Archive for the Reviews Category

Vintersorg: Till Fjälls Del II – A Worthy Sequel?

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Music, Reviews with tags on June 30, 2017 by slateman

The way I figure it, Vintersorg has gone through three phases. First, you had the original, folk-inspired, awesome, initial era. This was
followed by the progressive, non-Swedish and in retrospect, rather brief, second phase. I lost a lot of interest at this point. However, 2007’s Solens Rötter was a return to form that was all but perfected in the next releases. Jordpuls was brilliant and Orkan was 2012’s Album of the Year. Naturbål was no slouch, but perhaps more of the same wasn’t quite enough.

And while each release was solid and spectacular, I can see why something needed to change. So when it was announced that album #10 would be titled Till Fjälls: Del II, it piqued my interest greatly. But it also made me wonder. C’mon, how many bands can truly put out a sequel to something as awesome Till Fjälls? Can anything really live up to the first two LPs?

With a few spins under my belt, the answer simply is, “no.” Part II is on par with Naturbål and Jordpuls, but it’s no Orkan and it certainly isn’t in the same league as Vintersorg’s first few releases. Mathematically, it is sound. It is exactly what I would hope for. But it is not as rooted in the folky tradition. It is not nearly as catchy. There’s nothing as hum-worthy as För Kung Och Fosterland or the title track. Actually, Tillbaka Till Källorna is perpetually stuck in my mind these last few days. Additionally, the mix is questionable. Drums are awfully low, particularly bass drums, which is really quite strange.

In fact, the biggest downside of this album is its name. Just giving us the fourth and final entry into the earthly elements series would have been just fine. But that damn Till Fjälls name just gave me a sense of expectation that was almost impossible to live up to. (Edit: But with each subsequent listen, it grows on me.)

A side bonus is that I understand some of the lyrics and song titles now, with a little Swedish vocabulary.

Mini-Review: Kreator – Gods Of Violence

Posted in Blog, Music, Reviews on January 31, 2017 by slateman

Barring People Of The Lie and a brief interest in the band in the late ’90s (I saw them in March of ’96, the night I met Bobby Gustafson and Sid Falck!), I never got into Kreator. However, with buzz about their new album and a little spare time on my hands, I figured why not test out the thirty-year-veterans. Gods Of Violence, the title track, astonished me. It was riffy, catchy and heavy. The harmonies were great and the double bass kicked in right when it needed to! Opting to listen to the whole album, I was pleasantly surprised to find the whole thing is solid! The production isn’t quite what it could be, but beyond that, the album has everything I love about metal. Solos and fills and screams and riffs and clean sections and fast songs…as ineloquent as that comes across, it surmises how thus far (one month), it’s the clear Album of the Year!

With utter certainty that crown shall be bestowed to another, but for now I’m thoroughly enjoying a band I never thought I’d be listening to. Maybe at 20, but not at 40! This is a spectacular record and I’m so happy I decided to check ’em out. Kick-ass!

Mini-Review: Resident Evil VII – Outstanding

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games, Resident Evil, Reviews on January 30, 2017 by slateman

“This is terrifying.”

I uttered those words no fewer than three times during my still-incomplete playthrough of Resident Evil VII. And that fear was due not to not only events or monsters. It was the darkness. It was the eerie sound. It was the jump scares as well as when nothing at all was happening. The tension this game builds is stifling. RE7 is an unbridled success by excelling in its audio, video, gameplay and story and for accomplishing what it set out to do.

From the compelling opening sequence to the tiptoe moments throughout, the game is crafted with care and meticulousness. Every room is beautifully detailed in its grotesqueness. The lighting, more important here than in almost every other game, is spectacular. As I huddle, scared to death of whatever is lurking in the next room, the sounds are as remarkable as the visuals. My breath, every step, creaky floors, creatures behind me…each is a requisite part of the immersive nature of RE7 and all add up to convey a tension I’ve rarely felt in gaming. The story, while absurd in its premise, is the perfect vehicle for such a tale. It moves forward at a steady pace, allowing you time to breathe and explore but always retrieves you to that state of unease.

While RE4 is still considered a major success, what is largely forgotten is how needed it was. After RE3 and Code Veronica, the series needed a change. And after RE4 brought an action-oriented focus to the namesake, 5 and 6 expanded upon that formula until yet again a change was necessary. Whether RE7 is a glorious return to the series’ roots or just a mostly-unrelated survival horror game isn’t the point. The series needed a shift and here we are. I, for one, am happy there’s no Wesker, no Redfields and no Raccoon City. While my last few hours may tie things together, I have thoroughly enjoyed this game, RE or not.

And reviews seem to agree. How rare is it that the first, the fourth and the seventh main entries into any series are so widely-heralded as a massive success? Each has a different vantage point, take on horror and yet all three are Resident Evil. Considering how many times I’ve beaten 1 and 4, I have a feeling a speedrun of RE7 is in my future. And I can’t wait.

Stranger Things: So 80s. So Awesome!

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Movies, Reviews on November 14, 2016 by slateman

stranger-thingsAfter hearing positive things, I asked around. My wife isn’t into sci-fi very much and I feared it would be too sci-fi-ey for her. Well, after six episodes in two nights, we are on the verge of finishing up season one, just three days after starting it.

The show is rooted in the 80s and everything feels like home. The setting, the decor of the houses, the camaraderie of the boys, it’s all 80s. It’s all like it was when I was a kid. And when the creepypasta happens, it’s classic! The silly tropes we allow past our radar are all there. Nowadays we have to explain everything in such detail. Back then…not so much. “Didn’t his mother notice he didn’t come home last night?” Sure, we could worry about it or we could just let it happen and enjoy it. It’s refreshing!

I’m so psyched to watch the final two episodes but it all happened so fast. It’s odd consuming entertainment in this fashion. While many broadcast shows still have the weekly schedule, watching an entire season in four days has its drawbacks. Do these shows impact us as much, considering we don’t have to wait seven days to reveal what happened to our favorite characters? It’s a double-edged sword but I’ll tell you, very little can stop me from finishing this ode to my youth this very evening. Then the dreaded wait until the next season comes! See how long it takes us to devour those episodes!!!

Tolkien: The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun – Not Bad!

Posted in Blog, Reviews, Tolkien on November 6, 2016 by slateman

tolkien_aotrou_itrounI’ve read all of the recent publications of the now-deceased-for-43-years author. And while I buy each and every one, that isn’t to say I enjoy them all. I actually found Beowulf nigh unreadable and The Fall Of Arthur a chore to read. The latter was only made easier by my experience with the tales. So, another entry into what formed Tolkien’s brilliant legendarium will be consumed, whether I like it or not. However, while the $25 purchase was read entirely on a Sunday morning, I found this one a likable and highly-readable lay. Much like his poems in The Lays Of Beleriand (of which, clearly, The Lay Of Leithian is the greatest, more on this below), this is a fun read which took me back to my first time reading Tolkien’s work. In fact, it’s possibly superior to the rather generic, “Such power, strength like a tower” portions which plagued some of his other lays. The Lay Of Aotrou And Itroun, steeped in British and Celtic folklore was a colorful read, albeit brief, and one which I would return to (unlike The Fall Of Arthur). I should also add that his take on Kullervo last year was likely my favorite of the recent releases.

Next year will mark 44 years since my beloved author’s death, but fear not, yet another entry into my library will inevitably be purchased. The Tale of Beren and Lúthien shall sit upon my shelf, next to this lovely copy of Aotrou And Itroun. While this tale has been told, both in my most-revered novel, The Silmarillion but also in the aforementioned The Lay Of Leithian. I suspect nothing new will be presented here, nor will it feature an overhauled made-for-novelization form like The Children Of Húrin did a decade before it. But return I must, to perhaps the most epic tale of Tolkien’s canon: The story of Beren the One-Handed and his nightingale Tinúviel. Just tell me where to place my money. And then tell me what Tolkien releases for the 45th anniversary of his death.

Star Wars Rebels: Season Two Finale

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Reviews with tags on April 1, 2016 by slateman

swrBarring the highly-enjoyable Episode VII, the season two finale of Star Wars Rebels was the best SW outside of the original trilogy. What I just witnessed was nothing short of a brilliantly-written and outrageously-exciting anthology of what we all love about SW. The ending…and here are indeed SPOILERS…so, is Ahsoka dead? Vader’s messed up. Maul is off doing something. Kanan is blinded and beat down and Ezra…wait. WAT? Ezra is gonna hit up the Dark Side? OMFG that episode was legendary! A friend said it best, “I feel bad for any fan that doesn’t watch this.” I think that sums it up. Missing this would be folly. That episode was the best SW anyone could ask for and it goes toe-to-toe with the greatest the movies have to offer. Wow…

Moonsorrow: Jumalten Aika Has Arrived!!!

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Music, Reviews on March 31, 2016 by slateman

Jumalten AikaIt’s finally here! The latest Moonsorrow opus has landed and EPIC is the first word that comes to mind. The enormous sound is only truly matched by the hefty duration of each of the album’s five offerings. It reminds me of the old days of the first Opeth records. Each song was truly a journey, and this album is no different. And while a few spins leave me placing this firmly below the band’s 2011 masterpiece, Jumalten Aika got me pumped up more and more on each subsequent listen. I’ll avoid the genre tags everyone so often loves to toss about, but it’s got everything I love about music and the lyrics…well, I don’t care about lyrics so there’s that. It may not end up being AOTY, but that’s OK. It’s fucking brilliant and it’s everything I wanted it to be. In fact, I can’t even finish writing this without bobbing my head in folky enthusiasm. I love this band.

Mini-Review: Amon Amarth – Jomsviking

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Music, Reviews on March 26, 2016 by slateman

Amon_AmarthI just finished The Saga Of The Jómsvíkings and found it a decent read. Most of the tale was the traditional Nordic heritage tales but the end was exciting. Now, Amon Amarth’s take on the legendary warriors is far more memorable! Barring the song featuring Doro, I love every single song. The production is utter perfection, it’s heavy as hell and it is memorable and catchy. This album is their strongest in quite a while IMO and it’s a temporary Album of the Year thus far. Let’s not forget Moonsorrow comes out next week, though. \m/

Mini-Review – Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Posted in Blog, Reviews with tags on December 20, 2015 by slateman

episode7

What can I say? Better than 1-2-3 was my only true request. That was done easily. However, the deeper lore of Star Wars was revealed. This was a movie I wanted to watch. I yearned for more info. I wasn’t bogged down in senate talk. And Poe’s intro scene said it all. Action, mystique, new ways to use the force and that humor from the originals all added up to a worthy successor to the films I grew up watching.

Seeing the old characters old was spectacular. How many sequels are truly set 30 years after the fact? The new characters shone. The action was great and the practical effects made this a tangible world I wanted to live in. The only downside I could see what that I knew it was part of a trilogy. Things must be explained and fleshed out later rather than NOW. A very minor downside indeed.

Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens is a title I can’t believe exists. It is fun but not goofy, light-hearted and funny but not cheesy, serious but not crippling so, new but old! Magically, Star Wars is somehow cool again.

The Pros & Cons Of The Hobbit Trilogy

Posted in Best / Worst, Lists, Movies, Reviews, Tolkien with tags , on December 30, 2014 by slateman

307252id1L_TheHobbit_TBOTFA_Teaser_27x40_1Sheet.inddNow that The Hobbit is done, we can look back at the trilogy that is a miracle to even exist. I recall the promise of it coming out being squelched by lawsuits. Now that the trilogy has ended, there is plenty to mull over. The verdict has come and it isn’t pretty. Rotten Tomatoes lists the finale as the worst of the three movies. I’ve heard of at least two comparisons to Episode I – just about the worst analogy a multi-part film could receive. It’s not quite so bad, but some commentary is needed.

The most important part of an article such as this is to preface the entire lot by saying this trilogy was no LOTR. The book, the lighthearted feel, even the way it was filmed differed. Comparing a children’s tale to the “if we don’t destroy the ring, the entire world will cease to be” feel of LOTR would be utterly foolish. Having said this, by the conclusion of the series, I found this tone, the colors, the presentation to be a charming alternate to the darkness found in the first film trilogy.

Nothing is more exemplary than the barrel scene from the second movie. If you read the book, you’ll remember it was a consistent, silly tale of “Aww shucks, we’re in trouble again – Oh look at that! Bilbo saved the day!” Contrast that to, “OMFG darkness, Nazgûl, Sauron’s gonna kill everyone.” The movies’ entire atmosphere is representative of this.

Letting go of this comparison allows for a better appreciation, so just do it.

The Good

The Dwarves
The variation of the Dwarves in the book was limited to color and some simple personality traits. The film does a good job in at least visually differentiating each. Time is limited, clearly, so by the third movie, there were some whom I couldn’t name whatsoever (Bifur and Nori, for instance.) I feel Jackson did a splendid job at making a colorful cast work well in the constraints presented by film. I did quite appreciate the fact that Glóin looks like his son, Gimli.

Out-Of-Control Action
It’s safe to say that some scenes were almost ‘comic-book’y. Yes. Just in case you were forgetting already, This Isn’t LOTR. Read the book again to get a feel of how silly it all was.

Three Films
In the recent weeks, reviews have slammed Jackson and his expansive Hollywood rendition of the timeless 200-page book. Most state that two films (the original vision) would have sufficed. But let me say this…in the original book, Thorin, Fíli and Kíli were all killed in three sentences. The nephews were relegated to saying they died defending their uncle. A film translation cannot introduce main characters and kill them without some weight and gravity. And Thorin’s death would come how? By the hands of a normal Orc? By a stray arrow?

hobbit-azog

Enter Azog & Bolg
In the books, Azog was slain by Dáin after killing Thrór. In the extended version of The Desolation Of Smaug we’re given information about Thrór’s death by the hands of the orc-chieftain. While Azog’s involvement in The Hobbit trilogy was greatly expanded, it presented us with a very important nemesis.

I didn’t like the idea of Azog originally. Another CG character – but think about it…Tolkien created Azog and while his backstory isn’t fleshed out (much like countless other characters), his purpose in the book is legitimate. And Thorin has a genuine interest in him. Who is the main antagonist in the story otherwise? Peter Jackson took an underused enemy, beefed him up and gave the trilogy a veritable (though not the most innovative) main enemy. It had to be done and while it’s far from canon, it ties in well.

Oh, Bolg was Azog’s son. He fought in the final battle and was slain by Beorn. In the movie, Legolas took care of him, but that’s OK. I guess Legolas needed to have some purpose (more on that below).

Extended Editions
We still wait for the last film’s extended version but I look forward to Alfrid dying! I liked the first movie’s extra footage but the second’s was far more powerful. It included much more about Thrain and Thrór. The potency and overarching importance of the magic rings is played out. Beorn has his time in the sun and seeing him next to Gandalf next to Bilbo was a cool height comparison!

Seeing the the Witch-King of Angmar’s burial grounds, the added scenes in Mirkwood and even the naming of Bilbo’s sword Sting were all nice touches that added to the fidelity of the motion picture as well as effective tie-ins to the LOTR trilogy.

The Bad
I positively hate how Galadriel handles things in Dol Guldur in the last movie. However, in The Silmarillion, details are given about the White Council, though few they are. Essentially, while Galadriel is part of the council in some form, she wasn’t there for the actual event. All that’s told is that Saruman, Gandalf and Elrond “assailed Dol Guldur and drove Sauron from his hold.” You can understand Peter Jackson’s desire to include this portion in the films. It ties this trilogy with LOTR and also gives Gandalf something to do. That is why he left the party at the edge of Mirkwood after all. So, having this is ok, but man, I hate the weird magic they give to Galadriel (but it’s not much different than what she was like in LOTR. And, having that meeting in the first Hobbit in Rivendell with Saruman, Gandalf, Galadriel and Elrond is pretty cool.

hobbit-tauriel

Tauriel
I don’t know of a single reader of the book who enjoys Tauriel’s presence in these films. Her acrobatics were entertaining. Many cite Tauriel as one of the worst decisions of the movies but I’ll just say one other name. Arwyn. I still haven’t a clue how it was the she was dying in the LOTR trilogy. As a purist, I hated her entire storyline and Tauriel is no better. She is Hollywood’s love story and as dreadful as it was, I understand the need to have this type of character.

Legolas
I realize time doesn’t pass the same way for Elves but it’s hard to hide the 10 years of age in Orlando Bloom’s face. To counter this, some film tricks have been used but he looks less natural. Visuals aside, my biggest issue with him was his lack of purpose. The entire second film just made him seem like a whiny boy slighted by his true love.

The WTF?

Thranduil’s Goodbye
Really? Go find Strider? That’s absurd, ridiculous and unnecessary.

Gandalf Knows?
I look forward to the extended edition to tell me more about this. I’m guessing he may think Bilbo has one of the Dwarf rings of power. This was another unnecessary attempt at a tie-in to LOTR.

Worm Things?!?!
I guess the Orcs need a way to travel. I don’t remember any worm things…

Alfrid
He kept getting screentime in the third movie but never died! Perhaps the extended edition? He was annoying but the comic relief was appreciated by one of my daughters. I expect this was the goal, but like Tauriel, readers groaned at his inclusion and recurring appearance!

It’s Over
Regardless of what you think, we’re done. The Silmarillion will and can never be made into a film so let’s not even pretend there’s hope. So, that’s it. Two trilogies that were dreams in the first place have been issued and while The Hobbit will never receive critical fame, I thought all three movies were fun. I enjoyed them all in some fashion and each has its own merits. I can’t wait for the extended finale. While most will disagree with all of what I wrote above, I’m a reader. I’ve read everything at least three times. I love my stuff and was highly entertained by the motion pictures. For me…that’s good enough!