Things that brought me delight in January, 2021:
Therese Doucet, The Prisoner of the Castle of Enlightenment
Therese Doucet is an "online acquaintance" of mine, so that likely colors my perception of this novel, but I feel I can safely recommend the book to anyone looking for a lightly Gothic take on Beauty and the Beast. The heroine is a young widow and former bookseller whose father trades her off to a reclusive nobleman to stave off financial catastrophe. She's sent to the nobleman's remote chateau, where unseen forces cater to her needs. The nobleman writes to her, telling her that he will only arrive to meet her if she expressly desires it.
Our heroine eventually relents and agrees to meet her keeper, but he only appears under the cover of darkness in her bedroom. They have long conversations, but he never allows her to see his face. When she expresses a sense of loneliness during the days, a cast of strangers arrives to enliven the chateau. Each uses a pseudonym to disguise their identity. The house turns into a salon in which art and enlightenment ideals are discussed, though I will say that the lack of development in the enlightenment angle is probably my biggest criticism of the novel. The chateau's Elysium is disrupted by treachery, but things come full circle to the strange legends about the forest and all the enchantments its holds.
It's obvious that I bought this beer because it has a lich on the art, but this beer is actually excellent so I wasn't just suckered in by good marketing. It's a pale ale, very hoppy, with a bit of a citrus kick to it as well. If my local grocery store keeps stocking this, I will certainly keep buying it.
Claire L. Smith, Helena
I wanted to love this book, but I'm going to have to settle for a mild like instead. To be brutally honest, I may be stretching the limits of "delight" by even including it in this monthly round-up. In theory, I should be in love with a novel with this premise: a woman mortician plagued by specters is embroiled in a serial murderer's plans in Victorian England.
There are some really well done gruesome bits in Helena, particularly the descriptions of the threatening unquiet dead, but I was let down by the shoddiness of the historical backdrop. For example, it's set in 1855 and a detective whips put plastic bags marked "evidence"? Additionally, one of the characters has the most implausible rationale for allowing another to pursue a truly insane and monstrous course of action.
Plush Grim Reaper
My plush plague doctor got a new friend.
I've been a fan of Therion since I first heard Vovin. And yet, being a Therion fan be a dicey affair. Modern Therion records can sometimes be a bit too "power metal" for my tastes, and there have been moments where the symphonic and orchestral bombast has overtaken the heaviness that I'm looking for. The indulgent, three-disc Beloved Antichrist is the case in point, and since this is their first album after that sprawling affair, Leviathan seems poised to be either a return to form or a further misstep. In practice, it's neither. Instead, it's a grab bag of the various styles that Therion have accumulated over the course of their discography. There are symphonic metal songs I really like here, but also some moments I'm less partial to.
Bloody Hammers, Songs of Unspeakable Terror
Bloody Hammers is definitely a Planet Motherfucker house band; their mix of lurid, lowbrow spookshow rock hits all the right ghoulish and lightly psychotronic notes. Songs of Unspeakable Terror sounds like...pretty much every other Blood Hammers album, but that's fine by me. You wouldn't expect The Misfits to reinvent their sound and aesthetic, so I'm quite happy for Bloody Hammers to stay the graveyard course they've chosen for themselves.
Norihiro Yago, Claymore vol. 1-2
There is a Berserk-shaped hole in my life. Once you're got caught up on the translated volumes, where do you go? Well, personally, I've turned toward Claymore. Claymore is about a world in which monsters are hunted by slayers who have been hybridized with their prey, resulting in superhumans who are both the saviors of humanity and reviled for their inherent inhumanity. So far, I'm enjoying the dark fantasy elements of this manga. The art has nowhere near the detail of Berserk, but this is a quick-moving action comic with interesting characters and plenty of limbs being lopped off by greatswords.
Kaori Yuki, Alice in Murderland vol. 4
By the end of volume four of Alice in Murderland, there's one less sibling to worry about in the battle royale for control of the family's fortune and mysterious mystical powers. What I've found really interesting in this volume is the depiction of a character who we might call trans in the West, but doesn't seem to fit that description from the story's point of view. Sibling Mare is a "son" of the family and consistently referred to by male pronouns, but "he" seems to have chosen to live as a woman--dressing in feminine attire and adopting a stereotypically feminine characterization throughout the series. It's difficult to parse the gender politics of another culture, but the way it plays on in the pages of the comic is fascinating, particularly as it has yet to be fully explained and honestly might not ever be addressed.
Tribulation, Where the Gloom Becomes Sound
Tribulation has established themselves as a great introductory band for people to bond over, no matter their level of comfort with metal; they're heavy enough for hardcore metal fans, but approachable enough for people who don't generally have a taste for heavy music. Where the Gloom Becomes Sound continues Tribulation's streak of gothic-infused metal. Like Bloody Hammers' Songs of Unspeakable Terror, it doesn't steer the band in a wild new direction--Tribulation have found their niche and they're all the more stronger for it.
Anathema, Alternative 4
One thing that I believe is terribly under-rated is going back and listening to albums that didn't initially hit you the right way. We accept that it's possible to grow out of something, but rarely think about how we can grow into them. For me, Anathema is a great example. There was a time when I drew a firm line regarding which Anathema albums I liked and which I didn't. Alternative 4 formerly fell on the latter side of that line, but I've recently gained a new appreciation of the record's combination of atmospheric metal and Pink Floyd-inspired dark psychedelic, experimental rock.
Mari Lwyd ornaments
Check out these Mari Lwyd ornaments made by Goblin Fruit Studio! They almost make me look forward to the holidays again. Almost. Let's not go crazy here.
I also got this darling mandrake from Goblin Fruit Studio. I've got a nice little family of these guys going now.