Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Trash Talk - East Of Eden

Hardcore punk is fast and devastating just like all extreme genres but instead of having dominant thrash riffs or super progressive double bass drum patterns, it's all about a purely unified attack of d-beats, heavily distorted chords, and in your face shouts where it can match with the most kvlt of music. Sacramento's Trash Talk has been a down-low band while being infamous for aggressive hardcore/powerviolence/grind releaseswith drugged up terror of sludge lasting less than an full EPs worth (S/T only last less than 15 minutes). Releasing a single song into the public is a bit expected but the extremeties present in East of Eden's "East Of Eden/Son Of A Bitch" is well worth listening because it feels sort of reminiscent of the first two releases Walking Disease and Plagues while having the DIY cloudy tones of the S/T; think of Napalm Death's Scum but slightly refined yet still fucking dirty. Blast beats, doom sounds, and traditional necessities feel cohesive and powerful even if it lasts 2 minutes.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Shadow Complex (Xbox 360)

Hike After The Summer So They Don't Get You!
First person shooters are of what the first decade of gaming in the 21st century is about since its baby steps since the 1980s but during that time, gaming was still in its baby steps. Unable to process such modern graphical enhancements such as motion blur, specular highlighing, and megatexturing, game systems stuck with mostly flat 2 dimensional planes where it was left to right; from point A to point B. Games using this basic format of progression including Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night (Sony PlayStation, 1997) and Metroid series including the acclaimed Super Metroid (Super Nintendo Entertainment System, 1994) took the linear gameplay of past games and made the whole game open ended for gamers to find new content including weapon upgrades and hidden rooms anytime. Now we go to 2009 where that influence is brought into effect in the Xbox Live Arcade exclusive Shadow Complex. Only for 1200 Microsoft Points and the last game of the Arcade's Summer Of Arcade program filled with addicting gameplay that defies the interpretation of what Xbox Live Arcade is and what can it really be in the future.

Taking place within Orson Scott Card's 2006 best seller Empire to tie into the sequel Hidden Empire (2009), it starts off in Washington D.C. with a military officer failing to attempting to save the Vice President with a powersuit built by the main antagonistic terrorist group the Restoration. Then the player follows an everyman named Jason Fleming who agrees to hike with his new girlfriend Claire in the Washington state forest but later encounters her captured by the Restoration and their plans to attack major cities including San Francisco. Jason finds himself into a conflict he never wanted to be part of and is made to save Claire and stop the Restoration's plans once and for starting with only a flashlight and a backpack.

It's simply put as girl gets captured, the protagonist must get by any means to save her. By no means it's original but it's entertaining to see how it goes to save her. There is some backstory elements within the cutscenes and in game respectively that help Jason's character progression and give cohesion to people who lack knowledge of what Empire was about. The plot overall is more on the side and although in this day and age of gaming it's a disadvantage, it's also a benefit because the game's intention is to get the user to digest the story by personal choice and really try to engage in the gameplay in which Shadow Complex is all about.

Following in the spirits of the aforementioned Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night and as well as some other adventure games such as Out Of This World (PC, 1991), it's all about exploration where the player can find new weapons, power-ups, and upgrades that can help destroy enemies easier, unlock new rooms, and find more of the 110 items throughout the game's large and detailed map. Some of these areas can only though be accessed through particular weapons including missiles and the extremely useful foam gun which can also freeze enemies in their position and can lead to explosive ends. Although linear in some senses especially trying to completely beat game the players can backtrack to any area of the complex and can search for any missing upgrades by using new gear and the bonuses in leveling up can extend the gamers' imagination in finding ways around and to even finding exploits. The first playthrough can encourage a scouring of every little duct or cave for the 100% completion achievement but it's all about playing it again to play with different variables. This is where the achievement system comes in where Shadow Complex features some by doing a specific action multiple times including kicking small robots named bombas and getting multiple headshots; but those can't compare to the non-pointed master challenges where it's a test to hardcore gamers to do such things as completing the game at 100% under three hours on Insane difficulty to finding the hilarious secret ending.

The campaign can last up to 6-10 hours within the first playthrough but as you get familiar with the complex it will be an easier time the second, third, and such times to a possible 30 minutes or less as some have found a way.

Besides the main campaign, there is also the Proving Grounds game mode where it helps new users to getting familiar and to master weapons and upgrades and test them with twenty-one different trials separated by seven trials in three packs with each getting difficult. It's addicting to get the platinum medals and to get high scores on the leaderboards even if trial and error can be very apparent in this mode. Practice makes perfect.

Running under Unreal Engine 3, Chair Entertainment provided an excellent job in making a detailed game for release on Xbox Live Arcade. From the natural woods to the artificial yet clean underground hallways, Chair made an interesting complex with variation all around as opposed to being constantly industrialized gray. Character models mostly looks attractive and detailed although not including Claire in some cases where she looks like a different person in every cutscene she is in; it might be the lighting or the angle of the shot but it feels so awkward looking at her after her first appearance. Supported with well-executed voice acting from everyone to the loud weapon sounds, the presentation is excellent especially in the Arcade field.

IGN Original Trailer of Shadow Complex

Playing in a 2D space, Shadow Complex mainly plays in the format where most enemies are in the foreground with some exceptions of where enemies for example enemies from the background and enter the fight. The player can get Jason to shoot them with the background auto aim feature using the right analog stick; it works but when trying to get a precise shot or at least getting a hit it's a challenge upon itself especially when the target is lethal.

You will start off with only a flashlight and will shortly get weapons to fight against strong enemies ranging from infantry soldiers to mechanized bipedal tanks in which some though can be easily defeated with reading hint pop-ups revealing their weak spot. If possible, you can eliminate them with instant kill close quarter combat but it can be deadly up close to especially at harder difficulties. Even on normal difficulty, the enemies can kill you within a few seconds if you don't find cover or kill them fast enough. Taking cover is one part of what makes Shadow Complex tactical as opposed to other side-scrollers. You can aim for headshots or if possible kill with obstacles including bombas, electical cables, or flaming vents. When you do kill people especially larger enemies, there is a sense of relief and the the urge to kill more especially with them having entertaining rag-doll death animations.

Even with a game like this, there are had to be issues. Running on Unreal Engine 3 there are some short comings including the common late texture loading and the motion blur in some cases can be distracting and makes the screen look unclear. There are some texture errors especially at the ending with 100% completion in which Jason has white hair with purple highlights as opposed to the regular black. Enemies sometimes don't see my presence unless I am very close to them or just fire a bullet in their general direction. Occassional rag-doll/environment collision glitching as well but that and the others are too minor when compare to the game's large amount of high priority advantages.

I will go off and say that Shadow Complex is an heir to its influences and brings new forms of gameplay to a new gaming audiences. Despite it's little shortcomings, Shadow Complex is a watershed and a forerunner for possible major projects to be made in Xbox Live Arcade. From the guys who made a very casual underwater game named Undertow (2007) to something big and amazing like this sold in a format mostly selling seemingly smaller formatted games, Chair Entertainment made the best Xbox Live Arcade game.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Burnt By The Sun - Heart Of Darkness

Always bet on Dave!
Drummer Dave Witte and vocalist Mike Olender quit Burnt By The Sun for a short time but returned to record one last ditch effort with the band before ending it once and for all. It's the swan songs for this act but I cannot say Dave=good music no matter fucking what even if his contribution to whatever band his takes part of is good. Heart of Darkness by Burnt By The Sun is great because it's great in what it delivers without being placed in a template of mainstream metalcore; although they almost reached that particular stage. For a couple of dynamic moments into the first song "Inner Station" you wouldn't be even thinking of metalcore anymore, you will think of awesome.

They are excellent in playing each of their respected instruments but what makes this final effort so heavy is the well placed hooks from all departments. Ranging from Coalesce to Discordance Axis (Dave was there!), they know how to make something catchy with the grooved up fuck you riffs on "There Will Be Blood" to the sweet short bursts of grind-y vocal and drumming on "Beacon". This reason alone garners an 8 but another important factor is the unpredictability as influences come all across while staying consistent and extreme. Every listen feels like I encountered something new which I might have missed before.

If I can find the song that sums up Heart is the first written track "Goliath" where it's follows fast and slow tempos with the multiple notions of good breakdowns with signs of AmRep noise rock followed by sludge and thrash with technical death metal tendencies within 3 minutes. If they can make so much brutality within that time frame while not sounding messy and filled with too much sounds everywhere, I know there is hope for newer bands doing the same.

The review might get you interested but it's all about the listen and BBTS's final album will destroy your ears; the non Metallica way.

FULL ALBUM STREAM - http://www.heartofdarkness.info/


Monday, August 17, 2009

Converge - No Heroes

The new Converge album (Axe To Fall) is coming October 20, 2009 and I had the idea to review previous albums of bands releasing new material in the future. I thought that it should start off with No Heroes.
Hard to challenge something considered a watershed album especially with Converge's case for Jane Doe that was the most honest emotional math roller coaster ride in hardcore to date which paved the way for a new generation of kids of both punk and metal to cross over. After years of touring all around the world post 9/11, they released You Fail Me which solidified their message that they still got the spirit and energy by doing what they do instead of trying to succeed the heavy reception of Jane Doe. It carries on to their 2006 album No Heroes with excellence and larger appreciation than ever before.

From "Heartache" through "To The Lions", Converge does the hot and heavy with riffs reminiscent of their extreme influences. The nihilistic thrashing on the titled song, the Cave In noisy prog rock tendencies on "Orphaned", and the post-metallic build ups of "Trophy Scars", they and the other 12 songs on the album deliver the goods with seemingly no effort done. Ben Kollar's drumming succeeds the math-y tendencies in Jane Doe with pure attack and focus which can even make the prog death drummers jealous. Jacob's completes the Converge circle with shouts the topics of sacrifice outside our home. He is skillfully relentless and loves being so.

Official music video of Converge's "No Heroes"

While entirely awesome, there are certain songs that are just entirely masterful and being the top songs on No Heroes. "Bare My Teeth" manages to put noise rock, jazz drumming, and thrash and sludge influenced hardcore riffs into two minutes which if it was longer, it would have been the most boring one available. As opposed to short and fast, there is the long epic "Grim Heart/Black Rose" where it's a journey into sadness of death and mourning filled with clean yet gloomy guitar and a great singing contribution by Only Living Witness vocalist Jonah Jenkins. It builds up to the quick and immediate punk mix of anger and sorrow where it suddenly dies down to no emotion. Converge no matter the focus of music they do, they know how to make great songs with enough content to avoid the shoegazy sleepy time of other bands and such.

Although it feels like a regression from Jane Doe and in most senses is, You Fail Me and especially No Heroes is supposed to say that's not the point for Converge of this time. Even if beneficial to follow what Jane Doe did and expand the mathcore sensibilities, Converge does excellent on doing what they do while trying to have some subtle left turns which is for the better. It's all about enjoying on what the have and indeed it's enjoyable!


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My Favorite Extreme Music Albums of 2009's First Half Part Two

5. Buried Inside - Spoils Of Failure
The thing that I really like about Spoils is that all the songs draws you into a universe that's bleak and to a land of no return influenced by the NeruIsis sound as opposed to relaxing in a dream state. Four years after Chronoclast, they have slowed down their obvious intensity to only present more of it subtly with the Roman numeraled songs where odd at first it says something in that Buried Inside's Spoils of Failure is meant to be listened wholly to witness the full firepower of this Ottawa doom and gloom band.

4. Cobalt - Gin
Experimental progressive black metal? It's not Norway's Enslaved but Colorado's Cobalt where only two people (with Sgt. Phil McSorley currently serving in Iraq) doing probably the best things by Opeth, Neurosis, and even Tool into one record about one special drink and the effects of being drunk. When digesting universally (music and artwork), the mysticism of Hemmingway and Thompson gets farther with contributions by Swans' Jarboe, the everlong silent poem, and the great campfire bonus song at the end (spoilers!).

3. Agoraphobic Nosebleed - Agorapocalypse
Split after split after split after split and so on... Drum machinegunners Agoraphobic Nosebleed hasn't released an album in years but did the splits without breaking any bones. After Scott Hull did his time with Pig Destroyer and his solo recordings, he got drone doomy Salome's Katherine to do some vocals along with commons Richard Johnson and Jay Randall to shout on a new form of ANb. Not super mother fucking high speed of messy grind but evolving to a more precise and tactical strikers with realistic drum programming, grooved up guitars, and shouters who want people to suck their dicks just like usual; sorry Kat!

2. Tombs - Winter Hours
Greatest surprise record of the year. Brooklyn shoegazy sludgified black metal Tombs makes a debut that's powerful mixing the wall of sound defined by My Bloody Valentine with the tempos of Neurosis and Darkthrone (especially Darkthrone) where sounds so fresh and warm. Hooky lines of chords and riffs played through by guitar Mike Hill and bassist Carson Daniel James like butter. Mike's vocals also make the awesome sound more awesome with his hollow chants of New York life. Wham bam thank you ma'am!

I have two number ones because they sound equally great in my ears!

1. Altar Of Plagues - White Tomb
Black metal is sometimes hard to digest to especially when it's in something along the lines of Xasthur but for some reason, Ireland's Altar Of Plagues rids of the problem and presents a new and attractive universe of the gloomy aggression to the dynamics of post-rock/metal. There is lyrical and musical sadness and anger against the industrialization of our world ridding of Europe's spring gentian flower especially in "Through The Collapse" arc where Altar Of Plagues presents a dead future without nature and hope that it returns to shine the Earth which these naturalists call the White Tomb.

1. Coalesce - Ox
More than ten years since their pre-first breakup album 0:12 Revolution In Just Listening, finally full length material which continues and expands on the influence of 1960s rock along with the element of spaghetti western soundtracks; not just musically but lyrically. Sean Ingram tells us first person stories of the wild west from long ago were Manifest Destiny was booming and there was trouble and loneliness in the new frontier (listen to "We Have Lost Our Will"). His shouts will intimidate even the bree-ist of folk. Although following in a more simpler tone, the music still is chaotic and unpredictable even with every listen because guitarist Jes and bassist Nathan make it so exciting to find out who is playing on which side! Let's not forget Junior who is a master at the craft of drumming in which without him, Ox would have been left for the crows.

Other great listens:
  • Believer - Gabriel
  • Graves Of Valor - Salarian Gate
  • Kylesa - Static Tensions
  • Victims - Killer

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Asphyx - Death... The Brutal Way

Of Fire & War

Mr. Martin Van Drunen has been every cool band that involved war especially taking part of the "supergroup" Hail Of Bullets who released their debut Of Frost & War. But a lot of people wants something new from Asphyx and thanks goodness it happened with Death... The Brutal Way and damn it's deadly in a brutal way (pun intended).

It starts by going full force and gets meaner by the second from slower doomy tempos to rapid headbanging beats shined on by very loud and detailed production. No audio track is left behind or muddied as everything is crisp from the dual guitar attack to even the drummer Bob's floor toms. The snappy attack is necessary for the material done by all of the current lineup of Asphyx. And with members of other excellent Holland bands, they bring their A game experience to Death....

Official music video of Asphyx's Death... The Brutal Way

Asphyx is not scared in making it faster or slower as all of the songs are filled with it but as opposed to something like deathcore where it's overused there is a balance of use and content delivered where it's sparingly presented while bringing the maximum effectiveness of what they have. Great example is the album-titled song (sans the ellipsis) "Death The Brutal Way" where it's the overall approach of what they are with fast unrelentless riffs with Martin's agonizing shout assault that's probably the best I heard from him since 1991's The Rack.

Even with Martin appearing on Death... I started with low expectations because I only listened to The Rack and felt afraid that the other albums might not reach the caliber with the debut album but they made Death... The Brutal Way an intensely awesome death metal album.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

My Favorite Extreme Music Albums of 2009's First Half Part One

It's August thus part of the second half of 2009 and I am late in making my top extreme metal/hardcore albums of 2009 from January to June. But whatever as it's still acceptable.

10. Brutal Truth - Evolution Through Revolution
More than 10 years since 1997's Sounds Of The Animal Kingdom, it's indeed a great return of blasting noisy and sometimes jazzy deathgrind thanks to the very rapid stylings of Richard Hoak while a bearded Kevin Sharp does the catchy aggressive vocals to Minutemen's "Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs". It helps relieve the strong efforts of Dan and Erik doing the outrageous riffs on Evolution.

9. Isis - Wavering Radiant
In short what Wavering Radiant is, a combination of the past (Celestial) and the recent (Oceanic - In The Absence Of Truth). Maintained by the experimental foundation used in the previous three records, it doesn't display redundancy as it has *drum roll* RIFFING! It's entertaining to see Isis try to expand by wisely regressing in some degrees to prevent being part of the NeruIsis syndrome and still remain a characteristic entity.

8. Napalm Death - Time Waits For Slave
Although redundancy is a bad thing, it can be a good thing when there great content behind the constituency. That's where Napalm Death comes in where they continue on their deathgrind glory in the vein of Scum and From Enslavement To Obliteration. It's still full force and Barney Greenway will shout at you no matter what you threaten him with.

7. Obscura - Cosmogenesis
Unless you give me Symbolic or Obscura, I will not really listen to technical death metal except for Obscura (of course the group) as they don't rely too much on technicality over catchy material as they use necessary balance to attract both audiences who loved the reunion of Gorguts or simply loves the old school.

6. Amesoeurs - Amesoeurs
It's something by Neige and what does it mean? Very attractive and warming melodies. Although Amesoeurs is not Alcest, it shares the same function but darkens the path with aggressive black metal with shoegazing similar to Brave Murder Day but kicks it up a notch with fast pieces like "Heurt". If you wanted clean singing in something frantic and hard, listen to Audrey's singing range and her patterns. Too bad we cannot have more after their immediate disbandment.

Other great listens:
  • War From A Harlots Mouth - In Shoals
  • Narrows - New Distances
  • Gallows - Grey Britain
  • Graf Orlock - Destination Time: Today
  • Pulling Teeth - Paranoid Delusions/Paradise Illusions
Part Two coming real soon.