Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Bellari Phono Tube Preamp

I really, really want one of these.

Doesn't this just look cool? Really, it's one of those things that literally jumps out at you. This is a Bellari Phono Preamp. It's extremely cheap as far as preamps go (less than $250), which are horribly expensive, and only cement the notion that hi-fi audio is a game for the idle rich. This also happens to be a tube amp.

The most coveted amplifiers for your stereo system (with turntable, of course) are those with vacuum tubes. Tubes give a warmer, deeper sound to your music, and they happen to look really cool as well. Check out some of the higher-priced models, with stacks of vacuum tubes glowing brightly. For the music lover, a good tube amp is essential in bringing out the most of the sound from your stacks of vinyl. Music, like all things in creation, shares a fractal dimension - the trick is to be able to dig deep enough to pull out all of the sound.

So that's the next item for my growing stereo system. I've been searching around for a good tube amp, and the name Bellari keeps popping up. It's received the highest praise from audio reviewers like Stereophonic Magazine, as well as our beloved, local Needle Doctor. And who can resist Fire Engine Red? More bonus points for having the tube pop out of the top. Far too many tube amps are dull to look at, usually no more than a metal box. The models with actual tubes sticking out for the world to see typically cost more than my college education.

The vinyl revival has opened up the audiophile market to a degree it hasn't seen in a generation. Since the rise of compact discs and digital music, this was a small scene, mostly those with money to burn. You could spend $5,000 or $10,000 easily, once you've pieced everything together. There needs to be a push towards that lower end, without sacrificing quality. Pretty much the only turntables available for under $300 are cheap, lousy plastic toys, more disposable garbage for the birds to gorge themselves on. And let me tell ya, the difference between the $100 plastic Newmark Portable and the $300 Project Debut III is stunning.

Power to the People, I say! For the rest of us normal people - you know, the ones about to be hit by The Great Depression II, Brought to you by George W. Bush - we need some quality audiophile gear that won't send us to the poor house. I'm looking forward to getting my hands on this little fire truck.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Absolutely Terrifying

These are our oceans. Just think about that for a minute. We are literally drowning in vast oceans of plastic trash.

Seriously, do human beings really want to go extinct? Have we just decided that this is it, that we've had a good enough run, and now it's time for the next species to pick up the slack? Plastic now covers 40% of our oceans - a full quarter of the Earth's surface is loaded up with garbage, plastics designed to never decay, never rot, never break down. Previous civilizations have their monuments. Egypt had its pyramids. Greece had its Parthenon. Rome had it Coliseum. And we have millions of tons of plastics.

Add in the overfishing of our oceans, the rising global temperatures - thanks to the plastics' papa, fossil fuels - coral bleaching, and rising levels of acidity, we are literally killing the oceans themselves. Within our lifetimes, all life contained in the oceans will be extinct. Good lord, this is absolutely terrifying.

P.S. I should also say that I found another photo of a gull carcass, and I wanted to post it here, but it was just too damned chilling and horrifying for me to even look at. I'll describe it for you. There are a pair of bird wings. And instead of a dead bird, there's a huge pile of plastic garbage shaped like a bird. There goes my appetite.

The Stereo System & The Apartment

A few interesting looks at the stereo system in my apartment. The stereo receiver is a Marantz 2235B from 1977. the speakers are RCA speakers from...well, whenever. And the turntable, of course, is the Pro-Ject Debut III. It's a terrific little setup - note the speakers are off the floor and away from the walls. Turns out I was very lucky, as this apartment is just perfect for a stereo system. I'll just need some new speaker wire, and a couple interesting little tweaks which will improve the sound - a cork board platter for the turntable mat, for instance, and a custom method to "float" the components, by resting the turntable on parts that will cancel out extra vibrations....vibrations that interfere with the sound of the music.

Room acoustics and canceling vibrations are the two main challenges in improving your stereo sound. Fortunately, these goals are far cheaper than simply paying for more and more expensive equipment. You're far better off working to optimize the equipment you have - work on your current system before spending a fortune on hideously expensive speakers and turntables. Yuck - this is such a rich man's game.

Oh, and here are some photos of the apartment from different angles, just so you get a sense of the living room. I really need to work on improving the acoustics in the apartment; removing all that needless echo that dampens and muddies up the sound. I have some good ideas for soundproofing, while keeping a sense of style. Once we add some picture frames and plants, the sound will really be something.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Marantz '77 & Project Debut III - My New Stereo System

I've had a busy weekend, folks. My obsession with vinyl records went to the next level, as I've finally hunted down and bought a new stereo system. Yay!

For the past year, I've been using a Newmark PT-101 Portable Turntable. It's been great fun, it's a great little toy, and the price was dirt cheap - only $100. My current vinyl kick would never have happened without it. But I always knew that this would be a temporary fix, until I get the full stereo setup. And my weekend record hunt confirmed this.

I was at a vintage record shop in St. Paul called Hymie's. It's a terrific place, loaded with records of all styles and stretching back decades. It's here that I also found another copy of Black Sabbath's Paranoid. This time is was a 1976 NEMS pressing, with a label printed onto the vinyl label, "Made in Holland." I already had the NEMS reissue, and I'm quite happy with it. But I was too curious about this older version...would it be the same, or is it different in any way? I scoured around for the store record player, threw the disc on the turntable....

....Where I was completely blown away. This was fantastic! The sound was so much deeper, the guitars far more liquid. Everything blasted out like fog and shadows rising from a boggy swamp. The record included new sound effects I've never heard before, such as a guitar echo on Iron Man, and several instances of tape echo. When I was finished with side one, I finally realized just how ominous and heavy Sabbath were in their prime.

This dark, swampy groove was never present to me before, and I became obsessed with finding answers. I bought the album, of course (marking the sixth version of Paranoid I've come across); but when I played it on the Newmark, that groove was missing. In its place was something familiar, but somewhat watered down. I wanted that sound, and it the portable couldn't deliver. I needed to grab one of those old, beat-up '70s stereos. That's the way the music was heard back in the day, after all, and the music was far better then.

So back to Hymie's the next day. The store also sells stereo equipment, used and vintage, as always. I found a Marantz stereo receiver, wood grain, knobs and dials, electric blue lights. It was perfect! Today's blackened digitized stereos look so inhuman, so unfriendly. The Marantz wanted to be your new best friend. Oh, did I mention that it cost only $65?

Kids, that's a steal. Turns out that this model was the top of the line 30 years ago. I'd be paying hundreds for the same or similar stereo today. This was a great find. I also scored a pair of big speakers for $30, again a real bargain. Never discount the value of the vintage market! Another perfect example of why consumer electronics is a scam.

Dragging it home - courtesy of an older man who traveled back and forth to Texas and collected 78-RPM records - I hooked the stereo up and was immediately impressed. It's great to have a stereo again. I haven't seen one of these things in so long...since I was a teenager, I think. The age of portable CD's and computers and iPods took their toll. Doesn't help to be a poor college student, either. I was immediately brought back to my younger days, to the tunes of Tom Petty and Temple of the Dog.

Strange thing happened, then. I connected the Newmark portable to the stereo. For some reason...well, let me put it this way. Have you ever been on a date with someone new, and by accident run into your ex? It was something like that. These two musical friends of mine were not getting along. I tried to mess with the knobs and settings, and make peace with what was obviously an inferior, overpowered and muddy sound. But I knew things had to change and change fast.

When I get into one of my impulsive moods, I'm not one to sit and wait things out. I want my music, dammit, and I want it to sound just right. Scouring through the internet brought me back to the realm of audiophiles, and all their damned stereo parts. This scene is just like the car junkies. You have to piece together and hack together everything, and you'll always be tinkering away at some new gadget. Ah, well, so be it. This was the life I chose. I could have stayed with my free MP3's off the net, but I had to insist on hearing Sgt. Pepper's on vinyl...just once. Once was enough to hurl me through the Land of Oz, and now it's too late for Kansas.

Which brings me back to today. I wandered into a local spot in Dinkytown, a place called Needle Doctor. Seems they have a reputation online for bringing the goods. I walked in to see what they'd offer, expecting nothing. I came away with a brand new $300 turntable, a little beauty called Project Debut III. The guy who helped me recommended it as a budget turntable - these babies start at five hundred and only get meaner. Analog music can quickly become very expensive.

Thank goodness for the clerk and Needle Doctor. This turntable is relatively cheap, but has won numerous awards, and widely impressed those in the know as a record player that's far cheaper than it has any right to be. Goody for me.

I will say that putting the damned thing together was a trial in itself. Oh, have I mentioned that you have to basically put these things together when you get to this level? You're long past the realm of mere plug-and-play. You have to attach a belt to the motor and platter foundation, attach the platter, and then fiddle around with the tone arm, adjusting a series of weights that remind me of high school science class. All this is done so that arm and the needle won't carve up your precious records. Also, and I'm sure you'll see this coming, the needle cartridge can be replaced and switched around. More tinkering with the cars. In fact, just about every component of a turntable can be mixed and matched, and very often are. Some junkies will use one cartridge only for mono records, then use a specialized cart for the 78's. Yadda yadda.

I'm not quite there yet. But I am already planning my next move - a quality preamp, preferably one with a lot of vacuum tubes sticking out. And maybe a subwoofer for Stevie Wonder. There goes my next two paychecks.

Well, I suppose I should finally get to the point of the story, which is how it all sounds once I put it together. My new stereo system sounds....fantastic! Absolutely amazing! I've never been least not since I came back to the Dinkytown Pizza Hut in September 1999 with a brand-new Sega Dreamcast. That was another highlight. This is just the latest technological fix for the hunter-gatherers in cyberspace. There will be more.

So, if you're curious, Project's Debut III is an excellent turntable at a reasonable price. I'm thrilled with it, and it didn't break my wallet. Only dinged it a little. You'll be more than happy with one. But good luck figuring out how to put it all'll need it.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Infograms Set to Buy Out Atari

One of the more interesting stories of the last decade from the world of videogames has been the name and legacy of Atari. It's the original king of the mountain, the original rock star, and for many of us who grew up in the '80s, was synonymous with videogames. But after struggling through the '90s, Atari Corp was finally sold away and eventually scuttled. The name and rights have been shifting around ever since.

I do appreciate the Infogrames has tried to revive the Atari name. It's a name that really shouldn't die. But the newest incarnation of Atari has proven to be remarkably weak and ineffective. I wonder what the whole point was, when all you intend to do is slap that iconic Atari logo on yet another Dragon Ball Z import. Is that logo even necessary?

There have been some attempts at classic compilations, but always very tepid and over-cautious. I can't name one Atari classic package that's worth its salt. Oh, wait, there is the Atari Flashback, the self-contained Atari 2600 clone that included a number of hit games. That was a good idea. But even then, it was far too little. How many games were released on the venerable 2600? Why limit to only a dozen? What's the point in that?

It's interesting to notice that the 2600 remains the only Atari console to get any attention. A shameful mishandling of one of the industry's best libraries. Where the bloody hell is the Atari 7800? The 5200? Where the bloody hell is the Lynx? Where the bloody hell is the 800 computer? There is so much material in the vaults, just waiting to be reissued and recreated and presented to a new generation. I'm eternally stunned.

The games industry continues to embrace its legacy, albeit slowly, with the rise of Wii Virtual Console and XBLA. Studios and publishers need to push further. Inforgrames should be running with this ball. What the hell is it going to take to see Warlords on the Wii? How about the Atari Lynx on Nintendo DS and Playstation Portable? Smart thinkers would be flooding the Virtual Console with classics every week, and selling them for next to nothing.

Here's what I want to see: Atari 2600 games on VC for 50 points. 7800 games for 100. Heck, keep everything at a dollar or less...just work the long tail for all it's worth. This library isn't making any money as what's the loss? What will it take? Will I have to start buying Atari stock and take over the damned operation myself?

Actually, that's not such a bad idea. I may have to do that.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Book Project Update - Videogames of the Damned, Daniel Thomas Vol 4

I wanted to share with everyone the latest news on my ongoing book project. I know I've been promising and threatening to publish for the past year or so, but it's really only now that I felt that I had enough material to go to the printers.

In fact, I'm pretty well convinced that I have too much! Too much for one book, at least. So I've decided to publish two seperate books! As with before, these books contain my writings from this blog, as well as my main website, I'm adding everything to Word right now, where I'll then print up and edit, and see what changes need to be made, if any.

Videogames of the Damned is book #1. This will focus on the videogames writings from the blog of the same name, as well as my old game reviews from the main website.

I have the perfect cover for this book - the album cover from Black Sabbath's Master of Reality. All I need now is to find someone who can properly design the cover. Master of Reality accurately sums up the vibe of this book as well. It's heavy and dense and tightly focused. This is also my great manifesto for video game journalism. At least, that's my goal.

Daniel Thomas Vol. 4 will be book #2. As you can guess, I'm drawing from Sabbath's fourth album for inspiration, and the cover will be a direct homage. Also, I think it's pretty funny to title your second book, "Vol 4." Again, I'll most likely need the aid of some skilled graphic designers to design the cover. But I know exactly what I want, so this isn't a problem.

Vol 4 will stretch out a little, again like the Sabs did. Included are my movie reviews (including, at this moment, at least, my Studio Ghibli film reviews), the Videogame Classics essays, my posts and essays on music, the political rants, and most likely the writings about the old videogame fanzine scene of the '90s. I'm not fully decided on that last point. I may put the zine posts in VOTD, but it probably works better here, since I'll be writing about the death of Sean Pettibone.

I'm still collecting all my writings to see just what I'm working with, but I really do have a lot. I'm really impressed by this. A lack of material has been holding me back forever, and it's the reason my "No War 4 Empire" project stalled. I think these books are very solid, and a good length.

Of course, I'll continue to write new posts here on the blog, and those may or may not be included in the books. I still want to write a little more on the Atari Lynx, and maybe Sega Dreamcast. We'll see. I want this project finished and ready to send to before my birthday on April 15. If I could have a finished book in my hands on my birthday, that would be absolutely perfect.

Stay tuned, kids. Watch this space.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

WiiWare Set to Launch in Japan

Nintendo's WiiWare service for their Wii console is nearly ready to launch in Japan. March 25 is the official date, and the details on the first batch of games have been released. This is a fairly large event for Nintendo, and games in general. Don't let the simple, almost retro style of most of these games fool you. Digital distribution is the wave of the future. Before too long, games consoles will enable direct downloading much the same as you download music. We are really just beginning this process, the very early stages. Digital distribution will grow, however, and I would expect that eventually, publishers - the smaller ones especially - will just forgo the traditional brick-and-mortar model altogether and just go digital.

This is the arrival of the long tail model for videogames. This has the potential to greatly widen the market, opening up niche genres and quirky games that just couldn't be feasible under the traditional model. All that manufacturing and inventory and disc production costs a pretty penny. That's something that remains out of the reach of aspiring garage coders...the very coders who created video games in the first place. But online distribution will give them a way in.

But that's all future talk. For now, Nintendo needs to launch WiiWare with a successful mixture of titles, and I think they're doing that. The quality is pretty varied, but that's to be expected. There's a bit of experimentation at hand, and you can spot at least a couple titles that probably wouldn't be seen without WiiWare. If you're a fan of, say, classic arcade space shooters, WiiWare will become your new best friend.

Nintendo's biggest challenge, now, is memory storage. They'll need an option for storing all these games, and they'll need a viable solution soon. If they haven't announced anything by the end of this year, I'll be stunned. This was an issue for the Virtual Console, but WiiWare brings it to the forefront like nothing else. After the never-ending supply shortages, this is Nintendo Wii's greatest hurdle.

I'm showing photos from the games that grabbed my interest. These aren't all the games, and the library will steadily grow over time. These are just the ones I'd be most likely to buy. That is, of course, if I could actually find a Wii in stores anywhere. Why the bloody hell are there still shortages? Somebody in charge has to take a hit for this. There's no damned excuse. Anyway...

My first WiiWare pick is Okiraku Ping-Pong (Arc System Works, 500 points). The game is just as you'd expect, another in the long line of Pong games. Some of us have been playing this since Gerald Ford was President. Yeesh. And this isn't even the first Pong to appear on Wii; that distinction goes to Wii Play, which had ping-pong and air hockey.

This game probably wouldn't grab my attention, except for its striking visual style. It's very bold and colorful and dynamic. I think part of me expected the WiiWare games to be simplistic little games, something slapped together in a week. This game looks terrific. It's bold and confident in the way that arcade games were. I'm not happy that the tables are so far away, but I'm hopeful that the gameplay is nuanced and competitive enough. For five bucks, it's certainly worth a look. I've wasted five bucks on far worse things.

Next up is Hudson's Star Soldier R (Hudson, 800 points). It's purely a genre title, the classic arcade shooter, which has all but disappeared since the Playstation and Saturn passed away. But many of us have lamented the lack of those great games; back in the good 'ole days when video games weren't about anything beyond fast reflexes, shiny graphics, and the need to top the high score table.

The graphics are very modern, and Hudson has also put some real work into this title. I'm not expecting anything beyond the standard shooter, and that's fine for now. It's been so long since the glory days of the monster Sega Saturn shoot-em-ups, it may take developers time to get back into that groove. Until Sega gets enough sense to bring Saturn to Virtual Console, this is your next best fix.

Next up, unfortunately without any pictures, is Dr. Mario (Nintendo, 1000 points). Ten dollars is a bit steep to pay, I think, but you're getting a classic game updated with Wii graphics. You're also getting some impressive multiplayer for up to four players. This is an important release because it suggests a future where name-brand titles will make the jump to digital distribution. Dr. Mario is Nintendo's first test case. As usual, they're playing it very, very safe.

Tetris, of course, will be arriving on WiiWare in the near future, and hopefully without any of those Nintendo-game annoyances that ruined the DS cart for me. But Dr. Mario has the puzzle crown all to himself for now, and it's an easy enough game for beginning puzzle fans to try.

Finally...the one we're all really waiting for. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles (Square Enix, 1500 points)! This is the flagship game for Nintendo's new service. It will sell as well as everyone expects, and it needs to, because the software community needs to be brought on board to digital distribution.

Square Enix pulled out all the stops, and it shows. Second-generation Wii games are really coming into their own, adding an extra layer of color and details that set it beyond the reach of GameCube. The console won't ever reach the level of XBox 360 or PS3, but games like Chrystal Chronicles look terrific. I'm still impressed with some of the later Saturn games.

Clearly, this game is leaps and bounds over everything else on WiiWare, and I'd gather that this will remain the case for some time. It's going to become the next must-see game on Wii, which is already having an excellent year. And maybe it's just me, but I really like the retro gaming look for this Final Fantasy. This series stopped being a videogame years ago; the directors are just aspiring filmmakers looking to break into Hollywood. I miss those Final Fantasy games from the Super Nintendo...part four, part six.

Should price be an issue? $15 for a single game is still dirt cheap. Budget games sell for more. My only concern is that Crystal Chronicles will be too short or limited, more of a trial than a full game. I hope that isn't the case. We deserve the full treatment. And if digital distribution means lowering those costs to the consumers...well, let's just say it's a great time to be Nintendo.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Mario Kart Wii - New Screens

(Note: Again, Blogger is being a soon...finally got the photos up!)

Mario Kart for the Wii is looking excellent, as expected. It's always nice to see these games near the end, after they've been given that extra coat of paint. I've only seen a couple gameplay clips, smuggled out of trade shows, but it looks to be as great as ever. The little steering wheel attachment looks pretty nice, too.

Notice that one screenshot with the globe. Am I wrong to guess this is how we'll be selecting opponents for online matches? An interesting idea, and continues the trend of making everything iconic, and away from all the messy text menus. Also, very smart move to use one big track icon for the multiplayer mode. More game real estate for the actual playing. I'm surprised this hadn't been thought of long ago.

So it seems that everything is shaping up....another great Wii game I'll never get to play. Seriously, is Nintendo just hoarding these consoles, or did they forget to make 'em? Maybe this should be part of Barack Obama's platform - a job for every household, and a Nintendo Wii in every home!

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Pro Evoultion Soccer Wii - Gameplay Movies

Okay, I took the movies down, because they were really annoying the hell out of me. I have no idea why they had to start running automatically. What's the deal with that? It's internet marketing circa 1998 - annoy the hell out of the customer.

In any case, you can watch the Pro Evo videos on Wiitalia's site. Just head over there.

Wii Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 - New Screens

(Screenshots courtesy of Wiitalia)

(NOTE: Blogger's being a real pain tonight. I'll upload the photos as soon as I can.)

Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 for Wii is one of those titles I've kept a fast eye on. As soon as I watched the first demonstration video, I knew the potential for this game was enormous. The Wiimote and Nunchuck give a startling degree of precision to the sport, far greater than ever before seen. With the ability to direct any player on the field, allowing for strategic movements and feints, this game can potentially render all current sports games obsolete. It really is that big. Which is why I'm hoping that Konami can make Pro Evo a success.

The latest batch of screenshots and gameplay movies are available online, and I'm more convinced than ever that I'm right. Pro Evo 2008 will revolutionize video game sports. Imagine the possibilities, when the Wii control method is brought to bear on hockey, football, mind reels at the possibilities, and it's here that I truly realize that, despite all the advances in technology and horsepower, all the polygons in the world cannot mask the fact that sports games have barely changed at all since the days of the Atari 2600 and Intellivision.

I think that's about to change. But it's up to Konami to seal the deal. I think they can do it.

The Nintendo Wii is a game system with a bad reputation, like the scrawny guy who walks into the bar looking for dates. But watch out, frat boys. This kid is about to go home with all the pretty girls.

With Super Mario Galaxy, Wii Fit, Smash Brothers Brawl, and now Pro Evo 2008, the Wii is turning into a killer. It's fast becoming the dominant console on all fronts.

My Nintendo DS Mojo is Gone

Alright, kids, confession time. I'm not having much fun with my Nintendo DS anymore. I was a great fan for a long while, until I had to sell mine. I purchased a new one a couple months back, but I've discovered my enthusiasm just isn't there. I spent a lot of time with the old favorites, Animal Crossing and Mario Kart, but I don't really feel like going back for another go.

Even the newer games, the ones I should be excited about - Contra 4, Legend of Zelda, Advance Wars: Days of Ruin - aren't being touched at all. I'm really not all that excited by them. That's a bit of a surprise to me. Here are three venerable game franchises that I always liked, but this time I leave the boxes untouched on the shelf, while I reach for the vinyl albums and the books and the guitar.

So maybe that's it. Maybe I've got other things to do with my time. Or maybe I'm just tired of replaying the same games over and over again. I don't think these are bad games; they're just reruns of classics from years gone by. I'm glad somebody finally got Contra right, but it was achieved only by ripping off the old games. I've already played those ones to death. Even Zelda Hourglass, which has been credited for reviving the series in Japan, really doesn't click with me. I feel I've done this too many times already. I'm happy to see a new control method. But what good does it do me when I'm playing through the exact same dungeons with the exact same simple-minded puzzles for the tenth time?

Advance Wars hasn't been touched for weeks. That's a shocker. Advance Wars 2 on Gameboy Advance was a real classic. But this new one just sits there. Is it because Nintendo only allowed downloading such tiny maps? A 10x10 playfield? Are you kidding me? That's beyond useless, and beyond stupid. But, really, at its core, this is the same game I've played for the better part of a decade. It's more refined and balanced, yes. The grittier look is better than that old happy cartoon schtick. But it's just another game of Risk.

Sigh. So nothing really interests me on DS. And the bulk of new games are hideous slabs of freeware horse dung. How those projects got green-lighted is a mystery. And how many stupid pet games are we supposed to take?

At this point, I'm better off with the emulators of old Genesis and Super NES games. I'm still tempted to get a Dreamcast, but I fear the same fate will befall me. This is much like returning to an old flame. You've both convinced yourselves that, this time, you'll make it work. You've become wiser and more compassionate, and you've learned a new trick or two about kissing. But then you discover that the old magic has disappeared, drifted away with the winds. The mojo is gone, baby.

At this point, I'd say there's a high probability that I'll be selling my DS and games within the next few days. The only thing holding me back is....well, the idea that I'll come crawling back for bout number three at some future point. Then I remind myself about that electronic drum kit I've really wanted, and those Criterion Collection DVD's, and the quest to find a really killer version of Black Sabbath's Master of Reality on vinyl. Oh, and I really would like to find a girl to smooch. Preferably one who wants to smooch back. The dinner table is crowded and something's got to give.

Megadeth on MoFi - Grooovy

It appears that MoFi - aka the Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs - will be tackling Megadeth's 1992 album Countdown to Extinction. Grooovy. I was a Megadeth fan for many years, around the same time that I really discovered Metallica, and found the thrash metal bands to be the perfect antidote to all that bad hair metal. Megadeth's Golden Age, where Dave Mustaine and company were really firing on all cylinders - coincides with the Countdown album.

Now, my first concern was that this record would be using the same materials as the digitally remastered CD's that Mustaine put out a few years ago. I am no fan of those remasters at all; in fact, I think they're uniformly terrible. But this album was relatively untouched and unharmed. I am hopeful that the wizards at MoFi will do the right thing, and give us the original music, and not the rehashed/re-recorded version.

I don't have any Megadeth on vinyl right now. It's impossibly hard to come by. There is the new album, but I've discovered, to my dismay, that my journey with the band had finally come to an end. I've been a Dave Mustaine fan for many years, and I cheered loudly when he sprang back from a career-ending arm injury and revived Megadeth with new musicians. But he's a different person now, far more cautious musicially, far more desperate to appeal to that narrow metal community. He's lost the musical diversity that made Rust in Peace, Countdown, and Youthanasia great albums. He turned his back on his pop instincts, a tragic misreading of the failure of the Risk album.

But, most of all, his worldview has shifted. Dave Mustaine has turned into Ted Nugent; just another fearful, right-winger who fetishes war and violence. What happened to the Mustaine who gave us the protest anthems of yesteryear? Countdown to Extinction was a very political album, and directed harshly against the right-wing policies of the Reagan/Bush years. It's so sad to see him spouting off Fox News fantasies about the "War on Terror." He should know better.

So I had to get off the wagon and follow my own path. Which is a shame. But I will be first in line to grab MoFi's reissue of Countdown to Extinction. You should, too.