New Album Release: Under the Sleeping Willow

My debut LP, Under the Sleeping Willow is out November 25th, 2022!

Filled with progressive rock goodness, you will be able to find my album on Bandcamp, Spotify, and other streaming services.

Bandcamp: https://optionalplayer.bandcamp.com/
Facebook: http://facebook.com/optionalprog/

Official music video:

My Top Albums of 2021

And starting off at number fifteen. . .

15. Pan-Amerikan Native Front – Little Turtle’s War (United States – Independent)

Black metal with a dash of awe. Pan-Amerikan Native Front’s second full-length is intense with power and rage. It’s lo-fi production adds to the chaos. My favourite track, The Great White Beaver Lurks, is an awesome mid-paced song among the disruption.

https://pan-amerikannativefront.bandcamp.com/album/little-turtles-war

14. Friisk – ..un torügg bleev blot Sand (Germany – Vendetta)

Unlike Pan-Amerikan, Friisk bestows intense moods and atmosphere with their debut album. Similar at times to one of my favourite Icelandic black metal bands, Auðn, Friisk brilliantly showcases some blistering speed alongside their dramatic performances.

https://friisk.bandcamp.com/album/un-tor-gg-bleev-blot-sand

13. Fluisteraars – Gegrepen Door de Geest der Zielsontluiking (Netherlands – Eisenwald)

It’s rare to see 20+ minute black metal songs, yet Fluisteraars pieces one together and it goes by in an instant. Almost avant-garde at times, Fluisteraars’s fourth album is ambitious and rich with nuance – all-the-while still showcasing moments of insanity.

https://fluisteraars.bandcamp.com/

12. Drawn and Quartered – Congregation Pestilence (United States – Krucyator Productions)

A group of death metal veterans, Drawn and Quartered’s newest release features the band’s technical ability to write strong, creative music. With a solid old-school death metal sound, Congregation Pestilence is rich with pacing and riffs to make your ears bleed. Without going into the typical verse/chorus structure, D&Q’s music is filled with brilliance.

https://krucyator.bandcamp.com/album/congregation-pestilence

11. WODE – Burn In Many Mirrors (United Kingdom – 20 Buck Spin)

A mix of blackened/death thrash metal makes WODE’s third album an extreme journey to experience. Unrelenting and surprisingly melodic, the album comes with a great energy to it. With unexpectedly catchy riffs and crisp production, WODE’s ever-changing style serves them well.

https://listen.20buckspin.com/album/burn-in-many-mirrors

10. Cannibal Corpse – Violence Unimagined (United States – Metal Blade)

Another group of veterans in the death metal world, Cannibal Corpse’s newest may be one of their best since Kill (although I prefer Torture). While still keeping up the same sound listeners have become accustomed to, newcomer Erik Rutan added some awesome power I’m sure no one felt the band was lacking.

https://cannibalcorpse.bandcamp.com/album/violence-unimagined

9. Ŭkcheănsălâwit – Alaskan Escape EP (Canada – Les Productions Hérétiques)

My favourite EP of the year! This speedily album feels bleak and cold – which is exactly what it was going for. To showcase a song: To an Alaskan Glacier, while minimal in instruments, is huge in drama making for an incredible feat to achieve. I would surely buy a full LP of this music whenever one is made.

https://ukcheansalawit.bandcamp.com/album/alaskan-escape

8. Olhava – Frozen Bloom (Russia – Avantgarde Music)

While Fluisteraars had a single 20-minute song, Olhava has one, plus a few more over the 10-minute mark. The Russian duo pieces beautifully intense music with a raging atmosphere and subtle soundscapes. While two of the four songs are really black metal, Olhava brings in drone and ambient elements which perfectly encapsulates the ebb and flow of the natural concept they were aiming for in Frozen Bloom.

https://avantgardemusic.bandcamp.com/album/frozen-bloom

7. Outre-Tombe – Abysse Mortifère (Canada – Temple of Mystery Records)

This band just keeps impressing. Outre-Tombe’s now three for three on making my annual lists and for good reason – their music is really flipping awesome. Moments of Abysse Mortifère remind me of early-Voivod, while others standout as early-Morbid Angel. A ripping good time, Abysse Mortifère knocks it out of the park.

https://templeofmystery.bandcamp.com/album/abysse-mortifere

6. Cynic – Ascension Codes (United States –Season of Mist)

After two thirds of the band passed away in 2020, how could Cynic continue? Paul Masvidal carries on Sean Reinert’s and Sean Malone’s legacy with Ascension Codes – a strange, yet familiar feeling. While the album feels bogged down by short interludes between songs, the music is an emotional progressive journey: absolutely brilliant and constantly transcending.

https://cyniconline.bandcamp.com/album/ascension-codes

5. Liquid Tension Experiment – Liquid Tension Experiment 3 (United States – InsideOut)

Their first release since LTE2 in 1999, LTE3 brings back the brilliance of Dream Theater members John Petrucci, Jordan Rudess, and Mike Portnoy, along with legendary bassist Tony Levin, to produce one of the most surprising albums for me this year. All-instrumental, LTE3 is not so much a jam session like previous albums, but a well-executed romp into prog rock and metal.

https://open.spotify.com/album/6GDFV4kWsQDYuah6tSqmu2

4. Grima – Rotten Garden (Russia – Naturmacht Productions)

My favourite atmospheric black metal album of the year, Grima’s Rotten Garden was also the first album I picked up when it was released in January. It has been regularly spun since. It’s haunting beauty comes together with nature and grandiose scope. With the odd keyboard frill and additional accordion in certain songs, Rotten Garden is absolutely a fresh listen to every spin.

https://grima.bandcamp.com/album/rotten-garden

3. Koldovstvo – Ни царя, ни бога (??? – Extraconscious Records)

Not much is known about the band and their debut album: A Russian band name. Roman Numeral song titles. Signed to an American label. Is it one person or a group? What Ни царя, ни бога is though, is an experience. Was the album recorded in another room? The production is both astonishing and very entrancing. It’s albums like this one which I live for. Tracks I and IV are absolute standouts.

https://koldovstvo.bandcamp.com/album/-

2. Ferriterium – Calvaire (France – Epictural Production)

Also released in January, I unfortunately wasn’t able to grab a physical copy as it sold out. And it sold out fast for good reason too: it’s incredible. Immediately fast and dramatic, Calvaire is doused in both strength and agony. A rich and fast-paced album, it’s still a melodic black metal journey filled with so much emotion and heartbreak, you find yourself picking up pieces when all is said and done.

https://ferriterium.bandcamp.com/album/calvaire

1. Mannveira – Vitahríngur (Iceland – Dark Descent Records)

There’s a handful of albums that happen to be there when you need them the most. Mannveira’s debut album Vitahríngur just happened to be that album for me this year.

Doused in sludge and dreariness, Vitahríngur time-and-time again happened to be my go-to when I needed it the most. It’s raw, rather simplistic approach to music writing can keep the listener engrossed to the music and feel what they need to feel.

Rarely going into blast beats or fast speeds, the album keeps a mostly mid-paced tempo to it – its dark nature sucking you in with each kick of the bass drum. The muddied vocals give grief, anger, and sorrow, keeping with the overall tone of the album. The song, Í köldum faðmi is a perfect example of all of that.

While the title track offers a bit of optimism, the album constantly keeps you down, throwing the listener back into the cacophonous well.

While straying a slight bit from the overall sound of Icelandic black metal, Vitahríngur still defines its own sound with a nihilistic approach and gloomy dissonance.

https://darkdescentrecords.bandcamp.com/album/vitahr-ngur

Honourable Mentions:

Ungfell – Es grauet

Anneke van Giersbergen – The Darkest Skies are the Brightest

Cerebral Rot – Excretion of Mortality

Dordeduh – Har

Hulder – Godslastering: Hymns of a Forlorn Peasantry

The Crown – Royal Destroyer

Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee

Proscriptor McGovern’s Apsû – Proscriptor McGovern’s Apsû

Havukruunu – Kuu Erkylän Yllä EP

Most Disappointed:

Steven Wilson – The Future Bites

Darkthrone – Eternal Hails

Bent Knee – Frosting

Optional – Vehemence EP

My debut EP, Vehemence, is now available on all of these fine platforms!

Spotify

Bandcamp

iTunes

Apple Music

Amazon

An audible experience is what I wanted to do with Vehemence. With varied approaches, the songs are hopefully able to really encapsulate the listener with the mood and atmosphere. The song titles, especially with the final track, Exhaustion, I hope, personifies what I was trying to accomplish.

The goal is to ultimately have you throw on your headphones and enjoy the 35-minute excursion.

From Bandcamp:

“With looming shutdowns in February 2020 due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the final few recordings for Optional’s debut LP could not be completed. Shuttered inside, Vehemence was born.

Named after the desire to produce more music, Vehemence is a teaser of things to come: ideas which could not be fully realized in the upcoming LP.

Put some headphones on, increase the bass, sit back and relax. You’re going on a journey.”

Top 20 Albums of the Decade (2010-2019)

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 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. Cutting 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 recognized entirely!

Starting off at number twenty. . .

20. Ozric Tentacles – Technicians of the Sacred (2015 – #3)
Fav. song: Changa Masala

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.

19. Gridlink – Longhena (2014 – #5)
Fav. song: Island Sun

It’s still something I like to call “beautiful grindcore” – there’s something very angelic to Gridlink’s Longhena. Intense as it may be, there’s a sense of beauty and poetry behind all of the chaos.

18. Riverside – Love, Fear, and the Time Machine (2015 – #1)
Fav. song: Lost (Why Should I Be Frightened By a Hat?)

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.

17. Spaceslug – Eye the Tide (2018 – #4)
Fav. song: Spaced by One

This is one heck of a dirty album. Sludge/doom/stoner – whatever the genre you wish to call it, Spaceslug’s Eye the Tide delivers. A couple of years later, I still have a bit of the spaceslug in me.

16. Barenaked Ladies – Fake Nudes (2017 – DNR)
Fav. song: The Township of King

Not everything needs to be metal, y’know. The first album on this list which 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.

15. Bell Witch – Mirror Reaper (2017 – #5)
Fav. song: Mirror Reaper

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.

14. Cannibal Corpse – Torture (2012 – DNR)
Fav. song: Scourge of Iron

One of a few albums that originally had not ranked 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.

13. Khôrada – Salt (2018 – #2)
Fav. song: Seasons Of Salt

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.

12. Marillion – Fuck Everyone and Run (FEAR) (2016 – #10)
Fav. song: Living in F E A R

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. It’s a wonderful album.

11. Ulver – The Assassination of Julius Caesar (2017 – #2)
Fav. song: So Falls the World

The production on this album won me over, as did the enchanting journey it provided. It’s a producers delight and brilliant fun with headphones on.

10. Aborted – Retrogore (2016 – #7)
Fav. song: Retrogore

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.

9. YOB – Our Raw Heart (2018 – #1)
Fav. song: Beauty in Falling Leaves

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.

8. Gorguts – Pleiades’ Dust (2016 – #3)
Fav. song: Pleiades’ Dust

A modern-day epic, 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.

7. Vektor – Terminal Redux (2016 – #1)
Fav. song: Recharging the Void

Bringing 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.

6. Devin Townsend – Empath (2019 – #1)
Fav. song: Singularity

The only album from 2019 on my list, Empath ranks so high because it certainly deserves it. Much like Khôrada’s Salt, Empath brings something new to the table. For that, it must be recognized.

5. Triptykon – Melana Chasmata (2014 – #1)
Fav. song: Tree of Suffocating Souls

Where would I be without Triptykon? Some of the most extreme and honest music on the list; this album sings right from the depth of the soul. Melana Chasmata something I spin regularly.

4. Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase. (2015 – #2)
Fav. song: Happy Returns

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.

3. Agalloch – Marrow of the Spirit (2010 – DNR)
Fav. song: Black Lake Nidstang

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.

2. Anathema – Weather Systems (2012 – #1)
Fav. song: Untouchable, Part 1 & 2

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.

1. Triptykon – Eparistera Daimones (2010 – DNR)
Fav. song: The Prolonging

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!

Until next time, keep on Space Truckin’!

Top Albums of 2019

And starting off at number fifteen. . .

15. This Winter Machine – A Tower of Clocks

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?”:

Honourable Mentions:

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

Most Disappointed:

Tool – Fear Inoculum

Flying Colors – Third Degree

Amon Amarth – Beserker

Blind Guardian – Legacy of the Dark Lands

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Honest Review: Thoughts on Tool and Review of Fear Inoculum

It’s 2019 and the unthinkable happened: after thirteen years, Tool released a new album.

Much like Guns N’ Roses with Chinese Democracy, Tool’s newest album, Fear Inoculum, was long-awaited and followed with a very excitable release – Tool’s catalogue was finally on streaming sites like Spotify and Apple Music, the special edition was going to be something different, and now there’s hype that Tool will out-perform Taylor Swift’s new album, Lover. Like, holy moly. It’s Tool, folks. This is supposed to be exiting, right?

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.

But where does Fear Inoculum fit in?

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.

After Tool came Opeth’s beast of an album, Blackwater Park

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.

Pre-Review Preamble

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 made an Instagram video featuring me listening to the album for the first time. It was four short videos, short and sweet.

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?

Let’s go:

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.

Conclusion

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!

Until next time, keep on Space Truckin’!