Myst was advertised for years as a computer game for people who don’t like computer games.

The graphics were and still are beautiful. I can think of no better use for your i386 processor and Mach 64 video card. Someone once said that Doom was the first game that could impress a non-geek with its graphics, and while that may be true, Doom was a game of small rooms and corridors. Myst’s pre-rendered environments look even better, and it came on a CD-ROM when that alone was a selling point.

But Myst cannot be played, only be experienced. It’s an interactive travel brochure. You click and look at pictures and get bored and stop. The game’s world is beautiful, but the sterility and lack of motion soon feels creepy, like you’re trapped between two frames of a movie.

For a lot of people, Myst (and The 7th Guest, which had a Myst-like ambiance) was their first experience playing an adventure game, which is like someone’s first experience with cinema being a 5 hour foreign language art film. Myst probably helped kill adventure gaming: the public’s perception of the genre swiftly became “games where you don’t have any fun.”

Too bad. The Monkey Island and Leisure Suit Larry titles contain funny writing and interesting puzzles. Infocom’s A Mind Forever Voyaging had a compelling dystopian story, and that game didn’t even have graphics. Myst just has the gestalt of moving around in a beautiful, eerie, slightly interactive world. Too bad you can’t play hype or this would be the most fun game ever made.

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manowarlordfinalMagic Eye images show you one image at a casual glance, and another image if you focus on them at length. Manowar is the Magic Eye of metal. Their official image is of a goofy retro metal band that take themselves too seriously. But study the band at length and the facade cracks, and you see the disturbing truth, the band is the personal bondage gimp of bassist Joey DeMaio.

In the 90s, drummer Scott Columbus took a nearly 6 year hiatus from the band, with Joey DeMaio making a statement that Scott had to care for his sick son. In retrospect, this seems to have been a cover story, maybe because DeMaio thought that the revelation of internal stife could hurt the band’s image (“Brothers of Metal” etc). Columbus passed away in 2011, leaving behind an interview titled Why I Left Manowar. “My son was never sick. […] deduce from that what you may.”

In 2002 DeMaio launched Magic Circle Music, a label for “true metal” artists. Rhapsody of Fire released two albums on the label, and then the partnership went down in a snarl of legal tangles (they even called out DeMaio by name in a Myspace blog). Labelmate Holyhell seems to be in about the same place (Recent quote from their frontwoman’s Facebook: “every storm runs out of rain….and every demon runs out of fire…….I will not give up on HolyHell, nor lose my smile in this dark mess.”)

Another storied Magic Circle Music release was a Ronnie James Dio “tribute” album rushed out to market less than a month after the legendary vocalist died. Manowar covered “Heaven and Hell” for the album, and DeMaio did a number of interviews where he talked about the friendship he and Dio had shared. Wendy Dio soon released a statement saying that although DeMaio and Dio had met, they were not friends.

And then there’s Manowar’s music itself. The band appears to be barely functioning, playing a handful of tour dates a year and releasing tepid albums with the irregularity and discomfort of a cat gagging up a furball. DeMaio patches up the gaps with an Iron Maiden-esque plethora of live albums, concert DVDs, re-releases, and re-recordings. 2007 saw the launch of The Asgard Saga, purportedly a Manowar-based multimedia franchise containing games, movies, and books. Six years later and the project is deader than disco. DeMaio promised a new album in 2010 called Hammer of the Gods…and then made a video announcing he had thrown the album out and was starting again. Nothing DeMaio says can be relied upon, he makes promises out of one side of his mouth while saying “oops” out of the other.

I go on this lengthy spiel only to illustrate why the band seems curiously depleted from its heyday in the 80s. Manowar barely is a band anymore! It’s just a DeMaio doing everything, with a few glorified backup musicians that he has the nerve to call bandmates. Brothers of metal will always be there, standing together with hands in the air..

When I listened to The Lord of Steel (the latest in Manowar’s backbreaking two-albums-per-decade schedule), a few things stood out.

1. The production is very bad.
2. There’s less orchestra and more actual metal
3. The lyrics are very bad.
4. The songs are catchy and bombastic, however
5. The soul of old-school Manowar is not present

1. DeMaio promised that the bass on this album would be super-heavy, and that turned out the same as many of his promises. The early “Hammer Edition” release of LOTR contains the most abusive and awful bass sound I can recall hearing on a professionally recorded metal album, an over-distorted “bzzz-bzzz-bzzz” sound that sounds like bees pinging around inside a sewer pipe. The later “Steel Edition” smooths out the bass a bit, but it’s still muddy as fuck and sits uncomfortably in the mix. The album in general has a “digital” sound that I’m not partial too, with the drums sounding obviously quantized in places.

2. The orchestration is greatly scaled back from past albums, and replaced with guitars and whatnot. It’s hard to assess whether this is a positive change. No question: Warriors of the World and Gods of War went far overboard, but they had a grandiosity that’s missing here. Maybe it’s not an issue of what they took out, but what they added in. I wish LOS had more raging fast songs like “God or Man”. The whole album seems slow.

3. The lyrics hit a new low. You may be thinking that this band always had bad lyrics, but no, they had enthusiastic bad lyrics. “May your sword stay wet like a young girl in her prime” made me cringe, but it also made me smile. This has lazy, don’t-give-a-shit bad lyrics. “For the glory of battle I will fight until I die / Live one day as an eagle or a lifetime as a fly!” “Never gonna change our style / Gonna play tonight for quite a while!” “I get professional pay / To make people go away!” A Dr Seuss exercise in grabbing whatever word will rhyme, in other words (I wish there were other words).

4. However, the songs are actually pretty good. The title track is as powerful as a charging bull, and “Touch the Sky” is extremely catchy and memorable. “Black List” is a six and a half minute trudge through, reminding of Sabbath-inspired crushers from the old days such as “The Demon’s Whip”. The Steel Edition of the album features a fascinating epic ballad titled “The Kingdom of Steel”, which features DeMaio playing classically-inspired melodies on a piccolo bass.

5. Yet Manowar still fails to recapture the glory they had on their early releases. Old Manowar had something beyond catchy songs and annoying bass tracks. They had a heart. Even when DeMaio was being his usual self (10 minute long bass solos and what have you), there was an irresistible charm to the music that caused it to transcend its own stupidity.

Concerning though it is that DeMaio might be choking the life out of this band, there’s a more disturbing option: that the band by rights should have died years ago, and DeMaio has it hooked up on life support. He does nearly everything. He writes the songs, writes the lyrics, does the production, does 95% of the marketing (when was the last time you saw a Manowar member except DeMaio give an interview?), and so on.

Maybe I was wrong to call Manowar a Magic Eye. They’re more like a Joey DeMaio Mandelbrot set. No matter how deep you go, it’s just DeMaio DeMaio DeMaio, all day and every day. Manowar isn’t a band of true metal brothers. It’s a dead horse being kept alive by the most out of control egomaniac in rock and roll.

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MarilynManson-Antichrist-SvperstarHype means you’ll be forgotten tomorrow.

I remember when Guitar Hero games were ubiquitous and inescapable. Game stores seemed built out of Guitar Hero boxes. Then, for no perceptible reason, people stopped playing them, people stopped buying them, and game companies stopped making them. The franchise imploded like a bubble in the Marianas Trench. Three years later, it’s actually getting hard to believe that Guitar Hero games even once existed. Gone…all of it gone…

Marilyn Manson was huge in the mid 90s, and a national tragedy made him huger. But there was always this deadness at the centre of the Manson hype. He clearly wouldn’t be around for long. Nobody cared much about what he actually said or did, and certainly nobody cared about his music, people only cared about his image — the evil satanist rockstar, and his image that often forks away from the truth (Manson’s only involvement in the Church of Satan was to accept an honorary priesthood while a guest of Anton LaVey’s.

He also marked an ominous cultural tidal change: the exploitation and monetization of controversy. Amazing, once people thought that getting arrested or sued or libelled in the papers was a bad thing. Now, you milk it for all it’s worth, and guys like Manson showed us the way. Bad press is a like a psychotic millionaire sugar daddy. Some say you should avoid him. But say and do the right things, and you can go on the ride of your life, even while he’s breaking your teeth off at the gumline with his fists.

Between these two points, the music often gets overlooked. At times it seems music is the least important part about this band. Antichrist Superstar is Manson’s most enduring album, but it is flawed. It is as long as NIN’s Broken and Ministry’s ???????? combined, and is inferior to both those releases. The band seems to be too busy chasing heroin around on tinfoil to write good songs consistently. It has many impressive moments, but they don’t flow steadily or reliably.

“Irresponsible Hate Anthem” is noisy punk rock song, in one ear and out the other. “The Beautiful People” is great, it’s catchy and features an instantly recognisable tom-tom beat by Ginger Fish. The whole album has really good instrumentation. The songwriting often gets floppy, but all the parts are played with intensity and conviction. How to make a Marilyn Manson album: pack the rafters with talented musicians, supply drugs, and hang on for dear life.

The album is long as fuck, and full of frustrating Good Cop/Bad Cop songs that entertain and bore in clear-cut, alternating sections. Occasionally there’s a genuinely thrilling idea (the thrashing chorus of “The Reflecting God”, the Black Sabbath riffing on “Kinderfeld”) and then the band drops it like a senile old-timer dropping a TV remote. “Cryptorchid” is a pure waste of space, just a mess of ambient industrial shards.

Manson’s voice is commanding and creepy, although he has some tics that never really sat well with me. His cutesy falsetto is just plain annoying, as is his habit of taking a pithy lyric and shouting it over and over again, as if he’s worried we’ll miss the point (with good reason, as it happened).

Antichrist Superstar is unique and powerful, but it is not quite a classic. It’s strength is mostly in its heraldry: it’s the most shocking, the most outrageous, etc. Musically, Manson never learned the difference between songwriting that articulates fucked-upness and songwriting that’s plain fucked-up.

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