Linkin Park’s “Living Things” Review

Few are the bands that can merge hip-hop, heavy metal, and alternative rock into a collective album.  Few are the bands that can expand their fan base with their new sound while retaining their original audience.   One exception is Linkin Park (LP), who blend the aforementioned genres into their latest album entitled, “Living Things.”

The playlist starts with “Lost In The Echo,” a motivational track.  Although it’s mainly alternative-themed, it also has the feel of their classic sound.  Mike Shinoda emcees while Chester Bennington sings the chorus.  There’s talk of letting go and a sense of cutting ties with those who betrayed the singer’s trust.  Shinoda raps, “I don’t hold back, I hold my own.  I can’t be mapped, I can’t be cloned.”  The song suggests standing on one’s own two feet.  The way Bennington screams “go” near the end forebodes to traces of “Hybrid Theory” and “Meteora” in later tracks. 

The second track, “In My Remains,” is more like LP’s later albums “Minutes to Midnight” and “A Thousand Suns.”  It carries a soft rock tone.  It is sorrowful and introspective, a soliloquy of sorts.  Bennington sings, “Separate, shifting through the wreckage, I can’t concentrate.  Searching for a message in the fear and pain.  Broken down and waiting for a chance to feel alive.”  He’s alienated and disassembled.  He’s attempting to put himself back together piece by piece.  He’s also been ignored and taken for granted as revealed in later lyrics.

“Burn It Down” features hip-hop, heavy metal and alternative rock.  Bennington uses his pure singing voice in the intro then channels a portion of his heavy metal chops in the chorus.  Shinoda raps in the outro.  There’s a theme of self-destruction as the chorus implies building something just to break it down.  The equal mixture of genres make this an excellent first single.

“Lies Greed Misery” lets Shinoda’s emcee skills shine.  There’s heavy bass in the intro as Shinoda raps and sets the groove.  “Imma be that nail in your coffin,” he states.  “Saying that I softened.  I was ducking down to reload.”  This is a song about payback.  As Shinoda continues, his accusations become more menacing towards his aggressor.  At the peak of hostility dwells the chorus, which Bennington delivers in a gruff, but tamed tone.  “I want to see you choke on your lies,” he shouts.  “Swallow up your greed.  Suffer all alone in your misery.”  This track is similar to “Hit The Floor” off “Meteora.” 

“Castle Of Glass” is an alternative rock song with deep meaning.  Rob Bourdon’s drumming sets the feel of this thought-provoking melody.  Bourdon employs syncopated sixteenth notes for the track’s upbeat tempo.  The drumming gets louder as the song progresses and its message intensifies.  Shinoda performs this song as a tenor.  It features poetic devices, including imagery.  Shinoda sings, “Fly me up on a silver wing.  Past the black where the sirens sing.”  Such phrases paint a mental picture for listeners.  There’s also a metaphor in the chorus.  Shinoda claims he’s a crack in a castle of glass.  He’s illustrating how humans are imperfect.  We need reconstruction.

“Victimized” is full-fledged old-school Linkin Park.  Shinoda emcees about giving no more second chances to his oppressors.  Bennington unleashes the power of his vocal chords for that classic LP heavy metal sound.  He screams, “Victimized!  Victimized!  Never again victimized!”  

“Roads Untraveled” carries a melancholy sound, shaped by the bells and piano in the intro.  Shinoda sings most of the song, sharing the chorus with Bennington.  His tone is deep and solemn.  Guitarist Brad Delson provides backing vocals, singing an octave above Shinoda to add depth to the track.  Shinoda urges listeners not to deal in what ifs.  The mental anguish will only blind them from traversing to their future.  In many ways, it’s an anthem for the rejected lover.  Shinoda sings, “Give up your heart left broken.  And let that mistake pass on.  ‘Cause the love that you lost.  Wasn’t worth what it cost.”  The singer is imparting wisdom to his downtrodden brother.  He’s trying to spare him unnecessary pain.  Shinoda and Bennington are in harmony as they hum lamentable woes for the dream-deprived.     

“Living Things” is a must-have.  It covers a wide range of genres, including alternative, hip-hop and heavy metal.  Linkin Park managed to develop a new sound that still bears traces to their hardcore roots.

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The Magical Allure of Merlin

Those who crave medieval tales of sorcery and gallantry can enter a time of wizards and knights when watching Merlin, a BBC drama series now in its fifth season.  It was adapted to screenplay by Julian Jones, Jake Michie, Julian Murphy and Johnny Capps. 

Merlin is an adaptation of the legendary warlock’s early years as he arrives in Camelot, a kingdom where magic is outlawed by King Uther Pendragon.  Those using it are burned at the stake.  Aware of this but wanting a better life for her child all the same, Merlin’s mother sent her son to live with Gaius, an old friend and court physician to the king. 

An alchemist by trade, Gaius was once a student of magic before the Great Purge, King Uther’s genocide of sorcerers.  Acting as both mentor and guardian to Merlin, he gives the young wizard a book of spells to further his education in using magic for good.  However, Gaius is not the only one Merlin gets sage counsel from.  There is a creature of the Old Religion, whose knowledge of magic and destiny is unmatched.  He is a dragon known as Kilgharrah, the last of his kind shackled in a cave below Camelot by King Uther.  He and the wizard share a connection because they are both products of the Old Religion.  Merlin was born with magic.  He can slow time and move objects with his mind.  When he does so, his eyes flare up.  On the pilot, Kilgharrah calls out to Merlin while he’s sleeping, summoning the boy to explain his role in Camelot’s future.  The wise dragon tells him it’s his destiny to protect Prince Arthur, Uther’s son who’s fated to become Camelot’s greatest king.  The young sorcerer is to help Arthur bring about a new Albion, one where magic is not a crime.  Kilgharrah refers to Merlin and Arthur as “two sides of the same coin.”  Alas, belonging to the same coin does not signify harmony as the unlikely pairing constantly annoy each other. 

With Merlin assigned as his servant, Arthur wastes no time in dictating the young wizard’s daily tasks.  He commands him to repair his shield, wash his tunic, clean his boots, sharpen his sword and polish his chainmail.  Sometimes the closing scene is Arthur bossing Merlin around.  “My chambers are a complete mess,” Arthur said.  “My clothes need washing, my dogs need exercising, my fireplace needs sweeping, my bed needs changing and someone needs to muck out my stables.” 

There are also scenes that blend humor with drama such as the one I’ve prepared below, in which a treasure-seeking bandit throws sleeping gas to make Merlin look incompetent to Arthur so that he can take the former servant’s place.  The servant of Arthur is the closest in proximity to his keys.  Arthur has the key to the tomb of Cornelius Sigan, a powerful sorcerer buried with much plunder.  Click the highlighted text to see the aftermath of the greedy bandit’s deception (Merlin feels stupid). 

Merlin was made to look like an idiot.  Everyone can relate to that feeling in some way.  All of us have days where we feel humiliated.  This is part of Merlin’s magical allure as a show.  It has the ability to connect on an emotional level with its audience.  That combined with the special effects of sorcery make Merlin a must watch.     

Firestorm: Brains and Brawn

Hovering above the Manhattan skies, a flame-headed superhero in yellow and red duds patrols the bustling streets below, scanning for trouble.  He spots a truck about to collide with a motorcycle.  Soaring into action, the colorful crime fighter zaps the truck, reshaping it into cotton candy.  Aside from a dumb-founded trucker, the day is saved thanks to Firestorm.

Firestorm is a DC Comics character created by Gerry Conway and Al Milgrom in 1978.  He is a fusion of two beings, teenager Ronnie Raymond and Professor Martin Stein.  The illustrious legacy of these two began when Raymond sought to prove he wasn’t a dumb jock to Doreen Day, a classmate he’s fond of at Bradley High.  After a rough day of class, Raymond was at home watching the news when he heard Edward Earhart, leader of the Coalition to Resist Atomic Power.  Earhart urged intelligent people to join the fight against nuclear technology.  Seeing this as an opportunity to prove he was bright, the young man decided to join. 

Meanwhile, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Martin Stein was working overtime to ensure the Hudson Nuclear Power Plant was operational.  After arriving at the plant, Raymond quickly discovered that Earhart’s group intended to detonate the nuclear plant with a bomb.  He attempted to stop them, but was easily overtaken by the five henchmen.  Stein observed the violence from surveillance and confronted the terrorists.  Unfortunately, Stein got knocked unconscious.  The two victims were placed near dynamite primed to explode within a few seconds.  Raymond awakened, racing to remove the bomb.  Alas, his noble efforts were thwarted by the unyielding hands of time. 

Due to Stein turning on the plant, however, the explosion propagated the power supply exponentially.  Excessively high levels of radiation engulfed the two men, fusing them into a single entity, Firestorm.  Since Raymond was awake during the transformation, he exerts control of the hero’s physical form.  Stein acts as a subconscious advisor, guiding Raymond on decisions and proper use of their powers. 

Firestorm, the Nuclear Man, has a variety of super powers, including transmutation.  He can change the molecular structure of inorganic matter.  He’s turned a pistol into a cucumber, part of the sidewalk into a bed mattress, the street into a lake, a robber’s getaway van into a giant pumpkin, and a plummeting jet into a hot-air balloon among other feats.  Transmuting these objects requires knowledge of their atomic structures.  Firestorm can utilize this ability due to Stein’s scientific background.  So when Raymond, in the alter ego’s physical form, is reshaping things around him, he’s channeling Stein’s subconscious intellect.  Another power is his heat blast.  He can fire nuclear bursts of energy to detain foes.  In addition, he can lower his atomic density to zero, becoming intangible.  This enables him to phase through walls and avoid incoming attacks.  Other powers include flight and absorbing the blast radius of an explosion into his body.  The flame-headed do-gooder’s a one-man bomb squad.

Perhaps Firestorm’s greatest strength dwells in the growth of friendship developed between Raymond and Stein.  They started off annoying each other, though.  Both come from different lives.  Each has their share of troubles.  Raymond, a transfer student from Oregon, is a new kid on the block at Bradley High.  He’s mistreated by nerd bully Cliff Carmichael on a daily basis.  On a side note, this dilemma is the polar opposite of Spider-Man’s.  Peter Parker was a science nerd at Midtown High harassed by class jock Flash Thompson.  Getting back on topic, however, Raymond’s teen angst doesn’t end there.  He’s got an absentee father who spends most of his nights working late as a reporter for the Daily Express.  Stein’s life is no picnic either. 

Stein, a nuclear physicist for Concordance Research, is constantly scrutinized by Quentin Quale, his project manager.  Quale keeps a watchful eye on the professor to decide if his contract will be renewed.  It doesn’t help when Raymond triggers the transformation as a shortcut for getting to school on time.  This prompted the physicist to deliver a dialogue of tough love for his teenaged companion.  Stein said, “Ronald, this is outrageous!”  “You may indeed be late for school, but I’m overdue at a military airbase!  Our dual identity as Firestorm is a privilege and a responsibility, not an alternative for the subway (Firestorm: The Nuclear Man #3)!” 

Such a heated exchange of words stemmed from a lack of understanding his younger teammate.  After years of fighting villains such as Killer Frost and Typhoon, the two bridged the gap between partners and friends.  Stein even became a paternal father to Raymond.  Their bond of friendship was never more apparent than the time Stein had a brain tumor.  Raymond stood by him as Firestorm even if it meant he died with him (Firestorm: The Nuclear Man #62). 

There have been several incarnations of the Nuclear Man since then, but the legacy of Raymond and Stein is the most enduring.  They are an example of teamwork and tolerance for everyone.

Spider-Man: Edge of Time Review

With great power there must also come two great Spider-Men, web-slinging themselves across the planes of reality to undo a rewritten history in Spider-Man:  Edge of Time.  Edge of Time is a video game developed by Beenox in which players assume the roles of Spider-Man 2099 and the Amazing Spider-Man, shifting from one to the other with the story’s progression.  The plot involves the fiendishly clever schemes of Walker Sloan, an Alchemax scientist from Spider-Man 2099’s universe.  Sloan invents a transdimensional gateway and travels back to the 1970s, the Amazing Spider-Man’s era, creating Alchemax years before it should exist. 

Preparing for Amazing Spider-Man’s inevitable interference, he mind-controls Anti-Venom into acting as his lethal enforcer.  The wall-crawler and his classic foe go toe-to-toe in a dramatic battle which results in Spidey’s (Peter Parker’s) death.  Seeing this trapped within Sloan’s vortex, Spider-Man 2099 (Miguel O’Hara) struggles free back to his reality where this tragedy hasn’t yet occurred.  O’Hara fetches some of Parker’s DNA to establish a chronal link between them, allowing the two to converse beyond the barriers of time.  Despite O’Hara’s warning, Parker refuses to flee from Anti-Venom when innocent lives could be at risk.  Thus, the first half of the game is a race against time to prevent Spidey’s inevitable demise.  

Beginning this adventure introduces players to three forms of character movement other than running.  Web-zipping from previous Spider-Man games is incorporated.  It’s neat to watch each web disintegrate while zipping from ledge to ledge.  Multiple strands of silk twirl across the screen before vanishing into obscurity.  Similar to Shattered Dimensions, its predecessor, Edge of Time also features free-fall mode for Spider-Man 2099.  It can be enjoyable and frustrating depending on how skilled gamers are with dodging obstacles.  Finally, there’s up- close wall-crawling.  It enables players to feel like they’re Spidey climbing through an air duct.  The camera zigs and zags with every corner the hero clings to.  Sometimes the path is clear.  On other occasions, players must dodge lasers before proceeding into the next area.

After experiencing the locomotion, players begin to explore the combat next.  Each Spider-Man’s fighting style is different.  The Amazing Spider-Man creates web gloves for close-range fighting while Spider-Man 2099 uses his talons to slice through opposition.  The gloves get bigger and the talons more lethal as players level up the quick-attack skill of each Spidey.  Parker can create a web-hammer for long-range skirmishes.  O’Hara can swiftly propel himself toward an enemy for a combination of fatal kicks and punches.  Both Spider-Men can fire web shots and have a stamina meter, an energy pool for special abilities.  The Amazing Spider-Man uses it to enter “hyper-sense mode,” which greatly improves the speed of his punches and web constructs.  Spider-Man 2099 can generate an “accelerated decoy” to deceive his enemies, distracting them while he attacks from another angle.  

In addtion to the diverse combat system, the first half of Edge of Time presents players with an extra layer of gameplay, cause and effect sequences.  Reminiscent of Back to the Future, the actions of the present shape the outcome in the future.  Throughout the game, each Spider-Man ends up in a jam that the other must bail him out of.  On his way to save Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2099 is gripped by a giant robot that will crush him to death if unaided.  It’s Parker’s job to destroy the prototype’s arms, legs and head in the present to free O’Hara in the future.  Destroying the prototype reduces the killer robot into smaller, less threatening foes.  These cause and effect scenarios are often used for character transitions, shifting players from one Spidey to the other. 

Spider-Man 2099 eventually finds his way to Spidey, who’s near the brink of death thanks to Anti-Venom.  O’Hara spins a web through the gateway, pulling Parker in before the fatal blow is dealt.  The Webhead is placed in a rejuvenation chamber while his future counterpart takes a swing at Anti-Venom.  Spider-Man 2099 removes the mind-control chips, freeing the creature from Sloan’s control.  Anti-Venom confronts Sloan and chaos ensues as the two fuse along with a nearby Dr. Octopus into a monster called Atrocity.  The second half of the game is to restore order to the space-time continuum.  With an unstable gateway, however, each Spider-Man must work on the other’s turf this time around.  This leads to some witty banter between the two web-slingers.  At one point, Spider-Man 2099 needs Spider-Man to gather schematics from the archives room so he can fix the gateway.  O”Hara asks him how it’s going.  His inquiry is answered with sarcasm.  “I’m making a souffle,” replies Parker.  “How do you think it’s going?”  Later on, the future Spidey asks his predecessor to collect DNA samples from Atrocity.  He fetches two, but O’Hara demands a third.  The wall-crawler’s not pleased.  “If we ever meet face to face, I’m going to beat the crap out of you,” he mumbles.

Spider-Man 2099 gets his punchlines, too.   Near the end of the game, Spider-Man must obtain a keycard from an Alchemax guard before advancing.  The guard uses a teleporter and is followed by the web-slinger.  Parker explains his drastic measures to O’Hara, who reprimands him for his carelessness.  “Well get it and stop screwing around,” O’Hara exclaims.  “Head to the gateway room and try not to teleport yourself to Mars while you’re at it,” he instructs. 

Both Spider-Men also have amusing dialogue for their enemies.  The Amazing Spider-Man will complain about breaking a nail or belittle the stupidity of his foes.  “See what being a flunkie gets you?” he asks.  Spider-Man 2099 exudes confidence, telling his opponents they’re not even slowing him down.  He’ll often use the word “shock” as an expletive, just as he did in the comic series written by Peter David, who also wrote the story for Edge of Time.  When swarms of enemies are in his way, O’Hara yells, “Get the shock out of my way!” 

The two meet at the gateway room and leap into the portal, returning to their own dimensions.  They undo the alternate reality Sloan created by web-punching Atrocity into the gateway which leads to a closing cinematic showing the Spider-Men do whatever a spider can.  Edge of Time offers players a compelling story, innovative styles of gameplay and humorous dialogue brought to life by extremely talented actors.  Christopher Daniel Barnes voices Spider-Man 2099.   Barnes portrayed Spidey in the 90s Spider-Man animated series.  Josh Keaton is Spider-Man in Edge of Time.  Keaton also depicted Webhead in the Spectacular Spider-Man animated series.  Val Kilmer is the mastermind behind Walker Sloan.  An excellent cast alone is a reason to buy this game.  So spin a web and snatch a copy.

Rumpelstiltskin of Once Upon a Time

Somewhere within the upper corridors of his lonely ice castle sits a magical creature spinning straw into gold.  His mood is contemplative as he immerses himself into his trade.  Perhaps he’s remembering simpler days from before, days when he was but human.  His name is Rumpelstiltskin, the most intriguing character of ABC’s new hit, Once Upon a Time.

Once Upon a Time is a fantasy/drama that places classic fairy tale characters into the modern world due to a curse enacted by the Evil Queen.  Set in the fictional town of Storybrooke, Maine, most of the characters have no memory of their previous lives except Rumpelstiltskin and the Evil Queen.  Each vies for power over the other.  However, the cunning and clever imp didn’t always have power.  He was once a man, weak and poor.

Rumpelstiltskin, portrayed by Robert Carlyle, was a deserter from a war fought between men and ogres.  Repulsed by his cowardice, his wife left him.  The knights resented him.  His only source of joy was his son, Baelfire.  A time came when knights began drafting children for the war.  They set their eyes on the traitor’s son.  The humble spinner sought a means of protecting his boy.  He befriended a mysterious old man who told him of a dagger that could give him power if he killed the Dark One it summoned. 

Rumpelstiltskin acquired the weapon and killed the Dark One, transforming into a golden-skinned warlock.  He returned to his home and killed the knights attempting to take his son.  However, his son became frightened by him, leaving the dark wizard isolated and past the point of return.  This metamorphosis from man to imp allows Carlyle’s skills as an actor to shine.  Carlyle’s Rumpelstiltskin is quirky and charismatic, carrying a strange charm as he interacts with other characters, often offering them assistance for a price.  He’s quite expressive, using his hands and other abstract mannerisms to supplement his speeches.  His laugh is similar to a hyena’s.  He grins with an open smile, showing his corroded teeth.  His magic is extraordinary, capable of turning a peasant into a puppet or a prince into a rose.  In addition, Carlyle also performs the dual role of Mr. Gold, the counterpart trapped in Storybrooke.  Mr. Gold is a calm and eloquent pawnbroker.  He relies on a cane for walking, but is far from handicapped. He is sharp and not to be underestimated.  He has leverage on everyone, including Mayor Mills, the Evil Queen’s alter ego in the present.  He enjoys making deals and usually holds the upper hand.  He most recently had dealings with Emma Swan, Snow White’s daughter, urging her to run for sheriff.  They became allies to prevent Mayor Mills from giving the job to one of her lackeys. 

The partnership ended when Swan discovered Gold intentionally started a fire to make her look good.  Swan exposed Gold’s sabotage at the debate, becoming sheriff for her honesty.  However, she soon discovered it’s what Mr. Gold planned all along.  He knew the only way for her to win was by standing up to him.  As a result, she still owes him a favor.  Knowledge is power for him. 

There is much to learn of this enigmatic individual, from his fairy tale past to his modern-day dealings.   What are his intentions?  What is his agenda?  Is he fully evil or just misunderstood?  In time, later episodes will shed light out of the darkness that lurks inside this tormented soul.