Time Flies!: January 2016

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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.

Ah, January. In some ways, I can’t stand this month. It means winter – which also means cold, snow, ice, and other seasonal yuck. Can you blame me for counting down the days to spring? (49!!) But in other ways, January was a sigh of relief. After one of the most hectic Decembers I can remember, relaxing and returning to a slower, somewhat normal routine has never been more welcome.

Olaf impaled

I couldn’t resist an Olaf gif here. XD

Before I go much further – a quick word to anyone waiting for the next edition of the Character Evolution Files. It’s coming, I promise. Between three big blogging commitments last month (Chronicling The Craft, a guest post for WriteOnSisters, and my next DIY MFA article), I didn’t have time to start drafting File No. 6 until this past week. And when writing lengthy articles (which often have minds of their own) and juggling deadlines, sometimes you have to reshuffle your priorities.

So, yes. Character Evolution File No. 6 should post in mid-to-late February. Stay tuned for that as well as a call for character interview questions (Tuesday, February 2nd) and the blog’s first guest post (Tuesday, February 9th)! Oh, and the guest post I’m working on for WriteOnSisters? Ohhhhhh I can’t tell you how THRILLED I am about it. 😀

For now, let’s recap January’s happenings.

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Time Flies!: April 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.

This month has soared by, which makes this series’ title all the more appropriate. April 2015 was a good month, though, and May already has a shot at surpassing it. Tomorrow I’m attending Muse and the Marketplace for the first time, and I can’t WAIT! I’ve sort of “disappeared” from my online haunts this week to prepare for the event (researching presenters, drafting a practice pitch for The Keeper’s Curse, double-checking train and event schedules, etc.). If I haven’t returned comments or emails recently, that’s one of the reasons why. I hope you understand, and I’m aiming to catch up on things next week.

OK. Recap time!

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My 10 Favorite Albums of 2014

If I could use one word to describe the music of 2014 for me, it would be “weird.” Firstly, it was a year of transition and rediscovery music-wise. In May, I left my music-reviewing post at Sonic Cathedral after 5½ years so I could concentrate on novel-writing and other creative pursuits. Suddenly I had more freedom – and time! – to listen to genres besides female-fronted rock and metal. That explains why this year’s Top 10 list features the most variety I’ve ever had in my end-of-year countdowns. Yay! 🙂

Secondly, the quality of 2014’s music took me on a bumpy rollercoaster ride. There were awesome surprises, huge disappointments, and an unusually high number of “in-betweens” that I needed to replay several times before knowing how I felt about them. And in some ways, my #1 pick summarizes my year of music: It tips its hat to my “head-banging” past while shocking the hell out of me – in the best way possible. In fact, I don’t think my SC colleagues would have seen this one coming (except for one – she knows who she is, because it’s all her fault *winks*).

Buckled in? Then let’s go! Continue reading

Music Monday Review: Stream of Passion – “A War Of Our Own”

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Stream Of Passion – A War Of Our Own

Rating: 4.5 /5

After leaving Napalm Records last year due to creative differences, Dutch prog-symphonic metallers Stream Of Passion have opted to go unsigned and forge their own destiny. The band chose to involve their fans in this leap of faith, and financed their next album through an immensely successful Indiegogo campaign (nearly doubling their goal of €25,000). Donors and other fans alike can now savor the fruits of SoP’s labor of love: A War Of Our Own is without a doubt the band’s most consistent and – no pun intended – impassioned album of the band’s career.

A War Of Our Own shows Stream Of Passion continuing down the “symphonic metal” road less travelled. The band focuses on the metal elements first, then molds the string quartet around that foundation. Thus, the thick guitars, intricate piano-playing, challenging arrangements, and Marcela Bovio’s entrancing voice remain front and center. Marcela’s Mexican heritage appears once again through Latin music influences (which first surfaced in 2011’s Darker Days) and her multi-lingual lyrics (which have always been a part of SoP’s sound).

What sets A War Of Our Own apart from other Stream of Passion albums are its progressiveness, contrasts, and musical and lyrical heaviness. “Monster,” “Exile,” “Earthquake,” and “The Curse,” for starters, balance corrosive riffs and atypical time signatures with haunting melodies, quieter passages, and a wide variety of hooks. Other songs like “Don’t Let Go,” “Autophobia,” and the title track feature more traditional structures with those distinctive SoP elements. Lyrically, Marcela explores conflicts of all kinds: relationships, internal, and cultural, particularly current events in her native country. Her emotionally engaging writing style makes her a true storyteller and is accentuated by her moving vocals.

I really have no complaints about A War Of Our Own. A few tracks (“Secrets” and the bonus “The Distance Between Us”) don’t shine for me as brightly as others do, but this is the first Stream Of Passion album where I don’t skip any songs. I can listen to it all the way through because I either like or love each track. It took a while for me to decide on my favorite tracks, which only speaks more to the album’s overall strength.

A War Of Our Own is much more than Stream Of Passion’s “emancipation proclamation.” It’s a gorgeously bold statement of worldliness, identity, and defiance. The band has unleashed their creativity like never before and proved that their fans – the people who matter most to the band – care about their vision for their music. If you’re looking for the truest representation of Stream Of Passion’s sound or for female-fronted metal bands that focus more on emotion and songwriting with only a hint of symphonic bombast, you’d be muy loco to overlook this stunning War.

Highlights: “Monster,” “The Curse,” “Exile,” “Out Of The Darkness”

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

Coming Soon: Expect my final CD review at Sonic Cathedral (for Die So Fluid’s The Opposites Of Lightand a new Recent Reads (book review of Lynn Kurland’s Dreamspinner) later this week!

Music Monday Review: Vanishing Point – “Distant Is The Sun”

**NOTE: Starting with today’s review, Mini-Review Mondays will be renamed to Music Monday Reviews.**

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Vanishing Point – Distant Is The Sun

Rating: 4 /5

I first heard of Vanishing Point in 2011 when frontman Silvio Massaro joined prog-symphonic metallers and fellow Australians Divine Ascension for the duet “Answers” (featured on Divine Ascension’s As The Truth Appears – a great album, by the way!). Silvio’s powerful and gravelly yet melodic voice caught my attention right away, and I knew I’d have to check out his band and their music. Turns out Vanishing Point was in the midst of a hiatus due to lineup changes and creative blocks at the time. Now they’ve returned with Distant Is The Sun, their first album in 7 years and a superb example of melodic power metal.

Distant Is The Sun combines the fast tempos and rapid-fire rhythms of power metal with lush keyboards and synths and occasional progressive turns. This description might cause new listeners to think Vanishing Point’s a Kamelot copycat –that couldn’t be further from the truth. Vanishing Point focuses more on guitar muscle and opts for symphonic atmospheres instead of full-blown bombast. Lead single “Where Truth Lies” is a fantastic example of Vanishing Point’s sound, with an incredible chorus that sticks in your head long after the song finishes.

As most power metal bands do, Vanishing Point sticks mostly to uptempo tracks on Distant Is The Sun. “King Of Empty Promises,” the title track, and “Circle Of Fire,” which features Sonata Arctica singer Tony Kakko, are among the strongest of the bunch. The band does foray into ballad territory with the rousing sing-along “Let The River Run” and the forlorn “Story Of Misery.” They also surprise listeners with two exceptional instrumentals, the short yet power-packed “Beyond Redemption” and the delicately acoustic “April.”

At the same time, Distant Is The Sun has its flaws. Power metal has never been known for its variety, and this record’s an example of that. It excels at maintaining energy from start to finish, but after an hour’s worth of almost all uptempo tracks my brain feels as though it’s run a marathon. Vanishing Point also overindulge themselves musically at times. With a few songs, they cram in too many dramatic elements (usually synth-strings) or rhythm enhancers (staccato riffs, machine-gun drumming and double-kicking) all at once and risk overwhelming the listener.

Apart from that, Vanishing Point have done themselves proud with Distant Is The Sun. They capture their genre’s melodramatic glory by relying on guitar muscle and melodic flair and not so much on symphonic bravado. This record should win back long-time Vanishing Point fans as well as attract new followers who enjoy Kamelot, Sonata Arctica, Silent Force, and other similar bands. And when an album can succeed with that goal, you know you’ve got a winner.

Highlights: “King Of Empty Promises,” “Where Truth Lies,” “Let The River Run,” “April”

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

Coming Soon: The next Music Monday Review will cover another excellent album – Stream Of Passion’s A War Of Our Own!  I’ll also post a Recent Read later this week on Insurgent, the second book in Veronica Roth’s “Divergent” trilogy.

Mini-Review Monday: “Medea” by Ex Libris

Welcome to the first installment of Mini-Review Mondays! I started the meme on my Facebook page a few weeks ago and thought it was time to introduce it on the blog.

On Mini-Review Mondays, I’ll post a fairly short review (2 or 3 paragraphs long – short for me!) of an album I’ve recently purchased. Expect the reviews to cover the same genres of music I’ve reviewed for other sites: different styles of rock and metal, with maybe some pop or other genres thrown in here and there. Reviews will be posted as new music comes my way, so probably a few times a month instead of every Monday. I hope you’ll enjoy them!

Now, time for the first mini-review… Continue reading

Review of Ayreon’s “The Theory Of Everything” Now at Sonic Cathedral

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There are few musicians out there who create music that I’d call a “playground of sound.” Arjen Lucassen is one of those few. He’s the mastermind behind several progressive rock and metal projects, most notably Ayreon. And after a 5-year hiatus from Ayreon to follow other musical pursuits, Lucassen has returned to his signature rock opera with The Theory Of Everything, a story about ambition, greed, finding your life’s purpose, and solving one of physics’ most elusive equations. (And yes, the title is a direct reference to “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”!) Like past Ayreon albums, Theory stirs prog rock with heavy metal, electronic music, and folk influences; and features a host vocal and musical talent, including Marco Hietala (Nightwish), Cristina Scabbia (Lacuna Coil), Tommy Karevik (Kamelot / Seventh Wonder), and Troy Donockley (Nightwish). So, how is it different from its predecessors – and do those differences affect the listener’s experience with the album?

Click here to read my review of Ayreon’s The Theory Of Everything.

Below is a video trailer for The Theory Of Everything. It doesn’t feature any vocal snippets, but you’ll get a good feel for the music’s range and power. Have a look and listen!

Coming Soon: I may have an Open Mic Announcement in the next couple weeks. Otherwise, things are quiet on the outside right now, but productive behind the scenes. Stay tuned!

Five Years at Sonic Cathedral – A Retrospective, Part 3: Artists #10 through #6

Finally getting around to the next part of my retrospective! We’re halfway through the countdown of my 20 favorite artists that I’ve covered at Sonic Cathedral over the past 5 years. If you’ve missed the first two installments, now’s a great time to catch up:

Part 1: Artists #20 through #16

Part 2: Artists #15 through #11

Which means that today I’ll reveal the first half of my top 10. 😉 And remember that you can catch the daily version of the countdown at my official Facebook page.

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Five Years at Sonic Cathedral – A Retrospective, Part 2: Artists #15 through #11

As you may already know, I’m celebrating 5 years of writing for Sonic Cathedral by counting down my 20 favorite artists covered at the SC WebZine. I revealed Artists #20 through #16 last week. Today, it’s time to reveal #15 through #11. So let’s continue!

By the way, a big apology that the artist photos in the previous SC Retrospective article. I’m not sure what happened in the uploading process, since they were all of decent size to begin with.

NOTE: If you’d prefer to catch the daily version of the countdown, please visit and “like” my official Facebook page.

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New at Sonic Cathedral: Review of Misth’s “Rise Of A New Day”

Misth Rise Of A New Day cover

I’ll come right out and say it: Misth’s Rise Of A New Day will be at or near the top of my favorite albums list for 2013. This Swedish progressive hard rock band combines the talents of Mercury Fan’s musicians with the force-to-be-reckoned-with voice of Maria Rådsten (One More Time). And their debut album mixes elements of hard rock, classic rock, heavy metal, and progressive rock/metal to create a homogenous collective of 10 songs that are fun, emotive, and timeless. I actually go so far as to call Rise Of A New Day ” the “femme metal” revelation of the year.” But I’m sure you’d like to read more specifics than that, right?

Click here to read my review of Misth’s Rise Of A New Day.

And here’s the music video for the album’s title track. The mix of styles and Maria’s incredible voice grabbed me right away and convinced me to further investigate Misth’s music. There’s also a strong symphonic influence in the keyboards – something you don’t hear anywhere else on Rise Of A New Day, but that’s fine. It makes the song unique and compliments its bombastic tone.

Coming Soon: My review of Edenbridge’s eighth album The Bonding – and the next installment of “Chronicling The Craft”!