Top 15 Albums of 2015

I have been doing this annually since 2005, but I rarely mention it publically. I usually post these things on Facebook for friends, but I had a few people tell me they wish to see this on my website. So here we go!

15. Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls

Iron Maiden

With the band’s first double album, The Book of Souls explores many progressive concepts that really seem to harken back to 1984’s Powerslave. With three songs over ten minutes, the album expands on Maiden’s already great musicianship shows off their compositions. Save for the single, the rest of the album has a lot more technical prowess to it.

Watch the music video for the single, “Speed of Light”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-F7A24f6gNc

14. Himinbjorg – Wyrd

Himinbjorg

Folk black metal band Himinbjorg have always been rather absent from the music scene. Featuring the somewhat lackluster albums in the past, their newest release, Wyrd, steps up their songwriting and production game to a new level. With a vast array of song styles within the rather moody album, I have to say I was super impressed of the band’s change.

Listen to “The World of Men Without Virture”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUWCtX5K3JM

13. Symphony X – Underworld

Symphony X

Breaking new ground with 2002’s release, The Odyssey, the band now had to live up to certain expectations. With 2007’s Paradise Lost, they really pushed it to the limit. 2011’s Iconoclast fell flat. Now in 2015, Underworld brings them back up – not to previous standards, but pushing different standards and setting a new precedent for themselves. Unlike traditional SX fashion, the first few songs – while impressive – are not nearly as good as the last half of the album. Underworld mixes with new sounds and shows the listener that the old progressive metal band they once were is gone. With Underworld, we hear SX aren’t afraid to try something new and experiment again.

Listen to the opening track “Nevermore”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_z3AHbjeb1U

12. Frank Zappa – Dance Me This

Frank Zappa

Even though he passed away in 1993, he had enough music recorded to be released up until now. Dance Me This, both Zappa’s 100th and final album, features Frank predominately performing with a Synclavier – a digital sampling device – along with Siberian throat singers. While the album is definitely an acquired taste, I can honestly say that even twenty-plus years after his death, Frank is still pushing the musical envelope with this album – making me hear things I’ve never heard before. This rings especially true with the final track, Calculus.

Listen to the opening title track and what is considered Frank’s final guitar solo, “Dance Me This”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VHns_UnyWZQ

11. Amorphis – Under the Red Cloud

Amorphis

Another year and unsurprisingly another Amorphis album makes my list. Can this band do no wrong? They have a formula and they stick to it. However, unlike previous albums, Under the Red Cloud plays around with more musical themes outside of their traditional Finnish roots. Always impressing and improving on their sound, there’s no wonder why this band still dominates in the music world.

Listen to the single, “Sacrifice”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oiOX2axSWvg

10. Venom – From The Very Depths

Venom

Where did this come from? Never did I expect to see new Venom in a top fifteen list of mine, and yet here we are! While credited as one of the originators of the black metal genre, Venom has grown far away from that to the point. Fom the Very Depths sounds like a cross between bands like Testament, Overkill, and Motörhead. Pulse-pounding and relentlessly heavy, this new release breathes fresh air in the band and excites me for their next release.

Listen to the single, “Long Haired Punks”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9KwCOoEI0rM

9. Sigh – Graveward

Sigh

As expected, this Japanese band gives the listener more than they could ever expect. From the far-extreme to the slow-mellow, Sigh have always gone with the strange, purposeful “under produced” sound with incredible quality in their music. Graveward never ceases to impress throughout the entire album.

Be surprised! Listen to the single, “Kaedit Nos Pestis”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iczcILBMlcs

8. Nile – What Should Not Be Unearthed

Nile

This American tech-death band features a return-to-form after the disappointing 2012 release, At the Gate of Sethu. With crushing riffs and pulse-pounding drum beats, Nile’s newest release is perfect for the listener who’s looking to be blown away from the intensity the album provides. As usual, expect lengthy write ups about each song’s meaning in the linear notes.

Listen to the single/opening track, “Call to Destruction”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jSVqclCr4fI

7. Nordic Giants – A Séance of Dark Delusions

Nordic Giants

The debut full-length album from this English duo is nothing short of impressive. Almost as if each song is a soundtrack from a movie, it is difficult to explain what Nordic Giants are. With each song different from the other, featuring keys, trumpets, drums, guitar, operatic vocals – they are a rock band but with unconventional instruments. An absolutely breathtaking album. I’m confident it will impress.

Watch the music video to “Rapture”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K79YFZLXobM

6. Torche – Restarter

Torche

After 2012’s lovely Harmonicraft, Restarter ups the ante and gets heavier, dirtier, and sludgier (new word) with overdriven bass, pounding kicks, and gruff vocals. Still keeping true to their song-writing roots, Torche simply makes the same music they always have, but they made it heavier. While that defaults as a bonus in my books, the band does so naturally without losing who they are. That alone speaks volumes to both the quality of the band and of this album.

Watch the music video to “Annihilation Affair”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWt7V-E9S7U

5. Arcturus – Arcturian

Arcturus

As a band known for helping change the sound of black metal, some would say their newest, Arcturian, is far from it. And you know, it certainly doesn’t sound like it would be considered black metal – yet it still is. Always different and never boring, Arcturian is the band’s first album in ten years and still sounds as if they never stopped being themselves along the way.

Listen to the first track/single, “The Arcturian Sign”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2uWIg5hI7hE

4. My Dying Bride – Feel the Misery

My Dying Bride

As expected with a band name like this, My Dying Bride pushes your chest in and holds you there as you experience the sheer brutal sorrow of this album. From the gothic, poetic lyrics and dark sounds, Feel the Misery absorbs you into it and refuses to let go. Hands-down, one of the band’s – if not the band’s – best release.

Watch the video of the title track, “Feel the Misery”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4e_c3XAPoUI

3. Ozric Tentacles – Technicians of the Sacred

Ozric Tentacles

Another first double album for a band in this list, the instrumental band Ozric Tentacles, release their fifteenth album in spectacular fashion. As a band that always seems to do something stranger than the last, Technicians of the Sacred still manages to pull some punches with the hefty variety of music it brings. Spoiler alert: I’m a big Ozric fan. I can say that this is their best album since 1993’s Jurassic Shift.

Listen to the full album: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cmg7wXhy41I

2. Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase.

Steven Wilson

What Steven Wilson does for music is like what the sun does to plants for Earth. His newest release, Hand. Cannot. Erase., is bold, touching, emotional, driven, brilliant, moody, intense, beautiful, and oh-so much more. Blending both pop music and progressive rock, the album still features a concept, unlike most pop albums: and the concept of the album is remarkable, if not a bit depressing. Guest vocalist, Ninet Tayeb, provides a balanced contrast and freshness to both the album and Wilson’s production.

Watch the gorgeous music video to “Perfect Life”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOU_zWdhAoE

Watch the heart-breaking music video for “Routine”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sCn-CNanD_g

1. Riverside – Love, Fear, and the Time Machine

Riverside

After the release of 2005’s Second Life Syndrome, the Polish band, Riverside (much like Symphony X), seemed to lose themselves in a couple of stale albums. Love, Fear, and the Time Machine changes everything and puts the band up on a pedestal that surpasses everything they’ve done.

Never slowing down, but hardly ever breaking the precedent set by the first track, Riverside finds their stride with the opening notes and continues through to the end. LF&tTM keeps a constant sublime and melancholic feeling throughout the album – right up until the final note is played. The album is calming, yet still intricate enough to satisfy the listener with the layers of beauty within each song.

Often upbeat, despite the rather relaxed mix and mastering of the album, LF&tTM features a variety of tunes that all share familiarity to each other while still being completely different in structure and theme.

For these reasons, and because it’s my most listened to album this year, does Riverside take the top spot on my list.

Watch the music video to “Found (The Unexpected Flaw of Searching)” – which pretty much captures the feeling of the album: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nN0uSZ8xNcs

Listen to the single, “Discard Your Fear”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vc4MSBVLF2c

Honourable Mentions:

Lonely Robot – Please Come Home

Kamelot – Haven

Moonspell – Extinct

George Kollias – Invictus

Paradise Lost – The Plague Within

Faith No More – Sol Invictus

Kylsea – Exhausting Fire

Spectral Lore – Gnosis

Most Disappointed:

Blind Guardian – Beyond the Red Mirror

Annihilator – Suicide Society

Royal Hunt – Devil’s Dozen

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

Comic Book Video Games: A Brief Run Through

I’ve been playing a LOT of The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction for my Xbox 360 as of late. Yes, it’s the game based off of the Edward Norton movie, however, it’s actually pretty good.

To elaborate on what the game is like, imagine you’re playing Grand Theft Auto 3, but you’re the Hulk.

Incredible Hulk: Ulimate Destruction

I’m not kidding! (And take THAT, Bi-Beast!) The Hulk game features the actual landscape of Manhattan – landmarks and all – for you to destroy. It’s a vast improvement on other superhero video games, and I’m always drawn back to it because it’s open-ended, mindless destruction, yet constant fun. It’s sort of mind-boggling how well the game is crafted despite it being based off of a movie, as usually movie-based games are garbage. It’s far-superior to Eric Bana’s movie-based game, simply called Hulk, and of course, it is much more dimensional than the original Sega Genesis game. And no, not just more “third-dimensional.”

But I do believe that Batman: Arkham Asylum is the best superhero video game ever created. (Awaits the Billy Madison references). It captures everything which is Batman in a brilliant and exciting game. There’s no doubt about it, Arkham Asylum nails the board on the head when it comes to make a great game. Although it does not have much replayability, it triumphs in excellent gamepaly. It did such a great job in fact, that Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions was trying to imitate the scope of the game.

Now that I have myself thinking. . .

Spider-Man Game Boy

Let’s go back to when these games really started to rise. I obviously cannot talk about EVERY game, but I’ll try to hit the main ones on the head. Most importantly, ones I’ve played.

The earliest superhero game I can recall playing was The Amazing Spider-Man on my Gameboy, back in the 90’s. Look at those sweet graphics. You can almost tell it’s Spider-Man from them! All I can remember was always being out of web-fluid. Man, being Spider-Man IS hard. With no power came tons of responsibility to beat this game.

Silver Surfer Nintendo

But the game was not as hard as the Silver Surfer. This game would have me screaming at the television, while throwing my Nintendo controller away, freezing my console and possibly wrecking a vase or three. I’m sure you’ve all heard by now the notoriously difficult struggle this game was to everybody who played it. If you made it past the first stage on any level, you’ve gone further than I have. I mean, look at Mephisto’s face there. He’s scary as heck, and he wants me to get through his level without touching anything? You ask the impossible, sir.

X-Men Spider-Man Arcade's Revenge

Does anyone else remember The Tick? He was fun! He was a breath of fresh air after the mind-numbing game play of Silver Surfer. In fact, him and Spider-Man/X-Men: Arcade’s Revenge were a blast! A large variety of characters to chose from: Spider-Man, Cyclops, Storm, Gambit, and Wolverine – each with their own levels. Oddly, Cyclops had his X-Factor costume in-game, but I’d just be looking like a real nerd if I’m reaching for continuity in a Nintendo game. I still remember seeing the commercials for this game back on my VHS copy of the X-Men pilot episode “Pryde of the X-Men.”

That’s right. I own it – Australian Wolverine and all.

Incredible Hulk Sega Genesis

Lucky for me, after X-Men another great game came out: The Incredible Hulk for the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. I remember paying $50 back in the day for this game at a local independent video game retailer. Yeah! Those existed too! You started off as Bruce Banner and had to get beaten up to turn into the Hulk. And man, it was a blast! Villains like Rhino, Abomination and Tyrannus were such thrills to fight – but challenges too. I always had a hard time beating Tyrannus – who was the second-last boss, next to the Leader.

Spider-Man Maximum Carnage

Since Marvel was kicking so much butt in the video game business, why not release something else crazy? Spider-Man & Venom: Maximum Carnage was probably one of the most exciting video games to be released in that day. With a large roster of villains, an over-abundance of cameos, plus playing as Venom – this game was a child’s dream! Cloak and Dagger! Hooray! Too bad that the game was SO FRIGGEN’ HARD! I was always to happy to play it, but once you get into that second stage, climbing the building, it was all over. I hate you, Shriek!

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2

Fortunately at this time, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Arcade fell into my lap. Suddenly everything became brighter. I don’t think I need to say much about this game. It was, and still is the best TMNT game in existence. It surpassed the first game immensely, while made us laugh at how repetitive the third game was. This is what defined side-scrollers to me at such a young age. This game was, and still is, relentless fun. Unfortunately, the fun of side-scrollers were about to fall into the gutters again, when I played X-Men for the Sega Genesis. I just couldn’t win, could I? Faulty game play, plus ridiculously difficult levels made for a frustrating series of questions like, “Why did they make this game?” or “Why did we rent this again?” Ah, as kids, we didn’t know what we were doing.

X-Men 2 Clone Wars

Well X-Men learned from its mistake, as X-Men 2: The Clone Wars came out with not only a great game, but had such an effective first-level song that I still play on it my bass guitar every-so-often. I can still remember teleporting with Nightcrawler becoming tremendously more fluid than that of its parent game while the controls also smartened up. Beast was fun to play as, while Psylocke also made a great player. No one ever plays as Psylocke. I did! She rules. Result!

Batman and Robin Sega Genesis

Speaking of results, The Adventures of Batman & Robin was another great game. Based from the animated series, this DC game triumphed where Batman Returns failed, and Batman Forever was going to fail. Not to mention, it just looked really sharp and clean in comparison to Batman Returns.

With the release of the PlayStation, the world was lucky to retrieve my favourite Spider-Man game to-date, aptly called, Spider-Man. With the original voice actors from the ’90s cartoon series for Spider-Man, Doc Ock, and Black Cat, this game was a sure-fire hit for me. Bonus marks were awarded to this game with incredible alternate costume selections, including Captain Universe, plus a great alternative gameplay: What If? mode. I can remember countless hours of my life going into this game as it was probably one of my favourite releases for the PSX. The game was released on the Nintendo 64, however the What If? mode was removed for it. Lamesauce. The sequel wasn’t too bad either. Y’know, Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro?

Spider-Man PlayStation

Speaking of lame, remember Superman for Nintendo 64? It was probably one of the worst games I’ve ever played. Nothing says “Superman” like literally flying through hoops for points. Aquaman GameCube Not to mention, the graphics were beyond sub-par for a game of its caliber. There was really no excuse for this mess. And to continue this mess from DC, none were as atrocious as Aquaman: Battle for Atlantis for the Nintendo Gamecube. What’s that? You didn’t hear of it? Neither did the rest of the world. Lucky them.

Much like the first X-Men game which improved with a sequel was the X-Men Legends series with X-Men Legends 2: Rise of Apocalypse. The first game was a bit of a flop with graphical issues and camera angles ultimately ruining the gameplay, but the sequel was mind-blowing fun. X-Men Legends 2: Rise of ApocalypseOnline multiplayer, mixed with a great roster of characters, Marvel and Activision went all-out with an incredible game and tons of nerdy tidbits for X-Men fans from all over.

Shortly after Legends 2 release, The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction cames out, and still, I’m having a blast rampaging throughout Manhattan. Whatta rush!

But no! Another Marvel mutiplayer-based game comes out, and pummels away with another great sequel: Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 1 and 2. The first game featured a unique storyline about Dr. Doom taking over the world, and also features over 140 Marvel characters throughout the entire game. A well-paced, well-rendered game with monumental cut scenes left my jaw dropped to the floor. Its sequel featured stories from Marvel’s Secret War and Civil War storylines and added in quite a hefty amount of Marvel’s B-listers, showcasing how vast the Marvel Universe is. Although the story was not nearly as exciting as the first game, action and excitement lurked every corner. Not to mention the game made me feel terrible after I beat up Patriot for the first time. The second time – not so much.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2

Following Marvel’s run of great games, DC fought back hard and rocked the boat with Lego Batman: The Videogame. If anyone has played any of the Lego-based games thus far, you know how much fun they are. Simply put, the Lego games bring out the child in all of us, while Lego Batman brought out the fanboy. Mixed characters from all over the Batman universe appeared and made for excellent gameplay.

Batman Arkham Asylum

And with DC’s Batman, up next could only be the greatest superhero game in existence: Batman: Arkham Asylum. ‘Nuff said.

With Batman: Arkham City coming out shortly, plus Marvel’s new games, Thor, X-Men Destiny and Spider-Man: Edge of Time coming out, we’ll be riddled with plenty more superhero games and more memories to be made. P.S. Edge of Time is written by X-Factor’s Peter David. I’m really excited for that!

And don’t worry that I hadn’t mentioned EVERY single game out there. I’m purposely forgetting games like X-Men: Mutant Academy, Marvel: Rise of the Imperfects, Marvel vs. Capcom series (as it’s not 100% comic hero), Marvel vs. Street Fighter, Spider-Man: The Movie, Fantastic Four, X-Men Origins, X-Men: Arcade (“Welcome to die!”), Astro Boy, Iron Man: The Movie, plus various X-Men and Spider-Man Game Gear games, etc., solely because they’re forgettable.

Since I can, I suppose my top-five favourite superhero games are as followed:

1. Batman: Arkham Asylum
2. Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction
3. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2
4. Spider-Man (PSX)
5. X-Men Legends 2: Rise of Apocalypse

What are yours? Did I miss anything really crucial that I should have covered? Am I entirely wrong with some of my discussions? Do I just really suck at The Silver Surfer? Fire some messages below!

Until next time, keep on Space Truckin’.

Oh. And The Fantastic Four. PC. 1985. Don’t you forget it.

Fantastic Four PC