In Times

Enslaved-In-Times“In Times” is the new album from Norwegian progressive black / viking metal band Enslaved.

Enslaved
Enslaved

This band are no strangers to stretching themselves musically, particularly during their more lengthy compositions – more so than many of their contemporaries.

The tracks on this album are no exception. There are a mere six tracks – but none shorter than eight minutes in length, and one at almost eleven minutes. What this means is that there is plenty of room for a variety of moods and tempos and for the band to really show what they are capable of.

Grutle Kjellson
Grutle Kjellson

Starting with the track most representative of their black metal origins, “Thurisaz Dreaming”, the band – comprising founder members Grutle Kjellson (vocals / bass guitar) and Ivar Bjørnson (guitars), together with Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal (guitars), Herbrand Larsen (keyboards / vocals) and Cato Bekkevold (drums) instantly demonstrate that they mean business.

Ivar Bjørnson
Ivar Bjørnson

“Building With Fire” begins with a simpler style, before adding more chaotic passages to the mix, and is followed by the more viking metal sounding “One Thousand Years Of Rain” which is the first real epic on the record, the superb title track being the other. I can imagine the material on this album would, as with a lot of Enslaved’s previous work, function very well as a soundtrack to the likes of “Vikings”.

It would be hard to pick specific highlights from this record, since all six tracks are of a very high quality and have plenty to offer the listener – with lots of variety of style and pace without straying too far from the black / viking metal foundations – but if pushed I would probably go for “Daylight”, “In Times” and “One Thousand Years Of Rain”. In terms of the sound of the record, the individual performances and the material presented, this album is excellent. It is a progressive metal album in the truest sense and one well worth immersing oneself in.

enslaved-grand-magus-tour

“In Times” tracklist:

1. Thurisaz Dreaming / 2. Building With Fire / 3. One Thousand Years Of Rain / 4. Nauthir Bleeding / 5. In Times / 6. Daylight

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No One Gets Out Alive

“Tower Block” is a 2012 British urban thriller film, directed by James Nunn and Ronnie Thompson, and written by James Moran.

affiche-Tower-Block-2012-1At the start of the film we are told that after World War II, starting in the early 1950s, blocks of flats started to be built as affordable accommodation which were initially welcomed and desired for the improved views. However, as time went on the buildings started to fall into disrepair and gain a reputation for crime and violence. Developers were now demolishing the blocks, however in Serenity House the residents of the top floor have thus far refused to leave, despite the developer’s best efforts.

Sheridan Smith
Sheridan Smith

One night a 15 year old boy is fatally beaten in the corridor of the top floor by two masked individuals. Whilst most residents stay locked behind their doors, turning off lights, one – Becky (Sheridan Smith – “Jonathan Creek”, “Cilla”) tries to go to his aid, only to be knocked unconscious by the attackers. When police try to identify the culprits and look for witnesses, they find that the residents won’t speak out for fear.

Russell Tovey
Russell Tovey

One Saturday morning, three months later, Becky and the other top floor residents, including alcoholic Paul (Russell Tovey – “Blackwood”), and protection racketeer / drug dealer Kurtis (Jack O’Connell – “’71”) all find themselves suddenly under attack from a sniper hidden somewhere nearby shooting through their windows.

Jack OConnell
Jack O’Connell

Seeking refuge in the hallway, and realising that all communications are cut off, the lift is out of order and the stairway is outside the building (and thus unprotected from the sniper’s view), they try to band together to figure out who may be targeting them, why, and how to escape with their lives…

This was a pretty enjoyable thriller, with a good sense of tension. Sheridan Smith and Jack O’Connell are the stand-outs in the cast, Smith acting as default leader of the residents as they try to find a way out, and O’Connell perfectly capturing his part as an unapologetic bad boy.

I did feel that the ending was a slight let down, and was unconvinced once the identity of the sniper was finally revealed – it perhaps being a little too unlikely – but, hey, it’s not real, it’s only a film, and despite this reservation it’s still an enjoyable watch…

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Time Is Running Out

“It’s night, and I’m in a strange house. The lights are on, and and I’m standing outside a half-open door. Feeling a terrible sense of forboding, I walk slowly inside. And then I see her. A woman lying sprawled across a huge double bed. She’s dead. There’s blood everywhere. And the most terrifying thing of all is that I think her killer might be me …

A traumatic car-crash. A man with no memory, haunted by nightmares.

When the past comes calling in the most terrifying way imaginable, Matt Barron is forced to turn to the one person who can help. Ex Met cop, turned private detective, Tina Boyd.

Soon they are both on the run…”

b2ap3_thumbnail_The-Final-Minute-jacket“The Final Minute” is the latest novel by author Simon Kernick, and the seventh to feature maverick detective, ex-DC Tina Boyd.

The story is told in a mixture of first person and third person perspective. The first person narrative comes from Matt Barron. Matt is recovering from a serious car accident that left him with amnesia. He is being looked after by his sister, with help from a male nurse and regular visits from a doctor who is trying to help Matt regain his memory.

Despite having so little recall, Matt feels that something doesn’t quite add up, and before he knows what’s happening he finds himself on the run trying to stay one step ahead of a whole range of characters who seem very interested in some secrets that he has locked in his head – and in seeing him dead!

Employing ex-DC turned private investigator Tina Boyd to help him in his quest, he desperately tries to unlock his memory, particularly the final minutes leading up to his accident, whilst staying out of the clutches of the police and others – some of whom must be very powerful as they seem to have a very long reach.

Simon Kernick
Simon Kernick

As with previous Kernick novels, such as “Ultimatum”, “Stay Alive” and “The Last 10 Seconds”, this book features a race against time. Some of the characters may be a little clichéd, but regardless, this is a real page turner, making you want to keep reading until all the pieces fall together and you uncover the truth.

This is another great entry into the Simon Kernick collection…

You Can’t Outrun Fate

Today I watched “Blackwood”, a 2014 haunted house thriller film, the debut feature film directed by Adam Wimpenny, whose previous credits include various TV shows including “The Revolution Will Be Televised”  and “The Real Hustle”

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Ed Stoppard
Ed Stoppard

Feeling recovered from a shattering emotional breakdown and marriage problems, college professor Ben Marshall (Ed Stoppard – “Branded, “The Pianist”) relocates to a (fictious) small rural village, Hazeing, with his wife (Sophia Myles – “Tristan & Isolde”, “Underworld”) and young son (Isaac Andrews), hoping for a fresh start.

Sophia Myles
Sophia Myles

With a new lecturing job (in Bristol, judging by a location shot of the Clifton suspension bridge) and a new home, the sprawling and in-need-of-work Blackwood House in Hazeing, things look to be going his way.

Isaac Andrews
Isaac Andrews

Soon after arriving at Blackwood House, however, Ben starts to see and hear things that seem to relate to his home’s last owner, Mrs Warner. The arrival of Ben’s old friend and fellow academic, Dominic (Greg Wise – “Walking On Sunshine”), brings further unwanted complications and tensions.

Russell Tovey
Russell Tovey

Stumbling onto the mysterious disappearance of a local woman and her missing son, Ben suspects ex-soldier turned gamekeeper (Russell Tovey – “Being Human”) and the local vicar (Paul Kaye – “Game Of Thrones”) are involved and starts to investigate.

Paul Kaye
Paul Kaye

Ben becomes increasingly obsessed with trying to unlock the secrets of Blackwood’s history – but at what cost?

This is a very good ghost story, but with a neat twist. The clues dotted throughout, primarily in the form of the things that Ben is seeing and hearing, suggest a number of different ways that events will pan out, but when everything becomes clear during the film’s closing minutes there is still a satisfying sense of surprise. A decent film, with some beautiful locations. Well worth a watch…

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Hand. Cannot. Erase

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Steven Wilson
Steven Wilson

Following 2013’s “The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories)”, “Hand. Cannot. Erase.” is the fourth solo album by Porcupine Tree frontman Steven Wilson.

Joyce Vincent
Joyce Vincent

Written from a female perspective, “Hand. Cannot. Erase” is a concept album, inspired by the tragic story of Joyce Vincent. Wilson is quoted as saying that the story of the record is “about a woman growing up, who goes to live in the city, very isolated, and she disappears one day and no one notices. But there’s more to it than that. Now, what’s really interesting about this story (of Joyce Vincent) is that your initial reaction when you hear a story like that is, ‘Ah, little old bag lady that no one notices, no one cares about.’ She wasn’t. She was young, she was popular, she was attractive, she had many friends, she had family, but for whatever reason, nobody missed her for three years.”

Steven Wilson
Steven Wilson

Anyone familiar with Wilson’s past work with Porcupine Tree, or his subsequent solo work will have an idea of what to expect with this record. This is not background music. It’s not easy listening. This is an album that challenges you. It needs and deserves to have your full attention. And with that attention you will discover what a rich and engaging album it is.

There are some beautiful melodies and harmonies to be found here. Some haunting passages, such as the wonderful “Perfect Life”. Many musical twists and turns, just as you should expect from a musician who is a major figure in progressive music these days.

There is excellence throughout. The lyrics, the complex compositions, the musical performances, the production – in fact everything about this record is top-notch.

There are some echoes of the heavier end of the Porcupine Tree catalogue, such as “Fear Of A Blank Planet” to be heard, lyrically too, in the brilliantly observed “Home Invasion / Regret #9”:

“Download sex and download God
Download the funds to meet the cost
Download a dream home and a wife
Download the ocean and the sky

B29FBq-CcAE0HzcAnother day on Earth has passed me by
But I have lost all faith in what’s outside
They only are the stars across the sky
And the wreckage of the night

Download love and download war
Download the shit you didn’t want
Download the things that make you mad
Download the life you wish you had

Another day on Earth has passed me by
But I have lost all faith in what’s outside
They only are the stars across the sky
And the wreckage of the night”

– Steven Wilson

The top tracks, for me, are “First Regret / 3 Years Older”, “Perfect Life”, “Routine”, “Home Invasion / Regret #9” and the awesome thirteen-plus minute progressive rock masterpiece “Ancestral” – which is the vast majority of the album. Simply put, there is not a bad track to be had here. An excellent listen from start to finish.

Hand. Cannot. Erase.
Hand. Cannot. Erase.

“Hand. Cannot. Erase” tracklist:

1. First Regret / 2. 3 Years Older / 3. Hand Cannot Erase / 4. Perfect Life / 5. Routine / 6. Home Invasion / 7. Regret #9 / 8. Transience / 9. Ancestral / 10. Happy Returns / 11. Ascendant Her On…

You Don’t Know Her. But She Knows You

“Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. ‘Jess and Jason’, she calls them. Their life – as she sees it – is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough.

Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar.

Now they’ll see; she’s much more than just the girl on the train…”

books18f-2-web“The Girl On The Train” is the debut psychological thriller by Zimbabwe-born author Paula Hawkins.

The novel is written from three first-person perspectives, and uses three differing timelines too. The majority of the narrative comes from Rachel – a woman catching the daily train to and from London, struggling with life since her divorce two years ago and the blackouts she suffers as a result of her alcoholism.

Paula Hawkins
Paula Hawkins

Interspersed with that we have recollections from Megan – the woman who Rachel observes from the train and has christened Jess, and Anna – who lives a few doors down the road from Megan.

The use of shifting timelines and perspectives is a clever way of letting us find out exactly what is going on only when the writer wants us to and definitely enhances the suspense and tension of the story.

It also means that, although there are clues to be found throughout the tale, the finale to the book is still a surprise – especially as there are plenty of misleading clues dotted throughout too.

GirlOnTrainCover (1)Everyone in the story seems to have a secret. None of them are above suspicion for what happens. We get a glimpse of what lies just beneath the surface of suburban life – the lies, the cheating, the emotional and physical abuse – it’s all here, and it all adds up to a gripping and frankly brilliant read! Highly recommended…

That’s The Way The Murder Goes…

“A man’s body is found in an empty house. His heart has been cut out and delivered to his wife and children.

He is the first victim, and Detective Inspector Helen Grace knows he will not be the last. But why would a happily married man be this far from home in the dead of night?

The media call it Jack the Ripper in reverse: a serial killer preying on family men who lead hidden double lives.

Helen can sense the fury behind the murders. But what she cannot possibly predict is how volatile this killer is – or what is waiting for her at the end of the chase…”

pop“Pop Goes The Weasel” is the second crime thriller by author M.J. Arlidge, again featuring lead character DI Helen Grace, following her debut appearance in “Eeny Meeny”.

I enjoyed the plot of this book, and there are certainly plenty of twists and turns to keep you occupied, but felt that it was a bit of a let down after the first book.

As is so often the case with literary detectives, Grace is a flawed character, with various personal demons to deal with. This is certainly the case in the detectives to be found in the works of Mark Billingham, Peter James, Peter Robinson, Stuart MacBride, etc.

MJ Arlidge
MJ Arlidge

I think, however, that the problem I had this time around was largely to do with the sheer amount of personal problems and demons that Arlidge has got in the mix. It’s not just Grace – practically every major character seems to have issues, particularly the coppers – there’s not a “normal” person in sight!

Added to that, there is a quite obvious mistake towards the end of the book where one character’s name (Ella) is used in error when referring to another (Carrie), and one massive unanswered question – what happened to Robert?

91zBgXOhNvL._SL1500_Maybe it’s the pressure of having(?) to produce the books quickly – I see that “Liar Liar”, the fourth Helen Grace novel is due out in September, making four novels published in under eighteen months – that means these things don’t get picked up on, or maybe I’m just being overly picky! I’m sure I’ll give the third novel, “The Doll’s House”, a read and hopefully quality control will have picked up as I do believe this series of novels has real potential…

After The Ceremony Comes The Ritual

Honeymoon“Honeymoon” is a 2014 psychological horror film, directed by Leigh Janiak as her debut feature.

Rose Leslie & Harry Treadaway
Rose Leslie & Harry Treadaway

Newlyweds Paul (Harry Treadaway – “Cockneys Vs Zombies”, “The Lone Rangers” and Bea (Rose Leslie – “Game Of Thrones”, “Downton Abbey”) head off to spend their honeymoon in a rustic cabin, belonging to Rose’s family, in secluded woodland near a lake.

Harry Treadaway & Rose Leslie
Harry Treadaway & Rose Leslie

Clearly very much in love, the couple are looking forward to spending some time together away from the city, enjoying their surroundings and fishing on the lake.

They visit a local restaurant, and inside encounter a very agitated man, Will, who says that the restaurant is closed. Once he has calmed down he recognises Bea as a friend from summer holidays during his youth and introduces the pair to his wife, Annie – who also appears somewhat out of sorts – before getting them something to eat.

One night Paul discovers that Bea has vanished from the cabin at 3:45 AM and eventually discovers her standing naked in the forest, having seemingly been sleepwalking.

Harry Treadaway & Rose Leslie
Harry Treadaway & Rose Leslie

He notices strange marks on her legs, and Bea starts to become withdrawn, rejecting Paul, and acting strangely. It’s not long before Paul starts to seriously question just exactly what is going on. This is an unsettling development, effectively depicted, and the two leads play their parts very well – showing compellingly how quickly a grain of suspicion or a secret can start a growing rift in a relationship.

As Bea continues to be evasive, Paul becomes sure that whatever happened that night in the woods had something to do with Will. The truth, though, is much more frightening…

honeymoon-502434lAs the characters of Will and Annie only appear in the film briefly, this is essentially a two character movie, and both Treadaway and Leslie do an admirable job in conveying their respective roles, and the journeys that their characters take. Well worth an hour and a half of your time to watch…

Wonder Days

thunder-wonderdaysBritish rock band Thunder have just released their tenth studio album, “Wonder Days”, a little over six years since the previous album, “Bang!” hit the shelves, during which time the band had retired from active duty – for a second time.

Thunder
Thunder

The band first split, early in 2000, after ten years together and five albums. Reuniting as a live act in late 2002, they went on to record a further four albums before splitting again in 2009, citing outside interests – with Danny Bowes particularly feeling that he could not juggle his job as booking agent, managing Thunder and looking after the band’s website with singing too. Then, in 2011, the band announced their return as an occasional live act, with no plans to record new material.

These days it seems that long established bands are increasingly reluctant to record and put out new albums. When so few albums are being sold, or even listened to as a whole, in the age of instant downloads of albums and individual songs, it is in the live arena and with merchandise such as t-shirts that these bands are able to make any money. So it is understandable that acts are not rushing to pour their heart and soul into an album that relatively few people will appreciate for what it is.

Having grown up in the era of vinyl albums, and listening to albums from start to finish, I feel that many miss out by the tendency to playlist seemingly random MP3 tracks into their iPods, mobile phones etc.

Thunder - The Thrill Of It All
Thunder – The Thrill Of It All

Nonetheless, to the delight of Thunder fans everywhere, the band have now come up with a new album – and it’s a corker. I’d go so far as to say it’s the band’s best album since 1996’s excellent “The Thrill Of It All” – and there has not been anything remotely approaching a bad album in between either!

Opening with the title track, “Wonder Days”, the record is chock full of tasty guitar riffs, memorable melodies and great lyrics. “The Rain” is a more laid back and acoustic-based number, which really showcases Bowes’ unparalleled vocals and the way it meshes with Morley’s backing vocals.

Ben Matthews, Danny Bowes & Luke Morley
Ben Matthews, Danny Bowes & Luke Morley

“The Prophet” arrives on a driving chugging riff, somewhat reminiscent of Heart’s “Barracuda”, and “Chasing Shadows” has another of the band’s signature riffs powering it along. No Thunder album would be complete without a heartfelt ballad, and in “Broken” they have delivered another classic bittersweet love song.

The real highlight of the album for me is the excellent “When The Music Played” with it’s extended instrumental middle section and wistful lyrics, but mention also has to be made of the brilliant “Serpentine”. In fact, it’s only on the closing “I Love The Weekend” that the overall quality drops fractionally, as this number feels slightly throwaway.

Danny Bowes & Luke Morley
Danny Bowes & Luke Morley

The music that Morley has made away from Thunder – with The Union, his project with Pete Shoulder, with the two Bowes & Morley albums and his own solo album is all great. However, to my ears nothing quite matches the magic created when you mix his songs with Bowes’ voice in the band, underpinned by the rock solid James’ drumming, Matthews’ guitar and keyboard parts and Chris Childs’ bass playing and the magic is complete. Thunder are a fantastic band, whether on record or on stage, and it’s great to have them back with new songs!

Sadly, due to ongoing cancer treatment Matthews was unable to take part in the recording of “Wonder Days” but Morley has ensured that the band still sounds as good as ever by stepping up and covering for his bandmate.

Another 100% essential Thunder album added to the collection…

91S9poVtubL._SL1500_“Wonder Days” tracklist:

1. Wonder Days / 2. The Thing I Want / 3. The Rain / 4. Black Water / 5. The Prophet / 6. Resurrection Day / 7. Chasing Shadows / 8. Broken / 9. When The Music Played / 10. Serpentine / 11. I Love The Weekend

Seventy One

71-efm-1sheet-lr-1“’71” is an action thriller film set in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1971, directed by Yann Demange.

Jack O'Connell
Jack O’Connell

Young British Army soldier, Private Gary Hook (Jack O’ Connell – “Unbroken”, “This Is England”), having just finished his training, is sent to Belfast with his unit during the early years of “The Troubles”, having been told that this is on an emergency basis because of the deteriorating security situation there.

Upon arrival at their sparse barracks they are greeted by their new commander, Lt. Armitage (Sam Reid – “The Riot Club”), who is himself new to the situation.

Sean Harris
Sean Harris

Also based at their barracks are members of the shadowy Military Reaction Force (MRF), a covert intelligence-gathering and counter-insurgency unit of the Army, led by Captain Sandy Browning (Sean Harris – “Outlaw”, “Brighton Rock”).

On their first trip out, to provide support to the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) during a house search. The naïve Lt. Armitage had instructed his men not to wear riot gear, in an attempt to show the local residents that they are there to help.

Jack O'Connell
Jack O’Connell

Things start to turn nasty when a crowd gathers as the RUC officers violently question suspects. When a fellow soldier is hit by a missile and drops his rifle, a young boy grabs it an runs off. Gary is sent to retrieve it and soon finds himself cut off from his unit and trying to survive alone on the unfamiliar and unfriendly streets of Belfast.

We experience the majority of events throughout the night from the perspective of Gary, as he encounters a variety of characters, some friendly, some anything but. There are members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) after him. He doesn’t know which local civilians (both Protestant and Catholic) he can trust either. Add the unclear agenda of the MRF into the mix and it’s a dangerous and terrifying position for Gary to find himself in.

I am no expert in the causes of “The Troubles” or the rights and wrongs of it all. It seems clear that, even now, this is an extremely divisive subject.

@71_OFFICIAL-POSTERThis is a gripping and tense film. There are no black and white issues here. How accurate it is in portraying the various sides and agendas I don’t know, but it certainly gives an impression of just how tough that period of history in Northern Ireland must have been for all those concerned, and is highly recommended viewing…

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