My Highlights From 2018

2018 was quite a full year, there were so many entertainment choices.  I watched more television in 2018 than I have in a very long time. I had the pleasure of attending a few phenomenal rock concerts.  The year was filled with many fantastic movies.  I missed quite a few of them in the theater and will hopefully watch them eventually. Each month featured the release of so much fantastic new music.  There are only so many hours in a day.   Here are several of the television shows, movies, concerts and albums that were highlights for me throughout 2018.

Arrow Season 7 SuperMax

Arrow: Season Seven – The CW series continues to be one of my favorite television shows. Season seven has been successful, despite the fact that the Green Arrow has barely been seen.   Watching Oliver Queen serving time in prison has been an intriguing story line.  Queen has barely appeared as the Green Arrow, yet the show has been extremely compelling to watch.  On the flip side, I am not sure what the show’s creative team finds so interesting in  Ricardo Diaz as a villain.   Even with Diaz overstaying his welcome on the series it has been a winning season.  Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen/Green Arrow continues to be the heart and soul of the show.  He is supported by a strong supporting cast.  Major kudos for bringing back Katie Cassidy as a series regular.  She has been an important part of the show’s overall success since season one.  The reintroduction of Colton Haynes as Roy Harper, one of my favorite Arrow characters, has been a major bonus.  From the start of season one the flashback sequences have been an important part of the show’s storytelling process.  Over time the flashbacks became less compelling and eventually were no longer necessary.  Wisely the writers opted to go in a different direction.  This season features the introduction of flash forwards.  These sequences seem to be set in the not to distant future. As of now  the time frame has yet to be revealed.  This new take has been extremely refreshing.  Just about every aspect of season seven has been refreshing.

seal-team

SEAL Team: Season Two – David Boreanaz and the rest of the cast  members of SEAL Team have been exceptional.  This season has seen pulse pounding action as well as heart wrenching drama. The team has dealt with high stakes missions, internal tensions and  losses on several different levels.  At the heart of the show are the characters and their various interconnected relationships.  The team’s covert missions are a huge part of the show.  But it is the relationships that are the show’s main focus and strength.  SEAL Team continues to be one of my favorite new shows on television.  Great acting combined with exceptional writing and spectacular action sequences equals a winning formula for SEAL Team.  I am hopeful that SEAL Team will have a long and fruitful run.

Martel Thunder ANd Lightening

Marc Martel: Thunderbolt & Lightning – Thunderbolt & Lightning is Marc Martel’s bold and brilliant EP of Queen cover songs.  Martel opted to record several of Queen’s most well known and beloved songs. The songs include, among others; Bohemian Rhapsody, We Are The Champions and Someone To Love. Martel is a brave and rightfully confident musician.  The last few years have seen Martel fronting the two most high profile Queen tribute acts, The Queen Extravaganza and The Ultimate Queen Celebration.  Fans fortunate enough to experience Martel fronting either band know of his incredible talents.  Thunderbolt & Lightning has been one of my most joyful listening experiences of the year.    Martel has respectfully put his own spin on these classic Queen songs while staying true to the original song structures.  I am a big fan of Queen and Marc Martel, so this release is a win-win for me.  This is an EP to listen to with open ears AND an open mind.

Facing The Incurable

A Dying Planet: Facing The Incurable – A Dying Planet is the latest progressive metal project by the Tipton Twins, Jasun and Troy.  They are the main players behind the progressive metal bands Zero Hour, Abnormal Thought Patterns and Cynthesis.  A Dying Planet’s stellar debut album is entitled Facing The Incurable. The Tipton’s never disappoint and this album  is a great addition to their already impressive discography.  The album successfully explores the different shades and textures of progressive metal.  The music weaves from technical, atmospheric, subtle and bombastic sounds and moods.   I have to give a major shout-out to Erik Rosvold for his stunning guest vocal on the track Poisoning The Well.  Facing The Incurable is a major win for the Tipton brothers.  Jasun continues to impress on the guitar and Troy has successfully transitioned to lead vocals.  I am impatiently awaiting A Dying Planet’s followup album.

Queen Extravaganza

Queen Extravaganza Live 9/30/18 Montclair, NJ The Wellmont Theater – Singing phenom Marc Martel left the Queen Extravaganza in 2017 and started his own live Queen show, The Ultimate Queen Celebration.  Vocalist Alirio Netto was brought in as the the new singer for the Queen Extravaganza and he does not disappoint.  He possesses a fantastic voice, a commanding stage presence and boundless energy.  The entire band put on an exciting show that features most of the songs that fans would expect, We Will Rock You, Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Radio Gaga, etc.  But the band also pulls out some deep cuts like Breakthrough, The Invisible Man, Seven Seas Of Rhye and the spectacular Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy.  The Queen Extravaganza put on a fantastic and fun show that celebrates the legacy of Queen’s timeless music.

Azusa Heavy Yoke

Azusa: Heavy Yoke – Heavy Yoke is the incredible debut album from the new progressive extreme metal quartet Azusa.  Fans of the incredible progressive death metal band Extol should be particularly interested in Azusa.  The band features Extol founding members David Husvik on drums and Christer Espevoll on guitars.  The rhythm section is rounded out by former Dillinger Escape Plan bassist Liam Wilson The entire band shines throughout as they create heavy, complex, progressive and experimental extreme metal.  At the forefront of this juggernaut is powerhouse vocalist Eleni Zafiriadou.  The music of Azusa is not metal made for lightweights.  Azusa has created an extreme metal album for the musically adventurous.  When listening to Azusa put on your seat belts and prepare for a wild roller coaster ride.

God Damn Evil

Stryper: God Damn Evil – One could make a case that God Damn Evil is Stryper’s best album.  What a testament to the band after so many years of existence.    Nostalgia plays a huge part in fandom.  In the eyes of some fans  the band’s third album, To Hell With The Devil (1986), will forever be Stryper’s best album.  I would argue that pound for pound, God Damn Evil is Stryper at the height of their strength.  The album is full of heavy and creative guitar riffs, it showcases some of Robert Sweet’s best drumming and features some of the band’s best lyrics.  At 55 years young, Michael Sweet is like a fine wine as his voice just gets better and more robust with time.  What is truly refreshing is the band’s willingness to continue to grow and evolve creatively.  Stryper has long had an established sound and musical style.  God Damn Evil is most definitely 100% Stryper.  At the core of their sound is 1980’s style heavy metal.  The band has produced an album that sounds retro and modern at the same time.  The band successfully injects modern metal elements into the mix for a winning combination.     Stryper’s three most recent studio albums are among their very best.  This is a band that is firing on all cylinders and they are only getting better with time.  Right now they are showing no signs of slowing down.

Stryper Stone Pony

Stryper Live 5/9/2018: Asbury Park, NJ The Stone Pony – What are the odds?  I have seen Stryper live three times over the last fifteen years.  Each occasion occurred at the historic Stone Pony in New Jersey.  Each time has been with a different bassist.  First it was Tim Gaines, than it was Traci Ferrie and most recently it was Perry Richardson.  From a performance and set list standpoint the 2018 show was the best of the three shows.  The band is on fire.  They are playing heavier and tighter than ever.  Some feel that Stryper is not a metal band.  Those who witnessed Stryper live this year were treated to a show that was 100% heavy metal.    The band’s set list was a near perfect blend of old and new Stryper hits and albums cuts.  Stryper consists of four veterans who know what it takes to put on a killer show. Here’s to many more years on the road for one of my favorite bands.

Lincoln Brewster God Of The Impossible

Lincoln Brewster: God Of The Impossible – Lincoln Brewster’s tenth album is one of his best.  Brewster collaborated with several co-writers to create one of his most successful and balanced albums.  Brewster has juggled pop songwriting with blazing, bluesy rock guitar on many of his solo albums.  God Of The Impossible is the album where Brewster has perfected that balance.  Prior albums have included more guitar, but weaker songwriting.  Others have featured more commercial songs, but less of Brewster’s exceptional guitar playing.   God Of The Impossible is clearly one of Brewster’s most commercial and polished albums.  The songwriting is exceptional as are his vocals and the overall production.  Brewster wisely picks his spots to unleash his brilliant guitar play.  Brewster has spent the bulk of his career in the Christian music market.  His talents are so great that there is no reason why he should not crossover over into the secular music world.

YUKA-AND-CHRONOSHIP

Yuka & Chronoship: Ship –  Like far too many exceptional progressive rock bands in the 21st century Yuka & Chronoship has flow under the radar.  Excellent song craft and musicianship is the forte of Japan based progressive rock quartet Yuka & Chronoship.  These four highly talented musicians have the skills to jam for days.  The band’s focus is first and foremost on songs.  There is plenty of flashy musicianship to be found, in the context of well written and well played progressive rock.  The band rallies around Yuka Funakoshi’s fine keyboard play.  But this is far from a solo project, each member contributes equally.  The band’s fourth album Ship is a fine addition to there already impressive discography. The music combines influences from 1970’s progressive rock, New Age, hard rock and fusion.  The band’s music is predominantly instrumental.  Ship features more vocals then usual on a Yuka & Chronoship album.  This fantastic quartet is hands down one of my favorite current progressive rock bands.

Xiphea

Xiphea: Everland – This powerhouse symphonic metal band out of Germany has quietly and quickly amassed an exceptional discography.  Everland is the band’s three album and fourth overall release.  Their debut release in 2013, Masquarde, was the  EP the started the ball rolling.  Xiphea have entitled their brand of symphonic metal as Fairytale Metal.  Musically the band creates a commercial blend of symphonic metal and power metal.  The music of Xiphea is heavy, yet the songs are quite melodic.  Lyrically the band draws on various fairy tales from across time and around the world.   The band’s newest release Everland continues in the same vein as their prior albums.  There is a maturation of the band’s sound.  Overall there are less death growls than on prior albums.  This gives more opportunity for the wonderfully expressive vocals of Sabine Meusel to shine.  Musically there is a heavier power metal influence than on the band’s prior outings.  Everland is another excellent album from one of my favorite Symphonic Metal bands.

solo_a_star_wars_story_4k_8k_2018-wide

Solo: A Star Wars Story – I still find it hard to believe that fans flocked to The Force Awakens and then abandoned Solo: A Star Wars Story.  Fans would rather see an aged Han Solo as opposed to a youthful rendition of the beloved character.  As it stands now The Force Awakens is one of my least favorite Star War movies.  Most fans did not feel as I did as the movie has made over $2,000,000,000 worldwide.  Two billion dollars!!!  Solo, on the other hand, is a far superior movie in just about every way. However the worldwide box office fell short of $400,000,000.  Alden Ehrenreich’s portrayal of the iconic Han Solo is quite good.   He is backed up by a strong supporting cast, a compelling story, great action sequences and excellent production values.  Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian and Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca are an absolute pleasure to watch.  With all of that Solo is the least successful Star Wars film to date financially.  A lot of fans missed out on a great Star Wars movie.  Box office does not equate to quality.  But it does open the door for more movies.  As of now Solo’s lackluster box office totals may have all but doomed what could have been a great new trilogy.  If you are a Star Wars fan that passed on Solo because of bad word of mouth, I would advise you to watch it now.

green-book-excl

Green Book – I have been a Viggo Mortensen fan since his appearance in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy.  His involvement in the movie Green Book is what initially caught my attention.  After seeing the movie I am now quite interested in the career of Mahershala Ali. Ali absolutely shines in this film. The chemistry between those two fantastic actors is powerful. Despite how they are billed, Mortensen and Ali are equals throughout the film.  Green Book is a powerful, funny, heartfelt and gut-wrenching movie.  It is a study in the good and the very dark side of human nature. This is a multilayered movie that is so much more than just a story of black and white. The movie delves into  inequality in relation to race, ethnicity and class.   Green Book is also a fantastic portrayal of the different facets of relationships.   This is a movie that I will definitely watch again.

 

Noir New Year

Thank you all for reading and supporting Shades Of Noir throughout 2018, it was quite a year.  I appreciate you all for taking the time to read the blog.  Shades Of Noir has been and continues to be a labor of love.  If you like what you see here please do not hesitant to like, comment on and share the posts.  Once again thank you! Here’s to a bigger and better 2019!!!

 

Troy T.

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