Occult Rock Interviews: Ancient VVisdom and Sabbath Assembly

Two of my recent conversations with musicians are up at OccultRock.com. Wander on over to those cobwebbed internet corridors and  see more about these

Ancient VVisdom

Neo-folk artists Ancient VVisdom talk Luciferianism and cult-leader charisma:

Nathan: Me and my brother—me and Michael were in a band called Integrity for a while, and their singer, Dwid Hellion, came across some new live recordings of Charles Manson recorded on a cellphone that he had brought into prison. Manson has certain privileges where he’s allowed to play guitar in the courtyard. He’s a very old man at this point, so he’s pretty well taken care of, to a certain degree.  We got hold of some of the recordings because Dwid wanted to release an album of Charles Manson’s music on the Holy Terror label he runs. Michael and I were in Poland at the time—Warsaw—playing a show and on our way to the show, Dwid busted out his cellphone and started playing new recordings by Charles Manson. I was already a fan of Manson’s music in general so hearing that I was like “holy shit—this is new material from Charles Manson!” I was pretty taken aback by that so I pretty much just straight-up asked—“ask and you shall receive,” I know that’s a weird message or whatever—but I just asked if we could record some tracks and do the split. Gray Wolf and Star are two of Charles Manson’s good friends and they visit him all the time—they really liked our music and they agreed that it was a pretty appropriate thing to do. We both play an acoustic style of music. He hasn’t done a split with any other band ever before.

Ribs: Charles Manson is an Ancient VVisdom fan.

Read the rest here.

Sabbath Assembly

Discussing the liturgical music of the Process Church with Sabbath Assembly:

DN: Evangelical Christianity is a totally fringe movement with bizarrely radical ideas about the human condition, and it mystifies me to consider how strongly the ideology resonates with so many people. I consider evangelical Christianity a kind of alternative spirituality compared with the 1900 years of Christianity that preceded it. So being steeped as a child in this community gave me a sense of the social function that a common fringe ideology can serve in terms of developing security and commonalities in a world filled with suffering. Speaking broadly, my issue with the evangelical movement is that it does not serve a healthy and productive function in our world; on the contrary it creates a lot of fearful and psychologically unbalanced individuals who propagate horrible, repressive ideas. The Process Church, in my view, provides a more functional alternative.

Read the rest here.

Ghost: “Infestissumam” and Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats: “Mind Control”

ghost-uncleacid

The best horror stories I’ve experienced lately haven’t come in celluloid form. In fact, the most delightfully twisted manifestations of ghastly fantasy are two albums I’ve been listening to pretty much non-stop for the past week or so: Ghost’s “Infestissumam” and “Mind Control” by Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats. Each band weaves its own brand of shock-story that should appeal to horror fans who typically take their terror in screen-format.

Both bands are part of the embarrassment of riches that is the throwback rock thing that’s happening right now. Some folks tend to get caught up in labeling this kind of music and debating whether or not it qualifies as “metal”–that just makes them sound like the most tedious people on the whole world. Does anyone sit around and bicker over what subgenre Alice Cooper’s “Billion Dollar Babies” fits into? If they do, they officially qualify as The Worst, because all one needs to concentrate on is the fact that that’s an incredible record. In the interest of not being pedantic jerks, let’s call both Ghost and Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats “purveyors of psychedelic rock” and move along to talking about how fucking great both these records are.

Like their debut record “Opus Eponymous,” Ghost’s “Infestissumam” is a gleefully blasphemous collection of songs that draws its lyrical inspirations equally from 60s and 70s Satanic cinema and centuries-old tomes on diabology. Many occult-influenced bands build their songs around the riff, but Ghost lures listeners in with hooks that rival those found in the catchiest pop confections. They’re unabashedly cheeky and ratchet up the artifice of pop stardom by adopting a flashy anonymity that makes the audience complicit in the ruse. Let’s face it–in the internet age, finding the true identities of Papa Emeritus and his crew of Nameless Ghouls is a pretty simple task, but fans of the band like participating in the ruse. Hell, even the Ghost Fuck-fiction Tumblr* is invested in the band members’ anonymity. These through-the-looking-glass qualities aren’t exactly the hallmarks of heavy metal music, so it’s no surprise that Ghost elicits some distaste in that community. For my money, though, this is a slice of audio heaven:

Pulling its sinister thematic influences from more recent–and real-life–events, Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats’ “Mind Control” is a fuzzed-out paean to murderous cult leaders. Taking their “dark side of the sixties” aesthetic to its thematic extreme, “Mind Control” downplays the supernatural trappings of the band’s previous efforts and evokes the hippie-courting cults led by Jim Jones and Charles Manson. It’s a perfect marriage of theme and style, with heavy grooves and lo-fi production creating a hallucinatory, immersive listening experience. There are moments on the album that evoke the sonic play of the Beatles’ “White Album” (probably the only record of the Fab Four’s that I have an urge to return to). At one point, Uncle Acid flirted with a similar brand of anonymity to the one Ghost adopts, but the band has recently come out of the cobwebbed closet, revealing a quartet of musicians from Cambridge rather than the EC Comics creep that many may have pictured.  The deal-sealer on this album is “Valley of the Dolls,” a languid journey that blends Manson imagery with references to the eponymous Sharon Tate feature film. Take a listen:

*I love living in a world where I could write that phrase. KEEP UP THE WEIRDNESS, INTERNET!

Extra Bonus Goodness: Speaking of cult-leader charisma and the men who have it, Ancient VVisdom mastermind Nathan Opposition’s review of Ghost’s “Infestissumam” is possibly the greatest review of that album that will ever be written. Prepare your mind-vaginas, friends.

Lords of Salem [2012]

Lords of Salem - Poster  I know there’s a shaker-full of grains of salt one needs to have in-hand when approaching my opinions, and several of those grains account for my unapologetic enjoyment of Rob Zombie’s film oeuvre. I’ve seen “House of 1,000 Corpses” over a dozen times and I’ve had a number of spirited conversations about why I believe it’s a criminally underrated horror movie. I was one of–what?–four people in the world who enjoyed “Halloween II.” The dude has an interesting perspective and sense of style that he brings to the screen that’s borne of a deep love of weirdness. Let’s not overlook that White Zombie was founded while RZ was a student at Pratt Institute–he’s a professionally-trained artist, and while his music has become pretty stale, there’s an over-arching aesthetic that runs through his work. Say what you will about liking those stylistic choices, but RZ has been remarkably true to his vision and he’s butted heads with studios and censors alike over the course of his career (but mostly with studios, because studios are basically The Worst Ever).

All of which brings me to “Lords of Salem.” I come to bury “Lords of Salem,” not to praise it.

Let’s begin at the beginning, shall we? Take a look at the first trailer for this movie (SPOILER: it’s fucking gorgeous):

Now let’s spend a moment with the second trailer for “Lords of Salem:”

What’s the main difference between trailer one and trailer two?  Trailer two features characters talking. And what do we notice about that dialogue? It’s entirely unconvincing and stale, and this is the dialogue that’s been selected to be featured in a two-minute trailer.

Lords of Salem
Did I mention there are “Morning Zoo Radio” scenes? Because: Ugh.

So here we arrive at Problem The First with “Lords of Salem:” A Woefully First-draft Script. Several of you reading this have probably tried your hand at writing fiction, and a few of you may even have muscled through and produced a completed work. Along the way there were probably scenes where you jotted down something like “and now the characters talk about the new tenant in the building,” with every intention of coming back to that exchange and adding nuance and style. Imagine that you never bothered doing that, and the characters just say stuff to each other: he is her love interest because dialogue says so, she is a recovering addict because the plot requires it, he is Ken Foree and we’re not really sure why he’s here (OK not so much that last one, but it’s still a valid point). It’s not worth getting overly critical of the performances here (although it would be justified) because the cast just didn’t have a lot to work with. Keep in mind that this Rob Zombie also wrote and directed “The Devil’s Rejects,” and there’s not a single moment in “Lords” that even approaches stuff like the Groucho vs. Elvis exchange from “Rejects.”

Speaking of that exchange, one of the things I enjoyed about Zombie’s previous films is his ability to juggle his influences and reconstruct them into a style of his own. That’s one thing if your references are grindhouse fare and cult genre films, but it’s another challenge entirely when those references come from some of the most iconic filmmakers of the Twentieth Century. And that’s Problem the Second with “Lords of Salem:” It Drowns Under the Weight of its Influences. The entire structure of the movie mimics “The Shining,” right down to the psychic acoustics of the score and the “day of the week” title cards between scenes. This is not an especially good choice, because it reminded me the whole time of all the stuff that’s so great about Kubrick’s movie that doesn’t exist in Zombie’s film. Also overwhelmingly present is the specter of Roman Polanski and the tortures he inflicts upon his female protagonists in movies like “Repulsion” and “Rosemary’s Baby,” but I’m here to tell you that Sheri Moon Zombie, as fetching as she is, is no Catherine Deneuve or Mia Farrow. SMZ’s default reaction of “mild aggravation” as horrors are piled upon her character only serves as a source of amusement–at best. It’s the rare movie where the less familiar a viewer is with the references, the more he or she is going to enjoy it.

The much-hyped analogies to Ken Russell and Kenneth Anger aren’t entirely misplaced, but Zombie makes an absolutely crucial misstep that neither of those filmmakers fell victim to (and that they probably never even heard of) when crafting his brand of psychedelia: Problem the Third with “Lords of Salem:” Fucking Fan Service. For those unfamiliar with the term, fan service is an incredibly useful term that originated with anime and manga fans  cagey enough to recognize when they were being pandered to with sexy images, in-jokes and other textual wink-wink-nudge-nudges. Let’s not get it twisted–fan service isn’t homage, it isn’t metatextual; it’s simply crammed in to appease the audience on a lowest-common-denominator level. While the inclusion of Andrew Prine (“Simon King of the Witches”) as a witch hunter was very clever, shoe-horning some random Scandinavian black metal imagery into a movie that’s ultimately about America’s relationship with the occult didn’t make a bit of sense. On any level. At all. Why was that there? Then there’s the more traditional fan service of showing Sheri Moon Zombie in various states of tame undress. There’s no audacity to these moments–just a PG frisson of seeing the outline of the hot teacher’s panties as she dips down to pick up the chalk she’s dropped.

Lords of Salem
Nightmare witches

The most disappointing thing about “Lords of Salem” is that there’s a good movie lurking in this mess. I loved the repugnant, Boschian witches–Meg Foster was legitimately creepy as the witch queen, borderline unrecognizable beneath stage-filth and prosthetic nudity. Their primordial rites and the accompanying screaming and hellish music worked really well and could have been elevated to Jodorowsky-Panic-like ecstasy. Sure, this movie is probably saying something pretty awful about women (someone else can feel free to unpack that), but it does so in a way that’s not lad-mag flirtatious, so… props, I guess? I acknowledge the attempt to play long. quiet stretches and languid camera holds against heady psychedelia, but honestly, my favorite psych moments all occurred in Sheri Moon Zombie’s vintage 1970 wardrobe (seriously–the break-out star of the movie is the Mongolian lamb-trimmed black velvet coat her character wears).

Lords of Salem
Fulci flavored zombies

I sensed that there may have been budgetary issues that contributed to some of the rough edges, so I’m overlooking shortcomings in terms of effects work, scope and costuming. That having been acknowledged, I dug the “Fulci-face” gray muslin-draped mask treatments on the zombie figures in the hallucinatory sequences. Also, the reliance on in-camera, practical effects was refreshing. I’d rather see hinkey monster suits any day over jarring, weightless CG (and we shall never speak of the blasphemy that is digital blood–something thankfully absent here).

Also, I really like the Velvet Underground, so it was nice to hear those songs in a movie. Let’s take a “Venus in Furs” break before wrapping up!

Look, Rob Zombie and I aren’t breaking up the way I broke up with Dario, but dude is starting to skate on some thin-ass ice between this movie and the Superbeasto cartoon (of which we shall not speak). It’s just a damn shame that a movie that sounded as much in my wheelhouse as “Lords of Salem” did turned out to be such a disappointment for the reasons I found it disappointing. Let’s hope that there’s some blending of the “Lords” psychedelia with the wit and snappiness of “House of 1,000 Corpses”/”Devil’s Rejects” in Zombie’s filmmaking future.

“The Darkness that Comes Before” – R. Scott Bakker

darkness-bakkerLike the rest of the Internet, I’ve been reading George R. R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” series and I’m experiencing itchy, jangly DTs waiting for the next installment. I grew up hooked on epic fantasy, cutting my literary teeth on Tolkien and “Beowulf”–I’m from that post-Monster-Kid generation weaned on “Beastmaster” and “Conan.” Broadswords, furry loincloths, wizardry and monsters were–as far as Youthful Me was concerned–the four mother-hatin’ food groups of entertainment.

We’re in a little bit of a renaissance of sword and sorcery right now, thanks in no small part to Martin’s books and the HBO series based on them, and I want to dig all of it. I WANT TO DIG IT SO BAD, GUYS. But… I kinda can’t. Because I’m old, cranky, and… discerning in my dotage, and it’s hard to fall in love with all these pretenders to the ” ‘Thrones.”

I went into R. Scott Bakker’s “The Darkness that Comes Before” (part of a trilogy because THANKS OBAM–I mean TOLKIEN) hoping it would scratch my itch for wizards, barbarians and people hitting shit with axes.  Looking to other fantasy series while you wait for your current fave to be updated is a little like going to hookers during wartime–it’s an emergency, it’s not your wife, but maybe you’ll learn something new and exotic! Or perhaps you’ll wind up on antibiotics for a month. Roll of the dice, you know?

To cut (closer) to the chase–I didn’t wind up finishing author R. Scott Bakker’s “The Darkness that Comes Before” and only got about 75% of the way through it. I KNOW–I’m not supposed to review stuff I haven’t finished because that’s not fair to the book/movie/whatev’. Furthermore, I have sworn off viciously snarking on other people’s work because it makes me look like an asshole, and I want people to know me reeeallly well before they realize that I’m an asshole.

Rewinding a bit, “The Darkness that Comes Before” is the first in the “Prince of Nothing” trilogy. The series tracks key political players in an epic holy war in a fictional setting that combines elements of Classical Greece and Rome, Byzantium, and the Middle East of the Medieval era. There’s significant good here: it’s a great concept and Bakker’s world-building is undeniably skillful. A great deal of care has been taken in developing the different religions and philosophies of the cultures Bakker discusses.

But it’s the characters that populate this carefully-crafted world that make things dicey. I’ll bullet it out:

THINGS THAT THE AUTHOR CAN IMAGINE

  • No less than three distinct races/species of person-like beings populating his world
  • A completely new geography to an alternative Earth-like place
  • Systems of magic use
  • Multiple detailed religions and philosophies

THING THAT THE AUTHOR CANNOT IMAGINE

  • Female characters who are not prostitutes

Come on. I mean, COME ON. Bakker does not lack in the imagination department, but as the book progresses (and as the atrocities pile up), it becomes an increasingly uncomfortable read. Balancing the gritty realities of a medieval-inspired world with escapist fantasy is a tremendously difficult task, and it’s a bummer when the trick isn’t pulled off. It’s like a stage magician whipping the tablecloth from beneath a carefully-arranged table setting only to watch everything crash to the floor. It is–for lack of a better word–a bummer. The male characters aren’t especially vivid or likable–they are representative of ideas, but at least those ideas expand beyond “victim of repeated sexual violence,” “hooker with a heart of gold” and “vindictive crone” (giving FULL credit, perhaps the author was working with the “Maiden, Mother, Crone” archetype of womanhood but it’s the Twenty-First Century and dude is clearly talented enough to make that richer than he did). I’d rather have read a version of this book that excluded female characters altogether. It’s the non-omission, the deliberateness of including these three women, two of whom are brutalized repeatedly simply to demonstrate the nastiness of the world they live in, that was an unfortunate choice.

I feel as if there’s a great book lurking in “The Darkness” and perhaps of I stuck with it I’d get to see an evolution of the characters, but I’m just too exhausted to take that ride. Real life is filled with more miserableness than I can stomach as it is–I need a damn good pay-off to bother with fictional miserableness. I think I’m just going to re-read some Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber to get back into the fantasy groove that I prefer…!

NOTE: This article originally stated–in error–that there were two female characters. It’s been updated to revise my thoughts on the matter. I have been known to be fallible, folks!

“Zombi Mexicano” by Keith J. Rainville

ZOMBI MEXICANOI think most of my fellow weird-movie enthusiast pals would agree that there are few joys quite as pure as unearthing an unexpectedly great nugget of strange cinema. Maybe it’s a “lesser” film by a well-known director, a cool microbudget flick, or a fresh take on a well-trodden trope. Whatever it is that turns your particular crank, there’s no denying the special electricity of discovery.

One of the beautiful things about Keith J. Rainville’s book “Zombi Mexicano” is that it perfectly captures that moment and its accompanying delights.

As Rainville points out in the opening of his book, Mexico’s “momias” (“mummies”) have more in common with the mindless reanimated dead popularized in American and European cinema than they do with Art Deco-flavored Egyptian revenants. While the Aztec Mummy is a close relative of Kharis, momias were inspired by the desiccated bodies of Guanajuanto (check out the official Guanajuanto momias tourism site for more info). These eerily-preserved corpses are displayed for public view, part curiosity and part cautionary tale warning of relatives cheaping-out on funeral costs. There’s no denying the visceral horror that the momias inspire, but it took truly brazen brains to make the mummies of Guanajuanto into luchador-grappling bad-guys.

Which, of course, is exactly what happened in the movies documented in “Zombi Mexicano.”

Colorful and energetic like the films it discusses, “Zombi Mexicano” is the kind of book that makes the reader want to run out and track down every title that appears on its pages. I’m a veteran Mexi-horror viewer, but I have yet to slap eyeballs on most of the movies discussed in this book, and I never would’ve known what I was missing had I not read the reviews published here. Without spoiling anything, let’s just say there’s a baby-stomping, mad-zombie-monk, burlesque-spiced party going on and I WANT TO GO THERE. Rainville’s writing has a fantastic vitality that stands up next to the wild visuals included within these pages. Under-seen movies can be a source of heady wonder, and Rainville is an effective evangelist for the films that he loves.

ZOMBI MEXICANO

ZOMBI MEXICANO

“Zombi Mexicano” can be purchased online HERE at FromPartsUknown.net