SIRENIA – The Seventh Life Path

SIRENIA - The Seventh Life Path (2015)

SIRENIA – The Seventh Life Path (2015)

SIRENIA
Album: The Seventh Life Path
Released: May 11th 2015
Label: Napalm Records
Website: Official
Score: 2/9 Hammers

Sirenia, depending on who you ask, is either a Norwegian gothic metal band or an order of passive aquatic mammals more commonly known as sea cows. They’re an odd amalgamation of synth, heavily produced artificial sounds and choral singing – the band that is – whose greatest achievement is to somehow make all of that feel perfectly natural.

With all these elements, like grafting a mighty death laser onto a and gentle sea cow, if it’s handled correctly it’ll at least be interesting but if you fuck it up, it’s going to go horribly, horribly wrong. Continue reading

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game review: HAND OF FATE

Hand of Fate (2015)

Hand of Fate (2015)

HAND OF FATE
Developer: Defiant Development
Released: Febuary 17th, 2015
Website: Official
Score: 7/9 Hammers

The trick when describing something like “Hand of Fate” is to keep yourself from talking solely about what it’s not. It’s a card game, except not really, what with the third person combat ultimately deciding most of your fate. It’s an RPG, except you don’t really level up or travel anywhere, and spend most of your time collecting cards. It’s a dungeon crawler, except you spend the entire game sat at a table, watching a hooded man with a voice like honeyed pork smugly performing card-tricks and occasionally calling you a prick.

It’s great, except it ends a little too quickly.

Or, if you want a description that’s slightly less pretentious, Think something like Clue, if there was a chance that each time you discovered a new room the gamemaster would draw a murderweapon, hand you a candlestick or length of lead pipe, and try to beat the snot out of you.

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KORPIKLAANI – Noita

Korpiklaani - Noita (2015)

Korpiklaani – Noita (2015)

KORPIKLAANI
Album: Noitat
Released: May 5th 2015
Label: Nuclear Blast
Website: Official
Score: 8/9 Hammers

Korpiklaani is, in my limited understanding, the gritty reboot of the band Shaman, which in itself was the gritty prequel to Shamaani Duo. Either that or the band’s name changes signal a change in composition and direction while maintaining a solid link through their core musical style and membership, but honestly what are the chances? My money’s on the first thing.

What’s important is the nature of that direction, and thankfully Korpiklaani is on to a winner. Despite what their unwieldy name might suggest, they’re the masters of energetic, light and catchy folk metal, with the emphasis firmly on the folk. Think violins and accordion lending their particular strength to the typical heavy electric guitar and bass. They’re well known for producing light jolly metal riffs and, just occasionally, the hardest polka since Geodude. Continue reading

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KAMELOT – Haven

Kamelot - Haven (2015)

Kamelot – Haven (2015)

KAMELOT
Album: Haven
Released: May 4th, 2015
Label: Napalm Records
Website: Official
Score: 4/9 Hammers

Alright, Kamelot. I recognize that name. It is power metal. Spelled with a K. Oh Jesus, they have 10 albums and have been around since 1995. Oh, fuck, they are not from Europe like I originally thought. Goddamn it, this is going to be a really awkward review.

If you are wondering at all why I am reviewing Kamelot after clearly having no idea who this band is, it is only because I feel progressive and power is insular in its celebrations and associations. Unlike doom, black, and even death metal, current power and progressive metal albums rarely crossover to non metal publications. Even large celebrations, like Noble Beast, saw little traction outside circles of fans who already enjoy the sound. Because of this, I want to catch as many new releases in the power and progressive arena and really keep my ear to the ground for something spectacular. I am unsure if this is that thing I was just discussing.

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television review: BLACK SAILS [S2 E8-E10]

Black Sails (2014)

Black Sails (2014)

BLACK SAILS [S2 E8-E10]
Aired: March 14, 2015 – March 28, 2015
Produced By: Michael Bay
Directed By: Clark Johnson / Stefan Schwartz
Starring: Toby Stephens, Hannah New, Luke Arnold
Website: IMDB

Score: 6/9 Hammers

If anything can be summarized by my series of reviews of the Starz television series, Black Sails, it is that it is unpredictable, similar to a violent ocean that throws its viewers to and fro. By the close of the second season the show’s producers allowed everything to fly and characters to meet logical conclusions. What follows will be a series of spoilers that might upset some people, but to those who have been here since the beginning, will be some small measure of relief. When a major character finally gets shot in the head you are certain that they are actually gone from the show. Right? There is no coming back. No zombies. No being found at sea. STAY DEAD.

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WILDERUN – Sleep at the Edge of the Earth

Wilderun - Sleep at the Edge of the Earth (2015)

Wilderun – Sleep at the Edge of the Earth (2015)

WILDERUN
Album: Sleep at the Edge of the Earth
Released: April 7th, 2015
Label: Independent
Website: Official
Score: 7/9 Hammers

Well, this is it. There have been discussions and wonderings of when American folk metal was going to become a thing and I guess it is here. Though the black metal act Panopticon sort of took the mantle of bringing folk struggles and quasi anarchism into the metal arena, Wilderun fully embraces American lore and turns it into something that oddly sounds like European folk metal. No matter. Wilderun attempts to dive deep within the lush burrows of the American countryside to celebrate the diversity of the United States with a record full of oddly fitting genres but seamed influences.

The fact that Wilderun is still independent and/or unsigned is a testament to the capabilities of a band to have the ability to create high and well crafted production despite not being supported or distributed by a label. Though this happens more times than not, Wilderun’s second record Sleep at the Edge of the Earth possesses the scope and grandeur of typical power metal records with a depth of instrumentation sequencing that is near astounding. The album opens with a particular lush arrangement of acoustic folk instruments such as the sleepy dulcimer and is near intoxicating in its ability to be something that is completely unattached to heavy music. Though the band uses these flairs throughout a record of power and folk metal, the instrumental tracks that open and close the record are a surprising highlight. These moments also prepare one for the steps about to be taken. Continue reading

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UNLEASHED – Dawn of the Nine

Unleashed- Dawn of the Nine (2015)

Unleashed- Dawn of the Nine (2015)

UNLEASHED
Album: Dawn of the Nine
Released: April 24th 2015
Label: Nuclear Blast
Website: Official
Score: 5/9 Hammers

Upon starting up the opening track, I was immediately assaulted by familiarity. I don’t know where, or how, but I was overtaken by the sense that I’d heard this before. A run through of the usual suspects, from Candlemass to Testament, offered no answers, and further listening didn’t help either. Every now and again, I’d find something I thought would be a perfect match, most notably Judas Priest’s “Battle Hymn” and Testament’s “For the glory of…” but side by side nothing fit. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is the midpoint of Death Metal. The deathiest metalliest possible metal. A rare sample of uniformed ore, from which all other metal is forged.

Consequently, it feels more than a little familiar

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game review: IN VERBIS VIRTUS

In Verbis Virtus (2015)

In Verbis Virtus (2015)

IN VERBIS VIRTUS
Developer: Indomitus Games
Released: April 3th, 2015
Website: Official

Score: 5/9 Hammers

I tried to learn Latin once, for reasons I can’t remember but probably had something to do with being a tremendous nerd. I bring this up because, after having played this game for about two hours, I started having Rosetta Stone flashbacks. “In Verbis Virtus” doesn’t exactly try to discourage the association, what with naming itself in Latin and marketing itself as a “fantasy adventure” in which you cast spells using your “real voice”.

Not real magical spells, obviously. Think of this as being akin to Rocksmith, only using gameplay to train you in a skill that is impossible to actually use.

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metal history: BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG

Bayonets gleam in the morning sun / Smoke and fire belching from their guns  / Another volley and again they strike  / Thousands more comin' down the Chambersburg pike

Bayonets gleam in the morning sun / Smoke and fire belching from their guns / Another volley and again they strike / Thousands more comin’ down the Chambersburg pike

BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG
Source: Wikipedia
Key Dates: July 1–3, 1863

History is filled with tons of drama, blood, gore, and probably more blood. It is no wonder that heavy metal draws on history as inspiration for some of the greatest songs of all time. I can really only highlight one example, but suffice to say, history is filled with badasses, archvillians, and crazy stories. Just turn a Ken Burn’s documentary on and crank up the tunes!

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film review: SINBAD – THE FIFTH VOYAGE (2014)

Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage (2014)

Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage (2014)

SINBAD: THE FIFTH VOYAGE
Released: 2014
Directed By: Shahin Sean Solimon
Starring: Shahin Sean Solimon
Website: IMDB
Score: 3/9 Hammers

If you recall, I enjoy plunging myself head first into spans of film genres. One can look at each film genre as a great adventure and relish the time spent learning about nuances and origins of the style. If you also recall, I ran through classic horror for the Halloween season followed by a gallop through 1960’s Italian Sword and Sandal. These two exploits were propelled by my first film genre foray into Sword and Sorcery from the 80’s and 90’s. To mark a great conquest across fantastic filmmaking, I have returned to the various fantasy films of today and my oh my how little there are to choose from.

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APOCALYPTICA – Shadowmaker

Apocalyptica _ Shadowmaker (2015)

Apocalyptica _ Shadowmaker (2015)

APOCALYPTICA
Album: Shadowmaker
Released: April 17th 2015
Label: Better Noise/Eleven Seven Records
Website: Official
Score: 4/9 Hammers

Before anybody accuses me of some ethical failing on the grounds of disagreeing with my opinion, I want to come clean about my biases. I dig Apocalyptica. I dug them when they were starting out as what amounted to a Metallica cello tribute band. I dug them when they started striking out, making their own stuff. I dug 2003’s “Reflections”. I dug 1996’s “Metallica by Four Cellos”. As far as I’m concerned, Apocalyptica is at their best when they’re finding new ways to make classical instruments sound like war drums, but they’re not exactly incapable of mixing with more contemporary styles.

So why don’t I like this?

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game review: PILLARS OF ETERNITY

Pillars Of Eternity (2015)

Pillars Of Eternity (2015)

PILLARS OF ETERNITY
Developer: Obsidian
Released: March 26th, 2015
Website: Official

Score: 9/9 Hammers

Pillars of Eternity is a new fantasy RPG produced by Obsidian and kickstarted entirely by people who prefer deep complexity and vast swathes of well written text to shiny graphics and floating arrows that magically hover over your next objective. This means that, no matter how good it is, there are always going to be some people that dislike it. They’re the same folks who dislike having to read quest objectives, whose greatest desire is to sprint thoughtlessly toward a glowing point on a magical compass without sparing much thought as to what they’re doing, and to whom a difficult fight is just one you have to pause every other swing to chug a health potion.

Wimps, basically.

Complexity alone though doesn’t make for fun. Unleashing a demon from its puzzle box is complex, but for the safety of your softer, squishier bits I wouldn’t recommend it. How pillars succeeds is by keeping its depth on an opt-in basis. Playing easy mode will ensure a basic understanding of the system will keep you alive, while hard punishes you for understanding any less than the designers themselves. That’s not just the combat, of course. Throughout are little puzzles built into the world that the game never tells you the answer to, even when your character’s acquired all the available information. This ensures you’ll have to do the reading (and the thinking) for yourself, and that you’ll feel like you’ve actually achieved something when you get it right, no matter how simple it looks from an outsider.

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EUROPE – War of Kings

Europe - War of kings (2015)

Europe – War of kings (2015)

EUROPE
Album: War of Kings
Released: March 2nd 2015
Label: UDR Records
Website: Official
Score: 5/9 Hammers

When thinking about a band like Europe, it can perhaps be easy to forget they had a career outside the ten minutes it took them to record “The Final Countdown”. It’s almost as though they existed just long enough to get it down before skulking back into their home dimension where somehow “seen us” is a better rhyme than “penis” for “Venus”.

Honestly, I’ve never been into them as a band. I couldn’t name one other album of theirs in their 36 year career. Obviously, I assume they’ve got other songs, I’ve even heard them live at one point, but it all seems like so much filler in contrast to what might be the world’s best bad song. My ignorance hasn’t stopped them releasing ten whole albums though, so with War of Kings I thought I’d discovered what they’ve changed over the years. Continue reading

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review: NIGHTWISH – Endless Forms Most Beautiful

Nightwish - Endless Forms Most Beautiful (2015)

Nightwish – Endless Forms Most Beautiful (2015)

NIGHTWISH
Album: Endless Forms Most Beautiful
Released: March 27th, 2015
Label: Nuclear Blast
Website: Official
Score: 5/9 Hammers

Let us be perfectly honest here. I am not the most knowledgeable person regarding the Finnish band Nightwish. Sure, I am familiar with their existence and possibly their most well known song “Wishmaster,” but if you were to ask me to match songs to albums, I would most likely fail. Furthermore, if you gave me a list of similar sounding phrases and asked me to pick out the Nightwish album, I would probably be average. The point is, if you were looking for an authoritative review on Endless Forms Most Beautiful, the band’s 8th studio album, you might as well go somewhere else. If you are like me, however, and have always had Nightwish at the periphery of your interest, then please sit on down and prepare yourself for the world of well dressed, slightly sensual, symphonic metal. Continue reading

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