2013’s Best Bits – Music

Lists are for suckers.  They’re subjective, open to challenge by anybody with an opinion and serve mostly to generate content when a blogger doesn’t have anything worth saying.

Ergo, list post? Yup, list post.

My favourite album of the year was “The Arsonist” by Deadlock (Napalm Records, 2013)

The Arsonist, by German melodeath riff-meisters Deadlock
.The Arsonist, by German melodeath riff-meisters Deadlock

Consulting my handy dandy playlist count in Last.FM and cross-referencing it with my Media Monkey music organising software, it seems that “The Arsonist”, the sixth album from German band Deadlock was my most played album of the year.  That seems about right – it was very much the soundtrack to my summer holiday this year.

Here’s a slice of their single “I’m Gone” to give you an idea of what rocked my 2013:

The thing that jumps out at you, particularly if you don’t listen to much contemporary metal, is the interplay between  gutteral screamer John Gahlert and the soaring vocals of Sabine Scherer and it’s this sonic distinction which makes the band so enjoyable to listen to.

Well, that and the ten-tonne, face-melting riffs from Sebastian Reichl and Ferdinand Rewicki.  Love this band’s “Dead City Sleepers”, which careens through your headphones and speakers like an out-of-control juggernaut of eight-stringed, down-tuned Euro fury.

What more recommendation than that could one ask for?  Hang on a minute, don’t answer that one…

I also loved Powerwolf’s lupine, loopy latest slice of full moon-fearing Power Metal, “Preachers of the Night”.

 

If you don’t raise a smile at the insanity and absurdity of this mob, led by the brothers Greywolf (yes, quite) and operatic vocalist Attila Dorn, then I don’t know what to tell you.

This is the band’s fourth full-length release and rewards repeated listens with a selection of the catchiest metal anthems this side of the 1980s.  And that’s a good signifier – if you like your rock punchy, full of humour and thematically fixated on the travails of being a Catholic Werewolf in a world seemingly ill-suited to dealing with such a group.

My third most played album of the year came from stalwart Welsh Metal masters, Bullet for my Valentine, and their divisive release, “Temper Temper”.

 

The band have seemingly consigned the album to history less than a year after it came out, as they work on a new record for release at the end of 2014/first quarter of 2015, which may give you the impression that this album isn’t worth bothering with.

I’m not sure that this is the case – the very worst that you can say about “Temper Temper” is that it’s more of the same.  For me, that isn’t a terribly damning verdict – the songs are catchy and don’t outstay their welcome.  Neither do they seek to be especially innovative and I fear that this is where the backlash has come from this time around.

‘Meat and Potatoes melodic metal’ is how I’d term this release, and I’m happy with that – if that’s your bag, too, I recommend taking a listen to this album.

I also dug the second, self-titled release from Finnish melodic metallurgists, Battle Beast.

 

In an alternate universe, 80’s-style Ninja exploitation actioners are still a thing and what could be better than this band’s brand of fist-raising, traditional, hook-laden rock to soundtrack them?  New singer, same quality tunes.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t shout out Amaranthe’s “The Nexus”, a release so polarising as to make the Bullet album look like a widely beloved insta-classic.

 

 

Yep, I can see why the none more Kvlt crowd would hate this band with a (hell) firey passion, but I’m a sucker for melody, keyboards and tempo and Amaranthe are an outfit who boast these elements and more.  In essence, they’re a noisy pop metal band whose songs could happily be covered by your latest Simon Cowell-backed major label band with minimal retooling.

In a year which I felt wasn’t the best for symphonic metal – I’ve not caught up with Leaves Eyes’ autumn release yet, so bear that in mind – Amaranthe gave me hummable tunes, blistering solos and MVP Elise Ryd’s fantastic vocals and splendidly camp Patrick Ullaeus directed videos to enjoy on the Tubes of You.

I hope your 2013 brought you an equal amount of musical enjoyment.

 

 

 

“The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug” – longer, dwarfier, uncut

So, a year after our collective bottoms were numbed and spirits were dimmed by the first instalment of Peter Jackson’s “Hobbit” trilogy, does this second of three visits back to Middle Earth cleave any closer to the glories of the “Lord of the Rings” series?

TL:DR version? It does, but not without the continuing suspicion that the length of these cinematic adaptations makes them better suited to home viewing and comfy couches than the unforgiving confines of your local movieplex.

When we last saw Bilbo and his compatriots, their journey to the former Dwarven stronghold of Erebor had been rudely interrupted by the unwanted attentions of Orcs led by Azog the Defiler, a big chap with a grudge against Dwarven prince in exile Thorin Oakenshield.

This time around, our heroes journey through the chattering, skittering unseen horrors of Mirkwood forest, meet up with some old enemies and Bilbo finally gets his burglar on when he visits Erebor’s current incumbent, the ancient and crafty dragon Smaug.

I’m happy to say that the pacing and eventful nature of this film greatly improves on the langour of “An Unexpected Journey”: there’s a stand-out action sequence which builds on the wine barrel escape from Tolkien’s novel, replete with Elven intervention which reminds you that Jackson can create cinematic action to rival the best and that he’s not afraid to reconfigure the novel’s events.

And by ‘reconfigure’, I mean to say that Jackson merrily interjects events and characters in order to make the tale fit into the film saga he’s spent a major part of his film career creating on screen.  Purists will quail, as well they might, but I suspect it’s fair to say that audiences eager to revisit this fantasy realm will be happy that a combination of nerdy enthusiasm for the source material and money grubbing corporate suits have met in the middle to realise this new trilogy.

Be warned that this second film ends on the mother of all cliff-hangers – suffice is to say that you may find yourself darkening your multiplex’s doors next Christmas season if you’ve been unimpressed by Jackson’s “Hobbit” trilogy to date, if only to see how things ultimately resolve themselves…

 

Arise, Diana of Themyscira

Proof that Hollywood is nothing if not creative in it’s approach to casting – Gal Gadot cast as Wonder Woman in Zack Snyder’s Batman/Superman movie.

Gal Gadot as Giselle in "Furious 6"
Gal Gadot as Giselle in “Furious 6”

So, as the two-fisted, fearless daughter of an Amazon, we’ve got a charming Israelli actress who looks as though she’d have problems snapping a breadstick, let alone beating the bejesus out of bad guys.

I wait with baited breath to see how this character shakes out...
I wait with baited breath to see how this character shakes out…

I was hoping for Gemma Arterton, but let’s wait and see how Gal does in the role, shall we?  I mean, she can do tough fairly effectively, but I’m not sure that she’s got the presence that the character requires, have only seen her in a handful of roles.

Somebody has some serious training in her future…

 

The Quarter-Mile King

"Furious Six" image (c) Universal Pictures 2013
“Furious Six” image (c) Universal Pictures 2013

It hardly seems real that Paul Walker, American actor and mainstay of the gloriously entertaining Fast & Furious series of car action movies, died yesterday in a car accident in Los Angeles.  He was 40 years old.

An actor whose charisma, surfer-dude looks and uncomplicated charm recalled leading men of an earlier age – it’s hard not to view his work “Fast & Furious” movies and not be reminded of Steve McQueen, though Walker appeared to have fewer personal demons bedevilling him – Paul Walker was frequently mocked by bloggers for having a perceived lack of range and thus being well suited to the mainstream entertainment beloved of Hollywood studios .

To this I would suggest watching Wayne Kramer’s deranged 2006 neo-noir fairytale, Running Scared, a film so invested in it’s depiction of a nightmarish criminal underworld that it makes most Scorsese movies look like Downton Abbey.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6XgFh8yRwk

Playing against type as a low-level gang footsoldier, Walker’s performance is distinct and strikingly at odds with his prevailing matinee idol persona, demonstrating a nervous and brittle energy redolent of depth and nuance rarely required of him elsewhere.  It’s very much film with a love it or hate it tone – the OTT sleaze positively wafts from the screen – but one which definitely shows a different side to this actor.  It certainly helps that he has the wonderful Vera Farmiga to play against.

When I heard about Paul Walker’s death this morning, I popped my copy of 2009’s “Fast & Furious” in my Blu-Ray player and enjoyed the film’s introduction to his Brian O’ Connor character, with the actor gifted a frenetic and visceral foot chase through downtown LA neighbourhood.  In the forty minutes or so I watched, I was reminded of why Walker’s performance was so enjoyable in this series.

With age becoming more evident in his face, he had begun to cut a more laconic and relaxed figure on screen than in the early part of his career, when the charges of his being little more than a pretty-boy surfer dude might have carried more weight.

It’s still unclear how the still in-production “Fast & Furious 7” will cope with the body-blow of losing one of it’s key cast and family members – we can but hope that there is some way for the film makers to regroup and produce a film which celebrates the memory of this somewhat underrated actor.