Saturday, December 20, 2014

Update

Hello All,
If you frequent this site, you've probably noticed the lack of content of late. Given the fact that I just finished finals on Tuesday and am using my free time to catch up on a bunch of albums and movies that I ignored from earlier in the year in preparation for year-end list season, I just haven't had much time to write recently. I apologize for this lack of content, and I assure you that I'll be back to writing regularly in early January when this chaotic season is over. What you can except before the publishing of my year-end lists, is reviews for The Red Chord/Despised Icon and Four Year Strong shows at The Palladium in Worcester, Massachusetts, J. Cole's 2014 Forest Hills Drive and if time permits, Chris Rock's new film, Top Five. I wish you a healthy and wonderful holiday season and hope you check back in the coming weeks for new posts!

Chris Maitland

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Album Review: Big K.R.I.T.-Cadillactica

If there was an award for hardest working man in hip-hop, Big K.R.I.T. would get it. K.R.I.T. has been steadily dropping at least one release a year since his 2010 debut K.R.I.T. Wuz Here as well as handling production for the likes of Rick Ross and A$AP Ferg and doing guest spots on tracks by A$AP Rocky, CunninLynguists and countless others. K.R.I.T keeps his streak of releasing new material annually alive for another year with his second major label full-length, Cadillactica. While Cadillactica, may have taken more time to put together and cover more diverse musical territory than any of K.R.I.T.'s other records, it has the exact same strengths and weaknesses as every one of his prior releases.

Cadillactica starts off a bang with a string of excellent tracks that sees K.R.I.T. once again checking all his usual musical boxes. Six of the first seven tracks are evenly divided between grimy, dirty south jams ("My Sub Pt. 3", "Cadillactica", "King of the South",) and conscious material ("Kreation","Life", "Soul Food"). All of these tracks are driven by K.R.I.T's effortless confidence on the mic and flawless production choices. K.R.I.T has stereo-thumping southern hip-hop and sharp, introspective storytelling down to an exact science at this point in his career. About the only surprise in the opening stretch of Cadillactica is "Pay Attention", a solid, radio-friendly anthem with a wildly catch hook from Rico Love. "Pay Attention" marks the only time on all of Cadillactica where K.R.I.T departs from his usual bag of tricks with any level of success   

After album standout "King of the South", K.R.I.T. delves into experimental mode for the second half of the album, and the results are mostly underwhelming. A majority of these tracks see K.R.I.T. trying to appeal to the R&B crowd ,and it's just not a natural fit for him. "Do You Love Me" and "Third Eye" are grand-scale misfires that sound like rejected Chris Brown or Ne-Yo songs while "Angels" wastes a gorgeous beat from Terrace Martin on a song with a hook so sickeningly corny that it almost led me to puke on my keyboard. The swagger and natural confidence K.R.I.T. possesses on the earlier tracks is replaced with an overpowering aura of awkwardness and lack of aplomb in his rhymes. K.R.I.T quite simply doesn't have the vulnerable demeanor or singing capabilities to pull off these pure pop and R&B tracks. K.R.I.T. is an artist with a well-established comfort zone and when he leaves it, he pretty much always falters.

In typical K.R.I.T. fashion, there's also a number of awful guest spots to drag the down the overall quality of the music. E-40 and Wiz Khalifia each drop predictably bland verses on "Mind Control" that basically kill the song before it gets a chance to get going. At least "Mind Control" was DOA from the start, "Mo Better Cool" starts off strong with a top-notch verse from K.R.I.T., only to come to a screeching halt when Bun B and Big Sant finish up the song with a pair of atrocious verses. Bun B and Big Sant are typically pretty decent, it's just that their contributions here come off as rushed and lack any semblance of the fire K.R.I.T.'s verse has. K.R.I.T. has struggled with weak guest spots his entire career, and it's easily the number one issue he needs to address on his next project.

Cadillactica is another solid yet incredibly frustrating album from Big K.R.I.T. While there's plenty of moments of brilliance on the first half and tail-end of the record, there's an abundance of average-to-bad tracks along the way that drag down the overall quality substantially . If K.R.I.T. cut out the filler, Cadillactica would without question be amongst the strongest hip-hop releases of 2014. K.R.I.T. is a very talented artist whose shown flashes of serious potential throughout his career, but until he makes a more consistent album, he won't come close to touching modern hip-hop's elite artists.

3.5/5 Stars
Standout Tracks
1.King of the South
2.My Sub Pt. 3 (Bang Bang)
3.Cadillactica

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

2014 Week 15 Fantasy Football Winners and Losers

Quarterback
MVP: Drew Brees (Saints)
Drew Brees nicely recovered from a terrible outing against the Panthers in Week 14 by eviscerating the Bears under the bright lights of Monday Night Football this week. Brees caught fire out of the gate and didn't let up as he finished the night with 375 yards and 3 TD's. Brees has bucked his typical trend of being a quarterback that can only perform on his home turf, as his numbers away from the Superdome have been better (16 TD's, 5 INT's) than his numbers at the Superdome (15 TD's, 7 INT's) this season. While Brees has without question had a down year in 2014, he's still a great QB to have in fantasy. Brees is a very strong start in championship week for most fantasy leagues, as he faces a Falcons secondary that has been getting progressively worse as the season goes on.
Honorable Mentions: Eli Manning (Giants), Alex Smith (Chiefs), Matt Ryan (Falcons)

LVP: Aaron Rodgers (Packers)
Aaron Rodgers may have had a brutal matchup against the Bills this week, but having a career-worst day in the midst of the fantasy playoffs is more than enough to earn worst fantasy quarterback of the week honors. Rodgers was uncharacteristically sloppy on Sunday afternoon, as the Bills stout front consistently applied pressure and their underrated secondary was able to keep Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson mostly in check. Rodgers finished the day completing just 17 of his 42 passes for 185 yards, 2 INT's and a late fumble that ended in a safety that clinched the game for the Bills. With the lowly Buccaneers next up on the schedule, there's no doubt in my mind that Rodgers is going to come out pissed-off, focused and eager to make everyone quickly forget about his career-worst performance.
Dishonorable Mentions: Mark Sanchez (Eagles), Phillip Rivers (Chargers), Peyton Manning (Broncos)

Running Back
MVP: Jeremy Hill (Bengals)
Revenge was on the mind of Jeremy Hill this week as the Bengals traveled to Cleveland to face a Browns squad that held to him just 55 yards and forced him to lose an embarrassing fumble in their first matchup this season. Hill successfully got his revenge as he ripped up the Browns for 148 yards and 2 TD's on Sunday afternoon. Hill now appears to be locked in as the Bengals feature back, and he'll be a decent start this week against a good but not invincible Broncos run D.   
Honorable Mentions: Le'Veon Bell (Steelers), DeMarco Murray (Cowboys), Knile Davis (Chiefs)

LVP: Justin Forsett (Ravens)
2014's surprise fantasy stud of the year, Justin Forsett, put up a rare weak outing this week against the Jaguars- who he played for in 2013. Forsett got 16 carries for just 48 yards on the typically weak Jaguars rush defense. Forsett is a bit banged-up right now with ankle and knee ailments, but he should be in-line for a bounceback game against the Texans, another one of his former teams, in Week 16 barring any medical setbacks.
Dishonorable Mentions: Isaiah Crowell (Browns), Jammal Charles (Chiefs), Alfred Morris (Redskins)

Wide Receiver
MVP: Odell Beckham Jr. (Giants)
Can Odell Beckham Jr. be stopped right now? Beckham Jr. put up yet another week of video game numbers as he ruined the Redskins awful secondary for 143 yards and 3 TD's on 12 receptions. Beckham Jr. has already proven that he's a legit WR1 over the first 10 games of his career. With his streak of 7 straight games with at least 90 yards receiving and the fact that he's basically alone in the Giants receiving corps at the moment, he's about as strong of a fantasy start as you can have going into championship week. 
Honorable Mentions: Dez Bryant (Cowboys), Demaryius Thomas (Broncos), Mike Wallace (Dolphins)

LVP: T.Y. Hilton (Colts)
Andrew Luck had a relatively quiet outing on Sunday against the Texans and no one was held back by that more than top wideout T.Y. Hilton. After a strong first drive where he caught 3 passes, Hilton practically disappeared as he finished the afternoon with 50 yards on just 4 receptions. Hilton is still the uncontested number 1 wideout on the Colts and he should be able to get back to his top-flight WR1 status this week against a middling Cowboys secondary. 
Dishonorable Mentions: Calvin Johnson (Lions), Jordy Nelson (Bills), A.J. Green (Bengals)

Tight End
MVP: Rob Gronkowski (Patriots)
Only someone of Rob Gronkowski's caliber can go the entire first half without a reception and still destroy a team. Gronkowski made the most of his 3 receptions (his lowest total since the Patriots horrific loss to the Chiefs in Week 4), picking up 99 yards and a touchdown as the Patriots throttled the Dolphins on Sunday. Gronkowski has been in kill mode since early October and unless something very bizarre happens, that won't change this week as the Patriots face the Jets- who are one of the strongest matchups for a TE in the league.
Honorable Mentions: Owen Daniels (Ravens), Antonio Gates (Chargers), Greg Olsen (Panthers)

LVP: Larry Donnell (Giants)
Larry Donnell was unable to recapture any of the magic of his 3 TD outburst in Week 4 in the Giants second meeting with the Redskins in Week 15. Donnell picked up a mere 11 yards on his only 2 targets of the day. Donnell continues to be wholly unreliable down the stretch, and is only worth a YOLO start against the Rams this week.
Dishonorable Mentions: Jordan Reed (Redskins), Jared Cook (Rams), Jordan Cameron (Browns)

Defense
MVP: Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens became the latest defense to manhandle the Jaguars in Week 15, as they posted 8 sacks, an interception, a blocked punt and a touchdown. The Ravens have quietly been one of the best fantasy defenses this season thanks to their excellent pass rush (45 sacks, which ranks only behind the Eagles and the Bills for best in the league) and respectable number of takeaways (19). They should be a quality start this week as they face a Texans squad, who will be starting either Thad Lewis or Case Keenum at quarterback.
Honorable Mentions: New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals

LVP: Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles were unable to recreate any of the magic they had 2 weeks ago in Dallas when the Cowboys traveled to Philadelphia this week. The Eagles allowed 38 points and finished with just 3 sacks and a fumble recovery in Sunday's night disheartening loss at the hands of the Cowboys. The Eagles have a strong chance at redeeming themselves this week as they face the wildly inept, turnover-prone offense of the Redskins. 
Dishonorable Mentions: Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers, St. Louis Rams   

Friday, December 12, 2014

Concert Review: The Ghost Inside/Every Time I Die-- Boston, MA-- December 11th, 2014

When it comes to modern hardcore/metalcore, there are few bands that have as much clout as Los Angeles' The Ghost Inside and Buffalo's Every Time I Die. These heavyweights brought their co-headlining tour to the Paradise Rock Club in Boston, Massachusetts on Thursday night and showed an almost sold-out crowd exactly why they've risen to the top of the crowded metal/hardcore scene.

After a delayed start due to the doors opening an hour late, Backtrack came on to kick things off at 6:30. I'd heard nothing but great things about these guys over the past few years, so I was excited to get the chance to finally check them out. After seeing them, I can honestly say that I'm confused where all the hype for this band came from. Backtrack plays the same aggressive, relentless beatdown hardcore that countless other bands play with none of the personality that's needed to make it work. More than any other genre in metal, hardcore lives and dies by the vocalist and Backtrack frontman James Vitalo just doesn't cut it. While he certainly has the energy to be a hardcore frontman, his vocals are below-average at best and his stage presence is obnoxiously over-the-top with faux-macho bullshit. It must be noted that I was definitely an outlier for Backtrack. The hxC bros in attendance were going crazy throughout their set and flocked to the pit in droves to show off their sweet spin-kicks and two-stepping moves. Backtrack isn't a completely worthless band, there's just a ton of others bands that do the exact same thing much better than them.

Hundredth hit the stage next. Their combination of melodic and traditional hardcore fit the bill perfectly as they bare a striking musical resemblance to the show's co-headliner The Ghost Inside. Their 30-minute set pretty much flew by as they tore through a mix of songs from their 2011 LP Let Go and pair of recent EP's Revolt and Resist at a brisk pace with practically no breaks. These guys are easily one of the top up-and-comers in the genre and based on the reception they got here, people seem to have finally taken notice. Hundredth set the tone for the rest of the show with a consistently fun, high-energy set, and I look forward to (hopefully) seeing these guys again on Warped Tour this summer.

Britain's latest highly popular metalcore export, the Architects, were due up next. I'm not going to lie, I was dreading their set. The first time I saw the Architects all the way back in July 2010 on The Cool Tour with As I Lay Dying, Between the Buried and Me and Underoath, they put on one of the absolute worst performances I've ever seen. They were so mind-numbingly dull and repetitive that they made the lifeless, sloppy set the Cancer Bats played directly before them seem triumphant. I don't know if it was because my expectations were so low or they've just grown as a band over the past four and a half years, but I can honestly say the Architects weren't bad. Actually, they were pretty damn good. Their music still has basically no variation and Sam Carter's clean vocals need some serious work, but the nice groove of their songs, respectable screams from Carter and towering stage presence made their set relatively enjoyable to watch. The quality of their performance was only aided by the explosive reception they got from the crowd. Though they weren't headlining, you would have never of known that based on the audience reception. Their fans were every bit as present and passionate as those in the room for The Ghost Inside and Every Time as they sang along to every song (every time Carter held out the mic for people to finish a lyric, more than half the room would scream it back at him) and turned the floor into a warzone for the duration of the set. While there's certainly still some major flaws in their music, the Architects are much a more formidable band than I previously thought they were. I'll never be a big fan of theirs, but I have to give them a lot of credit for transforming from an embarrassingly awful live band to a pretty solid one.

Every Time I Die had the honor of being the first of the co-headliners to play last night (this is a true co-headlining tour as ETID and The Ghost Inside are rotating who closes the show each night) and per usual, they flat-out destroyed. Their hour-long set perfectly showcased the band at their crushingly heavy yet fun as hell best. As expected, the band played a ton of material from their new album From Parts Unknown. From Parts Unknown is easily the heaviest album they've put out in over a decade and the raw, gritty nature of these tracks really come alive live. "The Great Secret" and "Idiot" can go toe-to-toe with anything from Hot Damn! for the title of heaviest song in their catalog, "Decayin' with the Boys" is just an absolute blast and "Moor" was a stirring and appropriately hard-hitting closer that served as the finest moment of the entire set. The older selections were solid as well as set staples "We'rewolf", "Bored Stiff" and "The New Black" remain some of my favorite songs to hear in a live setting. They even sprinkled in some deeper old cuts ("Roman Holiday", "Cities and Years" and best of all, "Champing at the Bit" ) alongside their more well-known tracks, which was a nice and unexpected touch. Of course, it wouldn't be an Every Time I Die show without random, hilarious riffings from vocalist Keith Buckley. Buckley dumped on the hometown Bruins (being from Buffalo, he's a huge Sabres fan) and dropped a ton of deadpan jokes before starting a song ("If you have a head bang it". "If you don't, borrow one from someone else. he told the crowd before "No Son of Mine"). Buckley is clearly having a great time performing and his lighthearted stage demeanor makes their shows that much more enjoyable. Every Time I Die is one of the finest live acts in all of metal right now. The whole band sounds phenomenal and they put 200% into every single performance. If you're a metalcore fan and you haven't seen these guys live, you need to remedy that the next time they play in your area.

The Ghost Inside closed out the evening. In typical Ghost Inside fashion, they lit the room on fire with an immensely passionate and energetic performance. This was the first time I'd seen them outside of a festival setting (the previous two times I'd seen them was at Warped, while the first time was at New England Metal and Hardcore Festival) and this was the easily best performance I've seen out of them to-date. The Ghost Inside's melodic-tinged hardcore really thrives in a club setting. Vocalist Jonathan Vigil is an ace at working the crowd and has the genuine emotional edge and vocal capabilities that are needed to succeed in this genre. The music perfectly supports Vigil's spirited presence, with perfectly timed breakdowns and soaring melodic riffs that maximize the band's emotional impact. Their setlist focused heavily on 2012 album Get What You Give, which isn't exactly surprising given the fact that it was their breakout album and they have a tendency to not play (their newest record Dear Youth was just released in November) a lot of material off their newest record directly after it's released. Tracks like"Dark Horse", "Outlive" and "Engine 45" were amazing as always, but hearing the emotionally-charged "White Light"-which is dedicated to vocalist Jonathan Vigil's late brother- for the first time live was awesome and it ended up being the finest moment of the set. My only complaint for their set was the general lack of new material in the set. Dear Youth is a pretty great record and it deserved way more recognition in the set than it got (they played a mere three songs from it during this 12-song, nearly hour-long set). The Ghost Inside's success is more than warranted, and their live shows are only getting better as time goes on. Every generation has its great hardcore band and The Ghost Inside very well could be the torchbearers for their generation.

Scores:
Backtrack 6/10
Hundredth 7.5/10
Architects 7/10
Evey Time I Die 9/10
The Ghost Inside 8.5/10

Setlists:
Hundredth:
Carry On
Free Mind/Open Spirit
Shelter
Live Today
Retain & Sustain
Weathered Town
Soul

Every Time I Die:
Thirst
Decayin' With the Boys
Ebolarama
The Great Secret
Underwater Bimbos from Outer Space
Pelican of the Desert
Bored Stiff
Wanderlust
Champing at the Bit
The New Black
Cities and Years
Floater
Roman Holiday
The Marvelous Slut
Idiot
No Son of Mine
We'rewolf
Moor

The Ghost Inside:
Avalanche
Unspoken
The Great Unknown
Between the Lines
Faith or Forgiveness
Dark Horse
Out of Control
This is What I Know About Sacrifice
Outlive
Thirty Three
White Light

Encore:
Dear Youth (Day 52)
Engine 45 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

2014 Week 14 Fantasy Football Winners and Losers

Quarterback
MVP: Cam Newton (Panthers)
Where the hell has this Cam Newton been? Newton has had a miserable 2014 campaign thanks to playing through a laundry list of injuries and having one of the worst offensive lines in the league tasked with protecting him. Against all odds, Newton broke out this week and showed everyone what is he capable of doing when he's given a chance to make plays. Newton was a menace through the air on the ground, accumulating 309 total yards (226 passing, 83 rushing) and 4 total TD's (3 passing, 1 rushing) in the Panthers epic beatdown of the Saints on Sunday afternoon. Newton's mostly horrid performances this year make him hard to trust, but owners can take solace in the fact that Newton has another relatively favorable matchup next on the schedule, as the Buccaneers travel to Carolina this week.
Honorable Mentions: Matt Ryan (Falcons), Russell Wilson (Seahawks), Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers)

LVP: Peyton Manning (Broncos)
Well I don't think anyone saw this coming. Manning's streak of 51 consecutive straight games with a touchdown pass came to a close this week as the Broncos faced a stingy Bills defense. Manning threw the ball just 20 (completing 14 passes) times for 173 yards and got picked off twice, as the Broncos once again heavily leaned on the running game to pick up a victory. Manning has faced basically every elite defense in the NFL over the past month, so you can't really fault him for not putting up his typical inhuman numbers of late. Manning gets a bit of a reprieve this week against a decent, but not particularly scary Chargers defense, so you should except a solid performance at the very least out of him.
Dishonorable Mentions: Ryan Tannehill (Dolphins), Colin Kaepernick (49ers), Phillip Rivers (Chargers)

Running Back
MVP: Le'Veon Bell (Steelers)
Anyone still doubting the legitimacy of Le'Veon Bell as a running back should finally be silenced after this week. Bell became the first running back since Walter Payton to pick up 200+ yards from scrimmage in 3 consecutive games, as he trounced the Bengals defense on Sunday. Bell ran 26 times for 185 yards and 2 touchdowns and added another 60 yards and a touchdown on 5 receptions. Bell is an absolute freak that can do anything that's asked of him on the field. Bell faces the lowly Falcons run D in Week 15, so another monster performance could very well be in the cards.
Honorable Mentions: DeMarco Murray (Cowboys), Joique Bell (Lions), C.J. Anderson (Broncos)

LVP: Mark Ingram (Saints)
It was an embarrassing afternoon for everyone on the Saints, as the Panthers came into the Super Dome and manhandled the Saints 41-10. On the offensive side of the ball, no one looked worse than Mark Ingram. Ingram-who gassed the Panthers for 100 yards and 2 TD's in their previous meeting- was held to just 43 yards and fumbled this time around. Ingram has looked solid for most of the year, but he's also put up a fair amount of stinkers. Ingram faces the relatively solid Bears run defense in Week 15, so its far from a guarantee that he bounces back.
Dishonorable Mentions: Alfred Morris (Redskins), LeSean McCoy (Eagles), Tre Mason (Rams)

Wide Receiver
MVP: Julio Jones (Falcons)
When Julio Jones is on, he's as good as any wideout in the league. For the second straight week, Jones set a career-high in receiving yards in a game, as he decimated the Packers secondary for 259 yards and a touchdown on Monday night.Unfortunately for his fantasy owners, Jones exited the game in the 4th quarter with a hip injury and his status is currently unknown. If Jones is good to go, he has arguably the best schedule of any WR for the last 3 weeks of the season as the Falcons face the Steelers, Saints and Panthers. I can speak for Jones owners everywhere, having him not be available for these matchups would be devastating. In the case the Jones misses time or god forbid, the rest of the season, you need to race to the waiver wire and put in a claim for Harry Douglas if he's available in your league.
Honorable Mentions: A.J. Green (Bengals), T.Y. Hilton (Colts), Jordy Nelson (Packers)

LVP: Demaryius Thomas (Broncos)
The Demaryius Thomas double-digit fantasy point streak is over. For the first time since the Broncos returned from bye in Week 5, Thomas had a garbage fantasy outing on Sunday against the Bills. Between Peyton Manning's performance and going up against the Bills highly underrated top corner Stephon Gilmore, Thomas just didn't have a lot of chances to produce this week. Thomas faces a Chargers secondary this week that he torched for 105 yards earlier this season, so as long as Manning can be effective, Thomas should be able to return to form.
Dishonorable Mentions: Randall Cobb (Packers), Josh Gordon (Browns), Mike Wallace (Dolphins)

Tight End
MVP: Jared Cook (Rams)
Another week, another random tight end ends up being the top fantasy play of the week. The typically silent Jared Cook had his best game of the year in Week 14, picking up 61 yards and 2 TD's against the Redskins on Sunday afternoon. Cook is far too inconsistent to expect good numbers from every week, but he's worth a start for desperate owners this week, as he faces a Cardinals team that he scored on in their first matchup and continues to struggle against tight ends.
Honorable Mentions: Mychal Rivera (Raiders), Rob Gronkowski (Patriots), Martellus Bennett (Bears)

LVP: Kyle Rudolph (Vikings)
Remember all the talk of Kyle Rudolph being a huge factor for the Vikings offense once he returned from injury? Well, that hasn't exactly happened so far. Rudolph picked up just 9 yards on 2 receptions in Sunday's contest with the Jets, who have been awful against tight ends all season long. With Teddy Bridgewater at the helm, this offense is extremely limited in the passing game, and owning a Vikings receiver is just not a wise choice at this point in time.
Dishonorable Mentions: Delanie Walker (Titans), Antonio Gates (Chargers), Jimmy Graham (Saints)

Defense
MVP: St. Louis Rams
The Rams defense continued their return to dominant form in Week 14 as they suffocated the trainwreck otherwise known as the Redskins. The Rams picked up their second straight shutout, and registered 7 sacks, 2 INT's and a kick return touchdown on the afternoon. The sledding gets tougher this week against the Cardinals, but with the way they're playing right now, you just can't bench them.
Honorable Mentions: New York Giants, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions

LVP: San Francisco 49ers
The rapid demise of the 49ers hasn't been more evident than it was this week, as they got their asses kicked by the Raiders, who were coming off of a laughable 52-0 loss against the Rams a week ago. The 49ers defense, which has been the backbone of this squad this season, couldn't bail out their limp offense this week as they allowed 24 points, got only a single sack and failed to get a turnover against their Bay Area "rivals". The 49ers are traveling to Seattle this week to face the Seahawks, so don't even think about starting their defense (or anyone else on the team for that matter.)
Dishonorable Mentions: Cincinnati Bengals, Chicago Bears,  Miami Dolphins

Monday, December 8, 2014

10 Best Pantera Songs

Today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of Pantera guitarist "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott, who was murdered on stage at the Alrosa Villa in Columbus, Ohio while performing with his other band Damageplan. While I didn't listen to Pantera (or metal in general) at the time of his passing, they instantly became one of my favorite bands upon discovering them in 2007, and Dimebag was a large part of why their music resonated so much with me. To this day, I've never heard a guitarist with a stronger knack for writing punchy, memorable guitar licks than Dimebag. You seldom hear a Pantera song from Cowboys from Hell through Reinventing the Steel that isn't packed to the brim with phenomenal riffage. Dimebag's contributions to music will never be forgotten and it's a shame that his life was taken at such a young age (he was 38 when he was killed) under such tragic circumstances. To commemorate Dimebag's legacy, here are my picks for the 10 best songs in Pantera's catalog. Hope you all enjoy.


10. "Fucking Hostile" (from 1992's Vulgar Display of Power) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E929gqIcwwI
9. "Becoming" (from 1994's Far Beyond Driven) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ht3XGhlfYs
8. "The Great Southern Trendkill" (from 1996's The Great Southern Trendkill) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4pOIndfTzI
7. "Domination" (from 1990's Cowboys from Hell) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lYPFrXvc2rE
6."Cowboys from Hell" (from 1990's Cowboys from Hell) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2DfYLar2QGI

5. "A New Level" (from 1992's Vulgar Display of Power) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJ0bG_7L3Sw
4. "Rise" (from 1992's Vulgar Display of Power") http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NrMrF_k_fMo
3. "I'm Broken" (from 1994's Far Beyond Driven) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1fUgpYSdpo
2. "Floods" (from 1996's The Great Southern Trendkill) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=td-v6vG2Xhs
1. "Cemetery Gates"  (from 1990's Cowboys from Hell) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1OYw7FPB7CE


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Concert Review: Abstract Reality Tour (Devin Townsend Project/Animals as Leaders)-- Worcester, MA-- December 5th, 2014

The Palladium in Worcester, Massachusetts was invaded by three heavyweights of progressive metal last night, as the Abstract Reality Tour featuring the Devin Townsend Project, Animals as Leaders and Monuments rolled into town. Unsurprisingly given the caliber of the lineup, the show (mostly) didn't fail to disappoint.

Monuments kicked off the festivities promptly at 8:00. These guys have been rapidly rising up the progressive metal ladder since ex-Periphery vocalist Chris Barretto joined the fold in 2013 and landing the opening slot on a high-profile tour like this, perfectly exemplifies the surge in popularity they've enjoyed over the past year. Just like on their excellent new album, The Amanuesis, Barretto is the driving force behind the quality of their live performance. His vocals that range from beautiful falsetto to powerful, almost guttural  screams are excellent and have single-handedly elevated Monuments from middling djent band to one of the most exciting young acts in progressive metal. The setlist was perfect showcase of the versatility of his vocals and his work on the soaring yet crushing "Atlas" and gorgeous "Garden of Sankhara" was especially stirring.  Not only is Barretto a top-tier vocalist, he is a phenomenal frontman that puts a ton of effort into getting the entire room involved in the performance. He made sure the crowd didn't forget who they were by inciting a wall-of-death, encouraging people to crowd surf and sing-a-long any opportunity he got and stage-diving numerous times during their far too short 30 minute set. Monuments packed the room full of energy right out of the gate and managed to successfully steal the show from both of the headliners in their brief but wholly memorable set.

Instrumental titans Animals as Leaders were up next. This marked my fifth seeing them and they once again managed to bowl me over in a live setting. You don't fully appreciate just how talented Animals as Leaders is as a band until you see them live. Tosin Abasi is every bit the guitar god he's made out to be. He makes even the most complex solos and riffs look routine. Audience members frequently were yelling about how of a machine he is between songs and I have to say I feel inclined to agree with that assessment. It's hard to fathom a human being being that effortlessly great at guitar. While Abasi's virtuoso guitar playing is clearly at forefront of the band, drummer Matt Gartska is every bit as talented behind the kit. The variety of beats and absolutely insane fills he pulls off has added another level of complexity to their music that they just didn't have in the past. It's no condience that their new album The Joy of Motion- the first of which Gartska has played on-is their finest work to-date. Gartska's inhuman and constantly unpredictable drumming has helped raise Animals as Leaders to another level as a band. As for the setlist, they played a majority of the prime cuts from The Joy of Motion ("Ka$cade", "Physical Education", "The Woven Web")  dusted off some lesser-played tracks ("The Price of Everything and Value of Nothing", "Behaving Badly") off their self-titled debut and of course, played their set staples ("CAFO", "Tempting Time", "Wave of Babies") that haven't managed to lose even a little bit of their luster. I really wish Animals as Leaders headlined this show because there was just no way in hell Devin Townsend was going to top the crowd enthusiasm and awe-inspiring musicality that ran through their set.

After a bit of pause, Towsend hit the stage. I hadn't seen Townsend since he opened for Children of Bodom in 2011, so I was excited to get the chance to see him again. Even with my disdain for all of his post-Deconstruction material, I expected to at least be entertained by his typically hilarious and thoroughly enjoyable live performances. You could tell something was kind of off before he went on stage. The ridiculous dance-pop soundtrack Townsend plays when he's setting up was absent, there really wasn't much of a soundcheck and Townsend popped on stage without the lights even going down and immediately started talking about how miserable he was before he even started playing. He did crack a lot of the jokes once the set started, but they were often about how fucked up his current musical situation is and not a whole lot of them were particularly funny.  It was really bizarre to see the typically cheery Townsend so bummed out and it definitely took away from some of the fun his live shows typically offer up. Not making things any better, was a setlist focused almost entirely on his new album Z2. Z2 was severely underwhelming to me and hearing these songs live didn't do much to change my mind. The Z2 songs aren't exactly awful from a songwriting standpoint, they just lack the soul and edge that his much of his early solo material had in spades. I will say, that I'm 100% in the minority on Z2. The Townsend faithful greeted the new material just as warmly as the older songs, if not more so. It also irked me that his set had such a narrow focus and ignored a majority of his catalog. He's got a seemingly endless number of songs, yet he focuses almost all of his attention on songs from records he's put out over the last three years. In my eyes, completely ignoring material from Deconstruction and Addicted! in an hour-long headlining set is an unforgivable sin. Townsend was able to offset his visibly disgruntled demeanor and poor song choices to an extent with his knack for showmanship, consistently excellent vocal performance and picking some solid non Z2 tracks to sprinkle into the set, but it still wasn't enough to save his set from being pretty disappointing on the whole. Unless he starts diversifying his setlists further and starts making enjoyable music again, I doubt I'll pay to see Devin Townsend live again.

Side Notes:
-This guy standing in front of me during Animals as Leader would not stop farting. Seriously take some Beano dude, you got some serious gas problems.
-Some guy standing in my vicinity brought a giant modified Dunkin Donuts sign that read "America runs on Devin". Sadly for him, I don't think Townsend noticed it.
-Chris Barretto of Monuments showed his saxophone chops during "Garden of Sankhara". He's a damn good player and for whatever reason, I forgot he played saxophone until he broke it out last night.
-Tosin Abasi has the best flat-top in music.


Scores:
Monuments 8.5/10
Animals as Leaders 8.5/10
Devin Townsend Project 7/10

Setlists:
Monuments:
Origin of Escape
Degenerate
Atlas
Garden of Sankhara
I, The Creator

Animals as Leaders:
Tooth & Claw
Tempting Time
Wave of Babies
Ka$Cade
Lippincott
Air Chrysalis
Point to Point
The Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing
Behaving Badly
Espera 
Physical Education
The Woven Web
Weightless
CAFO

Devin Townsend Project:
Regulator
Rejoice
Midnight Sun
War
A New Reign
Z2
March of the Poozers
Ziltodian Empire
Bad Devil
Ziltoid Goes Home
Grace
Kingdom