Death Threats are a compliment

If the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about and you accept that usually the best sportsmen get booed because of petty jealousy, then can there be anything more flaterring than being recipient of a death threat?

A death threat sounds like a very scary thing to get.  I’ve seen them in the movies and they are usually written in rat blood on a mirror or are a message cobbled together from printed newspaper cut outs.  They can even be etched with a finger on the back of a very dirty Hiace (although meteorological conditions such as a heavy shower can nullify the impact).

Some death threats make perfect sense.  If, perhaps, you are of a certain religious persuasion and you live in the middle of another religious persuasions community then you are ripe for a threat of death.  If you are a referee or umpire who made a very bad call in a game that caused a team to lose then you can expect death-related daubings on your garden gate the next day.

But if you are a scientist working on the most high-profile scientific experiment of all time; an experiment that will have you working in a high-security cavern in Switzerland operating a $9 billion machine for many months, is a death threat really going to concern you?  

How likely is it that some unemployed crackpot who Alt-Tabs from porno to conspiracy websites all day long is going to be able to infiltrate a secure location housing the finest minds in the world, killing all of them in a hail of gunfire, destroying their neatly-written project instructions, dismantling the $9bn machine, killing everyone all over the world who understands basically what needs to be done to re-build it and then repeat the cycle over and over until the threat is over?

I’d say it’s not very likely at all.

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[Album Review] "Death Magnetic" – Metallica

Band: Metallica

Album title: Death Magnetic

Year: 2008

Track Listing: 1. That Was Just Your Life; 2. The End of the Line; 3. Broken, Beat and Scarred; 4. The Day That Never Comes; 5. All Nightmare Long; 6. Cyanide; 7. The Unfogiven III; 8. The Judas Kiss; 9. Suicide and Redemption; 10. My Apocalypse

Running Time: 74m 41s

After the utter horror that was 2003’s “St Anger”, I was convinced that Metallica were going to slip in to a painful irrelevance as the decade wore on, culminating in self-destruction before too long.  That demise looked even more-likely after the car-crash documentary, “Some Kind of Monster”; a movie that documented the inter-personal struggles within the band more than the making of “St Anger”.

But, you got to hand it to them; they continued to be successful, playing to hundreds of thousands around the world, slowly (and wisely) burying “St Anger” along the way.  To use Dave Mustaine’s metaphor for his own dreadful 2001 misfire (“The World Needs a Hero”), the album was “a ship lost at sea trying to return to its course”.

While they need some more guidance with album titles (using “Suicide and Redemption” might have been more apt I think) the critics have been lining up to praise “Death Magnetic” as a return to form.  It hit number one in about a billion countries and Metallica became the first act to score a fifth US number one album, out-performing the likes of The Beatles, U2 and the Dave Matthews Band.

Have they turned the ship around or are the metal legends heading for rocks?  In the sea, like.

That Was Just Your Life

From the off it’s clear that the band have got their focus back.  The biggest problem with the last record was that the music was just rubbish.  “Frantic” and “Dirty Window”, for example, were directionless messes which mistook noise for aggression,

But this is much better.  “That Was Just Your Life” builds with small sonic touches like the “heartbeat” intro and a slow riff that recalls “For Whom the Bell Tolls”.  Thankfully James has got his vocal chords back in order too.  It’s fast and furious but, unlike his last outing, he sounds like he believes in the music.  Kirk Hammett was allowed to plug his guitar in as well – solos were left out of “St Anger” because Lars Ulrich and producer Bob Rock thought they “sounded like an afterthought” – and Hammett shows once again why he is rightly regarded as one of the best.

Great opener.

Rating: ****

The End of the Line

“Choke, Asphyxia/ Snuff, Reality/Scorch, Kill the light/Obliterate, Celebrity”

It’s almost like time stood still for twenty years.  “The End of the Line” – sounding like it could have been lifted from between “One” and “Harvester of Sorrow” – features a musical and vocal drive that we haven’t really heard since 1988’s “…And Justice for All”.  We can even forgive the slightly eye-rolling lyric of “Drop the hourglass of time/Spinning sand we will not find” – does that even mean anything?

Rating: ***1/2

Broken, Beat and Scarred

Although I’m slightly distracted by the “Walking the Dog”-esque blues riff, there is no doubt that “Broken, Beat and Scarred” is an absolute triumph, featuring a great chord-progression in the verse (“Rise, fall down, rise again/What don’t kill you makes you more strong”), a powerful chorus, another great solo and an expert tempo change.

Rating: *****

The Day That Never Comes

The decision to release “The Day That Never Comes” as the lead single has been criticised by some fans since they considered it to be the weakest and most downbeat track on the album.

Musically and lyrically it recalls “The Unforgiven” (“Mouths so full of lies/Tend to black your eyes/Just keep them closed/Keep praying, just keep waiting”) but the style and tempo change half way through and it becomes reminiscent of Metallica’s breakthrough hit “One”, ending in a crescendo of guitar chords a touch before eight minutes.

Rating; ****

All Nightmare Long

Metallica lighten up a little on the first half of “All Nightmare Long”; a fast, but more straight-on rocker with a melody-driven chorus.  The second half breaks out though – two great Hammett solos shakes things up from about five minutes in and Lars Ulrich knocks out his best beats in 20 years.  The false ending is sweet too but, overall, it’s a case of the solos being worthy of a better song.

Rating: ***

Cyanide

Given it was my first sample of the album when I saw them live this year, I was decidedly unimpressed with “Cyanide”.  Oddly the song sounds better in the studio than it did live – more likely a case that it works in the context of the album than it did thrown out cold in the middle of a bunch of classic hits.

It sounds really good, finding a metal-groove early on, firing out a classic lyric (“Suicide, I’ve already died/It’s just the funeral I’ve been waiting for/Cyanide, living dead inside/Break this empty shell forevermore”), delivering a mid-song rest for the listener to catch their breath and then finishes you off with a punishing solo and drum assault.

Rating: ****

The Unforgiven III

The second sequel to the classic 1991 hit “The Unforgiven” doesn’t fair quite as well as the, well, so-so first sequel.  It seems stuck in second gear.  Perhaps Hetfield was weighed down or distracted by the song title instead of concentrating on writing a more interesting song.  Hammett attempts to liven things up with an urgent solo but the whole thing misses the mark.

Rating: **

The Judas Kiss

“When the storm has blacked your sky/Intuition crucify” … “Venom of a life insane/Bites into your fragile veins/Internalize and decimate” … “So bow down/Sell your soul to me/I will set you free/Pacify your demons”

There’s no point in writing seven or eight minute songs if you don’t have a strong arrangement and I’m not sure “The Judas Kiss” is worthy of the eight minutes it gets.  I would have shaved a few minutes off in the middle, dropping the first solo.  But that’s art for you … and the chorus riff is strong in fairness.
Rating: ***

I’ve read that this is Metallica’s first instrumental since the 1980s – the last was presumably 1988’s Cliff Burton tribute, “To Live is To Die” (I didn’t pay too much attention to their 90s albums).  Clocking in at 9:57 it overtakes “The Outlaw Torn” as the longest original track recorded on a Metallica album.  What you get are powerful riffs and solos held together by an excellent rhythm section.  Where “The Judas Kiss” struggles to fill eight minutes, “Suicide and Redemption” comfortably manages to fill ten.

Rating: ****

My Apocalypse

The barrage of aggression never seems to end.  “My Apocalypse” is the Usain Bolt of the record, pushing Team Death Magnetic towards the finishing line with a burst of breakneck adrenalin: “Crushing metal, ripping skin/Tossing body, mannequin/Spilling blood, bleeding gas/Mangle flesh, snapping spine/Dripping bloody Valentine/Shatter face, spitting glass” .  It’s a fitting close to what has been a near-relentless seventy-odd minutes of metal.

Summary

This is way above my expectations.  Despite the average song length being well over seven minutes, few of the tracks outstay their welcome with the exception perhaps of “The Judas Kiss” – and even that’s a decent track.  “The Unforgiven III” disappoints but the bar has been set so high in the songs leading up to it that it was always going to struggle to live up to the original.

I’m not a fan of James’ lyrics – probably my grounding and preference for the political verbal of the “other” guy in Megadeth.  They are never vacuous but neither are they easy to relate to.  Frequent use of onomatopoeia and agressive visual imagery can get exhausting and that’s the case here.  But it’s a far cry from “Down on the sun, down and no fun/Down and out, where the hell ya been” or “Tick tick tick tock” …

4star

[Movie Review] The Watch

Starring: Clea DuVall, Elizabeth Whitmere, James A. Woods, Victoria Sanchez, Morgan Kelly
Director: Jim Donovan
Genre: Thriller
Cert: 12
Released: 2008

Cassie (Clea DuVall) is struggling to finish her psychology thesis on post-traumatic stress disorder in children and is relieved when Professor Bateman (Matthew Kabwe) grants a one month extension to his students. Finding it hard to focus on the thesis, Cassie decides to accept a four week assignment as a “firewatch” officer – a person stationed in the woods who alerts the ranger if they see a fire. She reckons the secluded nature of the job (she will live alone in a log cabin for a month) will not only give her time to work on her thesis but also help her attempts to overcome her own inner demons – a deep-seated fear of the dark that dates back to her own abduction when she was seven.

She is greeted by the slightly-aloof ranger Rhett (James A Woods) who helps her settle in to her post. But before long strange goings-on haunt Cassie. She sees shadows outside her cabin, furniture is moved around when she’s asleep and the only interaction she has are radio conversations with a fellow lookout called Polly. As the days pass, Cassie begins to have flashbacks. Could the creepy events be linked to her abduction nineteen years before?

For a low-budget TV movie “The Watch” does a lot of things right. The cinematography (by Manfred Guthe) is wonderful with a great use of autumnal colours and some beautiful pseudo-panoramic shots across the forest. Indeed, there is much to admire. The story is well-paced and doesn’t always choose the obvious plot device, leaving you expecting a horror cliché several times during the movie only for nothing to happen. This is, oddly, quite satisfying.

Director Jim Donovan is 37 years of age and has been directing since the mid 90s. Although mainly involved in TV series, “The Watch” could be a breakthrough movie for him. He does well with the material and teases some genuine tension in key scenes. It’s clear he enjoys working with James A Woods (they have previously worked together in “Naked Josh” and “Seriously Weird”) and the character’s ambiguity is played off well by both director and actor.

So, why the low mark? It was all going steamingly well … until the last 15 minutes. Donovan is let down by writer Ben Ripley (“Species III”, “Species 4: The Awakening”) who totally drops the ball, letting the story fizzle out disappointingly. We got from creepy psychological thriller to Scooby Doo in the blink of an eye. You’ll see a lot worse than this on TV but be prepared for the ending.

1halfstar

Words I like to use a lot: Part 1

Tedious

I love this one….teeeedious.  You are sooo teeeedious.

It’s a great way to illustrate disregard for someone or something.

Teeeedious.

“Did you hear that new Oasis single?”

“Oh, God.  Oasis *heavy sigh*  Oasis are sooo teeedious.  The cursing, the drinking, the repetitive chords.  I mean, why?”

“How did your date go last night?”

“Not great. *pull slight face*  After about ten minutes I knew it was going to be most tedious night of my life.  Rampant sex couldn’t have saved it.”

“How was that rampant sex for you?”

“Tedious.  Obviously.”

The social stigma of reading

I’ve just bought my third copy of “The God Delusion“.  Not because I feel the need to boost Richard Dawkins coffers, but rather because I left one copy on a plane and gave a second copy to a friend who I had, ironically, flown to see on the plane in which I left the first copy …. on ….

Ok, never mind.

Although I had read the first four chapters late last year I decided to start reading it again because it has quotes from people cleverer than me and it’s easy to get totally lost.

I do dislike starting books in public because of that “just started it” stigma.  There’s little impressive about seeing someone on page 1 of a thick book.  However, if I see someone halfway through a 400 page tome, I know I’m dealing with a pretty serious and determined human being.

So how about we included 100 blank pages at the start of all books in order to help the likes of me overcome the social stigma?

Fortunately there’s a decent table of contents and preface in “The God Delusion” so I started on page 42.

It don't matter if you're black or white

I got a bit of a fright today when I realised that I might actually be racist.

I was sitting on the stationary bike (un-moving as opposed to made of office supplies) at the gym, a little TV screen 12 inches from my face, broadcasting music video after music video.  About 95% of them featured R&B and soul artists.  And they were all shite.

Jennifer Hudson, Usher, some guy with a silly golden thing hanging from his neck.  All utter shite.  Even the Sugababes are producing bland disco-funk music now.

Of course it just so happens that the vast majority of this music is written and performed by “non-caucasians” and because I think it’s about as palatable as swallowing detergent, that puts me in a difficult position.

But then I thought, well, would I be really upset if there were no black entertainers?  Would it bother me at all?  It doesn’t bother them if I don’t watch their movies or buy their albums – millions upon millions do, so they don’t care.

TV comedy

Look at my favourite sitcoms – many widely regarded as the best of all time: “Seinfeld”, “Only Fools and Horses”, “Cheers”, “Black Books”, “The Office”, “Monty Python”, “Fawlty Towers”, “Father Ted” – all have a predominantly white cast.  “The Cosby Show” had its moments and “Diff’rent Strokes” (why was there an apostrophe in the title?) would not have been very good at all without Arnold and Willis – well it would have been called “Similar Strokes” for a start – (or “Sim’lar Strokes”).  But other than that black sitcoms were written for a black audience: do you think that the same people who hate Chris, love Raymond?

The world of music

Musically it’s the same deal.  Whitney Houston did a lot more me when I was a teenager (and her music was solid), Lenny Kravitz wrote some good tunes and I enjoyed Tone-Loc for a few months.  But other than Lenny I don’t think I own music by any black artist.  Where were they during the grunge period, where are they on the metal scene?  Run DMC didn’t write “Walk This Way” and Faith no More were shite until Mike Patton replaced Chuck Moseley.

It’s ironic that black artists haven’t played more of a role on that scene considering that rock and metal were born out of Robert Johnson’s Delta blues music of the 1930s.  Johnson, interestingly, died at the age of 27 – as did people he directly and indirectly influenced such as Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain.

The acting scene

Black actors have a strong presence of course: Samuel L Jackson’s thunderous performance in “Pulp Fiction”, Halle Berry in the startling “Monster’s Ball”, Richard Pryor, Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington in too many movies to mention.  There are plenty of movies from these and other black actors in my DVD collection.

Chicks

Let’s look at the ladies and make some choices.

How about those wonderful tennis sisters against the might of the Minogue siblings?

Serena and Venus take on Danni and Kylie
Serena and Venus take on Danni and Kylie

Alright, not that much competition there.  It must be Kylie and Danni’s openness to touching each other that’s working for me.

How about those twins from “Sister Sister” against the not-at-all-cosmetically-altered Olsen Twins?

Tia and Tamera in a shoot out with Mary-Kate and Ashley.
Tia and Tamera in a shoot out with Mary-Kate and Ashley.

Wow!  I think I’m fixed!  I’m actually not racist.

I guess, in conclusion, it’s just that R&B, soul and music of that ilk are a load of gash.  Can we buy a guitar solo here please?