Category Archives: Reviews

Anchored in Quality

Art by Sam Haney

Story By Daniel Anderson

As stated in the previously published review, progressive metal has been taking over independent labels recently due to the intricate and pristinely-made sound that bands of the genre typically produce. Bands such as Meshuggah and Periphery set a bar for the genre, known as djent, that many bands have since tried to copycat.

But as is for many genres, there is more than one way to skin a cat. Take Baroness for instance.

While still labeled as a progressive metal and rock act, this Savannah, Georgia based band has taken an opposite approach to the genre than most current prog acts. Instead of attempting to make their sound as clean and precise as possible, Baroness (as well as other contemporaries like Mastodon and Torche) combine the genres of sludge metal, alternative rock, and heavy psych into their sound.

It would seem that they have reaped the benefits from this. Since 2007, every new Baroness release (all color-coded, by the way) has been celebrated by the hard rock and metal communities. Their first two outings, The Red Album and Blue Record, were highly praised for their combination of heavy and compressed production of sludge with the technicality and finesse of prog rock.

In 2012, their double-album Yellow and Green, saw the band going in a more accessible direction. Despite still being well-received, these two remain a bit divisive among fans for going on that route. One could release the single “Take My Bones Away” in the mid-to-late 90s and it would be seen as another Foo Fighters-esque radio rock tune.

With their next release in late 2015, Purple, Baroness almost had a return to form. It served as a middle ground between their first two hard-hitting releases and the accessibility of Yellow and Green. The album was a tremendous success for the band, earning great sales, the adoration of fans and critics, and even a Grammy nod for the lead single, “Shock Me.” 

Because of this, it was no surprise that many, such as myself, were anticipating their newest release, Gold and Grey. And, unfortunately, opinions on the results have been split once again.

Like with Purple, it would seem Baroness is once again attempting to meld heaviness and accessibility. However, the accessibility has been slightly turned up a notch, perhaps not to the same level as Yellow and Green, but it is still a bit noticeable.

Should their approach be slightly tweaked, tracks such as “I’m Already Gone” and “I’d Do Anything” could probably released as pop rock ballads in the early 2000’s. 

Not to mention, there is also the tenth track, “Emmett – Radiating Light,” which comes across a Baroness’ attempt at an acoustic singer-songwriter track (like the poor man’s Mount Eerie or Sufjan Stevens). Yet the boring, deadpan vocals, and its inconsistency compared to the rest of the tracklist could make the listener question as to why the band would include this in the album at all. 

Speaking of which, one of the most irritating detractors of this record are the absurd amount of short, mostly-instrumental interludes it contains. Not only do most of them sound lazily composed, but they contribute nothing to this record in terms of pacing. If anything, these tracks all but kill the flow of the album.

Be not mistaken, this record may be laced with flaws in its tracklist, but that does not mean that Baroness went into this project without bringing some quality to the table.

Tracks such as “Tourniquet” and “Borderlines” demonstrate the fantastic songwriting, soaring vocals and tight instrumental composition that most people associate with this band. The thirteenth track, “Broken Halo,” which is a typical song by Baroness standards, is executed well enough to where it could be placed on the tracklist of Purple.

The eleventh track, “Cold-Blooded Angels,” particularly stands out among the other tracks by showcasing the band at their most dynamic. The track goes through numerous passages and transitions while still keeping up a top-notch vocal performance from frontman John Baizley.

Despite this, the most major misstep on this record prevented me from enjoying this album any further: the production.

For most, if not the complete duration, this album is absolutely plagued with a jarring amount of technical flaws. On the opening track, “Front Toward Enemy,” the guitars and the bass are mixed together in such a way that they sound as if they are falling over one another. Also, the drums get so lost in the mix that the cymbals are really the only parts that are noticeable.

Even worse, the vast majority of these tracks suffer from the same or similar issues in production. Perhaps the worst case of these drums comes about with the final track, “Pale Sun.” Not only is it unfulfilling for an album closer, but the cymbals near the end of the track border on being white noise.

On some tracks, the opposite issue is also present. With the third track, “Seasons,” the drums finally become noticable, but that comes at the cost of the guitars and bass, which are consequently buried beneath them. The latter is also drowned out significantly on “Borderlines.”

Issues with this album’s production could potentially continue for another few paragraphs, but underlying all of this is the most frustrating aspect to me: 

Baroness has never been known for being the best-produced band out there. The difference here is that the muddy and compressed mixing of previous efforts was a part of their charm. Purple, for instance, has a level of production that is almost as messy as what can be heard on Gold and Grey. But unlike this new release, Purple at least had a slightly gruffer approach in overall composition, so the mix compliments the album well enough.

Sadly, this is not the case for Gold and Grey. To have decidedly grimy production is one thing, but to dial it to a higher degree for a selection of songs that simply do not fit well with it is completely unnecessary.

This album could have been good, maybe even great when accounting for its highlights. What a shame that its greatest fault is something that could have been so easily prevented.

Standout Tracks:Tourniquet,” “Cold-Blooded Angels,” “Borderlines”

Score: 6/10   

Tracklist:

  1. Front Toward Enemy
  2. I’m Already Gone
  3. Seasons
  4. Sevens
  5. Tourniquet
  6. Anchor’s Lament
  7. Throw Me an Anchor
  8. I’d Do Anything
  9. Blankets of Ash
  10.  Emmet – Radiating Light
  11.  Cold-Blooded Angels
  12.  Crooked Mile
  13.  Broken Halo
  14.  Can Oscura
  15.  Borderlines
  16.  Assault on East Falls
  17.  Pale Sun

Listen: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=OLAK5uy_kqi3ECPn2xHvZh4_pKWD-DxvdQAKcT3QQ

 

Avengers: Endgame takes fans on emotional ride

Story by Eleni Pappas

It is finally here. The end of the road on a long journey spanning over a decade. In the aftermath of Infinity War, the surviving Avengers are left devastated with no hope. Now, the remaining heroes engage in a last-ditch effort to avenge the fallen, entering the final fight for the fate of the universe.

It has been 11 years since the first Iron Man (2008) came out, starting this incredible adventure for Marvel fans all over. Now, finally, Avengers: Endgame has arrived to finish what the cast and creators of Iron Man started all those years ago. Everything until now has been building up to this movie. Released April 25, the theaters flooded with fans, and has the biggest opening weekend ever.

The movie opens up with Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) just before Thanos’ snap, enjoying a day outside with his family. One moment, he is teaching his daughter archery while his wife and sons make hot dogs, and the next everyone but Barton is gone. Turned to dust. At this point, the audience is silent and the mood is somber. Then the scene shifts to Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), aboard a spaceship and stranded in space with only Nebula (Karen Gillan) for company. When they run out of resources and all hope seems lost, the one and only Captain Marvel comes to their rescue. Five years later Stark has moved on from the Avengers and everyone has lost all hope of bringing back the fallen. That is until Ant-Man/Scott Lang miraculously returns from the Quantum Realm with an insanely improbable plan that might just work.

For the audience, Endgame is a rollercoaster of emotions, having way more funny moments than anyone could have predicted. Many assumed the film would be dark and tragic, but it is amazing how seamlessly certain scenes went from laugh-inducing to tear-jerking and vice-versa in a matter of minutes. Every Avenger had their share of hilarious and dramatic moments, but overall the film retained a serious tone fitting for what fans are calling the end of an era. By the end of the movie, no one in the audience left the same as they first entered. There was hardly a dry eye in the theater. While the film still left some unanswered questions and audiences are split on whether the ending left them satisfied, altogether many can agree it was as epic a film as expected.

Directed by the Russo Brothers, Joe and Anthony, Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is finally complete with Endgame. For the audience, endings are always sad, but many look forward to the future of Phase 4. Endgame currently in theaters now.

 

Fans rain praise on The Umbrella Academy

Art By Sam Haney

Story By Eleni Pappas

A day beginning like every other ends with the world forever changed when something strange occurs to women all over the globe.

Dozens of mostly-single women conceive, carry, and give birth within a matter of minutes on the same day, at the exact same time. The children of these women are special in more ways than the circumstances of their instant birth and conception. Not only do they grow up to display miraculous abilities, but these children are destined to save the world.

It was a day beginning like every other — that is, until Netflix premiered “The Umbrella Academy” on Feb. 15. Based on the comic written by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba, who also serve as executive producers for the show, the series centers on the seven adopted super children of eccentric billionaire Sir Reginald Hargreeves. The show stars more than a few notable names, including Robert Sheehan (Misfits), Mary J. Blige (Mudbound), and Ellen Page (Juno).

The story opens up in the year 1989, with an anonymous narrator describing the inexplicable births of 43 children all over the world. Sir Hargreeves make it his mission to adopt as many of these children as possible and manages to find and adopt seven of them. He raises them in the Academy to train as heroes rather than live as kids, and only when he builds them a robotic mother are they given real names.

Number One is Luther (Tom Hopper), Two is Diego (David Castañeda), Three is Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), Four is Klaus (Sheehan), and Seven is Vanya (Page). In the present the unnamed Number Five (Aidan Gallagher), has been missing for many years after he used his time travel ability to disappear into the future. Number Six, Ben (Justin H. Min), is stated to be deceased, presumably murdered on a childhood mission.

In the present, all the siblings are now 30, estranged from each other and the team long disbanded. Each of them are messed up in their own unique ways due to the strange nature of their upbringing. The sudden death of Sir Hargreeves brings them back together for the funeral, but things remain highly tense between the siblings. However, they are reunited in a common purpose when Number Five returns from the future, still a boy, and informs the team that the world ends in eight days. At first they think he might be crazy, but it soon becomes clear the fate of the world lies in their less-than capable hands.

“The Umbrella Academy” is a smash hit, complete with deep and complex characters, dark humor, tear jerking moments, great acting, and an incredible soundtrack. The shows continuing plot mixes those from the first few volumes, but still honors the source material while standing on its own. Gallagher, who is only 15, has been picked out as one of the most impressive actors on the series. Sheehan is another fan favorite, with arguably the most compelling character exploration as the show draws on. Sheehan as Klaus made fans both laugh and cry, being a source of much comedy in the show while also playing an addict who uses to numb his ability to speak with the dead.

On the negative side, some fans are disgusted with the perceived incest within the show. Throughout the show it becomes obvious two of the Hargreeves children have romantic feelings towards each other, which have made certain viewers uncomfortable. Other fans have defended this by saying they are not real siblings, as they are adopted, and were not raised as such. Instead, fans say they were raised simply to fight alongside each other, but not as regular siblings. Either way, for some, the romance felt unnecessary and did not fit with the rest of the show.

Do they end up saving the world and stopping the apocalypse? To find out watch all ten episodes of “The Umbrella Academy” on Netflix.

 

The Door to Doom is Now Wide Open

Art by Sam Haney

Story By Daniel Anderson

The nation of Sweden is quite well versed in metal.

From Meshuggah to Opeth, Entombed to Amon Amarth, Bathory to Ghost, metal music has thrived in this country for decades. However mainstream or underground the names may be, the genre has remained popular nonetheless.Yet throughout this country’s layered history in the genre, few Swedish metal bands have ever been as revered as the doom-laden Candlemass.

Forming in 1984 in Stockholm by bassist and sole consistent member Leif Edling, Candlemass embarked on a distinct metal movement during the mid to late 80s, doom metal. It typically is not a very extreme form of the metal genre (some might even call it simplistic), but extremity is not what it needs to focus on. This genre is familiarized by its slow tempo, titanic riffs, and thunderous volume. In doing so, the overall sound produced gives off an ominous presence: one that gives the listener a sense of impending doom (hence the name).

Around the time of the band’s hay day, the genre of doom metal was viewed by many as a bastion of a sound that had been existent since the 70s (thanks to Black Sabbath, of course). Contemporaries such as Trouble, Saint Vitus and Pentagram had jumped onto the bandwagon of Sabbath worship.

Candlemass, however, changed that notion with albums like Epicus Doomicus Metallicus and Nightfall. Instead of the familiar stoner riffs of the decade prior, the band opted for grand production and a dramatic new sound for the genre— vocals and all. They had essentially turned doom metal into opera.

From then on, Candlemass kept turning the wheel for their newly updated genre (which they dubbed “epic doom metal”). Though this did not come without its faults. The band has consistently picked up and dropped its members like jacks, and hiatuses  were certainly not unheard of.

Despite all of that, Candlemass persisted. Time and time again, the band kept releasing albums which mostly garnered warm reception from critics and fans. But after their 2012 release Psalms for the Dead, Candlemass fell silent with their streak of albums.

There was no complete studio silence, though. In that time, they released two EPs, Death Thy Lover and House of Doom. However, with their fifth vocalist, Mats Levén, they lacked the truly operatic voice which had helped give the band its identity.

Once he was outed, the band once again needed someone to take the mantle of vocals. Much to the surprise of their fans, the original vocalist for the band, Johan Länqvist, decided to take on that role once again.

Thus, we now have Candlemass’ twelfth studio album, The Door to Doom. And what an excellent return to form it is.

With so many lineup changes in their discography, one might expect a band such as Candlemass to act dysfunctional, especially considering how long they have been doing this sort of thing.

Yet that is not what is on display here. Straight from the opening track, “Splendor Demon Majesty,” it becomes clear that Candlemass can still offer the devilish and melodic guitar lines, crushing production, and ominous vibes that made them beloved in the first place.

Längqvist’s vocals, while obviously aged, have fared much greater than most other long-running bands. Take the new recording of the track, “House of Doom,” for instance. While the excellent instrumentals have not changed much since last time, the more operatic tone that the vocals on the new version bring forth make the comparison between this and the original version seem like day and night. With one simple change, this band become instantly more recognizable.

The third track, “Astorolus – The Great Octopus” is perhaps the most outstanding example of fresh offerings on this album. While not as occult as many of the other songs in their discography, the Lovecraftian lyrics of an oceanic monstrosity certainly fill in the gap of ever-present evil just perfectly.

But most notable of all, this track features a winding guest guitar solo from the legendary Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi. Just knowing that this band has garnered the attention and collaboration of one of heavy metal’s most essential forefathers goes to show how far Candlemass has come since its inception.

However, straightforward doom and gloom is not all that is brought to the table here. There are several moments throughout this album which show that the band also has versatility under its belt. Instances such as the intro to the track, “Under the Ocean,” which has a psychedelic vibe comparable to that of Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter.”

That same vibe takes complete control on the fourth track, “Bridge of the Blind.” This track is a nice change of pace, basically acting as an acoustic interlude.

The track “Black Trinity” contains the moment most atypical of this band, however. It starts out with some of the heaviest and most distorted guitar licks on the album, almost like an Electric Wizard track. But then there is an eerie drum break starting around the four-minute mark, including what sounds like a pair of maracas in the background. Needless to say, this moment sticks out like a sore thumb, but in an interesting way.

One more important thing to note about this album is the mixing. Make no mistake, this album is as heavy and hard-hitting as any frequent metal listener would expect. The sheer emphasis on the drums and guitar distortion help this album sound even more monstrous than it already was. It is not exactly as heavy as something like, say, a High on Fire record, but it more than gets the job done.

In essence, The Door to Doom is the album that long time listeners of Candlemass have been craving for years now. It blends the new and the old of the band into a seamless recording. Plus, given that a good majority of the tracks abide by doom metal standards, it also makes for a good album to engage new listeners with.

One thing this album is not, however, is a sequel to their debut, Epicus Doomicus Metallicus (despite what some fans claim). Then again, it does not need to be. By now, this band has gone through so many different phases and lineups that making something entirely reminiscent of their earliest works would be futile. Candlemass has remained a surprisingly consistent band when it comes to sound and style, but the subtle changes they have made along the way have kept this band from reaching their permanent expiration date.

Late-career highlights are certainly not unheard of for metal bands, but only a band like Accept can match the consistency that Candlemass has had past their prime. For a band that has been around for 35 years, and with fairly little change to the sound of their repertoire, it is quite amazing that Candlemass can still bring about great albums in this great of a volume.

The Door to Doom is the newest evidence of this claim.

 

Standout Tracks: Under the Ocean, Astorolus – The Great Octopus, Black Trinity, House of Doom

Score: 8.5/10

Discovering Irving Berlin’s Path to Blue Skies

By Hannah Tarr

Christmas Day, 1980. A group of carolers hark outside a house, singing the same song they have been singing at this same house for 26 years: “White Christmas.” But inside, the sole resident is having none of it. “They don’t understand the gift I’ve given them!” he cries. To understand this gift, we must first understand the old man: he is Irving Berlin, composer of White Christmas. In his performance as Berlin, Hershey Felder leads the audience to understand Berlin with healthy mix of comedy and respect.

The performance, playing now at Actor’s Theatre, is a one-man show. Felder, with a raise of his voice and a change in his body language, convincingly becomes Berlin for an uninterrupted hour and a half. Felder runs through the beats of Berlin’s life and how each inspired his music: his childhood in Imperial Russia, his family’s immigration to America, his father’s love for singing and the way that inspired him to become a singing waiter and eventually compose his own music. Felder performs all of Berlin’s standards over the course of the show at the grand piano at center stage. Unlike Berlin, who could only play in the key of F-sharp, Felder is an accomplished musician, and the musical segments are the highlight of the show.

Felder’s portrayal of Berlin’s life flows well from happy points to sad points. He marries Dorothy Goetz, and it seems like life is going to be blue skies forever. But five months after they return from their honeymoon, Goetz dies from typhoid. Berlin is depressed about this for a long time, but eventually is coaxed by Goetz’s brother into writing about it, and this becomes his first hit ballad. It resonates with people around the globe. But one way or another, life moves on, and soon enough Felder is showing us Berlin’s up-tempo songs again and smiling.

The set was a living room dressed for Christmastime, with a piano in the center, a wheelchair on one side to symbolize Berlin as an old man, and an armchair on the other to symbolize Berlin’s second wife, Ellin Mackay. This unit set allowed the focus to always be on Felder’s portrayal, without any distractions for gimmicks. The lights changed color with the mood- red at high moments in Berlin’s life, blue at the low. Area lights came up and dimmed smoothly as Felder walked across the stage, to appropriately keep him illuminated at all times. The set and lighting were enhanced effectively by projections. A picture frame on the back wall above the mantle was often used to show historical photographs of Berlin and his family, or video clips of Fred Astaire performing Berlin’s music in a moving picture. All the walls of the living room were sometimes used for atmospheric projections– the projected wallpaper would fade away, and be replaced by animations of Berlin’s home village burning down, or of his family’s tenement apartment in New York. The projections were soft enough that the light level never fluctuated, but still very easily visible.

By the end of the show, Felder has brought us to empathize with and understand Berlin. We know “God Bless America” is from an immigrant’s point of view, thanking the country for all of the opportunities it has given him. We know “White Christmas” is about how Christmas, which used to be his wife’s favorite holiday, was ruined for them when their infant son passed away Christmas morning. We know he grew bitter as an old man as young people like Elvis Presley took over the musical spotlight, and the world began to forget what Berlin’s music had been worth. But we know that in spite of all of this, he has reasons to count his blessings instead of sheep at night, and maybe Felder’s portrayal of this icon who was a real human will lead the audience to start doing that, too.

Felder began performing as Berlin on Sept. 5 of last year in New York. He is now taking the show around the country, and he is performing it at Actor’s Theatre of Louisville until Feb. 17.