Thursday, December 30, 2010

Music Review - Noumena - Absence

This album has quickly grown to become one of my favorite melodeath albums; the best way I can describe the sound on this CD would be that it's nearly a perfect blend of Kalmah and Insomnium, but with less aggression and a more relaxed/folk feel than either band.

Catchy riffs reigns supreme here; from heavy anthems like "A Day to Depart," with it's brilliant chorus; or more laid back, folky songs like "Everlasting Ward," every riff and melody is top notch and expertly crafted to create a general dark, mournful and bleak soundscape. The guitars sound great, heavy and crunchy and while there aren't a lot of solos here the constant leads more than make up for that; the drums keep to the mostly mid-to-slow range and tend to stay on the simple side, so don't expect any jaw-dropping fills or lightning fast blast beats. The bass is quite audible, providing a good heavy low end, but not really doing anything spectacular. It has a terrific, fat sound that's mixed in with the rest of the instruments perfectly though, which redeems its slightly uninteresting performance.

The vocals here range from deep, throaty growls to decent male clean vocals to female clean vocals in the track "Slain Memories," and all three are used flawlessly and really add to the songs. In fact, I'd say the use of clean vocals here are some of the better I've heard in the genre; there's no out of place moments for any of the clean vocals.

This album has a terrific atmosphere which I can only compare to Insomnium when they are at their most dark and folk sounding; while the atmosphere here isn't really depressing it is certainly very dark and has a genuine folk feeling, without any real folk instruments being used. During the more softer bits of the album I'm actually reminded of Agalloch; there's that same forlorn feel throughout the whole album.

There's not much I can really complain about here; there is a lot of variety in the songs and no two really sound alike. There may be weaker moments here and there, like the closing track "The Great Anonymous Doom," which doesn't quite grab me as much as the rest of the album did, but really there's nothing else here I don't like.

Noumena have shown with this album they can stand with some of the best in the genre and even at times surpass them. For fans of more relaxed, folk influenced, atmospheric melodeath in the vein of Insomium, I highly, highly recommend this album.

Movie Review - True Grit

This is a film that I had been looking forward to for some time; the Coen brothers are master filmmakers and the entire cast gave me hope that this would be a great movie. While not an original story (this film is a remake of the John Wayne film of the same name) it is a story very well told and is a solid western.

Having not seen the original, I can't make any comparisons here, but True Grit is fantastically shot and acted; Jeff Bridges is completely at home as Rooster Cogburn, and Matt Damon shines in his role as a cocky Texas Ranger. Josh Brolin, while a good actor, doesn't really get a chance to flex in his role as Tom Cheney, the villain of the story, which is a slight disappointment.  Hailie Steinfeld as Mattie Ross is fantastic, with a nearly tangible energy exuding form her character.

The cinematagrophy, done by Roger Deakins isn't really up to par with his other work (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, No Country for Old Men), but it is generally pleasing and very competently done. The last 10-15 minutes of the film, however, are shot fantastically and really showed Deakins talent for shots.

A minor complaint I would have for this movie is that there aren't any real brilliant moments here, and coming from the Coen brothers I did have somewhat higher expectations; everything is good and even really good, but there's no moments that really made me sit and and say "wow". As I said above, however, the final 10-15 minutes of the film really save the movie for me, with brilliant interplay between music an cinematagrophy which really show the talent of the directors. I wish the entire film had been shot in that style, honestly.

All in all, this is a good, solid western; full of gunplay, showdowns, villainous villains, rough cut good guys and a good story. While not a brilliant, genre defining movie, True Grit is definitely worth your time to see and so far is one of the better films to come out this year.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Beer Review - Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale

This winter ale is quite different than the others I've had this season; rather than a more mellow, richer and sweeter flavor that seems to be the norm, this ale takes a very spicy and bitter route, and this really sets it apart from the many other winter beers available this season.

This isn't one of the better beers I've had; the spice and bitterness really overpower every other quality of the beer to the point that I didn't really enjoy it that much. It was so bitter, honestly, that any more than a very small sip would almost be too much for me. There are faint wheat and sweet notes here and there, mostly in the aftertaste, but even these aren't enough to redeem this spicy and bitter ale.

The aesthetics of this beer are a little better; the color, smell and texture are all fantastic; this beer doesn't smell nearly as bitter as it tastes and the color is a beautiful dark copper color with a good solid head.

While I do enjoy Sierra Nevada beers, this Celebration Ale simply relies too much on spices to be an enjoyable beer, and I can't really recommend it. There are much better seasonal ales and I suggest that you pass this beer by.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Beer Review - Blue Moon Winter Abbey Ale

Blue Moon Winter Abbey Ale has quickly grown to be one of my favorite beers and my favorite Blue Moon seasonal beer. Blue Moon is already one of my go-to breweries and this winter ale gives me one more reason to keep going back for more.

This beautiful dark copper ale has an amazing range of flavours; the most notable being a good, dark sweetness (not like a super-sugary sweetness, a real complex and rich sweetness) that goes perfectly with the touch of wheat this beer is brewed with. Notes of caramel also seep through, and the warmer this beer is served the sweeter the taste is. The aftertaste is that of a traditional Belgian-style wheat; mellow and pleasant. This is also an ale you're going to want to savour and enjoy slowly; I made mine last well over two hours.

This beer is best served in a wide-mouthed glass at room temperature to really get the full flavours and aromas offered here (it will have a darker, less sweet flavour if served cold), and like I said above, make sure and savour every drop. It's not a super potent beer, but I'd recommend drinking it with a good heavy meal; being a Christmas ale I suggest pairing it with a glazed ham to maximize flavours.

 Blue Moon Winter Abbey Ale is my new favorite seasonal beer, and one I recommend to any and all beer drinkers.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Music Review - Ihsahn - angL

Ihsahn's second album, angL, has slowly but surely become one of my more played metal albums. The man behind the legendary Emperor really has some diverse talent, and it shows here.

The music here is incredibly varied and a testament to Ihsahn and his ability as a songwriter. Songs like the opener "Misanthrope" and "Malediction" really show his black metal/symphonic roots, while pieces like "Scarab," "Emancipation" and the last three songs all lean towards the progressive side, with numerous acoustic interludes, lots of clean vocals, relaxed fretless bass work and even a bluesy solo in "Threnody." There's a couple oddballs here, like "Alchemist," which opens with an insane riff and keeps to a pretty fast pace and closes with some fantastic solo work; and "Elevator," which is driven by soaring guitar and keyboard work.

 All the instruments sound terrific and are perfectly handled; my only complaints would b that the drums sound weak, and that takes away from some of the faster sections of the album, and the bass remains mostly hidden, except for the fretless solos. Keyboards are handled flawlessly, never overwhelming the music and adding brilliant atmospheric touches.

The vocals, being Ihsahn, are superb. The singing is calming, the screams are ferocious and unsettling and both fit perfectly well with the music. Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth makes an appearance on "Unhealer," and contributes some of his trademark growls and roars which sound terrific.

Lyrical content here is excellent and is mainly centered on thoughtful, poetic, introspective looks at life, individualism and existence. Ihsahn has always had a knack for good lyrics and these are no exception.

If I had to pick a weak part of the album...I'd say "Misanthrope," "Alchemist," and "Malediction" are the songs I'm not as fond of. They focus more on speed and technicality and seem to lack the atmosphere the other songs have. They aren't "bad" songs by any means, just not as solid as the rest.

Like I said above, this is an incredibly varied album. It's got raging furious songs, calming and soothing songs and some plain old weird songs, but all together make for one heck of an album. I highly recommend this to any fan of black metal, progressive metal or heavy music in general.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Small Update

For those few who follow my writings, I apologize for my lengthy absence. I've simply not had the drive to write much of anything lately, but in the very near future I shall return with a much more regular posting schedule. Thank you, and good night.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Music Review - Blind Guardian - At the Edge of Time

If this album shows anything, it's that after 25 years on the scene Blind Guardian is definitely one of the best bands out there. The last album was pretty weak, but this one more than makes up for it.

First off, Hansi's voice is immaculate. The guy's been singing like this for almost 3 decades and he's only gotten better. There's times here that he'll rip your face off with savage ferocity, there's times he'll shatter glass, and then he'll tone it down for a soothing ballad. The choirs sound perfect, as usual. Everything about the vocals on this album is pitch perfect.

The instruments are the same way; after 25 years these guys know how to play their music flawlessly. Guitars range from ultrafast leads, riffs and solos to more standard chords and riffs. It all sounds amazing and the tone the guitars have here is just fantastic. Crunchy, heavy but not obnoxious. The drums...well, Thomen Staunch is still gone. Frederik has gotten faster...but he's still not the same kind of jaw-dropping drummer that Staunch was. He does a fine job but tends to stick to standard patterns and speeds, which is perfect for the music here. He does play all the flutes and bagpipes you hear though (which are used brilliantly in the ballad "Curse My Name"), so that makes up for the slightly boring drumming. On a more positive note, the drums are used perfectly in "War of the Thrones and "Curse My Name" and add a real bombastic and dramatic feel to both those songs.

The production on this album is absolutely perfect; I'll go so far as to say this is the best mix Blind Guardian have ever had. Everything, from the orchestra to the choirs to the instruments sounds perfect and the louder you turn it up the better. This is such a solid mix, I really have to hand it to them for knocking it out of the park with that.

The songs themselves are all really, really good stuff. From fast and aggressive throwback tracks like "A Voice in the Dark" and "Ride Into Obsession" to huge, bombastic and dramatic ballads like "Curse My Name" and "War of the Thrones" to huge mid-paced numbers like "Sacred Worlds" this album has it all. The choruses are huge, the melodies are uplifting, the build-ups are dramatic and the catchiness still has yet to be rivaled by any other band. There's not really a weak track here, but if I had to pick one or two I didn't like as much, it'd have to be "Tanelorn"  and "Wheel of Time," as neither of them really have quite the same power behind them as the rest of the album. "Wheel of Time" in particular spends too much time playing around with a Middle-eastern sound, and it takes away from the orchestral bombast it tries to achieve.

While not the high point of their career, "At the Edge of Time" is a terrific Blind Guardian album that's leaps and bounds beyond the previous album. There's something for everyone on this album, and it's all put together so well that I highly recommend any music fan pick this up. Blind Guardian are masters of their craft and really show it with this album.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Music Review - Saviour Machine - Saviour Machine I

Gothic music, whether metal or rock, tends to be something I'm not a fan of. It's usually cheesy (there are exceptions) cliche, over-dramatic and generally lacking in quality. There's obviously good bands in the genre, but for the most part my experience has been negative.

The debut album of Saviour Machine, "Saviour Machine I," however, may very well be one of the best goth metal/rock albums ever released and is up there with some of the best music ever released, in my opinion. This is a powerful album, with real feeling and atmosphere, relying on the writing and composition of the music rather than walls of typically mournful keyboards.

Eric Clayton's voice is brilliant, period. I don't know if there is another vocalist in the metal/rock world who has the power and emotion that this man has in his voice. Whether it's bloodcurdling screams, deep baritones, soft whisperings, huge operatic moments, passionate and gut wrenching notes or mournful wailing, the vocals here are absolutely second to none. There are notes hit here that will chill you with how powerfully they resonate; Eric Clayton is one of the very few modern singers who has such perfect control over his voice.

The instruments...where do I begin. Everything here is masterfully played. The bass in particular, while not being super-fast or super-technical, adds such a good feel and flavor to the music and does much more than just provide a low end; often it carries the entire melody of the song. Guitars are breathtaking. The opening track, "Carnival of Souls," is a good example of the guitars on this album; there's some brilliant leads, solid, catchy riffs, softer and cleaner breaks and outstanding solo work with true emotion shining through. The drums do a perfect job here, driving the music with terrific beats and expert fills. While not insanely fast (except for the beginnings of the tracks "Killer" and "The Widow and the Bride") they are flawlessly played by someone who is obviously a master at his craft.

As a whole, this album deals with mostly end-times themes taken from the Book of Revelation, and deals with them quite brilliantly. The lyrics are very, very well written; controversial and sometimes graphic but never playing for shock value. This is a quality every Saviour Machine song has and something that really separates them from the typical love/loss/suicidal themes of most goth music. When subjects like those are addressed they are done so from a mature perspective that shows them in a very thought-provoking light and provide sound ways of dealing with them.

Highlights for this album for me are "Legion," with its piano driven melody and absolutely spellbinding vocal work and  "A World Alone," which may be the high point of Saviour Machines entire career (except for "American Babylon," which I will argue is their best song). "A World Alone" features a vocal performance that completely redefines soaring, with choruses so big and operatic that I'm hard-pressed to think of any comparable songs. Phenomenal writing and instrumentation make this one of the best songs I've heard in a long, long time.

To conclude, Saviour Machine, one of the most influential and well-respected Christian bands ever to form put out what I believe just might be one of the best metal/rock albums ever, goth or not. The fact that this is a debut album is almost astounding, as every second of this record is brilliantly and professionally put together. Please, buy this album, and see what heights gothic metal/rock is capable of reaching. Saviour Machine, with this debut album, set the bar as high as could be set.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


This is a rough table of contents for the "It's Not Always Shakespeare...but it's Genuine", project. Anyone who wants to be a part of it can participate, just get in contact with me via e-mail or blog comments and let me know what you'd like to write about.

It’s not always Shakespeare...
But it’s Genuine.

Thoughts and Commentary on Life and Faith.

(Some of these are tentatively titled)

• Finding the Open Door, by Lunkwill
• Theology, by Winnow
• Moderation in Christanity, by Will. R
• Faith/Culture, by Ghostkin
• Media Affects in Christianity, by M. Audrey
• TBA, Jeff B.
• TBA, by Josh P.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Music Review - Vardoger - Whitefrozen

This is one of those albums that's really stuck with me over the years. Though it's Vardoger's only release, it is a brilliant EP that shows a mastery of the folk/viking/black metal genre.

This is definitely one of the more unique albums I've heard; the drums play weird rhythms, the songs are structured weirdly and the vocals are just plain odd sounding. This isn't an experimental, schizophrenic album though; it just employs non-standard methods to achieve it's atmosphere of unease, cold landscapes and occasional uplifting moments.

The instruments are handled brilliantly, especially the bass; bass doesn't usually do too much in a black metal band but this is one release I wouldn't want to listen to without the bass. Kudos to the band for using the bass guitar so well on this EP. The rest of the instruments are also equally well used. The guitar has a good, heavy, strong tone, the keyboards are used perfectly and add some amazing atmospheric touches. The drums, like I said above, are a big part of the music here, playing odd beats, folk rhythms and actually adding to the feel of the music. Blastbeats and fast double bass aren't even touched upon here, and for that I give the band a tip of the hat. Playing viking/black metal without blastbeats and double bass is something I've rarely seen.

The best part of this EP though is how authentic the viking/folk atmosphere is. There's not a lot of folk instruments used (there's some brief violin and flute used) but this EP sounds more viking/folk than almost any other release I've heard in the scene.

Highlights for this album are the title track, composed of entirely clean chanting vocals alongside some brilliant lead guitar and "Footprints of Thunder", with it's clean vocal chorus and somber and mournful folk atmosphere. This is an obscure release, but if you can find it, do yourself a favor and pick it up. "Whitefrozen" is a terrific viking/folk/black metal release that rises above the crowded scene and really carve out their own unique sound.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Beer Review - Wychwood Brewery Hobgoblin Dark English Ale

Wychwood Brewery's Hobgoblin Dark English Ale is an interesting brew and is definitely different than the wheat based ales I've been focusing on lately.

. The aroma is that of fruit punch or cranberry juice, very sweet and fruity. The taste is at first sweet, almost syrupy feeling and has a slightly bitter finish. The initial taste took me by surprise as I wasn't expecting such a fruity tasting beer, but after a few more sips it became very enjoyable. The finish, while bitter, doesn't really stick around that long and I'm actually glad for that, as it's not a flavor I really enjoy that much. Each sip really brings out a lot of good, strong full flavors; there's no subtlety here.

With it's strong flavors and aromas, Wychwood Brewery's Hobgoblin Dark English Ale is a fantastic beer that I'd recommend to anyone, but beware: the first smell and taste may be a little overpowering at first, so make sure and give this brew the time it needs to be enjoyed.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

It's not always Shakespeare...but it's genuine.

"It's not always Shakespeare...but it's genuine," is the title of a new project I've decided to undertake. I've had it on my heart for some time to write a faith/life book, and I thought that instead of just me trumpeting my views (as wise and deep as they may be) it would be far more fun to include the views of many people in this project.

My proposition is basically to get a bunch of people together and just write whatever is put on their heart to write about, in a mature, tasteful respectful way; this includes, love, life, death, faith, sex, music, art, whatever it is anyone feels led to write about. There's no minimum length or maximum length; whether it's a paragraph or an essay is all good. I do not intend this to be a book on theology, political preaching (though writings on either of those are acceptable, but be aware this is not intended as a study guide for either) or condemnation but rather reflections on life from differing perspectives, all in one volume.

This is a project headed up by me, and I am a man of Christian faith, so it will come from that direction. I'm open to thoughts that may go against what I believe so long as it is (A) well thought out, (B) written in a non-derogatory, non-accusatory and more open tone. No insults, purposely controversial attacks against other beliefs though as I said above, I am not opposed to differing and even opposing viewpoints being included. However, I do reserve the right to screen all writings and either propose changes/edits to the writer or not allow it should it be inflammatory.

This honestly is more of a blogging idea and as much as I would like to be in published book format, I doubt that will happen. I've not yet worked out the exact format for this so do bear with me, but I can assure you that I have no guarantee of any kind of attention, fame, credit, profit or recognition for this.

My goal in this is to create somehting that will allow anyone who reads it, of any creed to come away with food for thought. I aim to neither convert nor preach.

If anyone is interested in being a part of this, contact me through comments on this post or email (which you can find on my info page) and let me know what you'd like to submit. The actual writing I leave to you. I will edit obvious errors in spelling or punctuation, but aside from that there is no standard I'm holding in terms of style. Write as you feel. If you specifically want certain grammar or punctuation to not be edited, please let me know.

I'm also thinking for organizational purposes, I'm going to come up with certain topics (like love, faith, stuff I listed above, etc), and then assign them to people who feel led to write on it. If anyone who's interested has a specific area they feel led to write on or like to write on, let me know.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Beer Review - Sierra Nevada Kellerweis

Wheat beers are proving to be my favorite brews; I love the tastes, textures and looks of every one I've had so far. Sierra Nevada's Kellerweis is a great example of a solid beer.

This is a gorgeous looking beer, with a solid gold color and that foggy look that wheat beers have. It smells great too, giving off a bubblegum/banana aroma. The first thing I noticed taste-wise was that it seemed slightly more bitter than some of the other Hefeweisens I've had (like Blue Moon, for example) and few fruity tones to it. The aftertaste is a pretty standard bready/wheaty flavor that lingers for a good while and is quite enjoyable.

This is a medium bodied brew, I'd say, not super-potent but enough that you'd definitely want to take your time with it and have some food in your stomach before enjoying it.

Sierra Nevada's Kellerweis is a great beer for lazy, warm summer evenings; it's warm colour and welcoming flavors make it one I'll definitely be going back to.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Music Review - Raison d'Etre - The Stains of the Embodied Sacrifice

Ambient is an interesting genre that covers a lot of musical ground. There's artists like Eluvium, whose gentle and warming static and nostalgic piano tunes are relaxing, happy and joyful. There's industrial ambient, martial ambient, blackened ambient, organic ambient, and probably thousands of other combinations. My favorites tend to be martial, industrial and organic, though I am partial to Eluvium and his joyful static.

Raison d'Etre, one of the oldest and most respected artists in the ambient world, is probably one of my favorite artists from any genre. Anyone who can take normal sounds,like clanking metal and make you feel uneasy, upbeat, depressed or any other emotion really knows his stuff, and this guy really knows his stuff. The Stains of the Embodied Sacrifice is probably one of Raison d'Etres harshest albums, with a lot less emphasis on more normal, gentle ambient keyboard work and a lot more emphasis on harsh sound, at times bordering on the actual genre of noise with the grating sounds of metal and screeching industrial tones.

A lot of the tracks here follow the fairly common formula of a nearly silent beginning, a slow build up to a harsh, loud climax with a sudden cutoff, and it works really well when it's used right. The only thing I don't like about it here is that it's used a little too much and sort of ruins what the effect is going for. There's three or four shorter tracks that follow this exact formula and they do tend to blend together after a while.

The real strength of the album is in the longer tracks(ranging from about 9 minutes to well past the 15-minute mark), "The Spirit Will Not Share the Guilt",  "Desecrated by the Blood", "Without the Shedding There is No Forgiveness", "Death in the Body but Made Alive by the Spirit", and the closer "The Temple is Eternal Sacred." These are all brilliant tracks that alternate between harsh and grating noise, softer and more accessible ambient, slow and eerie industiral ambient, more religiously themed ambient (which is somehting I've always liked about Raison d'Etre) and the occasionally trippy ambient section. The closer track is one of my favorites off the album, being a track composed almost entirely of subtle, soft shimmering keyboard work and the soft but still commanding ringing of church bells which add that religious touch I mentioned earlier.

On an unmusical note, the song titles for this album are some of the coolest I've seen in a long while; and though I don't usually try and put a religious spin on lyrics/titles that don't really have one, these do carry a sort of religious feel to them. I'd actually venture a guess that the titles of the songs relate to the Christian faith in some way, but that's pure speculation on my part; the point of all that being that these are just really interesting song titles.

The Stains of the Embodied Sacrifice is a brilliant album by a brilliant artist, and while I'm not a huge fan of the shorter, harsher tracks, I feel that the longer pieces more than make up for those shortcomings. This is an album I'd recommend to fans of any kind of ambient and even to fans of more metallic music, though those who are not well acquainted with ambient and particularly the more harsh side of the genre will definitely need patience with this album. Give it a listen though, and I'm sure you'll get something out of it.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Now that I'm of legal age to enjoy such things, there will be from time to time my opinions on whatever most recent drink (beer, liquors, and maybe once I acquire the taste for it, wine) I've enjoyed. Being that I've only been of legal age for a few days, it will be some time before these reviews appear, but rest assured, they'll be here in the near future. Any suggestion and discussion of good drinks is more than welcome

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Music Review - Antestor -The Return of the Black Death

Antestor's The Return of the Black Death is often hailed as the definitive black metal album by the Christian metal realm; while I don't agree with this completely I do certainly think it's one of the better albums that has ever come out of the Christian metal world and probably one of the better albums in this genre.

TROTBD is heavily influenced, at least in my mind, by Satyricons Masterpiece Dark Medieval Times. Raw but not really lo-fi, medieval but not folk and a gloomy and even depressing atmosphere at times. A lot of the music sounds similar between the two as well, from the drumming to the vocals and while the two do share similarities, TROTBD is definitely it's own album. The atmosphere is slightly less medieval and more oppressing here; I'd even say at times it becomes suffocating. While there's nothing really mind-blowing in terms of musical playing here this is a very well put together album from an atmospheric standpoint. The drums stick to pretty simple fast/slow patterns, keyboards provide an excellent backdrop for the guitars to wander and the vocals really tie it all together. The vocals, by Martyr, feature less of the extreme low guttural bellows from previous albums and much more black metal-esque screams and shrieks.

To elaborate on a point above, this isn't a technical masterpiece at all, nor does it have inhumanly fast drumming or guitar work. This is pure atmospheric black metal with some folkish/medieval touches. From the catchy "Sovereign Fortress" to the depressing dirge "Sorg" to the more uplifting "Kongsblod" and the chord-driven "Ancient Prophecy" this album oozes with a atmosphere that brings to mind the plague after which the album is named. If you want good, dark mood music, look no further.

While not the pinnacle of Christian black metal this is certainly one of the strongest albums from that realm as well as being one of the better pieces of atmospheric black metal out there. Dark but not overwhelming, oppressing but not crushing and bleak but with a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel, The Return of the Black Death is an album I recommend to every fan of extreme metal.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Music Review - Drudkh - Songs of Grief and Solitude

For the uninitiated, Drudkh are a band from the Ukraine who play a fairly decent style of folk/black metal, with emphasis on a mournful and at times dreamy atmosphere. I'm not one of their many, many fans who revere their music; actually so far I've only liked on average one or two songs per album they've made. However, this album, Songs of Grief and Solitude, caught my ear and has pretty much hooked me.

The biggest reason I like this album is because it's entirely acoustic. Acoustic guitars, flutes and a few percussive moments take the place of the normal guitar and black metal drumming, and the result is quite interesting. There's no vocals except for the odd whisper here and there and the songs are very, very, repetitive. This actually reminds me of Hex(or Printing in the Infernal Method) by Earth in that this is probably as close to drone as you can get in terms of musical writing without actually being drone. The mood is generally somber and mournful as is the norm for Drudkh, and if one knows the history of their home country one can see how this is a completely appropriate atmosphere to want to achieve. The repetition really is what makes the atmosphere what it is; gentle guitars and flutes playing very simple folksy melodies for nigh on 40 minutes can be quite an experience if the music is well composed, and I believe Drudkh more or less nailed it here. A lot of the music particularly the bits with the flute remind me of Native American music; it has that same feeling of being close to nature.

There's no flash here, no solos, nothing that will really make you stop and take note of what you just heard. This is gentle, somber music that takes one to the vast plains and forests of the Ukraine, under the stars beside a crackling fire. Songs of Grief and Solitude has become the mainstay of my pipe and cigar smoking playlist, especially when I smoke outside with the sunset.  This is a relaxing journey through Drudkhs homeland, and a terrific piece of acoustic/ambient/slightly drone music. This music feels like nature, if that makes any sense. Relaxed, mellow, organic, ambient and even a little drone-ish, Songs of Grief and Solitude is well worth your time.

Music Review - Antestor - Martyrium

Antestor is a band that means quite a bit to me. They were one of the first metal bands I ever listened to and I consider their music to be some of the finest extreme metal ever released. Martyrium, the debut album by Antestor, hearkens back to before they were a sweeping symphonic black metal band to when they were a fairly simple black/death/doom metal hybrid band, and this album while not their personal best is one of my favorite metal albums.

Slow, heavy and atmospheric is the formula here. At times the music does get faster, but even the fast parts aren't even super fast. There is a lot of clean guitar playing in the background, especially during the solos and slower moments and it really adds to the feel of the album. The tone of the guitars is pretty interesting in that it's not very "heavy" sounding but still manages to actually BE heavy. The use of a few different styles is also intriguing; the music here ranges from almost pure death/doom to blasting black metal to somber and gothic moments saturated with mournful keyboards, and in a few cases all three of those styles are interwoven with fantastic results. A weaker aspect of the music is the production, specifically the drums; they have no power whatsoever and when the toms are being pounded on in slow and steady fashion it comes off as amateur sounding. The bass and snare sound fantastic, but there's just no power in the toms.

The vocals, by Martyr, are fantastic. His low, guttural growls are some of the best I've heard in metal and his higher pitched screeches sound absolutely depraved. His baritone clean vocals, while probably not technically "amazing" fit the music perfectly, especially on the third track, "Depressed," where used with mournful piano and guitar create a truly depressing feel.

The weak point of this album, unfortunately, are the lyrics. Christian in nature and English by what appears to be very poor translation from Norwegian, they are so poorly worded that they almost sound comical at times. I don't blame the band for not being English scholars, but some of the lyrics are downright laughable. Skip over the liner notes if you want to continue taking the music as seriously as it wants to be taken.

What I find most interesting about this album is the mix of styles, in an era where this was far from commonplace in the metal scene. Like I said above, goth, black, death and doom metal all come together on this album in such an almost perfect way it's almost strange and to my knowledge rarely if ever used by bands of the day. While this is a pretty normal practice today among metal bands, I think I give Antestor credit for being among the (if not THE) first to combine all such styles in such a good way.

Highlights of this album for me would have to be "Depressed," with its gloomy keyboards and dark vocals; the title track/instrumental with it's brilliant drumming and use of clean guitars and transitions from blazing fast to slow and somber; and the closer track, "Mercy Lord," which while having a rather awkward opening minute and a half or so builds to a brilliant black/death/gothic/doom masterpiece complete with soaring female vocals and organs. "Mercy Lord" definitely ranks as one of Antestor's best songs and is a powerful way to end to the album.

Martyrium stands as the debut album of a brilliant band, and while not a perfect album by any means, there is enough good music here and enough interesting style and combinations of styles that any metal fan should be more than satisfied by this record.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

But for the Grace of God...

One of the, if not the most important teachings of Christianity is the ideal of Grace. Paul taught it, St. Augustine expounded on it and helped to use it to shape Christianity into what it is today and Christians everywhere profess to believe in it. It is the core belief of the faith; that no matter what sin we commit, from the most vile rape and murder to the most simple covetous or lustful glance, God's grace is enough to cover it and to redeem us from it with no questions asked and no remembrance of the sin. Paul was a persecutor of the early church to such an extent that after his
conversion believers were still terrified by him, yet he believed in this ideal so strongly that he was able to say that as Paul, he had not sinned. Grace is not something that allows the believer to sin with the intent to repent only to go back to those sinful ways and repent insincerely. Even the most wretched sinner can be saved, if his heart is truly set on repenting and receiving forgiveness and grace for his sins, and this is the subject of the hymn "Amazing Grace," which is universally recognized for both its power and truth. With grace, our fears are relived. We no longer worry about our eternal destiny. Those fears are gone, nothing more than powerless shadows deserving of nothing more than our scorn. It is the Grace of God that allows the believer to exist in the fallen state that he is in and still perform his duties for God here on Earth. That divine Grace, totally beyond our comprehension in every way is the cornerstone of the Christian faith and what separates the faith from so many other beliefs and what truly allows for one's life to be freed from bondage and to live as God would have them live on this Earth. It is something to remember for when one feels like they are nothing more than a wretched sinner undeserving of any respite, which is a feeling that everyone has had at some point. When sin crouches at your door desiring you and you open it and are taken by it do not waste time in self-condemnation rather offer your sin up to God and receive the grace that was bought and paid for by pure and righteous blood and it is in that blood that we find our solace and our redemption and our strength and it is but for this Grace of God that we will go into His kingdom instead of eternal damnation and separation from His presence and Love.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


I'm not someone with tons of ambitions. I'm pretty easily contented, and whether that's a good or bad trait is another debate entirely. But something I've wanted to do for nearly as long as I can remember is to trek on foot somewhere absolutely remote, such as the Yukon Territory and simply survive. There's somehting that's always intrigued me about that part of the world, just the sheer loneliness and harshness of it appeals to me in a way. To be alone for a long period of time surrounded by nothing but the vast wilderness in every direction just surviving and trying not to die is something I truly hope to accomplish one day before I die. I'm not sure why, as most people don't find the idea of trying not to die to not be one that is super appealing, but the idea really just stirs something in me, and when I think about it for long periods of time I have to really resist the urge to throw away everything I have and run off into the wild. If I had to guess I'd say that it's the last little bit of primal instinct that every human has that also accounts for our inherent fear of rain and the dark and it's something that in myself I wish to preserve because I believe that in that primal wildness lies a part of the nature of God that we are close to forgetting and losing.

Perhaps one day the chance will be granted to me to live out this wish I have. Until then I'll content myself with my urban existence and life of school, work and thought.

Friday, August 20, 2010

You know, its interesting...

How the love of God works.

I was driving home from work tonight during a heat lightning storm, which, if anyone here hasn't ever witnessed one, is one of the most beautiful things you can see on earth. I was listening to a live version of "Awesome God" by Rich Mullins and he was talking about how bizarre the love of God is from our point of view being that someone so utterly alone and so far above humanity would desire us so much that He would create us in His image and become one of us in every way so He could help us be more like Him. 

While I don't entirely agree with every part and parcel Rich Mullins believed, I do believe he was one of the greatest men of God to ever live and certainly one of the most heart-after-God men since King David. Just to read his songs is enough to know that he had a relationship with God that is like that you would have with your wife or husband or lover in the most intimate way and it is this kind of relationship that God desires with every single human being that has ever been created and not only does he desire it but his love goes so far beyond what any lover could ever give you that it makes even the most close of relationships seem pale. 

I'm going to quote one of my favorite dialogue from recent literature, which I believe makes the point far better than I ever could.


Doctor Manhattan: Thermodynamic miracles... events with odds against so astronomical they're effectively impossible, like oxygen spontaneously becoming gold. I long to observe such a thing. And yet, in each human coupling, a thousand million sperm vie for a single egg. Multiply those odds by countless generations, against the odds of your ancestors being alive; meeting; siring this precise son; that exact daughter... Until your mother loves a man she has every reason to hate, and of that union, of the thousand million children competing for fertilization, it was you, only you, that emerged. To distill so specific a form from that chaos of improbability, like turning air to gold... that is the crowning unlikelihood. The thermodynamic miracle.

Laurie Juspeczyk: But... if me, my birth, if that's a thermodynamic miracle... I mean, you could say that about anybody in the world!

Dr. Manhattan: Yes. Anybody in the world... But the world is so full of people, so crowded with these miracles that they become commonplace and we forget... I forget. We gaze continually at the world and it grows dull in our perceptions. Yet seen from another's vantage point, as if new, it may still take our breath away. Come... dry your eyes. For you are life, rarer than a quark and unpredictable beyond the dreams of Heisenberg; the clay in which the forces that shape all things leave their fingerprints most clearly. Dry your eyes... and let's go home.

What a powerful ideal...the miracle of birth and life in itself is possibly the greatest testament to the value and worth of a person. Like the above characters, I forget by how many miracles I am surrounded by every day. Think how God must feel, with that love for every single person as if they were the pinnacle of his creation, which they, I and you are. To not consider a human just a set of cells and electrical impulses and animal instincts but the greatest single miracle in existence changes how you look at people. In a sense, yes, humans are nothing, dust in the wind, vagaries of perception, with love and emotions being no more than the temporary constructs of a feeble human intellect trying desperately to justify an existence that is without meaning or purpose. 

But in another sense, in the greatest sense, we are everything. The apple of God's eye. The greatest miracle he ever conceived. The thing he created out of nothing less than a pure burning desire to fellowship with in the most intimate way possible. Something that God loves in a way no human can even remotely begin to fathom. In that sense, we as creations are nothing less than the most immense and essential thing ever created, birthed out of a love so fiery and intense and so beyond comprehension that the Creator would take on our fallen and feeble form and die a sickening horrific death so that we could be with him if we so desired. 

Which is what he desires.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Haiti Pt. 2

This is a link to all the updates of the trip to Haiti that was undertaken by my church's youth group, courtesy of It says everything that needs to be said about the trip and the pictures say far more than I ever could, so please, check out the tweets and the accompanying pictures, and feel free to shoot me any questions you have about anything concerning the trip.

Friday, August 6, 2010


I'm going there today, for 10 days. I'll begin writing again when I return. Luck may be wished and prayers may be prayed. Goodbye, modern world.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Border Trilogy

I fished the Border Trilogy by Cormac McCarthy roughly a week and a half ago, and I've not been able to read anything since. The trilogy really knocked the wind out my reading sails, and I don't think I've ever had that happen to me before. Not even The Lord of The Rings trilogy was quite as much of a punch in the stomach as these books were, and that's really saying something. There was so much simple and profound truth in the Border Trilogy it was almost hard to take in, and the style made it a harder task than usual to read. They were something of a chore to get through at times, as three books of stream-of-consciousness writing can be a challenge to read one right after the other. But what I loved was that without writing a single emotion into his stories, McCarthy made them some of the most emotional stories I've ever read. There's a level of personal honestly and feeling that tells me these books had to be a reflection of the author.

This post isn't really much more than my rambling on about what I think about this trilogy, so I'm going to wrap it up now and just say that I highly recommend this trilogy. This is a moving, powerful and profound set of works that really show Cormac McCarthy's strength as a writer and prove why he is among the best living writers we have today.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Book Review - Cities of the Plain

Cities of the Plain is the conclusion of the epic Border Trilogy by Cormac McCarthy, and if I thought he was an outstanding writer before reading this trilogy I now truly believe he is one of the greatest writers of recent times. This volume is by far the best of the three; it is both simple and absolutely profound in its simplicity to a degree that far outshines the previous two novels.

This book takes the characters from the first two books and entwines their lives together, which is something I had figured out almost as soon as I started the second book but is also something I was really looking forward to. This particular volume seems to be more dialogue-centered and less dependent on terrain and landscape as a character, which is also good as it really lets McCarthy's dialogue take off and when it takes off, it really freaking takes off. All the philosophical banter, monologues and stream-of-consciousness narration are at their peak here and I'd probably say that this is the peak of McCarthy's writing that I've yet read.

Without being cliche or cheesy, McCarthy really manages to bring out authentic emotion through his writing, and it's made all the more realistic because of it's simplicity. There's no fluff or filler when it comes to the emotion, it's all raw and out in the open. The same goes for the level of violence; as per his usual style it's brief and bloody and realistic. I doubt anyone but McCarthy could pull off such stark simplicity and still convey the deep and real feelings his characters have.

There's not a whole lot more to say about this book, as much as I loved it. It keeps the same style and pace as the other two, so if you've read them you know what to expect in terms of technical style. To sum it up, this is a brilliant conclusion to a brilliant trilogy. From the very first page to the very last page Cities of the Plain bristles with deep thoughts, blunt feelings and brutal violence. Cormac McCarthy is at his peak here, and this profound novel has cemented his place in my mind as one of the best writers of our time.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Movie Review - Good Night, and Good Luck.

Good Night, and Good Luck is a film set in one of the most tumultuous periods in American history, the post-WWII communist scares of the 40s and 50s. The movie is centered on Edward R. Murrow, the television journalist who brought down Joe McCarthy, the man who was more or less terrorizing America with allegations of communists under every rock.

This is a fairly low-key movie; the music is mostly soft jazz, the dialogue is soft-spoken and there's no special effects or stunts. Lots of archived footage is shown here, and at times that's all thats being shown. The film is shot in black and white and filmed in a low-key style that every once in a while feels like a documentary.

While this is a low-key movie, that doesn't mean that it's a weak movie. The dialogue here is strong and is really what carries the film. Strathairn delivers some terrific speeches and monologues as Edward R. Murrow, and every one of the films large cast of notable talent (George Clooney, Robert Downy Jr., Frank Langella, Jeff Daniels and many more) delivers terrific performances. 

While there isn't a lot of flash in this movie, Good Night and Good Luck is a fantastic period film that sheds light on a very important time in American history and some of the men who stood up to Joe McCarthy and his crazed anti-communist vigilantism. This movie is slow however, and will probably stretch the patience of those not used to films like this; but if you can stick it out you'll definitely find that it was worth your time. Good Night, and Good Luck is a movie I highly recommend to anyone who wants a good, slow-paced and well filmed movie.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Movie Review - Toy Story 3

Trilogies can be tricky things, especially when the first parts are universally deemed to be excellent films; Toy Story 1 and 2 are two of the most popular American films ever produced. I've yet to meet anyone who doesn't like Toy Story, and that fact alone means that the bar for a third installment in the series better be of equal or greater caliber. It's also difficult because no matter what, the third installment of anything will always be compared to the first two, and when the third isn't as good this can make it seem even worse.

Toy Story 3 on its own is a pretty decent film. There's an abundance of clever jokes, references to other Pixar films and as always the animation is top notch. Unfortunately, compared to the first two Toy Story Movies, it falls a little flat. I suppose the easiest way to describe how I feel is that while the first two films can be both enjoyed and also critically examined and still prove to be excellent films, Toy Story 3 fails to hold itself up on really close inspection. So as a fun movie to go see with friends, this does pretty good. As a serious piece of film, not so much.

There's a lot packed into this movie, with 2 main plot points and so many characters being added that the movie's slightly over 1 and a half hour time doesn't allow for any breathing room; it's a rush from one bit or disaster to the next with no time to develop characters or subplots like the first two movies did so well. That's not to say that they're not enjoyable or well done, but it almost feels as if you're watching a series of short films strung together than one cohesive movie. There's not as much background given to the toys present circumstance; I felt that a flashback or two would have given a lot more depth to the movie. The end of the movie was somehting I honestly thought was really weak and not thought through all the way, as it's just too unbelievable and reaches for emotion that it just doesn't produce.

I did enjoy this movie however, and there were so many clever jokes, one liners and plain old goofy things going on that I was kept laughing for the majority of the film, so my advice would be to go see it as nothing more than 104 minutes of brilliantly animated silliness. While not as good as the first Toy Story movies, Toy Story 3 is a decent ending to what is probably one of the most loved series of movies to come out of America. I'd recommend this be watched with nothing more than a desire to laugh and be entertained, as that's all I think this was really meant to be.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Book Review - The Crossing

The Crossing is the second book in Cormac McCarthy's border trilogy, and so far it's the one I like best. While All the Pretty Horses was a fantastic book in ever way, it seemed a little too sparse and almost a little detached, and I wasn't as drawn to the characters as I was here. All the Pretty Horses reminded me of Black Beauty in a way, with it's intimate and detailed looks into the relationships of men to horses as well as men to men. The Crossing reminds me much more of White Fang, mostly because the story revolves around (for the most part) a boy and a wolf.

If you've read any of my reviews of McCarthy's works you'll have a good idea what to expect here: minimal prose and plain dialogue. There's a lot of dialogue here though, moreso than in some of his other books I'd say. The landscape plays a big role here, almost to the point of becoming a character unto itself; the descriptions of the Mexico/Texas border area are absolutely beautiful. I'd be willing to bet McCarthy has spent a good deal of time alone in this kind of wilderness to write such vivid descriptions.

The dialogue here is as strong as ever; I'd actually say it's some of the best I've yet read from McCarthy. The more philosophical side of his writing is really spotlighted here, and in my opinion is the highlight of the book. There's one particular monologue towards the middle of the book that was absolutely brilliant and one of the best pieces of writing I have ever read. I've read and re-read this particular monologue probably 5 or 6 times, and every time it leaves me awestruck with how simple but powerful it was. It's this little (actually not so little, the monologue is close to 10 pages long) section that really made me favor The Crossing over All the Pretty Horses, and I'd argue that it's one of the single best individual things McCarthy has written.

So far, the Border Trilogy has been absolutely outstanding, and as I said before The Crossing is my current favorite. Full of dialogue and deep philosophical meanderings and beautiful descriptions of the American Southwest, The Crossing is a brilliant book that I highly recommend.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Music Review - Blind Guardian - A Voice in the Dark

After a 4 year wait, one of my favorite bands, Blind Guardian, is back. This single has two songs that will be on the upcoming album and one cover, and based off this single I'm pretty sure the full album will be fantastic.

The title track is more of a throwback to Blind Guardians speed/power metal days, with fast drumming and guitars and Hansi sounding as ferocious as ever. I'm not a huge fan of the bands older music but this is pretty good, with some awesome soloing and fantastic catchy vocals. I wasn't blown away by it but its a good solid Blind Guardian song.

The second song is a cover of the John Farnham song"You're the Voice", and since I'm not really familiar with the original I don't know how good this version really is in comparison. It's an okay song, nothing really amazing, and Blind Guardian have definitely done better covers.

Lastly comes "War of the Thrones". This song is why I love Blind Guardian. It's an acoustic ballad (but if I'm not mistaken the version on the album will not be acoustic, and this version will be a bonustrack) and definitely one of the best they've ever done. The vocals sound brilliant, guitars are as usual outstanding and the writing is top notch. It far outranks "Skalds and Shadows" from the most recent album and I daresay it's as good if not more so than "The Maiden and the Minstrel Knight" from A Night at the Opera.  "War of the Thrones" is catchy, dramatic and has a brilliant ending chorus that ranks as one of the catchiest moments in Blind Guardians entire career. Definitely my favorite from this single.

A Voice in the Dark definitely has me salivating over the full length album, and it's definitely somehting I'll be buying as soon as it comes out. Blind Guardian have once again proved that they're one of the best bands in the business and I have no doubt the new album will be one of their best efforts.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Cigar Review - Neos Cappuccino

I'm not big on flavored cigars (there are a few exceptions) and I'm even less enthusiastic about flavored cigarillos, as most of them end up being pretty cheap and bad tasting smokes. These little guys by Neos however, are fantastic, well flavored and well crafted cigarillos.

The flavor really comes through, and both the taste and smell are terrific. They're small, smaller than cigarettes actually, so they're perfect for a quick smoke or an after dinner dessert smoke. There's no filler or filters here, these are genuine little cigars. They're pre-cut and require no skill to light and smoke in 5-10 minutes. Next time your looking for a light smoke with a lot of flavor, an after-dinner smoke or maybe a chaser smoke after a bigger cigar, I highly recommend Neos Cappuccino.

Music Review - Summoning - Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame

Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame is one heck of an album. It's not as murky and ambient as Oath Bound, and it's also much more "metal", and fairly accessible. It's not my favorite Summoning album and I don't think it's their best album, but it certainly is quite the record.

The most noticeable thing on this album is the clear production; LMHSYF is definitely the best produced (technically) album Summoning have made. The plodding drums are loud and heavy and somewhat faster than Oath Bound, the guitars are more towards the front of the mix and have a more chunky and heavy sound to them, but they also still have a slightly ambient feel to them at times. Keyboards are used in abundance here, and while not the best sounding keyboards I've ever heard they certainly do a good job of setting the mood. The vocals are basically the same as every other Summoning album, not amazing but definitely well performed black metal screeches and screams.

The songs are shorter here than on Oath Bound and seem to rely more on catchy melodies than on constant repetition. The melodies like I said above are more accessible and catchier, and there's a lot fewer long buildups to choruses and climaxes like on Oath Bound. To sum up songwriting: more concise, more catchy and shorter songs.

There's some real killer songs here, and really no song is bad. The samples used on "South Away" and "In Hollow Halls Beneath the Fells" are executed perfectly and really add to the songs. There's a good number of samples used here, mostly from old The Lord of the Rings radio dramas, which is a pretty neat idea to use in music like this.

The star of the show here is the last song, "Farewell," though, with it's dramatic trumpets and amazing choir use(this is first time clean vocals were used in Summonings music if I'm not mistaken). The chorus to this song is amazing, actually the entire song is amazing and is for me the highlight of the album.

Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame is a good solid album, with a really cool medieval feel. The songs are catchy and easy to follow, and really show the songwriting strength of Summoning. While not the band's best album, this is definitely a keeper.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Music Review - Dream Theater - Train of Thought

This is probably my second favorite Dream Theater album, behind Scenes from a Memory. This album really shows the bands insanely technical side with a flair of heaviness not really seen in their previous albums.

Train of Thought is basically Dream Theaters heavy metal album; tons of double bass and ridiculously technical drums, downtuned guitars, downtuned drums, lighting fast guitar and keyboard solos and songs stretching past 13 minutes in places. This is a fast, heavy and hard-hitting album, but it's not without its terrific catchy melodies, though they do tend to air on the darker side.

James LaBrie, who is one of my all time favorite vocalists sounds perfect here, with some awesome high notes and even some rap influenced vocal lines, which actually sound pretty darn cool. The lyrics, honestly, aren't the best I've ever seen and really lean more towards whining and complaining about life, but heck, they fit the music and are sung really well, so I can suffer through them.

What's so cool about this album is just to hear the band absolutely cut loose on every instrument and just blast at full speed for the whole album. While they've always been technical, this is pure showmanship in every way. From almost death metal sounding instrumental parts in various songs to the quirky solos in the track Endless Sacrifice to the angry buildup and climax of Honor Thy Father to the epic closer In the Name of God, every song is packed to the brim with just insane instrumentation. The instrumental Stream of Consciousness is the high point for all of it, and I'd definitely say that it's the most technical and complex track here.

So in conclusion, Train of Thought is definitely Dream Theaters heaviest, most technical and catchiest album. Heavy guitars, angry vocals and brilliant playing by every band member solidifies Train of Thought as one of my favorite metal albums.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Cigar Review - Rocky Patel Java

Rocky Patel Java is another of my go-to cigars. I really have yet to be disappointed by anything Rocky sets his hand to, but he really struck gold with this cigar. This is, to quote the gentleman who sold it to me, "like smoking dessert," and this is probably the best description I've heard for the Java.

Firstly, this is a sleek looking cigar; it's square pressed for an elegant box shape with simple and tasteful labels on both ends. Secondly, this is one of the best tasting cigars I've yet smoked, ever. Before even cutting it and lighting it it gives off a very good coffee/cocoa flavor, and I mean REAL flavor. I would honestly buy these and just chew on them for the flavor, delicious.

Once lit, it burned perfectly and evenly, with strong coffee and cocoa flavors dominating. As I smoked the Java down the flavors became darker and spicier until the final fifth or so the cigar, at which point it became rather bitter and I had to stop smoking it. The smell is terrific, and is one of the only cigars I've smoked that doesn't seem to repel non-cigar smokers away.

The Rocky Patel Java is a fantastic after dinner dessert cigar, with outstanding flavor, burn and smell. I highly recommend the Maduro version, as this has some deeper and more rich textures in the flavor. For any cigar smoker, the Java is a must-smoke.

Rocky Patel Drew Estate Java Maduro
rated 9/10
Brazilian Maduro wrapper with Nicaraguan filler
Lighting method used: 3 torch lighter followed by single torch

Monday, June 21, 2010

Book Review - All the Pretty Horses

Cormac McCarthy has fast become one of my favorite authors, and I'm in the process of acquiring/reading as many of his works as I can. Having heard that he had written a Western styled trilogy of books, I went to the library and rented all three. I'll be reviewing each independently and when I finish the trilogy I'll post a brief recap of the whole story.

Cormac McCarthys style is fashioned after the styles of William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway (among others), with long sentences, plain descriptions, simple dialogue and a very un-stylized style. This can be somewhat of a turn off, as individual sentences can sometimes run to almost half a page. It's an interesting technique that does take a little getting used too. The lack of punctuation besides the occasional comma, periods and apostrophes is also interesting and really speeds up the reading. I never noticed before how much punctuation can slow you down when reading before reading McCarthy.

I don't like giving away stories and plots in my reviews, so there's no spoilers here. I will touch on a few key points though: firstly, McCarthy is master of dialogue and showing what really makes people tick inside through simple observation. He really and truly is a master at his craft. Simplicity in the modern world is an almost bygone quality, but McCarthy has it down like few others ever have. While not as heartbreaking as his most recent work The Road, lots of emotion can be felt through the sparse and sometimes harsh dialogue. There's also a good amount of philosophizing to be found here, in long and drawn out sentences. Some of it really struck a chord inside me, some of it seemed to be more or less rambling, but all of it at least sounds good. I don't mind rambling about nothing, so long as it is conveyed in an interesting way.

All the Pretty Horses isn't for the faint of heart, despite it's deceptive title. There is a lot of harsh violence depicted in this mid 1900s western novel, and the dialogue between the various thieves, killers, criminals and innocents can be as terse and harsh as the descriptions of the surrounding Mexico/Texas landscape. While nothing to grotesque, those put off by stark looks at violence should be warned.

In conclusion, All the Pretty Horses is another evocative novel from Cormac McCarthy. Bleak, brutal and sparse in every way, I loved this book and am eager to begin the next in the trilogy.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Movie Review - The Book of Eli

This was a potentially interesting take on the post-apocalyptic genre of film, and I was genuinely interested in seeing it. It's concept was something fairly untapped in recent film, and I liked the idea of books being so valuable in the post-apocalyptic world. Unfortunately for me, this movie was somehting of a letdown.

Here's what I liked: The main character, Eli, had a good moral compass. I like that a lot. He prays to God, has good values and refuses to compromise sexually. There's some really cool action sequences, the cinematagrophy is excellent and the acting is good, which is no surprise since its Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman. There's some thought provoking material here, and the script is fairly solid.

Here's what I didn't like: The execution is shaky. I wasn't aware Eli was supposed to be blind until some time after I saw the movie, and I don't really think he was. There were scenes that left me puzzled, such as when he gets shot from behind, but nothing happens and he continues walking on. I didn't know if the shot had missed, been deflected, or what. Eli shooting a cat with his bow and arrow, if he was blind, seems really implausible. Did he acquire these skills previously, are they divine or what? That was never answered. There's a sense of "seen it before" through the whole film; the villains are all suitably evil-looking, the main bad guy (Oldman) is a good villain but just seems cliche. Eli is a typical loner, wandering down his road on his God-given quest. Not a bad story, but nothing really innovative. The violence tries far too hard to be shocking, hard hitting and almost...philosophical and ends up being in bad taste more than anything.

There is one scene though, towards the second third of the film if I remember rightly, in which Eli and his companion wander into the home of some very friendly people that turns out to be an almost fatal decision that was brilliantly filmed. Without giving it away, I can say this was a perfect, eerie, unsettling scene that really made me sit up and pay attention. Kudos to the director and crew for filming that scene so well.

It certainly is a good film to look at; the colours are interesting, the camera-work is terrific. I wish that most of the really neat action scenes hadn't been shown in every trailer, as I felt that that they showed all the best parts in the trailers. Timing was also bad here, as The Book of Eli was released within a very short time as The Road, and since both movies have nearly identical plots it really took away from The Book of Eli.

All this isn't to say its a bad film; it just could have been better. Too much time was spent trying to philosophize in a Matrix-esque way, and this took away from the overall movie, I think. Had 20 or 30 minutes cut out of it and some of the weaker segments of philosophical/ethical discussions that take place been cut out, I thank it would have fared a lot better. Overall, this is a plain okay film that isn't terrible, but isn't anything amazing.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Music Review - Insomnium - Above the Weeping World

Above the Weeping World is Insomnium's 3rd album, and while not as strong as their newest album Across the Dark, this record is a strong combination of melodic death metal and soft acoustic interludes, some of which border on ambient. While not my personal favorite of theirs, ATTW is definitely a solid album.

The melodic death metal of the album hasn't changed a whole lot since the first release by the band, but this isn't a bad thing at all. There's some real killer guitar work here, especially on the first three songs. While there aren't any blazing solos or wild technical riffing going on, there is still genuine emotion in the melodies played here, which is Insomniums greatest strength. As on every other of their albums, sorrow, nostalgia, anger and even a few glimmers of happiness can be found here, all of which are conveyed in real meaningful ways and avoid sound cheesy or over the top. The vocals contribute a lot to this, with deep powerful roars and growls that really add a lot of feeling to the music. Another big factor is the brilliant use of acoustic guitars, which more than anything here add feeling to the music. Whether used in intros or interludes, the soft acoustic moments are gentle and quite lovely, never out of place and something I really applaud the band for using so well. The pace is slow-to-mid with occasional fast breaks, however these are few and far between and the majority of the album is content to amble along at a mostly slow speed.

The lyrics are another strong point; Insomnium write some of my favorite lyrics of any band. Resembling poetry more than most bands lyrics (and in the 3rd song using an actual poem from Francis William Bourdillion) they are dreary and sorrowful, but like the actual music avoid being cheesy, which is something a lot of artists fail to do.

The highlights of this album for me are the first three songs, the third of which, Drawn to Black, is my favorite off the album and my favorite Insomnium song. The main riff is brilliant, the pace is perfect and the entire song simply works beautifully. There are some slower and duller moments though, particularly towards the end of the album. These are offset by some terrific acoustics though, and don't really take too much away from the album.

Overall, this is a strong effort by a fantastic band. Outstanding use of acoustics combined with mostly engaging melodic death metal make for a good combination, and Insomnium pull it off very well here.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Movie Review - The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

When you think of a Western, the first thing to usually pop into your head is a shootout. Shootouts and Westerns go together like Star Wars films and lightsaber duels; they're more or less the focus of both. Also typical of Westerns are bar fights, carriage robberies, Mexican standoffs, horse chases and lassoing. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford has none of those. This isn't a Sergio Leone gunslinging epic, in fact guns are only drawn a few brief times in the whole film. This is a film that focuses on acting, cinematagrophy and dialogue to tell an amazing story that just happens to be set in the Old American West.

First off, the acting here is some of the finest I have ever seen. Brad Pitt, as Jesse James gives a performance that is up there with some of the all time greats, going form insane to gentle and back again with an ease that I've rarely seen. This is definitely one of the highlights of his entire career in my mind. Casey Affleck, playing Robert Ford is just as good though, giving something of an eerie and uneasy feel to his character that adds to the entire feel of the movie. While these two are the powerhouses, every single actor/actress here is in top form and leaves nothing to be desired. It's rare that such a large cast does such a brilliant job all around.

Secondly is the cinematagrophy, which is as brilliant as the acting. I've only seen a few movies shot this well and with minimal digital assistance (if any). The colors and lighting are honestly perfect, and coupled with the actual camera-work perfectly set the tone for the whole movie. Real feelings of nostalgia, dreariness and unease are made real simply through the cinematagrophy. 10/10 for every shot being nothing less than beautiful.

Lastly is the dialogue. Dialogue is a big point for me in movies, and this film certainly delivers. While hard to understand some of the soft, southern-accented mutterings, the dialogue here is top notch in every way. Banter between Jesse and Robert Ford turns deadly and back to normal with almost frightening ease. Like the cinematagrophy, every line is carefully crafted to fit perfectly with the scene at hand.

Another element of the movie that is probably my favorite is the score, done by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. The music here is beautiful, perfectly and brilliantly capturing the sad, nostalgic feel of the movie and giving a real dreamy quality to the films narration. Comprised of mostly piano and violins, these sad and haunting tunes are another of the pieces that really make this movie so good. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis are fantastic artists, and in my opinion this is their best soundtrack they've yet made. Sad, ominous, eerie, the duo does it all here.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is definitely not for those seeking a standard shoot-em-up western.When the violence does emerge though, it is in very brief and intense blasts, sometimes lasting no longer than a gunshot. This movie is long, and very slow; I'd actually say one of the longest and slowest I've seen.  It is also one of the most dreary movies I've seen; there's no cheer or laughter or comic relief to be found here. It can drag on at times, particularly towards the middle of the movie, so viewers beware. However, a combination of some of the best acting and cinematagrophy make this a must see, in my opinion. Devoid of any cliches of the Western genre, this film is one of my favorites and a movie I highly recommend.