Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Baroness: Purple (2015)

Mostly I blame myself for the lack of posting lately, but you can also blame Baroness. These assholes have been keeping me from checking out new music, because I keep listening to Purple. I haven't had time to listen to much of anything else, and I haven't needed to.

I know you've probably already heard it by now, or maybe you don't care about the band. But either way, it deserves another listen. I've been listening to it constantly. Several times each week--sometimes twice in a day--since it came out six months ago. I haven't listened to a single album this much since the days of the CD, which for me has been over for more than a decade.

Less experimental than its predecessor, Purple distills the essence of Baroness as a rock band, presenting a more focused, yet more fully realized picture than did Yellow & Green. It also makes the band's finest statement to date. That's saying a lot when you consider this is (at its core) the same band who created Blue Record.

These are catchy, pure rock songs, with masterfully crafted hooks and just enough solo shred to remind you of what they can do. It's less melancholic than their prior masterwork (Blue), but only in the sense that it's more dynamic. It hits that melancholy, with more joy, more hope, more lament, and--surprisingly, considering this is no longer a metal band--more anger.

Simply put, these are as good as the best riffs Baroness have written, in some of the best songs they've performed, and certainly the best collection of songs they've put together. Now, put that in the high-resolution realm of a rich, textured mix.

This is the defining album in an already-impressive catalog. And it's one to which I will keep returning for many years to come.

The Verdict: 5 out of 5 stars

Friday, March 18, 2016

Lifting Goal: Combined 1000 Pounds in July

In an effort to get back into blogging again, I think I'm moving somewhat away from reviews, and moving toward talking about music in the context of my life. To that end, I present Mortal Torment's album Cleaver Redemption.

It's ridiculous, brutal death metal. The kind of stuff music writers like to make fun of, because it's dumb. But it's also awesome. Hilarious sound bites ("Yes, it's true. This man has no dick.") introduce this music that's perfect for weight training.

The album has been a powerful ally as I've been seeking my weight training goals. Those goals have now become more concrete. I plan to participate in the Cornhusker State Games this year. That's a Nebraska multi-sport series of events. And the powerlifting event is slated for July 16. That's where I plan to hit a combined 1000 pound total on the bench press, squat, and deadlift.

Where do I stand now, and how far do I have to go? Right now I have a confirmed total of 920. That's 250 bench, 260 squat, and 410 deadlift. Obviously making 80 pounds in gains in just four months sounds like an unattainable goal, but I'm stronger than that confirmed total would suggest.

I don't always push myself to my absolute one rep max. For one thing, that's not an advisable way to train for the long-term. But there are formulas you can use that have proven to be extremely accurate. You take a lesser weight, lift it as many reps as you can, and plug those numbers into the formula to find your predicted one rep max.

My bench press has been stuck at 250 since last July, which has been an endless source of frustration to me. But I've recently tweaked my bench press training, and showing results. An extra rep at 215 pounds now, which translates to a predicted max of 258.

In terms of my squat, back in October I found I was not squatting deep enough. So I scrapped everything and started over, slowly building. Though my confirmed max is only 260, my predicted max is 293.

And my deadlift continues to improve, thanks in part to some helpful tips from others. The predicted max there is 424.

All told, that's a predicted total of 975 for now. My true total may be slightly less than that, but it puts things in perspective and makes that goal of 1000 pounds appear to be well within reach.

Now, today and tomorrow are rest days. Then it's back to the iron, and the Greek brutality of Mortal Torment.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


A reader checked in on me due to the lack of updates around here. This is what I wrote in response.
Hey, thanks for checking in.

When I really ramped up the blog, my job had me assigned to a pretty mind-numbing task. It was a matter of checking a few yes/no things and putting the right information in the computer. That let me focus on the music, and then I could crank out a review over my break. The past few years, I've been on something much more demanding. I've got to read a lot, check a bunch of computer databases, write e-mails, make phone calls, and then make some pretty tough decisions and write out an explanation of everything I did and why I made the decision. The work is a lot more fulfilling, but it doesn't accommodate my old method of blogging. Sometimes I'll look around and realize the album I was listening to has been over for 20 minutes and I've been working in silence. Instead of cranking out 20 cases in an hour, I consider it a pretty good day if I can complete two of them. Many take eight hours of work over several months. That's why the blog has been updated with less and less frequency. I don't think I'm giving the music the thorough listens I used to. And with my life being what it is, work is really the only time to listen to music. Then, and when I'm lifting.

I still plan to write, but it's not easy to keep it up. I need to figure out a new way to approach it. I have been thinking about it, but haven't quite settled on anything just yet.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

400 Pound Deadlift

I'm just finishing up my second 5/3/1 cycle tonight. My biggest achievement is the 400 pound deadlift I pulled a few minutes ago.

Apologize for the lack of posts lately--sick kids, holidays, etc. I'll share more metal soon.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Vhöl: Deeper Than the Sky (2015)

Vhöl is turning out to be--as their debut might suggest--more than just a supergroup. It's a worthy, unique band in its own right. As I described them before, they're sort of an American Darkthrone, combining black metal with old-school heavy metal, crust, and thrash.

The formula from the first album is intact, but this time around the song lengths are more varied. The title track here is a mesmerizing 12 minute piece, but most of the other tracks tend toward more conservative lengths. But more importantly, the thing that sets Deeper Than the Sky apart from its predecessor is pure riffage. The riffs here are simply unimpeachable, incredibly memorable, and they will make you bang your head.

Again, I must mention Mike Scheidt's vocals. I'm not a long-time YOB fan--I've come to appreciate them more--but here is where his high-pitched, old-school metal voice really shines. This was his calling all along.

This one is definitely worth your time and money.

The Verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, November 13, 2015

First 5/3/1 Cycle Complete

I've completed my first cycle on the 5/3/1 weight training program, and I've accomplished some things:

- On bench press, I did 200 for 6 reps, and 190 for 11.
- On overhead press, I increased my max from 150 to 160.
- On deadlift, I increased my max from 375 with straps to 390 without. I had always been training it with straps before, but Wendler's right--you shouldn't do that. I've focused a lot on grip strength as well.
- I've learned more about programming accessory lifts.

I attempted a new bench press max, but I was using my bench with the leg extension/curl attachment, which sits higher off the ground. I was trying to dig my feet into it, and all I did was cause pain in my hamstrings trying to brace myself. I'm going to start using my other bench for bench press and get myself in a proper position next time around.

My squat is on a different rep and progression schedule for now, to make up for a lifetime of not squatting deep enough. I'm going at it twice every week, with a 5 pound increase each time. It's at 155 right now, and the plan is to get it to 250 on January 18. After that, I'll go back to once a week on squat, but continue increasing it by 5 pounds every week until I stall out, at which point I'll put it on the 5/3/1 schedule as well.

Unfortunately, my attempts to build mass have had little impact. About three months ago I weighed 170. Ever since my lifting during my junior year of college, I have weighed somewhere between 160 and 170. I managed to build myself up to 180 as of a month ago, but despite eating like a ravenous beast I may have lost a pound or two in the month since. For a month I've been adding Slim-Fast shakes in the afternoon, which worked for me in college. Over the past week I've taken to downing shakes of peanut butter, milk, chocolate, banana, and oatmeal, but that hasn't done the trick yet. Today I added a hardboiled egg to the blender, and I'm looking for other ways (short of adding olive oil to the shake) to pack in more calories. I'll keep you posted on that.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Author & Punisher: Melk En Honing (2015)

In case you don’t remember, Author & Punisher is the one-man band of Tristan Shone. Well, one-man in the same way that a BattleMech pilot is a one-man army. He creates his noise with a bunch of homemade, manually-controlled, analog machines, like something out of a steampunk/industrial world

The spectacle must be fantastic to watch. But in the past, I’ve been a little underwhelmed by the recorded output. Melk En Honing is getting a little closer. Throbbing rhythms like an obscene factory floor, pounding percussive forces, and a rising or falling buzz: These things define Author & Punisher, and should redefine the meaning of “industrial metal.” And it’s quite dynamic, loud, quiet, fast, slow, all of these things are used in good measures. But it feels more expertly planned than brilliantly written.

Ultimately, the songwriting still isn’t there. Shone is obviously a fantastic hobbyist engineer. But I don’t think he’s going to truly make a great album unless he collaborates with someone else.

The Verdict: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, October 23, 2015

Funerary / Ooze: Split (2015)

The split album from Funerary and Ooze showcases two bands that are extremely raw, and whose names suit their respective genres, but otherwise have little in common.

Funerary contribute two tracks of funeral doom with touches of death and black metal. Raspy vocals, slow riffs, and a bit of feedback. They sound quite a lot like Thou, but (possibly due to production) not quite as heavy. Still, they produce enough atmosphere.

Ooze, on the other hand, veer more toward sludge metal--the more rough-around-the-edges, hardcore, and mostly mid-paced side of sludge instead of the doomy side. Think Crowbar, only with less polish.

It's an enjoyable listen, and smart to put the slower side up front. Ooze's riffs are catchier, but their sound is a little less satisfying than their counterparts. All in all, not bad work. And killer cover art.

The Verdict: 3 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Beginning the Wendler 5/3/1

It's been a long time since I posted about my workout routine, and a lot has happened since then. I kept with my old routine for quite a while, with small gains. Then, I started working from home. I thought I could work out, a set here and there, during my work day, and it would benefit both my work and my life in a way that didn't detract from my lifting. Well, it led to laziness. I slid, not a lot, but enough.

Thankfully, a neighbor invited me to start working out with him last February. I got renewed dedication out of it. I started educating myself. That education led me to a difference of opinion, and I'm working out on my own again as of last month. But I'm taking it more seriously than ever.

My brother-in-law custom-built me a weight rack, and it is some serious hardware. He loaded up just under 1000 pounds on the safety rails, and it was fine.

This week, I'm embarking on the Wendler 5/3/1 routine. Specifically, a variant I found in one of his books, which I believe is called the SVR variant. It blends the 5/3/1's usual emphasis on the main lifts with extra AMRAP (as many reps as possible) sets and extra one-rep-max attempts. I started this week on a deload, because I gave blood last week and just to get used to the routine. I'm very excited about this scientific, hard-working, no-bullshit approach to lifting.

And, just so I have a record of my starting point, here are my pre-Wendler maxes, all made recently:
Bench: 250 pounds
Military Press: 150 pounds
Deadlift: 375 pounds
Squat: -- (I thought my max was 365, but I saw a video of it and it was a joke. I wasn't even close to parallel. I'm currently on a separate plan to perfect my squat, specifically, and I'm starting very light.)

I'll keep you updated.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Grime: Circle of Molesters (2015)

I’ve reviewed Grime before, and every time I hear them I just have a hard time imagining this disgusting band coming from a picturesque part of Italy.

They’re still awesome, but I think they’ve taken a bit of a stylistic turn. Before, more of a sludge metal band. Now I’d call them sludge/death. That is absolutely a good thing. No-nonsense, mid-paced or slow death that’s filthy enough they don’t need to bury it under any reverb. The riffs chug, march, stomp, lurch, pound, rumble, and occasionally screech, as required. The low-end is powerful, the high-end unnerving, and it’s completed by desperate, raspy, screaming vocals.

In one sentence: It’ sort of like Autopsy crossed with Indian (minus the noise parts). You need to hear it.

The Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars