Album Review: Amon Amarth – Berserker

Only a few extreme metal bands have made the success that Amon Amarth has reached. 2019 strikes album 11, and they still manage to impress with vicious melodic death metal with the backdrop of Vikings and Norse mythology. I had my doubts since making that much music starts to make some artist tend to run into creative blocks, but I have been proven wrong and should never doubt this quintet of metalheads.

One of the most important aspects of any album is the first song. It sets the tone and gets things kicked off. Fafner’s Gold makes for the ultimate example with its acoustic beginning and transition into the sound that any fan of Amon Amarth can recognize. I heard this fierce track and immediately knew I was in good hands for the rest of Berserker.

Much of the record has a blend of the formula that has been established over the course of over 25 years that Amon Amarth has created while mixing some new ideas. Crack the SkyMjolner, Hammer of Thor, and Valkyria give me hope for the future of the group while reminding me they have stuck to their roots in delivering the best Viking metal on the planet.

Shield Wall gets the blood pumping with its fearless battle cry. A hard-driving and relentless song that will make die-hards like myself want to put on Viking armor and destroy everything in sight. A highlight that will be perfect when going into the pit at the next Amon Amarth show.

The shift in sound starts with Valkyria with its clearer bass definition and different overall pacing. The refreshing song has plenty of surprises, especially when it gets to the final moments. While the vicious death metal style that Amon Amarth has established with their melodic guitar work and iconic vocals from Johan Hegg never gets old, but this is a much-needed break from the previous few songs.

Some new ideas took me by surprise. Ironside takes the Swedish quintet into the realm of Nordic folk music that blends beautifully with their death metal style.

Like the previous album, the 2016 Jomsviking, storytelling as a concept album elevated Hegg’s lyrical abilities and much of Berserker proves that. One piece of evidence highlights this is The Berserker at Stamford Bridge. A narrative moves along in a gripping way that gets driven by the hammering drums and violently, melodic riffs.

Similar to the introduction, the closing track Into the Dark, ends the record on a somber, yet heavy note. The closer is one of my favorite tracks along with one of the most unique due to its pacing, Hegg’s immense emotion while having a lot of variation from his bandmates. The many turns across these six minutes go above the already wild ride that is Berserker.

Amon Amarth has outdone themselves with their latest release. The band has blended a mix from their ideas that came from Jomsviking and Deceiver of the Gods. A combination of grounded historical inspired lyrics of Viking adventures to mythical tales of the Nordic Gods makes for one of the most superior records of the year. While Amon Amarth have an issue with sticking to their formula, but they have plenty of moments to change things up without feeling redundant.

Score: 8/10

Buy the album:

Buy: Berserker

Image via Metal Blade Records

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Album Review: Nex – The World Collapses

Polish death metallers Nex bring to the violent table with a rhythmic and groove driven approach while still being as heavy and fast as their peers in the extreme genre. The World Collapses does somethings right by passing levels of heaviness that suit any headbangers needs but falls short in areas of doing enough that sounds distinctive.

The on the nose introduction, Introduction to the Silence, has an eerie start that feels dangerous. The drums start shooting away in the background with light guitar work starts this album off in the right direction and into a seamless transition into the first song, Silence.

The next few songs SilenceHate, and Wide Horizon blend together for the most part with similar structures and similar sounding tones of the instrumentation. Exile’s vocals have a nice blend of that classic death metal sound with a modern take. The mids are clear and as brutal sounding as I like, but nothing catches me with any of the guitar, bass, or drum work. Some nice rhythm and headbanging speed, but not much substance.

The second half of the record has some of the same issues, but the guitar work throws in some impressive solos in God and more complicated riffs in tracks like The Industrial Democracy. These last five songs all bring together more variety to the structure instead of the typical pummelling approach that too many groups tend to do in this scene.

The mix of intense speed and slow, groove and rhythm have an even blend. The closing track Circles fittingly concludes the record. The longest song that starts off ominous before pounding away at my ears with relentless violence before ending on an extended instrumental segment that slowly fades away.

The lyrics have a thought-provoking substance that is often seen in the modern metal scene. Instead of traditional brutality for shock value, something goes more in-depth to a more relatable level. While topics like religion get beaten to death, Ten Tables of Faith and God make it work without feeling redundant. The words never feel overly repetitive and weave together with the music in a way that feels right.

Nex has a lot of potential with their creative artwork and the beats that get hit just right. More ambiance and atmosphere like the intro would elevate the overall sound of The World Collapses. Nothing overly elevated or groundbreaking happens over the 33 minutes of heavy tunes, but that is okay. For those looking for something simple and fulfilling then it will be right for you.

Score: 6/10

Buy the album:

The World Collapses

Special thanks to Rogue PR for getting things set up for this review.

Movie Spoiler Review: Avengers: Endgame

My most controversial move yet, I am doing a spoiler review of Avengers: Endgame. This is your only warning. Don’t worry though, there will be plenty of surprises for the film, but go watch it because I know you want to and it is incredible.

The Infinity Saga has come to its epic conclusion. The Russo brothers along with the whole cast and crew created the perfect closing to the universe’s most powerful stones and Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’ toughest foe, Thanos (Josh Brolin). On paper, making Infinity War and Endgame seems impossible, but this worked the way I wanted to while going above and beyond my expectations on how to solve the greatest problem that these heroes have faced.

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The surviving Avengers all reunite, with the inclusion of Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), then after a lengthy discussion, the group seek out to defeat Thanos. In a surprise, they do, but the stones have been destroyed, so it is a quest to restore these cosmic gems to bring back the fallen. My theory, along with many others who had the same idea, Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) comes to the rescue with his plan about controlling the quantum realm to go back in time and stop Thanos. Yes, Endgame becomes a time-traveling heist flick, and it is just as awesome as it sounds.

Earth’s Mightiest Heroes still face separation due to the previous conflict between Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) which causes hiccups in the plan. The internal issues last a while but did not take away from the narrative. The decision made sense for Tony to still have resentment towards Cap, and the resolution of this problem worked for both characters and their respective arcs.

Going back in time has plenty of logistical issues, and each of the divided teams faces them as they split through different places in time to find each of the infinity stones to bring back their friends. The biggest obstacle, Thanos is back and of course, catches on what is happening with his rivals. The race between the two groups builds up slowly but leaves plenty of anticipation during the three-hour journey.

The bumpy heist resolves by snapping back everyone to life, but Thanos and his army smash onto Earth for the most breathtaking battle I have ever seen. The final act starts as an exciting mix of grand warfare while still feeling intimate due to the lack of characters. Then the snap’s work comes to fruition when everyone who was lost comes back to defeat Thanos. This shift in tone and pacing makes up for the somber and sometimes sluggish pacing from the previous acts.

The main questions before watching were what will happen to Tony, Steve, and Thanos? The end of these massive personalities satisfied me more than I would have hoped. Thanos got what he deserved by getting dusted, Tony had his more heroic moment by snapping the Mad Titan, and Captain America retired by placing the stones back in time and replacing his noble lifestyle for the American Dream. Nothing would have fitted more for any of them and tied their arcs flawlessly.

Over half of the film develops the world and its characters to see where everyone is after the snappening and how everyone is coping. When you thought DC got dark, this is on another level, I got flashbacks to Logan all over again except I cried way more here. The snap emotionally devastated everyone, and much of the film reflects their feelings. The dark, often ugly colors used throughout the movie along with its pacing and music made this trauma even more impactful.

While many other Marvel stories blend the right mix of humor, drama, and action, this was the most unbalanced. A few actions scenes held together in between the long strokes of development but the combat did not satisfy until the final battle. Serious beats drowned out the comedy, but the humorous moments were fitting and a nice place to catch some fresh air in between all of the crying.

The length seemed daunting, and unlike Infinity War, I felt time move too slow. However, this direction felt necessary, even though it does not flow the way the third Avengers adventure moved. The audience and characters needed time to digest the snap and mourn together. The emotional connection I felt with these fictional people, and creatures went beyond anything I have ever experienced in my life. I may disagree on some decisions, but everything that was shot and written had a purpose.

The most significant critique would be Alexandra Rachael Rabe, who played Tony’s daughter Morgan. Child actors have a tendency to do poorly, while others can excel past adults. I wish a different child actor were cast since Rabe had little to no emotions, especially during Tony’s funeral.

Endgame executed precisely what was expected most, which were consequences while still pulling back the aftermath from Infinity War. While I had some doubts about how all of this would work, especially fixing all of the death which could have made the previous film pointless, yet the Russo brothers and their writers, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely, prove they are much smarter than I am by crafting a story that is a fitting end that the fans deserve to see. Marvel has cemented themselves into being rulers of taking precarious narratives and bringing some of the best pieces of entertainment on a blockbuster scale.

Score: 10/10

Image via Marvel Studios

Video Game Review: Mortal Kombat 11

Yet another giant franchise that never dies, but unlike most, Mortal Kombat continues to outdo previous titles with a consistent experience. Accessible for new players or people who suck at fighting games like myself, I was able to enter without playing much of the last few games and enjoy my time. While 2019 is only a few months in, NetherRealm’s latest entry in this fighting series makes it into my top tier of favorite games.

Taking place after the last release, Raiden’s time manipulation has dire consequences. The Keeper of Time, Kronika, wants revenge and a plan to restore time, but the protector of the Earthrealm along with its occupants will defend history by defeating the time controlling antagonist. A short, sweet, and cinematic experience that gave me time with most of the roster of fighters to get a handle on their different playstyles. While I was lost in what was happening during the first hour plus, due to smart writing and context, I was able to get a grip on the narrative where I was able to appreciate this world. The characters all felt alive with their rich history and dynamic chemistry with one another which extended my experience with this cheesy, yet compelling story.

Much of the voice acting hit the tone perfectly and made each of the diverse personalities come alive. Ronda Rousey as Sonya Blade was one of the few downsides. Ideally, she fit perfectly for the character, but her acting was at times mediocre or at her worst moments felt flat with a lack of emotion. Everyone else had much more consistent line delivery.

Each fighter’s gameplay feels distinctive that separates everyone from the other. The move lists were a mix of complicated and straightforward allowing for someone as bad as me to play while having room for veterans to grow their skill set. I had to do homework to find the most accessible characters to use when fighting my friends, but that extra leg work made it worth it as I started to learn more.

Some adjustments have been made compared to previous iterations. The defense and offensive bars have been moved separately and get used by specific attacks or interactions with the map. These UI changes make the game much more intuitive when facing friends or random players.

The most significant change steps away from X-ray moves towards fatal blows. When on your last legs, a special move unlocks to deal extreme damage to your opponent and giving a chance to win the fight. The special moves take aspects of the old X-rays while maintaining the brutality. X-rays happen at random with critical blows so anyone missing those will have plenty of moments to see bones snapping into organs.

Fatalities never disappoint as always with creatively gruesome deaths to all of the iconic characters along with the newer faces that have been added. Each character has two, one of which must be unlocked. I wish the variety increased compared to other Mortal Kombats. I still feel they always give a low amount when so much more can be done with this iconic mechanic.

Similar to fatalities, the brutalities are powerful ways to finish your foe. The biggest difference is that these moves happen as the last hit of the match which instantly kills the enemy. Since I am terrible at the fighting genre, having this alternative grants me the ultimate way to finish off my friends.

Each stage has its own identity and works perfectly when fighting. Some intractable objects can be used to maneuver across the map or use as a weapon. However, the number of interactions within the arena should have a lot more variety. Rather than a game-changing feature, it feels more like a gimmick at times. Some of the weapons used for special attacks are worth it like taking a jackhammer into someone’s skull is never a problem in the world’s most brutal fighter.

Both Klassic Tower, yes everything in the world of Mortal Kombat starts with a “k,” and Towers of Time are modes to unlock plenty of rewards while fighting through a tower full of enemies. The AI increasingly get more difficult after each win, but succeeding in the challenge is worth the time and effort. Compared to other game types that involve fighting AI, this is one of the most fun, especially when it means avoiding replaying the story a countless amount of times.

Multiplayer involves regular fights or King of the Hill, which consists of a line of players battling to become king. The king fights the next person in the queue and continues until that person is dethroned. A cycle of trying to maintain a streak of wins is fun, but if you are in line, then you have to wait and watch until your turn comes up. I found myself waiting more than playing and would rather face people in a standard match.

Rewards are given with any task from campaign progress, winning any type of match, daily challenges, and discovering items in the Krypt, an elaborate maze full of danger and puzzles with plenty of chests to unlock using koins. While many of the unlocks take a long time, especially cosmetic items, the time flies with all of these diverse ways of gaining money and other materials needed to get that new skin or unlock the second fatality.

Microtransactions can be used, but have never felt restricting. Anything that involves real money only circles around something cosmetic. As long as nobody gets an advantage, studios can monetize away for all I care.

Kustomization offers several presets for each fighter or the option to make a new loadout is up to the player. I stuck with the presets by modifying them myself. Alterations to a character include costumes, weapons, augments for upgrades, and move sets to personalize anyone to your liking. The kustomization settings may seem basic, but for what it is, this mode has plenty to offer.

While I found NetherRealm to continue their impressive upgrades to the visual aspect, I did find one inconsistency. Hair often rendered poorly into a blurry mess; however, this would only last for a short time, but enough to make it noticeable. Besides that issue, the rest of the game manages to balance stunning masterpiece and horrifyingly violent with its diverse settings and plentiful ways to murder others.

Mortal Kombat 11 has its issues with not being able to stretch itself out into a more in-depth game but makes up for its flaws in almost every way. A generous story with multiple endings and selections of characters in certain fights allow for some replayability. Combat continues to improve with an intuitive system while having room for more advanced players to rip the noobs in half. NetherRealm prove themselves to be the kings of the genre yet again.

Score: 9/10

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Song Impressions: Spylights – Empath

The progressive rock band Spylights are gearing up to release their EP The Empath, and along with that, there is the title track. The emotion-provoking song does more than deliver heartfelt lyrics with complimentary vocals, it has substance musically.

Empath is a slow burn of a build up. The soothing bass, steady drums, and light guitar work make for a somber entry. The final act takes the personality of the track from something shy into a confident statement. The transition is not jarring, it fits and flows naturally.

Vincent Giovanni’s voice has a delicate balance between a deeper voice, but able to reach higher notes without sounding too whiny or annoying. To my surprise, he has quite a powerful voice to go with the powerful song.

Giovanni’s lyrics symbolically and literally get his message across about empathy. Visually memorable lines like, “I’d shout it to the top of my lungs directly into the flames of hate.” While other words take a blunt route, “Then we could move on like a civilized human race / Instead of letting the media control and fuck with your mind.” Nothing feels too cheesy or too reminiscent to other songs about the same subject since so many rock bands write songs about similar topics.

Spylights have a great jump start to their band. The bar has been set quite high, so the rest of the EP has a lot to prove to beat the title track.

The Empath comes out May 10. You can pre-order below:
Pre-order: The Empath

Keep up with Spylights on Facebook and Bandcamp.

Image via Spylights

Interview: Hooby and the Yabbit

1. How did your band get started?
I was jamming with some guys in Wakefield, doing all sorts like Steely Dan, ZZ Top, Johnny Guitar Watson, Robben Ford, like a little rehearsal band, but then I started writing these songs, and it changed into a recording project, which it still is really.
2. What inspired you to go into this genre?
I’ve always loved the blues, and sleazy kind of music, making love in the middle of the
night kind of music, but with a rock edge. My wife and I listen all the time to Free, Janis,
The Doors, ACDC, and I played for years in a Wakefield blues trio, like Hendrix/ Rory
Gallagher noise, I think it just all started coming back out.
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3. Who are your inspirations that have shaped the sound of the band and how so?
All the classics, like those mentioned above, but in my mind, I was thinking Aerosmith/ZZ Top rolled up with ole time blues. When a young fellow I played a lot of Blues Brothers as
well, and I still do, with the band when I have one, and in my solo set. My favorite is B
Movie Box Car Blues, a Delbert McClinton song. ALSO actually when I was 16 I saw
one of the best bands that ever walked the earth- Atco recording artistes Blackfoot. They
were one of those ‘you were either there or you missed it ‘kind of bands.
4. What is the creative process your band takes when making an album?
Well, these songs on ‘out of time ‘ (available RIGHT NOW on BANDCAMP, CD or
download, ahem) started out as guitar jams for three of them, but Movietown I wrote in
my head and then recorded it solo.
5. Lyrically speaking, what inspires the themes that are written about in your music?
My life as I’ve lived it and continue to live it really. I watch the world and the people in it
and themes sort of suggest themselves. Also the making love in the middle of the night
thing…or in the morning…preferably Monday morning, which always gets way too
much respect from everyone I think. The song Tea and Toast is that.
6. Competition in any music scene is high, so how does your band stand out compared to
other bands?
Umm, we are way older and uglier than everyone else, yep that’s our plan.
And think- it’s a plan that can only improve!
7. What is your dream tour? Name however many bands you want to create the perfect tour.
I think mine actually happened a few times, back in the days of Floyd, Zappa, Fleetwood
Mac and Hawkwind all on the same bill you know, but let’s see, ZZ Top circa 1980 ish,
Rush same period, John Lennon and the Plastic Ono band with Herself unfortunately
detained elsewhere and then the Original line up of Motorhead come back to life and kick the shit out of the place.
8. If you went into a completely different style of music, what would it be?
Gypsy acoustic music.
9. If you can collaborate with anyone, who would it be and why?
Will I Am because he’s totally of at a tangent to me so that’s interesting,
10. Where would you like to travel to that you have never been?
States I think, only set foot in once, and would love to tour there.
11. What is a goal that you would like to see happen in your career?
Recording the live album at some famous venue somewhere, then we all go out get wrecked.
Thank you to Rogue PR and Hooby and the Yabbit for the interview.

Video Game Review: World War Z

Cooperative zombie games seem impossible to beat. Gathering friends to take on hordes of the undead makes for a fun task while blowing away the hundreds of bodies that charge you to eat your flesh. World War Z is another in that genre, but instead of being outstanding like other titles, the game delivered is a generic shooter with a lot of elements that fall flat.

Rather than basing itself off of the excellent book by Max Brooks, the studio decided to take after the horrendous movie with Brad Pitt. Yes, the film that had the zombies run together like water to pile on any victims that get in the way. The game goes further towards a style similar to other titles like it by having special infected enemies. Think of the average chargers and hunter-like undead from Left 4 Dead, just fewer types.

The only similarity to the novel is that each campaign takes place in a different location on Earth with new protagonists. Each of the four stories has three chapters, except for Japan which will get added at a later date. A variety of tasks from defending points and escorting survivors carry through each section until the next phase, or escape occurs. The missions become repetitive, but with a few friends, it becomes a lot more enjoyable.

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The voice acting and writing for the narrative is not only useless, but it is also painful to endure. While most of the game is average, this aspect truly is atrocious. The voice acting ranges from terrible to bearable, while the writing is consistently poor. The tone does not do the narrative any justice since the drama is not compelling and the comedy is embarrassing and out of place.

Before loading into a campaign, first, each of the four players can choose a character and class. The classes seem to not make a massive difference besides their starting loadout of weapons and equipment, but leveling them up for new skills is empowering while requiring currency that is earned after each chapter. Oddly enough, when selecting a character, you can steal other people’s role chosen. If someone is picked, you can snag that character, and the game swaps the two, so you now have your friend’s chosen person.

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Combat feels bland, especially with the guns. However, shooting a massive horde of flesh-eaters never gets old, only when there are a lot of them. The explosions feel like firecrackers besides using the rocket launcher. Other than that nothing feels satisfying when shooting or blowing up.

Guns can get leveled up like classes do as each weapon gets more use. The upgrades consist of classes of each firearm. Take a basic assault rifle, with enough experience, a new variation with upgrades stats and attachments unlocks for purchase. Rather than customizing, the gun will have a preset that can be bought. While I wish for personalizing my weapons, this system is easy and rewarding.

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PVP is an option, full of the typical game types you find on any other shooter like deathmatch and king of the hill. Every mode pits two teams against one another with zombies in the mix, minus the special infected. Different classes with new loadouts can be selected that differ from the story mode. Other than some differences, this is something I dived into for a taste then went back with friends to play through any of the campaigns.

Updates will benefit the experience since private matches need to be added for parties under four players. Patching up the potholes and placing more content on top of the filled gaps. In a year, this could be much better, I am rooting for the developers to turn it around.

Saber Interactive’s World War Z is a generic option for people needing to scratch that itch for a cooperative zombie adventure that costs less than the average $60 title. While it has plenty of issues, it is easy to pick up and makes up for its flaws with its teamwork based gameplay. Turn on a harder difficulty and grab some friends to have the right amount of relaxation and strategy. If you don’t have friends to play with, then pass on this one.

Score: 5/10

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