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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Context Helps, Episode 3

In this episode, It's good to be the king. SPOILERS for Dynasty Warriors 7's Wu Ending.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Amon Amarth: Surtur Rising - An Observation

The oft-maligned metal subgenre Viking Metal originally spawned from the Pagan influences of Black Metal, though now it’s closer in tone to Folk Metal. Originated by the early Black Metal band Bathory, Viking Metal is exactly that, metal taking influences from Norse mythology and Nordic instruments. It’s easy to make fun of by the masses.

And it was my plan to do exactly that. I thought making fun of a Viking Metal album would make for a great April Fool’s Joke, and Amon Amarth just released an album on Tuesday, March 29. There’s just one problem… Surtur Rising… really kind of owns.

Sweden’s Amon Amarth formed in 1992, but didn’t really find their place in mainstream metal (yes, I’m aware of the apparent oxymoron) until 2005’s Fate of Norns. While their lyrical stylings are almost unilaterally about Norse Mythology, they refuse to call themselves Viking Metal, instead preferring the more standard label of Death Metal. Stylistically… they’re not far off. Lyrics aside, their sound is rooted heavily in the Gothenburg Melodic Death Metal sound, and can be compared to a very heavy Soilwork. Most Viking Metal, notably Finland’s Turisas and Ensiferum, are much closer to their Black Metal progenitors.

This year brings us the newest in Amon Amarth’s “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Viking Metal” style, Surtur Rising. Honestly, the more I listen to this album, the more I love it. Sure it’s silly, it’s over the top, and the lyrics can be downright funny, but… I just can’t help myself. The biggest technical complaint I have about the band is that drummer Fredrik Andersson lacks variation, and that the final track of the album, “Doom over Dead Men” is weaker than the other tracks on the album. It isn’t even bad, it’s just not as good. That’s all I can come up with, their drummer is meh, and they have one track that isn’t as totally and completely awesome as the others.

Surtur Rising opens with “War of the Gods,” which quickly sets the tone of the album. While the riff at first appears to be bordering on In Flames territory, they start the energy high, and never let it go. Vocalist Johan Hegg grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go. If I have any real complaint about this song, it’s at the end. The track just… stops. It doesn’t really have an ending, and it doesn’t fade out. But it’s a great opener, with great riffs, and while the Power Metal-inspired solo might feel out of place, it really does fit with the overall tone of the album.

“Toke’s Taunt – Loke’s Treachery Pt. 2” Would win an award for most over-the-top title on the album… except it isn’t. This is a slower track, with a weird tempo. The riff is hard and memorable. But it just starts plodding along and doesn’t give up. In fact, that statement can be used for any of the tracks of this album, they don’t really have a “soft” song or even soft points in the song. They’re just metal. And that’s what this song is. Just metal.

“Destroyer of the Universe.” Again, over-the-top title. Fast-paced, hi-energy, a fantastic bridge solo, and a strong ending.

“Slaves of Fear” is kind of a weird track. Hegg’s vocals here are… I think he’s going for syncopated, but it comes off as off-beat. Guitarists Johan Soderberg and Olavi Mikkonen earn their pay here, with a technically complex and memorable guitar track.

“Live Without Regrets” is probably my favorite track on the album. Heavy, bombastic, unsubtle in the extreme, and about as perfect of a metal track as I’ve ever heard. This is the one time where drummer Frederik Andersson gets to shine. He suffers from what I like to call “Anders Jivarp Syndrome,” (as named for the drummer from Melodic Death Metal giants Dark Tranquillity), which is a seeming inability to variate his beats and tones save for one or two tracks on the album. This is one of those tracks.

“The Last Stand of Frej” can only be described as a metal march. It’s technically a slower track, but it’s back to that “not giving up” style of some of their earlier tracks.

“For Victory or Death” is another one of those tracks that fools you from the get go. Just like “War of the Gods” first tried to make you think it was In Flames, “For Victory or Death” tries to make you think you’re listing to a Metalcore band a la Trivium. While the energy is good, I can’t say this track does anything we haven’t heard on the album before.

“Wrath of the Norsemen” kicks it back up. This track opens a bit more Groove Metal influences, I can hear elements of Pantera or DevilDriver when I listen to the track. Great, strong riff.

“A Beast Am I” opens heavy and only gets heavier. Another sufferer of “Anders Jivarp Syndrome,” this once again showcases Andersson’s abilities. Why doesn’t the band utilize him more? Musically dissonant, especially at the solo, but not in an offputting way. The beastial nature of the song - as proclaimed by the title – is evident here. A wild and chaotic song. After the song, but still part of the album track, is an instrumental bit. This is the song that should have closed up the album.

… Instead we get “Doom over Dead Men.” … of doom? Sadly, they fall apart at the end. It seems almost like a metal ballad at first. The song lacks cohesion. It starts one way, goes another, heads in a third, then a fourth, and finally finishes off at a fifth, unrelated to the others. The solo is… okay, and the keys are solid throughout. But in the end, this track is just… uninteresting. It’s there.

This album was the first album by Amon Amarth that I ever purchased, and I did so entirely for what I thought would be a funny review. Instead, I found myself being infected by it. It’s just so… manly. That’s the only word I can use for it. Manly. I feel more masculine for having listened to this album. I can clearly see why they’re so popular, and at the same time, why Brendan Smalls (Creator of “Metalocalypse: Dethklok”) likes making fun of them. They’re silly, they’re over the top, they're Viking sons of bitches, and they’re going to metal your face off.

Surtur Rising is on Metal Blade Records.

Joseph watches The Room, The Observer follows along on Skype. Hilarity Ensues.

In the wee hours of the morning of April Fools' Day, Joseph decided he was finally going to watch that movie everyone's been harping on. He was warned by The Observer to stop and save his sanity.

Time codes are in Pacific Standard Time. Some content not affecting the snark was edited.

[9:27:45 PM] Joseph: Three minutes to showtime
[9:27:54 PM] The Observer: Last chance to back out, I think.
[9:28:23 PM] Joseph: If Doug and Lupa can do it, so can I
[9:28:45 PM] The Observer: Good luck!
[9:31:16 PM] Joseph: Starts with a message not to duplicate it. People would want to?
[9:31:40 PM] The Observer: The absurd Belgian who shall remain nameless has a much bigger ego than is warranted.
[9:34:10 PM] Joseph: The don't duplicate thing popped up again. I think it's Adult Swim and not the movie itself
[9:35:18 PM] The Observer: That's too bad, actually. I don't remember any such warning from the theatrical version, but they add crap like that on occasion to home releases.
[9:37:06 PM] Joseph: Just how old is Denny supposed to be? He looks 14, and his lack of anything resembling boundaries is rather creepy
[9:37:45 PM] Joseph: Looks as if the sex activated candles was a wise investment
[9:38:07 PM] The Observer: Those would make bank from the porn companies alone.
[9:38:15 PM] Joseph: And we got black box covering the boobage
[9:38:48 PM] The Observer: This ain't HBO, kid.
[9:38:56 PM] Joseph: And one is now covering the entire scene
[9:39:07 PM] Joseph: WTF is he doing to her?!
[9:39:12 PM] The Observer: Though CSI of all things did actually have boobage once, so take it as you will.
[9:39:35 PM] The Observer: Joe, be thankful for the box. The things I've once seen... cannot be unseen.
[9:41:03 PM] Joseph: Oh, God! Thank you carefully placed box as Johnny was getting out of bed!
[9:41:13 PM] The Observer: As I said... CANNOT BE UNSEEN.
[9:42:06 PM] Joseph: Commercial. They slowed down the dialogue on the bumper. Funny, I guess
[9:45:38 PM] Joseph: Wow, Lisa's mom is nosy
[9:46:08 PM] The Observer: Naw, really? I hadn't noticed!
[9:47:22 PM] Joseph: Okay, I get it, she's Lisa's mother. You can stop telling me
[9:50:13 PM] Joseph: I believe it's called "foreplay" bearded guy
[9:51:48 PM] Joseph: No sure turned into yes for him rather quickly
[9:52:00 PM] The Observer: He's a dude.
[9:52:27 PM] The Observer: There's only so long dudes can hold out before their blood leaves their brain entirely.
[9:54:18 PM] Joseph: These black boxes are probably making the sex scenes seem so much worse than they actually are
[9:54:54 PM] Joseph: Especially when they cover the majority of the screen
[9:55:14 PM] The Observer: In terms of content, they're relatively mild. But in terms of squick factor? Holy $@#%.
[9:55:51 PM] Joseph: Wait. "We can't do this anymore?". Was that not the first time they've done it?
[9:56:02 PM] Joseph: Hi, Doggy!
[9:56:22 PM] The Observer: And with that, I pet Ginger hello. I know she's a cat, leave me alone.
[9:56:40 PM] Joseph: Commercial.
[9:56:47 PM] The Observer: Breather.
[9:57:13 PM] The Observer: When the movie's over, I'm going to break your brain. If you don't figure it out yourself. Just warning ya.
[10:00:32 PM] Joseph: I have never heard of an artichoke pizza before
[10:01:18 PM] The Observer: Fneh, must be a ‘Frisco thing. Either that or the absurd Belgian who shall remain nameless doesn’t even know food. Honestly, now I think it’s that.
[10:01:46 PM] Joseph: Denny's going to grow up to be a serial rapist, isn't he?
[10:02:08 PM] The Observer: You're assuming he isn't already.
[10:02:16 PM] Joseph: Good point
[10:03:09 PM] Joseph: What exactly is "the computer business" that Lisa partakes in?
[10:03:32 PM] The Observer: Never explained.
[10:04:29 PM] Joseph: Never pick Johnny as the designated driver. He goes from "you know I don't drink," to drunk off his ass in about 90 seconds
[10:04:49 PM] The Observer: Johnny's the king of inconsistent characterization.
[10:05:55 PM] Joseph: Based on the number of sex scenes, and black boxes covering up most of the screen, why do I get the feeling this movie was intended as a porn at one point?
[10:06:17 PM] The Observer: I take it you never watched Cinemax as a kid?
[10:06:30 PM] The Observer: 'Cause that style of film-making is obviously the influence here.
[10:06:41 PM] Joseph: Didn't have Cinemax as a kid
[10:07:00 PM] The Observer: I don't know whether to be relieved or concerned with that.
[10:07:30 PM] Joseph: "Breast Cancer? Eh. No biggie" that's how that scene came off to me
[10:07:51 PM] The Observer: Plot point? We don't need no stinkin' plot point!
[10:08:51 PM] Joseph: Oh, hai random people sneaking into someone else's house to have sex
[10:09:23 PM] The Observer: ... You've been infected.
[10:10:07 PM] Joseph: An excellent question, Lisa's mom
[10:10:24 PM] The Observer: Was that one "What are you doing?" or "How did you get in here?"
[10:10:42 PM] Joseph: "Who are these characters?"
[10:10:50 PM] The Observer: Right! Yes!
[10:11:23 PM] Joseph: Denny's an orphan? Was it self made? because that wouldn't surprise me
[10:11:35 PM] The Observer: Never explained.
[10:12:26 PM] Joseph: Is "I don't want to talk about it" Lisa's catchphrase?
[10:12:37 PM] Joseph: Commercial
[10:12:43 PM] The Observer: You mean other than bitching about Johnny? Sure, why not?
[10:15:54 PM] Joseph: Which is bound to be the bigger post Oscar win disappointment, Jamie Foxx going from Ray to Stealth, or Natalie Portman going from Black Swan to Your Highness?
[10:16:09 PM] The Observer: Jamie Foxx all the way.
[10:16:38 PM] The Observer: Damn good actor, and deserves way better than he's getting.
[10:17:03 PM] The Observer: As to Natalie Portman... she was in the Star Wars Prequels. And Black Swan. &%$! her.
[10:17:38 PM] Joseph: Why is everyone coming to the roof?
[10:18:50 PM] The Observer: Because they only had the budget for three or four set pieces.
[10:18:58 PM] The Observer: You know, on a budget of SIX MILLION.
[10:19:05 PM] The Observer: Obviously worth every penny, right?
[10:19:50 PM] Joseph: I kinda have to take Lisa's mom side on this.
[10:20:38 PM] The Observer: You do realize I'm not watching it with you, right? And that the last time I saw it was years ago? Lisa's mom's side on WHAT?
[10:20:54 PM] The Observer: What was her name again... Charlene... Claudette... it was some kind of C name, right?
[10:21:12 PM] Joseph: The reaction Denny and the drug dealer
[10:21:38 PM] The Observer: Yes, that was the singular glimpse of maturity here.
[10:22:22 PM] Joseph: That skyline is a green screen, isn't it?
[10:22:49 PM] The Observer: I'm pretty sure it's a painted background, actually. Either way, it's pretty obvious they're indoors. Though you wouldn't know it with the amount of ADR.
[10:23:39 PM] Joseph: So, how did that whole pursued by drug dealer thing work out? Not important? Okay
[10:24:05 PM] The Observer: Never explained.
[10:25:35 PM] Joseph: Denny's in College? Really?
[10:29:40 PM] Joseph: So your reaction to finding out Lisa told people you hit her is to push her down. YOU ARE TEARING ME APART, MOVIE!
[10:33:44 PM] Joseph: I swear they used the same shot of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Full House opening
[10:34:04 PM] The Observer: There's only so many ways to take a picture of that thing. Or so I heard.
[10:34:30 PM] Joseph: Claudette is Lisa's mom's name
[10:34:52 PM] The Observer: Thanks. I knew it was something like that.
[10:35:09 PM] The Observer: But now I just want to watch The Shield.
[10:35:45 PM] Joseph: The football scene is the alley is... weird
[10:35:58 PM] The Observer: Something about this movie is weird. I'm shocked and amazed.
[10:36:05 PM] Joseph: Hi, Claudette. How's the chemotherepy coming?
[10:37:12 PM] Joseph: And Claudette makes another good point. Why did you bring up the fact you're cheating on Johnny if you "don't want to talk about it"?
[10:40:44 PM] Joseph: Is this Peter person at Johnny's? Who is he? Why haven't we heard about him before now?
[10:41:09 PM] Joseph: "It's an awkward situation". That's this movie in a nutshell
[10:42:37 PM] Joseph: "Have any of you even heard a chicken before?" from Arrested Development just popped into my head from Johnny's "chicken" noise
[10:42:58 PM] The Observer: Never got around to watching that show, sorry to say.
[10:43:35 PM] Joseph: A running gag is Jason Bateman's character's family doing chicken noises at him on certain situations, all of them different, and none even close to accurate
[10:44:05 PM] The Observer: Ah! Gotcha.
[10:44:29 PM] Joseph: Commercial
[10:46:22 PM] Joseph: Once the drug dealer came on the scene, the movie started verring into Stupid Town. And not in the fun Troll 2 way, either
[10:47:02 PM] The Observer: Don't look at me. You're the one who thought this was a good idea. I tried to warn you.
[10:50:44 PM] Joseph: And Mark now smokes pot and has homicidal tendencies. Character development?
[10:51:17 PM] The Observer: In this movie? Never.
[10:51:21 PM] The Observer: Just random $@#%.
[10:51:25 PM] The Observer: That's all The Room is! Random $@#%!
[10:51:34 PM] The Observer: I'm not even watching it and I'm pissed at it!
[10:52:02 PM] Joseph: Mark shaved. Which is apparently a big deal, I guess
[10:52:11 PM] Joseph: I mean, the camera lingered on it
[10:52:36 PM] The Observer: Probably to say, "Look here! Totally the same guy! Not like that other asshole we had to recast halfway through!"
[10:55:46 PM] Joseph: Is Mark Johnny's best friend? I had no idea. Why didn't they tell us sooner?
[10:56:29 PM] The Observer: This movie is repetitive. This movie is repetitive.  This movie is repetitive. This movie is repetitive. This movie is repetitive. This movie is repetitive.
[10:56:32 PM] The Observer: This movie is repetitive.
[10:57:02 PM] Joseph: And once again the black boxes are taking over most of the screen
[10:57:12 PM] The Observer: Be thankful.
[10:57:15 PM] The Observer: CANNOT BE UNSEEN.
[10:57:24 PM] Joseph: I mean, all but a little square in the top left corner
[10:59:43 PM] Joseph: Commercial. I want to play Homefront just because of the writer
[11:00:38 PM] Joseph: The Nickeloden kids choice awards is an odd commercial to have during this.
[11:00:51 PM] The Observer: It's still Cartoon Network.
[11:02:23 PM] Joseph: And now we have the Full house opening shot going in reverse
[11:03:08 PM] Joseph: Oh, goody, even more football.
[11:06:01 PM] Joseph: You know, Mark, every time you go near Lisa you end up in bed (or spiral stairs) together. Why are you still so surprised by her advances?
[11:06:12 PM] The Observer: Never explained.
[11:08:38 PM] Joseph: Since when is 8:00 considered late afternoon? And I'm pretty sure banks have been closed for a few hours by then
[11:09:23 PM] The Observer: Stop trying to apply logic to The Room. That way only leads to madness.
[11:11:15 PM] Joseph: They-- they bought the rights to Happy Birthday?
[11:11:27 PM] The Observer: I told you about that.
[11:11:55 PM] The Observer: Martin Scorsese didn't do that for Boardwalk Empire, but the absurd Belgian who shall remain nameless put in the money.
[11:12:04 PM] The Observer: Six million dollar budget. Well spent!
[11:12:34 PM] Joseph: I do like the one original music cue that this movie has. A nice tune that's rather catchy
[11:14:23 PM] Joseph: commercial
[11:19:01 PM] Joseph: "Leave your stupid comments in your pocket"? WTF is that even supposed to mean?
[11:21:01 PM] Joseph: I think I actually like totally not recast Peter better than the original one.
[11:23:12 PM] Joseph: Wow the "fight" really needs the cat sound effect Nostalgia Critic added in
[11:25:23 PM] Joseph: commercial
[11:26:04 PM] The Observer: Think about it this way: It's almost over!
[11:26:50 PM] Joseph: It seems like they are really stretching this out
[11:27:15 PM] The Observer: You stretch out Random $@#% how... exactly?
[11:27:29 PM] The Observer: You make it sound like the absurd Belgian who shall remain nameless actually had a plan when making this thing.
[11:28:40 PM] Joseph: Seems like there's more commercials than there should be
[11:29:07 PM] The Observer: Every 15 minutes, it looks like.
[11:29:51 PM] Joseph: "I don't think I should be alone with him" "I understand that. Well, I'm going home. Bye" WTF?
[11:33:46 PM] The Observer: Just wait 'til I hit you with the Fridge Horror.
[11:33:54 PM] The Observer: I'm looking forward to it so much.
[11:34:12 PM] Joseph: Wow, this tantrum is downright pitiful
[11:35:50 PM] Joseph: And they boxed up most of the screen for his suicide
[11:36:09 PM] The Observer: That's too bad. Seeing him die is the only reason to watch the movie!
[11:36:21 PM] Joseph: "Wake up"? HE SHOT HIMSELF
[11:36:52 PM] Joseph: Why did Mark just kiss Johnny's forehead?
[11:36:55 PM] The Observer: I hate to say it, but that sometimes happens in cases of the loved ones of Gunshot Homicide victims.
[11:37:08 PM] The Observer: The "wake up" part.
[11:37:11 PM] The Observer: Not the kissing part.
[11:37:13 PM] The Observer: Great timing!
[11:37:34 PM] The Observer: Hell, suspicious death, period.
[11:37:54 PM] Joseph: Why did Denny suddenly run in there?
[11:38:02 PM] The Observer: He's stalking them. Duh.
[11:38:18 PM] Joseph: And why was he crying before he saw the body?
[11:38:41 PM] The Observer: Probably listening to A Simple Plan or some $@#%.
[11:39:47 PM] The Observer: You know, that's how much I hate this movie. I'm not even watching it, and you have me thinking about the pathology of homicides, and THAT'S A STEP UP!
[11:40:41 PM] Joseph: At least there were people with brains in that building and the police was called.
[11:40:58 PM] The Observer: Why couldn't this movie be about THOSE people?
[11:42:04 PM] Joseph: I can now say I saw The Room.
[11:42:12 PM] The Observer: Mazel tov.
[11:42:25 PM] Joseph: I'm actually left with a feeling of "that's it?"
[11:42:27 PM] The Observer: Okay, so Fridge Horror time. Get a bottle ready, you're going to need it.
[11:42:51 PM] Joseph: Given its reputation, I was expecting something so much worse than what it was
[11:42:51 PM] The Observer: So, the actress who played Lisa was 18 at the time of filming. The character... probably wasn't much older than that. How long did Johnny say they'd been together again?
[11:43:09 PM] Joseph: O_O
[11:43:29 PM] Joseph: WOW