Friday the 13th

Black Sabbath – 13

This has been out for awhile, almost as long as the break in-between Ozzy Osbourne’s last tenure with the band. Amazing to think that 13 is the first Black Sabbath studio album with Ozzy Osbourne since 1978’s Never Say Die. You’d think Ozzy’s resurgence in the early 2000s as a reality TV schmuck would have generated some interest from entertainment fat cats. Though it’s better that the band would decide to reunite on their own accord. Well, most of the band anyways. Due to a contract dispute, drummer Bill Ward does not appear on the album. Definitely, a buzz kill considering Sabbath has to be one of the few bands that still has all their original members. Still, we are treated to a nice substitute with Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine.

I was fully prepared for 13 to be the worst thing ever made by humans. How often are reunion albums even remotely good? Miraculously, 13 is good, not great, but a nice bookend to the career of these blokes from Birmingham. Throw producer Rick Rubin into the mix and you have something both modern and faithful to the band’s original sound. There’s no slew of extra studio musicians thrown into the mix, no cumbersome overdubs, just the band doing what they do.

All the familiar Black Sabbath trademarks are in full force on 13. Gotta love the crunchy riffs accompanied by a brooding rhythm that often segues into a faster mid-section. Ozzy sounds a little too polished but I imagine it’s just to make him intelligible. Yes, everything is in place for this to be great, except one thing. Sabbath’s songs are nowhere nearly as memorable as they used to be. Back in the early 70s, the whole metal sound felt like a fresh peach. Tack on years of both imitators and innovators and there’s nothing that groundbreaking about moldy ‘ol Sabbath. Still, there are some instances of awesomeness.

“End of the Beginning”, as featured in Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg’s This is the End feels very much like a call back to the first two albums. “Zeitgeist” also fills the role of every Sabbath album having a trippy ballad. There’s plenty of sexy metal moments, but they’re often buried under eight minutes of forgettable sludge. It’s kind of like finding the needle in the haystack. A pain in the ass, but rewarding when you find it. All in all, it’s nice to see the band still has some gas. Hopefully, they don’t feel the need to continue taking it on the road. I think they’ve earned a nice pit stop.

Favorite Tracks: “End of the Beginning,” “Loner,” “Zeitgeist”

T3 61: Top Stuff of 2013 So Far

2013, man. Shit’s half done. All we are is dust in the wind. This week we wallow in the fragility of mortality by talking about our favorite stuff so far this year. That means video games, TV shows, music, and movies. Consider it a preview of sorts for the big deal lists we’ll be doing in six months’ time. Except hopefully we’ll have a lot more things to talk about. And maybe not everything we bring up will make the cut next time around. There’s probably a lot of stuff that’s already out now that we should have paid more attention to, but oh well.

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Metal as Fuck

Christopher Lee – Charlemagne: The Omens of Death

Most 91-year-olds can barely move let alone record a heavy metal album. Three years ago I reviewed Christopher Lee’s 2010 symphonic metal album Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross with little enthusiasm, but this time it’s different. Almost every complaint I had about that Andrew Lloyd Webber sounding piece of garbage has been reversed on “The Omens of Death”. Gone are the tiresome string arrangements and large ensemble cast of unmemorable vocalists. The Omens of Death is metal as fuck. Walls of wailing guitars attack the senses, accompanied by the booming basso of The Count himself. Yeah, it’s still stupid as hell but at least now it rocks.

The tracks were arranged by axe man Richie Faulkner (currently a guitarist in Judas Priest) with some spectacular guitar solos from 21-year old prodigy Hedras Ramos. Amazing to think there is a guitarist on this album that is 70 YEARS YOUNGER than the frontman. But these guys make The Omens of Death feel like a fun call back to 80s metal. “Charles the Great” is a definite standout with it’s chugging onslaught of guitars and proud Anglo-Saxon backup singers. “Let Legend Mark Me As the King” is another head-banger with some serious shredding. As for Christopher Lee himself he has a magnificent voice for 91-year old. Hell, I’d be surprised by anything a 91-year old could do.

Though in all serious this is still incredibly stupid. I had fun listening to this album but I’m sad to say it’s really more of an ironic douchebag kind of fun. But what do I know? I don’t even like metal that much. Maybe there’s some Metal-heads that can appreciate it instead of laughing at it. Whatever the case, I have nothing but admiration for Christopher Lee. There’s no one I’d rather see as the singing ghost of King Charlemagne.

Favorite Tracks: “Charles the Great,” “Let Legend Mark Me As the King”

T3 60: Top 10 Smash Bros. Characters We’d Like to See

We only get one shot at Super Smash Bros. in a generation. The franchise-mash-up fighting series, which has already appeared on N64, Gamecube, the Wii, was recently officially announced to be coming to both the Nintendo 3DS and the Wii U. More importantly, the confirmation of Mega Man joining the fray means that Solid Snake was not a one-off deal, third party characters are apparently game in this formerly-Nintendo-exclusive series. With that in mind, join us this week as we discuss some of the characters we’d like to see show up in the next version of the game. And, as always, no items, Fox only, Final Destination.

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Modern Love

Before Midnight

I suppose it’s apt that 1995’s Before Sunrise begins with the sound of a middle-aged couple’s petty bickering, much to the chagrin of the other passengers sharing the same train car with said couple.  Of course, two of the other passengers on this train were Celine and Jesse, the romantic leads of that film as well as 2004’s Before Sunset and now Before Midnight.  It seems that things have now come full circle, as Celine and Jesse now bear more resemblance to that middle-aged couple on the train, rather than the star-crossed lovers that they were nearly twenty years ago.  And yet there’s still something very charming and deeply compelling about these characters who are at the center of what has shaped up to be a pretty fantastic trilogy.

In the wake of the somewhat cliffhanger-y ending of Before Sunset, we quickly find out in Before Midnight that Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) are now married with two daughters.  The film finds them in their early forties, and enjoying a quiet vacation off the coast of Greece.  As you could probably guess from the way Before Sunrise and Before Sunset unfold, this latest film is more or less a series of conversations, a lot of which concern Celine and Jesse’s regrets over missed opportunities and years gone by, in addition to them contemplating the future of their relationship, and whether it’s truly meant to last.

Unlike the first two movies, Before Midnight is not about two people falling in love, and thus is far less wistfully romantic, as it often exposes the faults and hypocrisies of these characters.  I’ll admit that this more acidic side of these characters can be a bit tough to watch, considering Celine and Jesse have always been one those great screen couples that you can’t help but root for.  But director Richard Linklater and stars/co-writers Delpy and Hawke know just as well as any of us that love can grow cold over the years, and there’s a considerable amount of wisdom to the way the film deals with the idea of fairytale romance vs. the constraints of modern marriage.

I think what makes Before Midnight a considerably more thought-provoking film than its predecessors is how completely wrapped in ambiguities it is.  Yes, we see Celine and Jesse bicker with each other quite a bit, and yet we also see them engaged in the kind of whip-smart conversations that caused them to fall in love in the first place.  And man, do I still love hearing the kind of dialogue that this series pulls off so well.  There’s a natural looseness to it that almost feels improvised, but couldn’t possibly be since it’s so full of profound observations, while every sentence that comes out of these characters’ mouths is practically overflowing with subtext.

Considering the way the film ends, it’s hard to say with any certainty what the future will hold for Celine and Jesse.  But there’s still an undeniable spark between the two of them, and there undoubtedly seems to be that same spark between Linklater, Delpy, Hawke and this subject matter, as these movies are turning out to be one of the more fruitful ventures of any of their respective careers.  I guess we’ll just have to wait until 2022 to see if they can keep this miraculous hot streak going.

Less Robot More Rock

Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

The always-ahead-of-their-time Daft Punk are back with Random Access Memories, their fourth album (fifth if you count the Tron 2 soundtrack, but I don’t). I’ve made no secret of the fact that I haven’t particularly liked a Daft Punk album outside of Discovery, and even the back half of that LP loses me most of the time. It’s a weird problem of mine, I guess, that, at this point in my life, I genuinely like this band, but I can’t really break them out of the singles zone. Then again, maybe that’s exactly where they belong… I can’t say I listen to a lot of dance/electronica/techno/whatever. But I’m trying, Ringo. I’m trying real hard to be the shepherd.

Anyway, that’s kind of a moot, because, as if bored of being on the front line of electronic music for so long, Daft Punk has done something pretty different for RAM. This isn’t catchy electronica or whatever that Tron soundtrack was, but rather an effort to recapture the vibe of the music that was clearly the most influential on the duo: disco of the late ’70s and early ’80s. To that end, they’ve abandoned samples in favor of live performances, and brought in a collection of superstar session players to play those parts.

This approach is most apparent on “Giorgio by Moroder” a sweet nine minute jam session featuring narration by the Giorgio Moroder himself, talking about his career and his contributions to music. On one hand, it’s very humble and sweet. On the other, it’s kind of weird to have to listen to that interview every time I want to listen to that song. I think I prefer the collaborations that fall a bit more on the traditional side, like “Touch” and “Doin’ It Right,” featuring Paul Williams and Panda Bear, respectively. And of course “Get Lucky,” the lead single and one of two tracks with Pharrell Williams, is certainly eligible to be the summer jam of 2013.

Anyway, Random Access Memories is, without question, the easiest Daft Punk album for me to listen to so far. Even Discovery, and undisputed classic, wears on me as I get through the second half. I don’t know if it’s the new approach, the hype, or just really great music, but I think Daft Punk did some damn fine work here. So if you’ve been waiting on this one, get on with it, man. Shit’s hot.

Favorite Tracks: “Touch,” “Get Lucky,” “Doin’ It Right”

Whatever Happened to The Man of Tomorrow?

Man of Steel

As Colin pointed out to me, Zack Snyder has a knack for making movies that trailer really well. In that regard, Man of Steel is his finest achievement, from a Malick-esque teaser to a beautiful, memorable preview, the work done to promote this film is incredible. And I began to hope. Snyder is a very stylish director, with David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan helping out, could this finally be the Superman movie I’ve always wanted? One that I could recommend without having to say “well, the ending’s really dumb” or “and then there’s this Superbaby thing, which… Just ignore that”? Or would The Iron Giant remain the best Superman movie ever made?

This is an origin story, so you probably already know most of the beats: Doomed planet, desperate scientists, last Hope, kindly couple. What’s different this time is that General Zod (Michael Shannon) leads a coup on Krypton while Jor-El (Russel Crowe) is trying to convince the council that the planet is dying. This lets Man of Steel begin with action, as the world goes to war while Jor-El desperately tries to send his son to a chance at life. It also sets the tone for the rest of the movie, with lots of attention paid to the fighting and exploding, and the character beats run through very quickly.

I’ve heard Man of Steel used to be much longer, and I have to wonder if this movie was as contemplative and emotional as the teasers hinted at one point, and then the decision was made to pick up the pace. Because it definitely appears that story lost in favor of action here. For example, when Superman (Henry Cavill) finally has a chance to talk with Jor-El and learn about who he is and where he came from, it is presented like they had a five minute chat. A chat which not only changed Superman’s life, but taught him about the extent of his powers and convinced him to become a super hero, which goes directly against the teachings of Pa Kent (Kevin Costner). A life-changing event, one that should have been a huge scene in the movie, becomes an aside because there’s no action in it.

Anyway, right when Superman is about ready to go public, in part because of Lois Lane (Amy Adams), Zod and his Kryptonian cronies show up on earth, threatening to turn the planet into a new Krypton. What follows is the ending from Transformers 3, although not done as well as when The Avengers did it. There sure is a lot of destruction though, like, man. A lot of people probably died. And there’s some other weird stuff going on, stuff I’m not quite sure I understood and would be too spoilery to discuss anyway. But, roughly, it’s Transformers 3.

Here’s the thing: you can’t make a Superman movie be about solving a problem. The biggest problem with the Superman character is that he is so powerful (and his powers are paradoxically limitless and boring by super hero standards) that watching him beat stuff up is a meaningless exercise. The stakes could not be lower when a movie comes down to Superman and someone else duking it out. Even in this movie, there are characters roughly as powerful as Superman, who even say things like “your concept of mercy is a weakness we don’t share” and “I am a trained warrior. Where did you train, a farm?” But, without further explanation, Superman ends up beating those people. He cannot lose.

So a great Superman story has to be about something else. It has to be about character. The great stories about Superman reinforce the idea that what makes him great is not his powers, it’s the love of his parents. It’s the love and respect he has for humanity. Superman is the embodiment of hope, his outer strength a mirror for the inner strength we all have. That great speech of Jor-El’s from All Star Superman, the one used in this movie, about joining Superman in the sun, gets to the core of Superman’s role as an inspiration. Man of Steel tries to tap into that, but it never succeeds.

Jor-El ends up being the best character in the movie. There’s not nearly enough Pa Kent, he comes off as singularly focused on keeping Superman’s powers secret. Zod, in an uncommonly bland performance by Shannon, ends up seeming like someone who is purely angry, without logic or motivation presented in anything resembling a sympathetic way. And Cavill, as Superman, is… Well, he’s very muscular. He seems nice, I guess. Doesn’t have that boyscout charm, but that doesn’t stop him and Lois from making out in a cringe-worthy scene late in the movie. But all that emotion I hoped the movie would have? It was just a tease.