Sunday, May 31, 2020

Obsidian, Creatures of Charm and Hunger, Wicked Saints, and More

Things that brought me delight in May, 2020:

Paradise Lost, 
Paradise Lost are elder statesmen at this point: they pioneered the genre of doom metal as one of the infamous Peaceville Three and have had a decades-spanning career. Their early albums, such as Draconian Times, Gothic, and Icon, are unimpeachable. However, things haven’t always gone from strength to strength with Paradise Lost. Even though I’ve been a fan since high school, I have to admit that there was a lull in my enjoyment--you know how every big doom band makes an ill-advised decision to sound like Depeche Mode, the Cure, or shifts into industrial metal? Well, that happened with Paradise Lost. But they came storming back in fine form with 2015’s The Plague Within and followed that with the also exceptional Medusa in 2017. Obsidian follows those two albums without a dip in quality. It showcases how well the band can hit all the high points of their career on a single record: it’s got crushing glacial doom riffs, anthemic goth rock bits, the big depressive mood--it feels like a greatest hits package but all the tracks are new.

Gary Reed and Galen Showman,
Renfield: A Tale of Madness
I've been immersed in Dracula-related stories lately; last month was a further adventure of Vampire Hunter D, this month started with Powers of Darkness for Bad Books for Bad People. I'm considering Renfield: A Tale of Madness as the chaser. It's a surprisingly strange comic; since it focuses on Renfield, it could have felt like a minor extract from a larger work, but singling out Renfield gives a new gloss to aspects of Stoker's novel. There's certainly something going on in Dracula with faith, God, and servitude, but here it becomes a disquieting part of the story that can't be easily pushed aside. The art feels purposefully workmanlike; there are a lot of close-ups of faces in various attitudes of emotion, but the art does occasionally get the room to speak for itself--particularly in some of the full-page illustrations.

L'Ame Immortelle, 
Auf Deinen Schwingen and Gezheiten
If you are involved with the goth scene long enough, you will come to have a favorite semi-obscure band that is fronted by an attractive redhead. L'Ame Immortelle is mine. Although many of their albums are fun, I return to the Auf Deinen Schwingen and Gezheiten era most often; these two albums are their heaviest, and in many ways I think they've weathered the test of time better than their synth-based albums. (Not for nothing, some of their biggest hits arrive at this point.) Also, I don't think Sonja Kraushofer's voice was ever in finer form than it was on these two records.

Molly Tanzer,
Creatures of Charm and Hunger
It's interesting that Molly Tanzer notes that she considered dedicated Creatures of Charm and Hunger, the third and final book in the Diabolist's Library trilogy, to her anxiety. Although the book is ostensibly the story of two young women coming to grips with their own expectations and desires as budding sorcerers during World War II, the preparation for their practical examinations in the art of diablerie uncomfortably reminded me of some of the hoops one has to jump through in graduate school.

Someplace Better and Sil3nt Scr3am
My exploration of the minor bands in the Gothic metal genre continues! Elysion diverge from the pack in two essential, but important, ways: their songs do not aim for epic lengths and Christianna, the vocalist, doesn't pursue an angelic or operatic style. The songs on Someplace Better and Sil3nt Sc3am (my god, those numbers in the title...) are punchy and to the point; most are about four minutes in length. The vocals hit harder, opting for a balance point between forceful and poppy. Elysion are not the hardest band nor the most ambitious in their genre, but they have their own charms.

Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island
Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island came out when I was working at a video store as an undergrad. Despite being a childhood fan of Scooby-Doo, I didn't really trust the idea of a new offering patterned after something I liked when I was a kid. (This hasn't changed much; it still captures my feelings about modern Star Wars media.) But it turns out that Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island is a pretty fun movie! Although, it also does feel strangely exculpatory about the Confederacy; having one of the gang explain to Scoob that the Confederate zombies aren't the real villain as he literally jumps into their arms certainly feels like a statement.

Dark Sarah,
Behind the Black Veil, The Puzzle, and The Golden Moth
Dark Sarah (who is not, as you might be forgiven for thinking, the lady on all the album covers) bill their music as "cinematic metal." A curious genre tag, but it fits; Dark Sarah's music feels like a combination of symphonic Gothic metal with Disney princess soundtrack music. Like King Diamond, each Dark Sarah album tells a story, but instead of tales of Gothic horror, Dark Sarah's albums are rich Gothic fairy tales.

Julia Gfrorer,
Vision vol. 3
An uncomfortable truth: any household is potentially a powder keg just under the surface. Vision lays bare something we expend a lot of energy trying to render invisible both to ourselves and to each other: the politics of the domestic sphere are exactly like the politics of the public sphere in that they are essentially shaped by whose needs are being met, whose needs are allowed to be sacrificed, and why that kind of imbalance persists under the cover of cultural sanction.

Mortal Love,
All the Beauty and I Have Lost
Apparently I did my exploration of Mortal Love's back catalog backwards; I started with their last album the previous month, hit the middle album and then found the beginning of the thread this month. Their three albums are part of a trilogy, and if you listened to them in chronological order they're evidence that Mortal Love grew more sure-footed over the course of their career. Mortal Love's music is essentially Romantic, but instead of shrouding their longing in the mists of time, they stake out modern desire and loss as their playground. Forever Will Be Gone is probably their strongest effort, and a fitting cap to their trilogy, but I do find that their earlier albums evoke a curious nostalgia in me even though their music wasn't a part of my own past. The sound of All the Beauty and I Have Lost reminds me of cemetery picnics and driving to Sunday night shows in dank clubs where red wine and good friends awaited.

Emily A. Duncan,
Wicked Saints
Wicked Saints is the first volume in a trilogy of Gothic fantasy novels about two nations at war. On one side, the faithful (read: zealots) who still follow the dictates of the gods. On the other, a nation of bloodmage heretics. A cleric, a mage-prince, and a magically warped monster form an unlikely partnership to kill a king and end the war, but it's all too good to be true. Hearts are broken and heads are taken. In some books you can't help but feel that you're getting a window into the things the author enjoys. Within the first fifty pages it jumps right into two D&D arguments: where are the interesting portrayals of clerics outside of tie-in novels and do clerics worship one god or an entire pantheon? Wicked Saints also does something interesting with spellbooks; here, each spell is a page that must be torn out of the mage's book and activated with their own blood. I feel pretty confident the author plays rpgs, but this doesn't read like game fic thankfully. Additionally, the author is definitely into "Reylo". The romance in the novel is definitely patterned after the Reyloian libido: the woman is a "chosen one" who might bring balance to the Force restore the gods to the world; the man is a vicious, but attractively tall, Sith bloodmage. I think if I were in a less forgiving mood, I'd knock the book for that, but in this case I just find it kind of humorous and even a bit endearing. My favorite character, of course, is the flirty lesbian with the eyepatch.

Melana Chasmata and Eparistera Daimones
Triptykon will never be credited with the impact of Celtic Frost; however, although Triptykon is far less likely to be hailed as a major inspiration, I do think that the project's consistency is a point in its favor. Triptykon's blend of doom, Gothic metal, and avant-garde experimentation manages to be both steady, cohesive, and still surprising. Melana Chasmata and Eparistera Daimones are well worth returning to, especially if you (as I'm sure many people will be) are just now getting acquainted with Triptykon after the critical praise for the recording of their live set at Roadburn.

Jonathan L. Howard,
Johannes Cabal the Detective
The story of Johannes Cabal the Detective is a locked room mystery, albeit one that takes place on an airship high above a militaristic Ruritania. Johannes Cabal, infamous necromancer and reluctant hero, finds himself enmeshed in solving the murders of his fellow passengers while teemed up with a beautiful and interesting young woman who both loathes him and is fascinated by him. Full of derring-do, wry humor, and just a little necromancy, this was a rollicking tale.

The End of Life
I listened to UnSun's Clinic for Dolls last month, so once again I seem to be working my way backwards through a discography. It's really interesting to see what direction these smaller bands go when they don't opt to go full symphonic bombast; as with the follow-up record, The End of Life mixes Gothic metal and Euro pop--although this time out I detect slight traces of metalcore and the fleeting Bjork influence is absent here.

Cullen Bunn, Brian Hurtt, and Tyler Crook,
Manor Black
As a fan of Harrow County and The Sixth Gun, I always look forward to a new comic with Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook at the helm. However, from what I read prior to getting my hands on it, it seems like many people who picked it up were disappointed with Manor Black. I both understand their complaint and think it is a bit preemptory. The premise of the comic is strong: the aging patriarch of a magical lineage is thrown together with a young woman who has lost control of her fiery supernatural totem as warped rogue magicians and members of the patriarch's own family move against them. The problem is that this collection of issues cuts off right when things start to get moving. I'm more apt to take this as a sign of good things to come, rather than the story possessing an unfortunate inertness. 

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