Around the Web: Hanns Heinz Ewers and Neofolk Britney Spears

Steffan Eggeler – “Louis XV” from Hearts of Kings

I have nothing but good things to say about Ajna Bound, the esoteric publishing arm of media company Ajna Offensive. Issuing carefully selected titles in the realms of the occult, underground music, and alternative art, they create keepsake books that are like catnip to folks like me. Their recent publication of Hanns Heinz Ewers’ The Hearts of KingsI take a look at this new English translation over at Heathen Harvest, a short conte cruel by the German master of the weird, is another lovely addition to their catalog:

The work of German author Hanns Heinz Ewers depicts the grotesque, erotic, and philosophical in elegant language, often dosed with poisonous wit. Best known for his novel Alraune, the decadent and blackly humorous tale of an artificially birthed femme fatale, Ewers’s Romanticism would lead him to join the most deadly cult of German exceptionalism, the Nazi Party. This three-year-long affiliation would ultimately find the freethinking bisexual artist ousted from the group in 1934 with virtually all of his works banned, but this did not occur until after he had penned the propagandistic novel Riders in the German Night and had written a screenplay and biography of Nazi martyr Horst Wessel. As a result of these political beliefs, many scholars of the fantastique have been hesitant to champion Ewers’s horror writing. He is a complex figure; the same man who joined the Nazi Party also had a fascination with occult theory that led him to develop the concept of a “cultural nation” that transcended geographical boundaries by spiritually uniting creative thinkers. Recent years have seen a reassessment of Ewers’s writing in the English-speaking world. Through independent publishing services, translators have made the author’s short stories, novels, and essays available to adventurous readers. One of the most jewel-like of these new editions is Ajna Bound’s 2015 hardbound volume of Ewers’s 1922 short story The Hearts of Kings, published alongside the etchings by Stefan Eggeler that accompanied the text in its original printing.

Read the review.

A few months back, I reviewed Death in Rome’s Hitparade, a delightful collection of pop songs covered in neofolk style, for Black Ivory Tower. The mysterious gentlemen behind the band appreciated the article, and in an extraordinarily generous move, gave me the opportunity to select their next cover song. I chose “Toxic” by Britney Spears, imagining the potential for some sort of Baudelairian comment on excess, but Death in Rome went in a more nihilistic direction altogether. The resulting track is–dare I say it–a dark dancefloor banger. The YouTube video features my cover illustration of Britney serving champagne to nihilist philosopher Emil Cioran. Enjoy!

Around the Web: Mike Diana, French Pop, and Black Metal Podcasting

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In 1994, artist Mike Diana was convicted of obscenity in Florida for his comics zine Boiled Angel. I remember following his story as a teenager and thinking how horrifying it was that someone could serve jail time for the so-called “crime” of making people uncomfortable with his art–art that was always intended for an underground audience. It was eye-opening to speak to Diana and to director Frank Henenlotter for Heathen Harvest about the upcoming documentary The Trial of Mike Diana that recounts the whole horrible story and tries to understand how something like this could happen. The Trial of Mike Diana is seeking funding via a Kickstarter Campaign that includes amazing incentives like original art, comics, and invitations special events. I’ll rarely use this word, but this is an important story that deserves to be told, so consider donating to this very worthy campaign.

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At Black Ivory Tower, I wrote about the latest release from one of my favorite (and one of the sexiest) synthpop projects of all time, Dernière Volonté. Prie Pour Moi is a deliciously erotic collection of martial-tinged pop featuring traditional French rhythms and instrumentation. It’s truly something that should be experienced.

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I was invited back on the Black Ivory Tower podcast to talk about music, upcoming festivals, and the perils of album art cliches. Did you know that there are over sixty examples of Caspar David Friedrich’s 1817 painting “Monastery Graveyard in the Snow” being used on metal album covers? Well, there are, so maybe reconsider using that one.

The Return of Black Ivory Tower

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In February, I’d written about the unique and overwhelmingly (yet delightfully) esoteric black metal and folk zine Black Ivory Tower, which at that time had been shuttered. It pleases me to no end to let you all know that Black Ivory Tower is back in blog form with a brand-new podcast. I’ve joined the BIT team and will be writing about the music that moves me as well as various beautiful, old-fashioned things.

Transmissions from the Black Ivory Tower Episode 1: I join Degtyarov and we talk about controversial album art, the pain of visa issues for musicians, and 90s video games. Unlike my podcast, this show does not include a section where the co-host is tortured by reading a filthy section of a book aloud (sorry to disappoint you all).

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Magic for the People: The Art of Ivan Bilibin: I’ve long admired the artwork of the sole Russian representative in the Golden Age of Illustration. In many ways, Bilibin opened a window for Western audiences to glimpse the folklore and aesthetics of his culture, so I took a moment to appreciate his contributions.

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Strength Through Satire: The Neofolk Mischief of Death in Rome: The heart wants what it wants, and my heart desperately wants pop song covers in the style of Death in June, OK? There’s a lot more to the work of Death in Rome than just the initial chuckle at the concept, and I support this theory in the article above. Apparently I did a decent job, because the band offered me the opportunity to pick their next cover song on Twitter. I picked “Toxic” by Britney Spears and I cannot wait to hear this [thanks again to DiR for being so generous and lovely].

Around the Web: Historical Heroine, German Decadent Black Metal, and Unfortunate Bigfoot Comics

It’s been another eventful month in the Empire as I march towards the Fall season. I’m putting the finishing touches on a new, limited edition, handmade book to be released by my Heretical Sexts imprint titled Morbid Fantasies: A Reader’s Guide to the Gothic. Not only is it a great primer in the genre, but it also features beautiful illustrations by several incredible artists. I’m hoping to have that out in October so stay tuned for more info!

Cover art by Becky Munich
Cover art by Becky Munich

Speaking of artistic endeavors, I’ve got work in the upcoming Occult Activity Book Vol. 2, created by S. Elizabeth and Becky Munich. I was working with ideas of occult couples, so I have two coloring pages featuring esoteric love matches, plus a papercraft Gilles de Rais. Look for his partner Joan of Arc to be offered free on this blog once the book is released. The first edition sold out super-quickly, so don’t miss your opportunity to own volume two. Pre-order your copy here!

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On Slutist, I did something a bit different in August and talked about Artemisia Gentileschi, the Baroque-era Italian painter who overcame personal trauma to become a respected artist in her own right. Read her story here.

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Did you know that Rob Zombie co-wrote a Bigfoot comic that’s full of implied rape? I personally prefer ecologically conscious Bigfoot over weird rapist Bigfoot, but hey, to each their own. Read my thoughts on this crazy disaster-mess on Nine Circles.

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Decadent German black metal band Imperium Dekadenz draws inspiration from Tinto Brass’ Caligula, among other sources. Their lush, melodramatic, melodic record is a shoo-in for my best of 2016 list. Read my thoughts on their latest, Dis Manibvs, on Nine Circles.

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Another historically-grounded metal album that moved me recently was Wrekmeister Harmonies’ Light Falls. It’s an emotionally harrowing journey inspired by Primo Levi’s holocaust memoir If This Is A Man as well as by band-leader JR Robinson’s strained relationship with his son. Not an easy listen, but a deeply rewarding one. Read my thoughts here.

Around the Web: Chick Comics, American Mysticism, So Much Doom, and More

It’s been entirely too long since I updated here, but y’all will hopefully forgive me when you see everything I’m up to.

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The big news (such as anything can be termed “big news” in my world of esoteric nonsense) is that I’m launching a podcast with my trusted Heretical Sexts lieutenant J. Guignol. It’s called Bad Books for Bad People, and it will feature the most outrageous, shocking, shamefully fun books that we’ve enjoyed. Expect a variety of titles from a variety of time periods. Our first book is BleakWarrior, and Jack describes it as “”if SoulCalibur were a porno directed by Jodorowsky.”

Elsewhere, I’ve done bunches of stuff…

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I’m continuing my Great Moments in Historical Sluttery column with two amazing women:

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Semiramis, the Assyrian empress who has alternately been known as a warrior heroine, a vengeful lover, and a mother goddess

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Marchesa Luisa Casati, the celebrated Italian heiress who dedicated her life to her eccentricities, becoming a living work of art

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I reviewed Violence Girl, punk pioneer Alice Bag’s captivating and wonderfully honest memoir of her childhood and youth in L.A.’s burgeoning punk scene.

The reiussue of Master of Mysteries: New Revelations on the Life of Manly Palmer Hall is fantastic, as is the book’s author, Louis Sahagun.

Nine Circles

Album Review: Cardinals Folly – Holocaust of Ecstasy and Freedom (one for the trad doom crowd)

Black Church, a metal-inspired comic I’d talked about on here a while back. Still waiting on that volume two…!

My favorite albums from the first half of 2016 (it’s been a good year)

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The dangers of rock music in Spellbound?, a Chick Publications comic informed by the work of the same dude who assisted with Dark Dungeons.

I got to chat with Anders Manga of Bloody Hammers, my former editor over at Occult Rock Magazine. The new Bloody Hammers is a delightful occult/doom/goth-flavored offering that should be listened to posthaste.

Weird fiction scholar S.T. Joshi reading Clark Ashton Smith on limited edition vinyl? Sure, I’ll take that.

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I liked the Myrkur live album, Mausoleum, that just came out.

Around the Web: DIJ Fanfic, Boyd Rice Bio, Mae West, Celtic Frost Comics and More

Has it been almost two months since I posted an update? YIKES. Let me atone for that by letting you know everything I’ve been up to…

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In what’s probably my greatest personal achievement to date, the Death In June/Boyd Rice fanfic authored by the mysterious J. Guignol and illustrated by me is being sold as officially endorsed DIJ merch at Soleilmoon. The beautiful hardbound copies got snapped up right quick, but softbound copies are still available. According to coverage on Dangerous Minds, it’s “frankly explicit” and I’ve also been told it’s “funny” and “surprisingly sad,” so go grab a copy and find out for yourself. Oh, and if you want me to do a fic about your band in erotic situations, please get in touch.

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April’s Great Moment in Historical Sluttery is dedicated to Vali Myers, the 60s counterculture icon and artist who was so much more than a muse. Read about her here.

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I enjoy puns, so for May I covered Mae West, who was one of the most excellent humans to walk the earth. The story about the trained parrots might be my favorite anecdote from this piece. Read about Mae West here.

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Speaking of Slutist, I got a chance to chat with founder Kristen Korvette about the  second installment of the Legacy of the Witch Festival. She’s great, you’ll want to learn more about her in this interview for Heathen Harvest.

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Mike Hunchback, man of indomitable charm & energy and co-editor of Pulp Macabre: the Art of Lee Brown Coye chatted with me about weird fiction, underground art, and the controversy surrounding H.P. Lovecraft. Read the article on Heathen Harvest.

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I like Boyd Rice. I like Brian M. Clark’s biography of Boyd Rice, which I reviewed on Heathen Harvest.

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I am already moooost of the way to liking anything with a title as clever as Entartete Kunts, a book on underground metal and punk art that I talked about for Heathen Harvest. That cover is really dope, isn’t it?

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The Humans is a superb, over-the-top, psychedelic collision of great things featuring art by Tom Neely, one of my favorite comics artists working right now. The pitch is simple: Planet of the Apes meets vintage 70s biker film. I ranted quite a bit about how you need to read this comic over at Nine Circles.
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Yes, you do want to know more about a comics tribute to Celtic Frost, because those are an insane series of words in combination with one another. Read my review of Morbid Tales! A Tribute to Celtic Frost on Nine Circles.

Esotericism and Metal in the Black Ivory Tower

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I’m a voracious reader. In addition to the scores of blogs I follow in my personal and professional lives, I’m juggling four or five books at any given time. I’d estimate that over the course of a month, I read the writing of around a hundred authors. As a person who believes that language can be evocative as well as informative, I find myself sifting through articles, eager for an elegant turn of phrase or a taste of dry wit. There are go-to film writers who deliver confident, textured writing that entertains beyond the scope of its subject matter,* but I find myself looking for music writers with the same panache. The difficulty of writing about music is summed up in an old chestnut of dubious origin, but as I read more underground music criticism on a regular basis, I can’t help but pine for strong, personal voices. To my obsessive reader’s eye, a troubling majority of writers on the kinds of music I enjoy** (various forms of metal, neofolk, industrial, and so on) are concerned with the niceties of genre classification and the relative production values between records to the exclusion of honing their craft as authors. This kind of writing is undeniably helpful when it comes to making purchasing decisions, but it’s often a joyless thing to read–more on a par with Consumer Reports than anything one would pick up for pleasure. I believe that sophisticated language takes on additional importance when an author chooses to write about underground and extreme forms of music, since the reasonable assumption should be that the piece of writing in question will be most readers’ first exposure to the music being reviewed.

*If you don’t read House of Self-Indulgence (Yum-Yum), Mondo Heather (Heather Drain), and Acidemic (Erich Kuersten), you are missing out on truly unique perspectives from people who are masters of their craft.

**The #NotAllWriters rule applies, guys. I’m not being shady towards people I know.

One of the luxuries afforded to independent publishers who don’t make their livings from their writing is the fact that they can develop aggressively non-commercial voices and perspectives. I’m keenly aware that my blogging and zine pursuits don’t have to line up with popular opinions or trends, and it’s creatively freeing for me. I find myself struck with delight in those all too rare moments when I find a kindred spirit in some far-flung corner of the world, madly writing away about some arcane topic and feeding his or her soul in the process.

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Through the vagaries of fate,*** I recently came across writing so absolutely unique within the metal world that I was fascinated at first read. Black Ivory Tower, published in blog and zine form, is dedicated to the most obscure forms of metal and underground music imaginable. To put this in perspective: perhaps the most well-known band reviewed in BIT is Peste Noire, the French “National Satanist Black Metal” outfit.**** One will not find a gentle guide through the wilderness of these recordings in BIT. Instead, the reader is overwhelmed by a wall of elaborately structured, deeply intellectual, and frequently caustic prose. This is writing that meets the arcane and aggressive music it discusses head-on, without apologies.

***OK, actually Twitter.

****Note to my regular readers: as an added encouragement to seek out Peste Noire’s music, be aware that band leader Famine describes their output as “fantastique, grotesque, archaeofuturist black metal,” which makes me a little swoony even just typing those words.

The person with this startlingly refreshing voice is Degtyarov, a writer who embodies the unrepentantly esoteric nature of the true underground. While his writing on the topic of National Socialist Black Metal (NSBM) bands like Russia’s Moloth has rubbed some the wrong way, there’s more than mere provocation to his work. The current resurgence of political correctness has made it all too easy for even the most amateur authors to hammer on hot buttons, but Degtyarov’s best work captures the bleak outlook of the frustrated Romantic.

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Glimpses of his skill as a writer and editor***** are available in the blog, but Black Ivory Tower is best experienced in print form. I find reading print media to be far more relaxing and immersive than reading online: distractions are fewer, the physical experience is more comfortable, and it’s an altogether more natural way to absorb the written word. The traditionalist views and extreme erudition of BIT are inherently better suited to the printed page than to the virtual one, and as an editor, Degtyarov takes full advantage of the magazine medium to create a deliberate flow from article to article. Physically, the zine feels substantial–thoughtfully illustrated and printed in full color, it’s clearly a labor of love for its creator. There’s a sophistication and density to the second volume of BIT that’s unlike any metal zine I’ve ever read. Contributors to BIT 2, aptly subtitled “Time of Heroes,” take an intense, scholarly look at topics including Current 93 and Christianity, the Alpine mythology of Sturmpercht, and Colombian folk music. Articles in the zine are united by themes of cultural heritage and a yearning for a heroic past that perhaps never existed. This is a canny choice by Degtyarov in his role as editor, as it allows him to contextualize his own writing on the ultra-esoteric world of Siberian folk and metal music. In the hands of a lesser writer, this material would be no more than a novelty–trivia about a Western, urban form of music adapted by people from an “exotic” land. What Degtyarov does here is more than merely define the world of Siberian metal–he brings it and its creators to life for his readers. Take, for example, these passages from Taigafolk (available to read in full on the BIT blog):

The clouds press heavily on the trees, cloaking them in a sultry fog that permeates even the loneliest thickets of the immense boreal forest. The spruces that safeguard nature’s last remaining secrets reach into cold, unwelcoming soil, yet it is the only home that they have ever known, and ever will know. Set in motion only by an occasional breeze, these green giants stand side by side as the pillars of an immovable forest wall, unscathed by man. Their only fate is eternity; they shall remain loyal to the earth that nurtured them, until the end of time.

In art, and music in particular, one can already witness the casting off of falseness and Babylonian platitudes. Though commonly seen as a force of desecration, the black metal genre is ugly only in form, as its hideousness merely serves to hold up a mirror to the nauseating excesses of the era against which it revolts. Folk music, too, spearheads its own insurrection by attempting to purify itself of the grotesque musical mutations that together constitute the soundtrack of the 21st century.

Flutes, bells and additional guitars allow the melody come to fruition. They dance in harmony, paving the way for the drums and electric strings, which finally push the composition into a black metal orbit. These instruments, too, remain loyal to the leitmotif, with the solemn humming in the background persisting until the very end. Together, they establish the scene of Mother Earth, who can only stand idly by as a great evil pierces through her crust.

The structure of this article is such that, by the time Degtyarov gets around to describing the music, the reader is so completely captivated by atmosphere that they ache to know what the recording sounds like. His style of writing goes beyond music criticism for the sake of information and becomes an extraordinarily pleasurable and–yes–poetic reading experience. In the author’s deft hands, an LP produced in a small city on the Asian continent takes on a jewel-like significance: rare, beautiful, and representing so much more than its modest scale would suggest.

*****It should be noted that though the focus here is on BIT’s creator, the site and zine features multiple contributors

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There are those who will dub the approach to music writing in BIT elitist, and that’s not an incorrect observation. I’d argue that a populist approach to esoteric art is by its nature inappropriate–if you’re turned off by the concept of high-minded writing about high-minded ideas, this isn’t a publication for you. The most unique artists in any medium know that they alienate vast portions of the world by honing the characteristics that define them. An egalitarian approach to reviewing music by a band that only releases thirty physical copies of their album would be beyond dissonant–it would be laughable.

I’ll confess that I read Degtyarov’s writing with a sense of envy on a number of levels. He’s an absolutely fearless writer, confronting topics I struggle to discuss in polite New York City 2016 society, but beyond that, he’s not a native English speaker. Hailing from the Netherlands, his writing process in the early days of BIT was to write an entire review in Dutch and translate it into English only after it was complete. One can witness the evolution of his writing over the four short years that BIT has been published; the work in volume 2 of the print zine is demonstrably more powerful than the angrier, more venomous content of volume 1. There’s an advancement to a higher plane of thought happening here that’s fascinating to witness.

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It seems only fitting that this story ends with a bittersweet yearning for what could have been. The unfortunate truth is that Black Ivory Tower is not, at the time of this writing, an active publication. Degtyarov contributes to Nine Circles (my metal blog of choice and now home to my writing) and is the co-host of Heathen Harvest’s excellent podcast, A Forest Passage (HH is another site I’m privileged to write for). In my heart of hearts, though, I hope Degtyarov makes a triumphant return to the fortress of dark ideals he built with the Black Ivory Tower.

Elsewhere: Horizontal Collaboration, More Jean Rollin, Miro Snejdr, More Artwork…

It’s true, friends–gone are the days when I’m blogging about every single thing I’ve watched. Your devastation resonates directly into my black, patent-leather heart, but don’t despair. My graphomania is now dispersed across the web on various *other* platforms.

Living Dead Girl by Sarah Horrocks
Living Dead Girl by Sarah Horrocks

The second part of my look into the work of Jean Rollin and his connection to the world of visual art and comics can be read over at Dirge: Pulp Surrealism, Collage, and the Influence of Jean Rollin

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December’s Great Moment in Historical Sluttery discussed Isadora Duncan, the Mother of Modern Dance, whose life was dramatic on every conceivable level, privately and publicly. Isadora Duncan: The Ritual of Dance and Freedom

Photo credit: Kate Lamb
Photo credit: Kate Lamb

At Heathen Harvest, I had an opportunity to chat with musician and composer Miro Snejdr, probably best known for his work with Death in June. Miro is one of the most organically gifted individuals I’ve spoken with, and the sort of person who thinks that it’s “boring” to be able to sit at a piano and create music as if touched by the hand of a higher power. The Magic Hand of Chance: An Interview with Miro Snejdr

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Also at Heathen Harvest, I reviewed Horizontal Collaboration, the latest book by my favorite historian, the amazing Mel Gordon. His book on Weimar Berlin, Voluptuous Panic, has had a tremendous impact on my life, and Horizontal Collaboration is a worthy successor. Horizontal Collaboration: The Erotic World of Paris, 1920-1946

I also contributed my top three albums of the year to Heathen Harvest’s Best of 2015 list. It’s not terribly surprising if you’ve been reading this site for any period of time. Heathen Harvest’s Best of 2015/Best of the Quinquennium

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In the midst of all this other running-about, I have a new print available for purchase. You can buy a copy of my Death and the Maiden shown above in the Heretical Sexts shop.

Should you be interested in working with me, I’ve also got a brand-new portfolio site you can visit to learn more about my work style and availability: www.TenebrousKate.com

Playlist: It’s Bleak Inside the Artist’s Studio

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In the interests of sharing AND caring, I’ve put together a playlist of some of the music that’s been keeping me company in my Art Dungeon lately. I’m putting finishing touches on a chapbook that’s due out at the end of this month, but in the meantime please enjoy this musical offering.

Track listing (plus links to where you can–and should–buy the albums):

    1. Dernierè Volonté – “Je Tuerai Qui Tu Voudras:” I’m deeply frustrated by the fact that I can’t tell if this project is still active, but I will remain sustained by this delightfully disaffected interview with Geoffrey D in which the answer to so many questions is “no.” I love him with every sinew of my ossified heart.
    2. Lupi Gladius – “L’elogio Dell’alterità:” more martial pop, this time with accordions. Remember when accordions were a punchline? That’s some misguided shit right there. Accordions forever–they’re mournful and mournful is inherently good.
    3. Ghost – “Cirice:” still love these guys. Still not sorry.
    4. Novo Homo – “Sexual Panzer:” Bain Wolfkind’s mishearing of the name “Sancho Panza” is what led to the writing of this song and now I believe that magic exists in the world.
    5. Electric Wizard – “Time to Die:” you’re not getting out of here without Wizard.
    6. Lychgate – “A Principal on Seclusion:” loud screaming and pipe organs: just reading that, you should either be sold on Lychgate or not. To provide a little more evocation for the curious but stubborn: Lychgate is the soundtrack to being tormented by visions of your sins in the crypt of a Spanish cathedral in the 16th Century. It should therefore surprise no one that this is my runner-up for favorite album of 2015.
    7. Mgła – “Exercises in Futility VI:” so hot right now, but also a very good record.
    8. Eïs – “Im Noktarium:” the second black metal band in a row on this playlist that will force fellow English speakers to Google the pronunciation of the band’s name. I like the Germans–they’ve got melancholy down to a science.
    9. Der Weg einer Freiheit – “Requiem:” I’m still bummed out that their US tour got canceled due to visa issues, but my deep feelings on the shittiness of visa issues have surely been unpacked elsewhere. Listen and be sublimely bummed-out.
    10. Porta Nigra – “Der letzte Ton:” What more can I say about these guys that I haven’t already expressed thoroughly? Superb, intelligent, unorthodox heavy metal that you should listen to over and over again (lord knows I have).

Cataclysmic Decadence in Porta Nigra’s “Kaiserschnitt”

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Music puts me at a loss for words. Maybe I just prefer to let the visceral experience of bathing in sound remain a private one. Today, I’m going to make an exception to this muteness because I simply cannot contain my delight at listening to Kaiserschnitt, the most recent release from self-described “dark decadent metal” duo Porta Nigra. A work of malefic gorgeousness and sophisticated extremity, something REAL special would have to come out to unseat this album as my favorite of 2015.

Let’s talk about the use of the word “decadent.” A term defanged over the course of decades by ad men who use it to describe chocolatey desserts and lipstick textures, Porta Nigra employs the term in its most literary sense: Decadence as a nihilistic celebration of decay, madness, and vice. While many of the topics covered by the band will be familiar to heavy metal fans (war, sex, insanity), their work is inspired by works of art and literature that are a far cry from the pop/pulp influences more typically found in this kind of music. Borrowing the Satanism of J.K. Huysmans’ “La Bas,”* the diseased eroticism of Felicien Rops, and the martial symbolism of Gabriele D’Annunzio, Porta Nigra create a soundscape that, while extreme, has a sense of musical control and aesthetic refinement. Each sound–whether expressed through guitar, drum, vocals, samples, or keyboards–is carefully selected for maximum theatrical impact. The rapid-fire drums of opening track “Die Mensur” call to mind the quick slashing strikes of German academic fencing, while “Hepatits Libido” features a drunk reel alternating with punctuated stabs to conjure dizzying eros-thanatos.

*It’s noteworthy that a member of the band goes by the moniker Gilles de Rais, the child-murdering black magician once associated with Joan of Arc and a central figure in “La Bas.”

Porta Nigra hails from Germany, and Kaiserschnitt does a breathtaking job of conjuring an “ecstatic truth” vision of that country in the 1910s and 1920s. The album’s title translates to “Caesarian section” (literally: “Kaiser/Emperor Cut”), a grisly, interventionist method of birth that evokes the chaos of Germany’s military exploits and downfall in the early 20th Century (to say nothing of the bloodshed that would follow with the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s). In addition to the influence of the Decadents, there is a strong sense of Germany’s artistic heritage during this time period in Kaiserschnitt. Known for their unflinching portrayals of taboo topics like battlefield casualties, criminals, prostitutes, and other inhabitants of the demimonde, the German Expressionist painter’s toolkit consisted of energetic strokes, lurid colors, and dynamic compositions–the same experience delivered by Porta Nigra’s musical arrangements. While the album’s subject matter isn’t explicitly supernatural or fantastical, there’s also an aesthetic whiff of Decadent- and Expressionist-adjacent German occult novelists like Gustav Meyrink and Hanns Heinz Ewers** on this record.

**Ewers’ 1916 novel “Alraune” was the best book I read in the year I discovered it, and is far ghastlier, sexier, and funnier than you probably expect it to be. Please thank me for that recommendation later.

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I would be terribly remiss if I didn’t mention Porta Nigra’s marvelous visual presentation. Their promotional photo for Kaiserschnitt depicts the pair decked out in full mensur fencing gear. I’ll permit myself an indulgent aside here to tell you how much I adore mensur (I’m working on A Whole Thing that involves mensur). An academic form of fencing, mensur is practiced in fraternities in Germany and Austria, and unlike what we think of as “fencing,” it’s not a duel with a winner but rather a sort of maniac’s version of a character building exercise. Each bout finds two participants in neck guards, vests, and goggles (and probably bellies full of delicious German beer for added courage) facing off with rapiers held above the head, rapidly swinging them about without flinching. The resulting facial scars–schmiss–were worn with pride.

And then there’s Kaiserschnitt’s arresting cover artwork, with its bloody-mouthed, world-devouring beast in Prussian headgear. The art was created by Valnoir, a French designer whose Metastazis studio website opens with  a warning to potential clients that includes the following: “to the plebeian who says ‘you should know how to accept criticism,’ we respond ‘not when it’s ludicrous.'” This is probably my new favorite design site.

At this point, I hope I’ve titillated you to the point that you’re aching to listen to Kaiserschnitt for yourself. Thanks to the magic of the information superhighway, you can have just this kind of instant gratification! Stream Porta Nigra’s latest album below, and visit their Bandcamp page to purchase a digital copy. Porta Nigra is active on Facebook as well, for those who are of the social-media-using sort.