solitary tick…tick…tick…

There was a clock in the hallway. He couldn’t see it, but it spoke the seconds like a visitor that never tired of talking to him.

His cell was two meters long by three meters wide. At its narrowest point, he could take two forward steps. Concrete thwarted even the beginning of a third. He had slab of hard ticking to sleep on. There was a combined toilet/sink in the corner.

The door was a sheet of steel with a rectangular slot. From outside the door came noises – footsteps, voices, and jangling keys. All of it happening a few meters away, and all of it as distant as interstellar radio. The ticking clock was the only thing that intruded into his world.

There were a few books, a stack of blank pages and a pencil. Some of them had been written on.

Once, he’d tried keeping a prison diary.

He’d given up on that partly because he had nothing to write about, and only the barest scaffolding of reality to attach that nothing to. Was it normal to be in prison – in solitary confinement – and not remember why? Was it worth writing anything when nothing ever happened? Was it enough to just be ? He didn’t think it was. His life felt blanker than the pages he was writing on.

But mostly, he’d stopped writing because the things he wrote were wrong.

He would write something innocuous and self-evident. Then he’d masturbate, eat his dinner, sleep, wake up, read the words again, and they’d make sense. Then he’d count to a thousand, eat his lunch, trace out a crack in the wall with his finger, thumb uselessly through a read-to-rags paperback, walk from one end of his cell to the other a hundred times, whistle, recite the prime numbers from one to a hundred, nap, read his words again, and they’d still make sense.

But eventually, they wouldn’t.

Sooner or later, they stopped being right. They became the words of a different person, dwelling in a different place.

He’d read a sentence like my mattress is made of vinyl , and touch his fabric mattress in a state of wonder.

I have sixteen pages of paper Disorientation, when a recount proved the number to be fifteen.

On the final page, written in pencil, were the words My name is Kruger .

He’d re-read that days later, and a memory from years earlier surfaced. The girl from the motor registry handed over his driver’s license. “Hey, just to check…that’s kay-ar-yoo-ee-gee-ee-ar, right? Oh, good. I thought I’d made a mistake and I’d need to start the machine up again.” No, he could not keep a diary after that.

Sometimes he lay on his mattress, wondering how long it would be before he started the slow descent into madness.

Reading his writing made him think the descent was already happening…and it was anything but slow.


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razorsedgeAfter releasing a few albums so featureless that I suffer from narcolepsy thinking about them, AC/DC stopped messing around.

The greatest four-song streak in accadacca history starts with “Thunderstruck”, featuring a iconic main riff and a great vocal performance out of Brian. “Fire Your Guns” is fast boogieing rock with lots of attitude – when it wants to, this band is better at being Aerosmith than the actual Aerosmith. “Moneytalks” is fun, catchy, and irresistable. “The Razors Edge” is another patented AC/Creepy song…maybe their second best AC/Creepy song, after “Hell’s Bells.”

After these four songs end, the album goes into fillerland, but even the filler sounds energetic, switched-on, and inspired. Listen to “Rock Your Heart Out”, with its nimble, ninja-like slashes of guitar and bass weaving through Chris Slade’s percussion. “If You Dare” is built around a catchy hook-and-release formula. “Are You Ready” is a drawling, sprawling song that sounds like a bar’s last call encapsulated in music.  “Shot of Love” has a hard, mid-tempo grind. On every track, the band sounds muscular, vital, and alive.

What happened? Slade is definitely a factor. His drumming is much busier and more interesting than Phil “Wants To Be A Metronome” Rudd. I gather he didn’t work out personality-wise, but he’s probably the best drummer AC/DC has worked with. Normally Angus and Mal’s riffs are what I pay attention to when I listen to this band. On The Razors Edge I listen to the drumming, too.

The production is also a bit different to past records. The muddy, reverb-saturated din of Fly on the Wall et al has been traded out for the crisp production style that AC/DC has used ever since.  The title is appropriate, as this record has a sound sharp enough to shave with. This is the first AC/DC album to not be immediately dated by its production style.

But mostly, it’s the songs. They are good, and nothing else is required – the new drummer and revamped sound are just paint. I don’t know what happened, but the band seems revitalised and renewed.

AC/DC realises that never changing your music can be a bug, but it can also be a feature. While other bands are getting in on prog rock or grunge or nu metal, AC/DC just keeps doing what they do, oblivious to trends. On this album though, they made some subtle shifts, and all of them were for the best.

This lineup fell apart, and AC/DC began another gradual slide into boredom. But this was an exciting album, not just on its own merits, but because of what it portends for the future. The old power lives on. AC/DC might seem hooked up to life support these days, but only a fool pronounces them dead.

The missing apostrophe bugs me, though.

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straightoutofhellWhat happened to this band, and what are the chances of it unhappening?

Helloween’s latest album has some good songs. Not too many – you won’t need to graft additional digits on to your hands to count them – but they’re there. Yet it doesn’t matter. The magic is gone. What happened to the good old days, when the songwriting was careless and free? Helloween is now an overcalculated parody of itself.

To recap, Helloween’s Keeper of the Seven Keys 1 and 2 established them as a band of huge promise in the late 80s. Speed metal was already desiccating into something dry and unappealing – Helloween sounded fun, colourful, and catchy. They soon moved away from metal and started aping The Beatles, which went over as well as you’d expect.

The band reshuffled its lineup and had a nice little renaissance in the mid 90s, with Roland Grapow on lead guitar and Uli Kusch on drums. Then that lineup collapsed at its high point (The Dark Ride), and the band decided to call it a day. Or so my crack fantasies go. In reality, here we are with yet another not-so-essential power metal album.

It has better production than the last few albums, but that highlights what a meatless meal this is. Most of the songs are simply not good. And even when they are good, they’re an obvious, safe kind of good. Opening track “Nabataea” is one from the latter category, containing a rote progression of effects-laden intro –> Iron Maiden melodies –> Megadeth thrash riff –> etc. Very predictable. You can almost hear the band ticking things off a list.

That song was written by the guy behind the microphone. If you want to talk about The Beatles, Andi Deris is this band’s Paul McCartney. He’s written some of their most powerful and interesting songs (“Before the War”, “The Shade in the Shadow”, “Time”), but also some of their most commercial and irritating (“As Long as I Fall”, “Mrs God”). On this album, he is an outright liability. He contributes five songs, and three of them are hogwash. Firing Deris would not save this band but it would be huge step in the right direction.

The album’s best moments are penned by Michael Weikath. The scorching mini-epic “Burning Sun” and the catchy and nostalgic “Years” are very good songs, I keep coming back to them even after I’ve forgotten what’s on the rest of this disc. In the Keeper era, Weikath was the band’s weak link. Now he embodies everything that’s still good about this band.

Grosskopf still has his highly active basslines, and Sascha Gerstner makes a fairly good lead guitarist (Roland cannot be substituted for.) I don’t know why I dislike Daniel Löble’s drumming. Maybe it’s the overloud cymbals, maybe it’s his fill-heavy style that tries to make the music all about him. Competent musicianship all around.

But competent musicianship doesn’t mean competent music. Straight out of Hell is boring and crappy. Didn’t they realise that nobody wants to hear “We Will Rock You” by Queen ever again, and that rewriting it into a 2 minute joke song called “Wanna Be God” is gilding a venereal lily? Didn’t they realise that three of these songs (“Far Beyond the Stars”, “Make Fire Catch the Fly”, and “Church Breaks Down”) have the exact same chorus? Didn’t they realise they should have broken up years ago?

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