Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Eyes of Bayonetta, Void's Enigmatic Mansion, Victorian Christmas Ghosts, and More

Things that brought me delight in December, 2020:

The Eyes of Bayonetta

The Eyes of Bayonetta is the art and design book for the first Bayonetta game. It collects both concept pieces and finished images. It's really interesting to see all the work that went into designing the signature look of the game's main character; I can't imagine the kind of artistic patience it requires to do that many iterations of a design. However, as methodical as the art is in The Eyes of Bayonetta, what I really love about the book is the implicit narrative that emerges from it. 

Beneath the surface and the glossy pages of illustrations is a secret tale of the drama of the design process. There are hints of the eternal battle between the creative team and the higher ups who are hellbent on taming the design and rendering it safer and more beige. And that's only half the story; reading between the lines, you also get a sense of how delicately the design team had to navigate the lead creator's personal fetishes. (Desired elements like a bloomer costume and domineering schoolmistress poses emerge like obstacles to be defeated with a combination of acquiescence and diplomacy.) 

I'm also fascinated by highly sexualized women characters, which Bayonetta definitely is, that are created by women artists. There are intimations that the design team kept expecting disapproval from Mari Shimazaki about the direction things were going, but she was honestly just more concerned with getting the lines right.

HeeEun Kim and JiEun Ha, Void's Enigmatic Mansion

There's a bit of a Fantasy Island-slash-Monkey's Paw situation going on in Void's Enigmatic Mansion. Unbeknownst to the residents who rent rooms in the seven-floor mansion, something within the building is able to grant one of their wishes. Of course, getting what you want is often more of a curse than a blessing. The art style is colorful, soft, and romantic, which makes things all the more unsettling when the comic unveils a particularly gruesome image as a narrative punctuation mark that reminds you that you are, in fact, reading a horror comic. That said, the ending was surprisingly bittersweet because redemption is so often found in strange places.

Christopher Philippo (ed.), The Valancourt Book of Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories, Volume Four

There wasn't much hope of Christmas spirit this year, but I did get to read the fourth volume of The Valancourt Book of Victorian Christmas Ghost StoriesThis volume is entirely comprised of North American ghost stories; it was pretty cool to see some semi-local stories that originally appeared in places like a Syracuse newspaper. It was also interesting to glean historical tidbits such as "this relatively unknown author was Ambrose Bierce's favorite" and "Nathaniel Hawthorne's son Julian followed in his  father's footsteps when he penned this Christmastime chiller." There are little historical nuggets dug up from nineteenth century newspapers included as well, but these aren't likely to lift your spirits--so to speak. One of them is about a young boy who was wearing a Santa costume while distributing presents at his school until he caught fire from candle. His last words, "I'll never play Santa Claus again."

Nightfall, Holy Nightfall: The Black Leather Cult Years

Nightfall is one of those bands I never see anyone talking about, even though they are richly deserving of esteem. Holy Nightfall: The Black Leather Cult Years is a boxed set that collects the Parade Into CenturiesMacabre SunsetsAthenian EchoesLesbian Show, and Diva Futura albums, along with a number of EPs as bonus tracks. Perhaps the hell-invoking sounds of the Mediterranean (Nightfall hail from Greece) will never have as much cachet as those coming from the grim north, but they are absolute masters of sepulchral gloom that is punctuated by both gritty moments of fury and primitive orchestral interruptions. 

Pam Smy, Thornhill

Thornhill is a book that alternates between pages of sequential illustration and epistolary text. It's actually a clever use of form: the sequential art bits tell the story of what's happening in 2017 when a girl and her father move into a new house. The girl's father seems to have buried himself in work to make himself absent from the new home (perhaps to stave off the grief over the mother's death). The girl soon starts seeing a mysterious stranger lurking within the grounds of the abandoned orphanage next door. 

The epistolary elements are entries in the diary of a girl who lived in the orphanage in 1982. She suffers horrific bullying and is afflicted with selective mutism; she's basically unable to get anyone with authority to even notice that she's being tormented mercilessly. Slowly, over the course of the book, the two timelines converge. Fair warning: this is a dark one. The art is excellent throughout, favoring shadowy gloom and atmosphere without sacrificing detail. It differs from what we usually expect in "comics" in that it really isn't concerned at all with conveying any movement. Each image feels like a snapshot or a moment frozen in amber. But then, that's what a haunting is, isn't it?

Philip Pullman, Serpentine

"Serpentine" is a short story set in the world of the His Dark Materials series after the events of The Amber Spyglass. This isn't a story with much plot; nothing really happens in terms of action or narrative arc; this is a story about conversations and how they change our lives. Because of its unusual dramatic stakes, it could be speculated that "Serpentine" is an uneasy fit with the other books in the series, but His Dark Materials has always treated its readers as capable of curiosity and understanding, regardless of their age. As a book, Serpentine is a nice little stocking stuffer--it's a tight little tale that can be read in twenty minutes featuring warm, woodcut-inspired illustrations by Tom Dunbury.

Kaori Yuki, Alice in Murderland vol. 1-3

Families are difficult at the best of times, but Stella has more than the usual amount of familial woes. She and her siblings were all adopted into a powerful, wealthy, and prominent family. However, they discover that prestige comes at a price when their adoptive mother and father gather them all together for a "mad tea party." 

During the party, the mother announces that one of the nine children will become the head of the family and be gifted with supernatural powers, so long as they are the sole remaining child after all the others have been murdered. And so begins a battle royale that amps sibling rivalry up to maximum carnage levels.

Stella discovers that in times of stress a different persona, a gun-toting mass murderer named "Blood Alice," emerges and takes over. Add to this a "white rabbit" in the form of a bodyguard-slash-stalker who has sworn to protect and possess her as his own, and you've got one of the wilder takes on Lewis Carroll's classic tales.

The Art of Junji Ito: Twisted Visions

Twisted Visions collects color artwork from famed horror manga artist Junji Ito. Some of the pieces are cover images from justly celebrated works such as Tomie and Uzumaki, but others are from rarer or lesser known venues. Ito's artwork is, obviously, horrifying, but what is striking here is how bringing all of these images together in one place reveals a set of playful obsessions that you might not notice otherwise. Sometimes the constraints imposed by a muse can feel cruel and demanding, but in Junji Ito's example you can't help but feel that his leads him to moments of joy that are too specific to be universal.

Rotting Christ, Thy Mighty Contract

Thy Mighty Contract has all the hallmarks of a black metal debut that was going to lead to greater things down the road. There are problems, of course; the drums are perhaps too loud in the mix and the use of blast beats is fairly repetitive. And yet, you can see the possibilities even from this early vantage point. The tremolo picking is already in fine form and Rotting Christ displays a sensitivity to sound over just straight aggression.

The Queen's Gambit

The Queen's Gambit lived up to the hype. The miniseries follows the journey of Beth Harmon, a girl who suffers early tragedy and then life in an orphanage. Her time at the orphanage is formative in that it introduces her to two life-changing influences: chess and tranquilizer pills. After she is adopted, her love of chess and pills continues--she becomes reliant on both for a sense of self and sense of purpose. Things come to a head when she must disentangle one from the other as she wins match after match as a prodigy in line to play against the Russian champion. The series is beautifully filmed, emotionally resonant, and compelling even if you have no interest at all in chess as a game.

Lafcadio Hearn, Sean Michael Wilson, and Inko Ai Takita, Manga Yokai Stories: Ghostly Tales from Japan

Manga Yokai Stories is a collection of comics done in manga style that adapts the stories curated by Lafcadio Hearn in books such as Kwaidan and Shadowings in the early twentieth century. The adaptations are quick moving; they tend to get right to the point of the ghost stories they interpret without any unnecessary preamble. The artwork is clean and workmanly, with occasionally surprising moments of grisly horror.

Behemoth, Grom and Sventiveth

After taking a trip back to the genesis point of Rotting Christ, I decided to do the same with Behemoth and re-experience the band's first and second albums. Sventiveth (Storming Near the Baltic) is a solid album for those times when you have a hunger for that dark, raw, and somewhat primitive old-school style. The production is predictably grainy, and nothing truly stands out as a harbinger of what was to come, but it's a decent entry in their discography if you like the early 90s era of black metal. (Personally, I really enjoy "Wolves Guard My Coffin.") Grom is a monumental leap forward. The production is a bit buzzy, but the overall clarity of the music and aesthetic intention is much more evident, as is a willingness to explore and push the boundaries of black metal.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Tarts, Elder Gods, and New Companions

Photo by Dayne Topkin on
Sable had to practically carry Devanya back down the Nachtmahr Mountains. Devanya experienced moments of lucidity, but most of her days and nights were spent raving about the voices of the elder gods that whispered and howled inside her head.

When she had control of herself, Devanya clung to Sable and insisted that they need to make their way to Chancel to seek an audience with the Choristers. "They have to be told," she said, "they have to know that the great old ones have returned."

Sable didn't like the sound of that, but she reassured Devanya that she would drag her to Chancel come hell or high water.

When they ran out of food, Sable left Devanya in a placid grove and began to forage. She surprised a beautiful young woman picking berries. The woman dropped her basket and stammered, "Oh, I didn't see you there. Mother sent me to gather fruit. She's making a tart."

Sable ran her good eye up and down the maid's comely form in what she hoped was a rakish and suggestive way. "It looks like she already has made a little tart."

The lady blushed.

But she also invited Sable and Devanya to stay with them and be fed before they resumed their journey to Chancel, which Sable described, half-correctly, as a "pilgrimage of sorts." Whatever else transpired in that humble cottage must remain a mystery, but Mandalia, so the girl was called, did leave her childhood home and accompany Sable and Devanya to Chancel.

* * *

The contrast between that rustic idyll and the muddy, smoky streets of Chancel could not have been more pronounced. Devanya was able to arrange a meeting the the Choristers. They paled at what she had to tell them, but the exact nature of that meeting, and what directives they may have given her, were hidden away behind closed doors. However, it was clear that when she emerged from the cathedral, her status as a priest was restored and she had been re-embraced to the bosom of the Church.

Sable, meanwhile, has roved the streets in search of a new companion who could provide aid in their quest to find the missing heir to Krevborna's throne--a fell task that been given to them by Thronzeker. Her search of the kind of places adventurers frequent--taverns and gutters, mostly--turned a likely candidate: Malachi Vulcra, an inhuman warrior who had previously been a member of the Knights Labyrinthian. Malachi's strange physiognomy--impossibly lanky, with mottled green skin stretched over a gaunt face--evidenced a link to the ancient Lilitu, but more promising still were his claims to knowledge of tracking, arcana, and the history of Krevborna's royal line.

* * *

Previous Adventures

Losing a Fight in a Frontier Tavern

The Cleric and the Cannibals

In the Court of the Vampire Queen

Friday, December 18, 2020

Bloodletting on the Kiss, The In-Between, Firelights

Howls of the damned for a snowed-in December:

Bloody Hammers, "Bloodletting on the Kiss"

In This Moment, "The In-Between"

Swallow the Sun, "Firelights"

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The Sparrowhawks

The Sparrowhawks
A faction in Krevborna

The Sparrowhawks are a revolutionary secret society of elves, dwarves, gnomes, halflings, and goblinkin who are united in the goal of driving humanity from the lands of Krevborna. The members of the Sparrowhawks believe, perhaps rightfully, that Krevborna was originally the homeland of their peoples in an age before human settlement. Cells of Sparrowhawks use arson and other acts of terrorism to inspire fear in the humans of Krevborna’s cities and towns; Sparrowhawks operating in rural environs act as bandits and raiders who steal food and arms in preparation for the inevitable war to come.
    • Motto. “We will cleanse the land of the disease that is humanity.”
    • Belief. Krevborna is the rightful domain of the oppressed nonhuman peoples who have been driven into obscurity.
    • Goal. Make war against mankind.
    • Quest. Intercept a shipment of arms and armor headed for a fanatical coterie of Sparrowhawk insurgents.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Nautical Flags as Alignment

International meanings for nautical flags. Or, alternately, I think they would do just as well as signifiers of the alignment of your character:

A: Alpha – diver down; keep clear

B: Bravo – carrying dangerous cargo

C: Charlie – yes

D: Delta – keep clear

E: Echo – altering course to starboard

F: Foxtrot – I am disabled

G: Golf – I want a pilot

H: Hotel – a pilot on board

I: India – I am altering course to port

J: Juliet – vessel on fire keep clear

K: Kilo – I want to communicate with you

L: Lima – stop your vessel instantly

M: Mike – my vessel is stopped

N: November – no

O: Oscar – Man overboard

P: Papa – vessel is about to sail

Q: Quebec – I request free pratique

R: Romeo – reverse course

S: Sierra – engines are going astern

T: Tango – keep clear

U: Uniform – you are heading into danger

V: Victor – require assistance

W: Whiskey – require medical assistance

X: X-ray – stop your intention

Y: Yankee – am dragging anchor

Z: Zulu – I require a tug

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

The Iscarion Vow

The Iscarion Vow
A faction in Krevborna

The Iscarion Vow is a specialized group within the Church of Sacred Blood that act as the Church’s sanctioned witchfinders, exorcists, and inquisitors. Not all Iscarions are clergy; the organization employs laypeople are witch-hunters, informants, and torturers, although its upper ranks are exclusively the domain of ordained ministers of the faith and oath-sworn paladins. Whether they are recruited from the laity or the priesthood, members of the Iscarion Vow are chosen for their bloody-minded fanaticism above any other quality.
    • Motto. “Witches should not be suffered to live.”
    • Belief. The dangers of witchcraft lurk in every shadow.
    • Goal. Root out heresy and false belief.
    • Quest. Unmask a witch who has been causing the children of a remote village to be afflicted by demonic possession.

Monday, December 7, 2020

No Comity for Old Sorcerers

One thing that is slightly annoying about the new options in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything is that the new sorcerer origins it presents all get bonus spells that supplement the base class's somewhat stingy number of spells known. This is aggravating because WotC had previously downplayed the possibility of sorcerer subclasses having bonus spells; for some reason, this was seen as overpowered even though it was a wildly popular idea. So now we're in a situation where the two newest of the sorcerer's subclasses and other don't, creating an apparent and unfortunate disparity.

Luckily, this is a prefect place for homebrew to step in and shore things up. In my 5e D&D games, the older sorcerer subclasses get the following bonus spells:

Sorcerer: Draconic Bloodline Magic.
You learn additional spells when you reach certain levels in this class, as shown on the table below. Each of these spells counts as a sorcerer spell for you, but it doesn't count against the number of sorcerer spells you know. Whenever you gain a sorcerer level, you can replace one spell you gained from this feature with another spell of the same level. The new spell must be an enchantment or an evocation spell from the sorcerer, warlock, or wizard spell list.

Sorcerer Level



cause fear, command


dragon’s breath, enthrall


fear, protection from energy


dominate beast, elemental bane


dominate person, skill empowerment

Sorcerer: Wild Magic. You learn additional spells when you reach certain levels in this class, as shown on the table below. Each of these spells counts as a sorcerer spell for you, but it doesn't count against the number of sorcerer spells you know. Whenever you gain a sorcerer level, you can replace one spell you gained from this feature with another spell of the same level. The new spell must be an illusion or a transmutation spell from the sorcerer, warlock, or wizard spell list.

Sorcerer Level



chaos bolt, color spray


blur, crown of madness


blink, hypnotic pattern


confusion, polymorph


animate objects, synaptic static

Sorcerer: Storm Magic. You learn additional spells when you reach certain levels in this class, as shown on the table below. Each of these spells counts as a sorcerer spell for you, but it doesn't count against the number of sorcerer spells you know. Whenever you gain a sorcerer level, you can replace one spell you gained from this feature with another spell of the same level. The new spell must be a transmutation or an evocation spell from the sorcerer, warlock, or wizard spell list.

Sorcerer Level



fog cloud, thunderwave


skywrite, warding wind


call lightning, fly


ice storm, storm sphere


control winds, destructive wave

Sorcerer: Shadow Magic. You learn additional spells when you reach certain levels in this class, as shown on the table below. Each of these spells counts as a sorcerer spell for you, but it doesn't count against the number of sorcerer spells you know. Whenever you gain a sorcerer level, you can replace one spell you gained from this feature with another spell of the same level. The new spell must be a necromancy or a conjuration spell from the sorcerer, warlock, or wizard spell list.

Sorcerer Level



false life, ray of sickness


shadow blade, ray of enfeeblement


Evard’s black tentacles, summon shadowspawn


blight, shadow of moil


enervation, negative energy flood

Sorcerer: Divine Soul. You learn additional spells when you reach certain levels in this class, as shown on the table below. Each of these spells counts as a sorcerer spell for you, but it doesn't count against the number of sorcerer spells you know. Whenever you gain a sorcerer level, you can replace one spell you gained from this feature with another spell of the same level. The new spell must be an abjuration or evocation spell from the cleric, sorcerer, warlock, or wizard spell list.

Sorcerer Level



guiding bolt, shield of faith


lesser restoration, spiritual weapon


beacon of hope, revivify


banishment, guardian of faith


raise dead, summon celestial

(Photo by Artem Kniaz at

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Rooms and Shadows, Blackest Magick in Practice, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie

Howls of the damned for a wintry Friday:

Swallow the Sun, "Rooms and Shadows"

Cradle of Filth, "Blackest Magick in Practice"

Bloody Hammers, "Let Sleeping Corpses Lie"

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Under a Godless Veil, The Monkey's Wedding, My Swordhand is Singing, and More

Things that brought me delight in November, 2020:

Draconian, Under a Godless Veil

With Under a Godless Veil, Draconian have truly come into their own. Their previous albums are filled with great Gothic doom tracks, each one showcasing its own variety of despairing delights, but this is the album where it has all come together into the most cohesive offering the band has yet presented. Two things conspire to make this album the revelatory highlight of Draconian's discography. The use of dual vocalists, even though it could be said to be another riff on the Beauty and the Beast style, excels here. As does the overall power and grandeur of the tracks themselves. This is a big, sublime statement from a band that holds up over the course of its mountainous expanse of songs.

Joan Aiken, The Monkey's Wedding and Other Stories

Why did no one tell me how great Joan Aiken is? The Monkey's Wedding and Other Stories was not at all what I expected; I know Aiken by her reputation as an author of Gothic romances, so I was expecting something sinister and emotionally overheated, but this collection of short stories is quirky, witty, very British, and surprisingly sweet, which I didn't know would hit me just right. I suspect the circumstances outside my door primed me for the slightly unhinged fun of these stories. However, that's not to say that they are merely bright-eyed. Aiken's prose is extremely well crafted; each story feels like a confection--real art goes into making a simple pleasure. There are some darker moments here as well; the story "Hair" was really disturbing to me, despite not being overly heavy-handed with horror or the uncanny.

Marcus Sedgwick, My Swordhand is Singing

I tend to really enjoy these young adult Gothic adventure novels that make use of folklore in place of modern depictions of monstrosity. Marcus Sedwick's My Swordhand is Singing is a vampire tale, but Peter, the son of a woodcutter with a mysterious past fighting the Turks, and Sophia, a gypsy girl from a family of vampire hunters, do not encounter the suave vampires that have dominated the field since the publication of John Polidori's The Vampyre. Rather, the undead they face are pulled from Eastern European folk tales; they are bloated and animalistic, creature of basic malice rather than sophistication. My Swordhand is Singing is surprisingly light on sword-swinging action, especially given the title; the fight scenes tend to get glossed over to get on with the narrative, which instead focuses on Peter learning that the world works in ways that run contrary to what he's been taught to believe, love isn't what he thinks it is, and his relationship with his father is stronger than he imagined.

Cattle Decapitation, Death Atlas

Sometimes you just need some brutality. When you do, you turn to a band with a name like Cattle Decapitation. Death Atlas is clearly the work of a death metal band, but Cattle Decapitation don't approach the genre in the same way as, say, Cannibal Corpse. Cattle Decapitation is a highly technical band; rather the hammer on a single way of pursuing sonic carnage, Death Atlas features a dizzying array of riffs, vocal styles, and songwriting structures. Death Atlas is surprisingly moody for a death metal album, but you can lay that firmly at the feet of Cattle Decapitation's unusual ecologically concerned perspective--a worldview that takes death metal to an effectively apocalyptic place. Trust me, listening to "Bring Back the Plague" in 2020 is definitely a mood.

Mami Itou, Maleficarum

Maleficarum collects Mama Itou's short manga based on Capcom's Red Earth and Darkstalkers fighting games. The stories that reiterate the plot line of Red Earth have really great, gritty art, but to be honest they didn't really work for me. They felt rushed and cramped with no real payoff. Also, despite being based on a fighting game, the fight scenes were confusingly brief with only the vaguest implication about what happened. (Interestingly, Mami Itou takes a page to explain that she isn't happy with her Red Earth stories either. Apparently she was working from vague notes about the game and wasn't given much time to actually play it when it was in development.) The Darkstalkers stories work much better for me. The art is more elegant and the stories come together better, but that latter element may be boosted along by how familiar I am with the Darkstalkers games. Morrigan, the game's infamous succubus, motorboats another character to death in the final one-page comic in the collection. You don't see that every day.

Shin Yamamoto, Sekiro Side Story: Hanbei the Undying

Hanbei the Undying is a manga tie-in for FromSoftware's Sekiro. As the title implies, it tells a "side story" of one of the game's tertiary characters, Hanbei the Undying--a character who exists to be your training partner so you can optimize your combat skills. His story is undeniably tied to the same back story you discover as you play Sekiro, but it also presents a very different perspective on the game's themes and feels self-contained enough that it is very easy to follow even if you haven't played the game. There are obvious parallels to Blade of the Immortal and Seven Samurai in this manga, but it really does ultimately feel like it does it own thing. Things do not end with redemption. PREPARE TO CRY, indeed.

Lacrimas Profundere, The Grandiose Nowhere, Bleeding the Stars, and Songs for the Last View

Lacrimas Profundere is the Gothic metal band I'd recommend to fans of Sisters of Mercy. Although they don't ape the Sisters' sound the way a lot of goth rock bands do, there is a similarity of spirit here, if not of direct sonic influence. Lacrimas Profundere aren't nearly as bombastic or theatrical, but they play it cool and aloof, which is a fairly rare combination for a Gothic metal band. Unlike the Gothic metal bands that opt to evoke the mystique of dark medieval times, there is something undeniably modern about the atmosphere of these albums. These records are perfect for driving through the urban sprawl late at night.

Leila Taylor, Darkly: Black History and America's Gothic Soul

It's rare to read a book and immediately be struck by how necessary it is. In academic circles this is sometimes referred to as a "necessary intervention," but I don't think that phrase adequately covers what Darkly does. Intervention is too paternal, too rooted in a beneficent attitude of descending to a horrible situation purely out of a sense of duty. Darkly reads like an act of survival. Part history of the Black experience in America, part consideration of what Gothic really means, and part personal memoir, Darkly connects the dots to give a picture of the places where Blackness and Darkness have been forced to uneasily coexist. 

Kaori Yuki, Demon From Afar volumes 1-6

Demon from Afar pulls an interesting swerve at the end of the first volume: the series starts out in the early twentieth century, but then there's a time travel event that sends the characters into the early twenty-first century. Although it seems like the plot will revolve around standard black magic and occult gimmicks such as childhood pacts, demonic summonings, and secret cults, the time jump turns it into an exploration of how demonic forces adapt themselves to modernity. The real horror in Demon From Afar is the malignant use of things like anonymous internet message boards, fighting for online clout, the popularity of livestream performers, and media manipulation of public opinion. It's impressive how well those elements get folded into an otherwise standard Gothic melodrama. Don't worry, all of the generic conventions you expect from Kaori Yuki are still there: there's plenty of betrayal, plotting, and sexual perversion to be had, but this time they have a very modern gloss.

Atrocity feat. Yasmin, After the Storm

According to the sticker on the front of the album, After the Storm is billed as "ETHNO MEETS METAL," a truly terrible genre designation. In practice, what this means is that Atrocity and Yasmin have crafted a record's worth of tracks that occasionally enliven slightly pagan-sounding world music with some heavy guitar riffs. This might be my "easy listening" music. I would definitely recommend After the Storm to any Dead Can Dance fans looking to get into heavier music; despite the fearsome name, Atrocity won't scare you off with this one.

Devil Master, Satan Spits on Children of Light

On Satan Spits on Children of Light, Devil Master splits the difference between death rock and black metal. The only way I can describe the experience of listening to this album is to ask you to imagine being on a haunted house ride at a grimy carnival that goes horrifically out of control; you're careening at high speeds though a darkness that is only ever interrupted by the sudden appearance of ghosts and ghouls, gouts of flame, and the screams of the damned. 

The Black Dahlia Murder, Verminous

I'm not sure that I'm capable of being blown away by a new Black Dahlia Murder album anymore, but I don't mean that as an insult. They're just so dependable, so reliable. You know what you're going to get: a rock-solid collection of melodic death metal. Verminous still manages moments of excitement; the solo on "Dawn of Rats" is amazing, and I love everything about "Removal of the Oaken Stake," but of course Black Dahlia Murder will do amazing things. It's expected. This is comfort food that wants to kill you.


I don't think I can stress this enough: Emma is a ridiculously beautiful film. It's an adaptation of Jane Austen's novel about a young woman who fancies herself a great matchmaker, and who has to learn the painful lesson that she is neither as perceptive nor discerning as she likes to assume, but this movie should appeal to people who aren't hardcore Janeites. My own confession: I think I may have enjoyed this movie much more than I enjoyed reading the book. Not only is it pretty to look at, everyone involved turns in a compelling performance, the film is crisply funny, and it moves along at just the right pace without getting bogged down as so many period pieces do. And honestly, I could watch Anya Taylor-Joy darn socks for an hour and a half and be perfectly content.

Marilyn Manson, We Are Chaos

Add this to the mounting evidence that we live in the beginning of the end times: it's 2020 and Marilyn Manson has put out a pretty fun album. Marilyn Manson could easily slide into by-the-numbers, cartoonish pseudo-villainy--or worse yet, an album of Elvis covers--but somehow he avoided that on We Are Chaos. Marilyn Manson has always only ever been as good as the set of influences he's currently mining for inspiration, and We Are Chaos displays a nice variety of them; there are obvious glam-rock nods, moments of dark psychedelia, and potential arena rock anthems for the faithful who will converge on the big spectacle once the plague has passed.

Tasha's Cauldron of Everything

Tasha's Cauldron of Everything is the latest rules expansion book for 5e Dungeons & Dragons. These expansions are only ever as worthwhile as the options they contain are exciting and make you want to play a long-running game that runs the risk of feeling stale or too known; based on that rubric, I think Tasha's is a success. The book contains new subclasses, alternate and additional abilities to add to the existing classes, rules for customizing your character's race, new spells, new magic items, expanded rules for sidekicks, group patrons, rules for dangerous and unusual adventuring environments, and examples of puzzles to use in play. Of course, with a grab-bag book like this, not all of the new options will meet with universal approval (the new Favored Foe for the ranger is something I've already felt the need to modify at my own table), but there's more than enough to pick and choose from this buffet to make it worth a visit. 

Maison Close, Season One

Maison Close is a a French production about the trials, tribulations, and drama of a nineteenth-century Parisian brothel. The historical fantasy of prostitution is miles away from the generally squalid modernity of the world's oldest profession, of course; even when things are at their most dire, the women involved look unfailingly glamorous in a way that doesn't ring true when compared against the historical record. One of the funniest things in the show, though, is the use of modern music as part of the soundtrack. You'll get a scene where they're digging a grave or having an abortion and the backing music is all "La la la ice cream and coffee..." indie pop.