July 31, 2014

The Bridge (US) - Season 2, Episode 4 "The Acorn" Recap

I think we're starting to find our way back into a groove.  And what do you know, maybe a bit of humor to lighten up these pitch black proceedings.

Spoilers after the cut.

July 30, 2014

Bleach 591 - Marching Out the ZOMBIES 2

Another week, another Bleach chapter.

And for us dedicated readers, another chance to smack ourselves in the face.

Spoilers after the cut.

July 29, 2014

Down the Rabbit Hole: Fly by Night (1975)

Continuing from last week in chronological order, next up is album #2, Fly by Night.

July 24, 2014

The Bridge (US) - Season 2, Episode 3 "Sorrowsworn" Recap

Third episode of Season 2 aired last night.  It was a tricky one and hard to follow at times!

Spoilers after the cut.

July 22, 2014

Down the Rabbit Hole: Rush (1974)

Rush is my favorite band, regardless of genre.  So I figure it's high time I wrote something about them.

July 21, 2014

Evolution of Favoritism

I suppose it is inevitable that a person's favorites will change.  Music is a creative pursuit and is thus subject to taste from the POV of the musician and the listener.  In this post, I'll take a look at my favorite bands from a few years ago and where I jumped off the proverbial bandwagon.  Neither list should be assumed to be comprehensive.  There were probably others I could have added to both lists (e.g. Slayer).

Favorites (ca. 2008/2009):
Rush, Tool, Burnt by the Sun, Lamb of God, Mastodon, High on Fire, Meshuggah, Kylesa, Nile, Opeth.

Favorites (2015):
Rush, Tool, Burnt by the Sun, Krallice, Ludicra, Yakuza, VHOL, Inquisition, Immolation.

In some ways, it's harder to say definitively which bands would qualify as "favorites" in 2014.  There are certainly some caveats on my list as it stands: Krallice & Ludicra make it with three albums, Yakuza & Inquisition with two, Immolation with two plus an EP, and VHOL with one.

As far as the bands I removed from my favorites between 2008/2009 & 2014:

Lamb of God: Resolution (2012).  Seems to signify the end of an era.  The progression exhibited through their first four albums stopped with Wrath and Resolution acts as more of a regression than anything else.

Mastodon: The Hunter (2011).  The band has changed from metal to pop-leaning rock.  Harsh vocals abandoned, as well as most of the heavy riffs.

High on Fire: De Vermis Mysteriis (2012).  Similar to Lamb of God, High on Fire previously exhibited progression and this album ends that.

Meshuggah: Koloss (2012).  After the triumphant ObZen (2008), Koloss was as much or more of a regression as the previous three bands.

Kylesa: Ultraviolet (2013).  To be honest, I was leery of future output after Spiral Shadow (2010), which sounded like a turn toward alt-rock/pop.

Nile: Place taken by Immolation, more or less.  I enjoyed At the Gate of Sethu (2012); despite it being a regression in production/presentation, it has one thing that most of the above albums don't, that being riffs.

Opeth: Heritage (2011).  I was leery after Watershed (2008), but I couldn't have imagined they'd fall into irrelevance so succinctly.

As far as the bands I added to my favorites between 2008/2009 & 2014:

Krallice: Diotima (2011) and the year of 2011 in general represent a significant increase in the number of bands and number of albums I listen to. Thanks to Diotima, I came to appreciate their 2008 S/T and jumped on the bandwagon for Years Past Matter too.  I eagerly await new material.

Ludicra: The Tenant (2010).  They may have broken up in 2011, but three of their four LP's (and an EP) represent some of the finest metal the Bay Area has produced (no easy feat, that).  I consider The Tenant to be the best metal album of 2010.

Yakuza: Of Seismic Consequence (2010).  Not only did this album introduce me to the band, but to Profound Lore Records as an underground metal entity worth following.  Yakuza followed with Beyul (2012); I consider both albums to be among the best in their respective years of release.

VHOL: VHOL (2013).  Topped my Best of 2013 list.  New material forthcoming. Further explanation is unnecessary.

Inquisition: Ominous Doctrines of the Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm (2011). That's a mouthful.  And one of the albums that piqued my interest in black metal, despite the fact that 99% of BM sounds nothing like it.  Croak away, sir!

Immolation: Harnessing Ruin (2005).  As much as I love this album, the next two didn't do much for me.  They really became a favorite with Kingdom of Conspiracy (2013), but I was fairly certain that they were onto something with the Providence EP.  What do you know, I was right for once.

As far as the bands that hold a place in both lists:

Rush: My favorite band, regardless of genre.  Nobody will top what they did from 1975-1984 (with Power Windows and Counterparts as honorable mentions).

Tool: My second favorite band.  Although they haven't released anything since 2006 (the less engaging by their standard 10,000 Days), their previous material stands as some of my favorite music that wasn't produced by Rush.

Burnt by the Sun: After a short hiatus from heavy music and a couple of years where I listened predominantly to thrash and nu-metal, Burnt by the Sun was the band to get me into metal.  They went out on top with Heart of Darkness. As yet, no other metal band has approximated their style, nor do I expect anyone to do so.

July 18, 2014

Strike While the Iron Is Hot

When it comes to reviewing metal albums, timing is important.  Although I haven't strove to be the first to have my opinion out there, my preference is to get it out as soon as possible before people stop caring about the album enough to read reviews about it.

I don't read reviews all that often myself.

I've been thinking about my own process of reviewing albums and the music that I've listened to in 2014.  When I started the blog last year the foundation was intended to be metal reviews.  But I was doing work here and elsewhere, and by the time 2013 ended, the spark had pretty much died out.

That explains why I reviewed four things in January and didn't do much writing about metal until recently.  It's a part of the story, at least.

Since February, I had misplaced my urge to write, mostly because the music I was listening to just wasn't inspiring me.  As a result, view counts in February and March tumbled.

Now that I've found the spark to write again, I find that I'm without a lot to write about, unless I decide to get on a schedule for putting out metal reviews.  And this is where the problem that I've been mulling over for the last few days comes into play.

To be honest, I don't know how I feel about most of what I've heard.

I don't feel comfortable committing to a review that states unequivocally "I like [album]" or "I dislike [album]".  The purpose of Nothing Has Changed after all, is to attempt quality writing.  I may not always succeed, but damn it if I don't try.  And if I'm writing mediocre reviews of mediocre albums...well, that's just not acceptable to me.  So in the interim I've concentrated mostly on sports and manga, with the occasional interlude about metal.

I want to be able to say something definitive about an album that I review. That requires me to have a certain level of familiarity with it.  Unfortunately, acquiring familiarity with each album that I've been listening to for the last couple of months has become difficult.  Not impossible, by any means, but difficult enough that it has impaired my productivity.

The reason I'm not able to say much of anything definitively is the utter mediocrity that 2014 has brought us.  When I heard many of the albums that appear on my Best Metal Albums of 2013 list, not only was I inspired, but I knew whether or not I liked them in just a few listens.

Metal in 2014 is not nearly as cut-and-dry.  There are a lot of releases that have yet to hit me in that way, but the few that have are likely to show up at the end of the year.  One problem with that, though, is that so many of them have been covered nigh-obsessively by other metal writers on the internet.

While I like to get my name out there as much as the next guy, I don't care to look like a bandwagon hopper.  And if I were to review Thantifaxath or Yautja or Alraune, I get the feeling that I'd look like I'm jumping on the hype train.

I'm not into hype.  And while I appreciate being a part of the consensus on certain albums, it's usually the case that people are in agreement because of some nebulous factor that I don't usually see or understand, because I'm coming at these albums from my own idiosyncratic perspective (much discussed in other entries).

So while I would like to be more productive as it relates to reviewing albums I'm listening to, I will continue to refrain from doing so until I'm comfortable with offering a definitive view that I won't have to go back and edit later.

I won't be ahead of the curve, by any means.  But I'm fine with that.

July 17, 2014

July 16, 2014

Bleach 589 - The Shooting Star Project [The Old and New Trust]

Another week, another Bleach chapter.  Let's talk about this weirdness.

Spoilers after the cut.

July 15, 2014

24: Live Another Day

I know, I didn't recap the show while it was on, but since it's over I figured I would talk about 24: Live Another Day for just a bit.

Obviously, spoilers are forthcoming.

July 14, 2014

Mr. Parsons Goes to ...Dallas?!

My favorite basketball team got bounced in the first round of the playoffs.  It's been a couple months since and now that free agency is in full swing, fans across the world are looking at what their teams are doing (or not doing, in some cases) to improve for next season.

The GM and head coach will remain the same in 2014-2015.  No problem there; consistency is good.  The only time you can have too much consistency is if your team is stuck in a rut and can't extricate themselves from it.  That's not the problem the Rockets have currently.

While the world waited breathlessly for LeBron to decide what he was going to do, the Rockets were preparing to make moves to acquire one of their major targets: Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh.  They even kicked the tires on LeBron, just in case the best player in the world wanted to play here in Houston.

Of course, he didn't.  As it turns out, Anthony and Bosh weren't terribly receptive either.

In a way, I can understand Anthony's choice.  Houston may be a very large city, but it's not as "large" as the others he was looking at.  Plus there's that whole money thing.  It's fine, though, as I wasn't particularly enthused about the idea of him being a Rocket anyway.

Chris Bosh, on the other hand, would have fit like a glove.  At least, that's what some national basketball writers want us to believe.  I'm inclined to believe that he would have fit in, but that an adjustment period would have been necessary.

But really, that's the case with any well-known player that comes in. Adjustments have to be made; the others guys have to learn his style/tendencies and vice versa.

At any rate, Bosh wasn't interested and stayed in Miami where he could be more well-rewarded financially.  And that's fine.  I don't begrudge the guy making a ton of money while the iron is hot.  Who knows if that opportunity will come around again?  Not me, certainly.

This leads us to another name Rockets fans are familiar with: Trevor Ariza. He played with the Wizards in 2013-2014 and was quite formidable.  He brought shooting and defense to a team that needed it.  Is he as great as Anthony or Bosh?  Nah, but that's not the point.  No GM can build a team entirely with stars, after all.

With Ariza coming aboard, that left the GM an important decision.  He had turned down an option to retain SF Chandler Parsons for the 2014-2015 season which would have had him coming back for peanuts.  Parsons was then signed to an offer sheet (being that he was a "restricted" free agent) and the Rockets were given three days to match it or turn it down.

The GM had already signed (or traded for, as we're now hearing) Ariza, and the perception is that Parsons had become expendable.

Is he?  Personally, I think not.  I know there are salary cap considerations at play, even with the moves the GM made to free up space (namely, dumping Omer Asik on New Orleans and Jeremy Lin on the Lakers), so keeping Parsons while bringing in Ariza was likely not feasible.  But consider the depth of the team for a moment: right now, there's hardly any.  Yes, the stars are still in place, but what's around them?  Other than Ariza, who slots in at SF, you've got Beverley starting at PG and Terrence Jones starting at PF, with Motiejunas to back him up.  Canaan and Troy Daniels are still around, I think...but Omri Casspi is reportedly on his way out too.

There's also the fact that Dallas is a natural rival.  The Rockets let one of their better players (after Howard/Harden, obviously) go, got nothing in return, and they get to play against him four times a year for the foreseeable future.

I don't know whether to laugh or cry, really.

But the whole point of this post is this: the Rockets traded away Chase Budinger to get Parsons into the starting lineup, and now they've given him away, for nothing.

Savvy observers would call this a "business decision".  And I would be remiss if I didn't point out that the Budinger trade brought the Rockets an important draft pick: the one that they used to pick Terrence Jones.

Oh, and the last time Trevor Ariza was a Rocket, he was traded for Courtney Lee.  Lee wasn't long for the Rockets, through no fault of his own, and was later traded for what one might disparagingly call "spare parts".

Perhaps in time I'll understand why the Rockets let Parsons go.  Right now I'm skeptical that I'll ever get it and I'm intensely skeptical that basically trading Parsons for Ariza will work out favorably.

Still, I can't help but wonder...the team traded away a guy for the express purpose of putting Parsons in the starting lineup.  He was with the team for three seasons and was showing evident improvement.  Parsons isn't the most consistent player and his defense could use some work, but these are matters that could be fixed, either through experience or coaching.  They're certainly not anything that would make you consider dumping the guy, especially when he's yet to hit his prime.

He'll be hitting his prime in Dallas, most likely.  And he'll be torching the Rockets at every opportunity I'm sure, in an effort to prove the team wrong.

This off-season was about making the team better after a first-round exit. Have they done so?  Not in my eyes.  They traded one SF for another while getting rid of solid bench players and struck out horrifically on every major free agent they chased after.

Hardly the successful off-season one might have expected.

Skarab - Skarab (2012)

First things first: listen to Skarab at Bandcamp.

Inevitably, no matter how much effort I put into listening to metal in a given year, I end up missing something.

2012 was a great year for metal, too.  So that just made things more difficult as far as keeping track of all the great releases.  I'll remember it for bands like Christian Mistress, Yakuza, Anhedonist, Pallbearer, Krallice, and Sigh. And that's only a portion of the releases I enjoyed!

As it turns out, Skarab is another band that belongs with those that I just named.

The Metal Archives lists Skarab as "avant-garde" metal.  I find it to be an appropriate categorization, more so than "progressive".  To me, progressive implies that the band is going from A-to-B in a song and the journey is an important part of it.  Skarab's songs don't really do this; they start on the outside and tend to stay there.  The album as a whole could be taken as a journey, though.

The band's Bandcamp page notes that the music is written by Tim Steffens (also of Klabautamann) and Skarab.  That implies that Steffens brought in the basic ideas that were then fleshed out into the songs you hear by he and the other three members.

Christian Kolf is on vocals only for this release.  The rhythm section is comprised of two gentlemen who had recently joined the Zeitgeister collective; Skarab is their first release.

Obviously, given that Steffens and Kolf are working together here, the expectation would be that the effort of a great songwriter is complemented by that of another.

After opening track "Heat" (which not coincidentally guaranteed that I'd buy this eventually), though, it may take a few listens for the listener to be receptive to the album's charms.

To my ears, the best songs reside after "Body of a Graveyard", which itself is the album's least entertaining track.  The other nine do more than enough to make up for that. You've got the double-bass flurries in "The Rabbi of Weeds", syncopated riffing of "Stone Torches", and intricate arpeggios and density of "I Am the Winding Stair".  Then "Unarmed Sailor" closes the record as strongly as "Heat" opened it.

Kolf's performance is notable, given that he's not playing guitar.  His clean vocals sit at or near the center of each track.  "You wish, you pray", he intones in "Sunset", providing one of the album's most sublime moments as Steffens plays some hefty chords and a second guitar adds a melody over top. This is a trick that is utilized fairly well throughout the album: Steffens has rhythm tracks that are augmented by melodic counterparts, sometimes slow and plaintive and others tremelo-picked to add a bit more spice.

Really, there's so much more that could be said, but it is in listening that one will find the greatest reward.  Skarab is the product of great songwriters, a well-executed slice of avant-garde metal that does not go so far as to alienate, but satisfies with the strength of its positioning outside of the norm.

July 13, 2014


If you follow me on Twitter (@big_red01027) you're probably aware that I use the hashtag #NP to indicate what I'm listening to.

I try to keep these unique.  That usually means that when I return to something (which I do more often than my feed would suggest), I don't use the hashtag and instead offer up some kind of commentary about the record in question.

I don't pretend that I'm going to feel a certain way about an album for all time.  Sure, my judgments are swift and cutting, but they're not always lasting.

Two bands that I've reconsidered in the last couple of days are Agalloch and Yellow Eyes.

In the case of Agalloch, I listened to their new one, The Serpent & the Sphere, and the previous Faustian Echoes EP.  The former surprised me by being so enthralling and just damn enjoyable.  The latter is shorter, but no less fiery.

These two releases led me to wonder aloud, where was that fire on Marrow of the Spirit?  No matter where I looked, I saw people extolling its virtues incessantly back in 2010.  It topped lists all over the internet.

I wouldn't call myself an Agalloch fan at this point.  I have no intention of revisiting their other albums (especially Marrow of the Spirit), because honestly I don't really have enough time for it.

But I wouldn't be surprised to see The Serpent & the Sphere on my best of 2014 list.  That album does something that very few have done this year: it is intriguing and maintains throughout.

Yellow Eyes is a band that comes highly recommended from various corners of the internet.  As usual, I didn't quite get it.  Their debut LP, Hammer of Night, seemed like an uninteresting (aside from the last track) Krallice-esque slice of USBM.

I gave it another try earlier and was pleasantly surprised.  I was still listening through the Bandcamp player, so it sounded the same (no EQ option generally means that albums sound flat, no matter how well they're produced), but I reacted to it differently.

I guess that's the point of reevaluating releases.  It gives you the chance to react to the album differently.  After all, the music didn't change, but apparently I did.

One other thing I should note: I've closed down the comment section, mostly out of spite due to inactivity.  Nothing Has Changed gets plenty of views for my taste; I've said this before, but it bears repeating that the blog has performed in excess of any expectation I might have placed on it, especially in 2014 when I've not been riding anyone else's coattails.

So, dear reader, if you like this piece and want to discuss it (or anything else, really), feel free to drop me a line on Twitter.  You can find it at the top of this post.

July 10, 2014

One Year

On July 9, 2013 I joined Twitter with the intent of promoting my writing.

On July 10, 2013 I started this blog.  Happy birthday, blog.

I can't say with certainty that I've accomplished what I set out to do.  But at the same time, I've done more than I thought I could.

How does that work?  Well, despite my recent distaste for reviews (which has to do with my own ennui as much as it does the utter mediocrity of metal in 2014), I've managed to garner more attention to my writing than I thought I ever would.

And for that, I say thank you.  While the blog hasn't led to as much interaction (and thus, conversation) as I would like, I know by the stats that people are viewing the blog and reading what I write.

I hope everyone who has read Nothing Has Changed over the past year found some enjoyment from it.

Again, thank you to all the readers here in the States and worldwide.

The Bridge (US) - Season 2, Episode 1 "Yankee" Recap

Season 2 of The Bridge started last night.

Spoilers and confusion galore...after the cut.

July 9, 2014

July 3, 2014

Scowling at the Dictionary: Hook vs. Riff

In writing about Mastodon and their vocal "hooks", I started thinking about what that word means and how it might differ from the word "riff".

What better source to consult than the dictionary, right?  In this case, dictionary.reference.com.

Here is where things get dicey.

First, let's give the definitions of each word in their proper musical context:

Hook means: "an appealing melodic phrase, orchestral ornament, refrain, etc., often important to a popular song's commercial success". (source)

Riff means: "a melodic phrase, often constantly repeated, forming an accompaniment or part of an accompaniment for a soloist". (source)

Notice the thing each definition has in common.  Like I said, dicey.

I've made mention of my guiding musical principle: "rhythm determines melody".  In my usage of riff as an idea or as an easily identifiable piece of a song, I emphasize the fact that rhythm is the most important aspect.  Melody is secondary and often not important.

For example, take the riff that is first played around 5:50 in Owl's "You Are the Moon, I Am the Night".  Given that I don't have official tablature of the song and don't play by ear, I can't specifically say what notes are being played or the precise rhythm.

What I can say is that the riff is comprised of two notes: a low note that sounds palm-muted, and a second note at least one octave higher (if not more) that is then bent.  The bend is slow and gradual.  The riff is given space to breathe by Patrick Schroeder's drumming and is accompanied by a second guitar that plays a repetitive tapping phrase.  Schroeder then adds double-bass to the beat to give this part of the song extra force.

I've discussed Owl before in my review of their second LP.  The point of the above paragraph is to illustrate that Christian Kolf could have used any two notes to make that riff and it probably would have worked.  Thus, the melody is secondary to the rhythm (and especially the use of a slow, gradual bend) here.

So in the context of metal and the way I use the word, riff should be defined as "a rhythmic phrase, often repeated, forming the backbone of a song".

A hook, on the other hand, has an insistent quality that is not present in a riff.  It is not composed based on the principle of "rhythm determines melody" and in fact only exists to grab the listener's attention forcefully.

That is the difference as I see it.  A hook grabs the listener via melody, while a riff is rhythmic and allows the listener to meet it on his/her own terms.

July 1, 2014

Mastodon: Succeeding at Being Metallica, or Failing to Be Rush?

I was thinking about Mastodon and an interesting thread emerged.  The development they went through over their first four albums and subsequent simplification with The Hunter seems a bit...familiar, doesn't it?