Deftones – Koi No Yokan (Reprise)

Deftones - Koi No Yokan

Deftones – Koi No Yokan

If I had to sum up the Deftones in only four words I would do it thusly:

Tension. Release. Tension. Release.

You know I love this band.  I loved their Album of the Year Diamond Eyes of a couple of years ago (reviewed here), and their outstanding live performances (like this one), and pretty much everything they’ve ever done.

So you won’t be surprised to know that I love this album too.

There are no major surprises here, just more refinement and honing on their well established songwriting and sound. Nick Raskulinecz handles the production again after taking over on Diamond Eyes, and Matt Hyde does the recording and engineering, so you know the sound will be perfect.

I won’t go on about this too much because there’s only so much Deftones raving one blog can handle, but I just want to unpack the tension/release thing a little, give you a couple of sample songs off the album, then wrap it up with the obligatory 9 or 10 out of 10.

The key ways the band generates tension are: non-standard time signatures, jarring or syncopated rhythms, Frank Delgado’s atmospheric synths and samples, and the honest and heartfelt vocals of Chino Moreno.

Here’s an example of the time signature thing from the second track, Romantic Dreams.

Notice in this track the verses are in 3-4 time, before the bridges and choruses break into the standard 4-4. You can check this just by counting out the bars in your head (1,2,3 – 1,2,3 – 1,2,3, etc). Notice the emotions you feel during the 3-4 bars. They’re kind of unsettling and difficult to settle into. This is a metal band and metal bands don’t play in triple metre, dammit!

Then at the 45 second mark you get 10 seconds of 4-4 time, giving you a little taste of the way things should be, and a chance to relieve the tension for a moment, but not for too long as we have another 3-4 verse to get through yet. Then at the 1:15 mark you get the big chorus, back in 4-4 time again. By the time you get there you really need that release, and Chino’s soaring vocal provides that in spades.

Here’s another example, track three, Leathers.

This time we get instant brooding atmosphere from the keyboards, before a jarringly heavy verse and syncopated riff shocks the listener. Once again the release comes in the chorus: ‘Shedding your skin, showing your texture, time to let everything inside show’.

That lyrical theme seems to come up again and again throughout the album – a kind of psychological unpacking where the listener is invited to cast aside their outer shell and explore their innermost essence. It’s such an unexpected and emotionally confronting experience that very few heavy bands can match (maybe Tool?).

Here’s another example of an exploration of that theme, a song called Tempest, with the lyrics front and centre for your consideration:

Look I think I’ll leave it there for now and let you explore the rest of this album on your own.

I love it.

10

- Hazizi

Skyrim: Dragonborn (PS3) – Bethesda

Where Are We And What Are We Doing?

For those of you who came in late: I’m sitting here in the Cave of Assessment, my mystical retreat located halfway up Mount Experience, atop which sits Hazizi’s Palace of Enlightenment, somewhere in Nahyoupushedittoofaristan. This is where I do all my reflection and scoring of videogames while chowing down on some weird grey hallucinogenic algae.

Hazizi’s Holiday House, aka The Palace of Enlightenment

The Cave is a lot like Skyrim – it’s wintry, I’ve spent hundreds of hours in it and it used to be a lot buggier. And Skyrim is why I’m back in the Cave. Beautiful, solitary Skyrim (review here), which I haven’t played for a year.

Skyrim came out in November 2011, yet only now in 2013 do us long-suffering, no-friends-online-having, third-place-this console-generation-getting PS3 owners get our hands on Skyrim’s chunkiest add-on so far: Dragonborn. The question is: is Dragonborn a case of “It’s Too Late“? Or is it “Finally“?

Preliminary preliminings

For Dragonborn, I loaded up my second, less-advanced character: a level 36 sneaky archer Khajiit called Snappy Tom. After such a long hiatus, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to play Skyrim, as if somehow I’d forgotten how a Bethesda game works, or that without my supervision Snappy Tom would have dropped out of shape, gotten rusty on his skillz and pawned all his cool enchanted gear for skooma. But within mere seconds of inserting the disk and then within 15 minutes after that, downloading and installing the mandatory software update, then within a further couple of minutes after that waiting for my save game to load, it all came flooding back: Skyrim is primarily about listening to music while watching a loading screen. I remembered how to do that, no problems!

Once I was actually in the game, it didn’t take long to reacclimatise. All my gear was in my house in Whiterun where I’d left it and — surprise surprise — on Snappy Tom’s person. I took Snappy Tom out to the wilderness, aimed for a map location and slipped right back into the satisfying rhythm of adventuring. Beyond simply remembering how to play, it felt good to be back; the break made the game feel fresh again. It was like returning to a favourite holiday spot a year after you were run out of town by the locals and discovering that no one remembers you so you can do it all again.

The other benefit of a long break is that the game has been patched right up. Water used to be the scariest part of Skyrim, not just because I was playing a cat-man but because the game would freeze up if I even dipped a toe in. This has been fixed, along with numerous other issues. It shouldn’t really be a positive to say that something that should have worked the first time now works, but I appreciated it.

So for my first few hours, I didn’t even touch Dragonborn, I just enjoyed playing Skyrim again. But Dragonborn isn’t happy with that — it has ways of making you engage with its content!

Tell Me A New Tale — Spoiler Free Story Outline

The main story of Dragonborn is that there’s this dude Miraak on the island of Solstheim who has heard of you going around calling yourself Dragonborn and he’s pissed because he’s also Dragonborn and he sees it as a major branding conflict. I mean, he’s already taken out full page ads in the Solstheim Tribune and booked major ad spots during the Fredas night Troll Fight. Plus, he’s using his Dragonborn powers for evil and enslaving people and whatnot.

Instead of coming to a practical franchise zoning agreement where you can be the Skyrim Dragonborn and he can be the Solstheim Dragonborn, Miraak wants to settle things Highlander style — There Can Be Only One — so you have to go to Solstheim to deal with him. Dragonborn brings urgency to the situation in a clever way: Miraak starts showing up when you kill dragons and he steals their souls before you get them. That had me packing my bags toot sweet. I heard he was enslaving people and I went “meh”, but once he started stealing my Dragon Souls, it was Clobberin’ Time!

Solstheim is a separate island which you can go to and leave at any time. Solstheim has been done before in Elder Scrolls games: it was in Bloodmoon, an expansion to Morrowind, and those who played Bloodmoon will notice some continuity with that earlier incarnation. Some of the Morrowind music makes a return too, which will twang a few nostalgia strings.

Geographically Solstheim is located between Skyrim and Morrowind, and this is reflected in the environment. The north side is Skyrim: arctic and Vikingy, while the south is Morrowind: ashy and Elfy. The south side sits in the shadow of a recently-erupted volcano, which smokes ominously on the horizon. It turns everything brown, but despite the brown, the south side has refreshingly different architecture, clothing, wildlife and plants. Virtual tourism has always been one of my favourite things about Elder Scrolls games, so I really dug having different buildings and people to look at. A standout was Tel Mithryn, the village of mushroom houses with nary a Smurfing Smurf to be seen.

Raven Rock really pulls off that “covered in volcanic ash” look

Solstheim is impressively big. It is basically a new Hold, with a main city, Raven Rock, and plenty of forts, ruins and dungeons to traipse around in and find sidequests. Just as each Hold in Skyrim has city quests that lead to getting a house there, so too does Solstheim, and the house you can get has all the crafting facilities that today’s busy executive Dragonborn requires.

You Is Where You At — New Places and Quests

The main quest will take you to the realm of Apocrypha, which has a decidedly Lovercraftian vibe. By “Lovecraftian”, I mostly mean “Critters with creepy face tentacles”, but also the environment itself. Apocrypha has its own flavour, with features you don’t find in other dungeons around Skyrim. The effect is weird and unsettling: physics-defying architecture, corridors that change direction as you walk down them, tentacles that emerge from black miasma and lash you, and toxic clouds of dark gas. The rewards are handy too. When you finish each dungeon in Apocrypha, you can choose from some interesting new abilities or perks, such as the ability to summon your own tentacles, or one of my favourites: summon a Daedric merchant so you can flog loot and restock arrows mid-dungeon without needing to head back to town.

They call him the Seeker … He been searchin low and high … he ain’t gunna get what he’s after … till I stab his eye …

Solstheim is generally just a little bit a freakier than Skyrim. There are dozens of sidequests, which often start out normal enough but take odd twists. One particular example involves a bunch of warriors who have been kicked out of their Mead Hall by a tribe of goblin-like Rieklings. Usually this would be a straight out “clear the critters” assignment, but in this case you can choose to side with the Rieklings. Although many quests are combat-oriented, a number of them have solutions that cater for other skills, with opportunities for persuasion and sneaking. That said, Skyrim ain’t Fallout and it is near impossible to play a total pacifist without subcontracting your killing to a follower.

As for the NPCs you’ll meet in Solstheim, Bethesda seems to have recruited from 2 main voice acting schools: the Arnie Schwarzenegger Academy and the Dick Van Dyke School of Cockney Guvnor. Despite their dodgy voicework, the characters are reasonably interesting and have a little more attitude — you start out as an outsider in Solstheim and people give you some stick. Neloth, the arrogant wizard who lives at Tel Mithryn, is particularly amusing.  There’s even talk of a special dude you only meet once you hit level 80 — I haven’t got that far yet myself.

The Dwemer ruins and other locations are not just carbon copies of their Skyrim counterparts either.  Dwemer ruins in particular have more difficult puzzles in them, so you’re not just looking at a dragon claw to open a door. There’s a few new dwarven guardian robots to cause you grief.  The ballistas on legs pack a wallop, with armour-bypassing, staggering crossbow bolts.

In fact, many of the Dragonborn critters seem tougher than your average Cave Bear, so I wouldn’t recommend going before level 30 unless you are playing on Easy. Ash Spawn can throw fire at you, Burnt Spriggans are resistant to fire, Reavers seem to be a tougher version of bandits and then there’s the annoying jumpy exploding spiders. Also, there’s a few new named Dragons and Dragon Priests, with their highly-enchanted masks. Rieklings are not so tough, until they swarm and one of them rides a boar into you. Ouchy!

A Netch is a Netch, to fetch to fetch, have you ever heard of a retching Netch?

What Have You Done For Me Lately — New Stuff

As well as the new environments and enemies, Dragonborn adds new elements into each of Skyrim’s systems: alchemy, enchanting, crafting, magic, even cooking.

If you are into poisons, you’d love Solstheim because scathecraw is all over the south end and it has 4 poisonous effects.

Enchanting gets a new effect you can add to weapons: Chaos Damage, which is a 50% chance to do extra fire, frost and shock damage all at once — a kind of “all or nothing” effect. Also you can unlock a place to enchant your own staves, something that seemed strangely missing from vanilla Skyrim.

Crafting gets a new material to use, Stalhrim, and new armour and weapon types to craft: Bonemold, Chitin, Nordic and Stalhrim. Stalhrim is especially receptive to frost or chaos enchantments.  And there’s a place where you can make your own annoying jumpy exploding spiders.

Each school of magic gets some new spells. Conjuration in particular has been given a huge shot in the arm with a bunch of new critters to summon. Restoration gets an offensive spell in the form of a poison rune.

Cooking has, err, new recipes for things you can cook and eat.  Does anyone cook in Skyrim?

There’s also new Dragon Shouts to unlock. Cyclone is fun, as it sweeps enemies up in a mini tornado, and drops them stunned to the ground. It’s good for crowd control, if a bit similar to Unrelenting Force. The big ticket item is the shout that lets you ride dragons … yeah baby! Once aboard a dragon, you can direct it to attack targets while casting a spell or shouting yourself, and you can use it to fast travel. I can’t wait to use it back in Skyrim proper to cause some radiant havoc around a giant’s campsite.

They get good mileage, but parking is a bitch

As for loot, it is plentiful and there seems to have been an effort to cater for character builds that may not have got much love in the main game. There’s a unique set of armour and swords that are geared specifically for dual-wielders, some awesome unique two-handed weapons and even some rings to wear if you’re a werewolf. Whatever your build, there should be some loot that takes your fancy.

More, More More — The Digital Appraisal

Overall, Dragonborn is a fantastic add-on for Skyrim. If it had simply provided “More more more” vanilla Skyrim, it probably would have been good enough, but what lifts it to greatness is that Bethesda took the opportunity to try new things, fill some gaps and improve on Skyrim’s original formula. There’s easily over 20 hours of things to do in Solstheim, and besides dealing with Miraak to stop him sharking your dragon souls, you don’t have to do it all at once. Solstheim is just an extra place you can visit now. It had me fantasising about if Skyrim was connected to Cyrodil, which was connected to Morrowind … oh wait, I guess that’s what the MMO will be all about.

As I keep saying, the true mark of good DLC is whether it draws you back into the game, even after a long absence. Dragonborn did this and then some. I am further impressed that it managed to do so after a year’s break. Even after finishing up a bunch of stuff in Solstheim, I am hook, line and sinker back into Skyrim and loving every minute of it!

Category Rating
Game mechanics: 10
Atmosphere: 8
Addictiveness: 9
Overall:

9

 

- Felix

Mark Lanegan – Ding Dong, 4 March 2013

My girlfriend and I went to see Mark Lanegan live at Ding Dong last week.

Here’s a grainy photo to prove it:

Image

Dude with guitar and Lanegan

The small venue was chockers, but I was amazed at how quiet and respectful the audience was. It was a stark contrast to the last time I went to a ‘quiet’ gig, when I went and saw Art of Fighting a few years ago and the wanker crowd chatted their way through the whole thing.

One bloke arked up a bit during one of the songs but was quickly and politely advised to shut the fuck up by a discerning audience member.

It was just Lanegan and some dude with an acoustic guitar on stage, and it really was a spellbinding performance. That voice live gives you shivers, and the imagery and emotion that guy conjures up could bring a grown man to the verge of tears at times. Not me of course, but a grown man not quite as strong and tough as me.

I’m not exactly sure of the set list but it looks pretty close to what he played in Sydney on the 9th (see here for the list).

The Cherry Tree Carol was my favourite for the night, and thankfully someone in the crowd filmed it and put it on Youtube, so here it is:

It was a great gig, certainly the best vocal performance I’ve ever seen live, so well done Melbourne for turning out to support the great man and showing him the respect such a talent deserves.

- Hazizi

Dishonored (PS3) – Arkane Studios

Dishonored

The thing about the English language is, it’s called English.  Not American.  Accordingly, the correct spelling of the title this game is “DISHONOURED”.  With a U.  The developer, Arkane Studios is French, which makes it extra galling, because the French brought all the Us to England in 1066 and whacked them into the language like an arrow in the eye.  It’s not like the French not to stick to their linguistic guns.  Every time the title screen came up my eyeballs kept superimposing a squiggly red line under the name … because I took the extra time to make the English (UK) dictionary my default Word dictionary because I am a civilised human being.  Sheesh.

In protest at this linguistic heresy, from now on I will call the game “Corvo’s Ag-Burgs“.  Corvo is the name of the character you play and sounds like Aussie slang for a bloke who steals undies off the clothesline.  “Ag Burg” is Victorian cop slang for Aggravated Burglary, which is an accurate descriptor of what you do as Corvo in this game, and using the term makes me feel tough, despite my otherwise comfortable suburban bourgeois existence.  I am also docking the game’s score by 1 point for spelling.  You have to get the basics right.

Anyway, Corvo’s Ag Burgs is one of the only big-ticket games to come out in 2012 that didn’t have a 3 in the title and it has guts going up against some of the biggest franchises in gaming.  But, just like the Greater Western Sydney Giants, while it is to be encouraged for being new, it still makes some clangers here and there.  Let’s get into some details, shall we?  For ease of reference I have used Cypress Hill song titles as subheadings.  You’re welcome.

Real Estate: Dunwall City

Imagine a world run by whales.  Well, not actually by them — where would they all meet?  The whales are slaughtered because their oil is the source of electrical power.  I think this is what the Japanese have been researching all these years.  Whale oil is put in canisters and used to power everything an early industrial-era city needs: boats, street lights and zappy gates that fry you when you walk through them.  Because we are playing a videogame, these canisters also blow up when you shoot them.  Imagine the OH&S issues if your office building needed an explosive canister on every floor to make the computers work.  Coal doesn’t seem so dirty any more.

Whale oil detail is the shittiest detail

Whale oil detail is the shittiest detail

Corvo’s Ag Burgs is set in the whaling capital of this whale oil powered world: the city of Dunwall.  It’s rendered in a striking art style that leaves its imprint after you switch off the game.  The architecture is Victorian gothic, the colour palette is washed out like a water colour painting and for the character models, the artists eschewed realism for a more expressive look — faces and hands are bigger, other features more distinct. This prevents the people from sliding into the uncanny valley. The voice acting and character work were good and they cast some impressive names:  Lena Headey, John Slattery, Carrie Fisher, Brad Dourif. They even got Susan Sarandon, the hottie from the Motherlover video clip!

You know what they say about big hands ... they're the result of a character design choice

You know what they say about big hands … they’re the result of a character design choice

One of the themes of the game is a tension between technology and mysticism.   It’s like David Copperfield and the Eiffel Tower had a weird cyborg baby and are fighting over custody.  Technology is winning, but it hasn’t stamped out all mysticism yet.  One reason is that technology has not solved all the city’s problems: it is infested with plague.  The medicine for plague is expensive, so it afflicts the poor more than the rich.  Because we are playing a videogame, the plague turns people into zombies.  The city is run by a fascist junta, with curfews and restricted movement, providing a neat narrative excuse for the all the guards and “being where you shouldn’t” aspect of the stealth mechanics.

So with the oppressive government, wealth disparity, plague and zombies, Dunwall isn’t a joyful place to be but it is a vivid, albeit doomed, playground.  Rather than being an open world, each chapter of the game takes you to a different part of the city, sealed off from the rest, and in between you hang around a homebase area. The technology vs mysticism theme is also demonstrated in the tools at Corvo’s disposal: swords, guns and magic, speaking of which …

Stealth v Action: Dead Men Tell No Tales 

Corvo’s Ag Burgs offers flexibility in how you play.  You can opt to be sneaky, trying not to be seen or heard.  You can even try not killing anybody.  Or you can treat it as an action game, careen about noisily and shoot everything you see.  You can even whack your sword against a pole to get the guards to hurry up and come to you.   Or you can play it as a little bit of both.

The game tugs you in different directions regarding the stealth and killing.  It guilts you with narrative and loading screen messages that tell you keeping fatalities low will result in Low Chaos give you the “good” ending.  Then it gives you all sorts of cool, mostly loud ways to kill people:  sword, gunshot, exploding gunshot, crossbow bolt, exploding crossbow bolt, vertical takedowns, grenades, sticky grenades, spring razor traps … and eaten by rats.  So the game puts a large bowl of mixed lollies down in front of you and then asks you not to eat them all.

By contrast, the only non fatal ways to take someone out are to choke them out or sleep dart them.  Sleep darts are problematic: ammo is limited and they don’t work on every enemy type.   You can of course just sneak past a guard and not touch him at all, I guess.  These moves are available right from the start, rendering most of the magic and item upgrades unnecessary, whereas the fatality guys get to pursue cool unlocks right through the game.  The lack of desirable upgrades reduced my motivation to explore levels to find the stuff that unlocks said upgrades.  I couldn’t help compare it unfavourably to Batman games and Deus Ex: Human Revolution  — the smorgasbord of cool upgrades in those games had me scouring their environments for the goodies to unlock them.

The stealth mechanics themselves are decent. Corvo’s Ag Burgs favours the “pick them off one by one and keep moving” stealth reminiscent of the Batman games.  You can get a Dark Vision power (aka “Heaven’s Dice“) very similar to Batman’s Detective Mode that allows you to see guards through walls and their fields of vision and so on.  Imitating the Batman style of stealth is no bad thing, because it avoids some of the tedium of other stealth games that require the player to hide in a spot and wait for ages to clock patrol patterns.   That’s not to say lurkers won’t be rewarded: there are some interesting vignettes you will witness from the shadows if you wait long enough and you can choose to let them play out or to intervene.  The cool thing is that extended lurking was not compulsory.  My main gripe was that it was frequently difficult to know whether I was truly hidden or not.  Then again, there are some nice touches like being able to peep through keyholes, which made me feel extra sneaky.

Have they seen me?  I just can't tell

Have they seen me? I just can’t tell

The shaggy stealth and lopsided upgrades are outweighed for the most part by 3 awesome elements:  your core power, Blink, the level design, and the beating heart.

Rise Like Smoke: The Blink Power

Blink is like a teleport.  It is the only magic power that is compulsory, and it is a must-have.  It feels like the game was built around Blink.  It can be used to get up to high ledges, down from ledges without taking falling damage or just to traverse space.  Only when I fought other dudes who could Blink did I twig that I could use it in combat as a kind of dodge, or to get behind someone.  You can blink behind a guard as he rounds a corner just before he sees you.  When you play stealthy you will lean heavily on Blink, but its versatility and the smoothness of its use — just aim and release the trigger– keeps it from feeling stale.  About midway through the game, I got sick of trying to do a ghost run and reloading after being spotted, and I decided I would just deal with it.  I discovered that Blink is a great way to escape a bunch of guards and let them reset.  I was still finding new ways to use it in the last level.

There are some other cool magic powers — the power to possess creatures being a notable one, as is the power to slow time.  Powers and weapons are equipped to the left hand while your sword is in your right.  I would have liked to been able to dual wielded my powers, as I didn’t use my sword much; I was choking out mofos like Royce Gracie.

Now that's good level design!

Now that’s good level design!

I Wanna Get High: Level Design

Each level is set up as an assassination mission wherein you have a mark and you have to get to them and take them out.  You can discover a non-lethal way of dealing with each of them.  The levels are designed to cater for whatever set of magic powers or equipment you have chosen, with multiple paths to your target.  Some of it is truly inspired and unlike any other game — the one where you infiltrate a masquerade ball is the famous level that was demonstrated before release, but all the levels are well-designed to provide a nice balance between risk and reward, with hidden goodies secreted about to reward the explorer .  A few times I laboriously dealt with an area full of guards, only to discover a secret path that would have bypassed all of them.  What’s especially striking is the verticality of levels, wherein each level will invariably contain numerous, err … levels, above and/or below the ground floor, which offers up many opportunities for Blinking.

Get Out Of My Head: The Beating Heart

Blink is an awesome power to use, but this feature is just weird and a big part of why Corvo’s Ag Burgs will stay with me after I’ve forgotten some other more chewable titles.

Early on in the game, you are given a mechanical beating heart which, when equipped, can be used as a radar to detect collectibles, but you can also point the heart at anyone in the game and a disembodied woman’s voice will give you a little commentary on them, such as “He once killed a man for a pair of boots” or ” He will kill again tonight if you don’t wax him, bra” (may not be actual words used, my notes are a little smudged).  I found this fascinating and tried it on everyone, from high-ranking assassination targets to low level grunts, friends and foes alike.

This introduced a more personal morality system into my playthrough.  Suddenly I was playing Corvo as a personal judge of these people, and there were times I decided to kill guys that I otherwise would have spared and vice versa, depending on what the heart was telling me about them.  I marvelled at the way the heart could affect me like this — my decision about whether or not to kill was no longer solely determined by the predetermined imperative of “keep the kill count low” or by the strategic consideration of whether I needed that guard to be taken out to progress through a section of a level, but by narrative content delivered to me that I could have ignored completely if I hadn’t whipped out the heart.  So many games these days are anxious for you not to miss any of their kickass content that they will highlight, underline, prompt and cajole you repeatedly to LOOK OVER THERE NOW NOW NOW!!!  I like that Corvo’s Ag Burgs had the balls to leave some stuff for me to feel like I discovered by myself.

Overall, Corvo’s Ag Burgs — oh, ok, Dishonored — delivers a fine action stealth game that may not have the tightest stealth mechanics, but makes up for it in the flexibility and variety it provides and the way you can switch between action and stealth as required.  It is also peppered with enough endearing quirks that it is charming and compelling nonetheless — a reminder about why new games are often more exciting than sequels despite their flaws.

Category Rating
Game mechanics: 9
Atmosphere: 10
Addictiveness: 8
Overall:

9 

- Felix

Miss Lava – Red Supergiant (Raging Planet)

Miss Lava – Red Supergiant

I’ve got a few CDs in my review backlog, and I can’t decide on my best album for 2012 until I get through them all, so I’m in a bit of a pickle really. I’m going to tackle this little problem the same way anyone should – one step at a time. You’ll just have to bear with me and deal with the fact that the next few reviews will be like, so 2012.

First up is a release I’ve been thoroughly looking forward to since their debut caught me by surprise a couple of years ago and knocked my proverbial socks off: Red Supergiant by Portugal’s Miss Lava.

The first thing to strike me on firing this up was the production. I thought the production was fine on the last album, but they’ve taken it up a notch here, with a beautiful snappy snare, crisp guitars, and plenty of room for their huge sounding bass, which is so essential when there’s no rhythm guitarist, especially when the lead is off playing a solo or adding melodic details.

In fact, that fuzzed up bass reminds me of… someone else…

This is a great sounding album, and when I looked up the credits and saw Matt Hyde’s name the penny dropped. Hyde produced three of my all time favourite albums: Slayer’s God Hates Us All, Fu Manchu’s California Crossing, and Monster Magnet’s Powertrip. Who can forget the first minute and a half of Space Lord, or the way he breathed new life into Slayer’s sound. I love a good producer and Matt Hyde is one of the best.

The songs on Red Supergiant are well written and bursting at the seams with big riffs. There’s nothing as immediately catchy as Black Rainbows here, but you’ll be singing along with the choruses by the second or third listen. My early favourite is Feel My Grace, and I love the film clip too, which features a couple of menina bonitas up to no good at all.

There’s nothing over four and a half minutes, so no tripped out jams like Scorpio on their last album, but there is still plenty of light and shade. The title track is slow and melancholy.  Ride plays off expansive verses against a driving chorus.  Hole To China is a slow burner that had me recalling Alice In Chains, firstly because of the chorus contains the words “down in a hole”, but also because of the Cantrell-esque use of minor chords throughout.

As with the last album, it’s consistent from start to finish and there isn’t a weak song on the album.

So you probably need to get this album, right?

Well that’s not quite as easy as it seems. I’m an old fogey who likes to have the CD, and that just didn’t seem to be possible, so I resigned myself to downloading it instead. I checked it out on iTunes and it was $17 or something. Thankfully I didn’t fall for that, because it’s much cheaper on their Bandcamp site – only $8 US for a high quality release.  As Molly Meldrum would say: do yourself a favour, because this is well worth it.

Get it here!: http://ragingplanet.bandcamp.com/album/miss-lava-red-supergiant

I gave their debut a 9 out of 10, and I think this is better, so I’m giving it 9.5.

It’s true what they say: Miss Lava rock!

9.5

- Hazizi

P.S. This episode prompted a fit of anti-iTunes rage which led me to delete the stupid program from my PC once and for all – but that’s a story for another time. But ALWAYS check Bandcamp first before you line the pockets of Apple – they’ve got enough money already. And don’t torrent.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown (PS3) – Firaxis

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

The following message was intercepted from a downed UFO and totally NOT plagiarised from a Polish gaming site and put through Google translate.

What is game? XCOM is game.

This game makes fun of alien invasion of Earth, which has serious portent if true.  Not Will Smith being seen however.  Instead become Bill Pullman: commanding soldiers to fight aliens (but not an air pilot).

In giving name and hair to your soldiers, bondage grows thick and playtime ensues with added personal feeling.  Also humorous is to send electronic messages to the reality friends who are the namesakes, announcing to them their death.

Mission maps hold tactical intrigue.  Battlement with adversaries occurs at shopping mall, petrol station or other place.  Cover is important but mostly out of reach.  Best action results from teamwork; the lone ranger rarely emerges victorious.

Choices are relatively few but vital: take difficult aim, dash further for improved shot or stay back and be reactive?  Tactical decisions are boiled essentials, with detritus scraped away.  Controlling is a gale, retaining focus on tactics not twitching.

Similar to benevolent sporting duel, luck also participates.  Do not mourn a misfire from 90% success chance, for such is true mathematics in operation.

Many will die, friend and foe.  When friend perishes, do not reload!  Vicissitudes of war must be borne with dignity.  Memorial with haunting bladderpipes preserves memory of fallen comrades.

After mission, return to base.  Scientists reside to research better kit and engineers abide to build facilities and tasty guns.  Valorous soldiers find promotion and special abilities to use in mission, making increase of team value.

Addiction grows from virtuous circle: mission success yields spoils to imbue base and personnel with belongings.  Once there is the new item, you are tickled to have next mission for item use and need to recoup spoils for next items. Virtuous circle closes.

Firaxis makes a game here like Civilization — player can stop at any juncture but is still compelled to play until dawn from pure mechanic flow.  True joy springs from emergent individual feats, recounted later around fluid dispenser.

Foreshadowed replay is inevitable.

Behold!  A new master for consoles arises in the strategy desert.  Some say Valkyria Chronicles arrived previously, but XCOM omits teen angst to be best of kind.

Category Rating
Game mechanics: 9
Atmosphere: 8
Addictiveness: 10
Overall:

9

- Felix