Friday, September 30, 2011

The Doctor is In

I have recently been reminded of a conflict which was once a central pillar of my family's day-to-day life. For many years I had thought we were alone in our crisis, but I am no longer the child I was and I have long since learned the truth. There are in fact a great many people struggling with the issue. One could say it has become one of the dominant points of conflict in the modern world. What is that issue? Well, it can be summed up in a single, simple sentence: "Is Dr Pepper good?"

I'm curious as to your thoughts on the matter.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Opeth - Heritage

To begin with, if you're not a regular reader I should mention that I love Opeth. I would consistently rank them among my top 5 favorite metal bands, and they are one of the few groups I routinely buy new releases from without feeling the need for a preview.

Well, today I bought Heritage, which I somehow didn't realize until last night had already been released earlier this month. Everybody seems to be up in arms over the album, and I've already heard that oh-so-favored term "sell out" getting thrown around a great deal. I've also heard a number of claims that Opeth have abandoned metal entirely and morphed into a purely prog-rock band in the vein of Camel. The album's cover art, I should note, does little to dispell this latter notion, and so it was that I headed into the local record shop to see what had become of the great Swedes.

The first thing that struck me about the music itself was how much it sounded like . . . well . . . Opeth. This is definitely one of their softest releases, and it certainly does explore more of the prog-rock and jazz elements of their broad spectrum. Still, it didn't sound like some random prog band, it sounded like Opeth. The choices of chord progressions, the vocals, and the amorphous song structures all carry on in the band's typical style. Indeed, I found myself reflecting on Watershed, which this feels like a logical progression from, and I maintain that The Devil's Orchard (Heritage) and Burden (Watershed) sound like they could easily be from the same album.

As the album progressed, I began to see more clearly what people had meant about the prog and jazz elements. There are certainly jazzier, more experimental tracks here, with the extremely soft Nepenthe serving as a fairly good example of that side of things. There are moments here and there in the mid-late parts of the album where they seem to be channeling Jethro Tull, most notably in the peculiar flute sections of Famine. The album closes on an instrumental track, which actually feels rather fitting in my opinion.

I should note that the song lengths are generally somewhat shorter on this album than is usual for them, with only 2 tracks cracking the 7 minute mark (both are around 8 1/2 minutes long). The total of 10 tracks are, if I'm not mistaken, the most any Opeth album has featured. And yes, the death vocals are gone this time around. It's not the first time that has happened with Opeth, though, so I find it rather laughable that so many people are taking the vocals as a sign that Opeth are no longer a metal band.

So in summation, this is indeed a rather strange Opeth album. It is, nonetheless, still distinctly recognizable as Opeth. As for what this bodes for the future, I find the band's willingness to experiment with their sound to be one of their strongest suits. They continue to try new things without ever taking any really distinct step toward becoming a radio band, and I wouldn't have it any other way. In a musical climate where fans are all too quick to assume that any release which isn't "normal" for a band is a sign of the end, I personally have no fear whatsoever about Opeth's musical direction.

While this is not likely to find a place alongside my favorite Opeth records like the masterful Still Life and Blackwater Park, it's still an enjoyable record which I expect to play plenty of times in the future. My initial reaction is to give it about a B+.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Death Metal that is Melodic

When the phrase "melodic death metal" is used, images of the Gothenberg scene immediately spring to mind. While I do very much enjoy that style (In Flames, as I've mentioned before, is my favorite band) I'm recently feeling really drawn to something slightly different. It can best be described death metal that is melodic, but is not melodic death metal.

As contradictory as it sounds, there is a distinct difference between the two.

The former is genuine, full-on traditional death metal that just happens to have a more melodic execution, and it sounds, for lack of a better word, very "chill". That is to say, despite the thunderous riffs and bestial bellows, there is something soothing and almost tranquil about the music.

The latter, on the other hand, is an entirely different breed of music, with strongly melody-based song structures and falls about halfway between Swedish death metal and Iron Maiden.

I'm not here to explain what melodeath is, though, so I'll stick to my point. These "chill" death metal bands are, at the moment, extremely appealing to me. Two bands in particular that I feel best exemplify this sound are Apophis and Gorement. I've talked about both bands before, and I believe both were covered in my post on underrated death metal bands. The odd thing is, it wasn't until I was listening to the fantastic "Sea of Silence" in my car last night that it occurred to me how similar these bands really are in terms of their overall sound. And that got me wondering; "What other bands out there sound like this?" The question seems particularly pressing in light of the fact that both bands have very limited discographies. Further, since Gorement are no longer a band, and Apophis appear to be on an indefinite hiatus from recording, it is quite likely that neither band will have any future releases. Even if they did, at this point enough time has passed that it would be overly optimistic to expect anything comparable to their older records.

And so my journey begins. Am I to find another band to fill that musical void, or shall I wander aimlessly through the wilderness until, lost and defeated, I abandon my quest? Only one thing is certain: if I'm talking like this, it means I've been playing too much World of Warcraft.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Way Back to Metal

I find that when my musical listening patterns have wandered too far afield, jumping straight back into the belly of the beast can seem a bit unappealing. I mean, I love Incantation, and I know that. But right now, after the past several months of listening to lighter, more pop-oriented music, the idea of blasting myself with Craig Pillard's demonic bellows just feels like a bit too much. It's almost like drinking Dr Pepper while you're sucking on a peppermint: you need time to get the flavor of the first thing out of your mouth or the taste is disgusting.

To that end, I've found myself thinking a lot about "gateway" metal bands recently. Not so much in the Slipknot/Killswitch Engage vein (since I don't need an introduction to the world of metal) but rather in a way that asks the question: "What real metal band can I get into even when I'm not feeling in a 'br00tal' mood?" There are several options in such a situation, but I found myself naturally gravitating toward one in particular. Given my penchant for Swedish melodeath, it comes as no surprise that it was good old reliable Amon Amarth that raised their Viking fists in greeting and ushered me back home to the frozen northern wastes. On a less dramatic note, it really is true (at least for me) that Amon Amarth's infectious, bouncy, melodic-yet-heavy sound is so universally appealing that there really is no way not to get into it when they start playing. I love In Flames to death, Bathory are amazing, Electric Wizard absolutely crush, but if there's one metal band I can always listen to at any time and in any mood and enjoy the hell out of it, it's Amon Amarth.

Fantasy Baseball

I'm always both sad and relieved when this time of year rolls around: it's the end of fantasy baseball season. For the past several years I've been part of a very aggressively active and competitive 10-team league with the same group of people (composed of a cluster of friends and family members and friends of family members). It's always a lot of fun, and it's always a battle right to the end. Last year I missed the finals by literally one at-bat, it was that close.

Well, this year I got knocked out in the first round of the playoffs, so I'll be taking my seat a bit earlier than I had hoped. Despite my mediocre finish, though, I am still riding the joy of one draft-day decision that has made me proud. In the fifth round; after he'd already been passed over in favor of fellow starting pitchers Roy Halladay, Felix Hernandez, Tim Lincecum, Cliff Lee, Jon Lester, Clayton Kershaw, Ubaldo Jiminez, CC Sabathia, and David Price; I grabbed Justin Verlander. Today he collected his 24th win in my final day of play. That's sure a cool thing to see on your team.

Admittedly not all my choices panned out that well. Taking Hanley Ramirez in the first round was particularly disastrous, and I would even go so far as to blame the subsequent lack of a top-ten hitter on my team for my failure to advance in the postseason.

In any case, I beat my brother in our 5th-6th place consolation game, so at least I got to finish on a win, even if it was a meaningless one. And while a part of me is sad to see yet another season go by without claiming that ever-elusive championship, there is another part of me that is relieved. Multiple members of our league spend several hours every single day pouring over stats, digging through prospects, and concocting various ways to best their opponents. Thus, in order to be even reasonable competitive it is often necessary to devote quite a large amount of time and effort to the league. I enjoy it, but it does wear thin eventually. So this year, rather than complain about my lackluster finish, I'm going to sit back and enjoy my new-found freedom. That, and I might brag to everybody about how I snagged Justin Verlander in his soon-to-be Cy Young winning season after nine other pitchers had already been taken.

Monday, September 12, 2011

TrollHunter and Warrior

This evening I watched two movies I've been looking forward to seeing: TrollHunter (no, the lack of a space is not a typo) and Warrior. I have to say, all things considered I'm pleased with what I've seen. So I decided I'd write up a couple quick movie reviews, since that's what I'm in the mood to do.


TrollHunter is yet another found footage monster movie. Where it differs from something like Cloverfield, though, is in its oddly comical flair and its deeply ingrained cultural identity. That is to say, its Norwegian-ness is so integral to the film's execution and effectiveness that I shudder to think of what the planned American remake will look like. Sterilized beyond all reason, no doubt. As for the "comical" part, aside from the behavior of the characters themselves (which has a very authentic, unscripted quality), several of the trolls provide a degree of amusement just by their appearance. On the whole, it can't quite seem to decide whether it's meant to be fantasy, horror, or comedy. The blend plays out well, though, and overall it makes for fun viewing. In any case, it should come as no surprise to anybody who regularly reads my blog that I thoroughly enjoyed the film, given my love for "found footage", fantasy creatures, and all things Scandinavian.


Warrior is, as I'm sure you can guess just by looking at the trailer, yet another hyper-clichéd fight movie à la Rocky. In fact, the warring brothers angle it brings into play seems dangerously close to The Fighter as well. Granted, this is MMA instead of boxing, but the basic idea translates pretty easily. Being a tad generic and predictable, though, doesn't stop Warrior from being fun to watch. The three central actors (Nick Nolte, Joel Edgerton, and Tom Hardy) are really what make the entire thing worth watching. All three actors take characters that could easily be generic, cookie-cutter drama fodder and make them interesting and effective. Tom Hardy is especially great to watch, as he pulls off his dark, intense, scary-as-hell character perfectly. I have to admit, I was disappointed that they went the generic easy route with the ending, but they made it work okay I guess. Besides, as I was walking out of the theater, I wasn't thinking about who won the big fight. I was thinking about how awesome it's going to be watching Tom Hardy play Bane next year.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years Ago Today

There's nothing I can say about 9/11 that hasn't already been said. Maybe the words aren't important, though, as we remember the day our world changed forever.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Vegan Enchilada, take 1

I should preface this by saying that I am not really a vegetarian or vegan. I have, however, recently been trying to cut down a bit on the amount of meat in my diet. With that in mind, I decided today that I would try modifying a familiar chicken enchilada recipe to make it into a vegan dish. It's pretty simple to make, really, with a very short ingredients list. It just has chicken, corn tortillas, green enchilada sauce, shredded mozzarella cheese, and diced black olives. I substituted extra firm tofu for the chicken, and I bought some mozzarella flavored faux cheese. I figured that without the usual chicken flavor, I would need some additional seasonings to go with the green enchilada sauce, so I added in a touch of onion powder, Cholula sauce, and some crushed red pepper. After mixing together the filling (sauce, spices, tofu, cheese, olives), slathering some extra sauce on the tortillas, filling and rolling them up, and lining them on a baking sheet you just spread a little more sauce on the top, along with some shredded cheese and more olives, and the whole thing just bakes right up in about 20 minutes.

The principal ideas were sound, and the finished product was vaguely similar to the original. My modifications, however, require a little more tweaking. First off, the "cheese" was a source of trouble, since it didn't melt properly. I'll have to try a different brand next time and see if it works better. Secondly, I think next time I'll have to leave the tofu to sit and soak in some other sauce for a good long while before I add it to the filling. As it was, the tofu absorbed a modest amount of the green sauce's flavor, but it feels like it needs to be punched up a bit more to be really worthwhile. Finally, I think next time I may have to add either additional seasonings or larger amounts of the ones I already used.

Ultimately the end result, while certainly edible and not particularly offensive, was just pretty lackluster. I've still got plenty of everything except the cheese, so I can try again as soon as I find a more acceptable substitute on that front. I think, with a little work, I can turn this into an enjoyable meal that I won't be embarrassed to make for other people.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Music Drought

It occurs to me that there has been something of a vacuum in terms of my music-related posts, which is unfortunate since music is probably the subject of greatest interest to most of my very small readership. Not to worry, my fine fellows (and ladies, if you're out there too). With the return of the school year comes the return of my radio station activities, and with it my need to listen to some good metal to counteract the flood of hipster indie-pop with which I'll inevitably find myself inundated. My current frame of mind has found me playing tons of music which is so fundamentally bad that I'm embarrassed to even mention it. I won't be talking about that. I feel the winds of change coming, though, so soon enough I expect I'll have some worthwhile music to discuss.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Apollo 18

Just went and watched it tonight. The buzz around the movie has been pretty negative. I, however, rather enjoyed it. It had some good, tense stretches and just enough really startling moments that (while not horrifying) it made for a pretty enjoyable scary movie.

Of course, I'm a bit of a sucker for "found footage" horror films, which most people seem to rather dislike. I suppose that largely accounts for the difference between my feelings about the movie and those of other people I've heard comment on it. Oh well, to each his/her own.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Year 2: Bring it On

Well, I'm back in Athens for the start of my second year of school here. Still have a few days to hang out and get settled, most of which I should probably spend getting my room in order since I moved to the apartment next-door from my previous one.

For now, though, it's hot and humid and the AC is on the fritz, so I think I shall refrain from doing much of anything.