Author Archives: zinar7

Board Game Jam Dice

Just in time for the 2023 Global Game Jam (which starts in a little over two weeks), I am pleased to announce the fruits of my latest creative ponderings: Board Game Jam Dice (BGJD)!

BGJD are a creative tool for game designers to aid in the ideation and development of tabletop games during game jams. Rolling the dice generates one of 46,656 different unique combinations – which a budding board game designer can use as inspiration for a brainstorming session.

They take heavy inspiration from Atomic Shrimp, whose Invention Dice triggered the idea in my head: it is possible to come up with a system that helps an author design a tabletop board game?

Simply take all six dice, roll them simultaneously and try to think up ideas for a game design which matches the concepts or game mechanics shown on the upper faces. Try that a few times then, once you have spent a few minutes on each, choose the idea that you most prefer and try to develop it into a fully-fledged board game. If it doesn’t work, or you’d like some additional options, feel free to roll the dice again to come up with a new idea – it’s up to you!

You can view and download all of the files here; including the instructions, print ‘n’ play materials and a glossary of terms:

If Tabletop Simulator is more your thing, you can download a Steam Workshop mod for BGJD here: https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=2914346381

If you have successfully used these dice in design of your game, or you have feedback to help improve future versions, then please post in the comments section below – I’d be really interested to hear how the dice worked for you!

[Zinar7]

Tagged , , , ,

DRAGONBALL 24HR: Lights Out

Tomorrow, I embark on the race of the lifetime. I’ll be attempting to virtually drive non-stop1  around the Le Mans race circuit for 24 hours entirely solo, raising money for Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance. I’d be delighted if you could join me.

Earlier this year, I jumped head-first into the hobby of simulation racing [sim racing] by buying my first wheel-and-pedals set; a Logitech G29 Driving Force Racing Wheel. I’ve long been a fan of racing video games and motorsport ever since I was child, but this was my first foray into the heady world of sim racing. I’d love to race in real life, but sadly lack enough of the talent (and money) to go motor racing for real – so this is the closest I can do.

Behold, the rig:

Last weekend (10-11 June 2022) was the 90th edition of the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans: an endurance motor race around the city of Le Mans in the heart of France. I’ve twice attended the race in the past (in 2010 and 2011) as a spectator, and there is such an incredible feeling and ‘buzz’ around the whole event; it is proper electric. I’ve got huge respect for the drivers, who are able to stay on the limit for so long; each sharing two-hour stints with two other drivers in a car over duration of the 24-hour race.

Before rules were introduced which mandated that each car had to be piloted by a three-driver team (for obvious safety reasons), two-driver teams were common – I can only imagine how demanding that must have been to keep alert through day and night for so long. However, only one driver in history ever completed the full 24 Hours of Le Mans entirely solo: Edward (“Eddie”) Ramsden Hall, who undertook the feat during the the race in 1950:

“When asked what provision should be made for the, er, more fundamental of human functions during a 24 hour solo drive, Eddie Hall’s advice was short and succinct: ‘Wear green overalls.’”

Frankel (2017), ‘The One-Man Squad that Took On Le Mans

When I started sim racing earlier this year, I was really intrigued to try to see if I could do the same – race for 24 hours straight, and live to tell the tale. But I didn’t just want to tell the tale – I was keen to put it to good use to raise some awareness about a good cause at the same time. 

I considered a number of charitable causes that I could do this challenge in aid of: however, I wanted to choose one where I thought my contribution/donation would be able to have a direct and noticeable effect – a meaningful impact, rather than being just a drop in the ocean. The answer was somewhere close to home: the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance (HIOWAA).

In the current time (post-pandemic, cost of living crisis, cuts to public services), it feels important to be able to ensure that critical medical services are available to anyone when needed; where urgent medical attention could, quite literally, be a matter of life and death.   

It’s the only facility (and charity) of its type in this local area and so it is one-of-a-kind – every time I hear or see the chopper going overhead, it’s kind of reassuring that there is an air ambulance facility still flying and helping save people’s lives: you never know when it might be you (or someone you love) that needs it.

As a side note: when I was originally designing the car livery for this challenge before I had even settled on HIOWAA as the primary recipient, I chose the car number ‘56’ simply due to its similarity to my initials (“SG”) and a naïve pipe-dream that it would one day grace a race helmet of mine. However, little did I know that the number 56 is the call-sign of the HIOWAA air ambulance (“Helimed56”) – clearly this was, as they say, a sign.

It’s not going to be easy – it might not be a physical challenge in the ‘traditional’ sense (I guess I’ll get a bit of cardio from steering the wheel and putting pedal to metal, but that’s about it), but it will be a challenge to keep up the energy and focus for a full 24 hours; especially as I’ll be live-streaming and potentially engaging with any viewers who drop by.

This is also all going to be pretty “new” to me: so far, the longest I’ve spent racing at a time has been a few hours – this will be quite a different beast. I’ve also never live-streamed before – in the run-up to this challenge, I’ve had to learn how to operate and set up livestreaming software, and practice being on camera whilst talking-and-driving. I think I’m up to the challenge; though I might need a constant supply of coffee to avoid sleeping at the wheel.

The hardest part will be when the Sun goes down – I’ll need to devise strategies to keep the momentum going and avoid drowsiness coming on. I estimate that I’ll complete around 360 laps over the course of the challenge, so I’m going to be seeing the same landmarks (grandstands, trees, road signs, advertising hoarding) over and over so will have to avoid the impulse to switch off completely – hopefully I can get into a rhythm of good lap times to keep me alert.

At the time of publication, we’ve already raised over £700, which is mind-blowing – I’d like to say a huge huge huge “thank you” to everyone who has contributed so far, it is absolutely amazing. The JustGiving campaign has already exceeded my wildest expectations – there has been strong support from family and friends and even some more far-flung supporters, and the green light hasn’t even gone out yet!

Thank you SO SO SO much – your support really makes a difference to the charity and the services provided by the air ambulance team, and I hope that I have even helped to raise more awareness of HIOWAA and their good work – even amongst motorsport fans further afield who may have stumbled across some of my posts or videos on social media. 

Right, we’ll there’s just around 24 hours to go now ’til it’s lights out and away we go – so I’m gonna go get prepared. See you at the end of the race 🏁

[Zinar7]

1 Well, minus the occasional bathroom break. I’m not a monster (!)

Tagged , , , , ,

Dragonball 24HR: FAQs

Over the 2nd-3rd July 2022, me and my co-driver David will be attempting to virtually drive non-stop around the Le Mans race circuit for 24 hours in the Project CARS 2 racing simulator to raise money for Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance [HIOWAA].

Since this is a frankly barmy idea (and one that we will livestream via YouTube) that will subject both of us to a fair amount of public humiliation regarding our bad driving, it that would be massively appreciated if you can help us make it through this ordeal by sparing a few bob for the fine folksHIOWAA.

You can find more details, including links to donate towards our £1000 target, here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/dragonball24-for-hiowaa

  • Why are you raising money for Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance?

The Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance (HIOWAA) is an air ambulance service serving the counties of Hampshire and Isle of Wight in Southern England, responding to major trauma injuries and other incidents in need of a fast response/transfer to hospital.

HIOWAA’s Air Ambulance and Critical Care Team Vehicles are operational 7 days a week and attend an average of four incidents per day; many of them life-saving. The Air Ambulance can be anywhere in Hampshire within 15 minutes, and operates from 7am until 2am, 365 days a year. 

To support this work, HIOWAA rely entirely on donations from the community: it costs approximately £15,000 a day to keep their life-saving service operational, and they receive no direct government support.

  • Where does the money go?

All of the money raised from fundraising events (like this!) get funnelled back into keeping the HIOWAA vehicle fleet in the air and on the road, supporting their medical personnel in treating critical incidents across the South Coast. Every £50 donated could help HIOWAA purchase two high-quality thermal blankets, five packs of tourniquets, or replace a complete set of defibrillator pads.

HIOWAA’s Critical Care Teams are made up of Specialist Critical Care Paramedics, HEMS Doctors and Pilots; all equipped with state-of-the-art technology and advanced medication. The Air Ambulance is a twin-engined Airbus H135 helicopter (“Helimed56”): they can be at the scene of an incident within minutes, ready to deliver the same level of care that you would expect from a hospital emergency department.

You can find out more about where your donation goes by clicking: here.

  • Why aren’t you using <INSERT RACE SIMULATOR HERE> ?

It might be a few years old now (2015), but Project CARS 2 still looks fantastic and we wanted to give viewers something pretty to look at; especially the weather and day/night cycle effects.

As racing sims go, it might not be quite the pinnacle of physics realism when compared to something like Assetto Corsa Competizione, but it’s more than enough for a silly challenge like this. Plus, it natively supports multi-class, 24-hour races at Le Mans, so that’s ideal.

  • What race conditions are you using?

We’ll be playing an offline (single-player) race vs 90% AI difficulty. Between us, we have only been sim racing for a few months, so this AI difficulty setting is reasonably well-matched to our current skills.

We’ll be driving for 24 hours of both real and “in-game” time: we can only swap drivers for bathroom, food and rest breaks when the car goes into the pits – much like the real racers at Le Mans – and won’t be permitted to pause the game unless there’s a severe issue.

Weather is on RANDOM and with a realistic day/night cycle for July in the centre of France. We might get rain, we might get clear skies – we’ll leave it up to the RNG Gods.

All damage will be visual-only, i.e. not performance-limiting: we don’t want bad luck (or bad driving, which is much more likely) causing our race to end and ruining the challenge. Likewise, all flags and penalties will be suppressed, so we don’t run the risk of disqualification if one of us accidentally exceeds track limits too many times. The Toyota TS050 Hybrid is fitted with a native Traction Control (TC) and Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS), but otherwise we’ll be using no driving aids.

There’s a grid of 31 other cars on the track, across three classes of car: LMP1-H [the class we’ll be in], LMP2 and GTE. Our starting grid position will be RANDOM, and the race gets underway via a rolling start.

  • When does it start / finish?

It’ll be lights out and away we go at around 0700 UTC on Saturday 02 July 2022 (that’s 08:00 UK time). Unless there’s any technical issues, the finish time will be at 0700 UTC the following day, Sunday 03 July 2022.

  • How will you go to the toilet?

We’ll have to wait until the next time the car comes in for a scheduled pit stop for fuel or tyres, and let the other driver jump into the rig.

  • What happens if the game crashes mid-race?

We’ll just restart in a new race, and drive until we’ve done a full 24 hours of in-game time. Hopefully we get through the whole race without any technical issues this time, but if any pop up then we’ll get back into the game as quickly as possible and continue until we’ve completed the full stretch in the car.

  • What happens if the steering wheel breaks?

If there’s a critical failure of the sim rig, then we’ll switch over to a gamepad to finish the rest of the race; even if that means having to switch to another video game. We ain’t quittin’.

  • What does “Dragonball 24HR” mean?

When me and my friends travelled to France by car & ferry to spectate at the 2010 and 2011 24 Hours of Le Mans, we stickered up our cars like racing cars; pretending that we were entrants in a fictional endurance race called the “Dragonball 24HR” (riffing on the Cannonball Run and the Gumball 3000, but more geeky). We even designed a logo for it, which you can find below on the left:

When choosing to do this challenge, it made sense to resurrect the monicker and pretend that we’re a part of a legendary and lucrative 24-hour race myself, for great justice. You can see the updated logo above, on the right.

So, the short answer is: “it doesn’t mean anything”; but the long answer is: “it means everything.”

  • What race track are you driving on?

This is the Circuit de la Sarthe, the 8.5-mile route around the Southern end of the town of Le Mans in central France. It’s a mix of purpose-built racetrack and public roads (which are closed for the 24 Hours of Le Mans event) and has been supporting motor races for around one hundred years.

  • What car are you driving?

Unfortunately, due to technical issues, it’s not possible to drive the Lola-Aston Martin DR1-2 Le Mans Prototype 1 (LMP1) car which was mocked and stickered up in aid of this challenge (see screenshot below) – instead, we’ll be in a Toyota TS050 Hybrid from the 2016 World Endurance Championship.

The Toyota has a 2.4L twin-turbo petrol engine with an 8 MJ hybrid-electric system, which can be deployed for short bursts via a button on the steering wheel. And it is fast.

  • How far do you expect to get?

Based on my estimates, we’re likely to complete around 12 laps between each pit stop; meaning that we can cover (12 x 8.47 = 101 miles) and fuel back up every 45 minutes.

So, with a fair wind, we should be able to complete around 375 laps in 24 hours; or 3175 miles – that’s about the same distance as London to Boston as the crow flies. However, we’ll be tired and sleepy, and probably crash a lot, so you can’t rule anything out.

  • Do you have any sub-challenges?

We are aiming to:

  • Complete over 360 laps over the course of the race
  • Crash fewer than 24 times (i.e. less than one major inchident per hour)
  • Set a fastest lap better than 03:30.000
  • Not fall asleep at the wheel
  • Finish “not last” in the LMP1 class by the end of the race
  • Raise as much money as we can for HIOWAA

  • What are those logos on the car?

[Fictional]

  • Penistone Oils: A joke from the British version of Top Gear. When you cover up the last eight letters, it sort of spells a rude word… I’ll let you work that one out for yourselves.
  • JLB Credit: This is the fictional loan and credit company that Mark works for in the Channel 4 show, Peep Show. I watch a heck of a lot of Peep Show, so it made sense to include the brand here.
  • Larsen’s Biscuits: Another one from Top Gear – this time, if you cover up the “L” and “N’s” then the remaining letters spell “Arse Biscuits”, which is obviously funny.
  • Racing Sports Network: This is the sports channel that broadcasts motor racing in the Disney-Pixar movie, Cars. It made sense to nick a bunch of the fictional brands from the franchise, hence why you’ll also see Hostile Takeover Bank, Clutch Aid and the Piston Cup logo smattered around the bodywork.
  • Octan: A bit of a retro one here; it’s the fictional gas and oil company from LEGO City playsets from the mid-90s onwards. For some reason, it’s always stuck with me even though it’s not the most recognisable LEGO marque these days.
  • Xero Gas: Another fictional gas and oil company, this one is from the Grand Theft Auto series of video games; particularly GTA V.
  • Mr. Fusion: The Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactor is the power source used by the Mark II DeLorean Time Machine from Back to the Future. BttF is one of the greatest films ever made, hence it’s appearance here.

[Real]

  • Nurofen: I strongly suspect that, after 24 hours of gaming, my head will be pretty sore and in need of some pain relief.
  • Rich Energy: Well, I couldn’t not include this one, could I? The whole saga is far too long to go into here, but suffice to say that it’s become a bit of a meme in the F1 world. I’m yet to actually track down a can of it but, if I can, then I will attempt to taste-test it during the livestream.
  • Haribo: I like sweets.
  • Michelin: The original Aston Martin DBR1-2 livery was already plastered with Michelin logos given that those were the tyres that it ran, and I was too lazy to photoshop them out. So, yeah.

  • Are you really sponsored by any of those brands?

Haha, no, of course not.

  • What steering wheel are you using?

It’s a Logitech G29 Driving Force wheel (with pedals). It’s towards the budget end of force-feedback steering wheels, but seems to suit me just fine.

FYI: I also have the Logitech G Driving Force Shifter but, since the Toyota TS050 Hybrid has a flappy-paddle system that we can control from the steering wheel, we don’t need to use it for this challenge.

  • What are those gloves that you’re wearing?

They are F33L IT SR2 sim racing gloves. You can buy them for yourself here: https://www.f33l.gg/shop/sr2-sim-racing-gloves-new (they didn’t pay me to say that, either).

Thank you for the donations and support so far – we still have a little way to meet the next target of £1000: if you are able to help us make it through this challenge by sparing a few bob for this fantastic cause, then that would be most excellent 😊❤


You can find more details, including links to donate towards the fundraising target, here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/dragonball24-for-hiowaa

[Zinar7]

Tagged , , , , ,

Reich of the Living Dead: Part Two

NZ-2.png

Last week, I kicked off a delightful yuletide journey to separate the undead from the FUNdead of the current crop of Nazi Zombie movies with the opening statement: Reich of the Living Dead: Part One.

Naturally, there are more movies to cover in the future and (no doubt) more entries to spring forth in future but, to wrap up this festive miracle, I hereby lay forth the concluding, second part of this mini pop-culture quest.

Merry Christmas, one and all!

 

Divider

Outpost [2008, Steve Barker]

Outpost DVD

My goodness, Outpost certainly makes you crave a bit of colour on your screen.

Predominantly painted in the dreary hues of bunker grey, mud brown and camouflage green, Outpost sets out to bring a little bit of grit to Nazi zombie genre; propelling a group of mercenaries – escorting a stoic and chiselled British spelunker – towards an abandoned East European bunker-like outpost in search of…something (to be determined). When the unsubtly-multinational team stumble across a whole host of paranormal hooley blowing around them, it soon appears that the site was once an SS military research facility attempting to bend space, time and immortality. Well, bugger.

This premise kicks off a rather military-flavoured action-horror crusade, pinning man vs. immortal in a way which manages to keep things deeply mystical and shrouded rather than explosive or, say, interesting. Whilst the cinematography, acting and dialogue is of a high quality, there is an undoubted vacuum of charismata in both pro- and antagonists: indeed, the biggest villain – the chilling Brigadeführer Götz – is woefully underutilised and painfully lifeless. But hey, maybe that’s the point.

Whilst, in the main, Outpost does manage to avoid treading on the same old Nazi zombie tropes, it falls over in its rather rigid adherence to the action-movie header without ever fully embracing the obvious paranormal parallels; culminating in a growingly tedious siege-style set-piece polished off with a hammy finale. Indeed, it goes to show that once you drain all of the colour out of an engaging concept and paint over it with camouflage gear, butch mercenaries and 9 mm rounds, what’s left is something just a bit dreary.

Something that not even Tyres (Michael Smiley) from Spaced can brighten up.

 

Frankenstein’s Army [2013, Richard Raaphorst]

FrankensteinsArmy

Frankenstein’s Army, on the other hand, is spectacular.

Emerging from the rubble of director Richard Raaphorst’s previous project, Worst Case Scenario, comes a full-blown 80-minute found-footage film which gives even Dead Snow a run for its money as my favourite film on this entire list. Taking the concept of Nazi occult experimentation to its natural conclusion, the premise sees a Soviet reconnaissance team going deep into the Eastern Front to discover an undead legion of previously-human robotic Nazi homunculi with a whole manner of afflictions: scythes for hands, iron maidens for heads and giant pincers for hands, it’s all here.Wow.

Naturally, this leads to a whole bunch of rip-roaring action as the Russian team lurch from one dangerous situation to the next; each time, ramping up the dread as the peril escalates. The film’s style and theme is a perfect fit for the “found-footage” genre, and the cinematography is superbly worked to bring out the best in the style: indeed, Frankenstein’s Army represents probably my favourite of the sub-genre; rivalling even [.REC] for vision and technique. The quality of acting and dialogue also matches the high-quality of visuals, and both creature- and set-design is absolutely top-notch.

There’s a super amount of ‘vision’ on display here, and a wonderful amount of joy in seeing a director left to build a fascinating and creative world without much in the way of creative restraint. Either way, and by a long shot, it’s the only movie I’ll watch this year that features a lumbering Nazi zombie with a rotating aeroplane propeller as a face. So that’s nice.

 

Zombie Lake [1981, Jean Rollin]

ZombieLake1

And from the sublime, we go to the ridiculous.

A little like the cursed body of water which forms its main backdrop, Zombie Lake truly scrapes the bottom of the Nazi zombie barrel. Sure, you’ve got to expect that anything emerging from the soft-focus nightmare of European cinema in the late 70s/early 80s hardly going to have dated well, but it’s almost as if they were trying to make it ostensibly sleazy.

Zombie Lake (also: Le Lac des Morts Vivants; this one’s French, innit) circulates around a damned lake which harbours a legion of undead Wehrmacht with a penchant for kidnapping young girls who skinny-dip in the lake; in one case, even a whole female basketball team. Bizarrely, salvation lies in a 10-year old girl, a demonic ceremony, and a flamethrower; naturally. While it purports to be a horror film drawing on the Nazi zombie schtick, there are times when it’s hard to diagnose it from softcore pornography: it starts off immediately with full-frontal nudity and lapses into it with alarming regularity.

Out of all the movies that I have persevered through whilst on this quest so far, this has been by far the biggest struggle. The acting is contagiously hammy, the plot mind-bogglingly clunky, and there’s an unbelievable amount of lingering, padding shots that equally lurch from one scene to another as if the film-cutter was attacking the cutting-room floor with a handful of secateurs. It tries to straddle the diverse pillars arthouse and grindhouse, but manages to fall catastrophically into the chasm in between; make sure you bring your crampons, because it’ll be a slippery journey.

 

 Werewolves of the Third Reich [2017, Andrew Jones]

WerewolvesOfTheThirdReich

Ok, so I’ve bent the rules a little. But hey, werewolves are pretty much just hairier zombies, right?

Werewolves of the Third Reich (WotTR) emerged out of the fog during a visit to a local brick ‘n’ mortar entertainment store, and I took a punt. The premise is this: Josef Mengele – the notorious ‘Angel of Death’ who conducted a series of human experiments at Auschwitz – has, by some nefarious means (comprising an overlong and extremely over-acted interrogation scene between a German scientist and a couple of highly-camp SS officers), acquired a serum allowing the fusion of genetic material to create monstrous beasts. Thus, at a generic Nazi scientific facility called “Camp 7”, the plan, naturally, is to construct an invulnerable Nazi-Chimera supervillain from wolf and man (supernaturally).

Yet, bizarrely, WotTR reaches to reach almost two-thirds of its run-time before anything materialises: in which time we’ve stampeded through three chapters of padded-out exposition, an Adolf Hitler with Parkinson’s Disease and the least convincing swastika flag that I’ve ever seen on screen. When the aforementioned werewolves werewolf does turn up (to imply ‘plural’ would be gross misrepresentation), there’s literally no momentum behind the film; a vacuum of plot, punchlines and peril. It’s low-budget, but fails to live up to even the lowest expectations and provides little in the way of hook to draw the viewer in.

Still, there is some entertainment to be had from the top-quality German dialogue that appears that it was translated word-by-word using Google Translate; I guess one has to enjoy the kleine dinge, eh?

Divider

 

So, that brings things (as well as 2018) to something of a close. Sure, I’ve managed to pack in two, bumper posts just as the curtain falls on the year, but I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of the genre; there’s still plenty of ground to cover.

With that in mind, you have my word that this journey will continue into 2019; until then, Happy New Year!

[Zinar7]

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Reich of the Living Dead: Part One

NZ-1.png

Friends of mine will know that I’ve long harboured a passion for a certain sub-genre of horror movie: the Nazi zombie movie.

Quite where this guilty pleasure arose from, I have no idea; I’m certainly no fascist or hold any love for the Nazi Party or their political views. Maybe it’s just that mashing “zombies” and “Nazis” together is like evil x evil (evil squared) and makes for a right treat for those insatiable gorehounds like me for whom regular zombies are just a little…tame.

Anyway, the last decade has seen a meteoric rise in the number of movies hoping to capitalise on the bandwagon, so it seemed like as good a time as any to give them all a run for their money and see how they hold up. Hence, over two parts, I will review the main players in the franchise and give you my low-down of what’s undead and what’s FUNdead.

Hey, it’s Christmas, right?

 

Divider

Dead Snow [2009, Tommy Wirkola]

DeadSnow

This is it. The undisputed king.

Dead Snow sets the gold standard for all Nazi zombie movies everywhere and, arguably (alongside Outpost, which will be covered in Part II next week), ushered in the recent slew of movies that is the focus of this pop-culture study. It’s everything that all others aspire to be, and the benchmark against which all are rated.

But it’s with good reason, because it achieves a level of cinematic quality both equalled by the calibre of both script and special effects. What first appears to be just another generic “bunch of friends go to a cabin in the mountains and spooky shit starts happening” soon emerges into an innovative action-zomedy that’s propelled by a solid setup: during World War II, a group of Einsatzgruppen (SS) found themselves hounded into the Norwegian mountains by local resistance townsfolk, where they were expected to perish. However, perish they didn’t; instead, straddling both life and death deep beneath the snow until awoken from their apparent slumber by Martin and friends, who semi-accidentally disturb a horde of Nazi treasure located under the floorboards of their rented cabin. Cue awakening of Standartenführer Herzog and his death squad in an undead limbo state à la Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, until all of the Nazi gold can be returned to its restful state.

The action is also superbly-choreographed, and balances action, comedy and tension to perfection whilst the blissful-white snow presents the perfect backdrop for buckets of blood to be sprayed across the mountain. Rarely is it the case that a silly, low-budget B-movie hits all the right notes at all the right times but, in the case of Død Snø, the stars align majestically.

What a film.

 

Nazi Zombie Death Tales [2012, Eaves/Higgins/Ronald]

NZDT.jpg

Where Dead Snow was blessed with an actual film crew and a suitable budget to boot, not all horror movies are quite so fortunate. Naturally, though, the Nazi zombie myth is one which attracts all comers to the B-movie bandwagon; hence, even low-budget independent film-makers seek to plunder its gory depths. In that spirit Nazi Zombie Death Tales (also known as Angry Nazi Zombies; also known as Battlefield Death Tales) presents three separate half-hour stories, glued together with a bit of sticky tape and a heck of a lot of goodwill:

Medal of Horror is the pick of the bunch, with some genuinely impressive cinematic vision clearly crunched into a miniscule budget and available cast. It also features the best writing and direction of the trio, along with both the most convincing storyline as well as the most entertaining (and featuring the lion’s share of the Nazi zombies indicated by the film’s title) in a light-hearted B-movie action brawler. If you’re a Nazi zombie nut, fill ‘yer boots here; ‘cause it only heads downhill.

Harriet’s War escalates to full-on ghost story; featuring a spunky paranormal investigator sleuthing some ponderous swastika-related brutalities in a sleepy country village in middle England. Despite a drop in cinematic vision compared to the first instalment, it rips along at a pace and with some well-written dialogue and creepy narrative; delivering a Nazi-demon tale that’s reasonably fulfilling and (almost) well-rounded despite some flaws.

After the first two acts, Devils of the Blitz is, alas, the weak child. For starters, it misses the Nazi zombie mark by eine landmeile; managing only a poorly-realised devil-monster that neither feels convincing nor a valid threat. The background story is disappointingly one-dimensional and the cast and script are, alas, decidedly amateur; yielding a final tale that both drags incessantly but also barely makes up the numbers. Furthermore, if it weren’t for its WWII blitz setting, there’s no way that it would sit alongside the other tales; as it is, it simply provides a disappointing dessert to an otherwise satisfying three-course Nazi zombie supper.

As a result, Nazi Zombie Death Tales remains something of a mixed bag. Certainly not the runt of the litter, but merely a footnote in the annals of the Nazizomnicon.

 

Devils of War [2013, Eli Dorsey]

DevilsofWar

On the whole, the current crop of Nazi zombie movies take place in the modern day, with the WW2 undead reanimated 60 years after their original demise. Devils of War, however, bucks the trend to adopt a period 1944 setting to play background to a tale of SS experimentation into the occult and transformation of German soldiers into berserking, red-eyed demons. But, while there’s a solid premise behind the B-movie schtick, the result is a little underwhelming.

A rogue SS unit (named the Hande der Mammons and led by a female officer who was clearly cast based on her rank on the “buxomness” scale rather than the one describing “acting talent”), are holed up in a bunker behind the lines, stealing young girls from the Polish countryside and reading Latin scripture in terrible accents. Four US soldiers meeting the ISO-standard A-Team Formula (the “Old” one, the “Black” one, the “Suave” one and the “Mad” one) are sent in to investigate and report back; in the process stumbling from one action montage to the next, glued together with the thinnest coating of narrative imaginable.

Said action sequences are somewhat slow and elongated but, for what it’s worth, are fairly high in tension and nicely-choreographed, framed & directed. However, what these ultimately manage to mask is the absolutely atrocious story and dialogue which comes to the fore during the breaks and is so utterly devoid of any actual drama, tension or humour that it’s an ongoing battle to remain alert. Devils of War’s biggest enemy, then is pacing. With a little more care applied to the lulls, the bangs could be even more spectacular; but, as it is, they’re simply brief flashes of excitement in an otherwise dreary campaign. Yawn.

 

War of the Dead [2011, Marko Mäkilaakso]

WOTD_DVD

Following the shambled efforts of Devils of War in pasting a supernatural zombie-horror onto a WW2 action movie, War of the Dead shows you how you do it properly. Although the narrative premise is kept to a subtle minimum (there is one there; you just need to dig for it a bit), it doesn’t rely on the over-used trope of Nazi occult experimentation to propel the movie through; merely hinting at it whilst maintaining a strong focus on the well-delivered dialogue, action sequences and photography.

A company of Finnish soldiers, led by Captain Stone of the US Army, embark on a black ops mission toward a bunker behind Russian enemy lines, only to soon find themselves overrun by fast-running zombies and oppressive enemy forces. Following a swift escape by small, but dwindling group, the film focuses on their allegiance with a Russian enemy-cum-ally and their efforts to escape the terror which, alas, only bring them closer to the source of the hordes.

What takes over a tight 76 minutes is a relatively well-storied horror action thriller, with a bold and well-paced script matched by high-quality photography that certainly asymptotes toward the meteoric production values of much bigger-budget productions. What keeps it on the rails is a level of restraint to avoid overambitious; constraining the action and pace to manageable levels, and resisting the urge to to drift into cringeworthy, ill-advised comedy. War of the Dead does well to avoid the near-constant lean of WW2 movies to retain an unsubtle Nazi “baddie” as the prime antagonist; in the process, maintaining a focus on the monstrous without resorting to cartoonish Nazi tropes. It’s not quite up there to topple Dead Snow, but it makes a damned good stab at it.

(damned, get it?)

Divider

 

Anyway, with that, I shall leave things for now. But watch this space; for, next week, shall come to conclusion to this mini-adventure with Part Two of this Nazi zombie fun-quest.

See you next week!

[Zinar7]

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

That’s A Puzzlin’: Part 2

Puzzlin_2

In my entry last week [That’s A Puzzlin’: Part I], I chronicled a little about the curious puzzle-box that Pete and I put together for a holiday I took with a two handfuls of friends at an impromptu board games retreat out in Devon last month.

In that post, I covered the first three of the five puzzles which made up the quest; so it seems only fair to document the final two, and apply some closure to what it all led to. Let’s find out:

20170224_095210

Puzzle #4: Rings

The purpose of Puzzle #2 (Lovecraft) was, in essence, to lead the player’s brains to think about using the Study as a hint mechanism for future clues involving books. Pete had always wanted to put in book cipher as one of the puzzles; so, having pre-prepped a candidate book with which to hide a cipher in the form of coordinates to specific page numbers, lines and words, we dropped the envelope containing Puzzle #4 on the hallway calendar on Friday evening.

I’d already hidden a copy of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit on the bookshelf in the study when I placed the Lovecraft code within Puzzle #2, so all the players had to do for this one was to interpret the riddle and hunt for a copy of the book – which they dutifully did after a minor amount of head-scratching. Then, using the three-number combinations, they would then need to construct a sentence (to be even more accurate, a question) using the specified coordinates; likely using a bit of trial-and-error to work out what the number combinations meant before stumbling on the correct structure: [PAGE NUMBER] [LINE NUMBER] [WORD NUMBER].

20170221_184321

Doing so would, eventually, translate the following trivia question, giving the solution to Puzzle #4 (and on which we had banked on our player’s Lord of the Rings knowledge to come up with the correct answer; an assumption which stuck):

HOW
MANY
RINGS
OF
POWER
WERE
GIVEN
TO
MEN
?

The answer, of course, is nine; giving the directional combination (←↑) corresponding the runic ‘H’ symbol on the original “combination lock clue page”.

Now, I haven’t (yet) explained the importance of this so, before I introduce the fifth (and final) puzzle of the game, I’ll briefly go into the meaning of it all.

20170221_195141

Early on, Pete and I had identified that, if we dropped the various directional combinations in order across the weekend, it wouldn’t be impossible for a brute-force method (of trying all of the combinations for the last code) to bear fruit once four-fifths of the code had been ‘unlocked’. To counter this, we aimed to drip-feed the combination parts not in order, such that the risk of brute-force entry would be minimised. To add an extra layer of puzzling to the game, the players would be given clues which associated with five directional combinations (associated with five symbols) which then would then need to work out what was linked with what.

The symbols for each would be hinted at in the form of small markings on each of the initial clue envelopes containing each puzzle: Puzzle #1 (Jigsaw) had a rudimentary London Underground symbol; Puzzle #2 (Lovecraft) was a love-heart for obvious reasons; Puzzle #3 (Pigpen) had a ‘#X’ representing the two pigpen keys; Puzzle #5 (Limes) had a five-pointed star for reasons that will be revealed in the next section; but Puzzle #4 (Rings) had a runic ‘D’ because this is the symbol which is drawn on Tolkien’s map in The Hobbit marking the secret door on the Lonely Mountain. When placed all together, they would lead to a string of directions to be entered into the padlock, eventually releasing the goodies within.

Puzzle #5: Limes

The fifth, and final puzzle, drew experience from a meme that has been orbiting our circle of friends for many years: the meme of hiding limes in each other’s houses.

This tradition kind of started at the annual party at Dan’s house (“OckFest”) whereby limes would be hidden in bizarre places in Dan’s kitchen, intending them to be uncovered while performing unrelated tasks; for example: finding a lime in the box of Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes when pouring out the morning cereal; discovering a lime hidden inside the tube of kitchen roll when reaching to mop up a spillage; hearing a lime fall out of a hollowed-out French baguette when beginning to make a sandwich.

Without wishing to blow one another’s trumpets too heavily, Pete and I are professionals when it comes to the international sport of Lime-Hiding. It was inevitable that we would initiate this tradition at The Winter Games 2017, but I forget which of us had the genius of incorporating it into the Puzzle Box game. Either way, the task for the players would be to figure out how many limes were hidden in a particular room, and then to use that number as the final directional combination.

The initial clue was provided in riddle form:

How many of I
Are plucked from the tree
And made into pie
You’ll find that’s the key

See? It’s a pun. KEY LIME PIE. Like, a key to a box that’s also a hint for the players to try and find some limes somewhere.

On each lime, we drew a five-pointed star and a number specified in Roman numerals: however, the trick was that the limes would not be numbered consecutively. Overall, four limes would be hidden, with numbers I, II, IV and VI; the twist being that, if the players simply entered ‘six limes’ as the solution, they would be incorrect. Y’see, we had circled the ‘I’ in “How many of I”, indicating that the players should not – in fact – be counting the number of limes, but instead the number of ‘i’s in the numerals written on the limes; equaling five, yielding the directional combination (↓↑).

Furthermore, the missing numerals (III and V) were simply a red herring designed to make the players hunt even harder. Yes; I know I’m a meanie.

Because our original plan to hide limes in the kitchen became untenable because of the sheer people traffic that would be present in the kitchen at any one time, we were forced to change tack to hide limes in the games room annex where it was much easier to steal away time to distribute some fruit about the place. Hence, to do this, and while deployed at #TheWinterGames, I hastily mocked up an additional sheet of paper giving a hint towards the players looking in the games room by scribbling “Want to play a game?” and including it in the envelope right before deployment.

20170320_172502

However, due to a simple lack of properly thinking through the implications of that phrase, we kind of didn’t realise that that’s also a quote from the movie Saw, spoken by the main antogonist, ‘Jigsaw’; causing everyone to suddenly barrel down the hallway into the Dining Room (where Puzzle #1 [Jigsaw]) was still set up, frantically searching for an answer. Secondly, everyone appeared to miss the “key lime pie” solution to the clue and instead immediately leapt to the solution of “four-and-twenty blackbirds”; since, like limes, these are also a Thing™ which can be found in a tree but also baked into a pie, according to the nursery rhyme. In retrospect, it was actually a little satisfying to have the players burrow down the wrong rabbit-hole in search of this unintentional red herring [let’s call this “Winter Games Puzzle Box Stroke of Luck #2”] but, at the time, it was immensely stressful to have to watch them struggle down a futile path and yet not be able to interfere, lest I give the game away.

However, some gentle nudging highlighted that the solution was in fact ‘limes’; at which point, several reconnaissance groups were despatched to the various rooms of the house to hunt for round, green objects. After a short while, one of the search  parties returned with four limes, and fairly swiftly cottoned on the Roman Numerals code; arriving at the answer of ‘five’.

So, our players now had everything they needed to open the box; and open the box, they did. Also: I’d love to say that I’d planned to paint the box green to match the limes, but that was simply happy coincidence.

20170221_203857

Puzzle #Z: Endgame

So, with great expectation and encircled by a perimeter of excited (if still confused) faces, one plucky adventurer keyed in the winning combination (↓↑↓↓↑↓←↓→←↓←↑), undid the chains and, with mild trepidation, lifted the lid of the confusing green box.

Inside was a map.

20170221_200349

A map of the house, with an ‘X’ marked on in big, black pen. (Which Pete and I had to scribble in on location, after we’d figured out a good place to hide the prize).

The ‘X’ on the map led the participants out to the back garden where, under the cover of darkness in the late hours of the previous night, I had wrapped the final prize booty in an old carrier bag under stone lawn roller in the approximate location of the ‘X’ marking. Following a brief period of scurrying and scouting, the booty was located by a tall, loud Spaniard and brought inside to the metaphorical sound of bugle-horns heralding the arrival of a monarch returning from a crusade.

20170221_191904

And so, with the ‘pop-thmph’ of the cork ejaculating from the bottle and reverberating off the living room’s wall, the adventure was over; the puzzle was solved. I’ll be honest: it was a heck of a lot of fun putting it all together and I adored the act of thinking to think laterally to come up with mysteries and conundrums that would (hopefully) confuse, but enthuse, an odd assortment of my friends.

Undoubtedly, there will be another #TheWinterGames; where Pete and I join forces to do something like this again remains to be seen. Perhaps it’d be not quite as fun if the players knew who was doing it all, but perhaps that would give us even more scope to add complexity given that – in event of them getting “stuck” – they’d be able to ask for help. I don’t know, we’ll have to see what the future brings.

Either way, it’s been mighty enjoyable recapping and documenting what happened in a wonderful house a month or so ago; and I hope it has been for you, too. Godspeed, puzzlers.

[Zinar7]

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

That’s a Puzzlin’: Part 1

Puzzlin_1

Almost a month ago now, myself and thirteen other board game fanatics whisked ourselves into the wilderness a house in rural Devon to spend five days (#TheWinterGames) playing board games, chilling out and having a good time.

With the above in mind, and knowing that our cohabitants were the type(s) of people to appreciate a good mystery, my friend Pete and I hatched a plan to make a series of puzzles; beginning with a simple box locked with a directional padlock and a series of cryptic clues, that would entertain throughout the weekend.

Our initial aims of this endeavour were as follows:

  1. Make an interesting puzzle-box, treasure-hunt thing to amuse people during #TheWinterGames
  2. Have a series of puzzles, each yielding a number with which to punch into a combination lock; roughly one per day
  3. Have something interesting/rewarding to find once all the puzzles have been solved and the box has been opened

To complete the above three objectives, we proceeded to put together a spiffy wooden box, some chain and a wonderful combination lock (that you unlock using a combination of directions and which looks enthusiastically like the D-pad from a video game controller) which would serve as the booty for a treasure hunt-slash-escape room-style puzzle that would blossom over the long weekend.

After sourcing a plain, pine wood box and decorating it colourfully using some bright green ink, we had a serviceable lockbox that would mysteriously appear after everyone had arrived for the weekend and, hopefully, prove sufficiently interesting to pique their curiosity. For all of the puzzle materials (letters, envelopes, etc.) I wanted to give it an ‘aged’ feel to it to sort-of imply that it was all spooky and mysterious and done by some sort of benevolent ghost, so went to great efforts to tea-stain and crinkle the paper to make them look like aged manuscripts, and used a fountain pen (and my best joined-up, slanty-posh handwriting) to make it look old and not easily identifiable as mine. It worked.

We came up with five puzzles in total, each one of which would yield a directional code which, when all put together, would each lead to a letter or number; equating to a two- or three-digit combination of UP-DOWN-LEFT-RIGHT directions when cross-referenced on a cheat sheet (see above). Discovering the complete code and entering it into the padlock would, eventually, unlock the box and reveal its clandestine contents; but not before the previous five puzzles had been solved.

Thus, at circa 1800 on Wednesday night, the lockbox (and first clue) was deposited in the study. Game on.

M11

Puzzle #1: Jigsaw

We’d always wanted to include a jigsaw puzzle in the remit, but had some initial difficulties in figuring out how to make it lead to a single number for input into a combination lock.

While visiting family over the Christmas holidays, I stumbled upon a jigsaw puzzle of the classic (modern) London Underground map in my parents’ games cabinet and hatched an idea to have the players identify a single station on it to find the solution. The plan was to leave out a piece showing Camden Road, and then for the players to look that up on a sheet to get the right code; see below. So far, so good.

 

Except: in my eagerness to make the puzzle not quite as time-consuming as it could be, I went through the jigsaw bag removing all the blank white pieces of the jigsaw, so that only the map itself was there, and two things happened:

  1. I accidentally took out some parts of the map itself, including the whole of Leicester Square station, and
  2. When writing the list of stations with associated letters/symbols, I kind of forgot to write Camden Road, because I’m an idiot.

However, because (1) and (2) happened at the same time [let’s call this “Winter Games Puzzle Box Stroke of Luck #1”], we could change the first solution to be “Liverpool Street” (giving an ‘R’ and therefore ↓↑↓) and pretend that it was always supposed to be like that. So, taking great effort to be VERY QUIET INDEED, we snuck downstairs very early on Thursday morning while everyone was still sleeping and re-programmed the lock suck that the new code made sense. Thanks to good fortune that no-one walked in at the wrong time to find us fiddling around, I think we got away with it. Bingo.

Puzzle #2: Lovecraft

We’d kind of figured that it made sense to put the most time-intensive puzzle (the jigsaw) at the beginning, just in case it took longer than expected for the players to finish it; from which point we could drip-feed the following, smaller, puzzles which would be less mandraulic to solve. In reality, we needn’t have worried at all, because the keen-fingers badgers had smashed it out before the end of the first night.

So, with that in mind, the next puzzle was dropped mid-morning on Thursday, where an envelope bearing a love-heart was left on the mantelpiece of the sitting room. In contrast to the speed at which the jigsaw was complete, the envelope sat above a wooden love-heart dangling in the fireplace and which NO-ONE SPOTTED for TWO WHOLE HOURS, despite Pete even setting up a Nerf gun target range trying to pew-pew at the dangling heart immediately below it.

When it was finally discoverd, the players found a riddle, in French, thus:

P21

Dans le Salle de Dessin,
La clé que vous trouverez,
Ou l’Ombre Jette,
Dans le Métier d’Amour

Loosely translated (I used Google Translate, so don’t judge me), this says:

In the Drawing-Room,
The key you will find,
Where the Shadow is Cast
In the Craft of Love

Earlier that morning (whilst also re-programming the padlock code), I’d planted a copy of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories on the bookshelf in the Study, in amongst a bunch of other books belonging to the house. In essence, the clue aimed to lead the players to the drawing-room, and find where a shadow is cast in the Craft of Love – i.e., find a Lovecraft book on the shelf and turn to the chapter for The Shadow Over Innsmouth; one of the most famous Lovecraft stories and which we banked on at least some of the players knowing.

20170320_172313

After some brain-racking and some book-searching, the players eventually deciphered the clue and found the book; identifying a little ‘26’ mark at the bottom of the first page of The Shadow Over Innsmouth and giving them the direction key ↓←↓. With that, Puzzle #2 was complete.

Puzzle #3: Pigpen

I always wanted to weave in a traditional cipher into the puzzle series, and Pete liked the idea of having an “X Marks The Spot”-type puzzle with a treasure hunt inside the house, so we opted to combine the two:

Having found the blueprints for the house on the interwebs, we tried to figure out a clever place to hide something and lead to with a map. Realising that the Study and the Apple Store bedroom were identical and size and shape, this seemed a logical place to roughly sketch a room and get players to figure out a) which one it is, and b) to search inside it for the next clue.

The clue they had to find was a small, square envelope on which a “#X” was drawn on the front, matching one on the map sketch. Once found, they would open it to find a pigpen alphabet key, and a series of symbols which they must decode. The “clever” bit [note: author’s inverted commas] was making the code upside-down, meaning that the players would have to rotate the code by 180 degrees and then translate it, else it would not make sense if translated directly. To hint at this, I drew a little rotate-y arrow and a line, which had the added bonus of players thinking that they had to translate the code’s mirrored reflection instead of rotating it by π radians. I love red herrings.

Anyway; translate it correctly, and the players would reveal the solution:

X M A R K S T H E S P O T

giving ‘X’ (←↓) as the solution, and Puzzle #3 complete.

20170225_113832

Divider

And with that, and because I’m all out of words for one week, I will leave the second half of the story ’til Part 2, which I’ll post in a weeks’ time. All that’s left to say is: good puzzlin’, y’all.

[Zinar7]

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Sinister Sevens: Best Records of 2016

records2016

Well, Twenty-Sixteen is almost at an end. In lieu of the formal run-down of all the yearly comings-and-goings that I’ve elaborated in previous years, what lies beneath is a quick review of my seven favourite musical cuts from the past twelve months; crafted with aching love for all of the superb musicians that have made my ears so, so happy during 2016.

Without further ado, let’s crack on.

Divider

1. Alcest – Kodama

Make no bones about it, Kodama is the most magnificent thing to have graced my ears during 2016. In its concise forty-two minutes’ length, Alcest construct an almighty portrait from the most dark and earthy of component noises; but one that is built from such a beautiful, dark-scaped presence that gently caresses both brain, heart and soul. Layer-upon-layer of delicious blackgazing post-metal weaves throughout Alcest’s almighty sonic diorama; riddled through with blistering melodies amongst crushing dischord. Alcest have always walked the tightrope between harmony and rage, but the mix reaches such a superlatively-honed crescendo on Kodama that the effect is truly staggering.

Undoubtedly, this is the record that spent the longest on my stereo of all, the one that’s almost melded with my mind, such is the level of connection that I feel with it.  It’s become a guide through the drifting hours of sleep; companion through the dark bearing a flame of enlightenment; and is deafeningly, delightfully, endearingly brilliant on every conceivable plane. Majestic.

Divider

2. If These Trees Could Talk – The Bones of a Dying World

2016 was, despite all the politics- and celebrity death-based disappointments, a spectacular year for the genre of post-rock. With high-profile releases from many of the genre’s big-hitters (cf. 65daysofstatic, MONO, Explosions in the Sky), us music nerds have had a veritable banquet to feast upon; balancing out, at least partially, the loss of such a genre-defining band as Maybeshewill in April of 2016. At the head of the pack, Trees’ spectacular The Bones of a Dying World is a progressive masterpiece; the sort of which still continues to reveal bright new facets of its crushing, post-metal soundscape.

It’s light in times of light, heavy in times of heavy; the whole spectrum glistening in the burning fire of Trees’ particular prism of post-rock, and it’s a flame that goes from strength to strength with every subsequent release. Bask in its warm, sultry glow and absorb its rays of grandeur with every fibre of your being.

Divider

3. Blink-182 – California

Following the departure of Tom DeLonge from the Blink stable (and replacement in a live capacity by Matt Skiba from Alkaline Trio, who would later join the band full-time), few would have predicted that the yoke of this dissolution would later bear Blink’s weightiest work in years. California harks back to a classic age of the band not seen for fifteen years; colliding sweet, high-octane pop-punk melodies with that evergreen Blink-182 lyrical cheek that’s backed up with some genuinely remarkable songwriting.

In truth, this is the best thing that Blink-182 have produced since Enema of the State, and the arrival of fresh blood appears to have genuinely reinvigorated the formula and given new lease of life; unshackled by the tight bounds that “musical differences” previously fettered. The result is an absolute punk-rock riot, so sit back and drink it in.

Divider

4. Metallica – Hardwired…to Self-Destruct

It’s a testament to the quality of the preceding three entries in this list that Hardwired… isn’t at the head of my end-of-year rundown. The first (proper) Metallica double-album ever, and clocking in at almost eighty-minutes in length, one is truly spoiled by the sheer amount of metal that’s housed within its gatefold prison that demands to be set free. Death Magnetic hinted at the re-affirmed power of Metallica at their peak, but yet – some thirty-odd years into their career – they continue to evolve and age in the most graceful way possible.

Lead singles ‘Hardwired’ and ‘Moth Into Flame’ battered into the psyche at first contact, but the other eight cuts on Hardwired… hark with equal venom upon the eardrum. Sure, they’ll never reach their 80s apex of Kill/Lightning/Master/Justice, but if Messrs. Hetfield, Hammett, Ulrich and Trujillo are still capable of producing work that’s almost asymptotic to that Golden Age, then you can be sure that the world of heavy metal is in pretty fine fettle, indeed.


Divider

5. Russian Circles – Guidance

Russian Circles are an enigma. They’re desperately, desperately heavy and yet do not feel at all out of place among the more ‘twinkly’ end of the post-rock/metal spectrum because they don’t sound at all heavy. Such is the craft that goes into an instrumental Circles record, it feels like everything is all part of the plan; an atmospheric soundtrack to a journey that just happens to be made of doom-like guitar chords and brutal drum-beats.

Where previous album Memorial melded this approach with an almost orchestral, operatic feel, it almost feels like Guidance experiments with the twin masters of Light and Dark; wafting soft, dulcet acoustics over you before wiping you out with a majestic tidal-wall of sound. Rarely can music feel both wild and tamed at the same time, but Guidance perfectly treads the tightrope between domestication and rage, like a lion wearing slippers: it treads lightly when it wants, but can unleash an unholy racket when (and if) it truly wants to.

Divider

6. Prophets of Rage – The Party’s Over EP

In terms of so-called “super”-groups, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more exciting fit than Prophets of Rage – burning bright from the ashes of Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave, with the three (non-Zack de la Rocha) quarters of Rage pooling resources with the primary components of Public Enemy and Cypress Hill, it’s a perfect fit for a revival of Rage’s definitive breed of rap-rock. Landing their The Party’s Over EP alongside a flurry of live shows, it delivers one new song (‘The Party’s Over’) along with retoolings of the component band-members’ previous work: ‘Prophets of Rage’ as a studio cover and live recordings of ‘Killing in the Name’, ‘Shut ‘em Down’ and ‘No Sleep ‘til Cleveland’.

While the formula doesn’t deviate from the Rage style we know and love, it’s still a wonderful feeling to know that there’s something new to spin on the stereo for the rest time in sixteen years. Arguably, there’s still a Zack-shaped hole in the proceedings, but the new (and expanded) vocal line-up rises to the challenge and raises the game. This EP might just be the starter, but it whets the appetite for what’ll undoubtedly be a stonking main course. Let’s tuck in.

Divider

7. MONO – Requiem for Hell

Of all of the members of post-rock royalty, MONO are undoubtedly one of the revered greats and, quite rightly, weigh in with a spectacular weight of expectation that comes with every new release. And yet, they never fail to deliver, because Requiem for Hell is, itself, a spectacular career-defining demonstration of MONO at their most crushing. Rarely does sound truly feel like it is made of matter and form, but Requiem for Hell builds up to noises that have such heft to them that it can scarcely be believed that it’s not made of the tectonic plates of the universe clashing and rubbing asunder.

The centrepiece is a seventeen-minute title track, undulating with such force and veracity that the momentous turbulence that culminates is a truly spellbinding spectacle for the ears that almost bypasses the aural nerve-endings and penetrates the brain intravenously. Have you ever felt like music was directly probing into your head and moving all of the levers that controls all of your emotions? Yep, that’s what listening to MONO feels like.

Divider

Of course, it’s not been a year full of celebration, as we’ve lost a complete plethora of musical talents; Bowie [RIP], Maybeshewill, Funeral For a Friend, Prince [RIP] and Chairlift pulling the heart-strings the greatest within my world. Then again, there were also cracking new albums by the following that, while they didn’t meet my top-seven list, still deserve a mention: Deftones, Blaqk Audio, Thrice, Weezer, Tiger Army, 65daysofstatic, Jambinai, Eldamar, Justice, Show Me a Dinosaur, Ineferens, Biffy Clyro, The Lounge Kittens, Chairlift, Three Trapped Tigers; the list goes on.

Anyway, Twenty-Sixteen is at an end. Here’s to Twemty-Seventeen; you gorgeous beast, you.

[Zinar7]

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

My Life in Music: Datastacks 0.2

Datastacks2

About sixteen months ago, I opened this series of blogs with an uncomfortably-geeky look at my music collection and extraction of a whole bunch of statistics on a whole bunch of inconsequential data.

It’s been long enough now that it’s time for an update, so let’s begin with a brief breakdown of what my music collection currently consists of:

Datastacks-2_Type.png

Unsurprisingly, standard long-play albums make up the vast majority of my collection (93.7%); not a shock. Of the remaining 6.3%, though, two-thirds are EPs or collections of B-sides and rarities, while the remaining third consists of ‘Greatest Hits’ collections or live-recorded albums. In many ways, and in this age of digital interfaces and the ability to release small collections of new material online or through mechanisms like Bandcamp, it’s arguable that the humble EP is going extinct; though the meteoric rise of vinyl in the last few years might be its saving grace.

Still, I’m minorly proud of my collection of 576 long-play albums, so let’s investigate what’s changed in my collection since my last blog. The most interesting findings lie in the genre breakdown of my CD collection since March of last year:

Datastacks-2_Genre.png

In general, the proportions remain fairly the same: my most favourite genres grow whilst the lesser ones continue to trickle on. There’s been a slow expansion in both my flavour for “Steampunk” (mainly due to finally acquiring the entire Steam Powered Giraffe back-catalogue as well as the smashing new record by The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing last year) and, more recently, black metal coming with growing respect for the genre. Equally, I’ve seen my interests decline in the likes of thrash metal, power metal and metalcore but become no less intense; it seems that my taste continue to evolve rather than undergo full-scale revolution.

Plotting these growths on a logarithmic scale (comparing the new additions to my collection with the genre counts as of 19/03/2015), one can see the fourfold increase in “Steampunk” records on my shelf but also observe the fairly consistent growth in genres across the board. I’ve always been aware that my musical taste is eccentrically-broad (who else can boast a music collection that features both Cradle of Filth and Ke$ha; Fleetwood Mac and Mr. Bungle?), but it’s reassuring that the trend continues.

Datastacks-2_Genre-2.png

The notable gains on the swing-o-meter come under the category labelled “Indie”, and there’s a fine reason why: “Indie”, at least in this little project, has come to classify anything that can’t – for particular reasons – be described as full-on “Rock”, but is something lighter; more atmospheric; or ‘different’. In the last couple of years, I’ve absorbed more and more interest in the genre of post-rock (c.f. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Sigur Ros, 65daysofstatic, God is an Astronaut et al.) and fuelled by a rampant voyage of discovery at festivals like ArcTanGent.

On this second iteration of Datastacks, it’s high time to devolve the “Indie” category a little further and delve into the numbers. Whilst ‘indie’ might, these days, have only grazing reference to the truly “independent” music scene, it’s come to mean catchment to a lot more than simply one musical style; much in the way that “rock” encompasses a thousand sub-genres. So, let’s have a look to see what that means in terms of my collection:

Datastacks-2_Indie.png

Unsurprisingly, my ever-expanding collection of post-rock makes up most of the category; particularly emphasised with a raft of spectacular albums released in 2015 and 2016 by the likes of Explosions in the Sky (The Wilderness), Three Trapped Tigers (Silent Earthling), God is an Astronaut (Helios/Erebus) and Godspeed You! Black Emperor (Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress).

Of the remains, post-punk (in this study, meaning the likes of Killing Joke, Hüsker Dü and The Cure) hoovers up what isn’t what I’d call the more ‘traditional’ indie fayre (Death Cab for Cutie, Chairlift, KT Tunstall, Snow Patrol), whilst the couple of entries tentatively labelled “swing” are delivered by the mighty Dresden Dolls.

So, there you go. Naturally, I’ll retroactively modify the genre split for the next Datastacks, so I can properly track how my tastes are evolving. I’d apologise for being such a massive maths/music nerd, but we both know that I’m by no means ashamed at all. So, nyer.

Anyway, let’s take a look at how the geographical split has divvied up in the last sixteen months:

Datastacks-2_Country

No spectacular changes, but there’s some interesting mini-growths: Canada and Sweden showing particular, short spurts for no pre-arranged reason; and new entries coming from Luxembourg and Ireland thanks to my interests in post-/math-rock stalwarts Mutiny on the Bounty and And So I Watch You From Afar. I’d expected Norway to be surging ahead, given the sheer amount of Norwegian black metal I’ve been getting down my ears in the last few months, but maybe the charts haven’t fully caught up with things quite yet. Hopefully the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union won’t affect (too much) the trickle of European rock/metal into the United Kingdom; even if it will negatively influence my access to cheap metal records from the continent. *grumble grumble*

That being said, it’s minorly interesting that the advances of homegrown artists in my collection almost matches the progress of US bands; again, through no particular alignment but reflecting, perhaps, efforts to fill back-catalogue gaps in my collection for the likes of Bowie, Muse, [spunge], Cradle of Filth and Funeral For A Friend. Not surprisingly, the NATO countries still dominate my collection, as evidenced by PIE CHARTS: clearly, were NATO to deploy heavy metal-based warfighters towards invasion of the rest of the world, then it’s likely that they would annihilate the opposition.

[FYI, the non-NATO countries reflected here are Finland, Japan, Australia, Ireland and Sweden, who I’m sure would all put up a good fight.]

Datastacks-2_Country-4

Upon moving flat, I recently took the opportunity to bolster my music shelving with a few more bookcases and fully alphabeticised my collection by artist name; something I’d been meaning to do for a long time but had never gotten around to. Anyway, beyond the satisfaction of filing everything neatly onto the shelves, the exercise also highlighted some interesting facts about the alphabet.

For clarity, bands are sorted by name (any “The” bands, e.g. The Birthday Massacare, are sorted by the next word in their time) and solo artists are sorted by surname. Let’s take a look:

Datastacks-2_Initial

Clearly, I own a buttload of ‘A’ artists, which owes a lot to AFI but also to the likes of Alkaline Trio, Alice in Chains, Amen, American Hi-Fi, Akercocke, Avenged Sevenfold, Audioslave, Alestorm, yada yada yada. I do wonder whether bands are inherently more likely to choose monickers which are closer to the head of the alphabet for the sakes of prominence in record stores; something that’s far more a study in sociology than I’ll attempt to address here.

Curiously, I haven’t bought a single record by any artist beginning with ‘J’ in the last sixteen months; and only a single album each to the ‘E’ and ‘Q’ categories. In the positive side, though, there’s finally a tally in the ‘Z’ column thanks to the wonderful new self-titled album by Zoax, so let’s continue to watch the progress with interest.

And on that bombshell, I’ll leave things until the next time. Boo-yah.

P1060619

[Zinar7]

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Positively Charged

PositivelyCharged

Being positive all the time is hard, y’know?

Life throws all bunch of challenges at you, and you’re expected to stay positive in outlook through all of it; that old adage: dance like no-one’s watching; love like you’ve never been hurt before.

But thinking – and feeling – positive, even in the face of continuing disappointment and crushed hopes, is kind of difficult. It takes an awful amount of strength to keep picking yourself up and dusting yourself off after every, daily setback or failed enterprise and to keep marching on to claim the dream that you have in your <head/heart>. Each knock to your confidence makes you question: why do things so rarely ever work out?

The most recent months have not, in all honesty, been particularly easy for me: things have rarely conspired to go my way, or to shed an arc of light upon some sort of bright glow at the end of the tunnel indicating that things might not always be like this. I know that I’m not the most unfortunate soul out there, and that there are quite literally billions of poorer, far more deserving people out there than me, but that doesn’t diminish that things – for me – are still what could be described as “less than ideal”.

Yes, I am what I would probably describe as “painfully single”. Beneath my cold, obsidian carapace lies a deeply warm heart, and I wish that there were someone else to share it. Now, I’m not suggesting that I’ve been alone the longest time nor that I’m the only single 30-year old person; but that doesn’t resolve the inward struggle that feels like everyone else is Living the Dream™ while I’m left feeling stagnant and still on the launch pad. Keeping the fire alive that you’ll be taking off soon (and that the perfect co-pilot is out there, somewhere) is tough. My journey through single life has been kind of an uncharted one, full of rocky chasms and perilous rope bridges. It’s been made evermore frustrating given that almost everyone else I know has managed to figure it all out by now and returned home for tea ‘n’ medals, whilst I’m still out in the jungle. Clearly, for probably more reasons than my brain would like to boil it down to, I’ve not found the person that’s right for me and vice versa.

And you know what? That’s not my fault. We are all just particles of chaotic matter; drawn together by mere gravity and our own feelings and desires. There’s no great plan; no right that each of us have to happiness. Having faith that ‘everything will work out in the end’ is like having faith in some watchful deity; a faith that the story that each of us are playing out will conclude with the words “…happily ever after.” In truth, there is no set path through the petrified forest of human existence and all we can do is try to survive the things that are trying to kill us or drag us into the darkness to be consumed. The brief patches of clearing where light chances to shine through are simply a chaotic anomaly that brings temporary respite from the shadows.

The frequency of light for all of us is, of course, random; we have no right to bask in the warm photons of love and affection, but when you’re struggling through the woods feeling cold and shadowed and alone, that’s of little comfort. We are all unique and complex and beautiful: using the perceived “successes” of others (or those portrayed in the Hollywood fairytale machine) as a benchmark for our own quest is not a monstrously constructive method of pushing forward in life, because all it does it is force you to conclude that it’s something personal rather than circumstantial misfortune. Matters of the heart are so complex and difficult because they rely on matters of another person’s heart, too. In many ways, that’s what makes them so special; when the matters lock together and coalesce to pull together as one chemical bond. When such an elemental connection is not forthcoming, though, it’s easy to think that everyone else is part of some elaborate conspiracy; as if they’ve all, purposefully and collectively, conspired to deny you dating or romantic success as part of some world-reaching Grand Plan.

There is no Plan. It’s just bad luck; misfortune, whatever you want to call it. Things just haven’t happened yet, but they will, because that’s how randomness and chaos. You don’t, necessarily, need to have faith that everything “will work out in the end”; you just need to have faith that this won’t last forever. What needs to be borne in mind is that – sooner or later – luck will change; the unpredictable winds of chemistry will blow in the perfect direction to change circumstances for the better. It may sound weird, but I can take comfort from the fact that my own local minimum is because of the nature of chaotic particle motion and not because I’m inherently broken or defective nor because of some joy-obstruction cosmic deity; it’s just that chaos hasn’t yet created the perfect conditions under which my particular story will thrive.

Weirdly, ‘luck’ can act a lot like an attractive, pseudo-magnetic material: once a little bit of it starts clinging to you, then you feel like you’re attracting a whole bunch more of it. Once you start ignoring the fact that there’s no mystical force governing ‘luck’, you start to realise that its chaotic nature is merely governed by how you approach the world. Give the world a bit of a wink ‘n’ smile, and you’re well on the way towards letting some good things happen. It’s the corniest line in the bible of corny lines, but the only way to properly survive the hyper-cyclone of bullshit that Life™ throws at you is to just purse your lips and whistle; that’s the key. In the meantime, the best way to deal with bad luck is to say “fuck you, bad luck”, walk out of the door with your chin up and a smile on your face, and get on with your day.

So yeah, fuck misfortune; I’m approaching the world with a beaming smile and, sooner or later, I’ll stumble upon the right thing. In the words of a great thinker: “The only thing that matters is just following your heart, and eventually you’ll finally get it right.

[Zinar7]

Tagged , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: