Thursday, December 25, 2014

Music: Isaac Baranoff - The Wedding Album

Pre-order of The Wedding Album. You get 4 tracks now (streaming via the free Bandcamp app and also available as a high-quality download in MP3, FLAC and more), plus the complete album the moment it's released.

This TRIPLE ALBUM features the prog-rock double LP "THE WEDDING ALBUM" and a bonus disc of chamber music called "ORCHESTRAL FAVORITES"!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Blog: 2014 Movie Reviews

I didn't see everything that came out in 2014, but here's what I thought of some of this year's hottest movies. If you don't want to read through all of this and want to know what I most recommend, 

I suggest putting Guardians of the Galaxy, Mr. Sherman & Peabody, GundayThe Grand Budapest Hotel, Chef13 Sins, A Million Ways To Die In The West, 22 Jump Street, HerculesSin City: A Dame To Kill For, Tusk and Life of Crime on your must-see list, with Guardians of the Galaxy as the best movie of the year, hands down. 

And the three films I absolutely disliked the most and suggest avoiding are LucyThe Lego Movie and Zombeaver.

RIDE ALONG: I really enjoyed this movie. It's a throwback to '80s/'90s mismatched cop flicks, but more than that, it's a really funny action-comedy. Ice Cube and Kevin Hart have great chemistry together as a comedy team, and the action and thriller elements of the story are played off well enough for the movie to really feel like a movie like Beverly Hills Cop, 48 Hours, or Lethal Weapon. If you like the actors, give this one a shot, and you'll have fun.

THE LEGO MOVIE: I knew that I wasn't going to enjoy this movie from the moment I saw the trailers. I did expect this movie to land in IMDb's Bottom 100 when I saw the trailer.  It's not as bad as I thought it would be, though it's also not a good movie.A good chunk of the movie is needlessly drawn out, with every single joke falling flat on its face for much of the movie. The movie doesn't become entertaining or enjoyable until the hero of the movie breaks through the fourth wall and winds up in the live action world where all the Lego people and buildings are toys being played with by a young boy who is interrupted by The Man Upstairs (Will Ferrell). There's good material here for a short film, but it's overtly long and the concept is stretched so thin that it wears my patience as is. Also, so much of the movie is flat looking because LEGO is not the ideal style to animate a movie in. It's a very hard to watch movie because after a while, I just felt like everything I was watching onscreen blended together. If you haven't watched this, just ignore all the good reviews -- they're wrong. This movie was so annoying and poor that I'd question the judgment of anyone who recommends this movie.

MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN: I absolutely loved this movie -- and I'm not even a fan of The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show, a series that just came across to me as mostly being poorly animated and really unfunny. It's certainly a much better movie than the other Rocky & Bullwinkle movies that have been made, and especially surprising since, to me, Mr. Peabody & Sherman was my least favorite part of the TV series, but in the movie, these characters are so much more fun and likable than Rocky & Bullwinkle or Boris & Natasha. I really think this is one of the best animated films I've seen in ages. Even if you don't like the TV show, go see this movie and especially go see this movie if you hated the other Jay Ward-inspired feature films (which were all live-action for some reason) - this movie outdoes all of them through its wit, incredible animation and well-written, tightly plotted screenplay.

VAMPIRE ACADEMYVampire Academy was scripted by Mark Waters, the writer of Heathers, which is one of my favorite teen comedies, and cowriter of The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, which is one of my favorite movies of all time, and that, off the bat, makes this movie more encouraging as far as behind-the-scenes talent, than, say, Twilight, which was also based on a teen vampire novel. Thankfully, the vampires in this don't sparkle, but this is so far from a good vampire movie, like The Fearless Vampire Killers, or even a good revisionist vampire story, like True Blood. Some of its clunkiness is due to the fact that it's trying to be an epic adventure story and it's directed by a guy whose previous major credit was Mean Girls. Honestly, if you're looking for a cross between Mean Girls and Heathers, you're not going to find it here. This movie is very bland, and not much of it is recommendable. Just rewatch Heathers, or buy a copy of my novel A Boot Full Of Blood, which is a much better vampire story than this bullshit.

GUNDAY: This movie was a blast. It really feels like a '70s-style action flick. I'd describe this as being a Bollywood version of  a John Woo-style action movie - they even had a flying dove during one of the action scenes (I wish they would have put more doves in that scene - that would have been so funny). There are few songs, which is a nice change of pace. Compared to some of the more aggravating Bollywood films where the music video sequences never end, the songs here are molded into the main story pretty well. Though the movie does have its share of cheese, like when the main characters' shirts fly off during a fight scene, the movie's played pretty straight, though it does have its moments of humor and can be pretty funny. Overall, I thought this was a great movie. Please get ahold of this movie and check it out, even if you don't like Bollywood movies - it's worth it.

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL: This is an incredible fucking movie. If you love Wes Anderson, you need to see this movie. This is one of his best movies since The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Of course, feel free to avoid this movie if you hate Anderson's films, because nothing's going to change your mind about the movie if you already hate Wes Anderson, since it has everything about Wes' movies that you either love or hate about them: The weird sense of humor, the various recurring cast members from his other movies (Bill Murray and Owen Wilson's cameos are unsurprising if you're familiar with Wes' filmography, which frequently features Bill Murray and at least one of the Wilson brothers). I love the fact that most of the movie was shot in Academy ratio (which was what "fullscreen" was before widescreen televisions), and that each of the time periods has its own screen format -- "Old TV style" for the 1930s scenes, "Scope" for the '60s scene and standard ratio for the '80s scene. It's funny to me how they have the screen boxed in so they can use a Scope ratio for literally one scene, but this is only because I really like and know shit about aspect ratios (something known to anyone who's watched me film in Scope for no reason on the Comix Scrutinizer's Lost Girls and Unfunnies reviews).

CHEF: Jon Favreau gives an amazing performance in a film that's surprisingly low-key after the high-budget, high-concept Iron Man 1 & 2 and Cowboys and Aliens. There's an aspect to this movie which is like the sports flick where the champ has fallen from grace, and ends up coming back bigger and better than ever. Chef is to food what Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler was to professional wrestling. As classical as the film's story is, it's also thoroughly modern, with Favreau's character Caspar dealing with his newfound celebrity arising from modern technologies Twitter and YouTube, which make his outbursts against celebrity food critic Oliver Platt internet memes. The engaging relationship between Caspar and his son is also fun to watch. Caspar is especially relatable if you've ever been in a widely publicized Internet feud, but on a more general level, the passion of his personal artistry and triumph in achieving his artistic integrity is satisfying to any creative mind. The film illustrates the difference between a chef and a cook, non-verbally, but through illustration of character traits, of the chef as an individual achiever and artist continuing to excel at his own artform, while the cook merely prepares meals with no artistry for someone else. Highly recommended.

NEIGHBORS: I'm disappointed that this wasn't a remake of the 1980s dark comedy with John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. I fucking love THAT movie. The Seth Rogen movie is not in the same league as the Belushi-Aykroyd flick. They kind of have the same theme going on, with Rogen playing a tight-nit suburbanite whose life is changed by a wild party man (this time, Zach Efron playing the leader of a frat house), but it's not a remake, and it's not as weird, funny or creative as the 1981 movie. Honestly, Rogen's not playing that much of a different character from his other movies, and it's nothing really substantial, although parts of this are really funny, like when the frat boys decide to dress up like Robert DeNiro characters and the black kid dresses up like Sam Jackson's character from Jackie Brown and quotes Pulp Fiction, leading Seth Rogen to respond, "That's the wrong Sam Jackson character!" If you're not expecting much, you'll laugh, but it's not a great movie. Instead, go watch the original 1981 Neighbors with Belushi and Aykroyd instead -- that's a much better movie. I'm honestly more looking forward to Rogen and James Franco's upcoming Spaghetti Western-esque The Interview, where they're trying to kill Kim Jong-Un. That looks like a much more interesting movie. It looks like a comedy version of my novel A Fistful Of Molotov, only without Joseph Stalin. So I'm sure The Interview will do for Spaghetti Western-esque political thrillers what Pineapple Express did for John Woo-style action flicks. Also, I really want to see the proposed Rogen/Kevin Hart action-comedy set in the 1940s, with Rogen and Hart playing the first interracial police team - that sounds fun.

MUPPETS MOST WANTED: This was fun. I think I liked this as much as the last Muppet movie. Honestly, Muppet movies are mostly just fun and entertaining, with the occasional exception. Honestly, if you really like the Muppets, check this out. The plot is that a master criminal named Constantine, who looks exactly like Kermit except for having a mole and sounding like Borat, swaps places with Kermit to frame the Muppets for a huge heist, with the assistance of Ricky Gervais, leaving Kermit in a Siberian Gulag run by Tina Fey. I loved the fact Danny Trejo's character was just called Danny Trejo.

13 SINS: I didn't know that this was a comedy going into it. I thought it was just a horror movie. Turns out, this movie is really fucking funny. It's also a lot more clever than I thought it would be. I'm really glad this isn't a torture porn movie, and, honestly, I haven't seen a deconstruction of the torture porn genre this funny since 2008's Otis. The plot of the movie is that Elliot (Mark Webber) is about to get married and is deeply in debt is given the chance to play a game by a mysterious voice over the phone that is watching his every move. The game involves participating in a series of acts that at first start out innocent, with him being asked to eat a fly, but become more sinister as the game goes along, with the voice on the phone warning him that he'll not receive police protection and go to prison for the rest of his life if he forfeits the game. Honestly, not much of what Elliot goes through is that horrifying until he has to cut off a former bully's arm (with the bully's consent) and accidentally sets up the decapitation of a group of bikers. Elliot playing Weekend At Bernie's with the corpse of a suicide victim is goddamn funny. The movie's at it's best when it's straight up comedy or black comedy, like when Elliot has to ruin his own wedding reception by trashing the ballroom and pissing in the flowers while singing the International Communist Anthem, or early on when another "game player" tells two extremely dirty jokes and then chops off his own fingers while receiving an award. I really liked Rutina Wesley (True Blood) in this as Elliot's pregnant fiancee, Shelby, and Ron Pearlman was great as the detective following the crimes being committed in connection with "The Game".

ZOMBEAVERS: I found this frustrating to watch. This movie really felt that instead of making a parody of dumb movies, they weren't aware of the fact that they were making a dumb movie. There have been a lot of movies with over-the-top concepts that put more effort into trying to make a good movie and have a sense of self-awareness, and this just seemed like they really just made a bad horror movie. It's obviously trying to be a comedy, but the comedy is really forced. The characters kept doing things that didn't make any sense, even in the context of the movie. When one of the girls decides to sunbathe topless, it doesn't feel natural, it just feels like obvious writing, like the character was not acting of her own free will and instead being controlled by the writer. And the movie rarely makes fun of its own obviousness. Then there's this uncomfortable incest reference when one of the characters asks her friend if she'd rather watch her mother get murdered or be raped by her father as her mom watches during a truth or dare game. This comes way out of nowhere and it's utterly baffling. And when the zombie beavers finally show up, the growling is REALLY LOUD. It not only sounds like a guy trying to sound like a beaver, but it's louder than anything else in the mix. Then there's the CGI gore, which is so obvious that it just looks like someone stuck a cartoon on the frame.. It's like Roger Rabbit when there's a gore effect. Also, the beavers are aware enough to cut the phone lines? I mean, really? Jaws: The Revenge wasn't this stupid. If you hate when the main characters in horror movies are assholes, you'll really hate when one of the guys basically throws the girls' dog into the water in hopes that the beavers will eat it as a diversion. That's just unnecessarily cruel, and not only is the dog's death not funny, it didn't even look realistic, which would have made a lot more of an impact. Then out of nowhere, one of the girls turns into a beaver for no reason. I'd get it if getting bitten by a zombie beaver turns you into a zombie, but why would your human teeth fall out and get replaced by beaver teeth? Why did they think that was funny? And you grow a beaver tail? Fucking really? And what is it with recent zombie movies having people trying to have sex when they're in fucking danger? Just like the shitty Dawn of the Dead remake, it comes totally out of nowhere. Also, there's a Bear Beaver. A Bear Beaver. This whole movie's like a bad Mad TV sketch stretched out to 80 minutes.

THE ANGRIEST MAN IN BROOKLYN: The release of the movie was unfortunately timed; it was rushed to on-demand and DVD/Blu-Ray really quickly and shortly afterward, star Robin Williams committed suicide, and it's really uncomfortable to watch a movie about Robin Williams trying to commit suicide right after Robin Williams really committed suicide. This is more of a drama than advertised. I guess this was OK.

A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST: Seth MacFarlane's directorial debut, Ted, made some technological innovation by being the most convincing fusion of live-action and animation to date, though it did play out like a 90 minute version of a Family Guy episode. Here, MacFarlane's script is more relaxed to the point where it really does feel like a well-rounded movie. I actually read the novel before this came out and it's a really funny novel. I loved the movie, too. Sarah Silverman is really funny as the Christian prostitute who refuses to have sex with her boyfriend until marriage despite banging various cowboys profanely, and this is where Silverman's extremely vulgar humor really works to her advantage. Neil Patrick Harris is great as the jerk-ass mustached boyfriend of MacFarlane's character's ex-girlfriend, with Liam Neeson as the villain and Charlize Theron as the villain's wife. Christopher Lloyd cameos as Doc Brown and Jamie Foxx as Django are both really funny. Overall, I really recommend this. It's total fun all around.

22 JUMP STREET: This is a total Jeckel and Hyde from Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's other movie this year, The Lego Movie. The Lego Movie was terrible -- 22 Jump Street was a blast. The extended "previews of future Jump Street sequels" sequence was real funny, with cameos from Seth Rogen and Anna Faris and some absurd parodies of sequalitis. Throughout the movie, they really make fun of the idea that this is a sequel, with Ice Cube delivering fourth wall-breaking lines about how the main characters are just going to do the same thing over again, because "that's what people like", and how "the Department" has "increased our budget" as they show an Iron Man-esque police department in the church across the street from the Korean church in the first movie. Aside from the injokes, there's a lot of great character development between the Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum characters, and I really enjoyed the fact that Ice Cube had more screen time in this than in the first one (as well as the cameo from Queen Latifah, who jokes about Cube's rap career by saying that she is "straight out of Compton", but he's not). The uncomfortable humor when Jonah Hill's character learns that he unintentionally started dating Cube's character's college age daughter is really funny, If you loved the first one, check this one out -- it's at least as funny or funnier than the first movie.

WOLFCOP: This was OK, I guess? I came out of this with kind of the same reaction I had when I saw Hobo With A Shotgun. They're both kind of trying for the Troma/grindhouse-style vibe, but the title's more memorable than the movie. OK, so the idea here is that a Satanic cult run by the lizard people who secretly control a small Canadian town turn a drunken embarrassment of a cop into a werewolf through black magic, and after an hour of establishment, there are some scenes that feel like the kind of stuff you'd put in a fake trailer for Grindhouse, like the WolfCop attacking meth cookers, and blackening his car and clawing the letter W into it for no reason other than it'd look cool in the trailer. Also, there's a scene where he's transforming while taking a piss, and he starts pissing blood and his dick turns into a wolf knot. So if you've watched my Fall of Little Red Riding Hood video and you were wondering what wolf dick looks like, I guess WolfCop's the movie to see. I just kind of found this underwhelming because there's been a lot of exploitation-style movies out lately and this really isn't much better than most of them, and there are a lot better ones than this. Honestly, I mostly watched this to see if it was better than my own werewolf detective novel, A Claw Full Of Blood, and it really isn't. My novel is better by a long run.

TAMMY: Tammy is pretty aimless in its plot. Though more focus would have improved it immensely. Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids) and Susan Sarandon are really funny in this, with Sarandon playing McCarthy's grandmother -- but it's no The Heat. The Heat was a great comedy -- you should see that if you really want to see Melissa McCarthy in top form. Though Tammy was a significant improvement over the awful Identity Thief, and her character Tammy is more likable than the psychotic sociopath she plays in Identity Thief. Actually, this movie's IMDb rating really surprises me, because I liked Tammy significantly better than Identity Thief, and while Tammy may not be a great movie, it's still better than that awful piece of shit Identity Thief. Susan Sarandon was the standout of the movie -- and is really funny.

SEX TAPE: Another movie that could have done with more focus. Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz play a married couple with kids who decide to film themselves having sex to celebrate her getting a corporate sponsor for her blog, only to wind up on a madcap night out when the video is accidentally sent to everyone who Segel has ever given an iPad to. There's some really funny moments in this, such as Jack Black's cameo as the owner of a porno website, and Rob Lowe's coke-snorting Slayer-loving CEO character, plus Segel accidentally cold-cocking Lowe's rottweiler. But the movie could have done a lot more with its plot, which is not played out as madcap as advertised and the issue could have been handled much simpler as plotted.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: I saw the poster ages before the movie came out, not knowing what the movie was, and as soon as I saw the machine-gun firing raccoon (named Rocket, voiced by Bradley Cooper), I really wanted to watch this, not knowing anything at all about the comic book series. James Gunn, the cowriter of Tromeo and Juliet, loaded this with a lot of great humor. This is a really fucking funny movie. I'd describe it as being like a space Western, and the main characters, to me, because I had no frame of reference, for not having read the comic books at all, were reminiscent of, say, the idea of a group of outlaws banded together as they break from prison. The plot to me just kind of comes across as the sci-fi version of Lucio Fulci's Four of the Apocalypse (and I really fucking love that movie) - but it's as if Four of the Apocalypse featured a guy listening to a cassette mixtape while stealing relics, an alien woman with green skin, a talking genetically modified raccoon and a walking tree whose only words were "I Am Groot". Also, I love the fact that Gunn put a Howard the Duck cameo in the movie after the credits. That's the only Marvel comic I've read heavily and I fucking love that series and hope that they make a full-length Howard the Duck movie. The other cameo I loved was Troma founder Lloyd Kaufman randomly being one of the criminals in the space prison.

HERCULES: I enjoyed this one a lot. Stylistically, it reminded me of a Western, with Hercules as the leader of a group of mercenaries-for-hire paid to take on an army, only to find out that they're being employed by the villains of the story. It also has a sort of Mythbusters-like quality to its treatment of Greek legends. The myth of Hercules as being half-god is just built up to scare his enemies, but having Dwayne Johnson playing the part is really good casting, since his largeness is seriously intimidating. A great action movie - check it out.

LUCY: This movie was bad. Mystery Science Theater 3000 bad. I used to be insanely into Luc Besson back when he was making movies like The Professional and The Fifth Element, which are still some of my favorite movies, and yet while his genre-blending approach is here, in a science fiction-crime thriller-slapstick comedy and tonal shifts, like the goofy sitcom-like humor of the opening scene which segues into several characters being brutally murdered (though some of the deaths are darkly funny), and then there's the first major problem that this movie could have been improved greatly if it didn't rely on the absurd junk science notion of humans only using 10% of their brains. If they had said that the drug in the movie just made Scarlett Johansson smarter, that would have made a lot more sense. A whole bunch of shit happens that doesn't make any sense after this, like Scarlett Johansson evolving into a blob-like thing that can control electronic waves, traveling back in time to meet the first neanderthal, and a lot of shit that I couldn't even begin to explain. Overall, the movie drags a lot, but it's not the worst Morgan Freeman movie released this year, considering that he was also in The Lego Movie, which was far more annoying than this, but not as stupid.

MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT: Woody Allen's new movie made so little an impression on me that I don't have much good or bad to say about it. The earlier part of the film had the most potential, with Colin Firth delivering a John Cleese-esque performance as a English magician whose stage persona is a Chinese illusionist named Wei Ling Soo. Taking a Harry Houdini-esque position of skepticism towards mystics, he sets out to expose an alleged clairvoyant (Emma Stone), but ends up falling in love with her instead. I didn't find the movie as interesting after Firth's character decided that Stone was the real deal and became significantly less Basil Fawltyish. I'm not sure comedy is still working for Allen since his last really great movie, Blue Jasmine, was a drama, and his last excellent comedy, Whatever Works, was scripted in the 1970s.

SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR: I really enjoyed A Dame To Kill For. If you were down with Frank Miller's neo-noir style in Sin City and The Spirit, this is worth a watch. It's better than The Spirit (which was still really fun), but not as good as Sin City. Several actors have been recast, but the film retains the anthology film approach of the original and Robert Rodriguez' computer generated translation of Miller's comic book visual style. The visuals look really awesome in this. Miller's new stories exclusive to this film are among the best he's written in years, including Joseph Gordon Levitt's gambler seeking revenge and Jessica Alba being haunted by the ghost of Bruce Willis. If you loved the first one, this is definitely worth checking out. This is what Frank Miller does best in terms of writing.

TUSK: I had a blast watching this movie. It had a real Tales from the Crypt vibe to it. It's completely different from Kevin Smith's other horror movie, Red State, where they started off with some comedy then got deadly serious for the rest of the movie. Aside from a few scenes, I think it's more comedy than horror. It's very tongue-in-cheek. The standout performance was Johnny Depp as Guy LaPointe, a French-Canadian detective -- a role originally intended for Quentin Tarantino. I didn't know Depp was in this movie. I first heard of Guy LaPointe reading about Kevin's next planned movie, Yoga Hosers, and thinking, "Shit, Johnny Depp's in a Kevin Smith movie?" This character appearing in Tusk was complete news to me when I found out about it. Depp is really funny in this, especially when the main character's girlfriend and buddy are hesitant to pick up guns and LaPointe responds, "What kind of Americans are you?" I'd highly recommend this to anyone who likes body horror flicks. It's both creepy and utterly hilarious. I really enjoyed this movie. It might make a good double feature with 13 Sins, or maybe Re-Animator.

LIFE OF CRIME: Life of Crime plays kind of like a fucked up remake of Ruthless People, except this was based on a novel by Elmore Leonard that came out long before Ruthless People. Also, yasin bey/Mos Def is playing the younger version of Samuel L. Jackson's character Ordell Robbie from Jackie Brown (based on Leonard's novel Rum Punch). Leonard's dark humor and noir prose translates well in this adaptation. Originally screened at film festivals last year, it was released on demand and in limited theatrical run in August and on DVD in October.

DUMB AND DUMBER TO: This was so much fun. I really enjoyed watching Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels back in these roles. Harry and Lloyd reunite when Harry needs a new kidney and the duo learn that Harry may have fathered a child with Freda Felcher (who was briefly mentioned in the first film). Kathleen Turner plays off the two well in the 'straight role' and Rachel Melvin does a good job of playing Freda's dumb-as-a-bag-of-hammers daughter, adopted, ironically, by a genius scientist. The call-backs to the first film are well done, and the plot structure carries the same weight as the original. The Farrely brothers make the right choice by completely disregarding the awful prequel Dumb and Dumberer and also doing everything right about its references that the prequel did wrong. While Dumb and Dumber To does reuse stuff, it does it in a way that fits the context of the story rather than just redoing stuff just because the first one did it. If you didn't like the first movie, you won't like this movie either, but if you enjoyed the first movie, check this out.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Blog: 2014 Album Reviews

I'm going to be posting a couple of blogs concerning the state of modern film and music which would more accurately list movies and albums that came out this year and my opinions on the ones I've seen. As with the movie blog, I'll start off by listing the best albums of the year for anyone who doesn't want to read through the whole thing.

Fist of all, if you're reading this, then you probably want to buy the three albums I released in 2014 from Bandcamp: The Wedding Album, None More Black and Behind the Green Door.

Aside from my own albums, the albums I recommend the most are Opeth's Pale Communion, Caparezza's Museica and Winger's Better Days Comin'.

Now here's the full rundown of new music I heard in 2014:
PERIPHERY - CLEAR: This is one of the releases I listened to while preparing this list to catch up on new albums that came out this year that I missed. I came across this band and was curious, because of my interest in progressive metal (see my Top 5 Progressive Metal Albums list), then worried when one site categorized Periphery as "djent", because my last experience with that metal genre wasn't very favorable. Periphery's Clear EP is a pleasant surprise due to Spencer Sotelo's variance in his melodic, growled or screamed vocals. The band has a lot of creativity in a set of technical tunes with varied stylistic influences.

CYNIC - KINDLY BENT TO FREE US: If you've read my Top 5 Progressive Metal Albums list, you'll know I love me some Cynic. They are the Phoenix of jazz-metal bands, with their first album and tour marred by mismarketing to death metal fans and bombing upon release, only for the band to come back stronger than ever years after breaking up and becoming one of the top prog bands years after their music had influenced other jazz musicians to take up metal and metalheads to play jazz. Sean Malone is a killer bassist and my interest in the boundries of bass guitar as an instrument really glued me into this band.

SKINDRED - KILL THE POWER: Skindred's best album since their Babylon debut, and the best album opener since "Nobody". If you've never heard Skindred, you might have heard of their singer Benji Webbe from his pre-Skindred guest appearance on the first Soulfly album, back when he was a part of the similarly reggae-fused metal band Dub War. This mixes in several other genres for good measure, including drum'n'bass and dubstep. I fucking love this record and band. The title track is especially one of my favorites.

RAIMUNDOS - CANTIGAS DE RODA: Brazilian hardcore punk with some fun surprises, including some sludgy metal cuts, a little bit of ska and a reggae track featuring American rapper Sen Dog. This is a solid album.

BECK - MORNING PHASE: Beck got really boring after he stopped rapping. This is one of the most dull albums of the year.

ANIMALS AS LEADERS - THE JOY OF MOTION: Fucking incredible album. Animals As Leaders takes the progressive metal path forged by Cynic and runs with it on a record which places emphasis on musical prowess in a series of instrumental tracks blending the worlds of metal and jazz. Highly recommended.

AMB - THE GARCIA BROTHERS: This was really underwhelming. Hope their next album is better.

CAPAREZZA - MUSEICA: A freewheeling burst of musical creativity from the genre-blending Italian rapper, Museica is a self-reflective commentary on art, one of his most fufilling concept album releases. This is a fine work of experimental music, from one of the few rappers to not only use live bands, but sheet music. This might be Caparezza's best album.

WINGER - BETTER DAYS COMIN': Incredible album. Might be Winger's best. "Tin Soldier" is one of the most progressive songs this band has ever done.

KILLER BE KILLED: I guess this was fine. I wasn't as much into this as some of the other albums that came out this year. I guess I was expecting something more experimental because it features members of The Dillinger Escape Plan, Mastodon, and The Mars Volta. It just ends up sounding like another Max Cavalera thrash project. The band claimed that this band would combine elements from the sound of each member's band, but that's bullshit, because there's none of the technical stuff that DEP, Mastodon or The Mars Volta play, and it's disappointing in that aspect, especially since Cavalera's been making some better thrash albums with Soulfly.

BOONDOX - ABADDON: Boondox' comeback album is dark as fuck. The highlights include the Big Hoodoo and Zug Izland guest spots and the country music interjections. It might just be Boondox' best album yet.

MUSHROOMHEAD - THE RIGHTEOUS & THE BUTTERFLY: Mushroomhead's sense of melody is one of their major strengths, and there's some really good melodic songs on this album.

CASUALTIES OF COOL: Devin Townsend recorded a country and blues-influenced concept album about a space traveler arriving on a dead planet. I like this a lot, but it might appeal more to people who like music by John Zorn or Mike Patton than country fans. And if you liked Dog Fashion Disco's song "Desert Grave" (from their Adultery album), you'll really like this!

POWERMAN 5000 - BUILDERS OF THE FUTURE: This album is like a welcome visit from an old friend. I'm sure that many of you, like me, are great admirers of PM5K's classic album Tonight the Stars Revolt! Like Rob Zombie, the older brother of PM5K leader Spider One, PM5K brought hard-hitting industrial metal mixed with tongue-in-cheek lyrics inspired by pulp fiction, comic books and drive-in movies. Rob made horror music and PM5K made sci-fi music. Builders of the Future is the most PM5K has sounded like themselves since the cancelled 2001 release Anyone For Doomsday. The band has returned to form here, and that's something worth celebrating.

DIE ANTWOORD - DONKER MAG: This is a weird fucking band. I like this group, but I wasn't as much into this album as I was their last album, Tension.

LINKIN PARK - THE HUNTING PARTY: Not a fan of this band. I can't muster up much more than apathy for this album. I heard "Rebellion" on the radio and thought, "Huh, this sounds like System of a Down...that doesn't sound like Serj Tankian...this is who?" My impression of their early albums was that Linkin Park was a really generic nu-metal band. I guess this is a step forward in songwriting that they no longer sound like angry teenagers now that they're in their 40's. But the only song that I kind of liked was "Rebellion". The big problem on that one is the screaming really doesn't fit the song in terms of the composition. Daron Malakian of SOAD played guitar on that track and cowrote the song, which may be the reason why it's a kind of distinctive track. It takes a really bland band to make a guest spot by Rakim forgettable. Still not as bad as the new Beck and Yes albums.

MASTODON - ONCE MORE 'ROUND THE SUN: This was really well performed, though it had the tendency for its songs to sound similar, I really liked it. Check it out if you like the band.

JUDAS PRIEST - REDEEMER OF SOULS: This album will melt your fucking face off.

DOG FASHION DISCO - SWEET NOTHINGS: Dog Fashion Disco are back in full genre-twisting avant-garde metal form.

YES - HEAVEN & EARTH: I'm almost certain that I have to be super-high to enjoy this album more than I do sober. I don't know what's with popular artists and making sleep-inducing music (see Beck's Morning Phase and Pink Floyd's The Endless River) this year.

DARK LOTUS - THE MUD, WATER, AIR & BLOOD: Dark Lotus hits it out of the park with the darkest album of their careers. This is a choice horrorcore LP.

OPETH - PALE COMMUNION: Opeth's latest is as good, or even better than Heritage, which I named as my Top Progressive Metal Album, building on that release's psychedelic soul-tinged progressive metal sound. Definitely my favorite album this year.

THE KILLJOY CLUB - REINDEER GAMES: Da Mafia 6ix masterminded this release in terms of songwriting approach. From a lyrical and concept approach, it's a collaboration between Da Mafia and Insane Clown Posse, but it's Da Mafia's DJ Paul who shaped the album's approach with its melodic choruses, hard-hitting ghetto beats and arrangements. ICP and Da Mafia 6ix compliment each other with their super-violent lyrics. This might be the best rap album of the year.

BLAZE YA DEAD HOMIE - GANG RAGS REBORN: Tech N9ne's inhouse producer Michael "Seven" Summers helms the first release from Twiztid's Majik Ninja Entertainment, Gang Rags: Reborn, the new album from fellow former Psychopathic Records deadman Blaze. Seven fuses Blaze's latest LP with a rock-tinged sound reminiscent of his debut 1 Less G N Da Hood. It's really fucking good.

PRIMUS & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY: It's Primus doing what Primus does best: Being fucking weird.

SLIPKNOT - THE GRAY CHAPTER: Slipknot's one of the most interesting and creative metal bands working today and here they combine some of their more melodic touches from All Hope Is Gone and The Subliminal Verses with the more aggressive approach of their early albums and turn out a hell of an album, especially considering that they lost one of their original founding members, Paul Gray, whose bass playing is surely missed in the world of heavy metal.

THE DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT - Z2: Ziltoid the Omniscient makes his triumphant return on disc 2 of Devin Townsend's double album, Dark Matters, filled with all the concept album storytelling and weird humor of the first Ziltoid album. This is paired with the more straight-forward Sky Blue. I really liked these albums. Give this a listen if you're into Devin Townsend.

PINK FLOYD - THE ENDLESS RIVER: Off the bat, I'd say that this is a much better album than Yes' Heaven & Earth and Beck's Morning Phase. It's still not very interesting music. Mostly consists of 1993 recordings with new overdubs.

DOCTOR SMOKE - THE WITCHING HOUR: I liked this album a lot. It sounds like early Black Sabbath. I wish these guys would go into more experimental stuff, like when they had the saxophone solo on "From Hell". Also, some of the early tracks have a habit of sounding the same. Regardless, if you like your heavy metal full of occult references and spooky imagery, definitely seek this one out.