The Good Bits: March 2016

Anthrax, For All Kings (Megaforce)

anthrax-for-all-kings-album-new

Anthrax’s 2011 effort Worship Music was really fucking good. Part of why it was so good is because no one really expected it to be. Between its troubled production and the fact that Anthrax have always gotten the short end of the stick compared to the other Big Four bands, it shouldn’t have been as good as it was. Yet, here we are in 2016 with a follow-up album that fans were hoping would be as good as the band’s triumphant comeback. Surprise: it is.

I’ve had a solid month to listen to this album several times and what continues to strike me is how the tone of the album is so consistent, but sidesteps repetition. Usually with thrash metal, you know what you’re getting into before the album even starts. But Anthrax have never felt the need to always play fast and shreddy, so there’s more variety than you’d normally expect. Take for example “Blood Eagle Wings”, which is the longest and slowest track on the album, but also one of the best with superb lyrics and trudging riffs. But then at the end of the album we have “Zero Tolerance”, the thrash metal equivalent of having a middle finger being rapidly shoved in your face.  If you’re one of those metal fans who considers the Big Four old and tired, For All Kings ought to make you rethink that stance.

 

Amon Amarth, Jomsviking (Metal Blade)

AmonAmarthJomsviking

Amon Amarth is one of those bands you can always count on for being consistently good. While some albums may edge out others slightly and they haven’t really changed up their sound much over the years, the band has never really bombed with a release. With that said, Jomsviking is one of the band’s best releases yet. This concept album centered on (what else?) vikings may sound like a retread for the band, but fans old and new will likely be surprised by just how damn good they are ten albums into their career.

I always appreciate when metal bands realize you can have melody in your music while also screaming about cleaving people in half, and Amon Amarth continue that trend on Jomsviking. They don’t break any new ground here apart from including guest vocals from the fantastic Doro Pesch, but they don’t really need to. You ought to know what you’re getting into when you pick up a new Amon Amarth album, and if you don’t, just give the opening track “First Kill” a listen and you’ll get a good sense of the rest of the album. Chalk this one up to another fine release worthy of being played in Valhalla itself.

 

Movies:

Kingsman: The Secret Service (Colin Firth, Taron Edgerton)
(Director: Matthew Vaughn)

kingsman

Kingsman is one of those movies that you didn’t give a shit about when you saw the previews but then your friends started talking about how good it was. So you finally go see it for yourself and, surprise, it’s that good. What starts off looking like an over the top James Bond-esque spy film ends up feeling more like X-Men right before it goes balls to the wall insane. The plot is along the lines of what you’d expect: Taron Edgerton is recruited by Colin Firth to join a group of secret agents all named after Knights of the Round Table who are intent on stopping a tech savvy villain (Samuel L. Jackson) from taking over the world.

Vaughn has a knack for making characters appear alive and vibrant onscreen, so the whole cast is enjoyable, especially Colin Firth simply because he’s Colin fucking Firth. Also, Jackson, at age sixty-seven, somehow makes himself thirty years younger in his quirky villain role. And now I finally understand why Edgerton is such a favorite for young Han Solo. This guy has great screen presence and moves from a rough-around-the-edges kid to a clean-cut gentleman with ease. Did I mention already that this film ends up going balls to the wall nuts? I can’t remember the last time a movie had me cackling with glee during the whole third act as each ridiculous sequence was followed by something even more ridiculous.

 

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot)
(Director: Zack Snyder)

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By now, you’ve probably noticed that while critics have mercilessly assaulted this film, fan response has been more mixed to good. This is because the majority of critics are paid to write masturbatory pieces of fluff they call reviews and, nowadays, most of that fluff is taken up by superhero movies. And they’re sick of them, dammit. Enough of this damn CGI spectacle bullshit! Get back to making real movies, Hollywood! My point is, if you’re going to trust anyone’s opinion on Batman v Superman, go see it and form your own. But while you’re here, I’ll let you know what I think of it.

Let’s address some bullet points first: Ben Affleck is great as Batman, they didn’t fuck up Wonder Woman, the titular fight was great and was the perfect length, and I’m hyped as shit for future DC movies. No, the movie is not perfect by any means, mostly because it also needs to fast track a shared universe and so weird shit happens on occasion. And, yes people might find it too dark compared to Marvel, but at this point comparing the two is almost pointless. You can’t criticize the movie by saying “They’re just trying to copy Marvel” then complain that they aren’t doing it like Marvel does. It’s a different style, one that will polarize many, but it’s what they’ve settled on. But goddamn, I practically squealed when I saw this shot. Maybe my enjoyment of the movie was born out of the fact that it took so long to see the three core members of the Justice League on the big screen together, but is that so wrong? I had a great time watching it, and you may too if you give it a shot.

 

Books:

Outlander by Diana Galbadon

Outlander-blue-cover-198x300

I have a lot to say about Outlander, more than I thought I would before I picked it up. Being a fan of historical fiction, it’s been on my reading list a long time and I bumped it up the queue after the television adaptation premiered. Once I finally delved in, the results were not what I expected, though not necessarily in a bad way. More just in a purely baffling way. If that sounds confusing, I’ll try to sort it out in a condensed version of the rant I’ve given to anyone who’d listen.

The overall story is very good. The romance is strong and a lot of time is taken to flesh out the two leads, Claire Randall (the first-person narrator) and Jamie Fraser a.k.a. God’s gift to women. The history is weaved well into the narrative and the depiction of the Scottish Highlands is very vivid (though she sometimes gives Scotland a little too much of the spotlight). That said, some of Galbadon’s writing just flummoxes me. She often writes sentences that read something like “I managed to negotiate the offended digit” as opposed to “I mended the broken finger.” It’s one thing to have a sentence like that every now and again, but when it’s happening throughout the whole book it makes me wonder if Galbadon had a thesaurus next to her the whole so she’d know how to make Claire sound more British. There are also a few (not many but a few) scenes in the book where I had absolutely no idea what was going on. One scene in particular towards the end of the book involved Jamie fighting a fever and Claire trying to help him by…cutting his chest with a dagger? There’s obviously more context to it than that, but it was still easily the most bizarre scene in the book, which is saying something when your lead character starts the story by falling through a giant rock.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed Outlander and I’m glad I finally got around to reading it. The second book in the series is on my reading list for sure, but I’m not exactly clamoring for it like I usually am with series of this nature. Here’s hoping the next volume is bigger and better.

 

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Ocean_at_the_End_of_the_Lane_US_Cover

I’m a firm believer that, when it comes to telling stories, sometimes things don’t always need to be explained. Sometimes things just are. While I’m all for writers tying up all loose ends with razor precision, I’m also for writers who just let things be. This is why I feel that Neil Gaiman is such a special writer and why The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a special, little novel. Really, it’s short enough that many could probably finish it in one sitting (I took just under two weeks). Don’t be fooled though; there is plenty of depth in the story, more so than you’d expected from being under 200 pages.

I don’t want to say too much about the plot save that it’s about a middle-aged man revisiting his hometown and reminiscing about a peculiar instance from his childhood. Everything else is best experienced by knowing only as much as the inner flap tells you. This book is about many things: it’s about myth, it’s about embracing the strange, but most of it all it’s about childhood. And I don’t just mean in a “life used to be so simple” kind of way. If anything, it mulls over the difficulties that a seven-year-old may face, the attempt to recollect memories of events that were too large for a child’s mind to fully comprehend, and coming to terms with how strange the world is and that we’re all just small, moving pieces inside that strangeness. Gaiman fans will love it. If you check your disbelief at the door, you will too.

 

Currently Reading:

Dune by Frank Herbert

dune

You know those moments you have when you watch a movie, read a book, or play a video game held in high regard and you wonder “What took me so long?” That’s how I felt within fifty pages of this book. More on this later.

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