Friday, January 27, 2012

Sabrina Jeffries: A Lady Never Surrenders review

There are a couple of things that are expected when you buy a book/e-book that's written by Sabrina Jeffries. You will get a decent characterization of the heroine and hero, a solid story for the chemistry of both characters to shine, passable to good structure that builds on what the two factors given and good pacing that optimizes the story and the characters that she created. Most of her books have always taken advantages of her strength as a writer while minimizing her issues within the framework of the genre she works with. In the last book of her Hellions of Halstead Hall series, she somewhat delivers on creating good characters and chemistry but was hampered by the pacing, plot structure and aspects of the story.

A Lady Never Surrenders has Lady Celia Sharpe and Jackson Pinter as its central characters, if you have read the books preceding this one - you knew that Ms. Jefrries have been hyping this pairing for a while now. The story centers on them finding an honorable fiancee for Lady Celia since she's the last Sharpe who hasn't caved in to her Grandma's ultimatum of getting married to stop the Sharpe family from getting disowned. The worst of it all is that Lady Celia has only two months to go get married which the author doesn't take advantage as a plot device. While that problem exists in the story - they also have to solve the mystery of who killed the Sharpes' parents which can be a monumental task by itself. The mix of the romantic aspect along with the mystery/suspense structure of the story really killed the flow and pacing of the story as the author tried to juggle these into the book. Jeffries' ambitious desire to spread out the mystery of who killed the Sharpes' parents shows her deficiency as a mystery writer. The red herrings she has given to her readers tend to be uninspired and tedious. It's as predictable as a Godzilla movie where the Aliens who were interested in Godzilla got blasted by the monsters electric breath blast. While she uses whodunnit aspects in some of her books before - it doesn't hamper the romantic vibe of the story since it's not really a big driving force in her books. It tends to be passable and easily dismissed since her penchant for writing good characters and romantic plots camouflages her inability to write a decent secondary plot most of the time.

The characterization of the Hero and Heroine were well fleshed out that they were well rounded and sympathetic most of the time. The angst aspect though tends to be overdriven by the author to such a degree that it does sound like both characters in some cases act like tweens who discovered Catcher In A Rye and tends to act it out in front of an audience for weeks on end. The Hero's obsession with the Heroine's wealth and station in life can be grating. As a device to flesh out his characterization - it is effective but cheap in some way. It is repeated a lot as a factor for them not to be together that the execution leaves a lot to be desired. The heroine has a more balanced development out of the two that she comes off as extremely likable, but even she tends to act out of character near the book. Both of these characters though were decently characterized that the book shifts to high gear when the two interact. The chemistry and sexual tension between the two made the pages fly fast until it shifts again to them trying to solve the murder of her parents and the Hero's comical way of being angry about his lack of pedigree that makes him unable to offer for the Heroine even though he has ruined her already. The Hero's issue with being a bastard was cheaply solved also that there wasn't foreshadowing at all.

The supporting characters in this book compared to the other books in the series tend to be more like fillers. They don't really add anything to the story...though you can probably say that the Sharpes' well elaborated character, Grandma Hetty tends to be vexatious in this book that even in the end, her redemption tends to be bland and awkward. They tend to make the plodding vibe of the story really heavy handed that regardless of the books positive points - you tend to magnify the negative aspects of the book because of these factors.

Regardless of its cumbersome plot pacing and structure that makes this one of the author's least satisfying books, A Lady Never Surrenders provides decent romance writing that the author is known for that makes this a good read when you want to spend your hours reading a book after a long hard days work.

3.5/5 Rating

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Meshuggah: Destroy Erase Improve review

If there's one album where substance meets style in a glorious dissonance - it is in Meshuggah's classic album Destroy Erase Improve.   Released in 1995 - it was a big step for the band that was known more for sounding like a mix of Pantera and Metallica with European metal sensibilities.  They then started carving a style of their own when they released their EP None which showcased their affinity for jazz like improvisations and odd time signatures.  In Destroy Erase Improve, the band just continued with evolving their style and showing their virtuosity in intricate written songs that ventures into themes that bands like Fear Factory were known for.  

The poly-rhythm grooves and how they deliver it in an uptempo fashion reared its ugly head with the first song "Future Breed Machine" which showcased Fredrik Thordendal's Holdsworth meets Robert Fripp fusion solos and interludes.  Jens' vocal delivery have always been ubiquitous in its range added that machine like buzzsaw trait in its intensity and Haake's drumming was the rock that held it all.  The same formula were again shown in songs like "Transfixion" and "Vanished".  The tempo is unrelenting but underneath the aggression: the musicianship of the band shines that has gained them respect from fellow metal bands and jazz/fusion musicians. 

The band's ability to write head crushing mid-tempo songs in such a twisted and discordant manner while still maintaining the melodic aspect of the song were displayed in songs like "Soul Burn", "Inside What's Within Behind" and "Suffer In Truth".  The controlled groove that these songs exhibit had that San Francisco thrash influence that only enhanced the songs' makeup but also added an element that still respects the influence it had on the band when they were in their infancy as songwriters.  

The albums production engineered by future Darkane producer Daniel Bergstrand and mixed by seminal Swede stalwart Fredrik Nordstrom complimented the dry, bleak and static feel of the album.  The sound landscapes they helped tweaked added that precise methodical grit the album had overall.

While the band went further down in its complexity and harshness with "Chaosphere" - the sublime mix of good songwriting and absurdity really was perfected in this album.  These album along with "None" and "Chaosphere" in some aspect are/were the definitive body of work that Meshuggah will be known for when they are talked about in regards to their work.

5/5 Rating

Zyklon: World Ov Worms review


Over the years as taste changes, cynicism grips at you as a listener, viewer or reader - you try to find something that you can connect to as a person. Regardless if it's an album, book or movie, you try to recapture something that you adored once upon a time that made your blood pump faster, your brain process information faster. It's basically you as a human being hitting that perfect zen: a personal utopia where everything clicks for you...the sky opens up for you, colors become more vivid, sounds become clearer etc. While it does sound like I'm describing getting off which I'm not, certain forms of media just puts me in that zone that I described. Zyklon's debut album is like that perfect storm that comes once in a while where production, songwriting and aggression hits you like a wrecking ball made of bacon that you want to get bludgeon by it...repeatedly.

The album just starts with a sample that culminates with some broad saying "Welcome to a World of Worms" in that svelte voice and then bam! Emeril Lagasse like: the wall of noise they started hits you like pitchforks to the side of the head without any signs of relenting. The shrieks and growls from their vocalist just adds a layer of complexity that becomes more manic in its delivery as the song culminates into a breakdown that doesn't deter the song at all, but adds to it by being a sledgehammer crushing your windpipe in slow motion. The drumming and the guitar playing with its pedal to the metal routine in both musicianship and tone becomes the glue that holds such a cacophony to its relentless drive for noise nirvana.

The format for every song is identical all in all, but the way they incorporate their art in such a manner that it becomes a chaos sphere - perfectly symmetrical in its delivery time over time. While there are samples and techno beats layered in some of the songs - it doesn't become a distraction but more like a break before the vortex begins to spin again in its malevolence.

Highlights of the album are "Hammer Revelation", "Deduced to Overkill", "Chaos Deathcult" and "Transcendental War - Battle between the gods". Lyrics were written by Faust which if you want to be critical of the album was the weak point, regardless though - it added a sense of megalomania that added to the maniacal way the album sounds at it is.

While the band released two more albums with less critical acclaim and as of 2010 the band is in hiatus. World Ov Worms burned brightly that even though the flames disappeared quickly, the way it shone will always be a testament to how amazing a band that hits all cylinders can produce a masterpiece.


Friday, January 20, 2012

Lamb of God: Resolution review

When people talk about Lamb of God nowadays - they are mostly revered by some as the leader of the New Wave of American Heavy Metal movement also known as Metalcore. They are talked about as a band that has meshed their sound with minor experimentation such as adding sludge/doom influences in their later albums or just adding small touches of clean vocals to complement the banshee like shrieks and growls of their vocalist that made them sound like Pantera in a way.  Whether that is a good compliment or not always depends on who you ask. Their detractors though  have been on a warpath lately in regards to the way the band's sound and songs have been monotonous.  They haven't experimented enough, their album sounds like an AC/DC retread, their vocalist penchant for talking about politics was tiring and insipid that he should just stop preaching and get himself an eyeliner and a Brazilian body wax.     

Bottomline is that the band has been producing critically and "commercially" successful albums for close to a decade now,  sooner or later the growing amount of cynicism and detractors will finally increase since they've been on top of that mountain for too long and there's really no way to go but down.

Resolution will probably be that album the detractors will talk about as the album that will prove their point.  While the production and musicianship is still strong and crushing - the songwriting leaves left much to be desired.  Gone are the sharp riffs and memorable lines the band is known for.  It does sound like the band's going thru the motions of producing songs that sounds like...Lamb of God.  The lyrics are still excellent for the genre...but you have heard it all before.  The tempo shifts at breakneck speed and then it goes into a breakdown that's suppose to make you change the way you headbang or scissor kick.  It's a lose-lose situation for a band in this situation because they do know what they are that they are really limited at what they can do.  Adding an orchestra and an opera singer might count as groundbreaking 15 years ago - now it sounds like grasping at straws to show "growth" as musicians.  Black Metal bands or Faux Black Metal bands have the make up and ability to make it sound interesting but Lamb of God...they make it sound like they were adding Taco Bell meat to a Paella dish.  

While there are still decent tunes such as "Desolation", "Undertow", "Terminally Unique" and "To the End".  These decent to good tracks do sound calculated and doesn't have that organic feel that old Lamb of God songs have.  "King Me" has some interesting sections but the orchestra and the opera singers sounds like the band are trying to be...wait for it...pretentious.

Resolution will probably grow into a decent to good listen when you have it on repeat for the 20th time, but as of now - the album is just so tiring and mediocre to listen to that having radioactive tacos is far more rewarding regardless if it gives you Diarrhea.

2.5/5 rating

Megadeth: Th1rt3en album review

Megadeth has been hailed by some as the most consistent band out of the big 4 of the American thrash/speed metal scene. They have been producing decent albums since their reformation after they disbanded because of Dave Mustaine's medical issues. A couple of band member changes over the years may have changed the chemistry of the band yet the quality of the albums they produced have always been up to par with the best of the genre has to offer. While they had albums that had me gagging such as Risk, The World Needs a Hero and Cryptic Writings - without those albums - the current incarnation of Megadeth wouldn't have learned what worked and didn't work for them as a band. They did learn regardless of what people say, Metal as a genre is unforgiving a genre in all of music. Certain parameters must still be adhered and no matter how many classifications they create to distinguish bands of today - it all amounts to satisfying the core subculture you are catering to. In other words, it's all noise and grunts no matter how you cover it.

The band hit that subtle balance with The System Has Failed, United Abominations and Endgame which were a perfect dose of old school Megadeth with modern sensibilities. They have stuck to the formula of having one to three fast songs along with midtempo "radio friendly" numbers over the years. Thirt3en does deliver that in spades with uptempo tracks like "Neverdead" (written for a Konami game coming up this year), "Fast lane" and "Wrecker". "Deadly Nightshade" and "13" harkens back to their Youthanasia catalog and songs like "Whose life (it is anyways?)" sounds perfectly in tune if they had released it with Cryptic Writings with its punk/hardcore vibe reminiscent of "FFF".

What made the album a little iffy though is the revivals/remake/rehash of old b-sides that has been available for years already regardless if it's on demo form or fan exclusive downloads. "Black Swan" which was reworked to have a faster feel to it still has that hook that can be stuck in your head but also lost its luster because of how it was arranged this time. "New World Order" and "Millenium of the Blind" were demos that would have been included in Youthanasia that were re-recorded with mixed results - both of them still good songs but NWO lost a lot of its grit to a fault. "Millenium of the Blind" out of the reworked songs stand out as the plodding riffs and maniacal vocal delivery gives it a bruising feel that the band hasn't had since Peace Sells...but who's buying.

If you have no issue with paying an album that should have been an EP, I do suggest you buy/download this album. For the collectors and avid fans though, this is literally just adding to their legacy of producing great albums with minor issues and all. The lack of speed and technicality in most songs in their past few albums which had made them the most talented band out of the big 4 would probably hinder the end factor of enjoying their recent releases, they have stuck to a formula which has given them a second life as a critically acclaimed band once again yet they have lose their way in regards to the danger and aggressive outlook they have presented long before the advent of the digital mp3 age.

3/5 Rating

Amazon Kindle Fire Review

Kindle Fire, Full Color 7" Multi-touch Display, Wi-Fi
When you have a product that was synonymous with digital books such as the Kindle - people tend to take notice when you try to expand your horizons to areas which you haven't been known for and try to see if lightning does strikes twice. The kindle fire was Amazon's first foray to tablets that was introduced to us late last year and from a sales point of view: it has been a big hit for Amazon. The kindle line of e-ink ebook readers while not known for aesthetic superiority in both hardware design and software interface was a big hit. The simplicity of the product, the company's reputation for stellar customer service and best in class price point made it a juggernaut in its field. The ethos that made its Kindle brothers successful was brought along into the Fire with mixed result.

The specs if you look at it was downright underwhelming: Close to a pound in weight (14.6 oz), 1 GHz dual core processor, 8 GBs of Hard Drive space (6.5 GBs available for sideloading your personal files), 512 MB of RAM, 1024 x 600 IPS screen that's more prone to glare compared to other tablets and a design that borrowed heavily from RIM's Blackberry Playbook that it's downright pedestrian as design goes. The mediocre aspect of the design and feel of the product made it feel rushed so that it could be released when the holiday season arrived last year.

While the User Interface was elegant and simple, the OS which uses Android Gingerbread as base was downright pathetic when first shipped with the tablet. It lagged, crashed and froze...a lot. The silk browser does not deliver on its promise and tends to be more bug filled as it crashed most of the time and old tabs tend to reappear from time to time even if you close it to name a few. The carousel feature back then also was a problem since you cannot delete the items from appearing in the UI and swiping to go to the next item tends to be jerky. The deficiency and shortcomings of the software was in part because of Google's open source software which is a resource hog and Amazon's growing pains as a first time OS designer.

The past couple of months though has brought improvements to the OS though as Amazon fixes these bugs. The main UI has improved by being more seamless when you use it as it doesn't lag as much anymore. The ability to remove items in your carousel was also introduced though it would be advisable for Amazon to introduce a feature where you can have the item you open not appear in your carousel instead of constantly deleting them one by one every time you open them.

While my review showcases more of the negative aspects of the product - I still recommend the product for others to buy. The reason I've loved the product was because of the tight integration of the services Amazon offers here. The books, music, TV shows and movies you bought are in the cloud. The app store which is still in its infancy is also tightly controlled and has more quality control compared to the Android store. The usual competitive prices and amazing customer service also brings a lot to the table.

If you have $200 to spare and you like Amazon's ecosystem - this product is a must buy, but for it to be as successful as its e-ink Kindle needs to improve the quality and ergonomics of its hardware and software design.

3.5/5 Rating

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Oh great...another jerk with a blog!

An online friend of mine years ago told me that writing a blog was the epitome of internet garbage at its best. He basically went into a semi-rant on how mundane, feeble and downright inane it was to give your viewpoints on a specific subject that has already been rehashed by millions of other retards vying for a same market of morons.

The dude though writes Lord of the Rings fanfiction that centers around Saruman and Sauron having telepathy sex with each other. So yeah...he was a 'friend' of mine.

So why write a blog now after all these years of shying away from writing one?

I was bored.

Yep, boredom made me do it. Nothing earth shattering about it. I was not told by someone that if I build it, they will come...

No spiritual calling, no influential person that touched me inside (which is understandable since I've only been touching myself for years) that made me see things clearly.

I just wanted to talk about things that interest me.

What are those things, you may ask?

Japanese Anime, Asian Soap Operas, Movies, Books, Food, Technology, Pornography and Politics.

I won't be trying to change anyone's opinion on the topics I have mentioned, but will try to facilitate an alternate or supplemental view on the subject at hand.

But keep in mind that your opinion is a testament to inbreeding and it will always be wrong.

Have a nice day!