Sunday, December 30, 2007

Merry Christmas

Huxley, along with the rest of our household, hopes you had a Merry Christmas! He sure did. More pics from Xmas morning to follow, maybe on Tuesday.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Skyclad - A Semblance Of Normality

Artist : Skyclad
Title : A Semblance Of Normality (2004)
Genre : Folk-Metal
Rating : ***** *** (out of 10*)

This Week I'm Listening To...
Skyclad came recommended as an English Folk-Metal band, but ASON also has some great Hard Rock tracks on it, as well as 14 members of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra adding strings to a couple of the songs.

They've been around since 1990 and, along with Bathory (who?) are said to be the founders of the "Folk-Metal" genre. ASON is their most-recent studio album, although they also released a 4-song EP in 2006 titled "Jig-a-Gig".

What's To Like...
The lead singer ...umm... sings. As opposed to snarling, grunting, screeching, and/or breathing heavily. You don't need the lyrics sheet to understand what he's singing Everyone in the band seems to be musically gifted; even the drummer (please tell me this isn't a drum machine). And at times, there's even ...surprise, surprise... harmonizing! There is a pleasant musical variety to the 13 songs. You won't get bored by every track sounding the same.

A majority of the tracks have themes of social and political issues. There is a subtle "English" humor to these songs, akin to Randy Newman lyrics. There are also some great guitar soloes, although it has to be said that, unlike UFO, not every song has one.

Track 3, "Anotherdrinkingsong" (sic) has a Korpiklaani-esque wit to it that will compel you to go have a pint at your local pub. Finally, the title of Track 11 is "NTRWB", an acronym not even Alan will know.

What's Not To Like...
This is the first album after one of the band's founding fathers and lead singer, Martin Walkyier, departed. Some feel there is a let-down, but since I haven't heard any other Skyclad albums, this isn't a problem for me.

The "pure metal" tracks (such as "Do They Mean Us" and "Ten Little Kingdoms") are musically the weakest links of ASON, although even then, the issues-oriented lyrics make these tracks worth listening to.

Where Have All The Musical Activists Gone?...
The social-political leanings of Skyclad are unashamedly left-wing and working-class. That dovetails neatly with their name, "Skyclad", which is of course derived from... well, I'll let you google/wiki that bit of trivia.

This makes me wonder - where have all the politically-active counter-culture Rock-&-Roll bands gone? In my day, you had folks like Joan Baez, John & Yoko, and Country Joe & The Fish to remind us of the injustices going on in the world. Even the folksy group Lindisfarne had a streak of anarchism in them.

So who are the activist bands of 2007? It's not like unjust wars, bigotry, political corruption and screwing-the-peasants are things of the past. I recognize that singing about these issues won't get a band much radio airplay, but that was true in the 60's/70's as well. I don't expect every musical act to be activist (we had Debby Boone and The Captain & Teneille as hit acts back then), but there ought to be at least a few well-known acts today that can be counted on to have challenging activist lyrics prominent on their albums.

But I digress. A Semblance Of Normality is a very good 8* album, despite the fact that Skyclad is a genre-founding band that is virtually unknown even in their home country. If you want to hear good folk-metal rock-&-roll, and listen to lyrics that are three steps ahead of the soporific drivel played on the radio today, pick this one up.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Polar Bares

Some Friday night cuteness to usher in the weekend. No, I'm not in this photo anywhere.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas in Iraq

No matter what the dittoheads say, "Support Our Troops" is NOT synonymous with "Support The War". If you really want to support our men and women in Iraq, remember to vote next year for whoever will bring them home more quickly. The invasion and occupation of Iraq is nothing but chickenhawk politics, for which thousands of our finest have paid for with their lives, limbs, and sanity.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Lone Justice - Shelter

Artist : Lone Justice (Maria McKee)
Title : Shelter (1986)
Genre : Rock-Pop
Rating : ***** *** (out of 10*)

This Week I'm Listening To...
I came across this album in the $1 Vinyl bin at the Rock Zone. The album was put out by Geffen Records, who generally have good acts, so heck, what can you lose on a 1-dollar record, except for an hour of your time?

Lone Justice was a short-lived group. They put out an eponymous album in 1984. It was in the alt-country genre, and didn't sell well. Then the whole band quit, except for lead singer, Maria McKee. A bunch of session musicians were brought in, and the result was a pop-rock album, Shelter, in 1986.

Its sales were equally dismal, and the band (such as it was) was officially dissolved shortly thereafter; with McKee embarking on a long and undistinguished solo career.

What's To Like...
This is a surprisingly good album. Maria McKee sounds like an American version of Kiki Dee here. Lots of energy to go with an above-average voice.

The rest of the band may be sessions players, but they are given time & space to cut loose, and do so quite ably, blending in nicely with McKee's singing.

What's Not To Like...
Not much IMNSHO. Others claim the album isn't "alt-country" enough, compared to their debut LP, and that the production is "too slick".

Who is Maria McKee, and why didn't she ever make it big-time?
Shelter is probably mislabeled by calling it a Lone Justice album. This really should've been released as McKee's debut solo effort. Since then, she's put out 8 more studio albums, none of which I've heard or recall seeing. Her 15 minutes of fame comes from one of her tracks being used in that highly-acclaimed waste-of-film Pulp Fiction.

So how come McKee's never made it big? She's got talent, looks, and a great voice. Well, maybe she got off on the wrong foot with alt-country. That's a great genre, but what radio station is going to play it? C&W stations will find it too rock-ish, and Rock stations consider playing anything even remotely Country as a mortal sin.

Then there's the major genre-deviation with Shelter, from cow-punk rockabilly to pop-rock. There goes her initial fan base. It would be interesting to see if and how her music has changed over the ensuing 20 years. Alas, you won't find any Maria McKee albums at Best Buy, even now during the Christmas season.

Of course, there's something just a tad bit worrisome about having your whole band quit on you. Ask Tarja. So maybe McKee's rather ...erm... difficult to work with. Still, it's hard to figure out why she's remained in relative obscurity, while no-talent people like Christopher Cross garner 5 Grammy's, a Golden Globe, and and Oscar.

But I digress. Shelter is a good album, and it should've sold a lot better than it did. Let's put that down to poor marketing. If you come across this in the bargain bin at your local record store, pick it up and give it a listen.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Why Petraeus is optimistic about Iraq...

From an MSNBC.com article today :

"BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraqis of all sectarian and ethnic groups believe that the U.S. military invasion is the primary root of the violent differences among them, and see the departure of "occupying forces" as the key to national reconciliation, according to focus groups conducted for the U.S. military last month.

That is good news, according to a military analysis of the results. At the very least, analysts optimistically concluded, the findings indicate that Iraqis hold some "shared beliefs" that may eventually allow them to surmount the divisions that have led to a civil war."

Thanks, Dubnutz. It's nice to see there's a purpose for almost 4,000 of our soldiers dying over there.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut - Slaughterhouse-Five

Title : Slaughterhouse-Five (1969; 275 pages)
Author : Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007)
Genre : Fiction (Classic, Science Fiction)
Rating : A+

This Month I Read...
Slaughterhouse-5 is arguably Kurt Vonnegut's most-famous novel. It explores a variety of great themes - free will; the absurdity of war; fatalism; and one of my pastimes - time travel.

Jason says I can call this a classic, since Vonnegut has now passed on. That's great, since "traditional" classical American Literature is the pits. We'll discuss that at a later date, probably when I review Thornton Wilder's The Bridge At San Luis Rey.

What's To Like...
It was an easy read. I devoured this book in three evenings. The main character, Billy Pilgrim, is a likeable, ordinary bloke. The aforementioned themes are dealt with extensively, but in such a way that you don't feel like Vonnegut is preaching at you. Indeed, it's hard to say just what the author's personal viewpoint is on fatalism and free will.

What's Not To Like...
The storyline jumps around a lot, time-wise. That's natural for a time-traveler, but it may take some getting used to if you've never read any Vonnegut before; and haven't come unstuck in time.

Characters from previous Vonnegut novels (Kilgore Trout, Eliot Rosewater) come into the story with little or no introduction. This is one of Vonnegut's recurring literary devices, and it drove me nuts some years ago when I trudged through his book on evolution, "Galapagos".

Listen : Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time...
It should be noted that Slaughterhouse-Five consistently makes the yearly 100 most-challenged books by the self-righteous "let's keep our kids brainwashed" crowd. Ostensibly, this is because there are some cuss words in the book, and because God is not given sufficient reverence by Vonnegut. In reality, I think they fear the anti-war (and Dresden bombing) message in S-5. Vonnegut is qualified to write on this - he was being held as a POW in Dresden on the night the Allies decided to fire-bomb the city just for the heck of it. The consequence of our nastiness (there were no military targets in Dresden) was that 20,000-100,000 innocent civilians perished.

Of course, the book-banning fundies have never wavered in their drive to tell others what to read, watch, and think. At present, Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass (both the movie and the book) is the target of their wrath. It is claimed TGC will turn any reader/movie-goer into a Satanist. Of course, everyone who read/watched any of the Harry Potter series is already a witch. I wonder which is worse. I guess I'll find out, since I've just started to read TGC.

But I digress. Slaughterhouse-Five is a fantastic book by a great American author. Read it today, just to tweak the book-burners. Then give it to one of your ditto-head friends as a Christmas present, and start to de-program him as well. It is worthy of an A+ rating. Poo-tee-weet!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Quote For The Day


"It is of interest to note that while some dolphins are reported to have learned English - up to fifty words used in correct context - no human being has been reported to have learned dolphinese. " (Carl Sagan)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Agalloch - The Mantle

Artist : Agalloch
Title : The Mantle (2002)
Genre : Prog Ambient-Metal
Rating : ***** **½ (out of 10*)


This Week I'm Listening To...
Agalloch is a metal band out of Portland, Oregon. The Mantle is their 2002 offering. They apparently have quite a dedicated following, as there are no less than 964 reviews/ratings for this album at RateYour Music, and another 68 reviews at Amazon.com. David Hasselhoofen, eat your heart out.

Picking a genre t0 describe them is difficult. RYM lists 17 genres (pretty good for only three albums, eh?), none of which seemed to fit the bill, so I chose a new one : Prog Ambient Metal.

What's To Like...
The Mantle is a unique blend. If Pink Floyd (from the "Meddle" time-period) decided to do a Metal album, it might sound like this. Track 2 (In The Shadow Of Our Pale Companion) is a 15-minute masterpiece. The music is complex, with lots of Floydish bells, wind, echoes, spacy guitar soloes, etc.

The album-length is slightly over 68 minutes, so you get your money's worth.

What's Not To Like...
The mixing could be better, but I'm learning to accept that when it comes to Metal groups. At times, the superior guitar solo is masked by the mundane metal-chording. Overall, the music is a bit too repetitive (but one could say that about Tangerine Dream too, n'est-ce pas?).

The snarling gets old, although to be fair, there is some singing mixed in. The lead and acoustic guitar-work, although good, is almost entirely at a slow-tempo.

Finally, it appears that Agalloch goes on tour about as often as Enigma does, and rarely strays out of their PNW environs.

In between the Intro and the Outro is the...
Most of the songs seem to consist of an Intro and an Outro, but it feels like something's missing in between, even when the Intro is 10 minutes long. If Pink Floyd was doing this album, they'd cut the repetitive parts down by 75%, and stick in a half-dozen songs (you know, intro, verse, chorus, verse, bridge, chorus, outro).

But I pick at nits. This is still a good album, especially if you want something to play in the background while you read, say, the Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe. It doesn't match up musically to the best of Scandinavian metal, but what American metal band does? The Mantle as its own, unique sound, and Agalloch goes its own, unique direction. If David Gilmour was allowed to produce and mix the next Agalloch album, it would surely be a ten-star affair.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Emily

Meet Emily. Emily is a ...um... actually, I'm not sure what breed she is. She came to visit us on Thanksgiving, along with Ryan.

Emily & Ryan

Here's the happy couple. Emily has weird, "zombie" eyes. A l0t of white in them, compared to most dogs.

Preacher & Emily

There were five dogs at the house for Thanksgiving. And 16 people. Emily was a bit overwhelmed by all the new beings to deal with.

Jason & Emily

Everyone on the backporch got a chance to hold and spoil Emily. She had us trained pretty good by the end of the day.

Three dogs and a ball

Jynx, Emily, and Preacher at play. It was perfect weather for throwing a ball. Jynx is fetch-obsessed. The other two mostly just ran along with him, not really knowing why they were running around the backyard.

The trained throwers

Some of the ball-throwers from Thanksgiving afternoon. The back porch is also the meeting place on Holidays to discuss literature, politics, and music.

Jynx & his ball

Here's a scene that was repeated about a thousand times on Thanksgiving afternoon.

Jynx training the humans

The "problem" with Jynx is that he doesn't give you any excuse to NOT play ball with him. He brings the ball back every time, and drops it at your feet. If you ignore him, he'll pick up the ball and put it in your hand. If you tell him to go away, he'll take his ball to the next trained thrower.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

John Fogerty - Revival

Artist : John Fogerty
Title : Revival (2007)
Genre : Rock
Rating : ***** ***½ (out of 10*)

This Week I'm Listening To...
The album's title is "Revival" and Track 3 is called "Creedence Song". That will pretty much clue you in as to what this album's about. If you were a CCR enthusiast back in the 60's/70's, you're gonna like the music on Revival.

FWIW, this album came out on 02 October, the same day as Bruce Springsteen's "Magic", and Annie Lennox's "Songs of Mass Destruction". All in all, a great day for classic rockers.

What's To Like...
The lyrics are excellent. The guitar-playing is excellent. Fogerty's voice is still good. All the songs rock. The CCR sound is back.

What's Not To Like...
There's no new ground being covered here. The longest song is 4½ minutes, so you don't have any epics, like "Heard It Through The Grapevine".

Most of the negative reviews bemoan the fact that there are two overtly political songs on the album (Long Dark Night and I Can't Take It No More).

(I'm) Sick & Tired Of Your Dirty Little War; I Can't Take It No More...
Once upon a time; way, way back in the 1960's, Rock & Roll was rife with groups singing protest songs. This included , Country Joe & The Fish, The Doors, John Lennon, and yes, it also included CCR (see Fortunate Son). And the radio stations were forced to play these songs, due to their immense popularity.

Then the war ended, Tricky Dicky got his a$$ kicked out of the White House, and company-mandated random drug tests seriously curtailed partaking of the sacred weed and other assorted hallucinogens.

Meanwhile, Rock & Roll got replaced with weak, tame, pop music. Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, and Janice Joplin found themselves pushing up daisies. The record companies then started telling us that Foreigner and Steely Dan were cutting-edge R&R, and those who couldn't remember the 60's believed that malarkey.

But the truth is, Rock & Roll is, and has always been, inherently counter-culture. Before the Beatles, Elvis was offending the establishment; and even before him, Frank Sinatra was viewed as being a bad influence on impressionable teenagers. So it goes.

Now we have a major a$$hole for President, who invades countries based on known-to-be lies and doesn't care a whit that almost 4,000 of America's finest young people have died for his right-wing politics. Since Dubnutz apparently didn't get the message in last year's congressional elections, I for one am glad that Rock & Roll is once again proclaiming that we're sick and tired of his dirty little war.

But I digress. Revival is a great album. Fogerty's probably too old of a geezer for this to get much airplay. But as long as poeple like him keep getting out the anti-war message, there is hope that we aren't totally doomed to having Hannah Montana shoved down our throats.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Motivational Poster For The Week

Having gone to Penn State, I'm neutral as far as the Ohio State - Michigan rivalry goes. But there's no denying that the series has been a bit one-sided lately.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Bourne Identity (the book)

Title : The Bourne Identity (535 pages)
Author : Robert Ludlum (1980)
Genre : Action
Rating : A-

This Month I Read...
Thanks to the Matt Damon movie, The Bourne Identity is undoubtedly Robert Ludlum's best-known novel. A bullet-riddled-yet-still-alive guy gets plucked out of the briny and discovers he's got a bad case of amnesia. He spends the rest of the book/movie trying to regain his memory; dodging bullets from (and then killing) a slew of professional assassins; and attempting to figure who is so all-fired anxious to kill him.

What's To Like...
The book is radically different from the movie, so there's a totally new plot and ending. In fact, the only similarities between the two are :
1.) Our hero has amnesia.
2.) The heroine pulls a "Patty Hearst", gradually morphing from unwilling kidnappee to active GF and confederate of Jason Bourne.
3.) There is an outfit called Treadstone.

The plot is complex; the action is non-stop; and the book is a page-turner. There is both a good climax and a "door" left open for a sequel or two.

What's Not To Like...
I'm still nonplussed about the amazing foresight of Jason Bourne to have the number of his Swiss bank account implanted in his hip. Sheesh, how convenient.

The Treadstone in the book (which is very different from the movie's version) seems to be suicidally lax in security when it comes to high-level meetings.

Lots of other people b*tched about the movie being so different from the book, and this is probably valid if you read the book first. I didn't, so this isn't an issue for me.

Sequel, Threequel, Fourquel, Fivequel...
Ludlum of course mapped this out to be a trilogy, so one should expect some huge loose ends at the conclusion of Bourne-1. In addition to the Bourne Supremacy and Bourne Ultimatum, a guy named Eric van Lustbader has penned another two books in the series (after Ludlum was so rude as to die), titled The Bourne Legacy and The Bourne Betrayal.

So if you can't get enough of the saga, there's a couple thousands pages-worth of sequels out there. I'll take it one book at a time. Bourne-1 was a great read. We'll see if Bourne-2 can keep up the pace.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Liz's Birthday (a)

Liz has a birthday coming up this week. I am forbidden to say how old she is, so let's just say it rhymes with "nifty", "shifty", and "thrifty".

We celebrated on Saturday night by going to our favorite Belgian restaurant in downtown Phoenix. "Trente Cinq". Good food and good service. Highly recommended for any once-a-year celebration.

Liz's Birthday (b)

After dinner, we went to an R&B place, called the Rhythm Room, on Indian School, betwixt 11th and 12th Street.

Liz's Birthday (c)

A San Diego-based group called "The Fremonts" was playing that night. Good old 50's blues. The lighting sucked for taking flashless pics, but this gives you a good idea of how the place actually looked.

The Fremonts aren't big enough to rate a listing in Wikipedia, but they do have their own website at

Liz's Birthday (d)

Here's a flash-shot of The Fremonts. The guy in the blue shirt and beret also blew a mean harmonica. There was lots of dancing. The Fremonts played a 2-hour set; then took a break. I'm sure they came back and played another couple hours, but the intermission came a little after 11:00 PM, so we headed home to bed.

Liz's Birthday (e)

Here's a better shot of the lead singer - Mighty Joe Milsap. We bought their "Mighty Crazy" CD. Good stuff, provided you like blues. BTW, that couple at the right were quite a good pair of dancers. It was strongly hinted, via jabs in the ribs, that I should learn to dance.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Korpiklaani - Spirit Of The Forest

Artist : Korpiklaani
Title : Spirit Of The Forest (2003)
Genre : Folk-Metal (and Polka-Metal!)
Rating : ***** ****½ (out of 10*)

This Week I'm Listening To...
Korpiklaani ("Forest Clan") is a Finnish folk-metal group. They had an earlier incarnation called Shaman, but were forced to change their name cuz there were two other bands (one Brazilian; one Finnish) with the same name. SOTF is their debut album. Their most-recent release (2007) is called Tervaskanto, and they have a 2008 CD planned.

What's To Like...
Fantastic musicianship. The "folk" portion is an integral part of the music, not some trivial add-on, like you find with some Metal-Hybrid bands. The lyrics are in English. There's no filler here.

Best of all, there is a bunch of "polka-metal" on this album, which I happen to be quite partial to. This is a Finnish variety of polka, called "humppa". Last but not least, there is some "yoiking" on the album, which I'll let you look up in Wikipedia.

What's Not To Like...
At 9½ stars not much. Most of the criticism seems to be that there's not enough Metal in this Folk-Metal, and/or that the Vocals could be better. I don't agree with either of those viewpoints.

My only criticism is that Korpiklaani has apparently never toured the USA, and it doesn't appear that they have any plans to do so. C'mon out to Arizona, Korpiklaani! Just do it in the winter.

Is there such a term as "Happy Metal"?
SOTF is an upbeat, happy album. Indeed, it appears that Track 1 on any Korpiklaani album is always a drinking song, just to set the tone. That's a nice change from the usual drudge of Metal themes : loneliness, despair, etc.

SOTF will make you want to hit the local pub and share a pint with your friends. It's about trolls, forests, and yoiking; not about gloom, doom, and Satan. If you want a bit more Metal and a bit less Folk, I recommend Finntroll, with whom Korpiklaani occasionally does some collaborative work.

Bottom line : this is an excellent album, although it's hard-to-find in the USA except at Amazon.com. Their website (in English) is at
Visit them, and drop them a line asking them to come over to this side of the pond!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Daniel Silva - Prince Of Fire

Title : Prince Of Fire (376 pages)
Author : Daniel Silva (2006)
Genre : Thriller (Political Rant?)
Rating : D-

This Month I Read...
The bombing of the Israeli embassy in Rome puts Gabriel Allon, a reluctant operative for Tel Aviv, on the trail of an Arab terrorist. The path leads all over Europe and the Middle East.

What's To Like...
It's easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys. No gray areas here. The Arabs are evil killers; the Jews are noble killers.

At 376 pages, this is a fast read.

What's Not To Like...
The plot is hopelessly disjointed. The evil Arabs blow up the Israeli embassy in Rome. Somehow this leads to a raid in Milan, where a computer disc is found. Italian intelligence can't decode it, so they decide, "what the heck, let's give it to the Israelis". The Israelis magically decode it, and discover it lists, among other things, the personnel file of Gabriel Allon. Which somehow ties into the bombing. Allon assembles a think-tank team, and somehow they decide that the Ultimate Evil is an Arab named Khaled al-Khalifa. Meanwhile, the UE kidnaps Allon's vegetative wife in England, and instead of just killing her, has her smuggled into Paris so she can be blown up at a later date.

Confused? Don't worry. The obviousness of the plot and the simplistic black-&-white characters (Arabs = bad; Israelis = good) will put you to sleep long before you feel any urge to try to make sense of anything.

Born Under A Bad Zion...
The only way to comprehend this travesty is to recognize that it's merely a vehicle for the author to expound his Zionist viewpoint. This is really just a political diatribe with a sloppily-crafted plot thrown over it.

Silva seems to feel the Arabs are entirely to blame for the Middle East crisis. The millions of Palestinian refugees are to blame because they didn't take a better deal when it was offered way back in the 40's/50's. The various Arab governments are also to blame because they haven't expended vast amounts of money to assimilate these refugees into their own country.

Ultimately, Silva's philosophy can be summed up as, "the only good Arab is a dead Arab". Which is nice if you happen to be an Israeli, but not so nice if you're a Palestinian.

In real life, the Silva scenario is inane. If anyone is to blame for the Middle East crisis, it's Britain (who promised the same land to both the Palestinians and the Israelis), and the United Nations (who felt so guilty about the Holocaust, they mandated a new country where (unfortunately) millions of people already lived).

Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon are hardly wealthy nations. If anyone ought to throw large sums of money at the Palestinians, it's the UN. And the Palestinians can hardly be blamed for rejecting the earlier offer, since in essence it said they could keep a portion of Palestine provided they ceded a large part of it to Jewish immigrants. Is it surprising they rejected this deal?

But I digress. This is a wretched novel - both as a literary work and as a Arab-hating smear-job. If you're into blatant stereotyping - all Arabs are evil; all Chinese are brain-washed; all French are traitors; all Israelis are noble, etc. - then this book will appeal to you. Otherwise, don't waste your time.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Preacher

Preacher is a kind-hearted 3-year-old Pit Bull that Jason rescued from the streets about a year ago. There isn't an angry bone in his body. Cats and other dogs make him whine. He is devoted to Jason, and loves walks, treats, extracting the 'squeaky' from stuffed toys, and a nice nap on a comfy couch.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Dean Koontz - Watchers

Title : Watchers (483 pages)
Author : Dean Koontz (1987)
Genre : Thriller (among others; see below)
Rating : A-

This Month I Read...
Watchers is considered by most to be one of Koontz's better efforts. A depressed man comes across a remarkable Golden Retriever while hiking in the southern California wilds. The dog promptly saves the man from a menacing something, they bond, and thus begins a suspenseful book-long chase involving a monster, a psychotic hired hitman, and some duty-bound and therefore not-on-our-side NSA feds.

Oh yeah, there is a love-story too, but we'll ignore that as best we can.

What's To Like...
It's fast-paced! No 50 pages of introductory yawning here. By the time page 30 rolls around; you've already been introduced to the man, the woman, her erstwhile tormentor, the dog, the monster, and the hitman.

The central character - the high-IQ dog - is a joy to follow. What if one of our canine companions was as intelligent as us? The dichotomy (wow, I always wanted an excuse to use that word) of a human-like mind in a dog's body is a fascinating study.

Finally, ther are no slow spots. You'll find yourself staying up late to read more of Watchers.

What's Not To Like...
The characters are fairly shallow. The good guys are completely good; the bad guys are completely bad. The romance is straightforward. The central cri-fi theme - DNA manipulation - has been done by others, and in a better-researched manner.

The ending is hurried and tepid. After 450 pages of a great build-up, the evilnesses are disposed of with remarkable ease. You won't guess the ending, but that's simply cuz you'll be expecting more.

Finally, Koontz leaves so many loose ends that you'll be tempted to roll 'em up into a ball of yarn. The hitman murders - unresolved. The sabotaging of a top-secret government research project - unresolved. The reason that the book is titled "Watchers" - unresolved. The consequences of genetic manipulation - unresolved.

Genres? We've got genres coming out of our ears...
This book must be a librarian's nightmare when trying to think of where to file it. We could call it a Thriller, yet the monster's character is sadly under-developed. Indeed, his only purpose for most of the book is to do a random grisly killing about every 70 pages or so.

Or maybe we'll file it under Romance, although the love story is obvious and trite. The girl has head problems; the guy magically cures her with his love; and she never has any relapses again.

How 'bout Cri-Fi? Except that Koontz never really tries to make the science seem plausible. Maybe Mystery - but as mentioned before, half the killings are never resolved.

Pehaps the best fit would be to call it a Boy-And-His-Dog story, and put it next to Lassie. But I don't think little Timmy ever had to deal with monsters that liked to gouge out eyeballs and decapitate its victims; nor hitmen that fantsized about bludgeoning pregnant women.

But I digress. Watchers is a great read; yet I doubt I'll pick up any more Koontz novels. In his 3-page "Afterword", Koontz states, "I believe that we carry within us a divinely inspired moral imperative to love, and I explore that imperative in all my books". In other words, if you've read one Koontz story, you've read them all. I intend to stop at just one.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss - Raising Sand

Artists : Robert Plant & Alison Krauss
Title : Raising Sand (2007)
Genre : Easy-Listening (sadly)
Rating : ***** * (out of 10*)

This Week I'm Listening To...
The oddest pairing of genres since ...um, okay it hasn't been all that long... Emmylou Harris and Mark Knopfler. The voice of Led Zepplin teams up with Bluegrass/Newgrass's leading lady to do covers of 13 songs from various artists such as Tom Waits and the Everly Brothers.

What's To Like...
The voices blend well. Ms. Krauss and Mr. Plant hit every note dead-on. The backing musicians are superb. The studio engineering is first-rate. The whole album is ...well... pleasant.

What's Not To Like...
While the CD is well done, its aspirations are embarrassingly low. Krauss and Plant yawn their way through a bunch of slow songs that pretty much all have one-octave voice ranges in them. The backing music is professionally played, but if you're looking for any Union Station-esque bluegrass or any Zep-rock guitar work, you're going to be disappointed.

The energy level here is grade-A blahsville. The liveliest tracks are 'The Fortune Teller' and 'Nuthin', and even they sound like someone needs to take a couple No-Doze. At least in those two tracks, the backing musicians are allowed to cut loose a little.

It Helps To Have A Short Memory...
There was a Zits cartoon a couple days ago, where Jeremy's dad asks Pierce (Jeremy's metal-headed body-pierced friend) if he ever listens to The Beatles. "Oh, of course!" replies Pierce, "All the time".
"What about Dylan, Led Zepplin and the Stones?"
"Sure!"
The dad walks away, content this his (my) generation has left an indelible stamp on the world of rock-&-roll. After he's gone, Pierce turns to Jeremy and asks, "Why were we talking about elevator music?"

That pretty much sums up Raising Sand. It's a nice album to use as background music when you want to concentrate on reading a good book. But one cringes to think what a young kid might conclude about Led Zepplin and Bluegrass if this is the only album he hears from these two. I'll cut Plant some slack, since he's an old geezer now. But Krauss is fairly young, and there's no excuse for her half-hearted efforts of the past 5 or 6 years.

So we'll give it six stars, which is pretty much my maximum score for easy-listening albums. If you can erase your memories of Led Zepplin and Union Station, then you may give this a higher rating. But if those LZ/US memories still linger, then you're gonna be kinda sad to see how far these two icons have devolved.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

John Prine - In Concert !!

Who : John Prine (opening act : Jason Wilber)
Where : Orpheum Theater (Phoenix, Arizona)
When : 10 November 2007
Rating : B

This is the fourth time I've seen John Prine. The first time I saw him, the Cowboy Junkies were the opening act; the next time he opened for Bonnie Raitt; and last time, Iris DiMent opened for him.

I've been a JP fan for almost 40 years. He writes catchy tunes, plays a mean acoustic (usually) guitar, and the only one who can touch him as a lyricist is Randy Newman.

- VENUE -
The Orpheum Theater is ancient by Arizona standards. That means it's been around for 80 years or so. About 5 years ago, they spent beaucoup d'argent to fix it up again, as part of a general revitalizing of downtown Phoenix. Inisde, it looks like one of those Viennese concert halls that you see in the movies.

There is adequate parking nearby. They skimped on the A/C. It verged on being too hot for me. That means everyone else was comfortable.

The place seats about 1300. Alas, there's only one concession stand for buying drinks at Intermission. We tried. So did everyone else. We failed. Venue Rating : C.

- PRICES -
Tickets were $55. That seems a bit steep, although it has to be said the place was sold out. As mentioned, we weren't able to buy any refreshments. Jason Wilber had his CD on sale somewhere in the lobby, so maybe JP did likewise. If he did, I didn't find it what with 1300 people milling around in the lobby, trying to buy a drink. Prices Rating : C.

- CROWD -
This ain't no Metal concert. Half the people were dressed like it was an opera. A few feeble attempts by folks in the audience to clap along with the songs flickered out quickly.

One strange sidelight. As we were making our way into the hall, I noticed the guy in front of us (dressed like he had just gotten off work as an electrician), had an unusual adornment. In his back pocket was a cheap, yellow, plastic fly-swatter. No, this wasn't a Reader's Digest-promised flashback. I pointed out to Liz, and she saw it also.

Then at Intermission, I saw another guy, in blue jeans, also with a cheap, yellow, plastic fly-swatter in his pocket. All I could think of was that there was going to be a Rocky Horror Picture Show-ish moment where knowing people in the audience broke out the props. Alas, that never happened. The fly-swatters-at-a-concert phenomenon will forever remain a mystery. Crowd Rating : D+.

- OPENING ACT -
Jason Wilber played 7 or 8 songs on an acoustic guitar. He also happens to play lead guitar for JP, and is quite good. He's been doing that for some 10 years, and he is nicely influenced by the John Prine wit.

Alas, people playing unaccompanied acoustic guitar are a dime-a-dozen. Haply, he didn't make us wait too long for John. Opening Act Rating : C.

- JOHN PRINE -
What can I say? I love the guy. He wasn't on tour promoting his latest album, so this allowed him to play all his "fan-favorites" from the past four decades. He picked 'em good.

There was no drummer. Just JP, JW, and a guy who provided rhythm via a bass fiddle. At times, all three would be playing guitars. This may sound like it's rather minimalist, but it works when all three are accomplished musicians.

One thing I've noticed at all four John Prine concerts. People in the audience always feel compelled to request their favorite JP songs by shouting out the titles in between songs. It is blatantly obvious that John Prine already has a set song-list and I've never seen him deviate from it. Get a clue, people!

John played about 1½ hours, so you got your money's worth. The band chemisty was good, considering that the audience verged on being comatose. JP is older than me, so he's nearing the end of a long concert career. It looks like he mostly just plays on weekends anymore. If you have the chance to see him in concert, do it! John Prine Rating : A-.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Nightwish Concert !!

Who : Nightwish (opening act : Paradise Lost)
When : 07 November 2007 (doors opened at 6:30)
Where : Marquee Theater (Tempe, Arizona)
Rating : A-

- VENUE -
You have to accept that any Metal concert is going to be a standing-only affair, and will be in a cinder block-walled building where the acoustics suck.

If you're cool with that, then Marquee Theater is a great place . There is ample parking ($5 charge); a wide selection of draft beers and mixed drinks; the security is efficient but low-profile; and lordy-lordy the concert area was adequately cooled to accommodate an audience of 1000+.

The alcohol of choice for MetalHeads is beer. Don't ask for a wine list. And don't even try to buy liquor for minors; you WILL get your sorry a$$ kicked out immediately. Venue Rating : B+.

- PRICES -
Tickets were $23 apiece. Nightwish T-shirts were $30 ea.; a "hoodie" was $40. The Dark Passion Play CD was $20, and you got a Nightwish poster (approx. 11" x 17") free with the purchase.

I don't begrudge the expensive prices for the merchandise. The tickets were dirt cheap (they have to be for MetalHeads); and it's my understanding that merchandise sales is where the band itself makes its profits. Up yours, RIAA. Prices Rating : A.

- TIMING -
The doors did indeed open at 6:30 PM. Alas, Paradise Lost didn't start playing until 8:00. That's a long time to be standing around.

PL played for an hour, which brings us to 9:00. Then there was another 1-hour gap before Nightwish came on. That's 3½ hours after the doors opened.

We stayed until about 11:00 PM which was only about halfway thru NW's set. But that's way past our bedtime, and we both had to work the next morning. Timing Rating : D (but read on).

- CROWD -
The basic dress-code color is of course black. The overwhelming majority of the attendees were, naturally, teenage and 20-something MetalHeads. But there were several parents who were there with their young-teen kids; and a smattering of graybeards. I am happy to say I was not the oldest person there.

There was no moshing/pogo-ing. In general the ausience was well-behaved and loudly appreciative of the bands. Crowd Rating : A.

- OPENING ACT -
Paradise Lost is an English Doom/Heavy Metal band. They are apparently a lot better-known in Europe. There is a smattering of "symphonic" in their music, so they are a good fit with NW.

The lead guitarist played some excellent soloes. Or were they riffs? Or were they licks? I just know someone will explain the differences.

The drummer has a very good, eye-opening blog about touring, It is at :

It gives a great glimpse into the not-so-glamorous world of being on tour, and chastens me into cutting both bands a bit of slack when it comes to starting times. Opening Act Rating : B+.

- NIGHTWISH -
They are AWESOME!!

Lots of cuts from the DPP album. Anette Olzon makes you forget about Tarja, although I have to admit I've never seen the latter in concert. Okay, she did miss a note or two, but hey, what can you expect halfway through a grueling every-night North American tour?

NW had the crowd eating out of their hands. The chemistry certainly appeared to be good; the musicianship was superb; and the song selection was crowd-pleasing. We all sang along with the first song - Bye Bye Beautiful. Nightwish Rating : A.

Overall, it was a great concert; probably in my Top 5 favorite concerts ever; easily in the Top 10. Here's hoping they come back to Arizona next year.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Stirling : Against The Tide Of Years

Title : Against The Tide Of Years (1999)
Author : S.M. Stirling
Genre : Alternate History (454 pages)
Rating : B+

This Month I Read...
ATTOY is the second part of Stirling's "Nantucket" trilogy, where that island gets zapped from present-day back to the 1250 B.C. Bronze Age. Volume One (Island In The Sea Of Time) was previously reviewed. ATTOY takes place 8-10 years after IITSOT. The bad guys have been building up an empire in the Mediterranean. The good guys have been sailing all over the globe, have turned the British Isles into an oasis of civilization, have started Lewis-&-Clarking the North American continent, and have decided it's time to have a showdown with the bad guys.

What's To Like...
Like IITSOT, this is a fast-paced, action-packed book. The good guys go courting the Babylonians as allies (well, the Akkadians, actually) in an out-flanking maneuver. After disposing of the nasty Assyrians, they also go wooing the Hittites and the Trojans. How's that for some non-stereotypical allies?

Unlike Clive Cussler novels, bad things happen to the good guys. The Nantucket naval fleet runs smack-dab into a hurricane (with devastating results). The Babylonian venture is jeopardized by an outbreak of small-pox. The native priests blame it on the foreigners, and they might be right. It's never quite clear exactly how the outbreak started.

Meanwhile, the bad guys are actually doing some smart (and good) things. They overrun Sicily, they set up a fortified city at the straits of Gibraltar, and they reward some of their slaves by freeing them after years of faithful service.

In short, the two sides are very equally balanced.

What's Not To Like...
The plot loses just a bit of steam in ATTOY, but that's inherent in the middle book of any trilogy, including Tolkien's The Two Towers.

The same minor irritations from IITSOT carry over - Stirling's penchant for the emptying of the bowels as people die in battle, the excruciatingly tedious details about the science of sailing, etc. And now, about 25% of the political hero's vocabulary seems to consist of one word : "Ayup!"

Finally, unlike Volume One, there isn't any great big climax to close out Volume Two. The tension builds, the two forces meet on the plains of Ilium, and... um... and it's time to buy Volume Three.

Why Theology And Time-Travel Don't Mix...
Stirling isn't a big one to go into the theological implications of dropping a bunch of Yankee Christians back into 1250 B.C. The good guys allow the proselytizing of the Bronze Age England natives, and Stirling touches briefly on the fact that inroads are made. It's never clear if the natives comprehend the dogma, or if they merely accept the gods simply because they came with the conquering heroes.

Which got me to thinking - just how would one go about preaching the Gospel? Do you ask the barbarians to accept Jesus as their Saviour, when He's not going to show up for another 12½ centuries? And if you die before He does show up (which is a certainty), exactly what happens to you? Do you get a "Get Into Heaven Early" pass? Do you get to sleep for 1250 years (putting Rip Van Winkle to shame)? And do you make a note to interfere with Biblical history in the future, to make the Gospel story come out different? Did God zap these blokes back 300 years as some sort of cosmic joke, or did He have a purpose? Or perhaps this is all better explained as being an example of the Butterfly Effect.

But I digress. ATTOY is still a good read, albeit not quite up to the lofty standards of IITSOT. Despite being a bit anticlimactic, you'll still want to immediately start into the 630 pages of Volume Three, to make sure Good does triumph over Evil. This is still the best Alt-History I've read so far.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Romanov Prophecy

Title : The Romanov Prophecy (384 pages)
Author : Steve Berry (2005)
Genre : Historical Fiction (Action)
Rating : B

This month I Read...
My second Steve Berry novel (the first was The Third Secret); this one is less Cri-Fi, and more action. Set in modern-day Russia, where the people have decided they want to return to having a Czar as a ruler, Miles Lord, an American Afro-American lawyer on business in Moscow, stumbles onto a prophecy that implies that not all of the Romanovs were killed by the Bolsheviks in 1918.

What's To Like...
Lots of action from the get-go. It's heavy on historical references, which suits me just fine. Rasputin becomes a prophet, and Youssopov is re-made as a good guy.

The book is a page-turner, and Berry once again doesn't bore you with page after page of philosophical preaching. Take a note, Dan Brown.

What's Not To Like...
If there's such a thing as TOO much action, this is it. Essentially, this is a 384-page chase scene. The bad guys, professional assassins all of them, can't seem to hit an elephant from 50 feet away (much like in the movie Miami Vice, but that's a subject for another post). The hero finds the bad guys repeatedly and incredibly picking up his trail, and never figures out that his boss might possibly be tipping them off.

Finally, the plot pretty much plays itself out with no surprise twists. Berry could take a lesson from Brown in that regard.

Talk About Implausibility...
The most important parameter for any historical fiction is its believability. And TRP fails that in one key area.

No, I'm not talking about some of the Czar's family surviving. That's been a romantic, albeit highly unlikely hypothesis for decades.

Nor am I talking about the incredible inaccuracy of the assassins. You can rationalize that away as being subject to the divinely-inspired prophecies of Rasputin.

The unbelievable part is the opening premise that a majority of the Russian people would for some reason want to return to Czarist rule. Pigs will fly before that happens. Some Russians may want democracy; some may want a return to the Communist days; some may want some sort of uber-nationalism; and who knows, some may want Dubnutz to come stay with them after we throw his a$$ out of office next year. However, the one thing they can all agree on - no one wants the return of the Czar.

But I digress. The Romanov Prophecy is another solid effort by Dan Brown-wannabee Steve Berry. If it isn't quite on the same level as The Da Vinci Code, it's still a good read while we wait for Brown to get off his butt and put out another novel.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Elvenking - The Winter Wake

Artist : Elvenking
Title : The Winter Wake (2006)
Genre : Folk Metal
Rating : ***** ***½ (out of 10*)


This Week I'm Listening To...
Elvenking is an Italian Metal band, formed in 1997. In addition to Folk Metal, RYM labels them as being Power Metal, Prog Metal, Melodic Death Metal, and Alternative Metal. The Winter Wake is their third album, and the first one I've listened to.

What's To Like...
Amazingly, the lead singer actually sings, not grunts. Even more amazingly, the rest of the band actually harmonizes !

The musicianship is superb. The lead guitar player is fantastic, as is the (electric) violin player. Even the bass player shines. The whole album is done with an energy that Bruce Springsteen only dreams of now that he's a geezer.

The blending of the folk and the metal is seamless. And the songs range from straight-up Metal to a nice ballad duet.

What's Not To Like...
Very little. Some have complained that all of Elvenking's albums sound the same. Maybe, but I haven't heard any of the others yet, so this doesn't apply to me.

Others say that the lead singer's voice takes some getting used to, so perhaps he needs a voice lesson or two. Personally, I think the vocals are quite good.

Also, although all the lyrics are in English, it is sometimes evident that it isn't their primary tongue. Track 09, "Rouse Your Dreams" comes off sounding like "Rose Your Dreams".

Finally, and worst of all, it doesn't appear that Elvenking has any plans for an American tour. Indeed, they rarely seem to venture outside of Italy.

The History Of Metal...
In the beginning there was Black Sabbath. Who, it must be admitted (grudgingly to Al), did come up with a new sound. And the gods of Metal saw that it was good.

And for the next 20 years, no one did anything different from the BS sound. But no one complained, because it was so much better than Disco, and Punk was for weenies.

And in the early 90's, the gods of Metal were exceedingly bored and said, "C'mon you guys. Let's have some diversification."

And Black Sabbath-sounding Metal begat the following...
Black Metal

Almost Black Metal

Black & Yellow Metal (Stryper)

Goth Metal
Visigoth Metal
Ostrogoth Metal
Doom Metal
Heretic Metal
Castle Wolfenstein Metal
Pagan Metal
Death Metal
Near-Death Metal
Comatose Metal
Industrial Metal
Commercial Metal
...and a host of other Metals. And none of these sounded any different from each other, nor from BS Metal. But it gave the Metal Snots something to philosophically argue about while they were listening to the same old sh*t.

And in the mid-to-late 90's, the gods of Metal said, "Oh for Pete's sake, how 'bout a little creativity already?!"

And groups like Nightwish, Elvenking and Within Temptation came into being, and explored the mixing of Metal with other genres. Which offended all the Metal Snots to no end ("There goes the neighborhood", they moaned), but breathed some much-needed life into the genre. And caused all sorts of music-lovers to finally take interest in it.

But I digress. The Winter Wake is a wonderful album. Despite song titles like "Rats Are Following", this is light-hearted "elven-themed" material. If you're looking for music to sacrifice a virgin to Beelzebub to, this ain't it. But if you want great, energetic, talented Folk Metal, it probably doesn't get any better than this.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Acronym of the Day : "TPT"

TPT stands for Trailer Park Trash. It's closely related to White Trash ("WT") although they're not quite synonymous. TPT can theoretically come in any color, while WT by definition can live in places other than a trailer.


One should regularly check one's house for TPT, since if left unchecked, they can become quite a nuisance. They can often be found lying on a couch, snoozing in the spare bedroom, or rummaging through one's refrigerators in search of food and booze.

This has been a public service bulletin, put out by your local chapter of AA (Acronyms Anonymous).

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Island in the Sea of Time

Title : Island In The Sea Of Time (608 pages)
Author : S. M. Stirling (1998)
Genre : Alternate History
Rating : A

This Month I Read...
IitSOT is part one of an Alternate-History trilogy where the island of Nantucket (and a bit of the seas around it) gets transported back in time from present-day to the Bronze Age of 1250 B.C. The first order of business is simply to survive the oncoming winter, since very few of the Nantucketeers are skilled in hunting, gathering, fishing, and trapping.

What's To Like...
This is the best Alt-Hist book I've read so far. The plot moves fast; there's lots of action; and the meticuous research by Stirling is obvious.

Unlike Eric Flint's 163X series, the Good Guys actually make a few mistakes here. And the Bad Guy, believe it or not, is not Evil Incarnate. He's ambitious, he's Machiavallian, and he's inventive. And he and his cohorts manage to spring a number of surprises on the Forces of Goodness, which is a pleasant change-of-pace.

The good guys' fighting hero is a gay, female black; which is certainly not stereotypical. And lest you think the author is trying to foist his bleeding-heart liberal philosophy on you, he also takes some rather reactionary pokes at gun-control, whaling, and tree-hugging. Yet all this is woven neatly into the plot. No page-after-page "preaching" such as Flint and even Dan Brown are given to.

Finally, there's actually a climactic ending to the book, even though it's just the first of three volumes. Robert Jordan could've taken some pointers here.

What's Not To Like...
There's too much space devoted to the technical part of sailing. Good lord, I feel like I'm reading a Tom Clancy novel.

Stirling gets fixated on a variety of things. To wit, the sounds effects of war; the fact that one's bowels 'void' as one dies in battle (and the consequent stench thereof); the 'down-hominess' of the Good Guys' political hero.

He also seems to spend a lot of time on the erotic thoughts of the lesbian pair. There's nothing wrong with Stirling giving us his insight in this matter, but you'd think that nothing else enters the minds of these two when they're not fighting and killing. Then there's the Bad Lady's penchant for S&M. Although Stirling handles the sex scenes better than Harry Turtledove does, one still gets the feeling that they're primarily there to make teenage boys hot and sweaty.

Finally, the tree-hugging AmerIndian-saving Pamela Lisketter is just too stereotypical to be believed.

We Are Yankees, Hear Us Roar...
It should be noted that, like Flint's 163X series, we once again have a small, intrepid group of Americans enlightening the rest of the non-American past-world with our superior technology, government, philosophy, and overall goodness. Just once, I'd like to see something like a modern-day Chinese army dropped into, say, 1700's America. Or maybe the entire nation of 21st-century France. Or the 20th-century British Imperial Navy. Let's reverse the roles for a change.

It should also be noted that Nantucket Island had an inordinate number of world-renowned history and industrial specialists on the Island at the moment of the time-swap. And a nearby Coast Guard steel-plated windjammer conveniently gets zapped into the Bronze Age along with the island.

None of these "picked nits" detract from the story, including the fact that a 100-pound Ninja babe can kick any-and-all 200-pound male, barbarian a$$. In reality, the odds of the present-day Nantucket surviving a year in the Bronze Age would be extremely long. Stirling is fully allowed to follow in Flint's footsteps (or is it the other way around?) and "stack the deck" in order allow the story to go on more than one winter.

But I digress. This book was a real page-turner for me. And ultimately, that's what counts the most when I read a book for pleasure. We'll give it a solid "A", and see whether the other two books in the trilogy can keep up the pace.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Nightwish - Dark Passion Play

Artist : Nightwish
Title : Dark Passion Play (2007)
Genre : Symphonic Metal
Rating : ***** ****½ (out of 10*)


This Week I'm Listening To...
Nightwish's sixth full-length studio release, and the first wthout dearly departed Tarja Turunen. 70 minutes of Symphonic Metal. Heavy on the "Symphonic"; light on the "Metal". Indeed, as with Within Temptation's most recent release (The Heart Of Everything), it could be said that there's more Hard Rock here than Metal.

What's To Like...
If you liked Nightwish's Once album, you're gonna love DPP. Tuomas Holopainen's songwriting keeps getting better and more complex with every release. The new female vocalist - Anette Olzon - is well up to the task of replacing a legend; albeit she's not as opera-oriented as Tarja. There's some hard rock; some soft ballads; a new plunge by Tuomas into composing Celtic music; two long proggy opuses (The Poet & The Pendulum @ 14 minutes, and Meadows Of Heaven @ 7 minutes); and of course, lots of superb symphonic arrangements.

What's Not To Like...
Not much. Two of the tracks are Nightwish's slaps at Tarja (Bye Bye Beautiful) and her husband/manager Marcelo Cabuli (Master Passion Greed). There is still a lot of bitterness there.

Is The Phrase "Metal Snot" An Oxymoron?
Most of the criticism of this album falls into two catergories. First, there are people b*tching because Tarja's gone. Second, there are Metal Snots out there who feel that Nightwish has "sold out", and has become too mainstream.

Folks, the old Nightwish line-up was doomed the day Tarja decided to promote her husband to being her business manager. The guy's found his meal ticket, and he doesn't want to share her earnings with the rest of the group. It was simply a matter of who was gonna dump whom. Get over it. And if you can't, be aware that Tarja's new album (My Winter Storm) will be released next month. We'll see if we can find a jpeg of its cover.

Metal Snots. I've met some. These are the folks that think that all vocals must be grunted, guitars are only allowed to thrash (heaven forbid that anyone should play a chord); and the lyrics have to center around devil worship. The "Metal Snottiness Winner" is he who claims to love the raunchiest Metal. As in, "Oh, you're into Cannibal Corpse. They're okay, I guess. But too mainstream for me. I prefer to listen to Rottweiler's Impaled Entrails". (Snorts). Of course, RIE is probably the Metal Snot's older brother's garage band, which plays for free and makes The Sex Pistols look like accomplished musicians.

Frankly, I don't think Nightwish cares a flying fig whether the Metal Snots like the direction they're going or not. DPP has sold more than a quarter million copies already, and it's been out less than a month. Tarja who?

But I digress. Dark Passion Play is a great album, and a candidate for "Best Of 2007". Nightwish is in Phoenix on 07 November. With a little bit of luck, I'll get my doctor's okay to attend the (stand-up only) concert.