Things that brought me delight in April:
Jonathan L. Howard, The Fall of the House of Cabal
The time had come to finish Jonathan L. Howard's Johannes Cabal series. The final volume finds Johannes Cabal teaming up with his vampire brother Horst, criminologist Leonie Barrow, and the succubus Zarenyia. (Interestingly, Cabal is surrounded by fantastic women but takes no interest in them. He's a wife guy. A dead wife guy, I suppose.) On some level, The Fall of the House of Cabal feels like a "greatest hits" package for most of its chapters--or maybe like one of those video games that makes you fight every previously vanquished boss all over again. But the payoff, the culmination of the series, is sublime. This is the rare series with no low point, in my opinion.
Rippers Resurrected, Expedition: South Pacific and Lord of the Underworld
Besides picking up Deadlands again, I got my hands on a couple adventures for the newest version of Rippers. Rippers is my favorite of the Victorian monster hunting games, of which there are many. In a way, Rippers really is "Victorian cyberpunk"; all it takes is the idea of the characters incorporating bits of the Gothic monstrosities into their bodies for extra abilities to set it apart from other games of its ilk. Anyway, both of these adventures look pretty cool--and might be just what I need come Halloween season.
Jinjer, Cloud Factory, King of Nothing, Macro, Wallflowers
My thirst for prog-influenced metal continued into April, so I ran through the entirety of Jinjer's discography over the course of the month. They're best known for the viral video of the vocalist performing "Pisces," there is a lot more to the band than just that one song. They really display a surprising amount and versatility, and over their discography you get the sense that they're quite serious about the art of songwriting.
Victoria Dalpe, Les Femmes Grotesques
Les Femmes Grotesques is Victoria Dalpe's debut collection of horror stories, and what a debut it is! There are a lot of stand out stories here. "Folded Into Shadows" has a great premise: the host of a house-flipping show is refurbishing the supposedly haunted house that her brother disappeared in when she was younger. "Rig Rash" delves into an oil boom town and the bodily degradation that follows when greed taps into something that was best left undisturbed. "The Ranch"? A Wild West riff on Doctor Moreau I didn't know I needed in my life. "The Horror on Sycamore Lane" and "The Wife" approach the hidden horrors of suburbia from different angles, but back to back they feel like the author working out a larger theme. If Les Femmes Grotesques is any indication, and I suspect it is, Dalpe is an author to watch.
Wolvserpent, Gathering Strengths/Blood Seed
This is a very interesting release. Gathering Strengths is dark ambient music produced by the band under a different moniker. (I think it was Pussyguts? I could be wrong, but that's a name that sticks with you.) The ambient stuff is not exactly my bag, but the second half, Blood Seed, is Wolvserpent's trademark witchy, droning doom metal. Which, to be fair, is also quite ambient, but it exudes the kind of ambiance I like. It's not the heaviest example of the style, but it's got a cinematic quality that is memorable.
Andy Eschenbach, Brian Level, Kate Sherron, Chained to the Grave
Chained to the Grave is a Western horror comic done up in eye-searing color. The cartoonish art style is fairly unique for this genre, which usually favors muted, sandblasted color of the Olde Timey West, but I think it works with this off-kilter story. The plot goes like this: the protagonist is raised from the dead because he knows the whereabouts of a nice trove of gold; however, he remains tied to his gravestone. He's also chained, in a sense, to his children, who he needs to protect as an evil magician and his retinue of killers gets on their trail. With some erstwhile allies on his side, things move toward a violent siege that pits good versus evil.
Carnival Row, Final Season
Carnival Row is probably one of the best examples we've had of "Romantic fantasy" on the small screen. That said, you can tell they wanted more seasons--things are definitely rushed toward the end. This is particularly apparent in the liquid nature of various characters' motivations, which seems to flow at a rate dictated by the plot and the need to wrap things up.
Still! Creepy monster this time around, and some great performances--particularly from the supporting cast. Carnival Row didn't get a perfect run, but this is a show that definitely deserves to have more eyes on it.
With a name like "Gothminster," you know what to expect: big, stomping, dumb, goth fun. There's some resemblance to Rammstein in Gothminster's sound, minus the Teutonic-ness, but Gothminster beings more of a schlocky horror movie feel. Gothminster has been at this for quite some time; Pandemonium is something like their seventh album, and it's a fine addition to the catalog. "This is Your Darkness" is my pick for best track on the album.
Hack/Slash Omnibus Volumes 5 & 6
You know, for a comic that probably wasn't intended to become an ongoing series, Hack/Slash actually comes to a pretty satisfying "end" in volume 5 of the omnibus edition. (I say "end" because there is a 6th omnibus collecting the comics that came after the series was restarted.) Volume 5 has a lot going on: Samhain reverts to being a villain! Vlad learns about his ancestry, which stretches back to the infamous legend of Sawney Bean! Cassie finally gets laid!
Most surprisingly of all, the death of a few characters who had been around since near the beginning actually hit with a bit of emotional impact. Things are concluded nicely, but there's always a sequel in a slasher series, right?
Which is exactly what is collected in Volume 6...kinda of. You see, Volume 6 tries to make the best of a bad situation: some of the important plot developments just appear to be straight-up missing, so when we catch up to Cassie Hack a lot has changed and it doesn't make too much sense. It's unfortunate, and I'd say the comics that comprise the "resurrection" of the title aren't particularly noteworthy, but there are some fun moments here and there.
Hideyuki Kikuchi, Pale Fallen Angel, Parts Three and Four
Here's some juicy tidbits from Pale Fallen Angel, Parts Three and Four:
One of the villains is a god of destruction named Vince. Vince is short for Invincible.
A brothel owner buys a twelve-year-old girl and puts her to work as a prostitute. She escapes before she is raped, but offers to come work for the same guy as an acrobat.
There is another villain called Chlomo the Makeup Lover, who has magic makeover abilities. He uses them to make a male kung-fu master look like a pretty lady so he can go undercover in the brothel previously mentioned.
What I am saying is that these books continue to be batshit insane.
Deadlands: Dead Man's Hand, Volume One
Dead Man's Hand is a collection of one-shot comics set in the "Weird West" of the Deadlands role-playing game. Role-playing game tie-ins have a history of being disappointing, but the comics in this collection are actually really good! They also give a good sense of the "Weird West": you've got your obsessive mad scientist making a hideous weapon powered by "ghost rock," a harrowed gunslinger back from the dead, adventures in the Great Maze, and even the daughter of one of the Reckoners bringing misery to the West. The varying art styles work well here, giving a good range of expression to Deadlands' many moods. As far as I know, there was never a Volume Two of Dead Man's Hand, which is a damn shame.
Shadow Project, self-titled, Dreams for the Dying, From the Heart
I was reminded that April Fool's Day was the date of Rozz Williams's death, which sent me into the always-waiting arms of the Shadow Project discography. This might be one of my most sacrilegious goth opinions: I think Shadow Project is generally stronger stuff than Christian Death. Maybe I think that because Shadow Project tends to be a bit heavier--and there is less cruft. Really nice blast from my misspent youth in these three records.
Patrick C. Harrison III, A Savage Breed
I'm back on the Splatter Western train! Patrick C. Harrison III's A Savage Breed is a fun one. This short novel brings together a cast of truly terrible people: a mountain man seeking vengeance in all the wrong places, a bandit who has teamed up with hardened killers, and a teenage girl who is easily the worst of the lot. There's also an abused Indian woman who is constantly scrambling out of the frying pan only to find herself back in the fire. If that wasn't enough, A Savage Breed gilds the lily by added a species of flying monstrosity into the blood-soaked mix.
Seeley, Campbell, Terry, Farrell, Crank!, West of Sundown
My yen for horror Westerns continued in April, so I picked up the first collected trade paperback of West of Sundown. Chased to the West by hunters, a vampire and her henchman seek succor on the frontier, but they encounter a vile cult. The fight against the religious maniacs turns enemies into allies, with a few interesting twists. The grindhouse inspired covers collected in the back of the volume are especially fun. All in all, I wouldn't mind more issues in this series in the future.
With my interest in Deadlands rekindled, I dug out my old Deadlands: Reloaded books. There really are quite a few great books from the this game line. The core books give a nice overview, but the real meat is in the book that functions as a combination Monster Manual and book of short adventures and the book about ghost towns in the Weird West. I'm also a big fan of the book on ghost towns. The long campaigns also look to be easily converted to the newest edition, so there's a lot of material here that hasn't aged out of use.
Spiritbox, Eternal Blue
Admittedly, I'm late to the Spiritbox party. Strange thing to admit, but I think it was the guitarist's guest appearance on the Three Levels of Death Metal youtube series that drew me in; those guitar riffs are fairly unorthodox, but they're also super catchy. In context in the songs on Eternal Blue, everything falls into place. It's crazy that this is their debut--this already sounds like superstar stuff.
Jason Aaron and Jason Latour, Southern Bastards Vols. 1-4
Southern Bastards isn't my normal style of comic--there isn't really a supernatural element in play--but god-damn if this book isn't magnificent. Southern Bastards pulls a swerve after the first volume. The comic follows a high school football coach who rules his little podunk southern town; the comic has all the marks of a grand tragedy as we are the audience for his downfall. It's honestly amazing that I like a comic with this much football in it, but Southern Bastards has more than enough blood to sate the thirst.
M. Ennenbach, Hunger on the Chisholm Trail
In Hunger on the Chisholm Trail, an ill-fated cattle drive, an Indian encampment, and a town on the burgeoning edge of becoming something worthwhile all fall prey to a wendigo operating well out of its jurisdiction. There's a high body count, of course, but I'd say this one has one of the "happier" endings. One thing I've been picking up on now that I have a bunch of the books in the Splatter Western series under my belt is that some of them are seeded with small references to other volumes in the line. It's not MCU-levels of annoying by any stretch; in fact, it's kind of interesting how these books inhabit a shared universe of sorts.
I was given the dvd of this historical drama about the life of Mary Shelley years ago for Christmas. I think I avoided watching it for so long because the film didn't really get good reviews. But now that I've watched it, I can report that it's...not bad. It's certainly not a cinematic triumph or the final word on Shelley's life, but the cast does a fine job. Now, as a scholar of the Gothic and Romanticism, I will say that it plays things fast and loose in a few instances in Mary Shelley's biography, but as long as you're looking at this as entertainment instead of as an educational supplement, there's nothing truly egregious. Plus, you know I can't say no to the Fannings.
Shadow and Bone, Season 2
This is a minor entry for the month, but overall I found the second season of Shadow and Bone to be good, light entertainment. There are high points (interesting battle scene between wizards and conventional soldiers with rifles) and low points (to be honest, I don't think the way the main plotline is handled is very interesting). To follow on that criticism, the awful poster for the season to the right really illustrates where the weak links are: the two central protagonists are competent, but fairly bland. And the villain of the piece...I can't tell if it's the writing or the actor, but he falls flat and his motivations often make little sense. It diverges from what I remember of the books by the end of the season, and not to its benefit! Still, the fantasy-crime antics of the Crows in the b-plot continue to be quite fun.
Christopher Buehlman, The Suicide Motor Club
After reading and enjoying Christopher Buehlman's Between Two Fires for our episode on it for Bad Books for Bad People, it was only a matter of time until I picked up another one of his books. My choice was The Suicide Motor Club, a rip-roaring tale of drag racing vampires who run their victims off the road and drink their blood. They make a victim of the wrong person when they steal away a strong-willed woman's son and husband; she becomes a nun, which empowers her in some particularly juicy ways for dealing with the undead. This is absolutely a cracking novel--it would be easy to disappoint after the heights of Between Two Fires, but damn if this isn't another near-perfect outing.
Donny Cates, Lisandro Estherren, Dee Cunniffe, Redneck Vol. 1-5
Redneck is a different sort of vampire comic: this time the vampires are a family of shitkickers from Texas. The early volumes have a bit of a Hatfield/McCoy riff going on, but as the comic goes on it just gets weirder and weirder, eventually including a Mexican city full of monsters (something like a south-of-the-border Midian) and a far-ranging set of conspiracies that reach back to the life and death of Jesus. Even though I'm less hot on the later plot developments, this was a damn fun comic. Unfortunately, it seems to be coming out at a glacial pace now, so the story just kinda hovers around an unresolved plot point. Maybe some day!
Naben Ruthnum, Helpmeet
Naben Ruthnum's Helpmeet is a short novella that really hits pretty hard, punching way above its brief page count. The story concerns an upper-class surgeon who is wasting away from a strange illness in fin di siecle New York; he's tended to by his lower-class wife who was a nurse when they met. As his end, approaches, they flee to an abandoned orchard upstate for his final moments, but when death comes it arrives in a strange, unheralded form. You know how the "Death" tarot card indicates both endings and transformations? That's the move here. Helpmeet is especially recommended if you like body horror; the husband's deterioration (and his metamorphosis of decay) is cataloged in excruciatingly visceral detail. Imagine if Henry James went on a splatterpunk tear and you've got the gist. Helpmeet has got some rich surprises in its narrative arc too, deftly avoiding obvious villainy for something far more interesting and textural.
Lacrimas Profundere, How to Shroud Yourself with Night
The sound of How to Shroud Yourself with Night falls somewhere between the poles of goth rock and the lighter side of doom metal. As such, astute listeners will hear familiar touchstones, ranging from Type O Negative to My Dying Bride. This is what I tend to think of as perfect music for a nighttime drive with the windows down, particularly if you're up to clandestine adventures of a nocturnal sort.
Kristopher Rufty, The Devoured and the Dead
Kristopher Rufty's The Devoured and the Dead is another entry in the Splatter Western series that I got my hands on in April. Like Hunger on the Chisholm Trail, this one serves up wendigo action--albeit with a more "Donner party"-inspired flavor. You've got to hand it to a book that has the balls to offer "They ate the baby first" as the opening line. And, frankly, it's all downhill for the characters from there. "Who will survive and what will be left of them?" has never been a more appropriate question than when you meet the doomed cast of The Devoured and the Dead.
Kamelot, The Awakening
Kamelot is definitely on the lighter side of the bands I listen to, but their brand of symphonic power metal occasionally produces something just over-the-top enough to catch my attention. And that's the thing with The Awakening. The album is quality all the way through, but I still find myself wishing that the band went over-the-top far more often! As my pal Mattie noted over on my Discord, the vampiric insanity of "New Babylon," complete with cameo from Melissa Bonny, is the undisputed highlight of the record. More like that, please!
Ian Fleming, Live and Let Die
Live and Let Die has long been my favorite movie in the James Bond series, so we committed to reading this one for Bad Books for Bad People to see how it stacks up. You'll have to listen to the episode to get the full monty on it, but suffice to say that the book is...quite different...from the experience of watching the movie. Tarot cards don't enter the narrative at all, and the voodoo angle is much slighter in the book than in the film. Also, the 70s blaxsploitation vibe adds something that definitely feels missing here. Which was a bit of a bummer as those elements were my favorite parts of Live and Let Die! Still, wait until you hear us talk about Bond's prodigious hunger and the visceral shark attack scene in this one.