Thursday, 9 October 2014


Just in case I hadn't made it clear and to shed some light on my thinking process. Education is a wonderful thing. Not really that many years ago I used to be a fairly big believer in herbal medicine, I had actually seriously considered studying herbal medicine, that organic food was better, and a fence-sitter regarding vaccines.

Obviously as most of you will have noticed my stance on those things have changed. And changed for the better. The things that changed it were a culmination of a lot or things, firstly my duaghyer when she was very very young developed bronchioloitis but for a while me and my partner were convinced that she had whopping cough(truthfully I still think that might have been the case, but the GP hadn't seen a case of whopping cough for 10 years. Let that sink in a little) and as I started my course I started meeting more Polio survivors, all 70+ years of age.

At its finest modern medicine is based on herbal medicine, the difference is that the volatile compounds have been isolated, purified and made more potent. The rest of herbal medicine just tastes nice on chicken.

As for opposing GM technology, well that has got to be the most self centred, first world problem that I can think of. To oppose technology that creates drought resistant and pest resistant seeds that will create more food, with more nutrients, not just for the booming population of the first world (be grateful that you can waste money on organic) but also the starving population of the third world is, as stated before, self centred and selfish. Oh and if you oppose GM technology then you are wishing death on insulin dependent diabetics. And Haemophiliacs.

So here's the rub. In the next six months I will (grading pending of course) qualify as a nurse. And I will be using evidence based practice. And if some idiot then tries to convince a patient of mine that chemo is useless, that vaccines cause more problems then they solve, if they just generally advocate the use of untested, unproven and dangerous treatments instead of proven, effective safe treatments, they will feel my shoe firmly lodged into their posterior.

If you want to use these methods fine. I can live with that, but don't you fucking dare get in the way of me doing the best for my patients. And not just for my patients but the community as a whole.

This might all come across as close minded, but it is anything but. I have been willing to look at the evidence and the evidence changed my mind. Being open minded is what evidence based science is all about.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Mother Country Music Loving, Part four.

This will be my fourth(duh!) part of writing about bands from Iceland. If you'd like to catch up here is Number One, Number Two and Number Three.

Ask The Slave, 2010
Ask the Slave, is an Avant-Garde metal band. I first heard of them and heard them when I attended Eistnaflug in 2008. The little I do remember from my alcohol induced haze was that I really enjoyed their music. Someone had remarked that they were the Icelandic version of Faith No More, I personally after listening to them would say that they are more akin to Mr. Bungle. There are a lot of genre lumped together into one song, lots of rhythms shifts and melody changes, but most of those don't sound out of place or forced. Valurs vocal does sound like he went to the Mike Patton school of Vocal Tormenting. He's easily the most versatile singer to come from Iceland. But everything he does regarding the singing is for the betterment of the song. Which is the wonderful thing about this band, while Valur could/would/should be the stand-out member, but he isn't. They all function like a well oiled machine, if one of the other instruments would be taken of the songs it would fall to pieces. So far there are two albums, "Kiss Your Chora" and  "The Order of Things" out and one B-Side collection called "The King of Prunes", with a new LP, called "Good People, Bad Things" which is meant to be out next year. And yes I am looking forward to it. They also make some excellent music video's for example the song "Sleep Now" which sounds like a lovely ballad up until you watch the video and realise how creepy it actually is. It is one of those instances where the video makes a good song great.
Both their albums while being all over the place manage to suck you in and keep your interest throughout. And I personally am looking forward to the day when they open up for Mr. Bungle and Mike Patton walks on the stage then drops the mike stating he can't keep up.

Dr. Spock
Dr Spock, is a very unusual rock. Again we are looking at the Avant-Garde section of things. Most of all it is plain and simple good fun rock and roll or in their own words "Heavy Metal Cabaret with a dash of Surf-Porn Cartoon Funky Polka". By all accounts their concerts are once in a lifetime experience. Which doesn't really surprise me, in their ranks they've got the gruff voice from HAM, who continues barking orders and sounding like he's cursing the entire world. In the most jovial manner of course. It is very chaotic music that is on display, but at the same time even with my rather low-fi laptop speakers I feel like dancing like a mad cow and thrash my living room, the song "Sons of Ecuador" being the perfect example of this manic musical genius that is going on. But as far as I can see nothing new has appeared since 2008, which is a crying shame. But even with a short life they've left a long lasting legacy and much like HAM their reputation seems to be growing with their absence. And if only they had actually got into Eurovision with their song. It would have been perfect. But Ottar Proppee finally did manage to perform on the big stage in 2014.

Börn, now there is a certain amount of nepotism going on here in the sense that I probably wouldn't have given this band a chance if it didn't include family members. But to be clear I don't write blogs  about a band that I don't like. It just so happens that this band includes my youngest sister on vocals and her boyfriend on the drums. They have been playing together in various forms of punk bands. The earliest incarnation that I know of was Tentacles of Doom, which then got changed into Norn, but they had to reconsider their name choices when it turned out that there is a black metal band in Iceland using the same name. So here we've ended up with Börn. And unfortunately I giggle probably way more then I should when I type in the url of their BandCamp site. On the whole I'm not a big fan of the punk scene. Never have been though of course like other genre's there are always bands that manage to captivate my attention. Börn being one of them. What this album reminds me mostly of are the first two albums by Killing Joke. There is this almost joyous tribalism running throughout this smog of despair. It all sounds exceptionally simple, all the instruments seem to be geared towards being rhythmic and, well, dancable. Alexandra barks out her lyrics with pure unbristled ferocious commanding singing, all about self-reliance, equality and independence. On this album she sounds like she could and should command armies. It would be great to see them and It Hurts To Be Dead play at the same gig.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Top 15 songs over the last 12 months

These are the songs that have had the most listen according to my Last.Fm profile. There is a marked difference from last time with a huge portion spent on The Dear Hunter.

Top 15 played Artists from 2013-2014

Well it's been just over a year since I first published a similar list. This is done using my Last.FM profile. The list has changed quite a bit, but that is probably because I have started using Last.FM more in order to keep track on what I have been listening to. Well enjoy.

1. The Dear Hunter
2. SepticFlesh
3. Joe Hisaishi
4. Samael
5. Rammstein
6. HAM
7. Antonio Vivaldi
8. Queensryche
9. Marillion
10. Bruce Dickinson
11. Long Distance Calling
12. Iron Maiden
13. Fjoergyn
14. David Bowie
15. Devin Townsend

Friday, 8 August 2014

A sheep no more

There got your attention. It always strikes me as odd when people who say "Do your Research!", "Sheep!" and "Don't believe their propaganda!" always seem to be the least informed. They like to shout slogans, look at memes and then no more. This is especially true for people who like to say that they are for the environment, yet they also want to refuse all environmental help and reject all science for something like "It worked well for people in the past.". 

Case in point at the moment is all the hooha about Ecover using GM product in their products. Ecover started using oil from genetically altered algae instead of palm oil. For obvious reasons, as palm oil industry has been known to devastate forests and wildlife habitats in South America, Africa and Asia. So Ecover did the right thing by changing their product in order to preserve the environment the best, which has always been their philosophy. Even if it does mean that they make inferior products as well. But people are objecting against it because of the use of GM. For heaven's sake, which do you want? Unadulterated, okay-ish cleaner (That's still superior to other "natural" cleaning products) that is bad for the environment, saves orangutans and rain forests... Or do you want a the opposite? Of course you are welcome to argue against it, but quite frankly I am pretty sure that those developers at Ecover know more about their product and how to make it then you.

Then there's cheese. People who are against GM forget that little titbit. The rennet that is used to make cheese... That rennet, that is NOT originally from a calves stomach. Is genetically modified. Now do you want a guilt free block of cheese, or do you want to kill some more calves for your Welsh Rarebit?

A cousin of mine , wanted me to watch a video called World According to Monsanto, which in itself added nothing new, only reaffirmed lies there was a lot of FUD about in that video. That was his evidence. Nothing else, for someone who has three university degrees that is quite astounding. YouTube is great, but using Youtube does not constitute as evidence. Same with that video regarding the bees. When people hear the name Monsanto, most of them don't even know what that company does. And seem to think it's big company. It's the only company. No it isn't. That they are working towards controlling the food sector everywhere in the world, a plan that has not worked very well for them so far. Want a comparison? Well, Monsanto earned about $15 billion in 2013, but Whole Earth (For Brits think Suma) earned about $13 billion.  It is an agricultural company that does a lot of research into Genetic Modification. They sell seeds of their own design. They also sell organic seeds, as well. Monsanto are a lot of things, but most of the stories that is written about them are lies or mis-interpretations. 

I got another friend who likes to regurgitate that Suzuki meme, now there's a man who's made a lot of money from spreading FUD. He charges $30,000 for speaking at universities and hasn't done any significant research for the best part of 20 years. He is not what you can actually call reliable, in fact his story seems to be more akin of Linus Pauling. Besides for a man who says he's a scientist, he has a very unfortunate tendency to make absolute statements that he can't then follow up. The man is a clown. His knowledge of GMO's is about 20 years behind and he has not done any relevant research in any field relating to genetics or biology for well over 15 years. When he does meet other scientists who know what they are talking about he fails completely.

Talking about intellectual dishonesty, Vandana Shiva has been a vocal opponent against GMO. And she also uses the title Dr. You would have thought that she has some kind of doctorate in biology, environmental studies or the like. No, it's in philosophy. She lies about her qualifications and people believe those lies. And she charges $40,000. Can you imagine how much income her and David would earn if they tried to tell the truth? Probably not a lot.

GMO can also mean a lot of different things. But these people are against all of them. For example. Golden Rice, is rice with vitamin A added. This is meant to help nations where sources of Vitamin A are scarce. Yet Greenpeace go out of their way to destroy those crops, leaving people in the third world to go blind due to lack of that vitamin. How can you complain that there hasn't been enough testing WHEN YOU DESTROY THE CROPS THAT ARE MEANT FOR TESTING?

Oh, and that lie about 47,500 Indian farmers committed suicide because of GM Cotton? Yeah, that's a lie. Complete and utter lie, spread by liars and charlatans like Vandana Shiva and David Suzuki.

That lie about GM eggplants, where farmers in Bangladesh were supposedly spraying more pesticides on their plants and that their plants weren't thriving. Yeah, that's a lie.

And that lie that Organic is better for you, with more nutrients, better taste and less pesticide use. That's a HUGE lie spread by Health Food Shops in order to line their pockets. The taste is the same, nutrients are the same AND they use more pesticides then conventional farming because the pesticide that the Organic industry rely on are no where near as reliable or effective. And before people start pointing out to me the latest and "greatest" study that was funded by an organic society. It measured more anti-oxidants and those aren't as great as some people like to imagine they are.

"Don't believe their propaganda!" Oh so you want me to believe yours instead? On what basis? You seem to be lying through your teeth as well, whether you are aware of it or not. You might not be aware because you're just repeating someone else's lies that sound good and fit within your social network so you repeat it without fact checking it. 

All of this can be said of vaccines as well. I still get people on my Facebook list posting that fucking stupid article stating "Courts quietly confirm MMR causes Autism." No they did not. This is from some small Italian court that the Italian Department of Health didn't even bother to show up for because they didn't think that the judge would actually rule against them and where the Prosecutor used the Wakefield "study" as evidence AND this is from the same country that jailed seismologists for manslaughter for not predicting an earthquake. This is of course ignoring the fact that Wakefield only used 12 kids, lied about his data, lied about his funding, performed procedures that the Ethics committee never approved off and has since been making tidy profit of people who still believe his lies. This also ignores every single piece of research that has been done since completely and utterly disproving any link. Including the most recent one that including 1.2 million subjects. Now compare that to Wakefields lies of 12 children

As for when people yell "THEY ARE PUMPING POISON INTO THE VEINS OF BABBIES!!!". No they are not. A vaccine that is in a syringe is 0.5 ml. Think of a teaspoon, that can hold 5 ml. How can anyone pump NOUGHT POINT FIVE MILLILITRES into anyone is beyond the realm of possibility. And it is a intramuscular injection. Not a intravenous injection. Ever come across the concept of LD50? No? Of course not, because you are a keyboard warrior who thinks that you know better then immunologists, biologists, toxicologists, doctors virologists around the world because you read something written by The Refusers. LD50 is essentially what Paracelsus said in the 1600
Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy.
LD50 is:
"a standard measurement of acute toxicity that is stated in milligrams (mg) of pesticide per kilogram (kg) of body weight. An LD50 represents the individual dose required to kill 50 percent of a population of test animals (e.g., rats, fish, mice, cockroaches)."
So get it now? Poison is the dose. Toxicity is the dose. Anything that fits in a 0.5 ml syringe is NOT POISON.

Reading Natural News is not research. Reading Collective Evolution is not research. Food babe, not research. Vaccination Information Network has no information on Vaccines. Family Health Freedom Network is not research.

Same goes for Nuclear Power. There has been a lot of talk regarding how Germany are closing their nuclear power plants and opening more Windmills and Solar Power plants, both fine and dandy, nothing against those. But neglecting to mention that they are also opening more Coal Power Plants. Which pollute more then any other kind of power station. Nuclear Power plants are superior, they are more environmentally friendly. That smoke you see from the scary scary looking chimneys, not smoke. But steam. For those people who are against fracking. You know why they are doing so much fracking at the moment? It's because some of you  are also against Nuclear power so the energy companies and governments are forced to look for energy elsewhere. So am I saying that Nuclear Power is the only answer? Well, no of course not but we shou. Solar panels and Wind Turbines are excellent, but they are not without their very very expensive costs and also do have adverse affects in the environment. What you have to remember is that solar panels aren't made from thin air. Producing those panels do have affect the environment. After about 20 years they have to be replaced.  Same with wind turbines, they can and do impact on the environment especially birds and bats and again they can only last 20 years, 25 tops. Whereas a nuclear power station can last up to 50 years, even as long as 70 years before the reactor needs to be replaced. All of these options are expensive to set up, but without a doubt they will pay in the long term. But in terms of long term effects, nuclear wins hands down.

Do your Research
So in the words of other people. Do your research and stop talking shit. If you actually care about the environment, if you actually care about other human beings besides yourself, if you actually care about what happens in less fortunate countries then the UK or the US (Or Iceland), then do your research and do it properly. But remember that this is why we have experts, because any individual can't know everything. Just because you've read research on open heart surgery for thoracic aortic aneurysm doesn't mean that you are qualified to do it.

Just remember though, just because you don't understand the science or the technology does not automatically make it evil. Just because a company invests millions of dollars(pounds, yen, whatever) does not mean that it is purely against humankind. What kind of a business strategy is it to knowingly kill your customers. And after spending millions of pounds(dollars, rubees, whatever) and years into researching and developing technology THAT CAN HELP HUMANKIND why should they not be financially compensated?

Just because you don't understand the science, does not mean that the science is flawed. 

Monday, 30 June 2014

A whole year of blogging.

Well today is a special day. For me that is. Maybe other people, but mainly me. This blog has been going on for a whole year now. It started of as just some rambling about music on Facebook, in the form of Facebook Notes. I had already written a few notes and wanted to expand it a little bit so decided to revisit Blogger and make a new account. I had already used blogger for my now defunct Judas Disciple and Mind of the Buddha. My very first entry was my defence of Sepultura's Roorback. Mainly I had just concentrated on writing about music, because I really really like listening to music. I didn't really expect to reach a big audience, this has purely been for my own satisfaction. Well... sometimes it does feel good when you receive nice feedback, it was especially nice when Queensryche shared my blog about them and all of the sudden I had this massive surge of like-minded Queensryche fans. Which I had never seen before. As most people will have noticed (and quite a few have commented on) I do have the tendency to write about heavy metal music. But from time to time I have also written about something completely different like Baby Dee, Jon Lord and Bill Hicks. Often I try to write about rather obscure bands that, in my mind, deserve a lot more attention. Bands like Xanthochroid, Thy Catafalque, and Blaze Bayley.

Then one day I came across this stupid meme shard by 9Gag on Facebook. About how people who are bullied should stop whining, or some kind of stupid shit like that and it pissed me off and then I got an apology message from an unexpected source. So I decided to write about my experience of being bullied at school. It was one of the most shared blogs I had written up to that point and I felt like a load had been lifted off my shoulders, again. Then I returned to writing about music. Shortly after I received a message from Throwdown Syndicate asking me if I fancied writing about them, something completely new to me. So I did. Then I started getting itchy palms about writing something else. One day while cycling I started noticing how many cyclists weren't using helmets, the following day I counted how many cyclists and how many of them were using helmets. It pissed me off so much that I decided to hit Google Scholar and Quest, thanks to me being in a university I was able to read even more studies. This was the result. This was followed up with a, uhhh, follow up to my bullying blog talking about the social impact and the social price we all pay for bullying.

I had been an avid reader of the Skeptical Raptor and other science-y debunk sites and wanted to get in on the game. Then after a little while I wrote a blog about the Flu Vaccine, which in turn got changed to Student Nurse Perspective entries. Then Mr Skeptical Raptor asked if he could reblog it, which I would have been a fool to say no to. Since then I've written about IT in healthcare, importance of education, being male and GMO's. These have been the most satisfying to write because I always feel like I've learned something after I've written them, and this series has also been my most successful one in terms of views. If there is one thing I will miss when I qualify it's the University's journal database. Sure I can probably still read the books, but I won't be able to access the database.

I still write mostly about music. But on the whole this blog has become my platform to vent out. I still use it to develop my writing skills. And I still publish on a very regular sporadic basis. I've tried to make money out of, but I don't think I'll ever be able to make a living out of it. Currently my income from this blog stands at 55 pence. As it stands I have had 11123 pageviews, which in the grand scheme of things isn't much, but in my little bubble it is a fairly considerable amount. This is the third month in a row where I get more then 1000 views. Which is fairly considerable for considering that at one point I was struggling to get over 200.

Thanks to the blog I have also come across some wonderful people, some who I'd tentatively probably call friends. I have no idea if I've got some regular readers, if I do. Please leave a comment... or not if you don't want to.

But on the whole, thanks for reading.

Yours Truly,
Ingvar Arni Ingvarsson.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

We all follow the call, as Fjoergyns voice sounds in us

Here is another band, called Fjoergyn, that I had been aware of some time. I had given them a listen few years back and then somehow just buried the memory of it. I had liked what I heard. I recently re-searched for them on Spotify and it was worth it. They have been advertised as Avant-Garde Black Metal, while I agree with the Black Metal portion, I'm not so sure on the Avant-Garde one. Oh certainly they are unusual and unique. But I'd say they are more Progressive then Avant-Garde though how I'd exactly define the difference I am not too sure about. These guys aren't afraid to mix it, for example they've got a song on their album 'Jahreszeiten' called 'Wie Jahr Um Jahr', which seems to be built upon a lullaby in structure and it is beautiful to listen to (As it turns out there is a song on that album that uses a lullaby, but it's not this one). There is a lot of classical going on, some Viking Metal thrown in for good measure, it's epic as epic can be. We have our black metal screecher mixing it with a clean vocalists, flutes, acoustic guitars, lots of nature elements on display and all sung in the second best metal language available to humankind. One of the aspects that really drew me towards them was their album cover designs. Which I have to say are the least metal album covers I have seen, especially for a black metal band. Their light and full of rather pleasant colours. They've been around since 2003 in some kind of form, though to be honest there is only one guy left of that original line-up but for the most part it has contained two guys Martin L. who originally played the bass but now occupies the drum seat and Stephan L. who has done guitars, keyboards and all manners of different vocals. And for a long period they worked as a duo but currently they work as a five-piece with an extra vocalist and an extra guitar player. It had originally been conceived as Stephan as a solo project with the aim to get some orchestral compositions. But as with so many good things it got even better when he decided to add some guitars to it.

Ernte Im Herbst
Their first album came out in 2005 and it was called 'Ernte im Herbst', which roughly translates as 'Autumn Harvest'. But before I go into the music, just take your time and look at that album cover will you. It is beautiful. Something you can't say often about metal album covers let alone black metal album covers. It's beautiful, it's serene, it's tranquil. Like a Quantum Weather Butterfly that flaps it's wings to create a storm. I was half-expecting an album full of pan pipes with thunders in the background. Apparently this is a first of a trilogy regarding nature's revenge against humankind, which makes these guys metal eco-warriors a bit like Gojira. From the start we are lulled into this false sense of security in the form of sort of medieval orchestra with bells and suchlike then towards the end of the first song we get thrown into a black metal song with plenty of blastbeats. For a debut album it is really well crafted, well accomplished and really well thought out. The interplay between the vocalists provides a great contrast, as well as the acoustic instrumentation against electric. The symphonic element almost sounds genuine and not just something hammered with synths. In one song called 'Requiem', they manage to reinterpret Beethovens 'Ode To Joy'. The flowing melodies intertwine very well with the eco-viking brutality that comes with it. A lot of credit has to go to Stephan Löscher, he seems to be the mastermind behind Fjoergyn. His guitar work is excellent, his keyboard playing is excellent and his singing which goes from clean baritone to screaming, screeching and howling. In terms of vocal talents I'd say he ranks alongside Martin Wiese from Enid. He obviously has also been listening to a lot of Solefald and Vintersorg and has been modelling his singing to that style. The drum programming is really well done, so well done I never actually paid it any notice that they weren't real until their Last.FM profile pointed it out, though now that I listen to it again the double drums should have given it away but I suppose that is the good thing about good songwriting like the one that is one show here, you ignore like quibbles like that in order to enjoy the whole. Towards the middle we have an instrumental called 'Wenn Stürme Ruhen' which is another beautiful (I know I've been using that word a lot but it applies so often) I would pay good money to hear that song being performed by a proper orchestra. It comes with sort of renewed hope in mankind, though the song that follows quickly demolishes that. For a debut album it is almost as close to perfect as you could get.

Sade Et Masoch
In 2007 Fjoergyn released Sade Et Masoch. The title refers to Marquis De Sade and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. The men who lent their names to Sadism and Masochism. Now the album cover has a little bit more of sinister feel to it. Presumably the apple is meant to represent the forbidden fruit and the maggots for what happened after it was bitten. Or it could be representing the apple that Snow White was given thus we also have the angel wings. Who knows. But it is another very simple, very elegant cover. On this one Martin decided to take his place on the throne behind the drumkit. And boy does it show. The production is again crystal clear, the musicianship has improved and the songwriting that was already great has become that little bit greater. The melodies are bigger. The ideas thrown about all hold together. There are more notes taken from the Falkenbach book of Viking Metal. There is even some groove metal thrown in for good measure on the song 'Katharsis'. Stephan still duels with himself on the vocal front, though not as much as on their debut and does it well. With plenty of Norwegian style black metal vocal screeching. There isn't a weak spot to find on either of these albums.

Then in 2009 they released the conclusion to their story called 'Jahreszeiten', which translates as 'Seasons'. This time we have a four piece playing. And now we're back to the elegant beautiful album cover. Again the cover completely betrays the content of the album, the only thing I could imagine it representing the end yet with the seeds of new beginnings floating off. The music follows the same game plan as the past two, but it's more fleshed out with those two added musicians. There is some great bass slapping going on which I always enjoy listening to, probably because of my love of Iron Maiden. Talking of Iron Maiden there are some great dual guitar playing going on on this album, with harmonized guitars that Dave, Janick and Adrian would be proud to play. Out of all three this album has to be my favourite, those two extra musicians added a lot to the sound even though the sound was already big, but they provide more oomph, more meat onto the juggernaut that is Fjoergyn. It all flows a little easier then on the previous releases, which you would only really notice when you listen to them in sequence. And my gods Martin proves what an excellent drummer he is on this album, with no unnecessary fills, knows when to show restraint and when to go full on ear canal attack. Some new idea's are explored for instance in the song 'Jera', Stephan decided that the best tactic was to narrate the song with orchestral music in the background and again that is a piece of music I would so love to hear with a full symphony providing the music. The main melody from 'Sturmzeit' is lifted from a German lullaby (Yes they exist) called 'Guter Mund, du gehst so stille'. Some Alt-Rock is attempted then aborted for a better song in 'Der Herbst ist da'. And some industrial is thrown in for good measure on 'Der Himmel fällt'. All in all it's a brilliant album, again they are unafraid to throw ideas about and see which ones stick. But the really great thing is that all of those ideas do stick.

Monument Ende
And now for their latest opus. 'Monument Ende', this was released in 2013. Now we have what could be construed as a classic metal album. Black with some greys, faded out trees and this beautiful red aureole. What it all means I have no idea, but it is another gorgeous album cover. On this one Martin decided to opt out of the lead vocals and hand in those reins to Marcelus, he had been playing the guitar for them for a while and does seem to be slightly more professional singer. Now Martin doesn't have to duel with himself. There is more death metal going on here then in the previous albums. They still follows this throw everything at the wall technique and somehow everything does. While they are obviously influenced by a lot of other bands,  music is mostly derived from classical compositions. Those orchestra moments are done so well it's nearly impossible to figure out whether Martin did it all on his computer or if he managed to hire a small symphony in order to flesh out his ideas. There aren't really any weak songs, only songs that could be said to be weaker then others, but even that doesn't do justice to how really really good the songwriting is on this album. In fact not just on this album but all of them. My personal favourite has to be 'Thanatos', it's big and majestic, it leaves a trail of destruction after listening to it. There are black metal riffs, classic heavy metal riffs, galloping bass playing, harmonized singing. In essence it's the perfect song to showcase their talents. It most definitely wouldn't sound out place on a latter day Rotting Christ album that is for sure. The story seems to be centering around a destruction of a town, there is a malevolence permeating the whole album. One of the songs is even called 'Der Monolog des Antichristen', occasionally you will hear the laughter of children being slowly faded away into the sound of burning. Thankfully there seems to be some kind of salvation towards the end of the album, though it doesn't quite feel like it. It took them four years to create this album and it is four years really well spent. I'll be very excited to hear the next one because I would love to hear how they are going to top this album. So far they've improved every time they added another musician so the next one should be something groundbreaking.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

The Lone Rangers

I was going to write another Usual Locations article, which I decided to change as I started noticing that all of them essentially were one-man projects. So with a quick rewrite it has become the Lone Rangers. There are a lot of articles about one man bands bandying about, mainly centred on Black Metal. An interesting documentary has been made exploring the idea of one man black metal projects. One WikiHow you can also get a guide on how to start your own Lone Ranger. The great thing about one man bands from the the one man's perspective is that it gives them a complete control, but the problem for the listener, often not always, is that the instrumentalists rely an awful lot on drum machines and synths, both that can be used for extremely good effect and can be done really really well, but more often then not it comes across as half-hearted shit that should have stayed in the mix longer. My personal favourite would be Thy Catafalque who I've written about previously, though I'm not too sure on it's One Man stand, even if it is Tamas Katai's brainchild. Well here is a choice selection of one man projects of varying quality, mainly from Very Good to Great.

Ars Moriendi
La Singuliere Noirceur D'un Astre
First in line is a French one man band called Ars Moriendi. In the recent years there seems to have been a bit of an explosion of good quality metal bands coming from France. Gojira, Hacride and Alcest being probably the top of the pile. Though I should probably also mention Grorr and Psygnosis who are very interesting to listen to. Ars Moriendi is manned by a multi-instrumentalist named Notre Amertume. Though whether that's his real name I have no idea. He's been steadily releasing albums since 2001. But the only album I have heard is 'La Singuliere Noirceur d'un Astre', The music on show here could be defined broadly as Black Metal. It is very experimental in nature, symphonic and atmospheric, with horror movie samples used as start. There is a fair bit of ambience used that could at first be construed to be just some padding in order to make the songs sound longer. So far I am very impressed with the instrumentation, a lot of thought has gone into what goes where, even the synths don't sound out of place and provide the necessary symphonic oomph the he needs. There is a lot of buzzsaw guitars on display, but that is then punctuated with some classic metal guitars and bookended with acoustic guitars as well. His singing veers from screeching, gutturals and whispers. All in French. The language of love is not on display or at least it is not showing it's intimate side here. It's all rough and edges, with side drip of evil going on. This is pretty much how I imagine Vincent Cassel if he was bathed in blood of thousand virgins screaming for the devil to forsake him while covering songs by early Enslaved. He isn't breaking any new ground here, but it all does sound good if some times a little generic in black metal terms, though the breakdown that happens in De l'intouchable Mort is pretty nifty. The bass playing on here is really something else to listen to, it's not often you get to hear such clear bass playing in Black Metal. None of the songs go below the 8 minute mark so there is quite a bit to digest, but all in all pretty good. I'll happily put this on and enjoy the screaming of French Horror.

Neurotech hails from Slovenia. I knew Slovenia existed, but as far as I'm aware I had never heard any music from there let alone metal music. I was introduced to this by Blacksmith Biologist and boy am I grateful. Lately I had been listening to a lot of Samael, who play a sort of symphonic techno metal with lots of rather uplifting lyrics to boot. The focus is on synths with programmed drums and rough baritone singing with droning guitars. The only thing that Neurotech doesn't do, as much, is the uplifting bit. The music would be very fitting for a cyberpunk apocalyptic Mad Max style future. Neurotech is one guy, who likes to be called Wulf but his real name is Andrej Vovk. Well that's at least according to the Holy Book of Armaments. To be honest there is a lot more symphonic elements going on here then Samael have tried to incorporate. Being the clever dick that I am, I decided to listen to the albums chronologically, which has really paid off. The earlier albums like Transhuman and  Antagonist  have a lot more rawness to them, though maybe raw isn't the best description. But at the same time there is a certain clinical coldness to them.  Antagonist is probably a bit more party-oriented which makes the similarities to Samael even more evident. Whereas Blue Screen Planet and The Elysian Symphony seem more, well, sophisticated. There is a lot of symphonic elements at play in those two and so far they've become my favourite of his work.

Dommedagssalme. Now I'll have to admit to having close connections with this project. No it is not mine. He is the godfather to my youngest child. His name is John Marshall and he has been involved in the black metal scene, albeit very very very underground, for quite some time. First being part of a duo called Circumscriber, which then morphed into Contra Ignem Fatuum, but since 2004 he's been releasing on a infrequently periodically basis as Dommedagssalme. The music itself has been described as Depressive Black Metal, a title that John doesn't agree with. Though I can see why people want to label it as Depressive. It is all very hard listen. But not without rewards. There is a lot of distortion going on, it's bloody hard to understand what the hell he's singing about, the drums are droning, the keyboards provide a constant ambience, there is so much fuzz and buzz on the guitars it's like a chainsaw going through a ever multiplying featherfilled pillows. But, you (well me that is) feel a certain cathartic feeling when the songs are over. I personally always feel like there's a load that's been lifted off my shoulders and I somehow feel happier about the world. The vocals sound like they are sung from the fifth circle of hell. The one item that is possibly missing are interludes with the sound of footsteps in snow. The last album came out in 2012 and was called Division which only contains two songs. Those two songs are to be fair over 20 minutes long each. But his confidence in songwriting and all around maturity is best on show on that one. There is more going on, more breaths being taken with some interludes between fuzzfilled riffs. There are more technicalities on show, the vocals are slightly more audible yet still incomprehensible. The production is really rather good as well. Most of the time, this wouldn't be my cup of tea (I tend to drink coffee), but I had to listen to his work and I am glad that I have. It still isn't my cup of tea, but I can certainly appreciate John's work without it I probably wouldn't feel as relaxed.

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Student Nurse Perspective: GM technology in Health

Not sure how to quite start this, maybe with a little background again. For some time I had been involved in the alternative lifestyle. I had never really put much thought into GMO technology because it seemed so out of my knowledgesphere. I had heard the phrase Frankenfoods, I had vaguely heard of a company called Monsanto. But on the whole not much. I was told that I should avoid GM foods. It never really struck me as something that important. Now since I started my nursing education I have been taking care a lot of people with diabetes and have to use insulin. Again it wasn’t something I had thought much about until someone pointed out to me that human insulin is made using GM technology. Since throwing my weight behind the pro-gmo camp I have found it amazing that people are so against this technology; even people who work in healthcare who either just want to remain ignorant or just are ignorant of it’s value. I find this technology amazing! Not only is going to save lives, it already has.

For the record, I am not a biologist, but I’d like to think that I’ve got a rudimentary knowledge of it. Which is why I tend to check up with sites like Sense About Science, Genetic Literacy Project and Skeptical Raptor. I do not reference in any kind of organized way but I do provide as many links as possible where I feel it is needed... and sometimes where it isn’t needed.

Left: Child on starvation diet
Right: Same child after getting insulin
Diabetes mellitus (DM) type 1 and 2 are diseases that affect a persons ability to regulate their blood glucose levels. Both diseases are characterized by chronic high blood sugar. If left unregulated, high blood sugar can lead to acute diabetic ketoacidosis and death with long term complications of kidney failure, heart disease and blindness. DM type 1 and 2 are frightening illnesses, that depending on how you think of it, we have only fairly recently been able to get control of. The key word being control because we still have not found a cure for either, only management strategies.

Historically, DM is not a new disease There have been references to both types of DM in ancient Egyptian manuscripts and the name diabetes was coined by Ancient Greeks. In India they had already divided DM into two types; if you were “lucky” enough to receive a diagnosis you might survive for a further 1.4 years, but more often than not you would die within months if not weeks. The standard treatment at the time was starvation, which remained the standard treatment for type 1 DM until the discovery of insulin.

Insulin was discovered in the 1920's by Dr. Frederick Banting, who experimented on hundreds of dogs. It had been previously known that DM had something to do with the pancreas, but the association with the disease was still undiscovered. Dr. Banting's dog experiment established that dogs without their pancreas would develop diabetes; their blood sugars would shoot up and they’d get hungry and thirsty. All of that subsided when they were injected with ground up pancreas. Dr. Banting's would go onto discover that it was a substance called insulin that is created by the beta cells that are located in the Islets of Langerhans in the pancreas that regulates the blood sugar. After extensive experimentation, it was decided to try injecting insulin into a person, a 14 year old boy who was at deaths door before being given the first insulin injection. He went on to live live for a further 13 years.

The history of insulin is quite fascinating. It was the first protein that was completely sequenced in the 50’s. Up until the 1980’s, we were using bovine and porcine insulin; meaning that we were essentially harvesting insulin from the slaughtered leftovers of cows and pigs. While insulin from animal sources saved a lot of lives, there were major drawbacks with allergic reactions, not to mention that bovine and porcine insulin are not human insulin and there was not such thing as "control". Something had to be done to find a supply of insulin that was reliable and continuous. Researchers in the 1960's had been able to synthesize some insulin, but not enough to satisfy demand. That all changed in the 70’s when a company called Genentech started working with City of Hope Research Institute to combine human insulin gene into a bacteria in order to create insulin. Following extensive testing and refining, it was released for the general public in the 1980’s. I’ll try and explain the process of GE human insulin as simply as possible.

To make human insulin the pharmaceutical companies use a Recombinant DNA Technology, they insert insulin gene into a bacteria called E.Coli, though some manufacturers use yeast. As stated before insulin is a protein, it is composed of 51 amino acids, that are separated into A Chain with 21 amino acids and B chain with 30. A and B chain are synthesized separately. The bacteria with their new gene are allowed to ferment and thus multiply. After sufficient amount of time they are then taken out of their fermenting tanks and broken up, with the insulin protein chains extracted. The two strains are then combined with a disulfide bond. Then when all of that is done, the whole mixture is purified even further so all we end up with is a big batch of insulin. Then thereafter they add other ingredients to the mix in order to prevent bacterial contamination, to create a neutral base and to create intermediate to long-acting insulin.

There will be steps that I have missed, but in a nutshell that is how it is done. So yeah insulin. GMO. And since its discovery it has saved millions of lives that otherwise would not have been possible. Currently, there is some exciting work where insulin is harvested from Safflowers. Which would be cheaper and possibly easier to produce, along with that it could be better suited for inhalable insulin. Again, this is GMO technology at its best.

Spanish Flu killed 50 - 100 million
I have already waxed lyrically about the importance of the flu vaccine for health care workers. The flu is a very serious disease at any age, but it is at its most deadly for children under five and the elderly, and of course those who suffer from immunodeficiencies due to assorted reasons. As a healthcare worker I see it as my duty to get the flu vaccine every season. The flu vaccine, unfortunately, is probably the least effective vaccine we have got at the moment. Depending on the season it’s efficacy can vary from 30% - 70%. The way we make the influenza vaccine at the moment is by using eggs. Lots and lots of eggs. And usually it takes between 1 - 2 eggs per dose of vaccine; it’s very laborious and, well, inefficient. There are couple of problems that we face with the any flu vaccine; to make a more effective and universal vaccine it would take around 12-15 years of research to develop and create with a cost somewhere between $500 million to $1 billion. This puts off nearly all of the pharmaceutical companies. Another problem with flu vaccines made from eggs is that people with egg allergies can suffer allergic reactions, hence there are now two different ways of creating a flu vaccine in the works, and one that is still being researched.

The first one is called FluBlok, created by Protein Sciences, which uses a recombinant technology and insect cell cultures to create the vaccines. This is done by injecting a baculovirus into the insect cell culture, which in turns creates a protein that most influenza viruses have called hemagglutunin. This methods uses no other fragments of the flu virus, it contains no traces of adjuvants or antibiotics, and most importantly, no egg. Unfortunately, so far it has been found to be 44% effective.
The second one is called Flucelvax, made by Novartis. Again this is made with cell culture, but this time of mammalian origin. Other than the origins of the cell culture, Flucelvax is made using the same technology as FluBlok . Remarkably, Flucevlax was found to be more effective than FluBlok, 77% effective in fact.

Both rely on Recombinant DNA Technology. It is a technology that cuts up DNA molecules and splices the fragments together in. In other words it is the process taking a DNA fragment from somewhere else and fuse it with another DNA fragment. For example the insulin gene that has been spliced into an E.Coli bacteria.

The third flu vaccine is personally the one that excites me the most. This flu vaccine is made from genetically modified tobacco plants. Finally tobacco plants will be used for something other than to puff into our lungs. The business Medicago is leading the way in this front; for each plant, there is the potential of up to 50 doses of a flu vaccine. The exact details I don’t know and even if I did, I wouldn't be allowed to say. In essence:

Although the exact process is proprietary, Medicago starts with tobacco plants grown in greenhouses. After about five weeks, the plants are suspended in a solution made from a human-safe bacteria found in soil. That solution in effect tells the tobacco plant to produce large quantities of an influenza viral protein. Once the plants take up that solution, they incubate for about five days.” [Source]

Unfortunately this is still in testing stages, but it would be a great cost-saver as it’s the cheapest way they have found to make a flu vaccine. At least until they find a universal flu vaccine. Medicago has been concentrating on using plants in order to create their vaccines, because it’s a comparatively inexpensive process and produces higher yields. Additionally, a flu vaccine can be made ready within 3 weeks from identifying a seasonal and/or pandemic strain.

These systems all have the advantage that they are not dependent on egg supply and more time can be dedicated towards calculating what flu strains will be most commonly in circulation.

Other medication that uses Recombinant Technology is rhGH. Which is short for recombinant Human Growth Hormone, under the brand name Humatrope. Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is necessary to stimulate cell production, growth and regeneration. It is created in the pituitary gland located in the brain. If there is lack of HGH in children, than the effects are diminished growth, obesity, lack of sexual development and disrupted mental development. There is also the danger of hypoglycaemic episodes. Again, this is where Genentech came in; they inserted the DNA code for HGH into plasmids that were then in turn introduced into our superhero bacteria, E. coli. Prior to this we had to harvest human growth hormones from human cadavers (much like insulin was harvested from slaughtered cows and pigs), and in order to gain at least a years supply you would need up to 50 pituitary glands.

The last Tsar family, Alexis the
youngest had haemophilia.
Then there’s haemophilia. Haemophilia is a genetic condition where blood clotting factors are impaired, causing a person to bleed profusely even with a minor wound. This is usually a genetic disorder where there is a lack of Factor VIII. The most famous example of this is the last Tsar family where Alexis, the youngest son, badly suffered from the condition. Currently, we rely on blood donations in order to treat this, which is all well and good, but we continually run into the problem of lack of donations. Spurred on by worries surrounding the lack of consistent screening of blood, and with the potential of contaminations and antibody formation to donated blood, a group of scientists in 1986 developed a way to create Factor IX. This was done by splicing Factor IX gene into plasmids, that were then inserted into hamster ovary cells along with plasmids that were treated with a gene that was coded for resistance against methotrexate.

These are just a few examples of GE technology in medicine. There are already over 110 medications on the market that are made using biotechnology with more being researched everyday and more than 350 million people feeling the benefits because of it. For example we also have antithrombin III, used to prevent blood clotting during surgery, that we collect from the milk of transgenic goats. There has been some research done regarding a vaccine against Alzheimer's using tomatoes. Organ transplant might not have to rely on organ donors anymore, with research going into making tissue that could be used to make variety of human organs! This technology provides us with the best tools in order to combat diseases that at this moment have no cure. Not only that, with the current problem we are facing regarding antibiotic resistance, biotechnology is being used to fully explore alternatives. Thanks to this technology, we are developing even more cancer treatments, and while the cure might be some time off, at least we can give people more quality years of life. With this we technology we also can stop relying on animal derived products and go towards plant based manufacturing, instead of using CHO cells. It allows us to produce more convenient storage of raw materials at a lower cost and is arguably better for the environment.

Yet out there are people who are against biotechnology, mostly for what seems to be idealistic reasons rather than any actual factual reasons. Most people who are against GMO don’t seem to realize just how useful and prevalent it is, or in fact what it is. They don’t seem to understand that biotechnology has been in use ever since humankind picked up agriculture. Biotechnology in medicine has been used, successfully, for the last 30-odd years! They don’t seem to be able to reconcile that the GMO technology they oppose so much (especially in agriculture) is helping to keep people with diabetes and haemophilia alive and well. For me, personally, as someone who works in healthcare, I cannot wait to assist people with more effective treatments as they become available. I am meant to work as part of an evidence-based practice and people who are against this technology, for whatever reasons, are not following the evidence.