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Friday Night Playlist No.2

February 11, 2017

Hard stuff, Ballads, and Storytelling

I had a car accident a little more than a year ago. It was the day after Christmas, and I was going to go to my local music shop to listen and shop for CDs. At the time, I had a nice Toyota Tacoma pickup truck I had owned for almost nine years. It was a beauty, and only had some minor dings in it due to parking lot knuckleheads. The one think I liked most about my truck was its fabulous sound system. When I drove, I liked to rock out to my favorite CD or two. I have no real memory of what happened before the accident, just the slow motion of the car crashing into my vehicle. They were speeding, and I was making a left on a green. In California, it does not matter what the other party was doing, if you make a left turn on a green light, you have to yield, which is what I did, and from trying to re-piece things, I guess I misjudged the distance of the other car relative to my position and turning. I will never know. For the other party, I was terribly sorry someone was hurt. At the time, I did not think I was really hurt, other than shock. The hospital just observed me and let me go. Since then, I have had to deal with a later manifestation of an injury to my lower back, and developing problems with my legs due to possible nerve impedance. Since then, I am just glad God spared me, and used the truck to save my life. I think there is a story here, but it is for another time. The truck was a great truck with an incredible sound system, and I miss being able to play music like that now. In the little car I drive now, I am lucky to have one radio station that works, and this car though it is reliable, it is a far cry from my truck.  How does this relate to Friday Night Playlist, I hear you say?

My little back story applies to Friday Night Playlist, because these are some of the albums I would listen to while driving, especially when there was a lot of traffic, and I had nothing better to do with my time. I  just liked to jam. And, with jamming in mind, tonight I would like to introduce you to 4 albums which will rock the house. Headphones are recommended for your personal pleasure. (Please bear with me, I am still trying to figure out how I want to format this blog.)

 

Affector, Harmagedon (2012)
Affector is an multinational progressive metal band stemming from Germany and the Netherlands, and they really know how to rock.  I first heard them 3 years ago when I stumbled across them from a YouTube recommendation. Affector’s music tends to focus on the end-times and has apocalyptic themes that follow biblical Christianity. Much like Dream Theater’s music, similar to their storytelling and impressive harmonies, I thoroughly enjoy listening to Affector. If you want to consider other progressive rock bands, Affector should not be compared only to Dream Theater, and that is a little unfair because they have such a rich diverse sound. They also have other  dynamic sounds and vocals that grab you like Nightwish, Symphony X, Spock’s Beard, and Ayreon, to name a few. All of Affector’s songs are cohesive, and pay special attention to  instrumental detail. Inside Out Music, on their website provides a clearer look at who the members of the band are.

One thing I found out was that the members came together after having played in other well known metal and progressive metal rock bands. Salvation (track 3) on the album tells about the story of Christ, and is a concept taken right from scripture. What I really like about this song is the drums play hard and fast, with aggressive guitar sounds, and followed by more soft and gentler guitar arpeggios and reflective musical dialogue. The song is a musical conversation and electrifies my thoughts. The rhythms countering each other from fast jamming to slow ballad like cadence shares a reflective look at what Jesus did for us on the cross to a more pensive reflection of how “we like sheep” ought to respond to the risen king. In my opinion, this song is a heartfelt felt response to what each person wrestles with when coming to know the Savior, at least this is how I interpret it.

The album was originally a concept album. According to Ted Leonard of Affector, in an interview from NoiseFull, the songs are written for a particular audience, and most people who listen to progressive rock are generally focused on the music and sound that they would listen to this kind of music anyway.  I would not call Affector a Christian Metal band anymore than Stryper. Instead, I would be more inclined to say that the songs on Harmagedon are written with a declaration of faith by one or more members of the band that have thought provoking Biblical overtones.  I say this with all caution, because I just don’t know if each member is a believer in Christ. But,  my intuition tells me that they likely are Christians, and that is okay with me. Cry Song written by Daniel Fries, guitarist for Affector is a song I relate to because it is a song about grief, and he wrote it after his father died. You can learn more about Affector at affectormusic, or buy their music. I highly recommend purchasing their album. It’s a great album and you cannot go wrong if you just like really good and fast harmonic music.

Savatage, Handful of Rain (1994) is according to Wikipedia the band’s eighth album, produced right after their lead guitarist’s (Criss Oliva) death. This album, is another power metal/progressive metal album, one that is poetic, and carries the dark overtones of anguish and grief. It is an album that asks difficult questions when one has experienced loss. At times, the album lets you feel those emotions of rage, and anger, and heartache. Handful of Rain really speaks to me. This was the album that would decide the band’s fate because of Criss Oliva’s tragic car accident in 1993. Jon Oliva, Criss’s brother took on the task of continuing not knowing if the band was going to stick together. Chance is another song that I like on the album. It has that feeling of being at a play and it is the narrative intermezzo that lets you know the direction the story is going to take place, except in this case in a metal rock opera. Typical of most 90s metal and rock, Chance has a ballad feel to it, and begins slowly with a tough, yet dramatic build. The vocal harmonies and choruses are what I like most about this song. Additionally, I am not one for dark songs, but I really like the climax of the song when the song breaks into a back and forth questions and guitar solos. The guitar solos are complex, full of feeling and phenomenal. As I continued to listen to this album, aside from that dark feeling I got from its tone, there is a bluesy feel as well. Overall, Savatage put together a really good album. For the rock opera feel to this album alone, I highly recommend taking time out to listen to the songs. However, if you have heard previous albums by Savatage, this album might be a risk for you because of the expectations heavily placed on Handful of Rain to be like former songs and releases performed with Criss Oliva. I read some of the reviews. Some of the comments were pretty harsh. I feel like that comments by others definitely paint a biased flair,and discontent with pianos or keyboards, but for me, this is a good album. Check out some of the songs, and let me know your thoughts.

I realize now as I am writing this blog, I do not want to go with what is popular or even what is current.Although, I will do my best to find music that I like that is current. I have been the weird one, even growing up. I liked what most people would consider obscure. So, for the next album, I want to share something that may be considered obscure, meaning not strange, just not heard often.

Asia, Astra (1985) The first time I ever heard Asia, I was a young Boy Scout camping with my scout troop at Seal Beach. My friend Frank, and his older brother Robert had brought along a radio. Asia was playing their hit song Heat of the Moment, and I knew instantly I liked this band. I loved that they used keyboards in their songs. I guess I am a keyboards kind of person. This early prog-art rock band had cool music, and fantastic album covers. I would not consider Asia a hard rock band at all. Their songs are more AOR rock, with a flair for storytelling, as well. Hard On Me is a ballad I like simply for the dreamy vocal harmonies, repetitive base riffs and simple keyboard interjections. I guess their songs sing a lot about lost loves. The songs are not your fast and aggressive kine of tunes. The songs on this album pace much slower to a more laid back, thought provoking cadence. The songs’ instruments are more like the back up vocalists as a singer is to the words. And that is completely okay. I think when I first heard this album, I did not know what to think, other than I liked it. My favorite song is Rock and Roll Dream. In my humble opinion, I do not believe every song or album has to be filled with fast, angry and aggressive songs with screeching vocals and head banging drums and squelching guitars. I think sometimes music gets lost in translation when you expect something  to play the same way over and over again. This song used to be my anthem. For me, anthems inspire or encourage. Although, it might seem a little mopey, I think this anthem invokes within me an attitude that says, “I will not give up.” It is a strange sentiment, but from what I have read, Asia almost failed to be a band due to personal differences and the loss of their momentum on the charts. This album, as much as I like it, was part of that diminishing momentum. For more information check out this article on ultimateclassicrock.com.

The next album, Starcastle, I want to share with you is a group very much like Styx, Rush or Yes during a time where there were rich and robust bass lines and chill drum syncopation. Starcastle (click here for a little more of the band’s history) is unique in their own right. However, the band had been previously known by other names in the earlier stages of their development.  The vocals, if I had to compare them, I would say are very similar to Jon Anderson of Yes. The keyboards would be a hybrid of Yes, Allman Bros and Styx. Lady of the Lake is probably my favorite song of this album, spanning a little over 10 minutes long. The album has a lot of positive sounds and good vibes. This is one of the songs I like to just sit back and take in. The song, itself, I think is about the Lady of the Lake from the tales and legends of King Arthur. This song speaks to me in a chorus of crescendo-ing guitar, base, keyboards, and drums. When I hear Lady of the Lake, I just nod my head and tap my toes. It is a song that easily allows me to reunite with my imagination and soar. Another, slightly shorter song, but with cheerful overtones is Stargate/Sunfield 1976. It is one of those songs that could take you on a cosmic voyage, as you close your eyes and imagine being in the stars and flying through starfields. I do not know any other way to say it, but this is a happy song, that has poetic and story-like rhythms not just vocally, but with instruments, too.

I was going to put 5 albums on here, and I am discovering just how long this entry is, unless you do not mind? My goal is always to discuss 4 or 5 albums that are of importance to me, and I feel like I did that. At least I have something to come back and read. Tonight, it has been wet and rainy, and I did not get out much today. This blog helped me get through another difficult day. I enjoy writing and I enjoy music. In a way it’s like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, a really good blend of chocolate and peanut butter. I will be back next Friday to share some more music with you. I am always looking for ways to improve both my writing and my blog. I guess that is my task for the week ahead. Until next time. Thank you for reading.

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