Monday, July 28, 2014

2013 in Music Revisited

As the eight month of 2014 approaches, it's the perfect time to look back at the year of 2013's music and how it holds up in the next calender year. The 2013 list didn't have as much of a shakeup as previous years, but there were a handful of great releases that I didn't get around to until after I published my 2013 year-end recap. Here is my updated rankings for 2013 for both EP's and LP's from worst to best with star ratings and some quick (and some not-so-quick) reviews for the new entries on the list.

EP's (previous ranking)
8. (new) Jhene Aiko-Sail Out (2.5/5)
Jhene Aiko had a huge breakout year in 2013 thanks to guest spots on tracks by Drake, Big Sean and Childish Gambino and the success of her debut EP Sail Out. The beauty of Aiko's voice is undeniable and it doesn't waver throughout the duration of Sail Out, its just that her music lacks soul and direction. The production- mostly handled by Fisticuffs- is boring as hell and Aiko's lyrics leave a lot to be desired. Not even a strong group of guest artists headlined by hip-hop heavyweights Kendrick Lamar and Gambino can lift Sail Out out of the depths of mediocrity. Aiko has the vocal chops to be a star, but suffers from a distinct lack of personality and emotion in her music. 
7. (new) Real Friends-Put Yourself Together (3/5)
In the wave of new pop punk acts, Real Friends is smack dab in the middle in terms of quality. They're too catchy to be written off completely yet too repetitive to make a really strong impression. Put Yourself Together is relatively compelling stuff when you're listening to it, but it escapes your memory almost immediately afterwards. 
6. (5) Glass Cloud-Perfect War Forever (3/5)
5. (4) Kitty-D.A.I.S.Y Rage (3/5)
4. (3) Action Bronson-Saaab Stories (3.5/5)
3.(2) Hundredth-Revolt (4/5)
2. (new) Black Crown Initiate-Song of the Crippled Bull (4/5)
Every year, there's an up-and-coming band in the metal scene that I get really excited about. In 2011, it was Fallujah. In 2012, it was The HARRP Machine. In 2013 that esteemed title goes to Pennsylvania's Black Crown Initiate. Black Crown Intitate plays a striking mix of classic death and new-wave prog metal. Think of them as a modern-day version of Opeth with a sense of groove. Song of The Crippled Bull is a promising start for Black Crown Initiate and hopefully they'll capitalize on their potential with their debut full-length, which is tentatively set for a September release.  
1. (1) Fallujah-Nomadic (4.5/5)

LP's
112.(100) Atilla-About That Life (1/5)
111.(99)  Daft Punk-Random Access Memories (1.5/5)
110.(98) Eminem-The Marshall Mathers LP 2 (2/5)
109.(new) Deafheaven-Sunbather (2/5)
The single most overrated metal record to be released in years. Every single song sounds exactly the same with jarring, awkward tonal shifts, horrible production and ear-piercing vocals from George Clarke that are about the saddest excuse for black metal vocals I've ever heard. Making matters even worse is the album features pointless interludes after each actual song that do nothing but add length to an already bloated, overlong album. The ambient parts have some interesting moments, but it's not nearly enough to save this absolute snore of a record.
108.(97) A Loss for Words-Before it Caves (2/5)
107.(96) Arsonists Get all the Girls-Listen to the Color (2/5)
106.(95) Thee Oh Sees-Floating Coffin (2/5)
105.(94) The Weeknd-Kiss Land (2/5)
104.(93) Kid Cudi-Indicud (2.5/5)
103.(92) 2 Chainz-B.O.A.T.S II #METIME (2.5/5)
102.(new) Scorpion Child-Scorpion Child (2.5/5)
Scorpion Child isn't a bad band at all. They're actually quite the opposite, possessing a lot of talent across the board. It's just that their brand of vintage hard rock doesn't click with me in the slightest. Despite my indifference towards this record, I highly recommend fans of bands like Kiss and Thin Lizzy to check this out immediately.
101.(new) Lorde-Pure Heroine (2.5/5)
There were few artists that enjoyed more success in 2103 than Lorde. The 17 year-old broke out of obscurity with smash hits "Royals" and "Team" and, is now one of the most buzzed about artists in pop music. Her first full-length, Pure Heroine, is a refreshingly raw affair with some huge highlights ("Tennis Court", "Glory and Gore") and sharp lyrics that manage to put a fresh spin on familiar topics (fame, love, partying, etc.) Even with its slick lyrical content and efficiently minimalist style, Pure Heroine is an inconsistent effort that fails to establish traction for any extended period of time. For every "Tennis Court" and "Glory and Gore", there's a boring track like "White Teeth Teens" or "400 Lux" to kill the momentum. Lorde has plenty of great ideas and has the dynamic voice and intelligence to express them, she just needs to express them with more consistency and moxie. 
100.(91) Dropkick Murphys-Signed and Sealed in Blood (2.5/5)
99.(90) Palms-Palms (2.5/5)
98.(new) Paramore-Paramore (2.5/5)
Paramore's first full-length without founding members and primary songwriters The Farro Brothers sees the Tennessee-based band heading into a more pop-based direction. The Farro's musicianship and knack for catchy riffs is sorely missed, but the band is able to stay afloat thanks to vocalist Haley Williams. Wiliams' voice is tailor-made for pop hooks and she lets that be known throughout this album with some of the biggest and bubbliest hooks Paramore has done in their career thus far. Unfortunately, the generic pop-rock instrumentation can't match up to Williams' stellar vocals, making Paramore a giant mixed bag on the whole. 
97.(89) A.F.I.-Burials (2.5/5)
96.(new) Fall Out Boy-Save Rock and Roll (2.5/5)
Fall Out Boy aims to save rock and roll by making a pop album? Fall Out Boy may not save rock and roll on their first LP since 2008's Folie a Deux, but they did at least make a somewhat respectable return to music after a four-year hiatus. Save Rock and Roll certainly doesn't lack in theatrics as Fall Out Boy experiments with orchestration and heavy use of keyboards/synthesizers to create a larger-than-life ode to the pop albums of the 80's and the electronic music of today. Fall Out Boy's new sound results in an erratic album which at its best is incredibly catchy pop bliss ("The Phoenix", "Death Valley", "Just One Yesterday") and at its worst is an obnoxious, whiny, scattered mess ("Alone Together", "The Mighty Fall", "Miss Missing You"). There are certainly some major kinks to work out on future releases, but there's still enough of the energy and sense of fun that made Fall Out Boy such a success in the first place present on Save Rock and Roll to make me optimistic about the next era of the band.
95.(88) Juicy J-Stay Trippy (2.5/5)
94.(87) Korn-The Paradigm Shift (2.5/5)
93.(86) Bring Me the Horizon-Sempiternal (2.5/5)
92.(85) TesseracT-Altered State (2.5/5)
91.(84) Clipping-Midcity (3/5)
90.(new) I, The Mighty-Satori (3/5)
A great vocalist in Brent Walsh is letdown by a mediocre band that has no sense of variation. Satori is certainly not a bad record, but it is an incredibly repetitive one. 
89.(83) Vampire Weekend-Modern Vampires of the City (3/5)
88.(80) Gorguts-Colored Sands (3/5)
87.(new) Flatbush Zombies-Better Off Dead (3/5)
Flatbush Zombies show a little bit of progress on their second mixtape Better Off Dead. Meechy Darko and Zombie Juice are still dropping a plethora of not-so-sophisticated verses about drugs and hoes, they're just more fluid and less annoying than they were on their breakout 2012 tape D.R.U.G.S. In-house producer Erick Arc Elliot remains the only real standout part of the Brooklyn trio with his wide-ranging and consistently spectacular beats. Flatbush Zombies are slowly getting better as a group, but they have a long way to go before they're anything above Brooklyn's best drug-and-pussy rap group named after the living dead.
86.(82) A$AP Rocky-Long. Live. A$AP (3/5)
85.(81) Bad Religion-True North (3/5)
84.(78) Ghostface Killah-Twelve Reasons to Die (3/5)
83.(77) Touche Amore-Is Survived By (3/5)
82.(76) Alice in Chains-The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here (3/5)
81.(75) Queens of the Stone Age-Like Clockwork... (3/5)
80.(74) J. Cole-Born Sinner (3/5)
79.(73) Dark Tranquility-Construct (3/5)
78.(72) Reflections-Ex(i)st (3/5)
77.(71) Northlane-Singularity (3/5)
76.(new) Childish Gambino-Because the Internet (3/5)
You really have to admire Childish Gambino's (a.k.a comedian/former Community star Donald Glover) ambition on his second LP Because the Internet. The record is all over the place production-wise with everything from eerie, ambient samples to saxophone solos and features a concept about the various effects the internet has on modern society- which is further detailed in a screenplay that was enclosed with the deluxe edition of the album. Despite all of the experimentation and forward-thinking that's featured on Because the Internet, the record still manages to be disjointed and really can't decide what direction it wants to go in. On the positive end, Gambino shows much more confidence and skill on the mic and the straight hip-hop tracks("Sweatpants" and "Crawl" in particular) on here are mostly pretty good. Where Because the Internet falters is a majority of the R&B-fueled tracks (the Jhene Aiko collab track "Pink Toes" being the notable exception) on here. Gambino has a half-decent singing voice, but his vocals are not nearly strong enough to carry an entire track by themselves. Not to mention that the album's concept is incredibly feeble and ill-conceived, with only a couple of tracks having anything even remotely meaningful to say about the problems the internet and social media cause in the modern day. Because the Internet is simultaneously a major improvement and a huge missed opportunity to create something special for Gambino.
75.(79) A$AP Ferg-Trap Lord (3/5)
74.(70) mr.muthafuckin' eXquire-Kismet (3.5/5)
73.(69) Terror-Live By the Code (3.5/5)
72.(68) R.A the Rugged Man-Legends Never Die (3.5/5)
71.(67) Noisem-Agony Defined (3.5/5)
70.(66) Arcade Fire-Reflektor (3.5/5)
69.(64) Kylesa-Ultraviolet (3.5/5)
68.(63) Volbeat-Outlaw Gentleman & Shady Ladies (3.5/5)
67.(62) Havok-Unnatural Selection (3.5/5)
66.(61) Doomriders-Grand Blood (3.5/5)
65.(59) Chimaira-Crown of Phantoms (3.5/5)
64.(58) Captain, We're Sinking-The Future is Cancelled (3.5/5)
63.(57) Within the Ruins-Elite (3.5/5)
62.(56) Ramming Speed-Doomed to Destroy, Destined to Die (3.5/5)
61.(60) iwrestledabearonce-Late for Nothing (3.5/5)
60.(55) Tyler, the Creator-Wolf (3.5/5)
59.(52) Red Fang-Whales and Leeches (3.5/5)
58.(46) Earl Sweatshirt-Doris (3.5/5)
57.(53) Children of Bodom-Halo of Blood (3.5/5)
56.(51) CZARFACE-CZARFACE (3.5/5)
55.(35) Death Grips-Government Plates (3.5/5)
54.(47) Last Chance to Reason-Level 3 (3.5/5)
53.(32) Fleshgod Apocalypse-Labyrinth (3.5/5)
52.(49) Mac Miller-Watching Movies With the Sound Off (3.5/5)
51.(54) Amon Amarth-Deciver of the Gods (3.5/5)
50.(65) Kvelertak-Meir (3.5/5)
49.(48) The Story So Far-What You Don't See (3.5/5)
48.(50) Chance the Rapper-Acid Rap (3.5/5)
47.(45) Big K.R.I.T.-King Remembered in Time (3.5/5)
46.(44) Coheed and Cambria-The Afterman: Descension (3.5/5)
45.(43) Born of Osiris-Tommorow We Die Alive (4/5)
44.(42) Finntroll-Bloodsvept (4/5)
43.(41) Crossfaith-Apocalyze (4/5)
42.(40) Vince Staples & Larry Fisherman-Stolen Youth LP (4/5)
41.(39) Warbringer-IV: Empires Collapse (4/5)
40.(38) Rivers of Nihil-The Conscious Seed of Light (4/5)
39.(37) Pusha T-My Name Is My Name (4/5)
38.(36) Defeater-Letters Home (4/5)
37.(34) Devildriver-Winter Kills (4/5)
36.(33) Rob Zombie-Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor (4/5)
35.(30) Heaven Shall Burn-Veto (4/5)
34.(31) Intronaut-Habitual Leviations (Instilling Words With Tones) (4/5)
33.(27) Rotting Out-The Wrong Way (4/5)
32.(26) Counterparts-The Difference Between Hell and Home (4/5)
31.(25) Suffocation-Pinnacle of Bedlam (4/5)
30.(new) Ovid's Withering-Scryers of the Ibis (4/5)
If all deathcore bands were as forward thinking as Ovid's Withering, the genre would be not nearly as frowned upon as it currently is in the metal community. Ovid's Withering plays a combination of deathcore, prog, djent and symphonic black metal that sounds like a jumbled mess on paper, but is enthralling and wildly original in practice. The breakdowns are pummeling, the orchestration is beautiful, the vocals are loaded with black-metal and the tempo shifts are flawless. If you're a fan of extreme metal that isn't afraid of a band that has breakdowns, you'll be rewarded handsomely with the bonkers ride that is Scryers of the Ibis. 
29.(29) A Day to Remember-Common Courtesy (4/5)
28.(28) Action Bronson-Blue Chips 2 (4/5)
27.(22) The Wonder Years-The Greatest Generation (4/5)
26.(new) State Champs-The Finer Things (4/5)
There must be something in the water at Pure Noise Records. The label is previously responsible for launching the careers of new-wave pop-punk behemoths such as Four Year Strong and The Story So Far and have shown time and time again that they have an ability to find and sign the best bands in the genre. Pure Noise's newest success story is New York's State Champs, whose debut LP The Finer Things is the gold standard for the next wave of pop punk bands. State Champs have more of straight-punk crunch than most of their peers without sacrificing the traditonal pop punk catchiness. Ampflying the band's treasure trove of bouncy riffs is the impressive vocal chops of Derek Discanio. Discanio goes above and beyond the call of duty for your average pop punk vocalist with a unique style and range that could apply to a variety of other styles of music. State Champs are the easily the finest pop punk to emerge since their labelmates The Story So Far and I can't wait to see where they go from here.
25.(new) Night Verses-Lift Your Existence (4/5)
Say hello to Nigh Verses, the next great post-hardcore band. Vocalist Douglas Robinsion-formerly of The Sleeping-has an incredible range that allows him to sing over both aggressive ("Rage", "Antidepressants" and emotionally-charged, melodic tracks ("Yours", "Blind Lighthouse") with equal levels of success. The scope of Lift Your Existence is insane and that diversity leads to one of the most satisfying and challenging records this genre has seen in the last decade. 
24.(24) Death Angel-The Dream Calls for Blood (4/5)
23.(23) Soilwork-The Living Infinite (4/5)
22.(21) Conducting from the Grave-Conducting from the Grave (4/5)
21.(20) After the Burial-Wolves Within (4/5)
20.(19) Scale the Summit-The Migration (4/5)
19.(17) letlive.-The Blackest Beautiful (4/5)
18.(16) Clutch-Earth Rocker (4/5)
17.(15) Hatebreed-The Divinity of Purpose (4/5)
16.(14) Anciients-Heart of Oak (4/5)
15.(13) Misery Signals-Absent Light (4/5)
14.(18) Kanye West-Yeezus (4/5)
13.(new) The Safety Fire-Mouth of Swords (4/5)
There's improving from your previous record, then there's what The Safety Fire did with Mouth of Swords, the follow-up to their subpar 2012 effort Grind the Ocean. It's almost unbelievable just how much they progressed over the course of one album. Mouth of Swords sees The Safety Fire go from talented, but ultimately underwhelming act to one of the most unique and interesting forces in progressive metal. A majority of the improvement found on Mouth of Swords can be attributed to vocalist Sean McWeeny. His vocals on Grind the Ocean were grating to an extent that the band was almost completely unlistenable. His vocals on Mouth of Swords on the other hand are the most endearing aspect of the entire record. McWeeny's screams are still a little bit suspect, but his cleans are absolutely astonishing and more than make up for any deficiencies his harsh vocals have. The Safety Fire has gotten stronger instrumentally as well with more striking melodies and sneakily technical guitarwork that perfectly complements McWeeny's vocals. It's been six months since I heard this record for the first time and I still can't believe just how great it is. Kudos to The Safety Fire for vastly improving as a band and releasing one of the best records of 2013.     
12.(12) August Burns Red-Rescue & Restore (4/5)
11.(11) Danny Brown-Old (4/5)
10.(10) Run the Jewels-Run the Jewels (4/5)
9.(9) The Black Dahlia Murder-Everblack (4.5/5)
8.(8) Hope for the Dying-Altheia (4.5/5)
7.(7) Skeletonwitch-Serpents Unleashed (4.5/5)
6.(6) The Ocean-Pelagial (4.5/5)
5.(5) Battlecross-War of Will (4.5/5)
4.(4) Protest the Hero-Volition (4.5/5)
3.(3)The Dillinger Escape Plan-One of Us is the Killer (4.5/5)
2.(2) Killswitch Engage-Disarm the Descent (4.5/5)
1.(1) Revocation-Revocation (4.5/5)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

2014 NFL Position Rankings: Top 50 Cornerbacks

The last phase of the position ranking series starts today with cornerbacks. Here my selections for the top 50 currently playing in the NFL.

50.Xavier Rhodes (Vikings)
49.Logan Ryan (Patriots)
48.Kareem Jackson (Texans)
47.Bradley Fletcher (Eagles)
46.Corey White (Saints)
45.Drayton Florence (Free Agent)
44.Nolan Carroll (Eagles)
43.Rashean Mathis (Lions)
42.Tramon Williams (Packers)
41.William Gay (Steelers)
40.Corey Graham (Bills)
39.Alan Ball (Jaguars)
38.Chris Crocker (Bengals)
37.Jimmy Smith (Ravens)
36.Adam Jones (Bengals)
35.Stephon Gilmore (Bills)
34.Casey Hayward (Packers)
33.Cortez Allen (Steelers)
32.Walter Thurmond (Giants)
31.Tramaine Brock (49ers)
30.Brandon Flowers (Chiefs)
29.Chris Owens (Browns)
28.Tarrel Brown (Raiders)
27.Sam Shields (Packers)
26.Desmond Trufant (Falcons)
25.Leodis McKelvin (Bills)
24.Antonio Cromartie (Cardinals)
23.Charles Tillman (Bears)
22.Brandon Boykin (Eagles)
21.Brandon Browner (Patriots)
20.Byron Maxwell (Seahawks)
19.Jason McCourty (Titans)
18.Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Giants)
17.Chris Harris (Broncos)
16.Leon Hall (Bengals)
15.Prince Amukamura (Giants)
14.Lardarius Webb (Ravens)
13.Captain Munnerlyn (Vikings)
12.Keenan Lewis (Saints)
11.Jonathan Joesph (Texans)
10.DeAngelo Hall (Redskins)
9.Tim Jennings (Bears)
8.Vontae Davis (Colts)
7.Aqib Talib (Broncos)
6.Brent Grimes (Dolphins)
5.Alterraun Verner (Buccaneers)
4.Joe Haden (Browns)
3.Patrick Peterson (Cardinals)
2.Darrelle Revis (Patriots)
1.Richard Sherman (Seahawks)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

50 Most Underrated Albums of the 2000's (So Far): #22

22.Atmosphere-Seven's Travels (2003)
Hip-hop group Atmosphere finally released the masterpiece they had hinted at in their years of grinding in the underground scene with 2002's God Loves Ugly. Some acts take a steep decline after releasing a landmark album, but for Atmosphere the release of God Loves Ugly marked the beginning of a streak of excellent releases for the group. Seven's Travels, the immediate follow-up to God Loves Ugly, marks the last of Atmosphere's not entirely serious records and remains a highly enjoyable and refreshingly original listen over a decade after its release.The bizarre interludes scattered throughout prevent it from reaching the heights of God Loves Ugly, but the actual songs are some of the strongest Atmosphere has ever released. "Trying to Find a Balance" is the perfect Atmosphere song with its anthematic hook, powerful lyrics and memorable production while the grimy banger "Cats Van Bags" is an uncharacteristically aggressive track from the typically laid-back duo. While Seven's Travels is mostly a light listen, there are some profound tracks ("Reflections", "Bird Sings Why the Caged I Know", "Suicidegirls") that pack a serious emotional punch. Seven's Travels is the perfect antithesis for the varied behemoth of a record that was God Loves Ugly and the somber material of the records that followed it.

Standout Tracks
1.Trying to Find a Balance http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X51sL4SzVG4
2.Cats Van Bags http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZeTa8BSiih0
3.Reflections http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=llDczT9BzAg

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Concert Review: Deathwish Fest Day 1 (Converge/Trap Them)-- Cambridge, MA-- July 22, 2014

Converge frontman Jake Bannon's Beverly, Massachusetts-based record, label, Deathwish Inc., kicked off their first-ever festival at The Middle East in Cambridge, Massachusetts yesterday. A sampling of Deathwish's stable of standout hardcore and sludge acts made up the bill for the label's inaugural festival and as excepted with a label of this caliber, the evening was a grand success.

The only thing that was not great about Deathwish Fest was the entry process. The line was unlike anything I've ever seen at the Middle East before as I waited over an hour in line to get into the venue. Upon entering the venue, I figured out that the delay was caused by the fact that they needed to verify that everyone that was supposed to go (the show was moved to the Middle East from another venue in Cambridge) to the show got into the show. The venue had to go through a bunch of hard-copy lists to figure out who was on the list for single day and two-days passes, which as you can imagine, is a very tedious process. Despite getting to the venue right after the doors opened, I ended up missing the first two bands while waiting in the unholy-long line.

Thankfully, I was able to get into the venue right before the first band I wanted to see, Cult Leader, started their set. For those who don't know, Cult Leader rose from the ashes of Salt Lake City sludge/grind outfit Gaza and features the same lineup they had (minus vocalist Jon Parkin) before they disbanded in early 2013. Cult Leader has pretty much the same amount of raw heaviness that Gaza has with a little more of a pure sludge edge. Vocalist Anthony Lucero isn't quite as intimidating of a frontman as Parkin was -namely because he's not 6'8- but he still possesses the fire and rage that made Gaza such a force as a live band. They played all of their debut LP Nothing For Us Here plus a new track with basically no time in-between songs, making their set that much more crushing. Unfortunately, Cult Leader got a lukewarm crowd reception and left the stage after their half-hour set with perhaps the most indifferent round of applause I've ever heard in my life. Despite the collective shoulder shrug from the crowd, I thought Cult Leader was great and I'm glad to see they're just as effective of a live band as Gaza was.

Doomriders was up next. These guys were the only band on the bill that I'd seen before and just like the first time I saw them opening for High on Fire last November, they were great. Their wide-ranging material and knack for catchy, memorable riffs makes them one of the most pure fun bands to see in all of metal. Frontman Nate Newton- who pulled double duty last night as he is also the bassist for Converge- is an excellent frontman who really knows how to work a crowd. Despite Newton's best efforts, Doomriders still went over like a fart in church. It was really odd to see Doomriders' riff-heavy brand of sludge/stoner metal go over so poorly with a Converge crowd when one of their members is in the band, but I guess their music just doesn't appeal to the hardcore-based crowd Converge draws. Doomriders is a dope live band and I'd love to see them again with a better crowd.

Based on the reaction to Cult Leader and Doomriders, I expected the crowd to wake up for the first hardcore band on the bill in Blacklisted. I was correct. People not only woke up for Blacklisted, they lost their fucking minds. I enjoy hardcore, but I'm not fully immersed in the scene, so I had no idea who Blacklisted was before this show. That all changed after their performance as Blacklisted put on one of the evening's finest performances by far. These guys are one of the most dynamic hardcore bands I've ever heard tackling everything from thrashy, in-your-face Terror-esque hardcore to full-on experimental, progressive material over the course of their 35-minute set. In a genre that typically stays to a clear formula, it's great to see a band that goes all over the map and excels at every style they try out. Adding to the unpredictable nature of their music was the immense passion of frontman George Hirsch. He was suffering from an illness and was pretty hoarse in-between songs, but he poured his heart and soul into every song and sounded amazing vocally throughout the set. Blacklisted has traveled to the top of my must-listen list and I look forward to hearing their new LP this fall.

Modern Life is War was up next. Of all the bands not named Converge on this bill, they were the band I was most intrigued to see. I'd heard nothing but amazing things about things and it's always cool to get an opportunity to see such an iconic band perform. For reasons I can't quite put my finger on, Modern Life is War slightly underwhelmed me. About the only logical explanation I can think of is that Modern Life is War had the rough task of following Blacklisted, who is a much more varied act that plays the same style of music. I seemed to be the only a-hole who felt this way because Modern Life is War had arguably the most explosive crowd reaction of the entire show. Vocalist Jeff Eaton constantly got mugged for the mic by a sea of crowd surfers and stage divers while giving all of that energy right back to the crowd by repeatedly going into the crowd himself and encouraging even more people to get up front and yell the words into the mic with him. During the second-to-last song, Eaton asked the security guard standing on the side of the stage what the crowd could do during the song. The security guard responded by saying "anything as long as it's not stupid". Of course with the type of unintentional blessing for chaos from security, the room launched into an all-out warzone for the entire song with a non-stop flow of people getting on stage and the pits expanding to fill the entire front of the room. That is one of the things I love about hardcore shows, the fans are incredibly passionate and go absolutely crazy at every possible opportunity. Modern Life is War put on a solid and wildly energetic performance, they just didn't impress me as much as I expected them to.

The first of the two headliners, Trap Them, took the stage. It was amazing how much of the room cleared out after Modern Life is War, but the people that remained for Trap Them were every bit as passionate as the diehards who were present for Modern Life is War. Trap Them is a band that I've slept on for a long time and after their performance last night, I kind hate of myself for it. These dudes have a level of grit that few other bands in the scene do. Every single song has this unique, grimy aura to it and it's just beautiful to listen to (if you enjoy sloppy, heavy bands that is.) Their music has so many dark, punchy riffs that you start to lose count by the time they've played a couple of songs. "Salted Crypts" off their new record Blissfucker set the ominous tone with a barrage of slow doom riffs while closer "The Facts" from 2011's Darker Handcraft is a full-on punk anthem with fast riffs galore that would make the legends of the genre ecstatic. The bottom line is that regardless of the pace of the song, Trap Them has the perfect riffs to accompany it. Despite a plethora of amazing riffs, the highlight of Trap Them's set was vocalist Ryan McKenney. McKenney is one of the most quietly intense frontmen I've ever seen perform. In-between songs, he's a soft-spoken, reserved guy, but when he's doing vocals, he becomes this almost otherworldly being who seems solely focused on destroying everything in his path. McKenney is the perfect frontman for a band that makes music that's as dark and evil as the material Trap Them makes. Trap Them's performance here has instantly made me a fan and I plan on delving into their older discography (I listened to Blissfucker in its entirety before the show) immediately.

The men of the hour and the reason this fest exists in the first place, Converge, came on at 11:15 to wrap up the nearly six hours of music I heard on the evening. Despite also hailing from their home state and being a fan of theirs for over five years now, the stars had never really aligned on me seeing Converge until now. Now that I've seen Converge, I'm really frustrated that I hadn't seen them sooner. All the hype I'd heard about their live shows over the years was 100% true. Converge is every bit as good, if not better live than on record. The utter chaos, power and beauty of their music really takes flight in a live setting. The ringleader at the forefront of Converge's wild performances is vocalist Jake Bannon. Bannon is one of the most intense and flat-out insane frontmen of all-time. His signature shrieking vocals are just as menacing live and he barely stopped moving for the whole hour they were on stage-constantly running around and holding the mic out for fans in the front to scream/sing along. Bannon wasn't the only member of Converge that was active on stage, bassist Nate Newton carried over the energy he had with Doomriders by flailing and jumping around like a crazy person while drummer Ben Koller and guitarist Kurt Ballou provided tons of energy as well despite the complexity of the material they're playing. Underneath all the energy they give off and musical bedlam they provide, Converge is one of the single most talented bands I've ever had the pleasure of seeing perform. Koller's leads the rhythm section with his mesmerizing drumming which features a surplus of mind-boggling fills and blast beats (especially on the newer material) while Newton shines on bass every time he gets the chance to be heard in the mix. Ballou is a similarly freakishly gifted musician with the solos on "Reap What You Sow" and furious set closer "Effigy" showing his penchant for unconventional and genre-defining guitarwork. Watching these guys play in person made me appreciate them that much more as musicians. Converge gets a lot of love for their contributions to the genre over the years and have had numerous acclaimed records, but the individual members of the band still don't get nearly enough credit for how brilliant they are at their respective instruments. As for the setlist, it was damn near perfect with a plethora of material from their 2001 classic Jane Doe and their two most recent releases Axe to Fall and All We Love Be Leave Behind made up an overwhelming majority of the set. The Jane Doe material including "Concubine" and "Homewrecker" was as insanely heavy as I expected them to be, but it was the more recent album standouts like "Trespasses", "Glacial Pace" and the aforementioned "Reap What You Sow" that were the most enjoyable and purely energetic tracks of the evening. It was a treat to finally see Converge and I have no doubt in my mind that day two of Deathwish's festival will be equally fantastic. Here's hoping this becomes an annual event.

Scores:
Cult Leader 8/10
Doomriders 8/10
Blacklisted 8.5/10
Modern Life is War 7.5/10
Trap Them 8.5/10
Converge 9/10

Setlists:
Cult Leader:
Played all of their LP+ 1 new song, they closed with Driftwood.

Doomriders included:
Come Alive
Black Thunder

Blacklisted included:
I Am Weighing Me Down
Turn the Pike
Rip Tide
Matrimony
New Song (it was the title track from their new LP, the name just slips my mind

Modern Life is War included:
John and Jimmy
Fuck The Sex Pistols
Health, Wealth & Peace
Currency (closer)

Trap Them included:
Salted Crypts (opener)
Lungrunners
Fucking Viva
Savage Climbers
The Facts (closer)

Converge:
Eagles Become Vultures
Aimless Arrow
Veins and Veils
Drop Out
Heartless
Heartache
Trespasses
All We Love We Leave Behind
Runaway
Reap What You Sow
Cutter
Glacial Pace
Heaven in Her Arms
Homewrecker
Concubine
Fault and Fracture
Disintegration (The Cure Cover) (w/Stephen Brodsky, first proper live performance according to Jake Bannon)
Effigy

Monday, July 21, 2014

2014 NFL Position Rankings: Top 50 Outside Linebackers

Today's entry in the 2014 NFL position ranking series is at arguably the deepest position in the league, outside linebacker. Here my picks for the 50 best at this talent-rich position. 

50.Barkevious Mingo (Browns)
49.Sam Acho (Cardinals)
48.Brooks Reed (Texans)
47.Stephen Nicholas (Falcons)
46.Nate Irving (Broncos)
45.Alec Ogletree (Rams)
44.Quinton Coples (Jets)
43.Zach Brown (Titans)
42.Dan Skota (49ers)
41.Bruce Carter (Cowboys)
40.Akeem Ayers (Titans)
39.LaMarr Woodley (Raiders)
38.Jarret Johnson (Chargers)
37.Dont'a Hightower (Patriots)
36.Manny Lawson (Bills)
35.Paul Kruger (Browns)
34.Brandon Graham (Eagles)
33.Junior Gallette (Saints)
32.Whitney Mercilus (Texans)
31.Koa Misi (Dolphins)
30.Calvin Pace (Jets)
29.Bruce Irvin (Seahawks)
28.Spencer Paysinger (Giants)
27.John Abraham (Cardinals)
26.Jamie Collins (Patriots)
25.Conor Barwin (Eagles)
24.Jason Worldiis (Steelers)
23.K.J. Wright (Seahawks)
22.Sio Moore (Raiders)
21.Ryan Kerrigan (Redskins)
20.Trent Cole (Eagles)
19.Lance Briggs (Bears)
18.DeAndre Levy (Lions)
17.Malcolm Smith (Seahawks)
16.Danny Trevathan (Broncos)
15.Ahmad Brooks (49ers)
14.Chad Greenway (Vikings)
13.Elvis Dumervil (Ravens)
12.Terrell Suggs (Ravens)
11.Thomas Davis (Panthers)
10.Jerod Mayo (Patriots)
9.Brian Orakpo (Redskins)
8.Vontaze Burfict (Bengals)
7.Justin Houston (Chiefs)
6.Tamba Hali (Chiefs)
5.Aldon Smith (49ers)
4.Robert Mathis (Colts)
3.Lavonte David (Buccaneers)
2.Von Miller (Broncos)
1.Clay Matthews (Packers)

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Concert Review: Killswitch Engage-- Providence, RI-- July 19th, 2014

Being from Massachusetts-where a majority of high-profile tours come when they roll through New England- I don't attend shows in other states very often. On the off-chance a tour doesn't come to Massachuetts, Rhode Island is typically the place they end up playing. The last time I went to a show in Rhode Island (Black Dahlia Murder/Skeletonwitch/Fallujah last October) it ended up being one of the best shows I attended in 2013. The Killswitch Engage/Unearth/After the Burial show at Lupo's in Providence last night was not only one of the best shows I've been to in 2014 so far, but one of the absolute best shows I've ever been to.

The fact that this show ended up being so memorable is pretty amazing considering how the night started off. There was a series of complications that occurred a couple of hours before the show which caused my friends and I to leave later than we'd planned to. Our delayed departure caused us to miss Code Orange, which kind of bummed me out since I've never seen them before and I've heard nothing but great things about their live show. Thankfully, they're coming to Massachusetts in early October on a co-headliner with Twitching Tongues, so I'll hopefully get the chance to see them then.

By the time we arrived, After the Burial was about to go on. As always, After the Burial put on a tight and extremely energetic set. Vocalist Anthony Notarmaso and lead guitarist Trent Hafdahl are an absolutely lethal tandem. Notarmaso is an elite vocalist whose low and high-pitched screams have equal bite while Hafdahl has a level of precision and technical flair that few in the genre possess. The set was even split between material from their last three records Rareform, In Dreams and Wolves Within; which gave the band ample opportunity to show off their propensity for frantic guitar solos and crushing grooves. It was great to see Wolves Within standout "Pennyweight" in the set and "Berzerker" never fails to be a shitload of fun live. The only lowlight of the set was Hafdahl's guitar briefly going out during the middle of the solo in "My Frailty". Of all the OG Sumerian death/metalcore bands, After the Burial is easily the best live act and I really hope I can see them play a longer set before the touring cycle for Wolves Within is complete.

Unearth was up next. I just saw these guys a month and a half ago on their 10th anniversary tour for The Oncoming Storm and it was a pleasure to get to see them again in such a short window of time. While they weren't quite as sharp this time around as they were on that tour, they still put on a hell of a show. The consistency and intensity of their shows is a big part of the reason why Unearth has achieved such longevity in the scene. Aside from the pleasant surprise of "Last Wish" from Darkness in the Light, the setlist wasn't particularity adventurous with the staples from The Oncoming Storm once again dominating the set. The lack of variety in Unearth's set is certainly a valid cause for aggravation for people that have seen them a lot over the years, but it really doesn't bother me that much. Tracks like "The Great Dividers" and "Endless" are amongst my absolute favorite songs by them and they're always amazing to hear live. Of course, I would love to hear some lesser-played cuts from III: In the Eyes of Fire and The March, but given the fact that I've seen them so many times without much variation in the setlist, I know that's probably not going to happen. Unearth crushed as always and I'm pumped for their new record to come out in October.

After about an approximately half-hour wait, it was finally time for Killswitch Engage to take the stage. Of the four times I've seen Killswitch Engage, this was far and away the best. The combination of guitarist Joel Stroetzel having to miss the show due to a family emergency and this being Jesse Leach's first show in his hometown of Providence since he rejoined the band in 2012 gave this show a massive emotional edge. The band went above and beyond to pour every ounce of their heart into their performance. You could tell that Stroetzel's absence was making them distraught and they wanted to go out there and put on the show of a lifetime for him. Let's just say they succeeded in that goal and then some. The entire band exuded an unreal amount of energy for the 75 minutes they were on-stage and somehow manged to collectively sound even better than usual. The setlist was beautiful with material from their two best records, Alive or Just Breathing and End of Heartache, making up a vast majority of the set. Classics like set opener "Fixation on the Darkness", "My Last Serenade" and "A Bid Farewell" were awesome, but it was the leaser-known tracks that really impressed. Alive or Just Breathing deep cuts "Vida Infra" and "Temple From the Within" were totally unexpected and it was incredibly satisfying to actually hear them live after all these years. I actually made a comment before they went on saying how great it would be if broke out rarities from Alive or Just Breathing like "Vida Infra" and "Temple from Within", so it was really surreal when they ended up actually playing those tracks. The most striking moment of the evening and the tipping point for the show's highly poignant vibe was Disarm the Descent ballad "Always", which was dedicated to Stroetzel and his family. Leach gave his best performance of the entire night and I was almost moved to tears with the sheer power and heartfelt delivery of his vocals. "Always" has struck a chord with me recently with its themes of losing someone close to you after one of my best friends died in a car accident last December. He was a huge Killswitch fan and it was one of the first songs I listened to after he passed away, so hearing it live was a beautiful and gut-wrenching moment for me. Hearing "Always" live on such an emotional night for the band was a beyond powerful experience that I will truly never forget. Making Killswitch's performance that much more special was the insane reception they received from the crowd . Both After the Burial and Unearth got an excellent reception, but the room was absolutely on fire for Killswitch with just about every person in the room losing their minds and singing along at the top of their lungs throughout the set. This was a special set for Killswitch Engage and I feel truly blessed to have been able to witness it.

Side Notes:
-Killswitch played the first 10 songs as a four-piece then had Ken Susi from Unearth join them as a second guitarist for the last six songs
-Matt DeVries from Fear Factory filled in on bass for Unearth

Scores:
After the Burial 8.5/10
Unearth 9/10
Killswitch Engage 10/10

Setlists:
After the Burial:
A Wolf Amongst Ravens
My Frailty
Berzerker
Pennyweight
Aspiration
Your Troubles Will Cease and Fortune Will Smile Upon You

Unearth:
Watch it Burn
New Song
This Lying World
Last Wish
The Great Dividers
Endless
Giles
My Heart Bleeds No Longer
Zombie Autopilot
Black Hearts Now Reign
My Will Be Done

Killswitch Engage:
Fixation on the Darkness
Rose of Sharyn
In Due Time
Life to Lifeless
Take This Oath
No End in Sight
Breathe Life
The New Awakening
Vida Infra
Temple From the Within
Always
My Last Serenade
A Bid Farewell
Numbered Days
My Curse
The End of Heartache

Friday, July 18, 2014

2014 NFL Position Rankings: Top 30 Inside Linebackers

30.DeMeco Ryans (Eagles)
29.D.J. Williams (Bears)
28.A.J. Hawk (Packers)
27.Perry Riley (Redskins)
26.Paul Worrilow (Falcons)
25.Curtis Lofton (Saints)
24.David Harris (Jets)
23.Jon Beason (Giants)
22.Wesley Woodyard (Titans)
21.Vincent Rey (Bengals)
20.Brandon Spikes (Bills)
19.Jerrell Freeman (Colts)
18.Nick Roach (Raiders)
17.Lawrence Timmons (Steelers)
16.D'Qwell Jackson (Colts)
15.Daryl Washington (Cardinals)
14.Paul Poslusnzy (Jaguars)
13.Daryl Smith (Ravens)
12.Brian Cushing (Texans)
11.Donald Butler (Chargers)
10.Bobby Wagner (Seahawks)
9.James Laurinatis(Rams)
8.Karlos Dansby (Browns)
7.Stephen Tulloch (Lions)
6.Kiko Alonso (Bills)
5.Sean Lee (Cowboys)
4.Derrick Johnson (Chiefs)
3.NaVorro Bowman (49ers)
2.Luke Kuechly (Panthers)
1.Patrick Willis (49ers)