The United States of America has always been as much a symbol as a country. We are the beacon of liberty for the world. We are living proof that tyranny is not eternal, that freedom is inalienable.
To everyone fighting for independence on this American Independence Day, know that some of us still remember this. Wherever you are, whatever country you wish to create, the true American patriots will stand with you in your struggle, because we know what you’re doing. We’ve been there.
This post is dedicated to the brave freedom fighters of Catalonia, Palestine, East Turkestan, Kurdistan, Donetsk, Luhansk, and every single human being who suffers under the yoke of tyranny. Whether that tyranny comes in the form of Communist China, the socialist EU, the draconian restrictions of a fake pandemic, or any tinpot dictator desperately trying to remain in power, remember that you are not alone. Every tyrant must fall. Sic semper tyrannis.
I’ve been waiting for this one since the first time I heard the title track. Planet Zero got pushed back from its original April release to today, July 1, due to a manufacturing delay for the vinyl edition. But that’s okay. It’s definitely worth the wait.
Shinedown was, some years ago, my favorite modern rock band. They were the headlining act of the first indoor concert I ever saw—I’m still kicking myself for being too late to see Halestorm open for them—and they just made good music. Their last three albums (Amaryllis, Threat to Survival, and Attention Attention) all felt lackluster to me, and some of that comes from the big letdown after 2008’s amazing The Sound of Madness, which I will call the best rock album of its decade without any hesitation.
But “Planet Zero” sounded like a return to form, and it sounded like it had a message, a purpose. That’s something rock has been getting back to, so why not check it out?
The intro track sets the tone and the stage, because this is, in a way, a concept album. It’s a quick instrumental with electronic elements, fitting for the futuristic setting. Nothing to write home about, but it tells you that you’re listening to something intended to be cohesive.
No Sleep Tonight
This is the first “real” song on the album, and it’s your typical Shinedown: hard and heavy, but always with a little lift. And a great solo in the middle, which is not what the band is known for. More importantly, though, the lyrics have a distinct theme that resurfaces throughout the course of the album. “We’re tired of being powerless,” it says. And that is a familiar refrain.
The title track was also the first single. If you haven’t already heard it, you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s even heavier than “No Sleep Tonight” was, with a stronger sense of anger, and that anger is directed towards the woke, towards cancel culture and all its evils. As someone who feels the same, “Planet Zero” resonated with me from the first listen. Finally, here was someone who understood what I was saying.
This album has six interstitial tracks. “Welcome” is first, followed by “Standardized Experiences” (track 7), “Do Not Panic” (track 9), “A More Utopian Future” (track 12), “This Is A Warning” (track 16), and “Delete” (track 19). I won’t cover them individually, because they’re basically all the same.
They tell the story of the eponymous Planet Zero, which may or may not be a future version of Earth. (Considering the opener’s title and the fact that, in Orwell’s novel, London had been renamed Airstrip One, I think the parallels are pretty obvious.) On Planet Zero, as the helpful computer voice explains through these tracks, everyone is happy and sociable. They have to be, or else they’re sent in for reeducation or surrendered to the populace for “social judgment”—in other words, canceled.
If that isn’t a direct indictment of modern leftism and the Great Reset, I don’t know what is. It couldn’t be any clearer. Those hateful ideologies have the goal of eliminating nonconformity and thus individualism; Planet Zero is clearly the end result of that, a dystopia called a utopia, a combination of 1984, Brave New World, and The Matrix. That’s the direction our world is heading, so it’s always good when someone with a platform speaks out against it.
After what’s actually a seriously dense metaphor packed into about 30 seconds, “Dysfunctional You” is a jarring contrast. A light melody typical of Amaryllis tends to overshadow some surprisingly deep lyrics. This song, as far as I can tell, is about being yourself even when other people think you’re crazy.
It’s a powerful message when you think about it, and all the more so in our current climate of normalizing every possible peculiarity. But we’re not talking about embracing degeneracy here. No, this is more about those minor or moderate mental disorders we too often treat as much more. They’re not. Working for someone who is dyslexic, I’ve come to understand how it affects a person, but it’s not the end of the world. While anxiety—one of my own maladies—can be crippling at its worst, it’s a part of who I am, and something I’d rather learn to control through my own actions rather than with drugs.
If anything, that’s the message of this song. Be who you are, and be proud of it. Don’t change just to fit in. That goes for the anxious and the depressed as much as for the tomboy being pressured into transitioning.
Dead Don’t Die
Another hard track, another of the back-and-forth pendulum swings that mark Planet Zero. This time, it’s more like classic Shinedown. And that’s a little odd, because it just doesn’t fit with the rest of the album. It doesn’t really continue the dystopian storyline, and it honestly reminds me of nothing so much as “Diamond Eyes” from the soundtrack to The Expendables.
Still, it’s a good song, a nice “you can’t bring me down” anthem that could apply to just about any situation. It doesn’t drag the album down, but it doesn’t do much to pump it up, either. I guess everybody needs some filler every now and then.
Track 8 should be the headliner, but I absolutely understand why it was saved for the full album release. If it weren’t, I don’t believe it would’ve come out at all. More than any other song, “America Burning” nails the message of Planet Zero.
Again, it’s a harder one, but forget about the music and focus on the lyrics. “You might be woke but not awake,” one line reads. “Is this apocalypse now? Who let the animals out?”
Anyone who saw the massive riots over the summer of 2020, triggered (at least in part) by the death of a random drug addict, knows what “America Burning” means. Anyone who watched as blatant election fraud was swept under the rug, even as those who stood up for fairness were vilified and jailed, understands the even deeper message. That anyone is brave enough to speak out against the senseless destruction of our country and the indoctrination of our children is astonishing. That it comes in the form of a catchy and memorable song is so much better.
A Symptom Of Being Human
Back to the light side again. As with “Dysfunctional You”, here’s another track about facing the odds to be yourself. In this case, it’s more about feeling out of place, something I can’t help but get. “Sometimes I’m in a room where I don’t belong,” is how the chorus opens; well, that’s just about every room I’ve ever stepped into.
We’re all crazy in our own unique way. That’s a fact of life, and it’s something that progressives, with their desire to neutralize all differences between us, fail to grasp. But that craziness is what gives us life, and what makes that life worth living. It creates society, with all its ups and downs. Mild insanity is, to put it simply, a symptom of being human.
“Hope” is by far the most inspirational song on this album, and quite possibly one of the brightest Shinedown has ever released. (“I’ll Follow You” and “Unity” from Amaryllis both come close.) The acoustic guitar work and the mildly heavy riffs in the solo give it a quality akin to 90s alternative and pop rock; listening to it, I was reminded more of Collective Soul and Sister Hazel than the band that was banned from MTV for daring to let a white man stare down the barrel of a .45.
Even the subject matter is almost cloyingly positive, but that still manages to fit the tone of the album. If “America Burning” is the realistic look at what our country is facing, “Hope” is the whitepill, the reminder that we can still make it right as long as we’re willing to be true to ourselves.
Clueless And Dramatic
Following a brief interruption from our AI overseer, track 13 jumps right back into harder rock. This time, Brent is railing against what many on the right side of the internet have begun to call the NPC Race, that significant group of people who aren’t ignorant, but shockingly poor at reasoning.
“Clueless and dramatic” is indeed a good way to describe the Twitter blue-checks who show no self-awareness, no memory of recent or historical events, and far too much emotion for something they clearly aren’t emotionally invested in. Think the many, many calls for “my body, my choice” regarding the recent Dobbs ruling, often from the same people who, two years ago, said that the decision whether to take an experimental drug was something the state could and should mandate.
The best defense against these people is to ignore them. And that’s the remedy Shinedown offers: turn it off, save yourself from the clueless and dramatic.
(Also, this song has a nice callback to 45, the band’s first real hit.)
Sure Is Fun
If I didn’t have MP3 tags, I would’ve thought this was Imagine Dragons. I’m not entirely sure what this song is saying or why it’s a part of the album. It sounds more like the lowest points of Attention Attention and the reason why I had given up on Shinedown for a decade. Call it a filler track, really.
Despite that, it’s not too bad. There’s more spitting in the face of wokeness, which is always good. The melody gets stuck in your head. Give it a listen, but there’s really no need to come back to it.
“Daylight” was the third single for Planet Zero, and it’s the only true ballad on the album. As I’ve said repeatedly, both on here and in real life, a ballad is a necessary component for a great record. It just is.
When I first heard this one—less than a month ago, but it feels like much longer—I broke down. I truly felt as if the words were meant for me and me alone. Rather, for myself and my partner. “I was diagnosed with a fear of getting too close.” Yeah, that’s me. “Had to tell the ones I love I was on the ropes.” Yep. Did that.
If all goes well, I’m going to meet Leslie in person for the first time next week. After three years of waiting, including the “one year and three months in the dark” of lockdown madness that Brent so eloquently states here, I have finally made it to the point in my life where I can do this. And every single line of this song is what I want to say to the woman I love, the one who has given me a reason to go on throughout it all.
The Saints Of Violence And Innuendo
If you ask me, “Daylight” would have worked better at the end of the album, because how do you follow that up? (It’s the same for “Call Me”, all the way back on The Sound Of Madness, but that one was at the end.)
Well, this isn’t the way. Another stand against the woke mob doesn’t really flow from the tearful reminder of those who get us through the day, and no storyline filler can change that. Still, “Saints” is a great Shinedown song. It has the beat, the feel, and it would fit just anywhere in their discography. Its connection to the story certainly helps it here, however, because it’s easier to see the connection between the title and the target.
Army Of The Underappreciated
“Cry For Help” came out 14 years ago. I’ve probably listened to it a hundred times since then. And, for whatever reason, it’s all I can hear when I listen to this song. They just sound the same.
As with “Saints” before it, “Army” is a little generic. It’s a Shinedown song more than a Planet Zero track. That’s not bad, of course. You do want a band to sound like itself, since that’s what the fans are looking for. On the other hand, there’s nothing in here that stands out.
What You Wanted
Another Imagine Dragons wannabe closes out the album. There’s really not a lot to say about the music, because there’s not much music to deal with. You mostly have Brent singing over a kind of faux marching band and string section.
But this is the end of the story, too. Our visitor to the so-called utopia has been found out, his individualist thinking noted by the authorities. And he doesn’t care.
The lyrics here are a message, an ultimatum to the very real anti-human forces trying to rule the world today. You will not rule forever. Your end will come. And no one will come to your rescue. The pendulum is already swinging back in the other direction, as Dobbs, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, West Virginia v. EPA, and Carson v. Makin show. Wokeness is a hateful, divisive ideology, and its followers should be careful not to let that pendulum hit them on its way back. But honestly, they deserve no less.
I won’t say this was the best album I’ve heard. It’s not even the best Shinedown album. But its highs are much higher and more frequent than its lows. It has some really good tracks, not too much filler, and a coherent narrative running through much of it. As a bonus, that narrative is pro-human, pro-freedom, and very courageous in speaking truth to power. I felt the anger of “America Burning” and the, well, hope of “Hope” as much as “Daylight” left me crying.
That’s all I ask for in music: emotion and meaning. I got it here, and I’m glad one of my favorite bands has taken the right stand. That only makes it better.
One down, two more to go. I had started a couple of nonfiction books, but they just haven’t been holding my attention. So let’s go with a novel instead.
Title: Blood of Empire
Author: Brian McClellan
This is the culmination of the second trilogy in the Powder Mage universe, one of my absolute favorite fantasy settings ever. And that includes the ones I’ve made. (To be perfectly honest, at least one of them came about because of the original Powder Mage series.)
I’m just going to say this right now: I loved this book. It took four days to read, longer than its 650 pages would indicate, but that’s because I read it before going to bed each night, and work means I can’t do the eight-hour marathon reads anymore. But every minute was worth it. Every page was worth it.
With what’s effectively the sixth and final book in a series, you would expect a lot of action. And you certainly get it. This being epic fantasy with guns, you’d expect something climactic and almost apocalyptic. You get that, too. At no point did I feel like there was a wasted chapter. Some scenes did drag a little, but the pacing was relentless almost the whole time.
If anything suffered, it was the characters. Vlora, one of the three protagonists throughout this series, seemed a little dull. Part of this was because of her story arc, which involved recuperating from a near-mortal injury at the end of the previous book; that’s forgivable, though it was odd that she became the character I was least interested in reading. Of the other two, Styke was good at the beginning and end, but otherwise felt…impotent; Michel (note: he and I do not share a name!) actually grew on me. The rest of the cast, however, struck me as lackluster. They were there because of the action, rather than being the causes of it. In other words, this is very much a plot-focused novel, not a character-focused one. But that’s epic fantasy for you.
It’s a small price to pay, if I’m honest. It was good to let go for a change, to turn my mind off and get lost in a world again. And what I read felt like the end of an era. The storylines were resolved, although McClellan did leave a tantalizing hook for a future sequel; that annoyed me at first, because it seemed like the perfect excuse for a set piece. We also got an almost literal deus ex machina and a country full of ginger ninjas. I don’t know whether to count those as points for or against.
Most importantly for today’s world, I feel, is that Brian McClellan was able to write without getting bogged down in external politics. Yes, half of the Adran generals are women. Quite a few of the men are, to put it in internet parlance, cucked. Yet that never causes a problem. There’s a very, very oblique reference to one of the enemy leaders possibly being a lesbian, but even that’s more of a footnote, rather than the blazing neon sign some other authors would use. Nobody is going on about trans rights or other nonsense. The racial issues are handled very well. That’s refreshing to see, and I think it helped my enjoyment of the novel.
Riflepunk, like any other subgenre of fantasy, isn’t for everyone. But if you’re interested in mixing magic with firearms, the Powder Mage series is one of the best introductions. Start with Promise of Blood. By the time you get to Blood of Empire, you’ll be as hooked as I am.
I grew up with rock music. Whether it was the classics of the 60s and 70s, the grunge and alternative that hit their stride as I was reaching adolescence, or the 80s pop rock in between, that was my jam. I never got into country, despite living in Tennessee—and having an uncle who knew all the country stars of yesteryear. Rap? Not for me. And metal only caught my ear after I was grown, so only one genre got to take center stage in my younger days.
For a few years, though, it seemed like rock was getting the short end of the stick in terms of popularity. Most of the 2010s just didn’t have anything worth listening to. The fads were faux-indie bands with banjos (think Mumford and Sons or Lumineers) or the screaming and growling that trickled down from thrash and metalcore. For people who just wanted to hear music, the pickings were slim.
That’s really started to change in the past five years, and we’ve seen a lot of great songs, albums, and artists in that span. After half a decade of doldrums, rock is back. Here are a few songs that have made an impact on me in that time. First, the emotional impact.
“Under Your Scars” by Godsmack. We’ll just start off big, with a song I have never been able to finish without getting misty-eyed. This might be the perfect ballad, and it’s by a band known for…kind of the opposite of ballads. Still, it’s a song about coming to terms with your imperfections, and realizing that you don’t have to be perfect to be loved. Maybe that’s why it brings me to tears.
“Redemption” by Three Days Grace. This one just came out a few weeks ago, but it’s already rising to the top. Again, that’s because it’s one of those that hits me where I hurt. I still think Adam Gontier is the better singer, but Matt Walst nails it here.
“Daylight” by Shinedown. Another one released not all that long ago. (Last week, in fact.) Shinedown remains one of my favorite rock bands, and not only because they were the headline act at the one concert I actually attended. But their albums in the 2010s were very lackluster, in my opinion. Nowhere near the quality of Sound of Madness. Everything I’ve heard from them this year, however, sounds like a return to form.
“Heat Above” by Greta Van Fleet. This isn’t a song that makes me cry, but it’s one that gives me a feeling that’s hard to describe. I’ve often written about the idea of innocence on here. It’s a theme that I carry through many of my stories. And something about this song makes me feel innocent. Maybe because it’s moderately upbeat without being sappy, psychedelic while still sounding new, or something else. I just feel younger listening to it.
“Autumn Breeze” by The Allman Betts Band. The Allman Brothers Band has always been one of my favorites. I can remember lying in the back seat of my parents’ car (before they divorced, even before my brother was born), listening to “Ramblin’ Man” and getting lost in the melody. Growing up, I heard the stories my uncle told of playing and partying with the band. And I will tell you right now that this song is the one that proves the children are following in their fathers’ footsteps. It’s beautiful, and it’s Southern. Doesn’t get better than that.
Beyond the emotional impact of good music, rock is also becoming the home of “subversive” music. More and more artists are fighting against the narrative, while “popular” acts who made a career out of being rebels are supporting it. Rage Against The Machine, Foo Fighters, and The Offspring all have all required experimental gene therapy as a condition of attending their concerts. That’s sick enough, but at least others have joined the good guys with their music.
“Planet Zero” by Shinedown. (Yes, I put two of theirs in, but “Daylight” hadn’t come out when I first envisioned this post.) “They’re murdering our heroes” is an apt description of the woke mob today. The message is a little subtle, but that’s what makes it good. It doesn’t beat you over the head with the fact that some 30% of the country would gladly put you in a concentration camp because you know that there are only two sexes. Plus, it’s a great song.
“Zombified” by Falling In Reverse. Kind of the opposite. Here, cancel culture is explicitly called out, and that’s because it’s the artist’s personal experience. I’ve never liked zombies. I like even less that some people (even in my own family!) are turning into them. So I’m glad that someone else recognizes what’s going on and is willing to speak up.
“Trust The Science” by The Lone Wolf (ft. Topher). Tommy Vext basically got kicked out of Bad Wolves for telling the truth. The 2020 election was stolen, George Soros is undermining our Republic, and nobody needs a vaccine for a cold. As a solo artist, he can say it however he wants, and so he does. This track is rap rock, and every single word is there to take the evildoers to task.
“Stand Up” by Papa Roach. When I was a teenager, Papa Roach was the emo kid cutting his arms and crying about how much he wanted to kill himself. Now, he’s one of the few strong voices speaking out. Not what I would’ve expected back in 1998. This song isn’t as overtly political, but it’s a good fight song that slips in some shots at mass media and propaganda.
I could go on, but I won’t. The point I’m making is that rock is not dead. It never was. Maybe it went to sleep for a while, but it woke up a few years ago. Since then, it has only gotten louder, stronger, and more willing to take a stand. Music can move people, as the first half of this list shows, so it’s a good thing that so many of the movers are pushing in the right direction.
Hard as it is to believe, it’s Memorial Day again, and that means summer has unofficially started. Not only that, but the holiday marks the beginning of what has become an annual tradition for me: the Summer Reading List challenge. For the 7th year in a row, I hope to complete it, and I’d love to see anyone else join in. (This year, I didn’t forget until halfway through, so it should be a little easier!)
The rules haven’t changed. Really, they aren’t rules, but more like guidelines. This isn’t a competition. It’s a challenge. What’s important is that you’re honest with yourself.
The goal is to read 3 new books between Memorial Day (May 30) and Labor Day (September 5) in the US, the traditional “unofficial” bounds of summer. (For those of you in the Southern Hemisphere reading this, it’s a winter reading list. If you’re in the tropics…I don’t know what to tell you.)
A book is anything non-periodical, so no comics, graphic novels, or manga. Anything else works. If you’re not sure, just use common sense. Audiobooks are acceptable, but only if they’re books, not something like a podcast.
One of the books should be of a genre you don’t normally read. For example, I’m big on fantasy and sci-fi, so I might read a romance, or a thriller, or something like that. Nonfiction, by the way, also works as a “new” genre, unless you do read it all the time.
You can’t count books you wrote, because they obviously wouldn’t be new to you. (Yes, this rule exists solely to keep me from just rereading my books.)
As always, I’ll search for something new (at least to me!) and share it with you when I’ve finished reading it. I’ll post it over on the fediverse (
@firstname.lastname@example.org is my main account there for the time being) and in more depth here at PPC, but feel free to discuss your own reading adventures wherever you like.
Have fun, and keep reading!
The war between Russia and the Ukraine has been raging for about three months now, and everything I’ve seen so far only proves that my initial suspicions were on target. While mainstream Western media is quick to cast this war as the heroic underdog fighting for its very survival against overwhelming odds, the truth is far different. If you look at unbiased (or at least not as overtly biased so far in favor of the Zelensky regime) sources, you can see that truth. Russia is winning, and that’s ultimately a good thing for all of us.
Okay, I know that sounds strange, but think about it for a minute. First of all, the Russian army is showing everyone how to wage a modern war without overwhelming firepower. They’re doing something completely different from the usual American plan of Shock and Awe, of leveling entire cities to rubble, then hoping the survivors would welcome them as liberators. Instead, Russia is playing the long game, adapting old-school siege tactics and encirclement strategies to the 21st century as they force their foe to expend valuable materiel and manpower.
Better yet, now that the Ukrainians are almost completely out of domestic equipment, they are increasingly reliant on NATO and the billions upon billions of dollars we Americans have been forced to pay to prop up this dying regime. This proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that “our side” had no intention of playing fair. It exposes the rot at the top of Western governments by showing that they care more about the haven for their money laundering and sex trafficking than they do for their own people. With trust in the media and so-called “experts” cratering all across the US (well, with the exception of socialist utopias like California and New York, where you’re expected to wear two masks while you’re paying $7 for a gallon of gas), Putin’s move comes at the perfect time. Every American who turns of the propaganda machines and algorithms is quickly seeing the truth of the matter. One would hope they’ll start to do that for everything else, too.
At every point in this war, Russia has had the high ground, both tactically and morally. They have limited civilian casualties wherever possible. Their stated goal, the liberation of Donetsk and Luhansk, has all but been achieved, and it was done in a way that made the “heroes” in Kiev look like the petty tyrants they are.
But the victories stretch far beyond the Donbass or the Dnieper. Russia has struck a major blow against globalism itself, that festering evil underlying so many of the ills of today’s world. The oligarchs said to control Putin’s country are finding themselves isolated by both their homeland and the West. US biolabs, possibly including the sources of the deadly mRNA shots forced upon us and the likely re-engineered monkeypox virus currently making headlines, are being exposed for what they are. The sanctions against Russia have failed utterly—indeed, they’ve had the opposite effect, if their intent was to turn the Russian people against Putin and the war—and their economy has come out even stronger than before.
To be sure, it isn’t all cheerful news. The West’s isolation tactics have pushed Russia further into the arms of China, which is all the things our media claims Putin to be, and much more. A rising economic power allying with a human-rights disaster against us means that we need to be that much more watchful with our own government. And the sanctions have truly backfired, forcing the people of Western nations to go without.
At the end of the day, that’s the lesson we can learn from the Russia-Ukraine war. For over 300 million Americans watching from afar, it’s not about the subjugated peoples of Donetsk wanting independence, or the Azov Battalion taking prisoners into a factory, or anything like that. It doesn’t matter that Zelensky’s posturing is in front of a green screen, not the backdrop of the country he claims to represent. Nobody really cares that generals are using screenshots from the Arma games as propaganda pieces.
No, what we take away from this must be that the alleged elites in this country have openly crossed the line from incompetence to malice. Their every move since the first Russian crossed the border has been to hold us back, to make our lives harder. That they choose to defend the most corrupt nation in Europe over their own people shows that they no longer purport to represent us—they believe they rule us.
We’re fighting the same war here that Russia is fighting half a world away. And whether you like it or not, anyone who believes in the American Dream, in the ideals of liberty and justice for all, has the same enemies as Vladimir Putin. Because globalism doesn’t just want to destroy Russia. It seeks to destroy all nations, all freedom. And its media mouthpieces will gladly try to turn us against the one force opposing it.