Thursday, 30 September 2010

Movie Review: The Game (1997)

On his 48th birthday, investment banker Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) has fabulous wealth, complete control over his surroundings, but little else. His marriage has fallen apart and he is haunted by the memory of having witnessed the suicide of his father, who threw himself off the roof of the family estate -- on his 48th birthday.

His brother Conrad (Sean Penn), very much the black sheep of the family, gives Nicholas a strange birthday gift: enrollment in a "game" offered by the mysterious Consumer Recreational Services. Nicholas reluctantly subjects himself to a battery of physical tests and psychological questionnaires at CRS's offices. And soon, the game starts.

The TV in Nicholas' house starts to talk to him; he suffers unexplained and unexpected business set-backs; and he is soon on the run with a careless waitress (Deborah Kara Unger), escaping from machine-gun toting men-in-black. What is real what is part of the game is totally blurred, and in a panic, Conrad re-appears to warn Nicholas that CRS are out of control. Nicholas is hurtled by a cascading series of ever more dangerous events, out of control, to a date with his destiny.

The Game is a flimsy excuse to dump a straight character into the middle of a long action adventure, much like the more comically oriented Into The Night and After Hours (both 1985). But The Game is also a clever commentary on how little a seemingly successful man actually has. The "game" as stage-managed by CRS fills Nicholas' life with everything that he does not have, and takes away from him everything that he thinks that he has control over, up to and including his life, -- in a matter of hours. It's a well-designed representation of "is the grass really greener on the other side of the fence"?, albeit in a most artificially manufactured premise.

Douglas is excellent as he reprises his Wall Street persona, with Nicholas Van Orten only slightly less abrasive than Gordon Gekko. Sean Penn's role is little more than a cameo, but he injects the few scenes that he is in with his unique brand of shifty energy. Deborah Kara Unger proves herself more than capable of matching Douglas through their night of many misadventures.

The Game is a struggle between the thoughtful and the contrived. We'll call the result a stalemate.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Movie Review: Mission: Impossible (1996)

An action film that relies almost solely on two set-piece scenes needs to get these scenes right. Mission: Impossible almost pulls it off, but ultimately both scenes are not as good as they need to be, and the movie as a whole is vaguely unsatisfying.

The plot, which isn't pretending to be too important, is all about the Impossible Missions Force attempting to prevent spy secrets from falling into the wrong hands.

In the first showcase scene, Tom Cruise as agent Ethan Hunt and his buddies break into a CIA safe room to steal a computer file. Cruise spends the scene horizontally suspended from the ceiling and unable to touch the floor to avoid triggering a motion sensor alarm. The tension is good; the ease with which the computer gives up the secret file is ridiculous.

In the film's climactic and second poster scene, a helicopter chases a train into the Chunnel. Needles to say that while the idea may have seemed good on paper, on film this sequence gets ridiculous early and often.

Mission: Impossible is hampered by a couple of strange creative decisions: Brian De Palma is not an action film director. Even his action-oriented successes like The Untouchables and Scarface were all about the characters first. The Mission: Impossible script by David Koeppe and Robert Towne is nowhere near providing enough depth for the characters to compete with the need for an action-driven narrative, and it is difficult to understand what De Palma is doing at the helm of this film.

The second strange appearance is by Vanessa Redgrave as the mysterious Max, buyer of US spy secrets. She looks out of place in an underdeveloped, mostly unexplained and finally dumbfounding role.

Tom Cruise is credible as Hunt, and in the process establishes for himself a new franchise. The rest of the actors and personalities here are as predictable as any run-of-the-mill action movie.

Mission: Impossible is passable fun, but it proved to be a rare example of a film surpassed by its sequel.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

CD Review: The Spider's Lullabye, by King Diamond (1995)

For those who are interested, The Spider's Lullabye is something of a concept album, or at least parts of it are. There is a story in here somewhere about phobias, spiders, and lots of death. Whatever. Isn't King Diamond's entire creative output, whether under his name or as Mercyful Fate, just a single intellectually limited concept?

When it comes to the music, the one sure thing about King Diamond is the reliability of the sound. This band is the Toyota Corolla of metal -- it delivers exactly what it promises, again, and again, and again. Concept album or not, most of the songs on The Spider's Lullabye sound reasonably good and reasonably the same, and the entire CD can almost function like a continuous track.

There are fragments of good ideas on most of the tracks, but other than opener From The Other Side, the ideas are never developed into memorable complete songs, and eventually the nuggets of inspiration are almost always trampled under the incessant wailing falsetto of Diamond on vocals.

Similarly, guitarists Andy La Rocque and Herb Simonsen shine in patches, but never decisively enough to lift the material to a more notable level.

The band does sound polished, professional and tight, and they never fail to deliver within the boundaries of their work. But they do stick rigidly to those boundaries, instead of shaking them to discover what lies beyond.


King Diamond - Vocals
Andy La Rocque - Guitars
Herb Simonsen - Guitars
Chris Estes - Bass
Darrin Anthony - Drums

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. From The Other Side - 10
2. Killer - 7
3. The Poltergeist - 8
4. Dreams - 7
5. Moonlight - 8
6. Six Feet Under - 7
7. The Spider's Lullabye - 8
8. Eastmann's Cure - 7
9. Room 17 - 7
10. To The Morgue - 7

Average: 7.60

Produced and Mixed by King Diamond and Tim Kimsey.
Engineered by Tom Kimsey. Mastered by Eddy Schreyer.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

CD Review: Nothing's Shocking, by Jane's Addiction (1988)

Certainly one of the weirder side-roads traveled in the heavy metal journey, Jane's Addiction were briefly touted in some circles as the next big thing. Fortunately, their unique brand of drug-inspired, swirly wall-of-sound metal proved to be a creative cul-de-sac, and in Nothing's Shocking we are just left with something....interesting.

The album operates within a very narrow creative range. Perry Farrell's high-pitched vocals and Dave Navarro's beefy guitar are dominant, but Eric A. on bass and Stephen Perkins on drums are also pleasantly prominent.

The songs are never less that listenable, although it may take a few listens to get used to the groove that the band is after. However, none of the material rises above what quickly proves to be a repeated formula of mid-tempo, thickly layered music, with equal measures of metal and psychedelia influence.

The slightly more up-tempo tunes like Had A Dad and Pigs In Zen succeed in imposing more of a personality, while Ted, Just Admit It (with a terrific bass line) and Mountain Song alternate between strange and stranger, but work well all the same.

The rest of the tracks generally just sit there like a fog: intriguing to look at from the outside, but not as fascinating from within.


Perry Farrell - Vocals
David Navarro - Guitar
Eric A. - Bass
Stephen Perkins - Drums

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Up The Beach - 7
2. Ocean Size - 6
3. Had A Dad - 8
4. Ted, Just Admit It - 8
5. Standing In The Shower...Thinking - 7
6. Summertime Rolls - 7
7. Mountain Song - 8
8. Idiots Rule - 7
9. Jane Says - 7
10. ...Thank You Boys... - n/a (short)
11. Pigs In Zen - 8

Average: 7.30

Produced by Dave Jerden and Perry Farrell.
Engineered by Dave Jerden and Ronnie S. Champagne.
Mixed by Dave Jerden and Perry Farrell.
Mastered by Steve Hall.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Movie Review: Lethal Weapon (1987)

A cop buddy movie that benefits enormously from one of the most eccentric and memorable police officers created for the screen.

Los Angeles Detective Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) is depressed, suicidal, utterly unpredictable, and a deadly former military sharp shooter. In the hands of screenwriter Shane Black and director Richard Donner, Riggs is also somehow real. Edgy, unconventional and dangerous, but never straying into ridiculous territory. The film rides smoothly in Riggs' slipstream, as he and straight-laced, 50-year-old partner Detective Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) set their sights on breaking up a ruthless drug cartel. Glover as Murtaugh, a middle-aged family man comfortably settled in the suburbs, is the perfect antithesis and foil for Gibson's Riggs.

The baddest of the bad guys is the menacing Gary Busey as the terrifically named Mr. Joshua. Also formerly in the military, he is in charge of removing any threats to the drug-running cartel, and soon this means eliminating Riggs and Murtaugh -- or going after the latter's family, which proves easier. The film does not shy away from a gritty side, with Mr. Joshua and his goons torturing Riggs, and a fairly vicious but unnecessary final martial arts duel between the two.

Lethal Weapon cannot fully escape the relatively narrow constraints of the genre, and creaks due to some shallowness in the secondary acting talent. But the movie mixes good action with a streak of mean humour, and maintains a reasonable pace that allows the stars to shine and safeguards against whiplash.

There is a smoothness and assuredness to the movie that comes from Gibson, Glover and Busey perfectly fitting into their characters, and Donner directing briskly and with an eye to respecting the characters and maximizing the advantage of having such a strong cast. Credit also to Shane Black, who, at 23 years of age, wrote a fearless script that created a franchise and consolidated Gibson's star status.

Lethal Weapon spawned three direct sequels and numerous imitators, and set the standard for cop buddy movies. It was often imitated, but rarely equaled or bettered.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Book Review: To Hell And Back, by Niki Lauda (1986)

In this 1986 autobiography, Niki Lauda offers a rare peak behind the velvet curtain that hides the glamour world of Formula 1 from the prying eyes of mere mortals. He also describes the single-minded determination, stubbornness and icy personality needed to reach the summit of the world's most demanding sport.

To Hell And Back is an entertaining and often mesmerizing journey from the late 1960's to the mid 1980's. It starts with Lauda sinking himself up to his ears in debt to pay his way into motorsports against the wishes of his family, and continues at high speed to cover his success winning two championships in 1975 and 1977 with Ferrari, the second championship coming despite his near death at the 1976 Nurburgring crash. His move to Brabham and the infamous fan car, the first retirement, the comeback, his third championship with McLaren in 1984, and his second and final retirement are all also packed into the book.

There are also chapters about technical developments in F1, Lauda's second career building and operating Lauda Air; and a chapter purely focusing on his personality, rigid life-style, and decision-making process.

The book succeeds because it spends most of the time outside the cockpit. Lauda describes his often tortured and sometimes humorous relationships with his family members, bankers, doctors, and some of the sport's most famous personalities like Enzo Ferrari, Ron Dennis, Bernie Eccelstone, Nelson Piquet and Alain Prost.

Through this lens of human interaction Lauda vividly captures what goes on behind the scenes in the sport, including contract negotiations, sponsor appeasement, testing, car development, team orders, and what it takes to win the desperate struggle to be the absolute best among the very best drivers in the world.

And in the short segments when Lauda does take us behind the wheel to describe key races from his career, his writing sharply captures the drama that unfolds, often unseen, as drivers take numerous decisions and continuous calculated risks to outwit each other in the alternate world where speeds of 300 kilometres per hour are normal.

To Hell And Back captures an unapologetic and supremely self-confident champion honestly revealing what it takes to achieve ultimate success while pursuing a most unforgiving passion.

Subtitled "The Courageous Story of Motor Racing's Greatest World Champion".
161 pages plus an Appendix (career records) and Index.
Translated from German by E.J. Crockett.
Published in paperback by Corgi.

The Ace Black Blog Book Review Index is here.

CD Review: Vicious Circle, by L.A. Guns (1994)

Choosing large quantity over selected quality, Vicious Circle presents a long list of 14 tracks plus one instrumental. A precious few succeed in hitting the sweet spot of metal magnificence.

The fourth album from L.A. Guns, the band that shared some common roots with Guns 'N' Roses, was released in 1994. Grunge was dominant, glam was dead, and metal was generally hiding underground. Vicious Circle reflects the stylistically disoriented metal scene of the times.

In a wild and desperate attempt to find anything that would connect with the audience of the day, the album frantically cycles through soulful ballads (Crystal Eyes, Kiss Of Death), southern boogie-woogie (Nothing Better To Do), harmony-based tracks (Chasing The Dragon), melody-challenged dangerous-sounding songs with inane lyrics (Kill That Girl), and a bit of straight-forward guitar-powered metal (Face Down).

The end-result is a mish-mash that may as well have been produced by about 10 different bands. For all the effort, there is no identity or unifying theme or sound to the album. The lack of memorable individual performances, and especially the weak or non-existent guitar solos, do not help.

Despite the lack of focus and general sense of panic, there are no disasters, and some actually very good material on Vicious Circle: Kiss Of Death is an excellent slow sad song; I'd Love To Change The World hooks good emotion to another effectively slow melody, and opener Face Down hints at some latent potential for power. A songlist trimmed down to a more homogeneous set focusing on the stronger tracks would have greatly enhanced the album. As it is, Vicious Circle is a lot of perspiration with precious little inspiration.


Mick Cripps - Guitars
Tracii Guns - Guitars
Phillip Lewis - Vocals
Kelly Nickels - Bass

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Face Down - 8
2. No Crime - 7
3. Long Time Dead - 8
4. Killing Machine - 7
5. Fade Away - 8
6. Tarantula - n/a (short instrumental)
7. Crystal Eyes - 7
8. Nothing Better To Do - 8
9. Chasing The Dragon - 6
10. Kill That Girl - 6
11. I'd Love To Change The World - 9
12. Who's In Control (Let'Em Roll) - 7
13. I'm The One - 7
14. Why Ain't I Bleeding - 8
15. Kiss Of Death - 10

Average: 7.57

Produced and Engineered by Jim Wirt.
Mixed by Mick Guauski. Mastered by Stephen Marcussen.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Friday, 24 September 2010

CD Review: Led Zeppelin, by Led Zeppelin (1969)

Four guys from England grabbed hold of the sweat-drenched, mercilessly sun-exposed blues, dunked them in a giant vat filled with molten metal, and built a bridge half-way to an entirely new music genre.

Early Led Zeppelin may not be heavy metal, but the sound was something entirely new. Taking the blues to heavier emotional depths than ever experienced before, and perversely using deliberately slow tempos to enhance density, Zeppelin pointed to the path that Deep Purple and Black Sabbath would use to storm the world and invent heavy metal.

On their debut self-titled album, Zeppelin take everything to the extremes of their time: Robert Plant's vocals are emotionally raw to the point of revealing an anguished soul; Jimmy Page's guitar wanders down the louder and heavier back lanes of the blues, coating them a definite tinge of black.

John Paul Jones on bass and John Bonham on drums create a prominent base of sludge where unexpected new lifeforms grow, with Jones also contributing surprisingly active keyboards. As the blues are morphing into metal in Led Zeppelin's hands, the psychedelic influences of the late 1960's are in evidence, with swirly, funky accessories sprinkled throughout the album.

Simply listening to the tortured Babe I'm Gonna Leave You is exhausting. Dazed and Confused takes that exhaustion and throws it off a cliff, just as a fun test of added stamina. You Shook Me and I Can't Quit You Babe complete a quartet of amped-up yet slowed-down blues-based tunes that define the album.

On the faster and lighter side, opener Good Times, Bad Times and Communication Breakdown are higher tempo tracks, and their energetic guitar riffing points straight to a future world filled with the hardened heavy metal that this album helped to invent.


Robert Plant - Vocals
Jimmy Page - Guitars
John Paul Jones - Bass, Keyboards
John Bonham - Drums

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Good Times Bad Times - 8
2. Babe I'm Gonna Leave You - 9 *see below*
3. You Shook Me - 8
4. Dazed And Confused - 9
5. Your Time Is Gonna Come - 6
6. Black Mountain Side - 6
7. Communication Breakdown - 10
8. I Can't Quit You Babe - 8
9. How Many More Times - 8

Average: 8.00

Produced by Jimmy Page.
Engineered by Glyn Johns. Mastered by Barry Diament.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

CD Review: Walls Of Jericho, by Helloween (1985)

Helloween's debut effort is filled with speed, passion, and glorious twin guitar work. It is also filled with weak song arrangements, simplistic tunes, and some really tortured vocals. It doesn't matter: the good far outweighs the bad.

This CD release combines a "mini-LP" of 5 songs (originally a self-titled EP), followed by The Walls Of Jericho, and the added track Judas. This represents the entire output of the band with guitarist Kai Hansen on vocals, and fortunately, he eventually realized that he is a much better guitar player than singer. Future releases featured the more accomplished Michael Kiske on vocals.

As for the Walls Of Jericho CD, Helloween do an admirable job. Clearly inspired by Iron Maiden but willing to turn all the knobs harder, the guitar work is fast, energetic, accurate, and melodic. The solo breaks, with Hansen and Michael Weikath duelling melodically at high speed, are rarely less than breathtaking, and the band just gallops through the tracks with evident enthusiasm, a showcase of controlled velocity. Ride The Sky and Metal Invaders, with all the elements coming together, are the best examples of what Helloween were capable of in their formative years.

The talent is raw, however, and many of the song structures surrounding the guitar solos are relatively mundane and less than inspired. Many of the tracks sound as though the non-solo sections were thrown together just to create a song - any song - to highlight the guitar work. And Hansen's weak vocals further detract from some of the tracks.

But as soon as any of the Walls Of Jericho songs begins to genuinely falter, those guitars segments take over, magical metal is created, and all is forgiven.


Kai Hansen - Vocals, Guitars
Michael Weikath - Guitars
Markus Grobkopf - Bass
Ingo Schwichtenberg - Drums

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Starlight - 8
2. Murderer - 8
3. Warrior - 8
4. Victim Of Fate - 9
5. Cry For Freedom - 8
6. Walls Of Jericho - n/a (short instrumental)
7. Ride The Sky - 10
8. Reptile - 6
9. Guardians - 7
10. Phantoms Of Death - 8
11. Metal Invaders - 10 *see below*
12. Gorgar - 7
13. Heavy Metal (Is The Law) - 8
14. How Many Tears - 8
15. Judas - 7

Average: 8.00

Engineered and Mixed by Harris Johns.
Produced by Harris Johns and Helloween.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Book Review: Good Muslim, Bad Muslim, by Mahmood Mamdani (2005)

For every complex solution there is at least one deceptively simple answer which is spectacularly wrong.

There is nothing simpler than to blame all of the world's problems on the United States as the only current global superpower. Mahmood Mamdani, an East African of Indian descent and a Professor at Columbia University, subscribes to the well-worn theory of "when in doubt, blame the CIA". It's a theory that conveniently allows everyone else to become a victim, and it distills finding real solutions to this: "if only America would behave!".

The contents of Good Muslim, Bad Muslim have nothing to do with the title. The book is one continuous, simplistic, shrill, unbalanced, and one-sided diatribe against the foreign policy of the United States, pushing the theory that the attacks of September 11 2001 and all else that ails the world are a direct result of American foreign policy since the time of the Vietnam War.

There is nothing wrong with holding the US to account for its many direct and indirect adventures and misadventures in foreign lands. What is inexcusable is presenting one side of every story; not attempting to rationally discuss the justifications of the actions of the United States; and most importantly, not discussing the alternatives to those actions.

What would the world look like today if Soviet-back regimes had not been checked in Central America, South East Asia, and Africa? What would Asia and the Middle East look like if the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan had prevailed? Other than the actions that the US took, what realistic alternative actions does Mr. Mamdani propose, and what would have been the likely outcome of these actions?

Criticism of foreign policy is intellectually bankrupt when it fails to present reasonable and thoughtful alternative actions and the clear implication of other likely outcomes.

Equally inept is Mamdani's failure to allocate any responsibility to the apparent victims of US foreign policy. Why have the countries of South East Asia thrived since the end of the Cold War, while the countries of Africa and the Middle East have not? How did South Africa and most of South America throw off the shackles of brutal regimes which were sometimes backed by the US? What did the citizens of these countries do that others can learn from?

Mamdani is not interested in difficult questions like these, since such discussions require that nations take some responsibility for their progress. It's so much easier to play the victim and blame the bully.

Even with its limited intent of pinning the September 11 2001 attacks on US foreign policy since the Cold War, the book is an abject failure. Various authors, including Lawrence Wright in The Looming Tower (2006) and Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon in The Age of Sacred Terror (2002) have traced the very deep roots of violent Islamic extremism to at least the 1920's, when Britain and France were the world's superpowers.

And if we want to just trace the modern ill-treatment of the Muslim world by colonial and other powers, Robert Fisk in The Great War For Civilisation (2005) presents atrocities by all the world's major powers, including extreme Muslim-on-Muslim violence, dating back at least to the First World War.

Mamdani mentions in passing some of the early origins of Islamic extremism, but does not dwell on them since they do not fit his simplistic America-bashing agenda.

Good Muslim, Bad Muslim is a title too long: Bad is a good enough title for this book.

Subtitled "America, The Cold War, And The Roots Of Terror".
260 pages, plus Notes and Index.
Published in paperback by Three Leaves Press.

The Ace Black Blog Book Review Index is here.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Movie Review: The Weather Man (2005)

Nicolas Cage and Michael Caine will transform any movie into a watchable experience, and The Weather Man certainly is that. But with the talent available, there is a vague sense of under-achievement that grows as the film progresses and the characters don't.

The film is a character study of David Spritz (Cage), who presents the weather forecast for a Chicago TV station. Spritz is a celebrity of sorts and should be enjoying a comfortable life, but his marriage has fallen apart, his 12-year-old daughter is an overweight smoker and a bully victim, and his troubled 15-year-old son is falling under the influence of a counselor who is getting ready to abuse him. Despite facing a cancer diagnosis, David's Dad, Robert (Caine), appears to be more aware of the needs of David's family than David is.

David also needs to deal with people throughout Chicago throwing fast food at him, usually from moving cars, as sort of a sport. He is also in the running to land a prestigious position as the weather man for a national New York-based TV show. David imagines the New York position as a possible solution to all his problems, but is torn between facing the demons that surround him or escaping them.

His dad Robert is a successful Pulitzer Prize winning author, and the unspoken tension between David's inability to live up to his idea of what his father expected of him is one of the more interesting aspects of the film, although like most good ideas in Steven Conrad's script, it is never properly developed.

The Weather Man is always interesting, particularly when Caine is on the screen, but never fully engaging, and it lacks the subtlety needed to fully connect the central character with the audience. As much as David's problems are blatantly - and literally - in-your-face, his solutions are equally broad-brushed. From carrying an archery set around town (to stop the fast food assaults) to physically confronting the counselor (to stop the assaults on his son), to the incessant swearing, nothing in David's life reflects the nuances of reality. The Weather Man stops earning points when it becomes more of a caricature study than a character study.

The forecast? Mixed conditions with variable cloudiness and some sunny breaks.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

CD Review: Are You Experienced?, by The Jimi Hendrix Experience (1967)

While not necessarily a heavy metal guitarist himself, Jimmy Hendrix laid some of heavy metal's most important foundations. Are You Experienced?, the 1967 release by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, is a treasure chest of metal's DNA.

Hendrix took the blues guitar and contorted it enough to blow the doors off traditional electric guitar sounds, creating hitherto impossible music, and inventing the dominant guitar solo in the process.

Hendrix proved that music can be driven primarily by the power of the guitar. He also demonstrated how much sound and fury can be generated by relatively few musicians, and his range as a songwriter from slow tempo brooding songs (Red House) to fast paced rockers (Stone Free), all powered with his magical guitar, placed bookends for what was possible with guitar-dominated metal.

Mitch Mitchell on drums and Noel Redding on bass deserve enormous credit, not just for keeping up with Hendrix, but for prominently holding their own in the spotlight. Both the bass and the drums are outstanding throughout Are You Experienced? and indeed take centre stage on some tracks (Fire). Mitchell puts many modern drummers to shame with a display of enormous energy on what sounds like the definition of a basic drum kit, while Redding holds together most tracks with a bass sound that is both lively and steady.

The 1993 CD release of Are You Experienced? includes six classic, awe-inspiring Hendrix compositions: Hey Joe, Purple Haze, Highway Chile, Foxy Lady, Red House, and Fire are simply genius, filled with breathtaking and groundbreaking inventiveness.

Hey Joe immediately drops into an unrelenting, hypnotizing groove; Purple Haze, Highway Chile and Foxy Lady are Hendrix at his most playful and energetic. Red House, while being a beautifully haunting song, is also the purest fusion of blues and metal, while Fire is a mesmerizing example of how to construct a classic song from one bar of four bass notes and a drummer who peeks through all the gaps.

This being the work of uncontrolled genius, and with 17 tracks on the CD, Are You Experienced? also includes some horrible, intolerable music, none worse than I Don't Live Today and May This Be Love. These are not songs that should have ever been recorded; they are initial sketches of material that with a lot more work could have become decent music, but never did. Nevertheless a batch of sub-par material is crammed into the second half of the album, and these tracks do detract from the overall listening experience.

But this is a case where the many gems on the CD are well worth wading through the thatch of lesser material, and to answer the question, yes Jimi, once we've listened to your music, we are experienced in the art of recognizing inspired creativity.


Jimi Hendrix - Vocals, Guitar.
Mitch Mitchell - Drums.
Noel Redding - Bass.

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Hey Joe - 10
2. Stone Free - 8
3. Purple Haze - 10
4. 51st Anniversary - 6
5. The Wind Cries Mary - 7
6. Highway Chile - 10
7. Foxy Lady - 10
8. Manic Depression - 7
9. Red House - 10
10. Can You See Me - 6
11. Love Or Confusion - 6
12. I Don't Live Today - 4
13. May This Be Love - 4
14. Fire - 10
15. Third Stone From The Sun - 7
16. Remember - 5
17. Are You Experienced? - 7

Average: 7.47

Produced by Chas Chandler.
Engineered by Mike Ross, Dave Siddle, Eddie Kramer.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Movie Review: Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)

A mid-life crisis comedy that takes itself as seriously as its title, Hot Tub Time Machine gets enough of the details right to be enjoyable.

A relatively straightforward mix of City Slickers and Back To The Future garnished with recent bromedy spicing, Hot Tub Time Machine follows friends Adam (John Cusack), Lou (Rob Corddry), Nick (Craig Robinson) and Adam's nephew Jacob (Clark Duke) as they tangle with a mystical hot tub and are transported back from 2010 to re-live one critical night at a ski resort in the 1986.

With Adam, Lou and Nick all facing mid-life crises, and Jacob clueless as to who his father is, their actions on this single night is an opportunity to change the destiny of their lives. Will they do exactly what they did back in 1986, or will they change critical decisions to alter the course of the rest of their lives? Throw in nuclear-powered beer and the possibility that with the wrong series of choices Jacob will cease to exist, and there is enough material here for some solid humour.

Hot Tub Time Machine does not need to veer too far from the stock mid-life crisis cliches: Adam is luckless in love and has just been dumped; Lou never grew up and is stuck as an adult in party mode, depressed to the point of attempted suicide; and Nick regrets having given up on a music career, and is shackled by a controlling wife who is also having an affair. The three men are at unhappy dead-ends in their lives, and, in various guises, we've seen these emotional cul-de-sacs before from City Slickers (1991) to The Hangover (2009).

But Hot Tub Time Machine benefits from engaging and energetic performances from Cusack (who also co-produced the movie), Corddry and Robinson, and does not shy away neither from a strong streak of raunchiness nor from a string of body-fluid jokes. There is also an excellent running gag about a porter at the ski resort who, in 2010, has one arm. He lost it during that fateful night in 1986; we just don't know exactly how or when.

Throw in Chevy Chase in an unhinged cameo as the hot tub repair man, and Hot Tub Time Machine gains entry as a member of that rare group of low-brow comedy films: the ones that actually exceed expectations.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Monday, 20 September 2010

CD Review: Appetite For Destruction, by Guns 'N' Roses (1987)

Emerging from the creeping Los Angeles crack that would swallow glam metal by the end of the 1980's, Guns 'N' Roses exploded onto the world with a sensational debut record that neither they, nor anyone else, could ever quite match again.

Appetite for Destruction was released in 1987, caught fire in 1988, and by 1989, Guns 'N' Roses were the biggest and most dangerous band in the world. Five uneducated, addicted guys turned the music universe on its head and had the world at their feet.

In one of those rare instances when talent, ambition, and image come together and click at the right moment, vocalist Axl Rose and guitarist Slash defined the sound and image of Guns 'N' Roses, and found the post-glam pre-grunge music world ready to embrace them in an unlikely marriage of metal's sound and grunge's realism.

Axl's raspy, nasal vocals, unabashed sinewy dance moves, and pure dragged-from-the-gutter look combined perfectly with Slash's brooding, dark, top-hatted image. It helped that Slash played blues-infused metal guitar solos of a quality not heard before, and that the group had the personal experiences straight from life's sewers to write some astoundingly well-constructed metal songs.

Izzy Stradlin' on guitar, Duff McKagan on bass and particularly Steve Adler on drums, could not, by themselves, have made Appetite for Destruction brilliant, but they certainly could have ruined it. That in their less showy roles they also delivered terrific performances to match and enhance Axl's vocals and Slash's guitar just adds to the magic of the album.

The tracks on Appetite for Destruction reflect decrepit lives lived - or survived - on the wrong street, fueled by danger, drugs, and dames. The weaker tracks are still very good; the stronger tracks are classics, and Appetite for Destruction crams five brilliant songs onto a 12 track set. Welcome To The Jungle, Paradise City, My Michelle, Sweet Child O' Mine and Rocket Queen have all entered the metal hall of fame, and demonstrate a maturity and soul much older than the band.

The sad truth about starting at the very top is that the only way forward is down. Guns 'N' Roses did go on to produce some good metal on Use Your Illusion I and II; but Appetite For Destruction stands alone as a towering achievement for a band that, for a few years at least, stood on top of the mountain.


W. Axl Rose - Vocals
Slash - Guitars
Izzy Stradlin' - Guitars
Duff "Rose" McKagan - Bass
Steve Adler - Drums

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Welcome To The Jungle - 10 *See below*
2. It's So Easy - 8
3. Nightrain - 8
4. Out Ta Get Me - 7
5. Mr. Brownstone - 8
6. Paradise City - 10
7. My Michelle - 10
8. Think About You - 7
9. Sweet Child O' Mine - 10
10. You're Crazy - 7
11. Anything Goes - 7
12. Rocket Queen - 10

Average: 8.50

Produced and Engineered by Mike Clink.
Mixed by Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero.
Mastered by George Marino.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

CD Review: Iced Earth, by Iced Earth (1991)

While Iced Earth never made the leap from the second division to the premier league of metal bands, they certainly had fun trying.

The Florida group may have arrived a decade too late. Everything from their sound to their logo is firmly attached to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and they would have likely found greater success had they co-existed with Maiden's golden era of the early to mid-eighties rather than the self-hating grunge era of the early to mid-nineties.

As it is, on their debut album Iced Earth, the band earns immediate attention with their hyper-fast staccato riffing, which appears in one form or another on almost every track. Jon Schaffer and Randy Shawver's impressively accurate guitar segments sound like metal variations on the opening Bonanza theme riff, whether the world asked for it or not, and Iced Earth quickly establish it as their signature sound.

When the band attach their guitar skills to song structures strong enough to support them, as on the opening title track Iced Earth, Life And Death and Funeral, some excellent power metal is produced. When the songs are not as well developed they are not as memorable, but never less than solid.

While there is no doubting the speed and accuracy of the Iced Earth's rhythm guitar work, the soloing leaves a lot to be desired. Neither the solos themselves nor their delivery are up to the standard of metal's elite, unfortunately reducing the album's stature.

Iced Earth deserve praise for avoiding the over-long disease and limiting the album to the best tracks that they could offer. The package is far from perfect, but it's an honest attempt that is never less than interesting.


Jon Schaffer - Rhythm Guitar
Randy Shawver - Lead Guitar
Gene Adam - Vocals
Dave Bell - Bass
Mike McGill - Drums

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Iced Earth - 9
2. Written On The Walls - 7
3. Colors - 7
4. Curse The Sky - 7
5. Life And Death - 8
6. Solitude - n/a (short instrumental)
7. Funeral - 8
8. When The Night Falls - 7

Average: 7.57

Produced by Tom Morris and Jon Schaffer.
Engineered by Tom Morris.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

CD Review: Meantime, by Helmet (1992)

Helmet may have been a band slightly ahead of its time. With more maturity, better song-writing help and stronger production values, Meantime could have contained a lot more killer and a lot less filler. As it is, Helmet are more of a footnote than true bridge-builders in metal's evolution.

On the New York quartet's second album, the band dabbles with a lightweight, gym-deprived version of the sound that would later be called metalcore.

And album opener, In The Meantime, almost gets it all together with enough enjoyable well-cooked beef to make a claim an an early classic of the genre.

Unfortunately, the early promise is never fulfilled. None of the other nine selections come close to matching the intensity and relative polish of the first track. The rest of Meantime is raw and under-produced to the point of drawing comparisons with garage bands definitely not ready for prime-time.

In the 1992 era when grunge ruled and alt-anything sounded cool, this was enough to get Helmet some attention. But today, the rickety drum sound of John Staniers kit and the strained, unpolished vocals of Page Hamilton waver between embarrassing and tiresome. The songs rarely find any memorable groove, and mainly leave an impression of a band trying hard but coming up short on both song-writing inspiration and professional delivery.


Henry Bogdan - Bass
John Stanier - Drums
Peter Mengede - Guitar
Page Hamilton - Guitar, Vocals

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. In The Meantime - 9
2. Ironhead - 7
3. Give It - 6
4. Unsung - 6
5. Turned Out - 5
6. He Feels Bad - 7
7. Better - 6
8. You Borrowed - 6
9. FBLA II - 6
10. Role Model - 7

Average: 6.50

Recorded by Wharton Tiers.
Produced by Helmet. Mixed by Andy Wallace. Mastered by Howie Weinberg.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Movie Review: Final Destination (2000)

A horror film good enough to spawn a series, Final Destination has some interesting touches but does not stray too far outside the traditional boundaries of the genre.

On a high school trip to Paris, Alex (Devon Sawa) is settling into his seat on the plane when he has strong visions of a fiery crash that will kill all passengers. Causing panic, he and a few of his classmates are bundled off the plane, which takes off and promptly bursts into a ball of fire, killing all who remained on board.

Alex is shunned as a freak at school, while the other survivors, including his friend Tod, his rival Carter and Carter's girlfriend, the moody girl Clear (Ali Larter), and a teacher, struggle with being the survivors of a tragedy.

But the grim reaper refuses to conceded defeat, and soon enough, death comes-a-calling. One by one, the survivors of the plane crash are trapped into bizarre accidents that claim their lives, often with Alex close-enough by to arouse the suspicions of the FBI agents investigating the crash. To escape their fate, Alex and the dwindling number of survivors try to find a way to understand and break the cycle of death.

Final Destination takes itself seriously, which is a good thing, and takes its time to establish its premise, which is very good. The absence of a maniacal human killer, and the need to rely on self-staging, fate-driven accidental deaths, is also refreshing, although there is an over-reliance on electricity as a source of calamity.

But once the grotesque accidents start to claim the lives of the crash survivors, there is little the film can do to break out of the standard "here comes the next gruesome death scene" fare. And the assembled victims and the dynamics between them do not vary too much from the hordes of teenagers killed off in countless other movies.

Despite the flaws, Final Destination provided enough of a new concept to start a franchise: teenagers versus fate, in the shape of the grim - and grimly determined - reaper.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Movie Review: The Blind Side (2009)

A real-life rags to riches story, The Blind Side is a heart-warming feel-good movie about how far a life can be improved with a gentle helping hand. It's a drama tailor-made for the Hollywood treatment, and the film benefits from a terrific Sandra Bullock performance.

Michael "Big Mike" Oher (Quinton Aaron), a 17 year-old giant of a man-in-the-making, comes from a broken home mired in poverty. His addicted mother has abandoned him to a succession of foster homes, and his life is drifting into nothingness. Unexpectedly admitted to a Christian school based on yet undeveloped athletic potential, Big Mike's fortunes are turned around when he is first unofficially and then formally adopted by Leigh Anne Tuohy (Bullock), mother, wife, and interior designer from the upper crust of Memphis society.

With Leigh Anne's guidance, Big Mike improves his academic performance and develops into a towering, dominant football player for his school. Offered numerous college scholarships, he has to choose between his home state of Tennessee or Mississippi, the alma mater of the Tuohys.

The Blind Side is powered almost single-handedly by Sandra Bullock, delivering a tour-de-force performance as Leigh Anne, and deservedly winning the Best Actress Academy Award. Once she welcomes Big Mike into her life, Leigh Anne dominates all events surrounding him, and Bullock similarly towers over the movie. She is nurturing and sympathetic for the most part, but tough as nails and overwhelmingly protective when needed. If Leigh Anne is written as an almost unrealistically perfect Texas family matron, she is at least a terrific role model in a world that desperately needs them.

Compared to Bullock, the rest of the performances fade away into unmemorable vanilla blandness. This unfortunately includes Aaron as Big Mike, whose main attribute is his presence as a gentle giant, but who is asked to do relatively little in terms of acting. The rest of Leigh Anne's family members are, for the most part, very much part of the furniture.

At 129 minutes, the film does drag on. A good 10 to 15 minutes could have been trimmed with no great loss in the narrative. But director John Lee Hancock does recognize that his film's core is occupied by his lead actress, and he directs around her without attempting to compete with her source of energy. When your star is on fire, its wise to dim the other lights.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Movie Review: Casablanca (1942)

Casablanca might not be the best movie ever made, but it just may be the most perfect.

Filled with memorable characters, rich scenes, an elaborate central locale, and sharp dialogue, and centred on a doomed love story set amidst a world war, Casablanca effortlessly delivers the pure magic of the movies.

Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains defined their careers with their roles in Casablanca. Bogart excels as Rick, the owner of the busiest cafe in Casablanca, emotionally hiding out and pretending not to care for the duration of the war, but inexorably drawn into it when the lost love of his life suddenly re-emerges.

Yvonne (Rick's casual floozy): Where were you last night?
Rick: That's so long ago, I don't remember.
Yvonne: Will I see you tonight?
Rick: I never make plans that far ahead.

Bergman is simply luminous as Ilsa, torn between her past and present lovers, having to decide between two men, and between her personal passion and her life's most important duty. And finally Rains as Captain Renault, charming his way through the tightrope of maintaining the peace and doling out favours in a nest of supposedly neutral chaos, and waiting to see which side will emerge victorious from the ruins of war. Rains also gets to participate in many of the best dialogue exchanges in the movie.

Renault: And what in Heaven's name brought you to Casablanca?
Rick: My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters.
Renault: The waters? What waters? We're in the desert.
Rick: I was misinformed.

Paul Henreid as Laszlo, Ilsa's husband and a leader of the French underground resistance, is billed along with Bogart and Bergman and ahead of Rains, but unfortunately, he is the weakest link in Casablanca. Whether due to the limitations of the role or the actor, Henreid almost comes across as more suitable for a silent movie. His wooden performance is not in the same league as the other three leading stars.

The depth of memorable secondary characters is part of Casablanca's enduring charm. Conrad Veidt as Major Strasser; Sydney Greenstreet as Signor Ferrari; Peter Lorre as Signor Ugarte; Dooley Wilson as Sam the pianist; and Joy Page as Annina, the Bulgaria refugee. None have too much screen time; nevertheless they all shine and make a deep and lasting impression in their few featured moments.

Renault (about Ugarte): I'm making out the report now. We haven't quite decided whether he committed suicide or died trying to escape.

Even further down the list, minor characters such as the waiters in Rick's Cafe, the pickpocket, and the assortment of desperate figures populating the corners of Casablanca linger in the memory.

In terms of locations, Rick's Cafe Americain is one of the most interesting places in movie history. Something is happening in every corner, and there is intrigue at every table, all the time. And if the main room of the cafe is not enough, the gambling den in the back is just as busy and even more entertaining. Adding depth to the exotic locations, Signor Ferrari's Blue Parrot cafe, Rick's main competition, is just as interesting, and much more ramshackle.

Renault: I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.
Employee of Rick's: [hands Renault money] Your winnings, sir.

The script by Julius and Philip Epstein and Howard Koch is a masterpiece. Sharp, economical and funny, there is a classic line around every corner. The more famous lines are legendary. What is remarkable is that some of the less famous lines are just as good.

Michael Curtiz may have been the main Warner Bros. go-to guy to get the job done, and this proved to be a perfect fit for Casablanca. The flashback scenes with Rick and Ilsa in Paris are weak, but in the Casablanca locales, Curtiz adds clever and artistic touches without ever taking away from the urgency of the unfolding drama.

Renault (to the gathering police officers): Major Strasser has been shot.
Renault: Round up the usual suspects.

A classic landmark in the history of movie-making, often imitated but rarely matched, Casablanca just gets better as time goes by.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

CD Review: II Pornograffitti, by Extreme (1990)

On II - Pornograffitti, sub-titled "A Funked Up Fairy Tale", Extreme embark on a journey of dance-infused funk metal, with multiple personalities ranging from the pure joy of Decadence Dance to the acoustic ballad of More Than Words.

Get The Funk Out and It('s A Monster), along with Decadence Dance, form a trio of the most danceable high-energy metal featuring exquisite lead guitar work from Nuno Bettencourt. That these three tracks harmoniously co-exist on the same album with More Than Words, likely the softest, most emotive acoustic metal love song, is testament to the ambition of the band.

Throughout the CD Bettencourt flaunts his range both as an ace metal guitarist and as a songwriter. He is ably backed by Gary Cherone, confident but controlled on vocals.

Almost as an afterthought, He Man Woman Hater opens with 100 seconds of some of the purest, most classic metal lead guitar pyrotechnics -- it's one minute and 40 seconds that makes the hair on the back of the neck of metal fans stand on end, all as an intro to another powerful funk metal track.

II - Pornograffiti could have used some trimming, and some of the 13 tracks, while not exactly filler material, do not maintain the same high standard of the stand-out tracks. But when there is so much originality, it is petty to be critical: II - Pornograffiti is filled with a multitude of fresh ideas and experimentation, and to the band's credit, most of it works.


Nuno Bettencourt - Guitar, Keyboards
Gary Cherone - Vocals
Pat Badger - Bass
Paul Geary - Drums

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Decadence Dance - 10
2. Li'l Jack Horny - 7
3. When I'm President - 7
4. Get The Funk Out - 9
5. More Than Words - 10
6. Money (In God We Trust) - 7
7. It ('s A Monster) - 10
8. Pornograffitti - 8
9. When I First Kissed You - 7
10. Suzi (Wants Her All Day What?) - 7
11. He Man Woman Hater - 9 *see below*
12. Song For Love - 7
13. Hole Hearted - 7

Average: 8.08

Produced and Mixed by Michael Wagener.
Engineered by Bob St. John.
Mastered by George Marino.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

CD Review: Inhuman Rampage, by Dragonforce (2006)

Proving that there is a speed that is too fast, and a length that is too long, Dragonforce combine too fast and too long and produce an unmitigated disaster.

It is a disservice to the band, but Inhuman Rampage sounds like it was recorded at one speed and then mixed and mastered at twice that speed. There is a point when speed for the sake of speed is only impressive for eight-year-olds, and Dragonforce find that point and force their way past it to camp permanently on the wrong side of the beats-per-minute dial. Everything is fast to the point of sounding mechanical, most of all the maniacal and monotonous drums that come across as, indeed, inhuman.

The inclusion of Through The Fire And Flames as the most difficult track on Guitar Hero III gave Dragonforce their fifteen minutes of fame, and established them as firm members of the one-hit-wonder metal club. Through The Fire And Flames is good, but unfortunately for the album, Inhuman Rampage contains very little else of value.

The other seven tracks are too long, too fast, too fragmented, and too repetitive, with endless tales of majestic battlefields, glory, and steel. Manowar trampled all over this territory more than two decades ago, and they did it at an actually enjoyable pace.

Small segments of Through The Fire And Flames show up in various forms throughout all the other songs, confirming Dragonforce as that most useless breed of pony, the type with one trick.


ZP Theart - Vocals
Herman Li - Guitars
Sam Totman - Guitars
Vadim Pruzhanov - Keyboards
Dave Mackintosh - Drums

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Through The Fire And Flames - 8
2. Revolution Deathsquad - 6
3. Storming The Burning Fields - 6
4. Operation Ground And Pound - 5
5. Body Breakdown - 6
6. Cry For Eternity - 7
7. The Flame Of Youth - 7
8. Trail Of Broken Hearts - 6

Average: 6.38

Produced by Sam Totman, Herman Li, Vadim Pruzhanov.
Mixed by Karl Groom, Sam Totman, Herman Li, and Vadim Pruzhanov.
Engineered by Karl Groom and Herman Li.
Mastered by Eberhard Kohler.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

CD Review: II Lucifuge, by Danzig (1990)

If the idea of Elvis Presley saluting the devil to a heavy metal groove sounds just a bit strange, well, that's because it is.

The concept is also what makes Danzig unique, and when he mixes the right ingredients for his brand of crooning melodic evil, the results can shift from ridiculous to quite good, as they are on the first four tracks of II-Lucifuge.

Long Way Back From Hell, Snakes Of Christ, Killer Wolf and Tired Of Being Alive are a terrific, well-structured quartet that promise an epic album. Danzig infuses his booming voice with plenty of passion while guitarist John Christ provides strong of support. Chuck Biscuits (a front-runner for the award of best-ever name in metal) on drums and Eerie Von on bass lay down a powerful and dark foundation, suitable for the unapologetic devil glorification.

But unfortunately the ideas quickly run dry and the execution becomes repetitive. The rest of the CD, while never poor, gets bogged down in generally slow to mid-tempo droning.

Rick Rubin produced II-Lucifuge and he achieved the right sound combination of sparkly darkness. And don't miss other clever touches to scare away the parents, like the CD booklet unfolding in the shape of an upside down cross. But ultimately, there is only so much to say about the devil, and it ain't enough to fill an entire CD.


Glenn Danzig - Vocals
Eerie Von - Bass
John Christ - Guitars
Chuck Biscuits - Drums

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Long Way Back From Hell - 9
2. Snakes Of Christ - 9
3. Killer Wolf - 8
4. Tired Of Being Alive - 9
5. I'm The One - 7
6. Her Black Wings - 8
7. Devil's Plaything - 7
8. 777 - 7
9. Blood And Tears - 7
10. Girl - 7
11. Pain In The World - 7

Average: 7.73

Produced by Rick Rubin.
Engineered by Brendan O'Brien and Jim Scott.
Mixed by Martin Schmelze. Mastered by George Marino.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

CD Review: Space In Your Face, by Galactic Cowboys (1993)

If The Beatles had ever dabbled in heavy metal, they would have likely sounded like Galactic Cowboys.

Space In Your Face is filled with a unique, harmony-heavy sound, featuring crunchy riffs, chuggy structures and no small amount of self-depreciating humor.

Where Are You Now? must be once of the funniest metal songs on any CD, with a swirling, catchy, dreamy but heavy melody climaxing with phone conversation snippets that capture metal's rejection. It really needs to be heard to be believed.

The two opening tracks, Space In Your Face and You Make Me Smile mix manic energy and massive power with tight structures and accurate delivery to great effect. The rest of the album features both solid hits and near misses, but the tracks are never less than interesting.

On Space In Your Face, Galactic Cowboys are certainly out in their own little quirky corner of metal, having loads of fun.


Monty Colvin - Bass, Vocals
Alan Doss - Drums, Vocals
Ben Huggins - Vocals, Guitars
Dane Sonnier - Guitars, Vocals

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Space In Your Face - 10
2. You Make Me Smile - 10 *see below*
3. I Do What I Do - 8
4. Circles In The Fields - 6
5. If I Were A Killer - 6
6. Blind - 8
7. No Problems - 8
8. About Mrs. Leslie - 7
9. Where Are You Now? - 10

Average: 8.11

Produced and Recorded by Sam Taylor.
Mixed by Andy Wallace.
Engineered by Brian Garcia.
Mastered by Howie Weinberg.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

CD Review: IV, by Godsmack (2006)

There is nothing terrible on Godsmack's IV. There is nothing terribly impressive about it, either.

A prime example of no-risk, no-reward, the eleven tracks are all aiming squarely for Nickelback's radio-friendly territory. This means that Sully Erna belts out the vocals with big but false emotion, Tom Rombola's guitar is shackled, and the bass and drums may as well be programmed by a church computer.

We get plenty of cookie-cutter, ultra-predictable song structures, and no sign of either perspiration or inspiration. It's corporate-packaged rock at its most sterile.

No Rest For The Wicked just barely stands out from among the blandness by displaying some energy and heart, but otherwise, above-average-but-boring is the best that can be said.


Sully Erna - Vocals
Robbie Merrill - Bass
Tony Rombola - Guitars
Shannon Larkin - Drums

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Livin In Sin - 7
2. Speak - 7
3. The Enemy - 7
4. Shine Down - 7
5. Hollow - 7
6. No Rest For The Wicked - 8
7. Bleeding Me - 7
8. Voodoo Too - 7
9. Temptation - 7
10. Mama - 7
11. One Rainy Day - 7

Average: 7.09

Produced by Sully Erna.
Mixed by Andy Johns and Sully Erna.
Engineered by Andy Johns.
Mastered by Dave Schultz.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Monday, 6 September 2010

CD Review: Tattooed Millionaire, by Bruce Dickinson (1990)

Bruce Dickinson sets off on a solo career while still a member of the Iron Maiden juggernaut, and for his first effort emerges with a limp and forgettable album.

Tattooed Millionaire is filled with repetitive, unimaginative, uninspired, and derivative tunes. Some passages evoke faint echoes of Maiden's sound, or what Maiden would sound like if stripped of dual lead guitars, solos, complexity, and any inspiration.

Dickinson does his best to belt out the vocals with passion, and the supporting band, including future Maiden man Janick Gers, is not without talent.

The fatal weak link is the songwriting. Most of the tracks are written or co-written by Dickinson, and he mostly regurgitates simplistic metal-lite anthems that soon suck the energy out of the album. This collection would never have seen the light of day had Dickinson not had the Maiden association.

The 2002 CD release includes five bonus tracks that are very much more of the same, but at least a cover of AC/DC's Sin City emerges as the best song in a very average set.

It wasn't Dickinson's intention, but Tattooed Millionaire made Iron Maiden circa 1990 sound rather good -- no easy task.


Bruce Dickinson - Vocals

Janick Gers - Guitar
Andy Carr - Bass
Fabio Del Rio - Drums

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Son Of A Gun - 7
2. Tattooed Millionaire - 6
3. Born In '58 - 6
4. Hell On Wheels - 7
5. Gypsy Road - 7
6. Dive! Dive! Dive! - 7
7. All The Young Dudes - 7
8. Lickin' The Gun - 6
9. Zulu Lulu - 5
10. No Lies - 7

Bonus Tracks:

11. Spirit Of Joy - 7
12. Darkness Be My Friend - 6
13. Sin City - 8
14. Winds Of Change - 6
15. Riding With The Angels (Live) - 7

Average: 6.60

Produced by Chris Tsangarides.
Mixed by Nigel Green.
Mastered by Dave Donnelly.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Movie Review: Penny Gold (1973)

A British detective drama with a most awkward romance, Penny Gold manages to be clunky and clumsy in equal measures.

In a plot that gets progressively worse the closer it is examined, free-spirited model Diane (Francesca Annis) is bludgeoned to death. The investigation by detective Matthews (James Booth) leads him to Diane's twin sister Delphi (Annis again), a stamp collector seeking a most rare penny stamp. Matthews gets himself romantically entangled with Delphi and wades into the peculiar stamp collecting world to uncover the motive for the killing and the identity of the murderer.

James Booth and Francesca Annis both hovered on the extreme fringes of movie stardom, without ever stepping into the limelight. Booth stumbles through Penny Gold as a stiff and unconvincing detective, jumping to major conclusions on the flimsiest of evidence, while quickly and unprofessionally drooling over Delphi. Annis gets to play two roles, and displays little emotion or range as either Delphi or Diane. The supporting actors read their lines off the nearest wall with solemn seriousness.

Jack Cardiff is much better known as a cinematographer, and his unimaginative work as a director here is a long way away from his contributions to classics such as The African Queen (1951).

Penny Gold captures some atmosphere from England of the early 1970's, but is otherwise only enjoyable for the general sense of low-budget incompetence.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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