Sunday, November 30, 2014

Massive Addictive | Amaranthe

Amaranthe is one of the newest female fronted metal bands to enter the scene, starting with their self-titled debut in 2011 and their sophomore album The Nexus in 2013. Their pattern of releasing albums is reminiscent of pop sensation Rihanna: They don't keep fans waiting for very long. They've already released their third record, Massive Addictive, which holds true to their unique sound: An energized electronic version of metal music. While many bands will have one male and one female vocalist, Amaranthe has three: Elize Ryd (who sounds like a more versatile Celine Dion), Jake E. (who does the clean male vocals), and Henrik Englund (who screams and grunts). A lot of heavy metal elitists will probably hate the band's modernized sound, but the open-minded will love it. Considering the sound of their musical associates, the direction Amaranthe takes is bold and interesting; however, as I said about UnSun's Clinic for Dolls, I find myself wishing for more variety between their songs.
The first song, "Dynamite," is a show-stopper. Heavy, pulsating riffs are interwoven with fleeting synths - if I could imagine Pink Floyd's "On the Run" mixed with a metal band, this is what it would sound like. The middle eight has the song's heaviest moments with a guitar solo and chugging rhythm guitars that help give the band such a thick, choppy sound. Elize Ryd radiates confidence when she sings, belting it out in a way that's unusually soulful for the genre. "Drop Dead Cynical," the first single from Massive Addictive, is also exemplary of this vocal technique in the chorus, and Englund seems to particularly shine on this single even though one may initially think that it might not be heavy enough for him. While I wasn't very impressed by "Drop Dead Cynical" on the first listen, it has definitely grown on me - it's so fun!

"Massive Addictive" also took a couple of listens before I could really appreciate it. It has a bit of a slower flow, so instead of having the bounce-off-the-walls energy that Amaranthe always seems to have, it soaks in its own epicness, and I have no problem with that. It can still amplify a movie trailer's action sequence, without a doubt. Ryd and Jake's voices so well in the chorus (their duets dominate most Amaranthe choruses... it just seems a little more effective than usual here). Honestly, once the chorus is in your head, good luck getting it out.

"Digital World" comes in at nearly halfway, and it's definitely one of my favorites from Massive Addictive. The electronic elements lead in the guitars and die down so we hear Englund's harsh vocals synthed (an unlikely but fantastic combination) so that he sounds stuck in a time warp or something, trapped in the "Digital World." His voice is fully unleashed in the middle eight (as is every instrument the band uses... It's so heavy). Ryd's voice is delicate and pretty in the pre-chorus... And that chorus - THAT CHORUS! I cannot sit still when I hear it and replay it until I have virtually transformed into the Energizer Bunny. It's incredibly catchy and the execution is just epic: "You don't ever have to cry 'cause the future is sold / You can never die and you'll never grow old / But everything surrounding you is digital."

Overall, I find the first half of Massive Addictive to be much more impressive than the second half, with the exception of the third song, "Trinity," which doesn't do much for me musically and the chorus strikes me as really corny. "True" has a pretty piano line and has potential, but nothing manages to wow me. This is the case for quite a few. "Over and Done" is more of a power ballad, and I do like that one (let's face it - Amaranthe has too much energy to slow things completely down), but I'm not sure if it's something I'll be listening to quite a bit in the future. The same goes for "An Ordinary Abnormality," which is the heaviest track.
So, in total, there are four songs from Massive Addictive I love, one that's sort of in a "I like" category, and another that's on the borderline between "I like" and "Meh." (If that makes sense.) The album doesn't blow me away because there needs to be some more variety, a little more of that WOW factor. This album will get just about anybody pumped with its metal-electronic mesh and will appeal to fans of both clean and harsh vocals, but they just need to think outside the box in terms of structure for the future.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part One | Directed by Francis Lawrence | Screenplay by Danny Strong and Peter Craig

*This contains SPOILERS for those who haven't read Mockingjay AND some minor stuff for those who have not seen the movie yet.
Katniss Everdeen has already been through the Hunger Games. Twice. But danger for her - and all of Panem - is far from over. A revolution is beginning because of her spark, and now she must accept her role as the face of the rebellion. Violence is taking over. And Peeta, who Katniss has always strived to protect, is still in the hands of the Capitol. Mockingjay Part One, like the other films (and books) of this series is packed with emotional turmoil and action, making it an excellent (though 100% accurate) adaptation.
In my review of the book in 2011, I talked about how strongly impacted I was by the book. In fact, I even mentioned having no intention to see the films when they'd come out because I loved them too much to see anything go wrong. But, the first movie's trailer convinced me that everything would work out, and it did. Jennifer Lawrence is a perfect Katniss and Josh Hutcherson makes a great Peeta. But weirdly enough, they've decided to split this movie into two parts as they did with the Harry Potter and Twilight series. I wasn't thrilled about this decision: How could they possibly make a 300-something paged book into two effective movies? After all, even though they improvised well with Breaking Dawn, that 700-something paged book could have been one single film.
The thing to remember is that the films show more than what's going on in Katniss' head, the books do not. It demonstrates the difference between what works for a book and what works for a movie. That being said, it definitely works here. In fact, some of the parts I thought would be less-effective on screen were cut down and the ones that would work best on screen were amplified. I was surprised, however, that they cut out certain things like the mystery behind District 13, but in the grand scheme I can see why it was necessary for time constraints and to really get the ball rolling right away.
I definitely think they split Mockingjay in two in just the right spot... If I was a person who hasn't read the books and just watched the movies, I'd be SO PISSED about such a cliffhanger, but as someone who has read the book, I'm primarily just worried about Part Two. I'm not worried that they'll mess it up or anything; I'm worried about the general content overall. My emotional reaction to the last half of this book was off the charts (perhaps the strongest reaction I've ever had to any book, along with Yann Martel's Life of Pi coming in second), and there have been plenty of times where my initial response doubles when I see a film adaptation because the actors in my head as I read weren't as effective as the ones on screen. Jennifer Lawrence does an amazing job at conveying raw emotion... And I know what's coming next... I don't think I'm going to handle it very well. Even in Part One, I became sad remembering the fate of a certain character.
I suppose in some ways this can hardly even be considered a review because I'm hardly reviewing anything... And really, there's not much to critique. Everything was done well, from the acting, to the script, to the special effects and everything in between. The only two things these movies haven't done as effectively as the books is really make me love Gale, be able to picture him with Katniss, and make me adore Finnick as much as I did when reading Mockingjay... They probably could have squeezed in a few more moments with Katniss and Finnick; those two characters could really relate to each other in the first half of Mockingjay and were able to struggle together. So, not perfect (because absolute perfection is impossible in the world of book-to-film adaptations), but it's still one hell of a good movie. There won't be much disappointment.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Concerts I've Attended (2012-2014)

Over the years, I've been becoming a bit of an avid concert-goer. This has basically been a life goal for myself ever since I was little; the loud, energetic concert environment seemed to call my name. Granted, I don't go to too many shows: I see an average of one or two per year, but I've never really talked about them around here before with the exception of Trans-Siberian Orchestra, who I've had the pleasure of seeing five times. I'd never be able to review a concert because they all make me extremely happy, so I figured I can put up a post discussing my most recent experiences every so often.

August 2012: Evanescence
Support: Chevelle, Cavo
Carnival of Madness Tour

I had only ever gone to Trans-Siberian Orchestra shows before seeing Evanescence, so this is technically my first real concert where people actually stand up and whatnot. One of the perks of this specific tour was that I also got to see Chevelle. I had always liked Chevelle beforehand, but I never truly got into them until seeing them live; I was quite impressed and really enjoyed their set. They're great performers. (Cavo performed a small set before Chevelle, but I've never been concerned with their music, personally.)
But, of course, I was most excited to see my favorite band since I bought their debut Fallen in 2005, Evanescence... I fangirled so much to the point that I probably should have been embarrassed. I probably did a little too much rocking out... especially during "Whisper," my favorite live Evanescence song that I have always wanted to see and hear I person (thus convincing me I would fit in better with a metal crowd), and I literally cried during "Lost in Paradise" and the final song of the night, "My Immortal," which caused a group of guys to stare in awe and point me out: I probably looked like a hot mess. It was an emotional rollercoaster overall, really. Evanescence was my go-to band for the vast majority of my teen years. Sure, their music is fantastic, but they're also my angst in a way. If something would go wrong, I'd put on an Evanescence song and suddenly I'd feel better. I've listened to their songs a million times, but seeing and hearing it live was a reminder of every connection I've made with the music, every moment I've looked up to Amy Lee as a human being... And there they were, close enough that I could distinguish the difference between Amy's sweat and body glitter. I was starstruck. Completely starstruck. I had major post-concert depression afterwards. And probably suffered damage to my vocal chords.

Other associated memories: One of the workers at the venue let me move from row CC to M for Chevelle, and then to row I (that's the letter, not the number) for Evanescence! I went to Joe's Crab Shack after this concert... They serve food in a bucket. A freaking bucket. It was awesome.

May 2014: Lady Gaga
artRAVE: The ARTPOP Ball
It took a little while, but I finally got to see Lady Gaga. My real-life bestie Nick at Aural Fixation Reviews and I were supposed to see her during the Born This Way Ball in 2013, but she had to cancel the tour a few days before our show due to injuries. Fortunately, Gaga became healthy again, released ARTPOP, and could go back on the road so Nick and I could see her. And she puts on one hell of a show! She has clearly moved on from the past, for she only played one song from Born This Way (the title track itself, acoustic) and a selection of the biggest singles from her first two albums. Everything else was from ARTPOP. I must say, her voice sounds even better live than in the studio, and of course, her dancing and general performance level were on par. Heck, I didn't even just buy my tickets for the performance, I also just wanted to hear her talk! She's such a sweet, high-energy person. Since she loves clothes so much, many fans were throwing some stuff they brought (whether they made it or not) on stage and she'd wear them all... She was like a small child excited to play dress-up, and it was adorable. She also read a fan letter aloud on stage.
However, if I ever go see her again, I'm dressing up. Everyone around me at this concert was so glamorous covered in glitter... And there I was in jeans, Converse, and a t-shirt. I looked dull in comparison to those around me.

Other associated memories: Nick and I were semi-stranded for a little while after this show and then we got lost in a scary-looking side of town.

October 2014: Within Temptation
Support: Amaranthe
Hydra World Tour

Within Temptation is my favorite band along with Evanescence, and their lead singer (Sharon den Adel) has been a vocal idol for me, so I was certainly counting down the days until I could see them. It seemed that they'd always skip my general region for every tour, but not this one! Furthermore, I was in an entire venue full of people who actually knew who they were... OMG! Amaranthe opened, and while I'm not exactly crazy about them, I enjoy a few of their songs. They did a pretty good job, but I think there was something up with their  microphones so it was harder to hear the vocalists.
Since the venue was completely general admission and didn't have seats (if you ever have to go to one, be very patient and don't be too polite so that people don't shove you out of the way), I got there early and was in the second row for Amaranthe. I was in the front for every Within Temptation song except for the last three. THE FRONT ROW. It was a perfect scenario. They are top-notch performers: They bring plenty of energy and the songs sound perfect! The screen backdrop was actually broken for a good portion of the show, but I didn't even notice until someone brought it up later. I headbanged my earplugs out during "Stand My Ground," was completely mesmerized by Sharon den Adel's vocals during "Angels," and went bananas during "Mother Earth." I was able to make eye-contact with all the band members (except their drummer) and can barely be seen in the photo the band took in the crowd when you zoom in at about 300%. It was fantastic; I was in such a good mood for literally days afterward.
Other associated memories: Traffic sucked on the way to the venue and brought on some major anxiety. Got home at two in the morning and went to university at eight in the morning... It was worth it!