Hour Of The Nightingale

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As we’re rapidly approaching the end of 2016 there’s one more album that I want to talk about before I get around to counting down my personal top ten albums of the year – which is going to be pretty hard to narrow down having listened to nearly six hundred albums this year!

Aleah Stanbridge
Aleah Stanbridge

The last one to get the individual treatment has to be “Hour Of The Nightingale”, the debut album from a melodic doom / gothic metal band called Trees Of Eternity. The genesis of the group was the getting together of singer Aleah Stanbridge and Swallow The Sun guitarist / composer Juha Raivio to work on material for the latter band’s 2009 record “New Moon”.

Juha Raivio
Juha Raivio

Stanbridge contributed vocals to “New Moon” and both subsequent Swallow The Sun albums, including last year’s phenomenal “Songs From The North” triple album. Away from his band Raivio continued to work on separate material with Stanbridge and the pair became partners in life as well as partners within music.

Fredrik Norrman
Fredrik Norrman

Album sessions began, I believe, in 2013, although videos for some of the tracks have been floating around the internet for several years already, presumably in demo form. The resulting record features the couple with guitarist Fredrik Norrman and his bassist brother Mattias Norrman (both of October Tide) as well as current Nightwish drummer Kai Hahto. There are clear similarities with Raivio’s day job but the finished product is, to my ears, a much gentler and soothing piece of work.

Mattias Norrman
Mattias Norrman

Opening track “My Requiem” is closest to Swallow The Sun’s material, I think. This is the track that grew out of Raivio and Stanbridge’s initial session for “New Moon” and immediately it’s the vocals that really make an impression, such is the beautiful and ethereal quality to Stanbridge’s voice.

Kai Hahto
Kai Hahto

Not that the backing is lacking, mind you. There is a heaviness to the musical performances that accompany the voice, that somehow even makes itself felt on the gentler passages.

The whole record is dense with melancholy and the mournful aspect of the music becomes so much more pertinent when you realise that Stanbridge tragically passed away from cancer six months before the album’s eventual release, aged just 39.

Aleah Stanbridge
Aleah Stanbridge

As a result listening to the album is both sad (at the loss of a very talented and a beautiful woman) and yet uplifting at the same time (thanks to the effect of her beautiful voice).

Juha Raivio
Juha Raivio

In a statement shortly after her death, Raivio said “…our Trees Of Eternity album will be released as it has been ready to be released for a while… we both loved it from the first note til the end and I’m so proud we had a chance to share a life and write this album together… been working on Aleah’s solo album for some time and will continue on that (at) some point…”

Nick Holmes
Nick Holmes

There are guest performances from Antimatter vocalist Mick Moss on “Condemned To Silence” and Paradise Lost frontman Nick Holmes on the epic closer “Gallows Bird”, but for the majority of the record it is that haunting voice of the late Stanbridge that grabs the listener’s attention.

Aleah Stanbridge
Aleah Stanbridge

My personal highlights on the record would be “A Million Tears”, “Broken Mirror”, the relatively brief “Sinking Ships” and the aforementioned tracks “Gallows Bird” and “My Requiem”. It’s a great shame that there will presumably be no further Trees Of Eternity records. One can only imagine the pain that Stanbridge’s passing has caused Raivio. This is a fabulous album and highly recommended listening.

Aleah Stanbridge & Juha Raivio
Aleah Stanbridge & Juha Raivio

I’ll leave the last words to Raivio – “…this cruel world needs this angel now more than ever. There will never be another voice like hers… She was pure magic, light and dark…” I hope that this record, and therefore the voice, will get the exposure and recognition that both deserve…maxresdefault-1

“Hour Of The Nightingale” tracklist:

1. My Requiem / 2. Eye Of Night / 3. Condemned To Silence / 4. A Million Tears / 5. Hour Of The Nightingale / 6. The Passage / 7. Broken Mirror / 8. Black Ocean /  9. Sinking Ships / 10. Gallows Bird

Wild

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Joanne Shaw Taylor
Joanne Shaw Taylor

Sometimes I hear a record and it instantly connects, others take a while to kind of sink in and improve with repeated listens. Then there are the albums that somehow manage to do both – they’re immediately gratifying and yet continue to get better with each listen. English blues singer / guitarist Joanne Shaw Taylor‘s latest album “Wild” is definitely one of the latter.

Joanne Shaw Taylor - The Dirty Truth
Joanne Shaw Taylor – The Dirty Truth

I’ve enjoyed Taylor’s work from the off, with the release of her debut album “White Sugar” (2009) showcasing a natural smoky voice and some mean guitar riffs and solos. Each subsequent album has shown improvement from the one before, up to 2014’s “The Dirty Truth”.

Kevin Shirley
Kevin Shirley

The end of September saw “Wild” hit the shelves. The record was produced by Kevin Shirley, a man known for his excellent production work with artists such as Iron Maiden, Journey, Black Country Communion and (most relevantly) Joe Bonamassa. Shirley has worked hand-in-hand with Bonamassa on every album that the bluesman has recorded since 2006’s “You & Me”, a period of time that has seen the artist’s success and popularity grow massively. It makes sense, then, that a similar musician like Taylor would benefit from Shirley’s expertise.

Joanne Shaw Taylor
Joanne Shaw Taylor

The decision to use the producer for “Wild” has certainly been beneficial. Shirley stated that with regard to the album “…if you’re not blown away, I’ll give you your money back!…” Well, on the evidence of what I’ve heard there are no major worries of him having to put his hand into his pocket too many times, I’d say.

Joanne Shaw Taylor - Dyin' To Know
Joanne Shaw Taylor – Dyin’ To Know

The album kicks off with the short and sweet “Dyin’ To Know”, which builds from a simple guitar riff and vocal line (to my ears Taylor’s voice sounds more assured than on previous albums) into a full-blown band number and features quick bursts of stellar soloing too.

Greg Morrow
Greg Morrow

The backing musicians on the record are Nashville-based and, as with the Nashville studio in which they recorded, were picked by Shirley.

Michael Rhodes
Michael Rhodes

Greg Morrow provides some solid drumming, bass is from Michael Rhodes, keyboard textures as from the hands of Steve Nathan and additional guitars by Rob McNelley.

Steve Nathan
Steve Nathan

Morrow and Rhodes performed on Joe Bonamassa’s latest studio album, along with backing singers Mahalia Barnes, Juanita Tippins and Jade McRae (also all present on “Wild”).

Rob McNelley
Rob McNelley

McNelley’s fretwork can also be heard on, amongst others, “Cosmic Hallelujah” by Kenny Chesney (again with Morrow and Rhodes), whilst Nathan’s keyboards (and yet again Morrow’s drums) are featured on Cyndi Lauper’s “Detours” album. So, just a glimpse of the pedigree of the musicians involved in the making of Taylor’s fifth studio album.

Mahalia Barnes, Jade MacRae & Juanita Tippins
Mahalia Barnes, Jade MacRae & Juanita Tippins

The undoubted star of the show, though, is the one whose name adorns the cover. Whether it’s on the mid-paced strut of “Ready To Roll”, the fantastic cover of “Wild Is The Wind” (even better than David Bowie’s in my opinion), the up-tempo and funky “Wanna Be My Lover”, the delicate and heartfelt “I Wish I Could Wish You Back”, rocker “Nothin’ To Lose” or the closing gorgeous reading of the George Gershwin classic “Summertime” both her soulful voice and perfectly-judged guitar parts shine through.

Joanne Shaw Taylor
Joanne Shaw Taylor

Sure there are sonic and style comparisons that can be made to Bonamassa’s recent work but – 1. that’s no bad thing as his stuff is also excellent, 2. that’s was always the case as both are working within the blues genre and 3. there is more than enough of Taylor’s personality stamped all over this record to make it recognisably her work rather than some Bonamassa-lite or something.

Joanne Shaw Taylor
Joanne Shaw Taylor

Whilst I love various forms of metal and rock – black, progressive, doom, etc., as well as other genres such as pop, country and folk, I have always loved blues and blues rock. Early touchstones for me included the late great Gary Moore and Stevie Ray Vaughan and over time I have grown to enjoy the work of many great blues artists. Much as I think Joe Bonamassa is a modern-day blues great I believe that with this simply superb record Joanne Shaw Taylor – an inspired and inspiring musician – deserves her place amongst the greats. Fabulous stuff which, as I mentioned earlier, gets better each time I listen to it. Highly recommended…joanne-shaw-taylor-btm

“Wild” tracklist:

1. Dyin’ To Know / 2. Ready To Roll / 3. Get You Back / 4. No Reason To Stay / 5. Wild Is The Wind / 6. Wanna Be My Lover / 7. I’m In Chains / 8. I Wish I Could Wish You Back / 9. My Heart’s Got A Mind Of Its Own / 10. Nothin’ To Lose / 11. Summertime

If You Love Something, Never Let It Go

Last night my wife and I watched the movie “Pet”, a psychological horror thriller from Spanish director Carles Torrens (“Apartment 143”) and writer Jeremy Slater (“The Lazarus Effect”), which turned out to be far more fun than I’d anticipated.pet-new-poster

Dominic Monaghan
Dominic Monaghan

Seth (Dominic Monaghan – “Lost”, “The Lord Of The Rings” trilogy) is a seemingly quiet and introvert guy who has a job working at an animal shelter in Los Angeles. One day on his daily bus ride he spots a girl that he had a crush on back in high school and moves over the speak to her.

Ksenia Solo
Ksenia Solo

The girl, waitress Holly (Ksenia Solo – “Black Swan”, “The Factory”), talks politely with Seth but clearly doesn’t remember him from their school days. Seth is obviously very keen on Holly and tries a variety of rather inept / slightly creepy / stalkerish ways to win her over – but all to no avail.

Da'Vone McDonald
Da’Vone McDonald

Not easily rebuffed, Seth decides to drug Holly and lock her in a cage down in the basement of the animal shelter, naturally enough!, trying to keep his secret from being discovered by the security guard, Nate (Da’Vone McDonald – “Walk Of Shame”, “The Gambler”).

Jennette McCurdy
Jennette McCurdy

Things look more than a little bit bleak for Holly, but then appearances can be very deceptive – and perhaps Holly and her supportive flatmate Claire (Jennette McCurdy – “iCarly”, “Sam & Cat”) will fall into this category too…?

Ksenia Solo & Dominic Monaghan
Ksenia Solo & Dominic Monaghan

It’s safe to say that some of the twists and turns in this movie are easy enough to see coming, others less so, but that doesn’t detract from a thoroughly entertaining 95 minutes in the slightest.

Lysette Anthony
Lysette Anthony

Monaghan portrays Seth very well with a great mix of loneliness, infatuation and simple weirdness and Solo (who reminded me at times of a young Lysette Anthony – it’s the eyes!) is fantastic in her role. A complex and complicated pair living out a very twisted love story that really isn’t what you might be expecting. This one’s well worth a watch…pet_the_movie_poster

She Has The Touch Of Death…

“An ugly duckling as a child, Jodie Bentley had two dreams in life – to be beautiful and rich. She’s achieved the first, with a little help from a plastic surgeon, and now she’s working hard on the second. Her philosophy on money is simple: you can either earn it or marry it. Marrying is easy, it’s getting rid of the husband afterwards that’s harder, that takes real skill. But hey, practice makes perfect …

Detective Superintendent Roy Grace is feeling the pressure from his superiors, his previous case is still giving him sleepless nights, there have been major developments with his missing wife Sandy, and an old adversary is back. But worse than all of this, he now believes a Black Widow is operating in his city. One with a venomous mind… and venomous skills. Soon Grace comes to the frightening realisation that he may have underestimated just how dangerous this lady is…”

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Incredibly we’re now up to book twelve in the Roy Grace detective series from Brighton author Peter James. It certainly doesn’t seem like eleven years since I read “Dead Simple” – the first in the series.

This latest instalment finds Grace investigating a black widow character as well as dealing with some ghosts from past investigations – as well as from his own personal past (in the form of his first wife Sandy). Thankfully the last of these has now come to a conclusion, though typically enough there is still some baggage from that situation that will likely impact quite significantly on his life going forward. Much as I like to see how a detective’s personal situation impacts on his day job I’m not sure that I wouldn’t have preferred that particular story arc to have come to a full stop.

Peter James
Peter James

Nonetheless, James has yet again managed to craft a captivating storyline. Perhaps one might argue that some of the crimes committed might have been more easily detectable given certain similarities and coincidences, but given the budget and staffing constraints that our police force has come under in recent years it is perfectly conceivable that the events depicted here could go on undetected.

I did have a couple of reservations – Spoiler Alert! – when the killer is arrested she seems to give up just a little too easily and the method for killing via a single snake tooth that she carried seemed a bit unlikely. To balance that, however, there are a couple of very pertinent thoughts on the strengths of relationships and of course the rest of the tale is excellently told and James has clearly done a lot of research on his subject matter.

All in all, then, another excellent entry into the Roy Grace series. Looking forward to book number thirteen already…btm

Pure

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The Local Woods, This Morning
The Local Woods, This Morning

When I took the dog out for a nice long walk in the woods this morning it was rather foggy, and I took a few pictures as the scenery put me very much in mind of the kind of imagery that can be found on numerous black metal albums, such as “The Dark Hereafter” by Winterfylleth, Darkthrone’s “Panzerfaust”, “In These Woods, From These Mountains” from The Wretched End and “Death Of The Sun” by Wyrd.

In The Woods
In The Woods…

Naturally this, coupled with the atmosphere such conditions evoke, led me to spin some black metal albums when I returned home. One of these albums found itself on repeat, and it seems more than appropriate that the record in question was “Pure”, the latest release from Norwegian band In The Woods…

Christian "X" Botteri
Christian “X” Botteri

The band formed way back around 1992 by three members of metal band Green Carnation – being guitarist Christian “X” Botteri, bass player Christopher “C:M.” Botteri and drummer Anders Kobro.

Adding singer Jan Kenneth Transeth and guitarist Oddvar “A:M” Moi, the band released three studio albums between 1995 and 1999 before the band split in 2000 after the release of compilation album “Three Times Seven On A Pilgrimage”.

Christopher "C:M." Botteri
Christopher “C:M.” Botteri

In 2014 it was announced that the initial threesome of Botteri, Botteri and Kobro had reunited as In The Woods… and then last year came news that singer James Fogarty was to complete the new incarnation of the group. These four are responsible for “Pure”, with additional lead guitar provided on the final three tracks by Bjørn “Berserk” Harstad.

Anders Kobro
Anders Kobro

Looking at the few pictures of the band that can be found online you’d be forgiven for thinking that In The Woods… are not perhaps the happiest of bands. Lyrically, however, “Pure” would seem to counter that to some degree with lines such as  “…a shining future waiting, a promise of the pure…” or “…we left the darkness, walking into the light…” to balance against mentions of darkness, black holes and grief.

Jan Kenneth Transeth
Jan Kenneth Transeth

Musically, the band are not straight forward black metal by any means. With progressive and avant-garde stylings present throughout their relatively brief back catalogue one could perhaps make comparisons to the likes of fellow Norwegian act Ulver. I felt there are echoes of modern-day Enslaved and Swallow The Sun to be heard within these grooves.

Oddvar "A:M" Moi
Oddvar “A:M” Moi

What’s beyond dispute (at least to my ears) is that this is the kind of album that lends itself perfectly to this time of year and the colder, gloomier weather that comes with it – just as the aforementioned Swallow The Sun’s epic three-disc “Songs From The North” from last year still does. Granted “Pure” cannot compare with “Songs…” in terms of scale and variety but more than holds its own as a great piece of work.

James Fogarty
James Fogarty

Opening with the title track the vibe is at once doomy yet spacey, and displays the album’s rich and warm production. Fogarty’s voice is powerful enough to stand out over the heaviness of the guitars, bass and drums and the compositions are both complex and accessible – which is no mean feat.

There isn’t a truly weak track on this record, but for me the picks of the bunch would have to be “Towards The Black Surreal”, “Cult Of Shining Stars” and the ten-minute-plus instrumental piece “Transmission KRS”. “The Recalcitrant Protagonist” isn’t far behind either.

In The Woods...
In The Woods…

Guitar work throughout the album is imaginative and impressive. Sometimes hypnotic and sometimes crushing, but never dull. The same can be said of the vocal lines too. I suppose atmosphere is the word that might best be used when thinking about the sound of this record.

Many reviewers have commented that the album sounds dated and disappoints in comparison to the group’s earlier work. Well, “Pure” is my entry point to the band so I am, I guess, in the fortunate position of not being able to hold it up against the likes of “Omnio” (1997) or the debut “Heart Of The Ages”. I wouldn’t agree that the material sounds dated, however. To me “Pure” is fresh, has vitality and is an organic sounding album that ought to see wider recognition that will likely be the case for a relatively low-key band in a niche genre. Good stuff!…btm

“Pure” tracklist:

1. Pure / 2. Blue Oceans Rise (Like A War) / 3. Devil’s At The Door / 4. Recalcitrant Protagonist / 5. The Cave Of Dreams / 6. Cult Of Shining Stars / 7. Towards The Black Surreal / 8. Transmission KRS / 9. This Dark Dream / 10. Mystery Of The Constellations

An Evening Of Sorcery, Damnation & Deliverance

20161117_162032Last Saturday, 19th November, I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to the SSE Arena at Wembley (or, Wembley Arena as it was) to see Swedish progressive metallers Opeth in concert.

opeth-sorceress-new-600Not being overly keen on Wembley’s parking charges, and having memories of taking hours to get out of their car parks on previous visits, I had used a website called Your Parking Space to arrange to “rent” someone’s driveway for the evening. Considerably cheaper and only a few minutes walk from the Wembley complex. I’d certainly use this service again.

SSE Arena, Wembley
SSE Arena, Wembley

I’d left the Forest of Dean in plenty of time to reach Wembley with enough time to park and grab some food and drink before it was time to enter the venue but having got caught in some very heavy traffic jams meaning that the section of journey from Churcham to Elmbridge Court roundabout – which would normally take about 10-15 minutes – took two hours to complete! Luckily once past there the traffic returned to normal and with weather being clear and crisp I was parking at my destination in good time.

Inside The Arena
Inside The Arena

A bite to eat and a coffee later, and just as the weather turned to rain, it was 6:00pm and time to enter the arena. As I found my seat it became immediately obvious that this was one of those occasions when playing Wembley Arena actually meant playing half of Wembley Arena as the stage was halfway along the floor and the other half of the arena was curtained off behind it. No matter, this is still a significant event for what is essentially a niche artist, albeit one that has already headlined at the Royal Albert Hall.

Anathema Live At The SSE Arena
Anathema Live At The SSE Arena

Before the main event, though, there was the small matter of supporting act. When I’d booked my ticket the support hadn’t been announced and I must admit I was a bit gutted when I discovered that recent discovery Myrkur was supporting the band on their European dates subsequent to London, and Sahg covering the pre-London shows. However, things looked up with news that Liverpool progressive rock band Anathema.

Lee Douglas & Daniel Cavanagh
Lee Douglas & Daniel Cavanagh

I had listened to some of Anathema’s albums in the past and quite enjoyed what I heard but wasn’t terribly excited about seeing them live. That changed when they hit the stage and, following an intro tape that seemed somewhat out-of-place with their music, broke into opening number “Thin Air” which grew into a quite impressively epic sound.

Something of a (two) family affair, Anathema are led by lead vocalist / guitarist Vincent Cavanagh, and feature his brothers Daniel Cavanagh (guitars / vocals) and Jamie Cavanagh (bass) as well as siblings Lee Douglas (vocals) and John Douglas (drums / percussion / keyboards). The line-up is completed by percussionist / drummer Daniel Cardoso.

Daniel Cavanagh
Daniel Cavanagh

Daniel Cavanagh, unusual in attire in that rather than in-ear monitors he sported full-size over-ear headphones, did his best to gee up the less than full crowd and succeeded in getting a good proportion of those who were in their seats to use the light apps on their smart phones in place of stage lighting during the evocative “A Natural Disaster”, which featured a lead vocal from Lee Douglas.

Anathema Perform "A Natural Disaster"
Anathema Perform “A Natural Disaster”

My personal highlight of the band’s short set would be the electronically based “Distant Satellites” which, at one point, saw both John Douglas and Daniel Cardoso joined by Vincent Cavanagh in providing a triple-pronged percussive assault. A very impressive set and a band that I shall be listening to more!

Setlist:

1. Thin Air / 2. Untouchable, Part 1 / 3. A Simple Mistake / 4. Distant Satellites / 5. A Natural Disaster / 6. Fragile Dreams / 7. Springfield

1 and 3 originally from “We’re Here Because We’re Here ” (2010) / 2 originally from “Weather Systems” (2012) / 4 originally from “Distant Satellites” (2014) / 5 originally from “A Natural Disaster” (2003) / 6 originally from “Alternative 4” (1998) / 6 to be on forthcoming studio album

Opeth
Opeth Live At The SSE Arena

A short break later and at around 8:30pm the house lights went down on a much fuller crowd as headliners Opeth began to enter the stage. Joakim Svalberg  (keyboards), Martin Axenrot (drums) and Martin Mendez (bass) take to the stage first and lock into the opening jazz-inflected riff to “Sorceress”, the title track of the band’s superb album released in September this year. Fredrik Åkesson (guitars) and frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt (guitars / vocals) stride on in time for the track to get going and it’s simply brilliant. The sound is great, vocals clear as a bell, and the guitars heavy as you like.

Opeth Live At The SSE Arena
Opeth Live At The SSE Arena

Following this up with “Ghost Reveries” highlight “Ghost Of Perdition” surely meant that even those not over enamoured with the band’s recent lighter output must have been happy. The band’s playing was incredibly precise, with the light and shade all the more effective live than on record.

Mikael Åkerfeldt
Mikael Åkerfeldt

Åkerfeldt is an engaging and humorous frontman, with a nice line in self-deprecation. He tells us that when his friends back in Sweden ask what it was like to headline Wembley he’ll tell them that it was “intimate” but will neglect to mention that they moved the stage half way down the hall. Later, when introducing “By The Pain I See In Others” from the album “Deliverance” he will say that this is the third of four times that they will ever play it live, and that this is no real shame as it’s “a bit shit”!

Opeth Live At The SSE Arena
Opeth Live At The SSE Arena

A faultless rendition of “The Grand Conjuration” brings the first set to a thunderous close. Åkerfeldt tells us beforehand that after the song there will be some mysterious sounds and that the group will mysteriously disappear “…well, we’ll go and stand over there…” to give an artistic link into the second set – during which they will play highlights of the “Deliverance” and “Damnation” albums.

Opeth Live At The SSE Arena
Opeth Live At The SSE Arena

Four largely acoustic numbers come first and all are beautiful and haunting, with “Windowpane” and “Closure” being highlights for me. The best track of the night, however, has to be the crushing closer “Deliverance” itself which sees the band’s machine gun riffing send the rapturous audience out into the pouring rain on a real high.

Opeth Take A Bow
Opeth Take A Bow

Even a slow drive back to the England / Wales border in torrential rain with lots of surface water cannot dampen what has been a top class two and a half hour show from a band truly on top of their game. A brilliant performance…

Setlist:

1. Sorceress / 2. Ghost Of Perdition / 3. Demon Of The Fall / 4. The Wilde Flowers / 5. Face Of Melinda / 6. Cusp Of Eternity / 7. The Drapery Falls/ 8. Heir Apparent / 9. The Grand Conjuration / 10. Windowpane / 11. Death Whispered A Lullaby / 12. In My Time Of Need / 13. Closure / 14. Master’s Apprentices / 15. By The Pain I See In Others / 16. Deliverance

1 and 4 originally from “Sorceress” (2016) / 2 and 9 originally from “Ghost Reveries” (2005) / 3 originally from “My Arms, Your Hearse” (1998) / 5 originally from “Still Life” (1999) / 6 originally from “Pale Communion” (2014) / 7 originally from “Blackwater Park” (2001) 8 originally from “Watershed” (2008) / 10, 11, 12 and 13 originally from “Damnation” (2003) / 14, 15 and 16 originally from “Deliverance” (2002)613-x-299-10-2434a716de

This Isn’t Hell, This Is Holland

Horrible weather out today, feeling rather under the weather myself, so time for a nice horror film this morning… from Dutch writer / director Nick Jongerius (“Spangas”, “The RedRoom”) comes this year’s “The Windmill”.mv5bnjczmte2mzqxmv5bml5banbnxkftztgwmzexndaxmdi-_v1_sx9999

Charlotte Beaumont
Charlotte Beaumont

Originally titled “The Windmill Massacre”, the film opens with flashbacks to a burning static caravan before we switch to Amsterdam where we are introduced to Australian nanny Jennifer (Charlotte Beaumont – “Broadchurch”, “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll”) who scarpers when the father of the family she works for challenges her over her identity.

Adam Thomas Wright & Patrick Baladi
Adam Thomas Wright & Patrick Baladi

A number of other characters are gradually brought into play through introductory scenes, including distracted businessman Douglas (Patrick Baladi – “The Office”, “Stella”) and his young son Curt (Adam Thomas Wright – “The Awakening”, “Altar”).

Bart Klever, Fiona Hampton, Adam Thomas Wright, Patrick Baladi, Charlotte Beaumont & Noah Taylor
Bart Klever, Fiona Hampton, Adam Thomas Wright, Patrick Baladi, Charlotte Beaumont & Noah Taylor

Others are photographer Ruby (Fiona Hampton – “Kingsman – The Secret Service”, “Legacy”), surgeon Nicholas (Noah Taylor – “Vanilla Sky”, “Submarine”), soldier Jackson (Ben Batt – “The Village”, “Scott & Bailey”) and Takashi (Tanroh Ishida – “The Railway Man”, “47 Ronin”) who is in Holland to scatter his grandmother’s ashes.

Charlotte Beaumont & Ben Batt
Charlotte Beaumont & Ben Batt

These disparate personalities come together when they all board a sightseeing coach trip to view some of Holland’s sights and landmarks. Whilst driving down a rural track Jennifer thinks she sees something that causes her to get the driver Abe (Bart Klever – “Clean Hands”, “The Pool”) to stop the coach. When he is unable to restart the engine the motley bunch seek refuge in a wooden shack in the shadow of an old windmill.

Tanroh Ishida
Tanroh Ishida

Whilst there they learn the legend of a miller supposedly burnt to death inside his windmill when local villagers discovered that the Devil-worshipping miller had been killing and grinding the bones of his victims in the mill. Then people start to disappear and it becomes clear that they all seem to fall within the category of person-with-dark–guilty-secret. Is this a coincidence or has something drawn these folk together?…

Adam Thomas Wright & Charlotte Beaumont
Adam Thomas Wright & Charlotte Beaumont

A fairly straight-forward horror / slasher film with a supernatural element, I thought that despite the fact that you know pretty early on what is going on the makers still managed to create a movie that sustains the tension throughout. Decent acting, with Beaumont and Wright carrying a good deal of the tale, a fair amount of gore and a credible plot – certainly worth 85 minutes of your time…the_windmill_massacre_2016_12476032

Mausoleum

myrkur-mausoleum

Myrkur
Myrkur

A recent discovery here in the shadows is Danish black metal project Myrkur. When the first recording was released, the 2014 seven song self-titled EP, nothing was known publicly about the personnel behind the music other than it was a one-woman band from “…the darkness of Scandinavia…” The music contained thereon was described by the artist as “…a combination of ethereal choir vocals and evil guitars and aggressive blast beats…” She went on to say “…I always dreamed about becoming a Huldra, an Elver girl, a Valkyrie, the goddess Freja. These powerful women in Norse Mythology have an element of beauty and mystique, but they are also deadly…”.

Amalie Bruun
Amalie Bruun

There was some controversy and something of a backlash (including death threats!) from less open-minded black metal fans when the woman behind Myrkur was revealed to be New York based model and singer / songwriter Amalie Bruun, previously frontwoman of pop/rock band Ex-Cops.

Amalie Bruun - Black Metal Girl At Heart
Amalie Bruun – Black Metal Girl At Heart

I haven’t heard Ex-Cops, or indeed any of Denmark-born Bruun’s earlier solo work but I can attest that since moving into the world of black metal (although it’s worth pointing out that she stated that she was “…a black metal girl at heart…” in an interview she did for a fashion website back in 2012) her music certainly fits the aforementioned description of fusing ethereal singing with traditional black metal sounds.

Kristoffer Rygg & Myrkur
Kristoffer Rygg & Myrkur

The impressive full debut album, titled “M”, was produced by Kristoffer Rygg, vocalist and keyboardist for Norwegian avant-garde black metallers Ulver and released to generally positive reviews – if still resistance from some of the genre’s fan-base – in August of 2015. This is probably oe of my favourite extreme metal releases of last year.

Emanuel Vigeland's Museum / Mausoleum
Emanuel Vigeland’s Museum / Mausoleum

For a project whose name, Myrkur, apparently means “darkness” in Icelandic it seems entirely fitting that the third release should have been recorded live in the rather stunning venue that is Emanuel Vigeland’s museum / mausoleum in Slemdal, Oslo.

Norwegian Girls Choir
Norwegian Girls Choir

Leaving the blast beats and abrasive black metal guitars at home, Bruun is accompanied on this haunting acoustic recording by the Norwegian Girls Choir and former Ulver member Håvard Jørgensen.

Myrkur
Myrkur

Not an acoustic album in the usual sense, the songs are recognisable from the original versions and yet the treatment given here means that they do stand up in their own right. In fairness, I find it impossible to point to any particular highlights on this record as all nine tracks are uniformly excellent. Despite not having the extremes in sound of the studio work this beautiful recording still enchants the listener. Best listened to late at night in the dark, or perhaps out in the forest or on a hill without modern civilisation breaking the spell, this is twenty-seven minutes of pure atmosphere. Utterly compelling listening…myrkur-btm

“Mausoleum” tracklist:

1. Vølvens Spådom / 2. Jeg Er Guden, I Er Tjenerne / 3. Skøgen Skulle Dø / 4. Byssan Lull / 5. Den Lille Piges Død / 6. Frosne Vind / 7. Onde Børn / 8. Song To Hall Up High / 9. Dybt I Skoven

1, 2, 3, 4, 7 and 9 originally from “M” (2015) / 5 originally a single release (2015) / 6 originally from “Myrkur” (2014) / 8 cover of Bathory song from “Hammerheart” (1990)

Behind Every Perfect Life Is A Perfect Lie

“Everyone keeps telling me I have to move on. And so here I am, walking down the road where he died, trying to remember him the right way.

A year after her husband Zach’s death, Lizzie goes to lay flowers where his fatal accident took place.

As she makes her way along the motorway, she thinks about their life together. She wonders whether she has changed since Zach died. She wonders if she will ever feel whole again.

At last she reaches the spot. And there, tied to a tree, is a bunch of lilies. The flowers are addressed to her husband. Someone has been there before her.

Lizzie loved Zach. She really did.

But she’s starting to realise she didn’t really know him.

Or what he was capable of…”

book-corner

A few months ago I read “Under Your Skin”, the debut crime thriller novel by Sabine Durrant. I’ve just finished reading her second offering – the psychological thriller “Remember Me This Way”.

The story is laid out from two differing points of view. You have Lizzie’s narrative as she tries to come to terms with her husband’s death – made all the more difficult when she discovers flowers from a mysterious Xenia attached to the tree that his car crashed into a year previously – and her growing conviction that he isn’t dead after all.

Sabine Durrant
Sabine Durrant

In between this there are extracts from Zach’s diary during the time before he met Lizzie and their subsequent relationship and marriage.

Along the way we meet a number of other characters, including Lizzie’s police liaison Hannah Morrow, rising MP Alan Murphy and his wife Victoria (a friend of Zach’s from way back) and their daughter Onnie, who worms herself into Lizzie’s current life for reasons that take time to become clear.

There are lots of skeletons in various closets here. What was Zach really like? Who keeps playing his favourite Elvis Costello songs outside Lizzie’s house in the small hours? What is Onnie’s role? Will Lizzie ever be free of her feelings of guilt?… The whole thing is very cleverly put together to keep the reader guessing whilst remaining very realistic and all the more disturbing for that fact.

Towards the end of the book one of the characters says “…You can live in the same house, share the same bed, but how much do you ever really know anyone?” which I thought really gets to the heart of the tale in a simple sentence. This novel really takes that idea and runs with it, with the result being a very gripping and dark story. Highly recommended for fans of psychological thrillers…remembermethisway-1

They Thought This House Looked Like An Easy Target, Until They Found What Was Inside

Going back to my teens I’ve kind of associated Friday nights with horror movies. I seem to remember that they were often shown then, back in the days of just a handful of TV channels. Thus I often feel like watching a film that is at least loosely termed “horror” on Friday nights and this past one was no exception. So it was that I (and my wife who unusually stayed awake throughout) watched this year’s offering from director Fede Alvarez (2013 remake of “Evil Dead”) entitled “Don’t Breathe”.dont-breathe-2016-movie-poster

Daniel Zovatto, Jane Levy & Dylan Minnette
Daniel Zovatto, Jane Levy & Dylan Minnette

Three friends are seen breaking into an expensive-looking home and stealing things and generally causing havoc. They are ringleader Money (Daniel Zovatto – “Beneath”, “It Follows”), Rocky (Jane Levy – “Suburgatory”, “Evil Dead”) and Alex (Dylan Minnette – “Prisoners”, “Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”). Alex uses keys from his father’s security business for them to target and access homes without tripping alarms etc.

Stephen Lang
Stephen Lang

Frustrated with the meagre returns that the trio are getting when selling the stolen goods, Money hears of a house in a run-down and largely abandoned part of Detroit where a disabled Army veteran lives (Stephen Lang – “Avatar”, “Gridlocked”). He was reported to have received a six-figure settlement when his daughter was killed in a car accident and Money believes that there is US$300,000 in cash in the house.

Jane Levy
Jane Levy

When they take a look at the house the three discover that the man is blind, and so decide to break into his house that night. What they don’t realise is that the blind man has more than money hidden away in his house and that once they’re in they will find it much harder to get back out. You just know things aren’t going to end well!…

Dylan Minnette
Dylan Minnette

Levy, Minnette and Lang carry the bulk of the movie between them, and do a good job with their respective roles. I didn’t find any of the characters particularly sympathetic, so when events take a turn for the worse you just go along for the ride without being too concerned about the fate of any of them really!

Stephen Lang
Stephen Lang

We thought that there were a few plot holes and inconsistencies at play here, but overall we found this to be an entertaining and suitably dark movie with plenty of dramatic and claustrophobic moments to keep the tension up. Well worth viewing…don-t-breathe-poster02

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