Thursday, 30 June 2011

Book Review: Who Moved My Cheese?, by Spencer Johnson (1999)


A short book and an easy read, Who Moved My Cheese? is a basic primer for dealing with change. It serves its purpose at the most basic level, and is useful for those with limited capacity to figure out that change is the only constant, and that those who don't effectively deal with change are left behind.

In about 50 pages, the story of the mice Sniff and Scurry and the Littlepeople Hem and Haw is told. All four live in a maze, and seek cheese for nourishment and satisfaction. They find a large cache of cheese and are satisfied for a long time. When their cheese disappears, Sniff and Scurry operate on instinct and quickly set out in the maze to find another supply. Hem and Haw are left behind, unable to overcome the shock, anger and despair of seemingly suddenly losing their established cheese supply. Gradually, Haw comes to terms with his new situation and ventures forth to find new cheese, articulating lessons learned along the way. Hem never seems to find the will to change, and is left alone.

The story is bookended by an introduction and a discussion, presented in the form of a conversation among former classmates at a school reunion. If the cheese story represents spoonfeeding the obvious, the introduction and the discussion artificially move the jaw up and down to ensure that chewing and swallowing are taking place.

Who Moved My Cheese? is not an unnecessary book; but those who find its content fresh and eye-opening likely have a lot more work to do on the journey to success.

Published in hardcover by G.P. Putnam's Sons.
94 pages.






All Ace Black Blog Book Reviews are here.


Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Movie Review: In The Cut (2003)


A film which trips over its own self importance, In The Cut suffers from the most fatal of elemental mistakes in murder dramas: the killer, once revealed, has no motive, no backstory, no opportunity, and no business doing any killing except to satisfy the cheap ending. The real surprise is that director Jane Campion, who co-wrote the script, and Nicole Kidman, who produced, both should have known better. The other script culprit is Susanna Moore, who may not know any better, but deserves at least as much blame because the film is based on her novel.

In The Cut moves at a pace that would come in a solid third in a straight sprint with a turtle and a snail. Campion litters every scene with needless frilly embellishing shots to the point of insane distraction. It's the type of directorial excess that screams "look at my clever directing!", because really, for long stretches, nothing else is going on, and Campion felt compelled to stretch out proceedings to two numbing hours.

Frannie (Meg Ryan) is a school teacher living alone, and best friends with her sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Meg recently broke up with the creepy John (Kevin Bacon), although he continues to awkwardly stalk her. At a bar one night, Frannie discretely witnesses a man with a distinctive tattoo receiving a blow job from a woman with distinctive finger nails.

The girl is brutally murdered and chopped up, and one of her body parts is dumped near Frannie's apartment. Detective Malloy (Mark Ruffalo) shows up to investigate, and Frannie is immediately attracted to him. They end up having a torrid relationship: the one problem is that Malloy has that distinctive tattoo.

Meg Ryan cuts loose, drops her good girl image, and indulges her wilder side with a highly sexual, lust-driven role, and her performance holds the better moments of the film together, barely. Frannie is a sympathetic enough character, torn between passion, the desire for companionship, and a curious fear of the danger that may lie behind Malloy's motives.

But beyond that, In The Cut has little to recommend it: the detective work is sloppy, the character behaviours are bizarre, the secondary characters are forgettable, and the evil-doer, once revealed, is a blank. In The Cut should have just been cut.






All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.


Tuesday, 28 June 2011

CD Review: Deliverance, by Corrosion Of Conformity (1994)


Corrosion Of Conformity follow up the terrific Blind with another excellent album in Deliverance, the band from North Carolina almost single-handedly keeping the flame of good heavy metal alive in the early 1990s. Massively grand chords, guitars leading the charge, complex, ambitious structures built on strong melodies: Deliverance was the antidote to all the whiney angst music dominating the music industry at the time.

Opener Heaven's Not Overflowing is a terrific, crunchy reminder that there is plenty of room to do good, Pepper Keenan warning that "in time, what's deserved, always get served". It is followed immediately by the crowning jewel of Deliverance, Albatross lamenting the doom of a born liar, but more importantly unleashing an earth-shuddering bass-heavy riff that indiscriminately bores through rocks and skulls. Albatross ends with a chaotic, driving guitar solo that takes off, crashes, and repeats.

Seven Days continues in the same vein, again dropping into the low range for a hypnotic bass-dominant foundation on which Keenan unleashes his most anguished vocals, with Woody Weatherman's guitar attempting some cheerful signatures to lift the fog of despair. Title track Deliverance bolts into a whole other direction, evoking a damaged, off-centre wheel that nevertheless insists on rotating, the delicious irony being that the song is all about the lack of deliverance. Shake Like You marries a riff that demands shaking with perfectly distorted vocals to great effect, while describing the perfect recipe for social control.

There are more strong tracks on Deliverance, with Broken Man and My Grain also worthy of attention, the latter featuring the best guitar solo on the CD. The one weakness of the album is that it does go on, and the final two tracks extend the playing time by ten minutes and are quite unnecessary. Shelter and Pearls Before Swine are dreamy, experimental tracks, slow smoke rising over still smouldering ruins. While the innovation is appreciated, some energy undoubtedly drains out of the record at its conclusion.

Despite its drawbacks, Deliverance is a shining beacon from a dark period in metal's history, a reminder that in some corners, metal continued to thrive.

Band:

Pepper Keenan - Vocals and Guitar
Woody Weatherman - Guitar
Mike Dean - Bass
Reed Mullin - Drums


Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Heaven's Not Overflowing - 10
2. Albatross - 10
3. Clean My Wounds - 7
4. Without Wings - n/a (short instrumental)
5. Broken Man - 8
6. Senor Limpio  - 7
7. Mano De Mono - n/a (short instrumental)
8. Seven Days - 9
9. #2121313- n/a (short instrumental)
10. My Grain - 8
11. Deliverance - 10
12. Shake Like You - 9
13. Shelter - 6
14. Pearls Before Swine - 7

Average: 8.27

Produced by John Custer.
Engineered by Jeff Tomei, Mark Richardson, John Custer.
Mixed by Toby Wright. Mastered by Bob Ludwig.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Movie Review: Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010)


A tired series looking for reasons to continue churning out the installments attempts a 3D version. It doesn't matter: Resident Evil: Afterlife may as well be a Roadrunner cartoon, the franchise that started with the engaging original Resident Evil has degenerated into a choppy sequence of contrived theatrical set-pieces, exaggerated, outlandish and devoid of any emotion.

Alice (Milla Jovovich) has developed superhuman powers due to her unique DNA bonding with the mysterious T-virus, developed by the evil Umbrella corporation. Alice can now clone herself, and the movie opens with an army of Alices attacking and eventually destroying the Tokyo headquarters of Umbrella, and apparently killing Umbrella leader Wesker (Shawn Roberts), who himself is also infected with the T-virus.

Alice flies a small plane to Alaska to try and find the mythical town of Arcadia, an apparently virus-free community ready to reboot humanity. She reconnects with her friend Claire (Ali Larter), but there is no town of Arcadia. Claire and Alice fly down the coast and arrive at a devastated Los Angeles. They land on top of a large prison building, where a few surviving humans are holed up, surrounded by hordes of zombies, and wondering how to escape to the real Arcadia: a large container ship off the coast of LA. A few battles later, the human survivors with Alice's help make it onto Arcadia, which is actually controlled by Umbrella and the healthy-again Wesker, and being used for further nefarious virus tests. Alice and her buddies need to stop Wesker once and for all, but the one certainty is that before the credits roll, yet another sequel will be set-up.

The massively computer-aided action sequences play out like exquisitely choreographed ballet dances, bullets and bodies flying, twirling, and catapulting in all directions, and are certainly artistic, but they do not a movie make, and this is all that Resident Evil: Afterlife has to offer.

Jovovich and Larter go through the motions, projecting abject boredom, and looking forward only to the part where they cash their cheques. The other cast members were picked up from the corner store of discounted cardboard action movie rejects. Director Paul W. S. Anderson appears to be content building a comfortable but unambitious resume filled with sequels and derivative bottom-crawling actioneers.

The Resident Evil series is proving a theory that was once unthinkable: even an activity as fun as killing countless zombies can become tedious.






All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.



Sunday, 26 June 2011

CD Review: Skeletons In The Closet, by Children Of Bodom (2009)


Cover albums are always questionable propositions, but Children Of Bodom needed to do something to remove the foul taste of Blooddrunk, and this eclectic collection of their take on seventeen songs by other artists will do.

Skeletons In The Closet has the feel of an effort throwing everything at the wall and not really caring what sticks; it also reeks of the distinct brand of inspiration that comes from the bottom of a bottle. But no matter; when a death metal band takes the risk to cover everything from Kenny Rogers to Slayer, passing through Billy Idol, and ending with Britney Spears, the results will be at least anthropologically interesting.

And some of the more successful tracks are the ones that may seem less likely to succeed. Children Of Bodom taking on Spears' Oops...I Did It Again is loads of unfiltered fun, the metal version turning the crunch of the song to eleven and transforming Spears' fake innocence into unbridled lechory. And in the hands of Janne Wirman's keyboards, Kenny Rogers' Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) becomes a surprisingly rousing operatic metal anthem.

More expected is the success achieved on Slayer's Silent Scream, Bodom perhaps the only band in the world that could cause more chaos than Slayer while grasping the shredded strands of a maniacal thrash song. The Scorpions' Don't Stop At The Top, Iron Maiden's Aces High and Anthrax's Antisocial are Bodomized with interesting results, different enough to be clearly distinct from the originals, and not necessarily for the worse.

With seventeen tracks on offer there are some misses and many average efforts. Least interesting is No Commands from Finland's Stone, a case of the source material not really deserving much attention, but getting some here because Stone happen to be one of Roope Latvala's earlier bands. Nothing that Poison did deserves any sort of attention, but Bodom manage to actually make Talk Dirty To Me almost listenable.

Skeleton In The Closet is an undoubted distraction, but as with any forced detour, there is some interesting scenery along the unnecessary road.


Band:

Alexi Laiho - Guitar, Vocals
Jaska Raatikainen - Drums
Henkka Seppala - Bass
Janne Wirman - Keyboards
Roope Latvala - Guitar


Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Lookin' Out My Backdoor - 7
2. Hell Is For Children - 7
3. Somebody Put Something In My Drink - 7
4. Mass Hypnosis - 7
5. Don't Stop At The Top - 9
6. Silent Scream - 10
7. Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) - 8
8. Hellion - 8
9. Aces High - 9
10. Rebel Yell - 8
11. No Commands - 6
12. Antisocial - 9
13. Talk Dirty To Me - 7
14. Ghostriders In The Sky - 7
15. War Inside My Head - 7
16. Oops...I Did It Again - 10
17. Waiting - 7

Average: 7.82

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Movie Review: Breakfast At Tiffany's (1961)


A cultural and stylistic landmark event, Breakfast At Tiffany's is a timeless classic, capturing an America just moving into a decade of enormous change, and doing it with panache.

When Holly Golightly is depressed, she eats breakfast while looking through the windows of the Tiffany's jewellery store in New York. Living with her cat (named Cat) but otherwise very alone in her apartment, Holly's life is a series of encounters with men who seek her company and pay her well for it. She classifies them as rats or super-rats, depending on how loathsome they are. Holly is desperately seeking happiness, fulfilment and riches; but she is unwilling to surrender her heart or her life to any true relationship. She even stoops to the level of getting paid to visit a locked-up crime boss in jail, oblivious that she is being used to transmit his commands.

Struggling author Paul Varjak (George Peppard) moves into another apartment in the same building. Women find him attractive, particularly Mrs. Failenson (Patricia Neal), a decorator who is willing to pay Paul for his calculated affection. Holly wants to keep Paul strictly as a friend, and does her best to try and deny the growing deep connection between them. Holly's former husband Doc (Buddy Ebsen) shows up in New York pleading with her to return to her origins in Texas, but Holly prefers a life of independent struggle in New York to retreating to the comfort of anonymity. Eventually, Holly reaches a critical decision point: her prospects look grim, unless she lowers the fence around her heart.

The sub-text of Breakfast At Tiffany's is as fascinating as it was likely unintended. Holly Golightly is an unwitting icon for women rocketing from the predictability of the1950s into what would become the turbulence of the 1960s. Finding love, forging an identity, making new connections in a brave new, exciting and freedom-obsessed world while being pressured to revert to the old, safe environment are issues that Holly struggles with in a pioneering role: a whole generation of women was about to follow.

That Holly grapples with the big decisions in life so stylishly is a big part of Breakfast At Tiffany's appeal. The ridiculously oversized cigarette holder; the Givenchy dresses; the hats; the sunglasses; the jewellery: rarely has a single film had such an indelible impact on fashion, and Breakfast At Tiffany's is considered one of Hollywood's most elegantly stylish and trend-setting moments. Unintentionally, it probably also launched the modern era of wanting the luxury without being able to afford it. Holly never has any money, and she nevertheless looks gloriously fashionable wondering where the next dollar is going to come from.

Working from the novella by Truman Capote and a script by George Axelrod, director Blake Edwards assembles all the pieces of Breakfast At Tiffany's into a dazzling whole. He augments the visual appeal of his stars and setting with Henri Mancini's music, the spine-tingling theme song Moon River instantly taking it's place among the classic tunes of Hollywood. Edwards elegantly inserts the song throughout the movie without overexposing it. The trademark Edwards humour is well on display, the party scene in Holly's apartment a preview of what would become The Party in 1968. Despite the occasional upward blips in the 1970s and 1980s, Breakfast At Tiffany's was the apex of Edwards' long career, which unfortunately descended too quickly into too many cheap journeys to Pink Panther land.

Audrey Hepburn admitted that the role of Holly Golightly was difficult for her. She pulled it off magnificently, deliciously combining innocence with a hard edged determination to get her way and keep her heart cold. And Hepburn never looks less than ravishing in every frame, establishing her legendary reputation for timeless grace and beauty. George Peppard is adequate as Paul, never catching fire but holding his own opposite Hepburn's brilliant shimmer.

Mickey Rooney's portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi, Holly's upstairs neighbour, has been soundly criticized over the years for amplifying stereotypes about Chinese people, with a white man portraying a humourless Chinaman just making matters worse. Edwards' movies in the 1960s and 1970s never avoided walking the dangerous tightrope between funny and inappropriate racial-based humour, and if Breakfast At Tiffany's today falls on the wrong side of the divide, it is another reminder that the film is a most grand bridge that spans two very different eras of social enlightenment.






All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.


Friday, 24 June 2011

CD Review: New Jersey, by Bon Jovi (1988)


The follow-up to the mega successful Slippery When Wet, a lot of New Jersey is much of the same. Crunchy rock anthems galore to encourage fist pumping by the guys, augmented by soulful power ballads to keep the girlfriends interested. A worrying tilt towards quantity rather than quality is noticeable, and more worrying still is the increased dabbling in uninspired country and western themes that would feature heavily in Jon Bon Jovi's future.

New Jersey reaffirms Bon Jovi's ability to write knock-out hits. When the band pulls all the elements together, the results are irresistible. Bad Medicine is as basic as rock gets, and phenomenally perfect in its simplicity. Born To Be My Baby is Bob Jovi doing what they do best, combining a metal anthem with girl-friendly lyrics to dominate both genres. And I'll Be There For You tones down the crunch and cranks up the schmaltz to great effect, slathering sentimentality and challenging all-comers to resist the torrent of emotions.

Album opener Lay Your Hands On Me is almost as perfect, kicking off with a massive, rumbling Tico Torres drum assault before Jon's soulful vocals and Sambora's guitars take centre stage and deliver another catchy hit.

The long track list means that unfortunately, there are just as many blah tracks on New Jersey, with Love For Sale missing the mark with some hill-billy nonsense, 99 In The Shade sounding like a lost track from the 1970s, made worse by a really annoying Sambora guitar squeal; and Homebound Train working it's pistons hard but failing to engage any gears.

New Jersey finds a band that is having trouble gaining traction on anything outside the established zone of comfort. When the basic formula works, it produces solid hits, and there are plenty of those to be enjoyed. But changes to the ingredients are not as successful, and are more likely than not to just emit the vapid scenery of the title state.


Band:

David Bryan - Keyboards
Richie Sambora - Guitars
Alec John Such - Bass
Tico Torres - Drums
Jon Bon Jovi - Vocals, Guitar


Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Lay Your Hands On Me - 9
2. Bad Medicine - 10
3. Born To Be My Baby - 10
4. Living In Sin - 7
5. Blood On Blood - 7
6. Homebound Train - 6
7. Wild Is The Wind - 7
8. Ride Cowboy Ride - n/a (short track)
9. Stick To Your Guns - 7
10. I'll Be There For You - 10
11. 99 In The Shade - 6
12. Love For Sale - 5

Average: 7.64

Produced by Bruce Fairbairn.
Engineered and Mixed by Bob Rock. Mastered by George Marino.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Movie Review: Body Double (1984)


Stylish but deeply flawed, Body Double is director Brian De Palma's attempt to modernize Hitchcock by introducing a potent dose of sexuality and a sharper instrument of death. Uninspired performances and a plot that crumbles under close inspection undermine the pizzazz.

Jake (Craig Wasson) is finding out just how bad a failing Hollywood career can get: reduced to playing the vampire in a Grade Z slasher flick, claustrophobia paralyzes him while he is entombed in his casket. Then he catches his girlfriend in bed with another guy, before being utterly humiliated in an acting class. Forced to abandon his apartment, Jake seems to catch a break when shady fellow-actor Sam (Gregg Henry) offers him the chance to house-sit a stunning villa with a breathtaking view. The major perk: sexy neighbour Gloria (Deborah Shelton) puts on a solo striptease show in front of her window every night, and Sam encourages Jake to watch through the conveniently available telescope.

Jake helps himself to the nightly eye candy, and quickly notices that Gloria is being dangerously stalked by one ugly looking Indian. Jake starts stalking both Gloria and her stalker, following them through a mall and on the beach, and is indecisive as to whether to interfere or not. It doesn't matter much: the following night Gloria is gruesomely murdered by the Indian, while Jake watches helplessly through the telescope. But many things are not what they seem: Jake discovers that porn star Holly Body (Melanie Griffith) was unwittingly duping him into witnessing a carefully staged murder. Jake has to unravel all the lies that he is being subjected to, and in the process both he and Holly become targets for the murderer.

De Palma imports at least a couple of classic Hitcockian themes: the Rear Window witness-to-a-murder, and the Vertigo acrophobia here becomes claustrophobia. There are other small touches, including the murder-on-the-phone from Dial M For Murder. But from the opening scenes De Palma also litters his movie with what-you-see-is-not-real references, and the mix of modernized Hitchcockian elements and almost overt winking at the audience just doesn't bake well.

Unfortunately, Body Double may have one of De Palma's all-time weakest casts. Craig Wasson , Gregg Henry and Deborah Shelton take up a lot of oxygen and deliver precious little presence in return. Wasson floats through the film in a vacuous state; Henry hisses slimy evil intent; and former beauty queen Shelton stares blankly out of her mesmerizing eyes, gradually realizing that television is going to be the only place where her lack of acting talent will flourish. Melanie Griffith arrives late and immediately injects a much needed shot of wicked edginess and sly humour, but by the time she makes her entrance, the pervasive bland acting delivered by everyone else has already suffocated the film.

With character behaviour straight out of a first year writing class for the imagination-challenged, Body Double is left with only it's emphasis on style to save it, and here De Palma does score points. The film oozes sleek extravagance, from the ridiculously attractive design of the look-out house to the sensual voyeuristic scenes and the sojourn into the ultra-expensive mall, De Palma layers luxury that, through Jake's eyes, is inaccessible to most mortals.

Body Double is more of an interesting curiosity than a good film, a bit of an unkempt cul-de-sac on the otherwise generally well-maintained De Palma career avenue.






All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Book Review: See No Evil, by Robert Baer (2002)


Many failures in intelligence preceded the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. In his entertaining autobiography See No Evil, former CIA agent Robert Baer shines the spotlight on one failure that contributed more than most: the decay, drift and politicization that was eating away at the CIA for a decade prior to that fateful Tuesday morning. By the time passenger airlines were flown into the New York towers, the CIA had next to no on-the-ground human intelligence gathering capabilities in the Middle East; and was in no position to predict, much less pre-empt, the attack, and certainly in no position to infiltrate the organizations engaging the United States with an existential war.

See No Evil is a fascinating journey into the world of espionage, a place where the ridiculous is normal, and where survival depends on nimble decision making and snap judgements are needed to differentiate the highly risky from the outright deadly. Baer joined the CIA in the mid-1970s, a foot soldier in a Cold War-hardened organization obsessed with recruiting spies, running agents, infiltrating all levels of foreign governments, and learning the secrets of its enemies. And Baer was good at it. He describes the intensive training courses, his early overseas experiences, and the meticulous process needed to identify and recruit agents willing to sell their national secrets to the United States.

Early stops in India and an unnamed Middle East capital were a mere prelude to Baer's experiences in Beirut, starting in 1986. At the time Beirut was likely the most anti-American place on earth, with rampant kidnappings and killings fuelled by Iran's hatred of the Great Satan. Baer not only survived in this most hostile of environments, he thrived, using human intelligence sources and street smarts to piece together the shadowy figures and forces plotting against US interests in the convoluted dark alleys of the Middle East. Baer had a front row seat to the emerging radical Islam threat, and he identified it's early roots and protagonists, and he witnessed first hand its destructive potential.

What was glaringly obvious to Baer was that this emerging non-governmental threat needed more agents, more on-the-ground eyes and ears, more infiltration. But with the end of the Cold War, the CIA was losing interest in the dirty work of foreign intelligence gathering using human sources, and the organization was becoming overly reliant on remote technology while being beset by careerism and bloat.

In 1992 Baer embarked on a colourful excursion into the surreal vodka-fuelled world of post-Soviet Tajikistan; even in this remote hell-hole, he finds evidence of the activities of Osama bin Laden, and opportunities to listen in on his plans. Again, there was no interest, follow up or support from the CIA.

By the mid-1990s, Baer was in Northern Iraq, getting embroiled in a half-baked plot by the in-fighting Iraqi Kurds to attempt an overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Washington pulled its support for the operation at the eleventh hour, and the resulting mess effectively ended Baer's career in foreign outposts. He had a final chapter in the even more dangerous jungle of Washington DC, and the close-up view of political corruption and what the CIA was evolving into convinced Baer that his time as an agent was up.

Baer is articulate, succinct and self-depreciating when needed. See No Evil is an excellent book, enlightening and absorbing in equal measures.

Subtitled "The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism".
271 pages, plus Glossary and Index. Includes some black and white photos.
Published in hardcover by Crown Publishers.











All Ace Black Blog Book Reviews are here.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

CD Review: Revelations, by Audioslave (2006)


Audioslave close the curtain on a short career with the most spectacular of their three albums, Revelations representing an exclamation mark at the end of the happy but truncated marriage between Chris Cornell and most of Rage Against The Machine.

Continuing to write at a prolific rate, Audioslave released Revelations just over a year after Out Of Exile, and packed it with another 12 high quality tracks. And it is the consistency of the content that stands out on Revelations, Audioslave finding a zone of rich creativity and flourishing within it. Revelations is marked by noticeably more energy, a harder metal edge delivered by Morello, Commerford and Wilk, pushing Cornell to work for his frontman status and curtailing his more whiny tendencies. The end result is a punchier album, full of Morello's guitar power driving forceful melodies that combine plenty of soul with a metal heart.

Album opener and title track Revelations rocks out with wild abandon behind Wilk's prominent beat and Morello's infectious riff, Cornell adding terrific harmonies to the mix. One And The Same is all Morello, not trying to restrain his guitar wizard tendencies and laying down the law with a 1970s era, Shaft-inspired tune. Moth is the album closer and the ending of Audioslave's recording career, and it perfectly captures what the band was all about, a massive rumbling of channelled energy from the band alternating with Cornell's spine-tingling, emotive vocals.

Internal divisions spelled the end of Audioslave, the band flaming out at a creative peak rather than fading away into mundane obscurity.


Band:

Chris Cornell - Vocals
Tim Commerford - Bass
Brad Wilk - Drums
Tom Morello - Guitars


Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Revelations - 10 *see below*
2. One And The Same - 9
3. Sound Of A Gun - 8
4. Until We Fall - 8
5. Original Fire - 8
6. Broken City - 8
7. Somedays - 8
8. Shape Of Things To Come - 8
9. Jewel Of The Summertime - 8
10. Wide Awake - 8
11. Nothing Left To Say But Goodbye - 8
12. Moth - 9

Average: 8.33

Produced and Mixed by Brendan O'Brien.
Recorded by Nick Didia. Mastered by Bob Ludwig.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.



Monday, 20 June 2011

Movie Review: Gallipoli (1981)


A fictional story set against one of Australia's earliest grim experiences in world warfare, Gallipoli is an engaging war drama that helped to establish the Australian movie industry, as well as the careers of Mel Gibson and director Peter Weir.

In the wide open and desolate landscape of Western Australia in 1915, young Archy Hamilton (Mark Lee) is being trained as a sprinter by his Uncle Jack (Bill Kerr). But Hamilton is more interested in joining the Light Horse mounted division of the Australian army, fighting for the British Empire in the first World War. Word of the heroic exploits of the Australian army in the Ottoman Empire's Gallipoli region is filtering back home, firing up young men to join the armed forces.

At his first major sprint race, Hamilton defeats the cocky Frank Dunne (Mel Gibson). The two soon become friends. Initially not interested in enlisting, Dunne helps Hamilton make it to Perth, a journey that includes a treacherous trek across a desert. Although under-age, Hamilton is admitted to the Light Horse. Dunne knows little about riding horses and settles for admittance to the infantry. Both are sent to Egypt for training and preparations to join the war. Eventually thrown onto the brutal front lines where trench warfare rages, Hamilton will be part of a fruitless charge across open terrain; Dunne is assigned the role of courier between the front lines and the commanding officers. Both will have to rely on their sprinting abilities to try and survive.

Prior to Gallipoli, Gibson was mostly known for the first two Mad Max movies. Gallipoli allowed him to project more humanity without losing his cool charm. The role of Frank Dunne required Gibson to combine bravado with repeated failure: he does not win his foot race against Hamilton; he does not get into the Light Horse; he does not participate in combat; and he is frustrated in his attempts to get the right messages to the front. Few other Gibson films have seen him defeated so often.

Mark Lee has the bigger role as Archy Hamillton, and his performance is solid but limited by Hamilton's lack of world experience. Lee remained mostly active in the Australian film industry.

Peter Weir did make the jump to Hollywood after Gallipoli, and went on to direct a series of high profile movies including The Year Of Living Dangerously (again with Gibson), Witness, and Dead Poets Society. He leads Gallipoli with a steady hand, making use of the scenery without succumbing to it in the barren deserts of Australia and the pyramid-dominated training camps of Egypt.

Gallipoli tilts quite far towards being a human-centered representation of Australia's coming of age, the resourcefulness, courage, charisma and can-do positive attitude of Hamilton and Dunne a metaphor for their country stepping out to the world stage without losing its unique identity. As a war film, it is remarkably short of war action until the bleak final 20 minutes. War's destructive futility resonates loudly when the necessary time is invested to expound on the potential of the devoured victims.





All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

All Arsis CD Reviews













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

A Celebration of Guilt (2004): 6.91
United In Regret (2006): 7.22
We Are The Nightmare (2008): 7.50
Starve For The Devil (2010): 7.10

Average (all reviewed Arsis CDs): 7.18

All Ace Black Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

CD Review: We Are The Nightmare, by Arsis (2008)


On their third album, technical death metal merchants Arsis tilt towards allowing more distinct melodies to enter their compositions. Not that We Are The Nightmare is in danger of being melodic; it's just that melodies are no longer shunned like a wildly contagious disease.

James Malone is still responsible for almost all the songwriting, but the group is now expanded to a four-piece, and maybe the larger group dynamic is partially responsible for increased musical accessibility.  Noah Martin on bass and Darren Cesca on drums are a defined rhythm section and actually keep a semblance of an understandable beat on many tracks or portions thereof, while Ryan Knight assists Malone with guitar duties.

Overthrown is the strongest selection on the album, and maybe one of the band's finest efforts. Malone and Knight surrender somewhat to a melody that evokes European melodic death metal influences, and Arsis all of a sudden sound brilliant. This may not be the direction that Malone prefers, but it demonstrates a potential avenue that Arsis is certainly capable of pursuing.

Elsewhere, album opener and title track We Are The Nightmare frequently picks up and abandons a soulful melody to good effect; Sightless Wisdom combines frantic technicality with galloping and sometimes infectious guitar work; and My Oath To Madness features a threatening guitar riff that haunts the song from outside darkened windows.

The rest of the tracks are never less than technically interesting, but as with most of the creative output of Arsis, it is music that always makes its appeal to the brain but not necessarily to the heart.


Band:

James Malone - Guitars, Vocals
Ryan Knight - Guitars
Noah Martin - Bass
Darren Cesca - Drums


Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. We Are The Nightmare - 8
2. Shattering The Spell - 7
3. Sightless Wisdom - 8
4. Servants To The Night - 7
5. Failing Winds Of Hopeless Greed - 7
6. Overthrown - 9
7. Progressive Entrapment - 7
8. A Feast For The Liar's Tongue - 7
9. My Oath To Madness - 8
10. Failure's Conquest - 7

Average: 7.50

Produced, Mixed and Engineered by Zeuss.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Movie Review: Love Story (1970)


Boy meets girl, boy loves girl, boy marries girl, girl supports boy, girl dies. As straightforward as romantic tragedies get, Love Story is exactly what is says on the tin: a doomed love story, manufactured with the sole purpose of crashing a happy union onto the rocks of the ultimate calamity. Based on the best-selling book by Erich Segal, who also wrote the script, the story struck a chord and the movie became a cultural phenomenon.

Oliver Barrett (Ryan O'Neal), a rich Harvard graduate and feisty hockey player on his way to law school, meets Jennifer Cavalleri (Ali MacGraw), a spirited Radcliffe College music student. She is vivacious, artsy, and has a sharp wit that turns every conversation into a jousting match. Jenny's social background is several steps lower than the snooty Harvard class that Oliver belongs to, but this does not stop them from falling madly in love.

Oliver has a dysfunctional relationship with his stern father (Ray Milland), and Oliver's romance with Jenny does not help matters: Oliver's parents perceive her to be beneath them. Oliver becomes completely estranged from his father, and goes ahead and marries Jenny. As Oliver goes through law school, Jenny works as a teacher to support them. He graduates and takes a position with a prestigious New York law firm. All seems to be going well and they plan on starting a family, until Jenny is diagnosed with a fatal disease (likely cancer, although this is never mentioned in the film): she has very little time left to live.

Love Story has some points of irritation: for all her fresh-faced appeal Ali MacGraw's performance is almost theatrical in its grandiose delivery of every line; the famous musical love theme is over-used to distraction in the second half of the film; and Ryan O'Neal's default mode is that of the angry young man, no matter what is going on in his life.

And the infamously bad tag line "Love means never having to say you're sorry" has just gotten worse with time.

But director Arthur Hiller makes great use of Boston locations, and captures the spark of emerging love in the early scenes between Jenny and Oliver. More admirably, Love Story also takes the time to show the comforts of love and the tenderness between an established couple. A brief sofa scene with Jenny resting on Oliver while they each read a book grasps the essence of couplehood. And the scenes with Oliver's parents are deliciously uncomfortable, resonating with a mountain of never to be resolved issues between Oliver and his Dad.

A cultural landmark for better or for worse, Love Story neither over-promises nor under-delivers. It is faithful to all elements necessary to create a heartbreaking romance.






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Friday, 17 June 2011

CD Review: Bon Jovi, by Bon Jovi (1984)


With an unassuming album, Bon Jovi, the scrappy band from New Jersey, takes the first tentative steps on a road that would lead to world-wide domination in a few short years. Yes, Bon Jovi the debut album is pretty basic, but it is also basically good.

Sticking to a formula that would serve the band well throughout their career, Bon Jovi is a set of nine songs about love gained, love lost and love betrayed, infused with a light metal edge. Richie Sambora's guitar is crunchy, Jon Bon Jovi's vocals are undeniably soulful, and David Rashbaum's keyboards are prominent. All the songs rely on simple structures, catchy melodies, straightforward lyrics and radio-friendly mid-tempo beats and equally radio-friendly moderate lengths. There is nothing threatening about Bon Jovi's brand of metal, and that is what makes the music both attractive and predictable.

Roulette is the most daring track on the album, Sambora stepping out and leading the charge with a satisfyingly chugging riff, stirring up a higher density of metal compared to most of the rest of the material. But another five cuts on the CD are impressively solid, the band demonstrating early professionalism and talent, and Jon Bon Jovi displaying an instinctive ability to write a fetching hook. She Don't Know Me, the one song not written by Jon, is easily the weakest link on the album.

Bon Jovi is the raw material from which a stellar career was launched. It's not the most original metal ever discovered, but it does play a role representing the more widely accessible metallic range. 


Band:

Jon Bon Jovi - Vocals, Guitar
David Rashbaum - Keyboards
Richie Sambora - Guitar
Alec John Such - Bass
Tico Torres - Drums


Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Runaway - 8
2. Roulette - 9
3. She Don't Know Me - 6
4. Shot Through The Heart - 8
5. Love Lies - 8
6. Breakout - 8
7. Burning For Love - 7
8. Come Back - 8
9. Get Ready - 7

Average: 7.67

Produced by Lance Quinn and Tony Bongiovi.
Engineered by Scott Litt, Jeff Hendrickson and Larry Alexander.
Mastered by Bob Ludwig.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Movie Review: Drag Me To Hell (2009)


A simple morality tale turned into a cheeky horror film with a clever streak of understated humour, Drag Me To Hell is a refreshingly original and quite enjoyable movie.

Polite and timid Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) is a bank loan officer, eyeing a promotion to the vacant Assistant Manager job. Pressured to demonstrate toughness, Christine turns down a desperate request by the elderly and quite creepy Sylvia Ganush to extend a home loan. This turns out to be a big mistake: the humiliated Ganush lays a humdinger of a curse on Christine, releasing the evil Lamia spirit to terrorize her.

Christine has the support of boyfriend Clay (Justin Long), and also seeks the advice of fortune teller Rham Jas; but neither can help much when uncompromising evil descends on her. Invisible forces invade her house and slap her around; a persistent black fly enters her stomach through her mouth; Ganush dies, but her image continues to reappear in various hideous forms to cause terror. Christine realizes that this will only end when Lamia kills her and drags her to hell (of course). She needs to find a way to break the curse to save her life, and unfortunately this may mean that someone else will have to suffer.

Director and horror master Sam Raimi wrote the script with his brother Ivan, and he overlays the sustained tension of Drag Me To Hell with a genuine sense of fun. There are sharp comic moments, never more than in the dinner scene when Clay introduces Christine to his parents while she is losing her mind because of Lamia's noisy antics. Even the early pivotal attack by Ganush on Christine in the deserted bank parkade manages to introduce snarky wit into a life and death struggle: Christine defends herself with a stapler and, temporarily at least, staples shut Ganush's ugly eye.

Alison Lohman makes for an appealing heroine and central victim, taking the role almost entirely seriously although once or twice a shadow of a smile does almost cross her lips. Justin Long has less to do as the supportive boyfriend, and thankfully the script avoids saddling him with any big speeches. Lorna Raver as the evil Ganush and Dileep Rao as the half smarmy, half effective fortune teller Rham provide plenty of background colour.

Some of the scenes don't work too well: things go bump in Christine's apartment for too long, and a seance involving a goat goes a bit over the top. But Drag Me To Hell is all about the penalty to be paid when selfish acts are committed, even by good people. And who knew that in a small, unpretentious package, being dragged to hell can be the source of no small amount of entertainment.






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Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Movie Review: Iron Eagle (1986)


It is difficult to imagine a worse advertisement for the 1980s. Horrible hair. Horrible soundtrack of limp rock. Horrible script. Horrible performances by horrible actors. Horrible villain spouting horrible one-liners with a horrible accent. And the most horrible, jingoistic, Reagan-era cowboy mentality pretending to be a viable solution to a crisis.

Iron Eagle somehow passed for entertainment in 1986. It's the story of Doug (Jason Gedrick), the hot-headed teenaged son of Air Force pilot Ted Masters (Tim Thomerson). On a mission over the Mediterranean, Ted is shot down, captured, tried and sentenced to be executed by an enemy country (Libya, although never named). When the official U.S. response is timid, young Doug, who is a hotshot fighter pilot himself, partners with the grizzled and semi-retired Colonel "Chappy" Sinclair (Louis Gossett Jr.) to plan and launch the most unlikely of rescue missions. Doug and Chappy somehow arrange to steal a couple of F-16s, then they pull-off a couple of unauthorized mid-air refuelling manoeuvres, before they bomb the Libyans into submission, destroy their air force in a couple of dog-fights, rescue Tom, and jet home.

The U.S. Air Force showed unusually good judgement and mercifully refused to have anything to do with Iron Eagle due to the portrayal of a fighter jet theft, but that may have been just a most convenient excuse because surely even the Pentagon would have recognized the stench emanating from the fetid script.

Canadian director Sidney J. Furie has a chequered resume, and he did his reputation no favours by directing this embarrassment, plus several sequels. Louis Gossett Jr. chews through his lines looking for nothing but impact but finding only cartoon-level intensity. Jason Gedrick needs only a few minutes of screen time to prove that he is all hair and no talent, but unfortunately gets a lot more than a few minutes. The rest of the cast may as well have been drawn in with thick felt markers for all the nuance and texture that they bring to the movie.

Iron Eagle stands as a monument to the level of brainlessness that movies can descend to when catering to the lowest common denominator of dumb action and blind, revenge-driven so-called patriotism.






All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

CD Review: Out Of Exile, by Audioslave (2005)


The second Audioslave album after the self-titled debut is more of the same: finely polished radio-friendly metal, making the most of Chris Cornell's distinctively anguished vocals and Tom Morello's exquisite guitar wizardry. Out Of Exile does not set the world on fire, but neither does it disappoint. Four guys deep into their second decade of making metal, the rage has long since been replaced by a combination of resignation and the patient wisdom that can only be earned from the experience of trying to change the world.

The best two tracks come early. Your Time Has Come confidently crashes in to open proceedings with an energized beat propelled by Brad Wilk's drums, and a straightforward but powerful Morello riff, a rare instance of guitar resoundingly trumping vocals on an Audioslave track. Be Yourself is the most memorable song on the album, a haunting but understated melody perfectly matching Cornell's impassioned delivery, who then yields to allow Morello a fun, old-fashioned solo.

Late in the songlist, #1 Zero is a slow trip down a really dark alley, Morello's guitar dominating the music of the night with a siren song that generates its own gravity field and demands slow dancing with the first available dark stranger.

Both Cornell and Morello can be overbearing in large doses, and with 12 tracks Audioslave are almost guilty of just slightly overstaying their welcome, despite the good intention of serving up a substantial feast of elegant music. But too much of Audioslave is not necessarily a bad thing: Out Of Exile is mature metal for a discerning audience, aiming for the often ignored middle ground where accessible music is infused with hardened energy.


Band:

Chris Cornell - Vocals
Tim Commerford - Bass
Brad Wilk - Drums
Tom Morello - Guitars


Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Your Time Has Come - 10
2. Out Of Exile - 8
3. Be Yourself - 10
4. Doesn't Remind Me - 7
5. Drown Me Slowly - 8
6. Heaven's Dead - 7
7. The Worm - 8
8. Man Or Animal - 8
9. Yesterday To Tomorrow - 7
10. Dandelion - 7
11. #1 Zero - 9
12. The Curse - 6

Average: 7.92

Produced by Rick Rubin and Audioslave. Mixed by Brendan O'Brien.
Recorded by Brian Virtue, Thom Russo, and Jim Scott.
Mastered by Stephen Marcussen.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Movie Review: Out Of Sight (1998)


A heist movie featuring a romance across criminal lines between a bank robber and U.S. Marshal, Out Of Sight tries to be slick but succeeds only in being mostly wet. Based on an Elmore Leonard novel, the action never leaves the realm of the contrived and hydroplanes on accumulations of the absurd.

Serial bank robber Jack Foley (George Clooney) has committed more hold-ups than anyone can remember.  He is non-violent and has never used a gun, and has spent a lot of time in prisons and as much time plotting to escape. With the help of frequent accomplice Buddy (Ving Rhames), Jack busts out of jail, and in the process takes Marshal Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez) hostage. A spark immediately ignites between the two, but they part ways as Jack and Buddy hook up with another accomplice, the slow-witted Glenn (Steve Zahn). As Jack and his gang make their way to Detroit where they plan to hold-up the diamond-rich mansion of Ripley (Albert Brooks), Sisco is part of a group of federal agents on their tail, and hardened criminal Maurice Miller (Don Cheadle) leads a rival mob intent on getting to Ripley's mansion first.

Out Of Sight is a film attempting to be cool and real, but not many of the central actions or character behaviours ring true. Foley's unlikely escape from prison; Sisco abandoning all logic to immediately fall for a con man who has abducted her; the police showing up en masse to arrest Foley and Buddy at their hideout hotel, but failing to secure the parkade; and the prolonged climactic robbery sequence, in which the real bad guys (Miller and crew) fall into that typical Hollywood trap, where vicious and calculating criminals become bumbling and incompetent just when it matters most, to the benefit of the attractive stars.

Director Steven Soderbergh attempts to cover up the gaping script holes by unnecessarily forcing the action to jump around the hurdle of convoluted flashbacks, which add little style but plenty of confusion. Other stunts include tiny roles for Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Keaton, and Nancy Allen, none of whom are on-screen long enough to meaningfully contribute.

Without a firm grip on any sort of reality, Out Of Sight is left with the chemistry of its two stars as it's only watchable element. Clooney and Lopez do not disappoint, but neither can they save the movie. Clooney, still a couple of years removed from movie superstardom, provides further proof that he is heading in that direction with a world-weary performance that oozes class, while Lopez overcomes her character's lack of common sense and delivers what may be her most engaging screen performance, particularly in the scenes opposite Clooney.

Despite the available star charisma, Out Of Sight is out of ideas and quickly out of mind.






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Sunday, 12 June 2011

CD Review: United In Regret, by Arsis (2006)


The second album from Arsis is a studious exploration of technical death metal, James Malone displaying undoubted proficiency in writing and performing complex, fast-paced, sometimes frantic music.

How much United In Regret can be enjoyed depends on the willingness to accept just the faintest scent of melody. Most of the tracks are more about power, precision and execution, and much less about melodies and predictable structures. Segments of melody do meander into many of the tracks; they are quickly and efficiently ushered out like under-age customers at a strictly enforced restricted movie theatre.

What is left behind is committed and uncompromising if somewhat repetitive. Like a large machine generating enormous power, noise and vibration but for an undetermined functional purpose, United In Regret rumbles on in the basement, impressive but aimless.

Lust Before The Maggots Conquest and The Things You Said come close to creating, maintaining, and persisting with a tune that provides a recognizable structure and solid framework for a song; but this is a relative assessment. The Things You Said is a Depeche Mode cover, and a technical death metal band covering an eighties new-age electronic pop group is one of those believe-it-or-not moments in music history. None of the other tracks on United In Regret ever short-change the quality of the music, the undoubted talent and ambition shining through despite the insistence on de-emphasizing melody as a core element of music.

United In Regret is music to be admired for its technical skill; it is not music that can be celebrated for providing any sort of lyrical inspiration.

Band:

James Malone - Guitars, Vocals
Michael Van Dyne - Drums

Bass by Noah Martin.


Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1.Oh, The Humanity - 7
2. ...And The Blind One Came - 7
3. United In Regret - 7
4. I Speak Through Shadows - 7
5. Lust Before The Maggots Conquest - 8
6. The Marriage Bed - 7
7. The Cold Resistance - 7
8. The Things You Said - 8
9. Hopeless Truth - 7

Average: 7.22

Engineered and Mixed by Eyal Levi and Arsis.
Mastered by Scott Hull.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.


Saturday, 11 June 2011

Movie Review: Carrie (1976)


A chilling horror film that is both a psychological and physical terror ride, Carrie combines the worst nightmares of any young girl: awkward puberty, bullying by the meanest of classmates, parental religious terrorism, and prom night turning into torment. That Carrie White discovers a way to extract a brutal revenge on all who abuse her through telekinesis just makes Brian De Palma's task of creating a frightfest so much more fun.

Based on the Stephen King novel, the movie opens with withdrawn and friendless high schooler Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) discovering her first period in the gym shower, and being traumatized when her mean classmates, including Chris (Nancy Allen) and Sue (Amy Irving) throw tampons at her. As the gym teacher Miss Collins (Betty Buckley) tries to make amends and help Carrie out of her shell, Carrie begins to discover that she has the telekinetic power to physically move objects through mind control. Carrie's real problem is her uncompromisingly stern mother Margaret (Piper Laurie), a sexually repressed religious zealot who abuses her daughter.

Sue feels some regret at the mistreatment of Carrie, and to make amends, convinces her popular boyfriend Tommy (William Katt) to ask Carrie out to the prom. But Chris is much more intent to continue the bullying, and plots with her boyfriend Billy (John Travolta) a most humiliating climax to Carrie's prom night. Carrie enjoys most of her evening with Tommy, the one and only successful social event in her life, but when Chris turns the prom from dream to nightmare, Carrie unleashes her telekinetic power to extract a most violent revenge.

Sissy Spacek was 26 years old when she portrayed high school student Carrie White, and her performance is unforgettably disturbing. Acting with haunted eyes, a frail physique, and long, uncared-for hair, Spacek's sheer presence foretells disturbing obscurity and impending doom in equal measures. Spacek is matched by an unhinged, over-the-top performance from Piper Laurie as Carrie's mother Margaret, a religious fundamentalist who embraces all the most twisted interpretations of sin and guilt associated with sexuality and dumps them on her daughter. The scenes of Margaret terrorizing Carrie with her religious dogma are more disturbing than all the blood that De Palma throws onto the screen.

And De Palma is the third star of the movie, using slow motion, camera rotation, and point-of-view shots to great effect. He boosts the impact of the horror sequences by juxtaposing them with tranquil scenes, or by deliciously prolonging the set-up prior to unleashing the inevitable shocks.

Carrie's secondary characters are brought to life by a lively group of actors, many of whom achieved varying degrees of fame. This was John Travolta's last film prior to shooting into superstardom with Saturday Night Fever, while Nancy Allen, Amy Irving , P.J. Soles and William Katt would go to on build modestly interesting movie profiles. Betty Buckley had an excellent stage, screen and television career, and Priscilla Pointer (Irving's real-life mother) was most famous for a role on TV's Dallas.

Many hidden meanings can be layered into Carrie's story, from her entire experience being a metaphor for the sacrifices of womanhood, to the societal damage caused by religious extremism and the equating of sexuality with sin. The hints of subtext bubbling below the surface provide an added edge of enjoyment to the unfolding tragedy.

Carrie is a classic horror film, compact, on-target, unsettling and unforgettable.






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Friday, 10 June 2011

CD Review: Doomsday Machine, by Arch Enemy (2005)


Arch Enemy achieve the rare feat of four excellent albums in a row. After Burning Bridges (1999), Wages Of Sin (2001) and Anthems Of Rebellion (2003), Doomsday Machine rounds out the quartet with another strong collection of melodic death metal tracks. The four albums together represent a creative peak for the band and the genre, with the latter three benefiting from Angela Gossow's vocals, her style perfectly suited to the band's classical foundations.

Doomsday Machine features one of metal's all-time classics in any sub-genre, My Apocalypse taking control of all the senses with a hypnotic spell built on a creepy underwater sonar pulse and grinding guitar work, all riding a melody oozing class from every note with dismissive ease.

Just as impressive, if less famous, is I Am Legend / Out For Blood which introduces a marching band rhythm, the armies of doom advancing to a staccato beat mercilessly unleashed by the Amott brothers. A change in tone brings forth much more dangerous chaos in the middle of the track, the band abandoning army discipline and letting loose on the battlefield behind Daniel Erlandsson's massive drum beats. And it all climaxes with a brilliant solo that can claim to be any legend it wants and seize any amount of desired blood.

Nemesis is the other excellent track on the album, a fast pace co-existing with a captivating chorus, more wanton Erlandsson devastation, and yet more expressive, majestic guitar solos.

The rest of the album provides consistently high quality, Arch Enemy riding a wave of inspiration to assemble complex, powerful, and always classically melodic medal.


Band:

Angela Gossow - Vocals
Michael Amott - Guitars
Christopher Amott - Guitars
Sharlee D'Angelo - Bass
Daniel Erlandsson - Drums


Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Enter The Machine - n/a (short instrumental)
2. Taking Back My Soul - 8
3. Nemesis - 9
4. My Apocalypse - 10
5. Carry The Cross - 8
6. I Am Legend / Out For Blood - 10 *see below*
7. Skeleton Dance - 8
8. Hybrids Of Steel - 8
9. Mechanic God Creation - 8
10. Machtkampf - 7
11. Slaves Of Yesterday - 7

Average: 8.30

Produced by Rickard Bengtsson.
Mixed and Mastered by Andy Sneap.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.



Thursday, 9 June 2011

Movie Review: Letters To Juliet (2010)


The attractive young American in a foreign land, having doubts about her fiancĂ©e. The handsome young Englishman. The romance that starts off on the wrong foot. The wise old woman who nudges the burgeoning attraction between the awkward couple. The eternal search for true love, lost 50 years ago and now about to be regained. And gorgeous, sun-drenched Italian scenery.

Letters To Juliet is a sweet, old-fashioned romance that ticks all the right boxes, achieving exactly what is sets out to do. It mercifully avoids the more modern tendencies for unnecessary vulgarity and cattiness. It also, most thankfully, steers clear of the excruciating self-help, looking-for-myself-because-I-deserve-it nonsense that dominated the intolerable Eat Pray Love (2010).

New York couple Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) and her fiancee Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal) set off on a trip to Verona, the setting of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, presumably to enjoy a pre-wedding honeymoon. But Victor is too easily distracted networking with local food suppliers for his soon-to-open restaurant, and is quick to ignore his future bride. Left on her own, Sophie, an aspiring writer, sets out to discover the city, and stumbles upon a group of local women who collect and answer letters written by desperate lovers and left in the cracks in the wall below "Juliet's" balcony.

Sophie finds a 50 year old letter embedded in the wall, written by Claire, an Englishwoman who abandoned her Italian lover Lorenzo when they were both young and confused. Thanks to the response written by Sophie, the now elderly but sprightly Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) shows up in Verona with her grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan), determined to find and reunite with her Lorenzo after all these years. Sophie joins them on a road trip to find the right Lorenzo (Franco Nero), setting the stage for a romance to blossom between Sophie and Charlie as they drive across the Italian countryside.

That Letters To Juliet heads with unwavering commitment towards a happy ending is part of its charm, with the three leads playing their part towards romantic bliss. Seyfried and Egan need to do little except look radiant in the Italian sun, while Redgrave effortlessly pulls off the dual responsibility of seeking her true love while sagely guiding the young lovers-to-be towards their destiny.

Director Gary Winick, who tragically died in 2011 before his 50th birthday, keeps the mood lighthearted without veering into comedy, and allows the breeze of romance to seep into every frame. Letters To Juliet has no surprises, no disappointments, and enough pleasant moments to reinforce the positive energy of the well-intentioned pursuit of love.






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Wednesday, 8 June 2011

CD Review: Surtur Rising, by Amon Amarth (2011)


Amon Amarth continue to carefully polish their formula to a fine shine, and on Surtur Rising, they venture just a bit further into more enterprising territory. There are more guitar solos, more pace changes, more complex and artistic passages, without ever abandoning the core of what the band is all about: Viking-inspired melodic death metal, legendary in scope and epic in ambition.

Surtur is a leader of the fire giants in Norse mythology, the not so cuddly character on the CD cover. Surtur Rising becomes the third Amon Amarth album after Fate Of Norns (2004) and With Oden On Our Side (2006) to feature a major mythical Viking figure in its title.

The music lives up to the legends. Surtur Rising offers up 10 tracks with an admirably high level of consistency, indicative of a band at peace with its craft and sharing a singular objective. From the uniformly impressive material, two tracks stand out: opener War Of The Gods is among Amon Amarth's most hooked-up songs in terms of groove, and also sets the tone in introducing variations that layer solos and snappy melodies over the band's signature strumming. For Victory Or Death is a yearning tune soaring over Amon Amarth's home territory of ice fields, with a delicious guitar solo making a brief but most welcome appearance.

There are no weak tracks on the album, just a relaxed sense of achievement, guitarists Mikkonen and Soderberg almost effortlessly guiding the music through valleys with majestic mountain views, and Johan Hegg providing understated narration to the unfolding scenery.

It is uncommon for a band to be at or near the top of its creative output nine studio albums into a career; Amon Amarth have walked along the path of slow but steady progress, and they just continue to sound better as they age.


Band:

Johan Hegg - Vocals
Olavi Mikkonen - Guitars
Ted Lundstrom - Bass
Johan Soderberg - Guitars
Fredrik Andersson - Drums


Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. War Of The Gods - 10 *see below*
2. Tocks's Taunt - Loke's Treachery Part II - 8
3. Destroyer Of The Universe - 8
4. Slaves Of Fear - 7
5. Live Without Regrets - 8
6. The Last Stand Of Frej - 8
7. For Victory Or Death - 9
8. Wrath Of The Norsemen - 8
9. A Beast Am I - 7
10. Doom Over Dead Man - 8

Average: 8.10

Produced, Mixed and Mastered by Jens Bogren.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.



Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Movie Review: Public Enemies (2009)


A potent mix of elements from Bonnie And Clyde (1967) and The Untouchables (1987), Public Enemies never quite reaches the same heights as classic crime movie dramas, but is nevertheless an often compelling yarn about charismatic bad guys, their dames, and the g-men out to get them.

Public Enemies is based on the true story of notorious criminal John Dillinger, who was designated public enemy number one in the 1930s for a string of daring Depression-era bank robberies and prison escapes. A media darling and something of a folk hero for treating customers with respect as he held up the bank managers, Dillinger (Johnny Depp) falls in love with Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard) without slowing down his often violent crime spree.

Under the growing influence of a young J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup), an FBI task force led by Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) is created to track down Dillinger and his associates. Dillinger repeatedly embarrasses the police and the FBI by slipping through their fingers before he is eventually betrayed, cornered and killed outside a Chicago movie theatre.

Director Michael Mann puts the hefty 140 minutes of running time to good use and finds a reasonably satisfying balance between intense action sequences, including prison escapes, bank robberies, and hideaway shoot-outs, and the development of the three main characters. Depp succeeds in giving Dillinger some soul, Bale provides Purvis with grim determination, and Cotillard captures the wide-eyed attraction of women who have nothing to criminals who offer a life of unimaginable adventure.

Public Enemies would have benefited from a purposeful trimming of the supporting cast. The film occasionally stumbles when numerous secondary characters get in the way. Many Dillinger associates clutter the screen and are given little time to breathe (often literally). Criminals Baby Face Nelson, Tommy Carroll, Red Hamilton, Pretty Boy Floyd, Ed Shouse, Pete Pierpont, Charles Makley and Alvin Karpis are just some of the fellow gangsters who make an appearance in the character-heavy script (co-written by Mann), but they do little except snarl and fire their weapons. On the other side of the law, another half dozen agents form Bale's posse, and they generally just appear earnest and follow instructions.

The cinematography, costume design and set design succeed in bringing to life a vibrant 1930s setting grand enough to absorb the unfolding larger than life drama, but with more emphasis on glitz and glamour than depression.

Public Enemies has epic ambitions, and while the human focus is spread too thin and works only when attention is maintained on the main characters, the action-oriented scenes live up to expectations, exuberantly spraying thrills from the barrels of smoking Tommy guns.






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Monday, 6 June 2011

CD Review: Anthems Of Rebellion, by Arch Enemy (2003)


Clearly on sweeping creative roll, Arch Enemy follow up the brilliant Wages Of Sin with the outstanding Anthems Of Rebellion. Finding the perfect sweet spot where Angela Gossow's vocals enhance the guitars of brothers Christopher and Michael Amott, the band unleash another set of immaculately constructed, melody-driven death metal tracks, meshing controlled aggression with classical inspiration.

Anthems Of Rebellion opens with a triple blast of greatness. Silent Wars lets loose the most simple yet insanely dominant lead guitar riff, a sparsity of notes used to pacify any protest with devastatingly muscular effect. We Will Rise is more anthemic, but as anthems go it is chillingly effective in organizing all the dishevelled troops into an army of rebellion. And then Dead Eyes See No Future rounds out the opening trilogy with the most sophisticated track on the album, massive drum work from Daniel Erlandsson carrying a most elegant and hypnotic guitar melody to fruition.

Leader Of The Rats carries a menacing threat; End Of The Line proposes a beefy trip to a dangerous power source; and Saints And Sinners ends the album with a searing, slow paced guitar melody that projects nothing but imperious grandeur from the the most towering of medieval castles.

Gossow's work on vocals is a perfect complement to the band's energy behind her, projecting enough power to hold her own without ever overshadowing the music.

Unfortunately, brief mention must be made of the conspicuously poor album cover art, which combines insipid inspiration with childish execution. But it is a small blemish on an otherwise brilliant record: Anthems Of Rebellion confirms the stature of Arch Enemy as one of metal's outstanding bands.

Band:

Angela Gossow - Vocals
Michael Amott - Guitars
Christopher Amott - Guitars
Sharlee D'Angelo - Bass
Daniel Erlandsson - Drums


Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Tear Down The Walls - n/a (short instrumental)
2. Silent Wars - 10 *see below*
3. We Will Rise - 10
4. Dead Eyes See No Future - 10
5. Instinct - 7
6. Leader Of The Rats - 8
7. Exist To Exit - 7
8. Marching On A Dead End Road - n/a (short instrumental)
9. Despicable Heroes - 7
10. End Of The Line - 8
11. Dehumanization - 7
12. Anthem - n/a (short instrumental)
13. Saints And Sinners - 9

Average: 8.30

Produced, Mixed, Engineered and Mastered by Andy Sneap.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.




Sunday, 5 June 2011

CD Review: With Oden On Our Side, by Amon Amarth (2006)


Amon Amarth continue to polish their tried and true formula. With Oden On Our Side, the band's seventh studio album, is a satisfyingly consistent set of Viking-inspired metal, the band occasionally touching magical heights as they experiment with stronger, more complex melodies, and never falling short of the standards they started to establish on Fate Of Norns.

Oden, the father of Thor no less, is a multi-talented god in Norse mythology, associated with war, battle, victory and death, as well as wisdom, magic, poetry and prophecy. Perfect inspiration, then, for a band that has come to define the soundtrack of Viking metal.

Gods Of War Arise is the most inspired track, Amon Amarth once again sounding at their best when they take the risks needed to overlay a strong melody and soaring guitar work on their ever-present, all-powerful strumming. Hermod's Ride To Hel also benefits from a slower-than usual pace and a searching, thoughtful staccato riff. Under The Northern Star is an epic expedition onto a stark landscape consisting mostly of ice fields, sustained only by the warmth generated from the evocative guitars of Soderberg and Mikkonen.

As usual Johan Hegg holds the music together with his controlled, never showy low growl vocals, perfectly suited to the canvass that the band paints on.

On With Oden On Our Side, Amon Amarth's music evolves in small steps, but it evolves in the right direction while remaining close and true to band's core strength.
 

Band:

Johan Soderberg - Guitars
Fredrik Andersson - Drums
Olavi Mikkonen - Guitars
Ted Lundstrom - Bass
Johan Hegg- Vocals


Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Valhall Awaits Me - 8
2. Runes To My Memory - 8
3. Asator - 7
4. Hermod's Ride To Hel - Lokes Treachery Part 1 - 9
5. Gods Of War Arise - 10 *see below*
6. With Oden On Our Side - 7
7. Cry Of The Black Birds - 7
8. Under The Northern Star - 9
9. Prediction Of Warfare - 8

Average: 8.11

Produced, Mixed and Engineered by Jens Bogren.
Mastered by Thomas Eberger.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.



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