October 31, 2013

Vegas! - Day 2


So began day 2.

It was around 8:30 AM and we had places to go.  Despite the whirlwind tour of the previous day, we still weren't sure where we'd be watching football.  It's funny how early it starts in the Pacific time zone, too.  When you're used to football at noon in the Central time zone, starting at 10AM can be a bit disconcerting.

There was breakfast to be had.  I insisted on waffles the previous night and got my wish.  Then I ate half of a giant waffle and decided that was enough. Oops.

After making a couple of unwise bets, we headed for Green Valley Ranch and arrived at the sportsbook just in time to get seats as the early games started. I don't think either of us slept much the previous night; I sure as hell didn't. My mood didn't really improve either.  The results were not what I had hoped for.  Overall, I think I was 8-7 on the week, which is hardly better than the proverbial monkeys typing up Shakespeare (and a favorite reference of mine whenever I do something in a mediocre or incredibly poor way).

Once the early games ended, I figured it was time to stuff my face with more garbage.  So I had a couple slices of pizza that were a little greasy, but generally good enough to satisfy me.  We then returned to the sportsbook and caught up on the late games.  Those went slightly better, but that's not saying much.

One of our bets turned out to be a winner.  I think we cashed that in the next morning.

Of course, no day in Vegas would be complete without bowling.  As it turns out, the hotel I booked has one of the largest bowling centers in the city. And there was no blacklight bullshit to deal with this time!  I can't say that I did much better, though I did finally win a game after losing two the previous day.  I also tried a gin & tonic, which I did not particularly care for.  Initially, the plan was to head up to a wine bar in Town Center and try some whiskey. After that gin & tonic, I became convinced that the hard stuff is not for me. It probably wasn't even the gin...alas, I am a stubborn man.

That was the first night in the hotel.  It was weird to be alone again.  Thankfully, we had big plans for the next day and needed to be up early...just like that day.  More on that tomorrow.

October 30, 2013

Vegas! - Day 1

Day 1 of the Vegas trip began with getting out there.  Here's what happened after I landed.

The first thing we did after getting my bag was head out to Fry's to get an auxiliary cord/charger for my iPod.  Apparently, the radio stations out there are not great (even worse than Houston?) and it's just better all around to have your own music.  I'm not sure what we listened to first.  It may have been Soundgarden.

Once we had that settled, we headed out to Red Rocks.  It was a scenic drive and an enjoyable one.  As advertised, the hills were red, looking like someone had dragged a large paintbrush across their width.  I took a number of pictures out there with my cell phone, and later bemoaned the quality of said pictures.  Had I had an actual digital camera with more than 3 megapixels at my disposal, it would have been a lot better (and these entries would have pictures to go with them).

At any rate, once we were done with that, we headed to Red Rock casino. There, we proceeded to lose money at an alarming rate.  Well, technically, it was my friend that lost the money.  I just stood there agape for the most part.  We went bowling as well.  It was weird, with the blacklight and all. I hadn't been bowling in a while and was unused to the motions.  I also had to bowl with an 11 pound ball, which is only one pound more than I was used to but had a deleterious effect on my swing and my right hip.  Somewhere in there was a trip to the buffet.  I forget if it was before or after bowling, but we did eat at Red Rock.  I had prime rib for the first time and was fairly impressed.  I think it goes best with the au jous rather than horseradish, but if you like spicy things, the horseradish is not a bad way to go.

We then took a whirlwind tour of the Strip.  Focusing on high-end casinos/hotels, we walked through the Wynn, Encore, Venetian, Palazzo, the Bellagio, and Aria.  To me, the highlights of this part were the sportsbook at the Venetian (huge screens to watch sports), the tram from the Bellagio to Aria, and the sheer size of these places in general.

One thing I didn't care for was the traffic on LV Blvd.  There's too much, all the bloody time.

To finish off the night we headed to Green Valley Ranch.  My friend lost more money there and I gradually fell into a stupor.  I had been awake since 9AM, roughly, and despite gaining two hours I was pretty bushed by the time 1:30 AM the next day came around.  We were in Green Valley's sportsbook looking at the lines for the football games and I had a bottle of water with me.  It was a good time, generally.  But we were aiming for something that was unattainable.

We gave in to the urge for sleep and headed to my friend's place.  I took the couch and proceeded to mostly toss and turn for the next six-plus hours.  I hadn't slept well the previous night either, so Sunday was kind of a bitch in that regard.  Then again, there was plenty of football to watch, so it wasn't a total loss by any means.  That's where I'll leave off for now and pick up with next time.

October 29, 2013

Bleach 555 - The Hero

The newest chapter of Bleach is out.  So let's talk about it!

Spoilers after the cut.

2013 NFL Power Rankings, Week 8

After a week away, the Rankings look different.  I'm just scrapping what I had and basically reseeding the teams after their Week 8 performances.  Otherwise Denver would be below Seattle and a couple other teams would be lower than they probably deserve to be.  So now, the top ten teams are seeded by record.  Where they go from here is up to them, as I don't anticipate missing any more time in the regular season.

I think Seattle was damn lucky tonight.  Denver and New England in particular had comebacks that shouldn't have been necessary.  And I have to kowtow to Cincinnati now and finally admit that maybe they do belong.  Well, at least I waited until they showed something.  Now they'll probably come out on Thursday and lay an egg just to spite me.

Of course, as a Cowboys fan, how I could not say something about my team? Wow, that was a stinkbomb of a 4th quarter.  Or, really, the last couple minutes of the 4th quarter.  I have yet to hear anyone take Garrett to task for not doing something on 4th & 4, a decision that would have been his to make even though Callahan is calling the plays on offense.  Had they gone for it instead of taking the field goal, they may have crashed and burned.  But they may have kept the Lions from getting the ball and marching down the field.

Also, KC is 8-0.  Well done.

Here are the Rankings for Week 8:

1.) Kansas City (8-0)
 Not sure what's more troubling, the fact that this team is 8-0 with a bottom-third QB or that they've had difficulty with the Texans and Browns, teams they should have walloped with no problem.  Some will want to excuse their greatness based on the schedule.  Not me.  They got a last-place schedule (deservedly so, as they blew last year) and are now making hay as a result of the coaching change and new QB.  Well, I guess the new QB has something to do with it.  The real credit seems to go to Jamaal Charles and the stifling defense that makes plays in the 4th quarter.

2.) Denver (7-1)
 Down 21-7, I was a little concerned.  What did the Broncos do?  Oh, not much...just score 38 unanswered and 31 in the 4th.  It turned into a slopfest with turnovers and sacks galore, but Denver won the game and put up a ton of points again.  Despite losing to Indy, Denver still looks like the team to beat in the AFC, and the defense is rounding into form with Von Miller back in the fold.

3.) Seattle (7-1)
 As I said above, damn lucky.  St. Louis ran the ball all over them and if they had had a QB who could hit the broad side of a barn, they would have won the game, too.  Luckily, Wilson hit Golden Tate for the one big play of the game and that was enough to beat a pretty bad Rams team.  But mark my words, if they have to go on the road in the playoffs, there'll be trouble.  I'm not saying they'll automatically go out, but it won't be a beatdown like a potential home playoff game would.

4.) New Orleans (6-1)
 I was a bit concerned after the loss to New England.  But then Brees & co. righted the ship.  I still think this team wins 12-14.  In their division, I'm not sure how they wouldn't.  People are trying to prop up Carolina, but I'm not buying that for a minute.

5.) San Francisco (6-2)
 The 49ers went international and got a fairly easy win.  Kaepernick is playing well enough, but Frank Gore is the real story.  In a QB-dominated league, Gore is one of the few RB's getting the job done with any consistency.  He's not just marching up and down the field, he's getting into the end zone. Somewhat surprising considering their near-disastrous start, but now it looks like 10-12 wins isn't out of the question.

6.) Cincinnati (6-2)
 It was a long time coming, I guess.  I can't say that I believe Andy Dalton is the guy there, but he's making the doubters like me look pretty stupid.  So let's see what he does next.  Facing the Dolphins on Thursday is kind of a test, in the sense that it should be an easy win if they can get their minds right and bodies ready.  Even if they're lacking something after a huge win, they should still deal the Dolphins another loss easily enough.

7.) New England (6-2)
 Tom Brady's first half was one of the worst I've seen recently.  Then he comes out in the second half and magically turns transcendent.  It's a bit unbelievable, really.  Somehow, the Pats are 6-2, Gronk is back and playing fairly well, and Brady is usually unflappable.  Even when he screws up, he somehow finds a way to come back and stick it to the opposition, as he did on Sunday against Miami.

8.) Indianapolis (5-2)
 Coming off a bye, the Colts face a reeling team in need of something.  I can't say that I see Luck losing to the Texans at this point, though.  Especially not against a third-string QB.  They had the bye to get rid of the high of the win against Denver, so there should be no excuses.  Now they have to get Trent Richardson some more carries and better results.  And it wouldn't hurt for Luck to throw a few TD's either.  The more the merrier, after all.

9.) Green Bay (5-2)
 I've insisted recently that Rodgers is an elite QB, despite his tendency to disappear for stretches this season.  Last night he threw one of his better games, with sharp passing throughout the night.  Granted, it came against Minnesota (he's really taken advantage of weak defenses), but I'm not going to penalize for that.  They look like they're rounding into form, but the defense might be a concern later on.  Not sure, but maybe.

10.) Detroit (5-3)
 Four turnovers and they still won.  Kind of amazing when you think about it, since that almost never happens.  They didn't force a Dallas turnover either, they just pushed the ball down the field numerous times, especially in the critical late-game situation that fairly well defines Cowboy ineptitude.  Matt Stafford is getting closer to being great now that he finally has a decent running back behind him.  Calvin Johnson was sublime with over 300 yards receiving.  How does that happen?  I can't say, but I don't expect it to stop.

Three Games to Watch (Week 9):
Pittsburgh @ New England (CBS)
Indianapolis @ Houston (NBC)
Chicago @ Green Bay (ESPN)

That's all for this week.  See you next week.

October 28, 2013

Vegas! - Flights

Greetings to all the NHC readers out there.  You may have wondered why I didn't update for a little while earlier this month.  I took a trip to Las Vegas and will share my observations from it in a couple of entries.

Of course, with the start of any trip, one has to look at the flight.  I live in TX, which is about 1400 miles away, give or take driving to and from airports. Surprisingly, it only takes a couple hours each way and was quicker on the return flight, a stunning 2:35.  I hadn't been on a trip in so long that I forgot how quickly a plane can get from one place to another with optimal conditions.  It's hard to imagine how much better the conditions could have been, really.

I was lucky in that even though there were no assigned seats on either of my flights that I nabbed an aisle seat each way.  I'm pretty tall for a non-athlete (6'2"), so the slight advantage of being on the aisle appeals to me greatly.

Flying still feels weird to me.  In the midst of it, I can't say that I feel like anything is really happening.  We're suspended in mid-air and moving toward a destination, but with no noticeable turbulence, it's hard to say that I felt much of anything.

Landing at McCarran airport was a bit confusing in the sense that I had trouble finding the baggage claim.  Then I was advised to take the tram. It must be a big airport to require a tram just to get to baggage claim.  From where I flew out, the baggage claim is downstairs, one floor below the gates.

Since it was around mid-afternoon when I landed, there was plenty of time to do stuff.  Although in my case it was mostly driving and walking around casinos.  More on that in the next entry.

October 16, 2013

Bleach 553 - Frozen Cross

The newest chapter of Bleach is out.  So let's talk about it!

Spoilers after the cut.

October 15, 2013

2013 NFL Power Rankings, Week 6

I'm pretty sure that few (if anyone) saw that road teams would do well early in Week 6.  It was kind of incredible.  Then the late games started and the road teams became losers.  I can't tell if there's a trend to be drawn from that, but Dallas and San Diego had little trouble at home (this despite the fact that Indy is supposedly a much better team than the Chargers).

Baltimore and Tennessee leave the Rankings again with losses.  I'm getting tired of all the mucking about in the bottom half; it seems like nobody besides the top five has any sort of consistency.  Maybe the teams that are down there now will change that perception, who knows?

Despite San Diego's win, I still don't take them seriously.  They have noted arm-punter Philip Rivers at QB, who is lacking in consistency and doesn't have weapons to throw to.

I continue to sell anything out of Ohio.  Yes, the Bengals technically have a better record than the Packers, but Green Bay has a far better QB (even if he only shows it two or three times a game).

Week 7 should be fun, even though the matchups leave something to be desired.  Personally, I think it won't be out of the realm of possibility to have all ten teams stay where they are.  Then again, if Denver loses, the whole thing goes to pot.

Here are the Rankings for Week 6:

1.) Denver (6-0) [no change]
 People want to say that Denver was "exposed" or some such against Jacksonville.  Maybe.  My concern is that Manning refused to throw it in the red zone, and there seemed to be no valid explanation for it.  Not only that, but no one has touched on it.  Going back to Indy for the first time will be tough and that was probably weighing on everyone this week.  Still, I expect a sublime performance, because that's what Peyton has done in five out of six weeks to start the season.

2.) Kansas City (6-0) [+1]
 It's funny that the Chiefs and Broncos are in the same division and are 6-0. People will point out just how different they are.  It's true, KC has a more defensively-oriented team.  That unit is tough as nails and brings down QB's with impunity.  It's a good thing, as I tire of the argument that defense has been "legislated out of the league".  When player safety demands adjustment, it's obvious that some teams are going to accomplish it quicker than others.  KC is one of those that has adjusted on the fly.  Combine that with a fairly weak schedule through six weeks, and you have what you see here.

3.) New England (5-1) [+2]
 Brilliant play at the end, but I can't help but give the Saints a couple of assists on it.  Few other QB's make that throw, though, so I don't want to look like I'm insulting Brady by saying it was a gimme or some such.  Far from it.  It was a tough throw and a tougher catch to make for Kenbrell Thompkins, but he made it and the Pats are back to winning.  Really, they should be the third 6-0 team, but that unfortunate attempt in Cincy derailed that dream. Ah, well.  Onward and upward, to beat the Jets again.

4.) Seattle (5-1) [+2]
 Not exactly the dominant performance we were expecting.  Seattle was just barely good enough to beat Tennessee, no thanks to some appalling gaffes on special teams.  I'm not sure if Wilson is failing his receivers or if they're failing him.  I'm betting on the latter, but if Wilson continues to play unimpressively (and has to run for his life for the majority of games), eventually the tide will turn.

5.) New Orleans (5-1) [-3]
 Was that a bad loss?  No, not really.  But if Jimmy Graham is out for any length of time, it could get worse.  Then again, when a team has as many weapons as New Orleans has, losing one guy shouldn't make a huge difference.  Right?  Okay, maybe not.  The defense will get a large part of the blame for the loss and it's deserved.  You don't rush three guys on Tom Brady and expect good things to happen.  It's that simple.  But the offense deserves its share of blame too, as they couldn't get a crucial first down.  How does that happen?  It's not from losing Jimmy Graham.  As I mentioned before, they've got a bevy of weapons and losing one guy shouldn't have crippled them in the way that it appeared.

6.) San Francisco (4-2) [+1]
 Kaepernick continues to look less-than-impressive, but the 49ers have won three in a row.  The 49ers' 1950 offense is infuriating.  Their defense is quite good, though.

7.) Detroit (4-2) [+2]
 Beating Cleveland probably isn't a great accomplishment, though other teams that should have beaten them handily couldn't.  I guess that's the difference between having Calvin Johnson and not.  They had nothing on Green Bay last week.  As long as Reggie Bush is healthy and the receivers are doing their part, Detroit is tough to stop entirely.  But if any of those pieces go down, they're in trouble.

8.) Indianapolis (4-2) [-4]
 Is there any word besides "inexcusable" to characterize that loss?  Not to me. Now they get Denver at home and don't look like the team that beat SF and Seattle in consecutive weeks.

9.) Chicago (4-2) [-]
 Back on the Cutler rollercoaster, at least for a week.  Even he should have no trouble facing a defense that can't stop anybody.

10.) Green Bay (3-2) [-]
 Rodgers might only show up a couple times a game, but man, those couple of plays can be utterly spectacular.  By the way, Baltimore, how did Jordy Nelson get that wide open?  Pathetic.  I'm not sure how they'll fare down two receivers, especially with Rodgers playing mostly bad as opposed to last season when he was only partially bad.  They might have to lean on the running game more and I'm not sure they have the personnel at RB to do it.

Three Games to Watch (Week 7):
San Francisco @ Tennessee (FOX)
Baltimore @ Pittsburgh (CBS)
Denver @ Indianapolis (NBC)

That's all for this week.  See you in two weeks.

October 14, 2013

How's Your 2013? September Update

A couple months ago, I wrote a post here noting a couple of albums I was looking forward to for the months of September and October.  Now that September is gone and October is well under way, I thought it was time to revisit those albums, plus provide a small amount of insight on a couple albums I wasn't expecting that surprised the hell out of me.

I had three albums listed for release in September: Gorguts - Colored Sands, Sarke - Aruagint, and SubRosa - More Constant Than the Gods.

Of these three, Aruagint is definitely my favorite.  In fact, I would go so far as to call the other two disappointing.

We've been waiting quite a while for new material from Luc Lemay and his reinvented and reinvigorated lineup.  What we've got is a Dysrhythmia album with Lemay's howl over top and a different drummer.  To me, it's a disappointment because it "progresses" too far from the band's death metal roots.  Whether or not it was right to expect a death metal album from this edition of the band is debatable.  Clearly, I did not expect such a turn of events and I don't find the music on Colored Sands to be all that compelling, because the last two Dysrhythmia records haven't been that compelling either.

Still, while I've put it aside for now, I may give Colored Sands a more proper chance in 2014 when I've been able to gain some distance from it.

SubRosa switched out the rhythm section for More Constant Than the Gods.  I can't say that I hear much of a difference, as the music does not focus on the rhythm section as much as the three vocalists, the violins, and the monolithic guitar.  For whatever reason, the album just hasn't grown on me yet.  The songs are longer on average, but less compelling.  I would call the album boring and lacking in traditional doom riffs.  There's a lot of plodding, to be sure, and some moments where the drums try to enliven things.  But none of that makes for effective (or exciting) music.  Also, a personal complaint of mine from the last record persists: violinist/vocalist Kim Pack is still pushed to the background, even though in my opinion she has the best-sounding voice of the three.  The vocals are mostly flat and tuneless, a holdover from the previous release.

All in all, I expected some kind of forward movement from the band, and it seems like they just stagnated.  There was more variety on No Help for the Mighty Ones, in addition to just having flat-out better songwriting.

That leaves us with Aruagint, the third album from the Norwegian band Sarke. I don't want to label them a "supergroup" necessarily, but for underground metal, I guess it's hard to say otherwise.  Their music is a bit hard to describe.  Calling them blackened thrash seems a bit inaccurate, but it's about as close to the mark as I'm going to get.  At any rate, they produce exciting and energetic music with a bit of a groove (i.e. "Strange Pungent Odyssey"). Not the dumbed-down groove of the mid-to-late 90's, but it's something you can headbang to, without a doubt.  I may end up reviewing this album in more detail, so that's all I'll say about it for now.  Just know that I'm impressed and that Indie Recordings has another winner on their hands.

There were also a couple of surprises in September: Vattnet Viskar, Altars, and A Storm of Light.  I'll be writing about Altars here and A Storm of Light elsewhere, so I can't say much other than I'm impressed by both records.

Vattnet Viskar signed to Century Media to release Sky Swallower, a record that builds off the previous EP.  Basically, it has more atmosphere, more tremelo, and a solid performance on drums that controls the direction of the songs in a pleasing way.  I will probably review this album for the blog as well.  So far, I've enjoyed it immensely.

Sometime around the beginning of November, I'll have my initial thoughts on the albums that were released this month.  Most of them have yet to come out, so as you can imagine, I'm excited for that.

October 11, 2013

Mastodon - Blood Mountain (2006)

On a whim, I decided to listen to Mastodon's third album again recently, and found that I was still blown away by its contents.

Seven years ago, I was beyond excited to hear Blood Mountain in its entirety. I had heard a couple of the tracks online (the catalyst that led me to stop that practice, as I wanted to hear albums from bands whole the first time around rather than having heard tracks beforehand) and was pleased with them.  Little did I know how much of an impact this album was to have on me.

Now, I don't want to overstate its impact, by any means.  It was not The Perfect Is the Enemy of the Good.  It didn't change how I view the genre or songwriting, or anything like that.  But it does present a compelling case as to why Mastodon's successive albums have been sub-par and it also rocks from front to back.

I'm not sure that any of these tracks aren't great.  "Pendulous Skin" is the typical exploration of the band's obsession with the Elephant Man, and is thus more of a bonus than a part of the concept.  And there's no doubt to me that this is a concept album, even if some of the tracks don't really jive with one another lyrically.

So if we're ignoring "Pendulous Skin", there are eleven tracks split into pairs of five by "Bladecatcher", the prog freakout.  I don't think people were all that surprised about the content of "Bladecatcher".  Mastodon had proven multiple times before how their musicianship was top-notch.  In fact, I don't think the song goes far out enough.  I didn't think so then, either.  It might be the structure, which is pretty listener friendly and uncomplicated.  Or it might be that the riffs just aren't that weird (especially coming after "Circle of Cysquatch").

The first half of the record seems more grounded than the second.  Then again, the second half boasts songs like "Hand of Stone" and "Hunters of the Sky", which aren't all that groundbreaking or odd.  The funny thing is that there's a consistency which starts with the opener and goes all the way to the closer, even with the off-putting nature of tracks like "Bladecatcher" and the radio-friendly "Colony of Birchmen".  They really hit two extremes there.

Blood Mountain accomplishes the neat trick of expanding the band's array of sounds while fitting into their catalog as the logical follow-up to Leviathan. The most interesting part of the expanded palette is that all the songs generally fit together as a sequence and they don't sound all that different from each other, even when "Sleeping Giant" is slow and doomy and "Capillarian Crest" goes practically into space.  These two tracks are right next to each other and really couldn't be more different in composition, but in execution they fit perfectly.

It doesn't hurt that most of these songs have excellent riffs that hold up seven years later.  The vocals come along apace as well; no longer restricted to screams and shouts, Hinds and Sanders explore more melodic territory, but are careful to stay within certain boundaries.  I enjoy the vocals on this record because none of the vocalists are trying to stretch into a range they shouldn't be in and the melodic lines are generally not too sugary.

Blood Mountain was the perfect confluence for Mastodon.  All the pieces were in place for a great record.  It just may be a classic as well.

October 10, 2013

Burnt by the Sun - The Perfect Is the Enemy of the Good (2003)

First things first: listen to The Perfect Is the Enemy of the Good on Bandcamp.

Some albums change the way the listener looks at and hears music.

Ten years ago, Burnt by the Sun released The Perfect Is the Enemy of the Good to...some acclaim?  Obviously, it's been a while and my memory is less than perfect.  I also wasn't nearly as connected to the underground as I am now (still, I'm not on the cutting edge or even within shouting distance of it).

For example, take the release date.  Relapse gives it as 9-23-2003, but I remember the album being released two weeks later, 10-7-2003.  I was in college at the time in Boston and actually got on the T to go to Newbury Comics (on Newbury Street, no less) so that I could get the record on release day.  It might have been the 23rd of September.  Who knows?  If I were better organized, I would have kept the damn receipt, because this was an important album to me.

Looking back, 2003 wasn't that bad of a year.  It was hardly a year with the most numerous albums that made it into my collection, but the quality was there, for the most part.  It was a hell of a lot better than what I've seen in 2013.

Anyway, prior to listening to this one, I was deeply ingrained in the long-form version of songwriting.  To me, any song that went eight minutes or more was the most viable way of going about it.  There was more territory to explore and as such the riffs could really develop and turn into arrangements more unusual than those you'd see in shorter songs.

So as you'd expect, BbtS really turned that thought process upside down.

The Metal Archives describes their sound as "metalcore with grindcore influences".  It's not the most likely combination and a weird way to describe a band.  Then again, when you've got the caliber of musicianship that you see in BbtS, it's not too much of a surprise.  But the music does take some weird turns.  I attribute most of that to the six-string bass (get a better sound system or pair of headphones to really feel it) and John Adubato's Rickenbacker.

Ask anyone familiar with guitars about Rickenbacker.  Specifically, ask them which bands are most notorious for using that brand.  You'll likely get three answers: the Beatles, R.E.M., and the Byrds.  The phrase "polar opposite" is just barely applicable in describing the difference between them and Burnt by the Sun.  But it's to Adubato's credit that he was able to use that instrument in a context that was almost completely foreign to it.  I'm no metal historian, but the instances of Rickenbackers being used in metal can't be more than five bands other than BbtS (he says, waiting to be proven wrong).

At any rate, none of this nonsense would matter in the slightest if the record wasn't filled with great songs.  And this is one of those rare records.  That said, it's not a "perfect" record.  "Patient 957" (a reworking of a riff from the split EP with Luddite Clone) is not a good track.  It doesn't really go anywhere and the riff, while interesting, doesn't quite stack up to the rest.  And "2012" has a hell of an intro, but the rest of the track doesn't pop in response.  Other than those two, you've got a group of tracks filled with acerbic wit and crushing riffs.  Dave Witte's drumming, as expected, carries a massive weight and machine-like precision.  Vocalist Mike Olender is clearly on top of his game in all aspects.  He has one of the more unique shouts in metal, one that never really gets old or loses an iota of impact.  Even ten years on, the key lines in "180 Proof" or "Pentagons and Pentagrams" remain charged with anger and are unforgettable.

The band was also doing some experimentation with samples that results in an intro track and a couple interludes throughout which provide some breathing room from the intense aggression.  There's also the last track, a 40-minute emergency broadcast system ringing.

Sadly, the band imploded shortly after the release of the album.  Thankfully, they got it back together to record Heart of Darkness, which I've already reviewed here on NHC.  Those two albums by themselves create a fitting legacy for a band that pushed limits and explored previously trodden territory with a fresh twist and exuberance to spare.

October 8, 2013

Bleach 552 - The Fundamental Virulence

The newest Bleach chapter is out.  So let's talk about it!

Spoilers after the cut.

2013 NFL Power Rankings, Week 5

A weird week as the teams that went in 3-1 had a tough time coming out with wins.  The ranks of the undefeated also went down from five to three, which all but ensures that the Rankings suffer and have to admit teams that probably don't yet belong.  At least record-wise.

An interesting note is that the Super Bowl participants from earlier this year are back in the Rankings at the same time.  I can't guess how long that will last as neither team has maintained consistency.  But the signs appear to be there right now.

As of tonight, the Falcons are 1-4 and I don't see how they contend for the Wild Card.  The division is likely out; the Saints are 5-0, look unstoppable, and have next to no competition that one can point to.  I don't think the Falcons can contend with them the way either team is playing right now.
Here are the Rankings for Week 5:

1.) Denver (5-0) [no change]
 I doubt anyone thought that Denver's defense was the equal of its nigh-unstoppable offense.  But man, did that unit look exposed playing against a QB who is not even within shouting distance of the top five.  Luckily for Denver, the Cowboys' QB who is error-prone at the worst possible time delivered yet another signature gaffe, tossing an INT with two minutes to go, thus sealing the victory for the Broncos.  I guess if you were being generous, you could say that the Broncos "survived" this game.  I'm not sure I would say that.

2.) New Orleans (5-0) [no change]
 The final score makes it look closer than it was.  This game was domination from front to back by the Saints, even without Drew Brees throwing for 300+ yards.  He had Sproles and Jimmy Graham open all day and had no hesitation in throwing it to them.  True to form they made plays and Jay Cutler made mistakes.  Someone is going to beat the Saints, much like the Broncos; I just have no idea who that team is yet.

3.) Kansas City (5-0) [+2]
 Third-best should be no insult to the Chiefs.  They're clearly behind Denver and New Orleans, but are ahead of everyone else.  Even with Alex Smith rarely throwing the ball downfield (twice on Sunday, at least), the Chiefs don't make the dumb mistakes you routinely see from other teams in the league, which is a large part of why they're 5-0.  The other large part of that is the defense. They didn't show quite as well as the previous week, but were good enough when it counted.

4.) Indianapolis (4-1) [+2]
 It is said regularly that Andrew Luck is the best of the young QB's currently in the league.  I'm not one to argue, especially when he just out-dueled Russell Wilson and again made it viable to question the Seahawks on the road.  Luck can make all the throws and has the body people want in a QB, but I think his success is largely intangible.  That annoys a lot of people who can't really "see" that sort of thing.  But it's not like he's surrounded with top-flight talent.  He's got a couple good guys around him, but the O-line has been tabbed as an area to improve and the defense was not thought of especially highly coming into the season.  That defense just forced Wilson into a bad INT on a potential game-winning drive, so maybe they're not too bad.

5.) New England (4-1) [-2]
 A bad loss in Cincinnati, and one that the Pats should not take lightly.  They only put up 6 points on a team that was looking pretty fraudulent after a month of play.  Actually, I still think Cincinnati is fraudulent, at least as far as the expectations go.  People somehow expected them to make or win the Super Bowl with Andy Dalton at QB; that won't happen and I don't think he really did anything to change that "narrative" in this game.  Tom Brady looked like crap, but I chalk that up to one bad game (unless it happens three games in a row, in which case the Pats are in trouble).  They might actually miss Vince Wilfork more than Gronkowski/Hernandez/Welker when all's said and done.

6.) Seattle (4-1) [-2]
 No matter how much I want to take Seattle seriously as a Super Bowl contender, i just can't do it when they have to go to OT against the Texans and then lose the next week at Indy.  Their road performance is problematic at best.  They may be unbeatable at home, but home-field advantage isn't guaranteed when New Orleans is sitting at 5-0 and looking unstoppable no matter where they play (except Tampa, of course, where they stank).  The Seahawks might merely be very good as opposed to great.

7.) San Francisco (3-2) [-]
 I like it when teams embarrass the Texans, so naturally, the 49ers were getting back into the Rankings.  Two wins in a row and the 49ers are back to looking like winners, if they're not necessarily dominant.  They weren't dominant on offense, at least.  But then again, when they're forcing mistakes as bad as the ones Schaub was making with regularity last night, it doesn't really matter how well the offense looks as long as they punch it into the end zone.

8.) Baltimore (3-2) [-]
 A modicum of luck was needed, as well as taking advantage of a suspect Miami offensive line.  Yet despite a late pick-six, Baltimore somehow won the game and are back in the Rankings.  I really don't expect this to last, but somehow they remain the best team in the AFC North, by virtue of being there longer than the Browns and being slightly less fraudulent than the Bengals. Not a lot of nice things to say here, as Baltimore hasn't really done anything praiseworthy just yet.  I'm sure once the weather cools down, Flacco and co. will start putting up better numbers.  That's how he rolls, isn't it?

9.) Detroit (3-2) [-2]
 Despite looking terrible, I'm giving the Lions a one-week reprieve from getting knocked the hell out because they were missing WR Calvin Johnson.

10.) Tennessee (3-2) [-2]
 They actually gave the Chiefs a bit of a fight, which I wasn't really expecting. So the Titans stay in for at least this week.  Having to travel to Seattle in Week 6 is hardly what I'd call a good matchup and will likely result in a beatdown assuming Seattle is back into winning form and the crowd in that architecturally 'roided up stadium yells like we know they can.

Three Games to Watch (Week 6):
Tennessee @ Seattle (CBS)
New Orleans @ New England (FOX)
Arizona @ San Francisco (FOX)

That's all for this week.  See you next week.

October 3, 2013

October 2, 2013

Bleach 551 - The Burnt Offerings

The newest chapter of Bleach is out.  So let's talk about it!

Spoilers after the cut.

October 1, 2013

2013 NFL Power Rankings, Week 4

After today, I'm not saying anything about the 0-4 teams.  For all intents and purposes, they are done.  They won't make the playoffs unless a miracle happens, so they are not worth discussing.

Another team not worth discussing is Cincinnati.  For whatever reason, the national sports media anointed them before the season started as a Super Bowl contender.  Newsflash: Andy Dalton is their QB and he's far from a potential Super Bowl contender.

Chicago fell to 3-1 after taking a bad loss to Detroit.  There's really no way to defend the Bears here.  I said last week that I would never really trust Jay Cutler.  I was proven right once again by his own hand.  He continues to make stupid mistakes that put him in the company of Schaub, Romo, and Flacco.

Speaking of Joe Flacco...yecccch.  Dismal doesn't even begin to describe his performance.

Detroit and Tennessee enter the Rankings this week while Baltimore and Dallas two-step their way out.  Again, I don't see either the Lions or Titans as Super Bowl contenders, so they probably won't last until Week 17 here.

Here are the Rankings for Week 4:

1.) Denver (4-0) [no change]
 The offense appears to be unstoppable and the defense is rounding into form, even without Von Miller.  Peyton Manning is clearly the best QB in the NFL right now (though Tom Brady is damn close) and the Broncos are the most impressive team at the quarter pole.

2.) New Orleans (4-0) [no change]
 Drew Brees and co. demolished the Dolphins last night and are cementing their comeback from irrelevance nicely.  Brees threw over 5,000 yards last season, but no one will remember that in ten years.  What they might remember is a defense that was utterly pathetic and the fact that they missed the playoffs.  This year, Brees is looking very good and the Saints as a whole look like a 13-win team and bonafide Super Bowl contender.  It looks like they'll win the NFC South unless Atlanta gets their shit together sooner rather than later.

3.) New England (4-0) [no change]
 Speaking of rounding into form, the Patriots' young wide receivers appear to be doing just that.  Actually, it might just be Thompkins.  But at any rate, having Thompkins, Julian Edelman, and the threat of a running game with Ridley and Blount could lead the Patriots to great things, especially when Gronkowski and Amendola return.  They go to now-irrelevant Cincinnati in Week 5.  I expect a sizable margin of victory.

4.) Seattle (4-0) [no change]
 Russell Wilson and the Seahawks were the beneficiaries of an unexplainably bad throw from Matt Schaub.  Richard Sherman made a good play (finally), taking that terrible pass to the house to tie the game.  From there, it was inevitable that the Seahawks would win, though there was a bit of drama in overtime.  I think Russell Wilson in particular can do better.  They're 4-0 and he hasn't played at the highest level just yet.  So there is definitely room for improvement.

5.) Kansas City (4-0) [+1]
 They might not be world-beaters just yet, but the Chiefs are crushing the NFC East.  Only the Cowboys were close to them.  I am a little surprised that KC is 4-0, but bringing in Andy Reid and Alex Smith (plus a new defensive coordinator) was going to reap dividends soon-ish.  I don't think they can win the division, but they will certainly push Denver as long as they remain undefeated and should make the playoffs.

6.) Indianapolis (3-1) [+1]
 It might have taken longer than I would have liked, but the Colts turned a close game against Jacksonville into the beatdown we expected.  Now they get Seattle at home.  This is good for Indy, as it is a winnable game.  I'll probably pick them, but I don't necessarily expect them to win.  That said, I don't think the Colts will choke like the Texans did.

7.) Detroit (3-1) [-]
 Apparently, Reggie Bush makes a difference in Detroit's offense.  That is something that surprises me, because I didn't expect him to contribute much of anything.  Still, despite scoring 40, they almost allowed Chicago to close the gap, which would have been pretty embarrassing considering how badly Cutler played for most of the game.  At any rate, Detroit is back in the Rankings and on top of their division, for now.  I'm not sure how to look at them, really.  They don't seem like a Super Bowl contender, but I've been fooled before.

8.) Tennessee (3-1) [-]
 I'm not sure how the Titans will contend with Jake Locker out, and I don't think that highly of Jake Locker to begin with.  But aside from a bad loss to the Texans, the Titans have played well.  They had a lead against the Texans that they blew, but other than that have acquitted themselves quite well.

9.) Chicago (3-1) [-4]
 The Bears fall back a bit, but that's what happens with a loss.  They don't fall out of the Rankings entirely because they still look like one of the better teams in the NFL (and honestly, there aren't all that many teams with a 3-1 record or greater).  That said, if Jay Cutler plays more often like he did against Detroit than the first three weeks of the season, Chicago could miss the playoffs.

10.) Miami (3-1) [-2]
 Were the Dolphins exposed last night?  Maybe so.  But I think they had concerns about the O-line and Tannehill's inability to avoid the pass rush before.  WR Mike Wallace didn't do much, but I don't think getting blown out falls on his shoulders so much as on the defense, which seemed fairly inept. It's just one game, a tough one at that, but now other teams have film on them and they might be able to stop them just as the Saints did.

Three Games to Watch (Week 5):
Seattle @ Indianapolis (FOX)
New Orleans @ Chicago (FOX)
Kansas City @ Tennessee (CBS)

That's all for this week.  See you next week.