Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Steam Review - Warframe
Written on 12/29/2015

A game that is quickly becoming my most played game in general, Warframe is an enthralling experience. It constantly keeps you beguiled with exhilarating, fast paced combat that never misses a beat. The tight and extremely responsive controls give you absolute control of your space ninja. Enjoy customization perfection with dozens of color palettes, different armour and weapon variation, and different power-up modifications allow you to spice up game-play with your personal input. On the surface Warframe seems like a pay-to-win game but I assure you, it is extremely easy to carve your own path through the game without spending a single cent. Highly recommended.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Music Review #18:
Porcupine Tree
Lightbulb Sun
Snapper Music 

It's quite easy for anyone to say that Porcupine Tree's progressive rock album from 2000 is not as good as say masterpieces like In Absentia or Fear of a Blank Planet. Although I think that they are drastically different in terms of sound, that does not mean that they're better or worse than each-other. In fact, I think all three of said albums are fantastic for what they are, though perhaps I find myself liking this release more.

I've said it a million times and I'll say it again. Progressive metal is not my thing. I enjoy only a handful of bands with said sound, such as Voivod, but sadly Porcupine Tree (although being my friends' favorite band of all time) is not a band that I like very much. Don't get me wrong, their sound is excellent for what it is. But I never got into albums like Fear of a Blank Planet, although I did find myself enjoying Deadwing (probably because it was more alternative-oriented). However, Lightbulb Sun is perhaps my favorite release by the band.

Perhaps this album is stuck in limbo of progressive rock and alternative rock, but I find myself thinking more along the lines or progressive. This did after all precede the release of Stupid Dream, an experimental concept album released a year earlier, so they wouldn't be going back to metal for a time.

The album starts off with the interesting title track, 'Lightbulb Sun', which combines elements of acoustic and metal, perhaps more of the former overall. The song is probably my top highlight of the album. 'How's Your Life Today?' bridges 'Lightbulb Sun' and 'Four Chords that Made a Million' with a short but sweet piano piece. It's quite nice upon listening, not to mention relaxing. 'Four Chords' actually brings a Signify-type sound back into the picture, with lyrics speaking of the problems that recording companies put on bands like them. 'Last Chance to Evacuate...' is probably the most mediocre, sort of like an experiment in mocking Pink Floyd's sound. It does not fit in well by any means. Same sort of goes for 'Where We Would Be', although I must concede that the Pink Floyd influenced sound is not on that song. 'Russia on Ice' and 'Hatesong' is where the metal first comes back into entirety. 'Russia on Ice' is more dominated by slow acoustics, with the ending quarter of the epic being devoted to more metal (Same goes for 'Hatesong'). 'Feel So Low' is an extremely slow and relaxing closer, with no remnants of metal and keeps the sound of a soft love song throughout. Although the lyrics may seem a little cliche (a typical love song), it is extremely beautiful and just great to listen to.

I would totally recommend this to anyone seeking great progressive rock work by this band. Prog fans seem to love it, and I sure do as well.

© 2015 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Originally written for Metal Music Archives on 12/13/2014.
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Sunday, December 27, 2015

Music Review #17:
Radioactive Records

Live is a band I've always found to be extremely unique for the hard rock genre, much in part due to their constant blending of Eastern and other influences and intriguing experimentation. This enjoyable era of the band lasted for a very long time, but seemed to very quickly and instantaneously dissipate as soon as they broke through to the 2000's. There was a shaky period for Live in the early 00's where they tried to juggle commercial rock, ballads, cultural styles, and grunge-y hard rock. Unfortunately the turnout was rather heavy handed and fell rather flat. Lyrically, the album is weaker compared to The Distance to Here (only two years earlier) and Throwing Copper. Whilst the latter had poetic, progressive-like lyrics they have now been stripped down to awful, shameless innuendo (Does he run you deep enough / to take you there (Baby) ~ Deep Enough) The music is uneven throughout, with clumsily placed and performed ballads at random periods (these ballads are some of the WORST I have ever heard- quite a feat). The sheer uncaring of these ballads I think is mainly because of how unfitting Kowalczyk's vocal style is to soft, Chicago-style waltzes. 

Let's try and gravitate to something more in their line of work; the hard rock they present is actually very enjoyable when they actually show it off. 'Simple Creed' start with some power notes but it quickly has to tone down in order for the terrible lyrics to ensue. When the vocals and the band are able to work together there is ,such more of old Live to be heard. My favorite example is with 'Flow', where a driving riff leads both sections very well. But there still is the fact that the interesting composition-work is very much lost on V. Although aspirations are still there, both musicianship and music writing for this album don't allow it to come in full splendor like on their earlier material.

While the rather avant-garde intro to the album makes misleading promises of complexity, V is ultimately a boring experience that is superficial in many needed areas. Perhaps later releases will yield different results.

© 2015 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Originally written for Metal Music Archives on 12/26/2015.
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Sunday, December 13, 2015

Case Study: Why do people hate Nickelback?

I've done a lot of delving into the human anomaly of what I call the "bandwagon affect". The term of course refers to the act of human nature where people are encouraged to think similarly to their peers with the intention of gaining a sort of primal acceptance. This stems back all the way to the Neanderthalic era, and has become a prevalent evolutionary trait we have gained over the course of thousands of years. 

Because I am one who enjoys music and (for the most part) music culture, I have noticed sort of this recurring affect come to a variety of different topics. These topics include enjoyment of albums and bands, and other general largely formulated opinions. I'll be discussing the dislike of a particular band today, and the waves of almost institutionalized hate they have gotten since they began. This band is none other than the infamous Nickelback.

Nickelback are a Canadian band formed in 1995. They were one of many bands to form from the ashes of the grunge era in the early 90's, and one of the fewer bands to gain a large amount of fame from their material. In fact, their debut EP as well as their debut album were both classified as grunge until 1998 when the genre was formally changed to the rather inane "post-grunge". So what we have is a 90's grunge band who dabbled in hard rock, and were popular.

So why do people hate Nickelback? Now notice the underlined word in the previous paragraph, popular. This is a very key word in the synonymous hate culture against Nickelback.
In general, these are the main reasons people dislike them:

  • They are too popular.
  • They don't deserve to be that popular.
  • Their popularity decreases the fame of other lesser-known bands exponentially.
  • They are not good musicians.
  • Their fame is a symbol of the lack of intelligence in the modern hard rock scene.
  • They follow the guidelines way too strictly and don't take any chances.

Now what I should bring up now is my very own opinion on Nickelback. Since I am indeed a rock enthusiast I have listened fully to all of their music and have a developed opinion myself. And from what I've heard, they really aren't that bad. 

Not to say that Nickelback is a particularly great band, because they aren't. Many times they can be extremely dull and vapid as they crank out what seem to be the same songs over and over. But they are not bad musicians. I found, much in their first album, that they are good at what they do and I could very easily see why they became so popular. Before the 2000's, the use of the "golf-ball stuck in the throat" vocals weren't used as profusely in alternative metal and hard rock as they were in the 90's. Now the history of this vocal style can be traced back to Nickelback; a bad thing and a good thing. The good thing was they pioneered what seemed to be a new way of singing, and the bad thing was they popularized it so you heard it in every goddamn band that would precede them (Seether, Puddle of Mudd (who ironically formed before Nickelback but released their debut after theirs), among others). So in their early years they were pretty unique for the time. Their guitar playing, although not very complex is a great easy listen and is extremely catchy, even in their later works and today.
But I suppose that's the problem, isn't it? They are catchy, and they get in people's heads and that's where the road to becoming a commercial icon begins. At first, you garner the dislike of the "hipster" community who dislike the idea of anything that is even thought of as a cultural norm. But even that happens to the best of bands that have any sort of popularity, so what it boils down to is the general public's distaste. Many of the things I aforementioned that I didn't mind about the band are many things that people find annoying about Nickelback. Chad Kroeger, people have said, has one of the most annoying, guttural singing voice of all time. The guitaring can be extremely manufactured at times, and their compositions for the most part follow the same line of structure. These things can of course detract the enjoyment of listening to a band, but not particularly enough to inspire such hatred. 

I think this is where we finally come around the the bandwagon effect. This is where the line divides those who listen and those who hear. And while both things may sound similar, they are extremely different.
 For instance, if you get an opinion from someone who has has listened to something it will generally be well formed because of their first hand experience. Then, after hearing that you tell someone your opinion without listening to the music and they take that as their advice on the music as well. This ideology is where the root of the bandwagon affect grows, and this is where malformed opinions of music can become indifferentiatable from the hands-on ones. 

Now this whole reasoning does not apply to those who have listened to the music and formed a negative conclusion, because that is perfectly fine and natural, and something I've done for an uncountable amount of music. But while these people very much exist in the hate wagon for Nickelback, an idea planted so deep in society such as this stretches to those who don't even listen to this music. Nickelback becomes the butt of jokes, turning into nothing more than a punchline. It hasn't caused much of a decreasing in profits for the band due to their fans, but I think it creates a barrier for those who should take a listen to new music whenever the chance arises. It lead me to a much more colorful mindset on music in general, and a sense of openminded-ness and optimism can bring a happier life-style. While I may be a pessimist in most circumstances, it personally helps me when I listen to all different veins of the human race's vast musical abilities. 

So, while your friend might have told you that Nickelback is bad I encourage you to listen to them on your own. This isn't even coming from a fan, but a regular music goer. Expand you boundaries and formulate your own opinions and good things will come of you. 

© 2015 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 

Music Review #16:
Pink Floyd
The Final Cut
Harvest Records

Roger Waters' seemingly fetishistic lust for rapidly producing concept albums mostly started after the booming success for The Wall. People would run hither and thither, exclaiming the prowess Waters handled such a delicate concept with such ease, and indeed Waters got the message. Like any musician bent on making a profit, he naturally thought if he could make more of the same his popularity would rise even farther. When '83 rolled around and an album was released by the tangled soon-to-be-broken Pink Floyd, what had grown was not Waters' social affluence, but more was his already over-inflated ego.

The Final Cut was indeed the final cut onto the frayed strings that held Waters in the band, and a few years later he departed. The real question however is, is his last hurrah of sorts indeed remarkable? No, not really.

The album is very similar to The Wall; spoken word is prominent and used frivolously, Waters uses his signature strained and distressed vocal style, as well as heavy amounts of piano and acoustic guitar. Unlike The Wall however, Waters is obviously trying to do the exact same thing as it on The Final Cut. While people's general consensus on The Wall was very positive, The Final Cut is a lackluster, bumbling attempt at a prequel of sorts. The songs are indeed very poetic in nature, but more follow the creed of being "art for the sake of art". Gilmour and Mason (Wright was brutally shoved out by Waters) weren't in the least bit excited to play for Waters on basically his solo album. What came from that attitude was an over-abundance of aforementioned acoustic songs with just Waters and a guitar, and songs that didn't have it rambled on halfheartedly. An album that showcases only one invested member is something that has a 75 percent chance of failure in the hit or miss scenario, and The Final Cut really missed. There was one semi-memorable track, 'Not Now John', but I only catch myself listening to it every once in a while.

All in all The Final Cut is a heavy-handed attempt at a part three to The Wall, squashing all life out of the already beaten band. Although some uses of choral and orchestral styles can be interesting, the overall effect is a foolhardy stain on the bands almost perfect history.

© 2015 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Originally written for Prog Archives on 8/10/2015.
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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Music Review #15:
Béla Fleck & The Flecktones
UFO Tofu
Warner Bros. Records

A very artistic and similarly quite unique band from Tennessee called Bela Fleck and the Flecktones came around in 1990, also releasing their eponymous album in the same year. Their history stems from the band's front-man, Bela Fleck himself. Fleck was well known as a young banjoist who started his musical career in 1976. Fleck won several Grammys in the years after 1995, but his early music is still well known. But where the forked road emerges is the differences between his solo material and his full band act in the 90's. While Fleck usually centered himself around typical and archaic Americana, The Flecktones delved more into the humble use of electronics, psychedelics, and jazz. What turned out was a honestly more colorful and expansive sound produced by a full team of musicians.

Two years after the band had formed, they had come to record their third palindromic album, UFO Tofu, in the summer of 1992. In way of formula very little has changed. However, even in the third time around, producing the same music is not a con in my mind. The music is still extremely creative and bursting with energy. The base may sound very similar, but with such a varied selection of musical instruments and compositions a repeated theme or two is not unwelcome. A differentiation is always welcome, but UFO Tofu's zany banjo from Fleck, as well as Roy Wooten's Drumitar being used with the proficiency of a seasoned guitar player. UFO Tofu is always a good cheap pick up if you find it in a lonely thrift store in the middle of the west country.

© 2015 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Originally written for Prog Archives on 11/16/2015.
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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Music Review #14:
Gael Linn

Irish Folk was undoubtedly my favorite music genre in my early childhood. It was responsible for sending me on a very expansive journey across the wide variety of music Earth had in store. I rarely listen to music from Ireland these days, usually enjoying more time delving into those genres that simply need more time to digest (like prog), but I do find myself occasionally gravitating back to my roots. When I heard of Clannad, I was thrilled to see two of my favorite genres forge together in an awesome 70's culmination, and even played by a group of skilled musicians. Dúlamán is the third album in Clannad's discography, and is completely what I expected.

Obviously because these individuals are Irish (with a touch of arts-y), they will sing in Irish Gaelic, one of my favorite languages ever forged by mankind. Not to mention the language is best when sung, and sung by indigenous peoples to the country of Ireland. All throughout the Irish spirit of fun and playfulness never ceases. I'll admit, Irish are best at drinking songs, which is most prudent seeing as they can bring up such a feeling of comradery and fraternity in a setting of happiness which can be shown clearly in their more stylistic interpretation. Clannad uses their conjoined vocal powers (sounds like a superpower), as well as Irish folk constants like the flute and the harp to sweep you across the sea to the rocky shores of County Donegal to experience the magic. Most everything on the album is pure, heartfelt, and wonderful. Even I, a seasoned veteran of the Irish Folk genre was surprised and impressed by these bunch. Highly recommended. Can't wait to see what else is in store.

© 2015 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Originally written for Prog Archives on 11/17/2015.
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Monday, November 16, 2015

Music Review #13:
The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys
Island Records

Traffic's 1971 release of the oddly named The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys gives off an air of great stylistic qualities, and has deservingly been noted as the band's greatest achievement. Unlike Gentle Giant, another well known band of the eclectic progressive genre, Traffic's music tends to slow-dance over the line of folk rock, jazz, and of course eclectic rock. ,Low Spark b has many odd structures, which become very prominent as the album progresses. I found myself loving the album despite its thorough lack of tracks.

Medieval sounding bard music slips in (much like Gentle Giant did) quite often. In the opening track 'Hidden Treasure', with soothing sounds that bring you sights of far off places and a subtle air of adventure. Although I found the track to be the only one I can't particularly listen to over again, mostly due to being so bland in light of the rest of its brethren. However, the track's slow tell-tale lyrics and minor progression is simply a lead into the eleven minute eponymous piece that is described as the center of the entire album. 'The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys' is a track that seems much shorter than it actually is, mostly due to it's enjoyable yet sometimes repetitive nature. But smooth jazz it is so I won't delve too deep into it.

One small, mostly unnoticeable problem I had with Low Spark was the seemingly indecisive way Traffic chose the structure of the tracks. With every song there is a different listen, aside from a small similarity between the title track's climax and the straight up rocker of 'Rock & Roll Stew', but even then the latter being much more aggressive takes away any prior similarities that you'd hear while scrolling through the tracks. In my opinion, a variegated line up of tracks qualifies as an album that never gives you a dull moment.

On the point of the rockier tracks, the most distinguished being 'Rock & Roll Stew' and 'Light Up Or Leave Me Alone'. Having never been a fan of soft rock pretending to be greater than it is, the former of the two I've found to enjoy much more often. 'Light Up', especially during the later parts however does bring to the table alot of Who-like rocking, but because of this seems like a song stuck in the 60's. Enjoyable, yes of course, but not something I come back to very often. 'Rock & Roll Stew', living up to it's name, brings a great deal of mixed rock soup including some excellent funk. Combine that with the great vocals from Winwood and you have quite the delicious stew!

The slower tracks that the album retains are 'Many a Mile to Freedom' and 'Rainmaker'. The former sort of takes elements from the rest of the album, combining 'Hidden Treasure'-like softness and the subtle yet quietened rocking of 'Rock & Roll Stew'. This makes up for quite an adventure, especially one that I can sit through for seven and a half minutes and not complain about. 'Rainmaker' is perhaps my favorite song off of the album, being the one that first appealed to me while scrolling through the tracks. It bears a haunting melody and lyrics of a farmer reminiscing of his crops' unfortunate fate from drought. The theme of the song most likely derives to the tale of John Barleycorn told in the prior album, but I feel like this song takes the cake for most complex and best-sounding.

In an overall sense, The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys is an album that goes very under appreciated in the world of the general music population, and unjustly so. If you haven't thoroughly heard or never heard this album at all, then I think you should find the vinyl and give it a spin. It is quite enjoyable. 4/5 rounded to 5.

© 2015 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Originally written for Prog Archives on 4/7/2015.
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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Music Review #12:
JEMP Records

Over the years, Phish has had a knack for writing their own music. I don't mean in the way of coming up with their own compositions of course. What I mean is, they tend to play whatever they feel like regardless of boundaries or social musical norms. Phish revels in the times where they have a chance to produce more music simply for the enjoyment of both their peers and fans. 2009 was not an exception, where Anastasio and company jumped on the chance the rekindle the light that meant so much to them, as well as to many music listeners in the public. What came from this excitement was a bundle of creative happiness aptly titled "Joy".

Phish wasn't doing too great during the 2000's, especially in the crowd that enjoy them most for their experimental jazzy qualities as well as their ode-like style reminiscent of Grateful Dead. Phish moved more away from this and closer to a pop-rock, alternative rock style that became explosively prominent during the late 90's and of course the 00's. Starting out the year with Farmhouse, whose title track is the most listened song of their discography to date, the disappointingly bland Round Room in 2002, and Undermind in 2004. Undermind seemed to be the temporary breaking point for these jazz giants, as they quickly descended into a hiatus that lasted a whole five years. As I said before, this created an environment where the entire band was ready to participate wholeheartedly. This also made for a very light-hearted album with more odes to earlier jazz bands, as well as a largely inspired tracklist that has some highlights that are much more melodic for Phish.

Joy starts out with perhaps the happiest song, titled 'Backwards Down The Number Line'. This song I've found to pick me up even when I'm in a bad mood. This is sort of expected, seeing as the song follows the happy highlights and feelings from Anastasio's life. At moments, you can almost notice him smiling during the song. That's something that is hard to do, even for a band like Phish. The track immediately after, 'Stealing From the Faulty Plan', is completely the opposite. A very 70's-esque beat and vocals, with some awesome drumming by Fishman. High pitched guitars lead the way, the way Pink Floyd sort of incorporated it in their more arts-y albums, especially '72 and afterwards. The backstory of the song is also the opposite of it's predecessor, this time following the story of Trey Anastasio's sister's death from cancer. Even with this morbid base the song still seems to throw up very jaunty moods and one of the greatest guitar solos ever to rock the band. The title track is a very...well, earnest. What I mean is, the song is the musical incarnate of good memories, ones that you'd remember from your childhood. In fact, the word "happy" is used numerous times throughout.

After 'Joy', the albums descends more into the jazzy Phish of the 80's and 90's. 'Sugar Shack' combines funk elements with bouncy dual vocals making for a very sing-a-long type track. 'Ocelot' is a clear ode to Grateful Dead, with more barreling piano and country feelings. I don't exactly love it, but it's obvious that the band (especially Anastasio) loves Grateful Dead and decided to make a song dedicated to their main influence. 'Kill Devil Falls', by no means a bad track, is perhaps my least favorite. It has a very boring mood that ceases to interest me very well. Again, not awful but definitely the one song that I'd pass. 'Light' has some interesting and unexpected Who-ish elements, especially with the gravely guitar and fluid drumming. 'I Been Around' is basically a little quick, funny song made solely by Page McConnell. I love the song just for it's comedic, almost skit styling, as well as of course Page's piano skills. The microphone effects makes it seem like he's almost right in front of you. 'Time Turns Elastic' is another one of my favorites. This thirteen minute long epic encompasses so much that I love about Phish, that it's hard to explain them all. I suggest that you listen to it for yourself to get really in touch with it, because this song is not only very progressive, but simply good. 'Twenty Years After' is the closer, and very much like 'Kill Devil Falls', is pretty boring. Although more compositionally complex, the songs retains mostly the same features that made me not like the former. Some interesting parts I've found to intrigue me, which at the very least kept me pretty enthralled to listen to it all the way through and come back to it occasionally.

This album is something that I never expected liking so much, but I've found that giving it a chance and a thorough listen, that it is definitely a great album by any standards. Therefore, I give this album a rating of 4.5/5, and suggest that you go listen to it. Maybe it will fill you with as much "joy" as it did for me.

© 2015 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Originally written for Prog Archives on 6/19/2015.
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Saturday, November 14, 2015

Music Review #11:
Tenacious D
Tenacious D
Epic Records

When I first heard Jack Black and Kyle Gass going at it with guitars, I honestly laughed harder then I had in a long time. Usually, this would be a bad thing. In this case, I think they've done what they were trying to go for.

To start out, we have 21 tracks on the album in total. There is a mix of short skits and full length to shorter songs in equal measure.

The skits are usually very funny. Black and Gass make very stupid humor seem so much better than in it's raw form. They are short but sweet little skits.

The music is absolutely phenomenal. Although there are some unnecessary or vulgar tracks on it, most of them are generally enjoyable. Their beat and composition shows the work of great musicians, while still making it comedic and stupid. Their skills really show with their extraordinary intrumentship make this not some petty comedy album.

This is definitely a good album to pick up by anyone to have a good laugh.

© 2015 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Originally written for Metal Music Archives on 8/25/2014.
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Friday, November 13, 2015

Music Review #10:
Stabbing Westward
Columbia Records

Industrial metal is a genre that has been led by Trent Reznor since his forming of NINE INCH NAILS in 1988. Many people seem to think that, seeing as Reznor so plainly and clearly advanced the generation in the pairing of technology and metal music, that he single-handedly brought the genre to the charts and into the mainstream. But there is another band that is filed under the same genre, and was formed three whole years before the formation of NIN, that is usually forgotten in the eyes of the public.

Ungod is the debut album by the Chicago-formed American industrial metal act, STABBING WESTWARD, released in 1993. Being the first release by the band since their 1990 demo release of "Iwo Jima", the band had taken very much time to develop a sound that appealed to them. A three year gap in recordings may seem a little ridiculous; I sure thought it was when I did some research on the band, but after listening to the album I have come to release that it was time very well spent.

After a few years of me listening to NIN, I have come to know Industrial metal as an extremely experimental genre, with several different sounds and tempo fluctuations that coincide with heavy metal guitars and bass (along with other instruments). But the main thing I gathered was that metal was embedded into the techno-like experimenting to make for still brutal but more artful grace in the way it was played. STABBING WESTWARD does it very differently.

In fact, this album is on the verge of me calling it alternative metal, because it's less electronic rhythms combined with metal, and more heavy metal that use different electronics to help the guitars and other instruments along, filling in gaps that they wouldn't usually fill alone. It's very interesting to listen to not traditional industrial all the time, because alternative industrial metal is a (sub)sub-genre that was pioneered by this band. Ungod really shows that quite well, and in a way better than a lot of Reznors releases.

Some highlights of the album that I would suggest is 'Lies', with very angry lyrics mixed with industrial, very cliche NINE INCH NAILS but it is a very familiar territory for metal heads. 'Throw' succeeds it, and is actually much better. Industrial experimentation has gone down quite a few notches to make way for heavier chords and bass/drum lines, but is quite good. 'Violent Mood Swings' takes the cake for my favorite song on the album and perhaps by this artist. It combines experimentation and quick riffing to make for a piece that is just right on the ears. Although very Reznor-like in sound, it is different when you listen to it with an open mind. The fantastic album closer 'Can't Happen Here' brings a more instrumental piece as opposed to an angry, heavy, and pounding one. Although it might seem a little 'mainstream', it is enjoyable, as I said before, if you use an open mind while listening.

So even though NIN may be your top pick as an industrial metal artist, I would highly suggest you give a listen to these guys. They are definitely worth their salt.

Go give it a listen.

© 2015 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Originally written for Metal Music Archives on 12/12/2014.
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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Music Review #9:
Ozzy Osbourne
No More Tears
Epic Records

England-born metal musician Ozzy Osbourne is most known for his gold strike with the creation of his band Black Sabbath during the late 60's. What is less known but still quite popular perhaps is Osbourne's solo career. Among his discography are albums such as Blizzard of Ozz (most well known for the singles 'Crazy Train' and 'Mr. Crowley') and Diary of a Madman, both released in the 80's. Osbourne's solo career is still continuing, his latest release being in 2010. Although he has a large collection of albums spanning over four decades, his most critically acclaimed period was during the aforementioned 1980's. While Osbourne left Black Sabbath in the late 70's, people started to get more bored with Osbournes music, or at least less interested than when albums like Blizzard of Ozz were popular. Then came the era of grunge and pop punk, and Osbourne produced still more albums. Among these and one of the earlier ones was the 1991 release of No More Tears. The album was met with positive applause, reaching the "Top 200" Billboard at number 7. The album did remarkably well, and Osbourne had definitely achieved what was perhaps his best hit in the 90's.

Osbourne brings back to the table the classic sound of Sabbath that was loved by metal-heads who adored the style that the band had before Dio took over. The album is overall much more different from what Ozzy unsuccessfully tried to do before he left the band. While Never Say Die and Technical Ecstasy where very centered around a AC/DC-esque pop hard rock angle, No More Tears brings in ripping chords and meaty bass. The album comes in at a decent note, with the track 'Mr. Tinkertrain', although the song has a little too much synth-y floating in it for my tastes. Not that in general is a bad, but too much of it without a good balance of normal metal offsets it too much for me. The album does quickly regain footing and with a roar with my personal favorite track titled 'I Don't Want To Change The World". Living up to its title, the song resembles very traditional Sabbath that I loved so much about albums like Master of Reality and Vol. 4.

In the album there also lies a few ballads. 'Time After Time' and 'Mama, I'm Coming Home' are among the most prominent of the eleven total tracks. The latter comes directly after 'I Don't Want to Change The World', so it sort of offsets what the song achieved. Although the song is much more based in a poppy major key, it's decent. Arena rock is very present, sort of Bon Jovi like. I give it a pass though because it's Ozzy and not Jovi. 'S.I.N.' sounds very reminiscent of Paranoid era Sabbath, with a great composition and awesome fluidity of chords and riffing. Then there are the obligatory slammers that are meant to be, well, slamming you with their pure metallic power. These would be 'Desire' and 'Hellraiser', with very heavy, trudging notes with Ozzy vocal effects thrown in and some periods (Laughing being the most heard). The final track that particularly stands out is the title track. Coming in at an unusual 7:24, this epic is very experimental in the way of Ozzys music. The song mixes interesting compositions of things that range from flat out riffing to interesting effect segments that makes the track seem oddly progressive. The song mixes in radio speech and Supertramp like piano in one segment, with some very 70's-ish synth thrown in. It does give some Ozzy zest though with pounding drums from Castillo and of course the funky bass line that opened it. It is a really enjoyable song, especially when the echoing and, of course, Ozzys fantastic vocals.

Ozzy Osbournes blast into the 90's was explosive, pounding, and extremely enjoyable. Most definitely my favorite from the mans personal discography, and it will most certainly live in my heart as a metal highlight of the 90's and perhaps of traditional metal in general. I suggest that anyone who hasn't listened to it immediately, especially if you crave more Ozzy - era Sabbath material.

© 2015 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Originally written for Metal Music Archives on 10/1/2015.
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Music Review #8:
Jethro Tull
Thick as a Brick
Chrysalis/Reprise Records

Thick as a Brick is highly hailed as Jethro Tull's masterpiece, as well as one of the greatest prog records of all time. I've never expressly enjoyed it before I came to this site, so I always dimmed the rating in my mind for it down to a three or so. Now, a while later I've decided to re-listen to it to get the full effect. And boy, my opinion has changed. Not only is this a great album, I don't hate it for being overrated like some other highly rated releases (Close to The Edge and COTCK come to mind). This gem has the best of both world and I'll tell exactly what is so great about it.

Ian Anderson, the front man as well as the flutist has sometimes been disappointing, especially on things like Aqualung where I thought his expertise was dimmed in order for crunchy guitars and powerful lyrics to head it off. On TaaB, is a very different story. Because each half is so long (approx. 22 minutes each), it gives time especially to Anderson to pump out some wonderful flurries of pipe. The first half of Thick as a Brick is what really got me. Something that I will always remember, and I know other people would feel the same, is the three minute or so long opening to the album. Gentle acoustic follows calm lyrics, along sort of the same quota that Warchild's 'Skating Away...' did with the exception of it (TaaB pt. 1) follows into a series of hard rock riffs, where the former does the opposite and leads into a variety of bouncy rhythms and light vocals. Speaking of hard rock, that's another ingredient to this mix of wonderfulness. I've always known that the band had some inkling of heavy metal although it was never fully expressed, because the band wanted to focus more on an output of folk. Something that I adore about them is this. In fact, that's the main reason why their Minstrel in the Gallery is my favorite song and album, because of that ever present feature. Not to say that being hard rock makes you good, because it doesn't. I can think of many more pieces of excrement that have gone under my radar (*cough* Puddle of Mudd *cough*). Part one to this amazing album has crunching, acoustics, vocal stability, extremely well done flute, and almost everything about it is great.

The second part, although taking place directly where the first part left off, is much different from the former. Although the musicianship is there and still outright, there's something much stranger in it. Incorporating more experimental qualities than the first part, TaaB pt. 2 actually takes a different and more folksy direction, which may be a sort of a jittery listen for some. I love it, although it's inaccessibility factor may be sort of present for a lot of the easy minded prog folks. For me, I've had to sit through Ummagumma, so I think I've adapted to really hard-to-listen-to music, and this was a breeze. So, if you liked the first part and want to listen to it with more of an artistic 'oomph', then this is great for you.

That pretty much sums up my ideas. Unlike many other 4.60 ish albums on this site, I really have to go with the general consensus. Thick as a Brick is a wonderfully bright little album, with bright undertones that positively take advantage of both your skeptic side and your casual listener side.

© 2015 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Originally written for Prog Archives on 10/5/2014.
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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Cover by Roger Dean.

Roger Dean is an artist known for creating surreal landscapes in his paintings. Dean is very well known for creating the covers for the British Progressive Rock band Yes, including Fragile, Close To The Edge, Tales from Topographic Oceans, and Relayer

This cover was made for a musician named Kimberly Barrington Frost (more simply known as Ramases) in 1971. It was the largest cover Roger Dean was ever allowed to paint, featuring the steeple of a church launching off of the building in a very spaceship-esque manner, the full painting seen below.

Ramases didn't become very popular or even very well known, only being able to publish some demo cassettes for his later album Glass Top Coffin in 1975. Unfortunately, Frost ended his own life in 1976. News of his death was not widespread until the 1990's, where his music started to become more popular.

Go enjoy more of Roger Dean's art on his website!
Music Review #7: 
On The Road
Island Records

On The Road is the second and last live album from Traffic not too long before they broke up. '73 was undeniably a big year for rock, with Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, Selling England by the Pound by Genesis, and to a lesser extent Shoot Out At the Fantasy Factory was released in that year. Like any progressive rock band Traffic has to live up to other amazing live performances by other bands of it's caliber. Welcome to the Canteen wasn't terrible two years prior but it's undoubtedly pushed aside by the fantastic jam that this is.

With a very small track-list of only four songs, The performance does lack slightly on the variety they could have had if they had played from their earlier albums. But the epics are the ones to come first which is always pleasant. 'Low Spark' is obviously the main event here; the icing on the cake if you will. With a run time that goes about five minutes or so over the studio version, Traffic really does play their hearts out over this one. Their playing on it is unbroken and contrasts very well with the original, albeit with some more jazz and psychedelic tidbits in the longer time-span. The band does rock pretty hard as well with 'Shoot Out' where the tempo's quickened to a beating pace. Again, flawless performance with Winwood's fantastic playing. '(Sometimes I Feel So) Uninspired' was spiced up a little to the point where it seemed more like 'Sometimes I feel so inspired'. Even 'Light Up or Leave Me Alone', perhaps my least favorite track on Low Spark was made great with a longer run time for more experimentation and rocking capabilities. Truly marvelous.

A great staple on the progressive live performance scene if I've ever seen one.

© 2015 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Originally written for Prog Archives on 8/16/2015.
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Monday, November 9, 2015

Music Review #6:




Interscope Records

Due to the booming success of Grunge in the 90's, record labels were hungry fora new cash cow band to sign on. Out from the darkness emerged Helmet, a band who seemed perfectly fit to take Nirvana's place for the next big band. Helmet was very distinguished from Nirvana when the time came around, however, bringing a slamming rage to their music when 1992 rolled in with Meantime. Hailed as an extremely influential album to others of it's genre that came in the late 90's and 00's, and critics absolutely loved it. Meantime sold relatively well in the years after it's release, and was certified gold with two million copies sold in 1994.

Meantime is a very well-structured album, and utilizes the 90's grunge/hard rock mix to a stretched out limit. The bad thing here is that with so much fury and pure noise blaring from every track, it's very hard not to get burned out, which sometimes they did. Many of the songs sound similar at first but do tend to become more diverse with multiple spins. It's a unique yet comfortable album that earns the top spot as one of the most influential alternative metal albums of all time.

© 2015 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Originally written for Metal Music Archives on 10/1/2015.
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Sunday, November 8, 2015

Music Review #5:


The Snow Goose


Decca Records 

Camel's The Snow Goose is undoubtedly much more of an experience than it is an album. You can still of course listen to the separate tracks without encountering much auditory inconsistencies, but much like Pink Floyd's The Wall, you must hear the album in a single go to understand the full meaning of the music. The Snow Goose follows more the mindset of musical poetry, and thus is devoid of any vocalization apart from occasional tidbits. Instead, all thoughts and feelings are conveyed simply by the instrumentation.

According to the back of my vinyl, the story of The Snow Goose tells of a man named Rhayader who lives in a lighthouse in Essex, around the marsh area. Rhayader is treated with indignation by the townsfolk mostly due to his "odd appearance". The other individual whom the story tells of is a woman named Fritha, who finds an injured snow goose that was swept off sea from a storm. She brings the goose to Rhayader in his lighthouse. While the goose is being nursed back to health, the three of them start to grow a bond. However after the goose departs fully healed, Fritha finds no reason to return to the lighthouse and Rhayader is again left alone to the Essex marshes. Much time passes, until one day Rhayader spots the snow goose on the horizons and excitedly sends for Fritha. He starts to send his boat out to find the goose but arrives in the middle of what appears to be a battle at a place called Dunkirk. Desperately Rhayader tries to help injured soldiers by ferrying them back to safety, but his ship is sunken by supposedly cannon fire and he and the wounded soldiers drown in the cold waters of Dunkirk. Fritha, who is still at the lighthouse, somehow realizes that Rhayader will not return. She suddenly spots the snow goose as it seems to be flying back to land. She is filled with bittersweet joy as the goose comes closer as if to land, but instead turns around and flies away never to return.

Musically, The Snow Goose shines remarkably well. Most every bit is polished and flows beautifully, even the one to two minute tracks. Some areas of the album can be slightly boring however and serve only to fill up unnecessary space in the narrative. Many tracks I found enjoying highly, such as the blood pumping battle theme of 'Dunkirk', the sense of adventure from both 'Migration' and 'Flight of the Snow Goose', and even the personal themes from some of the characters. Much ambiance is utilized to great avail, and much of the instrumentation by Camel is very well done and tells their story well. I'd say that this sort of rock-opera type album is quite good, and that if you haven't listened to it I say pick it up. My personal rating would lie around the 4 - 4.5/5 area. Very good.

© 2015 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Originally written for Prog Archives on 7/13/2015.
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