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2014 Album Micro-Reviews

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Gonna try something new this year. I’m not that great at writing album reviews, so I’ll just keep them super short! These aren’t all the albums I listened to this year, but ones that stood out to me, or ones from artists I follow closely. In no particular order:

TriosphereThe Heart Of The Matter: Polished, diverse, catched, powerful; one of my favorites this year. They have found their stride and are a force to be reckoned with.

AmarantheMassive Addictive: More diverse songs, doesn’t feel as derivative as The Nexus did. Still is catchy and has that unique blend of melodic and aggression.

OpethPale Communion: If you were expecting old Opeth, you’ll be disappointed. This sounds like the direction they wanted Heritage to go, but couldn’t quite commit to.

Devin Townsend ProjectSky Blue: The first half of the Z2 set. It’s a mix of Addicted (one of my favorites) and Epicloud (which I thought was eh). Will take a few listens to get used to, but initially enjoyed.

Sonata ArcticaEcliptica – Revisited: 15th Anniversary Edition: Ecliptica was one of my first power metal albums, and still is one of my favorites. Recording isn’t as muddled as the original, but it failed to excite me. Downtuned songs and not enough to make it feel fresh, or worth revisiting.

Sonata ArcticaPariah’s Child: Old power metal Sonata meets more recent progressive influenced Sonata. As a lover of both styles, I’m not sure why I didn’t like it more.

EpicaThe Quantum Enigma: Really blew me away with its solid songwriting and pure force. Expected usual Epica, got epic Epica.

Within TemptationHydra: Following their progression away from gothic elements and more rock oriented. Not a bad thing, Sharon still sounds great, symphony is still there, just not in your face. Also, Tarja + Sharon = Win. They lead me into symphonic metal and this collaboration was a long time coming.

2014: My Year In Scrobbles

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Total Scrobbles In 2014
4341 scrobbles

First Track Of 2014
NightwishTaikatalvi (Good way to start out the year, with Imaginaerum!)

Last Track Of 2014
AyreonDay Twenty: Confrontation

Top Artists Of 2014
1) Nightwish – 385 scrobbles
2) Dream Theater – 288 scrobbles
3) Sonata Arctica – 265 scrobbles
4) Ayreon – 241scrobbles
5) Within Tempation – 156 scrobbles

Sonata and Ayreon switched back, and Within Temptation makes a return to my top 5. This means it’s just the same as 2012!

Top Albums Of 2014
1) AyreonThe Theory of Everything – 124 scrobbles
2) NightwishShowtime, Storytime – 98 scrobbles
3) AyreonThe Human Equation – 82 scrobbles
4) NightwishImaginaerum – 64 scrobbles
5) Within TemptationHydra – 64 scrobbles

Interesting breakdown this year. The Theory Of Everything actually takes number one, possibly due to it’s numerous, shorter tracks. That, coupled with the fact that it really doesn’t do it justice to listen to bits and pieces of it, means I was more likely to listen to the entire album in one go. Showtime, Storytime sky rocketed up there, which doesn’t really surprise me. Floor was absolutely killer on that album! The Human Equation and Imaginaerum are pretty much chart topping mainstays at this point. And then new comer Hydra, which was very likeable and got songs stuck in my head makes its debut this year.

Top Tracks Of 2014
1) NightwishStorytime – 22
2) NightwishEver Dream – 21 scrobbles
3) NightwishI Want My Tears Back – 16 scrobbles
3) NightwishSong of Myself – 16 scrobbles
5) NightwishShe Is My Sin – 15 scrobbles

Wow, so Nightwish took over. Although doesn’t breakdown which albums the track came from, I’m fairly sure that all of these are at the top due to Showtime, Storytime. Because Floor is absolutely stellar on that album! I probably said that already. But it’s true.

See you next year!

Artist: Sonata Arctica
Supporting: Xandria and Delain
Date: September 28th, 2014
Location: San Francisco
Venue: The Regency Grand Ballroom
Tour: Pariah’s Child World Tour

Remarks: Having skipped San Francisco on their Stones Grows Her Name tour, it’s been a whole 4 years since I last saw Sonata Arctica. Although I was still kinda peeved that they skipped us last tour, all was quickly forgotten upon entering the venue! Not only did they come back, but they brought along my recent favorite, Delain, as well as long tenured German band Xandria.

Although they’ve been around for quite some time, Xandria never quite made it onto my music radar. Once they hit the stage though, I was totally blown away. It was very powerful and bombastic, which really reminded me of Nightwish’s Oceanborn-Wishmaster days mixed with the more recent material of Epica. The songs were very much a rollercoaster ride with lots of ups and downs, build ups and thrilling releases. They are currently fronted by the dazzling Dianne van Giersbergen, who drifted from a soft and sweet voice to a powerful operatic voice very seamlessly. They played a short set of 5 songs, but it was more than enough to get me interested. I look forward to digging into their discography and hearing more!

Xandria‘s Setlist
Blood on My Hands

Next up was Dutch rockers Delain. They’re still relatively new, but they seem to be gathering major traction as of late, with good reason. I actually find myself listening to them more and more. I’m actually surprised I didn’t catch on to them sooner. Mastermind Martijn Westerholt is the brother to Robert Westerholt; one of the masterminds behind Within Temptation. Not only that, but Marco from Nightwish produces their albums and sings on them too! It’s a blast to see them live too, as I think Charlotte is one of my favorite frontwomen; she gets so excited and you can tell she’s genuinely having fun up there. They had an enjoyable setlist with a good mix of new and old material. I don’t think it’ll be much longer until we see them headlining their own tour in the US, which I can’t wait for!

Delain‘s Playlist
Mother Machine

Get the Devil Out of Me
Army of Dolls
Milk and Honey
Sleepwalkers Dream
The Gathering

We Are the Others

Sonata Arctica has always had fun shows, and this one was pretty much just as expected. Tony is still the character he is on stage, singing animatedly and knowing when to be serious or goofy. They moved Henrik to the back row next to Tommy, but he donned his keytar a lot of the time and made sure to travel around the stage. Tommy was rock solid behind his kit as usual. Elias as well! This was the first time seeing the new bassist Pasi on stage. While it’s weird not to see the stoic face of Marko, Pasi seems to fit right in. He definitely knows his way around the bass as he had several opportunites to show that off, and he is also very animated while playing.

Sonata Arctica‘s Playlist
(As the lights dimmed, a symphonic version of Larger Than Life blasted for their intro.)
The Wolves Die Young (A very fun and very catchy song. Pasi stole the spotlight and made sure everyone knew he could play bass in that very brief bass flurry right before the first verse. Tony came in nice and clear, his voice is still going strong!)

Losing My Insanity
My Land
In the Dark
Cloud Factory (Tony tells us that there were some factories back home in Kemi that left a lasting impression on him as a young child and many years later, this is the result.)
Black Sheep
Last Drop Falls (Is line-moshing a thing? If it’s not already one, they started doing it here tonight.)
Flag in the Ground
I Have a Right
X Marks The Spot (Definitely their silliest song of the night. Tony got way into it, especially the breakdown part in the middle with the crowd interaction.)
Letter to Dana (Really glad this made its way back into the setlist, as it’s definitely one of their classics. At the end, the other guys continued with the refrain while Tony did some freestyling. I couldn’t quite catch it, but it wasn’t the lines added in the Returned To Sender version, which I really think adds a whole new dimension to the song.
FullMoon (The song started with tony sitting on the speaker right in front of us, looking pensive. Naturally, this one is a huge fan favorite! RUN AWAY!)
Kingdom for a Heart (Yet another track off Ecliptica, which makes sense with it being the 15th anniversary.)
San Sebastian

Wolf & Raven (Another song I was really happy that came back into the rotation. It was one of the first Sonata songs I heard and it still is one of my favorite. Elias and Henrik tore it up together here!)
Don’t Say a Word (Tony really becomes a character in this song, really becoming unhinged in the middle, which is always a blast to see. Naturally, they couldn’t end the show without a little bit of WODKA!)

Artist: Within Temptation
Support: Amaranthe
Date: September 25th, 2014
Location: San Francisco
Venue: Regency Grand Ballroom
Tour: Hydra World Tour

This concert has been a long time coming. Within Temptation show how much they have grown as a band since their last US tour almost exactly 7 years ago. Their popularity has grown quite significantly. Last time they were in San Francisco, they filled Slim’s; this time around they filled the Regency Grandball room, on the floor and upstairs. That’s quite a feat! I don’t think I’ve seen that venue that packed before (seated shows excluded). Production-wise, they’re known for creating a huge and visually appealing stage presence. Just look at any of their live DVD releases and you’ll know that this is one thing they absolutely do not skimp on. Last time they were here, they had a backdrop screen that was barely visible. This time? Huge Hydra banner flying above, and a 5 panel LED screen that played visualizations, accompanying music videos, and guest-giant faces. It really accented their performance and while the cost of lugging that thing around is probably quite high, it really blows out other performances and puts other bands to shame. Musically, they’ve evolved and embraced more rock and metal elements, letting the emphasis on the symphony take a back seat to the band, and naturally Sharon. Strangely enough, Sharon seems to be the only thing that hasn’t changed that much. She sounds, and looks, just as beautiful as she did 7 years ago. Her voice fits juast as well in a symphonic song as it does a rock song, and shows no sign of weakening anytime soon.

Support came from Amaranthe, who have this crazy blend of alternative metal, melodic/power metal, and Eurobeat keyboards. This crazy blend is what really drew me to them, but it also made me wonder how they would pull off this unique sound live. The solution was of course to backtrack the keyboards, something so simple I totally overlooked it. Unfortunately, at least for the first few songs I listened to with earplugs, the mix was not good. I couldn’t hear the keyboards at all, and the vocals were hit or miss, something that can be expected when you have a total of 3 vocalists wanting to be heard. It made it a little crowded on stage, but they did a good job of rotating in and out. Elize Ryd, the female vocalist, sounded amazing, and became more impressive as the setlist went on. From the sweet into of the power ballad Amaranthine, to the high chorus of Drop Dead Cynical, she nailed it all. Her male counterpoint, Jake E did a fine job pumping up the crowd and singing his own. but when it came to the choruses and backing up Elize, his voice seemed to get lost behind everything else going on. With how layered their music is, that’s unfortunate because it didn’t give the choruses that soaring, grand feeling that it does on the albums. That didn’t stop them from delivering a high energy, driven set, debuting several new songs from their upcoming album. I certainly saw a fair share of, “what are we listening to” looks in the crowd, but there was a surprisingly large number of pre-existing Amaranthe fands out there!

Amaranthe‘s Setlist:
Digital World
Massive Addictive
1.000.000 Lightyears
Call Out My Name
Drop Dead Cynical
The Nexus

Like I said, Within Temptation definitely brought their all to this concert, showing that they are bigger and better than ever. Not only was their stage set up impressive, but their stage presence was impressive as well. Mini-platforms on both sides to give that extra boost. Though there were 6 people on stage, the 4 mobile members were really good about visiting every part of the stage. We were on stage left, right in front of the guitarist Ruud and e looked like he was having a blast! The keyboardist Martijn was right behind him, and he was spread out across two keyboards, but performed with a very stoic aura about him. Across the stage, bassist Jeroen was rocking out very heavily and at times was quite dramatic with his movements! Sharon was all over the place. Up, down, left, right, jumping, dancing, she was doing it all. I’m not sure if it’s because they had more space on stage, or if she’s become much more comfortable on stage, but it’s quite a stark contrast from last time I saw them where she was pretty static and content with doing her mystic arm movements. She was giving off lots of energy, jumping up and down a lot, and she even added a couple little dance routines that were downright adorable!

Since their last US tour, they’ve had two albums come out, so it’s only natural that their setlist was was skewed towards newer material. It was definitely a heavier, more rock oriented setlist as well, which was perfectly fine by me. That didn’t stop the crowd from going wild when they started playing some of their back catalog though! Although I didn’t hear a lot of the older stuff that I love, and I’m still not intimately familiar with Hydra, I was very pleased with the setlist. Good balance of old and new, high energy, and a very fast paced, driven night!

Within Temptation‘s Setlist:
Paradise (What About Us?) (Very exciting start to the show! Seeing as it was their first show of the tour, there weren’t exactly any guarantees as to what setlist we would hear. I absolutely love this song, two of the voices that got me into (symphonic) metal finally coming together! No Tarja present, so they had the music video playing on the screen. It’s kinda strange hearing Sharon stop singing and having to look in the background to see Tarja singing her part. In the bridge/breakdown, Sharon sounded absolutely stunning!)

Faster (If the previous song wasn’t enough to get our blood flowing, they demanded we go Faster! Lots of Sharon and Ruud jumping around on this one. I also like the well timed “Hey! Hey! Hey!”s to the music, it was a lot more catchy and fun to do than just a repeated “Hey!”)
Let Us Burn (Gotta admit, this song was stuck in my head for a week after the concert, and then they announced their new DVD entitled Let Us Burn, and it got stuck in my head all over again…)
In the Middle of the Night (Another exciting, high paced song. The crowd started cheering once the guitarists started playing. Once again, another great performance by Sharon here, possibly my favorite vocal performance of the night by her.)
Fire and Ice (Finally, a chance to catch our breath a little, a little slower and more dramatic song.)
Our Solemn Hour (Everyone disappeared off the stage and the lights dimmed.Then some ominous, dramatic intro started. I had no clue what song it was… until the infamous voice of Winston Churchill started speaking to us. Was pretty obvious after that! I really do love this bombastic, thrilling song!)
Stand My Ground (One of the big crowd favorites of the night. Not only did they enhance this song by playing parts of music video in the background, but we got lightnin and strobes too!)
Summertime Sadness (A cover of Lana Del Rey’s hit, this one seemed like they had the most fun performing. Lots of excitement from the band, and Sharon had this cute little dance routine for the choruses!)
The Cross (And yet another cool down song!)
And We Run (Sharon tells us that they tried contacting “Mr. Xzibit” to see what he was up to and if he’d wanna do a show or two? Coincidentally, he was over in the Netherlands performing at a festival or two on their turf while they were here on his turf. To which Sharon says, “What’s up with that?” It was adorable! But they played it anyway and we got to see a giant Xzibit face on the screen rapping for us.)

See Who I Am (Another trip back into the back catalog, another chance to jump up and down!)
Dangerous (Probably the heaviest song of their night, with some double bass, massive strobes, and yet another guest face on the screen!)
Edge of the World (This song was pretty much all Sharon with the band rejoining in the last third.)
What Have You Done (Big hit with the crowd, lots of people were singing along with this one. Can’t blame them, how can you resist yelling along after the chorus?

Mother Earth (Can’t forget their toots of course, keyboards were quite audible on this song and we saw the return of the Sharon mystic arm dancing!)

Covered by Roses (A really short break and they were right back out! Sharon took the time to thank everyone for coming out, and for keeping their dream alive, and encouraged all of us to keep following our dreams. I do believe this was the most jumpy song of the evening.)
Sinéad (Ruud brought out his acoustic for this calmer version of Sinead, it was all him and Sharon for this song.)
Ice Queen (If was pretty clear that the concert was coming to a close with this song. One last surge of energy from the crowd, “ooo-ooohs” and all!)