Monday, July 4, 2022

Waste, Foreverglade, Mordew, Tide Turns Eternal, and More

Things that brought me delight in June, 2022:

Andrew F. Sullivan, Waste

I have learned that when a thing is good, the kids say it "slaps." Well, Andrew F. Sullivan's Waste slaps pretty damn hard, both in the sense of being a great read and in the sense that it pummels you down as you progress through its tale of down-and-out dirtbags in the fictional post-industry town of Larkhill, Ontario. It's so gritty and grimy that I felt like I needed to take a shower every fifty pages or so. On the other hand, it's also comforting to know that Canada has burnt-out towns as fucked up as the ones I grew up in during approximately the same era.

Worm, Foreverglade

I'm sure the name of the band contributes to the association, but to my ears Worm makes metal that Kyuss, the Worm That Walks, would enjoy. The sound on Foreverglade is a mangled amalgamation of Floridian death metal and funereal doom; there's something undeniably earthy and swampy about the album, and you can practically smell the profane ritual that Worm's music conjures up in your mind's eye.

Alex Pheby, Mordew

At first I thought I had made a terrible mistake by picking up Mordew because the story doesn't start until page twenty, after a lengthy three-page dramatic persona and then a list of things that are present in the novel, and the last hundred-plus pages are a fucking glossary and essays, but wonder of wonders the writing is solid and engaging throughout. The first bit feels like a Dickensian dark fantasy (emphasis on the dark) about a gang of urchins pulling heists at the behest of a cruel criminal overlord in an apocalyptic city that wouldn't be miscategorized among a selection of New Weird-inflected urban settings. That gives way, after a personal calamity of sorts, to the main character's dubious "training" in magic--which feels like it's mostly propaganda for the wizard who rules the city. Things get buck wild from there; anything more I could say would venture into hard spoiler territory. 

Dream Unending, Tide Turns Eternal

The "Peaceville Three" sound pioneered by Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride, and Anathema has been hugely influential on the doom genre; you can hear elements of their classic works echoing across the whole of doom metal. And yet, it's interesting that there are so few bands that carry on in the same vein. Enter Dream Unending, a project that has made it their mission to continue the lush, yet crushing and melancholic, sound found on records like Draconian, Turn Loose the Swans, and Serenades. That isn't to say that their sound is derivative; Dream Unending have their own vital spirit, but fans of that bygone era of doom should definitely seek out Tide Turns Eternal.

Yana Toboso, Black Butler XXXI

My long wait is over, a new volume of Black Butler has arrived in translation! I have to say, volume XXXI has one of my favorite covers thus far in the series' lengthy run. The interior content was also well worth the wait, as the first bit, which concludes the Yorkshire arc, has lots of action centering on my two favorite characters. Once that has concluded, we get the start of a new arc about the nefarious doings in a hospital for war veterans. I'm enjoying the origin stories for all the members of the Phantomhive staff, so I'm looking forward to learning more about the cook and his time as a soldier. But can I survive the wait for another volume? We must persevere in these trying times. 

Iron Maiden, all of the records up until Bruce Dickinson's departure

Maybe it was the release of the Street Fighter 6 trailer that did it; back in the day, when we used to crawl from one arcade to another, Iron Maiden was often the soundtrack of the night because one of the guys in my little friend group was a huge Maiden fan. Who knows, maybe Iron Maiden will be the soundtrack to my Dirtbag Summer of chili cheese Fritos and cans of Old Milwaukee. Anyway, all of this is to say that I get the appeal of Iron Maiden now more than ever.

David Lindsay, The Haunted Woman

Fans of weird fiction might recognize the name David Lindsay from his "obscure classic," A Voyage to Arcturus, but The Haunted Woman is more in the Gothic mode, even though it remains solidly weird. If anything, I might argue that it prefigures the whole hauntological and folk horror phenomenon that would arrive later. 

Initially, I found myself interested in the triangular relationship at work in the novel: a courting couple and the woman's widowed aunt. Their relationships are all strained in some way. What brings them together is a house the aunt may want to buy, a house that is rumored to have a spectral staircase leading nowhere, like a ghostly Winchester House. But the strange stairs, that are not apparent to everyone, do lead to a mysterious chamber where society's social rules fall away and the true passions of the heart are revealed--as the engaged woman and owner of the house discovered when they venture into the shadows together. Ultimately, The Haunted Woman is a story about passion, the tragedy of romance, society's rules, and sacrifice.

Blind Guardian, every album from Battalions of Fear to Nightfall on Middle-Earth

As with Iron Maiden above, Blind Guardian was another favorite of my friend from my arcade-going days. Blind Guardian exemplify an eternal principle: to be great, a metal band has to be at least a little silly. In Blind Guardian's case, that silliness comes in the form of full on fantasy fixations and a truly epic approach to capturing the subject matter in sonic form. The band loses me a bit once they start venturing into prog territory, but these albums all really hold up.

Marilyn Ross, The Mystery of Collinwood

I decided it was time to read another of the Dark Shadows novels. I had forgotten how peculiar these are. Although I respect how wildly the world of the novels diverges from that of the television show (and in The Mystery of Collinwood Elisabeth and Roger have a mysterious older brother who works as a hypnotist!), I had forgotten how utterly unhinged the characters are in their motivations. Victoria jumps to insane conclusions, and even though her life is imperiled at every turn, for some reason she never entertains the idea of leaving the Collins family behind. I enjoy these books even if they are formulaic; if you want to place who the villain is, just look for the side character who isn't getting much in the way of narrative detail--they're the baddie, every time.

Peaky Blinders, Season Six

Season six of Peaky Blinders is not a perfect series by any stretch of the imagination, and really the show may have gone on a bit too long at this point, but the final episode brought me back into the fold to some extent. Although I was hoping for more of a concrete ending to the show in its final series (apparently it will be continued with a feature-length movie), there was enough rise and fall here to keep me entertained. I'm not sure that introducing a new character who seems important was the right thing to do at this juncture (in fact, it feels a little like adding Scrappy Doo to the roster), but I suppose time will tell.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: Night's Dark Masters

Night's Dark Masters is a supplement for the second edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay that covers the role of vampires and the cursed realm of Sylvania. It's also one of my favorite rpg supplements, hands down. Although I'm unlikely to ever run WFRP again, it's got an amazing wealth of inspirational ideas, characters to steal, and scenarios to repurpose that you really can't wrong with it if you're interested in the intersection of Gothic and Fantasy flavors. If you want to indulge in my influences for the vampire-haunted area of Krevborna, this is essential reading. I'm glad I revisited it as I work on a new draft of my setting book.

Oranssi Pazuzu, Mestarin Kynsi

Tenebrous Kate recommended Oranssi Pazuzu to me a few years back, and while I liked what I heard, I didn't find an album of theirs that really sank its teeth into me. Mestarin Kynsi might be the one that sticks with me. There's something about this particular blend of abstract, art school experimentation, black metal, and absolutely goblinesque vocals that really did it for me in June.

The Old Ways

The Old Ways revives the often paint-by-numbers themes and aesthetics of the possession and exorcism subgenre of horror by shifting the action to rural Mexico and substituting bruja practices for the Catholic faith. The addition of folk horror flourishes really does help the film to stand out from the pack, and this unique take on tired conventions allows the movie to touch on themes such as the loss of tradition and cultural connection, addiction, and sacrifice. While it's not the most tense or frightening horror film out there, I certainly think there is room for this kind of film. Surely you have a friend who can't handle the really sick stuff that would enjoy this one.

Ravenloft: Masque of the Red Death and Dark Tales & Disturbing Legends

I managed to add two more 3e-era Ravenloft books to my collection: Masque of the Red Death, which details a Gothicized version of the Victorian era as a playable setting, and Dark Tales & Disturbing Legends, a book of scenarios based on tales that have taken on lives of their own. I'm unlikely to use these for the edition they were written for, but as inspiration resources they can't be beat.

Motionless in White, Scoring the End of the World

If I were capable of shame or gave countenance to the idea of guilty pleasures, surely I'd be reluctant to include a Motionless in White album on my monthly round up of joyful things. And yet, here I am, banging my head along to the spooky kid theatrics of Scoring the End of the World.

Coy Hall, The Hangman Feeds the Jackal: A Gothic Western

A gunslinger who fears the approach of death and hears the voice of a spider in his mind. A disturbed boy fallen in with a duo of hardened criminals. A married couple too good for the no-luck sawmill town they're hoping to leave behind. All of them are on a collision course in Coy Hall's The Hangman Feeds the Jackal. Hall's novel is gory, pulpy (in the best way), and a real page-turner; it's finely paced, with characters sketched just enough, and action that doesn't relent when it gets down to it. I'll definitely be hunting up more of this author's works in the future.

Eric Powell, The Goon: Bunch of Old Crap Volume 1

This chunky omnibus of Goon comics really delivers. The titular facebreaker finds himself punching down voodoo priests, zombies, fishmen, kaiju, vampire brides, and more. Frankly, The Goon is the comic that El Superbeasto was trying to be--but the latter never felt this well-executed or sure of its own comedic footing. 

Eric Powell is obviously deeply steeped in the horror comics of a bygone era. I see bits of Richard Corben, Basil Wolverton, and the EC crew throughout The Goon's monster mash. Helluva pedigree, but The Goon still manages to be its own thing.

Don't Rest Your Head and Don't Lose Your Mind

Don't Rest Your Head was one of the first "indie" games I ever encountered, and it remains one of my favorites. In this game, the players take the roles of insomniacs who have slipped into a nightmare world that's part Dark City, part horrific Wonderland. Old-school games that tout how grim and gritty they are have nothing on this game's exhaustion and madness mechanics; you can practically feel your character slipping away from you, but you'll still fight the urge to push them a little farther toward the edge.

Don't Rest Your Head's dirty secret is that it's actually a superhero rpg. Don't Lose Your Mind is a supplement of powers that characters might possess, but each one of them is a nasty little beast all its own. Fans of 90s-era Vertigo should love this game, and I really should get around to writing a full-on review and retrospective of it one of these days. Maybe I'll even get it to the table before the end of the year; feels like good Halloween fodder.

Mike Brooks, Rites of Passage

Rites of Passage is a Warhammer 40k novel about a rarely considered aspect of the setting: the Navigator Houses who guide the Imperium's crafts through the perilous Warp. (Rarely considered, perhaps, because they do not have a line of models.) Chetta Brobantis has a lot on her plate: her husband is dead, and she's the one who arranged for his murder, a fact she'd like to hide; her angry brother in law wants to assume control of House Brobantis; his sister in law, married into a rival house, also seems to want a piece of the pie; a mysterious assassin is killing the navigators of House Brobantis; a rival house has declared a trade war against hers; a house vanquished by her own returns with a powerful rogue trader in tow; a chaos cult is sending entire planets to their doom in the Warp. I think we can all agree that's a lot, but even though this is a fairly slim novel, it's all handled in just the right amount of detail and nothing feels shoehorned in. It's crazy how successful the 40k novel line is at avoiding being tie-in trash like so many others.

Katsura Hoshino, D.Gray-Man volumes 16-21

On a sweltering day in June I could do nothing more than read manga in front of a fan, so I consumed double my usual volumes of D.Gray-Man for the month. Volumes 16-18 are mostly a light-hearted romp that acts as a pause in the main storyline. We've got a comical zombie plague caused by a chemical agent created to cure the fatigue of overtime (quite possibly a commentary on manga deadlines and workload) and a supernatural thief that feels inspired by Fantomas. Not the most momentous collection of D.Gray-Man installments, and I lament the lack of many full-page spreads here. Volumes 19-21 are much more serious in tone, revealing Kanda's tragic backstory and yet more examples of how the "good guy organization" has been performing horrid, desperate experiments in the name of righteousness. 

Leah, Of Earth & Angels, Otherworld, and Kings & Queens

Of Earth & Angels is a really interesting debut album. Generally placed within the symphonic metal camp, the Leah project bucks the trend that many of its contemporaries were pursuing at the time. Rather than strive for a bombastic, grandiose sound that overwhelms the listener with maximalist detail, Of Earth & Angels is a fairly stripped-down affair; the instrumentation is kept simple, and though Leah McHenry's vocals are the central attraction, there is a good balance of understated, down-to-earth styles here and moments of soaring abandon. The Otherworld EP feels like a slighter affair; the tracks themselves don't stand out all that much on their own merits. Kings & Queens, on the hand, is the strongest work I've heard from Leah yet. It's a nice, and varied collection of tracks that hit the high notes of the formula in an exemplary way. It's simultaneously heavier and more majestic than the prior records.

Coven 13

We found a copy of this digest-sized horror periodical from 1970 during a two-day blitz of comic spots in June. Although the stories in it aren't exactly superb, the object has all the charm of its era. The cover art (and art on the back cover) alone were worth the paltry price! One thing I found particularly neat was that one of the letters to the editor published in this issue is from someone from Vestal, NY. Given that we bought in a a shop in Vestal (albeit fifty-plus years later), I have to wonder if this copy belonged to the letter writer!

First Kill, Season One

Again, if I were capable of shame, First Kill would have been a guilty pleasure, but sometimes you need something to put on when the tank is empty or you need to turn your brain off for a while. Might as well make it a sapphic teenage vampire show. First Kill is, of course, dumb. We've got a Romeo & Juliet situation, but instead of warring families we've got a family of vampires and a family of vampire hunters. The show insists that you notice the parallel; one of the star-crossed lovers is named Juliette and their high school is staging a production of Shakespeare's play. Yeah, it's that kind of show. Also, somewhat oddly, the characters we're supposed to believe are sociopathic often evidence a more nuanced worldview than the goody-goodies who are putatively the heroes of the piece.

I, Strahd promotional standee

I found this thing on eBay, made a joke about it on my Discord server, and one of the madmen over there actually bought it and had it sent to me. Thank you for this strangely compelling item, mysterious benefactor. I will obscure your identity so that no one speculates on how frivolously you spend your money. Your just reward is already in the mail.