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THE BIG FOUR SONG CHALLENGE SERIES - Update Wrap-Up

Well, The Big Four Song Challenge Series Update has drawn to a close, and here we are in the aftermath.  Metallica edged out Megadeth on the strength of bonus material, Anthrax did okay and Slayer should have broken up when Jeff Hanneman died.  For real, all coming back with another album did for them was...well, make them money and allow them to keep touring and making more money, so there's that.  But more importantly, by releasing "Repentless", they dropped from two to three on my completely arbitrary opinion based blog series status ranking system!  Surely, that can't have been worth a couple million bucks?

Anyhow, I'm getting the feeling that rock music in general is going to need to evolve into something completely different or call it quits altogether.  Rock has had its 60 year run just like jazz did before it, and if it doesn't come up with something soon, it will fade away from the public consciousness, only to return in Gap commercials in the 2040…

THE BIG FOUR SONG CHALLENGE SERIES - Matchup 185

Anthrax "Vice Of The People" (2016) VS Megadeth "Melt The Ice Away" (2016) VS Metallica "When A Blind Man Cries" (2016) VS Slayer "Pride In Prejudice" (2015)

"Vice Of The People" is the Japanese bonus track for "For All Kings".  Aaaand it starts with that doofy march beat.  Wonderful.  The lyrics don't do it any favors in the "I should take this seriously" department either.  And like most of the songs I've slagged in this Update process, it's not bad.  It's just so "...whatever."

"Melt The Ice Away" is a Budgie cover that was the Spotify exclusive bonus track for "Dystopia".  It's funny how the original Budgie tracks are often much softer than the bands that cover them and turn them into fucking barnburners.  This song sounds a little goofy in the vocals and lyrics department, but knowing it's a Budgie song, it totally gets a pass.  And unlike some covers of Budgi…

THE BIG FOUR SONG CHALLENGE SERIES - Matchup 184

Anthrax "Zero Tolerance" (2016) VS Megadeth "Me Hate You" (2016) VS Metallica "Ronnie Rising Medely" (2016) VS Slayer "You Against You" (2015)

"Zero Tolerance" is trying to be harder than it is.  Anthrax (especially Belladonna-thrax) don't drop F-bombs a lot, but there it is, right up front.  I mean, the song's not wussy, but it doesn't seem tough enough.  After listening to "For All Kings", sure it might seem pretty brutal, but it could use another push to get it to where it wants to go.  I dig the message though, calling out the hypocrisy of religious extremism.

"Me Hate You" is better than anything I've reviewed from this album since "Poisonous Shadows" (save for "Foreign Policy", which edges it out slightly).  This could have easily replaced "The Emperor".  It's a really solid fist pumper of a song and the lyrics manage to cross back over that line of good sarcasm …

THE BIG FOUR SONG CHALLENGE SERIES - Matchup 183

Anthrax "This Battle Chose Us!" (2016) VS Megadeth "Last Dying Wish" (2016) VS Metallica "Lords Of Summer" (2016) VS Slayer "Atrocity Vendor" (2015)

"This Battle Chose Us!" may be the only song that was placed correctly in the track order for "For All Kings", because it's that slower, more thoughtful conclusion before the thrash ending where the album blows its wad.  (Okay, two songs were placed correctly.  Spoilers.)  And then in the back half, it becomes the song where the album tries to blow its wad in a mad blast of energy.

"Last Dying Wish" is kind of ham fisted and it takes awhile to get into the choppy rhythm, but I can actually relate to the lyrics.  It's about the need to prove yourself and seize opportunity; the impulse to conquer, to be the best.  I mean, I only remember those drives as phantoms of a foolish youth when I believed such victories were possible, but I do remember them. 

Anyway, now tha…

THE BIG FOUR SONG CHALLENGE SERIES - Matchup 182

Anthrax "All Of Them Thieves" (2016) VS Megadeth "Look Who's Talking" (2016) VS Metallica "Spit Out The Bone" (2016) VS Slayer "Piano Wire" (2015)

Definite word nerd points to Anthrax for using "recidivist" in a seamless manor.  The song is more hard-charging than most of "For All Kings" but still seems like it's stuck in fourth gear when it should be up to 5th.  The back half tries to make up for this by randomly having the solo section go full thrash speed, which is a little unearned but at least they try to make the transition smooth.  Overall, not bad.

"Look Who's Talking" is track 8 on the iTunes and Best Buy versions of "Dystopia", so if you have those versions of the album and were wondering where this was, here's your answer.  (Same goes for tomorrow's song "Last Dying Wish", which was track 12 on those editions.)  I like the solo section of this song, but the rest of it…

THE BIG FOUR SONG CHALLENGE SERIES - Matchup 181

Anthrax "Defend/Avenge" (2016) VS Megadeth "Foreign Policy" (2016) VS Metallica "Murder One" (2016) VS Slayer "Implode" (2015)

"Defend/Avenge" is weird in how, unlike most songs with a slash in the title, the chorus sings "Defend Avenge!" instead of it being two different songs one after the other.  Though that does play into the theme:  The beginning has a pretty bad-ass riff that seems to be building toward something, and then aw shit there's that stupid march again I talked about in the "Death From Within" blurb.  They do play around with it rhythmically by throwing in subdivisions and changes so it's not unbearable or anything.  And I know, I'm probably the only one out there that has this problem.  I've just...never liked that one beat, and it's used all the time.  Anyway, there are elements besieging the standard song structure, and the chorus girds its loins and fends them off with this squ…

THE BIG FOUR SONG CHALLENGE SERIES - Matchup 180

Anthrax "Blood Eagle Wings" (2016) VS Megadeth "The Emperor" (2016) VS Metallica "Am I Savage?" (2016) VS Slayer "Chasing Death" (2015)

Settle in, because this is the longest Anthrax song ever released (clocking in at 7:53).  The song is half time and spacious, letting notes ring rather than clamping down, but then the middle section cranks that shit up into some real thrash.  The ending is far too long though, trailing off for a full 90 seconds without earning the need for such a cool down period.  In a vacuum it drags the song out a bit too long, but on the album it's another misstep in pacing.  All in all not bad, even if it didn't earn its length.

"The Emperor" has some pretty cringeworthy lyrics.  The song would be serviceable with better words, but as it stands, this is a bit of a throwaway.

"Am I Savage?" doesn't fare too much better in the raison d'etre department, but at least it doesn't start with t…

THE BIG FOUR SONG CHALLENGE SERIES - Matchup 179

Anthrax "Evil Twin" (2016) VS Megadeth "Lying In State" (2016) VS Metallica "Here Comes Revenge" (2016) VS Slayer "When The Stillness Comes" (2015)

Speaking of the old Anthrax, here they are again.  Thrashing and railing against the ills of the world; in this case extremism.  This song came out less than a month before the attacks in Paris, so much like "Post American World", it was much more unsettling to listen to after than before.

Whelp, there's that gallop beat that I've been take it or leave it on since the first time I heard it in like 1993.  (It's been around much longer than that, but fifth grade is when I got into metal.)  The thing "Lying In State" has going for it though is that Megadeth put some mustard on it.  Mustaine is spitting the words, not just saying them.  There's energy and urgency and even a few nice twists and turns, even if it's built on an uninteresting skeleton.  (I guess if it ai…

THE BIG FOUR SONG CHALLENGE SERIES - Matchup 178

Anthrax "Suzerain" (2016) VS Megadeth "Conquer Or Die!" (2016) VS Metallica "ManUNkind" (2016) VS Slayer "Cast The First Stone" (2015)

"Suzerain" is your pentennial reminder that Charlie Bennante don't fuck around.  Definitely the most fiery song on "For All Kings", and probably the closest to the old Anthrax as we're going to get ever again.  Bang your head in reflection.

"Conquer Or Die!" is more old school, though whether that works for or against it is up to you.  It's the three minute instrumental interlude.  This one is...fine.  Honestly, it's better than fine when compared to the song I have to review next, so I shan't complain too loudly.  But it is a song you wouldn't exactly miss if it fell off the face of the planet either.

"ManUNkind" was the point where I stopped giving "Hardwired...To Self-Destruct" the benefit of the doubt and started dreading the fact that I h…

THE BIG FOUR SONG CHALLENGE SERIES - Matchup 177

Anthrax "Breathing Out" (2016) VS Megadeth "Poisonous Shadows" (2016) VS Metallica "Confusion" (2016) VS Slayer "Vices" (2015)

So how do Anthrax follow up their breakthrough to 4-point land?  With a...pointless interlude?  Dafuq?  Sure, it sounds purdy, but there is NO reason for this thing to be on the album, much less its own track.  (Oddly enough, the clean nature of it played well as a segue into the Megadeth song I'm about to talk about.  Got that going for it, I guess?)

"Poisonous Shadows" has a nice, dramatic slow build to it, even slightly creepy at points if it catches you in the right setting (i.e.: if you're paying attention).  The orchestra adds atmosphere without becoming overbearing (as they have a tendency to do).  The band kicks things up a notch during the solo while managing not to ruin the vibe, then comes back down to the darkness with a slow pullback of all instrumentation until but the acoustic guitar and Mu…

THE BIG FOUR SONG CHALLENGE SERIES - Matchup 176

Anthrax "Breathing Lightning" (2016) VS Megadeth "Post American World" (2016) VS Metallica "Halo On Fire" (2016) VS Slayer "Take Control" (2015)

In spite of being a bit of a touchy-feely song, "Breathing Lightning" is really good.  It's anthemic, it has a soaring chorus and even kicks a little ass along the way.  If this album had dropped "Impaled / You Gotta Believe" in favor of "Soror Irrumator" and put this second, this album would have been better off.  "Breathing Lightning" is a song that, in spite of its major key acoustic passages and lyrics about hearing the angels singing manages to get you pumped up, to inspire you.  You can get behind shit like this and that chorus will get stuck in your head.  And afterward, you'll feel better.

"Post American World", at any other point in our history, would seem like a song title and subject matter full of bluster and a bit far-fetched.  I gotta…

THE BIG FOUR SONG CHALLENGE SERIES - Matchup 175

Anthrax "For All Kings" (2016) VS Megadeth "Bullet To The Brain" (2016) VS Metallica "Dream No More" (2016) VS Slayer "Repentless" (2015)

It's at this point that "For All Kings" the album feels like it's decidedly lacking edge.  You're wondering if it'll ever pick up and wondering why these songs that are clearly designed to be thrash metal feel like they're holding back.  "For All Kings" the song, in a vacuum, is a bit better served because it sounds like on any other album it would be the contrast needed in an otherwise chaotic maelstrom.  It's got melody, it's got structure, it's actually not that bad.  But put it in context with the album that bears its name, and you get this feeling of "Is this it?"  This is in context of the song by itself, however, so alone it feels a bit more grand, which is what Anthrax were going for.

It's hard to pull off an unsettling acoustic guitar int…

THE BIG FOR SONG CHALLENGE SERIES - Matchup 174

Anthrax "Monster At The End" (2016) VS Megadeth "Death From Within" (2016) VS Metallica "Moth Into Flame" (2016) VS Slayer "Delusions Of Saviour" (2015)

I gotta give "Monster At The End" ups for getting to the point, especially after "You Gotta Believe" tried to get us to believe it was deep by cramming two different songs together.  I gotta take away a few for naming the song after a book by Grover from Sesame Street, but eh.  And that's all I can really say.  "Eh."  It's not a bad song; it's well put together, but...it doesn't leave much of an impression.  It has energy, but that's not enough to make it interesting.

"Death From Within" has the unfortunate metal trope of the dun du-du-du-du-Dun war drum-inspired thrash march beat (which I've never liked), but they manage to still make a distinct enough song out of it that they are able to overcome this shortcoming.  The lead work and…

THE BIG FOUR SONG CHALLENGE SERIES - Matchup 173

Anthrax "You Gotta Believe" (2016) VS Megadeth "Fatal Illusion" (2016) VS Metallica "Now That We're Dead" (2016) VS Slayer "War Ensemble" (Live from Sofia, Bulgaria) (2010)

The refrain of "You Gotta Believe" is more sinister than you realize.  Judging by the chorus, the song should be called "Impaled" (which was the name of the intro track that leads into it) because it's about running people through like mere bags of blood.  Normally when you see a song with the title "You Gotta Believe" you expect it to be inspirational, but in this case it is a command.  "You Gotta Believe in me, or I kill you for being a heretic."  Musically, it's a burner, but it gets interrupted by a quiet middle section that comes out of nowhere and kind of feels unearned.  It's really like they drifted off into a different song; by the time the chorus comes back around you've forgotten where you started.

"Fa…

THE BIG FOUR SONG CHALLENGE SERIES - Matchup 172

Anthrax "Impaled" (2016) VS Megadeth "Dystopia" (2016) VS Metallica "Atlas, Rise!" (2016) VS Slayer "Jihad" (Live from Sofia, Bulgaria) (2010)

Unfortunately, Anthrax drew the short straw here, as "Impaled" is a middling intro that, on top of being a bit of a non-song, goes on a hair too long for its own good.

"Dystopia" is a solid, upbeat fist-pumper that was a no-brainer to make the first single off the album of the same name.  It may seem a little milquetoast for the first half, but once the "single" part falls away, it reveals a banger in the back half that makes you remember why you like this stuff in the first place.  It'll take more than one listen to realize how cool this song is, but on play two or three you'll be nodding your head with a pleased scowl on your face.

My first impression of "Atlas, Rise!" was "This is the most average Metallica song ever."  Like if you took all the Met…

THE BIG FOUR SONG CHALLENGE SERIES - Matchup 171

Well, it's been awhile, but all four of The Big Four have put out new albums since the conclusion of The Big Four Song Challenge Series, so it's time for an update!  (Link to the original series here.)

For those that aren't familiar, I decided as a writing exercise/New Year's Resolution in 2013 that I would take the first song off of the first four albums by the Big Four thrash metal bands (being Megadeth, Metallica, Anthrax & Slayer) and have a little competition.  The best song gets four points, second place gets three and so on.  I then did that 170 times.  I never thought I would finish the project; hell, I didn't think it would make it two weeks.  But next thing you knew, I had a book-length series of blogs about thrash metal.

And now, here we are again.  Every band in this cadre has released another album, and we are going to explore them four songs at a time to see who emerges the winner!  I will be keeping an update total in addition to the running tota…

THE LAST THIRD OF 1991 WAS NUTS: A Look Back at one of the biggest turning points in music history

Before I talk about 1991, let me define the word "watershed":

wa·ter·shed
ˈwôdərˌSHed,ˈwädərˌSHed/
noun

    1. an area or ridge of land that separates waters flowing to different rivers, basins, or     seas.
    synonyms:    divide
        an area or region drained by a river, river system, or other body of water.
    2. an event or period marking a turning point in a course of action or state of affairs.
    "these works mark a watershed in the history of music"
    synonyms:    turning point, milestone, landmark

Yeah.  It's that.

The last third of 1991 saw albums come out, often on the same day, that changed music forever.  Sometimes the change in question was the end of an era and for others it was the beginning of a new one we might not have even guessed at at the time, but there were also several MASSIVE [ahem] watershed albums that altered the course completely by themselves.

And if you look back earlier in the year, it's still pretty clearly the deat…

CAN AN ALBUM REVIEW CAUSE AN EXISTENTIAL CRISIS? A Review Of Bon Iver's "22, A Million"

This review took a weird turn.  Instead of just jotting down my snap reaction and moving on to the next one, I did some research to see what people's responses to this album were.  And, shock of shocks, the masses think its a masterpiece.  Even though Bon Iver started out as a folk act, he has morphed into some kind of electronic...thing that sort of defies description.  It's got a Metacritic score of 87, which means it's got "universal acclaim".

What do I think?  That's a harder question to answer...

Bon Iver "22, A Million"

It's points like this where I have to wonder if this music is actually popular or if the numbers have been inflated over the years.  The song titles are the absolute gibberish of a broken LCD calculator and the music seems to match.  This really sounds like an attempt at whitewashing "The Life Of Pablo", without any understanding of what makes Kanye West interesting in the first place.  (And that's coming fro…

A Special Kind Of Hell: Music Reviews for August 2016

When I started blogging 10 years ago, one of the things I did was reviews based off of 30 second samples on iTunes to determine if new releases were crap or historically crap (2006 was not a good time for music; neither was 2007).  Most of my reviews back then were not...great.  But some are still genuinely funny, and a few might have even had a point.

I've written less and less in this blog, mostly just ceding it to be the shownotes for my radio show Expect The Unexpected.  That's because I've written less and less in general.  I've written a haiku since May, and that's it.  So I figured "Hey, if I'm gonna dip my toe back in the water and see how it feels, how about a consequence-free music review thing?"

Sure.

Ratings are as always 0 to 5 stars.  0 Star reviews are denoted by no asterisks after them.  Occasionally, I get hateful and bestow a negative rating, but something really has to get under my skin to get one of those.

=SUCK
*=Bad
**=Meh
***=Go…

Seriously "High" Wizardry: Diane Duane is out of her mind, and I love her for it

This book is insane.

Thought it was gonna be a kid's book about wizard detectives or something, and it winds up being this Hard Sci-Fi, philosophical existential treatise that takes place beyond the observable universe, uses string theory in 1990, depicts a 10 year old creating an entire new race of beings out of a sentient silicon plate the size of New Jersey and a battle against the force that invented entropy at the beginning of the universe.

SPOILER ALERT: The good guys win by enacting Olber's Paradox.  They STOP THE EXPANSION OF THE UNIVERSE so that every point in the sky becomes a light.  The theory of Olber's is if the universe is infinite yet static (not expanding or contracting) every point in the sky would be as bright as the sun, because there would be infinite stars...

Keep in mind THIS IS A FUCKING KID'S BOOK.

I LOVE THIS SHIT!!!

Also, there's a random character that helps Dairine through the continent-sized airport on Rirath B.  This turns out to be …

WRESTLEMANIA 2 VS WRESTLEMANIA 32: Fantasy Booking Run Amok!!!!

With Wrestlemania 32 mere hours away, I am here to put some fantasy booking in your brain...holes...that doesn't seem right.  Anyway, I've done this sort of thing once or twice before, and thought it was high time I revived the gimmick.

Today, we pit Wrestlemania 2 against Wrestlemania 32.  But not by match quality, or star power.  No siree, Bob.  We're going to make fantasy matches pitting past VS present to see who comes out on top.  Because of the sheer number of performers on both cards, it left me with eighteen matches.  As a result, I've decided to take a cue from Wrestlemania 2 and split things up into three separate cards.

[Side note: I took the NFL players out of the battle royal, because there were already so many frickin' wrestlers on this card.  Also, I didn't have anything else for the 10-divas tag match participants to do except turn they women's title match into even more of a clusterfuck or have the match they're already having with no e…

Hey, here's where else you can find me

Because I wanted to do...something for Leap Day but only have six minutes left before March, here's a buncha links to stuff I do on the Internet!

My Youtube page
My Twitter account
The Night Howls on Bandcamp
Expect The Unexpected

Is it weird that I feel hollow that there isn't more I could think of?  Only four links?  I dunno.  Anyways, have fun checking those out!


A Review Of The New Dream Theater Album "The Astonishing"

Dream Theater "The Astonishing"

I was really really hoping this was where Dream Theater would turn it around.  I REALLY wanted this to be good.  And the first single was promising: "The Gift Of Music" is a unique approach for the band, clocking in at a lean, mean 4:00 on the dot.  Dream Theater has been stuck in a rut for so long of writing songs between eight and twenty five minutes in length that it started to feel forced around a decade ago.  So when I saw they were trying something different (only one song breaks the seven minute barrier), and trying it in the risky fashion of a full-blown concept album telling a movie-length story, I was pretty interested in hearing what they had come up with.

And despite the opening being a minute long noise-piece dedicated to the drone-like creatures on the cover and track two being an overture (which this band has only gotten right once, on "Scenes From A Memory"), I was still with it through track four.  "Th…

IT'S TIME TO RUMBLE: A Look Back At Royal Rumbles' (Just) Past (Part VIII)

Okay, I'm five days late, but yo, I started a new semester and I've already had a few assignments.  Wasn't expecting that.  Anyways, better late than never.  Here's the stats for this year's Royal Rumble, plus a conclusion of some kind, as promised:


2016


Winner: Triple H (Entry: 30th | Lasted: 8:05 | Eliminations: 3)


Bridesmaid: Dean Ambrose (Entry: 19th | Lasted: 29:36 | Eliminations: 1)


Iron Man: Roman Reigns (technically) (Entry: 1st | Lasted: 59:50 | Eliminations: 4 | Dumped: 28th)


Eliminator: Braun Strowman (Entry: 17th | Lasted: 16:44 | Eliminations: 5 | Dumped: 20th)


First To Fall: Rusev (Entry: 2nd | Lasted: 1:30)


Loser: Jack Swagger (Entry: 24th | Lasted: 0:15 | Dumped: 18th)
NOTES:

Total Match Time: 61:42This match was for Roman Reigns' WWE World Heavyweight Title.This is the longest Rumble in 10 years.  2006 was 62:12, had Triple H in the final three and emanated from the state of Florida.  Coincidence?  (...actually, yes.  Totally coincidence.)Though Roman R…