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Carcassonne the River 2 Game
Carcassonne the River 2 Game

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A few things you should know about 'The River 2', 14 Feb. 2010
This review is from: Carcassonne the River 2 Game (Toy)
If you don't like the regular Carcassonne river expansion, then you won't like 'The River 2', but if you DO play with the first river then it makes sense to get this one as well.

The river expansions are generally best for those who don't like a farmer-heavy endgame. We alternate between river and non-river, but when playing with the river we always use 'The River 2' (which incidentally has some pieces that are compatible with other expansions: 'Inns and Cathedrals', 'Traders and Builders', and 'Princess and Dragon').

'The River 2' has a fork, which gives it some interesting twists and turns. The instructions say the fork should be placed right at the start (presumably to avoid a situation where the river would turn in on itself), however we play with the fork mixed in at random, making the river's shape less predictable, and this usually works fine.

The Blackadder - The Historic First Series [1983] [DVD]
The Blackadder - The Historic First Series [1983] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Rowan Atkinson
Offered by 247dvd
Price: £3.98

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A few things you should know about 'The Black Adder', 11 Feb. 2010
It's a long time since I saw the first series of Blackadder, which I remembered as being somewhat dull compared to subsequent ones. On re-watching, however, it proved to be funnier than I expected. The best episode is probably 'The Queen of Spain's Beard', which deals with Blackadder's attempts to get out of marrying an extremely ugly Spanish princess. Worth mentioning is Brain Blessed, who is hilarious as the fictional King Richard IV.

'The Blackadder' has surprisingly high production values and special effects compared to later series. Another key difference is Blackadder himself, who is far less intelligent than his descendants. Baldrick, on the other hand, is more intelligent...indeed he is almost normal! One of the best things about watching the series' sequentially is seeing the lead character's cunning and sarcasm develop, just as his social status goes down from Prince to Captain.

While still the least effective of Blackadder's various incarnations, this opening series is definitely worth watching, and if you are new to Blackadder you should probably watch it first, as it sets the scene for much of what follows.

Chopin: Ballades & Sonata No. 3
Chopin: Ballades & Sonata No. 3
Price: £5.99

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magic fire music, 11 Feb. 2010
If you're not familiar with Chopin's 'Ballades', then you need to hear them, simple as that.

If you ARE familiar with them, then you need to hear this version.

Nichloai Demidenko's playing is spellbinding - expansive, expressive, capturing perfectly the sense of adventure, of peering over the horizon which the Ballades evoke. The picture by Moreau on the cover (a knight and damsel riding into the unknown) summarises the spirit of the Ballades perfectly.

Ballade No. 1 - starts contemplative then becomes a tumbling cascade, which stabilises itself with a dignity not present in the opening theme. Then the power of the cascade returns, more restrained, for the most intensely powerful passage of the whole Ballade. After that, Chopin feels himself able to relax, with whimsy and humour, before this too is swept into the grand current. There are so many themes coming from each direction it is hard to know where to turn, yet each blends seamlessly into the whole.

Ballade No. 2 - much more nocturnal, not in the same way as the 'Nocturnes', but a more passive, contemplative piece than the first Ballade. Even the violent part (which feels a bit like a lost Prelude) is merely observed, not partaken in. The violence comes from nature rather than man, and is powerfully impressive.

Ballade No. 3 - this is the only Ballade in a major key, and also generally speaking the most restrained. It feels like a reflection of Chopin on his own soul, mulling over with a quiet sense of wonder what he may be capable of. It ends with a noble display of controlled self-assertion.

Ballade No. 4 - John Ogdon described this as "the most exalted, intense and sublimely powerful of all Chopin's compositions... It is unbelievable that it lasts only twelve minutes, for it contains the experience of a lifetime." I agree that it is the most beautiful of the Ballades, containing an unspeakable depth of subtle emotion, more than could remotely be expressed in words. Mysterious, beautiful and also with a quiet sense of hope for an as yet unfulfilled destiny...sad laughter sounds over rippled water. Sorrow and loss, but pride.

Demidenko's handling of the Ballades alone would make this album worth the purchase, but it also includes his rendition of Chopin's Third Piano Sonata. A magnificent, fiery piece, mercurial, yet far more coherent than the Second Sonata (with its famous funeral march), and full of psychedelic fire and clarity. Again Demidenko brings out subtleties in the music which maybe Chopin himself didn't even envision.

Price: £13.23

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A few things you should know about 'Runa', 9 Feb. 2010
This review is from: Runa (Audio CD)
This is the most overtly runic album in Fire + Ice's repertoire, not surprising as it was Ian Read's 'master work of lore' for Edred Thorsson's 'Rune Gild'. I'm not sure how it rates as a 'master work of lore', but considered purely as music it is very much to my taste - Faustian one minute, contemplative the next...and very, very Northern. Noteworthy pieces include the superb opening track 'Runa', the grim and threatening 'Hamr', and a re-recorded version of 'Nine Doors' (first heard on 'Midwinter Fires').

But the central piece of the album is 'Weirdstaves', which is Read's attempt at writing a rune poem. The music changes in mood for each aett (row of eight runes). Read writes three lines for each rune, the first two lines presenting a kind of thesis/antithesis. In SOME of the runes the third line constitutes a synthesis...that is, going beyond the thesis and antithesis to find an entirely higher meaning in the whole.

Here is an example for the third rune of the first aett:

"Thurs will shatter foes and wreak much harm;
Hot sparks fly from Thunar's hone.
But a raging giant proves hard to pen."

The first line concerns the destructive forces of the universe (the 'giants' in Norse mythology).
The second line describes the enemy of the giants - Thor, who fights for order and stability.
The third line looks beyond the opposing sides in the conflict to see what good comes from the whole. "A raging giant proves hard to pen" refers to the challenge that chaos (the giants) presents to order (the gods). Without chaos and adversity to fight against, the cosmos would slide into nihilism and decadence.

Not all of Read's verses can be interpreted in this straightforward way, however, or at least, I find it difficult to do with every line. Often the third line seems to be more of a warning than a synthesis. Other lines are even more cryptic, yet still essentially evocative. The album has an icy beauty it shares with its predecessor 'Midwinter Fires', while not as musically well-rounded as the following album 'Birdking'.

Great Annihilator
Great Annihilator

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A few things you should know about 'The Great Annihilator', 9 Feb. 2010
This review is from: Great Annihilator (Audio CD)
Not as magical as the preceding album 'Love of Life', yet darker and more epic in tone, 'The Great Annihilator' is one of Swans' finest works. The album feels claustrophobic, as if we are caught in the lungs of the cosmos as it breathes outwards (creation) then inwards (destruction).

A handful of the songs would have fit perfectly on the aforementioned 'Love of Life', for instance 'Blood Promise', an utterly beautiful piece: "Every breath, I stole from you, and I will never see your perfect body...I'll never betray your blood promise." But the sense of a force of gravity is far stronger here than on the albums which immediately preceded it. On 'Alcohol the Seed' Gira claims he needs alcohol to "open his blood" (he certainly wouldn't be the first artist to do so).

Another familiar Swans theme is the amorphousness of boundaries between the body and the universe, and two songs on this album deal strongly with this theme ('Mind/Body/Light/Sound' and 'Where Does A Body End?'). These are two of the most musically compelling pieces, especially the latter, although nearly every track on the album has a rich, hypnotic pull which it is hard to get away from.

'Celebrity Lifestyle' is a blackly humourous piece, which might well have been written about Paris Hilton (if it hadn't been penned in 1994). "All her children want a suck and a taste, of her celebrity lifestyle...a self-reflecting image of a narcotised mind...the perfect image of the end of time." Michael Gira has written a perfect portrait of a society in its death throes. Indeed, if a culture is judged by those it adulates then our own must surely stand condemned.

Jarboe contributes vocals on several songs, the best of which is 'Mother/Father', an intense piece about how "creation and time are made from destruction". But destruction is also 'made' from creation, and surprisingly few artists acknowledge that!

If you want to hear the best music of Swans, 'The Great Annihilator' is a good place to start, along with 'Love of Life' and 'The Burning World'. My wife just informed me that Gira has reformed the band and they have a new album in the pipeline. If it matches its illustrious predecessors, it will be fine indeed.

Encounters at the End of the World [DVD]
Encounters at the End of the World [DVD]
Dvd ~ Ryan Andrew Evans
Offered by d-uk
Price: £10.04

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A few things you should know about 'Encounters at the End of the World', 7 Feb. 2010
Full of odd questions ("Is there such a thing as insanity in penguins?"), Werner Herzog lands on the ice runway at McMurdo base for five months in Antarctica devoid of night. McMurdo looks like an ugly mining settlement (reminds me a bit of Norwegian Arctic towns like Alta and Hammerfest) but "as banal as it appears, it is filled with professional dreamers"...dreamers whose favourite food, funnily enough, is Frosty Boy Ice Cream.

The scientists see the ice as a dynamic entity, not the static monolithic environment many think when they hear the name 'Antarctica'. There are cracks in the ice that sound like ghostly footsteps, and seal calls which sound like Tangerine Dream. Life forms in the sea are "like science fiction creatures" as one scientist puts it. It is "a horribly, violent world" full of strange, Lovecraftian organisms, some of which seem to possess "borderline intelligence...almost art."

Some of the scientists Herzog interviews have a religious sense of awe in the face of their discoveries, while others seem almost braindead. "Yes, it's a truly wonderful moment when you increase the known biodiversity," one tells him, sounding about as excited as if he had just filed a report on the origins of sawdust. But another talks with spiritual and poetic insight of the sub-atomic particles called neutrinos.

The whole film, in fact, is full of surprising insights - for instance, that the British empire started to fail only after Shackleton had reached the South Pole. In other words, when no further expansion was possible. Strangely, in a film about uninhabited Antarctica, Herzog delivers a moving defence of the languages that are dying out around the world: "Tree huggers and whale huggers are acceptable, but no one embraces the last speakers of a language."

Herzog gets all apocalytic towards the end of the film, talking about the imminent demise of humanity, but whether or not one shares his pessimism, there is little reason not to watch this stunning documentary.

Hitler's Temptation
Hitler's Temptation
by Michael Walker
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A few things you should know about 'Hitler's Temptation', 5 Feb. 2010
This review is from: Hitler's Temptation (Paperback)
This unusual play deals with the relationship between Adolf Hitler and his half-niece Geli Raubal in the years before Hitler came to power.

The play's characterisation is deft, and in the opening scene we are introduced to three very different men: Hitler, Gregor Strasser, and party treasurer Maximilian Amann. Each of these men is a National Socialist, but each has very different reasons for being so. The dialogue at first seems overly technical for a play, until we realise that the political talk is vital for delineating the widely contrasting personalities of the three. The contrast between Strasser and Hitler is especially interesting, the former an idealistic socialist who supports Hitler out of pragmatism, and the latter a pragmatic man of action who nevertheless believes that his own destiny is divinely inspired.

Another character is then introduced - Geli, Hitler's niece. Having something of Hitler's magnetic power, she is nevertheless feminine in every regard, and only follows politics insofar as it concerns her uncle Alf ("If Alf were a football player I would know all the football players, wouldn't I?") Two more characters round the play out - Hitler's chaffeur Emil Maurice, who is in love with Geli, and a Jewish art student, Benjamin, who is in lust with her. There is one final player - Stocker, the SA man...who also happens to have a crush on Geli (she is a charming girl, but also a 'getabout' who relishes the hold she has over men - "She doesn't discriminate!" as Hitler bemoans).

One of the play's key scenes is an argument between Hitler's chaffeur and the Jewish art student. The lengthy exchange between them is riveting, and many telling points creep through the dialogue, points worth a hundred cold-blooded newspaper articles. It's "anti-semitism, the socialism of fools" versus "Marxism, the anti-semitism of fools." The other pivotal scene is when Hitler decides to leave the course of his fate up to Providence (an important theme throughout).

Geli wishes Hitler had stuck at being an artist and architect, and left politics behind. She can't understand why he has no interest in normal 'fun' things, and accuses him of being "like a dirty little professor with a beetle collection." In this, she echoes the Jewish student who claims that "Nazis can only think in categories." Hitler, for his part, can't understand why Geli has no appreciation of what he sees as his divine mission to save Germany. But after her death he observes that "she was innocent in a way no one will understand." Geli's death is a turning point for him: "Now there is no turning back, no compromise, no pity. We shall win this revolution even if we have to wade through blood, swim through blood. Drown in blood..."

Hitler believes that if his mission fails, the German people will die spiritually. "They might be talked about for some time after, seeming to exist by virtue of their language and their history, like a star that seems to shine long after it has died." That does indeed with uncanny insight describe the modern people who call themselves 'Germans'...but it also describes every other Western country as well. If there is any future for nationalism it either lies at the level ABOVE the nation state (pan-Europa) or the level below (the local community)...or both. Nation states themselves are indeed spiritually dead (as I believe the author of this play himself once opined in his magazine 'The Scorpion').

All that aside, 'Hitler's Temptation' is an intriguing play about a fascinating period of history. It is a work of literature at a time when very little writing is worthy of that name.

Xii Caesars
Xii Caesars
Price: £12.54

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A few things you should know about 'XII Caesars', 2 Feb. 2010
This review is from: Xii Caesars (Audio CD)
I remember reading Suetonius' 'Twelve Caesars' (in Robert Graves' famous translation) at university and finding it immensely entertaining. After hearing this album I will probably read it again.

H.E.R.R. is the musical project of Michiel Spapé, with lyrics and vocals by Troy Southgate and Miklós Hoffer. Spapé is a composer of considerable talent, and his neo-classical arrangements are highly accessible to the casual listener. The album contains a song for each of the twelve Caesars Suetonius wrote of, and I can guarantee that several of the tunes will get well and truly stuck in your head.

The lyrics offer unusual, sometimes humourous takes on the strange and diverse collection of Roman emperors, who ranged from the sublime (Augustus) to the perverted (Tiberius, Caligula) to the downright ephemeral (the year of four emperors). A fascinating glimpse into this colourful period of history...and one gets the feeling that H.E.R.R. have more such historical excursions up their sleeves in the years ahead, or so at least we can hope.

Rest on Your Arms Reversed
Rest on Your Arms Reversed
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £111.55

5.0 out of 5 stars A few things you should know about 'Rest on Your Arms Reversed', 2 Feb. 2010
Although a collection of rarities and compilation tracks, 'Rest on Your Arms Reversed' is coherent enough to feel like an album proper. It starts intensely and doesn't relent much at all along the way. Alzbeth was one of the most incredible singers of all time, and Albin Julius' 'medieval industrial' style gave her free range to bring all her demons into the fray.

Haunting, grim, hypnotic, epic, magical, militant, sorcerous, and above all, deeply European (despite one track on this album sounding almost like a Maori war chant). The Moon Lay Hidden Beneath A Cloud made music with roots in the blackness of the past and deep into the far shining silver of the future.

What else can you say about TMLHBAC, other than wondering when, oh when, their CDs will be reissued?

Looking For Europe: The Neofolk Compendium
Looking For Europe: The Neofolk Compendium
Price: £16.30

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A few things you should know about 'Looking for Europe: the Neofolk Compendium', 1 Feb. 2010
This compilation reveals the limitations and also the potential of music lumped under the 'neofolk' banner. It also includes relatively mainstream artists not normally associated with neofolk, like Scott Walker and Nico (both of whose contributions are excellent, by the way).

Four discs here, with quite a few highlights. One of the best pieces is 'The Hangman and the Papist' by English folk group The Strawbs (once covered by Blood Axis but the original is far better). Blood Axis themselves contribute perhaps the best song I have heard by them, a dark and haunting piece called 'The Ride'. In Gowan Ring's 'The Wind That Cracks the Leaves' is introspective and beautiful, and beautiful too are Ordo Equitum Solis' 'Playing With the Fire' and Darkwood's wonderful 'Der Falken Flug'. Andrew King's setting of the Kipling poem 'Have You News of My Boy Jack?' is deeply moving, as is Of The Wand & The Moon's 'My Devotion Will Never Fade'.

There are a few uninspired or boring pieces (and Laibach's contribution is simply awful), but for the most part this is a very good compilation. I'm not sure how representative of 'neofolk' it is, as everyone will have their own view on which artists should have been included (why no Current 93? and what about neo-classical projects like Sagittarius and H.E.R.R., or folk metal bands like Storm?). But that would be quibbling a bit much. If there must be a 'neofolk' compilation you would be hard pressed to find a better one than this, and in such beautiful packaging too. A quality endeavour.

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