28 January 2008

Album of the Week: Candlemass - Tales of Creation (1989)

Sweden's Candlemass has the distinction of being recognized as the the progenitors of Doom Metal (second only, perhaps, to Black Sabbath). Candlemass released a series of solid albums in the late 80s, beginning with the renowned Epicus Doomicus Metallicus in 1986. Each successive album was an improvement over the last, a trend which would reach its apex with 1989's Tales of Creation, which was, ironically, a re-recording and reworking of the band's eponymous 1985 demo.

Tales of Creation is something of a concept album--often a dirty word when it comes to modern music--but its themes of judgment, loss, redemption and rebirth are well suited to Doom Metal, particularly the "epic traditional" style of Candlemass. Its journey is one through sorrow and despair, yet one which ultimately concludes on a note of unexpected hope and reconciliation. Our narrator, the last of mankind, must face his destiny as the one who will decide the ultimate fate of humanity.

Here is an album which is fantastic from beginning to end--there is hardly a weak moment or a bad song to be found. Certain songs, particularly "Under the Oak" and "The Edge of Heaven", stand out as being truly excellent (I have to admit that the former ranks among my favorite songs of all time). The melodies and riffs are as heavy as any to be found in the curriculum vitae of Black Sabbath or Saint Vitus, and are also quite moving; Messiah Marcolin's signature vocal work is an excellent compliment to the music, and further enhances the album's operatic flair.

When the album reaches its conclusion, the listener is left with the same sensation one gets upon finishing a great novel or watching a masterpiece of cinema. Tales of Creation is not just great Doom Metal or even great Metal; it is great music. Without reservation, I give it the most enthusiastic of recommendations.

27 January 2008

Relevant to my Interests, Ep. 7

Dorothy Sebastian is a silent star who doesn't get nearly as much love as she deserves, neither here nor most other places (she does, however, get a respectable amount of love at her de facto official website, whence the above photograph originates. Nameless webmistress, you are truly too awesome for words!)

The more I think about it, the more Ms. Sebastian becomes my favorite of the stars of yesteryear. She may not have the ethereal beauty of a Joan Crawford or a Greta Garbo, but she has--or should that be had?--an allure all her own, one much more personable and more approachable than the others. From what I've read, she had a personality to match, being free of the eccentricities of which many actresses of the day seemed so fond. It's a shame her career didn't take off the way it should have.

By way of a non sequitor denouement, I love that hat she's wearing.

26 January 2008

Non Sequiturs, Ep. 1

I have no idea who drew this, but they are awesome. Bonus points if you can identify all the characters.

24 January 2008

Taake Gets the Boot

Though originally scheduled to perform at the Karm√łygeddon festival in Norway on 26 April, Taake has now been compelled to bow out of the lineup, under pressure from both the festival organizers and the headlining act, the famous German thrash metal band Kreator. In all likelihood, this is probably a consequence of the band's often unruly behavior (which I'll get to in just a moment). Understandably, frontman Ulvhedin Hoest is none too pleased with this turn of events.

It goes without saying that Hoest's decision to perform a concert in Germany with a swastika painted on his chest (pictured above) was really what we in the business call a dick move, and it's also understandable that Taake was denied permission to perform at a few venues in Germany after the incident, but it seems a bit harsh to cut the band from the lineup of a festival in their homeland. Hoest has, after all, stated several times that Taake is in no way a political or Nazi band.

As for me, I wouldn't take the swastika to be indicative of the band's philosophy. The way I see things, Hoest likely only wore the hackenkreuz to stir the proverbial shit-pot. It's a real asshole thing to do, but it's to be expected. There are those people who just like to be dicks every once in a while, and our man Hoest is definitely one of them (he's done time in jail, after all). But say what you will about the man's personality, there's no denying that he's a great musician. Well, except for "Voldtekt," but that's another story.

22 January 2008

Conrad Veidt

Today is (or rather would have been) the 115th birthday of German actor Conrad Veidt. Veidt is perhaps best remembered for his roles in German expressionist films of the 1920s, among these The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari (1920), Waxworks (1924) and The Man Who Laughs (1928). He is even more awesome for having opposed the the NSDAP, and having left Germany for the U.K. following the Nazi takeover in 1933. I defy you to find somebody this cool in the film industry of today.

Album of the Week: Darkthrone - Transilvanian Hunger (1994)

For the inaugural Album of the Week, I've chosen an album that has attained legendary standing in the Black Metal milieu. Though they started out as a fairly run-of-the-mill Death Metal outfit, Norway's Darkthrone quickly became of the pioneers of Norwegian Black Metal as we know it today. Unleashed upon the world in 1994, Transilvanian Hunger was Darkthrone's fourth album, and according to many Black Metalheads, their magnum opus. I wouldn't go that far myself, but I do have to acknowledge the influence Transylvanian Hunger has had on modern Black Metal.

Darkthrone's modus opperandi on Transilvanian Hunger seems to be minimalism, through and through. From the simplistic cover art (featuring a candelabra-toting Fenriz) to the infamously raw production, this album gives every impression of having been recorded in Nocturno Culto's laundry room rather than being a product of a proper recording studio. The music itself is equally understated--mid-tempo blastbeats and simple (but surprisingly effective) guitar riffs. What bass there is is barely audible.

To this day such "underground" sensibilities continues to be part of the Darkthrone ethos, and has become something of a staple of Black Metal as a whole--"cold" and "grim" production is a common trope among renowned and respected Black Metal acts, as well as up-and-coming bands seeking to establish their Black Metal street cred. When I first started getting into Black Metal two years ago, this habitual underproduction bothered me quite a bit. Yet as my taste for Black Metal has matured, I have come to relish underproduction, so long as it is tastefully done. When deliberately distorted production works, it works; and it works well on Transilvanian Hunger.

Additional nifty trivia is available from wikipedia.

21 January 2008

Housekeeping

I fiddled with the layout of the blog some to make it a bit more pleasing to the eye. Those ugly gray bars at the bottom of every post are now a thing of the past, and the page header has been given a similar treatment. I'm debating whether I should try to make some sort of nifty image header, or just leave it the way it is. It depends on what I can do with my severely limited photoshop skills.

Classes start up again tomorrow, which might interrupt my pattern of daily updates with quality content, but since I enjoy updating this thing more than I ought to, I'll try to keep posting on a regular basis.

8 Bit Mayhem

8 Bit Mayhem is the brainchild of some crazed Black Metal fan from the U.K. who had the idea of recording classic Black Metal songs through the soundboard of the good old Nintendo Entertainment System. The technical intricacies of NES audio are lost on me, but the results are truly a sight to see (or, rather, something to hear). One can't help but imagine what it would be like to have these tracks as the background music to Castlevania.

If you're into this sort of thing (and honestly, who isn't?), you are in luck--the band has made their debut album--cleverly entitled De Mysteriis Dom SuperNes--available for download. It bears mentioning that the above album art is actually a bit better than the artwork for the actual Mayhem's genre-defining classic.

De Mysteriis Dom SuperNes is available here:
http://www.mediafire.com/?5hw3og9zi2n

20 January 2008

Relevant to my Interests, Ep. 6

I can't believe I haven't written one of these about Louise Brooks yet. She's right there in the subtitle, for God's sake. Few silent stars enjoy as wide a cult following among modern fans as does Lulu (as she is affectionately known by her devotees), and not without good reason. Much like Greta Garbo, Louise Brooks took special care to cultivate an image of unattainability, and it is no doubt this aura which makes her so appealing to her legions of followers.

19 January 2008

Naturkraft

Naturkraft, the latest offering of Germany's Horn, must be added to the list of new albums I am eagerly anticipating. Horn has a rather unique sound among Black Metal bands, perhaps because Nerrath (the nom de plume of the band's sole member) draws his inspiration from nature, rather than the tired old schtick of Satanism. It's been my experience that such Pagan or folkish Black Metal is infinitely more accessible and enjoyable than its Satanic counterpart, though that's just one unqualified critic's opinion.

Horn's previous two albums (2005's Jahreszeiten and 2006's Die Kraft der Szenarien) were both solid efforts, so I'm cautiously optimistic about Naturkraft. Judging by the samples available on Horn's Website, my optimism is well founded--the spirit of the music is much the same, the only change being in the realm of production, where the music has been given a somewhat deeper and more "epic" sound, thought the prerequisite rawness is still very much present. Indeed, it is appropriate that Nerrath has given his project the name of Horn, since the distorted guitar work has a very brazen sound to it.

Naturkraft was released yesterday through German label Black Blood Records. Of course, I'm likely to have a hell of a time trying to find it anywhere here in the States.

18 January 2008

Vignettes of Absurdity: Hell's Cafeteria

It was just another routine lunch break in the cafeteria, when suddenly...

[Door flies open]

Norma Shearer: Am I famished! (shoves her way past everyone and skips to the front of the line) You there, peon! Give me your finest Penne all'arrabbiata, and try not to get any of your stink in it!

Barth: Excuse me, Miss, but there's a line.

Norma: A line? A line? Let me explain to you how this works. I don't have to stand in line! Don't you know who I am?

Barth: Are you Greta Garbo?

Norma: What!? How dare you mistake me for that Swedish dildo licker! I'm Norma Shearer!

Barth: Oh, are you married to Jeff Shearer?

Norma: Who in the name of God is Jeff Shearer?

Barth: He's head of catering.

Norma: Catering? I could kill catering with a thought! Now start shoveling that slop onto a plate and hand it over, will you?

Barth: Well, you'll need a tray.

Norma: I don't need a tray!

Barth: No, you probably should get a tray.

Norma: Don't you dare tell me what to do! Nobody tells Norma fucking Shearer what to do, especially not some trouser stain cafeteria employee! I am a golden goddess given flesh, and you are but an ant in the afterbirth! I could snuff out your pathetic existence with a single glance! I could just as easily kill you with one of your damned trays by hacking at your neck with the thin bit until the blood flows across the canteen floor, if I so chose! So don't you dare tell me I need a tray!

Barth: No, I mean the food's hot, and you'll want a tray to carry it.

Norma: ...oh. (reaches for a tray) This one's wet. And this one's wet. And this one's wet! DAMNATION! I WILL KILL EVERYONE IN THE WORLD! IRVING! PULL UP THE HUMMER! (Storms out the door, frothing at the mouth)

Barth: God damnit, I hate my job. This day can't possibly get any worse.

[Door flies open]

Joan: (stumbles in, carrying an almost-empty 40 oz. of Olde English 800) HEY MOTHAFUCKAS! Y'ALL BETTA RECOGNIZE!

Barth: Oh dear Lord, I spoke too soon.

{Fin}

I owe apologies to Eddie Izzard for stealing his jokes. but you see, I just couldn't help it.

17 January 2008

The Art of Grimness, Ep. 4

Finnish Black Metal outfit Behexen doing what they do best--being blasphemous. Not coincidentally, Behexen released a boxed set of three 7" EP vinyls, entitled From the Devil's Chalice, on 15 January. In addition to that their latest LP, entitled My Soul For His Glory, will be available on 8 February (one day before my birthday, no less!).

16 January 2008

Jesus Is True Metal

I don't know how in the hell this escaped my notice until now, but Manowar went and made a version of "Silent Night" back in December to celebrate the Christmas season. In both English and German, no less! I certainly understand that Jesus is pretty metal, what with the rising from the grave and all, but I think this is a bit much, even for Manowar. Joey DeMaio and company might just be completely batshit, after all. On the other hand, they are pretty solid renditions, all things considered.

15 January 2008

Separated at Birth? Ep. 2

Here's one that was too outlandish to pass up. Compare the above portrait of Bebe Daniels from the February 1926 issue of Photoplay magazine with the below photo of Eli Manning, who lead the New York Giants to their second consecutive playoff victory over hated rivals the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday.

Coincidentally, the next day was the 107th anniversary of the birth of Bebe Daniels--who was, by the way, a native of Dallas, Texas! Coincidence? I think not. On the other hand, it's entirely possible that I really am just crazy.

13 January 2008

Kay Francis

Today marks the 103rd anniversary of the birth of Kay Francis. Perhaps contrary to her wishes, she has not yet been forgotten. Shine on, you cwazy diamond.

08 January 2008

Album Art that was better than the actual Music, Ep. 3

Dark Funeral - The Secrets of the Black Arts (1996)

Sweden's Dark Funeral is one of the most popular Black Metal bands in the world. Whereas many bands in the Black Metal milieu cling to their underground status as though obscurity were some sort of guarantor of musical aptitude, Dark Funeral have taken the opposite route, hesitating not the least bit about using the internet to promote themselves--they were among the first high-profile Black Metal bands to establish not only a MySpace profile, but a YouTube account, as well. Not that the band's popularity is disproportionate to the quality of their music, mind you.

Yet if all one had to go on was the band's debut album, one wouldn't think much of Dark Funeral. Despite having some of the best cover art around, The Secrets of the Black Arts is, from beginning to end, a textbook example of what Black Metal astutes call norsecore--endless blastbeats, forgettable riffs and lyrics that are incomprehensible (save, that is, for the obligatory screech of "Satan!" which occurs far more often than is probably necessary.) Though the band has thankfully gone on to produce far more interesting material in recent years, The Secrets of the Black Arts stands as the bands less-than intriguing first offering.

07 January 2008

Marion Davies

Last Thursday (that is, 6 January) was the birthday of Marion Davies--her 111th, to be precise--and somehow, I managed to go without mentioning it until now. For shame, I know, but do give me some clemency; I'm relatively new to the art of obsessing over dead people.

The kind folks over at TCM marked the occasion by airing several of Marion's films, both silent and sonorous. I was able to catch The Red Mill (1927) and Show People (1928), both comedies and both silent. The Red Mill was a good blend of slapstick and situation comedy, which featured more Dutch stereotypes than one could shake a stick at--wooden shoes, cheese barges, windmills and blond pigtails, to name a few. Plot-wise, the film was rather reminiscent of Graeco-Roman New Comedy--Marion plays the role of Tina, the smart and good-natured working girl who, in the manner of Plautus's Pseudolus, manages to outwit Willem (her tyrannical overlord) and to unite the star-crossed lovers Jacop and Gretchen.

Show People was even more entertaining, not in the least because it was apparently based on the career of Gloria Swanson, a contemporary and fellow silent-film hottie of Ms. Davies. Marion plays the role of Peggy Pepper, an aspiring actress who comes to Hollywood seeking to make her fortune as a serious actress, but who is only able to find work in lowbrow comedies. There are several memorable scenes in the film--one of the best is a brief but fantastic bit of meta-theater wherein Peggy Pepper come across an actress she does not recognise--named "Marion Davies"--and eyes her with an expression of mild revulsion. There are also many instances of pure slapstick--Marion is sprayed in the face with a seltzer bottle no less than three times (instances which are, without a doubt, fraught with dreadfully Freudian undertones!)

In addition to being a great comedienne, Marion Davies was also a serious cutie-pie. Little wonder William Randolph Hearst fell for her the way he did.

03 January 2008

Vignettes of Absurdity: Royale With Cheese

Dorothy: Hey Joan, you know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?

Joan: They don't call it a Quarter Pounder with cheese?

Dorothy: No man, they got the metric system. They wouldn't know what the fuck a Quarter Pounder is.

Joan: Then what do they call it?

Dorothy: They call it a Royale with cheese.

Joan: A Royale with cheese. What do they call a Big Mac?

Dorothy: Well, a Big Mac's a Big Mac, but they call it le Big-Mac.

Joan
: Le Big-Mac. Heh. What do they call a Whopper?

Dorothy: I dunno, I didn't go into Burger King.

The Public Enemy (1931)

How does an unqualified critic go about reviewing a film that is a genre-defining classic? If I knew the answer to that question, this post wouldn't be a problem. I'm no film critic, and I don't pretend to be--and that's just as well, because I don't find film critics to be particularly endearing. Nevertheless, I've a few comments on 1931's The Public Enemy.

This, of course, was the film that not only made James Cagney famous, but also had the effect of typecasting him as the tough guy. This was not without good reason--Tom Powers (our protagonist) is not the kind of fellow one wants to make angry, especially if there's a grapefruit near at hand.

The grapefruiting of Mae Clark (who was not credited for playing the part of Kitty in the film, small though it may have been) is one of the two iconic scenes from the film, the other being Tom's climactic "homecoming" at the end. The latter is a bit more dramatic than the former, to make a slight understatement.

Jean Harlow and Joan Blondell play the respective love interests of Tom Powers and Matt Doyle, Tom's childhood friend and partner in crime, and played by Edward Woods. Personally, I think Doyle came out ahead on this one--to me, Jean Harlow always looks sort of like an Irishman in drag. Very profound, I know.

Ultimately, I have only one minor gripe about the movie--if this is Public Enemy, where the hell is Flavor Flav?

02 January 2008

Attila Csihar Is a Fashion Mogul

Just look at that outfit, will you? Further proof of Attila 's greatness may be found at Wearworx.

01 January 2008

Back From The Dead

I've been in New Jersey visiting relatives and seeing all the old places from the past. My parents and I left on Christmas Eve, and returned to Kansas City (where they live, and where I'll be staying until 9 January) on New Year's Eve. Internet access was hard to come by while I was away, hence the inactivity here. In any event, I hope your holiday season was a good one. I hope to resume my regularly scheduled nonsense tomorrow.