Thursday, July 24, 2014

Top 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)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Album Review: Goatwhore-Constricting Rage of the Merciless

In the world of extreme metal, there's not many acts you can consistently count on. Veteran bands frequently fall off later in their career by either having their proven formula lose steam (Children of Bodom), suffering the loss of a key member (In Flames) or just go completely off the deep end and develop an odd love for electronic music and arena-rock chants (Morbid Angel). Goatwhore does not fall into this camp as they're continuing to put out killer music well into their second decade as a band as evidenced by their sixth LP, Constricting Rage of the Merciless.

Constricting Rage of the Merciless is still very much rooted in the same death/black/thrash metal mold Goathwhore has followed for their entire career. Clearly it's not anything groundbreaking at this point in time, but it never becomes stagnant or dull, and that's really all that matters.While the record mostly sticks to this formula, Goatwhore strays from it more here than they ever have in the past. "Cold Earth Consumed in Dying Flesh" has an almost doom/stoner vibe with a staggeringly dreary atmosphere and gloomy riffing throughout. At almost six minutes in length, "Cold Earth Consumed in Dying Flesh" is essentially an epic track for a band that typically makes songs that clock in at just over three minutes. "Schadenfreude" is another track that defies the Goatwhore formula with the use of a prominent melodic guitar line. While it's certainly out of character to hear Sammy Duet lay down a melodic riff for even a second, it works surprisingly well. I would like to see Duet lay down some more of this type of riff in the future as it serves as a nice reprieve from the typical speed and unapologetic heaviness Goatwhore specializes in.

The slight experimentation is certainly a nice touch, but there's no denying that Goatwhore is at their best when they're ripping the listeners faces off. The handful of thrashers on Constricting Rage of the Merciless are amongst the most savage creations they've ever made. "FBS" and "Externalize the Hidden Savagery" feature clean, fretboard-melting solowork that sounds like its been ripped straight from the genre's heyday in the 80's while "Reanimated Sacrifice" has an almost crossover appeal with a prominent hardcore/crust edge to balance out the furious speed of the track. While all of these tracks are incredibly impressive, the crown jewel of the album is lead single "Baring Teeth for Revolt". "Baring Teeth for Revolt" is an absolute barn burner with some of the most substantial riffing I've heard in the past few years as well as a ridiculously catchy hook that's almost too catchy to appear on such an evil and fast track. Goatwhore has that rare energy level and high density of quality riffs that is needed to master the art of thrash metal. If Goatwhore was an exclusively blackened thrash band, they'd without question be as revered as current genre heavyweights Skeletonwitch and Toxic Holocaust.

Constricting Rage of the Merciless shows that Goatwhore hasn't lost even a bit of their touch after all of these years. Goatwhore may not trek into a lot of uncharted territory on this record, but that doesn't take away from how engaging and memorable of a listen it is. These guys deserve a ton of credit for grinding along for so long making grimy blackened death/thrash metal with the same level of ferocity and enthusiasm as they were on their 2000 debut The Eclipses of Ages into Black. Goatwhore is one of extreme metal's most unheralded, blue-collar bands, and I sincerely hope that never changes.

4/5 Stars
Standout Tracks
1.Baring Teeth for Revolt
2.Externalize the Hidden Savagery
3.Schadenfreude  

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

50 Most Underrated Albums of the 2000's (So Far): #23

23.Behemoth-Evangelion (2009)
Poland blackened death metal icons Behemoth made a triumphant comeback earlier this year with The Satanist- their first record to be released since vocalist/guitarist Nergal beat leukemia. However, Evangelion, their last record to come out prior to their multi-year hiatus is an even more savage and fulfilling listen than The Satanist. Evangelion takes Behemoth's pummeling death metal sound and beefs it up with a beautifully contrasting middle-eastern influence. The use of sitars, spoken-word pieces and Arabian-inspired guitar scales make Behemoth's already epic sound even more grandiose. Evangelion has all the ferocity of a typical Behemoth record with an added layer of excitement and experimentation with music from an area of the world that needs more exposure. 
Standout Tracks