My Top Ten Albums of 2016

Well, 2016 has been a year. I’ll avoid the stuff Charlie Brown’s Linus van Pelt says not to talk about and jump into music, because politics aside, it’s been a crazy year for music. I discovered so many bands! Veldes, Avantasia, Shadow of Intent, Moonsorrow, Septic Flesh, Lamb of God, Soar, Dissection, Delain, Sonata Artica, The Wagaki Band, Chthonic…the list could probably go on. Some of my most-anticipated albums came out this year, and some of them were amazing! Some were also not amazing.

2016 strikes in more than one way.

Concert wise, I’ve seen four of my five favorite bands live: Nightwish, Five Finger Death Punch, Shinedown, and Bobaflex. I also got to see Deff Leppard, Delain, Sonata Artica, Hed P.E. Powerman 5000, REO Speedwagon, Sixx. a.m. Slipknot, Disturbed, Beartooth, Nothing More, Another Lost Year, and a darn good few others that I can’t recall off the top of my head.

In that respect, 2016 couldn’t bring me down at all. Do you know how crazy Slipknot were live? Like, all of the crazy!

So let’s stick with positivity and jump into my top-ten albums of 2016! This list is…well, it’s a list!

10 Korn — The Serenity of Suffering

Genre: Nu Metal

Perhaps the craziest thing about 2016 is that it got me excited for a new Korn album. Do you know how long it’s been since that happened? Like a decade! But I’m an adult that isn’t in middle school, and Goddamn, Korn put out an album that’s awesome. It’s got everything I want from them, from the scat singing to the crunchy riffage to the angsty lyrics.

It appeals to me on so many nostalgic levels, yet it’s also just good. It’s catchy as all hell, catchy as all hell, and also catchy as all hell. Also, it’s Korn without the electronic gimmicks from their last few efforts. That means…that means so much. You have no idea.

Standout tracks are “Rotting in Vain,” “When You’re Not There,” and “Everything Falls Apart.”


09 Amaranthe – Maximalism

Genre: ???

Amaranthe are a band I discovered early in 2015 and fell in love with because they’re a strange mess of noise. They have three vocalist: A pop singer, a rock singer, and a metal growler, and they mix pop-rock with straight metal. I don’t know what they are, but I love their sound. It’s different. It’s everything I want in music, really.

Their new effort is more of the same in that regard, with huge pop songs that pack on the metal grit. It’s a sing-along affair that turns into a scream-along, and you don’t really know where one part begins and another ends. It might also get you dancing and headbanging at the same time. It’s not every day an album will get both of those things out of me.

Not that I should dance. I suck at dancing.

Standout tracks are “Boomerang,” “On the Rocks,” and “Limitless.”


08 All Hail the Yeti – Screams from a Black Wilderness

Genre: Death Metal…?

All Hail the Yeti are the only band I know that can do horror lyrics and not sound like cartoons. Cannibal Corpse and Infant Annihilator bring on the gore, yet they do so with a cheesy shine that kind of hurts the overall package. Yeti? They’ll do up death, torture, and the apocalypse with the brutal salesmanship of a person promising a cure to cancer yet giving you snake oil.

Screams from a Black Wilderness is their sophomore effort, and in that respect, is much more refined than their former. That’s neither a condemnation nor a praise; just a fact. It flows better, and it has a hair less grit than their self-titled, yet it also packs one hellova punch. The songs are driving forces, the kind that make you want to go fight someone because anger is anger and you’re angry! They make you want to chant and scream too, because all good music makes you want to do those things, and this is good music.

Standout tracks include, “Witch is Dead,” “Before the Flames,” and “Daughter of the Morning Star.”


07 Thomas Rakowitz – The Musings of Balance

Genre: Hard Rock

Full discolor: Thomas Rakowtiz is a good friend of mine. Full disclosure: The Musings of Balance is a killer record.

The Musings of Balance probably has my favorite guitar work of any album released in 2016. Every track is different and flavorful, yet every track has that brutal riffage that you want from this brand of hard rock. It makes you want to mosh like a crazy person, and it makes you want to sing along while you do so. The vocal melodies are catchy!

Thomas mixes clean singing with death growls like a pro, and he layers them over just the best guitar work. It’s insane. Lyrically, he knows how to channel the things that keep him up at night, both good and bad. Musically, well musically it’s a bit of everything. There’s a goddamn bull-fighting song on this thing! Color it surprising, and use a black marker while you do so.

Standout tracks are “The End of it All,” “Frantic,” and “The Illusion.”


06 Six a.m. – Prayers for the Damned

Genre: Rock

This isn’t the first time Six a.m. have made my top-ten list, and given their track record, it won’t be the last. They do rock like rock needs to be done: catchy, hard, and awesome. Prayers for the Damned is a harder version of their sound, bringing the big guitars and the fast vocals without any letup. There are no ballads here.

It’s awesome.

The album does get some bonus points for their live performance, which was killer as all hell, but really, if you’re into rock, this is the prime example of it. It’s got just a bit of classic flair to entice all walks of life, but the gut-punch we all want and need from new-timey music.

And I dare you to try and not sing along while this album is going. Try. Just try. You’ll fail as miserably as I do, because I suck at singing and shouldn’t try at all. This album gets me to try though, and it’s always a blast.

Standout tracks are “Belly of the Beast,” “When We Were Gods,” and “Can’t Stop.”


05 Delain – Moonbathers

Genre: Symphonic Metal

So I’m basically going to jump for joy if you’re either symphonic metal or folk metal, and this is the former. Happy day there, because Nightwish need to have some supplements for the years they don’t release an album. Queue Delain!

Delain are some prime-time symphonic metal, yet they have some subtle twists. I find that Moonbathers comes and goes when it comes to the symphony; it’s either very prominent or in the background. When it’s prominent, it’s the swelling sound we all hope and want, yet when it’s in the background, well, that’s when the guitars and drums just explode.

Mix that with some amazing vocals and even more amazing vocal melodies, and you have an album that I have not been able to stop listening to. Bonus points for Delain being phenomenal live. And they were an opening band! How the hell were they an opening band? They make most closing acts look like chump change.

Standout tracks are “Hands of Gold,” “The Glory and the Scum,” and “Dance Macabre.”


04 Gorjia – Magma

Genre: Death Metal

I’m tempted to just write, “It’s Gojira and Gojira can do no wrong,” because that’s probably the truest thing that’s been said this year. However, Gojira didn’t just do no wrong here; they did amazing. Magma is the only death metal album I’d call gorgeous. Seriously, this is pretty death metal! How is that even possible?

Magma is when you take pure, pure sorrow and put it to music. It’s when you take the frustration of death and just yell at it, yet it’s also what you do when you’re done yelling. There are real moments of contemplation here, of deep introspection on life and loss. It’s brilliant.

It’s also an album that takes the band away from their norm with quite a bit of clean vocals. Yeah. Gojira with clean vocals. Holy hell. Yet they work! At first they seem monotonous, almost in the background, yet the more you listen, the more they jive perfectly with what the record wants. They’re this sad, pretty drone, and they make this album something special.

Standout tracks are “Low Lands,” “Stranded,” and “Silvera.”


03 Moonsorrow – Jumalten Aika

Genre: Black Metal

Perhaps my favorite thing about 2016 is that it taught me that black metal can be amazing. At one point I wrote the genre off, and then Moonsorrow came along and slapped me upside the head with a gorgeous, atmospheric, and heavy album about gods and man.

It’s also in Finnish.

Juamlen Aika is one of two 2016 albums I’d call epic. Of the five tracks, four are over ten minutes long and two boarder on fifteen minutes. The whole package is a bit over an hour, yet the variety here is off the charts. The songs move in this glorious, unpredictable way, going from heavy riffs to soft keyboards and other classical instruments. The album keeps you on your toes in this tense way, yet it also asks you to relax, to sit back and enjoy.

Lyrically, the album is awesome (assuming you’re willing to check the booklet. The whole thing is in Finnish, but that really only adds to it. The vocals become another instrument, a distorted wail that sucks you in and doesn’t let you go at all. It’s so awesome!)

Standout tracks are “Jumaltin Aika,” “Ihmisen Aika,” and “Ruttoleto sis. Paivattoman Paivan Kansa.”


02 Avantasia – Ghostlights

Genre: Power Metal

Ghostlights came out sometime in January and remained my favorite album for most of the year. It’s a massive concept album about a guy journeying into the afterlife and finding God, and it’s nothing short of amazing. I cannot get over how phenomenal the guitar work is here, and I cannot get over how just…epic this piece is! Every song has at least one guest vocalist because Avantasia isn’t a band; it’s an event.

It’s also the pinnacle of power metal.

This isn’t cheesy stuff, and this isn’t repetitive riffage. It’s plain glory from start to finish, the kind of songs I want to belt out but cannot because my range is like three and a half notes. It’s smart and awesome and will not leave your head until you hit the repeat button in a failed attempt at purging such amazing notes. Even then, you might as well toss a coin, because you’re probably screwed.

You cannot make music this awesome go away! And you shouldn’t want to either!

Standout tracks include “Master of the Pendulum,” “Ghostlights,” and “Draconian Love.”


01 Sully Erna – Hometown Life

Genre: ???

Back in 2014 when I did my first top-ten music list, I said that I was a massive fanboy of Godsmack. That fanboyism includes their front man, Sully Erna. I kind of want to marry his voice.

Avalon was my favorite album for a good many years until I discovered Wintersun, and even then, it still remains my second favorite album. It’s goddamn perfection, and as luck would have it, so is Hometown Life. Blending five or six different genres—including jazz!—Hometown Life is half a love-letter to music and half a love-letter to personal triumphs and failures.

It’s such an interesting album to listen to, because on one hand it’s a biography of Sully Erna himself, on another it’s a message to his children, and on a third (because this monster has three hands) it’s open to interpretation. As an English major, it’s basically a wet dream I can throw into my ears.

Wow. That sounded strange.

What doesn’t sound strange is this album though (saved!). It’s a little bit country, a little bit alternative, a little bit jazz, a little bit soul, a little bit rock, and a little bit tribal. It might have bits and pieces of other genres too, because it’s just that kind of record. Sometimes Sully has half a symphony behind him, and sometimes he’s playing a piano. Sometimes that happens in the same song.

And all the while, it’s mixed wonderfully, vocally impressive, and makes you want to weep or dance.

Standout tracks are “Your Own Drum,” “Turn it Up,” and “Forever my Infinity.”


We Are the Ocean Born

Hey, have some more Vitrerran music why don’tcha!

So, this song is the main theme for The Scarfoam Coast, or our water area. I was trying to channel my inner Alestorm, and while I probably missed that mark by a wide margin, I am happy with what I got going here. This song was super fun to make!

What sets this one apart, I guess, is that it uses a new plugin called Sakura. Well, not “new” to the world but new to Dual Wield Software. It came with some awesome strings, including the violin and guitars you here in this song. I finally have an upright bass, guys. You have no idea how happy that makes me. Got a wicked nice harp too.

Pretty sure the Greyjoys liked to go “we are the iron born,” so that’s where the title is coming from. I’m finding it harder to pun off of A Song of Ice and Fire things as I make more tunes. I haven’t read the books in a very long time.

What Live Music Means to Me

I’ve been meaning to write about live music for some time now, and I guess the day after attending a major festival in Oshkosh WI is as good a time as any. Rock USA, you rule, and I’ll be going back next year (unless Rockfest in Cadott WI has a better lineup that is (sorry, them’s the breaks)).

I have this little internal joke that going to a concert is like going to church. I’m not religious at all, but I do believe spirituality can be found anywhere if you’re looking hard enough. To connect with something greater than you is powerful. To feel small is powerful. To feel exhilarated is powerful. To feel part of a whole is powerful. Hell, to feel is powerful.

When David Draiman of Disturbed humbly asked us all to hold our phones and lighters up for his cover of “The Sound of Silence,” I turned around and looked at the giant field that is the Ford Festival concert venue. I lost my breath. The scene was gorgeous: almost a hundred thousand people in a pitch-blackness holding up little dots of light. It was like being on the same plane as space itself.

In that moment, I helped turn a dark field into a work of art.

It’s funny. During the day at work, I feel like a little piece too, a cog in a machine that will run and run until it burns me out and I’m replaced. It’s not fun feeling small there. Yet at a concert, when I’m one voice in thousands, I feel special, important. I feel like I’m helping to make something amazing.

“Get the fuck up!” Corey Taylor of Slipknot screams, and everyone jumps up and down on command. The ground doesn’t shake, but I like to pretend it does. “Oshkosh, show me your horns!” Caleb Shomo of Beartooth demands, and every fist isin the air. If the devil is real, then his grin is probably as big as mine.

We are all loud. We are all sweaty. We are all smiling like people gone mad! And for a full hour, we are all one, this big, amorphous mass of bodies all focused on a group of artists who are having just as much fun as we were, if not more.

It’s not about deadlines or money or acting like an adult in a world that’s hard; its’ about letting loose and having as much fun as possible. It’s about swearing and jumping and looking at the stranger next to you and grinning because damn it, yes you can scream louder than he can.

It’s gorgeous. It’s fucking gorgeous.

My first concert was in 2008. I was a freshman in college and unable to drink in public. I had no real interest in live music at that point, figuring if I wanted to jam, I could throw a CD on and be content. But my mom wanted to see Shinedown and Avenged Sevenfold and Buckcherry, and she was treating. I went along.

I want to say I was hooked after that show, because I remember it vividly. Shinedown blew me away. I didn’t think you could get that kind of quality music live. It just didn’t seem possible, not with all the mixing, mastering, second takes, and general work that goes into creating the perfect sound. Avenged Sevenfold blew me away. I didn’t think you could get that kind of energy in one place. We broke the barricade between the stage and the floor! It took twenty minutes to get it back up so they could continue their set.

I want to say I was hooked, but I wasn’t. It wouldn’t be until 2011 when Avenged Sevenfold came back to La Crosse that I’d go to my second concert. I needed to see them again! Plus, they promised to come back, and I promised to return. It was an audible contract between a good few thousand people, and if they were holding up their end, then I had to as well.

That show. That’s when it clicked that I had to go to these things whenever I could. Between 2011 and 2016, I’ve gone to at least five concerts a year, tallying up 79 different bands and tons of repeats. I’ve seen Shinedown five times, and in a few weeks, I’ll be seeing Bobaflex for my sixth time.

I have stories. None of them are the crazy, the kind you’d expect. I’ve never done drugs or gotten laid or snuck backstage to do blow and hookers with a rock star. I was once invited to watch to people have sex though, and I did once sneak backstage with my drunken mother and her friend to meet Monkey Wrench (local cover band) and Royal Bliss. I walked out of that scenario with a birthday cake.

Not a piece of birthday cake. A full fucking birthday cake.

I’ve witnessed fights at Five Finger Death Punch concerts, I’ve almost been in fights at Five Finger Death Punch concerts, I did shots of Jager with Bobaflex, I’ve talked concept albums with Starset, I talked crowd funding with Royal Bliss, I told Otherwise that tracking them down to get their signatures was harder than collecting Pokemon cards, I watched three people play one guitar at a Nothing More show, and I was almost thrust into a circle pit at a Nonpoint show.

I’ve met and connected with more people than I can count for minutes or seconds as we talked bands, moshed, or maybe just exchanged knowing smiles.

I say none of this to brag but to try and showcase how each live show is its own special, unforgettable event about people coming together and connecting over something they love.

I’ll end this on a quick story. Back in March I went to the Minneapolis to see Nightwish. I enjoyed Delain as an opening act, and then out come a Finnish power metal band called Sonata Artica. I only knew a few of their songs from Youtube, and judging by the crowd, I wasn’t alone there. We were all there to see Nightwish and anyone else was just icing on that lovely cake.

So Sonata Artica start playing and it becomes pretty apparent that they’re amazing. They quickly steel all of our hearts, and damned if none of us are upset about that.

Then they start playing this song called, “I Have a Right” which is 90% chorus. The lyrics are, “I have a right to be heard, / To be seen, to be loved, to be free, / To be everything I need to be me, /To be safe, to believe in something.” The first time they sing this, it’s awesome. I catch all the words and the melody, and damn if I don’t agree with what is being said. Then they sing them again. And again. And again.

By the time that song was done, the whole crowd was singing alongside them, so loud you could no longer hear the band. We went from knowing zero of those lyrics to all of them.

In that moment, we were all on the same page, all one big voice, and whatever the “something” is in that song, we all believed it at the same time.

PSA: The Musings of Balance

I’m going to interrupt my normal stream of shitty poetry and long-winded book reviews for this quick PSA: My good friend Thomas Rakowitz has put out his first album titled The Musings of Balance. To be fair to him, he released his debut album a few months ago, and I meant to do a post then, but…I’m a bad friend, okay?

You can find the album for sale on his bandcamp page, where you can stream it. The whole thing is also on Youtube.

What you’ll find is a monster hard rock/metal album that’s 100% done by Thomas. He wrote and played EVERYTHING, and he even does all the vocals, both clean and distorted. There are catchy riffs, crazy solos, elements of guttural metal, and songs that will make you want to sing along even if you suck at singing and are in public and I need to stop doing that because I embarrass myself.

Now, this is important to you because almost all of my writing improvs–that shitty poetry I mentioned earlier–are done to Thomas’ music. He tunes, I poem, and at the end the day, I gain a new follower (sometimes).

He’s inspired a lot of work, and his music has been the background of a lot of my editing sessions. Like, a lot a lot. I’ve edited a FULL NOVEL TWICE to his music. So you know, check out his ambient stuff too. It’s super pretty.

I should also mention that he has limited physical copies left, and if you ask nicely, he might sign one before sending. And by might I mean he will because he’s cool like that. Seriously, hit him up on twitter or something as you buy and let him know.

And hell, while I’m here: He’s also working on a video game covers album, all of which can be found on his Soundcloud page. If you like video game music, you should check this out. His rendition of Metroid Prime’s Phendrana Drifts is exceptionally exceptional.

Game Development: Songbird

Been awhile since I shared anything involving game development. For those who don’t remember, I’m working on a card-based RPG with real-time elements and all other kinds of video game verbiage nonsense. It’s slow going because I”ve taken a month off to work on my current novel.

Anyhow, my bro has been more productive than me. Here’s a song he’s recently finished that’s pretty darn good.

Hope y’all enjoy it. Should have some fun stuff for next week.

Game Development: Viper’s Bite

Progress continues with The Regret of Viterran, this time in the form of a new song. I’m quite happy with this one.

“Viper’s Bite” will be the battle theme music for the Sekhtus Desert.

This song started off as the night-time, rock tune for our Global Game Jam 2016 game. I created the original draft in around five hours on little sleep, and it featured some okay-sounding electric guitar and organ. It was mostly unmixed and unmastered because I ran out of time to do those things.

I liked it then though, and I wasn’t going to just let five hours worth of work sit there like that. So I loaded it back up and re-purposed it.

The okay-sounding electric guitar is now an acoustic guitar–actually two of them, each sounding a little different from each other–and the organ is now a ney flute. Wikipedia says that instrument is prominent in Egypt and the surrounding area.

Like the last song I made for Vitrerran, there was a nice amount of collaborating at work here. I built the basics, and my brother helped me fix a few things up, partly in pointing out which areas were horribly out of key. I’m a hair tone deaf and have problems with some of that.

And like all my other songs, this one has a nod to A Song of Ice and Fire, The Red Viper being a character from the desert city of Dorn. It’s a bit less in-your-face (and not as clever) as “When Winter Fell” or “A Storm of Sounds,” but it’s the best I managed to do without getting overly wordy.

I hope you enjoy!


My Top 10 Albums of 2015

2015 was an amazing year for music for me, and not just in the stuff that came out that year. No, I found a ton of new bands to listen to (most were albums not released in 2015), had a ton of my favorite bands release new music, got caught up on tons of music from 2014, and in general, rocked out something fierce. Sadly though, I didn’t get to every band or album I wanted to, and as a personal rule, I’m only rating albums I outright purchased. This means some great music won’t make this list. This happened last year too, because damn, there’s only so much time and money I can realistically allot to this.


I should also probably mention that the order of these albums is…strange. I’d like to prioritize quality first, but when it comes to music, I also want to have fun. Just keep that in mind as you go through this one.

Now, with that out of the way, it’s time to count down!



10 Halestorm – Into the Wild Life

Genre: Hard Rock

Lzzy Hale has one of the best voices in the whole damn business, if I do say so myself. I love her range, I love the personality, both on stage and in her music, and I love how she’s so down for variety. In the case of Into the Wild Life, variety is the theme of the album; no two songs sound alike. Halestorm take influences from every genre of rock out there, including punk and even some old-school heavy metal, producing what I believe is their best album yet.

Lyrically, the album is an old-school party affair with a giant dose of throwing social norms out the window. There’s a big sense of being yourself and shooting hard for your dreams, and I really like that.

Standout tracks are “Scream,” “I am the Fire,” and “I Like it Heavy.”


09 Powerwolf – Blessed and Possessed

Genre: Power Metal

The wolves are back with more songs about werewolves! No, I’m being serious. If you’ve never heard of Powerwolf, all you need to know is in their name itself: They’re power metal, and they sing about werewolves. It’s cheesy as hell, takes itself perhaps a bit too seriously (what with all the religious overtones), but the package is somehow amazing.

Powerwolf are a band that have found a sound that works and have stuck to it for the past few albums, so Blessed and Possessed is really more of the same. That is, of course, a great thing if you like their sound–which I do.

However, they do change a few things up. The organ is more prominent than ever, lyrically we’ve got a song about vampires, there’s an entire song in Latin, and Blessed and Possessed has the strongest finisher of any of their albums (which normally don’t have great finishers).

“Army of the Night” is also their best song to date and so catchy it hurts. Seriously, don’t listen to this unless you want it to never leave your skull ever.

Standout tracks are “Army of the Night,” “Armata Strigoi,” and “Sanctus Dominus.”


08 Five Finger Death Punch – Got Your Six

Genre: Groove Metal

Five Finger Death Punch are one of my favorite bands, generally hitting my number 2 slot if I’m doing a countdown. I love ‘em. I’ve seen them live three times (once this year!), and their newest album was something I anticipated with lots of…anticipation!

It’s good too!

This go around, they’ve really thrown away their want for slow, radio-friendly songs and just went with hard-hitting groove. The riffs are crazy and the vocals/lyrics are very in your face. That isn’t to say the album is without its variety though; in fact, there’s still plenty of ups and downs, it’s just they’re now within songs instead of by song. So instead of going two hard songs and a soft song, it’s three hard songs, but that third hard song has some dips in tempo/rage.

It’s really cool and makes Got Your Six stand out a bit when compared to Five Finger Death Punch’s other albums.

Standout tracks are “Ain’t My Last Dance,” “Question Everything,” and “Boots and Blood.”


07 Aranda – Not the Same

Genre: Rock

When it comes to rock music, I prioritize catchy vocal melodies over pretty much all else. Give me something I can sing to without shame—which takes some work since I’m a garbage singer and attempts almost always fill me with shame—and then give me something I can headbang to.

Not the Same does both, and damn spectacularly too!

What makes Aranda’s newest stand out above most others though isn’t just the catchy vocals, excellent singing, and memorable/rockin’ riffs though. No, this album has soul to it. Lyrically, it’s great, with a good amount of range to boot. There are some truly moving songs here about loss and second chances, about standing up for yourself, and about finding love.

For fans, it’s another departure from their other two albums, proving without a doubt that Aranda will not release the same album twice. I appreciate that (even if I so miss the sound from their self titled work).

Standout tracks are “We are the Enemy,” “Don’t Wake Me,” and “Shadow of the Sun.”


06 Allen Stone – Radius

Genre: R&B

The odd-man out on this list, Allen Stone is the only, ONLY singer/songwriter that can get me to dance like the whitest man in the room while I’m still sober. His music just has this vibe to it that I find hard to put down into words, but I absolutely love it.

I actually don’t have all that much else to say about this album. It’s one of those, “I know it’s objectively better than most of the stuff on this list, but I’m putting it in the middle only because I don’t listen to it as often as I should.” It’s great music, and Mr. Stone himself has a wonderful voice and penchant for great lyrics, but as you can and will see, I’m more into rock/metal.

But when I do hit up Radius, damn do I dance! And not well.

Standout tracks are “Perfect World,” “Circle,” and “Guardian Angel.”


05 Bobaflex – Anything that Moves

Genre: Metal

Bobaflex are another one of my favorite bands, and I’ve been lucky enough to see them five times in five years. They evidently love Wisconsin. They’re a band that I find unpredictable, even if their brand of metal is fairly accessible. Yet the ups and downs the songs take, and the lyrical content they’re usually about, are hard to map out. They can go from biting social commentary to BDSM at the drop of a friggen’ hat, and I know it’s all because Sean McCoy is a crazy person (and super cool. I’ve met him.)

It makes for fun listening.

Anything that Moves acts as a slight softening of their sound; however, it’s also a bit of a blend of my favorite parts about Bobaflex as a whole. There are some crazy in-your-face rockers, some just downright strange tunes, and that above-mentioned unpredictability that drew me to them five years ago.

This album also has, without a doubt, some of their best guitar work yet.

Standout tracks are “Start a War,” “Spider in the Dark,” and “Pray to the Devil.”


04 Shinedown – Threat to Survival

Genre: Rock

2015 was pretty much the year of my favorite bands releasing new music. God damn do I love Shinedown. Like, a lot. When it comes to rock music, I really think they do it the best, and for pretty much all of the reasons I listed above with Aranda. Wonderful vocal melodies, Brent’s voice itself is phenomenal, killer guitarwork, and deep and meaningful lyrics on every song they do.

This is not a trashy rock band.

Threat to Survival, like Bobaflex’s newest album, acts as a slight softening of sound; however, it’s not a bad thing. Shinedown are another band that refuse to release the same album twice, and what they’ve given us in 2015 is certainly different. Going from their hardest song to date in “Cut the Cord” to one of their slowest in “Thick as Thieves,” this album has a bit of everything, and it’s all so damn moving and wonderful.

Standout tracks are “Cut the Cord,” “State of my Head,” and “How did you Love.”


03 Bullet for my Valentine – Venom

Genre: Metalcore

If you would have told me Bullet for my Valentine would be putting out one of my favorite albums in 2015 back in 2013,I’d have given you a funny look and shook my head. Not possible. But I was wrong, so thankfully, thankfully wrong!

Venom is a standout, featuring some crazy-awesome guitarwork and the band’s best lyrics to date. The album tackles some pretty heavy topics (like depression) while also diving headfirst into super dark territory with no parachute. It’s nonstop fun and only takes a break with its title track, “Venom,” allowing a brief breather before jumping back into the fray of growls and chugging guitar.

It also needs to be recognized for leaving some of its best songs as bonus tracks.

Standout tracks are “No Way Out,” “Playing God,” and “Raising Hell.”


02 Disturbed – Immortalized

Genre: Hard Rock/Metal

Up until 2015, Disturbed had been on a five-year hiatus, which is a Goddamned long time to go without new music. We did get The Lost Children in 2011 (which is one of my favorites by them), but still, that’s four years!

Well, Disturbed made 2015 an event by coming back and better than ever.

If the first theme on this top-10 list is favorite bands releasing new music (and Disturbed are a favorite), the second theme is variety. Immortalized is a varied album, in both sound and lyrical content. There’s the goofy fun we expect from Disturbed along with the rough and gruff voice and chuggin’ guitar, but there’s also a softer, lighter side here that I haven’t seen before.

There’s also a quick dip into sheer sorrow that breaks my heart every time.

The whole thing adds up into my favorite Disturbed album to date. The variety, the execution, everything about this album is damned flawless.

Standout tracks are “What are You Waiting For,” “Save Our Last Goodbye” and “Who Taught You How to Hate.”


01 Nightwish – Endless Forms Most Beautiful

Genre: Symphonic Metal

When it comes to music, I’d say Nightwish are the definition of breathtaking. They might also be the definition of phenomenal. I’ve never not been amazed by an album they’ve put out, and Endless Forms is obviously no exception to that. The entire album is a story about Earth, death, and everything that happens in between.

It’s so beautiful, so powerful, so impressive in its scope and execution that I probably don’t have to say anything more.

So I won’t.

Standout tracks are “Our Decades in the Sun,” “My Walden,” and “Alpenglow.”

Free Music

Keepin this quick and dirty: You know all those writing improvs I’ve done in the past and how they’re all to awesome rock and metal music? The dude that wrote that music just set both of his albums to “FREE” for a limited time.

You should go download them because they are good.

That is all. We’ll return to our weekly scheduled programming on Saturday with more book reviews because I have a problem.

Nightwish Endless Forms Most Beautiful: Music Review

Imaginaerum isn’t just my favorite Nightwish album, it’s one of my favorite albums period. Everything about it is wonderful, from its hard riffs to its orchestral background to its overarching narrative. I love it. When it comes to concept albums, Nightwish simply know how to do it, so when they announced Endless Forms Most Beautiful, a concept album about nature and rationality, I was on board from the start.

When they got rid of Anette Olzon as their vocalist and replaced her with Floor Jenson, I was still on board. It’s not like this is the first time Nightwish have replaced a singer, and honestly, Nightwish are the one band I’m completely fine with making big changes. As long as Tuomas Holopainen is doing all the writing, then whatever gets made will be haunting, beautiful, and possessed with a certain kind of magic that most bands simply lack.

Endless Forms Most Beautiful is a breathtaking and wonderful piece of art, offering an expansive and compelling (if not slightly disjointed) journey from Earth’s beginning to Earth’s eventual demise. Musically, it’s amazing; lyrically, it’s wonderful. I still like Imaginaerum more, but Endless Forms Most Beautiful is probably the better album. The songs are richer, more complicated, and almost all of them give me chills for one reason or another.

Coupled with the new singer is a small shift in music. Nightwish are a symphonic metal band, but Endless Forms Most Beautiful is more “symphonic” than “metal” in its execution. I don’t see this as a problem, but those looking for the grit found in Dark Passion Play will certainly be disappointed. There’s nothing as heavy as “The Poet and the Pendulum” or “Seven Days to the Wolves” here. That being said, it’s still very much a metal album, and there’s plenty of nice guitar work and drumming to appreciate.

Though I’ve always considered Nightwish a creator of beautiful music first and a metal band second, so in that regard, they haven’t changed at all.

If I had one criticism, it would be: With a greater complexity comes a greater difficulty in connection. I had to listen to Endless Forms Most Beautiful two or three times to truly get it, and honestly, that first listen was tough. The vocal melodies aren’t as easily followed this time around, and the lyrics are very dense in meaning. There’s also a lot less rhyming to be found. This isn’t an album you can casually throw on and go about your business; you have you truly pay attention to get it.

And if I’m being petty, I suppose I find it disappointing that there isn’t a truly Celtic song like “Last of the Wilds” or “I Want My Tears Back.” The song “My Walden” comes close, but the Celtic elements aren’t as prominent as they are in the two aforementioned tracks.

If it seems strange that I’ve avoided talking song specifics it’s because… well, I don’t want to spoil anything. That might sound foolish, but there really is something here. From Richard Dawkin’s opening lines in “Shudder Before the Beautiful” to his ending monologue in “The Greatest Show on Earth,” Endless Forms Most Beautiful will take you on a journey, and I’d hate for my interpretation of that experience to muddy yours before you get a chance to take it yourself.

So, I close this section of this review with: Endless Forms Most Beautiful will be the album to beat in 2015, and honestly, I can’t see anyone topping it.

Now, let’s move on to the track-by-track breakdown!

“Shudder Before the Beautiful”

In this day and age, it’s maybe a little pretentious to invoke the muse. I like it though, and given the scope of Endless Forms Most Beautiful, it feels apt. To ask for the guidance of Pagan spirits is a little hypocritical given this album’s actual view on religion, but as a Literary trope, it works.

The song itself is wonderful, especially what acts as the bridge.

“Weak Fantasy”

It is strange that after invoking the muse, Nightwish immediately lash out against other, established views on creation. I understand the concept as an argumentative tactic—shut down counterarguments before they can occur—but it still feels out of place.

Tuomas writes, “Every child [is] worthy of a better tale,” and depending on your views of the world and religion, Endless Forms Most Beautiful either gives us that or an hour-and-a-half’s worth of blasphemy.

As an actual song, “Weak Fantasy” is fairly typical Nightwish. It’s heavy, and in this case biting in its subject matter. Both this and “Shudder Before the Beautiful” set off Endless Forms Most Beautiful on a fairly heavy note, and while Nightwish have put out more metal tracks, these serve just fine as openers.


“Elan” is one of my favorite songs on the entire album, probably setting itself as number two or three. I love it musically, especially the different flute instruments and the orchestration. It’s just really, really pretty.

Lyrically, it’s gorgeous, taking us back to a time before humans, where the Earth was nothing but herself, untarnished and completely alive. As standalone poetry, “Elan” is great, but when put to music, it becomes elevated even further. The repetition of the word “Come” acts as an invitation, to participate and enjoy the imagery present, and I find that sentiment gorgeous too.

“Yours is an Empty Hope”

I’m all for metal, but the two heaviest songs on Endless Forms Most Beautiful are the two I like the least, and that mostly comes down to their lyrical content and tone. It’s not that they don’t fit, but to bookend “Elan” with such negativity comes off as…improper. However, “Yours is an Empty Hope” is a solid tune and all sorts of metal, and it does act as a great setup to the next song, which examines death not from a spiritual angle but from a natural one.

“Our Decades in the Sun”

With religion tossed aside, “Our Decades in the Sun” takes a different look at death, and despite lacking in Gods and Heaven, the new outlook is very positive. Life is short, both our individual life and that of our species as a whole, yet it’s still a gift to be cherished. I like this philosophy, and as a song, I like its execution. The lyrics are pretty and on point, and they’re surrounded by some wonderful piano and flutes. Even when the guitar does show up, the lighter instruments are never out of reach.

“My Walden”

Taking inspiration from Walden by Henry David Thoreau, “My Walden” is about mankind’s relationship with nature. It seems like a logical fit after “My Decades in the Sun;” if life is short, then the best way to live it is in harmony with nature and our fellow man.

Like “Elan,” “My Walden” is filled with really wonderful poetry, the chorus being my favorite part of it.

On the musicianship front, the song boasts some Celtic elements similar to “Last of the Wilds” and “I Want My Tears Back,” though they’re sparse in the beginning. The ending to the song, however, is a wonderful piece of instrumentation, bringing in all kinds of different elements, both the heavy and the light. It’s quite spectacular and acts as a great musical payoff to what was a great lyrical build.

“Endless Forms Most Beautiful”

“Endless Forms Most Beautiful” is another lyrically dense song, taking a look at both creation and evolution. It’s another great tune with a particularly catchy chorus and some wonderful guitar to match. I like both it and what it’s about.

“Edema Ruh”

“Edema Ruh” is one of the few songs I have problems with, and they have nothing to do with the song itself or even the lyrics. Call me petty, but I really didn’t like Patrick Rothfus’ The Name of the Wind, so to have a song with a direct reference to that story kind of rubs me the wrong way.

That all being said, the song itself is great. I both enjoy and completely agree with its praise of art. Given how damning some of the earlier songs are, it’s nice to see a counterpoint to the creations of humanity. We may have given the world religion and war, but we also gave it poetry and stories. I don’t know if that’s truly a fair trade, but it’s a nice consolation prize regardless.


“Alpenglow” is my favorite song on Endless Forms Most Beautiful. I love its guitar work and the instrumentation that goes around it. It finds a great balance between gorgeous and heavy. Its chorus also has my favorite vocal melody of the entire album.

Lyrically, the song moves onto the end of humanity and life on Earth, yet like the above songs that deal with death, there’s no negativity here. It’s all painted as beautiful and special, and the song’s cornerstone is the phrase “We were here,” which holds so much meaning that I could go on for at least a full page if I wanted to.

Like “My Walden,” “Aplenglow” is a wonder of build up and pacing, and the ending is breathtaking.

“The Eyes of Sharbat Gula”

“The Eyes of Sharbat Gula” is an instrumental song, and a very downtrodden and dark one at that. With no lyrics to go off of, it’s hard to truly interpret the song, but there are some heavy Fantasia vibes to it, and there are certainly images that come to mind when it plays.

In comparison to other Nightwish instrumentals, it’s better than “Arabesque” but not as good as “Last of the Wilds.”

“The Greatest Show on Earth”

Like Wintersun’s “Sons of Winter and Stars,” Nightwish manage to do more with “The Greatest Show on Earth” than most bands do with an entire album. Musically, the song is all over the place, starting off slow with some piano before moving into violins and beyond. Throughout, sounds play, such as thunder, rainstorms, and the shrieking of birds and growling of animals.

If the entirety of Endless Forms Most Beautiful is about the lifespan of Earth, then “The Greatest Show on Earth” is a full album Cliffnotes version. The song starts with the forming of the Earth and how she stumbled into the Goldilocks Zone, and it only goes on from there. When it eventually land on humanity, the song gets brutally dark, and the singing style changes to match. Eventually, we die, and we’re left to reflect on what we accomplished, the phrase “we were here” sung over and over again.

Richard Dawkins sees us off with some naturalist philosophy and a quote from Darwin’s Origin of Species.

I end the album feeling some wild sense of amazement, sorrow, and the want to listen to it again.