31 August 2008

Free Associations, Ep. 2

I believe this place is called a food library.

26 August 2008

Relevant to my Interests, Ep. 13

Look at that mirror! And look at the headboard on that bed! Oh, and Joan Blondell is fairly appealing, as well.


22 August 2008

What the...?

I always knew there was something a little off about Clara Bow. As it turns out, she's a fascist sympathizer. What a shame--it would be such a nice hat, if it weren't for the swastika. Oh well, at least she still has a fan in John McCain.

20 August 2008

Avantasia - The Metal Opera, Pt. II (2002)

One year after its release, Tobias Sammet and company followed the first installment of The Metal Opera with a sequel. Aptly entitled The Metal Opera, Part II, it continues and concludes the saga that began in Part I. But how does it stack up to it's antecedent? Quite well, actually. I'll put it to you this way: whereas the first episode of The Metal Opera had some fantastic standout tracks, the second episode is an overall stronger collection of songs.

"The Seven Angels", which clocks in at just under a quarter of an hour, gets the album going in grand fashion (it also recapitulates the events of the first installment). It feels and functions rather like a traditional overture, setting the stage for the forthcoming action and incorporating a variety of melodies and passages. "No Return", one of the faster and thrashier songs in the Avantasia repertoire, is next, followed by "The Looking Glass", a powerful mid-tempo rocker (as well as one of the major standout tracks). Both of these are truly solid songs, and add some nice variety to the proceedings.

Up next is "In Quest For", a largely piano-driven power ballad (it sounds like the sort of soliloquy you'd expect from a Broadway musical, in fact). It's not one of the most memorable moments on the album, but it's not bad by any means. The speed and energy return with "The Final Sacrifice", which is in a similar vein as "No Return"-very thrashy, if not quite as fast. "Neverland", another particularly strong track, is more melodic, and more anthemic. The second power ballad is next, entitled "Anywhere". As far as power ballads go, its actually pretty good--it's memorable, much more so than most of the other Avantasia power ballads.

"Chalice of Agony" is next. Aside from being one of the best songs on the album (if not in all of the Avantasia repertoire), it also feels like the musical climax of the Metal Opera saga--comparable, I would say, to the bull-fighting scene towards the end of Carmen (yes, I did just compare Heavy Metal to classical Opera, and yes, it's a perfectly valid comparison). Unfortunately, this great song is followed by two songs that just aren't quite as strong--"Memory" and "Into the Unknown", the latter seeming to function as a denouement to the whole Metal Opera.

I've been on a major Power Metal kick the past two weeks or so, the blame for which can be placed largely at the feet of the two episodes of The Metal Opera. There are plenty of great moments on these albums. It's a fairly grandiose affair, to boot--comparable to MGM musicals at their most opulent (okay, that may be a stretch, but I'll draw links between old school Hollywood and Heavy Metal any way I damn well can). Do yourself a favor and give The Metal Opera saga a listen--odds are you won't be disappointed.

Bonus youtube magic: Tobias Sammet and company playing "Sign of the Cross" live (with a bit of "The Seven Angels" thrown in just to make things interesting).

19 August 2008

Avantasia - The Metal Opera, Pt. I (2001)

The Metal Opera was the first proper effort of Tobias Sammet and his many guest musicians under the moniker of Avantasia. Whereas the supergroup's most recent effort saw Sammet and company pursuing a more mainstream rock sound, The Metal Opera--as the name suggests--is straightforward, uncompromising cavalcade of Power Metal. The album is operatic in function as well as form--it follows the story of Gabriel, a novice of the Dominican Order in 1602. Gabriel's stepsister falls into the clutches of the inquisition and is charged for witchcraft. At the same time, Gabriel is tapped by a mysterious fellow named Vandroiy to save Avantasia, a mystical dimension "beyond human imagination." Adventure ensues.

There are some truly great songs on The Metal Opera, but there are also some that are less interesting. After a short instrumental into, the album launches into "Reach out for the Light", an effective first track which serves both as exposition for the story and, with its anthemic verses and chorus, to grab the listener's attention. "Serpents in Paradise" slows down the tempo a little bit, but keeps the energy high. "Malleus Maleficarum" is the first of the instrumental interludes--it does feature some dialogue, but no actual vocals--and as such, it slows down the pace of album noticeably. The energy returns with "Breaking Away", which is similar in tempo to its predecessors, though the song itself is a bit shorter.

This brings us to "Farewell", which--in terms of the track order--is the first real standout track on The Metal Opera. It is something of a folksy power ballad, with the anthemic melodies of the latter and the time signature of a Viennese Waltz. The chorus is particularly catchy, and I often catch myself singing along to it. The next song, "Glory of Rome", is another standout track. It's the fastest most thrashy song on the album.

"In Nomine Patris" (another somewhat forgettable instrumental) is next, followed by "Avantasia". This latter is one of the two best tracks on the album. Though it is another anthemic mid-tempo rocker, the song is brimming with energy and enthusiasm--quite appropriate, given that the song is synonymous with the band. It is bookended by "A New Dimension", the third of the interludes. "Inside", another power ballad, is next, though it is unfortunately less than inspiring.

"The Sign of the Cross", however, is next, and it is perhaps the best song on the album. It is fairly traditional Heavy Metal, suggesting equal parts Judas Priest and Manowar. The chorus is no less infectious than that of "Farewell" or "Avantasia". The guitar work, courtesy of Jens Ludwig of Edguy, is also stellar. Finally, "The Tower", perhaps the most operatic (not to mention the longest) of the songs, closes out the album in suitably epic fashion.

By and Large, The Metal Opera is a solid effort, and an effective realization of Tobias Sammet's ambitious vision. The standout tracks are fantastic, and the middle-of-the-road songs are still pretty good. The only real flaw comes in the form of the interludes, which feel a little unnecessary--the album would feel no less complete without them, if not more complete. I've already mouthed my respect for Tobias Sammet as a songwriter, but it's worth reiterating that sentiment. Had he been born a century earlier, I'm fairly certain his music would be performed in Viennese opera houses.

Aside from the music, The Metal Opera is also interesting on a thematic level. One of the underlying themes on the album is the criticism of the Church for claiming to be the only medium through which one is able to reach truth and knowledge (this in addition to the usual metal themes of individual heroism). I've been listening to this album (and it's sequel, for that matter) almost every day for three months, and thus I have to give it my strongest recommendation.

18 August 2008

Free Associations

Whatever, it makes perfect sense to me.

16 August 2008

15 August 2008

Party Like it's 1922

I can't think of a better way to spend a Friday night in 1922 than at the Follies (followed, perhaps, by a sojourn to the Midnight Frolic).

13 August 2008

The Overlook Hotel

The Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood in Oregon, which served as the Overlook Hotel in The Shining.

09 August 2008

What the Hell

I go away from the internet for a week and this shit happens. There's just something so very wrong about Brett Farve in a Jets uniform (or any uniform other than a Packers uniform, for that matter).

04 August 2008

98 Years of Anita Page

Happy birthday to Anita Page, who is 98 years old today. To celebrate, here's a photograph from back in the day of Miss Page and a small, fuzzy marsupial companion. This is one of the most mind-numbingly cute pictures I have ever seen. Originally found here, where an artificially colorized version may also be found.

01 August 2008