Sunday, January 26, 2014

Darkest White | Tristania

I've listened to the Norwegian gothic metal band Tristania off and on for the past six-ish years. They've always been a band I respected and generally liked, but I never fully got into them, with the exception of their 2007 album Illumination and various other tracks. They're one of those bands that doesn't make any bad music, some songs simply stand out to me more than others. (I have similar feelings for bands such as Tool and White Lies.) Tristania's newest album, Darkest White, is the second album with Mariangela Demurtas, who replaced their original female singer, Vibeke Stene. However, Tristania has had several other line-up changes over the years, including who writes the songs. While all this sounds like a recipe for a completely different band, Tristania still sounds like Tristania on Darkest White. Their sound has evolved very gracefully and progressively.

But before I begin discussing this album, I must mention the singers. One thing that Tristania has done for some time now is include three different vocalists. Anders Høyvik Hidle does harsh/rough/scream-like male vocals, Kjetil Nordhus does the clean male vocals, and as mentioned, Mariangela Demurtas is on lead female vocals. A very decent variety, if I may say so. It helps give the band more dimensions.

The opening track, "Number," displays such vocal variety with two of the three singers. Hidle's screams are really intense... I mean, the song really opens with a bang, but I found the vocals to be a bit much for me, personally. But Mary comes in eventually for the chorus (which I prefer to the verses), so that's a plus. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I dislike Hidle. I just like him in certain amounts. After all, he has the entire title track to himself, and I loved that song right away. The vocals are harsh without being too excessive, urgent guitar riffs were present along with a dizzying keyboard line, and the chorus was fantastic. This is Anders Høyvik Hidle at his best, in my opinion. I immediately loved "Darkest White."

"Himmelfall" is the third track, led by deep and relaxing male vocals in the verses and catchy guitars throughout. Mary is also featured on this song, and I really love her voice. Her vibrato really shines and throughout the entire album, it's evident that her voice is powerful and strong. She has a very different sound than Vibeke's, but I honestly feel as though Mary's fits the style better from a technical perspective. While Vibeke's voice was indeed very pretty, Tristania records will oftentimes keep the clean vocals from outdoing the instruments. Mary's voice type sounds more natural in that setting, while Vibeke's vocals had occasional effects added in for a better blend and it seemed to get a little bit buried under the sound.

"Requiem" is one of my favorite songs from Darkest White. I can't quit listening to it! It's a beautiful song, particularly the chorus. Great lyrics, too. Mary gets most of the song to herself, except for some screaming in the middle eight, which is probably my least favorite part of the whole thing, but it died down relatively soon to leave Mary with mellow instrumentation before returning to the powerful chorus. You can hear Kjetil Nordhus in the chorus, just barely at first, but in the end it sounds more like a full-blown duet. Both voices sounded very clear and balanced; they blended very well together. The last set of choruses change up the guitar line a little bit, creating a dramatic breakdown to compliment the soaring vocals.

The fifth track, "Diagnosis," brings a heavier feel than the anthem before it. The instrumentation is chaotic behind Mary's voice in the verses, but Nordhus' chorus is a bit more mellow. While it doesn't stand out the most to me, it's a good song nonetheless. "Scarling," on the other hand, definitely stands out to me. It's a fantastic track with smooth, eerie guitar riffs. Much like the other tracks I love on Darkest White, this song's chorus really stands out. The execution of the verses kind of confuses me... it seems that the vocals aren't quite in synch with the music at some points. I'm not sure if this was done on purpose, or what. Anyway. The guitar riffs at the end are very moving, and I love this song regardless of the imperfect verses. It reminds me of Illumination in some ways.

But, the extremely harsh grunts/screams come back on the seventh track, "Night on Earth," and I am personally not a fan of this song. "Cathedral," a bonus track on Darkest White, follows "Night on Earth," and while the verses don't do much to interest me, the chorus was decent and the middle eight featured a male choir. But the ending of "Cathedral" really fell short; it has one of the most abrupt endings I've ever heard.

"Lavender" brings a change of pace and shows Tristania's mellow side, but that doesn't mean the electric guitars are going to disappear. This song, much like the other tracks, conveys emotion very well. "Cypher" continues in a somewhat similar fashion, except "Lavender" is certainly a lot closer to being considered a ballad than "Cypher." Both songs just have more of a watered-down feel, but not in a bad way whatsoever. However, "Cypher" gets more intense as it goes, and for whatever reason, it reminds me of the film Underworld.

The final track is a heavier one, entitled "Arteries." Doesn't that just sound lovely? As I've mentioned a few times before, I'm not the biggest fan of the screams/grunts in this band, so "Arteries" wasn't a favorite of mine. The clean vocals sounded nice though.

With that, the album has concluded, and I must say I'm pretty impressed with this. While a few of the songs didn't appeal to me (usually due to vocalizing preferences), there are some serious gems on Darkest White, which turned out to be a very dark album indeed. I'm going to be listening to this for a while; it's one of those albums I was doing some serious head-bobbing and swaying to as I reviewed it. There are some profound, moving moments woven into this metal album in a few different senses. The lyrics are consistently flawless. But in terms of the instrumentation, one thing I've always loved about Tristania's music is its chord progressions and guitar riffs, and they're great on several tracks of Darkest White. I think this is why so many of this albums' best songs remind me of when I first began discovering this type of music, when I first discovered Within Temptation and Tristania... It's a very nostalgic album for me.

At this point, my only request of their next album is for a little more variety in terms of musical layering and structuring. Darkest White really pleased me; I hope they keep it up!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

I Love Gilmore Girls

Gilmore Girls is my favorite television show. While I made a whole list of favorites earlier on, notice that Gilmore Girls was right at the top. As I've mentioned previously, it's the only show I've watched in its entirety multiple times through. There's just so much to love about it... I'm not even sure where to begin. It makes me happy and never fails to keep me engaged with its perfect combination of sarcasm, pop culture references, and drama. But what really made Gilmore Girls special, above all, was the characters. None of them were dull and they all talked a lot. Their relationships were interesting to watch, whether they concerned romance, friendship, or mother-daughter bonds.
But the mother-daughter relationship aspect is what really drives the show. Single mother Lorelai Gilmore (played by Lauren Graham) and her daughter Rory (played by Alexis Bledel), have such an ideal relationship. They're best friends. They have obvious mother-daughter similarities (which includes but is not limited to the same great sense of sarcastic humor, awe-striking eating habits, and an addiction to coffee) but are quite unique from another as well. While Lorelai is a bit more daring, Rory is a nice girl with no ambition to rebel against her best friend/mom. This heavily contrasts with Lorelai's relationship with her own mother, Emily. They argue throughout most of the show; their personalities couldn't possibly be any more different. Lorelai is a free bird, but Emily is kind of the cliché rich lady with her fancy parties and a need for perfection, classiness, and order. Since Lorelai gave birth to Rory as a teenager, one can only imagine how that affected Emily and their relationship.

These primary characters alone are incredibly vivid, but as I said, this goes for all the rest of the characters as well. Rory's best friend Lane and her mother, Mrs. Kim, also add to the mother-daughter aspect, but in a much more whimsical way. Mrs. Kim is extremely conservative, but Lane just wants to play drums and have a band. Her love for music and desire to rebel against her mother's restrictions is the basis for their relationship, and despite sneaking around trying to hide things her mother doesn't approve of (such as her CD collection under the floorboards), Lane does seem to respect her mother. It was so exciting to see Lane join a band and get a cool husband, and eventually, children. Everything really worked out perfectly for her.

Stars Hollow (the town Lorelai and Rory live in) is just packed with interesting specimens. The most prominent Stars Hollow citizen, however, is Luke. Luke owns a diner and supplies Lorelai and Rory with yummy food and lots of coffee. He always has a baseball cap on backwards and may seem a little rough around the edges, but the guy definitely has a heart. He really cares about Rory and Lorelai, and let's face it, who wasn't rooting for him to end up with Lorelai in the end? He's such a good guy. I didn't like any of Lorelai's boyfriends, even though Rory's dad was a nice guy, but I always liked Luke. I was so happy that they ended up together; they just make my heart flutter a little.
Seasons two and three are my favorites, and a lot of that has to do with the troubled character Jess, played by Milo Ventimiglia, who people tend to really love or really hate. Personally, I loved this character. Sure, he had some issues, but I always wanted Rory to end up with him. (Not just because he's attractive, either.) He ended up being pretty normal anyway; he even wrote a book! Her first boyfriend Dean was nice, but almost too nice (not to mention super jealous and kind of dull), Logan irked me, but I really liked Jess. He read all the time and listened to cool music. Dude even knew Bjork - Bjork, people! And he really cared about Rory. I always felt bad that he wasn't given a proper chance. The whole town judged him. I just think things would've been different if Rory wasn't always hearing criticism of him and if Rory hadn't just broken up with Dean.

Regardless, a lot of my favorite Gilmore Girls quotes come from seasons two and three; they're all so funny, from Jess' "Excuse me, I've seen you eat" to Rory telling that Shane chick that watching ice melt probably fascinates her. There are just too many good ones to name. Plus, Rory and Paris started being friends - who would've thought that would happen after they hated each other so much in season one? And the Bjork snowwoman! Priceless! These two seasons just bring me so much nostalgia, back when I first discovered the show with a friend. We'd watch reruns on AbcFamily. We'd discuss Rory's boyfriends, and I'd be the odd-one out on Team Jess. I remember seasons six and seven; I'd watch and anticipate those new episodes. I recorded the very last one, and I remember being sad that it was over, after all those seasons. Rory and Lorelai deal with a lot of drama, even fighting to the point that the closest mother-daughter duo in the world weren't talking to each other at some point, but they always found a way back to their best friend. They always found a way to consolidate.

While Rory didn't get married in the end, that series finale was worth it for me because she finally got her dream job after all that hard work at school, but mostly because it ended with a promise of Luke and Lorelai being together. Rory may have been able to move on from Dean, Jess, and I'm assuming Logan as well, but imagining Lorelai without Luke would be too weird for me to handle. They went so well together, and Luke was a great father figure for Rory. The series ending with the three of them like that was perfect.

I really miss this show. I'm wondering what happened with all of them, if Luke and Lorelai ended up getting married, if Rory ever ran into Jess again, if she was sad without Logan, how often Rory sees Lane after getting her new job, her new friends in the workforce. The end of Gilmore Girls is like the end of Jane Eyre - it isn't that the endings aren't satisfying, it's that the stories were so good that you don't want them to end.

The creator of Gilmore Girls made a relatively new series called Bunheads, and while many say that Gilmore Girls fans will love it, I just can't deal with it. The main character is just too similar to Lorelai, and surely to God there is only one Lorelai Gilmore in this world. So, I'm sticking with my Gilmore Girls seasons on DVD. I don't have many yet since the show is still on AbcFamily regularly, but I'm definitely making season three a priority for me to buy. I haven't seen those episodes in forever.

So, in a nutshell, I love this show. Always have, always will.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Cloud Atlas | by: David Mitchell

David Mitchell's ever-famous Cloud Atlas managed to never cross paths with me for the majority of its existence, for I was way too young to grasp the themes presented in this complex novel when it first came out. But since its cool-looking film adaptation was released a little over a year ago with celebrities such as Tom Hanks and Halle Berry playing lead roles, I inevitably heard about it, read the story's summary, and thought it sounded wonderful. Still, I loved it way more than I anticipated.
When one hears that Cloud Atlas is complex, it is because it includes six different stories occurring in different time periods. Reincarnation ties it all together, you just have to pick up the signs. We start in the past and head toward the future, but then we begin to descend into the past. From a man at sea in 1800s to a horrific dystopian future and everything in between, Cloud Atlas' stories are all extremely different. A new time period, a new set of characters, a new writing style, and a new genre comes with each section - but they're tied together somehow.
I'll be honest, at first I wasn't the craziest about this book. The first section about Adam Ewing in the 1800s didn't really click with me, personally. But, I had a feeling that this book may require patience, which I had. The second section began to pick up a bit, even though I wasn't exactly Robert's number one fan, but stuff started getting intense with Luisa's story. That's when the action started and when the common theme really took precedence.

Then, we get to step into the present in the life of Timothy, who runs a publishing company gaining success, but Timothy ends up on the run. His story is probably my least-favorite of them overall. It just felt... Morbid.

But finally, we're transported into the future to meet Sonmi-451. Her story is my favorite of them all; this is when I really began to love this book - and not just for this story, but for the common themes throughout the novel. Unlike the previous stories, this one is dystopian, and I tend to be a sucker for dystopian stories. But part of what's special about Sonmi's story is how innocent she was when she began, before her friend lost her mind for a way out of the restaurant they were basically slaves to, even just after she left to see the unknown outside world. There's a part in which she travels from one part of Korea to another, and she said she thought she'd seen most of the world. That killed me.

Sonmi didn't go off to fight in any epic battles or win any Hunger Games, but she wrote something that would make her one of the most important historical figures later on. She started out not knowing much of anything about the world she lived in, but she knew what she was getting into. The dystopian scenario she lived in was horrific. She knew what would happen, but after seeing so many horrible things in this futuristic hell, she knew what was important was so much bigger.

So much bigger, in fact, that her memory would remain for such a long time. In post-apocalyptic Hawii, civilization has taken a huge downfall. Technology is gone. There is no security. But Sonmi-451 is so important to Zachry, who has not had an ideal life in any sense. Tragedy is everywhere on Big I, so I found this story very depressing - even disturbing at some parts. However, it's very meaningful, and I think it's my second-favorite tale. But when Meronym comes from afar, Zachry learns about some of the history and present conditions of civilization outside of their little island. He also makes some of his own discoveries about reincarnation.

But what ties all of these stories together? Well, for one thing, people. Like I said, reincarnation is prominent in this book. However, in each of these stories, the characters have similar problems with suppression, being confined to one place, not knowing the whole truth, questions of what is moral. But they all also find that there are some people in the world that will try to help. It's like Meronym tells Zachry, the whole world isn't all bad; the villains and tyrants of the world just have the ability to scream a little louder than everyone else. They somehow end up with obvious power, but our characters are also certainly not powerless. One person can put a decent-sized dent in history that will affect generations to come.

This was a brilliant idea for a novel; it's no wonder it's gotten so much praise. Deep themes, a unique set of characters, and great writing - what more could I ask for? I highly recommend David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas to anyone that hasn't tried it yet. Just be patient in the beginning and pay attention to birthmarks, because this book is definitely worth paying attention to.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

2014 Fills Me with Excitement

Whenever a new year rings in, there's always a list of releases or events set to happen within the new year for me to get excited about... This year, however, is a bit drastic. Honestly, there's so much stuff I'm looking forward to, I'm afraid I'm going to make this post and manage to forget something. ALL the things are going to happen in 2014... Okay, maybe not all of them, but a great deal of what I care about.
First things first: Part two of Teen Wolf's third season premiers January 6 on MTV. Considering how much I've loved this show, especially the first part of season three, my expectations are set relatively high. Hopefully I'll discover some new music from the show as well, like I often do... But either way, I know I'll have some new music by the end of the month, for Within Temptation will release their new album, Hydra, on January 31 - and let me tell  you, I'm SO pumped for this album. Within Temptation has been one of my favorite bands for about six years now, and Hydra's first single, "Paradise (What About Us?)" (a duet with Tarja Turunen, by the way) sounds amazing. I think I'm really going to love the direction of this album. From what this trailer tells me, it'll be very mystic and fantastical; reminiscent of both Within Temptation's newer and older material.

But even more of the epic forces of symphonic metal are going to take precedence this year! According to a news post on their official site, Epica will release their new album in the spring. Plus, Tuomas Holopainen (Nightwish's keyboardist and the mastermind behind the majority of the band's music) is going to release a classically-oriented solo album entitled The Life and Times of Scrooge. Nightwish's mesh of classical and metal has had so many beautiful and bombastic moments, and I think it'll be really cool to hear Holopainen's music just from the classical perspective. We got to hear hints of that magic when Imaginaerum was arranged for a score.

But there are also a few movies I'm interested in seeing this year. In May, the film Maleficent is set to be released to theatres. Maleficent was quite a scary character in the Sleeping Beauty animation, and bringing her to a live action setting looks incredibly frightening and cinematic. Darren Aronofsky directed Noah, a film about the well-known Biblical tale set for a 2014 release. While some have expressed concern that Aronofsky, the man who directed Requiem for a Dream (the most disturbing movie in the world) and Black Swan (the second-most disturbing movie in the world) has attempted to work with a Biblical movie, it's important to remember that Requiem for a Dream was based on a novel and Aronofky didn't write the screenplay for Black Swan. Pay attention to the way these films were made, how they were executed so effectively, so perfectly and and not to mention differently for their individual storylines... That's what I love about Aronofsky. He's a genius. (Heh, that just turned into an Aronofsky-appreciation explosion.)

And of course, some book-to-film adaptations will come out this year. John Green's The Fault in Our Stars will make its way into theatres... Which I'm less excited about because I'm just going to sit there and cry buckets the whole time. In November we'll all get to go see Mockingjay, Part 1 in theatres. YAY!
I don't have too many books on my 2014 list because majority of the series I'm reading right now already have all the books out, with the exception of the House of Night series by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast. The twelfth and final novel, Redeemed, will be released. I'm still hoping for that Sailor Moon art book... Whenever... if it ever happens. I'm so impatient!

But, on a completely different subject: I'm so ready for the Winter Olympics in Sochi. It may seem to some that I'm not a sports person, primarily because I don't care much about football, basketball, or soccer, but I love winter sports. All of them - except curling. I've been counting down until we've come to another Winter Games year since the last one in Vancouver. Sure, the Summer Games are great too, but winter sports are definitely my favorite.

Well, I think that pretty much sums it up. Hopefully I didn't forget anything! So far, 2014 sounds like a great year for music and movies; I must say, I really cannot wait to hear the new symphonic metal material. I imagine there will be a lot of fangirling to come from me this year. (Then again, when isn't there?)

What are you looking forward to in 2014?