Sunday, August 29, 2010

Putting the Fan Film into Fantasy Films

Not quite in the wake of Judge Minty, here's an earlier stab at the 2000AD-based fan trailer; a mock trailer this time, and in French. I'm sure its writer would approve nonetheless given his work in French press.

Voici Pat Mills' Slaine the Horned God, based on the book of the same name by Mills and Bisley, and reproducing the latter's work with admirable devotion!

I didn't think it too many, etc.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Talkin' Eds - No Fear of the Dying mash-up

In concluding this month's overview of the last albums of Iron Maiden's great initial push, it occurred to me that with the relative weaknesses of No Prayer for the Dying and Fear of the Dark there's a pretty decent album's worth of material between them. This mash-up album, call it 'No Fear of the Dying', could effortlessly bridge the gap between Maiden of old (raucous, impish, aggressive in places and punchy with song length) with the Maiden that was developing - longer, more studious, introspective yet looking out at a real world rather than a fantasy one.

Then I thought, why weigh one side of an album with the early attempts at the latter, of which only Afraid to Shoot Strangers survives as anything close to a stand-out? So back to the fun stuff it was.

Lads and gentlemen - introducing No Fear - Iron Maiden of old's last gasp before the age of Blaze and the return of Bruce:

No Fear of the Dying

Holy Smoke
No Prayer for the Dying
From Here to Eternity
Hooks in You
Bring Your Daughter… to the Slaughter
Be Quick or Be Dead
Weekend Warrior
Wasting Love
Chains of Misery
Judas Be My Guide
Fear of the Dark

Right, now to make up an iTunes playlist and see if this thing will fly!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Judge Minty fan trailer

Courtesy of Dave who also sent me a Fleetway reprint of the original strip a while back, it's the Judge Minty teaser for the forthcoming fan film:

I am really impressed with this. particularly for its devotion to the look of the story - all very faithful to the comic's design with Lawmasters (bike cannon!), the Grand Hall of Justice, Mega City One's Gherkin-like buildings (a Mick McMahon innovation) and of course Carlos Ezquerra's iconic design of the judge uniform. Oh and Dredd of course, played by Dredd artist Greg Staples with nary a smile or removal of helmet - as it should be. So much of this deserves further explanation - it would have been easy for the makers to stage this on an industrial site or warehouse interior with official Termight replica helmets and hardware, but they didn't . It might have been obvious to some to include as Dredd's cameo a strapping 'roid-fuelled stand-in for Old Stony face, but the slighter, leaner Staples is truer to the original, and to McMahon's version as well. I do wonder about the palette and 'look', particularly after seeing similar and less-impressive stuff on Spartacus recently; the digital stage and bleached screen has dated since the likes of 300 and Sin City, but it's not enough to put me off at all. More information here of course, in the mean-time, messrs Garland, Travis and Urban - take note...

Friday, August 20, 2010

Talkin' Eds - Fear of the Dark (1992)

1992 in Metal

New Albums:
Alice in Chains - Dirt
Body Count - Body Count (features controversial single Cop Killer)
Def Leppard - Adrenalize
Faith No More - Angel Dust
Fear Factory - Soul of a New Machine
Helmet - In the Meantime
Monster Magnet - Tab EP
Nine Inch Nails - Broken EP
Pantera - Vulgar Display of Power
Rage Against the Machine - (self titled)

In other news, Izzy leaves Guns 'N' Roses, Crue fire Vince Neil, and the world is slightly safer with no more activity coming from Europe, Ratt and Stryper. In the year leading up to this Metallica have released their 'black album', and Nirvana and grunge have arrived well and truly; in a year's time Anthrax will throw in their lot with the grunge-ready The Sound of White Noise, and Korn will form.

This is a pretty significant album in some ways. The Fear of the Dark Tour brought Iron Maiden to New Zealand for the first time, although only as far as Auckland. More significantly of course is its place as Bruce Dickinson's last album re-reforming in 1999. In the years leading up to Fear the band had individually explored other avenues and projects, and Renaissance man Bruce spent those years writing, fencing, releasing and touring his own albums, and of course learning to fly. Once again, everything changes for Iron Maiden after his departure, but more on that in another post.

The Album
There are three things going on in this album, really. The group's sound is changing - certainly as much as it was during No Prayer, and added to this is further experimentation with contemporaneous styles - Be Quick rather aptly nods towards the speed/thrash of the lies of Anthrax. The videos have had a ramp up too - Be Quick and Wasting Love both attempt new things, bringing the members in and miming to a soundtrack, and as in the previous album there seems a concerted effort on Steve Harris' part to steer the lyrics away from the fantastic and towards the mundane and the contemporary. It's a delicate balance, particularly as this follows a very late-80s penchant in pop and rock music of the 'public service' or 'social commentary' song. Many bands and artists try it at some stage in the careers and many of them fail, usually stumbling when the demands of addressing big issues within a three to four minute song just can't and won't fit. I do think the attempts on Fear are a fifty-fifty score - Be Quick is a great opener and while not explicitly about the scandal rides on the fall from grace and death of Sir Robert Maxwell (who also meets Eddie on the single's sleeve), while Weekend Warrior is more specific, targeting football hooligans. The latter works for me because of the delivery (Dickinson compliments a rather AC/DC-like composition by singing in a Brian Johnson style) and the simplicity of the thing; the added fact that Steve Harris is an enormous football fan himself adds to the intent hugely - you can imagine him getting worked up about something like this. Compare and contrast with Fear is the Key - a messy affair with awful lyrics and Bruce adopting a Robert Plant vocal style ("liesandliesandlies..") during the double-tempo wig out over a theme of… what, responsible loving? AIDS ("nobody cares 'til somebody famous dies" recalling the recent passing of Freddie Mercury). Childhood's End has a good sound and fierce opening drums but flounders again lyrically with its talk of tyrants, lack of food, love and 'seed's. Lyrically these songs just aren't strong enough to carry the themes through, nor, sadly, does Afraid to Shoot Strangers, Maiden's Gulf War meditation. It succeeds in as much as it adroitly captures the moral confusion in a soldier's mind, but can't bring itself to go beyond that point, even though there's an obvious urge to, unlike wartime songs before it (The Trooper is perhaps closest) and after (Paschendale et al) which work precisely because they're contained in that one moment. So Harris is out of his depth with contemporary social commentary, but that's okay - heavy metal and pop music in general struggles with this anyway, and to Maiden's credit this is really the last we'll hear of this sort of thing for a good while.

Where Fear does work is in looking back to the band's earlier roots and marrying them to new styles. Judas Be My Guide could have come off Piece of Mind, while Chains of Misery, like Hooks in You on Prayer, evokes a more US sound - as if Motley Crue turned up on the day to do the backing vocals for fun. Wasting Love is a second stab at a ballad after No Prayer's title track and it actually works, with a nice lead by Janick Gers added in. The album's closing title track is almost a standout for its subject matter - a return to the supernatural, although Gers' The Apparition tries this too - I think… the lyrics don't make much sense and Bruce's Steve Perry delivery doesn't help. It's telling that subsequent appearances of Fear of the Dark on The Best of the Beast and Somewhere Back in Time have favoured a live performance, and rightly so. The song is fine, if merely reliable, but in a live setting with a huge crowd behind it it takes on a new verve and is a good indicator of how Maiden could turn an okay composition into a crowd pleaser. The second-to-last and least mention of the album is The Fugitive, based on the movie/TV series of the same name. Ham-fisted choruses ("I am the fu-gitive... Being hunted down for game! I am the fu-gitive... But I've got to clear my name!") follow some nice verses, but it's not a keeper, and Maiden have done far better adaptations before and after this. In other news, song number two From Here to Eternity publicly kills off occasional band muse Charlotte the Harlot, the casualty of "a tumble at the Devil's Bend', which goes to show what hazards come from riding a motorcycle with The Beast.

Cover Art
Thankfully the cover art is a distinct improvement, and like its title track has been gathered into the bosom of 'classic' Maiden iconography. Illustrated by Mervyn Grant after a late commission from Derek Riggs proved not to the band's tastes (or perhaps it was the lateness of the commission - the reasons are apparently vague), the scene is of Eddie as a demon in a tree, merging with its trunk and branches, but as the artist states not part of the tree itself. Whatever, it's a nice, sinister and detailed piece with a good composition and rather fetching use of colour and light. It turned my head back in 1993, so it must have worked.

Album Tracks

Be Quick or Be Dead (official video)
From Here to Eternity(official Bad News-esque video)
Afraid to Shoot Strangers (Live in Mexico)
Fear is the Key (album track)
Childhood's End (album track)
Wasting Love
The Fugitive (album version)
Chains of Misery (album version)
The Apparition (album version)
Judas Be My Guide (album version)
Weekend Warrior(album version)
Fear of the Dark (live at Donnington)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Reissue, Repackage - The Meknificent Seven

And now, for a change, something I actually DID throw out. Well okay, I replaced it, and the story goes a little something like this:

Here is the earliest edition of the collected strips of 2000AD's original series of ABC Warriors, bringing together the escapades of this rag-tag™ unit of war robots on Mars, created and written by Pat Mills and illustrated by a slavering roster of future heavyweights of the UK scene - I'm talking Gibbons, O'Neill, Ezquerra, Brendan McCarthy and of course Mick McMahon, who provided the gorgeous cover illustration for this imprint by early 200AD licencees Titan. Inside are all of the Mars stories written by Mills, plus an introductory strip by Mills and Kevin O'Neill, like the cover, produced exclusively for this collection. Years passed and this imprint was discontinued. I saw it as recently as a couple of years ago in Graphic in Cuba Street - shame I didn't pick it up then.

After Rebellion purchased 2000AD they went into their own reprinting venture, and started things off modestly. The reproductions are pretty good, although suffer from some downscaling due to the original comic's page dimensions not being A4 compatible. This (left) is the cover of their initial run of The Meknificent Seven. The cover is by future ABC art droid Kev Walker in a post-Simon Bisley painterly style. Walker produced vibrant and consistent work during his long tenure on the strip, but the choice of illustration - itself a very post Black Hole era design, is Awl Rong. It's ABC leader Hammerstein, which is fine, but it's a nineties redesign of the robot, doesn't sell the crucial image of the ABCs as a team, and it seems like an afterthought to provide some sort of continuity with the later reprints of the colour strips. I wonder whether the original reprint was a Titan-owned piece, which might explain its absence along with the dedicated introductory strip? Apart from setting the template for future ABC reprints, this is the least-collectable version, and it's the one I replaced as soon as I could (sorry Dave, to whom I gave it to). Moving on…

Here is Rebellion's second stab at the reprint, produced last year. It's a gorgeous cover - not the McMahon commission of course, but it is a reproduction of a contemporary 2000AD cover by the artist in question, and it's just what it should be - all seven Warriors in colour, retro-coloured to fit the Seventies era style. The contents are a step up too - the Titan strips have been included, Pat does a foreword (this aligns the volume with the others in the series published between editions), and as volume two, the aforementioned The Black Hole by Mills and Bisley/SMS is also in black and white, the first recap chapter of that strip is included as a taster. I was deid chuffed when I got this and didn't regret my purchase. The only way it could have been better to my mind would have been reprinting the original gatefold pages from 2000AD in colour, and perhaps included the Steve 'Preacher' Dillon-inked 1985 Annual story Red Planet Blues. As this wasn't written by Mills but by some guy called Alan Moore however, I could understand why Rebellion might have omitted it.

It's now 2010 and Rebellion are keen to have another poke at the US market. Onward to a new edition of The Meknificent Seven! Spine-wise this ties in with the existing collection, although the cover is a radical redesign - a pretty slick composite of a panel of Gibbon's work within, and it looks cool, but not as cool as the Titan original. Inside what do we have? An introduction by Pat, the Titan strip plus single-page strips for the core five Warriors used in their 80s return, the Black Hole teaser is back in its own volume where it belongs and in colour… Red Planet Blues.

I think I know what they might select for the next reprint now.

Mongrol smush greedy publishers!!!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Talkin' Eds - No Prayer for the Dying (1990)

The first and most obvious change to Maiden since Piece of Mind is the departure of an apparently disillusioned Adrian Smith, keen to go his own way and not happy with the developing retro sound of the band post-Seventh Son. In the intervening years the band has had something of a break and Bruce Dickinson has begun writing books and recording his first solo project, also contributing to a movie soundtrack (more on that next time). Janick Gers, brought on board by Dickinson after providing guitars for his solo album from the same year, Tattooed Millionaire, becomes Smith's replacement for the next four albums. Gers had previously played for Fish (of Marillion) as well as Gogmagog alongside Paul Di'Anno, so already his pedigree is very sound. Previously I referred to him as Dave Murray's understudy which is more than a little uncharitable, although I think the comparison bears scrutiny. Gers lies closer to Murray's technique than Smith's on the spectrum, although his style is different again - newer techniques like shredding are part of his arsenal, and I would suggest his influence lies in helping to modernise Maiden's guitar sound. His solos are competent, with a good sense of space and less flashy than Murray's for most of the time, although these would be accompanied by on-stage stunts like throwing his guitar over his shoulders a la Blackie Lawless from W.A.S.P and dancing while playing. As the last permanent addition to the band his presence by now is well established, and while his work on this album is sound and distinctive, some of his best stuff is yet to come.

The Album
Towards the end of the Eighties the trend of annual Maiden albums stretches to bi-annual. No Prayer arrived three years after Seventh Son, having taken in that album's tour plus a longer hiatus intended for the group to recharge their batteries. Their return reaps this album, a rougher, less intricate piece with fewer nods to fantasy and horror and the beginning of Maiden employing contemporary subjects and influences. Overall the songs' structures are less elaborate and shorter, with introductory guitar leads (Run Silent, Run Deep) which prefigure many of Maiden's tracks from subsequent albums. Balancing out the roughness of guitar and Dickinson's new-found gravelly voice is a heightened sense of mischief - Tailgunner, despite recalling the horrors of Dresden in its opening lines (and Hiroshima towards the end) is too lightweight lyrically to sit alongside the likes of Aces High or Where Eagles Dare ("Kill that Fokker nail that son/gonna blow your guts out with my gun"). As the curtainraiser for the album it seems a willful attempt to expunge the seriousness of those songs and their earnest subject matter. That the title was informed initially by a particular form of home video really drives it home. There's no let up either in the next song, the Quo-like Holy Smoke, which takes the oh-so-topical subjects of religious hypocrites Jimmy Swaggart and Jim and Tammy Bakker et al to task from the viewpoint of a rather potty-mouthed Christ. Low hanging fruit, surely, but it must have been immensely satisfying for Harris and Dickinson to be given such licence from news media to lampoon their past tormentors and critics so ribaldly. The video sets the tone of both song and album - Maiden never were a band for videos (although recently have adopted the medium a little more - possibly to rely less on their own appearance in them?), and this one takes the biscuit - shot on Harris' farm it's all agricultural equipment, comedy vicars, lingeries ladies, mugging to camera and guitar breaks on a slowly trundling tractor. Glorious.

There's more low hanging fruit in Dave Murray's Public Enema Number One, this time aimed at the baby boomer set of the US and their selfish lifestyles couched in environmental lip-service. Yes, a hard pitch to throw and to be sure the topic meanders with it, as it does in Fates Warning. Accompanying a harder, faster guitar sound and simpler arrangements are 'church' organ sounds in place of something more synthesised (notably in the album's title track), and actual backing vocals. To me and coming from the G'n'R era of pop rock it marks a temporary adoption of a West Coast sound, perhaps; Maiden is no longer setting a style but following those of others, including younger bands (perhaps this is why the album was less well received by fans?) Adrian Smith's last contribution to the album, Hooks in You carries this off most convincingly, and is another favourite. It's stupid and misogynistic, but unable to be taken seriously, and teases with its mention of "keys to view at Number Twenty-two" to be another chapter in the story of Charlotte the Harlot. Myself, I think it's more straightforward in featuring the heroine's abandoned workplace and domecile up for rent, and that's all. We'll see what becomes of her in the next album anyway. After Hooks comes Dickinson's Bring Your Daughter… to the Slaughter, of which more will be said in a later post. Mother Russia closes the album, a plodding ponderous mess with a leaden chorus and awful lyrics.

Cover Art
This is Derek Riggs' last full-sleeve commission besides a revised version for the 1998 re-release. It's of poorer quality than previous efforts, coming across as alternately sketchy and perhaps rushed. Eddie, streaked green with rot and mould, bursts from his crypt to either thrust at a terrified gravedigger (1990) or out at the viewer (1998). It's possible that the looser style is deliberate, evoking an EC Comics/Tales from the Crypt vibe. In that way it fits the tone of the album well, but against what's been done before it's more than a little distracting. Certainly not Riggs' best cover, though not his least accomplished, and in album cover stakes we're still not at Maiden's worst just yet.

Notable is Eddie's appearance - essentially it's a reboot, with a return to the fright wig and hellfire eyes of the early albums. The parallels to the superior Live After Death are obvious, though in the gatefold illustration Eddie is back on those self-same London streets of albums one and two, ripping into another victim with Kruegerish hook-clawed hands. There's none of the earlier mischief to this Eddie - he's a vicious ghoul, and in his leather jacket and angry snarl it's hard not to read this look as a deliberate attempt to harden up the cartoon character as much as the music and vocals of the album also strive for.

Album tracks via YouTube

Tailgunner (official video)
Holy Smoke (official vdeo - YMMV)
No Prayer for the Dying (Live in Holland, 1991)
Public Enema Number One (live 1991?)
Fates Warning (album version)
The Assassin (live in Dortmund, 1990)
Run Silent, Run Deep (album track)
Hooks in You
Bring Your Daughter… to the Slaughter (stay tuned...)
Mother Russia (fan made video)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Stuff I've Dug Out of my Garden

In the course of general gardening, weeding, clearing away vegetation from an imperiled deck, digging new plots, mowing lawn and building a low retaining wall (haarggh!) my backyard activities haven't half revealed some unusual objects unearthed from the loose soil. Our back lawn used to be flowerbeds and all elevated by about a foot of earth and clay, but was excavated by a previous owner to make a play area for her kids - and play they most definitely did. By the time we took possession ofthe property other subsequent owners had a go at reinventing the back section in a rather slip-shod way, really, meaning the detritus of numerous juvenile adventures lay in damp, anaerobic conditions waiting for my trowel, my line trimmer, my reliable pushmower.

Here's some of the crap that's come out of the ground since:

Quite the varied treasure trove we have here: some Star Wars stuff by way of a Happy Meal (I think), lollipop sticks, an Action Man flipper, Kinder Surprise disjecta membra, something I'm informed is a Yu-Gi-O, or Dragonball Z. And bits of stationery of course. Missing from the photo above is a rather careworn Thomas the Tank Engine helicopter (given to the kid of friends of ours before I could fix him up properly - thanks, dear), and a toy wagon/train wheel which has already made it into my 'bitz box'.

Ah yes, the Bitz Box. The amateur modeller's grab bag of off-cuts and model parts, ever ready to be enlisted for further modelling and kit-bashing. Mine is very modest indeed, but there's stuff shown here I have plans for and intend to use in some regard. Most of the other things will be binned, as any sane gardener would do. But I'm a believer in chance meetings and making lemonade while the sun shines, so again, some projects for later in here, maybe. In the mean-time, I think our back section is a little lighter for these having been removed. Doubtless in time there'll be a new crop of things being planted in there by little hands, and I will follow this by wonderng where my car keys got to, or something similar.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

(A Very Special) Talkin' Eds - Bring Your Daughter... to the Slaughter single (1990)

By 1990 Iron Maiden were playing to a home crowd and were well and truly a diminished pop influence, despite good chart ratings for Seventh Son. Lacking the youth and menace of their early years they were something of a joke institutionally. And crucially this is what they were emblematic of to a new generation - my generation - of artists, as witnessed below, circa 1991 and Blur's emergence as a big hitter in the early 1990s UK pop scene:

From Bit of a Blur by Alex James:

'Andy Ross through it would be a good idea for Damon and me to go and be nice to everyone at the EMI annual sales conference… There were hundreds of people there, including some proper pop stars. The boss of the company, Rupert Perry, made a speech on a little stage and said he wanted to introduce some special guests. Iron Maiden drove on to the stage in a bubble car and started swearing at everybody. Damon had a funny turn and ran outside.
…I was really drunk by that point and I went down to the bar to have a fight. Bruce Dickinson was at the bar. I hate Iron Maiden. They're devil-worshipping ponces. I said 'The devil can suck my cock and you can kiss his arse, you fucking poodle.' He got me in a headlock and sucked the end of my nose really hard. I was laughing quite a lot, not really resisting. We left it at that.

…I got home back to the squat and Justine said, 'Has anyone seen you this morning?' I said, 'Only Adam Ant.' She said, 'Aren't you clever! Did he mention your nose, darling?' I looked in the mirror and it was bright red at the end. It took days to go back to being the right colour.'

After ten years of blood, sweat and tears Iron Maiden hit paydirt with what is still a pretty routine song from a lesser album. Despite this pedigree, Bring Your Daughter… shares the rare honour of being both a number one single and a winner of the Golden Raspberry Award for worst original song from a movie - in this case A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 5: The Dream Child. The company it keeps is mixed to say the least; George Michael's I Want Your Sex from 1987 and Beverly Hills Cop 2 was only really huge in the Netherlands, while the USA's Billboard Top 100 and European Top 100 embraced Will Smith's parping ante-millennial Wild Wild West from the cinematic wet fart of the same name. The difference to note in Daughter of course is in versions, and version is as much context as a song being attached to a movie franchise. The solo original is slower, less dense in terms of instrumentation and production, and carries less of the rasping vocal of the later Maiden cover. Dickinson wails unsteadily in places and in general there's less of the thud and heft that Harris and McBrain would later add to the album version - the version that won the real gold. I definitely prefer the latter, but here's both for the sake of comparison...



Daughter's other triumph is also in context - while missing out on the Christmas novelty slot by one week (no thanks, as the CD liner notes claim, to the likes of Radio One), it did oust Sir Cliff Richard's Saviour's Day (his 13th UK number one - unlucky!) from the spot. And that counts for something indeed. Speaking for myself I recall seeing the video and thinking it cheesy, wondering why the over-reliance on old horror movie footage was there (another retro style from Maiden - little did I know then that this has been a tradition going back to Number of the Beast). It was catchy though - but I was over Maiden and had been for years. Why did they bother with such samey and kitschy material?

Thankfully my opinion wasn't king on the day. As has been seen increasingly over the years to the point of lampoon in Richard Curtis' Love, Actually and exercised as recently as last year in X-Factor v Rage Against the Machine the concept of the Christmas Number One is kind of a big deal in the UK. Presence there is as good as media coverage can get - even in 1991, and particularly if Maiden's sneering contempt of the influential likes of Radio One could be taken to have been genuinely mutual. A lightweight single, sure, perhaps teetering dangerously toward self-parody. Shame it couldn't have been a stronger single, but for its secular-cum-occult cheerleading over God bothering earnestness, and because it's for Christmas, it's a thumbs up.

It even got them back in the NME. Who'd have thought it?