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We can have a different web

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We can have a different web
We can have a different web
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We can have a different web

As a lifelong lover of the web, it's hard not to feel a little hopeless right now.

Search engines — the window into the web for many people — top their results with pages containing thousands of words of auto-generated nothingness, perfectly optimized for search engine prominence and to pull in money via ads and affiliate links while simultaneously devoid of any useful information.

Social networks have become “the web” for many people who rarely venture outside of their tall and increasingly reinforced walls. As Tom Eastman once put it, the web has rotted into “five giant websites, each filled with screenshots of the other four”.1 Within those enclosures, the character limits, neutered subset of web functionality, and constant push to satisfy the enigmatic desires of an algorithm tuned to keeping eyeballs on the platform encourage sameness, vapid engagement farming, and rage bait while stifling creativity.

Newspapers, whose evolution towards online models once stoked optimism for more accessible and dynamic journalism that could lead to a more informed and democratically engaged citizenry, have become luxury goods as aggressive paywalls and expensive subscription models are increasingly deployed by the hedge funds and other profit-hungry entities that control these papers. Some use the excuse that they're trying to protect their journalism from the unsanctioned scraping by companies training ever-hungrier artificial intelligence models. Yet those same media outlets hasten their own demise with wave after wave of layoffs, or by chasing harebrained schemes like churning out tedious clickbait or their own AI-generated soup even as their executives continue to cash huge checks.

We can have a different web

Many websites now require one to steel themselves for battle against the advertisements and trackers and GDPR cookie consent popups and AI-powered chatbot windows that interrupt you to offer to helpfully bungle whatever you ask of them. AdBlock is no longer optional, and even with it, trackers and advertisements slither through the cracks. Browsing the web brings with it the ever-present feeling that you're being watched — your activities and preferences and habits all being logged and funneled into a giant vat of horrifying data soup, all just to help more companies serve you more of these intrusive ads that you must endlessly swat away as you try to find whatever it was you were looking for.

It is tempting, amid all of this decay, to yearn for the good old days.

The emergence of online chat and instant messaging, where you used some acronym-named chat like ICQ or IRC or AOL messenger to talk to friends you knew in real life or anonymous strangers all over the globe. Those phpBB forums and message boards on sites like GameFAQs — or, for some, the BBSes and Usenet newsgroups that predated them. The flash games and the whimsical GeoCities sites full of dancing hamsters and the MySpace pages full of garish, hand-coded styles and glitter GIFs and auto-playing MIDI tracks.

We can have a different web
Di-da-dee da dee da doh-doh

Those incredibly specific websites created by one guy with an encyclopedic knowledge of something really niche, or the labors of love that were fansites dedicated to The X Files or the Backstreet Boys.

Some of this is nostalgia for our younger years, I think. According to my very scientific Twitter and Mastodon polls, around 60% and 42% (respectively) of people happened to be under 20 years old during the period they identified as the "good old days".

It may be that we are, at least in part, yearning for the days when logging on to the internet was less likely to mean going to work or paying a bill and more likely to mean playing Runescape or hoping that the green circle on AIM would light up next to the name of our crush after school.

But some of this is certainly based in the feeling that the web was just better back then. Fewer trolls, and a lot fewer bots. Google search results that actually returned what you were looking for, not just the sites that paid the most. Cobbled-together blogs and LiveJournal pages written by people who felt authentic, who maybe wanted to attract more visitors to tick up their pageview counters or add entries to their guestbook pages, but who weren't trying to cultivate a persona as an influencer or a thought leader, "build a brand", or monetize their audience. More of a neighborhood feeling where everyone was a possible friend, and less fear that people might interpret your social media post as uncharitably as possible. The worry that the girl you were talking to might be a man pretending to be a girl, but probably not the fear that she's a crypto romance scammer or part of a state-sponsored disinformation network. Fewer and less intrusive ads, less engagement farming, less surveillance. Fewer paywalls, more "information wants to be free".

The thing is: none of this is gone. Nothing about the web has changed that prevents us from going back. If anything, it's become a lot easier. We can return. Better, yet: we can restore the things we loved about the old web while incorporating the wonderful things that have emerged since, developing even better things as we go forward, and leaving behind some things from the early web days we all too often forget when we put on our rose-colored glasses.

When I envision the web, I picture an infinite expanse of empty space that stretches as far as the eye can see. It's full of fertile soil, but no seeds have taken root. That is, except for about an acre of it.

Years ago, in the web's early days, people entered this infinite expanse and began to cultivate it. First it was the scientists at CERN, who poked a hole through into this uncultivated world and began to experiment within that acre. Eventually, they widened the entry point to enable others — mostly from universities — to join. They set up their own tiny plots within this acre, sowing seeds that they personally loved.

With time, the entrance widened even further, and geeks outside of universities found their way in. Then, home computing really began to take off, and the number of visitors expanded far beyond just the geeky hobbyists. Some people continued to cultivate their own little patches in the acre, but others opened community gardens: forum sites and shared blogs and chat rooms and webhosting services where people could develop their own projects. People brought in little gnome sculptures and garish lawn flamingos. Some people erected fencing to control who wandered in — or even who could see in — to their plots. But people had also begun to build pathways in the spaces among the patches: webrings and hand-curated blogrolls, vigorous hyperlinking, and early versions of search engines.

There were weeds, too. Invasive plants that threatened to crowd out what some people had lovingly built. Trolls that poisoned the forums and chat rooms, or the threat of viruses that made people more cautious. All too many people who shunned or harassed those who didn't fit the mold of the (white, male, straight) prototypical internet user.

And some from the outside world began to worry. What do you mean there are no police there? And you're letting kids in? Hey, those are my seeds you're using, and now you're just giving them away for free to other people!

But eventually, businesses set up shop, selling everything from seeds to tractors to garden gnomes to landscaping services to all the kinds of things people were used to using back outside of this digital expanse. And at first, they fit in among the hobbyist plots and community gardens.

But with time, businesses learned there were other ways to extract money from the community that had grown within this acre in the digital world. They set up tolls on the pathways. They planted invasive species that encroached on what other people had built, shading them out — or they spread pesticides that poisoned what others had cultivated. Some acquired plot after plot after plot, building their own empires through which others needed to pass to get where they were trying to go. Many businesses initially invited people in with open arms, promising that if they moved within their boundaries, the business would take care of all the hard stuff — the digging, the weeding, the sowing — and let you just do the parts you wanted to do. After a time, many people opted to do so, drawn in by these easy and free services that let them spend more time admiring the flowers or visiting neighbors and less time doing the dirty work. But then, the walls went up.

Towering over the rest of the acre, massive walls shaded out much of what was happening outside of these businesses' enclosures. People couldn't see over to know what was happening beyond, so was it even worth the effort to make a visit? After all, there's so much to see inside. These businesses set up right at the gate too, so some new entrants thought the space within the walls was all there was. They never saw the infinite expanse beyond, nor the creativity that was still flourishing out there.

Some pathways remained, mostly linking together these giant fortresses, but with time even those were made harder to pass. Rules were imposed to limit what plants you could grow and how you could grow them and who might ever be able to see them. Some maintained plots within multiple of these businesses' walled areas, but found themselves having to devote more and more of their time to maintaining all of their disparate gardens, or let some of them lie fallow.

The businesses developed systems to quickly usher people along from undesirable tenants, drawing their attention to the carefully manicured plots where nary a blade of grass was out of place. And they started checking IDs at the door, making sure you were known both to the business owners and the policemen who had set up watchtowers and CCTV networks. Increasingly, drones passed overhead, operated by businesses who peered in to see what kinds of plants you were growing and what kinds of decorations you were putting up in hopes of selling you something similar later on.

If a tenant decided they were sick of their spot within a walled garden, well, they could leave — but it meant they abandoned what they had built, and the path for friends or admirers of their work to come visit them became a lot more arduous to traverse.

This is the world of today's web. Most of us spend our days within the confines of a handful of platforms, wandering around to admire what people have done with the seeds they are allowed in the space they are allotted, with platform owners directing us to the gardens they think we might like — or, more often, the ones they think will keep us within their walls for longer. Occasionally we venture outside to another plot, but sometimes we're given dire warnings before we go. After all, there could be weeds out there!

We can have a different web

And those who cultivate those plots outside of these walls face pressures to conform to the whims of the businesses in hopes that the pathways remain open. Otherwise, they might toil away in silence, rarely seeing visitors like they one day used to.

It feels grim, and especially so for those of us who remember the days before the walls. We miss the messy but innovative landscaping, the use of space beyond the tiny squares our landlords provide us, the mostly polite strangers who wandered through and remarked on our work or shared their knowledge with us.

But we often forget: that world is still out there.

The walled enclosures that crowded out much of that acre of developed land still reside within an infinite expanse of possibility. There are no limits to the web — if it has borders, they are ever expanding. We may feel as though we are trapped in a tiny, crowded, noisy space, but it is only because we don't see over the walls.

We can have a different web

If we wanted, each of us could escape those walls and set up our own spaces within the limitless, fertile soil beyond. Some of us might opt to leave those walls permanently, while others might choose to split our time between our beautiful, messy, free world outside to maintain smaller, meticulously-groomed simulacrums within the enclosures that hint — without angering our landlords — at the creations beyond. We can periodically smuggle seeds and plant cuttings beyond the walls, ensuring that if the proprietors decide to evict us, our gardens will live on.

We can develop protocols — more resilient versions of those early footpaths — that inherently resist the tollbooths and border crossing gates established by the businesses with the walls. We can even develop our own community gardens with spaces for tenants that have their own models of governance far beyond the single benevolent platform dictatorship model — that inevitably grows less benevolent as money changes hands.

While some of the early gardens that we reminisce about didn't survive the shade of the large platforms or the dwindling flow of visitors that were rerouted within those walls, new gardens can be cultivated to their specifications. People can experiment with combining the things they loved about the old gardens with the tools and models of the ones that have grown since then, or return to the spirit of experimentation and try new things altogether. They can draw on the population explosion within the digital expanse to bring in new people with new ideas and new energy to revitalize what once was, and make it better than before.

Though we now face a new challenge as the dominance of the massive walled gardens has become overwhelming, we have tools in our arsenal: the memories of once was, and the creativity of far more people than ever before, who entered the digital expanse but have grown disillusioned with the business moguls controlling life within the walls.

And if anything, it is easier now to do all of this than it ever was. In the early days, people had to fight to enter the expanse at all, and those who did were starting with little. Now, the expanse feels ubiquitous in some countries, and is becoming ever more accessible in the others. Sophisticated tools and techniques are available even to novices. Where once the walled gardens were the only viable option for novice gardeners or those without many resources, that is no longer so much the case — and the skills and resources required to establish one's own sovereign plot become more accessible by the day.

We can have a different web, if we want it.

Further reading


  1. From a tweet by Tom Eastman, with thanks to Cory Doctorow for repeating it.

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53 days ago
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48 days ago
As a lifelong lover of the web, it's hard not to feel a little hopeless right now.

Perfect Tides, a Coming-of-Age Point-and-Click Adventure, Kickstarts a Sequel

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There’s no shortage of amazing games so far this year, but my personal favorite is an underdog: Perfect Tides, a ’90s-esque point-and-click adventure about growing up as a teen on a sleepy island resort town in the early 2000s, finding an escape from real-life feelings of loneliness and loss in discussion forums and late-night AIM chats.

Mara and her friend Lily on the beach… definitely not on drugs

The first game from Meredith Gran, creator of the decade-long comic series Octopus Pie, it approaches challenging subjects with the confidence of someone who created narrative comics every week for ten years. I can’t think of another comics artist who has dived into game design like this, but it pays off with uniquely charming pixel art and animation, colorful writing, and a story that genuinely moved me by the end. It navigates complex feelings about family, old friends, and new loves, while also being genuinely funny.

Let’s put it this way: I’ve been playing videogames for the last 35 years, but Perfect Tides is the first time I felt compelled to write a walkthrough (spoilers!) and actively participate in forums to help people finish it.

This is a long way of saying that you should play Perfect Tides on Steam or Itch, and then go back the Kickstarter for its sequel, Station to Station, which has only six days to go and still needs another $20,000 to cross the finish line.

you should probably go back this project

But you don’t have to take my word for it! Kotaku said the original game was “one of the year’s best,” the “kind of game you don’t even see coming, yet turns out to be incredible” and “perfectly captures the intensity and struggle of adolescence.” AV Club called it a “harrowing, funny, beautiful, horrifying, and ultimately reassuring work of art.” Polygon summed it up as “devastatingly honest.” My favorite review was from Buried Treasure’s John Walker, who wrote, “It is the most extraordinary exploration of what it is to be a teenager, told with such heart, such truth.”

Spoilers Ahoy

If you’ve already played Perfect Tides, I want to mention two key moments that are so wonderful, and yet so easy to miss in your first playthrough, they’re worth replaying it for. THESE ARE SPOILERS!

First, if you didn’t manage to patch things up with Lily, you missed a long sequence with her in the final season of the game. (To get the full experience of that sequence, you’ll need to find a specific MP3 and put into the game directory when prompted: a remarkable breaking-the-fourth-wall sidestep around copyright licensing that I’ve never seen in a game before.)

Second, there are two major endings. If it feels anticlimactic, you likely didn’t resolve your conflicts with Lily, Simon, and your family. There are 95 possible points, but you don’t need them all to get the best ending. Feel free to use my 100% completion guide for help getting there.

Perfect Tides isn’t perfect. Like any classic point-and-click adventure, there are some clunky bits here and there, and you’ll likely need the occasional hint or glance at a playthrough to finish. But it’s so worth it.

Mara talks to an online friend
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662 days ago
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Digital Data

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“If you can read this, congratulations—the archive you’re you're using still knows about the mouseover text”!
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2956 days ago
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2955 days ago
Blacksburg, VA
2957 days ago
The cut-off 9gag watermark is what sealed the deal.
2957 days ago
I read an article recently called the Triumphant rise of the shitpic. Pretty much describes this exact phenomenon. Thanks JPG compression and shitty watermarks.
2957 days ago
xkcd speaks the truth once again.
2957 days ago
One more memorable xkcd
2957 days ago
Always fun when you can share xkcd for professional reasons…
Washington, DC
2957 days ago
Atlanta, GA
2957 days ago
"Fun websites" in a nutshell.
2957 days ago
"Digital Data" (xkcd on the need for better archives)
2957 days ago
All of my rage
2957 days ago
iPhone: 49.287476,-123.142136
2957 days ago
“If you can read this, congratulations—the archive you’re you're using still knows about the mouseover text”!
2957 days ago
The mojibake in the alt-text is deliberate, right? Right?

Also: hi, Covarr.
2957 days ago
Heya, Screwtape!

Haken – Affinity – Album Review

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Press_cover (3)

Artist: Haken

Album Title: Affinity

Label: InsideOut Records

Date Of Release: 29 April 2016

Beware! This is the first time that I have been able to review a full Haken album without any word limits or other punitive restrictions placed upon me. You have been warned…

I’m going to lay my cards on the table right at the outset: Haken are one of my all-time favourite bands. Despite only being in existence for a relatively short period of time, right from their debut ‘Aquarius’ I have held them in high regard. It is a situation that has only strengthened over the years with each passing album and having had the chance to meet the band on several occasions, from interviewing the whole motley crew on their tour van at Progpower Europe in 2010 to friendly chats with various members at numerous gigs subsequently.

Regardless of this however, Haken are the real deal. Yes, they are a cracking bunch of guys but crucially, they back it up with a superlative end product. Each member of Haken is a supremely talented individual with their chosen instrument(s) but together there is a real magic; an unquantifiable ‘x’ factor that leads to the creation of music that is almost peerless and jaw-droppingly good.

And, on that note, let us delve into the world of ‘Affinity’.

It took me quite a while to get into and appreciate ‘The Mountain’. It sounded different from what went before it; more grown-up and, ‘Cockroach King’ aside, more serious and introspective. However, in stark contrast to ‘The Mountain’, ‘Affinity’ captured my imagination right off the bat and has not failed to let go in the month or so that I’ve been listening to it. If anything, the more I listen, the better it gets.

Weirdly enough, a small voice in my brain kept suggesting that it might be a good thing if ‘Affinity’ wasn’t as good an album. That way, I’d be able to tackle this review without the inevitable comments from readers about me being a fanboy and moaning that ‘you were always going to give it a high score’. But then I came to my senses.

‘Affinity’ won’t be for everyone, that’s for sure. If you’re a fan of the first two albums and wanted a return to more of that sound and approach, you might be left slightly disappointed. If however, you’re open to listening to a band that refuses to tread the same path twice, a band that champions the true meaning of ‘progressive’ by trying new things whilst remaining loyal to their core principles, then ‘Affinity’ will probably have the same impact upon you as it has had on me.

And what exactly is that impact? It is almost impossible to describe if I’m honest. ‘Affinity’ is an album that transcends the normal debates around whether it is good or not. Of course it is good, that almost goes without saying. I’m not a musician, so I am unable to dissect all of the technical intricacies that are present on this record. That’s not my style. Instead it’s the feelings that Haken evoke in their music that I feel the need to focus on as this is arguably the most powerful and intoxicating aspect of their incredible music.

Photo: Isabell Etz

Photo: Isabell Etz

We all have them – bands that, as you listen, make you feel happy to be alive. Well, for me, Haken are one of the four or five bands on Earth that do just that.

The album opens with the sampled sounds made by early computers atop a dark, cinematic soundscape that grows in intensity, building the sense of anticipation brilliantly and setting the foundations to the musical avenues to be explored within ‘Affinity’. Whilst ‘The Mountain’ was heavily influenced by the 1970s with the likes of Gentle Giant looming large within certain compositions, ‘Affinity’ takes its cue from the following decade. To be fair, this was fairly obvious after one look at the retro cover artwork and the most excellent teaser trailers released a few weeks ago. Again, the imagery might not appeal to everyone, but I really like the boldness and simplicity of the artwork that deliberately and unashamedly harks back to the analogue days of cassette tapes and vinyl.

The opening instrumental segues seamlessly into ‘Initiate’, the first ‘proper’ track on the album and a barnstormer at that, a deceptively complex piece of music that acts as a real showcase for everything great about Haken in 2016. And as I listen, almost immediately, several things become clear. Firstly, ‘Affinity’ is blessed by a production and a mix courtesy of Jens Bogren (Fascination Street Studios) that is right out of the top drawer. The music sounds powerful yet with a clarity that allows every instrument to shine. Nothing is lost or overlooked and the results are simply stunning.

Secondly, Ross Jennings’ vocals have taken another huge leap in the right direction. I was always one of those that took a lot of convincing over his delivery on the debut record particularly. However, he has pushed himself to the point that he is, without doubt a highly talented and accomplished vocalist with a unique, passionate delivery.

Thirdly, the increase in atmospherics, of electronic sounds and textures courtesy of Diego Tejeida is also very pronounced from the outset. Not only does he create a very interesting sonic palette that weaves in and out of each composition, he injects a surprising amount of warmth to the music that could so easily have sounded cold and inaccessible.

This in turn links to my final observation, that ‘Affinity’ manages to deftly and expertly merge the sounds of the past with the sounds of the future. In spite of the 1980s sheen, all nine compositions on ‘Affinity’ come across to me as fresh and exciting, with accents of djent, post-rock, ambient and all manner of other sounds bursting forth at whim.

Having said all that, ‘1985’ is almost entirely immersed in the 80s. In the same way as ‘Cockroach King’ was Haken’s ‘all-out’ track on ‘The Mountain’, ‘1985’ is the song on ‘Affinity’ that throws a little caution to the wind and shows Haken at their most audacious in many respects. Synth drums, overt retro sounds and an occasional dive headlong into 80s movie soundtrack territory all take place within this ambitious composition. However, it works, retaining a homogenous feel throughout. It is made all the more special thanks to a really rousing, hooky chorus that is nothing short of addictive.

The elegant ‘Lapse’ features some of Jennings’ most accomplished vocal work on this record, and indeed throughout the entire back catalogue. The vocal chords are stretched in directions that must have been really challenging but the result is gripping, full of sincerity and emotion in places.

Photo: Sevcan Yuksel Henshall

Photo: Sevcan Yuksel Henshall

‘The Architect’ is Haken’s monster epic. At 15 minutes long, it allows the band the time to explore a number of ideas without ever feeling cluttered or disjointed. The track starts off in grand, cinematic style before exploding in a barely-controlled prog metal assault. It is here that Haken most clearly reference their earlier output as the music flits between the over-the-top excesses of the debut and the grandiose tones of ‘Visions’.

I’m then reminded vaguely of Tool in the more refrained guitar work and rhythms that follow, before another memorable chorus of sorts grabs the attention. And then, the song plunges into a music abyss where everything falls away to eventually and gradually rebuild over time. The foreboding yet ambient synth sounds lay the early groundwork as the bass guitar of relative newbie Conner Green joins the fray with some exceptionally expressive, deft and highly musical work. Ray Hearne’s drumming is subtle but inspired, and the resulting guitar interplay between Richard Henshall and Charlie Griffiths is inventive, melodious and ear-catching.

If that wasn’t enough, as the song ascends from the depths, the band are joined by Leprous’ Einar Solberg who adds his unique gruff vocals atop some heavy djent-like riffing before a return to the chorus and an epic lead guitar solo that rivals that of ‘Aquarium’ for spine tingling majesty.

‘Earthrise’ is possibly my favourite track on the album right now. I adore the quiet and melodic opening because it fills me with a warm glow and the feeling that the world can’t be an entirely awful place if such beautiful music can be written. It develops into a composition that is bright and breezy, complimented by lyrics that have a distinctly positive vibe to them.

By contrast, ‘Red Giant’ explores entirely different terrain. It is the most modern and post-rock that Haken have ever sounded and is also one of their most brooding and quietly intense compositions. The keys and rhythm section take the lead on this track, which is arguably the biggest and most consistent grower on the entire record.

Photo: Isabell Etz

Photo: Isabell Etz

‘The Endless Knot’ features some delicious drum fills from Mr Hearne and more killer melodies. It also affords Diego the opportunity to go a little crazy with more zany and out-there sounds. It also allows some six-string indulgence in the shape of one of the most intricate and dextrous guitar leads at around the mid-point. The song constantly shifts direction throughout its relatively modest life, but is held together by those strong melodies which return time and again to my great delight.

‘Bound By Gravity’ then closes out the album in an impossibly perfect manner. It is arguably one of the softest songs that Haken have ever penned but it is also one of the most beautiful. Acoustic guitars and more warm and inviting keys, vaguely reminiscent of Sigur Ros envelop the listener in a soothing, comforting embrace. Jennings’ soft and gentle delivery adds an almost ethereal quality to the track as it floats along on a warm current of magical melody that is both uplifting and almost heart breaking. Such is its understated and subtle beauty, I find myself smiling broadly and wiping tears from my eyes almost simultaneously.

How do I sum up an album like this? I could have mentioned a million bands throughout this review, from Textures to King Crimson and beyond as indeed there are reference points all over the place if you’re of a mind to count them. However, Haken are Haken and the bottom line is that they have developed into a modern prog band that is truly unique. ‘Affinity’ is one of the best progressive albums I have ever had the pleasure to listen to but more than that, it truly moves me and I connect to it on an emotional level; it makes me smile, it makes me cry and it makes me feel alive.

The Score Of Much Metal: 10

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others right here:

Long Distance Calling – TripsOctober Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

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2986 days ago
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Breakdown of Amazon's social engineering backdoor

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damning transcripts of customer support handing out customer details  
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3073 days ago
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Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 1

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So, here we are. I’ve made it. One month and over 30,000 words later, my ‘Album Of The Year 2015’ Top 30 countdown comes to an end. It has been challenging, tiring and occasionally frustrating but well worth the effort. I have enjoyed the banter, the more serious conversations, the arguments and the positive comments that this series has created. But best of all are the comments from people who say that they have discovered or re-discovered a particular band thanks to one of my posts. This is exactly why I do this.

People ask me why I don’t just write a simple list and put it out there on the Internet. It would be simpler I admit but then, those that know me know that this isn’t the Man Of Much Metal’s way. And it certainly isn’t the Blog Of Much Metal way either. Each and every band that features in this list has spent months creating great music for us all to enjoy. Therefore, the least I can do is spend a decent amount of time giving credit where it’s due and explaining why I feel so passionately about these albums. Giving something back to the music that has given me so much is what I and this blog is all about.

If you’ve stuck with me throughout this series, I offer one last heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you. If you’re new and like what you read here, be sure to spread the word and check out the other 29 albums in my list via the links at the end of this post.

But enough of all that. Let’s get down to business. Ladies, gentlemen and children of all ages and of discerning taste, I give you my gold medal choice for 2015, the best album of a strong year for the music I love…

Number 1

earthside coverEarthside
‘A Dream In Static
Independent Release

I thought long and hard before awarding this album the title of ‘best album of 2015’. I mean, could I really award the title to a debut album from an unsigned band? But then I came to my senses, severely chastised myself and here we are.

Earthside, from New Haven, Connecticut, are comprised of drummer Ben Shanbrom, keyboardist Frank Sacramone, guitarist Jamie van Dyck and bassist Ryan Griffin. And together, they have put together a stunning album that is an utter delight and one that arguably breathes new life into the genre of heavy metal. Not content to plough one narrow musical furrow, instead the quartet have made it their mission to explore numerous different styles across the rock/metal spectrum and beyond all the while managing to keep the end product cohesive and, above all, enjoyable. You could call Earthside’s music progressive metal, djent, cinematic and symphonic or experimental…personally, I just call it damn good music.

Earthside have proved with this release that you can be ambitious, challenging to yourself, challenging to the listener and yet manage to emerge from the other side triumphant. There isn’t a moment on ‘A Dream In Static’ that is messy or clunky or even ill-advised. It all fits perfectly in spite of the myriad of influences at play and what’s more, the end product is absorbing, memorable and extremely addictive.

Photo Credit: Ian Christmann http://ianchristmann.com/

Photo Credit: Ian Christmann http://ianchristmann.com/

One of the elements of Earthside’s success is undoubtedly the unwillingness to rush the end product and to compromise in any real way. As I discovered when I interviewed Ben Shanbrom prior to the album’s release, Earthside have been around for a number of years, working away in the background to hone their craft and perfect their music away from prying ears and the lure of the limelight. In this day and age, it is all too easy to produce music, put it out on the internet and wait for the world to love you or loathe you. Very little thought often goes into the detail; the detail of learning to play your chosen instrument properly for example. And, even for those who are wizards at playing, the detail of honing song writing skills and having a clear vision for the band can be overlooked. This isn’t the case with Earthside – they’ve seemingly thought of everything. The result is ‘A Dream In Static’.

I knew from the moment that I heard ‘The Closest I’ve Come’ that something special was brewing. I had to wait what seemed an inordinately long time before I was finally able to hear the album in it’s entirety but believe me, it was worth the wait. In fact, for those of you familiar with my presence on social media, this choice won’t be the biggest surprise of your lives. I have waxed lyrical about the record over the past few months and I don’t see any reason for that stance to change any time soon.

If you’re after a really detailed look into the individual songs on ‘A Dream In Static’, please check out the review that I wrote for it around the time of it’s release. In addition, for more background about the band, check out my 2-part interview. Links to all three are as follows:

‘A Dream In Static’ Album review
Earthside Interview – Part 1
Earthside Interview – Part 2

For now, for this post, I’ll try to keep things brief. Note the word ‘try’ in that last sentence.

The album kicks off in stunning fashion with ‘The Closest I’ve Come’. In keeping with much of the album, it is an instrumental track but it oozes class and keeps things interesting by frequently altering the tempo, toying with differing levels of complexity and adding an urgent sense of drama via an inspired use of light and shade. One minute it’s heavy, the next it’s quiet and gentle. And, at the 1:30 mark, it explodes with the most gloriously epic melody you’re likely to hear for a while. Spine-tingling stuff indeed.

The title track follows and, featuring TesseracT’s Daniel Tomkins on vocals, it is equally as good as the opener. It is a groovy, djent-heavy beast that features more sumptuous melodies that are impossible to resist. ‘Mob Mentality’ which features Sevendust’s Lajon Witherspoon behind the microphone also boasts the talents of the Moscow Studio Symphony Orchestra and if you’re looking for a complex and moody film score-like feel to it, this is the song you’ve been dreaming of. Gargantuan and bruising, yet precise and subtle, it is a composition that has to be heard to be believed.

‘Entering The Light’ is the shortest track on the album but is also one of the most striking given its demonstrable urgency and the inspired inclusion of a hammered dulcimer courtesy of Max ZT to provide the song’s central melody. Then there are other compositions like ‘Crater’ featuring Soilwork’s Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid, one of my all-time favourite metal vocalists, ‘The Undergrounding’ with its Meshuggah-like chugging riffs and ‘Contemplation Of The Beautiful’ which is an epic track full of highs and lows that ends with the mother of all crescendos, enhanced by an emotional and committed performance from the final guest vocalist, Eric Zirlinger (Face The King, ex-Seer). Hell, who am I trying to kid, every single track on ‘A Dream In Static’ is a killer and deserving of all the praise that is bestowed upon them.

Going back to my opening paragraph, it belatedly occurs to me that one of the reasons why this record is so exciting is absolutely because this is Earthside’s debut album. Prior to this album, the name ‘Earthside’ was known only to a select few but, given the staggering quality of ‘A Dream In Static’, it is a name that is being talked about more and more with each passing day. Enlisting the services of a full orchestra, convincing the likes of Daniel Tomkins and Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid to participate and then to be able to have the whole thing mixed by David Castillo (Katatonia, Opeth) means that Earthside must be doing something right.

The mind boggles at what on Earth the band will deliver next time out. However, that’s for another day. For now, let us revel in the sounds, the textures, the emotions and the atmospheres of ‘A Dream In Static’.

In closing, I’d like to quote my original review, as the sentiment remains as true now as it did then: ‘‘A Dream In Static’ is not perfect but it is very close. It is one of the most intense, challenging and ambitious recordings I have heard in a very long time. I’m not a gifted musician, so I prefer to reflect on how albums make me feel; Earthside’s music elates me, excites me and delivers something new on each and every listen. On that basis alone, mark my words, Earthside are going to be huge. A band of this talent, dedication and focus that has produced something as jaw-dropping as ‘A Dream In Static’ as a mere introduction to the metal world cannot possibly be anything else. And you know what? They thoroughly and unequivocally deserve everything coming their way. Bravo gents, bravo.

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 2
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 3
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 4
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 5
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 6
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 7
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 8
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 9
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 10
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 11
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 12
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 13
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 14
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 15
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 16
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 17
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 18
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 19
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 20
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 21
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 22
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 23
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 24
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 25
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 26
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 27
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 28
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 30

And from previous years:

Album of the Year 2014
Album of the Year 2013
Album of the Year 2012

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3082 days ago
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