Saturday, 28 March 2015

COMICS SUCK! - Merrick #3 (February 2015)

NOW - March 2015
MERRICK #3 (Self-Published)
"Tragedies & Reflections"
By Tom Ward (w); Luke Parker (a); Nic J. Shaw (l) & Clare Lenton (e)

One of the things we love about comics is that it gives voice to the voiceless. The X-Men are a prime example of the kind of empowering stories found in the artform: a school of misfits and outcasts band together to defend the world that hates them. I remember director Bryan Singer talking about how he identified with the mutant team as a young man because he was gay. Some critics put it all down to petty power fantasies, but such arguments don't negate the impact comics have on the psyches of marginalized people. For anyone who discovered comics at a young age, I think it's safe to say we've all been there.

One of the most tragic human beings to grace the corridors of spaceship earth was Joseph Merrick, colloquially known as the Elephant Man due to his severe deformities. In Merrick: the Sensational Elephantman, writer Tom Ward and artist Luke Parker have taken this tragic figure and empowered him. His physical maladies remain a source of torment, but they also make him into a powerhouse. He's no longer a medical curiosity or sideshow exhibit, he becomes an opponent of evil. His tough insensitive skin is no longer a detriment to physical contact, it makes him bulletproof. His bone disfigurement don't simply warp his appearance, they give him tremendous strength.

In a way, we all identify with the Elephant Man. How many of us truly enjoy seeing their own reflection? We all have doubts and insecurities about our own abilities and appearance, but what if someone were to come along and show you how to turn those things that you don't like about yourself into your greatest advantage? It's this inversion of the negative that I find empowering about this comic.

The first three issues of this series chronicle this fictional version (let's call him an alternate universe version) of Merrick's rise from freak to adventurer. In this latest installment, he dons a costume of sorts for the first time, though it isn't colorful or form-fitting. It's gritty and is borrowed from reality. The creators have offered a much more inspiring origin for the historic Merrick's cap and hood (on display at this location), not to shamefully hide his appearance from onlookers, but to disguise his identity from evil-doers. The no-nonsense look of the disguise is straight out of the pulp tradition.

After three issues, Merrick: the Sensational Elephantman has shown great potential. This Merrick occupies a world of cloaked figures, crooked carnies, cockney goons and friends who haven't been completely honest about their true intentions. Merrick is an honest guy in search of dignity in an exploitative world occupied by sideshow bosses and double-dealing freemasons. He is physically powerful but emotionally volatile with all the pathos of Jack Kirby's early take on The Thing.

The artwork and much of the layout and image choices are reminiscent of Mike Mignola's work on Gotham By Gaslight and Hellboy, which is tonally appropriate. The influence actually becomes less noticeable as the story flows along. The pacing is solid, lending proportionate weight to each development and it picks up by issue #3. The series was crowdfunded into existence and has since gained a head of steam which continues to build. The first issue was cover-dated February 2014, which means the creators managed to crank three issues out in a year. Though it doesn't seem like Merrick is ready to be published on a regular, monthly basis just yet, the next issue will mark the end of the first story arc which will make the perfect jumping on point for new readers.

Merrick reminds me of the comics that creators like Tim Truman, Howard Chaykin and Mike Baron were publishing in the early 80's. They didn't need to break all the rules to tell a story, but they weren't beholden to the house style at the major publishers either. They told good, accessible stories that just happened to be "indie". Ward and Parker carry on the tradition. I'm excited to see where this series goes and I give the first three issues an enthusiastic recommendation.

You can read the first issue, for free below:



WHAT ELSE ARE THE KIDS UP TO THESE DAYS?
Well after ordering a physical copy or three of Merrick and / or a Black Flag inspired t-shirt from the official website (at this location) or snagging a digital copy at this location, the kids they're burdened by choice when it comes to music.

Here's my list of ten of the best albums with March 2015 release dates:
BAD GUYS - Bad Guynaecology
BLACK RAINBOWS - Hawkdope
BRETUS - The Shadow Over Innsmouth
POMBAGIRA - Flesh Throne Press
QUEEN CRESCENT - Self-Titled
SHEPHERD - Stereolithic Riffalocalypse
STRANGE BROUE - Self-Titled
VENUS SLEEPS - Dead Sun Worship
WOODEN STAKE - A Feast of Virgin Souls
XII BOAR - Pitworthy


With so much great music out there, it hard to find the time to stay up on the latest movie news. One horror film that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last month that has been getting an inordinate amount of buzz is The Witch, but I don't know anything about it other than it's set in the 17th century. I may be doing this wrong but I can't find so much as a trailer for it. But one movie I can find a trailer for (and share, below) is called Spring. It was showing a couple weeks ago at SXSW and it looks good. It's written and directed by the team of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead whose V/H/S-Viral segment "Bonestorm" polarized viewers, but I thought it had a good feel, pulling off a careful balance while walking a tightrope of tastefulness.

From what I've gathered, Spring is about a guy who travels to Italy and finds romance with a local woman. It turns out she has a "medical condition" which results in the occasional tentacle flare-up. No big deal.

It had a limited theatrical release on March 20 through Drafthouse Films. I believe the film is available on iTunes in the U.S., but I can't confirm that. And instead of even bothering to try to confirm it I'll just hang my head, kick an empty can and wonder why Canadians are discriminated against. The film is being handled in Canada by Raven Banner Entertainment but it doesn't look like there's a pending release date for it.

It's worth mentioning that I found out about this movie through the indiegogo page for The Void, which I urge horror movie fans to check out and if you like what you see, to contribute at this location.


LK Ultra's Top Albums for 03/28/15

Top 25 Albums
#). artist - album title
  1. Shepherd - Stereolithic Riffalocalypse
  2. Acid King - Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere***
  3. Pombagira - Flesh Throne Press
  4. Queen Crescent - Self-Titled
  5. John Carpenter - Lost Themes*
  6. The Atomic Bitchwax - Gravitron***
  7. Lord of Doubts - Into the Occult
  8. Stoned Jesus - The Harvest
  9. Bretus - The Shadow Over Innsmouth
  10. Saturnalia Temple - To The Other
  11. Wooden Stake - A Feast of Virgin Souls
  12. Strange Broue - Self-Titled
  13. Crowned in Earth - Metempsychosis
  14. Kabbalah - Primitve Stone EP
  15. Alucarda - Raw Howls
  16. Venus Sleeps - Dead Sun Worship
  17. Evil Invaders - Pulses of Pleasure*
  18. Misty Grey - Grey Mist
  19. Evil Spirit - Caulron Messiah
  20. Doomraiser - Reverse
  21. Black Rainbows - Hawkdope
  22. Boar - Veneficae***
  23. Taken By the Sun - Self-Titled
  24. «Wicked Inquisition - Self-Titled***
  25. Dopethrone - Hochelaga***
« New Listing
*Album available on itunes
** Streaming only
*** Pre-order only
† Available on cassette only
 Available on vinyl and cassette only
† Available on vinyl only
No release available yet

ALBUM Spotlight on:
SHEPHERD – ‘Stereolithic Riffalocalypse’
I woke up one day in early February to find the world in the clutches of Sheppo-mania. Everybody and their uptight older brother had downloaded the new album from Indian stoner / sludge wunderkinds Shepherd. Newsfeeds clogged, sharing reached epidemic proportions and nobody was dissatisfied. The Bangalorean trio then topped off an otherwise successful month with an appearance on the reviewer / podcaster aggregated top albums list The Doom Charts with the #4 spot. Now, to top off March, they have reached all new absurd heights of glory by taking your humble narrator's top spot for the week's best albums. Is there no end to Shepherd's tyrannical, terrifying momentum?!?!

For those in the know, Bangalore has built up a great reputation in recent years as a heavy metal haven in India and Shepherd may be the city's finest export yet. Though I'll readily admit I'm no expert. But if they are, they've done it with music and not image, they've done it with variety, quality, originality and a sense of humor. All eight songs on the 45-minute opus are excellent and though the band establishes an identity there's enough variation between the songs to keep things interesting throughout. The music is always based around huge heavy riffs and sticky melodies. There are grungy moments of dark harmonies and there's just enough bite in the vocals to appeal to both clean singing and extreme metal fans. But don't think the band are people pleasers, with song titles like "Black Cock of Armageddon", "Turdspeak" and "Wretch Salad" it's evident that they don't care what people think of them and that's refreshing to see in a world of P.C. nazis and obsessive social networkers.

With a place at the top of my list of personal favorite albums it goes without say that I highly recommend this album, but it's worth doubling-down on the recommendation (the entire list above is a recommendation). I'm going to go out on a limb here and predict that 'Stereolithic Riffalocalypse' will break the bank with an appearance on most stoner/doom/sludge year-end lists, if you haven't heard the band yet, again they're at the top of this list, click the link and enter a world of hurt.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

COMICS SUCK! - B.P.R.D.: The Dead #5 (March 2005)

10 YEARS AGO - March 2005
B.P.R.D.- THE DEAD #5 (Dark Horse Comics)
"The Dead"
By Mike Mignola & John Arcudi (w); Guy Davis (a); Dave Stewart (c); Clem Robins (l) & Scott Allie (e)
Hellboy started out as nothing more than a sketch done by Mike Mignola while sitting at a table during a comics convention. He liked the concept and kept playing around with it in his head until it the idea had begun taking on a life of its own. By the time the then still young Dark Horse Comics launched their Legends imprint, Hellboy was ready to roll out. He was a legend from day one. Erelong the character had evolved his own supporting cast of misfits, who were then given their own haul of mini-series as B.P.R.D. (Bureau for Paranormal Research & Defense).

But as the legend grew and people began to really take notice of Mignola's brilliant art and kinetic writing, the originator was drawn more and more into other media and away from actually drawing the comics. He had transcended the medium much to the chagrin of fans like myself.

What started as a simple convention sketch had suddenly blossomed out of control threatening to devour the works, not entirely unlike the kinds of stories set in the Hellboy-centric "Mignolaverse". The five-issue mini-series "The Dead" was one of the early ones.

At the time, I was ambivalent towards the non-Mignola Hellboy books. The Hellboy series was capital 'g' Great, when drawn by Mignola. But the stories weren't really all that amazing, were they? I mean, Mignola wasn't even a writer. Why would I want to read a series about a bunch of C-list characters written by someone who isn't a writer and not drawn by Mignola?

My attitude has changed in recent years, I finally got tired of waiting around for Mignola to return to focusing on the artwork. What drew me back in the end, was that I missed the stories.

In many ways, "The Dead" is a typical Mignola story. He's the doom metal maniac's comics writer. His stories are full of ominous suggestions, carefully crafted spooks and large explosions. BOOM. You'll find that word in nearly any Mignolaverse comic because Mignola may be the most H.P. Lovecraft inspired storyteller in existence, this side of August Derleth. Major themes involve that which is familiar being precarious, dangerous, crumbling into dust or exploding into atoms; the world made to devour itself by outside forces in order to evolve into something that seems monstrous to us, but normal to "The Other". "The Other" is often expressed as a malignant force, usually with a swastika band around the arm ... or tentacle.

But B.P.R.D. is the flip side of that expression and that theme is explored in this series with the introduction of a new team leader Captain Ben Daimio. He's basically a normal guy, but returned from the dead after being attacked by ... well that part is left vague but it's fairly obvious what he was attacked by from the large gouges left in his cheek. Being an otherwise normal guy he reacts with naked shock at the team members and they are suspicious of him.

He leads the team to its new headquarters, inaccessibly nestled in the Rocky Mountains. Upon arrival, they soon discover that the facility hides a horrific secret. In the real world, after World War II Nazi scientists were secreted out of Germany and sent to work for various allied governments. The act of secretly shipping out the scientists was called Operation Paperclip. In "The Dead" one of those Nazi scientists has hidden himself away in the derelict research base after nearly destroying it completely and wiping out his fellow scientists in the process.

By issue five his story has been told and his true motivations are unmasked and, in typical Mignola fashion, his flesh falls away to reveal the hideous worm-like being beneath (see picture above).

Meanwhile, Abe Sapien, perhaps the strangest of them all, is off on his own. Abe Sapien is the green-skinned gillman of the Mignolaverse. He's known to be at least 150 years old and no one knows his past before being discovered by Hellboy, not even him. In this subplot, Abe has almost instinctively returned to the place that, it's revealed, was once his home. There, he encounters a being even more "otherly" than him, his long dead wife whose rotting corpse is masked by a beautiful illusion. In the four issues leading up to this finale, Abe succumbs to the illusion's embrace. The Abe subplot really doesn't have much to do with the main plot, either directly or thematically, but heightens the series. It's about an issue's worth of story spread out over 5 issues. For all intents and purposes it's a back-up feature, but Mignola, co-writer John Arcudi and series editor Scott Allie's decision to make it part of the main book is an interesting one, because it allows the unconnected story to break up the pace of the main plot.

I'm just now catching up on what I missed in the Mignolaverse over the course of about a decade of being away. By the way, Mignola actually has recently returned to penciling the adventures of everybody's favorite red-skinned hero in the quasi-regular series Hellboy in Hell.

WHAT ELSE WERE THE KIDS UP TO BACK THEN?
Well, after finishing the latest B.P.R.D. mini-series is was time for some sounds. It was only inevitable then that the kids of '05 turned their attention to an album that might have made a fitting soundtrack to the B.P.R.D. comic:



CROWBAR - LIFESBLOOD FOR THE DOWNTRODDEN
Crowbar startled life in 1990 as vocalist / guitarist Kirk Windstein's response to the speed metal bands that seemed to circulate a dime a dozen. Windstein, bassist Todd Strange and drummer Jimmy Bowers loved the fast metal bands that dominated the underground metal scene, particular that in their home town of New Orleans, but they formed The Slugs in order to stand out from the crowd. Before long they had re-named themselves Crowbar and a musical movement was under way. Everybody else was playing fast, loud and rude, Crowbar was going to tune low and play slow.

15 years and seven albums into a ground breaking existence, Crowbar unleashed their eighth studio venture, 'Lifesblood for the Downtrodden' 10 years ago this month. In the grand scheme of their career, it's not the first album you think of when you think Crowbar, but it's better than most of the music that was out there at that time. It was a horrible time for metal. Nu Metal had taken it's toll. A situation that had pushed dyed-in-the-wool metalheads away from riff-based groove and thrash metal into the opposite extreme. Ten years ago death metal dominated in the underground. It must have been harder than ever for a sludge or doom metal band to garner any kind of recognition in that climate.

In the ten years since, the band has only released two more albums, including last year's excellent "Symmetry in Black". Main man Windstein has been busy with the band Down for the most part during that time, but he recently took a hiatus from the southern metal heavyweights to focus his attention back to Crowbar. In fact, he even sat out the recording of Down's latest EP. Here's hoping Crowbar cranks out one more full-length in the next little while before he re-joins Phil Anselmo and co. in Down.

But while those few brave denim-clad souls risked looking unhip by sampling the new Crowbar album and soaking in the Lovecraftian vibes of the newest B.P.R.D. mini-series, it was time for the sights and the sounds to come together. It was time for director Ti West's feature-length film debut The Roost, which premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival ten years ago this month.

I like this film. It's rough around the edges, but the director's hunger and ambition shine through, pushing a strange and unlikely concept into the area of compulsive viewing. Matter of fact, I'm not even sure what the concept is behind this film. It's about a brother and sister and their friend. They are driven off the road by a bat and must abandon the truck which has been wedged onto a rock. They walk to a farm house but find no one there. When they finally flag down a policeman and take him back to the farm the cop accidentally falls to his death. He is then swarmed over by bats then returns as a zombie. Wha ..?

Visionary direction and a bookend guest appearance by one of my favorite character actors of all-time, Tom Noonan, saves the day. Noonan plays a horror host who it eventually turns out is more horror than host. As always, he embodies the role. Ti West: he's a relatively young director, but if the name rings out it may be because you've seen his excellent House of the Devil from 2009 (also starring Tom Noonan!) or 2011's The Innkeepers or the "Second Honeymoon" segment from V/H/S or 2013's The Sacrament.

As I mention, The Roost has its problems, the story just kind of peters out halfway through before returning to the wraparound segment with Noonan, then returns to kind of peter out once again. It also commits the deadly sin of numerous false jump scares. But these problems are indelibly linked to West's ambition to break out as a major horror director. The structure may seem strange, or even annoying to some I'm sure, but it's inventive, there's no taking that away and whatever other legacy the film has left behind, it did garner West the recognition he sought. To his credit, he's taken his opportunities over the past ten years and ran with them. The Roost is worth seeing and not just for "Ti West completists".

The film was produced by horror veteran Larry Fessenden (Habit, Wendigo) and also starred real-life brother and sister Wil Horneff and Vanessa Horneff and Karl Jacob. You can watch it here:


Saturday, 21 March 2015

LK Ultra's Top Albums for 03/21/15

Top 25 Albums
#). artist - album title
  1. Acid King - Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere***
  2. Pombagira - Flesh Throne Press***
  3. Queen Crescent - Self-Titled
  4. John Carpenter - Lost Themes*
  5. Lord of Doubts - Into the Occult
  6. Bretus - The Shadow Over Innsmouth
  7. Saturnalia Temple - To The Other
  8. Shepherd - Stereolithic Riffalocalypse
  9. Crowned in Earth - Metempsychosis
  10. Kabbalah - Primitve Stone EP
  11. Alucarda - Raw Howls
  12. Misty Grey - Grey Mist
  13. Evil Spirit - Caulron Messiah
  14. The Atomic Bitchwax - Gravitron***
  15. Stoned Jesus - The Harvest
  16. Doomraiser - Reverse
  17. Black Rainbows - Hawkdope
  18. Wooden Stake - A Feast of Virgin Souls
  19. Boar - Veneficae***
  20. Taken By the Sun - Self-Titled
  21. Strange Broue - Self-Titled
  22. Hands of Orlac - Figli Del Crepuscolo
  23. Evil Invaders - Pulses of Pleasure*
  24. Venus Sleeps - Dead Sun Worship
  25. Dopethrone - Hochelaga***
*Album available on itunes
** Streaming only
*** Pre-order only
† Available on cassette only
 Available on vinyl and cassette only
† Available on vinyl only
No release available yet

Friday, 20 March 2015

COMICS SUCK! - Jonah Hex: Riders of the Worm & Such #1 (March 1995)

20 YEARS AGO - March 1995


Cover artwork by Tim Truman.
JONAH HEX - RIDERS OF THE WORM & SUCH #1 (Vertigo - DC Comics)
"No Rest for the Wicked and the Good Don't Need Any"
By Joe R. Lansdale (w); Tim Truman (p); Sam Glanzman (i); Sam Parsons (c); Todd Klein (l) & Stuart Moore (e)

Riders of the Worm and Such was a five issue limited series from Vertigo comics, it was the second Joe Lansdale / Tim Truman Jonah Hex mini-series after the award winning Two-Gun Mojo from 1993. That series proved that the team could handle Hex's world and stay true to it, although one could argue that the characterization and setting is a little stiff at times. Riders of the Worm is where the creative team let loose and had fun.

And it IS fun. Lansdale is a rare writer, Riders of the Worm, like many of his stories is equal parts horror and humor. He has discovered a balance that I haven't read any other writer find as successfully. Many can handle one but not the other, some dilute the effect of both with the presence of the other. Stephen King does it quite successfully, as does his son Joe Hill at times. Lansdale turns the horror and humor knobs up to 11 without blowing the speakers. It's a thing to watch, the humor is truly funny and the horrors are truly ghastly.

The story revolves around Hex coming upon a strange ranch with a young sidekick after being attacked by giant half-man, half-worms. The ranch is run by Mr. Graves, an Englishman, inspired by a bar brawl he shared with Oscar Wilde to spread art and culture to the cowboys of Texas. Hex encounters Hildy at the ranch and the two strike a romance of convenience. He also runs into the Autumn brothers, Edgar and Johnny who strike romances of convenience of their own with pigs. There are loads of gross-out moments in these five issues and the Autumn brothers are principally involved in most of them.

And, like most, if not all of Lansdale's writing, there's wit. In issue 3, Mr. Graves refers to the worms as "denizens of the netherworld."

"What's a denizen?" the kid says.

"Kinda like a Yankee," Hildy says.

In this first issue, Hex's newfound travel partner, Rudy is pulled halfway outside the window of their shelter by the titular worms. Hex and the kid manage to pull him back in, but he's been bitten in half and only his legs return.

"One thing's sure," Hex says, "he didn't get caught on a nail." (See image at left)

It's obvious that Lansdale is fascinated by pre-Columbian America. Because it's history is mostly unrecorded and undeveloped, it provides him a sprawling canvas upon which to draw and he always delivers with the goods when drawing on it. It was said this story was based on local folklore, but I'm sure Lansdale colored in some of the background. Of course, when he does bring out his box of crayolas, he uses buckets of blood red.

Many of his most colorful moments, however are reserved for the Autumn brothers. The cross-eyed, pig diddling simpletons were based on Johnny and Edgar Winter and the company was sued for their efforts by the famous duo but won (read all about it at this location).


WHAT ELSE WERE THE KIDS UP TO BACK THEN?
Joe R. Lansdale carried on the Weird Tales pulp tradition throughout the 1980's and 90's, continuing to this day, so it's only right that another underrated weird tale scribe was also represented with a major release in March 1995:



MONSTER MAGNET - DOPES TO INFINITY
Dave Wyndorf, leader of Monster Magnet is arguably the weirdest poet of the post-beat, post-hippie era. His lyrics seem like stream-of-consciousness rambling on first listen, but contain a penetrable internal logic, unlike some of the other well-known lyricists of the 90's. For example, "All Friends and Kingdom Come" is a threatening romantic ultimatum, but the casual listener might not catch that among all the talk of "mushroom boy" and "mushroom clouds in my hands". I think it's time to re-evaluate Wyndorf's lyrics and place him among the great weird authors of the 20th century. He certainly comes out of the pulp tradition, having been weened on a steady diet of fuzz guitars and Jack Kirby Marvel comics.

Aside from the lyrics, 'Dopes to Infinity' contained some of the best music of the decade, smack dab in the middle of it. The album did quite well overseas but was virtually ignored on their home soil. It's been the story of the band's career. The problem wasn't one of quality, but how to qualify the band. They're too heavy to be a rock band, but not heavy enough to be a metal band. Who would buy these wonderful evils? The answer: Europeans!

To this day Wyndorf prefers the European audience and it's hard to blame him. He talks about it endlessly in interviews, but this recent quote takes the cake: "do you want to live your life playing in some shitty bar where some guy with a bald head and ponytail is looking at you going Do Freebird!! Or do you want to go play in front of 26-year-old girls with big tits in Finland? That’s where you
want to go. And that’s where I go!" (read the full interview at this location)

'Dopes To Infinity' is one of my favorite albums of all-time. It along with Alice in Chains's 'Music Bank' box set and the first six Black Sabbath albums have been mainstays in my listening rotation since high school. It's not necessarily diverse, it's not necessarily an "important" record historically, it's just good ... real good. Every song is exciting in its own way but I think what ultimately won my heart in those early days was the instrumental "Ego the Living Planet", named after one of the most fascinating characters to spring from the mind of Kirby and one of my personal favorites. The way to my heart isn't through food it's through early Marvel references.

Dave Wyndorf knows the way.

Well, now you've sampled Wyndorf and Lansdale, but have you read Sutter Cane?

Far as I'm concerned In the Mouth of Madness is director John Carpenter's last classic film and in some ways is his masterpiece. Combining the on-page and off-page lore of writers H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King into a single character, Sutter Cane (Jürgen Prochnow), Carpenter and screenwriter Michael De Luca had free reign here to explore every avenue of horror. The story is about fictional worlds bleeding into reality through the diabolical work of Cane. His books are turning people into maniacal killers, Sam Neil plays an insurance investigator sent on behalf of a publishing house (Arcane House run by Charlton Heston) to find him. Along the way he falls deeply into the mouth of madness.

In many ways the film is a love letter to two of the most popular masters of literary horror of the 20th century, but mostly it's a gallery of wonderful images. It's like an exhibition of deleted scenes from the minds of the masters put together into a running narrative. Now, that may not sound like the greatest of endorsements, and not every Carpenter fan loves this movie, but I think it's fantastic. But that's also why it may be Carpenter's masterpiece. Many of his most lasting images are in this film, without any one totally dominating. Who can forget the guy on the bike? Or the Cathedral of Transfiguration which doubled as Cane's castle and the mob that guarded it? Or Seinfeld's Nanna, Frances Bay as the murderous and deviant innkeeper? Or Julie Carmen's transformation.

The first time I watched this movie, I hated it. The premise didn't grab me and the look of the picture felt cheap and uninspired. But after I gave it another chance, it was revelatory and plays as the best "Lovecraft adaptation" not directed by Stuart Gordon.


Monday, 16 March 2015

COMICS SUCK! - Swamp Thing #34 (March 1985)


30 YEARS AGO - March 1985
SWAMP THING #34 (DC Comics)
By guest reviewer Tony Maim
"Rite of Spring"
By Alan Moore (w); Steve Bissette (p); Jon Totleben (i); Tatjana Wood (c (I would never normally credit a colourist but throughout her run on this series, her use of palettes really helped to create another level to the artwork, never more so than on this issue.)); John Costanza (l) & Karen Berger (e)

“Rite Of Spring” was widely know at the time as “the one where Swamp Thing has sex issue”.

Nothing could be further from the truth. This is a psychedelic love story between two beings who want to have some sort of communion between themselves but are fully aware of the difference of their forms.

Abby Cable’s husband, Matt is in a coma with no hope of recovery (this is due to being possessed by the spirit of her insane uncle Anton Arcane.) She finds Swamp Thing deep in the Bayou and confesses that she wants to move on with her life and reveals her deep feelings for Swampy. He finally tells her that he has also been in love with her for years. They kiss and although she likes the taste of lime, Swamp Thing reminds her that she can never have a physical relationship – him being a muck monster don’tcha know – Abby replies that she can live without that.

For a reply, Swamp Thing pulls a tuber from his body and asks Abbey to eat it. As it takes effect, her mind is blown – as is ours – as we take a trip into the “Green” and share Swamp Thing’s perceptions of the world around him. Their thoughts start to intermingle, blurring the lines between separate personalities and feelings. Abbey feels all life and creation that exist at a base level and also how the interconnection that Swamp Thing shares with nature is at once beautiful but brutal. At this point, the prose is flowing like a storm filled river being carried along by some of the most innovative artwork you are ever likely to see contained in a comic page.

Abbey slowly comes out of her experience and the story ends with a kiss. Be careful if you read this – you may never look at a comic again without feeling that you have seen what can be done within the printed page but somehow nothing quite measures up to Swamp Thing 34.

WHAT ELSE WERE THE KIDS UP TO BACK THEN?
Thanks Tony!

Well, after having their minds thoroughly blown by the greatest creative team in comics's greatest single issue, it was time for the youth of 1985 to take another heavy trip in the form of this brand-new album:



TROUBLE - THE SKULL
Trouble [Image source]
Arguably a step up from their legendary self-titled debut later known as 'Psalm 9', Chicago doom metal pioneers Trouble's sophomore album 'The Skull' found the band tighter, more confident and with a clearer sense of musical direction. This is the moment where Trouble truly helped to define what Doom Metal would be, more so than their first effort. Though this album is now exactly 30 years old, it's surprisingly NOT dated.

Arguably, Doom as a style of heavy metal is founded on the principle of living in the past. The early slow doom metal bands like Trouble, Pentagram, Candlemass, Witchfinder General and Saint Vitus emulated the mood, atmosphere and riff-based heaviness of Black Sabbath at a time when speed and thrash metal bands were citing the Brummy legends as an influence and some metal bands were moving the entire genre into extreme territory. So it's with some sense of irony that 'The Skull' sounds shockingly fresh today given its inspirational pedigree.

That freshness comes from ignoring popular trends. Riffs, melodies and low bottom heaviness combine for a classic, possibly even timeless sound. The unadorned nature of the music is what keeps it fresh. No moog overlays, or trendy styles of singing / playing, just heavy music that sounded good in any era. It's a formula that can't fail. It wasn't the first doom record, it wasn't even Trouble's first record but this is where the doom sound began to coalesce into something that new fans of the genre might recognize today.

Speaking of which, the band continues to this day, more or less. Actually, no less than two bands directly carry on the legacy from this album. Rick Wartell and Bruce Franklin the dual guitarists from this album continue as Trouble with former Exhorder / Alabama Thunderpussy vocalist Kyle Thomas and new drummer Mark Lira. Together they put out the band's ninth album 'The Distortion Field' in 2013. Meanwhile, longtime Trouble vocalist Eric Wagner and drummer Jeff "Oly" Olson joined forces with longtime Trouble bassist Ron Holzner (though he wasn't with the band when they recorded 'The Skull') and newcomer guitarists Matt Goldsborough and Lothar Keller to release their incredible 'For Those Which Are Asleep' album in 2014. The name the band recorded under? The Skull.

Sonic Youth - 'Bad Moon Rising'
Another album released in March '85 was the first of a series of albums that also helped to shape an entire genre of music ... actually when you think about it Sonic Youth's 'Bad Moon Rising' album didn't just help define the burgeoning noise rock hurricane of which, they were the eye, one could also make hay claiming it as the first true grunge album. But perhaps that's a conversation for another time.

So there you go, after having undergone a double dose of "mind-blown" with Swamp Thing and Trouble, it was time for something else. Something quite the opposite of all this high-falutin art. It was time to take in the trash with Friday the 13th Part V. This movie holds a very special place in my heart. It was one of the very first movies I can remember watching with my uncle, along with April Fool's Day and Basket Case. That final scene with the spikes has stuck with me my whole life and while watching this film was the first time I can remember seeing boobs. My life has been one big pathological shame spiral ever since.

Friday the 13th Part IV promised to be the Final Chapter. Don't take my word for it, it's in the title. But less than a year later, the producers of the series were rolling in enough money that they felt it was time for A New Beginning. The story picks up where Final Chapter left off, fast-forwarded a few years into the future. Tommy Jarvis, the boy who killed the unkillable killer at the end of Part IV is older (played by John Shepherd, Corey Feldman played the younger version in the previous film) but traumatized by the events of that night. He is taken to Pineway Halfway House in the back of a padded wagon. He is severely withdrawn, bordering on catatonic and really into his masks, which he makes. As the story develops and thanks to conscientious editing, the audience is left to wonder whether or not he's taken up the mantle of Jason Voorhees, who as we know, died in the last film. From there the storytellers never once let plot get in the way of murder or boobs.

You can tell by some of the larger-than-life characterization and heart-string-plucking back stories of the kids at the halfway house that the filmmakers were going for a Stephen King feel with this one. Obviously, King is a generational talent, uniquely suited to blackly comic horror, but in 1985, how was anybody to know just how special he was or how inimitable? Ultimately, King's recipe produces cheesecake in the wrong hands and those hands were a-bakin' extra-time on this one. Still, Friday the 13th Part 5 is not without it's charms.

I doubt anybody fooled themselves into expecting high art, but when you go into this movie expecting farce, it ends up becoming quite enjoyable in its own right. A steady diet of cheesecake will impact the health but once-in-a-blue-moon samplings can remind us how delicious indulgence can be. Did somebody say robot mime dancing?

Po-faced slasher fanatics avoid this movie, it's every slasher cliche amplified with reverb, but that's just what makes it so delightful. The target audience was youngsters at the drive-in, but many of the young characters seem outdated for 1985 standards, take the two leather-jacket wearing greasers for example. There may be something timeless in the hot rods, leather and blue jeans look but the writing and performances are so rigidly "rebellious" that their mutually insulting dialogue comes across like pointless bickering between adolescents. And there ain't no doubt what's going to happen to them once Greaser #1 goes into the woods to take a dump and Greaser #2 is left holding the monkey-wrench at the broken down car.

"Ooh yeah!"
A New Beginning pandered to what the producers thought audiences wanted and to be fair it was commercially successful, and was better than some of the Nightmare on Elm Street films that were coming out at the same time. For slasher purists, this film is a turd and as terrifying moods go it's a faaaaar cry from the 1980 original that launched the franchise, but for those who can appreciate the funner aspects of the subgenre ... it's okay. It is well-lit and beautifully shot and it's got an ending so ridiculous you will question where horror ends and comedy begins.

This movie was directed by Danny Steinmann, written by Martin Kitrosser and David Cohen and also starred Melanie Kinnaman and young Shavar Ross.


Sunday, 15 March 2015

BAD GUYS - Bad Guynaecology (Album Review)

"There is no meaning and that's the point, there is no point at all"

I was introduced to Bad Guys by Joop Konraad of The Stoner Hive blog. They grabbed me and put me in the back of a van, they stripped me down to my tighty whiteys, tied me up, gagged me and forced me to "Witness a New Low" ... metaphorically. Before you get the impression that this is one of those social justice "call-out" articles, let me say that although part of me was more than a little repulsed and appalled by what the band did to me (...metaphorically), I secretly enjoyed the experience and would have gladly taken seconds ... though I'd never mention so in polite company.

Enter the band's second album, suitably titled "Bad Guynaecology". Bad Guys are here to make you feel uncomfortable, from the traumatizing album cover on down. They're the funky uncles, the politically incorrect raconteurs of hard rock. Like Jesus before them, Bad Guys take the losers of society on board and give them a voice. But before you get the impression that this band is all fun all the time and that their music is inconsequentially light, understand that behind all the madcap storytelling sits a heavy nihilistic spirit. While clowns may grin but weep inside, Bad Guys leer while numb inside.

The opening track, "Crime" is a vivid and memorable tale about shoplifting. It's told in the spoken/sung style reminiscent of Suicidal Tendencies's "Institutionalized" (as an easy example). The story is told from the shoplifter's point of view as he goes through the motions and emotions of the crime. While the shoplifter's motivations may be slight and spoiled, it matters to him and the force of its telling makes it matter to us. The rogue's gallery exhibit continues on the next song, "Prostitutes (Are Making Love In My Garden)", featuring a catalog of Bad Guy observations about the world's oldest profession is exactly the kind of song you'd think twice about playing in front of sweet little old ladies.

What makes Bad Guys good is that they don't shy away from the grimy underside of life, they turn over the rocks in society and observe and record the scurryings. This is science, the study of absurdity. The song "Reaper" says it all, really: "There is no meaning and that's the point, there is no point at all".

Musically, the band is adventurous, but favors a rough stomping ground, offering 8 songs and 40 minutes of hard rockin' good times. There's a good amount of variation here and Bad Guys are coming from a punk-ish place, spiritually, but to me the highlight of the album is the storytelling, which is unusual because I typically tune lyrics out and listen to the vocal melodies.

Rating: «««½ / 5

'Bad Guynaecology' is released on CD and LP by Riot Season Records, you can order a copy at this location.

Bad Guys on facebook
Riot Season Records on facebook



Here's a video to play for sweet little old ladies:


Saturday, 14 March 2015

LK Ultra's Top Albums for 03/14/15

Top 25 Albums
#). artist - album title
  1. Queen Crescent - Self-Titled
  2. Lord of Doubts - Into the Occult
  3. Crowned in Earth - Metempsychosis
  4. Kabbalah - Primitve Stone EP
  5. Pombagira - Flesh Throne Press***
  6. Alucarda - Raw Howls
  7. Misty Grey - Grey Mist
  8. John Carpenter - Lost Themes*
  9. Evil Spirit - Caulron Messiah
  10. Bretus - The Shadow Over Innsmouth
  11. Acid King - Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere***
  12. Shepherd - Stereolithic Riffalocalypse
  13. The Atomic Bitchwax - Gravitron***
  14. Doomraiser - Reverse
  15. Black Rainbows - Hawkdope
  16. Saturnalia Temple - To The Other
  17. Hands of Orlac - Figli Del Crepuscolo or link #2
  18. Taken By the Sun - Self-Titled
  19. Strange Broue - Various EP's
  20. Zoltan - Tombs of the Blind Dead EP*
  21. Patrick Bruss - The Gorgon's Gallery
  22. Lord Loud - IN EP
  23. Stoned Jesus - The Harvest
  24. Soundcrawler - The Dead-End Host
  25. Wooden Stake - A Feast of Virgin Souls
*Album available on itunes
** Streaming only
*** Pre-order only
† Available on cassette only
 Available on vinyl and cassette only
† Available on vinyl only
No release available yet

ALBUM Spotlight on:
HANDS OF ORLAC – ‘Figli Del Crepuscolo’
Danish specialty label and distributor Horror Records unleashed a pair of gems on bandcamp late last year. I reviewed the first of those, 'Cauldron Messiah' by Evil Spirit back in February at this location (the album's still going strong at the #9 position on this week's list above). The second of those is the subject of this week's album spotlight.

This Italian doom quintet started out in 2009. The band's mission statement was pretty simple: make 70's sounding music with Black Sabbath style riffs and a strong emphasis on horror themes. It's safe to say the band has lived up to its goals. Keep in mind that, aside from a few bands and artists, The Devil's Blood, Jex Thoth and Blood Ceremony among the most notable, the metal world wasn't exactly ablaze with black candles shining for this kind of sound back in 2009. Since that time there's been an explosion of what is labelled "female-fronted occult rock". And while the music world is richer for its blossoming, it's obvious that Hands of Orlac have pushed their own boundaries to stay relevant and distance themselves from the crowd.

An older pic of the band, from my good friend Dr. Doom's
lamentably dormant website, Dr. Doom's Lair. [Source]
The most apparent result of this is that the band's second album is significantly darker than its self-titled 2011-released predecessor. In fact, the distancing has nearly rendered the band unrecognizable. While once, one might have been forgiven for mistaking the band for one of the handful of others of the style they helped to grow, the band has found a stronger identity by embracing a deeper shade of doom. Vocalist The Sorceress has mostly holstered the flute which characterized the debut. The psychedelic retro Rock overtones have died and risen from the grave dressed in Metal. And the band is better looking for it.

Let it be said for those who haven't heard it, but the 'Hands of Orlac' album is a true standout within its style, a fore-runner to terrific albums by Occultation, Shinin' Shade, Mount Salem, Doublestone and Mountain Witch. In terms of mood and feel, 'Figli del Crepuscolo' blows it out of the water. The freshman album was a warm-up, a sweet, bright introduction to the band, the latest is a master's thesis in darkness. The fact that the album title translates into English as 'Children of Twilight' suggests that the band is ever darkening and that absolute night still lies ahead. There are two links at the #17 spot on this list for you to check the album out, although I don't think the whole album is streaming anywhere, if it is I haven't found it yet.

Friday, 13 March 2015

EVERYDAY STRANGE - The Man in the Cauldron: The Matamoros Killings, Pt. I

El Padrino's nganga [image source]

MATAMOROS, MEXICO - On March 13, 1989, 21-year old med student Mark Kilroy disappeared while vacationing across the Texas border on Spring Break. On April 11, 1989 his body (along with 14 others) was discovered buried on a ranch belonging to Adolfo de Jesus Costanzo, known to his underlings as El Padrino. Mark had been the victim of a horrific Palo Mayombe ritual, of which El Padrino was an avid practitioner.

In Palo, the adept has a sacred urn or cauldron called an nganga. The nganga is the source of the Palo practitioner’s power and what is put into it, is said to come back. For example, if the practitioner wants physical strength, he or she may put animal muscles into the nganga, if they want youth, they will put in the blood of a young chicken. El Padrino got the idea to use human sacrifices, in lieu of animals, because he thought it would work better.

Mark Kilroy
During spring break 1989, Costanzo wanted more intelligence. He dispatched his underlings into the city of Matamoros, knowing that the border-town would be full of American students. These goons, were totally brainwashed and believed implicitly in El Padrino’s power, making them incredibly daring. They kept their ears open and waited for a young Americano to brag about his med school grades. When they had found their mark, they made their move.

They found Mark on a back street about a block away from the heavily populated main drag. They had stopped him while impersonating police officers. They became momentarily distracted and Mark ran for it. The goons shouted “Freeze,” and mark stopped dead in his tracks. He was just around the corner from disappearing into the throng of college age partygoers.

Instead he was taken back to the farm where he was tied up, blindfolded and held prisoner for an indeterminate period.

After he was killed, El Padrino added Mark’s brain to the cauldron, which when it was finally uncovered by police, was found to contain various other human remains, as well as snakes and spiders in a soup of blood.

When Mark’s friends realized that he hadn’t returned the next morning, they immediately contacted authorities on the Texas side of the border in Brownsville. This led to his eventual downfall. Costanzo might have continued his occult practices indefinitely if he hadn’t abducted a middle class white kid from the States.

Conservatively, roughly 1,000 murders take place every day around the world. However, few fates are as frightening or strange as what happened to Mark Kilroy on this day 26 years ago.

Sources:
Cauldron of Blood: The Matamoros Cult Killings by Jim Schultze (Avon Books, September 1989)

I’m listing the videos below as my sources on this story, but the true primary sources are long forgotten. I’ve been researching this case for years.




Thursday, 12 March 2015

COMICS SUCK! - Werewolf By Night #27 (March 1975)

40 YEARS AGO - March 1975
Cover artwork by Gil Kane.
WEREWOLF BY NIGHT #27 (Marvel Comics)
"The Amazing Doctor Glitternight"
By Doug Moench (w); Don Perlin (a); Karen Pocock (l); Phil Rachelson (c) & Len Wein (e)

This is what I'm talking about. You don't see him on the cover, but Doctor Glitternight has got to be the eeriest Marvel villain of all-time. He reminds me of the Tall Man from Phantasm, only Glitternight came first. He's evil incarnate, a stone-faced, pupil-less hypnotic sorcerer who steals souls and turns the once beautiful Topaz into the horrible creature you do see on the cover, He floats like a manta ray overhead and projects black light onto his victims, stealing their very life-force. Unfortunately he's pretty much forgotten today, but I think he's the best unused Marvel villain there is.

Oddly, there is a 1938 crime film called The Amazing Doctor Clitterhouse (which has an amazing resemblance to the word clitoris, but nevermind), it's probable that Glitternight was at least partly inspired by it.

Glitternight was created by Doug Moench who took over the series at issue #20 and stayed on til the series ended with #43. I first came to deeply respect him after reading his run on Batman from the early '90's. For my money, he remains one of thee great Batman writers. For what it's worth he co-authored the famous Knightfall storyline that Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Rises is partially based on. By that time he was a master craftsman who easily balanced words with pictures and allowed the characters to dictate the story. At this early stage in his career, he was out of his mind, and I mean that in the best way possible. 

He came up in comics through the skinflint Warren Publishing company where he penned numerous tales of the bizarre and the macabre in the pages of Eerie and Creepy magazines before finding a home at Marvel and subsequently pigeonholed there as "the horror guy". One supposes he felt the pressure or the need to keep upping the stakes in his increasingly weird tales. After the invention of Doctor Glitternight, those stakes would never get higher, not on Werewolf By Night anyway. The series wasn't long for this world after this point though.

It was 1975, the horror fad at Marvel was dying down to a quiet murmur and I imagine Moench was looking for a way out of his typecast anyway. He had just been given the keys to the new Inhumans series with new artist George Perez and it seems he was focusing more on that. By the time Inhumans hit the shelves this storyline was already in the bag and though the Glitternight story is arguably the pinnacle of this series, the fall that came after was precipitous indeed. Unfortunately, both the Inhumans and Werewolf By Night series would peter out within the course of the next two years.

But it turned out, he had already given himself a way out of the horror zone and found a way in to more mainstream superhero comics to increase the longevity of his career. Five issues after this one, Moench introduced a superhero into the pages of Werewolf, his name was Moon Knight and he was a corporate sponsored vigilante. By the time he was given his own series just a few years later, he was a Lamont Cranston / The Shadow inspired multiple personality with ties to ancient Egypt and enhanced with werewolf infected blood. He remains one of the more intriguing heroes in Marvel's pantheon, but few, if any, writers have gotten him right since Moench left for DC to join the Bat-team.

When the Comics Code Authority eased its restrictions against depicting horror tropes such as vampires, werewolves, zombies and monsters, Marvel Comics jumped in with four feet. Though the trend didn't last long, the company managed to produce some great stories, especially on this series and in the pages of Frankenstein's Monster. This issue in particular is a true highlight of their efforts.

WHAT ELSE WERE THE KIDS UP TO BACK THEN?
After getting the creeps from reading Werewolf By Night it was time for a breather. It was time for something uplifting. Savvy audiences might then have turned to this album:



RUSH - FLY BY NIGHT
Rush's second album is a bit of a transition. They were about half a year away from releasing the 'Caress of Steel' album which featured a bit of more of what would come to be recognized as the Rush sound with moodier numbers and the ubiquitous side-long prog suites. 'Fly By Night' is a straight up hard rock album with mostly short, fast-moving numbers and is arguably more focused in its aims. The inclusion of the 8-minute mini-suite "By Tor and the Snowdog" announced that this was a transitional record in many ways.

[Image source]
Rush released their first album the previous summer with original drummer John Rutsey. It sunk with little trace. Part Budgie, part UFO the band appeared destined to fail commercially. Though the rockin' "In The Mood" and somewhat doom-y closing track "Working Man" are among the band's best numbers and with an incentive laced Canadian Content (MAPL) system in place, Canadian radio stations found it easy to ignore their native sons. It took a DJ from Cleveland named Donna Halper to discover the band and help them re-write the history of Canadian rock music. 'Fly By Night' was drummer / lyricist Neil Peart's first outing with the band giving Rush their signature pausiness. It was also Peart's love of fantasy and sci-fi that lent the band their trademark lyrical mysticism.

Rush wouldn't come to international prominence until a year and two albums later with '2112'.

But after absorbing the latest album from this emerging Canadian prog trio, it was time to watch a little TV. Flipping through the channels, the savvy viewer would have landed on ABC's Movie of the Week. Tuesday March 4, 1975 the movie was Trilogy of Terror, a three-part anthology of Richard Matheson stories, all starring Karen Black and directed by Dan Curtis.

Richard Matheson is most remembered as a writer for the original Twilight Zone television show and as the writer of such novels as I Am Legend (a personal favorite and partial inspiration for Night of the Living Dead), Hell House and The Shrinking Man. He was also an elite short story writer, his Shock series alone (4 volumes) is a must-read for genre fans. While his novels were often dark and poignant, his stories were crisp, sharp and sardonic, sometimes even silly. The stories featured in Trilogy of Terror were of the latter variety, though you wouldn't notice at first glance through director Curtis's dark interpretation.

This made-for-TV movie is best known for the third and final segment, "Amelia", which was an adaptation of Matheson's "Prey" (found in the Shockwaves or Shock IV collection). The story is about a woman who buys a Zuni fetish doll as a gift. When the doll comes to life and attacks her with spear, razor-sharp teeth and crazed, but fixed expression it is truly frightening. Jon Niccum of the Lawrence Journal-World wrote that this segment was "arguably the scariest piece ever crafted under the made-for-TV label." Trilogy of Terror deserves a special place among made-for-TV horror lore, along with the original Don't Be Afraid of the Dark for having memorable, possibly even traumatizing scenes of a totally supernatural origin.

The first two segments aren't nearly as memorable as "Amelia", though they're quite good. However, they are opening acts at best, the headliner is well worth the wait. You can watch the whole film below: