Alter Bridge – Fortress – Review

I have been meaning to do a few music-based posts of a few new albums I have been listening to but it only seemed fair to start with the band I have loved and followed since their formation 11 years ago and have had the privilege to see live and consequently named this blog (and every other form of social media I have) after one of their songs. Alter Bridge for me are just everything good about music. I’m going to write separate posts about Mark Tremonti and Myles Kennedy so for this post I’ll give a mention to Brian Marshall and Scott Phillips because it’s usually the bassist and the drummer who get the least recognition but for me, there is absolutely no separation between any of the members of this band. Not only are these two incredible musicians they are also amazing performers and that is something that has put Alter Bridge another level above the competition. They are unquestionably astounding live and every review I have ever read of them agrees with that. Obviously Foo Fighters and Metallica have been the two big names of Rock and Metal over the past 15+ years, especially when it comes to live performances on the biggest stages and events, but I just do not connect with them like I do with Alter Bridge.

Fortress is their fourth and most recent album and by far their most experimental but for me also their most cohesive. The whole album is just so perfectly put together and it just shows off everything they have to offer in 12 stunning songs. I don’t want to go into complete track by track analysis of the riffs and the vocals and everything else but when you have an album like this where every single song is so significant it’s quite difficult. Having said that I will pick out a few that stood out for me.

Cry of Achilles: I had to choose this first for two reason. Firstly the name of my blog. It isn’t my favourite Alter Bridge song but there are a lot of AB fans out there who got to some before I did which is something I can only be happy about. Secondly it is the opening track on the album and for me it feels like 9 years of Alter Bridge crammed in to one explosive, yet beautiful song. It has an acoustic instrumental, a short, soft rock electric guitar solo, and then a quicker, harsher, hard rock solo with Myles showing off his insane range with grace and power throughout. I listen to albums on shuffle a lot but the first time I listen to them, I always listen in order and this is the type of song you always want to start off with.

Addicted to Pain: The second track on the album (I swear I’m not doing them all) and the first single they released from the album and that was a decision that I could not have been happier about. Rock and metal bands always tone down one or two songs on the album to make them a bit more marketable to release them as singles. Alter Bridge have done it before with “Open Your Eyes” and “Rise Again”. Foo Fighters, Nickelback, Shinedown, Bring me the Horizon have all done it. Slash has done it in his work with Myles, it’s just a thing everyone does. It’s not a bad thing, they all need to make money to keep doing what they do so they need a single that a lot of people will buy. So it says a lot about the album that this song is the least risky song they had to put out as their first single because it’s just as experimental as the rest of the album.

Waters Rising – After ABIII, Myles went to work with Slash again and it opened the door for Mark Tremonti to finish and release his first solo album. I’ll talk about his solo work a bit more in a different post but his first album was fantastic. It was much heavier than anything Alter Bridge have done and he has a completely different voice to Myles. He has been so consistently good on backup vocals to both Myles and Scott Stapp in his Creed days that he deserved that solo success and consequently he deserved a lead vocal on an AB track. Waters Rising just added another dynamic to this already experimental album. As much as this sounds more like a sports term they have such strength in depth in this band. Myles and Mark are both world class guitarists, vocalists, and writers so there is just so much talent at their disposal.

Fortress: The final track on the album and the climax of brilliance and creativity. A lot of people labelled this as Fortress’s answer to Blackbird and there are similarities but it’s such a different song with such a different meaning. The length and epic solo in this song has similarities to Blackbird but this song conjoins with the rest of the album so well. It started with Cry of Achilles and explores everything Alter Bridge can do and comes round full circle back to something that is again, both explosive and beautiful. I think a lot of people might see this as a negative but I found this album to be quite self-indulgent and that is a massive difference to everything they have done before. I don’t think it lacks emotion or connection to the fans by any means it just doesn’t feel like any of the songs are specifically written to convey emotion or draw out specific emotions from the listener. However as I said I don’t find that to be a problem. I have no doubt that they are four very genuine people and as a group they have reached a stage where they want to showcase everything they have learnt and everything they are capable of and it makes for spectacular listening.

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Star Trek: Renegades – 2015

“It is nearly ten years after Voyager’s return from the Delta Quadrant, and the Federation is in a crisis. The Federation’s main suppliers of dilithium crystals are disappearing. Space and time have folded around several planets, effectively isolating them from any contact with outside worlds. Tuvok must put together a new covert, renegade crew – mostly outcasts and rogues – even criminals. This new crew is tasked with finding out what is causing the folding of time and space, and stopping it – at all costs.”

A bit of a long summary but it sums the whole film up pretty well. I’m not usually one for made for tv movies or fan made movies but I will watch pretty much anything Star Trek related and it is directed by Tim Russ. This film could have been awful and I still would have loved it just for the nostalgia. It had Walter Koenig (Chekov), Tim Russ (Tuvok), Manu Intiraymi (Icheb), Richard Herd (Admiral Paris), and Robert Picardo (Dr. Zimmerman/The Doctor). Obviously I wasn’t alive during the Original Series but I grew up watching TNG, DS9, and Voyager and playing Star Trek: Armada and Star Trek: Elite Force on the PC so seeing all of these actors from Voyager just brought back memories.

The film itself was actually really good. It started with Corin Nemec as Captain Alvarez who reminded me a bit of Chris Pine as Captain Kirk, obviously no William Shatner but who is. He seemed like a pretty solid character but as the story developed him and the ship he was captaining petered out a bit to make room for the ‘leader’ of the renegades, Lexxa Singh (Adrienne Wilkinson) who was fantastic. You could tell the camera work and graphics wasn’t the most high-tech but the leading actors and actresses and all the supporting cast were all brilliant and that was what made the film for me. The writing was good, but the casting was a lot better.

I mentioned Captain Alvarez because he was one of many parts of this film that just came and went without any sort of explanation or plot development. I understand trying to squeeze in as many actors from old Star Trek series as possible but they tried to give every single one their own little plot within the main plot and it just got a bit too much in the end. It took a lot away from the main story but I still think it was a brilliantly made film. Had it not been for those appearances would I have liked it as much? I don’t know. As soon as I saw Tuvok it put a smile on my face for the rest of the film so I was always going to enjoy it.

If you’re not a Star Trek fan or a Sci-Fi fan you probably won’t like this film, but I loved it so I would highly recommend it and I hope it gets turned into a web based series.

The Raid: Redemption/The Raid 2: Berandal – 2011/2014

The Raid: Redemption: “A S.W.A.T. team becomes trapped in a tenement run by a ruthless mobster and his army of killers and thugs.”

If you have read some of my other films reviews you will see that 90% of them are pretty negative and even the positive ones have spouts of negativity, or constructive criticism as I like to call it. I’m not a fan of subtitled films or tv programs I have to admit. I liked Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and there are a few Jackie Chan and Jet Li films that I enjoyed but they’re a completely different type of film. The acting isn’t Oscar worthy but that’s not why anyone is watching this film. It’s perfect for the type of film this is.

The action is non-stop. A lot of the time when there is that much action you sort of forget about the story and it doesn’t make sense but The Raid has stuck to the basics so well to avoid that happening. They haven’t tried anything out of the box or anything new, they’ve stuck to a simple idea and made a great film out of it. The ‘hero’ of the film is young and humble and trying to do the right thing and the villain is the opposite of that. The mixture of martial arts and gunfights is perfect. It’s face-paced and exciting from the outset and just does not slow down throughout. Most definitely one of the best action films I have ever seen.

The Raid 2 was slightly different. “Only a short time after the first raid, Rama goes undercover with the thugs of Jakarta and plans to bring down the syndicate and uncover the corruption within his police force.”

Firstly it didn’t really feel like a sequel. You could tell it was made by the same people and the action was very similar it just skipped a lot of time and information so it didn’t really follow. As much as I loved this film just as much as the first one they did push it too far at times. It was much longer and they added a few little sub-plots that were just unnecessary. It was also quite a bit more graphic than the first one, a bit too much fake blood making it look a bit low-budget.

Having said that, just like the first one, the action is non-stop and brilliant to watch. A lot more varied than the first one which is all set in the single building, the different settings allow for all sorts of different items to be used as weapons to add a little difference because it could have been disastrously similar. It’s a pretty brutal film and not exactly what you could call beautiful from a cinematic perspective but it’s just a fantastic action film.

A third film has been half announced but that doesn’t really mean anything. These two were 3 years apart so if there is a third there is a good chance we won’t see it until 2017, if not later. I have high hopes that a third would be just as good as its predecessors so I very much look forward to a confirmed announcement and date.

From the Dark, Ejecta, Honeymoon, Let us Prey – 2014

A load of Horror films not really worth their own post because for the most part, they were absolutely awful. The order written in the title is from the worst to the best although being the ‘best’ out of this group still isn’t exactly complimentary.

From the Dark is a low budget Irish films starring just four people, one of which is supposed to be some sort of creature and one who is in the film for all of five minutes. A lot of the pressure then was on the main two characters, an Irish couple lost in the countryside and hunted by a creature that is afraid of/harmed by light. It doesn’t sound like a disastrous storyline, I mean it was never going to win any awards for creativity but a decent film could have been made out of it. The only problem is that a decent film wasn’t made of it on this occasion because it’s just so stupid. I’m not one to complain about a film being too unrealistic because they’re not really supposed to be, but I have to with this film. Nobody in that situation would do what these two characters do. They basically just give up on all the light sources they have and head towards the dark. I don’t really remember what happened at the end, I think they both died which would have been a suitable end to how stupid they both were throughout the film. Its 4.8 on IMDb is far too generous.

Ejecta was a completely different type of shit. The summary on IMDb is, “The story of one night on earth that changed everything we know about the universe.” I think whoever wrote this was like me and just did not understand what was going on for the entire film. There was an alien abduction, some kidnapping, a little private army, and some random man off the internet who blogs about the supernatural. Throughout the film the one positive was how creepy Julian Richings was as the main character. That casting was spot on I have to say. Unfortunately nothing exciting happened. It might have perked up in the last 15 minutes, I wouldn’t know because I fell asleep and it didn’t seem worth finishing the following night.

Honeymoon is another one like From the Dark which was very reliant on a couple. I think again there were four characters overall but two of them were barely in it. It was a bit hit and miss this film. The chemistry between the two main characters playing the couple on their honeymoon was excellent. I feel like Rose Leslie (Bea) was carrying Harry Treadaway (Paul) a bit because not only is she really hot and good at the loving girlfriend part, she was excellent at the creepy, distant, lying girlfriend part too. The miss part of the film was that it wasn’t exactly clear what was controlling her, which consequently led to a dreadful conclusion to the film, if you could call it a conclusion because nothing was really concluded.

Let Us Prey is the best of a bad bunch here and probably only because of Liam Cunningham. Having progressed in his career in cameo roles in tv shows and films he’s now a household name as Davos from Game of Thrones and he’s brilliant in it. I’m not really sure why he would want to be in this film if I’m honest but he is and anyone who has seen it is very glad that he is. Of all of these films, this has the most consistent storyline, the most action, and the best casting and acting. It just let itself down by jumping into stupidity. There is adding wit into horror films and then there’s trying to make a comedy horror film and I felt this was sort of planted in the middle. It was a decent film but it was just trying too hard to please everyone and it let itself down in that respect. It would be the only one I would recommend watching but really only because Liam Cunningham was so good it in.

Divergent/Insurgent – 2014/2015

Usually I put the description/summary of the film from IMDb to start off a film review but most people have seen the Hunger Games and these films are basically an ever worse, slightly lower budget version of those. World is divided into factions by virtues, young girl doesn’t fit into any because she’s a “divergent”, she has to learn to fight to overcome the odds because divergents get hunted for being different and dangerous. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? The Maze Runner is another one I find to be painfully similar.

Positives: Shailene Woodley isn’t any worse in this than Jennifer Lawrence is in The Hunger Games. There is more action in this than The Hunger Games actually so I take back my previous statement about it being even worse because it’s not really any worse. I wouldn’t say it was better either, just equally unremarkable.

The rest of the acting isn’t very good. Theo James is pretty poor, Miles Teller was the only other person I recognised and it seemed like a really odd role for him. He’s also Mr. Fantastic in the new Fantastic Four film though and although I am yet to see it, that seems equally ridiculous. Nobody else was particularly memorable.

I will still end up watching the 3rd one as I always do but I can’t see it being any better than these first two. Storyline isn’t in the slightest bit original and it doesn’t feel like anything particularly surprising or different is going to happen to make that change. I would recommend watching it if you like things like Hunger Games and The Maze Runner but they’re just not my sort of film.

Little holiday to the Austrian Alps Part 2/2

Now I was a little bit distracted by the blood coming out of my body and general pain but the views from the cable car going up the mountain were pretty spectacular but I’ll get on to that on my third day. The injuries had not yet finished. The first run down the mountain I spectacularly made it all the way down to the bottom without falling off again. I mean it wasn’t that spectacular I went as slow as humanly possible but I stayed on the bike, trying to get a bit of confidence up for the next run. That did not go at all well. I mean everyone else fell off too, but somehow they all knew how to fall off properly, I was the only one continuously bleeding for the entire day. My second fall was basically nothing in the scheme of things, a little bit embarrassing if anything just because I tipped over purely from being too cautious. It was on mud and a bit of grass so no further damage done. My third and final crash though, that was the one that did the real damage that had me actually sit in the apartment the entire following day, barely able to move.

I was going at some speed, but on pretty flat land compared to what I had already been down, but on a track that had a drop either side of about 2 feet. Not particularly high by any means but when your front wheel jams itself into a bit of missing track and you go over the handlebars and off the track, landing on your left shoulder and left hip/thigh, it bloody hurts. It actually hurt so much I blacked out for a a few seconds and couldn’t stand up for a good 10 minutes. I did manage to wearily get back on the back and get back to the apartment though. That’s enough of the negatives for the holiday anyway.

The Alps are pretty beautiful I have to say. On the third day the rest of the family took a day off the bikes for my benefit as I still couldn’t get on one and we all went hiking up the mountains and there are just some spectacular views and it’s also a lot of fun. I couldn’t go quite as quickly as I would have liked because I couldn’t put a great deal of weight on my left side and don’t own proper walking boots but it was the best day of the holiday for me. I know walking still isn’t the ideal holiday, but when you’re poor, in the middle of the Alps, and hate cycling, it’s about the best you can do.

The final day I was back on the bike. Wasn’t the most adventurous day, went about 35mph on a road, that was exciting, but we spent most of the time walking down hills with the bikes in hand because the “Cycling Path” was not fit for cycling. Thankfully I didn’t fall off once so there were no more injuries and I could enjoy my final night.

A few side notes. The restaurant food and service was impeccable. They have a bit of a fly problem but I feel like that’s a problem most of Europe has. Everyone speaks perfect English, they give you discounts just because you’re on holiday, they’re unbelievably polite and some of them gave us free shots to get rid of us because they wanted to close. Having said that, I wouldn’t go back with the same people. I don’t mind the walking but I’m still more of a Beaches, Sightseeing, and Shopping kind of guy.

Little holiday to the Austrian Alps Part 1/2

My family are all quite avid cyclists and so they decided to go on a cycling holiday to the Alps. During the summer all of the famous ski slopes turn into downhill mountain bike tracks and that was something that they all wanted to do. My uncle who lives down south somewhere had hired an apartment out that sleeps 8 people. He and his wife were two, and it was supposed to be: his daughter and her boyfriend, 3 of my uncles and one of their sons. Unfortunately for them there were three cancellations. His daughter and her boyfriend could no longer come and one of my uncles decided he didn’t really want to go. That let for an invitation for me and another one of my cousins to come. Having said that, because of work/car issues, we didn’t know whether we could actually go until 3 days before we departed. This doesn’t seem like much of a disaster, it’s still plenty of time to get organised for the journey and the holiday and on the morning (3am) of leaving I was all fine, no problems other than the very long drive ahead from Liverpool to Austria. For me that was fine, I don’t drive so I was just a passenger for the whole journey but when your driver is young, nervous, tired, and getting annoyed at following the person with the sat-nav who is clearly going the wrong way it starts to get a bit tedious, and so the holiday was starting to go downhill before we even got there.

The drive from Liverpool to Dover was fine. We had two stops, one for a coffee and one for a sleep, we didn’t need to follow them to find our way there so it was all good. Had no problems at the ferry terminal, got on to the ferry okay, my cousin who was driving slept for the entire 2 hours so he was good to go once we got off, and for an hour or so on the other side it seemed okay, we were following them as instructed until we thought, maybe we weren’t going in the right direction. So the car with the two people in who have been driving abroad for 30+ years all over Europe and had the sat-nav didn’t realise they were going in the wrong direction until the other car with the 21 and 23 year old with no sat-nav or map told them. It turned out that they had the sat-nav on a setting which avoids all toll roads. The drive then, which was going to be long as it is, was pretty much doubled. The journey in its entirety, with sleep breaks in service stations and an extremely rude German policeman who assumed we were carrying drugs, took about 30 hours. Eventually though we did get there and the apartment was really nice (made nicer by not having to pay for it).

The holiday only progressed further downhill from there though (no pun intended regarding the part of the story I am about to get on to). Now I said before that everyone going was an avid cyclist so they all had thousands of pounds worth of bikes strapped to the back of the cars, bikes that were made for downhill mountain biking. I on the other hand had not ridden a bike for several years and I think this was my first time on an actually adult bike, a bike that I had to hire that I can guarantee was not worth thousands of pounds. Now my uncles and cousins when they get around each other with only one woman on the holiday get very masculine, everyone trying to be the alpha male on the holiday, so naturally on the first day, they want to go on the hardest trail there is. Having not wanted to go cycling in the first place and only really doing it out of courtesy wasn’t quite as eager but thought “How bad can it be?” and just agreed and got on with it. I instantly regretted that decision.

Instantly is much more literal than it usually would be in this situation as well. To get to the top of the mountain we had to cycle to the cable car place, about 15 minutes away. I only lasted about 15 seconds before my first fall of the holiday. There was a steep hill leading down from our apartment to the cycle track that goes to the cable car place so naturally I needed to brake when going down it. One of the few things I remembered about riding a bike was that the front brake is the one on the right and the back brake is the one on the left. Apparently in Austria, they’re the other way around. So I put on what I thought was my back brake, stopped my front tyre completely, went over my handlebars, ripped all the skin off both my elbows and most of my hands. Now that should really have been where I thought, “this isn’t really for me, I’ll try and get my money back on the bike and do something else on my own”, but that’s not at all how it happened. I got back on and powered through.