Book Review: 2061 Odyssey Three

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Book Review 2061 Oddyssy ThreeArthur C. Clarke
Del Rey

Only Time is universal; Night and Day are merely quaint local customs found on those planets that tidal forces have not yet robbed of their rotation.

Arthur C. Clarke, creator of one of the world’s best-loved science fiction tales, revisits the most famous future ever imagined in this NEW YORK TIMES bestseller, as two expeditions into space become inextricably tangled. Heywood Floyd, survivor of two previous encounters with the mysterious monoliths, must again confront Dave Bowman, HAL, and an alien race that has decided that Mankind is to play a part in the evolution of the galaxy whether it wishes to or not.

It’s fascinating how generally recent the later books in the whole Space Odyssey series were produced. Usually, when I think of Arthur C. Clarke, I think of classic sci-fi produced in the 1950s and 60s, along with the other masters of the genre at the time. But, the fact is he kept busy throughout his life, with this third entry in the Space Odyssey series being published in 1987, back when I was in Middle School. As a matter of fact, I was gifted a mass paperback copy of 2061: Odyssey Three in 1988, and I recall reading the first few pages, getting bored, and moving on to something a bit more my speed at the time. As a matter of fact, I remember eventually donating it to my high school library without even continuing reading it. I just wasn’t much into science fiction at the time.

It wasn’t until much later, when I bought all four of the books from Half Price Books, that I began reading them all back-to-back. Eh, better than waiting ten or so years for a sequel for catch-up. You can finish one, and start on the next one while it’s still fresh in your plump, succulent brain.

Anyway, the story of 2061: Odyssey Three is set fifty-one years after the events of Odyssey Two, as well as sixty years after the events in the original book. Since then, Jupiter has become a mini-sun that was named Lucifer (because of course), and the moons have been transformed because of this. Specifically, Io has become a violently volcanic lump of magma, while Europa is an ocean world shrouded by clouds, and Ganymede is a temperate world that humans are beginning to colonize. Commercial travel in space between planets is now a thing, and a period of relative peace has been in place on Earth, with bits of civil unrest in South Africa. So, hooray for peace, I guess. Anyway, Dr. Heywood Floyd from the previous novels is now a permanent resident of a space hospital due to an accident that makes regular Earth-bound gravity rather bad for him, and has lived to be a bit over 100 years of age. He’s chosen to be one of the few to be part of a landing party on Halley’s Comet, which is making its way back ’round to our solar system again. Meanwhile, Dr. Floyd’s grandson is piloting a ship that’s going to do a fly-by of Europa (despite the constant alien warning of not doing so…kind of the intergalactic version of Keep Off The Grass), but then the ship is hijacked by a stewardess, forcing it to crash land into Europa’s ocean, stranding the surviving crew. So, now the ship that’s sight-seeing on Halley’s Comet is going in to rescue them; while they’re doing that, a few crew members on Europa decide to do a bit of sight-seeing for themselves, and come across not only a giant diamond mountain, but also another monolith lying on its side…and also the curious indigenous life forms of the planet that have evolved rather quickly since Jupiter became a mini-sun. The ship Dr. Floyd is on finally shows up and rescues them, while the giant diamond mountain sinks into the depths of Europa forever, and everyone lives happily ever after. Oh, and Dr. Heywood Floyd’s consciousness was duplicated by the monolith and lives inside it along with the consciousness of both Dr. Bowman and HAL from the other books, only with the real Dr. Floyd unaware of this. Then we get a glimpse of the year 3001. The end.

This third trip into the world that started with 2001 is…interesting. I mean, so far, with most of the rest of the series, this isn’t exactly the kind of science fiction that would make for edge-of-the-seat action; but, that was to be expected. There isn’t so much “conflict” as there are periods of inconveniences to the characters that give them time to further the hard science-y parts of the novel. Reading 2061 was a lot like watching a Discovery Channel space documentary program that happened to have characters and a subplot story, set in the near-ish future. With very vague alien implications. Overall, this third oddyssey poked my imagination a bit, but didn’t blow my mind as much as the first book did.



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war for the planet of the apes20th Century Fox

“I did not start this war. I offered you peace. I showed you mercy. But now you’re here. To finish us off…for good.”

Caesar and his apes are forced into a deadly conflict with an army of humans led by a ruthless colonel. After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind. As the journey finally brings them face to face, Caesar and the colonel are pitted against each other in an epic battle that will determine the fate of both their species and the future of the planet.

So, here we are now, with what I’m assuming is the final Planet Of The Apes prequels. It’s been a rather interesting journey, one that was surprisingly very good as an overall bunch of movies that took the concept of the classic original and managed to build up the mythos of how it all started without making it suck. I was rather anxious to see this installment, as things were going to come to a head, and anything with “War” in the title is expected to be awesome in and of itself. Oh, and something about finishing up Caesar’s story arc. Anyway, was War Of The Planet Of The Apes worth the wait? I’ll get to that, but first…

In the third of the (so far) trilogy in the Planet Of The Apes prequels, most of humanity has succumbed to the Simian Flu pandemic, and now the intelligent apes and the remaining humans live in peace and harmony with one another, bringing about a post-industrial utopia. I almost managed to type that all out with a straight face, there. Juuuuust kidding. Instead, while the apes are just trying to go on with their lives, they just can’t seem to stop being pestered by us humans, always sending in heavily armed military types to wipe out the apes with weapons and stuff. Caesar, the ape that was named after a salad and was raised by James Franco (and also the leader of the apes or something), experiences a particularly bloody battle that sees casualties on both human and apes sides, and decides to send a message back to the leader of the human military in the form of four of his soldiers, not dead and in one piece, back with the message of “would you lighten up, man?” However, this particular colonel (who is just named “The Colonel” here) happens to take his leadership inspiration from Colonel Kurtz, as in he’s rather bat-guano insane and will not stop at anything to wipe out the apes and preserve the human race, and goes in that night to assassinate Caesar in his sleep. Only, he didn’t really get Caesar, but he did kill his wife and son. This, of course, kicks off Caesar’s epic journey to find and confront The Colonel, giving all the other apes a chance to escape to beyond the mountains for a more peaceful settlement in the desert lands. Along the way, Caesar and the three other apes that wouldn’t take no for an answer with tagging along make some rather disconcerting discoveries, one of which involves the gradual devolving of the humans to a more primitive state. By the time they catch up to the army of The Colonel, it looks very dark and grim for the apes, and Caesar has to confront, not only his human enemy, but also his own heart of darkness. See what I did there?

I’m just going to come out and say it: War For The Planet Of The Apes is the best movie out of the three prequels that were produced. This movie is dark, it’s complected, and has so much going for it beyond just a bunch of apes thinks they’re people and start their own society. That reference up there to The Heart of Darkness wasn’t just a throwaway thing (although, there is a blatant Apocalypse Now reference in the movie itself that had me groan a bit, but it’s near the end so it’s okay). The story manages to bring a depth to all of the characters, both ape and human, so that neither side is a mere caricature of Good or Evil, but you can actually understand the struggles on both sides, so there’s no clear-cut villain or hero. Woody Harrelson was fantastic as The Colonel, keeping from going completely over-the-top and managing to make the character chilling as well as commanding. The battle scenes were very much intense and gritty–make no mistake, this is a war movie, like Full Metal Jacket or Platoon, and by the time the movie ends there’s a sense of melancholy mixed in with the hope for the new dawn that breaks.

If it sounds like I’m gushing over a simple little sci-fi flick about talking apes…well, I’m sorry you missed the point of the series. The original Planet Of The Apes was great subversive sci-fi, and these prequels went along way to keep the spirit of the originals. If you’re avoiding War For The Planet Of The Apes because all you’ve seen was that Tim Burton 2001 remake, then you’re missing out completely. Highly recommended.


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beyond the gatesIFC Midnight

After their father’s unexplained disappearance, two estranged brothers reunite to sift through the contents of his stubbornly anachronistic VHS rental store. Among the inventory, they find an old interactive VCR board game. Intrigued, the brothers pop in the tape…and soon discover that this video is no ordinary game, but a portal to a nightmarish alternate reality: one with deadly consequences for anyone who dares to press play.

Like a lot of horror flicks I come across, I heard about Beyond The Gates by way of other online reviewers. There are some whose word of mouth have more weight than that of the professional movie reviewers everyone else listens to. In this case, it was a vlog by the Horror Guru and Count Jackula on You Tube where they gave Beyond The Gates a rather enthusiastic thumbs-up, calling it a great love letter to the 1980s style of horror movies. And since I am a child of the 80s and remember those horror flicks rather fondly, that was enough to send me out to watch Beyond The Gates.

The story involves two estranged brothers, sons of a video store owner who disappeared mysteriously, who are begrudgingly reunited to clean out the video store they grew up with to sell the property, due to their father being missing long enough to be considered not returning at least. One of the boys is fairly straight-laced if not a bit uptight, while the other is the wild child, getting drunk and essentially being the cooler of the two. Anyway, due to them both going through the memories of the store and staying at their childhood home, they bond a bit…and then stumble across an old VHS board game called Beyond The Gates that may or may not have something to do with the disappearance of their father. So, they begin playing, and weird things begin happening: the host of the video seems to be talking directly to the players specifically and knows about their father, certain portholes begin appearing inside the house, and then there’s the gruesome results of the side quests they’re sent on. All the while you have to wonder, are they going to succeed in getting their father back, or are they merely unleashing a literal hell on earth?

You know, thinking back, while I remember quite a few stories and some movies/television episodes involving a haunted game of some sort, I can’t recall any that dealt with a cursed VHS board game. Having never really played one of those kind of board games before, I don’t really know the dynamics of engaging in the game. But, that’s beyond the point, really. What Beyond The Gates boils down to is a fun, dark, spooky horror flick that, honestly, could have fallen flat on its face in the delivery, but managed to make things charming and effective throughout. The acting is passable, yes, and it takes a bit to get going. But when it does, it has some rather nifty fun with the ride.

Overall, Beyond The Gates is a fun, low-budget B-Movie horror flick that doesn’t pretend to be anything but that. I enjoyed this greatly, and thinking this can be paired up with a double head with the 1986 cheese classic The Gate some night.

Movie Review: The DARK TOWER

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the dark towerColumbia Pictures

“It’s a hotdog.”
“Savages. What breed?”

Roland Deschain, the last Gunslinger, is locked in an eternal battle with Walter O’Dim, also known as the Man in Black. The Gunslinger must prevent the Man in Black from toppling the Dark Tower, the key that holds the universe together. With the fate of worlds at state, two men collide in the ultimate battle between good and evil.

The Dark Tower. What started off as a series of short stories collected together into a small novel, that suddenly exploded into an epic western/dark fantasy/sci-fi saga of the last Gunslinger in a world that has moved on, questing to find the Dark Tower, the nexus that holds the multi-verse realities together, a quest that is not only personal, but also to protect and save it from being destroyed by the Crimson King. Along the way, he travels to different dimensions, meeting others who would join him on his quest, as they make their way to the ultimate goal. It is a saga that is held in as almost as much regard as The Lord Of The Rings, with fans that are just as passionate about the books and other adaptations and lore.

They made a movie about it, now. I’m pretty sure you may have noticed by now, but yeah. After what seems to be decades of trying to bring it to the big screen, it’s finally happened. And, after a week or so having to wait due to scheduling issues, I finally watched it with some key members of the Coven of Exalted Geeks.

I will pause right now to say that, in case you’re just reading this, and haven’t gotten around to checking out my book reviews, I am what you would call a Stephen King Constant Reader, and have been since I was 14. I’ve also read all of the Dark Tower novels, and some of the comics as well. So, yeah. Dark Tower nerd, here. Anyway…

One more time around the wheel, I guess: So, there’s this tween-ager named Jake Chambers who, for a number of years now, has been having these really detailed dreams involving a mysterious man in black (not Johnny Cash, I’m afraid) trying to destroy an even more mysterious dark tower, while being pursued by a gun-slinging cowboy. This “gun-slinger”, if you will, is seeking revenge, because the man in black, it turns out, killed a bunch of people with magicks, including the gunslinger’s father. Little Jake has been drawing pictures of these dreams and more, and everyone things that he’s a bit…insane because of this, including his mom and step-father. That’s why they decide to send Jake off to a special retreat for crazy kids. Only, the people from the retreat who show up aren’t really people, so Jake parkours his way to freedom and goes to a house he dreamed about and activates a portal that takes him to Mid-Wolrd, the home of the real-life gunslinger. And also the guy in black. He meets up with the Gunslinger, and they go on a journey to find the man in black’s hideout, where he’s taking kidnapped children that have psychic powers to use to topple the Dark Tower, to stop him. Along the way, they make a pit-stop back in New York to stock up on bullets and a certain soda brand they couldn’t get the license for, so they couldn’t show the logo or say the name out loud.

Oh, there was a lot of nerd rage over this movie. Not as ridiculous levels as with the 2016 Ghostbusters movie; there was quite a bit, though, some of which I overheard going out of the theater after the movie. But, this is my review of the movie, and thus you will have my not-so-humble opinion on this movie. And remember, as I mentioned earlier, I’ve been a long-time Constant Reader of Stephen King’s work, and have also read the entire original saga of books and hold them as kind of my Lord of the Rings. Ready? Deep breath, here, aaaaaaand…

…I rather enjoyed The Dark Tower. No, really. I did. I went in knowing that they weren’t trying to adapt the books–because, really, that would have been nigh impossible, even if you got Peter Jackson in his prime in on things–but essentially do a continuation of the books. Really, even Stephen King himself mentioned that this wasn’t an adaptation attempt, but kind of a sequel to the books. I don’t want to go into the details, but if you’ve read the entirety of the saga, you know why I’m saying this. Also, it’s been documented by the makers of the movie that this was the intention. As such, there were elements that were lifted from all of the books–and some other Stephen King books outside of the Dark Tower universe proper–that have been included here and there, with more of a focus on Jake’s perspective of the story rather than Roland. And yes, I was nerdy enough to pick out the easter eggs abounding.

Beyond that, though, as a movie in and of itself, I would have to say that The Dark Tower was much more enjoyable than most of the reviews I’ve come across have made it out to be. I found it to be a rather well-made, well-acted, gorgeously shot western fantasy with a creamy sci-fi center that entertained me for the surprisingly tight 90 minute run time. Because, if anything had the right to go over the 2-hour limit, it would have been this. But, the filmmakers showed restraint, and it helped things out in that area. Idris Elba was the perfect choice to play Roland Deschain, as he managed to emote more with his eyes to give that haunted look needed for the character. And what can I say, but Matthew McConaughey nailed it as the Man In Black, the evil known as…Walter. Okay, you can probably laugh at that, but that’ll be the last thing you’d do. The guy can charm you one second, and then chill you to your spine the next, all while never changing cadence or going over the top. That said, he may have been underused. The action scenes are probably where you’re going to get the majority of the groans, especially if you have even a rudimentary grasp on basic physics. But, with just a bit of strength to the suspension of disbelief, you still get some very action-packed scenes mixed in with your dark fantasy, here. And I do believe the movie’s best part happens when Deschain arrives in New York City. Some fish-out-of-water comedy to flavor things up.

Overall, yeah, there were some flaws to this iteration of The Dark Tower. I wasn’t happy with how easily the resolution at the end happened. But, when it was all said and done, The Dark Tower managed to entertain me, and did so without feeling the need to cram something happening at every moment of its run time. It was a rather satisfying blended genre flick that, honestly, I hope they make more of the story. Even in television form, which I think would work better overall. But, we shall see if survives the whiners. For me, this is recommended, more of a matinee, but definitely on the big screen if you can.


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kingdom of the spidersDimension Pictures

“Well, that would explain Spider Hill…”

When a local farmer’s prize calf dies mysteriously, Verde Valley veterinarian Robert “Rack” Hanson makes a startling discovery: Blood test point to massive does of spider venom as the cause of death. Flagstaff entomologist Dr. Ashley begins to fear that DDT has so depleted the spiders food supply that, to survive, they have begun hunting different prey…local livestock and pets, which are increasingly in short supply. Soon, the deadly spiders turn on the human population of the dusty Arizona town–overrunning the streets and killing anyone in their pat! Rack and the others barricade themselves at the local lodge, but there may be no escape.

In the 1970s, there was an explosion of horror and science fiction exploitation movies based on nature running amok. These movies ranged from the very memorable (Jaws, for instance) to the ridiculous (Night Of The Lepus, anyone?), with the quality of most being on the micro-budget variety.

Also happening during the 1970s was a still young and hungry William Shatner, just off of the soon-to-be science fiction juggernaut Star Trek, having a bit of trouble finding work because of this. He was taking strings of roles in forgettable films and some bit parts in television series at the time, but nothing really took off during that decade (the magic that was T. J. Hooker wasn’t to be until 1982). As it happens, one of these rolls he was fated to take in the decade that gave us bad fashion as well as other questionable tastes was for the ultra-low budget made-for-TV naturesploitation movie Kingdom Of The Spiders.

I was all of five, maybe six years of age when I first watched a bit of the television commercial advertising a rerun of Kingdom Of The Spiders back in 1979. It featured a shot from the movie itself from inside of a duster plane, the pilot freaking out because his lap was full of SPIDERS! This, of course, blew this 6-year-old’s mind, and I had to watch this movie. But, alas, it was not meant to be, as my parents reasoned that it was on well past my bedtime, and it would also give me nightmares. Fair enough. Fortunately, this particular bit if kitsch was kept alive by way of frequent reruns on the USA Network and the home video market. This was even given its own anniversary edition through Shout! Factory on DVD not too long ago. But, I’m getting ahead of myself, here.

So, here we have Shatner as a rural veterinarian in Arizona doing what rural veterinarians do best: Rope up and vaccinate cattle on the range, and then do the same to the lovely ladies who assist him with it. Soon, though, one of the local farmer’s calves suddenly gets sick and dies; after the calf’s blood is analyzed, it is determined that it was a large dose of spider venom that killed it, and not some kind of plague that the farmer was fearing. Or the mayor of the community, for that matter, because there was that big fair that’s coming up, and tens of…people are expected to show from all around for whatever reason. And there’s nothing that’s going to stop that blast of revenue. Then the fancy big city scientist gal comes to the area, and–between advances from the manly veterinarian–discover that the local tarantula population are teaming up to take down the livestock because presumably their food source has been decimated by DDT over-saturation. Of course, it’s a matter of time before “humans” find themselves on the menu, and when the spiders start swarming more and more, despite everyone’s efforts to contain the little nightmarish abominations, everyone who hasn’t died from the spider bites yet find themselves trapped in a lodge with no way to escape. Will they make it through the night? Eh, probably. But the day after’s gonna suck. And no, that wasn’t an attempt at a pun, there…

Kingdom Of The Spiders is, from the standpoint of someone who revels in this kind of bad low-budget movie watchin’, bad enough to make it fun, but kind of meanders into boring territory in a few places. That’s probably due to the fact that it was produced as a TV movie special, and didn’t feature a lot of graphic violence (just a bunch of shots of spiders and reaction shots of the victims, all the crashes and such were off screen) with action that wasn’t too intense, with some of the most wholesome dialogue this side of a Little House On The Prairie episode. The acting is delightfully cheesy, and I have to admit that William Shatner’s performance was kind of subdued, compared to past roles I’ve seen him in. And the big “shock reveal” ending tried to go for that Twilight Zone type twist, but really made me giggle and applaud. Well done, movie. Well done.

So, overall, I would have to say that Kingdom Of The Spiders is highly recommended watchin’ for that cheese-tastic flavor that you can only get from the 1970s. It hasn’t aged well, but that’s part of the charm, really.

Book Review: The HARLAN ELLISON COLLECTION: I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream

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I have no mouth and i must screamHarlan Ellison
Ace Books

Slowly but surely I am assimilating eBooks into my reading habit. Not that I’m fully converted to the digital style of reading a book; I’m still very much old-school when it comes to that, I can assure you. But, even I have to admit that there are some advantages to reading something electronically. Like when you’re on a rather long download at work, and can access the ebook account there for some quality reading time while you’re waiting for that dial-up download to go through. Seriously, in this day and age, why do are there still dialups going on?

Anyway, one of the ebooks I purchased was this nifty thing featuring seven short stories by science fiction icon Harlan Ellison. Mostly because for years I’ve been hearing about how the title story was one of the more haunting and scary pieces of science fiction horror written. But, also as kind of a taster for the author himself, as I wasn’t really all that familiar with Ellison, beyond his reputation of not being able to play well with others. Also, he wrote a classic episode of Star Trek TOS. Here are the stories and my thoughts on ’em:

“I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream”
…the classic story of a sentient computer that came self-aware during World War III and killed off all of humanity, save for five, which it (he?) keeps alive for the simple reason to torture them throughout the centuries. I have to admit, this is a very haunting and nihilistic post apocalyptic tale, very effective. Just the way I like it. I can see why this is loved in the Science Fiction community.

“Big Sam Was My Friend”
…a sad tale of an intergalactic circus performer that was put to death due to his interruption of a virgin sacrifice. Also, he can teleport. Also, his circus chums let it happen due to business. It’s quite bittersweet, really.

“Eyes Of Dust”
…on a planet of perfect beauty, the “ugly” couple have a kid equally as ugly, and it doesn’t sit well with the Normals. This one is rather brief, and I get the feeling that there could have been more explored within the context of the story, but it just kind of escalates quickly and then ends.

“World of the Myth”
…three space-faring explorers crash-land on a planet, and while waiting for their rescue ship to arrive, have a run-in with an indigenous species of insects. And yes, wackiness ensues. This one kind of reminded me of a variation of the Outer Limits episode “The Sandkings”, with the insects that are more than what we would perceive them as. Or, more to the point, as they would perceive us as.

…a divorced man slowly goes insane. It doesn’t end well, as you may have deduced by now. Very bleak, very melancholy. Also, it makes me question my desire to not remain single for the entirety of my life.

“Delusion for a Dragon Slayer”
…an average man living a mundane existence happens to be a mere few minutes late on his usual routine and is crushed by a wrecking ball…and that’s when the adventure begins. This was more a straight fantasy, like one of the Dreamland tales of H. P. Lovecraft, with a rather melancholy ending. Not too bad, this.

“Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes”
…a down-on-his-luck guy uses his last literal dollar on a slot machine in Vegas, and begins to win big; the reason of which involves the ghost of a lady that died playing that very slot six months prior.

I have to admit, I had no idea of what to expect when first taking in the stories. It turns out that Ellison’s style is really more of a blend of science fiction, some fantasy and horror, with everything marinated heavily in dark existential nihilism. It’s kind of like Philip K. Dick without the mental illness, and just jaded and grumpy. Which is what I dig. Also, his introductions are insightful, yes, but also a riot.

As a first timer checking out his work, I found this collection to be more than beneficial. I was rather sad that it ended so soon, really. Highly recommended to check out.

Music Review: SKALD IN VEUM – 1260 Days

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skald in veum - 1260 daysSKALD IN VEUM
1260 Days
Rottweiler Records

For the most part, the first thing that pops to one’s mind when you say Black Metal would be Norway. That’s the traditionally thought-of birth place of one of the most extreme of the metal genres, naturally. But the spores of the genre inevitably took root in various other countries, and soon we saw Black Metal bands, as well as Black Metal-influenced bands, popping up in the most curious of places. Swedish Black Metal, however, seemed rather inevitable. And that’s my little way of seguing into talking about this release by Swedish Black Metal band Skald In Veum.

After forming in 2013, they released this EP–1260 Days–in 2015 through Rottweiler Records, both in the physical CD format and as a digital download. Whichever format you go with, 1260 Days is a fantastic just short of 30 minutes of harsh, unrelenting old-school Black Metal that’s well worth the money spent for this.

After your standard brief ambient intro featuring ravens cawing with a storm brewing in the background, the first proper cut from the release, “Drunk With Tainted Blood”, rips into your earholes, slaying your auditory senses with shredding riffs and face-melting blastbeats, intermixed with bone-chilling croak-shriek vocals that let up only briefly to hit you with some slow, thick and dark doom progression. For the entirety of the EP, all of the songs on here–including “Inferno”, “Eden Raped”, “Until My Head Rolls” and “Siaren”–maintains this style of Black Metal, with a strong early Dark Funeral vibe, with a bit of a Death Metal influence that shows up once in a while, especially with the lower register of the vocalist. Not that it’s a bad thing, mind; it adds a bit of texture to the scope of the music. The production is good, and the music is tight, lending itself to a very, very enjoyable listening experience from the get-go. Overall, I would say that 1260 Days was well worth your time checking out. Here’s hoping for more from the band in the future.

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