Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Lightning Round Record Reviews, vol. 1

So, I've picked up quite a bit of new music lately. I'm so far behind that I decided to do a round of quick-hitter reviews to catch up. I hope to do more long-form reviews down the line. Each of these records deserves that treatment. And I may do more Lightning Rounds as I pick up new records. Not just brand new records, just new to me. We'll see how this goes...

Baroness - Purple


I tried Baroness out a few years ago when they had just release their Red record and just couldn't get into it. Boy was I a fucking dummy. Baroness is arguably the best stoner throwback metal/prog rock bands going right now. Purple proves that point.

Purple is a portent mix of passion and energy, guts and talent, texture and brute power. From bludgeoning riff rockers like "Morningstar" and "Chlorine and Wine" to poppier numbers like "Shock Me", Baroness pours every ounce of energy and passion they have into their songs. And the closer, "If I Have to Wake Up (Would You Stop the Rain)" is just majestic. For inspired music that fills your ears with a terrifically varied soundscape and that burrows into your bones, you'd be hard=pressed to do better. 

RATING: A

BEST SONGS: "Morningstar", "Shock Me", "If I Have to Wake Up (Would You Stop the Rain)"

Megadeth - Dystopia

I wasn't keen about the prospects of a new Megadeth platter after the last one, Super Collider. Perhaps that's because Super Collider was a steaming heap of pig shit. Then half the band walked away and formed the pretty damn awesome Act of Defiance. But Dave Mustaine shrugged off those losses and recruited a new drummer (Chris Adler) and lead axeman (Kiko Loureiro). The resulting record, Dystopia, is a giant bounce back from Pooper- I mean Super Collider.

Dystopia finds Mustaine still piss off about war and politics, but his voice isn't as strong or menacing as it once was and his lyrics are more infantile than they should be. Dystopia is saved by the performances. Mustaine still has it as a guitarist, meaning an avalanche of killer riffing. Loureiro shreds with fury and grace, and he pushes Mustaines solos to new heights. Adler is the best drummer Megadeth has had since Nick Menza, and maybe ever. And bassist David Ellefson is the secret weapon, holding down the bottom end with skill and tasty bass licks. 

RATING: B-

BEST SONGS: "The Threat is Real", "Fatal Illusion", "Conquer or Die" 

Anthrax - For All Kings


Who thought Anthrax was still capable of being this good? 

So, Anthrax's last record wasn't horrible, but it got way to close to Halestorm and Nickleback-style FM radio rock at time for comfort. And this is Antrax we're talking about. They're on of the Big fucking Four thrash bands. Not some pussy-ass modern rock outfit. Thankfully, the band pulls out of that nose dive and gives as For All Kings.

For All Kings finds Anthrax switching out lead guitarists, bringing in Shadows Fall axeman Jon Donais. Donais gives the band a firm kick in the ass, help sharpen the edges of the band's sound and bringing much-needed energy. The foundation of this band is still the trio of riffer Scott Ian, bassist Frank Bello, and drummer Charlie Benante, and they mare sure the song sound like Anthrax, but Donais makes them a leaner, meaner band. And singer Joe Belladonna hasn't sounded this good in years.

I may sound a little crazy for saying this, but For All Kings not only smokes anything Anthrax has done since Persistence of Time, but it also smokes anything any of the other members of the Big Four have put out since the early 1990s. Believe it.

RATING: A

BEST SONGS: "You Gotta Believe", "Breathing Lightning", "Evil Twin", "Defend/Avenge"

Killswitch Engage - Incarnate


Jesse Leach's second record since returning to Killswitch is a moody, varied affair. It's pretty clear that Leach is a lot more comfortable with his bandmates than he was on Disarm the Descent, and he owns this whole record. From his passionate delivery on "Alone I Stand" to his more melodic moments like "Until the Day", Leach is magnificent. 

Leach's bandmates don't let him down. Adam D and Joel Stroetzel crank the riff machine up to 13 and dish out tasty fury like like McDonald's slings shitty burgers. Meanwhile, Mike D and Justin Foley keep the bottom end rumbly and tight. The bottom line is this: As Daylight Dies is my favorite Killswitch record and always will be. But Incarnate isn't far behind.

RATING: A

BEST SONGS: "Hate by Design", "Strength of the Mind", "Until the Day", "Ascension"

Babymetal - Metal Resistance


Metal Resistance is a more mature record than its predecessor. Producer Kobametal and the songwriters have taken a big swing at being taken more seriously as a metal band. As a result, the band freewheels through more metal styles than before, and there's less youthful exuberance in the music. But that's okay.  Bands that don't grow musically become boring. Fast.

And while Metal Resistance may not be the sugar rush that the last record was, there's still plenty to enjoy. From the hard-grooving "Karate" to the rampaging "GJ!", Babymetal keeps things interesting. This is one record that never gets boring. I could do without the power ballads, and all the EDM flourishes seem out of place on an album that wants to be taken seriously by the metal community. Still, this is a fun listen and I'm already looking forward to where Babymetal's gonna go next.

RATING: B+

BEST SONGS: "Karate", "Mata Taro", "GJ!"

Amon Amarth - Jomsviking


Amon Amarth's past couple records, while far from bad, have felt a little too samey and safe. This is one of the best fucking bands on the planet, and you expect them to be nothing less than stellar. Thankfully, the band decided to tell a narrative story on their latest record, and they find what's been missing on recent records.

Jomsviking tells a tale of unrequited love, but there's still plenty of the bad ass lyrical imagery and references to Norse mythology that makes Amon Amarth Amon Amarth. Soncially, the band has slowed things down a tad to facilitate the story telling, but they've lost none of their brutality. And when the break into a gallop, it's devastating. Then there's "A Dream That Cannont Be", which features vocals from the legendary Doro Pesch. In a word, magnificent! Amon Amarth takes a chance by giving us a concept album, but, goddammit, they hit it out of the park.

RATING: A

BEST SONGS: "Wanderer", "On a Sea of Blood", "At Dawn's First Light", "The Way of Vikings", "A Dream that Cannot Be"

Weezer - The White Album


Weezer was nearly dead, at least as far as most fans were concerned, when something strange happened. They released Everything Will Be Alright in the End and, suddenly, they had new life. They were still capable of producing some pretty awesome rock music. Their latest record, The White Album, continues their comeback with a platter full of sunny, fun power pop tunes.

Despite its title, The White Album has a lot more to do with the Beach Boys than the Beatles. Weezer set out to create a collection of cheery, breezy songs about summer fun, and for the most part, they succeeded. Songs like "Wind in our Sail" and "(Girl We Got a) Good Thing" are insanely catchy songs that just begged to be sung along with. It's not a perfect record. The moody "Do You Wanna Get High" seems out of place among the rest of the happy pop rockers on this record, and I can't stand "Thank God for Girls". Still, with choruses like "Summer Elaine and Drunk Dory", The White Album is infectious fun that begs to be the soundtrack to your summer road trip.

RATING: B

BEST SONGS: "Wind in our Sail", (Girl We Got a) Good Thing", "King of the World", "Endless Bummer"

Thursday, April 7, 2016

How To Fix The D.C. Movie Universe


Unless you've been out in the back country hunting Bigfoot or something, you know that the latest movie offering from D.C. Comics, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, blasted into theaters last month. The response has been less than jubilant. The movie certainly has its defenders. I myself thought BvS was worth seeing just because Ben Affleck made for a pretty kick-ass Batman. But, good Lord, this movie pissed a lot of people off.

 The prevailing opinion seems to be the BvS is too dark and humorless to be much fun. It also suffers from a jumbled, incoherent storyline and a truly horrific portrayal of main Superman baddie Lex Luthor. The film opened huge, but has been in box office free fall ever since. The drop-off has been so extreme that a lot of people are calling the flick a flop.

Ok, hold it right there, Spinach Chin. As far as I know, BvS is currently $300 million in the black, so I wouldn't call it a flop. But I can see the point. A movie featuring three of the most well-known and beloved characters in the whole of pop culture ought to be doing "Avatar" or "The Force Awakens" numbers.

Warner Brothers execs are so worried about the drop-off the they've rearranged their D.C. Comics movie schedule to get a solo Batman flick on the fast track, since they can't seem to make a decent D.C. universe movie that doesn't star Batman. And additional scenes are being shot to inject some humor and lightness into the forthcoming Suicide Squad, since all the funny scenes in the movie have been featured in the trailers and the rest of the movie is a bum out.

Clearly, the future of the D.C. Movie Universe (or whatever the hell you call it) is suddenly in doubt and needs to be fixed. Luckily for the morons at Warner Brothers and D.C., I have a few suggestions.

Ahem...


  • SHAKE UP THE CREATIVE TEAM - David Goyer has been involved with D.C.'s movies since Batman Begins and Dawn of Justice is the third time Zack Snyder's sat in the director's chair of a D.C. Comics movie. I know Snyder's already signed on for two future Justice League movies, and he is truly a talented visual stylist, but he doesn't always tell cohesive stories and he rarely is able to elevate mediocre material. And his films are ALWAYS dark. Watch Sucker Punch if you don't believe me. As for Goyer, he's apparently not coming back for Justice League, which is good since he's a hack who got lucky that he worked with Christopher Nolan on the Dark Knight movies. But yeah. A change in writer and director could be what D.C. movies need.
  • STOP GIVING US SHITTY VILLAINS - Nolan got the bad guys right in his Bat Trilogy, but the baddies in the Man of Steel movies have been far less than awesome. Michael Shannon is a terrific actor, but his performance as Zod was comically over the top. Remember his "I WILL FIND HIM" tirade? I don't think I should've been laughing at that. As for Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luther, that was a fucking dumpster fire. Couldn't Snyder or SOMEBODY told Homeboy to dial it back a bit? And Doomsday, the Space Troll? Let's not go there. So, D.C., please stop ruining your bad guys by turning them into over-acted cartoon characters.
  • FIGURE OUT WHAT MAKES YOUR CHARACTERS COOL - If there's one thing that everyone making Marvel movies seems to get, it's what makes their characters so beloved. They start with that and build their movies from there. D.C. seems so obsessed with setting their movies apart from the MCU and making up for the "sillyness" present in the comics, that they bypass what makes their characters so beloved. We love Superman because he's better than we could ever be, because he knows who he is and the difference between right and wrong. Seeing Supes as a gloomy, conflicted Pearl Jam fan is just wrong. To borrow  better line than I could ever come up with, I don't want to see sweat stains under Superman's arms. I want to see him fly.
  • FINALLY, STOP TAKING YOURSELVES SO FUCKING SERIOUSLY - Comics fans want to see their favorite characters treated with respect and taken seriously, but D.C. seems to think that means injecting their movies with all the inner turmoil of a fucking Ingmar Bergman film. And that can work for Batman, but it doesn't work so well for Superman. Superman is a bright, shining figure of all that's good, and he should be portrayed that way. And if they can't figure out how to loosen up and have some fun, Justice League is gonna suck. So, take the sticks out of your asses and have a few laughs, D.C.
Of course, D.C. isn't gonna listen to some guy from the middle of nowhere who doesn't even own a single Batman action figure. But, as a movie fan, I want to see the D.C. movies succeed. And I think maybe some of changes could really help. Lighten up a bit, and I think you'll be laughing your way to box office history.


When Fatty's Blog Emerges From The Rebirth Chamber...

Changes. Changes are coming. First, the backstory...

Once, there was a time where I blogged consistently. Like two or three times a day sometimes. My paced slowed but I still tried to consistently blog, just in case people missed me.

Then, I got a job where I write a weekly entertainment column and review movies for an online news outlet. Suddenly, I had an outlet for any commentary I had on nerdy stuff. The blog fell out of use.

But life has kind of a dickish sense of humor, and while my column is supposed be nerdy, my editor has instructed me to stay away from subjects that might be too niche-y. Which makes very little sense to me since, to me, "nerd" and "niche-stuff-lover" are basically interchangeable terms. But, I guess that's the price you pay for writing for an news outlet whose readership is predominantly 25-34 year-old mothers.

But I still want to talk about stuff that's super nerdy. Also, I get sick of having to watch my language. Sometimes, using cuss words is the best way to express what you want to say. I felt kinda stuck until I remembered "Duh, I still have my blog."

So, here's what's gonna happen. Stranded in Hickville is going to become my outlet, where I go to talk out stuff 24-35 year-old moms don't care about. And I'm no longer going to censor myself. If I wanna use profanity, I'm gonna use profanity.

Content-wise, I'm still gonna blog about movies, music, sci-fi, and life in general. This is where I'll go to get shit off my chest. I'll probably even post about politics, but a little. But, apart from that, I'll still yap about the same shit I love to yap about.

So, yeah. Stranded in Hickville is being resurrected after a long damn period of inactivity. Fasten your seatbelts. It's gonna be a bumpy ride.

Yours truly,

Fatty Thrashbrowns