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!

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

IN CONVERSATION: Mumbai Thrash/Groove Metallers ZYGNEMA

Untitled“There is a lack of the two most important things that make us human: feelings and emotions. The mind and heart are missing. And behind the Vitruvian Man, you see the framework of society. You’re being controlled by something you don’t know, and as a consequence, you can see the world burning behind you.”

These were the words of guitarist Sidharth Kadadi of Mumbai thrash/groove metal stalwarts Zygnema, as he explained the cover art of their new album ‘What Makes Us Human Is Obsolete’ to Centuries of Sin in this exclusive interview.

We caught up with Zygnema a few hours before their album launch gig in The Humming Tree in Bangalore. Watch our video interview with Kadadi and bassist Leon Quadros as they go into detail about ‘What Makes Us Human is Obsolete’, working with Bhayanak Maut’s R. Venkatraman on the music, the band’s upcoming Metal for Nepal charity gig, and more!

Oh, and in case you’re wondering… the gig that night was PRETTY FUCKING BRUTAL. I’m talking bruises and bleeding lips from the pit, people. We’ve got photographic evidence of the destruction caused by Zygnema right here as well!

Zygnema laying waste to The Humming Tree | See full gallery here
[Clockwise] Jimmy Bhore, Sidharth Kadadi, Mayank Sharma and Leon Quadros of Zygnema | See full gallery here
Buy ‘What Makes Us Human is Obsolete’ here:
Instamojo: https://www.instamojo.com/zygnema/zygnema/
Bandcamp: http://zygnema.bandcamp.com/releases
Transcending Obscurity: http://tometal.com/shop/cds/zygnema-india-what-makes-us-human-is-obsolete-cd/

Video

BANGALORE OPEN AIR 2015: The Highlights

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By now, the good folks of Bangalore Open Air must be experts at pulling off spectacular tricks at the last minute. Just when things seem at their bleakest (i.e., Sodom pulling out of BOA 2013 and the failure of BOA 2014’s massive crowdfunding campaign), Salman U. Syed and team use an ace in the hole (i.e., bringing down Iced Earth for BOA 2013, and Destruction and Rotting Christ for the year after) to keep the show going.

For this year’s edition of the festival however, the BOA crew plotted their trail of destruction well in advance by booking British grindcore legends Napalm Death, Austrian black metal ghouls Belphegor and Colombian death/thrash stalwarts Inquisition. The aforementioned “last-minute trick” came in the form of an announcement just a few months before the main day that a host of bands from around India would be brought into Bangalore city to make BOA 2015 a week-long affair. I was fortunate enough to catch as many pre-gigs as I could in the week, as well as the main day itself, and witness a smorgasbord of local talent deliver tight, varied, and fuck-off-loud metal!

I regrettably missed the pre-gig at 1522 The Pub featuring Albatross, Hellwind and other heavy-hitters since I was thousands of feet in the air in an airplane from Mumbai (excuses, excuses). Fortunately, Albatross’ Dr. Hex was pulling double-duty as mild-mannered bassist Riju Dasgupta of pre-gig headliners Primitiv the night after at The Big Pitcher. Before that though, we were treated to a mega-serving of sludgy doom metal by Witchdoctor, The Grim Mage and Dirge! The contrast between Witchdoctor’s slow, meandering riffage and The Grim Mage’s scream-fueled sound right after worked very well, while the more experienced Dirge gave us the best of both worlds with their apocalyptic set.

Witchdoctor (top 3) and The Grim Mage (bottom 3) | Photos: Sairaj R Kamath
Witchdoctor (top 3) and The Grim Mage (bottom 3) | See full gallery here
Dirge | Photos: Sairaj R Kamath
Dirge | See full gallery here

As for Primitiv, they provided a welcome adrenaline shot to the festivities with their death metal sound. Not only did they invite Bharad Ravi of black/thrash supergroup Witchgoat on-stage for a song, but they actually managed to give the tune “No Quarter” by the almighty Led Zeppelin a death metal makeover. And holy smokes, was it good.

Primitiv | Photos: Sairaj R Kamath
Primitiv | See full gallery here

*****

Fast forward three days, a time-span in which I missed two more BOA pre-gigs (due to family commitments) that included hardened metal bands like Antakrit as well as grindcore acts like Necrophilia and Grossty. Sigh… this post is starting to have more holes than the AVN Awards.

ANYWAY, the Indigo Live Music Bar on the night of June 4th was the scene of not only a gig by progressive metallers Eccentric Pendulum, but also of the Wacken Metal Battle prelims. Two particularly brutal contestants were Amorphia and Counterplot Theory; the former went for all-out, speedy thrash metal reminiscent of 80s Slayer, while the latter added a more progressive and “teutonic” touch to their thrash metal template. However, the winners that night were The Down Troddence, who didn’t let their limited performance as a four-piece that night get in the way of delivering moshpit-inducing riffs and tribal grooves.

Amorphia (top 3) and Counterplot Theory (bottom 3) | Photos: Sairaj R Kamath
Amorphia (top 3) and Counterplot Theory (bottom 3) | See full gallery here

As for Eccentric Pendulum, their music isn’t particularly known to start off a good circle pit, but you can damn well be sure that they blasted some proggy madness through their amps! Their set almost reached Opeth levels of duration and variety as they debuted two brand-spanking-new songs near the end, giving a teaser for their new material to come.

Eccentric Pendulum (top right, top-left, bottom-left) and The Down Troddence (bottom, bottom-right) | Photos: Sairaj R Kamath
Eccentric Pendulum (top right, top-left, bottom-left) and The Down Troddence (bottom, bottom-right) | See full gallery here

*****

The very last BOA pre-gig at Vapour on June 5th was by far the most special for me. For one, it was the site of the Wacken Metal Battle finals, featuring some of the best homegrown talent I’d ever seen till that point. Indore death metallers Zero Gravity and Mumbai alt-metal band Anthracite surprised me the most in the vocalist department; ZG’s Kratika Bagora could give Arch Enemy’s Alissa White-Gluz a run for her money with her death metal vocals, while Anthracite’s Abhishek Nair proved to be the man of a dozen weird-but-cool voices coupled with his Fred Durst-like vocals. Also, I’ve gotta give props to Kolkata’s Scarface for the interesting guitars and soundscapes in their “modern metal” style.

Clockwise from left: Zero Gravity, Anthracite, and Scarface | See full gallery here
Clockwise from left: Zero Gravity, Anthracite, and Scarface | See full gallery here

But the real competition that night was between Sycorax from Darjeeling and the blessedly full line-up of The Down Troddence. With enough dreadlocks to whip an entire slave galley, Sycorax commanded the most intense moshpits of that night with their extreme death metal setlist. You could be mistaken for thinking that a live pig was being skinned onstage if you didn’t see the squeals coming from their vocalist Trivinesh Subba.

Sycorax | See full gallery here
Sycorax | See full gallery here

That’s not to say that The Down Troddence didn’t put up a fair fight as well. Finally complimented by the mezmerizing keyboard lines and soundscapes their music is known for, they burned through their popular hits and got the crowd headbanging like a collective, metal-as-fuck metronome. Of course, frontman Munz sported very little of his iconic black face-paint, but I’ll take what I can get. In the end though, Sycorax ended up being the winners of the WMB, but it was a damn well-deserved victory.

The Down Troddence | See full gallery here
The Down Troddence | See full gallery here

It was then time for the three headliners of the night to take the stage: Slohawk, Dying Embrace and Kryptos.

I really didn’t know what to expect when Slohawk came up on stage. Consisting of big names like Rahul Chacko of Bevar Sea and Ganesh Krishnaswamy of Kryptos, I remember nipping inside the smoking room with a buddy of mine while they were fiddling with their instruments, only to come back 10 minutes later and realize that they had been playing an improvised stoner-doom number all along! From then onwards, the whole venue was awash with trippy stoner-rock grooves and solos that could relax a cheetah on a sugar-high. The band cheekily continued playing well after their time-slot, but no one was complaining… except the poor organizers, of course.

Slohawk | See full gallery here
Slohawk | See full gallery here

The doom-y atmosphere in Vapour then took a darker turn as Dying Embrace came on stage. Vikram Bhat and co. had both the young metal loyalists and the members of the old guard hooked with their classic tunes, as well as a well-placed Bolt Thrower cover. Whatever they supposedly lacked in stage presence and movement, they more than made up for with spot-on playing and just a good, old-school vibe unseen in most bands today.

Dying Embrace | See full gallery here
Dying Embrace | See full gallery here

But now, it was time for the mighty Kryptos to end the night in style. With guitarists Nolan Lewis and Rohit Chaturvedi having enough patches on their jackets to mend ratty bedsheets in a slum, the band positively oozed 80s rockstar style as they thrashed through their crowd favourite songs. I guess they were probably too busy snarling at the audience to notice Barney Greenway and Shane Embury of Napalm Death looking down at their set from the upper level, and they just may have been impressed by Bangalore’s finest. It kinda makes you wonder about exactly who Rohit was showing off his bod for during his performance.

Kryptos | See full gallery here
Kryptos | See full gallery here

*****

Finally, the afternoon of June 6th had arrived. FYI, I stay 10 minutes away from the Royal Orchid Hotel in Yelahanka, so I was clad in my finest metal attire and camera, ready to witness India’s finest metal bands as well as the three mega-headliners. And I did… NOT. Once again, I was sidelined by family duties till about 6:30pm, with the result that I arrived at the grounds just as Belphegor was about to start their set.

*cries a little inside*

*still crying inside, give it a minute*

*ok, I’m good*

All things considered, I think Belphegor had the best stage presence that night. Occupying the main stage in a fog of deep red lighting and… well, fog, the band even had their backs faced to the rabid audience before dramatically launching into blackened death metal brutality. Belphegor’s whole set in front of the epic backdrop was a sight to behold, not least due to the fact that Helmuth’s mic-stand seemed to be made up of grisly goat bones. What’s the expression I’m looking for right now… “KVLT”? “KVRWA”? “NVTTERBVTTERS”? Anyway, the band burned through their set staples like “Walpurgis Rites”, satisfying the crowd’s appetites for all things black metal.

Belphegor | See full gallery here
Belphegor | See full gallery here

Inquisition followed up with their performance on the Jeff Hanneman Stage opposite, and they were the break-out stars of the show that night. Many of the old-school thrashers in the venue were already milling around the stage before showtime, curious about their sound. Well, suffice it to say that they were blown away by the tidal wave of black/thrash metal that came from the two musicians of the band. Yeah, that’s right, TWO. Proving themselves as the epitome of “doing more with less”, vocalist/guitarist Dagon and drummer Incubus played to an amazed and whooping audience that night. This only left a few stragglers hanging around the main-stage barricades, saving their places to witness the fury of Napalm Death next.

Inquisition | See full gallery here
Inquisition | See full gallery here

AND THEN… my Grindcore dreams came true. As the whole crowd that night concentrated themselves in front of the main stage, Napalm Death opened explosively with “When All is Said and Done”. One of my favourite songs of theirs, no less! Their whole set then blazed by in a wave of angry, louder-than-hell riffs, drums and roars. At that point of time, the answer as to how the hell vocalist Barney Greenway and bassist Shane Embury could still do this so well night after night for so many years was WAY beyond me. Honestly however, the audience in front kind of pulled a dick move by incessantly screaming for ND’s older hits as the band played their newer stuff. This was almost to the point where Barney had to repeatedly say “patience, patience!” in a joking voice, but I got the feeling that this was all in good spirit. Perhaps to respond to this, the band ended their headlining set with their seconds-long masterpiece, “You Suffer”. And no, I didn’t just phrase that sarcastically.

Napalm Death | See full gallery here
Napalm Death | See full gallery here

All in all, this year’s Bangalore Open Air extravaganza was one I’ll never forget, and I’m sure that’ll be the case for many other friends of mine who were there. Kudos, thumbs up, and cheers with beers to Salman and his team for pulling this massive shindig off!

But you know what? The next BOA will be an even more memorable experience for me, even though it hasn’t even happened yet! Wanna know why? Because it will include my favourite melodic death metal band of all time and space: SOIL-MOTHERFUCKING-WORK! My original band t-shirt of theirs will now be stained in my tears of happiness!

Oh, and Vader‘s gonna be there as well. S’all good.

*****

BANGALORE OPEN AIR 2015: The Highlights

The Centuries Of Sin (Fan-made) Wallpaper Pack!

If you thought Centuries Of Sin is just a writing and photography blog, THINK AGAIN. I’d like to cover a wide spectrum of media here, and this is my latest project: a range of fan-made wallpapers featuring your favourite bands!

The idea was to use all the photographs featured in CoS with various band logos to design a special set of wallpapers for all you metalheads out there. They are also available in different screen resolutions like 1024×768, 800×600, etc., so that you can avoid that notorious clipping of your desktop backgrounds due to your screen size.

Let’s start off with four sets of bands here: Bhayanak Maut, Providence, Skyharbor and Ne Obliviscaris. A nice choice of local and international. Cheers!

[Note: The following wallpapers are unofficial, fan-made creations. The logos used in the following wallpapers belong to their respective bands. Sairaj R Kamath and Centuries Of Sin otherwise claim ownership of the photographs and overall design used in the same.]

 

Bhayanak Maut

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Providence

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Skyharbor

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Ne Obliviscaris

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Dress up your desktop with these bad boys, and let me know how you like ’em. Send a screenshot to CoS’ comments, Facebook or Twitter if you like.

The Centuries Of Sin (Fan-made) Wallpaper Pack!

Photo Diary: NE OBLIVISCARIS @ IIM-B Unmaad 2015

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Well, I seem to be stretching this “Photo Diary” shtick quite a bit, don’t I? In my defense, one of the biggest upcoming talents in Progressive death metal DID hit our shores about a week ago. And this was none other than Australia’s Ne Obliviscaris, who performed at IIM Bangalore‘s “Unmaad” fest on January 30th!

Admittedly, I was a little late to the festivities that evening as I had to travel straight from college with my mates. At that point of time, the dudes at NeO had already started judging that evening’s competing local bands as part of the ‘B-School of Rock’ event.

Many of the bands put up a good fight in the race for first place. But for my money, up-and-coming Indian fusion band Pineapple Express (insert stoner comedy reference here) totally blew away both the band and the crowd. The sheen and fluidness of their sound as well as their fine use of vocal effects totally won me over. It also helped that they won the competition at the end of the event, which was all the more amazing given that they started out only about four months ago.

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After the competition, Bangalorean prog-metal stalwarts Ec{c}entric Pendulum burst on to the stage as the support act for NeO. While their music was madly technical as usual, their performance was perhaps madder still. It wasn’t enough that they played like Tool gone high on crack and metalcore CDs; they wanted the crowd to mosh like there was no tomorrow. While that effort of theirs was somewhat successful (I personally couldn’t help but stand like a potted plant to click their pictures clearly), they nevertheless put up a performance worthy of preceding the Aussie guests.

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And then it was time for Ne Obliviscaris to take the stage. The band got the crowd cheering and whooping even when they did their small sound-check, after which they immediately barreled into their catalogue.

Simply put, NeO’s performance was that rarely-ever-seen mix of the brutal and the ethereal. Much of the heavy lifting was done by Matt Klavins and Benjamin Baret on guitars, Brendan “Cygnus” Brown on bass and the elusive Daniel Presland on drums, as they belted out their dizzying array of progressive black metal mixed with avant-garde and jazz influences. However, no one was quick to disregard the vocal talents and showmanship of the band’s singers, Marc “Xenoyr” Campbell and violinist Tim Charles.

Marc had a brooding, almost gothic stage presence reminiscent of the late Peter Steele (Type O Negative), which was all the more exemplified by his harsh death metal vocals. Tim however couldn’t have been more different from his counterpart, as he triumphantly sang his clean vocal parts in the songs and played his violin with gusto and emotion. He was also the more social side of the band, taking over the mic at times to express the band’s sheer pleasure about performing in India for the first time.

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The special part of the night was that all the bands kept themselves open to interaction with the fans at the end of the event. There were multiple hands being shook, gushing words of praise, autograph-signings and BOATLOADS of clicked pictures with the band members. And yes, even I was guilty of that sin with NeO. Nevertheless, It really added a personal touch to the event, and up until that night wasn’t actually something I ever saw in any big-time metal concert.

All in all, the perfect end to a perfect night. May You All Not Forget this gig for the rest of your lives… if you were there.

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(To see the full photo gallery on Facebook, click here.)

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Photo Diary: CULTFEST Launch Gig @ The Humming Tree

CoS-Pic04First of all, let it be said that the balls of the CultFest team are worthy of being featured in a Steel Panther album. Being the black sheep that it is in India’s musical landscape, starting up a music festival for Heavy Metal in India is no mean feat in this socio-economic climate. But launching the very first edition of your fetival with two of the biggest death metal bands (OR a death metal and “deathcore” band for all you genre elitists out there) on the planet? GODDAMN. Of course, I will reveal that line-up at the end of this photo diary for dramatic effect, even though half the Indian metal scene and their moms know of it by now.

And so it was with a weird feeling of trepidation mixed with excitement that I drove to The Humming Tree on 100ft Road, Indiranagar on the evening of January 14th for CultFest’s launch gig. Featuring Chase ‘Em Wolves, Cheisrah, Necrophilia and Neolithic Silence (with the launch video set to be screened at the end of the gig), CultFest turned the otherwise “family-friendly” restaurant and lounge into a hotbed of moshing, pig squeals, and loud-arse guitars. And Centuries Of Sin has photographic evidence right here for your enjoyment and/or envy.

 

Chase ‘Em Wolves

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Necrophilia

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Cheisrah

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Neolithic Silence

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(For the full album on the CoS Facebook page, click here.)

Oh, and now for the line-up. CultFest is going to have CANNIBAL CORPSE and SUICIDE SILENCE in Bangalore on April 11th. Commence orgasms.

Order your tickets here.

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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?