Saturday, 28 February 2015

COMICS SUCK! - Afterlife With Archie #7 (February 2015)

NOW - February 2015
Cover artwork by Francesco Frankavilla.
"Dear Diary"
By Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (w); Francesco Frankavilla (a, c) & Jack Morelli (l)
Never in my life did I imagine I would become an Archie fan. No, not never ever. But when I found out that Francesco Frankavilla was doing a series called Afterlife with Archie, my ears perked up after a brief initial bout of disgust and disappointment. What do you mean "After" life with Archie? This could be good, and with one of my favorite artists under center, hell, this could be great!

Long story short, it is.

Comics dealers can't keep these issues on the shelves and the book consistently sells out at my local shops. Archie Comics has had to do multiple printings multiple times to fulfill demand (including this issue) and a mint condition, first print copy of issue 1 (only a little over a year old) will easily fetch ~$80. So what's so special about it?

It's just fun, this is the funnest thing out there in comics today. The art is over the top greatness personified. Like Jim Starlin before him, Frankavilla does his own colors as well as inks and the results are a stunning display of a singular vision from one of the strongest artists in comics today. From his sense of design down to his color palette, each page is a separate, standalone, gallery quality work of art. His stark style is punctuated by thick layers of orange and purple hues to hammer home that playful Halloween spirit while staying true to the horror of what's presented.

Art and colors by Frankavilla.
The story is fun too. This is going to sound like a dig, but the story and the images chosen to tell it are a patchwork of cliches, tropes, pastiche and things remembered in the flickering glow of the television. It's not really horror. That is to say, it's about as horror, it's as much intended to scare as Halloween. Which is to say not much. Because the thing is, it's just fun. There's much to be said about zombie Jughead (Jugdead) shambling toward "camera", arms out, crown akimbo. Is it scary? Not really. But is it cool, some kind of sick wish fulfillment given life (or death)? Absolutely. All of that said, there are moments that thrill. It's hard to believe I'm actually saying these things about an Archie comic, yet here we are.

This particular issue is Part 2 of the second storyline, "Betty: R.I.P." The first 5-issue storyline, "Escape From Riverdale" was a love letter to classic zombie films, particularly those of George Romero: while barricaded and shuttered from the outside world, the quirky teens of Riverdale discover only too late that the threat comes from within. Parts of "Betty: R.I.P." are clearly an homage to H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos, particularly the Innsmouth cycle. This issue in particular stands alone, which is another plus mark considering how long readers had to wait for it to come out. It's about Betty re-writing her now destroyed diary from memory and it's got heart.

The one flaw of this book, and it's a major flaw, is that it's published so sporadically. Only 5 issues were released all of last year. This issue is the follow up to one cover dated October 2014. And yet, what sacrifice would readers be willing to make? Frankavilla's artwork is as gorgeous as anything out there and it seems the production of it is painstaking. Afterlife With Archie is probably not for everyone, for those with a love for the fun aspects of Halloween, this series is ESSENTIAL READING.

Top Albums for 02/28/15

Top 25 Albums
#). artist - album title
  1. Kabbalah - Primitve Stone EP
  2. Pombagira - Flesh Throne Press***
  3. Crowned in Earth - Metempsychosis
  4. Alucarda - Raw Howls
  5. Misty Grey - Grey Mist
  6. Lord of Doubts - Into the Occult
  7. Evil Spirit - Caulron Messiah
  8. Hands of Orlac - Figli Del Crepuscolo
  9. John Carpenter - Lost Themes*
  10. Strange Broue - Various EP's
  11. Zoltan - Tombs of the Blind Dead EP*
  12. Queen Crescent - Self-Titled***
  13. Patrick Bruss - The Gorgon's Gallery
  14. Doomraiser - Reverse
  15. Occultation - Silence in the Ancestral House
  16. Goat Wizard - Self-Titled
  17. Phantomass - Self-Titled
  18. Saturnalia Temple - To The Other***
  19. Widow & Children Self-Titled
  20. Shepherd - Stereolithic Riffalocalypse
  21. Acid King - Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere***
  22. Burning Saviours - Unholy Tales from the North*
  23. Evil Invaders - Pulses of Pleasure*
  24. Taken By the Sun - Self-Titled
  25. Bretus - The Shadow Over Innsmouth
*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

Thursday, 26 February 2015

EVIL INVADERS - Pulses of Pleasure (Album Review)

Every now and then an album comes out of the blue and surprises you. I wasn't expecting much when I came across the new Evil Invaders album, I wasn't expecting anything really, and it floored me. I tend to focus on stoner rock and doom metal when it comes to new music and Evil Invaders isn't that. They're a throwback band, rooted in the mid-80's era of freewheelin' thrash. It was a time when genre boundaries were being erected, but were small enough to look over to the other side, when metal was just metal, not specific sub-types. It was a time when bands were carving out their own niche and creating their own legend. This Belgian quartet comes from that iconoclastic mold-breaking state of mind.

The first thing you're likely to notice is the rubber burning riffery of the opening measures of "Fast, Loud n Rude" (see video below). The song works like the introductory abstract to a thesis paper. "On this album, this is what you should expect" and the outline is executed to perfection. Evil Invaders are often categorized as Speed Metal, but as I mentioned earlier, it's so much more than that. There is technical excellence and breakneck speeds on display but what remains is the feel, the mood of the album. It's a stiff finger in the face of any self-proclaimed authority that would impose any kind of limitation on the band.

The second thing you're likely to notice about this band are the crazy vocals of axe-wielding frontman Joe. There's nothing understated about this band. Every performance is a tour de force, every act is death-defying and that spirit is embodied in those vocals. They sit on the high end and take flights of fancy nearly every line of every verse. Far from being annoying or showy, Joe is the musical soul brother of those early metal vocalists. The overall throwback style also places Evil Invaders genetically as the faster, more obnoxious (in a great way!) cousins of New York leather-bound metallers Natur and London's Amulet among a host of others. But few if any get that mid-80's metal spirit dead on ... while progressing it, the way Evil Invaders do.

After a self-released a demo appeared in 2009 ('D-emokill') and having recorded a self-titled E.P. for Empire Records back in 2013, this is the band's first full-length album. It will be released by Napalm Records on various dates in different territories over the next couple of days and weeks. Here's your timetable courtesy of the label:

G/A/S/Europe/AUS: 27.02.2015
UK/NO/FR/DK/IT: 02.03.2015
SE/ESP: 04.03.2015
USA/CAN: 10.03.2015

You can pick up the album on CD or vinyl (3 options) at this location.

Rating: «««« / 5

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

COMICS SUCK! - Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (February 2005)

10 YEARS AGO - February 2005
Cover artwork by Barry Kitson.
"And We Are Legion"
By Mark Waid (w); Barry Kitson (p); Mick Gray (i); Chris Blythe (c); Phil Balsman (l) & Stephen Wacker (e)
There was a time when the Legion of Super-Heroes was the Doom Metal of comic books. An outsider's niche within an outsider's world. At a time when any comic fan might be ostracized by the popular kids in high school, the comic fans would ostracize Legion fans. The series was just too weird, too different, there were too many characters and it was all a little too insular. It was also the first DC comic to feature a consistent chronology where the events of one issue spilled over to the next, a storytelling technique that would be capitalized on to much critical acclaim by competitors Marvel Comics. Legion stories were hard sci-fi at a time when the explanation for Superman's powers was that his body reacted differently to Earth's yellow sun than it does near Krypton's own red sun. Yet Legion fandom thrived for decades and across generations, as isolated within their own niche as the Super-Heroes of their beloved Legion were isolated from the rest of the DC universe of characters within their own sliding timeline of 1000 years into its future.

By the late 1980's however, sale were stagnant. The title had been reduced to selling in comic specialty shops alone, no longer sharing market spinner rack space with Batman and Action Comics. Editors devised a plan.

5 Years Later.
The glittering, happy-go-lucky milieu of the Legion of Super-Heroes would give way to a darker vision that  better reflected the mood of the '80's. A new story was developed with many important original elements written out of the team's history in 1989. Set in a gritty, post-apocalyptic "five years later", this new Legion is almost universally despised by Legion fans, to whom the names Tom & Mary Bierbaum (the writers of the series) unfairly bring naught but scorn and evil-eyed mean mugging, if not outright sugar-in-the-gas-tank levels of hatred.

Flash forward to "five years later" in real time, the series was rebooted with issue #62 in late 1994 with the sense of wonder at a hopeful, bright shiny future restored. Although the reboot series was quite good overall and faithful to the original vision of the series, this Legion didn't last, cancelled by issue #125. It was revived in 2001 for 38 issues by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (the writer of the series that inspired the movie Guardians of the Galaxy), which is still my personal favorite "post-5 years later" Legion series, but again failed to find an audience. The niche was growing smaller, there wasn't as much pie to go around to begin with as sales continued to slump across the board, but that didn't mean that the comics publishing giant was willing to give up on this beloved franchise.

Unfortunately, the editors decided to wipe away the entire reboot continuity as well as the original continuity and start all over again from scratch. Fans call it the "threeboot". As a measure of its effectiveness on readers, all you need to know is the five years later story inspires hatred while the threeboot inspires only mockery. There's nothing that can be said about this issue to redeem it for Legion fans. It features some good writing from one of the great masters of the form, Mark Waid who adroitly plays with Legion lore.

Waid does something very interesting in this issue. He makes a comment about how our technology, that which facilitates conversation across distances is encroaching on more intimate interactions, and he does it in an interesting way. We see a conversation taking place, two characters taking to each other's floating head on a glowing screen. As the "camera" zooms out, we start to see word balloons cut off by the page's edge, repeated from elsewhere on the page. First, you think it's some kind of mistake of the printing process. Then we flip the page for the big reveal that both participants are actually speaking to each other through devices while standing back to back in the same room. The scene works on a ridiculous amount of levels.

But no matter how interesting the storytelling was, there was no way fans were going to embrace the second hard reboot of their beloved series in just barely over 10 years. However it was intended to go, this series eventually went the way of all things Legion. It was, like all series that came before it, later wiped from continuity at the whim of editors.

After posting online memes about the latest George W. Bush assault on the English language and trying out the newly rebooted Legion of Super-Heroes comics, the increasingly disaffected youth of the '00's pirated digital copies of this album:

HIGH ON FIRE - Blessed Black Wings
To flashback to 2005, we're going to have to flash forward to 2012. High on Fire was my gateway drug. In early 2012 I started thinking about my old heavy metal favorites from back when I was in high school: Metallica, Pantera, nothing fancy. I wanted to hear them again but I'd pawned off my CD's a decade earlier. So I started watching youtube videos for "Am I Evil?" and "Walk" among others. On the sidebar were a list of suggested videos. High on Fire's "Rumors of War" came up.

High on Fire circa 2005 [Image source]
But let us flashback even further than 2005. I didn't stay with metal after high school because it was becoming increasingly homogeneous. Black metal and death metal is not my thing and never has been, and since that stuff dominated, and because I didn't have access to a resource like the internet to find hidden gems and underground bands, I just stuck with my old favorites and left the new stuff alone. Eventually, my tastes changed, I always preferred heavy music, but 60's and 70's psychedelic rock caught the attentions of my wandering ear and I had moved on.

The "Rumors of War" video came up on youtube and I clicked. I braced myself for phony vocals and blast beats ... but what I heard was a riff. A good, heavy riff, then some intense, but not showy drumming. Add in a crooked tooth and I was blown away.

So, I looked into the band. It turns out they were considered to be part of a heavy metal subgenre called "doom metal", which sounded both ridiculous and awesome at the same time. I read about this so-called "doom metal" and I liked what I was seeing. "A whole genre of music dedicated to sounding like Black Sabbath?" I was ready to dive in.

But I hit a snag. The bands I tried first, Solitude Aeternus, Candlemass and My Dying Bride, just didn't make it for me. I didn't like the vocals. At least I'd found High on Fire. It wouldn't be until I saw a video interview with Phil Anselmo where he talked about Witchfinder General, Trouble and Saint Vitus and I went to the trouble to check those bands out that I had found for my ears the love of their life. It was from that point on that I dedicated myself to finding more of these kinds of bands, both old and brand new.

'Blessed Black Wings' was High on Fire's third album. Though Matt Pike (guitar, vocals, ex-Sleep) and Des Kensel (drums) had still yet to find a solid bass player, this album has that identifiable take-no-prisoners, keep-your-foot-planted-on-their-throats sound that the band is known for. 'Blessed Black Wings' is a particularly raging album even for this band whose music is often compared to something a caveman would make.

Also out this same month was an album from another new band of former members of underground legends, Sleep. Al Cisneros and drummer Chris Hakius's new band OM released their first album, called 'Variations on a Theme' on February 15, 2005. It doesn't get much more opposite to caveman music than this as OM picked up where Sleep left off with three long songs and a cemented-to-the-couch vibe. Both albums are excellent, but each occupies its own respective niche, on opposite sides of the heavy planet (just a subtle plug for you).

But after sassing Dubyuh online, reading DC's attempt at a Legion of Super-Heroes threeboot and illegally downloading 'Blessed Black Wings' it was time for a night out. It was time to hit the multiplex theater and catch Saw .,,

But, I don't want to talk about Saw because also out in the world 10 years ago today was another film, the first in producer Takashige Ichise's J-Horror Theater series, Infection, directed by Masayuki Ochiai. With the success of The Ring and Dark Water, Japanese filmmakers were encouraged to keep a steady buzz going to showcase their weird iconoclasm.

The film is in Japanese with English subtitles and the basically silent trailer that was made for English speaking audiences shows the difficulty of conveying a story with just images. There isn't a comics storyteller alive who can't identify with this struggle. You can watch it here.

Monday, 23 February 2015

TAKEN BY THE SUN - Self-Titled (Album Review)

Incredible cover artwork by Nick Keller.
It's not everyday you come across a band that describes their music as "Post-Metal / Jazz / Doom / Ambient Sludge", so it's with a high level of awareness that you approach Chicago's Taken By the Sun. You just know you're going to either love the music ... or despise it deeply and passionately.

Taken By the Sun's self-titled debut is progressive in the truest sense, it speaks the language of stoner and doom metal but invents new phrases, crashing the borders of both extreme and post-metal styles along the way. The patchwork monster of sounds and styles isn't entirely unlike what a Neurosis would produce with the "kitchen sink metal" sensibilities of Philip H. Anselmo & the Illegals thrown in. You may hear an odd-time hammer slam of a drum beat with a haunting melody plucked away in the background before the two elements switch places of prominence. You might hear dry throat cries mingling with melodic vocals atop a choppy chaotic sea of noise, before the entire structure solidifies and girders itself with a stoner riff.

But apart from what sounds familiar, there are times you will hear things on this album you've never heard before, like the soaking wet modulating bass tone of the incredible "Red" or the "bone-dance" riffing in parts of "Volatile". The magnum opus of this first outing would have to be the closing track "Ornaflux", which was premiered over at the terrific Sludgelord blog. You can listen to that track at this location. It's a good introduction to the band, it shows what they're all about, a bludgeoning attack buffeted by polyrhythms, around the world melding of styles a head-sploding chaotic chorus and it just so happens to be a great song to boot. It's incredible when you hear it to think that the album was recorded live with minimal overdubs.

This all might sound like direction-less nonsense, but that's my words failing, not the band. The styles in the utility belt may clash, but each is used in its proper place. This band is Batman. The raw elements of sound are then re-combined in novel ways, by finding just the right mixture to create a powerful new beast never before glimpsed by man. This band is Mr. Hyde.

The album goes live on Taken By the Sun's bandcamp page tomorrow, February 24.

Rating: «««« / 5

Sunday, 22 February 2015

SATURNALIA TEMPLE - To The Other (Album Review)

Cover artwork by Manuel Tinnemans & Michael Idehall.
Saturnalia Temple first caught my attention when I heard the delay-beset title track from their 'Aion of Drakon'. I've been mildly obsessed with the album ever since. It's such a unique sounding song and really the whole record is like that. It's only later you find out the band doesn't play "shows", they play "rituals" and that they take their noggin-exploding quite seriously. It only makes their efforts all the more impressive: it's one thing to stumble upon a unique and awesome sound, it's another to make a conscious effort to reach for the moon and scrape blue cheese dust off your fingertips when you're done.

Saturnalia Temple has returned with their second full-length album. The first thing I noticed is that it's not as experimental as 'Aion ...' which gives 'To The Other' a more streamlined and focused feel. Maybe it's because of the absence of the delay effect on the vocals, which has been a staple of the band. It really makes things disorienting, in a good way, and lends the music the elan of a sleazy drug trip. I didn't notice any vocal effects at all on this record, and it gives things a cleaned-up feel.

If you haven't heard Saturnalia Temple in a while you forget just how heavy they are, this album will remind you. Despite any streamlining, their distinctive blending of expansive space rock adornments with evil vibes and void-black riffs ensures they remain one of the more memorable bands from Stockholm or anywhere else on the planet. The closest to 'Aion ...' the band ventures is album closer "Void", which makes smart use of delay and repeat effects to bring the spookiness to cacophonous levels.

They don't put releases out one after another, this is just the band's second full-length album in nearly 10 years of existence and first in four years, but when they speak I listen. Saturnalia Temple isn't the kind of band to waste even a second of their record or your time, if they do something you better believe it's to achieve a particular effect. They can have such tight control over their output and still sound wild and free ... and that can be a double edged sword.

I'm not sure exactly how the album was recorded, but it doesn't feel like it was recorded live with everybody all jamming in the same room. It just doesn't have the loose, improvisational feel of earlier recordings. Main man Tommie and full-time bassist Peter are aided and abetted on 'To The Other' by American drummer Tim Call of the black metal band The Howling Wind and funeral doom band Aldebaran among others. He's a prolific recording artist in his own right having drummed on well over a half dozen records from different bands in the past couple years. He also played with Saturnalia Temple on their brief American excursion in 2013. One thing is clear, when you compare 'To The Other' to their original 'Ur' demo, you hear immediately how far this band has come.

But, it's hard to say a more polished-sounding Saturnalia Temple is a better Saturnalia Temple, and yet 'To The Other' is still a terrific album.

I'm skeptical of anything released in the first quarter or even half of the year ending up on year end lists because music people have the memory of goldfish. That's not a harsh criticism, art is inherently disposable, it's more ephemeral than clothing for example, and less utilitarian. But I'd still be surprised if this album didn't end up on more than just a couple year end lists.

'To The Other' is available to order right now at the links provided below, and will begin shipping out tomorrow, February 23.

Rating: ««««½ / 5

Order the album:

Saturday, 21 February 2015

DOOM CHART - Top 25 Albums for 02/21/15

Top 25 Albums
#). artist - album title
  1. Crowned in Earth - Metempsychosis
  2. Pombagira - Flesh Throne Press***
  3. Kabbalah - Primitve Stone EP
  4. Alucarda - Raw Howls
  5. Hands of Orlac - Figli Del Crepuscolo
  6. Evil Spirit - Caulron Messiah
  7. John Carpenter - Lost Themes*
  8. Strange Broue - Various EP's
  9. Zoltan - Tombs of the Blind Dead EP*
  10. Misty Grey - Grey Mist
  11. Lord of Doubts - Into the Occult
  12. Patrick Bruss - The Gorgon's Gallery
  13. Occultation - Earthbound EP
  14. Goat Wizard - Self-Titled
  15. Phantomass - Self-Titled
  16. Widow & Children Self-Titled
  17. Queen Crescent - Self-Titled***
  18. Shepherd - Stereolithic Riffalocalypse
  19. Doomraiser - Reverse
  20. Burning Saviours - Unholy Tales from the North*
  21. Spectral Haze - I.E.V.: Transmutated Nebula Remains*
  22. Galleon - Self-Titled
  23. Obrero - The Infinite Corridors of Time
  24. Acid King - Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere***
  25. Saturnalia Temple - To The Other***
*Album available on itunes
** Streaming only
*** Pre-order only
† Available on cassette only
 Available on vinyl and cassette only
† Available on vinyl only

ALBUM Spotlight on:
GOAT WIZARD – ‘Self-Titled’
This album's been circulating for a while now. Goat Wizard's self-titled album has been out there for about six months and I'm continually horrified by how little response it's gotten. This is the unfortunate album that proves presentation is 9/10ths of an album sale. At a time when fatigue is setting in for many of the cliches adorning stoner rock culture, especially the use of the words "wizard" and "goat" in band names, this excellent band calls themselves Goat Wizard and releases their self-titled debut. That might have been a mis-step.

A fuzz by any other name would be as thick, but alas, this is a materialistic culture that collectively refuses to look past the surface of things. Had they called themselves "The Generic Stoner Band" they might have come across further, but their sound is so much more than a name implies.

First and foremost is an attention to songwriting. The music here is anything but lazy or half-assed. It's uproarious, and though it's not the most entirely revolutionary album you'll ever hear, it's infectious as hell. "Nosferatu" and "Devil's Claw" have been burning up my personal charts since Christmas and I'm still listening to the whole album from time to time. I've included each of those songs on the accompanying podcast to this site, you can find "Nosferatu" at this location and "Devil's Claw" at this location.

When I picked this up (again, around Christmas time) it included a bonus, seventh track called "Dragon Sword", which is the equal of any of the other six tracks though the mood of it is slightly different so I suppose the band didn't feel it fit in with the rest of the album. It doesn't look like that track is still included with the album download, but that's the price of snoozing. There's still time to download the album from bandcamp, however. Just click the link listed above (#14 on the chart) and give it a listen. Throw your biases and pre-conceived notions out the window, Goat Wizard isn't run of the mill stoner / doom rock, it's a cut above. The only thing cliched about it is the band name, unfortunately. Then again, they make no illusions as to what you will hear. No joke, this album kicks ass.

Friday, 20 February 2015


“Do you want to be the kid that gets picked on
or the kid that gets in trouble?”

[Image source]
I've been curmudgeonly about new films for about a decade now for the same reason that I was driven back in time by music. The stuff that gets promoted is crap, it's that simple. But three years ago I stumbled into a tomb of wonders called bandcamp. It's a place for new independant bands to share and sell their music. It's a place where artists are free to exploit their own creative vision free from corporate restraints. Recently, I've challenged myself to tap a similar vein for underground filmmakers. I have this crazy notion that there's a world of worthwhile auteurs out there that you won't find in theaters. In my imagination, these freewheeling visionaries do what they want, take no prisoners and do it on a shoestring budget. The problem is, there's no bandcamp for filmmakers, not one that I know of anyway. Youtube could have been it, Vimeo tries to be it, but as of this writing I've yet to find the "filmcamp" website. Not too big a problem though, you've just got to dig. Finding great bands on bandcamp is a gold rush, finding great underground horror films is a scavenger hunt.

Probably the biggest prized piece of that hunt has been the movie Found (stylized as found.). Based on the novel by Todd Rigney, Found is the coming of age story about an adolescent boy whose older brother is a serial killer. Marty (played by Gavin Brown) suffers constant abuse from everyone around him. His only solace is making comic books and watching horror movies (as if that doesn’t sound familiar!). He goes into  his brother Steve (Ethan Philbeck)’s room when he’s not around and goes through his stuff. He already knows about the severed heads in bowling bags in the closet and likes to pull those out to have a look at, but the real hidden treasure is in Steve’s VHS collection. Replace “severed heads” with “skin rags” and “VHS” with “comic books” and Rigney and director Scott Schirmer (co-screenwriters) have just basically described my childhood.

In one cool scene Marty plays his brother’s tape deck and a scorching rendition of Eyehategod’s “Sister Fucker” blasts out courtesy of a band called Racebannon. You can find the complete soundtrack, including Racebannon’s contributions at this location.

But thee forbidden prize of them all comes in the form of the ‘Headless’ VHS tape. It shows a depraved film with no story, told from a maniacal, costumed killer’s point of view. The Headless movie ends up being the only thing that truly motivates each brother to take charge of their own lives and put their respective feet down to end the abuse, even if it means getting into trouble in the process. For Marty it’s a mostly negative process, for Steve, it’s an entirely negative one.

There’s really no avoiding it, if you want to live your own life on your own terms, you WILL get in trouble. In some ways there’s just no winning in life and this film doesn’t flinch from that reality. In some ways it can be seen as having a nihilistic or pessimistic point of view. Well, it IS a horror picture. But I don’t see it that way. It’s a sophisticated look at a brutal, capital T Truth.

The end of the film is as brutal and uncompromising as it gets. There’s no going back, there’s no classic happy ending and yet there is survival. Is that not a happy ending? One supposes it would have to be in a movie this stark. Found isn’t a nihilistic movie, it’s an existential one. It’s a cost / benefit analysis for sticking up for yourself, and the response is equivalent to the depth of one’s suffering.

More importantly, it’s a good movie. The violence and gore is mostly off-screen, though you’d never know it thinking back because of the unflinching use of sound. Most, if not all of the bloody violence takes place in the film-within-a-film, Headless. Director Scott Schirmer set up an ultimately successful crowd-funding campaign to bring Headless to life in its own right. Headless is already being called “a feature length gore fest” and if the scenes in Found are any indication, that ain’t just hype. There’s a teaser trailer up for it and it looks like pure sleaze. It should be good. You can watch the teaser at this location.

Found is available on DVD, iTunes, Xbox, Google Play and Amazon instant video.

Rating: ««««½ / 5

Reminds me of: Childhood

Found on IMDb
Found wiki
Found on Rotten Tomatoes

COMICS SUCK! - Azrael #1 (February 1995)

20 YEARS AGO - February 1995
Cover artwork by Barry Kitson
AZRAEL #1 (DC Comics)
"Some Say in Fire ..."
By Dennis O'Neil (w, e); Barry Kitson (p); James Pascoe (i); Demetrias Bassoukos (c) & Ken Bruzenak (l)

It's the series no one demanded and was destined to failure, but somehow eked out a respectable existence. You remember how it all started, it was big news that transcended the comics world. Not two years after killing off Superman, DC Comics had literally crippled the Bruce Wayne. But a little thing like a broken back wouldn't stop the Batman. In Bruce Wayne's absence, a new character, John Paul Valley was drafted to take the mantle of the bat. Before long, JPV Batman established that he had a longer-term solution to crime, namely, killing the bad guys. This all took place in the now legendary Knightfall storyline. I was in Grade 7 at the time and was fully against the whole idea, knowing it was a crass marketing scam and that the company would bring back Bruce Wayne eventually. Even as a 12 year old, I wasn't fooled. But I've since read the entire Knightfall story and I've got to say it's excellent. This is one of the few instances where my 12 year old self was wrong.

If it does nothing else, Knightfall answers the question "why doesn't Batman simply kill his villains since they keep coming back?" I love that the editors addressed this "elephant in the room" head-on and showed that the answer to this question is not only obvious, but essential to one of the most enduring fictional characters of the 20th century.

In the aftermath of the story, John Paul Valley was despised by fans. He needed to be, he was designed that way. Ultimately, he was a patsy.

It wasn't long however, before the editors of the Batman family of books realized they had an intriguing character on their hands and gave him a title of his own. Though murderous, he had a disturbing innocent quality and was at heart, a demon-haunted "good guy" fighting the good fight, albeit in a misguided way.

Because DC tapped Dennis O'Neil, one of the greatest writers in the history of the medium, to pen the character's solo tales, the book slowly, grudgingly found a minority audience and survived for a surprising 100 issues. By this time, JPV was once again going by his original name of Azrael, after losing the mantle of the bat in combat with a recovered Bruce Wayne. Azrael was an agent of the Order of St. Dumas, a shadowy organization with ties to both Catholicism and the occult. JPV had been raised as a regular kid in America but had been the victim of psychic driving to implant in his mind the combat techniques that would make him nearly the equal of Batman. The process had also driven him mad.

The first issue re-established O'Neil's methodology of continuous 5-issue story arcs that he had introduced six years earlier on Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight. The story begins with JPV as a drifter fantasizing that he is still a costumed vigilante. When he protects a newfound friend from a random attack, he mentally dons the red and gold garb of Azrael and refrains from killing the assailants. But he can no longer distinguish between fantasy and reality and when the thugs return to set fire to the homeless shelter he is staying at, he convinces himself to ignore the flames, thinking them another hallucination.

By issue 5, the final chapter in the opening "Fallen Angel" storyline, he is slowly learning to adjust, motivated by protective feelings towards another newfound ally, Sister Lilhy who he helps escape the manipulative clutches of the Order of St. Dumas. Although incredibly emotionally immature, Azrael must help look after Lilhy, who is even worse off than he is. Neither are equipped to deal with society.

With issue 47, in an attempt to boost sales and tie Azrael more closely to the larger Batman universe, the series was re-titled Azrael - Agent of the Bat. It's a testament to the strength of O'Neil's writing that this hated character even found an audience to begin with. He wrote all 100 regular issues of the title and the issue #1,000,000 special.

After taking a chance on a new title for a hated character, the surly youth of 1995 undoubtedly marched into their local CD shop to sample the weird and riffy sounds from a new and angry band:

I wasn't around for this. I wish I had been, this album would have blown my little mind sky high-ee-igh and six feet under. Though Electric Wizard's debut can tend to sound slight and polite when compared to later albums 'Dopethrone' and 'Come My Fanatics', in February 1995 this must have been the heaviest thing those lucky few who found it had ever heard.

The trademark riff-laden sound of the band was already firmly in place, but the production is cleaner than what fans may have later come to expect. This is written in the perspective of one who found them much later, of course. But that cleanliness focuses the spotlight on Jus Oborne and co.'s Black Sabbath worship. A song like "Behemoth" makes that crystal clear. Few have managed to play in Tony Iommi's sandbox and come out as filthy.

The highlights don't end there of course. "Stone Magnet", "Mourning Prayer" and my personal favorite "Devil's Bride" (see video above) also showcase Oborne's Hammer Films, and exploitation cinema sensibilities. Later on, the use of film clips would become a staple of the band's atmosphere. They are absent here.

And while they are inarguably one of the bigger names in Doom Metal, and helped to define the style, they are a divisive band. Some of those who don't like the band today, stay loyal to the early records, including this one. But that's what happens when a true visionary artist does what he wants, those who can't keep up get left behind. It wasn't long before Electric Wizard outgrew this album, but for early '95, this is world-melting stuff.

Right. So after fixing their undercuts, inhaling an obscene amount of intoxicants, sampling the latest title from DC Comics and getting ear raped by the first coming of the next generation of heavy, the surly youth of the mid-90's headed to the theater in the local shopping mall to check out the new HBO's Tales from the Crypt movie, Demon Knight. Psh, obviously.

"Come on out everybody, time to play!"

Much like the comic book the show was inspired by, years of gory storytelling were hollowing out the soul of the series. When Demon Knight came out the show was on the verge of being cancelled and the plan moving forward was for the producers to concentrate on a (hopefully) never-ending series of full-length movies of originally stories in the EC Comics spirit, rather than the 20 minute television episodes based on the actual EC Comics stories. Demon Knight was the first of these.

The film was directed by Ernest Dickerson and starred Billy Zane, Jada Pinkett, William Sadler, Brenda Bakke, CCH Pounder, Dick Miller and Thomas Haden Church. It was successful enough to spawn a second film, Bordello of Blood but that spelled the end of things for the Tales from the Crypt crew. But Demon Knight was successful enough with 13-year old me. It was my favorite horror movie of that year and gave everything a little Grade 8 turd like me could handle: demons, possession, tits, explosions, ultraviolence, Jesus blood and some memorably gory deaths.

Those deaths in particular stand out. Some of them were tongue-in-the-heart outrageous, blood spraying like a-teamster-with-his-thumb-on-the-end-of-a-garden-hose gory. This was at the very peak of practical effects. CGI was in its infancy and no one outside of James Cameron could find the budget for it, while practical effects had reached all new levels of sophistication. Which was all too the good. I remember times in particular about sneaking cigarettes, reading Fangoria magazine, my Tales from the Crypt reprints while watching Demon Knight on VHS and just marveling at the magic of special effects wizards like Tom Savini, while thinking of my own possibilities, drawing melting men and skulls, skulls everywhere.

The script was originally written in 1987 and intended to be director Tom Holland's follow-up to Child's Play. After a marathon round through production hell it eventually landed on the desk of producer Joel Silver where it was intended to be the second of a trilogy of Tales from the Crypt spin-off films. Cooler heads decided Demon Knight was the better of the three and so it was put into production ahead of schedule and Grade 8 history was made.

And though Electric Wizard's debut had just been released I wasn't hip enough to catch on to it, but the Demon Knight soundtrack was more than adequate at the time. The standout song from the film was from a brand new band called Filter. As I recall, this was the first anybody had ever heard of the band and how they get their first single into a major motion picture was any teenager's guess at the time. It turns out Richard Patrick is the brother of Robert Patrick who you might remember from Terminator 2 and I'm sure that had more than a little to do with it. The song was "Hey Man Nice Shot" and at the time I loved it. Filter had spun off from Nine Inch Nails and had a bit of that heavy industrial sound to them but with a little more rock n roll to it. On later albums they shit the bed creatively which it turns out is just the thing to propel a band into new heights of popularity. Ahem.

The rest of the soundtrack were no slouches either. "Cemetery Gates" by Pantera, and good tracks from SepulturaMinistry, Machine Head, Rollins Band and that weird band I'd seen on Much Music with the guy with the weird hair, The Melvins. Yeah, that soundtrack was pretty bad ass for its time, although it did thin out in places as various artists soundtracks often do.

Take my word on it, this film loses its power to thrill on subsequent viddies but 20 years ago, I couldn't get enough of it.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

EVERYDAY STRANGE - The True Story that Inspired "The Exorcist"

“Your mother sucks cocks in hell!”
-Regan MacNeil (played by Linda Blair) in The Exorcist

Cottage City, MD - We all know the story, we’ve all seen the movie: priests battle intransigent demon, pea soup is spewed, floors are soiled, Christ compels with heads a-twistin’. Here are the details of the real-life events that inspired the novel, which inspired the movie, The Exorcist.

These are some of the details found in the diary of one of the priests involved in the exorcism.

13-year old “Roland Doe” used to play Ouija board with his “Aunt Tilly”.

On January 15, 1949, dripping noises were heard in his Grandmother’s bedroom. A framed picture of Christ shook on the wall and scratching noises could be heard under the floorboards. The scratching continued every night for 10 nights

On January 26 Aunt Tilly died of multiple sclerosis after which the family experienced three days of peace followed by six nights of squeaking noises on Roland’s bed.

The mother suspected Aunt Tilly’s death had something to do with the unexplained noises. During one episode, Mrs. Doe asked if it was Aunt Tilly making the noises. This was answered with three knocks. Mrs. Doe then asked to confirm it was her with four knocks. Four knocks reported.

The "Doe" Family household.
On February 17, Roland Doe spent the night at the parsonage of Lutheran minister Rev. Schultz. That night, the reverend heard scratching noises and witnessed Roland’s bed vibrating, a chair Roland was sitting in tipped over and a pallet of blankets he was sitting on moved across the floor.

On the night of February 26 and for the next three nights scratch marks appeared on Roland’s body. His parents thought they could make out words in the puffy red markings, but this was not confirmed.

Many of the details of the manifestations are similar to those in the Hornsey Coal Poltergeist story: household objects flying around on their own, a bottle of holy water flew across the room but did not break. But there are other fascinating events described. Roland was removed from his school classroom because his desk was moving around on the floor. Another time a rocking chair Roland sat in spun around. Roland was taken to be baptized and became enraged during the ceremony.

In all, it took 30 attempts for the exorcism to finally take. At the end of each session Roland would issue a stream of profanity laced with Latin phrases. The boy had been shuffled between DC and St. Louis for the duration.

On April 18 the ordeal finally came to an end when Roland’s voice deepened in a masculine tone and commanded the spirits to leave his body in the guise of St. Michael.

After an unnamed minister gave a talk at a public meeting of the Society of Parapsychology describing the Roland Doe story, stories began circulating in Washington, DC and Prince George’s County newspapers. The first such article to appear was credited to Bill Brinkley in the August 10 edition of the Washington Post. It was a tongue-in-cheek account of the reverend’s lecture. By August 20 however, Brinkley sang a slightly different tune. His highly detailed article is what inspired a then 20-year old English major at Georgetown University called William Peter Blatty to write his best-selling novel.

From the first the names and even places were changed, the Doe family was said to live in Mount Rainier. Many of the details of the case were unearthed by researcher Mark Opsasnick, who wrote a very long 5-part article that is well worth the time of anyone interested in finding out more about the background of and true story behind The Exorcist. You can find it at the link in the Sources section below.

All of the above information and most of the newspaper articles and Blatty’s book are taken from the diary mentioned at the beginning of this article. Though the diary references events from January to April, the writer did not meet with the family until March 9. Most of the details come from Roland’s mother, according to witnesses the boy’s father didn’t believe that he was possessed. Make no mistake, this exorcism actually happened but Roland Doe’s head never spun around and he never spewed green sludge (although there was some spitting).

According to eyewitness Father Walter Halloran the boy mimicked the priests when “speaking Latin”, he threw tantrums and yes, even a punch, but he did not possess inhuman strength, or any other inhuman capability. His voice didn’t “really” change. He did not urinate or vomit prodigiously.

What it sounds like is a sensitive and troubled young man momentarily unable to cope with one of the most emotionally intense times in a youngster’s life and being saddled with unwanted attention on top of it. Blatty made hundreds of thousands of dollars off of this story, the producers of the film made that amount many, many times over. I’ve never come across any information regarding Roland Doe seeing a penny from the story, but the one positive in all of this is that the world has allowed him to remain mostly anonymous. 

His real name is out there, you can find it if you look hard enough, but there’s really no need to because he’d just an average person. I feel like I know everything about him and that's just creepy when you think about it. The fact that he’s never revealed himself shows that he is not interested in re-hashing a couple of ill spent months in his early teens, despite the fact that he could have made a tidy profit in doing so.

Whether he is referred to as Roland Doe or Robbie Mannheim or Regan MacNeil doesn’t truly matter, just leave him be and keep his real name out of it. We all make mistakes in our youth, those of us who make the kind of mistakes that lead to multi-million dollar books and pictures deserve our awe and respect.

This very long article turns out to be a very, very good read. One thing make me feel uneasy though. You ever get an inkling you’ve been had? This is probably a coincidence but the author’s name sounds like “Obsess-nik”. He was obsessed with finding out the truth behind this story and the suffix “-nik” describes someone who is attracted to or in the orbit of something like a “sputnik” or “beatnik”. It’s almost enough to inspire an Everyday Strange article in its own right.

The original article that inspired Blatty to write his book:

Monday, 16 February 2015

HORRIBLE NIGHTS - Patrick Bruss - The Gorgon's Gallery

American multi-instrumentalist Patrick Bruss is one half of the horror-inspired death / grind metal band Crypticus. Together, he and Norwegian drummer Brynjar Helgetun have released three full-length albums and a host of E.P.'s and other items. Now, death metal isn't my thing but for Crypticus I can say that what I've heard from the band is better than 95% of the genre, this coming from someone who loves riff-based metal with organ so take that for what it's worth to you. 

But Crypticus is only one outlet for Patrick Bruss's dark imagination. This past October he released a solo eight song E.P. of synth-based horror themes called 'The Gorgon's Gallery'. I've talked at length and I'll continue to talk at length about how it's tough to find good synth-based horror music that isn't dance-y, well 'The Gorgon's Gallery' is exactly what I'm looking for. Matter of fact this is one of the best imaginary horror soundtracks I've heard.

The difference here is that Bruss uses live instruments so that the atmosphere maintains its horrific focus. It's hard to maintain an eerie or creepy feeling when your feet feel like dancing. Horror music should make your feet feel like running or at least stay very, very still so as not to attract attention. Bruss achieves that goal here. It's easy to tell that this horror-inspired music is coming from someone with a heavy metal, rather than a dance music background. The sensibility pays off as you can practically feel the blood pulsating and oozing from the throbbing basslines.

Again, this album is caked with castle dungeon atmosphere. It sets the mind off into secret tunnels and cobwebbed lairs of darkness. If that sounds corny to you, then you're probably not a horror lifer. Bruss is, and it takes a certain sensibility to realize and maintain such moods. But as important the feel is to this E.P., there's memorable themes here. Ultimately, the combination of the two, atmosphere and melody is what brings me back constantly.

Three of my other personal favorite horror-inspired musical projects, Blizaro, Slasher Dave and Werewolves in Siberia also come from musicians with heavy metal backgrounds (although Blizaro is more metal with horror music touches), a fourth of those favorites, Zoltan uses live instruments. The organic quality of live instruments and heavy sensibility of the artist comes together to create perfect horror music so that the sense of menace runs rampant. If I were to try to pinpoint this album on the horror music scale of heaviness it would fall between Blizaro and Slasher Dave. No matter where it lies though, this has been one of the best albums of horror music I've heard and I hope Patrick Bruss continues to do this kind of thing. 

He also did the music for a short film called "For the Team" which you can find at this location.

Rating: «««««/ 5

COMICS SUCK! Marvel Team-Up #150 (February 1985)

30 YEARS AGO - February 1985
Cover artwork by Barry Windsor-Smith.
MARVEL TEAM-UP #150 (Marvel Comics)
"Tis Better to Give!"
By Louise Simonson (w); Greg LaRocque (p); Mike Esposito (i); Janice Chiang (l); Bob Sharen (c) & Danny Fingeroth (e)
This is the tear-soaked final issue of what had been a staple at Marvel Comics for well over a decade. The Spider-Man featured team-up book where every month the editors would trot out another slumping or rising hero in an effort to boost sales company-wide. I never understood their appeal as a child, but I could see why Marvel Team-Up and it's The Thing featured companion, Marvel Two-In-One could inspire some of the nostalgia I see today. It being the final issue it feels like Marvel wanted to let the world know what it was potentially missing out on by teaming Spidey with the X-Men. Either that or it was one last ditch attempt at a re-coup. Were the X-Men popular in 1985? I don't know what it was like where you lived but I couldn't find an X-Men comic on shelves during the 80's and early 90's outside of comics specialty shops, they were sold out everywhere.

The story kicks off with Spidey/Peter Parker in another of his endless awkward situations of flirting with girls while trying to maintain his secret identity. The gaiety is eventually interrupted when Juggernaut drops in to town, from a plane, without a parachute, to retrieve a second gem of the Cyttorak (that thing what gives him his power) to give to his buddy Black Tom Cassidy. Black Tom then gains the same powers as Juggernaut (invulnerability, super-strength) but is unhappy with how the power changes him. The two brawl in the streets causing millions of dollars in property damage which was par for the course in 1980's Marvel Manhattan. Spidey's there to snap pictures and get beat on until he points his eyes toward the heavens and shouts "DEUS EX MACHINA!" and the X-Men show up to save the day. Okay, he doesn't actually shout that, but that's basically what happens. The series ends when Petey discovers he's sent the wrong photos to the Daily Bugle, sending the creep stalker pics he took of his attractive young roof-dwelling sunbathing neighbors. But it ends well with approval from his editor Robbie Robertson. If nothing else, it is kind of funny to see a dejected Spidey sulking away in the upper left hand info box on the cover.

This series had some highlights (the short Chris Claremont / John Byrne creative run for one thing), but was mostly for the dogs. Many of the stories simply fell flat, or seemed inconsequential, not the least of which was a Spider-Man team-up with the cast of Saturday Night Live. Mostly, the title was a showcase for emerging artists but was usually the home of the company's least inspired writing. This issue marked the end of an era, however. Marvel Comics has tried repeatedly to revive the team-up format in the ensuing 30 years with little success.

After reading their translated copy of Marvel Team-Up #150, the cooler kids among the Italian youth of 1985 probably went out to the local record shop and snagged themselves a copy of this unheralded gem:

It's only thanks to the good people at Shadow Kingdom Records that I am able to accurately cast my mind back to 1985 Italy and know what record the youth of that time would have devoured. This totally obscure album was re-issued by SKR on CD in late 2011, the original, 7-song 'Land of Mystery' album re-packaged with the band's fifth independently issued demo from later in 1985. You can purchase and download it at this location.

The album was recorded in May & June of 1985 but since nobody remembers the actual release date I'm using poetic license in this post about February 1985 and anyway, I couldn't find a better album from that month of that year, so here we are.

This highly atmospheric album is a doom metal classic. Near as anyone can figure, Black Hole was the first band to combine horror film soundtrack moods with heavy metal. The result is a stunning record full of synthesizer organ and heavy guitars. Robert Measles's vocals are sung in English but he has a thick Italian accent, reminding me of early Doomraiser albums.

If the title track "Land of Mystery" doesn't automatically transport you mentally to a dew shrouded graveyard, your ears are broken. Not since Black Sabbath's eponymous debut had record buyers fell into such a dark, heavy abyss. I talk a lot about horror music on this page, or at least I try to, this album is one of the transcendent examples of the form.

After 'Land of Mystery' was released by Bologna Rock Records, the band would split up. Black Hole also released three demos in 1985, but it's hard to tell which came first, this record or the demos because there are no release dates. Anyway, the band would reconvene and record a second full length record in 1988-89 but that album did not surface until Andromeda Relix Records released it on CD as 'Living Mask' in 2000 (it was also issued for the first time on vinyl just last year by Jolly Roger Records). By that time the band was ten years gone and their place in doom metal history as a shadowy relic was firmly entrenched.

But after thoroughly frightening themselves with the final issue of Marvel Team-Up and being only slightly less disturbed by Black Hole's album, I'm sure the coolest among Italian youth needed a break from all the darkness and so decided to go the local movie house to see the new Terry Gilliam film, Brazil.

It's a weird mash-up of re-imagining George Orwell's 1984 with Mad Max set in an office building imagery. A (hilarious) dream of flying turned bureaucratic nightmare, Brazil is one of the most singular visions in movie history, which cemented Gilliam's place in Hollywood as an a-list creative genius, but a z-list commercial failure. Brazil stars Jonathan Pryce, Robert De Niro, Kim Greist, Michael PalinKatherine Helmond, Bob Hoskins, and Ian Holm. Watch the trailer below: