Thursday, February 3, 2022

The Only Good Indians, In Nomine Sanguinis, Gwen, in Green, and More

Things that brought me delight in January, 2022:

Stephen Graham Jones, The Only Good Indians

I'm surprised I enjoyed a horror novel where the climax involves a one-on-one basketball game with a supernatural creature this much. The Only Good Indians is about four Native American men struggling to make something of themselves and struggling to find a way to fit into the world encompassing them. But more than anything, they are four men navigating the nebulous line between tradition and modernity, a conflict that comes into sharp relief when they find themselves stalked by the memory of an ill-fated hunting expedition in forbidden territory. Excellent stuff that hits many moods; the novel has moments of jaw-dropping violence, but it's also funny and heart-wrenching in equal measure.

Theatres des Vampires, In Nomine Sanguinis

Once a black metal band more in the vein of Cradle of Filth, Theatres des Vampires have evolved into a Gothic symphonic metal band with a heavy emphasis on seductive horror. But the darkness and evil doesn't preclude well-placed pop sensibilities and electronic elements on In Nomine Sanguinis. And yet, the band can still throw down when need; see the track "Lady Bathory," for example. This record could make an excellent bridge for goth fans who'd like to explore more extreme music. There are songs on In Nomine Sanguinis that would hit just right either on a goth club dance floor or a metal festival.

Hugh Zachary, Gwen, in Green

Gwen, in Green is a 1974 horror novel that has been brought back into print by the Paperbacks From Hell Imprint of Valancourt Books. Gwen and George seem to have it all: enough money to live in relative leisure, a private island home, and a steady romantic connection with each other. That all changes when Gwen encounters something on their property that changes her from a moderately frigid housewife into a temptress who is both horny and murder-y. A ripping little read; I suspect it would be hard to get more than a few days of reading out of this novel because it scoots along and keeps you thumbing the pages. One thing I noted about the writing is the way the sex scenes aren't particularly "sexy," but Gwen's feelings of dirtiness and shame when the sex is over are depicted in a truly delicious way.

Katsura Hoshino, D.Gray-Man

Having caught up with Black Butler, I wanted another manga set in the 19th century with Gothic-adjacent themes, so I settled on starting Katsura Hoshino's D.Gray-Man from the beginning. D.Gray-Man definitely has less historical research flowing into it; the focus is much more on action and adventure.

In D.Gray-Man, demons are being created from people consumed by sorrow at the hands of a strange being known as the Millennium Earl. Opposing the Earl is the Black Order, a group of exorcists who hope to collect a strange substance known as "innocence" before the Earl's minions can get to it. The art in D.Gray-Man is sometimes difficult to follow as a visual narrative, but so far I'm enjoying the ride.

Unto Others, Strength

Many bands have attempted to become a "heavier Sisters of Mercy." Arguably, even the Sisters tried to become a heavier Sisters of Mercy, to decidedly mixed results. Unto Others are the most successful to enter that arena to date. There is a certain sense of style, a certain urban effortlessness, that permeates the tracks on Strength; the mix of heavy guitars, percussion, and world-weary vocals is just about perfect. All this, plus a cover of Pat Benatar's "Hell is For Children"? We're living in a great moment for goth-metal crossover.

The Veiled Picture; or, The Mysteries of Gorgono

The Veiled Picture is an edit of Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho that was first published as a chapbook in the early 19th century. The Veiled Picture cuts the sprawling majesty of Radcliffe's novel down to a breathless, breakneck-paced read. The increased velocity of the piece results in some curious artifacts, such as what would be long stretches of uncertainty or perilous dread in Radcliffe's text being reduced to mere fleeting moments, but overall it somehow manages to preserve the skeleton of Udolpho's plot, against all odds. The book is certainly a curiosity, but it makes for oddly compelling reading. If you don't have the stamina for The Mysteries of Udolpho, this honestly isn't a poor alternative. 

The Shadows of Esteren

There was a point where I wasn't really sure that I would actually get the stuff I pledged for in the last Shadows of Esteren kickstarter, but wonder of wonders, it finally showed up! And there's a lot more stuff here than I even remembered pledging for.

Shadows of Esteren is a dark fantasy rpg inspired by Celtic cultures and the Gothic. In my opinion, it's got the best art of any modern rpg I can think of. The lore is just deep enough and the system just different enough, that I'm not sure I'll actually ever find a group willing to give it a whirl, but for now I'll just marvel at the beauty of it all. 

Cultes des Ghoules, Haxan

Grimy and grim, Haxan exudes a thick miasma of primal, charnel menace. Compared to Cultes des Ghoules' later efforts, particularly Henbane and Coven, Haxan lacks the surprising macabre flourishes, preparing instead to carve away flesh and bone with a direct and unrelenting approach. Haxan creeps along, for the most part, until it bursts into a frantic, runaway train pace. Guttural, but you have to appreciate the roots.

Dracula A.D. 1972

Dracula A.D. 1972 isn't the best of the Hammer Dracula films, but it does have its charms. Although the movie squanders the premise of Dracula's culture shock at and/or adaptation to the groovy scene of 1970s London, there's some decent cult-related shenanigans and, of course, some beautiful and imperiled women falling into the Count's clutches. And really, any movie with both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing is worth a watch.

Swallow the Sun, Moonflowers

Swallow the Sun have gone for magisterial on Moonflowers, an album that feels impossibly dense and commanding. The band aren't strangers to epic slabs of death doom, but this record shows incredibly attention to finesse and restraint. The devil is in the details, and the grooves run deep. The vibe is generally grim and a bit occult, but they also aren't afraid to let the hammer fall and remind you that they are, in fact, a metal band. If you can, pick up the two disc version of Moonflowers; the second disc of orchestral variations is absolutely worth it.

Andrzej Sapkowski, The Tower of the Swallow

The first novel I finished in the New Year was the penultimate novel in the Andrzej Sapkowski's Witcher SagaThe Tower of the Swallow is not much of a Geralt-centric book at all; this really is a novel focused on Ciri's travails, although both Geralt and Yennefer do get at least a nod in the subplots. I'll have more to say about this one in an upcoming episode of Valley of Plenty on the Bad Books for Bad People podcast, but for now it will suffice to say that the series' unique combination of dark, war-torn fantasy and extremely silly elements continues to floor me with how brazen and idiosyncratic it is. I genuinely wish more of the dumb elements made it into the Netflix series.

Darkthrone, Eternal Hails, Old Star, Arctic Thunder

It's me, I am the fair-weather Darkthrone fan that your TR00 KVLT friends warned you about. I love the band's early black metal albums; I mean, what fan of extreme music doesn't have a soft spot for those?. But...I have to admit I dropped off the bandwagon when Darkthrone went into their crust punk-inspired phase. It's only recently that I've been delving into their more recent return to what I consider darker metal territory. This is the good shit, if you ask me. Even if Arctic Thunder sounds like the name of a store-brand Mountain Dew.

Eve Harms, The Secret Name

The Secret Name is a novella about a young woman who takes a job cataloging the strangely expansive library of a rich, but odd, filmmaker. The story is told in blog post format, which I don't love, generally speaking; somehow it never works for me in the ways that a traditional epistolary tale does. Things start off mundane, but it is quickly apparent that something terrible is happening in the director's house involving his "secret wife." Things come to a head quite quickly! This is a fast, fun read. I finished it in about an hour, but I'm still thinking about demons and jinn days later.

Powerwolf, Blood of Saints

Blood of Saints is absolutely a "Krevborna album." In particularly, it feels extremely well suited to Chancel since the opening track, "Agnus Dei," flows directly into a song called "We Drink Your Blood." Absolutely over-the-top Gothic-inflected power metal with symphonic and choir elements. Amazing stuff. I digested Powerwolf's other albums not that long ago, but this one was hard to come by at the time. Nice to see a timely reissue. 

Matthew Mercer, Hannah Rose, and James J. Haeck, Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting Reborn

I bought this book mostly out of curiosity; I had read the previous version, which I reviewed here, and truth be told this version is mostly the same, but with some updates and expansions. If you liked the previous book, or want a solid baseline vanilla fantasy D&D setting, you'll probably like Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting Reborn. Personally, I found myself paying the most attention to the design of the book itself, which rides a line between standard WotC and Paizo levels of presentation and art. One innovation: the setting map is tucked into a little pocket instead of being glued in at the back--so much better!