Album Review: Death or Sandwich

•May 5, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Death or Sandwich

death_or_sandwich_albumcover

Lords of the Trident

Genre: Metal/Alternative

Released February 9, 2009

Junko Johnson Records

Reviewed May 5, 2009

After first glance at Lords of the Trident, one wonders if auditions were conducted with a time-traveling phone booth. The lead singer is clad in leather, shrieking at the camera and holding a microphone as if it will either burst into flame or be driven through a vampire’s heart. The drummer is a demon king who brandishes drumsticks over Hellboy-style horns, the base player clenches a dagger twixt his teeth and the guitarists resemble transplants from ancient Greece and feudal Japan, replacing lyres and katanas with Stratocasters.

But while the appearance may make them seem hard to take seriously, underestimating the Madison, Wisconsin-based quintet would be a mistake. The roles they inhabit are tools to craft their own style of music, a metal that owes as much to alternative rock and Dungeons and Dragons as it does to the original genre. Their first alloy of this metal is the debut album Death or Sandwich, and it proves to be as solid as if a blacksmith hammered it into place.

lordsgroupred

Photo by Chris Guess (tryandguess.com)

Structurally, most of the songs follow a basic structure, driven by the impressive vocal range of lead singer “Fang VonKillenstein” (doppelganger of Ty Christian, formerly of Paper Tiger). “Asian Metal” and the “Socrates of Shred” form crossed swords to propel each of the songs along, while the demonic drums and buccaneer bass of “Korgoth” and “Captain Bluddbeard” respectively are reliable backings to the more prominent riffs. The band plays well together, with little sign that they are overwhelming each other or detracting from a song’s structure.

The majority of Sandwich takes on a medieval subject matter, channeling Black Sabbath by way of Boris Vallejo. “The Virgin Vault” is the best example of this, built on a solid riff and percussion as VonKillenstein alternates between cackles and wails to give the picture of an epic journey. “Cliffs of Desolation” and “The Barbarian Horde” are both tracks about the impossible odds of marauders and dragons, with the guitar especially standing out and building as the battles reach their respective peaks.

As a quote-unquote fake metal band, comparisons between the Lords and Spinal Tap seem inevitable, but the former actually make for a far more credible group. While Spinal Tap played the metal role for laughs, writing songs that were deliberately over the top, the material of the Lords is a bit cleverer in its presentation. Some of the songs could pass as pop or indie rock if it wasn’t for the guitar work and shouting chorus, while others seem to imply the group has created the first instance of proper geek metal.

A case in point is the opening track – and best track – “The Robot’s Revenge.”  It’s driven by excellent rapid arpeggios reminiscent of Muse’s Black Holes and Revelations, and vonKillenstein’s rapid wails of surprisingly clever lyrics: “In his laser eye no could dispute/For him forgiveness does not compute/from his Tesla coil in his metal breath/filled with 200 gigabytes of death!” Not since Flight of the Conchords has there been so entertaining of a song focusing on the robot apocalypse – and this one allows for more head-banging.

Even when Sandwich move to more general topics, they are never divorced enough from the overall tone of the album to feel separate. The lyrics of “The Road” could be easily adopted by another band as a pop song, but the drum fills are quick enough to tie it to earlier efforts and the mentions of wolves and wasteland keep things vaguely bestial. On the other side of things, “Rapeshore” is a much darker tune than earlier tracks, but the booming chorus ties to earlier tracks and also deserves praise for a channeling of Axl Rose with a solid “You’re gonna dieeee!” wail in the chorus.

By the end of the album (“City Lights,” a Van Halen-esque number that has a priceless rhyme of “road rash” with “Johnny Cash”), it is very difficult not to feel animated by the album’s energy. The variety of influences manages to make each track feel interesting without distracting from the whole, whether you prefer to play the album at an amplifier’s top level or as background music for a D&D session. The Lords played this music to have fun, and burn down some villages in the process, and it’s in that spirit that Sandwich should be enjoyed.

– Death or Sandwich may be purchased through the band’s website or through iTunes.

Advertisements

Film Review/Essay: Friday the 13th (2009)

•February 13, 2009 • Leave a Comment

fridaythe13thThe “Friday the 13th” films have always had an odd appeal to me. I mean, they’re obviously poor quality for the most part, laughably written and relying on a series of suspense bits that even a first-time viewer can pick up after ten minutes, but the formula of laughable construction and meat-grinder approach to the terrible actors made it rather endearing. Plus there was always one on when I was home from college, making Jason Voorhees a regular companion on slow nights.

As a series it has pretty much gone to self-parody, transforming Jason into an interstellar cyborg in “Jason X” and pitting him against the now equally absurd Freddy Krueger in “Freddy vs. Jason.” Now though, with “Batman Begins” proving that by tossing all your shitty films into a grinder and starting a franchise over you can actually succeed, the franchise has been rebooted with the eponymous film “Friday the 13th.”

As far as story goes, it’s essentially a hodgepodge of scenes and “narratives” from the first few films. The opening sequence takes the end of the first film where his mother is decapitated after killing the counselors who let him drowned, the second film’s slaughter is packed into the first 15 minutes, and then a completely new story starts with another band of stock actors at a friend’s house who could fit into the third or fourth film easily, right down to the ridiculous haircuts of all the male characters.

To summarize the pointless details of the movie, I’ve decided to adopt the critique system of Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw, the brilliant mind behind Zero Punctuation who also has considerable amount of old horror reviews on his site. I’ll be following the J.A.S.O.N. rules set, seeing just what the film has in comparison to other movies.

Jason: Since this is a reboot there’s none of the scarring and battery that has come upon him in previous films, be it an axe through the head or having a motorboat carve open his throat or drowned in a sea of toxic waste to be left a little deformed child (“Manhattan’s” utterly moronic interpretation). The new version of Jason is something sandwiched between volumes 2 and 3 of the series, resembling a burly scraggly hobo who likes to beat his children on weekends.

9742_4620329143He starts out with a bag over his head in the style of volume 2, and after cutting the throat of a delightful pot-smoking hick finds his hockey mask in an attic of junk. The act of reveal and putting it on reminds me of the scene from “Hannibal Rising” when an oily young Hannibal Lecter dons a samurai mask, evoking images of his restraints of “Lambs.” I thought it was a bad idea then, and time hasn’t done much to make it seem like any more than fan service.

Archetypes:

  • Angsty McTroubled (one in each act, the second looking for this sister who is the first and held hostage by Jason since she reminds him of his mother),
  • Doctor Hilarious (two token minorities who you know will be disliked at first glance),
  • Kooky J. Oversexed (one in each act),
  • Mackdaddy Suave (one in each act),
  • Nerdy von Crapinbed (first act),
  • Omen McFuckedinthehead (an old women who looks like the grandmother from Texas Chainsaw Massacre), and
  • Senor(ita) Generic (enough that they got killed off regularly and counting them at the start was pointless. Seriously, two or three appeared out of nowhere at one point and I shrugged because I knew they’d be dead soon).

Survivors: Angsty McTroubled (both)

Oddities: Oddly enough (and ironically) there are none. There’s no Jason being struck by lightning and coming back to life, no allegiance with the forces of Hell and no Freddy Krueger waking him up and attacking him in a dream sequence. It’s just a mute psycho willing to hack his way through a bunch of idiots and just happens to keep his mother’s head in an alcove. His living in a series of mining tunnels beneath the camp is a little out there, but you figure the guy has to live somewhere.

N-ding: After being stabbed with a screwdriver, kicked in the face, slashed with a sickle, strangled with a length of chain and having the top of his head nibbled away by a wood chipper, the female Angsty McTroubled drives the machete through his chest and they dump him in the lake. At the very end, he bursts through the pier planks and grabs her in an attempt to pull her down, in an obvious attempt to emulate the early films.

So far it seems like more of the same – young adults are idiots, Jason kills them, dies and then comes back. What makes this installment actually (gasp) enjoyable are two things, the first being the lack of the mentioned oddities. Self-parody and over-the-top storylines are removed, and the bits taken from early movies are the bits that actually seem to add something to it. Teenagers are at the camp, Jason needs to kill them, that’s all there is to it.

The second thing that makes this film so enjoyable is the fact that for the first time in ages Jason seems to be having fun. There’s something almost sadistic about his behavior here – he fires an arrow into someone’s head while they’re driving a boat, lets a woman think she’s safely hidden under a pier and then drives a machete through her head, throws an axe into someone’s back and lets him scream for a couple minutes before flipping him over and slamming him into the ground so hard the blade goes through his chest, and even lights a woman on fire in a sleeping bag to cook her alive. He seems to finally realize his targets are massive pricks, and he – and by extension the audience – enjoys torturing them all the more.

I have no choice but to admit it: “Friday the 13th” is entertaining. It’s a return to form, or as much form as the series has ever had. It has some annoying points – depriving us of a “Fargo”-style wood-chipper scene, and taunting us with a circular saw that’s always on screen but never used, but it’s a film that actually seems to understand its core material and audience. We want to see the people we hated in high school killed, ideally while they’re having the sex we never had in high school, and we want it to be done by someone who is doing it just because.

Oh, and one other thing that the film did to earn points: Nerdy von Crapinbed found himself bitching about how there was no Heineken, while Mackdaddy Suave said all they needed was Pabst Blue Ribbon. Yes, there was a “Blue Velvet” reference in a Jason movie. Honestly, I’ll score it high regardless of other factors just for doing that.

The Vintage Game Preservation Society

•December 3, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Okay, finally going to get around to posting something here. I have the genesis of ideas for at least four or six essays to post, but an increasingly stressful day job and an affinity for Bulleit Bourbon are keeping them from getting completed. So while you wait for my thoughts on the auto industry bailout and pirate attacks, enjoy a story published last week in The Escapist:

vintage-game-preservation-society2

I like this piece for a lot of reasons, four chiefly:

1. It’s the first piece I’ve done freelance that I came up with the concept on my own and pitched to a website I had a lot of respect for but no inside connection.

2. They did an amazing job with the page design.

3. I share a publication locale with Yahtzee, whose writing I admire for more than a fanboy perspective and whose style I will no doubt try to emulate with this blog.

4. It proves to me I can still write for the mainstream audience and kick a bit of ass in doing so.

In the beginning…

•November 11, 2008 • Leave a Comment

The test begins … nownownownownownownownownownownow …

Welcome to “Wood Clock Toy,” the website designed to collect my non-book-related writings and channel those thoughts that typically create their own restraining order from the rest of the world. It’s going to be random and occasionally scattered – some assembly will be required. Updates shall come in as I work through my collection of essay ideas and begin uploading some older content. Feel free to talk amongst yourselves if something catches your interest.

Of course, for those with a literary center, please visit my other site The Lesser of Two Equals for a collection of book reviews and columns. There may be a bit of overlap between the two, but thematically TLOTE is my bookshelf and this is my desk.