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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