Thursday, June 1, 2017

Total Skull - May, 2017

Things that brought me delight in May, 2017...


Daniel Mills, Moriah
I read Daniel Mills's Moriah hot on the heels of finishing Leanna Renee Hieber's Strangely Beautiful. Both books are about nineteenth century spectrality, but they could not be more different in execution. In Moriah, newspaper reporter Silas Flood travels to rural Vermont to investigate the seances held by the Lynch family. The narrative moves that Moriah makes are not particularly surprising, but I don't think the author is really trying to turn our expectations on their heads; of course the real "ghosts" in the novel are the burdens of the past that each character is haunted by, but the real thrill of the book is watching those burdens emerge, interact, and bend the characters ever down. 

Caitlin R. Kiernan, Alabaster: Pale Horse
Apparently I also wasn't done with albino lady main characters on magical missions after reading Strangely Beautiful. But again, Dancy Flammarion, the albino protagonist of the stories collected in Alabaster: Pale Horse, is worlds apart from Strangely Beautiful's Percy Parker. Dancy is a teenage runaway guided by a murderous angel into the paths of horrific monsters that she is expected to dispatch with great vengeance. I have two recommendations. In general, if you're a fan of Robert E. Howard's Solomon Kane stories, you should check out this collection as it's got the same sort of crazed-yet-righteous monster stomping feel. Second, read the stories in the chronological order detailed at the front of the book rather than in the order the book prints them!


Sabbath Assembly, Rites of Passage
Things just get heavier and heavier for Sabbath Assembly with each album release. Although the band started out recording the music of the Process Church of the Final Judgment, they have since ventured into their own territory and found their own occult aesthetic. The territory that Sabbath Assembly is exploring isn't unique; they're drawing on a rich history of psychedelia, witchy vocals, and crushing sonic exposition, but Rites of Passage uses those elements in a voice that is unmistakably Sabbath Assembly.

White Ward, Futility Report
White Ward make post-black metal with...saxophone as one of the instruments in the sonic maelstrom. This really, really shouldn't work, but somehow the fusion of tormented cascades of guitar and anguished vocals with saxophone and modern electronic touches gives Futility Report a strangely Lynchian vibe. Whereas many black metal records aspire to evoke the primordial or the medieval, White Ward's revision of the genre somehow manages to conjure desperate modernity and the hot claustrophobia of decaying metropolises. 


Joe Keatinge, Leila Del Duca, Owen Gieni, John Workman, Ed Brisson, Shutter vols. 1-4
If there's a genre I struggle with enjoying, it's pulp adventure. It's hard for me to read or watch that stuff without the knowledge that it is often fiction largely uncritical of the colonialism it worked to legitimize. Shutter, however, is a comic that is aware of the ideology and limitations of its genre. But even though the comic does the work of reading its own genre contrapuntally, it also makes good use of genre conventions; the cliffhangers in this comic are ridiculously well-deployed, as are the unveiling of a global conspiracy of classic villainy, the use of different art styles to evoke varying levels of pastiche, and old-fashion, two-fisted pulp ultraviolence.  I read all four currently-available volumes and honestly can't wait for more. I might even have to go in on single issues for this one.