Thursday, 24 December 2009

Music: All-Time Best Selling Heavy Metal Albums and CDs


Also check out the 50 Best Heavy Metal Albums of All Time, as selected by heavy metal fans.

The list below is a comprehensive summary of the all-time best selling heavy metal albums. The data was mainly derived from RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) web-site, and therefore generally reflects US-based sales. For data on the all-time best-selling heavy metal bands, the total heavy metal album sales per band are summarized here.

All studio albums (including the more noteworthy EPs) by heavy metal bands that have been certified by the RIAA as Platinum (1 million and over in sales) are included. Compilations and live albums, which generally include little or no original material, are excluded.

There is no end to the arguments about what constitutes heavy metal. This list is intended to broadly define the genre, and in addition to traditional metal bands, includes artists mainly active in the alt-metal, nu-metal, prog-metal and industrial metal genres, as well as artists who straddle the metal/hard rock and metal/grunge sounds.

The borderline between metal and non-metal needs to be drawn somewhere. To help define this line as far as this list is concerned, the following bands were not considered metal: Bad Company, The Black Crowes, Boston, Cheap Trick, Foreigner, Free, Heart, Journey, Meat Loaf, Pearl Jam, Queen, Red Hot Chili Peppers, REO Speedwagon, Rolling Stones, Santana, Sex Pistols, Status Quo.

Please let me know if any significant heavy metal bands or albums have been missed, and I'll edit and update the list as needed.

The All-Time Best Selling Heavy Metal Albums

1. Led Zeppelin (IV), by Led Zeppelin (1971): 23 Million
2. Back In Black, by AC/DC (1980): 22 Million
3. Appetite For Destruction, by Guns N' Roses (1987): 18 Million
4. Physical Graffiti, by Led Zeppelin (1975): 16 Million
5. Metallica, by Metallica (1991): 15 Million

12 Million
Led Zeppelin II, by Led Zeppelin (1969)
Slippery When Wet, by Bon Jovi (1986)
Hysteria, by Def Leppard (1987)

11 Million
Houses Of The Holy, by Led Zeppelin (1973)

10 Million:
Pyromania, by Def Leppard (1983)
Led Zeppelin, by Led Zeppelin (1969)
Hybrid Theory, by Linkin Park (2000)
Nevermind, by Nirvana (1991)
Van Halen, by Van Halen (1978)
1984, by Van Halen (1984)
Eliminator, by ZZ Top (1983)

8 Million:
Toys In The Attic, by Aerosmith (1975)
...And Justice For All, by Metallica (1988)
Whitesnake, by Whitesnake (1987)

7 Million:
Highway To Hell, by AC/DC (1979)
Get A Grip, by Aerosmith (1993)
Pump, by Aerosmith (1989)
New Jersey, by Bon Jovi (1988)
Use Your Illusion I, by Guns N' Roses (1991)
Use Your Illusion II, by Guns N' Roses (1991)
Significant Other, by Limp Bizkit (1999)

6 Million:
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, by AC/DC (1976)
Led Zeppelin III, by Led Zeppelin (1970)
In Through The Out Door, by Led Zeppelin (1979)
Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavoured Water, by Limp Bizkit (2000)
Master Of Puppets, by Metallica (1986)
Dr. Feelgood, by Motley Cue (1989)
Metal Health, by Quiet Riot (1983)
5150, by Van Halen (1986)

5 Million: A to M
The Razors Edge, by AC/DC (1990)
Who Made Who, by AC/DC (1986)
Permanent Vacation, by Aerosmith (1987)
G 'N R Lies, by Guns N' Roses (1988)
Follow The Leader, by Korn (1998)
Ride The Lightning, by Metallica (1984)
Load, by Metallica (1996)
Garage, Inc., by Metallica (1998)

5 Million: N to Z
In Utero, by Nirvana (1993)
Open Up And Say...Ahh!, by Poison (1988)
Skid Row, by Skid Row (1989)
Superunknown, by Soundgarden (1994)
Break The Cycle, by Staind (2001)
Van Halen II, by Van Halen (1979)
Afterburner, by ZZ Top (1985)

4 Million: A to M
For Those About To Rock, by AC/DC (1981)
Dirt, by Alice In Chains (1992)
Paranoid, by Black Sabbath (1970)
Godsmack, by Godsmack (1998)
Are You Experienced?, by The Jimi Hendrix Experience (1967)
In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, by Iron Butterfly (1968)
Shout At The Devil, by Motley Crue (1983)
Theatre Of Pain, by Motley Crue (1985)
Girls, Girls, Girls, by Motley Crue (1987)

4 Million: N to Z
The Downward Spiral, by Nine Inch Nails (1994)
Blizzard Of Oz, by Ozzy Osbourne (1980)
No More Tears, by Ozzy Osbourne (1991)
Moving Pictures, by Rush (1981)
Diver Down, by Van Halen (1982)
OU812, by Van Halen (1988)
Slip Of The Tongue, by Whitesnake (1989)

3 Million: A to M
High Voltage, by AC/DC (1976)
Get Your Wings, by Aerosmith (1974)
Audioslave, by Audioslave (2002)
Night Songs, by Cinderella (1986)
Long Cold Winter, by Cinderella (1988)
Adrenalize, by Def Leppard (1992)
The Final Countdown, by Europe (1986)
Issues, by Korn (1999)
Presence, by Led Zeppelin (1976)
Kill'Em All, by Metallica (1983)
Reload, by Metallica (1997)

3 Million: N to Q
Pretty Hate Machine, by Nine Inch Nails (1989)
Cat Scratch Fever, by Ted Nugent (1977)
Diary Of A Madman, by Ozzy Osbourne (1981)
Bark At The Moon, by Ozzy Osbourne (1983)
Infest, by Papa Roach (2000)
Satellite, by P.O.D. (2001)
Look What The Cat Dragged In, by Poison (1986)
Flesh And Blood, by Poison (1990)
Come Clean, by Puddle Of Mudd (2001)
Empire, by Queensryche (1990)

3 Million: R to Z
Rage Against The Machine, by Rage Against The Machine (1992)
Evil Empire, by Rage Against The Machine (1996)
Out Of The Cellar, by Ratt (1984)
2112, by Rush (1976)
Love At First Sting, by Scorpions (1984)
Toxicity, by System Of A Down (2001)
Aenima, by Tool (1996)
Stay Hungry, by Twisted Sister (1984)
Women And Children First, by Van Halen (1980)
For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, by Van Halen (1991)
Balance, by Van Halen (1995)

2 Million: A to B
Let There Be Rock, by AC/DC (1977)
Black Ice, by AC/DC (2008)
Ballbreaker, by AC/DC (1995)
Aerosmith, by Aerosmith (1973)
Draw The Line, by Aerosmith (1977)
Nine Lives, by Aerosmith (1997)
Facelift, by Alice In Chains (1990)
Jar Of Flies, by Alice In Chains (1994)
Alice In Chains, by Alice In Chains (1995)
Master of Reality, by Black Sabbath (1971)
Bon Jovi, by Bon Jovi (1984)
Keep The Faith, by Bon Jovi (1992)
Crush, by Bon Jovi (2000)

2 Million: C to L
Machine Head, by Deep Purple (1972)
High 'N' Dry, by Def Leppard (1981)
Awake, by Godsmack (2000)
Electric Ladyland, by The Jimi Hendrix Experience (1968)
Ritual De Lo Habitual, by Jane's Addiction (1990)
Screaming For Vengeance, by Judas Priest (1982)
Korn, by Korn (1994)
Life Is Peachy, by Korn (1996)
Three Dollar Bill, Yall$, by Limp Bizkit (1997)
Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd, by Lynyrd Skynyrd (1973)
Second Helping, by Lynyrd Skynyrd (1974)
Street Survivors, by Lynyrd Skynyrd (1977)

2 Million: M to R
Countdown To Extinction, by Megadeth (1992)
St. Anger, by Metallica (2003)
Flirtin' With Disaster, by Molly Hatchet (1979)
The Fragile, by Nine Inch Nails (1999)
Ted Nugent, by Ted Nugent (1975)
Free For All, by Ted Nugent (1976)
The Ultimate Sin, by Ozzy Osbourne (1986)
No Rest For The Wicked, by Ozzy Osbourne (1988)
Ozzmosis, by Ozzy Osbourne (1995)
Vulgar Display Of Power, by Pantera (1992)
The Battle Of Los Angeles, by Rage Against The Machine (1999)
Invasion Of Your Privacy, by Ratt (1985)

2 Million: S to T
Every Six Seconds, by Saliva (2001)
Crazy World, by Scorpions (1990)
Slave To The Grind, by Skid Row (1991)
Stick It To Ya, by Slaughter (1990)
Slipknot, by Slipknot (1999)
Badmotorfinger, by Soundgarden (1991)
Dysfunction, by Staind (1999)
The Great Radio Controversy, by Tesla (1989)
Undertow, by Tool (1993)
Lateralus, by Tool (2001)
Christmas Eve & Other Stories, by Trans-Siberian Orchestra (1996)

2 Million: U to Z
Fair Warning, by Van Halen (1981)
Contraband, by Velvet Revolver (2004)
Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich, by Warrant (1989)
Cherry Pie, by Warrant (1990)
Pride, by White Lion (1987)
Slide It In, by Whitesnake (1984)
La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Vol I, by White Zombie (1992)
Astro-Creep: 2000, by White Zombie (1995)

1 Million: A
Powerage, by AC/DC (1978)
Flick Of The Switch, by AC/DC (1983)
Fly On The Wall, by AC/DC (1985)
Blow Up Your Video, by AC/DC (1988)
Stiff Upper Lip, by AC/DC (2000)
Rocks, by Aerosmith (1976)
Night In The Ruts, by Aerosmith (1979)
Just Push Play, by Aerosmith (2001)
The Nature Of The Beast, by April Wine (1981)
Out Of Exile, by Audioslave (2005)
City of Evil, by Avenged Sevenfold (2005)

1 Million: B
Black Sabbath, by Black Sabbath (1970)
Black Sabbath Vol. 4, by Black Sabbath (1972)
Sabbath Blody Sabbath, by Black Sabbath (1973)
Heaven And Hell, by Black Sabbath (1980)
Agents Of Fortune, by Blue Oyster Cult (1976)
7800 Degree Farenheit, by Bon Jovi (1985)
Have A Nice Day, by Bon Jovi (2005)
Lost Highway, by Bon Jovi (2007)
These Days, by Bon Jovi (1995)

1 Million: C
Heartbreak Station, by Cinderella (1990)
Love It To Death, by Alice Cooper Group (1971)
Killer, by Alice Cooper Group (1971)
School's Out, by Alice Cooper Group (1972)
Billion Dollar Babies, by Alice Cooper Group (1973)
Welcome To My Nightmare, by Alice Cooper (1975)
Trash, by Alice Cooper (1989)
Electric, by The Cult (1987)
Sonic Temple, by The Cult (1989)

1 Million: D to G
Perfect Strangers, by Deep Purple (1984)
On Through The Night, by Def Leppard (1980)
Holy Diver, by Dio (1983)
The Last In Line, by Dio (1984)
Tooth And Nail. by Dokken (1984)
Under Lock And Key, by Dokken (1985)
Back For The Attack, by Dokken (1987)
Out Of This World, by Europe (1988)
The Real Thing, by Faith No More (1989)
Faceless, by Godsmack (2003)
The Spaghetti Incident?, by Guns N' Roses (1993)
Chinese Democracy, by Guns N' Roses (2008)

1 Million: H to J
Standing Hampton, by Sammy Hagar (1981)
VOA, by Sammy Hagar (1984)
Axis: Bold As Love, by The Jimi Hendrix Experience (1967)
The Cry Of Love, by Jimi Hendrix (1971)
The Number Of The Beast, by Iron Maiden (1982)
Piece Of Mind, by Iron Maiden (1983)
Powerslave, by Iron Maiden (1984)
Somewhere In Time, by Iron Maiden (1986)
Nothing's Shocking, by Jane's Addiction (1988)
British Steel, by Judas Priest (1980)
Defenders Of The Faith, by Judas Priest (1984)
Turbo, by Judas Priest (1986)

1 Million: K
Destroyer, by Kiss (1976)
Rock and Roll Over, by Kiss (1976)
Love Gun, by Kiss (1977)
Dynasty, by Kiss (1979)
Lick It Up, by Kiss (1983)
Animalize, by Kiss (1984)
Crazy Nights, by Kiss (1987)
Untouchables, by Korn (2002)
Take A Look In The Mirror, by Korn (2003)
See You On The Other Side, by Korn (2005)

1 Million: L
Coda, by Led Zeppelin (1982)
Results May Vary, Limp Bizkit (2003)
The Unquestionable Truth (Part 1), by Limp Bizkit (2005)
Nuthin' Fancy, by Lynyrd Skynyrd (1975)

1 Million: M
Smells Like Children, by Marilyn Manson (1995)
Antichrist Superstar, by Marilyn Manson (1996)
Mechanical Animals, by Marilyn Manson (1998)
Peace Sells...But Who's Buying, by Megadeth (1986)
So Far, So Good...So What!, by Megadeth (1988)
Rust in Peace, by Megadeth (1990)
Youthanasia, by Megadeth (1994)
Garage Days Re-Revisited, by Metallica (1987)
Death Magnetic, by Metallica (2008)
Psalm 69 by Ministry (1992)
Molly Hatchet, by Molly Hatchet (1978)
Beatin' The Odds, by Molly Hatchet (1980)
Montrose, by Montrose (1973)
Too Fast For Love, by Motley Crue (1981)

1 Million: N to O
Hair Of The Dog, by Nazareth (1975)
Midnight Madness, by Night Ranger (1983)
Seven Wishes, by Night Ranger (1985)
Broken, by Nine Inch Nails (1992)
Bleach, by Nirvana (1989)
Incesticide, by Nirvana (1992)
Weekend Warriors, by Ted Nugent (1978)
Down To Earth, by Ozzy Osbourne (2001)

1 Million: P to Q
Cowboys From Hell, by Pantera (1990)
Far Beyond Driven, by Pantera (1994)
The Great Southern Trendkill, by Pantera (1996)
Getting Away With Murder, by Papa Roach (2004)
The Fundamental Elements Of Southtown, by P.O.D. (1999)
Tonight The Stars Revolt!, by Powerman 5000 (1999)
Sailing the Seas of Cheese, by Primus (1991)
Pork Soda, by Primus (1993)
Operation Mindcrime, by Queensryche (1988)
Promised Land, by Queensryche (1994)
Condition Critical, by Quiet Riot (1984)

1 Million: R
Renegades, by Rage Against The Machine (2000)
Sehnsucht, by Rammstein (1997)
Dancing Undercover, by Ratt (1986)
Reach For The Sky, by Ratt (1988)
Crazy From The Heat, by David Lee Roth (1985)
Eat'Em And Smile, by David Lee Roth (1986)
Skyscraper, by David Lee Roth (1988)
Fly By Night, by Rush (1975)
A Farewell To Kings, by Rush (1977)
Hemispheres, by Rush (1978)
Permanent Wave, by Rush (1980)
Signals, by Rush (1982)
Grace Under Pressure, by Rush (1984)
Power Windows, by Rush (1985)
Roll The Bones, by Rush (1991)

1 Million: S
Surfing With The Alien, by Joe Satriani (1987)
Blackout, by Scorpions (1982)
Savage Amusement, by Scorpions (1988)
Animal Magnetism, by Scorpions (1980)
Iowa, by Slipknot (2001)
Vol 3: The Subliminal Verses, by Slipknot (2004)
Down On The Upside, by Soundgarden (1996)
14 Shades Of Grey, by Staind (2003)
Chapter V, by Staind (2005)
Wisconsin Death Trip, by Static-X (1999)
To Hell With The Devil, by Stryper (1986)
All Killer No Filler, by Sum 41 (2001)
System Of A Down, by System Of A Down (1998)
Steal This Album!, by System Of A Down (2002)
Hypnotize, by System Of A Down (2005)
Mezmerize, by System Of A Down (2005)

1 Million: T
Mechanical Resonance, by Tesla (1986)
Psychotic Supper, by Tesla (1991)
10,000 Days, by Tool (2006)
Christmas Attic, by Trans-Siberian Orchestra (1998)
The Lost Christmas Eve, by Trans-Siberian Orchestra (2004)
Trapt, by Trapt (2002)
Allied Forces, by Triumph (1981)
Bloody Kisses, by Type O Negative (1993)

1 Million: U to Z
Winger, by Winger (1988)
In The Heart Of The Young, by Winger (1990)
Antenna, by ZZ Top (1994)
Recycler, by ZZ Top (1990)
Deguello, by ZZ Top (1979)


Notable Heavy Metal bands with Gold certified albums (sales of 500,000) but no Platinum albums:

Accept - 1 Gold Album: Balls To The Wall (1983)

Anthrax - 4 Gold Albums: Among The Living (1987), State of Euphoria (1988), Persistence Of Time (1990), and Sound Of White Noise (1993).

Danzig - 1 Gold Album: Danzig (1988)

Dream Theater - 1 Gold Album: Images and Words (1992)

Helmet - 1 Gold Album: Meantime (1992)

Kingdom Come - 1 Gold Album: Kingdom Come (1988)

Krokus - 2 Gold Albums: Headhunter (1981) and The Blitz (1984)

L.A. Guns - 2 Gold Albums: L.A. Guns (1988) and Cocked And Loaded (1989)

Sepultura - 2 Gold Albums: Chaos A.D. (1993) and Roots (1996)

Slayer - 4 Gold Albums: Reign In Blood (1986), South Of Heaven (1988), Seasons In The Abyss (1990) and Divine Intervention (1994)

Thin Lizzy - 1 Gold Album: Jailbreak (1976)

Steve Vai - 1 Gold Album: Passion and Warfare (1990)

WASP - 2 Gold Albums: WASP (1984), and The Last Command (1985).


Notable Heavy Metal bands with no Gold nor Platinum certified albums:

Amorphis, Anvil, Blind Guardian, Budgie, Cannibal Corpse, Cathedral, Celtic Frost, Children Of Bodom, Corrosion Of Conformity, Death, Deicide, Diamond Head, Bruce Dickinson, Emperor, Exodus, Extreme, Girlschool, Halford, Hammerfall, Hanoi Rocks, Hellhammer, Helloween, Iced Earth, In Flames, King Diamond, King's X, Kreator, Kyuss, Lamb Of God, Yngwie Malmsteen, Manowar, Mercyful Fate, Motorhead, My Dying Bride, Napalm Death, Opeth, Overkill, Paradise Lost, Rainbow, Savatage, Saxon, Testament, Tiamat, Trouble, UFO, Venom, Wolfsbane.

CD Review: Here Waits Thy Doom, by 3 Inches of Blood (2009)


Here Waits Thy Doom is an album that walks a tight rope between brilliance and parody. For the most part, it succeeds in delivering excellent heavy metal, but on occasion is does descend into simplistic and cringe-inducing fist pumping passages that undermine credibility.

The third album from Canada's 3 Inches of Blood, a band that appears to have a rapidly revolving door membership policy, appears to answer the eternal question: what would the love child of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest sound like? Here Waits Thy Doom is filled with Maidenesque guitar majesty coupled with wailing high-pitched vocals from the appropriately named Cam Pipes that channel Rob Halford at his peak. The impact is jarring at first, but once the shock subsides, the results can be brilliant.

On two tracks in particular, 3 Inches of Blood nail the essence of traditional power heavy metal. Opener Battles and Brotherhood wastes no time in establishing the band's intent to deliver fast, controlled, simple melodies pinned by massively crunchy chords. If nothing else, Here Waits Thy Doom revives the sheer joy of producing monstrous guitar chords backed by as many watts as a stack of amps can produce before tumbling down the mountain of metal.

An even better track is All of Them Witches, which makes a strong case for best heavy metal song of 2009. After opening with a brilliant almost two minute long intro that is one of the best ever salutes to Maiden, All of Them Witches soars into epic territory featuring a grand melody coloured by dueling guitars, controlled vocals and a long instrumental section that both varies and enhances the vibe of the song.

Rock In Hell is a straightforward metal anthem that works well, and Execution Tank is a rousing album closer. The rest of the tracks are a mix of the solid and the forgettable, with the band drifting into filler territory on tracks like Snake Fighter and At the Foot of the Great Glacier (as mentioned, that this is a Canadian band, hence the glacier references).

For a collection of four individuals recording together for the first time, the compositions are tight and professional, and the band sounds like they've been together for years. This is an unconventional and multi-talented group, with Justin Hagberg and Shane Clark sharing lead and bass duties, and Hagberg also contributing the rougher growly vocals and keyboards. Credit to veteran heavy metal producer Jack Endino, who has a long history including recordings with Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Bruce Dickinson, for producing, mixing and recording the album, and bringing out the best of the band.

The album artwork confirms that this is a band that appreciates the history of the genre, with the shadowy figure evoking no less than Black Sabbath's classic first ever heavy metal album cover.

Band:

Cam Pipes - Vocals
Justin Hagberg - Guitar, Bass, Keyboards
Shane Clark - Guitar, Bass
Ash Pearson - Drums

Songlist (ratings out of10):

1. Battles and Brotherhood - 10
2. Rock in Hell - 9
3. Silent Killer - 8
4. Fierce Defender - 7
5. Preacher's Daughter - 7
6. Call of the Hammer - 7
7. Snake Fighter - 6
8. At the Foot of the Great Glacier - 6
9. All of Them Witches - 10
10. 12:34 - n/a (short instrumental)
11. Execution Tank - 9

Average: 7.90

Produced, Recorded and Mixed by Jack Endino.
Mastered by Alan Douches.

Here Awaits Thy Doom at the Ace Black Store.
The Ace Black Blog CD Review No. 63.

All Ace Black Blog CD Reviews are here.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

CD Review: Rust In Peace, by Megadeth (1990)


In advance of the fourth Megadeth album, Dave Mustaine fired half his band, sobered up, and then went out and found Marty Friedman as a replacement second guitarist. The band takes a giant leap forward, from a scrappy and underground sound to mainstream success. The fearsome Mustaine / Friedman duo quickly clicked into one of the best thrash heavy metal guitarist pairings, and Rust In Peace captures this partnership at its best.

Mustaine's improved songwriting matched the upgraded abilities of the band, with more complex and layered compositions bringing the best out of Nick Menza's drum kit and David Ellefson's energetic bass.

However, much like all of Megadeth's catalogue, Rust In Peace is an album of peaks and valleys, with some excellent tracks sitting side by side with significantly weaker material.

A strong start features Holy Wars...The Punishment Due as a terrific album opener with a stunning hammerblow of an intro. It's quickly followed by Hangar 18, one of the band's biggest hits with a monstrously successful video hitting the sweet spot with conspiracy theorists everywhere. Hangar 18 is likely just a bit more famous than it needs to be in terms of song quality, with a relatively monotonous melody that breaks into a slightly clumsy instrumental section, but there is no doubting the irresistible power, barely controlled, behind the track.

The album noticeably dips after the promising opening: Take No Prisoners, Five Magics, Poison Was The Cure and Lucretia are not winning any prizes. Although all four songs have their moments, in general they drone on with much more noise and fury than sense and purpose.

Towards the end, another couple of songs produce another peak: Tornado Of Souls is relentlessly fast with a magical, soaring classical-inspired guitar solo by Friedman, well matched by Ellefson laying down an impressively prominent bass line. The short Dawn Patrol is effectively an introduction to the closing track Rust In Peace...Polaris, which matches the album's opening with another tight gallop wound around a threatening guitar attack that builds to absolute mayhem -- a suitable metaphor for nuclear war, and the band itself.

Band:

Dave Mustaine - Vocals, Guitar
Marty Friedman - Guitar
David Ellefson - Bass
Nick Menza - Drums

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Holy Wars...The Punishment Due - 10 *See Video Below*
2. Hangar 18 - 9
3. Take No Prisoners - 6
4. Five Magics - 6
5. Poison Was The Cure - 7
6. Lucretia - 7
7. Tornado Of Souls - 9
8. Dawn Patrol - n/a (short track)
9. Rust In Peace...Polaris - 10

Average: 8.00

Produced by Mike Clink and Dave Mustaine.
Engineered by Mike Clink and Micajah Ryan.
Mixed by Max Norman.

All Ace Black Blog CD Reviews are here.




Book Review: The Lost Symbol, by Dan Brown (2009)


Dan Brown's follow-up to the runaway bestseller The DaVinci Code is another entertaining romp featuring symbologist Robert Langdon, this time decoding the surprisingly secretive world of Washington DC.

Langdon is mysteriously summoned by his long-time friend Peter Solomon, a senior member of the Masonic Order, to deliver a lecture in DC. The invitation is the start of one very long night for Langdon, as the monstrous villain by the name of Mal'akh orchestrates a nightmare sequence of events that leaves Langdon reeling, Solomon in captivity, and his sister Katherine Solomon, a Noetics scientist, in danger of death.

Mal'akh, a student of the dark arts of sacrifice, is seeking ultimate power by gaining access to the knowledge hidden in the legendary Ancient Mysteries, a possibly mythical treasure of the world's collective wisdom thought to be protected by the powerful Masons.

To get his hands on this ultimate fountain of eternal power, Mal'akh needs Langdon's unwilling help to find and unlock the artifacts, symbols, and puzzles used by the Masons to protect the location and identity of the Mysteries. Mal'akh also has a personal and long-running vendetta against the Solomons, and is happy to destroy the family to gain access to the secrets protected by the Masons.

As Langdon races to save Peter Solomon from torture and Katherine Solomon from death, the typical assortment of colourful Dan Brown characters join the fray, including the Director of a secretive CIA department and the senior manager of the US Capitol Building.

In addition to Peter Solomon, many of the other characters in The Lost Symbol are senior Masons. The book is a largely sympathetic portrayal of the Order, a society of secrets rather than a secret society, a distinction made early in the book. While The Lost Symbol likely reveals more about the Masons than they would prefer, and shines a spotlight that the publicity-shy Order would rather avoid, the overall context is both positive and supportive.

At over 500 pages, this is a long book, and while it takes place over one night, a good half of the text is occupied by flashbacks as critical events from the pasts of Langdon, both Solomons and Mal'akh are recollected to flesh-out the background to the events unfolding in DC. The last 200 pages do fly by as Brown takes the story to a suitable climax.

Brown then uses the denoument, a solid 50 pages, to deliver the real message behind the book with a solid punch, and it is surprisingly even more powerful and universal than the ending of The DaVinci Code.

The Lost Symbol, with its straightforward pace and bluntly descriptive language, will not win any literary awards, but it provides good entertainment with a satisfying dose of intellect.






509 pages.
Published in hardcover by Doubleday.


The Lost Symbol at the Ace Black Store.
Ace Black Blog Book Review No. 25.

All Ace Black Blog Book Reviews are here.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Theatre Review: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, at the Playhouse (Vancouver)

On the French Riviera, playground of the rich and bored, Lawrence Jameson (played by Andrew Wheeler) lives life as a continuous high stakes con game by gaining the affection of a parade of wealthy but gullible women, then separating them from their money and jewelry by claiming to be an exiled Prince fighting for his obscure kingdom.

Enter Freddy Benson (Josh Epstein), a scrappy American with a similarly bent moral compass, but much less refined skills. He also aims to dupe women for money, but his crass tactics are enough to agitate Jameson and result in a classic "this town ain't big enough for the two of us" showdown.

The two scoundrels agree to a wager, with the loser to leave town: the winner is the first to weasel $50,000 out of the new arrival in town, naive American socialite Christine Colgate (Elena Juatco).

This Vancouver Playhouse production of the musical comedy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is an admirable effort and provides a solid two hours of entertainment. Andrew Wheeler nails the haughty, suave and sleazy Jameson, while Epstein perfectly complements him with a much more physical performance as the hustler Benson. Elena Juatco is full of bubbly energy and eases into her role as the centre of attention of both men, but almost overplays the naive and physically clumsy Christine.

Providing excellent support are Dave Marr as Andre, Jameson's fixer, and Gabrielle Jones as Muriel, one of Jameson's victims who surprisingly falls for Andre.

This being Vancouver, it is noticeable that the ensemble dancers, although game, are straining, and are generally solidly "class 2" in terms of talent and training.

The Vancouver production makes the most of the Playhouse's cozy stage, with excellent stage design, frequent and fast set changes, all bathed in vibrant colours to recreate the sun-drenched Riviera.

The musical Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, based on the 1988 film starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin, opened on Broadway in 2005 and played for about 18 months -- not bad, but not exactly setting the world on fire. None of the musical numbers are show-stoppers, and the comedy is almost too self-referential. But for Vancouver on a cold and rainy night, the show provides a solidly engaging night out.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

CD Review: Master Of Puppets, by Metallica (1986)


Master Of Puppets, Metallica's 3rd studio album is similar in many respects to 1984's Ride The Lighting: eight tracks; one long instrumental; lengthy songs; an acoustic introduction; and the title track settling in to the second spot on the CD.

But Master Of Puppets suffers from a saggy mid-section. The experimentation here goes awry. The Thing That Should Not Be is a hideous, crushingly boring song that should have never been. Welcome Home (Sanitarium) and Disposable Heroes are average and unmemorable. Leper Messiah is only saved by a brilliant second part that almost removes the boring taste of the unimaginative opening.

But then the middle four songs are not the reason why Master Of Puppets is so well loved. The opening two tracks, Battery and Master Of Puppets, and the closing two tracks, Orion and Damage, Inc., are all masterpieces of metal and define this album.

The opening of Battery builds to a thunderous ovation to metal fans, and the rest of the track proceeds at high speed to brilliance. Closer Damage, Inc. is similar in length and also features a brooding intro that gives way to drum-driven controlled mayhem at an even faster speed.

Master Of Puppets is a metal epic that goes on for more than eight minutes and paints a grand canvass featuring several guitar clinics and drums with remarkable stamina. It also signals the start of the band's serious experimentation with whiplash-inducing start-stops and frequent tempo changes that would come to the forefront and define almost the entirety of ...And Justice For All, the next Metallica CD. Orion also clocks in at over eight minutes and is a grand instrumental track and companion piece to The Call Of Ktulu from Ride The Lightning.

Together, these four tracks completed Metallica's rapid and remarkable journey from underground outfit in 1983 to the most famous metal band in the world, filling arenas with tens of thousands of people in 1986. Lars Ulrich's promise of world domination came to pass, sooner than even he probably imagined.

This was the last Metallica album to feature bassist Cliff Burton, tragically killed when the band's bus crashed in Sweden on September 27 1986. In his short career and on the three Metallica albums that he featured on, Burton established himself as one of the all-time best and most influential heavy metal bass guitarists.

Band:

James Hetfield - Guitar, Vocals
Lars Ulrich - Drums
Kirk Hammett - Guitar
Cliff Burton - Bass

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Battery - 10
2. Master Of Puppets - 10 *See Video Below*
3. The Thing That Should Not Be - 4
4. Welcome Home (Sanitarium) - 7
5. Disposable Heroes - 7
6. Leper Messiah - 8
7. Orion (Instrumental) - 10
8. Damage, Inc. - 10

Average: 8.25

Produced by Metallica and Flemming Rasmussen.
Engineered by Flemming Rasmussen.
Mixed by Michael Wagener.

All Ace Black Blog CD Reviews are here.



CD Review: Ride The Lightning, by Metallica (1984)


Just one year after their underground debut, Metallica land at a major label and unleash a tight eight-track set that is a major landmark on the heavy metal landscape.

Immediately spreading their wings from their humble beginnings, Metallica announce the length and breadth of their ambitions. The tracks on Ride The Lightning are dramatically longer and substantially more complex. The maturity of the songwriting is dramatically evolved. Now there are variations in the tempo -- not everything is played at 100 miles per hour. Melodies take their time to dig in and entrench. Kirk Hammett's guitar solos are no longer the raison d'etre of the songs, transforming instead into frequent dramatic exclamation marks. James Hetfield's vocals are cleaner, replacing aggression with increased confidence.

The album is most notable for three quite brilliant tracks. Fight Fire With Fire kicks off with a deceptive acoustic opening that explodes into a monstrous guitar showcase, announcing in less than 45 seconds that Metallica are back, bolder, badder and better. The track later throws in manic sliding guitar solos just for good measure.

Creeping Death is among the best heavy metal tracks ever recorded. For over 6 minutes, it combines sheer crushing but controlled drumming power with blazing speed, historic and histrionic guitar solos and a demonic melody that climaxes with the epic - and quite creepy - "Die! Die! Die!" section.

And the album closes with the grand instrumental The Call of Ktulu, clocking in at close to 9 minutes of sure-footed and confidently paced metal power.

Ride The Lightning, For Whom The Bell Tolls and Fade To Black are all excellent. Trapped Under Ice and Escape are the relatively weak tracks on the CD, but are surrounded by such quality material that they almost pass unnoticed.

It is noted that a couple of the songs on the CD (Ride The Lightning and The Call Of Ktulu) provide a co-written credit to Dave Mustaine, who had long since departed the band.

Ride The Lightning is both a natural extension of Kill'Em All and a dramatic departure from it. It announces Metallica as a diverse, multi-talented machine capable of fast evolution. And the album stands near the top of the charts in terms of the best that 1980's heavy metal offered.

Band:

James Hetfield - Guitar, Vocals
Lars Ulrich - Drums
Kirk Hammett - Guitar
Cliff Burton - Bass

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Fight Fire With Fire - 10
2. Ride The Lightning - 8
3. For Whom The Bell Tolls - 8
4. Fade To Black - 9
5. Trapped Under Ice - 7
6. Escape - 6
7. Creeping Death - 10 *See video below*
8. The Call Of Ktulu - 10

Average: 8.50

Produced by Metallica.
Engineered by Flemming Rasmussen.

All Ace Black Blog CD Reviews are here.




CD Review: Kill'Em All, by Metallica (1983)


A raw, underground, rushed album that announced the emergence of the band that would go on to redefine the world of heavy metal.

Recorded in two weeks, barely produced, and with an initial release of just 1,500 copies, Kill'Em All benefits from its unpolished energy. With 10 tracks recorded in about 14 days, not much time was spent on finesse and second guessing, and it shows in a good way. This is a young band with a clear vision of where they want to go and what they want to sound like. Lars Ulrich was intent on world domination right from the beginning, and with music like this, not much was going to stand in Metallica's way.

Importing the sound of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal to the west coast and adding insane amounts of speed while maintaining control and a snarling punk ethic, Metallica invented something called Thrash and stunned the music world. Kill'Em All is a stunning aural experience with technically impossible guitar solos delivered cleanly by Kirk Hammett at breakneck speed in each and every song, surrounded by powerful tunes and equally strong contributions from Ulrich's drums, Cliff Burton's bass and James Hetfield's raspy, angry vocals.

Four of the songs here are co-written by Dave Mustaine, who had acrimoniously split from the band before recording this CD, and went on to form Megadeth.

Hit the Lights is the perfect introduction to the Metallica. Not the most sophisticated song, but it sets the stage with Hammett's guitar front and centre, announcing with a stark floodlight the band's speed and technical prowess. The Four Horsemen follows and damn if it does not create the image of the horses of doom galloping straight at us.

The other highlights include the instrumental bass showcase (Anesthesia) - Pulling Teeth, a track that proves that the bass can indeed make a terrific contribution to heavy metal in the hands of a talented guitarist like Cliff Burton. Whiplash became one of the band's early classics and the perfect headbanging song with its signature manically fast tempo. Seek & Destroy is an all-time metal classic with a riff that is pure unstoppable chugging locomotive power.

There are some songs on Kill'Em All that are for fans of guitar pyrotechnics only, with very weak song structures surrounding Hammett's solos. We'll fully excuse the band for the relative mis-fires like Jump In The Fire, Phantom Lord, and No Remorse, tracks that in terms of songwriting maturity, truly do sound like they are from the catalogue of the local garage band. It's not easy breaking new ground, and these songs represent the dead-ends that Metallica had to discover along the way.

Band:

James Hetfield - Guitar
Lars Ulrich - Drums
Kirk Hammett - Guitar
Cliff Burton - Bass

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Hit the Lights - 8
2. The Four Horsemen - 9
3. Motorbreath - 8
4. Jump in the Fire - 6
5. (Anesthesia) - Pulling Teeth - 10
6. Whiplash - 10
7. Phantom Lord - 6
8. No Remorse - 6
9. Seek & Destroy - 10 *See Video Below*
10. Metal Militia - 7

Average: 8.00

Executive Producer: Jon Zazula.
Produced by Paul Curcio.
Engineered by Chris Bubacz.

All Ace Black Blog CD Reviews are here.




Saturday, 12 December 2009

CD Review: Twilight of the Thunder God, by Amon Amarth (2008)


Sweden's Amon Amarth pull together one of the best viking metal CDs with this collection of 10 songs. Twilight of the Thunder God features well-constructed mid-tempo tunes, full of power and fury but very sharply led by mostly magnificent melodies. This is Amon Amarth's eighth label release, and while it's taken them a long time, they have now helped define the peak of this particular sub-genre.

And while the album cover art is terrific, it really does not seem like a fair fight now, does it?

The band finally harness their undoubted power with strict control, and on each track the energy is clearly channeled in a cohesive direction. Every track rumbles with the fury of a massive army in motion, but all the troops are following the commands of the lead melody delivered by the twin guitar attack of Olavi Mikkonen and Johan Soderberg. The deep growl of Johan Hegg perfectly fits the band's sound.

The songwriting is mature and professional, with interesting tempo changes and elegant transitions. The cello even makes an appearance on Live for the Kill courtesy of Apocalyptica, and it's in perfect harmony with the song.

Not every track hits the mark perfectly. Where is Your God? appears to be mostly a test of speed pounding, and both Varyags of Miklagaard and Tattered Banners and Bloody Flags are a bit ponderous.

But the highlights are plenty. Twilight of the Thunder God is a great opener that sets the stage for the rest of the CD, while No Fear for the Setting Sun introduces a hypnotic staccato guitar riff that is used to build a massive aural assault.

Even better are the three perfect tracks on the CD. Guardians of Asgaard has a massive but bouncy guitar riff that demonstrates what can be done with clever staccatos, backed by a furious but controlled collective assault from the band. The Hero is one of those rare songs defined by a simple but effective melody that instantly drops into a marvellous mid-tempo groove where all the elements fuse to create a shining theme.

And Embrace of the Endless Ocean ends the CD and perfectly summarizes the band's achievement with a soaring guitar melody that magnificently rises above the massed armies and takes a final look down on the bloody Twilight of the Thunder God battlefield.

Band:

Johan Hegg - Vocals
Ted Lundstrom - Bass
Olavi Mikkonen - Guitar
Fredrik Andersson - Drums
Johan Soderberg - Guitar


Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Twilight of the Thunder God - 9
2. Free Will Sacrifice - 8
3. Guardians of Asgaard - 10 *See Video Below*
4. Where is Your God? - 6
5. Varyags of Miklagaard - 7
6. Tattered Banners and Bloody Flags - 7
7. No Fear for the Setting Sun - 9
8. The Hero - 10
9. Live for the Kill - 8
10. Embrace of the Endless Ocean - 10

Average: 8.40

Produced, Engineered, Mixed, and Mastered by Jens Bogren.

All Ace Black Blog CD Reviews are here.



Sunday, 6 December 2009

CD Review: For Those About To Rock, by AC/DC (1981)


Hard on the heels of the classic Back In Black, AC/DC return a year later under some pressure to produce a decent follow-up...and fail fairly miserably.

For Those About To Rock is filled with songs that were seemingly not good enough to make Back In Black. Bland, boring, forgettable -- all such adjectives apply. Apart from the title track and a couple of others, this is a CD that is almost exclusively filler. It's a piece of under-cooked steak that is mostly throwaway, inedible fat.

The band try to recapture the magic of Back In Black, but for the most part, the canon on the album is firing blanks, and the inspiration is shockingly lacking. Even the presence of Robert Lange as producer does not help. The songwriting fundamentally fails: the tunes are almost laughably simplistic, as if the band became a parody of itself overnight. It is interesting that Lange never worked with AC/DC again, perhaps sensing that the band had creatively peaked.

The worst comes in the shape of atrocities like Inject The Venom, Snowballed and Breaking The Rules: lazy, meaningless tunes that justify the existence of "skip" buttons on all music players.

The salvageable items are For Those About To Rock (We Salute You), which opens the CD so promisingly with the now famous thunderous canon fire. It has deservedly achieved timeless fame as a true heavy metal anthem. C.O.D. (referring to Care of the Devil) finds a rocking groove that reminds us what the band is capable of. And album closer Spellbound slows down the tempo and removes some of the poor taste with a strong finish.

For Those About To Rock confirms that with huge success comes heightened expectations. The CD suffers mightily in comparison with what AC/DC previously proved that they could achieve.

Band:

Brian Johnson - Vocals
Cliff William - Bass
Angus Young - Guitar
Malcolm Young - Guitar
Phil Rudd - Drums

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. For Those About To Rock (We Salute You) - 10
2. Put The Finger On You - 6
3. Let's Get It Up - 6
4. Inject The Venom - 5
5. Snowballed - 5
6. Evil Walks - 7
7. C.O.D. - 8
8. Breaking The Rules - 5
9. Night Of The Long Knives - 7
10. Spellbound - 9

Average: 6.80

Produced by Robert John "Mutt" Lange.
Engineered by Mark Dearnley. Mixed by Dave Thoener.

All Ace Black Blog CD Reviews are here.

CD Review: Rise of the Tyrant, by Arch Enemy (2007)


Perfecting their formula, Arch Enemy return with a polished album of first class melodic metal, and maintain their position near the top of the metal mountain.

The combination of the Amott brothers on guitars and Angela Gossow on vocals is among the most perfect marriages in metal. The three are responsible for the majority of the songwriting. The Amotts are big fans of broad, classical-inspired and haunting melodic themes that underpin the compositions. On Rise of the Tyrant, the brothers deliver a clinic on how to write and play clean, polished, controlled tandem heavy metal guitars. Gossow's growl perfectly complements the twin guitar work.

Daniel Erlandsson proves that drumming does not need to be frantic to be effective, while Sharlee D'Angelo gets on with the bass duties with a minimum of fuss.

The highlights are many, and most come on the front end of the CD. Opener Blood On Your Hands sets the theme by bolting jaw dropping speed guitar work with a demonic Gossaw before breaking into a simple but effective power melody to tie the song together. The Last Enemy, I Will Live Again, and Revolution Begins are all masterful track. Closer Vultures is a virtuoso display of controlled guitar pyrotechnics beautifully layered above a chillingly haunting melody.

There are a few of hiccups on the CD, not surprising given the 11 song length. It is ironic that the title track Rise of the Tyrant is one of the few limp tracks: from the spoken opening (from the movie Caligula) to the unfocused melody, it fails to hit the target. The Great Darkness is probably too ambitious in attempting to evoke a doom-is-here vibe, while Night Falls Fast is merely ok. Bands should not shy away from a limit of eight songs on the CD, as long as they choose the right eight.

Rise of the Tyrant is Arch Enemy's seventh CD, and the fourth to feature Gossow on vocals. The band deserves high praise for still delivering terrific metal deep into their career.

Band:

Michael Amott - Guitars
Christopher Amott - Guitar
Angela Gossow - Vocals
Sharlee D'Angelo - Bass
Daniel Erlandsson - Drums

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Blood On Your Hands - 10 *See Video Below*
2. The Last Enemy - 9
3. I Will Live Again - 9
4. In This Shallow Grave - 8
5. Revolution Begins - 9
6. Rise Of The Tyrant - 6
7. The Day You Died - 8
8. Intermezzo Liberte - 8
9. Night Falls Fast - 7
10. The Great Darkness - 6
11. Vultures - 10

Average: 8.18

Produced by Fredrik Nordstrom and Michael Amott.
Mixed by Fredrik Nordstrom. Engineered by Patrik J Sten.
Mastered by Peter In De Betou.

All Ace Black Blog CD Reviews are here.



Sunday, 29 November 2009

CD Review: Let There Be Rock, by AC/DC (1977)


Not far removed from being a bar band, Australia's AC/DC take a few tentative steps towards the big leagues with this set of eight straight-ahead boogie-woogie metal tracks.

While Let There Be Rock, the band's fourth album and the first to achieve international success, was never going to set the world on fire stylistically, or in terms of originality, it does highlight AC/DC as a group that offers unfailing energy and commitment to their brand of simple anthems celebrating life, love and living hard. And when their songs hit the target, they were irresistible.

AC/DC's sound is defined by Angus Young wailing away with simple rock'n'roll riffs on the guitar, and Bon Scott matching him with his wailing high-pitched vocals. The rest of the band members provide good support, but very much in the background. Not a surprise that the international version of the album cover art features Angus in his school boy uniform at the front of the stage, Scott near the camera, and the other band members are rather invisible.

This was the last AC/DC studio album to feature Mark Evans on bass; he was replaced by Cliff Williams who went on to enjoy the band's glory years.

The songwriting and structures are basic in the extreme, something which generally endured throughout AC/DC's career, and which is both AC/DC's appeal and limitation.

Aiming squarely at blue-collar men and their younger brothers, AC/DC connected best with Let There Be Rock, which became one of their earliest big hits, and Whole Lotta Rosie, which is among AC/DC's best compositions and live performance favourites, and which shows just how much can be accomplished with a simple but brilliant guitar riff.

Another two tracks, Overdose and Hell Ain't A Bad Place To Be are good, and both ominously foreshadowed Scott's early demise just two years later. Bad Boy Boogie is a showcase for whipping up a crowd with old-school guitar work.

The remaining songs are solid but unspectacular. Suitable to entertain the crowd down at the local pub, but really not much more. Problem Child, disappointingly repeated from Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, was a replacement for Crabsody in Blue which appeared on the original Australian release and was deemed too rude for international audiences.

This was the last AC/DC album produced in Australia by Vanda and Young, as it was apparent that the band's success trajectory was going to demand more professional and international attention. The raw, almost live feel of Let There Be Rock is very much suited to the content, and is a farewell to the first phase of their career.

Band:

Malcolm Young: Guitar
Angus Young: Guitar
Bon Scott: Guitar
Phil Rudd: Drums
Mark Evans: Bass

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Go Down - 7
2. Dog Eat Dog - 7
3. Let There Be Rock - 8
4. Bad Boy Boogie - 8
5. Problem Child - 6 (repeat track from Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap)
6. Overdose - 9
7. Hell Ain't A Bad Place To Be - 9
8. Whole Lotta Rosie -10 *See Video Below*

Average: 8.00

Produced by Vanda and Young.

All Ace Black Blog CD Reviews are here.



Movie Review: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966)


"You see, in this world there's two kinds of people, my friend: those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig." Blondie (Clint Eastwood), talking to Tuco (Eli Wallach).

After the success of A Fistful of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More, Sergio Leone finally gets his hands on the budget of his dreams, and assembles the first western opera to conclude the Dollars trilogy.

Driven by an Ennio Morricone music score featuring the two-note coyote yell that has since become legend, and with every scene a lesson in framing, actor dynamics and fluid camera motion, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly is an all-time classic.

It's a sprawling epic about three men chasing after buried gold coins in the midst of the American Civil War. Tuco (Eli Wallach, as the Ugly) is a common bandit with a bounty on his head; Blondie (Clint Eastwood, as the Good, although the term is only relative) is a bounty hunter; and Angeleyes (Lee Van Cleef, as the Bad) is a brutal henchman who is singlemindedly pursuing the buried loot. The three men wage a triangular battle against an unforgiving desert landscape littered with desperate, colourful and disposable secondary characters fully aware that they are bit players in a masterpiece of storytelling.

Tuco and Blondie start out as partners but their relationship quickly deteriorates. They are soon engaged in a deadly personal feud when they stumble onto the clues needed to locate the treasure that Angeleyes is after. Angeleyes is mercilessly abusing or mowing down anyone who gets in the way of the treasure that he craves. The three men, after taking turns to brutalize each other, need to make their way to the cemetery where the gold awaits, while guarding against each other in a deadly game of shifting alliances, with the added inconvenience of avoiding the brutality of the Civil War raging around them.

Leone could now afford a third American actor, and Eli Wallach gives the performance of his life as Tuco. While Eastwood and Van Cleef nail their stoic and tough personas, Wallach takes over the heart of the film as the scrambly, shifty bandit scratching out a form of survival. He is also afforded the only back-story in the movie in a sequence where he meets his brother. Tuco's subsequent description of his relationship with his brother as he rides away with Blondie is the most human moment in the entire trilogy.

The film has two enormous, drawn-out showcase scenes, and both come in the final hour of this 160 minute epic. In the first, Tuco and Blondie stumble upon a stand-off at a bridge between the Union and Confederate armies, and need to resolve the meat-grinding battle that is hindering their progress towards the gold. The second showcase occupies the final 30 minutes, and takes place at the cemetery.

When Tuco arrives at the cemetery to start his search for the all-important grave, Leone conjures up one of the best scenes in the history of movie-making. As Ennio Morricone unspools the magnificent The Ecstasy of Gold theme, Leone's cameras alternate their focus between Tuco sprinting through the cemetery and the whirling multitudes of headstones. The end-result is spine-tingling, hypnotizing and brilliant, all at once.

Leone follows this with the classic triangular showdown between the three men in the middle of the cemetery, unimaginably stretched in time and filled with Leone's trademark tight close-ups.

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly is a breath-taking conclusion to a magnificent trilogy, and also one of the best films ever made.








All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.


Saturday, 28 November 2009

CD Review: Blackout, by Scorpions (1982)


With Blackout, Scorpions in 1982 unleashed one of their most powerful albums, and generated, seemingly effortlessly, another fistful of terrific songs that cemented their reputation near the top of the international heavy metal world.

For this one album, Scorpions took what proved to be a temporary break from controversial album covers, allowing fans to focus on the music. And there was a lot to like in the musical content of Blackout.

With lead singer Klause Meine now one of the most recognizable voices on the planet, and the guitar duo of Rudolf Schenker and Matthias Jabs in full harmony with each other, the compact, high-tempo and melody-driven quartet of power-metal songs Blackout, No One Like You, You Give Me All I Need, and Dynamite became world-wide smash hits.

And the band demonstrated its versatility by also spinning out one of heavy metal's most effective power ballads ever in album closer When The Smoke Is Going Down, ensuring that teenagers around the world could awkwardly slow dance to heavy metal. No heavy metal band created power ballads as effectively as Scorpions, and When The Smoke Is Going Down was among their best.

China White, meanwhile, and musically at least, appeared to be the band's attempt to build upon the more experimental sound of the song Animal Magnetism from the previous album.

It's a pity that the supporting tracks on Blackout are nowhere near the required quality to round-out the CD. Can't Live Without You, Now!, and Arizona have their fans, but are really weak compared to what Scorpions were capable of at this stage of their career.

Lyrically, no one was accusing Scorpions of taking on the important issues of the day. The songs are all entirely still centered around the lightweight fare of women, parties and rock'n'roll.

On the plus side, Herman Rarebell's drums are once again happily prominent, providing a solid and energetic foundation to all the tracks. The album was produced by regular Scorpions collaborator Dieter Dierks, and his work along with the band's stable line-up resulted in one of the best sounding Scorpions recordings.

Blackout is one of the albums that is most associated with the sound of the Scorpions, and also most responsible for the band's spectacular success.

Band:

Klaus Meine - Vocals
Rudolf Schenker - Guitars
Matthias Jabs - Guitars
Francis Buchholz - Bass
Herman Rarebell - Drums

Songlist (Ratings out of 10):

1. Blackout - 10 *See Video Below*
2. Can't Live Without You - 5
3. No One Like You - 10
4. You Give Me All I Need - 9
5. Now! - 6
6. Dynamite - 9
7. Arizona - 6
8. China White - 7
9. When The Smoke Is Going Down - 10

Average: 8.00

Produced by Dieter Dierks.
Mixed by Gerd Rautenbach.
Mastered by Bob Ludwig and Howie Weinberg.

All Ace Black Blog CD Reviews are here.



CD Review: Animal Magnetism, by Scorpions (1980)


Scorpions produce a strange album, mostly full of near-misses. There is no doubting the polish and professionalism of the music and the delivery on Animal Magnetism, but that killer last 10 percent of inspiration in the song-writing is missing, resulting in a curious lack of satisfaction.

Once again seeking shock publicity through cover art, the original album release had a back cover image that was similar to the front, but with the dog moving a bit further to the right and the woman, seeing what we couldn't, expressing a certain amount of shock. Just like the original front cover of Lovedrive, the original back cover of Animal Magnetism didn't make it onto the CD release -- and it's not easy to find even on the Internet.

The Scorpions line-up settled down with one Schenker brother and Matthias Jabs taking on the critical guitar duties, and delivering powerful, crunchy and basic riffs with reasonable solos. Klaus Meine's voice remains the most valuable instrument, as he screeches his way through the nine-song set. Herman Rarebell's drums are less prominent than on Lovedrive, and that may have something to do with the overall lack of energy in the song-writing. The song topics remain grounded in love, lust, ladies, and the like.

Two songs stand-out from the relatively lacklustre list: Make It Real and Only A Man are both shortish, to-the-point and in-the-groove power metal tracks that added to the Scorpions' marketability across a wide market. The Zoo is a solid, somewhat experimental track that chugs along like an old but strong steam engine. Equally experimental but less successful is the title track Animal Magnetism, which attempts to expand the definition of slow and steady but instead wanders off to snooze land.

As for the rest, the ballads are sleepy, and the up-tempo songs are rather ho-hum. Animal Magnetism is interesting, but not very exciting.

Band:

Klaus Meine - Vocals
Rudolf Schenker - Guitars
Matthias Jabs - Guitars
Francis Buchholz - Bass
Herman Rarebell - Drums


Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Make It Real - 9
2. Don't Make No Promises (Your Body Can't Keep) - 7
3. Hold Me Tight - 7
4. Twentieth Century Man - 6
5. Lady Starlight - 7
6. Falling In Love - 7
7. Only A Man - 10
8. The Zoo - 8
9. Animal Magnetism - 7

Average: 7.56

Produced by Dieter Dierks.
Mastered by Howie Weinberg.

All Ace Black Blog CD Reviews are here.

CD Review: Lovedrive, by Scorpions (1979)


Germany's Scorpions enter their golden era which saw them achieve world-wide fame with this compact set of eight power heavy metal tracks celebrating the good life. This was the band's sixth studio album, but their first big international hit.

Scorpions where clearly looking for publicity by pushing the boundaries of their album cover art, and this being 1979, they succeeded in attracting all sorts of publicity with the strange image of a back seat couple with something weird involving gum happening to the woman's breast. The CD release years later ditched the image altogether in favour of a blue scorpion, but the original artwork remains strongly associated with this set of songs.

The last Scorpions album to feature Michael Schenker, who by this time was venturing into his many other projects, Lovedrive has the advantage of three guitarists propelling the music: both Schenker brothers and Matthias Jabs. The songs are perfectly suited to the strength of the band: crunchy guitars leading from the front, Klaus Meine's unique shrieky vocals, and the energetic Herman Rarebell bashing away at the drum set.

The instrumental Coast to Coast and title track Lovedrive are the pick of the songs. Coast to Coast succeeds in evoking a breezy continental road trip, while Lovedrive gallops on the back of a sing-along chorus powered by simple but effective guitar work.

But Lovedrive also includes not one, not two, but three soulful power ballads. In an eight-track set, this is a high ratio, but Scorpions made this sub-genre their own, and made heavy metal much more accessible to a female audience. Almost Somewhere and Is There Anybody There? are good, while Holiday is quite excellent.

Can't Get Enough is throw-away filler material, but there was more than enough excellent music on Lovedrive to establish Scorpions as one of the world's premier metal bands entering the 1980's.

Band:

Klaus Meine - Vocals
Rudolf Schenker - Guitars
Michael Schenker - Guitars
Matthias Jabs - Guitars
Francis Buchholz - Bass
Herman Rarebell - Drums

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Loving You Sunday Morning - 7
2. Another Piece of Meat - 8
3. Always Somewhere - 8
4. Coast to Coast - 10
5. Can't Get Enough - 5
6. Is There Anybody There? - 8
7. Lovedrive - 10 *See Video Below*
8. Holiday - 10

Average: 8.25

Produced by Dieter Dierks.
Mastered by Howie Weinberg.

All Ace Black Blog CD Reviews are here.




Thursday, 26 November 2009

CD Review: Countdown to Extinction, by Megadeth (1992)


Two classic tracks surrounded by so much scrap metal? Unfortunately, that may be the best way to describe Countdown to Extinction. Dave Mustaine swings his bat artistically, delivers two grand slam home runs, and about seven strike-outs.

The production values of this CD should be highlighted. Mustaine produced with Max Norman, who also engineered and mixed the album, and together they achieved a clarity and sharpness of sound that is rarely matched. Every note of every instrument is vivid, at any volume.

Content wise, there are few heavy metal albums that are this uneven. Usually bands are at an understandable stage of evolution in each CD -- good, bad, or ugly. But here Megadeth combine two brilliant peaks with a barren valley of the blah.

The good first: Symphony of Destruction is a chugging lyrical masterpiece of heavy metal, with Mustaine unusually restrained on the guitar and controlled on vocals. It's one of the rare occasions where Megadeth functions as a band rather than as a pyrotechnical showpiece, and it's brilliant. Equally terrific is the title track Countdown to Extinction: more ominous, with a memorable, alarmist guitar riff announcing the extinction of species.

A couple of other songs are worth a spin: This Was My Life and Captive Honour demonstrate spirit, power and good innovation. Captive Honour deserves special mention for the booming and energetic drum work that provides backing for the jury section.

The rest? Some tracks are plain miserable: Architecture of Aggression, Psychotron, and Ashes in Your Mouth deliver combinations of the annoying, the monotonous, and the simplistic. Others are plain boring: Foreclosure of a Dream may be trying to say something important, but the audience is sleeping. And some tracks are just plain: High Speed Dirt has all the creativity expected from a high school band.

Mustaine deserves credit for taking on issues of social and personal relevance, and certainly the lyrics and thoughts are several grades above the typical heavy metal fare. But ultimately, it's all about the music, and there are too many music fails on this album.

Countdown to Extinction is a CD packed full of the mediocre, the boring, the indifferent, and the uninspired, but nevertheless a CD that should be treasured for providing the world of heavy metal with two all-time classics.

Band:

Dave Mustaine: Guitars, Vocals
Marty Friedman: Guitar
Nick Menza: Drums
David Ellefson: Bass

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Skin O' My Teeth - 7
2. Symphony of Destruction - 10
3. Architecture of Aggression - 5
4. Foreclosure of a Dream - 6
5. Sweating Bullets - 7
6. This Was My Life - 8
7. Countdown to Extinction - 10
8. High Speed Dirt - 7
9. Psychotron - 6
10. Captive Honour - 8
11. Ashes in Your Mouth - 6

Average: 7.27

Produced by Dave Mustaine and Max Norman.
Engineered and Mixed by Max Norman.

Countdown to Extinction at the Ace Black Store.
The Ace Black Blog CD Review No. 51.

All Ace Black Blog CD Reviews are here.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Book Review: 1984, by George Orwell (1949)


1984 presents a chilling vision of a future where an oppressive, totalitarian regime not only controls the actions of its citizens, the ruling Party also controls individual thought and ruthlessly subjugates its citizens for the sole purpose of keeping itself in power for eternity.

Writing in 1948, George Orwell used communist China and the USSR as his starting point, and imagined the extreme limits of the concept: if everyone is already working for the ruling Party, what else can the Party do to extend its influence? He found the answer in the concept of a regime that controls its people not only economically, but also literally controls intellect and emotions. Every aspect of society and culture, including language, history, pro-creation, literature and war, are all manufactured and manipulated for the purpose of consolidating and expanding the power of the Party.

Winston Smith is a citizen of Oceania, one of three remaining continental powers on earth. Smith is a member of the Outer Party, and works in the Ministry of Truth, fabricating history. Smith's misfortune is that his mind is not totally under the control of the Party, and he questions the deteriorating condition of humanity as the Party grows in power. His wandering mind leads him to acts of rebellion, all punishable by death, such as keeping a diary, having an illicit affair with a co-worker, and seeking out the Brotherhood, a fabled resistance movement that may or may not be real.

But 1984 is not a story of heroics, and Smith knows early on that he is doomed. The final third of the book deals with his capture and re-education by the Party.

Orwell, who wrote the book while sick and died soon after completing it, delivers a gripping book in which, remarkably, not much actually happens. Most of the book is a description through Smith's eyes of the society around him, combined with the continuous narrative inside Smith's head as he struggles with his utter lack of acceptance of his miserable surroundings, while everyone else perceives everything to be perfectly normal.

There are only two other main characters in the book. Julia is the young co-worker who has an affair with Smith. While Smith's struggle with the Party is intellectual, Julia cares much less about society as a whole and is only striving to thrive under the radar. While Julia dominates the middle third of the book, the final third belongs to O'Brien, the Inner Party member who represents the voice of the regime, and who is tasked with bringing Smith back to "sanity".

1984 predicted various aspects of the future to a remarkable level of accuracy. Even modern-day democracies suffer from dramatically increased state-surveillance of citizens; lying politicians who contradict their own past promises; state sponsored propaganda or "spin" that has no purpose except to serve the party in power; and aspects of thought-police in the form of what we call political correctness.

The book also introduced timeless images and concepts: Big Brother is Watching You, the telescreen; doublethink; and Newspeak are some of the enduring influences. The book spawned the term Orwellian in reference to the worst instincts of governments to control citizens.

1984 is a book that is certainly gloomy and depressing, but at the same time, it serves as a lesson on the depths to which humanity can sink, and provides a source of comparative optimism given that most citizens of the world have so far avoided the worst that Orwell imagined.





311 pages plus Appendix.
Published in softcover by Penguin.

1984 at the Ace Black Store.
Ace Black Blog Book Review No. 24.

All Ace Black Blog Book Reviews are here.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

CD Review: The Number of the Beast, by Iron Maiden (1982)


Iron Maiden returned in 1982 with their third studio album in three years, now emerging as one of the best bands in the resurgent heavy metal genre. For the compact set of eight tracks on The Number of the Beast, Bruce Dickinson took over vocal duties, and with his operatic range, natural showmanship and athletic swordsman moves, Maiden finally had the frontman presence to complement the band.

With Martin Birch behind the controls pushing the band towards new standards of perfection, Maiden very unapologetically stepped right into the inflammatory topic of the devil with the album title, cover art and flagship song, and joyfully pushed the buttons of all who pretended to be shocked. Maiden rode the crest of publicity all the way to the top of the metal mountain, and became heroes to a whole generation of fans discovering the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.

In some ways, this album is beyond criticism. The actual content is much less important than the impact that The Number of the Beast had. Suddenly, metal was in. It was dangerous, it was cool, and Maiden were leading the charge. And this was not the metal of Aerosmith and AC/DC, all about sex, love, women and parties -- no, this was metal about Satan, whores, prisons, and death. Enter this arena if you dare, and the new fans of metal - rebels looking for a cause - entered in droves.

While The Number of the Beast is the album that made Maiden widely famous, it is not their best work. Run to the Hills and Hallowed Be Thy Name are spectacular classics, but the rest of the set is very good, not necessarily great. Invaders is among the weaker of Maiden's album openers and Children of the Damned does plod in parts. Gangland is merely average, and the band regretted including it on the album.

The Prisoner, 22, Acacia Avenue and the title track are excellent, but not as brilliant as their fame suggests.

Run to the Hills and Hallowed Be Thy Name, however, are standout tracks that fully deserve their fame and stature as metal epics. While Run to the Hills is one of the best drum-driven metal anthems ever, Hallowed Be Thy Name is one of Maiden's most spectacular and career-defining moments, perfectly capturing Steve Harris' brilliantly epic song writing, featuring one of his best melodies, and showcasing the emotive Maiden guitar sound in all its glory. The guitar riffs on Hallowed Be Thy Name cause a recognizable tingle in the spine, a sensation that comes only in acknowledgment of greatness.

Band:

Clive Burr - Drums
Dave Murray - Guitar
Bruce Dickinson - Vocals
Steve Harris - Bass
Adrian Smith - Guitar

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Invaders - 7
2. Children of the Damned - 8
3. The Prisoner - 8
4. 22, Acacia Avenue - 8
5. The Number of the Beast - 8
6. Run to the Hills - 10
7. Gangland - 6
8. Hallowed Be Thy Name - 10 *See Video Below*

Average: 8.13

Produced and Engineered by Martin Birch.

All Ace Black Blog CD Reviews are here.



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