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Mark Lahren RSS Feed (Bismarck, North Dakota USA)
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Rulebreaker [CD/DVD Combo][Deluxe Edition]
Rulebreaker [CD/DVD Combo][Deluxe Edition]
Price: $13.69
35 used & new from $8.00

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Primal Fear takes the torch and advances it another step forward., February 2, 2016
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Primal Fear has always produced very solid Power Metal, with skilled band members throughout their career. Ralf Scheepers powerful and wide-ranging vocals have always driven the show, backed by excellent guitar work, heavy bass lines, and great drumming. I was introduced to this band late in the game, by taking a chance on "Delivering The Black" in January of 2014. After having been a longtime fan of Gamma Ray, Primal Fear seemed like the next logical step after I'd devoured every Gamma Ray CD they released.

And I was not disappointed. "Delivering The Black", while mostly following the template Primal Fear had established up to that point, took a gamble and made one major change with that album that turned me into a fan; Ralf Scheepers decided to deliberately tone back his high vocal range. Instead of having his amazing high range showcased on nearly every track, he chose to explore more of his baritone range, which worked astoundingly well, which also resulted in this album having a different feel than all those that preceded it. It also showed me that this man's vocals are excellent at any range he chooses to sing at.

I was eager to find out if the band would continue this trend with this new album, "Rulebreaker". And they have. And the result is an album that is just as good as "Delivering The Black", and may be possibly better. Scheepers' exploration of his lower registers have added orders of magnitudes to these recent albums. In my mind, saving the high notes for dramatic effect was a shrewd strategic decision, as it greatly increases emotional impact when the time comes to use it.

Don't get me wrong: Scheepers still uses his high registers a good deal here, and in that regard, he only seems to be getting better with age. It's just that I appreciate that he doesn't use it all the damn time, which is a problem a lot of singers capable of such a range have; they don't know when to shut it off, and they therefore appear to be showing off. Listening to high vocals on a constant basis, no matter how good they are, is fatiguing to the ears. So I'm thrilled that Scheepers is one of those singers who appears to be embracing his full range, and using it to maximum effect. He has a wonderful baritone, and the emotion he is capable of delivering with it are most evident on tracks like "We Walk Without Fear" and "The Sky Is Burning".

The entire album highlights the talents of every band member in an understated way. The guitar solos and harmonizing are intricate and creative and easy to follow, and have a purpose, rather than being put there just for a chance to show off. In fact, nothing about this album is about showing off. Everything is done in service to creating a good song, which is refreshing these days, when a lot of artists are just plain showing off their talents, and the actual songs are taking a back seat. I'm pleased to report that this is not the case here. This is a great album, with really good songs, performed really well by everyone involved. If you're a fan of Power Metal, I highly recommend picking it up.


Game of Sins
Game of Sins
Price: $13.99
39 used & new from $7.55

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent recording by a band I had never heard of., January 23, 2016
This review is from: Game of Sins (Audio CD)
I stumbled upon this CD after listening to a UK podcast called "The Rock Show" which played the title track on its Christmas 2015 special. Up until then, I'd never even heard of Axel Rudi Pell. As I listened to the track, I initially was unimpressed, thinking it was pretty good, but highly derivative of many classic older bands. But during the first few minutes, it grew on me, and when the very melodic guitar solo struck, I was hooked. And now, after listening to the entire CD, it occurred to me that those strong classic influences might be the whole point of this band. And if they had been influenced by only one or two bands, I might be inclined to dismiss this band as just another good band. However, the guitarist and main songwriter, Axel Rudi Pell, seems to have been influenced by the entire history of great classic hard rock and heavy metal guitarists. Pell is like a living encyclopedia of rock guitar styles, both rhythm and lead. Listening to this album is like taking a trip back to the 70s and 80s and hearing the best that all those artists had to offer, condensed into an hour of all new songs.

All of this is presented in an understated fashion, such that I never felt that anyone here is showing off. The tone and melodies are spot-on, but never overwhelming. The guitar solos are pleasant to listen to. While capable of extreme shredding if he desires, Mr. Pell instead chooses to play in a more relaxed way here, resulting in every note being clear and easy to understand. Very, very pleasant to my ears. The drums and bass are thunderous, but no too much so, with every accent perfectly placed. And the keyboards add a great deal of atmosphere throughout. A very strong vocalist completes the soundscape.

The songwriting, while not really breaking any new ground, is solid, and the chord progressions, while somewhat predictable, occasionally will throw an unexpected curve into the mix, leaving my ears eager to hear the next turn of the song. This may be hard rock and metal, but I find it very relaxing to listen to, and it puts me in a good place emotionally.

After listening to this, I went and found a concert video they did back in 2012, and was surprised that they sound even better live. This studio recording may be technically perfect, but there is much more energy present in the concert video I saw, even though the audio quality wasn't all that great.

The audio quality on this album, however, is perfect. The performances are tight, and the mix is excellent, with the vocals prominent, the drums and bass heavy, and the guitar clean and crisp, without the "wall of sound" that most modern metal studio recordings normally suffer from. Clearly, a lot of work went into the recording, and the result is a very pleasant, almost comforting sound, if you like classic metal.

I bought this album not sure of what to expect, but I'm happy with my purchase. The only negative aspect is that my wallet is going to take a hit in the near future as I gather up this band's entire massive back-catalog. I have no reservations in giving "Game Of Sins" my highest recommendation.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 14, 2016 1:25 PM PST


Abort
Abort
Offered by Customer Direct
Price: $11.99
18 used & new from $1.82

5.0 out of 5 stars A lost gem., October 5, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Abort (Audio CD)
I discovered this band very late, having found out about them because I was a fan of the PC game "Thief: The Dark Project", and found out that three of the team at Looking Glass Studios had come from this band. Naturally, I had to check them out, and this was the first CD I managed to locate (at the time, all of their CDs were difficult to obtain). I currently only own two of the three, with "Sleeper" being the other, and "Here At The Home" eluding me due to cost. "Abort" is my favorite of the two I own.

Honestly, I didn't expect too much, reasoning that these people could not possibly have been involved in creating such a great game AND good music besides, but happily, I was dead wrong. Even if I had not been such a fan of Looking Glass Studios, I have to admit that I would have fallen in love with this recording anyway, but chances are that I never would have had the chance, since I never would have heard of them. The record stores around here never carried this band, and even as a music fan, the band's name never crossed my ears.

A shame they didn't get more publicity, because these are some of the most infectious songs I've ever heard. Some are upbeat, some are moody, yet all of these tracks contain excellent arrangement, downright groovy guitar hooks, melodic verse construction, very cool vocalists, drum fills that seem to be a bit inspired by Clem Burke, good playing all-around, and interesting lyrics. They simply didn't do anything half-way here, and the result is an album where every track is excellent.

I bought this years ago, and played it so much, that I finally had to put it away so I wouldn't get tired of it. Then I apparently forgot about it until today, when I again took it from my collection and played it. And oh, my. This CD still sounds just as good today as it did years ago. Highly recommended. Buy it before it gets hard to find again.


In The Beginning
In The Beginning
6 used & new from $59.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Not what I expected; Better than I expected, September 10, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: In The Beginning (Audio CD)
After years of wondering what this CD sounds like, I finally located a relatively reasonably-priced copy from an Amazon seller. I missed the original 1999 release, and when I finally found out about this CD a few years later, it was already long out of print, and very expensive, even second hand. And it's been very expensive ever since. Apparently, it has never had a second pressing. I had read a lot of poor to middling reviews on this album, so I was not motivated to drop a lot of money on this.

However, after recently acquiring Frank Dimino's new solo album (July 10, 2015 release), "Old Habits Die Hard", which is an excellent album demonstrating that Dimino still has his vocal chops, I went on a mission to locate my missing Angel CD, "In The Beginning", simply to hear how Frank sounded in 1999.

And while "In The Beginning" sounds nothing like the Angel I remember from the 1970's, I must say that this too is an excellent album in its own right, taken on its own terms. There is not a single bad track on here.

Dimino's vocals sound more like his 2015 solo album than his 70's vocals, but that's not a bad thing. He has cultivated a more refined tone here, but while he does sound different, his trademark vintage-era vocals come through quite frequently, making me feel very much at home. The first impression I had after listening to the entire album the first time through, was that he sounds a bit like Robert Plant did in the 90's. And I liked Robert Plant in the 90's, so that's a good thing as far as I'm concerned.

Barry Brandt is the other original member of this band now, and his drumming has lost none of its identity and power after all those years. It is unmistakably him, and once again, I am completely at home listening to him.

Richard Marcello is the new guitarist, and along with Brandt and Dimino, writes most of the songs. His guitar work is very good, and fits right in with the excellent songs on display here. I need to note however, that the songwriting is overall quite different from the Angel songs of the 70's. Depending on how nostalgic you are, this could be good or bad. For me, after literally a few minutes of adjustment, I grew to love this new songwriting, and can still see some of the original Angel shine through from time to time. In a few songs, the nostalgia factor is quite strong with regard to songwriting, as opposed to the singing and drumming, where the nostalgia comes through frequently.

I am also pleased to note that while Gregg Giuffria sadly does not appear on this album (and I miss him), Punky Meadows and Felix Robinson appear on several of the songs, turning in excellent performances. I was particularly blown away by Meadows' guitar solo on the song "Hero". Some of his best work, I think.

Other songs featuring Meadows (guitar) and Robinson (bass) are:

Track 1: "The Crow". Robinson
Track 3: "Hero". Meadows
Track 5: "Long Gone". Robinson
Track 6: "In The Wake Of The Storm". Robinson
Track 7: "Set Me Free". Meadows and Robinson

The other musicians in this band are all first-rate as well. They include:
Richard Marcello - Guitars and Keyboards
Leo Borrero - Bass Guitar
David DellaRosa - Guitars
Danny Peyronel - Keyboards

Songwriting: All songs written by: Richard Marcello, Barry Brandt, Frank Dimino, with the exception of "Set Me Free", written by Frank Dimino.

Summary: If you're a fan of Angel, I really think you'd be missing out if you don't own this. With a bit (or a lot) of patience, you should be able to get a copy somewhere at a reasonable price if you don't mind a bit of searching. That was the most difficult part for me. I didn't have a lot of time for relentless searches, so my searching was done very erratically, and thus took many years. With any luck, we can hope for a re-release, but I'm not holding my breath. But in my case, the result was well worth the years of searching and the somewhat inflated price I paid. Your results will vary of course, but hopefully your search will bear fruit, and (also hopefully) you'll be as happy as I am. Best wishes, and let's all hope for another Angel album.


Old Habits Die Hard
Old Habits Die Hard
Price: $9.99
31 used & new from $9.11

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Frank Dimino sounds better than ever, August 27, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Old Habits Die Hard (Audio CD)
Frank Dimino has always had a great voice. I was first exposed to it back in the mid-70's with his band Angel. I was 15 at the time, and was blown away by their first album. I was initially taken aback by Frank's voice, which to my musically untrained ears at first sounded a bit shrill. But I could not get enough of his powerful delivery, and eventually went on to buy all five Angel studio albums, and soon he became one of my favorite singers. His voice may not have pleased everyone, but looking back now, I could not imagine those albums sung by anyone else. I should note that I have never managed to acquire Angel's 1999 album "In The Beginning", so I have no idea what Frank sounds like on that album. I'm hoping that album gets a re-release, since I cannot currently afford what people are asking for it, since it's out of print.

And now I find out that Frank Dimino has released a solo album! This was exciting, as I had completely lost touch with what he had been doing in all those intervening years. Well, the CD has arrived, and it's like hearing from an old friend again. This was so good to listen to, and it did my heart good. First off, to any of you who did not like his voice back in the day, I think you will like it here. It's almost as if he is using an entirely different range, although there are many of his clear, signature vibrato notes where it is unmistakable that you are listening to Frank Dimino. In short, I think his voice has only improved with age. The songs are well-written, and all of the musicianship is very tight and professional, as is the overall production.

The only suggestion I would make for his next album (and I truly hope there is one) is that he seems to be playing it just a bit safe with some of these songs, musically and lyrically. This is all very well done, but I think Frank has a bit more creativity and imagination waiting to come out than is on display here. Overall though, this is a highly recommended album that has been a pleasure for me to listen to.


Kholat [Online Game Code]
Kholat [Online Game Code]
Price: $19.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pretty good., June 26, 2015
"Kholat" is a fictional game based upon the real-life mystery of "The Dyatlov Pass Incident". The Incident itself is one of the most compelling unsolved mysteries I have ever read about. If you are interested in such things, I highly recommend checking out a few books on the subject, many of which are available right here at Amazon. Be careful, though. Some are better than others, so it pays to read a few reviews. A lot of the facts presented in this game are real, but for the most part, the game has been fictionalized. Understandable, as the developers did need to make this work as an interactive game, and not a movie.

The question most gamers will ask is: Does this game really work well as a game, rather than a simple walking simulator? Well, yes and no. For the most part, it is a walking and running simulator (you'll be doing a bit of fleeing for your life here). You basically traverse a generously non-linear path from one point to another, picking up scraps of paper revealing the horror that has come before you. I spent the first two hours of the game simply trying to figure out how to best use the compass and map, and deciding where I wanted to go, getting the bejeezus scared out of me, changing my mind, and going another direction, knowing that sooner or later I'd need to return again to be scared again.

This game is drop-dead gorgeous. The snow and wind effects are simply unmatched. I shivered in my chair playing this. You start out at a train station in a small town at the beginning of a blizzard. It nearly felt too cold to play. From there, you eventually end up at the famed camp site and tent of the original expedition. The game uses Unreal Engine 4. I cannot attest as to how well it will run on lesser hardware, but on mine, it runs fine for the most part. I've got all my settings cranked to ultra, and I'm running it my monitor's native resolution of 2560 x 1440. My specs: Core i7 870, 8 gigs system ram, and a GTX 970 with 4 gigs ram. I am getting anywhere between 30 and 60 frames per second. I imagine it would run fine on much lesser hardware if you had a more normal resolution and set the settings down accordingly.

Is there much of a game here? Not really, although there are more gaming moments than in other walking sims. You will be avoiding AI creatures, and running from them if your avoidance fails. You will be searching out as many notes and facts as you can find. And you will be attempting to navigate with a map that doesn't show you exactly where you are. You must deduce your location by using your compass along with the notes you have found (which the map does show you, but only the found notes; not the notes you haven't found).

So, while "Kholat" may not be the most challenging of games, there are a few gaming elements. However for me, the main thing I look at is how well it conveys atmosphere. And in that regard, it passes with flying colors. The locations are stunning, the feeling of being lost is real, and the sense of wandering to the unknown is palpable. I bought it on GOG with intention of playing a game that would frighten me. The lack of 'true' gaming elements didn't bother me, and I am pleased with my purchase. There were a lot of slower-paced periods, but those were never boring to me, as I was primarily wandering around with a sense of awe at my surroundings. This is not a point-and-click adventure; rather you explore the world in a gorgeous real-time 3D engine. Your heart will race at times, but you may want to think twice if you are easily bored.


Kholat (PC DVD)
Kholat (PC DVD)
Offered by POSTED FROM UK UNITED KINGDOM!!!!
Price: $12.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unsettling and very atmospheric, June 16, 2015
This review is from: Kholat (PC DVD) (DVD-ROM)
"Kholat" is a fictional game based upon the real-life mystery of "The Dyatlov Pass Incident". The Incident itself is one of the most compelling unsolved mysteries I have ever read about. If you are interested in such things, I highly recommend checking out a few books on the subject, many of which are available right here at Amazon. Be careful, though. Some are better than others, so it pays to read a few reviews. A lot of the facts presented in this game are real, but for the most part, the game has been fictionalized. Understandable, as the developers did need to make this work as an interactive game, and not a movie.

The question most gamers will ask is: Does this game really work well as a game, rather than a simple walking simulator? Well, yes and no. For the most part, it is a walking and running simulator (you'll be doing a bit of fleeing for your life here). You basically traverse a generously non-linear path from one point to another, picking up scraps of paper revealing the horror that has come before you. I spent the first two hours of the game simply trying to figure out how to best use the compass and map, and deciding where I wanted to go, getting the bejeezus scared out of me, changing my mind, and going another direction, knowing that sooner or later I'd need to return again to be scared again.

This game is drop-dead gorgeous. The snow and wind effects are simply unmatched. I shivered in my chair playing this. You start out at a train station in a small town at the beginning of a blizzard. It nearly felt too cold to play. From there, you eventually end up at the famed camp site and tent of the original expedition. The game uses Unreal Engine 4. I cannot attest as to how well it will run on lesser hardware, but on mine, it runs fine for the most part. I've got all my settings cranked to ultra, and I'm running it my monitor's native resolution of 2560 x 1440. My specs: Core i7 870, 8 gigs system ram, and a GTX 970 with 4 gigs ram. I am getting anywhere between 30 and 60 frames per second. I imagine it would run fine on much lesser hardware if you had a more normal resolution and set the settings down accordingly.

Is there much of a game here? Not really, although there are more gaming moments than in other walking sims. You will be avoiding AI creatures, and running from them if your avoidance fails. You will be searching out as many notes and facts as you can find. And you will be attempting to navigate with a map that doesn't show you exactly where you are. You must deduce your location by using your compass along with the notes you have found (which the map does show you, but only the found notes; not the notes you haven't found).

So, while "Kholat" may not be the most challenging of games, there are a few gaming elements. However for me, the main thing I look at is how well it conveys atmosphere. And in that regard, it passes with flying colors. The locations are stunning, the feeling of being lost is real, and the sense of wandering to the unknown is palpable. I bought it on GOG with intention of playing a game that would frighten me. The lack of 'true' gaming elements didn't bother me, and I am pleased with my purchase. There were a lot of slower-paced periods, but those were never boring to me, as I was primarily wandering around with a sense of awe at my surroundings. This is not a point-and-click adventure; rather you explore the world in a gorgeous real-time 3D engine. Your heart will race at times, but you may want to think twice if you are easily bored.


Human
Human
Price: $9.99
129 used & new from $5.15

18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Review from a new fan, April 3, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Human (Audio CD)
I feel like I had to qualify myself as a 'new fan' in the title, because I really know nothing about this band, and I want to make sure the longtime fans take my review with a huge grain of salt because this is the first CD I've ever heard from this band. Also, I should disclose that I am 54 years old, and only happened to hear this band by accidentally hitting the local hard rock station that I normally don't listen to. I am not a music expert by any means, especially not of modern music, which I am normally not exposed to much.

So, taken on its own merits, and without the ability right now to compare it to any of their former music, I must say that I am really digging this album. The songs are all hard, crunchy, and catchy as hell. I could easily see just about every song on this disk making it to radio airplay. They are all very radio-friendly. And normally, too much radio-friendliness and catchiness would turn me away. But not here. In addition to the powerful hooks, these songs have a deep groove that grabs me and keeps me listening. So I can't fault the music, at all. The lyrics are very good as well. However, it seems that each song is lyrically written with a few very nice and meaningful lines. Then, those nice lines are repeated over and over. Nothing wrong with a bit of repetition, and some of the best songs ever written are very repetitive. However, I would have loved to see the band expand a bit more on the intriguing ideas they began to present in each song. I get the feeling they are very capable of it, and could have given the songs a bit more depth than they already have.

So to sum up, as a new listener, I really like this band, and fully intend to explore their back catalog. This is a very tight, talented band.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 5, 2016 1:26 PM PST


Amnesia
Amnesia
DVD
Price: $6.99

79 of 82 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very good mystery, with one detraction, February 22, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Amnesia (Amazon Video)
If you like a good, old-fashioned mystery, this will fit the bill, as long as you don't mind an ending that is somewhat unsatisfactory and feels rushed. Aside from that ending, however, the rest of this two-part drama was very nicely done, and paced quite well. The story is very good, almost excellent, the acting is also very good, as is the direction and photography. This was just perfect for me, as I was looking for a good mystery to watch in the middle of the night that would keep me interested without being overly traumatic. There is very little sex or violence to speak of. Instead, the focus is almost entirely on the characters and their motivations. Thus, I greatly enjoyed trying to puzzle everything out, while not being upset by the unnecessary violence found in most modern detective shows. And due to the relaxed pacing of this show, it succeeded in calming me down for bedtime, while at the same time exercising my brain just enough to take my mind off my daily problems. Movies like this, while not rare, are getting harder to find, though I've noticed that the British are still making them more than anyone else.

So if you're at all like me and like to figure things out, or if you have insomnia and are just looking for a way to relax and take your mind off things, I give this a high recommendation.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 4, 2015 7:31 PM PST


Salem Rogers: Model of the Year 1998
Salem Rogers: Model of the Year 1998

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great premise; Great acting; Paced too quickly., January 17, 2015
This show definitely has the potential to go somewhere, and I'd watch it if it was developed into a full season. The acting was perfect, and the premise is unique and a great idea. The characters are great, and the writing is very good. I can find no fault with what I saw on a technical basis. However, I did not laugh as much as I thought I would. I think the reason for this is that the producers simply tried to cram too much story into a half hour. There were many scenes that could have been much funnier than they were, had they been given time to breathe, and had the writers been given a few more lines per scene to work with for proper set-ups and delivery. As it was however, it was just one promising scenario after another, with the pacing so fast that it all went by in a blur. Comedy is all about timing. The actors have it, the writers have it. My problem is with whoever decided to edit each scene down to bare minimum, thereby giving no scene time enough to gel. Give the writers and actors more time to do what they need to do, and you've got something here. That said, I hope more episodes are coming, as I can see this show going places.


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