Month: August 2012

Slash feat. Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators 2012 concert

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This is my second time seeing Slash, the last time being at the Soundwave Festival. This concert was a headlining set, unlike the short time Slash was given at Soundwave. I don’t think Slash is a musician that likes either spectacle or change. Slash’s new album supports this premise, and you can read my review of it here. https://stefanb33.wordpress.com/2012/08/07/slash-apocalyptic-love-and-slash-360-app/ The album doesn’t break new ground for Slash’s musicianship and only contains one song I would describe as spectacular. In a way, this argument also describes Slash’s concerts. It doesn’t try too hard; it’s just there to rock the audience. While playing a lot of songs from his second solo album Apocalyptic Love and a fair few from its predecessor, Slash also played 9 songs from previous bands he’s been in. He actually has about 10 studio albums in total to select songs from.

Good choice for an opener, “Halo” set the mood. As one of the few really good songs on the album, it got my blood pumping. It did sound exactly like the album version. I felt privileged hearing “Ghost”. Even though I had already heard it at Soundwave, I’m glad this song has become a regular in Slash’s sets because it sounded fantastic once again.

“Standing in the Sun”, a mediocre track and an even worse choice for a single, definitely sounded a lot better live. The lead single played late in the set, “You’re A Lie”, actually sounded fantastic and a lot more energetic than the version on the album. The next song was “Mr. Brownstone”, a song off the first Guns N’ Roses album, Appetite for Destruction. As you’d expect, the crowd went crazy with vocalist Myles Kennedy giving plenty of chances to sing along.

“Not For Me”, once again from the new album, was boring enough for me finally give in to my urge to pee, though regrettably I missed “Doctor Alibi” from Slash which was song by bass player Todd Ferns, who also sang the next song “You’re Crazy”, another GNR song.

“Starlight” was performed really well and the crowd even took out their lighters which I didn’t expect, because I never really thought of that song as a ballad. I never considered that song a favourite of Slash but Kennedy’s vocals were fantastic.

Next up was some solos and jamming, and at times I think it went a little long, though I still love Slash’s solos. “Anastasia” and especially “Sweet Child o’ Mine” featured awesome the riffs that we’ve grown to love from this guitarist.

Something very cool that came up was during the encore. Angry Anderson of the Australian band Rose Tattoo, who had opened for Slash that night, showed up to play the Rose Tattoo song “Nice Boys”. Rose Tattoo has some history with Slash as well as Guns N’ Roses. Rose Tattoo had not only inspired Guns N’ Roses, they even reformed after a period of inactivity to support GNR on their Australian tour in 1993 at request of the Gunners. The original line-up of GNRs had a cover of “Nice Boys” featured on the G N’ R Lies album, so it made sense for Slash to say how it was honour to play with Angry Anderson and tour with Rose Tattoo.

Ending with the outstanding “Paradise City”, one of my favourite GNRs song was a great way to finish up. It also had some confetti blown in front of the stage, the closest thing to a gimmick in Slash’s show.

Overall, a pretty good concert that was worth the $90 or so that I paid for it, which is cheaper than a lot of the other international acts I’ve seen. Keeping this in mind, the lower budget certainly shows. There were no big screens, no smoke machines, no special effects and no theatrics. The confetti at the end was kind of cool. You don’t pay for a spectacular show, you pay for a rock concert, nothing more, nothing less. The musicianship here is excellent, with all members of the band at the top of their game. A problem was the mediocre tracks played from the new album and sometimes the solos felt a bit overlong. Slash is certainly worth seeing if you’re a fan of his work over the years. I give this concert 3.5/5. This rating wasn’t affected by Rose Tattoo’s opening set, or by “Doctor Alibi”, which I missed. Setlist below, from setlist.fm, with my favourite performances in bold http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/slash/2012/hisense-arena-melbourne-australia-3dc7137.html.

 1.    Halo

2.    Nightrain

(Guns N’ Roses song)

3.    Ghost 

4.    Standing in the Sun

5.    Back From Cali

6.    Mr. Brownstone 

(Guns N’ Roses song)

7.    Beggars & Hangers-On

(Slash’s Snakepit song)

8.    Rocket Queen 

(Guns N’ Roses song)

9.    Not for Me

10. Doctor Alibi

(Todd Kerns on lead vocals)

11. You’re Crazy

(Guns N’ Roses song) (Todd Kerns on lead vocals)

12. Crazy Life

13. No More Heroes

14. Starlight 

15. Blues Jam

16. Guitar Solo / Godfather Theme

17. Anastasia 

18. Sweet Child O’ Mine 

(Guns N’ Roses song)

19. You’re a Lie 

20. Slither 

(Velvet Revolver song)

21. Encore:

21. Nice Boys 

(Rose Tattoo cover) (with Angry Anderson)

22. Paradise City 

(Guns N’ Roses song)

Super Mario 3D Land

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Since New Super Mario Bros. 2 just came out this week on the Nintendo 3DS, to celebrate I am going to review it…later. In the meantime, here’s a review for its counterpart, Super Mario 3D Land. It’s great to have a brand new Mario title to play, and Super Mario 3D Land is fun, albeit flawed in a number of ways.

Super Mario 3D Land has a rather simple premise – it’s a “3D Mario that plays like a 2D one”. It plays exactly the way you’d expect, New Super Mario Bros. breeding with Super Mario Galaxy. The graphics are quite reminiscent are those two titles too. Of course, just like most Mario games, there is plenty of nostalgia and elements from past titles. Yes, Princess Peach is kidnapped by Bowser, but that’s been the premise of nearly all Mario platformers, and the last thing a Mario platformer needs is a plot.

Gameplay involves reaching the exit in each level, just like the classic games, but you do so in three-dimensions this time as well as in stereoscopic 3D if you hit the 3D slider. Fire Flowers and Super Mushrooms return as power-ups to help you on your way just like all of the traditional Super Mario Bros. games since the 1985 original. If you don’t know, basically if you are hit as regular Mario, you turn into small Mario and if you’re hit as small Mario, you lose a life. Grab a Super Mushroom and you’ll go grow to regular Mario again. You gain an extra hit point if you have an additional power-up. These include the Fire Flower, allowing you to shoot fireballs; the Tanooki Suit, allowing you to hit enemies with your new tail and float in the air; and the Boomerang Suit that gives you an unlimited arsenal of boomerangs to throw.

Most of the boss fights are lame, and evident that Nintendo want to stick to traditions again as you fight the Boom Boom from Super Mario Bros. 3 many times and defeating involves…you guessed it, jumping on his head three times. The Bowser boss battles repeat themselves, but are pretty damn cool nonetheless and at least they don’t involve just hitting him three times in the head. This game seems to be a call-back to Super Mario Bros. 3 in a lot of ways that become obvious as you play. This isn’t New Super Mario Bros. though, so it shouldn’t be resorting to old elements from old titles, it should be in a zone of its own, like Super Mario Galaxy. It takes the special coin system from New Super Mario Bros., so each level features three special coins to find that unlock more levels.

The game is a rather short experience, even when I played through the second quest (not all of it as I couldn’t be bothered finding the special coins to unlock the last few levels), I only put in about 10 hours into the game. Yes the game is fun, which is the most important thing. The problem is the level design. There are some really cool levels here, but a lot of them seem to lack inspiration, especially during the first quest. The second set of levels you unlock, are much better, although some of them are copied and pasted from the first quest with small changes, which is disappointing. The other good thing about the second quest is that the levels are much harder. The first quest is way too easy. If you’ve played a 2D Mario title before, have no fear because you’re almost guaranteed to never run out of lives. Honestly, having a life system at all in games these days is pointless, but Mario games will never remove them because 1-Up Mushrooms are a tradition.

This is hands down the best use of 3D I’ve seen on the 3DS so far. Turning it on does make it easier to see where to jump at times, not that it’s hard with the 3D off. It certainly adds to the very nice visuals too. Despite this, it doesn’t change the fact that 3D is still a very optional thing, and turning it off won’t detract from the experience much at all.

Super Mario 3D Land is fun with tight gameplay and tight controls. It does lack the inspiration of other Marios, such as the wonderful Super Mario Galaxy. It also suffers not just from cutting and pasting from other games, but also from itself. After playing the incredibly innovating and near flawless that was (yes once again) Super Mario Galaxy, I was hoping Super Mario 3D Land would break new ground, rather than turn Super Mario Bros. 3 in three dimensions. I do recommend playing this game, because even though it lacks the spark of other Mario titles, it has more newness to it than the New Super Mario Bros. subseries. The 3D effect works great, but I’ll never use the 3D effect to recommend a 3DS game to anyone because it’s completely optional with such little effect on the gameplay. I rate Super Mario 3D Land 3.5/5, but it would’ve been a 3 if it wasn’t for the awesome second quest.

“Silent Hill” (video game) review

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Silent Hill is a survival horror game released for the Playstation in 1999. This is the first instalment in the series of the same name.  Inspired by horror culture, the premise of most “survival horror” games are that the players have to survive various dangers. While this may sound like any other action game, most survival horrors make the player feel less powerful because of their limitations, such as limited ammo, health and abilities. Silent Hill makes the most of this concept with its protagonists. Unlike other survival horror games such as the Resident Evil series, which featured protagonists with combat training, the protagonist of Silent Hill is an “everyman”, like you and me. The main character in the first game is Harry Mason. In the beginning, Harry is driving with his daughter to Silent Hill for a holiday. He crashes the car and later wakes up to discover that his daughter is missing. He immediately notices that something is not right in Silent Hill, but is determined to find his daughter.

Silent Hill is played in a third-person view. The gameplay involves combat, puzzle-solving and exploring the eerie town filled with monsters. Silent Hill’s covered in fog, making it hard to see long distances. Other times the area may be enveloped in darkness, meaning Harry has to utilise a relatively weak flashlight to find his way. This light however makes him a lot more visible to monsters. Harry has a portable radio that produces a static when monsters are nearby and he has access to melee weapons and guns to defeat them. As said before, Harry is an everyman, meaning he doesn’t have much experience with weapons. This makes it hard for him to physically attack enemies, and his aim with guns is rather flimsy. At times, the best option for the player is to run away from enemies, and the player can take advantage of the darkness and fog to escape.

This is not a game you play for tight, intuitive gameplay. Controlling Harry is like controlling a tank. Pressing Up on the D-Pad will move Harry forward no matter where he is facing, likewise for backwards. Left and Right change the way he’s facing. This is the way most survival horrors were controlled back then. Nowadays they employ the over-the-shoulder third-person perspective started by Resident Evil 4, which is great because the tank controls adding to the cumbersome camera really annoyed me in this game. A lot of the puzzle-solving simply involves pressing X to pick up something to be used as key and then using that key which leads to more of this. The combat is also frustrating, but it gets a free pass because your character is supposed to be an inexperienced fighter, which encourages you to runaway, which is what survival horror should be. As Silent Hill is a horror game, the monsters wouldn’t be as scary if they were a walk in the park. So that kind of frustration is part of the experience in a game like this. It also means that every time you hear that static radio alerting you to the fact that an enemy is nearby, you may experience that mini-heart attack – the same one you feel when you can’t feel your phone in your pocket. Yes gameplay and controls are frustrating, but this game is a classic for the story and the psychological experience.

This game is the first in the series I’ve played as well as my first survival horror game (Resident Evil 4 doesn’t count, as that is an action game), and I found that it worked very well in freaking me out. Silent Hill creates a scary atmosphere as it’s like a ghost town – Harry only encounters 4 other humans (normal humans that is) throughout the course of his quest, making the player feel well alone during the game. What Silent Hill does best compared to horror movies (especially slasher films) is that most of the scares aren’t just sudden violent occurrences that come out of nowhere. The horror present in this game is psychological, by attempting to mess with your head. A lot of it is rather subtle, such as the music suddenly changing randomly when you enter certain rooms. Most of the time nothing actually happens in these instances, but the idea that something will occur is scary enough. Even worse is walking into a room and hearing the cries of a child or leaving a room to hear the seemingly broken telephone suddenly ring. There are points in the game where Harry travels through dimensions. In one instance he finds a hidden passageway seemingly leading back to the ordinary abandoned school he was before, until he realised the town had transformed an ordinary abandoned school into a school…that resembles a torture chamber. The “normal” abandoned school was already creepy enough! To fully the experience the horror of this game, I challenge players to play it alone at night. Unless you lack a soul, you will feel a bigger sense of unease while playing.

The story is well told. I like the way it forces you to question what the other characters motives are. At various points in the game, your actions will determine what ending you will get, with 5 available. Since Silent Hill is story-driven, I’m not going to talk about its narrative anymore and I recommend you read as little about the story as possible (watch out for the Wikipedia article). Oh, but I will briefly talk about the voice acting, because it’s hilariously bad. A couple of the characters don’t sound so bad, but just because Harry Mason’s supposed to represent the everymen, doesn’t mean you should hire some random off the street to voice his character. Cut scenes are awkward with long pauses between dialogue, which obviously hinders some of these scenes.

You don’t realise how outdated games from the original Playstation look until you play them. Thankfully the game is still capable of scaring the hell out of you, with help from the sound design. The music works very well when it is utilised. Sometimes there will be no music at all, and other times it will be intense, which enhance the experience. The game is short, but I didn’t feel after I completed the story once that I should’ve been longer. This is a game I wanted to play again to get a different ending (you also acquire new items), but I quit not long after I started a second playthrough due to the frustration of Hard mode. The normal mode presents a very reasonable difficulty level. Not too hard, and definitely not easy, though at first I bet a lot of your deaths will stem from you learning to deal with the frustrating controls. Also make sure you conserve your ammo and health pickups the best you can as they are very limited.

Silent Hill is average in a lot of ways; the controls, the camera, the simplistic puzzle-solving and the combat are guaranteed to annoy you, even once you have gotten used to them. Even by the first Playstation’s standards, the graphics weren’t very good. The important thing is that the game does a number of things very well; the fog, the dim lighting, the atmosphere, the music, the story and the scary elements all fit together to create a psychological horror experience. Soon I hope to pick up the Silent Hill HD Collection, which has Silent Hill 2 & 3, supposably the best games in this series. Until then, I can still recommend Silent Hill 1, but it’s certainly not for everyone. If you are a fan of horror, Silent Hill will provide a great psychological experience that only video games are capable of creating, but only if you can put aside all the little frustrations.

Rating: 3.5/5.

Slash – Apocalyptic Love and Slash 360 app

Apocalyptic Love Review

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When describing albums, I think a lot of music fans would have heard the term “some killer, some filler”, and I think that sums up Apocalyptic Love. Actually, I think it would be more accurate to describe it as “a few killer, the rest filler”. I find it really unfortunate that I have to say this, as I bought this CD because I am a big fan of Slash’s work, but most of the CD’s material isn’t very strong. The simple reason behind this is despite the fact that there are great hard rock compositions here, many of the songs lack a good hook even after multiple listens.

Anyone who knows something about rock music will no doubt agree that Saul Hudson, most commonly known as Slash, will go down in history as a legendary guitarist. Anyone who knows anything about music in general will know about the hard rock band Guns ‘n’ Roses and their powerful debut album Appetite for Destruction (released in 1989), or at least the songs “Welcome to the Jungle”, “Paradise City” and/or “Sweet Child O’ Mine”. Slash co-wrote these songs, the most famous of these being the latter, with that instantly recognisable guitar riff. During the 90’s, tensions in the band, mainly caused by arseholery (I don’t think that’s a word…) frontman Axl Rose. I’m pretty sure Slash was the last original member to leave, which had occurred in 1996, leaving Arsehole Rose the opportunity to continue the band with some hired croons. People tend to refer to this expansive, ever-changing line-up as the “New Guns ‘n’ Roses”, but I personally prefer calling it “Axl and Friends”.

Needless to say, it’s sad that a band with such commercial and critical success had ended up like this. Though Slash, it appears, is no man to let a bad situation get him down, as he has been very active since he left GNRs. He has been in a number of bands, most notably Slash’s Snakepit and Velvet Revolver. Once again, the tensions between the lead vocalist and the other band members have lead to Velvet Revolver being on hold for the time being, so more recently, Slash has been focused on solo material. That turned into his impressive self-titled debut solo release Slash in 2010. While he did form Slash Snakepit and that was mostly his project, it was also a band effort while the songs on the Slash record were all primarily written by the guitarist. As legendary as the guitarist’s axe work is, he can’t seem to sing a note, which is why a guest vocalist sings on every track. Alter Bridge frontman Myles Kennedy, the only guest vocalist to sing on two of the songs, fronted Slash’s live band for the tour to promote the album.

Slash strongly believed in the dynamic that Myles Kennedy, along with bassist Todd Kerns and drummer Brentz Fitz provided on the tour, so much so that he decided to collaborate with them on his next album. Releasing it under the name of Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators, the album by the name of Apocalyptic Love was released in May of this year. An iPhone app was released with it, called Slash 360, that allows users to watch the band perform the entire album live in the studio with the ability to choose and manipulate the camera angles.

So as I said at the start of the review, a lot of the material here isn’t very good. I don’t think it’s the fault of the production or the musicians, because the sound of the album is great. Slash’s signature tone is here, and so are his solos. Myles’s vocal deliveries sound great, as do the backup vocals by Todd. As one discovers by watching the DVD included with the deluxe edition of the album, and by using the Slash 360 app, the whole album was recorded live in the studio with the whole band, rather than using Pro Tools on separately recorded parts. As Myles describes it, this creates a “human element” in the sound of the album. Once again, this is not a problem for the album. The underlying critical problem of the album is the simple fact that the material the band was working with wasn’t the best.

I remember reading or hearing somewhere that Slash seems to consider writing material as just a way to get to his favourite part of being a musician, the live performances. That would certainly make sense with this album, as it seems the band just made the album without really caring about its quality so Slash could go back on tour. I guess you could say that the album was made with a carefree state of mind, but it didn’t work in the album’s favour this time around. Most of the songs lack a soul, unlike the majority of the songs on Slash, which had undergone a process, with the guest vocalist being an important part of that process, giving those songs character.

Of the 15 tracks on the album, including the bonus tracks, there are only about 4 I would include on my iPod. Some of the others, such as “No More Heroes” and “Far and Away”, are solid but then there are boring tracks such as “Not For Me” and “Bad Rain”. The two singles released so far, “You’re a Lie” and “Standing in the Sun”, I wouldn’t even consider worthy of the status, though the former has a rather catchy chorus. The best track is “Anastasia”, which I believe will be a fan favourite. It’s the longest song, at over 6 minutes in length and is one of the only songs on the record that had any effort put into it. The album’s closing track, “Shots Fired” has more of the energy expected from a rock band than what most of the album presents. It will surely be a killer live, in fact I think the entire album will greatly benefit from being performed live in concert. Perhaps the energy from a live concert full of fans is what this album needs to help the songs truly stand out.

I was disappointed in this album; after a number of listens, it did grow on me, but only slightly. This month I am seeing Slash in concert, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy these new songs much better performed live, but it’ll be his old material that I’ll be itching to see. Apocalyptic Love needed more hooks to turn the dull tracks into good ones. Most of the tracks I wouldn’t hesitate to skip if they came up on my iPod. The few good songs do rock, and it’s glaringly obvious when you listen to any single one of these songs, that Slash’s signature sound is present. I think that the Slash album is much better than what is present here. Apocalyptic Love is still very listenable, it’s not that I dislike any of the songs, it’s just that most of them don’t speak to me. I would recommend giving Apocalyptic Love a few listens to pick your favourites and put an EP’s worth of material on your iPod, but regardless I’m sure that Slash fans, Alter Bridge fans and hard rock enthusiasts will enjoy what’s on offer here. I rate Apocalyptic Love 3/5.

Tracklisting below; the bonus tracks did not impact the score.

 

1.

“Apocalyptic Love”

2.

“One Last Thrill”  

3.

“Standing in the Sun”

4.

“You’re a Lie”

5.

“No More Heroes”

6.

“Halo”  

7.

“We Will Roam”

8.

“Anastasia”  

9.

“Not for Me”

10.

“Bad Rain”

11.

“Hard & Fast”

12.

“Far and Away”

13.

“Shots Fired”  
Bonus Tracks

14.”Carolina”
15.”Crazy Life”


Slash 360 App Review ($5.49 AUD)

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The Slash 360 app allows iPhone users to watch the band and producer Eric Valentine as the songs from Apocalyptic Love are performed (bonus tracks not included). For each song you have the option of viewing the performance through six cameras, one for each member of the band, one for the producer fiddling with knobs and another for a wide shot. Each camera allows you to manipulate where it’s facing by touching the screen or moving the phone with gyroscope. You can also zoom in or zoom out. There’s also some extra bonus stuff on the app, which are artwork, photos, relevant links, social network integration and lyrics for the songs.

I’m not sure if this idea for an app has been done before, but I am surprised on how well it works and how cool it is. It’s so easy to just pick any song from the album and just muck around with the cameras. You can zoom in on Slash’s solos being performed, then rewind to watch it again, and then switch to Todd playing bass with absolute ease. I didn’t make much use of the sixth camera with producer Eric, as most of the time he nods his head to the music and moves studio knobs around, but there’s a freebie for anyone who wants to use it! But speaking of freebies, would it have been really hard to incorporate the bonus tracks into the app, seeing as I spent $5.49 AUD on it? Another thing that annoyed me is that every time a song finishes it goes back to the tracklisting instead of just segueing into the next song, which obviously ruins the feel of watching an album being performed from start to finish. It would also be cool if it allowed the lyrics to scroll down while they were playing.

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The app is by far the largest on my iPhone, taking 1.79 GB of space. This isn’t a complaint, as it makes sense that an app costing over $5 would use a lot of resources on the phone. You can tell it does, as the performances sound great (for the iPhone speakers that is) and is visually of high quality too. The app refused to download unless I had at least 4 GB space free (if I remember correctly), so most likely you’ll need an iPhone 4 or later with at least 4 GB free before even considering buying this app. It says you can use iPhone 3GS or 3rd generation iPod Touch, but I have a strong feeling those devices will struggle to even run this app properly. There’s also a much cheaper version of this app, but it only features the average single “You’re A Lie”, so I wouldn’t even bother.

Despite the fact that Apocalyptic Love isn’t a very strong album, the Slash 360 app shows a lot of promise that I hope can be expanded on in future updates. Hopefully other bands can make these apps for their albums too, as it makes great use of the functionality of smartphones. The Slash 360 app is a bit expensive at $5.49 AUD, but I think it’s worth checking out, especially if you like the album. I do find it’s one of those cool things to show your friends too! I give the Slash 360 app 3.5/5.