Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Reviews Planned For 2014 + Aborted Reviews

Well, 2014 is going to be hitting the world in less than 48 hours. So, here we go with the rejected reviews I promised, along with a detailed explanation of why I cancelled them.

Aborted Operation: Mindcrime Review:

Ah, Queensryche...

Ever since I've started writing this blog, I've been wanting to write something about Queensryche. Before I wrote my review of Iced Earth's DVD, I wanted to do a post on all the stuff Tate had been up to since he'd been fired from the band which I ended up not posting due to losing the internet and, while we didn't have it, my anger had boiled itself away into a general apathy regarding him. Back during my month of silence, I considered doing a review of their self-titled EP to start off a month of reviewing some of my favourite albums which I ended up dropping because I felt it wasn't worth taking on (which, if you're curious, was NOT the spark which lead to my upcoming Judas Priest reviews: I literally only decided it was worth taking that on the night before I posted the schedule). Back in July, I wanted to do a review of their self-titled album from this year which I did actually write, but ended up not posting it because my opinion changed so much regarding it that I felt I couldn't stand behind my own review (although I still like the album, so rest assured that a review of that album may still be posted on the blog some time in the future). And, even a fortnight ago, I was planning on reviewing Journey's most recent studio album "Eclipse" which featured a section regarding my views on replacement singers that ended up descending into a rant about Tate recently getting an extension in the band's court case because he basically hadn't done anything for ten months despite being the plaintiff.

Suffice to say, I've got words regarding Geoff Tate's antics after he was fired, very little of which is particularly polite. But I'm not going to go into that today (as much as I want to). Today, I'm going to be talking about one of Queensrche's most beloved albums, Operation: Mindcrime. This album means a lot to me, because it was the first Queensryche album I ever purchased (and, if I remember correctly, is also the second prog metal album I ever purchased: the first was Dream Theater's Metropolis Part 2: Scenes From A Memory, which I didn't like much at the time, but am slowly starting to warm up to it), setting into motion a fondness for their pre-Hear in the Now Frontier albums that I attribute to two things: hearing the song "Redemption" that the Todd La Torre version of the band released back in March and hearing Seventh Wonder's album Mercy Falls (which I did consider reviewing for this month, but opted to save it for a special occasion: I attribute that album to me giving prog metal as a whole a second chance, so I can't really do a standard review of it just to fill up a schedule). And yet, funnily enough, I didn't like it when I first heard it! To me on my first listen, it fell apart after the title track and didn't really recover, since I fell asleep before I even made it to "I Don't Believe In Love". I gave it two or three more listens, but it didn't click with me at all. So I thought it simply wasn't for me and left it on my shelf gathering dust, although I never sold my copy for some reason.

And then the two factors I mentioned happened.

Mercy Falls originally got the same fate as Operation: Mindcrime and was ignored, but, for some reason, I ended up rotating it onto and off of my iPod, which is odd in itself as most stuff I take off my iPod  goes off because I can't stand listening to it any more and I want to put something else on. There was just something about the album I couldn't ignore and, after a while, it all clicked. But I still didn't think much of Queensryche until I heard "Redemption". Two days later, after having listened to "Redemption" pretty much non-stop, I decided to drag Opation Mindcrime out of the pile of albums I had and give it another listen, feeling I'd been too harsh on it the first time. It definitely clicked then! It's now just over six months later and I now have copies of all of the stuff with the classic line up of Queensryche, Operation: Mindcrime 2 (which I have no intention of ever reviewing. Too many curses...) and their recent self-titled album and, with the exception of Hear in the Now Frontier (which I found boring, although I'm not a big alternative rock fan to begin with) and Operation: Mindcrime 2 (which I really don't like: I only got it because I found it alongside the original Operation: Mindcrime and didn't bother to listen to it until I found myself liking the original. I only needed one listen to know it wasn't worth the money I paid for it...), enjoy all of them. But Operation: Mindcrime has always seemed to me to be their greatest album and is an album that I would comfortably claim to be one of my favourite albums.

So, now you know why I hold Operation: Mindcrime so close to my heart, let's start with the actual review. I'm going to skip the usual long winded description of Queensryche's history for this review, since most people who are interested in the band likely have been reading the court documents involving their split (if you haven't been and want to read them, can be found and downloaded for free from this link: http://www.anybodylistening.net/breakdownroom/index.php?PHPSESSID=2730906a589a9d0626b361117dec82a4&topic=2906.0), so it's not worth me boring everyone with details of their history when most people are likely to be more than familiar with it due to the high profile nature of the split. If you do want to receive the usual long winded history of Queensryche, let me know and I'll post another blog entry in November detailing everything.

We start off this album with "I Remember Now", which sounds like something right out of a radio programme, as a nurse goes to see Nikki and provide him with a shot. It also includes a monologue from Nikki saying that he remembers every little thing as if it happened only...wait, that's Meat Loaf. Ah well, he finishes by saying he only remembers doing that they told him, leading into the second instrumental, "Anarchy-X". I've heard that this was written as part of a title track for Queensryche's previous album, Rage For Order, and, honestly, I could believe that, as it has that sound which made that album such an interesting listen. Scott Rockenfield demonstrates some pretty cool drumming here, but all of this build up might seem overly dramatic on first listen. Trust me, by the time it's finished building up to the first actual song on the album, "Revolution Calling", you'll be ready for it to kick into action. And boy, does it kick into action! After the slight atmospheric moment, the guitars truly kick into gear, with a nice little solo before Tate himself finally sings the first lines on the album:

For a price, I'd do about anything
Except pull the trigger
For that I'd need a pretty good cause

Sorry, I just love that build up to the opening of the album! Critical mindset back on. Well, Tate's voice in his prime could be summed up as sounding very similar to Bruce Dickinson, but it's an actual operatic voice instead. While he can reach noticeably lower than Bruce can (although he doesn't reach to his extreme lows: for a display of that, I recommend "Silent Lucidity" off of Empire), he can't really reach that much higher than Bruce (and, when he does, it's more out of the Rob Halford school of screams than anything else), so you can expect him to sound slightly similar to Bruce a good amount of the time. Musically, it's...well, Maiden influenced, but with a Priest touch to it (which makes sense: Queensryche originally started out doing Iron Maiden and Judas Priest covers under the name The Mob). There's a more original element in the music on this album that quite hard to place as well, as they seem to have taken on some of the sounds that they toyed about with on Rage For Order, but in such a way that it downplays the Maiden/Priest sound as opposed to sounding like Maiden/Priest with odd sounds attached to it. That pretty much sums up the instruments in general across the whole album: Iron Maiden and Judas Priest influenced, with a few other influences that flavour it enough that you can miss them if you're not looking for them. After a good guitar solo from Chris DeGarmo, we get a repeat of the first bridge:

I used to trust the media
To tell me the truth, tell us the truth
But now I've seen the payoffs
Everywhere I look
Who do you trust when everyone's a crook?

Still love those lyrics! Sorry, keep forgetting I'm supposed to be a critic here. Well, the chorus isn't that complex (most of it is made up of the title of the song), but it's very catchy and, I'm not gonna lie, it does make me want to start a revolution! Or was that The Beatles...sorry, keeping focused! Yeah, this is a really strong start to the album and pretty much holds you in thrall to the album from the start.

After that track, we start "Operation: Mindcrime" by hearing a phone ringing as Nikki picks it up and hears the word "mindcrime" whispered to him. The song itself is a somewhat darker song compared to "Revolution Calling", although don't worry: Queensryche don't go thrash on us! It's more that there's a darker, more sinister tone to the song. In the song, Dr. X (oh yeah, he was mentioned in "Revolution Calling", being described as "the man with the cure") is recruiting Nikkin into Operation: Mindcrime, who are "an underground revolution working overtime" (I used to think that line was "working on the ground, revolution working overtime" until I finally looked up the lyrics. I actually prefer my mishearing, as it sounds more like a recruiting tool to encourage people to join up than the actual lyrics, but hey, the actual lyrics are the actual lyrics, so I can't complain) before finally encouraging Nikki to let him. This is another highlight of the album, as the sinister nature of the song is a great contrast to "Revolution Calling".

Next up is "Speak". To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what the song is suppose to represent, but I like to think that it's what is going through Nikki's head whenever he's under Dr. X's control. With a fairly interesting riff to open the song

This review got cancelled in part because of being so close to the deadline that I knew I couldn't get it finished in time, although I also thought that the review was really immaturely written and, as such, not worth going back over to redo it.

Aborted American Idiot Review:

Ah, Green Day...

This is one of the few albums I'm ever going to review that actually pre-dates my fondness for metal. Most of my album collection comes from after I became a metalhead, including some choices that will be really bizarre to most people, like Belinda Carlisle's second album, Heaven On Earth. I am not making that up, here's a picture of the CD for proof:

It's a guilty pleasure, I swear...

Now that everyone in the metal community who reads this blog has a good reason not to trust my opinion ever again, I can comfortably get back to talking about Green Day. I heard about the band thanks to a friend who was very fond of this album, who played me a few tracks off of it. I liked it, but I never got myself a copy of the album until sometime in 2007, alongside Paramore's second album, Riot. Both albums were really enjoyable, but I always found them interesting to listen to for different reasons: Paramore's album was a fun album that contained a lot of good songs. Green Day's album demanded focused listens, but was made up of so many good songs that it wasn't a chore to sit through. I'd probably say I listened to both of them equally up until I got into metal, but, of the two, Green Day's album stands out to me more these days than Paramore's does.

This review got aborted because I simply couldn't think of a way to continue the review from here. Also, after revealing I own a Belinda Carlisle album, there was no way I could possibly recover this review, but I felt I had to reveal it, so there was really no way I could make this review work.

I've also just discovered that I actually deleted my previous two attempts to start up reviews, so I can't provide them for you to read. The reviews were going to be reviews of "The Horn" by The Darkness and "Badaboom" by Van Canto, but, in both cases, I found that I was getting ridiculously critical at them for reasons that I knew were being horribly unfair to the bands (as in, "This song is generic, but that's nothing new from these guys, as they're generic incarnate" levels of unfair. That's not a direct quote, but it should give you an idea of what the reviews ended up looking like...), so I get the feeling I wasn't in the best state of mind when I was writing them.

So, now that I've provided you with the aborted reviews and probably provided a odd look or two, where can I go in 2014?

...Well, the pub wouldn't be a bad start...OK, I'm joking! Yes, much to my own surprise, I actually have something vaguely resembling a plan for 2014's reviews! Champagne for everyone!

Well, I figured that I might as well get the Priest reviews done, as I did promise them for before the end of 2013 before my personal life got in the way of getting them done, so expect to see that before the end of January. However, I shall make two detours before I get that done. For the first, I have one album that I feel is THE MOST UNDERRATED ALBUM OF ALL TIME (he said in a ridiculously deep voice...so, he just said it normally) that I really want to talk about: Jackson C. Frank's debut album from 1965. Who is he, you may ask? Well, let's put it this way: he was an influence on Paul Simon (of Simon & Garfunkel), Sandy Denny (of Fairport Convention) and Nick Drake, to name the biggest names you might recognise, yet I would honestly say that he was a better singer-songwriter than all of them. The second is my previously promised article examining why critics and fans of bands seem to end up at war with each other when they disagree with each other. Now, this one was started a fair while ago, but it's been lying untouched for a good while now, so this might need some rewriting before I can say it's ready to be posted.

After that, things will really depend on how hectic my life is (probably not very, but I thought that nothing would happen for the rest of 2013 back in November and...well, I was very wrong indeed!), but I do want to talk about Iced Earth's upcoming album (since it's out in about a week where I live and, for once, I'll be able to get a copy on release day, as I'm in Newcastle on that day anyway: doing a read through of the script for the play I mentioned last time on the 6th of January), so I might use February to talk about Iced Earth's whole career and ultimately decide where to place the album in their discography, although I might just settle for a review of just the album if I find my free time isn't sufficient to review all eleven of their albums. I'm not expecting to place it on the same level as Night Of The Stormrider, but, as long as it's above the Something Wicked duo of albums and The Glorious Burden, I'll be really happy! What I've heard from it sounds fairly promising, though, so expect me to be gushing about the album when I finally get to review it!

March is probably going to be a quiet month for me, as I can't think of anything I particularly want to review and I've got the play on, so I'm likely to be busy for a fair bit of that month. I may use this time to discuss Boston's discography, as it's tough to ignore their sixth album was such a disappointment that I think it's worth examining just what doesn't work about it, from the perspective of a person familiar with their stuff, but not necessarily a fan of it. After all, I didn't have to wait eleven years for the disappointment to hit me: I had to wait about a year and a half for it.

April will be when Sonata Arctica will be releasing their eighth album, so expect to see a review of their discography and where their new album falls in it. It is likely that this is going to be done at the end of the month, as I've no idea when the album will actually be released, but I'll update you guys on this one when I know more.

For now, that's all I have planned. There are a few other bands releasing albums I'm interested in reviewing, but I can't plan for them yet, as I don't know when they're going to be out.

To finish off, I'll give you a list of some of my favourite albums of 2013. Now, I've not listened to a huge amount of albums that came out this year and I have skipped a few albums that I did want to listen to, so this should not be taken to mean "These are the best albums of the year": these are just the albums that I enjoyed the most this year that I purchased. In no particular order:

1) Volbeat - Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies

2) Avantasia - The Mystery Of Time

3) Heaven's Basement - Filthy Empire

4) Queensryche - Queensryche

5) Black Star Riders - All Hell Breaks Loose

6) Timo Tolkki's Avalon - The Land Of New Hope

7) Battle Beast - Battle Beast

8) Reckless Love - Spirit

9) Stryper - No More Hell To Pay

Honourable mentions go to Dream Theater (who really surprised me with their album (I have a huge dislike of Dream Theater in general, although it's wearing down now) and only missed the list because of "Illumination Theory" being unnecessarily long), Fates Warning (who produced a rather addictive listen that only missed the list because the music just wasn't up to the level of the other guys I mentioned), Hardcore Superstar (who produced a really strong sleaze metal album that only missed the list because it falters a bit at the end) and James LaBrie (who proved to me that he can sing stuff that isn't especially technical incredibly well and only missed the list because the album had too many skippable tracks). Consider these guys fighting for the equivalent of tenth place, as their albums were really good, but I put the albums I did on the list because, to me, they had no tracks I disliked, while the other ones did have at least one track I didn't like.

So, at this point, I have only one more thing to say: have a happy remainder of 2013 (if it's still 2013 when you're reading this) and may 2014 be a great year for everyone.

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