What *better* way to celebrate the arrival of Spring than with a little doom metal? If you like the following, check out allthatisheavy.com – no, they're not paying me to plug them, they didn't even ask me. The site really is that awesome, and their newsletter is a great way to keep up with all the latest and greatest.
Sleep – Dragonaut
Ahh, Sleep. The James Brown of doom. One of my favorite things about Sleep is their idiosyncrasy: while MTV and Rolling Stone were giving the world the hard sell on Seattle grunge, Sleep was doing something *completely* different and off-the-charts (literally), taking 70s proto-metal and twisting it into their own piquant brand of fuzzed-out mayhem.
Candlemass – Bewitched
Old school cool from Sweden. Messiah Marcolin, the vocalist, is one of my favorite singers.
Black Capricorn – Cult of Black Friars
This band's from Sardinia, of all places. They seem to revel in obscurity – it's hard/impossible to find t-shirts, CDs or (legal) digital downloads. Sell out, guys! You've got at least one eager customer waiting in line.
Saviours – Cavern of Mind
Don't let the "u" in their name fool you – these guys are from Cali. Thus particular tune – all of Saviours' music, actually – manages to be raw and fuzzy and epic and transcendent all at the same time.
Black Pyramid – Stormbringer
These guys are from, drumroll, please... Northampton, Massachusetts! Hey, that's where I live! I wear my Black Pyramid t-shirt with pride. Let me know if you ever want to hang out and slay some orcs, guys!
Elder – Riddle of Steel, Part One
I cannot get enough of this band – and I have what a friend of mine called "new song hard-on" for this particular tune, which was recorded in... drumroll, please... Northampton, Massachusetts! Guys? Can we hang out? Slay some orcs? Guys?
High on Fire – Sons of Thunder
Fellow comic book writer Jim Zub did a little interview with me on Warlord of Mars for Bleeding Cool, in which I describe John Carter as the love child of Obi-wan Kenobi and Superman, thus further lowering my chances of ever working for DC Comics and/or Disney, but oh well.
Read all about it, if you dare...
For a little bit there, in the late 90s and early 00s, I really thought dance music was going to take off, going to transcend its XTC-popping, glowstick-swinging roots. And of course that happened, but in (for me, anyway) the worst way possible. Now *everyone* listens to dance music – and that's great! But I feel like most of what comes out today is just screechy, slurry noise that passes off as "hip", or else it's Top 40 high fructose corn syrup.
Of course, a few brave souls are still making great electronic music in the right-now (Boards of Canada!), but it's hard not to get cynical. It seems like the loud and vulgar always crowds out the understated and beautiful. But nothing, nothing can detract from the joy and wonder of the late 90s and early 00s.
Take Private (2002), one of my all-time favorite albums, by speedometer., the stage name of Jun Takayama. Private is, as far as Yours Truly is concerned, a masterpiece of dance/electronica. Therefore it's all the more heartbreaking that it's so utterly obscure. I can't even recall how I came across Private; I think I heard one of the tracks on soma.fm while lettering Rex Mundi at 3 in the morning, and I took a chance on the full album. The chance paid off, in droves.
What can I say about speedometer.'s sound? Sure, it's downtempo, chill out, space jazz, whatever – but none of those descriptors even come close to capturing the beauty of the music. So here's Nightboat from Alaska, the first track from the album. I love the mysterious, shimmering timbre of the melody, the skittery jazz percussion, the rubbery Angelo Badalamenti bass, and the saxophone.
Private Roots, the second track, is my favorite, and the fact that it only has 15 views on YouTube is a sickening crime. Yoshie Nakano, the vocalist on this piece, deserves like ten Grammys. Downtempo dance tends to feature a lot of soulful, jazzy female vocals, but the vocalists don't always have the chops. Well, Nakano has chops. You can't fake passion and intensity like hers.
The entire album is perfect, one of the rare cases where you can listen from beginning to end without skipping a track. It's available on iTunes, wedged in somewhere between the Justin Bieber remixes feat. Nelly and singles from The Voice™. If you happen to be lucky enough to live near a small record store that specializes in electronica/dance, they might have it, too, but I dunno. Like I said, this album never got the attention it deserved.
I somehow hunted down speedometer.'s earlier album, ...Or Not, and there are a few fleeting moments of brilliance in it that are fully realized in Private. Checking speedometer's Web site, I can see he released a bunch of albums after Private, but I have no way of knowing how to get them in a way that financially compensates Jun Takayama. Which is sad, but at least he's still making music. That, by itself, makes me happy.
Okay. I'm going to go listen to Slayer now.
oo long! It's been way too long since last I posted. I've been both lazy *and* busy. Just got back from Munich, in fact, because I'm officially working on Travian, the mightiest browser-based strategy game of them all.
I shamefully confess I hadn't heard of Travian until my friend Josef recommended me to the powers-that-be at Travian Games GmbH. Now I'm officially hooked. Travian is a completely different take on online gaming, on gaming period. It's "free-to-play", and you can gain advantages by spending real-world money – Travian's got to make money somehow, renting out servers ain't cheap – but the game is wonderfully designed so that forking over real gold for in-game gold is truly, madly, and deeply optional. You can do well at the game and spend nary a dime.
The game is pretty staggering in its intricacy. It debuted in 2004, and it's been updated and expanded ever since. The setting is ancient Rome. You expand your settlements, cultivate resource production, and raid and form alliances with other players. The ultimate goal is to complete a "World Wonder" and thereby defeat the Natars, the non-player enemies that are threatening the world. Once a World Wonder is built, a winning alliance is declared, and the server resets.
It's hard to capture the complexity of Travian in a paragraph or two, so check it out for yourself. It's basically a vast and complex board game, with all the fiddly rules and tally-keeping handled for you.
One of the coolest things about the game is the broad player base. Travian has servers everywhere from Estonia to Indonesia. 1.6 million "likes" on Facebook. So what am I doing for Travian, exactly? World-building. I'm coming up with a story for the game, answering questions like "who are the Natars?" and "how is Travian different from historical reality?". That kind of thing.
Speaking of historical reality, the trip to Munich was amazing. Germany is like some kind of fantasy realm where bad architecture and cars that are not either Mercedes or BMWs and street litter have been erased from existence. And German is such a weird language. Sometimes I can almost understand it, but most of the time I feel like I'm in one of those Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes where Picard is forced to go to the Klingon homeworld for some reason. Like settling a succession crisis for the next Klingon emperor, or working on a browser game.
Thanks to Erik, Robin and… Jesus, everyone in Munich for making me feel so welcome. The newest iteration of Travian, version 5, is gonna debut sometime early next year. I have an account on the super-secret test server, and oh my Lord, is v5 ever an improvement. I cannot wait for it to go live, and it's an unbelievable honor to be a part of it.
Yes! It's finally here.
This is my second team-up with artist Roberto Castro. I didn't think it was possible for Roberto to top Lord of the Jungle, our first series together, but by golly, with Lords of Mars he has. To see what I mean, check out an extended preview at comicvine.
Hope this flies off the shelves like it deserves, because we have lots of great things in store for this series. I'm off to jabber at the wall like a deranged monkey in anticipation. Happy reading!