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Hammer of Darkness revisited

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I don’t always re-publish decade-old album reviews. But when I do it’s usually for a really good cause. For a few years I reviewed albums for Roberto Martinelli, the soul behind the dulcimer-centric Bay Area black metal project Botanist. I discovered some crazy-good, new music during a very dark and unhappy period of my life. Most of this music sticks with me today. I am still open to new soundscapes and new experiences. Enjoy while we can. NOTE: “Power Means Death Power” is still my ringtone – hey, it’s got to get my attention, somehow.

AMMIT – Hammer of Darkness – CD – Displeased Records – 2005

Chilean It-Man Ammit is HEREBY PROCLAIMED to be the new Bob Dylan of black thrash – a polarizing figure; abhorred by some, deified by others. This listener is a new convert to the latter faction (paradoxically, she cannot stand Bob Dylan). (whew! – ed)

See, early on in the 1980’s, Venom and Bathory marked the nether-region of just how far people were willing to go with their metal. Many preferred to stop at Thin Lizzy, Budgie, or U.F.O. Others explored only so far as Motorhead. The nether-regions were not to be trifled with, however, much less listened to, unless you were willing to go all the way. A few years along, Hellhammer and Sodom conquered that nether-region.

Now, with extremity languishing as a very subjective term, from Opeth to Sublime Cadaveric Decomposition and back, the preponderance of bands, styles, and subgenres makes it very difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Hammer of Darkness, Ammit’s second full-length, may surprise those familiar with his previous output. Admittedly, the Mass Suicide / Steel Inferno CD lost this listener after only a few spins – it felt too larval; it needed more time in the oven. But Ammit’s new release treads the gargantuan step that catapulted Venom from Welcome to Hell to Black Metal, from relatively meh to TOTAL FUCKING CLASSIC.

This latest CD is a new black dawn for South American metal, a platter of pure, steaming, diarrhea-soaked nastiness – in terms of extremity, yet coupled with accessibility (the production is crystal clear), Ammit is unmatched so far in this year of 2005.

To start with, Ammit introduces this less-than-forty minute demon with “Pure Infernal Fire,” a minimalist, pounding, Melvins-y, layered chant that is pure fucking ten-ton-testicle ATMOSPHERE.

That said, please allow the following revelation, a epiphany that converted this reviewer to Ammit’s Crusade against Christ: the second song, “Power Means Death Power,” is possibly the most brazen, fierce, epileptic, fist-in-the-air punk-thrash anthem ever recorded. The barely off-cue, self-conscious, furiously barking vokills, the total snare drum rape, and hilarious Nigel Tufnel-ized guitar solo are the clincher. To summarize: even if Hammer of Darkness contained ONLY this particular track, it would still get a 10.

The next one, “Acid,” is no less lethal – a pure delight it is to hear its thrash pace and hearken back to the fresh blast of PURE BLACK AIR issued forth from Bathory’s essential 1986 abortion, Under the Sign of the Black Mark. Ammit’s latest is THAT good.

“Dogs of Hell” is almost Van Halen-esque in its simple, pleasing, mid-paced warmongering. “Sinner” is evocative of the political turbulence from which Ammit hails: a cacophonous, thrashing pandemonium, almost vortex-like with intensity, brings extreme metal’s disenchantment with ultra-conservative authority to a new apex (the brutal dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet still ripples through the Chilean psyche). And “Terrormass” in the “Mayhem with Mercy” of Hammer of Darkness: a brief but harsh keyboard interlude that presages the ensuing blizzard.

“Wraith” is another topper. The chorus chant “Wraith—FULL OF WRATH!” is part Melvins, part Crebain, so killer and sloppy it’s like watching a frisky piranha fight.

“Black Plagues” is the signature Kreator “Pleasure to Kill” hail of the CD – it bludgeons a guttural whirl of treble, rapid-fire distortion, and complete siphoning away of common decency.

“Genocide” is even faster than some of the other tracks, until it descends into a Sabbath-y interlude that provides further evidence of Ammit’s vastly improved sense of range. “Las Garras Del Mal” bears a crazy resemblance to Venom’s finer vintage, right down to the pinch harmonics and linear (but furious) drumming. Finally, Hammer of Darkness closes the CD with a return to the repetitive minimalism of the first track, but by the time it reaches the pulsing crescendo of “DIE! DIE! DIE! DIE! DIE!”; it finally falls apart beneath its own weight.

Ammit is not a visionary. But Hammer of Darkness draws the most distinct line between the Ride the Lightning camp and the Black Album camp; it deserves commendation (and condemnation). Such is the struggle for metal – its past, present, and future. (10/10)

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The Healing Monsters TOC!

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I’m still in the shock that my published fiction debut is part of this amazing roster of horror and metal writers, very inspiring!

Despumation Press

Here's a little sneak preview of the cover art, by our very own Sean Frasier. Here’s a little sneak preview of the cover art, by our very own Sean Frasier.

Every time we stop and take a look over this TOC, we’re like, “Really?”

So, we announced last month that we’d be putting out a benefit anthology, chock full o’ metal and horror–and metal horror. Today, we present you with the full, final table of contents. I think you’ll agree, this is a pretty impressive once-in-a-lifetime line-up here of writers, musicians, and editors. And we couldn’t be more excited to be facilitating this volume of awesomeness in honor of the horror and metal communities’ own, Dustin LaValley and Katherine Ludwig. Without further ado, in no particular order…

Mathias Jansson (Despumation 1 & 2)

Lewis Dimmick (This Music)

Stephanie Wytovich (HYSTERIA, Mourning Jewelry)

Karyn Crisis (Gospel of the Witches)

Jessica Pimentel (Alekhine’s Gun, Orange…

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Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament, her Film Adaptation

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JACQUELINE-ESSWhen Subterranean Press announced they were going to release a full, 6-volume edition of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood this past year, I had to pounce. Because I remember that when I first began to read the set during my waning (and inauspicious) years of high school, I sensed I was onto something different. These were innovative, literate, and unsafe manifestations of imaginative fiction I’d been seeking in a world of study that had been trying to brainwash me into a contemporary, realist fiction style popularized by Raymond Carver and Ernest Hemingway. Now, I happen to like me some of their stories, especially “Tell the Women We’re Going,” “The Killers,” and “Hills Like White Elephants,” but I don’t live in a contemporary world 100% of the time—my world may occasionally, hopefully more often consist of dream-lands and space-drama. Most of my story ideas come from messed-up but thankfully vivid dream-episodes.

30-years on, I maintain reverence for The Books of Blood because it raised the bar for what may be possible in imaginative fiction, for translating ideas to the page, and perhaps even to the screen. Roughly half of the stories in Books of Blood reach me more than others, but I loved “Jacqueline Ess” so much, I used some passages as examples in a seminar I hosted for younger writers at my high school. There is still so much in the story that resonates with me: depression at boredom/stasis, oppression/condescension at not being the “proper type” of woman, and that actual love may come from the most unexpected places.

But really—how badass is it that not only will former Rue Morgue editor-in-chief Jovanka Yuckovic direct a film adaptation, but Lena Headey, who perhaps most famously portrays the ruthless, depraved, and beautiful Cersei Lannister on HBO’s hit show Game of Thrones.
I can’t think of a more perfect storm, when you consider the power of this particular story.

This is one of the passages I used in my high school presentation. My Hemingway tutor was not pleased. But I felt so gratified when this sort of writing was possible. Takes all kinds, and it’s usually the quiet ones:

Monster he calls me: monster I am. I do this for myself, not for him. Never for him. For myself! He gasped as her will touched him, and the glittering eyes stopped glittering for a moment, the will to die became the will to survive, all too late of course, and he roared. She heard answering shouts, steps, threats on the stairs. They would be in the room in a matter of moments. “You are an animal,” she said. “No,” he said, certain even now that his place was in command.

“You don’t exist,” she said, advancing on him. “They’ll never find the part that was Titus. Titus is gone. The rest is just—” The pain was terrible. It stopped even a voice coming out from him. Or was that her again, changing his throat, his palate, his very head? She was unlocking the plates of his skull, and reorganizing him. No, he wanted to say, this isn’t the subtle ritual I had planned. I wanted to die folded into you, I wanted to go with my mouth clamped to yours, cooling in you as I died. This is not the way I want it. No. No. No. They were at the door, the men who’d kept her here, beating on it. She had no fear of them, of course, except that they might spoil her handiwork before the final touches were added to it. Someone was hurling himself at the door now. Wood splintered: the door was flung open. The two men were both armed. They pointed their weapons at her, steady-handed. “Mr. Pettifer?” said the younger man. In the corner of the room, under the table, Pettifer’s eyes shone. “Mr. Pettifer?” he said again, forgetting the woman. Pettifer shook his snouted head. Don’t come any closer, please, he thought.

The man crouched down and stared under the table at the disgusting beast that was squatting there; bloody from its transformation, but alive. She had killed his nerves: he felt no pain. He just survived, his hands knotted into paws, his legs scooped up around his back, knees broken so he had the look of a four-legged crab, his brain exposed, his eyes lidless, lower jaw broken and swept up over his top jaw like a bulldog, ears torn off, spine snapped, humanity bewitched into another state. “You are an animal,” she’d said. It wasn’t a bad facsimile of beast hood. The man with the gun gagged as he recognized fragments of his master. He stood up, greasy-chinned, and glanced around at the woman. Jacqueline shrugged. “You did this?” Awe mingled with the revulsion. She nodded. “Come, Titus,” she said, clicking her fingers. The beast shook its head, sobbing. “Come, Titus,” she said more forcefully, and Titus Pettifer waddled out of his hiding place, leaving a trail like a punctured meat-sack. The man fired at Pettifer’s remains out of sheer instinct. Anything, anything at all to prevent this disgusting creature from approaching him. Titus stumbled two steps back on his bloody paws, shook himself as if to dislodge the death in him, and failing, died. “Content?” she asked. The gunman looked up from the execution. Was the power talking to him? No; Jacqueline was staring at Pettifer’s corpse, asking the question of him. Content? The gunman dropped his weapon. The other man did the same. “How did this happen?” asked the man at the door. A simple question: a child’s question. “He asked,” said Jacqueline. “It was all I could give him.” The gunman nodded, and fell to his knees.

Barker, Clive (2013-03-19). The Books of Blood – Volume 2 (Crossroad Press. Kindle Edition.)