Tenebrous Music Week: Could It Be… SATAN?

Satan wears many guises, but I think we can all agree that none are more excellent than the ones he dons in heavy metal music. Some of Satan’s metal prophets are significantly more serious than others, and I’m sure some of these artists wouldn’t especially like to be on the same page together…! However, in the spirit of embracing the lurid and the weird in a multitude of forms, I choose to enjoy each of these acts for the uniquely sinister pleasures they provide.
Bathory
Oh my god, BATHORY. This face-meltingly heavy Swedish metal band was one of the first (if not the first) to record in the quintessential under-produced, not-of-this-earth black metal style, incorporating Satanic imagery and a confrontational attitude into their work. Their 1988 album “Blood Fire Death” is equal parts black metal fury and Viking epic, and is one of the most intense listening experiences that I can still actually enjoy.

Darkthrone
I’d talked about Darkthrone a bit when reviewing the documentary on Norwegian black metal, “Until the Light Takes Us.” The band is controversial for any number of reasons, from their connection to musician and murderer Varg Vikernes to their strict (and arguably elitist) stance on the definition of true black metal. Fans of the band seem to squabble about the difference in sound between their early albums, which epitomize the traditional primitive black metal aesthetic, and their newer sound, which has more in common with crust punk and hardcore. While I do dig the lo-fi psychedelia of 1994’s “Goatlord,” 2010’s “Circle the Wagons” has become a go-to aggressive album for me, and “Dark Thrones and Black Flags” includes a song called “Witch Ghetto.” Fucking “WITCH GHETTO.” It’s so good, it damn near inspires a scream-along.
Ghost

These Mercyful Fate-worshiping ghouls from Sweden are making music that blends earworm-worthy power metal with over-the-top, theatrical evil. The members of the band refuse to share their names and will only appear for interviews in full-on ritual garb, but I suspect that tongues are planted firmly in cheeks, as they mention Zlad’s “I Am the Antipope” as one of their inspirations in the Vice Magazine interview linked below. It takes a special kind of genius to make songs about human sacrifice and the Antichrist sound so damn singable. (Also: HAMMER OF DOOM IV is a thing that happened. Hearing about that just makes me really excited to be alive.) Ghost is on tour right now supporting their first album, “Opus Eponymous” and will be appearing in the US in New York and at Maryland DeathFest.
Acid Witch

Believe me when I tell you that Acid Witch is relevant to your interests. Their love of gruesome horror movies and consciousness-altering substances combines with a sternum-crushing heavy, punk-metal sound. This band has a true fright flick sensibility, never taking themselves overly seriously even as they lay down their doomy sound. Bonus points: their 2010 release “Stoned” uses so many clips from “Witchcraft ’70” that I think it qualifies as a tribute album.
Darkthrone

Tenebrous Music Week: Gothic Outliers

In entirely unshocking news, I shall now reveal that I’ve spent a lot of time in the gothic scene. The opportunities for dress-up along with the potential for gallows humor* are my favorite parts about that type of music. Bands like 45 Grave and Alien Sex Fiend incorporate the bizarre and the punk in a way that makes my black little heart sing. Over time, the scene has sort of fragmented and found expression in forms that I’ll dub Gothic Outliers for the sake of brevity. It might not be Goth Proper, but it’s certainly Stuff Goths Like (as much as they’ll admit to liking anything).
* I will never understand Serious Bid’niz goths–it is inherently ridiculous to dress like Dracula; please act like you’re enjoying yourself

Psychocharger

New York City’s own Psychocharger plays a brand of horror-infused psychobilly that could compel a dead man stomp his feet. Their driving hard-rock riffs power their stage shows, which are universally blood-spattered, ridiculous, and loud-loud-LOUD. Psychocharger plays regularly across the States, and are currently supporting their album “Mark of the Psycho.”
Psychocharger Official Website

Blacklist

Another one of New York’s finest dark rock acts is Blacklist, whose sound lives somewhere between the Sisters of Mercy and the more recent wave of coolly disaffected bands like Interpol and Franz Ferdinand. This is one of those bands that should be way more well-known than they are–their music is melodic, catchy, and infinitely dark-dancefloor-ready. Notably, Blacklist is signed to Wierd Records, which is a veritable treasure trove of cold wave and minimalist synth acts.
The Vanishing

OK, so I was trying to steer clear of bands that have recently broken up, but I was hard-pressed to dig up a cold wave band I liked more than The Vanishing. It takes significant artistry to sound THIS unhinged and THIS disaffected all at once. Their albums “Still Lifes are Failing” and “Songs for Psychotic Children” are fantastic explorations of icy fury and madness. Then again, I enjoy any of the millions of remixes of Malaria’s “Kaltes Klares Wasser” and the Normal’s “Warm Leatherette,” so please take my tastes with a grain of salt.

The Evil Streaks

Garage band The Evil Streaks are part of the Necro-Tone Records stable (itself part of Massachusetts’ thriving retro-rock scene), springing from the same talent pool that brought us spooky surf acts Gein and the Graverobbers and The Crimson Ghosts. Inspired in equal parts by late-night horror flicks, the Cramps and vintage girl groups, The Evil Streaks are a bit like an reverb-ier Zombina and the Skeletones. Check out their MySpace page for upcoming show dates!
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Read all the Tenebrous Music Week posts here.

Tenebrous Music Week: Children of the Grave – The Sabbath Sound

There are specific qualities that I appreciate in music that transcend genre. There’s a physical sensation that a certain down-tuned chord progression creates along my spine–a sort of “icy hand of death” thing that makes my marrow resonate and sets up a thrumming beneath my sternum as if sinister doings are afoot. Early Black Sabbath provides precisely this kind of frisson. My daily subway commute takes on ominous significance with the sort of dirgey musical accompaniment provided by the inheritors of the Sabbath sound.

Electric Wizard


It’s hard for me to prosthelytize for this band enough–their 2007 effort “Witchcult Today” is my current desert island album. For those who aren’t fans already, I hope to convince you over the course of the next several words! If the fact that they sound like early Sabbath isn’t enough for you, perhaps you’ll be swayed by their sinister occult references. Or maybe you’d like to know that Rosalba Neri and Jess Franco are thanked in the liner notes of their latest album, “Black Masses.” Hell, this band convinces me that maybe-just-maybe HP Lovecraft’s fans aren’t the worst thing to happen to his legacy. Listen to this fuzzed-out doom riff and DESPAIR:

Electric Wizard is currently on tour in Europe. If you’re fortunate enough to attend one of these shows, please report back to me and drink the sweetness of my envious tears.
Blood Ceremony
Toronto’s Blood Ceremony amp up the prog-rock elements of the Sabbath sound, adding in flute trills and female vocals for a slightly sweeter take on the sinister. Drawing inspiration from the works of Aleister Crowley, Arthur Machen, and other late 19th/early 20th Century mystics, this band brings a psychedelic appeal to their tales of deviltry.
Orange Goblin


In the words of Tenebrous friend/mentor/artist/general person of excellence Joey Zone, “is there a better band name than ORANGE frikkin’ GOBLIN?” Perhaps not (although Slambuki and Cadaviar are contenders, though their music is nowhere near as good). These guys lay down an intense riff with a groovy blues drive behind it that calls to mind Motörhead and sometimes even Southern Rock stalwarts Lynyrd Skynyrd (who doesn’t love Skynard? LIARS, that is who). If Electric Wizard and Blood Ceremony call you to the Sabbath, Orange Goblin provides the afterparty. Orange Goblin is touring the US this spring/summer, and I’m going to assume my pals on this side of the Atlantic will be rushing off to buy tickets now.

Orange Goblin official website


A fantastic resource for more doom/sludge/psychedelic music reviews and interviews is Doommantia. The editors at that site are incredibly knowledgeable and cover downtuned excellence from around the globe. I’ve learned about a ton of excellent acts I’d never have been exposed to otherwise through this site, and I just can’t recommend it highly enough!

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Tenebrous Music Week: For Italo-horror Soundtrack Worshipers

Fellow fans of European horror films get a shuddery quiver of delight at the mere mention of Italian prog rock maestros Goblin. Their soundtrack for “Suspiria” is a masterpiece, providing a disturbing sonic backdrop for the witchcraft psychedelia and graphic violence of that film. Acts like Keith Emerson (of Emerson Lake and Palmer fame) and Tangerine Dream provided their own synth-soaked scores for horror films–scores that were sometimes finer than the movies they accompanied.

There’s a legacy of music that inspired and is inspired by these atmospheric, experimental soundtracks. Detailing the rich history of electronic music and prog rock is a task for a music historian, but here are some snippets and selections that should delight soundtrack fanatics.

Jacula

Founded in Milan in 1968, Jacula’s music fuses grandiose pipe organ solos with fuzzed-out guitar improvisation and a grimoire full of occult significance. Jacula, who appear to have formed prior to the release of the eponymous sexy-vampire fumetti in 1969, was part of the first wave of Italian prog rock. Their sepulchral, macabre sound creates an ambient sense of dread that would enhance any supernatural horror film. Their two albums, “In Cauda Semper Stat Venenum” (1969, though there’s some debate it may have actually been recorded in 1972) and “Tardo Pede In Magiam Versus” (1973) have lost none of their gloomy magnificence in the intervening decades.

Zombi



Pittsburgh’s Zombi lists their key influence as prolific composer Giorgio Moroder, whose work with artists from Donna Summer to David Bowie characterizes a specific period of sweeping 1980s soundtracks. This duo’s appreciation of vintage scores is front and center in their work, which draws from and expands upon this flavor of soundscape. Zombi will be releasing a new album, titled “Escape Velocity,” on May 10th–be prepared for further synth excellence!


Zombie Zombie



Not to be confused with singular sans-e Zombi, Zombie Zombie may be familiar to some of you from their video for “Driving This Road Until Death,” a pitch-perfect G.I. Joe re-enactment of John Carpenter’s “The Thing.” What you may not have realized is that this French synth duo has a catalog of ambient dance-infused material. European fans may even be lucky enough to catch one of their upcoming DJ dates!


Umberto

I cannot fucking believe that Umberto is from Kansas City. This band so beautifully captures the late-70s/early-80s Italo-thriller soundtrack vibe that I could believe they were time-travelers from Rome. Umberto’s albums “From the Grave” and “Prophecy of the Black Widow” are structured as soundtracks to vintage fright films that never were–simultaneously familiar and suspenseful. This is music to make you tune in and trance out to a more sinister world.

Umberto on MySpace

Bottin

I’ve talked about my love for Bottin, a one-man retro-Italo-disco-making machine from Venice, before on this blog, but his name bears repeating. Bottin makes groovy-ass music that plays like the most danceable horror score ever made. There’s a wit behind his work that makes it accessible to soundtrack groupies and party monsters alike. Bottin DJs regularly across the globe–check out his website for upcoming dates.

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Read all the Tenebrous Music Week posts here.

Welcome to Tenebrous Music Week

Film and art make up most of the lurid, weird, and fantastique creative work that I’ve talked about in this blog, and I’m coming to realize that I’ve been remiss when it comes to touching on music. Much of that has to do with the fact that there are many writers who are way better than me at discussing music, and I’m more than happy to leave those explorations in those capable hands! But the time has come, interpals, for me to geek out on some of the music I’ve been enjoying that informs my aesthetic universe.
My approach to music is a lot like my approach to film and art–I haven’t got patience for labeling, nor for the minutiae of classification, nor for the distinction between lowbrow and highbrow. It’s all about the quest for that mystical X Factor that catches my attention and makes my brain resonate to an appealing frequency. It’s kinda like the American Bandstand thing–“it’s got a good beat, and you can dance to it,” except edited to read “it’s in a minor key, and there’s a whiff of brimstone about it.”

I make no secret that I rely on a team of audio experts to grab me by both shoulders and shout “KATE, LISTEN TO THIS–IT REQUIRES YOUR IMMEDIATE ATTENTION!” I will doubtless forget someone, but a by-no-means exhaustive list of thank yous goes out to: Professor Jack (and his Witchhammer Hot Sauce), Costuminatrix Jenni, the Duke of DVD and the Vicar of VHS, Joey Zone, Joan Arkham and Citizen Ken, and every record store owner who ever exhibited patience with my teenage curiosity (not all record stores are run by know-it-all jerks).
So please–read, listen, comment, share your own faves, and with any luck at all: enjoy!

THE WORLD IS ENDING on Conversations in the Dark at the Vault of Horror

B-Sol, dear friend of the Empire and possessor of one of the most unexpected lounge lizard singing voices I’ve ever heard, has been twisting my arm to record a podcast with him for some time now. Between my inborn flightiness and our frequently uncomplimentary and often aggressive social calendars (I am easily distracted by shiny things and loud music), we kept missing one another.

The stars have aligned properly, and now you’ve got an Easter basket full of post-apocalyptic goodness to listen to. We talked about everything from “Mad Max” to “I Am Legend” to “Children of Man” and all of the various knock-offs thereof, and I reveal the super-secret recipe to making your own post-apocalyptic movie (HINT: it involves silver spray paint and gravel pits).

Listen to the latest Conversation in the Dark at The Vault of Horror by clicking here!

"Witchcraft ’70"/"The Satanists UK" [1970]

I recently mentioned to a friend that I was going through an Occult Moment–he responded by laughing and reminding me that I’d been in an Occult Moment ever since I could talk, gravitating towards “Fantasia’s” Night on Bald Mountain sequence, Dungeons & Dragons, and other mystical-flavored weirdness as a rule rather than the exception. There’s a power to occult symbolism that still startles and upsets Americans, with a Satanic Panic ever on the horizon in a culture with a bloodthirsty passion for Righteousness. I’m not going to try to detail all the reasons why it’s funny to watch a college-educated adult who lives and works in one of the largest cities in the world physically recoil when I tell him that the pretty set of squiggles on my arm is a symbol from Hatian voudou. As an individual who’s wiser and kinder than me has gently cautioned on a few occasions, “provocation shouldn’t be an end game,” but man alive, is it ever a cheap and easy form of fun in this kind of world.

It should surprise exactly no one reading this that Luigi Scattini’s “Angeli Bianch, Angeli Neri” is my favorite entry into the Mondo Film genre. It’s not a fave because it’s the finest of these pseudo-documentaries, but because it’s the one that focuses on occult practices around the world. As is the case with all Mondos, the events captured on film are of dubious provenance and the voiceover work is a haphazard mix of judgmental moralizing, lurid exoticism, and out-and-out lying. Since mondo movies were made more with exploitation in mind than enlightenment, international releases chose to focus on different aspects of the material. “Angeli Bianchi…” is an especially interesting example of this phenomenon, as the British “The Satanists UK” takes a decidedly more cynical stance than the wild-eyed American “Witchcraft ’70.”

From what cursory info I can ferret out, it looks like “The Satanists UK” is very close to “Angeli Bianchi, Angeli Neri” in its content. The blend of fact and hyperbole begins right away, as very real footage of Highgate Cemetery leads into footage of an alleged witchcraft ceremony, a Satanic wedding, and a black mass, all held in England. Apparently England’s two key exports during the 1970s were tweed and Satanism, if Italian exploitation cinema is to be believed. After a side trip to Scandinavia for the deflowering of a young witchcult initiate, it’s on to an equally dubious exploration of African diaspora religions, complete with animal sacrifice.
The cynicism gets ratcheted up to its maximum with a visit to a man who takes mystical Polaroids, a psychic with a really awful track record, and an interview with a representative of the British Society for Psychical Research (the original Ghost Bros). There’s the prerequisite LSD cautionary tale, a cult that believes in the mystical powers of marijuana, further occult exoticism in the form of Santeria, and then a lengthy segment on Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey in his Black House in San Francisco (which, by the way, is filled with all manner of covetable shit like skeletons, gravestones, monster masks and hypno-wheels). LaVey performs a black mass and a Satanic wedding (Satanists may reject Judeo-Christian mores in other ways, but man alive, they really love getting married). The film wraps up with a piece of cryogenics, which would be rather weak sauce were it not accompanied by the film’s theme song, a beautiful, minor-key piece that adds an almost Buttgerietian sensuality to the preparation of the corpse. The amazing Piero Umiliani soundtrack enhances the entire film as it vacillates between jazzy vocal tracks and sweeping, almost soupy romanticism. The overall experience of watching “The Satanists UK” is a little like being inside someone else’s drug trip, with the haughty, even-toned voice of narrator Edmund Purdom serving as a grounding influence.

“Witchcraft ’70” takes a rather more hysterical approach to the same material, excising knowing cynicism (and animal sacrifice) and replacing it with interviews with a fear-mongering police officer. When “Angeli Bianchi, Angeli Neri” was purchased to play on the grindhouse circuit, director Lee Frost was hired to create inserts that would be more suited to contemporary American tastes. The psychic photographer, ghost hunters, and scandalously-inaccurate fortune teller are nowhere to be found. In their places are the aforementioned cop (an expert on OCCULT CRIMES), a staged voodoo ceremony, and a violent hippie orgy that is said to have taken place near the Manson Family’s home base at Spahn Ranch. This scene closes the movie instead of the clumsily lyrical look at extending life through science that serves as the finale for the European cut. Also absent is the Umiliani score, in place of which is standard horror-movie music. “Witchcraft ’70” plays out as a cautionary look at the dangers of the occult–the very true, very real forces of the occult and the very real, very dangerous people who will use them to tempt you away from the path of religious goodness.
The difference between the two films reflects a chasm of cultural experience between Europe and the States. While religion was state-enforced through much European history, and therefore met with arched eyebrows and resentment by much of the public, the American separation of church and state allowed a type of zealotry to flourish in the absence of government mandate. Plus, there’s that whole “this country was founded by Puritans” thing at work whose significance shouldn’t be underestimated. If you want evidence of of America’s love affair with believing in the supernatural, just take a moment to digest the fact that there are currently over ten ghost hunting shows on American cable television, including one about pets that communicate with ghosts. Panicking about pretend stuff is something this country does exceptionally well–audiences would rather see a chilling expose than deal with any shades of gray regarding the reality of the supernatural. Occam’s Razor is always calibrated towards “oh my god, bro, did you hear that? It’s cold in here; this place must be haunted!”
“Hails, y’all.”
Also hails.”
Even for those who don’t believe in the supernatural, having that kind of powerful symbolism at one’s fingertips is thrilling. I’ve never wanted to make a giant papier-mache goat head more than after watching this movie. Using that kind of symbol is like having a big, red button in your hand at all times, sociologically speaking… at least at the times when it’s not like wearing a big, red target on your chest.
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Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye [1973]


Sometimes a movie is the cure for what ails me on an aesthetic-slash-spiritual plane, providing just the right blend of style, suspense, and strangeness that I require for a fulfilling cinematic experience. “Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye” is just that kind of movie–a combination of giallo and gothic themes set in the early 20th Century but exuding a palpable 70s grooviness. How can I hate on a movie that features a house cat as a murder suspect and famed French pop singer Serge Gainsbourg as a police inspector dubbed with a cartoonish Scottish accent?

But I’m way ahead of the game–allow me to get my train of thought back to the station and allow you guys to climb on board.
It’s Scotland in the early 20th Century–you can tell that because everyone dresses in black and the women’s skirts are all of a modest length, and also because everyone has names like “Angus.” Makers of Italian thrillers in the early 70s clearly didn’t have the highest opinion of British Isles fashion, as every film set in these locales has an overwhelming brown tweediness to it (check out “What Have You Done to Solange?” for further proof). After a pre-credits murder, upper-class gamine Corringa arrives at her aunt’s estate to assist her mother in sorting out some contentious inheritance-related business. Working under the theory that “too many books never did a woman any good,” Corringa hurls her schoolbooks into a fireplace, only to be horrified when she burns her Bible. Things take a turn for the even-eerier when the young lady learns of the rumors of vampirism that surround her family, and after an uncomfortable encounter with her handsome yet insane cousin, all the pieces of a fulfillingly creepy melodrama are put into play. It would spoil some of the magic of the movie to describe the plot any further, but suffice to say fans of 19th Century gothic novels will rejoice at the LeFan-attitude of this story.
Seven Deaths in a Cats Eye [1973]
Director Antonio Margheriti is something of a poor man’s Mario Bava, and his track record is predictably spotty as a result. It’s just not fair going toe-to-thematic-toe with one of the finest directors of the fantastique films that the world has ever known. That having been said, Margheriti can put together damn fine gothic when he wants to–his Barbara Steele vehicles “Long Hair of Death” and “Nightmare Castle” are loved by many, and I found “The Virgin of Nuremberg” to be a pretty great movie-watching experience. “Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye” is even better than “Virgin,” trading that movie’s Edgar Wallace sadism for moody occult innuendo.
Seven Deaths in a Cats Eye [1973]
In the lead role of Corringa, Jane Birkin displays a fetchingly wide-eyed series of emotions, ranging from convincing innocence to helpless terror. Ms. Birkin, muse to Serge Gainsbourg and namesake of the nine-thousand-dollar-and-up Hermès Birkin Bag, was a pop-culture icon by the time this movie was made. Her fresh-faced beauty is a fine complement to the feline features of other Euro-starlets of the time. Hiram Keller is compelling in the role of probably-mad (and definitely handsome) Lord James MacGrieff, combining leading man good looks with Heathcliff-like moodiness. The supporting cast ranges from capable to excellent, and includes such international cinema veterans as Anton Diffring, Konrad Georg, and Françoise Christophe.
Seven Deaths in a Cats Eye [1973]
The film is lensed with the kind of colored gels, chiaroscuro lighting, and sinister angles that characterize the best Italian gothics. Stained glass windows cast lurid shapes across characters’ faces, Tiffany lamps add psychedelic color to black-and-white costumes, and sudden light reveals shocking secrets. Top this off with a soundtrack by Riz Ortolani, and it’s a tidy package of period-piece giallo success.
Seven Deaths in a Cats Eye [1973]
In addition to thoughtful production design and capable performances, the X Factor that elevates “Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye” above other, similar thrillers is its embrace of its ludicrous elements. Not content at creating the standard parade of usual suspects in the form of the salacious governess, the greedy faded noble, and the sketchy doctor, this movie adds “the sinister cat” to the mix. Really. The cat is always around when someone meets their untimely end, and he seems to play some sort of role in the suggestion of a supernatural motive. The cat isn’t the only animal suspect, either–there may be a killer ape on the loose! And if that’s not enough for you, there are always those rumors of vampirism surrounding the MacGrieff family…
Seven Deaths in a Cats Eye [1973]
Adopting the hyperbolic histrionics of my favorite gothic novels along with the convoluted artistry of the giallo, “Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye” is that rarest of Eurotrash films that is both ridiculous and artistic. It’s an unexpectedly great movie that deserves more plentiful genre love than it receives.
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