Music Review: TAKING THE HEAD OF GOLIATH – Taking The Head Of Goliath

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taking the head of goliathTAKING THE HEAD OF GOLIATH
Taking The Head Of Goliath
Rottweiler Records
2018

Since teasing us with a live EP last year, the big expectation for this year was more or less the release of Taking The Head Of Goliath’s first proper studio recording. Also released on the Rottweiler Records label, their self-titled EP was released very recently, and being the dutiful metalhead that I am, I immediately purchased the download, and loaded it up in my media player to give it a listen or two. Or five. You know, to see if the wait and the hype was worth it.

My answer to that last part is GREAT GOOGLY-MOOGLY, this is freaking awesome.

After starting off with a brief kind of ambient instrumental named “Of Sin And Death”, which is mostly keys, synths and some percussion, the EP really rips into your earholes with “Oblivious Into Oblivion”, a straight-forward oldschool gutchurning Death Metal cut that sets to tone with what to expect. “The Expulsion Of Putrid Illusion” is face-blasting grinding with a great riff, while “Trenches” has a good groove with a start-n-stop rhythm going before settling into the standard Death Metal awesomeness. “This Present Darkness” — not a cover of the Deliverance song, in case you’re wondering (but you would know that already if you had the live EP) — is another straight-forward, grinding cut with a blasting brutal riff; “Audacity To Inspire” has kind of a deathcore riff going, then settles into a good hook; the final cut, “Unearthed / Iniquity’s End”, is a cover of the Crimson Thorn classic, ending the EP on a very high note.

Overall, Taking The Head Of Goliath is a brief yet very satisfying blast of much-needed heavy-duty Death Metal. I wouldn’t really call this Crimson Thorn 2.0, as there are some strives to get their own identity, but this does fill in a gap that was left when Crimson Thorn went on hiatus. Taking The Head Of Goliath has cemented me as a fan of the group. This release is highly recommended.

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Movie Review: ANT MAN AND THE WASP

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ant man and the waspMarvel / Disney
2018
PG-13

“You can do it. You can do anything. You’re the world’s greatest grandma.”

The third Marvel-based movie for this year (I’m counting Deadpool 2, even though it wasn’t a Disney-generated Marvel movie), and this one is a sequel to 2015’s Ant Man.

While I surprisingly enjoyed the first Ant Man, it still was what you would call a stand-alone, almost filler type of movie that Marvel put out. And while the response was positive, and the inclusion of the character in Captain America: Civil War was supremely satisfying, the sequel wasn’t exactly something I was counting down the days to go watch. Still, I was looking forward to watching this with the Exalted Geeks. We did so on the Sunday after it opened, instead of the Saturday, which is our normal modus operandi for doing these; the reason being is that everyone was at the Shakespeare On The Green in Omaha that Saturday, so we just shifted to Sunday. Anyway…

After a flashback involving the original Wasp, Janet van Dyne, getting lost into the Quantum Realm while taking down a nuclear missile, we come across the former second Ant Man, Scott Lang, having some bonding time with his daughter at his place of residence. He’s been on house arrest since the events in Captain America: Civil War, and is nearing the end of his sentence indoors. Then one afternoon, he has a dream where he was Janet van Dyne playing hide-and-seek with her daughter, and so he leaves a message on Hank Pym’s phone, which leads to Scott getting kidnapped by Pym and Hope van Dyne to help triangulate the location of Janet so they can mount a rescue mission. Only, there’s the issue of Scott’s house arrest and the possibility of him spending 20 more years in the slammer if he’s caught, as well as both a black market tech dealer and this phase-shifting thief that goes by Ghost that’s making things a bit more complicated with the rescue mission.

Ant Man And The Wasp was a very enjoyable movie, with the standard breathtaking action bits, some mind-blowing sequences in the Quantum Realm, and just the right amount of comedy mixed in at the right places. The scenes between Scott Lang and his daughter was touching and quite believable, with Scott trying to explain why doing the right thing isn’t always the easiest thing to do, especially when it seems his loved ones always get punished as well. The inclusion of Laurence Fishburne was fantastic, as he could fill the part of someone who would conceivably go toe-to-toe against the likes of Hank Pym. Of course, the best scene in the entire movie goes to the interrogation of Luis, a favorite of mine since the first Ant Man movie. Every scene he’s in is gold. Pure gold. He needs to be in the upcoming Avengers movie next May, if he wasn’t one of the casualties of Thanos’ elimination of half of the universe’s population, that is.

Overall, Ant Man And The Wasp was a highly enjoyable comic book action flick. It doesn’t add to the overall grand arc that Marvel has been building for the past ten years, but it’s a nice brick in the wall. Recommended for a matinée, at least.

Music Review: ATOMIC OPERA – For Madmen Only

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atomic opera for madmen onlyATOMIC OPERA
For Madmen Only
Giant Records
1994

Sometime in the early 1990s, from the same state that spawned King’s X and the Galactic Cowboys, came the band Atomic Opera. Over the years, I knew of the band, yes, seeing their releases in record shops and the music sections in the big box type stores throughout the years. But, I never really checked them out, despite the accolade they were getting from musician friends of mine. So, one afternoon recently, while doing some used CD hunting, I came across Atomic Opera’s debut release from 1994, For Madmen Only. So I bought it. Then I listened to it.

Why did no one tell me about this album? Especially back in 1994, when good, heavy hard rock with metal undertones part of the whole Grunge era was dying out along with their patron Saint Kurt Cobain.

It’s important that I bring up the whole Grunge aspect, here. Because, while taking in For Madmen Only, I was struck by the fact that, while Atomic Opera shared the same progressive style as King’s X and the Galactic Cowboys — tight, Beatle-esque harmonies, complex yet catchy melodies and hooks — the music on this release seems to draw heavily from the Facelift-era Alice In Chains and Louder Than Love-era Soundgarden — and hits you with a good foundation of thick, heavy guitar riffs and brooding pacing on most of the cuts.

The two standout cuts for me are the opener “Joyride”, which features a very heavy, thick guitar hook and a driving pace, and “War Drum”, which bit more progressive with a Holy Water-era Bad Company vibe going on. But really, the entire album itself is just a solid, track after track collection of heavy hard rock with a bit of a progressive streak. Songs like “Justice”, “Achille’s Heel”, “I Know Better”, “All Fall Down”, and “Blackness” feature some of the heaviest guitars I’ve heard, melded with some tight harmonies and set to a brooding but straight-forward pace, with vocals that complement the sound without resorting to a shiny production varnish. “December” is about as close you’re going to get to a power ballad, but it’s definitely not the run-of-the-mill radio friendly sappy variety. The final two tracks, “This Side Of The Rainbow” and “New Dreams” lean a bit to the psychedelic side of things, but still maintain that heavier vibe, with “New Dreams” being its longest and proggiest cut on the album.

Overall, For Madmen Only was a very pleasant discovery, getting some good, quality hard rock that wasn’t just a clone of the modern rock style that was clogging the airwaves of rock radio at the time. To think I’m just now discovering this after all this time. For those fans of the Galactic Cowboys’ Machine Fish and Long Way Back To The Moon releases, check this one out most definitely.

Book Review: STRANGE WEATHER

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joe hill strange weatherJoe Hill
William Morrow
2017

Joe Hill’s follow-up to his fantastic novel The Fireman is a collection of four novellas, titled Strange Weather. Of course, being a fan of Joe Hill, I purchased my copy of Strange Weather the same week it was released. But, in kind of a first, I got my copy as an e-book through Google Play. Not that this will become the future standard for my literary indulgences, mind you. Just went with this format for kicks and giggles.

So, four short novels collected in one binding. Let’s dive in and see what came out of Joe Hill’s brain droppings, shall we?

  • “Snapshot”

A successful middle-aged man reminisces back to the summer of 1988, where he runs into a creepy guy with a camera you really don’t want to have your picture taken with.

This was a pretty taught thriller with an object that seems to call back to the Stephen King novella “The Sun Dog” from the Four Past Midnight collection. But, “Snapshot” is far from a rip of that story. The two feature instant cameras that do weird stuff, and that’s where the similarities end. The camera in “Snapshot” is far more sinister. The story also manages to be emotionally wrenching, with the theme of losing your identity and saying goodbye to your past. I also found myself empathizing with the main protagonist, as I too was the fat young teenager back in ’88. What a year. No creepy gangly old men with cameras, though. That I know of.

  • “Loaded”

A disgraced mall security guard shoots and kills the jilted mistress of another mall store manager, a Muslim woman and her infant son shee was carrying, and a young man who witnessed the incident, thinking it was all a terrorist attack. He’s hailed as a hero of the community, everyone praising him, including his estranged wife and young son. Until a reporter from the local paper starts digging for the truth, and the “hero” finally snaps under all the pressure.

“Loaded” is one of those super tense thrillers where the real life terror depicted in the story is only amplified by the real life horror that plays out on the news at home, with shootings seemingly on the rise. Hill did a rather good job with making the antagonist nunced and sympathetic to a point; though in no way do you really side with him, as what they’re doing is despicable, but you can kinda see where he’s coming from. Overall, a very good story that rather pissed me off with the ending, there. Well done, sir. Well done.

  • “Aloft”

A young man’s first attempt at skydiving, to honor the wishes of a friend that died of cancer, results in him getting stuck on a cloud that’s not really a cloud (at least, it doesn’t act like actual clouds do…which is an understatement), and he’s stuck trying to figure out how to get down, and the cloud doesn’t seem to want to let him go.

The fun thing about speculative fantasy fiction is the taking of an otherwise absurd-sounding concept, and spinning it into a yarn that makes it work. “Aloft” does just that, with a concept that sounds more like a comic strip gag — a guy skydives and gets stuck on a cloud. Joe Hill takes this and makes it right engrossing, giving things a nice mystery surrounding his situation, as well as working out some relationship issues.

  • “Rain”

One afternoon in Boulder, Colorado, it begins raining razor-sharp crystalline shards that kills or seriously wounds anyone caught outside in it. This includes the girlfriend of our story’s protagonist, who, soon after the first freak storm, sets out on foot to Denver to try and find her girlfriend’s father to inform him of his wife and daughter’s tragic demise from the freak storm, and try to make heads or tails of what’s going on, and try to survive.

In a note in the afterwards portion of this book, Joe Hill admits to writing “Rain” as kind of a satire of his own post-apocalyptic novel The Fireman. Maybe I’m not smart enough to get the satire part; it’s probably too subtle for a meathead like myself to notice the first time reading. I do, however, recall reading a story in a collection of youth-oriented science fiction stories back in grade school, one that involved a kid playing outside on a planet his human family have settled on, and almost getting caught in a flash storm that rained sharp crystals from the clouds, much like in this one. Only, that story wasn’t as nuanced or, you know, set on Earth as “Rain” is. A lot more plot, a lot more character development, and…well, let’s just say this is probably the best kind of kooky cult types you want to be stuck next to. Give or take singing Genesis songs in the middle of the night.

Once again, Strange Weather manages to solidify Joe Hill as one of my top favorite genre writers in the past ten years. He has one of the most fertile imaginations I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing, and this collection is further proof of that. Highly engrossing, time seems to just fly by as I read this. Highly recommended, this.

Movie Review: The CLEANSE

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the cleanseVertical Entertainment
2016
R

Hey, do you remember Darlene’s boyfriend/husband from the original run of the television series Rosanne? You know, the kind-of whiny, passive-aggressive guy with the weird hair? Yeah, I may be dating myself somewhat. Let me try that again: Hey, do you know that guy from the Big Bang Theory? I don’t know if he’s dating or married to anyone on the show, as I don’t watch it. But, the guy with the hair? And used to be on Rosanne? The actor’s name is Johnny Galecki, if that helps. Yeah, that guy. He happens to star in this movie here, The Cleanse.

Like a lot of horror-esque movies that are not exactly on the beaten path, I learned of The Cleanse by way of the Who Goes There? podcast (one of the few horror podcasts worth your attention, you should check them out), which recently featured an episode talking about this movie. It piqued my interest enough to check it out myself. Also, I used the phrase “horror-esque” earlier, because this is really more of a comedy fantasy drama that has a bit of horror in it. Meaning, it’s a gender-bending movie that is essentially the first full-length movie made by writer/director Bobby Miller.

So, what we have with The Cleanse is a story about a man (Galecki) who can’t seem to get out of a downward spiral his life took after getting stood up at the altar and losing his job. He comes across a late-night television ad for a retreat that promises to help those who are chosen to participate. After being chosen (of course he would, otherwise this would be a very short, very pointless movie), he arrives at the resort, along with the other three that were picked, where they all drink four jars each of some kind of cleansing liquid tailor-made just for them. After drinking these, three of the four vomit up odd slug-like critters that remind me of that catapiller-dog thing from House 2, which manage to be both horrible and adorably cute at the same time. They’re told that the creatures are the physical manifestations of all the toxic emotions and anxiety that has built up over the course of their lives, and part of the cleanse is putting the creatures to death by their own hands. The problem is, it seems that everyone who had–for lack of a better word–given birth to these things have bonded with them, so going through with the final phase of the cleanse is a bit harder than it sounds. Which, considering these things are growing and developing a kind of nasty bitey-bitey thing, might be a problem very soon.

Overall, I found The Cleanse to be an interesting mish-mash of sorts, blending together the aforementioned genres into something that works more as a dramady if collaborated with David Cronenberg. The movie isn’t bad, but then again you don’t get a lot of reason to care about the characters enough to really get invested in the story. Galecki seems to have one defining character trait in his acting: milquetoast, and his character in this movie does nothing to change that. The boyfriend/girlfriend couple are totally wasted, two-dimensional characters that seemed superfluous to the overall story. They could have been cut all together, and it would have taken nothing away from the story. As you can probably guess, the two big names on this — Anjelica Huston and Oliver Platt — are underutilized, but great when they get their miniscule screentime.

The Cleanse, when all is said and done, is just meh. It feels half-baked, but it does have its moments. The critter effects were just darned cute. But, if you’re wanting a less cerebral, less graphic type of horror blend like The Cure For Wellness, The Cleanse may be just for you.

Music Review: DANIEL AMOS – Fearful Symmetry

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da-fearfulsymmetryDANIEL AMOS
Fearful Symmetry
Alarma
1986

The seventh studio album by Daniel Amos, and the fourth and final instalment in the !Alarma! Chronicles, Fearful Symmetry is also the first Daniel Amos album to feature the shortened DA form of the band’s name. A vast collection of useless information, that’s me.

The tone of Fearful Symmetry was a bit darker than the previous releases (although, the band could venture out into darker territory on the previous albums easily enough), utilizing a synthesizer-driven sound with lyrics that deals with pain and darkness. That’s not to say that the music is depressing and melancholy; far from it, really.

The album starts off with “A Sigh For You”, which features something of an upbeat hook that echoes that of The Pretenders from that era, kind of an electro-calypso thing going on. The following track, “The Pool”, has a rather driving beat with a catchy hook, while “Sleep Silent Child” is one of the darker cuts on here, a bit slower and utilizing a kind of melodic structure based on the James Bond theme. I rather like this, it may be my favorite cut on this album, really. Now, before anyone begins thinking that they sold out their sound and went more mainstream with the songs, it’s on the song “Neverland Ballroom” when the familiar experimental style that Daniel Amos is famous for really begins shining through. The hook from that song will stick in your head almost indefinitely. This continues on with “Strong Points, Weak Points”, “Instruction Through Film”, and the psycho-folk bluegrass with a power-ballad twist ending of “Sudden Heaven”. Yeah, I just wrote that out loud. I’d say it’s “different”, but this is Daniel Amos we’re talking about, here. “When Moonlight Sleeps” is a surreal bit that manages to be both melancholy and happy at the same time; “Shadow Catcher” has a good driving midpaced dark hook, while to album ends on “Beautiful One”, an acoustic !BALLAD ALERT! for those on the lookout for those kind of things.

Overall, Fearful Symmetry continued on with the development of the band’s creative music output, making something that was contemporary for the time it was released, yet maintaining their unique style and quality of songwriting. It’s dark, but it’s more contemplative kind of dark. It’s kind of hard to explain for those who prefer their Christianity to be bright and sunshiny; regardless, if you’re a fan of the electronic based pop rock custom-made for dancing and brooding to, Fearful Symmetry is recommended listening.

Movie Review: JURASSIC WORLD Fallen Kingdom

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jurassicworldfallenkingdomUniversal Pictures
2018
PG-13

“If I don’t make it back, remember that you’re the one that made me come here.”

I believe at this point it’s safe to say that any sequel to come out will never really capture the lightning in the bottle magic of the original Jurassic Park movie. Which is okay, I think. As long as it’s entertaining, and doesn’t insult my intelligence too much. Which can’t really be said about all of the sequels. I mean, Jurassic Park III was pretty bad, in a mediocre kind of way. When it comes to the reboot sequels, I would have to sadly admit that the most recent sequel — Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom — falls rather flat.

Spoilers abound, my dearhearts…

It’s three years after the events of Jurassic World, and the dinosaurs on the island are in danger due to an active volcano getting ready to blow its top, literally. While the U.S. gov’ment is debating whether to consider them endangered species and try and save them, or to let nature take its course to correct the mistakes John Hammond made with the first park, the former operations manager of Jurassic World and now head of a Dinosaur Rights organization–Claire–is contacted by John Hammond’s former partner, Benjamin Lockwood, to mount a privately funded dino rescue mission. And since one of the last remaining velociraptors in existence is one of her ex’s pets, she talks him into coming along to help, along with a couple of interns from her Dino-Rights! group. I just imagined that being said by J.J. Walker, by the way. They all get to the island, along with a bunch of para-military types to help with the capturing of these beasts, who — surprise surprise, shock and awe — turn out to double-cross them on orders of Lockwood’s long-time financial assistant, who wants the dinosaurs to sell off to the highest bidder, and also create a new even more dangerous hybrid called the Indoraptor. Because we learned absolutely nothing with the Indominus Rex from the last movie. Lockwood’s granddaughter discovers what’s going on, as the assistant smothers Lockwood and prepares to sell off the dinosaurs. Meanwhile, Owen and Claire are captured and locked up with the dinos, but they manage to escape and interrupt the auction proceedings by setting free the Indoraptor, which kind of backfires when the thing starts hunting them down. But, then they manage to defeat the Indoraptor by way of Plot Convenience, but then the grandaughter learns that she’s a clone herself, and thus sets all the dinos free to roam the great American countryside, eating whoever gets in their way, and setting up another sequel.

Make no mistake, I’m no hater when it comes to these movies. It’s just that I consider th Jurassic Park movies to be like an amusement park ride that you go on frequently, like a rollercoaster or haunted fun house. The first time is great, but then they start getting predictable to the point where you could take a nap through the entire thing and still hit all the beats. This was actually winked at in the first Jurassic World movie, with everyone noodling around on their smart phones rather than look at live dinosaurs mere feet in front of there.

Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom felt like a movie that was going through the motions. Well, much more notably than the others. I mean, there’s only so much you can do with the who Altruistic “Dinosaurs have feewings” good guys versus the Evil “Dinosaurs are for-profit commodities to be exploited” entrepeneurs before you begin wondering if one of the financial backers was Peta or Greenpeace. this was already played out in The Lost World, and it was just as nauseatingly heavy-handed then, too.

There were parts of this movie I did enjoy, lest you begin thinking I slept through this: the parts where the dinos are all running amok in both the beginning and the end sections were always a treat; and say what you will about Chris Pratt, he’s the reason why you would want to watch this, outside of said dinosaurs. James Cromwell (Zefram Cochran to us Star Trek nerds) as the estranged business partner to John Hammond threw in a nifty angle that kind of retcons things a bit, but he fits right in. And as usual, the scenes are shot beautifully, and was probably the only reason why I was glad to have caught this on the big screen. However, that couldn’t keep the parts that took me out of my overall enjoyment from making this less than “meh”: for instance, never mind that the story itself is tired and merely paint-by-numbers, but there were times where I found myself thinking, “That’s not how lava works”, “They should have burst into flames and been reduced to cinder long before they got to the boat”, and “They’re really low-balling the prices for the auction of these things”. And don’t get me started with that kid more or less dooming humanity all because she’s got the feels.

Overall, Jurassic World: The Lost Kingdom isn’t entirely bad, per se. It has its problems, as well as some bright points, and points that just don’t make sense. Go into this with your expectations low, and catch a matinée instead of a full-price. Or wait for the rental / streaming. As to the obvious sequel baiting, to paraphrase the woefully underused Dr. Ian Malcolm here: they were so preoccupied with whether or not they could make a sequel that they didn’t stop to think if they should.

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