UG Articles Archive

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Uproar Festival + Valient Thorr + Jagermeister Tour = Rocktober indeed

Whoa, there's a lot of cool concerts coming up here in Southeastern Wisconsin, and I'm gonna try to attend all of them, provided I have the cash for it. 

First up is the Rockstar Energy Drink Uproar Festival, which rolls into Madison at the Alliant Energy Center this coming Monday, Rocktober 4th.  It features Avenged Sevenfold (with Mike Portnoy!), Stone Sour, Disturbed, and Halestorm as the headliners as well as several openers including Hail the Villain and HellYeah.  This is the last stop on the tour, and I've always heard that the best shows on a tour are the first and the last shows, so I'm expecting a kickass concert.  Tickets look to be about 43 dollars, website is here: 

Best band photo ever.

I suppose if I'm listing these in chronological order, Valient Thorr at the Frequency tomorrow night (Rocktober 1st) should have come first.  Oh well.  These guys put on a kickass live show that has a ton of crowd participation and a ridiculous amount of energy.  Plus, the guys in the band are really cool and sell their own merch after the show.  Valient Thorr plays a unique mix of southern metal and punk rock, and their singer, Thorr Himself, gives some of the best between-song rants you'll ever hear.  The Frequency is by most accounts a small venue, with a max capacity of maybe a couple hundred, so you're probably going to get some Thorr sweat on you if you're in the first 5 rows.  Tickets for this one are 10 bucks in advance and 12 at the door.  Anyone want to go with me?  It's gonna be awesome.   Website:

As if this weren't enough metal for one month, the Jagermeister Tour (excuse the lack of umlauts, German speakers) rolls into the Eagles Ballroom in Milwaukee on October 16th featuring thrashlords Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax.  It's a Saturday, so you don't have to worry about a weeknight show.  It's the closest we've ever gotten to a Big Four U.S. tour since "Clash of the Titans" in 1991, and Milwaukee is gonna be the closest this tour gets to the Twin Cities, if that's your current port of call.  I've heard really good things about this tour so far, and I'm a big fan of Megadeth and Anthrax.  Megadeth is playing "Rust in Peace" in its entirety, which is going to be incredible.  I find Slayer to be ok, but not very inventive with their music.  Tickets for this one are listed at 48 dollars for general admission/floor through Ticketmaster, which means they'll probably be about 800 dollars after all of their fucking hidden fees.  I'll have to see if my meager salary will allow me to go to this show, because it's going to kick all kinds of ass.  Website is here:

Three great shows, and then Halloween at the end of the month.  Looking like it's gonna be a good next few weeks in America's Dairyland.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

2011 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees are....depressing

This year's nominees to be accepted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland have been announced, and the Hall has once again proven that they have no idea what they're doing.

In addition to failing yet again to nominate RUSH, the committee has also chosen to pass up Stevie Ray Vaughn for the umpteenth time, while nominating a short-lived rapper and fucking Donovan.  I hate Donovan.  Mellow Yellow my ass.

Anyway, the full list of nominees is as follows:

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

New Soundgarden video for "Black Rain" directed by Metalocalypse creator Brendon Small; new album releases soon

The video for Soundgarden's new single "Black Rain," recorded during the band's Badmotorfinger sessions, was directed by Brendon Small, creator of Metalocalypse, and features an appearance by the world's 7th largest economy, Dethklok.

The video is kind of a tie-in with the new Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock game, the special edition of which will ship with the new Soundgarden CD, Telephantasm when it!  The album will be available by itself in stores on October 5th, next Tuesday. 

I think "Black Rain" is a pretty fantastic track.  The guitars are distorted to oblivion and the riffs are fast and dirty.  Cornell sounds good (remember, this is an older recording so it's taken from what I would call his prime) and it just sounds like classic grunge.  Looking forward to seeing what they were able to put together for this new album when it releases next Tuesday.

Did I mention that this cover kicks ass?  Because it does.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Review: Linkin Park's "A Thousand Suns"

As promised, I've finally gotten around to giving "A Thousand Suns" a proper review, and I'll explain why it took me so long to do so.  This album is such a departure from previous Linkin Park releases that I was actually considering not covering it on a blog dedicated to rock music.  That's right, the tracks on this album are so different from those that have become rock-radio standards (Crawling, Numb, In the End, etc.) that I had a hard time classifying it as rock music.  Instead I got an Electronica or perhaps a World Music vibe, but it's certainly nothing like Meteora, Hybrid Theory, or even Minutes to Midnight.

However, I still felt compelled to review the album - Linkin Park has long been one of the biggest acts in rock music, no matter which subgenre you place them within.  A lot of people are going to buy this album, and not reviewing it would be pretty lame considering I just reviewed an Apocalyptica album that relatively few will buy.

On to the review: when the opening sounds of the first track, The Requiem, hit my ears, I knew that this was going to be a very atmospheric album, with a sound produced more electronically than in traditional studio sessions.  I felt badly for Linkin Park's drummer, who seems to have been replaced with a computerized drum machine for this album.  Guitar is almost entirely missing from the mix, both electric and bass.  The final track does make use of an acoustic rhythm, however.  "Requiem" is two minutes long, and features heavily vocoded vocals repeated continuously.  The track transitions seamlessly into The Radiance, which features a powerful recording of Manhattan Project scientist Robert Oppenheimer, and lasts 50 seconds.

It takes the album almost 3 minutes to get to the first real "song."  The first two tracks, and several that come later, are atmospheric "connector" tracks.  Quotes like the Oppenheimer one pop up throughout the album, supposedly to express a message, though I found the overall theme of this album to be rather muddled.  I'll avoid using the f-word for now (filler) because this is a concept album, and the band obviously feels that these short tracks contribute to the story they are trying to tell, and I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. 

This is an album that requires the listener to turn off "shuffle" to really experience.  The tracks generally lead one into the next, and shuffling through several "connector" tracks in a row would be a total buzzkill. This puzzles me, considering the commercial success of the single-laden Minutes to Midnight, but the band clearly wanted to head in another direction.

Mike Shinoda's rapping plays a much larger part on this record than perhaps any other LP album to date.  His vocals are rhythmic and have actual lyrical value, not once mentioning drugs, hookers, bling, cars, fame, or any other common rap/hiphop trope.  He shows off his versatility, switching back and forth a few times from the style most LP fans are familiar with to a smooth reggae flow on tracks like "Waiting For the End" and "Wretches and Kings." 

Chester Bennington's vocals are impressive as usual, with melodic highs and powerful screams (only on "Blackout," unfortunately) mixed in with some rapping side-by-side with Shinoda.  His attempt to affect a reggae sound on "Wretches and Kings," is, however, regrettable.

The sound is varied enough that there's likely something for everyone here, though there's not much at all for fans of the music that got Linkin Park to where they are today.  I understand wanting to take the music in a new direction, but they're going to disappoint a lot of fans with this.  I think it'll really be a "love-it-or-hate-it" album for most fans.

Standouts for me were the piano-driven "Robot Boy," which takes the hook straight out of T.I's "What You Know," so much so that T.I. should probably sue, and "Blackout," which is by far the heaviest track on the album, though it's still not at all metal.   
Check out the similarity between "Robot Boy" and "What You Know":

Some guy even made a mashup of the two that's actually really good.  Give it a listen here:

Overall, I found the album to be intriguing and, to the band's credit, (or shall I say Shinoda and Bennington's, as they're the only elements of the band really on display here) the sound is one that is hard to classify and quite unique.  As I said, fans of their old stuff will probably be disappointed, while those with a more open mind may be more receptive to the new sound.  I admire the band for breaking new ground and taking their music to new places; it shows that they're not just making music to get on the radio and pump out singles.  The new sound isn't what I typically listen to, but it's well-produced and varied enough to keep the listener interested for the full duration, which is more than I can say for a lot of albums.

Rating: 7.5/10

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Metallica's Kirk Hammett talks Big Four, playing guitar, and future ambitions

I came across this interview with Kirk Hammett, and found it to be a really interesting look into what's going on in the world of Metallica. James, Rob, and Kirk have all stated that they are compiling riffs and working on song ideas while on this massive two-year tour.  Hopefully we get to hear a new album relatively soon, but if they keep following the pattern that the last few albums have taken, it might be ten years! 
Anyway, here's some excerpts from that interview: Have you started in any manner the songwriting process for the next METALLICA studio album?

Hammett: No, but we do have riffs here and there, but there are no complete songs as yet. But we all have tons of music that is just lying around; in fact all of us do. That is the great thing about METALLICA; there is never any shortage of ideas. You just performed a series of "Big Four" shows [METALLICA, SLAYER, MEGADETH and ANTHRAX]. What was the experience like?

Hammett: The shows were really great and it was a vibe, man. It was like the Eighties all over again, which was very, very cool. We all kind of realized that we are all in this together and that we all had the same sort of objectives and goals. It's just that we had different ways of getting them. At the end of the day, it became more of a celebration of the fact that we are all still around and all standing and still functioning as bands, and that was a very cool thing. And it was a chance for us to kind of reflect and look back at all the times we had together and all the battles we had fought. It was good to know that all of us are still here and still doing it. When it comes soloing, what do you think are the important elements that each guitar player should consider when constructing a solo?

Hammett: Ideally, a solo should be like a good meal. Start off with a bang then have a good meaty middle section and then have a sweet finish. For me when it comes to the solo part, the first couple of licks really need to set the tone of the solo. And it should really just jump out and grab you. So is there anything that you specifically pay attention to when coming up with your own solos?

Hammett: What I have always tried to do is to come up with catchy things — you know, hooky parts in the guitar solo that will grab the listener's attention. I will try to put melodic parts into that. But, you know, sometimes I just want to make a bunch of noise. How do you think you have evolved as a player over the course of your career?

Hammett: That is a hard question to answer, man, because I am so close to my own playing. But I say that I intend to work on my jazz playing more now. You know, I think as a metal guitar player, I am decent. I am no Eddie Van Halen, but I am still learning, am still learning stuff day to day and still feel like I am growing. I also still think that my music writing is still getting better. I'm still on the up and up and I don't feel like I have reached a plateau. I still think there is a lot more for me to do and learn. And I am still very motivated to do that. Do you have any ambitions to some day to venture out and do a solo album?

Hammett: Yeah, eventually, but right now I have to say that METALLICA is my home and I have no intentions of running away from that home. But I am going to put a book though. I am working on it and that in itself feels like I am making a solo album because it is so much goddamn fuckin’ work! It is all myself. I don't have a band I can rely on or seek support. So I think once I do this book thing, maybe I may start considering doing a solo album, but I don't know. Looking back on the "St. Anger" album and its lack of guitar solos, what do you think of that album today?

Hammett: I still love it, man. I think "Frantic", "Dirty Window", the title track and "All Within My Hands", those are just great fuckin' songs and some of my favorite. Frankly, I'm quite shocked that people have such an attitude and issues with it, because for me, it is just another METALLICA album.

Read the entire interview from

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Another Final Frontier review? With references to Goldeneye? Where do I sign up!?

Hey there, friends! It's me, FunOnABun! While Alex is out cashing his fat advertising check he received from Google, I'll be subbing with a topic I've been meaning to write about for a long time. What follows is my personal review of Iron Maiden's latest (and implied by band founder Steve Harris possibly their last!) effort, The Final Frontier.

Preface: I realize this album has already been reviewed by Alex, but because I intentionally avoided reading it (to avoid altering my opinions after possibly gaining new insight after reading his review), I'm not sure how detailed he went into his review. That being said, I wrote a track-by-track review of the album, along with a summary of the entire album, a numerical rating for the album, and an award for each song along the lines of the N64 game Goldeneye. It's fairly obvious I'm a big Iron Maiden fanboy, but I tried my best to beat the fanboy within me to death and take a reasonable approach to each track instead of saying "AHMAHGAD BEST SONG EVER!" but if any of that seeps through, I apologize.

Satellite 15...The Final Frontier:
Award: Best Build-up
The first thing I have to mention is that I really enjoyed this as an opener to the album, but I think the transition from the first half to the second (the division of each half is quite obvious and near the middle of the song) was terrible. If I were a part of Maiden, *drool* I would have split this song in two, calling the first half Satellite 15 and the second The Final Frontier, because there is very little--if any--similarities between each half. The only reason I can see the two being combined is that the first half leaves the listener waiting on the edge of their seat for the climax of the build-up, and what follows is a classic little Iron Maiden groove of roughly four minutes.

El Dorado:
Award: Most "fun"
As the award states, this song isn't too serious, which is a welcome relief from their previous gloomy and war-themed album, A Matter of Life and Death. This song is upbeat, has a unique intro (reminds me A LOT of Hit the Lights by Metallica), has a classic Maiden gallop to the rhythm, and has some "Ha's" and "Hey's" scattered throughout that simply lighten the mood of the song. If I had to take a guess, I would bet that this song was the most fun for the band to make, which might explain why this was the first official single off the album; it just seems like an injection of life and sunshine that the band needed to stop writing so many dark songs (let it be known that I like the dark songs too, but a change of pace once in a while never hurt anyone). This song has become one of my favorites off the album, despite the fact that I had my doubts when I first heard the song a few months ago before the album was released.

Mother of Mercy:
Award: Best Lyrics
The intro riff to MoM was one of the first things that caught my attention on my very first listen through the album; simple, but somewhat haunting. If I were to have my way, the entire song would have stayed in this introductory pace instead of increasing the pace about a minute and a half later, but who knows if this would have lasted long enough? One slight problem I had with this song is the way Bruce sings the actual words "Mother of Mercy," especially "mother." This is one of the few times his mortality sneaks through for me, as I know a younger Bruce would have been able to go higher more consistently. I'm not exactly sure why I like the lyrics so much, I guess I just like the contradiction shown through the guise of whomever is claiming to be "a holy man," "all around is death and cruelty." I could be way off, but this song seemed like some weird hybrid of an anti-war/anti-religion song, as some of the holy motifs throughout point to a religious song, while the main character seems to be fighting in a war which has an unknown cause. Though this song pales in comparison to the controversy Starblind would have caused back in the 1980s (see below).

Coming Home
Award: Best Chorus
I don't know how to describe it, but the feel and the mood of the chorus instantly captivated me as sort of a despair being overpowered by a ray of hope. I originally thought this song was about a soldier "Coming Home" (hey, that's the name of the song!) from war, flying away from the horrors and seeing the runway lights of his home country, but now I think the loose lyrics can apply to anyone coming home from anywhere. When I bought this album, I was about two days away form a trip to Oklahoma, and I listened to this album almost exclusively in airports and on planes, and this song simply touched on the fact that I was returning home after being gone for a mere week, amplifying the good feeling of returning to where the heart is. Does coming home from a week of drinking and doing nothing compare to coming home from numerous months in hostile wartime territory? No, but either scenario could fit the theme of this song, as each person in the previous scenarios missed their home, and the hope/gloom fusion of this song makes the feeling even more powerful.

The Alchemist:
Award: Most 80s Sounding Track
It might have been the lightning-fast tempo (relative to recent Maiden songs), but this song felt like it was extracted from Piece of Mind or Powerslave and preserved 25 years so it could instill energy on a group of guys in their 50s. Interesting side note, this is the only song on the album where the title of the song is not part of the sung lyrics, and the catch here is that the words at the end of each chorus are "strange alchemy" rather than alchemist. Nit-picky, yes, but trivia like that can be interesting and fun for some. This song and El Dorado go hand-in-hand in making sure this album is not another Debbie Downer.
Author's note: I think I'll take this moment to say that, while I do think it's their darkest album, A Matter of Life and Death as a whole is probably my favorite Maiden album since Seventh Son. I've been doing nothing but bashing the album thus far, so I thought I would just remind you, the reader, that there is a large difference between "dark/gloomy album" and "bad album."

Isle of Avalon
Award: AC 10 Award
A song about the fabled mystic island of Excalibur's creation was an instant attraction for me, but something did not click for me with this song. To me, this is truly the longest track on the album (although technically the second longest), because the intro just drags ass and it seems to take forever to get to the actual meat of the song. With that being said, Isle is probably my least favorite song on the album. I like the middle fast-tempo portion of the song just fine, but the intro, outro, and instrumental simply take too long and are too lacking to keep my attention before I consider skipping to The Talisman. My favorite part would have to be the last main guitar riff (starting roughly at 7:20), which just rocks!

Award: Biggest Feather-Ruffler
If this song was put on The Number of the Beast album, I think the church would have hung the Maiden boys for controversy overload (Maiden was branded Satanic time and again throughout the 80s for tNotB, both the album and the song). I inferred the title "Starblind," after listening to the song a few times, as a way of explaining how people are blinded by the promises of a spiritual life, never truly given a choice in life. Upon reading the lyrics, I felt this might not be singling out any religion in particular, but rather just a depressing song about no one up above will save us when the dance of death unites us all. Just like with any song ever written on the planet, this one is up to interpretation, and this review may simply be a reflection of my recent thoughts on the topics brought forth. *shrug* As for the feel of the song, which is in sync with the lyrics, is a dark song reminiscent of the Life and Death album. Not one of my favorites, and sometimes skipped after listening to the Alchemist because I just want to hear The Talisman--which leads me to the next song quite conveniently.

The Talisman
Award: Favorite Song
This song, on first listen, reminded me very much of the closing track from Life and Death, The Legacy, and numerous parallels can be drawn for the songs. Because the intro is so quiet, each song's introduction could be labeled similar, but the bulk of each song is unique and amazing in its own way. While this track is almost the same length as Avalon, Talisman manages to keep me interested clear and intriguing tempo changes, and yet another upbeat theme/feel. Any other positive remarks I could make can simply be summed up by saying "this is my favorite track on the album," but the small part that kills me on every listen is using the word "thee," the Old English word for you, to forge a rhyme during the intro, when not a single other allusion to Old English is made anywhere else in the song. Ah! Why couldn't they just use the word "Free" "Decree" or "tree?" Rabble! Great song, though!

The Man Who Would Be King
Award: Where's the Ammo?
If Life and Death taught me anything, it's that the boys in Maiden like to start slow and build up gradually (eight of the songs could be claimed as having slow or quiet starts), and this song is no exception. To me, Dave Murray's only composed song is the Switzerland of the album: no exceptionally awesome or terrible features about it, I have not skipped it yet when listening to The Final Frontier, simply put, a good mid-level manager. I wish I could indulge more about this song, but I just don't feel strongly either way other than to say it's "good," so tell my wife "hello" and let's move on to the closing track on the album.

When The Wild Wind Blows
Award: Best Riffs (9:04 is my favorite, but there are several outstanding riffs)
The only solo composition of Mr. Harris on the album and the longest track length, I had huge hopes for this song (Fear of the Dark, Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Alexander the Great, Hallowed be Thy Name, Sign of the Cross, To Tame a Land, and several more are all solo compositions for Harris and the longest songs on their respective albums, and if you know your Maiden, you know those songs are the majority of Maiden's best ever). I wouldn't go so far as to say I'm dissatisfied with Wild Wind, I do, however, think it's missing "that thing" (I sent it) that classifies it as a song that will be remembered as one of Maiden's best. Once again, I had an odd idea to cut the song in half, with an instrumental in one corner and a song going of the tone and feeling at about 2:13 and 5:00 (my favorite sections of the song, please refer to your LEGALLY PURCHASED copy of The Final Frontier for clarification). Yes it could definitely be a train wreck, but in my mind, it would play out as two middle songs, meaning the Talisman would need to take over as the closing song.

Award: Most Ambitious Effort
In general, The Final Frontier showed me that the members of Maiden are far from done composing and performing, as this album is a tough listen, but has quickly become my new favorite post-millennium album, and currently, it's definitely my favorite Maiden album of this decade.
For die-hard Iron Maiden Fans: give this album a couple tries; I will be the first to tell you that this album was not well received by me on my first listen.
For casual fans: you will probably like songs like El Dorado and Alchemist, but again I advise giving the album a few listens before giving up.
For non-Maiden fans/new listeners: run. Run far away--back to the 1980s--and start there. This song requires a fairly hefty understanding of Iron Maiden's style to be truly appreciated, and doesn't have many "hooks" for a new listener. Try Piece of Mind or Number of the Beast first.

My ranking of the tracks:
1. The Talisman
2. El Dorado
3. Coming Home
4. When The Wild Wind Blows
5. The Man Who Would Be King
6. Satellite 15...The Final Frontier
7. The Alchemist
8. Mother of Mercy
9. Starblind
10. Isle of Avalon

Numeric grade: 9/10, nearly another perfect Iron Maiden album!

I'm not sure if Alex asked this on his review, but how do you feel about the album? Do you have any counterpoints to my points? I'd love to hear more takes from level-headed people who have more to say that "MAIDEN RULES/SUCKS!" Sorry about the dreadful length without any videos or pictures to give your mind a break, but I trust that if you do get overwhelmed by the length, you will skim to the review of the song that intrigues you the most.


Friday, September 24, 2010

Twins clinch, local artist writes a rockin' song to celebrate

Way to clinch the AL Central, Minnesota Twins!  I've heard that if you listen to 89.3 The Current in the Twin Cities right around now, you might get to hear the new unofficial Twins anthem playing on the radio:

Performed by The Baseball Project, featuring 2 members of REM, Craig Finn of The Hold Steady, and Minnesota native Linda Pitmon on drums, the tune is an ode to Minnesota baseball, and it's actually a pretty rockin' tune.  I give it my full endorsement.

Now the Twins just need to get home field advantage throughout the playoffs so that they can rock this tune every night at Target Field during the 7th inning stretch.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lots of guitar thefts in the last two weeks...coincidence? Probably.

In the past two weeks, I have read four, yes, four separate accounts of pretty famous bands getting their guitars and gear stolen.  You don't hear about this kind of thing often, because frankly it's a really terrible thing to do to a band and most people aren't dickish enough to steal a band's guitars.  James Hetfield was so depressed when Metallica's gear was stolen once upon a time that he sat down and penned Fade to Black.  Even though Fade to Black turned out to be what I consider Metallica's best song, stealing a band's guitars is pretty damn low.

First, it came out that Machine Head guitarist Robb Flynn had several guitars stolen from his home on September 7th while he was picking his son up from school, including one that was given to him by the late Dimebag Darrell of Pantera, which is of course extremely valuable.  They also took the guitar he used to record the band's first album, and even the miniature flying V he was using to teach his son the instrument.  Dicks.  He's offering $2000 for the Dimebag prototype and $1000 for the Washburn that he recorded the band's debut on.  Poor guy even got the San Fran area news crews to help out:

I also read last week that Swedish metal band Katatonia had two guitars stolen at a show at Station 4 in St. Paul, Minnesota.  The real heartbreaker?  The stolen guitars were both going to be given to lucky fans who had entered and won a contest.  Someone stole the giveaway guitars.  If you live near St. Paul or frequent music shops in the area, they are the two guitars in this giveaway ad:

To top it all off I heard on the radio yesterday that The Guess Who of "American Woman" fame had their guitars stolen at a show in Cincinnatti (that should teach them not to go to Cincinnatti) while Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath and more recently Heaven and Hell had his guitar the Ronnie James Dio tribute concert in LA.  Gotta be a real scumbag to steal Tony Iommi's guitar at a show honoring his good friend and bandmate Dio.

Seems odd that so many guitars are being stolen recently, but times are tough for some people out there, and some people must be getting really desperate for cash.  I blame Obama.  That, or there's an anti-metal mastermind villain out there sending his henchmen to steal the guitars away from rock and metal artists in order to usher in a new dark era of prepubescent male pop stars ala Justin Bieber, aka He Who Does Not Know What German Is.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The effects of metal on babies?

I saw a video the other day of a crying baby being instantly coaxed into silence by the playing of heavy metal music, specifically a song by death metal band Nile.  The video can be found below, and is probably the cutest thing to ever appear on this blog.  It got me thinking, though.  Does she stop crying because she likes the music and the rhythm, or because she's experiencing a sensory overload?  Is it a good idea to expose babies to metal?

The studies I've looked at don't take a position on whether or not metal is good or bad for a baby's development.  However, a baby begins listening actively at 24 weeks into pregnancy, and a common theory states that whatever music the baby may be exposed to in the womb will be music that it finds soothing or comforting as it grows.  Makes sense to me.  Many infants find pop music enjoyable (see any of the billions of "baby dancing to Beyonce" videos out there for proof) because its simple beats and heavy bass tend to remind the baby of the sound of their mother's heartbeat in the womb. This kid doesn't care about any of that, and just wants to headbang to Pantera. Careful buddy!

My experience is that listening to metal demands a certain amount of intellectual involvement.  There's usually a lot going on with the music, and it takes a lot of brainpower to keep track of everything.  My guess is that can only be good for a baby - same goes for classical music or any complex yet melodic musical style.  Moms of the world, crank it up.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Best Album of the year so far

With the end of September about to bring Earth past the three-quarter mark in its orbit, I figured now would be a good time to reflect on my favorite rock and metal albums of the year so far and try to pick a favorite.  I'll give those bands releasing albums in the next three months the benefit of the doubt, however, and I'll hold off on declaring any album "the best of the year" until the year's actually over.

High on Fire's "Snakes for the Divine" certainly deserves a mention in this list.  Released back in the spring, this groovy, super-heavy, angry stoner metal album is still without a doubt one of the best albums of the year so far.  The title track is epic, "Bastard Samurai" features the best "son of a bitch" utterance in the history of music, and the rest are all tracks of very high quality.  Matt Pike has one of the most awesomely shredded voices in metal, and he gives High on Fire a sound unlike any other.  If you're not headbanging listening to this album, you're deaf.

Slash's self-titled solo album is also on my list.  The legendary guitarist shows off a ridiculous amount of versatility on this album, from the more metal "Nothing to Say" feat. M. Shadows of Avenged Sevenfold to the soft-rock "Gotten" with Maroon 5's Adam Levine, Slash proved on this album that he doesn't need Axl Rose to produce a hit.  He got over a dozen guest vocalists for this album, and each of them conduct themselves admirably, with my favorite performance coming from Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead.  A solid outing - not every track is gold, but most are good.

Eluveitie's "Everything Remains (As It Never Was)" has really surprised me with how many plays its gotten in my music library.  Both heavy and folksy-melodic, "As It Never Was" seems to have no real low point.  The energy is high throughout, and dynamic, interesting musical moments such as the spoken-word section of "Quoth the Raven" happen just frequently enough to keep things from getting monotonous.  This album is a respectable entry in their catalog, and proves that they deserve the "Best New Band" nomination they got at the Metal Hammer Golden Gods Awards this year.

Iron Maiden has once again delivered a fantastic album.  "The Final Frontier" is full of great tracks that will become singalong classics at future Maiden live shows.  With three songs over 11 minutes long, they have shown they're not afraid of writing epics, nor performing them.  Bruce Dickinson's vocals are still surprisingly powerful for his age, and the guitars are spot-on as usual.  It's no Powerslave, but it's still a superb album.

The Sword's "Warp Riders" came out last month and has quickly become one of my favorites.  The concept album is effortlessly heavy and full of killer hooks that you can't help but nod your head or tap a foot along with.  At times sounding like Mastodon, at others KISS, The Sword draw on the previous 40 years of heavy metal styles and sounds in order to produce an album that is classic and unique at the same time.  Really good stuff that flows straight through with 10 excellent songs on a 10 track album.

While these albums have all been well above average in quality, Blind Guardian's "At the Edge of Time" stands head and shoulders above the rest as my favorite album of the year so far.  Whenever I put on a song from this album, I have to listen to it the whole way through, and then find another to follow it with.  If one comes up on shuffle, I have to pause shuffle and just play the album, it's that damn good.  Powerful vocals, fast and powerful guitars, and an epic orchestra drive the music to heights I've never heard Blind Guardian reach.  I enjoyed their last few releases, but this one blows them away.  It's going to be really hard for anyone to top "At the Edge of Time" this year, but if anyone does, I'd love to hear it.  

Any suggestions for stuff I may have missed or failed to pick up in 2010 so far?  Anything coming out in the next three months that's gonna kick ass? Think I'm full of shit? Let me know in the comments.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The music of Tool, psychadelic drugs produced by the human body, and near-death experiences....what?

This evening when I got back from work I sat down to listen to Led Zeppelin's "No Quarter," an epic-length, psychadelic song that tends to induce a sort of meditative calm in me every time I listen, at least for the first 5 or 6 minutes.  I then remembered that Tool had made a cover version of "No Quarter," and even though I had it in my library, I went to youtube to see if I could find a video.  Success! (Apologies for whatever idiot uploaded it misspelling Led Zeppelin):

It struck me that of all of Zeppelin's songs, "No Quarter" is perhaps the song most fit for a Tool cover.  Initially, I was not terribly impressed.  Of course the audio was crap, as is the case with most youtube videos.  The early vocals are heavily filtered, and are even more difficult to make out than Robert Plant's in the original.  Eventually it began to grow on me, however.  The last three or four minutes are pure excellence in music.

Alex Grey's "The Spirit Molecule"
Reading the comments as I listened, I caught a reference to DMT, a molecule that Alex Grey (the artist behind Tool's album covers and live show) refers to as "the spirit molecule."  Intrigued, I headed over to the Wikipedia page for DMT, which I found incredibly fascinating.  The article states that "(DMT) is found not only in many plants,[3] but also in trace amounts in the human body, where its natural function remains undetermined."  It is capable of inducing an intense hallucination lasting between 10 and 15 minutes.  It is classified as a Schedule 1 illegal substance in the US, reserved only for laboratory research.  And yet, it occurs in the human body?  What could its purpose possibly be?  Some researchers are speculating that DMT "may play a role in mediating the visual effects of natural dreaming, and also near-death experiences, religious visions and other mystical states."  Others speculate that it may be the key to the phenomenon known as Lucid Dreaming, where one is aware that they are dreaming and can manipulate the dream however they decide to.

I clicked through to the near-death experiences article, and found another intensely fascinating read.  Apparently there are 8 million people in the US that claim to have had a near-death experience, either being medically dead for a short period of time before revival, or very near to dying.  Incredibly, each of the accounts these survivors share of their experiences have common threads: seeing an intense white light, out-of-body experiences such as being able to look down upon medical staff treating them, a sense of peace, well-being,  hearing the most beautiful music they can imagine (probably Blind Guardian), and making a decision to return to their body. I just found the fact that these people had so many similar experiences very profound.  Is it a chemical reaction that occurs when the brain shuts down?  Is it the purpose of DMT?  Or is there really more going on in this life than we care to admit?  Whoa, shit just got real.

So, yeah, another typical Tool listening session turns into learning the most interesting shit I've learned in months.  I guess this hasn't been technically about metal, but listening to metal inspired me to learn something new and mind-opening.  How often does Ke$ha do that?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Review: Apocalyptica's "Seventh Symphony"

I've always respected Apocalyptica's ability to take four cellos and a drumset and produce hard rock music.  I thought their last album, Worlds Collide, was great.  They chose excellent guest vocalists (Till Lindemann of Rammstein, Corey Taylor of Slipknot and Stone Sour, Adam Gontier of Three Days Grace, among others) and the instrumental tracks were mostly superb.  Unfortunately I cannot say the same for the Finnish 4-piece's new release, Seventh Symphony

Upon my first few listenings, the words that kept reappearing in my head were "good enough."  The album strikes me as simply another entry in the band's catalogue; not a real step forward nor a step backward, but simply enough to fill 60 minutes with content that is of high enough quality to ensure consistent radio play. 

Once again, the band went with 10 tracks - 6 instrumental, 4 with guest vocalists.  The first track, "At the Gates of Manala," is interesting enough and heavy enough to catch and hold your attention, but there's not much going on in it.  It's an instrumental piece with an extended solo section that is fairly impressive for the cello, but were it performed on guitar I would find it underwhelming. 

The second track is the expected position for an album's big radio single, and this convention is maintained on Seventh Symphony.  "End of Me" features Gavin Rossdale from Bush on vocals and is your standard radio-rocker that you know will get airplay for about 2 months before being largely forgotten.  (Remember Bush? Apparently they have re-formed and are releasing a new album this fall.   How convenient that he found his way onto the radio with this track so close to his new album dropping...)  The chorus is catchy enough, and is easy to sing along with in the car, which I suppose is what they were going for:

It's not hard to predict that the third track will wind up being a radio single as well.  Featuring Brent Smith of Shinedown, "Not Strong Enough" is cut of the same cloth as "End of Me," and features a power-packed, if lacking in substance, vocal performance.  The song sounds exactly like a Shinedown song, which I found quite disappointing.  I would have liked to see something more along the lines of "Helden" from Worlds Collide, something that takes the vocalist out of their traditional setting.

The rest of the album is similarly unremarkable.  "2010," my pick for best track, features Slayer's Dave Lombardo on drums, pounding out complex rhythms and fills throughout, and sounds more like an extended drum solo with a backing band than a traditional song.  (That's a good thing in this case.)  "Beautiful" is a slower, drum-free track that is actually well-played and recorded, but not memorable in the slightest.  "Broken Pieces" features Flyleaf's Lacey Mosley, who does a decent job on a song that, again, sounds just like a Flyleaf song.  "Bring Them to Light" features Gojira's Joe Duplantier on vocals and has a very dark, minor-key aesthetic, but gets rather repetitive towards the end and has a chorus section I found lacking.

Again, I found the album to be enjoyable enough, but after one listen I already knew that I could name at least 7 or 8 better albums released this year without having to look them up.  You can see what I mean about the vocal talent they pulled in for this album - perhaps it's just me, but I'll take Till Lindemann, Corey Taylor, and Adam Gontier over Gavin Rossdale, Brent Smith and the chick from Flyleaf any day of the week. 

Apocalyptica can look back at this album and give themselves a pat on the back for a job done just well enough.

Rating: 6.5/10 

Bed Intruder Song - death metal version

 Based on the autotuned original by the Gregory Brothers, this is just awesome:

Probably not as good as the original in the objective sense, but it's pretty well done.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Mat Graham's metal Ocarina of Time covers will impress you

I came across this guy's cover of "The Song of Storms" from the N64 game The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time yesterday and was really pleasantly surprised.  I expected a computerized remix track, but instead got a well-recorded and beautifully arranged guitar cover in a metal style with great guitar tone:

That track was just recorded earlier this week.

Today, I heard that he had already released another cover, this time of "Bolero of Fire."  The Bolero was one of my favorite songs from the game, and it really seems to jive well with metal instrumentation:

Both songs are very true to the originals, but I feel like they suffer a bit from their length and eventually getting a bit repetitive.  Perhaps he'll work in some extra flourishes and play around with the melody a bit more on future covers.

I guess we'll find out, as I've subscribed to his youtube channel and can let you know when he adds more tunes.

There you have it.  Here at Weaponized Wisdom we keep you on the cutting edge of N64 game song cover version releases.  You're welcome.  


Monday, September 13, 2010

"7 Shots" is the best new song I've heard all month

I recently picked up Volbeat's newest album, and the bluesy, heavy, thrashy "7 Shots" immediately caught my attention.  The song's intro is reminiscent of a Johnny Cash tune, and then it transitions into a fast, heavy, and melodic thrash tune featuring the vocals and guitarwork of Kreator's Mille Petrozza.  

The song sounds like a collaboration between Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and Metallica.  Enjoy:

I'll be reviewing this album in the coming days; gonna be rocking out to it pretty much constantly until then.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Female-fronted Metal bands, the yin-yang, and Matt's other Metal Musing

Metal has always been, and remains, a boy's club. Though the female population in metal has been growing steadily, it is still a genre dominated by men. Never entirely won over by the likes of Lita Ford or Amy Lee, I felt like female vocalists just did not mix well with the low strum of an electric guitar. Then, Pandora reminded me of a band I had briefly heard about from by the name of Nightwish, and soon, almost every one of their songs were getting thumbs up on my station.

Many of their songs (Wish I Had an Angel, Wishmaster, End of All Hope, and so many more) offered me something that I called the "yin yang" of metal which I have been attracted to since I got into rock music (more on this later). This yin yang was something I first noticed this in Killswitch Engage, where the singer would switch from guttural screams to clean vocals (I am well aware they were not the first band to do this), forming a light/heavy mesh that worked wonder on my ears. Nightwish's yin yang came in the form of Tara Turunen's divine voice and the classic metal sound that came from the rest of the band--in addition to folk music roots and some stellar lyrical work--and it was extremely addictive.

After about a month or so of listening to a Nightwish station at work, I decided to go look for some of their music videos half-expecting some fat, stereotypical opera singer on vocals. I was dead wrong:

A raven-haired beauty had captivated me and only made a great band not only enjoyable to listen to, but very easy on the eyes.

Unfortunately, Tara's ego and the egos of the rest of the band clashed, resulting in Tara being fired from the band with each side pointing at the other for blame. The end result spawned two entities: Tara Turunen, Tara's side project (which I'm not too fond of, honestly), and Nightwish with a new singer (Annette Olzon). My initial reaction to the new singer was negative, not only because I didn't like her singing style--which seemed more pop-ish and not as exotic--but also because I missed Tara's second-to-none voice. As time goes on, I've begun to accept the new singer and I enjoy a decent amount of the new album (see Sahara below). Tuomas (hard to spell Finnish last name omitted), who has been the band's primary songwriter since day one, was still the songwriter for the new album, so the song's didn't lose any of their merit.

The band does plan to release a new album in a year or two, and I strongly believe it will be good, because Tuomas has curved his writing style ever so slightly to match with Annette's voice in a more suitable manner. I'm hoping Tara will pull a Bruce Dickinson/Rob Halford and set aside her differences with her old band, leaving the possibility of her triumphant return should things go sour with Annette.

I originally planned on discussing one or two more female-fronted metal bands to which Pandora introduced me, but for the sake of length, I will simply list these bands and my personal recommendations for a song(s) by each band. Girl power!

Additional Nightwish recommendations - 7 Days to the Wolves, Dark Chest of Wonders, Nemo, Ghost Love Score (the YTMND song)
Within Temptation - See Who I am, What Have You Done
Epica (the singer of this band is FINE with a capital F-I-N-E) - Never Enough, Dance of Fate

The Yin Yang I referred to earlier is best represented, in my opinion, in the genre of Melodic Death Metal. Bands in this genre often exhibit traditional Death Metal styles of singing, while adding melody to their music either through lighter or more melodic guitar work or clean vocal interspersed with the growls/screams. Think Killswitch Engage, only more screaming and occasional clean vocals. Exhibit A:

Dark Tranquillity (yes, for some reason, it's spelled with two Ls) is by far my favorite band from the genre, and while not all of their songs have clean vocals like Misery's Crown, the songs with all growling is complimented fittingly by melodic guitar work and piano/keyboards. Oddly enough, two other bands I enjoy very much, Amon Amarth and Dethklok, feature almost no clean vocals (unless it's a guest vocalist like Pickles the drummer) and both of these bands are also lumped into this genre, I'm thinking because you can actually enjoy their guitarists rather than listening to a clusterfuck of strums found in a traditional Death Metal band.

Other Melo-Death bands I recommend:
In Flames - Trigger, Take This Life, Drifter
Poisonblack - Rush
Sonic Syndicate - Affliction

This last chunk of article is in response to One of Alex's older articles on music videos. I don't think music videos HAVE to serve a purpose, rather, I feel they can merely suggest a point. Music videos can also cause you to perceive and listen to songs in a whole new way and give you a new interpretation of the lyrics. My favorite music videos of all time are the ones that make me think the most and the ones that make me laugh the most. To conclude this post, I will post my two favorite "non-serious" music videos.

Here's Iron Maiden telling the world that they don't always take their music seriously, giving the audience a good chuckle with silly British humor, a guitarist in a pool and a ridiculously pink shirt. The song is definitely not one of Maiden's best, but if you're a fan of the band, you might enjoy seeing the gents of the band (the 1990 line-up; Janick Gers' first video with the band) actin' a fool:

This next one is a fairly recent discovery, but numerous things in this video are worthy of a good chuckle (listed below the video, best read after viewing video). CHALLENGE MODE: try to watch this without smiling or chuckling, I sure as Hell couldn't do it:

The first thing that made me laugh out loud was "Wodka!" (LOL different cultures), followed by the faded chorus line of "Drinking is good for you!" I also thing the singer looks like James Hetfield's swamp brother, with his hilarity emphasized when the camera spins around but he stays centered. Also, I just love looking at the violinist looking like he's having a "pretty good time" when he's supposed to be feeling awesome! This song would, beyond a shadow of a doubt, make an amazing drinking/partying song, which I think was its true purpose (Alex, I demand you get this song for my next visit to Madison).

I also think this video is simply "better" than Beer Beer--another of their party songs--both in terms of lyrical hilarity and of course in the silliness-to-awesomeness ratio, even though I am a staunch opponent of Wodka.

Sorry this post was a bit of a scatter-brain on several different topics, but I had numerous ideas for this article, and I figured "all of them would be better than one of them!" I'm more than open to other suggestions or opposing arguments for any of the previous topics, because with all of the bands and genres I've talked about, I have only begun to scratch the surface of each.

This is the way Iron Man was meant to be played...with a TESLA GUITAR!

I mean....words fail me.  I'm speechless.  I am without speech.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Danish "Elvis Metal" group Volbeat releasing new album this week - another great band you may have never heard

This piece of news took me by surprise, as I have been listening to and following Volbeat for over a year now and this is the first I'm hearing of a new album.

Volbeat's sound is quite unique when compared to nearly all of the other hard rock/heavy metal sounds I've listened to - their songs have a Swing sound to them, reminiscent of early 60s/late 50s rock, and the vocals have clearly been influenced heavily by the stylings of Elvis Presley and other early rock vocalists. reports that "VOLBEAT will release its fourth album, "Beyond Hell/Above Heaven", in Germany on September 10 and in most parts of Europe on September 13 via Vertigo/Universal. The CD was once again recorded at Hansen Studios in Ribe, Denmark with producer Jacob Hansen. The cover artwork was created by illustrator Karsten Wrysand and can be viewed below.

"Beyond Hell/Above Heaven" track listing:

01. The Mirror And The Ripper
02. Heaven Nor Hell
03. Who They Are
04. Fallen
05. A Better Believer
06. 7 Shots
07. A New Day
08. 16 Dollars
09. A Warrior's Call
10. Magic Zone
11. Evelyn
12. Being 1
13. Thanks

"Beyond Hell/Above Heaven" features guest appearances by MERCYFUL FATE guitarist Michael Denner, NAPALM DEATH's Mark "Barney" Greenway and KREATOR's Mille Petrozza. Additionally, Jacob Oelund of the Copenhagen rockabilly outfit TAGGY TONES and songwriter Hanrik Hall swung by the studio to lay down some seriously swinging double bass and harmonica."

I am sincerely looking forward to this album, because this band is seriously a ton of fun to listen to.  See what I mean here:

Friday, September 10, 2010

Dream Theater will carry on without Portnoy

Dream Theater plans to continue playing/recording without recently departed drummer Mike Portnoy. 

The band released the following statement regarding Pornoy's departure:

"To all of our loyal fans and friends: It is with profound sadness — regret — we announce that Mike Portnoy, our lifelong drummer and friend, has decided to leave Dream Theater.
"Mike's stature in the band has meant the world to all of us professionally, musically, and personally over the years. There is no dispute: Mike has been a major force within this band

"While it is true that Mike is choosing to pursue other ventures and challenges, we can assure you that Dream Theater will continue to move forward with the same intensity — and in the same musical tradition — that you have all helped make so successful, and which is truly gratifying to us.

"Fans and friends: File this episode under 'Black Clouds and Silver Linings.'
"As planned, we begin recording our newest album in January 2011, and we'll follow that with a full-on world tour.
"'The Spirit Carries On.'
"All of us in Dream Theater wholeheartedly wish Mike the best on his musical journey. We have had a long and meaningful career together. It is our true hope that he finds all he is looking for, and that he achieves the happiness he deserves. He will be missed."

Looks like we'll be seeing a new album in early-mid 2011 from the Dream Theater boys, sans-Portnoy.  Black Clouds and Silver Linings was alright, but it was no Octavarius.  I hope the boys can continue to pump out quality music that progresses the rock and metal sound, while at the same time impressing with their mastery of their instruments and genre.  

Personally, I hope Portnoy sticks with Avenged Sevenfold and takes their sound to the next level.  Jimmy Sullivan was an excellent drummer, but I think Portnoy can bring the experience and maturity to the band that they need to progress their music past the pop/nu-metal sound they currently espouse.

Blind Guardian is touring the US!

Blind Guardian will officially be touring the US and Canada this fall, and we have the full set of dates here at Weaponized Wisdom!  They are listed below. Looks like they'll be in Minneapolis the Monday after Thanksgiving.  I'm gonna be taking a long vacation for Thanksgiving and going to see them!  Can't frickin wait!

2010-11-20 Blind Guardian in New York City, NY Nokia Theatre Times Square United States

2010-11-21 Blind Guardian in Worcester, MA The Palladium United States

2010-11-23 Blind Guardian in Montreal, QC Metropolis Canada

2010-11-25 Blind Guardian in Quebec City, QC Théâtre Capitole Canada

2010-11-26 Blind Guardian in Toronto, ON Kool Haus Canada

2010-11-27 Blind Guardian in Royal Oak, MI Royal Oak Music Theatre United States

2010-11-29 Blind Guardian in Chicago, IL Bottom Lounge United States

2010-11-30 Blind Guardian in Minneapolis, MN Cabooze United States

2010-12-01 Blind Guardian in Winnipeg, MB The Garrick Centre Canada

2010-12-03 Blind Guardian in Calgary, AB MacEwan Ballroom Canada

2010-12-04 Blind Guardian in Edmonton, AB The Starlite Room Canada

2010-12-06 Blind Guardian in Seattle, WA Showbox at the Market United States

2010-12-08 Blind Guardian in San Francisco, CA The Regency Ballroom United States

2010-12-09 Blind Guardian in Los Angeles, CA The Music Box at Henry Fonda Theater United States

2010-12-10 Blind Guardian in Tempe, AZ Marquee Theatre United States

2010-12-11 Blind Guardian in Albuquerque, NM Sunshine Theatre United States

2010-12-12 Blind Guardian in Denver, CO Bluebird Theatre United States

2010-12-14 Blind Guardian in Dallas, TX Trees United States

2010-12-15 Blind Guardian in San Antonio, TX Scout Bar United States

2010-12-17 Blind Guardian in Asheville, NC The Orange Peel United States

2010-12-18 Blind Guardian in St. Petersburg, FL The State Theatre United States

2010-12-19 Blind Guardian in Atlanta, GA The Masquerade United States

2010-12-21 Blind Guardian in Raleigh, NC Lincoln Theatre United States

2010-12-22 Blind Guardian in Springfield, VA Jaxx Nightclub United States