Disturbed – The Lost Children

Article first published as Music Review: Disturbed – The Lost Children on Blogcritics.

So I’m listening to my Pandora station (Sixx A.M.) and “Stupify” comes on.  At first I didn’t recognize it, but only because I was at work and surrounded by colleagues in the midst of conversation so the volume is a little low.  But at last I discern the quasi-hymnal chant of Dave Draiman and the precision of Dan Donegan‘s guitar and in an instant I knew who it was and the volume went up.

And then I recall first hearing this song ten or eleven years ago and thinking, yes, someone has arrived to save metal.  Since then, Disturbed have always been reliable musicians; I can’t think of any of their songs that have been a real let down in any way.  Sure, some are better than others, but they always strike the right chords, they always find the right beat.  Disturbed has now been around long enough to accumulate sixteen (and probably more) B-sides.  These songs have been gathered together on The Lost Children (which is kind of cool title – these songs weren’t discarded because they lack quality; they were created and they just went their own way and have finally been congregated together again by the band).

The sixty minute tour through the history of Disturbed’s brand of metal begins with “Hell”, which is portends a descent into the bowels of the band, but the song felt like a slow burn, if you will.  It never really took off, and that was a little disheartening.   But, things picked up from there.  The fifth track, “Monster,” was a delight – the drums and guitar get into such a beautiful rhythm towards the end of the song.  Moments like that really show off why Disturbed is such a good metal band, the precision in their defiance.  “Run” which is number six had a little more verve to it, some good guitar work by Dan Donegan.  “Two Worlds” is a little slow, but around the two and a half minute mark Mike Wengren has the spotlight as he puts his drum kit through some paces.  He’s got a heavy, tribal sound.

“God of the Mind” sounds like it belongs very early in the Disturbed canon and it was easily my favorite.   It’s tight from the intro, has a Draiman growl/speech thingy going on and then continues with his early syncopated chanting vocals that has perfect cadence with the guitar.  It was a good song to build up to.  “Mine” is number eleven and starts with pretty eerie electronics then throws in some bass and drum action.  “Dehumanized” has another killer guitar riff.  It’s not overpowering, just a heavy, heavy groove.  Add Draiman’s meditative vocals and this is a powerful song.  “Midlife Crisis” had a very different vocal sound and an acerbic message for any going through the titular situation.

Disturbed does a great job on covers.  Asylum featured a good version of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” from U2.  Ten Thousand Fists featured “Land of Confusion” which was a brilliant interpretation and update of that Genesis classic.  The Disturbed take on Judas Priest’s “Living After Midnight” is collected with the other lost children on this CD.  It’s not quite as fabulous as the other two covers, but it’s still better than the original.  It’s cool to hear real metal guitar applied to this early, early 80s classic.

These songs uphold the standard of Disturbed’s music.  They are consistent, well written, well recorded.  These songs would have been slow spots on any earlier releases, I think, but they’re fun as one-off songs.  This could be great filler material between Asylum and whatever their next new album will be or it could be a satisfying wrap-up to a solid and renowned career depending on how their alleged hiatus turns out.

Ion Vein – IV v1.0

Ion Vein is a progressive rock band from Chicago. They’ve got two other titles in their discography, Beyond Tomorrow and Reigning Memories.  Their third release is a three track digital release.  It’s IV V1.0, which is kind of a cutsy title, slightly palindromic, slightly not. I would argue that, in reality, that this should be version 2.0 or above for this band as they’ve gone through several line up changes while retaining the band name Ion Vein, but let us not quibble over these things.  The name itself was kind of humorous, too, at least to me.  I read that they picked “ion vein” because that’s the effect they want their music to have on listeners. I’m not sure what that means. I guess it’s means they want the music to fire us up, get us charged like lightning.  Or plasma.  Interesting.  I was also intrigued by their cool logo design.

Honestly, that’s just cool.  And the name is fun to say.

The band now consists of:  Chris Lotesto, guitars; Scott Featherstone, vocals; Rob Such, bass; Chuck White, drums.  Having not heard any of their previous music I cannot state how well this new CD/EP fits in with their extant catalog of sound.  So, I’ll just mention a few thoughts regarding this special DR that is introducing the new lineup, specifically singer Scott Featherstone.   Sometimes he sounds like Dio, sometimes like Eddie Vedder, sometimes just like a standard gravelly vocalist.  Many of the vocal harmonies on display are right out of a page of the liner notes for any given Spinal Tap song.  In other words, it wasn’t that impressive.  The lyrics he had to work with were rather standard as well.  I hope any future full length production will remedy these two items.

However, while I was not impressed by the vocal showing I did enjoy Lotesto’s guitar, especially in the intro’s of each song.  It sounded very articulate and reminiscent of early thrash.  Chuck White’s drumming, though, is what really kept me interested in these three songs.  He has a good tone on his kit, heavy and a bit flat.  He’s very consistent with some nice kick drum hammering and some fast fills.  It was fun to hear.

As I was listening to Ion Vein I was also reading up on some sci-fi television and movie rumors over at io9.  Inevitably that throws up the name J.J. Abrams.  Like his projects, the songs of Ion Vein start off promising great things, contain some decent elements of their chosen genre and in the end left me feeling that it was kind of fun, but nothing spectacular.

Head over to the Ion Vein website for information on downloading IV V1.0.

The Boy Who Loved Batman: A Memoir by Michael Uslan

Article first published as Book Review: The Boy Who Loved Batman: A Memoir by Michael Uslan on Blogcritics.

About two weeks ago the newest Batman video game, Arkham City, was released.  There were about twenty-five people at our local GameStop for the midnight release, not a terrible showing for our small town. Its predecessor, Arkham Asylum, received perfect ratings and great reviews.  Arkham City has ‘game of the year’ buzz surrounding it.  In 2008 The Dark Knight broke box office records and has come to be regarded as not only one of the greatest comic book movies ever made but also as a powerful and intelligent film in general.

The point?  Batman is big, popular, marketable.  The character has transcended the campiness of the 60s and has begun to overshadow his old competitor (in the comic book world), Superman.  Michael Uslan is one of the many people responsible for bringing about this Batman renaissance.  Every superhero has an origin story (and Hollywood’s been rife with them of late; some handled horribly, read Wolverine, and some handled with elan such as Batman Begins) and it would seem that Uslan wanted to tell his own origin story.  Thus we have the book The Boy Who Loved Batman, Uslan’s memoir.

Essentially, he sets out to tell the tale of how he loved comic books as a child, Batman being among his favorites, and how he brought a serious Batman to the silver screen.  He gives us the highlights of his life as he reveals the plot of his Batman quest.  As a young boy he was able to meet some influential people in the comic industry, Otto Binder, C. C. Beck, Bob Kane, Carmine Infantino, Bill Finger.  He recounts attending the first ComiCon.  He talks about his friends and the comics he collected.  He boasts about becoming the first Professor of comic books at Indiana University.

Then we have the story of how he became a lawyer for film companies and how this later assissted him as he produced his own features.  Towards the latter part of the book we get to meet Tim Burton and understand his influence on the classic 1989 Batman.  He briefly tells about the influence that Christopher Nolan had on Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.  Smartly, he leaves out Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, although I believe he is also the producer of those two  atrocities.  It’s kind of hard to understand how he was able to reconcile himself to producing those movies after his proclaimed quest to bring a serious Batman to the world.  It would have been interesting to read about that conflict.

The memoir, while not in comic book format – as in panels and pictures – feels like a comic book and is definitely influenced by Uslan’s love of comic book heroes.   He tells a very general story – the dates aren’t solid, chronology seems to jump around.  He describes his basic relationship with his brother, which has Wolverine/Sabretooth overtones to it, but it never felt like a complete analysis to me.  He presents basic facts, names of progenitors, repeats the philosophies his mother, father and father-in-law instilled in him (like Spiderman’s Uncle Ben) but there’s nothing in depth.

Really, it was like listening to John Madden analyze a football game.  Every play and every player was always the best he’d ever seen, etc., etc.  But on occasion there were some insightful comments made; the man did know the game.  Uslan’s book feels the same way.  The man loves comic books, not just Batman, comics in general.   Batman is just the most well known aspect of his love.  There are some insightful comments made and, every once in a while, some good literary metaphors thrown about, even if they seem a little too heavy for Batman and comic books (Michael and Superman as Moses, really?).

The book was more like conjoined blog postings than an actual scholarly work or useful biography.  But I suppose it has its place.  And, the current series of Batman movies are outstanding, so it seems that Uslan can have a few plaudits for that.