Review - Linkin Park, Living Things
Young metallers Linkin Park haven’t exactly had a great set of press since A Thousand Suns. Actually, it might not even be correct to call them metallers anymore, since A Thousand Suns, in fact since the album previous to that, Minutes to Midnight, saw a distinct lack of their metal-side so often ascribed to their first releases, Hybrid Theory and Meteora. We’ll not mention Reanimation for the purposes of this bit of this review.
Actually, it might not even be correct to call them young anymore. Hybrid Theory was twelve years ago. That’s kind of scary, actually. It doesn’t feel like that long ago. So they aren’t young, and they aren’t metal anymore. What exactly are they?
Well, both Minutes to Midnight and A Thousand Suns definitely (and dramatically) moved away from the angry, fuzzy, shouty metal of the band’s youth and quite obviously played more towards the mainstream, dance and rap genres of music, and this reviewer thinks that nobody out there missed that. A ‘maturing’ of the band is probably the fairest way to describe them, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s been said before, but it’s worth saying again - they aren’t angry teenagers anymore, they can’t turn the gain on their guitars up to full and bellow about how they hate their parents down the microphone anymore, and listeners first saw that with Minutes to Midnight.
So, Living Things. Well. The synths are back, the dance music is back, the rapping is still there, and so is that rocky groove and crunchy distortion that made A Thousand Suns still a rock album, rather than a dance one. That doesn’t make it bad, though. It’s close to A Thousand Suns, but it’s not fair to compare it to it, because it’s too soon since it’s release to have any kind of marked change on the sound. The best way of looking at this one is to compare it to their oldest material. Similar yet completely different is the best phrase for that. The distortion on the guitars and the bass makes a reappearance right from the beginning of the album, as well as Chester Bennington’s trademark gravelly, high pitched howls and heart-wrenching screams, which shows that the band haven’t forgotten their roots entirely, but learned how to use them sparingly and effectively. It’s great.
But, what really sets this album apart from other, more recent Linkin Park albums is that this one is mature without trying to be mature. Minutes to Midnight and A Thousand Suns were obviously the band trying to move away from Linkin Park’s older, trademark and young sound, which in turn made them slightly immature for trying to hard to do so. With Living Things, it feels more natural than it did before, which means that the listener can, for the first time since the change, do exactly the opposite of what this review has mostly done, and listen to it without commenting on how different it is to old Linkin Park. This is Linkin Park now, and it’s brilliant, so we should all just get used to it.
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Album Review: Lostprophets - Weapons
Welsh rockers Lostprophets return with the follow up to their 2010 album The Betrayed with their latest offering, the aggressively, politically titled studio album Weapons. It’s been a turbulent few years for the bandsinceLiberation Transmission, with the departure of drummer Ilan Rubin in favour of band Nine Inch Nails in 2009 and the subsequent delay of the release of The Betrayed, it’s good to see Lostprophets back on the scene.
From football crowd-esque chants to quick raps, this is another album meant to hit the young generation with an intense political message, not unlike that of bands such as Rise Against. Lostprophets are no stranger to writing music like this, and it’s earned them some bad press over the years, occasionally accused of being a band aimed at young teenagers, fans who are slightly older than children. But, in this reviewers opinion, this is an unfair accusation. This is an act that has done a huge amount of maturation since 2000’s Thefakesoundofprogress. Gone are the slightly childish song names (examples: We Are Godzilla, You Are Japan and Shinobi vs. Dragon Ninja)and, if this album is anything to go by, they’ve matured extremely well.
There’s a slightly heavier sound on this album than we’re used to from Lostprophets, echoing back to some of Start Something in 2004, but without the punk feeling to it. It’s refreshing from the Welshmen, yet somehow it remains extremely ‘Lostprophets’. That is to say, it’s immediately recognisable as them, even though it does sound quite different. The band has experimented a lot more with this release than others; raps, chants, distorted bass guitar and synths, it’s more progressive and shows more thought than before. The rap actually reminds of a sped-up form ofGorillaz. This new policy of experimentation works, too, it’s an album that doesn’t get boring as it progresses and leaves a listener wanting more.
There are, as, always, a couple of improvements that could be made though. Some of the songs get a little repetitive, and the political message, while still very relevant in today’s society, could have been slightly more obvious if that was the main ambition of the album. Compared to other politico-punk releases (Rise Against’s Endgame is a good example of this) it doesn’t come across as political music, but rock music with a slight political twist. This is slightly nit-picky though, it’s a great release from the rockers.
So, it’s one of Lostprophets’ best efforts in years. It’s good to see them back on form and trying out new styles. It sounds like the band enjoyed writing and playing their songs, and in the end that’s the point. Hopefully this will signify the end of the turbulent years for the band and we’ll be seeing more from them in the near future. When it comes to rating this release, this reviewer gives it a good solid 9/10.
Review: The Raven
Director: James McTeigue
In a nutshell: Grisly gothic mystery, with some great acting and ridiculous-yet-satisfying story.
The idea of ‘this film is real’ recently seems to be a common theme emitting from Hollywood. The idea that a film’s events “have happened” (The Blair Witch Project) or “could happen” (Chronicle) or even films such as Cloverfield that purposely portray a sort of “is-real-life-but-at-the-same-time-blatantly-fiction” mentality are common in cinema these days. New gothic horror-thriller film The Raven is centered around the idea of the final few days of the life of famous writer Edgar Allan Poe, telling a story designed to look historically factual but realistically ridiculous.
Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack) is introduced as a struggling writer, a not-so-recovering alcoholic and madly in love with girlfriend Emily (Alice Eve), who’s protective and harsh father Colonel Hamilton (Brendan Gleeson) refuses to acknowledge their relationship. Poe suddenly finds himself caught up in the investigation into a series of gruesome murders that seem to recreate events that Poe himself wrote in his stories. Detective Fields (Luke Evans) enlists Poe’s help to explain and capture the perpetrator, who, it is revealed as the murders increasingly become more personal for Poe, is bent upon taunting him into his own destruction.
Cusack is spectacular as Edgar Allan Poe, combining a sense of actually being physically hurt by the abuse of his stories that the killer is committing, and also maintaining a steady sense of dry wit throughout his performance despite the hardship, which portrays the idea of a writer in complete anguish perfectly. It is a welcome element of realism within a film with such an unlikely and odd plot. There is palpable tension between Hamilton and Poe over the issue of Poe’s love for his daughter, oddly-yet-realistically resolved by her abduction and Poe’s subsequent determination to free her.
The biggest issue with this film is the claim made by the filmmakers that the final few days of Poe’s life are shrouded in mystery and are unexplained, and yet the film itself proceeds to tell a story of events that are extremely public, in fact plastered all over the newspapers. The filmmakers slightly cover this up by claiming that Poe writes the events that are actually happening as a work of fiction, although they are indeed designed to come true, however it is unrealistic to assume that fictional stories would end up as front-page material over the top of actual news. This is probably the biggest plot-hole, but doesn’t actually detract too from the performance, as long as it is watched with the mentality of watching a good film, rather than a realistic one.
The ending could quite easily have been better, however the audience know how the story is going to end from the opening scene, so it’s more a story of how it happened, rather than what is going to happen. Overall, a good movie to watch once, but probably not multiple times. 7/10.
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Album Review: Rise Against: Endgame
Artist: Rise Against
In a Nutshell: More of the same-old, but if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.
Critically acclaimed American socio/political-punk quartet Rise Against return to the music scene with the highly anticipated follow up to their 2008 release Appeal to Reason with new release Endgame, the band’s sixth studio album and their fourth with a major label, release in March 2011. This reviewer needs to admit from the offset to having a soft spot for Rise Against for a long time, so this album personally has a lot to live up to.
Straight to it. Musically, it’s typical Rise Against, i.e. chock-full of punk-rock energy. The fast-paced drum beats, overdriven, adrenaline-fuelled punky guitar sounds and quick basslines compliment the grainy voice of Tim McIlrath in the same ways that have become typical of the band since their 2004 mainstream debut, Siren Song of the Counter Culture. So, musically, it sounds the same as the old releases, and so it therefore definitely lives up to previous albums, in so far as it sounds almost exactly the same, almost like the songs could be from older albums that have just been released later. This works, though, it feels comfortable, confident and familiar. It can bring a smile to one’s face that there’s more new Rise Against to listen to.
This isn’t to say that Rise Against’s sound hasn’t evolved at all since the days of Siren Song of the Counter Culture, but more that at its very core the sound of this new album is exactly the same as Siren Song…, The Sufferer and the Witness and Appeal to Reason - hard hitting, socio-political, energetic and fun punk. But, it seems that familiarity is key here, it’s typical, recognisable, comfortable, familiar Rise Against. Some people might find this distasteful, claiming that there hasn’t been enough evolution over the years, but the philosophy here seems to be that ‘if it isn’t broken, then don’t fix it’. Rise Against seem happy with their sound, their fans seem happy with their sound and the medium seems to be perfectly adequate for putting across the heaving socio-political messages that the songs absolutely drip with.
Speaking of which, no review of a Rise Against album would be complete without mentioning the political messages. In fact, the politics of the music has, over the years, become a sort of calling-card for Rise Against. In some ways they could even be described as a less abstract, less metal and less insane System of a Down. It characterises the band in the same way that Tim McIlrath’s harsh yet melodic vocals characterises them as immediately recognisable. A focus on the issues surrounding military campaigns (for example, the aptly-named song, Survivor Guilt) characterises this, and the band encourage freedom as much as ever.
The only real problem is that, as mentioned before, it could be said that Rise Against’s sound hasn’t really evolved enough since they first began and that some less dedicated fans than others might just assume “same old, same old”, get bored and find someone else to listen to. This reviewer, however, enjoyed hearing familiarity and genuine love for music in this new release, and look forward to more in the future.
If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it, and Rise Against know that better than most, it definitely doesn’t need fixing. 8.5/10.
- Sam Saunders
Review: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Director: Guy Ritchie
In a nutshell: The game would be afoot, but we’ve blown up the other team.
Celebrated actors Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law step back into the roles of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Dr. John Watson in their latest eagerly awaited big-screen escapade, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, the follow up to 2009’s Sherlock Holmes. A Game of Shadows also introduces to the silver screen Conan Doyle’s infamous character Professor James Moriarty, Holmes’ arch-nemesis, excellently portrayed by Jared Harris, and Holmes’ brother Mycroft Holmes, hilariously portrayed by Stephen Fry.
The film opens with an explosion in Strasbourg, which, it becomes apparent, is part of a sequence of events designed to ultimately coerce France and Germany into declaring war on each other, a sequence of events orchestrated by Professor Moriarty. With his recent acquisition of the armament factories across that would supply both sides, Moriarty would therefore stand to substantially gain financially by providing the weapons for the war. Naturally, Sherlock Holmes is the only one with the mathematical prowess and intellectual ability to solve the case and stop him before it’s too late.
The good parts. The plot is well written, simple and easily followed, so audiences need not worry about being lost. It has enough twists and turns for it to remain interesting, but not over-complicated. When it comes to the acting, there is palpable tension between Holmes and Moriarty during scenes of intellectual conflict between the two, including one of the most epic chess games ever committed to screen. Perhaps the best relationship however is the chemistry between Law and Downey Jr. - it shines through in their acting together. Watson’s understandable exasperation at some of Holmes’ more eccentric and idiotic actions makes for some hilarious moments, although it could be argued that this happens slightly too often and Watson ‘flies off the handle’ a little too quickly. Holmes’ is, by all accounts, meant to be a source of admiration bordering on reverence for Watson, not a source of irritation and annoyance. Stephen Fry’s excellent portrayal of the pompous, eccentric Mycroft Holmes’, who has utter disdain for anything he considers beneath him intellectually and socially, was a welcome respite from the intensity of the rest of the film, and Mycroft seems to be one of the only characters not affected in any way by Holmes’ substantial intellect and wit (as he has an impressive amount himself), thus making Fry the perfect person to play him. Professor Moriarty’s character is superbly portrayed by Harris, who rather than being unaffected by the pursuit of Holmes seems more relished by the idea of the competition. The tension during scenes between Moriarty and Holmes is so close you could almost touch it physically, false pleasantries and good manners are used brilliantly to cover up the almost primal instinct the two seem to have, the instinct to tear each other to pieces. The rivalry between them is spearheaded in the final sequences which, without giving too much away, defines how evenly matched they are. Neither character outshines the other, in either respect - actor or screen character, making the relationship between the two believable. Its excellently shot, written and acted. Good so far.
And now, the problems, and if I’m honest there’s a big one. From the start, fans of the director will notice an absence of that trademark ‘Ritchie’ feel that pervades through his other pictures. Sure, the slow-motion fight sequences and sharp, dry witty humour that characterised the first film are somewhat still there, but a watcher gets the impression of, and please pardon the awful term, distinct ‘Hollywoodness’. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, in fact with a budget increase this is understandably only natural, but usually absent from Ritchie’s films such as Snatch or Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Holmes himself in this film becomes less a man of intellect and more a man of action, with the physique and stamina of an athlete, an impressive pain tolerance (suspended by a meat hook to the chest? Really?) and martial arts skills that would give Jackie Chan a run for his money. It’s more fast paced than the first film, with more guns, explosions, running, diving and shooting, etc. It seems that the success of the first Sherlock Holmes has caused the production team to decide to, on the sequel, compromise on elements that otherwise define Holmes in favour of more high-budget, high-adrenaline, no-holds-barred action packed sequences. This isn’t to say that the characteristics that define it are completely gone, but reduced significantly to make room for more pyrotechnics, explosions and action. This is, to use a powerful word, disappointing. The quick firing, mystery solving, almost unbeatable Holmes feels further away than he should, he rather loses the sense that he works through intellect, wit and deduction and is even characterised with a gun in his hand on the posters, a fact that I didn’t fail to notice. Ritchie seems to have gone bigger, faster and with more explosions than before - there are three huge, heart stopping action sequences that are sure to keep audiences on the edges of their seats, but the pervading sense that something has been lost was something that I couldn’t get out of my head whilst watching it.
Overall, fans of the first Sherlock Holmes will be fans of this film. Fans of Robert Downey Jr or Jude Law will also be fans of this film. It’s just that fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, me for example, might find it slightly harder to engage with it due to the over-presence of action sequences and explosions and lack of that which Holmes is meant to be, but this was an issue that fans of the literature had with the first film as well, so in a way nothing has changed. Watching it, I found myself enjoying it anyway despite the issues I had. In time, they are forgotten in the midst of the gripping action, and the desire to see Professor Moriarty get his justly deserved comeuppance.
- Sam Saunders
ImpSoc Impress at JP Hall
Review: Bangor Comedy’s ImpSoc Show, 18th November 2011
Bangor University’s critically acclaimed, award winning Improvisational Comedy Society, also known as Impsoc, put on their biggest performance of the academic year so far on the 18th November at Neuadd John Phillips in Upper Bangor.
The red-clad line up of Impsoc, to the delight of the assembled audience, put on a fun-filled performance of Whose Line is it Anyway-esque games and challenges using almost completely audience-suggested material, with some spectacular results. With the show hosted by long-standing comedy maestro Paddy Pritchard, some of the best laughs came from Alex Carruthers’ impromptu portrayal of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle reading from Sherlock Holmes, Rory Cooke’s incarnation of a “fairly odd” father figure with a nasty habit of smashing imaginary teacups into his eyes, and Josh Pink’s performance of an eccentric evil villain, amongst others.
Some of the best received games of the night included ‘Three Headed Expert’ in which three performers take on the role of one professor on an audience suggested field of study and answer interview questions, each ‘head’ saying one word at a time and a performance of the BBC’s Mock the Week’s game called ‘Scenes We’d Like to See’.
It was a superb follow up to the society’s recent performance in Llandudno accompanied by the internationally-known comedian Phill Juptius. Impsoc has another show planned at the same venue, Neuadd John Phillips, as part of the Bangor Comedy Christmas Gala Show on December 8th. Watch out for flying imaginary teacups.
A Shiny New Blog
Hello all. So this blog is a separate one from Samford Speaks, a place where I’ll post reviews of albums and other stuff that I feel needs reviewing in a (hopefully not) vain effort to actually become a music journalist at some point. You can never write too much, it seems. I’ll also post links to reviews that I get posted up on other websites - they can’t complain about that, the more readers on their site the better, I reckon. Cheers for reading.