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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Living Sacrifice -- Ghost Thief

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7/10

Man, that was a good sandwich. Now, where was I?
The cover art, along with nostalgic memories of The Hammering Process, psyched me up to purchase Living Sacrifice's Ghost Thief. On first listen, Ryan Clark's fiesty guest vocals on opening track, "Screwtape," pumped me up even more. Unfortunately, the rest of the album just sort of happened. I listened, but felt like I was only hearing background noise.
Ghost Thief just happens. Living Sacrifice are extremely competent musicians, and the songs on Ghost Thief are competently played, culminating in a vast stew of mixed-metal genres. Unfortunately, despite the ingredients, that stew just tastes like chicken broth. Outside of track four, the passionate "Straw Man," nothing about the rest of the album sticks--the band rock hard, Bruce Fitzhugh growls his guts out, nothing is bad, but nothing stands out, and then Ghost Thief is over. The strangely muffled production doesn't help, nor does the lack of Living Sacrifice's trademark percussion work. After multiple listens, grasping desperately for something to hold on to, all I can remember are tracks one and four, and that sweet, sweet cover art.


2013 Solid State Records
1. Screwtape 5:35
2. Ghost Thief 4:41
3. The Reaping 3:26
4. Straw Man 3:46
5. Sudden 4:46
6. Mask 4:49
7. American Made 5:26
8. Before 4:31
9. Your War 3:56
10. Despair 4:19

Monday, November 24, 2014

Living Sacrifice -- The Hammering Process

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9/10

Here is yet another album that makes me miss the golden age of Christian rock (mid 90's-early 00's). Living Sacrifice is a heavy band out of Arkansas. Their early material was thrashy heavy metal, but by the start of the new century, Living Sacrifice evolved into the best version of themselves. The Hammering Process is a heavy, heavy album, but it injects far more melody and interesting rhythms than Living Sac's earlier albums (We loved saying Living Sac. Who doesn't?). The introduction of singing (on only a few tracks, and not sacrificing any of the darkness of Living Sacrifice's sound), and the diverse work of percussionist, Matt Putman (ranging from tribal to industrial sounds, to just filling out the already killer drum work by Lance Garvin), broadens the scope of Living Sacrifice's sound, and helps to create a far more listenable, enjoyable, and well-flowing album experience than Living Sacrifice's previous albums (not that the previous albums aren't listenable or enjoyable, just that The Hammering Process is more so wow this is a long sentence. I've always wanted to write a review that contained more parenthetical than non-parenthetical words. I think this review is my chance, buy I've said almost everything I want to say, already. I will say this: I'm hungry. Like really, really hungry and feeling lightheaded, which is probably why I can only speak in parentheticals right now. I think I am going to go try City Pork Deli & Charcuterie because the buzz for that place is so good, I either have to prove it wrong, or enjoy what is apparently the greatest sandwich a man can consume. Both of those things sound fun, plus, I won't be so hungry anymore, and I added the "so" because I am always hungry, regardless of what I eat. Maybe I'll hit up Mr. Ronnie's donuts after that. That could be nice. I don't have to go in to work for three hours. Three solid hours of eating could be really fun. Alright, it's time to get out of here. Should I make a new paragraph for the closing statement? Yeah, that's probably a good idea).
I can't say that listening to The Hammering Process makes me sad for a lost age, though, when Living Sacrifice has now been un-broken up for six years, and recently released their second album since reformation, which I will review, right after this sandwich. I hope that album, Ghost Thief, is good, but it will take a lot to top The Hammering Process' mid-section (the combination of  "Altered Life"'s chorus with "Hand of the Dead"'s surprise sung bridge, and "Burn the End"'s Spanish guitar solo breakdown will be tough to beat).


2000 Solid State Records
1. Flatline 3:20
2. Bloodwork 4:14
3. Not My Own 3:12
4. Local Vengeance Killing 3:07
5. Altered Life 4:46
6. Hand of the Dead 3:33
7. Burn the End 4:58
8. Hidden 3:52
9. Perfect 2:53
10. Conditional 5:00

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Linkin Park -- The Hunting Party

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8/10

After Living Things, Linkin Park parried about the idea of making an even dancier album. They instead made the heaviest album of their career. The Hunting Party is Linkin Park's take on 80's punk and metal. The cool thing is, The Hunting Party still very much sounds like Linkin Park. This is 80's punk and metal through a Linkin Park lens--still a smooth blend of rapping and singing, and still with the distinct sound each particular musician in the band has carved out over the past decade-and-a-half, only unleashed The guitar player actually plays solos, and uses the most wicked tone he's yet discovered. The drummer throws the electronic pads in the trash, beats his snare drum to a bloody pulp (he also broke his back while recording), and pulls off some rapid-fire drums rolls he never even hinted to be capable of. Through the first half of the album, it's fun just trying to guess what the band are going to do next...but then "Until It's Gone" happens. "Until It's Gone" isn't a bad song, but it follows the same Linkin Park template of mid-tempo, synth-led single they've done countless times (well, I could count them, but I'll just throw out "What I've Done," "New Divide," and "Burn It Down" as examples). From there on out, Linkin Park flit back-and-forth from the heavier, old-school sound of The Hunting Party's first half, to a more generic, polished Linkin-y Park sound.
I actually only reviewed these seven albums so I could use the term "Linkin-y Park."
Anyway, while The Hunting Party is quite good overall, it is a shame the band compromised the sound they created for its first half during its second . They could have had a cohesive masterpiece if they'd kept it up, but instead this is just a pretty good Linkin Park album--not perfect, but another delightful oddball in a catalog full of delightful oddballs.
Keep em coming, weirdos.

ONE FINAL NOTE: I feel like I should point out a highlight in Linkin Park's continued lyrical progression. The Hunting Party's eighth track, "Rebellion," focuses on the aesthetics of rebellious young Americans vs the actual, violent rebellions of faraway humans whose lives are in peril every day.

We act it out
We wear the colors
Confined by the things we own
We're not without
We're like each other
Pretending we're here alone

And far away, they burn their buildings
Right in the face of the damage done

We are the fortunate ones
Who've never faced oppression's gun
We are the fortunate ones
Imitations of rebellion


Nice. Not something people talk about often, and the tone of the song fits guest guitar player, Daron Malakian, perfectly.


2014 Warner Bros.
1. Keys to the Kingdom 3:38
2. All for Nothing 3:33
3. Guilty All the Same 5:56
4. The Summoning 1:00
5. War 2:11
6. Wastelands 3:15
7. Until It's Gone 3:53
8. Rebellion 3:44
9. Mark the Graves 5:05
10. Drawbar 2:46
11. Final Masquerade 3:37
12. A Line in the Sand 6:35

Monday, November 17, 2014

Linkin Park -- Living Things

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8/10

Amount of songs on Linkin Park's first two albums over four minutes long: 0
Amount of songs on Linkin Park's fourth album, A Thousand Suns, over four minutes long: 7
It's safe to say that over the course of four albums, Linkin Park evolved quite a bit. Their first two albums perfected the rap/rock dynamic, the third found the band in limbo, and the fourth featured the band exploding their boundaries, stretching their sound in a more electronic direction. While A Thousand Suns has a few fun moments, it is a mostly serious affair, with the longer song lengths allowing the band to expound upon their heavier lyrical concepts. Four their fifth album, Living Things, Linkin Park head even further in an electronic direction, but drop ponderousness for pure fun and three minute thrills. Not one song here tops the four-minute mark, as each dancey track makes its point and slips into the next. Because of this, Living Things is the most enjoyable of Linkin Park's albums...outside of the first two. Its exuberant energy is infectious, but the band still find time to continue their restless experimentation within these smaller frameworks. Most surprising is the 1:52 "Victimized," featuring a simple shouted chorus (written in all-caps in the lyrics, further proving the band are having good fun), and guitar and drum-shredding coupled with some weirdly awesome electronic siren sound on the outro.


Living Things only flaw is that it lets off the gas a bit in the final half (after "Victimized") and loses just a little momentum. Still, as Linkin Park's "party album" Living Things gets the job done.

2012 Warner Bros.
1. Lost in the Echo 3:25
2. In My Remains 3:20
3. Burn It Down 3:50
4. Lies Greed Misery 2:27
5. I'll Be Gone 3:31
6. Castle of Glass 3:25
7. Victimized 1:46
8. Roads Untraveled 3:49
9. Skin to Bone 2:48
10. Until It Breaks 3:43
11. Tinfoil 1:11
12. Powerless 3:44

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Linkin Park -- A Thousand Suns

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8/10

Well, here it is. The great divide...beside the song of that name that was only created to soundtrack a Transformers video.
A Thousand Suns marks a break for Linkin Park. The previous album, Minutes to Midnight, found the band attempting to stretch themselves and play against type. Unfortunately, that made them sound like a million other bands--the sound of Minutes to Midnight took away their uniqueness and played against their strengths. For A Thousand Suns, Linkin Park bravely stick with controversial Minutes to Midnight producer, Rick Rubin, but this time, instead of just playing against type, the band play to expand their strengths to create something new. The result is one of their better albums.
While A Thousand Suns is perhaps more interested in created an aural tableaux than a collection of songs (of 15 tracks, only nine are traditional "songs."), that tableaux is striking. Using found sounds, digital manipulations, and chopped up classic historical speeches, Linkin Park create a loose concept album of both a literal and metaphorical post-apocalyptic world. References to atom bombs exploding (Oppenheimer speeches) and civil rights (multiple other persons) tell a story of personal hurt, taking responsibility (a common theme in all of Linkin Park's work), and not reacting with violence. Oh yeah, Linkin Park play instruments, too. While bass, guitar, and drums play important pats in A Thousand Suns, they exist to serve the songs and atmosphere. This means DJ, Joseph Hahn, gets to have a field day, as electronic sounds rule the day. That's okay, though. To succeed, Linkin Park need only do two things: feature the unduplicated chemistry between singer, Chester Bennington, and rapper, Mike Shinoda, and be fun. A Thousand Suns accomplishes the former easily, and while the band tackle headier lyrical concepts this time around, accomplishes the latter, as well. Both "When They Come for Me" and "Wretches and Kings" feature undeniable swagger (though these guys still sound goofy earning a parental advisory). "Waiting for the End" contains a strangely unique island feeling, "The Catalyst" a surprisingly infectious techno beat. The more serious tracks work as well, though, as "Iridescent" and "The Messenger" are two of the most moving songs the band have recorded.
Several music journalists referred to A Thousand Suns as metal's "Kid A," and I love comparing things to Radiohead as much as anyone, but A Thousand Suns isn't quite that drastic a departure from the band's previous work. Still, it's quite a large one, and the band's ambition here is laudable. I would refer to it as the oddball in Linkin Park's discography...if the two following albums weren't as equally idiosyncratic.


And here's a video of a bunch of Russians getting really into "Iridescent," in front of a big, stupid Transformers backdrop.

2010 Warner Bros.
1. The Requiem 2:01
2. The Radiance 0:57
3. Burning in the Skies 4:13
4. Empty Spaces 0:18
5. When They Come for Me 4:55
6. Robot Boy 4:28
7. Jornada Del Muerto 1:34
8. Waiting for the End 3:51
9. Blackout 4:39
10. Wretches and Kings 4:15
11. Wisdom, Justice, and Love 1:38
12. Iridescent 4:56
13. Fallout 1:23
14. The Catalyst 5:39
15. The Messenger 3:01

Monday, November 10, 2014

Linkin Park -- Minutes to Midnight

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4/10

I have never heard a band miscalculate what their core strengths are worse than Linkin Park, on their third album, Minutes to Midnight. Though I've admitted I underestimated how good the first two Linkin Park albums were when they were released, I still agree with my mid-00's assessment that, after those two, Linkin Park needed to stretch beyond an album full of three-minute singles. Here are things I didn't think about back then, but apparently the band did:
1. We really need to start making ballads about romantic relationships. Why don't we do that? There really aren't enough of those.
2. We have a guy who could sing for any rock band in existence. Let's bench that guy and let our rapper sing instead.
3. Hey, you know how we hit that lyrical sweet-spot where anyone can identify and attach meaning to our lyrics? That's stupid, let's be political.
4. While we're at it, why do we not curse? Even though everyone is used to us not doing that, and we sound silly doing it, let's do that!
5. You know how our music used to be really fun! Fun is stupid now!
Let's break these four things down.
1. After a power instrumental opener, "Wake," and "Given Up," possibly the heaviest song Linkin Park will ever record, the listener is greeted by the wimpiest song Linkin Park had yet recorded in their career, up to that point on Minutes to Midnight, "Leave Out All the Rest." Unfortunately, "Leave Out All the Rest" is not even the wimpiest song on the album, but it does nothing at all to stand out from any other song ever created. Track five, "Shadow of the Day," isn't much more muscular, but at least benefits from some decent atmosphere from DJ Joseph Hahn, and guitarist, Brad Delson doing his best U2 impression. "Hands Held High" attempts to be edgy in its lyrics, but it's soft as cotton, musically. Track nine, "Valentine's Day," is the wimpiest song Linkin Park ever recorded, and though I've purchased and enjoyed every Linkin Park album since Minutes to Midnight, if they ever release something even wimpier than "Valentine's Day," I'm out. The opening lyrics are "My insides all turned to ash, so slow, and blew away as I collapsed, so cold." That is just terrible. I get that Chester Bennington went through a painful divorce right before this album was recorded, and I wouldn't even say this if not for the fact that he is now happily married with three children, but, dude, you have to do better than that. Finally, track ten, "In Between," is more musical wussitry.
2. Mike Shinoda is a good rapper. He is an excellent background vocalist. He is a good songwriter. He should not be carrying any songs vocally when he is in the same band as Chester Bennington. "Hands Held High" would work well as an oddity in Linkin Park's catalog. "Remember that one song that was nothing more than a Shinoda solo track? That was weird!" But it isn't an oddity because a few tracks later, it happens again. "In Between" features full-on Shinoda singing softly by himself. I bought a Linkin Park album in part because their vocalist is awesome, and I like the rapper dude's interjections. I don't want to hear the rapper dude try to sing as if that is just something that Linkin Park does. It isn't. They already have a singer, and his name is Chester Bennington. Meanwhile, Shinoda, the band's RAPPER, only raps on two of Minutes to Midnight's tracks.
3. Linkin Park's first two albums do a great job of talking about taking charge and responsibility of personal problems, while pushing away those who are making those problems worse. Minutes to Midnight is mostly about how stupid Linkin Park think President Bush is. Fair enough, it's an opinion, and System of a Down did a great job exploring that topic on their Mesmerize/Hypnotize albums. Linkin Park sound out of place doing it, and the vague, overly populist way they do it betrays a lack of authority to even talk about the subject. The most egregious offender is album closer, "The Little Things Give You Away." Musically, the song does an excellent job of proving that Linkin Park can write an interesting song that is longer than six minutes, while allowing each musician a moment to shine. Lyrically, the song blames Hurricane Katrina on President Bush, based on a visit the band apparently took to New Orleans. As someone who lives close to New Orleans, and who experienced Hurricane Katrina first hand, I can tell you for a fact that George W Bush did not swim out into the Atlantic Ocean near the Bahamas, swim swiftly in a circle, and exhale super-heated breath into the ocean, thus creating the costliest natural disaster in recorded history. I can also tell you that the responsibility for government response to the storm falls just as squarely on the state of Louisiana, and specifically the mayoral administration of the now incarcerated Ray Nagin, and the governmental administration of Kathleen Babineaux Blanco. You can blame Bush for a lot of crummy things that happened over his eight years in office, but the chorus to "The Little Things Give You Away," "All you've ever wanted was someone to truly look up to you, and six feet under water, I do," is just stupid in light of the complexity of the situation. If you want to get political, sing about something you actually understand.
4. I went to high school with this clean-cut kid, who had a pretty bad speech impediment. He was a nice guy, and most people got along with him just fine, but one day he decided that wasn't good enough. He decided that for everyone to think he was cool, he had to start cursing like a sailor. One day, the class was doing a geography quiz, and it was the speech-impediment kid's turn to read the question. "I telwu whut," he said. "Uf wu guys don know da ansa to dis question, wu some stupad mudafuggas!" This did not make anyone think that he was cooler. Likewise, when Chester Bennington belts out, "Put me out of my fucking misery!!!" on track two (and the first song to actually feature singing), "Given Up," he does not seem any cooler. Two tracks later, when Mike Shinoda raps the line, "Going out of my fucking mind," he is so self-conscious of the absurdity of the fact that he is suddenly using profanity after never having done so before on record, that he follows it with the line "Dirty mouth, no excuse." Honestly, this is distracting. Prior to this, Linkin Park was a little-brother safe band, and received no disrespect for it. The sudden potty-mouth just seems like a desperate attempt to seem edgy. It is, instead, out of place. Let me remind you that I am talking about a band I like.
5. After two albums that were naturally quite fun, Minutes to Midnight is a joyless endeavor. In an attempt to deviate from their previous sound, Linkin Park simply sound like any other band. It seems like Linkin Park realized how little of a good time Minutes to Midnight was, and decided to try to inject a little fun into it with track four, "Bleed It Out." "Bleed It Out," sounds like it was written and recorded while someone held guns to the band's heads and told them to "have fun or die." "Bleed It Out" is instead not fun, and sounds forced, no matter how many background, "studio-captured" "WHOOP!"s the band try to overlay into the mix. "What I've Done," which begins the band's boring, "Token Mid-tempo Transformers Soundtrack Single" series is somehow even less enjoyable. This total lack of fun is Minutes to Midnight's most egregious sin.
I'll stop beating a dead horse. Minutes to Midnight is the great disappointment in Linkin Park's catalog, and by far their worst album to date. I'm not even going to post a sample song from it because I hate it so much. THE END!!!

1. Wake 1:40
2. Given Up 3:09
3. Leave Out All the Rest 3:29
4. Bleed It Out 2:44
5. Shadow of the Day 4:49
6. What I've Done 3:25
7. Hands Held High 3:53
8. No More Sorrow 3:41
9. Valentine's Day 3:16
10. In Between 3:16
11. In Pieces 3:38
12. The Little Things Give You Away 6:23

Friday, November 07, 2014

Linkin Park -- Meteora

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9/10

Meteora may just be Linkin Park's finest album, and I greatly undervalued it upon its release.
In early 2003, it was not cool to like Linkin Park. They at least had better cred among music snobs than say, Creed, but Linkin Park had just ended the most successful (to this day) album cycle of the 21st century. They were looking to start on the next, and snobs were not supposed to be interested.
I owned and hadn't a negative word to say about Hybrid Theory, but I was too far up Radiohead's caboose to give a lick about some rap-rock band. Meteora came out, and I passed on it for weeks. Eventually, Linkin Park came to town on their second annual Projekt Revolution Tour, taking one of The Nicsperiment's all-time favorite bands, Blindside, in tow. I had to go, and go I did. The show did not disappoint. Linkin Park put on an energetic, polished, yet raw performance, and I figured I might as well give them another $12 and pick up Meteora. I bought it, enjoyed it for a few weeks, but also bought into the media hype that Meteora was just Hybrid Theory part 2. I mean, they rap and sing, and all the songs are under four minutes. Same thing as their first album, right?
Meteora and Hybrid Theory are not the same album. They are equal in quality, but they are not the same. Hybrid Theory is more polished, and features catchier singles with bigger hooks. Meteora features a vaster soundscape than Hybrid Theory, with a greater variety of samples, giving it more of a cinematic feel. It also features a bit more raw of an edge. The closest the two albums get is that their second tracks have a similar GET OUT OF MY FACE feel and feature no rapping. Meteora immediately distinguishes itself with the guitar effects wizardy and huge opening chords of track three, "Somewhere I Belong." "Somewhere I Belong" sounds bigger and more evocative than anything found on Hybrid Theory. The only major similarity is that it lyrically continues Hybrid Theory's themes of taking personal responsibility. That's a factor of Linkin Park's first two albums that isn't talked about enough. Where many of the lesser bands of the period where whining about other people making them messed up and ruining everything, Linkin Park was more apt to say, "Hey, you might have screwed me over, but my problems are because of me." Hence "Somewhere I Belong's" pre-chorus of "And the fault is my own." Not many bands of the period were brave or clear-headed enough to say such a thing.
After a couple of fun, heavy tracks, the band really begin to experiment, first with the atmospheric, reflective "Easier to Run," then with the extremely infectious fun of the 140-beats-a-minute "Faint." Hybrid Theory featured nothing as purely enjoyable as "Faint," and honestly, I don't think any other rock band's release from 2003 did either. The video conveys the band's enthusiasm, and also shows off a bit of the set Linkin Park used for the Projekt Revolution Tour.

"Breaking the Habit" closes out Meteora's experimental midsection with another self-reflective, atmospheric track. The lyrics are again inward-focused, the music more electronic than anything Linkin Park had done at that point. The song may just be the best example of the more cinematic sound I referenced above, and the anime-video the band helped create for the song makes these aspirations explicit.

I don't mean to skip the straight-forward rock songs in this review, but the experimental ones are just a bit more interesting to me. I'll use this moment to make clear that everyone of those songs is good stuff. They rock hard, but they also contain that touch of Linkin Park professionalism and perfectionism, as during this period, the band was known to record a million versions of a song before they were finally happy with the result. But back to the experiments.
Track 11, "Nobody's Listening," centers around a fun Japanese-flute sample, and contains a more unique feel than possibly anything else the band has done, as I can't think of any song by ANYONE else that sounds remotely like it. The combination of rapping and singing, along with the flute sample, should not mix well, but the song is addictive and insanely listenable. "Session" is a dark, atmospheric, piano-led instrumental, leading into album closer, "Numb." I think the biggest similarity between Hybrid Theory and Meteora is both albums' key flaw: lack of an epic closer. While "Numb" is far from a bad song, it would be nice if Meteora ended with something...bigger. Outside of that, Meteora is an excellent album.
A FINAL NOTE: I've spilled a lot of megabytes on how the 21st Century continued the late 90's fun-time party, with a huge dose of "THE WORLD DIDN'T END!!!" optimism, until 9/11 squashed the whole thing and sent us down a darker path. I think Meteora marks the final extension and official end of that fun-time party. I mentioned the word "fun" a lot in this review, and as dark as it can be, Meteora has fun in spades. However, pretty much after this, nothing was ever fun again for anyone. This is evidenced by the fact that Linkin Park's next album, Minutes to Midnight, contains not even the least trace of fun, and talks about hurricanes and wars, and BOO, BOO,  BOO!!! 
But I'll get to that in the next review.

2003 Warner Bros
1. Foreword 0:13
2. Don't Stay 3:07
3. Somewhere I Belong 3:33
4. Lying from You 2:55
5. Hit the Floor 2:44
6. Easier to Run 3:24
7. Faint 2:42
8. Figure.09 3:17
9. Breaking the Habit 3:16
10. From the Inside 2:55
11. Nobody's Listening 2:58
12. Session 2:24
13. Numb 3:07