Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Megadeth's "Super Collider"

I dont think it's any surprise to anybody that Megadeth happens to be my all-time favorite metal band. Everything about Megadeth's first four albums, to me, are near flawless. They definitely hit their peak with "Rust In Peace". And up until about 4 years ago, I was a 90's Megadeth snob ("Rust In Peace" excluded). I wouldn't touch the material with a blind man's cane. But one fateful intoxicated night, I decided to give the albums a shot. Lo and behold, I came to, and realized that there are some gems in said material. I've since come to terms that there are only 2 Megadeth records I DON'T like ("Risk" &"United Abominations"). Are the 90's albums full-fledged Megadeth records? No. But they do have a lot to offer in terms of melody, hooks, and Mustaine-isms. You're probably thinking, "Isn't this a "Super Collider" review?". Fuck you, it is. But with any conversation, you need a little context. Im giving you a lot.

Fast-forward to 2005, Megadeth (or MegaDave) made their return with "The System Has Failed". I loved it, and still do to this day. For me, it was a combination of classic Megadeth (see: "Kick the Chair & "Back In The Day") and 90's Megadeth (see: "Scorpion" & "Of Mice & Men"). Then came along "United Abominations"... A total dud. THEN came "Endgame". Awesome. Then came "Th1rt3en". Weak. I still like "Th1rt3en", but it's very weak in comparison to "Endgame". But there is a trend: Great, lame, Great, weak. "Super Collider" should be great, right? Im still not sure. It's weak now, but when "Endgame" first came out, I wasn't all too big on it. It wasn't until a few spins of the disc later that I realized that it was truly a return to form.

Without further ado... "Super Collider".

The first track is "Kingmaker". This was the second single release, and frankly, it should have been the first. This is typical fast Megadeth-fare. It's a step above being totally mediocre, but a notch below being great. I guess the classification would be "good"? The chorus is the best part of the song (the case with most songs off this album). There is also one guitar part ripped right out of "Sweating Bullets". You'll know it when you hear it.

Second is the title-track "Super Collider". And a VERY weak title-track it is. This was the first single released, and got a massive backlash upon release. And understandably so. I actually do like this song, but this is not the song to sell a Megadeth album to Megadeth fans. It may cause some Foo Fighter fans to open their wallets, though. It also has themes borrowed from "I'll Be There" which is strange to me considering the song is called "Super Collider". The lyrics have almost NOTHING to do with a super collider. With a title like "Super Collider", it should be fast, heavy and aggressive. AND... It's the title-track. When you have a weak title-track, you know have a problem. Having a great title-track that is hard to compete with is a good problem to have. Having a weak one that almost any song can compare to, not so much.

The third track is "Burn!". This track is fun, but nothing special. It opens with a fairly-forced guitar solo intro. The verse riff reminds me a lot of "Burning Bridges" (and no pun is intended). And the chorus may turn some people off due to the cheesy nature, but sometimes Mustaine can pull off cheese (see: Sweating Bullets).

Next up is "Built for War". This song pisses me off a bit. The vocal pattern used by Mustaine just doesn't work. He drags out the verses and injects "Built for War" between each one. The only section that works for me is the choir-like chant Mustaine does about midway into the song.

The fifth track is "Off The Edge". For the most part, the song is pretty generic. But it's the chorus that saves the song for me. The riff almost makes you want to dance, and the vocal pattern used by Mustaine compliments the riff as well.

"Dance In The Rain" is the sixth track, and is composed of classic Megadeth themes (lyrically). It's essentially about big brother, the monitoring of Americans, corporate handouts, etc. Nothing specifically new, but like I said, classic Megadeth themes. Musically it's interesting, but nothimg special. It does however, transition into a shredding-fast riff but doesn't take off from there. There isn't a coherent beat. It's mostly a series of fills. This is also the track that David Draiman from Disturbed does guest vocals on. Because every Megadeth fan was waiting for the day he would appear on a Deth album. All cunting aside, he's not even that noticeable. They have what appears to be a megaphone effect on his vocals that makes him sound distant. The further the better, the further the better.

Next we have "Beginning of Sorrow". Nothing about this song stands out. Like, at all. Maybe the unlikable chorus? I guess.

"The Blackest Crow" is the eighth track, and is an interesting one. Fucking Willie Nelson did guest banjo on this track. If I had to compare, this would be similar to "Have Cool Will Travel", except much darker. Does this achieve being a good Megadeth song? Im not too sure. But I do enjoy it due to the eerie cajun elements injected into the song.

"Forget to Remember" is track 9, and may quite possibly be my favorite track on the album. There are a lot of songs I can compare this to. Two of which are Megadeth's "Black Swan" and Sodom's "Buried In The Justice Ground". This isn't a particularly heavy or fast Megadeth song, but could easily be on "Youthanasia" or "Cryptic Writings". The chorus (again) is the most outstanding part of the song. Personally, I love it. It's almost uplifting an sad at the same time. Kudos.

And the last original song on the album is "Don't Turn Your Back". Not a strong song, but enjoyable. And yet, ANOTHER song in which the chorus is the outlier.

Lastly, we have a cover of Thin Lizzy's "Cold Sweat". And sadly, it's the second-best song on the album. Aside from it being a killer cover, Mustaine's vocals are what shine here. The chorus calls for a grunt-like vocal chant. And not only does Mustaine do it flawlessly, it's something you've never heard him do before either.

At this point, I wish I could say I loved "Super Collider", but I'd be lying. There aren't enough moments to warrant it being "really good". I kinda' like it, but that's about it. It has the same problem "Th1rt3en" did. Though, the one improvement over "Th1rt3en" was the production. Which is odd, because they went with the same producer this time around. It's also unfortunate about Dave Mustaine's vocals. On "Th1rt3en" and now "Super Collider", he growls more so than sings. And I am not going to fault him for it. Reason being, it's all due to the neck surgery he had done years back. They told him he would lose some singing ability, and that's evident. But what I WILL fault him with, is his lyric-writing. The previous two record's lyrics were so simple, predictable and cheesy. I know he still has it. Just look at "Endgame".
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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

I would be lying if I said I was a gigantic Star Trek fan. After 2009, I noticed a slew of people who have supposedly always loved Star Trek. Quite frankly, I think that's a heaping pile of shit. After franchise reinvigorations like this, there always seems to be people who claim they've always been fans. I assure you, I am not one of them. Did I always appreciate the show for what it was? Of course. But I could just never fully become enthralled with the show. And that is part of the reason why I believe I enjoy Abrams' Star Trek films. He grew up a non-fan of Trek as well. And it wasn't until he was brought on board to tackle the first film that he became a Trekkie. The approach he took with the first film was interesting. It felt fresh without feeling as if it had to fit inside a specific mold. To sum up the first film, he reinvented iconic characters, injected a new visual style and ran with the rest.

With Star Trek Into Darkness, Abrams managed to delve into classic dark second-installment territory, but without losing the popcorn fun that the first film had achieved. With Into Darkness, there are stakes involved that feel not only high but very real. With the first film, you almost knew no one significant was going to die due to being the kick starter to a newly-restored franchise. But with Into Darkness, I had myself thinking, "Shit, maybe he IS gonna' bite the dust...". The casting with these films are near-perfect. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban, and the rest of the cast do a solid job. But there are two particular actors that were added to the cast that COMPLETELY owned the film. And I speak of Peter Weller and Benedict Cumberbatch. First and foremost, let me just say that it is FUCKING AWESOME to see Peter Weller in a major role again. He's not just a footnote in this film as you may expect. He's got some pretty decent screen time in this. And his character is not a simple character. He's complex as you may or may not expect. But I am sure all eyes will be on Benedict Cumberbatch. And any attention he does get after this is well-deserved.

When actors play villains, I always feel that if they do it well, they have hit their peak at an acting standpoint. When playing a villain, I believe it can become an outlet for most. From numerous interviews that I have seen and read, most actors tend to lean towards the "everyone has a dark side to them" remark. And by channeling that side, you create a character so unrecognizable and memorable that (again, if done well), it's hard to top. Look at DeNiro in Cape Fear, Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, etc. Those characters work because it's rare for those actors to play characters, let alone, villains like that. But then you look at Jack Nicholson. You associate the word "villain" or "crazy" with him. And because of that, it has very little punch. Reason being, it's Jack Nicholson playing... Jack Nicholson. What Benedict Cumberbatch does with this character is incredible. I've only seen the actor in one role, but his talent is sure as hell displayed in this film. And much like Peter Weller's character, he's complex as well. He's not The Joker. There's a dynamic. Is what he is telling you really his motive? Or is there an alternative one? His "John Harrison" character is a very effective one. Far better than Eric Bana's Nero in the first film. He is unexpectedly brutal as well. Unexpectedly, because the guy is about 5' 11" and slender, but he has a very tactical combat style. It almost hurts to watch him assault the enemy. The violence in this borders PG-13 and R. Do you see anything? Not really, but there are some damn effective shooting and editing tricks pulled in this film. For instance, Harrison crushes a man's skull. You don't see any of it, but you HEAR all of it. And I've got to be honest, it's pretty damn brutal.

The first film successfully re-invented the iconic Trek characters, and this film only develops them more. Some characters are tested, and react in a way you wouldn't expect them to, and some do what may come to expect in a science fiction film. There are a few convenient devices used in the film to propel the dramatics, but nothing utterly eye-rolling. Amongst the crew, the most impressive character development was Simon Pegg's Scotty. He was the comedic do-what-you-ask figure in the first, and is mostly that in this film. But there is a pivotal scene where Kirk is instructed by Star Fleet to bring aboard torpedoes onto the USS Enterprise. Scotty strongly suggests that Kirk does not bring them on board. Kirk refuses to listen to Scotty, and Scotty resigns (temporarily, of course). To me, that defiance was necessary and much-needed. It makes you wonder who else may defy Kirk's orders, and what may come of the situation due to it.

Now to the more technical of things. First and foremost, the FX. The FX work in this is GREAT. I cant recall a scene with sketchy CG. Almost every scene had a fantastic marriage of practical sets and CG. And the 100% CG shots looked fantastic as well. Depending on what the rest of the year brings, Into Darkness should win the best Visual FX Oscar. This film is MASSIVE. That's partly due also to IMAX. The film has been released in IMAX 3D and is very impressive. Unfortunately it was not shot in native 3D, and was post-converted, but select scenes were shot in the native IMAX format. If you haven't already seen it, see it in IMAX 3D. And if you already have seen it, see it again in IMAX 3D. I can't say the 3D is phenomenal, but it IS good. The only option you have to see it in IMAX is IMAX 3D. And a little tidbit for you: If you're turned off by 3D due to the brightness levels, IMAX 3D films run off of 2 projectors with 2 bulbs as opposed to a regular 3D theatre that runs 3D films with only 1 projector and 1 bulb. With 2 projectors and 2 bulbs, you don't lose any brightness (the glasses are the only element that diminish the brightness).

Michael Giacchino is a composer who absolutely knows what he's doing with the films he scores. Star Trek Into Darkness is no different. He did a damn good job with the first film, and excels with this one. He has a very genuine traditional style. Nothing feels nudge-nudge about his work. Of course he plays around with some classic Star Trek themes (which is mandatory), but he blends his original material with the classic material seamlessly.

The only gripe I held onto walking out? The humor. The humor doesn't fail miserably, it just fell flat most of the time. Which is a bummer, considering that the humor was a very strong point in the first film. Dont get me wrong, there was nothing embarrassing, the humor was just generic.

JJ Abrams' Star Trek Into Darkness? Easily the best movie of the year so far. The only question now is... What will JJ Abrams' Star Wars Episode VII bring?
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