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Friday, July 25, 2014

Gaza is not absurd

The recently swelled up conflict between military Palestinian organizations and the Israeli armed forced has been called absurd by some publications. 

That the murder of three Israeli men and then one young Palestinian man causes a military conflict that surpasses the accumulated violence of the last few years in the region isn't absurd. The death of 800 civilians in two weeks isn't absurd. The firing of rockets into densely populated areas to kill individuals isn't absurd. Destroying homes isn't absurd. Hamas using civilians as human shields to present them to the media afterwards isn't absurd. A professional army making children homeless by mortar fire isn't absurd. Both sides declining a ceasefire and negotiations isn't absurd. Bombing a school that is run by the UN without consequence isn't absurd. Indiscriminately firing explosives isn't absurd. Committing war crimes that rival those of Karadžic and Mladic and still finding new followers/cannon fodder isn't absurd. Jewish people all over the world facing racism and hatred over the deeds of the Israeli government isn't absurd. Fighting the same war across several generations isn't absurd.

None of these aspects are absurd. Journalists shouldn't be so cynical and condescending. What they are is disgusting, shameful, intolerable, an atrocity and a testament to the worst humanity has to offer.

What is actually absurd is that society seems to expect that pressure from the media, public protests at home and social media will make any difference. Benjamin Netanyahu and Khaled Mashal really must be blown away by all those retweets the pic of a wrecked nursing home is getting when they check their twitter accounts for feedback on their policies (Netanyahu's PR team actually has one). There won't be any crass reaction by either of the allied states that so eloquently condemn the general violence in the area without ever specifically calling out the responsible decision-makers.
There will be no internally developed solution to a conflict that is so fundamental, with both military factions (excluding the non-combatants) preferring the extermination of the opposition. Stability and safety require the decisive involvement of outside parties, significantly beyond the means demonstrated so far. John Kerry shaking hands and wagging fingers isn't going to defuse a conflict that is so deeply ingrained. However no external party will ever invest so much and take risks so high with so little to gain for themselves.

It's like a person addicted to heroin - suggesting to stop won't get them clean, only massive interference will. Cutting off their drug supply, forcing them to stay off it no matter how loud they scream and supporting them in finding alternative lifestyles might work, but only if you permanently change their mentality about the issue. It's difficult and intensive in cost and time for individuals, now try doing that to 10000 Hamas operatives at once.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Teach The Blind To See

Diocletian - Gesundrian [2014] []
Their latest and third album is the first time I heard of these guys. The band from Auckland, New Zealand is hard to put a label on - it piles elements of Black- and Doom- onto Death Metal, which becomes reminiscent of Portal's utterly perfect Vexovoid. By comparison, Diocletion keep it way tighter, the stretches of super-heavy steamrolling flow into upspeed blastbeats and stakkato riffage in a consistent mesh of grim, massive sound. This may also be the biggest downside of the record, there is little variety to keep the rather uniform songs apart, but the overall quality of that fabric is so high that I really don't mind. Gesundrian is not an easy album to get into, but once you made your way through the thicket of metal and stone, you find a serious quality in it.

Crowbar - Symmetry In Black [2014] []
Kirk Windstein announced late in 2013 that he would leave Down to focus more on Crowbar. The result is this juggernaut that perfectly aligns with the previous records. The high standard of a Crowbar record derives from the particular sound the band has stayed true to, so no surprises in that regard. The production is fantastic and contributes to the weight of the sound, Butt-Head's 1993 statement "this music is slow and fat" is truer than ever, except for the now rarer moments of sped up hardcore punching, especially in the furious highlight "Ageless Decay". More than anything, this record makes Crowbar sound more depressed and doom-ish, Kirk's shouts more desperate than ever. In the end it's a good album, but it won't impress you right away. Solid.

Power Trip - Manifest Decimation [2013] []
It's a positive surprise to see that not all young Thrash Metal bands today try to be the "party hard dude" brand of retro music. Power Trip from Texas distinguish themselves by prioritizing the music over the image, or so it seems. Kicking and punching and yelling as hard as they can, Power Trip sound like a mixture of early Destruction, "Best Wishes"-Cro-Mags and Vio-Lence, with the music as ugly as the cover artwork. I had this monster running in the background and caught myself pausing to check which song was playing because the riffage was so hard (Murderer's Row). While there are some very good snappy solos, the relentless blunt riffs take center stage, it's never overly technical. A distinct recommendation over the blur of modern Thrash Metal.

Modern Day Babylon - Travelers [2013] []
With all the face-shattering bludgeoning in this post so far, this is very different. This trio from the Czech Republic plays a sort of technical progressive metal that is more spaced out, more spiritually inclined than the clinical jacking off that Jeff Loomis and colleagues do. Sure the majority of the album is guitar masturbation, but interlaid with the ambient synthies and effects it feels somewhat futuristic. There are two vocal versions of songs on the record, the rest is instrumental. Imagine Cynic's "Traced In Air" trying to show how good at guitar playing it is. Space Metal. Recent instrumental releases like Conquering Dystopia turned boring after a little while, this still feels fresh. Get in your spaceship and become one with the universe by playing a one hour guitar solo.

P.L.F. - Ultimate Whirlwind Of Incineration [2014] []
My problem with today's grindcore is that in my mind, everything has to measure up against the flawlessness of World Extermination and Pig Destroyers last albums. The Texans from P.L.F. (Pulverizing Lethal Force), while not on par with the aforementioned, deliver a respectable piece of grindcore that stands out from the gored masses through fine craftsmanship and relative variety. It's not as harsh as Insect Warfare, but manages a good mixture of blunt hammering and deep grooves that many bands forget about. Don't expect any room to breath though, this monstrosity rips and tears through 15 songs in less than 25 minutes. If you're not into grindcore, this won't get you far, but if you are, this album will greatly please you.

Further listening:
KOOL A.D. - NOT O.K  - solid rap album, would be better if the flow of the songs wasn't so unsteady
Cro-Mags - Best Wishes - mindblowingly amazing piece just between the hardcore and metal days
PERTURBATOR - Dangerous Days - very good, but not brilliant retro synth electro music
Hermóðr - Vinter - ok depressive black metal record, but others do much better
Skeletons - Tombs - forgettable sludge puddle
Special recommendation : Damien Thorne - Fear of the Dark

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Wolfenstein : The New Order

I never liked Wolfenstein 3D as much as the original DOOM, and I vaguely remember playing bits of "Return to Castle Wolfenstein" when it came out in 2001 and not being particularly impressed. Despite my negative history with the series, the mixed to positive reviews and the feeling that I got bored with videogames again, I gave the recent Wolfenstein: The New Order a chance (spoilers ahead).

The game starts out in 1946 - World War II still drags on and the Nazis are on the offensive. Series protagonist B.J. Blazkowicz is severely injured during a desperate mission and strands in a psychiatric asylum in Poland, where he remains in a vegetative state until 1960. When he finally recovers his senses, the Allied Forces have lost the war and the Reich has been ruling the entire world for years, conquered America and even landed on the moon. Blazkowicz sets out to join the resistance movement, take revenge and kill as many Nazis on his way as possible. The alternative history setting is mostly done in a serious tone, and while there are many over-the-top pieces, it's explicitly not a parody (unlike the very different, but utterly genius Far Cry Blood Dragon). The synchronisation is mostly a mixture of English and German (and bits of Polish), with 80%+ of the voices being done exceedingly well.
I was blown away by how engagingly the story was told, I didn't expect it to be that good from a big stupid action game where shit blows up all the time. The trick, I think, is that the developers treat the story with sufficient dignity to outshine the many corny tropes that come with the scenario.

The setting allows for a surprisingly diversified level design, the most outstanding ones being the scientific exhibition about the moon and the actual Nazi moon-base. Occupied London and concrete-covered Berlin look great as well - and most importantly fitting the the brutal architecture of Speer and colleagues. Rather basic levels like the resistance camp are stuffed with loads of details, so even though there are lots of brown-and-grey tunnel passages as well, it doesn't get boring. The sound design is great, especially the few pieces of German Schlager songs that are sparsely sprinkled along the campaign. The graphics, stemming from the id Tech 5 engine, are top-notch, and even though you will find some blurry textures throughout the game, they didn't bother me. One highlight are the animations, especially of faces, that make the game look very smooth. The one thing I would have liked more of is vegetation, although the lack might have been intentional (because the bad guys only have concrete and no plants because they are the bad guys).

In terms of the gameplay: It's a shooter, you run around and shoot people. There are different guns to shoot people and robots with. Most of the guns are good. There's also a special laser weapon you can use to cut fences and there are knifes you can throw into Nazi faces to kill them silently. What I genuinely enjoyed were that despite some upgrades that you pick up on your way, there are no RPG elements. Every game nowadays has RPG elements where you have to collect things and learn new skills - Wolfenstein, thankfully, doesn't force you to do that. There are some stealth parts, but mostly it's classic all guns blazing fun. Remember fun?

The game takes roughly 16 hours to finish, during which you will be thoroughly entertained. I expected a mediocre dumb action game with a small, silly plot and I got a fantastic dumb action game with an amazingly well presented story. I highly recommend Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Eight Ball

Last Sunday, A World To Come turned eight years old. While few things remained throughout the years, like the music reviews, many have been redrafted. Not only did the language change, nowadays it's less videogames and short stories, instead more technology and politics. The layout has always been mostly black with planetary banners, but it's now more flexible and can properly be read on mobile devices that weren't common when this blog started. For me personally, many things have changed as well. Back in 2006, I was a student. These days, the cosmic warp has claimed my spirit and I have been struggling to find my way out of this skeleton-infested labyrinth of dungeons and crystal caves ever since. Changes like that make you look back on your old material and cringe - especially since the site had more visitors back then. The early years' schlock is terrifying. So, here's to another eight years? No, definitely not - but for now there is still lots to complain about and plenty opinions to be presented as facts.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Guns, Germs, and Steel

Writing a review of an almost twenty year old book that was awarded among other honoraries the Pulitzer Prize, spawned a documentary and has become the most popular book on its subject seems inane to me, so this isn't a review.

"Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies" is a popular science book by Prof. Jared Diamond that starts of with a question asked by a New Guinean politician: "Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?". In other words: Why are there such disparities in the development of human societies? It's a question that many people have asked, including myself. While I found no conclusive answer, the most predominant ones in the last hundreds of years were either racist or ideological.

Prof. Diamond elevates the question to a transhistoric, transglobal scale and explores what factors determined the evolution of human societies over the course of the last 12.000 years. His answer to cultural diffusion argues against genetic, intellectual or idological reasons and rather highlights the importance of environmental factors, such as the availability of domesticable plants and animals, isolation versus connectivity, geographic hurdles, the spread of crops within the same climate type, the feasability of lifestyles other than hunter-gatherer, development of diseases and others. It is obvious that Europe's emissaries conquered the Americas in the 16th century because of of their superior weapons, technology and more importantly the infectious germs they brought along (thus the title of the book), but how come it wasn't the other way around so that the Inca sailed to Spain and raided Europe? The book explores the very fundamental reasons for these disparities.

To press such an enormous topic into a less than 500 page book makes generalization mandatory. Prof. Diamond admits to using broad strokes, but uses them in a careful way as to not jump to too easy a conclusion and admit gaps where there are such. His environmental determinism is illustrated in a way that is understandable to the layman, which opens up this immensely complex subject at least at the seams. Because of that, I strongly recommend this book, really to anyone.