Archive for the Reviews Category

Mini-Review: Tool – Fear Inoculum

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Music, Reviews on August 29, 2019 by slateman

Surmising several listens briefly: I like Fear Inoculum more than the last two albums combined. Tool holds a special part of my musical life – from getting into them back during Undertow to the game-changing Ænima. I saw the band four times and bought Salival at its midnight release back when Tower Records still existed. But their last two efforts left me desiring more, though Lateralus left more of an impact than its successor. The last time I saw them, I emerged bored by the second half, after a tremendously-exciting first half. And there we ended it – more than a decade ago – and with no real hopes or expectations for this long-gestating follow-up.

The first single released earlier in the month was promising and I don’t particularly like tracks 5 or 6. However, the remaining four songs are remarkable. They are familiar, yet new. The tracks sound wonderful and have a spectacular, heavy feel. But just like the prior album, something was missing. And it was easy to identify: Maynard. Part of what drove me to the band two-and-a-half decades ago was his fiery nature. He would unleash and it was amazing. But now, he’s rarely not monotone. He’s skilled – no doubt – but it gets boring. One song has this amazing buildup. Each bar comes with the promise of this culminating bomb! You feel the excitement…you wait for the inevitable…and you leave disappointed at the cliff from which you fall.

While I am highly critical of Maynard, he is quite adept at his craft, minus the aforementioned lack of fire. Just two or three perfectly-placed “AHHHHhhh!”s would make this album all but perfect. But it speaks to how good the rest is that it’s a solid record even without kick-ass Maynard. The songs are reminiscent of the past, which feels so familiar. That mix of new and nostalgia make me thrilled to put it on yet again – barring those two skippable tracks. I’ll have to look into the added digital ones. For now though, even on release day, I can proclaim this a superior record to the prior two.

Just Cause 4 – Mini-Review – Disappointment

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games, Reviews with tags on December 27, 2018 by slateman

Just Cause 4 is out and considering how much fun I had with the second and third iterations, I just had to dive back in to see Rico’s newest adventures. Despite the poor reviews installment #3 got, I quite enjoyed the romp through the fictional environments, blowing up virtually everything and scouring the world to collect all those obscure hidden treasures and spots.

However, while JC4 fixes some of the basic issues inherent in JC3, the end result is a lackluster title, missing much of the heart and soul of what the series so fantastic. Bottom line? I’d play 3 over 4 any day – warts and all.

Let’s get the good out of the way first. This game looks good, runs smoother and more fluidly than the last and its load times have been drastically shortened. Explosions and chaos in general is still rather impressive.

With that short list covered, what remains is more of the same…except it’s sometimes less of the same. The series has never striven for realism or depth. Quite the contrary, really, and locating bases to simply reduce them to rubble was genuinely the reason I signed up. Now, there’s no specific purpose to do that. Instead, causing chaos fills a meter which leads to more squad reserves which leads to advancing your frontlines in order to unlock new supply drops. Ummm…OK. So, I can still blow shit up, right?

Sure! Except you can’t keep track of the places you blew up. And while you do so, let’s say in a helicopter, you can raze an entire base to the ground without anyone even complaining. “Enemy chopper noticed,” or some similar message is mentioned, but that’s OK. Just keep destroying the bad guy’s satellites and fuel reserves. They won’t mind. If going on foot, on the other hand, expect some serious resistance. But who cares? Rico can absorb 8,000 shots before the screen gives you warning and then you can just grapple hook elsewhere and return 4 seconds later to continue the mindless fun. There’s no reason to actually kill the baddies because they appear to just keep respawning. Oh, and those remote mines I used 90% of the time in JC3? Yeah – Inexplicably gone. Quite literally the best parts of JC3 are gone. At least they added nitro boosts and jumping abilities to boats. Maybe that evens it all out???

Missions fare no better, mind you. It’s always about flipping switches and then hacking consoles. Well, sometimes it’s about hacking consoles and then flipping switches. Oh no, sometimes it’s about driving some dude to hack some consoles and then protecting him. At least you’re not flipping switches. It’s fucking stupid – and I say that having played the barely-more-than-skin-deep JC2 and JC3. I’m sorry, sometimes it’s about blowing up generators and THEN hacking consoles. My bad for missing out on that mission diversity.

Now – of course, there’s new stuff! New grapple hook loadouts allow you to make them liftoff like MGS5 or shoot boosters. I suppose they’re nice, but their implementation, some 6 hours into this venture, are also skin-deep at best. I use them when I need to, but, perhaps b/c I’m not 14 and have all the time in the world, I find the entire system clunky and unwieldy. In this effort, I’m assuredly missing out on the game’s best features.

But one of the greatest portions about JC3’s beautiful, open world was the exploration of said world. Here, there’s literally no incentive to do so. There are no secrets or perks or hidden awesomeness. Nope…if there’s nothing on the map, then there’s literally nothing there. You could wingsuit over it for shits and giggles, but like I mentioned, there is no reason to go there. Screw it. Just load up the next shitty mission which happens to be the same as the last shitty mission. The forgettable story with forgettable setpieces and forgettable characters are there simply to move forward towards what I’m envisioning is a very non-memorable finale.

So, the final verdict is that this game takes the best parts of the prior game, relegates them to meaningless side notes, adds some weather effects that I simply don’t give a shit about and fails on about every level beside the frame-rate and load times. No remote mines, a shoddy lock-on system, no incentive to explore, weak missions and average everything else really hurts what could have been a phenomenal game. Of course, things might get oh-so-much-better in the coming hours, but given how it’s gone so far, I won’t hold my breath. Might as well just boot up JC3 instead. :(

Some screenshots forthcoming…If I care enough to upload them.

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/