The Music Tag (A Blog Hop)

I’m not gonna lie – I was SO excited when Victoria Grace Howell nominated me for this blog tag (thank you, Tori!) that this was my reaction.

OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration… But music is one of my many loves in life, along with writing, books, and tea. So if you’re a music fan as well, fair warning: This post features YouTube videos. It also features links to more YouTube videos. I tried not to go overboard… but you still might be here a while. 😉

First, like any blog tag, let’s start with…

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Chronicling The Craft: Draft #3 – 60% Progress Report

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Plus, Four Songs from Leah’s Kings & Queens That Appear on the WIP’s Playlist

Chronicling The Craft is a series where I share my experience with working on my YA fantasy novel THE KEEPER’S CURSE, which is now in its third draft. These articles alternate between a) progress updates and fun “TKC-related” content, and b) revising / editing tips. Today’s post marks 60% completion of Draft #3 with another progress report and more songs on TKC’s novel playlist.

It’s time for another update! And you know what’s better that giving another progress report? Sharing the news that I’ve met my stretch goal for cutting TKC’s word count!!

Guardians of the Galaxy dance-off

Let’s dance, Star Lord!

To be honest, I’m not surprised that I reached this second goal so quickly. I was just over 2,000 words away at the 40% update; and with several overwritten chapters around the corner, it was bound to happen before this pair of Chronicles. But that doesn’t change how thrilled and relieved I am that TKC is now within the recommended word count for its genre (under 100K for YA fantasies by debut authors).

Today I’ll go more in-depth about where TKC stands and what happens now that I’ve reached my stretch goal. I’ll also introduce you to the music of melodic metal singer-songwriter Leah McHenry and share more tunes from the novel’s playlist. Ready?
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Time Flies!: September 2015

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Welcome to the latest edition of Time Flies! It’s my version of a monthly update, where I recap the past month’s accomplishments and articles, share news and random things from my offline life, and hint at what may be coming in the month ahead.

It can’t be fall. September can’t be over. I refuse to believe it!

Pikachu No gif

See? Even Pikachu agrees!

Ah, well. Denial only works for so long, right? And in some ways, I really enjoyed September. But in other ways, I ran myself into the ground halfway through the month. You probably noticed the massive output of articles over the past two months, not only here but at DIY MFA and other guest posts. In short, I demanded too much from myself over a short period of time – which led to a case of blogging fatigue. (A crazier-than-usual work schedule also didn’t help things…) I still pushed through it to stay on top of my writing, but I let a lot of other things (visiting other blogs, commenting on posts, etc.) slide because I’d simply lost the energy. And it’s not the first time I’ve done this to myself, either.

This time, I need to ensure I’ve learned my lesson. Which, in this case, means no extra blogging assignments for a while, apart from two October guest posts I’ve already committed to for DIY MFA and The Sprint Shack. More on both articles when each goes live.

All right. Let me give you a chance to catch up on the past month’s posts now:

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Music Mondays: The Mariana Hollow – “The Unburned”

If you’ve followed my music tastes over the past couple years, The Mariana Hollow may already be a familiar name to you. This alternative metal quintet from London, United Kingdom was hands down my favorite discovery during my tenure at Sonic Cathedral. Muscular rhythms, oceanic guitarscapes, evocative lyrics, and a gritty yet impassioned female voice – this unique amalgam has always made TMH a stand-out act.

Recently the band released two videos for “The Unburned”: one featuring the band, and the lyric video highlighted below. Maybe I’m biased, but how cool is the lyric video?! The archaic animations look like they came straight out of the medieval / Westeros era and make countless references to George R.R. Martin’s A Song Of Fire And Ice saga. “The Unburned” itself was inspired by the character Danaerys Targaryen. Musically, this song is like one of Dany’s dragons prowling the desert before taking flight. It builds slowly, shouldering the gravity of its riffs and a thick sultriness, as Rebecca Spinks sings with a storyteller’s passion. It’s a truly unique song from TMH’s repertoire – and if you like this track, I highly recommend you check out other songs by this band!

“The Unburned” is taken from The Mariana Hollow’s 2013 EP Scars, Not Wounds. You can read my review of the EP at Sonic Cathedral here.

 

Music Monday Review: Divided We Fall – “Dreamcrusher”

Dreamcrusher album artwork

Divided We Fall – Dreamcrusher

Rating: 2.75 / 5

Throngs of new female-fronted rock and metal bands put out albums each year. Divided We Fall is one of those many newcomers for 2014. Apparently the symphonic metal band was a surprise hit at this year’s Dames Of Darkness Festival in their native United Kingdom. So, when a friend who attended the show recommended that I check out Divided We Fall’s full-length debut album Dreamcrusher, I figured, “Why not?” Every band is worth a listen, regardless of your opinions afterwards.

Dreamcrusher offers a hybrid of dark rock and jack-hammering metal, with lighter elements that steal the spotlight. Philippa Ricketts’s pleasant, cadent voice sashays between the riffs and keyboards, which range from Transylvanian organs to synth-strings to music-box-like notes. This emphasis on atmosphere and melody softens Divided We Fall’s sound to create an accessible rock / metal balance. This approach may explain why Divided We Fall reminds me of Armonight, an up-and-coming Italian band I covered for Sonic Cathedral a couple years ago. The only difference is that Divided We Fall leans on the heavier side in terms of guitarwork and moods.

For the most part, Dreamcrusher is defined by its saturating atmospheres, Philippa’s vocals, and the brisk pace maintained from start to finish. The title track is a rousing introduction, with eddies of guitars and keys swirling at a fluid clip and Philippa giving her most affecting performance on the album. The rest of Dreamcrusher shows different angles of Divided We Fall’s sound: organ-tinged omens (“Revenge”), guitar-centric surrenders (“Fight For Love”) smooth uptempo ballads (“Dream My Life Away”), and semi-symphonic twists on fairy tales (“Escaping Wonderland”), to name a few. Closing instrumental “Departure” is the album’s only true ballad, alighting with lyrical keys before the other instruments slip in.

I can understand how Divided We Fall’s music may appeal to fans of female-fronted rock and metal, but Dreamcrusher doesn’t do much to excite me. The songs are pleasing to the ear but not particularly catchy despite the band’s melodic nature. Some elements seemed out of place, too. (Why include operatic vocals on just one song out of ten?) And while I normally try to avoid commenting on mix quality when reviewing unsigned bands (most don’t have the finances or connections to get a first-rate sound mixer), Dreamcrusher could have benefitted from a generally better mix. The keys repeatedly wash out the guitars, while the fade-out endings are too abrupt and occur surprisingly often for a rock/metal band.

All that said, imperfection should be expected on a band’s debut disc. And while Divided We Fall need to hone their songwriting and fine-tune their sound, they have succeeded in creating a distinct, energetic style. Listeners can detect influences from Evanescence, Delain, Within Temptation, and Kamelot if they concentrate hard enough. But calling Divided We Fall anyone’s copycat would be an insult to a vision that does show glimmers of promise. I wouldn’t recommend Dreamcrusher to those craving the cream of the “femme metal” crop. However, it makes a decent “gateway” album for metal newbies who might prefer something lighter and more melodic to start.

Highlights: “Dreamcrusher,” “Dream My Life Away,” “Escaping Wonderland”

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Deciding whether to buy Dreamcrusher from Amazon? Let me know whether you found my review helpful by clicking here and selecting either “Yes” or “No.”

Coming Soon: Two more Music Monday Reviews are in the pipeline, for Anathema’s Distant Satellites and Phillip Phillip’s Behind The Light.

Review of Agharti’s “Change” Now at Sonic Cathedral

Agharti Change

Agharti may be a relatively young band, but their music already shows great promise. The Croatian band’s upcoming debut album, Change, introduces listeners to a melodic alternative style that’s accessible, dynamic, and thematically balanced between personal experiences and social observations. Other defining elements include a wide array of keyboard / synthesizer sounds (including violin-like complements that could pass for the real instrument) and dual vocals (male and female) on some songs that’s reminiscent of Lacuna Coil. This is one of the few instances where, in my opinion, an up-and-coming band’s first release deserves the hype invented by its record label. So I’ve decided to call Change “one of the best ‘femme metal’ surprises of 2013.”

Click here to read my review of Agharti’s Change.

Here’s a video montage of Agharti promo photos set to “Lost,” one of the songs from Change. “Lost” is an adrenaline-filled track with hurtling rhythms, bobbing keys, and “tag-team” style vocals during the chorus that make it one of the album’s highlights.

Coming Soon: Soul-Lit’s Summer issue, which includes one of my newest poems, should be published online any day now. I’ll share the link as soon as it’s available. As for my projects, I’m continuing to work on my fantasy novel (and recently passed 13,000 words!), and I already have my next review ready for Sonic Cathedral. Speaking of Sonic Cathedral, next month marks my fifth anniversary as a staff writer there! I’m planning to celebrate with retrospects here and at my Facebook page. So stay tuned!

Review of La-Ventura’s “White Crow” Now at Sonic Cathedral

La-Ventura -- White Crow

If I had to make a list of my favorite albums from 2008, La-Ventura’s debut album A New Beginning would be in the top half of the list. The nu-metal-ish riffs, groovy rhythms, and Carla (Douw) van Huizen’s mature, passionate vocals made the band a stand-out act in their native Holland. But what really drew me to La-Ventura’s music was its emotional impact from the moody atmospheres and the earnestly written and delivered songs. Fast-forward to 2013, when White Crow presents the heavier side of La-Ventura. Here, the band focuses more on vocals and guitar riffs and grooves and less on keyboards. While the new material lacks the emotional impact of the old, I could still discern one important ingredient: “The passion we originally heard from La-Ventura still runs through the music’s veins… [T]hat quality is essential is making good music in any genre. And with White Crow, one of The Netherlands’ most promising female-fronted bands gives us another full-bodied dose of it.”

Click here to read my review of La-Ventura’s White Crow.

I know I’ve promised other blog entries. They’re coming – I just had some emerging priorities to tend to last week. So, stay tuned for a poetry announcement as well as the next installment of Chronicling The Craft!

New At Sonic Cathedral: Review of Anarchangel’s Debut EP

Anarchangel Without Armor EP cover

I’m always up for reviewing local female-fronted metal bands for Sonic Cathedral. So far, I’ve covered three Boston-area bands for the Zine: Avariel, Era For A Moment, and Evince Ethos (who changed their name this summer to Anaria). Now it’s time for Anarchangel,  one of the most unique metal acts I’ve ever listened to.

On their self-released debut EP Without Armor, Anarchangel blend a wide range of subgenres and influences together and use the talents of four singers (both male and female) to create a homogenous style that’s grungy, gritty, and colorful. The songs range from heavy and psychedelic (“Monster”), to anthemic fist-pumping (“Good vs. Evil”), to slick and groovy (“Trojan Horse”), to semi-acoustic heartache (“Skinless”). I’ll admit that Without Armor isn’t the best-sounding record I’ve heard this year.  (The poor sound quality muddies the experience and exacerbates any execution flaws.) However, I do hear a lot of potential in Anarchangel’s music. So I’m interested in hearing what else this band has to offer down the road.

Click here to read my review of Anarchangel’s Without Armor.

Updates: Venturia, Vajra, and Progtopia!

Things have been hectic lately between Thanksgiving, preparations for Christmas, and life in general. So we have a lot of catching up to do today: two CD reviews for Sonic Cathedral, and a reference to one of those reviews on a podcast!

First is my review of Venturia’s third album, Dawn Of A New Era. This album marks two major changes for the French melodic prog metal band. #1: The band has a new drummer and a new male vocalist (in current band member and founding guitarist Charly Sahona), and the vocal focus is now on female singer Lydie Lazulli instead of on the male singer. #2: Venturia has simplified their sound from quirky, experimental electro-prog to more straightforward, balanced melodic metal with reminders of the band’s unconventional roots. No wonder they named their album Dawn Of A New Era – and it’s “an era that shows real promise.”

Click here to read my review of Venturia’s Dawn Of A New Era.

Next is my review on Pleroma, the debut album by Vajra. This NYC-based band, founded by singer / songwriter / multi-instrumentalist Annamaria Pinna, combines progressive rock with Indian music. However, the Indian music is actually the more dominant style. As I point out in my review of Pleroma, “[it’s] as though Pinna focused on the Indian-inspired rhythms and melodies first and then wove in the rock influences… [Also, the] diction and subject matter (mostly spirituality and introspection) fits the music’s zen like a sword in its sheath.” This is hands down the most hypnotic album I’ve ever covered for Sonic Cathedral, and one of the most unique.

Click here to read my review of Vajra’s Pleroma.

Along the Vajra vein, my review of Pleroma was referenced in the latest episode of Progtopia! This Podomatic podcast airs every 2 to 3 weeks and features a wide variety of progressive rock and metal acts, both well-known and up-and-coming. Each episode (about 45 minutes in length) is dedicated to one artist and consists of an interview as well as clips of the featured artist’s songs. I’ve listened to several Progtopia episodes since the show began earlier this year, and I’ve found this show to be informative as well as entertaining. It’s great to discover new bands and to learn so much about their careers, artistry, and little-known facts about them. So, many thanks to Progtopia and host Mark Ashby for the shout-out! And keep up the awesome work.

Click here to listen to Progtopia’s episode “Inside The Flame Of Vajra.” The review is referenced during the first 2 to 3 minutes. And if you like the style of this podcast, make sure to check out other Progtopia episodes.

Finally, in case it’s a while before my next website update, I wish you and yours the happiest of holidays!

~ Sara

Two More Reviews at Sonic Cathedral

Two more reviews I wrote have been posted at Sonic Cathedral recently! They cover the debut albums by two bands from neighboring countries in Western Europe, and my opinions on both CDs are vastly different.

First up is my review on Antalgia’s Perception of Reality. It’s difficult for me to comfortably compare this Spanish symphonic progressive metal band to more well-known female-fronted bands. Maybe a cross between Epica, Diabulus In Musica, Evergrey, and Seventh Wonder would be appropriate…? Anyway, it was also difficult  for me to decide how to grade Perception of Reality. I enjoyed the dynamic instrumentation, which features a wide range of guitar techniques and keyboard sounds that altogether create evocative and mature soundscapes. Despite this, a number of songwriting and production miscues made me want to shake my head in bewilderment.

Click here to read my review of Antalgia’s Perception of Reality.

I had a much easier time writing about Astral Tears’ Hypnotic. It took me only three sittings of maybe 2 hours apiece to write the article. That’s quick for me! But I know the writing came easily because I’d been listening to this fantastic album almost non-stop for the past couple weeks. This melodic metal quartet from France combines gritty, powerful alternative metal with progressive traces, Middle Eastern influences, and entrancing vocals that bring to mind Lacuna Coil’s Unleashed Memories / Comalies era. Turkish-born singer Beyza has mastered the famous Arabian vocal technique, and this gives an authentic touch to the more straightforward metal anthems and sounds right at home with the more ethnic-flavored tracks.

Click here to read my review of Astral Tears’ Hypnotic.

Poetry-related news will come later this month! Until then, hope you’re all well – and Happy 4th of July to all of my fellow Americans!

~ Sara