Sunday, November 19, 2017

Live review: In Flames + Five Finger Death Punch at Scandinavium, Gothenburg


In later years, the whole Co-headline concept has become more popular, with two or more bands joining forces throughout a tour, sharing the work load to bring a great experience to the fans. I think it is a great way to get a lot of value for your money, getting to watch two fantastic acts in the same evening to make your night complete. So I was obviously excited when In Flames and Five Finger Death Punch decided to tour together through Europe, giving me a chance to finally get to see two bands that are known for explosive shows.

It also made sense that exactly these two got together, because they are sort of in the same spot in their careers (even though one of them has been active for a longer time). Both are insanely popular acts that have released several big hits over the years, but they have also been receiving a lot of hate for various reasons, even to the point where some do not even consider these band to be metal at all (which is ridiculous, what else are they? Techno?).

Anyway, I was not alone in wanting to watch them, the show in the indoor stadium Scandinavium (located in central Gothenburg) was completely sold out, bringing some warmth in this cold Autumn evening. Let me tell you how the night was.

Opening act: Of Mice & Men

Opening up for the two big guns were Of Mice & Men, a metalcore group from Orange County, California that I have heard of before, but have never digged deeper into... which is also why I did not see these guys.

Now, it would have been pretty difficult to get in time for them anyhow because I live close to two hours away from Gothenburg and I cannot leave work how early I want. Besides, the group of guys I went to the show with did not really want to see them, so... yeah. It is nothing against the band, I simply did not have the time/peer pressure got to me.

I did more research since and I even listened to the songs that they did play, and to be completely honest, I do not think I missed much. While I believe most music does become better when you experience it in a live setting, I think I would be pretty bored with the band's predictable and unoriginal brand of metalcore (although I do have to admit that the new single "Warzone" has a really nice groove to it). All of the songs were nothing special, maybe heavier than your average metalcore band, but still fairly bland, it is close to just being needless noise infact. And once again, it is unfair of me to judge them solely by studio efforts, who knows, they might have killed it on stage. I will probably give these lads another chance when their fifth album comes out next year, but I doubt that the music will make me do backflips out of shear joy.

Setlist:
Unbreakable
Public Service Announcement
Pain
You Make Me Sick
Warzone
The Depths

Five Finger Death Punch

After all of what has happened with this band during the year, I was a little afraid that I was going to witness another massive meltdown, Fortunately, that did not happen, instead we got a band that was obviously pumped up, ready to kick some metal ass. And you could clearly tell that singer Ivan Moody was the happiest of the bunch, coming in wearing the jersey of the Swedish national ice hockey team Tre Kronor. Ivan was soaking in every moment of the show, really enjoying himself and playing with the crowd, despite very minimal small talk between songs.

The energy is obviously the band's biggest strength, but they tried to make it a very visually appealing show as well, and they did succeed... to some extent. There were a lot of lighting and lasers that tried to make the show more colorful, and while I do like lasers, it became pretty tiring after a while, being more of a gimmick than any real help. Then we had the huge prop that hung behind the band, which depicted their mascot Knucklehead and a couple of baseball bats crossing behind, making some kind of an urban Jolly Roger. It looked cool and all, but the way it was shaped and assembled made it look more like Vic Rattlehead from Megadeth, and that was an image I could not get out of my head. Why did they not just paint a hand palm on the right side of the face, like in the album covers? So yeah, it looked cool, but it did not look like it belonged with the band.

Go home Vic, you are drunk
Anyway, the music is still the main thing in a concert, and without a new album in recent time, the setlist was pretty well versed between all of the band's releases. I was a little surprised to hear that their latest single "Trouble" (from the upcoming best of record "A Decade of Destruction") was not in the setlist, because even if I think the song is pretty meh, it is kind of a missed opportunity for the band to not market it. It was also surprising that the band went acoustic on two songs, with also Ivan sincerely apologizing for his behaviour the last year. It was a touching moment for sure, but when you think of 5FDP, you do not think of slow songs that you can play around the camp fire. No, you think of adrenaline pumping songs that gets you incredibly hyped up, and that is what I wanted to see, so that acoustic part was kind of a buzz kill.

Oh well, I got enough macho metal to go around anyway, and the band did a fantastic job in getting the crowd going (seriously, the front mosh pitted during songs like "Bad Company" and "Wash It All Away", how is that possible?). So despite some weird things here and there, it was a pretty good show the Americans presented us with. No matter if you like them or not, you gotta admit, their energy is extremely contagious and exhilarating.

Best: "Burn MF" certainly has a lot of power to it

Worst: I did not come to see this band for their acoustic bit

Rating: 7,5/10

Setlist:
Lift Me Up
Never Enough
Wash It All Away
Got Your Six
Hard To See
Bad Company (Bad Company cover)
Jekyll And Hyde
Burn MF
Wrong Side of Heaven (acoustic)
Remember Everything (acoustic)
Coming Down
Ain't My Last Dance

Encore:
Under And Over It
The Bleeding

In Flames

Going into this show, I was not worried that In Flames were going to phone it in or not give it their all. After all, Gothenburg is their city of origin, and for a band that travels the world year after year, there simply is no place like home. Sure enough, one of Sweden's biggest metal exports surely gave their home crowd a lot to cheer about with a show that a lot of people are not gonna forget in the near future. Simply put, In Flames love Gothenburg, and Gothenburg loves In Flames.

So instead of lasers and tons of lighting, In Flames put their chips on more technological stuff, putting together several screens and creating two pillars for the keyboardist (who I could not find out who it was) and drummer Joe Rickard. This allowed a lot of really cool and some times disturbing imagery to play around with the songs, feeding both your ears and eyes of course. We also got a big puppet prop as well that was revealed during "Alias", a recreation of that human with the bird head from the "A Sense of Purpose" record. It was pretty cool, but it just stayed the for the rest of the show, not doing anything besides staring at everyone with its glowing eyes. Kind of creepy if you ask me.

Damn Jesterheads, please leave the little guy alone
The setlist was mostly based around the last year release "Battles", and no matter what your opinion is on that album, it does show that the band knows how to make incredibly memorable sing along choruses. Songs like "Save Me", "Drained" and "The End" all work extremely well in a live setting, giving the crowd an excuse to sing their lungs out. Otherwise, there were few surprises in this setlist. All of the band's biggest hits were in here, mixed in with some old favourites. To be completely honest, the only real surprise was "Everything's Gone", the only representative from "Siren Charms" (thank god for that). It was placed in the first half of the setlist, where the band just went full on mad mode, almost burning off all of their heaviest materials with "Take This Life", "Trigger" (renamed this evening as "Twitter"), and "Only For The Weak".

While I did enjoy myself during the entire show, and I saw that the chemistry between the crowd and the band was good, there were more or less no small talk in between, even less than in the 5FDP show. The songs were fired with a machine gun, bam bam bam bam bam, close to no break at all. At the very end we probably got the answer to why it was so, because they had to be done before a certain time (because of Swedish law), and they wanted to maximize the time as much as possible. So that explained it, but it still felt weird the way the band handled it.

Oh well, no matter what, In Flames still delivered an impressive performance that echoed out into the Gothenburg night. The band were in their element all night, they simply felt like they were home, playing for all their relatives and friends. They were comfortable, but they made sure to not relax all to much, keeping laser focus. It is no wonder why this band is considered as one of Sweden's biggest bands, they delivered big time here in Scandinavium.

Best: "Everything's Gone" and "Take This Life" is an amazing one two punch

Worst: The setlist was way too predictable

Rating: 8,5/10

Setlist:
Drained
Before I Fall
Everything's Gone
Take This Life
Trigger
Only For The Weak
Dead Alone
Darker Times
Drifter
Moonshield
The Jester's Dance
Save Me
Alias
Here Until forever
The Truth
Deliver Us
The Mirror's Truth
The Quiet Place
The End

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

VUUR - In This Moment We Are Free - Cities (2017)

Ever since leaving The Gathering in 2007, vocalist Anneke Van Giersbergen has been hard at work, showing off the different styles that she can perform. She has done a good job of displaying herself to the world, being a part of The Gentle Storm, Lights Off, her own solo project of course, and also appear in various albums of the effervescent Devin Townsend Project. But with her new band, the entirely Dutch ensemble VUUR (Dutch for fire), she has a goal to really solidify and narrow down her musical directions when it comes to metal.

With "In This Moment We Are Free - Cities", Anneke has created a progressive metal record that does have a lot of similarities with The Gentle Storm, but instead of recapturing the spirit of the 17th century, VUUR is firmly planted in present day, while still having the delicate emotions that "The Diary" presented. It is some of the heaviest stuff that we have heard from Anneke, but that is not really saying much, this album is still fairly soft, focusing more on beautiful melodies than crushing riffs.

Each of the 11 tracks in this record is inspired by a city that has left Anneke with some kind of impact during all the years she has been on the road, and while it is a neat idea, I do not really see much of a point with it, because I do not think the songs represent their cities particularly well. There is no song in here that you can easily connect with its city, like what does "Sail Away" have to do with Santiago, or how much of Rio De Janeiro is in "Freedom"? Maybe there is a deeper meaning to the songs that I am missing, but it does not come out strong either way.

Actually, the entire album was kind of underwhelming at first. The songs where nice and all, but through the first few spins, it did feel a little sluggish and not dynamic enough to grab my attention. It was about as grey as the cover. But just like the cover, there was something shiny that was waiting to burst out into the darkness, and yes, this album did grow eventually and became more and more interesting for each new listen. It is still not a super original album, but it kept my interest.

The first couple tracks are pretty meh, nothing ear catching. It is by the third track, "The Martyr And The Saint - Beirut", things are starting to get interesting, with some nifty riffing and clean melodies that fits Anneke's voice like a glove. The songs keeps on coming, all in different shapes, from haunting opera and beautiful ballads, to quick hitters and oriental influences. It is a solid mix of songs that together make a very solid record, but while most of the focus is obviously on Anneke, I would like to lift up guitarists Ferry Duijsens and Jord Otto for delivering some great guitar work all throughout the album, taking it one step higher.

In the end, VUUR might have something interesting going for it, but it is clear that it might take an album or two for this band to really get going. This debut record is nice and has several neat ideas, but it is an underwhelming record. It does not jump out at you, making a statement that it is here to entertain. No, it instead quietly and politely informs you that it is available now. Fans of Anneke will definitely enjoy this record, but as said, their true "vuur" might not show up until the next release.

Songs worthy of recognition: Days Go By - London, The Martyr And The Saint - Beirut, Sail Away - Santiago

Rating: 7/10 Valleys of Diamonds in Mexico City

www.vuur.band/
twitter.com/vuur_band

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Ne Obliviscaris - Urn (2017)

I do not mind when band keeps it minimalistic when it comes to naming new releases, but Ne Obliviscaris please, this is close to ridiculous. Three letters, that's all? I swear to god, when I first read about this album, all I saw was that it was named "Um". Then I saw that itty bitty tiny space between the r and the n, and it all made sense... but it still felt strange with such a small title. That is Ne Obliviscaris in a nutshell, simplistic in titles, complex in sound.

So this is the Australian band's third release, and at this point in their career, you kind of know what you are going to get from them. It is just what you would expect, it is six tightly packed songs that are filled to the brim with extreme technicality, a healthy mix of soaring clean vocals and brutal harsh vocals, and let us also not forget the generous use of violins, a registered trademark for the band. It is a style that does not suit everyone, but I have been down for the ride ever since their debut "Portal of I".

So we got a collection of 6 songs at our disposal... well, technically there are only 4 songs, but two of them are split into two parts each. Still, they are certainly meaty songs that fill up some time (45 minutes to be exact). During that time, the band flex their muscles and show off all of their abilities, from the intense drumming of Daniel "Mortuary" Presland, to the beautiful strokes of Tim Charles' violin. They once again show that they are among the elite when it comes to pure playing ability, creating such fantastic melodies with both the simple and difficult techniques.

But there is a big problem with "Urn". No matter how much I rave about the technicality of the record, and how much work and effort has been put into it, I just do not get the same angelic feelings that I received from "Citadel". Why? Because "Urn" is not showing that the band has evolved, they are still in the same spot as they were last time we heard from them. You can easily hear the same patterns as in their predecessors, which makes "Urn" very predictable. You know when they are going soft, or when they are turning up the tempo, it is so god damn predictable, and it annoys the hell out of me.

With that said though, it is hard not to get enchanted by the music, because it is still made with some really good precision. When the album reaches the most epic bits, you can just feel your skin crawl from how good it sounds. And while I do not really think there are any songs here that matches the level of the best Ne Obliviscaris songs has to offer, I still get a lot of enjoyment from such epic pieces as "Eyrie" and both parts of the title track.

So even if "Urn" is same same, but different, it is still another proof that Ne Obliviscaris is a true elite band. There are no other band out there like them, with a sound that really stands out in the metal sphere. These guys are too talented to be stuck in one place, and I hope that they can see that. I do not want to see this band becoming the technical extreme progressive symphonic death metal answer to Motörhead. So yeah, "Urn" is no revolution for the band, but it is still a damn good record that fans of the band will absolutely love.

Songs worthy of recognition: Eyrie, Urn (part 1 and 2)

Rating: 7,5/10 Saturnine Spheres

neobliviscarissom.bandcamp.com/
twitter.com/NeObliviscaris3

More reviews of Ne Obliviscaris
Citadel

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Keldian - Darkness And Light (2017)

The Norweigan duo Keldian blew me away like a supernova in 2013 with the record "Outbound", an album that quickly became one of my favourites of the year with its infectious and nostalgic power metal that had a clear sci-fi theme going with it. But this band is more than a single genre can explain. The love child of Arild Aardalen and Christer Andresen taps in to a lot of 80's rock, as well as that decade's synth movement. It is a strange combo, but when all comes together, it becomes a very uplifting experience.

So "Darkness And Light" is their fourth release, and it is not too far off from their previous efforts, it is unmistakeably Keldian in this album. The way that they can take such simple components and still make such compelling music is just astounding, it never gets tired or stale. You will never hear this band steer out into complex solos or perform any impressive drum fills, it is basic music at its finest.

With that said, "Darkness And Light" might be one of the more underwhelming albums of the band's discography. Do not get me wrong, this is an enjoyable album, but I do not feel like the magic that their previous releases had is here. It is hard to pin point why, but it might be that they rely a little too much on the 80's sound here, and that the space vibe does not get enough room to shine. There are several parts of the album that just feels too nostalgic, too dated to be released in this millennium, and that is normally a line they have balanced pretty well, but does not do that quite as well this time around.

There are also some songs in here that just feels off, not coming out as bright stars. The giant epic in the middle, the close to 13 minute long "I'm The Last of Us", has some neat ideas, but it is just way too long for its own good. I love long songs, but they have to have a purpose to be long, and I do not see any reasons for this track to be this long. Then we have both "Broadside!" and "The Haunting", two songs that are just drenched in 80's AOR goop, and it just becomes too much for me to handle. Maybe my mother will like this tracks, she absolutely loves 80's music.

Still, we do get several fantastic moments and songs that makes the album worth its staying. The typical ultra catchy, single worthy tracks are here, like the ultra epic "Life And Death Under Strange New Suns" and the very joyful opener "Nightfall". Both are easily likeable and very addictive sing along songs that gets you going. And then we have "Crown of Starlight" that is just pure magic in a bottle, relying on simple, but effective, riffing, together with a steadfast tempo that keeps the blood of the song pumping to a scream worthy chorus that keeps going on and on in the end. It ends the album in a fantastic way, leaving you with an ear to ear grin on your face.

So while "Darkness And Light" has its share of problems, and it could even be considered the weakest album Keldian has put out to this date, it is still a very enjoyable experience that fans of the band are gonna love. The usual Keldian magic is here, and they have not lost their ability to create something magnificent and epic from simple ingredients. This album has some dark moments, and some light moments, but it is still Keldian, it is sci-fi music that Starlord should be considering when he creates his third "Awesome mix", just in time for that infinity war.

Songs worthy of recognition: Crown of Starlight, Blood Red Dawn, Life And Death Under Strange New Suns, Change The World

Rating: 7,5/10 Nightfalls

www.keldian.com/
www.facebook.com/Keldian-133028643515879/

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Opeth - Still Life (1999)

It has been a while since we checked on the Opeth discography, and there are reasons for why that is so. First off, Manic Movie Month happened. Second off, Super Mario Odyssey happened. And third off, a bunch of new music happened. In short, my busy side took over a little too much of my life, but the time has come to go back to the progressive Swedes and take a look at their fourth studio release, entitled "Still Life".

Just like the last release, "Still Life" is a concept record, about a man that has been shunned from his village for not following along with their religious beliefs. He returns years after to get back together with his loved one, which leads to several problems along the way, both for our main character and the "council". It is an album that Michael himself has called "anti-christian", not satanic in anyway, and I think it is a very interesting way to give critique to religion as a whole, doing it in the poetic way that only Opeth can do.

The sound of the album is a lot like "My Arms, Your Hearse", a blend of the soft prog rock and the more guttural and dark death metal vibes. But with better funding from their new record company, Peaceville records, the band had an opportunity to take their music to the next level, which of course starts with the production that is a lot more clear cut than its predecessors. It can be seen as a positive or a negative thing, depending on who you ask, but to me, it gives the music a chance to stand out more, to reach out further to the listener. There is no question to me that the production helps elevate "Still Life".

This is the start of the Opeth 's golden age, the era where they find themselves as one of the great genre defying bands that changes metal as we know. While "My Arms, Your Hearse" did sort of show it, "Still Life" perfected the Opeth sound that we all know and love, the sweeping, haunting melodies that blends so well with the brutal aggressiveness of the drums and Michael's harsh vocals. They also put in some real slow moments too, like the acoustic "Benighted" that is just so beautiful and soothing.

But this album is not about the songs in my opinion, it is about the whole picture, how all of the songs match up to create a smooth flowing album that translates to an amazing experience. It also has a very long lasting effect too, for I have listened to "Still Life" about 15 times now, and I am still not tired enough to stop myself from another listen. It knows when to go soft, when to go heavy, and when it is time to shift momentum. It is a well oiled machine that runs smoothly without any hitches, and the band all helps out to keep it running perfectly.

"Still Life" has a lot of life to it, and it is a spiritual album that just feels right in every way. From the concept, to the performance, this album is fantastic for many, many reasons. The only real grief I have with it is that some songs do pad some of the run time (especially the ending song "White Cluster"), but it is not by much, it is something you can easily look past. All in all, go listen to it already, it is the start of the prime era of Opeth, and what a start it is.

Songs worthy of recognition: Godhead's Lament, Benighted, Moonlapse Vertigo, Serenity Painted Death

Rating: 9/10 White Clusters

More reviews of Opeth
Orchid
Morningrise
Pale Communion
Sorceress
My Arms, Your Hearse

Monday, October 30, 2017

Cyhra - Letters To Myself (2017)

When it comes to super groups (aka newly formed bands that has experienced musicians involved), I tend to have some expectations to how they should tackle their new project. I never expect anything that can top the work of the previous bands, all I really want is something original, something that shows the artists range. I still try to keep my cool and not get overly excited, but my interest was certainly caught when I heard that one of the founders of In Flames, guitarist Jesper Strömblad, was putting together a new group that would make lovers of Swedish mainstream metal drool.

Besides from Strömblad, we got one of his former companions in In Flames Peter Iwers on bass, vocalist Jake E (who recently left Amaranthe), fellow guitarist Euge Valovirta (most known from Shining), and drummer Alex Landenburg, who has quite a resume, being in bands such as Annihilator, At Vance, and a whole other bunch of bands, both as a a real member and just on live performances. It is a well merited quintet indeed.

So the album is centered around the time when Strömblad's drug addiction got the better of him, keeping him away from living a sustainable life, like not being able to even play the guitar for a prolonged time. It is a personal album in many ways, and I really do appreciate that the man shows his feelings in this disc, but I do not feel like the music reflects that really well, at least not as good as the lyrics does.

It does start off pretty strong with the first single "Karma", a song that circles around a good main riff, a nice drive, and a powerful chorus, displaying a mix between In Flames and Amaranthe that is quite intriguing. The following song "Heartrage" is nice too, having the most memorable chorus and the most power in the album, but it is from here on out we all realize that Cyhra is more of an Amaranthe clone, which is fine for fans of the band, but it just lacks the dynamic vocal range when Jake E has to carry the burden himself without the other two vocalists.

The most disappointing part with "Letters To Myself" though is that Strömblad is hiding in the wings, rarely taking the center stage. Besides the main riff of "Karma" and a solo here or there, there is very little memorable guitarwork in this record. I do not mind if the band wants to focus more on Jake's vocals, but if you are going to do that, at least write some songs that can back him up and make him justice. Close to all 12 songs here are very accessible, but few have any memorable elements to them, which makes it really easy to get confused over which song is playing, because they all sound the same. It never gets exhausting to listen to the album (it is only 45 minutes long), but it is certainly easy to be bored.

After hearing their debut, I think I am going to compare Cyhra to a glass of milk. In the right time and place, it can be really refreshing, but most of the time it is kind of meh. I certainly expected more from the group than just a clone band that does not really take any risks, and while I do like that Strömblad gets so personal in the lyrics, it just fades away when it is accompanied with such bland music. If you like Amaranthe and can stand it without Elize Ryd and a harsh vocalist, then Cyhra is definitely for you, but if you really want any quality from this band, just search for the songs listed here under, and pray that if the band releases a new album, it will go more outside the box.

Songs worthy of recognition: Heartrage, Karma, Dark Clarity

Rating: 5,5/10 Black Wings

cyhra.com/
twitter.com/Cyhra_official

Friday, October 27, 2017

GWAR - The Blood of Gods (2017)

It has been a while since we heard from the alien war masters of GWAR, and it is totally understandable. After all, they did lose their great leader Oderus Urungus to a tragic, non war related death, so there was no surprise to find that mad, over sexualized aliens also needs time to mourn their loved ones (the few they have). However, the plans for world domination cannot simply stop when one man falls, it is just like Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots always say, "It is next man up". The band did not seem to find the right replacement though, so they called in their old friend, The Berserker Blothar, to see if he could rejoin the group, and thus, a new era of GWAR was born.

Now, I never expect pure brilliance from this band, because while I absolutely love their image and style, GWAR has never really been famous for their keen sense of prolific song writing. They have always been good, but none of their previous 13 records are any classics, and "The Blood of Gods" is no different. No really, it is just another GWAR record, with groovy punk/thrash that has some great funny concepts thrown in. They have certainly not lost their touch, despite the gap between this album and 2013's "Battle Maximus" is the longest album-to-album gap in the band's history.

I do have to say though that there are several parts of this record that sounds more like other bands made it, and GWAR is vomiting their vile mucus all over it. The opening track "War On GWAR" opens up with clear cut early Black Sabbath riffs, riffs that Iommi himself would be proud of. It is surprising as hell, but it is pretty cool at the same time. I do have more doubt over the final song on the record, "If You Want Blood (You Got It)", a dumb AC/DC knock off that does not feel even the least bit like GWAR. I mean come on, this is your grand finale? It is boring and dated as hell, and it is a song that not even a magnificent Angus Young live solo could work its magic around. We also get touches of Motörhead, Dio, and Lordi too in this record, making "The Blood of Gods" a very divided record that does not seem to have a straight direction.

Despite some evidence of stolen goods, there are still some great songs in here, most of them residing on the first half of this 12 songs album. The opening third is really strong, with the previously mentioned "War On GWAR", the groovy "Viking Death Machine", the hard hitting "El Presidente", and the rocking "I'll Be Your Monster. It is a quartet of songs that is almost as good as any connecting quartet in any GWAR album. Later on we also have "Swarm" and its fantastic head banging aura, blasting out great riffs with a catchy chorus and your typical GWAR attitude (GWARtitude?). Also, who cannot love songs that are titled "The Sordid Soliloquy of Sawborg Destructo" and "Death to Dickie Duncan", two of the funnest songs when it comes to theme. Not the best songs overall, but fun nonetheless.

And that is exactly what a GWAR album is supposed to be, fun. You know that you are not gonna get wowed by this band's amazing instrumental skills or impactful song writing, you are here for a good head banging and a laugh or two, and "The Blood of Gods" certainly delivers on that. Sure, it is a slightly uneven record with some black spots here and there, but there is enough quality to go around. The only real disappointment I had with the album is that I expected the band to honor Oderus in some way or another (like they did with Flattus Maximus in the last album), but I guess the band wanted to move on, keep doing what GWAR does best. Deliver good metal, and crushing enemies.

Songs worthy of recognition: Swarm, War On GWAR, Viking Death Machine, El Presidente

Rating: 7/10 Phantom Limbs

www.gwar.net/
twitter.com/GWARofficial

More reviews of GWAR
Battle Maximus

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Manic Movie Month: The Saw Franchise

It feels pretty surreal that we are in 2017, just weeks away from a new "Saw" movie, but to be perfectly honest, I am not surprised at all. It has been seven years since we last heard from John Kramer (aka Jigsaw) and all his henchmen, and since the movies has evolved into this generation's answer to "Friday The 13th" and "Nightmare On Elm Street", it was probably just a matter of time before we got another installment of good old torture porn.

It all started though in 2004, with the first movie that was a very small budget film (just over 1 million dollars) directed by James Wan, who have gone to do several more big horror movie franchises like "Insidious" and "The Conjuring". With the smallest of means, James managed to create a very interesting movie that quickly became a smash hit, bringing in over 100 million dollars in the box office, which just like any other horror movie franchises, led to way, way too many sequels, and they all were made in a rapid pace.

The "Saw" movies dominated the cinema on Halloween from 2004 to 2010, but it was also quite clear that the public was getting sick of all the gore and traps. Each subsequent movie made less and less money, with the low point being the 6th movie, making only around 68 million (still a profit by 57 million though). These movies were cheap to make, and also pretty easy to come up with its story, so it is just the dream scenario of a horror franchise. Besides the movies, we also got several horror attractions, from roller coasters to mazes, and also two very shitty video games (trust me, do not play them, you are gonna get cancer).

So yeah, "Saw" has had a good run, but does the movies still hold up, and do we honestly really want an 8th movie? Well, let us discuss, here are my takes on "Saw I-VII", and my expectations for the upcoming 8th installment entitled "Jigsaw".

Oh, and there might be spoilers here, but knowing the amount of "plot" these movies have, I think you can deal with it.

Saw

The first movie is to me not a master piece by any means, but it is still a movie that is important for the evolution of horror movies, because horror is a genre that always searches for the next big thing, a new angle to make us all scared. That is why we have cycles in horror movies, because when one movie makes it big, everyone else is trying to copy the formula. That is why slashers (like "Friday The 13th", "Nightmare On Elm Street", and "Halloween") became popular in the 80's, and why home footage videos (like "The Blair Witch Project" and "Paranormal Activity") were huge in the beginning of this millennium.

While I do not think there are tons of copies of "Saw" out there, it did create its own genre branch in the horror tree, which most of us just call "Torture Porn", where a homicidal maniac kills his victims with complicated attraptions. It sounds kind of goofy, and to some part, "Saw" is just that, but I think James Wan does a great job in creating a horror villain in John Kramer (played by the excellent Tobin Bell) that has a lot of depth in him, which automatically gives the movie more depth. He believes that the world needs cleansing, and to get rid of the scum of the world, he sets them in life or death situation that they would never get in to in their everyday lives, trying to get out one of humanity's most primal instinct, the urge to survive by any means necessary.

I also love the fact that most of the main plot of the movie is focused in one room, with two guys (and a dead body) chained to each side of it. We get to follow their struggles, trying to asset the situation they have gotten themselves into, and ultimately figuring out how to escape. The movies takes its sweet time, never rushing past any details, and while some things are kind of far fetched, I think most parts of the movie feels believable. We also get to follow two police officer's race against the clock to catch the Jigsaw killer, and those parts are pretty good too, but it is kind of distracting that one of them are Danny Glover, also known as Roger Murtaugh in the "Lethal Weapon" movies. Apparently, he is still on duty, despite saying "I am too old for this shit" 23 years before this movie's release.

"Now THAT is a lethal weapon"
And let us also not forget the fantastic plot twist, which definitely is gonna turn some heads around. Obviously, I am not gonna spoil that, but it is a pretty satisfying ending that caps off a very good horror movie that deserves its stamp as a modern classic. You just have to be impressed by what these guys were able to make with the limited supply they had, and that they got success from it. If you haven't checked it out already, give it a shot.

Rating: 8,5/10

Saw II

So just one year after the release of the original movie, we get a rushed sequel that had a bigger budget, and bigger expectations. Now that most horror fans knew of the franchise, they went in for more juicy traps.

The second movie is a lot different from the first one, but it still focuses on the same things, how people react to these horrifying situations and how they try to solve the problems they are facing. The biggest difference is that we get to see it from two points of views, with the group of people being trapped of course, but also from the perspective of both Jigsaw and Eric Matthews, whom got a message from Jigsaw that was left from one of his previous victims. Turns out he is the next victim to be put to test, watching his son together with a lit of criminals in a house filled with traps.

I have to admit that I like the set up, and just like in the first movie, it pays off in the end, but instead of getting one room with two people, we get a full house with 8 different characters. It does give us some new dynamics to the movie, but I felt that the intimacy and small scale was the very strength of the first movie, so why take that away and replace it with more characters that are not as fleshed out. Actually, most of these guys are actually out right stupid.

Speaking of stupid, the plan that Jigsaw has for this particular game is incredibly reliant on a ton of factors, and if even one of them goes wrong, then the kid died for nothing. I am sorry, I just cannot believe that Jigsaw has taken everything into consideration, and that he knew exactly what would happen. He may be a psychological mastermind, but he is not Nostradamus, he cannot predict everything.

So yeah, the second movie has flaws, and some of the acting is just silly, but there are some good things in here, and once again, I like the core idea of this story. I have no problem going through this one, especially knowing what came after it...

Rating: 6,5/10

Saw III

This is the movie that James Wan should have said "Alright, we are done here, no more "Saw" movies from here on out", and it certainly looked like they intended it to be the very last in the series.

It all focuses on the mortality of Jigsaw, and how his legacy should continue on. While facing death through cancer, Jigsaw takes on the mentor role for Amanda (played by Shawnee Smith, who is most famous for various sitcoms), one of his previous victims who survived. But while Jigsaw does this to save man and give them a chance to atone for their sins, Amanda has a more cynical sight of things, seeing it as a mean to eliminate evil, without any chance of redemption (in other words, straight up murder).

It all leads to a main story where a man named Jeff Denlon goes through a series of test to let go of his vengeance for the murderer of his son, while in the mean time his wife is tasked with keeping Jigsaw alive. This sort of set up is the most common one from here on out, and I just gotta say that I hate it. I kind of get what they are trying to go for, following one main character's path to salvation, but all of the tests he is going through directly affects whether other people survive or not, the victim's victims have no control at all. And like that was not enough, there is no real consequences of letting these side characters die from the traps, which simply does not make sense.

Despite the dumb set up, I do kind of like this movie more than the second one. It has a lot more emotional depth to it, and the relationship between Amanda and Jigsaw is really interesting to follow, as is also seeing both of their point of views on these tests. It does make for a movie that is split in two, going back and forth all the time, which is not the smoothest ride to say the least, but the acting is not half bad, and we do get some memorable moments here and there. Not a brilliant movie by any means, but it is a fitting ending to the trilogy. Unfortunately, it was not the end of the series...

Rating: 7/10

Saw IV

From here on out, the movies just takes a big tumble, becoming a shallow, confusing, flashback filled gore fest that is doing its all to make the Halloween deadline each year. Just the fact that Jigsaw is physically dead is a clear sign that these movies had no chance to get any positive recognition, and it really does not help that the man who replaces him, detective Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), has the charisma of a brick. Seriously, I never really saw John Kramer as an amazing horror villain, but you did understand his motives and thoughts. Hoffman is just as grey as there is, he is simply awful.

This is MY franchise now
And the story for the fourth movie is not too good either, that focuses on another detective that goes through the same procedure as the main victim in the last movie, trying to save people from their personal traps while also continuing his investigation. That is probably the best I can describe this movie, because it is confusing as hell, leading to yet another ending twist, only this time it is pretty predictable and dull.

This is ultimately a very forgettable movie, probably the one I remember the least from watching the whole series about three years ago. The characters are bland, the story is dumb, and it has very little original content when compared to the previous three installments. The only positive thing I can say about it is that it has some memorable traps, like the first one where two people are chained in the middle of a room, one with its eyes sewn shut, and the other its mouth done the same. It is a creepy scene that does not really have anything to do with the plot, other than just showing off an innovative trap. Its maybe for the best...

Yeah, I have nothing more to write about this one, move along.

Rating: 4,5/10

Saw V

The fifth movie is... kind of an odd one in the series, because it seems like the traps are put in as a side plot, while  the main story is Hoffman playing cat and mouse with other detectives who are on to him. I cannot remember the last time I actually wanted the main man to be captured, even killed, but spoiler alert, Hoffman survives. Just my luck.

It is kind of a shame, because I really like the thing they were going for with this movie's victims. Five people are captured and are asked to "do the opposite of your instincts". They are all faced with a new challenge with every room they enter, and while each trap is not very unique in any kind of way, it all leads up to a very good ending that might not be too hard to figure out, but is still impressive nonetheless.

It sucks though that the other half of the movie is fairly uninteresting, and while the ending is not too shabby, the lead up to it is just not good enough. Once again, Hoffman is just a bore, and all of the new information that comes to the viewer only helps enhancing the confusion. I know that I sound like a psychopath, but get back to the god damn killings already, I do not care about this disgrace of a successor.

So yeah, there is really only one grade that I feel is fitting for this incredibly torn apart movie.

Rating: 5/10

Saw VI

Despite being just another bad movie in this series, I have to say that the sixth movie is quite memorable, and for several reasons actually.

One of those reasons is an old MTV show called "Scream Queens", a reality show where a bunch of aspiring actresses competed in various challenges to win a role in this movie. It is just like any other reality show on the market, but I do have to admit that it was kind of fun to follow, seeing the girls getting scared to death in every episode, and act in various different horror scenarios. And while the winner, Tanedra Howard, did not get the biggest role in the movie, she still had a good impact in the movie, and she did star in what I consider to be one of the most memorable traps in the series. She did a good job, which ultimately gave her a spot in the seventh movie too.

I also believe this is the only movie that captured the "one guy trying to save several other victims" set up actually works fairly well, with an insurance executive named William Easton is going through all these traps making tough choices, affecting all of his co-workers. Close to all of the traps are also very cool and inventive, making it the strongest trap line up in the series. The carousel trap is probably the most iconic trap of the series (besides the reverse bear trap, which is seen in almost every movie).

But the most memorable part of this movie is the ending, where the wife and son to a man that he denied insurance coverage gets to chose whether William lives or dies. I am not gonna spoil this one, but believe me when I say that your reaction will either be WTF or LMAO. Mine was LMAO, with a little bit of ROF on the side.

Still, this is a movie that continues the confusing story line that the previous two movies have gone through, and it is just tiring to watch, and to talk about, so let us just get over with the rating, and go to the last on of the now existing movies.

Rating: 6/10

Saw 3D

So it all came to this, and I just have to say that I was utterly disappointed with this movie, and I had extremely low expectations to begin with.

Let's start with the positive, the opening trap, a glass box out in the public where two men are strapped to a table and a woman to a ceiling, is a good start, and had a satisfying conclusion (that bitch had it coming!). I also like the ending, which did tie up most threads, all the way to the very first movie. What more... The 3D angle is kind of neat? Oh, and Chester Bennington is playing a nazi, that is... something.

He tried so hard, and got so far...
Okay, to the bad parts, and trust me, there are a lot of it.

First off, the main victim, Bobby Dagen, is a jerk, it is a guy that I just cannot root for. He writes a book of how he overcame a Jigsaw trap, making easy money off of it, there is no question that dick deserved to be tested thoroughly. But as bad as he is, he looks like Jesus compared to what I consider to be one of the dumbest movie characters ever. The first person he has to save has a fish hook and line going through her esophagus, which he has to fish up. All she has to do is to stay still and quiet, and she just can't do that. She had one fucking job, and she could not do it! I think Bobby said it best after she died, "WHY WOULDN'T YOU JUST SHUT THE FUCK UP? YOU JUST NEEDED TO SHUT UP!"

Then we have the traps, that are extremely bland and forgettable, and are also going by that old, tired trope "Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil". You know, the thing with the three monkeys covering ears, eyes, and mouth. Especially the "see no evil" is dumb as hell, and it shows just how rushed the movie is. It tries to play in real time, giving the victim a minute to go through the peril, but that whole scene is obviously longer than a minute. God, I freaking hate that scene.

There are even more wrong things with this movie, including the acting, the pacing, and just the dumb story itself. All of this makes "Saw 3D" the clear cut worst movie of the series, and that is saying something. This series has had a lot of ups and downs, but as soon as they started churning out these movies to come out every Halloween, it was pretty clear that the story would be more washed out for every movie. Did it tie up everything in the end? Not really, and frankly, I do not really care, this is just an awful movie that should not have been conceived. Thank god they stopped temporarily after this one.

Rating: 3,5/10

My expectations of Jigsaw

Seven years have gone since the last movie, so I am hoping to god that we at the very least get a decent story, one that the writers have had long discussions about how to improve it further. I am not asking for much, I just want characters that are not shallow shells of human beings, a story that makes sense, and acting that feels somewhat believable. The traps have to be inventive as well, but I am sure they have had time to figure those out (those sick fucks).

After all, this is a horror franchise, so one should not go into a cinema expecting a new "Godfather" or anything like that. As long as it is disturbing and kind of gross, I think it can build some momentum to make others go watch it. After all, it is Halloween, and I do not think there are any other movie that could stand a chance against this juggernaut of a franchise. The followers are still there, and this movie will make buck, I guarantee it.

So, am I going to watch it? I am undecided for now, because while I am intrigued by the whole concept of "Saw" and have seen each of the movies, I only go to the cinema when I think the movie is gonna be a slam dunk, a must watch film. That is why I saw "It", because I knew it would make the original Stephen King book justice. I also saw the new Spiderman movie earlier this year because I loved Spiderman on "Civil War", and I knew it would be a fun superhero movie. With "Jigsaw", I kind of know what I am gonna get, but I do not know what quality it will have. I will watch it eventually, but I can wait.

Ultimately, I just hope that they do not make another 6 movies after this one, and that we do not have to dig up the old tag line "If it's Halloween, it must be Saw".

Stay metal!
Robert "Sharkruisher" Andersson

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Enslaved - E (2017)

Enslaved is back with another record, entitled... "E"? What does it mean? It can't be a new hipster way of self-titling your albums, that would just be silly. So what does it stand for? Ecstacy? Elk? Egonometry? I do not know, and I should not really care, but somehow I still do. Anyway, Enslaved is one of the most consistent bands out there, so let us put that short, but baffling, name aside, and find out if the band continue their streak of really good records.

Now, it has been only two years since the Norwegians released the last record, the excellent "In Times" from 2015, so maybe it is fair to not expect a double album or so, but we do only get 6 songs on "E". Sure, those songs amass to a play time of around 50 minutes, but 6 songs is still the bare minimum to what I think is the amount of songs an album should have. The band could have easily put in one or two more tracks, but it is ultimately the fact that these 6 songs do not have enough meat in them to justify a full release, something I think Dream Theater did a lot better with their own 6 track album, "Black Clouds & Silver Linings".

Even so, we do still get what we would expect from Enslaved in this part of their career, a deep progressive record with tons of atmosphere and of course some call backs to their early career. The band is taking steps to become more and more like their country neighbours Opeth (which I think is most notable in "Axis of The Worlds"), but they are not quite there yet, they still do their own thing and does so really well. It is the sound that you would expect from Enslaved, but  exactly how it sounds and what path it takes you is still a mystery, keeping your interest level at an high close to all the time. So it is not a surprising album, but it still has surprises in it.

Its biggest strength could be that it is a long lasting album, that grows with every listen. All the sweeping melodies and little details takes some time to fully understand and appreciate. A song like "Hiindsiight" did not really grab a hold of me in the beginning, but its beautiful mood and looming saxophone (by Kjetil Møster) does enhance the feelings quite a bit, making it the perfect final song of the record. And the overall quality and consistency of "E" is really impressive, with no loose threads anywhere to be seen. Even a slightly different song like "The River's Mouth", the most up tempo song on "E", feels like it belongs in the family

But as said before, it is kind of short, and the two bonus tracks ("Djupet" and a Röyksopp cover of "What Else Is There") just does not add anything special, so I do not feel fully satisfied in the end. There is no question about the quality of "E", there is a lot of it, and it is another great progressive metal release from this year, but I do not think that I will look back at this album as one of the band's strongest efforts. There is a chance that a lot of people will enjoy this one more than "In Times", but I would take "In Times" any day, just because it is more memorable and had some killer tracks (still love the hell out of "One Thousand Years of Rain"). "E" is most certainly more consistent, but to me, it lacks something special. It is still a good record that I highly recommend, but I do think there are better Enslaved records out there, records that need more than a single letter for a name.

Songs worthy of recognition: The River's Mouth, Feathers of Eolh, Hiindsiight

Rating: 7,5/10 Storm Sons

enslaved.no/
twitter.com/enslavedband

More reviews of Enslaved:
In Times

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Manic Movie Month: Night of The Living Dead (1968)

So yesterday was Friday the 13th, which does not happen all too regularly during the month of October, so it felt natural to me to lay down in my sofa, and put on a horror movie, can you guys guess which movie I watched? NO, not that one! I am not THAT predictable. No, instead, I searched my streaming platforms for some really old classics, and found myself choosing between two movies, "Night of The Living Dead" and "The Ape". While I was tempted to go with one of Boris Karloff's most infamous movies, the humble IMDB rating of 4,5 made me rethink my decision, so I went with the recently deceased legend George A. Romero and his breakthrough film.

Normally, I would put a spoiler warning here, but this movie is close to 50 years old, so just go ahead and read this would ya?

Released in 1968, "Night of The Living Dead" might be one of the first zombie movies ever, at least the first that gets some kind of grand recognition. This was released before we got the film rating system we have today, so even smaller kids could go and watch this movie, which definitely led to a lot of emotionally scared people that did not know how to comprehend the gore and terror this movie showed. So back then, it was a horrifying movie that sent a lot of people screaming for their lives, or simply enter fetal position thanks to the sheer fear they experienced. Pretty hard to imagine that it could happen after watching this movie.

It is pretty hard to judge this movie today though, because technology and film making has come a long, long way since the late sixties. We do not get any CGI or any crazy special effects here, nor any crazy stunts. Hell, we do not even get color. This movie is all about the story and those who make it up, trying to show how they cope with the situation and how they try to solve it, something very few movies today do.

So it all starts with our female lead Barbra (Judith O'Dea) and her brother Johnny (Russell Streiner) visiting their dead father in a cemetery, laying down flowers and all. And after some small chit chat and typical sibling provoking, a man shows up and starts attacking Johnny. Well that went fast, 5 minutes into the movie and we are already dealing with zombies, without any exposition or real character development. That is definitely something movies are not doing today.

Anyway, Barbra escapes and takes shelter in an abandoned farmhouse, where eventually Ben (Duane Jones) arrives and help barricading the place from the undead attack. They are not alone in the house though, because in the basement are another 5 people hiding out, a young couple and a man and wife together with their sick child. They all do not get along very well though, because Ben and Harry (Karl Hardman) are both trying to take the leader role, which leads to a hot dispute on what is the best strategy, staying on the main floor and be ready to counter attack, or cower behind in the basement without any possible escape route. This argument continues on throughout the movie, while the horde of slow walking zombies keep increasing in numbers.

Just a bunch of colorful characters, don't you think?
So while this movie does not really intimidate me all too much with its imagery and so (most of the zombies just look like normal people), it does build some good tension with the atmosphere, never letting the screen go too bright and always keep a sense of dread near our main characters, making the audience concerned for their well being. Romero does have a keen sense of knowing what the mood should be throughout the movie, and when it should shift, which is really effective.

I also like that the story is pretty much straight forward, never really steering off too much. It is just a group of people trying to survive a hellish night, not much else. We do get to see some footage of the zombie horde from time to time, and we also get some information from the tv broadcasting, but that is it, it is a tight and clean story that simply works. Although, I do think there are some weird points in how the zombies came to be. The explanation the movie gives us is that a satellite that orbited around Venus came back crashing down to Earth, releasing tons of dangerous radiation that made the dead come back to life. Kind of goofy, but then again, it worked back in the days.

Another thing I do not really like about this film is that we do not really get to know our characters all too much. With all the bickering and screaming going on, we do not get too much normal conversation between our characters. Hell, I forgot most of these guy's names, and there are only 7 of them. I know I said this was a simple story, but give me somebody that I can care about, so that when they die, I get upset. The only thing I really know about the young guy Tom (Keith Wayne) is that he is a clumsy dumbass who burned down the only vehicle available, killing him and his girlfriend (Judith Ridley) in the process. You deserved that death young man.

Then we have the ending, which I honestly do not know how to feel about. It got some good twists and turns, like the sick child (Kyra Schon) turning into a zombie, killing her mother (Marilyn Eastman) and father in the process (and feasting on their flesh of course). But at the very end, when Ben has lived through the night, I probably got the shock of a life time. We see rescuers go out on the fields, killing of any remaining zombies, coming up to this farmhouse where Ben has crawled out of the basement, sees him, and shoots him right between the eyes, dropping the alive count of our main characters to zero. And here I thought this was the first horror movie where a black guy survives and no one else does. It is a very confusing and grim ending, that I certainly did not see coming.

Ultimately, I can see why this movie has become a cult classic. While not very scary at all, it still fills you with a lot of uneasy feelings that makes it more tense. Romero does a great job with limited resources to create a great atmosphere, and you can just see that there is a lot of passion behind it all. Has it aged well? Not in every aspect obviously, but I still think it holds up fairly well close to 50 years after its release, which is a testament that the movie has some quality to it (and the fact that it has spawned several sequels and remakes over the years). With some more meat on the bones, it could have been a true feast for a flesh hungry zombie.

Rating: 7,5/10 Slow as hell zombies