Friday, July 7, 2017

Total Skull - June, 2017

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


China Mieville, The Last Days of New Paris
The Last Days of New Paris is an addition to the long line of fantastical alternate histories that posit an elongated World War II. In Mieville's vision of a continued conflict, Paris is still held by the Nazis and their French collaborators in the 1950s. Opposing them are...surrealists, and walking manifestations of surrealist are that do battle with Nazi-summoned demons as if both camps were a little bit kaiju and a little bit Pokemon. To be honest, I almost didn't include The Last Days of New Paris on my list of things that brought me delight in June because the novella has a propensity to veer into preciousness; only someone who thinks of themselves as a radical artist could really embrace the idea that the natural enemy of militarized fascism is experimental art. That aside, the final climax and confrontation is so groan-worthy and cartoonish that it actually becomes enjoyable once you realize that Mieville must not be taking himself so seriously after all. That must be it, right? He can't be playing the "final boss" scene straight! This book comes with a minigame: can you spot the allusions to historical personages and art pieces before Mieville explains them to you in the appendix to the novel?

Jiri Karasek ze Lvovic, A Gothic Soul
Karasek's A Gothic Soul should be favorably compared with Joris-Karl Huysmans' A Rebours; both are novels "without plot" that follow the purposefully-lonesome aesthetic ruminations of their protagonists in an Europe that has grown world-weary. United in theme, the two books depart at the strings of the heart: A Rebours is a book fascinated by decay that despairs at the possibility of spiritual redemption and A Gothic Soul is a book about the spiritual movement of human essence that is troubled by the inevitability of worldly degeneration. A Gothic Soul's exploration of asceticism is particularly powerful; the urge to turn away from the world, it argues, is a reaction against the way that modernity insists upon the fragmentation of individual identity.
Monasticism is not a technique to become one with God, it is deployed as a means to become one in one's self.


American Gods
Oddly, American Gods is a more successful adaptation of Preacher than AMC's Preacher is; it at least manages to get a feelings of movement into the narrative. American Gods isn't my favorite of Neil Gaiman's novels, but this television adaptation is entertaining. It's not without problems: the special effects often look a bit manky; the show's incorporation of the modern political moment is clumsy at best; since this is a series about old gods making war against new gods, those who dislike Gaiman's theme of the power of story are going to be inevitably put-off to learn that what makes gods worthwhile is their continued relevance of the story of human life. It all feels a bit 90s, somehow, but for me the show succeeds on the backs of strong performances from Ian McShane, Gillian Anderson, Crispin Glover, and Emily Browning.

Comedies are a hard sell for me, and I have no interest in professional wrestling, so GLOW didn't seem like it was going to be a show I'd make it all the way through. GLOW is about a rag-tag group of women trying to get an all-women wrestling show onto the airwaves in the mid-80s. The road to their pilot episode is fraught with interpersonal squabbles, difficult life circumstances outside of the ring, having to learn how to actually wrestle, and money problems. Of course, with such a diverse cast of women, the show tackles issues of gender and race, but it does so in surprisingly deft ways. Ultimately, I was won over by how character-driven the show is and how it manages to personalize such a large cast. The relationships between the characters provide the show's momentum, and that momentum carries through to a final episode with real heart.


Richard Sala, Delphine; PeculiaPeculia and the Groon Grove Vampires; The Ghastly Ones & Other Fiendish Frolics
I've been on a Richard Sala kick since Trey Causey mentioned reading The Chuckling Whatsit over at Sorcerer's Skull. My appreciation of Sala's work started, as I imagine it did for many people of a similar age, with "Invisible Hands" on MTV's Liquid Television. Decades later, Sala's aesthetic still fills me with wonderment. For the uninitiated, Sala's work fixates on imperiled dames, grot-pulp detectives and the grotesque criminals they pursue, and old-time movie monsters. Sala's comics are heavy on the macabre, but they're never not fun.

Caitlin R. Kiernan, Steve Lieber, Rachelle Rosenberg, Alabaster: Wolves
After reading Caitlin R. Kiernan's prose collection of Dancy Flammarion stories last month, I was looking forward to the continuation of the albino monster hunter's adventures in comic form. I expected more of the same, but Alabaster: Wolves raises the stakes for Kiernan's wayward, half-cracked character; what happens when the monster hunter is abandoned by her guiding angel? What happens when she actively chooses to let something darker, something otherworldly in a Lovecraftian bent, take the place of heavenly guidance? Nietzsche's adage about staring into the abyss holds true, as it turns out.


Echoes of Blood
Echoes of Blood is a Bloodborne-inspired 'zine. The 'zine contains two short comics--one about Father Gascoigne and one centering on the Plain Doll--and a variety of illustrations and sketches based on the Gothic horror world of Bloodborne. The art is in this is fantastic, so if you're a fan of From Software's games this might be worth your time to check out. It's available here on Etsy


Volur, Ancestors
Volur weave epic and grandiose music rooted in European folk and black metal-tinged doom. Ancestors feels arboreal, pagan, and expansive; it might be less an album and more of a saga--an untold Ragnarok that spells a time of endings and new beginnings. The violin adds a sombre, funereal elements to the proceedings--a hint of the pyre to come, perhaps.

Ides of Gemini, Women
I've enjoyed all of the releases from Ides of Gemini, and Women is their most focused, tightly-circumscribed album yet. Musically, they don't deal in the heaviest of dirges; their music isn't exactly lightweight either--the interplay of bass, guitar, and drums lands on the doomy British metal end of the deathrock-inflected spectrum. The deathrock influence comes out particularly strongly in Sera Timms's vocals, which are a little bit Siouxsie & the Banshees, a little bit Faith & the Muse, and a little bit 45 Grave. And yet, Women doesn't sound self-consciously retro or at all like a nostalgia trip; Women sounds as fresh and vital as an incorruptible martyr. (I mean that in a good way.)

Carach Angren, Dance and Laugh Amongst the Rotten
Carach Angren are a bit like a black metal King Diamond; instead of dedicating each of their records to Satan, their records are vehicles for the telling of ghost stories. Dance and Laugh Amongst the Dead 
unfolds the tale of a young girl summoning spirits and dark forces via a Ouija board--all set to the overcharged Gothic sturm und drang of symphonic black metal. Comparisons to Cradle of Filth aren't off the mark. Loudwire has a song-by-song breakdown of the album's plot and themes here.

Igorrr, Savage Sinusoid
There's really no accurate, encompassing way to describe Igorrr's Savage Sinusoid. It's heavy, yes, but it also features electronica, Spanish guitar, operatic singing, cabaret accordion, experimental jazz, etc. It sounds like chaos, and it is, but it's paradoxically heavily-structured and well-crafted chaos. Musical pandemonium has never sounded this precise, and it has never had this much thought and muscle put into it. I can guarantee that you haven't heard anything quite like this before. You can listen to the whole thing here.


Primeval Thule Campaign Setting
Sword & Sorcery is not generally my favor of choice when it comes to tabletop rpgs, but I got this just in case the urge strikes. There is a bit of setting overkill here--as there almost always in in published settings--but Primeval Thule hits all the right sword & sorcery notes: we've got remnant Atlanteans, barbarians with mighty thews, Weird Tales-style Cthulhu cultists, and plenty of opportunity for skullduggery.