Friday, June 29, 2012

Ethereal Architect - Monolith Album Review

Ethereal Architect gave us their self-released debut album Dissension way back in 2007. At that time, despite some of the album's shortcomings, I saw a lot of promise. Now that the band has had five years to put together their sophomore follow-up, again a self-released effort, have they found a way to extract their potential and grow as a band? Well… maybe…

What's striking to me is that Monolith is very similar to Dissension. The band have not made a departure from their progressive metal roots, but by staying so close to what they've already done I feel like the five year wait was overlong. This could have been released a year after their debut, or even a week after, as it is so similar. This isn't necessarily a huge detraction, but it does lead to some slight disappointment, especially after such a lengthy wait.

Barring this lack of progression, you'll still find a very solid and well put together progressive metal album with shades of power metal and solos a-plenty. This time around some of the power metal leanings are a bit more pronounced, mostly in the progressions of some of the songs. Take "Oceans," for example, and follow its patterns of acoustic guitars setting the stage (and providing some accentuating touches throughout), the very melodic structure of the song, and the concluding soloing fadeout into falling rain. These are all very power metal oriented traits, but executed with a bit of a prog metal feel.

As mentioned in my review of Dissension, Ethereal Architect's David Glass rips out riffs and solos galore, and that has not changed one bit here. There are still many meaty riffs to be found, some with a definite thrash metal bend, but most staying in the traditional metal realms, while the solos continue to be flashy, but not to the point of feeling excessive or gratuitous. There is even a bit of flamenco in "Mercury" which caught me a bit off guard. It's the small flourishes like this and the choral vocals at the beginning of "Revolutions" that show the band thinking about pushing their boundaries, but not wanting to stray too far from what they know.

Adam Contreras is still solid vocally, but does try to push his range a bit more this time around, sometimes feeling a tad strained when reaching for the higher notes. This doesn't happen often and he drives the songs forward when he needs to, but also disappears at the right times to let the rest of the band strut their stuff.

At the end of the day, Ethereal Architect are a cut above the majority of the unsigned bands out there. They've polished their production, they've created interesting songs, they're extremely solid musicians, and they've stuck with it for more than half a decade (which is longer than most flash-in-the-pan bands you see today). Hopefully Ethereal Architect get their big break soon. They're ready for it.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Vampires Everywhere! - Hellbound and Heartless Album Review

Some days I wonder what it must be like to be a poor, depressed, unliked teenager in today's high school environment. I'm assuming it must be light years worse than when I was in high school (which is the late 90's if you're curious). No doubt when Rachel won't talk to Billy because he's weird it must be so much tougher on Billy today than 15 years ago, and when you don't get a date to the prom it must be even more devastating than it used to be. At least I'm assuming things must be worse based solely on the popularity of bullshit bands like Vampires Everywhere being popular with the teenage, depressed, melodramatic, sad crowd. I can't imagine how bad things must be getting that kids would actually choose to lock themselves in their room, cover themselves in faux-goth makeup, and listen to this contrived Marilyn Manson rip-off crap.

The more I listen to this album, the more I imagine this is the soundtrack that spoiled suburban kids probably use to feel "edgy" or to piss off their anesthesiologist mom and VP of sales dad while complaining about how hard they have it living in a gated community where they have nothing better to do than listen to Hellbound and Heartless in their room on their parents' hand-me-down "old" Bose stereo. It doesn't go nearly loud enough to play crystal clearly through the door of his own private bathroom. Life is so hard!

Even disconnecting myself from that imagery, I can't disconnect from the fact that this is nothing more than a deliberate, cheap, rip-off of what Marilyn Manson did 15 years ago. The pseudo-satanic song titles and anti-government, anti-cool-kids, anti-popularity, anti-anything lyrics? Done better. The industrialized metal riffs? Done twice as good before the members of this band could even contemplate playing instruments. Hell, if you can listen to "Kiss of Death" once through and tell me it's not 100% derivative of Manson (if not outright copied), I will slap you in the face, kick you in shins and call you a filthy liar.

Vampires Everywhere steal absolutely everything from the Manson playbook; this includes their look (which is as pathetic as it is contrived) as well as going for a industrial-goth cover song to include on their album. In this case, they rape "Rape Me" from Nirvana. Do we need to keep going? If you don't get the picture by now that you'd be doing yourself a disservice by even thinking about turning your ear towards this band then, frankly, you must have a truly horrible life and I honestly feel sorry for you.

Ok… one last appeal to anyone on the fence, especially if you're a teenager with a still developing musical palette… I'm going to be as blunt as I can…

This. Album. Is. Awful.

Is that clear enough? I really hope so. If not, I fear for today's youth.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Collaboration in the Cloud Book Review

Everyone is talking about "the cloud," but what is it really and how does it apply to today's IT landscape. And how does it make things better? How does it facilitate collaboration? If you haven't at least talked about how the cloud could fit into your IT organization, you're falling more behind than you should be.

It's pretty well established that collaboration is of utmost importance in today's businesses where teamwork is key and making collaboration as efficient and friction-free as possible. The biggest tool that is aiding collaboration is the concept of the cloud and, from it, the proliferation of social that it enables.

This book, while presenting a superb overview of the topics in its title, doesn't really bring anything paradigm shifting to the table. What it does is gather into one book all of the disparate topics that are somehow related to cloud revolution.

If you're a new IT professional or someone with an inkling about what you or your company can do technologically to help become more social and collaborative, this is a perfect starting point for you. Experienced IT professionals should already have this all filed away in your brain's knowledge locker by now.

If interested, you can download the book in pdf form here.

View all of my Goodreads reviews

Monday, June 18, 2012

Lions Lions - To Carve Our Names Album Review

The members of Lions Lions certainly have plenty of experience, already having released one album and a couple of EPs together and then having individually been a part of Vanna, Therefore I Am, The Jonah Veil, and A Loss for Words. Their full length debut in 2009, From What We Believe, gave us an inkling of what the band was capable of, but seemed unpolished and a bit rough around the edges. The pacing didn’t feel quite right. The vocals were a bit overproduced. There were some subpar tracks. But you also had some stellar songs, catchy choruses, and the building blocks needed for a breakout album.

Three years later they've offered up To Carve Our Names, but they have yet to fully rectify the issues from their debut and have actually introduced a few more elements that are holding the band back. It's clear that they are striving to fit into the current post-hardcore landscape, yet somehow want to stand out from everyone else. What they don't realize is that to stand out they need to eschew the conventions of the genre that they end up so heavily relying upon. Their Beloved-lite mixed with Saosin approach is still the bedrock that every song is built upon, but what they build on top of it isn't always making use of the best materials.

There don't appear to be any real systemic problems with the album (other than being slightly bland overall). Lions Lions know how to create a solid post-hardcore song that is competent and well put together. However, at times they try to put some flourishes into their songs that simply don't work. There's the occasional metalcore breakdown tossed into a song, along with some harsh vocals, seemingly only to attempt to show they can be heavy. It doesn't suit them all that well, but isn't as horrible as some straight-up metalcore bands. Then there's the slight pushing of the clean vocals into higher ranges, which comes off as unnecessarily forced and somewhat uncomfortable. There's no reason to go there. And the acoustic track? I know they've done acoustic numbers before, but it just doesn't fit. At least it's at the end of the album so you can skip it.

With all that being said, there is still that glimmer of promise shining through most of the songs, which might make the frustrating moments seem all that more frustrating. Lions Lions seem capable of much more than what they've created thus far. I'm hesitant to say that they'll reach their potential in the future as they seem to be floating a bit aimlessly at the moment, but I'll try to be optimistic and believe they'll get things clicking the next time around.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Always Engaged: My Natural State

In recent weeks I've had a few conversations with both friends and coworkers about the enjoyment of peace, quiet, and the calm that comes from doing nothing. The genesis of these conversations were rooted around my seeming inability to be, in any way, not in motion or unengaged. I always find myself amazed with everyone's ability to simply... be. Whereas my natural state of existence is to be... doing something.

Looking at my average day, there's not a moment that I'm not plugged, doing something, listening to something, reading something, talking to someone, doing work, doing chores, doing something. If I try to sit for just a moment, I'm overcome with a myriad of thoughts about what I could be doing. "Stop sitting there and watching the grass grow, Rick. You still haven't finished that book you started and you could probably go for a run or maybe you should go check out the latest episode of Bob's Burgers, but then again you haven't done this quarter's bookwork for the LLC and you might want to send those few follow up emails you were getting around to...." is all my constantly churning brain can think about when I'm "doing nothing."

For me it's hard to imagine sitting still when there's so much to do and so many ways to multi-task! Taking the dog for a walk? Well, I'll throw on some podcasts I've been meaning to listen to. Some new post-rock albums to listen to? Might as well crack a book while I'm listening. Hockey game on tv? I'll brew some homemade beer while I'm watching.

This is my mindset. And I love it. I enjoy constantly being engaged. If there were ever a poster-child for the always-connected, always-on, always-multi-tasking generation... I'm it! I know it frustrates my wife to some degree since I'm always in a state of motion and can't sit still, but downtime equals wasted time in my head. There's simply so much to do, so much to take in, and so much I can experience every day that I can't help but feel like I need to cram as much in as possible. We've only got so many days on this planet, right? And there's no do-overs last time I checked. So I want to take in as much as I can every day.

And why am I writing this? Because I finished putting my laundry away, wrapped up the latest Bugle podcast, walked the dog, and didn't know what to do next. I hadn't blogged in a while, so figured I'd do that. Now I'm off to hit up the post office to mail some stuff and then I'll grab a book and read on the deck while it is still bearable outside. And then I have the whole day ahead of me. Let's do this!

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

The First 10 Pounds Were Easy...

It was a few months back that I set a goal to myself to drop 25 pounds. Over this past winter, I found myself weighing the most I ever have in my life (around 225 lbs), was feeling frustrated when I exercised, and had stopped even trying to manage what I eat. It wasn't a good combination. I was out of shape, I knew it, and it pissed me off. So I told myself I'd change. Unfortunately just telling myself to lose weight didn't work. Instead I found out I actually had to change my habits.

Once I actually got in the mindset to do something about the round shape I was taking, I decided I needed to track my weight closely and do so over time. To do this I bought a good scale that measures to the 1/5 of a pound accurately and found a good weight tracking app for my phone. I also made a commitment to myself that I'd at least try to stick with things for a while before outright giving up.

I started at 224.6 pounds. It was ugly. I felt horrible. I struggled to run much more than a mile. I was hungry. I just wanted to quit. However, I didn't. Since I was being tracked and held responsible, I was motivated to try, and try I did. Slowly but surely, I saw some of the weight coming off. I'd fluctuate back up every now and again, but the overall progress was downward. I was happy! It was working!

...that is, until it wasn't. As you can see from the graph, things started to level out and stay leveled out. I found that I started feeling like I deserved rewards for good workout. I justified eating a bag of Oreos or an entire pizza by knowing I'd just run a bit more tomorrow. But eventually I couldn't exercise enough to offset my diet that had reset to where it was before I started this project, which is to say in a really bad place.

So I'm stuck and frustrated. 2/5's of the way to my goal and behind schedule I am tempted to give up. I'm not horribly out of shape. I exercise 5-6 days a week and keep active, but my diet is what's killing me. I have no willpower and I love food that's terrible for me. How could I get past this seemingly impenetrable barrier?

Go public.

So here I am, admitting I suck at my diet, but also noting that I have made some effort. My exercise regiment is pretty solid. I feel more in shape. However, my diet has gotten worse the better my exercise program has gotten. 215 pounds is less than 224.6 pounds, but it's still not 200 pounds. My new goal is to be able to break this plateau, work hard, manage my diet, and check back in a few months down the line and say I'm at 200 pounds, or at least closer to it than now.

Let's meet back here in a couple months.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Rick's Discoveries Volume XXII

This is a pretty straight-forward Discoveries article. All 10 entries are heavy, hard-hitting, and focused on making you nod (or bang) your head. There is no diverging into post-rock, hip-hop, dubstep, alternative, or any of those "soft" genres. This time around it's only about smashing face and rocking out. That's it. Now go listen!

When Our Time Comes - Test the Waters

In most cases, I'm not a fan of EPs. It's easy to string together a couple good songs; making a full album that's engaging is tough. But when an EP is as good as this one, who gives a rip if you're only getting 4 songs? These 4 tracks are catchier than just about anything being put out today by your average Rise Records or Victory band. When Our Time Comes melds together the polyrhythmic style of djent bands like Periphery, the progressive rock sound of Dead Letter Circus, and the (high-quality) nu-metal leanings of Sevendust into one tight EP. These guys have officially planted themselves on my radar.

Reflections - The Fantasy Effect

I think I've finally exhausted myself on the standard djent sound. If bands aren't adding something to the mix I space out when listening. Thankfully Reflections add a significant amount of deathcore to the djent mix, as well as a few slight atmospheric tinges (they're not obvious, but accentuate a few songs). I hear a bit of Reflux throughout a few tracks, which is a refreshing throwback. The TesseracT influenced moments are very heavy in nature and give the guitars full focus. The occasional solo also keeps things from stagnating throughout the course of the album. All in all, this is a solid djent-core album.

The Dead Wretched - Anchors Down

I love the Australian music scene more and more every month. Here we have another solid band flexing their metalcore muscles. If you enjoy metalcore in the least, you're going to get a kick out of this album. And don't worry, this isn't any of that trendy mallcore metalcore bullshit that you find being pushed by the likes of Rise Records; it's simply a solid album that would fit alongside efforts from the best of Facedown's roster. The only weakness I see is the sometimes spotty clean vocals. With a little work, though, I think they can easily iron that out.

Sirena - The Past that Haunts You

So I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Rise Records and their breed of artists. Mostly, I guess, I hate that I love some of their bands. They have been able to, as a label, create a "sound" that's very distinctly associated with them. Because of this you usually know exactly what you get with any band that signs to their label. Sirena isn't a band on Rise's roster, but I'll be damned if they wouldn't fit in perfectly. They have the deathcore breakdown infused melodic metalcore pegged perfectly. Think The Air I Breathe mixed with some Of Mice & Men or The Color Morale.

New Vegas - Overseer

How do I classify this EP? I suppose it's technically a post-hardcore album, but it's a very progressive style of post-hardcore with songs that often take their time getting where they want to go (5 of the 7 songs are 5 minutes or longer). I hear elements of Hands, Dead Poetic, La Dispute andThrice throughout the course of Overseer. These guys really want to hit a lot of emotional notes, often succeeding, but at times it feels a bit overwrought. Still, the depth of this EP is really something to behold. The earnestness of many of the songs shows a band passionate about what they're creating.

Lithium Dawn - Aion

Because djent has become so popular lately, many people (including myself) have often started just assuming that when a band says they're "progressive metal" what they really mean is "djent." Lithium Dawn are progressive metal, but they're probably only 30-40% djent-y. Yes, some tracks such as "Destroyer" lean heavily in the djent direction, but there are just as much Tool, Dream Theater, and Porcupine Tree influences to be found as there are from TesseracT. It's this conscious effort to stay decidedly in the traditional prog arena while only utilizing djent influences from time to time that makes Aion stand out from all of the rest of the "progressive metal" albums I've listened to lately.

Nott - Devouring Deities

Devouring Deities is a single 22 minute song, but is broken up into 5 tracks for those of you with short attention spans. When taken as a single composition, you have a very well constructed progressive metal (in this case, read that as saying "djent") song that has a solid helping of progressive death metal leanings (mostly in the vocal department). There's obviously some nods to Meshuggah throughout, but it's not as blatant as you'd imagine. Definitely give this EP a shot as it shows a lot of promise from a new, ambitious artist.

Atoma - Skylight

I can almost guarantee you that you'll find this album on my top 10 list at the end of this year. It's an album you can throw under the progressive metal umbrella, but it is so much more than that. Even though that is the template loosely used by the band, they coat it with hefty use of post-rock (in the vein of God Is an Astronaut), lots of atmosphere, achingly beautiful vocals, tasteful electronics, and symphonic elements. There's not really a band to compare Atoma to. You could maybe think of them as an amalgamation of Katatonia, Dream Theater, Anathema, and the aforementioned God Is an Astronaut. You'll be hard pressed to listen to anything similar to this album this year. It is truly a unique experience.

Ne Obliviscaris - Portal of I

Yes, we have yet another "progressive metal" album in this Discoveries article, but Ne Obliviscaris takes things in yet another direction, though.Portal of I is a showcase for sprawling, epic, moving songs that encompass a myriad of subgenres from folk metal to black metal to technical metal to even a bit of blackglaze. And, just for the hell of it, why not toss in a violin? Portal of I is the shining offspring of a love affair between My Dying Bride, Agalloch, Opeth, and Borknagar (yeah, imagine what that four-way must have been like…). Much like Atoma, expect to see this on some year end lists.

Appollonia - Crimson Shades

I can't help but imagine that Appollonia sound a lot like what Mastodon might have sounded like during their Leviathan era if they added a bit more sludge to their sound. Crimson Shades has no shortage of distorted, buzzsaw riffs and they're complemented nicely by the combination of screamed out, yelled, and clean vocal approaches. The wall of sound that Appollonia creates is quite deafening at times, so make sure you're prepared for the assault they'll perform on your ears.