Sunday, March 23, 2014

Otherworld | Leah

Leah is an up-and-coming symphonic metal solo artist who I stumbled upon while browsing through Amazon. She has only released one full-length album so far, Of Earth and Angels, but she's most recently released a small-scale album called Otherworld, which was only released digitally. Even though this album may be categorized as symphonic metal, it's really peaceful. Leah's use of Celtic and folk influences make it different than what's typical of the genre.
Sounds of  rain with hints of thunder begin our journey into Otherworld before a soothing piano part enters. "Shores of Your Lies" is a beautifully flowing piece; a most unusual way to start an album nowadays. Leah's voice is ethereal without trying too hard, a very natural, almost Earthy tone. Her voice and the instrumentation put together create a very relaxing, yet very powerful sound, and it demonstrates a lot of talent. The general songwriting of this track (particularly the piano line) is outstanding; it's classical music that found its way into modern song structure. After almost five minutes, the piano stops with a bang and a clap of thunder, thus cuing in the rain effects heard at the beginning of the song.
"The Northern Edge" changes the pace as it brings in the symphonic metal style. Still, it isn't too intense either; even when the instrumentation gets heavy, the vocals allow us to relax. "Surrounded," which I tend to prefer over "The Northern Edge," also starts out with a more mellow sound, reminding me of summertime, but it doesn't take long for the guitars to kick in for the chorus. When Leah goes into her upper register in the chorus, her voice really reminds me of Liv Kristine; those high notes are lighter and shrill, yet still strong.

"Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep" takes us to the softer side of Otherworld once again with an interesting spin on the poem of the same name by Mary Elizabeth Frye. This song is the reason I started listening to this album; I performed a choral arrangement called "In Remembrance" (which is part of Eleanor Joanne Daley's Requiem) a little over a year ago, and it was based on this poem. So naturally, I was curious to hear Leah's rendition. I must say, this song is fantastic. The harp shines as the lead instrument throughout the song, and overall, "Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep" is the most Celtic track on the album. The classical elements are front and center, and as usual, Leah's voice is very pretty; she goes from her chest voice to her upper register in such a smooth transition.

The albums ends with "Dreamland," which features Eric Peterson. It starts out quite soft with the harp in the spotlight once again, but Peterson's entrance reminds us that Leah's here to make metal music. As Peterson hisses, Leah's backing vocals are haunting and really add to the song. In the following part, the way her vocals are layered to sound a bit echo-like are just as entrancing. "Dreamland" is a very dynamic end to a dynamic album: There are heavier moments, there are soft moments. While that's generally the case for every album, Otherworld has a perfect balance of the two.

I find myself preferring the two ballads, "Shores of Your Lies" and "Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep," over the heavier songs, but I like the heavier ones too. They don't stand out quite as much to me as the ballads, but they're still really good. This little album as a whole is impressive; I wasn't totally floored with epicness or anything like that, but it's good stuff to say the least. Leah brings a mellow element to her music and it definitely works.

Any fans of symphonic metal that haven't checked out Leah's music yet really need to work on that. But if you enjoy Leah's music and have some extra money, you can donate here at Indiegogo to help fund her next album, which she's making without a label. I'm certainly interested in hearing her future music; she displays a lot of talent, and I'm curious about what other directions she'll take it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Epica Releases Online Studio Documentary and First Single

Epica's new album, The Quantum Enigma, is set to be released this May. On this post of their official site, we were given a ton of information concerning this upcoming release, including the cover, tracklist, and different editions that will be available. I became EXTREMELY excited based on that information alone; it reminds me of Design Your Universe, which is basically my favorite Epica album. I think I'm really going to love the concept of The Quantum Enigma... Even the song titles themselves sound cool.

But recently, the band released a two-part studio documentary to give us a sneak peak of what they've been working on. I don't want to babble too much because I'm positive I'll be reviewing this album when it comes out, but I must say, this sounds fantastic. People generally kept complimenting the way this new music is mixed and how 'awful' their previous albums' mixing jobs were... At first I thought "Well, I didn't think they sounded so bad," but once you hear how awesome the sound quality is in these samples, you can't unhear imperfections in past records. Seriously, these new samples are SO GOOD on so many levels! Fans must watch these immediately!

Both videos begin with the same intro, but after that, we get to hear different music on each part of the documentary. The first part deals with recording the drums, bass, and guitars.

My favorite parts:
0:00 - 0:43 (this is probably the album's intro; classically-oriented)
2:43 - 2:54 (HEAVINESS)
4:21 - 4:28 (cinematic)
5:35 - the end (even more cinematic)

This second part deals with recording the choir, orchestra, piano, and vocals.

My favorite parts:
0:44 - 0:53 (INTENSE)
1:40 - 2:09 (epic choir)
5:14 - 5:20 (You go, Simone! This is part of "The Essence of Silence")
6:21 - the end (piano outro)

The first single from The Quantum Enigma, "The Essence of Silence," was just released for digital download; you can get it on either iTunes or Amazon. I know I'm going to talk about it more when they release a music video or at least the album, so I'm not going to say too much right now... But this is one heavy single. It kicks ass! This great combination of Mark Jansen's grunts and Simone Simons' operatic voice will easily capture the attention of symphonic metal fans.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Marcelo in the Real World | by: Francisco X. Stork

People that have read some of my other book reviews may know that I tend to attack the to-be-read list slowly and in a disorganized fashion. Sometimes, it takes me forever to get to books I most anticipate, but I must say that Francisco X. Stork's Marcelo in the Real World officially has the award for longest time on my TBR: About four years. For one of those four years, it was sitting on my bookshelf. And let me tell you, this was basically at the top because I was extremely interested in it, so I don't know how I let this happen.

All I know is that now, I'm kicking myself in the arse because Marcelo in the Real World is now one of my favorite books of all time, no questions asked.
Marcelo has a form of autism. Social situations make him very anxious, he tends to speak in third person a lot, he frequently quotes the Scripture, and he can hear a mysterious music in his head. These characteristics make him a bit different, and he's gone to a school for kids with special needs his entire life. But even his doctor says that he'd be fine in any given public school setting. His father wants him to take advantage of the fact that he's a high-functioning individual and could go to public school if he wanted to, so he has Marcelo work in his law firm for the summer to see how he handles it.
During this time, he meets Jasmine, whose general persona heavily contrasts with the rest of his co-workers. Together, they make discoveries concerning the law firm's current problems as Marcelo is finding out what type of person he can be amid the peer pressure thrown on him by a worker with an unhealthy infatuation with Jasmine. "The real world" can be a horrible place, but one photograph leads Marcelo down a path to discover how to deal with it.
I could not put this book down. It's been a while since I've read a book so utterly perfect, and I'm not entirely sure how to effectively put my love for it into words even though I've been dying to talk about it ever since I began reading.
First of all: This story has so much depth. I mean that in terms of plot, characters, and emotion. Francisco Stork made everything and everybody so complex and real, which is why this book couldn't have possibly been any better. If Marcelo felt something, I felt it too. The nervousness, the butterflies, disappointment... Everything. Marcelo and Jasmine were crafted so vividly and naturally, and I loved them as characters. They're great people in general, and Marcelo's innocence is impossible not to love; it hurt to see him discover how awful the world can be. And Aurora - what a sweetheart.
But Stork also made the unlovable characters with emphasis, which is why I disliked them so much. I wanted to kick Wendell - I'm sure you can all guess where. His father was a jerk too, but Wendell was more prominent throughout the story. He's a creepy perv, just like Jasmine described, and he kept trying to take advantage of Marcelo's signature innocence to get him to do whatever he wanted. Marcelo's father, Arturo, also made me angry quite a bit. I understand that he wanted to believe that Marcelo never had any differences, but I don't think he ever accepted reality of respected those existing differences. But really, a lot of people pissed me off in this book because of how the treated Marcelo. And what's worse is that I know that people are like this outside of this book.
Considering how many rotten aspects of the world is highlighted in Marcelo in the Real World, I expected this to be an extremely depressing book. Even though there were definitely parts that saddened, worried, and angered me, the concept of dealing with the negatives with positives really shined. People like Marcelo, Jasmine, Jerry, Ixtel, and Aurora are constant reminders of that. Plus, Marcelo and Jasmine's somewhat-indirect romance kept my heart fluttering.
Anyway. I've never read about anybody autistic before, so this type of POV was new to me. I was fascinated by the scientific aspect, the music in his head caused by activity in the temporal lobe. The concept of a boy that can hear this music in his head is one of the main factors that attracted me to this novel in the first place, actually. I loved the musical and religious aspects.

Marcelo in the Real World is so well-written and deep... I don't think I've ever encountered a novel so incredibly underrated as this one. I would've at least thought that the gorgeous cover (it's one of my favorite book covers of all time) would've attracted the masses, and then even more because people would've discovered that the story is just as amazing on the inside as the outside, but I digress. I'm perfectly happy having this book all to myself. I'm seriously considering going back through my Goodreads and changing some of my five star ratings to fours because of how mesmerizing this book was. I feel bad for the next book I read because perfection is certainly one tough act to follow. I loved it beyond what I'm capable of expressing.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Popular Authors I've Never Read

I'm participating in another Top Ten Tuesday, which is a fabulous feature hosted at The Broke and the Bookish.

Top Ten Popular Authors I've Never Read

Sarah Dessen
Bet you didn't see that one coming. I feel like I'm the only female book lover that hasn't read anything by Sarah Dessen. Even though everyone seems to really love her, I've just had a conflicting impression of her books, which I briefly rambled about in last week's Top Ten Tuesday. I'm not sure why I'm so... not drawn to these books. Feel free to diagnose me.

Sidenote: I've always found the cover of What Happened to Goodbye to be quite awkward.

Laurie Halse Anderson
I also mentioned Laurie in last week's Top Ten Tuesday. Everything this woman has written looks cry-worthy. I'm so emotional... I don't want to cry and feel miserable! Speak sounds like such a moving book, but I'm too afraid of my emotions getting out of hand.

Cassandra Clare
...And another author I mentioned last week! I technically did read the first chapter of City of Bones back in the day, but I'm not counting that as having read Cassandra Clare. I had other stuff to read at the time. But now, The Mortal Instruments series has gotten so big and books require money, and the library kind of freaks me out because I'm a germaphobe... Even though I have interest, I'm afraid I'm going to pour money into this series and not love it enough. However, I may get to the Infernal Devices trilogy, which I actually have a smidge more interest for than the Mortal Instruments.
Meg Cabot
I've just never crossed paths with her books (not in a literal sense; I've seen her books in stores, but I've just never saw one that I had interest in) despite popularity. I did kind of want to read Abandon when it came out since it seemed like an interesting Persephone retelling, but then I heard some people (who really enjoyed Meg Cabot's previous novels) say it fell flat for them, and I had other stuff to read (as usual), and... It just kind of fell off my priorities list.

David Levithan
Once again, I've never crossed paths with this guy's books in the sense that I never found one of his books and thought "Omg, I need to read this!" I've heard that he's pretty good and I don't know of all the books he's written, so maybe I'll read one of his books eventually.
James Patterson
I really just don't have any desire to read anything by him. I don't know why... I guess I've just never gotten good vibes from the look of his novels? And I remember he did that whole Witch and Wizard thing, and maybe Witch and Wizard actually was really good, but I remember seeing promos for it on TV back when it first came out and it looked like a major Harry Potter rip off. But, that could've just been the promos. I don't know. I'm just not really interested in his work.

Veronica Roth
I know, I know, I need to read Divergent. It looks like a really good trilogy (although I've heard a lot of conflicting opinions about Allegiant). Nothing is really keeping me away from Veronica Roth's novels other than the size of my behemoth TBR, so I imagine I'll get to these books someday.
Sidenote: The cover of Insurgent is pretty.

Rainbow Rowell
Out of all the authors on this list, Rainbow Rowell is the one that I want to read something by the most. Everyone loves her contemporary novels, and I'm quite curious about them, especially Fangirl. (Considering that this blog typically consists of my fangirling, it should be a good novel for me, right?) But I've also heard so many good things about Eleanor and Park, so I'd definitely be okay with reading either one.
Ayn Rand
I've wanted to read some Ayn Rand after one of my best friends told me about Anthem - that book sounds soooo good! But right now, I just have a copy of Atlas Shrugged. It's an ENORMOUS book, so I'm kind of procrastinating on this one as I attack the rest of the TBR. Big surprise. I know that Ayn Rand has some intense political views (something called objectivism) but I have no idea what they entail. Hopefully I'll be able to enjoy it even if I end up disagreeing with her.
Anne Rice
The only book of hers I know of by name is Interview with the Vampire, and I've heard that some of her work can be pretty steamy. But I've also heard that she's written some religious stuff as well. I'm just not the most interested, but like I said, I only know of one of her novels by name. Maybe one day I'll find one that interests me and isn't out of my comfort zone.

As per usual, let me know what you think of my list (in other words, how insane I am) and leave a link to yours so I can see it. Thanks for visiting!