Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Sky Unwashed

Just got done reading "The Sky Unwashed" by Irene Zabytko.

Amazon.com gives this synopsis:
inspired by the true story of villagers who defied the forced evacuation of their Ukrainian town after the nuclear accident at Chernobyl in the 1980s. The narrator is septuagenarian Marusia Petrenko, a hard-working grandmother who lives with Yurko, her only son; his wife, Zosia; and their two small children, Katia and Tarasyk, in a tiny house where only a thin curtain separates Marusia's quarters from the rest of the family's. Like many of the townspeople in Starylis, Zosia and Yurko work at the nuclear power plant in nearby Chernobyl. The drama begins one spring weekend in 1986, when several of the village's men do not return home from their shifts at the plant. One by one, the people of Starylis begin to notice a strange metallic taste in the air and to suffer from itchy, watery eyes. The official word is that there has been "a fire" at the plant, according to the militsiia who round up villagers for evacuation to Kiev. But in Kiev things are not much better. The Petrenko family is eventually separated: Marusia stays with Yurko, who is suffering from radiation sickness, and Zosia takes her children to Moscow in hopes of a better life. Over the months that follow, Marusia battles to reunite her family and to return to Starylis, which has been declared uninhabitable due to radiation. While readers may find the English transliterations of names in both Russian and Ukrainian a bit confusing (the city is Kiev on one page and Kyiv on the next, for example), this is a minor irritation in an otherwise quietly insightful novel about a indomitable individual defying the state in order to return to her home.

I'm generally not a big "normal" fiction reader. But, being fascinated by nuclear disaster and survival stories as well as true(ish) stories, this was a good, quick read that really gave some good insight into the lives of the people directly affected by the Chernobyl accident. And as far as nuclear-survival fan-girlness goes, this gave a nice picture of what it could be like to try to survive in a radiated land, albeit without protection.

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Theatre of Tragedy

Theatre of Tragedy is a gothic metal band from Norway. Interestingly, I found them through another gothic metal/folk metal band called Leaves' Eyes. Leaves' Eyes is fronted by Liv Kristine, who used to be the female vocalist for Theatre of Tragedy. :D

Theatre of Tragedy started out as a gothic doom metal band often credited as the first of its kind to feature dual male and female contrasting vocals, influencing an entire generation of European metal that followed. Another distingushing element to ToT's music was that they originally wrote all of their lyrics in Old English.

ToT's first three full-length albums are completely in Old English and are thoroughly doom/gothic metal. The first two albums are darker and not as well polished as their later work and include harsh male growls and grunts, which I'm not overly fond of. Liv Kristine's vocals are high soprano, fragile and secondary to the male vocals at times.

This all changes with their third, and best liked, album Aégis. Aégis loses the male death grunts and instead Raymond sings in a kind of narrational sort of way. The album has a theme of women of European mythology. The songs are more accessible than their previous albums with more polish, stronger song structure, and choruses you can even sing along to (if you can remember odd lyrics in Old English, that is). They've added string-sounding keyboards, which almost make this album 'symphonic metal'. The result is beautiful, dark, well crafted album that has become one of my favorites of all-time.

After Aégis, ToT went on to evolve their sound, focusing more on keyboards and programming, and dropping the Old English completely for modern English. Their next album, Machine is a kind of techno-rock with some good songs here and there. After that came Assembly where the shift in style is complete. Gone are any hints of metal - this is a pop rock album with heavy synths. "Superdrive" is a perfect example of the shift the band took.

Unfortunately, Raymond's vocals remain front and center for most of the songs, always as a kind of narrator, never actually singing. After a while it gets really old - particularly when Liv Kristine's voice is the best part of the music. She's almost audibly being pushed to the side.

After Assembly Liv left the band to concentrate on her own project, Leaves' Eyes, with her husband - a folk-metal band focusing on Viking and nature imagery. Meanwhile, ToT returned to their metal roots, probably due to the resurging popularity in the genre due to bands like Within Temptation and Lacuna Coil. They hired a new female vocalist who sounds remarkably like Liv and recorded the album Storm.

It's a solid album - the tracks purposely flow into one another in a jarring manner, not too sure what I think about that. Storm takes what was best in Aégis and combines it with the successful polish and structure of Assembly for an updated version of their own metal music. It'd be like Lacuna Coil adding epic keyboard synth strings to their music.

A highly inventive band, for sure. Their successes are strung out across several albums (except for the entirety of Aégis) but in a lot of ways I think other bands took what ToT started and made it even better (Within Temptation, Lacuna Coil..)

Tuesday, June 6, 2006


Ladytron is a 4-person electronica group from England. All four members play instruments (everyone, at the least, plays keyboards) and the two women do vocals, sometimes in an understated, nearly spoken tone. The music is analogue electronica, very beat driven, crunchy, and sheik. Their earlier music is grittier, and much more analogue sounding than their later music, which is more polished with a slightly more pop-tinge to it.

My sister already has their 1st and 3rd albums, 604 and the Witching Hour so it was really cool to finally get a hold of their 2nd album, Light & Magic to see how they got from point A to point B, the 1st and 3rd albums being quite a leap from each other. If you have never heard of Ladytron, read the above Wikipedia article and try to find a few clips to listen to. They are smart and original and really withstand repeated listening. They're difficult to describe beyond that, so if you already know of them, this album is right up there with the other two.

Song highlights:
604: Mu-Tron, Discotraxx, P.A.C.O!, Playgirl
Light & Magic: Seventeen, Evil, Turn It On
Witching Hour: Destroy Everything You Touch, Sugar, Weekend

Lacuna Coil: Karmacode

Lacuna Coil
I already have all of Lacuna Coil's earlier albums (In A Reverie, Halflife, Unleashed Memories, Comalies).

Karmacode is their latest, just came out this year. Their name isn't well known in the U.S. from what I can tell though their music is everywhere - I even heard them one day in Fred Meyers. Their music is in countless movies (like Underworld) and videogames and they grace the shelves of Hot Topics everywhere.

One criticism of LC is that songs on each album run together, sounding too alike. Their sound is so even across the board that you can listen to nearly their entire discography on mix (barring Karmacode) and you'd have a hard time feeling that the songs were from different albums. I do have a hard time remembering which song is from which album but in the instance of LC I like the smoothness and lack of contrast of their songs. I bought all their albums at once *because* I liked the way they sounded - so I consider their "same across the board" style to be a boon to me. There aren't any huge leaps in evolution, so you can mix all their music in any order and it works and feels right - so it's not such a bad thing.

Karmacode, however, is a bit of an evolution. Again, a lot of the songs run together a bit on the first few listens. The sound is a bit more polished and a bit more commercial with less inventiveness but with the same LC sound. This time through there are songs I don't care for and overall only three songs really stand out for me, "Within Me", "Devoted", and "What I See". Oh, and they even do a fun cover of Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence" that I like. So, some good, some bad.

The Gathering

The Gathering
In my search for more goth metal music I came across this group, a Dutch alternative rock band that is actually one of the bands that started and popularised the whole goth metal/doom scene, predecessors to more well known groups today like Lacuna Coil and Evanescence. Perhaps most important of all is that this is the band that originated lead female vocals for the genres.

Their music is very atmospheric - it doesn't thrash; it is metal in that it uses heavy guitars. The "doom" category is actually a label for darker immagery or mood and/or lyrics. They do have a dark mood, but it is not depressing. I often use the word "epic" do describe their songs because the songs could fill valleys with their soaring mood, though the term is more often used for symphonic or power metal, which the Gathering is neither. I find it inspiring to listen to their music outdoors in the mountains - it feels wrong to cloister the songs indoors.

The vocalist, Anneke, has an ethereal alto, flitting between notes like Sarah McLachlan - very talented and in command of the music while also flowing with it. Despite their status of being one of the parent bands of dark alternative rock and despite their major popularity (at least in Europe) they are sadly missing in the United States music scene.

I quickly visited Amazon.com and bought their first, second, and fourth albums with Anneke, Mandylion, Nighttime Birds, and if_then_else.

Mandylion definetly has a metal feel to it but with hints of tribal influence. "Eleanor" has epic, subtle bass walks; "In Motion #1" has a beautiful, soaring rolling gait; "Mandylion" is a tribal drum and vocal piece; and "Sand & Mercury" is an epic tale of a song, the first half of which is instrumental and is possibly one of my favorite goth metal songs of all time.

Nighttime Birds picks up the pace a little. It's songs are slightly less dark, more epic in scale and complex. Highlights include "On Most Surfaces" and "The May Song".

if_then_else is a slight departure. Enter keyboard work and a gritty, industrial feel, more rock than metal but without losing their 'large' feel. Has some tracks making it much slower than the other two albums I listed but they're beautiful songs. "Rollercoaster" is a great rock song and "Saturnine" is by far one of the best epic ballad type songs I've heard, building up to a wonderful string outro.

The Gathering has quickly become one of my favorite bands of all time. Their music is not standard; it's smartly written and simply beautiful.


Collide is, as Wikipedia says, an "electrogoth/industrial" group, fronted by a female vocalist. Their music is dark, edgy, and often kind of erotic/sensual. I already have their album Some Kind of Strange which I totally love but this time I found songs from albums that were released before and after. Some songs were far darker than those from SKoS but for the most part they keep this interesting thread of melody through the darkness. It takes me awhile to get into dark industrial music - it took me a long time to get into Front Line Assembly, for instance. But once I find a hook, that glimmer of warmth, the intimidating factor of the music just kind of wraps around me outwardly, almost protectively. Does that make sense? Anyway, great evening music, I really like them.

Songs I reccomend:

Edgy, gritty, sensual, with a kind of World/India ethereal darkness to it. Electrogoth/industrial is a broad descriptor but that's what they are with spice thrown in. Highly reccomended.

Monday, June 5, 2006

Sonata Arctica

Sonata Arctica: a Finnish power metal band. I don't even know HOW I found this band - they aren't gothic. They weren't listed in with the folk metal bands, though some of their lyrics could be described as such. They are a power metal band and fit that genre to a T and for the most part I really don't care for them at all.

Male vocal lead with a thick Finnish accent, thrashy power guitars, very standard power metal. But I do recognize that they are good, dynamic song writers - I just don't care for power metal at all. I did like two of their songs so it wasn't a total loss:
"Tallula" and "Letter to Dana".

Thursday, June 1, 2006

X-Men 3

In spoilerless short: I liked it, definetly worth seeing in the theatre. I didn't like the switch in directors and it did seem like they tried to cram in too much but as this is an ongoing movie series, each movie does have to set up more stuff for later so in that respect it does feel like part of a greater story.

If you haven't seen it yet, stay til after the credits, too.
Like I said, it did feel crammed.


Jean & the Phoenix Saga
Obviously with Jean disappearing in the last film, the Phoenix Saga had to be addressed. The comic book version is way too sci-fi for the X-men world that the movies take place, in, which tries to make everything more realistic, so in that respect I like how they worked in this whole Jean backstory of her powers and worked it into the Phoenix just being part of her. I thought that was well done. It kind of felt like it was sort of taking too much of a back seat to the Magneto plot, though, with the Brotherhood on the one hand... On the other hand, with the Phoenix being a part of Jean (rather than a giant space opera thing) it would of been a weak film had everything centered SOLEY on Jean.

I thought her powers could of been emphasized a bit more but that could be because I'm an X-Men fan already and I'm used to the REAL Phoenix. I'd like to hear opinions from people wh haven't had much to do with the comic version of the story on this one.

Jean and Wolverine
OMG! Now, I'm a huge Wolverine fan, of course, and I have always been a fan of the relationship between Logan and Jean. I thought they've done a great job with the short span of time in the film (as opposed to the relationshpi taking a little longer in the comics). In the comics, Jean does have an element of reserve toward her own powers - and she loves Scott (Cyclops) because HE is safe and represents control and order. Logan on the other hand is wild and free - he calls to Jeans dark side.

In the film, I love how they did the paralell with Logan's memory blocks to Jean's memory blocks (something that doesn't exist in the comics). It was a fantastic way of further making their relationship a bit more believeable with the short time span. Just - the whole thing was showcased so well without being over the top, particularly with Logan having to be the one to take down Jean in the end - because he's the only one who could survive it with his healing factor compensating.

Speaking of the healing factor -- this film did a great job of showcasing his healing factor more. I'm used to the Wolverine of hte comics constantly being shredded to bits to where no normal person or mutant could survive. And it isn't uncommon for his flesh to give way and expose his bones (with or without adamantium). Also, Logan still feels pain despite his healing ability - and I thought Hugh Jackman did a good job of portraying that, particularly in the scene where he's fighting the dude in the woods who is pulling bone spikes from his body and impaling Logan with them. The whole thing was much more ... realistic in terms of how Wolverine is than, say, the fight between Logan and Yuriko at the end of X-Men 2.

And again, awesome acting on Hugh's part - particularly his body language. Wolverine is strong and confident but moves in an animalistic way. And they did a little bit more to showcase his animal-like senses, though they could of done more.

(For a second, I thought they were going to jump the gun on a Wolverine story when Magneto grabbed Logan by his skeleton. I thought Magneto was going to rip out Logan's adamantium right then and there, giving us a lead into a Wolverine spin-off film.)

They did a great job incorporating more Storm into this film. The character writing and the acting was awesome for the character this time around - much better than the previous films. I like how they incorporated Storm's leadership ability into this film, particularly since she WAS a team leader of the X-Men (dunno if she still is or not). Liked the hair, too.

Other X-Men
I liked the progression in Bobby/Iceman's powers. I like how his abilities finally manifested fully due to his life or death fighting situation with Pyro - that was a great way of working it out.

Angel's plot was only weakly worked in. The first scene of him as a child made me think it was going to link in more with everything else, since it was shown right next to the scene of Jean as a child. There were just SO many mutants in this film that they were showcasing it was *almost* jumbled but not quite. Like Beast being in there - I mean, he was there because he was working with the government and they hint at the fact he used to be an X-man way back in the day. And Angel's father was the one who made the cure, and he made the cure to help his son, not hurt mutants, giving the whole film less of a black-and-white feel, but it was so loosely woven I'm not sure how I feel about it.

Shadowcat/Kitty Pride -- she was awesome! Though she's a teen in the film, I like how they emphasized that she's not a fighter - she has to use her intelligence to defeat the enemy. That's how she was in the comics, too. She probably had my favorite fight/flight scenes of the whole film, too. Heh. Really stole the show from the returing characters.

Magneto and Xavier. I love the backstory on this being brought in and I loved the line, "Charles Xavier did more for mutant kind than you can even imagine". No matter their differences in approach for mutantkind nowadays, they have a healthy respect for eachother - again a great example of the shades of gray rather than black/white.

Mystique - she's an underestimated character, I think. She is very intelligent and mysterious. Kais and I discussed that part of that mystery is aided by the fact she rarely speaks in the film. It isn't because she's the "female bombshell" token character - that's how she is in the comics. With what little she did have to work with, I thought Rebecca Romijn did a good job - particularly after she was shot with the 'cure' and reverted to her original form in front of Magneto. Half of her shock was also in the fact that she's shapeshifted so much she doesn't recall what she used to look like, her past being lost to even herself.

Another point about there being so many characters -- this film has LOTS of them, it's not as isolated as the first two were. Though I'm not sure how it worked out for the movie, this IS how the comics are. A lot of the X comics are SO full of mutants it can be hard to keep track of what is going on. It really is epic - it isn't one hero isolated to one town, like Batman to Gotham. It's a whole planet of mutants struggling to find a place in the world. The first two movies do well to introduce us to the idea of mutants to begin with, and this movie acts to widen the scope.

I think that scope could of been more powerful, though. In the 2nd film, they really brought it home what it's like to find out you are a mutant by paralelling it to coming out as a gay person (the scene where Bobby tells his parents he's a mutant). That was more personal and I thought carried more weight. And when Jean was speaking to the ?senate? in the first film. This film was a bit more... cartoony feeling in that respect.

(oh, I also did like there being more mutants, if to show their teamwork better - like in the danger room scene, particularly with Rogue borrowing Colossus' powers to avoid getting hurt).

Set up for the next film?
I stayed til after the credits and it shows Moira McTaggert working in a hospital when suddenly a patient speaks out to her. It's a whiskered Charles Xavier calling her by name and she gasps and says, "Charles?" So it looks like the disintegrated characters will return (as I thought they might). I'm just not sure how that's going to work out. Did something Charles do save them? Or did part of Jean with her super abilities do something to save everyone she loved right before she died? That is definetly within her powers using the Phoenix force, for sure.

And we know that mutants who were 'cured' are regaining their powers. Before I saw the bit with Xavier at the end, I kind of thought that perhaps when his powers returned, Magneto might return to help lead the X-men like has happened in the comics. In particular it would of been a great homage to the "Age of Apocalypse" alternate timeline in the comics where history is altered because Xavier dies. The world becomes a much darker place and Magneto leads the Xmen in Charles' memory.

And Rogue... Is she going to cross paths with Mystique, the woman who raised her in other versions of things? Rogue is a hugely popular X-Character and I just KNOW fans are dying for her to obtain her invincibility and flying ability. I'm thinking they might work in a storyline where Rogue isn't aware she's got her powers back and accidentally absorbs Carol Danvers' (Miss Marvel)'s powers of invincibility and flight permanently, as happened in the comics.

But as for a greater storyline, I'm not too sure where they're going to go with it. I mean, the Phoenix Saga we all knew had to happen as it's one of the greatest Marvel stories ever told - it's quintessential X-Men. But where are they going next?

So, I loved all the little bits and pieces a LOT. There were lots of great moments. But that's what it felt like overall - little moments losely strung together. The whole thing wasn't as solid as the previous two films and yet it still works. It somehow feels wrong and yet ... not. Weird how that works.