With Ancient Winter, her winter-themed album comprised of original tracks and modern interpretations of medieval hymns, Leah, often dubbed “the metal Enya,” is here to astound you. Imagine freshly fallen snow, the rich scent of pine, hot cinnamon apple cider, and the smoky warmth of a roaring fire, and you’ve barely glimpsed the essence of Ancient Winter.
Fans of metal will be delighted by Leah’s soaring vocals, not to mention the cast of artists joining her on the album, the likes of which include Anna Murphy from Cellar Darling, Troy Donockley from Nightwish, Shir-Ran Yinon from Eluveitie, and more. And non-metal fans will be in for a treat, as Ancient Winter has a decidedly less symphonic feel than Leah’s previous five albums, leaning instead toward Celtic and folk traditions. Leah’s powerful vocals pair equally well with fiddles and harps as they do with electric guitars and synthesizers, proving her to be one of the most versatile artists to date. She uses her voice as an instrument, at once emotional and perfectly controlled.
Ancient Winter is a departure from the norm for Leah — the almost Middle Eastern sound to the album’s first single “Light of the World” is unlike anything we have ever heard from her before — yet the Celtic roots we know and love form a solid trunk for the album, its more experimental qualities serving as musical branches. She effortlessly dodges the more clichéd, cookie-cutter aspects of Celtic and World music, adding her own, distinctly Leah flair. This feels like a debut into an as-of-yet-discovered genre, one only Leah could breathe into being.
There is an unmistakable duality that weaves its way through the tracks brought to life on Ancient Winter, simple old hymns paired with modern instrumentation, a wintery album that doesn’t feel commercial. A transformative experience, Ancient Winter manages to feel ancient and modern all at once. The tracks found on Ancient Winter would not have sounded remotely out of place in an episode of Game of Thrones or in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. But Leah’s work also feels entirely fresh as the temperatures drop and our excitement for the holiday season grows.
And for those who might feel a twinge of confusion at Leah’s departure from her earlier albums, there is nothing more metal than flying in the face of convention. Leah could have stuck to the status quo, as some artists do, creating a discography where one album bleeds into the next. That can create a pleasant, if formulaic, listening experience, but Leah wants us engaged. She wants our hearts to keep time with the drums one moment and for a serene, dreamy feel to overtake us the next. Thanks to her expressive vocals and the unique atmosphere Ancient Winter creates, we can only go along for the ride.
I give Ancient Winter a solid 10/10. Ancient Winter was released on November 15, 2019 by Ex Cathera Records. It can be purchased on Leah’s website, Amazon, and iTunes.
Wow, it’s been an eternity since I’ve done one of these. I considered doing a ‘best of 2019 so far’ round up, but I don’t want to write a Bible-length post, and I don’t think anybody wants to read one.
If you read my last post, you’ll know we’ve been through the ringer here lately, but I don’t want to get into that right now. Let’s talk about the good stuff! I’ve even got some nifty discount codes to share with y’all. Without further ado, here’s my favorites (and a couple of fails) for the month of September.
1.) Mylk Guys: A couple weeks ago, a cool online vegan grocery called Mylk Guys reached out and kindly gifted me a little shopping haul, and I am obsessed. If you’re like me and live in an area that doesn’t carry loads of vegan products, you can get sick of eating the same old things. That’s… not gonna be a problem for me anymore. The problem will be controlling myself when the urge to buy every vegan cheese they’re selling takes hold of me at three in the morning. Late night grocery shopping spree cravings are real, you guys. I need an intervention. If you shop through this link, you can see some of my favorites and get $10 off your first order.
2.) Prodigal Son: I’m a huge murder fan, which sounds a bit alarming, but you know what I mean. I studied criminology at university, and I love a good crime drama. Key word being good. This one? Is shockingly good. The charismatic Tom Payne (The Walking Dead) stars as Malcolm Bright, a disgraced FBI profiler working with the police to solve crimes with the help of his father, Dr. Martin Whitly, brilliantly portrayed by Oscar-nominee Michael Sheen (The Queen, Frost/Nixon). The twist? Whitly is a convicted serial killer known as The Surgeon. Part House, part Hannibal, and part what-the-Hell-is-this? original, Prodigal Son is a wild ride. You can watch it on Fox on Monday or on Hulu.
3.) ThreadUP: As I mentioned in my update, I’ve seriously messed up my leg, so I can’t wear any of my pants. Because shaving is out of the question, and I seriously cannot handle brushing against my own hairy legs, I am all about the athleisure at the moment. I’ve been shopping more sustainably lately, so I’ve turned to ThreadUP for my current “help, I can’t wear my pants” needs. I snapped up several pairs of Adidas track pants, and my mom bought me some Nike joggers. Are they the height of fashion? No way, but considering I’m hobbling around on a cane at the moment, I really don’t care. (Not sponsored, but I should be. C’mon, ThreadUP!)
4.) Altra Olympus 2.5: Before the leg injury, I screwed up the tendons in my foot and was told I needed to wear orthotic shoes while I healed. Visions of Sophia Petrillo’s old lady shoes flashed before my eyes. Now, I love the Golden Girls, and I joke about how I want to be Sophia when I’m old, but I’m not ready for it yet. Luckily, my uncle did the same thing to his foot months ago, had a lot of success with Altra trainers, and kindly bought me a pair. I. Love. These. Shoes. I love them. They’re so comfortable and supportive, plus the thick sole makes me taller. Every little bit helps.
5.) Sourpuss bat blanket + pouches: As you can see, Teeny loves her new bat blanket and says thank you, thank you, thank you. I’m so sorry I included it because it’s not on the website now, but I just love it so much, and so do the babies. Also adorable and much-loved are these pouches featuring my all-time favorites, Bowie and Freddie. These are still available, so grab them while you can! I feel like it would be completely disrespectful not to use the Bowie pouch as a makeup bag, but Freddie loved his glam, too. Decisions, decisions.
6.) Yeouth Skincare Vitamin C&E Serum with Hyaluronic Acid: This stuff… Oh, man. This stuff is amazing. C&E protect your skin from free radicals, which cause aging, and hyaluronic acid helps your skin to retain moisture, so any moisturizer you apply over it sinks in properly. Plus you can use my discount code SOCIAL20 to get your own for a nifty twenty percent off. What’s not to love?
7.) Honey by Raveena: As one of the best YouTube comments ever says, “This is what clear skin sounds like.” Yes! Honestly, I cannot get enough of this woman’s voice, and she’s ridiculously beautiful to boot. Her voice reminds me of Norah Jones blended with Lana Del Rey, and I’m so obsessed with her at the moment. Maybe it’s me being a bit odd, but certain songs and albums have seasonal vibes to me, and Honey just feels autumnal. Just… go. Watch the video. Listen to her music. You will thank me.
8.) My new Macbook Pro: My (less than a year old!) HP started doing this weird thing where the screen flashed blue, everything went back to normal, and then the laptop would freeze up until I popped the battery out and did a hard reboot. At first it happened once a month, and then it was happening two or three times a night. I need my computer for work, so that wasn’t going to fly. I bit the bullet and shelled out for a new MacBook, and now I remember why I’ve always been a die-hard Apple girl. I’m sorry, Apple. I’ll never cheat on you again.
9.) Pumpkin Spice Lattes: They’re back! I get mine with coconut milk and no whipped cream, and they are delicious. Yeah, I know. I sound like a Basic Fall Girl, and I am completely okay with that.
10.) The Keepers: Oh, God. Where do I even begin when it comes to discussing this series? I was reared Catholic, and while I’m no longer a member of the church, my cousin was a priest. I have another cousin who’s a nun. Hearing the testimony of how so many children were brutalized by two Baltimore priests — and the resulting death of Sister Cathy Cesnik, who tried to stop it — sickens me in ways I can’t fully articulate. It’s absolutely gut-wrenching and so well done, but it may be triggering to survivors of sexual abuse. Please stay safe if you decide to watch it. It can be found on Netflix.
11.) 17 Carnations by Andrew Morton: Detailing the affair between Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII as well as their connection to Nazi Germany, which revolved around a rather bizarre scheme to make him a puppet king to the Third Reich. Despite its meticulously researched density, 17 Carnations is a fast, easy read that’s by turns shocking and — perhaps surprisingly given its subject matter — amusing.
And now… for the fails. Oh, the fails.
1.) My stupid leg: If you have never had an avulsed patellar tendon, I don’t recommend it. Basically, the tendon has partially peeled away from where it connects to the bone. On top of the fracture, it makes walking borderline unbearable. There are times when I literally reach the point of almost wetting myself because the alternative means standing up and hobbling my way to the bathroom. I have a high pain tolerance, but holy shit. This sucks, you guys.
2.) The weather: It’s officially autumn. October is just a day away (so prepare for some spooky content), and it’s like a bloody sauna outside. It’s also going to be close to 100 every single day this week. Why? Why?! Can we just have some freakin’ sweater weather already?!
There you have it, my favorites and fails for September. What have you been loving lately?
I felt a lot like Frodo at the end of Return of the King on the last day of 2018. As the ball dropped, I whispered, “It’s gone. It’s done.”
2018 was a doozy for me, and I know a lot of you feel the same way. A quick recap of the year, shall we?
Massive falling out with a close friend.
Finding out my father figure is a disturbed man.
Aunt diagnosed with breast cancer.
Mom’s in poor health off and on through the year.
Car wreck ruins my future as a hairstylist.
Sister from another mister in poor health.
Baby sister from another mister traumatized by family drama.
I’m glad 2018 is over. There were times when I wasn’t sure I’d come out the other side. But it wasn’t all bad. Last year I made some new friends, and I grew much closer to old ones. I endured horrible mental and physical pain, and I got through it. I have a better understanding of myself than I ever have, and I know part of that is due to my experiences last year.
But not all of 2018 sucked! I didn’t get to try out as many things as I’d hoped, but I discovered enough goodness to share it here with y’all. Here’s what I loved about 2018, from the brand new to the new-to-me.
Beauty & Skincare
1.) Perricone MD Cold Plasma+ Face: I have a host of skincare issues, namely rosacea, adult acne, and (gulp) a few fine lines on my forehead, and I’m always looking for a miracle cure that targets all of the above. When I got the opportunity to test out Cold Plasma+, I was completely blown away. I was suffering from a major rosacea flare-up at the time and had loads of under-the-skin bumps threatening to erupt on top of being bright red. Within three days of using the cream (which I will admit has a funky smell and weird texture), the redness had faded to a faint, patchy pink, and the bumps never fully surfaced. Even better, my fine lines were less visible within a week or two. This is truly a holy grail product for me, and I don’t use that term lightly!
2.) Exuviance Gentle Cleansing Creme: A brand rep at Ulta recommended this to me at the height of a pre-Perricone breakout when my skin was so sensitive that even plain water hurt my face. Frankly, I was terrified by the thought of any cleanser, especially one I’d never tried, but I am so glad I listened. It’s incredibly soothing and hydrating, which is great considering my formerly-oily skin has decided to become Sahara-dry, and it made washing my face a calming, pleasant experience again after weeks of being something I dreaded. Love!
3.) Covergirl Goes Cruelty Free: This was the biggest news in the beauty industry for me. Apart from products I have to use due to my skin being as moody as a Grumpy Cat meme, I try to use as many cruelty free items as I can. Covergirl is really paving the way in terms of affordable, cruelty free beauty, and I’m so thrilled I can finally point my budget-minded girls in the direction of the local drugstore for beauty products. (It should be noted that both Milani and Wet N Wild are also cruelty free, but they don’t have the shade range Covergirl does.)
2.) Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari: Released in 2015, this #1 international bestseller blends science with history in a fascinating narrative on humanity’s creation and evolution. Over one hundred thousand years ago, at least six different species of humans walked the Earth, and now there is only one. Renowned historian Dr. Yuval Noah Harari breaks new ground to answer that nagging little question: why?
3.) Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett: Despite the fact that this was released way back in 1990, when yours truly was only a small child, Good Omens has found its way onto my 2018 favorites. It never fails to cheer me up when I’m sad, and I was a mopey gal for the better part of the year. The premise, you ask? If you’ve never read this gem, all you need to know is that the end of the world is coming. Actually, it’s coming next Saturday… a little before dinner. Our salvation rests in the hands of a rather charming demon and a very fussy angel. Oh, and the Antichrist is missing.
1.) Preacher: Texas preacher Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper) is having a crisis of faith. The problem is that God has rage-quit Heaven to shirk His duties, and Jesse is the only one with the power to find Him. To make matters worse, the Saint of Killers (Graham McTavish) is hot on his trail, and tensions between Jesse and his ex-girlfriend, Tulip (Ruth Negga), run high. Preacher is like nothing else on television. It’s irreverent, crude, and brutal, yet its core — thanks to the phenomenal Cooper and Negga — is strangely sweet. Go on. It’s on Hulu. I’ll wait while you catch up.
2.) Victoria: I will admit I’m a recent convert. My mom’s been a fan since day one, but I have seen the light. The story of the monarch’s life begins with the death of King William IV and follows Victoria (the stunning Jenna Coleman) after she assumes the throne at the age of eighteen. With her devoted husband, Prince Albert (Tom Hughes, whose Albert is endearingly awkward), and equally dedicated Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne (Rufus Sewell), at her side, the young queen thrives in her new role. Victoria offers a human — and often surprisingly humorous — look into one of the world’s most famous monarchs. Even if you’re not into history, it has so much to offer. You can watch it on PBS in America.
3.) The Exorcist: Due to work/school/life being uncooperative, I only got around to watching this show in 2018. After it was rudely canceled by Fox. Needless to say, I am displeased. Guided by a vision, young parish priest Father Tomas Ortega (brilliantly played by Alfonso Herrera) seeks out our titular exorcist, Father Marcus Keane (the inimitable Ben Daniels) for help when suspicions that a young girl from his parish may be possessed arise. Filled with I-did-not-see-that-coming plot twists and an incredible supporting cast including Oscar-winner Geena Davis, The Exorcist is at turns hauntingly beautiful and genuinely scary. What the actual Hell was with that cancellation, Fox? You can watch both seasons on Hulu.
1.) Black Panther: After the death of his father, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman, who truly comes into his own in his first solo outing as Black Panther) returns home to his native Wakanda to assume the throne. From its intricately crafted and sympathetic villain (Michael B. Jordan) to the most stunning cinematography I’ve ever seen, Black Panther has all the hallmarks of the Oscar-winning film I hope it will become. Wakanda forever!
2.) A Quiet Place: Written, directed, and starring the incredible John Krasinski, A Quiet Place centers on a family trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world where blind aliens with impenetrable skin hunt anything they hear. I don’t want to give too much away because you need to see the film for yourself if you haven’t already. But I can tell you one thing: Emily Blunt’s heartbreaking performance as Evelyn is sure to leave you breathless.
3.) Venom: The critics might have called Venom a disaster, but it’s one of the most enjoyable movies I’ve seen in a long time. Tom Hardy (one of the most talented actors of his generation) balances humor with vulnerability as disgraced journalist Eddie Brock, who bonds with an alien entity that takes a liking to its new home and vows to protect it.
1.) High As Hope by Florence + the Machine: Florence Welch has the sort of voice that can raise the dead, and it’s never been more honest than it is here, on the band’s most understated album. Simultaneously ominous and airy, High As Hope often feels like reading Welch’s diary, and it’s all the better for it. It’s like MTV Unplugged… with magic.
2. Wanderer by Cat Power: The first time I heard Cat Power sing, it was a cover of Wild Is The Wind, and I burst out crying. Few singers have a voice as emotive as Power, and her latest album is an emotional journey that leaves you feeling raw and hopeful all at once. Woman, her duet with Lana Del Rey, may be the most Cat Power Cat Power song. Go listen to it. You’ll know what I mean.
3.) Soil by serpentwithfeet: I’m not entirely sure what serpentwithfeet is doing on this album, only that it’s never been done before. Soil has the heart of R&B, the soul of gospel — fitting, as Josiah Wise (our tour guide in this strange, new realm) got his start as a Baltimore choirboy — and the guts of something completely unique. Equal parts ‘what the Hell?’ and ‘oh, my God,’ Soil is the most arresting album I’ve heard in a very long time.
That’s all, folks! 2019 is already off to a much better start. I hope it’s the same for y’all. What are your picks for best of 2018?