Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Smartbomb - Diamond Heist CD Review

In the time it takes to type out this initial opening paragraph, over one third of Diamond Heist will have already played. As you can guess, this is far from a lengthy CD, with most songs clocking in around a minute and a half in length, and for as much as this keeps the release short and to the point, it is also what kills this album. There are so many good ideas being tossed around by Smartbomb, but rarely are any of them given enough space to become fully developed. Instead, songs come to a close just as they’re taking off, which is beyond unfortunate considering the band’s pedigree.

This three-piece, consisting of two members of No Trigger and one member of Shock Nagasaki, plays a style of punk that is definitely in the same vein as their other bands, but they slam their foot on the accelerator a bit harder. There’s no denying that playing fast and in your face is not a problem for the band. “Crucial Times” is the perfect example of what makes this band appealing (a raging 90’s Epi-Wreck slab of pulse-pounding punk), as well as what kills this album (a song that doesn’t necessarily go anywhere until it blends into the next track). If Smartbomb were to have combined “Crucial Times” and the next track, “Second View”, into one track it would have made for a diverse track that shows the band can do more than explore one singular element in a song.

The best section of the album comes later on in the form of the one-two punch of “PCH (Intermission)” and “Blood & Sand”. “PCH” takes its time to develop into a 3+ minute instrumental jam, letting the band actually make a transition or two between tempos and playing styles, which they do extremely well. “Blood & Sand” also stretches past the 2 minute mark and toys around with some vocal maneuvers that are unique to this track alone, namely using female backing vocals. To go with the feminine voice there is also a very bouncy and, dare I say it, poppy sound to the track.

However, after these two killer tracks, it is back to two more nondescript tracks that just plow ahead in the same manner as the first 7 songs of the album. To make matters worse, “My Wicked Mind” simply trails off to nothingness. I realize that it was a stylistic choice to go with the lyrics of the song, but it leaves the song feeling incomplete, coming off more so as an idea for a full fledged song rather than a completed musical effort.

Smartbomb have at times been referred to as simply “No Trigger’s side project”. For as much as this band wants to be more than that, they can’t crawl out from under the fact that Diamond Heist is little more than an underdeveloped, but well intentioned, imitation of the band members’ other bands. It’s not enough to have a lot of good ideas - you also need to know how to use them.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Miseration - Your Demons Their Angels CD Review

It’s hard to believe that this CD was recorded at the end of 2006, nearly 2 years ago, because it is very much in tune with the current death metal environment. Despite the length of time that has passed since then, Lifeforce Records is just now bringing Your Demons – Their Angels to Europe and the states. Miseration isn't just another melodeath group, but are instead a “supergroup” of sorts, consisting of only Jani Stefanovic of Divinefire and Christian Älvestam of Scar Symmetry. Jani plays all of the instruments while Christian is responsible for the vocal work, and despite having only two members in the recording studio, this album feels huge, no doubt in part to precise mixing, expert production, and the raw talent of both members of the band.

Obviously the first thing you’ll notice is the similarities to Christian’s other band, Scar Symmetry. Vocally, Christian sticks to his growling for the majority of the album, using melodic vocals very sparingly. This comes in stark contrast to Holographic Universe where he let his melodic vocals take center stage on a number of songs. Even with the limited use of his melodic vocals, you never find yourself yearning to hear more of them. Instead, the variations on his growling and guttural approaches provide each song with an identity of its own, but that’s not only his doing.

Jani, who is responsible for all of the instruments, shows off exactly how multi-talented he is. Drawing on strong influences from Scar Symmetry, Dark Tranquility, and heavier Opeth, Jani proves he can do it all. Now you all know exactly the type of melodic death metal that Miseration and the aforementioned bands play, so it would be a bold faced lie to say that somehow Jani and Christian have done something ground breaking and new, but it would not be a lie to say that they aren’t completely on top of their game.

There may only be nine tracks on the album, but each one is a solid slab of melodeath. There is your prerequisite long, brooding intro into pummeling, yet melodic, headbanger “World Lethality”. Then you have the extremely diverse track, “Chain-Work Soul”, which shifts gears from mid-paced melodic chorus to double bass pounding verse progressions. The closing track, “Scattering the Few”, is one of the more straight forward death metal songs and has a competently short and shred-worthy solo placed nicely in the middle. Oh, and don’t forget the album’s opener, “Thrones”, which is quite easily the most menacing track of the album. The buzzsaw riffs and precision drumming drive this song right through your skull.

Not too bad for a two man band, is it? Or for a side project either, eh? This is definitely one of the essential melodic death metal releases to hit the shelves this year. Crafting a melodeath album that goes beyond simply touching upon clichés is somewhat rare today. True, Miseration don’t completely sidestep delving into cliché-ridden territory, but when they do, they at least do it very competently.

Monday, October 06, 2008

That Bailout Bill...

...was supposed to help the broader market, right? But as I sit and watch the DOW, it's down 300-ish points and is about 15 points away from dipping below 10,000 points. I fear what would happen then, especially considering how much of the market movement is psychological right now. Everyone has jitters, everyone is on edge, and there's a fear that the bottom is ready to fall out at any moment.

It's painful to look at my brokerage account and retirement accounts. I don't mind the huge losses in the retirement accounts right now as I am confident they'll have increased plenty by the time I actually need to get to the funds, but my current investments in my brokerage account are hard to look at.

I wish I had the extra money to invest in more companies that are on the cheap because of the broad market kick to the pants that has been happening. It's a great time to get stuff on the cheap, but I'm not really willing, right now, to sell off some of my stakes in what I believe to be strong companies at a loss to move to others. There are a couple of stocks that I hold that I think have weaken since I bought them, but I think their share prices have been overly punished so I'm waiting for a little bit of a bump back before dumping. Any way you look at it, though, it's a rough market.

So anyone think we'll close below 10,000 today? I think it's very possible...

Friday, October 03, 2008

This Election

I'm starting to actually get worn out talking about politics. I think I'm too my breaking point. I can only encounter and debate a certain number of closed minded idiots before I want to resort to groin punching instead of talking. That point, I've pretty much reached.

I'm going to try to say only a limited amount about what I think of our choices, but even that is usually enough to incite someone to go on a tirade about how I'm obviously a moron. Anyhow, here's how I see things:

--Palin is sorely inexperienced, seems sort of dumb (from her interviews), but is nicely "folksy". She appeals to the everyday joe because she seems like "one of us". It makes people think that one of their own could be the VP. Well, honestly, I don't like the idea of "any one of us" being able to be VP. I wouldn't want a guy down the street as VP. I wouldn't want many of my friends as VP. Heck, I don't think I'd want myself as VP. The reason why is that I don't have any experience or a lot of knowledge about the decisions I'd have to make. Sure, I could armchair quarterback it, but that's not what I'd want someone doing. And with no track record in the Senate or House, we don't really know how she'd vote on different measures. She's an enigma right now, and I'm really scared that Palin could be making decisions for our country, no matter how nice she is or how good a pan of brownies she can make.

--Biden is an interesting character. He's knowledgable, yes, but he also likes to run his mouth off at times which can get him into trouble. He also has an air about him that gives off a vibe that he's too good to be just the VP, he should be the presidential candidate. Beyond that, however, I see him as an experienced, smart man who would (hopefully) make informed decisions, and also be passionate about those decisions.

--McCain is getting harder and harder to believe lately the way he changes his stances on topics and then twists, turns, contorts, and distorts things to make it seem like he's not really changing his mind, but clarifying what he said before and how it fits in with what he says now. He also seems a little impatient, which is most definitely a trait I would not want to see in a president. Yes, he has experience on his side, but he's made a lot of gaffes when talking about items, such as foreign policy, that he supposedly has so much experience with. His age can also be a factor, but I'm guessing that with the state of the health care industry and the fact that he'd get the best there was, there isn't really too much of a risk he'll kick the bucket while in office.

--Obama, I'll admit, is the most appealing person in the lot. He's a gifted speaker, has a very energetic outlook and approach, and also appears to be quite intelligent and knowledgable, even despite his limited experience. Obviously his downside is his inexperience, but in stark contrast to Palin (the other inexperienced person in this lot), he has a plan, is not afraid to answer questions directly, and will give specifics when needed. He sometimes may come off as aloof, but I don't think that is necessarily a bad thing all of the time. It shows that he is confident in his plan and wants to get into office to actually DO something.

As it stands, if the vote was tomorrow, I'd check the box next to Obama and Biden. I think they'll do so many more positive things for our country than McCain and Palin could.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

More Europe Pictures

Yeah, I know I haven't really talked about my vacation to Europe much, but at least there are pictures. It was a great time, despite half of my time in Europe being there for work. I'd love to go back and visit other parts of Europe beyond Italy and the Czech Republic, but unfortunately it's a little too expensive and our economy is a little too busy crapping all over itself to make it any easier to get over there.


Dammit, Twins. At least it was a good game to watch, although I wish we wouldn't have even had to see the playoff game at all. Unfortunately the Twins got themselves into the predicament they were in by having such a terrible slide at the end of the season. Losing 2 of 3 games to the Royals to end the season didn't help anything.

I'm sad to see the Twins go down since they're probably our only hope for a playoff team this year in Minnesota. The Timberwolves are a lost cause. The Vikings are going to have to pull their heads out of their asses to struggle into playoff contention. And the Wild will be ok, but I don't think they'll be able to make runs like they've been able to in past years.

On a plus note in baseball, I won one of my fantasy leagues that I played with Erik (aka: Johnny Huh). It was a pretty fun league to play in, but I thought for sure I was going to give up on it by mid-season since my team was fighting for lowest of the low of basement dwellers, but with a few moves, a turn around near the All-Star break, and then a huge breakout after the break I took first and never got close to even giving it up. Huzzah!

Now, with the Twins' season over, I can focus 110% on football and my fantasy teams.