A silly little blog for me to drop the excrement of my mind.
-or- a look at the year so far
Published on July 12, 2007 By BlueDev In Music

Midterm Music Report 2007

For the past few years, San Chonino and I have been doing end of the year article wrap ups.  They are a lot of fun, but they often prove to be quite difficult to write, due to trying to remember a full 12 months of musical goodness (and sometimes badness) and compress it into a few paragraphs.  Plus, with quite a few highly anticipated albums coming out this year, 2007 had the possibility of being one of the best years in music in a while.  So here it is, the 2007 Mid-term report.

Devin Townsend: Ziltoid the Omniscient

SC: Talk about strange.  We've already discussed on this website about just how prolific Devin Townsend is.  He puts out a ton of music on a rather regular basis.  But currently, he's taking a "break" - unlike last year, where he released three albums with two different groups.  And what does he do when he goes on break?  Makes quite possibly the strangest concept album you'll ever hear.  He's made a record that will absolutely perplex you.  It's the story of Ziltoid the Omniscient, a time- and dimensional-hopping alien who comes to earth to find the one thing that will fuel his time-bending abilities -coffee.  Black.

Seriously - this album is a lot of fun.  It's a crazy romp that seems more complex than it should have been.  The music is just rocking, with Devin doing absolutely everything - even down to programming the drums on Meshuggah's "Drumkit from Hell".  His guitars soar, and his vocals are even more off-the-wall than in other Devin-related albums.  There's moments of sublime beauty, moments of pure thrash, and moments of "what in the world?" yet all these simply make it more exciting.  And the puppet skits currently careening across the internet just make it that much more ridiculous.  It's a weird story, but it is a fun listen that I can comfortably recommend to those who have a more open mind of what music can be and communicate.  It's the silliest concept album out there that isn't meant to be serious.
Crazy, people, just crazy.

BD: Devin continues to amaze me as one of music's most eclectic geniuses of recent times.  As San Chonino mentioned, he was quite prolific last year, with three distinct projects that were each unique, impressive and great to listen to.  Ziltoid the Omniscient is, quite possibly, one of the craziest, most chaotic and entertaining albums I have heard in years.  As a Prog Geek, I love concept albums.  However, when not done very well, they are often pretentious, ponderous, or just plain too melodramatic to enjoy.

ZTO camps things up to the point that you know it is silly, you enjoy its inherent silliness, and it avoids the standard pitfalls of concept albums.  The music is equal parts melody and chaos, and has all the dynamic variants so well known to Devin's music.  This is a great album, and I really, really enjoy it. 

Porcupine Tree: Fear of a Blank Planet

SC:  Initially, I held Porcupine Tree's previous release, Deadwing, in very high regard.  But with subsequent listens, I found myself skipping certain tracks and gravitating towards others.  Don't get me wrong - the parts that are good are very, very good - the parts that are bad are just boring.  Fear of a Blank Planet, I feel, is a bit more compelling, a bit more rounded - and rocks quite a bit more.
Steven Wilson may have created his second-best album here - of course, it would be almost impossible for him to surpass the brilliance that is In Absentia.  But FOABP is a very strong effort by one of Britain's best bands - with songs such as the eponymous title track, The epic track "Anesthetize" (with the wonderful guitar solo by Alex Lifeson, very reminiscent of late seventies Rush) is awesome, and "Way Out of Here" has some very Meshuggah-inspired heavy hitting parts, and a splendid melody.
This album aches with melancholy, and painfully expresses what's become of a lot of the world - that we've truly lost our individuality, our identities, and that there is little left to express joy over.  A bit pessimistic, and quite depressing, but engaging and sad at the same time.  It's a really solid release by a very talented band.

BD:  Deadwing just didn't do it for me.  There were some solid songs, but there were more songs that I skipped than listened to.  "Arriving Somewhere, but not Here" was supposed to be this big, prog epic.  And while it was a good song, it just felt like it took too long to ever arrive somewhere.  So, it was with some mild hesitation I picked up Fear of a Blank Planet.  But my fears were unfounded.

FoaBP is a stunning progressive master work.  "Anesthetize" is a high water mark for prog epics, with just about everything you could want: killer Alex Lifeson solo, brutal double bass thrash metal passage, and emotive, haunting music.  Every track just fits on this disc and it is a true piece of nihilistic beauty.  Porcupine Tree really delivered with this one. 

Chevelle: Vena Sera

BD: Chevelle blew me away with their raw emotion and energy on their debut album Point #1.  Their second release, Wonder What's Next took that raw energy and focused it, refined it and polished it to a fine sheen.  I have been a solid fan ever since, despite a lukewarm reaction to their previous effort, This Type of Thinking (Could do Us In)

First off, Vena Sera is not as good as Point #1 or Wonder What's Next.  However, where I think it works is that it actually experiments some and is willing to try some different ideas.  It isn't just track after track of the same, mid-tempo, mellow chorus, heavy verse sort of formula.  Sure, there is plenty of that to be found, but there is some variation.  There are some mellower songs, some faster songs, and even a few hints of industrial.  Not a home run, but a solid album nonetheless.  I enjoy it.

SC: I was extremely impressed by Chevelle's first release, Point #1.  It was a tight set of catchy songs, with just the right amount of rock sensibilities to keep it interesting.  I didn't care for their second album nearly as much, and I've only made it through their third release once.  They're okay, but they didn't seem to have that awkward yet catchy sound of the first disc.
So basically . . . I just don't much care for Vena Sera.  It just felt like more of the same, like a path I've walked down entirely too often.  I wasn't expecting a huge display of sheer musicality here, but I still didn't feel like I got what I truly wanted out of the album.  It's good, but it's not great. I wouldn't spend any money on it.

Dream Theater: Systematic Chaos

BD:  Dream Theater is a monster in the world of Progressive Metal.  Often considered one of the leading bands in the genre, Systematic Chaos marked the bands departure from its previous label, and its migration to Roadrunner Records, an odd fit for the band, if you ask me.  Nevertheless, Mike Portnoy promoted the album as "music with balls", and they certainly delivered on that regard.  Systematic Chaos is unquestionably DT's heaviest album next to Train of Thought.  Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing will depend entirely on the listener, as ToT is their most polarizing album to date, with prog fans hating it and metal fans praising it.

And, yeah, I really dig MOST of the music on Systematic Chaos.  But there are a couple of big problems that relegate Systematic Chaos to the "mediocre album" category.  First off, Jordan Rudess continues to demonstrate that, while he is a technically brilliant player, he has absolutely no sense of class or taste.  He continues to rely on effects and sounds that just don't fit with anything.  Rag time piano in the middle of crushing metal riffs?  I'm sorry Jordan, but it just sounds stupid.  Stop.  Just stop screwing up cool songs with your gay effects.  And then there are the lyrics.  Dream Theater has never really been that strong in the lyric department, with Kevin Moore (not in the band anymore) and John Myung being the only two who have really written interesting lyrics.  On this one we are treated to John Petrucci and Mike Portnoy's lyrical musings.  And what we have is a lyrical abortion that, tragically, somehow survived.  Some metal bands can pull off the cheesy, fantasy lyrics.  Dream Theater is not one of those bands, and this attempt at such lyrics just fails painfully and miserably.  They are not only laughable, but they are just plain embarrassing.  I want to like Systematic Chaos, but I just can't get into it.  Big disappointment here.

SC:  I tried to like this album.  I really enjoyed Dream Theater's last outing, Octavarium, and was hoping that it would be a triumphant return to the old form that I have loved so much over the years.  Many bands have had a successful renaissance, a well-planned and well-written rebirth that has energized me towards their music after a few less-than-stellar releases.  I had hoped that this new path would be the beginning of an upswing for DT, and that Systematic Chaos would be able to build off the momentum of their recent growth.

Sadly, it didn't.  Not in the slightest.  It seems, rather, to be a return to another form - and a form of DT I didn't much care for.  Now, don't get me wrong - the disc does have some very cool parts - the first four tracks show a good force, some nice melodic parts (with the exception of, as BlueDev mentioned, all that dumb keyboard wankery), but the whole thing just seems to lose steam and fall apart.  It's just not what I hoped it would be.  Maybe my expectations were too high, but they were dashed nonetheless.

Symphony X: Paradise Lost

BD: It has been quite a few years since Symphony X's previous record, The Odyssey.  It was a great album and quite widely praised for its blend of bone-crushing metal and symphonic effects.  Paradise Lost has been quite a while in coming, and I was quite excited for this album.  From the beginning of "Oculus Ex Inferni" we get hints of the same, layers of choral and symphonic elements with an underlying energy of the electric guitar.  This smoothly segues right into the powerful guitar sound of Michael Romeo, pummeling staccato riffs introduce Russell Allen's gritty, growly voice.  I was pumped.

Sadly, the album really seems to lose steam after that point.  It certainly isn't that Paradise Lost is a bad album in any way.  It just is a pretty average Symphony X album.  It is heavy, which sounds great.  But it just feels a little too "samey" for me.  Symphony X has a style, and this certainly fits their neo-classical prog style to a "T", with blazing fast guitar and keyboard work.  It just seems to lack that epic feel of The Divine Wings of Tragedy or The Odyssey.  I'm not unimpressed, but I'm not particularly impressed either.

SC: The cover Paradise Lost has the coolest album art of Symphony X's complete discography.  It's an awesome cover.  When I saw it, I thought, "This had better be good."

And it is . . . to a point.  But as BlueDev stated, it's just got too much of an air of "sameness" about it.  It felt too familiar, too used.  And while it does have its moments of brilliance, I was by-and-large disappointed with the whole outing.  Maybe it's my fault for having too much hope in it, or it could be their fault for waiting too long to release new material.  Sometimes that creates a new sound, full of warmth and newness (like Rush's newest) but sometimes it falls flat.  This, sadly for me, fell flat.

Shadows Fall: Threads of Life

BD: Shadows Fall may not be a progressive band, but I tell you what: they know how to kick ass.  Their 2007 album is no different.  Threads of Life is a kick ass melodic death/thrash album that doesn't play around.  The notes often come blisteringly fast, the lyrics are frequently screamed through a nail filled voice, and the double bass abounds. 

But what really makes this a great album is that it isn't afraid to slow things down every once in a while.  It doesn't shy from having great melodies and some well sung, clean and melodic vocals.  There are a number of rising technical and aggressive hardcore metal acts, and with Threads of Life Shadows Fall demonstrates they can stand with the best of them.

SC: Ah, Shadows Fall.  Melodeath at its best.  Any fan of their previous work will be impressed to see them still kicking as hard as ever.  Anyone who wants to get into melodic death or thrash, this is a good place to start.  Let your hair down . . . bang it just a little.  It'll be fun.

NIN: Year Zero

BD: Nine Inch Nails is one of those "bands" that is pretty hit or miss for me.  There are some songs that Trent has written that I really like.  But for the past few years, I just haven't paid that much attention to NIN.  However, with Year Zero my interest was peaked as it was being billed as a sort of post-apocalyptic concept album.  Sounded cool to me.

And it is.  Year Zero succeeds on just about every front.  Without doubt, it is the best NIN album since Pretty Hate Machine, which is a brilliant album.  Year Zero has moments of beauty, plenty of pop accessibility, with just enough anger, cynicism and rage to remind you this is industrial music.  Songs are alternately bleak and sparse or chaotic with almost too much going on to wrap your ears around.  This isn't an easy listen, but it is rewarding.

SC:  It's tough to be a hardcore Nine Inch Nails fan, simply because Trent Reznor takes so much time off between projects.  I've always been a closet NIN fan, ever since the first time I heard "Head Like a Hole" and headbanged my little nine-year-old noggin.  But some of their releases were simply too crass, too profane for me to deal with - 1995's The Downward Spiral being a prime example of that.  But with The Fragile, I really thought that NIN had hit an apex that they wouldn't reach again - a sprawling, two-disc album full of vitriol, moments of crashing anger and simple grace.  It had the works.
But there was too much space between albums.  The Fragile came out in '99, and With Teeth didn't make its belated appearance until last year.  And I just couldn't get back into it.  It had been too long, the water seemed as though it had been tread for far too long and by far too many other bands.  When I heard that a new NIN album was due out this year, I was hesitant.  But Reznor truly puts on a good show here, creating a mostly beat-driven CD that pounds you into the ground.  In this case, less instrumentation and focus on lush sound did Year Zero well, as its sparse electronic passages and thumpy beats capture everything great about NIN's sound while transforming the story into something quite visceral.  This is a great, great album - and Reznor has outdone himself.

Megadeth: United Abominations

BD: Dave Mustaine's classic thrash band almost didn't survive to see the new century.  With a move towards more commercial sounding metal as the 90's moved on with the albums Youthanasia, Cryptic Warnings and Risk, it seemed that Megadeth was losing steam.  2001's The World Needs a Hero was an attempt to a return to form, but just felt forced, with little of the energy, urgency and bite that is such a part of classic Megadeth releases such as Rust in Peace.  Throw in Dave's bout with radial neuropathy, and well, it looked like the book was closed on one of America's classic metal bands.

However, Mustaine thundered back in 2004 with The System Has Failed and with the 2007 release of United Abominations he doesn't seem to be slowing down.  There are some really great, fast and polished thrash tunes here, along with some slower metal ballads.  But what really makes this album work is just how politically smart it is.  It is biting, it is angry, it is acerbic.  Mustaine isn't afraid to voice his political opinion here, but manages to do so without it seeming too heavy handed.  While not on the level of the masterpiece Rust in Peace, United Abominations is an excellent return to form.  Dave is writing great metal.  Perhaps the boys in Metallica should take a lesson or two.

SC:  I've never been much of a Megadeth fan, but I'd heard Rust in Peace a bunch as a kid and knew metal genius when I saw it.  United Abominations, while nowhere near as "masterpiece" -esque, finds Megadeth trashing just the way they should - hard, fast, and frantic.  But it's the melodies that really set Mustaine's work apart from other trash acts - this doesn't feel like a forced run through a jungle of heaviness, it's full of lush, encompassing melodies, that echo long after the disc stops spinning.  It's a success in my book, and has brought me back to the Megadeth shores after many long years in other ports.

Pelican: City of Echoes

BD: I first heard Pelican described as Isis without vocals.  For their first few albums, that was pretty accurate.  Still, they were a band to be reckoned with, with albums such as The Fire in our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw just these huge, lush instrumental metal landscapes.  So what to do with their latest release?  Well, Pelican wasn't content to sit still.

City of Echoes is much more focused than previous efforts.  The songs are generally shorter and are, at first glance more accessible.  They take less time building and get right to the punchline more quickly.  On some of the tracks this works well.  They have a feeling of energy that previous Pelican tunes have lacked.  However, I do admit that I miss the massive, ponderous soundscapes.  Overall, City of Echoes is a good album, but there just aren't any tracks that really take my breath away.

SC: I love instrumental post-rock and post-metal.  Bands like the former-Isis/Neurosis-member powered Red Sparowes or Chicago's Russian Circles are amazingly skilled with their abilities to drive an album by sheer force of guitar will.  And Pelican rocks with the best of them.

This album of theirs, though, is probably my least favorite Pelican disc.  It doesn't seem to have the grandeur of their earlier releases.  This was, however, a great way to get into this subgenre of metal - City of Echoes was the first disc of theirs that I listened to, and it was a wonderful introduction.  For novices in the world of post-metal, this is a splendid place to start.  For the more studious, industrious listener, it may not have the scope and size of other releases by the band or other fine post-metal acts.

Kamelot: Ghost Opera

BD: Kamelot really wowed me two years ago with The Black Halo.  It very nearly took my top spot on the album of the year rankings, with close competition from Redemption and Opeth.  Last year they teased and pleased with the magnificent double live release One Cold Winter's Night.  It was with great anticipation that both San Chonino and I awaited this year's release of Ghost Opera.

However, initially I was nonplussed.  It still sounded great, with Kahn's amazing vocals, and Thomas Youngblood's great guitar sound really filling out the soundscape.  But it just seemed to lack any tracks that really stood out, such as "Memento Mori", "March of Mephisto" or "Elizabeth".  Yet, the more I listen, the more I find to appreciate.  In fact, I am still withholding final judgment on this one.  Right now I would say it is probably one of Kamelot's more progressive and darker albums to date.  The more I listen, the more convinced I am this one is a winner.

SC: I've wanted to get into this one, but it just hasn't done it for me.  Maybe I'm not in the right mood, maybe something about the CD just doesn't call to me the way their other releases, but I just can't get into it.  Hopefully, with more listens, it will grow on me.  But I don't yet have the confidence that this is a worthy successor to The Black Halo.

Pain of Salvation: Scarsick

SC:  This album in short, infuriates me.  Pain of Salvation is a group that, in the past, has consistently released some of the most progressive, sprawling, intriguing, and musically/lyrically intense records out there.  The Perfect Element I and Remedy Lane are two absolutely brilliant, moving epics about the loss of innocence and growing up.  This album is intended to be the second part of The Perfect Element, but it pains me to associate these two.  While the other albums I've mentioned are moving, melancholic, and morose, Scarsick is maudlin, crass, and profane.

Pain of Salvation has always covered scintillating subject matter - Remedy Lane is by-and-large about sex, and the effects of youth sex on the rest of life.  But it doesn't feel crass or nasty.  Scarsick is the opposite - it's overflowing with hate-filled invectives directed at the cult of celebrity, established religion, and America in general.  The whole thing is replete with profanity.  Lyrically, it's dark, angry, vitriolic, and caustic.  And come on, "Disco Queen"?  That song is sick and twisted.  A nasty sexual song put to a horrible disco beat.  The disco beat seems to make it that much worse.  Plus, the music is not as memorable as on their earlier releases.  I defy the average person to listen to the song "Chainsling" (from Remedy Lane) and not have that melody in their head for days - but Scarsick has no such melodies, nothing that makes me want to return to this disc.

There are some good moments on this disc, such as the album closing "Enter Rain".  Every so often there are some moments of lucidity and clarity, but mostly writer/musician Daniel Gildenlow lost me on this one.  I was so excited for this album to start the year on a good note, but it's lost on me.  I've tried really hard to like this, but I can't.  I simply hate it.

BD: This will be short.  I was so disappointed and disaffected that I never made it past "Disco Queen" on the first listen.  I believe that is track #4.  Haven't even bothered to listen to it since.

Neurosis: Given to the Rising

SC: Neurosis is a band that you either love or hate.  Lots of people think that they're one of the most innovative groups out there - who almost singlehandedly invented sludge metal.  A lot of other people think that, while they may have held the knife that cut the "sludge" edge, other bands have long since taken the title of Sludge Kings away from them.  Originally, I was in the latter group.  I had heard little snippets of Neurosis here and there, but my sludgy roots were deeply planted in Cult of Luna and Isis.

Given to the Rising changed all that for me.  It was the first Neurosis album that I sat down and genuinely listened to, from beginning to finish, trying to process what I was hearing.  And I was simply blown away.  It was one of those "music that changed my perception forever" moments.  This album is one of the most visceral, guttural, mean-sounding records to ever come out.  It's got so much going on, so much going for it, that I simply can't bring myself to walk away, to hit the stop button, to turn the music down.  For me thus far this year, it may take the "second-favorite album" title, after Snakes and Arrows.  This is sludgy, gloomy, doom metal at its very finest.  It's just brilliant.  Growling brilliant, but brilliant nonetheless.

BD: I had heard the name, but didn't know the band that is Neurosis.  That was until this year.  As a new fan of a few bands that reference Neurosis as an influence, I figured this Bay Area band's 2007 release would be a good place to start.  But I was wholly unprepared for what I encountered. 
Given to the Rising is a monolithic, monstrous masterpiece.  It leaves you slack-jawed and dazed with its power.  For years now Neurosis has been carving out their own little corner of the heavy metal landscape.  But that must not be enough for them.  Given to the Rising redefines what heavy metal is.  It pushes the boundaries of metal, music and art and is, quite possibly, the heaviest album I have ever heard.  It is dark, it is ponderous, it is amazing.  TS Eliot had it all wrong.  This is the soundtrack to the apocalypse,  This is the way the world ends.  Not with a whisper, but with a tortured, guttural scream.

Rush: Snakes and Arrows

BD: Here it is, the biggest, most anticipated one of all.  Seriously, after 30+ years, a 6 year hiatus that was almost a breakup, and a career with more amazing songs and albums than any other band I have heard, anything new from these boys from the North is a welcome surprise.  But even I wasn't anticipating something this welcome. 

Snakes and Arrows is a masterpiece in one of Rock's most renowned catalogs.  Lyrically it is full of regret, sadness and even a fair bit of cynicism.  But what really elevates it is the ever present hope.  Neil Peart has been through the grinder in recent years, but has seen that hope and knows that it is always there, sometimes just over the horizon, and that we can get there and find it if we "get back on".  Musically, it is a marvel.  Written almost entirely on acoustic guitars, they fill the album from start to finish, adding a richness and depth to the music.  The electric guitars are likewise full, throaty and warm in tone, with just enough of an edge to keep you on your toes.  Snakes and Arrows is a triumph and a joy to behold.

SC: My favorite album of the year, and my favorite Rush disc since Moving Pictures.  At first glance (and at first listen), I was nonplussed by the record as a whole. But after five or six listens, it dawned on me - this album is a huge stroke of genius.  The music is as crunchy as Rush has ever been (with the exception of the gritty sound of Vapor Trails) and the production is perfect - which is a welcome change, after the clipping of VT. The three (yes, THREE!) instrumentals are all awesome - from the moving perfection of "The Main Monkey Business" to the simple grace of "Hope" (made by Alex Lifeson all by his own self) and the absolute self-indulgent fun of "Malignant Narcissism."  Top it off with moving lyrics, inventive song construction, and absolutely beautiful album art, and you get a "Best Album of 2007."  And you can take that to the bank.

News:

  • Devin Townsend announces the dissolution of both The Devin Townsend Band and Strapping Young Lad.  SYL drummer Gene Hoglan states that the band is just taking a break.  We'll see if a break recharges Devin's musical batteries.  (And we certainly hope so . . .)
  • Brad Delp (lead singer of Boston) found dead in his home.
  • Stream of Passion has a major restructuring.  Mastermind/founder/principle songwriter (music)/guitarist Arjen Lucassen quits the band in the wake of his divorce and to focus himself on the upcoming Ayreon album.  Lead guitarist Lori Linstruth left the band as well, along with pianist/keyboardist Alejandro Milan.  The band has added three new folks and vow to continue, but with the exception of Marcela Bovio's fabulous voice, I just can't imagine the band sounding the same at all.  I am bummed big time about this one, but will cautiously wait and see what they come up with.

Comments
on Jul 12, 2007
interesting comments from you 2, but kind of genre limited to be called a "music" report.

but good, informed comments for the most part none the less. nice work. maybe i'll have to get off my lazy butt and do some more music writing in other genres myself, lol.
on Jul 12, 2007
but kind of genre limited to be called a "music" report.


Well, everything else coming out is sh!t . . .
on Jul 12, 2007

but kind of genre limited to be called a "music" report.

Um, it is music, right?  I didn't title this 2007 Midterm All Inclusive Music Report.  Anyone who has read our blog group here would know that our blog is progressive rock/metal directed.  Plus, the title section doesn't allow me to put too many characters in there, so I had to limit it a bit. 

on Jul 12, 2007
Um, it is music, right? I didn't title this 2007 Midterm All Inclusive Music Report. Anyone who has read our blog group here would know that our blog is progressive rock/metal directed. Plus, the title section doesn't allow me to put too many characters in there, so I had to limit it a bit.


umm,,,lighten up francis...i was just kiddin with ya. as i said, some good informed comments...don't be so touchy, lol. your partner San i think, maybe since he and i interact a lil more often, knew to blow that part off with a quip.

but like they say,,,it's all good...take care.
on Jul 12, 2007
Didn't mean to sound touchy, just didn't find the comment to add anything to the conversation.  The winky eye face was supposed to convey that I was trying to tease back.  Just doesn't come through.
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