Saturday, 3 December 2016

Album Review -- Arctic Thunder vs Self Destruct

In 2002, I was 17 and listening to all the metal I could get my hands on. But my ambitions far outstripped my budget, so I used to scour the second-hand stores near my home, and every now and then I’d find a few gems.

One of them was Darkthrone’s first album – Soulside Journey. It was $5, and the Duncan Fegrado cover art intrigued me. I took it home, popped it in the CD player, and things were never the same again. Though it’s never garnered the acclaim of their later, explicitly black metal works, it resonated closely with me. The sheer heaviness – and darkness – was a sound I had been looking for, though I didn’t consciously recognise it at the time. And around the same time, I was also getting acquainted with Metallica’s earlier (and best) years. Master of Puppets rapidly became one of my favourites, and remains so to this day. In tandem, these two albums were profoundly influential on me, an embarrassingly angsty teenager – though not emo, never emo – coming off a profoundly unpleasant year.

Flash forward to 2016 and Darkthrone are releasing their sixteenth studio album – Arctic Thunder. Metallica, just over a month later, released their tenth – Hardwired… to Self-Destruct. Having returned to metal in 2015 after a couple of years off, both were essential purchases. 

Though there’s a disparity in the number of releases between the two bands, I’d say that’s not so surprising. Darkthrone haven’t played live since the very early days of their career, whereas Metallica are seemingly on a constant tour. Not to say that both bands don’t have other responsibilities (both Nocturno Culto and Fenriz still have day jobs, for starters), but I’d imagine this is at least part of the reason why. So with that aside, let’s take a look at both albums in more detail. 


I haven’t really kept up with Darkthrone’s albums over the years. I listened to the first four albums a lot back in the day, but then I kind of lost track. Most of their albums were a real pain in the ass to find in Sydney for a long time, which is at least part of the reason…and I was never really on-board with a lot of their lyrical themes, which probably played a big part too. Through friends, I knew they’d gone kind of “punk” for a few years there, but the tracks I heard here and there were a lot more Discharge than Good Charlotte.

So to cut this long story short, Arctic Thunder was kind of a fresh experience for me. I’d say it still borrows its share of stuff from punk bands like Amebix, but I’ve read others describe it as a big move away from their “punk” albums, so go figure. It’s pretty raw in terms of production, but not that “turn up the treble to 11 and use the shittiest mic/amp combo you can” kvlt aesthetic that has featured so prominently in black metal.  In spite of being a two-man project, the album really does have a band feel about it; I don’t know for certain, but I strongly suspect that most the instruments were recorded at least partially live to preserve that feel.

Nocturno Culto is back to performing vocals on all of the songs, which is a good thing. His pipes have held up well over the years, and he’s shifted back to more of a roar than a shriek. My main criticism is that I think that the producer has smashed the echo button a few too many times. It can be a really great technique, but it gets a little too much outage on this occasion, featuring on almost every track. Nonetheless, it’s a minor quibble; when the tracks are listened to in isolation, it’s not as problematic.   

And for someone who allegedly doesn’t practice very often, Fenriz is crushing it on the drums. It’s not Pete Sandoval-style blasting or anything, but it works really well within the context of the songs. He has never been one to big-note himself, but he certainly has impressive chops.   

Best song: Boreal Fiends


As you might expect, Hardwired… to Self-Destruct is a much more polished affair than Darkthrone’s album. This is not necessarily to its advantage; while I know that we’re never going to go back to that mid-range “scooped” engineering we heard on Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets, I think it’s definitely over-produced. Tracks like “Hardwired” could definitely have benefitted from a bit more grit, a little less finesse and a slightly rougher style of vocals. And the album as a whole could have benefitted from the songs being shortened, and not being split across two discs. Double albums are generally warning signs of trouble, and this is no exception. The best songs could have been fit onto one disc, and the other pretty easily discarded. Additionally, I have never been on the “bash Lars” bandwagon, but I will say I think his drumming is lacking here. The production on them is good, but there’s something just…off about them that I can’t quite pinpoint. They feel intrusive, as opposed to an integrated part of or driving force behind the songs.

Nonetheless, there are good points. Hetfield sounds more fired up than he has in years, and I still think he’s a good frontman, even if the material he’s working with is rarely as good as it could be. Kirk Hammett also turns in some good solos, and I think we can be safely confident that the days of “Hardrocktallica” are safely behind us.    

Best track: Atlas, Rise!


As someone who is adamantly not a fan of the post-…And Justice for All Metallica, and has memories of St. Anger and the painfully embarrassing Some Kind of Monster documentary still looming large in my memory, this new album was a pleasant surprise. Of course, “not being as shitty as St. Anger” should be at minimum a default mode, not an aspiration. It’s overproduced and overlong, but it’s enjoyable enough to have on in the background. Metallica don’t have much to prove in terms of commercial or artistic success, and that’s part of the problem. But team them with the right producer – perhaps one more removed from their present-day commercial concerns – and they could do great things again.  

Darkthrone, on the other hand…well, at this stage in their career, they’ve certainly settled into something of a comfortable groove. As with Metallica, they don’t really have anything to prove artistically. And though some of their albums have sold quite well (in comparison to other extreme metal bands) they’ve always been quite happy to give the middle finger to more corporate considerations. What distinguishes them is a willingness to explore new territory. Not that they’re experimental, per se; more that they have used their reputation and experience to do what they want. If you happen to enjoy it, good for you – if not, then they won’t be losing any sleep over it. 

Hardwired…to Self Destruct is enjoyable -- and it's definitely pleasing to hear Metallica sound re-energised -- but Arctic Thunder genuinely rocks. I can already tell you now which one is going to sound better in ten years. 

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Funko Mystery Minis Horror Classics Series 3: Regan (The Exorcist)

Horror’s mainstream appeal varies pretty wildly from decade to decade, but there seems to be at least one big breakout hit every decade. The 1970s had a few, but I’d argue that the one that stands above the others for sheer cultural impact was The Exorcist. Ushering in a whole standard in special effects, it was a huge hit -- and it still really disturbs people to this day, too. Ask your parents which movie freaked them out when they were young, and you can virtually guarantee that the answer is The Exorcist, irrespective of how old they were when it was released.

Regan goes through multiple stages of possession (and makeup) during the film. She starts out looking like a normal 12-year-old girl, then begins to look worse and worse as the demon Pazuzu exerts greater control over her. This Mini depicts Regan in full-blown possessed mode – her face is green and has slashes across it, while vomit stains her nightgown. Given that they could have reused much of the sculpt, it’s almost surprising that they didn’t also do a “plain” Regan, though I guess we may see that in a future series of Horror Classics.

I’ve only watched the film once or twice myself; I did enjoy it, but found it a little long. If I’d seen it on first release, I think I would have found it terrifying – but if ever there was a movie that suffered for being influential, it’s The Exorcist. Even at age 19, I’d already seen it parodied dozens of times in other media, read books on special effects that explained how virtually every shot in the movie was executed and heard all the stories about its “cursed” production. For the most part, the ability to outright shock had been lost, though it certainly still evokes an eerie atmosphere. Your own mileage may vary, of course. But good does ultimately triumph over evil, which places it into a bit of a contrast with many of the films it influenced, where the villain arguably is the hero (Halloween, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street et al).

Although The Exorcist may not be my favourite horror film, it’s a definite horror classic, unquestionably well-made and well-polished. Regan is very deserving of Mystery Mini from Funko. Regan is packed at a 1/24 ratio, so you may have a trickier time tracking her down.

It's not easy being green

Friday, 11 November 2016

Funko Mystery Minis Horror Classics Series 3: Jason Voorhees

We looked at Freddy a couple of weeks ago, so now it’s time to take a squiz at his most famous foe – Jason Voorhees, of Friday the 13th fame.

This is actually the second time Jason has had a Mystery Mini, with his first coming back in Series 1. While that was more of a generic Jason – though arguably from Freddy Vs Jason – this new one is based on his look in Friday the 13th Part 7: The New Blood. It’s been quite a long time since I’ve seen the film, but I remember it being (like virtually all the films in the series) a bit of a mixed bag. There was a psychic teenage girl who he battles, and probably could have made a decent ongoing foe for Jason, similar to Tommy Jarvis from Parts 4-6. But the series has never been known for its coherent storyline, and so she disappeared as quickly as she’d arrived.

By this point, Jason was a heavily decayed and monstrous corpse, having now been resurrected numerous times. He actually looks pretty great, with the exposed bones, rotting clothes and beat-up mask… at least until his mask breaks off at the end, and he suddenly looks like a cross between the Cryptkeeper and a Muppet. Gross, but more at the silly end of the spectrum, rather than frightening.

Fortunately, this Mini replicates his masked look, turning a gory design into something surprisingly cutesy. Part of the iconic hockey mask is broken away, revealing how much his flesh has decayed around his mouth. Bones poke through many surfaces, where the clothing and skin alike have rotted away. Unusually, he’s armed with an axe rather than his signature machete. I’m sure he hacks into someone with it at some point during the film, but I honestly don’t remember.

Packed at a 1/24 ratio, this is not a definitive Jason, so it’s a little less essential – but it’s a very cool look for him nonetheless. Post Freddy vs Jason and the 2009 remake, these later films in the series are often a bit overlooked when it comes to merchandising of the character. NECA have given it a red-hot go, but it’s nice to see other companies step up and take their turn too. 

Transformers: Titans Return – Highbrow

Company: Hasbro
Year: 2016

 So I know I don’t normally have a lot to do with the Autobots, but every now and then one will slip through the net. But this week, Target stuffed up the pricing in their weekly catalogue, and the Deluxe Titans Return figures were reduced to only $15AUD a pop, which is an absolute steal!
At that price, I decided I should pick up Highbrow. I’ll take Decepticons in virtually any alt-mode, but for the Autobots they tend to have to be airborne vehicles. Plus, somewhere in my cupboard I have the Kre-O version of this guy, and since I was particularly fond of that Kre-O I thought it was time to get the “real” version of him.

Highbrow’s bot mode is awesome – the sunglasses-style design for faces is my second favourite after faceplates, and he stands very well. Colour scheme pops nicely on the shelf, and he manoeuvres easily into cool poses.  The lack of waist articulation is a slight downer, but a necessary element due to his transformation style. Xort, his Titan Master companion, is similarly cool in design. Rocking a semi-inverted Highbrow colour scheme, he’s very fun to look at. But on the downside, his joints are a little floppy – when removing the head, don’t be surprised if his legs and arms swing around a little. 

The vehicle mode isn’t quite as strong; it’s tandem rotor helicopter that wouldn’t look out of place in some mid-90s anime. While not a bad design in and of itself, the colours come across as very toy-ish (curiously, much more than they do in bot mode) and that is a little distracting. Still, it’s nice sculpting and the transformation doesn’t feel too forced or awkward, unlike some recent figures I’ve looked at.   

Now, TFWiki notes that there’s two known issues with this toy – the plug for the head doesn’t click in properly on some, and the legs are loose on others. The example I own is one of the former, but the good news is that you can kind of see it in the package. If he looks like his head isn’t clicked in properly, then you’re likely looking at one of them. The head is a little loose on mine, but nothing too severe. He just looks like he has an unusually long neck from certain angles.  

Overall? The vehicle mode isn’t as strong as bot mode, but it’s still a very fun toy. And considering the fairly nominal amount I paid for it, I’m extremely satisfied.  

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Transformers Generations: Titans Return – Mindwipe

Company: Hasbro
Year: 2016

So, another week at the LBC, and another Titans Return review. I thought Combiner Wars was incredibly fun, but I feel like it’s been blown out of the water by this year’s releases. Tonnes of original sculpts, cool articulation, good updates to characters that haven’t been produced in years…what more do you want from a Transformers line?

So today we come to Mindwipe, and his little Titan Master buddy Vorath. As with many Transformers, I’m not really familiar with Mindwipe’s background but a quick glance at TFWiki suggests that he’s a next-level Edgelord in a faction that’s already mighty loaded with Edgelords. He’s a skilled hypnotist, and also spends a lot of time trying – though apparently unsuccessfully – to become the Transformers version of a necromancer. His alt-mode is a bat, which gives him a tenuous kind of vampire/goth connection. I get the impression he would have enjoyed The Misfits.

His bot mode is genuinely great, one of the best figures I’ve seen in quite some time. As I’ve noted numerous times, black and purple are my favourite Decepticon colours, which of course instantly gives him roughly 1000219702130932 extra cool points – though I think the design is a nice one, nonetheless.

Transformation is intuitive for the most part, though the placement of certain tabs makes it quite obvious that it was computer-designed.  And the alt-mode…well, it’s not bad, but it is kind of weird. I think it’s to do with the design of the head – it’s a little too busy in comparison to his bot mode, with lots of greebles decorating the surface. Additionally, the head is cast in a much softer plastic, which just seems strange. However, the jaw is articulated, which is a definite bonus. While in alt-mode, Vorath is stored in the chest, which is a nice Megazord-esque touch.  

Vorath himself is okay, but not amazing. He looks somewhat like a colour-swapped Apeface, and I think that a paint app on the face would have definitely enhanced his look a little. Still, these mini Titan Masters are always great fun.

I wasn’t originally going to pick up Mindwipe, but a friend talked me into it. Though I’m a bit ambivalent towards his alt-mode, his bot mode is fantastic, and worth the price of admission on that basis alone. Highly recommended for fellow members of the Decepticon nation.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Grossery Gang: Crusty Chocolate Bar

Company: Moose Toys
Year: 2016

Moose Toys have been around since 1985, producing all manner of novelties and kid’s toys. When I was a kid in the mid-90s, they were probably best known for their wide variety of Yo-Yos (which came in a whole array of shapes, sizes and scents) and the Amazing Live Sea Monkeys.

To be honest, they weren’t a huge brand when I was a kid. They pumped out a lot of product, but while it sold respectably, very little of it seemed to capture the childhood zeitgeist. Until a few years ago, when they hit it REALLY big with a couple of blind-bagged toylines – Trash Pack and Shopkins, which helped take the company to a whole new level of success.  

The Trash Pack brand has been off the market for a year or so, but it’s now returned with a sequel/reboot series in the form of Grossery Gang. Taking the concept of cutesy, anthropomorphic garbage and applying it to food instead, Grossery Gang’s key conceit isn’t departing radically from the original theme, but I think this is a good case of releasing a new product that still maintains a good understanding of what made the original so popular.  

Grossery Gang are sold in a whole variety of different blind-boxed formats (the cereal box is especially cool) but I suppose you would call the Crusty Chocolate Bar this the entry level or booster pack format. Each Crusty Chocolate Bar sells for 3 or 4 bucks, and features two Grossery Gang characters. It’s a good pricepoint in comparison to other blind-boxed/bagged formats like Lego Minifigures, and the packaging itself is great.

After opening the wrapper -- which looks better than most real chocolate bars -- you’ll be treated to a moulded plastic chocolate bar that features the Grossery Gang logo, and some insects crawling over the surface. Viewed from a distance, it also looks a lot like a poo, which I’m sure at least partially intentional. There’s also a checklist, which is designed to look like a supermarket receipt. There are tons of different designs, each of which appears to be made in two different colourways. Rarity is ranked as Common, Rare, Ultra-Rare, Special Edition and Limited Edition. Some of them look similar to previous Trash pack designs, but I don’t think they’re straight reuse – more like reinventions of prior concepts.

Inside, the two characters ("Grosserys") are individually wrapped – I got a Rot Hot Chili (ultra-rare) and Fungus Fries (common). You’ll see that Rot Hot looks kind of fuzzy in the pic below, but it’s not out of focus; he’s got a fuzzy finish to appear mouldy. He’s also cast in a harder plastic than Fungus Fries, who is very soft and squishy like a pencil topper. I assume that most other Grosserys are cast in the softer plastic, but will have to update once I've picked up some more. 

Trash Pack kind of passed me by, but it always looked like great fun – I’m sure I would have bought an obscene amount of them if they’d been round when I was a little kid. Grossery Gang serves as a nice reboot to the line, and a great jumping on point for those new to the brand. Highly recommended for kid and adult collectors alike.     

Monday, 24 October 2016

Funko Mystery Minis Horror Classics Series 3: Freddy Krueger (Syringe Fingers)

Year: 2016

Freddy Krueger – in a world of mute murderers like Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees and Leatherface, he stands out as one of the most distinctive villains from the slasher era. I mean, Pinhead has a bit to say for himself, but he's distinctly the process. 

More than 30 years after his cinematic debut in A Nightmare on Elm Street, he’s still incredibly popular. He may not have had a film in the cinemas for a while, but the plethora of Freddy merch littering the shelves suggests that there’s still a substantial fanbase out there. Will we see Robert Englund play him again? Probably not, but the character lives on nonetheless. 

Unlike Jason, Freddy's basic costume really hasn't changed a whole lot over the years, but he does sometimes find himself in kill-specific get-ups from time to time. So t
his Mystery Mini is based on a very specific scene in Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors. In the dream world, Freddy encounters Taryn, who’s dressed like she’s some kind of enemy in Double Dragon. Was the 80s the raddest decade of the 20th century? Most signs point to yes. Anyway, Taryn used to be some kind of drug addict, so Freddy turns his fingers into syringes and injects her with some kind of blue substance – presumably heroin, but it’s never actually specified in the film – and she shuffles off this mortal coil.

This figure replicates the effect nicely enough – each of his fingers and claws is a blue syringe, topped with a silver spike. The sculptors have also done a nice job of adding little details to a fairly simple design, such as ragged edges and dirty stains on the pants and jumper. Good job Funko! 

Given that the Mystery Minis format has been a little more experimental than the POPs, it would be nice if we eventually got some of the human characters -- at least a Nancy! Taryn's design would be particularly good for this format too, but I guess we'll just have to wait and see.     

Overall, this take on Freddy is a cool, unusual version of an iconic horror villain – but he’s packed at a 1/72 ratio, which means you may well have a pain of a time trying to track him down. On that basis, he’s fun for those who missed the regular Freddy in Series 1, but certainly not essential.