10 Huge Factors That Can Ruin A Film

God, I love films. I mean, a good old-fashioned novel is still to this day the purest and most effective way to tell a story; a TV series can be similarly pleasing, because viewers are more likely to invest themselves in main characters over multiple episodes; experiencing a story through theatre can also be incredibly immersive and fulfilling; even modern gaming has matured over the years and brought storytelling to the forefront. Yet, with all that said, I would still go with film as my favourite medium.

When a film is perfectly executed, it can be anything from an enjoyable flick to an undisputed masterpiece. The problem, however, is that films can only be as good as the people piecing things together behind the scenes. Sadly, there are just too many subtle ways that a film can go wrong. A film idea that could initially have been mind-blowing can be tainted by the slightest shortcoming. Here before you, I’ve collected what I think are the biggest deal-breakers in the film-going experience. I’m not saying any movies showing the following traits are necessarily bad, but in numerous cases, they can be what determines a loyal fan from a discouraged critic.

 

The Deus Ex Machina

In the context of a movie, the Deus Ex Machina refers to ‘a person or thing that appears, or is introduced suddenly and unexpectedly, and provides a contrived solution to an apparently insoluble difficulty.’ [1] Put simply, it’s the moment where the hero is saved at the very last second by something beyond his or her control. I witness this device all the time. I admit, sometimes it can be necessary and even satisfying; but other times, it’s just a lazy and inexcusable way to wrap up a story or sequence.

In War of the Worlds with Tom Cruise, the Deus Ex Machina is the bacteria that kills all the aliens in the climax. In James Cameron’s Avatar, it’s the wildlife that springs into action and takes out all the enemy soldiers, just when everything seems lost. In Michael Bay’s Transformers, it’s the unprecedented bundle of game-changing abilities that Optimus Prime uses to defeat Megatron (which, it turns out, he had all along). And in Jurassic Park, it’s the Tyrannosaurus Rex that (somehow) silently sneaks up from offscreen and saves the group from the rampant raptors. While the latter example is still an amazing movie, this particular scene still irritates me. Screenwriter and producer, Blake Snyder, has humorously dubbed this moment as the ‘Deus “Rex” Machina.’ [2] That’s worth a hearty chuckle.

 

A Boring or Unlikable Protagonist

Nothing quite soddens the film experience like a main character that you couldn’t care less about. A plot can be thrilling and engaging; the stakes could be sky high and threaten life on Earth as we know it; but if the person going up against it all is soulless and unrelatable, then why should you care? The same goes for a movie’s antagonist. If the villain has no understandable motive for their actions, then the audience won’t give a damn if and when the hero foils their plan.

Take Spectre, for example – the 24th outing of the James Bond saga. This film was met with mixed reviews – and I’m afraid I fall on the negative side of the spectrum. Director Sam Mendes, who proved his worth with Skyfall, this time round had the brilliant Christoph Waltz at the helm, an actor who was born to play a Bond villain. Yet in Spectre, he’s utterly wasted. Instead of coming off as a genuine threat to the MI6 agent, he becomes more of an overdramatic joke, performing elaborate lectures about how he “caused all of Bond’s pain”, with little to no motive as to why. Maybe he’s just a bit of a knob? Although, saying that, Bond himself isn’t much better.

Daniel Craig openly admitted last year to his lack of enthusiasm for the iconic role, saying he would rather ‘slash his wrists’ than reprise the character again. [3] And this is blatantly clear in Spectre. While in previous entries like Casino Royale he’s often witty and mesmerising, in this film he’s devoid of charisma and does little more than look the part – leaving little room for fans to care about what happens to him and his undeveloped “love” interest. Other films with loathsome protagonists include the likes of Hancock, After Earth and The Twilight Saga – but don’t get me started on the latter! We’ll be here forever.

 

Rehashed Storylines

This issue is especially typical with reboots and sequels – a breed of film that has become far too popular. All production companies tend to do today is take an idea that was successful upon its release, plaster it in a new coat of paint and go out of their way to present the exact same story with a different title. It’s all an obnoxious attempt to squeeze money out of fan bases. And for someone who truly enjoyed the original, it can be a real kick in the nuts.

The Hangover: Part 2 is a perfect example of this. Three dudes black out after a crazy night in the big city and spend the following day trying to work out what happened … again. Then there’s Die Hard 2. John McClane’s misadventures are by no means unwelcome entertainment, but the only difference between this movie and its predecessor is that it’s set in an airport rather than a skyscraper.

And let’s not forget every single Rocky film that followed the original. As popular as the formula may be, each storyline is simply a carbon copy of the last, with a few new twists thrown in to compensate. This, for me, is what ruined the latest entry, Creed. Don’t get me wrong, it’s watchable. But despite having a completely new character to focus on, we’re presented with the same underdog story all over again. Everyone loves to watch a no-namer overcome the odds, after seven near identical films, though, maybe it’s time to switch it up a bit.

 

CGI and Special Effects

This is a common complaint among filmgoers. Now that directors like Christopher Nolan have proven how stunning and captivating practical effects can be with films like Inception and Interstellar, it’s baffling to think why other big directors would ever choose to opt for CGI effects instead. But the reality is that CGI is an essential part of modern day movie making – and when it’s done right, it can make the experience positively unforgettable. Unfortunately, all too often, these special effects can just be … well, shoddy.

In The Mummy Returns, 2003’s Hulk, Spy Kids and Green Lantern, it’s hard to take pivotal scenes seriously when the locations, creatures or main characters themselves offer nothing in terms of realism. For many people, this is what ruined the re-releases of the original Star Wars Trilogy in the 1990s. Classic scenes throughout A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi were injected with some of the worse CGI effects put to screen, even by that decade’s standards.

Although fans have begged for creator George Lucas to release unaltered editions of the three films – something that may finally become a reality [4] – Lucas has refused to do so, claiming ‘the edited versions accurately represent his artistic vision.’ [5] At the time that a film is made, if directors don’t have sufficient CGI technology to fulfil aesthetic needs, that’s understandable, but when the scenes in question don’t need special effects in the first place – or could just as easily be perfected with practical effects – then there’s no excuse.

 

Little Justice to Source Material

If you’re like me and prefer to read a book before going to watch its film adaptation, you’ll be all too familiar with this frustration. Making a film is a huge undertaking in itself – and that feat is made even more challenging when you’re adapting from one medium to another. Ultimately, if you’re being tasked with bringing a beloved novel to the big-screen, what you’re really doing is telling the same story with considerably less ground to work with. It’s a difficult thing to achieve and because of this, many film adaptations have fallen short of their source material throughout the years.

Cloud Atlas is one of them. What was originally an ambitious and thought-provoking concept devolved into a convoluted mess thanks to Hollywood’s misguided take on the tale. Even the most vigilant of viewers are left baffled and irritated by this movie, which has put to shame David Mitchell’s novel of the same name. I Am Legend is another example. While this Will Smith post-apocalyptic thriller is still a respectable effort, it’s so unfaithful to it’s source material (which is brilliant, by the way) that there seems little point in it sharing the same title.

The worst offender by far, however, has to be M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender. Aside from the unfathomable casting, ludicrous special effects and hilariously bad acting (we’ll get to that in a bit), the film tries to cram an entire season’s worth of content into a 100-minute flick, resulting in an incomprehensible plot that effectively spits on the charming animated TV series it’s based on. After this movie, it’s a wonder that Shyamalan still has a career in the industry.

 

Poor casting

This should be a given. To be fair, casting is by no means an easy process – yet it’s vital to get spot on before the film is released. If the actor or actress doesn’t fit the role they’re playing, then the audience isn’t going to take that character seriously. It’s as simple as that. Sometimes, even the best actors can be miscast in a movie. Batman and Robin, 1998’s Godzilla and Alexander the Great all feature accomplished actors like George Clooney, Uma Thurman, Matthew Broderick, Colin Farrell and Angelina Jolie; yet it’s plain to see that none of them belong in these movies. The Happening and The Purge are also films which originally had great promise thanks to an intriguing premise, but then were spoiled by mediocre acting from Mark Walberg and Ethan Hawke.

On some occasions, however, it seems as though the casting department for blockbusters barely even try. Just look at Hayden Christenson in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones. For many die-hard fans, this casting choice alone is what ruined the Star Wars prequels. Christenson’s melodramatic and borderline creepy take on Anakin Skywalker failed to capture the affection of filmgoers and, by extension, turned one of the greatest villains in cinematic history (Darth Vader) into an aggravating, whiny brat. I’m not saying these pictures would suddenly cease to be bad if different actors had played the roles, but lazy casting for major characters certainly doesn’t help.

 

Uneven Pacing

On the flip side of things, it doesn’t matter how good the actors in your movie are or how great your plot twist is, if it takes ages for anything to happen, the viewer will switch off. Speaking from experience, it’s all too easy when writing to get caught up in setting up the story, without realising that nothing is happening to engage your audience. This is plainly what occurred in the writing process for Exodus: Gods and Kings starring Christian Bale. With a run time of 150 minutes, this film is a sheer chore to sit through, simply because it doesn’t get going until at least a third of the way through.

Peter Jackson’s King Kong is even worse in this department. The vast majority of the movie is centred around a prehistoric island inhabited by colossal monsters; which makes it rather annoying when you realise you have to sit through approximately 45 minutes of tedious preamble before the characters even reach the island. The most recent example for me, however, is The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1. When Harry Potter split J.K. Rowling’s final book into two parts for the film adaptation and went on to enjoy great success, every other YA franchise jumped on the bandwagon – and The Hunger Games was no exception.

As Matt Singer from Screen Crush rightly says, ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can certainly judge a movie by its title, at least when that title includes the phrase “Part 1”.’ [6] The problem with Mockingjay was that there wasn’t nearly enough action in the first half of the book to fill a big-budget movie; so, as a result, the third film in the saga single-handedly became one of the dullest films I personally have ever seen. Silent filler; awkward filming scenes; non-stop whining about Peeta … Word of advice, Hollywood: if you want to make a successful movie that people will enjoy, stuff actually has to happen in it first!

 

Plot Holes

Plot holes are, more than anything, a nuisance. When it comes to crafting a complex world and narrative, you can think through every single aspect of the movie from every angle and believe the plot is flawless – but it won’t matter. Because the chances are someone will come along and notice a colossal gap in logic upon the film’s release, at which point it’s too late to turn back. The truth of the matter is that even some of the greatest films of all time have holes or paradoxes in their story. Independence Day, for instance, has a massive plot hole that very few people pick up on.

After the alien invaders launch their first devastating attack on the world, the film’s protagonists hatch a plan to sneak into the mothership, upload a computer virus, take out their defences and then, in doing so, destroy their fleet in a valiant, last-ditch showdown in the skies. But, hang on. This film was made in 1996. Are we seriously expected to believe that any kind of computer virus humans cook up will be compatible with that of an extra-terrestrial race? [7] The aliens’ technology is clearly far more advanced, yet what are they defeated by in the film’s climax? Windows 95. Brilliant.

Other films with huge plot holes include Batman Begins (why does the microwave emitter not evaporate everyone in Gotham?), The Matrix (humans are terrible power sources, so why would the machines harvest them as batteries?) and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (why did Frodo and Sam spend three movies walking to Mordor when they could have just flown there?) All the films mentioned here are utterly amazing in their own right, but these plot holes prove that they’re far from flawless. That’s the thing about plot holes; if you don’t notice them on the first watch, you’ll never look at that film in the same way again.

 

Studio Interference

This is an influential factor that’s not always visible in the final product of a movie, yet probably has much more of an impact than anything else on this list. The creator or director may have the best intentions when bringing their story to the big-screen, but if the studio they approach doesn’t respect that title to begin with, whatever potential it had becomes tarnished. Too many times have studio executives and producers tried to turn a stand-alone film into a full-blown franchise, only for it to fall flat on its face at the first hurdle. This could be for a number of reasons: the studios get too greedy, or they know nothing about their audience, or they just have a general apathy towards the material.

A prime example of this is The Golden Compass. Based on Philip Pullman’s excellent YA novel Northern Lights and despite having a phenomenal cast on board, this turned out to be a truly atrocious film – and it was all thanks to studio interference. The original script, which was provocative by comparison, was cut significantly on executive orders to attract younger viewers. This transformed what was supposed to be a dark fantasy tale into a cliché, family-friendly train wreck. [8] X-Men Origins: Wolverine, one of the worst superhero flicks of all time, experienced a similar problem when Fox chose to lighten a darker ending and inadvertently ruin what is now one of Marvel’s most likable and hilarious characters: Deadpool. [9]

But the movie that’s been subjected to the most meddling behind the scenes is Alien 3. While it’s nowhere near as bad as the laughable Alien V.S. Predator – with both Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley (quite possibly the best female protagonist in cinema history) and legendary director David Fincher on the credit list – it should have been amazing. However, what we ended up with was a dreary, botched job. Why? Because the studio not only starting shooting Alien 3 with an unfinished script, but constantly clashed with Fincher’s creative vision, leading him to disown his own film upon its release. [10] When it gets to that stage, you know the studio has gone too far.

 

An Unsatisfying Ending

Everything considered, it doesn’t matter how good the first two acts of a film are – because when the audience walks out of the cinema, the ending of the film is what will stick in their minds. Therefore, if there’s one thing a story should perfect above all else, it’s how they wrap things up. Yet there are a great number of promising movies out there that are utterly spoiled by their resolutions.

Sunshine – a story about astronauts attempting to restart a dying sun in the distant future – was a great watch that sported an intriguing concept and a talented cast. But it throws that all away in the final act, when the story takes a sudden and unapologetic turn. Sunshine goes from an intelligent sci-fi to a gory slasher flick – changing the tone and the overall feel of the movie in a critically negative fashion.

Knowing, a sci-fi thriller starring Nicolas Cage, also had great potential. It follows a professor who decodes a series of numbers found in a time capsule, only to discover that they predict impending global disasters. With the right execution and even Cage still in the leading role, Knowing could have been a fantastic watch; but it squandered this promise by including a ridiculous plot twist about aliens – one similar to that of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. A terrible or anti-climactic movie ending can be a lasting insult to viewers and, for many, ruin an otherwise enjoyable experience.

 

There you go. Those were ten huge factors that can ruin a film. Do you agree with my list? What has ruined films for you in the past? If you feel I’ve missed anything out, be sure to leave a comment. Otherwise, thanks for reading! I’ll see you again soon.

 

Sources

[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/deus%20ex%20machina

[2] http://www.savethecat.com/beat-sheets/the-jurassic-park-beat-sheet

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/oct/08/daniel-craig-id-rather-slash-my-wrists-than-do-another-bond-movie

[4] http://movieweb.com/star-wars-original-trilogy-unaltered-blu-ray-release-2017/

[5] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/star-wars/11127663/Did-George-Lucas-ruin-Star-Wars.html

[6] http://screencrush.com/splitting-movies-into-parts-1-and-2/

[7] http://movieplotholes.com/independence-day.html

[8] http://www.denofgeek.com/movies/the-golden-compass/35061/the-golden-compass-what-went-wrong

[9] https://disqus.com/home/channel/marvelmania/discussion/channel-marvelmania/tom_rothman_a_history_of_fox_mismanagement/

[10] http://www.gamesradar.com/what-really-happened-doom-alien-3-development/

Why Hate Is Not The Answer

I watched a heart-breaking video on social media the other night. It showed a broken man. His name was Jameel Muhkar. A Muslim. On the morning of 21st June this year, he was out celebrating the 21st birthday of his cousin, Resham Khan, when the couple were viciously attacked with acid sprayed through their car window. Muhkar and Resham both suffered life-altering injuries, and with the victims having no previous connection with the attacker, police are now treating it as a hate crime. [1]

What gets me most of all is what Muhkar went on to say after describing the attack: “I honestly feel that if this was a white person attacked by an Asian person, he’d be caught within twenty-four hours. It would be all over the news. […] I’ve been left here, and my cousin’s been left here, to just shrivel up and wait.” [2]

Muhkar states in the video that he was targeted because of his race or religion. He was adamant that the attack was fuelled by Islamophobia and is confident that it was retaliation for the recent terror attacks claimed by ISIS. The latest figures would suggest he’s correct. Not only are acid attacks like this increasing to horrific numbers, but The Independent claims that “Islamophobic hate crimes jumped fivefold” since the beginning of June 2017. [3]

It seems that it has become all too easy to point the blame at Muslims, simply because they share the same religion as these despicable attackers. Islamophobia is feeding a distorted concept that the way to combat terrorism is with yet more violence and hatred – which is just untrue. Unfortunately, this has somehow become a widespread attitude and as a result, London has become a scary place to live, for everyone.

The Guardian tells us that, “the UK rate of convictions for terror offences related to Islamist extremism nearly doubled in the first half of this decade,” with several of these taking place in the City. [4] And according to MI5, in the wake of this year’s attacks, the current threat level in the UK for international terrorism remains at Severe. [5]

The Westminster attack on 22nd March by a single knifeman took the lives of five innocent people [6] including an unarmed police officer, and left at least forty pedestrians with serious injuries. [7] Then, there was the London Bridge attack on 3rd June, where three men launched a killing spree both on the bridge and throughout Borough Market, killing eight people and injuring forty-eight. [8] And on 11th June, one person was killed and eleven people were injured by yet another moving van outside a Mosque near Finsbury Park [9] – another incident that has not been given the publicity it deserves.

It’s not just London that’s been recently targeted, either. There was, of course, the bombing at Ariana Grande’s Manchester concert that killed twenty-two people in May, many of whom were children. [10] A shootout in Paris last April left a policeman dead just days before the Presidential election. [11] Furthermore, since last year alone, major attacks have also taken place in the likes of Stockholm, Damascus, Brussels, Nice, Kabul, Tal Afar, St. Petersburg … the list goes on. [12][13]

Nevertheless, in spite of everything that is still going on, I cannot stress this enough: ISIS do not represent the Muslim faith. Just because a person believes in Islam, that does not mean they should be instantly categorised as a terrorist. Yes, there are people who claim to be Muslims and admit that they sympathise with the ISIS cause. Yes, there people who openly preach for strict Sharia law in the UK, right outside Mosques around London. There’s no denying this. But context is everything.

As shown in this clip from Channel 4 documentary, The Jihadis Next Door, often the first people to denounce these preachers and shut them down aren’t police officers; they’re not Islamophobes or Christians or even Atheists for that matter – they’re other Muslims. [14] Muslims that stand against ISIS and believe Sharia law is completely outdated. These are people who have contributed to our society just as much as any other group; who see jihadi protestors as an embarrassment to Islam. These are people, just like Jameel Mukhar, who have done nothing wrong, but are still looked upon by some as the enemy.

It used to baffle me that people could have this short-minded perspective, let alone put it into practice. Today, however, it doesn’t surprise me at all. On the day of the Westminster attack, I was working as a waiter in a café across from Green Park – one tube station away from where the tragedy occurred. While I was serving tables and taking payments, there was no panic or commotion outside. There were no police sirens blaring from the distance. Everyone was simply going about their daily lives.

It was only when I caught the underground home (going through Westminster station!) that I found out anything had happened at all. This was a vivid reminder to me that no matter how calm and peaceful everything appears, the world could be falling to pieces around you without you even realising it.

When I came into the work the next day – adopting much more vigilance than usual during my commute – I got speaking to an American couple. The pair had been regular customers for the past two weeks and today was their last day in London. Until that point, they had been friendly, charming and easy-going – and had been a pleasure to serve. Then, they showed me their true colours.

They said, of course, how sorry they were about the events of the previous day. I naturally agreed, calling it a terrible and atrocious act. Then, the woman turns to me and says (and I quote), “I know it’s harsh to say, but you Brits should be more like Trump, you know. Get them all out …” Not wanting to cause a commotion, I didn’t say anything – and I’m glad I didn’t, because it would not have ended well for anyone. But boy, I wish I could have.

Now, I’m not going to go off on a rant about how Donald Trump is everything that’s wrong with the world in a position of power. Instead, I’ll simply state this fact: forcing all Muslims to leave the UK will not put an end Islamic terrorism. The idea that it will is both misguided and heartless – and if anything, it will only make matters worse.

To explain why, I’m going to take a page out of comedian Jim Jefferies’ book. In his Freedumb tour, building up to the US election between Trump and Clinton, he talks about Trump’s approach to leadership and, more importantly, immigration. The quote I take away from his performance the most is this: “You’re a sixteen-year-old boy or girl that’s a Muslim, living in this country. You’ve lived your entire life in this country. […] And then all of a sudden, someone who could be your president says, ‘You are not welcome here,’ and that ’you should be put on a register.’ Now, that kid – how f***ing quickly do you think that kid could be radicalised now?” [15]

Imagine it. Put yourself in Jameel Muhkar or Resham Khan’s shoes? You’ve never caused anyone harm. You consider yourself a Brit and have made a life for yourself in this country. Yet it makes no difference. Because you’re a Muslim, and therefore you’re an outcast. People throughout the British public feel you don’t belong here. They blame you for the actions of other, homicidal Muslims, whom you’ve never met or been affiliated with in any manner. And now, thanks to them, you’ve been singled-out, punished and abused without remorse.

In what possible way can this be considered right?

Now, I’m not going to pretend that I know the solution to terrorism. All I know for certain is that we cannot let these attacks tarnish the way we treat our fellow man – whatever their religion. We cannot let the actions of a few twisted individuals speak for an entire race of innocent people. Terrorism is called that for a reason; it’s designed to inspire chaos and tear people apart. And until we stop fighting each other, terrorism will succeed.

There is a solution to this crisis. There has to be. But hate is not it – and it never will be.

 

Sources

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/30/acid-attack-victim-says-he-and-cousin-targeted-because-they-are-muslim-beckton-london

[2] https://www.facebook.com/Channel4News/videos/10154988152466939/

[3] http://www.independent.co.uk/News/uk/crime/london-bridge-attack-latest-rise-islamophobic-hate-crimes-borough-market-stabbing-terror-police-a7777451.html

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/mar/05/isis-link-as-convictions-for-islamic-extremism-offences-rise-in-the-uk

[5] https://www.mi5.gov.uk/threat-levels

[6] http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/london-marathon-2017-police-ramp-up-security-in-wake-of-westminster-terror-attack-a3521091.html

[7] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/03/22/westminster-terror-attack-everything-know-far/

[8] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-40147164

[9] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/19/several-casualties-reported-after-van-hits-pedestrians-in-north-london

[10] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jul/06/manchester-bombing-police-believe-salman-abedi-did-not-act-alone

[11] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/20/world/europe/paris-champs-elysees-shooting.html

[12] http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/693421/Terror-attacks-timeline-France-Brussels-Europe-ISIS-killings-Germany-dates-terrorism

[13] https://storymaps.esri.com/stories/terrorist-attacks/?year=2017

[14] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/watch-the-moment-ordinary-muslims-shut-down-jihadis-trying-to-spread-radical-message-outside-mosques-a6823141.html

[15] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-98RjrmqO4

6 Amazing Novels You May Have Overlooked

The world of literature is booming with countless treasures waiting to be discovered; texts created to suspend our imaginations, play with our emotions and make us see the world in a different way. We all know about the books we should read. The Lord of the Flies. Animal Farm. Of Mice and Men. Jane Eyre. To Kill a Mockingbird. These are the texts that our school teachers told us to study – with good reason, of course. Although I agree that everybody should read these at some stage, there’s a fundamental issue with selecting such classic pieces early on. It puts restrictions on your reading material.

It encourages you to seek out the best of the best, most of which you could likely find on lists posted by sites like goodreads [1] and The Telegraph. [2] But the truth is that the best of the best won’t necessarily be on these lists. In fact, if you weren’t aware that these backstage authors existed, you might never come across their work. You would have to go out of your way to find them.

So, while I could go on about the obvious texts, I would instead like to draw attention to the novels that I feel don’t get the credit they deserve. You may vaguely recognise a couple of these novels or their writers. Others are likely to be completely unknown to you. Regardless, if you’re on the lookout for an exciting new read, you should definitely consider these following options.

 

The Death of Grass (1956)

by John Christopher

In this post-apocalyptic novel, author John Christopher imagines a world gripped by widespread famine. When a new virus sweeps across East Asia, in turn infecting the region’s rice crops, the people of the UK fear that a deadly mutation could spread throughout Europe and threaten its essential agriculture. Protagonist John Custance remains hopeful that a cure promised by their government will soon arrive. But once it’s revealed that the cure has been a lie all along, the eradication of all types of grass (including wheat and barley) becomes imminent. With the aid of his friend, Roger, John leaves his London home behind and attempts to navigate his family through the English countryside to the safety of his brother’s potato farm. To reach this hidden valley, however, they need to journey through a land which is rapidly descending into chaos. Exploring the subjects of humanity and desperation, The Death Of Grass is a gripping read from start to finish.

 

Kindred (1979)

by Octavia E. Butler

Historical pieces that focus on the horrors of pre-twentieth century slavery seem to be all the rage right now. But this wonderful work of science-fiction by Octavia E. Butler gives readers a new spin on this dark subject matter. Kindred tells the story of Dana Franklin, an African-American who is unwillingly transported back in time to antebellum Maryland during the height of the slave trade. There, she is forced to save the life of her white, slave owner ancestor on numerous occasions just so she can continue to exist in the present. Continually jumping back and forth between these two heavily contrasting eras, Dana comes face to face with life as a slave – and must often make horrific, questionable decisions just to survive. Bursting with unsettling imagery and a captivating plot, Kindred succeeds with intriguing audiences while effectively portraying a deplorable part of our history.

 

Enduring Love (1997)

by Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan has written his fair share of great stories over the years. This one, however – despite being one of my favourites by the author – hasn’t received the positive reception it should have warranted. Enduring Love opens with a romantic picnic between Joe Rose and his girlfriend Clarissa, whom has recently returned from the states. Everything seems as it should be, until disaster comes crashing into their lives. Upon witnessing and attempting to aid in a hot-air balloon accident, Joe believes he’s part to blame for the deathly tragedy that resulted. But soon enough, this turns out to be the least of his worries. After the accident, fellow survivor Jed Parry seems to develop an unsettling obsession with Joe; an obsession that proceeds to spiral out of control and threaten not only Joe and Clarissa’s long-term relationship, but also their lives. A drama that reads like a thriller, McEwan’s powerful work delivers a vivid and thought-provoking narrative that’s never short of suspense.

 

I Am Legend (1954)

by Richard Matheson

You may well have seen the big-screen version of I Am Legend starring Will Smith. Although, what you may not be aware of is that it was originally a novel written by Richard Matheson. The two, however, are radically different. This has prompted an ongoing polarisation of viewers/readers as to which is better; but in my opinion, the novel is by far the best. Like the film version, the story is centred on Robert Neville, who believes himself to be the last man on Earth. Following a pandemic that has left the remaining human race in a vampirical state, Robert battles nightly terrors, loneliness and depression in the hopes of one day understanding and discovering a cure for the disease. While the movie version explores the famous horror trope on a basic level, Matheson’s novel is much more than a mere vampire tale. It’s an attempt to ground the myth of vampires with scientific reason, while tackling difficult topics and ideas that you’d never find in Will Smith’s Hollywood flick. Whatever your preference, this book is a triumphant sci-fi classic.

 

Sheepshagger (2001)

by Niall Griffiths

If you’re a fan of Irvine Welsh’s ground breaking text Trainspotting, my guess is that you’ll come to love Niall Griffiths’ Sheepshagger. Set in the moorland mountains of west Wales, the story follows Ianto – an estranged, uneducated teen who gets his late grandmother’s home unrightfully taken from him by English holidaymakers. Throughout the grim narrative, Ianto’s friendship group attempt to fathom the mind of their companion and determine both the causes and motives that ultimately lead him to commit a series of savage crimes. Griffiths handles the mystery of Ianto with masterful storytelling that will leave you itching to read on. While it’s far from an easy read, Sheepshagger is a profound and lucid experience that tackles themes of colonialism, tragedy, friendship and morality. Yet be warned; it features plenty of swearing.

 

The Children of Men (1992)

by P. D. James

My final overlooked novel – another brilliant post-apocalyptic creation – is The Children of Men. Much like the 2006 film adaptation of the same name, P.D. James introduces us to a dystopian world that’s ripping itself apart thanks to universal infertility. The crying of a new-born child has not been heard for the last eighteen years, meaning science has failed, arts and democracy have been abandoned, and the future seems bleak at best. Apathetic historian Theo Faron spends his days reminiscing alone and showing little concern for the fate of mankind; that is at least until Julian, a young freedom fighter, comes seeking his help. Suddenly, Theo – a man whom has often neglected responsibility – is given a task that could not only change his own life, but the lives of everyone on Earth. While the book’s pace starts off slow, I assure you it’s well worth sticking until the end. This is a thrilling read which raises philosophical questions about our society and what it means to live and to love.

 

Sources

[1] https://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/100-books-to-read-before-you-die

[2] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/what-to-read/100-novels-everyone-should-read/

 

The Happy Homeless Man

This time last year I was living in a shared house in Uxbridge, Middlesex. Every time I needed to commute to work, I would have to walk for thirty minutes to reach the nearest tube station – which required taking a pedestrian tunnel to cross one of the main roads. It was in this passageway that I encountered a peculiar homeless man every day. He was Indian (or of Indian complexion), had a thick, greying beard, was easily in his sixties, and I would always find him on a stained mattress coupled with its own duvet. How he had acquired these items was a mystery to me.

Sometimes he would be asleep when I passed him; other times he would be awake. Whenever he was awake, however, he would be sprawled out in a casual position (or pose, if you like) on the mattress – occasionally smoking a cigarette. Yet, not one of these characteristics were his most intriguing. What defined the old beggar above all was how friendly and modest he was as a person. Every time he saw me, he would recognise me and extend a silent, earnest greeting. ‘How are you today, sir?’ his face seemed to ask.

To begin with, I would simply smile awkwardly and continue onto the tube station. However, as the weeks passed, I started to develop an admiration for this elderly man. In spite of his situation, he always had a pleasant demeanour and never directly asked for money. The plastic cup was there waiting to be filled, yet not once did he plead or gesture towards it. He was unlike any other homeless person I’d ever encountered.

So, whenever I came home from work, I did whatever I could to make sure I had something to give him. I attempted to average two pounds a week, but when I didn’t have the change spare, I would ensure I always had something I could give him. A piece of fruit from my lunch would have sufficed in this situation.  I got dubious at times, thinking that once I was gone he would sneak off with the money I gave him and buy another pack of cigarettes. Although, after a while I thought, ‘You know what, mate – go ahead. You deserve it.’ It eventually got to the stage where I would hope and even look forward to seeing him on my daily commute. Even though we rarely spoke in conversation, he had made such a positive influence on my daily life.

Then, one day, he was gone. Him and every trace of his existence vanished. He never returned to that spot in the underground passageway and since moving to East London, I haven’t seen him since. I never even knew his name. I don’t know to this day what happened to that happy homeless man. Perhaps the police picked him up and moved him elsewhere; or maybe one of the homeless charities found him and have helped him to get his life back on track. I doubt he will ever read this, but wherever he is now, I can only wish him the best.

***

That was one of my more positive encounters with homelessness. But here’s where it doesn’t get so warm and fuzzy. Depending on where you live, homelessness is something we witness every day of the week. Yet, while it results in an estimated 4,134 people sleeping rough on any one night in England [1], we as a nation are reluctant to do anything about it. That, or we simply choose to ignore it. According to Homeless Link, there has been an increase of 16% in rough sleeping in the UK since 2015 alone. If you think that’s bad, you’ll be disgusted to find out that homelessness has risen by a monolithic 134% since 2010 [2].

Isn’t it convenient that our government doesn’t have the resources to provide the increasing homeless population with the help they desperately need, but have plenty of cash handy (£396 million to be exact) to renovate Queen Elizabeth’s palace? [3] £396 million! Just think of what that money could do; how many homeless people could be brought off the street and given the proper care. But no. While our capital’s oversized monuments undergo “essential” restoration, other areas in dire need of funding are mercilessly cut off. As a result, the hard work is left in the hands of charities like Crisis, Emmaus and Shelter. Although these agencies do whatever they can to bring rough sleepers in from the cold, they simply cannot provide for the entirety of the homeless population – meaning vast numbers are left to fend for themselves.

I think Johnathon Pie articulates the situation effectively: ‘It’s a societal failure, homelessness. […] It’s people that are hungry, begging and sleeping on the streets. And yet we’re encouraged to see homeless people as if they’ve somehow failed themselves; as if it’s their fault; they haven’t worked hard enough. […] A society doesn’t work if one person is living rough. It’s morally bankrupt if this is normal, and on the increase, and getting worse. […] Every day I walk past people who are cold and hungry and ill and homeless, and I don’t stop and give them everything I have. Shame on me.’ [4]

Homelessness is a horrid situation, and one that’s not going to rectify itself any time soon. When it comes to human nature, kindness should be a given. On the other hand, when anything that is supposed to fundamentally help people is being cut from government funding, it’s difficult to find room in our busy lives for selfless acts. Yet without us, the homeless community is alone. They have nowhere else to turn but to the common man. Now, I understand that everybody has commitments in their own lives that cannot be ignored. I recognise that all citizens can’t just be expected to spend night after night at the nearest soup kitchen to help solve this issue, but there are ways that you can help these people without going too far out your way.

For instance, instead of throwing out any non-fitting or unwanted clothing, donate it. If they would have otherwise gone to the recycling centre, then you may as well give them to a worthy cause. Another way of helping the homeless – according to The Telegraph – is by alerting professional authorities like Streetlink to any sightings. [5] By doing this, you’ll be helping to connect the right people with those in need. One of the most direct and conventional ways of helping the homeless, however, is by giving money. Whether you’re donating it to a shelter or giving it straight to the victim, you’ll be making life a little easier for someone worse off than yourself.

Of course, there’s always the argument that we shouldn’t give homeless people money because it will only enable the addictions they have. Well firstly, just because they’re living rough doesn’t mean they are addicted to anything – or that they’ll use your money to fuel their next drug fix. But if this is such a deep concern for you, then why not simply cut out the middle man. Go into the shop, grab a sandwich or a cup of tea and give that to them instead. That way, you’ve taken any possible temptation out of the equation.

Half the time, we don’t give money to the homeless because we simply don’t have spare change on us at the time. This is fair enough, as I have also experienced this on numerus occasions. Having said that, the number of times I’ve been short of cash in a store that doesn’t accept credit or debit cards is embarrassing. If you too go through this headache, then kill two birds with one stone. From now on, every time you walk past the cash point with an empty wallet, just draw out a tenner. Then, if the shop you visit doesn’t accept credit card, you’re covered. And at the same time, if you pass a homeless person on the way back, you’ll have something to spare.

I’m not saying this will solve the problem. But by donating whatever coins you have on you, you can walk on knowing that you’ve made that person’s day a little bit brighter. Because considering how horrid their days can get, a bit of brightness can make all the difference. We’re all guilty of walking by the homeless without lending a helping hand. Don’t feel guilty, though. It’s not what you’ve failed to do that matters now; it’s how you choose to act from now on.

Sources

[1]https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/585713/Rough_Sleeping_Autumn_2016_Statistical_Release.pdf

[2] http://www.homeless.org.uk/facts/homelessness-in-numbers/rough-sleeping/rough-sleeping-our-analysis

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/nov/18/buckingham-palace-to-undergo-370m-refurbishment

[4] http://educateinspirechange.org/alternative-news/journalists-rant-homelessness-christmas-amazing/

[5] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/11620159/Whats-the-best-way-to-help-the-homeless.html

4 Ways To Create Your Perfect Writing Environment

There are a number of factors that come into play when one undertakes writing. Anybody that has ever struggled to craft an essay or creative piece will know this. Writing is not something where you can just fire up the laptop and get on with it. It requires a particular mindset – and there are so many things that can deter that mindset. Deadlines. Hunger. Tiredness. Lack of motivation or inspiration. Loud sounds or unfinished jobs. I could easily go on.

Sure, these things can affect any type of work you do. But writing is different from most other endeavours because if just one of these factors are present in a writer’s consciousness at the time of execution, the overall quality of the final text can be jeopardised. Suddenly, what could have been a literary masterpiece could just as easily end up as a sodden, unfathomable mess. I speak from experience. But there is something you can do about this. No matter what else is going on in your life, you can always take necessary steps to ensure that one core feature is fit for purpose: your writing environment. It probably goes without saying, but if you want your work to be the best that it could be, the space in which you carry out your writing must be without fault.

Some writers can work more effectively under imperfect conditions than others; yet regardless of one’s personal levels of tolerance, everybody has their own vision of what the ideal writing environment consists of. And I’m guessing that in all those visions, a screaming baby (for instance) is nowhere to be seen. With this in mind, what does need to craft the best possible environment for writing? Below, I have outlined some suggestions on how to accomplish this. I strongly believe that if you can put these elements into practice during your next writing session, you’ll succeed in shaping your perfect work space.

1) Detach yourself from the outside world

I mean this in the most figurative sense; but at the same time, there’s also no harm in taking it literally. Especially when writing is involved. The truth of the matter is that the world is full of unwelcome distractions. When your writing duties call – unless you lock yourself in an empty room – it’s near impossible to physically remove yourself from all external irritations. So, what’s the solution? Shield yourself from distractions by creating your own invisible bubble. If you can find a way to drown out everything around you so that you’re focused solely on your writing, you can accomplish much more in a shorter space of time. I achieve this through the use of music. Whether I’m in a café, on the train from work or just at home, simply by popping in some earphones and listening to an album, I can effectively ignore the rest of the world. This technique doesn’t work for everyone, however – as for some of us, music itself can be a severe distraction. In this case, a basic pair of ear plugs would suffice. As long as you can remove fellow commuters from the equation, your bubble will remain intact.

2) Surround yourself with potential inspiration

Mood rooms are a weird concept on paper, but at its core lies an authentic way to aid your writing. Horror icon, Stephen King tells us that ‘good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky.’ [1] When it comes to writing, it’s the most random of objects that can spark your creativity. So, while you may not have dedicated inspiration room at your disposal, you can still fill your immediate environment with items to help you generate ideas. If you own an intriguing object – or an image, a quote, anything loosely related to what you’re writing about – then bring it along to your workspace. You never know what it could bring to life.

3) Place temptation out of reach

If you know of anything that might hinder your writing progression, deal with it before you sit down. Put it out of sight and out of mind. This goes for everything from that last slice of carrot cake on the kitchen side to your attention-seeking housecat outside the door. Having said this, there’s one specific culprit you need to put to rest before everything else; something that can be both essential and deadly to a writer. The internet. For research purposes, it’s one of the best resources known to humanity. But as soon as your research is complete – and all that’s left to do is write the damn thing – the internet becomes your nemesis. These days, you can access the web through your PC, smartphone, tablet, watch, games console. And the digital world is full of temptations waiting to tear you away from your writing and turn you into a procrastination addict. Consequently, there’s only one thing you can do to prevent this. Turn it off. Don’t just close all your apps or put your phone in your pocket. If it won’t inconvenience anyone else, go to your router, press the power button and refuse to press it again until you’ve written everything you planned to write that day. As extreme as it sounds, it’s for the best. When you come to re-read your work and realise it’s not actually complete nonsense, you’ll be glad you practised this restraint.

4) Make sure you’re comfortable

Now before you jump to conclusions, this doesn’t mean climbing into bed, wrapping yourself in your duvet and remaining there all afternoon. It turns out there is such a thing as being too comfortable. Ideally, you should attempt to find a happy medium; a position which won’t result in aching limbs, but also won’t prompt you to stay put for too long. I’ve been able to carry out my writing in less than welcome circumstances in the past, yet I find I always produce my best work when I sit down and think, “You know what. I could get used to this.” However, your bodily comfort is just half the story. You should also make sure your brain is equally comfortable. If you take a break from your work every other minute, you won’t get much actual writing done. This is obvious. Yet staring at the computer screen or writing pad for hours on end isn’t going to aid your performance either. Therefore, when you reach a pivotal stage in your piece, don’t feel bad about taking a step back and having a five-minute breather. This could mean a quick toilet break, boiling the kettle, simply stretching your legs – whatever suits you best. But once those five minutes are up, get straight back to writing. The longer your break, the harder it will be to return to your desk.

That’s all there is to it. If you can apply this advice into your writing routine, you may just find that the next collection of words you create is better than anything that has come before it. This is no guarantee, of course. Only you have the power to transform that blank Word document on your screen into a flawless work of literature. These four steps, however, may just help you on your way. Good luck.

 

Sources

[1] King, Stephen (2000) On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, London: Hodder & Stoughton, pp. 29

Rock & Metal: Just Hear It Out (Part 3 of 3)

This is it. The final part has arrived. For everyone that has made it this far, I applaud and respect you. But be warned – this hurdle will be the fiercest and most intense of the lot. In Part 1, I suggested some softer takes on the Hard Rock genre. In Part 2, I threw in some bands that ventured into the Metal side of the spectrum. But this is what it all comes down to. If you can safely admit that you like some of the bands from today’s list, you can proudly call yourself a metalhead and look forward many years of head banging.

But after every band that I’ve suggested for this series, one question might have been lingering on your mind throughout: Why should I listen to Rock & Metal? Why should I spend my time listening to music that people seem to just turn their nose up to upon hearing? It’s a fair enough question. That’s why I’ve thought my answer through with careful consideration. All in all, I have three good reasons why you should listen to Rock & Metal:

Firstly, you’re spoilt for choice. From the exposure I’ve had to the various music genres out there, I can tell you with confidence that Rock & Metal is by far the most diverse. When I say diverse, I mean that there are countless sub-genres you can explore. You could spend your lifetime scouring the musical landscape for every band you might like, but you’ll never find them all. Believe me, I’ve tried. There are just so many different types of bands out there, ranging from Industrial and Nu-Metal to Progressive Rock. It’s a world rich with variety – and today’s list is testament to that.

Secondly, it can be an effective outlet. I watched an interesting YouTube video back along, where elders were asked to view clips of a Slipknot concert, before sharing their opinions about what they saw. A point was raised in the video, suggesting that bands like Slipknot express feelings of hatred and violence in their songs, and are therefore partially to blame when violent crimes are committed. Many of the participants agreed with this, saying that the music somehow warps weak-minded people into doing horrible things. But a few of the elders didn’t. One in particular made the following point: “There’s no connection between these things. It’s an outlet. It takes care of that.” [1] And he’s absolutely right. Just because a song is about violence, doesn’t mean the person listening to it has a violent personality. In fact, most of the time, it’s quite the opposite. Some of the most enthusiastic, outgoing and friendly people I’ve ever encountered have been Rock & Metal fans. Even the most level-headed individual can bottle up feelings – but this genre gives you freedom to vent those feelings and focus on your daily life with one less distraction.

Lastly, there’s nothing else like it. Of all the things I’ve experienced – from practising TaeKwondo to watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens in the cinema – Rock & Metal is what gets me excited the most. It has become such an unexpected joy that I can barely remember a time when it wasn’t a part of my life. It keeps me motivated when I’m writing. It brings people together. And it reassures me that no matter what other people think, I can always be myself. That’s the true spirit of Rock & Metal. That’s what makes it so worthwhile.

Right, then. Now that the sentiments are out the way, let’s commence the third and final list of the series. Once again, I am going to present you with 15 bands that I think you should go away and listen to. Because if you like them, you’ll go on to enjoy many, many more. Let’s jump in …

(FYI: Sorry, but as with the previous lists, only bands that have toured in the last ten years are eligible for consideration.)

 

Motörhead

Suggested Album(s): Ace Of Spades (1980), Aftershock (2013), Overkill (1979), Motörizer (2008), Bastards (1993)

On 28th December 2015, the world lost one of its greatest icons. After battling aggressive cancer, Lemmy Kilmister – frontman for Motörhead and all-round legend – died in his home. This was a sorrowful day for everyone who knew him. Fortunately, there’s at least one silver lining to this tragedy: Lemmy and his fellow band members have left behind a legacy of Rock ‘n Roll brilliance for us to remember him by. Motörhead’s best record by far is Ace Of Spades. You need only to listen to it to see why. But Motörhead have over twenty studio albums to experience. Bastards features the outstanding On Your Feet Or On Your Knees; Motörizer gives us Runaround Man and Rock Out; and Aftershock is a sheer rollercoaster of an album all the way through, with tracks like Paralyzed, Coup De Grace and Heartbreaker. But my favourite Motörhead song of all time has to be Overkill. It’s loud. It’s unstoppable. It’s utterly flawless. And we have Lemmy to thank for it. Rest in peace, you awesome man.

 

Bring Me The Horizon

Suggested Album(s): That’s The Spirit (2015), Sempiternal (2013)

If you’re familiar with the latest work from Oli Sykes and the rest of Bring Me The Horizon, you may be surprised to find them on this list. That’s The Spirit, while being a decent album in its own right, isn’t exactly heavy by Metal standards. But that’s partly the reason I’ve chosen to include them here; because if you took That’s The Spirit and compared it to an earlier album of theirs (say Suicide Season), you’d barely recognise them as the same band. Even though they’ve always been an experimental group, it’s baffling to contemplate how they’ve gone from writing some of the heaviest music out there to becoming what’s essentially a pretty-boy punk band. Yet this monolithic jump presents new audiences a great opportunity. Here’s my suggestion: listen to That’s The Spirit before any other Bring Me The Horizon record. Get to know all the different songs, like Drown, Throne, Happy Song, Avalanche and Doomed. If you take a liking, then move onto Sempiternal.  For me, this album has some of the band’s greatest and most hard-hitting efforts. Can You Feel My Heart and Sleepwalking make it more accessible. But then you also have fiercer numbers like Shadow Moses, Empire (Let Them Sing) and The House Of Wolves. Maybe one day, you’ll develop a taste for this northern band’s earlier music. If that day does come around, then their 2010 album would be the logical next step. But for now, stick to these two.

 

Alestorm

Suggested Album(s): Sunset On The Golden Age (2014), Back Through Time (2011), Captain Morgan’s Revenge (2008), Black Sails At Midnight (2009)

Pirate Metal. Yes, it’s a thing – and it’s a barrel-full of fun. If anything is going to make you feel like Jack Sparrow on an epic quest, it’s this. Alestorm have single-handedly brought this wild-hearted movement into the limelight and with four respectable albums now in their discography, they continue to dish out great, swashbuckling numbers for a widespread and somewhat intoxicated fan base. Back Through Time delivers favourites like Shipwrecked, Rum and The Sunk’n Norwegian; while Black Sails At Midnight treats audiences to one of the best sing-along choruses of all time thanks to Keelhauled. Then there’s Wenches And Mead and the title track from the group’s hearty first album, Captain Morgan’s Revenge. The greatest treasure Alestorm have given us, however, is Sunset On The Golden Age. There are so many great songs, like Drink, Surf Squid Warfare, 1741 (The Battle Of Cartagena), Walk The Plank and even an oddly applicable cover of Taio Cruz’s Hangover. Random, I know. But you’ll grow to love it, just like everything else about this whimsical band.

 

Bullet For My Valentine

Suggested Album(s): Fever (2010), Venom (2015), The Poison (2005)

Back in the day, Bullet For My Valentine were on course to becoming one of the most popular Metal bands around. They could have secured a top festival slot without a hitch. Lately, this doesn’t seem to be the case; which is a shame, because the group’s most recent record, Venom is REALLY good. Matthew Tuck’s lead vocals are polished to perfection, when the more aggressive back-up vocals from lead guitarist Michael Taget hit harder than ever before. This is demonstrated most effectively in the likes of No Way Out, Broken and You Want A Battle, Here’s a War. Meanwhile, a journey through earlier albums such as Fever will reveal that Bullet were a force to be reckoned with. The Last Fight, Your Betrayal and Dignity get the hearts of fans truly racing. With regards to the band’s first effort, The Poison – although I’m not a fan of Tuck’s delivery – Tears Don’t Fall and Her Voice Resides are absolute bangers. Overall, if you’re new to screaming in your music, Bullet For My Valentine might well be the ideal band to ease you into it – as they can offer you the ideal balance of both the rough and melodic approaches.

 

Linkin Park

Suggested Album(s): Meteora (2003), Minutes To Midnight (2007), Hybrid Theory (2000), Living Things (2012)

As was the case with many teenagers, Linkin Park were one of the first ‘Metal’ bands I ever grew to like. They may well be a bunch of privileged white fellas making music about pain and suffering (come on, guys –  appreciate what you have), but there’s just something about what they do that resonates. Whether you prefer the earlier, angrier stuff from Hybrid Theory, or the more electronic sound of later albums like Living Things, it’s clear to see why they’ve become so popular. Chester Bennington’s signature scream thrives with Mike Shinoda’s clear-cut rapping, forming a Nu-Metal trend unlike any other. Stand out tracks include Numb and Faint from Meteora; Bleed It Out and What I’ve Done from Minutes To Midnight; One Step Closer and In The End from Hybrid Theory; and Lost In The Echo and Burn It Down from Living Things. These are, for the most part, some of Linkin Park’s heavier efforts. Yet every so often, they do show off their softer side. This is revealed in ballads such as Valentine’s Day and Castle Of Glass. They may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Linkin Park have nevertheless earned their place. Give them a try.

 

Wilson

Suggested Album(s): Full Blast Fuckery (2014), Right To Rise (2015)

“Here’s one we wrote earlier,” claims Chad Nicefield, lead singer of Wilson, before right jumping into AC/DC’s Back In Black. Just one example of the excessive and bonkers nature this band fosters. Yet, for a wholesome taste of the kind of music you can expect from Wilson, you need look no further than the name of their 2013 record: Full Blast Fuckery. The album jumpstarts with the animosity of My Life, My Grave, and is followed by equally fast numbers like Better Off (Strictly Doods), College Gangbang and I Can Beat Your Dad. The whole thing is unhinged and all-over-the-place, but is so much fun to listen to. Their next album, Right To Rise, opts for an alternative, more sophisticated sound. It sports a catchy title track, which is then accompanied by Hang With The Devil, Guilty (You’re Already Dead) and the calmer, chanting throes of The Flood. A lesser known band, certainly – but incredible nonetheless.

 

Skindred

Suggested Album(s): Roots Rock Riot (2007), Kill The Power (2014), Union Black (2011)

This is no exaggeration: Skindred are one of the best live Metal bands touring today. On every occasion they have blown competition out the water and wowed unprepared audiences everywhere. With the reggae-style vocals of Benji Webbe (who’s actually Welsh) paving the way, Skindred manage to create a sound unheard of in the Rock & Metal community. And boy, does it make an impact. Roots Rock Riot is about as uncaged as an album can get – tearing into our eardrums with the likes of Ratrace, State Of Emergency, Destroy The Dancefloor and Trouble. Kill The Power, on the other hand, sports a killer title track, plus Ninja and Proceed With Caution. If, however, you wish to experience the catalyst for the infamous Newport Helicopter (type it into YouTube), then you better give Warning a listen. It’s arguably the band’s best song (at least from the Union Black track list) and is a treat to see first-hand in a festival arena.

 

Metallica

Suggested Album(s): Kill ‘Em All (1983), Death Magnetic (2008), Master Of Puppets (1986), Metallica (1991), … And Justice For All (1988)

Let’s face it. Metallica had to be on this series at some stage. As the godfathers of Thrash Metal, they are among the most recognisable bands in the Rock & Metal genre. This, of course, is with good reason. But before you decide to look into their newest outing, Hardwired … To Self-Destruct, I would suggest listening to the music that led up to it. Master Of Puppets, released in 1986, is iconic to put it lightly – meaning songs like Battery and the ground-breaking title track launched Metallica to stardom early on. Yet there’s still plenty more on offer today. I have a definite soft spot for Death Magnetic, as it features some of their hardest progressive songs to date, including All Nightmare Along, A Day That Never Comes, The End Of The Line and That Was Just Your Life. Blackened and One from … And Justice For All are also two solid tunes. Yet they are dwarfed by the magnificent Enter Sandman from Metallica’s 1991 self-titled record. It’s the song that got me into them and I wouldn’t be surprised if history repeated itself. Having said this, I believe the perfect place to kick start your Metallica obsession is Kill ‘Em All, as it presents the band’s sound (especially James Hetfield’s vocal technique) in its purest form. The choice is down to you, though.

 

Mastodon

Suggested Album(s): Once More ‘Round The Sun (2014), Crack The Skye (2009), Leviathan (2004), The Hunter (2011)

I am a strong believer that you should never judge the quality of a band solely on the first listen. Mastodon are a textbook reason for why this should be put into practice; because despite this unconventional four-piece group not appealing to me initially, they most certainly do now. In fact, they’ve now become one of my favourite bands. The members share the burden of frontman between themselves, meaning there isn’t really a lead singer. This, in itself, is intriguing to behold. But it’s not the all-round singing talent that makes Mastodon epic. It’s the music itself. Take Crack The Skye. The title track, Divinations, The Last Baron, Oblivion … they all prove that Mastodon have an undisputed dedication and mastery of their craft. Then there’s Leviathan, a startling concept album based on Moby Dick, which contains legendary numbers such as Megalodon, Blood And Thunder and Iron Tusk. 2011’s The Hunter is also a decent listen, centring its focus on memorable riffs for Black Tongue, Dry Bone Valley and Blasteroid. All of this great material, however, could simply be seen as an appetiser for the main course. Mastodon’s lastest studio album, Once More ‘Round The Sun is mind-blowing, from the vivid artwork to the biblical track list. I’m particularly fond of The Motherload, Chimes At Midnight, High Road and Halloween – the latter of which features the best outro I’ve ever heard.

 

Steel Panther

Suggested Album(s): Feel The Steel (2009), All You Can Eat (2014), Balls Out (2011)

Steel Panther lean more towards the Glam Rock side of things than Metal, so you may be surprised I haven’t mentioned them before this list. But there’s one good reason for leaving them until now. For the uninitiated, this outrageous four-piece are a shock to say the least. I can safely say they’re the crudest band I’ve ever listened to. But they’re also one of the funniest. Lead singer Michael Starr and the rest of his crew dress up like something out of the 80s and talk about drugs, sex and Rock ‘N Roll both on and offstage. That’s it. By doing so, they’re actively parodying bands like Mötley Crüe and Def Leppard to great effect. But the most ironic thing of all about Steel Panther is that despite being a comedy band, they’re actually really talented musicians. Their first record, Feel The Steel has hilarious tracks like Death To All But Metal, Party All Day, Fat Girl and Eyes Of The Panther. After this came Balls Out (with a borderline pornographic album cover) that treated fans to Just Like Tiger Woods, It Won’t Suck Itself and 17 Girls In A Row – the latter of which now prompts seventeen girls to join the band on stage when played live. Then, in 2014, they brought us All You Can Eat, which included Gloryhole, Party Like Tomorrow Is The End Of The World, Ten Strikes You’re Out and Pussywhipped. If you’re after music that’s tame, look elsewhere. Whatever your view about Steel Panther, I’m sure you won’t be forgetting about them any time soon.

 

Avenged Sevenfold

Suggested Album(s): Nightmare (2010), Avenged Sevenfold (2007)

This band is huge, there’s no doubt about it. At first, I couldn’t understand why. I always thought their music was decent, but not good enough to warrant a headline slot. This was my attitude until I saw them live. Suddenly, it all made sense. The fact of the matter is that Avenged Sevenfold put on one hell of a show. Their progressive style blends seamlessly with the clean vocals frontman M. Shadow has adopted in recent years – allowing the band to deliver music that’s both harmonic and relentless. Their self-titled album possesses hits like Almost Easy, Afterlife and A Little Piece Of Heaven; while Nightmare creates a spooky atmosphere with a phenomenal title track, as well as God Hates Us and Welcome To The Family. The hidden gem, however, is Buried Alive. Starting off as a soulful ballad, it gradually builds until hitting the listener with tight riffs, solos and lyrical brilliance. What’s more, with a new album (The Stage) now available, there’s no better time to add Avenged Sevenfold to your music library.

 

Tool

Suggested Album(s): 10,000 Days (2006), Lateralus (2001), Ænima (1996), Undertow (1993)

If Progressive Metal doesn’t appeal to you, my guess is that you either don’t like songs when they’re over three minutes long, or you haven’t listened to Tool yet. While Maynard James Keenan (MJK) adopts minimal screaming in Tool’s music, the mood created by this group’s music is hard to ignore. Songs like Undertow and Prison Sex, as well as Forty-Six & Two, Eulogy and Hooker With A Penis (from Ænima) are clear examples of this. Although these two records are spot on, Lateralus is an album that transcends all else, thanks to tracks like The Grudge, Ticks And Leeches and Schism. Then you have 10,000 Days. While most of the band’s creations explore dark themes in general, this album touches upon more relatable subjects. For instance, Vicarious is all about how our society watches the rest of world suffer through the safety of our televisions, while Right In Two delves into the idea that humanity is incapable of sharing the gifts it’s been given. But even if you only look as far as the surface, 10,000 Days is still a unique and vivid experience. Be sure to look out for Jambi, Rosetta Stoned and The Pot too.

 

Five Finger Death Punch

Suggested Album(s): War Is The Answer (2009), The Wrong Side Of Heaven And The Righteous Side Of Hell – Vol. 1 (2013), Got Your Six (2015)

This band is a bit of a paradox, if I’m honest. They’re called Five Finger Death Punch, yet while they do make their fair share of thrashing metal tunes, they also make hell of a lot of ballads. I can’t fathom it. Nevertheless, lead singer Ivan Moody thankfully has the range to tackle both styles without breaking a sweat. The Wrong Side Of Heaven And The Righteous Side Of Hell – Vol. 1 has a good mix of the two, with faster tracks like Dot Your Eyes, Watch You Bleed and Lift Me Up (starring Judas Priest’s Rob Halford), as well as the calmer, more emotive The Wrong Side Of Heaven. I didn’t think I’d ever call a Five Finger Death Punch song emotive, but there you go. Additionally, last year’s album Got Your Six has some fitting head-bangers; including No Sudden Movements, the title track and Wash It All Away. It’s a shamelessly ridiculous outing from the band. Then again, anything with zombies on the cover is bound to be. The band’s best work, however, can be found on War Is The Answer. Dying Breed, No One Gets Left Behind and Burn It Down are hands down the fastest, hardest songs on their portfolio, while Bad Company and Far From Home offer some welcome balance to the record.

 

Rammstein

Suggested Album(s): Mutter (2001), Sehnsucht (1997), Liebe Ist Für Alle Da (2009) Reise, Reise (2004)

From one preposterous band to another, this one takes it to the extreme. Although this German industrial band writes all its music in their native language, thankfully you don’t have to understand German linguistics to enjoy it. In fact, it’s probably best if you don’t, seeing as some of their lyrics can be a tad obscene. With the stocky Till Lindemann front and centre, Rammstein are famous for their all-out live performances – which consist of everything from pyrotechnics to a very unsubtle foam cannon. But it’s Lindemann’s vocals, paired with some of the best, power-driven riffs of all time, that make Rammstein so great. Liebe Ist Für Alle Da gets down and dirty with Rammlied, Waidmanns Heil and Ich Tu Dir Weh; Reise, Reise delivers Mein Teil, Keine Lust and Morgenstern in all their majesty; and Sehnsucht introduces us to Engel, Tier and the awe-inspiring Du Hast. But their best album (and quite possible the perfect industrial album) has to be Mutter. Every single song on it is marvellous. The ones that carry the most fervour are Fruer Frei!, Mein Herz Brennt, Ich Will, Sonne and Adios – the last of which they NEVER play live, for some stupid reason! Regardless, if you ever get the chance to see Rammstein in the flesh (whether it’s at a festival or an arena) I urge you to take that opportunity.

 

System Of A Down

Suggested Album(s): Mezmerize (2005), Toxicity (2001), System Of A Down (1998), Steal This Album! (2002), Hypnotize (2005)

Here we are. The last band of the series. System Of A Down. With five studio albums to their name and one of the largest, most dedicated followings in Rock & Metal, the influence and prowess of this group cannot be overstated. But I’m going to try to anyway. Lead vocalist Serj Tankian utilises an unspoiled singing range for his music, which goes nicely with the wilder take lead guitarist Daron Malakian throws into the mix. Ultimately, System Of A Down have written some immovable hits over the years. Their self-titled debut features just a few of these in the form of Sugar, War? and Suite-Pee. Chic ‘N Stu, Fuck The System and I-E-A-I-A-I-O give Steal This Album! a lasting prominence. And then there’s Vicinity Of Obscenity, Holy Mountains and the gut-wrenching Soldier Side from Hypnotize. But listen to all these, and you’re still left with two crown jewels. One is 2001’s Toxicity, hosting frenzied numbers like Chop Suey, Needles, Jet Pilot and Prison Song. The other is Mezmerize. Much like Rammstein’s Mutter, you’d be hard-pressed to find a bad track on this record. As a matter of fact, it’s impossible. From B.Y.O.B. to Sad Statue; from Revenga to Violent Pornography; from Cigaro to Question!; whether you like your tracks served hard or soft, System Of A Down can cater for all tastes. It’s kind of their thing.

 

There you have it. Finito! That’s the end of my Rock & Metal blog series. I sincerely hoped you enjoyed the ride and got to discover some new bands. If you still don’t consider yourself a metalhead, then fair enough. All I can say is thank you for taking part in my experiment and for giving Rock & Metal a chance – because that’s what this has all been about. If, on the other hand, you wish to carry on exploring this vast genre of music, then you’ve made me a very happy person. I would love to continue suggesting bands for you to try out, but this series was only ever my attempt to get more people into the genre. So, from here on in, you must find your own way.

Do you think I missed out a band from one of my lists? Leave a comment and help me improve my perspective. Maybe one day (if you’re lucky) I’ll include your suggestion in another list. With that, all that’s left to say is thanks again for sticking with my series, and keep an eye out for any new series I post in the future.

Farewell, readers! Live long and rock on …

 

Sources

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYCiTx7TwEI

Life In The City After Life In The Country

In September 2013, I made a decision that parents never thought I would make: I left my home in Ivybridge, Devon to study Creative Writing at university. Now don’t get me wrong, moving away from home isn’t exactly a mind-blowing concept, especially in this day and age. People from all corners of the globe have ventured much further than I to experience new things. Nevertheless, the choice to leave my home behind has undoubtedly been my most life-changing to date.

Since my parents dropped me off at my bog-standard halls at Brunel University, I’ve made new friends, rapidly developed a new taste in music, performed a stand-up comedy act and taken on jobs as everything from chef to copywriter. But perhaps best of all, I also met the girl who I’ve come to build a life with in our cosy flat in East London. Taking everything into consideration, you could almost say that despite my Devonshire roots, I’ve become a proper city dweller. Well, almost. Because, as flattering as that may be, I can’t say it’s entirely true.

Regardless of my time in London, my thick, west country accent is still going strong (whether I like it or not) and while I like to think I fit in seamlessly with the hectic lifestyle that surrounds me, the urge to visit my family back home intensifies with each passing month. At every mention of the place I grew up, a little part of me misses it. To say that I get homesick would be a considerable departure from reality. However, I’ll openly admit that for the eighteen years I lived in Devon, before packing my bags and heading out into the real world, I severely took it for granted.

There are so many things to like about Devon. Fields, farmland and trees are in abundance; you’re never too far away from a seaside town or beach; if you get a taste for pasties, ice cream or fudge, you’ll feel right at home; and even if you journey to the most remote village, you’re still bound to come across a quaint pub with plenty of character. Moreover, the air is twenty times cleaner than any of the densely-populated cities elsewhere in Britain. But on a more personal level, Devon has been a fantastic place to grow up.

Just one example of why is a camping trip I went on with school friends during our GCSEs. We pitched our tents in a field belonging to one of the group, cracked open some drinks and shared a barbecue around a toasty log fire. But by far the best part of this weekend, for me, was the night sky. Far away from any kind of light pollution, I was able to look up and see the stars clearer than I ever had before. I saw multiple shooting stars that evening, and know with certainty that you could never enjoy a view like that in London. Not a chance.

However, it was only after I moved away that I came to truly recognise the value to living in a place like Devon. In hindsight, if it were possible, I would never have left. But for me it wasn’t an option, because there’s one crucial thing that London offers which Devon does not: opportunity. Sure, the pollution is a real problem, the traffic is always a nightmare and living costs are sky high at the best of times – but the simple fact is that there is so much more going on in London.

Something that’s considered a rarity in the countryside is in abundance in the capital. If you were to visit the City for only a day, you’d be spoilt for choice for what to do. Part of this is down to its sheer size. London has distinctive pockets of culture scattered throughout its wide reach – my personal favourite being Camden Town, if only for the labyrinthian market and tucked-away music venues. But whether you’re an avid theatre goer, a serial shopper or a lover of architecture, there’s something for everyone – even if you don’t know it yet. And that’s just the tourism side of it.

I could go on, but I didn’t move to London because bands I like tour there more often. I moved away from Devon because I wanted to be writer – and as far as Britain (or even Europe) is concerned, London is the central hub for writers everywhere. So the fume-filled air, the extortionate rent, the lack of visible starlight – these are all things that I choose to endure.

Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom. Because after visiting my family for Christmas, I’ve come back with something beautiful. The first time I brought my girlfriend to explore my home county, we visited a place people like to call Bantham Beach. It’s without doubt one of my fondest memories, because everything about the day was just perfect. Therefore, as a Christmas present to us both, my parents tasked my rather talented cousin Gemma to create a canvas painting of Bantham. Now, the painting sits on the wall of our London flat, so that every day – no matter what stresses the City throws our way – we can feel like there’s a little piece of Devon here with us. If you’re reading this, Gemma, we can’t thank you enough.

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Jamie and the Robin

Jamie crossed out the 22nd December on his bedroom calendar, feeling a wave of anticipation as he did so. Only two days to go. While he pondered over what was yet to come, he recalled his mother’s words upon mentioning Christmas earlier that month: ‘Please, Jamie. Don’t get your hopes up this year, okay.’ But it was impossible not to. He loved everything about it. The colours. The music. The festive cheer. Yet he had never experienced it himself. Only through the television. The dusty block of metal in the living room was the only thing that gave him a glimpse into the world outside their walls. Other children his age enjoyed watching cartoons, but Jamie preferred to turn to the local news. At this time of year, it often provided the insight he desired. It showed him what was happening in the town right outside their door, which for him just out of reach.

‘Jamie! Come down here.’

He went immediately at his mother’s call. On his way, he regarded the locked door across the staircase. His father’s old room. The room he knew he would never be allowed inside. Nevertheless, with every day that passed, his curiosity continued to grow. Downstairs, his mother was sat at the dinner table. Jamie watched as she scraped the edge of her key over her weekly scratch card. From the expression that followed, Jamie could tell this one was another let down.

‘I’m expecting the Tesco order any time now,’ she said, without looking up. ‘So stay where I can see you. I don’t want you going anywhere near that door until they’re gone.’

Jamie nodded. He had always been a quiet boy; one that did what he was told, even if it didn’t always make sense. This was one of those times. He always knew there was something wrong with his mother. How she would frequently look over her shoulder, then twitch when there was nothing there. Above all, it was the eyes. Dark-rimmed and clearly deprived of rest, yet always alert. It was like she could sense something in the room that he never could. Jamie didn’t know if she was ill, or if something else had made her this way – but even at his age, he could tell from those eyes that she wasn’t stable. A knock at the door made her jump.

‘That’s them.’

Jamie lingered in the kitchen as she went to answer it. Several bolt locks later, his mother opened the door to a stranger –  her worst nightmare. The door chain remained attached, leaving them to converse through the resulting, narrow gap. Jamie crept closer so he could hear.

‘Yes?’

‘I’ve got some post for you, ma’am.’

‘Leave it on the door step.’

‘Umm, okay. But –’

‘Just do it, please!’

‘But, ma’am. It needs to be signed for.’

She hesitated, yet she had no choice. After a deep breath, she took the chain off and opened the door fully. Jamie wondered what the package could be. His mother often ordered to the house – seeing as she never ventured out herself – but with Christmas Day in sight, he couldn’t help but speculate. The second his mother had given her signature, she snatched the package away and slammed the door. Her hand shivered as she bolted it shut once again. Jamie was right behind her when she turned.

‘What did I say about coming near the door?’

She stormed upstairs with the parcel. Jamie stood for a moment, feeling the slightest chill seeping in from the doorway. Then, he heard rustling. Letters were being fed through the letter hole. He watched them drop, but did not approach right away, instead waiting until the postman’s footsteps could no longer be heard. When he knew it was safe, he picked them up. A few had “URGENT” written in bold, while others bore both his mother’s and father’s names. Among them, however, was a bright red leaflet. Jamie gasped as he read it:

“SANTA’S GROTTO: ONLY HERE UNTIL CHRISTMAS EVE!”

Of all the aspects of Christmas that Jamie had seen on the television, Santa Clause was by far his favourite. He loved the idea of waking up on Christmas morning to see presents everywhere. But then, he loved the idea of meeting Santa even more. Jamie’s excitement soon diminished, however – because his mother would never let him go. He couldn’t miss out on this. This was an opportunity he might not get again. Jamie spent the next day watching his mother closely, waiting for the perfect moment. He had his woolly fleece at the ready the entire time. The moment finally came in the afternoon, while she was preparing their meal for that evening. When he knew her back was turned, he threw on his jumper and one by one slowly unlocked the bolts for the front door. With one last look in the house, Jamie slipped silently outside.

 

The first thing that hit him was the cold. He shivered at the initial breeze, but grew to appreciate the freshness of the air. Frost coated the grass on the lawn before him and crunched beneath his feet as he took his first steps into the outside world. There was tweeting nearby. Jamie scanned and noticed a small robin was perched on a naked tree on the footpath ahead. The robin’s calls seemed to beckon Jamie. Before he could fathom this, however, it flew away. After ensuring his mother had not seen him leave the house, he journeyed further up the street.

Passing the other houses, he noticed how each one was decorated with pretty lights of varying, vibrant colours. Upon reaching the end of the street, he found a sign for the town centre, before heading in that direction. Although his fleece was far from sufficient – and although he remained apprehensive of what he might encounter – the thrill of breathing in fresh air and seeing the outside world with his own eyes brought him much joy. Jamie was then caught off guard. A group of children, similarly aged, were strolling his way. They are the first children he has seen other than himself. How was he to interact with them? He panicked and stepped aside to let them pass. He refrained from making any eye contact. When they were well behind, he carried onwards.

Soon enough, cosy gift shops began to appear either side of the street. More people swooped into view. Adults, carrying bag after bag of shopping wherever they went. Above him, lights like those before were suspended from building to building as far as he could see. Choir music faded into earshot. And as Jamie pushed further into a now lively high street, he spotted a huge Christmas tree in the centre of the square. It towered above everything else, boasting baubles the size of his head. And right at the top, there sat a glittering star. Everything was just how Jamie imagined it. The spectacle left him in awe.

He maneuvered his way through the crowd. Just as he arrived at the base of the tree, he saw it. Across the square was a modest, colourful hut, covered in fake snow and surrounded by children. At the centre of the pen, resting on his throne, was Santa. Jamie rushed towards the Grotto and joined the queue. A girl, no older than five, was sat on Santa’s lap, telling him everything she wanted like for Christmas. The child’s mother stood nearby, taking photographs – and it was here Jamie realised that he was the only child who had come there alone. After half an hour of waiting in line, the child in front of Jamie jumped off Santa’s lap and headed inside the Grotto.

‘Who’s next?’ Jamie was taken back by the deep calmness of the man’s voice. ‘Ho Ho Ho! What’s your name little fella?’

Jamie didn’t answer, overwhelmed by the situation. Santa pulled him up onto his lap.

‘You’re a quiet little guy, aren’t you?’

Jamie nodded, sensing the children in the queue watching him.

‘Can you talk?’

‘Yes, Mr. Santa.’

Santa surveyed the crowd.

‘Did you come here all by yourself?’

‘Yes, Mr. Santa.’

‘Where are your parents? Are they shopping?’

‘No, Mr. Santa. It’s just me.’

‘Do you at least have any money.’

Jamie shook his head. The parents in the queue exchanged dubious glances. Santa frowned.

‘I see. Well, I’m afraid I can’t let you into my Grotto without any money. If I let everyone in for free, my elves in the North Pole won’t have a Christmas this year either. Understand?’

‘I don’t care about the presents, Mr. Santa. I just came here to see you.’

Jamie heard one of the children pleading to his father with impatience. Santa sighed.

‘It was very nice to meet you, little one. Why don’t you run off home now. Your parents must be wondering where you are.’

‘Okay.’

Saddened, Jamie jumped from his lap and began to walk back home.

‘Wait!’

Santa reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a candy cane. It glistened in the glow of the Christmas lights. Jamie smiled and took the sweet. He glanced up with hope at the big, bearded man.

‘Will you be at my house tomorrow, Mr. Santa? To bring me my presents?’

‘I’ll certainly do my best, little one.’

 

The trek home was a long one. By the time Jamie reached his house, darkness had fallen and the street was illuminated by the neighbours lights alone. As quietly as he could, he opened the front door, sneaked inside and bolted it shut. But as he turned to go upstairs, he found his mother stood before him. The look she gave him with filled with fury.

‘Where the hell have you been, Jamie?’

She screamed at him. It was so piercing it caused Jamie to drop the candy cane.

‘You went into the town? Why would you do such a thing? My god, you had me worried sick! What have I told you about going outside?’ It was the eyes again. Jamie couldn’t bear them. He could feel tears brewing.

‘I went to see Santa …’

‘I’ve told you so many times about what’s outside that door. There are people in this world that want to hurt you, Jamie. Bad people. And they all live out there. You can’t trust anyone. Not even Santa!’

His lips wavered.

‘But mummy …’

‘I told you not to get your hopes up and what do you do? You run off! I could have lost you. I already lost your father, I am not losing you as well. You hear me?’

Jamie burst past her and ran up to his room, sobbing uncontrollably. He remained there for the rest of the night, unable to sleep while his mother sat on the stairs, shivering in the cold.

 

 

When morning came, Jamie sneaked downstairs in the hope that Santa had kept his promise from the day before. He tip-toed into the living room, but then his heart dropped. There was nothing. No presents, no lights, no music. He collapsed on the sofa, disheartened. Not even the television could cheer him up now.

‘Jamie?’

His mother appeared in the passageway. She joined him on the sofa, seeming much calmer than the last time they spoke.

‘I thought you might be up.’

Jamie refused to acknowledge her.

‘I’m so sorry, Jamie. I never meant to ruin Christmas for you. I was just so afraid that something would happen to you. You mean the world to me and I don’t know if I could take it if I lost you. Everything I do, I do to keep you safe. I hope you know that.’

He continued to sit in silence.

‘Come with me. I want to show you something.’

Hesitant and uncertain, Jamie took his mum’s hand. He was led upstairs, where they halted outside his father’s room.

‘I think it’s time you saw what I’ve been hiding in here.’

She pulled out a key. Jamie was suddenly nervous, having waited so long for this moment. When the lock clicked open and she let him through, that anxiety disappeared. The room was just like any other, furnished with the most basic furniture imaginable. On top of the bed, however, lay a pile of Christmas presents. Jamie threw himself into his mother’s arms and giggled in delight. His mother cradled him and kissed his forehead.

‘Merry Christmas, Jamie.’

Santa had kept his promise.

‘Come on, let’s get some light in here,’ she said.

Jamie went to the window and pulled the curtains apart as told, then stared in shock at what he saw outside. A minute later, Jamie was downstairs unlocking the front door.

‘Jamie, what are you doing?’ his mother cried.

But it was too late. He flung the door open and everywhere they looked – the grass, the trees, the cars – it was all coated in a thick layer of pristine white snow. The mother stared, mesmorised.

‘Please, mummy! Can I play in it?’

‘I don’t think …’ His mother scrutinised the snow with great discomfort. But after a long pause, she gave a faint nod.

‘Really?’

‘Yes. But don’t leave the lawn. Stay where I can see you.’

Jamie had never seen snow in his life, let alone walked on it and felt it to the touch of his fingertips. It was everything he hoped it would be. He considered building a snowman, like the kids on television – but remembered his mother in the doorway. She shook her head, knowing what he was going to suggest. He went to her with his arm outstretched. She stared at it with terror, but found solace in Jamie’s expectant, loving eyes. Still shivering, she took his hand and ever so gradually, Jamie led her out into the snow.

She yelped at the chilling moisture seeping through her fluffy slippers. Neighbours across the street clocked their presence and waved merrily. She gave them a feeble smile. On the tree at the end of the lawn, there sat the robin like before. It tweeted at the pair, seemingly glad to see them. Then, once again, it flew away. This Christmas, Jamie had done what he never thought he could do. For the first time in many years, his mother had taken her first steps in the outside world –  and Jamie had a feeling they would be the first of many to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rock & Metal: Just Hear It Out (Part 2 of 3)

Here we go! Part 2. Once again, I plan to introduce you to 15 more bands in an attempt to win you over and transform you into a Rock & Metal enthusiast. If you haven’t looked at my first list, I strongly suggest you do. Because this week we’re cranking it up a notch. The bands featured in this list will be a teensy bit heavier than the previous ones – but if you listened to the artists from Part 1 and have taken a shine to a few of them, then I believe you’ll grow to like these bands as well.

Before I jump in, I would like to make one thing clear. This blog series is not me listing out the best artists of all time. If it was, you’d undoubtedly find the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Guns N’ Roses here. Instead, I’m suggesting various bands that I think you should listen if you want to get into Rock & Metal. I feel that if you grow to like these bands, then you’ll go on to enjoy plenty more within this broad and diverse genre.

What’s more, these suggestions are based on my own experience of music. Although I do everything I can to broaden my music library, I’ve not listened to every Rock & Metal band on the planet. For this reason, I can only draw from my own experience. I’ve done my best to take every music artist into consideration; however, I’m certain to miss out a few that people like. If I have, I apologise in advance and urge you to suggest the band you think deserves a mention. The comment section for this is below – how handy!

Right, then. Let’s get this week’s show on the road. The first band for Part 2 is …

(FYI: Like last time, only artists that have toured in the last ten years can make this list.)

 

Alter Bridge

Suggested Album(s): Fortress (2013), Blackbird (2007), AB III (2010)

What happens when you combine the unquestionable prowess of guitarist Mark Tremonti with the born-to-be frontman Miles Kennedy? Alter Bridge is what happens. Kennedy lends his style not just to thrilling thrash numbers like Addicted To Pain and Ties That Bind, but also emotional ballads like Watch Over You and Life Must Go On. And he does so with such grace and finesse, it almost makes you jealous that he can be that good. But you can forgive him, because Alter Bridge are an incredible band to experience – both live and on record. While 2007’s Blackbird is the album that set them on course, it’s the flawless track list of Fortress that showcases their work to perfection.

 

Billy Talent

Suggested Album(s): Dead Silence (2012), Billy Talent II (2006), Afraid Of Heights (2016)

A lot of good things have come out of Canada over the years. But as far as Rock & Metal is concerned, Billy Talent has got to be among the best. Benjamin Kowalewicz’s vocals are wonderfully unique to say the least. Moreover, they’re complemented by some of the best backing vocals since ever. You’d think that great backup singers might overshadow the lead singer in a band; but here, they don’t. They only make Kowalewicz’s more prominent for tracks like Red Flag, Viking Death March and Devil In A Midnight Mass. What’s more, they’re latest record, Afraid Of Heights is proof that they’re still going strong. You could almost say that they’ve become Louder Than The DJ.

 

Iron Maiden

Suggested Album(s): Somewhere In Time (1986), Powerslave (1984), The Number Of The Beast (1982), Brave New World (2000), Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son (1988)

Here’s Iron Maiden in a rather condensed nutshell; the band’s skeletal mascot, Eddie, is featured in some of the greatest album artwork known to man; they’ve released sixteen studio albums since their formation in 1975; and their lead singer, Bruce Dickinson, is considered to have one of the best voices in the genre. To say these guys have had a fruitful career is putting it lightly (they have a fricking plane now!). Nevertheless, it’s truly well deserved. Just a few stand out songs include Wasted Years, 2 Minutes To Midnight and Hallowed Be Thy Name. But considering their range of albums, you’re better off exploring Iron Maiden for yourself. On an unrelated note, they’re branded craft beer, The Trooper is also very, very tasty. If it happens to be on draught at your local pub, I highly recommend it.

 

Heaven’s Basement

Suggested Album(s): Filthy Empire (2013)

Heaven’s Basement exploded onto the Rock & Metal scene a few years back and made a lasting impression. Although frontman, Aaron Buchanan has since moved onto other endeavours, you can still get a taste of his charisma on Filthy Empire. This is about as a great as a Hard Rock album gets, boasting fast-paced singles like Fire, Fire, while throwing sing-along tunes into the mix, such as Lights Out In London and Nothing Left To Lose. You’re bound to love Buchanan’s trademark “Yeyah!” as well; whether you do so ironically or not, though, is down to you.

 

Rage Against The Machine

Suggested Album(s): Rage Against The Machine (1992), The Battle For Los Angeles (1999), Renegades (2000)

New to rap metal? Well get ready to hear it full on. As the name suggests, no one gets more furious about the establishment than Rage Against The Machine. Their 1992 debut became an instant classic upon its release thanks to both its relevance at the time and because Killing In The Name, Take The Power Back and Bombtrack all offered fans something to shout about – literally. Meanwhile, The Battle For Los Angeles offers energetic numbers like Guerrilla Radio and Testify; and cover album Renegades is a masterful take on others’ work. How I Could Just Kill A Man is particularly hard-hitting, in the best of ways.

 

Airbourne

Suggested Album(s): Runnin’ Wild (2007), Black Dog Barking (2013)

Imagine AC/DC, but younger, faster and heavier. Airbourne is what you’d get. It’s blatantly clear that this Aussie group is directly influenced by Angus Young’s juggernaut band, but that’s what makes Airbourne so enjoyable. When you listen to the likes of Runnin’ Wild, Live It Up and Stand Up For Rock ‘N’ Roll, you realise they’re here to have a good time – and all you want to do is grab a can of beer, crack it against your head and have fun with them. It’s comforting to know that when AC/DC are no longer able to tour, Joel O’Keeffe and the rest of Airbourne will be here to keep their spirit alive.

 

Halestorm

Suggested Album(s): The Strange Case Of … (2012), Into The Wild Life (2015)

It’s high time a female artist had a say in this whole Rock & Metal malarkey, do you think? I’m glad you agree. Enter Lzzy Hale. Fans of Paramore and Evanescence are sure to draw similarities with this four-piece from Pennsylvania – but Halestorm are far from novel. 2015’s Into The Wild Life is a solid effort, introducing suitably tough riffs into songs like Apocalyptic. They’re earlier stuff can get a bit corny, sure – yet it’s evident from The Strange Case Of … – with favourites like Love Bites (So Do I) and I Miss The Misery – that Hale’s gruff screams do justice to some excellent Hard Rock material. What is there to lose?

 

Tenacious D

Suggested Album(s): Tenacious D (2002), The Pick Of Destiny (2006)

“What? Jack Black is in a band?” Yes, he is. Granted, much like the acting roles he takes on, Tenacious D are immature and preposterous in every conceivable way. But somehow, it works. The debut album of this comedy rock duo can barely be called an album – as it mainly consists of the pair arguing – and yet it does have some actual songs on it. Good ones too! Like the hilarious Tribute and F**k Her Gently. And while The Pick Of Destiny is indeed a soundtrack from the comedy movie of the same name, this too has tracks that – if you have a silly sense of humour – will definitely get you smirking. Kickapoo. Break In City (Storm The Gate). Beezleboss (The Final Showdown). Tell me I’m wrong.

 

Shinedown

Suggested Album(s): The Sound Of Madness (2008), Threat To Survival (2015), Amaryllis (2012)

This Hard Rock band is one of the first I ever got into. And when you discover Brent Smith’s vocals for yourself, it’s easy to see why. I won’t lie to you: they’re pretty naff live. Smith’s earnest, preachy monologues in between songs get a bit too much even for me. But that doesn’t matter. Not when you have an album like The Sound Of Madness under your belt. This record has the ideal balance of exhilarating head-bangers (including Devour, Cry For Help and the title track) and softer tunes, such as Second Chance and Breaking Inside. They’re newest record, Threat To Survival also digs deep and treats us to gold, in the form of Cut The Chord and Asking For It. Shinedown sure have a knack for writing catchy choruses. Finally, although Amaryllis is much lighter in tone (perhaps too light), the group still manages to leave an impression with Adrenaline and Enemies. What are you waiting for? Get your earphones now.

 

Andrew W.K.

Suggested Album(s): I Get Wet (2001)

Does anyone remember that Android ad with that awesome song on it? Did you always wonder who it was by? It’s time I shed some light on this mystery. That song was called Party Hard, and it was off I Get Wet by Andrew W.K. This artist actually has five studio albums. But honestly, this one is the only one worth listening to. I Get Wet is a heart-pounding thrill ride that consists of songs entirely about partying. Hard. There’s Ready To Die, She Is Beautiful, It’s Time To Party … what more could you want in life? Better rest your neck muscles, because your head’s going to be rocking to the max when you listen to this one. You have been warned.

 

Clutch

Suggested Album(s): Psychic Warfare (2015), Blast Tyrant (2004), Earth Rocker (2013)

“Let’s pour some gravy on these biscuits!” This is what Neil Fallon, the frontman of Clutch, said to the crowd at Download Festival in 2015, before jumping straight into their set. I wish, wish, wish I could have been there to see that. Regardless, this funky rock band is becoming more superb with every album they release. I’ll always have a soft spot for Blast Tyrant, if only for the intoxicating The Mob Goes Wild. Yet, in 2013, they gave us Earth Rocker, which provided everything from fast-paced numbers (Crucial Velocity) to mellow ballads (Gone Cold). Thanks to this – by the time last year’s Psychic Warfare came out – they managed to blow expectations out the water yet again. The whole thing is just brilliant, and I for one can’t wait to see what direction Clutch take next.

 

Papa Roach

Suggested Album(s): Getting Away With Murder (2004), Infest (2000), The Paramour Sessions (2006), F.E.A.R. (2015), The Connection (2012)

Papa Roach have evolved so much over the years, moving from Rap Metal to Hard Rock to Punk Rock. One thing that always stays the same, though, is Jacoby Shaddix’s gel-soaked hairdo. I love this band. They may not be the most well-known or even unique artists around, but they sure make some damn catchy tunes. Infest gets you pumped with Last Resort, Dead Cell and Between Angels And Insects; and on the rockier side of things, you have The Paramour Sessions, which features show-stoppers like Time Is Running Out, Crash and …To Be Loved. F.E.A.R. and The Connection actively cater to newer audiences. They manage this by incorporating more electronic elements into Face Everything And Rise, Falling Apart and Where Did The Angels Go to great effect. But Getting Away With Murder is the crown jewel for this band. The title track alone blends rap and metal seamlessly, but Be Free and Take Me both do equally well to cause a fuss. Papa Roach has earned they’re place in my books. Why not yours?

 

Tremonti

Suggested Album(s): All I Was (2012), Cauterize (2015)

If you took a liking to Alter Bridge, then the same thing is bound to happen when you listen to Tremonti. How do I know this? Mainly because both lead guitarists are the same person (the clue’s in the name). Although the two bands draw many similarities, Mark Tremonti takes front-stage, treats us to a surprisingly clear-cut vocal style, and elevates an established sound that step higher. As a result, All I Was is an excellent album to call your debut. So You’re Afraid and You Waste Your Time place heavy emphasis on power-driven riffs, while New Way Out and Decay provide some much-needed depth to the record. While Cauterize is also a well-executed outing – sporting numbers like Arm Yourself and a very brisk title track – All I Was is definitely the one to go for.

 

Sabaton

Suggested Album(s): Heroes (2014), The Art Of War (2008), The Last Stand (2016)

Allow me to define Sabaton: A Swedish power metal band that always bring a massive tank on stage and play songs about famous historical battles. Who could say no to that? But if you’re still dubious and want to get a feel for the music itself, Heroes is a fitting place to start. The opening track, Night Witches is epic beyond measure, and is followed up by heavy anthems like Smoking Snakes, To Hell And Back and Resist And Bite. Lead singer Joakim Brodén may have limited vocal range, but damn it’s still great to listen to. The Last Stand, released this year, is another consistently badass effort from the band. The album with the most fervour, however, has got to be The Art Of War. If you can’t see yourself marching into war with Ghost Division blasting from speakers in the background, then you should probably reconsider your application for the Army.

 

The Devin Townsend Project

Suggested Album(s): Addicted (2009), Transcendence (2016), Accelerated Evolution (2003), Epicloud (2012), Sky Blue (2014)

There are criminally underrated bands; then there’s Devin Townsend. Remember when I was talking about good things to come out of Canada? This guy is undoubtedly near the top of that list. His music is unlike anything that’s been done before. It’s niche, yet the sheer variety of styles and genres Townsend delves into means there’s certainly something for everyone. But this variety also means he owns a humungous catalogue of albums. For someone new to his stuff, it’s impossible to know where to start. My suggestion is that you begin with the main band he tours with today: The Devin Townsend Project. While he does include the odd scream every now and again, he makes plenty of use of his melodic vocals, as well as the talent that is Anneke van Giersbergen. Together, their voices complement the music beautifully. The band’s latest record, Transcendence, demonstrates this better than ever. 2009’s Addicted also borders on perfection from start to finish. And although both Epicloud and Sky Blue are bold, majestic collections, Accelerated Evolution could well be the best place to start your search. Slow Me Down. Track 9. Listen to it. Love it. And with that … cut to black.

 

There. Part 2 is over – which means there’s only one list left. Like I’ve mentioned, these bands have been a bit heavier than the last ones – and next time, we’re bringing out the big guns. For now, check out the bands on this week’s list, get a feel for the inner workings of the Rock & Metal genre, and maybe you could end up becoming a true metal head by the end of this blog series. My fingers are already crossed. Stay tuned for the encore … Bye for now!

 

 

 

 

When All The Coffee Is Gone …

I’m sure this isn’t exactly breaking news, but climate change is real. It’s happening as we speak. Melting ice caps are causing sea levels to rise, with sea ice at the lowest extent ever recorded for the time of year. [1] According to NASA, flooding, droughts and hurricanes are likely to grow more intense in the decades to come. [2] And increasing temperatures worldwide are resulting in further endangered wildlife – which means a 1.5°C average rise may put 20-30% of species at risk of extinction. [3] Even cosmologist, Stephen Hawking claims that if things carry on the way they do now, “a disaster, such as nuclear war or global warming will befall the earth within a thousand years.” [4]

The evidence is everywhere we look. Yet against all odds, our race continues to pump greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. The point just doesn’t seem to be hitting home. In fact, more than a quarter of Americans are climate change skeptics. [5] Yep, those pesky Americans are at it again. A significant portion of their population strongly believe that global warming doesn’t exist – meanwhile, the United States remains the second-biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, just behind China. [6] It’s madness. So with scientists, charities, celebrities and organisations across the globe striving to make us change our ways, what could possibly make the whole world see how important an issue this is? I’m no activist, but I believe the best way to influence attitudes about the topic is to educate everybody on how it will affect them directly.

It’s all very well telling people that polar bears’ habitats are rapidly disappearing, but when those people are sat all cosy in their living rooms watching Breaking Bad thousands of miles away, it’s hard to contemplate how this could possibly affect them. This, my friends, is what I’m going to attempt today. How? By focusing on the single most influential and disastrous change that’ll soon become a reality thanks to global warming: Coffee. Laugh if you will, but this is a serious matter. For those who are unware of this, I’m sorry to be the blogger to break it to you – but the nation’s favourite hot beverage won’t be around forever. Not even close.

According to The Independent, due to rising temperatures, pests and fungi, ‘Wild coffee is expected to be wiped from the face of the planet by the year 2080.’ [7] The effects have already begun to surface. ‘Between 2002 and 2011, Indian coffee production declined by nearly 30 percent.’ [8] And it doesn’t stop at coffee. Global warming is effecting everything from bananas to grapes to cocoa. By 2050, the temperature is set to increase by 2.1% in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, the two countries responsible for producing half the world’s supply of cocoa. [9] Now, one might argue that the absence of chocolate would definitely have a more substantial effect on society than that of coffee beans, as many people enjoy the snack more than drink coffee. But I disagree. I believe that the death of coffee will change our daily lives much, much more.

For one, ‘Coffee supports the livelihoods of 125 million people around the world’. [10] But this fact alone isn’t enough to sway opinions and incite action. So allow me to bring it down to our level. Apart from the fact that it tastes great and keeps you temporarily warm throughout the winter months, coffee is what for many makes those early mornings, harsh commutes and strict deadlines bearable. It gives us that extra little boost we need to get things done. Some of you might be asking yourselves at this point, ‘Wait a second, I thought this was supposed to be a creative blog? What does global warming have anything to do with the creative world?’ A fair question, but one that has an obvious answer.

The myth goes that many artists and musicians throughout history have been inspired by the use of drugs. Whether or not this is actually true is up in the air. What I can tell you though, from personal experience, is that coffee is a great thing to have in your life if you’re a writer. Because the drug of choice for writers everywhere is (you guessed it!) caffeine. Ian McEwan, of whom I am a considerable fan, said in an interview with The Paris Review, ‘I inherited my father’s work ethic – no matter what he’d been up to the night before, he was always out of bed by seven a.m.’ and also that, ‘I aim for about six hundred words a day and hope for at least a thousand when I’m on a roll.’ [10] Authors that churn out novels year after year for our pleasure are – there’s no other word for it – machines. I can barely get out of bed before eleven a.m. if I know I don’t have to. So how the hell do they do it?

Well the most likely answer is that they are driven individuals. They have an unrelenting passion for their craft, and it’s this that continues to fuel their creativity. If this is the case, fair play. I have nothing else to say on the matter. But, come on! Where’s the fun in that? Can’t we just theorise for a moment? Can’t we just imagine that there’s some sort of conspiracy going on? Something that all writers possess that, if utilised in the perfect manner, can transform any ordinary person into a famous, best-selling novelist? Of course we can! When we ponder for several milliseconds, there’s only one conclusion we can surely draw: novelists are only able to write as much as they do because they drink coffee on a daily basis. Mind … blown.

Jokes aside, while coffee is by no means vital for creatives, you might be surprised to discover how many of us actually resort to the infinite variations of the drink to keep our wits about us. I, for one cannot sit in front of a computer screen for hours on end without eventually sticking the kettle on. I’m certain that I’m not alone in this. So, with this in mind, what will happen to productivity when coffee is out of the picture? I’m not just talking about creative productivity here; I’m referring to every worker in every industry who relies on their morning cappuccino to get into the right mindset. My guess is that it will plummet. A lot.

Sure, coffee isn’t the only thing with caffeine in it. We’d still have energy drinks, Coca Cola – hell, even your average cup of a tea has a smidge of caffeine in it. But for many, the world just won’t be the same without coffee. That much is clear. If you have a favourite coffee house (Costa, Starbucks, Caffe Nero, Coffee Republic, Lavazza, Pret A Manger or just the independent café near your work) it will inevitably soon be in a fight for a survival. Coffee has become such a cultural staple – such a significant presence in our everyday lives – that we’ve grown to take for granted, like the many other things that will soon be gone because of this.

Can we change our ways and save coffee from extinction? Maybe. But honestly, it’s looking grim. The coffee bean has been around for longer than we have, but it’s future is now in peril thanks to us. We basically have two options: come together, mend our ways and try everything we can to save the coffee bean – or come to terms with its demise and just enjoy what’s left of it while we still have the chance. I’ve made my decision. What will yours be?

 

Sources

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/nov/25/arctic-ice-melt-trigger-uncontrollable-climate-change-global-level

[2] http://climate.nasa.gov/effects/

[3] https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/effects-climate-change

[4] http://www.climatechangenews.com/2012/01/06/stephen-hawking-warns-of-climate-disaster-ahead-of-70th-birthday/

[5] http://uk.businessinsider.com/public-religion-report-climate-change-2014-11

[6] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/apr/21/countries-responsible-climate-change

[7] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/coffee-could-be-extinct-by-2080-due-to-climate-change-destroying-areas-suitable-for-growing-beans-a7222241.html

[8] http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/science_and_impacts/impacts/impacts-of-climate-on-coffee.html#.WEH69VyQrvg

[9] https://www.climate.gov/news-features/climate-and/climate-chocolate

[10] http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/393/ian-mcewan-the-art-of-fiction-no-173-ian-mcewan