Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Artemis Sere's Twenty Respun Albums of 2015

Respin (respun) = A music album listened to again, newly discovered or rediscovered. This list focuses on albums that came out previous to current year (pre-2015; please see my Artemis Sere's Twenty Best Albums of 2015 blog for this year's best albums, coming soon).

It's no secret that I listen to music almost constantly. It is the white noise of my world, keeping me conscious and contemplative and spinning continuously.  Over the years, I've compiled my favorite new albums of the year, but there's far more to the story than just what's new in my rotation. I miss great music every year. I rediscover music that have forgotten.  Or I gain a new appreciation for music that I once discounted, didn't like, dismissed, cast aside.

Here is a list of twenty (aged) artists/albums that kept me company this year. Some of these creations exist on my previous "best of" lists, some of them were lost in the waves of time, some of them, never given the due they deserve.

This year, the overlap of favorite albums from 2014 is clear. The music I loved in 2014 was consistent in 2015, with some surprise entries and discoveries. Notably absent are Within Temptation, In This Moment, Lacuna Coil and Liquid Stranger; while they have been consistently on my list for many years, their last albums were iffy enough to have me listening elsewhere.

So, once again, walk down memory lane with me.

And bring earplugs.

20_Overseer - "Wreckage" (2003)
Favorite Tracks: Slayed, Sparks, Velocity Shift
Why: This album is a classic in my mind. Great and powerful breakbeats, smart samples, glitchy, trip-hoppy fun. "Slayed" is energizing. "Sparks" features the delicious sounds of Kanute's Rachael Gray. I return to the sweet sounds of "Wreckage" often. I only wish Rob Overseer was more active as a solo musician; I really dug his work, including his early, rarer pieces like "Never Trust An Old Punk" and "Chump Rock". 
19_Kanute - "Ursa Minor" (2014)
Favorite Tracks: Waking Up In California, Ursa Minor, Sunlight, Bodies
Why: Because Kanute is the perfect marriage of Rob Overseer + Rachael Gray, featured briefly in the song "Sparks" mentioned previously. But, instead of one brief trip hop dance, we get a whole album full of beautiful and inspiring music. The seraphic vocals of Rachael Gray are woefully underrated and underappreciated. I'm not sure how to classify the music of Kanute, other than classy, well-produced art. Give it a listen and discern for yourself.

18_Chimaira- "Crown of Phantoms" (2013)
Favorite Tracks: Crown of Phantoms, All That's Left Is Blood, Kings of the Shadow World
Why: "Crown of Phantoms" is a powerful song, the jewel of a brutal crown. Stacked with horrific visions and sinister sounds, this album signaled a return to the throne for a great band. Any time I need to get macabre, I throw on this dark armament and rule the shadows. 

17_The Bug - "Angels & Devils" (2014)
Favorite Tracks: Void, Fall, Mi Lost, The One
Why: The last couple of years may have signaled a strong return to my metal roots, but I still have a soft spot for dubstep. I came across "Angels & Devils" last year, but never gave it a thorough listen. Recently, I did, and found it mesmerizing. 
16_Solitude Aeturnus - "Through the Darkest Hour" (1994)
Favorite Tracks: Falling, The 9th Day: Awakening, Pain, Shattered My Spirit
Why: "Shattered My Spirit" is one of my favorite songs. Dark, haunting, depressing. Not that I had a moody year, but sometimes, that song just hits me perfectly. The album as a whole features awesome vocals, doomful guitars and moody atmosphere. The album moves like a spectre, and wails like a sad banshee.

15_Winds of Plague - "Against the World" (2011)
Favorite Tracks: Refined in the Fire, Built for War, Against the World, California
Why: This album kicks brutal ass, start to finish, and even has the stones to get honorable with a Orient-inspired "Warriors Code". While bands like Five Finger Death Punch rule the waves with safe adrenaline, Winds of Plague pave the rugged way of warrior metal.

14_Genuflect - "A Rose From the Dead" (2014)
Favorite Tracks: Riot on the Set, Gather in the Streets, Wither Within, Identity
Why: Drew Simollardes and Greg Sullivan, formerly vocalist and guitarist of the rap-rock band Reveille. They brought their rap/metal sound to their new band Genuflect, and the results have been awesome. While they haven't had the visibility or critical acclaim, they have continued to create great metal with a rap edge. Their debut album, "The End of the World", was one of my favorite albums of 2007. "A Rose From the Dead" would've made my Top 20 last year, had I known it was out. 
13_Kraddy - "Anthems of the Hero" (2011)
Favorite Tracks: Black Box, The Holy Avenger, The Heart Anthem, Operation Prometheus
Why: A classic album from one of the kings of Glitch-hop, a founder of The Glitch Mob. "Anthems of the Hero" is an electronic breakbeat album with lots of great hooks and catchy tunes. If you're new to glitch, here's a safe sample. You'll need it before you listen to my number one on this list, which is way more brutal. The album includes a slightly odd take on Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" -- I'm all about remixes and remakes of Black Sabbath songs (as I'm not a fan of the original music), but this one is a stretch. But, I could see it get play at a pregame show at a Sports event. Soundtrack for a girlfight? Oh, wait, Kraddy already covered that...

12_Clutch - "The Regulator" (2004)
Favorite Tracks: Just the song. Only that song. 
Why: I re-watched "The Walking Dead" series recently, and discovered this gem during Season 2. If you know the show, I'm sure you can recall the episode "Nebraska", even the scene. I won't elaborate. Nonetheless, while I am a big fan of Clutch, this song crept into my head and never left. Honestly, I haven't listened to the full "Blast Tyrant" album yet. Regardless, this song haunted me. I love the stories and characters that Clutch are able to paint with their songs; "The Regulator" is one of their best.
11_Massive Attack  - "100th Window" (2003)
Favorite Tracks: Antistar, What Your Soul Sings, Future Proof, Everywhen
Why: The album is massively mesmerizing, that's why. Layered with Sinead O'Connor, Horace Andy and Damon Albarn vocals, this trip-hop masterpiece was an addiction of mine this year while painting. I could get lost in it for hours. I discovered Massive Attack way too late, and wish I would've known about their awesomeness earlier. Nevertheless, it led to some brilliant inspiration, and I cherish it greatly.

10_RA - "Critical Mass" (2013)
Favorite Tracks: The Voice Inside My Head, Awake, Brutiful, Suipermegadubstep
Why: I consider RA one of those once up-and-coming alternative metal bands that never really got the play they deserve. Their "Egyptian-influenced" rock hasn't perfectly fit the cookie-cutter format of radio, and they've languished on the outskirts, a band with great potential but unable to take the next step. I spent a lot of time reconnecting with RA's music this year-- from "From One" to "Duality" to "Black Sun -- and coincidentally rank "Critical Mass" as their best in their long history. It is a bit of a travesty that they haven't reached their own "critical mass" as a band, but their creative trajectory is Skyward, and I have to believe that Sahaj Ticotin will continue to crank out great music as long as he is able.

9_Morcheeba - "Blood Like Lemonade" (2010)
Favorite Tracks: Blood Like Lemonade, Crimson, Even Though, Self-Made Man
Why: The intro song "Crimson" is a haunting and sorrowful tale of loss, and it is a tone that haunts the whole album. There are ruddy undertones to this trip-hop adventure in every song. The lyrics of "Blood Like Lemonade" speak of a man who has lost his faith and turned to murder. "Self-Made Man" is a brilliantly sarcastic statement against pride and arrogance. Skye Edward's airy vocals work in ironic contrast to glitchy coagulation. This is simply an unforgettable album.

8_Conjure One - "Exilarch" (2010)
Favorite Tracks: I Dream in Colour, Run for Cover, The Distance, Like Ice
Why: Rhys Fulber has a brilliant formula with Conjure One. He conjures up a landscape of electronic awesomeness, and enlists some of the best vocalists from around the globe to play. Exilarch features the spectacular vocals of Leah Randi, Jaren Cerf, Free Rodriguez (Kidneythieves), and Azam Ali. "Exilarch" is transcendent, gorgeous, and blissfully mysterious. 

7_IAMX - "The Unified Field" (2013)
Favorite Tracks: All
Why: Because I still love this album and listen to it constantly. The release of "Metanoia" only increased the amount of time I listen to the brilliant IAMX. Since I am writing about him so heavily in a future blog, I'll keep this review brief. If you haven't listened to IAMX yet, get with the program. He is one of the greatest living pop and music artists of this generation, and has two of my favorite albums of the last 3 years. 
6_The Pretty Reckless - "Going to Hell" (2014)
Favorite Tracks: Heaven Knows, House on a Hill, Burn, Why'd You Bring a Shotgun to the Party?
Why: The Pretty Reckless are better than I give them credit for -- most specifically, Taylor Momsen. She does have a great voice, and "Going to Hell" has a lot of heart, a lot more than I gave it credit for at first review. Her vocals remind me of a Poe/Sheryl Crow mix, and I can't complain about that -- Poe is a favorite artist/vocalist of mine, and Sheryl Crow once was.

5_Sneaker Pimps - "Splinter" (1999)
Favorite Tracks: Destroying Angel, Lightning Field, Low Five, Ten to Twenty
Why: I'm a huge fan of Chris Corner; he is one of my creative idols. This was the first album of the Sneaker Pimps that featured Chris as the frontman (without Kelli Dayton on vocals) of the band he founded, and is a vastly underrated album. I'm still trying to work out the narrative of Chris Corner "Becoming X" (the first album by Sneaker Pimps in 1996) to him now functioning as the musician IAMX. Perhaps "Splinter" and "Bloodsport" are his path to and from X, a splinter toward who he is now. Either way, this "Splinter" was a musical departure from what the world had got to know as Sneaker Pimps -- a techno-electronic-triphop outfit fronted by a light-voiced, doe-eyed model, rooted in the smash single "6 Underground". This splinter is darker, grimmer and gutsier, the bravery of moving toward something unknown and different.
4_Beck - "Morning Phase" (2014)
Favorite Tracks: Morning, Wave, Waking Light, Unforgiven
Why: Another album I missed the boat on in 2014. I love the album "Sea Change"; it's one of my all-time favorites. Thus, I must have been greatly distracted when its companion piece came out, won a bunch of awards and blew Beck back up. I remember Beck winning the Grammy for "Morning Phase", and I cheered for him, even though I didn't realize what I was missing. The beauty of the respun list: I get another chance to give appropriate props. While not near as good as "Sea Change", it is an awesome rocktrip of an album.

3_Sanctuary - "The Year the Sun Died" (2014)
Favorite Tracks: All
Why: I gushed about this great album last year as my best album of 2014, and it continued to be one of my favorites in 2015. I could write a blog post alone about how much I love this album, how much it inspires me creatively, from the Travis Smith coverwork to the powerful vocals of Warrel Dane, and how I still have my jeans jacket from high school with a "Refuge Denied" t-shirt stitched to the back. Another underrated band and album. 

2_Heaven & Hell - "The Devil You Know" (2009)
Favorite Tracks: Breaking Into Heaven, Bible Black, Follow the Tears, Double the Pain
Why: I feel like I didn't know the Devil until this year; between Heaven & Hell and Blue Stahli, the man in red is getting a healthy new coat. And here's another case of me having my head up my ass when it comes to music: I didn't even give this awesome metal album a listen until this year. "The Devil You Know" is one of the greatest works of Dio and his former Black Sabbath mates. It is essentially "Dehumanizer II", via Dante's Inferno. If you don't know Dio or Black Sabbath, I suggest you start here. "Dehumanizer" was one of my favorite albums in college, and I still love it to this day. I'm sad to think that I missed out on one of Dio's last great creations until now. 

1_Cyanotic - "Worst Case Scenario (Vol 1)" (2014)
Favorite Tracks: All
Why: Cyanotic has the great distinction of being the first band in the history of my "Best of" lists to be at the top of the Respun list for the previous year, and in the top 5 for the second CD of a Volume the following year. Complicated, I know; basically, their "Worst Case Scenario" album could've been my #1 of 2014, and is my "Best Respun Album of 2015". I underestimated the greatness of "Worst Case Scenario (Vol 1)" in 2014, and it grew on me tremendously this year. Coupled with Vol. 2, it is an amazing industrial music experience of 32 deliciously glitchy tracks, and should be a staple of the industrial metalhead.
Video: https://youtu.be/Tq3r2wpI0bo

Thanks for reading! Please share your respins for 2015 in the comments below.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Cacophony: Dissonance of Serenity

Cacophony: Dissonance of Serenity

Who knows where the voices came from initially. The past. The future. Genetic echoes of a life once lived. Hauntings of a grimmer time. The netherside. Once I acknowledged the silent whisperings from the darker corners, they multiplied, harmonized, and plasticized in pencil and pixel, paint and poetry.

Voices became faces, faces became characters, and characters became ghosts -- from a different place, and of the stranger inside.

"Cacophony" is a coffee-table book of some of my best art in full color, 8x10 glory, remixed and re-purposed as the effigies of my "Skeleton Men" antagonist, Aelister Aghast. "Cacophony" works as a character sketch, as well as a colorful mindtrip across the burning landscape of the fictional realm of Oblivion. It is strange, unique, authentic, genuine, dark, sometimes diabolical and sometimes frightful. It is available now for order on Blurb.com.

This project was originally planned as a gallery show of my digital art, paintings, photography, effigies and remixes from my Serenity Gallery and other sources. Unfortunately, the event was canceled due to logistical issues. Instead of shutting down the concept, I captured the gallery show and adjoining story in a book, which is connected to my 4th book coming in December, “The Skeleton Men”.

Why a physical book instead of a digital experience? They say "a picture is worth a thousand words". Well, I bring that wisdom to life. I make books for people who still appreciate the book experience -- filled with provocative imagery and vibrant content. My books are intricate visual works of art, not just text panels that can be scanned and consumed by the reader on a flat-panel screen. "Cacophony" will eventually be available via digital format, but much will be lost in the translation between tangible and virtual, and I believe fans of my work will value the rich experience of this book.

While "Cacophony" is aimed at the Sere Art enthusiast and discerning collector, I hope all those who appreciate mixed media art will order a copy. Due to the high cost of printing a full-color photo book, the piece is the most expensive creation in the Sere library; it is certainly an investment. With that in mind, "Cacophony" is "Made To Order/Print" from Blurb; I will not have copies on-hand for sale.

So, if you’ve got a free minute or two, check out a Preview of my piece via the link below. If you’re so inclined, buy a copy. It is the coolest thing I’ve ever produced, and I’m greatly proud of it. 

Book link:  http://www.blurb.com/b/6307513-cacophony

Attached are photographs of and excerpts from the book. If you'd like more examples of the piece, check out the following social media spaces:

Facebook: The Art of Artemis Sere (http://www.facebook.com/art.of.artemissere)
Tumblr: Artemis Sere (https://www.tumblr.com/blog/artemissere)
Instagram: Artemis Sere (https://instagram.com/artemissere)
Twitter: Artemis Sere (http://www.twitter.com/setinbone)
Pinterest: Artemis Sere (https://www.pinterest.com/artemissere)

Hashtags: #artemissere #artrovert #cacoeffigy #cacophony #seretic

"Cacophony: Dissonance of Serenity" Front Cover

"Cacophony: Dissonance of Serenity"

"Cacophony: Dissonance of Serenity" Title Page

EFFIGYXXIX: The Scarlet Crown, from "Cacophony: Dissonance of Serenity"

EFFIGYXLIX: The Tesseract, from "Cacophony: Dissonance of Serenity"

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

A Curse of Curtises

A Curse of Curtises

I'm not one to get into race relations. Recent police-related tragedies in Baltimore and across the United States have broke my heart, and have sent me soul-searching to see what I can do better as part of our culture. As a globally-oriented artist, I have little patience for prejudice, bigotry, racial hatred or intolerance. I'm a big supporter of racial and gender equality, and acknowledged the changing of the demographics of the U.S.A. a decade or so ago. I grew up around the world, shuttled from military base to military base, so I had little time to get opinionated about people based on the color of their skin, gender, ethnic background or history.

As a secular humanist, I obviously have some issues regarding religion, its vulture-like grip on society and the theocratic direction of our governing bodies, but when it comes to the people that make up the followings, I don't discriminate, don't get dragged into racial exchanges, and I try to be a patient resident of the planet. I'm a supporter of MLK Jr and MalcomX, reference Ghandi and Buddha and the Dalai Lama regularly, and studied Eastern and Western Religions (including a year on the Bible) at the University of Wisconsin - Green Bay. I've spent my life studying humans and their tendencies, cultures, thoughts, passions.

If there's anyplace that the Universe and I intersect, it is on the concept of patience.

Unfortunately, it seems like the Universe is more interested in testing the edges of my patience than proving out the positive concepts of it.

On Sunday, my path crossed with two Curtises, both of which are examples of patience lost across Humanity -- one, at a conference center in Dallas, Texas where cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad were being judged as part of a contest; the other, at a Dollar Store where a certain Curtis got "racial on me" for not letting him go ahead of me in line with his bag of chips.

The first Curtis:  On Sunday May 3, two ISIS-aligned gunman attacked the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas where 200 people were attending a Muhammad Art Exhibit. The Exhibit was pulled together after recent events such as the Charlie Hebdo massacre, and other assassinations of Secular bloggers and artists around the world. The event highlighted the strength and solidarity of the secular and freedom of speech community around the world, but also showed that no place is safe from the violent mitts of someone else's myth. No one but the shooters were killed during the attack, but the assault alone demonstrates the extreme lack of patience rooted broadly in our humanity these days.

The second Curtis: On Sunday May 3, I walked into a local Dollar Store with my significant other to buy cheap supplies. Candle molds (plastic cups) for a dollar. Popsicle sticks. Wax paper. Cheap stuff to help other artists and creatives find light and warmth and direction in their art. The day was a busy one, as we had many candles to make, shopping for supplies to complete and a futon to pick up in a few hours. By all accounts, my time was in short supply, considering storms were slated for the rest of the afternoon, and I was rushing to get back home and out of the path of nature's anger.

In my own way, I lacked patience, but I had a lot to do on that day. I suppose my big FAIL is that I could've been more patient and thoughtful, but I wasn't. Unfortunately, I can't be with 100% of my time. I'm an artist; my time outside of work hours to commit to artistic production is extremely limited as it stands. Thus, when I'm driven to get work done, I am focused.

Once I had a my basket full of cheap stuff (twenty or so of the same cups, miscellaneous supplies, tape, etc. -- nothing excessive like a cart full of candy, or trashy, useless trinkets), I jumped into line. The cashier was a nice, personable, smiley and laughable Negro man, probably in his late 30s. (I note is race and age, because he was complicit in my second Curse of Curtises. Unfortunately, this is a very race-related rant.) He had a pleasant attitude for someone working in a Dollar Store on a sunny Sunday.

I placed my basket on the rubber conveyor belt, standing squarely in line and having made eye contact with the cashier. I'd seen him before during previous visits, and was pleased that I was in a line with someone that naturally had a good mood. As someone that worked a service job for years, I can appreciate how hard it is to maintain a laugh and a smile while serving, even a thankless cashier job. My mind had already drifted forward to how I was going to prep new candles with the new tools that I was purchasing.

I wasn't in the moment enough at the Dollar Store to notice a buff Negro man, also in his late 30s, step into line behind me and drop a bag of chips onto the conveyor belt. "Do you mind?" He asked impatiently, signaling his desire to go before me in line since he only had a bag of chips, all the while chatting with someone on the phone.

Irritated by his approach, by my schedule and by the fact that he was still talking on the phone while he asked me impolitely and rudely if he could pay before me, I said "No". Maybe my response was as a result of reading a blog about how "creatives say "NO" earlier in the day, or the fact that he automatically assumed that I was going to let him pass. Either way, he wasn't happy with my response.

Acting as if I verbally abused him, he turned from asking rather impolitely if he could go before me, to telling the person on the phone how much of a "cracka" I was (he used "nigga" when referring to himself, and to the person on the phone), how much of a Gentleman I was not and how much he wanted to "take it outside" because I didn't let him go before me in line.

He was willing to fight me over a bag of chips. 

I'm not one to provoke racial tensions, or even pull the race card when I don't get my way, but I was almost willing to take the tussle outside of Dollar Store and confront Curtis and his vulgar, violent, impatient attitude, regardless of outcome for me, simply because of his racial implications. Perhaps I provoked him a bit because I asked him if he "really needed to go there" (race card), and questioned his claim that I wasn't being a Gentleman for not letting him go first.

The interaction with him took less than five minutes. The checkout of my items took less than five minutes. Curtis (I noted his name because he was wearing a name tag which identified him as a worker at the local Valu Thrift/Unique store, which I will never visit again. And, according to what he said on the phone and which he made loudly clear, he was "off the clock", and not working) was out of the Dollar Store and off to his destination before I could get to my car, obviously not looking for a real confrontation either. Throughout the whole ugly interaction, the cashier never said a word, other than to check out my items as fast as possible.

The cashier would've let me fight Curtis over a bag of chips -- not once lifting a voice to defend my rightful place in line, defend the store's reputation or policies, or the vulgar attacks thrown my way by the impatient customer.

Due to that experience, there are now two places in my area that I will not go to again. Both Dollar Store and Valu Thrift in Sun Ray Shopping Mall, St. Paul, MN, are staffed by unprofessional employees, and should be avoided at all costs.

That aside, it makes me sad that I have a blacklist (in the context of this blog, I'm almost scared to even call it that) of places that I will no longer go, based on poor customer service or a shotty consumer experience. That blacklist is becoming longer and longer as quality of humanity decreases across our race. I'm sure there is more that I can do to be a better human, to be more patient and giving and understanding, to be better connected to the changing tides of humanity.

But the curse of Curtises makes me wonder where I fit now -- a Caucasian male caught in the middle of the turbulence between race and religion. I work hard, play very little and pay the taxes that allow Liberal systems that help humans exist (even more so as a high-income bracket, unmarried male with no dependents).

I practice patience, but the practice is becoming more challenging with the death of decorum, tact and etiquette now consistent across our people.

When will we stop being at war with each other?

Friday, January 9, 2015

Artemis Sere's Twenty Best Albums of 2014

Another year of music in the books. Every year I think I've got a better "Best of" list than the previous year. But this year.... WOW! Scanning back through all of the artists that released albums this year reads like a who's who of my faves--Cyanotic, Bassnectar, The Haunted, Within Temptation, Opeth, Slipknot, Celldweller, Blue Stahli...  This list is rich with great music, if you give the artists a spin.

How rich is this list with talented artists? Cyanotic had my favorite album of 2010 ("The Medication Generation"). The Haunted had my favorite album ("Unseen"), Within Temptation my third favorite album ('The Unforgiving") and Blue Stahli my ninth favorite album of 2011. Bassnectar had my second favorite ("Vava Voom"), and In This Moment had my fourth favorite album of 2012 ("Blood").

Coincidentally -- or maybe because Apocalyptic discourse is so common and trendy now -- there are many albums that deal with fire, light, the sun, death, and the end of the world in this list. On the surface, this is a somewhat bleak collection of music, less obscure than the darkness of 2013 when IAMX reigned supreme with "The Unified Field" -- a statement on the necessary secularization of humanity. This list has a shadow stretched across it, laid down by the bands that stand tall at the front of this list.

Without further ado, here are my favorite albums of 2014. Please share your favorite albums of 2014 in the comments attached to this blog. I'd love to get recommendations for my 2015 respun list (albums that I missed in 2014), and you can help with that list. So, please enjoy.

As loud as possible.

20_Godflesh - "A World Lit Only By Fire"
Favorite Tracks: "New Dark Ages", "Carrion"
Twitter: @jkbroadrick
YouTube Clip: 
Press Review: http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/19896-godflesh-a-world-lit-only-by-fire/
My Take: The attached review called it relentless; that sums up Godflesh's return to form perfectly.

19_Kanute - "Ursa Minor"
Favorite Tracks: "Ursa Minor", "Hurricane" , "Waking Up In California"
Twitter: @RachaelKanute
YouTube Clip:
Press Review: https://cubicscats.wordpress.com/2013/10/10/ursa-minor-by-kanute-it-will-grab-you-by-the-metaphoricals/
My Take: It was almost by accident that I came across Rachael Gray's angelic vocals as part of Rob Overseer's "Wreckage" album over a decade ago. I was a fan of Kanute's debut album "Standing Room Only", and was very excited to see new work from Kanute. "Ursa Minor" is a sweet, touching, trip-hopish album of magic, highly recommended for anyone with a softer side.

18_Opeth - "Pale Communion"
Favorite Tracks: "Eternal Rains Will Come", "Voice of Treason"
Twitter: @OfficialOpeth
Google+: +Opeth
YouTube Clip: http://youtu.be/CoW3Sywb5xQ
Press Review: http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/19520-opeth-pale-communion/
My Take: I feel like I've got an identity crisis with Opeth. Once a favorite band of mine, I haven't been a fan of their last couple of albums, including this one. Even though it is on my Top 20, it is nowhere near one of Opeth's best albums. "Damnation", the first album that took Opeth from blistering death metal to folksy doom rock, will always be my favorite album. There is an inherent beauty and darkness that tugs at my soul with every listen.  Opeth has continued to try to recapture that sublime creative brilliance over their last two albums, but has lost the way. This album is certainly good, and Mikael Akerfeldt is a favorite artist of mine. But, admittedly, I want "Blackwater Park" back.

17_Insomnium - "Shadows of the Dying Sun"
Favorite Tracks: "Revelation", "While We Sleep", "Black Heart Rebellion"
Twitter: @insomniumband
YouTube Clip: http://youtu.be/GPznX5XWnYs
Press Review: http://www.metalinjection.net/reviews/album-review-insomnium-shadows-of-the-dying-sun
My Take: Vast and powerful and immense. Beautiful, gloomy musicianship from the Finns.

16_Sixx A.M. - "Modern Vintage"
Favorite Tracks: "Stars", "Drive", "Gotta Get it Right"
Twitter: @SixxAM
Google+: +Sixx: A.M.
YouTube Clip: http://youtu.be/IzrOf5NULpA
Press Review: http://www.metalinjection.net/reviews/album-review-sixxa-m-modern-vintage
My Take: Not much I want to say about this album, to be honest. I still listen to their previous two albums religiously, and liked better when Sixx AM had a story to tell about the pain of addiction. I feel like Sixx AM went from heart-and-soul rock-and-roll to party-and-drink rock-and-roll with "Modern Vintage". Nikki Sixx can do drinking and rock-and-roll with little effort, stemming back to his Crue days; what has been compelling about Sixx AM is the honesty, the humility and the humanity of the band, all of which seem to be dialed down for "Modern Vintage". The album is full of great mainstream rock radio songs, but lacks the soul of previous albums.

15_Everything Goes Cold - "Black Out the Sun"
Favorite Tracks: "The Iron Fist of Just Destruction", "IAMERROR", "When the Sky Rips in Two You Are Free"
Twitter: @icebrigade
YouTube Clip: http://youtu.be/QRmV6MrS2uQ
Press Review: http://regenmag.com/reviews/everything-goes-cold-black-sun/
My Take:  80s synthpop, metal, and industrial all spun into one comically awesome musical experience. With previous song titles like "I Will Harness the Power of Darkness to Destroy You" and "I've Sold Your Organs On The Black Market To Finance The Purchase Of A Used Minivan" and "Bitch Stole My Time Machine", you know you're in for a bit of a trip with Everything Goes Cold; "Black Out the Sun" does not disappoint. Brittany Bindrim of I:Scintilla is a powerful part of "The Iron Fist of Just Destruction", and was one of my most listened to songs of 2014.

14_The Pretty Reckless - "Going to Hell"
Favorite Tracks: "House on a Hill", "Heaven Knows", "Going To Hell"
Twitter: @TPROfficial
Google+: +The Pretty Reckless
YouTube Clip: http://youtu.be/dzuSVxuGW64
Press Review: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/albumreviews/going-to-hell-20140318
My Take: I really wanted to hate The Pretty Reckless. In my opinion, the Taylor Momsen tortured-femme act is done by Maria Brink of In This Moment, and she has done it better historically. I'm not in synch with the sincerity of The Pretty Reckless's trip to "Hell". In fact, I think it's another case of rock angst overplayed through the religious lens. But, the tunes are catchy, and while listening to "Going to Hell", I heard shades of old-school Poe, with Sheryl Crow thrown in for twang. Taylor Momsen and The Pretty Reckless are talented musicians, packaged and presented well for the masses, with a story that is neither distinctly creative, nor refreshing, but is solid and somewhat sexy.

13_Overkill - "White Devil Armory"
Favorite Tracks: "Armorist", "Bitter Pill", "Another Day to Die"
Twitter: @OverkillBand
YouTube Clip: http://youtu.be/g6Jvf2Pps2E
Press Review: http://www.metalinjection.net/reviews/album-review-overkill-white-devil-armory
My Take:  I grew up with Overkill, and they're still shredding, 30 or so years later. While their catalog has been somewhat inconsistent the last ten years, "White Devil Armory" is solid and brutal -- not a return to form, as they never left, just a direct, powerful hit to the jaw and slam to the gutter.

12_Celldweller - "End of an Empire (Chapter1: Time, Chapter 2: Love)"
Favorite Tracks: "End of an Empire", "Lost In Time", "Down To Earth"
Twitter: @celldweller
Google+: +celldweller
YouTube Clip: http://youtu.be/6i4x8PC25nY
My Take: You probably have heard Celldweller, just don't know it. His music is featured in many commercials, TV spots, movie previews. While Celldweller has few complete "albums", he has hundreds of songs, remixes and instrumentals. Unfortunately, this turned his catalog into a fractured map of creations that seem spread too thin.  "End of an Empire" is an example of this -- an exploratory, chapterized album of a few actual songs, and many instrumentals or remixes or instrumental tracks of finished songs. To Celldweller and Blue Stahli, "Chapter" has become synonymous with EP -- chapterized releases of a few core songs plus their raw pieces, along a content or concept path that, when assembled together, complete one full album. We may have to wait another year or so for the full "End of an Empire" album to be completed and released-- until then, we are offered the chapters of "Time" and "Love". Both are great in their own right, but I can't escape the feeling of wishing Celldweller would just get back to creating albums -- instead of stringing us along a story line as chapters are finished.

11_Behemoth - "The Satanist"
Favorite Tracks: "Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel", "In the Absence ov Light", "The Satanist"
Twitter: @BehemothBand
Google+: +Behemothofficial
YouTube Clip: http://youtu.be/Czx-OIyrQwQ
Press Review: http://bloody-disgusting.com/news/3275832/album-review-behemoth-the-satanist/
My Take: Earcandy for the true metalhead, this album is immensely, darkly powerful. I can't say anything about the album that reviewers haven't already said. It is ranked near or at the top of most "Best of 2014" collections for the metal genre. Even though I'm not as death metal as I once was, I can appreciate the awesomeness of this album. Listen with care.

10_In This Moment - "Black Widow"
Favorite Tracks: "Big Bad Wolf", "Sick Like Me", "Black Widow"
Twitter: @OfficialITM
Google+: +In This Moment
YouTube Clip: http://youtu.be/zMEQ4aWnK2s
Press Review: http://www.metalsucks.net/2014/11/11/moments-black-widow-90s-mainstream-industrial-throwback-youve-waiting/
My Take: "Black Widow" reminds me of "Blood", only on a bigger label with bigger production, autotuning and experiments into industrial/electronic sounds. The Black Widow concept is cute and  catchy, but Maria Brink can only play so many archetypes. Previous albums featured her as Alice In Wonderland and a Blood Queen, but now she seems lost in a mix of mythological, artistic identities, trying to reinvent her creativity with every album. "Black Widow" has nifty songs, very radio-friendly and sexy compositions, but doesn't have the unique venom of previous albums. She went from a "Whore" on her last album to a "Black Widow" on her present -- most of all, I think it's an alert to the male gender to steer clear of Miss Brink.

09_Rabbit Junk - "Pop That Pretty Thirty (EP)"
Favorite Tracks: "Pop That Pretty Thirty", "Crutch 2014", "Precipice"
Twitter: @rabbitjunkband
YouTube Clip: http://youtu.be/lmcQDut0lig
Press Review: http://www.sputnikmusic.com/review/64120/Rabbit-Junk-Pop-That-Pretty-Thirty/
My Take: It's always difficult to notch a place on the list for EPs. For bands that don't have big label representation and/or wallets, small collections of songs serve as signposts along their creative path. It has been a while since Rabbit Junk has put out a full new album, but that doesn't mean they aren't on their game. JP Anderson and Sum Grrl are back with a bang. A short EP with deliciously hooky electro metal.

08_Cryptex - "End Silence"
Favorite Tracks: "Rowdy", "In The Stratus", "Transcendence"
Twitter: @cryptexofficial
YouTube Clip: http://youtu.be/h-s3N37J-nw
Press Review: http://www.prweb.com/releases/cryptex/endsilence/prweb12387376.htm
My Take: Deliciously glitchy and sonically adventurous, "End Silence" is solid and a great debut album from an up-and-coming name in music, but less spectacular than his side projects, or "Isolated Incidents". Considering Tyler's been working in the industry since he was 15, and this crisp album comes at his 21st year, I expect awesome things from Tyler Chase in the coming decade. "End Silence" is a great start to the Cryptex catalog, but be sure to check out his remixes and other works to compliment your enjoyment of this piece.

07_The Haunted - "Exit Wounds"
Favorite Tracks: "Cutting Teeth", "Eye of the Storm", "Time (Will Not Heal)", "Ghost in the Machine"
Twitter: @thehauntedband
YouTube Clip: http://youtu.be/RN7HMG4tVI0
Press Review: http://www.metalinjection.net/reviews/album-review-the-haunted-exit-wounds 
My Take: When considering the history of The Haunted, I'm of the Peter Dolving (vocalist) camp. "Unseen" and "The Dead Eye" and "rEVOLVEr" are some of my favorite albums-- not just from The Haunted, but of all time. I spin those three albums with enough regularity that I know the albums front to back. When Peter Dolving left the band, I essentially gave up on The Haunted.  2014 surprised me with a new album, and with the return of veterans Aro (vocals) and Erlandsson (drums) to the band. This old-become-new version of The Haunted is relentlessly brutal, consistent, and growly -- a stark change from the last four albums of The Haunted. Aro certainly gives The Haunted a more mainstream bruiser metal sound, which seems to resonate better in the US. Personally, while I like the new music and "Exit Wounds" is certainly a solid effort, I liked The Haunted better with Dolving. "Exit Wounds" pierces through your system and leaves a bloody mess on the other end, but lacks the sinister sarcasm of "rEVOLVEr" (see "Fire Alive" or "Burnt to a Shell"). Still, it's power cannot be denied, as evidenced by "Cutting Teeth", one of my most-played songs of 2014.

06_Blue Stahli - "The Devil (Chapters 1 [2013] & 2)"
Favorite Tracks: "The Fall", "The Fall (Premonition)", "Ready Aim Fire", "Enemy", "Down in Flames"
Twitter: @bluestahli
Google+: +bluestahli
YouTube Clip: http://youtu.be/WeeivC7ZtHk
Press Review: http://www.sputnikmusic.com/review/63653/Blue-Stahli-The-Devil%3A-Chapter-01/
My Take: Blue Stahli makes some of the best polished electronic music in the world today. His music is optioned for commercials, video games, movies and movie trailers. It's no surprise why: Blue Stahli has an awesome, aggressive, dark electronic, hooky style. Blue dropped two Chapters of his Devil album at the end of 2013 and in 2014, and it is essentially 4 songs (see the faves above) with snippets, remixes and variations of each song making up the content of each album. Much like Celldweller's "End of an Empire" chapterization, "The Devil" is taut and clean and crankable. Blue Stahli knows how to make great music, and it shows over and over again -- whether you realize it or not.

05_Cyanotic - "Worst Case Scenario (Vol 1)"
Favorite Tracks: "alternating dilemmas", "borderliner", "cause + effect", "sudden fragments",
Twitter: @cyanotic
Google+: +Cyanotic
YouTube Clip: http://youtu.be/Tq3r2wpI0bo
Press Review: http://www.sputnikmusic.com/news/32424/cyanotic-release-new-album/
My Take: Cyanotic (driven by glitchmaster and friend Sean Payne) has been a favorite of mine since I discovered them in 2009. They feature heavy, dark industrial with glitches and switches and the bleeding edge of digital consciousness, the soundtrack of man metamorphosing into machine. "Worst Case Scenario" isn't as hooky and catchy and resonant and anthemic as their last release in 2010, "The Medication Generation", but it is beautifully atmospheric and sublime, requiring many listens before real appreciation can occur. Unlike previous Cyanotic albums that were loud, in-your-face and sounded like a scene cut from "Terminator", "Worst Case Scenario" sounds more like a bad day for Blade Runner Rick Deckard.

04_Bassnectar - "Noise vs Beauty"
Favorite Tracks: "Gnar", "Noise", "Lost in the Crowd", "Don't Hate the 808", "You & Me", "Now"
Twitter: @bassnectar
Google+: +Bassnectar
YouTube Clip: http://youtu.be/yX6Y1TqgCbg
Press Review: http://livemusicblog.com/2014/07/02/album-review-bassnectar-noise-vs-beauty/
My Take: Lorin can do no wrong. If you don't know who Bassnectar is, and his style of sound, it would be difficult to capture in a single take and I'm not going to try. Synopsis: Dubstep and electronic danceable beats from a longhair whose roots are in the gardens of Metallica and Megadeth and other old school kings of metal. "Noise vs. Beauty" includes lots of accompaniments by newcomers to the fold (TURSI, Jenna Sousa, Lafa Taylor, Rye Rye) and old standbys (Zion I, Amp Live). Another great album to add to the Bassnectar discography, one that will be respun constantly over the next year.

03_Within Temptation - "Hydra"
Favorite Tracks: "Paradise", "Let Us Burn", "And We Run", "Edge of the World"
Twitter: @WTOfficial
Google+: +WithinTemptationVEVO
YouTube Clip: http://youtu.be/h4JrGMZwnrM
Press Review: http://www.metalinjection.net/reviews/album-review-within-temptation-hydra
My Take: Early in 2014, I was sure that "Hydra" would be my album of the year. After hearing Sharon den Adel team up with Tarja for "Paradise" before the album was released, I was excited about the potential of "Hydra". I can't say that I am disappointed in "Hydra", but I will say that it isn't the album that I expected from Within Temptation. The title of the album is fitting, as many songs feature guest vocalists/duetists, such as Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum), Howard Jones (Killswitch Engage), Tarja Tarunen (Nightwish), and Xzibit. And there are truly great songs on this album. But it does feel overproduced, created to target a US Market that has been elusive to them, to introduce their talent to a different landscape of audiences. It was exciting to hear Dave Pirner's name mentioned again for the song "Whole World is Watching", but it is a rather dull, uninspiring tune. Within Temptation's last effort, "The Unforgiving", is on my "respun list for 2014", but is a very different album than "Hydra" -- in composition, in direction and in purpose.  "Hydra" is probably their most-polished, made-for-masses effort yet, with catchy songs that will appeal to the US Mainstream, but it is not their best effort. Still, one of my favorite albums of 2014.

02_Slipknot- ".5 The Gray Chapter"
Favorite Tracks: "Killpop", "The Devil in I", "The Negative One"
Twitter: @Slipknot
Google+: +Slipknot
YouTube Clip: http://youtu.be/jtZwvGh3rLc
Press Review: http://www.revolvermag.com/news/review-slipknot-5-the-gray-chapter.html
My Take: This was a difficult album for me to swallow--not because of the quality, but because of the content. As both a Slipknot and Stone Sour fan, I have traveled the road since both bands were fresh and new and distinguishable as separate entities. Now, I don't feel like there's much separation between the musical personality and identity of Slipknot, and that of Stone Sour. "The Gray Chapter" is far more heart-felt than previous Slipknot works, and feels like a balancing of the two bands. It is a very dark album, rooted in the loss of original member Paul Gray.  Corey Taylor can do no wrong, even though he's edging on his own level of rock/metal overexposure. I still have a long way to go in unwinding this album, and have loved the experience so far. While I prefer their previous album "All Hope is Gone" (my personal fave Slipknot album), I'm sure this chapter of Slipknot will haunt me, just as Paul Gray's passing haunts members of this talented band.

01_Sanctuary - "The Year the Sun Died"
Favorite Tracks: "Arise and Purify", "Exitium (Anthem of the Living)", "Question Existence Fading", "Frozen", "I Am Low"
Twitter: @sanctuarymetal
YouTube Clip: http://youtu.be/tI07kqOoLLA
Press Review: http://www.metalinjection.net/reviews/album-review-sanctuary-the-year-the-sun-died
My Take:  In 1988, one of the first cassette tapes I received from the Columbia House music subscription service was Sanctuary's "Refuge Denied". Produced by Megadeth's Dave Mustaine, featuring art by legendary Ed Repka and introducing one of the greatest metal vocalists of a generation in Warrel Dane, I was instantly an addicted fan. As a freshman in High School, I was the only one that knew who Sanctuary was. I ordered the "Refuge Denied" t-shirt, and still have its art as permanent fixture on the back of my high-school jeans jacket. Needless to say, I have been waiting for this album since Sanctuary broke up and formed Nevermore in 1992. Eighteen years and many black mirrors later, they have returned with one powerful album. With art done by long-time cover king Travis Smith and Warrel Dane's signature obscure lyrics, I am deeply proud of their return to the fold, even if they will never get a sniff by popular radio and the genre forgot about them decades ago.

2014 Honorable Mentions  (The Bug - "Angels & Devils"; Afrojack - "Forget the World"; Septicflesh - "Titan"; In Flames - "Siren Charms"; Better Than Ezra - "All Together Now"; Lacuna Coil - "Broken Crown Halo"; Skrillex - "Recess"; Thou - "Heathen"; Vallenfyre - "Splinters"; The Oath - "The Oath"; Scar Symmetry - "The Singularity"; Liquid Stranger - "The Renegade Crusade EP")