Well now, this certainly ended up being a packed post. I heard and saw a lot in June, much more than I’ve put down here. I’m sure I’ve left a few things out, but this thing is over 21o0 words and since you were kind enough to come in and see what I wrote down I wouldn’t want to make you stay to too long. Brevity and wit and all that shit. By the by, if you’re looking for my thoughts on the second half of Game of Thrones season six, that’ll be coming at you soon in a separate post.
Katatonia, The Fall of Hearts (Peaceville)
Maybe I haven’t been entirely fair to Katatonia in the past. They’re one of those bands that, on paper, are right up my alley: transition from the death/doom metal of its earlier career to more of a gothic prog rock sound, thus providing a versatile discography. But more often than not, particularly at their live shows, I ended up finding them kind of boring. I know I have friends that would be dismayed to hear that, but its true. They once headlined a show with Cult of Luna, Intronaut, and TesseracT and I left before they came on. Yet, after listening to their newest album, it occurs to me that maybe I’ve just been listening to the wrong albums. I’d really only listened to two or three before this, and this is probably my favorite of them all. The Fall of Hearts is a dark, smooth, atmospheric stroll that, for whatever reason, kept a stronger hold on my attention throughout compared to previous albums. It’s a bit more prog and a bit less heavy than their other material, so maybe the fact that the band has fully embraced this particular direction makes their songwriting more focused and comfortable. Either way, I’m happy I was proven wrong with this one.
If These Trees Could Talk, The Bones of a Dying World (Metal Blade)
Instrumental post rock/metal bands have staked their claim in the music scene in recent years, and while you’d think it’d be hard for such bands to bands distinguish themselves, If These Tree Could Talk manage to avoid such an issue. The band’s first two fantastic albums were self-released before Metal Blade Records picked them up and rereleased them, and now their third release continues their streak. Some people may find the idea of an instrumental rock/metal band unexciting, which is understandable in the context that vocalists usually tie everything together. But ITTCT are able to keep a light hold on your attention without demanding it. Tracks like opener “Solstice” paint a sonic landscape that can sit comfortably in the background of your brain but serves up enough energy to keep you invigorated and interested. The best part? Because there are no vocals, screaming or otherwise, I would recommend this to anyone who might normally enjoy the music but detest the singing.
letlive., If I’m the Devil… (Epitaph)
I didn’t expect to like 2013’s The Blackest Beautiful as much as I did, but goddamn that album is still so good. So of course I was happy to find that If I’m the Devil… builds upon its predecessor without being an outright retread. It’s energetic, catchy, and continues the band’s penchant for lyrics concerning political and social issues. “Good Mourning, America” in particular hits hard with an intro alluding to police brutality that is sure to stir up uncomfortable feelings. That’s pretty much letlive.’s whole deal, putting out songs that are loud with screaming but focus on subjects that will make you think about the state of the world we live in. I haven’t given this as many spins as the other albums listed here, but for one listen to have this much impact is damn impressive in my book.
Zeal and Arbor, Devil Is Fine (Self-Released)
Best of lists are always fun to read, especially those of the “best of the year so far” variety. I enjoy sifting through the lists and finding new music to check out before the year is up. One of the bands I found in my travels is one man band Zeal and Arbor with an album called Devil Is Fine that mixes black metal with old school blues, spirituals, and a dash of trip hop. This is an unorthodox combination to say the least and you’d think that it’d turn out a mess all things considered. Far from it; this is one of the most unique albums I’ve ever heard and one of my favorites of the year so far. Listening to the track “In Ashes” with make you think of Howlin’ Wolf singing/screaming with a Norwegian backing band. Mastermind Manuel Gagneux has created something truly strange that’s going to get a lot of attention and will likely find its way onto my end-year list.
Gojira, Magma (Roadrunner)
Gojira have steadily cultivated a following over their years and ever since the release of 2012’s L’Enfant Sauvage they’ve been regarded as one of the most prominent bands in modern metal. Naturally, Magma ended up being one of the most highly anticipated releases of the year, bearing the daunting task of following up its acclaimed predecessor. The result is probably the tightest sounding album to come out this year featuring guitar work that is less about technical ability and more about arranging every musical strand to fit in place in order to draw out the dark emotions presented in songs such as “Silvera”. It’s also the band’s shortest album to date, clocking in at just under 44 minutes. This is a good thing as it drives home the idea that all the fat has been trimmed off the album and polished to a mirror shine. Make no mistake that if you’ve been lollygagging over listening to Gojira, now is as good a time as any to get started.
The Witch (Anya Taylor-Joy)
(Director: Robert Eggers)
I’m pretty selective when it comes to horror films, but one of my favorite innovations of the genre is having it take place during a non-modern time period. In this case, The Witch takes place in 17th century New England and concerns a Puritan family trying to start a life in the wilderness after being exiled from their settlement. The film is very bleak and the unknown of the surrounding wilderness is unsettling even before things start to go awry. Plus, we’re talking about a Puritan family, so the moment someone does or says something that can even be remotely put under the context of the Devil’s work, you’re just waiting for the hammer to come down. The film creates the kind of horror that we need more of nowadays, relying on a dense atmosphere that settles under your skin and stays there. Gotta give big ups to the child actors in this one as well.
Macbeth, (Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard)
(Director: Justin Kurzel)
Macbeth is my favorite play from Shakespeare, so I was more than pleased to hear that it was going to get the big budget treatment with two fantastic actors in the lead roles. Other Shakespeare fans will agree that seeing all the different takes on the roles or settings in his plays is what makes each production unique. That said, most productions of Macbeth seem focused on two things: 1) the violence, and 2) how that violence transforms Macbeth. What Justin Kurzel brings to the table is a beautifully stark film dripping with atmosphere, and while it has its violent moments (including the bloody stabbing of Duncan) they aren’t played up for shock factor, but instead to show the raw, harsh nature Macbeth has embraced. In fact, Fassbender’s Macbeth seems like he’s dead inside the moment we see him, implying that his becoming a murderer isn’t so much a descent as it is a natural progression. Cotillard nails her role, of course, offering up a take on Lady Macbeth that is less the sinister woman who takes a descent into madness but rather a woman who feels that the world has taken enough from her, and so she takes back. Also, the music provided by Jed Kurzel is hauntingly gorgeous. It’s my favorite adaptation of the Scottish play and one I’m eager to give another viewing.
Sidenote: Kurzel, Fassbender, and Cotillard are all leading the film adaptation of Assassin’s Creed, and while video game movies may have a penchant for sucking, Macbeth might give you hope that it’ll at least be decent given the talent involved.
The Conjuring 2 (Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson)
(Director: James Wan)
Two horror movies in one month? What are the odds? As I said, I’m selective with horror, but the first The Conjuring was surprisingly good, dishing out some good old supernatural possession that felt reinvigorated and, yes, actually scary. But horror film sequels are a dime a dozen and are usually just rehashes of the maiden film, so chances of The Conjuring 2 blowing were somewhat high. Yet, while the film is very similar to its predecessor, the new film is still just as effective as the first with no small thanks to Wan’s excellent direction and use of camera angles that will make your eyes flit all over the place trying to find out where the next scare is going to come from. Also, like the first film, The Conjuring 2 takes the time to establish that the characters in this story are real people and not just fodder, showing them in times of happiness as well as terror. If there’s anything this sequel has over its predecessor, it’s that the demon nun depicted in this film is 1) scarier than the demon from the first film, and 2) fucking metal as hell. I can’t remember the last time a monster like that made me look over my shoulder while walking around my own home.
The Wolf of Wall Street (Leonardo DiCaprio)
(Director: Martin Scorsese)
Yeah, yeah I can hear people saying already: “How have you not seen this movie before?! It’s amazing! I’ve seen every Martin Scorsese movie which basically means I know everything about movies!” If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone ask that question I’d probably be able to buy my own damn theater. Make no mistake though, this has been on my list for a while, and now that I’ve seen it I can say that, yes, it’s as good as everyone said and, yes, DiCaprio should have won the Oscar for this. You’d think a three-hour movie with nonstop partying would get tiring, but it’s so funny and batshit crazy that you can’t look away until the credits roll. It was also great to see the role that got Margot Robbie to where she is now and Jonah Hill has great comedic chemistry with DiCaprio. I felt like I benefitted from seeing The Big Short before this as it helped to accentuate the lengths to which we go to for money and power.
Dune by Frank Herbert
Somehow I forgot to put down my thoughts on Frank Herbert’s legendary sci-fi epic in my Good Bits recap of May. I finished it pretty early in the month and that was mostly the appendices. Then I dove into Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot, which I’ve had sitting on my shelf for a while. But a book like Dune certainly requires at least a few words, so I’ll sum up as much as I can: Dune is as important and influential as The Lord of the Rings, and now I see why. The influence on sci-fi and fantasy is unmistakable and the way Herbert goes about building his world is awe-inspiring. Sure, some concepts seem a bit dated and many story elements will seem very familiar, but that’s only because Dune‘s influence is now more famous than the actual text. By the time it was over all I could think was “How long until Hollywood gives this another whirl?” It’s a classic for a reason, and I’m happy I know that now.
‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
Two horror films and now a novel from the master of horror himself. I always felt horror has an advantage in the written word for one specific reason: it’s as vivid and fucked up as your mind allows it to be. I’m a huge King fan, but I actually got started reading works like The Green Mile and The Dark Tower saga, but after reading ‘Salem’s Lot I wish I’d started with the classics. ‘Salem’s Lot is my favorite novel from King thus far, a slow burn that succeeds in making a supernatural threat feel as real as the characters in the novel. I was also happy to see the original story behind Father Callahan, an important character in the latter half of The Dark Tower novels. I don’t want to say too much for those who haven’t read it, but I will leave it with this: when you think a certain type or trope or story has been wrung for all its worth, you go back to masters who made that shit great in the first place.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Yet another novel that was long overdue for a read. Thus far, as a fan of British style humor, I’m kicking myself for not having picked this up sooner.