Song Review #20: “Deep End- Stripped” by I Prevail

Detroit rock band I Prevail has released an alternative version of their song Deep End, which was originally part of their album True Power. This song, despite not being a pre-released single, managed to become very popular, and for good reason. It’s very catchy, yet incredibly impactful with its lyrics, which are carried beautifully by the vocal talent of Brian Burkheiser, with help from harsh vocalist Eric Vanlerberghe. I can even confirm that the drum part is very fun to play.

So needless to say, people were excited about the announcement of a “stripped” version of this song, and it came out beautifully. I wouldn’t call this a fully acoustic version of Deep End, because while it heavily incorporates acoustic guitars, piano and simple percussion, in true I Prevail fashion there are some modern pop inflections thrown in for flavor. Most of this occurs in some of the atmospheric shaping, as well as a muffled and ambient beat thrown in during the second verse. They aren’t a glaring contrast to the acoustic tones, and everything actually blends really nicely.

With this being a less heavily produced song, you get to hear a little more of Brian’s vocal inflections, and it adds more to the raw sound of the song. I can’t tell if he actually re-recorded vocals for this, or if they just used the stems from the original ( I’ll have to listen to both again. Not complaining), but you can still hear a lot that gets covered up in the fully produced version.

The instrumentation is really nice and full, and manages to maintain some of the bouncy nature of the original, while still being more soft-spoken and gentle in approach. Honestly, this is a really powerful reimagining of an already incredibly fun song, and the only thing I wish could have been done different is maybe giving Eric a bigger role in this. With True Power, we got to hear a bit of his talent with clean singing, and I was hoping that with this stripped version, he would have something more to do.

Other than that, this sounds really nice, and I hope we get more alternative versions of I Prevail songs in the future. I think the only other song they’ve remade is Hurricane, and I think songs like Breaking Down, Let Me Be Sad, Bad Things, and a lot of the stuff off the Lifelines album could make for some really cool acoustic tracks.

Before we end, I want to let you all know that I’m taking next week off for my birthday, and just to start Summer vacation in general. Hopefully nothing too crazy happens in that time. With that said, I hope you enjoyed, and I’ll see you all in a couple weeks!

Album Review #28: “Take Me Back To Eden” by Sleep Token

British rock band Sleep Token, at the height of their newfound popularity, have released their third album, titled Take Me Back To Eden. This album had an interesting promotional run, with the band releasing the first single on January 4, and barely even waiting for people to respond to it before dropping the next one the day after. A third single came out a couple weeks later, followed again by the fourth the next day. They managed to get four singles out in the first month of 2023, and squeaked out two more before their album’s release four months later. I think it was their aggressively active presence, combined with Sleep Token’s familiar strange and mysterious visual aesthetic and just good frikin’ music, that helped them soar to the top of the charts. What was once an underground alternative band has become one of this year’s biggest names in the rock world. Now that the full album is out, let’s go through it track by track, and see if it’s worth the hype.

We begin with Chokehold, which starts with a slow, distorted atmosphere that backs up the first entrance of the god-tier vocals of frontman Vessel. The song is a slow build, with the first verse really letting the vocals shine with a fun mix of solo melodies, before a creepy piano and trap beat start to ramp up the tension, leading to the song suddenly exploding into a full-on metalcore breakdown. The second verse cools down, but the beast has been unleashed, and from this point on, the song is a fun first taste of how many styles and flavors of sound we’ll be subjected to. The keys and guitars are a great contrast of soft and aggressive, the vocals are pure hype towards the end, and everything combines nicely for a powerful opener.

The Summoning. Oh, boy, The Summoning. There are certain songs that you can listen to infinitely, but no matter how much you can vibe to them, you can never feel quite how you felt the first time, and this is one of those cases. With a duration of over six minutes, this song manages to cram in a god-tier blend of brutal, chunky guitars, massive choruses with insane vocal melodies, a really nice solo, and a different vibe for each segment. The sound is incredibly varied, but the colors blend pretty much perfectly. This is especially true for the closing, which smacks you in the face after about a minute of atmospheric synths to deliver probably the funkiest groove to ever be heard in a metal album. Again, no amount of replaying will recreate the pure surprise, confusion, and pure vibes that the entire metal community felt when we all heard this for the first time, and as bold of a move as it was, it really added something special and vibrant to an already killer track.

Granite steps away from the rock and metal vibes a little to deliver a really catchy pop tune with some insanely well-written lyrics, a solid trap beat, and a very bouncy, sparkly tone. Of course, as is custom with Sleep Token, there can never be just one style to a song. The fun pop themes eventually give way for a fun, thundering breakdown, and the final chorus opens wide up with some atmospheric synths, booming drums and guitars, and Vessel’s voice being the life of the party. Overall, this song really demonstrates the band’s fun side, while still maintaining some nice heaviness.

Then comes Aqua Regia, which takes another new turn, bringing in some really nice, chill piano melodies, groovy drums and bass, and persistently nice vocals. This song is a bit straightforward, but it has it’s own unique charm that makes it super addicting. The jazzy piano solo was a real treat, and it continues this album’s showcase of masterful skill in a wide diversity of genres.

Vore comes in to deliver a mix of tones that is equally heavy as it is haunting. The soft, ethereal sections with clean vocals are a beautiful contrast to the heavier parts of the song, one example being that beginning that hits like a truck going at a hundred miles an hour. We also get some really nice screams, which I don’t believe are coming from Vessel. I’m not entirely sure about this, but maybe it’s one of the guitarists. Either way, there’s an interesting filter over the screams make blends them very nicely into the instrumental.

Next is Ascensionism, which instantly became one of my favorite songs off this album after hearing it for the first time. This has a pretty lengthy duration, but do not let that deter you, because these seven minutes go by fast, due to the interesting and exciting twists and turns that end up happening. Opening up with some somber vocals and a hushed piano, this track fluidly evolves and delivers some super catchy verses that bring back some R&B flair, before throwing down some massive, brutal djent breakdowns, making for an incredible three-act journey of a song that almost feels like a whole album of its own. This right here is genre-blending at it’s finest.

Are You Really Okay? is a really interesting song that, on one hand, fuels the unpredictability that makes up part of Sleep Token’s essence, but on the other hand, still feels completely different from anything the band has ever done before. This song sounds like an attempt at a stadium rock ballad, and it manages to be both beautiful and crushingly blunt with its message tackling mental health. This is a very emotionally raw song, even by Sleep Token’s standards, and I imagine from the nylon strings at the start to the distorted chords towards the end, this will grow to hit the right notes for a lot of people.

The Apparition takes a little bit of what Ascenscionism did, condensed it down to four minutes, and somehow managed to hit just as hard, perfectly blend rock and pop styles on the same level, and overall be an absolutely loaded song. The trap section is haunting, punchy and atmospheric, and there is some really powerful vocal projection in the open rock section that I can’t recall Vessel ever doing in any past songs. At least, not quite like that final chorus. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the opening for The Offering when I heard that one synth melody, and little did I know that that would not be where the references to Sundowning would end.

Next up is DYWTYLM, which I’ll admit I thought was one of the weaker singles when it first dropped. After a few listens, not only did I grow to appreciate the actual meaning of the lyrics (At least, what I interpreted), and I really came to enjoy it not as anything complex or crazy, but just as a nice, chill pop song. It just goes to show that this is a band where you can never go into a new song with any expectations whatsoever, and even though a lot of people ended up being disappointed with this song, I think the confidence to not be bound by genres and just do whatever you want is a great trait to have as an artist.

Rain, however, ended up being probably the one song I’ll skip if I were to listen through the album again. I realize I probably shouldn’t be 100% when I do these reviews, and with that said, this track is still solid. There’s one verse that I thought had a really nice rhythm, but this kind of ended up being the only song that didn’t personally resonate with me, and I think in an album full of songs that took bold, interesting turns, this one didn’t really do anything too crazy. Again, not a bad song, but I think it was just the least great.

But the low point quickly ended with the title track Take Me Back To Eden. This song feels like it took bits and pieces of every track before it, and somehow managed to beautifully weave them all together into one nice, long epic soundtrack. The trap beats make a turn, there’s an interesting reference to the lyrics of Chokehold, we’ve got some ethereal keys and guitars, Vessel’s vocals eating it up as always- look, I can’t list everything this song manages to cram in. I think I heard an alligator noise at one point, so it’s impossible to cover every little detail in this absolute masterpiece of a title track. This song transcends the concept of a genre like it’s a game on easy mode, and it’s another track that feels like it’s own album, and it serves as an incredible first half of the record’s conclusion.

I say first half, because part 2 is delivered in Euclid. The finale of this album, right off the bat, feels very different, because it is strangely positive for a Sleep Token song. The stadium-rock-style beat and major-key piano and vocals are incredibly uplifting in tone, and it’s a vibe that prevails even through the song’s harder, heavier moments. It’s a somewhat somber, yet thoroughly hopeful wrap-up for this album, and when I listened to it, I had come to expect, well, something unexpected to happen at the very end. Even then, I was not prepared for them to bring a whole trilogy of albums full circle by adding in a verse from the first track off of their first full-length album, one that fans know and love, called The Night Does Not Belong To God. Truly a wild way to end off the album.

Overall, Sleep Token have created something truly special here. Take Me Back To Eden weaves between so many genres, and sews them together to make an immensely fun, emotional, moving and powerful album. They’ve really learned how to thread the needle (Sorry). Almost every track had it’s own unique sound that was a mix of the Sleep Token style we all know and love, and something completely new. I’ve heard people wonder whether this is the band’s last album, with the way Euclid ended, and while I think the current records, this one included, do make for a really nice trilogy, but I don’t think this is the end. It would be ridiculous for Sleep Token to come so far, just to end it all. No, I see this as the ending of a chapter, and I can’t wait for what’s next. I, and many others, will be there to worship the whole way. Hope you enjoyed this review, and I’ll see you all very soon!

CATR #17: The FNAF Movie Trailer…

Welcome back to Cameras At The Ready, where today, we talk about something that we have been waiting on for eight years. Something that went through so many production challenges, and so many delays, that we all convinced ourselves at one point that it would never happen, only for it to suddenly revive and become one of the most anticipated video-game film adaptations of the year. That’s right, everyone. We have finally received our first trailer for the Five Nights At Freddy’s movie.

I kind of figured we’d be getting a trailer soon, because of the leak that happened a few weeks ago, but it seems like Scott Cawthon and Blumhouse are trying to sort of regain what they lost with that, and build up hype naturally. So instead of just dropping the full two-minute trailer that leaked online, we got a little forty-second teaser, and as someone who resisted watching the leaked trailer, I gotta say, I really like what I’m seeing here.

You can just tell from this teaser that this wasn’t a film made simply to capitalize on a popular IP. You can tell that the team making this thing had an actual passion for what they were doing. The little glimpses that we get of the set designs are absolutely incredible, with the pizzeria looking to have an insane amount of detail and a very lively, yet haunting atmosphere.

As far as the animatronics go, I couldn’t be happier with the way they turned out. Jim Henson’s Creature Shop did an incredible job bringing these characters to live, and their designs are super faithful to the games. There was a part of me that wished maybe there was some stylization that would have set these animatronics apart from the games just a little, which was why when people were freaking out over the idea of Freddy wearing gloves, I didn’t mind it, but actually seeing what he and the rest of his gang actually look like in live action, the game-accurate designs translate really well.

I will admit, I do have one little problem with the animatronics, and it’s the same problem everyone else is having: the red eyes. I can get used to it, and it’s not a big deal for me, but I feel like red eyes is such a cliché design choice for an evil robot. Literally everything else about the animatronics in the movie is so faithful to the games, and fully red eyes has never been a thing in FNAF, so this was definitely a weird choice.

Aside from that one small issue, the acting looks great, the visuals look fantastic, and I think this movie will do an amazing job capturing the spirit of the FNAF games, while also adding a little bit of a new spin on it. This trailer showed a lot in less than a minute, and it has been doing a great job getting people excited. As I’m writing this, it has 17 million views on Youtube after only five days, and the only complaint I’ve seen from people is about the eyes. People are super excited that this movie is finally happening, and the general consensus is that this trailer looks fantastic. I’m really looking forward to this film, because it’s been a long time coming, and I think the wait and the hard work of Scott and the people at Blumhouse is really going to pay off. With that said, I hope you enjoyed, and I’ll see you all very soon!

Film Review #96: Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3

Last week, Marvel unveiled their latest film for phase 5 of the MCU, the conclusion to the trilogy of Guardians Of The Galaxy films. I was highly anticipating this movie, because the first Guardians was what got me into the MCU, and to this day they are still my favorite characters in the whole franchise. With the recent dip in quality that MCU films and shows have taken, I was really crossing my fingers and hoping that James Gunn would hold everything together and make this final movie at least a solid ending for the Guardians, and you know what? He did more than that. Dare I say it, this is one of the most emotional and heartbreaking films in the MCU, and it was better than I could have ever even imagined.

The film follows the Guardians as they rally together for one last mission to save one of their own. Let me start by saying that the humor in this movie landed for me a good 90% of the time. Not every joke worked, but it still felt like some thought went into the scripting of them, and there was a good balance between the jokes and the more serious moments, as opposed to some of the MCU’s other recent films, where everyone had to be a comedian throughout the whole thing. I won’t call out specific films. Let’s just use a made-up name like, I don’t know, Bore- Flop and Blunder.

Speaking of serious moments, I think what sold a lot of people on going to see this movie was the promise that it would explore the backstory of everyone’s favorite gunslinging procyon, Rocket Raccoon. We all knew from the first two films that something tragic and traumatizing happened in his past, but those who didn’t read the comics were left to speculate. This film does not hold back on answering all our questions, and Rocket’s backstory leads to the darkest scenes ever shown in the MCU.

This movie might actually be very hard to watch for animal lovers, and I am shocked by some of the imagery that Marvel managed to get away with showing. Not trying to get soo specific, but know that you’re gonna see some blood, and if you have a soft spot for animals, be prepared to start tearing up. I cannot stress enough that the flashbacks that reveal Rocket’s origins, because they happen in little bursts, are extremely heartbreaking, and a little disturbing. I say that in the best way possible, because going into this film after seeing AntMan and the Wasp: Quantumania, I was really missing some darkness in the MCU, and Guardians 3 really delivered.

The dynamic between the rest of the members is as strong as ever in this movie. They really feel like a found family who obviously would lay down their lives for each other, but still bicker and fight sometimes. Every member has a good amount of development and a chance to shine, and it was these scenes that really drove the heartwarming and comedic factor, balancing out the unfiltered brutality and despair you’ll witness with Rocket’s piece of the narrative.

Before I get into some of my criticisms with this films, because I’ll admit it wasn’t perfect, I can confirm that the visual effects in this movie are tight. That’s probably something a lot of MCU fans are concerned about, because it’s another crucial aspect of the films that has dropped in quality. As is normal for Guardians movies, there is a great blend of digital and practical effects here, and nothing looked rushed or unpolished.

I didn’t have many negatives with this movie, but I do feel like maybe the pacing was a little wonky, and sort of fast-paced, in the beginning. It definitely doesn’t take too long to straighten out, but the inciting incident for the plot happens almost instantly, and sort of out of nowhere.

Again, the characters didn’t feel weak, except for Adam Warlock. This is a character I know a lot of people were looking forward to seeing after he was teased in Vol. 2, but I think James Gunn forgot about this character when he was writing this movie. Adam is the one character who I feel was sort of slapped on top of a finished product, just because Marvel promised that the fans would get to see him. He has his moments, but for the most part, he just shows up at random points to cause a mild inconvenience for the Guardians.

You can take this as a positive or negative, but the villain of this film, the High Evolutionary, is kind of one-dimensional. He’s set in his sole motive, and he doesn’t really get developed at all. I personally found him a little annoying in some moments, because he kinds of yells a lot for no reason, but in the end, he was a villain that I was able to viscerally hate in a way that actually complimented the plot. It feels like every villain has to have a redemption arc nowadays, so while maybe there was some overacting that went into this character, it was nice to have an antagonist that I could hate, and wish for justice to be brought upon him.

Overall, this film has the kind of writing that I’ve been missing from the MCU. The only recent film that I think had a solid story, a good balance of tones, and I could wholeheartedly enjoy was Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. That movie was phenomenal, but it bears repeating that it was sandwiched in between Thor 4 and Ant-Man 3, surrounded by five hundred mid-quality Disney+ shows. I think this is a very satisfying ending for this Guardians team, and I am blown away by how well the movie delivered with humor, wholesomeness, tragedy, and darkness. It’s an emotional rollercoaster, and as a Guardians fan, I couldn’t be happier. Dropping Guardians 3 into my phase 5 tier list, Ant-Man 3 doesn’t even compete with it, and I’m happy to say that, though it has a couple flaws, this trilogy-ender gets an S rating from me. Hope you enjoyed, and I’ll see you all very soon!

Film Review #95: The Last Of Us

In January, HBO released a series to their streaming service, HBO Max, adapting the popular action-adventure survival horror game The Last Of Us. This is one of Hollywood’s latest attempts to bring video games to the big screen, and many fans of the game eagerly anticipated seeing how faithful this show would be to the source material.

That being said, I’m not one of those people. Prior to watching this show, I had not played or seen the original Last Of Us game, and I only vaguely knew that it was about a fungal epidemic that turned people into mushroom zombies. I’m writing this so late because, having not looked into the game, I initially had no interest in seeing this show. However, I got around to watching it over the past couple of weeks, and I can confidently say that you don’t need to have played the game to enjoy this show.

This show does a great job with its world-building, perfectly capturing the endless tension and heavy dread of living in a post-apocalyptic world, and while the setting revolves around the world being ravaged by people who have turned into fungus monsters, the driving force of the narrative comes from the human stories. Pedro Pascal, the national treasure that he is, does a fantastic job in the lead role as Joel, a hardened survivor with a traumatizing past that fuels his motives and makes him a dynamic warrior who is both intimidating in combat and emotionally impactful.

Bella Ramsey plays the other lead role of Ellie, a teenage girl with her own mysterious past who may be the key to finding a cure for the sickness, and she too does an incredible job. For the first two episodes, I expected her character to be incredibly tough to sit through and deal with, but she does a complete 180 and delivers an amazing performance, and as more is revealed about Ellie’s backstory, I couldn’t help but become super invested in the direction her character went.

The show’s main focus is on the relationship between Joel and Ellie, and their development is done really well. Some of the supporting cast is a little weak, and some characters weren’t really convincing, and I can’t help but think that the writers of the game (I wouldn’t know, but I’ve heard people say that this show is super faithful to the source material) were aware of this, because pretty much every character I found to be weak or unneeded… uh… didn’t survive for long. That’s one way to fix a narrative, I guess.

Overall, I love the range this show managed to capture in it’s attempt to explore how different types of people handle the apocalypse. The show, while having one central story, take a lot of detours to explore side stories, managing to successfully introduce, develop and conclude some really engaging narratives for secondary characters within a matter of one or two episodes. It’s a great way to flesh out this world and further explore the impact that this somewhat scientifically plausible disaster could have on today’s society.

With all of that said, it really is the story of Joel and Ellie that carries this series. As I watched the show, I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more zombie action, but thinking back on it, if more time was spent focusing on killing mushroom monsters, the massive arc that these two go through would not have been pulled off successfully. Both of the lead actors show an insane range here, and in the end, I was absolutely left wanting more.

I definitely recommend checking out The Last Of Us, even if you’re not familiar with the game. You don’t need to have done your homework on the lore or anything, because the show does a great job explaining the universe, and there is so much for you to get invested in. Some incredible acting and writing, great practical effects with some of the monsters, beautiful cinematography, and more make this not just a solid video game adaptation, but just an enjoyable, emotional show for everyone. With that said, I hope you enjoyed, and I’ll see you all very soon!