A Year in Review: The Best Albums of the Year

Ranking albums and reviewing albums open readers up to what albums newcomers should catch out first when they get into a new band or what to expect when listening an album for the first time. But where does some of those albums rank up against contemporaries and other albums released during that same year? That is what this new series seeks to accomplish. For the foreseeable future, I will provide my rankings of the best albums of a particular year (an astronomical task in of itself). Did you favorite album make the list for a particular year? We’ll see.

Every Sunday, I will provide a ranking of what I think were the best albums released during a particular year. Why engage in this exercise? To see how my favorite bands’ albums compare to the albums released during the same year. Also, I want to use this opportunity to discover bands that I had only a limited familiarity with. Finally, I wanted to go back in time to see what albums were released during my childhood and formative years.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the process of sorting out which albums stood out the most, and I encourage comments about albums I may have missed. If I left out a band or artist for one year, do not get too upset because that band or artist may appear in a later annual ranking. Similarly, if you see the same bands in each ranking, do not assume that I am simply a fanboy. These rankings came from an objective place, as I had to make some tough decisions about which albums actually deserved recognition.

With that said, sit back and enjoy. I hope you all enjoy these rankings as much as I have enjoy selecting the albums and writing these posts. I also encourage you to check out some of these bands if you have neither heard of nor listened to some of these bands.

Can’t make it to the gym? Not to worry, here are five exercises you can do to continue making gains

The fitness community is quick to say that the best way to make muscle gains and fitness progress is to get a gym membership to follow a potentially untailored workout routine. How do I know? Because I have fallen into this trap. Although workouts at gyms are the best way to ensure strength gains and fitness progress, they are not the only way to make strength gains. Surprisingly, bodyweight training can help tremendously in achieving strength gains and fitness progress. When COVID hit and gyms closed, I needed to find a new routine to keep up the progress that I had made in the gym. Enter bodyweight training. Through bodyweight training, I actually made more progress than I ever did in the gym. Here are just five exercises I incorporated into my daily routine to make strength gains.

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Band Interview: Fireproven

After listening to all this band has to offer, I got the opportunity to interview the members of Fireproven. This post features some amazing insights into the band’s creative process, influences, future plans, and expectations. I hope you, the reader, enjoy this featured post as much I did. Without further ado, let’s get started.

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20 Years Later: Reviewing Lateralus (2001) by Tool

Twenty years ago today, Tool released its third studio album after five years. Coming off the success that the Aenima (1996) produced, Tool needed something even stronger. Lateralus was that something. What can I say about this album that has not been said already? It is one of the most applauded albums in the progressive metal and rock worlds, as it garnered critical acclaim across the board. I will not rehash what has already been said about this powerhouse of an album. Rather, I will review this album through a time lens: how good is this album in 2021. Now, let’s get started.

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LTE3 (2021) by Liquid Tension Experiment

LTE3 is a musical joy to behold. Not only does it have the vintage Liquid Tension Equipment sound and chemistry that made Liquid Tension Experiment 2 so successful, but it also has some semblance of what Dream Theater could have done musically if Mike Portnoy stayed in the band. Although some of Jordan Rudess’s keyboard solos sound distinctively Dream Theater, make no mistake about it; this is a Liquid Tension Equipment album. From the frantic pace of the opening song to the elegantly laid jams on the deluxe edition, LTE3 is a musical marvel. Without further build-up, let’s jump into the songs.

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The Ten Most Underrated Iron Maiden Songs: There is More Than Meets The Eye

Iron Maiden has been a prominent fixture on Rocking Specter. We have seen rankings for Maiden’s studio albums and a Top Ten Rankings for Maiden’s live albums. What we have not done until now is recognize those lesser known Maiden songs that a quite stellar when a new or lifelong listener takes a step back to understand the question of “who is Iron Maiden?” Iron Maiden is more than its smash hits from the 1980s. Powerslave (1984), The Number of the Beast (1982), Piece of Mind (1983), and Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988) are amazing albums, but those of you who only prioritize these albums because their track listings are missing out. This post seeks to illuminate people of the ten most underrated Maiden songs. Without further ado, let’s see which songs made the list.

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Five Tips for Building the Best Workout Playlist

Working out does not have to be a music-less endeavor. People do listen to music while working out, but they do so after getting potentially inapplicable advice about which types of songs work best as soundtrack to cracking your personal records. But building the best workout playlists does not have to be like that. If you are looking for the best tips for building the best workout playlist, you came to the right place. Below you will see just a few of the best ways you can take a subpar playlist that may not last the entire workout time to a go-to hype playlist that gets you in the zone immediately.

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Five ways to incorporate new music into your daily playlists

How many times have you wanted to check out a band or artist but have not had the time to explore the band’s or artist’s catalog? For me, that happens on a near daily basis. There are hundreds of albums I want to check out, but just don’t have the time to do so because of my schedule or a self-imposed rule. If you are in a similar situation, here are five ways you can incorporate new music into your daily playlists.

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Album Review: Future Diary (2018) by Fireproven

Fireproven is just one of those bands that only gets better with age. Omnipresence (2013) and Fireproven (2011) were amazing extended plays, which I enjoyed. Future Diary (2018) is no exception. Fireproven’s first full-length album packs quite the punch, as it continues to build on the direction the band went in with Omnipresence while adding more layers to its sound. Fireproven powers through this album’s ten songs. Now let’s get into the songs themselves.

“Shine” is an amazing opening track, as it is very progressive and heavy. The vocals on this song go from near-guttural screams to pristine melodies. This song’s overall vibe is one of progressive metal with some symphonic elements, especially right before the solo section. The instrumental break in the middle of the song is so moving, which sets the stage for the guest female vocals around the four-minute mark. “Shine” has just about everything a progressive metal, and even hard rock, fan would want in a song: heavy riffs, melodic vocals, great composition, and amazing musicianship. It is also self-contained, which allows that next song on the album pave its own path.

The Tower” begins with a piano and cello duet before bursting into a power prog composition. The first minute of this song is so good, showing just how far Fireproven has come in juxtaposing sounds. The song’s main riff is tight and forceful, which makes it an instance rocker. The chorus shows off the style that makes Fireproven so enjoyable to listen to. Between the growls and clean vocals, the lead vocalist does a great job bringing the lyrics to life. The movement and musicianship on “The Tower” is stellar, as it weaves through emotive states. Like “Shine,” “The Tower” showcases everything that Fireproven has done and seeks to do, making this song quite a treat. And just like “Shine,” the song’s self-contained nature gives ways to the third song on the album.

Sea of Fear” may start off with the tolling of bells, but that is just the start. The main guitar riff really draws in the listener, while the pounding force of the drums relentlessly attacks. This song’s aggressiveness works extremely well with the well-placed keyboard work as a layer. “Sea of Fear” also features an evocative guitar solo that has so much melody and shredding that any listener would be impressed with this song’s power. Just like at the beginning, this song ends with a tolling of the bells, perhaps a filler for the next song.

Layers of Time” is the second longest song on the album, and its overall vibe shows Fireproven’s growth the most. During the first minute and a half, there is even a “Count of Tuscany” guitar riff that brought a smile to my face. What makes “Layers of Time” different from the preceding songs is the primary use of clean vocals. These clean vocals even created a slight Seventh Wonder, Tommy Karevik vibe, which I appreciated. When the band uses unclean vocals (growls and screams), it does so against such a melodic musical arrangement. About halfway through the song, the song breaks to go progressive. This instrumental section is amazing, with creative and technical double bass and ride cymbal work and a great keyboard solo. This instrumental section also gives the bass some room to work before transitioning back to the main riff. I really enjoyed this song, especially the instrumental section and ending which tied the song together quite nicely.

The title track, “Future Diary,” is very forceful, leading off with an amazing guitar solo before plunging into a heavy first verse. “Future Diary” has a strong melody and composition. It also has a very progressive vibe, taking the listener through so many vocal styles and musical compositions all within one minute. The underlying riff in this song made me briefly tap along with my foot. This song is so well crafted and is definitely worth a listen. The abrupt ending leaves room for the next song to hold.

Wrathful Beast” starts differently than all the preceding songs. “Wrathful Beast” has so many layers to it that it takes a listen to fully appreciate what Fireproven is doing. The song is very much progressive metal, but has some elements of symphonic metal which really ties the song together. “Wrathful Beast” has one of Fireproven’s most visceral keyboard solo. Although it is short, the solo captures the essence of what this song a pleasure to listen to.

Shame” begins very similarly to “Windowpane” by Opeth, but using a varied riff and no drums. Unlike “Windowpane,” “Shame” builds quickly. This buildup makes the song uniquely Fireproven. This song’s vibe is most relaxed, melodic in the entire Fireproven catalog, well at least until the two-and-a-half-minute mark. At this point in the song, Fireproven artfully places a guttural scream before creating a more atmospheric chorus. Shortly after a break, “Shame” gets a little heavier with pounding riffs against a laid-back backdrop. “Shame” has such a unique vibe to it, making it hard to compare it to other songs. But the last minute or so is by far the best part, which an amazing driving guitar solo. “Shame” really builds, making it a great break from the preceding songs.

Empty Openings” follows, taking a more suspenseful approach. The atmosphere on “Empty Openings” is refreshing. The focus on the vocals during the first minute enhances this song’s appeal. This song also incorporates heavy riffs, female vocals (perhaps a preview of what was to come), and effortlessly placed keyboarding and drumming. This song’s heaviness differs from the other songs on this album, mainly in the respect that it takes a more accessible approach.

The second-to-last song, “Alone in the Dark” starts with a great piano intro that lures the listener in. This intro perhaps signals a sense of foreboding and atmosphere that I appreciate. Once the drums, guitars, and screams come in, it is all bets off. Despite its screams, “Alone in the Dark” has a very relaxed tone which I find refreshing in the progressive metal genre. About about the two-minute mark, the song takes a turn that had a slight post-2011 Opeth vibe with a pleasing vocal piece. This song is a great juxtaposition, which makes progressive music so fun to listen to. Each second of this song is so artfully crafted, giving each band member a chance to shine. The keyboard solo after the four-minute mark is great while the blast beats shortly thereafter really power through. Ultimately, “Alone in the Dark” goes through so many phases, making it a joy to listen to.

The final song, “The Interior Castle,” is such a powerhouse. The second longest song in its catalog, Fireproven really went for broke with this one. The piano intro is haunting and atmosphere while the vocals are crisp and inviting. When the rest of the band comes in, the musicianship really elevates. “The Interior Castle” showcases the growth Fireproven made from both a compositional and theatrical standpoint. The screams are perfectly placed, the keyboards add the right amount of body, and the drumming is so tight. This song also have a few amazing transitions that enhance the listening experience. This song is so powerful and is an appropriate closing song.

Overall, Fireproven killed it with Future Diary. In just seven years, Fireproven showed musical maturity, innovation, and top-notch writing. This album is worth a listen, and it is definitely a pleasant surprise album from 2018. Like I said in my previous reviews, Fireproven are great musicians and excellent composers. I strongly recommend this album to anyone looking for a great and uniquely original band. This album has a lot to offer and can satiate any taste a listener may have. Again, great job!

Album Rating: 9.5/10

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Underrated? Five Underrated Bands That May Surprise You

Some bands have household name recognition or cult followings despite little or no airtime on your usual FM radio. Other bands come out of nowhere to surprise you in one way or another. Whether it is a lush catalog of great songs, incredible musicianship, or an easily accessible vocalist, some bands are so good yet do not receive the recognition they deserve. This post highlights just five of bands that came out of nowhere for one or many of the previously mentioned reasons.

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