Not Productive Enough at the Office?

We all have those moments at work when we just need to go into a mode to get things done. To insulate ourselves from the office distractions, we turn to our music. Whether it is your personal device or a streaming service like Spotify, we always go to our preferred “get-shit-done” playlist. But those playlists typically short, requiring us to find another playlist or turn to our preferred Apple Radio or Pandora station. Those few minutes of finding the right follow-up playlist or radio station take away our precious time in getting important projects done. If this potential time-wasting task finds its way on your To-Do list, you are not alone.

For a hard rock and metal fan, the pounding of a heavy or driving beat always gives me a rush of energy to crush whatever assignment I am working on. Whether it is an hour-long editing assignment or a day-long research and writing assignment, I always prioritize a great playlist that does not require me to change to a playlist that may not be as good as the one that just end. Here are five tips to check out to build a long and rocking playlist that will not end when you are in the zone.

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Album Review: Omnipresence – EP (2013) – Fireproven

Sophomore efforts can go one of two ways: showing a massive leap or regress. Fireproven’s Omnipresence extended play is very much a massive leap forward for the band. From musicianship to vocals to composition, this EP really shows the range this band has. Like its debut, Fireproven, Omnipresence features only three songs. But this time, the listener gets an additional eight minutes worth of songs. Those eight additional minutes are very well spent, as each of this EP’s songs are so good. Let’s now turn to the songs.

Omnipresence opens with a force, “New Born Truth.” The atmosphere that this song creates is amazing. During the first minute, there is a great instrumental section with a Jordan Rudess-esque keyboard riff. Then, things get serious. The band breaks before launching into a heavy verse, backed by amazing screaming vocals. What comes next surprised me: a clean vocal chorus that included a James LaBrie-like note. This song’s composition builds on that appearing on Fireproven, while the musicianship takes leap. “New Born Truth” is a progressive metal song for sure, going through so many accessible transitions, which I like. The last minute and a half has this heavy outro with pounding drums, melodic keyboard notes, and tight guitar riffs. And unlike Fireproven‘s opening, “The Ouroboros Cycle,” “New Born Truth” ends with a sound that immediately transitions into the next song.

“As Above, So Below” takes no prisoners with its unrelenting opening riffs and powerful screaming vocals. The drummer’s double bass and thoughtfully placed china crashes make epitomize great progressive metal. The clean vocals on this song’s vocals are amazing, especially right before a great tame yet suspenseful break about halfway through the song. The hi-hat work and keyboard playing make this section feel like a calm before the storm right before a very progressive keyboard solo. Every second of this song adds something new to the genre while paying homage to the giants preceding the band. The vocalist also shows his amazing range, hitting Tommy Karevik-like high notes right before the song ends, setting the stage for the final song on the EP.

Overall, I enjoyed Omnipresence more than Fireproven, mainly because of the mix of screaming and clean vocals. I never questioned Fireproven’s musicianship and incorporating clean vocals really tied the listening experience together for me. Fireproven’s sophomore effort shows a massive leap forward, a leap that set the stage for its later work. Like I said in my Fireproven – EP review, any progressive metal fan should check this band out. I have even said this in a recent Tweet.

Track Listing

  1. New Born Truth – 6:27
  2. As Above, So Below – 5:43
  3. 18 Hells – 10:28

Album Rating: 9/10

Album Review: Fireproven – EP (2011) by Fireproven

Fireproven is a Finnish progressive metal band that broke on the scene in 2011. Their debut extended play, Fireproven, introduced the world to this unique band. When I first listened to this EP, I was immediately impressed by the musicianship. As a drummer, I tend to gravitate to what the drummer in a band does as a reference point. Fireproven’s drummer is one of those drummers that you can tell has technical and feel chops. This EP also showcases Fireproven’s amazing guitar and bass melodies. Musically, this first outing adds a refreshing voice to the progressive metal genre. But what about the songs? Well, my friend, let’s take a deeper dive.

Although a three-song, fifteen-minute listen, each song packs a punch starting off with “The Ouroboros Cycle.” The opening guitar riff immediately felt comforting and really drew me in. The melodies and musical chemistry through the first forty seconds kept me hooked. The melody around the one-and-a-half-minute mark is fire, the type of riff that can easily motivate a pit to get off their feet. Throughout this song, the drumming and guitar playing work perfectly in tandem to create a great atmosphere and an even better feel. The vocal style on this song, and throughout the EP, is very much in the vein of Mastodon’s Remission phase. The song ends neatly, clearing the way for the next song.

“Ghost in the Machine” is one of those songs with a little bit of everything. During the first fifteen seconds, I swear I heard a little bit of Rush “2112 – Overture” or “Xanadu” before the band immediately launching into the main hook. Like “The Ouroboros Cycle,” “Ghost in the Machine” has a heaviness to it that is unique. This song also draws from the pioneers preceding Fireproven in the genre, mainly Dream Theater. During one part in the first ninety seconds, the guitar and drums almost mimicked a Systematic Chaos-era Dream Theater. As a huge Dream Theater fan, I very much appreciated that. Every second of this song is worth listening to, especially the understated but powerful guitar solo. Placed over a changing composition, this guitar solo evokes something in the listener. Even towards the end of this song, the synths had a familiar Between the Buried and Me vibe. I can see why listeners favor this song so much. But that is not the end of the EP.

“Silent Burnings” takes the closing spot, and it embraces that role. This song takes pieces of the previous songs and adds a new vibe to it. Throughout the entire song, the keyboards do this great riff that brought I smile to my face. Like the solo section of “Ghost in the Machine,” “Silent Burnings” keeps an understated but powerful vibe until the three-minute mark. The riffs get both darker and heavier as the drummer pounds the cymbals before returning to the same vibe heard throughout the song. The last minute is a fitting outro with the keyboards setting the perfect closer vibes, which I really enjoyed.

Overall, Fireproven is a great first release from an up-and-coming progressive metal band. The musicianship pleasantly surprised me as I could not take my attention away from the harmonies and melodies that this band created at the beginning of its career. As mentioned, the vocals reminded me of an early Mastodon, specifically the Remission. Although the vocals took a little getting used to, I would prefer the vocals on Fireproven over Remission any day. This release really set the tone for where Fireproven would eventually go with Omnipresence – EP, Future Diary, and what seems like its next album. If you haven’t checked this band out, I strongly recommend any progressive metal fan to check them out.

Album Rating: 8/10

How I Got into Heavier and More Progressive Music

Everyone has a reason for why they developed the tastes in music they did. My taste in music has always been grounded in the rock/hard rock genre. But over time, I opened up to several subgenres under the rock/hard rock umbrella. From djent to neo-progressive rock, metalcore to symphonic metal, I became more aware of the treasures that lie outside of my musical comfort zone. Over the past four or five years, I have discovered several new bands that I never thought I would like. Spock’s Beard, Tool, Redemption, and While She Sleeps come to mind. Despite my ever-expanding musical tastes, I credit five bands for “enlightening” me. This post highlights those five bands. Maybe what I have to say about any one of these bands will spark some interest to check one or all of them out. Now, let’s go.

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Album Review: Liquid Tension Experiment 2 (1999) by Liquid Tension Experiment

In 1999, Mike Portnoy, Jordan Rudess, John Petrucci, and Tony Levin released the follow-up to their previous Liquid Tension Experiment outing, Liquid Tension Experiment 2. Recorded before Jordan Rudess had officially joined Dream Theater, Liquid Tension Experiment 2 draws on many of the instrumental concepts explored in Liquid Tension Experiment but builds on them. Unlike with their first outing, LTE took a more compositional approach. Each song on this album sounds more polished than songs of the previous album. With LTE3 set to release on April 16 of this year, I would like to provide the follow-up to my first review to prime all longstanding LTE fans and people who have yet to hear this virtuosic instrumental supergroup for what is to come. Although Liquid Tension Experiment has released three singles, “Hypersonic,” “Beating the Odds,” and “The Passage of Time,” this review focuses on Liquid Tension Equipment 2 and what LTE left fans with for more than twenty years. Now, let’s jump in.

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Which Live Iron Maiden Album is the Best?

With a band as prolific as Iron Maiden, it was only a matter of time that this iconic group’s live releases get the Rocking Specter ranking treatment. With a live catalog spanning nearly forty years, it may be hard ranking these albums. Before jumping into the rankings, let’s lay out the criteria for assessing each album. I will look at five areas in judging each album: 1) song selection; 2) mixing; 3) band member performance; 4) how well the recording captures the associated tour; and 5) replayability. It would seem to easy to base these rankings on how well these albums were mixed. If that was the case, all the post-reunion, current-lineup albums would occupy the higher spots on this list. But, that is not what I will do on this ranking. Balancing the aforementioned criteria, I will provide an impartial, objective rating and ranking. Unfortunately, this ranking will comprise the ten best live albums Iron Maiden has released. So, one album will have just barely missed the list. Without a further ado, let’s get started.

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Album Review: Liquid Tension Experiment (1998) by Liquid Tension Experiment

It has been more than twenty years since Liquid Tension Experiment (LTE) has released new music. Started a non-Dream Theater project by Mike Portnoy, LTE took a different approach, an instrumental one. At the time LTE formed, Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess had not yet joined the band. Riding with his fellow Dream Theater member John Petrucci, Mike Portnoy recruited Jordan and King Crimson bassist and Chapman stick extraordinaire Tony Levin to form this unique instrumental supergroup. The first of two albums released before Jordan joined Dream Theater, Liquid Tension Experiment (1998) melds prewritten material with improvisation to create a unique listening experiment. This album retrospective review looks at Liquid Tension Experiment (1998) and its 1999 follow-up, Liquid Tension Experiment 2 (appearing as a separate review), ahead of LTE’s third album, LTE3 (2021), to see where the group has been and where they are going. Has LTE undergone paradigm shift, or are they still impactful instrumental masters? This review series sets the stage. Now, let’s get started.

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Album Review: Virus (2020) by Haken

From lead singer Ross Jennings directly: the band had no idea the album would share a title with something that would mar 2020; the album’s name was simply a coincidence above all else. Despite its rather unfortunate name, Haken’s sixth full-length studio album is beyond impressive. Much like its predecessor, Vector (2018), Virus melds heavy riffs and progressive elements to create a multilayered masterstroke in progressive metal. In Episode 3 of his MP Vinyl series on YouTube, Mike Portnoy said that Haken has taken up the banner for the style of progressive metal that Dream Theater popularized to continue the movement into the 2010s and beyond. Mike was right. This album adds to an already impressive catalog and really shows the group’s growth. It also features some unique sections that require several listens to fully appreciate the artistry. Now, let’s delve a little more into this fifty-two-minute continuation of 2018’s Vector.

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Which Album is Symphony X’s Best?

Symphony X is one of those progressive metal bands that have not received as much attention as bands like Dream Theater or Fates Warning. But this band’s music matches that of the aforementioned groups in terms of power, musicianship, and composition. To date, Symphony X has released nine studios albums with its eponymous debut to its 2015’s Underworld. This group’s music is visceral and a joy to listen to. This post seeks to rank each of Symphony X’s nine studio albums. Ahead of a potential tenth studio album later this year or next year, it’s time to see how this band’s work stacks up against with each other. Now, let’s get started.

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Album Review: Systematic Chaos (2007) by Dream Theater

In 2007, Dream Theater released Systematic Chaos marking a shift the band’s direction. Before this album, Dream Theater had linked their previous releases by starting with the same note/sound that ended the previous album. This idea started with Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory (1999) and ended with Octavarium (2005). To break that links, Dream Theater treated Octavarium as a self-contained piece in and of itself. Out of that self-contained parcel came Systematic Chaos, an underrated album in the DT discography. This album does a lot, bookended by the same song. Before we get started, I must say the Chaos in Motion DVD was my first exposure to Dream Theater making this album’s material sentimental to me. Now, without further ado, onto the review.

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