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...ABC Exclusive

...Artcell...Black...Cryptic Fate...

By Chowdhury Rashaam Raiyan

Note: Shaju- drummer (Artcell), Jahan-guitarist (Black) and Shakib-vocalist (Cryptic Fate) are the one's answering on behalf of their bands, but in some cases the views expressed are more personal, rather than the 'over-all' perspective of their respective bands…How's life?

Shaju(Artcell): Having the best time of my life! Just graduated…and leading a BEKAR life...ha ha ha!

Jahan (Black): On the run, chasing dreams. Desperately need some NOS for my engine!

Shakib(Cryptic Fate [CF]): Life is great. I've got a job in an advertising firm and in my spare time I play cricket, do music and hang out with friends.

Benson and Hedges has been an integral part of the spread of 'band music' in Bangladesh from the late 90s and have sponsored various 'youngster' hangouts. What are your feelings about this not only as musicians in Bangladesh but also as icons that young people look up to?

Artcell: Obviously B&H is doing a great job with the 'Youngster' hangouts. But I'm not quite sure about their contribution to the music scene. Maybe it's because I'm a latecomer in the music scenario. All I saw from them is the 'Star Search' thing. And quite frankly I don't see any real 'Star' coming out from there. Where are Vikings and Stealers now? Has B&H backed them up much? There should have been a lot of concerts organized by them featuring their "Stars". You started the process now finish it properly! Well, than again it's just my personal point of view. I may not know some things and that's probably why I'm looking at this from a different angle.

Black: Unlike any other sponsors, they have succeeded in setting a standard in sponsoring musical events or public hangouts, which are surely worth enjoying. Whatever they do, they do it bigger and better. But it's a pity that all of their events are planned only for their age restricted target market (above 18 years of age). I support their initiative, which promotes art, music and fashion but I definitely do not support the product they are selling.

CF: The entire B&H contest and everything is a great platform for young musicians. It is the only formal event that recognizes band music and lets young people from all over the country realize their dreams. As in any event in Bangladesh, there are both good and bad things associated with it but on the whole I am all for the B&H Star Search (even though I failed in it twice, once with Cryptic Fate and the next time with Watson Brothers).

Different 'aspects' attract people to music, what is it for each of you?

Artcell: I don't know about others, but for me it's the thrill of playing LIVE in front an audience, who are enjoying and appreciating the music, head banging etc. I used to see Metallica, Pantera live concerts and just dreamt of playing on stage like them!

Black: Never thought of it…none of our parents relate to this, so can't say it's by birth either…Lets say…it just...happened...naturally!

CF: Playing music was a rush. That's what attracted us at first. But soon we realized that making our own music was even more of a rush and that's what kept the attraction alive for so many years. Another reason is that we believe we are damn good at doing music and we want to be remembered long after we're dead as significant contributors to Bangla Rock.

What is the main difference between mainstream and underground (UnGr) musicians?

Black: For a mainstream musician priority #1 is his music director's satisfaction #2 How the listeners will respond to it ("khabe ki khabe na?") #3 Whether it will be worth his remuneration #4 His own satisfaction as a musician (never fulfilled) and #5 his contribution to Bangla music (a very few think of it).

And for an UnGr musician priority #1 is- doing good music...smartly and getting recognized #2 His own satisfaction #3 Proving himself to friends, family, a number of audiences and to himself too #4 Contributing something to Bangla music and taking music as a career.That explains it all but opinions may vary.

CF: Mainstream musicians support themselves with their music. That is their job, they make a living from music. Thus they always have to make music, which they think will sell. They cater to popular trends. Underground musicians do music as a hobby, so they have the freedom to create the kind of music that they want to listen to.

We know very little about the emergence of the UnGr music scene in Bangladesh…Can you tell us how it started…and your personal experiences in it?

Artcell: I know about this underground scene from '97,'98. At that time PG auditorium was holding a series of underground metal shows quite regularly. Sometimes 3/4 concerts a month! At that time most bands were Heavy metal bands. There were bands like Cryptic Fate, Koprophilia, Dethrow, Psychodeath, X-uranium, Tantrik, Clovermind and many others. They mostly covered songs from Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Pantera, Sepultura, and these sorts of metal bands. There was not much of Alternative rock. Only pure heavy stiffs. (I even remember in one concert a band named "Spanking Monkies" covered Smells like Teen Spirit, and some other alternative songs, and we were like, "What the...?" We didn't pay this much to see these!) No hard feelings to anyone, but the scene was like this at that time. But those golden times didn't last for long, as PG refuses to hold any more shows as they ended up with broken chairs after every show. After that the scene had a break, as there were shortage of venues.

Meanwhile, I got inspired by all those shows, 'cause I listened to metal all my life, but had no idea about people covering them here in Dhaka city! With that inspiration I started to learn drums and got fortunate enough to work with my current band mates. But that's a totally different story, the formation of the band Artcell. Well after Artcell was born we had our first show in ICMA auditorium in Katabon. We covered Unforgiven 2 and one song from Garage inc. (can't remember the name) of Metallica and Inner Self and Propaganda from Sepultura. Well that's our start in the underground scene.

CF: It all started in the 70s with Azam Khan and really this is a HUGE topic. Bands like LRB, Miles, Feedback were all "underground" in the beginning and created fantastic music. But then they all went commercial. UnGr music resurfaced in late 80s and early 90s with bands like Rockstrata and Warfaze. There was another resurgence in the late 90s with Dethrow, Psychodeth, Koprophilia, and of course my own band Cryptic Fate. My personal experience is that the best time to be an underground band is now, because of the enormous support from people like Sumon Bhai, Duray Bhai and Khaled bhai of G-series (cassette production company). Plus, we have great studios now that we didn't have 5 years back. As for my personal experience, it's been tough and frustrating for a long time but the last 2 years have been amazing and as I have already mentioned, this is a good time to be an underground band!

Inspiration, Originality, and Copying…Bangladeshi music has always taken from western music (like the great Tagore himself) and it has been a source of enriching our creativity over the years, so why is it that now, when something remotely resembles western stuff…it comes under intense scrutiny from all sides?

Artcell: I've noticed that, nowadays, some people have this weird tendency of always trying to find from where 'this' song has been copied. I mean they can't just be happy to accept the fact that this can be something of 'this' band's original work. Maybe this is because they don't have enough faith on us. But here I'm talking about a very small number of people. Other than that, I'll say all of our fans enjoy our music and appreciate it.

Black: We call it cultural exchange. But when the "exchange" becomes one-sided and turns "following blindly" then the 'credit' goes entirely to the ever-expanding TV media and internet which also made us "culture-conscious" too. The common people are more aware now than the times of Tagore. So it is very obvious that the slightest resemblence will come under discreet scrutiny from the 'overreacting-newly-culture-conscious' minds.

CF: This is because we've seen most of the great bands of Bangladesh copy music from western bands over the years. It has happened so often that now we have this idea that Bangalis are incapable of world-class original creation.

There's a common 'misconception' that those who come into band music, come from relatively high socio-economic backgrounds, and thus, cannot produce music for the 'masses' in Bangladesh, where over 40% of the people live below the poverty line. Is this the reason for the successful UnGr musicians to remain UnGr or at a maximum stay popular at a more urban level but not at a rural one?

I think the whole band music is targeted to Urban, semi-urban level. It's not for rural people anyway. So I think we are not intended to produce music for the 'masses'. And the type of music we the UnGr musicians are doing, are not even for all the band music listeners. So it is very unlikely for us to be a big hit in the market.

Black: To enjoy the music we produce, the listener must have a listening background. One can't jump from pure, raw folk to heavily sounded prog rock or alt rock overnight. That's why the folk remixes are so popular all over the country. It's not that we can't do music for the mass. It's about TASTE. We'd like to change the taste of the listeners rather than changing ours by giving them quality music of a different taste. That'll take time to digest. But we feel the change already watching the response of the audience when we do live concerts outside Dhaka.

CF: Not at all, "Bangla" is a great example of high society people producing music for the masses. However, most UnGr bands are into rock or metal, very complex forms of music and not easily understood. This is a worldwide phenomenon, which is why Brittney Spears sells more than Tool. This is a situation where the UnGr bands will have to persevere and "teach" the masses the joys of modern complex music, rather than "dumbing down" their style for the masses.

Does rivalry exist between bands in the UnGr music scene?

Artcell: I think that 'Rivalry' is not the proper word, but the word 'competition' fits in best. Well there is some and there should be some. Because of this competition we have and will be better musicians and bands in the future from this underground scene.

CF: The underground bands I hang out with are Aurthohin, Artcell and Black (although Aurthohin is not strictly underground). We are all great friends and although there is a friendly rivalry between us it is a positive thing.

We are all great friends, we are always there for each other and love working together. The ABC song "Aashirbaad" in the album Dinbodol is a great example of how Artcell, Black and Fate work together. I don't know much about the other bands in the underground but hope that ABC's friendship can be some sort of an example.

This is a typical question…but what advice do you have for young aspiring musicians…

Artcell: Listen to a lot of music. 'good music'!!! And practice a lot. Be a musician first before you form any band.

Black: Know your roots, follow your heart and try to express your true self and your feelings through music. Because music is not only about listening and enjoying, it is also about feelings and experiencing life aesthetically

CF: Please get your basics right. Listen to the right bands and understand music theory. Pick up songs in their entirety because that is the best way to understand music theory. And practice, practice, practice. And play cricket in your spare time.

Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle-earth

Rising Stars rating 8.4

By Niloy

The Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle-earth is stylistically consistent with the movies and is presented with style and polish. While that portion of the game is excellent, the rest of it is simply decent. While it's fast and can certainly be fun, there's just something missing in the gameplay to categorize it as amazing. Even so, I had an enjoyable time playing Battle for Middle-earth and I think LOTR fans will as well, even if the story isn't totally consistent.

Let me explain…Earlier on in the game, I rescued Boromir from his death on the shores of the Anduin, and he's been bravely fighting alongside the forces of Gondor ever since; and Gandalf never fell to the whip of the Balrog in Moria, because Aragorn stuck the bugger with his sword first. Saruman is running around with a group of orcs somewhere near Minas Tirith casting powerful battlefield spells, Sam had the assistance of a number of the guards of Gondor when he handed Shelob her arse on a plate, and oh - that Balrog I mentioned? I just summoned it to kick about some foes in the fields of Rohan.

If you're not getting the hint yet, what I'm saying is this: if you're a Lord of the Rings purist, look away now. If you have ever been known to make a statement like "the removal of the scouring of the Shire ripped the narrative and moral heart from Tolkien's vision!", then do not seek out this game. Seek professional help instead. If, on the other hand, you just loved the epic fantasy of the trilogy and think that the idea of leading the armies of Middle-Earth into mortal combat sounds like your cup of tea - step right up.

Basing a real-time strategy game on a movie is a concept which looks loaded with difficulty, but EA focused on what will make a good game rather than on fitting in exactly with the plot of the trilogy. That's a good move. Freed from the restrictions which seem to be imposed on most other movie tie-ins, Battle For Middle-Earth does throw up some peculiarities such as suspiciously resurrecting heroes and fictionally unlikely Balrog summoning, but in return it offers a genuinely compelling game which benefits hugely from its epic setting and the player's familiarity with the universe and characters, rather than being held back by it.

Four unique sides are playable in the game - the kingdoms of Rohan (which has incredibly powerful cavalry, as you'd expect) and Gondor (great defensive capabilities), and the evil forces of Mordor and Isengard, which are largely focused on swarming the enemy with wave after wave of orcs, and also have access to powerful siege units such as those bloody great elephant things. Aerial support is provided by giant eagles and by Nazguls, and each side has a bunch of hero characters at their disposal, most of whom are indeed disposable, and whose influence can often swing the progress of a battle.

The campaign game is played out on a large 3D map of Middle-Earth, which is divided up into a set of provinces. You move your armies (up to three of them) around this map, dropping into each province individually to fight through a battle - leading to the capture of the province, and effectively giving you control over the course of the campaign, although occasionally you'll be called upon to fight through a specific part of the plot. These plot-specific parts (including the Fellowship going through the Mines of Moria, or fighting the Uruk-Hai at the Anduin, or the climactic siege of Minas Tirith) will sometimes give you control simply of a small group of heroes and task you with keeping them alive - an odd departure from their normal expendability, and arguably one of the weakest elements of the game. When will RTS creators learn that taking a couple of units through a mission simply isn't as much fun as controlling an army?

The overview map itself is very simple, but it serves its role well and as a plus point, it's beautifully modelled and animated. Each province that you capture boosts your power, giving you special abilities such as the ability to summon Elvish allies in battle, boosting your production rate or simply raising the cap on the number of units you can have at your command. In one of the nicest touches in the game, the armies you create are also persistent, so the force you end one battle with is by and large the same as the force you start with next time around, and normal units as well as heroes level up and gain experience. You can even rename your regular units, giving your army that rather more personal touch.

This aspect leads to some of the finest moments in the game - such as the level where you defend Helm's Deep from invaders, up to the point where you are rescued by the appearance of Eomer's army of horsemen - the very army which you've just spent several missions assembling on the plains of Rohan. It also gives rise to a particularly gruesome aspect of the evil forces in the game - when playing as the forces of Mordor or Isengard, you can order your own units to kill each other in order to boost their experience, which is a cunning way to exploit the tendency of the unit production cap to leave you with far more resources than you can possibly spend.

Once the game gets going, it's incredibly spectacular. Although this is no Rome: Total War, the clever decision to make each unit into a group of five men (or ten orcs for the swarm-happy Dark forces) means that you still end up with epic scale battles, and watching a set of siege elephants bearing down on the gates of Minas Tirith is a scene to stir the heart of any RTS player. Graphically, Battle for Middle-Earth is one of the best looking strategy games out there; it can strain a little when there are too many units on screen, but in general it's an impressive feast for the eyes, with every major location from the movies recreated in loving detail.

While EA's use of the Lord of the Rings franchise to date has largely been fairly impressive, the direct movie tie-ins have all been quite shallow. Battle for Middle-Earth, however, would be an impressive game even if it weren't based on Lord of the Rings. It's a clever and well-constructed strategy title with plenty of innovation of its own, and a genuinely great use of the franchise. Easily the best of the Lord of the Rings games to date, it also comes well recommended as one of the best PC strategy games of 2004.

Sites Unseen

By Niloy

Gmail invites anyone? I'm giving out Gmails again. No limitations this time, everyone who asks for an account will get one!

Floating Logos
First, let's make this clear: The logos aren't really floating. Through the miracle of digital enhancement, the photos have been altered to remove the posts and poles that keep the signs in the air, giving them the eerie appearance of gravity-defying weightlessness. Without any visible means of support, even McDonald's signs take on a ghostly quality. Though most of the logos designate fast-food outlets and gas stations, this sign seems some how appropriate floating above the Earth.

Microsoft's Anti-Spyware
Microsoft has stepped into the anti-spyware arena with a fast and useful tool. It's still in beta, but it already ranks as one of the best anit-spyware around.

Bullies for hire
A service that lets you to hire bullies to bully your children.

Peace Art Project Cambodia
Even the first few years of the new millennium have been a big bust world peace-wise, some folks still insist on keeping hope alive. In the finest tradition of beating swords into forks and spoons, 23 University students from Columbia have been trained to sculpt in a unique medium -- decommissioned weapons. No shortage of material here; after more than 30 years of civil war, ending in 1998, the Cambodian government destroyed 125,000 weapons across the country. The students have secured thousands of these, including guns, tripods, mine casings, and destroyed ammunition. A look at the sculpture gallery shows the results: machines meant for killing transformed into such peaceful and useful objects as a bicycle, stool, and even a doggie.

Be a GOD for a while
A "God Simulator" that dares to poke fun at the Almighty.

Sam's Mailbox Picture Collection
Is anything more indicative of the human spirit and mankind's eternal quest for beauty than a lovingly crafted mailbox in the shape of a cow? Whatever your answer, you can still enjoy Sam's storehouse of the most bizarre mailboxes on the planet. Apparently, some people like to receive their TV Guides and credit card bills in something a little more complex than the traditional lunchbox-shaped container. Sam has done us the service of posting the wildest and wackiest of these, adorning streets from Texas to New Zealand.
You can email me at niloy.me@gmail.com or visit my blog at niloywrites.blogspot.com


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