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This is a new thingy that will tell you the last few songs I was listening to on my computer. Let's hear it for progress, eh?
Table Of Contents
MIDI Compositions From Hell
The most recent background MIDI here is kind of a sequel to Edge Of The World - so naturally, I call it Beyond The Edge Of The World. It's a quickie I did with Musinum.
Below are additional MIDIs that I've composed using fractal generators. These have served as background music for Papercut Suicide in the past. (Then I learned background MIDIs typically drive web-surfers bonkers. Sorry!!!) It's tricky to anticipate how any of these will sound, since the voices can vary depending on what player you're using to play them back.
1) Organic Soup - This is one I completely forgot about - it graced the Papercut Suicide main page for quite a while, and then I must have deleted it and replaced it with something else. I found the original Musinum file I had created it from, and it reminded me it existed. Some of the melodic progressions are very nice - the interaction between the different voices also produces interesting results.
2) Declaration Of Futility - This one graced the Papercut Suicide main page, and it's kind of depressing. I like the way it came out, though. Another Musinum one. (I like using Musinum if you haven't noticed.)
3) The Edge Of The World - This was done using Musinum, and was an earlier background music from this page. It drags a bit in a few spots, but it also has its moments, and it's brief [only about three minutes long].
4) Beyond The Edge Of The World - A continuation/sequel of The Edge Of The World above. It's a quickie I did with Musinum.
5) Formaldehyde - A very tumultuous musical composition, done using Musinum. (Warning, if you use that MIDI plug-in for RealAudio, there are a couple spots where the sweeping instruments leak. I need to fix that.)
6) Escalator - Originally the MIDI from the main index page - it was done using A Musical Generator.
7) The Ballad Of Violet - Also done with Musinum. A little repetitive, but very relaxing.
8) Tread - Another MIDI that I used to use on the main index page way back when. Kind of a strange one, driven by a very heavy bass. Done using F-Music.
9) Antarctica Triad - This one was on the main page for a while, and it's one of my most elaborate ones to date. It has three different parts. I can't remember the names of each part - I have to hunt down the Musinum file I used to generate this, which doesn't have a easily identifiable filename, of course.
10) Cranberry Sun - This MIDI had been on the Links page here for the longest time. It has a mellow, Latino flavor to it. I used Musinum to create it.
Review : Dream Theater / Train Of Thought
The new Dream Theater album Train Of Thought is a very strong followup to Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence [6DOIT]. The first thing you notice right off the bat is it's a great deal heavier than most of their previous material. Also, the usual "Dream Theater cuss rule" seems to have been thrown out the window for this album. (Normally you'd get maybe one cuss out of them every other album, and I think Honor Thy Father by itself has more cusses than all the other Dream Theater albums put together.
You can definitely tell Dream Theater is influenced by other thrash and progressive metal bands out there every bit as much as they influence them. It doesn't seem to be any one band in particular, though. Listening through the album, you'll hear faint traces of Iron Maiden, Megadeth, Symphony X, Spock's Beard, Tool, Queensryche, etc. This is particularly felt in the vocals. Labrie seems to be experimenting more on this album, utilizing some vocal styles that he hasn't used in the past. (There's one particular spot on This Dying Soul where you swear he's channeling Dave Mustaine.)
If the album has a flaw, it may be the lyrics, somewhat. The lyrical duties are divided between John Petrucci and Mike Portnoy [with James Labrie writing only a brief transitional piece]. The lyrics are very straightforward and catchy, but in a non-visual sort of way. There really isn't any of the intense description that you saw some of the earlier DT tracks [particularly those ex-keyboardist Kevin Moore wrote]. They seem more introspective and conceptual.
Let me go over it track by track :
1) As I Am - It begins how 6DOIT ended [with ambience], but they quickly establish a darker/heavier mood. It's a strong opener, and if it weren't for the seven minute length, it might have been good for some radio airplay. (Although some of the 'nu'-rockers might find a true guitar solo to be an alien concept.)
2) This Dying Soul - The first thing that struck me as odd was the numbering of the subparts - they call one part IV, and the next part V. Initially, I thought it was some obscure reference to the 'Third And Last Dance' from Scenes From A Memory, since it begins with a person talking to himself in the mirror. (It seemed like a parallel to how SFAM begins.) Although, I guess the numbering is a continuation of The Glass Prison, which was divided into three parts. For the most part, they try and keep it a separate entity from TGP - save for a few sonic markers and some modified variations of the lyrics from the original. Labrie is in full experiment mode on this particular track, using just about every vocal style under the sun. The only flaw may be the ending - it ends a little abruptly, after a long instrumental sequence featuring some great interplay between Jordan Rudess [keys] and John Petrucci [guitar].
3) Endless Sacrifice - It starts off very mellow, but the pace picks up during the choruses, which are admittedly very catchy. This is another one that could easily get some radio airplay if it weren't for the twelve minute song length.
4) Honor Thy Father - The best song on the album, hands down. It's a very punchy track, pushed a long by a bizarre drum/bass rhythm. It mellows out slightly during the bridges, only to lead into a very intense chorus. (The chorus has a bit of an early Flotsam+Jetsam vibe to it. F+J always were thrashy, but they had a certain distinctive 'groove'.) The instrumental sequence is also very intense. (Rudess pulls out some very bottom-end keyboard voices which really give things a bizarro twist.) The best comparison to earlier Dream Theater would be The Mirror from Awake. This one of the few tracks that seems to have a storyline to it. It's about a father who raises a child who is not his own. (I take it's some case where the child is illegimate, but still can't figure out exactly what is going on.)
5) Vacant - A brief mellow track that James Labrie wrote the lyrics for. Overall, it's good for a transition, especially after the intensity of Honor Thy Father. It would have failed had they made it another 12 minute song, but at three minutes it's just the right size. (The kicker is it's the ONE song that's brief enough to get radio play, but it would completely misrepresent the rest of the album if it did.) Some old-school classical piano and inclusion of a real celloist help establish a nice mood.
6) Stream Of Consciousness - A nice [and long] instrumental, in a Liquid Tension Experiment sort of way. While I think it's dwarved by Dance Of Eternity, it's sure as heck not bad.
7) In The Name Of God - This track sounds beautiful, both in terms of musicianship and singing. Labrie really does a great job with the vocals on this song. (It sounds like he's channeling Geoff Tate from Queensryche a bit here, and the chorus reminds me of one of the songs from Operation Mindcrime somewhat.) I didn't really like this track despite this, though - the lyrics are kind of bland, IMHO. They're the sort of lyrics that could probably hold up a song if it were four minutes long, but they just don't cut it for a fourteen minute track. Much like Misunderstood from 6DOIT, they probably could have stood to cut it down in length a little bit.
Review : Spock's Beard / Feel Euphoria
I'll be honest - I was not expecting much from this album. Feel Euphoria came out as soon after Snow as it did because the Neil Morse, the vocalist/lyricist/keyboardist/guitarist had left the band shortly after Snow was completed. Drummer Nick D'Virgilio stepped up to the plate and did the lead vocals for FE. Overall, he did a fantastic job - in some ways, he probably has a better voice than Morse did. Morse had a certain quirky magnetism to his singing, but on paper he only had a so-so voice. I'll go over each track one by one. The lyrical duties were split amongst the various band members with some help from a few outside parties the band was on good terms with :
1) Onomatopoeia - A very fast-paced opener with a no-thrills hard rock edge to it. While they sounded like they were having the time of their life singing this multi-syllable word, this song didn't do much for me. (Addendum : 10/4/03 - Actually, this song does have some nice sections in the middle. It's the beginning that really didn't grab my attention.)
2) The Bottom Line - I really liked this one. It sounds like they were singing about a struggling relationship which is on the verge of falling apart. The song starts off kind of mellow, and that reaches this incredible climax with these incredible multi-layered vocal harmonies, ending on the mellow note which it began. One of the stronger songs on the album, definitely..
3) Feel Euphoria - A very quirky track. Lots of peculiar synth-generated noises over the course of it.. Musically, it reminds me a little bit of Big Head Todd + The Monsters, with that bluesy hard rock sort of vibe. A very fast paced chorus, so fast that they sound as though they are on the verge of losing control at any second, but they manage to hold everything together, more or less.
4) Shining Star - <yawn> If N-Sync lasts until they're in their thirties or forties, chances are they'll sound like this track. It's a very listenable track, but it didn't do anything for me. (Addendum : 10/4/03 - In all fairness, this is a nice track - it's just more straightforward than Spock's Beard is historically known for. This is the sort of track that would get them some airplay on an easy listening rock station, if they were on the right label.)
5) East Of Eden, West Of Memphis - This song starts off as a straight rocker, with a bit of a folksy hard rock vibe. A tale of somebody who just gets up and walks away. (They hint in the middle of the track it may have been because of some domestic dispute that the person in question just didn't want to deal with..) They kind of leave the story underdeveloped - it seems like the story is there to help move the music along, as opposed to vice-versa. While this may be the case, this still one of the more lyrically strong songs on the album. The song ending is a little peculiar - normally, where you'd have a guitar solo, they introduce a really ethereal synth melody that drives the song along. At the end, rather than going into the chorus one last time, they experiment with taking the already recorded chorus and running it through some sort of backwards flanger effect. This was admittedly a very odd way to end the song, and it takes a few listens to get used to it. But you admittedly do remember this ending, and in hindsight, it does seem to fit the nature of the music, with the guy wandering away from civillization to a place somewhere between 'real' and 'fantasy'. (It reminds me a little bit of that short story Stephen King wrote called Ophelia Todd's Shortcut. Well, the name is something like that. It's about some lady who tries to find a shortcut to some nearby city in Maine, and in doing so, ends up in places that just don't exist on any known roadmaps.)
6) Ghosts Of Autumn - Definitely the best song on the album.. Everything just comes together beautifully here.. D'Virgilio seems very tuned in to this song in particular, and delivers one of the best vocal performances on the entire album. Musically, it starts off almost like a piano ballad, with this atmospherically heart-wrenching piano melody drenched in reverb. Gradually, they begin to introduce a more classic rock element into the mix. Lyrically, this song is absolutely beautiful. It was written by bassist Dave Meros and John Boegehold, an acquantaince of the band. They should really make use of this combination on future albums. There's no doubt about it - they have a strong lyrical chemistry.
7) A Guy Named Sid - A long song on the album, broken into shorter tracks. There's a bit of a storyline moving the song along, but they do it fast and loose - it seems to be there to accomodate the music more than anything. I have heard some criticize this one as being a retread of similar things Spock's Beard have done in the past. To a degree it is, and I think even they're aware of this. (They had named one of the tracks "Same Old Story".) What saves it from being a complete retread though is the fact that no matter how hard they may try, without Neil Morse in the driver's seat, they're not going to be able to tell any of the previous "storyline epics" in the same way that he would have. Nick's voice also adds a certain amount of freshness to the track - he doesn't handle the vocal duties in the same way Neil Morse would have. If this track does have a flaw, I think it's the song ending. They felt the need to do the "Spock's Beard Classic Epic Ending(TM)", whereas they probably should have tried going another less-taken route.
8) Carry On - This is a nice finisher for the album. It's a mellow, upbeat light rock tune. They probably could have stood to expand this one a little bit, cutting back on the ending of A Guy Named Sid.
"Bonus Tracks" - I'll review the two bonus tracks as well. "Moth Of Many Flames" was a quickie acoustic piece they threw together. It didn't do anything for me. I really did like the second bonus track, though. "From The Messenger" is this peculiar ambient/synth piece that Ryo the keyboardist likely came up with. It's a nice novelty, but it doesn't sound like a Spock's Beard sort of track at all. (Probably why they felt the need to designate it a bonus track..)
Review : Andromeda / II=I
The latest release from Sweden's Andromeda, II=I is a strong followup to Extension Of The Wish. I don't think they've reached legendary status just yet, but this album has its share of memorable lyrics and melodies.
Andromeda are a progressive metal band - whereas Dream Theater have always straddled the line between metal and art rock, Andromeda makes it clear that they want don't to sacrifice the heaviness in being progressive. Most of the tracks tend to be on the heavier side, with some mellow interludes here and there.. ("Castaway" is the one exception - it tends to be more on the mellow side.)
EOTW session vocalist Lawrence Mackrory is replaced with full-time vocalist David Fremberg. Fremberg is an above-average singer, IMHO - but he's a very versatile above-average singer, having in him the ability to be above-average at many diverse singing styles. His voice sounds on the verge of breaking on some of the 'heavier' tracks [where Mackrory might have him beat out slightly], although he manages to get by, for the most part. He really excels at the mellower vocal parts - I think his strongest vocal performance is on the keyboard-dominated 'Castaway', which has almost Savatagian sort of vibe to it in terms of lyrics and vocals. (No, he's not exactly a Zachary Stevens, but that would be a ridiculously high standard to hold a vocalist to.)
Thematically, much of the album deals with a schizophrenia sort of theme - it's been done before, admittedly, but they do put an interesting spin on things. If I understand correctly, several of the songs seem to be part of a storyline of sorts regarding a schizophrenic who has a murderous streak. After he's done the deed, he hides himself away, and let's the other personality clean up his mess. The title track "Two Is One" seems kind of like an overview/summary of this condition. The theme reemerges on "Parasite", which describes the murderous personality and the 'good' personality at odds with each other. This continues over into "I Am The One.", the two songs together being perhaps the heaviest stuff on the album. (Although, "I Am The One" also has some very interesting tandem singing/layered vocals - they're not flawless, but they get the job done.)
Overall, this is a pretty decent release. Keyboardist Martin Hedin has a very unique vibe, and is given a lot of time to show off his talents on Morphing Into Nothing, a Liquid Tension-esque instrumental track in the middle of the album. Johan Reinhold handles all guitars and bass on the album [the bassist from the previous album had left, and has since been replaced.]
I think the real flaw is the tail end of the last track "This Fragile Surface" - there's one sequence towards the end where none of the instruments seem in synch with each other, and the tandem vocals sound sloppy. I think the drumming may have caused the vocalist some problems. The drummer gets a little too showy with the fills at times. (Don't get me wrong - much of this song is excellent, but that particular part just didn't seem as good.)
Review : Spock's Beard / Snow
Concept albums are the big thing right now with most of the progressive rock/metal bands in existence. After Dream Theater's luck a few years back with Scenes From A Memory, there have been a deluge of concept albums/rock operas that have been released.
Spock's Beard, not to be outdone, just released a double-disc based on the movie Powder - it's entitled Snow. Overall, this is an excellent purchase. The pricing is very low for a double-album. It cost me seventeen bucks, and that was at one of the higher-priced retail stores.
As far as the music goes, Spock's Beard's sound is very tricky to explain - it sounds like old-school rock - think late seventies, early eighties. They enjoy breaking out a lot of older-school synthesizers, and they literally hit you with this wonderful wall of sound.
One odd thing about this album is the lack of length of a lot of the individual songs. Whereas most prog bands like to have the seven minute and over song durations, Spock's Beard takes a different approach to the whole prog rock thing. They break a lot of these songs down into very brief segments that flow beautifully into each other. Everybody in Spock's Beard holds their own on their respective instrument.
The vocals are also very well done - there's a lot of tandem singing. It reminds me a little bit of the earlier Galactic Cowboys, when they were at their most mellow, with each band member incorporating his individual voice in the mix, creating some very elaborate harmonies in the process.
Lyrically, Spock's Beard are a mixed bag - some of their lyrics are very simple, but effective. A couple lines, repeated almost like a mantra, while the instruments carry the song along. And at times, they get more elaborate. Usually they hit with the lyrics, but periodically they can come across as a little campy. (But I find you're typically so mesmerized by the music itself, that you don't notice.)
My only complaint about the album is the CD packaging, which is both ingenious, yet also a royal pain in the neck. It looks like a Big Little Book, with the album information stapled in as 'pages', with the two CDs included in album sleeves in the front and back. The problem is getting the damn things in and out of the sleeves without wrecking them. (I finally broke down and purchased a blank two-CD holder out of frustration.)
Overall, this is one worth getting, particularly if you liked the progressive rock of the seventies. Fans of Savatage's Streets:A Rock Opera might also find some enjoyment in this - the theme is in the same ballpark. (Fans of the 'crunchier', percussion-intensive progressive metal might find this album a little bit lacking, though..)
Review : Green Carnation / Light Of Day - Day Of Darkness
I picked up two compact discs from CD-NOW the other day - one of them is from a band named Green Carnation - I had heard a track on a cable radio station, and it had caught my interest. LOD-DOD is an interesting album - thematically, it reminds me of Fates Warning : Pleasant Shade Of Grey - it's essentially one multi-part song, with recurring melodies popping up perodically. They don't even break the song up - it's ONE big track - this is one of my few criticisms of the album, since I never saw what a band had to lose breaking a large song into separate tracks - it tends to make things more easily navigable.
As far as what they sound like - Green Carnation sounds a great deal like Opeth, with some interesting acoustic guitars mixed in with more conventional heavy metal guitars - there's also some classical and new age influence - they make use of violinists and a backing orchestra and several alternate singers that do backup and some special segments. It almost has a Gathering sort of vibe to it -- not the more space-age Gathering, but the sort of stuff they were doing on Mandylion, with a certain new age/ethnic music sort of flare. The vocalist is different - he sounds like Voivod's second singer somewhat, periodically going into a more Sabbathy sort of voice.
Overall, this one is pretty damn good - one of the better releases this year so far..
'Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence' Review
I got the new Dream Theater double-album, "Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence". It cost more than a single album. (I was hoping they'd do something similar to what The Gathering had done on "How To Measure A Planet" and charge the price of one CD for it.) Musically, it's a very interesting mixture of different styles. You hear the influence of Liquid Tension Experiment on parts of the SDOIT macro-track that takes up the entire second CD. There's also a very heavy vibe on two of the tracks on that second CD - "War Inside My Head" sounds almost like something that could have been on Dream Theater's Awake album. "The Test That Stumped Them All" is also very heavy, with some background vocals that remind me of "She Blinded Me With Science" from Thomas Dolby. "Solitary Shell" [on the second CD] sounds like something they could play on the more poppy commercial rock stations. You also hear some influence from John Myung's Platypus side project on the first CD. "The Glass Prison" has that bluesy Southern Rock sort of vibe to it, as does parts of "Blind Faith." Jordan Rudess, who has worked with new age musicians in the past - also adds the component to the beginning of "Blind Faith."
Overall, it's a very versatile album, which will have something for everybody - the production on this album is excellent - they use a lot of panning effects and other three-dimensional sound embellishments. If you don't listen to this album with a good pair of stereo-headphones, you'll miss half of what's going on. (It's especially worth it for the dubbed over conversations on "The Great Debate".
For the lyrics, some songs are really on the mark, and others have passable lyrics. Nothing earth-shattering, but more than sufficient. The vocals are very well-mixed. I don't think the guitarist [John Petrucci] is that great a backup singer. He's at best sufficient. Mike Portnoy [drummer] also sings some backup on some of the heavier tracks - IMHO, in some ways he's a better singer than James Labrie is. Labrie is a decent singer - I never considered him the creme de la creme, but he certainly holds his own.
More Progressive Rock Reviews
My sister got me Symphony X's "Twilight Of Olympus" album for Christmas - it's an excellent listen - as good as "The Divine Wings Of Tragedy" and in some ways better. This is how neo-classical metal should be done - the lyrics are very punchy - some bands can take medieval and mythological themes, and write very potent lyrics for them - And other bands just fail miserably (see Rhapsody entry below). Symphony X is one of the bands that has a knack for writing these lyrics. They also know when to use the neoclassical sound and when to go with a more traditional bareknuckles thrash sound.
I also picked up a Rhapsody album - and while I haven't listened to the whole thing yet, I'm not extremely impressed - they play very well, but lyrically, they just come across as very goofy - too damn medieval/Dungeons&Dragons for their own good.
I picked up a nice Space Rock album at a used music store - it's a project from one of the members of Hawkwind - it's kind of in that Tangerine Dream or Pink Floyd sort of vain - they use a violinist to add a streaming/ambient sort of feeling - the whole album was taken from live concerts, and while that usually fails miserably, they admittedly sound very good live. The album is called Spiral Realms, if anybody wants to try and hunt a copy down. (Looks like whoever was doing the cover art was using Bryce.)
I also got my hands on one of Spock's Beard oldest albums - The Light - this was before they had a full time organist/mellotron player, and while not as polished as some of their more recent work [like "V" and "Beware Of Darkness"], it still is a nice glimmer of things to come. (Instrumentally, I think they're about as good on this album as they are now - I think the singing may have improved a little bit since then, though.)
A very strong release from a prog metal band named Kamelot - it's called Karma - I picked it up at the local music store, and it's been in my CD player ever since. They sound sort of like Symphony X with a little bit of a Helloween or Iron Maiden flare to them. The vocalist is more like Geoff Tate from the Operation Mindcrime or Empire era of Queensryche. Perhaps a little bit of a Don Dokken vibe as well at times. They are very heavy, but also include some very nice world music/classical interludes. The band is pretty much singer/guitarist/bassist/drummer, but they make use of an orchestra and some synth elements on some of the tracks, which gives them a very full sound.
I found Cairo's first self-titled album in a used CD store. (Used CD stores rule - Napster has nothing on them.) Cairo is an ELP-style band - the keyboard is very similar to Keith Emerson. Vocals are somewhat similar to James Labrie, but the vocalist sounds like he has a more naturally-high-pitched voice, so he doesn't sound quite so ridiculous singing up there. Their vocalist isn't one of those singers that makes you go running for cover when he hits a high note. He also sings very sparingly - he'll come in and sing a few lines, and then they'll break into another long instrumental. They're more of a prog rock band in terms of their heaviness - but in terms of their raw playing speed, they are extrenely fast, and would put a lot of these speed metal bands to shame.
I also got a bunch of Stratovarius albums at another used CD place (Jam In Records in Worcester, MA) - I kind of have mixed feelings about Stratovarius - on one hand, finding their CDs anywhere is a lucky break - on the other, I think they're kind of overrated - they do the classical metal thing, and they do it fairly well, but I find the vocalist to be very distracting - he's very high-pitched, and I find that he often stumbles over his accent and it throws off the rhythm of the song.
Flickerlight Dream Sessions
(Okay, I called it something different in the table of contents, but you'd have no idea what this section was if I called it this above.)
Try letting the music sink in, and stare at the picture as it moves. Are your eyes fooling you? Maybe they are. Humans like to find patterns of order in chaos. That's why we waste so much time staring at clouds.
Here's another one.. I admit - the clip I used in making this animation came from Netradio.com, which I encourage you to visit -- they have a radio feed for every sort of music imaginable. (Also, if I get them enough hits, maybe they won't decapitate me for "sampling" their picture.)
Some say this is the only "heavenly" thing on this page. =)