31 March 2008

BRB, IRL Drama

For those of you who are fortunate enough not to speak internet, allow me to translate the title into a real language. There's been a death in my family, which necessitates that I return to the fatherland that is New Jersey in order to pay my respects (and on particularly short notice). As they have a nasty habit of doing, a lot of things--good and bad--have happened in a short time, and I find myself a bit disoriented. I like to think that I've taken it with dignity and grace (at least so far).

I'm going to be out of the loop until Thursday night (local time, anyway), at which point I will return, no doubt after a fair bit of introspection and pondering, two pastimes to which I am particularly given.

On a thoroughly unrelated note, I didn't like the new layout nearly as much as I did when I first put it in place, and I'm probably going to try out some new ones. In the meantime, I've reverted to the good old classic layout. Like stockings in a department store, so too are the layouts of our blogs.

29 March 2008

Non Sequiturs, Ep. 3

I think that a large part of the the reason that I like cloche hats so much is that they remind me of helmets. They appeal to my inner fascist. Just think of it--an unstoppable army of iron-disciplined flappers, conquering the farthest corners of the earth, crushing all resistance (and looking damned good doing it, too)!

27 March 2008

The Rule of Thirds

March 17 saw the release of The Rule of Thirds, the latest LP from England's Death in June, the brainchild of Douglas Pearce (alias Douglas P). As I continue to delve into the Neofolk genre, I have learned that Death in June is one of the pillars of the style. Along with Current 93 (a project in which Douglas Pearce is also heavily involved), Death in June was a pioneering Neofolk act, helping to define the genre in much the same way that Bathory helped to define Black Metal (and Viking Metal, for that matter, but I digress).

A bit of a disclaimer is in order: when it comes to Death in June (and Neofolk in general), I am an unmitigated neophyte. From what I have read, longtime fans of Death in June have given The Rule of Thirds a notably lukewarm reception. It's entirely possible that D.I.J. veterans know many things that I don't, but I found The Rule of Thirds to be an engaging and enjoyable listen. It's been on heavy rotation over the past several days.

Each song consists entirely of three elements--acoustic guitar, Douglas Pearce's subdued vocals and an unobtrusive blend of sampled bits of dialogue. Where some have criticized the vocals for sounding as though Pearce is bored, I find them not in the least bit so--subdued, certainly, and detached, but in a way that fits the emotional tone of the music. This brings me to the second major complaint I have happened across: as the have for his vocals, some have chided Pearce for dull and repetitive guitar techniques (too much strum, they say). Far be it from me to be a qualified judge of guitar techniques, but here too I find that the criticisms are vastly exaggerated. Pearce may not be on par with David Gilmour, but he is a perfectly good guitarist in his own right.

The Rule of Thirds is a solid album. I might become more critical of the album as I become more enlightened through exposure to Pearce's older and more esteemed releases, but I can't really see how that would be the case.

23 March 2008

Ave Ioanna, Imperatrix Totius Mundi!

Today is the birthday of no less a personage than the inimitable Joan Crawford (née Lucille LeSeuer). By way of celebration, I've whipped up a bit of pro-Joan propaganda. There's not much I can say about the occasion or Joan herself that hasn't already been said by others more knowledgeable and more eloquent than I am, so rather than make small talk let's all pour one out for our dead homie.

As an aside, here's what the Blue Öyster Cult has to say about the matter.

22 March 2008

Album of the Week: Mayhem - De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (1994)

Today is the 40th anniversary of the birth of Øystein Aarseth (more widely known as Euronymous). To celebrate, this week's featured album is the final album on which Euronymous worked before his rather unpleasant murder.

De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas may be the most infamous Black Metal album ever recorded. By the time of the album's release, Mayhem had become quite notorious--vocalist Dead had already committed a gruesome suicide in 1991, and Varg Vikernes (who had played bass on the album) had murdered Euronymous shortly after the band had finished recording the album. Furthermore, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas has also been the source of much debate among connoisseurs of Metal--some consider the album to be the quintessential Black Metal album, while on the other hand iconoclasts (of whom there are many among Black Metallers) consider it highly overrated and thus think less of it. Still others argue that the album is not a product of the "true" Mayhem, as Dead and Necrobutcher (two members of the so-called Classic lineup) were not involved in recording the album. Personally, I count myself among this album's proponents.

The production values of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas are top-notch (at least by Black Metal standars), with rawness and clarity balancing one another out quite well. To put it another way, the instruments are distorted (as is to be expected), but each one is clearly audible in the mix. Where musicianship is concerned, the band is at the top of their game.

The atmosphere of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas is also impeccable, which are quite befitting of the lyrics (which were, by the way, composed by Dead prior to his death). The music here achieves a sense of darkness and menace that is nigh on unrivaled. Some songs are certainly better than others, but all are worth listening to. Not surprisingly, "Funeral Fog" and "Freezing Moon" are easily the best of the lot.

This isn't to say that that De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas is by any means a perfect album; it does have it's fair share of drawbacks. Some listeners are likely to find Hellhammer's habitual blastbeats a bit grating, and Atila Csihar's vocals take some getting used to--he sounds a bit like Bela Lugosi, and to be honest I really didn't like the vocals at all the first few times I listened to the album. They have since grown on me, needless to say.

De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas has an impressive reputation, but for the most part it lives up to the hype. It's influence on Black Metal is so profound as to qualify the album as a classic that is definitive of Black Metal as a genre. It is a necessary purchase for anyone who is interested in Black Metal music. Quite an achievement, considering it was the band's first full-length album.

21 March 2008


Just in time for spring, Terminal Sigma has broken out her* new wardrobe. Granted, the new wardrobe is kind of the same as the old one, but I felt it was time for a change, and I like the new look much better. I've also been kicking around the idea of getting a flickr account.

Real world concerns have made blog maintenance difficult, so I do apologize to my loyal readership for the sparsity of updates. If it's any consolation to you (and it probably isn't), the next album of the week is coming tomorrow evening, and it's gonna be a good one.

I've got important birthdays to celebrate Saturday and Sunday. You should all know whose birthday it is on Sunday, but Saturday's birthday boy is a bit more obscure.

*Yes, the blog is female. She's also an angry lesbian emo chick.

20 March 2008

The Art of Grimness, Ep. 6

I'm surprised I've made it this far without mentioning Immortal. Though they started out playing Death Metal under the name Amptuation, Immortal soon shifted to the Black Metal style (thanks to Euronymous) which has made them so famous. Yet despite their status as one of the most influential Black Metal acts in existence, there's no denying that Immortal can be downright silly--just look at those ridiculous get ups! Indeed, Immortal is responsible for many of Black Metal's more humorous elements--anytime you hear something being referred to as "grim"or "frostbitten," you can thank Immortal, since they coined the phrase with their song "Grim and Frostbitten Kingdoms."

16 March 2008

Youtube Magic: KFC

I have no words for how horrible this commercial is. I can at least take solace in the fact that the Kentucky Fried Chicken marketing department doesn't really know what Black Metal sounds like. But still, this makes my soul hurt more than furries and Scientology combined. Also, the vocalist looks kind of like Weird Al.

15 March 2008

Album of the Week: Nature and Organisation - Beauty Reaps the Blood of Solitude (1994)

Nature and Organisation is the brainchild of Michael Cashmore, a long time contributor to British Neofolk outfit Current 93. As such, Nature and Organisation might sound familiar to fans of Current 93 (or Death in June, for that matter). Released in 1994, Beauty Reaps the Blood of Solitude was out of print for quite some time, but was re-released in 2007.

Beauty Reaps the Blood of Solitude features a great deal of musical diversity, from acoustic folk to neoclassical to Merzbow-esque noise. The neoclassical/folk elements by and large dominant the album, however, and the end result is one of the most beautiful albums ever recorded. It is an engaging listen from beginning to end, with the possible exception of "Beauty Destroyed," which is a cacophonous wall of distorted, electronic sound (somehow appropriate, given the track's name).

All the other tracks, on the other hand, are wonderful; picking out a single one as the best of the lot is practically impossible, though if I were pressed, I would have to nominate either "Bloodstreamruns", "Tears for an Eastern Girl" or "Bonewhiteglory".

Only recently have I begun to explore Neofolk music, and it is largely because of this album. It may be hard to find, but it is well worth the effort to procure it.

13 March 2008

Relevant to my Interests, Ep. 9

Billie Dove was one of the more popular actresses of the silent era, as well one of the lucky few who managed the transition to the talkies relatively unscathed. She is also far more interesting than the essay I'm supposed to be writing right now.

Despite her popularity, Billie decided she'd had enough of show business in 1932 and retired at the age of 29 to spend time with her family. A peculiar decision, to be sure, but as Tiki Barber will tell you, it's better to go out at the top of your game rather than to stick around well past your prime. After all, if you don't know when to call it a career you might end up signing with the Arizona Cardinals. Or starring in Trog. And we all know what that leads to.

11 March 2008

Album Art that was Better than the Actual Music, Ep. 4

Beherit - The Oath of Black Blood (1991)

Black Metal is a genre that prides itself on raw production. This trend began when pioneering acts like Mayhem, Burzum and Bathory cut costs on production values due to budget constraints, but underproduction has since become arguably essential to the Black Metal ethos (Dimmu Borgir and Dark Funeral notwithstanding). Yet it is possible to have too much of a good thing (good, in this case, being a highly subjective quality).

Finland's Beherit was one of the lesser-known pioneering acts in the so-called Second Wave of Black Metal, and their obscurity is plain to hear--the production on this album is godawful (though some might consider that a compliment). The mix is horribly uneven, with the vocals overwhelming the instruments, the guitars so distorted as to sound like squealing breaks on a freight train and the drums often times inaudible. I can tolerate bad production, having listened to (and enjoyed!) my fair share of bootlegged Mayhem tracks in my day, but when the music is almost as poor as the production, even I can't think of the glass as half full.

The story behind this album is more interesting than the actual product--Beherit was granted a respectable--at least by underground standards--amount of money to record The Oath of Black Blood. Rather than do anything productive, the band instead opted to spend their budget on booze and drugs. Not all that shocking; indeed, this is the sort of things that rock bands have been doing at least since the 1960s. Without anything to show for their money, the record label opted to release a compilation of some of Beherit's old demo tracks, along with tracks from the band's earlier 7" EP (entitled Dawn of Satan's Millenium). The end result was The Oath of Black Blood, which has now come to be widely renowned and loved in the Black Metal milieu.

As unspectacular as the music might be, the album art is nevertheless suitably grim--it's hard to go wrong with skeletons in perverted ecclesiastical garb, after all. The artwork (as well as Beherit's logo) was done by Chris Moyen, who has provided artwork for quite a number of Black and Death Metal bands. I highly recommend you visit his website and have a look at his impressive body of work, which includes a hinger-quality version of the artwork featured above.

As for Beherit, they would thankfully improve. The Oath of Black Blood was succeeded by 1993's Drawing Down the Moon, a much better produced and much more interesting album. The band parted ways in 1996, after attempting a more ritualistic, ambient approach with their later work.

10 March 2008

Non Sequiturs, Ep. 2

My mother always warned me about this.

07 March 2008

Album of the week: Edguy - Theater of Salvation (1999)

Power Metal is, by definition, very silly. Few bands are quite as silly (or quite aware of how silly they truly are) as German Power Metal outfit Edguy. Of course, silly isn't always a bad thing--1999's Theater of Salvation is proof of that.

Theater of Salvation is bursting at the seams with everything that makes Power Metal enjoyable--thrashy, breakneck-speed music, laden with hooks and inspirational lyrics (and not inspirational in the Christian rock sense, either). This album--like most of Edguy's output--is a bit difficult to review in depth. To a certain extent, it does all sound more or less the same, but that can easily be overlooked, as it all sounds so rediculously good. One can choose just about any track at random, and be prepared to bang one's head along to Edguy's over-the-top greatness. The only exceptions might be the power ballads, which are a bit too hokey, even for someone like me. Standout songs include "Babylon", "Headless Game," "Falling Down" and "Arrows Fly."

I have to admit that Power Metal is something of a guilty pleasure for me--I enjoy it, certainly, but it is just so damned silly. In that respect, it's kind of like Busby Berkeley musicals. And ultimately, that's kind of what Edguy is--the Gold Diggers of '33 of Heavy Metal.

06 March 2008

Youtube Magic: Palmy Days (1931)

I've spent a lot of time here giving laus et gloria to the female stars of Hollywood's Augustan Age, but the menfolk have more often then not gone unmentioned. Methinks it's time to remedy that situation, so that no one may call me a sexist (not that anyone is likely to, but still, it's the principle of the thing)!

Eddie Cantor is one of my favorite comedians from back in the day. He was quite the showman--he had a better voice than Al Jolson (and I find him a fair bit funnier, too). Through the magic of youtube, I've been able to see quite a few scenes from Palmy Days, Eddie's 1931 film about, of all things, a bakery. Without further ado, here's one of those scenes which I particularly liked, wherein Eddie is the victim of a bit of domestic violence at the hands of Charlotte Greenwood.

I originally wanted to feature a few more clips, but the Fascists at YouTube have yet again thwarted my plans.

04 March 2008

Candlemass and Thomas Cole

Thomas Cole was an American painter during the long-ago days of the 19th century. His work is rather impressive and is quite in keeping with the taste of the Romantic movement which was sweeping the western world at the time. But what does that have to do with anything I've discussed here?

Among Cole's curriculum vitae is a tetralogy of serial paintings entitled The Voyage of Life. As you might imagine, each painting represents a stage of life--childhood, youth, adulthood and old age, respectively. The Swedish Doom Metal band Candlemass adopted two of these for use as album artwork.

Candlemass adapted Cole's Old Age for use as the cover art for Nightfall, their second studio album. Several songs on the album deal with death, in particular the song "Samaritan," in which the narrator is confronted by angels on his deathbed who will guide him to heaven in reward for his good deeds in life.

Cole's Youth was used as the cover art for the album Ancient Dreams, and it too was certainly an appropriate choice. The ethereal castle in the painting represents the aspirations of man--the dreams, if you will--which, tragically, the voyager will not achieve. The titular song on the album reflects this idea in its lyrics:

Chase the horizons, catch the illusion
Remember the child within
There's no tomorrow just sadness and sorrow
Hold on to the Ancient Dreams

Candlemass considered using another Cole painting--Manhood, from the same tetralogy--for the cover of their next album, Tales of Creation, but bassist Leif Eidling opted instead to use a modified version of Gustave Dore's The Creation of Light, which he remembered seeing in his old family Bible. But when the band did use Cole's artwork, they clearly made wise decisions.

03 March 2008

It (1927)

The first time I ever heard of the movie It was many moons ago. I used to have a rather large tome entitled The Chronicle of the 20th Century which contained a year-by-year, month-by-month recounting of the major events of the last century. It was a rather dated book, ending in January of 1987 (I never read that far anyway; I usually only read through 1945, largely because everything after that year was too modern and familiar to be of interest, and also because major wars became somewhat less frequent). In that chapter of the book dedicated to 1927, there was a picture of an advertisement for a movie entitled simply "It". At the time, I had no idea what this "it" was--I though it was horror movie, like the 1990 movie of the same name. I could not have been more wrong.

It is an early specimen of that sort of romantic comedy fluff that the film industry has been producing since time immemorial, but I couldn't help liking It, first of all because it's a silent film from the 1920s (my favorite decade, don't you know) and also because it's soundtrack wasn't polluted by the completely interchangable pop music love songs that are ubiquitous in romantic comedies. But enough invective about music; what about the film itself?

Clara Bow plays the part of shopgirl Betty Lou Spence, who has eyes for her employer, Cyrus Waltham (played by Antonio Moreno). She initially fails to gain his notice, but succeds in garnering the attention of his friend, Monty Montgomery (played by William Austin, who wears entirely too much makeup), who recognizes a girl with "it" when he sees one. Betty Lou catches Mr. Waltham's attention while at dinner with the hapless Monty, and succeeds in getting him to spring for a date. Cryus is smitten, but difficulties arise when Betty Lou claims her sickly flatmate's baby as her own (in order to prevent a pair of social workers from taking the child), doing much damage to her reputation. At the same time, Betty Lou must compete with high society lady Adela Van Norman (played by Jacqueline Gadsen, whom I'd never heard of before, but who was also quite the dish, as the saying goes) for Mr. Waltham's affections.

Naturally everything works out, and Betty Lou and Cyrus hook up, leaving Adela and Monty to bemoan their it-lessness.

On the whole, It is a highly enjoyable flick. A couple scenes I found particularly interesting, particularly Betty Lou's date with Cyrus at the beach--from the nature of some of the rides and attractions at the amusement park, one gets the impression that risking a debilitating injury was merely part of having a good time back in the day, especially on the social mixer--I can only imagine the potential for all manner of bruised ribs and mild concussions. There's no way you'd find anything like that at a modern amusement park--I guess people really were tougher back in the day.

And all that without a single demonic clown (well, William Austin was fairly frightening, but that's another story).