Monday, December 29, 2014

Here's To You

Spent a great deal of time with 'Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes' over my Christmas break, and since the awesome first impression it left on me has now vanished, I've a new perspective I don't think I'd have had otherwise. It still looks great, and the sound design is still fantastic, but I now view it as more of an experiment than an actual demo.

Full disclosure: Apart from 'MGS1' and 'MGS3: Snake Eater', I've never gotten in to any of the storylines in a Metal Gear game. The seem to just drone on for hours and hours about things I've no interest in, as well as things I could honestly care less about and things that just don't make any sense to me whatsoever. Still to this day I just don't get the story of 'MGS2'. I have no understanding of it at all (Seriously, did anyone really give a shit about The Patriots?). But I still replay it once a year or so because it's fun to play. The gameplay is what keeps me coming back to Metal Gear. It's fun to sneak up on guards and interrogate them. It's a challenge trying to find every possible stealthy way to get from point A to B without being seen or heard.

In that sense, 'Ground Zeroes' delivers the usual high Metal Gear standard. It's loads of fun sneaking around Camp Omega and trying to extract prisoners without being caught in the act. What's not so fun about it is the grinding you have to do to actually understand who certain people are and why you should give a shit about them. Information is delivered via cassette tapes you find scattered throughout all of Zeroes' side missions. If you want the full story you have to play every mission and do a damn thorough job of searching every nook of Camp Omega.

For such a tiny level there are loads of places you'll probably never find until your 3rd or 4th playthrough (and if you're a completion purist, you will play every mission at least that many times). Why, if the stories on these tapes and these characters is supposed to be so crucial to the plot, they are split up between all of the missions is something I can't begin to understand. It just seems like a good way to only fill in the "hardcores" and leave the casual audience clueless. I had to listen to those tapes more than once to fully comprehend what was going on, and, for me, it wasn't even worth it. All the plot points contained within could've just as easily have been told via cutscene or as chatter over Big Boss' radio. And there are, as always in Metal Gear, elements to this games story that I'd love to discuss and dissect, but frankly I've no clue what they're about or why they are there, so I'm unqualified to do so.

'Zeroes' is pretty generous with trophies and achievements for a demo. And my God, will you work for them. They range from simple (Meet up with and rescue prisoner A or B), to somewhat challenging (Earn an S ranking on any mission), to downright frustrating (Complete Mission X without hurting a single enemy). The mission in question for that one involves you stuck in a chopper, providing cover fire for an ally spy attempting to escape the base who is being pursued by enemy troops. The trick is to just focus on the enemies actually shooting at him, and not the ones shooting at you. Let them hit you, you'll heal. He, however, will not. It's easy to go berserk with a machine gun and wipe out every troop in pursuit, but no so easy to very carefully precisely aim at their heads to take them down with a tranquilizer round in a constantly shifting helicopter. Especially the ones in vehicles. There's a part near the end where you have to take down an enemy chopper, which has 2 soldiers in it firing at you. Your best method to take down the chopper is to use a rocket launcher, but doing so will throw the enemies out of their chopper letting them fall to their deaths. Which ruins your flawless run. Both times I shot them with tranqs first they still fell and died. But you have to kill no one to get the trophy. Needless to say, I got an S rank on it long before I even thought of going for an S rank on it. I was going for the trophy. It's on the back burner for now though...

Another pain in the ass is the "Unlock All Challenges" trophy. Challenges are varied, ranging from "fastest extraction of prisoners" to "fastest takedown of all enemies" to "fastest collection of landmines". Each level has their own set of challenges, and each difficulty ("Normal" and "Hard", respectively) also has their own set of challenges. To unlock a challenge, you simply have to beat a mission once. That will unlock one challenge for that particular difficulty setting. Then you have to replay that mission and complete the previously unlocked challenge. This will, depending on the difficulty setting, unlock another set of challenges. So you're going to replay those missions on each difficulty setting at least 3 times to unlock them all. Your personal bests are then uploaded onto online leaderboards where you can compare your times with others from around the world. And if you don't give a shit about that, then it's just an "Alright. Whatever." feature. And if you're not a 100% completion purist and don't care about the trophy, save yourself the boredom and potential frustrations. While these missions are fun, they do get old on repeat playthroughs fast. Especially when you play one way and it goes flawless until one tiny little thing at the end and you're unable to re-create your playthrough with hopes of avoiding that one flaw again. It will happen at some point.

I'm still not sure of the homage to 'MGS1' level. It's a fun trip the first time around, and even more when you unlock the polygon Solid Snake skin, but it feels like a cashgrab type thing. I do not think it adds any value to the final product at all, and if I didn't actually play the original MGS I'd probably have no fucking clue what it was about. But I'm sure that's why it's locked away, only unlocked by collecting 9 (I think) patches from troopers' uniforms. It's for the hardcore, for sure. And it's kind of sad, in a sense. Kojima is such a creative guy and yet it feels like he thinks he'll never escape the shadow of the first 'MGS', so he feels he has to cater to a certain fanbase or piss them off. That's just my opinion, I could be wrong. I've read him say, in interviews with press for whichever Metal Gear is about to come out, that he's often thought of just stopping the series. That he's burned out and ready to move on. And yet, there the "Deja Vu" mission is.

I can't help but feel Kojima was just flying by the seat of his pants with this story. In the overall timeline of the series it just feels out of place and forced. Like Konami asked for another Metal Gear, he told them he was done with it and they said: "No, we're not asking, we're telling you." and he struggled to find something to have happen and to make it fit. And for all the emphasis MGS fans put on how "real" the series is, this one really cracks me up. So the argument is that MGS has always had more real world tech and storylines than any other military game out there. 'Cos, you know, every nation has their own bi-pedal walking tank with nuke capabilities that happens to scream like a dinosaur. And some nations even employ immortal vampires as mercs for hire, as well. Thematically, yes it's very real. Nuclear weapons are a very real danger to humanity, and Openheimer knew it all too late. Tech wise I think is another story. And the argument here is that people say this particular game is the most real of them all. So... the iPad has been around since '75 or so then? Well, that's pretty cool. How'd they convert tracks into MP3's? Oh, right. Big Boss carries a Walkman to listen to Chico's cassette tapes, so it was an early model iPad, hence the iDroid name. Gotcha. People always overlook the more fronted fantastical aspects of these games and focus on the more background reality they are based on. And I don't get it. These are video games, not documentaries. They may have serious tones and themes, and even messages, but at the end of the day, they are games meant for fun.

And I do not mean that as a disrespect. I think it's very admirable how Kojima can get his points across in even the most over the top settings and characters.

Finally, Big Boss himself. I love that character. It could've been easy to make him a very dislikeable human being, but he has 'Snake Eater' working in his favor. I feel bad for him, and honestly find myself hoping he finds redemption, even though I know how the story ends for him. It's easy to feel pain for a guy who has to shoot his mentor and possible lover in order to save the world. It's understandable how he can become bitter at humanity, lose faith in Governments, and even lose faith in general. Add in that his only person of comfort ended up being a Chinese spy who tried to betray him and leave him cold and alone having completed her mission, and you just can't help but feel for the guy. But with that being said, anyone who knows the U.N. is about to inspect his personal private military for hire base and has to destroy documents and hide a nuclear bomb before they show up is not a good person. This is a man wronged by the world, in his eye, and who has had enough of it. And I'm very curious to see where his journeys take him after Camp Omega. So with that impression left from this demo, 'Ground Zeroes' accomplishes its mission. But with only a B ranking. Which I think gets you a shotgun and a sniper rifle at the start of the level. Meh, they'll do the job.

In the end, I find 'Ground Zeroes' to become stale and repetitive after the 2nd or 3rd playthrough of each mission. But if you're a purist, there is hours of material in it to keep you occupied. It's a very jam packed demo, but only for the purists. But it is fun before the monotony sets in. And it's fun for everyone.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Cold Blood

It's been a 7 day work week again, with only two more days to go. Nine days in a row, ten hours each, exhausted after the first 6. My knee was holding up alright until today when I had to kneel on it quite a bit doing loads of ducking under pipes and avoiding other overhead obstacles. Two more days, then home for a week straight. It'll be nice to get away from my co-workers for a bit and just relax indoors. The weather here has been rainy and dreary all week. There was no sunshine at all until today when it popped out from behind the clouds for about 5 minutes. Mud has been an issue for us all. It's more like clay though. We're working in the lowest elevation of the whole area and it just floods all the time from rain runoff. Today I had to switch gloves 6 times so I could keep a grip on my tools and what I was working on. Fucking mess. I lost a couple of tools to it because they were so covered at the end of the day I just could not find them. Cold, tired, wet and muddy, and just all around miserable. All of us, not just me. I was so glad to get out of there today.

Been on an Akira Yamaoka kick the last couple of days. I wish he'd do another full album.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Lost In The Headlights

I haven't slept well all week. The last few nights I've woken up on the hour, every hour and then spend 20 minutes awake before drifting off again. It feels like jetlag, but I haven't flown in years. And when I do sleep it's restless dreams for me, and waking up more exhausted then when I drifted off. I've had that particular problem for years now, but the wake/sleep/wake/sleep cycle is new. It's very annoying. I love sleeping. It's one of my five favorite things to do. And my dreams are restless, but are always interesting and, to a certain extent, entertaining to recall. I seek no deep meaning in them though. I've no doubt that dreams are the doorway to our minds true potential and can contain prophecies and deep tellings of the soul, but I highly doubt mine do. I certainly hope not anyways...

 The last few days have been hectic at work as well, which could be related to the sleepless nights. I don't stress work when I'm not at work though. I'm done thinking about it as soon as I clock out and want no reminders of it outside of it. That attitude will never get me a promotion or advance my career, but it'll save me some ulcers and some off the clock unpaid overtime. Fair trade? Meh, it'll do. I admire the people that can live for work. I can't do it. It's just a necessary evil in my eyes, work. It is satisfying, and after all the bullshit that comes with it I do like my job (I just hate the company & myself for signing the contract), but I go to work so I can live not vice versa. I may never build a business empire that way, but I will be happy. As happy as can be anyways.

I'm not going deep on any subjects tonight though, I'm too tired to make any valid statements or wax philosophical.

I will say that Machine Head's 'Bloodstones & Diamonds' is growing on me. Gave it a listen after work tonight and it's pretty solid. Not as good as 'The Blackening', but they'll never top that. I find myself gravitating less towards angry Metal and more towards music with musical melody nowadays. So I'm surprised I got into it as much as I did tonight. "Game Over", while now and then lyrically cheesy, has got a vocal melody that just hooks me every time and makes me sing along. And after smoking a cigar I sound just like Rob Flynn when I do so, so that's cool. Those guys can play though. They're going down in Metal History for a reason, and it's not because of their offstage back alley habits.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Surface Tension

After a couple of days of lying dormant with ice packs and pillows underneath it, I can finally bend my knee again and put my full weight on it. It's improved enough to where I feel comfortable enough to go to work tomorrow and see what happens. It'll be nice to get out of this room and actually do something. I'm not used to be still nowadays.

Spent most of the time listening to music and re-playing 'Tomb Raider: Underworld', which I finally got to play on PlayStation 3. Until yesterday I'd only played the PS2 version, which was chopped up so much so as to be able to run on older hardware it was almost unplayable. Enemies would just stand there looking at you, I'd frequently clip through walls, and 2 level sections had been removed entirely. It was worth playing for the story only. So it was nice to be able to finally get to experience it the way it was meant to be. Had some slight bugs in the early levels, and the camera was an absolute pain in the ass at times, but man, what a great game. The story sucks me in every time I play it and I just have to see what happens next after every level. Wish they'd continued it.  

Here's a bit of music I found myself getting lost in as well over the last 2 days...

Pelican's "Strung Up From The Sky"...

Trampled Under Foot's "Down To The River"...
Princess Superstar's "Life Is But A Dream"...
Russian Circles' "Hexed All"...

I'm looking forward to going home for the holidays in a couple of weeks. I miss my dog, and I miss being around my stuff. I'm not materialistic, but I like my comfort zone. And for some reason I'm looking forward to the drive home. I hate road trips, but I like driving. I haven't figured it out yet. Hopefully the weather will cooperate with me so I can go safely.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Mirror, Mirror

I am now unable to stand solid without the assistance of a knee brace on my left leg thanks to a very stupid accident yesterday involving a fencepost, a post driver, and myself. Let's just say it's not the post that took a shot straight to the knee cap. But it got the show of me hanging on to a co-worker and screaming obscenities at it, the bastard. Went to the medic tent where I was prodded for an hour and told it felt like there was nothing broken. I'm sure I'd know if something were. I can still bend my knee a bit, but not much. And it hurts like hell all the time. Especially when I take the ice pack off. Wah wah wah get me a Wahmbulance...

So today was "light duty" at work after waking up to find my knee was a bit better off, which is always better then a bit worse. Light duty consist of sitting in a chair with my leg propped up on another chair, right in front of the door to offices where I'm the first thing everyone sees as they come in, and doing paper work for the office folk. I don't mind paper work. I do it every morning in my crew and I'm good at it. And it's a side of my company that very few of us "grunts" ever get to experience. The office folk never talk to us other than a "Good morning" if we ever see them so we never really know what it is they do. For all we know they're sitting in cubicles playing solitaire or Farmville most of the day. And I'll be damned if we weren't right. But to be fair though it was Throwdown Thrusday. Whatever the fuck that means.

It was very boring. But it was a good chance to put faces to names and say "Hello". I was the days door greater, after all. Where I work you hear names. And you hear these names attached to powerful titles. But you will very rarely ever meet these people. You are instead supposed to respect them from a distance and "know" them from the mass e-mails they send out telling us how much money we've made and "Thanks for making dreams come true!" while no pay raises worth a shit are given out. The way of the work world nowadays, really. But today I was able to put some of those names to some faces and it was fucking awkward.

They come up to you trying to be polite and ask you how you're doing and wish you the best and all you can think is: "You don't give a shit. You just don't want me to have a lost time incident so your reputation isn't tarnished. Go away.". Try as I might I couldn't shake the thought. Especially when my pain meds started to wear off in the afternoon and I became uncomfortable and crabby. There really are only two kinds of employees in my work's culture: Us and Them. You're either one of Us, or you're one of Them. There is no middle ground. It's an industry only out for the money as all are. If you're one of Us you go to work sick, you push through illness and injuries and you do it only because you have to or else you become a target of Them. I do not know how this came to be, perhaps it's always been that way long before I got in to it and in too deep (I'm under contract for another 3 years), and it's not right by any means, but it's real. Anyone in my line of work who tells you otherwise is either trying to stay on the good side of Them or is trying to become one of Them so they don't have to be pushed around by Them. And don't let those people convince you otherwise.

It was, however, a relaxing day. In 10 hours I did 2 hours worth of paperwork and said "Hello" to people I'll never see again so many times I lost track. And no, not all of Them are bad. There are always exceptions. They just come far and few between sometimes.

It's hard for me to put on a face and pretend to like and be buddy-buddy with someone I've no respect for. I just can't do it. So I had no problem telling The Big Boss today, whom I met for the first time today as well mind you: "I'll go back to physical work when I'm damn well ready. And I'll know when that is, not you. And if I need a doctor, I'm fucking going." when he asked how long I'd be down after mentioning the cost of doctors, X-rays, and a lost time incident for the company. Fuck Them.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Creeper

Productivity goes out the window and down the street to find a coffee bar that allows smoking inside when you spend 7 hours of a 10 hour day waiting for one person to come and sign a permit that allows you to do your job. So you spend those 7 hours bullshitting with the crew and watching the world around you, ever in awe of the things Man can accomplish when his mind is set on something. It's the only thing that keeps us at the top of the food chain, you know. We don't have thick skin to withstand claws of a predator, nor do we have a natural camouflage ability to hide from them. And we certainly don't have the sharp claws or teeth. Well, some of us have the teeth, but that's another subject...

Taking a break from constant online barrages against Square Enix, Crystal Dynamics, and Microsoft. Look, I get that people are pissed off about the "Rise Of The Tomb Raider" exclusivity. I get it, and I feel it, but sometimes it's too much and I need to avoid it. But at this point it is a timed exclusivity, and nothing more. It's an important word, that. And people seem to forget that the word was and still is used in press. Until proven otherwise I see no point in throwing stones at any of the parties involved, however tempting it may be. And it is tempting. Especially for the hardcores.

People seem to forget (or ignore) that Tomb Raider, great as it's always been, was something of a cult game series for the longest time. A big cult game series, but a cult game series nonetheless. And if you want to break out of that cult status you've got to make some changes and get attention. With 2013's 'Tomb Raider', Crystal Dynamics did just that. It was the biggest (and fastest) selling game in the history of the series. And it was fantastic. It has it's flaws and is by no means perfect, and for myself doesn't have the re-playability of older titles, but it's good. And when it was announced and adverts began to appear it unintentionally drew a line in the sand in the TR community. Some people were for the change while others despised it. But for CD & Square it paid off. The risk was worth the reward, and the reward was given.

So many new fans were soon in the TR community, and it has always been one of the most welcoming communities I've had the pleasure of being a part of. And it was many of the "elders" or "hardcores" in this community that felt outright slapped in the face and disrespected when 'Rise' was announced as an X Box 1 exclusive. Feelings of "We were here when you were nothing" were, and still are, felt. And perhaps rightfully so. I 100% stand behind the "We made you successful why are you fucking us?!" mindset I've seen. But at the same time, much like the reboot in 2013 proved, you need to do what's best for business in the vide game business. No one works for free no matter how much they love their job. There are bills and employees to pay, softwares to create and license, costly advertising campaigns, and loads of other stuff I probably don't even know about (I claim no expertise as I'm not in that industry).

The cost of a brand new video game nowadays is around $60. And I can remember very clearly games costing $60 back in the era of Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. It's one of the few entertainment medias that have not gone up in price as the decades have gone on. The cost of living, however, has risen incredibly since those days and still does and always will. If you've employees now, you can't pay them what the payscale was then. You could, but good luck with the results you get from an employee willing to live in the modern world on early 90's wages. Since the cost of games has remained (thankfully, mind you) stagnant, developers and studios have to find other ways to make enough money to cover all the costs of running a studio, developing games, and all the details involved within.

This is where exclusivity comes in to play. Now first off, another seemingly forgotten fact over the last few months: Tomb Raider is no stranger to being a console exclusive. Both 'Tomb Raider 2 & 3' were exclusive to PlayStation 1. It was only when sales began to slip and the contract expired that TR games graced other consoles. If one console's sales could've sustained the series, and if Sony had been interested in renewing even with the slump in sales, I firmly believe they'd have remained exclusives. But with a limited audience you can only sell so many copies of a game. When it becomes logical and necessary you have to branch out to survive. So in that respect, IF 'Rise' is indeed exclusive permanently, then TR has done nothing but come full circle. It's an "I hate this piece of the puzzle, but goddamnit it fits!" in the overall history of the series.

But I am not encouraging it. At this point, I am one of those upset about it and feeling disrespected by it. I'm just pointing that little fact out is all. Personally, I think IF it remains exclusive it's one of the stupidest business decision CD & Square could make, if not the biggest. With all the attention and money gained by the 2013 TR, it'd be incredibly stupid to limit and alienate the now swelled community. And if I were to be offered a contract for such a thing, I personally would want a little compensation for knowing I was about to alienate said community. You want a deal? Alright let's see here... Sony has sold X amount of consoles. I want the amount of money I'd get if EVERY owner of said amount of consoles purchased one copy of my game, plus the standard offer. That'd be my terms. And if the offer could be attained, fantastic. If not, "Sorry, but we'll take X amount of money for X amount of months of being an exclusive". With the way the XB1 has been financially failing as a console, CD & Square could get away with it. But keeping in mind the failing, it's also another reason why I'd personally not make the deal.

Your product can be amazing and change the landscape of your industry forever, but if no one sees or experiences it, it doesn't exist. And Square Enix have not been in business as long as they have been by making bad business decisions. They've made a few, but every business does. What matters is the size and severity of the mistakes. And keeping 'Rise' a permanent exclusive is a big mistake that would only benefit Microsoft. Someone in charge of keeping track of the money for Square had to throw up a hand and say: "Waitaminute! Bad idea and here's why!" when the deal was first brought to Square's desk. Every business has someone that keeps track of the money, and how to keep it coming in. That much I do know.

From the Official Square Enix Tomb Raider Forums, used with permission:

Thursday, December 4, 2014


I'm expecting to have the next three days off of work thanks to a massive storm making it's way from California and crossing over to the East coast. Should be here within the hour. It's been dark and ominous all day long here so I'm not calling it bullshit like the ice storm we were supposed to get today. It warmed up on Tuesday and has been warm ever since. Today was 53 with no wind, which is great weather to be outside in.

The last four days have been fairly counter productive. We spent the last half of the day Monday starting what should have been a one day project and just finished it this afternoon. The problem is the design of it. We had a plan on the first afternoon, put it into motion on the second and finished it, then was told by our customer it wasn't going to work. We knew what they were talking about and explained why we did what we did, but they were not convinced for some reason. So since they are paying the bill, we spent the third day taking it all apart and putting it together the way they wanted. Then they saw it again, saw how un-functional it now was, and asked us to take it apart and put it back together the way we had it the first time. Very frustrating, but in this business the customer is always right until proven wrong.

It happens all the time though. Things look great on paper, then you actually build it and look at it and examine it from every angle and there's always one or two unexpected flaws that render the whole thing useless. It's not that the designers don't know what they're doing (not all of them, anyways), it's just that sometimes shit happens. Sometimes it's something as simple as a nut or bolt being in the wrong spot thereby preventing the piece of equipment (or whatever) from fitting perfectly into s designated area like it's supposed to, sometimes it's a much bigger and more costly problem. But whatever it is, it's always annoying. You spend hours, days sometimes, working on something then have to go back to square one. A high tolerance is required.

As of this writing, five days from now 'Lara Croft And The Temple Of Osiris' will be released, and I'm getting pretty excited for it. I pre-ordered my "Gold Edition" goodies two nights ago and can't wait to get home to open them up. I'll be going home for Christmas so it'll be a nice self-gift. I've never been one for holidays of any kind, and I always tell people not to get me anything because I can count on one hand how many people I've actually given gifts or cards to. It's not that I don't care, I just don't see the point. Christmas, for example, does not mean what it is supposed to mean anymore and hasn't for a few decades now. We all love shiny stuff and pretties, and it seems to me it's just an excuse to get shiny stuff and pretties and not feel bad about asking for them. So I tend to just skip the asking and just tell everyone "Don't bother, I've got it" and get my own shiny stuff and pretties.

Last year my self-gift was new tires for my car, this year it'll be the 'LC:T.O.O.' Gold goodies, the game, and, money permitting, a PlayStation 4. I'm not a tech guy so I'm still unsure of the difference between a 3 and a 4 other than graphics, but it is the new wave and slowly but surely the 3 will be phased out and become obsolete. And by the time the next full on 'Tomb Raider' game comes to PlayStation 4 (which it will at some point) the 3 will be dead and gone. Same for the new 'Silent Hill' as well.

So I fully intend to be caught up with the technological times soon. It just may take longer than I'd like, but is still sooner than I'd ever intended.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Games Without Frontiers

After a week home sitting in heat most of the days I'm really having trouble getting used to being outside again in bi-polar weather. When I left home yesterday it was 28 degrees with grey skies all around threatening... something at any moment. Halfway down here it was sunny with temperatures in the low 70's. What a difference a few hours and a couple hundred miles can make. It stayed that way until the sun went down, then somehow dropped to the low 20's overnight and stayed that way until 10a.m. this morning. Finally it hit its high of 32 around noon and stayed that way with brutal winds and, once again, threatening grey skies. I heard talk of an ice storm coming this way on Wednesday, but I put no faith in that. I fully believe ice storms are common here in the winter, and I expect them during my time here, but I also know you can't trust the forecasts here on any given day.

Did some Black Friday shopping and came back with some new music to listen to. Picked up In This Moment's 'Blood' and 'Black Widow'. I can't stand Maria Brink's voice. She has a good screaming voice, but her clean vocals just make me laugh. And the music itself isn't much better. I listened to both albums back to back on the way down and nothing stood out other than what's already being played on the radio. I don't even remember any of the other songs to be honest with you. Except their cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Closer", which could've been great considering 95% of what she sings about is sex and desire and her vocal deliveries. That's a song that just begs for a female vocalist to cover it and make it even more sexy than it already is. They do a good job until she decides to scream the chorus. At this point I'm convinced they'd be nothing without her looks to carry them. I'm surprised they haven't re-named the band yet. They might as well.

Also picked up Machine Head's 'Bloodstone & Diamonds' special edition, whose packaging is fucking massive and takes up a lot of space on the shelf. It's got good artwork though. The record itself is ok. I enjoyed it much more than 'Unto The Locust'. "Imaginal Cells" is great. I don't care if they didn't write the spoken word used in it, the effects they use on the spoken word is fantastic. A very moody track.

And picked up Judas Priest's 'Redeemer Of Souls', which is the best of the bunch I got. It's classic Priest, representing all eras in the way 'Angel Of Retribution' wished it could. And 'Angel' was written and recorded with the intent of being a love letter to the past. Halford kills it like no one else can. There's a part about 4 minutes into "Halls Of Valhalla" where Halford, in his mid 60's, let's out the best scream he's done since the 'Painkiller' days back in the early 90's. It doesn't have the wind behind it, but it's got the range. His voice has aged well more than almost any other vocalist I've heard. Even Bruce Dickinson's voice hit a turning point in the mid 90's. Not for the worse, mind you, but it was a change. I don't know what it is he does to maintain it, but I wish he'd tell other singers the secret. And from the first note to last "The Beginning Of The End" is hands down the best slow-tempo Priest has ever done. And it's vibe and tone could've easily made it the best track on 'Sad Wings Of Destiny'. It's the best record Priest have done since 'Jugulator' in '97 or '98, K.K. Downing in the band or not. Great album cover as well.
Also got my mail when I was home, which brought me one step closer to achieving one of my life's dreams...

I can't wait.