• Evergrey - The Atlantic (2019)

    Swedish progressive metal quintet Evergrey might have released its greatest output yet with its eleventh studio album in twenty-four years of existence. The gorgeous cover artwork represents the adventurous soundscapes on The Atlantic perfectly as it offers lights and shades through stormy compositions.

    The record starts impressively with the epic progressive metal masterpiece ''A Silent Arc'' with its strong melancholic undercurrents that carry it successfully through almost eight stormy minutes of atmospheric entertainment.

    The band cleverly puts its most accessible song on the record next in form of the emotional ''Weightless'' that convinces with heartfelt lyrics and vocals. The song is a great introduction to the band, excellent representation of this album and should become a fan favourite during the upcoming concert series.

    Evergrey calms things down with sorrowful ballad ''All I Have'' that impresses with haunting piano sounds and heavy bass vibes that give it a slightly bleak and menacing tone despite the reduced musicianship.

    The band enters oppressive soundscapes with ''A Secret Atlantis'', a most creative track with sinister radio play passages, industrial metal riffs and a desperate guitar solo. Only the ever-soothing vocals offer some relief during this wild ride.

    The band somehow keeps the brilliant momentum of the first part alive in an equally convincing second half. One particularly outstanding song is industrial metal monster ''Currents'' with its vibrant electronic sounds and melodic vocals in an otherwise sinister tune with powerful drumming, longing guitar sounds and scarcely used mysterious keyboard sounds that blend in perfectly.

    If you appreciate bass guitar sounds as much as I do, give ''Departure'' a try because the instrument positively domineers this elegiac yet efficient songs where the simple musicianship serves as brooding background for most versatile and soulful vocals.

    Even the conclusion of the record is excellent with bleak and sinister album closer ''This Ocean''. It features particularly cold riffs, powerful drums and again impressive bass sounds. Epic keyboard sounds become more and more important and lead to an uneasy finale that almost ends the release on an unexpectedly thought-provoking cliffhanger. Other bands would take ten minutes to build up such a dramatic atmosphere but Evergrey accomplishes the same thing in four and a half consistent minutes.

    I usually don't describe as many songs from a single record, so you might have figured out that Evergrey's The Atlantic is a particularly strong album filled with gloomy emotions, astonishing musicianship and powerful vocals singing inspired lyrics. As soon as the epic voyage is over, you will feel like starting it all over again despite the fresh waves hitting your face. Fans of clever heavy, power and progressive metal should all give this record a spin. What we have here might already be album of the year material. It's too early to tell at this point but Evergrey's The Atlantic underlines that the metal scene is still impressively vibrant, profound and creative these days.

    Final rating: 96%

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  • Saw (2004) - Perfect combination of grisly and intellectual elements - 10/10

    Saw (2004)

    Despite its limited budget, the participation of numerous amateur actors and the Australian writers' first attempt at creating a script, Saw became an unexpected massive success that has sparked a total of eight entries in the franchise so far. While other popular horror franchises like Friday the 13th, Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street had their share of significant ups and downs, Saw is one of the most consistent franchises of its kind. It represents horror cinema of the new millennium like nothing else.

    There are numerous reasons why this first film of the franchise is nowadays considered a contemporary classic. The bleak settings get you into the film right from the start. The plot gets increasingly complex, surprising and twisted as it keeps viewers on the edge of their seats from start to finish. The acting performances are surprisingly solid and intensify the movie's grisly emotions. The sinister special effects touch a profound survival instinct in the viewer that is repulsive yet inherent. The haunting soundtrack blends in perfectly. The camera work is calm and precise as it can be interpreted as an antithesis to the highly emotional story. A particular element of this film and the franchise in general are its concise flashbacks offering important background information adding continuous depth to the story.

    For those not familiar with the movie's content, the film revolves around a photographer and a doctor who get kidnapped and awake in the restroom of an abandoned building. They soon realize that they are being held prisoners but are offered clues in order to find out why they have been imprisoned and how they can find a way out. The protagonists also realize that the person behind their fate is a philosophical serial killer known as Jigsaw. Meanwhile, the wife and daughter of the doctor also get involved in this deadly game. Frustrated police officers as well as a desperate private investigator try tracking down the anonymous serial killer separately before time tuns out for the two victims.

    The combination of desperate survival instinct and grisly gore elements on one side and the detailed film-making and intelligent plot on the other side make Saw completely unique. Splatter film enthusiast and supporters of intellectual psychological thrillers will be equally drawn to this film and its ensuing franchise. Saw even deserves a better reputation than it has as it's often reduced to its visually shocking elements which neglects one of the best stories one could ever witness in a horror movie. No matter what kind of cinema you prefer, you should know that Saw should be considered the type of movie you should watch at least once in your lifetime. Having hesitated a long time to give this franchise a chance because of its unjustified stereotypical reputation, I have ended up discovering a modern cinematic masterpiece and the greatest horror movie franchise ever.

    Saw II (2005) - Psychological duel of vital importance - 9/10

    Saw II (2005)

    Creating a successful movie on amateur actors, inexperienced screenwriters and low budget is quite an accomplishment in itself. Following such a film up with a strong sequel within a single year is an even greater challenge. Somehow, Leigh Whannell and Darren Lynn Bousman delivered the goods and offered a movie that kept the grisly tension of the original movie and added some depth to old and new characters. Even though this sequel isn't as creative as the first installment, it comes surprisingly close and underlines the significance of this contemporary horror movie franchise.

    The movie revolves around four strong lead characters, including two old and two new ones. The film gives an insight how the mild-mannered John Kramer became the cold-hearted Jigsaw and elaborates upon the twisted philosophy behind his actions.

    Survivor Amanda Young who had a rather brief appearance in the predecessor is a very important and unpredictable character in this sequel who has to play another deadly game with a group of seven strangers who must uncover what they have in common in order to survive.

    Police investigation is more important in the sequel than in the predecessor. The viewers are introduced to two officers with completely different philosophies who complement each other perfectly. Allison Kerry is a factual, pragmatic and realistic investigator who always follows the rules by the book in a nearly emotionless way.

    Eric Matthews on the other side is a brutal, emotional and pitiless investigator who regularly breaks the rules and clashes not only with colleagues and superiors but also with the criminals he has to deal with and his own family members.

    This is an important detail since his estranged son is among the serial killer's eight test subjects. The investigator and the serial face off in a psycholigical duel that may decide upon life and death which leads to a showdown with unexpected twists.

    If you appreciated the first entry in the franchise, you are also going to like this surprisingly rewarding sequel as well as all other installments. This second entry is even less graphic than the predecessor and can genuinely be described as psychological thriller. It convinces with diversified characters, sinister locations and a twisted plot that offers an elevated number of surprises for the gripping finale. Once again, this entry in the franchise finds the perfect balance between grisly and intellectual elements that will keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. 

    Saw III (2006) - Facing the philosophical aspect of forgiveness - 9/10

     Saw III (2006)

    After a grilsy yet intellectual first movie and an intense psychological duel for the sequel, this third entry in the franchise deals with the philosophical aspect of forgiveness. Serial killer John Kramer is on his deathbed but he keeps organizing his twisted games in order to make people value their lives until his final breath. He asks an accomplice to kidnap a doctor who must make sure the serial killer survives until his latest victim succeeds in completing a series of particularly intriguing tests as a broken family father must decide whether he forgives those who are responsible for his son's tragic death that also destroyed his life. However, it's not only his latest victim who has to decide to be forgiving as another person is also playing a game without even knowing it.

    The strongest element of the movie is its philosophical depth when the viewers needs to wonder how they would react under specific circumstances. Could you forgive a driver who hits your son so badly that he dies? How would you feel about a witness to this accident who doesn't intervene? What would you do to a judge that spares the reckless driver from a harsh sentence? The movie teaches us that we are all monsters inside but have different capacities in controling them.

    This third entry is also the one with the greatest depth regarding the dying serial killer. One understands his motivations better than in previous installments. He is open to discuss his points of view on his deathbed which gives us a strangely fascinating yet gloomily repelling insight.

    The film's stunning conclusion manages to surprise yet again as all loose ends are tied together and lead to a dramatic showdown that viewers won't see coming. The scriptwriters still manage to add intellectual depth at the most unexpected moments. The clever ending is rewarding and already leaves the viewers wanting to watch the next installment.

    The philosophical aspect of forgiveness makes this movie stand out. The dealy traps are slightly less twisted than before but much more personal for the test subjects. Thanks to this fresh approach, this film is only slightly less intriguing than the strong immediate predecessor. Fans of the series can't get around watching this film. Saw III underlines the franchise's status as greatest horror film series of the new millennium.

    Saw IV (2007) - If you think it's over, better think again! - 9/10 

    Saw IV (2007)

    What could be the point of continuing the series after Jigsaw's spectacular death at the end of the third installment? Many people were skeptical but Saw IV turned out being an unexpected success underlining the franchise's longevity.

    This movie convinces with the development of characters formerly perceived as side characters that now become lead charcaters that would not only turn out being important in this particular film but in the entire franchise in general. The two most fascinating characters in this particular film are Officer Daniel Rigg who has become obsessed with stopping Jigsaw's deadly games and Detective Mark Hoffman who is quite the opposite with his rational, factual and cold approach. These two characters complement each other perfectly but also clash quite intriguingly. John Kramer's ex-wife Jill Tuck also has an increasingly important role in this film as she portrays a mysterious woman whose intentions aren't always clear.

    The viewers are offered a surprisingly creative plot that cleverly connects with elements from previous installments. This film offers so many clues, details and flashbacks that you have to watch it very carefully and patiently to understand all of its diversified aspects. The movie's conclusion manages once more to come as a complete surprise. The screenwriting of this particular installment might even be the best of the entire franchise.

    The film also surprises with an excellent soundtrack that only intensifies its grisly, mysterious and sinister atmosphere. In combination with the precise camera work, the soundtrack accentuates this installment's underlying film noir elements as the viewers follow a gloomy police investigation. The emotional title track was performed by Japanese visual kei veterans X Japan that released their first new single in ten years for this occasion.

    Saw IV isn't the greatest film of an excellent franchise but most certainly the most astonishing surprise. All questions seemed to be answered at the end of the intense predecessor but this movie takes the viewers by surprise and can basically be seen as the start of the second season of the franchise that focuses on the events after the serial killer's demise. This movie convinces with an unexpectedly clever plot, profound characters and a strong soundtrack. If you had thought the franchise was finished, better think again and give this outstanding film a chance to blow your mind. 

    Saw V (2008) - The hunters are being hunted - 8/10

    Saw V (2008)

    Saw V focuses less on deadly traps but rather intensifies the duel between a desperate, lonesome and sinister Agent Peter Strahm who tries to find evidence to frame brutal, cool and pitiless Detective Mark Hoffman for inheriting Jigsaw's legacy and keeping the deadly games going. As nobody believes the agent who is even put on medical leave, he steals files from past cases to research them in order to put pressure on the detective. He discovers the case of a convicted murderer who died in a pendulum trap he didn't have the chance to escape which breaks with Jigsaw's code of honour. When Agent Peter Strahm discovers that the convicted murderer had killed Detective Mark Hoffman's sister, he holds the evidence to arrest his opponent. However, the motivated agent seems to underestimate the fact that his opponent is already aware that he has lost his cover and has been preparing a trap for the one who is chasing him.

    While the main plot is tense, sinister and gripping, this movie uses less deadly traps than its immediate predecessor but the ones that are shown in the movie are actually among the most creative ones in the franchise. Five people with a sinister connection face a series of deadly traps that bring out the worst in each of them. As usual, there are meanings behind the different traps that the five adults must understand in order to guarantee their survival.

    Even though the fifth entry in the franchise convinces with a solid main plot with two intriguing characters portrayed by two excellent actors and a side story involving a series of clever traps, this movie is a little bit less convincing than the four predecessors. This is mainly due to a lack of unexpected surprises towards the end of the film despite a tagline that claims otherwise. The middle section is also somewhat plodding and especially the scenes with Jigsaw's ex-wife Jill Tuck could at least have been shortened or even cut altogether.

    Still, fans of the franchise will certainly appreciate this film that includes once again many flashbacks that explain and revisit events from the past four entries in an intriguing way. It only makes sense to watch these movies in chronological order as it's impossible to understand the characters' motivations and intertwined story lines if you have skipped one or several of this film's outstanding predecessors. Despite being an overall great film, Saw V is the first sign of a slow decline of the franchise that would have two more sequels before going on hiatus for about seven years. While the first four entries in the franchise are essential for anyone who likes horror movies and psychological thrillers, Saw V is highly recommendable for fans of the franchise but not as extraordinary as it could have been with some more time to develop an even tighter script.

     

    Saw VI (2009) - Underlining the franchise's remarkable resilience - 8/10

    Saw VI (2009)

    After a solid but overall less convincing fifth installment, the sixth entry in the psychological horror franchise is a step in the right direction without reaching the quality of the first four movies. The film has a strong moral side as the test subject is a ruthless insurance executive this time around who decides upon life and death by applying or refusing a policy. Rather than facing deadly traps himself, he encounters colleagues in such traps and must decide who is going to live and who is going to die until he will be judged himself at the end of his ordeal.

    The side story is already quite intriguing and unpredictable but the main plot is even stronger and follows the events of the previous installments. Detective Mark Hoffman tries to provide evidence to incriminate deceased Agent Peter Strahm with his own crimes but gets caught up in a web of lies that he soon can't control anymore. He is trying to keep John Kramer's sinister legacy going while distracting his colleagues and superiors long enough to find a way out of his difficult situation. However, John Kramer's ex-wife Jill Tuck also becomes an increasingly important pawn in a deadly game of chess between the police forces and the successors of the philosophical serial killer.

    The movie convinces with a bleak atmosphere reminding of a film noir atmosphere from start to finish. The plot is clever, intense and unpredictable. The traps are creative and seem less grisly than usual. The movie ends with a dramatic showdown recalling the franchise's greatest installments. It's obviously difficult to surprise audiences with a sixth installment as some ideas have been used before but this movie is certainly great for what it is.

    Those who expected a steady decline of the franchise after a slightly weaker predecessor, will be surprised by this movie's resilient quality. It once again underlines the franchise's success despite negative reviews by so-called experts around the world. Those experts can watch three-hour long sentimental dramas and nominate them for ten Academy Awards. Fans of the franchise will rather watch ninety- minute long surprising, intense and brutal psychological thrillers like this one. Quality doesn't always need to be intellectual. I would watch Saw VI over any Terrence Malick flick in a heartbeat. You should give it a try to as you might get positively surprised. 

    Saw 3D: The Final Chapter (2010) - Rushed and predictable but in the spirit of the franchise - 7/10

    Saw 3D: The Final Chapter (2010)

    Saw 3D is the seventh installment in the psychological horror franchise about philosophical serial killer John Kramer alias Jigsaw. It was initially planned to conclude the series with two films but after poor box office results for the predecessor, the two scripts were scrammed into one for this movie. The franchise also jumped on the bandwagon and released this feature with three-dimensional effects. The premise of the movie was quite worrisome in my opinion. Two scripts scrammed into one have rarely led to solid movies. Films with three-dimensional effects often focus on visual elements and neglect the plot which would be terrible for such a clever horror series as Saw. The announcement that this would definitely be the final part of the series also rose expectations in order to properly connect and conclude all seven films which would seem quite ambitious to say the least.

    Even though Saw 3D is clearly the worst of the first seven films, it's still better than anticipated. The plot is rushed and leaves a few questions unanswered instead of properly concluding the franchise. The main twist is also highly predictable and makes for the weakest script of the series. The three-dimensional effects aren't particularly spectacular which isn't a bad thing since they aren't overused and don't reduce the movie to sinister eye candy. I could however imagine viewers paying an additional three or four dollars for wearing uncomfortable glasses for ninety minutes feeling cheated.

    The movie revolves around a pretentious self-help guru who has published an autobiography about his survival of Jigsaw's deadly game. He also organizes support groups for other survivors and appears on television to increase sales figures. However, the whole story is made up and he has never been kidnapped by Jigsaw and his spiritual successors. Obviously, he is going to be kidnapped soon enough and has to prove whether he is as resilient as described in his own book in order to save those who have benefited from his ruthless scam.

    While this side story is interesting enough, the main plot that attempts sometimes more and sometimes less convincingly to connect this movie to its six predecessors is even more intriguing. Detective Mark Hoffman is being hunted down like game after blowing his cover but he still seeks revenge for what Jigsaw's ex-wife Jill Hunt did to him. She seeks the protection of the police that is coming continuously closer to capturing the rogue detective. However, the antagonist still has some cards up his sleeve. Nobody however predicts the involvement of a third spiritual successor of the serial killer who decides to intervene to keep Jigsaw's heritage alive.

    Despite being the weakest installment in the franchise up to that point and offering a rather unsatisfactory resolution, Saw 3D should still appeal to fans of the franchise as a good average movie. Still, it might have been the right decision to pull the plug at that point before slowly destroying the reputation of an incredibly consistent horror franchise up to that moment. Obviously, greed has brought the franchise back seven years later with a reboot entitled Jigsaw, making it the eighth entry in the franchise. Another sequel is already being planned at this point. Personally, I don't believe it's necessary to make this franchise a never-ending story. Moderation is the key and seven entries are already more than enough in my book. 

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  • Aquilus - Griseus (2011)

    This release has the term pretentiousness written all over it. We get a Latin band name and album title. The cover artwork seems to be taken from a painting. The song titles have a poetic touch. The song lengths are challenging and opening an album with a track hitting the fourteen-minute mark is something one would rather expect from a veteran progressive metal band. This release is a one-man project by Horace Rosenqvist who calls himself Waldorf and who quite simply recorded everything. This record reeks of a loner putting together obscure soundscapes in his parents' basement like in the not-so-good old Myspace days.

    However, Aquilus' Griseus is actually a very solid album that deserves some of the praise it has gotten over the past few years. The record has an epic sound based upon elegant symphonic keyboard passages that would make this album a perfect video game soundtrack. The occasional acoustic guitars also blend in with relaxed melodies. The choirs are scarcely used which makes them very efficient.

    These uplifting symphonic neofolk passages are contrasted by melodic black metal elements. This release offers a few cold guitar riffs that add some grit to keep the long tracks together. The harsh vocals sound quite unusual, being almost breathed or whispered at times. They lack power in my opinion but certainly have a quite unique style. Even people who usually despise black metal vocals could appreciate them in the context of this release because they aren't overused and always contribute cleverly to the atmosphere.

    Despite the massive song lengths and a total running time just below eighty minutes, the record grabs you with its mysterious atmosphere right from the start and manages to keep things imaginative until the very end. One shouldn't listen to this album while being tired though because the calm passages will soon make you fall asleep but if you actively listen to this record with your headphones on, it will take you on a wondrous voyage.

    In the end, Aquilus' Griseus isn't the masterpiece some people claim it to be but it is an elegant mixture of symphonic neofolk and epic melodic black metal that is perhaps best compared to Summoning but certainly has its very own style. It might be one of the most imaginative metal records of the decade. I couldn't listen to this release quite regularly because of its massive length and at times sleep-inducing vibes but it certainly is a creative discovery I like to come back to from time to time.

    Final rating: 80%

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  • Saw 3D: The Final Chapter (2010)

    Saw 3D is the seventh installment in the psychological horror franchise about philosophical serial killer John Kramer alias Jigsaw. It was initially planned to conclude the series with two films but after poor box office results for the predecessor, the two scripts were scrammed into one for this movie. The franchise also jumped on the bandwagon and released this feature with three-dimensional effects. The premise of the movie was quite worrisome in my opinion. Two scripts scrammed into one have rarely led to solid movies. Films with three-dimensional effects often focus on visual elements and neglect the plot which would be terrible for such a clever horror series as Saw. The announcement that this would definitely be the final part of the series also rose expectations in order to properly connect and conclude all seven films which would seem quite ambitious to say the least.

    Even though Saw 3D is clearly the worst of the first seven films, it's still better than anticipated. The plot is rushed and leaves a few questions unanswered instead of properly concluding the franchise. The main twist is also highly predictable and makes for the weakest script of the series. The three-dimensional effects aren't particularly spectacular which isn't a bad thing since they aren't overused and don't reduce the movie to sinister eye candy. I could however imagine viewers paying an additional three or four dollars for wearing uncomfortable glasses for ninety minutes feeling cheated.

    The movie revolves around a pretentious self-help guru who has published an autobiography about his survival of Jigsaw's deadly game. He also organizes support groups for other survivors and appears on television to increase sales figures. However, the whole story is made up and he has never been kidnapped by Jigsaw and his spiritual successors. Obviously, he is going to be kidnapped soon enough and has to prove whether he is as resilient as described in his own book in order to save those who have benefited from his ruthless scam.

    While this side story is interesting enough, the main plot that attempts sometimes more and sometimes less convincingly to connect this movie to its six predecessors is even more intriguing. Detective Mark Hoffman is being hunted down like game after blowing his cover but he still seeks revenge for what Jigsaw's ex-wife Jill Hunt did to him. She seeks the protection of the police that is coming continuously closer to capturing the rogue detective. However, the antagonist still has some cards up his sleeve. Nobody however predicts the involvement of a third spiritual successor of the serial killer who decides to intervene to keep Jigsaw's heritage alive.

    Despite being the weakest installment in the franchise up to that point and offering a rather unsatisfactory resolution, Saw 3D should still appeal to fans of the franchise as a good average movie. Still, it might have been the right decision to pull the plug at that point before slowly destroying the reputation of an incredibly consistent horror franchise up to that moment. Obviously, greed has brought the franchise back seven years later with a reboot entitled Jigsaw, making it the eighth entry in the franchise. Another sequel is already being planned at this point. Personally, I don't believe it's necessary to make this franchise a never-ending story. Moderation is the key and seven entries are already more than enough in my book.

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  • Saw VI (2009)

    After a solid but overall less convincing fifth installment, the sixth entry in the psychological horror franchise is a step in the right direction without reaching the quality of the first four movies. The film has a strong moral side as the test subject is a ruthless insurance executive this time around who decides upon life and death by applying or refusing a policy. Rather than facing deadly traps himself, he encounters colleagues in such traps and must decide who is going to live and who is going to die until he will be judged himself at the end of his ordeal.

    The side story is already quite intriguing and unpredictable but the main plot is even stronger and follows the events of the previous installments. Detective Mark Hoffman tries to provide evidence to incriminate deceased Agent Peter Strahm with his own crimes but gets caught up in a web of lies that he soon can't control anymore. He is trying to keep John Kramer's sinister legacy going while distracting his colleagues and superiors long enough to find a way out of his difficult situation. However, John Kramer's ex-wife Jill Tuck also becomes an increasingly important pawn in a deadly game of chess between the police forces and the successors of the philosophical serial killer.

    The movie convinces with a bleak atmosphere reminding of a film noir atmosphere from start to finish. The plot is clever, intense and unpredictable. The traps are creative and seem less grisly than usual. The movie ends with a dramatic showdown recalling the franchise's greatest installments. It's obviously difficult to surprise audiences with a sixth installment as some ideas have been used before but this movie is certainly great for what it is.

    Those who expected a steady decline of the franchise after a slightly weaker predecessor, will be surprised by this movie's resilient quality. It once again underlines the franchise's success despite negative reviews by so-called experts around the world. Those experts can watch three-hour long sentimental dramas and nominate them for ten Academy Awards. Fans of the franchise will rather watch ninety- minute long surprising, intense and brutal psychological thrillers like this one. Quality doesn't always need to be intellectual. I would watch Saw VI over any Terrence Malick flick in a heartbeat. You should give it a try to as you might get positively surprised.

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