Top 10 Albums of 2015

For my last post of the year I’m going to do something a bit different to what I normally do here on Torn From The Tomb, and list my top 10 favourite albums of 2015. Until now I haven’t dedicated any posts to my other passion in life aside from films; music. Music and cinema are to me like food and water; you need both. However, having a similar taste in films as someone doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to like the same types of music too. There is so much music out there, and what’s good and what’s bad isn’t as black and white as it is with film. For example, whilst almost everybody can agree that Adam Sandler’s ‘The Ridiculous Six’ is a terrible film, with music some may regard Lady Gaga as an important and highly entertaining pop culture treasure, others might not be able to even tolerate her or her music. Personally, though I like to claim I listen to all styles of music, and usually more of the metal head persuasion, so that’s my list will generally reflect. Though I’ve found it’s pretty common for lovers of cult horror cinema etc. to have this same taste, some of my regular readers possibly won’t find this article very interesting. If you don’t, that’s fine! I’ll be back with a new eurocult review sometime in the new year, but for now, here’s my top 10 albums of 2015.

10. Slayer – Repentless

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Pretty much everyone in the metal world knows a new Slayer album isn’t going to be anything groundbreaking, but this time around the expectations were lower. Their first album since the death of guitarist Jeff Hanneman, the general feeling was that Slayer was never going to be the same again, a feeling made even worse by the unamicle departure of human drum machine Dave Lombardo and the return of Paul Bostaph, who played on some of the bands lesser regarded albums. Thankfully, while the end result is no Reign In Blood , its definitely thrash, and so Slayer! Exodus axe man Gary Holt proves to be a worthy stand-in for Hanneman, holding his own on tracks like ‘Take Control’ and ‘Chasing Death’, which have the breakneck speed and catchiness which make traditional Thrash Metal so fun.

Best Tracks – ‘Take Control’ , ‘Chasing Death’ , ‘Piano Wire’

9. Danzig – Skeletons

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Here’s an album that everyone seems to hate, and I can’t really put my finger on exactly why. Danzig’s long delayed collection of covers, ranging from songs by Elvis Presley, Black Sabbath and ZZ Top, boosts a sloppy production and raw sound that admittedly may be off putting. Personally I didn’t mind this very much, the sheer power of Glenn Danzig’s voice still shining at 60 years old on songs like ‘Satan’ and ‘saved the best til last’ closing ballad ‘Crying in the Rain’.

Best Tracks – ‘Satan’, ‘Lord of the Thighs’, ‘Crying in the Rain’

8. Soulfly – Archangel

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The legendary Max Cavalera’s unique brand of music might be best termed ‘Metal comfort food’. Always catchy and accessible but never sacrificing speed or heaviness in the process. His passion for his genre has never been more clear than on album opener ‘We Sold Our Souls To Metal’, a hardcore punk styled expression of unity for all metal heads around the world. The rest of the album utilizes exotic sounds and biblical themes to great effect, with sonically dense songs like ‘Sodomites’ and ‘Bethlehem’s Blood’. Admittedly it dips a bit in the second half, but nevertheless Archangel demonstrates the work of an veteran metalhead still at the top of his game after 30 years.

Best Tracks – ‘We Sold Our Souls To Metal’, ‘Sodomites’, ‘Live Life Hard’

7. Goblin Rebirth – Goblin Rebirth

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Goblin Rebirth, is one of many, many projects to have resulted from Italian Prog rock and Horror movie score legends Goblin’s numerous line ups through the years. This one features the original bands rhythm section, Fabio Pignatelli and Agostino Marangolo. Goblin themselves also released a new album this year, ‘Four of a Kind’, but I found Goblin Rebirth to much more dynamic and listenable. Not only does it have style with catchy and atmospheric snyths, but also substance, with its linear notes explaining the story of the titular Goblin’s ‘rebirth’ that the instrumental songs are meant to reflect.

Best Tracks – ‘Requiem For X’, ‘Book of Skulls’, ‘Forest’

6. Gruesome – Savage Land

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Never before has the old adage that ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’ rang more true. Gruesome are a band that exists for no other reason than to recreate the sound of the early Death records, Death being probably the most influential and legendary band in the Death Metal genre, whose sole constant member Chuck Schuldiner passed away in 2001. With so much pretension in the Extreme Metal world these days a release which wallows in cliches as much as this actually feels like a breath of fresh air. There’s also the fact that these guys sound SO much like Death. Like scarily similar. Usually I would highlight some stand out tracks but here the whole album is an essentially sounds like outtakes from Death’s ‘Leprosy’, one of my favorite albums of all time. Now if only bands come could come along who could as successfully emulate the sound of early Slayer and Metallica records.

Best Tracks – ‘Savage Land’, ‘Trapped In Hell’, ‘Gruesome’

5. Faith No More – Sol Invictus

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The absolute mad men have returned. A full 18 (!!!!) years after their previous album Faith No More have given this glorious collection of demented Rock N’ Roll which defies any genre labeling. Here’s hoping we won’t have to wait as long for more from this truly unique band.

Best Tracks – ‘Sunny Side Up’, ‘Black Friday’, ‘From The Dead’

4. Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls

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It’s definitely been the year of Eddie. Not only did Bruce Dickinson give cancer the middle finger, but in the same year Maiden unleashed the longest and most ambitious album of their 30 year plus career. After 5 year break from the studio the band sound utterly revitalized, and songs like jaw dropping opener ‘If Eternity Should Fail’ can easily stand alongside anything from their 80’s heyday.

Best Tracks – ‘If Eternity Should Fail’, ‘The Great Unknown’ , ‘Empire of the Clouds’

3. The Black Dahlia Murder – Abysmal

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I LOVE this band. The Black Dahlia Murder’s sublime brand of Melodic Death Metal, descended from Carcass and At The Gates, has made them one of the most successful and relevant bands in extreme music today. Rippers like ‘Receipt’ and ‘Threat Level No.3’ give an incredible cathartic release, and songs like John Carpenter inspired ‘The Fog’ prove they can do slower material as well.

Best Tracks – ‘Receipt’, ‘Threat Level No.3’, ‘The Fog’

2. Lucifer – Lucifer I

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Every once in awhile you discover a new band and it feels like you’ve discovered Jesus. That’s what Lucifer was like for me. I never listened to front woman Johanna Sadonis’s previous band, The Oath, but Lucifer really made a big impact on me. Their doomy Sabbath inspired music has a haunting, almost magical quality to it, and Sadonis’ ethereal vocals have led me to consider her the Beauty to Ozzy’s Beast.

Best Tracks – ‘Purple Pyramid’, ‘Izarael’, ‘Morning Star’

1. Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction

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This fucking band. The misanthropic, melody tinged death-grind sound of Cattle Decapitation was another instance in which discovering new music felt like a divine revelation. Those put off by the bands vegan stand point should know this; these guys will make you see they know exactly what they’re talking about. They hate humans and want everyone to know it, and it’s pretty impressive. The Anthropocene Extinction deals principally with man’s destructive influence on our planet’s environment, and it’s a sad, apocalyptic funeral dirge, a soundtrack for the end of the world.

Best Tracks – ‘The Prophets of Loss’, ‘Plaugeborne’, ‘Pacific Grim’

That’s it for 2015. Everyone have a safe and Happy New Year. Here’s to another year of good times and awesome cinema!

 

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Black Christmas (1974) and Christmas Evil (1980)

 

1974’s Black Christmas is often acknowledged as an important film in the Horror Genre for being one of the earliest examples of the Slasher sub-genre and an influence on John Carpenter’s Halloween which would define the genre. It was independently produced and directed by Canadian Bob Clark, who astonishingly enough went on to direct another, very different Christmas film, 1983’s A Christmas Story. Early in his career he made low budget horror films such as Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, but went on to direct massively successful films such as the frat comedy Porky’s and the aforementioned A Christmas Story. His later career saw him making low budget and poorly received children’s films such as The Karate Dog and Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2. This makes him probably the only director in history to have had films on both the IMDB Top 250 and Bottom 100. He was tragically killed in car crash in 2007.

Black Christmas follows a group of college girls who are stalked and murdered during the Christmas season by a killer hiding in their sorority house. He makes obscene phone calls and and he creeps about the place in POV shots. The influence on Halloween is obvious in these shots, and the way that Clark shoots the sorority house from a distance with Gothic lighting is similar to Carpenter’s shooting of house in his film. The influence of the Bates residence in Hitchcock’s Psycho on both films should not be forgotten. The film surprisingly features a number of well known actors in the cast, not big A listers, but distinguished enough to be known to film fans. Keir Dullea, best know for playing David Bowman in 2001: A Space Odyssey, appears here as our leading man. It’s a little surreal to see someone who worked with Kubrick on such a legendary film appear in a sleazy Grindhouse flick like this. Olivia Hussey is our leading lady and final girl, best known for Romeo and Juliet, but her performance here is unmemorable and I have to say I much preferred Margot Kidder, best known for Lois Lane in the 70’s Superman movies. Her character is just so enjoyable, swearing and drinking and not taking any crap from the killer when he’s on the phone. Sadly she’s killed off half way through and we are left with the much less fun Hussey, who maybe wasn’t that comfortable appearing in a film like this. Special mention must go to the always enjoyable John Saxon, known for his role in Enter The Dragon and appearing in countless B and Horror movies.

For horror fans Black Christmas should be an essential movie, not just because it’s an important one, but also because it’s enjoyable in it’s own right. Clark directs the film with style and suspense that lifts it above standard grindhouse fare and makes it obvious why it was so influential to Carpenter and others. There’s also a remake, made in 2006, but I haven’t seen it.

Something that dawned on me whilst I was watching Black Christmas was that the Christmas setting itself was largely inconsequential. There’s one scene near the beginning where one of the characters is working as a Santa Claus, but overall the film could have taken place at any time of year with the same story (though the original script was apparently based on a series of murders that occurred over Christmas in Quebec). One film that really takes the Christmas season and runs with its horror film potentials however, is 1980’s Christmas Evil, also known as You Better Watch Out and Terror In Toyland. The film was directed by Lewis Jackson, who has never made another film since, and stars Brandon Maggart, who the same year appeared in Brian DePalma’s Dressed To Kill and since has worked mainly in Television. However the most well known face in the cast to a modern audience will be Jeffrey DeMunn who recently had a recurring role in The Walking Dead.

Brandon plays a man named Harry Stadling. This guy takes Christmas spirit deadly seriously. In the opening scene, we see how as a young boy he witnessed Santa, or what we presume was his dad dressed up as Santa, sexually groping his mother. This obviously had a damning effect on his psyche and as we flash forward to the present day we see how he has taken it upon himself to become the next true Santa, he sleeps in the costume, and his flat is covered in Christmas toys and decorations. He spies on the children in his neighborhood to see it they’ve been bad or good and writes their names in his “Bad Boys & Girls” book. Like I said, this is a man who takes Christmas spirit seriously. As the film goes on, his mental state deteriorates. We see how he works a lowly job at a local toy factory and clashes with his superiors, who are more concerned with profit than giving children a good Christmas. Harry sets off on a “roaring rampage of revenge” against those he feels have poisoned the spirit of Christmas.

Christmas Evil is less of a slasher film and more a psychological character study, a sort of Christmas Taxi Driver. Viewers can symphasise with Harry because what he wants is ultimately pure and admirable. The guy wants to be Santa Claus and give kids who deserve it a good Christmas, and most of the adult characters around him are so horrible we can actually see his point of view despite him plainly being as mad as a hatter. I actually found myself cheering when he started to take down the suits. The film ultimately doesn’t feature much that much gore or violence, like I said, it’s more psychological than slasher, and it has an ending that leaves you thinking, “what the hell just happened?”. I highly recommend all cult film and horror fans check Christmas Evil out, even more so than Black Christmas, simply because it’s so off the wall and entertaining in its concept. The film is well directed by Jackson, who really gives us a sense of Harry’s isolation, and it’s a shame he hasn’t gone on to direct any other films. Brandon Maggart also does a good job at selling the lead (though some of the other performances leave a lot to be desired). Christmas Evil might be the ultimate cult Christmas film, and deserves to be a yearly tradition for people who enjoy this sort of thing. You go in expecting a sleazy Christmas slasher film, but get a whole lot more than you bargained for.

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Oh and incidentally, a very Merry Christmas to all at you at home from Torn From The Tomb!

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Directed by J.J. AbraStar_Wars_Episode_VII_The_Force_Awakensms                                                                                                             Starring Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Harrion Ford and Carrie Fisher                              2hours 15 minutes                                                                   US

No film should ever be hyped up the way Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been. The only result can be disappointment. Suffice to say, if you see Star Wars: The Force Awakens you will not see the face of god, nor will you see something which is as good as the original trilogy. What you will see however, is an extraordinarily well made and entertaining Sci-Fi adventure with injects a healthy dose of nostalgia whilst still moving forward into a brave new world.

I don’t really want to give away too much so I’ll give only a brief explanation of the plot. The film revolves around two new characters, Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger from the planet Jakku, and Finn (John Boyega) a stormtrooper who gives up on being a stormtrooper after experiencing a crisis of conscience. Along the way they meet old favorites Han Solo des0190_462d9660(Harrison Ford), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), and General (no longer Princess) Leia (Carrie Fisher). Together they must take on the sinister First Order, an evil force risen from the ashes of the empire that includes among its upper ranks Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), an inverted crucifix light-saber wielding Darth Vader fanboy who’s rather unlike any villain seen in the series thus far.

Where Abrams has really succeeded here is in putting the joy and innocence back into the Star Wars experience. After the melodramatic misery porn that was Revenge of The Sith, its extremely welcome to see a Star Wars film that makes you feel like a child again. Having the plot follow the two newcomers, Rey and Finn was exactly the right thing to do, as it puts the audience in the shoes of the identifiable characters, something which the prequels failed at spectacularly. Another place in which this sense of classic Star Wars joy is accomplished is in the bb8-robot-star-wars-episode-vii.pngcharacter of the new droid BB-8. BB-8 is adorable as fuck. It’s character alone has more charm and actual CHARACTER than anything in the entire prequel trilogy. Proof that you can have comic relief characters in these films without making them as pandering, obnoxious and racist as Jar Jar Binks.

Some might say The Force Awakens might owe even a little TOO much to the original trilogy. This is basically A New Hope 2015, and many of that films story beats are recycled here (at several points I could guess what was going to happen before it did because of this). It is debatable to what extent this is a good or bad thing. Personally, what I find most disappointing about this is the limited pool of influences it gives the film. The original Star Wars was a collage of a bunch of different influences from throughout film and history, from fairy tales and mythology, to the eastern cinema of Akira Kurosawa, western cinema of John Ford and the Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone. It would have been nice to see Abrams dig a little deeper into sources like this for a Star Wars as seeped in culture as the original was, rather than just being influenced by past films in the series.

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As a starting point to a new series of films however, its hard to regard The Force Awakens as anything other than a triumph. It recaptures the energy and joy that made Star Wars so great a long time ago and has been so sorely missing for a while night. I can’t wait to see more of these films.