Northtale’s Welcome to Paradise, Album Review

NorthTale is a recently formed power metal super group that signed to Nuclear Blast records in 2018. The band consists of members Bill Hudson (ex-Cellador, ex-Power Quest), Patrick Johansson (drummer, Sabaton fill-in, G3 drummer and W.A.S.P.), Christian Eriksson (Ex-Twilight Force), Mikael Planefeldt and Jimmy Pitts.

Welcome to Paradise is there first album.

First things first, this album is fantastic. While it certainly has its moments of cheesy, redundant and over-the-top power metal, those aren’t prevalent as often as other power metal bands such as Power Quest. However, in regards to Power Quest, that over-the-top power metal playing is precisely the reason that I listen to them.

In Northtale’s case, there strength lies in the guitar abilities of Bill Hudson, keyboardist Jimmy Pitts and the high intensity vocals of Christian Eriksson, former vocalist of the epic power metal band Twilight Force. While the vocals carry the entirety of the album laden with positive messages (hence Welcome to Paradise (city?)), the album carries a strong neoclassical influence from the guitars and keyboards, and especially on the song “Siren’s Fall” where a dueling guitar and keyboard solo ensues midway through.

Taking nods indirectly from Stratovarius, “Playing with Fire” is another highlight track from the record. In fact, the entire album is one large fire of guitar solos and harmonies. The most damage from the song to your ears are the blisteringly fast solos, and I’m serious when I say that the album is one long firebending of keyboard and guitar solos.

The rhythm is incredibly tight on the album, with Planefeldt and Johansson carrying their duties diligently. However, I can’t help but feel that the rhythm section in most power metal bands are starting to become a weak point. While it’s understandable that it is essentially required to have a strong, consistent rhythm section for the melodic aspects of a power metal band to fall over, there is a certain redundancy in this aspect of the genre that gets carried on from band to band and album to album.

Still, NorthTale’s debut album is an ideal starting point for a neoclassical, power metal band. I hope that the band continues to expand and possibly take themselves in a heavier and darker direction than their first album, and hope that the guitarist and keyboardist continues to provide a neoclassical feel to subsequent albums.

Score: 7.5/10

Nick Drake, Pink Moon Review

To call this a review of an album would be wrong on my end. I’ve been listening to Nick Drake’s Pink Moon everyday for the last eight months. Initially, I had no reason to listen to his music at all. It seemed too confessional and rural for my tastes. I felt that the music was incredibly simple and barren on Pink Moon, featuring only a guitar and Nick Drake’s vocals.

But while there was certainly a rural sound to it similar to his first album, Five Leaves Left, I began to realize that this album had more of a street vibe going on. You know, just a man singing and playing his guitar on the side of the road for passersby. Don’t get me wrong, Nick Drake doesn’t sound anything like an amateur street-player. He’s an incredibly gifted guitarist and songwriter, and playing his guitar parts and singing simultaneously is more like rubbing your belly, tapping your head, tapping your foot and milking a cow at the same time, and then some. He’s got a great sense of timing and a unique since of Rhythm within a flow-like state of tempo.

Songs like “Which Will” and “Place to Be” really have that rhythm I am talking about. As a result of only playing guitar and singing on this record, the guitar has to fill a large space, functioning as both the rhythm, the melody accenting the vocals, and the instrumental portions of each song. Better, still, is how Drake complements the intricate guitar lines with odd times to come in for vocals. The accent for the vocal melody in “Place to Be” and “Parasite” comes in at the 2nd beat instead of the first. Because of the way he phrases his vocals on this album, we’re given a sense of that existential unease. Rather than simply singing of his loss of direction or purpose, each song serves to elevate that unease. We never really get a break from that unease either. Even approaching the end of the album, “Free Ride” and “Harvest” have mysterious and beautiful rhythms and melodies playing with each other. And of course, the constant bass notes on “From the Morning” closes the album with a since of optimism and that uneasiness. Like I said, there’s never really a break in the songs. They aren’t necessarily directionless or constant, but they do give off the feeling of a directionless, yet hopeful man.

Every song on the album, while short in length, is introspective and relatable in a human sense. Which is part of what made this album so close to me, because much of what he sings about had the same feelings and thoughts I had last year after nearly two years of depression. The music I was writing at the time was very angry, yet my own music lacked that sense of loss and motionlessness. While minimal in nature, Nick Drake’s Pink Moon conveys a very human record with questions and issues every individual human encounters at some point in life. And this is also likely the reason why I fell so deeply in love with the album; because of the nature of the record, I had a companion of sound to my own bouts of depression and, because of it, I’ve survived to let others know that there is music from people who know what you’re going through.

Score: 10/10

William Ackerman’s Passage Review

There’s a calm in the air as I type up this review. I am currently listening to William Ackerman’s album Passage. There is a guitarist sitting under a tree and playing to the clarity of his heart and the rhythm of his soul. Sound-wise, the album definitely falls under the new age genre, although this doesn’t have the same ambiance as a record full of synthesizer and electronic effects. It’s mainly a steel string guitar record, but the album also features piano, cello, violin, and English horn on individual songs. The sixth song on the record, “Hawk Circle”, for instance, has the piano playing a beautiful melody that circles in on itself multiple times while remaining in unison with the acoustic guitar. It’s clear there is a sad quality to the song, with my guess being that the song is about clash of hawks battling each other in the forest, a sad moment indeed to see nature fight herself.

Songs like the second track, “Impending Death of the Virgin”, present the guitar as an awakening of sorts, bringing to mind all of the things we associate with virginal qualities, both sexually and metaphorically. It feels good to understand how things work in the world, but there is a deadly quality to hearing the guitar tell you what you’re gaining, understanding, and what you’re losing, innocence. It’s a coming of age within an instrumental context.

Passage is the closing track on the record, and it definitely feels like a continuation of the music journey at a later time. It constantly flows and features only the guitar, a fitting way to end a predominantly guitar-based record to begin with. In this song, I imagine crossing a river leading to a waterfall surrounded on both sides by two stone monuments… essentially this scene from Lord of the Rings, and just as cool.

Nick Drake, Bryter Layter

Nick Drake’s second album might have been a distinct departure from the pastoral identity of his first album Five Leaves Left, but it is no less folk music because of it. While critics at the time described the album as an awkward mix of folk guitar and cocktail jazz, the record is more a folk album with pop dealings in today’s music terms.

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Stellaris. Or, Taking Over the Galaxy, One Star System at a Time

Welcome, Star Slime! For that is what you shall henceforth be known as while I address this letter to you and your budding strategists for conquering the galaxy.

First things first, who likes unemployment? Yes? Me too. I love not working. Or… no? Okay, you might not like this game. And I’m not just talking about unemployment in the real world, because that’d be too easy to sum up this review letter! No, you’ll also experience unemployment on the planets that you colonize and conquer throughout your journey to become the greatest space-faring civilization in your randomly generated galaxy’s history!

WOOOOOO! Unemployment!!!
  1. There are Fallen Empires. These are ancient civilizations, thousands of years old, that rapidly progressed in technological progress before falling off the deep end and stagnating for several hundred to a thousand years.

There are also empires that somehow developed and progressed to the point of FTL travel at the exact same time as your empire in the year 2200 on 01/01/2200. How exactly every regular empire in the game managed to acquire FTL travel at the exact same time as your civilization is beyond me, but hey, this game is customizable and interpretive. Write your own narrative for it! You can choose among the pre-made empires and races, or you can create your own, giving them their own copious backstory and other minuet details to create not just the basis for a perfect galactic species, but a perfect galactic empire filled with many species.

So many buildings and things to see… so little work to do…

Ultimately, I play my empire fairly standard. I’ve been trying to get as many Steam achievements as possible, so I play on Iron Man mode right now, which is great fun and hard because you can’t just save and go back when your empire is getting crushed by a 5x more powerful crisis.

I modeled my empire after the Roman Republic and called it the Triarian Republic. Parallel to Roman civilization, my galactic civilization began as a republic, then transformed into a full-blown imperial empire after I acquired Psionic traits and contacted the Shroud (basically mental telepathy equivalent to the battle meditation ability in Star Wars KOTOR II, but way cooler and the whole species can use it). I am accepting of all the galaxy’s species as long as they are subservient to my Empire’s will. The big difference between my empire and the Roman one? Mine is led mainly by a venerable group of bipedal lizards and my God-Empress is immortal (please don’t get the drug abuser trait, God-Empress! I love you, live forever).

So, Star Slime, are you ready for the worst? Because you’ll also have to fight endgame crises! Invaders from other dimensions, inter-galactic devourers, and sentient AI that tries to take over the galaxy as well!

Doesn’t this all sound like fun? Are you feeling it now Mr. Slime? Are you feeling it now Mr. Slime? Are you feeling it now? Are you feeling it…

… the grind of exploring a randomly generated galaxy. The rising unemployment of a diverse empire. Developing your species to be mental telepathics. And ultimately taking over a galaxy filled with mortal dangers that could destroy your empire at any moment and cause you to cry at all the progress you lost in-game?

Does this all sound like fun? Yes! Look, I know I’m painting out this game to be more of a time-sucking bore than it is a great strategy game, but I’ve sunk over 280 hours into the game since May of last year. This is an incredibly relaxing and slow-going game up until you get sucked into a war with a Fallen Empire you can’t beat. But the game is equal bits empire management and equal bits space-battles. And it’s entirely in real time, which is an awesome way of saying that you get to watch your empire conquer other empires without having to wait for the AIs next moves. Your empire will constantly be progressing, and the reward for picking the right technological, warfare, and economic upgrade is that you develop your empire faster and faster until, before you know it, you’ve conquered the entirety of the fictional Andromeda Galaxy! If that’s what you want to call it, of course.

Next time I’ll talk about Death Stars… ahem, I meant The Colossus.

Destroying planets full of life! Hurray!

Score: 9/10

FM’s Direct to Disc, Album Review (1978)

Imagine yourself stranded in a desolate spaceship, looking down the long hallway of a metallic gray corridor. Five doors on each side surround you, and in order to escape this spaceship and find your way back to safety, you have to go through each door in order to find the exit. Some of the doors are locked, some of them aren’t locked but won’t budge, and only two of the doors will open.

Continue reading “FM’s Direct to Disc, Album Review (1978)”