Archive for September, 2009

Firefighter

Well, it’s another weekend, which marks a break point in the continual 5-day drudge through the work week before I get to see my lady again. October 15th cannot get here soon enough.

Well I suppose it COULD get here too soon, if it was right now, and then I’d be wondering why I’m writing this and not getting dressed and on the road. But then again, that really wouldn’t be too soon either, honestly.

At any rate, she is off on a retreat with her sorority sisters, so we’re unable to communicate until she returns. Which given that my friends Alex and Tiffani are together this weekend when they’re normally seperated by half the friggin’ country, seems somewhat ironic. While I am fiercely jealous, I’m also very happy for them. They ARE my friends after all!

Last night I completed a spectacular goal in World of Warcraft. To those of you who play and are at least mildly familar with the Ulduar instance, let me just say that our 10-man finally completed Mimiron Hard Mode and earned the Firefighter achievement.

To those who do NOT play or don’t know just how insane that fight truly is, let me run it down a bit.

This is Mimiron. Mimiron is one of the Keepers of Ulduar, essentially a powerful being created by the Titans to watch over Azeroth, and more specifically the Old God imprisioned in Ulduar, Yogg Saron.


Hey Yoggy.

Unfortunately, Yogg has opened up cracks in his prision, and his power and evil has corrupted the 4 keepers, essentially driving them insane. Essentially, Yogg Saron’s power causes the Keepers to destroy anything in their path using their areas of influence. Mimiron, as a clockwork mechanical being, is an expert in the areas of building machines. When you enter his workshop, he assumes that you’re there to test our his newest and best invention yet. Which he does by unleashing its firepower on you.

His first part of his invention is the Leviathan Mark II, essentially a big ol’ tank with mines, a napalm shell launcher, a battering ram, and worse. Once you wipe our it’s health, he moves the tank away and moves on to the next part.

The second part is the VX-001 Anti-Personnel Assault Cannon. It’s a stationary mobile turret. Mimiron rotates around the room and unleashes blasts of energy at anyone in his line of fire. He also radiates massive amounts of heat from the turret, launches rockets at you, and occasionally charges his turrets up for the P3W x2 Laser Barrage. That will kill you if he hits you with it, as will the rockets, instantly.

After you destroy the turret, Mimiron summons the final part of his invention, the Aerial Command Unit. This thing looks like a big head with a pair of helicopter blades keeping it aloft. In this part of the fight, he shoots plasma blasts at you, drops Bomb Bots that walk over to your raid and explode, and also summons Assault bots as well.

Now, if you manage to defeat the Aerial Command Unit, Mimiron will happily exclaim that the preliminary testing is complete, and now it is time for the true test.

The Leviathan Mk II will roll out, the VX-001 will sprout hands where it’s turrets used to be, and dock itself into the Leviathan. The Aerial Command unit will attach itself to the top of the VX-001.

The V-07-TR-0N is now formed. It has most of all of the abilities of the 3 parts, including the mines, the Laser Barrage, the rockets, and the Shock Blasts. All three of it’s parts are independantly targettable. And you must bring all three pieces’ health from 50% to 0% at the same time. If you don’t, they repair themselves.

So yeah, does it sound crazy? It’s pretty nuts, to be sure. If you wanna see it in action, watch this video that another guild made of the fight.

And that’s not even his HARD mode.

His hard mode is activated by pushing that big red button you may have spotted during the video before the fight starts.

That button activates the Self-Destruct Mechanism. It also gives all of his “parts” 25% more health, 25% more damage, and causes the room to start breaking up…and catch fire.

The fire is what makes this encounter nightmarish. It’s constantly spreading, is only randomly put out by some various extra abilities that Mimiron gains, and essentially means you have to be almost continually moving throughout the fight or you burn.

It’s insanely hard. Here’s a video of the hard mode for you to see for yourself.


Yeah, we beat it last night for the first time. I was so happy to get that done. Now I never want to do it again, haha.

Okay, I’m going to end this one for now, but I’ll leave you with a pic of my newest little reward for completing an achievement that takes a year to complete, because it requires you to do all the achievements associated with all the holidays in the game.

RAWR!!

Ten

Today marks the 10 year anniversary of my rebirth, so to speak. 10 years ago today, I made a decision that has changed my life. I accepted the gift Christ offered when he died on the cross.

This is the story of how it happened. It’s written by my best friend, and the man who, at that point in my life, was almost entirely responsible for showing me what a life lived by following Jesus is really like, David Butler.

“As some of you know, today marks the 10 year anniversary of the Wedgwood Baptist shootings. For those that don’t know, a man named Larry Ashbrook walked into a Saw You At The Pole rally on Wednesday night ten years ago at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth and began firing into the crowd. Seven people were killed and seven more were wounded. At the time I was a Junior in high school, and several of my friends had attended the rally, but I decided to stay at Southcliff for the evening instead.

Obviously it affected our youth group quite a bit. Wedgwood Baptist Church was only a couple miles from Southcliff, where I went to church, and since many of our students had been there, there was a closeness to the situation that was very unsettling. But what I’d come to remember most about that night ended up not being the shootings, but that it was the night one of my best friends of all time came to accept Jesus Christ into his heart.

Besides family, I’ve known and been constant friends with Brandon Matthews longer than anyone else I know. We’ve been through all the good times and all the bad times together, and I thank God to be a part of his life. It’s really awesome to see how God can take a horrific tragedy and turn it into something that you are actually celebrating year after year. 10 years… how crazy is that! Through the last ten years I’ve seen true change happen in the heart of my friend Brandon.

When I first met him as a Sophomore in Leach’s english class, he was a jaded and cynical kid, without any real direction that mattered. Nevertheless we seemed to hit it off right away in class, with our nerdy love of comics! After about a year or so (I think) I started inviting him to Wednesday nights with me at church, with a couple other friends. We’d meet at my place after school and all go to eat and bible study together. That night, after we received word about the shootings, and my parents had come to pick us up, Brandon was shook up a lot I think. My dad took him aside and they talked for a good bit while the rest of us waited in the car, praying. Basically that night my dad was able to lead Brandon to the Lord, which in my opinion, pretty much destroyed any victory Satan could have claimed that night.

Since then, Brandon has become one of the most caring, understanding, and devoted friends I have ever known. I’ve never seen such a change in someone like that. I think Brandon would say the same thing. Through the years we’ve grown closer, then farther apart, due to the miles between us, but we STILL get together, most recently for the worship projects we’ve been recording in New Mexico, and of course he was a groomsman in my wedding (and yes, I’ve even dragged him to a reenactment)! Add that to 3 years of high school together, 30 shows and 2 albums with Monkeywrench, and over 10 years of friendship… it seems like a lifetime! And in many ways, it has been…

Shortly after the Wedgwood shootings, I wrote a song about the whole thing. Looking back on it, the lyrics might be a little cheezy, and my vocals certainly never did it justice, but the message is there. It was one of the first songs that my old band Monkeywrench (who Brandon was also in) ever wrote. I thought it would be appropriate to include it in this 10 year anniversary note. It is appropriately titled “9-15-99.”

9-15-99

Where do you turn when your world is in shambles…
Where do you turn when there’s no place to hide?
When the place that you worship is destroyed and undone…
When your faith is shattered across the sky?

Where do you turn when your life is in shambles…
Where do you turn when your hate cannot hide
When the one that you worship leaves you empty inside…
When you’re so confused you take your life?

Turn to Him, he will take all your sorrows
He will make them better than before they’d begun
He will wrap His arms of comforting love around your heart from heaven above.

So that’s where you turn when your world is in shambles.
That’s where you turn, though there’s no need to hide
And the place that you worship will be restored in your heart
And your faith will be mended before your eyes.

So turn to him, he’ll take your sorrows
He will make them better than before they’d begun
He will wrap His arms of comforting love around your heart from heaven above.”

Awake and Alive and Listening to something better.

I love the band Skillet. I had mixed feelings about the first two albums of theirs that I owned (which would be Invincible and Alien Youth), so it took me a while to buy Collide. Finally, after my friend David threated me with physical harm, I bought it. And, well, if you’ve listened to the album, you know how A) incredible it is and B) what a massive departure it was from the previous stuff we’ve seen from Skillet.

Collide was raw, passionate, and hard. It also included one of the most truly epic songs I’ve ever heard in the form of the titular track. This album threw Skillet into the list of my favorite musical artists. Their next album, Comatose, sealed it there forever. Comatose took everything that was great about the song Collide and made nearly an entire album’s worth of greatness from it, blending the hard, nearly-metal rock sound with the symphonic intros and backing, resulting in classics like Rebirthing, Comatose, and Whispers in the Dark. There are plenty of great solid rock tracks on here as well, including Better Than Drugs, Last Night, Falling Into Black, and Those Nights.

However, Comatose does have a downside to it. The album incorporates a couple of songs that can best be described (and in fact WERE described as such by John Cooper, Skillet’s Frontman, on Comatose Comes Alive) as 80s power ballads, namely Yours to Hold, The Older I Get, and Say Goodbye. These songs are absolutely lame. I’m sorry, they are. They’re boring compared to what this band is capable of and what they demonstrate on the rest of this album.

The problem is that, on their live abum, Comatose Comes Alive, John mentioned that he LOVES 1980s power ballads just before playing Yours to Hold. I wish I could say that set off some warning bells in my mind, but it didn’t.

So now we come to the recently released Awake. After Comatose, I think we all had incredibly high hopes for this album. Was it too much? I don’t think so, not really. The first single we heard off this album, “Hero”, certainly sounded like the Skillet we all know and love! There’s less symphonic backing, but lots of rock, and a passionate calling out to Jesus to help us make a stand in thie world. Plus it features vocals from their new drummer, and she ain’t bad, singing or drumming.

The second single, “Monster”….well lets just say this should have been the second warning sign. It’s not an overall bad track on it’s own. The first thought I had as I was listening to it was “Wow…these lyrics are really not as good as Skillet has done.” But I continued listening…and then we got to the bridge.

If you’ve heard this track, and not the radio version, you know what comes next. You get a dropoff of all instruments, and you’re expecting to hear John sing (or even scream) the words “feel like a monster”. Well, you get those words all right, but they’re uttered by this synthesized monster voice. I don’t know if they were going for creepy, or just scary, or what, but it is the cheesiest thing I think I’ve ever heard. I was in such shock and disgust at the sheer lameness of it, I had to stop the song. Seriously? You guys were gonna go with that??

I’ve listened to the song a few more times since then, and that stupid monster voice aside, it’s not a bad track at all, if you consider it on it’s own, apart from anything Skillet has done before. If you factor that in, then yes, it’s a bit disappointing. Monster’s a pretty rocking track, but Skillet has done way better.

So then we get the full deal. Awake debuts in stores, and I immediately grab that sucker off iTunes and get ready to rock.

Oh wow, is this album disappointing. Really really disappointing. Why? Because it’s about 50% lame 80s power ballads, and what few songs aren’t, well half of them are just plain terrible.

I’m not even going to talk about the power ballad tracks. I can’t. I can barely stand to listen to them through once. So let’s take a look at the rest of the offerings here. The title track, Awake and Alive, is not bad, really. It tries to capture the formula they used on Comatose: Blend good hard rock with their signature symphonic backing. For the most part it works, until you get to the chorus, specifically the lyrics “Now, it’s my time. I’ll do what I want, cause this is my life!”. I’m sorry, I thought I was listening to Skillet, not “Angry teen emo-rock band #357”. What happened, guys? You’re too smart to fall into the whole “cater-songs-to-the-teenage-youth-group-crowd” that gripped otherwise good bands. I’m looking at you, Superchic[k]. The song kind of just falls apart from there, getting less and less mature, which culiminates in having to hear John sing “Wa-king-up, Waking up!” over and over prior to the bridge and at the song’s close. I felt like I’d been bait-and-switched.

Next we get “One Day Too Late” which has…oh right. Power Ballad. *pushes skip button*. Sorry, now we come to “It’s Not Me It’s You”. And yet again, we have to check our CD to make sure we haven’t been hoodwinked. This is not a Skillet song. This is a terrible piece of crap that some girl-power chick band threw together after they broke up with their boyfriend. I’m really disgusted at this point, and begging the rest of the album to impove.

Sadly, our next track, Should’ve When You Could’ve? Yeah, ballad. Also, really annoying title. And the one after that? It’s called “Believe”, it’s gotta be good, right? Hey look another one! Ugh. “Believe” sounds like something a jerk guy would sing if he was trying to blame a girl for all his relationship issues. I’m not kidding, go listen to it if you don’t believe me (pardon the pun). I have no idea what has happened to this band by now. I’m looking for something, ANYTHING, to salvage this mess.

“Forgiven” tries to do that. It really does. Again, they try to capture the sound that made Comatose so good, and the song itself FINALLY comes back to something that actually sounds Spiritual, a heartfelt confession of wrong and God’s Forgiveness of it all. The problem is, there’s enough of the power ballad influence in here that it just makes the song average at best. It’s decent, but it’s hardly a standout hit.

Now we come to “Sometimes”. Okay, I think we’re getting somewhere here. This one gets it closer to the seriously hard rock we’ve heard on Collide. This is good stuff. Lyrics are a bit on the immature side, but at thsi point, i’m so sick of the power ballads I’m almost willing to overlook that. Do we have another classic hit here? I can’t bring it up that high. It’s good, but not great.

“Never Surrender” is like that last grasp at safety before falling off a cliff. It’s trying to stick to the good things that started being developed in the previous tracks, you can tell that in the opener and even during the chorus, but the rest of it? Yeah, back into the pit of powerballad. Sigh.

Finally there’s “Lucy”. A downer tear-jerker about a girl that’s died. Hey Skillet? No. Stop it. Just stop this. Please. No one likes you guys because of these kinds of songs. They love you for your epic, powerful, raw, uninhibitted anthems of the greatness of God and his love. That’s why Collide and Comatose did so well. That’s why Comatose Comes Alive is so great, because for the most part you stuck to those. With the exception of “Hero”, you don’t have anything close to that greatness on this CD. What happened here, guys??

If you picked up the Deluxe Edition (and I’ll go on another rant about why I hate these later), you got three bonus tracks. “Dead Inside” is, hilariously, better than almost all of the album. It sounds more like it was a song that couldn’t quite make it on to Comatose, honestly. It’s got a good solid rock feel, good lyrics, overall highly enjoyable. “Would it Matter” is a synth-backed power ballad. Lame.

Finally, we’re treated to “Monster (Alternate Radio Version)”. If you’re familiar with the practice of “Radio Versions” of songs, you know they’re usually highly lame, softened up versions of normally good songs, done to maximize their appeal on the radio to all those folks who love happy-slappy contemporary Christian stuff that utterly bores me. Monster’s “Radio Version” does not do that. All it changes is, yes you guessed it, the terrible monster voice during the bridge. Instead, we get the same dropoff, but the normal vocals continue to sing. It’s amazing how much more enjoyable the song is.

So, I have to ask, guys. Did you think “Oooh, that Monster voice is a little too extreme for the radio, we better just replace it with regular vocals”? Because, I hate to tell you this, but the Radio version is better. Like I said, that monster voice is cheesy and bad. This version would have been a far better choice.

Overall, Skillet it seems has finally taken a misstep. They’ve taken the power ballads way too far and regressed badly on lyrical maturity. There’s a few good songs worth listening to on this album, but the rest of it can just be marked as “Skillet’s experimental power ballad album” and never spoken of again.

I give it 2 out of 5 Stars, 3 if you bought the Deluxe version.

Going to Waco again this weekend. If you see me seperated from Karen for an extended length of time, something has gone horribly awry. See ya’ll then!!