November 2016 Album Round Up!

Hey everyone! Nine days into December, I hope all the obnoxious repeats of Mariah Carey, Wham!, and God knows what else by your “spirited” friends and family haven’t broken you yet. I love how these fucking people try to make me feel like the Grinch just ‘cause I don’t want to hear the same five songs every day for a month. I actually love a lot of Christmas tunes, but as someone who will listen to Grindcore on Wednesday, Disco on Thursday, and Shoegaze on Friday, it’s the lack of variety that kills me.

Anyway, ya boy’s in full-on Year End List mode!!! “List Season”, as I deem it, is my favorite time of year every year! I have tons of fun holing myself up for hours on end listening, re-listening, and deliberating for hours on end about lists that 95% of people don’t give two fucks about. But I do give two fucks, and I’ve got a lot to say this year. I’ve already published one list on YouTube, and several more are on their way! Stay tuned! In the meantime, here are eight records I checked out last month. Keep it gangsta.

Battles – In Flames

Sometimes I seriously wonder who the In Flames fanbase consists of at this point. They’ve now spent over a decade making syrupy Metalcore-ish music that seems to have an inverse time-quality relationship (translation: it keeps getting shittier). This newest one, while not as terrible as 2014’s Siren Charms, takes some vocal cues from Bring Me the Horizon (the “melodic gang vocals” that show up in “The End”, “The Truth”, and the final chorus in “Here Until Forever”), puts some late-‘90s In Flames in the microwave, and then overproduces the shit out of it. I actually didn’t mind it that much, but I’ll be sticking with The Jester Race. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service – A Tribe Called Quest

The Queens legends’ swansong and first record in almost 18 years, We Got It From Here picks up RIGHT where classic Tribe albums like Midnight Marauders left off. I’m astonished at how effortlessly these three veterans manage to make music with the same charisma and gusto that they had a quarter of a century ago. This LP is loaded with all kinds of exciting features (Andre 3000, Talib Kweli, Kendrick Lamar, Busta Rhymes, and even Elton John), but ironically, it’s just icing on the cake – the core of the record is three of Hip-Hop’s (dare I say) elder statesmen taking the kids to school. I’m blown away. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

24k Magic – Bruno Mars

I can’t believe Bruno Mars took almost four years to follow up Unorthodox Jukebox! It doesn’t feel that long ago at all, right? Well, he’s back with a third record that expands on the unapologetic throwback sound of “Uptown Funk”, his collaborative smash with producer Mark Ronson. 24K Magic is almost entirely rooted in nostalgia for the Pop and R & B of the ‘80s and ‘90s – much of the production is synth driven, with bombastic clapping snares and funky basslines.  Many of these songs have a brazen sexuality, a dose of braggadocio, and are fairly lighthearted, making for a simple, quick, and easy listen. For me, some of it connects and some of it doesn’t. “Chunky”, “That’s What I Like”, and “24K Magic” are three of my favorite Pop songs of 2016, while I could do without the obnoxious “Perm” and the dull closing ballad “Too Good to Say Goodbye”. Currently, the addictive title track is this LP’s only single, but I imagine that’ll change soon. Future single predictions: “Chunky” and “Versace on the Floor”. RECOMMENDED

Hardwired…To Self-Destruct – Metallica

God, my life was so fucking different the last time Metallica put out a record. Death Magnetic came out EIGHT FUCKING YEARS AGO! Wow. Well, the Thrash legends are finally back with another underwhelming but solid LP. My main issue with much of Metallica’s music remains intact: the meandering song structures. These songs are essentially just piles of riffs stacked on top of each other with little regard for concision or quality control. So there ends up being lots of wasted space. The upside, of course, is James Hetfield delivers a ton of riff gems amongst the wasted space. Fans should be (and seem) happy. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Black America Again – Common

Common’s soulful 11th album is – as its title may suggest – loaded with impassioned social commentary, particularly as it pertains to race relations in America. The powerful title track addresses the Flint water crisis, refers to mass incarceration as “the new plantation”, and comments on racism in sports (“Maria Sharapova making more than Serena”). It all feels like a call-to-action for the black community. While profound and sobering, these weighty themes do start to take their toll on the listener, which is why light-hearted breathers like “Love Star”, “Unfamiliar”, and “Red Wine” are helpful. But for me, the best thing about Black America Again is Common’s bars! Look no further than the song “Pyramids” or the amazing first verse on “A Bigger Picture Called Free” for lyrical gymnastics that we haven’t heard from the Chicago OG in forever. He does some of the best rapping of his career on here. And content-wise, he has a lot to say. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Starboy – The Weeknd

 Cut out the filler, kids. The Weeknd’s third studio Starboy would’ve been one of the best albums of the year if he had done just that. There is so much FIRE on here, particularly on the first half of the record, but as a listener, I feel like he wastes a good 20 minutes of my time within these 18 tracks. “Attention, “Rockin”, Nothing Without You”, “All I Know”…these all could’ve gotten the axe. STILL, I have been bumping this LP non-stop since it came out – I really do love its tortured-partier themes, its butter smooth production, The Weeknd’s unique croon, and the night-time atmosphere the songs suck me into. The title track is one of 2016’s greatest moments, and there are a good eight or nine other bangers on here that I’m gonna continue to vibe with. RECOMMENDED

Atoma – Dark Tranquillity 

One of my favorite Metal bands of all time and I didn’t review this, even though I wrote about the singles and everything. Why? Well, I didn’t have much to say about it. If I reviewed it, I would’ve given it a strong 7/light 8 and said something to the effect of “this is another great DT album”. But at this point, there are already ten of those! So even though the music is solid on Atoma, it’s starting to feel like I’ve heard everything I’m gonna hear from them. So I cherry-picked my favorite tracks (“Atoma”, “Forward Momentum”, “Our Proof of Life”, “Clearing Skies”) and moved on. I’m hoping for a bit more surprises next go ‘round! RECOMMENDED

Built to Last – Hammerfall

Power Metal mainstays Hammerfall are on their tenth album now. And if you didn’t already expect a rehashing of the band’s other nine LPs, the third track “Sacred Vow” uses multiple previous song titles as lyrics. Look, if you’re into this type of Power Metal – Priest/Maiden throwback sound combined with corny lyrics about warriors, I can definitely recommend Hammerfall’s Steel Meets Steel compilation from 2007 (particularly the second disc). But this record here? You don’t need to hear it. It’s the exact same shit. I’m not gonna say Built to Last is a bad album, ‘cause it’s not a blatantly “bad” album. I just don’t particularly care that it exists. NOT RECOMMENDED




Killswitch Engage – Incarnate Review

The official edited version of this review is available here.

With Incarnate, the Massachusetts quintet’s seventh full-length LP, Killswitch Engage faces a similar challenge that Thrash Metal veterans Anthrax faced on last month’s For All Kings. In 2011, Anthrax’s reunion in the studio with classic-era frontman Joey Belladonna yielded Worship Music, an album that shot past its impossible hype and thrust itself into the top tier of their storied discography. But once the reunion magic fades, delivering an equally worthy follow-up is the ultimate test, one that Anthrax, by all accounts, passed with flying colors on For All Kings.

Despite Killswitch Engage being part of a different generation of Metal, 2013’s Disarm the Descent was, in a sense, their Worship Music – the riveting return of original vocalist Jesse Leach that exceeded all expectations, wrestling its way into consideration for KSE’s best since 2002’s groundbreaking Alive or Just Breathing, the landmark that established a blueprint for the entire Metalcore genre. Arriving in the wake of such a triumph as Descent, Incarnate is thus a pivotal record, as the band has the opportunity to reassert their staying power, something they achieve in superb fashion here.

Before the band streamed over half of Incarnate ahead of its release in true 2016 fashion, the two initial singles were “Strength of the Mind” and “Hate By Design”, both quintessential Killswitch: delicate balancing acts between rage and beauty. Riff-wise, “Strength of the Mind” is pure Pantera, with an uplifting Jesse Leach chorus slapped on top, while “Hate By Design” takes an impassioned stand against the destructive legacies that prejudice and discrimination can leave, urging listeners to “redefine your life”. Both tracks undoubtedly hinted at greatness, a standard that is upheld by the majority of the remainder of the LP.

The aforementioned singles – both standouts in their own right – are surrounded by a remarkably consistent track list. There’s the defiant opener “Alone I Stand”, the soaring “Cut Me Loose”, and the sludgy “It Falls On Me”, which brings sharp contrast with its desolate aesthetic. “Embrace the Journey…Upraised” is perhaps the album’s apex, boasting one of Incarnate’s most crushing guitar riffs, a chunky bass riff, and an impeccable mixture of heavy and melodic, which is perhaps Killswitch’s strongest asset when firing on all cylinders. “Until the Day” is another highlight as the band channels Colony-era In Flames for the song’s lively refrain. Elsewhere, the riffs continue a familiar Thrash worship, answered with thunderous double bass drums and the occasional blast-beat. Even when Incarnate does lose momentum, it’s not until the final pair of tracks – the relatively forgettable “We Carry On” and “Ascension” – which by then are easily forgiven. And perhaps most importantly, from a sonic standpoint, the listener has access to every instrument; the production doesn’t stray from guitarist Adam D.’s winning, accessible modern Metal formula – crystal clear and pristine without being glossy.

Where Incarnate shines brightest is vocalist Jesse Leach, who outperforms himself as a clean singer, as a screamer, and as a lyricist. Lyrically, Incarnate is a deeply moving affair, transitioning from an empowering, hopeful first half to a bleak, despair-ridden second half (Leach spoke about this here). What makes his lyrics resonate with such strength is that Leach is the everyman when it comes to depression and mental illness – Incarnate finds him seeking solace in his pen and paper in the same way his fans seek solace in him. The aura surrounding Leach’s words is that of a very public exorcism of demons, of a man determined to conquer his own internal struggles through occasionally brutal but thoughtful catharsis. And his intense soul baring allows listeners to have a similarly powerful experience. By the LP’s conclusion, one particular lyric embodies the Incarnate journey for both fans and for Leach: “Ghosts of the past no longer torment me/I release the anguish”.

Score: 4/5