Tuesday, October 28, 2014

30 Years On - 1984 Killer Albums (Part 7)

Ride the Lightning was the first Metallica music I ever heard, albeit it was at the beginning of 1986 and not at its release of 1984. Thirty years on from that release date, and everything that makes it one of the best and most admired albums of the metal is still there and relevant to listeners new or old.

This album was a step up from their debut Kill 'Em All, without losing the elements of thrash that made it the standout it was. The start of the opener "Fight Fire With Fire" draws on that immediately, the clean guitar beginnings lulling the listener into a state of ambiance, before cranking into the thrash guitar riffs that envelops the speakers into the heart of the song. Just brilliant. I will never forget the day when, on a school bus trip we asked the driver to put this album on over the stereo. The beginning of the album brought responses from many of the girls on board of "Wow, isn't this nice music!"... before the anguished cries of "OH, what is THIS shit!" as the real guitars kicked in. The perfect response to the start of the album, from lovers of metal and detractors alike. The title track "Ride the Lightning" follows, and in turn moves into "For Whom the Bells Tolls". "Ride the Lightning" is dominated by the guitars and Hetfield's squealing young vocals, while "For Whom the Bells Tolls" is distinguished by Cliff Burton's bass warbling through the song, wah wah pedal on full. Great stuff.
Two tracks on this album highlight what made Metallica stand out from the crowd. The first is "Fade to Black", what some people in the mid-80's called Metallica's 'sell-out' song - how wrong they were, and little did they know what the 90's would bring in that regard! "Fade to Black" instead showed all the strengths of the band, without losing the intensity of their music. It is one of their signature pieces, because it showed that as a thrash metal band their were able to diversify without losing their roots (certainly, at this stage of their career anyway). "Fade to Black" has been the song I have played on every stereo I have bought since this time, to judge if it is good enough to stand up to my music needs. That's how I feel about the strength of this song.

Shifting onto Side 2 of the album, and the goodness just keeps on coming. Opening up with the brilliant "Trapped Under Ice", the speed returns in true style and hammers along with glee. The hugely underrated "Escape" follows. It seems to be a song that has slipped through the cracks of Metallica folklore, and I for one have never really understood that. Hetfield's vocals in particular are great in this song. Perhaps part of the reason for this song's undervalue is that it is followed by "Creeping Death", certainly one of Metallica's most favoured. Thirty years later it is still as good as it was back in the day. A gem. The closing song on the album is the second of the two songs that helped Metallica pull away from the crowd. The instrumental "The Call of Ktulu" is an amazing song, combining every great aspect of the Metallica legacy. It too combines those clean guitars with the thrash and heavy metal throughout different stages of the song, telling its own tales even without lyrics to do so. The building crescendo to finish the album is majestic, and puts an exclamation mark on what is a classic album.

Ride the Lightning still stands the test of time, and thirty years on is still as important as it was when it was released. The memories and nostalgia that it brings up for me whenever I listen to it continue to make this one of the finest albums of its genre.

Rating: Feel no pain but my life ain't easy, I know I'm my best friend.  5/5

Cricket Notes - October 28, 2014

Test Spin Woes With Both Bat and Ball

In light of the overwhelming defeat at the hands of Pakistan in the 1st Test, the usual suspects have been thrown up by journalists and fans alike as to the root cause of the demise, and the solutions to problems faced with trying to recover in four days to arrest and reverse that defeat. One thing that everyone knows won't change will be the pitch and the weather, so it is the Australians who must adapt quickly if they are to provide a better fist of the occasion.

The batting is where Australia failed to match their opponents in a situation where they should have done better. Alex Doolan ran out himself out in the first innings after a tedious hour at the crease, and then played back poorly in the second innings when he needed to consolidate on the fourth evening. Having copped a pace barrage at number three in South Africa he is now faced with spin from both ends in this series. It's a tough initiation, but one he needs to come to terms with quickly if he wants to be retained in the squad. Looming large over his shoulder is the ever present (when ever he is fit) Shane Watson, while there is every chance Phil Hughes could slot in at number three for the 2nd Test here. You would hope that the selectors would give Doolan the chance to redeem himself on Friday, given his century in the warm up match. Given the chop and change in recent times that is not an absolute given.
Michael Clarke, Australia's best player of spin, faced only a combined 22 balls in both innings. In these conditions, against this attack, the question of the skipper batting at number three should be raised again. If spin is going to be prevalent, he should be the man coming in to face it. Everyone knows he won't do this, and more is the pity. He should have done it in India last year, and he should do it now. Despite this, he needs to lead from the front in the 2nd Test. If he gets going it increases Australia's chances tenfold. Mitch Marsh was solid on debut without contributing heavily on the scoreboard. The jury is still out as to whether he can hold his spot at number six at this time, but the overs he bowls are needed on this tour to give the others a rest. A good contribution with both in the next Test will at least see him in with a chance of playing against India in December.
Warner, Rogers and Smith all batted well, though only Warner with his century in the first innings was able to go on and make a big score. Each showed the patience that is required in this setting, though each will be disappointed with the way they were dismissed in each innings. They will need to do the same again come Thursday. For once Brad Haddin was unable to save the team, and though he had a couple of lives Mitch Johnson was terrific in scoring 37 and 55.

With the ball Johnson and Peter Siddle did everything that could have been asked of them as seamers in those conditions. Though they did not appear to get the ball to reverse too much, they didn't concede easy runs and kept as much pressure on as possible. It is doubtful that either Ben Hilfenhaus or James Faulkner could have done any better than Siddle's effort. The only possible threat to his place for the 2nd Test is Mitch Starc, whose greater pace and better ability to reverse the older ball could prove to be a more potent weapon in these conditions. As he also tends to bowl around the wicket 80 percent of the time, it would not be like picking two left hand fast bowlers would be a problem in regards to similar bowling styles.
The two spinners were mostly ineffective, certainly in comparison to their Pakistan counterparts. Steve O'Keefe has never been a big turner of the ball, and has always worked on wearing down batsmen for his wickets. His selection for his Test debut was deserved after multiple successful years in the Sheffield Shield, but he is never going to be a match winner. As the second spinner, he did his job to the best of his talents in the 1st Test. Nathan Lyon was, for the most part, dreadfully disappointing again. There were a couple of half-chances off his bowling, but nothing that really inspired any great hope for the spectators. What was most frustrating was that he didn't seem to want to change his plans to try and make the batsmen have to think about what they were doing. He rarely changed his line of attack, he rarely changed his field to try different ideas. At times it was difficult to work out how he was trying to dismiss the batsmen. He only turned the rare delivery more than a couple of inches, and yet the Pakistan spinners sometimes turned it square. A lot of time has been invested in Nathan Lyon as Australia's number one spinner, and occasionally he has come through. The 1st Test proved once again that Australia needs to find a wrist spinner in order to be effective on these types of wickets, and that Nathan Lyon is still only keeping the seat warm for when the next spinner in line comes forward to take their opportunity.

The 2nd and final Test starts on Thursday, and unless some things change rapidly, it will also be the final Test in the careers of some of the Australians. The hierarchy will be desperate to slot Glen Maxwell into the team somehow, while both Doolan and Siddle will be nervously awaiting the team announcement. Whatever the makeup, if the skipper fails with the bat again, then it will be very difficult for Australia to square the series.

Positives and Negatives of October ODDs

The domestic one day season has been run and won, with Western Australia triumphing with a mix of youth and experience. Adam Voges and Michael Klinger led the way of the old guard, while the bowling of Nathan Coulter-Nile, Jason Behrendorff, Joel Paris and Ashton Agar was vital in the finish. New South Wales made the final with only three recognised batsmen and three wicket-keepers. Usman Khawaja showed he is still a big chance to resurrect an Australian career, Chris Hartley a chance to begin one. Cameron White reminded everyone that he is good enough to play at the highest level if given an opportunity. batsmen thrived at North Sydney Oval, bowlers could only wonder how to contain teams on a ground the size of a postage stamp.
Many so-called experts have criticised the tournament being played over one month, with the majority of matches in one city (and last season all in one city). Perhaps it is unfair to the visiting teams, though Queensland last season and Western Australia this season have won the tournaments away from their own home grounds. What it does do is allow players to concentrate solely on their one day skills, and that those who find form with bat or bowl (see all players listed above, and many others) are able to cash in on that form. If the schedule returned to how it has in the past - often a four day Shield game followed by a one day game between the same opponents the following day or day after - then would players have been as successful? Would Khawaja have been as dominant coming off a four day game, perhaps batting on a raging turner on the fourth day of the Shield game to batting on a road in the one day game? And what about those players who are now pigeon-holed as first class players only or one day players only? They'd be playing for their state once every 2-3 weeks, instead of every 2-3 days.
There is a reasonable argument that, in a World Cup season, the one day domestic season has now been completed, and candidates will not have any further games to push their cause for selection. In the changing climate of world (but especially Australian) cricket, this is the case with all forms. The Big Bash has hijacked the holiday season, with no Shield cricket played for two months, and yet Test teams still need to be named. It is the way of the world, and players are now more often being chosen in one day cricket on their Twenty20 form, so this argument is somewhat irrelevant in the current cricket world.

The only disappointment in the current format is the crowds, or lack thereof. Some fantastic one day cricket was played throughout the month of October, but barely anyone was at the ground to witness it. Does it need to be better promoted? Does it need to have games bunched around the Friday/Saturday/Sunday areas to encourage more people to go? 20 years ago I was a part of the consistent 15,000 strong crowds that journeyed to North Sydney Oval each season to see domestic one day games, and they were always great days and spectacles. Surely there is some way this can be brought back again? If the series was played in Perth, where massive crowds flock to the Big Bash, would the crowds be larger? Of course, that would require Channel 9 to agree, and have games played in prime time. Surely that's a winner?
I think the concept of a "carnival" is a great way to start the Australian summer. Play it in Perth, show it on TV around the country, give Perth people a chance to host it. My suggestion to make it a bigger and better tournament in 2015/16.

Matador Cup One Day Team of the Tournament 2014

Can the West Indies Survive in World Cricket?

Is there any hope for the future of West Indies cricket? They were once the most flamboyant yet deadly cricket team on the planet. They did things their own way, and they were entertaining to watch, and their individual cricketers were fascinating. Under Clive Lloyd they became ruthless, and honed their brilliance to become the finest team in the world for almost twenty years. They were almost unstoppable. They were privileged people in their home countries, but they earned that through their results on the field.
What have they become now? Their aura was finally put to rest almost twenty years ago when Australia defeated them at home in 1995, and it has been a downward spiral ever since. Still, while they had Brian Lara, Courtney Walsh and Curtley Ambrose, they were still competitive. Since their retirements the spiral has deepened and quickened, and the current problems are becoming even more to do with money and less to do with cricket.
How does it come to a point that the West Indies Cricket Board set out a Memorandum of Understanding on schedule and pay for their cricketers, which is agreed to and signed by the West Indies Players Association, and yet is disputed by the actual players to whom the Players Association is supposed to be representing? And - not only has this happened, but how has this been occurring on a number of occasions over the past few years? Sometimes they were solved, yet twice virtual second team squads have been sent for tours. The senior players tend to pick and choose when they play for their country, depending on whether or not there is a more lucrative Twenty20 tournament taking place at the same time.
Test cricket in the West Indies must be in peril. When the obdurate and unparalleled Shivnarine Chanderpaul finally calls time on his wonderful career, the West Indies will have no batsman capable of playing a long innings, of settling in and doing what is required in a Test match to win or save the game. While this is becoming more generally true in all nations, it has affected the West Indies much more. Technique has disappeared, and desire to fight for the cause has dissipated as well. Watching their ODI captain Dwayne Bravo continue to flail at deliveries when his team is in trouble and needs a leader, or keeping himself out of the bowling attack when his team needs a wicket, or loping around the field when speed is of the essence, speaks volumes for the state of cricket in the Caribbean.

Is there a real threat that the West Indies will not play in the World Cup in a few months? I would say it is highly doubtful. What is true is that the nations of the world will be looking to shrink tours to and by the West Indies, rather than expand the amount of cricket played against them. One can only say that, no matter what the players problem is with their board and Players Association, pissing off their major benefactor in the Board of Control for Cricket in India by abandoning a tour of their country is perhaps the strangest and most ridiculous decision they could possibly have made. And it may be the first step in the dissolving of the West Indies as a cricket conglomerate.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Nev's 40th Birthday - Saturday

A glorious day greeted us as we awoke on the Saturday of Nev's 40th birthday celebration. I was awake not long after 7.00am, which was a shame, but after reading in bed for awhile Helen and I got up and had some toast and coffee (black - no milk!) on the verandah outside our room in the morning sun.

Our bus and driver for the day was promptly outside our hotel at 9.30am, but given a bit of dragging of feet from those who were not quite in the best frame of mind, we didn't get going until about 9.50am. From here we headed to our first winery of the day, Mount View Estate.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Nev's 40th Birthday - Friday

Helen and I headed for lovely Abernethy in the Hunter Valley this afternoon, on the invitation to celebrate Peter Netherclift's 40th birthday. Mum and Dad were taking the kids, so we had the weekend to ourselves.
The place Nev had found was a pearler. Formally built as a pub to service the nearby mine, it was a disaster, as the mine closed one week after the pub was opened in 1926. It was then used as a mental health respite for many years, until it was bought and restored to its former glory, and is now hired out for weekends to groups, such as ours. All the original verandahs are in place, as well as the dining room and kitchen. The bar has been converted to an entertainment room with TV, stereo, games and large comfy lounges. The beer garden is a perfect spot (as we discovered) for everyone to congregate and talk and drink. Upstairs are the showers and bathrooms, as well as 12 rooms, with magnificent verandahs (which we also discovered later).

Holzy and Nev discussing worldly matters
We arrived just before 5.00pm, and sat around and drank and talked and met and conversed with the other gathered guests. Everyone brought their own drinks, and as well as the Holz Assorted Nibblies Tray which stretched across about three tables, everyone was set for the late afternoon.
Once final guests had arrived, we piled into three maxi-taxis and headed into town to Peden's Hotel for some dinner and more drinks. Good thing we didn't delay our arrival any later, as the kitchen was closing as we walked in. Crisis averted, I had my steak, vegies and mash and could feel well satisfied.
We were kicked out at midnight (and really? Even Cessnock closes early...) but taxi's had already been ordered so it was a quick return to Abernethy. Helen and I moved straight to bed, but it was 4.30am before the final revellers left the beer garden, having created their own karaoke until that time. I slept through most of it anyway (you get used to sleeping through noisy parties where we've lived over the years), but one could only wonder how some of the own guest-mates would be faring on the following day.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Dream Becomes a Reality

It has taken about a decade for my original dream to come to reality, but finally the day has arrived. I have finally gotten around to converting my old desktop computer, adding an external hard drive, and hooking up my speakers, to form my own jukebox in the Metal Cavern.

It mightn't look like much, but now I have it set up, I can listen to any of my 2000 albums at any time, in any way I please.
The Metal Cavern moves closer to absolute completion.

Friday, October 3, 2014

TV Schedule for Matador Cup 2014

Games to be shown on Gem in October 2014

GAMMA RAY - Dethrone Tyranny / 9. 2011 [HD] *Berlin Live*

Gamma Ray - Live In Saint-Petersburg 2014 (Full Concert)

30 Years On - 1984 Killer Albums (Part 6)

Dio - The Last in Line

Trying to follow up an album such as Holy Diver, which in itself was attempting to follow up what Ronnie James Dio had produced with Black Sabbath, which was (somewhat) trying to follow up what Dio produced with Rainbow, is no meat feat. In hindsight, almost impossible. Holy Diver had sold and performed well, on the back of relentless touring from the new band, and many of the tracks on that album had already become classics. To then come out a year later, and release an album that would be as remotely well received as it was quite a task. A task that was met and matched.

There's not much you can say about the opening two tracks to the album that hasn't been said somewhere else a thousand times. "We Rock" became one of Dio's anthems, drawing the band and audience together through the lyrics and making you feel a part of the legacy. This is followed by the masterpiece that is "The Last in Line" - heavy, loud, melodic, booming. Ronnie's vocals power the song along, Vinnie Appice's heavy-handed drumming beats down hard along with Jimmy Bain's gutteral bass guitar, and topped off by Vivian Campbell's squealing guitar licks. Still an absolute classic thirty years later.
Just as awesome as these opening tracks are the follow ups. "Breathless" is dominated by Vivian's guitaring, and despite all of the brilliant songs on this album, this remains my absolute favourite. I love Ronnie's vocals here, and the rhythm ties it all together magnificently. This is followed by "I Speed at Night", which runs along at a speed that is worthy of the title. This is a brilliant example of the best that Dio can produce. While the band (and most of Dio's work in general) don't usually dabble in such fast-paced songs, this is a beauty, and one of my only regrets with Dio's volume of songs is that he, and the band, didn't do more fast songs like this. Completing side one is "One Night in the City", a more subdued song after the frantic opening, but still a great one that hung around set lists for some years.
Just like Holy Diver, the strength of this album is not just in the songs that everyone knows, it is in the heart of the album, the songs that mightn't have been heard by casual listeners of the band's work. Not every song on an album has to be an epic. It doesn't have to be that you try and fit nine songs as memorable as "We Rock" on an album. Not every song has to be absolutely unforgettable, or considered a timeless song in the anthology of the band. Not everyone would consider Iron Maiden's "Quest For Fire" or "Ganglands" as top shelf Maiden songs, but they contribute to the brilliance of the albums they are a part of. And so it is here on The Last in Line. Songs such as "Evil Eyes" and "Egypt (The Chains Are On)" may not be the first songs you think of when it comes to Dio's best, but they help to make this album as great as it is, because they meld into the fabric of the tracklist, and become enmeshed in the whole listening experience. What's more, if these songs happen to come up on a random mix at home or at a party, they immediately stand out to you, because although you may not think of them often especially in the framework of listening to the album from first track to last, when you hear them on their own out of that environment you absolutely appreciate them. I love them both.
"Mystery" was one of the singles from the album, and was often slated as one that was written directly for the commercial market. Whether or not this is true I don't know, but while it is the less heavy song on the album, I have always loved and still love it. I used to sing it to my daughter when she was little, and it still forms that bond with me when I hear it now. As a retaliator, listen to Ronnie's vocals on "Eat Your Heart Out". Heavy lyrics, which Ronnie spits out with emotion. He really dishes it out on this song especially, in a fashion like those of the two opening tracks.

Ronnie's vocals here are at their peak, soaring at velocity. Vivian's guitaring too is just brilliant, driving the songs and taking over during the solo breaks. Those that only know him through his work with Def Leppard would not believe he could be this good. He is just brilliant on this album, unbelievably excellent. And, though you may not necessarily notice them between these two legends, Vinny's drumming and Jimmy's bass are as solid as ever here, providing the foundations for the other two to work their magic.
On first glance, when balancing the worth of the tracks on the first two Dio albums, you would probably say that Holy Diver was the better album, hands down. On closer inspection and listening, there is really not that much between the two of them. The Last in Line is a creeper, because the balance of the less famous songs stands up pretty well against those of the debut album. When push comes to shove, I find it very difficult to separate the two when it comes to choosing a favourite. Suffice to say that I still think this is a brilliant and, perhaps in many instances, underrated album.

Rating: You've been hungry all of your life - so eat it out!  5/5

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Clear Essendon's Decks Before it's Too Late

So let me see if I have this straight.
  1. On Monday, Mark Thompson indicates that he is unlikely to stay at Essendon in 2015 in any role.
  2. In the same instance, he suggests that he would still like to coach, most likely as he has been reinvigorated after the season he has had.
  3. There are continuing whispers around about Guy McKenna being sacked by the Gold Coast Suns during their slightly awkward end of season review.
  4. Thompson suggests that if he were to coach again, that it would be at a team like the Gold Coast, who are "ready-made' for a premiership tilt.
  5. Gold Coast do indeed sack McKenna (most likely on the proviso that Thompson is a ready made replacement), and media all but anoint Thompson as his successor.
  6. Essendon meanwhile, have decided not to appeal their court case loss.
  7. James Hird, on the other hand, decides he is going to appeal, come hell or high water, which will continue to stretch this saga out interminably.
  8. Essendon suddenly realise their only stable coach alternative, should they finally cut Hird loose, is Thompson. However, Thompson appears all but gone to Gold Coast.
  9. Hird is asked not to attend Essendon's Best & Fairest Awards, and in his absence, Thompson extols "I don't want to leave! I want to stay!"
  10. Essendon and Hird meet on Thursday, with the coach all but sacked before it starts... however...
  11. The meeting ends, Hird is still coach, but Chairman Little suggests the board will meet again next week to consider all options.

For Christ's sake, will this merry-go-round EVER END?!

Hird is too proud to accept any blame, and will fight in courts forever to clear his name when it just can't be done. He will never quit, and yet he needs to go, for the sake of the Club and the players.

Essendon have come too far tied to the same horse with Hird, when they should have taken correct action 18 months ago and cut that rope. Now they are either afraid to sack him in case he is able to win his court case, or afraid of further backlash from fans and media, or just don't have the cash to pay him out. Whatever it is, the Essendon board have once again bungled this whole scenario. They appear incapable of making any decisions to end this story and get back to playing football. Surely they must all go, and the sooner the better.

Bomber Thompson hasn't helped any party with his comments this week - he's screwed Essendon by saying he won't be there in 2015, he's screwed Gold Coast by saying he wouldn't mind coaching a team like theirs, and so they sack their current coach to try and employ him, and then he stabs Hird in the front when he isn't there to say anything at the Club awards by basically saying he wants to stay as coach of Essendon, which also screws Gold Coast and Hird all over again!

I feel for the players and the Essendon supporters, because the way this is going, it could seep into a third straight season before it is resolved. They deserve their day to either challenge ASADA's evidence, or accept that they were injected with banned substances (knowingly or unknowingly, it really doesn't matter anymore) and accept the penalty that is offered. Either way, get this over and done with. The Cronulla saga might have been just as poorly handled by all sides, and with just as unsatisfying results for all, but at least it has been concluded, and next season will not be affected by it.

Get rid of Paul Little and the board. Get rid of James Hird. Issue the infraction notices and let players either fight them or take their punishment. Then let the club plan for next season knowing who they have and how they can go about it. All before this great and long-serving Club implodes.