Tuesday, October 5, 2010

CD Review - The Sword-Warp Riders

The following is a CD review I wrote for the Slackers.com newsletter.

     The Sword, made up of vocalist/guitarist John D. Cronise, guitarist Kyle Shutt, bassist Bryan Richie and drummer Trivett Wingo, hail from the alternative music mecca of Austin, TX. Do not dismiss these guys as some wimpy alt-rock band however, these guys are metal. That's right kids, the land of SXSW has delivered unto us what is quite possibly the best metal act of the 00's.

     I'm not talking about what usually passes for metal these days either. One look at the vintage style album cover, which cries 'What is contained herein is epic', will tell you there is no guy-liner or whining to be found here. And for those of you who consider the day spandex was invented as the day the music died, this is the band you need to be paying attention to. While sometimes lumped into the doom and stoner metal genres alongside acts such as High On Fire and Fu Manchu, The Sword would probably be best described as straight metal. No post- or -core modifiers necessary. These guys take the playbook that Iommi, Ward, Butler and Osbourne wrote and run with it.

     Warp Riders, the band's third effort is easily as strong as their earlier two albums, Age of Winters and Gods of the Earth, and is as good a place to start as any for someone new to the group. For those of you already familiar with The Sword, do not be put off by the band's change in motifs from dungeons and dragons style fantasy to science fiction, their sound remains wholly intact. The guitars are still a wall of sludgy bad ass, but the production is a little cleaner here, turning the distortion down from 11 to 10. This helps Cronise's vocals from getting buried in the mix as well, a problem Gods of the Earth was plagued with.

     The cleaner vocal mix is important on Warp Riders too as The Sword plays the concept album card on this one. Although a pretentious and indulgent device, the concept album is an unabashedly metal thing to do, and I think they manage it here. I say 'think' because I tend to approach vocals as another instrument, soaking in melody while paying little attention to what's actually being said. And as far as instruments go, Cronise's voice doesn't stand much of a chance against the massive double guitar attack. However, if you're the type to hang on a singer's every word, you'll be treated (or subjected) to the story of some guy named Ereth and his role in an epic struggle of good versus evil. Or something. I wasn't paying that much attention. I can hum you the tunes, but if you want to know the story you'll just have to buy the album yourself.

     In any case, the truth is when I listen to Warp Riders I don't see epic space battles. I see a smoke filled basement circa 1970-something. In one corner there's a record player that's spent it's life spinning equal parts Deep Purple, Iron Butterfly and Black Sabbath. Nestled in a milk crate alongside all these classic LP's is this band that both fits in and stands out, The Sword, like some messenger from the future telling us that although metal may sleep here and there over the years, it is still alive and well in the year 2010.



Sunday, September 19, 2010

My Week In Media

     Movies -

          As a long time fan of writer/producer Aaron Sorkin (Sports Night, West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip), I am more than slightly ashamed that I just now got around to watching Charlie Wilson's War. Good flick. Can't wait for The Social Network.

     Music -

          The Sword's newest album, 'Warp Riders', is quite possibly their best to date, eclipsing even the powerhouse debut that was 'Age of Winters'. I'm not entirely sure what defines a band in the stoner rock genre, but it definitely has something to do with the rock part. The guitars here are a huge wall of distorted bad ass, reminiscent of something Tony Iommi may have churned out in a practice session. These guys manage to summon everything that rocked about the 70's in their sound and artwork, without a hint of cheese. The album cover is fantastic. It screams, "What is contained herein is epic."
          Gogol Bordello is quickly becoming one of my current favorite bands. Self described 'gypsy punks', their latest release 'Trans-Continental Hustle' is one of those records where every song is a gem. Their sound could be summed up as Dropkick Murphys or Flogging Molly, but instead of Irish, they're Eastern European. These guys aren't afraid to experiment with instrumentation either, throwing accordion and violin into the mix. The end result is a distinctly flavored brand of sing-along style punk.

          I love chiptune heroes Anamanaguchi. I got super excited when I heard Ubisoft tapped them to do the soundtrack to the XBLA/PSN game Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. Although I was already attracted to the game as a fan of Bryan Lee O'Mally's book, and the fact that Paul Robertson, of Pirate Baby Cabana Battle Street Fight 2006 interweb fame, was doing the graphics, the Anamanaguchi announcement solidified the game as a day one purchase for me. The soundtrack ($9.99 for 24 tracks on iTunes) was soon to follow as I fell instantly in love with every nuance of the game's score.

     Gaming -

          I played Assassin's Creed 2 for a while, chasing the last few achievements I hadn't gotten on my first play through. Although I hadn't played it in several months, it didn't take me long to get back into it. The game still stands up.

          Got around to playing Split/Second. Expecting a tepid Burnout clone, I was pleasantly surprised with a solid, fast paced racing title. Blackrock Studios did a quality job bottling the edge of your seat tension and sense of almost overwhelming speed that not all racing games manage to get right. The game's 'Power Play' events, which are as small as an exploding bus or cab stand and as large as an airport control tower toppling onto the course and altering the track itself, add an element that is less hokey than it sounds. It all adds up to the kind of game you want to play in a room of friends, passing the controller around and laughing at the great wrecks and huge explosions.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Why Am I Not Excited

     Ladies and Gentlemen, 2010 is shaping up to be one of those great years to be a gamer. There is a LOT to be excited about as we move into the last holiday season of the decade. Halo, Fallout, Fable, Medal of Honor, Front Mission, Castlevania, Kirby, The Sims. These are some heavy hitting franchises people. There's also Dead Rising 2 and Vanquish, two relative upstarts mixed in with a platoon of grizzled vets. To top it all off, this is before the kids even step out to trick or treat.

     Oh, what's that? With all these big titles coming out, November couldn't possibly be that packed you say? Yeah okay there. Forget about Call of Duty? What about Cataclysm. Gran Turismo, Little Big Planet, Assassin's Creed, DC Universe, Need For Speed and Driver. Oh, and the kids may want the new Harry Potter game, or that cute looking Marvel Super Squad title. There's that Kinect thing to consider, or perhaps you'd rather Move?

     Sure, some of these will probably be delayed or have their release dates shifted to a less saturated quarter, but we're still looking at an avalanche of offerings before year's end. So, this begs the $64,000 question. Why am I not excited? Three reasons.

          1) I see all these big names and pizazz, but considering most of these titles are the 3rd or higher iteration of the franchise, which will stay fresh and which will devolve to more of the same? Where's this years Borderlands or Darksiders or Mirror's Edge? The new IP kid that comes at you with a swift kick to the fun box? The playing field looks almost .. predictable.

          2) I do not keep company with large piles of cash. Whenever I approach large piles of cash in  social situations in an effort to make friends, I get nervous and make an ass of myself or get caught ogling and then throw up. Suffice to say, there will be some budgetary constraints. Some tough decisions are going to have to be made. I hate tough decisions.

          3) I am still in a state of shock from hearing that Duke Nukem Forever will in fact be released. My emotions have been played with so much I think they're broken.