Monday, December 18, 2017

Jess And The Ancient Ones: The Horse And Other Weird Tales

So who has two thumbs and is in the mood for 60s psychedelia?  Well, not usually this guy.  I know “retro” is officially “nowtro” (great movie!) but for the most part a lot of the bands inspired by past decades of rage don’t tend to do much for me.  However, occasionally I fall down a rabbit hole and end up really digging something that normally wouldn’t be in my wheelhouse.  That is the case with the latest broadside from Jess and the Ancient Ones (which totally sounds like a great, Cthulu themed Threes Company ripoff sitcom).

The Horse and Other Weird Tales is an album that answers that age old question: what would happen if The Gathering were playing at a music festival in a picturesque corner of Eastern Europe and some college kids wearing sweaters as scarves came up and called them pussies in ridiculous Scandinavian accents?  Feeling humiliated and enraged, eager to prove themselves, I think they would angrily blend The Doors with Janis Joplin and throw in some awesome Dax Riggs (Goddamn man put out a new album).  

Dax Riggs probably made that for her.  Might be where he's been this whole time, in fact, crafting wicker based neck warmers . . .

Wow, that was a convoluted reference.  Totally works for this album though because it’s pretty wacky stuff.  Trippy, catchy, powerful, but dark.  It's that kind of vague darkness where you’re not entirely sure if the band is messing with you or not.  One might even call it fuliginous, if one were an asshole.  

The guitar sound itself is worth getting the album for.  Great riffs but super fuzzy (not distorted, oh no) sounding at times like the dude is playing is, in fact, an Ancient One- a really mellow one though, who kicks back 10000 Fathoms under the sea with a beat up guitar just NAILING it, before rising to the surface to bring down the moon with awesome solos and then descending back into the ooze, decimating legions along the way.  What really is at the forefront here is the killer keyboard work (Doors!).  The keyboard playing here is definitely the driving force keeping every song rolling alongside sweet, hoppy drumming and raging female vox.  As if to drive the point home the first song is called Death is the Doors.  Cheeky bastards.

This isn’t my usual jam, but I really liked it.  The driving rhythms and the vocals work really well together and the songs manage, through their shroom induced haze, to have a degree of epicness to them that surprised me.  If you don’t believe me, listen to it and imagine yourself sitting on a couch staring at a lava lamp while Gorgoroth kind of .  .sort of . . . lingers awkwardly on bean bag chairs.  Production is great, and everyone plays their parts masterfully.  If you like trippy rock music, if you still have that one super sexy Janis Joplin poster up in your garage, and if you are the one person in the world who can pull off humming The Doors at work without coming across as a huge tool, jump in to this.  Standout tracks for me are sure sure You and Eyes, Death is the Doors, and Return to Hallucinate, but the album works better as a whole then in pieces.  Also, at 35 minutes, it’s just long enough to put on, sip an artisanal brew with an absurdly funny name and finish the last drop as it ends.  

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Zmey Gorynich: Malafya

In Soviet Russia, the pit moshes you.

One of my favorite things about being a greasy, debauched metal head has been, and always will be, that giddy feeling when discovering a new band sends you on a frantic chase to find others of their ilk.  By the end you've become an expert in yet another obscure corner of the metal realm and are the proud owner of twenty new shirts to wear ironically at Starbucks.  Even now at 40 this happens to me with astounding regularity made even easier by youtube, bandcamp, apple music, and the millions of other info sharing sites out there. 

When I dove back into my review blog the other day little did I know what delicious paths it would take me on; in looking up Haze of Summer I found out they were Russian, which was awesome.  I have always wanted to have like seven beers in Russia, though the nearest I have gotten thus far has been Latvia (my adventure covered on my sister site- cheap plug!) and a brief flirtation with becoming a metal God in Poland and so, whistling like the guy from Cloak and Dagger (sweet movie) I began digging into Russian metal music and found a style I never knew existed but now am ready to overthrow a whole steaming pile of bourgeoisie to get more of.

I have punched through that rusty iron curtain and arrived at a group that will forever be identified in my stererotyping brain with Russian metal, in all its madness.  That band?  Zmey Gorynich, who very much bring the thunder (or sandstorms?  I'm not up on Russian meteorology).  The album in question is Malafya and y'all need to grab this sumbitch right now.

Have you ever wondered what would happen if Meshuggah made sweet love to Vladimir Putin?  The offspring of that union would either be an orange skinned homunculus with nuclear weapons or perhaps a wonderland of killer riffs and crazy, genre blending tunes.  Oh happy day, in this case we received both.  This album sounds like a union (get it?) of Alestorm, Meshuggah, Thyrfing, and weird Atrocity.  It's great- a blast beat will turn into a churning, ponderous riff while vocals will morph from a shreiky black metal wail into chanting, singing, low end growlies.  The production is clear but still raw, sounding like Black Metal if it was recorded in a beer garden.  Every song is super catchy, every riff stands out, and the whole freakshow is accompanied by something that better be an actual accordion this time so help me frikkin God.  

And then, once you think you've made since of it all . . . 80s Eurotrash disco!?  

Don't believe me?  Jump to Track 6 and revel in how ludicrous and wonderful this band is:

The lyrics are all in Russian, I think, so other than the first track (Welcome to Mother Russia!) I have no idea what they are about.  I will hazard a guess and say it involves lots of drinking on a corroded balcony in the rain at like 3 in the morning and being really tired of people still bringing up Yakov Smirnoff jokes like thirty years too late.

Seriously, grab this album.  It's in my top five of the year.  I have now added seeing this band to my metal bucket list.  Great stuff.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Music Review: Haze of Summer- Znoi

Man, it's been a long, long while since I've written any reviews, but the pull of random black metal always tends to suck me back in Godfather style.  In keeping with the original Godfather movie I can't find a way to free myself from the greasy underworld of blast beats, glistening high end guitar crescendos, and fuzzy production.  Sadly, much like the third film, my only choice is to wrap those powerful impressions into a disappointing and disjointed narrative.  Nonetheless it's good to be back, ladies and gentlemen.

(Dusts off metal horns)

I have always loved black metal, ever since I first listened to Beherit's Oath of the Black Blood and all my friends ran out of my bedroom.  The grimness of it, the imagery, the cold madness that replaced the death metal rage I had been enveloped in . . . good stuff.  Loved it for years and even drew comfort in the predictability of it all- bad production, repetitive riffs, fast drums, screamy screamy vokills . . . for me listening to black metal was like wearing my favorite blood stained socks.

The first black metal release which surprised me, in the sense of doing something different with the genre, was Windir's Arntor album.  I bought it because I was told it had an accordion.  I pictured black metal infused polka.  What a got instead was an awesome album that I instantly fell in love with, and to this day Windir remain one of my favorite groups- all of their releases are worth owning and smashing bottles to.  The tragic loss of the founder and leader of the band is still one of the worst things snow has dumped on the world since recording Informer.  Also, due to this being the pre-internet age and the genre's love for illegible band names, for about 10 years I thought the band was called Arntor.  So that should tell you the level of my awesome street (or crypt, I guess) cred.

So here I am, many many years later.  Writing this on my couch while my daughter is asleep and my wife rocks Anne of Green Gables (original, hard as fuck).  Life's changed, but I still love those moments when an album rolls in and gives me the giddy feels again by doing something unexpected.  

Haze of Summer's awesome release, Znoi, sounds like what I expected Arntor to be all those years ago except played with major chords and an ear toward melodic smashery.  Seriously, the guitar work is wonderful.  These notes glimmer up and down the song like light reflecting off of a snow cone, held by a baby wearing one of those swimming onesies with smiling crabs on them.

 The cvlt is alive.

Some of these riffs are almost danceable, if you dance like a Latvian, and the keyboards play such a fun role in the music I couldn't help but smile the first few times I listened.  As Sacred Son has proven lately black metal has never lost that capacity to poke a blood-encrusted fist at conventions, even self imposed ones.  The music sounds like a mix of Deafheaven, Windir, and Morphinist.  Production is reasonably clean, guitars are killer, the voice is a proper tomb soaked wail, and the songs actually do give me that summer feel.  Not a sunny, laze around on the boardwalk eating snickerdoodles, getting your first grope, and enjoying a round of frog flipping kind of summer, though- more like that summer where you sat at a bar and drank warm beer through gritted teeth while watching everyone else get married against the setting sun type of feeling. The album stands out amidst the hundreds of samey black metal works that darken our shores and is definitely worth a listen or three.  Well done sirs.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Book Review: The Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High Castle
Probably one of the best books about the I Ching and Nazism ever written.  Probably.

Well, everyone who is anyone knows that Philip K. Dick is one of those writers whose books have at least two levels to them- batshit crazy and profoundly moving. Much like Vonnegut, in Mr. Dick I found an author whose books I devoured when I was a wee lad, and am now reading them again and find myself (gasp!) getting a lot more out of them as I get older and wrinklier. He is a challenging dude to read, for sure, but man, such good stuff.

I remember when I first read this book- I had a really hard time getting into it.  It might have been all the hexagram talk, or the weird "what is actually happening here?" vibe, or the stilted Japanese thought patterns used by everyone on the west coast in the story.  Or it could have been the fact that I was 12, and the only fantasy I had read at that point consisted of the Xanth trilogy.

Which was also an awesome series of books (at least through Question Quest, before it got super creepy and old man pedo-flavored).  Comparing the two, however, is like comparing Rocky with Ricky 1.

Hint- the difference is not in the size of the posters.

So what would I call this book?  Fantasy?  Science Fiction?  Speculative Fiction?  I think it can be given any of those labels, but it doesn't fit neatly into any of them.  This is the type of novel, dear readers, that transcends those kind of boundaries and became something bigger, something much more than the sum of its parts.  To judge a book like this using those shallow genre criteria would be akin to analyzing Hulk Hogan's wrestling career simply in terms of how realistic his leg drop looked.

Leg Drop from the High Castle.

On the surface it seems a pretty standard, albeit very well written, "What If?" story, positing a world where Germany and Japan (and Italy, sort of) win WWII and split the world up into two zones. They then immediately vie for domination. There is also some space travel thrown in.  It follows a few weeks in the lives of various characters who are loosely connected to each other and scattered throughout what is left of the United States after the war, the country having been split into three different areas: one run by the Japanese, one by the Germans, and a bit in the middle, around the Rocky Mountains, which has been left alone, at least for now.  Everyone in the book is painted with varying shades of miserable, even the "victors".  Not a happy world, for sure.  Mostly, they are trying to get by, and do the best they can in a world they clearly don't belong in.

So, nothing too interesting, right?   Throw in some sparkly douchebags, and it could be Twilight.  Been there, done that.  Well, except . . . the characters don't seem to fit into their own narratives. There is a sense of wrongness which pervades the book.  Not just in what the characters say, or do, but in how the very book is written.  Nothing really seems to belong, and what the hell does the I Ching have to do with anything?

As always with his books, there is much more to say. This is much more a meditation on perception and reality, on what we choose to believe, to compromise every moment of the day just to get through life relatively unscathed.  This book has been very influential on me as a writer, and in fact was one of the main inspirations for my own novel, Endtyme (cheapest of cheap plugs!).  The way that Mr. Dick plays with reality and narratives was groundbreaking at the time, and you can see the influence everywhere (Inception comes immediately to mind, as does Mayhem's Order Ad Chao album).

Our High Castle goes to the 11th floor.  Eh?  Eh?

Regarded as a classic, and for good reason. If you have read it already, awesome.  I will buy you three "literati" beers.  If you haven't- c'mon, bro.  Be cool.  Read it- trust me.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Game Review: Stick It To The Man

Stick It To The Man
Point And Stick (get it?  Eh? Eh?)

To give y'all a bit of a background, the "Point N Click" graphic adventure games have always been my favorite genre.  As a young lad, growing up in a small Rage Cage, my brothers and I would spend hours pouring over text adventures like Jinxed, Zork, Wayfarer . . . oh man, good times.  Then, graphic adventures happened, and we immediately spent the next 5 years swooning over the epic great times of games like Monkey Island, Indiana Jones, Maniac Mansion, Kings Quest, Space Quest (Oh Goddamn Space Quest), and countless others.  These games were probably some of the few that we would all play together, helping each other solve the puzzles, giggling over the humor (Goddamn Space Quest) and raging (tm) over the cheap deaths inherent therein.  While the evolution of games over the last 15 years have brought some sweet, sweet things, one of the saddest losses, for me, was the old Point N' Click.  They were left by the wayside as companies began putting out waves of identikit platformers, sports games, FPSs, MMOs, and a number of other fun acronyms.  The lowpoint for me was when King's Quest 8 was released as a crappy clone of Tomb Raider:

I think that Satan guy wants to play a different game.  Probably one that gives a damn.

There was a huge lull for me after the two Discworld games came out on the Playstation.  For the next two generations, almost 10 years, I pretty much had to do without graphic adventures (not being a PC gamer).  Then, with the rise of the Wii, and it's sexy pointer controls, those games began to come back on home systems (along with the increased output from Tell Tale games).   There were some changes to the structure, of course, but to me these last four years have been such a great nostalgic trip.  Good times for adventure fans (and a cheap plug for my upcoming "favorite adventure games" entry).

Awesome intro aside, we now arrive at Stick It To The Man.  It's available on tons of platforms.  I played through it on my shiny Wii U, but all versions are more or less the same.  To put it simply, I loved this game.  It's essentially an old school game, with it's focus on puzzle solving and story over action.  The main premise is that the main character (a fantastic, Homer-esque lovable loser) can read minds.  Everyone's minds.  This is the gameplay concept that creates all the comic situations in the game. And these moments of hilarity are legion.  You move from level to level by helping everyone solve their problems, which could range from giving an old man a new toupee to fixing a women's teeth to helping a crazy old dude catch a zombified whale.  Great writing, awesome graphics (done in a cool diorama/paper cut style), kick ass voice acting . . .  this game is awesome.  Play it, you bastards.  And, for busy sumbitches like me, the length was perfect, at a few hours for the first playthrough.  Anyone who, like me, misses the days of huddling around an old Amiga, working through the first scene of Space Quest I at 1130 at night, owes it to themselves to give this one a whirl.  Doubt me?  click on this trailer and tell me you don't want some:

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Music Review: Hoth

'Tis the season.  The season of occasional drama, frequent drinking, and massive amounts of eating, but predominately of giving.  Speaking of giving, what franchise has given more to our culture than Star Wars? Movies, books, TV Shows, Christmas specials, toys, video games, bed sheets, conventions, Rule 34 . . . the list goes on and on.  It's about time we gave something back, isn't it?  With that in mind, I present you Hoth.

Hoth, a Star Wars themed Black Metal band.

And yes, it is as kick ass as that sounds.

Hoth: Oathbreaker
Very FORCEful.  Get it?  Get it?  Heh.

I never would have thought to do something like this, mostly because I am unoriginal as fuck.  Listening to this makes me wish I had sent more time in Creativity 101, because once you hear it, the only thing left to say is "why didn't someone do this before?"  Much like the planet itself, Hoth (by the way, check out the logo- saucy) is cold, unrelenting, brutal, and beautiful.  The theme of this album is basically the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker and it's covered here much better than in the prequel trilogy.  They do such a good job, in fact, that I am almost tempted to go back and watch that god awful series of films again, which previously would only have happened if George Lucas came to my house on a flat bed truck carrying a champagne hot tub, 5 women dressed as Slave Girl Leia, and a Rancor working as bartender.

The production is great.  There are multiple styles of vocals weaving into, out of, and over each other, like the victims of the Sarlacc Pit.  The lyrics match the theme perfectly, and unlike most concept albums, which tend to collapse under the own weight like a hobbled AT-AT, here the concept manages to drive the album forward.  This is black metal of the speedy epic variety, with many of the songs building up to killer choruses which could cause dangerous amounts of light saber waving.  Some kick ass riffage happening here, too, with lots of galloping guitars, drums following closely behind- a rhythmical Chewbacca.

Check this album out.  This is a shining example of a core concept, brilliantly executed.  Still not sure?  Rock this track.  There is no try.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Game Review: Thomas Was Alone

Thomas Was Alone
Pong Meets The Goonies.

I know it has been out for a few years now, but bear with me.  I just got it on the Wii U, and don't play games on my computer because keyboards give me anxiety issues.  I often hear lots of hype about some indie type games that I never get a chance to play, and this one has been on my radar for some time.  I finally got a chance to pick it up and have been playing it all weekend and, man, it lives up to the hype.

Essentially a platformer, with some puzzley bits thrown in, where Thomas Was Alone succeeds is in drawing you completely into its world.  By the end you will be rooting for Thomas, Claire, John, Christian, and the rest of the gang.  You'll have your favorite character.  You will really BOND with the people in this game. The world itself will become alive.  The music, story, and gameplay all come together to create this unified experience.  The goal of the game is simple: lead your rag tag squad of characters from one end of the level to the other. They each have their own personalities and powers, and only by working as a team will they succeed. It is never very challenging, but finding the end of every level is always satisfying. The best part?

It looks like this:

 Thomas is the rectangular one.

In an age of hyper realistic graphics, 150 million dollar budgets, and the endless quest to make games more like movies (and less and less like games) comes this gem.  It is abstract by choice and the minimalism is in stark contrast to the big budget games of today.  However, if someone asked me why, as a 37 year old man, I still play games, after punching them repeatedly in the face I would have them rock a few minutes of Thomas.  I started with Pong and, after 30 years, my current favorite game is so Pong ish that I feel like breaking into Circle Of Life a few times a day.

Well done, sirs.  If you have not played this yet, I would highly recommend checking it out.  It won't change your life, but it might remind you why you liked games in the first place.