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The Good Bits: June 2018

God, I feel like I have more and more to write about every month.

Music:

Ghost, Prequelle

ghost

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 MelioraPrequelle 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

GD30OB2-N.cdr

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 and ardor

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, Desolation

khemmis

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.

 

Film:

Hereditary

Hereditary

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

jurassic world 2

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 JediTFA, 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.

Incredibles 2

incredibles 2

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.

Books:

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

name of the wind

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.

Currently Reading:

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

brooklyn

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.

Currently Watching:

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).

Currently Playing:

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.

 

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The Good Bits: May 2017

I didn’t get to see all the movies I wanted to in May, but what I did see was pretty great.

 

Music:

Artificial Language, The Observer (Self-Released)

artificial language

Artificial Language’s The Observer is, simply put, one of the best debut albums I’ve had the pleasure of hearing. I’m always on the hunt for newer bands pushing out new material on platforms like Bandcamp and self-releasing their own material, and Artificial Language is another delightful discovery in the field of unsigned prog rock/metal. The band’s sound can be compared to that of Between the Buried and Me or Leprous, but it certainly isn’t playing copycat. The piano/keyboard work of Jonathon Simpson forms the backbone for the band’s sound, either propelling the music forward or lulling around in beautiful interludes on each song. That’s not to say the rest of the band are slouches; the technical ability of the band is evident but not overstated with guitar and drum flourishes that flow together all the way through the album from the more straightforward tracks like “These Aren’t Mirages” to the eight minute finale “Turn Off the Pictures”. Vocalist Shay Lewis’ performance stands out in particular with a powerful and captivating voice that ties the whole package together. Cohesive and clean are the two words I would use to primarily describe this album overall. If you’re at all a prog fan, get on these guys. And even if you’re not, give them a try anyway.

 

Film:

Alien: Covenant

AlienCovenant

I’m a relative latecomer to the Alien franchise. I saw Aliens so long ago that I don’t remember much other than I liked it. But last year I watched the very first entry Alien, which made me slap my hand to my forehead and wonder why the hell I’d put these movies off for so long. I even enjoyed the polarizing Prometheus which, while not a perfect movie by any means, offered an enjoyable sci-fi aesthetic and allusions to mythology. So far, Alien: Covenant appears to be as divisive as its predecessor, and a lot of that has to do with the film’s goal of explaining the origins of the Xenomorph, the titular Alien. Fans and reviewers have deemed this part of the story unnecessary or that it takes away from the Alien being terrifying (though I think Alien Vs. Predator had already done that). While I understand this sentiment and why it would impact someone’s enjoyment of Covenant, I had a great time watching this film.

I’ll say right off the bat that Covenant isn’t really full of surprises. If you’ve seen any other Alien film (or any horror film for that matter) you’ll be waiting for the film to hit certain notes and beats as it moves along. That doesn’t make the film bad, mind you. In fact, I feel like the film’s familiarity plays into its favor as it is essentially marrying the horror and action of the earlier films to the story and themes of Prometheus. You get Michael Fassbender waxing philosophic and being generally creepy like in the previous film, and then you watch Xenomorphs bursting out of people and ripping them apart, just like old times. It all cumulates with a two-part showdown against the Xenomorph, including a thrilling action sequence as the crew attempts to escape the planet.

Speaking of Fassbender, he’s as captivating as ever while playing two different androids: David (from Prometheus) and Walter (a crew member of the Covenant). Scenes with these characters together are certainly the acting highlight of the film. Katherine Waterson does a solid job continuing the series’ tradition of a strong female lead, especially during the action-packed climax. The pleasant surprise here is Danny McBride as the pilot of the Covenant with a comedian-doing-dramatic acting turn that feels so natural that I’ll be hoping to see him in the next installment. And I am looking forward to another installment, which looks to be getting started soon. I got the sci-fi horror/action that I wanted from Alien: Covenant, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

 

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword 

King Arthur

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword has more in common with A Knight’s Tale than it does with the Arthurian legend. Whether or not this is a bad thing is going to depend on how much you care about the source material being messed with. For my part, I enjoyed the film for what it is: a stylish romp spearheaded (swordheaded?) by the ever charismatic Charlie Hunnum that might not get the sequel it was clearly planning for, but at least makes for a fun fantasy action film.

As I said, the film plays it fast and loose with its source material, but at this point there’s been so many different iterations of the legends that I’m not sure how valid of a complaint it is anymore. Sure, some things left me scratching my head a bit (why am I hearing about a character named Mordred already?) but when you realize that director Guy Ritchie is essentially taking his approach to Sherlock Holmes and applying it to King Arthur things fall into place. Nowhere is this more evident than in the character of Arthur himself, a street-smart incredibly ripped man who unwittingly reveals his birthright when he happens upon Excalibur (which doubles as the Sword in the Stone in this version). He feels like a modern man who is flawed, reluctant to take the throne, and full of grit rather than a kingly resplendence. So, a bit like Jax Teller from Sons of Anarchy. There isn’t even a Guinevere for him to mack on (yet) or a Merlin to teach him wisdom, and it makes for an interesting change rather than see the same old progression. Jude Law also has a good turn as Vortigern, a villain who does shitty things to win and get his people to love him, never stopping to think that he should just try to not do shitty things. The rest of the cast features familiar faces and makes for a fun collective. The female lead only known as the Mage (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey) adds an intriguing level of magic to the world and it’s fun to watch her interact with Arthur and not take any of his shit.

The action is pretty solid throughout, fast in pace, and full of stylish visuals, especially when Arthur wields Excalibur, which almost turns into a video game Matrix-like sequence. The only real misfire is the final battle, which is lacking in contrast and suffers from some muddy visuals that make it difficult to tell exactly what’s going on. So yeah, you’re not going to get your shiny, dramatically told retelling of Arthur in this film and that’s going to rub some people the wrong way. But if you accept that early on, you can expect a fun time.

 

Books:

Lirael by Garth Nix

Lirael

The second book in The Old Kingdom series was described to me as mainly consisting of exposition and build-up with all the action being saved for the third book, Abhorsen. So basically I was being warned that it might be boring. And yet, I didn’t find that to be the case. While Lirael isn’t a complete tale full of forward action like its predecessor Sabriel, the enjoyment comes from spending time with fleshed out characters walking about in the expanded world of the Old Kingdom.

The story takes place fifteen to twenty years after the first book and focuses on two new protagonists: Lirael, a shy young girl, and Sameth, son of Sabirel, hero of the first book. Nix takes his time in helping the reader get to know these two characters, a different pace from Sabirel. Whereas Sabriel was a fairly competent protagonist with only a little background at the start of her book, Lirael and Sameth take a bit more time to grow and learn. While this means that things are slow to start, it all becomes worth it when you watch plots begin to unfold and find out that you correctly predicted a twist just pages before its reveal. And because most of this book was build-up, that means the next book is going to deliver some satisfying downward action.

 

Currently Reading:

Abhorsen by Garth Nix

Abhorsen

I had originally planned to read something short in between Lirael and Abhorsen, but considering the book takes place like five minutes after its predecessor, it seemed better to keep the train rolling.

 

Currently Watching:

Daredevil Season 2

Well, technically I’ve finished watching this but it was mine and my fiancée’s show of choice on our mornings off. First season had a little more polish to it, but the addition of the Punisher and Elektra were more than enough to deliver a satisfying second season.

 

American Gods

The only bad thing about this show is that all the people I’ve told to go watch it can’t because they don’t have Starz. If you have Starz and you need a new show, watch it.

 

Currently Gaming:

Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (Xbox One)

I have too many games to play, so this one is near the top of my list for trying to complete first. Luckily, it’s an amazing game.

 

Mass Effect: Andromeda (Xbox One)

It’s impressive how I can sink three hours into this game just on one planet alone. The only thing that soured my experience was a glitch or two.

 

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Wii U)

This is one game I am in no rush to beat. Getting lost in this world is such a joy.

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The Good Bits: April 2017

Woo, boy. April was packed, particularly on the musical front.

Music:

Ghost Bath, Starmourner(Nuclear Blast)

ghost bath

You may recall that on my Top 10 Albums of 2015 Redux post I reiterated how much I loved Ghost Bath’s sophomore full length Moonlover. It’s not only my favorite album from that year, but it’s become one of my favorite albums of all time. Since then the band has had a growth spurt in popularity that includes touring the world and re-releasing Moonlover on a major label. Now the band’s follow-up Starmourner has to contend with the success of its much loved predecessor. Does it stack up? Short answer: Yes.

Ghost Bath’s music typically revolves around depressive melancholic themes, and while Starmourner still retains some of those themes, the over concept and sound of the album feels a bit…lighter? It’s focused more on astral themes rather than straight up misery and lots of the songs are in major key. That’s not to say that the album isn’t heavy; “Ambrosial” and “Thrones” are probably the two heaviest songs on the album featuring the familiar blackgaze riffage and soundscapes the band is known for. In fact, this is probably the most riff focused the band has sounded yet, which I’m a bit mixed on. Some riffs on songs like “Thrones” are driving and vicious before diving into broad melodic passages, but others “Luminescence” didn’t keep me quite as captivated.

This doesn’t prevent the album from still being great, however. In fact, I applaud the band for writing an album that sounds different from their first two while still retaining their signature sound. Starmourner may also be a good place to start for newcomers or for people who’ve tried to listen to Ghost Bath but couldn’t get past the shrieking vocals (which I felt took more of a backseat on this album). As far as follow-ups to masterpieces go, Ghost Bath have done an admirable job of both continuing and evolving their sound on their third album, seamlessly weaving heavy riffs and emotional textures together for another stellar record.

 

He Is Legend, few (Spinefarm)

he is legend

I’m a latecomer to He Is Legend. I haven’t really listened to their earlier material and came on board sometime after the band reunited and produced 2014’s Heavy Fruit, an album I enjoyed for a few spins and then didn’t really think about it again until I saw that the band had put out a new album. So I shrugged and threw on few for a listen and came away having a pretty good time. The album sounds like a deceptively straightforward hard rock album, which it is in some ways, but the well-crafted songs add a layer of depth your average active rock radio single doesn’t have. Meaty riffs paired with standout vocals from Schuylar Croom create catchy numbers like “Air Raid”, but the band takes a detour here and there like on the goofy, blusey fun of “Fritz the Dog”. This is probably the most accessible album I’ve listened to in a while that isn’t instrumental.

 

Persefone, Aathma (ViciSolum)

persefone

I slept on this one for a bit. It popped up on my radar right before its initial release (February) and I didn’t get around to it until earlier in April. But woo boy am I glad I finally checked it out. I’ve said before that some newer prog metal albums get a bit too technical and end up boring me as a result. That’s not the case with Persefone and their fifth album Aathma, which is the finest prog metal album I’ve heard so far this year. From the get-go you know that Persefone are virtuosic players, but they thankfully put composition before everything else, choosing to use their chops as a garnish rather than the main course. The album moves seamlessly from one track to the next with graceful piano interludes before spiraling into death metal madness.

It’s hard not to think of prog metal legends like Dream Theater and Cynic when listening to this album, but I’m not saying that Persefone are derivative by any means. Rather, they evoke the same feelings I have for those aforementioned bands and their great musical works. They stack up to those bands and stand a head above other bands that are just trying too hard to sound deep and complex. I’ll definitely have to check out more of Persefone’s earlier material once I’m done wearing out Aathma.

 

Astralia, Solstice (Aloud Music)

astralia

Last summer I discovered Astralia and gave them a write up, heralding them as my musical savior when it comes to instrumental post rock that helps me focus when writing. That album, Atlas, was two years old at the time, and I wondered if they’d put out anything new in the near future. And they did. Solstice is the band’s third release and it’s just as good as its predecessors. The songs are a bit longer this time around typically ranging from 8 1/2 to 9 minutes, but you’ll be so enraptured by the band’s soothing and emotional soundscapes that the album will be over before you know it. The opener “Exhale” is an excellent summation of all that you would expect from Astralia, so if you didn’t check them out the last time I wrote about them, now is as good a time as any.

 

Film:

Split

split

If you’ve been following me for the past few months, you’ll know I haven’t watched many M. Night Shyamalan films and that I only just watched The Sixth Sense last October. Admittedly, part of this has to do with Shyamalan’s preceding reputation for dumb plots built around hokey twists. And yet, Split makes for an effective thriller with one hell of a performance by James McAvoy and an equally impressive lead with Anya Taylor-Joy (who also starred in The Witch).

While the hook of having a villain with Dissociative Identity Disorder might be considered dumb or even offensive to some, I thought the film handled it more intelligently than expected. Kevin’s (McAvoy) psychologist stresses that he’s far beyond a textbook case of DID, viewing him as the key to unlocking the potential in all humans. If anything, despite doing some pretty terrible and creepy things, Kevin is almost made out to be more of a supervillain or antihero or at least a mutant (wink wink, nudge nudge). I don’t claim to be an expert on metal disability, let alone DID, but as far as stigmatization goes, Split isn’t the worst I’ve seen. If you go in understanding that this depiction of metal illness is more or less science fiction, then you’re fine. I won’t say much more, though the Internet has probably spoiled things for you by now, but if you’ve been on the fence about this one, I’d say go for it.

 

Books:

Sabriel by Garth Nix

Sabriel_Book_Cover

When I last wrote about Sabriel in my “Currently Reading” blurb, I mentioned that, at halfway through the book, I felt I’d only scratched the surface of the world of The Old Kingdom. After finishing the book, I still feel that way, but not in a negative sense. In fact, one of my favorite things about Sabriel is that I felt like there’s a whole world to explore with many things happening in it, but my experience was contained to one story that wasn’t interested in big info dumps or tedious world building. Nix simply introduces Sabriel and you follow her on a journey both mysterious and magical, and yet it sometimes reads like magical realism rather than straight-up fantasy. It’s refreshing and, although it’s the first in a trilogy, it tells a satisfying and complete story.

I went into the book without any real introduction (there’s no summational blurb inside or outside the book), but I think that was the right way to go, so I’m hesitant to say too much about the book lest any of you decide to read it. Basically, Sabriel is a teenaged girl who must venture into The Old Kingdom where magic is prevalent, but none more so than necromancy. But this isn’t simply a “raise a corpse and make some zombies” kind of necromancy. Death is very, very different in The Old Kingdom and reading about it is melancholic, chilling, but beautiful too.

There’s a few oddities in word choice and sometimes the focus on description gets a bit Tolkien-esque, but if you’re hankering for a fantasy book that doesn’t feel like a giant undertaking, I’d highly recommend Sabriel. You can potentially enjoy it as a standalone, but you’ll want dive back in after experiencing Nix’s fascinating world.

 

Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino

cosmicomics

A co-worker lent me this funny little book after I let her borrow Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. It’s a collection of short stories based on scientific theory with characters that are anthropomophisized mathematical formulae. If that sounds like it’s too over your head, it’s not as complicated as it sounds. For example, the first story, narrated by a being known as Qfwfq, talks about how “people” used to climb up to the moon and hang out on it before it started moving farther away from Earth. It’s all very whimsical and told in a stream of consciousness style that is sometimes hard to read, but many of the stories are genuinely funny. In my favorite, titled The Light-Years, a “person” spots a galaxy with a sign that reads “I SAW YOU”, and so he makes his own sign in reply knowing it’ll take 100 million years until the other “person” sees it. I laughed out loud during this and a few other stories, and any book that can get me to do that deserves recognition.

 

Currently Reading:

Lirael by Garth Nix

Lirael

After a brief detour with Cosmicomics, I went right to the next book in the Abhorsen trilogy. The story takes place fourteen years after Sabriel and is centered on a new protagonist. It’s about 200 pages longer than its predecessor, but when I actually found a stretch of time to read I breezed through the first 100 pages. We’ll see if I have this done by next month.

 

Currently Watching:

American Gods

If you haven’t read it, read it. If you don’t want to, watch the show anyway. It’s only one episode in, but damn good so far. Pining for Game of Thrones? This is your new replacement.

 

Currently Gaming:

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Wii U)

So much do. So little time.

Mass Effect: Andromeda (Xbox One)

My fiancée and I keep inching ahead of each other bit by bit.

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