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Concept Albums — A Lost Art?

It seems that I always come in at the end of trends, especially when it comes to music.

My latest “discovery” has been then progressive metal band Kamelot.  I stumbled upon them from a track called Moonlight that came up in my Pandora station one day.  The accompanying blurb indicated that their style of music was similar to that of Dream Theater, another group of the genre and one that I have a couple CDs of already and have even seen in concert once.  So, I decided to give Kamelot a try.

What impressed me early was the range of the lead singer, Roy Khan‘s voice.  I later learned, through the wonders of Google and Wikipedia, that he had three year’s of formal training in opera.  Opera, for a metal band’s lead?  Egad!  I also learned that Kamelot had put together a few concept albums — ones that have a theme throughout or tell a story through song, one track after the other.

I like concept albums.  To me, any band can make songs, but it takes a more creative talent to produce a concept album.  And here is where I come in at the end of trends.

Most bands just don’t do concept albums anymore.  It’s a lost art.  In the past, though, well that’s a different story.

My first introduction to concept albums was Styx’s Kilroy Was Here.  This one I did catch in concert, but at the time it was a marketing dud.  What I didn’t know was that the idea of concept albums had been going on for years!

Most from my generation would immediately point to Pink Floyd’s The Wall as one of the greatest concept albums ever, and to a great extent they would be right (perhaps a step or two behind The Who’s Tommy).  But there are others that I have since found and still enjoy.

Rush’s 2112, although not a concept that spans an entire album, is a classic in and of itself.  Produced well in my early youth (and before I listened to anything not defined as pop at the time — hey, it was a musically sheltered childhood), it wasn’t until my high school years that I heard it which was a good ten years or so after its inception.

And I wanted more.

During college, Queensrÿche hit the mainstream with their album Empire and the smash hit single Silent Lucidity.  I couldn’t stand that track as the radio stations saturated the airwaves with it; however, I had turned a corner and found a harder, more rocking style of music quite beyond that of Rush and the more mainstream “rock”.  But I missed Queensrÿche’s Operation: Mindcrime tour that featured their cornerstone concept album of the same name.

The not-yet-at-the-time Mrs. Kharmin introduced me to Queensrÿche as well as another concept album composing act: Iron Maiden.  Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son concept album was again, something that I had missed (although they played much of it in concert this summer when we saw them!).

So, it was with great enthusiasm that I dove into Kamelot and their back-to-back concept albums, Epica and The Black Halo.  Then, I read that they would be touring in the US this autumn and not too far from me that I couldn’t drive to see them.  But… their lead singer, after much personal reflection, had decided to quit the band.

I was deflated.  The lead singer is the voice of the band.  Sure, they have their own distinct sound and style, but the thing that really hits you is the singer because he is the one belting out the lyrics and telling the stories in the songs with his inflections and emotions.

So, once again, I am late.  I will miss out on hearing my current favorite group, intact, as I have heard them on their albums.

© 2012 – 2013, Kharmin's Small Piece of the 'Net. All rights reserved.


Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son

A few weeks back, in 2012, Mrs. Kharmin and her sister took me to see Iron Maiden.  They played most of their songs from their Seventh Son of a Seventh Son album.  I had seen them in concert before and enjoy most of their tunes on my iPod from time to time.  What made this experience different for me was the ability to bring cameras into the venue.

I can hardly see how concert halls and outdoor auditoriums can keep cameras out anymore, what with every mobile phone having one now.  The pictures I took with my DroidX were anything but worthy of posting here on my site.  The resolution is so small that if I were to enlarge these for any profitable purpose, potential buyers would scoff at the mere notion.

Anyway, the evening was enjoyable; Alice Cooper was the opening act.  The performances were great.  Both made use of many props — Alice, of course, was beheaded via guillotine and Maiden had multiple Eddie incarnations — and the crowd just ate it up.

They just don’t write music like this anymore.  Bands don’t rock like they used to … or in Alice’s and Maiden’s cases, still do.  They don’t create epic albums with concepts and stories that transcend generations to bring a listener to a point in time, whether it be a historical lesson of the past or some prophetic outlook granted from when the songs were penned.

You should see these acts, live,  before they’re relegated to the digital age of YouTube, for watching them on your computer can in no way compare to experiencing first-hand these bands in the venues for which much of their music was written.

© 2012, Kharmin's Small Piece of the 'Net. All rights reserved.


It Was A Dark And Stormy Night…

My writer friends will appreciate the title of this post, I’m sure.  However, literacy is not the point; rather, the insane summer thunderstorms we’ve been having in 2012.

Invariably, they arrive — unannounced — at the god-forsaken hours of the early, early morning.  How early?  2:00am.  Sometimes 3:00am.  And they range from a solid half-hour of house-rattling thunder to a several hour barrage in what it must’ve felt like during the Civil War with relentless cannon fire.

Of course, our daughter hasn’t yet managed to calm her fears.  She tells me that she isn’t afraid of the lightning and thunder, only that it’s too loud and it scares her.  Would that my fears be so simple!  What age hath wrought, no?

Still, we have a few more months of summer to go and I’m sure we’ll experience more of the same.  For me, I’ll take thunderstorms over winter blizzards any day.

© 2012, Kharmin's Small Piece of the 'Net. All rights reserved.


Yesterday’s Heroes

So, I was taking my daughter to school this morning, and as I pulled my truck out into traffic, I called out, “Up, up and awaaayyyy!” to which she replied with, “To infinity — and beyond!”


I asked her where that came from, and in her typical, smart seven-year old way she told me that it was from the movie Toy Story. When quizzed as to whom the toy was who said it, she knew that it was Buzz Lightyear.

Wanna see me pull a rabbit out of my hat?

It got me thinking of my childhood and things that I recalled. I was a bit too young to remember watching the Lone Ranger on TV, but I do remember Cisco Kid. I used to put my saddle blanket on the bar stool and use the chair back as the reins as my brother and I rode along with the Kid and his trusty side-kick Pancho. Being the younger child, I was always relegated to the lesser role, but in those days I don’t remember that it mattered. All that concerned me was that I was part of the story, no matter how far removed from it.

Kids these days have it so easy! Cartoons 24×7, even on their own channels, and if that won’t sate, then there is video on demand, YouTube, Netflix and DVDs (like who uses VHS cassettes anymore? They are so 1980!). I remember Saturday morning cartoons from 8am to 11am, and that was it. If you were really lucky, there was the rare occasion of a Disney movie on Sunday night, and that was if you behaved enough to stay up past your bedtime to watch it. There were the annual holiday shows like the Rankin-Bass Christmas trilogy and the Charlie Brown Christmas special, but if you missed them then too bad — you had to wait another whole year.

But I digress.

When looking at the television heroes of yesterday, I remember Cisco Kid and Pancho. For cartoons, there were the Rocky and Bullwinkle show, the Looney Toons hour, Hanna-Barbera and Deputy Dawg. We emulated the Super Friends as they stood for truth, justice and the American way from their Hall of Justice! Who do the kids have to look up to today? Spongebob. Egad!

When you look around today and wonder what happened to America and why we are the lesser shining jewel on the hill that we once were, look to what influences today’s youth and the idols from where they build their moral character. Like me, I’m sure you’ll soon yearn for the heroes of yesterday.

© 2012, Kharmin's Small Piece of the 'Net. All rights reserved.


BOLO: Missing Header Image

I updated my site theme to the latest build and it wiped out my header image! Really. Why couldn’t the author maintain the integrity of the header folder?

Fear not, though. I have a backup at home (I think?) so I should be able to recover it later tonight. Until then, enjoy the stupid default flower garbage.


UPDATE 4/21: Found the header image in my archive at home.  All things are now as they should be.

© 2012, Kharmin's Small Piece of the 'Net. All rights reserved.


Wizard 101

Ok, so my latest addiction is a kids’ game. So sue me.

Actually, my wife set up our daughter with an account at Wizard101 and both Mrs. Kharmin and I decided to create our own accounts so that we could all play the game together. It has since taken over.

Wizard101 is a free-to-play online multi-player game, meaning that you can just create an account and go. However, to unlock the more advanced content requires some investment and depending on how much real cash you wish to spend, you can gain access to various levels and whatnot.

Basically, your character is a student at Wizard school. You have your own dorm room which you can decorate with a variety of things that you get as rewards from completing quests. You have instructors to teach you skills and they maintain a consistent storyline for you to follow.

Someone cast a Firecat spell!

In Wizard101, your character obtains assorted quests from the computer characters throughout the game. While achieving your goals, you do arcane combat with the evil denizens who walk about everywhere. Here is where my interest was piqued: combat is done with using a deck of virtual cards which represent creatures or other buffs/de-buffs that your character must decide and cast. This is very much like Magic: The Gathering, which Mrs. Kharmin and I were into several years ago.

There is a fair amount of strategy involved with choosing what to use in combat as some of the opponents are resistant to certain types of spells (fire, ice, etc). Battles can be with up to four players versus four opponents and many times the players cooperate to take out a particular foe or to increase the defenses of another player. There is an arena for player versus player challenges, but that’s paid content and not something that appeals to us.

In the game, you can obtain a pet (and train it, too!), different outfits that you can dye in unique colors and mystical mounts that you can ride. I saw one guy zipping around on a flying carpet!

The game is rated E for Everyone 10 years and older. Our daughter is younger, but we feel comfortable enough with what we’ve seen to allow her to play under the restrictions that we can set with the built-in parental controls. And for those of us over 40 (egad!), it’s entertaining enough especially when following your own kid on his/her adventures.

© 2012, Kharmin's Small Piece of the 'Net. All rights reserved.


Whisky Whisky Everywhere

I am by no means an expert on single malt whisky*. I have never claimed to be an aficionado of scotch. However, over the past several years, I have become a huge fan.

What started from a tentative fancy has blossomed into a full appreciation of different single malt scotches based on the location of the distillery and the barrels in which it matures. Islay, Highland, Campbelton, Speyside, Lowland and Island whiskys all have their own distinct characteristics, from honey-sweetened to peat-smoke laden and all flavors in between. Some have fruity hints while others leech out the tannins from the wine that had been casked in the barrel prior to being sold to the distillery for whisky maturation.

People often ask me, “How can you drink that stuff?” As in all things, one should sample a wide variety. I can almost guarantee that you will find a distillery or region of scotch that suits your palate! The trick is to start slow and work with someone with at least a modicum of whisky knowledge who can point you down the path of your preferences.

Still my favorite!

I started on my journey with a scotch-tasting and a friend’s house. Along with a mutual third-party, we had purchased a sampler box of single malt and made an afternoon of it. We had some literature (since none of use had that requisite modicum of whisky knowledge) which gave us some ideas of what to expect with each sample. We tried them, one at a time, made our own notes of observation and then shared those with each other. It was quite interesting to see the differences in opinions! To this day, one of my friends is still a big fan of Islay (pronounced EYE-lah) scotches, which are usually are stronger in peat than I prefer.

Drinking quality single malt scotch is an acquired taste. It is also an expensive hobby. I often tell folks that I don’t have many vices, but the few that I do have aren’t cheap. Single malt scotch is one of those vices. I have a profile over at which lists my current shelf of whisky, those expressions I’ve tried as well as a wish list. Not all of the ones I’ve sampled have been purchases — the advantage of having a friend who enjoys sharing a dram or two from his own shelf!

So what really brought me to write this post? Well, it’s this: after these past few years of sampling and enjoying many different single malt scotch whiskys, I still have much to learn. Like I said, I am no aficionado.

The lesson learned last night was not to follow a dram of Compass Box’s The Spice Tree with a cask strength Aberlour A’bundah (batch 38). When sampling multiple distillers, it is a good idea to cleanse your palate between them. I should have known better, but I was too excited to dive into a newly purchased bottle. The stark contrast between the ginger spice in the Compass Box expression and the stinging bite of the 60.3% A’bundah made my eyes water! Don’t get me wrong: both expressions are terrific, just not one right behind the other.

It has been a fun ride thus far, as I have virtually traveled all over Scotland by way of the various distilleries I have sampled. My favorite is still the Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban (a Highland whisky), although I am finding some interesting scotches in the Speyside region. I will sometimes enjoy an Islay, but usually when I’m really in the mood for that peaty (smoky) flavor like having a dram around a campfire at night in the summer while looking at the stars and enjoying the pleasant company of friends.

I hope that someday, dear reader, that you can enjoy a dram or two with me as well.

*To be called a “whisky” (without an ‘e’), the scotch must be distilled in Scotland. If it is made anywhere else in the world, then it is not a whisky, but a whiskey.

© 2012, Kharmin's Small Piece of the 'Net. All rights reserved.


Kharmin is Blogging Again (As If You Hadn’t Figured That Out Yet)

Just a quick note/post to say that, yes, I am blogging from this site again with significantly more regularity. I have a certain someone to blame for this revival (and you know who you are!).

I had gotten away from posting here because Facebook, and to some extent Google+, are just easier since I don’t have to do any real formatting; however, having posted quite a bit this month I am coming to the realization that I miss the more “formalized” format of blogging on my own site. And, since I am paying to have it hosted, I should use it, right?

Anywho, I think that for the foreseeable future (wow, spell check actually accepted “foreseeable” … there’s a heckuva lot of vowels in there!) I will be primarily focused on posting here and letting the various WordPress plugins do their job of announcing new posts over on Facebook and Twitter.

So, sit back and enjoy! I know that I will.

© 2012, Kharmin's Small Piece of the 'Net. All rights reserved.