Wednesday, November 30, 2005

It's Like Sleepless In Seattle If Tom And Meg Were Minced

Buffy Season 6 Part 2

So as I noted before, Season 6 is more or less universally maligned amongst Buffy fans. Of course, my contrarian nature means that it's one of my favourites. But to be fair, it does go to a pretty bleak place thematically.

The most obvious example of this is the finale, in which Willow's lover is killed and she goes batshit crazy, eventually trying to destroy the world. I found it to be a pretty effective climax, and even though Alyson Hannigan isn't the most convincing of dramatic actors when it comes to grief she did do a good job of total megalomaniacal psychosis. Plus she's possibly the hottest chick in the world so I'm quite prepared to give her a break. The final resolution when Xander talks Willow out of destroying the world is more than a bit cheesy. “I love you” is a lame climactic statement, but “If you want to destroy the world, then start with me” almost makes up for it.

Buffy's relationship with Spike was no doubt also a source of consternation for fans. Despite years of shippers begging for them to get together, when it actually happened I don't think it was quite what they had in mind. But how else could it be? Spike's a neutered psychopath so any romantic relationship involving him simply has to be fucked up, anything else would be a complete cop out. Nevertheless their final scene together, when Spike attempts to rape Buffy, is some pretty confrontational, unpleasant viewing, even by my standards.

One of the least popular episodes was Normal Again, in which Buffy hallucinates that she is just a normal girl having schizophrenic delusions of being a superhero. Not only does it contain a scene in which Buffy locks all her friends in a cellar and impassively watches while a demon tries to kill them, but the very last scene implies that Buffy's hallucination of being normal is in fact the real world. It's a silly gimmick, but one that inspired convulsions of rage amongst Joss' normally loyal fan base. Personally it didn't bother me in the slightest, so the writers have implied that the story isn't real, well guess what? It's not!

But amongst all this angst leave it to Joss to make the most emotional punch a far more mundane one, Xander leaving his fiance Anya at the altar. Having a much loved character behave so fallibly was a pretty gutsy decision in some ways, and it probably alienated a lot of his fanbase.

Of course, I love all that unpleasant, depressing stuff so I rate this season highly. The dialog is as witty as ever and the show's great humour, while significantly blacker than normal, is still top notch. It's good that they finished on such a high note and didn't complete a substandard, confused mess of a final season which spoiled what was otherwise a perfectly executed six years of TV.

See also:

Buffy Season 5 Part 1
Buffy Season 5 Part 2
Buffy Season 6 Part 1

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


So I went and saw Serenity the other night. Believe it or not, I've never seen a single episode of Firefly, network TV showed it in the middle of the night so I didn't bother watching it and the DVD set has proven to be difficult to track down. So I was in the unusual position of being a Whedonite watching the movie without knowing the backstory.

I found it to be pretty good. The characters and setting were all introduced and explained adequately, save for the romantic subplots which were fairly uninteresting to the uninitiated viewer (OK, except for the one line “...I've had naught twixt my nethers that doesn't run on batteries!”) A few people elsewhere have worried that a certain character's death part way through the movie would not have the impact that it was meant to on someone who had not seen the series, and guess what, it didn't, but it's not like it inhibited my enjoyment of the movie in any way either. Although it did amuse me that the first time this character appeared on screen I thought to myself “I bet that's the one who dies.”

Anyway, this movie is nothing incredibly great, but it's still very enjoyable, with lots of cool action (the fight scenes are far superior to anything from Angel or Buffy) and the clever dialog we all expect from Joss. The sci-fi meets wild west setting was especially cool, and the asian influence was a neat original touch. I'm very glad I caught it in the theatre and I'm definitely going to try harder to get a copy of the Firefly DVDs.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Search Referral Manipulation Day

Sexy girls getting knocked out by chloroform videos. I've got heaps. Honest.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

My Visit to Hoochie Sixteen Year Old City

Otherwise known as Southern Amp.

So on the way home from work on Friday night I gave into a random impulse and bought a ticket to Southern Amp, Christchurch's attempt at running a cut down version of the Big Day Out. I wasn't expecting much, but ended up being very impressed with the performances so I'm really glad I went.

When I first arrived I was surprised at how few people there were. It got better as the day went on but I'm curious as to whether they made much money. Compare and contrast with the Big Day Out:

Southern Amp:

Big Day Out:

The first band to play after I arrived was Steriogram. I'm not much of a fan of theirs but it was cold and a little wet so I went up in front of the stage to get warm. In any case they're a decent live band so I didn't mind watching them. I wish I'd gotten a picture of the dude with the mullet in front of me during White Trash though.

Next up was The D4, again they're a band I don't have much time for ordinarily but I have to admit they are good live. I was impressed with how hard they got the crowd going when they opened for Velvet Revolver and they did the same again here.

Some terrible pop-rock band was up after that and I was also getting massively sunburned, forcing me to retreat to the hip-hop tent where I attempted unsuccessfully to appreciate DJ Sir-vere. Once that was over with I emerged to go and see Pluto, who as usual did not disappoint. The audience was very passive during the performance but they got a lot of applause after each song. Dance Stamina in particular went over really well and was a highlight of the day for me too.

Following them were Breaks Co-op, a band who I had previously written off as obnoxiously trendy stuff for old people who want to appear hip, the kind of thing that gives Russell Brown a hard on and puts everyone else to sleep. I must say I've completely misjudged them, their set, while extremely mellow was played with a lot of passion and I may just buy their album.

Next up was Spiderbait, one of the headliners from Australia. These guys have been around for a while and I was surprised to realise how many of their songs I knew. They put on a good show, but not the best of the day.

The Hoodoo Guru's were forced to pull out for some reason or other, and they were replaced by The Bleeders. This suited me pretty well because I don't know who the Hoodoo Guru's are and I like The Bleeders. Their set was pretty decent and despite my sarcastic comment about the moshpit below it actually got a bit rougher toward the end.

After that Elemeno P were due to come on, so I again retreated to the secondary stage, now renamed the dance tent rather than the hip-hop tent. I have no idea who the guy playing was but he was pretty good. “Oh my God”, I thought to myself, “I'm sober, I'm dancing to trance and I'm having a good time!?” It was freaky. Following that I caught a very brief bit of Minuet before heading back outside for The Living End.

I wasn't expecting much from them, I'd seen them a couple of times before and I like their singles but I definitely wasn't expecting them to be the best band of the day, which is what they turned out to be. As well as having a full repertoire of catchy stomping punk anthems they're pretty fucking awesome musicians too. Almost enough to make me rethink going to the Big Day Out.

Last up were Blindspott, I was pretty exhausted by that stage so I didn't really get into it much. They were decent at any rate but nothing special either.

In the end it turned out to be a really good day, and I hope they did well financially because if it keeps going it will only get better.

Pictures follow:

The Bleeders Posted by Picasa

Nice try Posted by Picasa

Steriogram "...and it'sa long at the back!" Posted by Picasa

The D4 Posted by Picasa

Crazy old people in the moshpit: Drunk, high on P or just plain mental? Modern science remains uncertain. Posted by Picasa

Pluto again Posted by Picasa

Breaks Co-op Posted by Picasa

Spiderbait Posted by Picasa

My first mosh pit: Safe for ages 8 to 80 Posted by Picasa

Minuet suffer equipment failure Posted by Picasa

The Living End Posted by Picasa

Friday, November 25, 2005

The Hue of a Champion

Angel Season 3 Part 2

The end of this season was probably the high point of this shows popularity, possibly because Buffy was becoming less popular at the same time. It's not one of my favourites however. I think the writing slipped a little bit, as they ditched the b-grade goofiness of the first two seasons and tried to treat itself more seriously, but at the same time they came up with a pretty cool plot. A vampire hunter from Angel's past is out to extract revenge for Angel's murder of his children by kidnapping Angel's new born son.

The highlight of the season for me was when Wesley kidnaps Angel's kid (for all the best reasons), and ends up letting him get stolen by the bad guy, who promptly takes him to hell. It convincingly sends Wesley on the path from being a goofball to being a dark badass. The success of this reveals that the actor playing him is actually pretty good, refer also to Cordelia's transformation from a bimbo to Angel's love interest, a transformation I found considerably less convincing. Staying on the subject of characterisation, Fred and Gunn as the happy couple were kind of grating, but I guess they were meant to be that way in order to contrast with everyone elses misery, and to set up their own misery in later seasons. Also, I really don't buy Angel as the doting dad. Maybe it's just my own dislike of little kids but it seems incongruous for this dark tormented character to go all gooey for any reason.

The best episode is the stand-alone Waiting in the Wings, which is set at a ballet performance, and involves some entertainingly steamy scenes between an entranced Angel and Cordelia. Most of the rest of the episodes are dedicated to the overarching plot, which is competent and better paced than Angel usually is, but lacks the spark that makes Buffy so good. However the last episode Tomorrow is a perfect example of a good end of season cliffhanger, with the final scenes cutting between Cordelia ascending to heaven and Angel sinking to the bottom of the ocean.

While it's not my favourite season, it still has plenty of cool goofiness, best summed up by the manifestation of a loa (a voodoo spirit) in the form of a 'Mayor McCheese' style burger mascot. It only makes sense... in a Neil Gaiman type way modern human worship would be concentrated in corporate mascots.

Classic quotes:
“By the way, baby formula and Kahlua--not as bad as it sounds.”
“He's really happy.” [starts to jab Angel in the back with a stake] “But not too happy, I hope.”

See Also:

Angel Season 2 Part 1
Angel Season 2 Part 2
Angel Season 3 Part 1

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Metal Cop Outrage

So as reported on such respectable news sources as, and Jeremy's blog, the vocalist of Auckland death metal band Dawn of Azazel has a day job as a cop.

The news has upset some people. “This guy's supposed to be a role model,” says Greygor Skullgrin, a spokesperson for the New Zealand metal community, “He's supposed to be telling kids to worship Satan and eradicate the weak, what kind of message does it send when he's associated with an unsavory operation like the Police Force?”

The revelation seems to have already made an effect on the young metalheads who will form the metal scene of tomorrow. In a random poll of bored teenagers hanging around in carparks drinking stolen alcohol it was discovered that 'fucking shit up' had dropped to fifth on their list of priorities, down from second last week, while 'respecting your parents and trying hard at school' had risen from position twenty to eleven. 'I dunno... nothing I guess' remained steady at number one. “These results speak for themselves,” responds Skullgrin, “What kind of society are we creating where these kids mindlessly obey authority and aspire to become just another featureless slave-mentality cog in the consumerist christian totalitarian state?”

Police Minister Annette King attempted to allay concerns in a statement issued earlier today. “Despite the police forces reputation as a thuggish tool of the corporate Jew-ocracy, the truth is it actually has many values in common with the metal community,” the statement read, “such as an unsettling link with fascism, an enjoyment of kicking random cunts in the head, and generally acting like a big bunch of macho cocksuckers.”

This is the worst scandal to affect the New Zealand metal community since June 2004, when Darkmore Putrid, drummer of Black Symphonic Metalcore band Defilement of Innocence admitted to owning an Evanescence album.


Via Slactivist:

you are Nick Cave!
Nick Cave... dark and creepy. You're a bi-polar
genius, with equal passion for the most
degrading aspects of humanity, as well as the
beauty & wonder of God and Heaven.

Which fucked-up genius composer are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Shit Day Out

So for the first time in eight years Ericson Stadium will not have the pleasure of my attendance at next years Big Day Out, on account of no one decent playing. The second (and last) announcement is mainly a bunch of local acts, hip-hop and dance stuff and the solitary metal act for next year: Mudvayne – the blandest nu-metal garbage to pollute the air waves this year.

So there's absolutely nothing I'm interested in this year, The White Stripes and The Mars Volta might be worth seeing, but they're not worth the ticket price, plane ticket and time off work for me. Most of the local acts that I like are playing down here at Southern Amp anyway, so that might have to be my consolation concert.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Cool New Blog

Most of you have probably seen this anyway because Blogger has been featuring it on their side bar, but Google Video of the Day has some cool stuff on it. Make sure you check out Octopus Owns Shark.

Sort of Good News From Iraq

Evidence to suggest that maybe the invasion of Iraq might not have been a complete fucking mess if the people in charge had been competent here, via Arts & Letters.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Life Test

Thanks to Joel for another pointless test :)

My results are generally good but obviously rather dispiriting in that one area... but it did make me laugh when the second page was covered with ads for online dating.

This Is My Life, Rated
Take the Rate My Life Quiz

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Random Link 2

So I randomly ran into this article on Ruthless Reviews denigrating Vice Magazine ("this super-subversive magazine for people who are into coke, hookers, partying really hard, being popular and wearing the right clothes"), and I got curious and checked it out.

Ruthless are more or less correct in their appraisal; it's more than a little juvenile, kind of a feral print version of that Something Awful/Old Man Murray 'we hate everything but we're only kidding' obnoxiousness which I often find quite tiresome, but at the same time I actually found Vice quite entertaining to browse through.

The guide to L.A. was very informative. I now know which bars have the easiest skanks, and their seven day bender article is amusing to read, although I don't know if I'd have the balls to go to all the places they mention...

Random Link 1

(via Making Light) The 10 Worst Jobs in Science 2005

(Number 3: Teaching Biology in Kansas)

The Sunday Lessons

When sifting on to a cute girl in a club, make sure you don't let Barnes open his mouth within earshot of her.

For Christ's sake, if it's 4 in the morning and you're having a crap night, just give up, go home and get a decent nights sleep for a change. Don't stay out for another two hours just out of sheer habit and stubbornness.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

These Romans Are Crazy

So it's not treasonous to say that you'd like to see a US city suffer a major terrorist attack, but only if you're a popular right wing political commentator.

How can anyone take these gas bags seriously?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Sundripped Devils Scratched Out My Eyes

Dillinger Escape Plan – Calculating Infinity

As I mentioned the other day, Dillinger Escape Plans' Miss Machine is the best album I've heard this year. Even now I'm still listening to it every day and still enjoying it immensely. Their previous full album Calculating Infinity is regarded to be their best by the smelly masses of the metal related internet, although I'm not inclined to give their opinions much weight as they often tend to be of the 'every band started selling out just after I heard of them' persuasion.

After hearing Calculating Infinity I can see why it is more popular. In general it's harder, faster and feraller than their later releases, although there are still some weird spooky ambient passages. It's an excellent album, but I prefer the more nuanced, varied approach of the other albums I've heard, as they develop their arhythmic noise assault in more interesting ways.

In the interview I linked to recently their vocalist assures us that Miss Machine is more complicated and harder for the other band members to play than Calculating Infinity, but their fans remain skeptical. On first impressions I'd be inclined to say that the fans are right, but after giving it some thought I think what's actually happened is a combination of slicker production and increased musical proficiency which just makes it seem like what they're playing is easier.

This album features their original vocalist Dimitri, who doesn't have the versatility of Mike Patton or the power of their new singer Greg, but is still quite competant, even if it would be nice if he changed to a different style other than 'full on throat shredding howl' once or twice.

While I definitely don't think it's their best album, these guys have never been less than brilliant, and for now I remain their salivating fanboy.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Beneath the Waves

Isis – Oceanic

Earlier I said that Isis' Panopticon was the best album I'd heard all year. I guess it was a little premature to be saying in February, as since then I've decided I like Dillinger Escape Plan's Miss Machine better, but Panopticon is still pretty awesome.

Oceanic is Isis' first album. I was expecting it to be less accomplished than their second, and I was right, but it is the album that established their reputation and it's pretty good. By and large it is more or less identical to Panopticon in style: heavy, slow metal with a peaceful side. Most of the music is composed of heavy, somewhat Tool-esque riffs, but there are plenty of mellow, more ambient bits (some with nice female vocals). It makes a really good contrast.

The one place where this album really falls down is the vocals, the singer just doesn't have the power to do the cookie monster at this stage (by Panopticon he's got it down though). That's the only criticism I can make however, the other musicians are great and the composition is brilliant, I'm especially impressed with how the way they wrote heavy metal that evokes the sounds of the ocean.

Which leads me into the concept behind the album. All the songs have a ocean related theme (see the titles Maritime and From Sinking), and while it's a good idea this kind of thing is easy to fuck up and it pretty much depends on the lyrics. In this case they come awfully close to the line between cool and pretentious, and I'm undecided which side they're on, but seeing as I haven't looked at them in detail yet and I just dissed the guys singing I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. The other aspects of the concept are handled particularly well, the aforementioned musical touches, and the CD booklet which is pretty nice. You can't go wrong with pictures of the ocean, and indeed they reused a little of that idea in the art for Panopticon.

I picked up the remix album as well which probably wasn't a good idea. These things are very rarely worthwhile and it was quite expensive. It came on two discs and the first one (with the mellower remixes) is pretty good, especially Mike Patton's offbeat contribution. The second one (with the more aggressive tracks) is not so good, with most of them falling into the same stuttering style that I find quite annoying, so while there are some good tracks it's probably not worth getting.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Repressed Childhood Trauma

I barely remember playing Megaman, but the first image on this page seriously gave me the shits, and the more I try and remember exactly why, the worse I feel.

Console games were a hell of a lot harder in the old days...

Conversations With Drunk Women

(A brief retrospective of the long weekend.)

Me: Listening to good music is better than sex.
A: Maybe you're just having really average sex.
Me: Maybe you just listen to really average music.


C: You know I'm a really shy person.
Me: [Rolls eyes] If you say so...
C: No really! I'd never dress this way if I was sober!
C: You'll tell me if I start falling out of my top right?

The Last Coil Album...

Will be released before Christmas. Featuring some stuff they completed just before Jhon Balance's death and some other stuff they recorded at Nothing Studios years and years ago.

Monday, November 14, 2005

The Monday Lessons

As specially requested by Eddie:

Getting incredibly boozed two nights in a row and then eating an entire large gourmet pizza for dinner the next day is a recipe for dramatic illness.

1969 in the Sunshine

Boards of Canada – The Campfire Headphase

Boards of Canada's signature sound has remained fairly static over their three albums. Peaceful, groove based electronica perfect for listening to on a warm summers day, it's the farthest thing from my normal listening tastes, but these guys have a genuine gift for making relaxing, upbeat songs and their skilled musicianship is strong enough to appeal even to me.

Musically The Campfire Headphase is slightly different to it's predecessors. Firstly there are no vocal samples on the entire album. Also to my ears it has a slightly more organic sound, with guitar, piano and acoustic drumming being used more than on the previous releases, but nothing to give anyone a big surprise.

Their previous album Geogaddi is a real classic, and unfortunately The Campfire Headphase doesn't quite live up to it. Two or three tracks match it's catchiness but the rest are fairly forgettable. It's still worth listening to, but for some reason it lacks the appeal of the earlier albums.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

A Feast for Crows

by George R.R. Martin

A little background: George Martin released the first book in his epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire in 1996, with the next two installments following in 1999 and 2000, the latter of which ended on a series of dramatic cliffhangers. His dedicated fans then waited not so patiently for another five years to find out what happened. Coincidentally enough, the next book, A Dance of Dragons, was supposed to take place after a five year break from the end of the third book. Martin changed his mind however, and announced that an extra book, A Feast for Crows, would cover the five year interim. As it happens Martin still hasn't finished what he intended to be the fourth book of the series, but as it was getting so large he decided to split it into two. A Feast for Crows covers half the characters over the five years, with A Dance of Dragons (hopefully forthcoming next year) chronicling the remainder of the plotlines over the same period of time.

So after such a long wait there this book carries the weight of a lot of expectations. Especially seeing as the series has grown more complicated and slow as it goes on, leading some to worry that he might have come down with a bit of Robert Jordan syndrome. Those criticisms are neither confirmed nor mollified by this latest volume. While not a lot happens compared to the earlier books, it's still miles ahead of Jordan's snooze fests, and considering that this was a book he originally didn't intend to write the lack of action isn't that surprising.

I did start to have misgivings about half way through the book. The three characters that this volume focuses on are some of the blander in the series, and there's not that much excitment in their storylines. However the beginning of the novel resolves a few of the outstanding cliffhangers (which is a bit of a relief after five years of waiting) and the end of the book perks up considerably, dropping a few unexpected twists and surprising revelations, and of course introducing a bunch more cliffhangers.

Martin's strengths continue to serve him well in this volume. His characters are as always very well drawn and he uses magic sparingly in comparison to other fantasy writers, who often turn it into a stupid gimmick. His prose style is sparse and direct, but this doesn't hinder him at all as it is a very action oriented story. The one strength Martin does away with in this installment is his passion for bloodthirsty violence. As I said there is less action than in earlier volumes, but fortunately he makes up for it by upping the frequency of dirty sex scenes. Good work George!

Some more plot specific speculation, arranged by character, for anyone who has read the book: SPOILERS! - Highlight to read.

Brienne: So is she dead? It seems a bit weird that he'd dedicate a third of the book to a character who's plot does nothing except kill off a few secondary characters and show us what happened to Catelyn (which we pretty much knew from the last books epilogue anyway) and The Hound. Plus there's some unresolved plot stuff with her and Jaime... so I'm betting she's not dead.

Jaime: This plot line was fairly interesting, if a little slow. The resolution of the seige of Riverrun was pretty cool, and quite unexpected. His final scene with Cersei's letter was damn good though...

Cersei: Easily the most entertaining plot thread. Martin's made a bit of a signature of the Big Betrayal Scene, and while Rob, Eddard and Tyrion's betrayals were so effective because they were so unexpected (at least on the first read, it's always cleverly foreshadowed when you read it a second time), Cersei's went in another direction. Every time I finished reading one of her chapters I was slapping my head in frustration at her stupidity, so that when it finally all came crashing down around her it was quite satisfying. Although again the exact manner of her downfall was a bit of a surprise. It will be interesting to see if we actually see her get it in The Winds of Winter or if it's the end of the road for her, but I guess we'll have to wait another five years to find out...

The Hound and The Mountain: Well I don't know what Qyburn has done with The Mountain, but from the sounds of things it sounds like he's gone Frankenstein styles... And I hope no one thinks the Hound is dead. I think Martin stumbled a little when describing his fate, making it a little obvious that we'll be seeing old Sandor again. (Was that him that Brienne sees digging a grave when she enters the monastery? What happened to his scars? Did the monks heal him?) My guess is that The Hound will live a quiet life at the monastery for a little while, until whatever The Mountain has become shows up for a bit of rape and pillaging, facilitating their final confrontation.

Ser Loras: I'm a little suspicious that we didn't see the seige of Dragonstone first hand, it would have been a good opportunity to show some action in a book that was somewhat lacking in that respect. Maybe there's something going on that we don't know about (perhaps Loras isn't dying at all, and has made a deal with Stannis' men in Dragonstone...)

Sansa and Myrcella: These two plotlines are no doubt important to the larger plot but were a bit dull in this installment. The cute playing around with the POV protaganists names annoyed me though.

The Ironborn: Fairly interesting, but ended just as it started to get good.

Arya and Samwell: The most interesting plot threads by far, a pity we couldn't see more of them but I guess there's not much more to tell at the moment. I was particularly blown away by the revelation at the end of Sam's last chapter that the Maester's are behind the death of magic, an unexpected but cool twist.

In general: No Jon! No Tyrion! No Bran! No Daenerys! I can't wait till A Dance of Dragons!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Whenever You See A Cop Beating A Guy...

Rage Against The Machine – Renegades

So after The Battle of Los Angeles came out Rage quickly released this covers album before breaking up. It's their least interesting album, but it's still better than you'd expect from a quick throwaway release.

They cover a wide variety of bands on this album, and it's impressive how they manage to make them all sound like Rage, from rap acts like EPMD to Bruce Springsteen. The best tracks are spread liberally across genres, Cypress Hill's How I Could Just Kill A Man and Bob Dylan's Maggie's Farm are two of the best, along with Beautiful World by Devo, which is surprisingly subdued (for Rage, not Devo).

Again, the songs are dominated by Zack's passionate vocals, the rest of the band seem to be practicing for their future of being a passionless backing tape for a shameless sellout, but never mind, the tracks are still cleverly interpreted and it's a good listen. Not quite as good a career ender as The Battle of Los Angeles but worthwhile nonetheless.

See also: The Battles of Los Angeles and Evil Empire

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Wacky Search Referral Day

"young boys huge cock fucking hardcore" does your mother know you're looking at this stuff

And of course our ongoing favorite subject: "chloroform sleep video clips" and "knocked out with real chloroform videos clips"

Posting may be light this week, Civ4 arrived in the mail today.

Monday, November 07, 2005

War Within A Breath, It's Land Or Death

Rage Against the Machine – The Battle of Los Angeles

I think I like this one even more than Evil Empire. In a lot of ways it's quite similar to that album, as opposed to their first album. The songwriting is as strong as Evil Empire and Zack's lyrics have improved a lot, being a lot more evocative than what I'd normally associate with rap metal (although of course in terms of content he continues to spin off the far left end of the political spectrum). On the other hand it's not as consistent as Evil Empire, while there are some excellent songs, such as Sleep Now In The Fire, Ashes In The Fall and Maria, there are also a few average ones, like Voice of the Voiceless and New Millennium Homes.

There's also a bit of a lack of passion from the band (other than Zack), possibly hinting at their impending breakup. Tom Morello still pulls out some awesome solos, but others sound like they're there just for the sake of it. His 'crazy noise' style, while brilliant on the first two albums, is getting a bit old by now. I think maybe he needed to move away from the gimmicks and concentrate more on the melody (which he eventually did on Renegades and the Audioslave stuff).

These criticisms are fairly minor though. Overall it was a pretty good note for them to end on.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Oh No! Goggalor Is Headed For The Orphanage!


After spending most of my gaming time this year slogging through dense, complex RPGs like Final Fantasy X, Arcanum and Anachronox, it was nice to play a goofy action game for a change.

Psychonauts is a fairly typical platformer at its heart, the gameplay is based around shooting baddies, collecting powerups and fighting bosses. What sets it apart is its creative premise. You play Raz, a young boy studying to become a Psychonaut, which is a kind of psychic superhero capable of entering other peoples minds. Naturally before you get too far into the game all the adults at your training facility have found themselves in trouble and it's up to you to save them. As you go through the game you level up and gain different kinds of psychic abilities, levitation, pyrokinesis (all the kids in the facility show a perverse eagerness to set things on fire...) and invisibility. None of these features are that original, but the developers (Double Fine, featuring Tim Schafer (formerly of Lucas Arts) and one of the dudes who used to run Old Man Murray) execute the gameplay perfectly, and it's a total joy to play from beginning to end. As a whole the game has a reasonable amount of replay value, and the difficulty is well balanced. It took me about two weeks to finish it, playing for about an hour a day.

While I was initially put off by the 'kiddie' style of the graphics and story, the game quickly won me over. The level design is truly brilliant. In one sense the game takes place entirely in the training facility (which is is in appearance identical to an American kids summer camp out in the wilderness), but throughout the game you physically enter the minds of the other characters and explore their subconscious'. The first few levels are the tightly controlled psyches of your instructors, but later on you visit some more interesting places. At one point you enter the brain of a sea monster, which appears as a tiny city inhabited by small versions of the monster. This level is pretty much just a big Godzilla spoof, and I found it to be one of the funniest things I've ever seen in a game.

Thinking they'd never top that I was delightfully surprised that it just got better in the next area, a mental asylum filled with crazies whose brains need sorting out before they'll help you. These levels include the mind of a conspiracy theorist, whose pysche appears as a peaceful neighbourhood inhabited solely by little girl scouts protecting a messianic/eschatological figure called The Milkman and government agents inadequately disguised as various normal neighbourhood figures (“I am working in the roadcrew. That passing woman has large breasts”). Later on there's the mind of a Spanish artist, which appears as a maze of little streets in a mediterranean looking town, for some reason all done in black velvet (vaguely reminiscent of Grim Fandango). The streets are menaced by a giant demonic bull, the story behind which is actually quite good.

There are a few nitpicks I could make about the game. The cutscenes go for too long, and don't really live up to the humour of the actual game. The music isn't very good either, being quite generic movie soundtrack stuff. But overall I can't say enough good things about this game. It's short and lightweight, but makes a great diversion from my 'serious gaming'.

Friday, November 04, 2005

A Part Of Me Feels Sick, A Part Of Me Feels Sore

Deftones – Adrenaline

After having my interest in the Deftones rekindled by their new DVD, I decided to fill the last gap in my collection of their back-catalogue by picking up their first album Adrenaline on a recent consumering binge.

There's a reason it's taken me so long to get this album; whenever I've heard it before it just didn't seem that good. But after giving it a few serious chin-stroking listens I've come to the conclusion that, while it is their weakest album, it's still pretty good.

The main problem with the album is that every song, while good on its own, has pretty much the same style and vibe. Plenty of good albums have been written despite suffering from the same shortcoming, but unfortunately at this early stage their song writing skills haven't advanced far enough to pull it off. Their gentle side, which makes them stand out from their nu-metal peers, hasn't really manifested itself yet, and the songs are just one full on thrash fest after another.

But having said that, they're really good full on thrash fests. Chino's vocals are as intense as ever, and you'd have to be deaf not to want to rock out every time you hear Seven Words or Lifter.