Archives 2012

chernobyl-diaries-2012

Chernobyl Diaries

2012

Warning: spoilers

I see just about every horror film that comes out each year, with few exceptions. The good, the bad, the ugly. I love horror, always have and probably always will. The only things I usually avoid nowadays are sequels and remakes, unless more than one trusted opinion tells me that the sequel or remake in question is worthwhile. Also, those no-budget direct-to-DVD movies that flood the marketplace each year that look like they were shot with hand-held camcorders in the guy’s backyard; Who can keep up with all those? Likewise, if I hear something good about one that has a buzz about it, I’ll check into it. When it comes to independent and foreign horror (especially French and Australian) I’m all about it.  The point is I watch a lot of horror, but there’s not enough time to keep up with reviewing everything I see. I’ve got to pick and choose. Which brings me to ‘Chernobyl Diaries’. Of all the movies I saw in 2012, why this one? Well, every YouTube review I watched, everything I read, and every podcast I listened to, without exception, bashed it mercilessly. Nobody liked this movie. Nobody. The reviews were unanimously negative. Honestly, I didn’t understand it. I saw a few movies I thought were much weaker that fans gave more praise to. So, I wanted to take the opportunity to give ‘Chernobyl Diaries’ a little love.

The plot concerns a group of American tourists on a trip through the furthest and most mysterious reaches of Eastern Europe. As they arrive in Russia they meet up with the brother of one of their group, who is living in nearby Kiev. It is convenient, as he speaks Russian fluently and knows his way around. This guy talks them into doing some “extreme tourism”, which in this case means hooking up with Uri, who runs his own tour business, and driving a beat up old van into the heart of Pripyat. Pripyat was at one time a bustling city where the workers of Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor lived and raised their families. When the reactor melted down in 1986, the residents of Pripyat were given orders to evacuate immediately. People left their clothing, cars, toys, pets, abandoned their homes and fled. The city has stood as a ghost town ever since, it and its contents contaminated with radiation. Uri and his friends run their “extreme tourism” business taking travelers into the city and letting them roam the empty streets and take pictures. The Chernobyl Reactor can be seen in the distance from atop some of the taller buildings, but it is still much too dangerous to approach it. Uri carries a Geiger counter and assures everyone that as long as they don’t stay too long, they’ll be fine, as the radiation level has dropped sufficiently.

It comes as no surprise when the group begins to discover that they are not alone in Pripyat. It turns out that the city is far from abandoned. This is where all the complaints about this movie came from. People were comparing it to ‘The Hills Have Eyes’, but complaining that the mutants aren’t shown enough, nor do you get to learn anything about them as people or how they live. In my opinion, this is one of the movie’s strengths, not a weakness. They show you just enough so that you get the point. You know what is going on. Nothing more. The movie does not need to linger over the inhabitants deformities or show how their “tribe” interacts or who the leader is. They appear in background and around the edges of the frame, nameless and faceless, much like the mob in ‘Assault on Precinct 13’. Going into too much detail about them would ruin it and also make it too much like other movies we’ve seen before. It isn’t necessary. Here it’s done just right. Also, to focus completely on the radioactive mutants is to miss much. The point is that the entire place is a character in the film. The whole city represents danger. It is a giant metropolis being slowly taken back by nature. Huge bears roam through apartment complexes. Packs of wild dogs hunt the streets and nearby woods, looking for prey. Large aggressive mutated fish swim the creeks. Also don’t forget everything a person touches is contaminated with radiation. The place is thick with dark overcast atmosphere and quiet like a ticking time bomb. The environments in this film are terrific. Very creepy. The Serbian locations just drip with atmosphere. There’s something scary about the quiet and solitude, the feeling of being watched, the cold hard gray concrete of the buildings juxtaposed with the lush green woods growing up around them. The shadows are deep and dark, and conceal anything at all; anything you can imagine, waiting to leap out at you.

What happened there in 1986 is real and more horrifying than any movie can portray. These filmmakers earn points from me for even having the thought and imagination to set their story there. The truth behind it adds gravity to the fiction onscreen.

I urge horror fans to give this another chance. I believe it deserves one. Open your mind, and remember: it’s not about the mutant people. It’s about being stranded in a strange land. It’s about isolation. It’s about the unknown. It’s about the entire place, not merely the monsters lurking within it.

-Michael Salemi

Dark Shadows

Directed By: Tim Burton

Starring: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer

Helena Bonham-Carter

2012

 

“Dark Shadows” is a really cute and fun take off of the TV series that ran from 1966-71 that was created by the great Dan Curtis. Johnny Depp plays the comical character Barnabas Collins who was formerly played by Jonathan Frid in the TV series. A rich and powerful master of the Collinswood estate back in 1752 makes the grave mistake of breaking the heart of the house servant, Angelique (played by Eva Green) who also turns out to also be a witch. She takes revenge by not only killing his fiancée and the love of his life Josette but also curses him by turning him into a vampire and burying him alive.

Inadvertently freed from his tomb some two hundred years later Barnabas is then faced with 21st century technology, fast food and fast cars and machinery that strikes fear into his heart like a wooden stake. When he returns to Collinswood manor he is stunned and devastated to find it in complete ruin. The dysfunctional remnants, who are harboring some dark secrets of one sort or another, of the Collins family not only manage to run the manor but the family business as well into the ground. In order to help work through some of their family problems the head of the household, Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (played by Michelle Pfeiffer) hires a live-in psychiatrist, Dr. Julia Hoffman (played by Helena Bonham-Carter who is hilarious) that turns out to be just as messed up as everyone else.

Determined to restore his name and business to its former glory and to take his revenge upon Angelique, who it turns out has managed to take over the town with her fishing business, Barnabas holds a huge party that features the one and only Alice Cooper (who Barnabas thinks is a woman due to the name). Meanwhile he manages to fall in love with the caretaker of the manor which manages to only enrage Angelique further.

There are many really funny moments through this movie and a lot of surprises that also keep it interesting. All the characters are great, very charismatic and likeable and I think Tim Burton did a really great job with the story. I’m putting this in second chance cinema because it’s one of those films that really got overlooked. It flopped in the theaters, got bad reviews from critics and I don’t think it got a fair shot or the credit it deserves. If you haven’t seen “Dark Shadows” I highly recommend that you and if you’ve already seen it and blew it off I recommend that you give it a second chance without any previous judgments and just appreciate it for the piece of art that it is.

-Kate Smith

Mama

Directed By: Andres Muschietti

Executive Producer: Guillermo Del Toro

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau

Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nelisse

Not too many including myself, until just recently, are aware that “Mama” started out as a three minute short done by Muschietti and his sister Barbara back in 2008 which is now actually available to watch on YouTube. A scary and atmospheric short that is solely based around the two little girls Victoria and Lili who are trapped in their house with a malevolent spirit. It has a creepy and almost claustrophobic feel to it as you watch them running around the house trying to get out and towards the end we do get to see Mama who is quite frightening almost more so than in the full length film. The three minute film really pulls you in leaving you wanting more and with a few unanswered questions. Like who are these girls? Why are they all alone? Who or what is Mama? Del Toro was obviously impressed enough and saw the potential to approach Andres about turning this into a full length feature film and in 2013 all those questions were answered. Of course for those of us who’ve already seen the film already know what’s going on but you get what I’m trying to say.

An age old ghost story beautifully touched with dark fairytale like qualities done in classic Del Toro style starts out with the same two little girls Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lili (Isabelle Nelisse) being taken out to an old abandoned cabin in the middle of nowhere by their insane father who kills his business partner, wife and is also planning on killing his daughters as well as himself. What a guy right? Before any of this can happen he is nabbed by “Mama” has his neck broken and dragged away. Victoria witnesses her father being taken away but not sure by who are what because her glasses were taken off and vision blurred but she knows there is a presence there. After five years of living an animal like existence and having to fend for themselves the girls are finally found and brought back to then be adopted by their uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his punk/goth musician girlfriend (Jessica Chastain) who plays in a rock band. The girls are a little creepy at first when you see them crawling around on all fours and making those low growling noises but you really end up feeling for them as the movie goes on.

After taking them in and trying to build a life for themselves in their new home you see more and more of the presence of Mama. One of my favorite scenes is where is Lili is in the bedroom and you see her playing tug of war with her blanket and at first you think it’s with Victoria but then you see her coming down the hallway and you realize it’s Mama and just as the door closes you catch a glimpse of Lil floating across the ceiling. A very fun and playful scene to watch. But Mama has a very vicious essence about her too when you see her seeping through the walls or crawling across the floor it’s very scary and she is none too happy about her being taken away. Only a short while after they move in Mama attacks Lucas and ends up in a coma leaving Annabel responsible for the girls. The bond slowly becomes stronger between Annabel and Victoria and Annabel also becomes more aware that there is something in that house besides them. The story itself is very moving as it shows the loving bond between a mother and her daughter and that’s where you start understanding why Mama is doing what she’s doing and you feel for her. Annabel herself starts having her maternal instincts kick in and becomes very protective of both girls and fights till the end to save them both.

What I love about Del Toro’s films is that they’re not just straight horror. While they do have a lot of terrifying moments it’s not just a quick fix like a lot of horror films seem to do these days. His go at a much slower pace, very dark, very ominous and make much more of an impact in my opinion. All of his stories have so much depth to them too, the characters are interesting and he has a way of bringing you into his world of fantasy and horror. They’re all so beautifully shot like I said before a dark, gothic looking fairytale. Andres Muschietti is a fantastic director as well. I loved his three minute short and wish he had turned that into a full-length to have as a different version or to go alongside the 2013 release.

This was pretty much dismissed in the theaters and given bad reviews so I am putting “Mama” in the second chance cinema section because I believe it is more than worthy of being given a second chance. If you watch it with some patience and do not expect a scare at every turn you’ll be able to appreciate this film a lot more. It’s a beautiful that you pull at your emotions as well as make you jump in your seat. If you’ve seen this already and didn’t like it I advise you try it again. Just sit back, turn the lights down, and let yourself be drawn into a whole different world. I really love this movie and am looking forward to see what Muschietti has in store for us in the future.

Darkthrone

“Soulside Journey”

Peaceville Records

1991

  1. Cromlech
  2. Sunrise Over Locus Morti
  3. Soulside Journey
  4. Accumulation of Generalization
  5. Neptune Towers
  6. Sempiternal Sepulchrality
  7. Grave with a View
  8. Iconoclasm Sweeps Cappadocia
  9. Nor the Silent Whispers
  10. Watchtower
  11. Eon

When you think of Darkthrone you immediately think of “Transilvanian Hunger” and “A Blaze in the Northern Sky” as two prominent albums in the black metal scene. There are only a handful of those who are aware of or remember their debut album “Soulside Journey” that was released back in 1991. Solely based in the realm of death metal it carries a very similar sound to Entombed and Dismember. The band’s debut album was actually recorded in the same studio in Sweden where recorded “Left Hand Path”. While there are some fast guitar riffs and double kick drumming the majority of “Souldside Journey” is very heavy sounding with a doomy feel that permeates throughout. What also is very different is that Darkthrone had four members in their band instead of just two. Nocturno Culto on guitar and vocals who used his real name Ted Skjellum back then, Fenriz on guitar drums and bass who came with his “big American style” name Hank Amarillo to use as a joke, Dag Nilsen on bass and Mikolas Simankevicius on keyboards. Keyboards are not something you really hear in death metal but they make it work and helps to create even more atmosphere on the album.

“Cromlech” starts things off with that eerie synth before Nocturno tears away with his low growling vocals that again sound very close to Entombed’s vocalist Lars Goran Petrov. When you hear Nocturno scream “Into the abyss I fall!” it just gives you chills.

I have to give big props to Dag Nilsen who is a really talented bass player and adds a lot of texture to the tracks. You can hear him really clearly on “Accumulation of generalization” and “Iconoclasm Sweeps Cappadocia” and he even does a solo on “Sempiternal Sepulchrality”.

The production on “Souldside Journey” is really excellent which is somewhat of a rarity for a debut album. It’s very raw and very gritty but also sounds mature with the instruments balanced perfectly, not overpowering each other or the vocals.

As I said earlier keyboards are really not something you hear in death metal but Darkthrone makes good use of them by adding layers that give the tracks a haunting effect as you can hear on “Neptune Towers” and the closing track “Eon”. There is honestly not one bad track on here, nothing that I would give thumbs down to or skip over.

Unfortunately, “Soulside Journey” is an album that time forgot and appears merely as a novelty when compared to their later releases. This is why I’m putting it in the “Second Chance” section because I believe it deserves the opportunity to be dug up and listened to once again. For those who are into the more eclectic and technical side of death metal you will definitely dig this rare gem!

-Kat Von B

severance

Severance

Directed By: Christopher smith

2006

 

 

Once you’ve seen Severance it will make you question whether or not you’ll want to partake in a work-related weekend retreat in your life. Ever.

A group of seven people who all work in a military-industrial type company are all invited to such a retreat in the middle of Hungaria. Of course it goes horribly wrong, when the tour bus that their on leaves them in the middle of a wooded area after the group’s manager has an argument with the driver who refuses to take an alternative route after hitting a roadblock on the main road. Not a bad place to be stranded but when you have a gang of Eastern European war militants chasing after you then it might be a tad bit less fun as one would hope.

Director Christopher Smith gives his audience and witty British splatter-horror comedy that gives you just as many laughs as it does gore.

As the film progresses the group of seven are trying to figure out exactly where they are and are affected by some very surreal and weird images and dreams while they are staying there. They try to make the best of their weekend by playing a game of paintball that goes really, really wrong when one of the members gets his leg trapped in a steel bear trap that are planted all over the place and is eventually severed off when the rest of the group tries to get it off and it repeated snaps shut.

One by one the members of the group start getting picked off by these mercenaries in classic horror style while the remaining few try to figure out how they’re going to survive. Two of the strongest characters are Maggie (played by Laura Harris) the chain-smoking American who seems to never eat and Steve (played by Danny Dyer) the British stoner who is constantly smoking weed, eating mushrooms or taking ecstasy but he does manage to straighten out long enough to figure out how they’re going to get out of this mess. They end up being the two remaining survivors towards the end when things actually start to get kind of serious and intense as they are forced to face off with the Russian soldiers.

Christopher Smith does a great job with this horror-comedy, giving us plenty of gore and sarcasm that might appear as though he’s mocking the genre but I think he’s paying his respects to it. This also can be seen as a political satire aimed at the military-industrial conglomerates that glorify the business and promote just to make their wallets fatter.

But no matter how you view it, it’s a lot of fun to watch. Witty, charming, intelligent with a lot of great characters and some great kill scenes that horror fans will enjoy. I’m putting “Severance” in the second chance cinema section because not too many people know about this one, it didn’t get a ton of recognition and unless you’re a fan of this type of film you’re not going hear about it. So if you have a chance I recommend you do check it out!

-Kat Von B

2012

God Seed

I Begin

  1. Awake
  2. This from the Past
  3. Alt Liv
  4. From the Running of Blood
  5. Hinstu Daga
  6. Aldrande Tre
  7. Lit
  8. The Wound
  9. Bloodline

King and Gaahl are back at it after Gaahl’s 3-year retirement from music, which forced King to release the debut God Seed album under the name Ov Hell. I haven’t heard that release and don’t know much about it other than it was intended as a Gorgoroth album way back when. After the split and legal hassles it became the God Seed debut, finally ending up as an entirely different band with Shagrath from Dimmu Borgir on vocals. I dislike Shagrath’s voice and lyrics, so I have never been anxious to hear it. Now here we are, with ‘I Begin’ released as the God Seed studio debut (they’ve got one prior album; a live CD/DVD of their Wacken Open Air performance from 2008. The sound is a little choppy and a little flat. The material is all Gorgoroth. Overall it’s okay and nothing more. The DVD is better, as the visual side of the experience is always interesting with these guys).

God Seed 2

The production sound on this album is much like the last couple Gorgoroth releases King and Gaahl appeared on together: cold and hard, all the rough edges left on, and a thick dark atmosphere throughout. The material, however, is a bit of a departure. Much of it is slower paced and contains a lot of catchy grooves melodic passages. Also keys have been added to the band, on top of a 2-guitar attack, making the sound much more densely-layered and busy. I was quite surprised to hear old-fashioned, almost psychedelic organ on some songs and bizarre noisy synth on others as King and Gaahl have been outspoken against using any keyboards in the past. Also the lead guitar is restrained but passionate, and full of hooks.

I was surprised by this record. I did like it, but cannot say I loved it. Gaahl speaks and chants through many of these slow to mid-paced songs, and only occasionally cuts loose with any true anger or chaotic screaming of days past. It seems as though he wasn’t sure what to do on some of the tracks or how to fit the vocals in. The songs are mostly well-composed and there are some interesting things throughout. A few guitar riffs stand out, but not enough of them. Truth be told, I was a little bored by this album. I would have liked a bit more of the speed and intensity that they are capable of. But, they are artists, and I cannot blame them for trying something new or for expanding their sound. I do recommend giving this a listen, but it far from blew my socks off. The first 4 tracks are the best ones.

-Michael Salemi

gorgoroth-true-norwegian-black-metal-live-in-grieghallen

Gorgoroth

True Norwegian Black Metal- Live In Grieghallen

This was a strange release. Not only was it marketed as a live album, not only does it have “Live” in its title, but the truth is it’s actually not live at all. It was recorded in the Grieghallen, where many other Norwegian Black Metal albums were recorded (Mayhem, Emperor, etc).
It isn’t even really a full Gorgoroth lineup performing here. Infernus plays all the guitars, including bass (he erased King’s bass parts and recorded over them), and had a friend come in to do session drums. Gaahl does the vocals, which caused this to be pulled from distribution shortly after its release. Very few copies made it onto the market, causing prices to skyrocket. All copies were supposedly destroyed by the label as Infernus went into legal battles with Gaahl and King over the name of Gorgoroth. Since then, Infernus has stated that he planned to rerelease this with Pest doing vocals, but that never materialized.

The end result of all this is a rare, strange, and stunning recording. These are powerful and aggressive versions of these songs. The set list is well chosen; all 8 tracks coming from the debut, ‘Pentagram’, up through ‘Destroyer (or How to philosophize with the Hammer)’, nothing newer. The version of ‘Destroyer’ here is the best one I’ve heard. I wouldn’t have minded a few more songs, actually. Maybe something from Incipit Satan and more from Destroyer.

All the subtleties and dynamics are more pronounced in these versions of the songs, so you can hear what is going on better than in the original versions as well as being more explosive. The guitar tone is great, as is the mix. It’s just raw and ugly enough, with the necessary energy and grit, but the levels are perfect. One thing I hate is overproduced metal!

The vocals sound a little thin in spots. They lay there kind of flat. That’s really my only complaint. But overall the vocals work well most of the time.

This is much better than the newest Gorgoroth, ‘Quantos Possunt whatever whatever Trahunt’. That one had a couple tracks I liked a lot, but overall I thought it was too slick and too melodic. Everything had the same mid-tempo pacing. Quite boring for me. It was overproduced and a bit tame: all the things Gorgoroth used to avoid.

-Michael Salemi

kerasphorusclovenhoovesattheholocaustdawn320111124

Kerasphorus

Cloven Hooves at the Holocaust Dawn

Nuclear War Now! Productions, 2010

1. The Abyssal Sanhedrin
2. Aosoth Paradigm
3. Disturb the Furthest Stars
4. Swarm Intelligentsia

Occult themed Black/Death metal from San Francisco featuring Pete Helmkamp (Angel Corpse, Order From Chaos, Revenge) on vocals and bass, James Read (Conqueror, Revenge, Axis of Advance) on drums, and Ben Wolaniuk (Horn of Dagoth) on guitar.

Recorded and mixed by the late, great Jef Leppard (Jeff Davis, R.I.P.) in his private SF studio using me and my friend Trevor’s drum sets put together into one big kit, this 4-song E.P. from the sadly short-lived band Kerasphorus is without question one of my favorite metal albums of all-time. They were on track to becoming my favorite band when they did this, then a 2-song vinyl single called ‘Necronaut’, and promptly split up before even playing a single live show. I was disappointed to the point of being angry. But at least they left behind these recordings, so I guess I can’t complain. A lot of the great bands don’t last.

The guitars have that mid-range, distorted grinding sound of Trey Azagthoth. The vocals are a throaty rasp that perfectly blends with the music. The drumming changes constantly as he progresses through each passage of each song, from beats to complex fills to different beats and time changes; it’s an incredible drumming performance worthy of notice. In the music there can be detected small touches of influence from each member’s other bands, but it also has an early Voivod feel to it. The lyrics are all occult and spiritual themed, well-written in small poetic doses of evocative verse.

Every track features great riffs, perfect arrangements, not a note out of place, nothing there that needn’t be, nor missing anything. This is the culmination of years of work by seasoned veterans, and it’s incredible. I cannot recommend this enough. Find it and buy it immediately, along with ‘Necronaut’.

-Michael Salemi

marduk-serpent-sermon-cover

Marduk

Serpent Sermon, 2012

1. Serpent Sermon
2. Messianic Pestilence
3. Souls for Belial
4. Into Second Death
5. Temple of Decay
6. Damnation’s Gold
7. Hail Mary (Piss-Soaked Genuflexion)
8. M.A.M.M.O.N.
9. Gospel of the Worm
10. World of Blades

The positive influence that Mortuus has had on Marduk cannot be overstated. Since he joined as vocalist in 2004, Marduk has been steadily more influenced by his other, more obscure project, Funeral Mist. The artwork, lyrical themes, and musical arrangements all bear the unmistakable style and essence of Funeral Mist, but without ever completely dropping the machinegun blasting and simple repetitive riffing indicative of Marduk’s sound. The bottom line is that he brought a more open experimental element to the band. Beginning with ‘Plague Angel’ in 2004, their sound has steadily expanded in directions that they would never had tried or considered back in the war metal days of ‘Panzer Division’.

On the new album, ‘Serpent Sermon’, you will get a little bit of all Marduk has done before and little new. That’s not a bad thing because what they do, they do very well, and besides; they just spent three full-length albums adding new elements and trying new things with their sound.

If you enjoyed 2009’s excellent ‘Wormwood’, you’ll like ‘Serpent Sermon’, as the production sound is similar as well as the ratio of fast to slower tracks. Morgan comes up with some really catchy guitar hooks here, and as always the drumming is off-the-charts insane. The aforementioned Mortuus is one of the best vocalists out there. His voice sounds fantastic. This album is interesting for its mixture of short, fast songs reminiscent of 1990’s output, and longer, more involved arrangements.

Only time will tell if this album is going to stand out as a classic, but I can tell you that it is a solid metal record and a worthy Marduk release. There are a few standout tracks here on par with anything the band has ever done: ‘World of Blades’, ‘Into Second Death’, Temple of Decay’, and the title track.

Recommended purchase for Black Metal fans, essential for Marduk and Funeral Mist fans.

-Michael Salemi

revengefrontcover

Revenge

Scum.Collapse.Eradication

Nuclear War Now! Productions, 2012

1. Us and Them (High Power)
2. Retaliation (Fallout Prayer)
3. Parasite Gallows (In Line)
4. Filth Solution (Intolerance)
5. Banner Degradation (Exile or Death)
6. Burden Eradication (Nailed Down)
7. Pride Ruination (Division Collapse)
8.  Scorned Detractor (Trust No One)

A lot of Black Metal bands use the word “raw” to describe their music. Most of those bands look like Justin Bieber when held up next to Canada’s Revenge. They have come closer than anyone ever has to capturing the sound and feeling of war on tape. It is the most violent music ever made. For over a decade now James Read has been crafting the most brutal and barbaric war metal on the planet under the banner of revenge. No one else sounds like this, and if there’s anything more bestial I haven’t yet found it. The two words which best describe Revenge: atonal chaos.

 If you are not already a fan of extreme music, this band is not going to convert you. Even if you are a fan of Black Metal, Death Metal, or Grindcore, this takes getting used to. It will take several listens to pick up on everything they are doing. There’s a lot going on in the music, it’s played and composed very well, but it takes a while to let it sink in, as the production is rough and harsh and the songs constantly shift gears. Read’s trademark guttural pitch-shifted animal growls and over-the-top drumming are instantly recognizable here. Former Axis of Advance guitarist, Vermin, is on board to add guitars and bass. He rips a few Blasphemy-style note-blizzard guitar solos, ala Kerry King. Pete Helmkamp is notable for his absence here, having left the band shortly before the recording of this album after a 9-year stint as bassist/vocalist. This album was mastered at Necromorbus Studio in Sweden, infamous for having launched Funeral Mist and Watain. It shows. The recording sounds better than most of their previous output. But then again, the songs are on this are better than most of their previous albums, as well.

Revenge have evolved or altered their sound little over the years, yet somehow have remained interesting, never stale, and have gotten better. The last album, ‘Infiltration.Downfall.Death’ (2008), was 1980’s Black Metal mixed with Death/Grind. This new one reminds me of 2004’s ‘Victory.Intolerance.Mastery’; bass-heavy, doomy, with a lot of slow grooves and breakdowns worked in between the hyper-blast chaos. Revenge albums should be listened to all the way through and taken as a whole, which isn’t difficult because they are usually approx. 30 minutes. But there are standout tracks here, my favorite being ‘Banner Degradation (Exile or Death)’.

Highly recommended.

-Michael Salemi

von-satanicblood

Satanic Blood 2012

San Francisco band VON has had a career that anyone in underground extreme metal would sell their black soul for. It is truly an astonishing story of death and resurrection, with nearly 20 years in between in which the most respected bands in the world paid tribute, keeping the name alive like some eternal flame, held up as the vanguard of True Occult Black Metal. Between their demise in 1992 and the release of the first official studio album, 2012’s ‘Satanic Blood’, VON’s popularity and legend grew steadily.  Varg Vikernes (Burzum ) spoke of them in early interviews and wore their shirts during his murder trial, resulting in VON’s name and photos of their logo being spread around the globe. Darkthrone likewise did much to spread the gospel of VON to anyone who would listen. Pete Helmkamp of Angel Corpse and Revenge has always championed them, and Watain, now one of the world’s biggest black metal bands, even named themselves after a VON track. All of this for a band who never recorded a proper album and never toured. They played a small handful of shows around the SF bay area in the late-80’s and early 90’s, recorded two very limited quantity demos, and split up. The material on those demos was so potent, so raw and visceral, so other-worldly in its deceptively simple and hypnotic sound despite its bestial aggression as to be a wholly unique, singular experience.  In those recordings the ambience of the room could be heard, giving the sound a thick atmosphere that many tried to duplicate in their own recordings.

The return of VON came in 2009 when Watain approached the original members to open for them at a special show in England. Not everyone showed interest, and some could not be located, so a new lineup was patched together comprised of original and new members. The following year a limited 7” appeared. It was good black metal, but to me it didn’t sound like VON. It was a cleaner, faster, sharper sound. It could have been any competent band covering VON. It could have been Marduk.

Now we have the official release of the old classic demo songs, plus a brand new track, ‘Jesus Stain’, recorded with the new lineup. This CD captures VON in all its fury and eerie atmosphere. It is a powerful listening experience that holds up again and again, like the demos of old. They have successfully captured whatever black magic made the old band so compelling. ‘Jesus Stain’ fits perfectly in amongst the old material in style and structure, and happens to be a great song.

The mix here is quite interesting. The rhythm and low end are up front, with high guitar strains weaving through the dense wall of sound. Underneath are interesting dynamic subtleties that come and go; an eerie guitar noise using feedback and sometimes effects to stack on layers, giving the sound a deeper dimension and much more atmosphere.

VON is great, unique black metal and I am glad they have returned. ‘Satanic Blood’ is essential listening from this classic original band.

-Michael Salemi

AC/DC

“Back in Black”

1980

  1. Hells Bells
  2. Shoot to Thrill
  3. What Do You Do For Money Honey
  4. Given the Dog a Bone
  5. Let Me Put My Love Into You
  6. Back in Black
  7. You Shook Me All Night Long
  8. Have a Drink On Me
  9. Shake a Leg

We’re going to travel back in time to February 19, 1980. AC/DC frontman Bon Scott had just been pronounced dead due to alcohol poisoning by hospital officials after his body was discovered in a friend’s car. Though it is believed to be the real cause of death was from Scott choking on his own vomit after passing out from a heavy night of drinking. AC/DC fans all over were shocked to hear the news and devastated not only at Scott’s passing but also at the thought that “Highway to Hell” might be the last release from the band. But in March rumors started to spread that a search was underway for Bon Scott’s replacement. Many names started to surface (Krokus vocalist Marc Storace being one of them) but it was Brian Johnson (former vocalist of hard rock band Geordie) that landed the gig literally at the last minute in early April and the recording for the infamous “Back in Black” was in progress.

Many were surprised at the fact they were able to find someone so quick but when you have a group of guys that are so dedicated to music and go by the rule of living fast it’s actually not that shocking. The album itself was recorded in seven weeks. I repeat seven weeks. Just in and out. Boom. Which again is fitting for them.

On July 21st the album was released and by mid-August it topped the UK charts for two consecutive weeks. To this day “Back in Black” has sold over 22 million in the U.S and 50 million worldwide. The test of a truly great album is its ability to stand up against the test of time and I’d say this has gone above and beyond that. Over the past three decades it has not once fizzled out, in fact I would state that it has reached the status of legends. Tons of musicians dream of making an album that doesn’t lose its vigor and there is only a handful that actually succeeds.

“Back in Black” offers nothing but raw, sleazy rock and roll which is so refreshing to hear amongst the whiny, pansy-ass, PC crap that passes for music today. What happened to bands having some balls and actually using them? Brian Johnson’s vocals are so dirty and gritty they make present vocalists sound like whiny little bitches. I miss that down and dirty rock that you could pump through your stereo while kicking back with your friends and just enjoying the music. Oh well, nothing you can do about it except hang on to the classics and appreciate them. One of my favorite memories is driving in my car with “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution at top volume and singing along as loud as I could out the window to any one that passed by.

“Hells Bells” is a true classic with a killer guitar intro supplied by Malcolm Young that rips through as the church bells start to gong. That’s when you know you’re listening to true rock. I don’t know about you but I can feel the blood pumping through my veins when I hear that. “Shoot to Thrill” has some incredible guitar work done by Angus and Malcolm. Both completely locked in and responding to each other without missing a beat. The titletrack is one of the most well-known songs that have everyone, even the yuppiest of yuppies, count off with Phil Rudd before the explosive intro. That’s what I love about AC/DC, they bring out that little, wicked part in everyone that loves just straight up, no nonsense rock and roll.

“Back in Black” is an iconic classic that has proved again and again that it can stand up against the test of time. After the devastating blow the guys received they still managed to come back and put out one hell of an album with astonishing speed and skill. So do yourselves all a favor, put “Back in Black” on as high as you can, put your horns up and have a drink on me!

-Kate Smith

“Pure Holocaust”

1993

  1. Unsilent Storms in the North Abyss
  2. A Sign for the Norse Hordes to Ride
  3. The Sun No Longer Rises
  4. Frozen by Icewinds
  5. Storming Through Red Clouds and Holocaust Winds
  6. Eternal Years on the Path to Cemetary Gates
  7. As the Eternity Opens
  8. Pure Holocaust

Immortal’s “Pure Holocaust” is the one that stands out amongst the giants, a pure classic in the black metal genre. From the first track the whole album delivers an avalanche of crushing sound that’s played with precision and skill. Demonaz’ guitar work is brilliant and mixed perfectly with the insane blast beats and Abbath’s animalistic growls. The production is crisp and clear but not overly glossy. No frills, just straightforward raw and grim black metal.

The lyrical content is part of what makes this album so atmospheric with morbid tales of descending into darkness with demons rising while being surrounded by black and mourning moonfog. That was my own extraction from one of my favorite tracks, “The Sun No Longer Rises”, just to give you an idea of why “Pure Holocaust” is so great. The fact that Abbath plays the drums as well as doing vocals makes this even more epic. Another fantastic track is “Storming Through Red Clouds” containing an incredible solo to start things off that’s followed by drums and bass thundering away at the same time.

Every aspect of Immortal’s game is accelerated on here showing a deep desire to up the black metal ante bringing an increased focus on speed and brutality. The whole album is a model of compact and concise song structure, every song flowing with a unique sound. If you are devoted to the True Norwegian Black Metal sound then “Pure Holocaust” needs to be a part of your catalog. A must for your black metal collection!

-Kate Smith

Metallica

“Ride the Lightning”

Megaforce Records

Released: July 30, 1984

 

Over the years I have fallen out of touch with Metallica, the “Black” album is honestly the last album I have listened to and have not seen they play live in years. But having said that I will always be a Metallica fan; of the old Metallica that is. They are one of the first bands that got me listening to thrash metal and got me sucked into the whole thrash metal scene. If you were to ask me what their one truly classic album is I would say “Ride the Lightning”, which is why I picked them as our first for our classic album section. “Ride the Lightning” is brilliant and far surpasses “Kill ‘Em All” in many ways. The musicianship is better; more mature and can tell that they were much more comfortable with their sound than they were on the previous album. The production is much clearer and crisper and is just an improvement all around.

Cliff Burton’s playing is a lot more up front on these tracks which I love because I truly believe he was the soul of Metallica. He brought so much heart to their sound that after his death the albums to follow quickly started to take a nosedive. Some may contest what I’m saying but it’s my belief. He made the riffs sound a lot thicker, crunchier and heavier as you can hear on “For Whom the Bell Tolls”; the intro on this track from Cliff is also just plain brilliant.

People have given Kirk Hammett a lot of flak for his playing but he does show some great talent on this album. The solo he does on “Fade to Black” is incredible, it’s not the most technical one that you’ll hear but it is the most emotional one that he’s ever played. “The Call of Ktulu” is another great moment where Kirk really shows off his talents. A nine minute instrumental track where everything has to be perfect because there are no vocals to hide any poor playing and everything is highlighted even more so than usual. James Hetfield’s vocals are intense with less screaming than on “Kill ‘Em All” but still spew forth hate-filled lyrics with intelligent thought behind it. The mesh very well with the guitar riffs and gives the album that overall raw feel to it. I have never been a huge fan of Lars Ulrich and never will be, I’m not going to bash him but I’m not going to give him all too much credit because I do believe its Cliff, Kirk and James that make this album what it is.

All in all, “Ride the Lightning” is one of the albums that deserve its legendary status that it has today and made a great milestone for thrash metal. This is one that will always stay in my memories and in my collection.

https://i0.wp.com/photo.sing365.com/music/picture.nsf/Michael-Schenker-Group-photo/830E5D70EF20F69E48257A2A001A2BEF/$file/Michael+Schenker.jpg

THE MICHAEL SCHENKER GROUP

ONE NIGHT AT BUDOKAN 12/8/81

2009 REMASTER

    Beautifully remastered, this disc is louder, bigger, more epic and powerful than ever. The mix is as perfect as I’ve ever heard on a live recording, with every note and every instrument cutting through in booming precision. It is now a 2-disc set, featuring the entire show, including Cozy Powell’s staggering 12 minute drum solo. He was one of the great rock drummers, and hearing him teamed up with Michael Schenker, who is undoubtedly one of the top guitarists in the history of hard rock, is something special to hear.

    The first 3 MSG records are their best overall work and best lineup (in my opinion) the group ever had. The set list  for this ’81 Budokan show pulls the best tracks from each of those and lays them out in perfect order; from the explosive opener ‘Armed and Ready’ to ‘Into the Arena’, an incredible instrumental boasting one of the best guitar riffs of the ‘80’s as the concert’s mid-point, to a scorching finale’ of ‘Doctor Doctor’ and ‘Ready to Rock’. All the MSG classics are sprinkled throughout the show: ‘Attack of the Mad Axeman’, ‘Victim of Illusion’, ‘On and On’, ‘Cry for the Nations’. Every one of the songs on this album is the tightest, most explosive, and impassioned versions I’ve heard. ‘Courvoisier Concert’ is a unique and beautiful orchestral piece that slows things down and gives the show a nice change of pace before cranking back up to full volume.

    Schenker shreds all over this thing, his guitar a cutting, slashing weapon. His solos deliver more notes in 10 seconds than I’ve thought possible, but they are controlled, disciplined, often melodic, and stay within the context of the song as opposed to a wild chaotic barrage of notes machine-gunned at the listener merely for the sake of showing off. The solos, like the songs they accompany, are expertly arranged. Schenker’s skill level approaches that of Ritchie Blackmore, although with much different guitar tone.

    Powell’s drums sound amazing on this recording. They are big and deep, booming like cannons through the arena as his pounding propulsive style and rock-solid timing drive the show home.

    This is a young, hungry, energetic hard rock band at their peak having a great time onstage. It is an intense performance to say the least. One of the best live albums ever.

-Michael Salemi

Wendy O. Williams/Plasmatics

“Maggots: The Record”

1987

  1. Overture/Introduction
  2. You’re a Zombie
  3. The White’s Dinner/Full Meal Dinner
  4. The Day the Human is Gone
  5. The Central Research Laboratory
  6. Destroyers
  7. The White’s Apartment/Bruce’s Bedroom
  8. Braindead
  9. The White’s Apartment/Bruce’s Bedroom
  10. Propagators
  11. The White’s Apartment/Fire Escape
  12. Finale

Growing up Wendy O. Williams was always a huge influence in my life. Since I was a teenager I loved her style. The way she dressed, her attitude and vocal style, all of it made a huge impact on me and I tried to carry that in the bands I played in. “Maggots: The Record” is one of my all-time favorites that I’ve played so many times I know it by heart. Moving away from their early punk style and into more of a metal sound that is also more present on albums such as ”Coup D’ Etat” and “Metal Priestess”, “Maggots” is by far the loudest, heaviest and fastest out of all three. The production is really excellent that captures The Plasmatics’ raw and gritty sound. Wendy’s vocals sound awesome with a combination of melody, high-pitched shrieks and low growls mixed perfectly with lightning speed guitar and blasting drumbeats.

The twelve track concept album contains six narrative passages and six actual songs telling a kind of horror/sci-fi story  set 25 years in the future where environmental abuse and the greenhouse effect create these gigantic mutant worms that take over the city of New York which ultimately leads to the extermination of the human population. The Whites, a typical American family, are the main characters of the story who eventually get eaten by the huge maggots. Think of this as a cool horror comedy album with some fantastic music in between.

The Plasmatics deliver a great record that is both interesting and entertaining. If you’ve never heard “Maggots” before you won’t be disappointed. An awesome metal album that still carries that underground punk influence. A Must have for your music collection!

-Kate Smith

saxon-4

Saxon

Power & the Glory

1999 Digital Remaster of original 1983 release. 

  1. 1.       Power & the Glory
  2. 2.       Redline
  3. 3.       Warrior
  4. 4.       Nightmare
  5. 5.       This Town Rocks
  6. 6.       Watching the Sky
  7. 7.       Midas Touch
  8. 8.       The Eagle Has Landed

36:37

    Saxon’s 5th album, ‘Power & the Glory’, was recorded in 1982 at Axis Sound in Atlanta and released on March 21, 1983. It was voted #376 in Rock Hard’s book of ‘The 500 Greatest Hard Rock and Metal Albums of All Time’. 

    My little brother had given me a gift certificate to the Wherehouse record store for my 15th birthday. I remember going in to the Fremont, CA store shortly after looking to spend it on some new good metal releases, but finding only Duran Duran, ABC, Men At Work, Culture Club, Adam and the Ants, and hundreds of other new wave acts that were popular at the time. The metal selection was pathetic and punk was non-existent. But they did have one copy of Saxon ‘Power & the Glory’, so I bought it on the strength of having only seen the live clip for ‘Princess of the Night’ on MTV a few times and thinking it was incredible. I figured that if this new one was half as good as that I couldn’t go wrong. ‘P&theG’ didn’t leave my turntable for a good long while.

    Saxon were one of the premier bands to come out of the “New Wave of British Heavy Metal” scene in the late 1970’s, which also spawned Iron maiden, Def Leppard, Angel Witch, and others. It was a thriving scene of great bands and loyal, rabid fans, from which Saxon benefitted greatly. Their first 4 albums were well-received and each contained bonafide classics like ‘Strong Arm of the Law’, ‘Denim and Leather’, ‘Princess of the Night’, and ‘Dallas 1 P.M.’ But, much like Thin Lizzy, Saxon never quite caught on in the United States as they did on mainland Europe and their home turf in the U.K. However, it didn’t stop ‘Power & the Glory’ or its follow-up, ‘Crusader’, from selling a million copies each.

    Listening to this album reminds me of the good old days of full analog recording with its big, warm tones and fat, full-bodied drum and bass sound. You can hear the atmosphere of the room but there is still immediacy of attack so none of the instruments lose that “in your face” punch necessary for a good metal record. The highs are never too piercing and everything meets in a nice mid-to-low end range. The production sound here is really terrific and the mix is near perfection.

    This was the band’s first studio album with new drummer, Nigel Glockler. He was a perfect addition, as the drumming really propels this material. His playing is high energy, tight and powerful, with rolling toms all over the place and firing out with triplets and punchy double bass.

    On equal footing with Glockler’s big time drum performance is the impressive twin guitars of Graham Oliver and Paul Quinn. Nothing quite sounds like Gibson guitars played through old Marshall stacks turned up to 10 for great tones. These two constantly hit you with a barrage of dueling leads and unbridled shredding, as well as memorable crunching riffs.

The lead cut is the title track, and everyone who listens, or has at one time, listened to metal, knows it. It needs no introduction. It is a soaring, high octane anthem of battle and conquest, a most infectious power metal concoction for the ages amongst the best ever composed.  ‘Warrior’ features some driving double bass work and blistering guitar solos to accompany the memorable vocal line. Catchy and powerful in equal measure. ‘Nightmare’ boasts interesting atmospheric guitar segments and a really good catchy chorus that keeps the thing afloat. The drums make ‘This Town Rocks’ happen. Lyrically it isn’t very interesting. It is an 80’s thing that a lot of bands used to do; to write songs about “rocking”. I guess it played well in the big arenas to all the drunken kids who wanted to be told that “their town really knows how to rock!” A silly song with good music. ‘Watching the Sky’ has a nice main riff but suffers from a weak chorus. However there is a good change-up at the end that keeps things interesting. A song about vocalist Biff Byford’s belief in and search for U.F.O.s. Thematically this one is along the lines of what Blue Oyster Cult wrote about several times over the years. ‘Midas Touch’ is fascinating lyrically. It is about an old man whose task on Earth is to guard the gate to Hell against the escape of Satan’s spawn into the world, and with them the evils they bring. The album closes as it began, with an all-time classic: ‘The Eagle Has Landed’. It is slow, equal parts heavy and atmospheric, bombastic and lengthy. This cut is the perfect album closer and is Saxon’s ode to space exploration, delivered with soaring vocals, explosive cannon-like bass drums, and ripping trade-off leads.

All of the first 5 Saxon albums are strong and recommended for fans of classic metal, but ‘Power & the Glory’ is, as a whole, the best and most cohesive work. The songs are good individually and they work well together in context of a complete album.

-Michael Salemi

79_black_rose

THIN LIZZY

BLACK ROSE: A ROCK LEGEND

ULTIMATE EDITION, EXPANDED AND REMASTERED

1979, 2011 MERCURY RECORDS/UNIVERSAL MUSIC GROUP

 

   Thin Lizzy sent out the 1970’s with this, one of their very best albums. Recorded in Paris with Tony Visconti and the band co-producing, ‘Black Rose’, or ‘Roisin Dubh’, hit #2 on the UK charts and produced 3 hit singles there as well. It would be Lizzy’s most successful record ever in Britain.

   This release is also noteworthy for featuring sensational blues/rock guitarist Gary Moore. Moore had been in and out of the band a few times over the years and recorded demo tracks of a few songs (including the legendary early demo of ‘Still In Love With You’) but ‘Black Rose’ would be his first and last album with the group. His playing is incredible; intricate yet melodic and always highly creative. His style fit the band so well and he was the perfect replacement for Brian Robertson, who’d been sacked in late ’78. But it was not to last. During the tour in support of ‘Black Rose’ after performing at Day on the Green festival in Oakland, Ca., Moore packed his bags and quietly slipped out of town and out of Thin Lizzy for good. Later, when asked why he did it, Moore said that he could not deal with the out of control heavy drug use of Phil Lynott (bass, vocals) and Scott Gorham (guitar, backing vocals). He said it was going to be a one-way ticket to destruction for the band. He was right, but somehow Thin Lizzy managed to create excellent albums all the way ‘till the end (‘Chinatown’, ‘Renegade’, ‘Thunder & Lightning’).

   Another weapon in the Lizzy arsenal was drummer Brian Downey. He was usually overlooked, as other bands of the era boasted drummers like John Bonham, Keith Moon, Cozy Powell, Neil Peart, and Roger Taylor. However, Downey was an unsung great all along, with a style perfectly suited to his band’s sound. His playing was a potent combination of jumping jazz/blues intricacies and slamming hard rock beats.

   “There are people that will investigate you, they’ll insinuate, intimidate, and complicate you, don’t ever wait or hesitate to, state the fate that awaits those who, try to shape or take you, don’t let them break you, you can do anything you want to do, it’s not wrong what I say, it’s true”

   -and so begins ‘Do Anything You Want To’, the lead-off track and one of the great songs of inspiration and empowerment. You cannot listen to this and walk away without feeling “yes, I can do anything. Anything I want to”. There is something magical about this song; in the vocal delivery, the words themselves, and the triumphant vibe of the music, which is performed with such passion. It is a piece of pure plain truth put to tape which hits you in equal measure emotionally and in the intellect. Yes, they captured some magic here and this song is worth the price of the album alone.

   ‘Toughest Street In Town’ tackles the same crime-ridden, poverty-stricken streets Lynott explored on ‘Johnny The Fox’ album, where tales are told of those desperate lost souls found in any city, those on the frayed ends of society and at the ends of their proverbial ropes. More great riffs in this example of “classic Lizzy-style” rocker. In fact, this whole record if great riff stacked upon great hook and great lyric.

       ‘Waiting For An Alibi’, one of the albums hit singles, also became a live favorite and would remain in the live sets from here on out. A great track, a stone classic.

   ‘Sarah’ was, if I’m not mistaken, originally written by Phil for one of his solo albums and brought into Thin Lizzy at the last minute as ‘Black Rose’ was being tracked. A nice, gentle ballad; very smooth. I don’t think the band knew what to make of it, but they felt the same about ‘Dancing In The Moonlight’ and that worked out well for them, so they trusted in Phil and went with it. It is a good song and perhaps signals some changes, some different directions they would explore in coming records.

   ‘Got To Give It Up’, another hit and another live fan favorite, is also notable for its being a frank confession by Lynott of his inner demons and the troubles they were causing him (his most major problem being heroin, which would lead to health complications that would sadly take his life in January, 1986). Another amazing track. This studio version is actually better than any of the live versions I’ve heard, which is saying a lot as Thin Lizzy were one of the best live bands in rock.

   The album closes with the epic title track, a tribute to the band’s Celtic heritage with a medley of traditional folk songs stitched together in a hard rock structure. The result is fantastic, a superb climax to an essential rock album.

   Disc 2 of this ‘Ultimate Edition’ features a really good single B-Side ‘Just The Two Of Us’, a longer version of their older gem ‘A Night In The Life Of A Blues Singer’, an unreleased track called ‘Rockula’ (It isn’t bad. I always love hearing unreleased stuff from bands). There is a slow version of ‘Don’t Believe A Word’ (This is how it was originally written), ‘Cold Black Night’ (Recorded during sessions for this album), and a few different versions of tracks found on ‘Black Rose’ recorded during various sessions.

   Both Huey Lewis and Jimmy Bain (Rainbow, Dio) appear as guests on this spectacular album. Alongside ‘Jailbreak’ and ‘Live and Dangerous’ , ‘Black Rose: A Rock Legend’ is a Thin Lizzy must-own.

-Mike Falconer

83_thunder_and_lightning

Thin Lizzy

Thunder and Lightning

  1. 1.       Thunder and Lightning
  2. 2.       This Is the One
  3. 3.       The Sun Goes Down
  4. 4.       The Holy War
  5. 5.       Cold Sweat
  6. 6.       Someday She Is Going To Hit Back
  7. 7.       Baby Please Don’t Go
  8. 8.       Bad Habits
  9. 9.       Heart Attack

40:36

Release date: 4 March 1983

    For the 12th and final studio album, bringing in John Sykes (Tygers of Pan Tang) on guitar to replace Snowy White brought new life to ThinLizzy in 1983. He was younger than the rest of the band, excited to be there and full of energy. His enthusiasm rubbed off and helped the band create a striking and inspired hard rock album better than any they had done in years and better than most of their peers were making. I remember hoping at the time that the killer new album with good press following in its wake would be enough to convince the band to keep going. But the decision had been made long before, around the time of the ‘Renegade’ album in ‘81, that ‘Thunder and Lightning’ and its tour cycle would be their last. The band was burned out from over a decade of constant work. Scott Gorham and Phil Lynott were struggling with heroin addiction and wanted to stop the band to get straightened out. Gorham got himself sorted out, but Lynott was dead three years later at age 36 from complications related to drug abuse.

    Sykes brought a heavier and thicker guitar sound which inaugurated Lizzy into 80’s hard rock, but most of the songwriting, with the exception of ‘Cold Sweat’, had been completed before he joined. Keyboardist Darren Wharton, who had joined at age 17 for the ‘Chinatown’ album in 1980, co-wrote many of the tracks with Lynott, including the final single ‘The Sun Goes Down’.  Most of the tracks were composed and demoed over 1982 and honed to razor-sharp perfection during rehearsals and live.

    ‘Thunder and Lightning’ is a much different sound in many respects for Thin Lizzy, however Lynott’s superb lyrical approach that had become his trademark was still evident. He had a way with words and approached songwriting in the Irish “story song” tradition. He had a way of conveying anger or heartbreak or loneliness with his voice and few well-chosen words but retained a certain smirking sense of humor; a streetwise attitude that let you know he didn’t take it all too seriously lest it become preachy or depressing. In other words: he was wise and he was professional. It’s not enough to get your message across; one must be aware of how it is delivered. When you listen to the final cut on this album, ‘Heart Attack’, which was the last song the band would ever record, in hindsight the lyrics are somewhat chilling and slightly prophetic as you hear Lynott repeat the phrases “momma I’m dyin’ of an overdose, overdose, overdose”, and “I’m dyin’, dyin’ dyin’”.

    Brian Downey rose to the challenge on this album to play harder and meaner, keeping pace with Sykes’ guitar and the harder edged material. He’d always played with high energy and precision timing, but his style was firmly rooted in a more jazzy/bluesy style. He was what you might call an “old-school” drummer. On this recording he changed it up and went for full-on heavy rock pounding, and it works beautifully.  When he locks in with Phil’s simple bass grooves it sounds powerfully huge and infectiously catchy.

    Thin Lizzy became famous in the 1970’s for their great duel guitar harmonies. They were one of the first bands to do that, and they arguably did it best. Those amazing harmonies on ‘Live and Dangerous’ between Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson could raise goose bumps. On ‘Thunder and Lightning’ there is little of that going on, instead Gorham drops back into rhythm position while Sykes takes blistering solos, his fingers flying all over the fret board at lightning speeds. He would later go on to massive fame with Whitesnake.

    I have been listening to and admiring this album since I first owned it on cassette upon its release. I still listen to it. Needless to say, I recommend it as a classic. Maybe not as well known or fondly remembered as ‘Jailbreak’, but great nonetheless. It is full of standout tracks such as the dark and grooving ‘The Holy War’, the brooding and atmospheric ‘The Sun Goes Down’, ass-kicking rocker ‘Cold Sweat’ (a personal favorite), and the equally rocking ‘Heart attack’.  And of course, the GREAT title track sets the pace for all of them with a relentless riff, driving drum beat, and rapid-fire vocal delivery.

    Extra points for the cover on this one, as well. I always loved the volcanic rock pit with Stratocaster coming down to Earth in a bolt of lightning (like Lucifer) just as a black leather gloved hand rises up, fist clenched, toward the sky.  It is an iconic, dark, and powerful image.

Later in 1983 the band would play their final live performance, bringing onto the stage all members who had ever been in the band to play on the songs that they had performed on during their respective years in the group. It was an unforgettable night which was captured on the double album ‘Life’. While the production sound in not as crisp or sharp as their earlier live recordings, the great set list and amazing performance from the band make up for it. Check that one out, too. I had it on vinyl back in the day and was addicted to it. I used to listen to it every day after school for what seemed like months.

-Michael Salemi

blue_oyster_cult_box_1

Blue Oyster Cult

The Columbia Albums Collection

For the BOC die-hard, this huge box set is pretty much all you need. It’s jammed full of material covering the band’s best and most prolific period, from the early-70’s to the late 80’s. Every album is here, beginning with 1971’s ‘Blue Oyster Cult’ and up through 1988’s rare and hard-to-find ‘Imaginos’. Each one comes in a small record sleeve with an exact replica of the original artwork (the albums that were gatefold in their original vinyl format are presented as little gatefold sleeves here as well!). All of them are newly remastered and many are expanded. The sound is terrific, like they could have been recorded last week, not decades ago. The bass tones are rich, the drums are big, and the guitars are crisp, making every album sound full and powerful but without losing any of the eerie ambience that much of their best material possesses (such as the sublime ‘(Don’t Fear) The Reaper’, the infectiously catchy ‘Burning For You’, and the haunting ‘Veteran of the Psychic Wars’).

BOC were always a great live band, and this box captures the onstage career of the band in epic fashion. Contained is 1975’s ‘On Your Feet or On Your Knees’, which was their first live album and featured an overview of their first 3 records. Next is ‘Some Enchanted Evening’, from 1978. This was when BOC were playing stadiums and flying in chartered jets. It was also the era of their biggest, most theatrical, and expensive live shows. This CD also features a second disc which contains a DVD that has never been released before of a live concert from ’78, so you can see as well as hear BOC at their peak. They were one of the first rock bands to use a laser light show in their act, and it’s pretty impressive. On that tour their technician turned the beam of one of the lasers up too high and it blinded some guy in the audience. They got sued and put the lasers away after that. The third live album, ‘Extraterrestrial Live’, is also included. This was recorded on the 1981/82 ‘Fire of Unknown Origin’ tour and was the first Cult record I ever bought when I was a kid. It is great. But that’s not all: the set comes with a download code that you can punch in over at the band’s webstore and get, as a bonus, 4 additional live shows. You get one from ‘Cultosaurus Erectus’ tour in ’80, one from ‘Fire of Unknown Origin’ tour ’81, a show from ‘The Revolution By Night’ ’83, and a ‘Club Ninja’ show from ’86. Its 52 tracks clocking in at a whopping 5 hours! How’s that for a generous helping of bonus tracks?

Last but not least are a bonus CD of rarities and outtakes spanning the band’s career and a disc of radio broadcasts. Both are interesting and worth a spin. You aren’t going to find this material anyplace else. The rarities disc even has a spoken word intro by Stephen King that was done for the ‘Imaginos’ album.

I love this box set. As a lifelong Blue Oyster Cult fan, everything I need is right here, and the price is reasonable as well. Some of my favorite BOC albums are ‘Agents of Fortune’, ‘Spectres’, ‘Fire of Unknown Origin’, and ‘The Revolution by Night’, but it’s great to hear some of the albums that I’ve never heard before, such as ‘Mirrors’, ‘Secret Treaties’, ‘Imaginos’, ‘Club Ninja’, and ‘Tyranny and Mutation’. I’ve been discovering some excellent material, such as ‘Then Came the Last Days of May’ from the debut album, ‘Perfect Water’ from Club Ninja, ‘The Marshall Plan’ from Cultosaurus Erectus, and ‘Dr. Music’ from Mirrors, to name a few. This band is much more than just the few hits you heard on that classic rock station.

-Michael Salemi

angel-witch-4e85cceef096e

Angel Witch

“Angel Witch”

Bronze Records

Released: March 12, 1980

 

  1. 1.       Angel Witch
  2. 2.       Atlantis
  3. 3.       White Witch
  4. 4.       Confused
  5. 5.       Sorceress
  6. 6.       Gorgon
  7. 7.       Sweet Danger
  8. 8.       Free Man
  9. 9.       Angel of Death
  10. 10.   Devil’s Tower

 

Total Length: 38:20

 

 

Formed in 1977 with Kevin Heybourne on vocals and guitar, Kevin Riddles on bass and Dave Hogg on drums, the British heavy metal band Angel Witch put out their first album in 1980 through Bronze Records and ultimately made them a part of the New Wave British Heavy Metal movement along with Iron Maiden, Saxon, Diamond Head and others. Four editions were then re-released throughout the years, once in 1990 by RoadRunner Records containing three bonus tracks, once in 2000 by Castle Records with six bonus tracks along with the previous three. The album was re-released in 2005 again by Castle Records; this was labeled the “25th Anniversary Expanded Edition” with a slightly different album cover and a mini booklet. Along with the six bonus tracks there were four live tracks added to the album. The last re-release was in 2010 by Sanctuary Records, this was the 30th Anniversary Edition that was a two disc version with added demos and other versions of some of the songs that gave the album a total of thirty songs. In 2009 the song “Angel Witch” was used in the video game Brutal Legend which helped the band’s popularity rise once again.

 

Angel Witch is special in that is very hard to find another band to compare them to. You can hear the heavy Black Sabbath influence in anthems such as “Confused” and “Angel of Death” giving the band a very deep and eerie sound that many bands drew from the seventies progressive rock movement. Kevin Heybourne’s high-pitched and at times somewhat strained vocals fit the music perfectly. The epic classics “Angel Witch” and “White Witch” are what make them so unique. Both are my personal favorites as well as the fantastic track “Confused”. The beginning riff to “White Witch” is brilliant and really sets the mood before the vocals burst in giving the track pure energy. The chorus is one that any self-respecting headbanger would want to sing along with. “Atlantis” and “Sorceress” are haunting with a dark psychedelic edge that will transport you off into the far corners of the world.

 

Angel Witch is a perfect example of what heavy metal was like in the early days. Music played with a ton of passion and atmosphere. Kevin Heybourne’s vocals are filled with emotion and his guitar playing is just fantastic with riffs and solos of the highest caliber. Kevin Riddles plays some quite inventive bass lines on here and Steve Hogg’s drumming completes this unforgettable album and highly contributes in making it a classic.

 

If you have never heard “Angel Witch” before I suggest you do so, it might be hard for some to digest at first but give it a chance and it will grow on you. For those who have heard it and weren’t that impressed with it I say give it another go just for nostalgia sake and it deserves a chance. I would even go as far as saying that this is one of early metal’s more fantastic achievements.

 

-Kate Smith

iron-maiden-powerslave-remastered-album-cover

Iron Maiden

“Powerslave”

Capitol Records

Released: Sept. 3, 1984

 

  1. 1.      Aces High
  2. 2.      2 Minutes to Midnight
  3. 3.      Losfer Words
  4. 4.      Flash of the Blade
  5. 5.      The Duelists
  6. 6.      Back in the Village
  7. 7.      Rime of the Ancient Mariner

 

“Powerslave” is the fifth studio album recorded by Iron Maiden and was released in 1984 right around the highest point of their popularity. This is one of my favorite albums by them and has been for a very long time. It carries a tremendous amount of power and feeling that has been lost in music today. Before going into the detail of the music I want to take a minute and point out one of the most notable aspects of the album and that is the artwork. It is beautifully done and putting Eddie on the cover as the pharaoh is just brilliant. It’s one of those covers that you can look at again and again and still find new things in it. The image is very intricate and stays with you giving the songs even more depth and meaning to them.

 

Okay, now to the music. “Aces High” is a fantastic opener for the album. I love the guitar and drum intro before the song bursts open with an amazing amount of energy. Bruce Dickinson’s vocals are incredible, gritty and raw but filled with intense melody. “2 Minutes to Midnight” is another equally great track, a lot darker than the first. It carries a great riff with an atmospheric bridge in the middle. The lyrics are interesting and the different qualities of the first two songs make the album even more appealing.  “Losfer Words” is a tight and probably one of the heaviest instrumental tracks that the band has ever done. The epic style fits the conception of the album and shows even more of the diversity the band has to offer.

 

“Flash of the Blade” is one of my favorite tracks that carry a heavy riff throughout, very melodic and innovative. Dickinson’s vocals are in top form here and sung with a deep passion. Though it’s not a track I would listen to repeatedly, “The Duelists” is still fantastic. Heavy, chugging riffs that lead right into the vocals. The only negative point I would give it is the chorus, its a little t happy and cheesy for me and doesn’t really fit into the rest of the song but if you ignore that fact then you’ll be happy. There are some great harmonic riffs and solos that make it creative and inventive to the ear.  “Back in the Village” is not one that I would call a weak track but also another one that wouldn’t purposely seek out. Dickinson delivers yet another great performance and harmonic guitar arts between Dave Murray and Adrian Smith are incredible. The problem I have with this one is there’s no catchiness until it speeds up at the end.

The title track is haunting and atmospheric with some heavy verses and an epic chorus. All the instruments do a fantastic job, especially Steve Harris’s talents on bass, it’s brought a lot more to the front and can be heard crystal clear. “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is one of the greatest songs Maiden has ever written. It’s catchy; it’s got a great rhythm but also presents itself with a very dark and mysterious atmosphere. The guitar solos are intense and sound really amazing. The vocals are packed with power and sound fantastic. Though it’s the longest track on the album there is never a boring moment.

 

I can honestly say that “Powerslave” is not only an album that will always be a part of my collection but will also be a part of me! It brings back a lot of great memories of hanging out with my friends and listening to some great metal and isn’t that what it’s really all about?

 

-Kate Smith

Alice_Cooper_-_Billion_Dollar_Babies

Alice Cooper

Billion Dollar Babies

For a moment in 1973 Alice Cooper was the biggest hard rock band in the U.S. They were certainly the most written about, controversial, and influential. Alice quickly became the subject of numerous urban myths that spread through school campuses and keg parties across the nation. Those points are undisputable fact. They were the first large-scale theatrical rock show. Nobody had ever seen anything like it before and at that time it was a revolutionary mixture of Las Vegas bombast, old-time Vaudeville magic and dance, Grand Guignol-style blood-splattered horror, and performance art freak-out within the context of a loud Glam Rock show chock full of amazing songs. The Alice of the early and mid-1970’s made such a deep and permanent impression on popular culture that it would be copied by other artists for years to come. Some copied the sound, some took the makeup and clothing, and others went for the theatricality of the stage show. Still other artists, Marilyn Manson in particular, stole the entire package. The influence of Alice Cooper can be seen in everything from A Clockwork Orange to The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Alice Cooper started as a high school band out of Phoenix Arizona in the mid-60’s before relocating to Los Angeles in ’68, where they were discovered by Frank Zappa and recorded their first two albums, ‘Pretties for You’ and ‘Easy Action’. They were psychedelic pop, devoid of any of the classic A.C. trademarks and did nothing for the band. So they relocated to Detroit and mingled in with The Stooges and The MC5, where the harder-edged sound of the scene and harsh urban environment began to bring out the underlying horror elements in the band and gave them a tougher sound.  It was just what they needed, as the third album, ‘Love It to Death’, was a hit, and is considered by Alice as being the first “true” A.C. album. It featured the classic ‘Eighteen’, as well as production by soon-to-become legendary producer, Bob Ezrin, who would go on to work with the band on several successful albums and be known as “the sixth member of the band”. More hits followed with the albums ‘School’s Out’ and ‘Killer’; both Ezrin productions. The stage show grew and Alice’s infatuation with horror continued to work its way further to the fore with creepy dirge tracks like ‘Dead Babies’ and ‘Halo of Flies’.

1973 saw the release of Alice Cooper’s first truly huge album, ‘Billion Dollar Babies’.  Wrapped in that iconic snake skin wallet cover art and featuring a giant One Billion Dollar bill on the inside, the album spawned three top 40 singles: the exhilarating ‘Elected’, the sharply ironic ‘Hello Hooray’, and ‘No More Mr. Nice Guy’, a telling piece of political commentary. John Lennon declared that ‘Elected’ was one of the best rock songs ever written, and the other two hits are certified all-time classics, but my favorite tracks by far are ‘Sick Things’, ‘I Love the Dead’, and ‘Generation Landslide’. ‘Sick Things’ is an infectiously catchy vocal delivering some deliciously twisted lyrics set to a dark and moody piece of horror movie mood music. ‘I Love the Dead’ is equally twisted, perhaps some of the darkest lyrics Alice had written to that point, but with a big catchy chorus on it. ‘Generation Landslide’ is a terrific piece of music that Alice thought was so good he rerecorded it years later. It tells the tale of a society being turned upside down for better and worse. The title track is yet another stunner; a catchy and rocking ode to being in love with a rubber doll.

‘Billion Dollar Babies’ is an amazing album which sounds just as good today as it ever did thanks to brilliant songwriting and the band’s secret weapon: Bob Ezrin. Ezrin is a kind of genius mad scientist who will try anything in a song. He will take a hard-rocking cut and strip out all the guitars but one, double the bass with an oboe, and put in cello and violin under the guitar. He’ll use piano, a horn section, anything and everything to make the song leap in unbelievably dynamic fashion from your speakers. He adds elements to a song that you’d never imagine could or would work, and somehow it sounds incredible. Much of the success of Alice Cooper’s recorded material can be traced to their long partnership with Bob Ezrin. If you want a strong producer on your record he is indispensable, as he writes, arranges, and plays multiple instruments as well as his aforementioned strengths. Some of his other most well-known credits aside from Cooper’s ‘Billion Dollar Babies’ and ‘Welcome to My Nightmare’ include ‘Destroyer’ by KISS, ‘The Wall’ by Pink Floyd, and Lou Reed’s ‘Berlin’.

I love this album, as I love Alice Cooper. I do miss the glorious days of the ROCK CULTURE: the 1970’s. It was a great time for music.

-Michael Salemi

Black_Sabbath_-_Black_Sabbath

Black Sabbath

“Black Sabbath”

Released: 2/13/1970

 

  1. 1.       Black Sabbath
  2. 2.       The Wizard
  3. 3.       Behind the Wall of Sleep
  4. 4.       N.I.B
  5. 5.       Evil Woman
  6. 6.       Sleeping Village
  7. 7.       Warning

 

 

Growing up as a kid and in my teens, Black Sabbath has been a gigantic part of my life. When I first heard their eerie, doomy guitar tone and vocals I was hooked. Not only when I was Ozzy was singing with them but also when Dio joined, both are equally fantastic. But I have to say that their self-titled album is by far one of my favorites. It’s one of those that just catches you and sucks you in. Starting out as bluesy, rock band called Earth back in 1968 the founding fathers guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, drummer Bill Ward and vocalist Ozzy Osbourne began incorporating occult themes with horror inspired lyrics and tuned down guitars that slowly transformed them into the greats that they are now.

 

They released “Black Sabbath” in 1970 and are categorized as the first major album to be

credited with the development of the heavy metal genre. Combining blues jazz and rock with

classic metal riffing, unique vocals and incredible rhythm is what classic heavy metal is all

about. Tony Iommi just delivers crushing riff after crushing riff. “Behind the Wall of Sleep” and

“Wicked World” is very bluesy and show Iommi’s roots as a guitarist. He shows off his

talents again in “Sleeping Village” with a great guitar solo. He’s pretty much a legend in my

book and if you haven’t heard the name before then I’m convinced that you live under a rock.

Bill Ward also shows off some skills and lays down some of the smoothest beats that keep

that bluesy vibe going as you can hear in “Behind the Wall of Sleep” which is catchy as hell.

Geezer Butler gives “N.I.B” some groove with a great bass solo that holds some good

distortion and takes you right into the main riff. Butler is definitely not afraid to open up when

he’s playing and shows off some of his more unique abilities. On top of that of course is Ozzy’s

vocals which mix nicely with the blues infused tones. There are some great lyrics on her

that deal with evil and darkness as well as political corruptness and how fucked up the world

is.

 

This is where heavy metal was born in my honest opinion. Deeply rooted in blues and rock,

showcasing the true soul of music. This is a must for any true fan of metal, no matter if you’re

just getting into it or you’ve been in the scene for a while, this needs to be a part of your

collection!

 

-Kate Smith

Pentagram Image

Pentagram

“First Daze Here: The Vintage Collection”

Released: 2/19/02

 

  1. 1.       Forever My Queen
  2. 2.       When the Screams Come
  3. 3.       Walk in the Blue Light
  4. 4.       Starlady
  5. 5.       Lazylady
  6. 6.       Review Your Choices
  7. 7.       Hurricane
  8. 8.       Livin in a Ram’s Head
  9. 9.       Earth Flight

 

 

Hailing from Virginia, Pentagram is most famous for being the pioneers of doom metal back in the 1970’s right around the same time Black Sabbath began to rise up. Producing many demos and rehearsal tapes, Pentagram did not release a full length album until the early 1980s with an almost completely new lineup. The main staple being vocalist Bobby Liebling. Throughout the years the band went through several lineup changes, drug use (mainly by Bobby), split-ups, different members playing in different bands, trying to reform as Pentagram but not succeeding all that well. There’s a DVD called “Last Days Here” directed by Dan Argott and Demian Fenton that shows the daily struggles of Bobby as he attempts to get his life back together and also shows the band’s successful stage comeback back in 2009. It’s a very interesting documentary that shows the human side of Liebling and what he went through on a day to day basis.

 

I honestly did not discover “First Daze Here” until just recently but I am here to tell you that this album is simply amazing. They carried that classic doom sound that you also hear in Sabbath as well as that bluesy rock that you hear in Zeppelin. Songs like “Forever My Queen”, “Review Your Choices” and “Walk in the Blue Light” were the very foundation that doom metal was built upon. “Be Forewarned” is another great one that’s just dripping with melancholy tone. Liebling’s vocals are powerful and haunting that fit perfectly with Vincent McAllister’s heavy guitar riffs. Greg Mayne offers up some catchy bass lines and Geoff O’Keefe’s drum beats are the kind that you can feel beating on your chest through the speakers.

 

“First Daze Here” is a fantastic album and I’m not quite sure why they didn’t get signed back in the 70s or get the recognition that they deserved. If you like Sabbath, Zeppelin and Deep Purple then you will love this album. While this is just a collection of old demos the sound quality is great and sounds like it was recorded in a high quality studio. I highly recommend you going out to get yourself a copy!

 

-Kate Smith

altars_cover

Morbid Angel

“Altars of Madness”

Earache Records

Released: 1989

  1. 1.       Immortal Rites
  2. 2.       Suffocation
  3. 3.       Visions From the Dark Side
  4. 4.       Maze of Torment
  5. 5.       Lord of All Fears and Plagues
  6. 6.       Chapel Of Ghouls
  7. 7.       Bleed For the Devil
  8. 8.       Damnation
  9. 9.       Blasphemy
  10. 10.   Evil Spells

 

Back in the late eighties/early nineties a new scene out of Florida was just starting to rise, bands such as Obituary and Deicide were starting to make a name for them self but it was Morbid Angel that really caught my attention. By the time I got into them they had already established themselves and released their second album “Blessed Are the Sick” but being me I had to start in order and immediately bought their debut album “Altars of Madness”. I remember sitting there listening to the cassette on my Walkman and not being able to believe my ears and becoming completely obsessed with it, listening to it day after day, wore their shirts and vandalized my high school textbook covers with their logo.

 

The opener, “Immortal Rites” starts off with the main riff being played backwards. The guitar contains a hellish tone that could be heard on something like Slayer’s “Hell Awaits”. Dave Vincent’s shrieks are a little higher pitched than most death metal growls you are used to hearing but I find is approach far better than some of the generic guttural growls that you’ll hear from vocalists that came after him. Pete Sandoval blasts his way on drums with great technique that gives the track an epic feel. “Suffocation” heightens the intensity of the album with its furious speed and incredible solo towards the end. “Maze of Torment” is a great track with some different tempo changes going from high speed frenzy and then slowing down to an almost ghoulish crawl that gives it a very eerie feeling.

 

“Lords of All Fevers and Plagues” is an added bonus track for the cd version of the album, the song was written by Trey Azagthoth showing his interest in Sumerian mythology. Very fast past with Trey’s unmistakable solos weaving in and out. “Chapel of the Ghouls” is probably one of the most recognizable songs on this album, with high speed intensity it slows down at the two minute mark to a mid-pace tempo and then begins to climax again with a demonic chorus chanting, “Demons attack with hate, Satan in the fires of hell awaits, Death against you all, God hear my death call”, giving the track a very atmospheric vibe. The rest of the album carries on with precision and skill that established the group as one of the elite death metal bands of the late eighties.

 

Morbid Angel set a standard that not too many death metal bands have been able to meet. It’s dedicated to the underground scene and all fans of death, black and speed metal could appreciate it. All of these styles converged as one to make an album that is quite memorable. Few albums have been able to stand the test of times like “Altars of Madness” has been able to. If for some reason you do not have this in your possession or at least have given it a listen then you must do so immediately.

 

-Kate Smith

kiss-alive-album-cover

 KISS

Alive!

Casablanca Records, 1975

I always loved music as far back as I can remember. I was fascinated with bands and musical instruments from the time I was only a few years old. I would sit and look through my mom’s record collection and stare at the cover art for long stretches of time. If there was a band performing on television I was parked front and center to absorb the experience; listening and studying. It was only a matter of time before I began to develop my own tastes and build my own record collection. The first album I ever got was KISS ‘Alive!’. My grandmother bought it for my 8th birthday in January of 1976. I had seen an ad in the paper for KISS’ debut album on sale at the Record Factory and I told her “that’s what I want!” That album was sold out, so she got me ‘Alive!’ instead, which I didn’t even know existed. Needless to say I was thrilled. I listened to that thing every day for weeks and KISS became my favorite band for the next 3 or 4 years.

KISS emerged from New York in 1973 and between spring 1974 and early 1975 had released 3 full-length studio albums and played a show nearly every night of the week. The band toured constantly, only pausing long enough to record. They were not the best songwriters or singers but their work ethic and ambition were second to no one.

The self-titled debut, ‘Hotter Than Hell’, and ‘Dressed to Kill’ were good solid rock albums but did not catch on to the band’s or label’s expectations, averaging 80,000 units sold per release. But the bands reputation as a great live act was growing. The concert stage is where KISS has always excelled and was known as that band you just HAD to see. So the idea was hatched to do a live album in hopes of capturing the energy and excitement absent from the studio work. The problem was that the label, Casablanca, was floundering financially. Putting together a gatefold two-record set with a special ‘Alive!’ concert program included was a big risk, especially for a group that wasn’t already successful. But the band was able to convince them to take the gamble and it paid off enormously for everyone involved as ‘Alive!’ became one of the seminal classic live albums of the era and the cornerstone of KISS’ career. The record went triple platinum.

kiss-alive-back

The 1970’s were the era of the live album. They were very popular and everybody who was anybody had to have their big deluxe double-live album. Rock and roll was made to be played live! On stage is where its power comes forth to weave its magic spell. I’ve always loved a good live album and ‘Alive!’ is right up there with some of the other classics such as Thin Lizzy ‘Live and Dangerous’, Cheap Trick ‘At Budokan’, Queen ‘Live Killers’, Saxon ‘The Eagle Has Landed’, and Iron Maiden ‘Live After Death’ to name a few. I collect live albums and I suppose it goes right back to that very first record.

The cover photo of ‘Alive!’ is enough to make anybody want to buy the thing without ever having heard a note of it. It’s a live shot of KISS onstage and they look like they’re performing in a combat zone. Smoke bombs erupt all around them, the air is so dense with it the stage lights are muted. It’s a great cover, utterly captivating. The pictures contained within are equally thrilling and captured the imagination. What were the concerts like? What kind of off-the-wall displays and stunts occurred on that stage? Stories were legion and mostly all urban myth passed around from kid to kid on long boring school days. Back then things were much different: home video systems, DVD, Blu-Ray, YouTube, the internet; all of those were science fiction. A band like KISS was a big mystery. Nobody knew what they looked like without makeup and if you wanted to see them you had to wait for a tour to come around or a special appearance on a T.V. show. Other than that all we had were magazines and records. In some ways it was better that way, as it preserved the mystique of artists. The internet has taken some of the mystery out of life.

This record captures KISS at a golden moment in their career, before they became comic book superheroes, produced dolls and made-for-TV movies, recorded ‘Beth’ and disco songs, and added bright, sparkling Vegas-style glitz to their costumes and show. In ’75 they were still a hard rocking and edgy band. The songs were rough and raw, performed with passion and energy. Today I do not even consider that band to be KISS. To me they are a tribute band of their former selves, dressing up two different guys as the Cat Man and the Space Ace. It is disgraceful. They have no honor, no pride, and no shame. It’s blatantly about money and nothing else. I can’t believe they actually still have fans at all. I am NOT a fan. But when it comes to 1970’s KISS; I still love them and always will. I love all the records up to and including 1982’s ‘Creatures of the Night’. KISS ended there as far as I’m concerned, as every release beyond that one was increasingly uninspired and boring. But ‘Alive!’ will always be there, a time capsule of a more fun and exciting time, and it will always be in my collection.

-Michael Salemi

 -Kate Smith

A70-1710

Detroit Rock City

It is 1978.  Lex, Trip, Hawk, and Jam are high school friends who play in a garage band called Mystery. They are obsessed with going to see their heroes, KISS, who are coming to play the legendary Cobo Hall in Detroit, which poses 3 major problems for the boys: 1- obtaining 4 tickets to the show, which is sold out already, 2- scoring transportation for the several hour road trip to Detroit, 3- dealing with their parents, one of which (played by the great Lin Shaye) not only hates KISS but leads a group called MATMOK (Mothers Against The Music Of Kiss).  Another of the MATMOK members is played by Pamela Bowen, who is the wife of Paul Stanley. As the movie unfolds we follow the boys through one long day and night, sometimes together and sometimes individually, as they overcome these obstacles to reach the Holy Grail of their teenage lives. We see them bond as friends and learn about them each as people.

These characters, played by Giuseppe Andrews, James DeBello, Edward Furlong, and Sam Huntington, are perfectly cast in their roles and play off each other well. The dialog is well-written and their camaraderie is realistic. Writer Carl Dupre’ and director Adam Rifkin did a terrific job capturing the time and place. It looks and feels like 1978. These kids often reminded me of myself and my friends growing up. The film manages to be very funny but also have a lot of heart, which you don’t see much. Several moments are quite touching. I’m a sucker for coming-of-age stories anyhow, but ones set in the ‘70’s and involving rebellion and the crazy world of rock ‘n roll really hit the bullseye.

This movie was made with the cooperation of KISS, with Gene Simmons as co-producer, and it helps the production value, as he lent Rifkin tons of memorabilia from his own personal archives, which can be seen in the opening credit montage and planted here and there throughout scenes. KISS also appear in the film performing ‘Detroit Rock City’, set to a great montage highlighting all the fire breathing, blood-spitting, guitar smashing, pyrotechnic action of their amazing shows. There is one hilarious shot during the performance you won’t soon forget, where the camera is INSIDE Gene’s mouth looking out at the crowd as his tongue sticks out and wiggles up and down like a lizard’s!!

This movie bombed upon its release in 1999, and the problem was that the studio promoted it badly. They pushed it as “the KISS movie”, which was a big mistake. KISS fans are going to be there anyway, they don’t need to be sold on it. But all the non-KISS fans who would have otherwise loved this funny, touching, well-made movie, stayed away. It should have been promoted as a coming-of-age teen comedy (similar to ‘Superbad’) and it would have done much better. Luckily, over the years it has developed a large following of admirers who discovered it on DVD and now it’s beginning to be viewed as a kind of classic in its own right. It deserves it.

Another element many have missed about the characters in this story is that each kid corresponds with either a member of KISS or with one of their songs. The drummer, who is the sensitive kid and inspired by Peter Criss, ends up with Beth. The horny bassist ends up with the wild and sexy Christine Sixteen. The guitarist, who is the lover, ends up with the older woman, does a striptease in a club wearing satin undies, etc.

If you haven’t seen ‘Detroit Rock City’ yet, I recommend it. It is a thoroughly engaging story filled with memorable characters and good dialog, its loads of fun from front to back, and extremely funny.

-Michael Salemi


Hesher
2010

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars in the fantastic movie, “Hesher” as a force of nature who not only moves into a family’s house but into their lives as well and makes changes, that in my opinion are for the better.

The film starts out with lonely thirteen year old, T.J (Devin Brochu) who recently lost his mother in a car accident and is neglected by his pill-popping father , Paul (Rainn Wilson) who is still in mourning.  This kid is also constantly bullied at school by one kid in particular who has made it his sole purpose to terrorize  him. T.J comes across Hesher by finding him in a house that this character is squatting in and then has to get rid of the cops and his place to crash by throwing dynamite in the cop’s car. At first glance it seems like that’s all Hesher does, goes around setting fires everywhere, destroying property and just in general fucking shit up. He has long black hair, is covered in tattoos, one being a gigantic middle finger on his back and another of a stick figure that’s blowing his brains out. He smokes pot and wreaks havoc wherever he can. But he is the true hero of this story. Underneath all of this he is a truly caring human being, he just has his own way of showing it. Hell, he shows T.J’s grandmother how to smoke weed from a bong because the medical marijuana cigarettes haven’t been doing anything for her. In that scene he tells her that he’s going to go for a walk with her in the morning and it’s really touching because you can tell that he truly cares about her.

What I love about this movie too is the use of old school eighties metal. It’s mainly old Metallica from “Ride the Lightning” and “Kill Em All” but there’s some Motörhead in there too and it is AWESOME. I’ve been metal head since I was a little kid and I really love hearing that stuff in movies. Natalie Portman’s character is really great too. She plays this kind of nerdy grocery checker girl that befriends T.J (who starts to secretly pine after her with Hesher giving him advice in the only true form that he can)  and goes off on a couple adventures with both of them. Natalie Portman gives a great performance with this character.

Rainn Wilson does a great job as well as the grieving widower and absentee father to T.J. Barely being able to get up of the couch except to group therapy, his character Paul is just a shell of a man and is having a difficult time functioning on a day to day basis. There’s another fantastic moment in the film where they are all sitting down for dinner and T.J. Finally stands up to his father after being berated for not going to counseling with him and antics that Hesher had a good hand in making happen. The scene is beautiful and heartbreaking all at the same time because you see that all this kid wants is his father back and Paul just doesn’t seem to be able to get that. It ends up both of them smashing their plates on the floor and walking away with complete frustration as Hesher looks on with an amused look on his face. Piper Laurie plays the wonderful and loving grandmother who wishes that she could do more to keep this family from completely falling apart and all she wants is for someone to go for a walk with her in the mornings. The only one who appears to be interested in her is Hesher until she passes away and both father and son realize how much she meant to them. The last scene of this film is absolutely touching and completely sucks you right in. It really had an impact on me and I think it will for you too. I’m not going to give it away, you’ll have to see it for yourself but it shows that Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character is really like a guardian angel that watches over this family and helps pull them together. Ok, a guardian angel with tattoos, smokes weed and listens to Metallica. But how fucking cool is that??

“Hesher” is a hidden gem that not too many people have heard of or seen. It’s an excellent film that will intrigue you, it will make you laugh and touch your heart all at the same time. It tells an excellent story with compassion and humor and is not something that should just be passed by. It’s out on DVD so I suggest that you rent or even better by yourself a copy and put it into your movie collection because it’s definitely something that you will want to see more than once.

-Kate Smith

r_mynameisbruce

My Name is Bruce

I remember when this movie hit DVD back in 2008. England’s long-running Terrorizer magazine gave it 10 out of a possible 10, which stuck with me, as they are notoriously tight about handing out tens. I used to read that mag religiously and I can count on one hand the number of 10’s I’ve seen. I remember Venom’s debut receiving one, the artwork for the rerelease of ‘Crypt of the Wizard’ by Mortiis (but not the music contained within). And this movie, ‘My Name is Bruce’, a low budget indie starring and directed by horror icon and cult hero, Bruce Campbell. I’ve wanted to see it since reading that Terrorizer review but only managed to get a copy just recently.  Man, was I missing out all this time! Better late than never.

This movie is a celebration of the cinematic persona of Bruce Campbell that fans have come to know and love over the past 3 decades of his work in film and TV, beginning with the ‘Evil Dead’ movies, up through ‘Intruder’, ‘The Man With the Screaming Brain’, ‘Brisco County Jr.’, and of course, ‘Bubba Ho-Tep’. Here he plays it to the hilt: quick with the one-liners, sarcastic and cynical, egotistical and hitting on the hottest babe in the room. He does his “legend in my own mind” routine perfectly, rubbing the fact that he’s a “star” in everybody’s face and expecting to be catered to hand and foot. The irony is that he makes ultra-low budget movies that most people don’t see or care to see outside a small but devoted fan base of sci-fi and horror geeks. Also, underneath his larger-than-life façade he’s extremely insecure and a complete coward. What Campbell does here reminds me a lot of what Kurt Russell did with his Jack Burton character in ‘Big Trouble in Little China’, only difference being Campbell is playing a version of himself as though he was a character from one of his movies. All of this comes off to perfect hilarious effect from first scene to last in this terrific movie. There are several incidents throughout where I could not stop laughing.

The movie opens with a couple young guys cruising through the night, one of which happens to be Bruce Campbell’s number one fan. They are going to meet up with a couple girls at an abandoned mine in the woods outside their small town. While there, the Campbell fan discovers a gold medallion affixed to a plank alongside the sealed mine shaft. It turns out this was a magic medallion put there by Chinese miners years ago in order to trap an ancient Chinese demon of War (and guardian of bean curd!) who was called up by miners trapped inside after a major cave-in. The kid removes the medallion; the demon escapes and begins to wreak havoc through town, killing townsfolk. There is only one thing the kid can think of to do: He kidnaps Bruce to have him help rid the town of the demon. Since it is his birthday and believes that his agent is pulling a surprise birthday prank on him, Bruce goes along with it.  As the townsfolk greet him as a hero and explain the situation, Bruce falls into “hero” mode, takes charge, and leads the small town in their battle, thinking it’s all in fun. Hijinks ensue…

I hesitate to describe any of the gags in the movie here, as I couldn’t possibly do them justice. Reading them just would not be nearly as funny as seeing them for yourself. And I strongly recommend seeing them for yourself, especially if you are a Bruce Campbell fan. The jokes fly fast and furious and non-stop. As soon as you stop laughing, here comes another, even funnier, and it doesn’t let up. Campbell has never been better, and his direction is tight and fast-paced. I wish he’d make more films as director.  This is a movie you can sit and watch again and again.

-Michael Salemi

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

This little gem of a movie was released in the last week of 2010 and has accumulated a large following of admirers ever since.  It is labeled a horror/comedy, but for me it’s a lot more interesting and clever than that. I see it as a full-on comedy set within the structure of one of those backwoods/killer redneck/cannibal movies. It satirizes all of those types of movies brilliantly, picking out all the elements they have in common and have become cliché, then turning them inside out. How many movies have you seen where a group of good-looking, spoiled, obnoxious college kids get lost in the woods, argue, make every stupid move you can imagine to put themselves further in danger, and get picked-off in gruesome fashion  by mutant inbred backwoods cannibals? They all start to seem the same after a while, and if you’ve watched a lot of them, as I have, you end up rooting for the characters to get killed because they are so one-dimensional and annoying. You’re supposed to be able to relate to the protagonists in a movie and care about them when something bad happens. That is why ‘Tucker and Dale vs. Evil’ is so refreshing and so funny, as it takes that exact generic bunch of knuckleheads and we get to enjoy seeing them get bumped off one by one. But there’s a twist, and it’s a great one:

Tucker and Dale are best buds. Good ‘ol boys. Rednecks, if you will. They are heading out into the woods to work on Tucker’s small cabin that he has recently purchased.  They are smart, hardworking, and eager to help a stranger. All around nice, down to earth guys. One night as they are night fishing on the local lake, they notice a girl about to dive from a boulder, slip, and hit her head on a rock in the water. The guys leap into action and save her life. But, her friends (the “college kids”) are standing on shore and look over just in time to see her unconscious body being dragged into the rowboat by two rough-looking, bearded backwoods-types. They panic, thinking their friend is being kidnapped. Just at this moment, Tucker, noticing the kids, stands up in the boat and shouts “We got yer friend!”  The kids run screaming into the woods to tell the rest of the group what they just witnessed, and a plan is hatched to “rescue” their friend from “the evil hillbillys”. Meanwhile, Tucker and Dale sit in the boat, confused, wondering why everybody is running away. They decide to take the girl back to their cabin and take care of her until she well enough to leave. From here on out things get crazier and wilder as we watch these idiotic kids literally kill themselves through a series of brilliantly conceived and written misunderstandings and accidents all played off the ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’-style formula.  It is absolutely fantastic, and it is all hilarious.

Tyler Labine plays Dale. You may have noticed him as the drunk customer in Kevin Smith’s ‘Zack and Miri’. He was the bright spot in that bad movie and his small scene was the funniest part. Alan Tudyk plays Tucker. He was in the very solid western ‘3:10 to Yuma’ and also played the memorable Steve The Pirate in ‘Dodgeball:  a true underdog story’.  The other main character, the girl they save, is played by the adorable Katrina Bowden (‘Piranha 3DD’, ‘American Reunion’). All of these actor’s performances are terrific, they fit their characters perfectly, and play well off each other.

This movie is smart, hilariously funny, charming, and bears re-watching. As of this writing I’ve seen it 5 times, and I’m sure I’ll see it again. It has become a favorite.

-Michael Salemi

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Whip It
2009
Directed and Produced By:
Drew Barrymore

Whip It is a fun and interesting movie based upon the novel written by Shauna Cross and is also directed and produced by Drew Barrymore. Starring Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, Kristen Wiig, Jimmy Fallon, Drew Barrymore, Daniel Stern and the sexy Juliette Lewis (who, by the way, I want to be when I grow up). This movie is not only about the world of roller derby but also about following your heart and dreams, going out and living your life to its fullest potential and doing what is going to make you happy.

The main character, Bliss (Ellen Page), who hails from the tiny town of Bodine, Texas, finds herself highly attracted to the idea of being part of the roller derby world in Austin as opposed to the alternative of serving food to hicks and tourists in a small restaurant and dealing with the tedious mother-daughter beauty pageants that her controlling mother (Marcia Gay Harden, who is fantastic here), who’s ideals remain rooted in the 1950’s, constantly enters her in. The only downside of being in the roller derby is she has to be twenty-one to try out, so Bliss conceals her true age of 17 and signs up for it anyway under the name Babe Ruthless. The coach, pressed with her quick speed gives her a spot on the team alongside Barrymore who plays the goofy Smashley Simpson and Kristen Wiig who plays Maggie Mayhem, Bliss’s mentor and kind of like her cool aunt who helps her out when she gets into trouble later on down the road. There’s a great scene between them where Maggie explains to Bliss how she psychs herself up to get angry before taking the track by thinking of her ex who cheated on her and gave her crabs and having to use that “special” shampoo that actually doesn’t make you feel all that special at all.

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Daniel Stern plays the easy-going father who just wants to drink beer and watch football and is more concerned about his daughter’s happiness than any amount of money or prestige these droll pageants would bring. It was a nice and welcome surprise to see him in this. Juliette Lewis plays Iron Maven, who is on the opposing team, The Unholy Rollers, and tries to come off as the villain but is actually a very admirable character who holds a true passion for this sport.

Along with the great action scenes, Drew Barrymore puts a positive spin on the film by showing the true sisterhood between these girls on and off the track. This is a fantastic movie with a lot of interesting twists and turns and gives a little something for everyone to enjoy. I highly recommend checking it out.

-Kate Smith

936full-until-the-light-takes-us-posterUntil the Light Takes Us
2008
Directed By: Aaron Aites
Audrey Ewell”Until the Light Takes Us” is a documentary and the first film to honestly shed some light on a movement that has been shrouded in darkness and hearsay and shallow depictions. Featuring interviews with musicians such as Varg Vikernes (Burzum), Fenriz ( Darkthrone), and Frost (Satyricon), this movie gets inside the hearts and minds of the musicians and shows black metal through the eyes of this who created it and live it. The interviews are insightful and not only chronicle the relationship between Varg and Fenriz but  the genre that each have helped to build. It is a very different perspective to hear them both describe and critique a scene they’re involved in.Interviews with Varg take place in the prison he was formerly held in and he compares it to a stay in a monastery where he has time to think and read. He describes black metal as a counter attack on all that is seen as enemies of the Norwegian culture. Specifically, Christianity and commercialization. One of his funniest stories is of when he and as friends decided to do a “bike drive-by” on the first McDonald’s that was put in their hometown.

For Fenriz, black metal was a reaction to the commercialization of death metal. As opposed to Varg, Fenriz is not confined and finds freedom as he wanders silent and ghost-like through the modern day world. One of the more awkward and funnier moments is when he travels out to Stockholm to see an art exhibit put on by Bjorn Melgaard that incorporates black metal imagery and there is a long and stoic silence after Bjorn walks into the room and Fenriz tells him that he supposes he should meet him in the polite way.

There are many other sources that are drawn to help tell the story including news broadcasts of the church burnings and Varg’s trial, live performances and rehearsal footage as well as cameos from members of Immortal, Mayhem, Ulver, and Satyricon. Plus there is plenty of music supplied by Burzum, Darkthrone, Enslaved and Gorgoroth among others.

“Until the Light Takes Us” is a great documentary that gives us an intriguing look into the world of black metal. I highly recommend you pick up a copy, unless you’re super cheap or broke then you can just watch it in You Tube, but you will definitely want this to be a part of your metal DVD library!

-Kate Smith

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Black Cadillac

A decent little piece of “road terror” from 2003 boasting nice cinematography by Steven Douglas Smith, who also produced alongside director John Murlowski . The tight script by Will Aldis is, as stated in the opening credits; “based on true events”.  This is one of the few movies boasting the “true events” tag I’ve seen recently that actually plays as halfway believable. Most often I don’t know why they bother trying to sell that angle, as the stories take such outlandish turns it’s often downright embarrassing. They may have stretched the truth a bit in ‘Black Cadillac’, but I didn’t find anything too implausible.

“Road movies” (‘Wild at Heart’, ‘Something Wild’, etc.) and “road terror” movies (‘Road Games’, ’The Hitcher’ (1986)) are one of my favorite sub-genres. Before watching this I was expecting a supernatural thriller on the level of ‘The Car’, but this film is firmly rooted in reality.

Three young men from Minnesota find themselves in rural Wisconsin in the dead of winter during break from school. The eldest of the trio, Scott Robertson (Shane Johnson), is home from Yale to party for a couple weeks. He is the type of kid that everything in life comes easily to; a natural athlete and (of course) star quarterback, resourceful, handsome as well as smart, charming yet tough. He is a yuppie with a sense of entitlement, and it is hinted at more than once that he is a member of ‘Skull and Bones’. Despite my description of him, he is not an unlikeable or thinly-written character. So many films have featured this type of young “yuppie-jock” and it’s easy to portray them as the villain. Most times they come off as one-dimensional and completely annoying. This character has anger management issues, hurts those he cares about, is competitive to the point that it ruins relationships, but he recognizes these faults, has guilt about it, and attempts to make amends. It is refreshing to see this archetype handled in a real, human way. The youngest of the three is “Yaley’s” little brother, Robby (Jason Dohring), who looks up to him as an invincible hero. He is a high school kid in that awkward stage of life between childhood and adulthood, still a virgin and somewhat in fear of the larger world beyond what he knows. The third, and most interesting character in the film, is Scott’s lifelong friend C.J. Longhammer, wonderfully portrayed with a sense of mischievous fun and snarky humor by Josh Hammond. The interplay between the three is fantastic and reflects lifelong relationships full of memories and adventures, which most films of this sort fail miserably at capturing.

The three protagonists find themselves embroiled in a night-long life and death struggle after drunkenly running from a roadhouse deep in the woods, where a fight had broken out between them and about a dozen locals (it’s a great fight, too). Suddenly they are trailed by an ominous black Cadillac. A few miles later they find a police officer named Charlie on the highway whose car has broken down and frozen, portrayed by a funny and likeable Randy Quaid, yet there is a hint of menace lurking just under the surface. It is a fine, measured, low-key performance. Once Charlie is in the car, the mysterious Cadillac becomes increasingly aggressive, leading to an ultimate showdown deep in the mountains. Who is behind the wheel, and why are they dogging the kids and Charlie?

‘Black Cadillac’ is a fine but little-seen thriller, definitely worth a look. It is atmospheric and at times manages to achieve a nice creepiness. The characters are amusing and I began to care about them. It is a “soft” film, with no extreme violence, gore, sex, etc. It almost plays like it could have been a made-for-TV movie, but none of this is a detriment, as the focus is character, mystery, and action, not scares or gore effects. Check it out.

-Michael Salemi

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The Disco Exorcist

 

Director Richard Griffin’s 2011 ode to 1970’s low-budget exploitation cinema is right on the mark in look, tone, acting, and attitude. The script, by Tony Nunes and Ted Geoghegan is purposely amateurish but quite funny and the cast, led by Michael Reed as super slick disco master Rex Romanski, are all spot-on. This movie is a lot of fun and really does feel like some forgotten disco-era drive-in flick. I would like to give big thanks to Wild Eye for sending us a copy of this for review.

I won’t go into a detailed plot description of this movie because it’s something you should experience for yourself. Also, the plot becomes somehow secondary to the characters, their behavior and interactions with each other, their lifestyles, and the overall vibe of the movie. All I will tell you is get ready for 70’s slang and fashions (done well), tons of sex, including an orgy (led by a guy who looks eerily like Anton LaVey)and an excursion into the world of old-school porn (featuring a memorable performance from Babette Bombshell as porn director Bernie Munghat). There are mountains of cocaine being snorted, witches performing black magic rituals, curses and possessions, disco dancing galore, swinging, fighting, and an exorcism performed by, as the title promises, the Disco Exorcist.

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This movie rocks, for sure. It holds up to repeated viewings and never loses its twisted charms. Ruth Sullivan is quite good as Rex Romanski’s crazed spurned lover who uses the occult for revenge. Sarah Nicklin is equally impressive as Romanski’s new love, porn starlet Amoreena Jones.  Michael Reed, as Rex, is fantastic in this movie. He is equal parts charm, charisma, and humor. He has a certain gleam in his eye and smirk on his face indicating that he never quite takes any of it seriously, and that does not pull you out of the story at all. On the contrary, it only serves to add to the personality of the film. 

I loved The Disco Exorcist. Really fun and really funny.

-Michael Salemi

Frozen

2010

Frozen is an outdoor survival film directed Adam Greene that is fantastically well written and avoids the pitfalls that a lot of movies in the past have unfortunately fallen into. Either giving us characters that are so unlikeable that they piss us off within the first ten minutes and wish they’d be killed off immediately or the storyline is so uninteresting or unbelievable that you just immediately shut it off. The characters in Frozen are believable, likeable and proved me wrong in terms of what they were willing to do in order to survive. The tension in the movie starts out slowly but then continually ramps until you are on the edge of your set, trying to shut your eyes but can’t because you don’t want to miss anything.

So let’s introduce the characters, Parker ( Emma Belle) and Dan (Shawn Ashmore) are a young couple who have been dating for about a year and Lynch (Kevin Zegers) is Dan’s best friend since childhood who isn’t all that happy that Parker is in the picture. They try to get along to please Dan but you can tell there is some friction between them. They decide to spend the day skiing, mostly on the bunny slopes, of a New England Ski resort mainly due to Parker’s inexperience as a skier. Innocent enough right? They decide to go on one last run as the day ends so it’s not a complete waste and convince the lift operator to let them on, against his better judgment and with a storm approaching, he lets them on. While they are on the lift, the original operator goes to take a leak and tells his replacement that there are still three people  (only three, keep this in mind), that are still coming down. Once the replacement see the trio coming down (to our dismay it’s not Parker, Dan and Lynch) he closes up the shop. Yeah, it just went from bad to worse.

Now stopped in the middle of the chair lift, in the dead of night and below freezing temperatures and not sure if anyone is going to come and save them, our three characters are faced with a decision. Do they stay there and slowly freeze to death or do they find a way out? Here is option 1: Wait until someone comes. Here’s the thing, this takes place on a Sunday and will not reopen until the following spring  and with freezing temperatures that’s not looking too good. Option 2: Pull themselves along the wire until they reach the nearest tower and climb down, with wire that is extremely jagged and cuts through gloves and hands with ease, that option is not looking all that favorable either. Third option: Jump. To me this would not be an option. Not only do they not know how high they are and exactly how much damage they could do from jumping but the canine inhabitant in those woods are very territorial of who are and aren’t allowed in their midst.

This is where the tension just starts escalating and never seems to stop until the very end. This is also where I will leave you to find out for yourself what happens. You will be gripping your blanket, trying to cover your face at some points and then will feel yourself getting choked up at others. Mostly due to a couple performances given by Kevin Zegers and Emma Belle, one especially where Belle talks so intensely about how her poor little puppy is just waiting in the hallway for her to come home and she’s so afraid that he’ll starve to death if she doesn’t and it’ll be all her fault. The dialogue between the actors is believable and keeps the movie moving forward with intensity. Also, the fact that Belle, Zegers, and Ashmore were actually out on the ski lift, including at night, no green screen, no soundstage. That’s realism right there and you can feel it as you’re watching.

Adam Greene has put together a compelling film about survival that is combined with terror and human drama that will stay with you long after you turned off the DVD.

Highly recommended!

-Kate Smith

HALLOWEEN 6: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS vs. HALLOWEEN 666: THE PRODUCER’S CUT

John Carpenter’s original HALLOWEEN (1978) is one of the best horror/suspense-thrillers ever made. For years it was the top-grossing low-budget independent feature ever made, deservedly so. Its place in film history is secured, as it is an incredible achievement in the seamless blending of lighting, musical score, and photography to create a potent concoction of fright and suspense.  Due to the films popularity, sequels were inevitably ordered and a franchise began to develop.

Some of the films are better than others but most are dismally bad. Overall the HALLOWEEN franchise is among the weakest batch of movies in the horror genre, which is sad given the fact that they spawn from one of the greatest and most influential films of all time. 5, 6, Resurrection, and Rob Zombie’s H2 stand out as being nearly unwatchable other than as curiosities or to be studied in order to learn what not to do when making a horror movie.

When HALLOWEEN 6: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS was released in 1995, I remember being somewhat excited about it. Six years had passed since the last movie; enough time for me to forget just how disappointing that one was. At the time I had a subscription to Fangoria magazine, and they were giving monthly in-depth coverage to HALLOWEEN 6 leading up to the release. These articles led one to believe that this sequel would be different; better, scarier. Between the six-year wait and the Fangoria coverage, I found myself getting anxious to see it. I figured even if the Fango articles are hype, they’ve still had enough time to put something really good together. It’s got to be good! Right?

The Fangoria articles were all just hype and the six years between movies were obviously spent concentrating on other projects. Nobody was working on this movie. I think they slapped it together a month before shooting, spent as little money on it as possible, and shot it in 2 weeks. My cousin Ryan and I walked out of the theater feeling ripped off and pissed off.  Ryan looked at me and said “what was that? What the hell did we just see?” I replied “I have no idea”.

This movie is an insult to me as a horror fan, a HALLOWEEN fan, and a film fan in general. For one thing, they hired a different actress to play the Danielle Harris role, as the producers were too Goddamn cheap to pay her the measly five grand or so she required for reprising the role, even after having starred in the previous two pictures and building a considerable fan base.  If that wasn’t bad enough, they made her a pregnant teenage mother and killed her off unceremoniously at the beginning of the movie. The great Donald Pleasance, who anchors every movie as the frantic, half-mad Dr. Loomis, fares even worse. He is simply murdered, off screen, in the final seconds of the film. It is handled almost as an afterthought. Loomis says he must go back into the hospital where the final confrontation with an evil cult (more about that later) had just occurred. He runs back in and we hear his screams as he is immediately killed. It is stupid, insulting, and disrespectful to this terrific character and all the fans who stuck with this story over the years.

Fuck this movie and everyone who had anything to do with it. The “director”, and I use the term very loosely, Joe Chapelle, cut most of Donald Pleasances scenes, calling him “boring”. He also threw out most of writer Daniel Farrands’ script, blending it with his own BS ideas and keeping just enough of Farrands’ material to make it a messy, confusing and far-from-scary movie.

Six years after Michael Myers and his Niece Jamie Lloyd had disappeared from a Haddonfield police station, the small town has forgotten about the horror of Halloweens past and gone back to life as usual. During that time Jamie was being held captive and impregnated (with Michael’s child!!) by the Cult of Thorn, a druidic cult that Myers seems to be a sort of mascot for.  Apparently Myers is possessed by an ancient druid spirit and he is but one in a long line. Their job is to perform the ancient rituals of Samhain in the modern age. Or….something like that? It’s all very sketchy and a bit vague.  Anyhow, Tommy Doyle, the little kid Laurie Strode was babysitting in the first movie (played by Paul Rudd in his big screen debut) has grown up to be obsessed with Michael Myers and his motivations. He’s the one who cracks the code on the cult behind Myers and their goals. He knows the most about Thorn, and therefor is the best bet for Loomis and the others involved in trying to stop them. Meanwhile, the Strode family has moved into the old Myers house in hopes to break the curse. It does not go well. During all this Haddonfield is celebrating Halloween for the first time in 6 years, with a big costume party and a local shock jock broadcasting from town square (Howard Stern wisely turned down the shock jock role). This party gives Myers a whole batch of random victims to hack his way through. That’s about the best I can do with a plot synopsis on this. Details of the Cult of Thorn, their leader, the “man in black”, and their followers in Haddonfield, are not gone into in any way that makes a lot of sense. Nor is how Myers fits in with this cult clear to me. They seem to both worship him and at the same time treat him as kind of an attack dog. He seems oblivious to them and their activities, and the filmmakers seem oblivious to all of it. The whole thing culminates with Myers suddenly slaughtering the entire cult for no reason before killing Loomis in the final moments. These dumbfucks teased us with “the man in black” in H5, and then went to great lengths to unfold a whole cult around him in H6, only to kill all of them at the last moment. The filmmakers obviously took their ideas from the novelization of the original HALLOWEEN, which suggests that Myers is possessed by an ancient druid. That novel actually begins not in 1963 with little Michael killing his sister Judith, but hundreds of years ago at a Samhain festival, complete with human sacrifices.

This film is terrible. If I had to give it a grade it would get an F.

A few years after H6 came out I began hearing rumors about a different cut of the film. I hoped that it would be released on video. The PRODUCER’S CUT most certainly does exist, but it has never and probably will never be officially released on video. The prints that exist are not in great shape, it costs money and takes time to fix, and there is not enough perceived interest in the movie to spend that time or money fixing it or making copies or advertising it. The studio behind this franchise would much rather take that money and put it into a brand new movie. But bootleg copies of varying quality have been circulating for years and are a hot seller at conventions. The version I saw was obviously a work print, as it had scratches and some scenes didn’t match others in color or sound level, but overall it looked fine.

The PRODUCER’S CUT is a much better movie and I cannot for the life of me figure out why it did not get released in place of the mess that did. I am guessing it tested poorly and the director probably got a lot of notes about what to change and what to cut out.

The first thing I noticed was the tone and pacing of the movie. It is paced slower and takes its time to build, which works to its advantage, as it is feels darker and lingers in its autumn atmosphere. The entire movie is longer, and it needs to be in order to deal with all the plot threads and character arcs they have going on at once. There are much more dialog scenes, mostly dealing with a retired Sam Loomis writing his memoirs, being conned by his ex-coworker (the “man in black”) into returning to work, and slowly being drawn back into the Haddonfield action. These scenes are NOT boring. Nor are the extended scenes of Paul Rudd explaining fully, in detail, about the Thorn rune and the Cult of Thorn. These scenes with Rudd are vital to understanding the plot, which is why I guess they had to be chopped up, so they’d fit in with the rest of the jumbled crap they were putting together for the theatrical cut. I can just picture some studio guy saying “it’s too long. Nobody wants to sit and listen to all that exposition. Too talky. They don’t care. Get to the action!”

There are several other scenes that were either trimmed down considerably or removed altogether that appear here in the PRODUCER’S CUT. They all work. They all flow. The movie makes much more sense. The biggest difference, however, is the ending. Loomis does not die here. Throughout the movie he grows to realize that his successor at the hospital is “the man in black”, who is trying to draw him back to work not to take over that man’s job at the hospital, but to take over his place within the cult. Loomis has been chosen to lead the cult and there’s nothing he can do about it. After the death of the “man in black”, Loomis looks down at his wrist to see the mark of Thorn etched there. It works in context of the film and works much better than the scene they used.

If you can find it, I recommend seeing the PRODUCER’S CUT instead of or before you see HALLOWEEN 6. It’s much more satisfying, makes more sense, and feels more like a HALLOWEEN movie.

-Michael Salemi

This bizarre 1974 Spanish/Italian co-production from director Jorge Grau has been held in high regard over the years as an underground cult classic among horror fans. Sadly the film never reached the widespread audience of similar titles such as George A. Romero’s ‘Night of the Living Dead’, ‘Dawn of the Dead, or Lucio Fulci’s ‘Zombie’. Too bad, because it is in its way just as effective.

As is the case with many European titles, ‘Let Sleeping Corpses Lie’ was released under many different names in different territories. ‘Sleeping Corpses’ was the U.S.A. title, but it was perhaps best known by its U.K. title ‘The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue’. One of the strangest titles was ‘Don’t Open the Window’, which didn’t make a lot of sense in context of the film and its story. It sounds like a slasher title. This one was notable because it inspired the 2007 ‘Grindhouse’ trailer for the non-existent movie ‘Don’t’.

The plot concerns an experimental ultra-sonic pesticide used on farmland in rural English countryside that somehow reanimates the recently dead from a nearby hospital. One of the hippest-looking cats ever happens to be passing through and gets tangled up in the police investigation by a fascistic authoritarian cop who is looking into a murder. Of course the inspector has his eye on Mr. Slick, as he’s got long hair and “faggotty clothes”.  The murder in question is, of course, committed by a zombie, but our man looks like he’s going to take the rap. It’s a big bad case of wrong place, wrong time.  When you’re talking zombies, it’s wrongest place, wrongest time.

To get right to the point, this movie is old-school great. They don’t make them like this anymore. The pacing is relaxed and deliberate (what people of a certain age today will call “slow”. “Whaaaa! For 45 minutes nothing happens! Whaaaa!” Put down the iPad or the iPhone for 5 minutes, and try to focus your eyes. If you’re above the age of 8, there’s no excuse. Sorry, I’m beginning to rant, but it gets to be embarrassing, dammit). There are terrific-looking rural locations here to look at. Everything is lush and green, the dwellings weathered and rustic. The film is thick with atmosphere and the cemetery location is ultra-creepy. The zombies here are classic, slow-moving and dreadful. Their makeup is done just right so that they appear not quite alive but not overly monstrous, either. The effect is perfectly unsettling. There are not too many gore shots in the movie, but the ones that are here are spaced nicely throughout and come at peak times in the story for maximum impact.

I highly recommend ‘Let Sleeping Corpses Lie’. Every horror fan should see this at least once, especially fans of zombie films. There are a few shots in this movie that are absolutely masterful. One of my favorites is the first appearance of the walking dead. It is an unforgettably creepy moment, perfectly captured. I will not describe it here, as its impact comes from the way it is shot and performed. In other words; you gotta see it. Also there is the matter of the ending and the social commentary, in keeping with the times and the place this was made. There is a palpable anti-authoritarian attitude on display here, which I can truly appreciate. And I don’t want to give up the ending, but let me say that if you are at all familiar with early-1970’s cinema, this finale’ fits right in alongside the other countercultural films in approach and attitude, perfectly capturing the climate of the times. Let’s leave it at that.

-Michael Salemi

Well, it looks our Harry Potter is all grown up now, let us have a moment of silence please. Seriously though, it’s good to see Daniel Radcliffe step out of the wizarding world and starring in something like the solemn and creepy, ” Woman in Black”. An excellent start.
The story centers around a young lawyer, Arthur Kipps played by Radcliffe, who is offered a job settling the estate of a recently deceased in a small town far from home. Kipps, who needs to pay bills and take care of his young son accepts not aware of the fact that the town is haunted by an evil spirit that has been taking its revenge out on the children who live there. Of course Kipps arrival resurrects this whole campaign of terror once again.
While this is not a complete scarefest, director James Watkins does an excellent job of giving that somber atmosphere to the film and Radcliffe is fantastic at bringing out the most in his character.  He makes it very believable   that Kipps is a woeful man who lost his wife during childbirth and is struggling with that while trying to be there for his son. There are a few quiet moments in the film where he brings out that pain he’s in and you get a brief glimpse into his and mind and know what it’s like to have loved and lost someone forever.  The fact that there are no overly dramatic effects to make “The Woman in Black” scary is very appealing too. Nothing that will make you jump out of your chair but some very creepy moments throughout that will give you chills down your spine. The  cinematography  is incredible as well, the eeriness of the town and the house will completely draw you in.
This is a solid movie that is dark enough to make you want to keep watching but not so over the top that it comes off as cheesy. They give it a perfect ending too but I will not give that way. You need to go see it for yourself!
-Kate Smith

“Inside” was created by Alexander Bustillo and Julian Maury back in 2007 and to call this movie a horror film would be doing it some serious injustice. This is one of the most gut-wrenching films that I’ve seen in a long time.

It begins with one of the main characters, Sarah, who is involved in a vicious car wreck that ends up killing her husband. Four months later on Christmas Eve,  on the brink of motherhood  and preparing to go into the hospital the next day she decides to stay home and grieve over the death of her husband. She is then visited by a mysterious woman in the middle of the night who says that she is having car trouble and asks her if she can come in to call someone. Suspicious and not being able to see who the person is standing outside refuses which actually provokes this character to tell her that she knows who Sarah is and tries to force her way in. This is when things get fucking crazy. The woman eventually finds her way into the house and proceeds to torment Sarah all through the night and steal her unborn child.

The twists and turns this movie takes are brilliant and there are points in it where you can’t believe that you’re actually see what you’re seeing. What I love here is the raw human emotion. The terror you feel from Sarah is so real that you feel it with her and the anger and force driven behind the other woman completely takes the movie to a whole different level. There is plenty blood to be seen but it’s done intelligently and it’s still not the reason that makes this movie so good and genuine.  The sincerity that comes out from these characters is what draws you in and when you find out why this insane woman is doing what she’s doing it will make your heart ache and maybe even sympathize a little while you’re still absolutely terrified of her.

Going into this you definitely want to remove from your mindset that “Inside” is your average run of the mill horror movie filled with blood and guts. Though it does have that there is so much more involved here. I highly recommend this for anyone  who is ready to break through the barriers of what the normal horror genre offers out to the public today.

-Kate Smith

Stage Fright

Generally slasher films are not my favorite kinds of horror films. However, if done with visual style and a clever script, they can rise above the narrow formulaic confines of the subgenre, which are, in my humble opinion, mostly uninspired and monotonous. For example: Dario Argento’s Tenebre (1982), Opera (1987), and Deep Red (1975), John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), and Bob Clark & Roy Moore’s Black Christmas (1974). I would undoubtedly add to this short list of genre gems Michael Saovi’s directorial debut ‘Stage Fright’, from 1987.

Saovi began his career as a protégé of Argento and as an actor, but is best known for his visually sumptuous ‘Cemetery Man’ (aka ‘Dellamorte Dellamore’), starring a young Rupert Everett. Also to his credit are the difficult to find and little-seen ‘The Sect’ (which starred Jamie Lee Curtis’ little sister, Kelly), and the Argento-produced ‘The Church’, intended to be the third part of the ‘Demons’ movies, which is an interesting but flawed film, notable for its visuals but thin on plot. I am not sure what became of Michael Saovi. I am not aware of any recent films as writer or director.

‘Stage Fright’ is his tightest, most intense and suspenseful movie to date. The Argento influence is most prevalent here, as it is incredibly stylish, beautifully photographed, and retains a perfect balance of gore and noir mystery until the last frame.  Saovi’s handling of the bloodletting (of which there is ample!), the vibrant colors, and the pacing of the movie at times makes it take on a surreal, dreamlike quality. It isn’t anything on the level of ‘Suspiria’, but enough to create a few unforgettable images.

The plot centers around a Broadway-like production which is in dress rehearsal in a small warehouse-like actor’s workshop, complete with full stage, lights, dressing rooms. A fussy director is in the process of putting his group of uptight, argumentative actors through their paces, when they suddenly realize that they have been locked inside and the keys are missing. The musical play they are working on features a masked killer of women. What none of them realize is that a real crazed killer has slipped into the building and donned the killer’s costume from the show! All hell then breaks loose. One thing I found interesting here is that unlike most slasher films, where the killer stalks his victims one by one and the others are slow to realize people are missing until it’s too late and the climactic moment comes, this particular madman has no problem laying siege to the entire group at once! There are great sequences of several people locked in a room hiding as the killer attacks, drawing blood any which way he can on whoever he can reach. Alternately, he will also stealthily stalk isolated victims one at a time. But either way, he is bold and does not seem to mind who sees him. It’s as if in his mind it’s a foregone conclusion that they are dead, so what difference does any of it make? This killer is mysterious, clever, quite mad, and very creepy.

There are scenes of great tension in this movie, and a few fantastic individual shots. Saovi has quite an eye for detail which would make Argento proud. There is a sequence of such power in this that I must make special mention of it, where the killer creates his own “scene” onstage toward the end using the remains of his “fellow actors”. It is an absolutely stunning sequence, almost like a performance art piece, shot in silence, with barely a movement but for feathers floating through the air and an incessantly meowing cat, being held and slowly stroked by the killer’s bloody hand. It is so beautifully staged and shot but at the same time so gruesomely twisted.

Finally, this movie has one of the most interesting and creepy killers of all slasherdom. He wears a black suit and a full head owl mask of feathers and sewn on plastic eyes. It’s quite odd, unnerving, and effective. Overall, this is one of the better slasher films out there. The well-written script alone puts it far above any of the Friday The 13ths. As this is an Italian production, the English dubbing leaves something to be desired, but I’ve seen worse. It doesn’t take away from the plot or ruin the performances, as sometimes happens with European and Asian films.

This is an underrated gem deserved to be seen by more slasher fans.  Seek out ‘Stage Fright’, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

-Michael Salemi

Fleshgod-Apocalypse-Labyrinth-620x620-604x604

Fleshgod Apocalypse

“Labyrinth”

Nuclear Blast Records

2013

 

  1. 1.       Kingborn
  2. 2.       Minotaur (The Wrath of Poseidon)
  3. 3.       Elegy
  4. 4.       Towards the Sun
  5. 5.       Warpledge
  6. 6.       Pathfinder
  7. 7.       The Fall of Asterion
  8. 8.       Prologue
  9. 9.       Epilogue
  10. 10.   Under Black Sails
  11. 11.   Labyrinth

 

        Fleshgod Apocalypse is a fantastic Italian technical death metal group that I’ve had the pleasure of stumbling upon just recently. Symphonic and atmospheric, Fleshgod delivers metal in a brutal and melodic way that appeal to the lovers of metal everywhere. Their compositions are intelligent and complex and just sweep you in when you listen to them. I was given a promo copy of “Agony” back in 2011 and I can remember being completely blown away from the power of their music and vocals,  the lyrics holding abstract concepts of temptation and sin. Their latest album, “Labyrinth” holds a similar concept but more involved with tales of the myth of Asterion and the Minotaur of Knossos.

Fleshgod+Apocalypse+fleshgod2010

“Labyrinth” attacks head on with their first track “”Kingborn” with double guitars, blastbeats and just shredding vocals, you know what to expect from these guys and they do not fail on their delivery. They have taken up the classical compositions and operatic singing to the surface more on this album than they did on “Agony” which makes the tracks all that more atmospheric. During songs such as “The Fall of Asterion” you can imagine costumed actors performing on stage while the band is down in the musician’s pit playing furiously in their shredded tuxedos giving you a full death metal opera.

Just over the short period of time that I’ve been listening to Fleshgod Apocalypse I can tell that they are becoming masters of their craft and will just continue to grow and deliver masterpieces such as “Labyrinth”. I look forward to hearing what they create for us in the years to come!

-Kate Smith

thCAZYEGR9

The Lords of the New Church

Lords Prayer

In the 1980’s The Lords of the New Church was a unique band that mixed 70’s punk with the emerging Gothic sound and 60’s garage and psychedelic into their dark rock ‘n roll style, also touching upon many social and political themes but without preaching.

Their debut album in 1982 is a classic and their best ever. They never managed to live up to the promise of that powerful piece of apocalyptic darkness. But their third album, ‘The Method to Our Madness’, is a close second. It’s their most hard rocking record, as well as the most diverse in style and texture. There are acoustic guitars, saxophone, pianos, female backing vocals, and a wide range of approaches from very dark minimalist deathrock to straight-up blasting hard rock. It’s really too bad because this band should have been much bigger than they were and they only recorded a few records before collapsing.

‘Lords Prayer’ is a 2-disc set of live material released in 2002. (Another set, ‘Lords Prayer 2’, emerged in 2003 and contains a live show and rare B-sides and demo material).

The first disc was recorded in various venues during the 1988 tour, after Nick Turner left the band and Danny Fury replaced him on drums. Also Grant Fleming had quit, to be replaced by the Lords original bassist, Dave Tregunna, returning after his stint with the short lived Cherry Bombz. The second disc was recorded at a show in Zurich in January of 1985.

At different stages of The Lords of the New Church’s career they could sound very different live, depending upon when and where you saw them. I happened to catch them 4 times between 1985 and 88, and each time was a unique experience, but equally intense and satisfying. Sometimes they employed a keyboard player, giving the sound a smooth, flowing feel which highlighted the psychedelic and danceable pop/new wave side of their sound. Other times they had a second guitarist on hand and it was an absolute roaring cacophony of rock n roll hell. Pure frenzied energy. Yet other times it was the 4 core members, giving the tunes a stripped-down, post-punk/garage rock vibe.

Disc one has a varied collection of songs, including the singles ‘Lords Prayer’ and ‘Gun Called Justice’, plus the song ‘Mindwarp’, which was featured in the ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre part 2’ soundtrack. There is an excellent rollicking version of The Kinks ‘You Really Got Me’, which is dedicated to the tax collectors of London, and the song ‘Happy Birthday’, dedicated to their drummer (’cause it was his birthday!). This is the only place I’ve been able to find a recording of ‘New Church’ with ‘Dreams and Desires’ inserted into the middle of it, which they used to do live most of the time. I wish they would have done a studio version, but this live version is just great. The sound quality is decent, and the performances are tight and energetic.

Disc 2 is the real gem in this collection. This is worth the money all by itself. The Lords complete show on 1/19/85. They were at the top of their career then and sounding incredible. What a show! The set list is pretty much perfect, and draws songs from every album, but leaning heavily on ‘The Method to Our Madness’, as it was new at the time.

The show runs an hour and 13 minutes, the sound quality is not as clear and crisp as disc one, so you need to turn it up louder, which you’ll want to do anyway! The performance from the band, after a bit of a sloppy start, is tight and just fantastic. The mix is dialed in and spot on after a couple songs and by track 3, it’s rockin’ non-stop. This show contains the best version of ‘Gun Called Justice’ I’ve heard. It must be considered the quintessential version. In fact I hereby declare it so. Other standout tracks are a really evil sounding version of ‘The Seducer’, ‘Murder Style’, ‘Dance with Me’ (This was never a favorite LNC song, but here I like it. This is a really good version), and ‘When the Blood Runs Cold’, which on record didn’t grab me. It was an old-fashioned pop sounding thing inspired by those old 50’s/60’s ballads (but of course done in murderous LNC style), and too soft for my tastes at the time. I didn’t quite get it. But here, on this disc, it’s chilling. Man is it good. I could go on, describing each track, but let me say that I highly recommend this CD. Great post-punk, great rock n roll, great live album.

This particular CD is pricey and increasingly hard to find. But good news:

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on Tuesday January 8, 2013 a Lords 4-disc box set entitled ‘Gospel Truth’ is being released. I will point you in the direction of that particular item and confidently say that you will not be disappointed. Brian James and Stiv Bators helped pioneer punk with The Damned and Dead Boys in the 70’s, then spearheaded the move toward dark post-punk in the early 80’s with LNC. If you are at all into punk or alt/underground music of that era, check out this influential band that deserves a lot of credit.

-Michael Salemi

 MINISTRY

Image

RELAPSE, 2012

  1. Ghouldiggers
  2. Double Tap
  3. Freefall
  4. Kleptocracy
  5. United Forces
  6. 99 Percenters
  7. Relapse
  8. Weekend Warrior
  9. Get U Get Out n’ Vote
  10. Bloodlust
  11. Relapse Defibrillator Mix

When Al Jourgensen revamped Ministry and came out swinging harder, louder, and angrier than he had in years with ‘Animositisomina’ in 2003, he had begun a five-year plan that was not widely known outside his inner circle of conspirators and collaborators. The plan was to work non-stop harder than he had in his life, leaving a series of albums saying everything he had left to say to the world, then disappear forever.  He did exactly that, with one crushing release after another , such as ‘Houses of the Mole’ and ‘Rio Grande Blood’, each followed by massive touring schedules, remix albums, covers albums (‘Cover Up’, ‘Every Day is Halloween: Greatest Tricks’) , culminating with the releases of a final studio album, ‘The Last Sucker’, and the live farewell CD/DVD ‘Adios…Puto Madre’. It was 2008. Five years of the most intense and consistent work of Jourgensen’s life had passed, and he kept his word; he walked away.

As a Ministry fan since the time of ‘The Land of Rape and Honey’ in 1988, I was saddened to see the project come to an end. There have not been many bands as cutting edge, as interesting, as confrontational, or as influential as Ministry. But I understood the decision and I respected it. Al was turning 50, not in the best of health, and he did not want to end up being one of those acts who continued to put out increasingly mediocre and uninspired albums. He did not want to end his career as a nostalgia act, touring around to play all the greatest hits and go through the motions without energy or passion at 60 yrs old. That, to him, was a nightmare. He wished to quit with gas left in the tank, and I completely understand and respect it. I’d do the same. Having said that, I was still sorry that it was over, that there would be no more albums or tours. I cannot imagine my younger years without Ministry or, for that matter, Revolting Cocks and Lard.

Four years on, without warning, Ministry is back. ‘Relapse’ comes out of the blue, and I welcome it as a pleasant and unexpected surprise.

The cover does not exactly intrigue me, nor does it fit in with the aesthetic of past Ministry releases, which usually featured magick symbols, masonic images, or a throw-back style paying homage to DIY hardcore  punk , utilizing cut and paste of photos and different lettering in stark black, grey, and white. ‘Relapse’ boasts a photo of a chubby man passed out in vomit, broken beer bottles and pills lying around him, and marijuana smoke in the air. Luckily the music inside is mostly better than the cover.

One thing that slightly disturbs be about all of the post-‘Animositisomina’ releases is a slight formulaic feel to the structure of the music and a hint of, for lack of a better term, a “Nu Metal” vibe. This release is no exception. Most of Ministry’s experimental strangeness is long gone, having been replaced by fast, tightly-structured jams that flow like punk but chug like thrash. Ministry of long past (‘The Mind is a Terrible Thing…to Taste, Psalm 69) had a bombastic, cinematic quality to it. It was as much “industrial” as it was metal. Nowdays it’s metal with a few samples thrown in here and there. Don’t get me wrong, ‘No W’ from ‘Houses of the Mole’ , ‘Khyber Pass’ from ‘Rio Grande Blood’, and their version of ‘What a Wonderful World’ are on par with anything they’d ever done.  But taken as a whole, the sound has changed dramatically. Time will do that (so will everyone under the sun ripping off your sound).

‘Relapse’ has a real “classic rock” vibe to it that might not be evident upon first listen, but it is there; in many of the guitar licks, some of the riffs, and one of the solos. It is buried under the wall of furious barking vocals, blazing drums, and thunderous bass. But after a few listens the old-school rock influence begins to rise to the surface. It is also “punkier” in places than on anything since the late 80’s records. ‘The Last Sucker’ featured the terrific ‘Die in a Crash’, which was basically Al’s take on a punk song. This one has some of the same types of catchy rhythms and grooves. There’s a sense here of a band just having fun amidst all the political and social outrage. For example, there is a cover version of the classic S.O.D. song ‘United Forces’, and it comes off quite well. One of the best tracks here is the opener, ‘Ghouldiggers’, which takes a broad swipe at managers, lawyers, executives, and others in the music biz who seem to believe the artists they handle are worth a lot more to them dead than alive because they can milk their legends in infinitum for mass fortunes. ‘Double Tap’ tells the tale of the hunt and assassination of Osama Bin Laden. It is track 2, and also one of the strongest tracks here. Track 3, ‘Freefall’, is also on the plus side, giving this album a really strong opening.  It isn’t until ‘Kleptocracy’ that things begin to feel a bit stale. A feeling like you’ve been here before starts to set in. Luckily ‘United Forces’ comes next to pick things up again. From there out it’s a mixed bag. Not great but definitely not awful. There are some inspired moments and some genuine anger that grabs your attention, such as the title track, where Al screams at the top of his lungs “I relapse, you laugh”. The only one song that I can truly say I do not like at all and could have been left out all together is ‘Get up Get Out n’ Vote’.

Overall I do recommend this if you’re a fan of the recent Ministry. If you’re a fan of the old, weirder Ministry, there’s always the remix albums. I’m sure there will be one for ‘relapse’ forthcoming. For me, it’s just nice to have them back and to have some music I was truly never expecting.

-Michael Salemi

cobra

Cobra Verde

Francois Truffaut once called Werner Herzog the world’s greatest living film director. A persuasive argument could certainly be made to support that statement.

I first saw COBRA VERDE (also known as SLAVE COAST) on a bad VHS copy years ago. At the time I didn’t know that this 1987 Herzog/Kinski collaboration existed, so when I happened to stumble across it, I couldn’t wait to watch it. This film was the final and least seen of their work together, and went for years without a proper video release until Anchor Bay did it justice on DVD with audio commentary and remastered image and sound.

As with most Werner Herzog films, the story behind its making is as interesting as the film itself, and can be found in the exceptional documentary MY BEST FIEND.

When I think of COBRA VERDE two images first come to mind:

1. The opening 360-degree pan across a barren, cracked desert strewn with dead animals and skulls ending with Klaus Kinski glaring madly up into the camera, his life in ruins due to his small ranch being destroyed by drought.

2. Kinski stepping off a rowboat into the African surf for the first time, wearing a black coat and hat, his white hair blowing in the wind, looking like some lunatic version of Napoleon as he observes the decaying Elmina Castle that he’ll be living in.

The film is based upon Bruce Chatwin’s 1980 novel THE VICEROY OF QUIDAH and tells the story of notorious South American bandit Francisco Manoel de Silva, known as “Cobra Verde”, who is sent to Africa to restart the slave trade and ends up leading an army of native women in an uprising to overthrow a local king. But Africa is cruel to its andiginous peoples and even more so to its strangers. As the story progresses it looks more and more like a suicide mission for Cobra Verde.

The Herzog essentials are here: a character existing on the extreme far edge of civilization, a view of unforgiving landscapes shot in stylized fashion, the exploration of language, customs, and rituals of obscure and faraway places and isolated peoples, and an intense central performance with a main character trying to accomplish an impossible task.
Of utmost importance in the Herzog universe is the blending of fiction and reality: his documentaries are all quite stylized and directed, just as his fictional films contain a capturing of real events happening as you see them and included as part of the fictional narrative. The use of non-actors, even in major roles, also contributes to this infusion of an edge of truth and purity to the films; honesty rarely witnessed in cinema.

fitzcarraldo                   (Herzog and Kinski discuss a scene)
There is no one else who makes films quite like Werner Herzog. Each of his movies is unique. None are bad. You may like some better than others, but all of them deserve to be seen. In this age of big-budgeted remakes and sequels with bad acting and CGI effects, for me all of Herzog’s movies are priceless treasures and essential viewing.

-Michael Salemi

Frankenweenie-post-2

Frankenweenie
Directed by: Tim Burton
2012

Back in the mid-80’s Tim Burton made a thirty minute live action Frankenstein comedy in which a young boy named Victor Frankenstein retrieves his dog Sparky from the local cemetery where he was buried using the same experiment that his ancestor and namesake used. If you watch the special features section on “The Nightmare Before Christmas” dvd you’ll be able to see it. Burton has returned to this project using his original drawings and turned it into a full length movie that pays tribute to the classic gothic horror films he loved in his youth.

In the film Victor considers himself an outcast. He loves doing his science projects, making monster movies, and especially his dog Sparky. Tragedy strikes when Sparky runs out into the road during a baseball game that Victor’s dad pushes him into participating in and is accidentally hit by a car and killed. Victor feels completely lost until his science teacher inspires him during an experiment that involves a frog and electricity and decides to try his own experiment on Sparky up in his attic and it actually works!

Everything is fine until his friend Edgar sees that Sparky is alive and forces Victor to show him how he did it. Edgar then proceeds to spill the secret to his classmates and of course everyone wants in, hoping to come in first place at the upcoming science fair. That’s when things go horribly wrong. The pets that the classmates decide to do their experiments on turn evil, retaliate against them and attack everyone at the New Holland town fair. If you can imagine evil sea monkeys, a gigantic turtle and a vampire cat (Mr. Whiskers!) then you get the idea.

This is a great film that I can watch again and again. My favorite character is the eccentric, wide-eyed girl who is nicknamed “Weird Girl” and her cat Mr. Whiskers who dreams about the kids in town before something major happens to them and then poops out the first initials of their name into the litter box as a sign. “Mr. Whiskers had a dream about you aaaaaand when Mr. Whiskers has a dream about you thaaaaat means something big is going to happen”. Quote from Weird Girl herself.

You can tell that Burton put his heart into this project and brings it fully to life on the screen. He brings back some of our old favorites like Winona Ryder to play the voice of Elsa Van Helsing, the mayor’s niece and Victor’s next door neighbor. You will really have a lot of fun watching “Frankenweenie”, Burton knows how to make every one of his movies unique and memorable. I fully recommend you going out and picking up a copy.

-Kate Smith

pitandthependulumt

(Original poster art)

The Pit & the Pendulum, 1991.

This film was originally a more ambitious mid-budget project set to star Sherilyn Fenn, Billy Dee Williams, and Peter O’ Toole as Torquamada. Midway through pre-production the project collapsed due to financial and political battles with the studio. The movie almost didn’t get made at all, but fortunately director Stuart Gordon (ReAnimator, From Beyond, Castle Freak) was able, through sheer force of will and a passion for the project, to keep it alive, although with a much smaller budget and different cast (The only actor remaining from the original cast is Jeffrey Combs).
I saw this film several times upon its release in 1991, and loved it. I always remembered it and wanted to buy a copy on video, but it was out of print for many years. It did appear on DVD a few years ago but it was only available as part of the Stuart Gordon box set and could not be found as an individual release. Now, finally, somebody has put it out on DVD. It’s widescreen and the picture quality isn’t bad. I wish they’d have used the original cover art, though. This had an excellent poster. I can’t figure out why a lot of companies don’t use the original movie artwork on the DVD release, instead opting to use cheap looking photoshopped graphics or close-up photos of actors taken from the film. It looks terrible. But that’s a small complaint. The film itself is just as good as I remember. It has stood the test of time and doesn’t feel dated at all. In fact I think I appreciate it more now than back in the day. (Note: I have to give props to Shout! Factory for their original DVD box art. They are a company who puts effort and care into their releases. The covers are drawings by terrific artists and they really capture the spirit of each release).
The movie takes place in Spain during the Inquisition and tells the story of the Grand Inquisitor, Torquemada, superbly portrayed by Lance Henriksen in one of his most intense performances. He and his cohorts spend their days torturing heretics, blasphemers, and witches; to death most of the time. One day he comes into possession of a beautiful young baker’s wife, who happens to be pious and pure; a true Christian (as opposed to the monsters of the Inquisition). He falls in love with her, but cannot deal with these feelings. Chaos and upheaval ensue. She is an accused witch and he is torn between saving her and letting the torturers have her. He must take out his feelings of love and sexual attraction through self-mutilation and the torture of others. The film is a headlong descent into brutality and madness, fueled by a twisted religious zeal mixed with a sexual obsession.


Stuart Gordon manages to put every penny of his small budget on the screen. It looks fantastic, with big castle sets, dungeons, nasty torture devises, and decent costumes that look realistic and lived in. The torture scenes are well done, rough, and feature good practical FX. The supporting cast is very strong, with Tom Towles (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Night of the Living Dead ’90), Oliver Reed (The Devils), and the aforementioned Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator, The Frighteners).
Mainly the two things that stand out for me are the really strong script (by Dennis Paoli) and the intense, reptilian, almost Nosferatu-like performance of Lance Henriksen. If you’re a fan of Gordon films, Edgar Allan Poe, Jeffrey Combs, or Henriksen, I say don’t pass this one up.

-Michael Salemi

 

“Lords of Chaos:

The Bloody Rise of the

Satanic Metal Underground”

Written By: Michael Moynihan

And Dedrik Soderlind

“Lords of Chaos” written by Michael Moynihan and Dedrik Soderlind is a nonfiction account of the early Norwegian black metal scene focusing mostly on the band Mayhem, Varg of Burzum’s trial, the murder of Euronymous, the chain of church burnings that occurred throughout Norway in 1993 and different views on Satanism and Christianity. The first few chapters give an outline of the progression of earlier rock and metal bands like Black Sabbath, Coven and Black Widow up to Bathory, Venom and Mercyful Fate and finally onto early black Norwegian black metal bands such as Mayhem, Darkthrone and Burzum.

Moynihan and Soderlind continue on to the suicide of Mayhem’s frontman Dead and Euronymous’s plan to take control of the extreme underground scene with his label Deathlike Silence Productions and his record shop “Helvete”, the Norse word for Hell. A lot of members in this circle became connected with a series of crimes starting with the arson of the Fantoft Stave Church in 1992. There are some really interesting interviews with Varg about the church’s role in general in religion as well as his view of the church burnings in Norway and his part in them. Moynihan and Soderlind then go into the murder of a homosexual man that the former member of Emperor, Faust, committed and the murder of Euronymous that Varg was responsible for. Both are pretty in depth and an interesting account of what happened as well as their views as to why they happened.

Also included in the book is a short biography about Varg, his beliefs and ideals and an interesting part in “Lords of Chaos” that talks about Satanism and black metal and what the connection is. In an interview with Anton Lavey he talks about what exactly Satanism is, what it stands for and how he felt how it was somewhat misrepresented in the black metal community.

There had been some controversy when the book was released over whether there had been some misrepresentation of what the musicians had said during the interviews, mostly from Varg, and other information in the book. Accusations of things been taken out of context, misunderstood or twisted around but it seems to me that both Moynihan and Soderlind did a great deal of research to deliver a solid foundation of information for the reader. If you’re looking to learn more about the underground Norwegian black metal scene then “Lords of Chaos” is definitely for you.

-Kate Smith

Night of the Living Dead

Behind the scenes of the most terrifying zombie movie ever

By Joe Kane

Plus original screenplay by John Russo

Aurum Press, London and Citadel Press, N.Y. 2010

 

Zombies have existed in movies for many generations. They were always the traditional voodoo zombies; slaves without will of their own ruled by one master and made to do his bidding, whether it is working the plantation fields or the killing of an enemy. In 1968, George A. Romero, John Russo, Bill Hinzmann, Russ Streiner and co-conspirators changed zombies forever. What we think of today when we think of the zombie in cinema: a flesh-eating corpse recently raised from the grave, began with ‘Night of the Living Dead’. This fascinating book is an account of how that film came to be, its long winding road to the screens of the world and subsequent impact on the culture.

 

The impact and importance of this film to cinema and to the horror genre and community in particular cannot be easily measured. I am glad to see that someone has collected, in one place and time, the thoughts, memories, and anecdotes, trials and tribulations of all those involved in this important work of art. There are also rare behind-the-scenes photos that I have never seen before. Then there is the original screenplay by John “Jack” Russo.

 

It is interesting to see how different the final film is from the original script. Much was changed on set, either by Romero, out of necessity, or through improvisation. Characters are different (most notably Ben, played brilliantly by Duane Jones, who was originally written as a white redneck trucker), explanations for the zombie plague are given (which were thankfully removed in the final film, although hinted at). The screenplay is good, although quite a different beast. The finished movie is much better, and a lot of that had to do with Romero’s strong directing and terrific editing. Much of the dialog was changed and drastically improved during filming through rewrites and improv.

 

Kane goes on to cover, in less thorough detail but just as interesting, the stories behind the making of ‘Dawn of the Dead’ (1978) and ‘Day of the Dead’ (1985). There is a brief overview of Romero’s non-‘Dead’ films and career, such as ‘Creepshow’ (1982) and ‘Bruiser’ (2000. Featuring The Misfits, for whom he shot a music video as well. The band also makes a cameo in the movie).

 

Little space is given to ‘Land of the Dead’, ‘Diary of the Dead’, and ‘Survival of the Dead’, but they are covered briefly in passing. The majority of the book deals with ‘Night’ in the first half and its script in the second with a photo section in between.

In my opinion George A. Romero has always been an underrated director of brilliant style and concepts, imaginative, opinionated, and thought-provoking. He has been even more undervalued as a writer. The couple novels he’s written are quite good, but I am mostly referring to his scripts, which are, for the most part; fantastic.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed this quick, easy, and fact-packed read. Find it and buy it. Highly recommended for Romero Heads and Horror Hounds as well as for those interested in film history.

-Michael Salemi

Dark Mountain

By Richard Laymon

I really liked the structure of this novel. It’s broken down into three different and distinctive acts, similar to a movie script.

In the first segment, two families go out camping together in the woods, where they run afoul of an old woman and her very large, strange son, who happens to be a homicidal killer and rapist. The woman doesn’t seem to be so evil. She spends most of her time trying to keep her son from hurting others, which he does uncontrollably. They are hiding out in the wilderness after he had killed someone in Fresno, forcing them to flee their home. When the son tries to attack the camping families, they kill him with a hatchet, setting his mother off on a mission of revenge. There’s a really good sequence where the group wakes up in the middle of the night to find their tents slashed with a sharp blade and each of them has been cut across the forehead and a lock of hair taken. Suddenly the old woman appears on a rock, informing them that she’s put a death curse on them all. Of course, they don’t believe her. After dealing with the authorities about the killing (self defense), they go home.

The second chunk of the story deals with the two families after their return from the mountains. One of the kids is paranoid, as he believes in the curse, but everybody else has forgotten about it, until things begin to happen. There are nightmares, ghostly apparitions, dog attacks, near drowning’s, all manner of increasing nastiness which does not let up. It becomes obvious that something nefarious is happening. The curse is at work! Everything  leads up to a terrible auto accident, which is the last straw, and the group decides they must find the old witch and end the curse by ending her!

The third and final act has a few characters from each family (those still up and around, who have not yet been too badly injured) heading back into the mountains. There’s a fairly satisfying final confrontation and a lot of suspense. The climactic scenes take place almost completely in and underwater, and they are extremely tense and well-written.

This is fast, easy reading, and the last third is a real page-turner. There are a few gripping sequences and a couple memorable characters you learn to care about. Richard Laymon is skilled at writing good, strong female characters, which populate all of his works.

I like the tone of this book. It’s not really horror. It reads more like adventure/suspense, and the bad guys are not so over-the-top bad, which is a refreshing change of pace. The good guys are just really normal middle class people that you can understand and relate to. They aren’t Rambo’s or James Bond’s or trained fighters or anything exciting, which makes their trip back into the woods more frightening and a possible suicide mission.

-Michael Salemi

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METALION

The Slayer Mag Diaries

Jon Kristiansen

Edited by Tara G. Warrior

This was an awesome and unexpected birthday gift from Kate. Thanks again! I’ve wanted this huge coffee table book for quite some time. This thing is thick and heavy enough to knock somebody out with.

‘METALION, The Slayer Mag Diaries’ collects every issue of the legendary underground Slayer fanzine from Norway that was published throughout the 1980’s and 90’s. There are some recent issues as late as 2010 (which are of course included in this book), but its greatest and lasting impact was definitely the stuff from the early days. Metalion is a Norwegian guy who was around through the explosion of Swedish Death Metal and the rise of Black Metal in Norway. He knew all the bands and would interview them as well as attend the shows of all the touring bands that passed through from England and mainland Europe.

Back in those pre-internet days there was a large underground tape trading network where bands, promoters, small labels, and fanzines would make contacts all around the world and the underground sounds of extreme music that could not get exposure elsewhere could distribute their music and build an international fan base. It was a special and unique moment in time before this kind of music became a popular and trendy “commodity” sold by major labels with big money and music videos, large festivals, etc. There was no money back then and just to get each issue of Slayer out was a major accomplishment. The legendary Mayhem show of 1990 in sarpsborg (the ‘Dawn of the Black Hearts’ gig) was a benefit show to raise money for Slayer Mag. This remains one of, if not the, most important show in the history of Black Metal, as it set the template for the look and the live presentation of modern BM. Many of those in the audience were so awe-struck that they either formed BM bands of their own or were influenced to move from Death Metal into a more Black Metal style. From there the Norwegian scene grew bigger and bigger. Metalion was there to document it all.

If you are at all interested in Grindcore, Thrash Metal, Death Metal, Black Metal, Power Metal, or old-school straight-up Heavy Metal, this book is endlessly fascinating, as you get to see pictures and read interviews with so many excellent bands back when they were young and just starting out. It’s fun to see bands such as Sodom and Napalm Death looking like young kids and sounding excited and enthusiastic as they look ahead at their futures. Also it’s a great snapshot of where each band is at that particular moment in their lives when they are interviewed. There are rare flyers and advertisements for Bathory’s early releases and Mayhem’s debut, ‘Deathcrush’.  If you can think of a metal band, chances are you will find them here. Mercyful Fate, Warlock, Slayer, Metallica, Carnivore, Voivod, Possessed, Venom, Morbid Angel, Death, Bolt Thrower, Burzum, Abruptum, Immortal, Impaled Nazarene, Destroyer 666, Darkthrone, Emperor, Impiety, on and on and on……………

This is essential reading.

-Michael Salemi

Mine

By Robert R. McCammon

McCammon was a newspaper reporter in the 1970’s. But he always dreamed of being a novelist. After working at the paper all day he’d go home to his cramped little apartment in downtown Birmingham, Alabama, with a second-story view of a brick wall of the building next door, and he’d write all night long. His first few attempts can be considered noble failures; intriguing but lacking, baring all the marks of a beginner. In other words, thin of plot and character, but with good ideas. There was ‘Baal’, ‘Bethany’s Sin’, and a short story collection called ‘Blue World’. I found things I liked in each of these, but they were ultimately forgettable, especially in light of what was to follow. After the first few, McCammon really hit his stride as a horror writer, cranking out fantastic novels throughout the mid-1980’s and into the early-90’s.  He created some of the best works of horror fiction to be found on any bookshelf with stunners like the alien invasion sci-fi/horror ‘Stinger’, the World War II spy mixed with werewolf story, ‘The Wolf’s Hour’, ‘The Night Boat’, about a Nazi submarine discovered washed ashore on a tropical island whose inhabitants happen to be not quite dead yet! The fantastic ‘Mystery Walk’, which is best described as similar to the TV show ‘Medium’, only with a young Native American boy protagonist instead of Patricia Arquette. ‘They Thirst’ was his stab at the vampire novel, and it was an excellent addition to the genre. His epic end-of-the-world fantasy/horror ‘Swan Song’ was a towering achievement, quite similar to Stephen King’s ‘The  Stand’, but in some ways even better! That’s saying a lot, as ‘The Stand’ is one of my favorite novels. Then came ‘Usher’s Passing’, followed by ‘Mine’. After ‘Mine’ McCammon moved away from horror. He created what is widely considered his masterwork, the semi-autobiographical ‘Boy’s Life’, which I believe every reader, no matter what genre you prefer, should read. It is a rewarding experience you won’t forget. There are others, such as the massive colonial-era mystery ‘Thus Speaks the Nightbird’. After that he did not write for a long time. He came back now and then with sequels to ‘Nightbird’ and a couple others, but I have not read them. I am more interested in his earlier, horror-based output.

The last of McCammon’s horror phase, and the most recent I have read, is ‘Mine’. This book has an interesting premise, and it’s one I’ve often thought about, having grown up in the San Francisco Bay Area, which was ground zero for radicals, protesters, revolutionaries and counterculture-types of all description. Have you ever wondered what became of those people out there on the extreme edge of political struggle in the 1960’s? They were smart, educated, but could not and did not want to ever fit in or have anything to do with “straight” society. This novel deals with just that idea. When you have dedicated your life to a battle, you were willing to kill and to die for it, but your side lost, where do you go? How do you live?

‘Mine’ follows a series of leftover survivors from a 60’s radical revolutionary movement called Storm Front Brigade. They were similar to Weather Underground or Black Panther Party, but much more violent and dangerous. They had no problem killing anyone they saw as serving “the mindfuck state”; police, lawyers, businessmen, and anyone who happened to be unlucky enough to get in the way. They set off bombs, engaged in shootouts, and landed themselves atop the FBI’s most wanted list.

Things came to a fiery end for the Storm Front on July 2nd, 1972, two days before a planned bombing of the Statue of Liberty, whom they dubbed “the weeping lady”. Police and FBI located their hideout in New Jersey in a nondescript house and descended on it. Following their rule never to be taken alive, the Storm Front engaged the police with an arsenal of dynamite, grenades, and shotguns. Most of the Front were killed, a few arrested, and a few escaped as the house erupted into an inferno.

By the late 1980’s the Storm Front survivors had put their radical pasts behind them. They’d changed their names, found jobs, families; some had surgery to alter their faces. All had wizened and felt quite guilty, always looking over their shoulders, waiting to be recognized. All of them haunted. All but one, who had never given up the fight, Mary Terrell, aka Mary Terror. Mary Terror is a six-foot tall and strong woman, a dangerous and delusional psychopath. Mentally she is still in the 60’s and still fighting “the system”.  She lives in a hallucinatory world of memories, filled with murderous rage, waiting and watching for a sign from Lord Jack, the once great Storm Front leader, that will bring them all back together again to continue their work.

One day, a sign is seen. Mary is certain it is from Lord Jack. He was not only her leader, but her love. When their world came burning down around them in 1972, Mary had been pregnant with Jack’s baby. Due to severe injuries she’d lost the child. Now, after seeing this sign from Jack, she must go find him. But she cannot go to him without his child! She must bring him a baby! He’d be so happy! So, dressed as a nurse, Mary steals a newborn from a nearby hospital and takes off across country to find the elusive and mythical Storm Front leader.

Meanwhile, the baby’s mother, Laura Clayborne, is going out of her mind with grief and panic. Not getting enough help from her cheating, narcissistic husband or the overworked and distracted authorities, Laura strikes out on her own to find Mary and get her baby back. With a small handgun and some cash, she drives out to what could quite likely be her own and her new son’s deaths. 

A harrowing cross country chase ensues, involving ex-Storm Fronters, injured ex-FBI men who were involved in the 1972 incident who have personal vengeance in mind, family members, strangers, friends and foes.

The power of this novel comes from the fact that Laura is a nice, normal, down to earth woman who has never fired a gun or been involved in any sort of violence in her life. She is comfortable, upper-middle class, attractive. Powered by fear, frustration, and pure anger, she finds new elements within herself she never knew were there. A toughness and strength emerge. An ability to fight and survive and if necessary, to kill. It is fantastic to watch Laura chase this six foot tall monster who has killed entire families and ten-year old kids for no reason, who is heavily armed and insane. I love stories like this; where the cold-blooded killer becomes the hunted, becomes scared of the small insignificant person they thought they would kill in once second, without a second thought.

This is a gripping read. I recommend it, along with some of the earlier ones I mentioned.

-Michael Salemi

 

Shock Value
Jason Zinoman
2011

The sixties, seventies and eighties were a great time for the horror genre. Some of the most brilliant and well done movies came out of these eras delivered by some of the greatest  writers, actors and directors out there that surpass those of today who only feel the need to give us shitty remakes and sequels. Yeah, I’m talking about you Michael Bay, so suck it. “Rosemary’s Baby”, “Night of the Living Dead”, “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, “Friday the 13th”, Halloween”, “Carrie”,”The Hills Have Eyes”, “Evil Dead” and lesser known movies by some such as “Legend of Hell House”, “House of the Devil” and “Black Christmas” were all incredible films that were mysterious, intriguing and absolutely terrifying. All were done on low budgets with little or no effects. None of this CGI shit or big explosions or anything like that. Just very simple and effective terror. They made you feel like you were right there with the characters, running and screaming in horror. But these writers and directors have been looked over, undervalued and unappreciated. In fact the horror genre as a whole has been treated that way. It has never been given its proper recognition. If you watch the Oscars or any of those awards shows there is never a horror category. It’s either thriller or suspense, if that, at the most. It’s ridiculous and very frustrating. The men and women of horror are equally talented and should be shown the proper respect and recognition that they deserve.

Jason Zinoman has done just that with his book, “Shock Value”. He gives a very close and introspective look as to what was put into the making of these films as well as the lives of these artists. His writing has a very honest and refreshing approach that mainly focuses on a handful of films that made an impact on the horror genre back then and continue to today. Jason Zinoman excels at his research as to how some of these films came to be, who strong-armed who, who screwed over who and truly what went on behind the scenes. He also gives full detail of the writers and directors so you can get a better idea of why they made the films they did and gives you a much more personal view of them. Such as Brian DePalma, who made greats such as “Sisters” “Phantom of the Paradise”, “Dressed to Kill” and “Carrie”. If you have seen any of his movies then you can tell that a lot of his films have a very voyeuristic feel to him and Zinoman explains that it’s because, as a kid he was following his father around on suspicions from his mother that he was cheating on her. DePalma proved that was the case after walking in on his father in the middle of one of his affairs and gathered enough evidence to clinch the divorce that his mother wanted. Because of that his films are voyeuristic but also leans towards his protection that he felt towards his mother and brothers.

“Night of the Living Dead” is another great example of interpretation as Duane Johnson is casted as the only African-American in this film and the hero as well who is gunned down by the cops in the end. Though George Romero cast him simply because he gave the best performance there was, still a ton of controversy and protest from audiences everywhere when the ending was shown. John Carpenter, gives us fear in it’s purest form with one of the most well done horror films out there, “Halloween”. The character he created, Michael Myers, is a blank slate. He doesn’t speak, he is just a presence that comes out of the shadows and absolutely terrifies you. Why he is so terrifying is because as Mr. Zinoman so eloquently puts it is “it is a sense  that the most frightening thing in the world is the unknown, the inability to understand the monster right in front of your face”.

If there is a hero in this book it is Dan O’Bannon. Constantly sidelined by his peers, O’Bannon was able to leave a lasting legacy in the form of the original script for the amazing film “Alien” (1979) as well as one of the most unforgettable scenes in horror history, where one of the creatures comes bursting out of man’s stomach, inspired by O’Bannon’s struggle with Krohn’s that killed him in 2007.

Jason Zinoman gives great insight throughout the entire book. Though the tendency to ramble on a bit but it is at least interesting rambling and as he does eventually get to the point it’s not something that’s all that problematic. As a fan of horror, I really appreciated learning these stories. I felt like I was able to get to know all of these artists and get a look as to what was really going on in their minds. It also have me an ever bigger appreciation for films that were made in the seventies, brilliant movies that we’re made from almost nothing. Classics that should be used as an example as to what horror films should be like today. If you want to get an inside look like I did then I highly recommend you picking up a copy of “Shock Value” today!

-Kate Smith

By Richard Laymon

The Stake is one of my favorite Laymon novels, alongside Traveling Vampire Show, Night In The Lonesome October, Funland, The Midnight Tour, and Savage. He wrote nearly 40, and I’ve read over 25 as of this review. Of all those books there have only been a couple that I really didn’t care for. Some are better than others, but most of them are worth a read if you enjoy nail-biting suspense, hot and sometimes bizarre sex, extreme violence, and the outright strangeness of off-kilter plots and quirky characters that were Laymon’s special trademarks and gained him a loyal following over 2 ½ decades of publishing.

The Stake tells the story of a writer, his wife, and another couple; friends of theirs who live next door. One afternoon the two couples take a day trip to an old ghost town. While exploring the town they force their way into a boarded and locked up old hotel, where they discover a casket hidden in a secret compartment beneath the stairs. This casket contains the withered, desiccated body of a teenage girl. And someone had driven a stake through her chest!

The writer, having a runaway imagination, can’t stop thinking about this body. How long has she been there? Who put her there? What kind of a person would do that and where are they now? Was she killed with that stake or was it put there after her death? He begins to investigate, and one by one these questions and more are answered. Meanwhile, the writer’s best friend next door talks him into a hair-brained scheme to go back, take the casket, and bring it home where it will be hidden in the garage. The plan is to write a book about the discovery of the “vampire girl”, and to pull the stake at the final climactic moment as the story is wrapped up, getting it on videotape. As things progress, we are never quite sure if she was a vampire or just an innocent high school girl who was murdered by a sicko; a sicko who was obviously convinced she was a vampire.

Eventually we meet a man named Uriah. Uriah turns out to be the character who had killed the girl and, as it turns out, two of  her friends as well, and hidden them throughout the ghost town, convinced they were vampires. Is he out of his mind or does he know something nobody else does? What our two “heroes” don’t realize is that Uriah has seen them come into the ghost town and take the casket. Now Uriah thinks they must be vampires, too! So, in his mind there’s only one thing to do! This leads to a big confrontation (more than one, actually, and it is gripping stuff).

Most of the novel deals with the writer’s obsession for this deceased girl hidden in his garage and also shows his life in detail as a working novelist, which is quite interesting. I imagine Laymon used his own real-life experiences as a model. Also there’s the matter of his smart but naïve teenage daughter, who has a crush on one of her young teachers, who isn’t who he seems to be! The message here is that there are real monsters out there in the world, and they are much worse than those of fiction.

I’m trying to say as much as I can without giving anything away, because you really need to read this to have its full impact. ‘The Stake’ is a great reading experience.

-Michael Salemi

The-Walking-Dead-Book-1-Kirkman-Robert-9781582406190

The Walking Dead Volume 1:
Days Gone Bye
2006
Written by: Robert Kirkman
Illustrated by: Tony Moore and Cliff Rathburn

Apocalyptic devastation has swept across the entire globe. The dead have risen up to walk the earth in search of human flesh to feast upon. In just a matter of months society has crumbled to the ground. There is no government, phones, TV or grocery stores. Everyone has either turned into the living dead or are out there fighting for their lives from them. Rick Grimes, a local sheriff, wakes up in a hospital as one of the survivors but not aware of the terror he is about to face. Just a few months ago he was a cop who had never fired his gun and saw only one dead and now he is going to have to sort through death and destruction in order to find his wife and his son. In a world ruled by the dead all of them will have to find a way to survive.

Being a huge fan of the TV series, I knew it was based upon the comic book but never had a chance to check it out until I got Volume 1: Days Gone Bye as a gift from the lovely Miranda Watson (thank you Miranda, you are awesome!). I was pleasantly surprised to see how different the book is from the show. Neither taking anything away from each other, there are just a few unexpected twists and turns that I really enjoyed. Volume 1 (and apparently up to Volume 6) follows Rick as he wakes up in the hospital and discovers that things have gone horribly wrong. There are dead bodies lying everywhere and what he realizes is even worse, they don’t stay down. They walk, they creep….and they bite. Once Rick finds his family and other survivors they are forced to find shelter before they are overrun by the walking dead and are completely fucked. You are instantly swept up into the story, you hope for the best and are glad when it happens but also dread what is lurking around every corner, car and closet. You never really feel safe. This is also a character driven story that has just as much to do to do with each character dealing with their new reality as it is about action and horror. Naturally, everyone is having a hard time coping and the constant threat of death takes a toll on all of them physically and mentally. The story centers around the question of whether people can remain good in times of crisis or will they just do they need to in order to survive.

The illustration done by Tony Moore and Cliff Rathburn is beautifully done, every emotion is captured and portrayed with true talent. They pay just as much attention and give as much detail to the decaying cityscape as they do to the survivors and the undead.

This is a must read, highly addictive and well written. I myself am excited to get and read the entire series. If volume 1 gives any indication of how good they will be, I don’t anyone will be disappointed!

-Kate Smith

By Richard Laymon

It’s a shame Richard Laymon didn’t live to see this, his second published novel restored to its full-length, uncut and complete. The original editor had removed subplots, trimmed gore sequences, and cut out characters. In other words, it was butchered. To make matters worse, it had a terrible cover slapped onto it. After the critical and sales success of his 1980 debut, ‘The Cellar’, this novel nearly ended his career just as it was beginning.

Laymon was always angry about this book and its treatment. He said more than once that he would have liked to see it fixed, but never thought it would, or even could, happen. Now, after painstaking detective work, his daughter, Kelly, has assembled the pieces using her father’s handwritten notes and original manuscript. She even found a couple pages tucked away in boxes that were unknown to anyone, and I can even go so far as to tell you precisely which those were: the third and second to last pages.

The end result: a similar book as originally published from the beginning until about chapter 6. From there on it’s pretty much a brand new novel. If you read the original; forget it. This version is much better, more intense, more complex, and gorier. It is as close as possible in structure and intent to the original story that the late author had originally envisioned, and I believe he’d have been proud. Kelly’s hard work paid off. she did a great job.

The story of ‘The Woods Are Dark’ is quite simple: a tribe of deformed inbred cannibals who live in an isolated and remote wooded area try to catch city dwellers stranded in the woods, some of whom are going mad and becoming crazier and more dangerous than their pursuers! That sums it up succinctly.

This novel is absolutely crazy, unhinged madness, and I love it. It jumps around from character to character and subplot to subplot, killing off people as it goes, in all manner of gruesome ways. The plot is a bit thin, but it doesn’t really detract from enjoyment of the story because it’s so fast-paced. It throws you in at 100 mph and never slows down. There isn’t much development of character here, just enough so you can understand and relate to them. With each you will either learn to sympathize with or dislike them, and that’s it. Laymon doesn’t go any deeper into character than he needs to here, and there isn’t time anyway, as the story hurtles toward its conclusion at breakneck pace.

This would make a great horror movie. Somebody should’ve made this 25 years ago. It reminds me of The Hills Have Eyes, only with a lot more mutants and much more brutal. There is so much carnage in this book it makes ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ look like a Disney cartoon.

-Michael Salemi

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