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.