Sunn O))) – Live Performance review

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Sunn O))) is one of those bands that are truly original not only in the metal community but in music in general. Their music is mostly instrumentals and it drones on for over ten minutes but my god there is something special in their music that is hard to explain. So when I found out that they were coming to Pittsburgh I had to see them. And good lord, seeing them live was worth it.  Too call Sunn O)))  a band felt weak when I saw them live. It felt like I was witnessing a pagan ritual play on heavy guitars. Or rather like I was standing before demons at the gates of hell. And if this is what hell sounds like then sign me up dude because it was awesome.

When I entered the theater, the room was pitch black with fog machines puffing out smoke everywhere. It was impossible for me to find my actual seat so I sat to the closest one I could find. Before Sunn O))) came on stage I noticed that this was possibly the strangest metal concert I’ve been too. Every metalhead was sitting in their seats in silence like they were preparing for a movie. No one spoke, let alone move. The whole theater was silent. Then the stage went bright red and heavy guitars roared through the smoke. Sunn O))) came to the stage and they brought hell with them.

They must’ve had at least five huge amps in the back and the frequencies of the music made my skin tremble. I felt like my eyeballs were vibrating as the music continued. Meanwhile, the room continued to fill with smoke from the fog machines, relentlessly puffing smoke in the room. And the band isn’t showy or flashy either. They sulk in the backdrop and suddenly appear through the fog smoke like monks of doom. For nearly two hours Sunn O))) brought heavy riffs, and soul crunching music to Pittsburgh. It was intense and was almost too much for me to handle. I had to leave my seat for a moment and collect myself outside. I’ve never had that happened to me before, and this is from a guy who’s seen intense acts such as Slayer, Swans, and Death Grips. Sunn O))) did something that none of those bands could live, they’re music hit me with such ferocity that I had to take a break from the concert.

Now the concert wasn’t perfect. Their experimental, drone metal definitely wore off near the end. About a third of the way through the concert about a half dozen patrons left. And I understand that I feel like that’s only so much sludgy music that one person could handle. But I forced myself to stick around till the end but my god it was worth it. Another factor that interrupted my listening experience was another fan in a seat across from me. I don’t know what he was on, but the dude melted in his seat, then he started to cry uncontrollably, and then he waved at the band like they were an old friend. I don’t know what sort of drugs that guy was on but it definitely weirded me out.

When Sunn O))) was winding down, the group held their hands in the air reaching for something before they dropped their hands down their guitars bringing forth a single riff of doom. It felt like a cinematic experience and at one point I could’ve sworn that one of the guitarists was waving at the crowd. As the band brought everything to a close and they submerged back into the fog and disappear into the night, the audience stood and gave an erupt applause. It felt fitting like we all witnessed music that truly came from the depths of the underworld. Any fan of metal needs to see these guys live. It was truly an atmospheric experience that I would gladly throw down money to see again.

9/10

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Ioanna Gika – ‘Thalassa’ Album Review

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This is Ioanna Gika’s debut album and my god it’s impressive. The album is a collective mixture of mythical, gothic undertones along with some lush, art pop that makes the record an immersive, listening experience.

The strongest asset in the whole album is her voice. It’s delicate and eery at times but it’ll sweep you off your damn feet and swallow you into the atmosphere that Gika created. “Swans” pops into mind for me. Her voice is a towering presence and her hooks are fantastic. Gika’s vocals greatly compliment the surrounding instrumentals in the songs, making the entire listen feel like a cinematic experience and it never falters throughout the album.

What’s really well done in ‘Thalassa’ is the instrumentation and arrangement of each song. Some of the instrumentation feels like a tight knot that slowly unravels like the song ‘New Geometry” where the track keeps building until it’s unleashed at the climax at the song. It’s catchy, captivating, and just an overall joy to listen.

If there is a flaw I have with the album is that some of the songs don’t really grab me compared to the rest of the record. But honestly, that’s more my opinion than an actual critique. It’s a weak complaint I know, but there were some tracks like ‘swans’ or ‘roseate’ that were so strong and so good that I felt like other tracks were falling behind.

Still, this is an incredible debut album. It’s immersive, cinematic experience that concludes in a dreamy ascension that left me going back to the beginning of the record and listening to the whole album all over again. This is definitely one of my favorite albums so far this year and I’m excited as to where Ioanna Gika’s musical career goes from here.

 

9/10

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‘Top Five Albums of 2018’ – Music Review

Honorable mentions

The Weeknd – My Dear Melancholy

Earl – Some Rap Songs

The Internet – Hive Mind

Freddie Gibbs – Fetti

Kamasi Washington – Heaven and Earth

Kali Uchis – Isolation

 

5. Pusha T – Daytona

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Daytona is probably Pusha’s best project to date. Produced by Kanye, this album is filled with heavy beats and sick bars. With a short 21 minutes, Pusha and Kanye made the most out of the album and delivered one of the best projects this year. When it comes to Lyricism, few in rap’s history could content with Pusha. Sure folks argue that he talks about drug dealing in nearly every one of his songs. Yet his opening lines in ‘If You Know You Know’ capture’s everything America has come to love about rap, that brag-audacious, self-made man with flashy trophies. Then you have Kanye on the production, the beats from the music seem like something from Kanye back in his prime. It’s trap beats mixed with old school hip hop instrumentals. Pusha is a rapper whose legacy has been secured by his music. And Daytona is another excellent album that proves why Pusha is one of the greats right now in hip-hop.

 

4. Father John Misty – God’s Favorite Customer

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This is a raw album, musically and emotionally. This album is filled with great songs, with fantastic, honest, heartfelt lyrics, great singing, and some refreshing humor, specifically on “Palace.” The lyrics on ‘GFC’ are heartfelt and raw but have plenty of John’s signature wit on others. The prime example would be from ‘Disappointing Diamonds Are the Rarest of Them All’ where Tillman goes into detail about his thoughts, “Does everybody have to be  the greatest story ever told?” Though “GFC’ may not be Tillman’s best album, compared to his earlier works. It’s still filled with great songwriting, catchy tunes, and a personal message from the artist himself.

 

3. Jon Hopkins – Singularity

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Pure ambient Bliss. ‘Singularity’ is the follow up every fan would hope for. It’s larger; it’s denser; it’s quicker. Hopkins created something magical in this album, it starts off with unnerving, distorted tones creating a disturbing atmosphere before charging into a welcoming, spiritual, sound. The ambient sounds transition into some catchy riffs that are filled with layers and sweet beats that will put you in a trance. It’s impossible to pick out an individual highlight off this album because the whole album feels like one giant song and you could easily get lost in the music. ‘Singularity’ keeps on building and building in its tunes and before you know it, the album ends and you want to listen to it all over again.

 

2. Idles – Joy As an Act of Resistance

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I found this album late in the year, but my god I can’t stop listening to it. ‘Act of Resistance’ is an album that is filled with many emotions. It’ll have you laugh, make you feel melancholy and at times have you on the edge of your seat. More importantly, this is a punk album that explores current politics going into England’s Brexit and Trump’s America. The lead singer brings an intense voice in his lyrics hailing his blood brother as a beautiful immigrant in the song ‘Danny Nedelko’ while celebrating his ‘mongrel’ upbringing in ‘I’m scum’. The band’s aggressive compassion against the far right along with their catchy hooks and intense sound will have you putting this album on repeat.

 

1. Sleep – The Sciences

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It’s been nearly twenty years since Sleep released their last album, the infamous, “Dopesmoker.” And by god, they have arguably outdone themselves. Since the band’s breakup, lead singer Al Cisneros created ‘Om’ while guitarist Matt Pike made ‘High on Fire’. The original drummer retired and since their reunion Jason Roeder, drummer of ‘Neurosis’ stepped in to play drums. And what we got on this album was an enormous sound of destruction.

Al weaves melodic bass-lines through each song, Matt brings in crushing riffs while Jason pummels his drum set to no end. The band has moved forward and have matched the quality of their previous output on Holy Mountain and Dopesmoker. Since ‘The Sciences’ release, I still can’t find one weak segment or a bad track on this album.

With tracks like “Marijuanaut’s Theme” and “Giza Butler,” the band is fully aware of the sheer silliness of weed/metal culture. Yet the band makes it work, they’re able to giggle at weed culture all while saluting the herb’s spiritual capabilities. This type of music could quickly descend into self-parody or come off too serious. Sleep somehow manages to find a middle ground in the music, almost like a superhero such as Batman or Ironman. The whole idea is silly, but when you watch those movies or read the comics, they’re just plain awesome.

The Sciences is a remarkable achievement, nodding to the band of past while continuing to move forward with their music. The musicians are now grown men attempting to achieve a new sound in metal through their music, and delivering the best stoner-doom record I’ve heard in a long time.

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‘Mandy’ – Film review

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This really felt like the movie Rob Zombie has been trying to make for the past 15 years. Take an old school Sword & Sorcery or Dungeons and Dragons story and it’s dreamscape. Set it in the 80s with a blend of metal and synth music. That is Mandy. It’s beautiful, brutal, bloody, and downright insane.

Its hard where to begin with this film, so I think I’ll have to start with the creator himself, Panos Cosmatos. The guy’s insane. Truly, there are so many references to LSD, 80’s, metal, and fantasy. That being said Panos somehow makes it work. This film he made is truly original, its so experimental and fearless that you can’t help but admire it. He holds no awareness towards cinematic conventions or formulaes. Not only that but there are certain scenes in the film where he intertwines tragedy and comedy so closely that they sort of blend and he somehow makes it work. Very few people in my mind can pull that off and Panos has succeeded that on his second film.

Now we got to talk about the real MVP of this movie, Nicolas Goddamn Cage. There are many gems within his performance: First, it’s Cage’s fluctuation between full-out screaming and traumatized crying, emotions that constantly run wild. Then in the latter half of the film, where he goes on a revenge spree, Cage brings his crazed faces that he usually makes, covered in blood, when fighting demon men with massive chainsaws or a super axe that he makes himself. In those crazy moments, I’ve forgotten not only of his serious acting abilities but also of his dramatic potential. He creates a full journey for a nightmarish, broken character who will make you not only sympathize with, but you actually root for in this bizarre film. For an actor to pull off something like that in a film is an incredible feat and Cage does it with ease. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Cage get’s more offers for bigger films because his performance was that good.

This film was also Johann Johansson’s last score before he passed and goddamn did he do a fantastic job. It feels like a science fiction, horror score with metal undertones. Drony guitars and distorted synths boom through the movie and it’s phenomenal.

Though I am praising this film to death, it did have a lot of flaws. The biggest one is that it could’ve been shorter and that has me torn. Because there were certain scenes that dragged on forever. Yes, they were visually stunning but they went nowhere in the story. Also, the revenge genre is getting a bit stale and there were some tropes in this movie that we’ve seen countless times before. The gore/violence in the second half of the film was juvenile at times. But let’s face it, this movie is not for everyone. I mean, there’s a scene where Nic Cage is about to kill someone with a chainsaw and that dude just grins and brings out a chainsaw that’s twice as long. And then they have a chainsaw sword-fight. A lot of people will roll their eyes on that, and I did a bit too. but as the scene continued on to its bloody conclusion I realized that this is pure entertainment at its wildest form.

Mandy is one of the most atmospheric movies I’ve ever seen and watching it really does feel more like visiting a place from another world. Is special from start to finish, from the psychedelic opening to the speed-metal finale. It’s not for everyone, but for a willing and engaged audience, this is a rare film. A warped ‘heart of darkness’ journey that will destroy your mind when the credits roll.

8/10

 

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‘Time’s Arrow – By Martin Amis’ – Book Review

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This is the most powerful book I’ve read this year. A redemption story that’s told in reverse. Its sort of like Benjamin button meets Phillip K Dick. What’s even wilder, is that the narrator is a separate consciousness from the main character where following. So it gets pretty confusing at first, we have a unreliable narrator watching a man’s life going in reverse from the suburbs of America to Nazis Germany in WW2. This narrative technique seems confusing and even disorienting until the reader understands the narrative vocabulary of the retreat and the rich irony of looking backward event by event. The book builds up like a time-bomb, knowing at the climax and ending will be intense and when you get to that point, you’ll become an emotional mess, I guarantee it. This work of art takes patience and focus. Reading it from a reverse point of view can be frustrating at time, but if you stick with it, this book will reward you with its captivating writing and storytelling.

“They’re always looking forward to going places they’re just coming back from, or regretting doing things they haven’t yet done. They say hello when they mean goodbye.”
― Martin Amis, Time’s Arrow

 

9/10

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‘Cassius Marcellus Clay’ – A Historical Figure Review

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If you want to know an american bad-ass in American history, look no further then Cassius Marcellus Clay. There is a lot to be said about this man. He was a planter, printer, politician, but most importantly he was an emancipation-ist who worked nearly his entire life to abolish slavery. He freed slaves that were handed down to his father and those free slaves stayed on his land and were paid for a wage. Did I mention this man was raised in Kentucky? So naturally everyone else was pissed off at this man for having paid workers instead of you know…slaves.

Clay was elected to three terms in the Kentucky House of Representatives. However he lost a lot of support in Kentucky due to being anti-slavery. Which is absurd, but I digress. His anti-slavery activism earned him a lot of violent enemies. During a political debate in 1843, he survived an assassination attempt by a hired gun, named Sam Brown. Brown shot Clay in the chest but I believe his Bowie knife stopped the bullet.

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Now if you want to know how big a Bowie knife is, well here you go. FYI these knives were designed for hunting and skinning. So when Clay drew his Bowie knife and tackled Brown to the ground well…Let’s just say Clay went to town. Brown got his eye cut out, almost lost an ear and was repeatedly slashed in the face to the point where everyone thought he was going to die. Which is understandable when you have a six inch blade carving into your skull. Brown would survive and would later sue Clay for causing mayhem. Even though Brown was a would be assassin. Clay was not convicted thanks to his cousin Henry Clay. What’s even more fascinating about all of this was that Clay forgave Brown and even talked about it saying, “I felt very friendly to Brown, and wrote him a note thanking him for his evidence and telling him I was willing to be friends with him if he cared to be so. He refused, however, to bury the hatchet, and when I remembered his condition I did not wonder at it. The doctors had patched him up pretty well, but he was a horrible looking object, and I expected that he would insist upon a duel with me, or would attack me and have his revenge. I met him several times afterward, however, and he never touched me. I have no doubt that he staid in Lexington intending to kill me, but the probability is that he had not the courage to attack me.”

This is just one instance of an assassination attempt. Apparently this guy got into so many fights/battles that he had cannonballs in his house in case a mob ever came to his home. Which happened I think twice. But what’s crazier is that Clay was appointed by President Abraham Lincoln as the United States minister to Russia during the American Civil War. And it was thanks to Clay that Russia supported the union. Not only that but Russia also persuaded Great Britain and France to support the union as well, which is pretty crazy. Also Clay was influential in the negotiations for the purchase of Alaska thanks to his position in Russia.

Honestly I would never fuck with this man. Everything he did was awesome and bad-ass (until his twilight years where he lost his mind and married someone who was way, way, waaay younger than he was.) But still this man had done a lot for the United States and we should appreciate what he did for the country. (Even if he was a creepy old man in his later years.) So I raise my beer to you Cassius Marcellus Clay, for your diplomacy and fighting prowess you crazy, majestic, bastard.

 

For more info on Clay, you can check out his Wikipedia page,  or check out the podcast called ‘The Dollop” where I originally found out about this man.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cassius_Marcellus_Clay_(politician)

http://thedollop.net/wp/episode-54-dollop/

https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/cassius-marcellus-clay-fiery-kentucky-abolitionist

 

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‘Blitzed: drugs in the Third Reich’ – Book Review

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‘Blitz’ is one of those amazing history books that makes you say ‘this can’t be true’ as your reading it. Its absurd and ridiculous, yet German author Norman Ohler brings a lot of evidence to show Hitler’s rampant drug use, along with nearly everyone else in Nazi Germany.

This book goes into detail of Hitler’s addiction thoroughly throughout the book. His 3 hour night cycles, his increasingly erratic behavior and his eventual physical collapse. But what really makes this book incredible is Hitler’s personal doctor Morrel who was the very person who kept Hitler alive and nearly killed him as well. Its utterly fascinating and crazy. We go into the transformation of a vegetarian, tyrant monster to a wobbly addict who has animal blood, morphine, cocaine and oxy coursing through his veins on a daily basis until his final days.

And that’s just two men. This book goes deeply into the soldiers on the front lines along with the civilians at home, who would put methamphetamine’s in their coffee. For a horrible faction that considered drugs and alcohol to be a sign of weakness, it felt very ironic how numerous German soldiers, officers and even Hitler were so depended on their drugs through the course of this book.

A fascinating tale of the Third Reich that is filled with compelling research and details. Highly recommend

10/10

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‘The Cartel’ – Book Review

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Though this is a work of fiction, ‘The Cartel’ is one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read. After finishing the book I went back to the disclaimer at the front of the book which stated, “This is a work of fiction….” That dedication is a list of over 120 journalists murdered or “disappeared” in Mexico during the time frame of this novel (2004-2012). It ends with the chilling valediction: “There were others.” Rereading that disclaimer was like a gut punch that didn’t go away for days. Everything is on point in this book. The story, themes, settings, and characters were all phenomenal. Speaking of the characters, the main protagonist and villain are such grey characters that by the end you don’t even know who’s the hero and whose the villain. As for the other characters, Winslow somehow finds sympathy and compassion in every character, even the most hardened and deranged ones that pull atrocities in the story. I could go on about this book, but let it be known that this is one of the best novels I’ve read in a very long time. A real, no holds bar story that had me glue to the story until the very end.

“…at the end of the day or the end of the world, there are no separate souls. We will go to heaven or we will go to hell, but we will go together.”

10/10

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‘Marijannah – Till Marijannah’ – Album Review

 

 

 

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Marijannah are a new band from Singapore China, that sits in the center of a Venn diagram between ‘Black Sabbath’, “Sleep,’ and ‘Harry Potter.’ This sludge metal group offers a heavy, psych/stoner rock with slick riffs played in a way you haven’t heard in years. What makes their music work so well is the approach that they took. Only four tracks on an album that clocks in about thirty minutes. That’s right each song is at least five minutes and it’s awesome. From the opener ‘1974’ the riffs begin to smash you while simultaneously throwing you into a fantasy state that will make you feel like your reading a book.  In fact, the second song ‘Snakecharmer,’ feels like a gnarly ode ‘Harry Potter’s: The Chamber of Secrets’ with the Basilisk. Its incredible due to the sense that the album leaves you in an atmospheric state filled with riffs and background vocals for thirty minutes straight. There are some minor flaws that take the album away from perfection. There are some dull moments in one song like ‘Bride of Mine’ that lacked any emotions from me in specific parts of that song. I felt like it was missing an intensity at times. It sounds odd for me to say that given that this band blew me away on the two previous tracks. Yet there were some moments where I sort of got pulled out. Still, besides a minor complaint I have, this EP is outstanding for a debut. Fans of sludge, stoner, even classic metal, should give this a listen. Wow.

9/10

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‘Extremity, Vol. 1: Artist’ – comic review

 

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Wow, this took me by surprise. Imagine Mad Max in space with an art style influenced by ‘Studio Ghibli’. The story is about two brutal tribes that are in a conflict with each other. The line between good and evil are blurred on both sides. It’s deep and tragic at the same time. I mentioned the art before and it’s simply astounding. I don’t need to say much about it because well… look at it.
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It’s violent, awful, yet gorgeous all the same. The amount of detail the illustrator puts into every character and wound is incredible. And this is just one page. The whole book is filled with beautiful art and scenery.

I reread this book twice and thought a lot about it. For me personally, I couldn’t find any flaws. This was everything I want in a comic book. A great war story with tragic characters who you question their actions. It’s morally grey and it keeps you on your toes making you guess whats going to happen next. I can’t wait for the next volume, Daniel W Johnson created a new comic series that I’m truly excited about.

10/10

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