Tag Archives: Frank Herbert

The Good Bits: February 2017

February was full of fun, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. March is here now and has a lot to offer, mostly in terms of film, but also in terms of a certain type of media I haven’t mentioned on here yet: video games. I love gaming, but I’m not normally playing any games considered current. But, now that I’m newly equipped with an Xbox One, that’s beginning to change, so I’ll be adding a Currently Gaming category. On that note, if you ever have free time you want to kill, why not watch myself and my fiancée play Diablo III together? Head over to The Co-op Couple on Youtube and get watchin’!

Iron Reagan, Crossover Ministry (Relapse)

iron-reagan

I’m not sure why, but in the past I haven’t been as interested in albums with twenty plus songs ranging from thirty seconds to three minutes. This is the case on many thrash/hardcore/crossover thrash albums, and the only reason I can think for avoiding them is that I lean more towards progressive albums with nine or ten songs ranging anywhere from six to fourteen minutes. I also get more bored by thrash than I used to; there aren’t many newer bands in the subgenre to catch my attion. But I have enjoyed Municipal Waste in the past, and I’ve seen both them and their offshoot Iron Reagan live before and thought they put on a hell of a show. I can’t remember ever just sitting down with an Iron Reagan album before, but there hasn’t been much to catch my attention this month. And I mean really catch my attention. I threw Crossover Ministry on in my car just because it was new and two minutes later I was pumped. It’s a short album that can be finished under half and hour, but I had a lot of fun listening to it, so much so that I put it on again the next day.

 

Arrival

arrival

Arrival is a perfect example of a sci-fi film that doesn’t feel the need to resort to action in order to be great. Don’t get me wrong, I love my action sci-fi movies, but why do movies involving Earth and aliens always have to be a horror show or an explosive set piece? Why do we assume that the first thing aliens want to do is destroy Earth? Arrival bucks this trend with aliens showing up in multiple ships around the globe and then just kind of loitering. So it’s up to Amy Adams, a linguist professor, and Jeremy Renner, a theoretical physicist, to figure out who the aliens are and why they’re on Earth. What follows is a perfectly paced sci-fi drama that leads to much discussion and debate.

It’s hard to talk about this movie without getting into spoiler territory, and I really think this is the kind of film where you should go in blind to get the full impact of the story. Suffice it to say that the film manages to sidestep any M. Night Shyamalan nonsense when it comes to the central twist. It makes sense within the plot as well as thematically and there are hints dropped here and there that, if you’re really thinking and paying attention, you can figure it out just before the reveal. That, in my opinion, is the best kind of twist, one that leaves you actual breadcrumbs and ties into the whole rest of the story rather than being a simple pulling back of the curtain.

Director Denis Villeneuve’s next film is Blade Runner 2049 and he’s also slated to direct a new adaptation of Dune. If you are excited for either of those films, watching Arrival will give you hope as Villeneuve demonstrates his virtuosic ability. And if you don’t care about those movies, Arrival is still worth your time, so much so that I would go back to my top five of 2016 and put this in.

 

Get Out

get_out

I have been pitching this movie to the uninitiated as Rosemary’s Baby meets Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. If that’s a combination that piques your interest, I assure you it’s worth your time. The movie is about a black man, Chris (Kaluuya), who goes to visit his white girlfriend’s family. They’re a little strange, but not as strange as the few other black people Chris meets. What follows is an expertly crafted comedy horror film that provides not only a subversive take on black protagonists, but highly relevant social commentary that we kind of need.

Don’t let the label of comedy horror fool you; this film is thick with tension and you never really feel at ease, which is my favorite kind of approach to horror. Sure, there’s one or two minor jump scares, but the atmosphere is the star of the show here. Every now and again the tension is broken to deliver much needed laughs, usually from Chris’ best friend played by Lil Rey Howery, whose character is meant to channel your typical horror audience (“I told you not to go in that door!”) to hilarious results. It’s a great dichotomy, and allows the tense atmosphere to stay potent without being overwhelming and the comedy never feels overdone.  I’d rather not spoil the film (surprise surprise) but suffice it to say that it’s a solid horror film in its own right and it’s relevancy when it comes to race issues both in Hollywood and the world as a whole make it a horror film you can actually learn something from.

 

Books:

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

do-androids-dream-of-electric-sheep

I’m going to flat out say that Do Android Dream of Electric Sheep? may be one of my new favorite books, and not just in the sci-fi genre. I may be late to the party, but I just can’t get over how a book that’s nearly fifty years old can be so refreshing to read. I read it before watching Blade Runner, the cult classic film that I had so long neglected. Now, both are different mediums and both excel in different areas, but if we’re going by overall level of enjoyment, I’d have to give the nod to Dick’s original vision. The writing is snappy and well-paced, never getting boring or diving into too much backstory. If you’re a fan of Blade Runner, I’d highly recommend picking this up to see where it all started. Meanwhile, I’m going to give the film another run sometime before Blade Runner 2049 comes out this fall.

 

Currently Reading

Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert

dune-messiah

Dune was yet another 60’s sci-fi classic I’d yet to read until last year, and I loved it. So I picked up the next book right away, but I’ve sat on it for a while because of my extensive reading list. Now I’m about halfway through, and so far it’s a welcome return to Arrakis.

 

Currently Gaming:

Diablo III: Reaper of Souls (Xbox 360)

As I said above, Lizzy and I have been playing co-op in D3 for a while now and we’ve been recording our progress. We only just started posting the videos, but in real life we’re at Act V!

Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (Xbox One)

Dishonored 2 (Xbox One)

 

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The Good Bits: June 2016

Well now, this certainly ended up being a packed post. I heard and saw a lot in June, much more than I’ve put down here. I’m sure I’ve left a few things out, but this thing is over 21o0 words and since you were kind enough to come in and see what I wrote down I wouldn’t want to make you stay to too long. Brevity and wit and all that shit. By the by, if you’re looking for my thoughts on the second half of Game of Thrones season six, that’ll be coming at you soon in a separate post.

 

Music:

Katatonia, The Fall of Hearts (Peaceville)

katatonia

Maybe I haven’t been entirely fair to Katatonia in the past. They’re one of those bands that, on paper, are right up my alley: transition from the death/doom metal of its earlier career to more of a gothic prog rock sound, thus providing a versatile discography. But more often than not, particularly at their live shows, I ended up finding them kind of boring. I know I have friends that would be dismayed to hear that, but its true. They once headlined a show with Cult of Luna, Intronaut, and TesseracT and I left before they came on. Yet, after listening to their newest album, it occurs to me that maybe I’ve just been listening to the wrong albums. I’d really only listened to two or three before this, and this is probably my favorite of them all. The Fall of Hearts is a dark, smooth, atmospheric stroll that, for whatever reason, kept a stronger hold on my attention throughout compared to previous albums. It’s a bit more prog and a bit less heavy than their other material, so maybe the fact that the band has fully embraced this particular direction makes their songwriting more focused and comfortable. Either way, I’m happy I was proven wrong with this one.

 

If These Trees Could Talk, The Bones of a Dying World (Metal Blade)

if these trees

Instrumental post rock/metal bands have staked their claim in the music scene in recent years, and while you’d think it’d be hard for such bands to bands distinguish themselves, If These Tree Could Talk manage to avoid such an issue. The band’s first two fantastic albums were self-released before Metal Blade Records picked them up and rereleased them, and now their third release continues their streak. Some people may find the idea of an instrumental rock/metal band unexciting, which is understandable in the context that vocalists usually tie everything together. But ITTCT are able to keep a light hold on your attention without demanding it. Tracks like opener “Solstice” paint a sonic landscape that can sit comfortably in the background of your brain but serves up enough energy to keep you invigorated and interested. The best part? Because there are no vocals, screaming or otherwise, I would recommend this to anyone who might normally enjoy the music but detest the singing.

 

letlive., If I’m the Devil… (Epitaph)

letlive.-If-Im-The-Devil-album-art

I didn’t expect to like 2013’s The Blackest Beautiful as much as I did, but goddamn that album is still so good. So of course I was happy to find that If I’m the Devil… builds upon its predecessor without being an outright retread. It’s energetic, catchy, and continues the band’s penchant for lyrics concerning political and social issues. “Good Mourning, America” in particular hits hard with an intro alluding to police brutality that is sure to stir up uncomfortable feelings. That’s pretty much letlive.’s whole deal, putting out songs that are loud with screaming but focus on subjects that will make you think about the state of the world we live in. I haven’t given this as many spins as the other albums listed here, but for one listen to have this much impact is damn impressive in my book.

 

Zeal and Arbor, Devil Is Fine (Self-Released)

zeal and ardor

Best of lists are always fun to read, especially those of the “best of the year so far” variety. I enjoy sifting through the lists and finding new music to check out before the year is up. One of the bands I found in my travels is one man band Zeal and Arbor with an album called Devil Is Fine that mixes black metal with old school blues, spirituals, and a dash of trip hop. This is an unorthodox combination to say the least and you’d think that it’d turn out a mess all things considered. Far from it; this is one of the most unique albums I’ve ever heard and one of my favorites of the year so far. Listening to the track “In Ashes” with make you think of Howlin’ Wolf singing/screaming with a Norwegian backing band. Mastermind Manuel Gagneux has created something truly strange that’s going to get a lot of attention and will likely find its way onto my end-year list.

 

Gojira, Magma (Roadrunner)

gojira

Gojira have steadily cultivated a following over their years and ever since the release of 2012’s L’Enfant Sauvage they’ve been regarded as one of the most prominent bands in modern metal. Naturally, Magma ended up being one of the most highly anticipated releases of the year, bearing the daunting task of following up its acclaimed predecessor. The result is probably the tightest sounding album to come out this year featuring guitar work that is less about technical ability and more about arranging every musical strand to fit in place in order to draw out the dark emotions presented in songs such as “Silvera”. It’s also the band’s shortest album to date, clocking in at just under 44 minutes. This is a good thing as it drives home the idea that all the fat has been trimmed off the album and polished to a mirror shine.  Make no mistake that if you’ve been lollygagging over listening to Gojira, now is as good a time as any to get started.

 

Film:

The Witch (Anya Taylor-Joy)
(Director: Robert Eggers)

The-Witch-Poster-Large_1200_1776_81_s

I’m pretty selective when it comes to horror films, but one of my favorite innovations of the genre is having it take place during a non-modern time period. In this case, The Witch takes place in 17th century New England and concerns a Puritan family trying to start a life in the wilderness after being exiled from their settlement. The film is very bleak and the unknown of the surrounding wilderness is unsettling even before things start to go awry. Plus, we’re talking about a Puritan family, so the moment someone does or says something that can even be remotely put under the context of the Devil’s work, you’re just waiting for the hammer to come down. The film creates the kind of horror that we need more of nowadays, relying on a dense atmosphere that settles under your skin and stays there. Gotta give big ups to the child actors in this one as well.

 

Macbeth, (Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard)
(Director: Justin Kurzel)

Macbeth_2015_poster

Macbeth is my favorite play from Shakespeare, so I was more than pleased to hear that it was going to get the big budget treatment with two fantastic actors in the lead roles. Other Shakespeare fans will agree that seeing all the different takes on the roles or settings in his plays is what makes each production unique. That said, most productions of Macbeth seem focused on two things: 1) the violence, and 2) how that violence transforms Macbeth. What Justin Kurzel brings to the table is a beautifully stark film dripping with atmosphere, and while it has its violent moments (including the bloody stabbing of Duncan) they aren’t played up for shock factor, but instead to show the raw, harsh nature Macbeth has embraced. In fact, Fassbender’s Macbeth seems like he’s dead inside the moment we see him, implying that his becoming a murderer isn’t so much a descent as it is a natural progression. Cotillard nails her role, of course, offering up a take on Lady Macbeth that is less the sinister woman who takes a descent into madness but rather a woman who feels that the world has taken enough from her, and so she takes back. Also, the music provided by Jed Kurzel is hauntingly gorgeous. It’s my favorite adaptation of the Scottish play and one I’m eager to give another viewing.

Sidenote: Kurzel, Fassbender, and Cotillard are all leading the film adaptation of Assassin’s Creed, and while video game movies may have a penchant for sucking, Macbeth might give you hope that it’ll at least be decent given the talent involved.

 

The Conjuring 2 (Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson)
(Director: James Wan)

Conjuring_2

Two horror movies in one month? What are the odds? As I said, I’m selective with horror, but the first The Conjuring was surprisingly good, dishing out some good old supernatural possession that felt reinvigorated and, yes, actually scary. But horror film sequels are a dime a dozen and are usually just rehashes of the maiden film, so chances of The Conjuring 2 blowing were somewhat high. Yet, while the film is very similar to its predecessor, the new film is still just as effective as the first with no small thanks to Wan’s excellent direction and use of camera angles that will make your eyes flit all over the place trying to find out where the next scare is going to come from. Also, like the first film, The Conjuring takes the time to establish that the characters in this story are real people and not just fodder, showing them in times of happiness as well as terror. If there’s anything this sequel has over its predecessor, it’s that the demon nun depicted in this film is 1) scarier than the demon from the first film, and 2) fucking metal as hell. I can’t remember the last time a monster like that made me look over my shoulder while walking around my own home.

 

The Wolf of Wall Street (Leonardo DiCaprio)
(Director: Martin Scorsese)

wolf of wall street

Yeah, yeah I can hear people saying already: “How have you not seen this movie before?! It’s amazing! I’ve seen every Martin Scorsese movie which basically means I know everything about movies!” If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone ask that question I’d probably be able to buy my own damn theater. Make no mistake though, this has been on my list for a while, and now that I’ve seen it I can say that, yes, it’s as good as everyone said and, yes, DiCaprio should have won the Oscar for this. You’d think a three-hour movie with nonstop partying would get tiring, but it’s so funny and batshit crazy that you can’t look away until the credits roll. It was also great to see the role that got Margot Robbie to where she is now and Jonah Hill has great comedic chemistry with DiCaprio. I felt like I benefitted from seeing The Big Short before this as it helped to accentuate the lengths to which we go to for money and power.

 

Books:

Dune by Frank Herbert

dune

Somehow I forgot to put down my thoughts on Frank Herbert’s legendary sci-fi epic in my Good Bits recap of May. I finished it pretty early in the month and that was mostly the appendices. Then I dove into Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot, which I’ve had sitting on my shelf for a while. But a book like Dune certainly requires at least a few words, so I’ll sum up as much as I can: Dune is as important and influential as The Lord of the Rings, and now I see why. The influence on sci-fi and fantasy is unmistakable and the way Herbert goes about building his world is awe-inspiring. Sure, some concepts seem a bit dated and many story elements will seem very familiar, but that’s only because Dune‘s influence is now more famous than the actual text. By the time it was over all I could think was “How long until Hollywood gives this another whirl?” It’s a classic for a reason, and I’m happy I know that now.

 

‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

salem's lot

Two horror films and now a novel from the master of horror himself. I always felt horror has an advantage in the written word for one specific reason: it’s as vivid and fucked up as your mind allows it to be. I’m a huge King fan, but I actually got started reading works like The Green Mile and The Dark Tower saga, but after reading ‘Salem’s Lot I wish I’d started with the classics. ‘Salem’s Lot is my favorite novel from King thus far, a slow burn that succeeds in making a supernatural threat feel as real as the characters in the novel. I was also happy to see the original story behind Father Callahan, an important character in the latter half of The Dark Tower novels. I don’t want to say too much for those who haven’t read it, but I will leave it with this: when you think a certain type or trope or story has been wrung for all its worth, you go back to masters who made that shit great in the first place.

 

Currently Reading:

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams

hitchhiker's guide

Yet another novel that was long overdue for a read. Thus far, as a fan of British style humor, I’m kicking myself for not having picked this up sooner.

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The Good Bits: April 2016

As you can see, April was a month for music above all else. These six albums are the ones I’ve gone back to over and over during a month full of travel (six flights in two weeks, ugh). There’s a nice variety here too, and while metal still takes up the majority of spots, there are entries on here that are like to appeal to a wider audience. Given the way May has gone so far, you can expect a bigger focus on film with the next edition.

Music:

Ra Ra Riot, Need Your Light (Barsuk)

ra ra riot

Ra Ra Riot are one of the first bands I genuinely fell in love with when I first started a college radio in 2010. In the six years since, the band has had a few lineup and sound changes that even out in terms of pros and cons. While the band was initially focused on upbeat, string-heavy baroque pop, Beta Love marked the start of a more electronic pop sound with strings taking a much more minimal role. Need Your Light continues this same sound and, as a result, my feelings about it are similar to its predecessor: it’s catchy, Wes, Miles still shines as a fantastic vocalist, and it’s welcoming to new fans and old (assuming you liked Beta Love). “Foreign Lovers” stands out in particular as a seamless meld of the band’s old and new styles, starting with an bass-driven upbeat into before moving to a synth-heavy chorus. My only real criticism is the same one I held for Beta Love in that I really miss the strings being the at forefront of the music. Sure, they’re still there and I applaud the band for successful experimentation, but I do miss the atmosphere of cheery melancholy from the first two albums.

 

Cult of Luna & Julie Christmas, Mariner (Indie)

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Vertikal was one of my favorite albums in 2013 and it helped open my ears to the post-metal subgenre. After a year of touring, the band announced they’d be taking a break for the foreseeable future, so I naturally assumed it would be a while before we heard any new music from the group. And while three years may sound like a long time for some people, I’m just thankful it’s here at all. Admittedly, the fact that it was billed as a collaborative album put me into doubt not because of Julie Christmas’s musical ability, but because I’m usually mixed when it comes to collaborative efforts. It’s sort of like not wanting the food on your plate to touch so you can enjoy flavors individually (though truthfully I’m not a stickler in that department).

But surprise surprise: the album is great. While Vertikal possessed sprawling emotion and was grand in scale, Mariner makes you feel like finding a quiet corner of space to put yourself away for awhile, and sometimes we need that more. It takes you aboard a space frigate floating through the galaxy with an exceptional coat of atmosphere and plenty of heavy bits to tug you along. And holy hell can Julie Christmas scream; her performance only gets more intense as the album progresses. Like most Cult of Luna albums, this is best experienced as a whole, so I won’t recommend one particular track over another. Just find a stretch of time to put this on and forget about Earth for a bit.

 

Deftones, Gore (Reprise)

gore

One of the most anticipated albums of the year following up its critically acclaimed predecessor. Sound familiar? That’s because Deftones always seem to face that challenge, offering up one of the most consistently solid discographies in rock/metal as a result. So how well does Gore stack up following 2012’s exemplary Koi No Yokan? If you were hoping for more of the same, you might be disappointed. If you enjoy Deftones’s constant bushing of sonic boundaries, you’ll be pleased. While Deftones are no strangers to ambience, previous albums featured enough structure to pick out hooky hits that even the most casual rock fan would enjoy (seriously, I’ve yet to meet anyone who outright hates “Diamond Eyes”). But on Gore, the band loosens its grip a bit more, resulting in a nonlinear structure may challenge your expectations.

You can certainly pick out tracks like “Prayers/Triangles” or “Phantom Bride” (my favorite track) and enjoy them for their own merit, but this is yet another album I feel is better taken as a whole. It certainly doesn’t sound the same as Koi No Yokan or Diamond Eyes, and that may disappoint some. It admittedly threw me off a tad when I first put it on, but with each subsequent listen, my appreciation has grown, and that’s one of the best things an album can achieve. It’s like there’re levels to this album that cannot be unlocked in a single session. I guarantee that even if your initial reaction to this album is unfavorable you’ll feel compelled to come back to it, and that’s the kind of charm you can only find on a Deftones record.

 

Ninja Sex Party, Under The Covers (Self-Released)

Ninja_Sex_Party_-_Under_the_Covers_(Artwork)

If you’ve never experienced the Youtube channel Game Grumps or previous works of Ninja Sex Party, you might be missing a spark of joy in your life. Unless you don’t care for video games or songs laden with innuendo, in which case you are missing a slightly bigger spark of joy. While NSP are normally known for synth heavy rock songs about boners, sex, and dragons (among other things), this is a covers album borne of Danny Sexbang and Ninja Brian’s love of the 80’s. The comedy duo display their musical flexability with delightful covers of “Take On Me” and “Everybody Wants To Rule The World”. I personally appreciated the cover of Rush’s “Subdivisions” and the album closer “Wish You Were Here”. As you can see, the band certainly cover a lot of ground and there’s something for everyone here. Admittedly, I think people unfamiliar with GG or NSP might not think this is all that special, but I do think the covers are good enough that non-fans might consider checking out more from Dan, Brian, and their other projects. Side note: this is a self-released album that reached #17 on the Billboard 200. That’s impressive for a covers album from Youtube celebrities!

 

Haken, Affinity (Inside Out)

haken.jpg

Haken turned some heads in 2013 with their third album The Mountain, and with good reason; it was a breath of fresh air for prog rock/metal, reminiscent of genre greats like Dream Theater or Porcupine Tree without being derivative. With Affinity, Haken has continued that trend by offering up another album that is a refined blend of heaviness, melody, technical skill, and songwriting. Personally, I sometimes get turned off when newer prog bands record big bloated noodlefests and then stitch them together into an album. It not that such bands are bad, it just gets tiring when prog becomes synonymous with said noodlefests. Perhaps this is why Haken is so refreshing because there’s life to their music and not just cold musicianship. This is particularly evident on Affinity, sporting diversity from the catchy synth driven “1985” to the nearly sixteen minute centerpiece that is “The Architect” all the while moving cohesively from track to track. This is easily one of my favorites of the year so far both in the prog genre and in general.

 

Ihsahn, Arktis (Candlelight)

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Most metal fans know Ihsahn for his time in Emperor, but the man has done so much since the band’s final release in 2001. I was introduced to Ihsahn’s solo work in 2012 with the release of Eremita. I can’t speak for Ihsahn’s first three solo albums, but Eremita and Das Seelenbrechen took some time for me to get into, especially the former. I’m all for weird, experimental avant-garde kind of stuff, but some of the stuff I heard on these albums were pretty out there. Enter Akris, which is a bit most structured than Ihsahn’s previous albums but still roams into different sounds. “Until I Too Dissolve”, which starts with a very Jake E. Lee era Ozzy riff, and the grand closer “Celestial Violence” are excellent tracks that make solid starting points for new fans. Some of the stylisic and tonal shifts may throw you off on the first go-around (it did for me), but I can’t knock the album for it since I expect the unexpected when comes to Ihsahn by now. Once again, I’ve yet to check out all of Ihsahn’s solo work, but of his three most recent works, Arktis stands as the best of them.

 

Currently Reading:

Dune by Frank Herbert

dune

I’m almost done with this one, so I’ll have my thoughts out in a month. Perhaps I’ll end up watching the infamous David Lynch film between now and then as well.

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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

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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

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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

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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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