Saturday, October 31, 2009

Ceremonial Castings - Barbaric is the Beast (2006)

In 2006, the brothers Superchi followed up Immortal Black Art with Barbaric is the Beast, which marked a major depature in the production style from the past Ceremonial Castings albums to great success.

The album opens with the killer title track and within the first minute the change in the sound is apparent - the guitars, the drums and the keyboards have all changed from the full and powerful (as far as black metal goes) sound heard in the earlier albums to a much more empty and raw sound. Lord Serpent once again employs his full vocal range from his guttural death vocals to his classic black metal vocals, combining them to great effect to sing some truly blasphemous lyrics:

Rise Oh Great One, Indulge In The Womb Of Virgins' Blood
Desire The Hunt, The Hunt That Draws The Flesh Of Reconciliation

Awake From Your Slumber, The Time Has Come To Regain The Throne.
Rise within The Shadows, Strike Upon The Breast Of Hope

Most of the album is of similar quality, though three other tracks really stand out. The first is "Our Journey Through Forever", a 13 minute rerecording of the opus off of Universal Funeral March, a truly transcendental song. Second is "Speak in Tongues", a great song reminiscent of something off of Immortal Black Art, complete with Latin lyrics and backwards singing. Lastly is the closer "Sweet Misery I Forsee", a half ambient, half black metal epic singing to the glory of misery. Beautiful.

This is classic Ceremonial Castings, pure and simple. If you have liked anything these guys have released in the past (or future to include Salem 1692) then Barbaric is the Beast will not disappoint you. Happy Hollowe'en.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]
(I Am of Fire, We Are of Fire, Fire Eternal, Fire is Death)

Ray Bradbury - From the Dust Returned (2001)

Sifting through a body of work like Bradbury's is a long but rewarding experience. The man is responsible for a great number of timeless short stories and novels, and any properly organized list of recommendations would involve dozens of titles. But were I to whittle this list down, it might end up at one collection...

Though it was released in 2001, much of the content in From the Dust Returned dates back decades, as far as the 40s. Bradbury wrote many short stories about vampires and other supernatural beings that appealed to a younger core of readers in that period. This book takes a number of such stories and assembles them into a 'fix-up', or a novel that puts together previously unrelated content into a streamlined continuity. This is not the first of Bradbury's collections to do so (see Dandelion Wine, or Green Shadows White Whale).

From the Dust Returned includes a prologue and over twenty tales of the Elliott family, and if they seem a little different, it's because they're vampires, mummies and other supernatural beings. Some of the tales are short stories, some very brief. Some of the characters were co-conceived with Charles Addams, who would later use them as inspiration for his famous Addams Family. The Elliotts have been around for over four millenia, so you can imagine that the 'family get together' takes on an entirely different light, as their concept of history is far removed from our own, more finite existence. Each of these stories is beautiful, but I'll warn you...they're not the kind of vampires or creatures you may be accustomed to. They're a family, with a great love for one another, but they all face doom at the hands of the modernized world, a world of skeptics which no longer finds the time to believe in them. They also face the fear of the local townsfolk.

The stories are woven throughout the Great Event, a homecoming in which the far flung members of the Elliott family converge on the October Country (Illinois). A few examples are "The Traveler", which concerns John the Unjust, the family's 'black sheep', a violent vampire who has cast a great shadow upon them in the eyes of mortals. "The Wandering Witch" involves a 'positive' use of possession. "Make Haste to Live", one of the newer tales, is like an abbreviated version of Benjamin Button, only better.

Through the stories, and the meetup, we are introduced to unforgettable beings like A Thousand Times Great Grandmère, who has existed since the days of Ancient Egypt; Cecy, the eternal sleeper, who visits others through their thoughts, and can possess them; Anuba the cat; Uncle Einar, a winged bat-vampire, and even a pet spider, Arach. Though many of the tales are reprints from earlier stories, the nature of this collection makes it all the better to just read straight through. The prose is often delightful, but plain enough that older children and adults alike can approach it.

From the Dust Returned is only 'horror' in that it encompasses classic elements like ghost stories, and the invovlement of supernatural beings which are often the antagonists of horror films, games, and literature. It lovingly evokes the vibes of autumn and Halloween, coincidentally the best time to 'dust it off' and read it. There are a few 'innocent' sexual moments in the story, so it may not be suited for younger children. It's a wonderful book that you can share with your loved ones, and wonder at the strange congruity between the relationships of both mortal and immortal.

The collection also has a really swank title, possibly the best of any book ever, wouldn't you agree?

Verdict: Epic Win [10/10] ("Now", came the whisper across four thousand years, "here's how it was...")

Rigor Mortis - Rigor Mortis (1988)

Another casualty of the early 90s, Rigor Mortis were very far up the ladder of bands that had the potential and underground popularity to explode into the next Slayer or Metallica. Their self-titled debut in 1988 is a well-loved slab of sadistic, high speed thrash metal, and the only release of the band that I really liked.

Rigor Mortis is pretty damned heavy. As a starting point, take the rapid picking of Slayer and add a layer of musical proficiency to the evil rhythms this creates. "Welcome to Your Funeral" is a 3:30 track which showcases the band's instrumental abilities, in particular the guitars with their infernal desire to shred. After a flowing, fast acoustic segment, "Demons" will introduce you to the brutal vocals of Bruce Corbitt, reminiscent of Sacred Reich and Nasty Savage but a little darker. "Bodily Dismemberment" follows, an amazing song, probably the best on the album, for its opening tapping rhythm, and the grim, celebratory gait at which it marches forward, with walls of crashing rhythms and lyrics that libate the perverse, serial killer.

There's no need to worry bitch, just lay there and relax
And as you reach your climax I'll be reaching for my axe!
With five easy slices, you're in six lovely pieces
Bodily dismemberment as passion increases

Pretty intense lyrics for 1988! Remember, this is before the full-blown death metal scene produced a thousand, dime a dozen gore bands with lyrics about Ed Gein and Jeffrey Dahmer in the following decade. Most of the lyrics here are based on horror films. "Condemend to Hell" is another of the record's sickest tracks, with a fantastic, glorious thrusting rhythm guitar. "Wizard of Gore" has a great acoustic intro, and then more of the band's frenetically paced, tappy guitar lines. Two of other highlights are "Shroud of Gloom" and the final track, "Slow Death", which races past at blinding speed.

Rigor Mortis may not have transcended their underground status, but at the least they gave us this one fine release. The following Freaks EP and their later Rigor Mortis vs. The Earth album did little for me, and the band soon parted, with members going to GWAR and Ministry, among others. A few years ago, the band got back together for some small tours and shows, and I assume they still exist for that purpose, but whether or not we'll get a true successor to this album remains in doubt.

Highlights: Bodily Dismemberment, Condemned to Hell, Wizard of Gore, Shroud of Gloom

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]
(cathedrals are now cemeteries)

Necromantia - Scarlet Evil Witching Black (1995)

Necromantia's use of the 8-string bass in place of the traditional 6-string guitar has made them a unique force in the black metal genre, especially when you consider how long they've stuck to the technique. That is not to say Scarlet Evil Witching Black is entirely void of the traditional guitars; they are used here for acoustic moments as well as leads.

It stuns me how little this has any effect on the band's hell-spawning vitriol, because these are some of the most savage guitars ever committed to disc. Scarlet Evil Witching Black is the crowning moment for a band who receives far too little credit, and it's arguably the crowning achievement of the Greek scene. The 8-string bass is not the band's only forte, as pianos and saxophones also exist in this negative plane, and a subtle and beautiful orchestration provides a brilliant counterpoint the rugged, raw thrust of the two basses. Magus Wampyr Daoloth has a sinister edge to his vocals, like the frolicking of imps and homonculi about the burning palaces of Hell.

I'll weave an invocation
To insanity and rebirth
Fiery lightning hold my hand
Show me your face in black waters
My worst, declared enemies
Are my most devoted slaves
They inspire me a wolf idolatry
I'll burn them in my witch-pyre

All the material is enormous and evil. "Devilskin" enters with distant whipping winds, and the cordial sounds of a music box-like lullaby, before the raging basses erupt like an abandoned palace of heaven crashing into a volcanic, abyssal maw. "Black Mirror" begins with a doomed gait, glorious sunken memories evoked through the dingy, dual bass. "Pretender to the Throne (Opus I: The Usurper's Spawn)" uses some interesting, shouting vocals along with the incredible basswork and synths. At :43, one of the greatest riffs ever kicks in, a vile march towards the jaws of Leviathan. "The Arcane Light of Hecate" is a ritual, orchestral piece without the metal elements...and yes, a creepy fucking saxophone solo! Unbelievable.

Oh powerful queen, thy the knowledge of fear
Dangerous when crossed, the art of sorcery
The bringers of joy and misery
Thy children never tell thy mystery

The metal continues with the downward spiral of leadwork and driving bass of "Scarlet Witching Dreams", and the hellish, bludgeoning of "The Serpent and the Pentagram". Then you are treated to a familiar classical sample that leads into "Pretender to the Throne (Opus II: Battle at the Netherworld)". While a great song, this is perhaps the one piece on the album that was not entirely compelling. But the scintillating monument to sorrow, "Spiritdance", makes up for this with its ever-weaving orchestrations acrest the tumult of the clean and harsh vocals, and the bass wasteland.

Scarlet Evil Witching Black is a sick album. It's the best of Necromantia, and one of the most unique creations in the underworld magmasphere of occult black. Inspired by its rituals and imagination, it made an amazing companion piece to Therion's masterpiece Lepaca Kliffoth (which also released this year). A true masterwork of Greek misanthropy.

Highlights: the black scarlet witching evil vs. the black evil scarlet witching

Verdict: Epic Witch [9.5/10] (tonguing out my hungry soul)

Sabbat - The Dwelling (1996)

The Dwelling is an anomaly amidst the massive discography that is Sabbat's career; a single, hour long composition that weaves a solitary tale of horror. It's an outstanding achievement for an already impressive band, and it remains my single favorite album from these Japanese deviants. The tale itself is not quite a masterpiece, but it manages to include just about every occult metal meme needed: witches, rituals, damnation, you name it, the song covers it.

I'm a collecter of Death mask,
The greatest artist
MY sinful creation which is not created by god's,
But sometimes you gaze into me, laughing into me,
Harmonies from the inferno,
Melodies from hell to hell

"The Dwelling - The Melody of the Death Mask" is a long trip into the shadows of classic horror, given breath by the piecemeal Engrish of Gezol's inner demons. The use of piano and multiple vocals is one of the few traits that distinguishes it from their other work, but much of the album is traditional, black thrashing speed akin the band's other full length albums. Aside from the grating snarls of Gezol's, there are all manner of ghostly voices, which at first might seem silly, but actually imbue the work with a great deal of character (and a little Mercyful Fate-King Diamond eeriness). The album is loaded with great riffs, haunting atmospheric elements, and quality leads, but to point out specific locations would rob you of listening through in its entirety, so I'm not goint there. But the album ranges from the momentum of the band's faster speed metal style, to a traditional doom and gloom.

This is the perfect album for a colder autumn night, sitting in your chalk pentagram with a cup of aromatic tea, candles lit about you, a breeze slowly fanning their flames, perhaps naked, perhaps naked with a beautiful girl (or guy). You can take almost any old horror film, silent or not, turn off the volume, and play The Dwelling instead. You will discover many terrors in the subtext.
It is one of the albums I most associate with personal nostalgia for the Halloween season, and the most depth you are likely to ever experience from Sabbat.

Verdict: Epic Win [10/10]
(doubtfully shining from venomask)

Masters of Horror S2 07: The Screwfly Solution (2006)

The Screwfly Solution is an adaptation of a short story by by James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Sheldon's male pen name), directed by Joe Dante (Gremlins). The concept behind this episode is one of the more intriguing in the entire Masters of Horror series, but this hour length treatment really doesn't do it quite enough justice.


A virus has spread across the Earth, starting in the Horse latitudes, which causes male humans to become mysogynistic and murderous against women. Religions have sprung up citing the return to the Garden, the sons of Adam, who smite the treacherous whore Eve and her descendents who have destroyed the innocence of Man. Of course, this is actually an alien plot to exterminate the human race without having to lift a finger, and a pretty good one. Anne Alstein must hold out and somehow survive...

Throughout the short film, as the femicides gather momentum, we see numerous scenes of women being abused and killed, with noone apparently lifting a finger to save them. But this is such a huge story that we always feel rushed. Had the film not spent so much time with its major protagonists, we could have seen more of the epidemic's effect around the world for a more horrific experience. There's not much gore here...some stabbings, and a bag made out of a woman's breast, but the story has an ominous potential without requiring it.

The acting here is so-so, with Jason Priestly playing Brendan Wals...I mean Alan Alstein. Elliot Gould is the gay scientist Barney, and Kerry Norton is Anne. There are some cool scenes, but not much is required of the actors, since we focus only on a small domestic group. The film moves through several locations, but not enough: I maintain that this exact script, taken on a larger budget and global scale, could be a major success for sci-fi/horror movie. As it stands, it's simply a curiosity with little punch to it.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]

Friday, October 30, 2009

Masters of Horror S2 06: Pelts (2006)

I'm not a Dario Argento fan, and have never been into his acclaimed 'Three Mothers' trilogy or giallos. He's always created some ghastly death scenes, but these have never been enough for me to sit through 90+ minutes of boredom. However, his Jennifer was a creepy tale, easily one of the best to air during the first season of Masters of Horror. So I was looking forward to his next entry...


Perhaps I should not have been so hasty. Because Pelts is pretty much shit. What is it with this season of the show, so many 'big ticket issues' turning up in the titles. Pro-Life? Pelts? Right to Die? Argento's latest offering is the simple story of cursed pelts that cause those who covet them to kill themselves in gruesome ways. No raccoon attacks, no mink attacks, nothing really interesting happens except for the final 5-10 minutes in which Meat Loaf gets it on with a stripper, gets cursed by the pelt coat he made for her walkway debut, then tears his own skin off to offer it to her. All the earlier deaths in the film are gruesome, but wasted. Kid places his own head in a bear trap. Asian woman sews up her face to death. Guy pulls out his entrails.

If you could put those scenes into a 15 minute highlight reel, it would make the remainder of the film obsolete. The silly message behind the movie is far from effective. Although the gore is comparable, this is even worse than The V Word.

Verdict: Fail [3/10]

Masters of Horror S2 05: Pro-Life (2006)

Pro-Life is essentially John Carpenter having a little fun at the expense of all the absurd abortion clinic shootings, or the pro-life/pro-choice debate in general. It's got a lot of the typical Carpenter wackiness, and you could consider it a cheaper alternative to a film like Prince of Darkness.

It's also pretty dumb.


Caitlin Wachs plays Angelique, the daughter of fundie maniac Dwayne (Ron Perlman), who has already earned himself a restraining order from the local abortion clinic. Angelique is nearly run over and picked up by two of the medical staff at the clinic, who then drive her there to take care of any injuries she may have sustained. Well, it turns out Angelique is pregnant...and not by the normal source. She wants her unborn child removed, but daddy just showed outside in a red van. The security guards and Dwayne try and work it out, but they're not budging. He's not getting in, and they're not letting the girl out. So Dwayne and his three sons blast their way inside, a firefight ensues, lots of people die, the 'baby' is born, more people die.

Ron Perlman tries to play the loyal, Godfearing militant, but in a story this absurd, could anyone pull it off? The deaths are rarely gruesome, except for a few gunshots. When the 'papa demon' shows up to retrieve its child, and confronts some of the surviving staff, you never get to see any of their deaths. It feels cheap after you were at least given some firearm gore. The rest of the acting sucks and it fails to even entertain for laughs. The only fairly cool part is where Dwayne gives the Head Physician a male abortion...

After an episode as great as Sounds Like, this was a major letdown, ranking among the lowest trash Carpenter has delivered (Ghosts of Mars, etc). It's not really preachy about its premise, but it's also a waste of what could have been a decent opportunity for a horror show.

Verdict: Fail [4/10]

Masters of Horror S2 04: Sounds Like (2006)

Sounds Like is an excellent work of psychological horror, the first 'must-see' episode of the 2nd season of Masters of Horror. That it comes from director Brad Anderson is little surprise; he has already provided the world with a pair of mind fucks in Session 9 and The Machinist.


Larry Pearce is a call center monitor for a software company, but he's also got a special gift...he can hear things, really well. TOO well. After the tragic death of his son to a rare heart disorder, this ability has been driving him nearly to the brink. Anywhere he seems to go, even a public library, the smaller sounds begin to amplify and horrify him. Dealing with the stress of his work, a wife who has also gone a little buggy in her own way, and all of the sounds...may be a little more than Larry can handle. But he discovers one solution to relieve his problem...a deadly solution.

Chris Bauer is a phenomenal actor, who I can watch in just about any role he is given. Most would know him as the alcoholic short fuse deputy Andy Bellefleur on the True Blood TV series, but he's had quite a few roles before that. Bauer is perfect for this character, an everyman with a great wealth of facial expressions and emotional range. He truly nails Larry Pearce, and we are all the richer for it. His aura seeing wife, Brenda, is performed well by Laura Margolis.

Sounds Like
is not a gore fest like many other Masters of Horror epidoes, it's almost entirely psychological, with but a few gooey scenes near the climax. It slowly burns on the viewer like a quality Hitchcock film, and in the end, it's one of the most terrifying things I've seen on TV. The strings and sounds are expertly placed to build maximum tension, and the end of the film is simultaneously sad, beautiful and terrifying.

By far one of the highlights of this TV series, in either of its seasons, Sounds Like is essential viewing for a fan of the true, old school horror that requires no massive body count or alien special effects.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]

Masters of Horror S2 03: The V Word (2006)

I'm not well versed in the films of Ernest Dickerson. I've vaguely remember seeing Bones (the Snoop Doggy Dogg horror flick...) and Demon Knight, which were pretty lousy, and possibly a few of his TV episodes (Dexter, Stargate Universe, and The Wire), which weren't all bad. Nonetheless he is at the helm for the 3rd episode of Masters of Horror, season 2.


The V Word is a fairly simple vampire premise about a pair of teen boys who decide to go see a dead body at the local funeral home, where Justin's relative works alone on the night shift. They happen to arrive the same night a grisly vampire has shown up and killed the caretaker. Somehow, even though they let themselves in, the doors are locked and they cannot escape. They run into the vampire, Mr. Chaney (played fiendishly by Michael Ironside), as they are seeking another Exit. One of the boys is turned, the other escapes to his home, where his friend turns up and...well, you get it.

This is a pretty weak episode for Masters of Horror, probably the worst I have seen up to this point. The video game references make it feel hashed and cheap, and I'm sorry...Doom 3 doesn't have point scoring or an infinite blood supply. Michael Ironside is great, as usual, but he has nothing to work with here. I did think the film had a dark, appropriate mood for its subject matter. This is no Twilight sissy shit, it's a pretty gory film. Full vampires are carnal, savage beasts in this universe. But it's just not ominous enough, even when Mr. Chaney is revealed to be a vampire pederast. One of the boys goes up in flames, the other does a Blade impersonation on the way to New York. Ooooo....scary.

The V Word sucks. However, since this has the best decapitation by Sawzall ever featured in a vampire film, I am awarding it an extra 1/2 point.

Verdict: Fail [3.5/10]

Masters of Horror S2 02: Family (2006)

Some part of me has always wanted to see George Wendt perform the role of a schizophrenic serial killer who creates a delusional family for himself out of his victims' skeletons. Thanks to John Landis and the Masters of Horror, this part of me has been fully satisfied.


Family makes up for the lackluster Damned Thing with the tale of Harold, the lonely o/c serial killer who lives out his sicks dreams in suburbia. Harold painstakingly prepares his family members for their new roles. After stalking and murdering them, he uses a tub of acid to strip the bones of all their blood and tissue, then boils and cleans them, wires them into a semblance of completion and dresses them. When a new family member is needed? Done. But sometimes, you have to replace someone...and the arrival of two new neighbors, Celia (Meredith Monroe) and David (Matt Keeslar), concurs with his growing problems with imaginary wife Jane. Harold begins his relationship with the pair after an accident...

I've said enough already, but trust me when I say that you want to watch this one, it's a lot of fun and you'll be laughing your own skin off. George Wendt (Cheers) plays the subdued yet strangely menacing Harold, in what is probably the best Masters of Horror casting move since Michael Moriarty's 'Wheeler' in the 1st season episode Pick Me Up. This guys is fucked, and has his routine down very well. The new neighbors perform adequately the role of a troubled couple, and when the twist arrives, well...they perform more than adequately :) Also, props for making Harold a fan of Christian music radio.

Family is the kind of funny suburban horror comedy that will probably appeal to fans of a film like The Burbs, but really, anyone can enjoy this, as long as you have a taste for ghoulish humor and serial killers. You definitely don't want this version of Norm Peterson living in your neighborhood!

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Masters of Horror S2 01: The Damned Thing (2006)

Having truly enjoyed several episodes from the first season of Mick Garris' horror anthology Masters of Horror, I was eagerly awaiting the followup. The first episode aired in October 2006, an adaptation of Ambrose Bierce's short story The Damned Thing, directed by none other than Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Lifeforce, and the Masters of Horror first season episode "Dance of the Dead").


Sherriff Kevin Reddle comes from a cursed family. His folks survived a horrible mass murder in a neighboring town, but when they fled to nearby Cloverdale, the madness followed. The Damned Thing is an insanity inducing, vengeful force which drives people to murder and/or suicide. Reddle's daddy shot his mom and tried to kill Kevin, but the Damned Thing slew his father right before his eyes...saving young Kevin. It's now over two decades later, and the Damned Thing has returned...get ready for some redundancy!

Sean Patrick Flannery plays the brooding, trouble Sherriff Reddle, but unfortunately the character felt like a dull cliche. Random suicides, gore spews in a few scenes, townsfolk kill each other. But since this is a short film for TV, with almost no character development, you don't really care. The story is predictable and frankly, for Tobe Hooper, the characters are simply not entertaining. The town priest (Ted Raimi) and local newspaper reporter seem to know more than they let on, but neither turns out to be a very interesting character and they are dispatched in due haste. The special effects are meh and since the creature itself is unseen most of the time, so it's difficult to feel any real terror. The invisible assailant was already perfected with Forbidden Planet, and if not that, then Predator. Here it just blows. There are no rules. It just runs about eviscerating random people, and if not they start to go insane and kill one another anyway.

Sadly, season 2 of Masters of Horror was off to a pretty ineffectual start.

Verdict: Indifference [5/10]

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

One of the few items on this blog as old as I am, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has stood the test of time as one of the all-time great horror flicks. Though the film is 35 years old, it still remains as fresh to mine eyes as it did when I watched as a teenager. In fact, my admiration for the film has only grown. Part of this is the superb direction of Tobe Hooper, one of my favorite helmsman for this genre. Whether producing a masterpiece as this, or even a dud, his work is almost always fascinating and fun.

The story is based on an urban myth, which is actually bogus (take that, viral marketing of the future!). A group of five young men and women are visiting a Texas graveyard which has been vandalized by grave robbers, and then decide to head to the old homestead of handicapped Franklin and his sister, beautiful Sally. En route, they have a strange encounter with a hitchhiker who engages Franklin in conversation about the local slaughterhouse, before cutting himself and taking an unwanted picture of the group in the van. He then proceeds to cut Franklin, and gets kicked out, but before the group can pull away, he smears his own blood on the side of the van in some sort of figure. From there, the group hits up a local gas station unsuccessfully for fuel, and decides to go to the homestead. There is something fishy about the farm house next door...and you know the rest! If not...what the fuck is wrong with you? Go rent this film today.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a tantalizing film. From the opening shot of corpses impaled upon a gravestone, to the final chase scene, I cannot peel my eyes away. Despite its strange host of characters, what makes the film so strong is its plausibility. Interesting, if strange, conversations that seem on the fly, like they were real. A finite group of victims, a finite group of antagonists, and a series of brutal slayings that is also pretty realistic. Leatherface is no supernatural force of nature, he's just a mentally imbalanced fruitcake with a chainsaw and a dead skin mask. The Hitchhiker and the Cook are also extremely memorable villains. I'll never forget that first conversation in the van, nor will I forget the Cook's bizarre shifts of morality.

There is so much positive to say for the film. It uses its locations very well. A little piece of rural, decaying Texas serves as the perfect stalking ground for this family of nutjobs. The farm is littered with creepy baubles, the remains of various people and animals are converted into furniture, or just left lying around in this redneck charnel house. Everything shown in the film hints at a much wider mythology in the universe of the film, one that was unfortunately not explored in the lackluster sequels (or the boring Michael Bay remake). The film also makes great use of various times of day, from the afternoon opening to the following morning's climax. The soundtrack is superb. Aside from the country and folk rock tunes on the radio, sparse ambience and percussion is used to perfect effect in every gripping scene.

These would all be reasons enough to see the film, but really, where would it be without good acting? Gunnar Hansen is the best Leatherface ever, going far over the top, as he makes creepy animal sounds and shifts his huge bulk about in a chainsaw dance. You will never forget his subtle motions. Edwin Neal and Jim Siedow are even creepier as the Hitchhiker and the Cook. Even Grandpa is frightening, though he does next to nothing. As for the protagonists, the gorgeous Marilyn Burns truly sells the film. She seems realistically terrified through her first chase scene, and on the verge of madness when she is caught and 'brought to dinner'. Hers is a better maiden in distress performance than many I've seen in the past 35 years. The rest of the cast is rounded out well (in particular Paul A. Partain as the wheelchair bound Franklin), though they have less important roles.

You're best to ignore the sequels. Only the followup, Texas Chainsaw Massacre II, directed by Hooper, comes close, but even that is pretty lame. Ignore the remakes. They suck. The original film is the only one that matters, and it is possibly the best of the 'slasher' works to date. The saw is the law, folks. A film worth every frame.

Verdict: Epic Win [9.5/10] (shut up you bitch hogs!)

Zombi 2 (1979)

Zombi 2 is considered one of the classic, early zombie films, and also one of Lucio Fulci's more notable works, but after viewing it I could not tell you why. It does have many of Fulci's trademarks, like a suitable level of gore and characters who stand around waiting to get killed, when they could easily escape their deaths. These devices may have worked in The Beyond, which was a random but unsettling film, but they're not enough to rescue this steaming lavatory trip.


With the exception of a surreal underwater scene in which a topless diver is assaulted by a zombie, which then goes hand to hand against a shark...the first hour of this film is a complete fucking waste of time. There is nothing entertaining going on. Boat floats into New York City, with a zombie on board, which proceeds to bite a local cop and begin the infestation of the city...which we do not see...until one scene at the very end that shows a line of zombies crossing the Brooklyn Bridge. The rest of the film is based around a woman who travels to the island of Matool to find her father, a researcher. On the way, she meets up with some Nordic looking Italian dudes and beautiful women who are our zombie fodder.

After an hour of dull exposition and character development that went absolutely nowhere for me, I was finally treated to some zombies and death. There's a memorable scene where a woman gets her eye impaled. Most of the other deaths involve the characters standing there while a zombie bites them, but there are a few gruesome moments, and the makeup is pretty good in true Fulci style. Then again, there are other deaths which lack any real visceral impact, so the last half hour is truly a mixed bag.

One highlight of the film is the soundtrack of Fabio Frizzi, with some creepy synthesizer work that is a characteristic of most memorable Italian horror of its day. It really pops out at you, especially when we finally cut to the chase and Matool 'comes alive' with all its zombies. Though I tend to loathe 99% of all horror remakes, this film has a plot which might be well served by a revisitation. Or perhaps just a new, better film with a similar script. This is not one of the better Fulci films I've seen, frustrating in the way I felt about City of the Living Dead (though that had some admittedly creepy scenes). I'd recommend The Beyond or perhaps House by the Cemetery over this.

Verdict: Fail [4/10]

Prince of Darkness (1987)

Prince of Darkness is a 1987 supernatural horror film directed by John Carpenter. While it's not one of his best, it does manage to generate enough suspense that I would recommend it, especially if you enjoy his other films.


Basically, a secret priesthood, the Brotherhood of Sleep, has been keeping a strange relic, an alien containment device, for thousands of years, though the device dates even beyond that. A dying man gives the key to the device's location, in an old urban church, to a priest (Donald Pleasance). Desperate for help, Pleasance implores Pr. Birack (Victor Wong), a noted expert of both applied and theoretical physics, to translate the ancient text of the Brotherhood and help stop the relic. Birack brings in some scientist colleagues, a translator, and his own advanced physics class, few of whom prove very useful, so that we can have an actual body count. The device starts to possess worms, insects, and homeless people, before moving on to the scientific team, and they start picking each other off. Mayhem ensues.

Prince of Darkness is all the more frightening for its implications than any actual scares. We see a dude consumed by beetles collapsing limb by limb, people spitting psychokinetic fluid into each others' mouths to possess them, and some decent if lame makeup work. The plot is extremely hokey. I will buy that Jesus was an alien here to give us the technology to stop the Anti-Christ from awakening through this demonic relic, but why build up all the powers for this demon if its sole purpose is to reach through a mirror and pull his daddy, Satan Sr. into the world? Seems like a waste of time to me. But alas, it's part of a 'prophecy', the shittiest plot device ever. Also, I noticed Satan's hand was big and red and clawed...much like the satan in the cartoon they are showing in an earlier scene. That was silly (but fun).

The acting is alright, but I could care less about the romantic leads played by Jameson Parker and Lisa Blount. More interesting are the regulars Carpenter brought in from his other films, like Victor Wong and Denis Dun (Big Trouble in Little China) and Donald Pleasance (Halloween). Alice Cooper has a small role as one of the possessed homeless folk that surround the church, and he's actually pretty good. The effects are interesting, but often the makeup looks lame. My favorite set piece was the chamber in which the relic was being held, surrounded by crosses and candles, but it was pretty much forgotten for the second half of the film. The Carpenter synth score is sufficient.

Really, the best thing about this film is that it has that same freakish direction and atmosphere which permeates Carpenter's better films. It's bizarre enough that you'll want to stay tuned and see what happens next.

Verdict: Win [7/10] (I've got a message for you, and you're not going to like it)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Therion - Of Darkness (1991)

If your attraction to Therion's music stems solely from their later work, which incorporates increasing use of choir and orchestra to create conceptual, gothic metal symphonies, then their earliest albums might be a little outside your comfort zone. But there was a time in which Therion produced some bleak and evil death metal, with only the barest hint at the band's future direction.

This hint comes in the form of synthesizers, which are used on the opening track "The Return" to create another level of atmosphere behind the dense and central guitars. The guitars are so thick on this album, broiling beneath Christopher Johnsson's reverbrous grunts, that you feel like you are drowning in molasses. "Asphyxiate With Fear" is a faster flurry of vomitous death metal, more in line with early, thrashing Pestilence. In "Morbid Reality", the Hellhammer/ Celtic Frost influence shines through the churning guitar rhythms, though it's faster to the point of grindcore. "Megalomaniac" has a good melody to follow, and "A Suburb to Hell" is one of my easy favorites, from energetic thrash to grinding disgust, and some haunting melodies thrown in there. "Genocidal Raids" is Hellhammer-inspired thrash that opens with a doomed atmosphere, and "Time Shall Tell" revisists this pervasive hybrid, with some sick leads. "Dark Eternity" ends the album with some beefy grooves.

Fighter, rider of the human rights
The killing decision is coming from behind
Disinter the background of this obscene hell
Discover the fear, the sickness and the death

Though charming enough for classic purists of the genre, Of Darkness is far from Therion's best work. The lyrics are average at best, and downright silly in some places. They range from the occult to the more relevant, social topics you'd find in thrash metal. McDonalds feed their cows with our children's lives. I knew there was a reason I liked to eat there.

You can hear the roots of Lepaca Kliffoth here, and the album holds its own against many forgotten peers of the age, but Johnsson and band would have grown bored writing more than a few albums like this, so the orchestral evolution of the band was a wise choice. It's pretty interesting to go back to this or Beyond Sanctorum, then explore the band's incrimental metamorphis through Symphony Masses and Lepaca Kliffoth to their later, diverse concept albums with all the guest musicians.

Highlights: The Return, Megalomaniac, A Suburb of Hell, Dark Eternity

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]
(exonerate your head)

Possessed - The Eyes of Horror EP (1987)

Seven Churches and Beyond the Gates have both earned Possessed a fanatical cult following, considered seminal works of 80s occult thrash metal and pioneering releases that led the genre into its next evolution (death metal). But The Eyes of Horror EP, which followed, is often left out of the conversation. Boasting a tighter coordination and cleaner production than their full-lengths, the five tracks on this release exhibit what Possessed might have become had their career forged on, solid thrash with some similarities to then-albums by Hallows Eve (in particular, Monument's guitar tone sounds a lot like this recording). The EP was recorded by guitar guru Joe Satriani.

"Confessions" begins with a forceful, grinding thrash rhythm swathed in Jeff Becera's charnel vocal tone. It's pretty memorable and vile, but you'll notice right away it's a bit polished up from the band's origins. "Eyes of Horror" is a slower groove with some nice rhythm work beneath the leads, and an unforgettable first verse (though the lyrics are admittably pretty weak).

I believe only the real
Walk through life on what I feel
Living my life from day to day
What's wrong, what's right, who's to say

The title track is the creepiest and best on the album, with a death metal visage implied among its churning guitars and quite a few catchy riffs. I really enjoy the chorus vocals, with the sinister echo. "Swing of the Axe" is a vicious track that recalls Slayer's Show No Mercy, and the final "Storm In My Mind" opens with some nice leadwork and busts out a nice mid-paced thrashing rhythm later on. The material here might feel more focused, but that steals away nothing from its dark nature. The lyrics seemed to be moving in a more personal direction, but the ability to write memorable, ominous rhythms is untouched. Most probably have this EP tacked on to their copy of Beyond the Gates, but it's worth hearing to any fan of evil 80s thrash metal, even those rare souls who don't care for the band's legendary full-lengths.

Highlights: Confessions, Eyes of Horror, Swing of the Axe

Verdict: Win [8/10] (sin after sin, your brains are crushed in)

Tankard - Zombie Attack (1986)

I can think of only three reasons why this album did not become an instant legend and the band a household name.

1. Master of Puppets
2. Reign in Blood
3. Somewhere in Time

Granted, those are three great reasons, but nonetheless, Tankard's debut Zombie Attack stands as one of the most wild, fun releases in the history of thrash/ speed metal. Born of a punk furor, the album rages with fast paced anthems to everything one could ever dream: zombies, warfare, and most importantly: alcohol. The band was rather blunt as to their obsession with teh beerz, one need not look past their chosen monicker to realize their association with the finer things in life. Zombie Attack is a painfully underrated record, and I look on with horror when reading the takes of others on this seminal and spectacular work.

But I am here to set the record straight. This is one of the very best releases of this genre, ever. Every track is fun, with maniacal, raw riffing, absurd lyrics that are also awesome, and hellish energies. It takes only the first track, "Zombie Attack" itself, to engrave itself into your memory, with the horribly endearing intro and all. Leatherpunk fistfucking rhythms scream into being over raucous, pounding drums and the sneering vocals of Gerre, who is probably the pinnacle of human evolution. The leads burn out of nowhere, the bass is having a blast below, and you leave the track sweating and drinking for your life, with nine more to go! "Acid Death" takes no time in returning you to filthy speed with hilarious Satanic lyrics, and I mean hilarious:

The end is near we will fight
He is so cruel and likes the acid
Satan gave him the power to kill
Nobody thinks that he is the man
Who is killing without end

No, nothing is lost in translation. "Mercenary" follows, another barn burning splatter of dirty gutter thrust, the guitars creating an acrobatic funhouse pattern and the chorus is totally fucking punk. "Maniac Forces" uses spooky bell slaps and vocal choir synths to build a cheesy atmosphere, which is all too soon broken by furious blinding speed. HOLY FUCK. If you cannot smash a beer bottle on someone or something to this track, why be alive? Tankard separates the men from the boys, and then sends those boys off scurrying to the local parish. Next up we have the band's bible "Alcohol", western swing succumbing to another blitz of angry drunken fist fighting. "Tankard (Empty)" continues the theme with some bluesy swagger, and as you predict, yes it changes into something fast, with lightning bass and punkish rhythms.

We have come to slamdance tonight
Bangin' and bleedin' till the fuckin' end
Playing fast and running free
Stand up maniacs, you have to fight
We want to drink some fucking beer,
we want to drink some whiskey
Liver is broken down so bloody hard
I keep on drinking until I drop
Bang your head against the fuckin' wall
Show the damned whimps who we are

This album had me briefly flirting with the idea of joining a frat at University, that's how good it is. Tankard next unleashes their own "Thrash 'Till Death", long before the Destruction classic of the same title. "Chains" is a splatterfest of murder and mayhem via chain gang, "Poison" is a splatterfest of murder and mayhem when a man loves a woman, and "Screamin' Victims" is...well, a splatterfest about murder and mayhem. But what more could you need in 1986?

Zombie Attack is like the Fight Club of thrash metal. If you are a man, it will have an intrinsic value to your life. If you don't like it, you're not a man. And if you're not a man, listen to Ratt or something instead. I'll be over here, trashing up my local bar in a blinding berzerker barrage of testosterone and bad taste, waiting for the pavement to rise up and greet me with its cold, still embrace.

Highlights: everything until the inevitable hangover

Verdict: Epic Binge [10/10 +5.5% minimum] (scream and scream so horrible)

Necrodeath - Mater of All Evil (1999)

After a 10 year hiatus, Italian thrash/death cultists Necrodeath were to return with a new record, and Mater of All Evil was the result, an energetic succubus lashing which took the morbid visions of their past and dialed everything well past the volume limit. This album is vile, with vocals dripping more hatred than a busload of mid 80s Kreator vinyls. And that would be the major influence for this band, Mille's brand of eviscerating snarl which sounds like it is choking on the blood of its latest victim. There are also some deeper grunting vocals that serve as a diabolical, well-placed counterpart.

Necrodeath was obviously not expecting anyone to survive this album, so the focus is more on completely destroying the listener rather than writing complex or entirely memorable melodies. The first two tracks are "The Creature" and "Flame of Malignance", and it feels like getting a pitchfork to the face multiple times, collapsing to the ground only to be trampled by the mobile infantry of the Abyss. "Black Soul" slows things down for a while...with some tasty acoustics...but these are not to last, as even this song transforms into a fistful of scorn that repeatedly batters you on the bridge of your nose. Tracks like "Hatred and Scorn" and "Serpent" provide you with more relentless havoc, but the album does thankfully pace itself out with some variation: the slower thrashing "Void of Naxir" and the moving, atmospheric "At the Roots of Evil" with some Slayer-ific melodies.

The fruit of shame that he'll give you is forbidden
Honour and glory to the original sin
Temptations of a future that nobody knows
Terrible keeper with inexpressible face

This is possibly the best thrashing Necrodeath has ever given through its career. Some might adhere to the classic tones of Into the Macabre, but really this is a bulldozer of an album worthy of even Bulldozer (the other creme of the Italian thrash crop). A swarthy, expert production, blazing guitars, and venomous lyrical spit make it worthy of any fan of black occult thrash metal.

Highlights: Flame of Malignance, Serpent, Void of Naxir, Anticipation of Death

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]
(in the mystery of Kaos, to the altar of the law)

Fleshcrawl - Descend Into the Absurd (1992)

Germany has had its fair share of death metal, a solid if softspoken scene which has existed since the early days of the genre's transformation and genesis. But few of its exports have exploded onto the scene in quite the same fashion as the excellent Fleshcrawl. This band would go on to create many great albums with a clear Scandinavian death influence, but ironically, their debut Descend Into the Absurd, which was actually recorded in Stockholm, bears more of an influence from bands like Death, Bolt Thrower and Pestilence.

This is an album I'd advise listening to at full volume for its many nuances. On the surface a simplistic crusher, the muddy walls of infernal guitar are dominant and powerful as the album performs its namesake upon you. "Between the Shadows They Crawl" is a frightening intro, created through ambient synthesizers, before "Phrenetic Tendencies" grinds you up into chopped liver with its barrage of tinny drums and the meaty breadth of its riffing. The album is like being force fucked by a sludge beast risen through a conduit from Hell, in your local swamp. There is little to the riffs but raw power, and the band often slows down to a doomy crawl, i.e. most of "Perpetual Dawn", the first half of "Purulent Bowel Erosion", and much of "Lost in a Grave". Through the crushing chords, the band will often insert bloody melodic lines that add to the grief wrought by the album. Other great tunes include "Festering Flesh" and "Evoke the Excess", but you're best off to just press play and absorb all 54 minutes of this underrated behemoth.

This is not a technical band, they don't strive to impress you with their effortless noodling or random, sporadic tempo shifting. They exist to crush, like a slow moving juggernaut of lost souls that sucks up all the life in its path. Your sorrow is inevitable when faced with an album like Descend Into the Absurd, and it's a great example of 'slow and steady wins the race' in the death metal scene. I give this album high recommendations to fans of early Asphyx, or the plodding British Bolt Thrower, who also produced successful albums with this intent. Though Fleshcrawl will produce comparable records like the furious As Blood Rains from the Sky... in 2000, this debut remains one of their very best.

Highlights: Phrenetic Tendencies, Lost in a Grave, Festering Flesh, Evoke the Excess

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]

Deceased - Supernatural Addiction (2000)

Fearless Undead Machines (1997) was a pretty good horror metal concept album, from one of Americas best old school advocates Deceased, but three years later they would trump that release with the more melodic, classic metal tinge of Supernatural Addiction, which I consider to be the band's strongest work to date. If you're a fan of the band's earlier, heavier work, fear not, because the primal death/thrash metal roots are abundant. But the injection of pure 80s inspired NWOBHM melodies into the mix adds a depth to the writing which simply did not exist in large quantities prior to this.

Like the cover art implies, the focus of this album is to celebrate the more cerebral, psychological side of horror than the visceral corruption covered on Fearless Undead Machines. The writings of Poe, the classic ghost story, the dark black and white horror of silent film, all of these are inherent influences which translate well into the lyrics. "The Premonition" is a driving track with some soaring if haunting melodies, and King's Venom-like voice is at its peak, mixed in extremely well with the rhythm guitars and leads. "Dark Chilling Heartbeat" has a pair of fine, winding leads to intro the shuffling, somber tone of the obvious tribute to Poe's Telltale Heart. "A Very Familiar Stranger" is a raging roadster based on The Hitchhiker. Other excellent tracks on the album include the blistering "Frozen Screams", the morose and beautiful "Doll With the Hideous Spirit", and the fright fest "Chambers of the Waiting Blind".

Six days and still they starve him as they offer mercy none,
For the hate it brews within them from his past,
In his body there is panic as he senses dread approaching,
He starts screaming for this torture ride to end

Like some of the past records, Supernatural Addiction uses a different sort of lyrical approach from the typical metal album; where the words simply speak the narrative of each tale, organized into a rough approximation of verse and chorus. I wouldn't call them poetic so much as a death metal Rod Serling sitting by the fireplace, recounting visions of the macabre. The mix of this album is simply unmatched by anything else in the history of the band, and like its predecessor, each track is loaded with a slew of riffs to explore. Few artists can balance such an excellent array of influences as King Fowley and crew, thus Supernatural Addiction winds up another cult classic for the ages. Whether you enjoy the pioneering thrash/death metal sounds of Possessed or Venom, or the more melodic NWOBHM/power/speed metal of the 80s, this album has many a moment for you. While I have never found any of their albums to be perfect, they are easily one of the more consistent metal bands of the past 20 years.

Highlights: Dark Chilling Heartbeat, Frozen Screams, Doll With the Hideous Spirit, Chambers of the Waiting Blind

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]
(it's here and there and everywhere and all so hideous)

Spawn of Possession - Cabinet (2003)

To the unprepared, Spawn of Possession's full-length debut was like a well timed ambush. Sweden was always (and remains) best known for its old Tomas Skogsberg guitar tones, the grinding and pummeling sound of formative bands like Entombed and Dismember, which transformed into the melodic dominance of At the Gates and In Flames. But there is another side to Swedish death metal, the technically infused brutality of bands like Visceral Bleeding, Anata and, now, Spawn of Possession.

Cabinet is a very surgical record, with precise strikes of technical death metal reflective of a great many brutal US influences. You can hear the Floridian roots to the sound, but Spawn of Possession was superior to many of their peers during the earlier 21st century. Cabinet is an acrobatic record, each track a collection of whirlwind riffing, a labyrinth of brutality that each listener must unravel one corridor at a time. It's thoroughly entertaining, even if there aren't a lot of extremely memorable riffs to die for. "Swarm of the Formless" and "Hidden in Flesh" are a colossal entry point, with so many guitars flying past that your head may twist of its neck if aren't expecting them. Deeper on, the album maintains its untiring level of busywork, with standouts being "Dirty Priest", "Inner Conflict", and "The Forbidden", but every track a lattice of technicality and inspiration.

A craft was brought to split the visions
Crawling naked on the floor, exorcist fleed for the door,
Tried to outrun the unclean whore
Possession in a wicked way, unholy powers drained the rests of it in pain
Followed the abomination
The light that was did disappear, it vanished into the thin air,
A dirty atmosphere
Possession in a wicked way, unholy powers drained the fucking soul in pain

The lyrics center on classic tales of occult/horror films, which is pretty cool, considering most tech death bands prefer a gore/medical theme to accompany their audio surgeries. The band's level of technicality is bewildering, and of course the mix needs to be crisp that all of these guitars can pop with the nuances of their frantic riffing. The leads on the album are creepy, and despite the thinness of the tones, there is an oppressive, dark atmosphere captured on every track. The vocals are similar to Glen Benton's lower, growling voice in Deicide. I won't claim Cabinet is a masterpiece of the genre, as there aren't so many individual, haunting tracks, but it's a tight 40 minutes of impressive, athletic brutality done well. Admirers of this album would also do well to pick up the followup, Noctambulant.

Highlights: Swarm of the Formless, Hidden in Flesh, Inner Conflict, The Forbidden

Verdict: Win [8/10] (scratching my skin from the inside)

Metal Church - The Dark (1986)

My fondness for Metal Church begins and ends with the early David Wayne period, the very first two albums, before Mike Howe stepped in and Wayne formed Reverend with the rest of Howe's previous band Heretic. Oh, cruel irony. With Wayne's mad hermit vocals at the helm, and a deal with Elektra records (alongside Metallica, no less), the potential was enormous for this band. Alas, they sputtered out like a rusted pickup with bullet holes in the tank.

The Dark is notable for having several of the most memorable Metal Church tracks ever conceived, while the rest of the record is at least solid enough to entertain. "Ton of Bricks" is an amazing opener for the album, anchored with a brickhouse thrash rhythm and Wayne's terrifying pterodactyl voice. "Start the Fire" is simply one of the best metal tracks of the 80s, with a huge rhythm riff and vocals that channel Udo Dirkschneider almost perfectly. The guitar work is great, and the lyrics totally cheesy, comparable to Twisted Sister's "Burn in Hell" in both tone and atmosphere.

So you see that they're all going nowhere.
Everybody's staring into space.
Start the fire.
Bring down the hammer.
Start start the fire.
Burning on forever.

The other truly momentous track on this album is the titular "The Dark", with some excellent chugging guitar rhythms and creepy, fun vocal patterns. One of the better horror metal songs for its day, essentially a tribute to all the bad films produced in that era (Nightmare On Elm Street, Halloween, whatever). Beyond these three monster tracks, there are some solid offerings in the doomy "Watch the Children Pray", the raging "Line of Death", "Burial At Sea", and "Western Alliance", none of which are quite so catchy.

The Dark is a balanced effort, despite the charisma of Wayne's vocals they never dominate the mix. The guitars are thick and insanely well produced, hell even better than on Master of Puppets the same year (though this album doesn't hold a candle to that all-time masterpiece of the genre). It has a lot of character, and though it's cheesy, it's a fun listen that I'd recommend to anyone seeking out gems of the 80s. This one wasn't exactly hidden in the back of the cave.

Highlights: Ton of Bricks, Start the Fire, The Dark, Line of Death

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]
(when will we draw the line)

Desaster - Hellfire's Dominion (1998)

Desaster have always stood out to me as one of the better bands who can take the vitriol of black metal, mire it in brooding, old school Germanic thrash, and create epic, charging rhythms that might often feel familiar, but nonetheless immersive and powerful. Hellfire's Dominion was their 2nd full-length, and a clear improvement from A Touch of Medieval Darkness, but it maintains that albums folksy medieval aesthetic.

A glorious, brief instrumental (which sounds like Summoning) marches forth "In the Ban of Satan's Sorcery", with fast paced melodic chords over Okkulto's sloppy but memorable black slather. The guy sounded like he has rocks in his mouth half the time, and often emitted broken, unfinished snarls, yet I would prefer them no other way. "Expect No Release" begins with a slow sequence of chords over a Slayer-like riff, before the drums pick up into another epic rhythm. "Teutonic Steel" weaves a commanding folk rhythm into a forest of spikes and steel, and "Metallized Blood" features some guest vocals from cult thrashers Lemmy of Violent Force, Wannes of Pentacle, and Thorsten from Living Death.

Power chords come crashing down
Screams of frantic aggression
Only the true maniac souls
Can feel the Metal possession

The album only gets better from here. "Thou Shalt Be King" is a bruiser that creates some dark atmosphere through its rapid fire riffing, and the title track is truly a byproduct of the Netherworld, spewing harsh fires at every victim, eternal punishment for the damned. "Past...Present...Forever" is dowsed amazing riffs that are both proud and sorrowful, and "Castleland" is just glorious, an essential for fans of pagan or dark ages folk black. The album closes with the sad electrified folk melodies of "Across the Bloodfields".

Desaster have wisely recorded most of their catalog in a grim, timeless fashion, with raw but beautiful guitar work, scabrous and salivating vocals, and a dark environment. This is the perfect thrash album to listen to while wandering the rocky hills of olde, reminiscing the bloody signs of battle. It's quite good, and stands alongside Tyrants of the Netherworld as some of their strongest work.

Highlights: Teutonic Steel, Thou Shalt Be King, Past...Present...Forever, Castleland

Verdict: Win [8.5/10] (words of holy can't break my spell)

Death - Scream Bloody Gore (1987)

There are many arguments to be made about which album was the first 'true death metal' effort. Many would say Possessed takes this title, and certainly a case could be made, depending on where you feel thrash ended and death began. I like to take the safe route: the first pure death metal album is Scream Bloody Gore, the debut from Florida's legendary Death. The thrash elements remain, of course, since all death metal is derived from that, but this is the well from which so much of modern brutality has sprung.

Scream Bloody Gore is actually the work of only two musicians, the immortal Chuck Schuldiner performing all guitars, bass and vocals, and Chris Reifert (Autopsy, etc) behind the kit. It's a lot more primal than what you'd expect if you jumped on the Death-wagon during the years of Human, Individual Thought Patterns, or Symbolic. Despite what music theory dorks will tell you, the first three albums are the best of Death, because they were able to compose creepy, memorable music that really flaunted'virtues' of the form: evil sounding rhythms, brutal vocals, and excellent musicianship, without falling off the deep end.

Under command a new-born child
Submerged in blood, the dead they smile
Growing possessed, burning inside
A bloody feast for us tonight

"Zombie Ritual" is easily the most recognizable track from the album, with its evil intro rhythm and flawless bloodflow of gory bludgeoning riffs, but there are many moments that glisten with with the sanguine discharge of its victims. "Denial of Life" has killer bridge and chorus riffing, a thrashing that is both creepy and happy. "Regurgitated Guts" is a hostile riffing beast, and "Baptized in Blood" has some excellent, maddening leads over the driving thrust of its rhythms. "Torn to Pieces" is another maniacal murder anthem that stands out on the album. The rest of the tracks are good, and this is still an album I can listen to all in one sitting, though a few lack that something 'extra'.

As for the downside, the lyrics here really blow, loaded with crappy rhyme schemes and disturbed imagery that a middle schooler might draw in his notebook when he's pissed off at the teacher. You won't find any of the pseudo-psychological, 'mature' tripe of the band's later work here. Just blood, guts, and loathing. But you can only get so much mileage out of:

Watch you bleed to death
Gasping for last breath
Choking on your blood
I shit onto your guts

Alas, thousands of death metal bands would use this simpler brand of lyrics for decades (pick a Mortician record at random, and read the lyrics), so despite my distaste, they were still an influential aspect of the record. The mix of Scream Bloody Gore is burly and raw, I think it remains intense and unforgiving and another reason I miss the standards of the 80s. As cult and important as the record is, I honestly favor its followup Leprosy, which is loaded from front to back with insanely great riffing. But this grandfather of death metal is still superior to about 99% of the genre's output since 1987.

Highlights: Zombie Ritual, Denial of Life, Regurgitated Guts, Torn to Pieces, Evil Dead

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]
(time to pay the gruesome price)

Black Sheep (2007)

Really, it was only a matter of time...

Part kiwi sheep comedy and part tribute to campy horror schlock of eons past like Night of the Lepus (1972) or The Killer Shrews (1959), Black Sheep is a New Zealand film directed by newcomer Jonathan King, and stars a largely unknown cast.

Henry Oldfield returns to his family's successful farm after 15 years. He left when his father fell to his death off a coastal cliff in a herding accident. As a result, Henry has a severe phobia of sheep. He has returned to claim a check for half the farm, from his brother Angus. Angus was ruthless with the sheep as a child, and ruthless even to young Henry, who he would play pranks on. Gee, I smell poetic justice on the horizon! Angus and a team of mad scientists have come up with a genetic formula that can mutate sheep with human DNA to look better and act smarter, and when a pair of hippies (including the lovely Danielle Mason as Experience) decide to spring some sheep, they wind up stealing and releasing a mutated infant sheep. All hell is about to break loose...


The first thing you'll notice is just how beautiful New Zealand is, YET AGAIN, on film. If you watch this in HD you'll see sweeping, lush landscapes courtesy of some stunning cinematography which is far too good for this film. The makeup and special effects are likewise top notch, from the piles of gore left sopping about to the transformation sequences (man to goat...goat to man...goat to......goat). They remind me of Peter Jackson's early films, probably not a coincidence. It seems quite a budget went into producing what was likely some kid's college film project. There is a satisfying level of gore in the film, but several of the death scenes are annoyingly left to the imagination: we see an attack, we see the aftermath, but we are left blank on the actual kill. They almost make up for this during Angus' presentation scene, when an army of mutant sheep converges on the guests and slaughters them brutally, but so many of the 'victims' look like they're laughing while being maimed that it's not as effective as one would hope.

The story is rather stupid, and there are numerous situations which involve throwaway toilet humor that I probably wouldn't find funny if I was still 5 years old. If you're into special effects and New Zealand scenery, or stupid horror films in general, then this is well worth a viewing. I especially liked the sheep-man wereform, which was pretty damn cool. And yes, the poetic justice goes above and beyond what you're expecting.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]