Thursday, 31 March 2011

CD Review: Slaughter Of The Soul, by At The Gates (1995)

It may not have been apparent at the time, but Slaughter Of The Soul quite possibly pin-points the exact moment when heavy metal was re-born.

Five guys from Sweden toiling away in an obscure band released their fourth studio album, believing that they were pushing the boundaries of thrash, long after most of the creators of the genre had abandoned it. Instead, what At The Gates unknowingly did on Slaughter Of The Soul was invent melodic death metal, and produce one of the best heavy metal albums of all time.

The opening triple salvo of Blinded By Fear, Slaughter Of The Soul and Cold play like one epic 9 minute track, At The Gates at once inventing and mastering melodic death metal. Blinded By Fear sets the stage with a simple but intimidating melody riding a hectic beat while Tomas Lindberg explodes on vocals. Slaughter Of The Soul immediately ups the danger with an in-you-face riff that refuses to yield, burrowing deep into the brain and finding instant metal immortality. Cold is the finale of the trio, picking up almost the exact same theme from Slaughter Of The Soul, polishing it up, and incredibly injecting it with even more power and adding a dazzling interlude of guitar artistry.

The rest of the album continues in the same style, reaching another peak when Unto Others lets loose with a barely contained staccato riff intent on blasting away at any and all targets.

Slaughter Of The Soul relies little on guitar solos. The stand-out sound is an incredible, monstrous guitar tone, often in staccato, unleashed by Anders Bjorler and Martin Larsson. It is impossible to listen to the album and not be certain that something is indeed at the gates, and whatever it is, it does not have a single good intention in its soul. The band create an unrelenting sense of impending catastrophic doom, and sustains it for 35 searing minutes. Slaughter Of The Soul has 11 tracks, but none are longer than four minutes, and the album effortlessly holds together as a cohesive, continuous menacing theme.

The tempo is medium-high, with some remarkably controlled changes in pace, and the engine is built on a solid foundation of melodies married to an outrageous amount of outright power. At around the 2:30 mark, the otherwise unremarkable World Of Lies surrenders to a thunderous assault of guitar riffage that shakes several time zones simultaneously. At high volumes, the rich depth of sound on Slaughter Of The Soul will cause walls to sway and deform, and the quality of music is such that crumbling infrastructure is a small price to pay.

At The Gates split-up shortly after the release of Slaughter Of The Soul, and despite several reunions for live performances, the band members have vowed not to record another album. Slaughter Of The Soul starts and ends with unconfined distortion; the album exists on a mysterious channel amid the white noise, difficult to find and impossible to duplicate.


Tomas Lindberg - Vocals
Anders Bjorler - Lead Guitar
Martin Larsson - Rhythm Guitar
Jonas Bjorler - Bass
Adrian Erlandsson - Drums

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Blinded By Fear - 10
2. Slaughter Of The Soul - 10 *see below*
3. Cold - 10
4. Under A Serpent Sky - 8
5. Into The Dead Sky - 7
6. Suicide Nation - 8
7. World Of Lies - 9
8. Unto Others - 10
9. Nausea - 7
10. Need - 8
11. The Flames Of The End - 8

Average: 8.64

Mastered by Noel Summerville.
Produced by Fredrik Nordstrom.

Note: The 2005 CD / DVD re-release includes 6 bonus tracks, consisting of unreleased tracks, demos and covers.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Movie Review: High Plains Drifter (1973)

A mystical western aching to create a Sergio Leone vibe, High Plains Drifter is successful but only in patches.

A Stranger (Clint Eastwood) rides into the isolated mining town of Lago, and before long he shoots dead three abrasive gunmen and rapes the local whore, catching the attention of the town leaders. It turns out that Lago is a town on edge, anticipating the return of Stacy Bridges and the Carlin brothers, who are about to be released from prison. Bridges and the Carlins are expected to seek revenge on Lago for letting them rot in jail after they had done the town's dirty work by whipping to death Marshal Jim Duncan. Lago's businessmen and politicians wanted Duncan dead after he discovered that the town's mine actually sits on federal land.

Desperate for protection, Lago's leaders plead with the Stranger to protect them from the returning killers. He agrees after they offer him anything that he wants in return. The Stranger proceeds to insult, demean and humiliate everyone in the town, culminating in painting every building in Lago blood red and re-naming the place Hell. He easily dispatches Bridges and the Carlins when they finally arrive, and rides off as mysteriously as he arrived, leaving the town behind him in tatters. The more perceptive residents finally realize that the Stranger was the vengeful spirit of Jim Duncan.

High Plains Drifter is Eastwood's second movie as director and his first western. The Leone influences are most obvious in the long sequences without dialogue, The Strangers' extremely limited aptitude for talking and love for cigarillos, the levels of violence, and in portraying the main character as barely more tolerable than the evil-doers. The early rape scene is a departure from what is expected in most westerns, Spaghetti or otherwise, but establishes the lack of pure characters anywhere in Eastwood's canvass.

High Plains Drifter suffers from a weak supporting cast, the likes of Verna Bloom, Marianna Hill and the dwarf Billy Curtis not adding much depth to the town's characters. The music score by Dee Barton is unmemorable and adds little to the experience.

Much like The Stranger, High Plains Drifter rides in, makes some noise and leaves some memories, but then rides out again, and there is no clamouring for any kind of return performance.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Movie Review: Julie and Julia (2009)

Two sweet stories that struggle to engage are thrown together in a lightweight souffle, inoffensive to the taste but rather quickly forgotten.

Julie and Julia intercuts the stories of Julie Powell (Amy Adams) and Julia Child (Meryl Street), both based on true events. In the late 1940s, Julia Child arrives in Paris with her diplomat husband (Stanley Tucci). She is quickly enamored with French cuisine and takes lessons at a prestigious cooking school. Eventually she befriends two French women who are also fans of cooking, and after years of effort, they publish Mastering The Art Of French Cooking. The book becomes a bestseller and establishes Child as the guardian cooking godmother of American housewives.

In 2002, Julie Powell moves to Queens, New York with her husband (Chris Messina). Julie is turning 30 and a once-promising career as a writer appears to be passing her by. To break out of a psychological funk, she starts a blog and commits to cooking her way through Child's entire book within 365 days. She establishes a mythical connection with Child, and her blog chronicling her cooking experiences gains a wide following. Powell gets through her year of cooking, and writes a successful book about the experience.

Julie and Julia is shallow as the white of a single egg spread out in the frying pan. The script, by director Nora Ephron, tries desperately to inject some drama into the proceedings, so the squabbles of Julie with her husband, the pressure of Julia's husband changing jobs, an overcooked meal, and a missed dinner appointment become large storms in a small teacup.

The film is saved by the two central performances, Streep holding nothing back in portraying Julia Child as a larger than life and never deflated character, while Adams has the more difficult task of creating a likable character out of the modern-day Julie, who essentially does very little other than cook for the entire movie. Both actresses are eminently watchable, and they almost succeed in covering up the almost complete lack of substance elsewhere in the movie.

Julie and Julia is a modest appetizer at a restaurant that serves no other course.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Movie Review: Braveheart (1995)

An epic of medieval brutality, political intrigue, passionate love, and the high price of freedom, in Braveheart director and star Mel Gibson floods the screen with unbridled nationalism, thousands of extras, gallons of gore, and numerous chopped-off limbs to tell the tale of Scottish rebellion against the evil English.

Late in the 13th century, a power vacuum takes hold in Scotland. Rather than leading their country, squabbling local noblemen are more interested in currying favour with England's King Edward (Patrick McGoohan). Nicknamed Longshanks, Edward takes full advantage to increase his influence by appointing English Lords over Scottish territory, and gives them the legal right to insult and demean the locals by sleeping with newlywed Scottish brides on their wedding night.

As a young Scottish farm boy, William Wallace (Gibson) witnessed the brutality of the English in his homeland, and lost his father and older brother in skirmishes against the English army. Wallace is raised and well educated by his Uncle, and he grows into a man seeking a peaceful existence as a farmer. But when his wife (Catherine McCormack) is assaulted and killed by English soldiers, he seeks a revenge that starts out as a personal matter but quickly escalates in to a national rebellion. A brutal savage on the battlefield as well as a master battle tactician, Wallace rallies the nation to fight against the English oppressors, and with the help of childhood friend Hamish (Brendan Gleeson) and other loyal followers, inspires some impressive and gory battlefield victories.

Wallace's army invades northern England and brazenly sacks the English garrison in York, finally getting the attention of Longshanks. He also gets the attention of Princess Isabelle (Sophie Marceau), the thoughtful French daughter of Longshanks' weakling of a son. Longshanks wants Wallace dead; Isabelle wants him in her bed.

Despite his impressive victories, Wallace never gains the support of Scotland's nobility, who see his rebellion as a threat to their long-term interests. Wallace repeatedly attempts to recruit the influential Robert, Earl of Bruce (Angus Macfadyen) to his cause, but his efforts are in vain: Robert's ailing father (Ian Brennan) is plotting to have his son appointed as King of Scotland, and this means that Wallace needs to be neutralized. Too many interests eventually line up against Wallace, and his campaign comes to a painful end, but not before inspiring a national awakening.

Clocking in at almost exactly three hours, Braveheart is an impressive spectacle. The events portrayed are almost wholly historically inaccurate, but this matters little: Braveheart is a historically-inspired work of fiction, and as such, succeeds in shining the spotlight on a rarely explored period in Britain's long-ago past.

Gibson neatly divides the film into three parts, with the first hour setting the context, the middle portion chronicling Wallace's battlefield exploits, and the final part dealing with the personal and political fallout. The early scenes are slow, but once Braveheart hits its stride, it rarely pauses to take a breath, and the end result makes for compelling viewing.

Gibson creates medieval Britain in all its grime, depression, poverty, brutality and overwhelming sense of despair. The leaders of society are portrayed as power-hungry, self-serving, corrupt, and depraved while their people suffer. The barbarous battle scenes, featuring thousands of extras charging at each other, raise the bar for camerawork in the midst of chaos, with the blood from the frequently hacked limbs and impaled torsos literally spraying onto the lens.

The film's central message of freedom at all costs is of course simplistically hokey, and Gibson does cruise through some scenes relying on boyish charm and a mischievous glint in his eye. But with James Horner providing a suitably evocative soundtrack, Braveheart achieves its purpose of delivering a rousing epic, old-fashioned in its grandness of scale but modern in its lack of flinching from the savagery of war.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

CD Review: A Virgin And A Whore, by Eternal Tears Of Sorrow (2001)

The fourth album from Finland's Eternal Tears Of Sorrow is packed full of high quality melodic metal. A Virgin And A Whore is actually a sparkling princess.

More than half the members of Eternal Tears Of Sorrow featured on A Virgin And A Whore have career connections to Kalmah: guitarist Antti Kokko, drummer Petri Sankala and keyboardist Pasi Hiltula. There are strong stylistic similarities between the bands: the strong emphasis on melodies, sharp compositions and accurate delivery are common. Eternal Tears Of Sorrow are more lyrical, slightly slower paced, and allow the keyboards to take on more responsibility.

A Virgin And a Whore is a rare non-instrumental heavy metal album where the keyboards claim as much prominence as the guitar in leading the charge, and this unconventional approach perfectly suits the band's style. The rest of the instruments, as well as Altti Vetelainen's slightly nasally growl vocals, are tuned back just slightly in the mix, allowing Hiltula's keyboards to shine.

Aurora Borealis and The Last One For Life are two similarly terrific tracks, and represent Eternal Tears Of Sorrow at their best. Haunting little keyboard melodies underpin both songs, with strong and clever support from the guitars of Puolakanaho and Kokko, often providing just the right embellishment. Aurora Borealis is a good fit for Vetelainen's voice, while The Last One For Life features a successful mix of clean and growl vocals. Album closer Aeon is in the same mould, but suffers slightly from over-repetitiveness.

Heart Of Wilderness and Prophetian are also excellent and add to the depth of quality on the album, the former probably sounding most Kalmah-like with the guitars coming to the fore. The cover of Accept's Sick, Dirty and Mean is interesting but somewhat of a mismatch with the band's smooth vibe.

Eternal Tears Of Sorrow never achieved the fame of other Finnish metal bands, but on the evidence of this album, they deserved to reach a significantly wider audience.


Jarmo Puolakanaho - Guitar
Petri Sankala - Drums
Altti Vetelainen - Vocals, Bass
Pasi Hiltula - Keyboards
Antti Kokko - Guitar

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Aurora Borealis - 10 *see below*
2. Heart Of Wilderness - 8
3. Prophetian - 8
4. Fall Of Man - 8
5. The River Flows Frozen - 7
6. The Last One For Life - 10
7. Sick, Dirty And Mean - 7
8. Blood Of Hatred - 7
9. Aeon - 9

Average: 8.22

Produced by Eternal Tears Of Sorrow.
Engineered by Ahti Kortelainen and Mikko Karmila.
Mixed by Mikko Karmila. Mastered by Mika Jussila.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Movie Review: Risky Business (1983)

Edgy, sleek and sexy, Risky Business ventured into rarely-explored territory and made Tom Cruise a star.

Teen-oriented comedies are supposed to follow a template of harmless if raunchy fun. Risky Business dares to go into much darker corners, with blatant profanity, steamy sex, prostitutes that are too attractive and even more likeable, dangerous pimps, and an ad-hoc brothel business designed to corrupt rich teenagers and separate them from their parents' money.

Add a Porsche that ends up in Lake Michigan, Tom Cruise dancing in his underwear, and Rebecca De Mornay as every teenagers' fantasy woman come true, and Risky Business threatens to sizzle right off the screen.

Joel Goodson (Cruise) is, naturally, a good son, a predictable, trusted teenager in suburban Illinois, hoping to get into Princeton upon graduation from high school. His parents go on vacation and leave him in charge of the large family house. Goaded by his friend Miles to take a more WTF (literally, the film is the spiritual godfather of the phrase) attitude to life, Joel is soon calling up prostitutes who do house calls. The first call girl to arrive is a guy; the second is Lana (De Mornay), and Joel soon owes her a lot of money. Lana takes off with a precious glass egg that is the pride of Joel's mom.

It's not long before Joel is tangling with Lana's pimp; and shortly thereafter Lana and her friends are setting up a thriving business in Joel's house. Meanwhile, Joel is getting himself into bigger trouble by dunking his dad's Porsche into the murky lake waters, sinking him deeper in debt. And he still needs to find a way to make a good impression on the Princeton recruiter coming to interview him.

The mess is both the end of Joel's old life and the beginning of his adulthood, and Risky Business works as parable for what it means to be a stereotypical adult male: simultaneously juggling trouble with women, trouble with cars, and trouble with money.

Paul Brickman directed his own script, and played up all his aces. Cruise is placed in the middle of the movie and allowed to transform on-camera from the hesitant teenager to the sharp business man, a perfect mirror for his life. De Mornay is a woman that can lead any teenager towards delightful moral ruin. And Brickman bathes the movie in an attractive outdoor darkness that promotes edgy but promising mystery.

Risky Business was a daring movie, but the handsome outcome meant that the risk paid off for audiences in terms of entertainment and for Cruise in terms of superstardom.

All Ace Black Movie Reviews are here.


Thursday, 24 March 2011

Movie Review: Three Kings (1999)

Faced with the choice to get rich or do the right thing, it takes strength and genuine courage to sacrifice wealth and help others. Three Kings presents this choice, with strong geopolitical consequences, in a fictional story inspired by the war to liberate Kuwait in the early 1990s.

The 1991 war to kick the Iraqi army out of Kuwait has started and ended with lighting speed: most of the American soldiers stationed in the desert saw little action. Restless and looking for adventure, Gates (George Clooney), Barlow (Mark Wahlberg), Elgin (Ice Cube) and Vig (Spike Jonze) stumble on a map revealing the location of hidden gold bullion that the Iraqi Army stole from Kuwait.

Setting out on their own, the four soldiers plot a quick smash and grab operation to locate, seize and keep the gold for themselves. Nothing goes as planned and they are soon embroiled in the middle of the Iraqi civil war that broke out in the shadow of the US military action: rebel forces are trying to oust the government of Saddam Hussein; the revolutionary guards are brutally suppressing the uprising; and the gold-seeking American soldiers are caught in the middle, AWOL with no back-up and no orders to interfere in the unfolding drama.

Barlow is taken prisoner, Gates connects with the rebels, and soon what was a treasure hunt turns into an international incident, with three surviving American soldiers choosing a side in the internal Iraqi conflict, against the orders of their government and commanders.

Hollywood re-imaginings of wars to correct the wrongs of history are common, and here director David O. Russell, filming his own script, goes back to the first war with Iraq to correct the travesty of the United States encouraging the overthrow of Hussein after the liberation of Kuwait, and then leaving the rebels to get slaughtered by the helicopters of the brutal regime. In Three Kings, Gates and his three co-conspirators refuse to abandon the rebels and their families, and pay a high price in lives and treasure lost in order to uphold the principle of loyalty.

Three Kings is also a strong anti-war statement, with Russell humanizing Iraqi rank-and-file soldiers, demonstrating their suffering and family losses as victims of American aerial bombing.

In story, style and comic elements, Three Kings borrows heavily from Clint Eastwood's Kelly's Heroes (1970), the fictional World War Two adventure also about a small group of soldiers attempting to steal gold and triggering much bigger events. Russell directs with an entertaining irreverence that captures the absurdity of war, and allows stars Clooney and Wahlberg to shine brighter than the stark desert sun.

Three Kings delivers its message with an eccentric and sometimes uneven combination of bluntness and humour: even the greediest and most jaded soldiers can see their way to doing the right thing. Perhaps it takes being there, near the battle, to distinguish right from wrong, and that's why the political puppet masters invariably get it wrong.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

CD Review: End Of The Weakness, by Archeon (2005)

The classical-inspired melodies are sharp, the solos are crisp, the energy level is high and unflagging, the song lengths are short and to the point, the metal ethic is unmistakable, and the album duration at nine selections is admirably restrained.

In short, Poland's Archeon, who changed their name in 2007 to Made Of Hate, do an amazing number of things right on their debut album. In many ways reminiscent of Kalmah's debut Swamplord, End Of The Weakness displays remarkable talent unhindered by world weariness or the need to deliver on promises.

Archeon simply plow forward with the sole purpose of melding heavy metal to its classical roots, manic staccato riffs introducing admirable solo passages, and emerge with a memorable death metal album deserving of much more recognition than it ever received. The band's limited exposure is a prime example of the obstacles faced by bands from non-traditional metal markets.

Opener Arising sets the tone with an uncompromising double bass drum flattening any question marks about intent, but quickly giving way to clever guitar work played accurately at roadrunner speeds. Dead World is the other standout track, the Kalmah comparisons becoming more apparent with Michal Kostrzynski's lead guitar evoking Antti Kokko as he leads the rest of the band on an intensely merry melody.

End Of The Weakness has no fillers, with the rest of the tracks ranging from good to excellent. Classical music influences are never far from Archeon's music, and the album ends with an unfortunately short but cleverly metallic version of a Brahms Hungarian Dance.

If End Of The Weakness has a weakness, it is the understandably limited sophistication in each individual composition. Each track offers a very well-defined set of ideas, and the band rarely ventures into significantly varied passages. Given the choice between simple brilliance and the risk of tripping on over-elaboration, Archeon made the right choice.


Michal Kostrzynski - Lead Guitar, Vocals
Tomasz Grochowski - Drums
Radek Polrolniczak - Rhythm Guitar
Grzegorz Jezierski - Bass
Janek Lesniak - Keyboards

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Arising - 10 *see below*
2. Day Of The Doom - 8
3. Dead World - 9
4. Queen Of The Night - 8
5. Struggle With Death - 7
6. Lost Fool - 8
7. Ruins Of Life - 8
8. Prayer - 7
9. Hungarian Dance - 8

Average: 8.11

Produced by Archeon and Studio X.
Recorded by Szymon Czech and Marcin Kielbaszewski
Mixed by Szymon Czech.  Mastered by Jarek Smak.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Movie Review: The Lover (1992)

Based on the memoirs of author Marguerite Duras, The Lover chronicles an illicit affair between a teenaged French schoolgirl and a wealthy older Chinese man in 1920s Vietnam. The film is lyrical and alluring, but emotionally rather limited.

The characters do not have names. The Young Girl (Jane March) is from a poor family, her father dead, her mother struggling to run a school in rural Vietnam, her older brother abusive and drug-addicted, and her younger brother weak and submissive. On one of her trips to Saigon to attend boarding school, the Young Girl meets The Chinese Man (Tony Leung), a rich son of a business tycoon. He gives her a ride in his chauffeur-driven luxury car, she lies about her age, and soon they are having an affair. They meet regularly in his bachelor's apartment in a poor part of Saigon, making love all afternoon and sometimes all night.

The affair takes over the Girl's life, disrupting her school attendance and worsening the rift with her family. Her brother and mother are horrified that the Girl is the mistress of a Chinese man, but even more annoyed that she is not getting paid for it. The Chinese Man meanwhile is heading towards an arranged marriage, and the affair comes to an end when he gets married and the Girl heads back to France.

The Lover is a simple story with a couple of points of interest. The Young Girl is from the colonialist French theoretically attempting to dominate south east Asia, yet she plays the submissive role in the relationship with the wealthy Chinese Man, himself not in his native country. The Young Girl's dysfunctional family background helps her to throw herself into the illicit relationship, since what she is getting herself into hardly jeopardizes a happy existence.

Jean-Jacques Annaud makes the most of the Vietnam locations, capturing a lush sun-drenched country, bustling streets, ferries at over-capacity, colonialist architecture, rickshaws everywhere, and extremes of wealth and poverty. His other focus is on the endless scenes of lovemaking in the bachelor's apartment, The Lover drifting into soft-core territory and courting controversy with Jane March having just turned 18 during filming, and rumours that some of the scenes were unsimulated.

March and Leung are not required to do much emotional acting, their characters stunted by the limits of a relationship that was never going to be about much of anything other than sex. The gaps in social class, age, and ethnicity only serve to ensure that the inevitable ending is hastened. The narration, by Jeanne Moreau, attempts to inject layers of affection and love into the affair, but it is difficult to believe that any depth existed outside the imagination of a young girl, alone and far away in a foreign land.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Movie Review: The Book Of Eli (2010)

A post-apocalyptic survival movie, The Book Of Eli creates and sustains a foreboding mood of hostility, as desperate survivors start the process of scratching out new ways of living on a destroyed planet.

In unexplained circumstances that appear to be the result of a nuclear holocaust, the world has been destroyed. The sun is too bright, there is a shortage of clean water, money has been replaced by bartering, and the landscape is littered with crushed infrastructure. Eli (Denzel Washington) is a well-armed survivor and combat expert, and possesses the last remaining copy of the Bible. He is determined to walk west to an undefined destination, fighting off marauders who threaten him along the way.

Eli arrives at a small settlement being run by Carnegie (Gary Oldman). Vicious enforcers and biker patrols do Carnegie's dirty work, while he keeps the blind Claudia (Jennifer Beals) and her daughter Solara (Mila Kunis) as his slaves. Carnegie is desperate to get his hands on Eli's Bible, to expand his influence. Eli is equally sure that Carnegie is not deserving of the book. Carnegie unleashes his thugs at Eli, who has to find a way to survive and continue his mysterious journey westwards.

Borrowing heavily from the stunning look of the Fallout 3 video game and reviving many elements from Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981), The Book Of Eli succeeds in portraying a post-civilized world, where the few survivors have defaulted to animalistic behaviour, and the rebooting of civilization at rudimentary settlements does not look pretty.

Washington gives Eli enough humanity to provide hope for a better future, but this optimism is countered by Oldman's portrayal of Carnegie, who leaves no doubt that humans, given the opportunity, will indeed repeat all the same major mistakes that lead to the path of utter destruction.

The Hughes brothers Albert and Allen direct with considerable panache, and as they steer The Book Of Eli towards its clever final twist, they seize opportunities for entertaining showboating, always finding the most engaging camera angles. In one sequence, Eli and Solara are inside a house besieged by Carnegie's men: the ensuing shootout features mesmerizing camerawork, a smooth ballet of captivating lens movement. There is undoubted Sergio Leone influence at play, and the soundtrack hints at it with the subtle whistling of Ennio Morricone music.

The Book Of Eli is an artistically rich imagining of a bleak future. Humans may be heading towards mutually assured destruction, but they are determined to create good entertainment along the way.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

All Metallica CD Reviews

All Ace Black Blog Reviews of Metallica CDs are linked below:

Kill'Em All (1983): 8.00*
Ride The Lightning (1984): 8.50*
Master Of Puppets (1986): 8.25*
...And Justice For All (1988): 8.89*
Metallica (1991): 7.92*
Load (1996): 7.00
Reload (1997): 7.92
St. Anger (2003): 6.73

Average (all reviewed Metallica CDs): 7.90
*Average (best 5 reviewed Metallica CDs): 8.31

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

CD Review: St. Anger, by Metallica (2003)

Lars Ulrich plays a drum set consisting of rusted and burnt barrels borrowed from inner-city Detroit gap-toothed hobos. Kirk Hammett is entirely missing in action, as Metallica attempt the first heavy metal album without a prominent lead guitar sound. James Hetfield screams inane lyrics, and repeats them ad nauseum. Producer Bob Rock plays the bass. Perhaps he should have paid more attention to the control board, since the entire album sounds like it was recorded underwater.

Some of these flabbergasting decisions must have seemed like good ideas at the time, but ultimately, St. Anger is what a band in crisis sounds like. Internal divisions and substance abuse finally took their toll, and the album was recorded under clouds of division and stress. 20 years after the debut Kill'Em All was released, and 12 years after reaching the heights of commercial music success with Metallica in 1991, St. Anger reveals Metallica as a spent force, with any attempts at experimentation and new ideas hitting an immediate solid wall of failure.

The songs are too insipid yet too long, the simplistic chords are repeated forever, and Hetfield's anguished vocals generate bemusement rather than emotion. Some Kind Of Monster is the only track that gains some traction, maintaining some semblance of power and cohesion, but it too suffers from a rapid drying out of ideas and over-simplicity. The rest of the album is best forgotten, droning on in its lost universe, Metallica occupying an unknown lonely planet that no one wanted them to travel to.


James Hetfield - Guitar, Vocals
Lars Ulrich - Drums
Kirk Hammett - Guitars
Robert Trujillo - Bass

Note: Bob Rock played the Bass during the album recording.

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Frantic - 7
2. St. Anger - 7
3. Some Kind Of Monster - 8
4. Dirty Window - 7
5. Invisible Kid - 7
6. My World - 6
7. Shoot Me Again - 7
8. Sweet Amber - 7
9. The Unnamed Feeling - 6
10. Purify - 6
11. All Within My Hands - 6

Average: 6.73

Produced by Bob Rock and Metallica.
Recorded and Mixed by Bob Rock. Mastered by Vlado Meller.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Movie Review: Shutter Island (2010)

A psychological drama set in a mental hospital on an isolated island off the coast of Boston, Shutter Island mixes a few too many ingredients. The meal is good, but spices compete for attention before the emergence of a dominant flavour.

It's 1954, and US Marshals Edward Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) travel to an island prison facility for severely disturbed mental patients to search for an escaped convict: Rachel Solando is convicted of drowning her three children, and was living in an alternate reality until she vanished. The prison is run by Dr. John Cawley (Ben Kingsley), who is experimenting with new treatment techniques and drugs that are more respectful than the brutal, traditional methods of dealing with mental patients.

Edward and Chuck get the uneasy sense that Dr. Cawley and his team are being less than straightforward with their investigation of Solando's disappearance. Edward starts to experience headaches, and his health is not helped by flashbacks to his war experiences and the agony of his wife's death in a car crash. As a violent storm isolates the island, Edward has to try and separate truth from fiction in a dangerous environment where little is as it seems.

Shutter Island is one of director Martin Scorsese's less focused efforts, but still provides several moments of compelling drama. Especially in its first half, Shutter Island bounces around several themes. It spends time as a criminal drama: Edward and Chuck looking for an escaped convict.  tries it's hand at probing controversial science: is Dr. Cawley doing more good or more harm with his unconventional methods. It takes a turn into Edward's head, as his past World War Two experiences and personal family tragedy intrude on his focus. Undertones of escaped Nazi scientists continuing their evil deeds on US soil are introduced. And horror elements creep in, as Edward explores the island cemetery and the mysterious wing where the most violent mental patients are locked-up, and ghoulish characters jump out of the shadows.

Despite the meandering, Shutter Island maintains the attention thanks to DiCaprio's intense, tortured magnetism and Scorsese succeeding in creating a canvass of ominous doom on the storm-battered island. After the movie's central twist becomes evident at the start of the second half, Shutter Island settles down to a more straightforward psychological drama, with the focus shifting to Edward's struggle against a wide range of demons from his past and present.

It does not quite hit its intended targets, but Shutter Island is a worthwhile destination.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

CD Review: The X Factor, by Iron Maiden (1995)

Blaze Bayley accepted one of the all-time the most thankless jobs in heavy metal: replacing Bruce Dickinson as vocalist of Iron Maiden. Dickinson had defined the sound of metal for more than decade; Bayley had very large shoes to fill.

It would have taken a very special talent to succeed, and Bayley was game to try but unfortunately not up to the task. On The X Factor, his first Maiden album, he never sounds comfortable. On his lower register he gets swallowed up by the music. On the high notes he sounds strained. He simply cannot maintain a hold on long high notes, resulting in some tortuous moments.

Steve Harris, who wrote or co-wrote all the songs, must have known what he was dealing with. The band gets around the handicap on vocals by ensuring that every song has long, soaring instrumental sections in which guitarists Janick Gers and Dave Murray, with energetic support from Nicko McBrain's drum set, take centre stage for prolonged periods. And this is the paradox of The X Factor: yes, the vocals are poor, but a lot of the music is terrific, easily the band's most creative work since Powerslave in 1984.

The tracks on The X Factor are long, rich and feature slow, thoughtful build-ups, extensive, expressive and unrepressed melodic sections with expansive guitar work, and complex, maze-like structures. This would become Maiden's standard template, and it is born here, resulting in an impressive album filled with quality music. The effortless terrific music of the youthful band from the earliest albums is long gone: The X Factor is when Maiden started working hard to create mature solid metal, perhaps not as accessible as the earlier material but certainly engaging.

Opener Sign Of The Cross, at over 11 minutes, is an epic composition, with a slow, doomsday intro that lasts for more than two minutes, followed by a grand melody energized by some of McBrain's best ever work on the drums. When Gers and Murray finally take over for the hauntingly restrained guitar work, the countryside has been reduced to blackened ashes with just dark shadows scurrying in the distance.

Fortunes Of War is the other great track on the album, and it follows the same general formula. The guitar solo work by Gers is colossal, dominant without being showy. Most of the other tracks on The X Factor have a lot to offer without necessarily being classics.

The X Factor is a transitional album in many respects, Maiden demonstrating a resiliency to evolve and adapt, an attribute that would contribute to their re-birth when metal was rediscovered half a decade later.


Steve Harris - Bass
Blaze Bayley - Vocals
Dave Murray - Guitar
Janick Gers - Guitar
Nicko McBrain - Drums

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Sign Of The Cross - 10
2. Lord Of The Flies - 6
3. Man On The Edge - 7
4. Fortunes Of War - 9
5. Look For The Truth - 7
6. The Aftermath - 8
7. Judgement Of Heaven - 8
8. Blood On The World's Hands - 7
9. The Edge Of Darkness - 8
10. 2 A.M. - 8
11. The Unbeliever - 7

Average: 7.73

Produced and Mixed by Steve Harris and Nigel Green.
Engineered by Nigel Green.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Movie Review: The Mask (1994)

The perfect star vehicle for Jim Carrey, The Mask is a hyperactive, hysterically funny movie, joyously traveling at breakneck speed around blind corners.

Bland and lonely banker Stanley Ipkiss (Carrey) is drifting through a boring life, with his dog Milo as his only friend, when he finds a mystical, ancient mask. When he puts it on, Ipkiss is transformed into The Mask, a green-headed, ultra-confident, cool, heroic and suave character capable of amazing death-and-gravity defying tricks usually reserved for cartoon characters.

The bank that Ipkiss works for is targeted for a robbery by the gang of Dorian Tyrell, including his dame Tina Carlyle (Cameron Diaz). Ipkiss is attracted to Tina as she pretends to be a bank customer, but as The Mask he is soon causing havoc with the robbery plans, attracting the attentions of the police, and invading the nightclub operated by Tyrell for a final showdown. As events spiral ever out of control, both Tyrell and, hilariously, Milo, get turns to experience the powers of putting on the mask before sanity is somewhat restored.

Good as it is in a madcap way, the plot really doesn't matter one bit. The Mask is all about giving Jim Carrey the best possible role to showcase his manic talent, and showcase he does. The scenes with Carrey as The Mask are an out of control riot, with what is essentially a cartoon character invading the screen with unbridled energy and operating at ten times the intensity of everyone else. The laughs and jokes are never ending and often hit the mark, Carrey's delivery is over-the-top brilliant, and his athleticism and physical talent immense.

Former model Cameron Diaz gets a most memorable big screen debut, and more specifically a spectacularly memorable first scene as she enters the target bank with no intentions except to distract by sucking all attention and eyeballs towards her considerable charms. Total distraction is achieved with unqualified success. Among the major characters, Tina is the only one not to get to wear the mask, but that is because her character is already outlandishly sexy in appearance and behaviour, a real-life Jessica Rabbit.

Chuck Russell, directing his first film since the humdrum The Blob in 1988, creates the perfect canvass for the antics of The Mask. The movie is all about vivid colours, song-and-dance numbers exploding out of nothing, vibrantly decorated sets, and flashy costumes, all just to match the kinetic energy that Carrey brings to the role.

The Mask is creative, inspired entertainment, capturing a comic star at his peak performing in the perfect movie to suit his unique talents.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Monday, 14 March 2011

CD Review: Reload, by Metallica (1997)

One year after loading a blank, Metallica reload and return with a much better effort. Rediscovering no small amount of energy and muscle, the material on Reload arrives with a noticeably upgraded sense of purpose.

There are still mis-guided attempts at experimentation that stray into the territory of lost souls, including Where The Wild Things Are and Low Man's Lyric. But in large part, Reload contains Metallica's best post-thrash collection, and four of the 13 tracks are no less than outstanding.

Three of these classics are stacked into the first four songs on the album. Opening proceedings is Fuel, packing more danger and combustible aggression into one song that the entire embarrassing content of Load. The Memory Remains follows quickly, and in no time flat establishes itself as one of Metallica' most unique and creative tracks. Finding remarkable power in a slow-paced story of burnt-out glory, spiced with Marianne Faithfull's haunting guest vocals, The Memory Remains is a timely reminder not to underestimate Metallica's residual talent. This is further emphasized by The Unforgiven II, taking the original from Metallica and perfecting it with more elaborate instrumentation and more forceful delivery.  

Deep into the album Prince Charming arrives with a seductive, high-powered and unrelenting riff, Hetfield dripping menace on vocals while Hammett lets loose on the guitar. Carpe Diem Baby at over 6 minutes and closing track Fixxxer, at over 8 minutes, exude a similar languid but burly and robust vibe, Jason Newsted's bass finally receiving some time in the spotlight as the band sustains a satisfying if uncomplicated intensity for long durations on both tracks.

A shorter CD could have shaved off some of the lesser tracks with no loss in quality, but at least on Reload the less inspired songs are generally good. Not exactly a return to full-fledged glory, Reload is nevertheless a decent and welcome comeback effort.


James Hetfield - Guitars, Vocals
Lars Ulrich - Drums
Kirk Hammett - Guitars
Jason Newsted - Bass

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Fuel - 10
2. The Memory Remains - 10
3. Devil's Dance - 7
4. The Unforgiven II - 10
5. Better Than You - 7
6. Slither - 7
7. Carpe Diem Baby - 8
8. Bad Seed - 7
9. Where The Wild Things Are - 6
10. Prince Charming - 10
11. Low Man's Lyric - 6
12. Attitude - 7
13. Fixxxer - 8

Average: 7.92

Produced by Bob Rock with James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich.
Recorded by Randy Staub. Mixed by Randy Staub and Mike Fraser.
Mastered by George Marino.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Movie Review: White Palace (1990)

Two souls with nothing in common except the deep lingering sorrow from the devastating loss of a loved one develop an unlikely relationship.

Max (James Spader), a twentysomething marketing manager in St. Louis, is still coming to terms with the loss of his wife in a car accident. Withdrawing from the lives of his friends, he leads a lonely, somber existence, until he meets Nora (Susan Sarandon), a fortysomething working class cashier at a greasy fast food restaurant. Nora, in addition to being a fan of Marilyn Monroe, is also suffering from the loss of her 14 year old son.

Nora smokes a lot, drinks a lot and has a messy house. Max is a neatness freak and lives in a spotless apartment. But the sex is terrific, and soon Max and Nora are spending a lot of time together. She doubts that he will ever fully let her into his middle-class life, and he doubts that he has any sort of a life to let her into. While the age gap is wide, the class divide is sharper, and both Max and Nora will need to confront their own lives to give their relationship any kind of hope.

A two-person character study, White Palace works thanks to Sarandon. Playing a subtle variation on the character that would make her a legend in 1991's Thelma and Louise, Sarandon is magnetic as Nora, hiding her loss and disappointment behind obvious brassiness. Spader suffers in comparison, his lack of emotion and nuance attempting to pass as a trait of a young, naive and hurting character, but is much more likely due to limited acting ability.

A colourful secondary cast is somewhat underused, as director Luis Mandoki keeps the focus tight on Max and Nora. Kathy Bates is Max's Mom, and we mostly just hear her voice on his answering machine. Eileen Brennan is Nora's clairvoyant sister, and basically gets two scenes. Jason Alexander, before becoming famous as George in television's Seinfeld, is the most prominent of Max's friends.

St. Louis is a refreshing change from typical movie locations, and Mandoki resists the urge to overplay the city's tourist destinations.

White Palace does not overreach, and delivers on its premise: sometimes the challenges in a relationship are not the obvious and visible disparities, but the hidden and unspoken truths.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Movie Review: The Maiden Heist (2009)

Three security guards at a New York City art gallery are infatuated with the pieces that they are entrusted to protect. Roger (Christopher Walken), nearing retirement, is mesmerized by The Lonely Maiden, a French painting of a melancholy woman on the beach. Charles (Morgan Freeman), old and lonely, is equally enthralled by the painting of a woman with cats. George, a strung-out former Marine proud of his involvement in the Grenada invasion, is obsessed with a bronze statue of a naked warrior -- so much so that George strips naked and mimics the statue's pose when he thinks no one is watching.

When the gallery decides to ship all three pieces to Copenhagen as part of a revamping of the collection, the three men decide to steal the artwork, keeping their favourites for their own enjoyment and shipping fakes to Denmark. Not much goes according to plan, and most of what goes wrong is thanks to unwitting interference by Roger's wife Rose (Marcia Gay Harden), who just wants Roger to take her on a Florida vacation.

The Maiden Heist has the definite feel of a small movie pulled together by three veteran actors and one veteran actress, coming together to create an amiable film almost for their own enjoyment. Director Peter Hewitt, whose other credits are lightweight titles like Garfield (2004), stays far out of the way and allows his stars to have fun. Freeman and Walken emphasize the understated elegance of wisdom, Macy and Harden emphasize the overacting, and the quartet manage to create a reasonable balance.

The Maiden Heist clocks in at exactly 90 minutes including the credits, and while the brisk length has its advantages in terms of pacing, it also means that all the characters are drawn with the broadest of brush strokes.

The catchy music score by Rupert Gregson-Williams has a definite French film tinge to it, playing off the heritage of The Lonely Maiden and Roger's obsession with French art.

The Maiden Heist is enjoyable for the work of Freeman and Walken, two old heads capable of enriching a simple story with entertaining layers of satisfying charm.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Movie Review: Away We Go (2009)

A movie with its heart in the right place, Away We Go is operating with material so thin it ultimately floats away in the sweet breeze, barely noticeable among all the other happy bugs and crisp leaves.

Verona (Maya Rudolph) and Burt (John Krasinski) are a couple in their early thirties, still relatively unsettled and not established in any city or clear careers. They discover that Maya is pregnant, and six months into the pregnancy, Burt's quirky parents, the only family nearby, announce that they are leaving town to resettle in Belgium. With nothing tying Verona and Burt down, they decide to visit various friends and family members across the US, in the hope of finding a place to call home.

They visit Verona's flaky old boss (Allison Janney) in Phoenix; Verona's unmarried sister (Carmen Ejogo) in Tucson; Burt's highly irritating college friend (Maggie Gyllenhaal), now a married and condescendingly perfect mother, in Madison; other college friends (Chris Messina and Melanie Lynskey) with many adopted kids in Montreal; and Burt's married but just-dumped brother (Paul Schneider) in Miami. None of these locales or people resonate with Verona and Burt, but the visits bring them closer to each other and eventually Verona reveals a sad piece of family history, through which they discover where they belong.

A road trip movie with not much of a road and an undefined destination, the only thing Away We Go has going for it is a relatively convincing strong central relationship between Burt and a very pregnant Verona, with Maya Randolph and John Krasinski appearing pleasingly effortless in portraying a deep and sturdy love.

Otherwise, the script by David Eggers and Vandela Vida provides little for director Sam Mendes to work with. The humour is either fake or forced, the secondary characters are conventional visitors from other movies, and the attempts at pathos with the whole seemingly hastily appended story of Verona's parents smacks of desperation.

Away We Go departs quickly, its light weight leaving barely any impression.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

CD Review: Fear Of The Dark, by Iron Maiden (1992)

The seamless, smooth transitions of the past are replaced by bone-jarring, teeth grinding discontinuities that almost always sound forced together with rusted screws. On Fear Of The Dark Iron Maiden try hard, and remain true to their principles, but what used to be effortless is now a back-breaking chore.

However, even in their wilderness years Iron Maiden could produce some solid metal. Fear Of The Dark is far from Maiden's glory days in terms of overall quality; but it still contains some notable gems.

The album is bookended by the two best tracks. Be Quick Or Be Dead is an energetic gallop of an opener, Dickinson's short sharp vocals matching Murray and Gers as they move through a dizzying number of head-snapping harmonic pace changes. The CD closes with title track and concert favourite Fear Of The Dark, excellent live and still great on the album.

In between, Afraid To Shoot Strangers has a unique almost whispered Dickinson vocal, and an astounding guitar solo passage; but the meshing between the instrumental passage and the rest of the song is awkward. Chains of Misery is a solid, typical Maiden track with an interesting tone, challenging staccato guitar work and a pleasing vibe.

The rest of the tracks, and with 12 selections there are many of them, are generally functional but exhibiting the noticeable panic of a band desperately attempting to squeeze new colours from the same crayon.


Bruce Dickinson - Vocals
Dave Murray - Guitar
Janick Gers - Guitar
Steve Harris - Bass
Nicko McBrain - Drums

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Be Quick Or Be Dead - 9
2. From Here To Eternity - 7
3. Afraid To Shoot Strangers - 8
4. Fear Is The Key - 7
5. Childhood's End - 7
6. Wasting Love - 7
7. The Fugitive - 6
8. Chains Of Misery - 8
9. The Apparition - 6
10. Judas Be My Guide - 7
11. Weekend Warrior - 5
12. Fear Of The Dark - 9

Average: 7.17

Produced and Mixed by Martin Birch and Steve Harris.
Engineered by Martin Birch.

All Ace Black Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

CD Review: Load, by Metallica (1996)

A full five years after ruling the music world with their self-titled black album, Metallica returned in 1996 with Load, and most of the metal world wished they hadn't.

Dropping to an unimaginable low of bankrupt creativity and a mundane, uninspired and irritating tone, Load sounded like it was put together in 5 minutes, not 5 years. Not even pretending to be a thrash band anymore, and often barely sounding interested in metal, Metallica cloak themselves in a vaguely southern, redneck sound, emphasizing Hetfield's vocals and relegating the rest of the band to a shadow of their former selves.

The songwriting is a combination of amateurish and insulting, most songs latching onto the simplest of chords and repeating to eternity. Not content with a devastatingly poor quality, Load suffocates with endless quantity, the 14 longish and mostly banal tracks resulting in an almost tortuous, unlistenable experience.

King Nothing survives the horror and is the only song on Load worthy of the Metallica name, thanks to an aggressive, combative riff. The slower Until It Sleeps and The Outlaw Torn convey decent emotion.

The other eleven tracks wallow in the misery of a band that completely lost it's identity, and the plot that goes along with it.


James Hetfield - Guitars, Vocals
Lars Ulrich - Drums
Kirk Hammett - Guitars
Jason Newsted - Bass

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Ain't My Bitch - 7
2. 2 X 4 - 7
3. The House Jack Built - 6
4. Until It Sleeps - 8
5. King Nothing - 10
6. Hero Of The Day - 6
7. Bleeding Me - 7
8. Cure - 6
9. Poor Twisted Me - 6
10. Wasting My Hate - 7
11. Mama Said - 6
12. Thorn Within - 7
13. Ronnie - 7
14. The Outlaw Torn - 8

Average: 7.00

Produced by Bob Rock, with James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich.
Recorded and Mixed by Randy Staub. Engineered by Brian Dobbs.
Mastered by George Marino.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Movie Review: Incendies (2010)

A dramatic story of the agony that lies behind the lives of immigrants, Incendies reveals the suffering that usually simmers within those who survive the brutality of war and begin another life in a new country.

Nawal Marwan (Lubna Azabal), a Canadian immigrant from a war torn Arab country (Lebanon, although it is not named), dies in Montreal. Her notary and long-time employer Jean Lebel (Remy Girard) unveils Nawal's will to her twin children Jeanne (Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Maxim Gaudette), who are in their 20s. Nawal's will reveals life-changing news: Jeanne and Simon have a brother and a father, both of whom they have never met. Nawal entrusts Jeanne to find and deliver a sealed letter to the father; and similarly requests that Simon deliver another sealed letter to their brother.

Simon is not interested, leaving Jeanne alone to undertake a journey to Lebanon, where she re-traces her mother's steps from 35 years ago. Nawal, as a young woman living in a mountain village, had an illicit affair, which brought shame to her family and resulted in the birth of an illegitimate son. But that was only the beginning of her doomed journey, which finds her getting deeply embroiled in the sectarian violence of the vicious Lebanese civil war.

As Jeanne uncovers her mother's history, she learns more than she had ever bargained for, and the revelations finally prompt Simon and Lebel to join Jeanne in Lebanon. The twins assemble all the pieces of their mother's devastating past, including the identity and history of their father and brother. Nawal's trail unexpectedly leads them back to Montreal for a final confrontation with the ghosts of war.

Lubna Azabal as Nawal and Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin as her daughter Jeanne are the spiritual centre of Incendies, forming a mother - daughter continuum across two generations. Azabal portrays Nawal as headstrong and rebellious; the stubbornness in the face of adversity persists with Desormeaux-Poulin, but she also gives Jeanne the softer, rounder edges that a Canadian upbringing provides.

Director Denis Villenueve, who also co-wrote the script, allows the people, places and events to infuse the story with enormous power. Rather than staged set-pieces, Incendies draws it's strength from the overwhelming drama of a tumultuous history revealing itself gradually but with excruciating pain. Like a band-aid being slowly removed, once the process starts it cannot be reversed, and the agony just gets worse.

Villenueve captures the horror of the Lebanese civil war in broad strokes. The locations, details and dates are not meant to mimic history, but the sum of what Incendies presents perfectly grasps the essence of a de-humanizing dirty little conflict filled with ethnic and religious strife, extreme violence and mass reprisals. That the Lebanese people have never faced up to their past in a truth and reconciliation process is the hidden message of Incendies -- failure to confront history means that the present will never escape the long shadow of the past, and the future just wobbles on rotten foundations.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

CD Review: Somewhere In Time, by Iron Maiden (1986)

And all of a sudden, Iron Maiden fall off the creative cliff. After reeling off five terrific albums in a row, the sixth finally falls flat, and Somewhere In Time suffers terribly in comparison with its predecessors. Now the stories sound forced; the music and the lyrics seem bolted together with rusted nails in a grimy workshop; the ideas run dry; and even the pictures of the band in the CD booklet are flaccid. A creative malaise has suddenly taken over, and the band would struggle mightily to shake it off on many albums to come.

Two tracks out of eight survive with some credit and retain the Maiden spirit. Caught Somewhere In Time creates a unique vibe, benefiting from menacing Dickinson vocals singularly driving a catchy chorus. Deja-Vu seamlessly delivers the typical Maiden punch and engaging guitar work from Murray and Smith, without the forced fat that afflicts the rest of the album.

Alexander The Great, at over eight minutes, enjoys some moments, but struggles for cohesion. The rest of the album is, by Maiden standards, quite disappointing. Wasted Years and Heaven Can Wait remained concert staples for decades, perhaps because they are relatively undemanding to play and can satisfy the easily influenced. The Loneliness Of The Distance Runner best captures just how dry the creative well was when it came to finding topics for new songs.

Somewhere In Time confirmed the unwanted truth that Iron Maiden were human, and that every creative streak, no matter how brilliant, has to come to an end.


Bruce Dickinson - Vocals
Dave Murray - Guitars
Adrian Smith - Guitars
Steve Harris - Bass
Nicko McBrain - Drums

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Caught Somewhere In Time - 9
2. Wasted Years - 7
3. Sea Of Madness - 6
4. Heaven Can Wait - 7
5. The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner - 7
6. Stranger In A Strange Land - 7
7. Deja-Vu - 9
8. Alexander The Great - 8

Average: 7.50

Produced, Engineered and Mixed by Martin Birch.
Mastered by George Marino.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

CD Review: Metallica, by Metallica (1991)

The album that marked heavy metal's peak commercial success and the end of a decade of excess, Metallica is a landmark achievement. The band that used to be the most dangerous in the world dropped their speed by half, eradicated their aggression, slashed the song lengths, and emerged with a radio-friendly, mainstream success that raced to the top of the charts. Metallica made heavy metal, briefly, the most popular form of music.

The album itself is reasonably consistent but generally unremarkable. With a focus on relatively simple structures, easily accessible melodies, and radio-friendly durations, this is not exactly metal lite but certainly metal with all the rough edges sanded off. It's all the more astounding coming from the same four guys who created ...And Justice For All three years earlier.

Enter Sandman is justifiably the most famous track from the album, a terrific combination of power and control riding on a memorable riff. The Unforgiven is Metallica traveling so slow that they start to go in reverse, but it works as a soulful enough ballad with a suitably sad melody. Wherever I May Roam is the other notable track, back to mid-tempo, inoffensive metal, but packing good energy and solid purpose.

Metallica goes on for too long, and certainly the second half suffers from too many tracks lining up waiting for the chance to secure some airplay. Nothing Else Matters and My Friend Misery liven up the late proceedings, but not before it is clear that Metallica have indeed traveled very far from their roots, to a territory that is filled with the promise of riches but where popular memories are short and fads come and go within months.

And so just as quickly, it all came to an end. Grunge was in, soon to be followed by anything that could be labelled alternative, and metal's excess was out. Metallica remained big but were forever caught in limbo between their original and commercial lives, never able to capture the spirit of the former or recreate the success of the latter. Metallica stands as a milestone in the history of metal, simultaneously signalling a high point and the end of an era.


James Hetfield - Guitars, Vocals
Lars Ulrich - Drums
Kirk Hammett - Lead Guitar
Jason Newsted - Bass

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Enter Sandman - 10
2. Sad But True - 8
3. Holier Than Thou - 8
4. The Unforgiven - 9
5. Wherever I May Roam - 9
6. Don't Tread On Me - 7
7. Through The Never - 7
8. Northing Else Matters - 8
9. Of Wolf And Man - 7
10. The God That Failed - 7
11. My Friend Misery - 8
12. The Struggle Within - 7

Average: 7.92

Produced by Bob Rock with James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich.
Recorded by Randy Staub

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

CD Review: Powerslave, by Iron Maiden(1984)

Riding the wave at the peak of their career, Iron Maiden create Powerslave, their fifth and most audacious album. Tilting the emphasis more towards epic storeytelling, Bruce Dickinson contributes the title track Powerslave, at more than seven minutes, and Steve Harris almost doubles that with Rime Of The Ancient Mariner, at just under 14 minutes a strong contender for the most ambitious heavy metal track ever. It takes a lot of guts to turn the 1798 Samuel Coleridge poem into a heavy metal epic, but Harris pulls it off, and creates a band-defining classic in the process.

Powerslave and Rime Of The Ancient Mariner dominate the final 20 minutes, but the front of the album is rich with other tracks that enhance the Maiden catalogue, with Bruce Dickinson stretching his operatic vocals to more than match the spellbinding guitar work of Dave Murray and Adrian Smith. Opener Aces High is another high-speed guitar clinic celebrating British World War Two fighter pilots, while 2 Minutes To Midnight is a more standard but no less intense song warning of impending global nuclear annihilation, 1984 witnessing a ratcheting up of tension in the seemingly endless Cold War.

The Duellists, no slouch itself at over six minutes, features some of Dickinson's finest, spine-tingling vocals, giving way to a long stretch of mesmerizing guitar work, Smith and Murray waltzing magically up and down their fret boards as Harris and McBrain lay down the bedrock. Flash Of The Blade and the instrumental Losfer Words (really) keep the good music coming, and only Back In The Village dips in quality just a notch.

Iron Maiden (1980), Killers (1981), The Number Of The Beast (1982), Piece Of Mind (1983) and Powerslave represent a quintet of albums that defined the first part of the 1980s, reinvented heavy metal, and forever influenced what was to come in the genre. Powerslave is a brash exclamation mark at the end of the most successful phase of the band's career.


Bruce Dickinson - Vocals
Dave Murray - Guitars
Adrian Smith - Guitars
Steve Harris - Bass
Nicko McBrain - Drums

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Aces High - 10
2. 2 Minutes To Midnight - 9
3. Losfer Words (Big 'Orra) - 8
4. Flash Of The Blade - 8
5. The Duellists - 9 *see below*
6. Back In The Village - 7
7. Powerslave - 10
8. Rime Of The Ancient Mariner - 10

Average: 8.88

Produced, Engineered and Mixed by Martin Birch.
Mastered by George Marino.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

CD Review: ...And Justice For All, by Metallica (1988)

Metallica tune new guy Jason Newsted's bass down to virtual silence, Lars Ulrich finds a drum kit that sounds as though it is made up entirely of snares, and remarkably, the band produces what is likely the best thrash metal album of all time.

Ride The Lightning and Master Of Puppets capture the band in a more raw, younger and hungrier state. ...And Justice For All finds Metallica having to deal with the tragic death of Cliff Burton, and developing the maturity and experience needed to push the genre that they helped to invent to its final limit. The result is their most complete, most uniform, and most ambitious album.

No track on the album is shorter than five minutes, and only two are shorter than 6 minutes. One of those is CD closer Dyer's Eve, one of Metallica's most underrated tracks, a five minute strafing assault of precision guitar genius that simply cannot be any longer without causing injury.

At the other end of the album are the two classic tracks that open proceedings: Blackened and the title track ...And Justice For All will forever live together as one of the strongest double blasts ever to introduce an album, in total more than 16 minutes of epic thrash metal that yields to nothing in its speed, accuracy, energy and confidence.

One was Metallica's first video, and the track that exposed the band to a world audience for the first time. It is also a most sophisticated metal song, the music of building rage perfectly matching the story of a horribly mutilated war victim awaking to his fate, with a final exclamation mark consisting of an impossible, sustained warp speed guitar solo. To Live Is To Die is an instrumental, an homage of sorts to Cliff Burton, and a suitable ending to the trilogy of long instrumentals that started with The Call Of Ktulu on Ride The Lightning and continued with Orion on Master Of Puppets.

Kirk Hammett's lead guitar and Lars Ulrich's drums dominate the album, Metallica stripping down thrash to its absolute essence of controlled speed and commanding rhythm.

It is not a surprise that for the self-titled immediate follow-up, Metallica veered sharply into new directions. ...And Justice For All is a towering, dominant peak, and once conquered it is best to just move on.


James Hetfield - Rhythm Guitar, Vocals
Lars Ulrich - Drums
Kirk Hammett - Lead Guitar
Jason Newsted - Bass

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Blackened - 10
2. ...And Justice For All - 10
3. Eye Of The Beholder - 7
4. One - 10
5. The Shortest Straw - 9
6. Harvester Of Sorrow - 7
7. The Frayed Ends Of Sanity - 7
8. To Live Is To Die - 10
9. Dyers Eve - 10 *see below*

Average: 8.89

Produced by Metallica with Flemming Rasmussen.
Engineered by Flemming Rasmussen. Mixed by Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero.
Mastered by Bob Ludwig.

All Ace Black Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

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