10 Worst Movies of the 2010s

As you can probably tell if you’ve frequented this blog, you’ll know that I have a thing for bad movies. There’s a special sort of film-going experience that you can only get from a crap-tacular film, be that stunned disbelief or pure rage. Then there’s the true bottom of the barrel. Most of the films on this list are so bad that I would never want to subject myself to them again, and even several years removed from watching them they still leave an awful taste in my mouth. So let’s go down memory lane and exhume some of the worst movies of the entire decade and show off their rotting putridity for all to see?

Honourable Mentions

Birdemic: Shock and Terror (February 27, 2010)
You would be remiss to mention bad movies of the 2010s and leave out Birdemic, a rip-off of The Birds that’s so legendarily incompetent that it became a meme. Director James Nguyen really wanted to make a positive film about environmentalism and pacifism, all wrapped up in an epic love story, but good God he failed spectacularly. For the most part, the film is just boring, but then suddenly the clip art GIF-quality birds attack and it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. I swear to God I laughed for at least a minute straight when they started dive bombing and literally exploding. Even with everything else wrong with this film, that alone made it at least hilarious and so-bad-it’s-good enough that it’s more enjoyable than any of the movies that made this list. Still, for the sheer ineptitude on display, this film deserves at least a mention on this list.

Dogman (November 6, 2012)
I’ve always been highly intrigued by the legend of the Michigan Dogman, so when I found out that someone made a movie about this creature I was excited to see what they would come up with. I even saw a Blu-ray copy of the film on sale and even though it was going for freaking $35 I was tempted. However, I ultimately decided that I’d better find out if it was good or not before dropping that much on it… and thank God I did, because I dodged a freaking bullet. Dogman is clearly a no-budget film and what we do get on screen is just boring. I can’t really remember much more about it than being extremely disappointed that nothing happens, so I can’t really justify putting it on the list proper (and like hell I’m rewatching it).

The Predator (Septemer 14, 2018)
The Predator isn’t *quite* bad enough to actually make this list, but it is easily one of my most hated films of the decade. I don’t often advocate for films to be written out of continuity, but the Predator franchise is absolutely dead in the water if this film is allowed to dictate the franchise’s future. And why did they feel the need to reboot the franchise anyway? Predators was awesome and went over most of the ideas this film tries to pass off as new anyway.

So with those dishonourable mentions out of the way, let’s get on to the list…

10) Atlas Shrugged Part III: Who Is John Galt? (September 14, 2014)
If you read my Atlas Shrugged retrospective series, you might have expected to see this film on here. Atlas Shrugged Part III fails on so many levels that it’s frankly impressive. Even setting aside the shitty philosophy and morality at this film’s rotten core, the filmmaking is distractingly bad. Like, almost every scene has something distracting – from terrible editing, to bad lighting, to bargain-basement props, to time wasting stock footage, one can’t help but feel like the filmmakers just didn’t give a shit anymore after losing more than $45 million on this franchise. Oh and the acting is the worst in the franchise, which is even funnier when you realize everyone was recast in all three parts. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this movie is on a level of filmmaking incompetence that rivals The Room. I saw a copy of this movie on DVD at a store once and I was sorely tempted to buy it, I had that much fun at its expense (the only reason I didn’t buy it is because like hell I’m going to financially support the bastards in the Randian community). Literally the only reason I didn’t rank this movie lower was because it was such a hoot to watch, but it is unquestionably one of the worst movies of the decade.

9) Pompeii (February 21, 2014)
I could say that this movie was a bigger disaster than the real-life eruption of Vesuvius which the film is based on, but that would just be insensitive, stupid and uninspired… coincidentally, all of those words could be used to describe Paul W.S. Anderson’s Pompeii adequately though. Pompeii is a disaster-romance in the same sort of vein as Pearl Harbour, where far too much time is dedicated to a dull romance and the disaster is just dumb spectacle. Kit Harrington is here at his absolute blandest and poor Emily Browning is saddled with a lifeless damsel in distress role. About the only notable thing about this movie is Kiefer Sutherland who seems to be having an absolute blast hamming it up as a cartoonishly evil Roman senator. I personally thought that he was the one entertaining bit in this film, but I can see others thinking that his acting is just plain bad so who knows – you might think that this film’s even worse than I did. Really though, there’s so much potential for a great film about the eruption of Vesuvius, even from the dramatic accounts that still survive to this day. Unfortunately, Pompeii struggles to even survive in the DVD bargain bin in 2019.

8) I, Frankenstein (January 24, 2014)
Some movies are so bad that you wonder how they even managed to get greenlit, let alone released. I, Frankenstein is just that kind of film. Who in their right mind thought that a 65 million dollar film about a monster-hunting Frankenstein’s monster would be a success? Turns out that that would be the production company and co-creator of the Underworld franchise, which should be incredibly obvious to anyone who has actually seen this film because it feels like a cheap knock-off of Underworld (which is, in itself, a cheap knockoff of White Wolf’s RPGs), only years after people stopped giving a shit about the franchise. Okay, fine, the idea is shit, but how did they then manage to rope Aaron Eckhart, Bill Nighy, Yvonne Strahovski, Miranda Otto and even Jai Courtney into this!?! Even then, there could be some campy enjoyment if the film was at least in on the joke, but the film is embarrassingly self-serious, full of mythologizing about angels and demons and the status of Frankenstein’s soul… it’s just bad, everyone who’s even heard of the film knows it, I’m not sure what else there is to say.

7) Osombie (May 5, 2012)
Okay, I remember being moderately excited for this movie back when it came out due to the bonkers premise alone, but my memory is a bit hazy at this point (and like hell I’ll watch it again). I do remember being incredibly disappointed by the film though, which just plays out like all of the other  lazy zombie movies which were infesting video shelves at the time. The zombie Osama bin Laden gimmick isn’t even that well utilized either – instead of having him as this Dead Snow-like monster, I distinctly remember that he kind of just shows up every once in a while and is ultimately pretty inconsequential, not to mention that the film isn’t really all that interested in having a campy or over-the-top laugh. The film’s characters are also incredibly stupid, with its “special forces” cast being clearly modelled from someone’s Call of Duty expertise. Oh, and in case it wasn’t obvious, it’s also pretty goddamn insensitive to make a movie like this when Afghanistan was (and still is) a warzone at the time. Osombie is one of those films whose premise should have just been a dumb laugh between a group of friends and then been allowed to fade into the night instead of something that everyone involved is going to have to explain to their grandchildren one day.

6) The Cloverfield Paradox (February 4, 2018)
The Cloverfield Paradox has to be one of the most deflating films of all time. After 10 Cloverfield Lane there was legitimate hype for Cloverfield as a franchise and then The Cloverfield Paradox gets surprise announced and released in the middle of the Super Bowl? Holy shit! But good God were we ever duped because this film sucks ass. Seriously, there are few films which I have hated with such vitriol more than The Cloverfield Paradox. To put it simply, in The Cloverfield Paradox, shit just happens for no reason. Early on it seems like they’re setting up a mystery with all the weird things happening, but no, it’s just happening because that’s what the writers want to happen. There are absolutely no rules to ground everything and it just makes the film frustrating to watch. Oh and don’t even get me started on that damn ending, which just makes for a cocktease since it reveals that we’re missing everything that we actually wanted to see. Ugh, fuck this film.

5) God’s Not Dead 2 (April 1, 2016)
Oh hey, another terrible film we covered in a retrospectives series! God’s Not Dead 2 is truly one of the most deluded and cloying films I’ve ever seen. Any attempt at nuance from the previous film is discarded entirely as atheists are outright portrayed as body snatcher-like monsters, all working to destroy Christianity in America, while the Christians are all portrayed as poor, innocent nobodies who never did anything to deserve such scorn. It’s just plain offensive and gets to the point of being conspiratorial. Even the evangelicals this film is directed at should feel dirty for getting their dicks sucked so hard by this film. That’s really the issue – you cannot separate this film’s politics from its story. It bashes you over the head with the message so much and demonizes everyone outside of its target audience that you either hate it or feel validated by it. There’s really no middle-ground and no other purpose to the film (other than, y’know, to sell bullshit Christian merch).

4) Project X (March 2, 2012)
I wrote a review about this film 6 years ago (!!!), and to this day I can still remember how much I hated it. A found footage teen sex comedy doesn’t sound like that bad of a premise (like… it sounds like shit, but not unbearably so, right?), but the main problem is that the characters in this film are all loathsome. I struggle to think of a character I hate more than Costa, a selfish jackass whose only concern is literally getting laid, everyone else be damned (even his “friends”). The unbearable characters are enough to tank this movie by themselves, but it also doesn’t help that this film is just plain offensive. Every female character exists only to be oogled by the camera, we get all sorts of mean-spirited gay and fat jokes, and there’s even a little person who only exists to get thrown into an oven while the teens just laugh about it. Wow. Did I mention that everyone in this movie sucks and I wish they all overdosed on the stolen ecstasy in the film? That would have probably earned a single laugh out of me in this deeply unfunny “comedy”.

3) Game Over, Man! (March 23, 2018)
Is anyone surprised that Neflix originals nabbed 2 of the 10 worst films of the decade? Game Over, Man! is easily the worst one that I’ve seen, which is especially criminal considering the fantastic premise – basically, it’s a comedic Die Hard knock-off where the “heroes” are a bunch of slacker hotel housekeepers. How can you screw that up? Well, by making a comedy which attempts to be so outrageously over-the-top that it’s just deeply unfunny. Like, let me paint the picture for you – the bad guys are closing in on our heroes. They need to do something to slip past them and Adam Devine announces he has a plan. Cue the bad guys finding him with his dick out in the closet, pretending he died of auto-erotic asphyxiation. I thought that he was going to use this surprising moment to get the drop on them, but no, they just think that auto-erotic asphyxiation is funny on its own merits, plus they get to have Adam Devine run around on screen for about 5 minutes straight with his dick flopping about everywhere. Oh, and then the bad guys start trying to make out, because oh my God guys, did you know that there are gay men who like other men! Yeah, there’s a shitload of gay jokes in this film and they’re all incredibly lazy. About the only funny part is when the bad guy tries to punish a dickhead celebrity by forcing him to eat out another hostage’s ass, but is then surprised and flustered when it turns out that they’re both into it. There, I’ve told you the one good part in this film, you don’t have to see it now, you can leave a thankful comment to me down below.

2) Noobz (January 25, 2013)
Noobz is kind of lucky that it came out in 2013, because in a post-GamerGate world, this already-painfully unfunny movie has aged worse than Bubsy 3D. Imagine a movie that takes the worst stereotypes about gamers – they’re all basement-dwelling nerds, they’re racist, they’re homophobic, they hate women and can’t believe that they play video games, etc. Now imagine that the movie plays this all straight and expects us to find it endearing. Bad news, Noobz, you suck and everyone in this movie sucks (except for poor Zelda Williams who finds herself in a hapless role as the personalityless, token object of affection for the douchebag “hero”). Like Game Over, Man!, Noobz thinks that there’s nothing funnier than a closeted gay character and the movie mines this one “joke” over and over to the point of insanity. Somehow, it even manages to one-up Game Over, Man! by also including a kid with severe asthma who almost dies several times when his breathing apparatus gets damaged (which is somehow less-offensive than how every aspect of his personality revolves around his disability). Everything in this film is just lazy, from the tired road-trip structure to the awful jokes. It doesn’t even have the decency to end in a satisfying manner, instead having the heroes all get a sponsorship from Mountain Dew… and then reveal 2 seconds later that the guy who signed them gets arrested for impersonating a Mountain Dew executive. It’s like an extra big middle finger to you, as if you didn’t already waste almost two hours of your life watching this movie to begin with.

1) Scary Movie 5 (April 12, 2013)
As you have probably noticed by now, there’s not much worse than a terrible comedy, hence why they’ve captured the top 4 spots on this countdown. Scary Movie 5 might just be the worst comedy I’ve ever seen, let alone one of the most unenjoyable films I’ve ever subjected myself to. Don’t get me wrong, all of the other Scary Movie films were already REALLY shitty, but they at least had the occasional laugh and the comedic talents of Anna Faris, Regina Hall and Leslie Nielson to at least keep things somewhat respectable. Scary Movie 5 has none of that, and the results are just pathetic to watch. The jokes are tired, stupid, predictable and just plain unfunny. There was no good reason for this franchise to come back to life after a 7 year hiatus and we are well and truly fucked if David Zucker decides to trot out the franchise again in 2020. Literally the only good thing that I can say about this movie is that, for once in this franchise, at least it doesn’t lean into mean-spirited homophobia, transphobia and making fun of people with disabilities… but, like, that’s not something I should have to congratulate the film for.

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Game of Thrones, Miguel Sapochnik and the Devolution of Battle Strategy

Last week Game of Thrones fans were finally treated to the battle which the series had been building towards since the very first episode, the biggest battle put to film, the most important battle in Westerosi history: “The Long Night”… and it was, um, something. The battle itself is undeniably a visual spectacle, with incredibly tense moments as our heroes get put in danger and an overwhelmingly bleak tone as all of their efforts to stop the horde of the dead are met with failure after failure. However, if you give the episode any sort of critical thought, the whole facade begins to quickly crumble, assuming that you could even see what was happening (for my part, I watched it on a 10″ tablet with max brightness and could see well enough, but can still acknowledge that the lighting was too dark and lacked necessary contrast to be able to tell what’s going on). The way that this battle was directed and written just makes absolutely no sense from the characters’ perspectives and was obviously designed solely to elicit the reactions that the showrunners wanted at any particular moment. This kind of writing wouldn’t be an issue if it was done well, in such a way that you won’t notice and can justify it easily. “The Long Night” is not that kind of episode, unfortunately, and it really got me thinking about how Game of Thrones‘ battle sequences have nosedived since Season 6.

There are a couple elements which are key to the drop in quality of the writing and direction of Game of Thrones‘ battle sequences. First, and most obviously, the show caught up to and overtook the books in Season 5, meaning that showrunners Dan Weiss and David Benioff have been having to make up the rest of the story themselves ever since. Secondly, the directing duties on the show’s big battles have been passed on from Neil Marshall, who helmed “Blackwater” and “The Watchers on the Wall”, to Miguel Sapochnik, who helmed “Hardhome”, “Battle of the Bastards” and “The Long Night” (among other, smaller episodes).

With this in mind, I want to take a look back at Sapochnik’s battles, analyze the writing, the strategies of the characters and then compare them to Marshall’s battles. Oh, and I really shouldn’t have to specify this, but in case you’ve gotten this far without realizing, this article is going to contain SPOILERS!

Hardhome
I’m actually going to start this article off on a positive note by opening with “Hardhome”, the episode which put Sapochnik’s name on the map and probably earned him the job of directing all of the big battles on Game of Thrones going forward. Season 5 of Game of Thrones was a dreary slog, with such highlights as Dany being ineffectual in Meereen, Sansa’s storyline of “who’s going to try to rape her this season!!!” coming to a satisfying conclusion with her getting brutally raped by Ramsay Snow*, and the Dornish subplot that everyone loves! Then, out of nowhere, comes “Hardhome”, which was so good that it’s straight-up my favourite episode of the show. The surprise factor was probably the biggest thing about it – traditionally, Game of Thrones saved its big moments for the ninth episode of the season, and this was only the eighth episode. Plus, the episode was already going on its way for about 30 minutes before it cuts to Jon, Tormund and Edd all taking a trip to Hardhome to try to rescue the tens of thousands of wildlings camped there.

Sapochnik and the writers then spend the 10 minutes before the battle very wisely. For one thing, they introduce us to some great new characters. Most notable is Karsi, a fierce wildling woman who makes a massive impact considering she only has a few scenes in the episode. We also meet a Thenn called Loboda who, despite being a meathead, is a pretty fun character and effective for what they’re going for. Sapochnik also using establishing shots to subtly show off where the action will be taking place – a confined area just off the beach with a cliff to the side, a wall closing off the rest of Hardhome and a hut where Jon and company debate with the wildlings. I also like that, in this set-up, Jon Snow is set-up as a leader who really knows what must be done – the army of the dead are coming and the enmity between the Night’s Watch and wildlings has to be set aside or they will all die. Jon’s taking a great personal risk coming to Hardhome, not only because the wildlings could just kill him, but also because he’s disenfranchising the Night’s Watch back home. After 10 minutes of debate, Jon manages to convince 5000 of the wildlings to come with him, because he knows that the army of the dead is the more important issue than the squabbling of the Nights Watch and the free folk. However, there are still tens of thousands of wildlings who don’t trust him and who refuse to leave. It’s a strained situation, but it seems like everything it working out about as well as can be expected.

…and then there’s a thunder in the distance and things suddenly go to shit. No one was expecting a battle, not the wildlings or the Night’s Watch, so the fact that everyone is caught off guard and overwhelmed is very much justified. Jon and the other fighters are scrambling to mount any sort of defence, keeping them from breaking through the ramshackle walls while the Night’s Watch evacuates the 5000 wildlings by boat. The battle sequence is visceral and chaotic, but thanks to the establishing shots we got earlier and a very cool long-take in the middle of the battle, it’s easy to tell where everything is happening during the fighting. Then there’s just tons of cool moments, from the horror tone of the wight attacks, to Wun Wun tearing through wights with his bare hands. Then there are two of my favourite moments in the whole series: the fight between Jon and a White Walker (which ends with the Walker looking legitimately surprised) and Jon and the Night King staring each other down as the overwhelming threat of the dead finally becomes clear.

Tactically, the battle makes a lot of sense. The defenders were caught off-guard and have to scramble to mount any sort of defence. Jon’s objectives during the battle also make sense – buy time for the wildlings to retreat to the boats and secure the dragonglass since it’s the only weapon they know of that can defeat White Walkers. The White Walkers’ battleplan seems to make sense as well – their only real objective is to kill as many wildlings as possible in order to bolster their ranks, and considering that they have gotten probably 50,000-80,000 wildlings by the end of the massacre, they’ve clearly achieved their goal. In addition, the White Walkers keep themselves on cliffs high above the battle where they can observe and be safe from any danger and, when the defenders put up more resistance than expected, they send an army of wights off the cliff to outflank and overwhelm the remaining living.

All-in-all, Hardhome’s a great battle. Compared to Neil Marshall’s battle sequences, it has a lot more visual flair. However, it balances spectacle with good writing, making for a battle sequence that is thrilling to watch without having to turn your brain off. Some of this comes down to the fact that it breaks the series’ usual conventions where, instead of having some last-minute outside force come and save the heroes from certain death, instead the whole battle is a desperate and unexpected retreat, meaning that tactical acumen gets a bit of a free pass (spoiler alert: even then, the characters still make better judgments than they do in Sapochnik’s next two battles). Hardhome is especially impressive when you remember that it came during the first truly dreary season of the show as well, providing the one stand-out episode of season 5.

Battle of the Bastards
Then we come to Sapochnik’s sophomore battle sequence, “Battle of the Bastards”. Considering how good “Hardhome” was, I was expecting the best battle in the entire series up to this point. However, even the first time I saw this episode and people were raving about how it was the best episode of television ever, something rang truly hollow and disappointing about it. It quickly became evident than, unlike the previous battles on Game of Thrones, “Battle of the Bastards” prioritizes spectacle over sensible character actions, victory is won through sheer luck and contrivance rather than strategy and heroism, and the show’s attempts to make us think that characters could die at any time are cast aside completely. The writing also takes a nosedive, setting plot beats that the showrunners think will be particularly effective, but failing to string them together in a way that is satisfying or makes sense. Season 6 was, overall, an improvement on season 5, but “Battle of the Bastards” was the moment where it became obvious that this show had completely changed (a fact that many others would not recognize until the idiocy of season 7, but the seeds of episodes such as “Beyond the Wall” were very much planted here).

Season 6 builds up the coming conflict between Jon Snow and Ramsay Bolton, having Jon try (with little success) to gather bannermen to take back Winterfell for the Starks. Irritatingly, he ignores good counsel from Sansa for basically no good reason other than to create conflict between the two of them. “Know your enemy” is just a sound tactical foundation and surely Jon is not stupid enough to believe he would learn nothing from Sansa. It’s literally just there to create conflict, but it’s unearned and it makes the series’ hero suddenly seem like a total idiot. I really want to reiterate this, because people seem to have forgotten such a simple fact: Jon was not stupid before Season 6, nor was he a bad commander – hell, in Neil Marshall’s second battle for Game of Thrones, “The Watchers on the Wall”, Jon’s intelligence gathering, heroic escape from the wildlings and assumption of command are instrumental to the Night Watch’s victory against overwhelming odds. He is also the only character smart enough to realize the bigger picture, that the politics of Westeros are unimportant and are only going to cause the army of the dead to kill everyone when winter comes. Jon Snow is only stupid when the writers need him to be – in this case, to make Sansa look smarter, rather than, oh I don’t know, making Sansa actually do something smart.

Anyway, so Jon at least justifies why they’re staging the attack now, despite being badly outnumbered: with winter rapidly approaching and their supplies dwindling, their window of opportunity is shrinking and they don’t expect to get any more reinforcements soon. So, while the odds aren’t great, this is their one best shot, which is a fair enough explanation (see, show writers, it’s that simple!). He does seem to have some sort of strategy to draw out Ramsay’s forces and limit their advantages, but we don’t really see much of it, nor does it really matter in the end regardless.

The next morning, the battlelines are drawn and they’re set up fairly well, initially – Sapochnik shows off the wide-open battlefield and the sizes of the forces. He also uses a traditional film trick here which shows up in similar battle sequences, where each side in the battle is oriented to face one side of the camera (Jon’s forces facing right, Ramsay’s facing left, as seen in the image above). This is a technique used in battle sequences such as The Two Towers to help keep the viewer aware of what side they’re seeing at any given moment and to keep the action understandable, no matter how chaotic it gets.

However, things start to break when Ramsay brings out Rickon Stark and forces him to run across the battlefield to escape his arrows. Look… I get that Rickon’s in a panic, he’s going to try to run as fast as he can and he’s not going to think to dodge the arrows coming at him. And I get that Jon is going to try to save his brother… but holy shit, no one tries to yell at him to stop? They all just stand there, mouths agape, no one tries to help? It gets even worse though: Rickon gets shot to death and then instead of going back to his forces, Jon fucking charges at Ramsay single-handedly. Inexplicably, he survives multiple volleys of arrows landing all around him and a cavalry charge completely alone. This is just unforgivably stupid. It makes Jon look like a goddamn idiot who single-handedly screwed up the entire plan and who gets tons of his own men killed because of it. Like I said – I can understand him getting emotional about saving his brother and screwing up the plan because of that. If that was the only dumb part about this episode, it would irritate me, but it would be something I could overlook… but no, we’re just getting started…

The big, spectacular moment of the battle comes when the cavalry from both sides meet and Jon is caught in between them in a brutal, visceral and admittedly insanely well-crafted long-take that shows off the insane chaos of the battle. It’s clearly ridiculous that Jon Snow makes it out of all of this completely unscathed due to pure luck (and impregnable plot armour), but that’s so obvious that I’m not going to nitpick about it too much. Then we have Ramsay firing arrows at his own troops on the off-chance he hits one of Jon’s men, a move which shows off the character’s ruthlessness, but also should have caused his men to rebel against him. It’s not like the Bolton men are staunchly loyal to Ramsay, and even if they are, are they really going to be fine with killing their own friends and allies for no good reason?

In my opinion, the point where this battle truly goes off the rails and becomes stupid is when a mountain of bodies just appears out of nowhere and causes Jon and all of his forces to become encircled. Sure, Sapochnik tries to set up that there are mounds of bodies starting to pile up during the fighting but… why? Are people just scrambling to be king of the hill on writhing and screaming terrain? And how the hell are you going to justify that these enormous piles of bodies just so happen to form a crescent shape which corners Jon’s entire army when a unit of Bolton men with shields suddenly and miraculously encircles them without contest? It’s just so stupid and the writers’ intention is transparent – we need Jon and his men to look like they’re all going to die! Just make it happen, dammit!

By this point, the battle has well and truly become a clusterfuck. After several minutes of fighting, the wildlings just show up and get surrounded by a shield wall that came out of nowhere. We don’t even ever find out if Davos and his men were caught up in this – at one point we see them rushing into the battle, but were they caught inside the shield wall? Who knows! If not, why didn’t they try to help break Jon’s men out? Who knows! Also, the “sides” camera trick has been well-and-truly abandoned by the time the shield wall shows up and it becomes hard to tell which side of the battle anyone is even on now. Hell, we don’t know which direction this mountain of bodies is in for several minutes.

But then, the tide turns in the manner basically everyone knew was going to happen – Littlefinger shows up with the knights of the Vale and saves the day. Despite being obvious to anyone who had been watching the show, this “twist” was just plain stupid writing, in my opinion, mainly because Sansa withheld the information of their arrival from Jon for no other reason than to build dramatic tension. Seriously, Sophie Turner confirmed as much herself.

Emotionally the payoff relies on Sansa withholding critical information purely to get a smirk when her plan (???) pays off and it’s like the writers started from that moment and wrote backwards to get there.https://t.co/RzyFhcrtGC
— Dan Olson (@FoldableHuman) May 3, 2019

Again, this is just the writers making Jon look like an idiot purely to make Sansa look smart, without bothering to make her do something that was actually intelligent. Instead, we get a scene that makes her look like she’s making a very petty power play that results in the deaths of hundreds of people for little more reason than to stoke her ego. She really couldn’t let Jon know that there were reinforcements coming that would change their entire battle plan?

Through all of this, Ramsay has actually been a pretty smart battle commander (firing on his own men aside). He figured out Jon’s weak point and lured him into a trap, then encircled his forces and nearly killed them all. However, when the knights of the Vale show up, he knows that he’s beaten and makes the smart call to retreat into Winterfell. Jon had said as much earlier, if Ramsay was smart he would have just holed up in Winterfell to begin with, but he wanted to toy with Jon and made the critical error. Still, based on Jon’s existing forces, he would have won the battle if not for help from an unexpected quarter and a whole lot of pure luck on Jon’s side. It’s pretty bad when you write your villain as being the only one using any sort of tactics, the one who deserves to win the battle, and yet they still lose regardless. Personally, I think it would have been way more interesting to have Ramsay’s bannermen turn on him. This was set-up earlier in the episode when Ramsay refuses to duel Jon and Jon says that he wouldn’t stick his neck out for his men, and when Ramsay orders his men to fire at his own troops. It also would have called back to a really cool sequence from A Dance With Dragons where Stark-loyal bannermen are turning on Ramsay within the walls of Winterfell. Hell, we can even have Sansa be the one coordinating with them if we want to have her do something truly clever without having to knock someone else down a peg to make her look good. All-in-all, “The Battle of the Bastards” is such a wasted opportunity and is emblematic of the way that Game of Thrones‘ writing quality has nosedived. It only really cares about spectacle and “big moments” and sloppily moves between these with poor justification for it. The fact that it turns the heroes into morons for plot convenience is just the icing on the cake.

The Long Night
Miguel Sapochnik’s latest battle came just last week with the much-anticipated “The Long Night”, one of the longest and most epic battles ever put to film. However, the reaction has been much more negative than I was expecting, being the second-lowest scoring Game of Thrones episode on Rotten Tomatoes and inspiring numerous critical thought-pieces on everything from the poor lighting to the nonsensical battle plans… oh wait, that’s what this is, isn’t it? Seriously though, all of the critiques of Jon and Dany’s battle plans are totally valid, because they really, really suck. I’ll give some credit where it’s due – unlike “Battle of the Bastards”, I actually like this episode. It is truly epic, visually stunning and there is some major tension throughout about who will die and whether any of our heroes will make it out by the end. However, all of this is undermined by the fact that I just can’t ignore how unjustifiably bad the army of the living’s defensive strategy is. If you can, then sure, you’ll probably love this episode whole-heartedly. I just can’t get past it though because, once again, it’s very clearly done to artificially maximize the drama while making our heroes look completely incompetent.

First of all, the entire plan is flawed from the beginning. Sure, they know that they need to kill the Night King in order to defeat the entire enemy force in one blow, that’s a solid objective. Hinging the entire plan on luring him to Bran is… questionable. For all they know, the Night King might not even show up, or he might just send a horde of undead to kill Bran indirectly. Still, I won’t nitpick this too much either, because in the grand scheme of things it’s not that important to the episode’s issues. What rackles me is that they don’t seem to have any sort of idea about the enemy that they’re going to be fighting. Are you trying to convince me that Jon, Dany and whoever else came up with this defensive “strategy” didn’t gather all the people with experience fighting wights and White Walkers, or read history books about fighting them before coming up with their defensive strategy? They have Tyrion on location, a man who led the defence of King’s Landing and won through clever tactics, are you telling me that they’re not going to leverage his talents and figure out the enemy’s strengths and weaknesses, or the vulnerabilities they might exploit? I actually thought that the whole “bad things are going to happen in the crypt” foreshadowing was going to be a misdirect because… c’mon guys, Jon isn’t about to forget the time he saw the Night King resurrect tens of thousands of people right in front of him. Are you seriously telling me that no one, no one thought that maybe the crypts would become a problem if the bodies inside weren’t burned or removed? Apparently not, because the writers wanted that dramatic moment, therefore everyone has to be stupid… and that’s just the dumb shit in the planning phase.

As for the battle itself, Jon and Dany line up their forces… outside the walls… in front of a spiked trench with a single choke point to retreat to… with catapults set up outside of Winterfell and basically no one manning the walls. Bloody hell… As if that wasn’t dumb enough, the Dothraki are then sent to charge into the darkness with the goal of… uhh… winning the battle single-handedly? Dothraki are shock-and-awe light cavalry, they’re obviously going to be ineffective against a literal wall of dead who give no thought to their own self-preservation. This becomes even funnier when you realize that Melisandre showed up unexpectedly and lit all their weapons on fire moments before their charge, meaning that the original plan was apparently to charge in the dark with no way of seeing what was going on and with weapons that would be ineffective against their foe! Predictably, they nearly all get wiped out in moments during an admittedly really eerie shot as the rest of the army of the living sees their fire lights burning out one by one. The scene continues the series’ questionable portrayal of non-white races in how casually it dispatches the Dothraki, but hey the writers got their big, epic spectacle so I bet they’re happy about killing off a race of people uneventfully.

Then when the dead come for the rest of Jon and Dany’s forces, they are predictably overwhelmed and need to fall back into Winterfell. This shows off exactly why being outside of the walls of the castle in the first place was stupid – they’re vastly outnumbered and can barely see their foe, why not leverage their advantages and fight from a position of strength? That’s before you take the trench into account, which is designed in such a way that the defenders are forced through one narrow choke point to retreat. Not only does this mean that the defenders could gore themselves if they are pushed back, but it also necessitates the Unsullied to be nearly wiped out in order to allow as many troops as possible to escape. Again, would they not have been better served holding a narrow choke point where they could maximize damage instead of being overwhelmed and wiped out? Apparently not, because the writers needed a dramatic last stand for them!

Anyway, the dragons then engage in the battle and, predictably, give the defenders a small reprieve with the major damage they can inflict on the dead (although it is a drop in the bucket compared to the size of their entire force). The dragons could have been the key to the defence, but the Night King actually makes a pretty smart move by summoning a blizzard to severely limit their visibility and neutralize their effectiveness. I’ll also give Jon and Dany some credit here – they couldn’t really foresee this happening and so I can’t blame them for not having a plan to counter it. However, relying on Drogon to light the trench was probably not the best idea, but luckily Melisandre manages to set it ablaze and buy the defenders another short reprieve. And what do they do during this reprieve? Fuck all, basically. Apparently no one was manning the walls until the wights start throwing themselves at the flaming trench to create bridges of corpses across it. This one doesn’t even make sense to me… like, why? Did the writers think it was more dramatic to have no one on the walls, as if we’d think the battle was over and won? Why are they not just there shooting at the dead regardless? Even then, when the dead start swarming up the sides of the walls, there are absolutely no defences to stop them – no rocks, no burning oil, nothing. This is especially egregious when you go back to Neil Marshall’s previous battles, “Blackwater” and “The Watchers on the Walls”, which have the defenders explicitly dropping rocks and explosives down on the attackers to keep them from getting up, because that’s just smart.

At this point, the battle starts turning into a clusterfuck of chaos. For one thing, the geography of Winterfell is very unclear. I don’t know if Sapochnik thought that we were well aware of the layout of Winterfell after several seasons here, but… fuck man, I could barely keep track of the characters when I started watching this show, like hell I know the actual layout of Winterfell. At one point, we have a dragon smashing through a courtyard, while cutting back and forth to Sam, Brienne and Jaime who are all surrounded by wights and fighting in… another courtyard, I guess? The proximity of these two areas is not clear at all.

Furthermore, the editing does not help matters any. Characters will be surrounded and overwhelmed when we last see them, disappear for what seems like ages, and then when they reappear, somehow they’re still fighting? At the rate that we see the wights flooding into Winterfell, the whole castle should be swamped with dead very quickly, but there’s still plenty of time for Arya to get into a stealth sequence inside of the keep that lasts several very quiet minutes. And, as much as I love him, how the hell does Davos survive this battle? At one point we see him on the wall by Arya, who is getting swarmed by wights and only escapes because she’s rolling high on her acrobatics and stealth checks. Then, he disappears until the very end of the battle when he pops out and basically says “hey, I’m alive still and was still on the wall the whole time!” This swarming also makes the whole plan with Bran even more questionable, as Theon and the Ironborn should have been quickly overwhelmed trying to defend Bran from the horde of undead that bear down on them.

After getting knocked off his dragon, the Night King nearly seals the deal by resurrecting all the dead from the battle, surrounding Jon before he can deal a killing blow, overwhelming the already-overwhelmed defenders and unleashing chaos in the crypts. It’s clearly another effective move by the Night King, and Jon only makes it out when Dany arrives on Drogon and burns a path for him. Then, because the writers need Daenerys off of her dragon for a dramatic finale, they cause her and Drogon to stand around like utter idiots on the ground so that dozens of wights can swarm the dragon, knocking her off and forcing Jorah Mormont to come to her rescue. This is another moment that’s just so obviously contrived to get the characters into a position that the writers want them in, since it makes Dany look like a total moron for forgetting that there’s still an army of the undead right behind her. Bloody hell, Game of Thrones

And then we get to the ending. There’s another tense sequence as we see all the characters getting overwhelmed and Jon struggles to try to get into the Godswood to rescue Bran, a zombie dragon blocking his path and preventing him from doing so (it sure would have been nice to know if the Godswood was just on the otherwise of that dragon though, that would have make the scene even more tense). The Night King, all of the White Walkers and hundreds of wights pile into the Godswood, kill Theon and the Ironborn and then the Night King moves to kill Bran personally. In contrast to everything else he’s done so far, this was just dumb on the Night King’s part to expose himself and proves to be the critical error… however, the manner in which it happens is just baffling. Literally out of nowhere, Arya apparently runs through the horde of the undead without any of the wights or White Walkers noticing and then jumps at the Night King to stab him! He catches her, but she does a fancy trick with her Valyrian steel dagger and stabs him to death, killing him and instantly killing all of the White Walkers and wights in one blow… Wow, the dues ex machina weakness of the White Walkers was bad enough, but since that was established in season 7, I won’t belabour it here. Really though, there is no justifiable reason for how Arya could get through that crowd unnoticed and attack the Night King. I’ve seen people saying that she was hiding in the tree above, but if you watch the episode again, that’s clearly not the case. They don’t show us how she does it, we just see the wind past a White Walker’s head, heavily implying that she literally just ran and went for it and, once again, bails our heroes out through sheer dumb luck. It’s a really disappointing end for a threat that the show has been hyping up since literally the first minute of the first episode, and when the show has been hammering home to us that the politicking and squabbling has never actually mattered compared to the threat posed by the dead. Once again, the defenders’ plan was so bad that I was actually hoping that the showrunners would have the balls to just let the dead win and spend the last three episodes with Cersei struggling to stay alive against the Night King.

As for Arya being the one who got the killing blow… well, I think it was a really badass moment, but the more I think about it, the more unsatisfying it is to me. For one thing, it makes the whole Jon vs Night King set-up that the show has been pushing since season 5 kind of pointless. Sure, there was some minor set-up for Arya to do it – she performed her knife trick on Brienne in season 7 and Melisandre mentions a prophecy that Arya will close “blue eyes” (a prophecy that was retconned afterwards to fit this episode, by the way). However, this is basically nothing compared to the seasons of prophecy about Azor Ahai, the legendary warrior who will defeat the darkness and who, based on the criteria for the prophecy, really could only be Jon Snow or Daenerys. I guess the show just decided to drop the whole prophecy it had been building towards for several seasons? It’s not like Game of Thrones is a series where prophecy doesn’t come true either, especially not prophecies from R’hllor the Lord of Light. Sure, Melisandre may get the details wrong, such as when she believed that Stannis was Azor Ahai reborn, but a whole prophecy is never wrong like that. Personally, I think that they just should have gone with the obvious choice and have Jon kill the Night King. It has been his struggle for several seasons now and it’s only obvious because it has been set-up to happen. It just feels like a more satisfying payoff to me than having Arya kill him, considering that there have been basically no stakes built up between the two. It would be like having Jon kill Cersei in the big finale – he barely even knows her, why make him be the one to do it? Honestly, I would have much preferred Arya to get the killing blow on Cersei rather than the Night King. That would have been much more satisfying and deserved, but considering that they had her kill the Night King, I doubt that we’re going to see that happen now.

As you can see, “The Long Night” is a tactical mess which continues to show off the series’ emphasis on spectacle over sense that it had gained since season 6. Going back to Neil Marshall’s battles, “Blackwater” and “The Watchers on the Wall”, it’s striking to see the difference. Sure, Marshall doesn’t inject quite as much visual flair into his battles as Sapochnik, but they do a much better job of conveying the action to the viewer in a coherent manner, both battles are won by the heroes for outsmarting the opposing side rather than by dumb luck, and they still manage to work in an impressive amount of spectacle and character moments. There’s still one Miguel Sapochnik battle to come on Game of Thrones, but considering what we’ve gotten these past two seasons, I’m not holding out much hope that it will be any better than what’s come before.

*I’m being sarcastic of course, but I know someone will take this seriously so I need to specify that. The first 5 seasons of Game of Thrones completely wasted Sansa to an infuriating degree.

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Animals in Bands

I was listening to a podcast the other day and someone mentioned off-hand that there was a metal band fronted by dogs. Naturally, this revelation caused me to instantly shoot up in my seat and try to find this band, because it sounded so intriguing. It turns out that there are actually a few bands fronted by animals and the results are certainly… interesting.

Honourable Mention: No Grave But the Sea For Dogs, Alestorm
This one definitely doesn’t count, but it was my original touch-point for animal-fronted music. Basically, it’s Alestorm’s No Grave But the Sea, but with all the vocals replaced by a barking dog sound effect. It’s pretty funny if you’re familiar with the songs and the dog barking is done in the same rhythm as the actual vocal tracks, but it’s not like they had a dog in the studio just barking constantly over each track. Check out the track “Alestorm” here.

Caninus

Kicking this list off with the band which inspired it, we have Caninus, a deathgrind band headed by two pit bulls, Basil and Budgie. The band was the side project of Most Precious Blood guitarist Justin Brannan, which lent the group some musical chops to go along with the vocal gimmick. The band was actually signed to a record label, War Torn records, and had three releases – two split EPs and a full album with the absolutely amazing title of Now the Animals Have Voices. Sadly, the band is now defunct, as Basil had a brain tumour and was euthanized in 2011 and Budgie died in 2016.

As for the music itself, I’m very mixed on it. Like I said, the sound and production are quite polished and coherent than some of the other bands on this list. However, I’m not a fan of the music itself – the songs range from 30 seconds to maybe 3 minutes at most, meaning that Now the Animals Have Voices is over very quickly. I know that this is the whole point, but the music is literally just lots of snarling, growling and some barking set to music. The vocals are appropriate for the heaviness of the music, but it doesn’t amount to something that I’d actually want to listen to. They’re on Spotify though, so feel free to give them a listen for yourself.

Highlights: “Fear of Dog (Religious Myths)”, “New Yorkie Crew (Loyal Like A Stone)”

Hatebeak

After Caninus, Hatebeak is probably the second biggest animal-fronted band out there, based on the research I found for this post. Hatebeak are a death/grindcore metal band fronted by a grey parrot named Waldo. The band is signed to Reptilian Records and is still active today, having released three split EPs (including one with Caninus) and a full-length album in 2015 called The Number of the Beak. Hatebeak really pride themselves on their bird-pun titles, which are equal parts cringe and chuckle-worthy. If nothing else, I’d recommend you at least check out the titles of their songs. I mean, just look at the album art for The Number of the Beak. Hatebeak takes itself much less seriously than Caninus, really leaning into the whole joke of its premise.

Musically, Hatebeak are a mixed bag. The production on The Number of the Beak is very bad, almost demo-quality. For some of their songs, I’d say it would be appropriate to label Hatebeak “noise”, as their music is largely just distorted guitars with some squacks overlaid on it. On such tracks, the parrot vocalist feels like a gimmick. However, there are some tracks where Waldo’s vocals actually resemble grindcore “bree-brees”, such as “Beak of Putrefaction”, “God of Empty Nest” and “Seeds of Destruction”, which isn’t a musical style I’m into, but it’s familiar enough to bring a smile to my face and I can definitely see how someone could be into these tracks. “Roost in Peace” is also a pretty solid death metal track. All-in-all, I actually enjoyed bits of Hatebeak more than Caninus, even if the production is total ass and the first half of the album makes the parrot vocals feel like a gimmick. However, when Hatebeak works, it works pretty well, although it’s pretty clear that the band put more effort into their song titles than they did in the music itself. The Number of the Beak is on Spotify, I’d recommend that you give it a listen.

Highlights: “Roost in Peace”, “Seven Perches”

The Thai Elephant Orchestra

The previous two entries were bands fronted by animals, whereas The Thai Elephant Orchestra are a band made up of animals, performing their own music. The elephants are actually signed to Mulatta Records, which prides itself as “purveyors of the unique and bizarre”, where they have released 4 albums: a self-titled album, Elephonic Rhapsodies, Water Music and Smash Hits. The band’s page on Mulatta Records proudly states that the band is comprised of “Elephants in the Thai jungle playing specially designed musical instruments. The elephants improvise the music themselves. The Thai Elephant Orchestra was co-founded by Richard Lair of the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang and performer/composer Dave Soldier”.

As you would probably expect from music improvised and performed entirely by animals, The Thai Elephant Orchestra’s music is mostly just noise. There isn’t really much artistry or cohesion to it, although in this case the gimmick of having music created by animals doesn’t diminish the product itself. Elephonic Rhapsodies is on Spotify, so if you’re interested then you might want to check it out.

The Rock Cats

Aaaand here’s where we get more into the gimmicky stuff, if you can believe that after Caninus and Hatebeak. The Rock Cats are an off-shoot of The Acro-Cats, which is essentially a cat circus. Each show ends with a performance by The Rock Cats, which is dubbed “the only cat band in existence”. The sarcastic reviews on the band’s Wikipedia page are incredible:

-“An unpredictable assortment of instrument clanging, and rarely does it sound like the cats are playing the same song, let alone an actual, fully realized piece of music.”
-“Really, really fun way to spend an afternoon”
-A reviewer of a 2013 show in New Orleans was critical of the band’s musicality, and complained that the advertised “seasonal carol selections such as ‘A Cat in a Manger’ and ‘Catnip Roasting on an Open Fire'” never materialized.”
-“What they lacked in technical skill, they certainly made up for in rock ‘n’ roll catitude”.

The band also has a website which is pure 90s Geocities cheese and which apparently isn’t updated with any regularity because it has a listing of the band members, but the front-cat, Tuna, has been dead for a year now (and this despite having a listing for a show that happened a couple days ago as of this writing). The site also has a music video of the cats (and a rooster, and a gopher) playing music which seems to be 100% legit, although edited heavily to make it listenable if the band’s reviews are anything to go by. Unlike the other entries on this list, they do not have any music up on Spotify.

The Jingle Cats

…and of course there’s an entire Christmas-themed band of cats out there. Unlike The Rock Cats, The Jingle Cats merely meow over humans playing Christmas carols in a similar manner to No Grave But the Sea for Dogs. They released three albums, Meowy Christmas, Here Comes Santa Claws and a non-Christmas album, Rhythm and Mews, all three of which are available on Spotify. They also have a website which is somehow even worse than The Rock Cats’ was.

Christmas albums tend to be gimmicky enough as it is, but having cats as the vocalists just adds a whole new dimension of gimmickry to the proceedings. The music itself is very generic holiday fare, almost like something from a karaoke version of the songs, and the cat vocals grow tiresome very quickly, especially when they are arranged in a very high pitch. Also, for some reason, there’s a dog on lots of these songs as well, despite this being a supposedly cat-based band. As painful as the Christmas albums are, Rhythm and Mews is a special kind of insane, featuring cat-based covers of “Secret Agent Man“, “Home on the Range” and the freaking “The Star Spangled Banner“.

I… I’m not sure what else to say beyond that. Maybe we should just stop with these animal bands, or at least the cat-based ones, okay?

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My Favourite Albums of 2017

Hey… it’s been a super long time since I made a post. Considering that I left shortly before all the bullshit with Trump started, that might have been for the best, but I’ll make an update on what has gone on in my life sometime soon… because damn it has been quite a year.

But anyway, I was thinking back on the music I’ve been listening to this year and it caused me to realize just how many albums I’ve checked out since January. Then, before I knew it, I suddenly had half an IC2S list hashed out and knew that I had to finally get back into the blogging game. So, here I present to you, the albums I listened to in 2017, ranked from worst to best. Naturally, I’ll note that music is super subjective, my list is nowhere near comprehensive, and I’d be shocked if you had listened to more than a couple of the albums on it. Just consider this some random loser on the Internet’s list of albums he listened to this year, if nothing else.

13) Tear the Roots, Kaleida
After the very promising Think EP and its mesmerizing title track, I was very intrigued to see what Kaleida would come up with in their debut album. The results are, unfortunately, very mediocre. “Think” reappears completely unchanged and is the one shot of adrenaline in the whole album, which doesn’t speak well to the new material. Tear the Roots is a competent release, but very mediocre and forgettable. I can’t ever see myself listening to it in full again, which should be about all you need to know about it really.

12) Pretzel Champions, Countless Thousands
As the album’s Bandcamp description states, Pretzel Champions was “written and recorded in the eye of a storm in only 24 hours. We like to tempt fate.” That more-or-less should give you an idea of what you’re in for, featuring 4 lean songs with questionable recording quality. It doesn’t hold a candle to the rest of Countless Thousands’ catalogue, although the obviously experimental nature and time-crunch that birthed it makes it certainly intriguing. “An Umbrella for the Golden Shower” and “Sunday Best” are really solid songs which I would love to hear in a bit more refined form sometime in the future. It’s not exactly a bad album, but the poor audio quality definitely holds it back.

11) Gone, Red
Red and I have a bit of a troubled history. End of Silence was a great debut and Innocence & Instinct was a great follow-up. However, cracks began to show with the forgettable Until We Have Faces, but it wasn’t until the bland, chart-seeking Release the Panic that I decided that I was sick of Red. However, the band seemed to realize that they had screwed up and made amends in fantastic fashion with, in my opinion their best album, of Beauty and Rage. So, going into Gone I was left wondering which direction Red was going to head – were they going to try to recapture that quality again? Or were they going to try to aim for that blander rock sound again? The answer is… well, a little bit of everything. In terms of sound, Gone feels like something of an amalgamation of all of Red’s albums thus far, for better or worse. The album’s at its best when it’s hewing towards those first 2 albums (“Step Inside, The Violence” “Still Alive”, “Chasing Your Echo”) or of Beauty and Rage (“A.I.”). However, it’s also gets questionable when it hews towards Release the Panic‘s electronic synthesizers and radio-rock sound. The title track is a good example of this – it’s a serviceable radio rock track, but then at the height of the chorus, it will suddenly switch into this electronic music which literally sounds like a generic top 40 backing track, and I don’t like how this gels together. On the other hand, “Unstoppable” is just awkward – it feels like Red want an anthemic crowd-pleasing rock track, but the chorus in particular feels half-baked and I’d feel really silly screaming that at a concert with any sort of sincerity. The closing track, “Singularity”, is the one track that feels quite different from what they’ve done and maybe points towards the future, with some eerie sampling and slow build-up towards its heavy ending. I have a feeling that Red has a diverse fanbase at this point, and in trying to give everyone something to enjoy, they can’t help but alienate others in the process. Gone isn’t bad, but it didn’t really reignite my passion for this band like I was hoping it would.

10) Humanz, Gorillaz
I would maintain that Demon Days is one of the best soundtracks to the post-9/11 and early War on Terror era, so I was really hoping that Humanz would be the Trump-era equivalent. While Humanz seems to have the aspirations to hit that lofty goal (further suggested by the various album covers which are reminiscent of the iconic Demon Days art), the results are unlikely to stand the test of time. Humanz is, simply put, a bit of a mess. There are some standout tracks, such as “Saturnz Barz”, “Busted and Blue” and “Halleujah Money”, but there are so many strange and sometimes forgettable tracks which just feels like they took absolutely everything from the studio and then threw it at the wall to see what would stick. Damon Albarn also takes a backseat on most of the tracks, which just further makes this feel like a mixtape rather than a cohesive album. It gets more enjoyable the more you listen to it, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that this might be less “self titled debut” and more “The Fall“.

9) Cold Dark Place EP, Mastodon
The surprise second release by Mastodon in 2017, Cold Dark Place attempts to harken back to the band’s sludgier roots which they have left behind since 2009’s Crack the Skye, at which point the band moved more towards progressive metal. That’s not to say that Cold Dark Place is particularly heavy – it’s reminiscent of the slower parts of Blood Mountain (think “Pendulous Skin”) or The Hunter perhaps. The 4 songs here have a melodic and melancholic feed to them, making the album’s title and art actually quite effective for describing the feel you get listening to it. There are only 4 tracks, but they’re all solid and reasonably lengthy, so it lasts longer than you might otherwise expect. At this point, I’m just curious to see if this is just an experiment from Mastodon, or a sign of things to come going forward. I guess we’ll see in a couple years time.

8) No Grave But the Sea, Alestorm
Alestorm jokingly declared that they were scraping the barrel with their pirate metal antics 2 albums ago, but No Grave But the Sea further goes to demonstrate that they can continue to spin gold out of a seemingly finite concept. Part of the reason for this is because Alestorm does not take themselves seriously in the slightest, so every album is a reminiscent of a rowdy and rousing bar concert (like something out of Tangled). Tracks like “Mexico”, “Fucked With an Anchor” and “Man the Pumps” leave me simultaneously laughing and wanting to sing along at the same time, and that’s before you even factor in the bonus CD which replaces all the lyrics with dogs barking (…no seriously, that is not a joke, that actually exists). That’s not to say that there are no more serious tracks here – the title track and “To The End of the World” are quite badass and help to keep the album from going too far and becoming a total farce.

7) Outlive, Demon Hunter
Outlive has my favourite opening of the year with the badass “Trying Times” hyping you for what’s to come, and then leading into the blistering “Jesus Wept”. It’s then a bit of a minor tragedy that Outlive peaks immediately and doesn’t come close to matching that intensity again. All of the tracks are solid, but there are some forgettable stretches and only a few tracks really stand out from the pack, particularly the aforementioned opening duo and “Raining Down” (which has gone on to become a bit of an anthem for me this past year). The relative softening of Demon Hunter’s signature intense metalcore sound is also slightly disappointing, but the music is good enough that this isn’t too serious an issue. Outlive is a good release by Demon Hunter, maybe not as strong as their last album, Extremist, but certainly a worthy addition to their catalogue.

6) Alba, Sleeping Romance
Sleeping Romance’s previous release, Enlighten, was a rather standard symphonic metal release which was buoyed by the unexpectedly heavy and intense closing track, “Devil’s Cave”. My worry going into Alba was that Sleeping Romance wouldn’t be able to match that high point, but the album quickly put those fears to rest. The opening overture is appropriately gothic, operatic and theatrical, showing the band’s greater ambition and matured musicianship before transitioning into the familiar Sleeping Romance sound (strings, piano, heavy guitars and Federica Lanna’s dreamlike voice and particular Italian accent). There are also two tracks which very much rival “Devil’s Cave”, the first being “Forgiveness” with a very heavy opening and some fantastic solos in the latter half, and the second being the title track, which is clearly intended to harken back to “Devil’s Cave” before spinning off into its own thing. The album isn’t just trying to match previous beats though, as tracks like “Touch the Sun” and “Everything Behind” also stand out in ways that previous efforts never really did. In many ways, Alba could be said to be like a much more refined version of Enlighten, in that it treads similar ground, but in a much stronger package. I really wasn’t sure what I was going to think of this album, but I was left pleasantly surprised by how good it ended up being.

5) The Lost City, The Wise Man’s Fear
A friend of mine got me into Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicle a little over a year ago. Shortly after finishing the second book in the series, The Wise Man’s Fear, I accidentally stumbled onto a fantasty-based metalcore outfit with the same name which was clearly drawing inspiration from Rothfuss. Suffice to say, I was intrigued and very quickly discovered an exciting new band that I have been listening to regularly ever since. While their previous release, Castle in the Clouds, hewed closer to Rothfuss, The Lost City sees The Wise Man’s Fear branching out more into their own fantasy creations. The fantastical elements lend the band a rather unique space in the metalcore genre, where the angst and intensity is not just the band getting out their own issues, but rather they’re telling the stories of a character and a world. The band’s vocal and sonic diversity are also impressive and help to distinguish the tone of each song – one minute they might be singing melodically before switching over to shouts, screams and death growls… and dammit it sounds so freaking good (hell, “Bloodlust” even has doom metal-style “bree bree” vocals at certain points). Particular standouts for me include “Grey King”, “What Time Brings”, “Codex” and the title track, but nearly the entire damn album is fantastic.

4) Sheep Among Wolves, Project 86
For a very long time, I considered Project 86 to be my second favourite band, so hopefully that helps to illustrate how disappointed I was in their last release, Knives to the Future, that I was quite hesitant about how their newest album was going to turn out. Thankfully, Sheep Among Wolves is Project 86 back in true form. While Knives suffered from being far too light, Sheep goes in the other direction (overcompensating even) and dials the band’s hardcore sound back up to 11. This album is relentlessly intense, moreso than any other Project 86 album before, and barely easing up until the final track (although it doesn’t reach the level of heaviness and darkness that their first few albums did either). Andrew Schwab’s songwriting has always helped Project 86 to stand out from the pack, and the lyrics here are as fantastic as ever, bringing a poetic side to seemingly straightforward headbanging hardcore rock. The album art is also really cool, probably my favourite cover of the year. If there’s one hesitation I have about Sheep Among Wolves, it would be a bit of unease about the closing track “Metempsychosis”. It’s as good a song as any on the album, but it tackles the idea of changing one’s self through surgery to try to solve deeper issues. Obviously, this is attempting to enter into to the conversation about transgender individuals, and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. I’m not sure that I agree with Schwab’s assertion that there’s a spiritual issue at the core of these people seeking surgery, but at the very least he comes across to me as stating his position in a respectful way. If you’re dead-set on any sort of questioning of gender reassignment surgery then you’re probably going to be disappointed with this song, but it’s conveyed in a respectful enough manner that I at least think it deserves its place.

3) Ritual, In This Moment
I was a bit hesitant going into Ritual. Similarly to Project 86, In This Moment’s last album, Black Widow, was a major departure from their usual sound, taking on more pop vibes and losing some of its edge, and it could have easily represented a complete shift in how the band would operate going forward. However, In This Moment proved me wrong in spectacular fashion. I still feel like Blood is their best album, but Ritual is solid from start to finish. It also experiments with their sound in some interesting ways. Blood and Black Widow had both played up a level of gothic, transgressive sexuality which I had quite enjoyed. Ritual quite intentionally jettisons that tone, but is none the weaker for it, proving that, contrary to some opinions on the matter, sex may sell but talent speaks for itself. Instead, Ritual plays more towards In This Moment’s stage theatrics, weaving occultic tapestries which will also make for a fantastic live show (and I sure as hell hope so, I’m planning on catching them in Detroit with P.O.D. in the new year). However, unlike say, The Wall, the tracks here are all just as listenable without a live stage show to go along with them. “Black Wedding” in particular is a hell of a song, riffing on a classic while spinning it in its own direction. I’ve listened to it multiple times in a row on more than one occasion. “Twin Flames”, “Half God Half Devil” and “Roots” are also real standouts. Ritual is, all-in-all, a great album and thankfully puts In This Moment back on track and makes me excited to see where they go in the future.

2) Emperor of Sand, Mastodon
Maybe you’re starting to notice a trend, but I was initially concerned going into Emperor of Sand, because Once More ‘Round the Sun was unquestionably Mastodon’s weakest album to date. Hell, the title even referenced the workman-like nature of it, meaning that another year will pass and therefore another album and touring cycle for the band. Ever since their initial elemental quadrilogy ended, Mastodon have been spinning their wheels a bit, trying to figure out where they will go next. However, when it became clear that Mastodon were going to be going back to a style reminiscent of Crack the Skye (my personal favourite album of theirs), I got excited. Thankfully, Emperor of Sand does not disappoint. In fact, I’d put it on par with Blood Mountain, near the upper-half of their catalogue (which, to contextualize, are popularly considered some of the best metal albums since the 2000s). The album also focuses very strongly on the inevitability of death, and this brings an appropriately sombre tone to the proceedings. There isn’t a weak track on the album, but particular highlights include “Sultan’s Curse”, “Ancient Kingdom”, “Jaguar God” and especially “Steambreather”, which is most reminiscent of their sludgier roots. Between Emperor of Sand and the Cold Dark Place EP, Mastodon has had quite the year, and I’m very curious to see how they progress going forward. Perhaps we’re looking at the start of another thematic quadrilogy? One can only hope that Mastodon continues to challenge themselves and don’t ease back into a comfortable cycle.

1) Through Glass Eyes, At Dawn’s Edge
Two years ago I saw Sovereign Council in concert for the album debut celebration for Laniakea. The opening act that night was a band called At Dawn’s Edge, whose symphonic/power metal style instantly had me intrigued. I purchased their EP, First Contact, but was disappointed that most of their setlist wasn’t actually on the EP… and so began the long wait for their debut album to drop. However, nothing prepared me for just how impressive Through Glass Eyes was going to be, and HOLY SHIT is it ever good. For a small outfit, the production values are impeccable, the songs are ambitious and diverse and the band members all display a level of talent and maturity which are frankly insane for a debut album.

My only complaint is really just a nitpick – I vastly prefer the recording of “Utter” on First Contact over the version on Through Glass Eyes. This is a sore point for me, because “Utter” was by far my favourite track on First Contact. The contrast between the vocals of Tamara Filipovic and the male vocalist really made that song work fantastically, but in Through Glass Eyes, this contrast has been replaced with Tamara Filipovic’s singing only. It doesn’t sound nearly as good in comparison to me, and kind of ruins an otherwise good song. Like, I’m honestly at a point where I’m considering swapping in the First Contact version whenever I listen to “Utter” going forward, which would only make Through Glass Eyes that much better of an album to me. Really, this is a nitpick as I said, because Through Glass Eyes is a staggeringly good debut and makes me hope that At Dawn’s Edge have a long and successful career ahead of them. I know that I’ll be there to support them in it.

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IC2S Playlist Update 23/09/2015

(Whoops, published this a day early!)

First up this week, we have “Alive” by XXI, from their debut album Inside Out. If you’re a regular reader of the blog*, then you’ll know that I’ve been following the rather tragic transition of A Feast for Kings to their current status as XXI. The Hell on Earth EP was fantastic, and their tribute to fallen singer Eric Gentry was fantastic, so I was hoping for great things with Inside Out. Unfortunately, the final product has left me a little underwhelmed. Now, to be fair, I have only listened to it twice now, and normally it takes me a few listen-throughs to really form a solid opinion on an album, but I do feel that I’m already getting a good grip on it. Overall, Inside Out is a technically proficient album, but it fails to live up to the promise that the band members set with their debut EP. Part of the reason for this is that very few of the songs really stand out (“Alive” and “Say It Again” being the two best imho) – most sound like typical teen angst/Christian hard rock and don’t seem to go beyond the basics of this sound. It also kind of stings that they toned down their sound slightly, but this isn’t a major complaint – they could have swapped to rhythmic bongo dance music for all I care as long as the music was good. This feeling was made even worse when I went right back to Hell on Earth immediately after finishing the album, and the difference in quality between the two products was night and day. I don’t regret purchasing Inside Out by any means (it is a decent album after all), but I can’t help but be disappointed that XXI seems to have taken a musical step down following the “Memories” single. Hopefully they learn from this and step back up for their sophomore effort.

Secondly, we have “American Dream” by Casting Crowns from their self-titled debut album. I would argue that, for their first 3 albums at least, Casting Crowns was one of the best bands to ever out of the contemporary Christian music (CCM) market. While they did their standard CCM duties and put out some really heartfelt, quality worship music, they also had a strong desire to call out the church and society where they saw things were problematic (hell, their first two songs on their very first album call out the church for not doing its duties, and they have a whole album dedicated to the inaction and judgmentalism of Christians). “American Dream” is a good examplar of this, and is actually subtle enough that a non-Christian could actually conceivably enjoy it.

However, by the time they released their fourth album, Until the Whole World Hears, something had gone amiss. Did they get too much power and influence within the evangelical church? Did they feel like they couldn’t bite the hands which fed them anymore? Did they end up in bed with American right-wing social politics? Did they believe that they had to neuter themselves to sell more records? Whatever the case, their music began to sound more generic and toned down, while also being far less critical (not that they were breaking ground anyway, but they were proficient and clearly sincere before). Until the Whole World Hears is basically just a generic CCM/worship album with only a couple good songs and no critical asides to show that they actually care about the health of the church. Their fifth album, Come to the Well is a little better, but it actually does do some milder social critiquing at least. However, it also has a distinctly, uncomfortably American-political vibe to it at times which makes me wonder what the nature of their criticism is coming from – issues within the church itself, or perceived political issues that require a religious voting bloc? Their most recent album, Thrive, is arguably their weakest effort yet, with generic, toothless worship music and a lack of conviction.**

Anyway, I guess that’s the theme for this week: disappointment, squandering of talent, failing to grasp your potential, etc. I hadn’t really intended for this to be the case, but it’s what we’ve gotten. So… uh… enjoy the music.

*And if you are then, holy shit, make a comment below because I’m under the impression that no one reads this thing…

**I actually had a bit of an increasingly depressing day because of this. I decided to listen to Casting Crowns’ discography from start to finish to ensure that my recollection of their music was accurate. If anything, post-The Altar and the Door Casting Crowns was actually worse than I remember. Their music just gets so much worse as you go on and shows a really pronounced difference between their good-bad split… especially with the incredibly dull Thrive thrown into the mix (I had not listened to it before this), which makes the weakest bits of The Altar and the Door sound absolutely inspired.

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Quick Fix: 2013 in Film (aka Bitching About This Year’s Movies)

I’m back! For those who didn’t know, I spent the last week on vacation in Cincinnati and Atlanta and so getting out that last Apes retrospective entry was a bit of an ordeal… that said, I’m back in Canada and good to get back down to business on the blog! Before we get into the rambling meat of this entry, I want to mention that the open beta for Battlefield 4 has been up for almost two weeks now. If you haven’t checked it out yet, then do so ASAP (it’s free)! I’m only able to play it on the PS3 right now (which is extremely inferior compared to the PC beta), but I’m looking forward to playing on PS4 as soon as it launches.

2013 might be the best year for gaming ever. The Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite would both be effortlessly Game of the Year winners if they hadn’t come out in the same year as GTA 5 (although I’m still rooting for The Last of Us). However, the same cannot be said for Hollywood, as it seems to me that 2013 is one of the most disappointing years in popular film in recent memory. Now to be clear, I’m talking about “major” films in the public conscience – there’s always good festival fare and indie darlings, but these usually fly under the radar of the general public. It should also be mentioned that we’re just getting into Oscar season, so the big Best Picture candidates are going to be making their way into cinemas quite soon, if they aren’t there already.

Here’s your Big Five winner right here.

Anyway, as you can probably tell I’m a bit of a film buff. Certainly not as much as some people, but I’ll usually see 15-20 new movies each year (not counting the films I then catch up on in the next year, at which point I’ll be closer to 35-45 movies released in any one year). That said, 2013 has been extremely disappointing for me – I’ll usually see any movie which interests me, but it’s now October and I’ve only seen 8 2013 films (Evil Dead, The Purge, Kick-Ass 2, World War Z, Iron Man 3, Oz the Great and Powerful, This Is the End, Red 2 and Gravity). Of these, I’d only say half were in any way decent, with Gravity being the only one which I thought was actually good (seriously, FREAKING SEE IT!!!). Sure I’m missing some high-profile films, but looking through the general consensus of what was “good” this year, I’m basically just missing Star Trek Into Darkness, Side Effects, The Conjuring, The World’s End and Rush. Unfortunately, these are disproportionately outweighed by the disappointing, mediocre or bad films released this year. Among the major disappointments were Gangster Squad (I seriously was predicting Best Picture when I saw the trailer), The Purge (how the hell did they screw it up so badly!?!) and Man of Steel. Legendarily bad films have all seemed to converge on 2013 like a plague: Movie 43, InAPPropriate ComedyA Good Day to Die Hard, The Host and Scary Movie 5 to name a few. Then there’s the just plain uninspired which was the rule rather than exception during the summer movie season: Jack the Giant Slayer, Olympus Has Fallen, The Hangover Part III, The Lone Ranger. Hell, even high-profile indie films weren’t spared as Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling both destroyed their reputations with Only God Forgives. Sure, there’s always more bad than good films in a year, but this year it seems to me like the good stuff is in much lower supply than normal, and the disappointments were far more high-profile.

I don’t have all the answers for why 2013 has been such a disappointing year in film. However, it has gotten me thinking about one particular issue in Hollywood which I’d like to address (and which is a factor in some of this year’s releases). As usual, Hollywood is concerned with making money, but this year they seem to be taking more of a stranglehold on it and compromising their productions in the process. One of these trends which has reemerged recently is taking an R-rated film and editing it down to PG-13, because PG-13 films have the widest prospective audience. Now obviously this is hardly why 2013 has been a bad year for cinema, but it is a contributor in the downfall of at least one high-profile example. World War Z was totally neutered by its forced PG-13 rating. Now I’m not one of those ratings snobs who believes that every movie would be improved with an R-rating and gratuitous violence and nudity (hell, I agree that Robocop wouldn’t be all that much worse if they cut it to PG-13), but some subjects don’t lend themselves to a family-friendly audience. Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but I don’t think that a movie about mass human extinction, cannibalism and visceral violence really would be best served by being PG-13. As a result, then entire film feels compromised, an issue which doesn’t even get fixed by the Unrated cut (the zombies seem to just jump on people, bite them, and then run away). This is a Hollywood trend which has been annoyingly pervasive since at least 2004, with such examples as AVP, Live Free or Die Hard, Terminator Salvation, Priest, Taken and Taken 2. Of course, the upcoming Robocop remake is coming out with a PG-13, which is going to further create backlash against this trend (even if it isn’t as abysmal as everyone is predicting it will be). As someone who loves good movies, I wish that studios would have a bit more faith in their audiences and give their filmmakers a bit more freedom… but that’ll be the day.

On an unrelated note, here’s a picture of some fat cats…

UPDATE: Since posting this I’ve also watched Gangster Squad and Machete Kills, both of which were rather average, held back by disappointing elements (this seems to be the trend with 2013 releases… I’m curious to see what I think about Man of Steel when it comes out on DVD).

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