Empire of the Ant-man…

The UKs best-selling entertainment magazine gets a refresh

Covers

Simple effective design and drop cap
Loads to look at
Loads to look at

Empire has always been one of my favourite magazines to read and I am a long-time subscriber. I enjoy the magazine’s editorial consistency and mix of features and reviews. The design has always been – outside of stunning features – either rather plain or bonkers (random colour slabs behind review copy anyone?). The July 2015 issue is however, rather beautiful…

The two review sections – In Cinemas and Review – have a lovely new grid system that allows plenty of white space (without feeling empty). I love the big splash images and the delicate greyscale drop-caps. I also think the ‘like this, watch this’ box outs help break up the page well. Alongside the reviews are fantastic catch-up viewing guides, tables and more.

Arrows
Arrows

The whole issue is linked via a delightful set of arrows that flow throughout – pointing to important information, tidbits and images – encouraging the reader to examine even the smallest details.

The colour palette is quite muted using greys and creams alongside blues and greens but don’t let that put you off – it really lets the images and movie features stand out.

There is some weird pacing in places. I don’t personally like features that start on a single page and the Magic Mike XXL feature is a little lost because of this but, I’ve worked in magazines long enough to know this was probably due to advertising constraints.

All in all this is a very solid start and I can’t wait for the next issue to drop through the letterbox.

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Prehysteria…

Empire magazine takes an affectionate look back at a cinematic legend – Jurassic Park.

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I know I’ve already posted regarding the latest issue of Empire but, having just flicked through my subscriber copy, I just had to share this.

Jurassic Park is one of my all-time-favourite films and is about to get a 20th Anniversary 3D re-release. Empire have put together an incredible feature that remembers the making of the film, interviewing cast members and crew. It’s split into individual dinosaur sections (with wonderful illustrative graphics) and looks towards the future of the franchise and affectionately pokes fun at the original flicks inconsistencies.

If you’re not a fan of the original then this isn’t going to do anything for you but if you are a fan (and like me you still can’t believe the movie was made 20 years ago) then it’s a must read. You can order and find out more here.

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Hai Karate…

Shortlist magazine deliver a striking but cheesy martial arts cover.

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There’s no denying that this Shortlist cover jumps right at you but I can’t decide if its a bit too kitsch. It certainly has impact but I can’t help being reminded of the Hai Karate aftershave adverts of my youth. If you’re too young to remember them then check out one of the adverts – starring Hammer/Carry-on/Bond starlet Valerie Leon – here. See what I mean?

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Electrifying…

Empire magazine unleash an Amazing Spiderman 2 double.

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Sometimes the best magazine covers take the direct route. The latest issue of Empire magazine does just that. Superheroes are some of the most recognisable characters and Spiderman is one of the most popular of all time. Amazing Spiderman 2 stars Jamie Foxx as villain Electro and the team have put Spidey on an electrifying background and added fluorescent green cover lines for added ‘thwip’. The subscriber edition is as direct a cover as I’ve ever seen. Big Spiderman = happy inner 10-year-old. Wonderful! You can view the Electro teaser trailer here and discover more about Empire here. It’s on sale from Thursday 25 July.

Do you feel lucky…

Well, do ya, punk?

ShortlistDirtyHarryShortlist magazine have unleashed a mighty cover for their latest issue. It’s mean, moody and impactful. Let’s face it, you can’t really go wrong when the iconic ‘Dirty Harry‘ is your cover-star and the retro font is a lovely added touch. As soon as I saw it I couldn’t help but hear the music of Lalo Schifrin and it makes me want to pick it up now! Issue 281 is out tomorrow (4th July) but if you can’t wait, just visit http://www.shortlist.com/entertainment/films/the-39-greatest-maverick-cops for their definitive maverick cop list. Stunning!

Simply Marvellous…

Marvel Comics have finally brought their Unlimited App to iOS devices!

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MarvelunlimitedlogoMarvel Comics have recently released their Unlimited App on iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. Marvel Unlimited is a fantastic way to view comics and to introduce younger readers to Marvel’s wonderful universe and colourful history.

The Unlimited app is free to download and in-app subscriptions start from just $9.99 a month. If you are an existing Unlimited website member you can log in and start reading your favourites right away. You can view books featuring almost any Marvel character and are given the option to search by series, character, creator and release date.

Some collections are only a few issues long, while others are complete but, with new titles and old titles being added on a weekly basis, even casual fans will be kept amused. You needn’t worry if you have a wi-fi only iPad (as I do), as you are given the option to save 6 issues onto your device. Members also get exclusive offers and benefits via an excellent newsletter.

OK, so there are a few bugs (mostly to do with broadband speeds), but with over 13,000 titles at your finger tips, the Unlimited App is the perfect place to get your daily superhero fix. I’m currently getting my teeth Gene Colan and Marv Wolfman’s classic Tomb of Dracula run from the 1970s – which introduced Blade. Marvellous!

Perfect match…

Now you can browse and read Motion Books™ on deviantart.com!

MF dA Hero Image 1On 2 April 2013 one the world’s most cutting-edge digital comic producers Madefire will work in partnership with deviantART.com and bring their exciting Motion Books™ to the masses. You won’t be limited to reading your books through the excellent Madefire App any longer. Each Madefire comic will be available on the Web through deviantART for only 10 cents a piece. If you read your books on your iOS device you’ll be pleased that these will remain free on the Madefire App for iOS devices for a limited time.

Madefire and deviantART share in the creator-first mission of empowering artists, writers and visionaries to liberate their narratives,” said Angelo Sotira, CEO and Co-Founder of deviantART. “It just looks so fantastic, exploding cells off the ‘page’ with the pop vibrancy that the comics style had always suggested, but never achieved until now.”

DeviantART and Madefire will provide the ultimate story engine, by bringing creators and readers together,” said Ben Wolstenholme, co-founder of Madefire and creator of the excellent Mono character. “The Madefire App for iOS has had a storming response, and now we are moving to the web with deviantART and enabling a new generation of storytellers.

The Motion Books™ are available at http://browse.deviantart.com/motionbooks. You can read my previous reviews of these excellent products and characters here!

Pick of the pops take 4…

My top 20 albums of 2012 [5-1].

We’re now counting down to the big one in my Top Ten favourite albums of 2012. You can find the previous entries by clicking on the following links: 20-1515-10 and 10-5.  So let’s continue the final countdown in reverse order…

5. Echolyn by Echolyn

Echolyn is the latest album from American progessive rock stalwarts Echolyn and the first time I’d heard the bands work (although they’ve released 11). It is a beautiful sounding record that veers between almost acoustic songs to grandiose prog-style string-laden movements. The band create a truly magnificent sound and successfully merge a myriad of bells, strings and piano with rockier guitar-based moments. That’s not to say this is a particularly heavy sounding LP (it’s not) but the longer, proggier tracks – such as opener Island – stand out from the crowd. There are groovy basslines and rhythms (Headright), intermingled with skillfull string arrangements (Locust to Bethlehem) and these keep Echolyn’s sound original and fresh. To be honest, this album doesn’t really need to be broken down into individual tracks. It sounds best when the songs merge into each other and become one long track. If you’re into heavier prog bands such as Dream Theater or Pendragon then you might find Echolyn a bit twee but everyone else can marvel at the band’s musical skill and beauty. Standout track: Locust to Bethlehem

4. Weather Systems by Anathema

Weather Systems by Anathema is the perfect antidote when you’re feeling down. There are songs about life, love, near death experiences and loss. The lyrics and accompanying music just make you feel better about your own problems. The opening two tracks (Untouchable Pt. 1 and 2) are the best that I have heard this year. They start quietly and move through the gears ending in a crescendo of sound. Essentially, these tracks are a duet between two lovers and the emotion in the vocals really tugs at the heart strings). Anathema’s sound is not metal but often veers towards the heavier side of rock. There are moments of Pink Floyd-ness (The Storm before the Calm) and the closing track, Internal Landscapes screams with emotion. This could so easliy been my album of the year but it just misses out. Standout tracks: Untouchable Pt. 1 and 2

3. One Eye on the Sunrise by Nine Stones Close

I came across this by chance on Facebook. I’d never heard of Nine Stones Close before but I thought I’d take a chance and I’m so glad I did! One Eye on the Sunrise has only been out since 6 November but I’ve already slotted it into my top three (yes it’s that good). It’s a prog-like album (yes another one) and it grabs you by the scruff of the neck right from the word go! It features the musical talents of Adrian Jones, Brendan Eyre, Marc Atkinson, Pieter van Hoorn and Peter Vink. Opening instrumental Faceless Angel starts quietly with gorgeous keyboards and builds into a wailing guitar solo. This segues into the haunting A Secret and Marc’s rich, soulful vocals come to the fore. Janus and …And Dream of Sleep offer an instrumental interlude that are impressively built around stellar guitar work. The production is so crisp and clear that you can literally hear fingers sliding up the strings. The title track is a monolithic twelve minute barnstormer. It begins as a slow acoustic mantra and soon builds into a bludgeoning metal monster with Marc’s voice straining over the guitars. It is reminiscent of Sabbath at their best. Once again (as with so many of my favourites) it is the longer songs that bring out the best of the band but it’s good that they’re not afraid to break things up instrumentally. This album is all about the musical journey rather than the individual songs and is all the better for it. Simply amazing! Standout track: One Eye on the Sunrise

2. All the Wars by The Pineapple Thief

All the Wars is a staggeringly good rock album from Somerset foursome The Pineapple Thief. If you search out other reviews of this LP you’ll see the band compared to Muse (unfairly) and labelled as progressive rock or Radiohead light. They’re not – they are a very slick rock band, with a 22-piece orchestra for company. Lead singer Bruce Soord has a gorgeous mellow, soothing voice and I suppose that’s where the comparisons started. Opening track Burning Pieces sets the tone with an initial acoustic set up before a blur of pounding bass and guitar riffs takes over. The orchestra really comes to the fore on tracks All the Wars, Build a World and Someone Pull Me Out (which has a sing-along chorus). Give it Back has a pulsing electronic rhythm and it’s edgy, rock sound bludgeons your ears (this is fantastic live). Final track Reaching Out is the pièce de résistance of this album and the musicianship is outstanding. Mellow acoustics and sexy strings start off proceedings and layer by layer is added as it builds into a rawkus wall of sound, complete with choir, violins, drums and virtuoso guitar solo (at ten minutes long is the closest thing to prog on the LP). I was lucky enough to get hold of a copy of the deluxe version of this album which includes acoustic versions of the songs and I’m pleased to say that they work just as well stripped back. The Pineapple Thief are undoubtedly one of the best British bands that you’ve never heard of. Check them out today! Standout track: Reaching Out.

And so what is my number one album I hear you ask? Well it’s the album that I HAVE to listen to everyday since I got it. It’s in turns mellow, rocky, atmospheric, soulful and so much more. Ladies and gentlemen I bring you Riversea

1. Out of an Ancient World by Riversea

Every now and again you see an album cover and just know you’re going to love it. You unwrap the cellophane, pop it into the CD player and fall in love as soon as you hear the first few bars. This is exactly how i felt when I purchased Out of an Ancient World by Riversea.  It’s the debut album from Marc Atkinson (vocals/acoustic guitar) and Brendan Eyre (piano/synths). They are joined by members of Nine Stones CloseSad Café and Mostly Autumn amongst others. It’s also a prog masterpiece.

The overall production is the most impressive thing. There are layers upon layers of sound, vocal recordings, strings, drums – a positive wall of sound. Marc Atkinson has the most soulful voice and when he sings on If That’s What God Wants you believe that thats exactly what he wants. The Song builds from a string and keyboard piece, with a mellow vocal track into a pounding, wailing crescendo featuring Mostly Autumn’s Olivia Sparnenn. Halo is another piano led track that lets Marc’s voice come to the fore. It’s a Pink Floyd like track, with an extra special guitar solo that couldn’t have sounded better if Dave Gilmour was playing it. There are rockier shorter tracks such as The Fallen but the album is at it’s most beautiful when layered with piano, guitar and strings.

The album obviously borrows from progs illustrious back catalogue and there are nods to Marillion (Falling Stars), Pink Floyd (most solos) and more. But it blends these influences into a greater whole. I recommend you sit in your favourite chair in the dark with the CD on VERY loud. You need to FEEL it’s beauty. The drums MUST whack you in the chest, strings reverberate around you. I’d give you a standout out track but it changes from day to day and depends on mood. Honestly it really is that good!

Pick of the pops take 3…

My top 20 albums of 2012 [10 –5].

We’re now onto the Top Ten of my favourite albums of 2012. Hopefully you enjoyed looking at the previous entries 20-15 and 15-10?  So let’s continue with a look at 10-5 in reverse order…

10. Map of the Past by It Bites

Map of the Past is the latest release from hard-working British progressive rock outfit It Bites. Many of you will be familiar with the ‘concept’ albums regularly recorded within the prog rock genre – LPs that follow a linear path and story. Pink Floyd, Genesis and Rush have been releasing such albums for years. Map of the Past follows this well-worn path, yet ultimately stands out from the crowd. The entire album is inspired by the discovery of an old family photograph. Indeed, Map of the Past is a highly personal journey. It explores modern themes of love, passion, jealousy, anger, greed, remorse and loss as seen through the eyes of the previous generation. You might expect an album looking at current British events to be a miserable affair (much like Pink Floyds masterpiece The Wall), but in fact nothing could be further from the truth. It Bites have managed to make this an upbeat journey that looks forward to the future whatever it may bring. The band should be applauded for daring to be different. Standout track: The Big Machine.

9. The Light the Dead See by Soulsavers

The Light the Dead See is a moody beast. A Soulsavers collaboration with Depeche Mode frontman Dave Gahan was never going to be anything else. Dave has a history of drugs, depression and overcoming a tumor in 2009. This album is almost like Dave is admitting his troubles and sins in the Soulsavers confessional. That isn’t to say it isn’t a beautiful creative work. There are delicate strings, layers of electronica, horns and some of the most gorgeous and inspiring gospel vocals that you’re ever likely to hear – in fact the production is bears more than a passing resemblance to Depeche Modes Songs of Faith and Devotion. Daves vocal maturity is there for everyone to hear and songs like Just Try, Longest Day and In the Morning bring out the best in him. If the upcoming Depeche Mode LP is half as good as this I’ll be a happy man indeed. A truly inspiring piece of work! Standout track: Presence of God

8. Afterglow by Black Country Communion

Afterglow is the third album from Kevin Shirley’s hard rocking supergroup and to be honest, upon the first listen I wasn’t as impressed with it as the previous two. It’s what I always call a ‘grower’. This as it turns out is why this is such a good LP. Sure it borrows heavily from the hard rock back catalogue – the title track borrows heavily from Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir and Midnight Sun has a repeating guitar loop that isn’t unlike Pete Townsends keyboard on Baba O’Riley – but this gives it a warmth and charm. Glenn Hughes vocals are immense, especially on Afterglow’s longest track The Circle. Joe Bonamassa plays his guitar with a swagger and Jason Bonham plays so hard it’s a wonder the drums aren’t broken. It’s a shame that Derek Sherinian isn’t heard as much this time around but I guess you can’t have everything. I hope Black Country Communion can sort out their recent spat and manage to tour this LP next year as it really deserves to be heard live! Standout track: This is Your Time

7. Driving Towards the Daylight by Joe Bonamassa

Driving towards the Daylight is the 13th studio album from the always busy blues maestro Joe Bonamassa. Last year saw Joe release a BCC album, his own solo LP and a stunning blues collaboration with Beth Hart so just how did he fit in recording this cracker? If you’re not familiar with Joe then this would be a great jumping on point. His blues guitar playing is always impressive but it’s the longer tracks (Dislocated Boy/Lonely Town Lonely Street/A Place in My Heart) that really bring out the best in him. There are covers of such illustrious blues legends as Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf, Bill Withers and Robert Johnson and to Joe’s credit he makes them his own. It’s his maturing, soulful voice that is the most impressive instrument on this album. After a decade playing some of the best modern blues, it seems as though he’s finally accepted his place in the world. A gorgeous album! Standout track: Heavenly Soul

6. Clockwork Angels by Rush

Clock Angels signals (see what I did there) the return of Canada’s greatest rock trio Rush. All the Rush trademarks are here, Neil Peart’s bonkers lyrical concepts and dazzling  drums, Alex Lifeson’s frenetic guitar playing and Geddy Lee’s rhythmic bass and unmistakeable vocals. It’s actually Rush’s first concept album for thirty years and borrows from the classic album 2112. There are regular rock tracks such as The Wreckers but the album really excels when telling the ‘man lost in a dystopian future’ narrative. Caravan, The Anarchist and Headlong Flight rock out without sounding dated and I challenge anyone not to moved by the lush orchestration on BU2B2. If you’re not already a Rush fan Clockwork Angels is a great jumping on point and if you are, well you’ll already own it and love it. Standout track: Clockwork Angels

I hope your enjoying my countdown? Tomorrow is the final countdown to my number one album of 2012. There’s a lot of rock, some prog and beautiful artwork. See you back here?

Pick of the pops take 2…

My top 20 albums of 2012 [15 –10].

Yesterday I started reviewing some of my favourite albums of 2012, counting down from 20-15. Hopefully you enjoyed looking at that eclectic mix?  Today I’ll be continuing my countdown in reverse order…

15. On the Thirteenth day by Magnum

Magnum are a British rock institution. They might not have been having big chart hits like their contemporaries but they have amassed a fantastic song catalogue and dedicated following. On The Thirteenth Day is their 18th studio album and it’s a cracker. Magnum record melodic, often epic sounding hard rock. There is an underlying percussive rhythm to their music which perfectly backs up Tony Clarkin’s guitar work and songwriting talent. Bob Catley’s vocal range isn’t as clean as it used to be but its current lived in quality adds to the atmosphere of the album (especially on tracks such as Didn’t Like You Anyway and Broken Promises). If you don’t like Magnum then this CD won’t change your mind but if you’d like to hear some good British rock then give it a whirl. Standout track: So Let it Rain

14. Standing at the Sky’s edge by Richard Hawley

I’ve always had a soft spot for Richard from his days in Longpigs and his collaborative work with the likes of Soulsavers (who obviously influence this album’s sound). His rockabilly-tinged solo output was often too twee and a little bit lightweight but there have been standout tracks along the way. Standing at the Sky’s Edge changes all that. This is an altogether edgier album and crackles with distortion-heavy guitar work, partnered by Richard’s melodic vocals. Evidence of this can be found on tracks such as Down in the Woods and closing track Before. Standing does have quieter moments such as opener She Brings the Light and Seek it and these will engage older fans. Basically, Standing is Hawley having his Spinal Tap moment and turning the amp up to 11 and if produces results as good as this, long may it continue! Standout track: Standing At The Sky’s Edge

13. Beyond the Realms of Euphoria by Galahad

2012 has been a year for discovering new bands and a love of the new-wave of British Prog. Galahad have been at the forefront of this revival (even though they’ve been going for 25 years) and released two albums this year. Battle Scars was the first release but Beyond the Realms of Euphoria is the better of the two. It’s a revelation. There are pounding bass lines, speedy percussion (almost as if the drummer is playing a code) and sublime guitar playing. It’s not subtle (Yes can sleep easy), but there are delicate moments – particularly the piano playing on album closer Richelieu’s Prayer. Otherwise this contains all the prog hallmarks – 10-minute long songs (Guardian Angel), two part story movements (openers Salvation I & II) and winding keyboards. It’s indulgent (don’t let the colourful cover or prog moniker put you off) but is without doubt one of the best rock albums you’ll hear all year. Standout track: All in the Name of Progress

12. March of Ghosts by Gazpacho

Moving swiftly from bruising British prog to the more melodic Norwegian variety. Gazpacho’s March of Ghosts is a beautiful, haunting record. Most prog bands deliver melodies via keyboard but these guys have chosen to include a real string section and it really tugs at your heart. Hell Freezes Over is an epic movement spread over four tracks (now that’s prog) and Mary Celeste is a delicate favourite. Black Lily has a memorable chorus and echoes Radiohead but the vocals are softer and the violin brings a warmth that Thom Yorke and company never had. Don’t let the prog label put you off as this is an expertly crafted album that deserves a wider audience. Standout track: What Did I Do?

11. Head Down by Rival Sons

Rival Sons are not subtle. What they do is deliver balls-to-the-wall rock music. with catchy riffs, pounding bass and killer drums. Songs on Head Down are mostly short and sweet, with only four running over six minutes (Manifest Destiny Parts 1 & 2, Jordan and Head Down). There is a swagger to the sound but it does have moments of subtelty and calmness, as found on the track Nava. The band successfully blend great songs with the sounds of 60s and 70s blues rock. There are nostalgic nods to rock legends Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones and even The Byrds but the band remain fresh, happening and in the now. Standout track: Keep on Swinging

So that’s 15-10 done. I’ll upload the next 5 tomorrow where there’ll be some British electronica, A rock supergroup and I might chuck in some prog! Please let me know what you think…