Saturday, September 12, 2015

Rolling around inside my own head

It's all change again in the Simian household as this monkey is once again donning his big boy pants on weekday mornings and slaving over a hot laptop in a typical inner city office. However, leading up to this week, and even during, the mind has wandered in non-work hours, and as nature demands, that abhorrent void has been filled - with visions of tumbling polyhedral dice.

This blog bears witness that I am not a regular roleplayer, and my life has most certainly been busier, more varied, and generally better for it. But it remains an itch that occasionally demands scratching over the years, or it manifests in weird, dead-ended, compulsive ways: podcast hunting, doodling, module downloading, idle listing of past player characters and wonderings what-if. Last week I bought a second-hand Deities & Demigods specifically for the Erol Otus cover, and sought out my 'old' (ten years old - tops) poly dice and encouraged Jet Jr to use them in his maths games for school. I'm currenty musing on posting a crowd-sourced therapy call-out under the title of 'Schroedinger's Thief' (apologies to those of you who know what/whom I'm talking about.) For that reason, the next few posts might actually involve some of these subjects, but to cut some to the chase and not clog up wordspace, here are some of my recent online RPG finds:

1. One of my new favourite podcasts, SaveOrDie, which is strictly OSR/BD&D oriented, with dashes of Cook/Moldvay and Mentzer in focus, and more than a dash of Gygax invoked. And now I know how to pronounce "Gygax".

2. From episode 111 of the same podcast, one of my favourite RPG-related songs: Mikey Mason's  Best Game Ever. Because we've all been there. I know I was.

3.  There are many many great figure paintings based on classic D&D out there, but Lead Adventures' Witchtown thread has to be the best I've seen yet.

4. Monster Manual Sewn From Pants is a blog that not only documents what it says on the tin, but is chock-filled with great ideas. Come for the button-eyed Beholder if you must, but stay to take in the mad creativity. The Werebear is ADORABLE.

5. Kobolds were never retconned into little dragon men somewhere in the 90s. That's a lie - they evolved into pangolins.

Coming soon: a long-overdue Legends of RPG Art post.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Talkin' Eds - The Book of Souls (2015)

File Under: Quite Surprising, and very very welcome.

That was my reaction earlier this year to the news that, now Bruce Dickinson has received the all-clear on his cancer treatment, the album Iron Maiden recorded before his initial diagnosis was to be recorded, the world tour to proceed next year, maybe even with Bruce in the cockpit of Ed Force One again. They're even coming to New Zealand again - I might get to see them at last!

 But first, the album.

The Book of Souls is a long-player - ninety-two minutes of screaming, solos and Steve Harris and Nicko McBrain holding the furniture down. It is, we are told, not a concept album, although some now very familiar Maiden tropes are evident here: historical figures ('Death or Glory', about The Red Baron - not the Snoopy one, mind), death (including the suicide of Robin Williams - 'Tears of a Clown'), the afterlife, and the very Maiden-styled genuflection on both where lead single 'Speed of Light' recalls the likes of last album's 'Starblind' and 'The Final Frontier' to put everything in place. Harris has removed his trademark pinstripe leather trousers and is now wearing his Prog pants, so The Book of Souls will be for most people a lengthy listen or a two-session job, spread as it is between two discs.

Fortunately with such length there's room for variety, and pleasingly, all songwriting members of Maiden contribute lyrically to the album - and the title track is a Janick Gers number! Readers of my previous Maiden posts may recall that I rate Maiden's newest member as a strong pen lyrically and musically, and of the several tracks here, the aforementioned title track and 'Shadows of the Valley' (co-written with Harris) are among the more lively on offer, and personal picks. In general, perhaps it's the impatient listener in me, but I prefer disc one (songs one through six) to the rest of the album; they're quicker-paced, more varied, referential to traditional and recent Maiden song styles and sit well alongside one another. Side two has the track that makes The Book of Souls a two disc experience - the eighteen-minute 'Empire of the Clouds'.   Penned by Dickinson this tribute to the ill-fated R101 airship is a significant piece, and not just for its length; lyrically it's well balanced (though it perhaps reads in places better than it sounds) and sensitively composed. Dickinson performs the opening piano parts, having taught himself the instrument to do so, and there's a pleasing mix of real orchestra and band. The subject matter is curious - unsurprising, perhaps, as it ticks a lot of Maiden boxes - British history, flight (blame Bruce!) and so forth, but after the slightly trainspotter-like description and detail, there's pathos, and in the song's elegaic closing, Dickinson places himself in the narrative:

"here lie their dreams/ as I stand in the sun / on the ground where they built / and the engines did run"

The subject and title reference Dickinson's own interest, of course, and the R101 connection is noted, too, in his outside investments in Hybrid Air Vehicles, operating out of the airship's birthplace. I do wonder whether this aspect of the story puts a cap on Maiden's approach to such subjects; and I reckon that the band of thirty years ago might well have instead shoehorned a reference to the airship's afterlife in supernatural lore. Somehow I don't think the omission is an accident.

In all, then, a decent album with some plodding and a luxury-length approach to editing. I think there's a good single disc album in here, at least, but tha there may be more one-off hits in The Final Frontier. The final analysis sggests, however, that after the last two or three years, we should be very grateful for a healty band's return, new album, and world tour - it may be their last, and it's the chance of that especially that will get me thinking about that concert again next year.

Cover Story:

As described previously, a nice, though a little static, head shot of your actual band ascot in Mayan get-up. Marillion album illustrator Mark Richardson seems to 'get' Eddie's look better on this cover, so I can cut him some slack - plus the white on black logo is rather nifty. Inside there are Photoshop spreads of the band as totem poles, ruined temples, and Eddie looking ticked off again - this time he's cut his own heart,   out and is showing it to us. Tsk. That boy - you just can't leave him on his own at all.

Album Tracks
For obvious reasons, nothing of the album has appeared in live form yet, so in the mean-time, we're into the realm of static images and fan videos. Godspeed and good searching, everyone...

If Eternity Should Fail
Speed of Light
The Great Unknown
The Red and the Black
When the River Runs Deep
The Book of Souls
Death or Glory
Into the Valley of Death
Tears of a Clown
Man of Sorrows
Empire of the Clouds