seventh Angel. This was the band’s debut and you can still kind of hear that old Seventh Angel sound, especially in the leads and stuff. Really like this one. Definitely meant to be listened to in the winter with the snow falling outside.

Lament, Tears of a Leper – More death meal. From Mexico this time. Though this is less pure death metal pounding and more like classic metal with death metal elements. Or death metal with classic metal elements. I don’t know. I do know it’s good and I like it.

Magdallan, Big Bang – This is another one I didn’t love originally. I don’t know why. The hooks are huge. The production is bright, clean, and shiny. Also – great bass. Lots of good bass here. I guess at the time I just couldn’t get into it but age has enlightened me and now I like it better.

Ken Tamplin and Friends, An Axe to Grind – I mostly got this because of the lead single, “Livin’ for My Lord” which was on the old Hot Metal 4 VHS tape I used to have. My cousin and I watched that to death one summer. Fortunately, the rest of Axe is good too. Ken Tamplin’s voice is smooth as butter sometimes. He also assembles a crack team of studio musicians so there’s always major chops on his records.

Liason, Hard Hitter – Liason started life as an AOR/rock band whose earlier material gives me some serious Richard Marx vibes. That’s not bad mind you, just an observation. Hard Hitter is a straight up hard rock album with cool riffs and hooks. I would have loved this when it originally came out but never picked it up for whatever reason. Kind of a shame. I could have been loving it this whole time.

Beyond Creation, Algorythm – More death metal. But this is progressive death metal. And it is amazing. The bass player in this band is truly astounding. Who plays a fretless bass in a death metal band? The bass is pretty out front too, working with the guitars to create these chaotic soundscapes. There’s also a lot of melody to go along with the brutality. Special thanks to Scott Waters for introducing me to this band via one of his You Tube videos. I’m probably going to end up buying all this band’s albums.

I’ve got Trytan, Sylentiger and Haken, Virus loaded up on the Ipod (because I am old and still use one) but I haven’t listened to them enough to have an opinion yet.

Video Games

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus – The first Wolfenstein reboot game was a lot of fun. This one is just as much fun. It’s also got a lot of drama and cool characters and an interesting story. Basically, it’s great and if you liked the first one you should definitely play this one.

Control – If you’re at all familiar with the SCP Foundation (and you should be – go look it up) then you’ll get the vibe that Control is going for. Though maybe a little less on the horror side. This was another game I really didn’t know anything about but ended up having a great time with. Oh, also kind of a spiritual successor to Alan Wake (which was also great and needs a remaster).

Death Stranding – Ugh. Just…ugh. Listen, I love the Metal Gear Solid series. But this…*sigh*. It’s a game about delivering packages. No really. That’s the game. Deliver packages and hook people up to the internet. And honestly – that’s not terrible. I like the world and the story. Heck, I don’t even mind the hiking/pathfinding aspect. Especially since you can build structures with other players, which I think is totally cool. The problem is that doing anything in this game is a major pain in the ass. Anything. Menu navigation, rearranging cargo, combat, vehicles, friggin’ fast traveling is a headache. Fast travelling, ya’ll. Then you have to contend with time-rain wrecking your boxes and invisible spooky things trying to kill you. There’s a sensor that’s supposed to help but ol’ Clip-Clop (my name for it) didn’t seem to do much for me. I got so tired of it all. It just wasn’t fun.

Resident Evil VII: Biohazard – Boy, did I need something good after Death Stranding. REVII was fantastic. It was stressful and scary in all the best ways. Also, no zombies. I’m not a big fan of zombies as a rule. This was truly a thrill-ride and I would totally play this again at some point.

Timespinner Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is one of my favorite games of all time. Timespinner is cut from that same cloth. It feels very familiar. In a good way though. Like… it definitely wears its SotN pedigree on its sleeve. The game doesn’t really innovate and there aren’t many surprises to be had power-ups wise. You have a time-stopping power but not much is done with it beyond using enemies as stepping stones. However, it was still a blast to play. I liked that it felt so familiar. I also thought the world and story was unique. This is another one I plan on playing through again at some point.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider – I was never a huge fan of the original Playstation games, but these reboots are pretty awesome. Though Shadow is the weakest of the bunch. It’s not a bad game, it’s just the third game. It does everything the previous two did with the same quality and doesn’t add a whole lot to the mix. So while I was motivated to push on to see the end of Lara’s story, these caves and tombs all kind of looked the same after a while. I didn’t even bother finding all the challenge tombs because I just got sick of doing them. There’s also a million doohickeys to find that have little bearing on the actual game. I wasn’t sorry that I played through this, but I was glad to be done and not motivated to find any of the extras.

Bioshock 2 – I realized I hadn’t played through this one when I originally bought the collection. Bioshock 2 is by far the weakest of the series. Mostly because of the meandering middle section where the creators didn’t seem to have anything interesting for Subject Delta to do so they force him to gather ADAM. I’m also not a fan of the defending Little Sisters parts. It’s another aspect that, while true to the character, kind of just pads out the playtime. I really wish they would have remastered the original with this game’s combat because it’s a lot more fun using plasmids and weapons together.

GreedFall – Wow. Just…wow. Bad wow. I took a risk on this one because it was on sale and it was a waste of money. I have not had a game test my patience like this in a very long time. Not even Death Stranding tested my patience like this game. So you’re supposed to be this aristocrat embarking on a journey to a new island with fantastic creatures and magic, etc. The game stresses again and again how the character is just about to board the boat for this wonderous island. So what does the game make you do? Friggin’ errands for like three-plus hours. Seriously. You go to a person and tell them you’re leaving. They ask you to run this errand for them. This errand usually involves running back and forth all over the map talking to people and/or picking stuff up. I did several of these and it almost became comical. So…I guess we’re not leaving for this island then? Also, did I mention that the first town is basically several lovely shades of brown? Yes. Brown. No, I don’t want to go to the fun island. I want to run around Brown Town and look for your cousin or some bullshit. I never even made it out of the first area before I put the controller down in disgust.

Final Fantasy VIII Remastered – I’ve played through this one several times. I needed some comfort after GreedFail and double dipped this one for PS4. My goal was to get Squall’s ultimate weapon on the first disc…which I did. That was pretty cool. I’m also keeping my levels low. There are so many different ways to tackle this game I’m surprised more people don’t like it.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Quarantine Bonus Post - What I've Been Into Lately

Hey everyone! How is everyone enjoying quarantine? Truth be told, I don't hate it but I've always been pretty introverted. Don't go anywhere? Can do! I thought it might be fun to write a post about some of the stuff I've been into this year so far - albums, books, games, etc. I have even been able to play guitar a lot more. Learned several Tom Petty and Choir songs. Anyway... here we go...

Albums

Soccer Mommy, Color Theory - I loved Clean and made it one of my picks for 2018. Color Theory is equally as great. The lyrics are a bit darker here. A lot less "this boy doesn't like me" and more "wow... life sure does suck."

Paramaecium, Exhumed of the Earth and Within the Ancient Forest - I remembered buying Exhumed when it first came out in '93. I did not like it at all because it was way too slow. I guess my old age has allowed me to enjoy doom/death metal because I love it now. Along with the second album Paramaecium has been a fixture of the year. Forest is the more "progressive" of the two with more clean vocals, female vocals, violins, etc. Love them both equally.

Crimson Thorn, Anthology of Brutality - So... yeah... big death metal fan now. I snagged this because I loved Unearthed so much. This collection has all three of their albums including Dissection and Purification. Something about the downtuned guitars, blast beats, and brutal vocals just amps me up. Usually people get mellower in their old age and here I am grooving on death metal. Dissection has the worst production out of the three but given their style it doesn't hurt that much.

Saint, Time's End and Too Late For Living - Missed these guys when I was young. They were kind of billed as the "Christian Judas Priest." Well if that's the case I'm going to friggin' love Judas Priest because these two albums are awesome. Prefer Too Late over Time's End a bit but enjoy both.

Leviticus, In His Service (Box Set) - So let's just get into all the old Christian metal this year, shall we? I bought The Strongest Power on cassette way back in the day. I didn't like it much then because of the vocals. Fast forward to today and that's one of my favorites out of the four. I also really dig Setting Fire to the Earth because Ez Gomer and Terry Haw from Jet Circus are members. As a result the album has sort of a proto-Jet Circus sound. Oddly enough I like Knights of Heaven the least. Produced by John and Dina Elephante it's got great production but is kind of generic sounding. Not bad - just not distinctive.

XL & Death Before Dishonor, The Beginning of Closure - Listening to this now. Loving it. It's far more melodic than XL's previous work - which is fine. Not as much rap as the older ones. Hooks are huge though and the instrumentation is on point. Looking forward to listening to this more.

Video Games

Final Fantasy VII Remake - When this was announced, I was one of the first naysayers. This would never work. How could it? And with an action-oriented battle system? No. I didn't even like the demo when it came out. Then people were raving about it and I tried it. Everything clicked. The battle system is a refined version of Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy XV. I took to it pretty quickly. When I lost I could always step away, come up with another plan and load out and find victory. I enjoyed the story embellishments. If there's one thing that surprised me it's that this game was able to make me care about Midgar as a location and the world in general. The original was never my favorite but the remake has engaged me in ways the original never did. So glad I gave this a chance. Can't wait to see how in the world they pull off the rest of the saga.

Call of Cthulhu - I needed something different after FFVIIR so a slow-paced cosmic horror investigation game seemed like a good palette cleanser. Though it's hard to get into the atmosphere with a little 3-year old jibber-jabbering about Paw Patrol in the next room.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons - I liked this for a little bit but got bored after 25 or so hours. I guess I just need more of a story to push me along. My wife adores it though. She's logged over one hundred hours. She's never been a console gamer ever so this tickles me to no end.

Tabletop Simulator - Not really a "game" so much as a means to play board games with people online. I've played a few times and it's fun enough though my wife gets more use out of it because everyone wants to play at like nine at night when I'm already exhausted.

Collection of Mana - I've been playing through Trials of Mana when I can but my playthrough has kind of ground to a halt because someone has pretty much locked down the Switch with Animal Crossing.

Books

The Myth of the American Dream, D.L. Mayfield - Conventional wisdom says that most people get more conservative as they get older. The opposite is true for "Mr. Death Metal at 40" over here. I've gotten more liberal. Mayfield's journey from conservative Evangelical to liberal post-Evangelical is a lot different from mine but we've reached a lot of the same conclusions. Conclusions regarding the place of power, safety, wealth and the like in Christian life. And just what our responsibilities are to the people around us who are different. It's kind of nice to know others are thinking similar things because my Facebook can get a little tiresome.

Demon Camp, Jennifer Percy - I read this book out of morbid curiosity. For you see... my wife and I were part of the titular "Demon Camp" for many, many years. We left (sorta...long story) in 2014, which was about the time this book came out. (The book didn't have anything to do with it.) Initially our Demon Camp friends told us that the book portrayed them unfairly. I didn't read it then (except for excerpts here and there) because I wanted to support my friends. However, both myself and my views have changed a lot since then so I was interested to see if that would affect my opinion. It didn't. This is not a good book. It fails to offer anything insightful about soldiers, PTSD, religion, or anything. It's like some weird fever dream. A trip down a religious rabbit hole. Every conversation the author has with people is crazy goofballs. Normal people don't talk like this. I was around these people, ya'll. And yeah - some of them were weird. Sometimes we talked about demons but we were able to carry on a normal conversation without sounding like pod people. It's like the author had an interesting idea but absolutely no guidance - and very little editing. Of note, the book totally ends with the author probably sleeping with her subject. No conclusions drawn, no insight gleaned. At the end you're just like, "whoa, that was weird." Not exactly the reaction you want when writing about religion and PTSD.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Favorite Albums of 2019


Well, well, well…2019 certainly was… a year. Wasn’t it? Full of…things…that happened. Truth be told, 2019 was kind of crap for me. I turned 40 and felt every year of it. I didn’t really keep track of new releases at all because I just didn’t care that much. It didn’t seem like there were many new albums that really grabbed me. So instead of new albums I did some deep dives into different bands’ discographies that I hadn’t been that familiar with. I did end up with quite a few favorites this year despite my mood, so let’s get started!

FAVORITE ALBUMS OF 2019

Leslie Phillips, “The Turning” – I never listened to anything of her’s before so I bought this on a lark. It’s her final album in the Christian scene before going off to the secular realm and writing music for the Gilmore Girls. She’d teamed up with T-Bone Burnett for this one. It pretty much dominated the first part of the year. While it does sound a bit dated I found it had some great hooks and a lot of integrity.

The 77’s, “Pray Naked” – While I’ve always been a big fan of The Choir, Daniel Amos, and Adam Again, I’d never taken much of a shine to the 77’s. I have no idea why. My first exposure was Drowning With Land in Sight and that was alright. After listening to almost every album they made I ended up loving them. Pray Naked, the re-issue of their 1992 album is my pick because this is the one I returned to again and again. Though I guess I did that with most of their stuff.

Starflyer 59, “Leave Here a Stranger” – Of all SF59’s output, I only ever really liked their debut. I never gave their later, softer material a chance. After the 77’s I started checking out all the band’s material and…man… what the heck was wrong with me. Leave Here a Stranger is my top pick but their latest, Young in My Head is awesome too.

 The Walk, “Indianland” – At some point in the year I got a huge hankering for alt-rock with jangly guitars. Someone on Facebook recommended this album and it scratched that itch quite nicely. It’s pretty obscure as well. Fun Fact: It was released on Talkingtown Records. Whose only other release that I know of is Armageddon’s The Money Mask

Polaris, “Music From the Adventures of Pete and Pete” – So yeah… jangly alt-rock. Sure, “Hey Sandy” is great, but the rest of this album is awesome too. Also – all the nostalgia feels.

Alvvays, “Antisocialites” – We’re still on the jangly alt-rock kick here though this one is a little bit more shoe-gazery. Wonderful dreamy female vocals. Great hooks.

Petra, “More Power To Ya” and “Not of this World” – A friend gave me a “best of” CD with a bunch of older Petra material on it. Since I started with On Fire! I’d never heard any of the band’s Greg X. Volz output. Turns out it’s friggin’ phenomenal. Pretty much everything from Never Say Die to Beat the System is pretty great. Though I picked the above two albums because I really think they’re the cream of the crop.

Resurrection Band, “Hostage” – After Petra I immersed myself in the Resurrection Band. Again, I’d only heard an album or two. Imagine my surprise when I loved every single album. Seriously, I did not hear even one clunker. I listened to a Rez Band album almost every morning for a month. So I guess I picked Hostage because it’s the one that fans tend to hate because it’s all New Wave. Didn’t bother me at all. I loved it. Lament, Civil Rites, and Colors were other favorites. But…ya’ll… they were all good.

Aunt Bettys, “Aunt Bettys” – I’d always heard about how great this record was but had never been able to listen to it. I’m kind of a casual fan of Michael Knott’s output as it is. However, this record lived up to the expectations. I think it might be the hardest thing he’s done ever. It’s also super catchy.

Angelica, “Without Words – I’m not usually into instrumental albums, but this is an exception. The guitar work is absolutely incredible. Stellar. But the one thing I really liked about this album was that there are hooks. Even though there’s no vocals it felt like each song had a “chorus” or something to hang your brain on.

Crimson Thorn, “Unearthed” – So at the tail end of the year I had a sudden desire to listen to death metal. That desire is ongoing as of this moment. I remember I bought this when it came out originally in 1995 and didn’t love it that much. I bought 2019’s reissue and found myself loving it. The down-tuned brutal guitars, the cookie monster vocals, the blast beats. Man… couldn’t get enough. Which leads me to…

Revulsed, “Infernal Atrocity” – Dude. This is…. BROOTAL. I’d say this is probably the heaviest thing I’ve ever listened to and loved. The band features the virtuoso drumming of Jayson Sherlock of Mortification fame. Everything about this album is massively heavy and pummels you from start to finish. I started many morning in December with a dose of Revulsed to get my day going.

DISAPPOINTMENTS OF 2019

Dream Theater, “Distance Over Time” – Yeah. I’m done with ya’ll. How can a band that’s so insanely talented make such forgettable music? Seriously. I’d forgotten I’d bought this. Just like the last one. I was never one to board the “Mike Portnoy was the talent” wagon but…man…I think I’m on that wagon now.

Devin Townsend, “Empath” – Yeah….no. I was a huge fan of Devy for awhile. But Empath is just… *sigh*. Just play the song, man. Play a song. I feel like he was so into cramming his ideas into this album that he forgot to write actual songs. I couldn’t even make it through the album because it just made me tired. All of the transitions and what not that don’t really make that much sense. Little in the way of hooks. I’m just too old for this crap.

Queensryche, "The Verdict" - This album is not here because it's bad. It's not. It's a pretty good album. Probably the best of the Todd LaTorre era. It's here because it's good... not great. I was hoping that this iteration of the band would finally put out their Rage for Order or Operation: Mindcrime. No such luck. They do keep getting better with each album so I have hope that they'll get their opus magnum yet.

Well…that’s it for me! I hope everyone has a great 2020!