BMM11 Behind The Scenes: Wheeling and Dealing

Many Basenoters enjoy Basenotes March Madness, but it’s something just this side of an obsession for me as commissioner of the thing. Suffice it to say that I started preliminary work on BMM12 (March 1 2012) in December 2010. I was simultaneously working on BMM11 and in my first message on the topic to Grant Osborne, owner of, I asked about the possibility of a prize this year. That was back on 12/15, but good things come to those who wait, and BMM11 officially has a prize package, graciously provided by Indiescents. Not a name you’re familiar with? It’s the niche-focused side of Luckyscent. I know Luckyscent is fairly niche as-is, but these are more independent perfumers, Laurie Erickson’s Sonoma Scent Studio, Brent Leonisio’s Smell Bent, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’s DSH line, and so on. Given that I’m already in contact with many indie perfumers this year, the tie-in is great and I think people are really going to enjoy reading the selections from the perfumers, they’re all extremely interesting.

I’ve mentioned discreetly to a few people that the brackets are shaping up to be altogether different from the past two years. Take a look at the latest standings here. Everything below #96 is currently on the outside looking in, and there are some damn fine fragrances currently not in the show right now, Chanel Antaeus, AdP Colonia, Czech & Speake No. 88 (big surprise to me considering how far it’s gone in the past), LV Piper Nigrum, and plenty others that are looking mighty snubbed at the moment. This year I’m not going to be fudging these selections any more than I absolutely have to (for example, a three-way tie for the last position). So if something doesn’t make it in, it’s squarely on the shoulders of you, dear reader. I predict more first-round blowouts this year than the last two put together. To be 100% honest I’m not thrilled with this format, and it won’t be making a return any time soon, but I’m more or less committed to doing it this way this year and who knows? It might be the most exciting year ever.

I’m continuing work on phase two of the BMM site, which is the prediction contest. It will be the only way I will accept entries this year, I don’t want to have to keep up with spreadsheets like I’ve had to the past two years, and having the site automate certain things for me is what’s giving me the extra time to do two tournaments simultaneously.

After much deliberation, I think I’m going to abandon my plan of a betting system for this year’s prediction contest. The idea was that a user could bet less or more than the typical amount of a game’s value. For example, last year all Round 1 games were worth 1 point, with all rounds worth 32 points total (32 1-point games in round one, 16 2-point games in round two, etc.) In my suggested new system, we’d multiply all values by 10 (the maximum possible score is 1920 instead of 192) and for round one games (10 points), a user could bet as few as 5 points (for a toss-up game) or as many as 40 points (for suspected blowouts). Two potential problems have arisen with that system. One, Diana fears it may be too complex to someone new to BMM or unfamiliar with betting, and I could see it. Two, a bigger concern for me, is it’s quite possible someone would have won the tournament in the old points system and not win under the new system, by making poor choices with betting (or not understanding and leaving everything at defaults), and subsequently miss out on the prize. I really don’t wanna see that, so I’ll refrain from rocking the boat this year. Perhaps for a future, non-BMM event (Luckyscent has already expressed interest in sponsoring some future event of mine).

On an unrelated note, the same unrelated note as last week, my Escentric 03 arrived today. Imagine my surprise when I received a full 100mL, still in shiny plastic bottle instead of the 15mL decant they mentioned. It’s quite a strange creature this first wearing, the bitter Mexican Lime blends with light woods and a heavier base of smoky vetiver, leather and musk. Full review probably next Friday but right now it’s the most mysterious thing I’ve smelled in a long time, a dark citrus that conjures notes of anything from ginger root to cannabis. Fascinating stuff.

Great Music Has Emotion. Emotion Makes Great Music.

If you and I were ever to have a long talk about good music, you’d find that I will forgive a lot of sins if there’s real, unfaked, unabashed emotion and energy present. Case in point would be something as American as…grits. (We had a discussion that few to no things were truly an American contribution) Consider blues music, a genre that at it’s most typical is very, very structured. Even the solos are generally confined to one scale. But the great bluesmen of generations past told stories that moved the soul. Maybe it’s my internal old fogey talking, but I think if the generation of teens and 20-somethings took the time to listen to some B.B. King, some Lead Belly (Miss you, Jon), John Lee Hooker’s unique take on it, or Stevie Ray Vaughan’s modern-take on the art, they might find the prefabricated pop and rap they listen to now…somehow lacking.

Ray Charles – Georgia On My Mind (Live)

I deeply regret not having an interest in the music of Ray Charles while he was still alive and touring. I reference this live take of Georgia On My Mind for two reasons. One, you can feel the emotional connection between the man and a song he’d become attached to. Many don’t know that it was actually a cover of a much older song written by Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell, about Hoagy’s sister, named Georgia. But Ray took his love for the south and left no question. Two, improvising on a long-practiced piece, personally, only happens to me when I’m inspired by the song itself. To be blind but be so spellbound as to not let that be a hindrance for improvising new solos…I can hardly fathom it.

Rob Dougan – Left Me For Dead

You left me for dead, but I don’t wanna search no more,
There’s nowhere to hide, so why don’t you come quietly, my love?
I wanted to say, to say that you sure proved the death of me,
Cause now I’ve reached a dead end, and I can’t go back,
But if I’m goin’ down, you’ll come with me.

Rob Dougan is best known for his contributions to the Matrix trilogy. Few knew that he had an album of his own, a wonderful blend of classical and electronica. He has a great Leonard Cohen-esque voice, and when he gets emotional at the end of Left Me For Dead it’s both chilling and moving. The album, as a whole, is the most depressing thing I’ve found thus far.

Nine Simone – Feeling Good

Only a few minutes after posting the first version of this I remembered Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good”, to be covered many times thereafter. She was an amazing talent, and amazingly unknown by many in this generation. Word to the wise, the scat fill at the end is much more difficult than it sounds.

Staind – This Is It

One of those overattacked, underrated bands, Aaron Lewis has a gift for telling the story as much with tone as with lyrics. “It’s Been A While” had a conciliatory tone, but “This Is It” is a heartbreaking acceptance of giving up, finding the mediocre to be a good enough life. It makes you just want to shake the guy, tell him “No, there is more to life than this.”

Joe Satriani – Love Thing
Juno Reactor – Song For Ancestors

And sometimes a song can be full of emotion without any lyrics at all.

BMM11 Behind The Scenes: Unexpected Successes

So the first phase of the BMM voting site has done really well in it’s first two weeks, with 106 different users, 2157 votes and 501 different fragrances in the running at the time of this writing. I’ve gotta say, I wasn’t sure what to expect but I wasn’t expecting that kind of response so early. I took the time to get the most recent numbers, available here, and there’s a good mix towards the top. I haven’t begun any coding on the second half of the site, the prediction contest, I suspect I’ll start on that one of the next few nights.

On an unrelated note, I won my first perfume prize from a blog! Quite excited about the 15mL of Escentric 03 en route to me, especially because my wardrobe is so large at this point, a mL is roughly equivalent to a month.

BurritoQuest: The RPG That Fits In Your Hand

This is a fairly freeform post, I’m laying some groundwork for a game I’ve had in my head for nearly a year, and am only now deciding to put the metaphorical pen to paper (bits to hard drive?) and see what comes of it. The game is intended to be funny, but partly because the inhabitants of this world aren’t aware that their actions are ridiculous to us. For them, it’s just the way things are. This post covers the overview and some details of the game world. There will be quite a bit more than what I manage tonight.

It is the year 478 of the Fifth Era, and change hangs in the air of the continent of Adovad. The great war that marked the end of the Fourth Era has left scars on the land that persist even now. Politically, maps were redrawn and there exists peace among the kingdoms for the first time in decades. Lord Varyll Strongbad ruled the dwarven kingdom of Q’doba with a beefy fist. The twins Tel-Rojo and Tel-Verde serve as gentle shepherds for the emancipated nation of Chy’Le, populated by High Elves. Lastly, the wizard-queen Choriza Heartfire is both loved and feared by the humans of Posole. The free city of Calabacita sits on the border connecting the three nations and serves as the cultural epicenter for all civilized peoples of Adovad. There, any disputes among the kingdoms are settled by the recently revived tradition of burrito-making. [See Burritocraft for more information.]

Recently, scribes had finished translation on a recipe not seen by any mortal in two thousand years. The people rejoiced from one end of the land to the other, and myriad burritos were consumed. The rulers of the three kingdoms and the Elder Council of Calabacita sent out decrees looking for adventurers of might and cunning to create the legendary burrito as the ancient runes proclaimed it should be. Now, all men know of the dangers of a Burrito Quest, but also do they know of the rewards that go with them. Indeed, Lord Varyll Strongbad of Q’doba became king by being the first mortal in an eon to construct and wield the legendary Tongueflayer, Burrito of the Dragon Aspect. Those few that were courageous enough to take up the Quest gathered outside the Forum of the Elder Council in the city of Calabacita.

The High Priestess of Calabacita, an elder high elf cleric named Xyriana Shadetree, stood to greet the crowd with a young human boy by her side, absentmindedly fingering at a scroll in his hands.

“Adventurers of Adovad, all of you honor me with your presence. For those that do not know me, I go by Shadetree the Chosen. You all are here to undertake the largest burrito project in the history of the kingdoms. Our scribes spent month after sleepless month teasing the meaning of the runes found on the walls of a temple formerly inhabited by the old races. We now have a complete translation of this burrito of lore, which my young assistant Jarmir will recite.”

The crowd looked to Jarmir, a youth with sandy blond hair and piercing blue eyes who looked to be no older than the age of ten. He unfurls the scroll he had been toying with earlier and spoke to the croud in a piping but firm voice.

“This burrito recipe was recorded by the ancients in two separate poems, one describing it’s origins and one describing the ingredients. You all will receive a copy of the translation. The first poem is as follows.”

The child clears his throat and begins.

“Behold! Burrito from the wild
Tortilla wrought of chaos weave
Forbidden food of spider’s child
Behold! Burrito from the wild
From knowledge to leave gods beguiled
Imbued by Lolth to help deceive
Behold! Burrito from the wild
Tortilla wrought of chaos weave”

The silence after the reading was deafening. This was not what any of them had expected; while past quests were for burritos with no clear alignment or aligned to good deities, this one sounded like a creation of servants of Lolth, Demon Queen of Spiders. Many elves were visibly outraged, and one spoke up from towards the front of the crowd, glaring at Shadetree.

“Great Gods, why would you want such a terrible thing brought back into this world? Is the elder council so bored of peace that it sees fit to offend the entirety of Chy’Le with this drow-loving filth? We would never stand for such a thing!” Several encouraging cheers came from the crowd, and Shadetree put up one hand to speak.

“Good sir, the boy still has the second half of the reading to finish, but calm yourself. Let me explain before we go any further. Several items in the recipe are the last of their kind, we seek to construct this dark artifact and then destroy it in a Grill of Ebon Flame, as it was originally created. We cannot be sure that others are not already searching for these ingredients for far more nefarious means, and while we do not fully understand how powerful this burrito may be, the chance to rid this world of an artifact of evil should be a call to action, not the opposite.”

The angry elf that spoke up looked still had a hard look in his eyes, but nodded. “Anything that exists to aid the drow should be destroyed, we are agreed there. Have the boy give the list of ingredients.”

Shadetree nodded to the young Jarmir, who unfurled the scroll farther.

“Burritocrafter, listen close,
a recipe so grandiose
creation of it will engross
the minds of mortal man.

Find first the headless lettuce plant,
and twenty drams of blood, decant
from Anix, ice and fire ant,
who knows the master plan.

The singing ice geranium,
A leopard, some uranium.
A bit of demon cranium,
They all go in a can.

Tortilla of Holding, you need,
Or else the plan will not succeed.
The flour to complete the deed
Is found in Cendriane.

The final item is a must,
an astral diamond, ground to dust.
Acquire one by gaining trust
of Corellon the damned.

Burritocrafter, listen close,
a recipe so grandiose
creation of it will engross
the minds of mortal man.”

Jarmir rolled up the scroll and handed it to Shadetree, who looked out at the crowd. “You have your instructions. The scribes have consulted the Burritodiac and feel that this must surely be the one the ancients called Arach-Ito, Bane of the Eladrin. The elders will help answer what questions we can, we will be in the forum for the rest of the day. The council wishes all of you good luck and a safe journey.” With that, she and the child depart leaving the crowd, who are talking loudly amongst themselves.

Much like great works of art showed the cultural might of the city-states of old, burritocraft is now a claim to celebrity and wealth. The art of burritocraft had died, it’s secrets lost, for over two thousand years. Ancient races unknown to modern man had grand dining halls within their temples, there existed darker sects that wielded burritos of great corrupting power, consorting with ancient demons who dealt in forbidden knowledge, crafting these evil foodstuffs in dungeons, runes carved into them on grills kept alight by dark flames that threw shadows in all directions. Some say these dark sanctums still operate, the curators of these dark burritos now undead skeletons and shades. Now, burritos have been crafted for some three hundred years, after a team of dwarven adventurers happened upon a temple with it’s runic burrito still there, despite millennia of exposure to the elements and all manner of creature. The first deciphering of a runic burrito led to many subsequent discoveries and translations from the temples of the old races, as they’re called by modern folk. The absorption of burritos into the daily life of the people of Adovad was sped up by the magical powers they granted. Adovad’s priests and clerics had never had access to magic to aid their followings, and careful preparation of runic and consumable burritos aided in every area of life.

Runic Burritos:
The runic burrito has become a central fact of life for most Adovadans. Translating the work of the old races has given modern men the ability to inscribe powerful symbols into burritos, giving them magical properties. The abilities depend on the tortilla used, the meat or magical focus used, and the runes inscribed. A simple, common runic burrito is the Burrito of Healing, owned by nearly all upper and middle class families and available for use by the lower class that cannot afford them at most temples. A Burrito of Healing is typically a simple flour tortilla, which allows for only one runic phrase, and stuffed with fey chicken or beef. The rune for “Heal” is carefully burned into the tortilla, and is immediately put on a Grill of Enchanting, where it gains the property not only to heal, but to stay perpetually fresh and resists most damage, either mundane or even magical. An adventurer may have an assortment of burritos to aid them, a less common one (but still fairly common) is the Shielding Burrito, worn on the wrist opposite the user’s main hand and buckled on with steel. They require the heart of a fey ox for a simple small shield or even a dragon for a highly resistant, large shield. The age of the creature effects the potency of the enchantment, and elder dragons do not part with their hearts easily, but the meat is used in many high-level Runic Burritos. The type of tortilla determines the number of runes that can be inscribed onto a burrito. Adovadan flour or cornmeal allows for only one rune, the much rarer Adovadan Blue Corn can be ground into a meal that will allow for a two-rune tortilla. Three-rune tortillas are possible, made from flour of the Feywild, but wheat rarely grows in large enough amounts for one adventurer to find enough for a tortilla large enough to fit all three runic phrases. The legendary burritos of lore had no runes, suggesting that they derive their power from a magical focus inside.

In further episodes: Burritos of Lore, Consumable Burritos, descriptions of the kingdoms and rulers, etc.

On The Love And Loss Of Friends

The holiday season is a trying time for most of us, for a whole variety of reasons. This year, many former coworkers of mine and friends had to deal with the suicide of Jon Vance, a guy that was as intelligent as he was sociable, and one who I never would have thought was capable of such a thing. That was back on November 23rd of 2010, and I’ve found myself thinking about him every day since. I think part of it is because I haven’t had the closure of a funeral, or even seeing a grave, I experienced all the tragedy with none of the healing that comes with moving on.

Even hearing that guilt is a normal mechanism for suicide survivors, it makes the burden no less onerous. The argument with myself is that I should’ve spoken to him more, let him know he had friends and we really do care and want to see him do well, and not hurt. The placating counterargument is that I’m all the way out here, and he’s so far away, how much would it have meant? How much good would it have done? It’s the pain of never having an answer to that, no matter what and no matter how much you want one. Justifiably or not, I think a lot of us share a sense of guilt.

I have had closer deaths to me, my mother nearly six years ago and my grandfather around the age of 9. But I’ve never had to deal with someone I know taking their own life. Why does it feel so different? I did have plenty of time to prepare for losing Mom, after two near-death scares and seeing her the night before she died, I knew exactly what the call was at 4:45 that morning even as I was waking up.

Perhaps it’s different because Jon was about my age, and every day I am faced with that inescapable memento mori, the reminder that I too will die; he was only 8 months older than myself. Perhaps its different because we had so many shared experiences; we were coworkers in the same department, we sought each other’s knowledge and insight on a near-daily basis. We’ve both fought drug problems. And all the stressors of life as a young teenager, with a sick mother, generally unpopular at school, no love interest to speak of, and a series of painful illnesses, led me to contemplate suicide for what had to have been a year or two, around age 14 or 15. Though I never acted on it, the knowledge that I had a plan and could end things myself whenever I desired was a macabre sort of comfort that I hope you never experience, reader.

But things eventually turned around, I’m older, wiser, and happier now than I was then. I’ve made peace with those demons of my past. I cannot help but feel like if I could find a way through those dark days, Jon could have as well; and there again is guilt, because who am I to say that? Jon was also fighting a smoking addiction and chronic pain well beyond what I dealt with. It is pain that has the most destructive effect on the psyche to me; it amplifies all those other negative emotions, and for anyone the thought of spending the rest of their life in pain can be spirit-breaking.

Did he want to be helped? In this I honestly could not say, he hid it from all of us so well that I think he felt like I once did, it was a source of comfort in the end and an attempt to discuss or intervene would be met with equal parts gratitude and derision, because they may mean well but to be honest, they have no idea. It too is unknowable, but that does precious little to quell the want for an answer.

I’m writing this in large part for myself, hoping to find some resolution, some revelation. I know I ultimately won’t be able to put it past me until I can get back to Kentucky and see his resting place. But I hope that if you knew Jon, you might get something out of this as well. If nothing else, you’re not alone in your guilt. We all feel as thought we should have done more. But these thoughts are only marginally useful and largely destructive. Now I am left more with regrets than guilt; I should have spent more time talking to him, not because it might have saved him, but because he was a friend and deserved it.

Perhaps a new year’s resolution should be to be a better friend, and make more time for those I hold dear.

In memory of Jon Michael Vance,
5/15/1987 – 11/23/2010

Alter Bridge – Ab III [88/100]

Alter Bridge is a group that I was unaware of before starting the 30 In 30 project. Formed in 2004, they’re the oft-maligned God-rock band Creed minus unintentionally hilarious frontman Scott Stapp. I really wasn’t sure what to expect from them as a band, and knew nothing of their new lead singer, Myles Kennedy. Suffice it to say their new album, Ab III, was probably the best rock album I listened to this year (okay, I’m considering this late 2010. What of it?)

“Slip To The Void” opens with strings reminiscent of an electric harpsichord. Soft vocals on a delay give a beautiful ethereal quality. Acoustic guitar joins in and overdriven electric guitar soon after, really beautiful composition and the soundstage was used to it’s fullest. Breakdown transitions the song into melodic hard rock. The bridge going back and forth between choral one-liners and a slick electric guitar solo is fantastic. Huge emotional ending breaking down to the strings it started with. Tremendous opener.

“Isolation” is much harder rock, Drop-D or maybe Double-Drop tuning and the distortion is paired with an octave effect for a great big mean sound. After the first chorus we find double-bass speeding up the feeling of the track. Vocal work is great, adding a nice melodic counterpoint. Bridge is more excellent guitar work, the solos have been great on the first two tracks. I’m digging the freeform feel of the composition here, the bridge is ill-defined but not jarring when we return to the chorus. Unexpected noise gates at the end keep the futuristic rock sound alive. Another solid one.

“Ghost of Days Gone By” is yet another different style, we’re in much more mainstream rock, something I could see Daughtry or someone of the sort doing. But that they’re willing to do it is good, and for what it is, it’s very well-done. As we get to the bridge there’s a much moodier feel, and sure enough the vocals give it a downright chilling feel for a good fifteen seconds, really changed the complexion of the song. What appears upbeat is truly sad and haunted, an interesting allegory for the story within. I take it back, the mainstream wouldn’t dig something like this, I think it’s great.

“All Hope Is Gone” has a very interesting rustic 6/8 feel, the vocals are stealing the show here, we have more of that booming low sound that creeped me out in a good way in the previous track. The bridge is fascinating, Tool-esque levels of innovation but with an accompanying guitar solo Tool would never do. Fascinating is the best word I’ve got for this one. And listen-worthy, for sure.

“Still Remains” uses the same scale that opened Isolation, but with clean electric guitar, and the second half of the intro has a more dramatic feeling. We’re back in hard rock, good vocal presence, and Myles Kennedy is putting in good work yet again, the vocals soar, and Mark Tremonti’s work on guitar is the sort of stuff he probably wanted to do with Creed for years. I get a bit of a rock ballad feel from the vocals, this one feels a bit loose compared to the first four tracks honestly. Beautiful, but not as focused.

“Make It Right” defies categorization in the opening, overall it’s an upbeat and fun-feeling track, dominated by a tricky little guitar run. For that matter, the song flat-out defies categorization. But it’s good. Trust me. Tremonti closes it out with a solo that reminds me of some of Joe Satriani’s work, and I listen to a lot of Satch. He does too. Good intriguing song.

“Wonderful Life” is a slower rock song with overdriven guitar transitioning into a rather simple little song of love and mourning, even in this they do quite well at blending the norms of the genre with their personal touches. “And though our days come to an end, / No, I’ll never love like this again, / What a wonderful life, my friend.” Gotta admit, even as the song evolves and changes towards the end, I feel it’s a good 32 bars too long.

“I Know It Hurts” isn’t typical hard rock, you have a strong bassline and a plucked melodic guitar line over the vocals, a favorite of mine. They’re not afraid to layer lots of guitar tracks, and when you’re as talented as Mark Tremonti you shouldn’t be. Tempo change at the chorus, and another one at the bridge. They’re tackling all those things that set a group apart as technically gifted instead of merely proficient. Even the drummer gets to have a little fun in this one. Would’ve liked this one to be longer! Maybe it could borrow some time from “Wonderful Life”.

“Show Me A Sign” attempts to throw my timing off early though it’s 4/4, with some tricky deviations from normal rock. Reminded of Tool again, but actually I’ve been listening to The Gracious Few’s “Tredecim” a lot lately and there are some obvious parallels to draw. Beautifully done, everyone is putting in 110% here and it shows. Might be my favorite on the album so far just based on my tastes. Something for everyone here, give this one a listen for sure.

“Fallout” opens with a pretty electric guitar riff, distinct from the others so far, the chorus is a bit of a letdown, I was hoping for something beautifully melodic and it’s a bit too similar to a few other choruses so far. The bridge is that same moody scale they’re using to good effect throughout, again little touches like dropping the beat for a quick riff or two shows these guys have their own ideas on the future of rock. It transitioned into a harder rock song so subtly I forgot how different the beginning was versus the end.

“Breathe Again” is a bit more mainstream-sounding, just this side of soft rock. This one’s not landing with me like the others have. The chorus was a bit predictable. The bridge was quite a bit better, but this one’s still the low point for me so far.

“Coeur D’Alene” has a great melodic hard rock opening, the band drops out for Myles Kennedy’s singing over simple strumed chords at every bar. It’s a beautiful, even sexy rock song. Hard to categorize, but really enjoyed it.

“Life Must Go On” opens with a clean electric guitar solo and transitions into overdriven guitars that fill the soundstage a bit too much for comfort. The verses are clean, but the choruses are honestly a bit poorly mastered, the guitars are too far forward and drown out the vocals, bass and drums. Maybe I’m being a bit mean to their pop-infused tracks, but it really doesn’t feel like their strong suit. They’re not having the kind of fun they had in “Slip To The Void”.

“Words Darker Than Their Wings” opens with an interesting 12-string acoustic guitar that is panned around the stage effectively. This one’s really interesting, different from anything else so far. Moody is what they’re good at, and this one does it with a different set of sounds. I even get a bit of a System Of A Down sound out of it, reminiscent of “Hypnotize.” This one was clearly an experiment, and good for them for putting it out there for us to experience. One of the best tracks on the album really.

“Zero” starts out as standard hard rock but the verses have an interesting trick, for the first half they eschew guitar entirely, leaving just vocals, bass and drums. The bridge and solo are inspired, even driving for the first time in several songs. Glad they didn’t just pad the end with filler, this was a solid song.

“Home” starts out with tons of promise, the intro’s my favorite on the album and we’re at the last song. A simple message, beautiful performance all around. The chorus is slightly less satisfying than the verses, but the bridge makes up for it as expected (they’re quite handy with bridges). The album closes with one last solo by Mark Tremonti, and it’s a good one. This album took me on quite an emotional trip.

Tone and Overall Sound: 20/20 Points. Given my criteria, less than full marks is impossible. Innovation in spades here, and innovating while having a beautiful sound is no mean trick. I particularly liked the variety of sounds they went for with the guitar, we covered a pretty darn respectable chunk of what you can do with a guitar on one album.

Melody and Harmony: 16/20 Points. There’s enough repetition in the choruses to merit a bit of a ding here. They use a great variety of melody, helped in part by branching out into several genres.

Rhythmic Qualities: 16/20 Points. Good mix of time signatures and variation of rhythm, either through syncopation or through little drum riffs and double-bass runs to break up the time. Notable that given all the ground we covered I didn’t pick up much of a change in the drum kit.

Mixing and Production: 16/20 Points. The one big gripe I had in “Life Must Go On” is more than balanced out by a bunch of good decisions in post-production. Effective use of pans and dynamics throughout. Album flow was good, we covered so much ground I don’t know if it could’ve really been improved, but it definitely could’ve been worse.

Theme and Concept: 10/10 Points. I love when a group moves past the normal confines of a genre in search of a theme. The focus on faith, or a lack thereof, makes for great moving messages.

Presentation: 10/10 Points. I’ve gotta admit, I’m a sucker for a black and gold color scheme. Along with some beautiful intricate details on the album cover, it does really feel like a good fit for the group and album.

Total: 88/100 Points. I’m really glad I listened to this album. There’s still plenty of room for innovation in rock, and Alter Bridge shows one path to it. Many reviewers cite grunge as an influence here, I see more rock ballads from the ’80s and early ’90s, some electronica-inspired decisions in mixing and production, and guitar riffs that have equal parts attitude from the ’60s and technical mastery of the guitar virtuosos of the ’90s and ’00s, Satriani, Malmsteen et al. The composition here is a good one, and much like The Gracious Few shows off their talent without the singer that they were a rhythm section for, Alter Bridge are a group of genuinely talented musicians that shed the Creed name for a shot at rock history. This one might be looked back at as something altogether influential in the shaping of rock in the 21st century. Mark Tremonti’s guitar skills here are put on display as honestly the best guitar work I listened to from the 2010 releases. Highly recommended, buying a copy myself.

Scoring Method: [pdf]
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