Friday, September 1, 2017

Weekend Playlist: September 1st, 2017

This week we have the stateside release of a magnetic female japanese power metal effort, the next album in Gothic metal band Paradise Lost's catalog, the new Anubis Gate, a desert trip with Red Mountains, a symphonic death metal epic by Septicflesh, and an ambient pop outing by White Moth Black Butterfly. Before we start though, I try to find posts by the band or label on Youtube, the Official Bandcamp page, or some other venue, but Mary's Blood is hard group to nail down as their YouTube currently only showcases tracks that are 3+ years old. Instead of posting nothing, I wanted to post a Deezer playlist, but that comes with its own issues. Hit the "expand" button in the top right corner to play and view the album. Deezer is a great service... when it works. They use old protocols for just about everything web-based so it's hard to get it to work. I am looking into getting a Spotify account instead to make this a bit easier. Of course, if you have an account on a streaming service I highly recommend checking these tracks out in full. Enjoy!

The Playlist

"Fate" - Mary's Blood

Mary's Blood released "Fate" back in October 2016 in Japan, but it took until this past week for the album to be officially released to the rest of the world. For those unfamiliar with Mary's Blood they are an all-female japanese power metal band -made up of several ex-Destrose members- with incredible talent, particularly Saki, whose guitarwork is up there with the leading talent in the genre; seriously, Gus G, Marty Friedman, and Kai Hansen might need to take down some pointers here. The band absolutely kills it, and deserves far more spotlight from genre aficionados and fans of heavy metal music as a whole.

"Medusa" - Paradise Lost

Over the years, Paradise Lost, has had plenty of variations on their gothic metal brand from more hardcore outings to more pop-gothic signatures. On "Medusa", the follow-up to 2015's incredible, "The Plague Within", the group nestles itself right in the middle of it's diverse catalog. "Medusa", could be seen as a "greatest hits" of sorts as songs vary from the high tempo "Blood and Chaos" to the slower ballad-esque "The Longest Winter". It's another solid outing from a band that continues to experiment without alienating.

"Covered in Black" - Anubis Gate

Anubix Gate is dead. Or alive. Er... kinda both. The band has been through so much trauma over the years from record contracts to health issues that no original member exists. Still, the group's overall sound hasn't suffered. Sure, "Covered in Black" could be considered a bit of a retread for the band, albeit with some heavier doses than usual, but it never once gets dull. The band may expand their horizons (pun intended, look up the band's discography) with future albums, but for now the group is sitting just fine sticking with what they know best and playing the hell out of it.

"Slow Wander" - Red Mountains

Red Mountains open "Slow Wander" with a slow torrential riff that pours over the listener like the setting sun in a hazy desert. The album breathes both psychedelic moments and romping desert/stoner rock, with vocalist/guitarist Magnus Riise, guitarist/vocalist Jostein Wigenstad, bassist Sverre Dalen and drummer Simen Mathiassen striding meaningfully towards the top of the peak. This is a triumph of a sophomore album. For now I only have a link to the debut single "Rat King", but will update with the full album once they post it so keep an ear on this space. Edit: Full album is up!

"Codex Omega" - Septicflesh

On their tenth album, "Codex Omega", Septicflesh offer another solid symphonic death metal outing. Besides the addition of a new drummer, Kerim "Krimh" Lechner, the outfit remains the same, along with their signature use of a real orchestra and chorus to back up the pulverizing death metal. This is a major step up from "Titan", and worth a look for fans of death and symphonic metal genres.

"Atone" - White Moth Black Butterfly

Founded by Daniel Tompkins (TesseracT) and Keshav Dhar after forming Skyharbor, White Moth Black Butterfly follows a different musical course from those two aforementioned groups. A passionate progressive pop outing, "Atone" continues where "One Thousand Wings" left off but with a bit more flair; branching out from the ambience that defined the first album. Acoustic guitar drives "The Serpent", and "Tempest", while more in line with "One Thousand Wings", glides with a pounding drumbeat. The whole album builds on the original sound with rich textures and addicting lyricism. If you need a bit of a break from the earlier albums in this post, or need something to relax to, White Moth Black Butterfly has you covered with their gorgeous, ethereal sophomore effort.

Hope you found something to listen to and have a great weekend!
- The Catalyst

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Weekend Playlist: August 25th, 2017

This week we have a new summer soundtrack by Queens of the Stone Age, a crushing return from The Haunted, a magnificent farewell from Pagan Altar, a folktronica album by relative newcomer Gordi, a journey into space with Howling Giant and another with Ruby the Hatchet, and plenty of others. This is a big weekend so let's get to it!

The Playlist

"Villains" - Queens of the Stone Age

When the singles for "Villains" released I was skeptical as the mastering seemed to hide the guitars low in the mix. Luckily, that seems to be a fluke, and streaming it upon release Homme's and Leeuwen's licks are as prevalent as ever. Homme's vocals at times feel almost Bowie-like as some tracks filter through space rock stylings; synth is utilized more than on previous QOTSA outings. The tracks are the perfect mix of fuzzy and frenetic, and despite coming the last week of August the album might easily be considered the soundtrack of the summer. Play it now, play it loud, repeat. See below for the complete playlist on Youtube posted by the band.

"Strength in Numbers" - The Haunted

The Haunted has always been on the precipice of greatness. 2004's "Revolver" was the closest they got when Peter Dolving took over vocals from Marco Aro who then returned to the group with a brand new lineup in 2012. "Strength in Numbers" shows the new band coming together nicely after a couple of releases with crushing riffs and solid song structure. Fans of melo-death/groove should plug this one in asap. Check out the music video for "Preachers of Death" below posted by label Century Media Records.

"The Room of Shadows" - Pagan Altar

Pagan Altar have had a fairly obtuse career starting things off with a demo in 1982, then laying dormant for nearly 20 years to return with a decade string of some of the best NWOBHM/Classic Doom albums ever released (1998-2006). In 2014, the group was to release another masterpiece, but things were put on hold when singer Terry Jones was diagnosed with cancer. He eventually succumbed in 2015, and the album seemed lost forever. Thankfully, the band didn't want to see Jones' legacy end on such a note so they pieced together the vocals he had recorded for the 2014 album, and re-recorded the accompanying music. From this process, "The Room of Shadows" was built, and it is as glorious an album as one could expect. While there are times the limitations of such an effort show up with some repeated lyrics, the music is so well composed and performed that it feels like a minor footnote. Alan Jones (Terry's son) fires on all frets, while Diccon Harper (bass) and Andy Green (drums) keep the momentum moving. It's a stellar release that not only shows the talent of those involved, but acts as the perfect swansong for Terry and Pagan Altar as a whole.

"Reservoir" - Gordi

On her debut EP, "Clever Disguise", Gordi melded electronica and folk, and with her first LP shows how powerful and mesmerizing lyrics can mean more than the music behind it. This isn't to say that Gordi's approach isn't also musically inclined with inventive takes on percussion in "Heaven I Know" backed by powerful piano chords. The album's a very personal journey from an artist who's just beginning a strong career.

"Black Hole Space Wizard: Pt. 2" - Howling Giant

Begin Transmission: Howling Giant are simply massive as they travel the galaxy creating rich textures with their instrumentation and combating the evil forces bent on destroying time, space, and fun. Join them on their quest to bring the breakdowns of the Druids to those less fortunate, and spread knowledge across the 'verse of this extremely brave and talented band: End Transmission.

"Planetary Space Child" - Ruby the Hatchet

Ruby the Hatchet continues to push the boundaries of psych rock, and "Planetary Space Child" is chock full of spacy riffs, psychedelic grooves, and plenty of satisfying synth. Not to mention Jillian Taylor's epic croons which blend splendidly with the music and continue to be a highlight.

"Amain" - Crimfall

A sweeping folk metal epic with very good production values and impeccable storytelling. Be warned there are death growls, but the band melds choral and female vocals alongside it so don't let it steer you away.

"Finisterre" - Der Weg einer Freiheit

"Finisterre" is an album full of atmospheric black metal that hits hard; if that makes any sense. Der Weg einer Freiheit knows when to slow things down, when to add in a few driving riffs, and when to let all hell break lose.

"Ett Fjärran Kall" - Fornhem

Fornhem executes a more traditional take on black metal intertwining folk elements similar to groups like Bathory. The dichotomy produces an album that's both cold and warming. If you're a fan of classic black metal stylings give this one a listen.

"Burn the World" - Portrait

In case you didn't have enough NWOBHM with Pagan Altar's release here's a more straight up heavy metal album in the vein of Judas Priest. Portait shred, and sometimes that's all it takes.

Hope you found something to listen to and have a great weekend!

- The Catalyst

Friday, August 18, 2017

Weekend Playlist: August 18th, 2017

Last week I was out of town and unable to put together a post. To make up for that we luckily have a very solid week of releases. Before I post those, however, I definitely recommend you check out Pyrrhon's "What Passes for Survival", Incantation's "Profane Nexus", and Dawn of Disease's "Ascension Gate". Yeah, last week was great for death metal. In case you missed it, Poison Blood's S/T debut EP is also worth a look. Now without further ado here's the breakdown of this week's picks.

We have a Canadian prog-death outfit's first full-length, Cloakroom's latest, another phenomenal release by Ripple Music, a Mastodonian love affair, a grunge-era callback, Steve Wilson's next brush, and Necrolytic Goat Converter's self-released debut LP, which is as good as the band name preclude's. Enjoy!

The Playlist

"Paleblood Sky" - Becomes Astral

Becomes Astral's debut full-length formulates fiery fretwork and magnificent mélange to produce a phenomenal outing for death connoisseurs and the casual observer alike. Also, for fans of Dark Souls the final track has a special treat in store for you.

"Time Well" - Cloakroom

Cloakroom's latest album is a posty doom-laden shoegaze adventure interweaving floaty riffs with fuzzy drops. Recommended for folks looking to throw something on in the background that isn't too distracting but packs a wallop when your focus turns to it.

"Servants of the Salem Girls" - The Necromancers

Ripple Music continues to be a top choice for fans of the stoner and doom genres, and the latest from The Necromancers holds to that standard. The group harkens back to the classic doom of yore combining Luciferian lyrics with gutteral vocals. It's a head-boppin' good time.

"Lupus Metallorum" - Old Iron

Mixed and recorded by Matt Bayles (Mastodon, The Sword, ISIS), Old Iron's sophomore effort proves the group has the gusto to run the Seattle heavy music scene. The first half of the album hits hard with a sludgy mixture of heavy riffage, while the second half slows down and pours out doomy refrains.

"We Won't Get Out Of Here Alive" - Transit Method

Transit Method harkens back to 90's grunge with a heavy metal tint. It's fast, frantic, and most definitely fun.

"To The Bone" - Steven Wilson

Steven Wilson's work is hard to come by for free even on the internet and it's very hard to determine if something posted by a third party will be taken down. For now here's an informative interview with Wilson done by The Telegraph UK. The album in full can be found on nearly all streaming sites including Deezer, Apple Music, Spotify, etc as well as via physical distribution at all major outlets. Watch the interview here.

"Isolated Evolution" - Necrolytic Goat Converter

Sometimes a band's name is enough to do a double-take. Thankfully, Necrolytic Goat Converter and their creator Chris Voss have the talent to back up the title with depressive lyrics filtered through impressive instrumentation.

Hope you found something to listen to and have a great weekend!

- The Catalyst

Friday, August 4, 2017

Weekend Playlist: August 4th, 2017

I've been doing these posts on my Facebook lately, and thought I'd formalize them by adding them to the blog. This weekend's playlist showcases a young symphonic metal group out of Boston, a progressive project featuring Dave Lombardo and Mike Patton, and a glorious gypsy punk effort.

Primary Playlist

"Solveig" by Seven Spires

Formed in Boston, these Berklee alumni have unleashed symphonic pleasure. Adrienne Cowan's vocals soar and crush while Jack Costo's sensational guitarwork is destined for legend. Sadly not on Bandcamp but here's a couple of videos to showcase their range. Order the album on the band's official site here


Dead Cross features the legendary talents of drummer Dave Lombardo (Slayer) and vocalist Mike Patton (Faith No More) as they go on a whirlwind trip of chaos with each song delving deeper and deeper into the depths of pure insanity.

Eclectic ska/gypsy punk group, Russkaja was founded by Stalhammer singer Georgij Makazaria, and their new album provides the perfect escapism needed for fun weekend.

- The Catalyst

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Film Review: Okja

Directed by: Joon-ho Bong
Starring: Seo-Hyun Ahn, Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Giancarlo Esposito, Shirley Henderson, Steven Yeun, Daniel Henshall, Lily Collins, Devon Bostick, Je-mun Yun, Woo-sik Choi, Hee-Bong Byun
Rating: TV-MA
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama
Runtime: 1 hr. 58 min.

Joon-ho Bong is known to many in the west as the writer/director of the well-received, "Snowpiercer"; a look at class structure and overpopulation through the use of a post-apocalyptic train society. Others may also know his work on "The Host (Gwoemul)" -a modern day "Jaws"- and "Mother (Madeo)", which happens to be my personal favorite work of his (read: I should note that I have yet to see "Barking Dogs Never Bite (Flandersui gae)" or "Memories of a Murder (Salinui chueok)"). Joon-ho continues his record of releasing ornate, obscure cinema with "Okja"; currently streaming on Netflix. As with Joon-ho's previous work, the film focuses on real societal concerns and offers up an offbeat story to tackle them. Similar to "Snowpiercer", the film takes at look at issues with overpopulation, namely the food industry. As usual, minor spoilers ahead.

The film starts with us following Lucy Morando (Swinton), CEO of the Morando Corporation, through a dingy, rusted warehouse towards a press release. Here we learn of a mystical "super pig" that was "discovered" in Chile, which even as a baby is larger in size than a full-grown pig. Through "genetic-engineering" the calf was duplicated, and her family sent around the world as part of a PR plan to see which farmer could develop the "super pig" to its full potential. It's a bit of a jarring intro with a lot of information thrown at the viewer, but Swinton's eccentric performance sells it.

A decade later, we are now in the mountains outside of Seoul, South Korea as Mija (Seo-Hyun) and her truck size adult "super pig" pal "Okja" traipse through the forest in search of fruit and fish. The sequence is beautiful and intimate as we see the two play games and work together. Things get a little out of hand, however, as Mija and Okja fall asleep and keep her grandfather (Hee-Bong) waiting. In order to get home quickly, Mija takes Okja through a perilous shortcut. Of course, things go wrong and Okja ends up in a dangerous situation trying to protect her friend. After the scenario, Okja is more than a little perturbed, so Mija whispers something in her ear. The "super pig" sits up and the two hug. It's incredibly touching and sets the tone for their relationship.

Eventually, the usual Morando researcher, Mundo Park (Je-mun), and animal television star, Johnny Wilcox (Gyllenhaal), greet Mija, Okja, and grandpa at the house. To say Gyllenhaal's character is obtuse is being easy. He's a bit all over the place, and while it's hilarious, it's also a bit overwhelming after the touching adventure we just went through. Grandpa takes Mija away so the crew can work on filming Okja. Needless to say, it's a basic ruse so the crew can take Okja away to New York for the Morando "super pig" competition and the plot is set in motion.

The following chase sequences in the film are handled with aplomb as Joon-ho directs the hell out of each sequence. From break-ins to car chases through the city it's all handled exceptionally. The CGI is also handled very well with Okja blending into the environment perfectly, and the chase sequences having real weight. Sadly, a large part of the film's second act loses focus on Mija or Okja, and instead puts the lense on the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). It makes sense to have such a group in this film given the theme at hand, but too much of the film's runtime is padded with their agenda. Most noteworthy of this bunch is the subdued, but sensational Jay, played by Paul Dano, who -yet again- turns what could have been a bit character into a human being with true motives in only a short meeting with Mija; the man is severely underrated. The rest of the group is fairly one note, with Steven Yeun, Daniel Henshall, Lily Collins, and Devon Bostick not given much screen time to really matter.

The second act also cuts away to the folks over at Morando as they deal with the fallout of the chases and continue to question Lucy's place as CEO. Even if it's part of his character's motives, Giancarlo Esposito seems downright bored being there and his existence in the film is more plot device than anything. There are just so many moments in this middle third that could have been utilized to far better extent if they focused around Mija or Okja. To be fair though there is one sequence in the middle that I won't spoil, since it is truly one of the best sequences in the film. I'll just say this is the part where Gyllenhaal's character gets to shine.

The third act is fairly trite affair that does what's expected and gets our characters to where they need to be. The ending, however, is easily one of the most moving I have seen in quite some time. Letting the serenity of the moment take over the viewer in waves.

Before I sign off on the verdict, it would not do Seo-Hyun's performance service if I didn't mention how incredible it is. The 13-year-old actress does so as if she's a veteran. Working with a CGI creature to create an emotional bond is hard for even the most talented actor, but she nails it, and I hope we see more from her soon.

Okja suffers from an overworked second act, but the emotional journey of Mija and Okja under Joon-ho's deft direction ultimately sticks the landing and offers a fun -if frightening- look at the food industry. 3.5/5

- The Catalyst

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Directed by: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Kurt Russell, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Sylvester Stallone, Elizabeth Debicki
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Sci-Fi, Action, Adventure
Runtime: 2 hr. 16 min.

In 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy was the first Marvel movie to depart from little old Earth and venture out into the nine realms. The film was to be the franchise's first test to see if their more "out there" characters could find a place among the Marvel cinematic fanbase. Luckily, at the helm was director James Gunn who utilized this quirky group of misfits -and 70's/80's musical nostalgia- to spin a tale that was itself refreshing, but still harkened back to B-style science-fiction adventure tales like Flash Gordon (albeit with a slightly larger budget). The result was another Marvel cinematic success story, and with any prosperous entry comes a sequel.

Enter Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2; a title whose tongue-in-cheek reference to the soundtrack already sets the stage for another euphonious romp through the stars. The film starts off with our "heroes" looking to make some cash by working for for the elite race known as The Sovereign and stopping an interdimensional being from eating a highly prized battery. Yep, that's the setup. Now the punchline sets up one of the most inventive fight sequences in a Marvel film to date. As Peter Quill aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) try to keep the beast at bay, the camera instead follows Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) as he dances his way around the battlefield. Sadly, I only saw the picture in 2D, but I am guessing the 3D in this moment is something to behold. Easily one of the best openers in the Marvel canon, and sets the film up for another successful outing.

Rocket being, well, Rocket, decides to steal some of the power cells for the battery they were protecting, which infuriates the Sovereign High Priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki). This leads to a spectacular space battle, which the Guardians only narrowly escape thanks to an anonymous helper. Their ship destroyed the group begins to fight amongs themselves and show signs of a tear beginning to form. Meanwhile, Yondu (Michael Rooker) stifles at a brothel after losing riches to Quill in the previous film. Soon he comes face to face with the head of the Ravagers, Stakar Ogord (Sylvester Stallone), a group he had joined and was in when tasked with protecting Quill in the first film. Ogord dismisses Yondu from the Ravagers for mistakes he has made that go against their code. Soon after, Yondu is approached by High Priestess Ayesha and tasked with finding Quill and his crew once again. During this time, and unbeknown to Yondu, his crew is having second thoughts about his ability to lead.

While there is plenty of fun to be had in Vol. 2, the film falters a bit in trying to keep pace with an overly constructed story. Where Guardians let the film flow and let the explanations come naturally, much of the sequel's runtime is devoted to over explanation. This is none clearer than in its introduction of Quill's father, Ego (Kurt Russell), whom was the anonymous savior at the film's open. A celestial (Marvel's term for extremely powerful immortal beings that aren't quite "gods"), his character spends plenty of the movie explaining his origins, how he came to meet and impregnate Quill's mother, and the how's and why's of Quill's successive powers; in turn, explaining why Star-Lord was able to hold onto an Infinity Stone for so long in the previous film. The whole process is quite a bit to take in, even for a Marvel veteran, and within all the explanation we never truly understand why Ego really requires Quill to complete his plan (a tidbit I won't go into in this review to avoid spoilers) beyond the cursory "I need the extra help because I can't do it by myself". It all just seems a bit arbitrary and the film spends so much time building up the character that one would hope to have a better explanation for the main driving plot of the film.

Now this does not mean that the slower parts of the film don't have heart. We learn more about Drax's history as he explains it to Ego's empathic helper, Mantis (Pom Klementieff), we unearth more of the "unspoken" between Quill and Gamora, and Rocket and Yondu learn they have more in common than originally thought. A heartfelt moment between Gamora and her sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) stands as one of the most honest and teary moments of the film and even the Marvel universe as a whole.

There is a lot of quality character building and tension in Guardians, but some of it is undone by an untimely quip or two. I understand the film is supposed to be a mostly fun ride, so delving too deep into the dark nature of some of the events wouldn't be characteristic of the film. The issue I have with the bulk of the jokes, however, is that they fall at unnecessary times despite remaining legitimately funny. For example, a white-knuckle scene involving Rocket and Yondu being interrogated, is turned on its side when Rocket takes notice of the odd name for one of his captors. It's a funny sequence, but quells any dramatic traction the film had garnered to that point. The film simply doesn't have the same balance as the original when it comes to weighting the more dramatic sequences with the hilarious ones.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a worthy successor to the confident original, and while it may falter a bit when it comes to plot balances and explanations, it's also filled with incredible action set pieces and a triple-dose of hilarity. 3.5/5

- The Catalyst

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Film Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Directed by: Bill Condon
Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor, Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci
Rating: PG
Genre: Family, Musical, Fantasy
Runtime: 2 hr. 9 min.

Let me start off this review by stating the obvious. The original Beauty and the Beast is an animated classic. It was the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture at the 1992 Academy Awards. It also stood a chance of winning that coveted title had Silence of the Lambs not released that year. The animation is revolutionary, and still looks magnificent in the remastered blu-ray versions. The ballroom sequence is one of those moments in filmmaking that's breathtaking and forces even the most critical of filmgoers to simply sit quietly in awe. In short, this newly released live-action adaptation has a lot to live up to.

Beauty and the Beast starts things off on a familiar note with the narrated tale of a priviliged Prince (Dan Stevens) whom denies shelter to an elderly hag. Of course, this individual is a beautiful enchantress in disguise who then curses the Prince and the other pampered attendants of his party. Turned into a Beast, the Prince must now hope to find true love before his 21st birthday or the castle will crumble under the spell and his attendants forever turned into household items. In the new film this moment is played out in a more extravagant series of events -rather than the simpler stained-glass motif- and showcases the film's first major departure from the original feature.

The film sticks to a predictable path as we meet Belle (Emma Watson), Gaston (Luke Evans), LeFou (Josh Gad), and Belle's father, Maurice (Kevin Kline). A tremendous ensemble (made moreso by the addition of the castle inhabitants, more on that below) the cast in filled with star-studded and commendable actors. Watson's vocals, however, do not quite lift beyond the music during this opening composition, and while she is definitely trying her best, it is a minor disappointment in what is otherwise one of the better choreographed and shot sequences in the film.

The rest of the cast is mostly able to hit their high notes, though Luke Evans also struggles at times to hit the deeper notes required. Evans also lacks the traditional build of Gaston, so it's a bit offputting when you see him lift not only a fair maiden, but the substantial LeFou as well. Still, it doesn't get in the way of the film's themes so those who have been complaining about that aspect of the casting should sit easy. Josh Gad, while admittedly overwrought as an actor, is the most practiced singer of the whole bunch and even though his pipes don't recieve the workout they deserve, he more than stands as a musical highlight.

Belle's father leaves on a trip to the market (wherever that is) and ends up seeking out the castle for shelter from weather. Belle herself eventually makes her way to the castle to find her father imprisoned by the Beast. She takes her father's place in the prison cell, and the film continues as expected minus a few additional songs and plot elements, which don't do much beyond pad runtime.

The familiar elements are mostly performed with aplomb, since the castle cast is also filled with droppable names like Ewan McGregor as Lumière the Candle, Ian McKellen as Cogsworth the Clock, and Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts the Teapot. McGregor is particularly notable as his commanding croon envelopes the viewer during the spectacular "Be Our Guest" number. The whole affair is gorgeously animated with tongue and cheek references to the original -serously, why can't Belle actually get something to eat?- and might even top it in spectacle.

The realistic representation used for the household characters is brilliantly executed, but the realism is hindered when we come upon the Beast himself. The Beast is largely animated, which includes facial features. The result is not only unpleasant but distracts from the emotional connection we are to feel between Belle and the Beast as Watson struggles to interact with him. A minor use of prosthetics on the Beast, such as his mane or horns, would have gone a long way to making him feel more life-like. As it stands, the choice affects the most important seen in the whole film: the ballroom dance.

The eponymous song starts, but instead of the events on screen matching the song -as they do in the original- the music seems superfluous and exists only as something "emotional" to play over the event. The ballroom is drab with only a few flourishes instead of the gorgeous golden hall. The dancing sequence is messy as cuts are used in order to get the right shots between Belle and the Beast. The whole moment feels like an ordeal rather than cinematic and emotional. It's easily the biggest disappointment of the whole film.

Despite this, Dan Stevens does a fantastic job providing voicework to the Beast. His interpretation is spot-on, and the new solo song the Beast sings is definitely another highlight of the film. If only he wasn't impeded by the hollow use of animation.

The latter half of the film plays it safe, and the final battle in particular brings nothing new to the table. As I noted earlier, there are some additional scenes involving the enchantress, the fate of Belle's mother, and some new songs but none of them add up to anything worthwhile beyond stretching a brisk 90 minute tale to over two hours.

Beauty and the Beast builds upon the original Disney animated tale, but falls short of finding it's own foothold and becoming a truly relevant release. It's a beautiful film, but a fairly flat one, and the original remains my personal preferred version should I revisit this tale as old as time. 3/5

- The Catalyst

Monday, April 10, 2017

Top Albums of 2016

Here it finally is! I apologize for the super long wait. It's been a busy few months. 2016 -despite all the not-so-good- brought us some excellent musical candy. Let's kick things off with the top EPs/Splits!


While EPs and splits make up a comparatively smaller margin of what I listen to, I found myself consistently coming back to a few throughout the year.

Runner-Up: "Resonance: Crimson Void" - Mare Cognitum / Aureole

Genre: Atmospheric Black Metal
Release Date: August 10th

"The Rigel Axiom" - Dynatron

Genre: Darksynth/Retrowave
Release Date: November 4th

Honorable Mentions

2016 had so many incredible releases it's hard to give each it's due. As it stands I have dwindled the list of honorable mentions down to just 25 (yes 25!) albums that barely fell out of the top 10. In alphabetical order by artist:

Title Artist Genre Link
"Kodama" Alcest Blackgaze/Shoegaze/Black Metal
"Command Your Weather" Big Business Progressive Sludge/Stoner Rock
"Welcome to the Graveyard" Castle Heavy Metal/Doom Metal
"Honest Life" Courtney Marie Andrews Country
"Arctic Thunder" Darkthrone Black Metal
"Landless" Eight Bells Doom Metal/Black Metal
"Old Terrors" Esben and the Witch Post-Rock/Gothic Rock
"Non Paradisi" GosT Darksynth/Synthwave
"Dead Revolution" Hammers of Misfortune Progressive Metal
"Motivator" High Spirits Hard Rock/Heavy Metal
"衷赤​/​Oath of Allegiance" Holyarrow Epic Black Metal
"Seraphical Euphony" Hyperion Melodic Black Metal
"Bloodshed Across The Empyrean Altar Beyond The Celestial Zenith" Inquisition Black Metal
"Paradise Gallows" Inter Arma Post/Sludge/Black/Death Metal
"Luminiferous Aether" Mare Cognitum Atmospheric Black Metal
"Epsilon Aurigae (2015) / Zeta Reticuli (2016)" MONOLITHE Doom Metal
"Mother Feather" Mother Feather Pop/C*ck-Rock
"Tired of Tomorrow" Nothing Shoegaze/Post-punk
"The Uncanny Valley" Perturbator Darksynth/Synthwave
"Ezekiel's Hags" Seven Sisters of Sleep Sludge Metal
"A Piece for Mind and Mirror" Skuggsjá Neofolk/Progressive Black Metal Influence
"Chained in Oblivion" Spirit Adrift Doom Metal
"Meta" Thy Catafalque Avant-Garde
"Terminal Redux" Vektor Progressive Thrash Metal
"Mystical Future" Wildernessking Atmospheric Black Metal/Blackgaze

The Countdown

10. "Dauðra Dura" - Forndom

Genre: Scandanavian Folk
Release Date: January 29th

Forndom is a solo project focused on recreating traditional Scandanavian folk music with few embellishments. "Dauðra Dura" (and debut EP "Flykt") both accomplish this task with simple, yet provocative, tracks which focus the listener in a time long passed. Simple drums, choral elements, and traditional instrumentation including strings and horns guide the listener through the wilderness. It's an undemanding listen, but the emotions brought up through the pure arrangement of these instruments are powerful and undeniable. A necessary listen for fans of the genre, or those looking to plant themselves in another world for a while.

9. "Northen" - SIG:AR:TYR

Genre: Folk/Pagan Black Metal
Release Date: April 15th

A solo project of Daemonskald up until 2012, SIG:AR:TYR, is now a full fledged studio band. With the added manpower, the group takes the more extreme styles adopted in "Godsaga", and push them to the apex. There is a definitive improvement not only in production, but in musicianship as solos rise above murky, trembling riffs. The acoustic intro to "Skraeling" slowly gives way to pounding riffs, and finally evolves into one of the most addicting riffs I've heard in a while from the genre outside of Inquisition's Dagon. Daemonskald's raspy vocals complete the onslaught. Following this adventure, "Krossanes" kicks things off with a windswept riff that moves along like a viking horde prepped for battle sailing across the sea toward the unknown. The album perfectly exemplifies a nordic journey; one that's not easy to return from without eventually venturing out once again.

8. "Pillars of Ash" - Black Tusk

Genre: Sludge Metal
Release Date: January 29th

Black Tusk hail from the Savannah, Georgia region which spawned household names like Kylesa, Baroness, and the all-mighty Mastodon. Each of these bands started sludgier, and slowly moved towards other genres, with Black Tusk infusing their sludgy, swamp metal with punk. "Pillars of Ash" is the band's best outing to date with incredible variations in riffs, and a step-up in the vocals department by the whole band. The album sears with intensity, and the song structure varies wherein repeat listens are welcomed if not encouraged; this has been an issue I found with their previous releases. "Pillars" is also a product of love as the group put the album together in the wake of bassist Jonathan Athon's passing in 2014. The anger and frustration is felt throughout the album, and everyone feels at top form trying to do right by Athon. The future of the band is still a bit of a wildcard, but "Pillars" definitely leaves the group open to continue to expand their horizons.

7. "The Fall of Hearts" - Katatonia

Genre: Depressive Metal
Release Date: May 20th

Katatonia have had a fair breadth of styles in their time as a band moving between black and death metal genres, and most recently with "Dead End Kings" the band has adopted a more depressive style. Not to say the music isn't filled with majestic choruses and musicianship. "The Fall of Hearts" builds on the style implementing more stylistic solos and acoustic accompaniments (more than likely influenced by the acoustic recomposing of "Dead End Kings" called "Dethroned and Uncrowned" which the band worked on between the two albums). Many may vie for a more extreme Katatonia, but the group has proven themselves with their new direction, and currently wear the crown.

6. "Winter's Gate" - Insomnium

Genre: Melodic Death Metal
Release Date: September 23rd

Insomnium are the epitome of melodic death metal. Ferocious with a keen sense of scope the group continues to improve. "Winter's Gate" is a 40 minute sprawling epic, which showcases the band at their very best. Utilizing spoken storytelling and grandiose symphonics alongside crunchy riffs and savage solos the group can't be touched when it comes to spectacle. Niilo Sevänen's rough bellow mixes with Ville Friman's clean howl to ignite a spark. The music is beautifully composed, and it's an album that's impossible to turn off once it starts; the listener like a child eagerly awaiting the tale to be told again and again.

5. "Värähtelijä" - Oranssi Pazuzu

Genre: Heavy Metal/Doom Metal
Release Date: February 26th

Oranssi Pazuzu have always been a bit of an off-kilter group with their original blend of extreme metal and space-rock psychedelia. Enter "Värähtelijä". A dark canvas. Pure blackened diabolical chaos. A light flickers. Fall into the shadow. Witness the luscious, thick, fuzzy space beyond the realm of space and time. Follow the whispers. They are waiting.

4. "The Death of All Things" - Beastwars

Genre: Sludge/Stoner Metal
Release Date: April 4th

In 2011, Beastwars released their eponymous debut to widespread acclaim for interweaving traditional sludge and stoner elements with primal drum beats and singer Matt Hyde's now signature howl to induce a sense of apocalyptic dread. The band's follow-up, "Blood Becomes Fire" solidified the band as a force in not only their native New Zealand, but internationally as well. Set to break free from the underground shackles with their third LP, the aptly titled "The Death of All Things", the band announced that one of the founding members, drummer Nathan Hickey, would be moving away and leaving the group. As a silver-lining, despite being the group's final album -at least for now- "The Death of All Things" finds them in top notch form. Opener "Call to the Mountain" sets the stage with hypnotic riffage interlaced with Hyde's howl. Hickey's simple drum intro into "Witches" pulls the listener in as hazy riffs slowly rise building to one of the band's finest denouements. "Black Days" picks things back up with a pummeling riff, and out of character for the band, "The Devil Took Her" offers an acoustic outing. Finally, "The Death of All Things" wraps up the album with melancholic fury. The album might be their last, but Beastwars put in their all.

3. "Hunter" - Khemmis

Genre: Doom Metal
Release Date: October 21st

Khemmis are one of the torchbearers of the current doom renaissance after releasing their debut album, 2015's "Absolution". Now, only a little over a year later, they have unleashed "Hunted". The album is soaked in riffage, indelible vocals, and hauntingly beatiful lyricism. "Candelight" opens with a pounding riff, but it's when Phil's vocals enter that the true magic happens. The chorus is incredibly catchy for a doom track, and the listener can't help but chant along. Soon, however, the darkness rises, and Ben's growl seeps in during a nearly two minute breakdown, which easily induces shivers. When the light finally resurfaces we are met with a slow rise towards Phil's chant over a fiery solo. Eventually we get back to that pounding riff, which slowly outros the song. Hit repeat. Hit repeat. Hit repeat. The following track, "Three Gates", picks up the pieces and blows out the door with a punk-infused galloping riff. The album finale, "Hunted", is nearly 15 minutes of perfection, which sets us up for an epic reveal. Some doom enthusiasts may look at "Hunted" and find that it plays it too 'safe' with the composition, but the album is so perfect in its execution on all levels that it shows that progressive music can come from perfecting that which already exists. And Khemmis, well, they're pretty damn perfect.

2. "Metachtonia" - Thrawsunblat

Genre: Folk Black Metal
Release Date: June 17th

Thrawsunblat was founded by Joel Violette and deceased Woods of Ypres singer David Gold. A few years after Gold's departure, Ray Amitay (Immortal Bird, Eight Bells) took his place on drums, and bassist Brendan Hayter (Blood of the Gods, Obsidian Tongue) joined the group for 2013's "Wanderer on the Continent of Saplings". Following a few EPs later, the band released their second full-lenght entitled, "Metachthonia", which takes a look at the "electric age" of man and his dream to move beyond the world he inhabits. Imbued with thematic folk musical elements exhibiting man's connection with nature, the group also heavily utilizes the extreme elements of black metal to display man's internal and external struggles with moving into a technological age. Each song is broken into three distinct parts wherein the lyrics tell the story with little use of a repeating chorus; instead using song structure to fit elements together. "She Who Names the Stars" stands as a triumph of song making. Opening as a hopeful outing with clean singing by Joel, it slowly evolves into an impasssioned internal struggle with a finale worth witnessing. "Metachthonia" is an incredible accomplishment, which moves beyond simple descriptions. The musicianship is exceptional, the composition impeccable, and the lyrics are emotional and perceptive. It's a journey I find myself repeating time and again.

1. "Hour of the Nightingale" - Trees of Eternity

Genre: Atmospheric Doom Metal
Release Date: November 11th

Trees of Eternity released their debut and final album this year entitled, "Hour of the Nightingale". Sadly, singer and songwriter Aleah Stanbridge (Swallow the Sun) passed away due to cancer during recording, but the group decided to release the album in her honor. A project between Standbridge and her partner Juha Raivio (Swallow the Sun) the album is an incredibly emotional record made even more so under the circumstances. Kai Hahto's (Wintersun) drumming is spot on, and brothers Fredrik and Mattias Norrman (October Tide) add plenty of dimensions to the music. It's Standbridge's vocals, however, that make this melancholic adventure so heartwrenchingly beautiful. She is sorrowful, mournful, but most importantly hopeful. It might be hard to judge an album based on the events that surround it, but when something as impassioned as this album is released and we get a look into the soul of such a phenomenal singer in her last moments, it's hard not to feel verklempt and want to wallow in her sonic embrace.

So there we have it. My Top Albums of 2016. What was your favorite last year? Comment below! Look forward to more reviews coming soon!

- The Catalyst