VektorTermRedux

My Top Albums of 2016

And starting off at number fifteen. . .

15. Evergrey – The Storm Within

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While it has only been two years since Evergrey was last featured on my Top 15 list, they knocked it out of the park with this album. What I feel to be their best album since 2004’s The Inner Circle, Evergrey takes it up a notch with The Storm Within; showcasing some of the most aggressive song writing, grand choruses, and dark lyrics.

Watch the music video for “In Orbit” featuring Floor Jansen:

14. Darkthrone – Arctic Thunder

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Yet almost redefining their sound again, Darkthrone somewhat goes back on their black metal roots but now taking shape with some bits of crunchy doom metal. Coming at the listener with thundering beats and punishing riffs, Darkthrone really impresses with this surprisingly straight-forward album that, despite being their sixteenth studio album, still comes as a breath of fresh air.

Listen to the first track, “Tundra Leech”:

13. iamthemorning – Lighthouse

iamthemorning

One part chamber pop, another part progressive rock, iamthemorning have always been a bit different. With beautifully haunting music and vocals, Lighthouse stands out as a daring take on making something complicated sound so beautiful and elegant.

Check out the entire album streaming here:
https://iamthemorningband.bandcamp.com/

12. Deströyer 666 – Wildfire

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As far as blackened thrash metal goes, Deströyer 666 create a solid album with gripping choruses and challenging aspects to their listeners. It’s not just your run-of-the-mill thrash album. There’s lots going on. The production is solid, the songs are great, and the riffs are crunchy. Putting this album on makes for one helluva fun ride.

Listen to the single, “Wildfire”:

11. Borknagar – Winter Thrice

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Even into their tenth studio album, Borknagar still shows the skill and comfort in their songwriting capabilities as Winter Thrice can take you over a variety of genres while still being Borknagar. Thrash, black, viking, progressive – thematic elements and bombastic choruses make for a audibly exciting album that anyone could really get into. Borknagar has always been a band that delivers quality – and with Winter Thrice – they still do.

Watch the lyric video to the first track, “The Rhymes of the Mountain”:

10. Marillion – Fuck Everyone and Run (FEAR)

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This was a surprise to me. Hands-down to be one of their greatest albums, Marillion’s FEAR truly harkens back to classical progressive rock times. Lyrically speaking, the album mirrors the title as it reflects upon the changes in England and people left behind; between the have and have-nots. Sometimes feeling like a gloomy, slow burn, the music is emotionally driven and if anything makes the listener realize that they are not alone with their thoughts.

Listen to “The New Kings” here:

9. Drombeg – Earthworks

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I stumbled onto Drombeg by sheer luck. Listening to the first few songs of this debut album, I was sold. His publisher’s description of the album describes it best: “A soundtrack for the middle-of-nowhere, the wild landscapes of Brookes’ native Southern Ireland are littered with historic, and geological structures hardened under the relentless elements. Sinuous string melodies, and tender piano phrases reach like sunlight breaking through heavy clouds, blended with electronics and field recordings in careful balance to produce a rich cinematic sound.”

Check out the entire album here:
https://futuresequence.bandcamp.com/album/earthworks

8. Devin Townsend – Transcendence

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I wasn’t sure if I liked this album at first. As a biased Dev fanboy, I felt like I was simply getting another version of Epicloud. After a few spins, it hit me, and I fell in love with Transcendence. Truly showcasing how much Devin has progressed as a musician over the years, his songwriting skills have tightened and makes for an engrossing album that sonically delivers. Not to mention this is the first album that features song writing credits to the rest of the band – being Dev’s first real collaboration with them. A true treat for the ears.

Watch the music video for “Stormbending”:

7. Aborted – Retrogore

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Absolutely devastating death metal, Retrogore is a feast to the ears for those into horror films and, well, gore. It’s vile to the point of hilarity, and the band is fully-aware of that. With song titles like “Whoremageddon” and “Forged for Decrepitude” (which also features classic lines from Re-Animator), Aborted makes a much improved effort from their previous release and excites me to see what will come next.

Listen to the title track here:

6. Abbath – Abbath

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Immortal’s ex-frontman Abbath debuted his first album earlier this year to great success. Never would I have found black metal to be this damn catchy (which I suppose goes against the grain of what tr00 kvlt black metal is), but damn it’s catchy! Beat after beat, this album comes at you with stellar force.

Check out the video for “Winterbane”:

5. Anneke & Árstíðir – Verloren Verleden

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Icelandic folk band Árstíðir teamed up with one of my favourite vocalists, Anneke van Giersbergen, to showcase a variety of traditional and classical songs. It’s a wonderfully peaceful album with great resonance naturally showcased within the albums’ production. I found myself spinning this album a surprisingly large amount of times this year. Absolutely beautiful.

Listen to the wonderful cover of “Bist Du Bei Mir”:

4. Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep of Reason

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What’s not to like about Meshuggah? This band is always pushing the listener to something that rhythmically uncomfortable yet familiar. Always a great band to divulge into, if not a bit challenging to fully comprehend, The Violent Sleep of Reason is a crushingly great listen with riffs that will still have your head spinning to understand.

Check out the music video for “Clockworks”:

3. Gorguts – Pleiades’ Dust
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Gorguts was last seen in my Top Albums of 2013 with their full-length, Coloured Sands – reaching the number two slot on my list. While I often don’t like to count EP’s as an album, Pleiades’ Dust stands out for being such a work of art I’d hate myself for not giving it proper recognition. The album forms a historical experience about the House of Wisdom and its destruction within a thirty-three minute song that is broken up into several movements. While Gorguts still stick with their technical death metal roots, the experimentation – and the overall experience – is an absolute joy.

Listen to the full song/album here:
https://gorguts.bandcamp.com/album/pleiades-dust

2. Moonsorrow – Jumalten aika

moonsorrow

I first got into Moonsorrow when I first got into metal. In fact, I learned about them when they were first starting out. I dug their first three albums (I started with Kivenkantaja) and fell in love with the band. And they’ve only become better over time. With their seventh album in place, these pagan black metallers have created another success. “Mimisbrunn” may just be one of the best songs they’ve ever written.

Check out the music video for “Suden Tunti”:

1. Vektor – Terminal Redux

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The gap between my second place album and this spot is gigantic. I don’t think there has been an album deserving a number one slot as much as Vektor’s Terminal Redux. I cannot say enough good things about this stunningly brilliant, progressive thrash album. I’ve been gushing over it since its release in May and am still excited listening to it.

The concept is grand, if not surprisingly ambitious for the thrash genre, but these guys make it right. While the lyrics are deep, intellectual, and well-written, the music is on a league of its own.

Lightning-fast riffs with tremendous variety makes the album refreshing to listen to on each spin; vocals representing the agony of the traveler and his yearning to learn more – as does the music want the listener to do. Nothing is stale and everything is wonderful. With the addition of female soul singers during integral parts of the story, the album begins and concludes with such choral ferocity, I still get goose bumps when I’ve fully invested myself into the album.

From the first track, “Charging the Void” to the incredible finale with “Recharging the Void,” Vektor brings the listeners on a wild journey through the far reaches of space all in the span of nine pulse-pounding songs.

Vektor’s Terminal Redux. I simply cannot say enough good things about this album. It has easily become one of my favourite albums ever to have graced my ears. It is now one of my favourite albums of all-time. An epic masterpiece worth your attention.

The incredible opening track to my album of the year, here’s “Charging the Void”:

Honourable Mentions:

Testament – The Brotherhood Of The Snake

Opeth – Sorceress

The Neal Morse Band – The Similitude Of A Dream

Anderson/Stolt – The Invention of Knowledge

Fates Warning – Theories of Flight

Amon Amarth – Jomsviking

Most Disappointed:

Dark Funeral – Where Shadows Forever Reign

Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

Megadeth – Dystopia

Riverside – Eye of the Soundscape

Redemption – The Art of Loss

Dream Theater – The Astonishing

Levin, Minneman, Rudess – From the Law Offices of Levin, Minnemann, Rudess

Questions? Comments? Agree? Disagree? What have you?

The Dream X-Men Team

Man, I love me some X-Men. I grabbed my first issue back in 1994 and was hooked from there: indulging myself in the world of X ever since. I’ve watched many teams break up, reform, or take turns becoming “Uncanny” in various ways. I’ve seen X-Men both die and come back to life, join other non-X-related teams like the Avengers, or became enemies against their friends. It’s been a wild ride.

Author Kelly Thompson recently retweeted a link from Comics Alliance which featured an X-Men Fantasy Draft. While some of the teams are great (like Katie’s and Aaron’s choices), I thought I should probably showcase my own.

While there’s well-over 300 X-Men to choose from, I’m going to limit myself to ten. I know the folks over at CA capped it at 8, but I’m making my own rules. And now, in no particular order:

moonstar1. Mirage (Danielle Moonstar)
Part of me hates that I have to explain why I’ve chosen Moonstar when I know she speaks for herself. Not only is she a quality leader, she’s still a complete bad ass even without her powers. On more than one occasion has Moonstar been the voice of reason, keeping her calm and head in the game when things get rough around her. She seems to always be there for someone even when her own life seems to be in shambles. Empathetic, compassionate, and yet still tough as nails, easily proven when she took on Hela herself. A natural, gifted, and talented member – an obvious choice to be on the team.

2. Archangel (Warren Worthington III)
For the record, I’m referring to the original Worthington, not the new one brought up through time travel (like I said, it’s been a wild ride). I’ve always had a soft spot for Worthington as he’s not only an emotional basketcase that I have sympathy for, but also still clear in mind to help his friends when needed. Despite turning against his friends time and time again, his heart (and fortune) is always in the right place.

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One of the original five X-Men, Archangel has always been a background character of sorts. While his powers of flight aren’t as aggressive as Cyclops’ optic blasts or Wolverine’s claws, they keep him cautious and clear headed in action. That is, unless the Archangel takes over. . .

monet3. M (Monet St. Croix)
I’m always a big fan of confidence. M oozes it. Her confidence is backed by her mutant powers of strength, flight, healing powers, and telepathy – essentially “perfection.” She’s a super-smart one-woman show who, as I once reviewed, doesn’t take crap from anyone. Originally with the Generation X team, she later grouped with X-Factor to showcase her investigative side and how she works in more intimate, adult groups. My only beef with having her on the team is that a lot of the other members would have a hard time putting up with her attitude. While it’s not usually warranted, it makes for some great stories.

4. Chamber (Jonothon Starsmore)chamber

Another character originating from Generation X, Chamber has always struck me as a tortured soul – unable to eat, breathe, and speak like a normal human, Chamber’s lower jaw was destroyed by his mutant powers when they first manifested. The energy that flows within his jaw can be controlled, giving him immense power and making him a formidable X-Man.

I first really understood Chamber when picking up Uncanny X-Men #395 (which also features a great X-Men roster) and reading his development as a character. I grew attached to him from there and been a big fan of his ever since.

5. Multiple Man (Jamie Madrox)mm

If I am ever given the chance to write an X-book (Marvel, are you there?), I would NOT use Jamie Madrox. This is simply because I believe he is author Peter David’s character. David’s work on the Multiple Man over his long run of X-Factor showcases character development and dedication to both a story and character arc. Multiple Man always struck me as Joss Whedon’s Captain Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly before Firefly was even a thing. Madrox’s humour, strength, tenacity, and struggle with leadership makes him the most human person on the team. But, oh man, his powers would be so freakin’ useful. (And once upon a time I went as Multiple Man for Halloween).

6. Domino (Neena Thurman)

dominoFor the uninitiated, Domino may seem like the mutant version of Black Widow – but with a luck on her side. Quite literally. Domino’s powers of shifting the odds in her favour not only make her a terrifying force to be reckoned with, but a incredible asset to any team. Originating in X-Force, and then later in a new X-Force, only to be put into another X-Force after that, Domino knows a thing or two about sneaking around, combat, and making stealth a priority.

While some of her snarky attitude and over-confidence may mirror M’s, Domino knows when to duck out if things get too dicey. She’s experienced, tough, and yet will stick to her guns (literally, too) if something doesn’t seem right. It also helps that she’s also worked with my next pick!

7. Boom-Boom (Tabitha Smith)boomboom

If your idea of Jubilee comes from any of the X-Men cartoons or movies, think of her near-opposite and you have Boom-Boom. While Jubilee was the hip teenager who wanted to go to the arcade and chew bubblegum, Boom-Boom was out hunting for boys and blowing stuff up. Her mutant power – creating ticking time bombs made out of plasma energy – can explode with great force. While working with both X-Force and X-Factor, she has never really been written as a fully-matured character. While that may be a turn off for some folks putting together a team, Boom-Boom still has it where it counts and her light-hearted attitude and spirit would make for easing tension and energizing the group.

8. Fantomex (Jean-Phillipe/Charlie Cluster-7)

fantomexOne-part James Bond, one-part Wolverine. One-part three brains. What.

Fantomex is a creative secret agent out of the Weapon Plus program that uses his powers for confusion and escape more than anything. If there’s one thing that Fantomex does do, however, is make himself look good to others by getting the job done. Whether it be him single-handedly saving Uncanny X-Force from the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, or managing to make The World work in his favour, Fantomex’s bag of tricks seem to be limitless as he (and trusty E.V.A.) are a tag-team of terror. Fantomex’s only real challenge being on the team is my next choice. . .

9. Psylocke (Elizabeth Braddock)psylocke

Psylocke is a character which many authors struggled to understand (and even more artists struggle to draw properly). Explaining her origin would take longer than what you’ve read here so far, so let me leave you with who she is: a psychic ninja assassin with more baggage than most people. One would think that being on another team with two men she has dated (Archangel and Fantomex) would mean trouble – and you know, it probably would. But she doesn’t let things linger or bother her for long – pushing emotions aside to finish the mission. Psylocke has been a tremendous force in the X-Men for many years – her devotion to the team and making things right is part of her moral code. The soft-spoken ninja never needs to prove herself because she lets her actions do the talking.

10. Banshee (Sean Cassidy)

At the end of my list, we have the leader of Generation X and the only (currently?) dead X-Man. While the movies (or failed TV pilot) don’t give Cassidy any justice, he is totally on my list because he is probably one of – if not the most – experienced character in the roster. He’s seen his fair share of action as he’s been in the X-books since the 60’s. He’s lost his powers by damaging his vocal chords when saving Japan from tremendous waves (caused by a villain). He founded X-Corps: a short-lived mutant police force. He’s been a detective with Interpol. He’s a father. The list just goes on. Noble, honest, and self-sacrificial (I mentioned he’s dead, right?), Banshee would be the most likely to lead my fantasy group of X-Men.

My honorable mentions go to: Captain Britain, Juggernaut, Polaris, Rogue, and Nightcrawler.

So that’s my list! Do you agree? Disagree? Do you think there would be too much drama or that everyone would be mature enough to get over it all?

And what about you?! Who is on your X-Men dream team? Heck, who is your dream team of superheroes? Sound off below!

And keep on Space Truckin’!

My Top 15 Albums of 2012

And starting off at number fifteen. . .

15. 3 Inches of Blood – Long Live Heavy Metal

3IoB

To-the-point and still a whole lot of fun. As the title suggests, this album is a testament to what heavy metal is. True to its roots, 3IoB’s album is a classic throw back to early Judas Priest or Manowar, with hella-cheesey lyrics that leave you questioning what you’re even singing along to. It’s hilarious, it’s great, it’s heavy, and it’s fun! For anyone looking to have a good time, please call 3 Inches of Blood – Long Live Heavy Metal

14. Vintersorg – Orkan

vintersorg

Swedish band Vintersorg (which is technically just two guys), produced a straight-forward, avant-garde folk album. If that last statement wasn’t paradoxical enough for you, listen to Orkan to understand. While still following traditional musical stylings, Vintersorg ups-the-ante by incorporating different chord changes, unconventional song styles, vocal techniques, and performances on the lute! The kicker is that it does all sound-straight forward. While you don’t expect to hear a chorus when listening to this music, it flows naturally, making it a great album to listen to for “something different.” Oh, and the lyrics aren’t in English.

13. Overkill – The Electric Age

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This album is too much fun. You’ll be head banging for a solid fifty minutes. What a rush.

12. Van Halen – A Different Kind of Truth

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Get through the first track (and the single) Tattoo, and you’ll be loving the rest of the album. While starting off sloppy, Van Halen’s A Different Kind of Truth picks up and over-exceeds in all ways possible. Solid hard rock from this album kicks your butt and keeps rocking all the way until the end. Singer David Lee Roth still has what it takes to make music fun – not being the traditional singer – he adds so much more atmosphere to the music. This “better late than never” album really lives up to expectations.

11. Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls

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Who hasn’t heard “Hold On” yet? Alabama Shakes made an impressive impact in popular music this year with this album. Beyond expectations, the band stays true to soul music and southern rock while taking advantage of recording technology to this day. A really, really solid album comes from this band – especially with their singer, Brittany Howard, who has one of the most incredible voices in music today. If you haven’t heard this album yet, get on top of that!

10. Devin Townsend – Epiclouder

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While Devin Townsend released his album Epicloud earlier this year, if you got the Special Edition copy, you would’ve received the “demos” album titled Epiclouder. To be honest, I prefer the demos. Although they are not “completed” by Devin’s standards, the music is even more beautiful and chilling than the actual album Devin released. While it doesn’t fit Devin’s concept of Epicloud (as he says in the linear notes), Epiclouder tells many more stories, and goes down many more musical paths which would not have worked in the regular album. Most of all: it’s really refreshing and happy.

9. Kreator – Phantom Antichrist

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Don’t take the title literally. It’s actually an interesting fantasy concept which runs through most of the album. It sings about a post-apocalyptic life and the battles to fight oppression. As always, Kreator manages to mix both aggression musically along with the music they perform. However, a few tracks sneak inside the album to change up the flow of music. All tasteful, I found that Kreator’s album is really neat story and a great way to wind down the day.

8. Ihsahn – Eremita

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This album is so all-over-the-place, it’s fantastic. Ihsahn, you may remember from the black metal band, Emperor. However, outside of Emperor, he does progressive metal. I’m putting that lightly. Eremita is jazz fusion mixed with metal, mixed with darkness, mixed with orchestrations, fright, bewilderment, and awe. What it does well though, is give a focus to saxophone, and really puts an imprint on how underutilized the instrument is used in popular music today. (Albeit, me saying that Ihsahn is “popular” is just silly).

7. Threshold – March of Progress

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After their 2007 release, Dead Reckoning, no one has heard anything from Threshold. We can see why (well that, and their singer passed away in 2011; bringing back their original vocalist from pre-2008 albums). March of Progress is a really powerful album from start-to-end. It sucks you in with haunting keyboards and keeps you grounded until the album concludes. It’s a great album just to rock out and play along in the background with whatever it is you’re doing. It’s a guaranteed enjoyment.

6. Kamelot – Silverthorn

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Let’s not lie to ourselves. Kamelot’s 2006 album, The Black Halo, is hands-down their best album. Then came Silverthorn. Featuring new vocalist, Tommy Karevik (Seventh Wonder), and quite a few guest musicians and singers, Silverthron stomps The Black Halo out of the competition. Heavy, pretty, and down-right awesome, Silverthron is a new beginning for Kamelot. I highly recommend you give it a try too.

5. Anneke van Giersbergen – Everything is Changing

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Ex-The Gathering singer, Anneke van Giersbergen release this hauntingly beautiful album at the beginning of 2012. I find myself still returning to it as it really sticks. Anneke’s voice, happy lyrics, and rocking music, is guaranteed to make you feeling pretty good about yourself once the trip is over.

4. Flying Colors – Flying Colors

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A super group of musicians would naturally make a super album. Flying Colors self-titled debut showed how much fun it is to rock out. Piecing together various musical styles, the album grabs you right of the get-go and refuses to let you leave until you soak in all of the greatness it offers.

3. Woods of Ypres – Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light

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David Gold’s final album – Woods 5 represents everything that is beautiful and dark in this world. From poetic lyrics to gut-wrenching music, Woods 5 hits all of the right spots and sometimes kind of close to home.

2. The Flower Kings – Banks of Eden

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Blues and jazz melded together to make wonderfully crafted progressive rock and one heckuva pretty album. It is an absolutely stunning album, front-to-back, from a band no one really knows about. The Flower Kings have really topped themselves with Banks of Eden. It’s gorgeous, it’s happy, it’s The Flower Kings. The album offers so much for listeners, it’s impossible to tell you everything about it. You’d be doing yourself if a favour if you gave this at least one spin. Just a warning though: you won’t put this down.

1. Anathema – Weather Systems

anathema

What can you say about an album this beautiful? Pushing the envelope with new ground, Anathema’s Weather System’s sets the standard to what music could – and should be. Emotional, uplifting, and so much more, there’s a reason why this album is my number one. Do yourself a favour and find out why.

Honourable Mentions:

Rush – Clockwork Angels

Testament – Dark Roots of Earth

Storm Corrosion – Storm Corrosion

Torche – Harmonicraft

Devin Townsend – Epicloud

Questions? Comments? Agree? Disagree? What have you?

My Top 15 Albums of 2013

And starting off at number fifteen. . .

15. Kylesa – Ultraviolet

kylsea

Psychedelic rock, sludge rock, stoner rock – whatever you want to call it – Kylesa’s “Ultraviolet” is all that and a bag of potato chips. Resonating back to the early nineties with bands like Smashing Pumpkins and Kyuss, Kylesa’s newest is a slug-fest of dirty, crunchy, pulse-pounding songs. However, you’re guaranteed to lose yourself listening to this album. To put it simply: Laura Pleasants and Phillip Cope kick butt.

Listen to “Unspoken” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-APQ1SQQ6M

14. Occultist – Death Sigils

occultist

Taking from the grunge scene, this half punk, half thrash debut album is all-out fantastic. “Death Sigils” offers a refreshing takes on the genres and really throws it in your face with wonderful female vocals. The mix is what really what stands out though. It is a clean and organised chaos -something that is rarely done well in the genre – let alone with a debut album. Occultist does it all right.

Listen to the entire album here: http://occultist.bandcamp.com/

13. Ihsahn – Das Seelenbrechen

Ihsahn - Das Seelenbrechen

I feel bad having Ihsahn squeeze his way into my top fifteen again this year,but he continues to push out incredible music. Mixed from jazz, fusion, progressive, black, doom, avant-garde, and so on, he’s really all over the place – yet it all feels like home in the album. To put it simply, “Das Seelenbrechen” is more of an incredible sample of genres that flows together naturally. There’s such a variety of elements are involved with creating such a daunting animal as this album. You owe it to yourself to give it a listen to.

Listen to “NaCI” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92g3KGbZXU0

12. Fates Warning – Darkness in a Different Light

Fates Warning - Darkness

The pioneers of prog are back! A well-orchestrated and return-to-form album by Fates Warning after along hiatus proves they are still a force to be reckoned with. Screaming from their late eighties/early nineties sound, “Darkness in a Different Light”is a welcomed listen, featuring a wide variety of styles in both guitar and bass work. Not to mention, Ron Jarzombek is drumming on the album. ‘Nuff said.

Listen to single, “I Am” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ChFbgZNgCh0

11. Ayreon – The Theory of Everything

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Over-the-top as always, songwriter Arjen Lucassen manages to create a symphonic concept album featuring four songs over twenty minutes on two discs. To make matters even nerdier, this science-fiction album is broken up into forty-two tracks for you Hitchhiker fans out there. Along with other science-fiction nods, this album is filled with exciting orchestrations, brilliant story-telling, and an incredible line up of guest musicians putting “The Theory of Everything” in my number eleven spot.

Listen to the song “The Theory of Everything” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3E98C5BcXnE

10. Amorphis – Circle

amorphis - circle

Finnish folk-rockers Amorphis released “Circle” earlier in the year. An excellent, straight-forward album with solid compositions and Tomi Joutsen’s gorgeous vocals puts this album into the beginning of my top ten.

Listen to the single “The Wanderer” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDpEBMHRp4g

9. Levin, Minnemann, Rudess – Levin, Minnemann, Rudess

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What happens when you throw three legendary musicians together? Bassist Tony Levin, drummer Marco Minnemann, and keyboardist Jordan Rudess, come together and piece an incredible fusion album with awesome concepts and moods to melt your ears. This near all-instrumental album seems to shift focus halfway through, with the first half being a mix of blues, while the second takes you back to the early eighties and nineties in video games.

Listen to the single “Scrod” here (and try not to think of playing on the Sega Genesis): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KF9JZTVDB7I

8. Black Sabbath – 13

black-sabbath

I was fearful of this album when it was first announced. I knew Ozzy was too old and worn out to continue writing solid music. While yes, Ozzy’s tired voice was clearly corrected for the album, the song writing, is something else. Black Sabbath makes a clear impression that they are really the godfathers of heavy metal (as if that wasn’t clear already). Sticking true to their form by honouring both blues and jazz, “13” is a solid and incredible album – save for the two singles (which are also the first two songs on the album). Dear Father may be one of my favourite Sabbath tunes of all-time. If anything,”13″ could have been released in the seventies it would have been a perfect fit.

Listen to “Dear Father” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZHUl9G9hfg

7. Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork

qotsa

Everyone thinks either “Rated R” or “Songs for the Deaf” are QotSA’s best albums. Well, guess which two albums had a baby together? “…Like Clockwork” is a great return for the band after their recent musical flops. Very moody and at times sinister, the album cannot help but force a smirk on your face. Such as when you pick up on the subtle soundscapes in the background, or when you recognise when Dave Grohl’s signature drumming sound becomes real apparent.

Listen to “I Appear Missing” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCy8pjhl97A

6. Darkthrone – The Underground Resistance

darkthrone

This is hands-down some of the most fun I’ve had ever listening to an album. I dare you to try not to crack a smile when listening.

Listen to “Leave No Cross Unturned” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0tsFqTulM8

5. Woodkid – The Golden Age

woodkid

A friend recommended me this album and two songs in, I fell in love. Yoann Lemoine makes sure “The Golden Age” overflows with grandeur and experimental stylings. It’s indie, but epic. It’s elegant, but shines bright.This album will drop your jaw onto the ground with its audio brilliance. There’s layers and layers of love thrown into each song, making you want to listen to each track carefully if only to grin wildly along with it. There is a reason why this album makes my top five.

Watch the music video to “Run Boy Run” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lmc21V-zBq0

4. Summoning – Old Mornings Dawn

summoning

This dark, ambient album – as with all Summoning albums – is loosely based off of Lord of the Rings. This album features great soundscapes and themes in the long, epic songs on the album. Singing of nature, loss, and a variety of LotR-based locations, you cannot help but feel the wonder behind some of the songs. At times I wish Peter Jackson would attach these songs to his films.What makes this album stand out the most, however, is the beautiful and diverse arrangements the band pieces together.

Listen to “The White Tower” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SMQyeise1Ic

3. Carcass – Surgical Steel

carcass

I debated endlessly with myself on whether or not this album deserved the second place spot or not. The return of one of death metal’s greatest bands proves to be an incredible one.

“Surgical Steel” features eleven pounding tracks which not only make you feel exhilarated, but it throws interesting philosophies about human consumption and the nature of man. Reeking in irony, it is quite the educational and introspective album for the impressionable listener.

Watch the music video to “Captive Bolt Pistol” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d3fRKGD2GW0

2. Gorguts – Colored Sands

gorguts

Speaking of reunions, it has been over a decade since Canadian band Gorguts released anything. “Colored Sands” is one of the most emotional albums I’ve heard in a long time. Focusing more on the spirituality of Buddhism and Tibetans under Chinese rule, lyrically, this album is not only a historical lesson, but also an exploration of man. Luc Lemay writes an incredible scope of stories filled with both sorrow and pain making the liner notes compliment the album well.

Musically, however, Colored Sands is an incredible journey with a wide variety of musical styles blended into the technical death metal genre. Not only does the album feature odd-timed waltzes or jazz interludes, but the middle of the album features a string quartet for an awesome classical arrangement.

While I’ve given the link to the album below, I strongly recommend listening to my favourite track,”Absconders.” It is, in my opinion, the most emotional song off of the album. The last few minutes of the song really hits the point home.

Listen to the entire album here: http://gorguts.bandcamp.com/album/colored-sands

1. Steven Wilson – The Raven that Refused to Sing (And Other Stories)

steven-wilson

When this album was released in February, I knew after the first listen it was something special. Not only is each song a self-contained story, but it is also an audio adventure for the listener. It is rare for the stories and music to complement each other well enough to create a satisfying final product, but each song on Wilson’s album does so perfectly – and seemingly with ease.

The true beauty of the album is how each song sounds different, but still the same. Every song on the album features different tones, atmospheres, influences, and attention to detail, making all of the stories unique onto themselves in the canonical album.

Brilliant, haunting, touching, beautiful, daring, progressive – whatever you want to call it, this album offers it and so much more.

Watch the music video to “The Raven that Refused to Sing” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4XevlloPY4

Honourable mentions:
Anneke van Giersbergen – Drive

Haken – The Mountain

Magenta – The Twenty Seven Club

The Ocean – Pelagial

Portal – Vexovoid

Toxic Holocaust – Chemistry of Consciousness

Questions? Comments? Agree? Disagree? What have you?

My Top 15 Albums of 2014

And starting off at number fifteen. . .

15. Rude – Soul Recall

Rude - Soul Recall

Old school death metal in 2014. Rude brings back the sounds of Death and Morbid Angel to create a solid, refreshing throwback to what death metal was all about.

Watch the video to the title track “Soul Recall”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aeB0_E6r2YY

14. Spectral Lore – III

Spectral Lore

I’m a sucker for atmospheric, epic black metal. Spectral Lore’s III album hits the nail on the head with this well-crafted work. Layered with plenty of soundscapes, this album truly defines the cold.

Listen to the entire album here: http://spectrallore.bandcamp.com/

13. Yautja – Songs of Descent

Yautja

This is sludge at its finest. Bass pounding with beats, distorted guitars, and a rally cry with the drums. This debut album by this relatively unknown band deserves the recognition it gets here. (FYI, Yautja is the name of the alien species the Predator is).

Listen to the entire album here: http://yautja.bandcamp.com/

12. Evergrey – Hymns for the Broken

Evergrey - Hymns for the Broken

Evergrey returns to their pre-2001 days with this powerful new album. While the band seems to slowly depart from their gloomier lyrics, the music is still-ever emotional and also driven by a refreshing new sound with their old song-writing style.

Watch the video for “The King of Errors”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pmmh69G-pt0

11. Casualties of Cool – Casualties of Cool

casualties-of-cool

Although Devin Townsend released three friggen’ albums this year, Casualties of Cool is the only one on my list. This country rock album experiments with a little bit of everything he’s done in the past. There’s a little bit of his “mediation” album Ghost, his rock album Ki, and his dark ambient/noise album, Devlab. A concept album, Casualties of Cool is really something that stands out amongst not only his discography, but in the general sphere of “music.”

Listen to the song “Forgive Me”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QNlLqvZPfI8

10. Judas Priest – Redeemer of Souls

judas-priest

The last arguably “good” Judas Priest album was 1990’s Painkiller. After a few flubs, Redeemer of Souls truly is a redemption for the band. While it doesn’t showcase anything new, it shows that Judas Priest still has everything they did back when they started: powerful song writing, great lyrics, and offering awesome, head-banging momments all throughout the album.

Listen to the song “Halls of Valhalla” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VddfDsrVdcs

9. Falconer – Black Moon Rising

falconer

If you’re a fan of well-constructed riffage, this is what you need to listen to. Incredible song writing skills, and of course, epic vocals from Mathias Blad, this hits the sweet spot of finely-crafted power metal.

Listen to the title track “Black Moon Rising”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lv05oHDjus4

8. Freak Kitchen – Cooking With Pagans

freak-kitchen

Cooking With Pagans is one of the best rock albums I’ve heard in a long time. For the uninitiated: a similar style of Motorhead with jazz, metal, and pop music, Freak Kitchen shows off impressive songs with silly lyrics and catchy choruses, making you to grow a smile across your face. Their music video below, Freak of the Week, was also given a $100,000 budget. They opted to hire cartoonists to make it happen.

Watch the video to “Freak of the Week”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y2vzBdIejVY

7. Blut Aus Nord – Memoria Vetusta III: Saturnian Poetry

blut-aus-nord

There’s some real, damn good black metal here. The guitars are really what make this album an outstanding piece of work. Rich with emotions, it pained me to put this album in seventh place. Alas, you’ll soon learn why.

Listen to the entire album here: http://noisey.vice.com/blog/blut-aus-nord-memoria-vetusta-iii-lp

6. Sólstafir – Otta

solstafir

This band is always pushing the boundaries to what “rock music” is. The album offers a wide encompassing amount of different styles – often in the same song (see below). There is no real way to describe Sólstafir’s sound. They’re a forever-evolving band, which is really great for people who like to hear something they never have before.

Watch the music video to “Lágnætti”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8n8Uy5KmvU

5. Gridlink – Longhena

gridlink

Out of all of the albums I’m putting on my list, this is the one I feel most people wouldn’t enjoy. Gridlink is a grindcore band at heart. However, their newest release “Longhena” is truly the most beautiful grindcore I’ve heard. In its glorious chaos, the songs are ripe with emotion and complicated orchestration. While the album barely clocks over twenty minutes, it’s incredible how much wonder was put in it.

Listen to the entire album here: http://handshakeinc.bandcamp.com/album/longhena

4. Agalloch – The Serpent & The Sphere

agalloch

These American folk/black metallers release, yet again, another gorgeous album. A completely different shift from the other two black metal albums on my list, Agalloch is more based within folkore and slower paced songs. While the momentum shifts throughout the album, their music is certainly breathtaking, if not awe-inspiring in its allure.

Listen to the entire album here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZHk5EnSuOV0

3. Anathema – Distant Satellites

anathema

Much like Sólstafir, Anathema is constantly pushing the boundaries to what rock is. While they lean more on the progressive rock side of things, this album showcases yet more incredible song writing by the band. Wonderful vocal harmonies, symphonic atmospheres, technical moments. . . this album is absolutely beautiful. Words cannot explain.

Can you even handle this music? The time signature! The beauty! Listen to “The Lost Song Pt. 1” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v30RadD_aiI

2. Cynic – Kindly Bent to Free Us

cynic

This album took me by surprise. Cynic was a technical death metal band. They featured harsh vocals and technical know-how with their instruments. With “Kindly Bent to Free Us,” they dropped their old selves – and death metal vocals – and turned into a progressive rock band. What they still keep is the incredible instrumentation, complexity in their songs, and the immense strength they have as a band through showcasing their talents. Being a band with only three musicians, you would feel as if there is more to the band than what you hear. The album is overwhelmingly complicated, but careful with how it lets the listener focus on particular parts. Nothing is actually overwhelming, but the song ideas as a whole are. It’s a great, great album.

Watch the lyric music video to “Kindly Bent to Free Us”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJ6MXHOXLq4

1. Triptykon – Melana Chasmata

triptykon

Between this album and Cynic, I had the hardest time deciding which would be number one. However, Triptykon’s “Melana Chasmata” takes the top spot.

Only in their second album, Triptykon’s lead singer, Tom G. Warrior, continues with his thought-provoking song writing and emotional output through this raw, energy-filled album. Triptykon is not only distorted with their song writing, but their sounds as well. In fact, the sound which the band produces is on another level of musical standards.

From the crushing bass of Vanja Slajh, to the echoed despair of Norman Lonhard’s snare; the rhythmic pounding from Santura’s guitar, and the melting intensity of Warrior’s guitar and vocals – “Melana Chasmata” is an album which will stick with me for a long time. I don’t think a week went by since its release in April where I hadn’t listened to it.

One of the best things to take away from the album is how the band is not afraid to do whatever they want. Case-in-point with the two music videos below. Getting variety like this on an album is only one of the many reasons to why “Melana Chasmata” takes the top spot on my list.

Watch the music video to the slow-paced and haunting “Aurorae”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NmyWeOvF_Sg
Watch the music video to crushing first track, “Tree of Suffocating Souls”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oMamBKqz_8U

Honourable mentions:

Devin Townsend – Z2: Sky Blue

Valnacht – Le Sacrifice d’Ymir

Overkill – White Devil Armory

Mayhem – Esoteric Warfare

Artificial Brain – Labyrinth Constellation

Pallbearer – Foundations of Burden

Electric Wizard – Time to Die

Most Disappointed:

Transatlantic – Kaleidoscope

Yes – Heaven & Earth

Devin Townsend – Z2: Dark Matters

Questions? Comments? Agree? Disagree? What have you?

Clichés in Fantasy Storytelling: Prophecies

Clichéd storytelling, man. It freaks me out.

It reoccurs in many films and books throughout many cultures around the world and we’re usually quite satisfied with the final product.

Specifically I’m speaking about any kind of prophecies that are placed in the film in order to actually make the story a story. Yes, there are films and books whose stories rely entirely upon a prophecy. Without the prophecy there would be no need for a story and as such no way for the masses to consume. Prophecies are a big part of fantasy stories. One is almost to expect them to appear in one way or another in the story as they seem almost like common practice for the genre.

Some of these clichéd points are done either really well or really awful. Or they’re hidden well enough that when one considers how the rest of the story is portrayed, the cliché is forgiveable.

In my eyes, writing in a prophecy is no different than writing a deus ex machina for the ending of the story. The only difference is that a prophecy gives the writer the rest of the story to set up the crap-shoot of an ending to make the prophecy make sense. In contrast, the deus ex machina will simply resolve it by some bizarre fashion (or groan-worthy moment).

I think of it like writing during NaNoWriMo: if someone decides to make a story for the month, they plug away at it and when they don’t know how to end it, the deus ex comes in and saves the story.

Alternatively, if someone doesn’t really know how to end their story properly because they “just need to write X amount of words,” putting a prophecy in at the beginning makes the ending fall into place easier.

But it’s strange. We’ve all shook our heads to clichéd storytelling at one time or another, yet we let some stories get away with it more than others. For example, films like The Fifth Element and Lord of the Rings (we’ll go with the film version for LotR simply to make it easier) both use cliché storytelling models and we’re (well, I am) mostly okay with it.

The Fifth Element is self-aware and tongue-in-cheek regarding its central prophecy (that a Fifth Element will save the world), and it is established at the beginning of the movie. The story itself is a wild one, filled with nods to other science-fiction films and stories, while kind of really making the prophecy the central point of the movie – it became fun and was purposefully clichéd.

If your prophecy includes Chris Tucker, I'm instantly hooked.
If your prophecy includes Chris Tucker, I’m instantly hooked.

While one easily argue that The Fifth Element is rather trite with its story, it still reeks of fan-service to its audience that (in my opinion) out-weighs the stories short-comings regarding the cliché of prophecies.

In the Lord of the Rings film, it is established early on that the sword that cut off Sauron’s finger which bore the ring is needed to quell Sauron’s forces. Only Aragorn, if he fulfills the prophecy of returning to the throne by wielding the sword, can he help defeat Sauron’s evil.

This cliché feels a bit more laxed as there are multiple stories happening within the film, so as a viewer, it is not the central story to the movie. It’s a bit of a passable cliché solely because it’s not involving a main character – or at least one that hasn’t become a main character yet from the storytelling and audience’s perspective.

Then we have The Matrix. One character, Morpheus, passes the prophecy onto our main character, Neo. Then the viewer is dragged along for another two movies as the prophecy is continually shoved into our face with more philosophy than action (I should take this time to say I actually enjoyed the Matrix trilogy. However, I have to be critical for reasons of this discussion). The prophecy, from the beginning, becomes the heart of the movie and in-turn, is all the movie is trying to resolve – Neo fulfilling his destiny/ancient prophecy told by the elders.

"If I'm the Chosen One, does that mean I get to keep this spoon?"
“If I’m the Chosen One, does that mean I get to keep this spoon?”

Now that I’ve ripped on three major films regarding this topic, let me redirect the focus to something a bit more constructive.

Let’s look at Star Wars and how these films deal with prophecies.

A long time ago in a prophecy far, far away. . .

Starting in order of appearance, we have the Original Trilogy (OT) – episodes IV: A New Hope, V: The Empire Strikes Back, and VI: Return of the Jedi – which do not really deal with prophecies much at all. Then we have the Prequel films – episodes I: The Phantom Menace, II: Attack of the Clones, and III: Revenge of the Sith – which is all about the prophecy of “the Chosen One” (to clarify, I’m not referring to this chosen one).

That’s not to say that there are not prophecy-like instances in the OT.

What I would like to try and show here (and is essentially my thesis) is that the way in which Star Wars presented prophecies is what I think, one of the better ways to tell a story involving prophecies.

Now let’s drive right in and talk this one out.

Within the OT, we have the traditional fantasy story of a young hero out to save a princess and fight the forces of evil. Within that fantasy is the all-powerful Force: a mystical power that binds everything together and can be used for good or evil. As the story moves on into episodes V and VI, it unfolds to finding out that the villain is the hero’s father (spoiler) and that it is up to the hero to save him and defeat evil once and for all.

"Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure  up my stolen dank mix tapes."
“Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up my stolen dank mix tapes.”

That is a very bare-bones summary of the OT, but I think it works when trying to discuss prophecies. There was a mention about an “ancient religion” by Admiral Motti in A New Hope, and villain Darth Vader does proclaim, “Luke it is your destiny,” in The Empire Strikes Back when it came to trying to convince Luke to join him.

But that was really all that stood out regarding prophecies. The OT films did not rely on prophecies to make the story work and rarely alluded to them as well. There is mention of the Force in all three of the OT films, but it is not tied to a prophecy at all. The Force just “is.” Most people agree that the OT films are the best ones because of acting, action, effects, and so on. However, they may not be aware of it – but it could be because of the lack of clichéd prophecies within the fantasy world too.

But let’s look at the prequels.

“You refer to the prophecy of the one who will bring balance to the Force. You believe it’s this. . . boy [Anakin]?” asks Mace Windu in The Phantom Menance.

In Revenge of the Sith:
Obi-Wan Kenobi: “Is he [Anakin] not the Chosen One? Is he not to destroy the Sith and bring balance to the Force?”
Mace Windu: “So the prophecy says.”
Yoda: “A prophecy that misread could have been.”

“You [Anakin] were the Chosen One! It was said that you would destroy the Sith, not join them! Bring balance to the force, not leave it in darkness!” – Obi-Wan Kenobi, Revenge of the Sith

The very vague prophecy is implied in little bits in the prequel films but is never fully explored or explained. We know that the prophecy revolves around Anakin Skywalker who will eventually become Darth Vader and kill his master, Emperor Palpatine. We know this because the OT came out thirty years before the prequels did. Anything that happened in the prequels was not really a surprise at all.

Can you see what I’m getting at here?

In the prequel films, we’re told that a young boy, Anakin Skywalker, may be the one to bring balance to the Force. The audience already knows that the prophecy gets fulfilled with Darth Vader, so the prophecy comes to no surprise.

Qui-Gon Jinn in The Phantom Menace even takes the “mystical” out of the Force by putting science into the Force – and as such – into the prophecy. By describing midi-chlorians and how Anakin has the most of them out of any known Force-user grounds the prophecy to something more tangible rather than speculation. Anakin is the Chosen One because, damn it, he has the most midi-chlorians! That, and because the audience knows he becomes Darth Vader!

It was said that you would destroy the Sith, not join them! I mean, I think I heard that somewhere. I, uh, I'm sure that's what it said!
“It was said that you would destroy the Sith, not join them! I mean, I think I heard that somewhere. I, uh, I’m sure that’s what it said!”

What the prequels do WELL regarding the prophecy cliché is not try to let it become the story. While in The Matrix, there was the story of Neo being the Chosen One. In Star Wars we’re not forced to watch the path of Anakin become the Chosen One because we already know what happens and that he is the Chosen One. In a way, the prophecy is spoiled for the viewer before the prophecy is even brought up in the movie. He still has to bring balance to the Force? Well we knew all the Jedi were going to die and already know that Vader kills Palpatine. The viewer knows how the prophecy is fulfilled already.

The prophecy in the Star Wars prequel films are used as a plot device – a catalyst, if anything – to show the audience the story of Anakin Skywalker becoming Darth Vader – not the story of Anakin Skywalker doing thing-X and something-Y to fulfill a prophecy to conclude the story. The prophecy, first mentioned in Episode I, is used to kick-start the story of Anakin for two more films. But the prophecy is not central or really that important to the rest of the story. The prophecy is in the background being unimportant as the rest of the movies move on. The audience is reminded in little bits, such as with the quotes I’ve posted above about the prophecy, but that’s about it. No one is concerned about the prophecy because the movie isn’t concerned with it. The prophecy and even its origin is not explored any further or delved into any deeper than what it is at face value to the audience. And you know, it works.

While I could see an argument how the prophecy in the Star Wars prequels is kind of like a deus ex machina at the BEGINNING of the movie, it still is not the primary focus of the prequel films, and as such, Star Wars as a whole.

Whoopty doo!! What does it all mean, Basil?!

If the Star Wars prequels did anything right, it was how it handled prophecies within a fantasy world. Midi-chlorians aside, the prequels put the prophecy on the back burner and focused on the characters and actions within the film – the prophecy only being mentioned to remind the viewer that there was a reason why Qui-Gon Jinn died.

But how can a writer get away with clichéd storytelling when they want to write about fantasy or prophecies in general?

I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit and I think I have a decent answer thanks to the Star Wars prequels. While one can go through great pains to avoid cliché prophecies, I’ve considered that holding off to explain a prophecy may be best until the world is built around it first.

Promo poster for The Phantom Menace. Spoiler Alert: Anakin becomes Darth Vader. But we already knew that, didn't we? It was not because of some prophecy in the storytelling.
Promo poster for The Phantom Menace. Spoiler Alert: Anakin becomes Darth Vader. But we already knew that, didn’t we? It was not because of some prophecy in the storytelling.

Look at it this way: I feel the prophecy worked in the Star Wars prequels because we already had three established films with the OT. When the prophecy is first mentioned in the prequels, the audience is generally fine with it as they understand the world and what’s to come with the character the prophecy is alluding to.

While I’m not saying one should spoil the ending of their story at the beginning solely to let a prophecy flow nicely and not feel clichéd, as a writer or author, you can keep that tool in mind to craft something much more genuine and unique. It would be something where it requires a lot of planning, but as a result, one would have a more fulfilled fantasy world with a rich and diverse setting and a deeper understanding to why there is a prophecy and how it is believable, rather than adding in a prophecy solely to get a character from Point A to Point B.

Establishing a prophecy at the beginning of a story simply to let the character go through the motions of fulfilling it makes for a clichéd – and boring – story. However, to establish a prophecy within the world without overtly telling the audience about it is key to a good writer and good storytelling.

Hulk smash prophecies

Here’s another case: I’ve recently re-read Greg Pak’s run on The Incredible Hulk with the story Planet Hulk and World War Hulk. Long story short, the Hulk is sent to another planet called Sakarr and is enslaved to fight in a gladiatorial arena. After a few victories, the peasants of the planet begin to see how strong he is and how he could be Sakarrson – the one to free the people of Sakaar. At the same time, the ruler of the planet and host to the gladiator arena, the Red King, has already been considered to be the Sakarrson by the people of Sakarr.

So the Hulk – and the reader – is forced into a story and onto a planet where a prophecy was already established before any of them got there. The Hulk is learning of the prophecy along with the reader. It feels natural because the prophecy has already been fulfilled – in this case by the Red King.

PSA: Surf boards are not adequate shields.
PSA: Surf boards are not adequate shields.

While the prophecy is established early on within the story like that in The Matrix or Lord of the Rings, it comes along as a natural occurrence because it is not forced upon the reader by an obvious means.

Writing Fantasy is hard

When it comes to writing about prophecies, it certainly requires some major thinking and reworking of a story in order to avoid the cliché and come up with something that is engaging for audiences.

However, I feel like it should be said again: cliché storytelling is not bad at all. It’s quite common and works a lot of the times such as with the examples of The Fifth Element and Lord of the Rings. What stings is that within fantasy realm, the cliché can be overused. As the term cliché implies, it’s a failure of originality. Once one sees enough prophecy clichés, it becomes a bit tiresome.

When a prophecy does not fall under a cliché, there is excitement and zest that comes with the story that can be felt by the reader – and more importantly – the writer.

Admittedly, I’m critical about these sorts of things. I partly blame watching nearly every episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, but also the fact that I’m an author myself really strikes a nerve.

Once upon a time I wrote something without using clichés. The Distomos is not one of them.
Once upon a time I wrote something without using clichés. The Distomos is not one of them.

While my book, The Distomos, avoids using prophecies like the plague, it is still a challenge to create a world that is unique and engaging for the reader to enjoy. On one hand, it’s part of the job as being a writer. On the other, it’s part of the challenge I want to give myself when creating something for the masses. I did not want to create another clone of what other people have read or seen before. I wanted to create something different and cool for readers.

But I know even I fell into some clichés while writing my story. Sometimes they are unavoidable. But like The Fifth Element or Lord of the Rings, it’s important to have something engaging for the audiences. Not only will they enjoy the story more, but it may also help them not notice the little missteps or care to critique them (See: me regarding The Fifth Element).

But am I on the right track with these ideas? Am I being too critical on The Matrix and not enough on Star Wars? What are your thoughts on clichés in fantasy? Forgiveable or dangerous? Sound off below and let me know what you think!

If not, grab a cup a tea and start writing!

Keep on Space Truckin’!

About that new Mary Jane Watson

In case you’re unaware, there’s a new Spider-Man movie coming out! It features Tom Holland as Spider-Man, an actor you’re probably now most familiar with since seeing him in Captain America: Civil War.

Since the set up of Spider-Man in Civil War, the audience got a bit of a taste on what to expect for the new Spider-Man movie, scheduled to be released in 2017. What some people weren’t ready for were the casting choices.

Since this is the third reboot of the Spider-Man film franchise, all of the characters were to be recast. Of all of the casting choices, having Zendaya Coleman cast as Mary Jane Watson – Peter Parker’s girlfriend/eventual wife – caused a bit of an unexpected uproar.

Mary Jane's first appearance.
Mary Jane’s first appearance. Her actual person would not be revealed for another 17 issues.

Personally, I never had heard of Zendaya before the casting announcement. And to be honest, I still really don’t know who she is. A quick IMDB search shows she’s been in a lot of Disney stuff, but that’s about it. I’ve never seen her act as I don’t have cable, Netflix, or watch any Disney television shows. I was going in blind upon hearing the casting announcement.

When I heard of the casting choice through ComicBookResources, I saw a picture of her and moved on with my life. It was another actress hired in another role. I’m excited for the outcome but cannot pass any judgment on an actress whom I’ve never seen work before.

What I didn’t expect was the reaction from some Spider-Man fans.

Over social media, some Spidey fans cried out about the casting choice saying Zendaya is not what they want in their Mary Jane. I know this because I bore witness to this outcry on a friends’ Facebook page:

Comment3

Is it that hard to understand that the colour of someone’s skin does not have to be the definition of a character? Mary Jane being a Caucasian redhead was never really an integral part of Mary Jane. Sure, she was nicknamed “Red,” but if she was blond, it could’ve easily been “Blondie.” Either way, a nickname that a writer creates for a character is not an integral part of that character.

In fact, all of the physical attributes this person on Facebook makes are solely based on the physical appearance of Mary Jane – not who she is as a person. From no storylines can I recall how her skin, eye colour, or hair colour were important to the story. She’s not Medusa from the Inhumans. Mary Jane’s hair isn’t that important to the character, let alone the colour of it.

And spoiler alert: hair can be dyed.

Comment2

Is it racial diversity or is Zendaya just a good actress? Mary Jane can be whomever she is cast as. Skin colour doesn’t define the role. The written characterization, the actress doing her job, and the storytelling is what defines Mary Jane.

Comment4

How does Zendaya not fit the character? The movie isn’t even out yet. There’s prejudice in these words as they make assumptions without any base to support them.

Comment5

Is it really that your fandom is being changed? Or is it that your “picture” of Mary Jane is being changed because we’re no longer in the 1960’s and people of different backgrounds and colour are finally starting to get equal representation in the comic book medium?

As of late, Marvel has made some major strides to become all-encompassing with their characters. Thor is now a woman, Jane Foster; Ms. Marvel is a Pakistani-American named Kamala Khan; Amadeus Cho is the Korean-American Hulk; Riri Williams – a black woman – is going to be the new Iron Man named Ironheart, and let’s not forget Miles Morales as Spider-Man.

The comic book industry is shaking up and changing in some major ways. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that a lot of the major comic book characters we all know and love were created in the 60’s and 70’s when minorities did not have a voice in the comic book medium. Strides were being taken, such as Storm’s introduction in ’75, or Luke Cage in ’72, but arguably neither of those characters are “big league” characters like Captain America or Thor. But now we have a Luke Cage TV series coming out soon and the Black Panther movie is slated to come out in 2018.

It’s a changing landscape and it’s wonderful that it’s happening. But when Marvel takes a character like Mary Jane and change the colour of her skin, suddenly it’s the biggest deal on the planet?

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Right, because Martin Luther King is a fictional character. . .

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Hrrrrrnnnngggghhhhh.

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That pretty much sums up the hypocrisy of it all.

Look, if you’re freaking out over the colour of someone’s skin because your fictional character no longer looks the same, then you haven’t been enjoying that character as a character. You’ve enjoyed their looks and therefore never really cared about the character at all.
Think about it.

Agree or disagree? Let’s chat in the comment section below.