Video games have been permanently ingrained into culture. I’m sure everyone can recite the first seven notes from Nintendo’s 1985 Super Mario Bros. or can remember the creepy yet hastily descending “doots” from Space Invaders.
While those songs are certainly memorable, I personally do not consider them to be “great.” What defines great? That’s a matter of personal preference. Do not let me tell you what to enjoy. However, this is my personal list of the Best Video Game Songs – NOT soundtracks – that I could come up with. In no particular order:
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – Hyrule Field Main Theme (Nintendo 64 – 1998)
There’s two games that “blew me away” when it came to their open world. One game was The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion when you leave the prison (you folks know what I’m talking about). But the first game that really impressed me was The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. One reason was because I had never played a video game like it before. The other reason was because of the incredible theme that accompanied the first appearance of this “open world.” The field of Hyrule was my playground, filled with places to explore and had danger afoot. The music manages to encapsulate the feelings of wonder and excitement of exploring.
Mega Man 4 – Dive Man (NES – 1991)
With such a wide arrangement of Mega Man games to choose from, why Dive Man’s stage? Dive Man’s underwater level hits a few points home: the low bass tones emphasize the deep water within the level. The lead MIDI has a bit of a strange ring to it when it peaks, suggesting to me the villainy behind the level. The song also builds up and builds down both flawlessly and seamlessly. I could hear the song play for hours and not expect an “ending” per se, from it. It’s one of the few Mega Man songs that will pop into my head from time to time and really make me want to hop back onto my NES and lose an hour in the game.
Command & Conquer: Red Alert – Hell March (PC – 1996)
Some people may say Metallica was their first encounter with heavy metal music. But if you lived in a shell like I did, you either first heard it from Doom or Command & Conquer: Red Alert. The Hell March is a literal staple in video gaming. The sluggish, hefty bass riff leads the charge (or march) with a steady 4/4 drum beat and distorted guitars. Verses, while mostly simple chugging riffs, evoke thoughts of the battles between a Mammoth Tank vs. a Tesla Coil, or attack dogs mauling down an enemy spy. The theme was updated in both sequels of the game, but there’s a simplistic nostalgia from the original theme that cannot be replicated.
Homeworld – The Beginning and the End (PC – 1999)
Homeworld is widely regarded as having one of the greatest soundtracks for a video game. As one of the first songs in the game, The Beginning and the End, brings me sheer bliss. This real-time space strategy game introduced a full X, Y, and Z axis to gaming – a feat for its time. Composer Paul Ruskay managed to create a brilliant track to get the user familiar with the gameplay mechanics. The peaceful song not only keeps the player cool during the tutorial, but also establishes the true vastness the game brought – you’re in space after all! This song has been on repeat at my home for years as its calming effects are trance-like. It is hands-down one of my favourite songs ever.
Stardew Valley – A Flicker in the Deep (PC, Switch, PS4, Android – 2016)
It’s short, it’s sweet, and it’s my favourite song the soundtrack has to offer. In its wide variety of moods, from seasonal themes, to battles, A Flicker in the Deep brings a sort of joy which I feel isn’t captured in any other song in the game. While it may be one of the shortest songs on my list, it’s certainly one of the most impactful ones.
Pokemon Red/Blue – Viridian City (Game Boy – 1998 US)
If there’s one song that always stood out for me, it’s the Viridian City theme from the original Pokemon games. Why? It kind of has a double meaning: at first, you enter Viridian City to get started on your journey. It’s the first major place you visit and get a feel for the game. It’s your established “base” until you make your way to the next city. However, Viridian City is also your LAST city in the game. You beat Team Rocket there and you make your way to the Pokemon League. The music, somehow, is nostalgic even while you’re in the game for the first time. It’s the first song to see you off, and the last song to see you go. With it’s peaks and relatively calming presence, it’s always cheering for you.
Terminal Velocity – Ymir Theme (PC – 1995)
3D Realms, folks. The original Duke Nukem, Blake Stone, Wacky Wheels, and more came from this company. Yet most people haven’t heard of the 3D flight simulation shooter, Terminal Velocity – which is okay! Let me bring you up to speed: you’re a ship and you shoot things. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, Ymir’s Theme, from level one, somehow made the gameplay feel a lot more epic than it actually was. With the heavy synth rising and falling over the industrial beats, you ended up listening to the loop multiple times in the level as you struggled to find where to go. To this day, the synths will make their appearance into my mind and I’ll just want to drop everything and shoot some tanks.
FTL: Faster Than Light – Milky Way (PC – 2012)
Whether you’re battling the rebels or making your next jump through space, FTL’s music is all something to awe over. However, Milky Way has a very calming, yet action-packed feel to it. The revving arpeggios from the beginning of the song continue throughout and end up becoming the background as lead instruments take over. The song is eerily simplistic, but rich with depth and lots of layers. A beautiful song.
Left 4 Dead – Tank Theme (PC, Xbox 360 – 2008)
I’ve spent many hours (days, even) playing L4D (Hi, Cherish and Andrew!) While it’s a short theme, you don’t even need to see the Tank coming to feel a sense of dread. The music does it for you. Operatic and booming, the Tank theme from Left 4 Dead, a “zombie” shooting game, absolutely strikes fear into the players. The main reason being: no one knows where the Tank, a super-strong Hulk-like “zombie,” is coming from. Valve built L4D as a game with no real “script,” meaning things don’t happen in an order – everything is randomized. A Tank can appear wherever. As such, it’s the music which really triggers the anxiety in the player – beginning you let the player fear what they cannot see.
Silent Hill – Silent Hill Theme (PlayStation – 1999)
Can anyone name me a song that’s both creepier and beautiful at the same time? I don’t think I need to say much about this one. It’s a classic. With traditional instrumentation and 90s synth, it’s an absolute wonder.
Resident Evil 4 – Echo in the Night (GameCube – 2005)
I may be biased, but Resident Evil 4 my favourite game in the series (I know, right? Please don’t fight me on it). As the game got drearier and darker, this theme played and wow. What a treat. The eerie, echoing howl right off the bat. The moody, dark tones in the background. Is that talking in the background or are my ears playing tricks on me? It’s an incredibly sinister song that is riddled with atmosphere.
Kirby’s Dream Land – Green Greens (Game Boy – 1992)
Kirby, man. What a guy (thing?) The song, Green Greens from the first stage is somehow playful, yet action-packed. It features a memorable lead that has an interesting twinge with it – enough to make it unique and stand out from other songs in the game.
Doom – At Doom’s Gate (PC – 1993)
Doom. Level One. You already know the song. Forget the Metallica influence. What can be said about At Doom’s Gate that hasn’t already been said? It perfectly captures the intensity, violence, gore, and speed which Doom is known for. A great heavy metal thrill ride, the loop of the song doesn’t feel exhausting nor does it begin to sound boring. As long as there’s bad guys to shoot, give me hell.
Portal – Still Alive (PC, PS3, Xbox 360 – 2007)
The end theme to Portal, the triumphant and hilarious song both wraps up the game and teases a future. It’s a painfully simplistic song, but it’s the lyrics and singing which certainly makes it standout – and original.
Katamari Damacy – Katamari on the Rocks (PS2 – 2004)
If someone were to ask me “What’s Katamari about?” I’d tell them, “You roll stuff up” and then play this track and walk away. That’s because I feel this song perfectly summarizes the enjoyment and amazement of the game. A joyful theme, it has enough strange in it to intrigue the listener to want to play. Great instrumentation, percussion, and singing, the song – and the soundtrack – puts a smile on my face. “La la la la la Katamari Damacy.”
Gunstar Heroes – Opening Theme (SEGA – 1993)
A triumphant opening to an arcade classic. Gunstar Heroes’ opening theme quickly fades into a grandiose anthem. With the spinning logo, the amount of sheer excitement one feels before pressing “start” cannot be ignored. The rest of the game’s music is great too, but the intro certainly takes the cake.
The crushing bass groove, technological babble in the background, and screeching metal throughout makes this song both original and powerful. When matched with the hefty bass sounds from the attacks in the game, it almost feels as if it’s part of the action. While this beast of a game was memorable for being a challenge for a lot of kids, I’m certain this song is memorable for the riffs within it.
Sable Theme (PC – TBD)
There’s not much to be said yet about Sable. It’s an adventure game which is heavily influenced by the artist Mœbius. The song, Glider, is an original song written by Japanese Breakfast for the trailer. While there’s still no release date for the game, the song seems to at least capture the feeling of it.
Fallout 3 – Bob Crosby and the Bobcats – Way Back Home (PC, PS3, Xbox 360 – 2008, Bob Crosby – 1951)
While technically not a song from a game, the folks at Bethesda wanted to really make this post-apocalyptic world feel apocalyptic. How so? Digital music didn’t survive the nuclear fallout, only vinyl did. Crosby’s song somehow, ironically, manages to summarize the Fallout game perfectly.
I asked my brother what he felt were some of the best songs. He gave me this from Chrono Cross. Holy smokes, it’s great. The peaceful and calming music picks up after a minute and absolutely rocks. Taking advantage of the PlayStation’s higher audio capability, composer Yasunori Mitsuda knocks it out of the park. What a treat.
And that’s it!
Thoughts? Questions? Concerns? Did I miss a game? Is there something I should reconsider? Let me know in the comments below, or follow me on social media.
The trilogy no one necessarily wanted finally came to its conclusion last weekend, finally wrapping up something that was “42 years in the making.” If that were truly the case, certainly they could have figured out the glaring plot holes over that length of time.
Alas. We have been given Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (TRoS). It should be noted that director JJ Abrams, who also co-wrote the film, didn’t have Lawrence Kasdan on board – one of the OG Star Wars writers who helped him with The Force Awakens. I should also just note Kasdan didn’t co-write The Last Jedi either. Not like any of that matters because – spoiler alert – The Last Jedi was essentially retconned TRoS.
If you don’t want to be spoiled, stop reading now.
I’m not entirely sure where to start. On one hand, I did enjoy TRoS because it had a story: a beginning, middle, and end. Unlike The Last Jedi, I disliked it predominately because the status quo didn’t change – nothing happened. There wasn’t so much a story as it was a visually stunning film. TRoS does take the story, ultimately the one from The Force Awakens (minus Snoke) and replaces it with Emperor Palpatine. Aside from that, nothing much else has changed from The Force Awakens, save for Han Solo being dead and no one was looking for Luke Skywalker anymore (also dead).
There’s a lot of stuff going on in TRoS. A lot of the film does wrap up the overall story quite well: we learn the history of Rey’s parents, we learn where Snoke came from. . . and that’s about it. Maybe some part of it was my own failed expectations, or some of it was people setting bar too high, but TRoS’s “reveals” were all pretty lack-luster. For example, I feel my argument for Rey being a clone, while I would have expected it, would have also been far better than what was provided (in my opinion, of course).
So let’s take apart what happened in the film and critique it to death – because hot-damn, that’s what us fans of Star Wars do, no? I’ll break these up into four sections: The Bad, The Strange, The Good, and The Borrowed.
When the trailer dropped and Emperor Palpatine laughed at the end, I’ll admit I got chills. I was excited because Palps was back! It was a kind of confirmation that he was still “pulling the strings.” Lots of theories kicked around such as Snoke being a failed clone of Palpatine and that Palp’s spirit was living on a la the style of Exar Kun. But a physical body? That was a surprise.
Within moments of the opening scroll of the film, “The dead speak!” is read. Palpatine was inexplicably back, according to the opening scroll. We see Kylo Ren inevitably finding Palp within the first five minutes and then exposition central begins. Palpatine was hooked up to a machine and. . . he did survive the Death Star explosion somehow. Somehow, because we don’t really know anything nor is it explained fully. It is somewhat implied he’s a cloned body (with the cloning stuff around him), or that he was revived learning from his teachings of Darth Plagueis, but it really makes little sense. It’s a bad reveal as it’s never truly explained. To top it off, there were really no explanation for how he built his army, who was building it, and well, everything about him. It felt like a convoluted mess and we were only five minutes in.
In two lines, we finally get Snoke’s explanation: he was created by the Emperor through cloning and ancient Sith rituals on Exegol. But why? We don’t know. Why were there more Snokes? We don’t know. Why not have Snoke come back again after he died the first time? Who knows! Why didn’t the Emperor come back himself and rally his troops? None of it is explained. While I’m sure one could theory-craft an explanation together, at face-value there’s nothing but questions.
In line with that, the rise of the First Order is still never explained. Neither are the Knights of Ren, who were utterly useless in the film. They consistently lose track of the heroes and had no purpose the film. It’s as if they were invented in The Force Awakens then suddenly were forgotten until TRoS. Who were they? Why were they at Luke’s Jedi temple? Were they old students of Lukes? If they were ex-Jedi, why didn’t they use Force powers or lightsabers? Why were they so incompetent? What was their purpose in the film outside of selling more action figures?
Speaking of inexplicable things, let’s talk about super weapons: A New Hope had the Death Star. Return of the Jedi had a bigger Death Star. The Force Awakens was criticized for having an even BIGGER Death Star. So where can one go from there? Why, a fleet of Star Destroyers that have Death Star weapons on them, of course! Silly concepts like that happen when story ideas get written into a corner: they had already done the “biggest baddest thing” two movies ago and had to up the ante, a la Return of the Jedi. Logic (for a fantasy film) be damned, the threat has to feel higher or else there would be no dilemma for the heroes. As if a fleet of Star Destroyers wasn’t enough, of course they had to have planet killing weapons added because where else could they go after The Force Awakens? Like the Knights of Ren, it was unfortunate what happened in TRoS because the film had to ultimately try and deal with its impossible expectations and build an even bigger threat. The Emperor’s return as an old man simply wasn’t enough. The idea was so far fetched that a lot of my friends and folks on the internet even felt the appearance of the large Star Destroyer army in the movie trailer “had to be a dream.” Nope. They were legit in the movie.
Taking a step away from the Empire/First Order for a moment, General Leia died, yet Poe was second in command? Where on Earth did this come from? In The Last Jedi he was such a complete douche. His rise in rank seemed not only improbable, but didn’t make any sense. There was no character building for Poe in the film – he went from being a cocky sonuvagun to becoming the one in charge. Poe’s promotion wasn’t earned or deserved. The last time we saw him try a mutiny in The Last Jedi, he had to do it solo because no one else could trust him, nor he anyone else. Then, because TRoS only had one other character to work with, Poe made Finn a General as well. Suddenly the two young kids who have had little development in The Last Jedi are running the Resistance (and it is still not explained why the Resistance exists in the first place). The kicker about Poe and Finn’s promotion? General Lando Calrissian was with them the whole time. Why did the young blood get to take over instead of someone who had experience? Also, why was Poe being a spice runner bad? Nothing is properly established.
All three main characters: Rey, Poe, and Finn, act as if they are best friends. They act like they all have some sort of history together, like Luke, Han, and Leia. In reality, Finn and Poe know each other, but Rey never really met Poe until the END of The Last Jedi. It’s undetermined how much time is between The Last Jedi and TRoS, but we can assume not much has passed since the Resistance still believes they’re on their own against the First Order. Their first outing to the desert planet of Pasaana is the first time we see all three of them together and doing something rather than moping around like at the end of The Last Jedi. Unlike in the original trilogy, or even in the prequel trilogy, the character building in this series failed the viewers. I didn’t care about their relationships, where they came from, or what they did, because I had been given no connection to them. Hell, even Johnny Rico, Carmen Ibanez, and Carl Jenkins from the Starship Troopers film have a richer history than the three heroes in this film.
I must ask: why did this trilogy have to happen? I mean, if everything was being conducted by Emperor Palpatine, why did he do what he did? Why let the First Order rise without him as he hid in the shadows? Why let Rey run free for so many years when you were entirely capable of finding her yourself? I’m sure the easy answer would be because of Palpatine’s pride and ego: Luke once did say to him, “Your overconfidence is your weakness,” yet his overconfidence didn’t make any sense. He literally had everything and decided to bide his time rather than take everything back. Patience does not equate to overconfidence. If I try to think any deeper about it, it makes my head spin. However, it just feels that the last two films were a almost unnecessary because TRoS sort of tosses each of them aside to create a “new world” for itself. It’s both frustrating and strange.
Emperor Palpatine had a son! (or daughter?) His kid had a kid! It was Rey! Rey is Palpatine’s granddaughter! Yet no one knew about this? Who was the mother? Was his son normal then? Did he not have Force powers? I don’t understand why something as important as Palpatine’s son could just get brushed aside without any explanation. When they were revealing Rey’s backstory in the film, I couldn’t stop thinking about, “WHO IS HIS SON THEN?” Yet the film leaves us with another unanswered question. If Palpatine was alive, why didn’t he go after his son or his granddaughter sooner? Even worse, it is later revealed both Luke and Leia knew Rey was a Palpatine! Like. What.
Speaking of Palpatine, why didn’t his soul go into Rey’s body after he died like he said it would? Was it because she didn’t kill him in revenge or anger? Or was it because he technically killed himself with Force lightning? And speaking of Force lightning, did Palpatine not learn from the first time against Mace Windu? One can argue he purposefully let Mace Windu wreck his face so he could have a case against the Jedi in the Galactic Senate – that makes sense. Is Force lightning like peeing though? Once you start, you can’t stop?
Also to sort out: Finns relationship with Rey, Rose, and Jannah. Finn wanted to tell Rey he had the Force. Cool. They somewhat leave Finn’s feeling for Rey ambigious too. That’s fine. Whatever. But were he and Rose a thing? Because it certainly felt like he was hitting on Jannah a lot and brushing Rose aside. A lot. For the little screen time she got, Rose seemed written to be the emotional anchor to Finn’s danger – we knew how much danger Finn was in through Rose’s reactions. Yet I can’t confirm if they were a couple or not. The Last Jedi seemed to establish them as a pair, yet this film makes it heavily ambiguous. When Jannah comes into the picture, TRoS throws us a curve ball. Finn and her bond over being ex-Stormtroopers and quitting for the same reasons. They both go into battle together. They both almost sacrifice themselves together. That was more screen time together than Finn and Rose. Yet Rose was the one who kept caring about Finn’s well-being. Was she just being strung along? The whole thing was just strange.
And with Rose, a really strange decision was to cater to the haters and toss her aside in the film. Rose, while her character was unlikable in The Last Jedi, had a complete 180 and ROCKED it in TRoS. In fact, Kelly Marie Tran absolutely rocked it (not that she was a bad actress in The Last Jedi. Her character was just “meh”). Rose’s character begged for more screen time as they made her act and seem a lot more bad ass than in The Last Jedi. Does she still love Finn? Does Finn love her? We don’t know these things still. All I know is that it was abundantly clear they downplayed her character in the film when, in fact, I felt Kelly knocked it out of the park. I was both surprised and disappointed in Disney’s decision.
Speaking of decisions, Kylo Ren and Rey kiss. Then Kylo died immediately and I thought, “Oh. Okay.” That was it. No emotions were had, because I didn’t feel any sort of emotional weight between the two. If anything, the bad guys were dead! Hooray! And apparently overdoing it with the Force kills more people than lightsabers (see: Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi, Leia in this film, for reference). And sure, Ren gave his “life” to save Rey – whatever. Apparently no one needs training to use Force powers anymore either, right? Yeesh.
Let’s also point out Threepio and being unable to talk Sith – it’s understandable that he couldn’t as he couldn’t “impersonate a deity,” in Return of the Jedi. Programs come with limitations – that’s fine. However, the lack of impersonating a deity didn’t bog down Return of the Jedi with planet-searching hunt for a black market droid mechanic – slowing down the story which ultimately brought nothing to the table: Threepio lost his memory only to regain it 20 minutes later. Was the point of the whole thing to introduce Poe’s faceless ex-girlfriend? If so, what was her point in the film? Did she only exist to prove to the audience he was not gay? Sure, she gave the team a Captains Medallion to land on the Star Destroyer – but they could’ve easily found that in Ochi’s ship with the droid D-O and save us a lot of unnecessary babbling and screen time. I mean, I’m not a screenwriter, but c’mon. It could’ve saved heavily the on the budget. Disney, hire me.
Another strange moment was Hux’s betrayal. Not only was it obvious, but it was lame. Admittedly, if anything, his and Kylo’s characterizations were the only two things that survived from The Last Jedi – Hux was upset and disappointed because whiny man-child Kylo Ren became the Supreme Leader. But of his obvious feelings from The Last Jedi, of course it would have been Hux betraying Kylo. There was nowhere else for Hux to go as a character except die as an wasted Imperial officer at the end (poor Captain Phasma). I felt he didn’t even need to justify why he was the spy – I already was comfortable with him doing it. The reveal was disappointing and his character, ultimately, was too.
The other strange development from The Last Jedi was how Luke’s X-Wing was stranded on Ahch-To. Apparently it could fly just fine! So that meant Luke could’ve left the planet at any time, right? Doesn’t that kind of cheapen the entire reason of why he was in The Last Jedi? Doesn’t that kind of undo everything about Luke? Wha? The simple scene opened up a whole can of worms which makes me question whether or not the writers even cared about continuity.
If it was so difficult to find the Sith Wayfinder (and who are we kidding here, they’re holocrons), how did Kylo Ren find the first map at the beginning of the movie? How did he even know of the existence of Wayfinders? The movie just hit the ground running and didn’t explain a thing.
The weirdest and arguably most awkward conversation goes to Lando with Jannah at the end of the film – “We’ll see where you’re from” – whaaaaaaaat? What the heck does that all mean? Way to end the film on a strange note.
Not to nitpick (lol) but even though First Order TIE Fighters were established to have light speed at the beginning of TRoS, the original TIE Fighters were established to NOT have light speed – HOW LONG did it take Kylo Ren to fly to Exegol at the end of the film? Yeesh.
Back to my Rey is a Clone theory, why did Luke’s lightsaber call to her in The Force Awakens? It makes even less sense now. It’s also still not explained how Maz Kanata got Luke’s lightsaber to begin with. Also, didn’t Luke’s lightsaber get destroyed in The Last Jedi? What crazy inconsistencies are going on here?
Lando Calrissian was the best thing about the movie, despite not being really in it. Nostalgia aside, because he was still the same ‘ol Lando, he made the film feel grounded. As JJ Abrams directed a chaotic movie with quick edits and snarky dialogue, Lando kept it cool and brought everyone together. He was the rock of the film and made everything seem. . . calmer. He was the veteran on set and I think because he was still part of the “old guard,” he stood out brighter than the rest of the characters in the movie.
As I mentioned earlier, Rose got the short end of the stick in this film. However, Kelly Marie Tran absolutely crushed it with great acting and an actual feel for the character. While it wasn’t properly established in the movie, I could feel she had a rich history and fighting fire within her. That’s a part of great acting. Just about everyone else felt bland, but Kelly Marie Tran was a gem in this film.
You know who else wasn’t bland? Kylo Ren! And he had a story arc! They wrapped him up nicely, and the character matured greatly from the last film. I appreciate how much he evolved as a character throughout the film and how his changes felt natural. It was a surprise to be sure, but a welcome one.
Carrie Fisher was fantastic. Knowing they had stock footage was certainly a challenge for the film crew, but I believe they did her right – including her death in the film.
WEDGE ANTILLES CAMEO. YEE.
The droids were great – BB-8, Threepio, and the aesthetics of D-O. D-O wasn’t really a great character, but the physical droid itself was fantastic. It felt like an old droid. I also enjoyed Threepio becoming relevant as it always felt that the droids were just side characters in these films. Finally some justice. And I’m still wondering what happened to his red arm between The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.
The cameo filled with Jedi voices at end – Yoda, Mace Windu, Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan (both actors), Ashoka, and more, were a nice touch for the finale.
Chewie’s medal, while silly and unnecessary, was still cute. The “injustice” was finally served. In the film, it does seems stupid stupid however. Like, in her will, Leia would have, “When I die, give Chewie a medal” as if it bothered him for all of these years and she would’ve just held on to it because of reasons. I mean, one touching thing to consider is you could say the medal was for Peter Mayhew, the original actor of Chewbacca. So arguably there is that sort of warm feeling to associate the medal with.
The Expanded Universe incorporated everything from television to books, comics, and video games. The whole “lore” of the EU was traced back to well-before 10,000 years before A New Hope and hundreds of years after Return of the Jedi. Some of the earlier EU came from the video game known as Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR), which is one of my favourite video games and Star Wars “movies” ever. It takes place around 4000 years before A New Hope and established the Republic and Sith Empire with a rich backstory and legacy that spanned even further than you what you played in the game. The game’s story was so rich and incredibly it became canon within the EU.
After two games, Knights of the Old Republic turned into an MMO (massive multiplayer online) game, like World of Warcraft. This game was called, Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR). It’s still thriving today, and I play it on and off from time to time. The MMO takes place around 300 years after KOTOR 2 and explores similar themes. These games, as they are so far away canonically from the films, have lore borrowed from them for the new films/TV shows. This is because there is little to no worry of anything being retconned.
Some of the lore included the Hammerhead class Republic cruiser in Rogue One, which originated from the KOTOR, a Sith planet called Korriban (turned Moraband in the TV show, which obviously inspired Exegol in the new film), yellow lightsabers (such as Rey’s at the end of the film), the Sith Wayfinder – which is without a doubt a holocron, and a massive, unlimited fleet created by dark energy known as the Star Forge.
Just quickly about holocrons (because why not?) They were first established in a comic book series from 1995 and were then featured in TV shows, video games, and books afterwards. They really took off after KOTOR as their colour and shape were really defined in the game.
Imagine seeing and reading about something since 1995, then finally seeing it in film only to be told it’s something else. Weird, no?
Holocrons aside, one bit of lore that I felt was ripped right out of the Star Wars MMO, SWTOR was The Eternal Empire – the expansions to SWTOR known as Knights of the Fallen Empire and Knights of the Eternal Throne.
The story is very similar to TRoS, but began at the tail end of 2014: The Emperor was dead. With ancient powers of the Sith, he bore himself into a new body, named himself Emperor Valkorion and slowly built a new world called Zakuul (a la Palpatine on Exegol). This world created a massive fleet that could destroy planets (like Star Destroyers). Ultimately, the “outlander” – the person without a real definition about who they are (like Rey) – had to challenge the Emperor with the unlikeliest of allies – The Emperor’s son and daughter (similar to Kylo Ren). Both the Republic and the Empire team up together by slowly piecing together a team (like Lando’s fleet) to defeat the Zakuul army – called the Eternal Empire and wipe out the Emperor permanently.
Watching the movie play out, I was floored by the similarities. Certain lines felt familiar, and the overall feel of Palpatine reeked of Emperor Valkorion. I had a friend reinforce my opinion when he mentioned the similarities to the Eternal Empire without me prompting him. It’s a bit too coincidental.
It was all very interesting.
My Overall Feeling
The Rise of Skywalker, unfortunately, ended on a whimper. With years of being teased by Disney and theory-crafting with friends, the film ending was ho-hum. While it certainly wrapped up the story, albeit poorly, I find myself asking: did this trilogy need to happen? Upon quick reflection, I’d have to say no. The new trilogy didn’t bring anything new to the table and felt like it just tried to cash in on nostalgia – which props to Disney for it.
The ending concluded similarly to both Revenge of the Sith and Return of the Jedi – showing planets being freed, Palpatine showing “your friends are dying” as a space battle happens far away from his chamber, and of course ending with Rey setting foot at the Lars’ homestead on Tatooine (for some reason) and staring off at the twin suns (and how did she know where the homestead was anyway – and why was there an old lady just wandering the desert?). Even still, the film left me with a more questions than answers. Apparently a lot of the story can be filled in with companion reading material – but as a film that’s where it falls short. Unfortunately, that also seems to be the nature of entertainment today: you have to be committed to the franchise in order to enjoy it.
As you can probably tell from what you’ve read, I’ve been committed to the Star Wars franchise since I was a wee one. I’ve read the Expanded Universe, played the games, and was really involved in all the fandom that the franchise had to offer. Disney came around and wiped the slate clean – which they had every right to. However, back then the films and EU were separated. Nowadays, it feels – like the companion reading material – that it’s all one in the same. It’s as if Disney is trying to get you into eating up the new lore by intentionally leaving plot points and backstory out from the films. It’s unfortunate, but it feels like the way it’s going now.
Leaving the theatre, I was baffled at the decision making in the film, but was also relieved: I don’t need to see anymore Star Wars films (arguably I didn’t need to to begin with) and I don’t have to be committed to anything after this. This new entertainment model of TV crossing over with film and books is still relatively new and certainly feels a bit overwhelming at times. The Rise of Skywalker felt like it required a lot of explanation that will be done outside of the film through various means.
As a stand alone film, unfortunately, it leaves me disappointed and well. . . empty. The film did not give the characters or worlds enough justice for me to care to follow. It’s disappointing because I want to care about these characters. I was invested in the Star Wars universe. Throwing away the Expanded Universe to create new films was a bold move and I am fine with it. I enjoy watching Disney borrow from it and utilize other stories – but when the stories themselves are bad – I just can’t care enough. And apparently some fans are getting tired of it all, too.
As a whole, was The Rise of Skywalker better than other Star Wars films? Most certainly. But as a comprehensive story, I’m confused beyond belief.
For those who are interested, here are my Star Wars films ranked:
1. The Empire Strikes Back
2. A New Hope
3. Return of the Jedi
4. Revenge of the Sith
5. Rogue One
6. The Force Awakens
7. The Rise of Skywalker
8. The Phantom Menace
10. The Last Jedi
11. Attack of the Clones
As 2019 comes to a close, I decided to go back and think about what really impressed me over the last ten years. There was so much new music this decade, one may think it was difficult to come up with a list.
You know what? It was!
On average, I listen to about 40-50 new albums every year. Times that by a decade and holy smokes – that’s a lot of music!
Initially I had started this list with thirty albums that really impressed me. However, I felt that was a bit too long. Cuting down to twenty was surprisingly easy. It was the painstaking task of sorting the top twenty which really took time.
I only put one album from 2019 in my list as I felt most of the albums released this year are still too “fresh” for me to make a decent judgement call on. You’ll notice what I mean when you see songs that were #1 from 20XX suddenly not holding their own – or even on the list at all!
Albums that are labelled “DNR” means they “Did Not Rank.” This may mean they were in my Honorable Mentions from that year, or maybe missed getting on recognized entirely!
ALSO! To save on load times on the page and not to jumble the list, the “Fav. Song” links are not (usually) directed to the exact song, but to what the band released as a single or if applicable, the album itself.
This all instrumental double album from these psychedelic English prog rockers is some of their best work in their over thirty year career. Grooving, atmospheric, and just downright fun – it’s definitely their most accessible album for all listeners.
While not all #1 albums can make it to #1 again, in 2015, Riverside’s LF&tTM hit me in the right spot at the right time. Still melancholic, this prog rock album is most peaceful when listened to in the right mood.
Yet another album that eluded getting ranked before. When one removes the obvious pop-fueled “singles” from the album, what is left is an incredible mix of musicianship and production. Fake Nudes is a relaxing joy to listen to.
One of the bleakest albums on the list, Bell Witch’s funeral doom album stretches over an hour and twenty minutes. Foreboding and crushing in darkness, Mirror Reaper is something I play for introspection rather than entertainment.
One of a few albums that originally “did not rank” before, Torture turned around on me. Impacting, aggressive, intense, great production – all these things and more is why I’ve listened to Torture more than any other Cannibal Corpse album this decade.
Salt is still an album that weirds me out – I still haven’t heard anything like it before. With the strangest of production, composition, and sounds, I feel Khôrada will keep me interested for years to come.
FEAR has grown on me a lot over the few years it has been out. I spin it regularly and each time I feel something truly historic and beautiful about it. Marillion created an album which continues to give after all these years.
In your face and direct, Retrogore ranks high for being self aware and ridiculously good death metal. It’s fast, brutal, and something I spin regularly for having a good time. It has easily became my favourite album of theirs.
Still an emotional thrill ride, Our Raw Heart delivers with the slow burns of intensity. It’s still one of the most beautiful doom metal albums I’ve ever heard, and most certainly their best sounding release this decade.
An epic to this day, Pleiades’ Dust is a monument to songwriting. As the song/album ebbs and flows, one can really pick out the instrumentation and true “orchestral” beauty that Gorguts puts into their music.
An album that still gives me chills by the end of it, Terminal Redux may be one of the best thrash albums I’ve ever heard. With a great story to boot, Vektor knocked it out of the park with such an impactful piece of art.
Initially getting beat out by Rivierside in 2015, Steven Wilson now jumps ahead of the pack. The metaphorical lyrics, the subtle musical moments and technical prowess – Hand. Cannot. Erase. is truly one of the best concept albums of the decade.
This Agalloch album is VERY closely contended with my #1 and 2. I’ve been going back and forth for a couple of weeks debating and choosing one over the other. Alas, I had to decide. But first: Marrow of the Spirit, I believe is the best Agalloch album. Not The Mantle and not Pale Folklore. Don’t @ me. Marrow of the Spirit has something rustic, intense, and intrinsically beautiful lingering among all of the chaos.
Anathema’s Weather Systems may be one of the most beautiful, yet surprisingly sad albums to have ever graced this planet. Musically, it’s genius. Lyrically, it’s poetic and sincere. Weather Systems is a triumph for both the mind and ears.
From the incredible album cover created by the late and great H.R. Giger, Eparistera Daimones encapsulates all I love in the heavy metal genre. From start to finish, this album absolutely dominates the listener and refuses to let them breathe. Its lyrical content is brutally honest and the music properly reflects that. Songs like Abyss Within My Soul are heavy in both sound and content. My Pain is hypnotically ethereal yet devastating at the same time. It being the segue into the nineteen minute epic, The Prolonging, is absolute genius.
I debated putting both Triptykon albums in my list. It may seem like both albums in my list here are the same: but they’re most certainly not. Eparistera Daimones, coming out of the ashes of Celtic Frost, has a unique quality and sincerity about it. There’s purposeful cracks in the armor. There’s noticeable pain, bleakness, anger, and darkness. I really cannot stress the honesty of this album enough. It’s a masterpiece and work of art wrapped around in doom, aggression, terror, atmosphere, and chaos. The album is non-apologetic for what it is and proudly wears its wounds.
For those reasons and a ton more, is why Eparistera Daimones is truly one of the greatest albums of the decade.
Questions, concerns, thoughts? Did I miss something? Let me know! And let’s see what the next decade will bring us! If you’d like, you can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram!
I don’t recall how I came across this album, but I’m glad I did. This neo-classical prog rock band mends a fine line between being a Marillion clone with some, what I’d call Rush influences, to create a transcendental album that stood out among other prog bands this year. While arguably there’s nothing “new” brought to the table, A Tower of Clocks manages to do everything right. The first few tracks build the album up to something wonderful as it ebbs and flows through various feelings throughout. A solid album from a band that’s now going to be on my radar.
Check out the single for “Justified”:
14. Evergrey – The Atlantic
Evergrey are starting to remind me a lot like Amorphis: staying familiar with an evolving sound. While The Atlantic comes across like a traditional prog-power album, there’s still the ever-looming feeling of despair through Tom Englund’s voice and the bands defeating sound, and sometimes heart-breaking lyrics. However, uplifting moments are found such as with the song End of Silence – which still arguably still sounds bleak. Then there’s songs like Weightless where it really showcases some of the band’s metal prowess – the song building to a powerful booming climax near the end. I was super pleased with how The Atlantic turned out and as always, can’t wait to see what else Evergrey have up their sleeve.
Check out the video for “A Silent Arc”:
13. Exhumed – Horror
In 2016, Aborted released the album Retrogore. As the Aborted title suggested, the album was a throwback to older (1980s) horror films. In 2019, Exhumed’s Horror, while not directly associated to particular horror films, is yet another death/grind album with a shtick towards “retro” horror (as the album cover suggests). It’s fast, dirty, and a a schlock-fest of brutality. The fifteen song album is just shy of thirty minutes with most songs under the two-minute mark, leaving them to be easily digested and not over stay their welcome. They’re good “done-in-one” songs that are quick and to the point. The whole album is just a slaughter. It’s fantastic.
Listen to the full album here:
12. Possessed – Revelations of Oblivion
It only took 33 years, but Possessed is back. And damn, it’s great. This death/thrash album is a huge surprise to hear this year. In fact, it sounds as if the band never went anywhere. The soundscape, production, and tones feel straight out of the 80s with pounding aggression in the drums, heft in the rhythm, and an amazing wail with the guitars. Lead singer/songwriter Jeff Becerra writes intelligently with lyrics that feel honest but still radical. An absolute treat for 2019. I hope this is the start of something bigger.
Check out the single, “No More Room in Hell”:
11. Murg – Strävan
The third album of this Swedish black metal band is one of two black metal albums that really blew me away this year. It’s intense at times, but also falls back into somber feelings. The album fluctuates naturally between the two dichotomies which offers the listener breathing room for reflection. The production, on the other hand, has what I love about the genre: it’s dark and feels homemade. Yet there’s obviously quality and an ear behind the studio to give the album the sounds it’s offering. As with most outstanding black metal albums for me, these riffs gave chills.
Check out the awesome single, “Renhet”:
10. Ed Wynne – Shimmer into Nature
The debut solo album from Ozric Tentacles main song writer – Ed Wynne puts together an infectious groovy album with all the fixings of what makes me love his music: brilliant bass licks, incredible soundscapes, and brilliant rises and falls. Shimmer into Nature effectively does what it says, bringing psychedelic tones, synth, and atmosphere to the fray – all with a tremendously calming effect. A terribly underrated musician, this album is quite frankly, absolutely beautiful.
Listen to “Shim”:
9. Darkthrone – Old Star
Every time Darkthrone releases an album, I feel bad for everyone else. The band evolves so much, I never know what to expect. However, the quality of their output has been nothing short of incredible. As such, here is yet another Darkthrone album on my Top 15 list. This crusty, thrashy, doom album is stunning. It has gentle (and some not-so-subtle) nods to classic heavy metal bands and eras, influenced from the decades of the 70s and 80s. The songs on the album feel simple, but come with great care. The single (and my favourite track), “The Hardship of the Scots,” is a great anthem, while songs like “The Key is Inside the Wall” and “I Muffle Your Inner Choir” come with a certain rock n’ roll elements that keep your head pounding throughout. Truly another great album by this great band.
Listen to the wonderful “The Hardship of the Scots”:
8. Masvidal – Mythical
Paul Masvidal is no stranger to prog or heavy metal. After all, he’s the front man and lead songwriter to the legendary band Cynic. But this solo project? This is something different and certainly may be an acquired taste. Mythical, the first of three albums, well, let me just quote the album: “Each song on [the album] uses ‘Isochronic Tones’ designed by Dr. Stephane Pigeon, creator of the Brian Eno-celebrated website MyNoise. The tones are a groundbreaking type of sound therapy for increasing serotonin, alleviating depression and stress, improving focus, and aiding in restful sleep.” – And Masvidal does just that – and lyrically, well, it’s beautiful poetry.
Listen to the whole album here:
7. Blood Incantation – Hidden History of the Human Race
A late-release fpr 2019, Blood Incantation’s Hidden History of the Human Race absolutely knocked it out of the park. The four-song album covers a vast array of death metal styles – from Morbid Angel to Death to Gorguts, then with spacial tones to the likes of Kyuss and Hawkwind. This album delivers the goods with the pulse-pounding first tracks, Slave Species of the Gods and The Giza Power Planet, followed by the two more melodic songs Inner Paths (to Outer Space), and the 18-minute epic, Awakening From The Dream Of Existence To The Multidimensional Nature Of Our Reality (Mirror Of The Soul). While four songs may not seem like much to divulge in with an album, I can guarantee Blood Incantation makes every moment count, and ultimately, brings about one of the most unique, awesome, and most of all – refreshing – albums I’ve heard in recent memory.
Check out the video for “Slave Species of the Gods”:
6. Bent Knee – You Know What They Mean
The year was 2017, and Bent Knee’s “Land Animal” made the third spot on my Top 15 List that year. I feel bad they’re not higher this year, but holy smokes, You Know What They Mean absolutely blows Land Animal out of the water and then some. This album is both a natural evolution for the band, yet is something completely different. It’s heavy, melancholic, moody, rough, loud, subtle, and so many other adjectives I could continue with. There’s a lot of brilliance in this album and I’m so very excited to watch this band explode. Bent Knee will become a household name, not only in the world of progressive music, but beyond. Mark my words, You Know What They Mean has the fixings of bringing Bent Knee to the world.
Watch the video for “Hold Me In”:
5. Wilderun – Veil of Imagination
Opeth and Symphony X had a child and it’s living in Boston. Part of me says “This album shouldn’t be on here because it’s just a clone.” The other part says, “My god, these guys do what Opeth and Symphony X did, but better.” There’s a healthy balance between metal and orchestra. There’s a lack in repetition/recurring riffs, keeping these long songs fresh. It is also very ethereal in many aspects in the production. Readers, I absolutely was taken back by this album. It was as if I was teleported back into 2001/2002 when Opeth’s Blackwater Park and Symphony X’s The Odyssey was released. In fact, if you amalgamate those two specific albums, I’m confident you’ll have Veil of Imagination. It’s certainly fair to bring these strong comparisons to the fold because Wilderun takes the best of both albums and makes it into something new, yet familiar. It’s a hauntingly beautiful, powerful album.
Check out “Far From Where Dreams Unfurl”:
4. Mgła – Age of Excuse
My favourite black metal album of the year, Mgła’s Age of Excuse is stunning. I remember spinning it the first time around while reading. During the track, Age of Excuse III, I paused the album and went “Holy shit, these guitars are riiiiiiiiiiiipping.” I hadn’t been that excited from a black metal album in a long while. But that’s not all! The drums. Oh goodness, the drumming on this album. Age of Excuse II features some extraordinary play with the toms, snare, and various cymbals. But that’s not all! The vocals. The gloom and despair in the voice. The lyrics. The dread and finality of it all. Sure, this album is technically one song at 42 minutes – but it’s such a trip. Give it a listen and learn why Age of Excuse got to be where it is on my list.
Give the full album a listen to:
3. Tomb Mold – Planetary Clairvoyance
Had I not seen these guys open for Pig Destroyer earlier this year, I may not have heard this album at all. Tomb Mold’s Planetary Clairvoyance is hands-down my favourite straight-up death metal album of the year. This Toronto-based band knocked it out of the park with this 38-minute album, featuring some of the best guitar riffs I’ve heard this year. In fact, the way everything is pieced together, you can tell Tomb Mold took their time when writing these songs. Most songs only contain a handful of riffs, yet the band manages to leave nothing stale. Somehow the riffs become elevated the more the band repeats them. It’s intriguing stuff. From the opening track to the end, there’s literally something memorable from each song. The title track has some of the dirtiest riffing by the end of the song. It’s just a headbangers delight. I love this album.
Listen to the track “Infinite Resurrection” here:
2. Immortal Bird – Thrive on Neglect
I don’t even know what to call this one: death metal, crust punk, progressive, sludge, thrash, black, grind, hardcore – whatever it is, it’s an absolute blast to indulge. This second album by the Chicago natives has everything I want in my metal and then some. Songs like Avolition are lengthy and provide a wide gamut of offerings for music listeners – easily one of the greatest songs I’ve heard this year. House of Anhedonia has such an incredible ending and juicy riffs that I keep coming back for more. In fact, with absolutely punishing tracks made with excellent composition, lyrics, and production, easily makes Immortal Bird’s release one of my favourite albums of the year.
Listen to the song, “Vestigial Warnings,” that within seconds had won me over:
1. Devin Townsend – Empath
Devin Townsend has outdone himself. I absolutely adored this album. Throughout its journey, Empath features highs and lows, exceptional musicianship, chaos and beauty, and incredible emotion. I could go on to describe what Empath is. So let me just focus on why it’s my album of the year.
Leaving the Devin Townsend Project and going solo, this dynamic album features a plethora of interesting and daunting ideas that come together so wonderfully. From the intriguing Castaway/Genesis introduction to the playful Sprite, the Disney-inspired Why?, and the epic Singularity, each song on the album has its own bit of flair to make it stand-out, yet still be part of one cohesive unit.
The songs are some of Devin’s most challenging, not only as a musician, but sonically as well. The “wall of sound” that comes along with Empath is incredible. In fact, the production on the album arguably may be its only fault as to how “perfect” everything seems to be. Musicians like Chad Kroeger (Nickelback), Anneke van Giersbergen (ex-The Gathering), and Frank Zappa alums, Steve Vai, Mike Keneally, and Morgan Ågren, as well as a fully-utilized women’s choir, come together to help bring Empath a life which is truly unique and an absolute wonder to behold.
Part of me wants to dig through every single song and explain its purpose, why they are the way they are, and really delve into the complexities of the production and songwriting process. But that’s not what this review is for. I should only tell you that there were many wonderful moments that made me cry (and still do if it gets me right). This is an album you all should sit back and experience for yourselves. Grab your headphones, some hot chocolate, sit back, and relax. (The 5.1 audio mix is coming out soon which I’m absolutely thrilled for).
Without a doubt, Devin Townsend’s Empath will stick with me for the rest of my life. It is easily one of the most memorable albums I have ever graced upon my ears.
Check out the “overture” of the album, “Genesis”:
Then listen to the Disney-inspired metal song, “Why?”:
Dream Theater – Distance Over Time
Ares Kingdom – By the Light of Their Destruction
Overkill – The Wings of War
Cerebral Rot – Odious Descent into Decay
Torche – Admission
Borknagar – True North
Rotting Christ – The Heretics
Nebula – Holy Shit
Abbath – Outstrider
Ulver – Drone Activity
Tool – Fear Inoculum
Flying Colors – Third Degree
Amon Amarth – Beserker
Blind Guardian – Legacy of the Dark Lands
Questions? Comments? Agree? Disagree? What have you? If you’d like, you can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram!
Mankind has taken to the stars; maintaining their empires through the belief in God. Peace and prosperity are kept through Church-appointed Templars: the police of the galaxy. But when the Distomos, a secret weapon from the Church falls into the hands of the enemy, two ex-Templars, Kieran Rhet and Normandie Jade, are hired to get it back.
With only a matter of time before interstellar war begins and the Distomos is used, friendships, courage, and faith will be tested when all seems lost.
I’m always on the hunt for new music. In case it wasn’t obvious from my Top 15 Albums of the Year, I enjoy me some good heavy metal and progressive rock. Every so often I’ll be impressed with albums not affiliated in those genres, like the Blade Runner 2049 Soundtrack (2017), Alabama Shakes – Boys and Girls (2012), and Anneke & Árstíðir – Verloren Verleden (2016), and not to mention lots of Honorable Mentions.
If you come to me with new music, I’ll most certainly give it a try.
I recently reviewed Tool’s Fear Inoculum, and was reached out to a band from Italy called Sleepwait. They asked me to review their debut album, Sagitattius A*. Their reasoning was, “We checked your review of Tool’s “Fear Inoculum,” and thought you are the right person to give us a listen.”
While I was excited that the Tool review received a lot of discussion both on my blog, on my Instagram, and my personal Facebook, I was thrilled to receive an email asking for an album review because of my review.
Let’s dig in with Sleepwait – Sagittarius A*
The duo of Sleepwait formed about four years ago after Filippo Bravi (vocals) and Mauro Chiulli (instruments) met on a webportal for musicians. Despite the 300km distance from each other, they dedicated themselves to producing an album close to their hearts. Clearly inspired from bands such as Tool and Alice in Chains, the alternative/grunge rock Sagittarius A* holds nothing back as it explores the influences between the two musicians.
Bookended by reflective The Left and Right Hand of Beauty, the real meat of the album lies within. Songs like the title track, feel like a hybrid between Tool’s Lateralus and A Perfect Circle’s Mer de Noms. Yet further in, the album both expands and contracts between waves of emotions and anthems. The Doubt showcases both the rise and fall of those feelings, with production on the song somewhat distorted to add a feeling of unease to the listener.
A standout song for me was Istanbul, which pulled me back to the days of first listening to Kyuss’ Blues for the Red Sun. The grooves lead for steady head bobbing, followed by an great instrumental outro which hits me right in the nostalgia bone. Flowing into the samples of next song, The Prayer, the stoner rock groove continues for a great little trip until The Doubt brings up the tempo again.
Bravi’s vocals are an interesting blend between Maynard James Keenan from Tool and Serj Tankian from System of a Down. When emphasized, I hear Maynard; when calm, I hear Tankian. There’s a level of balance which Bravi manages to make work with the music. Most times, the vocal harmonies he provides offer different feelings, they hear like they are borderline on droning – which with certain guitar tones and riffs, almost puts the listener into a trance.
The album certainly feels thought-out and purposeful. Songs are placed in a particular order which makes the flow of the album a cohesive work. Nothing comes out as jarring, leaving the listener to sit back and actually be able to absorb the album as its presented. My first listen focused on nostalgia, while the later listens picked up on the smaller nuances the band wanted to achieve, such as the change of recording to the bass guitar in the track Constellations which I had missed before.
While Sagitarrius A* certainly doesn’t bring anything new to the musical table, Sleepwait, in my eyes, have established themselves as solid, competent songwriters and should be lauded for their admiration to their inspiration. While I feel the album does sound like it’s ripped right from the mid-2000s, so did Fear Inoculum. The difference is Sleepwait’s Sagitarrius A* is what I was expecting from Tool’s Fear Inoculum.
With a bit cleaner production and clearer definition of their own sound, I could see Sleepwait turning some heads in the prog rock/metal genre. Sagitarrius A* is just the beginning for this Italian duo.
Well, yes! For everyone, Tool’s back and going to be better than ever! Heck, Tool is so big, they’ve still been selling out arenas based on their back catalogue. That’s a big deal, no?
Before I divulge you all in my opinion of Fear Inoculum, let me first give you my history with Tool. (My blog, my rules, y’know?)
The Band that Started it All
If it wasn’t obvious from my previous posts of my favourite albums, I love both heavy metal and progressive rock. The way I got into music was a bit on my own. I got into Stone Temple Pilots when I picked up the bass guitar and was blown away (and still am) by their bassist, Robert DeLeo. From the hard rock of STP, I fell into Tool. To age me, Lateralus came out when I was in high school – grade ten. I hadn’t heard bass like the intro to Tool’s Schism before and had to learn more. Tool was on the radio and I definitely took the plunge.
Tool became my go-to band for two to three years. They were THE band that introduced me to heavy metal. I understood Metallica existed, I got Black Sabbath, but Tool was just so relevant to me at the time. I was a starting musician wanting to learn more. I certainly wasn’t going to find bass from Metallica, and definitely not from “going back” to older songs (boy, was I ever naive). Tool had what I was looking for, and I dove in hard.
I was very arrogant with my knowledge of Tool. Not only did I think they were the best band, but I made sure others knew. I remember specifically saying how Danny Carey was a better drummer than Neil Peart because he used less drums than Neil and could sound “bigger.” I know! I cringed while writing that, let alone re-reading it. But I was young and impressionable. It’s what I felt. I went out and bought Tool t-shirts and blasted their albums on my CD walkman I wore on the bus. I made sure it was extra loud so others on the bus could hear how great the music was. Yes, I was one of those kids.
Embarrassment aside, Tool ultimately helped me learn about even heavier music. I went from Tool to Opeth, to Carcass, and the rest is history. I will always argue that Tool is a gateway band into something heavier.
However, I really dug into the Tool philosophy. I went onto the website regularly and read up on all of the beliefs of the band or what the songs were about. I wasn’t just a fan of the band, I was a believer. I connected to Tool on a much more deeper level than anyone else I knew could have. I mean, they were talking about philosophy to someone who was 15 years old. How couldn’t I get addicted to them? They were so much more than just a band.
I finally scored tickets to see them live with my dad.
The Tipping Point
It was August of 2002, and Tool performed at Copps Coliseum (in Hamilton, Ontario) with Mike Patton’s (from Faith No More) Tomahawk opening.
I was really excited to go. I wore my Tool “pill” shirt and joined the masses at Copps to enjoy what was most certainly going to be the show of the year. I had already been spoiled with seeing bands like Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam, and Linkin Park before. Surely Tool was going to give them a run for their money.
The show started and Tomahawk began their performance. About halfway through, the audience started to boo. I mean literally shouting “BOOOOO” at them. Stuff started getting thrown on stage. By the end of Tomahawk’s set, it felt like half of the arena was booing them off. I remember turning to my dad and asking him why people were booing. He didn’t know either. The only thing we could think of was that they just weren’t Tool.
Tomahawk put on a great performance and show. I wasn’t into their music at the time (and certainly hadn’t heard of them up until that point), but they most definitely weren’t worthy of getting booed off the stage. In fact, Mike Patton said about the tour,
Compared to the studio, Tomahawk’s live presentation pulls no punches. ‘It is probably a little bit nastier and a little more poke-you-in-the-eye vibe,’ says Patton. ‘When you are in a situation like this, it is very easy for the people to sit back, eat their popcorn and cotton candy, and ignore you. We’re trying to combat that.’
As a Tool fan, I was embarrassed. I felt that Tool certainly would have said something about disrespecting Tomahawk when they came on stage. Spoiler: they didn’t even mention or thank Tomahawk for performing.
Tomahawk left the stage. Twenty minutes later, the stage went dark. A chugging, familiar bass line began. Tool opened with their big single, Sober. I got chills, and so did the thousands of people around me. You could tell the mood had changed. When the lights flicked on, I could see the band on the stage; them all just standing there. . . . . . vocalist Maynard Keenan with his back to the audience, guitarist Adam Jones, bassist Justin Chancellor standing motionless, and Danny Carey rocking out – the only one who seemed to have any energy to the show. What was going on?
It wasn’t to be a metal show, it was to be an experience, I thought to myself, suddenly feeling a bit underwhelmed, trying to justify what I was witnessing. Sober ended. The Grudge began, followed by Stinkfist. Solid songs, but really lacked dynamics from the band. In fact, look for yourself. I found the whole show. Enjoy.
Tool was performing, but I really couldn’t get into it. But the audience was. They were screaming their heads off to every song. I mean, I knew the songs too, but Tool really wasn’t reaching me during their show. Despite reading the philosophy and digging into the band, I felt left out. And I’m not sure exactly when it clicked that night, but I looked out to the audience and saw everyone with their t-shirts on. “Tool” it said. I was with them. I looked back to the stage and saw Maynard, his back turned to us, and the band not really giving much “oomph” to their performance.
It hit me as I realized the clever double entendre marketing-style the band had been using. We were the literal “tool” and also a literal paycheque to the band. By all means, yes, that’s the music business – but I felt Tool was trying to be so devious in hiding it and I just “woke up.” It was that night, watching the band I loved play live, that the philosophy they tried to teach through their music kind of melted away – and I felt like I saw Tool for the sellouts they were.
And holy moly, before you guys start: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It was in my personal experience that Tool had betrayed me. That I was literally just a tool for them to get my money. Their “experience” didn’t work on me. Did I go home and throw out all of my Tool albums? Heck no, they’re still on my CD shelf. The band still wrote great music. It’s just that I felt that what they did to not just me, but to their audiences – it wasn’t just a band. Tool hit me like a musical version of Scientology. A religion of music, based around their philosophies and beliefs. “Experience our deeper music this way. If you don’t get it, then too bad – you don’t get Tool and we didn’t want you anyway.”
Only I did. They were my favourite band. But I slowly waned off of them as I got into other heavy music. For the remainder of my high school years, I picked up Dream Theater, Devin Townsend, Kyuss, Savatage, Blind Guardian, Opeth, Carcass, and Kreator. I found those bands to be a breath of fresh air than the “mindset” I needed to be in with Tool. These other bands were just as, if not more complicated technically as Tool, and evoked more feelings rather than trying to have the listener “find the hidden message.” It was nice to find a way out.
In 2006, Tool’s next album, 10,000 Days was released and was not too shabby. It wasn’t anything spectacular in my eyes. It was a nice mix between Ænema and Lateralus (I literally had the muscle memory to remember how to make “Æ.” I’m laughing to myself right now). But it was still something familiar in the “overarching” feel of Tool. “Either you get it or you don’t.”
Somehow between 2006 and 2019, Tool continued to perform arena shows that were completely sold out. They coasted on the strength of their back catalogue as it kept paying the bills. Despite not releasing anything for thirteen years, Tool would continue to tour without new music. On one hand, that’s fantastic to get oneself to that kind of staying power. On the other hand, and me being the jaded Tool fan, I felt they were continuing to milk the rest of their fans. The indoctrinated Tool fan would not dare miss a show because Tool was so much more than a performance.
It should go without saying that this review is heavily biased based on everything I’ve written above. Save for Undertow, I have not listened to a Tool album since 10,000 Days was released. I have not listened to Ænema, Lateralus, and Opiate since I OD’ed on them back in high school. I am most definitely in need for a re-listen, but I feel I should be fully transparent with this review. Why?
I had six people message me their thoughts on the album, some positive and negative. In case you don’t follow me on Instagram, (which you should!), I post about albums I listen to all of the time. While six isn’t a big number, I’ve never had anyone give me as much feedback or begin a in-depth discussion about an album like with Tool’s newest.
Tool hit me like a musical version of Scientology. A religion of music, based around their philosophies and beliefs.
Fans of Tool are at the ready to defend. Non-Tool fans are on the attack. I’m a scorned ex-lover of Tool that still appreciates music and am eager to hear what the band has to offer. It’s getting glowing reviews across the board. But where do I stand?
My Review of Fear Inoculum
Even after thirteen years, Tool’s newest album still carries with it both their fanbase and their sound. Fear Inoculum sonically feels like a continuation from 10,000 Days with a bit more technological play to it. Lots of samples, both in the background and with Danny Carey’s Middle Eastern drum performance, add a lot of intrigue that wasn’t necessarily as focused upon in previous Tool albums.
Unlike previous Tool albums, however, I felt Fear Inoculum had a hard time moving forward. For the first six tracks, everything felt blurred together. Certainly different grooves stood out in different songs – such as the riffing/groove around 8:30 in Invincible and the Schism-sounding grooves around 4:00 in Pneuma. Yet the variety of music felt lacking. When I heard the single/first song on the album, I had hoped the album would change from there. Unfortunately the song seemed to set the pace for the rest of the album.
Although it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing; just after a long wait, I had hoped for more variety in Fear Inoculum like with previous albums. Fortunately the final three songs, Culling Voices, Chocolate Chip Trip (CCT), and 7empest, made up for what I felt the rest of the album faltered on.
Culling Voices was really intriguing, finally letting Maynard shine in an album where I felt he played a significantly diminished role in. It was also a slower paced song compared to the rest of the album. However, that pace wasn’t bogged down by the same sort of poly-rhythmic riffing Tool is known for. The lack of Tool being Tool was a pleasant surprise.
With CCT, I cannot help but compare Tool to Blink 182. Without drummer Travis Barker, Blink 182 would not be nearly as powerful as they are. Danny Carey with Tool is the same. Fear Inoculum’s most exciting moments were because of Carey. CCT lets Carey shine and really smacks home the Tool feel with the absolutely unnerving atmosphere he’s performing alongside with.
When 7empest kicks in, we get to the meat and potatoes of the album: the band is hitting hard and man, it’s a hefty Tool song. I could see why it was put on as the last track. All four band members are firing on all cylinders. Maynard’s getting his attitude, Adam Jones is ripping solos, Justin Chancellor is gluing the band, and Danny Carey’s doing what he does best. High school me is totally digging the song. Unfortunately for me, the final track arrived about 65 minutes too late for me.
As the album concluded though, I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed as I had awaited for something to really pop-out and surprise me. There really weren’t any major headbanging moments that I found myself rocking out to or even just bobbing my head along with. In fact, I found myself sort of trailing in and out of paying attention. If anything, the album would make for good, moody background noise.
My initial feeling was the whole album reminded me of the last three songs off of Lateralus: Disposition, Reflection, and Triad. Rhythmic grooves, lots o’ reverb, and not much else to them. Aside from the three songs I mentioned above, I cannot say that Fear Inoculum is going to be making a top album list for me. While Fear Inoculum had its moments, I have to confess they’re pretty forgettable.
Production-wise, I’m a bit at odds. The album sounds like it’s straight from the early 2000s, while other moments and songs sound like they’re from an audio interface plugin with default samples. It’s strong, yet playful. It’s an interesting dichotomy for a high-level band, and something I’m actually not familiar with (or why) they would have approached recording an album this way. It’s a good kind of strange, though.
While it had some heft in some songs, Fear Inoculum is easily the least-metal Tool album in their catalogue. Is that a problem? Not at all. For me, however, it made for a bit of a lackluster release. It wasn’t a bad album, but it wasn’t a great album either. But will it impress the Tool fan? Absolutely. Because it has to. It’s Tool.
With me, however, I’d give it a solid 6/10.
Well there you have it! If you managed to get through all of this, good on you. I have always felt like sharing my experience and feelings about the band but never really had a relevant time to do so. Thirteen years later, here we are.
So who did I upset? Who agrees? Questions, comments, or concerns? Let’s have ’em! If you’d like, you can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram!