Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My Favorite Albums of 2014

I don't think 2014 was exactly a mind-blowing year for music, but it was better than last year and did have some great moments. My jaded nature led me to miss out on a few established bands' new releases but I did also take the time to check a few out that I previously hadn't gotten around to. It seemed like a particularly good year for slower music as a steady stream of releases from Crowbar, Eyehategod, and the Melvins among others has led me to dub it as the "Summer of Sludge." And lastly, things are getting solid here in Indianapolis as our bands seem to be getting a bit more attention and more underground acts are deciding that this city might be a nice place to stop by while touring. So without further ado, let's take a gander at this year's cream of the crop starting with our honorable mentions!

-Primitive and Deadly by Earth
The latest album by Seattle's former drone legends may have been one of this year's biggest curve balls. While it falls in line with past albums, it is their first in decades to actually feature vocalists accompanying Dylan Carlson's western movie ambiance. The inclusion of the equally legendary Mark Lenegan on two tracks was what initially caught my interest but Rabia Shaheen Qazi's awe-inspiring performance on "From the Zodiacal Light" was what really won me over. I really hope they keep this idea going on future efforts as it is an experimental move for them that really paid off.

-John Garcia by John Garcia
While many artists who release solo albums tend to do it out of a desire to write more or to pursue a sound they ordinarily can't, there is also a risk of just releasing a watered down version of their main band. Kyuss/Vista Chino frontman John Garcia's solo debut dances right along that line but does so in a way that is quite enjoyable. Songs like "The Blvd" and "5000 Miles" are surprisingly riffy for an album meant to show off a vocalist, but they work well and Garcia himself fits in with the variety on display. Still clamoring for a Vista Chino followup (or a Kyuss reunion) but this'll do.

-Catacombs of the Black Vatican by Black Label Society
I may lose some underground metal cred for having Black Label Society's latest opus on my list at all, let alone as an honorable mention, but I have to admit that this album is a pretty fun listen. A few songs still feel rather tacked on and Zakk Wylde's vocals are as processed as ever, but you'll find great grooves on "Believe" and "Beyond the Down" while "Angel of Mercy" and "Shades of Grey" prove to be his most sincere ballads in a good while. I also have to give props to "Empty Promises" as it may be the doomiest song he has ever put together. That in itself may be worth checking out, even if this sort of thing doesn't do it for ya.

-Blood In Blood Out by Exodus
I can't tell if it's the state of the scene or just my personal taste, but it doesn't seem like there were too many appealing thrash albums out this year. While Exodus's tenth album isn't on the same level as Bonded by Blood or even Tempo of the Damned, it has rectified a few of the band's most recent flaws as classic vocalist Steve Sousa is back in and the songs aren't trying as hard to be epic for the sake of it. They even manage to get some guests in on the fun as "BTK" features some solid backing roars by Testament's Chuck Billy while "Salt The Wound" has a solo courtesy of former guitarist Kirk Hammett. Think he's getting tired of his day job yet?

-IV.I.VIII. by Coffinworm
 Coffinworm's second full-length is an excellent slice of blackened sludge though I admit that it's one of my more overlooked highlights this year. It is an overwhelmingly oppressive release and definitely takes a number of listens to get a feel for, but it showcases a lot of different moods and tempos over its six song run. "Lust Vs. Vengeance" is probably the most memorable track of the lot thanks to its contrasts between harsh vocal punctuations and catchy melodic flourishes though "Instant Death Syndrome" has a haunting waltz and "Black Tears" rides a powerful dirge throughout. I do wish they played live more often but they're definitely in a position where they can pick and choose from the best offers out there.

10) Bled White by Novembers Doom
Novembers Doom has always been that band whose albums I consistently enjoy but seem to get overshadowed by other bands in their genre when it comes to putting these lists together. This album has a few more songs than usual but there aren't really any filler tracks to be found. In addition, it manages to keep their emotional angles in tact as "Just Breathe" and "The Memory Room" have their distinct somber edge while the lyrics on "Heartfelt" manage to be incredibly pissed off while still retaining their sense of class.

9) To Be Kind by Swans
As a musician and music listener, I am both impressed and terrified by Michael Gira. To follow 2012's The Seer, a monolithic double album, with yet another monolithic double album is an incredibly ballsy move that wouldn't have worked in anyone else's hands but I just might like this one more. To Be Kind is a bit more straightforward than its predecessor if the riff-driven songs such as "A Little God In my Hands" and "Oxygen" are anything to go by, but the ambient drones are still prominent and unsettling as ever. Like The Seer before it, it can be pretty self-indulgent at times (Did "Bring The Sun/Toussaint L'Ouverture" really need to be thirty-four minutes long?) but it shows that Mr. Gira still has a lot to prove in the late stage of his career.

8) Once More 'Round the Sun by Mastodon
After spending a good five albums trying out several different sounds, it seems like Mastodon just may have found their comfort zone. While The Hunter offered plenty of excellent moments, Once More 'Round the Sun feels like the true followup to Crack the Skye with its heavier guitar tone, more unified songwriting, and trickier arrangements. Of course, it still manages to be pretty damn catchy and the vocals, which were once the band's biggest shortcoming in their early days, really make the choruses on "Tread Lightly," "Ember City," and the twerk-tastic "The Motherload" that much stronger. Let's just see how much longer they hold out before the cries of selling out start pouring in...

7) For Those Which Are Asleep by The Skull
 I have a confession to make that may result in me having to turn in my doom card: I have never listened to a Trouble album. I really like what I've recently heard off Psalm 9 but I seemed to overlook them as a band while I was getting into the genre in favor of their fellow forerunners. Thankfully, I can attempt to rectify this by stating that The Skull, a new group that is basically just Trouble with a couple different guitarists, truly delivers the Trouble sound on their debut effort. It has a good mix of heaviness and melancholy and the songs on the second half such as "Send Judas Down" and the title track are particularly awesome. All in all, a great album that probably would've been even higher if I'd heard it earlier in the year and if the track listing had been switched around a bit more.

6) Pale Communion by Opeth
A lot of Opeth fans were put off by 2011's Heritage because it signified the band's ultimate abandonment of their death metal past in favor of prog rock; I was put off because the songwriting just wasn't that good. I wanted them to embrace their prog side for years but Mikael Akerfeldt's tendency to just shove random motifs together in hopes of getting a decent song just didn't seem to match his aspirations. Thankfully, Pale Communion is a dramatic improvement that shows the band making up for previous flaws. "Moon Above, Sun Below" and "River" encounter some tangents, but songs like "Eternal Rains Will Come" and "Goblin" show much more care being put into their compositions and they even got a catchy hook in "Cusp Of Eternity." Easily the best thing Opeth has done since Ghost Reveries, if not Damnation.

5) Slaves to the Grave by Rigor Mortis
Texas's own Rigor Mortis has easily been one of the biggest underdogs in thrash, if not the entire metal community. They reunited in the mid-2000s and were poised to make a comeback, only to have guitarist Mike Scaccia tragically pass away in 2012 shortly after finishing their first album in over twenty years. Thank the gods they managed to find the right support for this thing to see the light of day as it is one of the best thrash comebacks in this decade. While it doesn't have the same camp appeal or band dynamic as their essential debut, the band plays harder than the fellas half their age and there isn't a single Pantera-ism to be found amongst this fast paced onslaught. It's a shame Rigor Mortis's comeback turned out to be their swan song; I'll be hoping for good things if they decide to keep going as the Wizards of Gore.

4) Uno Dose by The Heavy Company
With only four original songs and live versions of songs from 2013's Midwest Electric, it might be questionable how much Uno Dose counts for this list. Either way, the Lafayette, Indiana trio puts on an excellent show that I feel bad for having not previously acknowledged before this year. Their brand of Lynyrd Skynyrd stoner rock is a joy to behold as the grit of the studio tracks actually don't make them sound too different from their live counterparts. I'd recommend giving "State Flag Blues" a listen as it shows just why this band is one of the strongest to come from the Crossroads of America in recent years.

3) Blood Eagle by Conan
Combining the bottom heavy crawl of Electric Wizard with the barbarism of High On Fire, Conan just might be the quintessential doom band today. With a name meant to imply the best of Robert E. Howard savagery, the band's approach is appropriately boneheaded as songs like "Crown of Talons" match drawn out riffs and minimalist shouts with a raw production job. Of course, they do show off a decent amount of variety as "Foehammer" is a borderline thrasher while "Gravity Chasm" and "Horns for Teeth" go in a more upbeat direction. I'm not sure if there will be much appeal for this outside of the doom community but you can't deny that it's heavy as all hell and makes for some dumb fun.

2) Of Woe and Wounds by Apostle of Solitude
With the unfortunate dissolution of The Gates of Slumber, I think that the title for best metal band in Indiana has been passed on to Apostle of Solitude. The group's third full-length album is a great demonstration of their talents as it offers some new elements while staying true to their classic doom roots. "Whore's Wings" and "This Mania" are some of the group's most upbeat songs to date, the addition of Devil to Pay's Steve Janiak leads to expanded vocal trade-offs, and you'd be hard pressed to find hooks in doom metal today that are catchier than those on "Good Riddance" and "Die Vicar Die." It felt like a long wait to get this out there but I think it was worth it and hope they get even more attention from the metal scene at large.

1) Melana Chasmata by Triptykon
I've noticed that every year I do these countdowns, I usually find my favorite at the beginning of the year and then see how everything that comes out after it will compare. While my experience with the greatness of Tom G Warrior is mostly limited to the earliest exploits of Celtic Frost, Triptykon's second album is not only the best album of 2014 but also one of the best I've ever heard. It has something for nearly every kind of metal fan as "Tree of Suffocating Souls" and "Breathing" offer death metal tempos, "Boleskine House" and "Altar of Deceit" deliver Candlemass-inspired doom, and "Aurorae" consists of a brooding goth rock jam. I also strongly recommend giving "Demon Pact" a listen as it is a legitimately spooky track that sounds like a horror movie scored by Michael Gira in the midst of a fever dream. I definitely need to explore this man's past works more extensively and hope to see even more greatness in the future. That said, I hope he also manages to get himself some decent therapy...

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Look Back at Rebel Meets Rebel

Consisting of country legend David Allan Coe alongside the instrumentalists from Pantera, Rebel Meets Rebel is an example of a project that should've gotten more attention from its creators as well as from its fans. Recorded shortly after the Reinventing the Steel sessions and seemingly forgotten until its 2006 release, their sole studio album is one of the rare examples I've seen of a band attempting to combine heavy metal with old school country music. It may not be a timeless masterpiece but it does show a group of musicians bringing the best out of one another in a promising environment.

If there's one thing I've noticed about the guys in Pantera, it's that they've always catered their sound to whoever was singing for them. They played hair metal with original frontman Terry Glaze, their famous run with Phil Anselmo saw influences from sludge and hardcore overtake their sound, and even the song they recorded with Rob Halford on the mic just sounds more like a Fight outtake with Dimebag Darrell's guitar tone than anything off of Vulgar Display of Power. While these chameleon-like tendencies may have led some to call their integrity into question, it seems to especially work in their favor when this collaboration is concerned.

Coe may have only provided lyrics and vocals to the Abbott brothers' musical compositions but his presence definitely leads to the musicians approaching their instruments from different angles while still keeping true to their core elements. Dimebag's guitar leads often have a noticeable twang, his riffs have a bright tone even when they provide their signature crunch, Rex's Brown bass stands out a little more than before, Vinnie Paul trades his heavy double bass in for more traditional drum beats, and flourishes of piano, fiddle, and acoustic guitar lend the songs a sense of credibility that you don't see as much in your typical southern metal band. As expected, Coe's vocals definitely aren't a source of technical prowess in their old age but his unwavering howl does give the songs a sense of structure that they wouldn't have had under the command of Anselmo's often directionless ranting.

Speaking of structure, the songwriting on this album is also at a different level than the band members' past projects and successfully combines their natural heaviness with a sense of accessibility. The album starts off on its fastest note as "Nothin' to Lose" features some great guitar/vocal contrasts set to an unwavering drum beat, the title track and "One Night Stands" are rock romps in the vein of Motorhead and ZZ Top with the former's trade-offs between Coe and Dimebag emulating "Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers," songs like "Cowboys Do More Dope" and "Get Outta My Life" bring in mid-tempo attitudes, and you'll find even slower tempos and more melodic flourishes on "Heart Worn Highway" and "Arizona Rivers." Unfortunately, the album does dip a bit in quality after the tribal stomp of "Cherokee Cry" with "N.Y.C. Streets" in particular sounding like it was put together at the last minute.

Sometimes I wonder what things would be like now if Rebel Meets Rebel had been the group on tour in 2004 instead of Damageplan. This album may have a couple fillers towards the end, but it is a really fun listen that never sounds too forced and leaves a lot of room for potential that was sadly never realized. It would've been great to see these guys get more comfortable with each other on further installments and perhaps even take deeper dives into traditional country and blues structures. I get the feeling that it'd be a lot less awkward than the southern tripe that Vinnie Paul has been coasting on with Hellyeah...

R.I.P. Dimebag.

"Nothin' to Lose"
"Rebel Meets Rebel"
"Cowboys Do More Dope"
"One Night Stands"
"Cherokee Cry"

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Review of King Buzzo's This Machine Kills Artists

Apparently not content with just revamping the Melvins every year, guitarist/vocalist Buzz "King Buzzo" Osborne has finally gotten around to releasing the first solo album of his thirty-year career. Being the main writer for the gods of sludge metal weirdness, he has put out an entirely acoustic release as his first step. It's a predictably odd result but also proves to be an enjoyable venture.

On a superficial level, This Machine Kills Artists is about as far removed as you can get from the Melvins. The acoustic guitar is the sole instrument that accompanies Buzzo's most melodic vocals to date and the short song lengths mean there isn't too much for any weird shit to happen. But looking deeper, one will notice that the lyrics are still Buzzo's indecipherable nonsense and the guitar playing is driven by the same start-stop rhythms that define his main band. In fact, the barrage of shorter songs actually reminds me of the Melvins' early punk-influenced material, albeit done in a folk fashion.

This method does result in a rather unique folk experience it does falter by having a few too many songs and for missing the genre's number one rule: the importance of lyrical content. Being a technically minimal genre, folk tends to live or die by an artist's lyrics and the mood that is created by the music and words working together. In contrast, Buzzo has never been one for lyrics, resulting in an album where everything runs together and the mood is undetermined. We don't need to hear him sing about lost women or whatever but it'd be great to get some insights that we wouldn't otherwise.

Fortunately, the music is pretty laid back and his signature riffing style translates surprisingly well to the acoustic style. "Dark Brown Teeth" features some especially intricate strumming while the slower riffs on "New River" and "The Vulgar Joke" are about as heavy as the format can get. It also helps that the titles still manage to be pretty amusing, leading one to wonder what stories are behind such monikers as "Drunken Baby" or "How I Became Offensive."

King Buzzo's folk album is a good example of the man's refusal to play by the rules, even when there's a reason for those rules being there. His riffing is welcome in any format and the approach is unique compared to most of the folk I've heard, but the songs' tendency to sound alike may be a turn-off for some. It'd be interesting to see his main band try this out or if he were able to work with someone who has more crossover experience. You know, an acoustic team-up with Scott Kelly or Wino could be pretty awesome...

"Dark Brown Teeth"
"Rough Democracy"
"Vaulting Over A Microphone"
"New River'
"The Vulgar Joke"

Monday, December 1, 2014

Review of Earth's Primitive and Deadly

It's been a good couple decades since Earth left the drone metal they pioneered behind but they've made a decent niche out of crafting scores for western movies that will never be made. But having run the risk of their desert rock formula sounding stale, their eighth studio album has a more conventional approach than usual. Guest musicians were recruited and vocalists were brought in for the first time in nearly twenty years. The results are refreshing yet manage to feel familiar.

The integration of vocals and extra instruments does make Earth more accessible but every element is utilized for the sole purpose of working towards their usual atmosphere. The sparse drum beats and drawn out guitar strums still serve as the band's power source while the leads that pop up opt for melancholic support instead of showing off. The vocals also have an instrumental quality, delivering their esoteric poetry in a way that won't exactly inspire any traditional singalongs.

While the inclusion of the legendary Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan was what caught my interest but the performance on "From the Zodiacal Light" by Rabia Shaheen Qazi is the album's shining moment. Her voice is almost hopeful and rises above the material in a way that that makes one long for further collaborations. The two songs featuring Lanegan are also pretty cool, especially the ominous "There Is A Serpent Coming," and the two instrumentals also find ways to stand out. The trudging riffs on "Torn by The Fox of the Crescent Moon" serve as an excellent opening even if the piece probably could've been dressed up a bit more.

With that, there is still a bit of untapped potential regarding the new elements at hand. The songs are more varied than before but some moments still feel limited by the repetitive structures and the single sluggish tempo that is used through the album. I also miss the cello that appeared on the last couple efforts and feel as if Qazi was slightly underused since she's only on one song. Perhaps they should be a full-length collaboration in the future...

Overall, Primitive and Deadly isn't on the same level as Hex or The Bees Made Honey in The Lion's Skull but it does offer some revamps that make Earth's core sound that much more satisfying. It isn't exactly a "catchy" album but it is easy to get a feel for and worth recommending to listeners who have previously overlooked the band. I hope to see further development but may have explore their back catalog a bit more in the meantime.

"Torn By The Fox Of The Crescent Moon"
'There Is A Serpent Coming"
"From the Zodiacal Light'

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Review of California Breed's Self-Titled Album

Seeing how Black Country Communion was one of the strongest supergroups ever assembled, it was a shame to see it disintegrate following the disputes between Joe Bonamassa and Glenn Hughes. While the former returned to his blues rock solo project, Hughes has forged on with a new ensemble featuring Communion drummer Jason Bonham and newcomer guitarist Andrew Watt. The resulting effort isn't on the same level as Black Country Communion's trilogy but it does make for a solid rock debut.

Unsurprisingly, California Breed is cut from the same riff rock cloth that was originated by the likes of Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. Hughes' vocals are at their soulful best, Bonham's drumming is as bombastic as ever, and Watt proves to be a competent player as he ranges from chunky rhythms on "The Grey" to more melodic flourishes on "All Falls Down." The songwriting also has some variety though things don't stray too far from the laid back but still upbeat mid-tempo template.

And with that template in mind, the band dynamic is rather basic by power trio standards. The songs are conventionally structured and based around the vocals, so there aren't too many opportunities for longer instrumental segments or any banter between the guitars and bass. This setup will likely change once the band members get more comfortable with one another but it does make one miss Bonamassa's more intricate contributions at times.

The album is also brought down by having a few too many songs for its basic format. You won't find any bad ones on here but it really feels like the two after "Invisible" could've been cut or placed elsewhere as the track has a rather climactic approach. Fortunately there are plenty of great moments that make up for it with "Sweet Tea" offering an almost 60s romp and "Spit You Out" having a groove that sounds like it could've come from the last Queens of the Stone Age venture.

I may have bias as a Black Country Communion fan but California Breed's debut is a solid rock album with plenty of room for growth. Glenn Hughes is a talented vocalist/bassist and has a knack for finding talented people to work with, so it isn't too surprising to see him excel with a new project. However, it seems like the band may still need to work on their chemistry as a unit. This is an essential purchase for fans of his work but other rock listeners may need to see how this group develops on future efforts.

"The Way"
"Sweet Tea"
"Midnight Oil"
"The Grey"
"Spit You Out"

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Review of Electric Wizard's Time to Die

Electric Wizard never really had a true fall from grace, but their first album in four years isn't quite the kick in the pants it was supposed to be. The band switched from Rise Above Records to Spinefarm and brought original drummer Mark Greening back in the fold, but recent disputes with Rise Above and Greening have soured this release's presentation. Fortunately, they still got a decent album out despite the unflattering aftershocks.

After a good decade of psychedelic flirtations, Time To Die sees Electric Wizard going out of their way to recapture the old Dopethrone vibe. The mix is dark and bottom heavy, the riffing is rougher, a healthy number of samples are placed throughout, and the lyrics abandon the Hammer horror in favor or a pseudo-concept revolving around the crimes committed by Ricky Lasso during the mid-80s Satanic panic. Of course, the band doesn't quite shed of their more upbeat approach as songs like "Funeral Of Your Mind" and "Sadiowitch" offer more straightforward playing and don't quite have the same misanthropic flairs. They even throw in some keyboards though they're used more for backing than anything else.
And while Electric Wizard has always been known for repetition and occasional riff recycling, they've reached the point where it's starting to work against them. The songs here all sound good but they get brought down by sounding too much like previous highlights. The chord progression on the title track feels like a bluesy update of "Funeralopolis," the drawn out chords on "I Am Nothing" recall "Eko Eko Azarak," and the Black Masses regurgitating gets really distracting on "Sadiowitch." Fortunately, "We Love The Dead" has some solid riffs to it and the two sample heavy interludes manage to sound pretty cool with "Saturn Dethroned" ending with the same sample that opened "Vinum Sabbthi."

Electric Wizard definitely hasn't hit rock bottom but Time To Die shows that they may need to evaluate their approach if they wish to stay relevant in the doom metal scene. Any fanboy's disappointments will likely have more to do with Greening getting the shaft than the musical content, but anyone else would be better off looking into Dopethrone or even Witchcult Today before this one. Maybe they could try bringing Tim Bagshaw back for the next one...

"Time To Die"
"I Am Nothing"
"Funeral Of Your Mind"
"We Love The Dead"

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Review of Rigor Mortis's Slaves To The Grave

As lame as it sounds, it's a miracle that Rigor Mortis's first album in twenty-three years managed to see the light of day. The band's original lineup reunited in the mid-2000s and even got a spot on the 2008 Ozzfest, all the while teasing a comeback that wouldn't be fully realized for a few more years. From there, the story is tragically familiar as guitarist Mike Scaccia died shortly after completing this album and the band had to crowd fund to guarantee its release. Thankfully, the actual music is as far from a sob story as one can possibly get.

With the possible exceptions of Slayer or Hirax, no thrash band has stayed closer to their roots than Rigor Mortis. This album isn't quite as raw as past efforts but many of the band's signature elements are still intact after all this time. The guitar still leads the way with some of Scaccia's most intense playing, the bass keeps a steady foundation, the drums are at a constant burst, the vocals are gruff, the production is dry, and there isn't a single groove in sight.

But upon further inspection, the atmosphere has definitely moved away from the campy aesthetics of the older material. The lyrics are as violent as ever but they have less of a slasher film tone and generally opt for war, fantasy, and more "realistic" looks at the homicidal mind. The music matches the lyrics with its darker feel though some songs have a more dramatic flair that was previously untouched. "Poltergeist" starts things off with three minutes of thrash followed by a elaborately melodic closing segment, "The Infected" opens with some bouncy Maiden gallops, and the closing "Ludus Magnus" is the nine minute gladiator epic that Manowar should've put out decades ago...
Thankfully the superior musicianship is still in tact though the dynamic may be a little off balance. While Scaccia has always been the star of the show, it seems to be at the expense of Casey Orr as the bass is present but doesn't have the same overwhelming pop and his punk rock shouts are never used for more than occasional backing. Fortunately, none of the musicians are slacking and Bruce Corbitt's vocals are still pretty twisted even if his voice has gotten deeper over the years.

A few elements of the classic era are missed, but Slaves To The Grave stays true to the band's sound and may be one of the best representatives of old school thrash in the modern age. It's a damn shame that they've had to split up with Scaccia gone as this seemed to hint at something even better on the horizon. But since the surviving members have regrouped under the Wizards of Gore moniker, perhaps they could still make due on some of that potential.

"Flesh for Flies"
"The Infected"
"Ancient Horror"
"Ludus Magnus"

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Look Back at Rigor Mortis's Self-Titled Debut

Rigor Mortis may have had a secure reputation as the champions of Texas thrash (Suck it, Pantera) but they never truly got their due back in the day. They never could've been a commercial juggernaut but their signing to Capitol Records and having members go on to join Ministry and GWAR has to say something about their talent. Their 1988 debut is the center-point of their legacy and one of the most unique albums in the thrash metal genre.

Hindsight may place this effort in the thrash realm, but it came pretty damn close to death metal when it was first released. The drums are more violent than their contemporaries, the guitars more relentless, the vocals somewhere between a deep crossover yell and a high-pitched death growl, and the raw production gives everything a sharp sandpaper taste. It's comparable to Scream Bloody Gore or Seven Churches, but still has kinship with what Exodus and Kreator had been doing a couple years before.

They must've been taking cues from Alice Cooper or King Diamond since this album is also more theatrical than most thrash groups. From the dramatic intros that pulsate in every track to the climactic song structures and flowing track order, it has the feel of a concept album that really adds to its sinister approach. Throw in some lyrics involving gore, demons, and kinky sex gone wrong and you've got the ultimate 80s slasher soundtrack!

But what really set Rigor Mortis apart was their musicianship. With only one guitarist in their roster, the band runs the risk of sounding thin but Mike Scaccia absolutely dominates the release with his insane tremolo runs and even more manic soloing. In addition, Bruce Corbitt's vocals aren't for everyone but his visceral yet hammy touch makes songs like "Bodily Dismemberment" and "Shroud of Gloom" sound pretty unique. But Casey Orr may be the hardest working member as his bass leads the way on "Wizard of Gore" and "Vampire" while his untrained barks make "Demons" and "Die In Pain" sound even nastier.

The hostile attitude and camp aesthetics make it obvious why Rigor Mortis never hit the big time, but the writing and presentation on their debut album show why they sure as hell would've deserved it. It's a very niche record that people outside of the genre won't revere, but I don't exaggerate when I call it one of the best thrash metal albums of all time. They probably could've cut a song or two but I think the album could only be improved by playing it while watching an old horror film on mute. There has to be some way to sync this up with one of the Texas Chainsaw Massacres...

"Bodily Dismemberment"
"Wizard of Gore"
"Die In Pain"

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Pentagram Week, Part 7: Last Rites

Pentagram's seventh full-length album was the most hyped release they ever put out. Released a long seven years after Show 'Em How, Last Rites is the group's first record distributed by Metal Blade Records and features another new lineup with their prodigal son Victor Griffin returning for guitar duties. The album also came out alongside the Last Days Here documentary, thus giving it the ultimate feeling of having been through hell and back.

Despite the severe time lapse, Last Rites isn't too far removed from its predecessor in that it spends more time reaching back to 70s rock than any doom aspirations. However, it sets apart by using the psychedelic textures to create a more somber, reflective atmosphere. Even the heavier numbers like "Into The Ground" and "Nothing Left" have a more contemplative side that fits right in with the softer numbers.

The band dynamic also seems to have straightened out. The vocals haven't exactly improved but they haven't sounded this good since the 90s and really fit in with the album's melancholic feel. Griffin's tone isn't quite as blistering as before but his presence gives the material some weight and he even performs lead vocals on the wistful "American Dream." No word on how they managed to pry the microphone away from Liebling long enough for them to pull that off...

And once you get to the songs, you'll find this to be Pentagram's most varied album in quite some time. The one-two punch of "Treat Me Right" and "Call The Man" are the album's fastest tracks, "8" and "Windmills and Chimes" provide the most atmosphere, and songs like "Everything's Turning to Night" and "Walk In The Blue Light" have the best of both worlds. "Horseman" and "Death in 1st Person" are admittedly weaker than the others but they are balanced out by the best songs the band ever recorded.

Pentagram's albums never reached a quality in need of a traditional comeback, but Last Rites showcases a band that feels revitalized, reflective, and perhaps even a little ready for the future. It's probably on the same level as the post-Death Row material before it but it may be easier to get into for newer fans. We can only hope for a better balance between rock and doom in the future now that Victor Griffin's back in the fold; the "All Your Sins" reprisal has to be hinting at something...

"Into The Ground"
"Everything's Turning to Night"
"Walk In The Blue Light"
"Nothing Left"

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Pentagram Week, Part 6: Show 'Em How

 It is easy to see why Pentagram's sixth album is considered to be their rock bottom release. It's certainly the most contradictory album; the band was basically just Internal Void backing Bobby Liebling instead of their normal frontman and the songs are almost all 70s tracks that the band hadn't gotten around to recording yet. The mainstream rock world was starting to catch onto the band's influence via the First Daze Here compilation yet didn't have the incentive to see what they had to offer this late in the game. And yet, Show 'Em How still ends up being another solid edition to their discography.

While Review Your Choices and Sub-Basement were also quite reliant on old songs, Show 'Em How could be their antithesis in terms of presentation. The tone is still fairly heavy and the vocals are about the same as before, it's a stretch to call this a doom metal album. The songs chosen for it as among the most psychedelic in their repertoire and even the three new songs have more in common with Captain Beyond worship than anything Hasselvander or Griffin put together. In short, it is their lightest, most upbeat, and maybe even most accessible release to date.

The band also has some decent chemistry and fits the material well enough despite the disjointed pairing. The guitars and drums offer the usual Pentagram tricks and the bass puts on some surprisingly strong performances on songs like "Starlady" and the rocking "City Romance." Elsewhere, the vocals retain their character but seem to be a little more energetic as Liebling whoops, hollers, and throws his voice around more than usual. He was stoned out of his mind and trying a little too hard, but the presentation sounds better than one might think.

With that said, one's opinion on Show 'Em How will likely depend on how you feel about First Daze Here and other compilations that have the original recordings of these songs. The actual compositions haven't been altered all that much over the years but there is a certain spontaneity lost that could be a deal-breaker. The ongoing vocal decay will also be a pretty big turnoff though there is a certain beauty to hearing the rendition of "Last Days Here" when you think about everything that's happened since the song was first recorded...

Like Sub-Basement before it, Show 'Em How is surprisingly solid but not an immediate recommendation for first time listeners. The absence of doom makes a tricky sell for metalheads and 70s fans may find the performances inferior to the originals, but the songwriting still makes it worth checking out. I'd say to go for the First Daze Here collection and Interval Void's songs as you may find those to be more accessible ventures.

"City Romance"
"If These Winds Could Change"
"Show 'Em How"
"Last Days Here"

Friday, October 10, 2014

Pentagram Week, Part 5: Sub-Basement

Pentagram's fifth full-length album seems to parallel Day of Reckoning in some ways. The second of the two collaborations between Joe Hasselvander and Bobby Liebling, it was released just two years after Review Your Choices and shows the duo getting a little more comfortable with their circumstances. It's not quite a classic but it just might be the band's most underrated venture to date.

Pentagram's image and style haven't changed all that much but Sub-Basement is one of their most upbeat albums. They've certainly had faster songs before but "Drive Me To The Grave" has a borderline thrash execution previously unseen and the songs are much more chorus-oriented than before. These two factors are best demonstrated on the chugging verses and sing-along hooks on "Bloodlust," but even the slower songs like "Go In Circles (Reachin' For An End)" will get stuck in your head before you know it.

This is further reinforced by the improved production and performances. The production is still pretty heavy but it is cleaner and gives the guitar a looser feel than the previous album. Of course, the vocals are still pretty worn out but they don't get as distracting this time around.

It also helps that the number of songs is the lowest it's been since the 80s, seemingly giving the duo more to work with on each one. There are still a bunch of old songs presented but they fit in better with the tone as the grooves on tracks like "Tidal Wave" and "Target" don't sound as forced. They also keep trying new things as "Buzzsaw" throws out a few quirky vocal effects and the title track invokes an odd ambient intro before the riffs kick in.

Sub-Basement isn't on the same level as their classic efforts but it is still a surprisingly good album. Some elements still make it tricky for new fans to get into this but there are solid songs for those who do seek it out. But in the Pentagram fashion, another dramatic shift kept its ambitions from being fully realized...

"Drive Me To The Grave"
"Go In Circles (Reachin' For An End)"
"Tidal Wave"

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Pentagram Week, Part 4: Review Your Choices

Bobby Liebling may be his own worst enemy but you can't accuse him of giving up for too long. Having been coaxed out of a drug-induced retirement by drummer-turned-instrumentalist Joe Hasselvander, Review Your Choices is the band's fourth full-length studio album and the first of two to feature only two musicians as Hasselvander plays all the instruments that accompany Liebling's tortured warbling. It's a ballsy move for a group of their reputation though it still results one of their more unstable efforts.

In a way similar to Sabbath's Born Again, Review Your Choices is one of Pentagram's heaviest albums and also one of their most poorly produced. Like the debut before it, the sound is quite raw but it doesn't have the same balance. Hasselvander is a more than competent guitarist though his tone is rather stilted when you consider the more rhythmic approach combined with its overwhelming presence in the mix. Bobby's voice was also pretty shot at this point, resulting in an odd drawl that sounds less like a doomy Dickie Peterson and more like a really stoned Ian Anderson.

The band was also really starting to use the 70s material as a crutch at this point. While the tracks are pretty well written and always proved to be strong additions to previous efforts, they worked best when challenged by great songs written with the current lineup or when the production suited their inclusion. The title track fits in really well with its more laid back approach but classics like "Forever My Queen" and "Living In A Ram's Head" are given a big disservice by this production job.

And like Be Forewarned before it, there may be a few too many tracks though most of them are pretty decently written. There is a little less variety than before as the songs are evenly divided between fast rockers and longer doom tracks. "Burning Rays" and "Mow You Down" are among the best entries though the oppressive riffs on "Gorgon's Slave" and "Downhill Slope" are also worth mentioning. A few songs like "Change Of Heart" and "Megalania" have some catchy riffs though the structures fall a little short of an essential status.

Pentagram has never made a less than solid album but this is where they really got tricky to recommend. You gotta give props to it and its successor for getting finished at all when you consider the absolute hell Hasselvander went through to make them, but it may be one of their weaker efforts. Whether you like this album or not will likely depend on your feelings on the production job. I can certainly get behind it but newcomers will need to review one of their earlier choices first.

"Burning Rays"
"Gorgon's Slave"
"Review Your Choices"
"Mow You Down"
"Downhill Slope"

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Pentagram Week, Part 3: Be Forewarned

Released seven years after Day of Reckoning, Be Forewarned is at an odd spot in Pentagram's discography. It still features the lineup that made their first two efforts so legendary but came too late to capitalize on their momentum. It isn't exactly obscure but it sets the band up for obscurity as Victor Griffin and Martin Swaney would immediately depart upon its release.

Like Day of Reckoning before it, Be Forewarned bares a great influence from Black Sabbath. But while that album mostly channeled the Ozzy era, this effort has more in common with what Sabbath was making around the same time in the early 90s. The guitar tone reminds one of Dehumanizer, most notably on "Bride of Evil," while the title track could've found a place on Dio's Strange Highways. Of course, the band's old school flair is still at full force with "Too Late" and "Frustration" serving as more light-hearted rock numbers and "Vampyre Love" riding an excellent Hendrix-style swagger.

The band dynamic also seems to have gone through some changes between albums. The vocals are more restrained than before and the chunky guitar tone seems a bit darker, but these factors aid the atmosphere rather than bring it down. Elsewhere, Joe Hasselvander's drums keep their jazzy feel and you can hear the bass a little better than before.

But with there being thirteen tracks on here comes the thought that there may be a bit too much. You've certainly got your classics and "Nightmare Gown" is the only song that is less than great, but songs like "The World Will Love Again" and "Wolf's Blood" don't quite have the same excitement as past anthems. Fortunately, you still can't accuse them of lacking variety as "Live Free And Burn" starts things off on a speedy note while "A Timeless Heart" is a lonely acoustic instrumental that builds up to the title track in a melancholic fashion.

Overall, Pentagram's third album is rockier than past efforts but still has a lot that makes it worth checking out for doom fans. It would've been better if it had come out three or four years before it did, but it still gives the Death Row era a good send-off. Sadly, this is the last album that I would safely recommend to new fans as even the diehards found it hard to keep track of the ensuing decline...

"Live Free and Burn"
"Vampyre Love"
"A Timeless Heart"
"Be Forewarned"

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Pentagram Week, Part 2: Day of Reckoning

It has been said that you have your entire life to make your debut album but only a couple years to make your second. Pentagram is a leading example of this trope with their sophomore full-length album coming out a mere two years after their very long-awaited debut. Fortunately, one can't accuse them of rushing too much as Day Of Reckoning just might be their greatest release.

The guys in Pentagram have always stated that they were more inspired by the likes of Blue Cheer than Black Sabbath, but Day Of Reckoning is where they went all out with an album that the Birmingham giants should've released between Master of Reality and Volume 4. The groovy "Broken Vows" and "When The Screams Come" are uncanny counterparts to "Supernaut" and "Snowblind" right down to the Iommi-aping guitar tone. They even lift a couple lines from classic Sabbath with "Evil Seed" invoking the opening line from "Sweet Leaf" and the pulsating "Wartime" mirroring a cry from "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath." The songwriting quality keeps things from being too derivative and the fact that Pentagram was one of their contemporaries certainly helps.

The diversity that encompasses the seven songs on here also adds to their enjoyment. While a good half of the album consists of groovy mid-tempo doom, the title track and "Madman" offer a more fuzzy, energetic approach. In contrast, "Burning Saviour" is one of the darkest Pentagram songs out there thanks to its shifts between foreboding acoustics and pounding outbursts all set to a nine minute dirge. On the flip side, "Wartime" may not be as gripping as the tracks before it and the bass still isn't that prominent, but these factors are easy to overlook.

Thus, Day of Reckoning is not only Pentagram's best album but one of the strongest that doom has to offer. The band retains the chemistry seen on Relentless but also trumps it by giving an improved production job to the perfect balance between their 70s heyday and the heavy Death Row sound. Sadly, the band folded before they could release a timely followup, leading one to wonder if they could've released something even better...

"Day Of Reckoning," "Evil Seed," "Broken Vows," and "When The Screams Come"

Monday, October 6, 2014

Pentagram Week, Part 1: Relentless

Pentagram has had some terrible luck over the course of their forty year history. While their influence over doom metal may be second only to Black Sabbath, they will always be remembered as the 70s band who never got their due thanks to the antics of one Bobby Liebling. Hell, their 1985 debut wasn't even intended to be a Pentagram album, as the group of musicians had originally recorded it under the Death Row moniker. Either way, Relentless has become a true classic in the doom metal canon.

Seeing how this was originally recorded as a demo in 1982, it isn't too surprising that this is one of Pentagram's rawest efforts to date. The sound could be compared to Venom's first couple albums in that it has a dirty tone while allowing a balance between instruments. Martin Swaney's bass can barely be heard but Victor Griffin's guitar and Joe Hasselvander's loose drumming set a grim foundation set for Liebling's macabre delivery.

In a strange bit of irony, this fixture of doom is actually one of the band's faster paced albums and largely lacks the 70s flair that they're otherwise famous for. You sure won't find any speed or thrash metal on here, but songs like "The Deist" and the title track seem to take more cues from Judas Priest than Captain Beyond or Blue Cheer. There is also a touch of classic metal influence as a band like Manowar could probably match the gallops on "Death Row" if they took enough downers.

But even if Relentless is one of the band's odd ducks stylistically, it does contain the best songs they ever put out. "All Your Sins" is the quintessential Pentagram anthem as a groovy drum roll gives way to a blistering set of mid-tempo riffs and catchy vocal lines. From there, "Sign of the Wolf (Pentagram)" is an infectious romp and "The Ghoul" offers a percussive yet gloomy taste. 70s diehards will also appreciate the inclusion of "You're Lost, I'm Free" and the classic "20 Buck Spin" though they don't quite the same power as the tracks before them.

It may have taken forever for Pentagram to get its first full-length album out there, but the result is worthy of its legendary status. It may not be the band's best album, but it is one of their strongest and truly showcases their lineup at its best as a unit. The albums Saint Vitus and Candlemass released around the time may be better examples of 80s doom as we know it, but this one is essential listening.

"Death Row," "All Your Sins," "Sign of the Wolf (Pentagram)," "The Ghoul," and "The Deist"

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Review of Hatriot's Dawn of the New Centurion

Heroes of Origin may not have been a classic thrash album but it definitely turned a lot of heads in 2013. The union of thrash legend Steve "Zetro" Sousa and four twenty-somethings (two of whom are his sons) is an intriguing one and seemed to fill the void for those who wanted the pre-Dukes Exodus sound. Hatriot's sophomore effort may have been overshadowed by Zetro's return to his alma mater, but it offers some worthwhile metal for having been released so quickly.

While Hatriot's evolution between albums isn't as dramatic as the shift between Kill Em All and Ride the Lightning, Dawn of the New Centurion does show some new elements The songwriting is more complex as songs like "Silence In The House Of The Lord" and the title track have more elaborate structures while "The Fear Within" has some melodic segments that add a suspenseful flair. The gang vocals also beefed up in a year and give a strong Chuck Billy flavor to songs like "From My Cold Dead Hands" and "World Funeral." In this sense, the album feels more like a Testament offshoot than anything Exodus has come up with lately.

Of course, this is the same band even with the changes in place. The guitars and drums retain their intensity, the bass gets some prominent spots, and the production has the same clean tinge. The contributions of a man like Zetro are also unmistakeable with his shrieks at their usual pitch and the lyrics showcasing the same mix of politics, violence, and silly, silly puns. I don't think even Paul Baloff himself would come up with a title like "Superkillafragsadisticactsaresoatrocious." Probably for good reason...

The changes do result in more interesting songs than before but the writing isn't quite as catchy as the Heroes Of Origin material. The choruses of the longer songs are oddly the most memorable and thrashers like "Your Worst Enemy" will get your head going, but there aren't as many riffs that'll truly grab your attention. That said, this release does grow on you and takes a few more listens to get into compared to its predecessor.

And with that, Dawn Of The New Centurion is a solid thrash album that may offer a couple of Hatriot's best songs but falls a little short of the debut. It has some cool ideas and the band still has a lot of potential to get even better under Zetro's leadership. Let's just hope he doesn't leave them high and dry now that he's got his old gig back...

"The Fear Within"
"Silence In The House Of The Lord"
"World Funeral"
"Dawn of the New Centurion"

Friday, August 1, 2014

Review of Overkill's White Devil Armory

Overkill may have settled into a certain niche in recent years but you sure as hell can't call them lazy. 2010's Ironbound was a revitalizing kick in the pants and 2012's The Electric Age successfully kept the momentum going, even if the band has since referred to the latter as being a stylistically limited release. Now with the fascinatingly titled White Devil Armory, Overkill has promised a more dynamic album that still stays true to their lifelong signature sound.

On its most basic points, you won't find too many things on here that weren't already done on the two albums before it. None of the songs stray too far from the standard fast-paced guitar runs, D.D. Verni's bass and backing chants still complement Ron Lipsicki's constant blasts, Blitz's relentless rasp gives songs like "Armorist" and "Pig" their fire, and the sound is wrapped up with the same crispy, trebly production job. Part of me is starting to miss the bottom heavy Immortalis tone but the sound still matches the writing and performances nicely.

While the songs on here do secure themselves in the thrash metal realm, the band has made due on their promise of a more varied release than its predecessor. You won't find a complete out-of-speed experience like "Black Daze" on here but each track does have a certain quirk or tempo change that keeps things from sounding the same. It is most apparent in the second half thanks to the vocal effects on "Another Day To Die" and the epic flair of "Freedom Rings" and "In The Name," though the Necroshine-esque shifts on "Bitter Pill" make it the biggest deviation and strongest highlight.

But with the shifts comes the feeling that they still could've done a little more with them. The writing has a lot of effort put it but it is a little hard to find a "Bring Me The Night" or "The Head And Heart" on here. The bonus cover of Nazareth's "Miss Misery" with Accept's Mark Tornillo does raise a few questions; it's a cool idea but I can't help but wonder if they considered having him on one of the album's main tracks. Perhaps the reaction to their Randy Blythe collaboration scared them off...

Overkill's seventeenth full-length fits right in with the other pieces of the "Ironbound Trilogy" and may be about even with its predecessor in terms of quality. It took a few extra listens to get into than usual and still leaves one wanting more, but it's hard to imagine things any other way. Definitely a solid recommendation and a well deserved entry into the Billboard's Top 40.

"Bitter Pill"
"Freedom Rings"
"In The Name"

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Review of Judas Priest's Redeemer of Souls

With all the hubbub that has already built up over the release of Judas Priest's seventeenth studio album, I can't help but find parallels between it and 1997's Jugulator. A lot of pressure has been on the band as Redeemer of Souls is their first album since the controversial Nostradamus came out in 2008, the first to feature guitarist Richie Faulkner in place of founding shredder K. K. Downing, and is here amidst a three year strong "farewell tour" and rumors of a hiatus. But like Jugulator, it's a flawed effort that does make for a fun listen.

In a way similar to 2005's Angel of Retribution, Redeemer of Souls serves as a sampler of the different sounds that Priest's tried out through their career. The classic 80s albums are predictably referenced the most as the band often aims for accessible rockers when they aren't trying to rewrite Painkiller. There are a few exceptions to the rule as "Crossfire" rides a 70s blues groove, the plodding "Secrets of the Dead" invokes Rob Halford's Fight project, and "Sword of Damocles" is a theatrical waltz that sounds like something Blind Guardian would've put together.

Of course, the band members' performances appear to be the biggest point of contention and they are indeed a mixed bag. Halford can still deliver when he's in his comfort zone and Faulkner adequately keeps up with Glenn Tipton, but the higher screams do show their age and the production does make the guitars sound a little stilted at times. They do fare better than the rhythm section as usual with bassist Ian Hill being as invisible as ever and drummer Scott Travis offering a heavy but rather downplayed performance.

Thankfully the songwriting keeps things from straying into bargain bin territory. Things start off strong with "Dragonaut" serving as a high speed opener and the title track offering an upbeat groove reminiscent of "Hell Patrol." From there, "Halls of Valhalla" and "Battle Cry" are borderline epics in the vein of The Headless Children-era WASP, "Down in Flames" is a light but energetic rocker, and "Beginning of the End" serves as an airy closer. The bonus tracks are also pretty solid as "Snakebite" has an AC/DC swagger and "Never Forget" is an emotional swan song for Priest's legacy even if it is a bit saccharine...

Overall, Redeemer of Souls is a respectable outing if this does turn out to be Priest's last effort but is still pretty decent if it doesn't. Angel of Retribution was a little better at the sampler approach but there are plenty of songs to like even if there isn't an honest to god classic among them. I'd check in with Accept or Queensryche if you want to see 80s metal still going strong but this is certainly better than Nostradamus...

"Halls of Valhalla"
"Sword of Damocles"
"Down in Flames"
"Battle Cry"

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Psychic Shorts Nuzlocke Challenge, Part 5: The Final Risks

So the fifth and final installment of my very first Nuzlocke Challenge is one that may be slightly anticlimactic. While the trek through Victory Road and the battles at the Pokemon League are considered to be the hardest parts of the game and the ultimate test of a trainer's abilities, they still aren't that nerve wracking if your team is diverse and strong enough. I had a few concerns with the approach since my team was a couple levels lower than they usually are when I play this game, but I still successfully pulled through.

 Victory Road is always my favorite part of the game due to its trainers posing a bigger challenge than those before due to their higher leveled, more diverse teams and this run was certainly no exception. I had a few close calls with a couple battles here and there but I got my Pokemon to the levels where I would be more confident in my clashes against the Elite Four. I even knocked Moltres out for sport and captured an Onix which I nicknamed MagicSnake.

Too bad I didn't find it in the Rock Tunnel. Could've summed up this entire challenge

Once I made it to the Indigo Plateau, I decided to suspend the Nuzlocke rules for the sake of finishing the game in one round with the best Pokemon in my roster. With that in mind, I definitely took a few more risks than I had anytime prior to this and a few surprising battles came out of it. This was also where I didn't worry so much about keeping my Pokemon's levels even, allowing me to see who would become the strongest links.

The battle with Lorelei's Ice types is usually the one I have the hardest time with on my usual files but this didn't seem to be the case with this run. Lucky and Sparkles were the only two Pokemon I really needed as Sparkles took out her Dewgong, Cloyster, and Slowbro while Lucky went after her Jynx. Lucky was eventually felled by Lorelei's Lapras but Sparkles quickly made short work of it. With that, I revived Lucky and moved to the next challenge.

Bruno, the Fighting type master, is easily the weakest member of the Elite Four, especially if you have a strong Flying or Psychic handy. But only wanting to use Elsa sparingly, I thought this one would be a little trickier than usual. However, two of my more overlooked Pokemon pulled through as Weed destroyed an Onix and his Hitmonchan while Roid Rage finished off the other Onix and surprisingly held his own against his Machamp.

I already made the Onix joke so here's a picture of a Mudkip. I heard you leik them.

With the absence of a strong Pokemon or two that knew Psychic and Ground type attacks (Kooopaaaa...), Agatha was most definitely the trickiest Elite Four member on this run as I didn't have a definite advantage against her. Sparkles led the way against one of her Gengars, Roid Rage took out her Golbat and Haunter, Weezy defeated her Arbok when Roid Rage was knocked out, and a bit of paralysis from Sparkles contributed to the fall of her last Gengar. Overall, a little trickier than usual but still pretty manageable.

Lance was the final member to the Elite Four to fight and another one that I normally don't find too challenging since Pokemon with a strong Ice attack or two are easy to come by. Sparkles destroyed Gyarados with a single Thunderbolt, Weezy knocked out his two Dragonairs but was defeated by Aerodactyl's Bite attack, Sparkles jumped back in to take Aerodactyl out, and his Dragonite was vanquished by Elsa's Ice Beam.

Then in true Gen I fashion, Asshat was the game's last opponent and the battle with him may have been the most personal I've fought since I played this game for the very first time. Lucky beat Pidgeot with a single Thunder but lost to Alakazam, Elsa avenged it and Koopa by Flying after Alakazam, Roid Rage barely won out against Rhydon, Sparkles made short work of another Gyarados, Roid Rage had to cover for Weezy after it lost to Arcanine, and Weed defeated Venusaur in one of the game's most drawn out battles. And then, once the dust cleared, Professor Oak came.

Sorry, couldn't resist.

So not wanting to bother with the whole Mewtwo debacle, I have decided to end my quest here as I almost always do. Upon finishing the Nuzlocke Challenge, I find myself feeling a little richer for the experience and wishing that the game had gone on for longer. It would've been nice if I had saved a Pokemon or two but the team I ended up with was certainly a strong one and came through in a lot more ways than I would've expected.

A slightly worn-out game served as more than just a nostalgia-based reward system and it even got me to think about a few philosophical points beyond the usual Pokemon theories. It just may end up being the only way I ever play through this game but I probably won't be blogging too much about any of my future Nuzlocke experiences.

Unless I can shell out more Pokemon memes. Everyone loves Pokemon memes.

The Hall of Famers:
Weed the Vileplume, Level 46
Roid Rage the Machoke, Level 47
Sparkles the Jolteon, Level 49
Lucky the Chansey, Level 46
Weezy the Seadra, Level 46
Elsa the Articuno, Level 50

The Fallen:
Charles the Zubat, Level 17
Madame the Butterfree, Level 24
Cheater the Kadabra, Level 24
G-G-Ghost the Haunter, Level 38
YouFatFuck the Snorlax, Level 30
King the Nidoking, Level 40
Jazz the Koffing, Level 31
Koopa the Blastoise, Level 44

On Reserve:
FourChan the Hitmonchan, Level 30
Scramble the Exeggutor, Level 25
Lapras the Lapras, Level 15
Miracles the Magneton, Level 32
Alfred the Tentacool, Level 10
Lord Helix the Omanyte, Level 30
Azagthoth the Kangaskhan, Level 61
MagicSnake the Onix, Level 39

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Psychic Shorts Nuzlocke Challenge, Part 4: Where Is Your God Now?

It feels redundant to say but the Nuzlocke Challenge is truly a give and take experience. While my previous installment largely dealt with loss, it was surprisingly easy to make my way back to the top and ran into a few surprising conveniences along the way. Of course, things do find a way of evening out so I have the approached the ending of this chapter on another somber note...

The ocean routes were conquered a little easier than anticipated and a baby Tentacool named Alfred was caught and sent to the PC along the way. Teaching Lucky moves like Thunder and Solar Beam allowed it to catch up to the rest of the team a little easier and made me rethink its status as a novelty addition. The trek through Seafoam Island was also rather smooth though perhaps another moment of questionable ethics as I put on some Super Repel so that the legendary Articuno would be my first encounter in the cave. However, a Seadra popped up as it was a few levels ahead of Lucky and was named Weezy upon its capture. But not wanting to waste the Repels, I used the Master Ball to catch Articuno ayway and nicknamed it Elsa before sending it to Bill's PC.

"Let It Go" is now stuck in your head. I'm not sorry

While I had expected a Seadra to merely serve as filler on my team until I could get to the PC at Cinnabar, it quickly proved to be another surprise addition. Its HP is horrible but its Special stat is quite good and teaching it moves like Blizzard and Hyper Beam made it a fierce competitor. It also helps that the only Pokemon I acquired on Cinnabar were the revitalized Omanyte from Mt. Moon (nicknamed Lord Helix of course) and a Level 31 Koffing named Jazz that was immediately killed by a Scientist's Electrode in the Pokemon Mansion. Weezy also proved to be quite helpful against Blaine's Fire types as it didn't suffer a single hit in battle, thus confirming my theory that Blaine is the easiest Gym Leader in the game.

But as I Surfed my way back up to Pallet Town, I decided that I would take a little detour before I claimed the Earth Badge in Viridian City. No journey through the First Generation is complete without an encounter with the dreaded Missingno. so I decided to make a temporary spot on my team for the glitching abomination. After a few misses that included a brief freeze that forced me to turn the game back to my last saving point, I managed to capture a Level 80 Missingno. which I nicknamed Azagthoth and quickly evolved to a Kangaskhan using one of the infinite Rare Candies that I acquired after defeating it (Promise I won't use any of them. That's fourth grade shit right there). Once I had my amusement, Azagthoth was sent to the PC where it shall wait for a chance to break out of its cyber prison and bring about the end to the world as we know it...

And running into that Level 136 Marowak didn't exactly make me feel any better about this theory either...

And with that interlude of madness out of the way, I cleared through the Viridian City Gym without any issues and defeated Giovanni's team without taking a single hit from any of his Pokemon. Not too much else to note there. You know you have a problem when your first two Gym Leaders are the hardest and the last two are the easiest...

Unfortunately, the high of victory was brought back to a halt as I decided to end today's round by challenging Asshat before we made our way to the Pokemon League. The battle ruled in my favor as every member of my team was put to the test, but the ultimate tragedy occurred as his Alakazam boosted its defenses and killed Koopa with a single Psychic attack. Fortunately, Weezy took it out after surviving a particularly brutal Psybeam and Weed defeated his Venusaur in an overwhelmingly drawn out fashion, but I was hoping that I would be able to hang on to my starter for the entirety of the game. I'm not too emotionally caught up in such thigns but you know your ten year old self is getting teary eyed when you have to release your Blastoise in the town just north of where you first got your Squirtle...

With all the badges now acquired, the last part of this challenge will deal with my journey through Victory Road, the defeat of the Elite Four, and claiming my right as Champion. Elsa has taken over Koopa's well worn spot on the team, proof that a Legendary is sometimes the only thing that can compensate for the loss of a starter, and I don't anticipate losing anyone else on our way there. Of course, there will likely be another surprise or two but this is now where we really have to expect the unexpected. You're going down, Asshat. You're going down.

Current Lineup:
Weed the Vileplume, Level 43
Roid Rage the Machoke, Level 43
Sparkles the Jolteon, Level 43
Lucky the Chansey, Level 43
Weezy the Seadra, Level 44
Elsa the Articuno, Level 50

The Fallen:
Charles the Zubat, Level 17
Madame the Butterfree, Level 24
Cheater the Kadabra, Level 24
G-G-Ghost the Haunter, Level 38
YouFatFuck the Snorlax, Level 30
King the Nidoking, Level 40
Jazz the Koffing, Level 31
Koopa the Blastoise, Level 44

On Reserve:
FourChan the Hitmonchan, Level 30
Scramble the Exeggutor, Level 25
Lapras the Lapras, Level 15
Miracles the Magneton, Level 32
Alfred the Tentacool, Level 10
Lord Helix the Omanyte, Level 30
Azagthoth the Kangaskhan, Level 61