God, I feel like I have more and more to write about every month.
Ghost are one of the biggest rock/metal acts in the world right now. Before their fourth album Prequelle even debuted they were announcing headlining shows at stadiums all around the US. They’v only gotten better with each release and they’ve put out songs with significant crossover appeal. So, how does they band’s latest album stack up? Pretty well! Though I wouldn’t say it’s as great as Infestissumam or Meliora, Prequelle is another enjoyable listen from Ghost that is easily accessible and includes what will go down as one of the band’s best songs.
“Rats”, the album’s first proper track, is the second best song on the album. It’s a killer opener and gets things moving with hooky riffs and a chorus perfect for stadium chanting. The real standout, however, is of course “Dance Macabre”, a catchy as hell number that got stuck in my head for over a week and still does creep up on occasion. Even people who don’t listen to Ghost or metal music have told me they think the song is good. I can’t even remember the last rock/metal song I heard that actually made me want to dance. Not headbang mind you, I mean dance.
The only issue with these two songs is that they’re so good that the other songs seem slightly lesser in comparison. Don’t get me wrong, the album as a whole is still good. “Faith” has some great riffage and I love the piano led ballad “Pro Memoria”, they just don’t have the instant earworm factor of “Rats” or “Dance Macabre”. The other issue is out of the album’s ten tracks three are instrumentals. “Ashes” is fine; it’s a short effective intro to the album. But “Miasma” and “Helvetesfonster” both go over five minutes, and while I’m not at all opposed to extended instrumentals I don’t think we needed two on this album. “Miasma” is the better of the two as it’s more upbeat and has a sax solo. Still, I think the album would have benefitted if one of the instrumental tracks was either shortened or replaced with a full-fledged song.
Neither of these gripes stand in the way of making Prequelle a good album. I’ve still given it plenty of spins and I’m sure it’ll get plenty more before the year is out and beyond. The most exciting prospect is getting more people to listen to “Dance Macabre” and getting it stuck in their heads.
YOB, Our Raw Heart
Doom/sludge metal is defined primarily by two traits: slow and heavy. This helps to convey a sense of, well, doom, typically associated with anything from a laborious descent into hell to an out of this world drug trip or just straight pure misery. YOB’s latest album Our Raw Heart is certainly slow and heavy, but the word I would chiefly use to describe it is not one typically applied to doom metal, or even metal in general: uplifting. If that has you scratching your head, I’ll explain as best I can, though it’s really something best experienced for yourself. Long story short, YOB’s frontman Mike Scheidt nearly died sometime early last year, so he took that experience and fed it directly into his music. Overcoming trauma can bring out the best in some people, and that’s clearly what happened here.
If you’re looking for the song that encapsulates the experience Our Raw Heart offers, I point you to the album’s 16 and and half minute centerpiece “Beauty In Falling Leaves”. It’s a gorgeous epic dripping with emotional atmosphere as it lurches though clean passages punctuated by stomping thunderous guitar. All the while Scheidt sounds like he’s singing with everything he’s got. His soaring, howling vocals help deliver the album’s emotional punch. Every time I listen to this album I just feel good. It’s similar to Bell Witch in that the music is almost meditative and it’s not about what you hear but where it takes you.
Zeal & Ardor, Stranger Fruit
Zeal & Ardor’s debut release Devil Is Fine was one of my favorite albums in 2016 and I still give that record plenty of spins. Since then Manuel Gagneux’s brainchild has gained considerable praise and Zeal & Ardor has turned from a one-man band built off a crazy idea to a full band. I awaited a second album with eager anticipation, but also an edge of caution; it’s always hard to follow up something so critically acclaimed and prove that you’re a band worth keep around. As you’ve already guessed, Stranger Fruit proves to be a worthy followup that might not have the instant classic factor of the first album, but is nonetheless a solid work.
If Devil Is Fine was a light appetizer full of many wonderful flavors that go great together, Stranger Fruit is the big hearty meal that comes after. It’s double the length of its predecessor, spanning sixteen tracks that are all kept short, averaging at about 3 minutes. On the one hand, I’m happy the songs are kept short; having 16 tracks of widely varying lengths can create an overlong album. However, there are one or two tracks I thought could have been left off just to make it a little leaner. Mind you, none of those tracks are bad, they just didn’t shine as brightly as others.
The music itself feels much more refined compared to Devil Is Fine‘s sheer rawness, which I’m kind of mixed on. I think it makes album is much more accessible than the first one with tracks like “Servants” and “Row Row” sporting infectious lyrics with big boisterous choruses that will appeal to fans of more blues inspired hard rock. It also makes the music feel like it has more meat on its bones this time around. The trade off is that the black metal influence doesn’t feel as stark as it did on the first album. It’s there in the tremolo picking and Gagneux’s shrieks, but I feel like there’s less of it on the album and when it is present it doesn’t have the same wow factor as it did the first time around. Also, I would have liked a few more little trip-hop interludes like the ones from Devil Is Fine, but this isn’t a huge sticking point.
But man, some of these songs hit hard. Apart from the first two songs, tracks like “Gravedigger’s Chant”, “Don’t You Dare”, and “Ship on Fire” just hit you in all the right spots, no small thanks to Gagneux’s punchy and poetic lyrics. It’s been fun sharing this one with people and getting them to branch into something as new and fresh as Zeal & Ardor.
Khemmis’ second album Hunted topped many year end lists in 2016, and while I do think it’s a good album, it didn’t stick with me as much as other releases from that year. I really couldn’t tell you why considering Khemmis have all the ingredients that make a great metal band: big riffs with harmonized guitars and songwriting that evokes the sound of metal legends without sounding derivative. Fast forward to the release of the band’s third album Desolation and I’ve had the track “Isolation” stuck in my head for days. The album is chock full of riffs both catchy and intricate and the songs have a great sing-along factor, mostly thanks to frontman Phil Penderast’s powerful, soaring vocals. The aforementioned “Isolation” is the song I’d recommend checking out first; it’s the most single-like track, running at just under 5 minutes where the rest of the album features songs well over 6 1/2 minutes. Speaking of length, the album is only six tracks running at 42 minutes, which is a pretty good length. I occasionally felt one or two of the songs went on a smidge to long, but not to the point that I’d consider it a huge detriment. Khemmis won me over this round and I’ll have to go back to the previous albums to give them another shot.
Man, I can’t begin to tell you how mentally exhausted I was by the end of this movie. And I weirdly mean that in a good way. Hereditary is literally one hell of a movie, a slow burning descent into madness that’s definitely not for everyone, but will certainly be remembered as one of the top horror films of 2018.
I think it’s best to keep the story mostly vague should you decide to watch it. At the start of the film, Annie Graham’s mother, Ellen, has passed away and we learn that she was secretive about her life and that her relationship was her daughter was strained to say the least. Over the next two hours, secrets about Ellen and the Graham family are slowly revealed, and what we find is incredibly disturbing. The film is reminiscent of slow burn classics like Rosemary’s Baby and The Shining both in terms of pacing as well as the events depicted. While there are a few scenes that are extremely chilling and stick with you long after you leave the theater, I wouldn’t say the film is a barrel full of scares like everyone has been saying. Rather this is a film filled with a tense, chilling atmosphere that is both exhausting and upsetting, which is far more impactful than any amount of jump scares.
I remember initially feeling too addled to decide whether or not I like the film after I saw it. But after thinking it over and discussing it with others both online and offline, I’m eager to watch the film again. What can I say? I’m a sucker for the slow burn. It’s not for the faint of heart and it’s possible others might find it confusing or boring, but if you’re a fan of the films I mentioned above, you can’t miss this one.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
I feel like I enjoyed Jurassic World more so than other people. It had a good mix of nostalgia and references to the first film, old school Hollywood character tropes, great dinosaur battles, and it pretty much cemented Chris Pratt’s status as a leading man. Now we have Fallen Kingdom, and I feel like the reaction is all over the place: some say it’s shit, some say it’s better than the first, some are indifferent. I say that it’s not shit, it’s not as good as the first, and, hey, it’s a popcorn summer blockbuster, what do you want?
The film is clearly presented in two halves: the island and the mansion. The first half is a monster disaster romp and also a sort of a send off for the Jurassic Park/World we knew. The second half is more of a monster horror romp with shadowy political implications that leads up to an ending that feels like it should be a game changer but really just makes you wonder “What the hell are they going to do for a third movie?” All the good stuff from the first film is still good: Pratt’s good, dinos are good (especially anything that has to do with the raptor Blue), and I still get goosebumps when we hear those musical motifs. The new characters are fine, though one of them has a subplot leading to a twist that, once again, feels like it should be a huge deal, but is undercut by an action scene and then isn’t brought up again.
While discussing the film, I’ve been compared it to the new Star Wars films, specifically The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. TFA, like Jurassic World, served as a sort of reintroduction to the franchise that leaned a lot on nostalgia but it was charming and fun and just made you happy there was a new movie. The Last Jedi then spends its time pushing beyond the nostalgia and takes the franchise to new places. Fallen Kingdom tries to do that, especially when the dinos come to the mainland and start wrecking havoc, but it gets bogged down by the focus on its own mythos and a few plot points that are straight up retreads of the first film (genetically engineered dino? Check. B.D. Wong shows up to look sinister and then does nothing? Check). And while seeing the dinos running around a mansion is certainly a nice change of scenery from the island, it feels less like “creepy bad guy mansion” and more like “Disney’s Haunted Mansion”. Actually, the Haunted Mansion might be scarier.
The film is certainly fun and, hey, if you’re easily pleased like me and you just came to watch Pratt snark and to see dinosaurs eating people or raptors being both vicious and adorable, you’ll have a good time no doubt. It’s not terrible and it’s not amazing. If you liked the first then you’ll like this one fine. Maybe not as much, but you’ll like it fine.
Is Incredible 2 worth it after a 14 year wait? Honestly, I guess it depends on how much you love the original. It’s got a lot of the same stuff and a lot of that stuff is still good. There’s dazzling action set-pieces that are set up and executed with all that lovely Pixar flair, the subplot of the family adapting to baby Jack Jack’s powers makes for some of the film’s biggest laughs, and the main plot’s focus on making supers legal again parallels today’s political climate in more ways than one. All the characters, both major and minor, are as fun as ever, though fan favorites Edna and Frozone still leave you wanting more.
The only bad thing I can really say about the film is that it just doesn’t feel like it offers up much compared to the original and other Pixar sequels. I know, I know, it’s a kid’s movie at heart but Pixar has always been about making movies that strike kids and adults a like. The Toy Story sequels all felt like they grew larger in scale and tackled different issues and explored backgrounds of other characters, especially Woody in 2. Monster University focused more on Mike and Finding Dory was more about Dory (obviously). I felt like all these movies had something both new and familiar to offer up, whereas Incredibles 2 just feels familiar. Sure, they put put Helen/Elastigirl in the forefront and have her do must of the superhero stuff this time around while Bob/Mr. Incredible goes all Mr. Mom. But characterwise we don’t really get anything new out of any of these scenarios.
I promise this isn’t a negative review; I attribute all of the above paragraph to lofty expectations. At the end of the day, Incredibles 2 is a still fun superhero film that fans of the original will love and young kids will love even more. Hollywood may be superhero central nowadays, but this one still finds its time to shine.
Sidenote: the preceding short film Bao is absolutely adorable and made me want dumplings.
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
I spent the last two months blasting through The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, the book that everyone told me that, as a fantasy lover/writer, I absolutely had to read it, that it’s set to be the next Game of Thrones. Hell, a quote of praise inside the book itself said that this should be shelved next to The Lord of the Rings.
So, is it actually good? Yes, it is very good. Great, actually. Best modern fantasy book? That’s gonna come down to personal preference.
For the unfamiliar, the book is a story within a story. Our main character Kvothe (pronounced “quothe”) sits down with a few characters to tell his life’s story, as he’s something of a legend in this world. The story is told mostly from a first-person perspective and switches to third-person during “interludes”, usually so Kvothe can clarify some part of his story or because of some present day interference (think The Princess Bride). There’s also a few instances of a story within a story within a story, which may sound like some kind of Inception type shit, but is really just a way of fleshing out the mythology of the world. None of these transitions are ever jarring mostly because they aren’t very frequent. Normally, I’m not big into first-person fantasy stories; they tend to involve a lot of info-dumping and sometimes it’s hard for me not to view the protagonist as a self-insert character when they’re constantly doing amazing things. Luckily, the info-dumping isn’t a problem as the framing device of the story gives a reason for things to be explained or for certain legends and myths to be told. There were one or two eye-rolling precocious child moments (Kvothe’s story, naturally starts with him as a boy and he’s amazingly gifted) but these counteracted by the “legend versus the man” narrative, and I did have sympathy for him. As a result, Kvothe ends up being a rather fun protagonist to hang around with: he’s clever and resourceful, but also young and stupid at times.
The world building is laser focused in this volume, and that’s welcoming. When you have a series like A Song of Ice and Fire a.k.a. Game of Thrones where the book jumps back and forth between different characters in different regions, it can be a lot to keep track of. In Name, the world slowly opens up one step at a time with a single character, allowing the various settings to come alive whether it’s a sprawling, cruel city in the middle of winter or a warm, friendly inn. Music plays a large role in the world as well and helps to flesh out the culture of the world. In this regard I think Name is most similar to The Lord of the Rings, which boasted a hefty amount of poems and songs. Also, my god, Rothfuss has some fantastic prose. Seriously, I’m more of a dialogue guy but Rothfuss makes me want to be better at writing prose.
There is more to the story than just Kvothe’s story; during the prologue, the aforementioned interludes, and the epilogue it’s clear that something big is brewing in the background, but I’ll be damned if I have any idea what it is. This, combined with the small chunk of the story Kvothe has told thus far, has me wondering how in the hell Rothfuss is going to finish this story in just two more volumes. It just seems like there’s so much more that’s going to/needs to happen. Sure, the books might get longer (Name clocks in at a little over 700 pages, which feels somewhat breezy for an epic high fantasy book) but you can only make them so long before they start having to bleed over into additional books.
The Name of the Wind really is one of the better high fantasy books out there. It’s vibrant, gorgeously written, not overloaded with world-building, not overly dark, and leaves you hungry for the rest of Kvothe’s story. If we’re talking best fantasy book today, I’m still more of a fan of Sanderson’s works, but that’s neither here nor there. Go pick this up and give it a read so you can be ready when the TV series/film/video game comes out.
Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín
I like to step out of my comfort zone every now and again and this book has been sitting on the shelf for a while, so I thought I’d try to breeze through it.
13 Reasons Why Season 2
I’m…not terribly excited about this. Season 1 was decent enough but I question the need for a new season. It’s been alright so far but if I get to the end of this season without some good payoff I don’t know if I’ll show up for a season 3 (if there is one).
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch)
I got a Switch! And I repurchased BOTW so I can play it on the go. So I’m starting from scratch, but I’m not at all mad about it.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of War (Xbox One)
Finally going back to this after an extensive detour. Man, building an orc army and seize a fort is so fun that I almost want to just ignore the story.