Saturday, 22 August 2009

CD Review: The Hours That Remain, by Mercenary (2006)

Denmark's heavy metal band Mercenary has been around since 1991, a relative eternity of plugging away in an obscure backwater of the music landscape, and with only five studio albums to show for it. The Hours That Remain from 2006 was the band's fourth album.

The band has some good intentions, and definitely some good ideas. But they also have some clear limitations. Mercenary's sound is defined by a deep drum-heavy sound, matched to vocals by Mikkel Sandager that are mostly clean and relatively high pitched. Given that Mercenary are aiming for a combined Power - Melodic Death Metal combo sound, the high pitched vocals take some getting used to. The guitar work is mostly above-average but fairly basic -- the solos generally meld into the songs.

The songs are melodic, accessible and feature traditional structures -- they are almost too simple in many instances. Many tracks, particularly in the poor first half of the CD, end up with an uncomfortable mix of unfocused meandering and needless repetition. Year of the Plague sounds like bad Judas Priest, while Lost Reality is a particularly bad example of misguided epic intentions: it goes on forever and achieves exactly nothing.

Nevertheless, there are some highlights. Opener Redefine Me is a solid blast of energetic power. The clever Soul Decision, with its jaw-dropping intro, makes an appearance half-way through the CD to introduce an unusually better back-end to the album. Simplicity Demand scores the best melody on the CD, laced with the soulful keyboards of Morten Sandager, and a good but short guitar solo. My Secret Window lets loose with a lot more throaty vocals and speedy riffs that hint at territory where this band might have thrived.

The Hours That Remain is a decidedly uneven effort, perhaps indicative of how the band has survived for so long, but with limited success.


Mikkel Sandager - Vocals
Jakob Molbjerg - Guitars
Martin Buus - Lead Guitars
Morten Sandager - Keyboards
Mike Park - Drums

All bass duties by Jacob Hansen.

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Redefine Me - 8
2. Year of the Plague - 6
3. My World Is Ending - 6
4. This Eternal Instant - 7
5. Lost Reality - 5
6. Soul Decision - 8
7. Simplicity Demand - 8
8. Obscure Indiscretion - 7
9. My Secret Window - 8
10. The Hours That Remain - 7

Average: 7.00

Produced, Engineered and Mixed by Jacob Hansen.
Mastered by Ziggy.

All Ace Black Blog CD Reviews are here.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Movie Review: The Hangover (2009)

A group of friends head to Las Vegas for a wild bachelor party. Doug is the groom-to-be; Phil is his hip friend; Stu is his dentist friend shackled by a domineering woman; and Alan will become Doug's brother-in-law.

In Vegas, they wake up in a trashed hotel room (really trashed -- there is a rather angry tiger in the bathroom), with no memory of what happened the previous night. Oh, and Doug is missing.

The Hangover bolts together the currently hip bromedy genre with the occasionally successful technique of starting the story at the end. Rather than working backwards through time or using flashbacks, The Hangover never shows us the actual events of its central night. Rather, we join the ride as Phil, Stu and Alan try to find out what happened during the fateful few hours, while frantically looking for the missing Doug before his bride-in-waiting flips.

They also are facing the consequences of their actions, except that they have no memory of what their actions actually were. The characters and the audience together uncover the missing events, as Phil leads the group in following clues as diverse as a baby in a closet; a medical wrist-band; and Stu's missing tooth. Needless to say, they are being chased by an Asian gang, and one of them is now unexpectedly married (remember, this is Vegas) to no less than a tarty stripper (Heather Graham).

The film's story and structure are a solid foundation for a good comedy, and The Hangover is helped enormously by memorable if not quite original central characters. Phil (Bradley Cooper) is the cool friend who takes on an unlikely leadership role, while Stu (Ed Helms) is the conservative dentist fighting the shadow of an oppressive relationship. But the character of Alan (Zach Galifianakis) as the brother-in-law-in-waiting is wonderfully different. Suffice to say that Alan will always say and do the unexpected in the most awkward possible way, but he's so well developed as a character that his massive eccentricities soon emerge as consistent with his personality.

Under the guidance of patchy director Todd Phillips, The Hangover tries to generate a thick wall of jokes and funny events, and given the vast quantity, a large proportion does fall flat a bit too often. Much of the comedy is poorly developed, lacking in subtlety and sometimes just plain painful rather than funny. But the parts that do work, such as the rooftop gathering and the hotel room wake-up scene, are excellent.

Despite the uneven execution, The Hangover is worthwhile viewing, providing equal parts comedy and clever film-making.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Theatre Review: Blue Man Group, at the Charles Playhouse (Boston)

The key to enjoying the Blue Man Group show is to know what to expect. This is not high-brow theatre. The combination of music, comedy, and some basic stunts is aimed squarely at a common denominator that is, if not quite low, looking squarely downwards.

Having said that, the 90 minute show at the suitably grungy Charles Playhouse in Boston is entertaining, and it is admirable how the Blue Man Group sustain a high energy show without saying a word.

The Blue Man Group of creative artists came to widespread prominence when they appeared in advertisements for Intel. They are distinctive for their all-blue head paint, all-black clothing and non-verbal communication.

Instead of talking, they compile a series of unrelated sketches: they bang away at drums (or miscellaneous drum-like instruments); bash away at an endless variety if plastic pipes; have some good fun with paint; some not-so-clever fun with food; creatively use posters and changeable message signs to converse with the audience; and drag audience members to participate in a couple of sketches (one works and the other falls flat).

An energetic and funky on-stage band provides almost continuous accompaniment as the show unfolds.

The show ends with a mindless and maniacal strobe-fuelled frenzy involving massive paper rolls that engulf the theatre. We are assured that the paper is recycled.

It's all good fun, and with suitably low expectations, the show delivers a satisfying diversion. The Blue Man Group shouldn't be the first item on the list of things to do in Boston, but the show does deserve to be on the list.
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