Big month for pretty much everything from film to video game to music.
Mastodon, Emperor of Sand (Reprise)
At this time of writing, I have only listened to Mastodon’s newest LP one time through. I thought I would need multiple listens in order to really settle on an opinion before writing, as was the case with 2014’s Once More Round the Sun. But about four tracks in I was pretty much sold: Mastodon have done it yet again. It’s been fifteen years since the band’s first album, and with the addition of their seventh they’re still sporting one of the most solid discographies in the metal scene.
Originally, there were reports that Emperor of Sand might be similar to Crack the Skye, my favorite Mastodon album But as it turns out, it’s only like Crack the Skye in concept, regarding themes of death and loss. And that’s fine, because Emperor of Sand delivers on its own merits with a sound structurally similar to its predecessor and The Hunter. “Show Yourself” is probably the poppiest the band has ever sounded, but that’s not a bad thing. The band have a great penchant for catchy lyrics and vibrant guitar riffs that keep the album moving at a steady pace while still feeling very much like Mastodon. Other tracks like the opener “Sultan’s Curse” will sound familiar, but it’s the closer “Jaguar God” that really nails it in my opinion, seemingly drawing from all corners of Mastodon’s discography. Overall, the album feels fresh and welcoming to newcomers. For long time fans like myself, it fits like a glove.
Me and That Man, Songs of Love and Death (Cooking Vinyl)
I can’t say that I’ve listened to all that much of Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, or Johnny Cash. I’ve enjoyed their music before and I recognize their impact, but I haven’t really explored much of that side of music yet. That said, I am totally into Me And That Man, a new project from Behemoth frontman Adam “Nergal” Darski and John Porter steeped in country, folk, and blues comparative to the artists mentioned above. While sonically a far cry from the blackened death metal of Behemoth, the lyrical content on Songs of Love and Death still bears similarities to Nergal’s main band especially on tracks like the opener “My Church is Black”, so if you’re not normally a fan of this type of genre but you love Behemoth or similar bands, this will still feel familiar to you. If, on the other hand, you’re not a big metal fan but you do enjoy the likes of the aforementioned artists, Me and That Man may still find an audience with you as their songs are dark, troubled, but not necessarily hard on the ears.
Pillorian, Obsidian Arc (Eisenwald)
2016 saw the end of one of my favorite bands: Agalloch. Their brand of atmospheric black/folk metal was unlike anything else I’d ever heard and despite my attempts to find similar bands, none of them sounded quite like these guys. So you can imagine how excited I was to hear that the ex-members would continue to make music in different projects. The first project to emerge from the ashes is Pillorian, formed by Agalloch’s former frontman John Haughm. While Obsidian Arc leans a bit more towards straightforward black metal, there are still folk elements weaved into the music that are reminiscent of Agalloch without sounding derivative. The album is kept to a tight seven tracks with all but one ranging five to nine minutes in length. The final track, “Dark is the River of Man”, is my favorite, a dark melancholic track running at nine and a half minutes that perfectly ties the whole album together. If you’re still pining for Agalloch, you best give this a listen.
Seventeen years. How privileged are we that the actor who brought one of the most iconic comic book characters to life has been able to inhabit the role for nearly two decades while similar franchises sifted through sequels and reboots (three different actors have played Spider-Man!). And now it would appear that an era has come to a close, and it has done so in spectacular fashion. Logan is my favorite film so far this year, presenting Jackman’s swansong as a brutal emotional western that transcends the genre in such a way comparable to The Dark Knight.
While Logan is the third Wolverine solo movie and the tenth X-Men film overall, you can jump into the film with minimal prior viewing. So long as you know a bit about Wolverine and Professor X and have basic understanding of mutants, the film won’t lose you with the exception of a few smaller references. While I do enjoy the MCU films, I applaud this move as it allows more people to experience the film without having to lean on five or six films worth of world-building. Also, we finally get the R-rated Wolverine film we deserve, with all the blood, gore, and f-bombs you could want this side of Deadpool. But this movie doesn’t rely on its bloody action alone; Logan goes much deeper to the point where we genuinely worry about our heroes during the action scenes rather than just absorbing the spectacle.
Going in, you already know that Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart are going to deliver great performances, so I won’t say much on that point other than Jackman’s performance moved me to tears. Boyd Holbrook has a charismatic turn as the main villain and I’m sure he’ll be snatching up even bigger roles soon. But the big scene-stealer is Dafne Keen as Laura/X-23, who doesn’t even really speak until more than two-thirds of the way into the film. A mostly silent role can be difficult for the most experienced actor, but Keen absolutely delivers on that front and every other. I sincerely hope we see more of her soon and far into the future.
If you’re reading this, I’m sure you’ve seen Logan by now, but if by chance you haven’t, get out and go while it’s still in theaters.
Kong: Skull Island
After a twelve year absence from the big screen, King Kong has returned, mixing the likes of Jurassic Park with Pacific Rim to make a borderline B-movie with a bumpy tone that will get slightly poignant right before something ridiculous happens. In other words, Kong: Skull Island is big dumb fun. It has all the makings of a summer blockbuster apart from the fact that it was released in March, probably to avoid releasing close to War for the Planet of the Apes. I’ve spoken to a few people who rolled their eyes at the idea of a new King Kong movie, claiming that it’s yet another example of Hollywood digging into the ol’ barrel rather than pursuing something new. While that’s a sentiment I sympathize with, Kong doesn’t feel like a careless rehash; it feels fun and delivers an action-adventure monster film with classic tropes.
Kong doesn’t just mark the return of the titular ape. It’s also the second entry in Legendary Picture’s MonsterVerse, which began with 2014’s Godzilla that I reviewed a few months back. This film differs from Godzilla in many ways from pacing to tone, but the most noted difference is how Kong seemingly addresses its predecessor’s two biggest critiques: 1) that the human characters were boring, and 2) that Godzilla has a pretty small amount of screen time in his own movie. Now, I was a fan of Godzilla, but Kong does get bigger ups in terms of its cast. There’s a lot of great people in here: John Goodman, who drags everyone to this expedition; Samuel L. Jackson, a general stung by the United States’ loss in the Vietnam war; Brie Larson, a Vietnam war photographer who spends most of the film running around with a camera and yet still comes across as a competent character. Leading man Tom Hiddleston, a tracker and former Captain, is dashing and likable, but feels a bit downplayed in this role, lacking in background and personality compared to the other characters. John C. Reilly, on the other hand, is probably the most enjoyable character in the film as a pilot who was stranded on Skull Island during World War II.
And then there’s the big guy himself. Kong spends most of his time beating the living shit out of other monsters (and sometimes humans), though he does get the requisite humanizing scenes with Brie Larson’s character. It’s not played up quite as much as we normally see in other iterations, which is actually refreshing. We know Kong has a weak spot for the ladies and we don’t need it beaten over our heads again. Instead, the film allows a moment or two for a knowing nod to the history of Kong’s character, then lets him get back to crushing things. It’s awesome. The film takes full advantage of the time period too, soaking it in the Vietnam aesthetic with great visuals and a soundtrack full of classic 60’s/early 70’s tunes.
So, no, this isn’t just another rehash and you certainly don’t need to see Godzilla or even care about the MonsterVerse in order to enjoy Kong: Skull Island.
Here’s another for one the “movies-I-slept-on-that-are-great” list. I didn’t think much about John Wick when I first heard about it, but then, of course, everyone whirled around to tell me “WTF GO WATCH IT.” And, lo and behold, John Wick is a genuinely great action flick. Apart from the film’s impressive stunts, style, and direction, one of the best parts of the film for me personally was the implication of a larger underground world of assassin’s that Keanu Reeve’s titular character belongs to. It’s never really explained and by the end of the film there are more questions than answers, but it’s so fascinating that I’m actually glad there isn’t really any exposition. The workings of the world are merely implied by the character’s actions and left to open interpretation. I’m sure I’ll get more insight when I finally get to sit down and watch John Wick 2.
Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert
Dune Messiah almost feels like DLC for its predecessor, Dune. It’s not even half the length of the first book and the plot, set twelve years later, is focused on wrapping up storylines for certain characters and addressing the galaxy changing jihad that were so often alluded to. Mind you, this doesn’t make the book bad assuming you were interested enough in the world of Dune that you wanted to continue reading about it, which I obviously did. It just feels kind of like an afterward for the events of the first book, a relatively straightforward plot that ties up a few loose ends and prepares for a new generation of protagonists. It’s a quick return to Frank Herbert’s fascinating world and I’m sure I’ll continue onto the next book in future.
Sabriel by Garth Nix
I’ve made my fiancée read many of my favorite books, so now I’m reading a few of hears. Sabriel is the first book in Garth Nix’s The Old Kingdom series. It’s a fantasy obviously, and while the book isn’t what I initially expected, I find its world and magic mechanics engrossing. I’m about halfway through, but I still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of Nix’s world. Good thing I have two more books.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Wii U)
It’s amazing, go play it.
Mass Effect: Andromeda (Xbox One)
If you loved the original games, go get this one.