Sunday, January 15, 2012


Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome one and all to the one and only event that can stop the earth's rotation around the sun and cause massive upsets on football sunday at the same time;  Miles' top 10 albums of the year!  I could have said the top 10 metal albums of the year but that would have been redundant.

This year ended up being and incredibly strong one, and I'll admit going into it I wasn't sure what to expect.  A few minor flubs, and a few incredible surprises await!  Join me, won't you?  A change from last year, though;  I can't number them this year, as I had at least 4 albums clustered at the top that I could for the life of me not pick between.  And, in all honesty just being on the list makes them worthy of your time!  Because my opinion is that important.  Make sure you check out the links under each cover art for my favorite cuts of each album!

Honorable Mentions

Megadeth - Th1rt3en 

So, a short few years after the release of the outrageously stellar Endgame, Megadeth return with their 13th album... Th1rt3en.  Fucking christ, it literally makes me cringe to type that out.  Corny phonetic spelling aside, this album is solid, but it definitely pales in comparison to their previous ass-kicker.  This album has all the signs of contract fulfillment written all over it, what with half of the songs being written somewhere in the mid 90's and some of the others written for video games.  It comes across as somewhat half-assed, but half-assed Megadeth still manages to be good, which is a testament to Dave's writing ability and the sound technicality of the band.  My favorite songs off of the album tend to be the older ones that were reworked or rerecorded, with the exception of Neverdead, which is really fucking good.

Amon Amarth - Surtur Rising

If you would have told me early in the year that this album wouldn't make my top 10 I would have probably punched you in the face.  Shockingly, it doesn't quite make it, but it has as much to do with the strength of the field as it does with this album being slightly disappointing.  Amon Amarth's previous album is quite possibly my favorite of their entire catalogue, and while this is a great album... it just doesn't have the songs to breach the top 10.  I can always count on AA to bring me a solid melodic death metal album about vikings, but that doesn't guarantee a spot.  Still, any fan of the band will enjoy it immensely.

Turisas - Stand Up and Fight

Turisas have become a bizarre and awesome beast as of the last few years.  After Battle Metal, the band has been surging forward into epic territory with a vengeance.  The Varangian Way was a fantastic album, and I preferred it over the debut, what with it's outrageously epic numbers and fist pumping anthems.  Well my friends, if you enjoy fist pumping you are in luck, because this album is basically all fist pump all the time.  While I can't say I enjoy it as much as TVW, this album smokes.  I love the direction this band is taking, which is somewhere between epic folk/power metal, and the Harry Potter film soundtracks.  Great stuff.

Edguy - Age of the Joker

I honestly struggled with this one, as Edguy are one of my favorite bands ever.  Edguy have been straddling the line between melodic hard rock and Metal for a few albums now, and they aren't changing it up with this one.  While the melodic soundness of the band remains in tact, and hooks abound remain... they seem slightly lacking in the energy department in this one.  In all honesty it sounds A LOT like the recent Avantasia ventures, which is by no means bad, but I would prefer if Edguy and Avantasia remained their own entities and not some sort of giant Tobias Sammett lovechild.  This album does have enough deliciousness to make my Honorable mentions, but I will long for another Hellfire Club until they give me one.  Which probably won't ever happen as the song Mysteria makes Tobias clutch his chest and nearly pass out when he tries to sing it live.

Falconer - Armod

This album is probably the one that came closest to punching through to the top 10, but in the end the competition ended up being a bit too stiff.  This album RULES.  Straight up Power/Folk with one of the most unique singers Metal has ever had the privilege of holding among it's ranks.  I think what managed to keep it out of the top 10 was that the album was the fact that the entire thing is in Swedish.  You'll notice that other bands that made the top 10 all sing in foreign languages, but what makes this a problem for Armod is that Falconer traditionally are CATCHY as hell, with some of the best hooks in metal.  The Swedish language doesn't exactly lend itself to that cause and it's just not as instantly memorable as their earlier works.  This is entirely on me and not on the band, as they are being authentic and amazing all over the place on this release.  I have to judge these albums by which ones I enjoyed the most and as that hangup hampered that, this amazing album rests just outside the promised land.  A triumphant release none the less.

The Top 10 of 2011

Rhapsody of Fire - From Chaos to Eternity

Power Metal's lords of over the top pomp and glory return with what appears to be the last album featuring the founding core of the band in keyboardist Alex Staropoli, singer Fabio Lione, and guitarist Luca Turilli.  It's a shame, because they really hit their stride with their previous album, and this one just turns up the dials on everything to an absurd level.  This album is truly their most adventurous to date, with swirling orchestrations, shockingly heavy guitar riffs and snarled vocals, and some progisms that would make even the most skeptical metalhead turn his head.  Rhapsody clearly did a shitload of soul searching during the battle with Magic Circle Music, as they managed to put together 2 fantastic albums out after the dust settled.  Fantastic stuff.

Jag Panzer - Scourge of the Light

In what ended up being their last album, Jag Panzer brought us this fantastic example of US Power Metal.  Guitarist Chris Broderick left for Megadeth a few years ago, but new (old) axeman Christian Lesague returns to the fold to bring searing leads and great songwriting chops to boot.  Great, haunting melodic tales of power and might spill from this triumphant disc, which ends up being a great swan song to a legendary band that every fan of metal should appreciate.  Goodnight, sweet prince(s).

Alestorm - Back Through Time

The title of this album references pirates going back in time and fighting vikings to the death.  Seriously, what the fuck else can I say about this album to convince you of it's spectaculartude.  I'll try I guess, but nothing will compare.  This, to me, is Alestorm's best album by FAR.  While Alestorm were always a fun curiosity prior to this album, this is the first release by the band that I can officially say fucking rules.  And it really does.  The band has gotten tighter and more focused, while still having all the charm and tongue-in-cheek hilarity that made them a success.  I love this album, and it's a fantastic party album provided you don't have a bunch of gaping vaginas for friends.

Hibria - Blind Ride

Triumphant Brazilian Power Metalers Hibria have returned with Blind Ride, which is without question their most varied and experimental album to date.  Not off the wall crazy, mind you, but enough variation to keep things fresh and interesting.  Clearly a greater emphasis on melody is obvious on this album, but they still manage to pummel your sorry ass with riff after riff.  Hibria, for those not in the know play a more intense and riffy style of Power Metal, which can be a nice change up from the almost hyperactive at times with melody sounds of their euro bretheren.  I love that stuff too, but sometimes I need a good kick in the balls courtesy of Iuri Sanson's wailing vocals.  Great stuff.

Nightwish - Imaginaerum

Woooo.  This is one wild ride.  Nightwish throw the fucking kitchen sink at this one, in what ends up being a much better, more complete album than their previous album Dark Passion Play.  Without question, the aspect that pushes this album ahead of it's predecessor is the more confident vocals of Anette Olzon, which have improved to the nth degree.  This album plays like the soundtrack it is, with songs varying wildly from one to the next.  From abba-meets-power metal to smooth jazz to Tim Burton to Finnish folk, it's all here.  Tuomas, as always, is the hook master supreme, with nearly every song being catchy as hell.  Great, great album.  Tarja, who?

Moonsorrow - Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa

Moonsorrow are the undisputed kings of extreme folk metal to me, with their epic soundscapes, chilling vocals, and catchy melodies.  This band can do no wrong to me, and this album is absolutely no exception.  A concept album about one's slow descent into death while walking through the cold wilderness, this album's 4 songs (and 3 interludes) suck you in and never let go through the duration.  The track I linked to, Huuto, is one of the best songs of their career and I can't see any open minded Metalhead disliking it.  It's spellbinding melodies and intensity are breathtaking.  Another wonderful album from Moon FUCKING Sorrow.


Stratovarius - Elysium

Stratovarius, the veterans of Melodic Power Metal from Finland grace us with what is, to me, their best album ever.  This album floored me with it's sent from the heavens songwriting the first time I ever listened to it.  This band hasn't skipped a beat since the departure of Timo Tolkki, which I can only assume had held the band back for years and years prior to his bizarre episode (hurrrrr) and consequent leaving of the band.  I know it may be an unpopular opinion to some, but this band is better than ever, with the fresh blood bringing some new life to this legendary outfit.  

Dalriada - Ígéret

Surprise of the year, right here folks.  Dalriada came from out-of-fucking-nowhere this year to floor me with this album of complete Folk Metal mastery.  Dalriada are a female fronted Folk Metal band that take cues from both extreme and Power Metal in their songwriting, which shows from the link I posted to their lead single.  The folk runs VERY strong though through this one, as the Hungarian folk instrumentation always plays a key role in bringing the danceable melodies to the forefront.  The choruses in this album are sublime, to a degree that I haven't heard in quite a while from a folk metal band.  Stellar, stellar stuff that I can't recommend enough.

Iced Earth - Dystopia 

ICED FUCKING EARTH.  Finally, finally Iced Earth return with the album that their fans have been waiting for for a decade.  The songwriting skill of Jon Schaffer, which has laid dorment for years has emerged from it's underwater cavern of solitude to crush the nonbelievers, and with new singer Stu Block (of Into Eternity) in tow, all shall be smitten to the ground.  Seriously, this album is IE renewed with a burst of power we haven't seen from them in a long time.  Songs like the title track, Dark City, Equilibrium, V, and Iron Will demonstrate that IE are back to potentially reclaim their throne as the most important US Power Metal band around.  Bang your fucking head.

Korpiklaani - Ukon Wacka

The greatest party metal band on the planet are back!  Ukon Wacka is probably their heaviest and most direct album to date, which pleases me immensely as it gets down to the core of what makes Korpiklaani so great... PARTYING.  The overall sound reminds me of a hooky, Finnish Motorhead with traditional folk elements.  Tell me how in any way or form that can be a bad thing.  Every song is great, and they flow together wonderfully, which lends it perfectly to downing a few beverages with friends after a hard week.  Please, more of this.  Omnomnom.

So, there you have it!  My top albums of the year.  Please, leave comments on what you think and as always... HAIL AND KILL!!!!


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Better Late than Never... THE BEST METAL ALBUMS OF 2010!

Yeah, yeah.  Rest assured, I'm more than aware about how late to the party I am on this one.  I haven't had the inspiration to do this at all since the turn of the year, but today as I was sitting at work I had an epiphany.


And so, I am heeding the call.  Today is the day, my friends!  Make sure you give all of the albums I am about to bring to your attention their due, as they truly deserve to get some attention.  Click the links at the end of each review to feel the MAJESTY.


Honorable Mentions 

Avantasia - Angel of Babylon

Angel of Babylon is one half of what I've heard described as "The World's Weirdest Opera", and it's an absolutely wonderful ride filled with power metal bombast all the catchy hard rock-esque hooks we've all come to know and love from Tobias Sammet.  The dude's knack for writing catchy metal tunes shows itself in spades on this album.  From the masterfully epic "Stargazers" to the straight forward and driving "Alone I Remember", there's a hell of a lot to like about this album.  It does have a weak track or two, especially "Death is Just a Feeling" and "Symphony of Life".  The latter being weak because of an annoying female vocalist reminiscent of a goth rock starlet, and the former because Jon Olivia manages to sound like a Pedophile.  Otherwise, a stellar romp for sure, with the other guest vocalists giving wonderful performances.

Avantasia - Stargazers

Accept - Blood of the Nations

There are precious few things out there that make me happier than a band coming back from adversary and straight up pissing all over their naysayers.  I loved it when Nightwish returned with a vengeance and made sure hundreds of Tarja fangirls slit their wrists in terror as Dark Passion Play set sales records all over the world, I loved it when Megadeth came back after Dave Mustaine's injury to eventually release their best album in over a decade, and I love it how Accept have put out an ass kicker of an album without their "indispensable" former lead vocalist Udo Dirkschneider.  This album is just a straight up old school ass kicker.  It takes names, and then kills them.  Awesome.

Accept - Teutonic Terror

Grand Magus - Hammer of the North

So, after hearing great things about these Swedish doom/power/trad/nwobhm guys, I figured I'd finally take the plunge and give them a shot.  You'll notice that I threw in a lot of genres to describe them.  I'm pretty sure I've heard them described as all of them at one point or another.  I suppose the best way to describe them is a Traditional metal band with doomy AND power metal tendencies.  Listen to them, and maybe you will agree.  A singer who has a very powerful mid range voice, but can also belt out a wail when he pleases, along with some very cool riffage means I'll probably be a happy man.

Grand Magus - I, The Jury

Overkill - Ironbound

New Jersey's resident thrash masters really brought it this year, and I'm not sure anyone expected it to be THIS good.  Really fantastic east coast thrash, but with none of the annoying sloppiness or tomfoolery that can come with it.  These guys are tight as FUCK on this album, in particular the drums and rhythm guitar work, which just fucking KILL.  Great, great stuff men.  On a related note, I'd love to get a chance to see them live again. 

Overkill - Bring me the Night

Metsatöll - Äio

Metsatoll are a new discovery of mine, and I wish I had heard something by them sooner, because they are a wonderful folk metal band, and are shockingly unique.  Hailing from Estonia, these guys are clearly very driven by the tales and mythology of their homeland, which makes their music sound all the more authentic.  Great, and completely unique vocal delivery cements this band into my "must watch" category in the future.

Metsatoll - Vaid Vaprust

The Top 10 

10.  Helloween - 7 Sinners

Helloween fucking rule, as any self respecting fan of the genre will tell you.  Wimps and posers have been weeping into their Lucky Charms for almost two decades now about how Michael Kiske leaving has ruined this band forever, but I'm here to punch those fools directly in their taints.  Lo, Helloween with Andi Deris have been kicking ass for a very long time now, and their latest album is just the icing on the cake as far as I'm concerned.  This album has been touted as their heaviest one ever, which I would say is pretty accurate, although The Dark Ride and Gambling With the Devil are no slouch in that department to be sure.  Anyways, this album delivers all the great stuff we expect from modern Helloween, along with some shocking surprises in some BLISTERINGLY fast double kick drums and a flute solo.  Great stuff, boys!  Happy, happy HELLOWEEN!

Helloween - Raise the Noise

9. Iron Maiden - The Final Frontier

Well, here's a band that needs no introduction as we all know.  Maiden these days are a different beast than they were in the 80's as anyone could tell you.  That said, while their old stuff is without question better, and the stuff everyone wants to hear to this day in concert, the new stuff has an air of class and maturity about it that is very hard not to respect.  In not so many words, this band just doesn't give a fuck if you want to hear carbon copies of Piece of Mind or Powerslave.  They will do as they please, and frankly, that's admirable.  This new version of Maiden is proggy, and epic, with 8+ minute songs and sometimes sprawling soundscapes that would make Tull or Yes blush.  To me, this album ranks as the 2nd best album they have done since Bruce's return (with Brave New World 1st), and that is no small feat with Dance of Death waiting in the wings.  Now that I've given your album a glowing review, tour the US again!

Iron Maiden - Satellite 15... The Final Frontier

8. Rhapsody of Fire - The Frozen Tears of Angels

The gods of outrageously over the top symphonic power metal have returned after their contract dispute (with none other than Joey Demaio) with what is their best album since Power of the Dragonflame of perhaps even earlier.  This album starts off with a bang and really doesn't let up much at all for it's duration, at least in terms of quality as Rhapsody love to slow it down and bard it up once in a while.  As they should!  Anyways, it appears through their years away from the scene due to record label issues, they used the time to craft some seriously punchy melodic metal, even throwing in some extreme stuff from time to time to make this one of their most varied albums, as well as one of their best.

Rhapsody of Fire - Sea of Fate

7. Elvenking - Red Silent Tides

So you listen to Metal, do you?  So I bet you have a love for at least one thing that could qualify as "geeky" or "nerdy" to the mainstream correct?  Hey now, I'm not judging.  In fact, I love many a nerdy delight.  I just figured all us nerds could look at this album cover and just how much it reminds us all of "The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask".  Please tell me you see it.

Anyways, Elvenking have been the subject of much controversy over the last few years.  They began their careers with a very well respected power/folk metal album in "Heathenreel", and had two good followups afterward.  Then, tragedy struck as they decided to write the only powercore (power metal and metalcore) album to ever surface from hades in "The Scythe", which went over like a lead balloon as one would expect.  They immediately righted the ship with an almost entirely acoustic album in "Two Tragedy Poets", which was critically hailed as a return to quality.  Now, we get this little gem.

Elvenking basically attempted to throw all their eras into a blender and combine it with some SERIOUSLY poppy hooks for their newest album, "Red Silent Tides".  Somehow, even though it should have been a colossal failure based on that clusterfuck, it is absolutely divine.  Granted, I enjoy my share of hooky and poppy rock from time to time, so maybe my threshold is higher for saccharine sweet choruses and such, but god damn can these guys bring it.  Listen to the hooks on "Silence de Mort" if you don't believe me.  For those who want the long story short, this album is Power/Folk metal + Bon Jovi.  Minus all the bullshit we associate with the Jove.

Elvenking - Silence de Mort

6. Seven Kingdoms - Seven Kingdoms

Where the FUCK did this band come from?  Completely unheard of by me until I heard they were opening for the mighty BLIND GUARDIAN on their US tour last year, I wasn't sure of what to expect.  Sadly, we don't get much in the way of Power Metal coming from the states these days, so I know I wasn't wrong to be somewhat skeptical at first, and I'm incredibly glad I was wrong.  This band smokes on all levels, with amazingly well played drums with wild fills, to great guitar pyrotechnics and basswork, and a female vocalist that sounds like no other female vocalist you have ever heard.  Forget those operatic wanna-bes, Sabrina Valentine's classy and powerful delivery is a breath of fresh air.  I usually describe this band as Iced Earth on steroids to whoever I talk to them about, but that's actually sort of selling them a bit short because they actually vary their sound quite a bit from song to song.  That said, they are at the core a very riff driven melodic power metal band and the mighty Iced Earth/Maiden gallop makes it's appearance from time to time.  And I love it.  Awesome.

Edit:  Yes, the band is named after Westeros George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series

Seven Kingdoms - Seven Kingdoms

5. Finntroll - Nifelvind

It's everyone's favorite group of Trolls in at number 5!  To me, this band has grown by leaps and bounds since Midnattens Widunder thanks to the outrageously catchy and infectious melodies of Moonsorrow member "Trollhorn" Henri Sorvali, who may be the best keyboard player and arranger in heavy metal these days.  This band is just a shitload of fun, and this album continues in that vein.  Really the only band I've ever seen that can go from a menacing, dark black metal rampage to a god damned polka in the same song, if you've never heard them you owe it to yourself to check them out.  This album is a great starting point.

Finntroll - Under Bergets Rot

4.  Heljareyga - Heljareyga

Yet another, "Where the fuck did these guys come from" band, this time a side project of the already well established and awesome band Tyr.  These guys play in a style very similar to Tyr, but with heaping gobs of Prog and Power thrown in to up the intensity to maximum capacity.  The vocals are all in their native language of the Faroe Islands, sung by Tyr frontman Heri Joensen whom anyone in the know could tell you has a stellar voice.  The songs are all long, but just flow by thanks to their epic delivery and energy that just reaches out and grabs the inner warrior by his (or her) mighty loincloth (or chainmail bikini).  All hail!

Heljareyga - Regnið

3. Angra - Aqua

Angra never fail to deliver it seems.  Being THE authority on progressive power metal, these Brazilians have been churning out masterful albums for a very long time, but when the band reformed after a break with 3 members leaving just the guitarists to restart from scratch, that is when the real brilliance began.

This album just has Angra continuing down their path of basically doing whatever the fuck they want while staying in the safety and glow of power and prog metal, never quite going too far in either direction aside from a track or two.  Their south american roots show up from time to time in the occasional beat or instrumental passage that sounds straight from Brazilian folk music, but it's never offensive and always delivered so it doesn't compromise the metalness of the whole package.  Also of note is that it's a concept album based upon Shakespeare's "The Tempest", but honestly this album could have been about Thomas the Tank Engine and still ruled.  Well, maybe not as much, but still.

Angra - Awake from Darkness

2. Blind Guardian - At the Edge of Time

Oh, BEHOLD THE UPSET!  Anyone who knows me will tell you of my undying love for Blind Guardian, the mighty pinnacle of all things Power Metal has to offer.  And It will probably come to the surprise of many that their latest album, which is also their best album since 2002 (funny, since they have only had 2 albums since then) is not my number one for the year.  Let me explain.

This album owns.  It's fucking wonderful and even managed to exceed my expectations.  The best songs on this album are the best songs of the year, by a significant margin.  So why am I not awarding it number 1?  Two reasons.

One:  Consistencey
Two:  To shock those closest to me

Ok, so admittedly I partially did it because I wanted to not make it obvious for my wife and closest friend Paul, who probably expected it since the Bards announced their album release date.  But my first reason is not flawed, as the album is slightly inconsistent.  Curse My Name, Valkyries, and Control the Divine are all, to me, noticably weaker than the rest of the album although still very good.  If the entire album was as good as "A Voice in the Dark" and "Tanelorn"  We'd be putting this up with Nightfall and Imaginations.  Still an AMAZING album.  Blind Guardian are just flawless.  Maybe we'll say it's tied for first, now that you have read this far.  ;)

Blind Guardian - A Voice in the Dark

1. Avantasia - The Wicked Symphony

And here it is, my top album of the year!  Oh Tobias, you brilliant motherfucker you.  While I love and absolutely adore the first two Avantasia albums, this album has a certain something about it.  I think it might be the fact that I know that Tobias is now doing the exact kind of music he wants to be doing and because of that it is so pure and straight from the heart that you can actually feel it oozing from the speakers as you listen.  The hooks, the conviction, the power, it's all here and I will say that this album completely shocked me in terms of quality.  EVERY. SONG. RULES.  Every single one.  There is no filler, only melodic excellence of the highest order.  The guest vocalists are really something special too, with Russell Allen in particular just KILLING it.  Good god is he fucking incredible.  You're good too, Jorn Lande, don't get your panties in a bunch.

There is just a certain quality in the writing and story of this album that just tugs at your heartstrings and won't let go.  It's everything good music should be, and dispite moving away from the speedy power metal of it's predecessors, it manages to be better through superior songwriting and honesty.  Fuck.  Yes.

 Avantasia - The Wicked Symphony

There you have it folks, let me know what you think.  Paul, if you read this let me know how wrong I am about the Avantasia albums!  HAIL.  AND.  KILL!!!!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Metal and Beer: Part 2.

So, The Fins/Ravens game is on right now, and I'm a sad panda.  The Ravens are a very good team, so frankly it's not a surprise that we are taking it up the blowhole.  Still, makes me most sad.

Anyways, What to report today.  My wife is making her patented gravy, which for the uninitiated is actually a red tomato sauce for eating on pasta or whatever else you would use pasta sauce on.  The inclusion of sausage and other meat products into the gravy is what makes it "gravy".  Otherwise, you would call it marinara.  Whenever my wife makes gravy, I am at my happiest.  It's the best thing ever.  EVER.

Anyways, here's another lazy Sunday review session! 

The Beer:  Sam Adams Holday porter.

So, here we have Sam's Holiday Porter, which is basically an amped up Porter with a sweet back end.  It weighs in at 5.9 abv, which is slightly higher than the average porter.  I dig that, mainly because this is a beer meant for the holidays, when it is cold and blustery outside.  A good warming beer is always appreciated for the cold winter months.  While most beers are spiced to holy hell for this season, The Boston Beer company decides to keep this one simple, only beefy malts and fuggles and kent goldings hops flavor the bad boy.  A very nice english style porter, made better by the beefing up of the abv.  I very much enjoy.

Score:  4/5


Delain - April Rain (2009)

Delain are one of the biggest surprises in the Metal world for me in a very long time.  I do enjoy female fronted metal bands, but I often get annoyed when the bands don't take advantage of what a female singer can bring to a band.

Let me be clear on this.  If I wanted an epic, powerful, and crushing vocal performance I would listen to a male fronted band.  I know how that seems to come off, but it's the truth.  Women can not bring the power and pain like a Bruce Dickinson, Eric Adams, or Hansi Kursch can.  It's just the way of the world.  That said, no male singer on earth can convey innocence, sensuality, and tranquility like a good female singer can.  The problem is, that so many bands do not play to their ladysinger's strength.  The last good example of a female singer being well used that I could think of is Nightwish's Dark Passion Play, which utilized Anette's voice very well for a big portion of the album.  

 I like my female singers to sound like women.  I want them to project calm strength and strength without being over the top or in your face.  I want them to sound feminine.  Thank the gods, Charlotte Wessels of Delain brings it on such a high level that this album is a resounding success.  But beyond that, the songwriting (brought courtesy of former Within Temptation keysman Martijn Westerholt) is out of this world and seems to be crafted to suit her voice to near perfection.  Her voice is always steady, and stays in a semi-low register for much of the album, but can climb into higher registers when is required of her.  Such a wonderful, soothing voice and it's so refreshing.

Anyways, onto the album.

The fuck-awesome:  April Rain, Start Swimming, Lost, and Nothing Left.  These 4 songs are complete symphonic-gothic metal perfection.  April Rain is the absolute hook monster of the album, and was released as the first single so clearly someone at the record label could hear the obvious, which can be rarer than you think these days.  The chorus is INSANELY catchy, and the song as whole is such a wonderful way to kick off the album.  Start Swimming is what I suppose you could call ballad, but it eventually kicks into full blown electric goodness, but not before Ms. Wessels treats us to yet another wonderful hooky acoustic driven intro.  Delicious.  Lost is a pretty big monster of a tune, and definitely one of the heavier tunes on the album.  Yet again, driven by a hooky chorus.  See a trend?  It is a pop-metal band, as it were.  Nothing Left is my personal favorite song on the album, and one of the two songs in which Marco Heitala brings his vocal awesomeness to the table.  This song is just... so... GOOD.  I'd say this song works better than all the rest in establishing a melancholy mood and just sucks you in with it's swirling and gorgeous pre-chorus, complete with Marco's always soaring vocals.  Amazing.

The Great:  Invidia, On the Other Side, Virtue and Vice, I'll Reach You.  These 4 are all still very good songs, and keep the album moving along nicely.  On the Other Side is probably the poppiest song on the album, complete with the string section opening.  The other 3 are mid paced rockers, with I'll Reach You being the uplifting tune of the album.  Funny that that song immediately precedes the saddest tune on the album (Nothing Left).  They just like to set you up for the fall.

The Very Good:  Control the Storm, Go Away.  Still very good are these 2, but a noticible step down from teir one greatness.  I definitely wouldn't press the skip button on them.  Control the Storm would be the other appearance from Marco, and man does he belt it on this one.  Good stuff.

The Good/OK:  Stay Forever.  This is the only song on the album I occasionally skip.  It's also the second single for the album, proving yet again that record companies are fucking fools.  Why they would pass up a song like "On the Other Side " which is a pop sploogefest all over your face is beyond me, but whatever.

So, as you can see, I'm rather smitten by this album.  Like I've said, it's one of the most surprising things I've listened to in a long time.  It's everything I want in a female fronted band, and I pray and hope to the metal gods that they continue in this direction for whatever they do next. 


Monday, November 1, 2010

Beer and Metal - Part 1

If you know me, you know I'm at my happiest when beer and metal meet for a glorious, almost religious experience.  My good friend (and best man at my wedding) Paul and I regularly meet up at my apartment for copious beverages and hymns to battle and steel.  The only requirement for this is that both the beer, and the metal must be up to our high standards.  Frankly, my standards for beer varies very wildly depending on the situation.  When worshiping at the altar of manliness and masculinity that metal is, however, only beer of quality shall do.


Anyways, it's a lazy Sunday here, my wife is out delivering freshly baked treats to friends and family, and I'm at home alone, watching my team eat a black and orange striped penis (to be fair, it's a close game), so I figured I would do a twofer today.  A beer review, and a metal review.  The album to be reviewed today was requested by my loving wife, and I will happily oblige.

 Dundee India Pale Ale & Sonata Arctica - Silence (2001)

So, let's start with the brew, shall we.  This is Dundee's IPA, which I recieved from their winter craft pack.  Weighing in at 6.3% abv, it's a pretty drinkable entry into the IPA world.  Honestly, rather par for the course as far as this style goes.  Sadly, I've been subjected to a few IPAs lately that just crush this one, namely Great Divide's Titan IPA and Flying Dog's entry as well.  Still, one of the most important factors in a beer for me is deliciousness for the dollars spent.  Dundee's craft pack is right around 25 bucks, which heavily undercuts the heftier price points of the other two.  So, if you are in a jam for an IPA but don't want to break your bank, you could certainly do worse.  I would say that the drinkability of this beer is it's greatest strength.  So many IPAs are just so juiced these days that once you have a few you are stumbling to bed.  This one is bold, but still reasonably sessionable.  Decent.  


Also, as a quick reviews note, I will judge metal albums on a scale of 10, and beer on a scale of 5.  Why you ask?  Well, because I feel more comfortable judging the intricacies of an album than I do a beer.  That's really all there is to it.  Beer is much more of a "I either like it or don't" kind of thing for me than music, which I tend to be a bit more critical of. 

So how about onto the metal then?  Sonata Arctica's Silence was the first album I ever purchased by the band.  I believe I actually bought it right around release, I know it was during either my junior or senior year of highs school.  I had actually heard them a year or so before thanks to some guy in an AOL chat room that was pimping the band.  He told me to check out "Blank File" from their previous album Ecliptica.  I downloaded it and was absolutely amazed.  This was still in my "holy god, i can't believe this kind of music exists" stage, so I was floored.  Never got a chance to own an album by them until I saw Silence at Media Play a year or so later. 

I actually purchased Silence along with Children of Bodom's Hatebreeder.  Initially, CoB was the more popular band in my circle of friends.  Back then, CoB were pretty fresh, and frankly they just seemed "cooler" to all the 16 year olds out there.  They sang about death and destruction, they screamed, and they were in general more aggressive.  Now, fast forward 10 years and CoB are a complete joke band, now playing some sort of death/party/chuggachugga hybrid while Sonata are still releasing shimmering, glorious melodic metal.  Not only that, the once godlike Hatebreeder gets demolished by no less than 4 Sonata albums.  Why exactly am I comparing the two?  Maybe to show that good songwriting and hooks will always prevail over some folks' childish tendencies to judge their music based on superficial things such as "aggressiveness".

I'm pretty sure most metalheads that listen to Sonata Arctica aren't in denial about the kind of music they play.  They play a super melodic, melodramatic style of metal, complete with soaring vocals and blazing synth leads and hooks.  Double-kick drums blast at the speed of light at almost all times, except when they decide to go all Journey on your ass and play one of their (usually) very well crafted ballads.  I love this band, and you should too.  Tony Kakko's voice is completely stellar and impossible to duplicate.  Hard to find a more emotive singer.

To the album!
1.  ... Of Silence:  The obligatory intro track.  Just a wee piano melody with an old dude talking over it.  It's an intro track, but thanks to the piano melody, it does a decent enough job of conveying the icy mood that the album will establish.

2.  Weballergy:  Pronounced "Web Allergy", much to my surprise.  Anyways, as I've stated before, I love a nice barn-burner to start off an album.  This song is absolutely fantastic and made a great second impression on me after Blank File blew my face off.  Wonderful melodic hooks, and blazing speed.  Can't ask for more.

3.  False News Travels Fast:  What begins with a short key intro blasts into another high speed cruiser.  Not quite the double-kick assault  as what comes before it, but it still fits it in for well over 50% of the song.  Love it.  I'd say this song is even better than Weballergy though, as the chorus is just absurdly memorable and shines like a blade in the darkness, cutting down foes of melodic glory across the land of metaldom.

4.  The End of this Chapter:  SA be goin' Journey on everyone, hide your mom, hide your kids.  Sort of like a very epic, heavy Journey song.  Clean pianos all over the place, some reasonable mid paced asskickery in the middle to keep things interesting.  

5.  Black Sheep:  Somewhere between a fast and mid-paced tune is this one.  Guitars and keys fly all over this one, accompanied by harmony vocals  that twist and swirl at every turn.  Short, and sweet.

6.  Land of the Free:  From slow to fast.  A cliche of sorts in the world of metal, but SA manage to make it work very, very nicely.  In case you haven't noticed, this album seems to have nothing but great songs.  Ain't that great?  :)  Fretboard burning solos and... uh, keyboard burning solos precede one of the more interesting bridges in the album, complete with gang vocal chanting!  Great stuff.  

7.  Last Drop Falls:  Grab your lady friend (or man friend) and head out to the dance floor for the obligatory slow waltz.  A well done slow number, with great performances from the whole band.  Granted, it won't kick you in the balls like the more upbeat songs on here, but it can be nice to take a break from the headbanging for a few minutes... I suppose.

8.  San Sebastian:  I hope you enjoyed your break, now commence headbanging.  Right up there with Weballergy in terms of speed, but leagues ahead in terms of melody and hookiness, this is a favorite among Sonata's fanbase.  This is actually a re-recording of the same song from their previous EP, and it sounds MUCH better on here.  A classic.

9.  Sing in Silence:  Mid paced rocker, and what can I say, just more melodic goodness to be had.  This band is just so outrageously good at writing hooks and memorable lines that it scares me.  SCARES ME.

10.  Revontulet:  Short instrumental piece, and a rather progressive romp at that.  Odd time signatures and wild riffs abound.  Definitely the one time on the album that the band lets loose and just goes completely ape-shit in terms of songwriting.  Definitely meant to be a fun little diversion as we wind down towards the end of the album.

11.  Talulah:   Yet another ballad.  I generally wouldn't stand for this many slower songs on an album, but SA do a decent enough job on this one, too.  I would probably say this is the weakest one on the album, if for no reason that it's a bit too long.  Still, I don't reach for the skip button when it rears it's somewhat sappy head.

12.  Wolf and Raven:  Probably the fastest, and most blistering song on the album.  And what is this?  Tony seems to sound urgent, almost pissed off during this one.  It suits him nicely, frankly.  Just an overall sense of urgency jumps out from the speakers as this one blasts.  Definitely a Stratovarius-like number, but better than Strato ever managed to pull off.  Another classic.

13.  The Power of One:  The epic of the album, clocking in at over 11 minutes.  Tons of time changes, twists and turns, which vary from slow to maddening speed.  Great, great solo work in this song in particular.  Maybe a bit long, but it's never particularly unbearable.  And that old dude from the intro is back!  A nice way to end this one.

So what we have here is one of the reasons I consider power metal to be my bread and butter.  It's so gloriously melodic, with enough speed and hooks to keep you reaching for it even when other bands quickly overstay their welcome.  Metal that isn't afraid to be unashamedly boistrous, and even a little romantic (as silly as that sounds).  It's also a spectacular gateway album for non-metalheads.  The hookiness and melodic nature of this band leads it to appeal to folks with open minds.  


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Iron Maiden - Fear of the Dark

So, after an evening of resturaunt/bar hopping with my lovely lass I'm stuck sitting at work for a few hours today.  This is my own doing, but sometimes one needs to sleep in during the week, thus forcing me to make up my time on a saturday, or as I like to call it whilst stuck here... SHATURDAY.  Clever, clever me.

Why not be pseudo-productive while I'm here?  I could do work, but I'm relatively confident that NOBODY does work here on the weekends, just sits and wallows in their own misery because of being stuck here, for however long.  Lo, I shall write my first album review to give myself some sort of sense of accomplishment.  Rock.

Instead of starting off with an absolute legend of an album, or a personal favorite, I'm going to go with an album that I've been spinning lately that seems to be a point of contention for a lot of metalheads.

Iron Maiden - Fear of the Dark (1992)

Maiden's last album with Bruce Dickinson, and the successor to No Prayer for the Dying, which is seen by most people as the weakest album with Bruce at the helm.  They say this is the first time they ever tried to reclaim sounds from the past to reinvigorate them as a band, and I'd say overall it worked.  At the time of release the press thought this album was a heaping pile of garbage, but chances are they all had their wangs directly in Kurt Kobain's asshole at the time (remember 1992 was the peak of grunge's popularity), so who gives a fuck what they think.

I'm an outrageously big Maiden fan, and I just absolutely love this band's attitude and sound, regardless of any minor flaws or lack of originality that can sometimes swerve in front of their direct path to glory.  So, this review could be potentially more positve than some you would see, but I'm not here to be the everyman reviewer for Metal Hammer.  Let us get to the meat.

1.  Be Quick or be Dead:  Maiden jump out of the gates with the barn burner of the album.  A quick drum intro and we're away with what may be their best album opener since Aces High.  Frankly, I'm always partial to starting off albums with a kick in the face, so the guys get immediate points here.  One thing that's easy to notice right away is that Bruce's voice sounds worn out or damaged.  This continues throughout the album, and while it's slightly disappointing on some songs, this one actually benefits from the raspyness.  Quick, short, and to the point.  I dig. 

2.  From Here to Eternity:  This song is a bouncy romp through hard rock land.  Sort of a similar direction as Bring your Daughter to the Slaughter, which a lot of people dislike, so I can see a lot of people disliking this one also.  I think it's actually pretty fun, with a solid chorus, and it's short enough that it doesn't really overstay it's welcome.  Solid.

3.  Afraid to Shoot Strangers:  And what we have here could be considered a ballad of sorts I suppose, although it does pick up pace about midway through.  I have to say, I really like this tune.  The guitar melodies and Bruce's moody vocals really do the trick here.  It may be a tad overlong, but I'm willing to deal with it for the payoffs that show up throughout.

4.  Fear is the Key:  First official mediocre song on the album.  The song starts off with a egyptiany riff and guitar melody that forwhatever reason sort of reminds me if Deep Purple tried to write a song after looking at the cover to Powerslave.  Anyways, the song isn't terrible at the beginning, but I've never been into these damn egyptiany riffs that just plod along, and that goes for a lot of my favorite bands.  There are a few good songs that use this well, but they are few and far between.  That damn "lies and lies and lies and lies and lies and lies" part absolutely crushes this song's ability to be anything aside from middling.  I fucking hate that part.

5.  Childhood's End:  The surprise awesome song of the album.  This song would be proof that Maiden can crush it at trying some new, progressive ideas.  This song's verses are relatively traditional, driving Maiden, but that chorus is so weird and different, in a very good way.  It complements the dark tone of the song fantastically and it absolutely sucks you in.  You can feel the chill in the air every time it kicks in.  Love it.  Oh, the solo section is the shit too.

6.  Wasting Love:  Another very controversial song, mainly because it is often considered Maiden's only power balad.  I suppose that would depend on your opinion of what makes a power ballad, but it's definitely not something maiden throw into every album, which is something I always respect.  Few bands can ever do ballads well.  In fact, I can only think of two off of the top of my head (Blind Guardian and Kamelot), and one of them uses a more medieval folk style, so I'm not sure they count.  So, how does this one stack up?  Not bad at all, actually!  Bruce's voice is impressively emotive and sounds great on this one, and I'd say the success of ballads in general really depend on the singer's ability.  The guitar harmonies are great and memorable, and the lyrics aren't half bad.  The chorus isn't particularly memorable, and once again, I feel this song is a bit overlong.  But not a bad job, here.

7-9.  The Fugitive, Chains of Misery, The Apparition:  Now, these 3 songs are, to me, the reason why I wouldn't consider this a great album.  All 3 of the worst songs on the album back to back to back.  All three are mediocre to less than mediocre.  The Fugitive would be the best of the bunch probably, what with it's upbeat tempo and solid riffage.  Chains of Misery is an ok little number in passing, but in all honesty you won't remember much of it after a throrough listening of the album.  Yay, gang vocals?  The Apparition just sits there, with a similar tempo to Fear is the Key.  No like.

10.  Judas be my Guide:  Aaaand, we're back!  This is a fun ass song, and it almost sounds like early Queensryche, what with it's melodic chord structures in the verse and that wild, swerving vocal melody in the chorus.  Another short and sweet number, and it's very good.  God damn does that chorus sound like Queensryche.  Cool shit.

11.  Weekend Warrior:  A song about soccer hooligans.  As you might expect, the song is rather weak by maiden standards.  The riffage is actually similar to Priest song from the 80's, in that it sounds like it was made to be played at a party or something.  I would not play this at a party.  And fuck, Bruce's voice sounds BAD on this song.  It almost sounds like he was drunk or something while recording it.  Some vocal melodies are very questionable and his backing vocals during the chorus sound like he's just yelling at you for whatever reason.  Blargh.  I lied about 7-9 being the worst tracks here. 

12.  Fear of the Dark:  Everyone knows this one, as they should.  One of the, if not the best live songs in Maiden's bag of tricks.  It's a classic, there's not a lot to be said, aside from the fact that I hope maiden never retire this song from their setlist.  The crowd explodes every time.

So there you go.  FotD is a solid album, with some very good tunes, one classic, and a sprinkling of turds and mediocrity.  If you like Maiden, I don't see how you wouldn't at least get SOME enjoyment out of this one, but there's no denying it has it's issues as well.  Overall, definitely still a solid one. 


Friday, October 29, 2010

The First Ramble

Blogging.  It's sort of like an online diary, correct?  I'm wondering what makes all of this any different than the livejournal account that I had years and years ago, or the "blog" tab that facebook offers us all that nobody seems to use.  Well, after watching my partner in crime (and life in general) excel at putting her interests and adventures in the world of cooking into written word I figured maybe my life could use a similar place to output my adventures into my favorite things in life.  Sadly, there's already one about my favorite thing (my wife's cooking), so my other interests will have to do.  Don't want to flood the interwebs, as it were.

So, I suppose an introduction is in order.  I do believe I shall go by "Miles", as that's what everyone calls me anyways.  Every time I've tried to go as my first name (Brandon), eventually everyone begins calling me by my last name anyways.  It's just a matter of time.

So yes, I'm Miles.  I'm a pretty easy going guy, with some noticable quirks and flaws.  I'm prone to getting very quickly worked up over things that other people would just brush off or ignore.  It leads me to dwell and become aggrivated over time.  I can't do one thing for extended periods of time, I always need to get involved in something new to keep my interest.  That's why this blog will be devoted to the 3 things I tend to devote most of my time to.  I can't just write about one topic! 

A warning that I must give to you if you plan on reading further; I am an incredibly rambly writer.  I have no regard for pacing, or for proper paragraph building or even making any points.  You're basically getting exactly what I would say to you if I were talking to you face to face.  And as anyone who knows me personally would tell you, it's always a struggle for me to get my words out correctly when it' something I'm passionate about.  Or even when it's something I'm not passionate about.  It's a curse.

My 3 main interests are:

Heavy Metal
Video Games

No particular order of course. 


I've been a gamer since I first watched my dad play Zelda on our brand spanking new NES when I was 4 years old.  I've always been a Nintendo guy, and while you could make the argument that I'm a fanboy, I would disagree.  I'm not in denial about the silly mistakes or bad games the big N has made in the past, their games just appeal to me most.  I suppose my favorite genres are platformers, fighting games, and rpgs, but I like 'em all when done right.  First Person Shooters are fun in single player, but I hate online multiplayer so I don't bother with that particular aspect of FPS play.  Beginning to feel that way about fighters too.  It's just not worth it to play games non-locally (people in the same room).  My favorite console ever is the SNES, for it has the most epic library of platformers and rpgs in history.  Delish. 

LIST TIME.  I love lists.  I love ranking things, so I do believe I'll do so.  Since we are on the topic of games, we'll start there.

My top 10 games of all fookin' time.  The rankings change depending on my mood though, so this is a rough list, with Earthbound almost assuredly forever locked in the top spot.

1.  Earthbound - SNES
2.  Super Mario Galaxy 2 - Wii
3.  Super Mario Bros. 3 - NES
4.  Phantasy Star Online - Dreamcast/Gamecube
5.  Age of Empires II - PC
6.  Final Fantasy VI - SNES
7.  Super Castlevania IV - SNES
8.  Super Smash Bros. Brawl - Wii
9.  Super Paper Mario - Wii
10.  Donkey Kong Country 2 - SNES

So that should give you some idea as to where my gaming tastes tend to veer.  I didn't put any fighters in there, as they don't tend to mean as much to me dispite the enjoyment I get from them.  My favorites in that genre are Guilty Gear: XX and Street Fighter Alpha 3. 


So, onto what I would probably consider the thing I'm most passionate about overall.  Heavy Metal has probably been the one interest I have that defines me most as a person.  There is no event that I look forward to more than a good concert, and there is no release that gets me more excited than a new album by my favorite bands.  I've been a metalhead for a long time, but I would say that I was around 15 when I officially made the jump into full blown headbanger status.  I liked Megadeth, Metallica, Slayer, and all the mainstream band well enough before then, but when I started getting into Iced Earth, the ball offically started rolling.  The internet helped point out more and more new bands and I jumped headfirst into this whole world of music i never knew existed, but could have sworn was created for my ears only.  That's really all I could think as I was listening to this stuff, particularly power metal, which basically sounded like god himself was whispering sweet, sweet nothings into my ears directly. 

So, as far as my taste in metal goes, I do like almost all of it to some extent.  I don't particularly like a lot of the more extreme stuff, such as grindcore or technical death metal.  I can get into a bit of anything as long as it's well done though.  For example, I like early Cryptopsy and Morbid Angel.  My real bread and butter is Power Metal.  It's been my favorite sub-genre for years, and probably will remain thus.  My tastes to lean towards the melodic, old school end of metal in general.  A good sense of melody trumps all.  And with that...

LIST TIME.  Top 10 metal bands.

1.  Blind Guardian
2.  Manowar
3.  Iron Maiden
4.  Sonata Arctica
5.  Megadeth
6.  Running Wild
7.  Judas Priest
8.  Helloween
9.  Moonsorrow
10.  Edguy

As always, subject to change.


I love beer.  Beer is the most recent passion of mine to develop, as age limits in all of their draconian glory have kept me from this glorious nectar for too long.  I've just started brewing my own over the past 2 years or so, and it's becoming my personal obsession since.

I don't think there is anything about beer i dislike.  It tastes, smells, and looks great.  I do, however, greatly dislike beer snobbery.  It's a pretty big issue in the craft beer community.  A lot of people seem to be unable to appreciate beers for what they are, as opposed to comparing beers of completely different style and price range to each other.  No shit Budweiser doesn't taste like Dark Lord Imperial Stout, it's not supposed to.  One is brewed specifically for crisp drinkability and economic pricing, while the other is brewed with 7 billion pounds of malt to clobber you over the head and cost 12 bucks per bottle.  Both are great for what they are.  Remember folks, you are drinking to relax, so relax and drink!

Also, I hate how the community is trying too hard to be like the wine community.  Beer is cooler than wine (I like wine too, don't hit me), and thus should be appreciated as it was meant to be.  Be honest with yourself, you love to get drunk.  It's awesome.  It's fun.  You are allowed to drink and enjoy the taste and aroma and the effects all at once.  If I ever see you spitting out beer after tasting it because you don't want to get intoxicated, I'm going to kick you right in the balls.  Just don't sip it at all if you are going to do that.  As a species, we've been drinking for the fun effects for thousands of years.  It's a lovely time.  And when you couple beer with metal?  Dear god nothing is better! 

Reminder:  Drink responsibly kiddies.  Just because I like to get tipsy doesn't mean I'll go fly a plane afterwards. 

I would greatly struggle to come up with a list for this particular topic, because unlike the other 2 passions of mine, It's more of a time of the year thing as to what I drink.  I will say that my favorite style of beers is probably porter or IPA.  Two extremes, but hey, I like every style of beer really.  It just has to be well made.  I'm super laid back with it, and nowhere near as demanding with it as I am with metal.  A mediocre band has no business on my ipod, but a mediocre beer will still find it's way to my belly.  It just won't be purchased again.  :)

So, with this blog I basically plan on bringing you reviews of games, albums, and beers.  Basically whatever I consume, listen to, or play at the moment shall be brought up.  I'll also do plenty of retro reviews, as most of my favorite albums and games in particular are retro-ish.  I don't think I should drink retro beer though, that seems like it could lead to me vomiting.  They have expiration dates for a reason.