The Shield McQuaid Jesuit's biweekly content heap. Fri, 28 Feb 2020 20:02:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Emptiness, by Alesana Fri, 28 Feb 2020 13:07:29 +0000 Post-hardcore band Alesana have just recently announced an anniversary tour for their third album, The Emptiness, which became a decade old last month. For many fans, this is Alesana’s most beloved album. Generally when it comes to a band’s discography, especially in the post-hardcore genre, it is fairly common that either the debut or sophomore album gets the most attention, but this is definitely an exception. Alesana incorporates literature into their post-hardcore sound. They have previously done this on their debut, On Frail Wings of Vanity and Wax, using Greek and Roman mythology and using stories from The Brothers Grimm on their sophomore album Where Myth Fades to Legend. While those albums generally follow the concepts well, they were primarily a compilation of songs, and generally followed the concepts of the stories. The Emptiness is the first time Alesana decided to do a full concept album and their first time creating an original story.

Alesana’s inspiration for The Emptiness comes from the poet Edgar Allan Poe, primarily from his last complete poem, “Annabel Lee.” The poem itself is about Poe’s grief and enduring love for Annabel even after her death. In Alesana’s story, we are introduced to the main protagonist of The Emptiness, known as the Artist, who discovers the death of his lover Annabel. The Artist then decides to find out who the murderer was. On this journey, the Artist wrestles with his grief, sanity, and whether he really loves Annabel. While “Annabel Lee” is a baseline for The Emptiness, it definitely verges off onto its own path. While the album generally focuses on the Artist’s self-reflection, the elements of mystery, such as the true killer of Annabel, or why the Artist has continuous visions of Annabel throughout this journey, lead us to wonder what the truth is about the events of The Emptiness.

Now, generally, concept albums work the best when all the songs work individually, but are able to fit within the larger narrative of the album. That way, the listener can appreciate each song, but they are also rewarded for listening to the entire album. Alesana manages to do that in perfect strides as shown with the singles they released: “To Be Scared By An Owl” and “The Thespian.” Both songs are major events for the story,  but each are able to stand out as individual songs, which goes for the rest of the songs as well.

That leads to ultimately the most important part for any album: the music. As part of the aforementioned post-hardcore genre, Alesana uses hardcore as a baseline and incorporates 1elements from other genres such as emo, progressive, or metal. This genre tends to have a variety of bands that go in different directions. Alesana’s sound incorporates many different elements, whether it’s the technical guitar from progressive, the hardcore breakdowns, or the emo and death metal vocals. It can be very tough to incorporate all these elements into one song, let alone doing that for an entire album. Sometimes, it can feel disjointed if not done well. However, Alesana manages to create an album in which all of these influences come together and shine. Not every song is going to have a breakdown, needs to have a solo, or a perfect mix of clean and unclean vocals. This can be shown in “A Lunatic’s Lament,” where clean vocalist Shawn Milke primarily does the vocals, or the following “The Murderer,” where the unclean vocalist Dennis Lee takes center stage and we get the first major hardcore breakdown.

Continuing with the vocalists, it is important to pay attention who the messenger(s) of the album are, since it tells us how the song can be presented. Alesana previously used three vocalists, with the main two being Shawn Milke and Dennis Lee. The third vocalist from their previous albums, Adam Ferguson, is not on this album, and while that is a sad departure, it helps create an interesting dynamic between the messengers. Less is definitely more in this case. Shawn Milke is more of the general voice of the Artist, giving us the template to understand his general emotions, but there are also hints throughout the album that that clean voice is a ploy to get us to feel more sympathetic even if the Artist commits deplorable acts. Dennis Lee makes for a great contrast, being able to convey the darker thoughts of the Artist, but can also show his true colors. The combination between Milke and Lee allows for a great duality within the character. Adam Fisher, from Fear Before, narrates as the Artist. His portrayal shows the Artist as a calm and soothing presence, but there is a tragedy behind his words that makes him more relatable, for the Artist is a man that lost what he loved the most. Shawn’s sister, Melissa Milke, is the voice for Annabel. Her voice gives Annabel a sweet yet supernatural presence within the story. There are lyrics within The Emptiness which are sung by both the Artist and Annabel providing different interpretations and meanings for each character. Ultimately, the portrayal by the vocalists allows for an understanding of the characters in The Emptiness.

In order for the Artist to express himself, he needs his canvas and paintbrushes in order to convey his emotions. This is where the instrumentation comes into play. Alesana has three guitarists in the band: Patrick Thompson, Jake Campbell, and the aforementioned clean vocalist, Shawn Milke. The latter generally takes on rhythm, since he also sings, while the other two take on leads and rhythms when necessary. By doing so their sound becomes more transformative live and allows them to be more creative. On the first two tracks, “Curse of the Virgin Canvas” and “The Artist,” they show the importance of the three guitarists  within the band. Bass player Shane Crump not only provides a backbone to the heavier sections of the music, but also provides some creative bass work, such as on “Hymn of the Shameless” and “The Lover.” Drummer Jeremy Bryan also provides solid drumming that is not only tight, but can bring both heaviness and atmosphere when needed. There is also the use of classical instruments, primarily the piano and a string quartet, which are able to fit The Emptiness‘ classic setting. Ultimately, the instrumentation on the album provides the perfect backdrop.

The production also adheres to the backdrop the instrumentalists provide. Kris Crummett is a solid producer in the post-hardcore scene, and while the production may not seem the best by the standards of 2020, it is actually an advantage for The Emptiness. That is because it reflects a simpler time period. The raw energy from the post-hardcore instruments reflects the reality of the Artist’s situation. The classical instrumentation reflects this classic period not only in its inclusion, but shows the supernatural elements. The vocal production also reflects the raw energy, since there are generally little to no effects, unless it is needed in order to reflect a mood or a supernatural element. Ultimately, the production works because it brings out the best elements in each aspect in The Emptiness.

Now, a concept cannot be complete without its lyrics. The writing on The Emptiness provides a journey of the Artist’s descent into madness. The beginning of this album says that the events that happen to the Artist are indescribable. The Artist is very troubled by Annabel’s death and does not know how to deal with it, and even questions if he has the blood on his hands such as in “Curse of the Virgin Canvas,” saying “sweet revenge . . . I will pay (my!), I will pay (dear!).” It leads him to a journey that causes his sanity to slip away as shown in “The Thespian,” which includes the line, “Night falls and I’m running in circles (wo-ho-ho wo-ho-ho).” This is the only time where the use of wo-ho-ho happens, which conveys that the Artist is in a place of madness.  Moreover, the supernatural elements become more apparent in “The Thespian,” since the Artist thinks that Annabel is alive and he begs for forgiveness. This song ultimately questions if the Artist is a reliable protagonist.

Now, with all this talk about the album itself, there is inevitably the question about whether there is a point in listening to this album. There is so much music coming out everyday that it’s a fair question whether there is a reason to listen to an album that is a decade old. The Emptiness is not just another album from a band: it is an album that shows passion, dedication, and talent. Its themes convey important questions about love, perception, and sanity. Each track is great, because they are not only well crafted, but are able to reflect on passion’s ability to drive people to the edge. The album’s reflection on passion through the Artist conveys a truth that passions eventually become demises. Ultimately, The Emptiness by Alesana is not only a great story, but reveals truths about humanity that are blind to many people. Through finding out those truths, The Emptiness will haunt you . . .

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XFL: Weeks 1-3 Fri, 28 Feb 2020 13:01:08 +0000 [Ed. Note—Since we know you might not be familiar quite yet with all the XFL teams, we’ve helpfully included the logos.]

#1—Houston Roughnecks

No, this is not just the Oilers logo. How dare you?

The Roughnecks might be the only team still undefeated, but that’s because of their offense, which has torched opponents behind P.J. Walker’s incredible play over these three weeks. It’s especially good for the Roughnecks to have an MVP quarterback on their roster when you consider that their defense is one of the worst in the XFL at keeping opponents from scoring.




The Morales might be a BattleHawks fan. He will deny it if asked.

#2—St. Louis BattleHawks

The ‘Hawks’ rushing game, which is the best in the XFL, is cutting through every other team. They average 155 yards a game and their defense has been on their best form. With a strong defense and a good rushing game, this team could soon be ranked first—though, if they really want to emerge as contenders, they’ll need some help on their passing game.




#3—DC Defenders

More like Direct Current Defenders, are we right?

The Defenders continue to struggle with a loss to the Wildcats. Cardale Jones does not look his usual kid-in-hospital-trouncing self, throwing many interceptions with mistakes last week. Pep Hamilton needs to figure out his quarterback problem before this team ends up with more losses—this might be only the first one of the season, but they can’t afford to let that continue.




Based on their names, half of Dallas teams hate the other half of Dallas teams.

#4—Dallas Renegades

On the one hand, if Landry Jones can’t protect the ball, this team will continue to lose. On the other, there’s reasons for hope: their running back Cameron Payne can anchor the offense with reliable production, and they’ve got the league’s best defense.



#5—Los Angeles Wildcats

Who doesn’t love a good wordmark?

After a bad start, the Wildcats have tightened up their defense and might suddenly emerge as a fearsome team. Their passing game, which they showcased in their win over DC, is still the best in the league, behind Josh Johnson’s great play under center. If their defensive improvements continue, expect a brighter future for the ‘Cats.



Go protect a library somewhere, why don’t you?

#6—New York Guardians

If the Guardians want to get out of their rut, they’re going to have to work on two things on offense: their rushing game—their passing game is getting them nowhere—and avoiding penalties.

Of course, they may also want to figure out how they’re going to solve their hole at starting quarterback, now that Matt McGloin’s out with a rib injury.



#7—Seattle Dragons

Burninating the XFL, burninating the players . . .

This is where we get into the zone of doom. The Dragons need help on just two things to put together a good game of football: offense, and defense. Until Jim Zorn gets his team to figure out what they’re doing wrong, they’ll continue to get steamrolled by opponents without a fight.




At least put some scales on the dang letter.

#8—Tampa Bay Vipers

There’s no way to talk around this: Tampa Bay, which is still looking for its first win, is the worst team in the XFL.

That’s probably because they still need to figure out whom, exactly, they’re going to stick at quarterback, as Aaron Murray got injured in Week One and Quinton Flowers appears to have come to his senses.

Taylor Cornelius, despite his best efforts after being pressed into service, has not been able to bring his team a victory. The Vipers’ first games were supposed to be their easiest, but at 0-3, this team looks like it’s in for a long, hard stretch.


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NBA: Top 10 Championship Contenders Fri, 28 Feb 2020 13:01:08 +0000 Just to be clear, these aren’t necessarily regular-season power rankings: these are the ten teams I’m judging most likely to actually win a championship.

#1—Los Angeles Lakers

Although an upset loss to a young Mavericks team ended their win streak, LeBron, AD and the Lakers seem to be building something special with lots of supporting talent from free agency. A championship run will be in their near future. 

#2—Milwaukee Bucks

November was a great month for the Bucks, who seem to have reclaimed their dominance of the East. They are balanced on both sides of the ball thanks to the utility Giannis can deploy. Plus, the bug-eyed brute Khris Middleton is always a fire shooter from downtown. 

#3—Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers already looked good earlier this year, but with Paul George in the lineup, they have matched their high expectations. Two losses to the Spurs highlighted some of Kawhi’s offensive struggles, as he shot 4-for-16 in their second outing. Hopefully this team can rebound from their latest performances, because they have serious championship potential.

#4—Toronto Raptors

Toronto still seems to be a championship contender without Kawhi, and they’ve had some amazing three-point performances these past couple of weeks. Holding Joel Embiid scoreless against the Sixers highlights this team’s defensive dominance. Hopefully age doesn’t catch up to this team too soon, before their time to shine is too late. 

#5—Dallas Mavericks

Despite a difficult game against the Clippers, the Mavs seem to have great offensive success from in the paint as well as from farther out. Luka Doncic is a great scorer and distributor in his record-breaking season, while the 7’3″ Porzingis can do it all. Boban serves as an effective meat shield to plug up the middle.

#6—Boston Celtics

There is no doubt that the Celtics have a lot of talent on their roster. However, I don’t believe that Kemba is championship material, and their core is too inexperienced to win tough games down the stretch. Plus, Boston has enough sports championships anyways. [Ed. Note—hear, hear.]

#7—Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers have been a great team the past two years, thanks in part to Ben Simmons’ sudden transformation into a head candidate for a DPOY award. His three-point shooting has been on fire recently as well. Along with a healthy Joel Embiid and offseason acquisition Al Horford, this team should succeed this season. 

#8—Houston Rockets

The Rockets continue to be lead by James Harden’s ridiculously high shooting percentage. I believe that the acquisition of Russell Westbrook is exactly what the Rockets needed to get past the hump and become championship contenders. 

#9—Miami Heat

The Heat may not be the most overall talented team in the league, but Jimmy Butler and emerging star Tyler Herro seem to be getting the job done. An impressive win against the Rockets had me believing that this team is a sure playoff contender, despite missing this milestone the past few years. 

#10—Denver Nuggets 

The Nuggets are without a doubt a solid team, but their streaky losses lately hurt their chances. They rank bottom-five in the league for points scored per game; their defense, anchored by powerhouse Nikola Jokic, is the main way they attained their winning record.


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Cullenary #5: Gameday & Study Snacks Fri, 28 Feb 2020 13:01:08 +0000 Welcome back for a quick stop from your studying!

Do you often find yourself hungry as could be? Is your pantry constantly air-dry? Are you simultaneously struggling to focus on your schoolwork?

Or, alternately: do you like watching sports? Do you struggle with finding super good appetizers to munch on during halftime? Does your pantry haunt you during Thursday Night Football?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then go to the store and buy some food.

Disclaimer: If you are attempting to diet and eat healthily, get out. There are no salads on my list. Nice try though 🙂

For those of you who might not know what snacks look like.


1. Peanut Butter and Jelly

Essential Question: How could you study without one of these?

Leading off with an all-time classic, a PB&J just cannot be beaten. JIF crunchy peanut butter with some type of grape jelly is the move.

2. Water

Essential Question: Is this actually a snack?

Contrary to the debate over a beverage being considered a snack, I feel that any drink indubitably counts as a snack if you are consuming it while grinding out your paper at 11:45 PM when it is due at 11:59 PM (don’t try this). Wegmans bottled water is definitely my personal preference (if you know me personally, it’s because I’m biased). You can always stay hydrated with this fresh necessity. Cold and refreshing, it goes well with literally anything that might be even remotely edible.

3. Doritos

Essential Question: How do you keep your hands clean while eating these?

I prefer either Nacho Cheese or the Spicy Nacho, but honestly any flavor will float my boat. Flavorful, crispy, and can be dipped in just about anything.

Honorable Mention: Bacon

Why? It’s bacon.

Snacks for the more discerning customer.


1. Chicken Wings

Essential Question: Should a boneless wing be considered a chicken nugget?

I would like to start off by saying if you are eating boneless wings, you aren’t doing it right. Buffalo and barbecue wings are undoubtedly my favorites. Wings are best cooked well done [ed. note — give me them grilled] and the more sauce, the better. Ranch and blue cheese are clearly the best dips out there.

2. Nachos

Essential Question: Do you eat tacos every Tuesday? Because I certainly do!

You can make endless combinations with nachos, and you can always have enough for everybody! If you make reference to the honorable mentions, putting bacon on it makes it even better!

Honorable Mention: Anything with Bacon

Why? It’s still bacon.

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The Maiden Voyage Thu, 12 Dec 2019 12:56:46 +0000 EXT. BOARDWALK TAVERN, MORNING
Three goblins sit at an outdoor table at a tavern, drinking foamy mead out of wooden steins. In the distance, two figures are walking on the beach towards a large brown blob. The goblins shake their heads in disapproval.

There goes Rulton. Gonna get himself killed in that stupid thing.

What a mess. Held together by cheap enchantments and nymph sap.

As if that’s not bad enough, now he’s bringing his boy along too.

They won’t make it half a snark off the beach before they give up and swim back. You can’t sail a ship underwater.

Why, of course you can. It’s called sinking it!

The three laugh and knock back their drinks.

A dwarf man FOBART RULTON and his son JOMWELL RULTON walk across the beach towards the bulky vessel made of wood, glass, and shiny brass piping. The seaward portion is made of glass, humming with magic and enchantments. The wood siding is sealed with hardened brown amber. The back of the ship is made of dull grey metal with pipes snaking out and away, encompassing the entirety of the ship. The name of the ship is scribed crudely with red paint on one of the pipes: THE HIPPOCAMPUS.

FOBART carries four large bags, two under each arm, walking with ease. JOMWELL carries one, struggling to keep up with his father. They arrive at the vessel and begin loading the supplies they had carried into a hatch.

Dad, will this really keep us safe from the Wyvern?

Of course. Wyverns pluck ships off the top of the water. It can’t hurt us if we’re under the surface.

And this will keep us safe underwater?


And we’ll catch more fish?

Not just more, bigger ones. We can’t catch as many at the dock ever since the Queen opened that inlet to the castle. I rigged up our hook line with a strength charm and a lightning box strong enough to kill even the biggest fish.

The two climb the side of the Hippocampus. JOMWELL stops.

And the Wyvern isn’t gonna get us?

Not if I can help it.


FOBART follows JOMWELL into the hatch, securing it shut.

The interior of the HIPPOCAMPUS glows and hums softly on all sides. The steam engine in the back casts an orange glow all the way to the front, where FOBART sits at the controls. JOMWELL idly explores the ship’s dashboard.

Look at this. At least four snarks out and everything is going fine. If we can make it all the way across the channel to the Elf Kingdom we could cut traders the hassle of having to go through the mountains. We could even become merchants! We’d be rich! I could build a whole fleet of ships that no wyvern could ever tou—Hey, don’t touch that!

What does it do?

That lever opens up the lightning box attached to the hook line. But right now the hook’s reeled in. That would blow the ship in half. It’s very dangerous; don’t ever touch it.

FOBART pushes the accelerator forward, but instead of moving forward, the vessel jolts with a loud crack.

Dad, what’s wrong?

Nothing’s wrong. Well, something is. At least one thing is wrong. I don’t know. The controls aren’t working.

What are we going to do?

We’re losing pressure, that’s for
sure. We’re going to have to surface.

But—what about the Wyvern?

FOBART sits silently for a moment, feigning bravery.

I think I know how to fix it. I can get up top and work fast. We’ll only be surfaced for a couple of minutes at most.

What if it snatches us, like it . . . like how it got mom?

FOBART chokes back a sob. He wraps his son in his arms.

I’m so sorry son. I-

Please don’t go, Dad. Tell me how to do it. I’ll go up there and fix it.

FOBART embraces his son again, tears in his eyes.

The HIPPOCAMPUS explodes out of the water, sending white froth rippling around the ship. The top hatch opens and FOBART emerges. The fog is so thick it is impossible to see anything buy gray in any direction. He scans the bleak sky anxiously, then walks carefully towards the back of the ship, wrench in hand.

From the sky above, a bone-chilling screech of a roar is heard. FOBART’s eyes widen with fear. A distant swoosh of flapping wings is heard.

JOMWELL (from inside)

As if materialized from the fog instantly, the Wyvern, a giant dragon with massive talons swoops above, casting a brief shadow on the vulnerable ship.

Jomwell! You have to-

Before FOBART can return to the hatch, the Wyvern makes another pass, this time knocking into the HIPPOCAMPUS, sending FOBART flying. The wrench soars through the air and disappears into the ocean. FOBART lands in a heap of cable. He grabs on, just barely stopping himself from sliding right into the water. At the end of this cable, in his right hand, is the hook.

Son! Get to the lever!

Dad! Come down here please!

Get to the lever!

The Wyvern swoops by again. FOBART dives out of the way as the Wyvern’s giant clawed feet instead grab a thick brass pipe, ripping it open. Steam shoots out of the torn pipe, burning the Wyvern. It roars in pain. FOBART runs to the hatch and looks down.

When I say now, flip that lever!

Dad, please come down here! We can figure out another plan. Please!

When I give the call, flip the lever.

Before his son can protest, FOBART runs away from the hatch and begins swinging the hook on its cable in wide circles. He hears the giant wings flap behind him and dives to The hull, the razor sharp claws missing him by mere inches. He stands again, swinging the hook and staring sternly into the un- telling fog. He hears the whip of the wings and the deafening roar. Out of the fog, the Wyvern’s cavernous mouth, with dozens of sharp teeth appears. FOBART lets go of the cable, sending the hook directly down the hideous monster’s throat.


In the distance, the head of a hideous monster rises from the sea, approaching the town.

What is that?!

GOBLIN 2 screams. GOBLIN 3 falls out of his chair and runs away from the beach. The townspeople, dwarves, elves, goblins, and fairies rush to the beach to see what the commotion is. The HIPPOCAMPUS surfaces. The Wyvern, slain, still on its hook tows behind, bobbing softly.

Through the dripping glass of the HIPPOCAMPUS, FOBART AND JOMWELL see the entire town gathered, cheering. FOBART smiles.

Hey, dad?

Yes, son?

What do you think wyvern tastes like?

FOBART laughs and hugs his son.


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Shatner Claus: Dear God, Why? Thu, 12 Dec 2019 03:34:45 +0000 Since I was supposed to write this article last year, but the album failed to drop in time for Shieldmas, I’m going to be very upfront with you: while I cannot confirm this, empirically speaking, what assorted experience I have had with Shatner Claus leads me to believe that listening to the entire album would destroy whatever mental faculties you somehow retain even once you decide to listen to it.

I imagine that most of you have some idea of who Bill Shatner is, but in case you don’t: he’s from Montreal, and he was, by all accounts, a decent stage actor who’d done a couple of film roles before he was chosen to be the id of Cold War America Captain James T(iberius) Kirk of USS Enterprise (NCC-1701), in which capacity he served for three years of television and several movies that have spawned some memes, and the rest, as they say, is T.J. Hooker.

There’s other stuff (he paid someone else to worked very hard to write a sci-fi series named TekWar), but ultimately, we’re here for William Shatner not as a writer, not even as an actor, but as a singer. That puts us up against a rather intractable problem:

William Shatner can’t sing.

Don’t believe me? Just watch:

What was your favorite part of that video? Was it the 1970s special effects? Was it that Shatner clearly never learned to stop acting for the cheap seats? Was it that he had so little self-awareness at this point that his complete seriousness is almost entertaining? Whichever one it was, I hope that gives you some clue, however scant, into what we’re dealing with.

To be fair, Bill Shatner does not take himself anywhere near that seriously anymore. You see, after the Star Trek movies, after T.J. Hooker, contemporaneously with TekWar, he started work on his memoirs, and reached out to his old Star Trek costars to see whether they would help him reminisce about the old days, maybe provide some testimonials about what a wonderful, funny, and handsome man he was. Unfortunately, Shatner’s colleagues remembered those times very differently, and told him so, in no uncertain terms, over and over again. (James Doohan, who played chief engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, and who refused to be interviewed for said memoirs: “I like Captain Kirk, but I sure don’t like Bill.”) That, Shatner says, led to him reevaluating what a gigantic jerk he had been to, well, nearly everyone he had worked with or for in the last four decades. As a result, William Shatner, who once wore lifts purely out of spite and complained about how much more fan mail Leonard Nimoy got than him, became William Shatner, who laughed at himself constantly and, in a true feat of acting, played a befuddled and out-of-touch old man for several years on Boston Legal.

Yes, yes, I know this is supposed to be about Shatner’s Christmas album and not the fact that, say, whoever runs his Twitter account is terrible and, I’m reliably informed, confusingly into anime, but here’s the thing: Shatner Claus is a perfect example of the New Shatner. It’s painfully unambitious from start to finish—the production is entirely prerecorded, karaoke-style, and it’s perhaps two ticks above the level of a garage band that can’t keep a lineup together longer than six months. The carol selection (now there’s a turn of phrase) is actually fairly skillful, insofar as it avoids sticking Shatner—who, again, can’t sing—with anything too difficult for his careworn pipes.

No, instead, what you get is Henry Rollins bringing so much misplaced energy into “Jingle Bells” that Shatner’s counterverses feel almost like you’re being anesthetized. You get a rendition of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” in which Shatner is trying to shove a poem written in anapests into the familiar iambic pentameter of his Shakespearean training. You get him stepping on a woman with an actual singing voice doing her best to belt “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” You get maybe 30 percent of Iggy Pop singing “Silent Night,” because why not? Who’s going to stop him? Half the time, you get Shatner deciding to ad-lib for an entire minute like the world’s pushiest Christmas party host.

By the third, or fifth, or seventh track, or however long you manage, the impression you get is of a man who knows that his audience expects him not to try, and just like in his acting days, Bill Shatner gives the audience exactly what they want.

I suppose there’s worse things in the world, really, than overproduced Christmas garbage from a man who knows we’re all laughing with him—wait, is that Feliz gosh-danged Navidad I’m hearing? Why does it have mariachi horns? Why is Shatner the one butchering Spanish when there’s an actual mariachi musician on there?

. . . you know what, I’ve suffered enough. I’m out. Happy holidays, enjoy whatever you celebrate, so long as you don’t listen to this album while doing it.

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August Burns Red Presents: Sleddin’ Hill Thu, 12 Dec 2019 03:34:45 +0000 It would be an understatement to say that Christmas is a popular holiday. Christmas plays such an important part in millions of people’s lives that hundreds of countries decide to dedicate a certain amount of time off for this holiday celebration to be done properly. The impact of Christmas affects not just certain individuals, but the entire economy, as exemplified by the music of Christmas: hundreds, even thousands of songs dedicated to Christmas throughout the centuries, and many of these songs have become timeless classics. However, since there are a number of songs that millions of people have heard throughout their lifetime, there is a certain annoyance to hearing those same songs again and again. This oversaturation makes these once-beloved songs, such as “Jingle Bells” or “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” old and tiresome to many listeners’ ears, which include this reviewing Scrooge. August Burns Red Presents: Sleddin’ Hill is here to make the most cynical of music listeners fans of Christmas again.

Source: Wikipedia article on the album.

August Burns Red are a metalcore band from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. To those unfamiliar with this genre, it is a style of music that incorporates both metal and hardcore punk. Generally, this style of music does not do Christmas albums, so this caught my interest right away; as someone who likes this genre, it would be interesting to listen to these different renditions. Moreover, this album can even get listeners interested in metalcore through the uniqueness of its covers. Furthermore, this is August Burns Red’s first attempt at a Christmas album, with only two original songs, so it makes the listening experience interesting, as we hear the band have fun and be creative with their carols.

For example, the third track, “Sleigh Ride,” shows the diversity that the band offers with its key changes, breakdowns, and playing the traditional melodies of the original. Another track is “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” which plays around with the original sound and incorporates elements of metalcore to create a solid re-imagining. Even the overplayed songs of “Jingle Bells” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” are executed so masterfully that they will have any listener headbanging. Ultimately, each song, including the two original songs, “Flurries” and “Sleddin’ Hill,” will successfully shake any listener out of their cynicism, and perhaps into some neck pain. That is because the instrumentation shines throughout this album.

First, the immediate standout throughout this album is the lead guitar, which makes sense since J.B. Brubaker is the arranger for each of the songs. This means choosing the highlights is very difficult, so here are my personal favorites: “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” since the solo adds a lot of energy to this very fast rendition, and “Carol of the Bells,” since I already liked the instrumental rendition, and August Burns Red’s cover adds a thumping lead guitar.

The drumming from Matt Greiner is also solid throughout, not only keeping a heavy pace, but also providing versatility throughout the album; look at “Jingle Bells” and “O Holy Night.” The rhythm guitar, by Brent Rambler, is also well-done, since it provides some solid riffs that really get listeners moving. The best examples include the aforementioned fast rendition of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” The bass work, by Dustin Davidson, keeps the rhythm together and adds heaviness throughout the album, which is highlighted best on “Little Drummer Boy” and “Sleigh Ride.”

If you wonder why I am highlighting the instrumentation, the reason is simple: vocals are absent from most of this album. This can be help or hindrance, depending to the listener. If someone generally already enjoys metalcore style, they may miss Jake Luhrs’ vocals, unless what they enjoy about metalcore is instrumental elements like breakdowns. This could actually be helpful to listeners that are new to this genre, since they may not be comfortable with listening to unclean vocals, which often come off as harsh. The two tracks that have vocals are “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Joy to the World.” The former is sung by the whole band in a punk rock chant that adds to the fast energy of the song, which works with the atmosphere. “Joy to the World” is done in August Burns Red’s traditional style, which allows for new listeners to hear Jake Luhrs.

Ultimately, coming from someone that can sometimes be a scrooge about Christmas songs, “August Burns Red Presents: Sleddin’ Hill” is fun and refreshing. It allows itself to take creative risks that make these overdone songs more enjoyable and memorable again. If the cynicism and “bah humbugs” of the holidays are affecting you, listen to this album, put your metal horns up, and start headbanging away, my friend!

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Cullenary #4: Holiday Candystravaganza Thu, 12 Dec 2019 03:33:35 +0000 Welcome back to The Shield, and happy holidays to all!

Ed. Note—This is going to be a slightly different article from most. We’ve collected a few of the Shield’s best writers to go head-to-head defending their favorite holiday candies, and at the end of this article, we’ll poll you on what your favorite is.

With that said:

The classic: candy canes.

Candy Canes (Elliot Aguirre)

The candy cane is easily the best holiday candy—it never gets old! They come in all different flavors, as you can almost get any flavor you think of, and they last quite a while before they’re gone. I think the best flavor is probably cherry, but I can think of ten other flavors that are amazing, and they’re in almost every stocking. Furthermore, candy canes have a range of various sizes, which means you can customize your eating experience quite a bit.

Sour Patch Kids (Ian Cullen)

Short answer: They’re good. Long answer: they’re good and you should vote for them.

Hot take of hot takes: Sour Patch Kids, the kings of Christmas.

I know that this may not seem like a holiday candy, given that they don’t have any of the typical flavors like peppermint, ginger, or chocolate. I of course chose these because I love them, and some may even consider this to be a childish choice of mine, but Sour Patch Kids are on my list because they are an all-time great when it comes to stocking gifts.

Sweet and incredibly sour, these guys are an all-time classic during just about any given time, and that includes Christmas.

Hot Chocolate (Sammy Goodwin)

Ah, hot chocolate. Just hearing its name conjures up cozy images of sitting close to a fire, wrapped up in a blanket, after a long day outside in the cold. It is a refreshing, delicious drink, perfect for the holiday season. This is especially true in New York, considering the cold weather and thick snowfall. After trampling through the snow, what is a candy cane going to do for you? I think we can all agree that hot chocolate is the best holiday candy.

You will say, “this is not my beautiful mug.”

What’s that? You don’t think it counts as a candy? You fool. It has chocolate in the name. Just because it’s a beverage it doesn’t count? What are you, thermophobic? Grow up. The future is now, old man. Second of all, you’re a coward. Candy canes? Have fun eating toothpaste. Eggnog? You fiends. Hot chocolate is the drink of champions, the nectar of kings, and the choice beverage of the NFL (don’t look it up).

Consider the flavor. Consider the versatility. Can you put marshmallows in hot chocolate? Darn straight. Can you put marshmallows in candy canes? Please. Whipped cream goes great with that sweet Swiss mix, but not with that poor attitude of yours.

Peppermint Bark (The Morales)

Insert joke about bark vs. bite here.

You know, winter gets a bum rap. Fall gets pumpkin spice everything—pie and coffee was one thing, but when you’ve seen pumpkin spice chicken sausage, you tend to lose your appetite. In general, not just for the particular spice mix.

Meanwhile, in winter, we have all managed to agree that you can eat as much of the beautiful cooling flavor known as peppermint as you want, and stick it firmly under the umbrella of holiday candy. What’s not to love about a delicious layer of creamy white chocolate—please direct your takes on how white chocolate is not real chocolate to—flavored with peppermint extract and spread over the half-sharp bite of semisweet chocolate, topped with the sugary and crunchy detritus of well-stricken candy canes? You let it sit in the fridge, get completely solid, and then break yourself off pieces over the course of the next week, devouring them whenever you get a chance, experiencing a mix of warm and cool flavors that autumn simply can’t compete with that easily.

Honestly, you owe it to yourself to make some, and it takes basically no time or effort, except the arm strength you need to appropriately pulverize the candy canes. Go do that now, please. Let me know how it goes. We can compare notes some other time.

Honorable Mentions

While we couldn’t find writers for chocolate oranges or gingerbread cookies, we figure they’re popular enough that they should be options as well. Enjoy, and happy holidays!

Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post's poll. ]]> 2
Algae as Biofuel Thu, 12 Dec 2019 02:17:21 +0000 As fossil fuels are depleted from the earth, humans are looking for renewable energy. Some of the most popular sources of renewable energy include solar panels and windmills. While these can effectively produce clean energy, they are not without flaws; solar panels require clear skies and do not produce electricity at night, while windmills require wind to produce electricity. While the idea of using algae as energy dates back to the 1950s, demand for it has never been greater. About a decade ago, scientists became fascinated with the energy potential of algae. While further research and technological advances are required, algae hold much potential for a clean energy source with high yields in the foreseeable future.

The science behind using algae to produce fuel is not very complicated. Millions of microorganisms grow in ponds, lakes and rivers. These microorganisms contain lipids, which are fatty acid molecules, and which contain oil that, once extracted, can be used to power diesel engines. Organisms such as microalgae demonstrate future potential for producing energy. The problem with using algae is that there is not currently a viable method of extracting the lipids from them. Under current methods, extracting these lipids takes more energy than they are worth, which makes it unprofitable.

One of the main issues with lipid extraction from algae is that all moisture must be removed from them, so that they become a dry powder from which the lipids can be separated, which causes the process to require so much energy. A new method, invented by researchers at the University of Utah, may solve this problem. They have designed a jet mixer that will not require the algae to be dried. The new mixer shoots jets of solvent into jets of algae in liquid suspension. The jets provide the force required for the lipids to be separated, and they are transferred into the solvent stream. This new process requires less energy and can extract the lipids from algae much faster, taking only a few seconds. This new technology has the potential to produce algae biofuel at a price point that is competitive commercially.

Another solution to make algal biofuel production profitable is being explored by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) National Bioenergy Center. While they predict that, even in the future, algal biofuel production will not be competitive with oil, they believe there is a way to make its production profitable. NREL has been exploring the viability of a “combined algal processing” (CAP) concept. This would require a facility that can combine the production of both biofuel and other products, such as surfactants, polyurethanes and plastic composites.

Then there are biofuel-focused companies like Synthetic Genomics, which partnered with ExxonMobil to develop ways of producing algal biofuel at an unprecedented scale. Companies like SG are now working on an outdoor field study growing naturally-occurring algae in several contained ponds in California. Synthetic Genomics and Exxon predict that, based on their progress, they will be able to produce 10,000 barrels of algal biofuel a day by 2025. Their research is proving to be very beneficial, as they have found ways to double the lipid content in algae from 20% to over 40% through genetic modification, among other methods.

While most of the companies making algal biofuel in recent years have gone out of business or shifted their focus from fuel to marketing algae for dietary supplements, food additives, animal feed and cosmetics, the future of algal biofuel still remains bright. Scientists have not given up on algae’s potential yet. Research that is currently in progress, as well as technological advances that will be made in the future, could make algal biofuel both sensible and profitable.

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A Study In Horror: Part I (The Early Years) Thu, 31 Oct 2019 14:32:42 +0000 With Halloween fast approaching and the October season in full swing, our minds have been brought back to considering what may go bump in the night.

Cheerful and thrilling, the monsters and ghouls of the month have returned to the forefront of our imaginations in force, and macabre mainstays in the vein of Jason, Freddy and Mike decorate storefront windows and rickety porches. These icons of fear stand as if their presence is a given, statuesque in their stature but seemingly ready to strike, their every nightmarish action alive in our own heads. It’s relatively easy to get caught up in it all without stopping to consider where we may have been before. There were many Halloweens without Jason and his mask, where the fear, fright and fun remained all the same. It would be easy to move on, wouldn’t it? Why do Jason Voorhees and other genre giants like him stick around for so long, a massive imprint on our social conscience that lives through October, and ultimately, beyond? To find the answer to that graveyard riddle, one needs a careful eye and a brave heart, as the mystery’s end lies in the history of horror.

The horror genre has had many different focuses during its long and storied life. Explosions of auteurism, differing directors providing their own specific takes on tried and true formulas, and innovative studios taking some very profitable gambles have all contributed greatly to horror’s longevity. But the greatest ally of the horror film is its number one effect: fear.

The fundamental aspect of horror lies in its ability to frighten us. Human beings have always had an innate desire to delve into the supernatural, our nice little brains allowing us to conjure up demons and ghosties from beyond the pale around every darkened street corner. We love to be afraid, love to jump in our seats and feel the blood rush to our every tingling nerve as adrenaline thrusts us into terrified ecstasy, popcorn flying and eyes widening as we take in every thrill with gusto. It is a singular experience to enjoy a horror movie, one that took a while for people to catch onto.

The sense of capitalizing on that shared human interest in the dark beyond our vision finds its roots in literature, however. Early horror greats like Shelly and Poe tantalized readers with petrifying, inhuman stories that covered a sizeable range of emotions and proved to not only be fantastic literature, but literature that thrived in how many spines it could shiver. The stories within the scares still held up as well-written novels and poems that would later be elevated far beyond their initial aspirations and venerated as purely artistic forms of the craft. As time drew on, the genre expanded, more contemporary twentieth-century authors, such as H.P.. Lovecraft with his Cthulhu Mythos and M.R. James’s ghostly tales, served to redefine the limits of the genre, drawing still from the same deep elements of fear and wonder at the unknown that so many people could still be transfixed by. It would not be for some time before the first horrific tales began to show up in film: silent movies by the late great Georges Méliès featuring demons and devils playing cruel games with mortal men and women. To a contemporary audience it may appear rather tame, but to audiences of the time (the late 1890s) it would have been simply shocking to appear on screen. Horror pictures during these very early years would have a heavy focus on the nature of demons, the Devil and Hell itself, with the European audience being primarily religious and therefore very susceptible to fear of eternal damnation.

It was in this way that the earliest horror directors understood what they had managed to tap into; a shared experience of fear coupled with a never-ending interest in the unknown nature of the subject matter. It wowed audiences all over the continent, and the success of even such early films was an evident reflection of that fact. Clearly the genre had promise, and as it continued to draw more of the spotlight, its practitioners began to tackle more prestigious projects.

The first film to take on a major pop culture influence was the 1910 production of Mary Shelley’s famous novel Frankenstein, the first filmed adaptation of the source material to ever grace the public eye. Edison Studios of the United States did in fact attempt to mask the horrific aspects of the tale and focus on the psychological and philosophical questions it raised, but the deeply macabre subject matter cemented the story as synonymous with horror, and the great monster craze began to take shape. More directors took more and more stabs at differing source materials, the classics such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde being adapted into film and once again thrust into the limelight as horror darlings to be remembered. This trend of adaptation continued, with gems and flops alike, into the 1920s, when the visceral mind of Robert Wiene exploded onto the scene with his classic masterpiece, Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari. The film not only proved the skill and relevance of German filmmakers of the time, also greatly influencing American horror cinema through the introduction of elements such as the twist ending and “unreliable narrator” that have become mainstays of the genre.

Caligari is often credited as the first “real” horror film of the age, and through its critical acclaim and monetary success, it set the standard for films to come. Nosferatu made waves as an unofficial adaptation of Bram Stoker’s gothic horror triumph Dracula, and its central villain, the vampire Count Orlok, made a lasting impression on not just moviegoers, but the genre as a whole. The shadowy imagery and striking contrasts used by director F.W. Murnau helped cement the vampire as a force of fear and thrills on the silver screen. Murnau built a sense of dread masterfully, creating tension and keeping viewers on the edge of their seats as he reveled in the effectiveness of his fear, and raked in fame and fortune as a result of his skillful work. Work in the vein of German Expressionism would continue through the early 1920s, but as the decade waned, audiences found their attention gripped by another force from the American filmhouses of Universal Studios. Horror had made its mark, and the first rising stars of its stories had made their presence known. It was time for the monster craze to begin.

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