Saturday, 29 May 2010

CD Review: Across The Dark, by Insomnium (2009)


Insomnium walk a fine line between controlled, deliberately paced but purposeful metal on the one hand, and metal so lacking in energy that it slips into a coma on the other.

Across The Dark does not stray far from Insomnium's home territory: depressed metal that vividly represents the bleakest of grey and cold landscapes. If ever a band was created to reflect its environment, then Insomnium is a creation of northeastern Finland's frozen landscape, with the menacing Russian bear across the border. In Insomnium's world, the journey across the dark is surely happening during the winter day. No wonder the music is moody.

Overall, Across The Dark contains enough focus to remain enjoyable. It starts and ends strongly, with CD closer Weighed Down With Sorrow particularly evocative and among the band's most powerful compositions. There is a flabby middle part to the CD, where The Harrowing Years, Against The Stream and Lay Of The Autumn dip into snoozeland territory. The tracks are not bad -- they just forgot most of their energy in the dressing room.

The music is delivered with polished professionalism, and the Insomnium trademark wall of rumbling sound is always approaching from around every corner, led by the twin Ville guitar work of Friman and Vanni. The tracks often feature tasteful and interesting melodies, but rarely do any of the songs break free and soar. The landscape is just too cold and unforgiving for that.

Band:

Ville Friman - Guitars
Ville Vanni - Guitars
Niilo Sevanen - Vocals and Bass
Markus Hirvonen - Drums


Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Equivalence - 8
2. Down With The Sun - 8
3. Where The Last Wave Broke - 8
4. The Harrowing Years - 7
5. Against The Stream - 7
6. Lay Of The Autumn - 7
7. Into The Woods - 8
8. Weighed Down With Sorrow - 9

Average: 7.75

Produced by Ville Friman, Insomnium, and Samu Oittinen.
Recorded by Samu Oittinen and Hannu Honkonen.
Mastered by Minerva Pappi.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

CD Review: Starve For The Devil, by Arsis (2010)


While it's impossible not to admire the technical wizardry displayed by Arsis, it is also impossible to love their music unless melody is deemed irrelevant.

Playing their brand of technical death metal faster, sharper and more accurately than anyone else, Starve For The Devil has boundless energy, stupendous stamina, and maniacal speed.

And yes, every once in a while, a shadow of an interesting melody creeps faintly across the landscape, and the tempo dips ever so slightly towards normalcy; but any such compromises are always quickly chased away by the next blast of pure pyrotechnics. It's almost as if Arsis have decided that they are allergic to any speed other than maximum, and any tune that may be remotely memorable is banished as soon as it emerges.

We are left with a wall of immense sound where every track starts to sound like every other track, none gain any independent personality, and while the power and talent are clearly on display, tunes that reach out to the heart and soul are sadly absent.

Band:

James Malone - Guitar, Vocals
Nicholas Cordel - Guitar
Mike Van Dyne - Drums
Nat Crater - Bass


Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Forced To Rock - 8
2. A March For The Sick - 7
3. From Soulless To Shattered (Art In Dying) - 6
4. Beyond Forlorn - 8
5. The Ten Of Swords - 6
6. Closer To Cold - 8
7. Sick Perfection - 7
8. Half Past Corpse O'Clock - 7
9. Escape Artist - 7
10. Sable Rising - 7

Average: 7.10

Produced, Engineered, Mixed, and Mastered by Zeuss.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Book Review: The Crisis Of Islam, by Bernard Lewis (2003)


Probably realizing that his previous book on the topic, What Went Wrong?, was a spectacularly poor effort, Bernard Lewis returns a year later with a much better, but still flawed, examination of the troubles afflicting the Islamic world.

The Crisis Of Islam still suffers from an unfocused, insufficiently edited writing style that too often strays off-topic in a desperate search for a core message. Lewis also arrives at some flabbergasting and wrong-headed conclusions. He writes:

But if one compares the record of American policy in the Middle East with that of other regions, one is struck not by its failure but by its success. There is, after all, no Vietnam in the Middle East, no Cuba, or Nicaragua or El Salvador, not even an Angola.

This American-centric view of the Middle East severely diminishes Lewis' credentials, and is effectively saying that because America has not lost as many soldiers in the Middle East as it did in Vietnam, and because it has avoided direct embarrassment similar to the Bay of Pigs in Cuba and the financing of the Nicaraguan Contras, then the Middle East can be termed a foreign policy success. Never mind the millions of non-Americans slaughtered in meat-grinder modern-history conflicts in Algeria, Lebanon, Yemen, the Iran-Iraq war, three major Israel-Arab wars in 1967, 1973, and 1982, the first Gulf War, and both Iraq and Syria slaughtering their own citizens en-mass, all under America's watch as sole or joint superpower. Quite the record of success.

But The Crisis Of Islam does contain good elements, and is generally cohesive. Lewis does a fine job summarizing the history of Islam and the differences between Islam and Christianity on matters of politics and national identity. He describes the origins and meanings of Jihad and provides a good overview of 20th century events and the reasons behind them, including the emergence of the fundamentalist Wahhabi sect, the Muslim Brotherhood, the rage against local national rulers, and the ill-fated alliances with the USSR.

The variety of external and internal factors conspire to advance a precipitous decline in the standard of living of the Middle Eastern Islamic states, and in a chapter entitled A Failure Of Modernity, Lewis offers a damning statistical summary of just how far behind the Middle East has fallen in terms of numerous economic indicators. And it's a small step from the despair and humiliation of backwardness to the embrace of violence as an ultimate solution to reverse a seemingly incessant decline.

While there are many better books on the challenges facing the modern Middle East, The Crisis Of Islam is a useful, but not stellar, contribution.

Subtitled "Holy War and Unholy Terror".
164 pages plus Notes and Index.

Published in hardcover by The Modern Library.






The Ace Black Blog Book Review Index is here.

Book Review: What Went Wrong? by Bernard Lewis (2002)


It is always dangerous to transform a series of academic lectures into a book. Any personal charisma that a lecturer brings to his sessions is easily lost on the printed page. And so this Bernard Lewis attempt to delve into the reasons for the decline of the Islamic world in general, and the Middle East in particular, is a witless, soulless exercise in boredom.

What Went Wrong? cobbles together lectures first delivered in 1980 with lectures as recent as 1998, and all the creaks and strains that betray the artificial compilation of material from decades apart is on full display.

It doesn't help that most of the text is a series of arcane research findings uncovered by delving into the archives of the Ottoman Empire, and presented in a stultifying sequence with hardly an attempt to tease out and highlight the important trends. Instead, Lewis is too easily distracted by dry and useless details, including the names of various emissaries who may have written one letter of interest back to Istanbul after spending a couple of months overseas. Thank you, but surely, we look for historians like Lewis to illuminate the big picture, at least in their books?

To make matters even worse, Lewis finds no use for sub-headings, his paragraphs are unnecessarily long and meandering, and he is continuously fascinated by the irrelevant. A perfect example of a writer who cannot control his urge to delve into the meaningless is a 17 page introduction that sinks under the weight of its own details -- when the entire book is less than 160 pages.

An endless number of wars, treaties and leaders are trotted out in sentence after sentence, each undoubtedly relevant to someone, somewhere. But as a display of strategic thinking, and as an attempt at understanding and explaining grand historical events, What Went Wrong? is inept.

And so we conclude, arduously, that the Islamic Empire wilted under the strain of poor leadership, poor governance, failure to appreciate and learn from the emerging power of a revitalized Christian Europe after the Middle Ages, failed nation-building, poor experiments with socialism, a poor choice of allies in the USSR, and victimization first by the British and French, then by the United States, and finally by Israel. It is highly doubtful that a single reader who picked up this book did not already know all of this.

There is a fascinating, even enthralling, historical book to be written about why the world of Islam slipped so terribly; What Went Wrong? most definitely isn't that book.

Subtitled "Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response".
159 pages, plus Notes and Index.
Published in hardcover by Oxford University Press.





The Ace Black Blog Book Review Index is here.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Tribute: Ronnie James Dio (1942 - 2010)


Ronnie James Dio passed away on May 16 2010, aged 67, after suffering from stomach cancer.

Dio was one of the most influential lead vocalists and songwriters in the history of heavy metal. His soaring, warrior's call-to-attack voice was completely out of proportion with his diminutive frame. He was the perfect metal frontman, with a powerful, dark, medieval, dominating, theatrical but serious presence. And as a song writer, he contributed to many heavy metal classics during the genre's golden era. Dio was also by all accounts a genuinely humble, down-to-earth and friendly person.

To add to his mystique, he is also credited with popularizing the global metal "horn signs" salute, apparently inspired by his Italian grandmother.

A major contributor to no less than three significant bands in the history of metal, Dio first came to prominence as the frontman for Rainbow, wizard guitarist Ritchie Blackmore's first project upon leaving Deep Purple. Together, Dio and Blackmore wrote and performed some classic metal tracks, best demonstrated on the album Rising (1976). From that album, the tracks Stargazer and A Light In The Black, both over eight minutes long, are legendary examples of soaring power metal; A Light In The Black remains one of the most perfect and epic metal compositions ever written. The follow-up Rainbow album, Long Live Rock 'n' Roll, was also good and featured the impressive Kill The King.

Dio then joined Black Sabbath: for a small man, he had huge shoes to fill, as the replacement for Ozzy Osbourne. To his credit, Dio immediately clicked with guitarist Toni Iommi and breathed new life into Sabbath. Dio's two studio albums with Sabbath, Heaven And Hell (1980) and Mob Rules (1982), are well-regarded, and served to dim the memory of the poor final days of Sabbath with Osbourne. Heaven And Hell featured Children of the Sea, Heaven And Hell, and Die Young; Mob Rules gave us The Sign Of The Southern Cross; Mob Rules and Falling Of The Edge Of The World.

Dio moved on to the third significant chapter of his metal life, forming his own self-titled band, and he promptly put together two more high quality albums as heavy metal's popularity re-ignited in the early to mid-eighties: Holy Diver (1983) and The Last In Line (1984). Joining forces with guitarist Vivian Campbell, the two albums produced classic tracks including Holy Diver, Rainbow In The Dark, and The Last In Line. Rainbow In The Dark is particularly fondly remembered as one of the best metal songs from that era, from any band. There were several more Dio studio albums over the years, but none to match the quality of the first two.

With the passing years, Dio never stopped creating albums, touring, putting on great shows, and being an ambassador the the genre. Most recently he teamed up with fellow Black Sabbath members and toured as the band Heaven and Hell.

Dio's legacy is secure: Both Rising and Holy Diver are among the 50 All Time Best Heavy Metal Albums.

And one thing is for sure: with the passing of Ronnie James Dio, metal heaven must now be a hell of a rocking place. Enjoy the videos below LOUD.














Friday, 21 May 2010

The 25 Best Heavy Metal Albums of the 2000's


The 25 best heavy metal albums from the 2000's are shown below. The list represents the combined opinion of numerous heavy metal fans: the points used to develop the rankings are derived from more than 70 heavy metal lists shown here.

Links are provided to the review pages for albums reviewed on The Ace Black Blog. The reviews are the independent opinion of the Blog and do not always agree with combined popular opinion of metal fans. The Ace Black Blog's ranked list of all-time best metal album is here.

When the points for two or more albums are equal, the tie breakers in order are (1) the number of lists that the album appeared on (higher is better); (2) highest position achieved on any list; and (3) earliest release date.

The list of 50 All-Time Best Heavy Metal Albums compiles the results from all decades.

Separate Top-25 lists are also provided by decade, for the Seventies, Eighties, and Nineties.


The 25 Best Heavy Metal Albums of the 2000's

Rank 25
Municipal Waste
Hazardous Mutation (2005)
31 points





















Rank 24
Dimmu Borgir
Death Cult Armageddon (2003)
31 points





















Rank 23
High On Fire
Blessed Black Wings (2005)
31 points





















Rank 22
Meshuggah
Catch Thirtythree (2005)
34 points





















Rank 21
Gojira
From Mars to Sirius (2005)
35 points




















Rank 20
Celtic Frost
Monotheist (2006)
38 points





















Rank 19
Solitude Aeturnus
Alone (2006)
39 points





















Rank 18
Nevermore
This Godless Endeavor (2005)
39 points





















Rank 17
Symphony X
V: The New Mythology Suite (2000)
39 points




















Rank 16
Symphony X
The Odyssey (2002)
39 points





















Rank 15
Tool
Lateralus (2001)
43 points





















Rank 14
Sleep
Dopesmoker (2003)
44 points





















Rank 13
Candlemass
Candlemass (2005)
45 points




















Rank 12
Agalloch
The Mantle (2002)
45 points



















Rank 11
Isis
Oceanic (2002)
46 points





















Rank 10
Mastodon
Leviathan (2004)
49 points





















Rank 9
Lamb Of God
Ashes Of The Wake (2004)
53 points





















Rank 8
Children Of Bodom
Follow The Reaper (2000)
56 points





















Rank 7
Machine Head
The Blackening (2007)
57 points





















Rank 6
Eyehategod
Confederacy Of Ruined Lives (2000)
59 points





















Rank 5
Iron Maiden
Brave New World (2000)
60 points





















Rank 4
System Of A Down
Toxicity (2001)
62 points





















Rank 3
Kreator
Enemy Of God (2005)
72 points





















Rank 2
Electric Wizard
Dopethrone (2000)
100 points





















Rank 1
Opeth
Blackwater Park (2001)
105 points





















The 25 Best Heavy Metal Albums of the 1990's


The 25 best heavy metal albums from the 1990's are shown below. The list represents the combined opinion of numerous heavy metal fans: the points used to develop the rankings are derived from more than 70 heavy metal lists shown here.

Links are provided to the review pages for albums reviewed on The Ace Black Blog. The reviews are the independent opinion of the Blog and do not always agree with combined popular opinion of metal fans. The Ace Black Blog's ranked list of all-time best metal album is here.

When the points for two or more albums are equal, the tie breakers in order are (1) the number of lists that the album appeared on (higher is better); (2) highest position achieved on any list; and (3) earliest release date.

The list of 50 All-Time Best Heavy Metal Albums compiles the results from all decades.

Separate Top 25 lists are also provided by decade, for the Seventies, Eighties, and Noughties.


The 25 Best Heavy Metal Albums of the 1990's

Rank 25
Death
Human (1991)
37 points




















Rank 24
Sepultura
Roots (1996)
40 points





















Rank 23
Death
Symbolic (1995)
41 points





















Rank 22
Iced Earth
Burnt Offerings (1995)
42 points




















Rank 21
Sepultura
Arise (1991)
42 points





















Rank 20
Type O Negative
October Rust (1996)
42 points





















Rank 19
Overkill
Horrorscope (1991)
43 points



















Rank 18
Opeth
Orchid (1995)
45 points





















Rank 17
Bruce Dickinson
The Chemical Wedding (1998)
46 points




















Rank 16
Death
The Sound Of Perseverance (1998)
47 points




















Rank 15
Nirvana
Nevermind (1991)
48 points





















Rank 14
Fear Factory
Demanufacture (1995)
60 points





















Rank 13
Skid Row
Slave To The Grind (1991)
61 points





















Rank 12
Tool
Aenima (1996)
61 points





















Rank 11
Sepultura
Chaos A.D. (1993)
64 points





















Rank 10
Rage Against The Machine
Rage Against The Machine (1992)
64 points




















Rank 9
Alice In Chains
Dirt (1992)
68 points





















Rank 8
Megadeth
Countdown To Extinction (1992)
69 points





















Rank 7
Pantera
Cowboys From Hell (1990)
69 points





















Rank 6
Judas Priest
Painkiller (1990)
95 points





















Rank 5
Slayer
Seasons In The Abyss (1990)
104 points





















Rank 4
Dream Theater
Images And Words (1992)
112 points





















Rank 3
Metallica
Metallica (1991)
144 points





















Rank 2
Pantera
Vulgar Display Of Power (1992)
233 points





















Rank 1
Megadeth
Rust In Peace (1990)
302 points

























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