The Good Bits: January 2016

This year I’m trying something new. Instead of sporadic reviews for music, books, etc., I thought I’d try to make a recap of each month about some of the stuff I enjoyed from that particular month. Will I keep up the trend? Probably not. Still, it’ll be fun while it lasts. Let’s get started.

Music:

Megadeth, Dystopia (UMe)

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Megadeth’s last two albums weren’t their strongest. Thirteen was just kind of there and Super Collider was just plain not good. Dave Mustaine is aware of this reception and so has spent the better part of a year hyping up Dystopia by bringing in guitarist Kiko Loureiro of Angra and drummer Chris Adler of Lamb of God, assuring fans that the album would to stellar. And, yeah, the album is pretty solid all around. Loureiro and Adler definitely bring a lot of punch to the music with virtuosic playing that wows but never feels like outright showing off (see “Conquer or Die!”). It makes you feel like this is where the band should have gone after the excellent Endgame in 2009.

As far as negatives, some reviews have cited that the somewhat xenophobic lyrics are distasteful and ruin an otherwise superb experience. Personally, it doesn’t bother me all that much. Sure, there’s one or two lines that may make you roll your eyes, but what do you expect when a) politics are Mustaine’s bread and butter and b) Mustaine is notoriously conservative nowadays? This isn’t anything new. This album isn’t the end all be all of their discography, but it is good to hear Megadeth sound like Megadeth again.

 

LycusChasm (Relapse)

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Funeral doom is either really good or really boring. Some would say it’s boring altogether and sometimes I can’t blame those people. Lycus manage to dodge that criticism with an album that is most certainly slow and doomy, but never in a manner than makes you wonder how much longer the ten minute opener “Solar Chamber” is going to go on. The album clocks in at about 43 minutes with four tracks, and on albums like that those four tracks can feel like a drag. But Lycus manage to weave together ominous vocals with a dense atmosphere that meshes with the heavy riffs for a dark and satisfying descent. This is an early favorite for 2016, no doubt about that.

 

Dream Theater, The Astonishing (Roadrunner)

the astonishing

Nowadays, there are two groups of Dream Theater fans: those who love the band and Mike Portnoy fanboys who think the band died when he left. Mixed amongst those two groups are pretentious blowhards who think that the band hasn’t done anything good since Scenes From A Memory. With all that said, what will said groups and individuals think of the band’s new epic concept album The Astonishing? Personally, I don’t know and I don’t really care because I’m too busy listening to The Astonishing. 

The Astonishing tells the story of a dystopian future where America is ruled by a tyrannical emperor and all entertainment comes in the form of electronic noise machines called NOMACS. However, the empire is threatened by a group of rebels touting a chosen one who bears the gift of music. Basically, it’s like Rush’s 2112 meets Game of Thrones. Sound ridiculous? A little, but every good sci-fi/fantasy has to be a bit ridiculous, even more so when it’s a prog album.

This is an ambitious album, even for Dream Theater. I mean, it even has a website with character profiles and a map. It may sound like you need to get fairly invested in order to enjoy this album properly, and you do to an extent. Even I was little intimidated by the scale of the album, but I found that if you think of it in the same way as a film, musical, or TV show, it’s easy to get caught up in the action. I found myself listening intently, taking it piece by piece over the course of a few days, reading over the storyline after each session so that I could make sure I was on track with the story. It almost felt like listening to a miniseries. I didn’t even want to read ahead on the story notes so that I wouldn’t get the story spoiled for me. Think about that: I avoided spoilers for a prog metal concept album.

If you really don’t care about the story and just want to hear Dream Theater, you’ll still enjoy the album no doubt. “The Gift of Music” and “When Your Time Has Come” are great tracks on their own. Plus, if you jump right in, you may find yourself getting caught up in the story anyway. This is not only one of the best things Dream Theater has ever done, but one of the best concept albums ever released. If this was ever adapted into a film in the same manner as The Who’s Tommy, I’d be the first in line.

(Disclaimer: I have no problem with Mike Portnoy. He’s a great drummer, but the majority of his fans are insufferable.)

 

Film:

The Revenant (Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy) (Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu)

revenant-leo

Most of the discussion around The Revenant made it sound like a bloated, violent, lifeless film, but I was excited to it anyway. So I went in with a pile of salt that is almost always necessary when it comes to a film with tumultuous criticism and Oscar hype. The results? Well, the film is certainly violent, but it’s never gratuitously so. Bloated? Maybe ten minutes too long for some people, but I enjoyed the pacing. Lifeless? Well, it does take place in the cold, harsh wilderness. But goddamn, it is so beautifully bleak that I don’t know how you can’t fall in love with every landscape shot.

While the setting and cinematography was probably the film’s strongest point for me, the performances certainly aren’t anything to shake a stick at. DiCaprio will probably get an Oscar just on general principle at this point, but it is deserving for this role if only because of the physicality of his performance and ability to act without dialogue. The other characters were fleshed out more than I thought they would be, especially Tom Hardy’s antagonist, who I expected to be much more two-dimensional. The story itself is a familiar one, but engaging nonetheless.

Going back to the violence part for a moment (since that’s the hot topic with this movie), there are a few scenes that can make you feel uneasy, particularly the opening battle scene and the much-touted bear encounter. It’s brutal, but, once again, I never felt the violence was unnecessary. It was impactful and felt fitting where and when it occurred. If you do get queasy with such things, keep a hand close to your eyes for the first forty minutes. As far as labeling the movie “pain porn” goes, I’m certain the people doing so haven’t even seen the movie. Watch and judge for yourself.

 

Currently Reading:

Outlander by Diana Galbadon

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