## January 29, 2016

### Remembering Lemmy Kilmister (1945-2015)

Unlike a lot of my favorite bands, I can't really put my finger on when I've heard about Motörhead for the firs time. Unlike most of my favorite bands - Pantera, Metallica, Guns N' Roses, Slayer, etc. - I found out about them long after me and my brothers would watch metal videos on MTV. As I was growing up and developing my own musical taste, Motörhead were one of those bands that I always heard of but never could seem to get my hands on any of their music. I remember reading one of my brother's issues of Guitar Magazine - the 1995 Heaviest Riffs of all Times Issue - and seeing Stay Clean on the list. Honestly, that whole list sorta mystifies me, and I could probably think up 50 heavier Motörhead riffs just off the top of my head, but it did solidify Motörhead in my head as one of those bands I just had to listen to.

My first success at that I must attribute to VH1's Friday Rock Show, hosted by Tommy Vance, who sadly died about a decade ago. The Israeli weekend is on Friday-Saturday, so not being the world's most popular young adolescent, I was free to watch as Tommy threw out some of the best music I've heard to this day. That was where I first heard Motörhead, though I'm not quite sure if the song I heard first was Ace of Spades or Eat the Rich. Either way, Ace of Spades stuck in my head, so I knew I had to go out and get that album.

And... it sucked. Save for the stellar title track, it is some of the weakest, most boring music I've ever heard. It's only lucky that I heard enough other Motörhead songs by then that the album didn't turn me off from the band, because I've loved literally every other Motörhead song I've ever listened to.

There's a lot to say about Lemmy. The way he inspired so many people, his humility, his lifestyle, his attitude to religion, his attitude to women (although staying true to the man's honesty, he could still be a pig sometimes), his sympathy with the Black struggle, to the point of supporting the 1992 L.A. Riots, a brave position voiced by few in heavy music, and many other fascinating things. Lemmy was a fascinating guy, and any interview or eulogy with him is filled with evidence to that effect. But I'll leave you to read about all of that on your own, because sadly, I never met the guy. Actually, I never even had the chance to catch Motörhead live. All I can say is that Lemmy, along with his bandmates, made some of my favorite music, music that still cheers me up and gets me banging my head to this day - quite literally, as you will soon see.

His name was Lemmy, and he played rock n' roll.

### Slayer - Repentless

Slayer is one of those bands that doesn't need to reinvent itself on every album to be good. Reign In Blood isn't all that different from South of Heaven, which in turn, isn't all that different from Seasons In the Abyss. So what? More of the same isn't a bad thing when the thing you do is so damn good. But then Slayer went and experimented on some albums, and that was fine - none of them was as great as the old ones, but they were all at the very least decent. Repentless feels like a misguided attempt to return to the band's roots, and it plays out the way it sounds - a tired, uninspired effort by a good band that really doesn't have its heart into it.

What's saddest about the whole thing is how Repentless is clearly a song about how decayed and empty metal has become in recent years. Then the chorus sounds like Every Metal Song Chorus Ever, and you're wondering if the band is being cynical or is just making a very long-winded point. Either way, it doesn't make for good music.

### Iron Maiden - The Book of Souls

We've all been there: you tell someone that you listen to metal, and without them having ever listened to a single metal song, they will ask: "what, like Iron Maiden?" It doesn't always bode well for a band to have become representative of a genre for people who are completely ignorant about it, but Maiden have certainly earned their status as metal's foremost representatives. Dickinson-era Iron Maiden has produced some of the finest metal albums to date, with masterpieces such as Somewhere In Time and Seventh Son of a Seventh Son belonging in every metal lover's library.

Sadly, since 2000's excellent Brave New World, Maiden have not been delivering. Subsequent albums felt phoned in, not terrible but not interesting in any way. At the very least, they still had one of the most gifted vocalists in music history. Even when the songs themselves were lackluster, Bruce Dickinson never failed to deliver.

Until now.

It's one thing to be bored by an album made by one of your favorite albums. But when I first heard the Speed of Light's chorus, something inside me died. I mean, come on, Ozzy did better vocals on fucking Ultimate Sin! And what's worse is knowing that there's no way that no one in either the band or the production crew failed to notice this. They just didn't care. Hell, they figured, we're Iron Maiden - there's no way this thing won't make money. And you know what? They were right. Commercially successful crap is still crap, though, and as much as it pains me to say this, this is probably the worst Iron Maiden album to date - probably even worse than the Blaze Bailey stuff. And that's saying a lot.

### Children of Bodom - I Worship Chaos

"End of times, just kill the quietude
Hear my cries, and start the countdown
Bury my crimes, somewhere deep within
It's not that complicated
Simply I just worship chaos"

Need I say more?

### Monolord - Vaenir

Someone once said that essentially all metal is sped-up Black Sabbath. Well, Vaenir decided to break the mold by doing... sped-down Black Sabbath. And if that sounds great, just wait for those really long, boring intros! Also, who the hell mixed those vocals? Are you kidding me? Did you record your album in a bath while on painkillers? This album is like the soundtrack to watching paint dry. It's too boring to stay awake while listening to, and too dissonant to use to fall asleep, leading me to believe that Vaenir might be the gateway to a new state of consciousness beyond the veil of reality. Sadly, my scientific curiosity in this regard is completely overpowered by my need to never listen to a single second of this abomination ever again.

### Worst of the Year: Bell Witch - Four Phantoms / Vile Creature - A Steady Descent Into the Soul

It may seem like a cop out to have two different albums as worst of the year, but these albums are just two representatives of a much wider phenomenon: bands whose entire shtick consists of a single, dissonant chord being screamed over by some Scandinavian black metal reject. Stand in awe of our vocalist's ability to keep gurgling the same note again and again! Be amazed as, 20 minutes into the album, we... change chords! Feel incredibly smart as you tell people you actually enjoy listening to this crap!

Being a metalhead, I always hate when people say that metal is "just noise". People come off so ignorant and out of touch when they generalize that way about any musical genre. But this - I'm sorry, this is just noise. It's not avant-garde. It's not innovative. It's not sophisticated. It's just some sound checks being passed off as pieces of music.

I guess my point is: where are your fucking choruses?

Now, onto more pleasant topics.

#### The Best Heavy Music of 2015

Of course, to be fair to all the fine musicians out there, I have to exclude this handsome guy. (Don't worry, though - I released the next song on the first week of 2016, so you have an entire year to catch up!) Otherwise, these are the best heavy albums of 2015:

### Operation: Mindrime - The Key

I remember being quite horrified at 2013's Frequency Unknown, but damn if Geoff Tate hasn't made a damn fine album this time around. Unlike the original Queensrÿche, which is desperate to convince us of its legitimacy by having Todd La Torre do his (honestly pretty good) Geoff Tate impression and spew forced references to classic tracks, The Key feels like a logical evolution of Queensrÿche's material, retaining the basic spirit of the music while having a very different approach to performances and composition. Tate's vocals are much more controlled, unlike the flashy style he employed back in Queensrÿche's heyday, and while one may argue this is due to age, it certainly fits in very well.

I've never been a fan of Tate's Luddite, counter-revolutionary narratives, but lyrically, The Key is at the very least an interesting album. If nothing else, Tate pretending to talk to someone on the phone is highly entertaining in that Metal Gear Solid post-credits scene way. Given the improvement over Frequency Unknown, I'm very excited to see what Operation: Mindcrime puts out next.

### Huntress - Static

Huntress get a lot of hate from metalheads, and I have no idea why. This is some of the purest, most well-written and produced classic heavy metal we've gotten in a long time, even if you factor in actual classic heavy metal bands that are still around. Some people claim that the band uses the hyper-sexualized image of vocalist Jill Janus to get attention, but that's really no different than what a lot of beloved 80s bands like Mötley Crüe and Guns N' Roses did, and I can't for the life of me think of a single difference between those bands and Huntress that would cause people to employ some sort of double standard.

Be that as it may, Static does have its weaknesses. Lyrics are never genius, but I feel like Lost in fading summer / I’ve become such a bummer will find its place in the annals of Terrible Writing History, along with some other gems that are best left unmentioned. I'd love to say that it's meant to go along with the horror campiness the band was clearly aiming for, given the song's video, but even if you buy that explanation, it's just not done all that well.

Either way, the lyrics mostly complement the stellar composition and performance quite well, and there's no beating a bunch of really talented people doing something they're passionate about really well. Even if Static doesn't have anything groundbreaking on it, it's choke full of adrenaline and potential, making Huntress another band that I'm sure to follow in the next few years.

Cynics will say this album is only here because Lemmy passed away so recently, but frankly, the cynics can go fuck themselves. Motörhead have this reputation of being kinda like AC/DC in that they keep making the same great album over and over again, but I don't feel that's true at all. There's a lot of character to each album, with Rock 'n' Roll being very different from Ace of Spades (thankfully), and Overkill very different from both. There's a formula at work, but never at the extent that you can't tell which song is from which album.

Bad Magic is yet another great variation on the Motörhead formula, with a slightly bluesier and heavier feel to it. The two opening tracks are the biggest killers on the album, but it remains strong throughout up until that Sympathy For the Devil cover, which is one of those covers that does nothing new with the song and could have been safely left off the album - it's really weird to hear Lemmy so laid back, and it kinda ruins the momentum built by the slow, brutal When the Sky Comes Looking For You, which also has a pretty cool video that you should check out. That's a small flaw to look over, though, considering how great the 12 tracks that come before it are.

"Maybe you'll fly, maybe you'll die". Words to live by. RIP Lemmy!

### Marilyn Manson - The Pale Emperor

Wow, didn't see that one coming! When I saw that Marilyn Manson put out a new album this year, I was itching to tear it to pieces, but damn if this isn't some of the finest music I've heard in a long time. Deep Six is a real killer opening, heavy and brutal, with a stellar vocal performance by Manson, but the more laid back tracks like The Mephistopheles Of Los Angeles really steal the show, and Manson's vocals fit oddly well into the folky-bluesy feel that's going on around them.

I've often found his music to be pompous, over-produced and cynical, nevermind my disdain for his highly reactionary social views. But if he keeps this trend going, Marilyn Manson is in serious danger of becoming a respectable musician. I certainly plan to go through his discography and try to find the point where his music became less like The Dope Show and more like Deep Six, though I dread what I might find after listening to This is the New Shit. Brrrrrr.

### Amorphis - Under the Red Cloud

Amorphis are one those bands that I listened to a bit when I first got into heavy music, didn't really care for what I heard, and proceeded to ignore for a good decade and a half. And then in comes this behemoth. It's melodic death at its finest, acing the seemingly impossible task of being both heavy and extremely catchy at the same time - I dare you to listen to Return of the King without getting that flute part stuck in your head for weeks. In fact, it's the only song I can think of that has ever made me feel like dancing, other than, of course, Look at My Horse

I really don't feel like I need to say much more - the album is fucking awesome, and it'll punch your face while whispering sweet lullabies in your ear at the same time. Even if you're not a huge death metal fan, definitely give this one a shot.

### Best of the Year: Ghost - Meliora

I found Ghost's first two albums to be honestly very dull. It came off like the sort of band that really depended on its stage presence to get any attention at all. Imagine my surprise when Meliora kicked the ass of everything else I've heard this year. The band gets compared to Mercyful Fate a lot, but I really don't hear it - I think that's just due to people confusing the band's image with its music. In practice, Meliora is the best Black Sabbath album ever made, rendering the departure of the modern-day, Bill Ward-lacking, lazy cash-in version of the band very easy to stomach.

As with Marilyn Manson, Ghost is surprisingly at its strongest when it's doing more quiet and acoustic-focused songs like He Is. It's a testament to the band's strong composition that a song with very little distortion feels so heavy and imposing. Other highlights include the crushing From the Pinnacle to the Pit and the haunting Cirice, but the entire album is pure gold. I've been listening to it non-stop every since finding out about it, and I expect it to be a staple of my playlist for years to come.

## January 12, 2016

### Remembering Psycho Mantis (1998-2015)

Psycho Mantis, 1998-2015, killed by lazy writing. Rest in power, brother.

Friends; colleagues; enemies; 2015 has been an exceptionally good year for video games, the best since the superb 2011. However, it had its fair share of dark moments as well. One of the losses we suffered this year was that of beloved villain and, some would say ([weasel words]), the most powerful practitioner of psychokinesis and telepathy in the world - our friend, Psycho Mantis.

We first met Psycho Mantis in 1998. Though just come into the world, he was already a highly skilled maniac and villain, with the power to know one's taste in video games, make a controller vibrate, and make people lust for polygonal muscle man Solid Snake. With such accomplishments at the year of his birth, one can only imagine what power he could wield as an adult. Sadly, Psycho Mantis was taken from us just one year before entering adulthood, when he was reduced to a mute plot device in the name of fan service, doing bad things for no discernible reason and controlling a fiery man under suspicious circumstances. I dunno, I'm sure it's explained in the audio logs somewhere.

And so, to commemorate the passing of our dear friend, I announce that every year, from now on, we will celebrate the best, condemn the worst and shrug at the most mediocre in video games each year, all under the banner of Psycho Mantis. Good night, sweet prince; we did like Castlevania. We did.

I've been mostly dismissive of indie games in the past, but this time around, the indies killed it. While AAA publishers grow ever more bold with their 50$season passes and increasingly aggressive microtransactions for what is basically the same open-world shooter, indie developers have come up with some of the most original, interesting and fun games we've had in years. And so, the highest honor in video gaming goes to: ### Dropsy Trust me, this all makes perfect sense. It's been a long time since we've had a good old-school point and click game, but Dropsy manages to be a lot more than just a throwback. Its creative approach to storytelling and unique art style give it an identity all of its own, making it endlessly charming, emotional and, at times, downright sinister. The ending leaves something to be desired, and the day and night cycle, combined with the somewhat obtuse nature of some of the puzzles, can often be frustrating, but these relatively small annoyances do little to detract from the experience. Also: you have a doggie. ### Downwell I'm a fan of the Aqua color scheme, personally. I was gonna make a song, but then I played Downwell I had my recording software on, but then I played Downwell Now I still don't have the drum parts written, and I know why, oh well Because I played Downwell Because I played Downwell Because I played Downwell I was gonna learn game design, but then I played Downwell I was gonna read some Unity tutorials, but then I played Downwell Now I can't put anything by me on this list, oh hell Because I played Downwell Because I played Downwell Because I played Downwell I was gonna ask a woman on a date, but then I played Downwell I was totally gonna do it, you guys, but then I played Downwell She totally might have said yes and let me kiss her, but it didn't go so well Downwell is a very addictive game, is what I'm trying to say with this happening reference. ### The Magic Circle Not sure about those propellers... The Magic Circle is one of those games that you're better off going into knowing as little as possible about. With a few neat puzzles cleverly incorporated into what is essentially a walking simulator, The Magic Circle raises a lot of interesting questions about game design and the interplay between developers, crowds and fans. Though simplistic at times, it's a must for anyone who is either interested in game design or just wants to fly around on the back of a fire-breathing turtle monstrosity. ### Crypt of the NecroDancer I don't get no lovin', and that's no lie. Crypt of the NecroDancer's gameplay mechanic sounds like little more than a gimmick at first: it's a roguelike dungeon crawler where you are required to time attack and movement to the beat of the background music. Look past the silly premise of fighting being just like dancing, though, and you'll find the most interesting blend of real-time and turn-based combat I've seen since Final Fantasy VII's Active Time Battle system. The music is also brilliantly incorporated into other aspects of the game, with Goblins who ballet dance as they run away from you. Dragons who headbang as they hunt you down, and shop owners who sing along to the melody when you're near, cluing you in to their shop's location as well as adding another element to the arrangement. All that would have been nothing if the music got old, but thanks to composer Danny Baranowsky, that's never a problem. Every stage has its own musical style, with a different song for every level within the stage, and they're all awesome. Also, I can't figure out if I suck at this game or if it's just plain brutal, but the fact that I still have fun as I die again and again and again really says a lot about CotN's quality. ### Best of the Year - The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt & Undertale Well, two out of three ain't bad. I can hardly imagine two games that are more different, but in a way, that's what makes having The Witcher 3 and Undertale together at the top of this list kinda perfect. The Witcher 3, a 10M$ game made by a team of about 200 people, shows that a game doesn't have to be generic in either gameplay or story just because of its AAA status. Undertale, a game mostly made by just one person with a 50,000\$ budget, shows how much you can make with so little. The Witcher 3 is more ambitious, but Undertale is more consistent. And while The Witcher 3 is the culmination of a well-established IP, Undertale has all the rough charm of a completely original title.

So much has been written about both of these games that I feel it would be a waste of space to repeat what others have said about their gameplay or story. All I can think to do is to share my own experiences, in the hope that they will be enough to explain why they are my games of the year for 2015.

The Witcher 3 was a game that grabbed me so much that I played it for 3 months straight with hardly a single break and never got tired of it, and the Hearts of Stone expansion - which I was almost cheeky enough to give its own entry - only reminded me how much I love it. I'm still not sure whether or not I like it better than Witcher 2, which given how much I love that game, is a very good position to be in. I have some issues with it, especially the insignificance of choices made in previous games and even many made within the game itself, but disappointing as that was, The Witcher 3 remains a masterpiece.

Undertale obviously did not last as long as Wild Hunt, but it was one of those games that within the first five minutes went from a game I was sure I'm going to hate to a game that I knew I'm going to love. From the moment I got past the initial twist and met Toriel, I fell in love with the game and its characters. By that, I don't just mean the main characters, although they are nothing short of brilliant ("I'M NOT CRYING! I JUST... CAUGHT SOMETHING IN MY EYE!" / "what did you catch?" / "TEARS!!!"), but also the monsters. Undertale is often praised for enabling you to go through the entire game without killing anyone, which is cool, but its genius lies in giving every monster its own personality. For me, that's where Undertale's most memorable moments came from, and it's why I still cringe at the idea of killing any of the enemies in the game. Of course, if that's what you want to do, go ahead - it's up to you how to play your game. But you're gonna have a bad time.

Of all the games I played this year, these are the two games I can guarantee I'll still be coming back to years from now. They're more than just games for me - they're worlds I can't stop thinking about. Frankly, any year that gives us even one game like that is a damn fine year, and so, 2015 has been extremely generous. With upcoming games like Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Dishonored 2 and Horizon, there's every chance we'll be just as lucky this year - fingers crossed!

*Yes, I know it's "man" - I'm trying to be inclusive here!

## January 2, 2016

### New Song - Under the Wheels of Time

Under the Wheels of Time is ready for your listening pleasure! It's probably the heaviest song I've recorded to date, complete with a lot of chugging guitars, double-bassing drums and growly vocals. Don't worry, though - I do a falsetto for a moment.

On SoundCloud (where it sounds better): https://soundcloud.com/alon-lessel/under-the-wheels-of-time