Sunday, January 29, 2012

Top 10 video games of 2011

You know, this was originally going to be a top five, but when I sat down to think about it there were just too many great games to just include five. Keep in mind, these are only the games I've played, and I tend to swing in the Sony direction. So no, I haven't played Skyward Sword; I haven't played Gears Of War 3, and I'm never going to play the Halo remake (because I've never liked Halo), so there. Also, and this might turn some heads, I will point out once again, that I don't like first person shooters. So no, no Modern Warfare 3, and no Battlefield 3 on here either. Sorry fanboys.

2011 was an amazing year for games. As the industry grows developers seem to be smartening up to what works and what doesn't. Games have been refined to a point where It's no surprise that I'm ashamed to say that all the games on my list are sequels or remakes. It just seems like the only great new game that came out in 2011 is LA Noir, and I just haven't gotten around to playing it. But enough lollygagging, let's get to it:

10- Assassin's Creed: Revelations
I'll be the first to say, this game almost didn't make this list (I just couldn't think of anything else to put on here). AC: Revelations is a good game, had Ubisoft dedicated a bit more to making it different from it's predecessor, it might have been a great game. Unfortunately, their 'one game a year' schedule for this franchise didn't seem to give them enough time to develop new ideas for such an interesting IP.

9- Pokémon Black/White Version
I can almost see the look of shock on your face, but the truth is, these games work. Pokémon has been around for a good while now, and it's going strong with it's formula gameplay and just enough innovation to keep fans coming back for more. And I'm guilty of it, and I'm not at all ashamed of it.

While a seeming lack of support after release hindered it's impact this year, B&W is a solid installment. If only we got as many 'events' as we did for the previous games it would have been much bigger. This probably meas we're getting the inevitable Gray version, probably for the 3DS  pretty soon.

8- Mortal Kombat
That's right, it's back. And to say it's back with a vengeance would be quite the understatement. Without a doubt the best fighting game in 2011, and maybe the best ever. MK has gone back to it's roots, the over the top gore will keep you koming back for more.

It also helps that it's been getting konstant support via downloadable kontent, even pleasing fans by letting us mutilate foes as Freddy Krueger.

On top of the regular Arkade version, you get tons and tons of gameplay modes that will keep you playing for months and months, and you also add the most komprehensive story mode in fighting game history. You actually get to play through the stories from the original MK all the way to MK3. They might have not intended to, but they also made the best Mortal Kombat movie that they could make.

7- inFamous 2
This is the prime example of how a sequel can vastly improve on the original. Like I said in my review, the only real thing that hinders this sequel is that whole morality system that keeps the main character kinda bland. But besides that, both sides of the story have good moments, and the side missions are enjoyable at best. It's difficult to make a sandbox game like this and keep it fresh throughout, and Sucker Punch improved everything that they needed to. Here's to hoping the eventual third installment keeps it rolling in the right direction.

6- Mass Effect 2
Yeah, this is borderline cheating, but fuck you. ME2 came out in 2010, but the definitive (PS3) version came out in June, so I win.

This game seamlessly blends a bunch of gameplay styles perfectly. I mean, there's a reason why it's one of the most acclaimed games two years straight. And the sequel might just be the most anticipated game of 2012.

From shooting segments, to RPG elements and even social interactions are dissected in a vibrant, interesting world which you get to explore at will.

5- Dead Space 2
Scary games are becoming more and more of a rarity these days. Dead Space is one of the few ones that can accomplish fear without limiting the player in certain ways. The things Isaac goes through are visceral and terrifying, yet beautiful in their gruesomeness.

In an industry where if it ain't broke don't fix it just doesn't cut it anymore, DS2 did very little to their formula; this is proof that a tweak of the mechanics, and a little spice to the story goes a hell of a long way. It also doesn't hurt that they abandoned the silent protagonist thing that so many people seem to love doing these days.

- I would like to point out that this is where this list got difficult. Out of the top four games, any one of them could have taken up the top spot.

4- Portal 2
The geniuses at Valve keep proving that games don't need to be overly complicated in order to be successful. Portal 2 is nothing short of brilliant. But it's brilliance comes from how simple it is. At it's core it's nothing more than an amazing puzzle game.

And then you add such a simple yet amazing story. On top of that it's told by nothing more than three speaking characters, one of them speaking from the grave. Yes, they do use the whole silent protagonist thing, but in this case the game is so full of banter that it doesn't really matter. Before the original Portal the concept of a puzzle game with a storyline was just about unheard of. Much less  one that makes you laugh out of fear this much.

On top of adding a second part to the story, Portal 2 adds a couple of things, but it makes them count. The simple addition of liquids to the gameplay changed everything. When something as simple as liquids have this big an impact on a game, you know someone is doing something right.

The other big addition was co-op. But this isn't a couple of co-op levels, that just wouldn't do; this is co-op done right. Getting it's own storyline, it consists of half of the game, if not more. It might not be the longest game in the world, but it's enjoyable no matter how many times you play it.

3- Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
Being a sequel to 2009's game of the year is quite a lot of pressure, but Uncharted 3 took it in stride and actually surpassed it in several aspects. Naughty Dog have developed quite the knack for delivering brilliantly cinematic sequences at every turn that keep you hooked into a truly tantalizing story. They're also known for outmatching every game out there in sheer production value.

Unfortunately, there are a couple of key areas where I find Among Thieves was more polished. The shooting in this third installment doesn't seem as precise or crisp this time around. This could be due to some changes in the mechanics of the game, and it's not much of an issue, it just takes some getting used to. On top of that, U2 had Zoran Lazarević, a well developed antagonist, and U3 didn't seem to have the same caliber bad guys for Drake to contend with.

Again, Drake's Deception is a spectacular game. Had it not been for my nitpicking and some stiff competition, this game could very well be game of the year as well. But I do believe that Uncharted 2 is the better game of the franchise, and that cost it.

2- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
I can almost hear the dozens of you yelling at your monitors. That's right, Skyrim isn't number one. But if there ever was a close decision, this was it.

Around five hours into my Skyrim experience I openly stated that Bethesda had successfully created the quintessential RPG experience of our generation. I never thought I'd say that about a game, but there's no doubt in my mind.

I've always loved it when games bring a map along with the booklet, almost gloating that you 'might get lost' in their world. Well Skyrim does that because you will get lost multiple times. I've been playing it since launch, and there is no area inaccessible in this world, and there's so much to explore. It really can't be explained, you need to play it for yourself.

The other aspects of the game are also great. Everything is as polished as it's going to get with a game this big. Sure it has it's bugs, but that's to be expected; minor issues that should be fixed with patches before you know it.

Skyrim game is a landmark for the industry, I'm having a blast playing it and I don't plan on being done with it for a long time. But as much as I love it, as a fanboy nothing this year gave me more joy than...

1- Duke Nukem Forever
    Batman: Arkam City
I can't pick against Batman. I mean... He's Batman... The Goddamn Batman. Any person who didn't pick this as game of the year isn't a big enough Batman fan.

Like I said in my review, Arkham City has changed what a superhero based game needs to be. It set the bar as high as Nolan did for superhero movies, and it might as well might have set it higher.

The story couldn't be more perfect either. From the banter you pick off of common street thugs, to the twist and surprise appearance of well known and the most obscure of villains. Without spoiling anything, any villain could and probably is in this game. The surprises are endless. And the tiny references will keep even the most hardcore of fans marking out.

Being The Dark Knight is fun. Hovering over Gotham is fun. And you get to do it all, and feel like a total badass doing it. It's a thing of beauty. They have upped the standard for all other games, and I look forward to other companies trying to meet this new standard. If they do try, it should be a great year for games.

UFC on Fox 2: A Review

UFC on Fox 2

There is no question that in the last few years MMA has become synonymous with UFC in America.  Some companies could have crumbled and sent the sport back to the dark ages, but Dana White and the Fertittas really embraced their role as the premier spot for MMA.  As the UFC began to absorb its competition (Affliction, PRIDE, Strikeforce, WEC, etc. etc.), they also took it upon themselves to spread the UFC all around.  Now we see UFC and MMA everywhere on TV.  Fox Deportes, ESPN Deportes, Fuel TV, FX, and Fox.  That is impressive stuff.  It seems like every week there is a free show to see.  This is one of those free shows and the main card is pretty cool.  We'll see how it goes!

Preliminary Fights
Heavyweight Division
Lavar "Big" Johnson vs. Joey "Mexicutioner" Beltran

Don't blink.  These two are knockout artists and I am excited to see what the two of them will do once they are inside the octagon.  The fight didn't disappoint at all.  Lavar Johnson looks really good.  He is much more versatile in the stand up with knees in the clinch, leg kicks, and the amazing jab that kept Beltran away from hitting his big punches and combinations.  Johnson attacked Beltran with three main punches that the Mexecutioner just had no answer for.  The hooks to the body, the left jabs to the face and the overhead right.  Johnson knocked Beltran out while he was standing.  Impressive.

Winner: Lavar "Big" Johnson by KO

Preliminary Fights
Lightweight Division
Michael "The Menace" Johnson vs. Shane Roller

Michael Johnson will be looking to bounce back from a loss while Roller is also trying to get back from two losses in a row.  Both guys here will be hungry for wins.  Roller will be hoping his top notch collegiate wrestling background will be able to rescue him if his stand up doesn't work against Johnson, who was a finalist of The Ultimate Fighter.  From the start, Roller seems out of whack.  He tried and tried to take Johnson down and just couldn't do it.  Johnson looked light on his feet and his attacks, while sometimes sloppy, where definitely the more effective.  In the second round, Roller was able to establish his striking but he failed horribly once more whenever he tried to take Johnson down.  Johnson hit a nice flurry of punches at the end that might have stolen it.  The third round was a completely different game.  Roller was able to get Johnson's back and get a body triangle.  Roller controlled the whole round until the last moments were they traded for the finish.  This is a hard one to judge, but the way Roller controlled that last round might give him the edge in the judge's eyes.  But the judges thought the first two rounds were enough for Johnson to take the win.

Winner: Michael Johnson by Unanimous Decision

Preliminary Fights
Featherweight Division
Eric "Little Lee" Wisely vs. Charles "do Bronx" Oliveira

This seems like an interesting fight.  I have yet to see either of the two in the octagon, but Wisely has two victories against Hermes Franca which is pretty nice.  Oliveira last significant win was against Efrain Escudero and after that there are some not very pretty results for him.  Hopefully he will finally be comfortable in this weight division.  Wow... that was quick.  Oliveira really showed not only his ability to strike a little but how tremendously quickly he recognizes situations where he can get submissions.  He quickly tried to get a leg lock and while Wisely did very well on defending it, his leg was stuck in a bad position and Oliveira quickly recognized it, grabbed Wisely's waist and just pulled him back, which wrenched Wisely's knee almost out of its socket.  Very nice and probably submission of the night.

Winner: Charles "do Bronx" Oliveira by Submission

 Preliminary Fights
Featherweight Division
George Roop vs Cub Swanson

Roop is one lanky motherfucker.  He is incredibly tall for a 145er.  Cub Swanson is one of those guys that is just entertaining to watch.  I'm interested to see if he can catch the long limbs of Roop and work his BJJ magic.  When you have a dynamic striker like Swanson, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to move backwards with your chin up.  That is exactly what Roop did throughout the fight and eventually paid for it.  Swanson was able to catch him with his chin in the air and knocked him down.  After a few more punches to the head, Roop was done.  That was a nice way to show how a little guy can finish of a big guy.

Winner: Cub Swanson by TKO

Preliminary Fights
Heavyweight Division
John-Olav "The Viking" Einemo vs. Mike Russow

I don't know much about The Viking other than he is scary looking.  He lost to Dave Herman the last time he stepped in the octagon and he will be looking to avenge the loss.  Too bad its against Mike Russow.  Russow is one of those guys that just doesn't look like he's a fighter.  He looks like he should be working security at a low end strip club, but he is one tough motherfucker.  I remember watching his fight against Todd Duffee and the way he won that and I can't help but be a fan.  I was definitely surprised to see Russow go to the ground against someone that was touted as a really good jiu-jitsu specialist, but I think Russow knew that against that reach advantage he would have a hard time surviving on the stand up.  Pretty impressive how he managed to completely dominate Einemo on the ground where Russow was supposed to be the underdog.  He never ceases to amaze me.

Winner: Mike Russow by Unanimous Decision

Preliminary Fights
Lightweight Division
Nik "The Carny" Lentz vs. Evan Dunham

These are both really good fighters, one looking to bounce back with a win and the other looking to continue with his winning ways.  They will both be looking to finish the fight and I'm sure we will see them all around the octagon.  It was pretty much what I expected.  They hit each other in the face, took each other down, hit each other some more, tried submissions and eventually the fight had to be stopped because of a nasty cut under the left eye of Lentz that was pretty nasty.  It was a good fight though.  Dunham is a more precise striker, but Lentz really went out of his way to try and knock Dunham out with some wild shots.  Good fight.

Winner: Evan Dunham by Doctor's Stoppage 

Main Card
Middleweight Division
Demian Maia vs. Chris "All American" Weidman

Looking forward to this fight.  Maia is one of those guys that is always interesting to see because he has one of the best BJJ games for MMA.  Maia really skyrocketed up the ranking until being knocked back down by both Anderson Silva and Nate Marquardt.  He hasn't really finished anyone in a while, but the progress to his striking game is evident.  Weidman is a relative newcomer to the MMA game but with a 7 fight win streak, he will be looking forward to setting his star up for the rise against a very tough and game opponent.  It is surprising to see Maia not want to go down to the ground and work his BJJ.  In the end, this turn into one hell of a lazy fight.  Pretty lame.  I can understand Weidman being tired as he took the fight on 11 day notice, but Maia was supposed to be ready to go against whomever his opponent was supposed to be.  Very disappointing.  It's not like they rolled around the ground for a long time or anything of the sort.
Winner: Chris Weidman by Unanimous Decision

Co-Main Event
Middleweight Division
Michael "The Count" Bisping vs. Chael Sonnen

You have to understand something first.  I absolutely hate Bisping.  While he is somewhat talented, he is such a douchebag that it is hard for me to root for him.  Even when he was in The Ultimate Fighter coaching the UK team (which I liked), I just couldn't stand him.  I expect Sonnen will try to bring the fight to the ground and control it there.  Bisping is a speedy puncher, so Sonnen will have to be careful of that.  I'm surprised that Bisping has been controlling the fight like he has.  Sonnen looks sluggish and uninterested.  For someone who talks so much trash, I'm surprised he is fighting so uninspired.   He was able to dominate the third round and get the decision, but I think this will spark a nice debate on message boards all around.  I think Bisping might have been robbed, but I'm so happy it happened!

Winner: Chael Sonnen by Unanimous Decision

Co-Main Event
Light Heavyweight Division
Phil "Mr. Wonderful" Davis vs. "Suga" Rashad Evans

Everybody who follows the UFC knows that Rashad Evans is probably one of the most complete fighters in the Light Heavyweight division.  The former champion has only lost once (to Lyoto Machida) and that is it.  He will be facing up and coming and undefeated "Mr. Wonderful".  These two are great wrestlers, which is why I think Evans will probably have the advantage in the striking game and he will try to keep the fight standing, especially because Davis has some BJJ skills that he could put to use.  I was hoping for Mr. Wonderful to finally get the win that would up his profile in the UFC, but Rashad completely dominated him.  Evans was able to manhandle Davis and never let him get comfortable in the stand up game.  When Davis tried to take it to the ground, most of the time he found himself on his back where Evans quickness and strong base allowed him to control the fight.  At one point he got him in a crucifix and I thought it was definitely over.  Davis was just manhandled completely by Evans.  I think this will help him immensely though.    Here is where we will see if Davis has what it takes.
Winner: "Suga" Rashad Evans by Unanimous Decision


It was a fun show.  Nothing extraordinary... except for Oliveira's submission and Sonnen calling himself a god after he was handed the fight by the judges.  Two future title fights seem to be decided with Chael Sonnen getting a rematch against Anderson Silva and Rashad Evans getting a shot at Jon Jones.  Other than that, most matches were ok, but nothing special.

5.5 out of 10

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Top 25 Albums of 2011: 10 - 1

Top 25 Albums of 2011
10 - 1

Well, 2011 is finally over and good riddance!  It was a crappy year.  Death took one of men I admire most in Christopher Hitchens, and things here in Puerto Rico couldn't be much worse.  Thankfully, these 25 albums have helped to soothe the fact that it was one lame year.  Hope you enjoy this list.  Even if only one of the albums of the list reach someone who had never heard it before then my job is done.  Remember, this is just my list.  I love music and there will be different kinds of genres represented here, leaning more towards rock than anything else.


I'm With You
by Red Hot Chili Peppers

I have to admit.  It took me a while to get into this album.  The first time I heard it, I was incredibly unimpressed.  The Chili Peppers sounded tame.  I understand it now, they just sound like they have all matured.  With guitarist John Frusciante out of the picture once again, the Chili Peppers have made their most complete album yet.  Is it the best?  It's too early to tell, but you can tell from listening to these tracks that the guys seem to be in a different place in their lives than say a Californication or a Blood Sugar Sex Magik.  In a way, I'm glad.  I didn't want to listen to Stadium Arcadium (even though I like that album) part two.  Flea really shines here.  The bass lines are just a sweet reward for anyone that dares to go on this journey with the guys of the band.  Anthony Kiedis' vocals are never overpowering of the music itself and he really does sound wonderfully here.  I was worried about the guitarist they would pick to replace Frusciante.  Relative unknown (at least to me) Josh Klinghoffer does a pretty good job fitting in with the rest of the band.  As always with the Chili Peppers, the rhythm section is probably one of the best in rock.  Chad Smith and Flea have this chemistry about them that is hard to ignore.  Listen to this album.  Don't give up on the first listen.  You will be rewarded by a mature album that is smart and entertaining.


Going Out In Style
by Dropkick Murphys

Fucking Massachusetts.  How I dislike thee!  I never thought a band that sings about Fenway Park would ever be in a list I made of anything (except maybe things that suck... all of Massachusetts would apply).  I remember that the first time I listened to them was when their song "Tessie" was used as the main theme of the baseball game MVP 05.  It was a fun song to get pumped up to, but it wasn't until I heard "I'm Shipping of to Boston" that I got really hooked with the Dropkick Murphys peculiar style.  The Murphy's mixture of punk rock and Celtic folk music really sets them apart from most of the bands out there.  This new album doesn't really change the style that has already made them big.  And why should they?  Their formula works.  The constant use of bagpipes, mandolin, accordion and other unusual instruments for their fast and intense style of punk, really give the music a dimension that you can't really get from any other band out there.  I'm hoping to see the band play live, because I'm sure they are amazing when they do their stuff live.  So, instead of changing their usual style, they decided to do something that is rarely seen in the punk world... they created a concept album.  This music makes me want to drink whiskey, pump my fist in the air and be a little bit more like Cornelius Larkin, the central character of the story.



Pursuit of Radical Rhapsody
by Al Di Meola

Al Di Meola has been making music with his guitars for more than 30 years now.  He has mastered many styles throughout the years, from the blazing jazz fusion, to Latin jazz, to the sort of world music he is now making.  With this album, the guitar virtuoso ties some of his jazz fusion chops with the more mellow and sublime style of his later records.  It will not take anyone long to hear the influences of other cultures on this record.  The Latin influence abounds with bassist Charlie Haden and pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba giving this record a decidedly Afro-Caribbean centric feel.  This is definitely an album that should be listened to intently many times in order to catch all the intricacies to the instruments that are being played (almost caressed).  The whole album is a nice piece of not only virtuosic guitar, but of music in general.  Di Meola also plays covers of The Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever" and Harold Arlen's "Over The Rainbow".  Again, if you don't like instrumental stuff, then this is not for you.  Otherwise, you have to listen to this.


by The Devin Townsend Project

I have spoken about the genius of Devin Townsend before.  This album is the last in a tetralogy with The Devin Townsend Project.  I did a review for the blog a few months back of the first album (Ki) and wrote of how unusual it is compared to Townsend's past discography.  It was mellow and always seemed to move towards that wall of sound approach that Townsend has exemplified, but never got there.  This one is even mellower.  There are no harsh vocals at all.  This is Devin Townsend at his most prog/experimental stage.  The music in this album is ethereal and beautiful.  The words sung on the background seem like distant ghosts (if you will) calling for you to listen to this album and the vocals really complement the different instruments and the ambient music that is so beautifully displayed here.  It's so different from what Townsend usually does but at the same time it seems like the perfect step in his musical evolution.


Worship Music
by Anthrax

It's been a while since Anthrax released their last album.  About 8 years since their last album with vocalist John Bush.  After recording the album with new vocalist Dan Nelson and their quick parting of ways, this album was in limbo.  Bush didn't want to re-record the vocals of the songs and so the band went back to Joey Belladonna.  The last studio album they released with Belladonna was back in 1990.  And while they have toured together, this is their first album together in 21 years.  This album is probably their best since that last one that Belladonna was in (Persistence of Time)While Belladonna had nothing to do with the creative process, the songs seem to fit perfectly to his singing style.  He sounds really great in this album.  While the album sounds much better in terms of production and it does lose some of Anthrax's original grittiness, they sound like a much mature outfit.  The songs aren't as fast as the songs that made Anthrax famous back in the day, but they are basically well constructed and pretty catchy. The duo of Rob Caggiano and Scott Ian on the guitars has always worked for me.  So this is a really good album with really catchy songs.  Check it out.


Let Them Talk
by Hugh Laurie

I know what you are going to say.  What is a comedian/actor doing in a top album list?  The answer is easy.  This is some amazing music.  Hugh Laurie, besides being TV's Dr. Gregory House, has always had a penchant from anything he could get his hands on in the entertainment business.  From playing piano and guitar to writing novels, he has done it all.  While it would probably be disingenuous of me to say that I would have heard this album if he had not been one of my favorite artists, I can really say that I would definitely have loved this if I didn't know who Laurie was.  During the show House M.D. he has shown his penchant for the blues of New Orleans.  These aren't his songs, but his interpretations on some well known blues classics.  What I really like about it is that Laurie has a unique voice and vocal style.  I really like it.  And unlike other actors (wannabe blues singers), Laurie sings the songs with passion and intensity.  Although it is pretty hilarious to hear him singing songs like "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho".  In a couple of songs, some big names of the NOLA scene lend their support.  Irma Thomas and Dr. John give this album some NOLA cred.  Also, Tom Jones makes an appearance and the great Allen Toussaint helps with the horn arrangements.  I think the album's name is fitting.   


Hisingen Blues
by Graveyard

I already wrote a pretty long review about this album for the blog, so I won't really bother with this too much.  Hisingen Blues Review.  All you need to know is that their style of blues rock influenced by bands like Led Zeppelin is pretty great.  Read the review!


National Bohemian
by The Bridge

This album was probably the first I heard in 2011.  A friend told me about this "jam" band from the Baltimore area and I immediately YouTubed them and to my surprise, their music really impressed me.  They describe themselves as a mixture of blues, folk, funk and bluegrass which is a pretty eclectic mix.  This is a pretty eclectic band.  This album makes a great job of fixing the really funky and entertaining tracks with some of the more mellow material.  You can't help but enjoy the lyrics of songs like the fun loving Geraldine with Dave Markowitz's deep basslines perfectly complementing Patrick Rainey's sax.  Cris Jacobs does a fine job with the vocals in the album.  While the funky songs are the more entertaining songs, the more mellower ones like "Colorado Motel" really give Jacobs a chance to shine, while the bluesy "Stranger in my Own Home" gives the band another dimension.  You can really tell that they took influences from all over the music spectrum and implemented them on this National Bohemian (and their prior albums are pretty good as well) to make a complete and fulfilling album.  It was incredibly sad to learn that the band had called it quits the same year they released this gem of an album.  I will definitely miss wherever the band was heading to after the release of this album.

It was hard for me to pick between these next two albums.  They are both things of beauty that should be listened to for years to come.  So depending on the day, these two would probably interchange their places back and forth. 


by Opeth

Opeth is probably my favorite band right now.  From the first moment I heard their album Blackwater Park, I knew that I had found something special.  Even though they were still a band that had a strong death metal base, they never wanted to become stale and with each album, their more heavy influences gave way to the band's progressive tendencies.  While they have already released an album that was pretty much prog rock with a very dark feel to it, Damnation was too simple for them.  With their first foray out of the death metal scene, they knew they had a winning formula with musicians like Mikael Åkerfeldt, Per Wiberg, Martin Mendez and Martin Axenrot.  And with prog rock mastermind Steven Wilson behind the mixing table, this album could not have been less than a masterpiece of music in general.  I will tell you something, Mikael has some of the most awesome death metal growls in the scene.  I am glad he doesn't have to rely on them exclusively.  I don't understand those that have criticized this album only because it is not heavy enough or metal enough.  That is a pretty sad stance to take and they are missing one of the most interesting musical experiences you will hear this past year.  To anyone that had been listening to Opeth's previous albums, it should have been obvious that this was the direction they would head it.  Their obvious natural progression was this album.  This album is incredibly complex and it takes multiple listens in order to appreciate everything that it has to offer.  There is no radio friendly stuff here.  Just pure musical awesomeness.


The Hunter
by Mastodon

The last album, but certainly not least is Mastodon's The Hunter.  I never in a million years would have thought that Mastodon would be able to create two of metal's most fantastic albums in the span of two years.  Crack the Skye is one impressive album, and while I think this one doesn't surpass its predecessor, it is still a fantastic album.  While the last one was more experimental, with this one, the band decided to go back to their more metal roots and forgo the longer and more complex tracks for a more straight forward approach.  That is not to say that the music here is simple.  One of the things I have always loved about this band is their versatility when it comes to the vocals.  Three of the four can sing lead and the other is pretty good at doing backup.  That is pretty impressive.  That makes each and every song a different experience that you can immerse yourself in.  It is only their second non concept album since their first album ever, Remission.  The album in its entirety is just impressively well done.  This is why this is my favorite album of the year.  Listen to it.  You won't be disappointed.

10) I'm With You by Red Hot Chili Peppers
9) Going Out in Style by Dropkick Murphys
8) Pursuit of Radical Rhapsody by Al Di Meola
7) Ghost by The Devin Townsend Project
6) Worship Music by Anthrax
5) Let Them Talk by Hugh Laurie
4) Hisingen Blues by Graveyard
3) National Bohemian by The Bridge
2) Heritage by Opeth
1) The Hunter by Mastodon

Well, that is it... my Top 25 albums of 2011.  It's probably the least metal list I have done in a long time.  We'll see what albums 2012 will bring.  Until then... enjoy.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Top 25 Albums of 2011: 25 - 11

Top 25 Albums of 2011
25 - 11

Well, 2011 is finally over and good riddance!  It was a crappy year.  Death took one of men I admire most in Christopher Hitchens, and things here in Puerto Rico couldn't be much worse.  Thankfully, these 25 albums have helped to soothe the fact that it was one lame year.  Hope you enjoy this list.  Even if only one of the albums of the list reach someone who had never heard it before then my job is done.  Remember, this is just my list.  I love music and there will be different kinds of genres represented here, leaning more towards rock than anything else.


Hot Sauce Committee Part Two
by Beastie Boys

The Beastie Boys are one of those hip hop groups reviled by a lot of the scene.  I don't claim to know a lot about hip hop.  The truth is that I'm not much into the scene but the Beastie Boys have always been a group that I pay attention to.  After more than 30 years of playing and rapping together, the B-Boys have released an album that is relevant and frankly, just loads of fun.  Tracks like "Say It" show that these 40 somethings still have an ear on what works.  The scratching on this song and on the other songs by regular Mix Master Mike is catchy and you will find it hard not to let the tracks here seduce you into enjoying them completely.  Other than that, it must be said that even after a couple of years of working on this record (Part 1 was supposed to be released a few years back but MCA got diagnosed with cancer) and it doesn't sound stale at all.  It's still Beastie Boys at their best.  Also, still some of the best music videos in the business!


Welcome 2 My Nightmare
by Alice Cooper

The King of Shock Rock is back with the sequel to one of his seminal albums, Welcome to My Nightmare.  Alice Cooper has been going strong for the better part of 45 years and he still has the ear for music that made him big in the first place.  This album really does a good job in not emulating the original but basically churning out songs that while keeping on the same concept speak to the audience from today rather than just fans of the original.  The songs are all pretty catchy and fun.  Stuff like "Caffeine" is what I mean.  Can't help but sing it to myself whenever I'm tired at work.  The southern style of "A Runaway Train" is also aimed to please.  The thing about this album is that it seems primed to be acted on stage like only Alice Cooper can.  The songs, while differing in their styles, feel like they belong together and that makes this a strong album.


War of the Roses
by Ulver

If you have never heard of Ulver, you are probably not alone.  This band from Norway is a difficult one to peg in a single genre as their discography is incredibly varied and they make sure that no two albums are the same.  From their folk infused black metal beginnings to what is probably one of their most mature efforts to date, Ulver can't be accused of being in a rut.  I first got into them through vocalist Kristoffer Rygg, better known as Garm.  I was lucky enough to run into a track of the new Arcturus album (back in 2002) and loved the hell out of it.  Through him I also got into Borknagar and Ulver.  This is not an album that is easy to get into.  It will take a couple of listens through it whole in order to appreciate its complexity.  There is no easily digestible mainstream rock/metal here.  After you get it, you will understand why this album is so fantastic.  My favorite track after a few listens is "Providence".  There is something about the way the Garm's vocals are complimented by the female vocals in this track.  Give this a shot.


3rd Round Knockout
by Chrome Division

Once upon a time (2004), in Norway, Dimmu Borgir's vocalist Shagrath was interested in playing something more than just symphonic black metal.  He began to jam and soon enough a band was formed.  Chrome Division takes everything that is good from bands like Black Label Society and especially Motorhead and make it even dirtier.  The music was completely traditional metal more akin to the aforementioned Motorhead than any other band.  I have to admit that this kind of metal has always attracted me.  There is something about the leather and the girls with big boobs and the biker culture that I enjoy and this band embodies all of that.  For this album, the band switched vocalist Eddie Guz for Susperia's Shady Blue and while he can also do the vocals nicely, Guz's more growling vocals seemed to fit the almost grimy and sweaty feeling you get when listening to this band.  Like you have been on the desert roads for days on end riding on your Harley.  While this particular album seems a lot more polished, it is still a lot of fun to listen to.  These guys don't take themselves too seriously and that makes me enjoy them even more.  While the first single is ok, it is the next two songs of the album ("7 G-Strings" and "Join the Ride") that really make you want to continue listening.


by Derek Sherinian

Derek Sherinian has played with a lot of people.  He has played with Planet X, Yngwie Malmsteem, Billy Idol, KISS, Alice Cooper and Dream Theater aside from his solo projects.  This particular one is his seventh solo album and I finally got what I wanted to hear.  He always invites guest musicians on his albums and he always has top notch guitarists, but this is probably the first time he bursts out of his shell and actually puts the keyboards front and center.  For this album, he moved away from the metal stylings of the previous albums and instead decided to go more blues rock and fusion.  With guest guitarists like Steve Lukather, Doug Aldrich, Tony Macalpine, Steve Stevens and the pretty awesome Joe Bonamassa (whose 2011 album Dust Bowl is also worth a listen), it was obvious where this one was leaning.  This is instrumental stuff though, so if you don't really like that kind of stuff, you should probably stay away.


The Beginning of Times 
by Amorphis

Amorphis is one of those bands that I have been quietly following for a long time now.  I remember buying their album Tales from the Thousand Lakes and really enjoying their brand of melodic death metal.  Their use of the cleaner vocals and the acoustic guitars made me more interested in it than most of the bands of similar genres.  After that, they changed vocalists released an album that I really praise as one of their most mature to date.  Am Universum is very different from their past work, it was incredibly experimental and they toyed with the saxophone and other progressive elements.  Those two styles converged to make what is the Amorphis of today.  The songs are not as heavy as they once were and the vocals aren't always clean.  They do a good job of switching between the two without making it sound forced.  Tracks like "Song of the Sage" show this clearly.  They also implement the folk elements that separated them from the pack back in the days.  Keyboardist Santelli Kallio really shines in this album.  If there is one gripe I might have is that vocalist Tommy Joutsen really doesn't have the range with the clean vocals that Pasi Koskinen, but I don't think that Koskinen's vocal style would be good for this style of Amorphis (also, Joutsen is more versatile).  Either way, the sound is epic, and of course, it couldn't have been an Amorphis album if the lyrics weren't about Finnish mythology.


by Textures

There are two great things about doing a list like this.  One is that you listen to a lot of albums.  A lot of them.  Most of them are just good to mediocre, but a couple of them are fantastic.  The second one is that you discover some bands that you had never heard before.  With the amount of bands getting albums released, it is almost impossible to keep up with it all.  Textures is one such band.  I was reading a list of prog metal albums released in 2011 and happened to stumble upon the cover of this album.  Something about it drew me in.  I listened to their single "Singularity" and was immediately hooked.  This Dutch band touches all the right buttons and manages to do something that rarely happens.  They made me think their -core-ish vocals didn't ruin the whole thing.  The music here is just top notch progressive metal with a harder edge.  Their use of progressive elements to contrast with their (most of the time) harsh vocals works perfectly here.  The truth is that the band shines the most when forgoing their -core vocals and focusing on their clean ones as the track "Reaching Home" shows.  I will definitely be looking out for more of the stuff in the future.


Stand Up and Fight
by Turisas

Another group of Finns make my list.  This time, the group is of the symphonic folk metal type, but there is much more to this group than what meets the eye.  While other bands that mix death and folk metal are a constant barrage of heaviness (not that it is a bad thing... Surtur Rising from Amon Amarth is another album to check out), Turisas mixes that up with epic anthemic passages that make you want to... stand up and fight (or at the very least put up a sword like object and slash at random inanimate objects).  This is a very interesting band.  There are moments that make you feel like you are watching a Broadway play about killing.  Some people might be put off by that, but I think it helps to give this album a whole new dimension.  It's also a lot like listening to a role playing game's soundtrack or even a movies.  Listen to the fourth track "Venetoi! - Prasenoi!" and revel on the pomposity of the movie score-like music.   Give this album a chance and let it grow on you.  Besides, what is better than Vikings raping and pillaging!?  


Road Salt Two
by Pain of Salvation

Daniel Gildenlöw really took his 70s prog rock influences to heart here.  We have to face it.  Pain of Salvation is not the same band that it was when they recorded the awesome Remedy Lane.  They have been there and done that.  If there is something that Daniel has shown us is that he is constantly evolving as a musician and he doesn't want to do the same things for too long.  I was afraid this album would be so similar to the first one that it would be lost in the shuffle, but I'm glad that it is not.  What has always driven Pain of Salvation's albums to me has always been the passion with which Gildenlöw sings.  The faster tracks and the mellow ones are sung with the same intensity.  I like that.  Mostly acoustic tracks like "Healing Now" are a pleasure to listen to not only because of Daniel's vocals, but because the music is haunting and beautiful.  Also, musical interludes like the one at the 4 minute mark on the track "Eleven" are just so clever and entertaining that its hard to dislike. Listen to this album, but don't listen to it expecting another Remedy Lane or you will be sorely disappointed.  Instead listen to it for what it is... a fantastic progressive rock album.


by Leprous

I only wish I could have found this band a couple of months back, because then it would have made my list for the Misnamed bands.  Leprous (or something relating to leprosy) is a progressive metal band from Norway that is light on the metal and heavy on the progressive.  I thought that with that name this would surely be one of those extreme metal bands that do tried and true stuff that hasn't changed or evolved in 20 years.  I have never been so glad that I was so mistaken.  I don't really know what you would call this type of music these days.  Sure, the elements of 70s prog rock are there, but there is an obvious feeling of 'newness' about it.  Like if King Crimson and Opeth met one night and fucked and out came Leprous.  There are some moments where the vocals turn pretty growling and extreme but it never detracts from the music, and they instead make those harder passages work for them.  I guess Progressive Metal seems to be the best way to describe them.  Every song is like an acid trip on its own.  Don't be surprised if a trumpet also sneaks in on a couple of tracks completely out of nowhere and just as welcome.



by Symphony X

Symphony X have been making music for almost 20 years now and they still seem to be going strong basically the same formula that made them get big back in 1997 when they released The Divine Wings of Tragedy.  Their style is a mixture of the staples of the Power Metal genre and those of Progressive Metal joining into one glorious band with some great albums, of which this one is one.  One of my favorite things about Symphony X has always been the skills of the musicians and their ability to showcase them without it detracting form the songs.  They don't just play fast, they play with purpose.  From the get-go, the first track of the album (also it's title track) is a 10 minute attack to all your senses.  Russell Allen, like always, is in top notch form, delivering with aggressiveness when needed and otherwise when the time calls for it.  The musicians all do a fantastic job.  Michael Romero especially on the guitar, with some blistering riffs and solos that just about make this album a must listen.  But the one that probably should be considered the breakthrough star of this album is keyboardist Michael Pinnella.  This is classic Symphony X with a little bit of an edge.  Enjoy.


by Illuminatus

Post-metal is something you probably started hearing not too long ago.  As a genre, it has never really taken off or had some major band that really took them to some other echelon.  Isis is probably the closest thing to that.  To me it sounds an awful lot like doom metal with a mixture of atmospheric metal sounds and metalcore (although not always) vocals.  This album is probably one of the best examples of the genre in recent years.  The downtuned guitars and slow tempo might be boring for some people, but it doesn't take away from the heaviness.  All the songs seem to be moving towards a huge climax... or a couple.  This was the first time I had ever heard the band Illuminatus, but I'm glad I did find the cover interesting.  This is an intense album through and through and even though there are moments or relative un-heaviness, it doesn't take long for the guitars to kick in and the vocals to roar through your speakers.  This is really a complete album and one metal music fans shouldn't miss.


by Black Country Communion

Back in 2009 a supergroup released an album to great sales.  Chickenfoot was born.  Everyone was paying attention.  In 2010, another supergroup was formed.  I never heard about it.  Black Country Communion is a collaboration between Glenn Hughes (vocals/bass; ex-Deep Purple and solo work), Joe Bonamassa (guitar; mostly solo work), Jason Bonham (drums; Foreigner and UFO and also the son of Led Zeppelin's late drummer John Bonham) and Derek Sherinian (keyboards; solo work, Dream Theater among others).  This is an interesting group of people getting together and sharing their individual talents in order to make a band work.  You can obviously hear some Zeppelin in here, but never in a way to make you feel like this is just a Zep worship group.  Bonamassa gives the group the blues chops with his guitar playing and Sherinian does his best to give the band a nice harder edge but never overpowers.  This is definitely a group effort as they all seemingly seamlessly weave their different styles and backgrounds into one well balanced band with some fantastic music.


by Beardfish

This is another of those bands that I was able to discover through this search for my favorite albums of 2011.  Besides the incredibly weird name for a band, the album art immediately drew me in.  After all the aesthetics of the name and album cover, the band is joy to listen to.  This Swedish band plays a style of progressive metal that is a lot more progressive than metal.  While you can definitely easily find the influence of early 70s prog rock acts like YES and ELP, there is also a little bit of the more modern prog sound from bands like The Flower Kings.  The music here is full of emotion as you can easily tell from the intro to the 15 minute track "And the Stone Said 'If I Could Speak'".  There are some moments where they go for some harsh vocals and it works fine.  There is nothing self serving or masturbatory about this album or as far as I could tell from this band.  This is not about showing how the members are all the best at whichever instrument they play, but it is about making beautiful music.  It takes a couple of listens to actually get everything that is to be appreciated from their music, but once you do, you will be hooked.   

Mortal Man
by Zed Head

Who would have thought that one of my favorite albums of 2011 would come in the form of old school blues rock... from Toronto.  These guys play a southern style that is hard to come by in this day and age.  An obvious throwback to those bands that liked to play fun, infectious music.  It almost feels like ZZ Top and Stevie Ray Vaughan playing together.  Every sound Neil Chapman's guitar makes and every time Bob Adams blows on his harp, the music you hear is soulful and deep.  Of course, these guys have a nice sense of humor and the lyrics portray it.  There are no really deep lyrics to find here, but you might instead find something that is instead playful.  Songs about drinking and women are a staple.  I also like the The Fogman's vocals.  They are clean and with a lot of feeling but at the same time have a raspy finish that gives the band a more grimy exterior.  No band that plays this style of music should ever feel to polished.  Too much perfection really goes against what this bands seems to stand for.  Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that the members are not talented musicians, because they are and they show it.  Who would have thunk it.  Canadian southern blues rock... still feels weird to say.

This is it for the picks 25 through 11.  All that are left are the Top 10 and you'll want to keep checking us out for those.  Some really fantastic albums make that list pretty special.  Hope you enjoy some of these albums and hopefully you can find something that interests you here.

25) Hot Sauce Committee Part Two by Beastie Boys
24) Welcome 2 My Nightmare by Alice Cooper
23) War of the Roses by Ulver
22) 3rd Round Knockout by Chrome Division
21) Oceana by Derek Sherinian
20) The Beginning of Times by Amorphis
19) Dualism by Textures
18) Stand Up and Fight by Turisas
17) Road Salt Two by Pain of Salvation
16) Bilateral by Leprous
15) Iconoclast by Symphony X
14) Glasnost by Illuminatus
13) 2 by Black Country Communion
12) Mammoth by Beardfish
11) Mortal Man by Zed Head