[Metal/Pop] Within Temptation – Resist (70%)

After five years of fairly blackout period from the band, following a lot of introspection and need to solve private issues, Within Temptation finally released their new album “Resist” on February 1st. A lot of mystery was on, a lot of speculation too as Sharon launched about a year ago a solo pop album “My Indigo”. How would the album sound? Will they go back to their roots? Will they continue in the direction taken with their previous album “Hydra”? Well, the release of “The Reckoning” kind of gave a flavor and honestly failed to impress me. However, I wanted to give my respect to the band and bought the album (standard edition, the $5 extra for the instrumental tracks and radio edit are in my opinion overpriced). Well, I am gonna tell you, this has been the most divisive album I have to listen because it is not an easy thing to downgrade a band you have been cherished all these years. Imagine you have admiration for what you think is certainly one of the best band you have ever heard, only to realize now that band have been setting the quality bar so low that it is basically feels like any soup served on the FM station (I only listen to the FM radio when I take my wife car, because I forget most of the time my iPod classic in my car. Seldomly taking my wife car).
Thats how I feel and somehow translated in some interviews by the band. You feel the band is exhausted, is running out of juice. Yet, the band is trying to reformulate itself as a new image, a kind of futuristic sci-fi that I honestly don’t dislike, if the music was better. WT has been betting high on taking full sail on the pop-electronica scene, leaving the original fans pretty dry and bitter. I would be honest, I can gut half of the album and not even regret it. But in the same time, there are some tracks that although being really watered down when it comes to metal (maybe the drums are the only thing left) that have still catchy songs. And Sharon shows us again how talented she is. I can guarantee to you she will eat any of the pop singers addicted to auto-tunes with a swift snap. In the realms of meow-meow pop singers, Sharon is the queen. This is an album holding 10 songs, totaling about 48 minutes.
Lets first get rid of the annoying tracks. They failed to impress me and sounded really what I would listen to a FM radio. Basically an auditory torture. “The Reckoning”, “Holy Ground”, “In Vain”, “Firelight” and “Mercy Mirror”, you are out. About more than half of the album made of fillers.
Now lets focus on the interesting tracks. Let’s start with “Endless War”. At first, it sounds like the opening sequence of an Arabic “mussalssal” which is for me a torture for my ears, but it gets better with Sharon kicking in. And it’s good to hear Sharon singing, with some echoes of the past with some musical arrangements reminding of their previous albums mixed with electronic tunes. “Raise Your Banner”, the third track, is okay and maybe of the few that sounds like Symphonic Metal to my ears. “Supernova”, the fourth track is certainly my favorite, the one that grew up on me over listening. Sharon shows us that she can kick, even with the use of electronica and make some catchy tunes.  Listen to it, and tell me you are not captivated by the catchy tunes:

“Mad World” is the next favorite, with a nice mix of both metallic and electronic giving this industrial vibe. Another one in which Sharon is excelling into giving us catchy tunes. “Mercy Mirror” is a fine one, with some metal elements, sounding more familiar to what we expect from the band. “Trophy Hunter” is the third favorite one of the album, by its industrial tunes and the catchy tunes.
Conclusion? Well I will be honest. Sharon has been talking about how the band was exhausted, tired, bored. The mean half of me would say “time to pull the plug and let go” and let members of the band grow and expand their own musical garden. The nice half of me would say “well the band is rebranding themselves with a new look, new logo more palatable to millennials”. By entering the realms of rock/electronic pop, they surely come with a added bonus and advantage because they were at some point a AAA band in the scene and would eat any meow-meow bands out there as my son eats his cereals for breakfast.
Yet, I feel bad and disappointed to have been served such a half-baked cookie after 5 years. Yes, there are some chunks in it that are yummy but the rest of the cookie tasted bland and lacked originality. Not even mentioning the anemic US tour that is basically ignoring the whole southern half of the US (the closest I can get is Denver, which is a whooping 7 hours drive), which adds an extra layer of salt on the wound. The disappointment left by the album makes me really reconsider investing into a trip to Denver. At least, they could have added Dallas to the tour (14 gigs only in the whole North America, including Canada). I guess this the time what I will let their boat sail, me on the docking pier, while swiping my tissue.

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[Music/Doom Metal] Swallow The Sun – When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light (95%)

Three years after the release of “Songs from The North I, II and III”, Swallow The Sun released their latest album “When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light” last January. It has been for a week  spinning on my iTunes while I was working on my grants writing and accompanied me through the pain and sufferance of this Sisyphean punishment shared by any academic researcher.
The band gave us a nice teaser into the album by sharing an off-track composition “Lumina Aurea”, a majestic audiovisual composition, simple but yet deeply intimate. I see this album as Juha marking the last stage of grievance since the passing of Aleah almost three years ago: the stage of acceptance and celebration of love and life. While his contribution in Hallatar super-band album “No Star Upon The Bridge” was intimately fueled with the mourning, the anger and the loss of someone dearest to you, this album felt a majestic escapade of solace, of celebration of life and love via some enjoyable shoegaze-like guitar ballads. The album is a 8-track totaling 53 minutes.
We are greeted by “When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light” which is opening the album with a bang, full of heaviness and guitar ballad, making probably the heaviest song of the album. It sets the tone by celebrating life and love, reiterating that love is stronger than death. The second track, “The Crimson Crown”, introduction appears to me as a continuation of “Lumina Aurea” and taking it where we ended it few weeks ago. It is a just a remarkable guitar ballad, light-hearted and very enjoyable lyrics. The third track of the album is “Firelights”. I personally found it as one of my least favorite ones of the album. You can hear it below.

“Upon The Water”, the fourth track is quickly vanishing “Firelights” out of my mind with a doom track as only Swallow The Sun can write and compose. Majestic track from the album. “Upon the water, song of the birds still echo your silence. The lowtide is gone, forever, forever…“, how can anyone not shed a tear and being rumbled by these lyrics.

“Stone Wings” is another beautiful song to listen, by the combined beauty of the lyrics and the musical arrangement. “And when you speak, words of silence, worlds will crumble in and skies will open“. “Clouds on Your Side”, the sixth track, is a natural flowing song nicely transitioning from the previous track, coming naturally out of the heart “Don’t you ever, don’t you ever close your heart to me?“. I wonder who is the narrator reciting a French poem at the end of the track ending with these words “A travers ton ocean de douleur, le Soleil percera et tu verra un autre jour“. “Here on The Black Earth” is the ninth track, and another beautiful song, typical of Swallow the Sun with a touch of shoegaze. Finally, we conclude the album with “Never Left”, the eight track of the album, that is for me the most sincere, and honest one of the album, because it is about accepting our fate, our loss and hoping that tomorrow we will be reunited again. “It’s too late, to dream again, of tomorrow, without the dark………
What I can say? Well that Swallow the Sun has been perfecting their sound making them unique in the doom metal scene, by their melancholic and richness in the composition. “When A Shadow…..” is a strong album talking about loss, grievance, sufferance but yet about the celebration of love and life. This is the pick of this month, setting the path of being my 2019 album.
“Death is stronger than life. Love is stronger than death”

[Music/Metal] 2018 as seen by my album picks

2018 was, in retrospective, a year in which quality trumped over quantity. Not many albums (and EPs) got picked this year, but a good lot of digging of new horizons, some surprises, some disappointments and some “fairly good” stuff.  I hate trying to set my Top 10 of the year, for many reasons. But here are my album picks for this year, ranked alphabetically.

 

Clouds – Dor

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I love listening to doom metal, because it is a genre that allows me to undergo an introspective meditation, allow some of my melancholy to resurface and think about those that I loved and are no more existent. This album spoke straight into my limbic system and heavily touch my feelings. It is something that rarely musical pieces are capable to achieve. Dor is an honest work from the author that is intimate and sincere.

Ex-Libris – Ann (Chapter 1 EP)

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Dianne strikes back with her prog metal band Ex-Libris and damn it is just pure bliss to listen to her in something more cocky, more proggy, more versatile, in other words more “Ex-Libris”. Sure the EP is only three songs and kind of let you thirsty for more but surely looking forward to listen to the rest. If you like Dianne’s voice and ready to embrace some nicely crafted prog metal, you should grab this EP.

FT-17  – Verdun!

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FT-17 brought in his second album, right on the mark of the 100th anniversary of the final offense of Verdun, as the tide turned on “La Der des Ders”, thanks to the involvement of the American troops on the front, bringing new troops and new warfare. The album continues where we left our private Marcellin Trouve, now fully inside the hellfire of Verdun. The band nicely translated the fury and violence of the trench wars in their second album, that not only will satisfy black/death metal enthusiasts, not without getting a lesson on World War 1, and the atrocity (if not the plain futility) of this war that decimated a whole generation and set the world on fire for the next 100 year.

Ghost – Prequelle

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Ghost. Rarely a band has been so divisive and such a zebra for metalheads. Also, the media firestorm that engulfed Ghost by revealing the identity of Papa Emeritus (identified as Tobais Forge), the fratricide conflict that has hit the band. “Prequelle” was a good album, but honestly I was not as much blow away as I was from their first two albums. There are some good tunes such as “Rats” , “Faith”. Some very interesting and engaging experiments such as “Miasma” bringing 80s synths and jazzy saxophone into the mix. But also a good half of the album I could just toss because “meh”. Is the album good? Yes it is good. Does it deserve being #1 of metal of the 2018 Top 10? I think there are contenders for that position.

Hellight – As We Slowly Fade 

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This was a late-one coming to my ear. Coming from Brazil, an impressive doom metal album. When you think about Brazil, you think about colored beaches, carnaval, sunshine, futbol and samba. Well, you also have a lightbulb turning on with metal bands such as “Sepultura” and “Nervosa Thrash”. But getting into an album that bring the darkest tones of doom from Brazil is almost mission impossible. Yet, Hellight shows us that Brazil can impress us and produce some gems. If you are looking for some doom coming outside the realms of Asgard, you will have a secured pick.

Kalidia – The Frozen Throne

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Kalidia brought us their second album this Fall, showing us that slowly but surely the Italian power metal scene is getting hands on with promising rising star. It is a very nice follow-up of their first album, more focused, harder, louder, faster and full of vigor like a young wolf. You can find a more detailed review in my previous posts.

 

Lux in Tenebris – To A New Eternity

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Marion-Lamita is back, after going through tumultuous and rocky years, into the scene by experimenting new avenues. One of theme is “Lux In Tenebris”, an EP that is pretty good considered the limited access she had. There is some potential to grow here, most of the EP is pleasing to the ears and hopefully can set a ramp to something promising. I wish good luck to her and Thierry for having a transforming and prolific 2019.
https://youtu.be/ODGes7gG5VM

 

Oceans of Slumber – The Banished Heart

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Oceans of Slumber was another surprise, especially coming from Houston. What I can tell more about? Well nothing much, except to read the review I published on earlier this year. One of my favorite album I have for this year!. A must-listen album!

Ophidian Spell – Nux/Hemera

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This was really a random pick as my SO went visiting my family back home. I asked her to pick me some albums from local bands in my favorite record store in my hometown and this was one of the album pick really just by randomness (my wife hates metal, so it was really random and just guided by genres given). Result? A very interesting prog/technical death album that is a delight to hear. It is fast, it is furious, but it is also nicely set with “dentelles” around, giving a kind of the best of both worlds for me. Give a try to their tunes, this one from their track “Mental Universe”. https://youtu.be/jIr9pWVToOQ

Omnium Gatherum – The Burning Cold

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2018 was the year I kind of embraced Finnish melodic death. First it was Insomnium with their last album “Winter’s Gate” (in complete opposition to critics, I really really loved that one), then my second pick this year was Omnium Gatherum. A very good album overall nicely blending the brutality of death with a good ounce of melodics giving this escapism to Finland forest. You can find my full review on that one too in my previous posts.
https://youtu.be/cydhfda6rXI

Ragana – Let Our Names Be Forgotten (EP)
Another discovery this year. Ragana, coming from Oakland, CA. An interesting pick for sludge metal this year. Rough, dark and primal. I liked it.
https://youtu.be/wCI1Xxus3HI

Sytigian Crown – Through Divine Rite (EP)
Another EP discovered while wandering on Bandcamp. It has this Black Sabbath-esque kind of vibes, coming from the LA scene that I found very pleasant.

Swallow the Sun – Lumina Aurea (EP)
Swallow the Sun simply outdid themselves by releasing an audiovisual wondering experience with Lumina Aurea. Get your best AV equipment and watch this!

Therion – Beloved Antechrist

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Therion. A band that keeps breaking the norms, that keeps experimenting and setting milestones in the metal scene, that their fan like it and not. They know how to do impressive stuff and “Beloved Antechrist” was would an opera metal would sounds like if it was a real theatrical performance. A 3 hour album. What? You did not get it? You have been missing something big. Again, I will refer back to my previous blog post.

Whyzdom – As Time Turns To Dust
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Whyzdom, my go-to French symphonic metal band that is playing now at the same field than juggernauts such as Epica and Nightwish, while having their own “French touch”. It is baroque, well-orchestrated and very pleasant to the ears. Again, you can find my review on this one as well. What? You never heard about Whyzdom? Listen to them and get a catch-up course ASAP.

Wolfheart – Constellation of the Black Light

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My second Finnish melodic death album of the year. A damn good album overall to listen. It is loud, fast, brutal yet again a road to escapism from Finland. Did I ever told you how Finland knows how to blacksmith their metal with such elegance? Enough said!

This was about my 2018 year in music, and the least I can say as I become older I become picky on my choices.  Lets see what 2019 will give me.

 

[Metal/Doom] Swallow The Sun – Lumina Aurea (EP)

Swallow the Sun just released their EP “Lumina Aurea” today, right on the Winter Solstice, the day with the shortest daylight and the longest night. For those who know Swallow the Sun and their epic melancholic doom, we know that this EP would not be a jolly ride. Indeed, with some project like “Hallatar”, they showed us how dark and melancholic they can reach. But this one, oh my, this one is as dark as it can be in a Finnish forrest on a solstice night. It is an outstanding piece of doom to listen, doubled by an excellent photography of Northern Finland/Lapland and production by excellent Italian musicians (Francesco Sosto, Giuseppe Orlando, Gianpaolo Caprino and Frederico Di Pofi) . Never a forrest covered with pure white snow felt so dark and depressing.
It is an outstanding visual and auditory gift given by the band, a 14-minutes introspection to remember about the ones we loved and that are gone. This is the kind of video you want to see in 4K (put your YT setting on the highest quality) with the best audio equipment, to fully appreciate the beauty of melancholy.
Mors Fortior Quam Vita Est, Amor Fortior Quam Mors Est” (Latin translation: “Death is Stronger than Life, Love is Stronger Than Death). My deepest and sincere condolences for the ones we have lost during this year, my compassions and feels for those that have lost their loved ones.

[Videogames/XB1] Fallout 76 (76%)

Sooo…..it has been about a month (and few extra hours from the BETA program) that I have playing Fallout 76. I am about to reach level 50 (the last level in which you obtain a SPECIAL point), and also it is marking my personal milestones of about 50 hours of gaming.
The least I can tell is that a lot of people out there have been disappointed, if not utterly mad about the game. Sometimes for valid reasons, quite often for exaggerating the facts. The least I can say however is that Bethesda has not managed the PR damage control, by adding salts to the wound on several occasions: ridiculously overpriced “Tricentennial Edition” (that give you something worth $5 extra while paying over $15 just because it is “a special edition”, server hiccups, feeling of a game filled with bugs and glitches (the BETA as good as it was felt sometimes like an ALPHA version), ridiculously big downloads (the physical copy is basically the content of a CD-Rom burned on a Blu-Ray, 99% wasted, leading to download over 50GB on the Net. With a decent rural Internet, it took me at least a solid 3 hours………until it was asked to download the first update as large as the game a week later), CAMP disappearing at each logon on the servers, “deceptive/blunder” marketing on the Deluxe kit (The Power Armor edition, priced $300, was expected to be delivered with a fabric-grade duffle bag, not a cheap nylon material), sudden price discount of the game (we are one week about Christmas and the game price already melted by at least 30%. A month after launch!).
Yet, after all these trouble, I still like this game, with all its bugs and glitches, its server disconnections and XB1 game freezes. I have really enjoyed wandering in the Appalachia, learning survival 101 and dealing with the critters that populate the region. I even found myself at odds in taking pictures around in the game (thing I almost never do in my gameplays) because of some weird humor or awkward glitches. I will try to divide this review into several parts, talking about my experience and frustrations.

******WARNING******************SPOILERS AHEAD******************WARNING******

The storyline: 
The storyline starts as you hear the Overseer’s waking you up to celebrate “Reclamation Day”, about 20 years after the bombs fell. You have been living in the Vault 76 since you were born and you wake up, rested and shiny from the Overseers call. You are asked to leave the vault and reclaim the land out there (we will figure out that the voice was a prerecorded message, with the Overseer’s likely left weeks ago). This allows us to a basic character shaping, very similar to Fallout 4.  Once you are happy, smile and get your ID card set.
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From there, you are limited by the choice, you can only pick your Pip-Boy on your way out, get to grab your C.A.M.P. (a device that at the acronym stand as your camping device), a couple of canned food, two purified water containers and basically that’s it. There is no-return and no way you can even grab the junk from your room while you exit. I felt it was tad disappointing since you will never ever step foot inside the house. You get to pick a bag of perk cards on your way and automatically get leveled up to level 2, introducing you to the perk system in this game. You arrive in front of the vault, saying goodbye to what you called home for the last 20 years and leave on your own.
For the first time, you see the light, standing in front of the vault door with no obligation to follow any path. You are free to go whatever you feel like to go, but sticking with the Overseer’s journey (that is so far the main quest I am still completing) is certainly the best approach to start. A lesson I have learned is to stay near the vault to start and look for items and stuff. You will find a Responders corpse near the entrance, providing you with a very useful machete. Take a left and you will face the Liberators, a sort of Chinese toaster on legs that are certainly the most annoying thing in this game. If you look around, you can easily grab your hands on a pipe pistol, .38 caliber ammos, a couple of fragmentation grenades and some junk (I will come to the junk later). Bravo, you are ready to wander through the Appalachia, almost (after your learning curve).

The perk and SPECIAL system:
The skill assignment system is very different, yet similar, to Fallout 4. Once again, we end up with one skill per level. Each skill is associated to a SPECIAL. You start the game with all your SPECIAL at level 1. As you progress into level 2, you get to choose which SPECIAL you want to increase by 1, allocating you one slot for a perk card.
Perk cards can harbor ranks (1,2 and 3) that will take as many slots as rank. Some perks have three tiers such as “Expert perk” and “Master perk” and this is where it becomes very confusing. For example “lock pick” and “hacker” have these three tiers. You would think that keeping the “Master lock pick” will automatically grant you access to all levels of lock pick you can face in the game (level 0, 1, 2 and 3). Well, no. With only a “Master Lockpick” in your SPECIAL deck, you will have no advantage than the “Lockpick” card. Now, most of the time I have played the game, I have encountered at maximum a couple of times a level 3 locked door or terminal. Because you can shuffle cards, you can keep some cards in reserve and bring them as they become handy (for instance, flip your “gunsmith” cards only when you are interested in crafting a weapon, using the slots for other cards during your exploration.
It was honestly a mess during my BETA game and decided to restart from scratch when the game officially launched. There is also a very handy website called Nukes and Dragons that will let you help build your character based on the desired perks and SPECIAL.
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I build up my character to be able to sustain the harsh environment of the Appalachia, yet in the same time a class of character that matches my personality (science/medic) and with a sniper build (because a scientist weight the benefits of preventing trouble by taking it from afar). There are some perk cards that have interesting names (pharmacist, vaccinated,….) but with limited interest when you consider about. Some are plain stupid and useless like “Woodchucker” or “Party Boy/Girl” and are just waste.
These are some of the perks I have selected based on their feature:
*STRENGTH: Traveling pharmacy (at Rank 3, cut to 90% the weight of chems and stimpacks. Considering the weight of stimpack equals to 1, you can quickly see how advantageous it becomes), Pack Rat (at Rank 3,  cut the weight of your junk by 75%) and bandolier (cut your weight of ballistic ammo by 90%).
*PERCEPTION: Picklock (rank 2 and use the master as needed), Concentrated Fire (this stuff will make at Rank 3 some interesting damage by targeting limbs and increasing VATS accuracy as you keep shooting), Tank Killer (at Rank 3, you will add 36% damage by ignoring armor and even have a chance to stagger your enemy), Riflemans (I maintain them at Rank 1, as Rank 2 and 3 only provide a marginal gain. Maxed Rifleman will cost you 9 SPECIAL points and 60% added damage, whereas keeping them at Rank 1 will give you only 30% added damage but will only consume 3 SPECIAL points. Thats 6 SPECIAL freed for other purposes).
* ENDURANCE: Lead Belly (Rank 3) will remove the needs of worrying about radiation in food, and therefore your reliance on Rad-X/Rad-Away, letting them to keep for the nuke zones.  “Good Doggy” let me rely on one food (canned dog food) that is most of the time free of any disease. Some went savage and choose “Cannibal” as their favorite perk. Enough said.
* CHARISMA: This one is the least important for me, as I mostly play solo. Taking the “Lone Wanderer” perk allows me to deal with more damage and less AP. “Travel Agent” let me save 30% on fast travel. This is a great way to save some precious caps, considering the vendor bots are tougher in deal than Rick from “Pawn Stars”.
* INTELLIGENCE: This one is likely to evolve as you play. “First Aid” is very useful when you start as you will run low on stimpacks during your first half-period of the game. You may also consider taking “plumber repair” as it will help maintaining the condition of your pipe weapons (these are weapons you will use until you are about level 25 and got hands on better weapons). You also want to have “Hacker” and “Expert Hacker” in it, with “Master Hacker” as a perk “as you need”. Scrapper can be handy at the beginning but I quickly dropped because most of the material I get (scrapped wood, scrapped steel, scrapped rubber) are obtained almost on a regular basis. I have upgraded my “Gunsmith” to level 2 and give me most mods for weapons, “Armorer” to level 2 to get decent external armor (until you secure a Power Armor).
* AGILITY: It may sound counterproductive but this is the one I have most SPECIAL in it. I picked the “Action Boy” (Rank 3) allowing to refill the AP high, the “Thru-Hiker” cutting my food weight (including water) by 90%, covert operation (Rank 3) giving me +25% on sneaking with my sniper rifle and “Ammosmith” increasing my production of ammo by 50% (for example 7 shotgun shells, versus 4 shells for the same cost).
* LUCK: This one has some interesting perks. “Pharma farma” (at Rank 3) gives you the “search” option on first aid boxes (Y) and gives you a chance to get an extra stimpack, Rad-Away. “Luck of The Draw”, at Rank 3, will randomly repair your weapon you have been using (very very useful as condition is back into the game!). Finally “starched genes” will let you keep a mutation gained, and some are damn handy. I have caught a “Marsupial” mutation allowing me to jump 10 feet in the air, giving me an height advantage in building.

The gameplay:
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The gameplay is very similar to Fallout 4. Logically, as it utilize the same engine than Fallout 4. Some people complained that it was outrageous that it still uses a 4-years old engine. I think that allow current-generation consoles to run it at their best caapcity. And considering how the game can push these consoles to cry their mother over (with marked frame drops), it is not a bad choice.
The main difference with Fallout 4 is the introduction of weapons and armor levels, which I found was just ridiculous. Why cannot I use a level 45 leather chest armor on my level 2 character? The only difference is a better DR but thats it. The same ridiculous logic apply to weapons and even power armors (you can use a chassis, but you cannot use the level 25 right arm because you are level 24). I would have preferred that you have limitations based on your SPECIAL, something similar to what we had with Fallout 1 and 2 (you needed a minimum STRENGTH for accessing a Power Armor or a Minigun). A grave mistake was to stack on these weapons and armor (including legendaries) in my stash and encumbering it uselessly. You are honestly better off selling what you find to vendors. This comes the problem of the vendors. Vendors have a daily cap of 200 caps per day per factions. You will encounter early in the game vendors belonging to the “Responders” faction. You will find them at train stations, making these locations ideal as you can scrap your junk (this will save a lot of weight) , sell unused weapons, apparel and aids and sometimes fix your weapons or repair your armor.
Crafting stations are back and present all over the place. They are great place to break down the junk into scraps to save on weight. You have the weapons, armor, and chassis crafting benches (craft, modify/repair, scrap), you have the chemistry bench (ideal to scrap items, make stimpacks, dilute your stimpacks, Rad-X and Rad-Away, smelt ores you find in the wilderness), the tinker bench (mostly to prepare ammo and prepare quest items) and finally the cooking station. The cooking station will become an essential item because you will have to boil your dirty water (to avoid catching a disease), grill your meats (to prolong their shelf-life), prepare juices and healing salves. The tinker bench will become very handy as it will save you the need to purchase ammo at the vendors (they will charge you as much as a medical bill will charge you a Tylenol).
You will have to scrap your junk to save space and know how to manage your junk. Wood and steel run galore, aluminum less, adhesive will be your daily worry and I am not even mentioning the screws (oh boy the Excavator Power Armor will ask you a good 80 screws, with a helmet asking much as a torso). Also, ignore the Power Armor until you are at least level 25 as you will hardly encounter a Power Armor that will fit you (I felt it got better over the month as the armor I encountered were closer from my level). Worse, it will claim you cannot use a Power Armor or claim a Power Armor with pieces that are not your level. In addition, Fusion Cores remain a luxury (my piece of advice is collect the FC from the PA you encounter and ignore the rest).
Some people have using glitches in the game to profit on (like one that gave you infinite carry weight, other to grind on disarm traps and gain 20 levels in 2 hours, some used duplicated items and selling them online). The only glitch I have been using was to claim an armor, put the pieces that are not fitting to your level back in, wait for the server to reclaim the armor. This will reclaim a whole PA only at the cost of 10 in weight.
Weapons have also a weight and you will have to make some strategic decisions. I carry a melee (right now the Fire Axe) for grinding ghouls, critters and scorchers (and save precious ammo), my sniper rifle and a shotgun (JIC for close combat). As a scientist, I wished I could use an energy weapon but they are damn weak (you encounter a charged laser sniper rifle dealing a mere 60 DPS, whereas a level-equivalent .308 sniper rifle will inflict almost twice more damage). Therefore, carry and drop/give your excess ammo (vendors will not buy them. Of course, they are selling you top price). I usually play Santa and drop the .38 and .44 in the Overseer’s camp stash (great for low-players, always that saved).
Also gone the Pip-Boy freeze, the action keeps going wether you are accessing your Pip-Boy, lockpicking a safe, or hacking a terminal. You will often get bitten by a creature while you were deciding which perk you want. It takes some adaptation to the game.

The CAMP:
This is where I have my biggest grievance. It is horrible, even after the patch. First, you have a very strong limitation of what you can build, you need to acquire plans for almost everything. The placement was glitchy as hell (the system would put your structure “green” as good to place, only to claim you cannot because there is an obstacle). I have experienced several times my CAMP completely gone, having to rebuild it from scratch. Even when moving the CAMP, you are not guarantee to recover everything and may end up rebuilding whole structures loosing precious items like screws, adhesive, gears or springs. You also have to deal with a restrictive budget. Goodbye McMansions, welcome 2×2 shacks. The stash is also a big problem as it quickly clutters and reach maximum capacity. You may have 600 capacity but you don’t even see how it reached 90% capacity even by cleaning it. I think Bethesda should seriously revisit the weight system with items like bobby pins. Bobby pins (by the 20) weight as much as a missile. You must be kidding me. This is why I try to get rid of useless junk as much as I can (The Whitespring is great because of the “Artisan” shop in which you can craft and sell useless items from the farming to them, as cheap as it can be. A cap remains a cap at the end of the day :p).
I am not even mentioning the workshop that are honestly a waste of money and resources.
What I would really like is that Bethesda let us populate the areas, the empty houses, even with a limited budget. I am not much interested in building but imaging rebuilding communities with Vault dwellers would give this game an amazing possibility without costing much server workload.

The Quests: 
This was my main concern, that I would run out of quests within a couple of weeks since it is an online game. The game is challenging, so you may put a break on a quest and start another one. You may also decide to wander around and explore areas as they appear on your map. Know the game map, as it has certain levels that are accessible to the most grinder player. Heading straight to the Mire at level 2 will lead you to 100% death rate, as much as your average survival time on an interstate highway is. There are maps all over the place and follow the instructions. Dont let you lured by Rose (Top of the World Radio Station) or Mayor Grafton (Grafton Radio), they will bring in levels that you will not enjoy until you are in your 30s and 20s respectively. Same for the Overseer, don’t try to head beyond Charleston until you are mid-20s-30s.
When you feel you cannot get a win, perform a strategical withdrawal and come back to it after 10-15 levels. I got my butt kicked on one of Rose mission (where you have to install a radio transponder on a military radio station) at level 25. Came back to it at level 48 and I went down like Azrael on the supernatants and the robots. You have daily events I suggest to join, they will give you caps, stimpacks, some valuable armor. Performing the quests for the Responders is certainly the best way to gain experience and learn the game mechanics.

The music:
As the music goes, Inon Zur is back and made an excellent composition, giving a very enjoyable music accompanying the game. After all these hours of gameplay I did not feel I was feeling saturated with them. Maybe my least favorite was the music inside the building.

The NPCs interactions:
This is one of the biggest contentious point. The only NPCs are robots and computers. It may appear reluctant at first but in the same time, I did not find it as a big handicap. There are a lot of holotapes, paper notes and terminal entries as witnesses of a long gone civilization. I really appreciated discovering the stories behind these lives,  the building of the lore “after the bombs fell” (we never have a grasp of what it was like after the bomb, at least in the Appalachia). Learning about caravans of refugees, trying to keep a semblance of civil structure (the main mission of the “Responders”), the formation of gangs like the Raiders (and the tragic Christmas flooding event) living by killing and plundering cities and foremost the “Scorch plague” that has been contaminating the Appalachia and transforming the survivors as scorched creatures capable to blabber few words and with a certain frenzy to kill any non-scorched creatures.
My main complain is on some notes that have been very hard to read on my 55-inches plasma TV. I had to get up and get up close to the TV to be able to discern.

Overall conclusion:
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Overall, my gaming experience was satisfactory. I don’t understand all these whiners complain about the game. What did they expect, a Fortnite game? It really has the feeling I was expecting to a Fallout put online. It feels empty, filled with creatures but in the same time you feel like not crowded by other players. I cross players through my runs and automatically say hi as you feel like less alone and some friendly presence out there (although some experience griefing players, taking a certain hedonism to smash and kill other players and their possessions for fun. I have also seen how kinder people can be, teaming up into XP farming in Whitespring Golf Course and splatting hordes of glowing bloated ghouls. I also speculate that the most vocal players complaining about the game are the same one exploiting the games glitches to their own profit, which paradoxically will mine everyones gaming experience worse as these glitches were likely inducing server disconnections.
There are things that happened outside the game that was in my opinion a disastrous PR move from Bethesda, further pushing the opprobe on them. Replacing at the last minute a duffel bag with a mere nylon bag while kept on the same price is not excusable.
Some features like the CAMP feature, is as today still a disaster. There are some potentials but the current limitations about building structures and relying overly on plans is simply inexcusable. What makes the lone survivor more savvy in building structures than the vault dweller from Appalachia? Same goes with the weapons/armor/PA levels. Ridiculous!
Yet, I have my dose of fun and sadness in the game, my dose of frustration and my dose of joy. Everyday, I feel I need to play it, just for an hour or two, not longer. I am enjoying it as I enjoy my glass of wine: by small sips while enjoying a reading. This is the first time I have taken pleasure snapping screenshots in a game. The online experience I have with is a log-scale higher than GTA online (within a week and a dozens hours, i was done. Rockstar can lure me with any in-game currency, I don’t mind seeing the game taking the dust. GTA online was personally a boring experience).
This is why I think this game has potential, if Bethesda takes the time to heal the salted wounds it created and give a chance to players enjoying the game by addressing the major issues and listening to the community. Isn’t a game that we are all out reclaiming the Appalachia and working on as a community? Let’s use this potential.
Finally, this game gave me another view on West Virginia, away from the cliche we can have from the region. The game nicely reflected the treasures and the challenges the region encountered and show us that in 2077, nothing did not change either: environmental pollution due to coal mining, the lost of the workforce (in this case, robots took over their work), the corruption of the local politics by the coal barons. It really give me the curiosity to visit the region, explore West Virginia as I have been enjoying while I wandered through DC (Fallout 3), the Mojave desert (Fallout: New Vegas), or Greater Boston (Fallout 4).
“Almost heaven…….West Virginia……”

[Metal/Symphonic] Nightwish – Oceanborn (20th Anniversary Release)

This month marks the release of Nightwish second album (and the official first international album) “Ocenaborn”, released on December 7th 1998. This album has a special place in my heart. Paradoxically, I got introduced to Nightwish via “Wish I had an Angel” in 2004 and got their first album as “Oceanborn”. It was a love at first sight, because it was magically blending metal, symphonic elements and a mezzo-soprano voice.
This is for me the quintescential album from Nightwish and felt that any subsequent album never reached the personal satisfaction I have ever with any other Nightwish albums. The album is composed by 11 tracks (if I refer to the 1999 international issue) totalling 49 minutes.
With the exception of “Stargazers”, the first track that is also my least favorite of the album (I usually even skip it in my playlist), the rest of the album is a winning streak of excellent tracks. “Gethsemane”, the second track,  is for me by definition the Nightwish song, with its gothic inspiration and an excellent prestation from Tarja and composition by Tuomas on the keyboard showing to an audience usually averse to keyboards that when they are nicely intergrated, it can create something beautiful to listen. I even have a tear drop each time at the last couple of verses followed by the lambastic melodics from Tuomas. You can listen it here and tell me what you think about:

“Devil and The Deep Dark Ocean” (track 3) is falling into a two part songs that is concluding with “The Paraoh Sails To Orion” (track 9), perfectly giving this bombastic guitars with the keyboard arrangements and Tarja voice. An quasi-orgasm in terms of listening. Follows “Sacrament of Wilderness”, “Passion And The Opera” that do not give us a minute to rest, only to get into “Swanheart” that is the simpliest in terms of musical arrangement but an excellent one in which you can hear Tarja beautiful voice.
“Moondance”, the 8th track album, is purely instrumental and almost like a showcase of Tuomas composition talent giving you this feeling of evasion that we will get much later again in his solo project titled “The Music Inspired by the Life And Times of Scrooge”. This melodical interlude is concluded by “The Riddler” that is good, but slightly lesser good than the rest of the song. Then comes track 9 “The Pharaoh Sails to Orion”. Oh boy, THIS IS THE NIGHTWISH SONG! Something bold and nicely backed by Tarja, with a jaw-dropping ending to it, with Tarja doing us what I refer an epic vocal riff. At that time, I was sold to have FFM bands, and set the bar of expectation very high: you are either mezzo-soprano or you will not make the cut. Tarja set the bar very high and defined the symphonic metal gold-standard in terms of vocals.
The 10th track, “Walking In The Air”, was for me was an unknown but apparently is a cult in Scotland and Finland as it was initially part of the animated film “The Snowman” that is a classic for Christmas in these two countries. I never heard the original and got introduced with Nightwish cover of that song. Oh man, it is truly showing the ability of Tuomas to compose amazing musical arrangement, giving this kind of magic coupled with Tarja vocal performance.
Finally, the last song added to the international release is “Sleeping Sun”. Taken from their original album “Angels Fall First” and slightly re-arranged. Honestly, I prefer this version compared to the original one. Here is one of the official video (original) of the song:

If I ever have to be dropped in a desert island or being confined in a vault shelter when the bombs fell, this is certainly the only Nightwish album I would pickup without an ounce of hesitation.

[Metal/Melodic Power] Kalidia – The Frozen Throne (80%)

Kalidia released their second full-album entitled “The Frozen Throne” on November 23th. I know it has been almost 10 days but I wanted to be sure I gave it enough time to give it a fair review.
How does it compare it “Lies’ Device” (their first album)? How does Nicoletta Rosellini vocals fare? Is Kalidia looking as a solid bet from Transalpine neighbors as an emerging band to watch for? Well I gonna try to answer all these questions. The album is a 11 tracks totaling 47 minutes. Overall, it is a solid album, comforting their first album and slowly but surely making Kalidia a band you should keep an eye on. It is growing slowly but surely, conquering lands and hearts one fiefdom at the time. I would say that maybe the band played it a bit safe and feels like the songs are sounding maybe too homogeneous in my opinion.
The first and second tracks are “Frozen Throne” and “Circe’s Spell”. Not much talking here, as I let the band sell themselves to you with their two official videos:


We start well, with some solid stuff that gives you fairly “la patate” while listening to them. The third track “Black Sails” starts with a “Pirates of the Caribbeans” feels and fairly decent. Good, but when I want some pirate metal, I bet my doubloons and my rum on Alestorm (and their anthem song “Drink!”). You can hear their song here:

The fourth and fifth tracks “Orpheus” and “To The Darkness I Belong”, are in my opinion are decent, but nothing giving me thrills. I don’t want to call them fillers, but feel like the weakest songs of the album. The sixth track “Myth of Masada” help us forget a bit these two songs, and gave us something decent to listen. “Midnight’s Chant” is maybe deviating from their power melodic tones and more luring into some Symphonic avenues. It is an okay song, certainly a good song to use in a radio station (as it is fairly accessible for a large audience). “Go Beyond”, “Amethyst”, “Lotus” are quite good power melodic one to listen to it, giving you some thrills inherent to power metal songs. “Queen of The Forsaken”, the eleventh song, sounds at times like a Nightwish song and nicely conclude the album.
Overall, this is a generally good power melodic album, and a fairly solid second release album from the band. Nicoletta gained comfort in her vocal style (singing in a lower tone than the usual FFM, which is makes it unique), the band gained experience and consistency, both marking an overall good outcomes in terms of the maturation of the band.
Yet, my major complains are that I feel we lost some of the risk-taking approach we had with “Lies Devices”, especially the keyboards seems to have taken the backseat in that album. The second complaint is that after a good start with three songs, we quickly reach a sort of “homogenous” middle that takes about the good second third of the album. It  sounds decent but feels redundant, repetitive, and playing artistically safe. I would personally think this album would have much more impact as an EP, as it feels the second third of the album as a weakness.
The band has generously uploaded three songs of the album on Youtube (see links) and I let you decide. I personally see Kalidia slowly but surely gaining ground in the Power Melodic Metal scene coming from Italy, slowly but surely conquering fiefdoms and hearts over time. Considering the double life of Nicoletta (she got her DVM recently, so congratulations Dr. Rosellini!) and likely the other band members, it is a nice piece of work delivered by a “little league band”. Remember, like any other little bands, they need support from you. You like it? Please consider skipping a McDonalds meal and invest in a melodic power metal band and buy their album.