Saturday, July 21, 2012

All Beauty Destroyed by Aesthetic Perfection

Given that A Violent Emotion quickly became a staple and almost immediate classic of the aggrotech scene, AP has a high bar to step up to. Overall, I think All Beauty Destroyed is an okay followup, but is too focused on playing it safe vocally while buying into worn out tropes of the genre.

The music is about what you’d expect: distorted beats and blaring synths. Graves keeps a nice balance between dancability and aggression, but never goes far enough to feel like an assault. Maybe it’s the old punk and metal head in me, or the fact that Cubanate and Unltraviolence were coming harder than this over a decade and a half ago (not to mention the consistent output from enduser that still beats the shit out of the listener), but I didn’t feel a lot of force here. Not that there aren’t shining moments. Opener “A Nice Place to Visit” comes across fairly muscular, “Hit the Streets” carries a fun party feel to it and “Inhuman” is the club single everyone in the scene knows already. But “Motherfucker” is the true standout. The bouncy, dancy, silly beat turns what would be another trite cliché of feigned anger (yelling motherfucker hasn’t been shocking since the early eighties, sorry) into something giddy and joyous. Also, the hip hop flavor of “The Little Death” and R&B flow of “Under Your Skin” (if you don’t believe me, strip them down to the beats themselves and you could put Lil’ Weezy or R Kelly over it with no problem) were appreciated. I love me some trunk beats.

People have whined about the vocals, complaining that Graves is trying too hard to go emo. In my opinion, that isn’t where the problem is with them. The combination and juxtaposition of clean and raw vocals works well with the overall theme and fits the songs well. I just don’t think Graves puts as much of himself into it as I would prefer. Often times, the growling lacks force to the point that it sounds more like croaking (Kermit vocals, as compared to the cookie monsters of DM?). Then he restrains himself too much on the clean vocals. I get that he can’t sing well and I appreciate that he doesn’t stoop to autotuning to compensate, but some of my favorite singers can’t sing worth shit. Kurt Cobain and Victoria Williams come to mind. He err’s on the side of safety, I guess out of fear that he won’t sound good enough if he really lets go, and it comes out flat and emotionally dull. That kills the effect. Closer “When All Beauty’s Destroyed” shows that, when he lays it all out and puts himself entirely into it, he can belt that shit out with the best of them. I just wish he had the guts to do it more often.

Because I am a lyric buff, I can’t help commenting on them here. I like that there is an overarching theme dealing with dichotomy, the difference between what we see on the surface and what lies beneath, which is aided well by both the music and vocals. Initially, if you are following the songs in order, it comes across as jarring and a bit confusing, especially when you get to several songs that seem to be soundtracks to a rape about to happen. But the last song, "When All Beauty's Destroyed" provides the key, pointing to the ugliness inside everything that seems beautiful, tying it all together. The structure is great. If only the prevailing nihilism had not become a worn out joke of a trope of the industrial scene back in the early nineties, then I could get really into it.

I know I come across rather negative here, but I do enjoy the album. I just wish that more of the promise that lies beneath it was met and have a tough time recommending spending your money on something that is almost really good when there are quite a few marvelous releases out there in the same genre.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Short Stay in Hell by Steven L. Peck

“Where do all the things you believed go, when all the supporting structure is found to be a myth? How do you know how or on what to take a moral stand, how d you behave when it turns out there are no cosmic rules, no categorical imperatives?

Creating a viable, entertaining narrative that exists solely to expound on some philosophical idea or ideal is a tricky business. Especially if you are trying to entertain people in the process. Honestly, as interesting as they are, I know of no one who enjoyed reading Nausea or The Stranger. Not entirely surprisingly, Steven Peck’s A Short Stay in Hell, which bears its existential flag quite boldly, doesn’t stray much from that formula.

Soren Johansson has always been a faithful Mormon, taught that he would be reunited with loved ones in heaven upon his death. You can imagine his surprise when he finds himself instead in hell. Specifically, a Zoroastrian hell based on Borges’ “Library of Babel”. His eternity is spent wandering the stacks, trying to find the one book that details his life among all of the books that have ever been written or could possibly ever be written.

As philosophical exposition, ASSiH, presents an interesting question to ponder: What are we, what is our existence, when all touchstones of motivation are stripped away? Soren is place in a situation where death is not an option and the basic necessities of (after?)life are met. The guiding hands of both religion and law are stripped away. Even interpersonal relationships fall apart under the weight of so much time. All that is left is a nebulous, seemingly impossible goal that itself carries no guarantee of salvation. Of course, the answer is exactly what you’d expect from a treatise on existentialism, but it is still an interesting question.

As a story, divorced from its didactic intent, I didn’t find it particularly satisfying. It read smoothly and there were some quite harrowing moments (I’m thinking of the Direites with their roving rape/torture/murder gangs) but it was very clear that the narrative was intended solely as a tool of the message. Because of this, nothing about the situation or the reactions to it felt organic. Everything from the type of hell down to actions of a large portion of the characters all felt designed and convenient to the intended point. Also, super exposition man and woman tend to rear their ugly head quite often, stopping the story dead in its tracks to explain the implications of the hell as it stands. And, again, it ends exactly like you would expect a treatise on existentialism to end.

Finally, and this is just me picking at nits here, I’d just for once like to see someone focus on the uplifting side of existentialism. Everyone seems to focus on the “there’s no prescribed purpose to anything and nothing has any inherent value so nothing matters” line of thinking. It would be nice to see someone run with the understanding that the lack of inherent value means that you get to decide what has value and what purpose to live your life towards. Even Hitler got that, and he is pretty well universally acknowledged as a bastard butt.

Really, if you want a good tale or a way to entertain yourself for a bit of time, you won’t like this book. For those into the philosophy end, it raises some interesting questions but then brings them to the same conclusions many have come to in the past. However, many of the people I recall from my first couple years of college would have been quoting this for months. Take that for what you will.

Buying it here accomplishes nothing but moving paper in an empty existence.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Switchblade Goddess, Author Lucy Snyder

***Warning, as this book is the third part of a series, there will, by necessity, be spoilers regarding the previous books (Spellbent and Shotgun Sorceress). I highly suggest reading those first but you give up the right to complain once you have finished reading this sentence.***

If you’ve read the previous books, you know that Jessie Shimmer is a fairly badass pile of magical pow-pow with a magical replacement eye and a fiery arm of plasmic kaboom. After rescuing her lover from one hell, she was transported to another: a town overrun by a mean-spirited goddess of destruction (Miko) and surrounded by a locked magical barrier. After rallying the remaining population of the town, battling the requisite horde of zombies and her own demonic Goad, she managed to beat Miko into a corner (if you didn’t read the previous books, you know it now). However, Miko is no less powerful and much more vicious when cornered, appears to have captured Cooper again and Pal, Jessie’s ever trusty giant spider-monster familiar, is sick and fading fast. Someone’s got some dragon skin boots to wedge in a rectum or two.

The main thing that has stuck out to me with this series is how much Lucy Snyder is willing to do to her heroine: the girl has lost an arm and an eye, been removed from any form of traditional support, turned into a fugitive from the Virtus Regnum, been loaded up with every disease known to man and has seen her lover turned into a sex slave by a seemingly indestructible goddess, not to mention the numerous bruises, nicks and scrapes she suffers along the way. Not only does this showcase how little Snyder cares for the idea of an untouchably sexy and adorable heroine (so overused in the Urban Fantasy/Romance genre), but it also allows Jessie to be presented as someone who does not stop, no matter what she has to endure. She doesn’t bitch (too much), she doesn’t whine and she doesn’t wait around for the world to make everything better for her. She gathers up her shit and gets to work. It’s hard and it’s ugly and she isn’t always completely successful, but she doesn’t ever stop.

Fuck Yeah!

Similarly, this specific book helps to flesh out Miko into something more than a one dimensional, evil goddess out to suck up souls like candy while destroying our poor pretty’s love and life. As we learn more about Miko, from Jessie’s point of view, trapped in Miko’s own personal hell, a clear picture of how she got to be where she is develops. Sure, I still didn’t like her, but I could understand her more and that makes the simplicity of hate a bit more difficult. I always appreciate that.

On the downside, the narrative seems a bit unfocused. Perhaps a larger picture is still being established, but I usually expect to know the main focus and conflict of a series by this point and I’m not seeing it. Instead, I’m getting a bunch of very interesting events that do not seem to be clearly pointing anywhere in particular. The characters are developed well and the sense of mischievous wit is kept up enough to maintain interest, but I am concerned that it won’t last if I don’t have a clear focus to grasp onto.

If you want a simple, easy going tale of magic and lust, this just isn’t the series for you. However, if you like it a bit rough and heady then you’ll find a good way to spend a few nights.

buy it here.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Flesh of Fallen Angels, authors Roy C. Booth and R. Thomas Riley

I remember, back in the idealized olden days of yore long forgotten (hence the idealization) by aging brain cells, when you knew exactly what you were getting when you picked up a western. Men being men while hunting down the other men who done took their wife or town hostage. Outlaws. Gun slinging sheriffs. Whore houses in trouble. It was a simpler time. Then came these new fangled weird westerns, with their space ships and vampires and ghosts and goblins and all manner of hoobajoo. Somewhere in there, the whole mess got a whole lot more complicated. Enter the venerable Roy C. Booth and R. Thomas Riley stage right with their tale of gunsmoke and demons in the midst of the civil war.

Many years ago, Gibson Blount lost his family to a plague that no one saw coming. A Plague carried on leathery wings that whispered murder in the ears of the townsfolk, then drank deep the despair that followed. Now, Gibson travels the land, looking for other towns like his, towns that have been ripened for harvest by unholy beasts of nightmare. His goal isn't salvation, it's revenge and he won't let anyone get between him and Azazel. But now he's found help in a priest, a prostitute, an angel and William Quantrill.

First and foremost, let me say that layering a story about the conflict between angels, both fallen and otherwise, over the historical backdrop of the American Civil War was genius. The comparison between the two is never mentioned, but used quite well in subtext. Warring angels referring to each other as brother, the knowledge that their war did nothing more than destroy their home, the fact that the reason for fighting is largely forgotten in the midst of the fight and the humanization of those who are ostensibly the most evil are all used to great effect without smacking the reader in the face with it. Nice job, gentlemen.

Onto the story itself: the premise (stranger rides into town, knowing that a great doom is coming but no one believes him until its too late) isn't exactly new, but its used well here to develop the initial tension. Its paced well and, once it gets moving, doesn't stop or slow down until the end. Also, the interspersal of Blount's past sprinkled in along the way provided another tether that kept me running along to find out how he became the man he is. Often times, origin stories become dull because of the time it takes to establish where the character came from, but this approach allowed me to jump right into the action while being fed tidbits as it played out. I liked it.

Also, I got a big kick out of the demons and angels as well as the bits of sci-fi that were hanging around in the background of the supernatural. The angels are not the “flaming sword” types, seeming to have a preference for lead. Similarly, the demons are not of the bright red, cloven hoofed and giant horn variety. Instead, the canine-bat-chupacabra approach provided a freaky aspect without coming across as cheesy. I'll keep clear saying too much about the “ship” or exploding balls, except to say that it added an interesting quantity.

But there are times that the writing itself gets a bit too thick for its own good, drawing too much attention to the style and away from the story. To me, the best westerns have been written in a very straight-forward way and I got bogged down a few times, especially in the beginning, by the style. Also, I was a little sad to see that Blount, very clearly established as a man with nothing to lose and motivated only by vengeance, was never placed in a situation where he had to choose between doing what was right and completing his quest. It makes him come across as too simple of a character if he is only presented with the right thing to do.

Overall, The Flesh of Fallen Angels made for a fun ride across the prairie. Full of guns, blood, demons and cowboy goodness with some dashes of interesting subtext and the boy have more plans for Gibson Blount in the future. I'll be curious to see where he goes.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

An incredibly vague review of CABIN IN THE WOODS
In times like this, I kinda want to pull my hair out. Most movies, books etc. can be explained in fairly straight forward terms without the fear of ruining the experience. Even those based around some pivotal twist moment can be dealt with by avoiding that moment and working with the rest. But, what the hell am I supposed to do with a movie that constantly twists expectations and uses that to create the tension that makes the story work?

So, please forgive me if I am a bit vague here.

If you don’t know the drill, I don’t know what to say for you: Like the set up to a bad joke, five college kids go out to a family cabin out in the remote woods of … somewhere. Of course, there are the requisite stoner, jock, slut, brain and sweet innocent girl who just had her heart broken. They ignore the warning of the crabby, creepy old man at the broken down gas station and proceed to party it up with a game of truth or dare until they find something in the cellar of the cabin. Blood, boobs and guts ensue.
Nothing new there, except that everything about how the situation is treated is very much so. I don’t want to call this a horror movie about horror movies, because that calls to mind self-referential material like Scream and Behind the Mask. No one in Cabin in the Woods ever utters the dreaded “This is just like a horror movie” and it never directly winks at the audience. At the same time, every standard trope is used in some way and they are all used purposefully. Maybe I should just call it a movie about our fascination with horror and how we deal with it and let you draw your conclusion when you see it.
Trust me here, you do want to see this. The acting’s spot on, the script is tight and the action is paced well, creating a nice rhythm of laughter, horror and abject confusion. Joe Bob Briggs fans will love the inclusion of Anne Hutchinson’s tits, though there are some that will be just as enthralled with Jesse Williams shirtless, as well as the profusion of flying blood and body parts. Whedon fans will adore the sharp dialogue. Everyone should like the fleshed out characters and the solid acting (Fran Kranz, as the burnout realizing more than even he thinks he should is especially interesting to watch). And the choice of "Last" by Nine Inch Nails as the credits rolled was pure genius. It’s just a damn good movie.

I warned that I would be vague and I don’t want to say more than that for fear of ruining the experience. Hopefully, it will be enough to say that I was sporting a grin that split my head in half and that I overheard someone saying “what did I just see?” as I was leaving the theater. I can’t come up with a better endorsement than that.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

D.O.A.: Extreme Horror Collection, Editors: David B. Hayes and Jack Burton

Full disclosure: I submitted to this anthology and was rejected. On the other hand, my wife, who allows me access to all her soft and naughty bits, has a story on display within its pages. My hope is that the two cancel each other out and leave a relative sense of objectivity to my review. Just wanted to warn you.
Any time you call something “extreme” or “shocking” or any of those clichéd catch-phrases, you have to be careful. After all, we live in an age already bored by Goatse and willing to shrug off the latest foulness to ooze from /b/. In horror, we’ve experienced. Barker and Deveraux, Ellis and Lee, and walked away giggling about the myriad uses of peckersnot and a hungry rat. The Splatterpunk and Hardcore movements have come and gone and seem to be making a resurgence, so you’ve got to come pretty hard to surprise us. With that in mind, D.O.A. does not live up to its Extreme tag line or the rather silly disclaimer on the back, but it does have some pretty damn entertaining yarns held within.
I expected Edward R. Rosick’s “Cold Air” to be a cheap rip off of Lovecraft’s “Cool Air” but instead found an interesting take on the vampire mythos wherein it isn’t so much that the blood is the life as the sexual organs. Kinda makes you wonder if eternal life would be worth the necrophilia. Opener “Cherry Clubbing,” by Kenneth Yu managed to get past the rather forced feeling second person perspective to deal with the underground markets that would inevitably arise if the creatures of fable and religion were found to be real in a way that caught me a bit off guard. Also, Tonia Brown did some neat things with the Sin Eater mythos in the course of “Sickened”.
However, special notice needs to go to Chad Mckee’s “Cena” and JW Schnaar’s “Frogger.” The former deals very personally with the problems of tourists inserting themselves and their values into cultures they do not understand. It’s fraught with honest fear confusion that bleeds from the page. The latter, a short and sweet tale of Atari inspired revenge,  delivers a marvelous sharp punch. Adrian Ludens also deserves a high five for the nod to a favorite scene from American Psycho that left me giggling like a schoolgirl.
If only they were all so good. “To Be Filled In by the Subject”, by J. Grant, seemed to be nothing more than a laundry list of tortures attempting to excuse itself as a story via presentation as experiment notes. I couldn’t finish Chris Reed’s “Sisters” because the faux-gangsta dialogue was too painfully inorganic to choke down (I haven’t heard anyone say “homeboy” in any sense of seriousness for a good couple decades and that isn’t the worst of it). With “Glutton for Punishment”, Robert Essig delivers a morality tale that is a bit too on the nose and blatant for my tastes and Micheal Bracken’s “Les Sperme Vampire” simply reveals and explains a type of vampire (guess what it feeds on!) without a story to give it context or meaning.
That said, the big winner, if you want to call it that, on this side of the coin is “A Laxative for Writer’s Block.” There is a place, time and even value for stories featuring the rape of children but it has to be handled delicately and, more importantly, with purpose. Forest Ingle, on the other hand, presents neither of those in the course of this tale and manages to ruin an otherwise thoroughly joyous introduction. Worse still, he violates the gods of continuity and word choice by mentioning the “bush” on a girl who had previously been described as totally hairless.
Overall, while none of the stories meet the hype of the title or back page gag, D.O.A. still manages to deliver some quality tales from people worth keeping an eye on in the future.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

HORROR MAVERICKS, Author Danny Draven

“A big film that has the luxury of a $150 million ad budget will certainly educate the public as to what the title means or what kind of film it is. But when you have no money and you’re at the video store or scrolling down the menu on iTunes or Apple TV, the title has to be understandable so people get it. If you can tell a story without even a log line, you’ve got a killer title.” – from the interview with Charles Band

As much of a fan as I am, I’ve never had any interest whatsoever in making films. The whole process seems hard and complicated and scary as all hell. However, I’m somewhat absurdly obsessed with looking into the inner working of film, especially everything that happened behind and beyond the camera. When watching, the story means the most to me, but I’m always curious about what goes into making sure that the story is told effectively. Not only does Danny Draven’s Horror Mavericks: Filmmaking Advice from the Creators, fill that need for me, but it seems to hold some damn helpful tools for those actually interested in doing something with the knowledge as well.

Horror Mavericks consists of 19 short interviews with some of the masters of Horror film, ranging across all levels of production. Want advice from Charles Band (president of Full Moon, as if you didn’t already know) on using 3D technology? How about cues from Reggie Banister (the Phantasm movies) and Robert England (if I need to tell you, kindly step away) about how the best directors interact with their actors? Add in producers, directors, composers, sfx and vfx artists, Tony Timpone and Lovecraft, because why not, and you’ve got a powerful medley of information in a slim, easy to carry package.

The variety of sources is what makes this book stand out in a see of similar resources. Usually you get a book focusing on one or two aspects of filmmaking, usually effects, directing or acting. It was very informative to hear from producers about what they look for when someone is pitching an idea or how a good one interacts with the film crew. Likewise, the interviews with composer Nathan Barr (Hostel I&II and True Blood) and Director of Photography Sam McCurdy (The Descent) were very enlightening from a fan point of view.

Similarly, the brevity is another highpoint. Every interview gets right to the point, cutting past the fat and self-hype that usually bloats books like this. I’m not kidding you that I read the entire thing during a day at work, while trying to keep teenagers from beating each other up. At the same time, as short as it is, it’s packed to the gills with information. And you can cram it in your pants pocket if you really need to.

Now on the down side, I’m sure Lloyd Kaufman (once again, if you don’t know him, step away quickly, blasphemer), Robert Englund and Debbie Rochon aren’t saying anything they haven’t said a million times before in a million other places. Also, I have a tough time believing that anyone really needs to hear acting advice from John D. LeMay (especially when more useful info has already been given by the aforementioned Englund, Rochon and Banister). That’s nowhere near enough to hurt the overall package, though.

Danny Draven has worked as an editor, director, cinematographer and writer for over a decade as a part of Full Moon, so he obviously knew the right people to go to and knows how to be economical with everything he does. That approach works out marvelously for Horror Mavericks, giving the maximum bang/buck/space ratio for obsessive fans and aspiring filmmakers.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Aleric: Monster Hunter by Fred Wiehe

“A disquiet hush clung to the medical clinic, as if in actuality it were a mortuary rather than a place of healing. Dr. Ratterman prowled the deserted hallway like an undertaker afraid of waking the dead entrusted to his care. The last patient had left. Both nurse and receptionist had gone home. Only the doctor and the demons that possessed him remained.”

What would your response be if I told you about a story including pre-Rice style violent vampires, Zombies and a Jeckyl/Hyde style monster based within a somewhat uncommon subculture that has traditionally lived within a shroud of mystery (Gypsies)? Add in a super powered, nearly immortal detective/monster hunter and you’re looking at what should be a recipe for ass kicking good times. I certainly wanted to be excited about it. Unfortunately, Aleric: Monster Hunter seemed to actively want me to dislike the process of reading it, despite the presence of so much objectively cool stuff.

We start off with Aleric Tomba Bimbai as a part-vampire, monster hunting Gypsy who takes on a job to help out a Zombie named Wasso Wonko (nope, not joking). Wasso, though zombified, retains enough self awareness to know that something is wrong and ask for assistance, but can’t remember how he was zombified. With a potential zombie outbreak looming, Aleric embarks on a search for answers that unveils twin nefarious plots by the self-proclaimed King of the Gypsies and a mad scientist with delusions of potential grandeur. And he runs into relationship problems with his fiancé turned vampire (who also had partially turned him). And some nonsense with her new lover. Then there’s the burgeoning relationship with a con artist fortune teller…

I really dig monsters and I can completely groove on the type of Noir detective story this is trying so hard to be, so I desperately wanted to get into this tale. However, there are a few problems that stopped me at every turn. From the above attempt at synopsis, I’m sure you noticed a certain lack of focus. Meandering can be fine, even great when used to reveal character, but I need a consistent thread to hold onto or my ADD addled brain goes wandering off on its own. The story just doesn’t seem to know where it wants to go.

Also, the main character suffers a distinct lack of personal flaws. He’s got enough vampire in him to make use of the advantages (speedy healing, immortality, immense strength, etc.) without having to worry about sunlight or the need to feed off of people. If a regular schlub manages to overcome the odds and defeat big ol’ bad beasties that go bump and chomp in the night, then a miraculous and marvelous triumph has occurred. On the other hand, there is never any doubt that the superhero will win at the end of the day.

Then there is the way Gypsies are dealt with. Maybe it is my own lack of intercultural knowledge or some sort of personal bias talking here, but the depiction of Gypsies struck me as somewhat racist. According to Wiehe, all gypsies are shiftless grifters with no anchor to anything, who lie and cheat their way through the system while remaining ghosts in the eyes of government entities. I won’t even bother going into the all knowing yet ephemeral “Gypsy Network” that keeps track of the comings and goings of all gypsies everywhere. In the course of the book, they are treated like noble outlaws but these are the same stereotypes Romani have suffered under for centuries. Saying that they are good qualities doesn’t change the fact that assumptions are being made about an entire group of people based on their ethnicity.

Finally, and I know I am getting nitpicky but I can’t help myself, Wiehe’s use of language is more than a tad overwrought, needlessly thick and periodically redundant. When I wasn’t laughing at scenes that were supposed to chill or menace (look to the quote at the beginning), I was slowing to a crawl as I muddled through my own apathy. While story should always come first, language is the tool to convey it.  Here, it provided more of a barrier.

As I said at the start, I really wanted to like this story. It’s made up of the things that I adore. However, like the sausage, ice cream and fried chicken cheesecake I dream of at night, it didn’t hit me as well as I wanted.