A Blaze in the Northern Sky: Music for October (part 6)


Happy Halloween. Hope you enjoy the conclusion to my black metal countdown.


10. Bathory – Bestial Lust
Were I outlining a history of black metal, this song probably wouldn’t make the cut. By mid-80s standards it might be black metal, but by early Bathory standards it’s pretty straight forward thrash. That is, from a stylistic perspective it was already in 1985 a throwback to the genre Bathory had evolved out of. But it’s such an awesome song that, thrash and black metal being so intimately tied in the 80s, I think I can justify it. I considered giving the ten slot to In Conspiracy with Satan instead. Feel free to humor it as the more appropriate choice.


9. Mörk Gryning – Tusen år har gått
When I think of quintessential black metal, stylistically speaking, the first album that comes to mind isn’t In the Nightside Eclipse, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, or any other obvious staple. It’s Mörk Gryning’s 1995 release, Tusen år har gått. This inexplicably forgotten Swedish band managed to capture every stereotype element of black metal perfectly in their debut release. If I personally ever aspired to start a black metal band, this album is what I would try to emulate.


8. Immortal – The Call of the Wintermoon
But when it comes to influence, to the legends go the glory. Immortal gained much of their fame for later works, with Call of the Wintermoon known best for its ridiculous music video, not the song itself. I avoided showing that video for a reason. 1992’s Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism is less noisy than a lot of its contemporaries, and its dark character shines through all the more because of it. This album, and this song especially, set a standard for black metal aesthetics. It’s one of the first to be so distinct from thrash that the influence is no longer immediately apparent.


7. Burzum – Key to the Gate
Varg Vikernes’s works being so album-oriented, I could think of very few individual tracks that maintained their greatness apart from their larger vision. But Key to the Gate always, for me at least, stood apart. The intro is absolutely demented, and yet it progresses into a well-structured song. For me it really captures Varg himself, a mind half brilliant and half warped beyond rationality. In explaining his historic past, Varg has been known to change his story frequently. Sometimes the church burnings, the murder, the primitivism all appears to be part of a rational and not altogether disagreeable plan. Sometimes he reveals himself a racist, homophobic, paranoid imbecile. The 2010 release Belus, his first in over a decade, is in striking contrast to Dissection’s Reinkaos. Following Jon Nödtveidt’s jail term for murdering a homosexual African man, his creative genius had left him. His next album was a failure, and he took his life not long after. Varg made some rather bold statements about Euronymous’s sexual orientation in explaining his motivation for murder (not to mention some claims to white supremacy that surpassed mere confusion to the point of complete ridiculousness). Yet after serving more than twice as long as Nödtveidt, his next album was a brilliant continuation of the old Burzum, as though no time had passed at all. There is a sort of unnatural complexity to him, and his music alike.


6. Dissection – Where Dead Angels Lie
But Jon Nödtveidt’s significance in at least this one instance should not be overlooked. Storm of the Light’s Bane, released in 1995, features perhaps the single most memorable black metal song I’ve ever heard. At least for a brief three years, Sweden’s Dissection was rivaling anything Norway had to offer. As so many black metal stories go, Nödtveidt’s suicide was nothing approaching traditional. I read that he blew his brains out sitting in the middle of a pentagram surrounded by candles, with a grimoire open before him.


5. Gorgoroth – Ritual
I wouldn’t go so far as to say Gaahl is overrated, but Hat, their vocalist from 1992 until 1995, suits me best. Their debut Pentagram is just as unforgiving as their later works, but with a lo-fi value that captures an essence of evil more effectively than brute force. The third track, Ritual, struck me the first time I heard it and remains still one of my favorite songs of the genre. (And it shares so much in common with Nattefrost that I almost have to believe it had a direct influence on his solo project.)


4. Darkthrone – Transilvanian Hunger
This one kind of goes without saying. If Kathaarian Life Code initiated the second wave of black metal, Transilvanian Hunger predicted its future. Primitive and raw on a whole new level (it was recorded three years before Ulver’s Nattens Madrigal), the album’s trance-like appeal might have some relation to Varg Vikernes’s lyrical contributions. I imagine it was more a matter though of fewer minds leading to a more consistant focus. It was the first Darkthrone album involving Nocturno Culto and Fenriz exclusively as band members.


3. Emperor – I am the Black Wizards
Emperor’s self-titled 1993 EP briefly pre-dates In the Nightside Eclipse and, along with two other EPs/demos of the era, features many of their first album’s classics in their unrefined, original forms. I wouldn’t go so far as to call the originals better (Emperor’s reunion performance of the song at Wacken 2006 is by far the best version of it out there), but the original appeals best to that rawness with which the second wave of black metal made its mark. All of the refined features that set Ihsahn’s song-writing apart–the heavy synth, the complex movements, the difficult guitar riffs–are present, but in this early form they still took second stage to that demented ethos black metal embraced for a few years in the early 90s.


2. Carpathian Forest – Shut Up, There is No Excuse to Live
If you question this placement get the fuck out of my article.


1. Mayhem – Funeral Fog
“Please excuse all the blood.” Dead’s suicide note, the artistic photographed rearrangement of his splattered brains for use on a future album cover, clothing buried with dead animals for weeks to reek of decay, Euronymous’s brutal cold-blooded murder with a knife to the skull, Varg Vikernes’s inclusion as the album’s bassist AFTER murdering its lead guitarist, the burning of the Fantoft stave church, the trial that lead to Faust’s confession of murdering a random stranger, Tchort’s imprisonment for grave desecration, Samoth’s imprisonment for arson… Black metal consumed itself in a real life horror story unrivaled in fiction between 1991 and 1993, and it all culminated in the release of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. Funeral Fog must be appreciated with an eye towards the literal insanity that surrounded it. “In the middle of Transylvania, all natural life has from a long time ago gone. It’s thin and so beautiful.” We reflect on Elizabeth Bathory and Vlad Tepes as the real life icons of evil from which the cultural genre known as horror, 20th century serial killers not withstanding, was born. But in the early 90s, the middle of Transylvania was southern Norway.

Happy Halloween!

I leave you with a final treat that couldn’t stylistically make the cut.

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Review: The Walking Dead Volume 12 (by Robert Kirkman)


[Some Spoilers Within]

Tonight marks the premiere of Robert Kirkman’s widely-acclaimed and fan favorite zombie comic book series aptly titled The Walking Dead. The series has preeminent filmmaker Frank Darabont (Shawshank Redemption, The Mist) and genre-veteran producer Gale Anne Hurd producing the adaptation for AMC. So, it’s with the 12th volume in the collected series that I welcome the tv series.

“Life Among Them” sees Rick and his group of survivors (now less three of its original members and picking up a new one along the way in the previous volume) finally finding a semblance of a safe haven after the travails they endured at the hands of “The Hunters”. It has been a long and deadly journey for Rick and his people. The fact that the promise of a working government they had been moving towards was actually a lie from one of the new members wasn’t too much of a surprise to loyal readers of the comic. This is a group which has had its hopes dashed bloodily over and over that any good news they see as too good to be true.

This goes for the sudden arrival of a scout party from a walled-off community which promises the group safe haven with no questions asked. Rick, who has gone through such promises from a previous safe community, sees this offer with some suspicion and this brings forth another aspect of Rick’s personality which has changed from issue 1 to this volume. He has become paranoid and mistrustful of those not in his group and offers of safety and a respite from the grueling travels of the road he sees with suspicions eyes. But they accept this invitation and find out that this safe haven couldn’t be any different from Woodbury.

What they see inside the fortified walls could pass off as a slice of their former lives. A suburban-like community where people safely walk the streets at night and their kids play ball in the yards and streets without hints of danger. Leading this community is a former Congressman who had taken the stole of leadership and keep the haven running smoothly. All he asks of Rick and his people is that they contribute in some way to help continue the community’s expansion in some way. Rick returns to what he did before the fall of civilization and patrols the streets as the town’s constable. Michonne thinks it is now safe for her to put away her sword. Even Andrea has caught the eyes of more than one of the town’s many single men. Even Abraham has pitched in to become part of the work detail whose job is to go out and find building supplies to help strengthen and expand the walls.

All seems to be working as it should with everyone safe. The first sign that not all is what it seems is the mention of a name. A person who helped organized the building of the walls, but who seems to have become “HE WHO MUST NOT BE NAMED” to everyone Rick and his group meets inside the haven. The town’s leader also seems to hold secrets of his own. Rick senses the dark undercurrents permeating the town’s vibe and in a sequence right at the end of the volume we see just how damaged Rick has become since we first meet him in issue 1.

While the volume doesn’t go heavy on the zombie action it does a great job in setting up what could be another major story-arc coming in the subsequent volumes. Will Rick and his people learn the secrets the town has been keeping from them? Will Rick become what he despises the most in trying to keep his son and his group safe from the dangers of the outside and what he perceives as dangers inside as well? This volume is almost the calm before another shitstorm about to hit the group and this time will the butcher’s bill be as large as the one which was tallied in the end of the 8th volume.

Song of the Day: The Man Comes Around (by Johnny Cash)


We’ve now reached the final day of what has been a week-long horror-themed “Song of the Day” feature for the site. It’s quite appropriate that this final day also lands on Halloween and I’m sure many will approve of this final choice to cap off the week.

A week which has seen Italian film composers and prog-rock bands chosen for creating and contributing some of the best and most memorable themes to horror films which will stand the march of time. We’ve seen an epic song from a Montreal band whose music has the apocalyptic sound to it. There’s also two entries from films created by a master of the horror genre in John Carpenter.

The week began with Goblin’s main title theme for George A. Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead. With Halloween night the premiere of the long-awaited and heavily-hyped tv adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead comic book series (by none other than Frank Darabont himself) I thought what better way to bookend Goblin’s theme for the Romero zombie epic than by picking Johnny Cash’s song “The Man Comes Around”. One of the last songs penned and sang by The Man In Black himself and properly used by filmmaker Zack Snyder to  be the intro music for his remake of Dawn of the Dead.

This song with its gospel-like (though not as hopeful as most) sound and it’s apocalyptic and Biblical lyrics just speaks of the apocalypse like no other song from this past week has done. It comes off almost like a prophecy come down and spoken by one of God’s main dudes. This song when paired with the scenes of the zombie apocalypse crashing down on an unsuspecting world in Snyder’s film instantly made it a favorite with all zombie fans everywhere and introduced The Man In Black to a whole new set of fans.

I would like to think that when the zombie apocalypse does arrive it would be to this song as I and those who share my belief in how to survive such an event ready ourselves for whatever may come.

The Man Comes Around

And I heard as it were the noise of thunder
One of the four beasts saying come and see and I saw
And behold a white horse

There’s a man going around taking names
And he decides who to free and who to blame
Everybody won’t be treated all the same
There’ll be a golden ladder reaching down
When the Man comes around

The hairs on your arm will stand up
At the terror in each sip and in each sup
Will you partake of that last offered cup?
Or disappear into the potter’s ground
When the Man comes around

Hear the trumpets, hear the pipers
One hundred million angels singing
Multitudes are marching to the big kettledrum
Voices calling, voices crying
Some are born and some are dying
It’s Alpha and Omega’s kingdom come

And the whirlwind is in the thorn tree
The virgins are all trimming their wicks
The whirlwind is in the thorn tree
It’s hard for thee to kick against the pricks

Till Armageddon no shalam, no shalom
Then the father hen will call his chickens home
The wise man will bow down before the throne
And at His feet they’ll cast their golden crowns
When the Man comes around

Whoever is unjust let him be unjust still
Whoever is righteous let him be righteous still
Whoever is filthy let him be filthy still
Listen to the words long written down
When the Man comes around

Hear the trumpets, hear the pipers
One hundred million angels singing
Multitudes are marching to the big kettledrum
Voices calling and voices crying
Some are born and some are dying
It’s Alpha and Omega’s kingdom come

And the whirlwind is in the thorn tree
The virgins are all trimming their wicks
The whirlwind is in the thorn tree
It’s hard for thee to kick against the pricks

In measured hundredweight and penneypound
When the Man comes around.

Close (Spoken part)
And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts
And I looked and behold, a pale horse
And his name that sat on him was Death
And Hell followed with him.

Celebrate Halloween with Ms. 45!


Happy Halloween!

In honor of the holiday, here’s a Halloween-themed clip from one of the greatest films ever made — Ms. 45, the movie that proved that the Grindhouse is often more sincerely pro-woman than the mainstream.

(Big spoiler warning: This scene is actually the end of the film so if you’re the type of little toadsucker that’s always crying “You should have warned me boo hoo,” consider yourself warned.)

Song of the Day: Halloween Theme (by John Carpenter)


The penultimate choice for this week’s horror-themed “Song of the Day” feature brings one of the best theme songs ever composed and put on film. I am talking about the Main Title theme for John Carpenter’s classic horror film (also one of the best grindhouse films ever made) and one which launched a whole new horror subgenre with Halloween. This theme would become synonymous with the “slasher film” that when the many copies and imitators of the film came out in droves a year later they would try to replicate this keyboard synthesizer-based theme and fail miserably.

It’s actually a pretty simple theme. Carpenter compsed the theme as a piano melody played in a 5/4 meter that even the most novice piano player could play with ease. This theme could be heard throughout the film whenever Michael Myers appears and/or in the vicinity. Some have even started calling it the Michael Myers theme and they wouldn’t be far off. It’s become the film’s leitmotif that Carpenter ends up relying on it to set the mood and tension in the film. Other kids of songs could be heard throughout the film but outside of the Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” the rest of the score is forgettable until this theme kicks in.

This theme will be the final of the instrumental themes for the week. With one more day left in this special week-long horror-themed week for “Song of the Day” the last one will definitely usher in another awesome Halloween and help kick off the premiere of what will probably be the best thing to ever grace the tv screen past, present and future.

A Quickie With Lisa Marie: Prom Night (Directed by Paul Lynch)


As I mentioned in another post, my sister Erin and I spent Tuesday night watching the Killer Party Marathon on Chiller.  One of the movies we saw was the original 1980 Prom Night, starring Jamie Lee Curtis and directed by Paul Lynch.  Prom Night, of course, was remade two years ago with cross-eyed dumbfug Brittany Snow as the star.  If, like me before Tuesday night, you’re only familiar with the tepid and bland remake than the original Prom Night is a surprise indeed.

The original Prom Night is an old school slasher film, one of the many that came out in the two years immediately after Halloween.  It even stars the star of Halloween, Jamie Lee Curtis.  Prom Night also stars a lot of Canadians because it was one of the many low-budget B-movies that was made in Canada in the early 80s.  Apparently, Canada was offering tax breaks to film companies willing to shoot up north.  Several web sites have said that the setting is obviously Canadian but I couldn’t really tell.  Of course, I’m from Texas.  Anything above Arkansas looks like Canada to me.

Plotwise, the film is pretty much your traditional old school slasher film.  There’s a terrible tragedy in the past, an innocent man is blamed for it, and ten years later, teenagers end up getting killed at some communal event.  In this case, the tragedy is the death of a young girl who is killed during a truly demonic game of tag.  The children responsible for her death lie about what happened and a disfigured drifter is convicted and imprisoned for her murder.  As for the communal event, in this case, it’s prom night.  The killer stalks the prom, which is what I suggested my classmates call our prom way back when.  They disagreed and that’s their loss.  The Killer Stalks The Prom would have been a story to remember.

Anyway, here’s a few random thoughts about the original Prom:

1) As with all old school slasher films, it’s interesting to see just how much of the early products of this all-American genre borrowed from the Italian giallo genre.   Everything from the elaborate, past tragedy to the black gloves worn by the killer to the attempts to keep audiences guessing who the killer actually is to even the supporting character of the burned out cop simply screams giallo.  The main thing that the Americans brought to the giallo format was the idea of having the murders revolve around a previously innocent gathering or holiday.

2) Especially when compared to recent “slasher” films, Prom Night is a relentlessly grim film.  Prom Night’s killer doesn’t waste any time with comic relief or one-liners.  He’s too busy savagely killing people.  And our victims aren’t the usual collection of bimbos and soulless jocks.  No, this is the type of movie where even the token virgin ends up getting her throat ripped out with a gigantic shard of glass.  There’s not a lot of deaths in Prom Night, just six.  But they all hurt.

3) I usually just think of Jamie Lee Curtis as the crazy woman selling Activia on Lifetime but this movie shows that she’s actually a pretty good actress.  Even working with a script that isn’t exactly full of brilliant dialogue or multi-faceted characters, Curtis is a sympathetic, likable, and most of all, believable heroine (which is all the more remarkable when you consider that she, like everyone else in this film, appears to be far-too old to still be worrying about the prom).  She even manages to make the film’s ending rather touching and even poignant.  And how many slasher films can you say that about?

4) Prom Night is as much about tacky — yet insanely catchy — disco music as it is about spilling blood.  Seriously, if I owned the soundtrack to this film, I would listen to it 24/7 for two years straight.  I’d force all of my friends to listen to it too and eventually we’d all go insane and just spend the rest of our lives wandering around going, “Prom night!  Everything is alright!”

5) One last thing — Prom Night showcases what has to be the most believable, cheap, and tasteless prom ever put on film.  The theme is Disco Madness and the students are all very chic in that way that even they know will be painfully dated in another two years.  Indeed, this is one of the rare films that understands that the perfect prom is nothing less than an unintentional camp spectacular.  For someone like me who, as the result of seeing too many episodes of Saved By The Bell: The New Class, grew up with an unrealistic expectation of what the senior prom would be, the original Prom Night remains a refreshing breath of fresh air even 30 years after it was made.

And always remember: “Prom Night!  Everything is all right…”

…And the Great Cold Death of the Earth: Music for October (part 5)


I don’t think I could have possibly stumbled upon a more appropriate image for this penultimate entry in my music column than the goat Heiðrún feeding on Yggdrasil. (Well, technically Læraðr.) I’ll today be concluding my compilation of songs that, while still being “black metal” in some sense, extend well beyond the boundaries of the genre.


10. Hardingrock – Faens Marsj
In 2007, Ihsahn and his wife Ihriel teamed up with Hardinger fiddler Knut Buen to merge Ihsahn’s evolving progressive black metal with Norwegian folk music. If the vocals are the only real trace of black metal remaining in this particular track, I think the appeal is no less apparent.


9. Temnozor – Busov’ Vran’
(Темнозорь – Бусовы Враны)
Temnozor’s 2010 release is easily their best in my opinion, and certainly their most folk-infused. That this Russian band in 2007 released a split with Nokturnal Mortum might be telling. Their ability to harness folk as a sort of primitivism has evolved tremendously, and it herein shows. The gripping dynamics of Russian vocalization are inseparable from the overall sound. It’s no wonder this is a predominantly Eastern European movement.


8. Boris – Luna
Pretty much any obsessive Boris fan will tell you they’re the most innovative band in existence, and I totally buy into the hype. Boris has, over the years, consistently denied all forms of classification, seeming to incorporate a new style of music on practically all of their myriad releases while remaining always recognizably Boris. In 2009 they contributed one track to a split with stoner metal band Torche, and in doing so gave black metal a unique new form. It’s an unfortunate shame that the last two minutes of this song, in which they transition into an Electric Wizard-esque doom metal outro, aren’t available on youtube. But for the purposes of this column, this song’s significance still comes through. Boris eat musical styles and shit roses. This is one of them.


7. Agalloch – Limbs
Where were you the first time you heard Ashes Against the Grain? I think a lot of people can actually answer that. Pale Folklore and The Mantle were brilliant and unique albums, but THIS, this was something innovative on a whole new level. I remember the thought striking me almost immediately: “Woah, post-black metal exists.” Any use I’ve ever made of the term originated from my first listen to Ashes Against the Grain. Isis’s Oceanic was probably my favorite album at the time, and here was everything I liked about it taken to by the best band at creating musical imagery that I’d to that point known. The marriage couldn’t have gone better. Ashes Against the Grain will go down in history as groundbreaking and unique, one of those albums that predicts the future without ever wholly conforming to it. It always was a stretch to associate Agalloch with black metal, but in so far as musical genres are merely generalizations, the most unique bands always seem to fit into all and none simultaneously.


6. Ulver – Hymn VI: Of Wolf and Passion
The first 18 seconds of this song are about a decade ahead of their time. They’re absolutely beautiful–downright uplifting. I guess I never really thought of unadulterated black metal as something that could be triumphant. Sure, bands put it to positive use by incorporating folk and the like, but here you have nothing but blast beats and tremolo, a basic Norwegian breakfast, speaking of something glorious. Perhaps black metal’s origin naturally associates it with the dark and devilish, but very briefly, in 1996, Ulver showed that the same unbridled intensity could turn itself towards any honest end. Of Wolf and Passion. An apt title.


5. Nokturnal Mortum – In the Fire of Wooden Churches
I said you hadn’t seen the last of them. Another NeChrist masterpiece, In the Fire of Wooden Churches is an eclectic, constantly transitioning song that almost never repeats and ends triumphant. This video extends a few minutes beyond the end of the song. Its proper length is about 7:11.


4. Peste Noire – Ballade Cuntre Les Anemis De La France
Ballade cuntre lo Anemi francor got my 2009 album of the year vote. To quote my brief review of it, “This is brilliant, fascinating, unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. As has been said, the ambiance of hate is gone. What replaces it is something I can’t quite define, but it’s captivating. If Famine hadn’t coined it “Black’n’Roll” I think the term still might have popped up, but it’s a whole lot more than that. The 60s-70s rock and roll styles it incorporates, while similar in construct, conjure nothing of the sort to mind. Instead, it gives this sort of disturbingly lively essence to a dismal, filthy Dark Age. Track three feels like I’m dancing circles around someone in a torture chamber randomly sticking hot pokers into them and really enjoying it.” You are listening to track three.


3. Krallice – Wretched Wisdom
Listening to Wretched Wisdom while driving through a barren pillar-studded wasteland in Arizona was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. This is the gut-wrenching scream of an absolute desolation stumbling hopeless at last into the depths of insanity. And here the term post-black applies more than ever.


2. Nokturnal Mortum – NeChrist: The Dance of Swords
Alright, this is my last Nokturnal Mortum entry. Honest. I’ve very little left to say about this band, but I hope you can see why I chose this as their best song. I said of their first entry “this isn’t just a statement about the past, it is a violent declaration of war on the present.” NeChrist might be the celebratory feast on the night of that declaration.


1. Alcest – Le Secret
In 2005, Neige decided it was time to take a new approach with his black metal project. He wanted to write something beautiful, and that he did. The album Le Secret is 27 minutes long and consists of two songs. Neige himself regarded the work as widely misunderstood, and seems to have concluded since that black metal just isn’t a compatible medium for some things. His next album was more on the order of shoegaze, with little in the way of black metal remaining, and his 2010 release, while significantly heavier, largely distinguished the black metal from the shoegaze elements as a sort of contrast between dark and light.
Souvenirs d’un autre monde and Écailles de Lune are both fabulous albums, make no mistake. But Le Secret is so much more. It’s one of those works that can never be repeated, because beyond musical genius it requires a sort of innocence. Those 18 seconds for which I glorified Ulver… here they stand on their own, independent and beautiful.