Saturday, 28 March 2009

CD Review: Ascendancy, by Trivium (2005)

Ascendancy, Trivium's second studio release, has three terrific highlights in Pull Harder on the Strings of Your Martyr, Like Light to the Flies, and The Deceived. Each of these songs display mature levels of energetic sophistication, brilliantly fusing structured melodies with power, and featuring intelligent combinations of growly and normal vocals. Martyr, in particular, is an impressively original composition that stunningly demonstrates the strength that can be derived from single words.

Rain and A Gunshot to the Head of Trepidation provide good support material and enrich the overall quality of the CD.

The remaining six songs are not exactly filler material; they just don't measure up as well, offering mostly aimless and unmemorable melodies, if delivered with a good level of competence. There are no outright flops or irritations on this CD, which is no mean achievement. Still, a couple of the tracks could have been knocked off the playlist without a great loss.

Trivium's sound is as ever tightly controlled, and propelled by the thunderous drums of Travis Smith. The guitar work and solos are sound without ever breaking too much new ground.

Ascendancy demonstrates the potential and promise of Trivium as one of the better North American metal bands.

Matthew K. Heafy - Vocals, Guitars
Travis Smith - Drums
Corey Beaulieu - Guitars
Paolo Gregoletto - Bass

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. The End Of Everything - no rating (short instrumental)
2. Rain - 8
3. Pull Harder On The Strings Of Your Martyr - 10 *See Video Below*
4. Drowned And Torn Asunder - 7
5. Ascendancy - 7
6. A Gunshot To The Head Of Trepidation - 8
7. Like Light To The Flies - 10
8. Dying In Your Arms - 7
9. The Deceived - 10
10. Suffocating Sight - 7
11. Departure - 7
12. Declaration - 7

Average: 8.00

Produced by Jason Suecof and Matthew K. Heafy.
Mixed and Mastered by Andy Sneap.
Engineered by Jason Suecof.

All Ace Black CD Reviews are here.

Movie Review: The International (2009)

There is a lot to like about The International, an American - German co-production. For one, the star of the movie, Clive Owen as Interpol Agent Louis Salinger, is made to look progressively more ugly and rumpled as he relentlessly pursues the evil doers at the International Bank of Business and Credit (IBBC). The purposeful degradation of the leading man's looks is a refreshing change, and Owen's ear joins Jack Nicholson's nose (in Chinatown) as a body part sacrificed in the search for truth and justice.

Tom Tykwer's directing, along with the cinematography (Frank Griebe) and editing (Mathilde Bonnefoy) are also commendable. The movie goes out of its way to find fresh, architecturally attractive locales, and succeeds in achieving a sleek and modern yet corporately cold look. The action scenes are edited briskly but never descend to the frantic and disorienting micro-edits that have plagued many recent action films. The prolonged shoot-out at New York's Guggenheim Museum is one of the most satisfying and well-executed action spectacles in recent years.

The International also has a reasonable plot to work with. The IBBC is a shadowy bank interested in gaining power by funding arms deals to various warring factions. Interpol Agent Salinger, helped by Naomi Watts as Eleanor Whitman from the US Justice Department, are eager to shut down IBBC's operations before game-changing missiles are delivered into the wrong hands. To keep prying eyes away, the bank's protective layers include a slimy lawyer, an executive who was a former Stassi agent, and a "consultant" who is handy with a sniper rifle.

The bank is obviously well connected into the international political - military network, and the higher-ups are as eager as the bank to thwart Salinger and Whitman. The chase takes place across Europe, as the bank chief Jonas Skarssen (coldly played by Ulrich Thomsen) tries to close the deal before Salinger and Whitman close the bank.

Underpinning the movie's fictional plot is the true story of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), which was finally forced out of business in 1991. In addition to extremely shadowy operating practices, BCCI was found to have links to the financing of the Abu Nidal extremist group with the involvement of notorious racketeer Marc Rich.

But the plot of The International also suffers from  some large holes, like the Italian weapon manufacturers who suddenly develop a deep moral code, and the quickest bullet trajectory analysis ever conducted, and which completely ignores the fact that one bullet actually struck and killed a target before going through a wall.

But let's not quibble with a well made, modern, entertaining, relevant and well-acted movie that avoids many cliches. After all, when was the last time we saw an international action movie without a car chase scene?

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

CD Review: New American Gospel, by Lamb of God (2000)

A fair warning: this CD requires a certain state of mind to be appreciated. With an open mind, it will be merely painful. With an impatient mind, it will be both painful and annoying.

The first studio CD after the band re-named themselves Lamb of God is relatively relentless, and portrays a group of musicians at the beginning of their journey as songwriters and musicians.

Those who like their heavy metal as a straightforward serving of shapeless power that best resembles the monotonous banging of an engine will enjoy New American Gospel. For the most part, it is charge-ahead, slight change of pace, charge-ahead, slight change of pace, and repeat for 11 songs (plus the bonus tracks on this 2006 re-issue that are not reviewed here, since they are demos and working titles -- not that the rest of the CD is much more polished).

When some vague melody and slightly more sophisticated songwriting are introduced, the results are quite good, as on CD opener Black Label and O.D.H.G.A.B.F.E. (and yes, the letters mean something and those interested can find the answer on Wikipedia).

When the band take the really low road and display a total absence of any attempt to engage, as on Black Dahlia, the results are no different than banging heads against brick walls and wondering where the pain is coming from.

Most of the songlist settles into a mind-numbing pounding sameness of sound. The power is appreciated, but the lack of originality is not.

Lamb Of God have two guitarists on this CD, Will Adler and Duane, but they don't get much to do, and the band certainly are not trying to establish themselves as a showcase for shredding guitar work. Instead, the overwhelming sounds are those of Chris Adler's drums and John Campbell's bass -- and it's no surprise that Chris Adler co-produced the CD, pushing the drum sound all the way to the front. The foundations are the structure.

This CD is a dream come true for metal fans who like plain, massive, grey and monolithic concrete buildings towering over a bleak landscape.


Will Adler - Guitar
Randall Blythe - Vocals
Chris Adler - Drums
John Campbell - Bass
Duane - Guitar

Songlist (Ratings out of 10):

1. Black Label - 9
2. A Warning - 7
3. In The Absence Of The Sacred - 7
4. Letter To The Unborn - 7
5. The Black Dahlia - 6
6. Terror And Hubris In The House Of Frank Pollard - 7
7. The Subtle Arts Of Murder And Persuasion - 7
8. Pariah - 8
9. Confessional - 7
10. O.D.H.G.A.B.F.E. - 9
11. Nippon - 7

Average: 7.36

The Bonus tracks are 1999 rehearsal demos and working titles: New Willenium (The Black Dahlia), Half-Lid (A Warning) and Flux (Pariah). For serious students of the band only.

Engineered by Steve Austin.
Produced and Mixed by Steve Austin, Chris Adler and Lamb Of God.
Mastered by Ryan Smith.

Ace Black Blog CD Review No. 27
See all the Ace Black Blog CD Reviews here.

Heavy Metal CD Review Index: The Ace Black Blog

Last updated December 7 2014: added Cowboys From Hell, by Pantera (1990).

All the Heavy Metal CDs reviewed on the Ace Black Blog are indexed below, ranked by the overall average CD score. Another index organized by year of release is here. And the index by band name is here.


Master Of Reality, by Black Sabbath (1971): 9.33
Swamplord, by Kalmah (2001): 9.25
From Your Grave, by The Absence (2005): 9.13
Machine Head, by Deep Purple (1972): 9.00

8.99 to 8.80

Back In Black, by AC/DC (1980): 8.90
Devoid, by Dark Lunacy (2000): 8.90
Wages of Sin, by Arch Enemy (2002): 8.90
Piece Of Mind, by Iron Maiden (1983): 8.89
...And Justice For All, by Metallica (1988): 8.89
Painkiller, by Judas Priest (1990): 8.89
Are You Dead Yet?, by Children of Bodom (2005): 8.89
Powerslave, by Iron Maiden (1984): 8.88
Black Sabbath, by Black Sabbath (1970): 8.83

8.79 to 8.60

Hatebreeder, by Children of Bodom (1999): 8.78
The Black Waltz, by Kalmah (2006): 8.60
The March, by Unearth (2008): 8.60

8.59 to 8.50

Love At First Sting, by Scorpions (1984): 8.56
Swampsong, by Kalmah (2003): 8.56
Khaos Legions, by Arch Enemy (2011): 8.55
Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, by Black Sabbath (1973): 8.50
Houses Of The Holy, by Led Zeppelin (1973): 8.50
Rising, by Rainbow (1976): 8.50
Bomber, by Motorhead (1979): 8.50
Ride The Lightning, by Metallica (1984): 8.50
So Far, So Good...So What!, by Megadeth (1988): 8.50
Appetite For Destruction, by Guns 'N' Roses (1987): 8.50
Romulus, by Ex Deo (2009): 7.45
Endgame, by Megadeth (2009): 7.45

7.44 to 7.40

Ratings Guide:

The scores shown for each CD represent the average of the individual song ratings. The average CD ratings can be interpreted as follows:

9.00 to 10.00: Genius.
8.50 to 8.99: Brilliant.
8.00 to 8.49: Excellent.
7.50 to 7.99: Good.
7.00 to 7.49: Fair to Middling.
6.50 to 6.99: Irritating.
6.49 and below: Terrible.

Other links of interest:

The 50 Best Heavy Metal Albums of All Time, as selected by heavy metal fans.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Theatre Review: Annie, at the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts

While some stories are timeless, others are cyclical, and can drift into and out of fashion.

Annie, the musical about the 1930's Depression era 11-year old orphan girl who wins the heart of a business tycoon, is back in fashion, and no wonder. The current global recession probably represents the closest thing to the Depression that the world will witness for a few generations, and with factories closing and the ranks of the unemployed swelling rapidly, Annie's message of maintaining hope that tomorrow will be better resonates strongly.

Annie was at the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts, and the Sunday matinee was sold out. A good half of the audience was made up of kids, and of those, a good 90 percent were girls. It was therefore a remarkably well behaved audience that enjoyed Broadway Across Canada's NETworks presentation, a solid and surprisingly fleeting three hours in length including the intermission.

This touring production is directed by Martin Chernin, the man who originally directed Annie on Broadway, and also the man behind the lyrics, and the overall influence of his experienced hand comes through.

Madison Kerth as Annie connected quickly with the audience, and although not the best child singer ever, she held the show together and appeared in all but a handful of scenes. The heavy duty singing duties were left for Lynn Andrews as Miss Hannigan, David Barton as Oliver Warbucks and Analisa Leaming as Warbucks' assistant Grace Farrell, and all three threw themselves into their roles with the right amount of gusto. The rest of the cast all filled their roles admirably, and tiny seven year old Mackenzie Aladjem as the littlest orphan Molly stole every heart in the house.

With this being a touring production, the overall talent on display was never going to bring the house down, and it didn't. The musical highlights did include, however, the show stopper "Tomorrow" in its many variations, with the song's delivery at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Oval Office a particular success. "It's The Hard Knock Life", "I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here" and "Easy Street" are the other signature songs from Annie, and they were all delivered with the required mix of passion and humour.

The set design (Ming Cho Lee) and the costume design (Theoni Aldredge) were both clever, vibrant and quite elaborate for a touring show.

And finally, special mention to Mikey, the clever dog who has a few scenes as Sandy, the stray who befriends Annie early in her journey from Orphan to Warbucks' mansion. We can all hope that Sandy's good fortune of going from being abandoned in the streets to a cozy home will rub-off on society as whole sooner than later.

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