Saturday, December 31, 2011

Heritage

Thanks to a friend, I recently discovered a cool site where you can rate and organize music, as well as find new bands and artists in a really handy way. I instantly had to join and spent a few nights working on it. Check my profile out here.

I've been really into making lists lately, and I got a few more for you. First, I chose four songs that for me were the best ones released in 2011. To make things easier and fairer, I decided to include just one song per each band/artist. Otherwise Fear And The Nervous System might have taken all the spots, heh.

4. Alcest - Autre Temps
This might come as a bit of a surprise since I haven't mentioned Alcest even once in this blog. Truth be told, I hadn't heard a single song from the one-mand-band prior to this beautiful and fairytale-like masterpiece, which was released as a single and music video just earlier this month. I had been hearing good things though, and for a reason. After a few listens of this song on YouTube, each listen bringing me closer to addiction, I had to get the single as well as the album Souvenirs d'Un Autre Monde. While Souvenirs... wasn't nearly as impressive as the yearning Autre Temps, I look forward to hearing the new album from Alcest in 2012.
3. Evanescence - The Change
Looking back at this year, one thing I will forever remember is re-discovering Evanescence. It's pretty incomprehensible to me that I managed to own a copy of Fallen for 8 years and learned to truly appreciate it, as well as the band in general, just 10 months ago, after accidentally deciding to give it a fresh spin. Eventually this accident lead to obtaining the band's second album The Open Door, as well as their third, self-titled album, but only after anticipating the latter for a decent period of time and totally falling for Amy Lee. Lastly, I was faced with the difficult decision to pick which song from the new album would make this list, because one of them absolutely had to. The Change is the ultimate result, and I'm happy to say that it would be on this list even without all the stuff I just told you. It's one of the most powerful, enchanting and reel-you-in songs I've heard this year, possibly ever.
2. Earthtone9 - Tide Of Ambition
Magnificent track that opened the For Cause & Consequence EP. If the other songs on the release would've been as strong, it would've most likely been the second release of the year to deserve a 5- grade from me. Hard-hitting song, still takes me every time. Brilliant.
1. Fear And The Nervous System - Beautiful Side

Like I implied already, almost any FATNS song could've taken any spot on this list if it wasn't for the rule of having only one song from each band. While Ambien, Choking Victim, No Secrets and Triggers are all fantastic songs, I chose Beautiful Side due to being attracted to it so much in the beginning and still finding it absolutely amazing. In the end, I feel that it's only fair to name it the best song of the year - in my books, at least.

I've also chosen the best albums of all-time (for me), which you can view on Rate Your Music, here. They're the only 10 albums I've rated with 5 stars on the site, and in alphabetical order.

After presenting those two, it's time we wrap this year up just like last year (clickity click for refresh) with me sharing everything that I've gotten out of 2011.

First and foremost, not counting my musical or linguistic endeavors, goes the fact that I confessed my love this year to a girl I go to the same school with. While last year I felt that for the first time I could admit having romantic feelings and do so actually knowing what they mean (nod to the Joona who lived 10 years back... I'm ashamed of you :p) throughout this year I felt the feelings persist albeit switching back and forth a little, and the need to talk and share about them only increase. What's left is a heart that's been broken once, but is beating stronger than ever - and an obession that might never go away entirely, but should never hurt anyone either (including myself, for now) and instead results in good things through art.

Speaking of art, I have never been as creative as I have been in 2011. This might sound odd to some, because this year I didn't eventually put out an EP or an album like I have every year ever since 2008. A year with no releases can be seen as both, a sign of time restraints and one of growth. I have been faced with a lot of stress coming from all over the place, including but not limited to school, love life, my various projects on various areas and the future of where I'm moving as a person. I'm still lazy when it comes down to mixing and have had horrific issues and feelings of dissatisfaction with my recordings and equipment. It is, however, also a sign of maturity in the sense that I am more careful with what I put out, and when I put it out. I have learned that something might sound great at first but after a while it can be dull, and in the same time some of the pieces you hate can come to a whole new life right by your eyes. Who's telling me to finish this and that by the end of that and that month anyway? Me. And the great thing about me being the boss of myself is that work can be flexible. Delay is still not nice, but it's an option  - an option not all other people have. Concludingly, I am anxious to put out music from all my four musical projects, possibly a few releases already in 2012, but acknowledge now what the relation of time is to quality. That is perhaps for the first time ever, although I've kept saying before that I understand and execute it.

Of course, this year I did put out my first short story in over a year, called Onchocerca Volvulus. It had a positive response, particularly by a few people who I showed it to outside the internet. For me the significance of the story was more in the general idea of writing it and getting back to the routine of doing something non-musical and non-lyrical on my free time than what the content of the plot was. That's not to say the plot doesn't have any importance to me at all, however. It's very much the opposite, and writing OV was not only fun but therapeutic in relation to my own struggles in the social areas of my life.

Whether anyone wants to talk and read about it or not, there's no denying for my depression in 2011, either. I wish I could say that I was a happy person these past 12 months, or that I was a happy person during most 12 month periods. But that I am not. It could be due to the problems I faced with the things I loved, those being music and one specific person, or just general evolution of my mind and feelings, but regardless there have been times when I've been more down than I could have ever imagined anyone to be. The worst it got was at the end of July, when I felt totally useless - and looking back at it, I can't say that I was all that wrong. Throughout the year I've faced and admitted issues about my life and myself, but I am still not ready to fix them completely or accept the claims that I am worthy of everything everyone else is worthy of. Maybe I never will, who knows - but I do know that while Evanescence's Lithium is lyrically resembling my state of mind and soul more and more, I have plenty of things to live for still. If today's the day I died, no matter how it would happen, I would most certainly be useless, and that is something I could never live with. Oh, but I wouldn't even be alive anymore if I died, right? Oops... :P You get the point. A shout also goes out to my tremendously supportive, all-bearing and patient friends. I am incredibly grateful for the few of you.

The beauty in my state this year is how I've come to appreciate certain joys in life that have always been around me in some shape or form, but haven't even begun to excite me as much as they have recently. My walks, at their best, have been experiences nothing short of divine. The peace and calm of sauna has never warmed my soul as much as it does every time I go there these days. Photography has become a large part of my walks, but also an element at events outside nature. And the music. Ah, the music. I already mentioned Evanescence, Fear And The Nervous System, earthtone9 and others, and the list could honestly go on and on concerning the notes that I have gone crazy to, gotten shivers by, been inspired by, cried to, smiled to, worked to. My own music is very important, but I could live without doing it and instead focus my forces on something else. But others' music? Hell no. And I am not sad, weak or vulnerable at all to admit that.

My annual New Year's Eve playlist can be viewed here. All the songs mean something very special to me, as usual, and most of them also signify a point in my evolution of music and living. There have been disappointments, failure, problems and bleakness, but in the end I wouldn't trade my life, or this year for that matter, for anything. Time has shown time and time again that there are things we can't change or affect. If there was one lesson I would like to point out having learned in 2011, it would be to use the little time we have as individuals very wisely. At least on my end, however, that does not mean forsaking pleasure or relaxation, nor does it mean quitting after the first productive effort leads to a deadend. It's all about balance and perseverance. Us Finns, for one, have plenty of the latter. Hah.

Happy New Year, everyone. :)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Coil

Time for my second last post of the year, including updates on my projects, life, Christmas... You catch my drift. Firstly I want to thank everyone for the warm response I've gotten for my lists. I'm 100% sure I'll do it again next year, and I'm excited not only because of that but the fact that many great releases are about to come out in 2012, including new albums from P.O.D., Project 86, possibly Deftones, earthtone9 and HURT, one from Storm Corrosion (a collaboration between Mikael Åkerfeldt from Opeth and Steven Wilson) and much more. Until then, I will try to give the most complex of albums that I covered in my list the chance they deserve, as well as embrace the music I got for Christmas.

What did I get for Christmas, then? Well, most of them were albums I really love and just had to get a physical copy of with the help of my parents and friends. These include the first four Korn albums Korn, Life Is Peachy, Follow The Leader and Issues, as well as their 6th album, Take A Look In The Mirror. Since I already had Untouchables and See You On The Other Side, this is how my Korn collection now looks like. Too bad LIP, FTL and Issues don't have any booklets because of the Original Album Classics version that was basically a three-for-the-price-of-one deal. Not complaining though!

I was lucky enough to find a copy of Deftones by Deftones earlier this fall, and bought it without hesitation together with Mastodon's Crack The Skye. After Christmas, I'm only missing Diamond Eyes out of all official Deftones studio albums, thanks to finding Adrenaline and Around The Fur inside the wrapping papers. My hunt for the one and only CD by my favorite band that I do not own yet shall continue next year...

I also got The Open Door by Evanescence, which is an album I totally fell in love with just last night, finally, by the way. This album I paid for on my own, among with Watershed by Opeth. Having received the deluxe edition of their self-titled album as a birthday gift earlier, I now have all of Ev's studio albums on CD. The Fallen one is still technically rogue, since it's from Russia... But regardless, I'm proud!

Finally, my first Opeth albums. Blackwater Park I've had on my computer since 2009, but just this year I really got into it, and it gained the revelation-like status it has today. It is currently, and hopefully for a long time, one of my favorite albums of all-time. Watershed, on the other hand, is an album I barely knew anything of prior to getting it, but I really wanted to have an album like that in the midst of all the oh-so-familiar ones (even if I did have a fresh new look on some of them like TOD). Opeth is a band I knew I could trust in terms of a quality release even if I had only heard the tracks Porcelain Heart and Coil on YouTube previously. Needless to say, the album has not left my player since I gave the CD its first spin at 2 AM on Sunday morning, and I love it already.

Other than that: lots of chocolate. LOTS. And a PDF and a book, both of which I'm forever grateful for.

My physical health is not all that great at the moment despite everything else going well. My left leg has been hurting for days now, and we suspect that it's a form of sciatica. I really don't want to go to the doctor, though, so nothing is certain. The pain is, thankfully, getting easier to cope with - I'm just honestly really annoyed that I can't go on any walks. Not that there's any snow or cold around here, anyway... I hate global warming so much, and am comteplating to move my political home from the Social Democrats to the Green League more and more.

As for the projects, I only have good news. Reflections & Realizations is oh-so-close to being done writing-wise since I finished Wallow In Life earlier this month and have been reworking Sip Of October the past few days. Recording has not been very successful, however my fourth sixth of the school year is rather easy time-wise, so I should have plenty of chances to catch up on my schedule and plans. All in all I have not been as active creatively these past few weeks than I was still a month ago or so, but I'm not worried at all because the new stuff is still great. Actually I prefer not having a ton of riffs to weigh and work on, not to mention all the lines that pop into my head and disappear in a blink of an eye unless I write them down. I'm telling all of you out there who are dreaming of becoming an artist... It's a gift and a curse once you get into it.

Before the big news, I feel that it's also important to share that the Christmas song I made for school purposes was never used. Most likely in February I will be performing something I really love, at least, because our class is practicing Bring Me To Life by Evanescence. There's also a slight chance that the first-ever Wicked Breath appearance will happen then, but I'd rather not think or talk about that too much, seeing how it's gotten cancelled again and again and my band line-up is still shaky.

SO, anyone remember the project I was planning about half a year ago, with a female vocalist, and a nu metal-ish sound? The one that was forever untitled and never went anywhere? Well, the surprise is that I've re-activated the whole thing. I invited a friend of mine to play guitar a little over a month ago and he said yes, and we're searching for a vocalist as we speak - once again a girl, although we might end up going with a male one if no female is interested. The style is shaping up to be more Drudkh- and Agalloch-esque than anything else, with long track lengths, epic moods and atmospheric metal influences. Since I managed to find a way to record Guitar Pro files into MP3 (the quality is still not fantastic, but much better than MIDIs), here's the first demo I've written (on my own) so far. If you or someone you know thinks that they might fit the project as either a vocalist or perhaps a drummer, this song shall serve as an example of what we will most likely be going for. And, even if you know that you can't help me, do still check it out and tell me your thoughts on the material! (I might include demo versions of R&R songs in future posts, by the way, now that it has become possible.)

Before all of this becomes way too long to digest, I'll stop. Like I hinted in the beginning, this is not my last post of the year and another one will come in a few days before the year 2011 draws to a close. Until then, take care, and blessings for all. :) Christmas might be over but the peace should remain in our hearts!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Remainder The Black Dog

It's time for the cream of the crop, the best of the best - the most impressive albums of 2011, for me. Now that I'm done with all of this, all I can say is that while it was extremely difficult to make the list(s) and separate albums from each other, I'd love to do it again. Hopefully next year I will - unless you totally rape me after reading the text below... Haha. (I hope not!)

The average eventually went up a little and is now ~2.99 when taking both lists into account.

Here. We. Go.

Albums #10-1


10. Dope Stars, Inc. - Ultrawired ***+

Fantastic energy and a purely explosive mix of almost thrash-esque guitars and hard-hitting electronics are what make this album awesome. There are occasions when the industrial elements go over the top for my liking, though, as well as some really poppy and cliché moments. I really can't remember much from this album even after several listens, either, and thus it fails to reach a better score or rank than what's been given. Looking forward to what this band crafts next.

9. Staind - Staind ***+
Just like RED a little further down this list, Staind is great when they're heavy. Despite the fact that Dysfunction is over 12 years old, the band still carries aggression extremely well and makes it seem real and harsh enough for me to really get sucked in with songs like the brilliant opener Eyes Wide Open. Whenever the songs reach too much clean in Aaron Lewis' voice and the effect-filled and harmonized instrumentation comes to life, I'm less intrigued - and just because I prefer heavy stuff over soft melodies most of the time anyway, making my opinion slightly biased, I think there's an actual problem here to be adressed. More often than not, during these mellow moments Staind just doesn't seem to have the same level of passion and originality than with the bursts that literally make me jump out of my chair and tear the roof down. Also, I'm still not a fan of high-pitched solos that don't seem to differ from any of the foundations present in heavy metal for 30 years now. Sorry, Mike Mushok... I do still envy your baritone! Thankfully most of the record is hard-hitting and the solos are far from stealing the main focus.

8. Cave In - White Silence ***½
A beautiful piece of spacey and experimental hardcore/alternative rock. Took me by surprise just like it took the person who recommended it to me (thank you!). The vocals are amazing when at their deepest and most brutal, some of the best I've heard being done in that style, but there's also plenty of clean, since three people are doing the vocals on this album and seemingly only one of them is doing harsher stuff. Some would say that the production isn't quite top notch, but to me the slight rawness (that does have Hydra Head written all over it) is used as a brilliant adventage. The album does get weaker towards the end, where three ballad-like songs follow each other after six smashing tunes. The ballads are enjoyable as well, however, and only lower the score a little bit. Another thing that I'll have to criticize is length on this album - many songs seem to focus solely on an idea or two, yet they go on and on without developing all that much. The epic Sing My Loves suffers from this in particular, as it's over 8 minutes long but really only consists of two riffs. While both fantastic on their own right, I'm left hoping that especially the latter part of the song would've been taken to some different places to keep things more interesting. Nevertheless, a very solid release, and in many ways unexpected by both, its quality and diversity, all while remaining rather simplistic.

7. Thursday - No Devolución ***½
While No Devolución does pale in comparison to a similar release by Fear And The Nervous System, it goes head to head with Cave In. Having only heard Full Collapse from this band prior to this, I can say that things have definitely improved, or at least their music is easier for me to digest than earlier. Maybe that's because hardcore - a genre I've never been hugely into - has significantly lessened in the band's music and instead this album is filled with melodic alternative rock, even containing elements of post-rock and indie pop. Emo(tion) is there, regardless, and the band still sounds like themselves. This is a good album to relax to in particular, but I find it a little too evened out to become a favorite of mine, by which I mean that after a while all the songs sound really alike, particularly chorus-wise. The hardcore-esque parts are essentially what I was left craving more for since I feel that they would've further enhanced the dynamics. I do have to say that the band, particularly frontman Geoff Rickly, is quite successful in its attempt to paint sharp and beautiful landscapes with sound. It even leads to a cathartic experience for me with Empty Glass, a song that rises as the finest moment on the album due to its minimalistic appeal.

6. Nightwish - Imaginaerum ****-
This album reaches out far solely due to its innovation. Maybe it's just me, but flutes on top of distortion guitars, flutes doing dialog with distortion guitars... Woah. The drama and theatrical approach on here has the ability to be really attractive, and I can well imagine this as the soundtrack for a movie of the same name, that's also been done by the band for those that don't know. That is also where some of my complaints fall - at times the album sounds so soundtrack-ish it leaves me feeling distracted, to the extent where I feel that it's impossible to understand this record fully without seeing or knowing the film. Some of the most cinematic moments simply aren't very friendly to the ear without a visual, if that makes sense: it's too much like a background, a frame for something else that's meant to be the main focus. Arabesque is the greatest example, being the weakest song on the album for me. At its strongest, however, this album is catchy, beautiful and wandering in the same time. Anette's vocals don't always fit the music all too well, but in songs like the jazzy Slow, Love, Slow and the calm Turn Loose The Mermaids her voice does shine. Marco is much more equipped for the blasting and heavy parts, in my opinion, and I guess the band doesn't exactly disagree since his role as a vocalist at least hasn't diminished in comparison to earlier albums (or so I hear). My score is further negatively affected by some moments that feel a little filler without the inclusion of the movie, including a few choruses I feel are a bit too candy-coated, plus moments that especially towards the end seem to go a little over the top (why include the long speech on Song Of Myself when it could have been just instrumental? Not to mention how the flutes start to become a tad irritating when used so much after the nice stuff in the beginning). All in all, this is an album I look forward to embracing more and more, even if its style is maybe slightly too "majestic" for my taste, at least for now.

5. Minora - Imago ****-

I was introduced to this band's nu metal side first, so it took some time for me to truly appreciate the new sound found on Imago. In the beginning of the millenium, Minora's biggest influence seemed to be Korn, although I can safely say that the band developed a very original style with their three underrated yet in-your-face EPs, doing what perhaps could have saved nu metal from a downfall if more bands had done the same or at least more people had heard of Minora. But, fast forward a few years and drastic line-up changes, nu metal is practically dead, and Tool and A Perfect Circle are Minora's two big pillars in inspiration. Although the band's influences are more clear than with the old sound, this first full-length of theirs is quite beautiful, I dare to say even particularly romantic. The guitars still hit rather hard, but there's also more melody, and the piano segments are a lovely touch to the autumn-like atmosphere. In addition, I really enjoy the drums on this album. If you're a fan of Tool, APC, 10 Years or other modern, hard, and artsy rock bands, this is for you. Just don't expect it to be the most unique thing out there because it necessarily isn't, or look for hit singles. This is all about the entirety.

4. Steven Wilson - Grace For Drowning ****
A lovely and moody double album with vibes of progressive rock, jazz, metal, classical, ambient music... God knows what. I'm sure this isn't the most diverse album the world has ever seen but for me it's quite a palette. And what's great is that more often than not, the album is dark as hell (pun intended). It could be said that Grace For Drowning is cold but not by any means calculated. Unless you want to emphasize Steven Wilson's determination, that is, which is obvious on here. This album, if any, is a real journey and as such it's perfect for movie soundtracks. Unlike some albums that have been ranked lower on this list, there are dynamics that not only work but remain unexpected, and not too many songs sound the same. The sound is crystal clear, and the experimentation doesn't leave the impression of experimenting - it sounds just natural and not nearly a half of it fails like usually with such music. The only true complaint I have is that some of the happier tunes don't sound quite as original as the haunting and more bipolar ones. Once again, it might just be my preference of musical style (though I have also discovered music this year that's both, optimistic and wonderful). I bet if my understanding of music was as diverse as I'd hope it to be, this would have a near perfect score. Even now it's some of the best music I've heard all year.

3. Opeth - Heritage [Special Edition] ****
I can't say that I wouldn't prefer the older material of Opeth next to this one, but does that mean I can't appreciate the beauty Mikael and the guys have once again been able to create? No. This and Steven Wilson's album are the only ones I really need to develop myself as a musician and get into styles like jazz and old school progressive rock. And not only is this album diverse genre-wise, but just like Grace For Drowning, it has crazy dynamic shifts, instruments like flute and upright bass that are not very commonly used in rock music these days, a pure sound (although some vocals are drowned by the music at points)... And believe it or not, a warm ambiance. Yes, the darkness Opeth is known for can still be heard - in fact, one of the best moments on the entire record is the middle section of I Feel The Dark where a silent gap turns into a theatrical and diabolic string progression that musically wouldn't be out of place in an action or horror movie. I just can't help but getting a somewhat homely impression from listening to this album. The music is as adventurous as ever on an Opeth release, but somehow it makes me feel... safe. The key point I have to address and can't emphasize enough is that this album does not get monotone if you focus on it. Grace, evil, calmness, intensity, energy and loudness, ambiance and emotion - it's all here. Despite this, Heritage is an album that's not for every weather, or for every listener. It takes time, and even when you find it amazing, you need to have the right kind of mood to concentrate and reach that nest-like space it offers. Or maybe you personally like to fly to this album... Who cares? :P

2. Evanescence - Evanescence [Deluxe] ****½
Self-titled, this might just be the best Evanescence album to date - it's surely better than The Open Door and not at all worse than Fallen. Catchy, pummeling, lush and epic, Evanescence has all the elements that were there before, only it seems like all the line-up changes finally made the whole better than the sum of its parts. And hey, Amy Lee is still oh-so-adorable. I can't help it, she's a crush... And looking at the booklet that comes with the album, which I by the way own as a physical copy as well thanks to a special someone, can you blame me? :P What could be criticized a little, I guess, is that there's not anything particularly "new" about this release - Evanescence draws from a lot of things that have been done before, but the band captures it a lot better than most other acts around them.

*drum roll*
*crash cymbal rings*
*everyone stares at the screen in awe...*

1. Fear And The Nervous System - Fear And The Nervous System *****-
An absolutely phenomenal piece of art that almost instantly made its way to my favorite albums of all-time. With the help of Billy Gould, Brooks Wackerman, Steve Krolikowski, Leopold Ross and Zac Baird, James "Munky" Shaffer shows breathtaking creativeness and ability to craft highly emotional music that appeals to not only metal fans, but fans of great music in general. What's interesting about this debut is that you can clearly hear little pieces reminescent of Korn, almost allegories to elements of their style, including the industrial and textured experimentation they've done on most of their albums released in the 2000s. This album just seems to do it all in a more genuine, powerful, varied yet balanced fashion than anything since the astonishing Untouchables. Every musical note and vocal is done with such extreme emotion and passion that I'm left absolutely speechless. While the music itself isn't particularly progressive, it breaks away from traditional pop structures just enough to remain both accessible and triggering. The only issues keeping this from being a perfect, five-stars-worthy album are the effects on Steve Krolikowski that kind of disarm the emotion in his voice at a few occasions - plus the fact that not all songs are as mindblowing as the best of the best. Every track is still at least four stars for me. This is officially my new favorite album to listen to while outside, it's my new favorite album to scream and cry to, and it's my new favorite album to cheer myself up with. Words are not enough - if you haven't by now, CHECK THIS ALBUM OUT ASAP.

And that's it. oO What do you think about my list? How about your picks? I urge you to write comments!

To Lead You To An Overwhelming Question

Merry Christmas everyone! Before we get into the first half of my albums list, I want to wish everyone a delightful and enjoyable fest whether it be with their families or alone, and whether you're spending it today (on Eve) or on the 25th. Peace and love to the world!

Albums #20-11

20. Stillwell - Dirtbag *+
I won't go as far as some Korn fans have went and say that this sucks all the way. Dirtbag is by no means a good album though. What surprises me is that Wuv from P.O.D. thought this was worthy of his drumming. No offence to Fieldy, but his guitar style isn't particularly original or impressive. That's not to say he cannot play, but his riffs aren't memorable, and his songwriting needs work to, well, work, IMHO. Q-Unique doesn't irritate me, but he does not excite me either. The lyrics lack substance, which normally isn't that big of a deal for me, but when the music is as undetermined as this, you kind of wish that at least the message had something to offer. But no. Feel free to check this out if you're a fan of the bands the members of Stillwell originally come from, but other than that, I can't really recommend this album to folk of any kind.

19. Lou Reed & Metallica - Lulu **
While I'm not a hater like everyone else seems to be and really wanted to give this double album a proper chance, I can't say that I'd enjoy the whole all that much. Some cuts on here are really catchy and even adventurous, not just ideas that require developing. While not necessarily a new element for Metallica or for any band, ringing notes within chords are well executed at certain parts, in particular. The vocals, to me, aren't all that disturbing, although they are often unfitting and the lyrics seem hideous for a large portion of the time. Of course this is in connection to the story behind the album and poetry is subjective, but still - some of the delivery really leaves me thinking whether this is a serious effort or not. I think the main issue with this record is that it sounds like a big jam session Lou Reed and Metallica both were involved in at once. The songs are just as monotonous as those sessions with a band when you come up with a good riff or pattern and start developing it, repeating it again and again while it seeks for its shape. The lyrics and vocals sound just like improvisational experiments with the thought "I wonder whether these words would fit here or not" surrounding the minds of Reed and occasionally James Hetfield. There's no problem with minimalism and repetitiveness, but when the songs drag on and on without reaching a crescendo or anything even close to sensible dynamics, you really can't praise this album for being succesful artistically. There are definitely interesting parts, riffs, soundscapes, even lines (all of this is apparent on Cheat On Me especially, which would sound awesome at least in the beginning if it didn't sound like half of the band was testing their equipment in the background with beautiful strings and synth on top), but that's never good enough in the midst of mediocre, in some cases clearly below mediocre compositions. Whatever things that sound fascinating are practically overshadowed by the nonsense that follows them. Conclusion: I'm sure this collaboration was fun for the ones who took part on it, but it's barely any fun for me.

18. Kotiteollisuus - Kotiteollisuus **+
It doesn't come as a surprise that this album is this low in the ranking -  every album entity after Helvetistä Itään has been bland for this band, and though the first two songs actually raise a lot of hope for better this time, almost all the other songs are cliché in structure and riffage. Some softer numbers could be called experimental, but only for this band. Truth be told, Itken Seinään Päin almost made me lift up the score, but sorry guys, a 2+ out of 5 is the highest I can give to your "Finnrock" style. If you went back to making angsty and raw metal á lá Eevan Perintö, you'd definitely be at the other end of this list. The other option would be to actually put all your effort into experimenting new things, which this as a whole is not.

17. Blink-182 - Neighborhoods **+
This one was a pleasant experience, at least moreso than the score suggests. I had never listened to a full album by Blink before, and barely knew what to expect. Turns out there were a few very nice hooks and songs that I wanted to go back to. I guess pop punk just isn't my thing most of the time, and around a half of this album didn't do anything special for me. Still worth the listen. If it wasn't for autotune, Neighborhoods would get an average score for sure.

16. Times Of Grace - The Hymn Of A Broken Man **½
I did not expect much from this album, and that turned out to be just the perfect stand to take. Some parts are quite enjoyable and headbangable, but mostly Jesse Leach and Adam Dutkiewicz manage to deliver nothing but generic metalcore, the same Killswitch Engage has been delivering ever since Dutkiewicz switched his primary instrument from drums to guitar. After several listens I found myself not too bummed about this album - it lacks glue since the songs can be quite badly structured to my ears, and innovation is barely there, but I can't say I'd be disappointed or anything. At the least, The Hymn of a Broken Man beats the hell out of KSE's second self-titled album... *sigh*

15. Limp Bizkit - Gold Cobra [Deluxe Edition] **½
This album I might have listened to a lot, but trust me, it does not deserve to be any higher than it is on this list. Although I can still  listen to Limp Bizkit every now and then and enjoy it, their music barely offers anything major for me anymore. Everyone knows their lyrics and attitude, and though a lot of people hate it, I've never been turned off by it. The problem is that I was never really a fan of it, either. There's undeniable groove on this album, and Wes combines some insanely catchy, fun-to-play-and-fun-to-listen-to type of riffs, but regardless of my many listens I can only look at this album as a party record, in some ways similar to Korn's release The Path of Totality. And those albums will never be highlights in my collection, as anyone who truly knows me would tell you. Back Porch is a killer song, nevertheless.

14. Vildhjarta - Måsstaden **½
Måsstaden is a chaotic village, and this is some of the most chaotic music to exist. But it's also djent, and extremely gruelling. After a sweet beginning it was as if an avalanche came, reigned over me and buried me completely, and whenever I tried to take a peek over the snow, more of it came along to numb me. I can't tell the difference between individual songs because the way they end and begin is just like transitioning from one ripping guitar scene with screaming and thunderous drumming to the next one. There are clean parts, but way too often the other instruments and the vocals pause for the duration of them. If there were more clean guitar parts with the other instruments playing, more clean vocals and exaggerated dynamics in general, like in the song Traces, this album might of worked. In small doses it's still enjoyable, even highly inspirational, but when I listen to it from front to back, I'm negatively overwhelmed. Maybe some day when my mind is in a chaos I'll find this better...

13. RED - Until We Have Faces **½
RED doesn't seem to develop at all apart from tuning down their guitars. They still have a headcrushing tone to their distorted weapons and do emit impressive riffs at times, not to mention the choruses in their songs are huge. This also makes them incredibly predictable and after two albums of the same formula already, rather uninnovative. The third time around there's also an increased number of ballads, and most of them aren't nearly as good as the band's previous efforts in the same field. What always made RED stood out from the crowd were their dramatic and pretty use of strings, and now even that's, while not totally gone, at least diminishing. Whenever the music isn't predictable, it's messy, aimless and sounds unfinished. While Innocence & Instinct was a fairly good album in my opinion, this as a whole is only a little bit above decent, despite the heavier tracks growing on me quite a bit. I can rock out to this, sure, but I'll rather go back to hearing Take It All Away... A masterpiece of a song I'm afraid they'll never top.

12. Animals As Leaders - Weightless ***
While I did enjoy many things on this album, it didn't change the way I feel about highly technical music. Many times things get really show-off when something more minimal could've done the trick a hundred times better in the context of the composition. This applies particularly for the clean tapping and slapping parts that I'm not necessarily too fancy on stylistically. The production on the low guitars isn't quite as deep as I'd hoped it to be, either, and this truly is a stream of consciousness, with creative ups and downs. No one can argue that Tosin Abasi is a very skilled guitar player, but his skills as a songwriter can and should be questioned, as well as whether this album is a masterpiece or not. For me it's entertaining, but I fail to reach a 'weightless' state while listening to it. There's variety and progress to be found within every individual song for sure with electronics, djent-esque riffing, melodic solos and calmer parts following each other nicely, but the songs tend to take a similar type of route structure-wise. Usually it's a good thing if a band is recognizable for its sound, but here it's just a little too much the same and everything begins to sound bland. Or maybe it's just too complex for me to comprehend. Go figure. I give this album a three, without including any points for the talent showcased. The songwriting, to me, was only occasionally purpose-serving and not particularly innovative.

11. Korn - The Path Of Totality [Deluxe] ***+

Although this grew on me a bit and upgraded from being a disappointment to being decent, I have quite a love and hate relationship with some of the songs on here. Most of the material on this album just falls flat, lacking depth and sense of path (see what I did there, ha). The question that's aroused is whether the result is to be blamed on the producers or the band. My guess would be that it's a bit of both, although Jonathan is quite obviously the only Korn member who's contributed as much to this album as for all the others (if not more), almost making it sound like his solo project especially after a few detailed interviews. In defense to the band, it does seem to matter which dubstep guy is producing them at least - Noisia is responsible for more bad than good judging by where he has received his credits, while all three songs with Skrillex are more hits than misses. This also brings a sad point. Two of the three best songs are ones that I heard prior to the rest of the album - which are obviously the singles Get Up and Narcissistic Cannibal, produced by Skrillex. That's what truly makes any album a disappointment - hearing fantastic things about it beforehand that up the hype, in this case songs that proved to be annoyingly perfect choices to promote the record, and then discovering that the album is just a mortal and easy-to-forget piece of the puzzle. Every song on The Path of Totality does have something that could at least potentially become insanely fantastic if tweaked and placed a little more correctly, proving that the concept of this collaboration is in fact inspiring and innovative on some level. The problem is that none of the songs, including my favorites, have the ability to literally grab me from the balls or kick my guts. Correct me if I'm wrong, but blowing one's head off is the only goal a dubstep-meets-nu-metal project should have, right? Nevertheless, I don't find this as difficult to get into as See You On The Other Side is these days or Remember Who You Are has always been, and the experimentation, regardless of the band maybe hailing it as slightly more fresh than it actually is, makes up for some of the flaws. It does not, however, make up for the fact that this is not a very cohesive record.There's very little humanity to be found in this artificial wall of electronic wobble, drumming and instrumentation, and if anything, the whole leaves me feeling confused. Particularly while comparing it with the album of the year.

...And that leads you to the overwhelming question - which is it? What is the album of the year for The Breath of Darkness? Top 10 coming at your face in exactly 12 hours!

Sing My Loves

Before the actual lists, some additional details on my ranks, grades and the year as a whole.In total I have listed 6 EPs and 20 albums, which, I emphasize, are albums I discovered this year and were also released this year. The albums I discovered that were released prior to 2011 are not included, and lucky for me, since there would've been two times more to rate & review. Then again, some of the albums from previous years that I heard were much better than what this year as a whole had to offer, at least for me. Maybe that's also because this year I've been checking a lot of stuff that's new to me in terms of style, and so I have yet to fully get into it.

The grading system I've used is zero to five stars, with halves, plusses and minuses included for deeper detail. Not a single album has gotten less than one stars and a plus, but neither has any album gotten the perfect score of five stars. The average is around ~2.9 for the EPs and 3.0 for the albums, while I still have yet to make some final judgments concerning the latter. Usually, a release that gets zero to two stars is pretty bad in my opinion, one that gets two to three is average, three to four is already a very good listen and four to five is near excellence.

Like I already implied, this year in music might have been great for a lot of people, but for me many releases from this year really weren't all that good. I consciously checked a few controversial releases for sure and not all my experiments with bands that are doing something quite unexplored for me were succesful. Since I got in a bit of a hurry with all of this, too, mostly due to my greed to review as many albums as possible after really diving into this concept, some albums might have been hastily reviewed. I have given all of them at least one full spin, two or more for most of them, but we all know that certain albums need time to sink in, especially if they're new to the listener stylistically. I can only apologise for that - from you, myself, and the bands.

Lastly, please keep in mind that these are not professional reviews and I'm only doing this to please myself. If you disagree with something or would like to share your view on an album, or the whole list even, feel free to do so with a comment. I must warn you though, if the input is not done in a tasteful manner, I will never approve it. [/communistic bastard]

Here we go! First and foremost, the EPs.

6. Stillwell - Surrounded By Liars
Significantly better than the album Dirtbag, but still not great. Includes more of a nu metal sound, but the core of it all remains the same, as well as the flaws. Plus, these song structures just don't fit - at least the album was more logical on that department. Then again, the energy and passion of the band can genuinely be sensed with some of the wildness on here. Still not worth more than a 1½. Killing Myself to Live and Trepidation are both standout tracks and worth a listen. (I'd also critique the value of production, but that would make me a hypocrite. Heh.)

5. Linkin Park - Linkin Park Underground 11 **
I had no expectations on this one, and only got it because I wanted to give it as a Christmas gift to someone. Okay, I'll admit, I was feeling a little nostalgic as well and wanted to see if the band had continued putting out demos on their fan club releases. Turns out they had, but frankly, the result is not exactly a success. Then again... The initial purpose of these annual LPU EPs is to offer something extra for fans of the band, and I haven't been one in a while now, so I guess I have myself to blame. I do think that Program is fairly interesting with its post-rock verses and riffage very typical for the band during the Meteora-era. Soundtrack is also oddly appealing with its upbeatness, post-rock influences once again appearing in the structure and the melody. The demos of In The End and A Place For My Head are close enough to their final versions for me to at least consider giving them a thumbs up, too, especially with the aforementioned nostalgia involved. As a whole, however, this is not something I'd likely revisit, apart from listening to the songs mentioned above individually. 

4. Celldweller - Wish Upon A Blackstar Chapter 4 [Deluxe Edition] ***
It's really awesome to hear the development of complex musical tracks and even more awesome that some artists out there are a) willing to let us hear it and b) take time to do a commentary on top of it. All the bonus material aside, however, the two songs on this chapter of the yet to be fully released album by Celldweller could've been a bit more eventful and interesting in my opinion. I Can't Wait is catchy for sure, but to me it's almost too catchy for its own good in the chorus, and the pitch corrections and vocal effects are just too obvious and off-putting. There are some great elements too - the lyrics, unfortunately for me, are easily relatable while not totally cliché, the drums are sick-sounding and the guitars haven't diminished at all, really, although Klayton is more and more into electronic music. Gift For You has a wonderful ambiance, but it's still missing something and ranks among the weaker Celldweller tracks I've heard. Hopefully the full album, which will be out next year, will have better gems than these. Which isn't to say that this chapter is dull. It's just that Eon from chapter two is responsible for keeping my expectations quite high.

3. Crosses - Crosses ***+
Let's get something straight. Any side project Chino Moreno takes part on can never be as mindblowing as the Deftones. While a great vocalist, lyricist and occasional guitarist, Chino on his own cannot create the special dynamic only the band as a whole unit are able to create. Having said this, Crosses is by no means a bad EP (or project, for that matter) - in many aspects it's Team Sleep-meets-recent-Deftones, as the instrumentals and singing both remind me of my favorite band's latest album with the positivity and production found in them. This EP works better as a whole than it does as individual cuts, and it has an odd, yet good pop vibe to it. It does also sound highly inorganic, and all in all isn't the kind of music I would be overly excited of. So, although this is fairly relaxing, the rating would most likely be significantly lower if it wasn't for Chino.

2. Riverside - Memories In My Head ***½
Once I really got into this one around my fourth listen, I found myself liking the whole a lot more than Anno Domini High Definition, the band's latest studio album. With Memories In My Head, Riverside seem to have found a balance between the sound of their older albums and the sound found on ADHD. In addition to this, there seems to be a newly crafted and quite fresh-sounding atmosphere in the first song Goodbye Sweet Innocence in particular. What does turn me off a bit is some of the play between the guitars and the keyboards, a thing that's always been there in Riverside's music with no exception this time around. Nothing wrong with the general idea of play between instruments of course, but when it gets really playful, missing the darkness I like to hear in most of my music, it distracts me slightly. Then again, if we look at the big picture, the aforementioned parts usually add a wonderful dynamic to Riverside's haunting melodies. Although the guitar solos aren't always my cup of tea either, the main impression this EP leaves on me is highly positive. If only the songs had gotten better towards the end instead of the opposite, with Forgotten Land sounding rather uninnovative and average already, this would have thrown a true challenge to the number one EP of 2011.

1. earthtone9 - For Cause & Consequence ****
It's awesomely ironic that I discovered this band almost simultaneously when the announcement was made for the making of this EP. For Cause & Consequence, their first studio release with new material in 9 years, is without a doubt a strong return. The energy here is insane and whereas the Omega EP in 2002 was hinting towards a melodic direction, this is mainly classic e9 with screams and roaring instrumental work. Harmony does show up, but it's merely there in a chorus or two to give us a reminder that these guys are able to deliver it. Whether it's just me or their composing pencil, this EP doesn't quite reach the heights of the jaw-dropping arc'tan'gent. Still, I'd say that it's one the best studio releases - and the best EP - of the entire year.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Pyre

Just a quick announcement about next weekend and some of the things that are on the way. I have decided to post my list of the best releases of the year in three parts. Since I have little reviews to go with my ranks and ratings, stuffing everything in one post would just result in a wall of text no one would want to read in its entirety. So, I will be posting the bottom of the list at midnight, when the 23rd shifts to 24th; the middle of it at noon (or so) on the 24th; and the best of the best at once again midnight when the day shifts to the 25th. My other announcements, updates and rant are likely to be posted either on the 25th or the 26th, but surely not before or in the same time with the list.

Here's my greeting to Chi. I wonder whoever have given me 6 dislikes... Ah well.


Have a great week and let us all wait Christmas with patience and joy! ;)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Way Too Far

Good afternoon, folks. As it has been over 40 days since my last post with actual updates, expect this one to be rather long. First and foremost, just for clarification, my last post was 100% true and Friday the 25th of November 2011 will forever be one of the biggest days of my life. Although all is doomed and all I can do is try to get over my feelings, I'm not hated and I've taken one of the most bold steps one can take in social interaction. I can't believe it, but I'm starting to feel more proud than embarrassed.

Anyway, let's get to news that are just as big and concern my music instead of teeny angst. Forget whatever I said in the past about being busy and having a lot of material waiting and pouring, because that is NOTHING compared to what's going on as of recently. I've pretty much confirmed the track listing for the first Wicked Breath album on the AS forums where I made this update (at the bottom of the page) earlier today. Not only that, I've continued recording and mixing for the album, tweaked the songs writing-wise, and come up with an insane plan for the actual release of the album. Listen very closely... Next December I intend to set free the album and the special edition EP both as a Christmas calendar, meaning that every day one new song will be made available, but only for 24 hours. So, when the next song is revealed, the old one will be gone. This will go on all the way until the 24th, when the last song will be revealed. On the 25th, the whole album as well as the EP will be made available for shipping as physical copies. The quality of the songs for the calendar will be slightly more lo-fi than the actual album versions of the songs to attract the option of buying, and the artwork of the album excluding the front cover will only be available to view with the physical copy. This is all just planning for now, but what do you think?

On top of the first album I've naturally been working on the second one, and none of the new songs are used for the first album or the EP anymore. There's more I could tell you as well, but I can't reveal everything yet. I promise that on Christmas I'll be making another post, however, that reveals the secrets I've been hiding. ;)

During Christmas I will also release my extensive list/review of the music releases from this year that I've taken the time to listen to. With the addition of several new releases I've checked out just recently, we're talking about around 25 releases in total. Some of these include The Path of Totality by KoRn, Lulu by Lou Reed & Metallica, and Imaginerum by Nightwish. Yeah, I'm not kidding, I actually feel like a music reviewer, haha. Perhaps next year I'll start early and reach an even greater number of albums in my 2012 list, but I think that my reviews already make the list so long that it's hardly going to fit in one post only.

Snow finally seems to be here to stay. Autumn was lovely in terms of my walks, but I would've liked to see winter come even sooner as it is my favorite season. I plan to ski a little more than usual this winter but also keep walking on my free time. Taking photographs has sucked me in so bad that if it wasn't for the darkness I'd have enough material to form a map of my home town in both, summer and autumn time. What's perhaps the greatest thing of all is that I'm really on a Christmas mood after working on gifts for people that mean a lot to me during the past few weekends. And, I won't lie - I can't wait to get my hands on my new guitar. :P Chocolate is too obvious to be mentioned...

While school is not exactly getting any easier, I'm used to the pace of everything by now and my second sixth went tremendously better than the first one. The row of exam grades consisting of mostly 9's was only really shadowed by the first Biology exam out of two (the second one is in January). Biology has almost zero significance to me, while Finnish, Philosophy, History and English are quite important, and in the same time all subjects I succeeded in. My third exam week starts right after New Years, but I'm not too worried. I just have to make sure I don't get too lazy on Christmas and stretch that to January... If my ideas to record, mix and film as much as possible during the holidays come true, that shouldn't be the case.

I'm sure I'd have even more things to talk about, but I'll try to keep it short and leave out the smallest things. I do have to mention that there's a slight chance for a Christmas song written and composed by me to be performed at a school event. I will at least play bass this Tuesday in the traditional Saint Lucia day event, and drums in one or two songs at the Christmas party.

Lastly, here are the last lyrics for the album, in case you haven't read them. There are still two songs without lyrics, but the other one will be an instrumental and the other one will be improvisational. So, here you are, Wallow In Life, loosely based on some of Arthur Schopenhauer's thoughts. See you next time, and God bless! :)

PAIN
IS
LIFE

What to do when love is tearing me apart
while hate is an infection from
within, stuck, both glued to stay in play and treasure

I'm blurry from the blinding days, my small nutshell offers security
Blood dribbling from the edge of poison
Entering the sale of used lives, every donor wants a fine
Like light bulbs sent to dispatch, then slowly die
Look at the bulk of chain reactions, yet fate does not exist
Slither and avoid the contact, in wish to take peers like belief
And on the verge of the well inside appears an image confirmed to confine
all dreams of returning to simplicity

(Overtriggering minds with clutter, self-deprecating has become­­ underrated, pinch me)
Pour chloroform into infection and torn sight, beg comfort untouchable in fruits of our land
We pull with hands and stretch with toes to the tip of lantern
With pain as my blanket I wallow in life

IS THIS LIFE?


PS: Anyone who's into the Deftones or wants to support Chi Cheng in general, check this out.