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wonkybox
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Member since: 05.10.2011

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      13.12.2011 15:51
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      Worth what you'd pay for it these days

      Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne is a third-person shooter set just after the event of the original Max Payne game.

      NYPD detective Max Payne is investigating a series of murders by a group of hitmen known as The Cleaners when he encounters former love-interest and presumed dead femme fatale Mona Sax. Together they unravel a conspiracy concerning the shadowy Inner Circle, an organisation similar to the Illuminati or Bilderberg legends.

      The story is mostly told through comic panels that appear between and during the levels. There is a heavy film noir influence, so if you liked Frank Miller's Sin City or any of John Woo's creations you'll enjoy the bleak setting and characterisation.

      All of this is of course just window dressing for the firefighting. Using the uses the Havok physics engine Max blasts his way through the conspiracy, and although the graphics are a little dated now the physics more than make up for it. The emphasis is on gunplay, with each bullet being traced and your enemies reacting convincingly to being hit in various locations. There's a lot of firepower to choose from, ranging from a single Beretta handgun to a fully automatic assault rifle.

      The Havok engine still holds its own, and it adds extra enjoyment to a spirited gunfight when there's paint cans, lights glass and people all spinning around in the mayhem.
      The best feature is still the 'Bullet Time'. With a right-click or ctrl key press you can slow down time, totally necessary when facing seemingly insurmountable odds, but also a lot of fun. I get a lot of satisfaction from diving into the middle of a room in slow-motion, shooting all of the baddies encircling me, hitting the ground and reloading all before they hit the ground. The developers wore their love of John Woo films on their sleeves, and recreating these sort of scenes appears to have been a priority for them.

      The voice acting is some of the best I've experienced. Each comic has an overlaid narrative, and the gravelly voice actors and sound effects fit the setting perfectly.

      It isn't without faults though. Compared to the first Max Payne the single player story is very short, and although there are added survival game modes and mod tools. It also seems to take itself a lot more seriously than the original, and some may find it too po-faced.

      Seeing as you can get this game for a song these days I'd recommend picking up a copy.

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    • Plantronics Explorer 230 / Headset / 15 Readings / 15 Ratings
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      12.12.2011 14:14
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      Thanks Plantronics. Thanks a pantload...

      Yes, I've been trying to refuse having one of these pressed upon me, as driving is now the only quality alone time I seem to get these days.

      'It's very hard to set up, it'll take ages.' I pleaded with my boss, trying to weasel out of having one.
      'No it isn't. Shut up. Get back to work.' Replied my boss, effortlessly combining several of his one-size-fits-all responses to employee concerns into one decisive broadside.

      And it was easy to set up. There's a micro USB output in the top for charging, and to my frustration it appears to be able to stay active for a very long time after charging for a couple of hours. Irritatingly, all I had to do was set my phone's bluetooth mode to 'discover' to pair it with the device.

      So far so depressingly good. There's only three buttons on the thing, one for taking calls, one for volume and power, so I couldn't plead ignorance on that front. Indeed, I found taking calls on the headset very easy, and although there was a bit of windy howling noise I thought the call audio quality was much better than something like speakerphone.

      Even my lopsided-jug ears fit into the earpiece comfortably, so I couldn't refuse the thing on an auricular basis either. After about 45 minutes driving I found myself forgetting I was wearing it, and only realised after catching my reflection in a service station's glass facade. I looked and felt like one of those intolerably cheesy salesmen who think that wearing a bluetooth headset at all times creates an image of being 'on the go' or 'always moving, like a shark'.

      I also found it had an infuriatingly good range, even when trying to surreptitiously lose connection by leaving my phone in my car whilst my boss was banging on about something while I went to refuel. I got about a good fifteen feet away from my car, and still I could hear my bosses indecipherable corporate-newspeak ramblings.

      So thanks Plantronics. Thanks for making a device that is reliable, has a good battery life, call range and call quality. You've just made my life just that little bit darker, as now every boss I have in the world can harass me with the same fatuous questions and meaningless assertations all of the time, often one after the other. Thanks for making it robust enough to withstand several 'accidental' droppings as well. Perhaps I should see if it will withstand me accidentally reversing over it...

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        08.12.2011 16:44
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        Does the BIM it says it does, but you can get the same easier and cheaper elsewhere

        Autodesk are trying to corner the UK construction market with Revit, a Building Information Modelling package that they got hold of by buying out some guys who did all the work back in 2003-ish.
        Expect to pay around £5000 for a single licence of Revit, expect to pay even more than that when Autodesk crush their UK competition.

        I found creating a BIM model in Revit reasonably straightforward, although not having used it in a commercial project yet I couldn't comment on things like client feedback etc.
        Parametric (editable) Structural Elements are conveniently given construction-friendly names, and range from the simple (columns, walls) to the more complex (curtain wall, beam & block flooring) which are usually handled in a modular sense and then arrayed and duplicated.

        Most of these I found intuitive to use, drawing a wall is the same as any other BIM product, you just click twice and you get a wall. The curtain wall system creation I found an absolute pleasure to use, reminding me of traditional 2D CAD drawing. The big drawback is the unfriendly interface. If I'm trying to create a cavity wall, create a door schedule or anything else I'm confronted with something that looks like an Excel spreadsheet, only with added complicated bits. I eventually got a useful schedule out but it took longer as I was playing 'hunt the button'. Work environment is definitely something that BIM competitors Bentley and Graphisoft have an advantage over Revit on.

        Having used pure 3D modelling packages before I was keen to try out the massing tools and wasn't disappointed. Autodesk probably had a bit of a head start with conceptual geometry because all they had to do is import the tools from 3DS Max. They were really nice to use and I was able to create some organically-shaped curtain wall systems by creating the geometry then attaching a system to the face which is then repeated horizontally and vertically to fill the shape. This is great, but sadly in the UK we don't get to do snazzy 'blobitechture' buildings that often so it's just a pretty toy.

        The real gains of any BIM package can be measured simply - can I save time and money by using it?

        There's a few energy analysis tools that you can use for early stage stuff, but nothing that's UK accredited. Depending on how you work you may need to outsource that stuff still, probably the best that can be said about any BIM energy analysis package is that it points you in the right direction, so you may save a coupla hundred on paying your consultant for multiple calcs.

        Once you get a handle on the scheduling tools you don't have to waste time on this either. If like me you dislike Excel you'll be pleased at not having to spend hours in it scheduling everything.
        With other BIM packages you can create QS lists and timber cutting lists and so on - this hasn't been something I've needed to do in Revit yet, but it looks like all the other bits are there.
        Local authority planning disputes could also possibly be solved with the sun study tool, although I suspect that local authorities wouldn't trust anything from any software package developed after 1980.

        Another big plus is seeing as I've made a BIM model I can create some renders of it without outsourcing - again Autodesk have made good use of their other products as there's a sophisticated rendering engine. You show a client with limited construction knowledge a photorealistic render and they immediately understand and react to the project.

        To summarise, I do like Revit but it would probably suit someone from an engineering background more. Creating a BIM model here is more like an assembly job than a design process, if I was doing a design/build project I'd use something else, as autodesk seem to be assuming we know what everything will look like from day 1.

        I like using the tools and enjoy the fact that by using BIM software I'm in the pub at 5pm having automated a lot of my process instead of sat in front of Excel making mistakes that are going to cost me on site. However these are gains that you get from using any BIM product, and can be accessed more easily by using other BIM platforms like ArchiCAD or Microstation, and more cheaply in some cases

        I was also narked off when my supercomputer couldn't take the strain of running Revit. I've got a bitchin' video card and 16GB of RAM and I can't model a warehouse box without grinding to a halt or crashing? To put that in perspective in other BIM products I've had entire city centres, business parks and colossal multistoreys and they've worked fine. This makes me worry about this products future, you can't fix holes in the scripts under the bonnet by throwing processor power at them. Also if you want to use the teamwork feature it's recommended you have 24GB of RAM. 24GB! I could launch a frickin' shuttle with that amount of push.

        Also it's Windows only, so you might as well take that Macbook Pro you bought to impress clients with and flush it. Or buy Paralells or Boot Camp, but running that stuff takes RAM and your project will fall over.

        I'm still learning this Revit though, often it's not the best product that wins the industry over, but the one with the most money behind it. Seeing as autodesk have paid the UK chief construction adviser to espouse their tech I'd strongly suggest that anyone studying or working in construction gets a bit of knowledge about Revit.

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          06.12.2011 16:22

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          Get your stank on

          For me Paul Smith is one of those brands that I am pleased I can admit to enjoying without compromising my masculinity.

          Like the clothing, this aftershave walks the razor-thin tightrope between macho and effeminate, whereas a Paul Smith shirt would achieve this perhaps with some floral trim on an otherwise boldly-striped shirt here the focus is on the scent, and it is balanced well amongst the range of smells that are familiar in men's aftershave.

          There's a basic musky, sort of mossy tone underlying everything after a new squirt, with a pleasant fruity overlay which is balanced out by a slight spicy after-smell. After time the smell becomes more subtle, with the musk and the fruitiness remaining as the more pervasive tones.

          In less florid terms, this is a good stank that will stay on you all day with just one squirt, so it also represents excellent value for money.

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        • Dropbox / Communication / 8 Readings / 5 Ratings
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          06.12.2011 16:01
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          Very useful application

          I've mostly been using this at work for transferring files to our iPad 2, as it's rather painful transferring anything to this particular device that isn't music or video.

          Dropbox is an online storage solution, you upload files to your allocated secure space in the 'cloud' (there's that word again) and you can either keep them there, share the files with anyone else or just use them to move large files from one place to another.

          You can get a whole 2GB with the free version, all you need to do is install Dropbox, create an account and you're away. Options are also available for 50GB and 100GB for $10 and $20 per month respectively.

          If you're on a desktop Mac/PC or a laptop, Dropbox will, once installed, run in the background or in your system tray. Be warned that there's no download/upload progress bar and files must be 'synchronised' before they become available. This means that you have to allow for some time for files to become available which will vary depending on your upload speed. The little Dropbox icon in the system tray does have a little spinning blue icon that lets you know when it is still synchronising, so you do get a small visual cue.

          I've found Dropbox very useful for sharing files and for transferring onto the very restrictive iPad 2.
          I also have a lot of respect for the creators after reading about how they fought to keep Dropbox a simple online storage solution rather than having Facebook integration and all the other nonsense that nobody ever uses.

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            01.12.2011 17:44
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            Wait until they've fixed all the issues before buying

            Battlefield 3 is the latest modern-era FPS that is the only real contender to the Call of Duty series.

            I paid nearly fifty pounds for this game, and whilst it's very good, there's also a lot wrong with the tech that has hindered my enjoyment.

            In single player you take the role of various people around the globe as you fight against the baddies (this time it's Russians and terrorists). There's some excellent set pieces, a nuke goes off, you have to fight your way out of ambushes and are involved in some exciting chases. These intense FPS sections are split up by sections flying jet fighters, conducting UAV bombings and blowing stuff up in a tank. There's enough guns and variety in combat to keep you excited.

            The gameplay is enhanced by some very advanced graphical tech using the Frostbite 2 engine. Even my powerful gaming machine loses FPS on maximum settings, but the character models look fantastic, and the special effects are really good when everything starts blowing up. Bullets zip and ping around you convincingly, and the firearms are well-realised acoustically, so you can often guess what armaments you're up against by sound alone and plan accordingly.

            I got to the seventh mission or so before the game crashed. I loaded it up again and played to the same point and it crashed again. To date I have got to this exact point five times and it's crashed every time, so it's stopped me from making any progress.

            But screw single-player. I bought this for the multiplayer. In multiplayer you can join a war online with up to 63 other players and fight it out using the weapons, tools and vehicles. There's an RPG style unlock path included so by playing well you unlock new guns, abilities and gadgets.

            New to Battlefield 3 is the co-op mode, where players are all on the same side fighting against CPU controlled opponents. Again this has an unlock system and looks like good fun.

            When multiplayer works, it's great fun. But often it doesn't. The game uses a heavy-handed DRM interface masquerading as an online shop and community called Origin, and it's hell to get it to work. It crashes when joining a game. It crashes whilst I'm in a game. It crashes between game rounds. It's very frustrating. Origin is owned by EA who won't admit that there's any sort of problem, all of my attempts at contact have just been ignored. It usually takes me around seven attempts to get to an online game, and then I still run the risk of being disconnected from the EA servers, which happens frequently.

            Once more, in their haste to prevent game piracy EA have penalised regular users. If I go to any torrent site I can find a working version of the game for free, but I get a broken game because I coughed up the money?

            There's thousands of users like me having the same issue apparently, and the general consensus is EA rushed out Origin and Battlefield 3 without finishing it properly. I imagine the issue will get fixed eventually but until then this game-breaking tech forces me to give the game a very low score.

            You asked for a lot of money for this game EA. The least I could expect would be a functioning product, but no.

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          • Load - Metallica / Music Album / 8 Readings / 8 Ratings
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            01.12.2011 16:26
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            WTF Metallica?

            I've been doing some very positive reviews for Metallica albums recently, so I thought I'd warn newcomers to Metallica about where they started going wrong, so they don't waste time on the weaker offerings. 'Load' is one of these weak offerings.

            Metallica reinvented themselves for this album, as a lot of other metal acts did during this dark period in the mid 90s when metal was rebranded and repackaged for a new demographic of angsty teens. Their long hair and normal street clothes were gone, they were now wearing suits or fur coats and smoking cigars.

            'WTF?' I remember thinking when I first examined the album art. 'WT actual F'?
            Where were the normal looking guys in street clothes who just looked like they'd wandered in off the street and started playing the finest metal mankind has ever produced?

            'Load' had obviously had a lot of money spent on the design. 'Artist' Andres Cerrano provided the 'blood and semen' front cover, as Lars Ulrich,( in the embryonic stages of his transformation from 'Drummer for Metallica' to 'Man who killed Metallica and a lot of other good things in his quest for money') was going through an 'artistic' stage.

            The inlay pictures weren't much better. Was that makeup Lars and Kirk were wearing? What's with all thes angsty introspective lyrics? Why were all the photos in artsy black and white?
            It was a jarring feeling indeed. One of the things I had respected most about Metallica was that they only seemed to care about making music. This was a huge departure from their previous nonchalant approach.

            Musically, the album was accomplished, but they had reinvented their sound which was now completely unrecognisable. The production is excellent, the sound landscape is well balanced and very clear.

            'Ain't My Bitch' is the opener, the swearword a conspicuous effort to maintain a veneer of 'attitude'. This is followed up by '2x4' which is supposed to be a sort of slow groove jam but it's just a bit boring.

            'The House That Jack built' is another plodding meandering dirge, and that goes into the song that was the first single 'Until It Sleeps'.

            'WTF?' I remember thinking 'There's no solos, no excellent riffage. W T actual F?'

            For 'Load' is just full of blues tracks. Slightly distorted blues tracks, granted. But still blues tracks. I love many blues artists, but with this album Metallica tried their hand at blues instead of developing metal further and failed. There's dozens of blues bands making stuff like this but much better. So why bother? Oh. Right. Money.

            Guitarists Hetfield and Hammett try to nail down some blues riffs, and come close in 'Wasting My Hate' and 'Ronnie', but there's hundreds of guitarists that have been playing blues a lot longer than them and are just better at it.

            There's a wilful refusal in the album to do any sort of solo or catchy riff, unless it's a few drawn-out notes masked by a wah pedal. This is probably what made me think Metallica were trying to rebrand, as it seemed all the 'hallmarks' of metal were being forcefully and wilfully ignored, even at the expense of song quality. 'Poor Twisted Me' and 'Hero of the Day' seem to be trying to mask laziness with attitude and a few chords alone.

            There's even a country and western song for crying out loud. 'Mama Said' is one of the most mawkish and indulgent pieces that anyone has ever written. Again, why bother writing a country song when there's hundreds of artists who are much better at it.

            'Load' stands out as the turning point where Metallica stopped trying. In 2009 frontman James Hetfield laid the blame at Kirk Hammett and Lars Ulrich's feet, as this was 'their' album.
            It's sad.
            They just got old. Hetfield didn't know what was going on anymore, Ulrich became all about the money, Hammett wanted to prance around in makeup and Newstead was visibly miffed by the whole thing.

            WTF Metallica? W T actual F?

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            01.12.2011 11:50
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            Metallica at the apex of their career

            Metallica's 1988 offering saw guitarist Kirk Hammet seeking inspiration from Joe Satriani to take Metallica in a new direction, and it shows on this offering.

            It opens with 'Blackened' which is a textbook Metallica thrasher which maintains an urgent tempo throughout the track once the powerful riffs and hooks have been established.

            Then we get 'And Justice For All' where their experimentation with different song structures becomes more obvious. The timing on this track is very different to anything Metallica have done previously, and the intelligent anti-establishment lyrics still have relevance today. Satriani's influence shows in a couple of showoff guitar solos but is more evident in the time signature, the abrupt stop/starts and innovative turnarounds.

            This slight change of direction shows in subsequent tracks as well, but doesn't compromise the hard-rocking metal power that Metallica showcased in these days. 'One' is one of Metallica's finest hours and combines melancholic acoustic songwriting with aggressive blast beats and culminates in an epic finish. 'Harvester of Sorrow' goes in a different, slower direction and follows a more predictable metal rhythm. It's a good place to have this song as it serves as a sort of half-time marker, giving time to digest the previous tracks which were so sophisticated we metalheads had a difficult time processing them.

            My two favourite tracks, 'The Frayed Ends of Sanity' and 'Dyers Eve' sandwich bass newcomer Jason Newsteads tiny lyrical contribution on 'To Live is to Die'. The lyrics on 'Frayed Ends...' especially are awesome, and blends the new stuff Metallica learned about timing and rhythm with classic galloping thrash riffs.

            The only drawback is the mix. Bassist Cliff Burton had died before this album, and newcomer Jason Newstead came in to replace him. His bass is inaudible throughout the album, so the entire offering is a little bit tinny, the drums have more of a staccato sound and there's generally no bottom end.

            You should listen to this album if you haven't already. I think it's a brilliant offering and has a lot of different intelligent ideas.

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            • Mac OS X Lion / Operating System / 18 Readings / 18 Ratings
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              22.11.2011 13:57
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              You have to buy it if you want to use new software, which hurts my feelings

              I don't like Apple operating system upgrades. Seeing as I have to pay for these upgrades I would expect more features, what you get instead is tweaks and lots of my CAD/BIM software not working because Apple don't share their full API with any developer until after release.

              Apple will tell you that there are more than 250 new features, however on closer inspection a lot of these are bug fixes masquerading as new features. Here's a tip - when Apple say something has been 'improved' they actually mean it has been fixed, and there's quite a few 'improvement' boasts with the release of Lion, including basic OS stuff like drag-and-drop operations, RTF translation, and autosave.

              If you've used any other operating system you'll realise that these new 'features' are actually basic requirements for a grown-up operating system. There's some snazzy new gesture controls, app tweaks and connections to the App Store that make it easier for me to connect and give Apple more money, but any points that Lion wins with these improvements were lost when I tried to do any actual work whilst using Lion.

              There is a serious font issue in Lion that affects your web browser, but has also affected photoshop and some other CAD products I use. Nothing has been fixed, the developers of this software are hamstrung as Apple's API is very jealously guarded, and Apple are too big to admit any sort of wrongdoing on their part.

              So I'm back using Windows 7 on my other machine now. Okay, it's not as stylish, but at least it lets me get work out of the door.

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            • RC Cola Light / Soft Drink / 8 Readings / 7 Ratings
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              21.11.2011 23:22
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              Nice coke

              A six pack of these were on offer at a fraction of the price of a six pack of Diet Coke at my local Asda.

              I found the quality to be quite good, and found the name amusing in an immature sort of way. Even though it was stuffed among the other (usually rubbish) own-brand colas the design seemed to have more spent on it, and I think I remember seeing it in the states.

              It's good quality pop, retaining its fizz for an acceptable amount of time. It didn't really taste much different than branded Diet Coke, it was a little sweeter and there was a sort of gingery aftertaste which I found a bit unpleasant. There is an acceptable caffeine kick of about the same strength as anything else, so don't worry that it isn't going to wake you up.

              In summary this is a perfectly acceptable low-budget cola, and if like me you object to Coca-Colas horrendous human rights and union skull-cracking record in South America you'll be relieved to find a less evil alternative.

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              17.11.2011 18:11
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              The good first half is cancelled by a poor second half

              United Abominations is the eleventh studio release by Megadeth, and is both impressive, offensive and hilarious in equal measure.

              The concept that (now born-again christian) frontman Dave Mustaine has chosen to deal with is the New World Order (a favourite of his), the corporate takeover of America, illegal wars and the wilful destruction of society for profit.

              These are valid topics, but I get the feeling that Dave has just been watching a few too many conspiracy 'documentaries' on youtube. He also has a go at the UN, which will strike anyone living outside of the USA as a bit harsh, seeing as the UN doesn't really do anything to anyone. Ever.

              'Sleepwalker' is a strong opener with a sweet guitar riff and characteristically snarling vocals from Mustaine, whose lyrics are absurd yet very entertaining.

              'Washington is next' is one of the more urgently-paced tracks I've heard in a couple of years and makes good use of a rapidly rolling drumbeat and minor scale riffs to convey a sense of panic. Again the lyrics are sublimely retarded, with Dave single-handedly jeopardising the heretofore logical arguments put forward by antiwar/anti lobbying groups with his paranoid youtube-style ranting.

              'Never walk alone' has an interesting change of tempo and timing, with a truly catchy riff over the chorus, but this is followed by the offensive 'United Abominations' which is a sort of tea-party rant about Europe not doing what the American chickenhawks tell them to regarding the War on Terror.

              There's also 'Gears of war' which was used in the video game of the same name (didn't notice when I was playing it). The other track worth noting is an up-tempo reworking of Youthanasia's 'A tout le monde', featuring some woman from some band called Lacuna Coil that Dave Mustaine obviously offered to duet with in a transparent attempt to bang her. I thought that this duet was better than the original however, and the increase in tempo really suits the song.

              Sadly things fizzle out on the last three tracks, with 'You're Dead' and 'Burnt Ice' being fillers sandwiching another offensive apparently pro-war track 'Amerikhastan'.

              There's some classic Megadeth in here, but there's also some filler and some stupid and inflammatory stuff written by a man who seems to be struggling with finding a target for the vitriol that he's defined by.

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              17.11.2011 15:01
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              Good solid Maiden

              The Final Frontier is Iron Maiden's 15th studio offering and twists through a maelstrom of classic Maiden power and prog rock.

              This is encapsulated in the opening track, where we meander through a four-minute proggy intro before being hit round the head with a classic slice of rock with all the hallmarks of Maiden. We have Bruce Dickinson's endearingly earnest-yet-silly lyrics about being lost in space, some good guitar breaks and the unmistakable air-raid siren vocals and triple guitar sound that define Iron Maiden.

              This continues into the second track 'El Dorado'. It was here I realised Bruce's range isn't quite what it once was, which made me feel sad, but in his defence he is getting on a bit. It's still a solid song though.

              The tracks afterwards snake through various genres, touching on prog, folk and even the Nordic/Celtic metal sound, travelling through brooding 'Mother of Mercy' and ballad 'Coming Home' to reach the next rock cornerstone of 'The Alchemist'.

              I noticed that this was an occurring theme throughout the album, Maiden seemed to be trying out new directions whilst at the same time reassuring their fans that they aren't going to 'pull a Metallica' and go completely pants-on-head crazy by writing familiar and comfortable tracks like 'The Alchemist'. Speaking as someone who's been a fan of the band for seventeen years I enjoyed all of it.

              The last four tracks on the album veer in a more proggy direction, but have been constructed around linchpin Maiden-esque riffs (especially 'The Talisman') which, again, add a comforting familiarity to the surrounding weirdness.

              Some of the tracks do go on a bit, and the album itself is 76 minutes, but that's the only real criticism I have.

              Their fans now span three-generations and there is enough mix of tried-and-tested Iron Maiden riffage and new stuff to keep the dinosaurs, the middle ones and the nippers happy.

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              17.11.2011 14:15
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              Get this album and then listen to it

              Master of Puppets is the third studio album released by Metallica in 1986, and considered by many (including myself) to be their finest work.

              It is the last last Metallica album to feature bassist Cliff Burton who died when the band's tour bus fell on him in Sweden when promoting the album.

              'Battery' is the first track, opening with a simple acoustic riff until, after a heavy version of the same riff, it plunges into a definitive galloping thrash riff.
              This standard metal songwriting tactic of 'have a clean bit before the heavy bit so the heavy bit seems much heavier' has been used before and since by Metallica and their contemporaries, but has rarely been used to such devastating effect, and as the album continues it is developed even further.

              Before you've had time to recover from 'Battery' the opening riff of 'Master of Puppets' hits you square in the nuts with its four opening chords that are famous throughout the world of metal. Intelligently written both musically and lyrically this high quality writing continues through slower tracks such as 'Leper Messiah' and 'The Thing That Should Not Be' - one of Metallica's many odes to the writings of American horror author H.P. Lovecraft.

              There isn't a weak track on the album - 'Disposable Heroes' combines classic thrash with an anti-war message and 'Sanitarium' is one of the most varied and powerful tracks Metallica have ever come up with. There are long melodic bridges in many of the tracks with smooth transmissions into either riff reprisals or nuclear guitar solos. It's intelligent, sophisticated metal that dissolves any assumptions or preconceptions about the genre in a big bath of musical acid.

              After these songs have finished kicking your guts out the penultimate instrumental track 'Orion' takes you on a stellar journey. The first third of the song is similar to Black Sabbath's 'Planet Caravan' and also has prog/stoner influences. It's slower and more melodic than all the other songs, and even after all these years is still conducive to tranquility upon listening.

              The final song 'Damage Inc' is a classic thrash face-punch which bookends 'Battery', perfectly completing the journey.

              Listen to this album. Even if you don't like metal. It is one of the finest albums that has ever been produced in the genre.

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                16.11.2011 15:39
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                A turning point for Megadeth

                This album came out in 94, when metal was going through a bit of an identity crisis. As a consequence Youthanasia is based more on melodic metal rather than the tried and tested speed/thrash metal that characterised their earlier albums, even going as far as to push out a ballad in the form of 'A tout le monde'. This track has become a fan favourite and has been released more recently in duet form. For a band like Megadeth, writing a ballad (especially one with french words in it) was a brave move.

                Probably the most experimental track is 'Train of Consequences' which uses a heavily palm-muted guitar riff as an intro. It sort of works but you can tell they're trying hard to branch out away from the thrash sound. On the plus side this track has a quite upbeat mood, and almost becomes quite humorous.

                Other highlights include 'Addicted to Chaos', 'Elysian Fields' and the opener 'Reckoning Day'. Each has a distinct rhythm and basic foundation of no more than three riffs. The riffs sometimes aren't too strong but usually the song direction changes before it gets too boring.

                There's fewer solos, so if you're expecting a widdle-fest thermonuclear fingertap turbo assault you may feel shortchanged. What solos remain are melodic, slow and just as accomplished as something like 'Hangar 18'.
                Dave Mustaines characteristically raspy vocals seem to grate on a lot of people, but this is minimised on this album more through the production quality rather than any effort on Dave's part, the more experimental melodies on this album allow him to experiment with a wider vocal range.

                For a band that were edging towards wearing the 'dinosaur' badge this album was a fresh direction that was ignored at the time by the metal media.

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                16.11.2011 12:55
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                Get this and then watch it

                The Wire is a brilliantly crafted crime drama set in Baltimore USA and confidently oozes moody sophistication.

                Over the course of the series we're introduced to cop characters and the drug dealers, mainly Detectives Jimmy McNulty and Kima Greggs, and Avon and D'Angelo Barksdale.
                The focus fluctuates between characters during the series but they all interact and cross over, I was never watching thinking 'who's this guy?'. This appears to be how they've handled character exposition - always a challenge with a new series - so characters appear in the background gradually before taking the spotlight in part of a later episode.

                The plot revolves around Baltimore police trying to bring down drug kingpin Avon Barksdale and we see events unfold from both the perspective of the cops and the crims.
                There's a lot of 'cop show' tropes - McNulty is unorthodox and gets chewed out by his chief, many of the gangstas embark on self-indulgent soliloquy about how tough it is in the ghetto - but they're handled well and I hardly noticed.

                The acting is top-notch for TV, notably addict-informant Bubs and homicide detective Moreland. No controversy is left unturned, the characters are involved in police brutality, corruption and conspiracy and each issue is dealt with maturely, with none of the finger-wagging that some crime dramas espouse.

                I found the slang that the criminals used confusing, and there were a lot of situations where I sort of got the gist of what was going on instead of full understanding. The cops aren't much better either, slinging around alphabet soup and other cop parlance.

                The plot is realistic and exciting, but you really do have to concentrate quite hard because there's so much going on. As the series progresses more and more plot points intertwine and I found each episode harder to work out. I still found each episode well worth watching.

                I found the first series very entertaining and rewarding, there's no caricatures of bent cops or gangstas, and once you get past the impenetrable patois and parlances you'll find well-rounded characters playing against each other over a stylishly bleak backdrop.

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