My Highlights Of 2016

As the year comes to a close various top ten and  best of  lists will be published. Many of these lists can be fun to read. This is not really a true top ten list, plus it contains eleven items.  It is an brief overview of some entertainment highlights that come to mind from 2016.

Unfortunately 2016 was a year full of far too much bad news, negativity, hate and division. At times during 2016 the world seemed like a very dark place. At the end of the year it’s good to reflect on some of the entertainment that brought some light into my life in 2016.

Phil Collins’ Reemergence

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Phil Collins’ slow and steady reemergence from retirement. Not one event, but a series of live appearances, interviews and the release of his autobiography Not Dead Yet. All of this is leading up to some large scale concerts in 2017. At 65 years of age Phil Collins may look a little rough around the edges. But he is still one of my favorite musical artists. The man’s music has brought a lot of light to my life over the years.

Xiphea – Once Upon A Time

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Xiphea are a fantastic symphonic metal band out of Germany. They call their brand of music Fairytale Metal. With song titles like Beauty And The King, Masquerade, Cinderella and Power Of The Dwarfs one can understand the label. Do not let the song titles fool you, this is a serious and heavy band.  Once Upon A Time is Xiphea’s third release.  So far they have released one EP and two full length albums.  The future looks bright for this band.   I plan on writing more about them in a future blog.

The Genesis Show

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The Genesis Show are an absolutely amazing and talented Phil Collins era Genesis tribute band that, for now, focuses on Genesis live circa 1976-1977. Tribute bands can be hit or miss, either really good or downright silly. The Genesis Show are a serious band that are passionate about playing the music of Genesis. I had the great pleasure of seeing them live this year. As a huge Genesis fan since 1981 I was extremely impressed by The Genesis Show. The musicianship on display was incredible. I highly recommend seeing them live.

Kansas – The Prelude Implicit

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I count Kansas among my top 20 favorite bands. Their newest release, The Prelude Implicit, is a strong argument for classic bands continuing to record new music. I would definitely place The Prelude Implicit on my top ten favorite Kansas albums list. The band’s new singer Ronnie Platt has some incredibly big shoes to fill. He does so quite well. I look forward to more new music by this great band.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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A very, very good Star Wars film that falls short of being great by playing it too safe in the second half of the movie.  But I will say that the movie contains one of my absolute favorite scenes from any Star Wars movie. I just hope that the success of this film will allow for more ambitious Star Wars movies in the future.

Arrow: Season Five

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A fantastic rebound from the disappointment of season four. It would seem that in the off season the creative team revisited the things that made the show great in the past. Half way through season five and  I would say that Arrow is back on track.  Stephen Amell, in the title role, continues to play this character with such conviction.

Metallica…Hardwired To Self-Destruct

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It’s been eight years since Death Magnetic, but overall it was worth the wait. The double disc release showcases a collection of fast and heavy songs by a rejuvenated band. Unfortunately all of the songs are not equal. I would say that if the band had trimmed the fat and lost two songs they would have had a killer single disc.

Captain America: Civil War

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A movie that contained not only great action, but also great drama. Civil War and the prior Captain America movie The Winter Soldier have really brought superhero movies to a new level. There is a lot going on in this movie, but the performances of Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. provide a solid foundation and help keep the movie grounded.

Doctor Strange

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Doctor Strange is Marvel’s latest superhero movie.  It stars Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role.   Benedict Cumberbatch joins the ranks of actors  like Hugh Jackman, Christopher Reeve, Harrison Ford and Patrick Stewart. What do they have in common?  It seems that they were born to bring to life certain iconic characters. Wolverine, Superman, Indiana Jones, Professor Xavier and in Cumberbatch’s case Doctor Stephen Strange. A great movie with a fantastic performance by Cumberbatch.

Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice

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I know it had it critics, but I loved this movie. Henry Cavill is super as Superman. Ben Affleck really nails the true essence of Bruce Wayne/Batman. His portrayal of Bruce Wayne is my favorite of any actor to date. I love Diane Lane as Martha Kent. Gal Gadot’s fantastic performance as Wonder Woman may be my biggest and most pleasant surprise of the year. The only real downside for me was Jesse Eisenberg’s performance as Lex Luthor.  His was a different take on the character that did not really work for me.

Epica – The Holographic Principal

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I feel that Epica, a symphonic metal band out of the Netherlands, are the best band in their genre. The Holographic Principal is their seventh studio album and it is phenomenal. Epica continues to grow and evolve with each new album. Their unique and dense mix of thrash metal, opera, progressive rock, classical music, death metal and soundtrack scores continues to delight this metal fan a great deal.

Troy T.

Metallica – Looking Back To Move Forward

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I have a few thoughts on Metallica’s newest album Hardwired…To Self-Destruct. I have been a Metallica fan since 1987 so new music from one of my favorite bands is generally a great thing. Hardwired is a very solid collection of diverse metal songs. I must say that their previous album, Death Magnetic, is a much better record. However, Hardwired is far from being a disappointment. After the long layoff between albums I really did not know what to expect. But if I’m honest, after hearing Lords Of Summer back in 2014, I had low expectations.

Let me start off with the album cover and the various band photos inside of the booklet. Whose idea was this, these photo montages are kind of creepy. Perhaps the album cover will grow on me over time. If done differently this could have been a cool heavy metal album cover, instead it looks like a poster for a horror movie. As a big fan of album cover art I am disappointed. Metallica really has not had a great album cover since   …And Justice For All, back in 1988.

Now onto the music. Metallica have composed twelve songs that not only manage to pay tribute to their past, but also show a newer side of the band.  Throughout the twelve tracks one can hear nods to their prior albums, especially Kill ‘Em All, Master Of Puppets, The Black Album and Load. For my taste there may be a few too many nods to Load, but overall I really like where the band is going musically.

I love the confidence and diversity that Hetfield displays as a vocalist. I have always enjoyed his vocals on the prior albums. He has been among my favorite metal vocalists for a long time. But listening to these new songs I hear a level of confidence, vocally, that was not as apparent on prior albums.

Say what you want about Lars Ulrich’s drumming and his timing issues, in a live setting. It’s true that he has some troubles live, but he is an inventive and dynamic drummer, in a studio setting. Lars has never been on  my list of favorite drummers, but he always keeps the drums interesting. That is definitely the case on Hardwired.

I applaud Kirk Hammett for continuing to push himself on the guitar. He’s not content to rest on his laurels or his considerable skills. He continues to learn new things and push his skills on the guitar. He still favors the wah-wah pedal a great deal, but after all this time I have come to accept this as a part of his guitar stylings. He must be given some credit for becoming a bit more tasteful with his wah usage.

Bassist Robert Trujillo is along for the ride helping to hold down the very solid rhythm  section on display  throughout the album. Anyone that can keep up with Hetfield is a solid player and Trujillo is up to the task.

Overall Hardwired…To Self-Destruct is a great metal album. It is far from Metallica’s best album and it is far from their worst album. Like all of their albums this is a team effort.  That being said Hetfield continues to be the star of the band. He has layed down some excellent rhythm guitar and he really shines vocally.  I applaud the band for pushing themselves to the next level. The songs may not be as melodic or the riffs as memorable as prior albums, but this it the newest chapter of this great band. As a fan I am enjoying the journey.

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Troy T.

Demon Hunter-Extremist

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Demon Hunter is a band that I have been aware of for several years. However, I never really delved into their music too deeply. Pretty much everything that I have read about the band has been overwhelmingly positive. Over the last few years the great reviews made me curious enough to listen to a song here or there. However, what I heard really did not grab me musically. That all changed recently when someone posted a Demon Hunter video on Facebook. Something about the music really caught my attention this time. The song was from the band’s most recent album Extremist, which was released in 2014. I took a chance and purchased the cd and I’m so glad that I did.

Demon Hunter combines the sounds of bands like Bob Rock era Metallica, Alice In Chains, Creed and Pantera along with the genres of thrash metal, metalcore, nu metal and death metal. On Extremist all of these influences have come together to produce a wonderfully diverse and heavy album. Extremist is a well produced, well played metal album full of great guitar riffs and solos. One of the greatest strengths of the album is the vocals. Far to many metal albums have a vocalist who has the same vocal delivery from song to song. Extremist showcases lead vocalist Ryan Clark delivering a variety of vocal styling that range from clean singing to  death metal like vocals. His clean vocals on the mid paced and slower songs sounds like a mix Alice In Chains and Black Album era James Hetfeld.

I would highly recommend Demon Hunter’s Extremist for fans of modern metal. I look forward to not only hearing  a new album by the band, but also exploring their back catalog.

My Top Ten Favorite Metal Albums

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I’ve been a metalhead since 1984, so over the years I have heard quite a bit of metal.  Picking ten was hard, putting them in order would be near impossible.  So after much thought here are my top ten favorite heavy metal albums, in no particular order.

Candlemass – Nightfall:  Heavy riffs, amazing leads, great production and the vocals of the one of a kind Messiah Marcolin add up to an amazingly diverse doom metal masterpiece.

Metallica -Master Of Puppets:   Hands down the greatest thrash metal album of all time, one of the greatest metal albums of all time and perhaps THE metal album of the 80’s. 55 minutes of near perfection in metal.

KISS – Music From “The Elder”:   A concept album??? KISS?!?!?! Yep and it’s a good one. Deemed a failure by many, including the band, but one could argue that the band never sounded better.

Megadeth – Rust In Peace:  Megadeth’s best album and the second best thrash album of all time. The riffs and leads played by Dave Mustaine and Marty Friedman are insane.  Mustaine never sounded better vocally. The perfect mix of aggression and melody.

Zero Hour – The Towers Of Avarice:  Four equal parts creating the ultimate prog/technical metal album. Erik Rosvold sounding like the offspring of Ronnie James Dio, Geoff Tate and Freddie Mercury. The Tipton twins, Jason and Troy, locked in on guitar and bass taking the listener on a roller coaster ride of riffs. Mike Guy laying down the rhythm to this insane musical journey. As if that were not enough, it’s also a concept album.

Shadow Gallery – Tyranny:  A concept album on par with the greats. Mixing the influences of Queensryche, Metallica, Pink Floyd, Kansas, Queen, Dream Theater and Yngwie Malmsteen into a unique blend of prog metal that unlike other bands in the genre is the perfect mix of prog and metal. There is plenty of space for keyboard and guitar solos. Like the great concept albums the story is quite an emotional journey.

Queensryche – Operation: Mindcrime: Queensryche’s finest moment and one of the best concept albums in any genre.

Epica – Design Your Universe: My introduction to symphonic metal and the heavenly voice Of Simone Simons. A perfect mix of metal, thrash, death metal, progressive rock and classical music.

Sepultura – Beneath The Remains                                                                                  – Arise:

Two from the once mighty Sepultura. Sepultura did not invent thrash, but they sure perfected it.  With back to back albums they produced two classics of the genre. Led by one of the best voices and riffmeisters in thrash, Max Cavalera. The band also features two of the most overlooked musicians in metal, Igor Caverlera on drums and Andreas Kisser on lead guitar. Kissesr lays down some of the most melodic leads in thrash.

Honorable Mention: Albums that were close to making the top 10:
Extol – Burial
Stryper -In God We Trust
– Reborn
Overkill – The Years Of Decay
Extreme – III Sides To Every Story
Tourniquet – Pathogenic Ocular Dissonance