I went to go see Avenged Sevenfold and Disturbed Live with In Flames at the Manchester Arena on Monday the 16th of January 2017.

This was my first ever gig at the Manchester Arena (formerly known as the M.E.N. Arena), and I almost missed it; because I was sat outside the Apollo instead, for 15 minutes like a twat until I realized something was wrong… where was the crowd?

I got myself all confused because ticketmaster sent my ticket to the wrong address and I needed to go to the box office to pick up a replacement and in the stress-scramble I went to the wrong place. I mean, I don’t normally go see arena bands. Too expensive, hard to even get tickets due to the speed they sell out, and when you get there you’d only see a dot on the horizon anyway…. not like in Club Academy where I could see all of Mariusz Duda’s individual nose hairs, that’s how close to the stage you could get. I can’t actually remember even buying these tickets as I did it on my phone, half asleep one morning. I probably wouldn’t have gone if I was awake enough the day I bought tickets. I want to see bands like Kiss and Maiden but the arena puts me off.

Anyway, after a well timed bus, I made it, didn’t have to hang around too long queuing, and got to my assigned seat in time to see all the bands. The arena was weird. Full of hotdogs and slushies and nachos. More like an American cinema or baseball game than a concert I’m used to. They even had candyfloss salesmen wandering up and down the ailes throughout.

I got sat next to on one side a nice civilized married couple and on the other no-one, and In Flames took to the stage to a still half empty venue, because apparently it takes yonks to actually get everyone inside the giant thing.

The band played reasonably well, a reasonably decent collection of tunes that I’d describe as Shadow’s Fall’s direction with more commercial choruses and a slight euro tinge that is explained by their Swedishness. I think it was probably newer material primarily because I know the band used to be a Melodeath band in the ’90s. This stuff didn’t sound all that melodeath. Not that I’d ever heard a full song by the band ever. I remember there was always one of their videos on Scuzz, but I never sat down and watched it. I surfed between MTV2, Q, Kerrang, Scuzz and P-Rock so if there was a song you weren’t sold on, you could always try another channel. I think it might’ve been off of Come Clarity and had a meteor shower in a city as the story, but I don’t remember properly because I never fully watched it.

The singer tried to illicit some laughs, payed homage to Maiden, Saxon and Sabbath and tried to get the crowd going. There was a pretty seizure-inducing light show, and overall it was an ok opening. They didn’t really have the sound or the stage presence to work a big arena who weren’t there for them, but they seem an ok band and I have nothing bad to say about ’em.

In the gap, a bunch of drunk rowdy yobbos came and parked themselves in from of me, drawing lots of attention to themselves and thinking they were hilarious. Shouting ‘Play Down With The Sickness!’ repeatedly even though it was obviously going to be the closer, shouting out spongebob catch phrases and getting up and down repeatedly for beers. They were distracting, but it was so nice to be sat in assigned seating and not have ’em surfing over my head or barging into me. Some people take the hole rock and roll thing a bit too far. …Its good music, but you don’t have to be a drunk buffoon all your life. I know you don’t have to be a crotchety joyless old man like me either, especially when, like me you’re way to young to be an old man, and concerts are supposed to be fun. But shouting bollox, killing your liver and being a big ape isn’t the only way of having fun.

Anyway; Disturbed took to the stage. Disturbed are a band I’m almost embarrassed to like sometimes. When I was young, and they were new, I was like, the only person I knew who liked them, and they were considered quite dorky and childish. ‘Stupefy’ wasn’t exactly ‘Master Of Puppets’ or ‘Raining Blood’ in terms of cool factor, now was it? Their second album Prayer was amazing, but the press poo-pooed it, and the band fell off my radar. About ten years later I turned around one day and noticed the band were massive, beloved, headlining US arenas and their old stuff was considered classic. ‘Down With The Sickness’ was in everybody’s gym playlist. Huh? What happened there!?

Well, whatever happened… I’m glad my dorky little Nu Metal guilty pleasure got their dues. Recently I’ve gotten back into them and picked up albums I’ve missed along the way and have been enjoying their new one on Spotify. Judging by the crowd reaction, so have a lot of other people.

Disturbed absolutely ruled live. The setlist was great, just about every song I’d ever want (well, maybe Sons Of Plunder, Voices, and Rise but now we’re getting greedy) plenty of energy, a great performance and crazy ass pyro.

Draiman sounded incredible live on his long sustained screams and silly monkey noises. The guitar solos from Dan Donagan were awesome, and the rhythm section were absolutely on it. Almost Djenty at times with their surprisingly intricate for stadium music style. Very rhythmic. It was nice to hear old favourites like ‘Liberate’ and ‘The Game’ and newer pleasures like ‘Ten Thousand Fists’ and ‘Inside The Fire.’ Stuff from their comeback album Immortalized sounded particularly hot, and the crowd ate it up.

The pyro was pretty entertaining, very synchronized and tall and with moving flame streams crossing eachother etc. A nice visual for us chumps up in the seats who can’t see the band’s nose hairs anymore. They were also stood in front of a giant collection of what might have been straight jackets but I was too far away to be certain. They had some kind of backdrop anyway. Whatever it was.

With good songs and fun pyro that would’ve been enough to have a pleasant evening, but Disturbed made it really great with their strong confident performance. They really filled up that big stage in a way In Flames just couldn’t. They looked the right size for that space, and had the theatrical gestures and stagecraft to pull it all off.

When they dropped their cover of ‘The Sound Of Silence’ they had violinists join them onstage and Mike gave a really into-it timpani performance. Like, really into it! It was genuinely captivating. I couldn’t look away, not even at the singing or the strings.

The only bit of it I didn’t like, was that mommy-don’t-hit-me part of Down With The Sickness that I’ve always felt spoils the song a bit. I’m surprised they keep it in live, seems you could skip it easy enough without losing much in terms of quality.

Anyway; After that show, I’m very pro-Disturbed. If they come back any time soon I’ll be there. And I reckon I’ll finally now get around to check out Asylum, the only one of theirs I haven’t tried yet (not that they played anything off it or anything, just because I’m in a pro Disturbed mood now).

After what was already a headline performance from a renergized Disturbed I was glad I’d came. The concert which followed absolutely raised the bar for me though, and really made the ticket price and everything else worth it.

Avenged Sevenfold were magnificent. Such good musicians. Synyster Gates is easy to overlook because of his OTT appearance and silly name, but damn that is one talented guitar hero. Matt Shadows might look like a biker version of Luke Danes with his lumberjack shirt and backwards baseball cap, but that man is an almost unparalleled frontman and natural born star. New drummer Brooks Wackerman is good enough to be in Tool, Mastodon or Dream Theater. Nuff said. The songwriting is so odd and off kilter its almost annoying until you realize how good it is, and damn can they perform live!

As well as the band’s superhero performance itself, they put on a great show, with multiple screens showing cool footage and pre-made videos like a Tool concert or something. They also had one screen cube that could move around and came out floating into the crowd almost, and a giant Astronaut puppet like Maiden’s Eddie almost. Now that’s arena headliner stuff. You can’t just make no effort in a place this size. You’ve got to have all those bells and whistles.

Their setlist tried to balance out the career, with super old stuff like ‘Warmess Of The Soul’ and ‘To End The Rapture’ from their demoy debut to five songs off their newest prog metal masterpiece The Stage. There was surprisngly only one song off fan favourite album City Of Evil (not even uber famous almost signature-tune ‘The Beast And The Harlot’ either) and they couldn’t fit in my favourite song of theirs (‘Critical Acclaim’ off the self titled) but they did have my number two and three favourites; ‘Nightmare’ and ‘Hail To The King.’

Nightmare’s massive ‘Its your fucking nightmare’ section was so amazing with the whole arena singing along.

The show also had me noticing things I hadn’t noticed before, such as the Soundgarden influence on ‘Angels’ which I never would have noticed if they hadn’t had Soundgarden over the speakers so soon before.

When the band ended, on Unholy Confessions from Waking The Fallen, they did something I think Machine Head should steal, which is they finished the song and had all the applause and all, and then said ‘we’re going to leave you with one more riff for the road’ and leaned into the big crushing breakdown bit again, so everyone on the ground floor could mosh around a bit longer. Machine Head concerts would be amazing doing that with Davidian.

Strangely or not, I think the biggest sing along of the whole night was for ‘A Little Piece Of Heaven’ … the 8 minute novelty necrophilia comedy song. Well its not really a comedy song, and its catchy as hell and brilliant, but still… I think it got a better reaction than even hits like ‘Bat Country.’ For a Tim Burton style corpse wedding song. I mean when you think about it, that’s what it is.

You know what sounded massive live? Planets! I can see why they called that tune Planets, becuase it sounds so massive. Especially those cinematic apocalyptic horns DUH DUH DUH DUH. ….. DUH DUH DUH DUH!

Overall; I was hesitant about a show in an Arena, and it was a bit odd compared to what I’m used to, but boy, I can see why Disturbed and Avenged get to play venues this size, they really know how to work the crowds, they really know how to bring the extras and they really know how to play!

What I’ve Been Listening To This Year.

Posted: December 10, 2016 by kingcrimsonprog in What I'm Enjoying These Days

Via Last.Fm:graph1graphs-2up-to-16up-tot-34upt-tot-50

I went to see Killswitch Engage and Bullet For My Valentine live tonight on Sunday 4th December, 2016, at Manchester Academy. They were supported by Nu Metal revivalists Cane Hill. Usually for gigs at the Manchester Academy I show up roughly at the time of doors opening and get in almost instantly with minimal queuing, but this time was different. One of the biggest ques I have ever seen there, all the way to the Manchester Museum entrance met me upon arrival; the only longer que I ever saw there was for a Bring Me The Horizon show (which I’d swear I’ve reviewed but can’t find it anywhere… long story short stuff off Sempiternal sounded good, anything older sounded awful due to the mix, and the crowd were unbearable jerks. I was looking forward to ‘Chelsea Smile’ so much but it sounded so flat and lifeless due to the soundjob.) I guess once when I went to see Megadeth there was a lot of queuing too, but that was really because doors opened late more than anything. Interestingly, this time, rather than rip tickets they scanned em with little lazer machines. Scanners. Lazer machines makes it sound more advanced than it was. The only other time I’ve ever seen scanner machines was with Saxon at the Ritz. Is this the future?

Anyway, when I got in tonight, Cane Hill were already on stage. I’ve never checked them out before but I know from the excellent That’s Not Metal Podcast (who sent me a free T shirt today, for which I’m grateful) that they are a modern band who play in the style of late-’90s Nu Metal. I definitely heard a looooot of Korn in their songwriting, vocal style and extra guitar noises (as in not the riffs themselves but the noises, mid verse). A wee bit of early Deftones and a pinch of Coal Chamber was also audible in their general style. It wasn’t a total ’90s flashback though, there was still some hardcore and metalcore sneaking in there too. And the very occasional Slipknot, Pantera or Black Label Society moment. They were decent, they roused the crowd fairly well (got a ‘fuck Trump’ chant going at one point, and it didn’t feel too pandering, which was nice), and I have nothing bad to say about ’em. Don’t think I’m a converted fan or anything but I wouldn’t swear off them for life either. Their bassdrum said ‘smoke weed’ and ‘drop acid’ which I’ve no time for, and once during a more violent song they encouraged the crowd to hit each-other in the face and literally beat each-other up, exact words, which I’ve also no time for, but musically it was an ok opener. I would’ve preferred Trivium though…damn their new album has grown on me, and last time I saw Killswitch it was with Trivum. They go well together.

So, next up, after a random selection of rock and metal tunes over the PA including Thin Lizzy’s ‘Don’t Believe A Word’ which elicited a particularly big smile from me, the reason I bought the ticket took to the stage. I’ve saw Killswitch once before, and by god, it was a damn memorable show. It was flaberghastingly good and I have such clear memories of it to this day. My second Killswitch show did not disappoint. There wasn’t as fancy a lightshow or backdrop since they weren’t the headliner, and maybe the set was ten to thirty minutes shorter, but otherwise, it was every bit as jaw dropping, life affirming and all out excellent as I’d hoped.

The crowd, singing things like ‘My Last Serenade’ ‘My Curse,’ my favourite Killswitch song, ‘In Due Time’ or especially ‘The End Of Heartache’ was absolutely overwhelming. You were engulfed in the loudest, most passionate sing backs you could ever imagine. You felt like you were in some fabled Live At Donnington moment like Maiden doing Fear Of The Dark or Slipknot doing Duality or one of those ones you read about as legend. The crowd doing ‘The End Of Heartache’ was deathbed-memorable. Seriously. Holy fuck.

dsc_0016

From Sorrow To Serenity – The Truth Is Absolution!

Anyway; the band. So good live. All the great little details you’ll know from the DVDs, like playing eachother’s guitars, or having all the extra picksqueals and competitive silliness, or amazing extra fills were all there. Adam D is still such an entertaining character and it doesn’t get old. Jesse live is an astoundingly good frontman. Aforementioned podcast called Killswitch the best live band in metal judging by recent years, and its damn hard to disagree after a show like that. When they go heavy-heavy at the end of songs you feel like you are seeing Machine Head or Pantera at their heaviest. When they do melody and harmony you feel like you’re in a classic Maiden or Priest live album and when they do their clean sing-alongs…there is no comparison, Killswitch fucking OWN that! No-one does or ever did that better.

The setlist was pretty decent. All the hits. ‘Fixation On The Darkness’ and ‘Vide Infra’ from the debut. A good four or five tunes from the new album. No messing about. The only thing I’d query is that their was nothing off the self titled album. Not even ‘Never Again’ or ‘Reckoning’ …but hey, you can’t fit it all. Previous shows had ‘A Bid Farewell’ and ‘You Don’t Bleed For Me’ instead of the new songs, which I personally would’ve preferred, but that’s a familiarity issue, not a quality issue. (Although those two in particular do rank rather damn high in my favourite Killswitch songs).

The show was strong, the performance was immense, the setlist was decent, and the atmosphere was pretty great. Time to go home then, satisfied as I was.

Well, not exactly, because there was still the headliners. Welsh Metalcore band Bullet For My Valentine. The biggest and most successful British Heavy Metal band since Iron Maiden. A band who, for some reason, about a decade ago without hearing any music, I decided I probably wouldn’t like and then completely ignored until their latest album Venom was released, before finally giving them a fair chance after much propaganda from my friend Brad over the years, and being taken aback. They have this reputation as being wimpy or girly or overly commercial or beginner’s stuff, or whatever. They were a cool band to hate. If you were wearing an Exodus t-shirt, then probably someone told you they sucked. …I was told they sucked and never give them a fair chance. When I finally did, I ended up buying all their albums (and their debut EP as well) within weeks. I’ve listened to them near daily ever since. Such a catchy, catchy band. Ironically underrated for someone famous enough to play arenas. Sometimes they are heavy as balls. The title track to ‘Scream Aim Fire’ sounds like Testament at times. Some of the mid album stuff on The Poison is as heavy as Trivium or Killswitch at their heaviest. Some of the song endings are almost Machine Head-esque… yet for some bizarre reason they are warned off to potential Metalhead fans because someone tells us they are wimpy or something. They’re heavier than Megadeth, than Priest. Than Motorhead. Than a lot of really beloved and respected bands. They have a few semi-ballads and a lot of clean singing parts, but hey, so do Priest and Maiden and Megadeth and Anthrax and Manowar and Fear Factory and even early Pantera. Not every band can be Nasum and Agoraphobic Nosebleed. Whatever the reason for Bullet being on True-Metal’s blacklsit, its a spurrious and stupid reason, and it is leaving people to miss out on some seriously great music.

Well, let them miss out. Or better yet, let them learn the error of their ways like I did last year. I’ve had a great year listening to ‘wimpy’ Bullet nonstop and loving it. It didn’t stop me liking Napalm Death or Tygers Of Pan Tang or Deep Purple. It didn’t suddenly make me know or care less about Metal’s history, beloved albums, or heavier moments. I’ll just keep jamming ‘Army Of Noise’ or ‘Fever’ or ‘Cries In Vain’ and let a bunch of people in either Tokyo Blade or Morbid Angel t-shirts scowl. Its their loss.

Anyway. This show was a special show. They played their debut album The Poison in its entirety. They had producer Colin Richardson in the audience as a special guest. They seemed to record it as well judging by all the mics pointed out into the crowd. Oh, and Matt took to the mic and stated plainly and not as hyperbole that this was arguably the most significant gig of their career to date.

Visually, it was great. They had big specially made BMFV banners. They had fancy lighting. They had lazers. They were all dressed in matching suits like hollywood stars. It felt like an event. Not just any old gig.

Sonically, it was bad ass. The soundjob was so much heavier and livelier and more energetic/aggressive than on record and it all felt really organic and crushing. The drummer was really pushing himself doing so much extra, having such a big happy face on whilst doing it, and the backing vocals were really brutal. Maybe, I guess, someone could hear them and say its too commercial and too processed on record… but live, oh no no no, this was seriously good. Waaaay heavier than you’d expect. Slick and professional as hell but with that live feel too. Hard to have both. Bullet succeeded.

The crowd lapped it up. Circle pits. Boundless enthusiasm. The sing alongs were even wilder and more memorable than for Killswitch ‘best live band in the world right now’ Engage if you can believe it. The crowd sang like, every single little word from deep tracks’ third verses. It was bonkers. They sang the riffs, the solos. It was like when you see South American Megadeth or Maiden shows on DVDs. Such enthusiasm!

dsc_0017

Your cries are all in vain!

There were a few random sound drop outs and mistakes by the soundman, particularly distracting during the heavy-ass opening of their new single ‘Dont Need You,’ which almost stole its momentum but otherwise this was a flawless show.

With sound, visuals and an atmosphere like that it was truly something to behold. That the band were performing at the top of their game, confident and starlike as hell, playing the fuck out of the heavy bits, brilliantly singing the clean bits and shredding out the solos with fun and panache, it all just came together into this perfect better-than-the-sum-of-its-parts supergig!

It was genuinely one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen, and it felt the the culmination of massive fandom for some reason. Hey, I didn’t even know or like this band two years ago, and now they’ve blown me away with literally, unarguably one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen. I don’t say that often. I din’t say that for Down or Mosnter Magnet or Megadeth. Not for System Of A Down or Metallica or Amon Amarth. This was a seriously astounding show.

If they do release this on DVD or anything, get yourself a copy. Even if you don’t like the band. Seeing ‘Four Words To Choke Upon’ live, extra raw and heavy would make anyone a fan! For people who like the softer side of Metal, then ‘Ten Years Today’ or ‘The End’ or their signature semi-ballad ‘Tears Dont Fall’ would surely win you over, live, with that sound, performance and fan feedback there’s just something undeniable about them. Biggest British band since Maiden. I can well believe it.

Oh, you know what else was nice. I caught a drum stick! I go to gigs all the time, and I never manage to catch picks or sticks or setlists, but I actually caught one tonight! And not in that nasty fight-for-it selfish way, it literally just landed in my hands! Nice one! A very welcome souvenir, especially since I play the drums myself!

dsc_0018

That was a great concert. If ever you get a change to see Killswitch or Bullet, take it. That is entertainment worth seeing!

 

20160818_193928_7549_939483Metallica albums are so hard to judge. To me, Metallica are so absurdly superhumanly important. They are so larger than life. Each album release is not just an album, but an event. It is a climactic shift for my whole culture. I feel like Metallica releases are as significant to me as major life events like first kisses or first drinks or going to university for the first time. Metallica are as close to a religious leader as I’ll ever experience in my life time. As such, objectively judging them is somewhat impossible.

You are talking to an avid, ardant St. Anger defender here. You are talking to someone who could spend twenty-five minutes talking about ‘The Judas Kiss’ on a first date should you let him. You are talking to someone who feels like a chink in Metallica’s armour is a worry almost able to spoil a whole day over. When Metallica do Metallica well, its otherworldly levels of special and when they disappoint its a talking point for months. I don’t know how the hell I’m supposed to judge or review them, then, given that this band wrote Master Of Puppets, which I do honestly and with all the sincerity in my soul, think I might feel about the same way devout religious people probably feel about their holy books. I don’t mean that to sound disrespectful, but its important for the context behind the review to convey how truly disproportionately this group affects my sense-of-self, worldview and culture. Ever seen a grown man cry when his sports team loses a game? That same ludicrous thing is what Metallica taps into in me.And I don’t even consider myself that big a fan compared to a lot of people I’ve met. You’ll never see me scoffing at someone and saying I’m a bigger fan, or getting jealous and competitive about another fan. And yet…

When I hear tracks like the first three singles; ‘Hardwired’ ‘Moth Into Flame’ and ‘Atlas, Rise!’ then, considering everything I’ve just written about this band and its cultural and emotional significance to me, I am suddenly filled with a sense of hope, excitement and the feeling that everything is all right with the world. This is the feeling of being a teenager, I can still feel the green sofa on which I first really got into ….And Justice For All, can still see the swings in the park when I roared the chorus of ‘Blackened’ at the top of my lungs out in, to amuse my equally excitable teenage friends. I can remember being younger than that and feeling genuinely frightened by the darker moments on the Black album. Feeling like I might go to hell for listening to it. I can see the movie I was ignoring when choosing to inspect the Black Album closely for the first time on headphones instead of engaging with the family movie night. (What Dreams May Come). I can still feel the rattle of the cheap bus windows the first time I realized Kill ‘Em All wasn’t old fashioned, it was charming. I can smell, see and taste things when I listen to Metallica. I have super clear memories of almost any time someone insulted St Anger when I was in the room. These three singles bring all those memories back faster, harder and clearer than Lulu, Beyond Magnetic or ‘Lords Of Summer (First Pass Demo)’ were able to, or indeed any live broadcast since about 2004 could.

Metallica were undoubtedly in a bad place before they dropped ‘Hardwired.’ They had whittled away a boatload of goodwill with LuLu, with the failed 3D movie and with ‘Lords Of Summer (First Pass Demo).’ The Metallica who were unstoppable to me seemed to be gone. People were stopping to care. Metallica were becoming a joke. What fans from the ’80s felt around the time of the ’90s eyeliner or ’90s fans felt around the time they watched Lars slamming doors on the documentary, its was starting to feel like the only feeling that could be felt about Metallica. That feeling, or worse still, ambivelance. This is the most important band in the world for the love of all things sacred… being ambivalent towards them feels unnatural. It feels tantamount to defeat. To depression almost. It was with a great sigh of relief then, that ‘Hardwired’ was equal to, if not better than even, the weaker moments on St Anger or Death Magnetic. We can never expect them to follow up the first six albums, that way sheer unbridled madness lies, but if they can keep up with the best half of their latter day albums and not turn into ‘Lords Of Summer – The Band’ then all would be well. As long as they sound like they, y’know, give a shit.

Then comes ‘Moth Into Flame.’ Pow. Same again. Its like Death Magnetic with better production, better vocals, and more concise songwriting. Oh, what’s that? ‘Atlas, Rise’ ? Just as good. Oh thank goodness. Its going to be good, I can feel it. I can feel it in my bones. Its going to be… uh, oh, ok, nevermind.

Yeah, its nice, its nice to try and capture the vibe of C.O.C’s ‘Heaven’s Not Overflowing.’ Its nice to capture the vibe of ‘Devil’s Dance’ again. Its nice to have two six track discs each ending with a lengthy closer. Another song about Cthulu is a good idea. You’ve had success with that before. Its nice to do a tribute to the fallen Lemmy condsidering the specific impact he had on Metallica and vice versa. I mean Lemmy outright praises, thanks and accredits Metallica more than once in his autobiography and covered ‘Whiplash’ …Metallica covered numerous Motorhead songs and shared the stage with Lemmy. Sure. Its not going to be just another hollow tribute by any other band, its going to be personal and meaningful, yeah?

hqdefault

Lemmy & Metallica share the stage

Well; here’s the thing, that Heaven’s Not Overflowing on the silly-title-of-the-month award winner ‘ManUnKind’ moment is fun and awesome, but the song doesn’t fit the mood of the rest of the record at all, really sits out like a sore thumb and probably could’ve served better as a B-Side. Just because something is fun doesn’t mean it fits. The awkward, complex drum pattern just reminds me of that section in the Some Kind Of Monster documentary where Lar’s father recommends they ‘delete that’ …is it an attempt to redeem awkward beats or is it another moment someone should’ve saved them from themselves. ‘Murder One’ for all its potential is a forgettable, skippable, unnecessary addition to the album. Was the best way to pay tribute to the man really by writing the most boring song of the album, and just adding in some of Lemmy’s lyrics? Is that what Lemmy would want. Is that what Lemmy’s fans want? Is that what anybody wants? With the accompanying music video I get the Lemmy tribute aspect comes across more, but hey have you ever read Lemmy’s autobiography? I bet that a better tribute would’ve been just to cover a track off of one of those albums like Bastards or We Are Motorhead that he felt didn’t get the recognition they deserved.

When I’m on the subject of niggles… why have a song called ‘Am I Savage’ with no Diamond Head relation, but then have a direct Diamond Head reference in the intro on Confusion? Not just any Diamond Head reference but an ‘Am I Evil’ one specifically. Like. What are you trying to do. Surely, those two things are supposed to go together?! Where they initially together and got separated later in editing? Are they two separate similar shout outs to the same song? ‘Am I Savage?’ ‘Am I Evil?’ or Am I reading too much into this?

I like the two disc closing tracks ‘Spit Out The Bone’ and ‘Halo On Fire,’ …but they’re clearly on the wrong discs! Disc one is much more focused on Thrash. Disc two is much more focused on the Load style. Swap the two disc closers around and you’ve almost got themed discs. Might have flowed better. ‘Spit Out The Bone’ for me is arguably the best song on the album, maybe even of the last four albums. It could do with having a shorter build up time. It could do with sitting closer to ‘Hard Wired.’ It and ‘Hardwired’ are like the focused and expanded evil twins of eachother. They bookend the album. They’d bookmark a disc of the thrashier stuff even more strongly though. A disc each of each direction would be cool and you could pick which disc you were in the mood for.

I wonder what happened to the rest of Metallica’s catalogue though. Metallica were more than just Thrash and Load. I can hear lots of Kill ‘Em All. I can hear lots of Load. I can hear lots and lots of Death Magnetic. What about The Black Album or Ride The Lightening though? Or even poor misunderstood St Anger. Well, upon repeat listens actually I can hear some Black Album on ‘Here Comes Revenge’ and ‘Am I Savage’ actually. Initial gut reaction underplays that. You just feel like its Here comes Death Magnetic band trying to play more like Kill ‘Em All… you like that? Ok, well then here’s some Death Magnetic band trying to play Load a bit heavier.  Uh…what?

I have to say. On first listen, tracks like ‘Am I Savage?’ and ‘Confusion’ really missed the mark for me. They bored me. Had me questioning the band’s choices. Was this really on the same album as ‘Moth Into Flame’ ? Repeat listens have revealed more depth. Have highlighted the swinging in-the-pocket grooves. Have allowed me to forget my expectations and just let the album be its own thing. So, maybe ‘Here Comes Revenge’ isn’t just a poor man’s ‘Broken Beaten Scared’ after all, and hey, that vocal during the guitar lead has an almost ‘Outlaw Torn’-esque emotive quality to it. A watered down, middle-aged version of it, but a version of it none the less. Repeat listens are this album’s friend. Its a grower. I bet much of its reputation is already formed, and all of our initial ‘Yay’ or ‘Yuck!’ gut reactions will stick around for decades, but to be honest I hated over half this stuff on first listen and now I like a good three quarters.

This album is a bit of a difficult one to get straight in my head. UK journalist Terry Beezer once said Millionaires can’t make Thrash Metal. When hearing ‘Spit Out The Bone’ I’m happy to report he’s got it wrong but then ‘Murder One’ and ‘Dream No More’ have me knowing in my gut he’s dead right. I mean, stacked up against the worst songs on Metallica’s worst albums, maybe they kind of pass, barely, but against the best moments of those albums, not even close to being close to close. And the mythical quality of the best Metallica albums? Not even visible on the horizon. I mean, would you honestly want to see half of this album live if you knew what else you’d be missing out on. Even if Metallica did a show with no hits and no fan favourites, I’d still want to hear the deep cuts off of everything else prioritized over the deep cuts on this. Or would I? Hmmm. Its like a war inside my head (and not the PTSD war in my head of the ‘Confusion’ video). First impressions say I’d skip this stuff when choosing a live setlist, but repeat listening to the vocals in ‘Now That We’re Dead’ …hmm, I’m not sure anymore. Hmmm.

setlist

Could use more ‘Spit Out The Bone’ …doesn’t even need a pun.

Ok, Ok. Let me think… So yeah. I’ve had some criticisms of this album, especially on the very first listen. That all being said. This is no bad album. Not even close. The band just get judged so much more harshly due to their significance. The intro to ‘Now That We’re All Dead’ ? Amazing fun. Who could possibly not enjoy that? The best riffs in ‘Here Comes Revenge’ and ‘Confusion’? Yes of course they put a smile on my face, of course I’d want to learn them on guitar. This is Metallica we’re talking about here, James Hetfield knows a thing or two about writing memorable riffs! Increasingly though, they don’t seem to know how to edit themselves, how to cut out the flab, how to be concise. The best thing about this album is that, on those first three singles, it felt like the band had finally worked out how to be concise again, and that’s probably where a lot of disappointment on my part came from, the realization that it was not to be. Should’ve guessed… it was a double album after all. Its hardly a medium known for its focus and discipline.

Then again, the best song on the album is 7-minutes long, so being concise isn’t everything. Just ask …And Justice For All. One things for sure. Metallica dodged a bullet with this album. They were about to slide into the ‘I don’t want to hear anything new ever again’ folder along with the likes of The Rolling Stones, but with the best moments of the record, they’ve dug their nails into staying relelvent. Of course, this isn’t a perfect record. I strongly wish they’d record firier, angrier, more personally invested performances. I wish they’d sound more excited. I wish they’d be livlier and convey more energy. I mean, if Exodus and Testament can still do it, at the same age from the same background, then we know it is physically possible. Have you heard the title track to Blood In Blood Out? It can be done.

Anyway; Despite the one or two filler tracks. Despite the slighly flow-diminishing running order. Despite the surprisngly unfitting tribute to Lemmy. Despite the performance not rocking the hell out. Despite any niggles or nitpicking, this is an album I’ll be listening to in five years time. Its an album that gets less dissapointing with each listen. Its an album that whether its a sane or rational thing to happen or not will inform a disproportionate amount of who I am as a person. I’ll never be objective about this so I won’t even pretend to be.

If history is anything to go by, I’ll have a different oppinion on this in a month, quarter and year from now. I’ll probablly have a different opinion every time you ask me. This review is by no means the last you’ll hear from me on the matter. But overall; I’m glad Metallica made new music and I’m very glad to own an album with ‘Hardwired’ and ‘Spit Out The Bone’ on it.

maxresdefault

What a good song!

….

Thought that was the end? Think again. This is a Metallica album. Initial gut reactions are one thing, measured multi-listen reviews are another. Even later revalidations are also required. Having absolutely hammered listening to this now, I’ve more left to say. I’ve listened track by track as they were released, all together as a piece of work, in custom orders of my own choosing, accompanied by videos or all alone as audio only, focused or in the background, and all that has melted together in my mind into one whole where I now have a much better grasp on my feelings.

Overall; I think this is a strong album. In all honesty, perhaps a single disc of all the Thrash stuff and a disc of the Black/Reload stuff six months later would’ve worked better, but overall, there’s nothing poor here. Well, maybe ‘Murder One’ for my personal taste… but that’s about it (and I’m sure there’s people out there who are throwing cheetos at the screen screaming that its their favourite song, so live and let live). Tracks like ‘Confusion,’  ‘Am I Savage’ and especially ‘Halo On Fire’ all have really strong endings and work better on repeat listens and in album context. When you deconstruct them or try and guess what they’re going to do, instead of just letting them exist, sure they don’t live up to the standards of your own imagination, but they do work the way Metallica planned them and you just have to accept that your hypothetical perfect version does not exist. Like my Andy Sneap produced, non-brickwalled version of Death Magnetic, it doesn’t exist but that doesn’t stop ‘That Was Just Your Life,’ ‘Judas Kiss’ or ‘All Nightmare Long’ from being bad-ass.

What also becomes apparent after all the dust has settled is how right my gut was on the positive matters. ‘Hardwired,’ ‘Moth Into Flame,’ ‘Atlas, Rise,’ ‘Now That We’re Dead,’ ‘Here Comes Revenge’ and especially, especially ‘Spit Out The Bone’ are my favourite tracks. They are all exactly what I want from the band, and proof that they can still do amazing things even with all the fame and money and age and expectation and conflicting fanbase demographics. These songs, each and every one, I WOULD love to see live.

On repeat listens; I also really connect to parts of other songs, the end of ‘Halo On Fire’ once the guitar lead comes in is priceless, the harsh vocals later in ‘Here Comes Revenge’ are really exciting, the clever mid section of ‘Confusion’ is good. The guitar solo on ‘Dream No More’ is like the best stuff on Reload and I can see now how the ‘you turn to stone’ section is trying to channel The Black Album’s slower tracks. That main riff in the admittedly-still-out-of-place ‘ManUnKind’ is pretty infectious. I mean, they aren’t as great as the best moments on the best albums, (but then, what is?), however they do still warrant attention and respect. More than that even, genuine warmth.

On the matter of the special edition bonus tracks; firstly, the new version of ‘Lords Of Summer’ is a huge improvement. The production, the performance, the attitude, the arrangement, and especially the guitar solos. It all just works so much better. It feels more vital and less like medicority eating Metallica alive. Its celebratory lyrics even put me in a good mood.

The Maiden and Deep Purple covers we’ve heard before, sure but its nice to have them all the same, and the Ronnie medley in particular is pretty great. Their guitar tone on these songs works really well, almost like a history lesson or through-line. Then there’s a ten-song live set: A Diamond Head cover, songs exclusively from Ride The Lightning and Kill ‘Em All and then ending with a live version of ‘Hardwired’ from another concert, ten live tracks, three covers and an extra Metallica song… overall its a pretty substantial bonus. On the Rasputin Music show; the performances and banter all seem happy and grateful and fun, and it all has a great jovial atmosphere. Its a nice addition. I don’t think I’d buy it on its own or anything, there’s plenty of alternative Metallica live shows (especially on their extensive website) to choose from elsewhere, but it is by no means a let down and is actually really rather good indeed. If this was your first Metallica album and you got this on the end too, it would really rule.

Ok. A bit of a fractured review, but it matches my fractured reaction to the album and the fractured way in which I initially consumed it. To summarize: My initial reaction to it, especially disc 2, was disappointment but it really grows. It is not perfect and could easily loose two or three songs, or each song could easily loose thirty seconds to a minute each. The running order could be slightly different [and for my own future listening I am listening to it in the custom order in the appendix below the review]. ‘ManUnKind’ doesn’t fit no matter how good or bad it is or not. ‘Murder One’ is my least favourite track despite Lemmy being amazing and specifically important to this band, directly.

…All of those niggles aside, and they are just niggles, this is pretty damn good. The songs each have something good about them (Hello daaaaarkness, say good-bye), and the aforementioned half or so of the album that I really like, well, I really really like it now! Those songs each have something to love about them. They are very good indeed, and really keep Metallica alive and relevant and live up to all my expectations.

This band are too gigantic, larger than life, and both culturally and emotionally significant for me to have any sort of detached, logical, impartial idea about the objective quality of the record, but in my guts, when I hear ‘Spit Out The Bone’ I know that everything is right with the world; at least for today (despite what the dystopian lyrics would have you believe). Lords of Summer undenied indeed.

 

rs-metallica-2060f15e-c717-4790-88fc-f585e07dfb19

——————————————————————–

Custom track order:
1. Hardwired. 2. Moth Into Flame. 3. Atlas, Rise. 4. Now That We’re Dead 5. Here Comes Revenge 6. Spit Out The Bone

1. Confusion. 2. Dream No More. 3. ManUnKind. 4. Murder One. 5. Am I Savage. 6. Halo On Fire.

———————————————————————

I went to go see Saxon live tonight at Manchester 02 Ritz (formerly HMV Ritz) on 2/11/16.

This was my second Saxon gig, and indeed the second Saxon gig I’ve attended at this venue. I really like this venue, its farther away from my house than the Apollo or Academy, but has much better sound and feels a bit classier. I remember seeing Queensryche here and it was one of my all time favourite ever gigs.

Last time Saxon were supported by the theatrical and bizarre band, Hell, but this time it was just the sort of appropriate greasy NWOBHM you’d expect. No not Grim Reaper (although that’d be an amazing booking…somebody get Steve on the phone!). Firstly Girlschool took to the stage, leaning heavily on material from the first two albums, plus the critically acclaimed new album, Guilty As Sin, that’s been on the sidebar of Blabbermouth for most of the year. I enjoyed Girlschool a lot. They played their cover of Gun’s ‘Run With The Devil’ (Judas Priest fans would recognize that). The ended with ‘Emergency’ which of course every Motorhead fan would recognize. It was a good gig, a lot of fun, ramshakle energy, smiles all around, jokes about throwing the lead guitarist into the crowd, amusing attempts by the lead guitarist to strum the rhythm guitarist’s guitar. Very entertaining and a great way to warm us up. I’ll check out more Girlschool as a result of this. I was going to anyway during my recent second NWOBHM phase, but spent my money on Tokyo Blade and Bitch’s Sin instead. I’m spotifying them as I write this anyway. Good stuff. They’ve won me over.

Last time I saw Saxon, I took my fiance (who doesn’t listen to Metal) along as a social experiment. Hell’s frontman whipping himself while dressed as the devil on stilts accompanied by spooky lighting and the band playing music that sounded a bit like Cradle Of Filth kind of scared her off so I was solo this time. This allowed me to venture closer to the front, however, for a better view and different atmosphere this time creating a nice distinction between the two times I’ve seen em. The front made you feel more engaged with the actual band, like as if Paul Quinn or Nibbs were looking you personally in the eyes, and it all seemed very perfect until along came some very largered-up people who where bouncing around, elbows everywhere, much to the annoyance of the more music nerd and young kid demographics, but I kept thinking, its a Metal show, not a library, let them have their fun. Now in all honesty; I’d personally rather just geek out on drum porn, but some people need beer and bouncing to enjoy a concert so I shouldn’t be a wet blanket. [I ended up wet due to beer spillages by aforementioned bouncy larger fans, but not necessarily a blanket…]. I dunno, sometimes I wish everyone was as boring and dorky as me, and just wanted to sit tongue hanging out watching the drum parts and guitar solos lustily, but as long as the rowdiness is good-natured and they’re not deliberately targeting people who aren’t into it then I guess I’m not going to be mr. sour about it. Sure Saxon themselves were famously tea-total, but its a loosing game complaining about beers at a rock show. May as well hand back your copy of Back In Black and Paranoid now and head to the new age isle.

Anyway. Girlschool got things revved up. Next was Fastway, y’know, Fastway? …featuring Fast Eddie Clark of Motorhead fame. Technically a NWOBHM band due to timing and marketing although not really in terms of sound. Their singer sounded really like Glen Hughes (and had the same Soul influenced vibe). They were very entertaining. And y’know…. its Fast Eddie Clark. Like, if a town you went on holiday to had a Lemmy or Phil Lynnott or Bon Scott or Dio statue or something like that, you’d go visit it, wouldn’t you? Similarly, just seeing this iconic guy in real life just felt like a special moment. I’m not a super sentimental guy with regards to this stuff. When Dimebag or Dio or Paul Gray died, they didn’t become gravestone tattoos on my body or even facebook user profile pics on my account, I don’t post anywhere near as many RIP posts on this blog as I feel I maybe ought to, but at the same time, when the only living member of the Bomber-Iron Fist line up of Motorhead is in your eyeline, it feels pretty cool I can tell you.

Finally, the main event. The mighty, the magnificent, the one and only Saxon. They battered…um excuse me… the Ritz with their opener, the title track from their excellent newest album, ‘Battering Ram.’ The setlist was really cool. Last time I went to see em, it was a celebration of the classic trilogy (Wheels Of Steel through to Denim And Leather), with songs from the first and fifth album in their too, making it early-days focused. Not content with just repeating the same setlist again, they focused a bit more on modern times tonight. There was plenty off of Battering Ram, as well as some selections from Inner Sanctum, Sacrifice (ok they played that last time too but I’m tryna make a point here) and Killing Ground.

dsc_0006

There were of course all the amazing gems you can’t do without, such as a breathtaking rendition of both ‘Crusader’ and ‘The Eagle Has Landed,’ and all the sing-along classics you’d expect like ‘Dallas 1PM,’ ‘747 Strangers In The Night,’ ‘Wheels Of Steel,’ and double-of course they closed with the eternally fun ‘Princess Of The Night.’ I’ve said before about how the ”take it easy take it slow don’t look back don’t let go” section of ‘Eagle was astonishing live and tonight didn’t disappoint. The drum fills in particular just set if off!

A surprise moment was when they announced that they had meant to tour with Motorhead but it got cancelled when Lemmy passed away (I still remember a few years ago having tickets to Saxon & Motorhead in my 2nd year of uni and it got cancelled when Lemmy got diagnosed with diabetes… poor Lemmy) and then proceeded to invite Fast Eddie up on stage for a cover of ‘The Ace Of Spades.’ Hey, nice surprise, seeing Fast Eddie play Ace Of Spades with my own eyes. And its not even the early ’80s! And I’ve been born! Wow, didn’t expect that. A very welcome bonus to the evening indeed.

There was plenty of smiles to be had throughout the show. For example, Biff declared Solid Ball Of Rock ”one of our MANY comeback-albums” and it really had me grin in a spinal tap way. There was also a technical fault during ‘Stand Up And Be Counted’ and ‘Never Surrender’ where the speakers went all weird and it slowly got fixed over time, but the band of course, never surrendered. Yes I did just write that. I’m sorry. Moving on…

Highlights for me, as before, where almost all from Nigel Glockler. Yes, I do have a massive drummer’s crush on him. Nigel just plays with such verve, passion and authority and absolutely elevates the whole band. The material from his own era is pounded out like nobody’s business (those kicks on ‘Let Me Feel Your Power’ and ‘Attila The Hun’ … you felt them in your intestines!) and the material from previous drummers is so greatly improved, with extra cymbal chokes, surprise splash cymbals or little ride-cymbal’s-bell patterns and indeed with much better fills. His playing doubles or triples how good the already great band are (I mean its flipping Saxon, its hard to make em better, but Nigel is just that magnetic and incandescent that he manages to do it anyway). He’s also a cool guy, specifically throwing his drumstick to a younger crowd member who was really into it and knew all the words and fills, rather than rowdy drunken yahoos just because they’d been fans longer…. I really reacted to that for some reason.

Another fun highlight was when a crowd member threw their patch-jacket (or kutt or battle-jacket or whatever you call them in your town) on stage and Biff put it on and wore it for a few songs before returning it to the correct person. Pretty cool moment. I mean, if the band who wrote the line ‘Denim and leather brought us all together’ wearing a fan’s denim on stage isn’t cool to you, then maybe you shouldn’t be reading my blog. I write about heavy metal not about antique china patterns or crossword hints.

It was a pretty amazing gig, the sound was brilliant (speaker malfunction not included), the vocals were remarkably good, the drums…well of course they were brilliant… did you not just read me gushing?, the attitude and showmanship of the band was perfection itself. The setlist was the perfect balance of wouldn’t-want-to-miss-it and try-this-on-for-size and although not every pet favourite track can get played at every concert (hey, I’m dying to see ‘Battle Cry’ and ‘Everybody Up’ live) it was an absolutely corking gig and set of songs and I loved every minute of it.

That’s twice now Saxon have brought the thunder. If they come my way again you better believe I’ll be up at the front again. If they come to your town you’d be a stark raving idiot to miss them. People who find a way not to enjoy that live show must be very devoted in their pursuit of actively choosing to not have fun, because it seems next to inconceivable from where I’m sitting that the mighty Saxon would be in the same room as you without producing smiles, fist pumping, and a lasting impression. Get tickets now, people!

[Side note: I wasn’t absolutely flat broke this time, and got to walk away as the proud owner of a very nice Saxon Est. 1979 t-shirt with the Eagle logo. I think I’ve found my new favourite shirt. I haven’t found such a perfect to my tastes metal shirt since the C.O.C Deliverance-reunion]

dsc_0007

I went to go see Exodus live at the Manchester Academy-2 on 28/10/16. It was as part of a four part bill, The Battle Of The Bays tour, featuring Florida Death Metal band Obituary (who were actually the headliner but not the band I was most interested in), San Francisco Thrash Metal legends Exodus, New York cross-over thrash turned Groove Metal trio Prong and Australian Grindcore noise makers King Parrot.

I walked in, after having already visiting the merch booth for an Exodus t-shirt, into the first King Parrot track, to join a reasonably revved-up crowd, reacting to the Aussies’ noisy obnoxious music. It was pretty damn entertaining, the singer was like former Jackass celebrity Steve-O in facial expressions and attitude, and kept getting into the crowd, touching people’s face, spitting and throwing liquids at them, screeching in teen girl’s faces, mooning the crowd and generally acting like a 1980s Hardcore Punk front-man, he had that fun obnoxious vibe. The music had blastbeats and grinding guitars, punky moments, and a lot of groove metal sections to balance the two styles out. Not bad at all musically, very good performance wise (from all the band, even though I’ve only bothered to describe the singer) and a very good way to warm up the crowd and start off a fun evening. I’d check em out again. Give em a shot if you like the heavier stuff.

Now, I have a boxset of Prong albums but I hardly ever listen to them. I really love the band when they are playing something that sounds like Fear Factory, Machine Head or Pantera, but I don’t really vibe with their dissonant noisy moments or their hardcore roots the same way. Things that sound like Vulgar era Pantera yes, things that sound like My War era Black Flag, no.

After this concert, I have a lot more interest in Prong. When they played songs I knew, I absolutely loved it. I was singing ‘Another Worldly Device’ at work all the next day. When they played music I didn’t yet know, I was very very impressed. They sound so much heavier and more full live. Maybe it was the production on those albums, or maybe the performances were just that much more firey live, I don’t know, but either way, Prong shot up about 400% in my estimation and I’ll be revisiting them a lot more in the wake of this. Tommy Victor reminds me a lot of Rob Flynn in a lot of good days. He’s a good front man. How in to it he got during closer ‘Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck’ really made me warm to him and I’m totally game to try some new Prong albums in the very near future.

Then came my main event, Thrash Metal legends, number 5 of the Big Four, the best of the Bay Area, the mighty Exodus. This is the reason I was at the gig, I got an email saying they were in town and within a few hours I owned a ticket.

Steve Souza was back in the band, but even at that I was still treated to the amazing gift of having them open with my favourite song from Exhibit B’ ‘The Ballad Of Leonard And Charles’ …a viscous and scathing documentary style comment on the true story of two Californian serial killers who murdered up to 25 actual humans in real life. The vocal performance on the chorus line ‘Killers of Children, Rapists of Women, Sado-sexual Violence’ really conveys how horrific their crimes were (even more so than the lyrics themselves, its the way its spat out that tells the real story). Zetro did not disappoint doing Rob Duke’s material. Nor did he disappoint doing Ballof’s material. Or indeed his own. I love Zetro the best of all of Exodus’ singers over the years, and to hear absolute gems like ‘War Is My Sheppard’ and ‘Blacklist’ live absolutely set me off. In fact, it set the crowd off. I was happy with how well the crowd reacted to Tempo Of The Damned material. That album was such an important moment from the band for my fandom and I was afraid the crowd would be a load of people who only wanted to hear Bonded By Blood songs (of which there was already a heavy percentage). No, good crowd. They know that ‘War Is My Sheppard’ is an indisputable classic now. Smart people. Any concert with ‘Blacklist’ in it is a pretty damn good concert, I’ll tell you that much!

I couldn’t fault the setlist. I wouldn’t remove anything. The only thing I wish is that there was more time. It would’ve been amazing to hear more of my favourite Zetro-era classics ‘Chemi-Kill,’ ‘Brain Dead,’ ‘Fabulous Disaster,’ ‘Corruption,’ ‘Impact Is Imminent’ or indeed newer stuff from the Dukes era like ‘Altered Boy,’ ‘Class Dismissed’ or the Dukes era’s best ever tune ‘Children Of A Worthless God’ but that would’ve been a headline show. How much time would that all take?

How great was it to hear the famous tracks like ‘Bonded By Blood’ or ‘The Toxic Waltz’ though? Oh my goodness did I enjoy that. The crowd began to bang, there was blood upon the stage, metal took its place, bonded by blood. Hearing stuff of the new album like ‘Blood In. Blood Out.’ and ‘Body Harvest’ kept it all vital and not just nostalgia… I mean there’s been no decline in quality over the years. Either of those tracks would still be one of the best songs on Tempo’ or Impact’

I also loved their performance; they were hungry, rabid thrashers, not slow washed-out old men. I’ve heard it said that millionaires can’t make Thrash Metal, and so in that way its good Exodus never got as famous as Metallica, because Exodus are still unrelenting in their delivery. Its as if they’re still in their twenties. I also love their interaction with the crowd, they were very accommodating and interactive and the dialougue about the value of Heavy Metal itself all chimed very well with me. Overall, an amazing, feel-good performance and excellent setlist. I had myself a great time singing along, and I would go see them again tonight if I could. If you ever get the chance, no matter where they are on a bill and how short a slot they’re given, get yourself down to an Exodus show and you’ll be a happy man (or woman) (…but let’s be honest, man. Do I have any female readers? I doubt it.)(Interesting sidenote: Exodus certainly have a pretty high female audience ratio…. way more than I’ve seen in about my last 7 or 8 concerts. More than C.O.C for sure. Not quite Peirce The Veil levels of equality, but for greasy, brutal ’80s Thrash it was more than you’d expect).

At his point my night was complete, only it turns out that Obituary were headlining, as I’ve mentioned, and so I stayed to check them out. I’m not a fan yet, and have only ever heard one song. I’ve been meaning to try them for ages and have picked up their boxset numerous times in HMV but money shortages stopped me ever actually going through with the purchase. I like the other bands in Death Metal’s big four. I’ve liked Cannibal Corpse and Deicide a medium amount for years. I got into Morbid Angel a bit this year. Just Obituary left of the four. (And Death, Immolation, Incantation and many others still to come from the next tiers).

It was a very good performance. The two standout tracks were ‘Slowly We Rot’ and ‘Ten Thousand Ways To Die’ as well as the Celtic Frost cover as a close third. I was taken aback by how dedicated and into the crowd were. I noticed in the last few years how many morrisound album t-shirts have skyrocketed in popularity both in the streets of Manchester and especially at Metal gigs. It seems to be enjoying a renewed popularity, but man, I never expected an Obituary gig to be so packed of such an invested crowd. Shows what I know.

I was very, very impressed. There was no blasting, nothing unmusical. It was all fat, thick, groovy. There was a mix of doomy intros, speedy mid sections, and cool stop/start staccato moments ala Fear Factory, with surprisingly audible and discernible vocals and great lead guitar. Colour me impressed. Obituary are definitely worth me checking out it seems.

Good night.

Amateur Batfan Vol. 20-Part 2: Bloom & Superheavy Discussion

Posted: October 12, 2016 by kingcrimsonprog in Uncategorized

batmanvol9bloom[***Warning – this post contains spoilers for this story and many other stories***]

The Superheavy storyline, written by Scott Snyder was printed in Batman Volume 2, issues 41-50. It is collected in the books Batman Vol. 8 Superheavy and Batman Vol. 9 Bloom. It is the final story arc during Snyder and artist Greg Capullo’s run on the main Batman comic series, which began in 2011.

It picks up directly where their previous story, Endgame, left off. Joker had turned the city basically into a violent horde of violent zombies (or ‘Jokerized’ them) and then Joker and Batman fought to the death, beside a pool of magical healing liquid called Dionysium that Batman prevented Joker from accessing so that they could both finally die and break their endless cycle of violence and opposition. Superheavy opens up with a public vigil of citizens mourning the death of Batman, and TV shows discussing the consequences of Batman’s death. Then Geri Powers, the president of the Powers Corporation states that her company acquired Wayne Enterprises’ assets including all of Batman’s technology and designs. Powers Corporation and the police work together to start a new Police version of Batman, using a lot of futuristic technology. That’s the set up, and now the story can begin.

So basically, there’s three interlinked stories: There’s the primary story of how former Police commissioner Jim Gordon has to accept becoming the new Batman, learn to do it, learn to do it well, and then stop his first major threat, a new super villain called Mr Bloom, who has developed a way to give people superpowers via radioactive faux-seeds and he sells/distributes them in a plot to destroy and rebuild the city as some kind of savage yet fair utopia.

18966645-_sy540_

There’s a subplot about Duke Thomas, who was previously in Zero Year and Endgame and has since gone on to be the star of the interesting new comic series We Are Robin, where lots of kids all decide to roam the streets dressed in Robin-inspired outfits doaling out half-assed justice. Duke becomes their sort of leader and seems to be the only one who’d actually be anywhere near good enough to actually become a real Batman approved Robin. I guess that’s what they might be building up to, Duke becoming Robin, but then again there where some ‘what-if’ style future flash-forwards during the Endgame storyline during a chemical-wackiness moment that suggested he’d become some yellow superhero called ‘Lark’ instead… but those were more ‘what-ifs’ than definite future, so he could still become the first African American Robin, if some writer takes the plunge. Who knows?

Anyway Duke goes about investigating Bloom on his own, because the new Batman doesn’t need a Robin, allegedly, and the new Robins don’t need a Batman either, allegedly. It turns out that one of his friends, Daryl Guitierez is working with the Batman initiative, and that one of Daryl’s cousins was one of the earliest victims of Bloom, and then Duke uncovers Bloom and the Penguin have some backstory and so Duke investigates The Penguin, and finds clues that help uncover Bloom’s origin.

20582677

Then there’s the other main plot, about how Bruce Wayne is alive. He did NOT die when he got killed at the end of Endgame. Well; He died when the roof collapsed, and the stupid magical back-from-the-dead liquid Dionysium, (that previously resurrected the Joker from near fatal injuries following his cliff-dive in Death Of The Family and which a watered-down version of helps resurrect the Court Of Owls’ undead assassins), saved him. He is totally healed, but amnesiac. This new Bruce Wayne must come to terms with his life, find a purpose and then he does. He also falls in love with Julie Madison, his old love interest that he spurned at the end of Zero Year because “Crime-Fighting was the only woman for him.” She also reveals that she is very tangentially linked to the man who committed his parents’ murder (Joe Chill) in a very tenuous way. He loves her anyway, despite that tangential connection that she makes too big a deal of.

batman46e

Then of course the three stories come together, Jim has to save the city from Bloom who gets out of control and causes a whole lot of death and devastation and is a pretty cataclysmic threat that puts the whole city at risk. Duke also finds out his parents, who were Jokerized during Joker’s previous gigantic city-wide destruction plot from Endgame, will never be healed and this motivates him even further to help save the city. His parents are lost forever in a way that sort of mirrors the loss of Bruce’s or Dick Grayson’s parents motivating them to originally become Batman and Robin respectively. Jim meanwhile fails to stop Bloom and gets pretty damn pasted and brutalized by the seemingly unstoppable Bloom.

Duke seems to know who Bruce is either because his family rescued and nursed Batman during the Zero Year storyline or something off-page, maybe in one of the other Batman comics available like We Are Robin or Detective Comics or something. I’m not 100% sure at time of writing. Anyway, he starts really resenting Bruce’s amnesia and so reminds him that he’s Batman. There’s a cool moment where the headlights of a speeding train which Duke is trying to fake-suicide himself upon in order to remind Bruce of his past resemble the eyes of the bat from the famous ‘Yes Father, I Shall Become A Bat’ scene. Its quite well done. Anyway, that plus a whole ‘there’s a batman shaped hole in your life, maybe that’s what your amnesia is about’ chinwag they have start to unravel Bruce’s amnesia and he remembers that he is Batman.

111-900x780

Bruce goes through a convoluted process to become Batman again, which involves sacrificing his happy new life and re-suffering all the trauma of his past and becoming obsessed again. There’s emotional moments where Alfred wants to stop it happening and save Bruce from all that heartache but in the end Bruce is willing to make that sacrifice just to save the city because that’s just who he is as a person. The actual process involves that weird Batman cloning machine from the special issue of Detective 27 (a special one off story about a ‘what-if’ future where Bruce clones himself over and over again at the exact moment of becoming Batman so that in the future there’s always a Bruce Wayne Batman to save the day). The restoration process would actually kill Bruce before restoring him, but Bruce is willing to make that sacrifice as we’ve seen already in Zero Year when he stopped his own heart to save the city from a convoluted Riddler scheme and then restarted it becoming the metaphorical heartbeat of the city in a nice piece of writing. Anyway, Alfred isn’t willing to kill Bruce so Julie helps, and they try to make it cool by clumsily highlighting that aforementioned lame super-tangential Joe Chill connection, then Bruce comes back and saves the day, stopping Bloom. Bloom has convinced a lot of citizens to go anarchic and take his superpower-seeds when also sending a large hadron collider that Cop-Batman’s allies own into overdrive subsequently creating an apocalyptic black hole style threat, that gets bigger when the citizens use Bloom’s seeds. Bruce convinces people to stop using them and the threat is ultimately eliminated and Bloom is defeated.

Also it turns out Bloom didn’t invent his own technology, he stole the idea from Daryl Guitierz (Duke’s friend and an employee of the cop’s Batman initiative) who had originally came up with the idea for good. Because, y’know, we need a twist or surprise every so often or we’ll stop reading.

That’s the plot, more or less, but there’s a lot to discuss about the execution.

There are some genuinely great little touches, like, how in the previous Batman story arc, Endgame, Joker has a parade through the streets with trophies from Batman’s cave, such as his giant penny and his giant dinosaur statue… and here in this story there is a scene where amnesiac Bruce working in the community center finds their wreckage outside his fence, scaring the children, and so decides to turn fear into inspiration and converts the dinosaur into a children’s slide and the penny into a merry-go-round. I don’t know why but that bit really made me smile, I thought it was a very cool touch.

batman45-image2

In fact, the scene where amnesiac Bruce is about to be told he is Batman but refuses to hear it is pretty great, and especially the ending where he resolves to help the city like his parents did but via community outreach is cool. It shows you how at his core Bruce wants to help people and even if he never had the inspiration for that help to be given in the form of vigilantism, he’d still be helping people in another form. It also subtly answers the question people always pose… how does punching drug addicts and poor jobless unfortunates whilst dressed up as a bat actually help fight the root of crime? Superheavy shows how Bruce might’ve tackled the root causes if he didn’t become an obsessed Bat-themed fan of cracking heads. Other writers have tackled that question before, with things like his victims-incorporated initiative from some older stories but many of those stories are now obscure or forgotten, so it still feels open for Snyder to answer it now. Its also nice how Snyder subtly gets you to think about it by having Jim throw away a quick line about how he had actually reduced more crime as a police officer with community outreach than direct collars, seemingly just incidental but actually designed to put you in the right frame of mind.

There’s also a cool little story where, after the city’s near-destruction in Zero Year, Bruce Wayne tries to buy up all the devastated land and convert it into cheap high quality housing for families (which shows how he does indeed still do some root-cause-tackling, as well as the head cracking) and it gets even cooler when the story shows that this beneficent plan caused some unfortunate side effects, and Bruce buying up property was seen as gentrification and caused property values to rise which ended in some gang violence and death. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and hey the root causes can get tackled, but someone still needs to punch the rapists and muggers in the face in the mean time. Nice one, well played Synyder. I often criticize Snyder for answering questions that don’t need answering, or that were already answered… [and then later have to begrudgingly forgive him since this Batman Volume 2 is technically all new material and any old stories don’t exist anymore and didn’t actually happen to THIS Batman, so then technically it is ok for Snyder to answer those questions again because technically this is a new thing happening for the first time again now.] ….but, I didn’t even need to criticize him for answering that root cause question this time, because he did it so well. Also, in that issue there’s that foreshadowing thing about ‘regulation’ and ‘the line’ and ‘the real criminals are the ones who draw the line’ being payed-off with Batman literally drawing the actual line was awesome, it had the potential for being cheesier than a french cheese shop, but it actually worked out surprisingly tasteful and well done.

Another cool touch is how at the beginning Jim’s friend Harvey jokes that a giant Robot Batman suit Jim is now supposed to wear, couldn’t fit into Jim’s trademark tenchcoat, and then at the end of the episode Harvey has left a ten-foot-tall tenchcoat in Jim’s apartment as a joke present. I found that amusing. There’s also another amusing moment where Jim gets to do Batman’s famous disappearing trick rather than be the victim of it as usual. And a joke line about taking off his mustache and using it as a projectile weapon. Yeah, plenty of light humour to be found.

I also really like that the story has a lot of Penguin in it. He’d been cameoing in Snyder stories a lot but this is arguably his biggest role and I like that his use here makes it all feel like one big story. He’s been there in Zero Year and Death Of The Family and Eternal and Endgame and now here too. Speaking of cameos, it was cool to have a Great White Shark cameo, just because I personally like him. Or seeing Greg draw Scarface and Ventriloquist, just because its like, the only time since a group shot in the very first issue that they’ve showed up.

batman2

Back to great little moments though, there’s a bit where Jim and Bloom are fighting and headquarters asks Jim if he’s ready, he hesitates, throws bloom straight through a window and then says, now he’s ready. Just a very fun little moment. Maybe its the Father Ted fan in me but window humour can really make me smile.

A another smile enducer is the very cheesy but utterly satisfying moment where one of the many common criminals that Bloom has turned into a superpowered monster is about to kill Jim, with electricity he syphnoed from the now powerless Batsignal on the GCPD roof. The crim says something along the lines of ‘You aren’t Batman’ and we cut to a pannel of a sillouhetted and superemly pissed-off-looking Bruce back in his Batsuit for the first time, sitting atop a lit-up Batsignal and saying ‘No… I am!’ That little scene is such popcorn good fun and makes me smile like an absolute goon. Similarly, there’s a moment where Bruce handcuffs Jim to a door in order to force him to go to the hospital, but when Jim is needed later he shows up, still handcuffed to the door only he’s broken off the hinges and is carrying it with him. Another total cheeseball cinematic moment that actually works.

batman

The absolute best moment of the whole piece however, is a scene where amnesiac Bruce is remembering that he’s Batman but fighting with the idea, and comes to a park he’s been visiting throughout the story, (which has been a representation of his newfound inner peace), only to find a healed amnesiac Joker sat there, who due to also being healed, is nolonger evil and is actually a nice person and productive member of society now. There’s some real tugging on the heartstrings when it seems as though Joker is begging Bruce not to become Batman again, or else he’ll have to become Joker again, and that idea is almost horrific enough to cause him to take his own life. The suicide attempt seems to have gone ahead and you sit there really gobsmaked and impressed with the balls on these writers for actually having the guy blow his own head off rather than become the Joker….

Ok that was some of the good. How about some of the bad?

Well, how about when you flip the page after the scene I’ve just described? You think something genuinely impressive has happened but then actually its cop-out city, and it turns out the huge ‘BOOM’ on the bottom of the page is not in fact a gunshot where Joker kills himself rather than turn evil again, but instead is some of Bloom’s generic destruction elsewhere, which interrupts and distracts it all and allows for the inevitable return of the Joker later on, because, hey, Joker makes DC money.

While we’re on the subject of the disappointments… One thing I’ll say is that the main villain, Mr Bloom, seems to be missing a bit of umph. I mean, he’s just a weirdly dressed arms-dealer at first sight, until he gets shot up by Penguin’s thugs in an arms deal-gone-bad and then he reveals that he has creepy extendo-limb superpowers. There’s also a bit of backstory about him being a skilled chemist in an abandoned alley after the events of Zero Year where he perfects his scientific skills in designing sell-able superpowers, and there’s all this mystery about who he might be. There’s a scene where he didn’t design the whole science himself and was actually someone who died at around the time of Zero Year that young Genius-Grant winner Daryl had just experimented on because nobody would miss him.

Ok. So, lets add this together right? … Scientist, check. Died around the time of Zero Year, check. Not the origional plan or inventor of the seeds-thing, check. Creepy extendo-limb powers, check.

I dunno about you, but that sounds a heck of a lot like Doctor Death from Zero Year to me. I mean, how many creepy extendo-limb scientists are there in this city? It seems like there was originally going to be a big reveal where it turned out Bloom was actually Dr Death, who had been laying low since returning from near-death around the time of Zero Year, slowly perfecting this new seed-superpower-science until this perfect moment where the original Batman who had stopped him before was now dead and couldn’t stop him anymore… But they forgot to bloody do it! They just left it as this up-to-interpretation nonsense and a weird lazy-feeling ‘it-could-be-any-everyman’ cop-out, That’s not good storytelling! It would have been smart and cyclical to have Dr Death come back. Dr Death was there during Batman’s first adventure and now he’s the impetus for his first adventure post-Resurrection. It would also be fitting then that if Dr Death only had the confidence to unleash his long-in-the-works plan once the Batman was finally dead, that it would be why the story had designed itself so that Jim wasn’t good enough to stop him and Bruce specifically was required to become Batman again and stop him. You know; sort of a ‘you’ve already proved you can stop him before, and I can’t seem to right now, so it has to be YOU Bruce.’ That would have made sense. …because now its just sort of ‘Hey, there’s a new bad guy doing generic city destruction, oh no, the new batman is ineffective, better get the old one.’ It doesn’t have that umph.

doctor_death_new_52_0008

Dr Death’s extendo fingers

4994300-screenshot_2016-01-10-12-08-09

Mr Bloom’s extendo fingers

Ok so, I get that Daryl was the original flower-themed scientist, who just wanted to give people superpowers to defend themselves against threats such as what happened in Zero Year and then gave up when he accidentally lead to his cousin’s death, and started again after the next city wide disaster of Endgame and then some anonymous nobody stole his shtick and used it for evil… but that’s not enough, is it? Also what is Bloom’s goal? Anarky? Super-powered Survival-of-the-fittest? Why is that good, why would he want that? Does he just want a death to rich people just because he was going to a potter’s field? That’s not enough is it? And why is he so overpowered… like he can grow hundreds of feet in size, shoot lightning, extendo-morph his fingers into knives, alter the workings of super colliders for no adequately explained reason, block electronic transmissions and signals for no adequately explained reason, hack robots and remote control them for no adequately explained reason. Like… ok, so he has some scientific device that gives him superpowers but its like, a different superpower every time it suits him with no logic or reasoning.

mrbloom

Also why is Jim too crap to stop Bloom? They spend the whole first half of the book apologizing for the fact that Jim is Batman now and he’s a new kind of technological Batman and trust us guys, that’s ok, he can still be awesome. Then they riff on some of Grant Morrison’s building-a-better-Batman ideas. Then then, upon confronting literally his first super villain he is not up to the challenge, gets absolutely battered, and needs Bruce-Ex-Machina to come to the rescue. Like, what a sell out. What a waste of investment. What a lie. What was the point? What a short-change to Jim. Jim spends the story going ‘Oh no, I’m not good enough to be Batman, I don’t want to be, hey guys am I good enough?’ and then the story, despite assuring the readers the whole time that Jim will actually be good, just turns around and farts in our face at the very first opportunity that no, Jim is not good enough. It even ends with Jim thinking he was a failure and disappointment. What’s that all about?

Ok maybe I’m being harsh, after all, it was teamwork between Bruce, Duke and Jim that stops the threat by removing his power-source physically, inspiring the people to stop feeding his power, using a blimp to toss him into his own death trap and then finally using technology derived from the aforementioned supercollider to close the black hole style threat. So, its a teamwork affair and not like Bruce swooped down and cleaned all the problems up himself singlehandedly… but still. There was a very strong undercurrent of ‘Jim can’t do it, we need Bruce.’

I get that if you set out to tell a story about why Batman must be Bruce specifically, then you do that. But then why spend half your previous arcs talking about how Batman is eternal and better as an idea for inspiration that is bigger than just one man. Catch 22, capitalism requires that Bruce Wayne must be Batman… but when a writer very much suggests that the Batman concept is bigger than just Bruce all the time, it kind of sets itself up for failure. Like how can you make that point and then still basically end with the populist line ‘No Bruce? Then its not really Batman!’

There’s a few more moments that don’t sit totally right with me, such as how the magic clone machine works, with a weird series of ‘what-if’ scenarios that are just excuses for Greg to get to draw cool images. Like when you actually think about it what the hell do any of those have to do with restoring Bruce’s memories? Or the fact that the dionysium heals all of Bruce’s physical injures from his years as Batman but the machine leaves all his experience so the combo of peak physical condition and total experience leaves him as the best Batman evvvvaaaarrrr y’all. Like, there’s something pompous about stating in your own story that this Batman is the best Batman ever, is there not?

I also don’t think Bloom has a strong enough motivation, as I’ve already stated. Also; all his constant Garden themed dialogue is pretty grating. I know its Batman we’re talking about here and colorful villains spouting thematic puns is the order of the day [How many times must I endure Catwoman saying something along the lines of ‘look what the cat dragged in?’] but it still doesn’t make it good. And worst of all, how the hell does he convince all the gullible and stupid citizens to agree to use his super-seeds. Like sure, the criminals wanting to use them as weapons for crime, especially back when he was acting more like an arms dealer, makes sense. Criminal gangs might want superpower weapons, sure, I buy it. But when he’s a godzilla sized monster stomping around causing death and mayhem, why would anyone agree to cut themselves open and stick some of his technology into the wound? What reason? Even if you use the whole using-them-to-stop-Bloom idea … like why would you use his own weapons, OF COURSE THEY’D BE BOOBY TRAPPED. You fools! Why are Gotham’s citizens so willfully stupid? Maybe its because the city gets blown up so darn often they never make it through school? Maybe that’s why they make such credibility-straining bad decisions so often.

Its not all negativity though. On the other hand, I do love some little touches throughout the book. For example, Alfred still doesn’t have his hand. The Joker chopped it off during Endgame, and he’s just got a stump in this story. Previously I was annoyed at how Snyder threatened to permanently disable Alfred in Death Of The Family and then copped out and said it was a bluff, but the fact that it is actually true and lasting here is awesome. Its good when actions have consequences.

I like the touch of how Alfred’s Daughter Julia (not to be confused with Julie Madison) is one of the Batman initiative’s employees. In Snyder’s Eternal story she had been Bruce’s adviser and tech support and now she provides that help to Jim.

I like how this story uses so many previous elements from all of Snyder’s previous work and makes it feel like one world, even so far as to use company names and surnames and gang-names and all the little details from all of his work going back to Black Mirror and Gates Of Gotham (which could’ve easily been ignored since it was before the New 52 happened) and all the way through his whole entire New 52 run, even including Eternal (which could’ve been ignored since it wasn’t printed in the main Batman comic). Its nice to for example, see the Powers Corporation or Whisper Gang again. World building is important. Its neat to hear Jim remember when he was in prison during Eternal. Building history is also important.

There’s also the great little touch of Bruce coming to the community center at the end to sort of stalk/visit Julie suggesting that, even though we’re lead to believe he’d lose all memory of his time as an amnesiac and his love for Julie, he’s still got some of it in there somewhere. That was a nice moment.

I also like how Scott’s writing addressed people’s fears… for example the first issue even had Jim himself basically saying ‘Commissioner Gorden becomes Batman? That’s a stupid idea’ on behalf of the skeptical audience. Batman as a comic book over the years has shown us that a stupid setup can still result in a good story. Grant Morrison’s run started with Batman discovering a long-lost son. Long lost sons and indeed resurrection from death are two of the worst and most galling storytelling devices ever, almost up there with ‘and then it all turned out to be a dream’ …but Grant was able to craft some real gold with both bad set ups in his time telling great stories about resurrection from death and about long lost sons.

Speaking of which; As I discussed last time, Snyder seems to be in love with Morrsion’s work. Hey, his Eternal stories featured Morrsion-designed villains such as Professor Pig and Big Top. His Court Of Owls concept is suspiciously similar to Morrison’s Black Glove idea, and the idea in ‘Owls about a secret long lost brother has Morrsion slapped all over it, both in terms of the long lost son debacle and from a plot about Bruce’s parents possibly being not-so-perfect that runs through Morrison’s work that ties in with insecurities Bruce’s fake brother prays upon in Snyder’s debut.

[As a sidenote, Snyder also used non-Morrison villain ‘Hush’ in Eternal, and totally took inspiration from the Hush storyline in designing his red-herring ally who turns out to be Bruce’s fake-brother owl-assassin character. I mentioned in the pre-review context about how Snyder is free to use all the toys in the last 70 years worth of storytelling toybox, because his is a new volume. There’s an additional example right there.]

So speaking of being in love with Morrison’s ideas… this whole arc is really predicated on two ideas that were highlighted prominently, recently, in Morrison’s work. First of all, ‘Bruce dies so someone else has to be Batman’ and second of all ‘Batman is more of an idea and an inspiration than just one man, he’s bigger than all of us’

Morrison had Batman die (well, it turned out he was just in a time-travelling near death experience but it was presented as legitimate death initially, so it still counts) and then has his ally, Dick Grayson, [aka. Nightwing, aka. the first person to be known as Robin way back when], step in and become the new Batman. Snyder here has Batman die or at least seemingly die and then has his ally Commissioner Gordon step in and become the new Batman. Its just… its been to soon. Sure, the idea wasn’t new when Morrison did it… it had already happened before in the famous Knightfall arc in the early 1990s, in which Batman got his spine broken and couldn’t be Batman anymore so he let his ally Azreal step in and be the new Batman for a while (and there was an epilogue called Prodigal where he also had Dick Grayson do it too while he healed and got his act back together), but that was yonks ago. Morrison’s wasn’t yonks ago. Doing another one so soon after Morrison just feels weird. I know, I know, this is a new universe and a new volume and none of Morrison’s stories (or indeed Knightfall) happened to THIS Batman, but still…

Furthermore; Morrison, as I stated already, couldn’t help himself from finishing his big story, and finished it anyway even though the New 52 happened. So annoyingly, lots of his story has to have happened, for his stupid selfish decision to finish his story to make any damn sense [or maybe it was DC’s stupid and selfish decision to force it to try fit in with the New 52 thing instead of just letting Grant finish it first, in the old continuity, or at least publish it with a warning sticker saying ‘this is set in the old continuity and isn’t part of The New 52’ …That sort of thing isn’t without precedent. I have a Batman/Spawn crossover with a warning that states it isn’t representative of current continuity]. So… since in Morrison’s final story, which IS part of The New 52 and DID happen to this Batman, Dick Grayson remembers being Batman, then that means that some sort of death and replacement of this Batman totally DID happen, and recently too. So uuurgh. I digress. But yeah, so even to THIS Batman, this is the second time in a very short time that Batman ‘died’ and was replaced by an ally. That’s too much. That’s not cool. There’s reusing good ideas and there’s being tasteful… I’m not sure Snyder always errs on the side of tasteful.

So lets dissect this: within a very short lifetime, Gotham has been totally devastated three times and Batman has been replaced twice And while we’re at it, Bruce fathered a son who’s now 12 and adopted and trained three other sidekicks who are all suspiciously absent, one of which was a kid and is now a grown up. First of all not enough time has elapsed for all that to convincingly be able to happen. Furthermore; Like, did nobody tell amnesiac Bruce that he was a father? Damian thought his dad was dead, did nobody bother to tell him he was ok? And Gotham city is in an absolute state of terror and anarchy so where are the Robins to help? Red Hood, Red Robin, Robin, Dick Grayson? Nobody thought it would be a good idea to come back and help Jim? Well, I guess that’s because they were all busy dealing with the events of Batman & Robin Eternal, another comic which ran concurrently with this. But still…

Another thing Superheavy/Bloom steals from Morrison, is that in Morrison’s Batman Incorporated idea, there would be a Batman around every corner figuratively including robots, as well as the idea of having a different Batman in every city. In this there is a section where the police have an idea to put a different Batman in every city and then also totally want to unleash an army of Robot Batmen at one stage… hmmm….now where have I heard that idea before? Was it maybe in literally the most recent arc before The New 52 started? Ding ding ding!

batman_inc_leviathan_strikes-1_cover-1

And yeah, Snyder loves Morrison so much, he throws in little shout-outs such as a not too subtle Easter egg about the Zur-En-Arr Batman costume, which Morrison recently revived in his Batman RIP story. Hey there’s nothing wrong with loving Morrison, but all I’m saying is Avenged Sevenfold’s ‘Hail To The King’ album loved other artists, and how did that turn out critically? How many people sat there saying ‘Oh neat, this sounds just like Sad But True,’ in a good way?

But again, don’t let me be all negative; there were great things to come from this story. Just because it copied older stuff, had the city totally destoryed yet-a-bloody-gain, had too much dialogue about the city and its citizens, and furthered Snyder’s pro-Robot agenda… those things don’t totally sink the story.

Sure… he copies the Bat-replacement idea… but he does new things from it. Its not just a fellow vigilante this time. This time it is a government and police sanctioned operation. This gets to show what happens when Batman works INSIDE of the law. It shows us the Batsignal shining down on the criminals from the cops instead of up from the cops asking for help, and sets up cool little moments such as Gordon realizing that when YOU are Batman then Batman can’t come to save you. It allows for new dynamics within the cops and for office politics to enter the Batman equation. It opens a lot of new doors.

Sure… the whole robot suit thing is a bit over the top, but it explains how a normal man like Jim could do what Batman does and stand up to villains with superpowers. It also allows for new moments we haven’t read before a billion times before. And if Snyder is just going to stick Robots in there all the time anyway, may as well jump in with both feet, ey? Hell; maybe some fans really dig the robot thing, I don’t know.

I think it would be unfair to dismiss this story just because it is another Knightfall (or another Morrison’s run). I also think it would be unfair to dismiss the story just because the set-up is lame, ‘Robocop meets Batman’ and also ‘Commisoner Gorden becomes Batman’ may be two unappealing pitches but a good story can overcome the worst of setups. Outright dismissal is super harsh.

There are many good things about this story. There are many blemishes and things that don’t sit right with me too. Its difficult to form a strict opinion about it overall as a result. I could almost go through the whole thing panel by panel saying ‘Like it, hate it, like it, hate it’ etc

There’s this line about a card game the cops (Who in Gotham city are called the GCPD) play entitled ‘G.C.P.D’ standing for ‘Gotham Card Played Down.’ I mean, yuck! You don’t get much lamer than that. But then there’s some great moment afterwards that washes away that lameness, such as the villain complimenting Batman’s outfit and Batman cheekily replying he’s partial to the boots before driving a boot into the villain’s face. You see? For me its just a constant ‘Like it, hate it, like it, hate it’ stream.

There’s good moments, there’s bad moments and there’s unanswered questions. Hey, why does Julie so eagerly let Bruce forget her? Why does she know he’s Batman? Why is she such a flimsy and underdeveloped character? Why does Jim get his Commissioner Job back so easy? What is the new unit Bullock alludes to but never pays off? Where are Batmans allies such as Damian Wayne and Red Robin? Why did Penguin know that Bloom’s powers were designed by a Crowne Genius Grant winner specifically and just not any other normal scientist [especially when in Zero Year there was a whole plot about off the grid black box scientists?… IT SHOULD’VE BEEN DR DEATH I TELL YOU!]

Overall… I guess I’d say that its a flawed work, that was underdeveloped and missed a lot of great opportunities but is still so full of good ideas, nice touches, and neat little moments that it is still absolutely worth your time. Also, it sneakily apologizes for most of its flaws, and then cuts you off before you can get mad… like, how I mentioned you might think the premise is dumb but then Gordon will outright say the premise is dumb, or for example you might ask what the point of a Bruce-is-dead story is when we all know the status quo always resumes, and then he’ll have an in-story situation where somebody asks what’s the point of it all if it all goes back, and then they ponder that maybe now is all we have and its enough. I mean, you can’t just tell no stories just because the status quo always returns. Moments like that rob you of your initial criticisms. Its almost like Kevin Smith wrote this book. Kevin Smith always directly addresses potential criticism and then you kind of have no critical ammunition left.

With Snyder I always hate his story on first impression and like it more re-reading it. I’ve read each of these twice and liked em both more on the second read. Maybe more reads will make me like it more than that still. I remember being baffled by Death Of The Family, dissapointed by Endgame and borderline enraged by Zero Year but then sucumbing to each of their charms after subsquent reads.

Oh yeah, and I’ve done the whole article without mentioning the art… the art is outstanding. Capullo is a gem. Especially since Zero Year when the colourists changed the direction into this super striking, colourful, bright, bombastic and interesting thing. All of Snyder and Capullo’s books look great, and this is no exception. You could almost buy it just to look at. Some of, if not most of this book would work as a poster. Its also cool how Snyder’s stories stared off dark and horrific and grounded(ish) and as they got more comic-booky and more superheroish that the colouring has gone all bright and bombastic. Its like a visual representation of the evolution. I can’t wait to see what Capullo and the colourists do next, without the constant need to be hidden underneath a boatload of dialogue boxes waffling on about the city and its citizens and what it means to be a gothamite. Or without having to draw a new Robot every five issues.

Ok. I’m being a bit over-critical here. I’m sure if I was a writer I’d be making too many references to rock music and readers would be grumbling about ‘oh no here he goes again with another Areosmith reference.’ The man likes Robots, I shouldn’t begrudge that. Heck, its even a way to make it credible that a powerless human could even be able to fight off fifty Owl assassins, fight off a jokerized Justice League, or fight off a fifty foot tall Mr Bloom. Or indeed how he could …escape a furnace or whatever the Robot did in that Clayface story in Graveyard Shift.

And sure, maybe he banged on about the city and its citizens too much, but that was his thing. That was his signature. His through-line. His stamp. The thing that tied all his stuff together. The thing that separated him from the pack. Maybe, in a few years when it isn’t all so fresh we’ll look back nostalgically and go ‘wasn’t he clever for thinking about the city to much.’ Maybe.

Or maybe I’m just afraid to say something mean?