[Metal/Melodic Metal] Alwaid – The Machine and The Beast (90%)

alwaid___the_machine_and_the_beast__front_cover__by_zero_scarecrow13-dan7kjd

Sometimes, the post office can bring you a nice surprise in front of your doorstep. That surprise was coming from Alwaid (Lille, France) through the form of their second album “The Machine and The Beast” I have contributed in crowdfunding sometimes end of last year and beginning of this year. I completely forgot about it and I guess the French post office also probably forgot how to send it overseas, so it ended up last week in front of my door.
This second album is an 11-songs album spanned over 57 minutes. What I can tell is very dependent on if you have listened or not to their first album “Lacus Somniorum” because it is an almost 180 flip from this one. Let me explain. Their first album, it felt mostly ethereal having this atmospheric doom metal vibes backed by the high vocal ranges of Marie (the front singer). In this one, you get blown by the heaviness of the album. It is like trading the calm shores of the Sea of Black Tears and now facing the Guns of Navarone, the Stalin’s organs with the heavy riffs and fast-paced melodics leveling up everything in front of it. Even Marie traded her high vocals into much lower tones. Thats explains why I found it takes a 180 flip from “Lacus”.
Things starts with a symphonic opening “Enter the Other One Inside” giving this aspect of grandiose rapidly followed by the heavy tones of “Amphisbaena” reminding us something similar to “Hei! Aa-Shanta’nygh!” but also something different: Marie hitting the low octave for the first time in their discography. You are kind of confused if Marie is still in until she hits the higher notes as a reminder (yep, thats Marie!). Alwaid bringing up the big show, big time in their opening act! It is rapidly followed by “When Giants Wake” and “The Whale” bringing some melodic death tunes in it, keeping you riding afloat. “The Lord of Cities” reminds me a lot “The Scream That No One Heard”, my favorite on “Lacus”, feeling like a power metal ballad by its fast-paced drums, its heavy and melodics  and Marie high-vocal pitch. It is like riding a Rainbow Unicorn from Hell and slashing orcs and ghouls in the Valley of Death. “Monsters By Gaslight” have this kind of feeling that I would hear from Whyzdom (another of my favorite French metal band) and pumps you up enough to grab your mighty axe and slash some demons.
“Sang Noir” slows down the whole album but in a good manner, bringing this melodic ballad track with some familiar with “The Cypress Grove”.
“So The Song Went”, track 8 brings on this orchestral opening giving this feel I had with “Alghavil Altannin” from their previous album, slow and  languishing pain almost feeling like doom metal. “Idle Riddles And Rhymes” is certainly the most symphonic song of the all album, with this dark symphonic tones. “Fractalized” is the acoustic ballad track of the album, with an acoustic guitar that is a pleasing. “The Call of the Wild” is the one that I would say is the weakest track of the whole album. I don’t know why or to how to explain it but found it quite displeasing to my ears.
Alwaid perfectly renewed their winning formula of “Lacus…” and yet improving it by making it heavier, bolder, faster and darker. In a time where a lot of FFM bands water down their metal with post-processing or an overuse of keyboards putting the guitars in the back burner, Alwaid brings them upfront. The result? Something that makes you feel like riding in the Valley of Death on a Unicorn from Hell and slashing an army of orcs with your mighty axe. France, slowly but surely, is joining the elite club of FFM bands and Alwaid is certainly the challenger you want to keep an eye on. Rightfully, it merits the June “album of the month”.

[Videogames/Metal] Brutal Legend – XB360 (80%)

Sometimes you never know what you can find in a Gamestop “dumpster” (you know the $5 or less /$20 or less games holding on some cardobard shelves). One was Brutal Legend. I had my eyes on when I have played once the demo downloaded from Xbox Live. I really liked it for two reasons:
Firstly,  it was a game heavily influenced by metal and there are very few that come in mind. I still remember the attempt of Motley Crue to cash on Crueball on Genesis (a pinball-based game, also used by Kiss in one of these PC budget games), Motorhead on Amiga/Atari ST (a beat-them up developed by Ocean somewhere in 1992) or Iron Maiden Ed Hunter featuring Eddie in a kind of “Operation Wolf” game.
Secondly,  for what seemed a cool storyline. The story features Eddie Riggs, a “roadie” setting up the stage for a rock band called Kabbage Boy, lets say Eddie is rightfully not fond of his performance. As Eddie sets stage, a element of the stage falls on directly aiming one of the band member. Eddie jumps to his rescue only to get crushed by the scenery element. Eddie wakes up in a complete strange world, directly taken from some of the best heavy metal album artworks. Here Eddie becomes an anti-hero fighting demons with his mighty axe and his guitar riffs.
After playing back-and-forth with the game during the last month, I finally finished it up tonight. There are the good, the very good and the very annoying part of the game.
The good thing about the game is its very high fidelity of the game towards the material it got inspired by. It is heavy metal at its finest with the contribution of kings of the genre   appearing as cameos such as Ozzy Osbourne (Black Sabbath/Ozzy Osbourne,appearing as the guardian of metal, the shop to go to upgrade your weapons and your car), Rob Halford (Judas Priest, posing as the Fire Baron), Lemmy Kilmister (Motorhead, the bass-playing Kill Master), Lita Ford (presented as Lita, one leader of the human resistance)……
The second good thing (if you ignore the annoying part) is this semi-open space allowing you to drive through the heavy metal hell, ramming through the wildlife and allowing you to complete some side quests and unlock some uniqueness (monuments, dragons…..) that will buildup your combat skills.
Then comes the very good part: the storyline and the damn good playlist. The storyline is simply awesome as you end up fighting hordes of glam/hair metal villains, with the stereotype of the hair metal bands that flourished in the 80s, followed by a dive into the depressive doom and gloom of gothic/doom metal genre (with some of the best enemies to fight, straight out of a Tim Burton mind) and finally a quick insight into industrial metal (at the very end). For most of these, you have a remarkable playlists of metal bands that perfectly match the missions: fighting off glam metal troops with Motley Crue “Dr. Feelgood”, only to escape the crumbling White Lion palace through the soundtrack of of the UK powermetal band Drangonforce “Through the Fire and The Flames”. Just playing this part of the game in which you are slaloming between dragons breaking bridges and blocking roads with that blowing in the background music worth its amount of pesos. It is not one, but over 100 songs in that playlist that you can play through driving in the metal Hell, something very similar to a GTA game. Some of the best and most versatile metal playlist I have ever heard into a video game: Dragonforce, Judas Priest, Motorhead, Scorpions, Motley Crue, Carcass, Dimmu Borgir, Accept, Megadeath…..
Just for that the game worth the purchase.
Now comes the very annoying part of the game: the simile-RTS game sequence. At some point in the game, you will be asked to play a sort of real-time strategy game (you know the type of Dune II, Command & Conquer, Warcraft…), in a very primitive form, using the metal as a source: The stage being your main base/barracks; the march store towers being the source of energy to harvest and troops from the basic headbangers grunt to the juggernaut unit capable to blast off towers. The idea is great, the put into practice? Meh…….it felt more than a pain than anything else as you have to go back and forth to get to the units. The other thing that also made me quit the game halfway is that mission in which you have to capture wild feral cats (looking as KISS-like panthers) by circling them with a circle of fire. The controls were just terrible and makes you really want to give up. As a sidenote, the presence of redudant sidequest (ambush enemies, defend your tower, race against the same foe) felt like a lot of deja-vu. You have to do them to gain skill points to upgrade your character but felt more a curfew than anything else (especially at a certain point of the game you have so much skill points accumulated but nowhere to redeem the upgrades).
In conclusion, if you love heavy metal and looking for a good game really doing a service  to the genre, grab a copy and play it. The game is far from perfect, there are much better adventure games and real RTS games to quench your thirst than this one. But in my opinion, this was the PERFECT metal game ever I have been playing so far and really wish someone decides to renew this experience.

[Sciences/Junk Sciences] How the recent AHA recommendation on coconut oil is making many getting nuts (and why coconut oil is not an healthy choice)!

Coconut oil. Coconut oil. Yep, that same coconut oil that (almost) nobody knew about a couple of years ago and suddenly became the next big thing in fad diets. Some claimed it is healthier than vegetable oil (http://pilatesnutritionist.com/why-coconut-oil-is-better-than-vegetable-oil/; which turned out is not true), other claimed it can help you loose weight (https://authoritynutrition.com/coconut-oil-and-weight-loss/; that is also hard to imagine how to loose fat by keeping an high-fat diet) or even use it as a natural sunscreen (http://thecoconutmama.com/coconut-oil-sunscreen/; which of course will more likely help you roast like a rotisserie chicken).
You see the fad went a bit crazy with the habitual “wellness” bloggers making miraculous claim. The fact is coconut oil is no better than any oil and indeed maybe as bad as any saturated fats.
The only thing that I would say coconut oil is good, is giving you some tasty and crunchy fries that are not too greasy. Any French household know the “Vegetaline” brand (basically solid coconut oil that you mix with half sunflower oil to get a frying oil).

What is (in terms of chemical composition) coconut oil?

Coconut oil is extracted from the inner side of the coconut. It is also called copra oil. Some coconut oil are referred as “organic coconut oil” and even some referring as GMO-free coconut oil (you know the GMO-free project sticker that have no sense except operating as a form of racketeering? There are been never any GM-coconuts that hit the market. http://www.zebraorganics.com/organic-virgin-raw-coconut-oil-1-gallon-tub-zebra-organics.html?gclid=Cj0KEQjwyZjKBRDu–WG9ayT_ZEBEiQApZBFuK3KbEfSPhyNyx9z9eNUIwAmd6OwcxTWJUYKADA_fhEaAnvd8P8HAQ). Therefore, we consider all coconut oil equals (maybe slight variations between cultivars but this should not affect much the overall composition to be considered significant).

Before we discuss about the composition of coconut oil, it is important to know what a fatty acid is. Fatty acids (FA) are hydrocarbon chains (made of carbons and hydrogens) that are very similar to molecules belonging to alkanes (these are the molecules such as propane, butane and octane that are present in your propane gas tank right now fueling your grill, fueling your gas stove or fueling your SUV).
In contrast to alkanes, FA have a carboxyl (-COOH) “head” denominated and seen below:

We have two type of FA: saturated FAs (fully loaded with hydrogens) and unsaturated FAs (that have one or several C=C double bounds). Saturated FAs are usually found in fat products from animal origin (lard, butter, ghee…) whereas unsaturated FAs are usually found in plants (olive, rapseed/canola, corn, sunflower…) and in fish and seafood (usually polyunsaturated fatty acids or PUFAs aka omega- fatty acids). Unsaturated FAs either show a cis-form (like the oleic acid depicted, in which the two carbon branches are in the same side) or a trans-form (in which the two pieces of the carbon branches are opposing each other). Trans unsaturated FAs (aka trans-fats) have been already a bad rep because of their detrimental effects on the cardiovascular system (they are suspected to increase LDL levels which are known to contribute in the atherosclerotic plaques formation). Saturated FAs are also having a bad rep because they are also associated with increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, whereas unsaturated FAs (commonly found in “the Mediterranean diet”) are considered healthier.
FAs composition are usually denominated as the following: Cn:m with n referring to the number of carbons (usually an even number), m referring to the number of C=C. In our cases, stearic and oleic acid share the same number of carbon (C18) but the former has no C=C bounds (C18:0) and the latter has a C=C bound (C18:1).
Based on this table, you can see how coconut oil fares to other oils (https://www.chempro.in/fattyacid.htm)
It contains 90% of saturated FAs and 10% unsaturated FAs, whereas most of other oils commonly used in Western countries have at least 50% or more of unsaturated FAs. To give you an idea lard, tallow (beef) and butter contains 40%, 37% and 41% respectively.  You can see how coconut oil is exploding the chart.

But, but this is coming from one study and science has been wrong all the time

If you stick to mainstream media, you will get this impression right. News outlets like to sell single studies as sold and irrefutable evidence and often oversell the claims of that study. Science is never settled, especially on a single study. Many things can go wrong that result in bias. Sometimes, scientists even cut the corners and publish fraudulent data to support their claims (thats what you see a lot with anti-vaccines, anti-GMO papers, climate-deniers, creationism……).
Science build a consensus on the amount of publications and their robustness in their experimental design. When you have an overwhelming majority of papers show you a same trend, arrive to same conclusion on a phenomenon using different approaches and different observations by different groups, you reach a conclusion and set a consensus.
A consensus is only broken once you have new studies that refute the existing claims with more robust and more precise data than the existing literature. This happens very rarely as you have to being in a weight of evidence bigger than the existing literature.

The science on FAs and their effect on cardiovascular diseases is not new, this have been known for over 50 years and keep refining. This consensus built on the detrimental effects of high-fat diet is well-known and served to establish guidelines and public health recommendations. The American Heart Association, the leading association worldwide gathering both basic and clinical scientists as well as any healthcare actors establish guidelines.

The AHA has a clear statement, visible here:
http://news.heart.org/advisory-replacing-saturated-fat-with-healthier-fat-could-lower-cardiovascular-risks/
Replacing saturated fats may help to reduce your risk of cardiovascular events, in addition to an healthy (balanced) diet and physical activity.

The study that made the uproar is available here and comes from the scientific board of the AHA. You can download it for free and you can see another fat composition of different oils:
http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/early/2017/06/15/CIR.0000000000000510

As you can see, coconut oil tops the list of saturated oils and fats, followed by butter and lard. Saturated fats consumption are clearly associated with increased risk of coronary heart diseases (CHD, aka heart attack), replacement with unsaturated fats reduce such risks. Replacement with PUFAs appears even more beneficial. Such effects is not limited to CHDs, but appears involved in other diseases as well (see Figure 4).

In conclusion, dont ditch your coconut oil yet. As small amount, coconut oil is fine. What is not fine was the fad diet that was basically pushing you to switch everything to coconut oil. In my personal opinion, I would say that butter (real unsalted butter like the French “President”, Irish “Kerrygold” or Danish “Lupak” butters; not the things called margarines that were at the basis of the trans-fat problem),  was even a better alternative  than coconut oil.

In conclusion, keep your peanut oil for your deep-frying cooking, keep your canola oil for your dressings and use olive oil for cooking instead of lard and coconut oil. If the taste of coconut oil is good, just add the minimal amount needed to taste.

 

[Movies/Horror] Lucio Fulci 90th Birthday (1927-1996)

 

Today marks the 90th anniversary of defunct Lucio Fulci’s birthday. If you are accustomed to the Italian horror movies from the late 70s/early 80s you may heard his name. If not, then you are missing big time on horror movies. I consider Fulci being a important piece in the “golden era” of the European horror movies, a period that spanned from the early 60s until the late 80s. Some even nicknamed him “The Godfather of Gore” and in my opinion rightly deserves this title.

Lucio was born on June 17, 1927 in Roma (Italy) and died on March 13, 1996 in Roma (Italy). Interestingly enough, Lucio early career was predestined him to follow a medical career path. He decided to drop from medical school to focus on a filming career by being a writer for several movies that never stemmed out much outside the Italian movie marketplace. His early years as movie writer, producer was not really making him standout from the heard (you know some comedy movies, some espionage and action movies…..) until his 1969 movie called “Beatrice Cenci” (aka The Conspiracy of Torture) that will mark his entrance into the thriller genre, in particular into the giallo sub-genre. It was also the movie that costed Lucio some serious frictions with the Catholic Church. Lucio was known for being an atheist, with a virulent anti-clerical opinion. A sizable plot of the movie is a diatribe directly aimed to the Vatican and that was enough for Lucio to have some trouble.
Following “Beatrice Cenci”, Lucio pursued a very prolific career with several giallos under his wing and a filmography good enough to get referenced by Quentin Tarantino in “Kill Bill: Volume 1”, with the soundtrack of “Sette Note in Nero” during the scene when Beatrix try to escape from Buck.

zombie_flesh_eatersThe entrance of Fulci into the horror movie genre is certainly through “Zombi 2” aka “Zombies flesh eaters” in 1979.
Initially built on the phenomenal success of George A. Romero’s “Dawn of The Dead” (aka “Zombi” in Europe) as a unofficial knock-off, “Zombi 2” indeed set the whole zombie sub-genre with “Lucio’s Zombies”. Unlike Romero’s one, these ones are putrid, rotten, full of maggots and with a dereliction for some of the gruesome fatalities.

What in my opinion made the Fulci movies so captivating was the winning formula between Fulci filming coupled with Fabio Frizzi’s soundtrack giving this surrealistic atmosphere in Zombi 2. I will not spill the beans much but the plot sets place in Manhattan with a drifting boat coming into the Hudson bay. Harbor police board the ship only to get attacked by a zombi, such zombi get shot by a police officer, fell overboard to (apparently) become bait for fish. NYPD identifies the boat, leading the investigation to identify the owner, a physician-scientist located in a field study in some Caribbean island, and his daughter. One of the movies inclusive of underwater zombies with the memorable fight between a zombie and a shark (I will let you find out who won that fight).
Follows on a series of cult horror movies from him including:
* “City of Living Dead” (aka “Frayeurs” in French, the VHS cover haunt me years before I was able to see that movie), with the famous scene of the inside-out evisceration, the coffin scene (that will be another reference used by Tarantino in “Kill Bill: Volume 2”) and the drill murder. It is also showing by its very dark and unhappy ending Fulci’s idea of absence of afterlife.

* “The Black Cat” (aka “Gatto Nero”) inspired by Edgar Allan Poe novel, in which a black cat serves as a vehicle for a murderer (Patrick Magee, the victim of Malcom MacDowell’s droogs in “A Clockwork Orange”) to seek revenge (kitty! kitty! kitty!).

* “The Beyond” (aka “l’Aldila”) forming an unformal trilogy of “Gates of Hell”. Taking place in Louisiana, it follows the demise of a warlock named “Shriek” being chased, tortured and buried alive by an angry mob in a hotel believing that the killing of the warlock would solve their problem. Instead of resolving it, it just opened the door to the Gate of Hell.

* “The House by The Cemetery” is the conclusion of the “Gates of Hell” trilogy. This was one of his movie that does not follow a collaboration with Frizzi. Follows a family move from New York into a old victorian house investigating the work of Dr. Freudenstein.

The rest of his filmography rapidly declined as his health and proven to be unequal. Noteworthy the incursion of Fulci into the “Mad Max” fad that inspired a lot of Italian knockoff movies. Thats another favorite genre of me, in which you get boasted by people wearing leather jackets on motorbike, wandering in abandoned quarries with the sound of Bontempi tunes.

As a French, it was a blessing to have access to all of these movies produced by our Trans-Alpine neighbor, providing us with cheap but so much enjoying knock-off movies, looting from Hollywood movies such as Mad Max, Predator, The Terminator, Star Wars…..

But the best was the horror movies. Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento being my two favorites. If you have not checked them out, you are missing big time.

 

 

 

[Metal/Gothic Metal] The Gathering – Always (25th Anniversary Release)

Yesterday marked the 25th anniversary of The Gathering first album “Always”, released in June , 1992. I retrospectively discovered this album after being introduced to the band through “Mandylion”. It was their only doom metal album, with Bart Smits in the growl, but man that was my gateway to doom/gothic metal. And even 25 years later, it still have the freshness. It is a 48 minutes album, spanning over 8 tracks, nicely blending the guitars and the keyboards.
We got into it “The Mirrors Waters”, that has this distinctive keyboard tunes opening the track and bringing on the heaviness cloak of doom, rapidly introducing Bart growls. The second track, “Subzero”, brings a higher speed tone but never sacrifice the heaviness. The third track, “In Sickness And Health”, continues into the doom with an heavy influence of the keyboards. It is a nice one, but kind of a weak one too. “King for A Day”, wipes it out from your mind pretty quickly, imposing itself as my favorite track. Its starts heavy and doom to slowly transition into a progressive track with the keyboards leading the way and giving Marieke Groot (the female supporting vocal) a full opportunity to display her vocal performance.  With Barts hitting the low cleans and Marieke hitting the high notes, it gives this magic atmosphere.
The rest of the album continues in the doom tunes with “Second Sunrise” and “Stonegarden”, two enjoyable tracks. “Always” breaks the mold as an instrumental mostly played on the keyboards with backing drums, feeling you sailing boat ashore. “Gaya’s Dream”, the last track, concludes the album with the same tunes that most of the rest of the album.
Unfortunately, that was the only album from the band that was close from doom as it can be. Their second album was honestly a disaster, a hodge podge, an UFO in their discography. By “Mandylion”, their third album, and the introduction of Anneke in the band, the sound was deeply settled into Gothic and lasted for their next two albums. There is a reason why Sam Dunn (BangerTV) had The Gathering placed in the Gothic Metal family tree, and they rightfully belongs to it. They set the tone for European metal bands in that genre and surely set the way for female-fronted gothic metal bands. I personally think the Gathering did a major public service to Dutch metal bands, as few years following their release and touring, Dutch metal bands flourished as tulips bringing some of the best metal to hear (Within Temptation, After Forever, Epica…)
There are two versions of the album: the original recording (see the featured image) and a re-engineered version dubbed “Downfall – The Early Years”. Avoid the latter one as the plague. The goal of a re-engineering is to improve the original master to a higher quality. Seems that the sound engineer behind that thought otherwise, resulting in a sort of washing machine sounds that in my opinion slash the original tracks.
Otherwise, if you want to hear some influential bands in the European Gothic Metal and like to explore some metal history, you should grab a copy and listen. A pleasurable experience to listen.