Unpopular Metal Opinions – #1

Shouting out the opinions you won’t say out loud. This week: the 90s, Morbid Angel, Sepultura, and Meshuggah.

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With Metal comes passion, followed by analysis, followed by debates and disagreements, followed by a furious hornet’s nest of opinions.

Sardonic jokes aside, our passion to debate and defend Metal music is what makes it so interesting. But lately, it seems there are a lot of blanket opinions and ‘accepted truths’ on bands, albums, or eras of music that metalheads simply refuse to budge on. Make the slightest effort to challenge these assumptions, and you’ll probably be looked down upon like a Limp Bizkit fan at a Kreator concert — which is why a good number of us just shut up and nod along.

BUT, where’s the fun in that? With courage in my heart, steel in my balls and a lack of original ideas in my mind, here are my Unpopular Metal Opinions.


‘Illud Divinum Insanus’ is a GOOD Morbid Angel album

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BOY, are the Death Metal purists going to come after me for this.

‘Illud Divinum Insanus’ had a lot riding on it before its release, and a lot more going against it. It was the first Morbid album since 1995 to have David Vincent on vocals, the first album in almost 10 years since 2003’s ‘Heretic’, and the first not to feature long-time drummer Pete Sandoval. Moreover, fans had a sneaking suspicion that Vincent would bring over some Industrial influences from his wife’s band Genitorturers, which was confirmed as soon as they heard “Radikult” and “Destructos vs. the Earth” from the new album. And thus began the critical paddling session on this release, which continues to this day.

But here’s my rub: ‘Illud…’ is a classic example of an album misjudged by just a few of its songs. “Radikult” and “Destructos…” were destined to screw with Death Metal fans, but other tracks like “Nevermore”, “Existo Vulgoré” and “Blades for Baal” are sharp, brutal and heavy turn-of-the-century Morbid Angel. David Vincent’s vocals have never sounded better, and for all the shade thrown at the album’s drum-sampling, drummer Tim Yeung is certainly no slouch behind the skins. While it’s true that this album doesn’t have the dense layers and dark atmosphere of classics such as ‘Altars of Madness’ or ‘Domination’, it’s a perfectly serviceable Morbid album with its own sound, that doesn’t deserve its pariah status.

 

The experimental 90s NEEDED to happen

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Very few look back fondly on the dreaded 90s — when basically all the bands behind the ‘classic’ rock and metal sound moved as far away from it as they could. From Metallica and Iron Maiden to Judas Priest and Kreator, every one of them it seemed, had deserted the faith and bowed down to ‘popular trends’. But let’s look at this another way.

This experimental phase may not have been good for the old-school fans, but it did bring in a new group of alternative fans who could then backtrack to their classic material. There are a number of metalheads today who opine that their favourite band’s first album (and perhaps their first Metal experience itself) was something like Metallica’s ‘Black Album’, Iron Maiden’s ‘X-factor’, Kreator’s ‘Outcast’, or Testament’s ‘Demonic’. And that’s perfectly fine.

Moreover, it’s just a fact that every musical group wants to experiment with different styles. It’s part and parcel of being a musician in any genre. It was better for these bands to get all this experimentation out of their system in the 90s, when the Internet was still too primitive to provide the opinion boombox we have today. And more often than not, they then entered the 2000s with renewed perspective and returned to their classic sound — now with the support of both old-school and 90s fans on a more connected Internet. Could you imagine if say, Megadeth threw the curveball that was ‘Risk’ in the late 2000s or even now? The backlash would definitely be more intense, and even career-changing.

 

Derrick Green’s Sepultura is GOOD

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It seems that Sepultura will never escape the shadow of Max Cavalera, with persistent fans screaming that the band basically died with his departure. Truth is, Sepultura didn’t die — they just became different. And ‘different’ can be good.

While it can be said that their 2000s material just doesn’t hold up to classics like ‘Beneath the Remains’ and ‘Chaos A.D.’, it is fascinatingly different from anything the Cavaleras have ever put out. One thing that has always defined Max in any project is his primal intensity, fuelled by years of living in poverty and police brutality in Brazil. He writes in-your-face metal with simple lyrics, and rarely aspires to any high-minded concepts — and in most cases, we love him for that. Sepultura’s ‘Caval-era’ was the purest distillation of that anger, with the musical experimentation between ‘Arise’ and ‘Roots’ simply sweetening the deal.

But not so, post-90s Sepultura. With Andreas Kisser largely helming creative control, the band began to dig into more sophisticated themes. Sepultura has so far borrowed from works such as ‘The Divine Comedy’ (‘Dante XXI’), ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (‘A-lex’), and the German Expressionist masterpiece ‘Metropolis’ (‘The Mediator between Head and Hands Must Be the Heart’). Talk about heavy-handed! Could you seriously imagine the Cavaleras going along with all this if they were still in the band today?

And besides, we’re seeing a great turnaround in Sepultura since 2011’s ‘Kairos’. ‘The Mediator…’ was subsequently better than anyone expected, even with its preposterously long title and slightly muddy production by Ross Robinson. And if this new track from their upcoming album ‘Machine Messiah’ is anything to go by, Sepultura might just strike the remaining haters down with a vengeance.

 

The 90s were the best years for Heavy Metal

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Look, I get it. The 80s was a golden period for Metal, with the trio of Glam, Thrash, and NWOBHM dominating popular music in a way that has never been seen to this day. But as big as they were, Metal’s true global expansion only came in the 90s.

Death Metal emerged from Florida and Sweden courtesy bands such as Death and Entombed, Black Metal broke out of Norway in a flurry of church-burnings, Death/Doom and Gothic Metal made proliferated through the ‘Peaceville Three’ (Anathema, Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride), Death Metal further received a melodic treatment through the ‘Gothenburg Three’ (In Flames, Dark Tranquillity, and At the Gates), Industrial Metal started its journey with bands like Fear Factory and Ministry, and Pantera basically set the blueprint for the new wave of American Metal that would follow in the 2000s! And I’m pretty sure I’m forgetting a few more beloved subgenres that were established in this decade.

The point is, Heavy Metal’s genesis and high point may have been in the late 70s and early 80s, but to label the decade that came after it as the ‘worst years for Metal’ just because of the Alternative boom, is sheer lunacy.

 

Meshuggah are stagnating

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Meshuggah have had the same sound for 25 years. There, I said it.

Don’t get me wrong — I LOVE Meshuggah, and their’s are some of the most frequent songs on my playlist! It’s just that ever since the release of their new album ‘The Violent Sleep of Reason’, their music has sort of blended together into a homogenous brew of palm-muted riffs and erratic tempos.

In fact, it can be said that Meshuggah have taken just one sound through slightly different styles — the quasi-thrash of ‘Contradictions Collapse’, the fully-formed extreme-prog style of ‘Destroy Erase Improve’ and ‘Chaosphere’, the down-tuned grooves and polyrhythms of ‘Nothing’ and ‘Catch Thirtythree’, and the mélange of all these influences in ‘obZen’ and ‘Koloss’. And after all this, ‘The Violent Sleep…’ just seems to be a modern update of what they already did in the 90s.

So, where else could they possibly go from here? Their sound is all well and good, but they’ve never really shown any proclivity to go “full Prog” — like say, with keyboards and other instruments, or a completely different change in sound á la Opeth. Plus, they’ve got a fanatical fanbase who are perfectly fine with enabling their same old chug-a-chug sound for another 25 years. This, inevitably leads to stagnation in any band.

I don’t want Meshuggah to get stale like that, and I’m pretty sure you don’t either. I personally would be down to hear a symphonic, prog-rock, or industrial Meshuggah — if only to prevent them from being a victim of their own sound.

Unpopular Metal Opinions – #1

In Conversation: JARED SANDHY of FINAL SURRENDER

On the band’s new album ‘Nothing but Void’, their music and its ‘Christian’ themes, his other projects, and much more.

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Metalcore acts are a dime a dozen in today’s Indian metal scene. As a result, it takes some truly great music and showmanship to stay ahead of the palm-mute chugging pack. And Final Surrender from Bangalore have those in spades.

After six years as a band and two albums (the second distributed through US-based Rottweiler Records), Final Surrender’s ambitions haven’t dimmed a bit — this is especially apparent in their new album ‘Nothing but Void’, which has built on their signature sound and been supported through some successful national shows so far!

Centuries of Sin thus had a chat with co-founder and drummer Jared Sandhy on the new album and the band’s future, as well as his side- and solo projects, and his journey from one Christian-themed band in his past to Final Surrender now!


Hi, Jared! Thank you so much for talking to Centuries of Sin. How’re you doing?

Doing very well, thanks!

 

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Final Surrender in 2016 | Image: Facebook

Well, we’re finally on the new Final Surrender album, ‘Nothing but Void’! And I have to say that it sounds CRACKING so far. How have your fans responded to the new material in your first leg of touring?

The album is probably one of the best we’ve written till date, and the crowd on tour so far has been enjoying it and have had really good things to say about the record.

 

What’s the biggest difference you’ve noticed in your music and yourselves between ‘Empty Graves’ and the new album?

‘Empty Graves’ is definitely the album that got a lot of people talking about Final Surrender. It was intentional to that direction of sound we took as a band to experiment with Indian instrumentation and arrangements, though it was very appropriate to what I had in mind from when the songs were being written to when they were recorded. And yes, the album is probably gonna get a remaster done in terms of production, as it never really turned out the way I imagined with regard to the sound. This time around, it will be me completely handling the production aspect as I did for ‘Nothing but Void.’

 

From what I’ve heard of the album so far, ‘Nothing but Void’ seems to be making a shift from more orchestral elements in the music to more electronic and synths — especially since your one-off single “Smyrna” last year. Do you think that’s a fair assessment?

It’s because we never really follow a set of rules. We wrote things apt for the record and the sound it curbed its way into. ‘Nothing but Void’ is more along the lines of our 2010 debut release ‘The Expanse’ in relation to song-writing and production. A very raw, melodic, groovy, progressive, metalcore Final Surrender, so to speak. “Smyrna” was a single derived out of the songs we had compiled during the writing process of ‘Nothing but Void’ in the beginning of 2015. In fact, we had more than 15 songs from which seven are now part of the current album.

 

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Besides the usual themes associated with metalcore, I’ve noticed that a number of fans see a Christian theme in your music. Do you agree with this? And if so, how much of that theme do think permeates your music?

We write about what we believe in. We definitely are all practicing Christians and our faith is in Jesus Christ, but we don’t necessarily base songs off of scripture or Biblical references. We write about what we experience or what inspires us in the moment, or the specific lyrical theme/concept of the record. In this case, ‘Nothing but Void’ speaks about the void one finds oneself in because of an understanding of life obsessed to one’s own ways, and finally meeting only a scenario of running into a big black hole. Many live lives like this.

 

You’re a pretty hyperactive worker in projects outside Final Surrender as well — Mute the Saint, Day of Reckoning, and now your own solo material as well! How in God’s name do you manage to devote your time and energies to all this music?

It’s music and only music that drives me, man. Anything to do with music, I love and believe in. So there can’t be excuses and reasons to put it away or not find time for it. It’s a musician’s job to keep up to schedule and do things actively if he or she is passionate and really wants to contribute to the world of music. On the other hand, some exciting stuff is coming up with my other two bands, too. Mute The Saint is releasing its first self-titled debut record on December 1st this year. This is one of a kind, as it’s officially the first Indian instrumental Sitar-based Progressive metal album in the world. This release will be supported by Metal Injection and other big magazines.

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Jared with Rusty Cooley [far right] and his band Day of Reckoning | Image: Facebook
Day of Reckoning being one of my favorite projects is also in the production stage for our record ‘Into the Fire’. I finished tracking drums for it in Houston, Texas earlier this year before we went out on tour, and also had the opportunity to share the stage with Alter Bridge last month for their CD release show in Dallas’ House of Blues. Our record is a brutal, face-thumping 40 minutes of metal from start to end. We’re scheduled for some tour dates in USA and India early next year to support the release of the record.

Final Surrender is also finishing up its run of shows this month to have a small break for Christmas with family and stuff. Meanwhile, I have my solo stuff in the pre-production stage, and I am planning yo release it early next year too. So 2017 is gonna have some music coming in from all the projects I’m part of!

 

Touching on Day of Reckoning a bit, tell us the story of how you connected with Rusty Cooley and how jamming with him was!

So, my drum endorsers DDrum hit me up about Rusty Cooley auditioning for a drummer. And I gave it a shot, and was selected out of the 50 odd drummers around the world who auditioned. I then happened to discuss things with Rusty via Skype, got the paperwork sorted, and finally got to the US to rehearse and write music with the man. a couple of months later performed around the States and in the process recorded for our upcoming record. Working with one of the best guitarists in the world was amazing, also because apart from being an awesome guitar player focused on his music and instrument, he also happens to be really down-to-earth and an amazing friend to me. Rusty also happens to be a tutor to guitar legends like John Petrucci, Mark Tremonti, Karl Sanders, Oli Herbert and other guitar players, so as jaw-dropping as all of this sounds, it’s an awesome feeling to play with some of the best musicians living today. So with a jam schedule of 4-5 hours a day, we happen to be bringing some really interesting music next year for all the music lovers out there.

Your solo track “Love is” is a pretty straightforward, groovy metal track as opposed to the technical and progressive music you’re normally part of. If you take your solo music forward into an album or EP, how different or unique would you it to be from everything you’ve done so far?

The sound and direction in terms of technicality or progressiveness on my solo record is already decided. It’s gonna be different. Each song will have its flavour, and that’s what will make it unique.

It’s gonna be anything between Alternative metal, Progressive metal, and even Ambient music.

 

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Digging a bit deeper into your past, you started drumming with your very first band Slain at only 13 years old if I’m not wrong! Drumming and recording material at such a young age must’ve been quite something!

Yes, Slain was one of the bands that started it off for me. I still remember being in school for my boards and having to finish my exam and run to sound-check at Palace Grounds – the venue that used to host some of the most iconic independent and international festivals in Bangalore – because Slain opened for Iron Maiden that day! I had definitely committed to the music I was doing and compromised and sacrificed a lot of things young kids do at that age for music and drumming. I used to practice 5-6 hours a day, with no drumkit and at times, broken sticks found backstage which I taped together. I remember being awarded for ‘Best Drummer’ at NLS Strawberry Fields when I was 14, competing with some of the best acts in the country today. So yeah, all of this had led to this road and journey. And I always believe there is no stopping yourself in this industry, and that you have to keep pressing on!

 

Finally, tell us what’s on the cards for Final Surrender in the near future.

A worldwide release via our label in January next year. And hopefully some international dates, too!

 

Thanks for talking to us, Jared! We wish you and Final Surrender the best of luck for the new album and a future of great music!


Catch Final Surrender on – 
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/finalsurrender/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/finalsurrender
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCrBc7xLR6cfYaS0d2dTduVA

In Conversation: JARED SANDHY of FINAL SURRENDER

IN CONVERSATION (Part 2): SYSTEMHOUSE 33 Talk Sound of ‘Regression’, Release Official Album Art

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In Part 1 of our mega-interview with vocalist Samron Jude of Indian metal veterans SystemHouse 33, the band were on the verge of embarking on one of their biggest tours yet: supporting American death metallers Six Feet Under in the X-Mas in Hell tour in Europe. And now that their grueling tour will end with their last performance in Glauchau, Germany on December 12th today, it’s high time to talk about the next phase of Systemhouse: their upcoming new album ‘Regression’.

Listen below as Sam talks about the amount of effort and musical reverse-engineering that went into ‘Regression’, as well as some of his barely-concealed love for 2000’s-era Nu Metal acts like Slipknot and Disturbed. Also see if you can also catch snippets of two songs from the new album in the video…

Speaking about the sound of the ‘Regression’ album, Samron states, “We’ve kept it simple, but we’ve also put in a lot of good parts that sound good to the ears. I started playing a lot more guitar and learnt all the songs on the guitar this time. The music sounds good and melodic, but it also has years of talent and a lot of skill put into it.”

The SystemHouse frontman is also not willing to understate the amount of effort the band has put into the new album. “We’ve spent one and a half to two years on the album,” he confesses. “It’s not like we’ve spent five days on the album and then taken a month’s break; it’s been non-stop. There hasn’t been a day when I haven’t thought about ‘Regression’ or what I’m gonna write or put into it.

“I realised at that time that when big bands do this, they come out with a good product that people want to own and go home with. This doesn’t come from spending just some amount of time on it, which is why we’ve worked very hard on the album. I feel that the [metal] crowds in any part of the world will love this.”

Oh, and here is SH33’s official album cover for ‘Regression’:

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Dark yet clean, and simple yet abstract. Also, it’s refreshing to see photo-art being used in an album cover in the Indian metal scene, as opposed to the now-popular style of drawn and illustrated covers (no slight to artists like Visual Amnesia and Acid Toad though; they’re still awesome at what they do).

If you’d like to listen to the audio-only version of Part 2, stream it here:

SystemHouse 33’s ‘Regression’ is set to release sometime in early 2016.

Stay tuned for Part 3!

IN CONVERSATION (Part 2): SYSTEMHOUSE 33 Talk Sound of ‘Regression’, Release Official Album Art

Gig Report: STORM BREED Presents – A Tribute to LAMB OF GOD

CoS-Pic08Some may say that the very culture of Indian rock and metal music was built on cover songs. Even the best and biggest bands in the scene today had to start off somewhere, and that “somewhere” was more often than not a jam room, garage, or a band mate’s house, where they would test the waters by playing songs by THEIR favourite bands; usually Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Pantera, and the like. Although our metal bands have largely left that behind to make their own names with their own great songs, they wouldn’t rule out one big, blow-out tribute to the Metal Gods that inspired them. Case in point, the Storm Breed Festival’s Tribute to Lamb of God that happened on August 16th at the Indigo Live Music Bar in Bangalore.

The tribute was helmed by a [literally] devout bunch of musicians: Bangalore-based “Christian metal” band Final Surrender, known in the scene for their eclectic metalcore sound and tight live performances. Moreover, they were joined by three big-name guest vocalists through the course of their setlist, who we’re going to talk about later on.

Despite some trouble at Indigo Live’s gates which led to the actual gig starting only at 9pm, the show started off well enough. Final Surrender got off to a blistering start with “In Your Words”, going on to blaze through fan favourites like “Laid to Rest”, “Ruin”, and of course, the perennial “Redneck”. Bassist Eric G Martin and guitarist James Stephenus kept the low-end, riffs and distortion rock-steady throughout, allowing for the rest of the band to work their magic on Lamb of God’s greatest hits. Drummer Jared Sandhy and lead guitarist Sanjay Kumar deserve special mention, with the former missing nary a beat even on faster tracks like “Set to Fail”, while the latter played his riffs, leads and solos with aplomb. As for their enigmatic frontman Joseph Samuel… there were moments when he almost went out of control with his frenzied vocal and performance style, but he still did justice to Randy Blythe’s signature vocals.

Final Surrender [Clockwise from left: Joseph Samuel, Sanjay Kumar, Jared Sandhy, Eric G Martin, James Stephenus] | Photos: Sairaj R Kamath
Final Surrender [Clockwise from left: Joseph Samuel, Sanjay Kumar, Jared Sandhy, Eric G Martin, James Stephenus] | Photos: Sairaj R Kamath
Another thing that really worked in the band’s favour was the excellent live sound; crisp, clear, and rarely muddled up during the more chaotic songs in Final Surrender’s set. The best part was that it didn’t try to ape Lamb Of God’s leaner, meaner sound and guitar tones, instead opting to preserve Final Surrender’s thicker, more metalcore sound. It also helped that the event had a drum raiser to actually let us see the drummer for once. In any case, the band had the crowd hooked, and even got them singing the iconic lines from songs like “Omerta” along with them.

But what of the three big-name vocalists I mentioned earlier? Storm Breed [and in all honesty, this blog itself] had been teasing their appearance for a couple of weeks before, and they didn’t disappoint. Just about halfway into the set, the audience was greeted by Abhijith Rao of Chennai-based prog-death metallers Escher’s Knot, while Samuel slinked off to the green room for a much-deserved breather. Rao then proceeded to scream his head off to “Black Label” – one of the earliest LoG tunes – perfectly mirroring Randy Blythe’s savage screams of that period. His was one of the more “faithful” covers in the set that way.

Escher's Knot's Abhijith Rao screaming bloody murder on "Black Label"
Escher’s Knot‘s Abhijith Rao screaming bloody murder on “Black Label” | Photo: Sairaj R Kamath

About four songs later, Final Surrender were joined by the hirsute Munz of self-styled “Kannur Metal” band The Down Troddence for an epic rendition of “Walk With Me in Hell”. His performance was as hyperactive and expressive as ever, as he lent his slightly deeper growls to the song and whipped the crowd into frenzy. Munz has always been a crowd favourite where frontmen are concerned, and this most popular of LoG songs only exemplified his and the band’s performances.

Munz of The Down Troddence commands the crowd to "Walk With Me in Hell" | Photo: Sairaj R Kamath
Munz of The Down Troddence commands the crowd to “Walk With Me in Hell” | Photo: Sairaj R Kamath

Barely a song when by after this [“Dead Seeds”, FYI] when Final Surrender, possibly saving the best for last, invited none other than Gaurav Basu of Inner Sanctum on-stage for “Blood of the Scribe”. The Acid Toad of Bangalore started firing on all cylinders, beer in hand and delivering his typical roaring vocals to an ecstatic crowd.  Basu even took a moment to have a “beer bath” by pouring said drink on his head, like he was an overheating radiator in need of a drastic liquid cool-down.

Gaurav Basu of Inner Sanctum takes no prisoners during "Blood of the Scribe" | Photo: Sairaj R Kamath
Gaurav Basu of Inner Sanctum takes no prisoners during “Blood of the Scribe” | Photo: Sairaj R Kamath
Have you tried Basu's "Acid Toad Beer Shampoo" yet? | Photo: Sairaj R Kamath
Have you tried Basu’s “Acid Toad Beer Shampoo” yet? | Photo: Sairaj R Kamath

And so, after Samuel’s return to the stage, Final Surrender ended their mammoth set with the raw and emotional “512” and “King Me”. It almost made you feel bad for the portion of the audience who were held back at the door at the beginning of the event [for contrived reasons that I won’t get into here]. Nevertheless, the sweaty and tired yet emotionally exhilarated band capped off the tribute on a high note, later leaving the crowd to disperse with dishevelled hair and big grins on their faces.

Oh, and group pictures and a HUGE late-night dinner for the band followed as well.

Yes... we have to put up with THIS at every gig. | Photo: Sairaj R Kamath
Yes… we have to put up with THIS at every gig. | Photo: Sairaj R Kamath
This job has its perks, though. DELICIOUS perks. | Photo: Sairaj R Kamath
This job has its perks, though. DELICIOUS perks. | Photo: Sairaj R Kamath

See the Full Photo Gallery of this Tribute here!

Gig Report: STORM BREED Presents – A Tribute to LAMB OF GOD

Warrior Within – Best Prince of Persia Game Ever?

prince_of_persia_warrior_within_wallpaper_hd-1600x1200Over the past six months, I steadily came to a realisation; an epiphany, even. The ‘Sands of Time’ trilogy of the Prince of Persia games (I’m not counting The Forgotten Sands here) could be THE BEST GAME SERIES OF ALL TIME. Think of this as an almost 10th Anniversary magic of sorts, after the series’ end in 2005 with The Two Thrones.

Everything from the level design to the combat to the free-running and parkour movement mechanics could keep even the staunchest of game critics relatively quiet while writing their reviews in their parents’ basements. I say “relatively”, because some nitpickers still managed to find small faults with each of the three games, and most of these were unceremoniously heaped on the 2nd entry, Warrior Within. After playing through the three games, I find it slightly unfair that that particular game has to be the black sheep of the ‘Sands of Time’ series. Allow me to share with you my opinion (and I can’t state that word any more obviously) that Warrior Within could in fact be the BEST game of the trilogy.

Oh, and for those of you who were expecting purely metal stuff in this next entry; if an angry Persian warrior slicing his enemies in half like they’re sandwich bread ISN’T metal enough for you, then I don’t know what is.

Also, MAJOR SPOILERS.

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*ARCHITECTURAL SQUEES*

First, the level design. Warrior Within’s Island of Time made vast improvements over Sands of Time’s limited albeit engrossing Palace of Azad. The Island had better spread-out structures, platforms and death traps, with more intricate design and detail. And while I think its dominant colour scheme of reds and browns was a little much, I think it was a small price to pay for how it turned out in the end. The time portals were an ingenious move as well, adding an all-new twist to familiar areas.

But what I loved most about the island was its non-linearity. You could choose which tower you wanted to activate first, you could backtrack through the Empress’ castle to find the well-hidden life upgrades, and you had to find the right time portal to open inaccessible areas. It was easy for you to get lost or ponder your direction within the towers, especially the Mechanical Tower. That one had such a sense of scale and intricacy to it. And for all the good things about the level design of the first and third games, they were still comparatively more linear and restricting.

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"Oye, lads! What say we go grab a shawarma while this Prince bloke sucks our comrade into his shiny knife?"
“Oye, lads! What say we go grab a shawarma while this Prince bloke sucks our comrade into his shiny knife?”

Second, the combat. Sands of Time’s combat system was a little too simplistic; vault-and-slash for the maroon-clothed monsters, vault-off-the-walls-and-slash for the blue-wearing ones. Plus, the final fight with the Vizier was just too anticlimactic. Although it was pretty funny to see all the sand monsters just gormlessly standing around while the Prince made that whole in-fight stunt of absorbing each monster’s essence into the dagger.

Nevertheless, Warrior Within had different kinds of primary swords and secondary weapons, enabled more combat mechanics and combos, and offered a wider variety of enemies for your proverbial hack n’ slash buffet. The three main bosses – Shahdee, Kaileena, and the Dahaka – were easier to defeat once you figured out their attack patterns, but were pretty challenging nonetheless. Kudos to the Thrall and Griffin side-bosses as well.

With respect to Two Thrones, its combat system was a bit indecisive, if not sociopathic. If you ignore the fact that it borrowed aspects from Warrior Within’s environments and gameplay, you’d see that the game made you rely on stealth mechanics and speed kills first like a proto-Assassin’s Creed. But if you failed in these actions and had to switch to melee combat, OH BOY did Two Thrones make you pay for it. You would then have to control a slower, less agile and essentially weaker Prince with an unbelievably low health bar and sand-time limit. And God forbid you alerted the enemy archers while sneaking around the game, unless you wanted to become Persia’s first human pincushion. Sure, the Dark Prince and his daggertail attacks were really cool, but his constant dependence on the sands to stay alive made you break every piece of crockery and furniture in the game like the world’s clumsiest house-guest.

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Now for the story, characterisation and themes. Warrior Within got the spiky end of the review-stick when it came to its darker and angstier themes, which supposedly deceived the fans of Sands of Time’s more mystical and adventurous tone. As a result of this “mis-step”, Two Thrones went out of its way to re-introduce that ‘Arabian Nights’ feel by bringing back Yuri Lowenthal to voice the Prince and involving Princess Farah in the story again. I want to look at this whole story arc from a different angle.

I always thought that Sands of Time’s fantastical theme and aesthetic understated the true nature of the Prince’s actions. Think about it: his own father and his comrades were turned into sand monsters by his releasing the sands, he had to traverse a multitude of death traps and terrains in and around the castle, and he had to personally kill the monster forms of his loved ones by absorbing their sand essence into the dagger. The game included few blood animations and sounds during combat, but that shouldn’t take away from the true grisly nature of his fight with the sand monsters. Add to that the fact that the Prince had no food or drink to fuel him through the game (if you exclude the unexplained “magic water”), and that’s an inhuman amount of physical and mental stress burdened on the poor fellow. While it can be said that his “grand rewind” action at the end of the game effectively nullified these events, he still had the memories of the whole tragedy, and the mental scars can be every bit as severe as the physical ones.

Fast-forward to the events just before Warrior Within. The Prince is recovering from his self-caused cataclysm when the whole Dahaka business crops up due to his fooling around with the sands. Later becoming estranged from his father and kingdom, he is marked for death by a giant time-travelling bogeyman that looked like the love child of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and the Nazgul from Lord of the Rings. At this point, I honestly didn’t know how the Prince’s probable PTSD didn’t reduce him to a quivering heap, curled up on the ground and cutting his wrists to the tune of My Chemical Romance albums. Nevertheless, Warrior Within authenticated his past experiences and portrayed him as a truly hardened and desperate soul, using any means necessary to “change his fate”. I’d venture to say that the game almost had no choice but to go with a darker theme.

Another good thing about Warrior Within is that it had a less linear storyline as well. While Sands of Time and Two Thrones just made you go after the girl (or in the former’s case, with the girl) and defeat the Vizier, Warrior Within had you jumping time periods, mowing down anyone in the way of your survival, and essentially playing against your past self while being the Sand Wraith; all the while not knowing whether to save or kill the mysterious Empress. I think all this made for a gorgeously twisted storyline, with the cherry on the top being the alternate endings.

Two Thrones’ story was fantastical and engrossing in its own right, but I still felt that even with the whole split personality angle with the Dark Prince in it, it was a bit too similar to Sands of Time. The chemistry between Farah and the Prince was forced as well (that elevator sequence was just lame), but the game’s major turn-off for me was Kaileena’s voice acting. Seriously, she sounds like she smoked all the hashish in Persia before narrating the story. Say what you want about Monica Bellucci’s voice acting in the previous game, but she at least brought more clit-balls to the character than in this sequel.

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In the end, is Warrior Within without flaws? Definitely not. Perhaps if it had Two Thrones’ environments and Sands of Time’s natural chemistry, it could’ve more or less become the perfect action-adventure game. But for now, I think it’s the best game of the series so far. And even if you all don’t share my view, I hope you can at least appreciate this black sheep of the series just a little more.

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Warrior Within – Best Prince of Persia Game Ever?

The Devil You Know: Lucifer and his Journey Through Heavy Metal

"Baphomet" by H.R Giger
“Baphomet” by H.R Giger: what a four-way looks like in Hell.

Ah yes, the Devil. Satan. Beelzebub (has a devil put aside for me… sorry, couldn’t resist). What better way to take my first steps into the heavy metal blogosphere than to talk about that big-horned bastard? He and heavy metal go together like sweet-bread and nutella, or cookies and nutella, or chocolate with a jar of nutella so huge that your veins will turn brown after eating it all. That being said, Lucifer has gone through quite a few transformations and ups-and-downs in popularity throughout metal music’s timeline until now. And since I’m an ambitious bugger, I’ll attempt to take you through his epic journey in heavy metal as part of my very first piece here.

The earliest avatars of the Devil entered our musical realms through the classic rock and early heavy metal of the 70s. At that point of time however, rock musicians actually viewed the dark arts with fascination rather than fear. Die-hard Led Zeppelin fans for example will know all the urban legends that revolved around the group; including the one where the band supposedly entered into a Faustian deal with the Devil to gain their musical talent and stratospheric success. Guitarist Jimmy Page himself went through the works of occult writer Aleister Crowley like how every rock musician at that time went through cocaine, so those rumours may not have been totally unwarranted.

Even Black Sabbath, the Grandmasters of metal themselves, had little intention in the beginning of being the poster boys for the dark arts. Guitarist Tony Iommi’s famously “evil” riffage was the result of his well-known industrial accident that severed the tips of his fingers, leading him to down-tune his guitars. Sabbath’s first few albums indeed were like psychedelic blues and hard rock with an occult bent to it, and even singer Ozzy Osbourne in those days looked more like a hippie than the Prince of Darkness he so exhaustively advertises himself as today.

Geezer Butler and Ozzy Osbourne: let's hope Satan doesn't like WHITE rooms...
Geezer Butler and Ozzy Osbourne: “… for the last time, Geezer… I’m not gonna do this in a fuckin’ ORANGE room!”

If anything, bassist Geezer Butler may have had the most fascination with the black magicks in those early days. It’s all in a story where he painted his apartment jet-black and adorned it with inverted crucifixes just for jollies, until he (in his own words) saw a dark figure at the foot of his bed one night while sleeping, which he was sure was Beelzebub himself. His story then ended in an extreme-home-makeover where he repainted his entire flat in a positively refreshing orange colour. The cross you see dangling on Geezer’s neck in those old photos? He was actually looking to PROTECT himself from Satan’s wrath. In short, all of these brush-ins with the occult that our 70s rock and heavy metal legends had were in the end borne out of fascination; a curiosity of what lay beyond our mundane mortal lives and close-minded religious systems.

The Devil’s now famous blood-fire-and-brimstone image only truly came to metal in the 80s. Iron Maiden terrified parents and pastors everywhere with ‘The Number of the Beast’, and Judas Priest made BDSM fetishists everywhere cream their codpieces with their studded leather clothing. Venom hit the peak of devil-worshipping parody with the now-prophetic-sounding ‘Black Metal’ album in 1982, though they weren’t taken very seriously at the time. Nevertheless, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal was out to smash religious and cultural taboos to smithereens, and heavy metal fans were only too happy to join them, Margaret Thatcher be damned. Satan and his dark minions then hitched a ride with this metal music movement as it made its way to the U.S.A, where it gave glorious birth to American thrash metal.

In America, while all the poofy-haired glam rockers sang about pouring some sugar on their sweet cherry pie and stuff, the underground thrash movement strived to sound rawer, harder, faster and stronger (no Daft Punk jokes, please). Newer and darker concepts were being explored by the now thrash metal greats like Metallica, Megadeth, Testament and Exodus. However, it was Slayer that really went the distance like Maiden did when it came to the devilry and hellfire in metal music. Their chugging guitars, break-neck tempos and evil vocals & lyrics in classics like ‘Hell Awaits’, ‘Reign in Blood’ and ‘South of Heaven’ gave the Devil a hearty meal of infamy and controversy with a side order of fear from the general populace. Even Germany and Brazil joined the fun, with Teutonic thrash legends like Kreator and Sodom as well as Brazilian thrash and proto-death metal heavyweights like Sepultura and Sarcofago.

westboro-baptist-church-god-hates-metal
Word.

But the thing is, even though thrash metal made some serious critique of religion, politics and popular culture, there was also the feeling that bands like Slayer were simply taking the piss out of Christianity for the fun of it.  All they needed to do at that point was gather the traditional tropes of the Devil – goat’s head and hooves, big horns, androgynous titties, etc. – and lob them at the general audience, and then lie back with a nice piña colada to watch all the “shock and moral outrage” with big grins on their faces. And I can see why, because it’s BLOODY GOOD FUN. Seriously, try wearing a ‘Seasons in the Abyss’ t-shirt while riding a public bus in India sometime; all the commuters will look at you like you’re Shah Rukh Khan with leprosy. Either way, Shaitaan certainly enjoyed his golden moments in the limelight of heavy metal during the 80s. Alas, those golden moments were short-lived.

Heavy metal itself underwent a HUGE metamorphosis in the onset of the 90s. The Devil was no longer the singular magical teat from which metal bands had to suck for inspiration, credibility and notoriety. A whole slew of sub-genres reared their heads: Progressive metal sang about life, the universe and everything, Power metal was a J.R.R Tolkien book club armed with Marshall Stacks, Nu metal heavily down-tuned itself in self-pity as well as its guitars, and so on. For a moment there, it looked like Satan was going to be swept away by the winds of change… only to be rescued by the two entities on the farthest end of the 90s metal spectrum: Death and Black metal.

The funny thing was, for all its extremity, black and death metal actually managed to evoke some of the greatest insight into Satanism and the Devil. The downplayed “First Wave” of black metal in the 80s had bands like Mercyful Fate and Bathory, who backed up their hellish music and stage presence with memberships in Satanism and the LaVeyan Church. Even the aforementioned Sepultura and Sarcofago had touches of black metal about them in their early years, with the corpse-paint and everything. It was only its more infamous “Second Wave” offspring that took things to a whole new level by outright rejecting and attacking Christianity in favour of Satanism or Paganism. But even amongst all the church burnings, murders and general shrieking noise and blast beats, there was something deeper going on here.

Behemoth's Nergal: still loves his blood and titties, though.
Behemoth’s Nergal: he still loves his blood ‘n titties, though.

As the bands in the Black metal movement in Norway grew and developed, there was a tonal shift as well as a greater clarity in their purpose. Black metal became not so much about devil-worshipping as about breaking free from the Christian system to embrace the old European or Pagan ways (which were themselves labelled “Satanic” in the first place). Many of the music movement’s finest slowly veered away from the Devil’s path to espouse ideologies like atheism and the religion of the old Norsemen, an example being our favourite anti-semitic, WôðanaR-worshipping former firebug, Varg Vikernes. Even personalities like Behemoth’s Adam ‘Nergal’ Darski now view the “Satan” persona as the ultimate manifestation of human freedom, or as Gorgoroth and God Seed’s Gaahl once put it, the “Superhuman”.

Death metal had its share of anti-religious dialogue as well, most famously with Tampa, Florida death metal legends and controversy-magnets Deicide. Frontman Glen Benton was especially trigger-happy about his Satanic views throughout his music as well as his media appearances in the 90s, his finest hour being his proclamation that he would grandly off himself at the age of 33 as part of some sacrificial-suicide shtick to achieve the exalted status of “Bizarro Jesus” or something. Of course, Deicide has left all of that behind now, and still continue to make some solid death metal albums in the new millennium, their only recent bit of “controversy” being their on-tour hissy-fit with Chicago-based death metallers Broken Hope in 2013. Other budding Cross-inverters of the time included Possessed and Morbid Angel, the latter of whom are now on the 20th Anniversary tour of their seminal ‘Covenant’ album to satiate their fans who were OH SO ANGRY AND DISAPPOINTED by their industrial-tinged comeback album ‘Illud Divinum Insanus’.

That being said, the other group of death metal bands that sang about killing people and mutilating and/or fucking their corpses actually presented a more contemporary view of the Devil, at least in my opinion. They didn’t really need some hell-spawned, big-horned bogeyman to scare people, because they noticed that those people were already afraid of death, mortality, and even their own bodies. To these bands, true evil was already present in every serial killer, rapist, mad doctor and otherwise unholy entity that would extinguish our lives and expose the grisly side of our human flesh and blood; and this was reflected in the music of such greats like Cannibal Corpse, Autopsy, Carcass, and others. Scream bloody gore, indeed.

Ghost: sorry Papa Emeritus II, but Snoop Dogg just ain't "Nameless Ghoul" material.
Ghost: … sorry Papa Emeritus II, but Snoop Doggy Dogg just ain’t “Nameless Ghoul” material.

Today, heavy metal itself is in a weird place; almost a clusterfuck. With the advent of the Internet and in the aftermath of Napster, a multitude of new bands are popping out of the ground like gophers and putting out their music on the information superhighway. So many things are going on at once – the thrash revival, the onset of djent, metalcore from Britain, technical death metal, etc. – and almost every idea under the sun is being explored by these new bands. But don’t fret, dear purists, because for all the far-reaching “progressive” bands out there, there is also a new breed of musicians paying homage to the occult and Satanic ways. We have our Watains, our Ghosts (or Ghost B.C’s for any ‘muricans reading this) and our Belphegors for example; and even if some of metal’s old guard have moved on to bigger and better things, other stalwarts like Slayer, Behemoth and Dimmu Borgir are still going strong today. Some stay true to the Devil’s Baphomet-like image, while others aren’t afraid to dig deeper into the greater philosophy of it all. And thanks to the easy sharing of music worldwide, we’re getting the best of all worlds here.

And so our journey draws to a close, and my concluding point is… well, not much. Just that the Devil and his mystic realms will always be heavy metal’s most evocative and alluring sources of inspiration, regardless of any “modern” trends in the music business.

Now go put on that Obituary t-shirt and scare the dentures out of your grand-mum, you slacker.

The Devil You Know: Lucifer and his Journey Through Heavy Metal