Johanna Sadonis: Queen of Satanic Doom

Posted in Black Sabbath, Blood Ceremony (band), Doom Metal, Gaz Jennings, Lucifer (band), Rise Above Records, The Oath (band) with tags , , , , , , , , on November 14, 2017 by Manuel Paul Arenas

I have been a fan of the group Black Sabbath since my grade-school chum Jan den Hartog turned me on to the album Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973) back in 1978. Their melodic, doom-laden riffs touch a dark spot on my soul (my “d-spot”?) in a way that few bands have done since. Although they spawned legions of followers and imitators, few have really understood what it was that made them so great. Within the subgenre of Doom Metal, which was directly inspired by their more infamously heavy tracks such as Electric Funeral (1970) and Into the Void (1971), there are a slew of bands that just play plodding, drop-tuned riffs and tri-tones with someone growling indecipherably about death and despair. Unfortunately, they do not have the knack for writing a catchy melody or an interesting bridge, which is part of what made Sabbath so successful.

Johanna Sadonis striking a decidedly devilish posture.

Recently, however, I have come across a few bands which seem to have finally  created a more accessible brand of Doom influenced music. The first band to catch my ear was Blood Ceremony, whom I have already covered here on the Book of Shadows. The next were a pair of bands (both labelmates of Blood Ceremony, on Rise Above Records) that shared a connection through a common member: vocalist Johanna Sadonis.  The bands, The Oath and Lucifer, respectively, are both Doom influenced but have much more going on than your average Doom band. I cannot find much information on either band online, but I did find this under the entry for Sadonis on the Encyclopedia Metallum:

Female vocalist, DJ and promoter from Berlin, Germany, who sang in various metal bands during the ’90s/early 00’s. In 2010, she was part of the electronic indie pop band Informer along with Rayshele Teige, a former employee of Century Media in the US. She’s currently the lead vocalist of the Berlin/London-based heavy rock band Lucifer.  [Encyclopedia Metallum_Johanna Sadonis_retrieved 11/10/2017]

Promo Pic for the Oath featuring (left to right)Linnéa Olsson & Johanna Sadonis.

Although not mentioned in the preceding bio, from 2012-2014  Sadonis fronted the band The Oath, which also featured Swedish guitarist Linnéa Olsson (not to be confused with the progressive-pop cellist). I cannot tell whether the rest of the band are just session musicians, but I did notice that there is another guitarist credited with the guitar solos. All the promotional photos however are solely of the women, both lovely blondes, clad in black leather. Make no mistake though, this is not a puff band. These ladies can rock. The opening track, All Must Die, is a bass-driven rocker reminiscent of  Motorhead’s Ace of Spades which sets the tone for the rest of the album, the sound of which is retro but not derivative. The overall vibe is of a polished NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) from the 80’s but with catchy hooks and Sadonis’ clear vocals singing her paeans to Lucifer; imagine if Girlschool had hung out with Tony Iommi instead of Lemmy Kilminster, and you’ll have the idea. There’s even a requisite acoustic guitar piece! How’s that for old school? The songs are tuneful and simple but the arrangements are interesting with some unusual choices. Not being schooled in music theory, I cannot say exactly what’s different, but I can definitely hear it.

The album was a hit in the metal community, and the vinyl version even came with a collectible 7″ single featuring a cover of the song Night of the Demon by NWOBHM band Demon, which is better than the original. Then, just as their downward-pointing star was rising, they broke up leaving everyone asking WTF? I have looked online and even watched an interview with Sadonis online, but whatever it was that was the catalyst to the split, she doesn’t seem to be very forthcoming about it. Perhaps there are legal reasons for her reticence. Olsson joined the Finnish Goth-Rock band Grave Pleasures (a waste of her talent, IMHO) and Sadonis ditched the leather jacket for a satin kimono with an eye on the back, which I suspect is the left eye of Thoth symbolizing the moon, wisdom, and magic. She formed a new band with Oath drummer Andy Prestidge, named after her favorite inamorato: Lucifer.

Variant pressings of Lucifer’s “Anubis/Morning Star” 45″ single, which I borrowed from the Epicus-Metal blogspot.

They put out the single Anubis which eschewed the NWOBHM sound for a more explicitly Doom-influenced  sound with a fuzzed-out headbang-inducing riff that couldn’t help but bring to mind the glory days of Sabbath. Unfortunately, the vocal melody is a hodgepodge of vocal lines from Sabbath’s 1972 ode to cocaine, Snowblind. Even so, it’s a lot of fun and definitely worth a spin and the B-side, Morning Star, an awesome slab of Doom Metal with a nod to Iron Maiden, would resurface, in a slightly tighter performance, on the subsequent album,  Lucifer I.

Vinyl copy of Lucifer I (2015, Rise Above).

At first listen, I wasn’t sure what I thought of the long-play album. The first track I heard off the album was the single, Izrael, for which they have a promotional video. It didn’t seem quite as heavy as the Anubis single and it almost sounded pop-ish were it not for the heavy guitars and occult themed lyrics. It grew on me though, as did the album and I eventually decided to purchase my own copy.

Now I beg your indulgence while I share with you my experience in picking up this CD at my local record store. I had seen a used copy at a Mesa branch of the store I frequent, which shall remain nameless here, but didn’t get a chance to buy it then, so I had them transfer it to the store by my home in Phoenix. When I picked it up, the cashier was a young man who was genial and even sported an Iron Maiden t-shirt. When he pulled it off the hold shelf to ring it up, he seemed a bit awed by it and asked something to the effect of, “Is this what I think it is?” To which I responded “Actually, it’s a bit different, the riffs are heavy but there are clear vocals over the top providing a nice contrast; it’s actually quite beautiful.”

You see, I believed he had been inquiring as to its sonic heft, but apparently I was wrong, for his response was, “The bible says the devil will make himself beautiful.” Yeah…well I just countered with a bemused “Uh-huh.” then ended my part in the conversation. Even so, he continued, seemingly so freaked out by it that he could hardly express himself, faltering for words. His sentences trailed off and he seemed to be almost enchanted by the album. He commented on the cover art, which as you well can see has nothing but the name of the band, yet he was afraid to even touch it. He commented on the track titles, specifically Morning Star and Izrael. Eventually we finished the transaction and I was able to leave the store but I was definitely put off by the whole interaction. This is what I deal with all the time in this part of the country. I have no problem with folks believing what they want as long as I don’t have to hear about it and it doesn’t impinge on my own civil rights. It’s hard to be a free thinker when  everyone else is still living in the Dark Ages.

Anyway, off the soapbox and back to the album: I finally got a chance to hear Lucifer I on my CD Walkman (don’t judge) and was able to hear its layers and nuances. It’s not quite as layered as say a Kevin Shields composition, but there were times when I was reminded of Brian May’s layered guitar work on the early Queen albums, or even Tony Iommi for that matter. This might be due to the addition of guitarist Gaz Jennings, late of the English Doom Metal veterans Cathedral. His talent for composing choice riffs make him a pretender to the Iommi mantel of Riff-master General. There also are chimes to be heard on here and in places, rain, birds, and even tolling bells appear on the appropriately named Sabbath. The overall sound of the album is vaguely psychedelic, which suit Sadonis’ plaintive vocal style and arcane lyrical themes a bit better, yet with an updated take on the old school heavy rock sound.

In the interview she did with Jimmy Cabbs she spoke of how their goal was not to look back to retread old territory so much as to look for inspiration which they would absorb then apply with a modern approach. She and (I believe) bassist Dino Gollnick spoke in the interview of trying to make things simple and go back to the roots of heavy music as Metal has become so extreme these days and how much further can one take it? Gollnick is gone now however, as are Jennings and Prestridge, according to the Encyclopedia Metallum, which lists Sadonis as the only consistent member in the current lineup. Even so, no matter who she works with she seems to come out okay and to hone her musical vision just a little bit more, and I look forward to whatever she comes up with next.

 

 

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Black Hymeneal update (11/02/2017)

Posted in Black Hymeneal with tags on November 2, 2017 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Since it has been almost 5 months from the last time I mentioned it here, I just wanted to give you all an update on my upcoming poetry collection, Black Hymeneal. Well, I haven’t met my last 2 deadline goals (8/26 & 10/31, respectively), but I have been meeting periodically with my longtime friend Denisse Montoya, who has agreed to help me with the technical aspects of the layout, cover design, and publication of the book. I have retyped the manuscript and written new introductions for many of the individual poems, as well as a general introduction for the book. I have given the manuscript to her and she has promised to read it over for reference and inspiration as she works on the cover design. At the moment I am also awaiting a PDF version of the book for pending approval before we can submit it to Create Space for e-book publication. Once that happens, a trade paperback edition should also become available for order through Amazon. After this first stage is over we shall get working on putting together a nice hardback version which shall go to anyone who donated to the original fundraiser back in 2015.

7 Minutes in Hell (10/14/2017)

Posted in 7 Minutes in Hell, Black Hymeneal, Jobot Coffee & Bar, Melt Ice Cream Shop with tags , , , , on October 16, 2017 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Facebook event banner for the 2017 edition of 7 Minutes in Hell.

Saturday night I took part in what is to be the last 7 Minutes in Hell to be performed at the Pierce Street location of Space 55. It had been a while since I had read there, at least a year or more, and I figured it would be a good opportunity to plug my forthcoming book, Black Hymeneal. I went to the theater directly after getting off from work, so I was a bit early and so I decided to go to Jobot, a hip local coffee shop on 5th street & Roosevelt, for a quick snack, but they seemed to be closed for some reason. Moving down a few doors I stumbled upon an ice cream shop called Melt. The flavors were very unusual, pistachio with cherries, churro, horchata, etc. I settled on a single scoop cake cone of horchata and was not disappointed! It even came topped with a fortune cookie; the message within read: “You will lighten another’s heart.”

I don’t know if I did that, but I believe I entertained a few people in the audience at least. I was 3rd in line after a boisterous opening song by host Russ Kazmierczak and a hilarious skit by Ashley Naftule. Russ had what I assume was a karaoke track for Bon Jovi’s Wanted Dead or Alive over which he sang a lyric about all the wondrous things he’d seen at Space 55. His voice wasn’t always on key, but his heart was in the right place and he got the whole room, myself included, singing the refrain “I saw it at Space 55”.

Ash came on in character as a film critic whose name was a spoof on Cliff Notes, but I cannot recall exactly what it was. His deal was that he was a critic who would do reviews of movies he’d never seen. He asked the audience to shout out some film titles and he would do these brilliantly hilarious reviews. Ash is a master of improv and his broad knowledge of film and pop culture was put to good use here.

Then I came up, plugged Black Hymeneal and my blog, then read 3 poems selected from my book. I started off with Manurog to ease the crowd in, then moved onto Manqueller Manque finally wrapping up with Love Song of the Lugubrious Gondolier. My preamble was a bit rusty, and it soon became apparent, to me at least, just how long it had been since I’d last read in public. I introduced Manurog as a poem about a goblin that takes his grooming tips from Ed Gein and ended by saying it was “one for the kiddies”, which got a chuckle from the audience. My explanation for Manqueller wasn’t anything special, I just explained how the inspiration came from a book on obsolete words and how it was about a would be murderer. My explanation for Love Song… was a bit clunky and when I explained it was inspired by a movie they asked for my review (in reference to Ash’s skit) I replied that I couldn’t do that because I had already seen the movie. The set seemed to go over fairly well, despite my losing place in the middle of Manqueller. The reason for this was that my old book of poems has so many corrections and cross-outs in it that I couldn’t tell where to look for the marginal notations. That being said, I did get a few compliments afterward.

Now, I tend to get antsy after I come off stage and generally only stay for the next act so as not seem ungrateful for a chance to read or non-supportive of my fellow artistes.  I waited for the next act, Steve Marek, a stand-up comedian to do his bit. His set began with a eulogy to Hugh Hefner, which was clever, and ended with a political “horror tale”. He asked the house to dim the lights and he used the light from his gadget (i-Phone, or whatever) like one might put a flashlight under one’s chin to tell a campfire tale, as he regaled us with an explicit piece of horror-otica featuring Sherriff Joe and Jan Brewer engaged in some rather compromising  hi-jinks. It was a bit sophomoric, but it had some poignant political digs thrown in for good measure.

I considered leaving then, but ended up sticking around for the next act. This one was a woman named Dineta Williams-Trigg who I guess is a regular in the scene, I did not know her but she was very personable and even approached me before the show to ask me about my Venom t-shirt. She explained that she was a fan of B-movie Horror and had recognized the Baphomet symbol on it. I returned the compliment by saying that I liked her Glen or Glenda t-shirt. She gave her time up to invite people to come up and talk about their experiences at Space 55 and what it meant to them. First up was Amy Ouzoonian who came up with her precious infant in a make-shift papoose fashioned from of a long swaddling blanket wound around her torso. She told of her experiences there as part of the Arcana Collective and as a cast member in one of the past productions featured at the venue. She would later come back up with her babe to recite a monologue about the questionable joys of mother hood. Then came Marcella Grassa who told a similar tale of working with the Arcana Collective and being in shows, most recently as one of the leads in Ashley Naftule’s play “The Ear”. Lastly, was an audience member who told how seeing some of the wacky skits there gave him the courage to try his hand at performing on stage.

After this heart warming tribute, I began to relax and just enjoy the show and stopped looking for a chance to make my exit. I believe the next act was Marcella and her friend Gullveig (spelling?) who did a skit they’d penned about the legendary water spirit Melusine explaining to the goddess Kali her decision to allow Starbucks to use her image for their brand logo. It was a bit rough in spots (Marcella gave the disclaimer before they began that they had just written it a couple of days before and were under-rehearsed) but very clever and on the money on certain points about cultural appropriation by big corporations. I also dug their costumes, which were simple but effective for featuring identifiable attributes of the entities they portrayed.

Space 55 regular Leslie Barton did a shtick as a brontosaurus comedian called Brontobill Hicks, Bill Brontohicks, or something to that effect.  She basically wore a brontosaurus mask and told  brontosaurus themed jokes in the manner of Bill Hicks. Up next was Paul Kolecki, one of the current Space 55 troupe who played the male lead in “The Ear”. He did a passionate monologue from “Death of a Salesman”.

Following him were the Arcana Collective the fluid line-up of which this time consisted of Ernesto Moncada as the shaman Don Pablo Xibalba (Xibalba, roughly translated as “place of fear”–according to Wikipediais the Mayan word for the Underworld), a character he played in “The Ear” and Allison Dee who was topless, dressed only in skimpy panties and a body-length, diaphanous, black veil which, along with the usual Arcana eye kohl, made her look like a vamp from a Paul Naschy film. She played the theremin and some Eastern-looking variation on a percussion triangle. Don Pablo, also topless but not creating quite the same effect on the beholder (not to disparage Ernesto’s rakish good looks), called for a volunteer from the audience  and a young man came up. Don Pablo made him drink from a glass bottle filled with the “waters of the dead”, I believe he said, then covered him with a red cloth and did some mock ritual over him involving maracas and some amusing mumbo-jumbo. There was more to it, but I cannot recall the detail.  Either way it was very amusing and one of the more accessible things I have seen them do.

Closing the show was comedic singer Scott Gesser, who began with a brief monologue introducing the song he was to play. The intro went a bit too long, but the song, a tale about his misadventures in Nebraska, was fun.

In the end, I stayed for the whole show and not once had the usual anxiety fueled  urgency to bail the premises, which is saying a lot. All the artists and entertainers were fun and unique in their way and I was glad to have been part of the show. I look forward to upcoming events at their new location and even have an invite to participate in a planned Horror themed Christmas show to make up for the last Lovecraft bash in August which had to be postponed for real life stuff. Good times.

H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Hound”

Posted in ghoul, H.P. Lovecraft, Jaxon, Lovecraftian Horror, Necronomicon, Poppy Z. Brite, Roddy McDowall, The Burning Ember Mission of Helldorado, The Hound (1922), W.H. Pugmire with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 16, 2017 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Since 2012 I have been a frequent reader at the annual H.P. Lovecraft birthday celebration in downtown Phoenix. For the 1st show I penned my tribute to the Rhode Island gentleman, H.P.L. R.I.P., but since then I have always tried to read a brief story or poem by the master to remind everyone why we are there. The first story I read was one of my all-time favorites, The Hound. Originally written in 1922, it made its publication debut in the February 1924 issue of  Weird Tales and was reprinted in September 1929. Despite being disparaged by critics as a pastiche of Poe’s florid Gothic style and Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, it has many admirers (my humble self included) and it has inspired several tributes and adaptations.

Weird Tales’ February 1924 issue in which debuted Lovecraft’s “The Hound”.

Notable for being the first Lovecraft tale to mention his infamous grimoire, the dreaded Necronomicon, the Hound tells the tale of an unnamed narrator and his crony, St. John, bored with the effete entertainments of the decadent scene they decide to create a black museum, a veritable theme park of the damned with grotesque fountains, noisome censers, macabre works of art (including an unknown portfolio that “held certain unknown and unnameable drawings which it was rumored Goya had perpetrated but dared not acknowledge”), and gruesome trophies pilfered from graveyards around the world:

“Around the walls of this repellent chamber were cases of antique mummies alternating with comely, lifelike bodies perfectly stuffed and cured by the taxidermist’s art, and with headstones snatched from the oldest churchyards of the world. Niches here and there contained skulls of all shapes, and heads preserved in various stages of dissolution. There one might find the rotting, bald pates of famous noblemen, and the fresh and radiantly golden heads of new-buried children.” (from The Hound, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1922)

Eventually they rob the wrong grave, steeling a jade amulet which literally sets a hell-hound on their trail. Now, I have seen this story in collections of vampire stories, but it is definitely not one of those. I assume the editors of those books selected it because of the initial description of the well-preserved cadaver with “long, firm teeth”  and the frequent mention of large bats that seem to be connected with the creature in the casket or the hound, which if you read the story carefully, are one and the same. The thing in the casket was a ghoul; a supernatural creature that subsists on carrion from fresh graves. Traditionally, they are shape-shifters and they tend to shift into hyenas, but not exclusively. Some traditions even have that they take on the countenance of the last individual they ate. This one may have done that, causing some identity confusion in the denouement of the tale and, moreover, shifts into the titular creature, a sort of hell-hound with wings, which is confused by the fact that the cadaver seems to show bite marks from the same (possibly a feint or side effect of the creature taking on the aspect of it’s victim). Even so, when the narrator returns to the scene of his egregious crime to plead for mercy what he finds there is not what he expects.

“Amine Discovered with the Goule”, from the story of Sidi Nouman, of the One Thousand and One Nights. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghoul; retrieved 10/16/2017))

Lovecraft was dismissive of the tale in his later years and many of his most vociferous proponents followed suit. Lin Carter dismissed it as “a minor little tale” that is “slavishly Poe-esque in style”. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hound#Reception, retrieved 10/13/2017) and even Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi doesn’t seem to hold it in high regard, even opining that it must have been an intentional parody of the decadent school of writing. In his introduction to “The Hound” Leslie S. Klinger says “While S.T. Joshi calls the story “roundly abused for being wildly overwritten,” he sees it as a deliberate parody. Its “adjectivitis” mocks the prose of Poe and other writers Lovecraft admired, including Ambrose Bierce and Joris-Karl Huysmans.” (The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft, pg. 94, Liveright Publishing Corp. 2014)

I, however, am of a different mind on the subject. I love the thick Gothic atmosphere and Grand Guignol-inspired black humor, and as for the “overwrought style” that everyone complains about, think of it this way: the tale is told in  first-person narrative voice, and that person being a aesthetic ghoul with a taste for the baroque, so how could it not be delineated in such a manner? And I am not the only one who feels this way. Despite it’s notable detractors, it has some champions as well. Actor Roddy McDowall recorded it circa 1962/63 for his LP “Roddy McDowall Reads the Horror Stories of H.P. Lovecraft”. When I  discovered the existence of these recordings I looked them up on Youtube and listened to McDowall’s brilliant interpretation, which is where I first encountered the proper pronunciation for St. John, which apparently is Sinjun. I recall reading in Lovecraft: A Biography (1975) by L. Sprague de Camp, that Lovecraft had a high pitched genteel speaking voice and listening to Roddy McDowall, I imagined that his rendition was probably as close as one could get to hearing it read by HPL himself.

Album cover for “Roddy McDowall Reads the Horror Stories of H.P. Lovecraft” (1962-3, Prestige)

Although there haven’t been any film adaptations of note that I am aware of (which I find surprising) there have been at least a few comic book adaptations, most notably the May 1972 4th issue of Skull which features a very stylized adaptation by Jack Jackson (credited as Jaxon), which has a bit of an E.C. Comics vibe to it while being a prime example of the 1970’s underground comic look.

A page from Jaxon’s adaptation of “The Hound”. Note the column of bats in the first frame and the amulet in frame #4. I assume the book on which it rests is the Al Azif, the Necronomicon in the original Arabic.

He really seems to relish the gallows humor and deftly depicts the Gothic atmosphere with great flair and wit. The text is an abbreviated version of Lovecraft’s original text which is cool.

“Uncommon Places” by W.H. Pugmire (2012, Hippocampus Press), which contains the story “Some Distant Baying Sound”.

Apparently, W.H. Pugmire has penned a sequel in 2009 entitled Some Distant Baying Sound, which I would love to check out, although his works are a bit hard to come by and pricey when you find them. It is featured in Weird Inhabitants of Sesqua Valley (2009), and Uncommon Places: A Collection of Exquisites (2012), respectively.

“His Mouth Will Taste of Wormwood and Other Stories” by Poppy Z. Brite (1995, Penguin).

Southern Gothic author Poppy Z. Brite (now Billy Martin) used the premise of the Hound for the story His Mouth Will Taste of Wormwood (1990), which appears in the collections Swamp Foetus (1993) and Wormwood (1996) and was even featured in a Penguin 60s collection called His Mouth Will Taste of Wormwood and Other Stories (1995). It is flagged on the Internet Speculative Fiction Database as a Cthulhu Mythos story although, aside from the premise, which I recognized when I read it some 20-odd years ago, I don’t recall anything specifically Lovecraftian about it. I shall have to re-read it now that I am more familiar with the Lovecraft’s oeuvre and might be more apt to detect any allusions in the text to his Mythos.

Finally, I too have made reference to the ghoul, in passing, in my tale The Burning Ember Mission of Helldorado, and both he and the hound are secondary elements in the tale I am currently working on, tentatively entitled “Helldorado-Mouth”.  For a tale which Lovecraft called “a dead dog”, it seems to be tough one to put down.

Blood Ceremony: Toronto’s exponent of “flute-tinged witch rock”

Posted in Acid-folk, Black Sabbath, Blood Ceremony (band), Ceremonia sangrienta (1973), Doom Metal, Lord of Misrule (2016), Oliver Haddo, Psychedelic Rock, Somerset Maugham, The Magician (1908) with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 2, 2017 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Blood Ceremony band logo

Formed in Toronto Canada in 2006, Blood Ceremony is one of the more interesting bands taking their cues from their musical forefathers. In the promotional material found on their Facebook page as well as on their profile on the Rise Above Records website, they describe themselves in this manner:

“BLOOD CEREMONY’s distinct style of flute-tinged witch rock evolves from an infernal marriage of occult-inspired acid folk and vintage hard-rock riffing. After a mind-numbing study of hundreds of trashy witchcraft films, the group began to pour their energies into crafting songs, transforming their fascination for horror into a profane musical vision. ”

English language poster for the 1973 horror film “Ceremonia sangrienta” which is the band’s namesake.

Taking their name from the 1973 Spanish/Italian Horror film “Ceremonia sangrienta” their lyrics (penned by founding member guitarist/composer Sean Kennedy) explore occult themes and reference folklore and occult film and fiction (he seems to be fond of Somerset Maugham’s character Oliver Haddo from his 1908 occult novel The Magician based on Maugham’s impressions from his brief acquaintance with occultist Aleister Crowley; penning not one, but two separate songs about him, The Magician, and Oliver Haddo, respectively). Originally conceived by Kennedy as an old school heavy rock band, things took on a more eclectic turn when flutist/organist Alia O’Brien joined the band. Originally invited to play flute on a couple of songs,  O’Brien joined full time as lead vocalist when their original singer left to go to India.

An early image of Alia O’Brien which I have seen incorporated into gig posters and depicted in fan art.

An accomplished instrumentalist, Alia O’Brien’s flute and Farfisa organ playing have fleshed out the sound transmogrifying it into an alchemical amalgam of such early 70’s rock icons as Black Sabbath, Jethro Tull and Uriah Heep. Although not a trained singer or front person, the statuesque Ms. O’Brien has really come into her own over the years and has developed her voice, look, and persona in a way that has brought much attention to the band. Make no mistake though, she is not just a pretty face and the success of the band relies not just on their image, but the evolving sound of the band.

Blood Ceremony’s eponymously titled 2008 debut album featuring artwork by George Barr from the 1970 Ballantine Books collection of Clark Ashton Smith stories, Zothique.

Initially they were grouped in with the Doom Metal scene because of their heavy Sabbath influenced riffs, but they have so much more going on musically and their sound, although thematically consistent, is anything but stagnant. Like Sabbath, their riffs never stay in one place for long, and the avowed influence of both 60’s psychedelia and early English folk-rock acts such as Pentangle and Fairport Convention flesh out the sound to something of a proto-prog vibe or as Kennedy describes it “a folkier Sabbath”.

Blood Ceremony 2016, from left to right: Mike Carillo (drums), Alia O’Brien [seated] (lead vocals, flute, keyboards), Lucas Gadke (bass), Sean Kennedy (guitars).

Since their debut in 2008 they have released four albums and one single, each unique unto itself. Their most recent offering, “Lord of Misrule” is probably the most diverse of the lot, with the inclusion of mellotron (Loreley) and some 60’s psych-pop tropes (Flower Phantoms) to accompany the usual heavy riffing and flute and organ flourishes. There is even a brief nod to The Pink Floyd’s 1967 psych-pop gem Lucifer Sam in the opening notes of the album’s lead rocker The Devil’s Widow, the lyrics of which deal with the forsaken fairy mistress of Tam Lin, as she pines for her lover after he was rescued from her enchanting clutches by his human sweetheart.

Screencap from the promotional video for the song Goodbye Gemini.

Although I had come across Blood Ceremony before in my Youtube searches for psychedelic and progressive rock bands, I was always under the impression that they were a one-off indie band from the 70’s until a friend of mine shared some digital files of their hard-to-find albums with me. Even so, I didn’t realize they were current and still touring until I found their profile page while perusing the Rise Above Records website recently. Too bad it took me so long to sort that out as I would have loved to have seen them on their last tour in 2016! Until their next release however I must make do with their one promo video for the tune Goodbye Gemini off their 2013 album The Eldritch Dark (an apparent fan fave according to the myriad Youtube comments I have seen; if you see the video, keep an eye out for the scene where drummer Mike Carillo pauses from his drumming duties to take a puff off of a churchwarden pipe–presumably loaded with Halflings’ Leaf!) as well as the many fan videos of the band from their various shows over the last several years, and pray that they come around again in 2018. Perhaps I need to make a sanguinary oblation to the dark gods of occult rock?

 

Remembrance of Goth Girls Passed

Posted in Casanegra Presents, Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, Latino Goth, memoir with tags , , , on September 28, 2017 by Manuel Paul Arenas

I recently had a memory resurface which may explain my literary fixation with young female heroines and the Latino Goth aesthetic. It was somewhere around 1996 and I believe I was on a bus riding down Sunset Boulevard in L.A. when outside my window I spied a pretty young Latina girl, barely in her twenties, coming out of a storefront. I believe she was accompanied by another girl, but what stood out about this young woman was her look. She had a diamond shaped face and her coloring was similar to mine: sort of tawny hued. She sported her black hair in a chin-length bob cut which looked like it had grown out a bit and she was apparently having fun with her companion because she had a playful grin on her face.

I believe she wore a dark colored folksy dress which I cannot recall with any clarity, although it did remind me of some of the folk dresses I saw in Mexico during my stay there in the 80’s, and I think she had some heavy duty boots on as well. The thing that does stand out though was her coat. Despite the sunny weather, she had on a purple colored brocade coat which came down to her calves. This is what tied together the whole look for me. The color looked washed and thinking back it may have been done with a natural dye, perhaps a Tyrian purple. She looked like something from another time, yet still contemporary. She was folksy but with a definite Gothic bent, while still maintaining her identity as a Latina. I realize that my description may come off as just bohemian chic, but there was a decisive Romanti-Goth vibe to the ensemble.

I recall that I was so struck by her because I had never really linked the two things together before in my mind. I was familiar with the Romantic Legends of 19th century Spanish writer Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, some of which are Gothic in essence, and the macabre sensibilities of the Mexican folk beliefs always fascinated me but I never thought of any of it in relation to the Gothic aesthetic in the modern sense. Since seeing this young woman, however, it has been an idée fixe in my subconscious and has through time metamorphosed into the raison d’être behind my creative output. That being said, I still didn’t get the notion to pursue that route artistically until I saw the Casanegra DVD releases of the classic Mexican Horror films of the 50’s & 60’s, but that’s another story…

 

Clark Ashton Smith’s “The Return of the Sorcerer”

Posted in Black Mass, Clark Ashton Smith, Night Gallery (1969-1973), Richard Corben, Sator Square, Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror, The Return of the Sorcerer with tags , , , , , , on September 18, 2017 by Manuel Paul Arenas

With the proliferation of Lovecraft and Cthulhu related media coming out over the last decade or so I am truly surprised that the cinematic world has not attempted to adapt more stories by his Weird Tales comrades, especially Robert Bloch and, of course, my beloved Clark Ashton Smith.

Clark Ashton Smith: poet, author, painter, sculptor and member of the original Lovecraft Circle.

Although several of Bloch’s shorter non-Mythos works have been adapted for television, and his novel “Psycho” (1959) was adapted by Alfred Hitchcock in his 1960 feature film of the same name, very few of Smith’s works have been rendered into the cinematic medium. This could be due to the esoteric nature of his subjects and the dense baroque nature of his prose which, oddly enough, I feel should actually make him stand out from his contemporaries.

The most notable adaptations of his work (at least that I am aware of) are the “Mother of Toads” segment by Richard Stanley from the portmanteau film “The Theatre Bizarre” (2011), which I have reviewed here already, and the eccentric reworking of the “The Return of the Sorcerer” (1931) for season 3 of  Night Gallery in 1972. Whereas the former is an admirable, if flawed, attempt to bring the essence of Smith’s tale to the silver screen, the latter is a risible fiasco despite the casting of Vincent Price in the role of Carnby.

The September 1931 issue of “Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror” in which “The Return of the Sorcerer” was first published.

First published in the September 1931 issue of Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror, the basic story is one of a young man, Mr. Ogden, who answers an ad for an in-house secretarial position from a recluse scholar in Oakland, CA (one of the rare instances of a real-world location for a Smith tale). One of the requirements for the appointment is a more than passing familiarity with the Arabic language which Ogden has. Upon arrival, he is put off by the bleakness of the demesne and the febrile mien of its senescent master, a Mr. John Carnby. He accepts the position in spite of this and, once engaged, is taken to the study which is decorated like a sorcerer’s lair: “There were tables strewn with archaic instruments of doubtful use, with astrological charts, with skulls and alembics and crystals, with censers such as are used in the Catholic Church, and volumes bound in worm-eaten leather with verdigris-mottled clasps. In one corner stood the skeleton of a large ape; in another, a human skeleton; and overhead a stuffed crocodile was suspended.” (from “The Return of the Sorcerer” by Clark Ashton Smith, 1931)

A good portion of the library, he sees, is dedicated to Goetia and Black Magic and, as it turns out, Mr. Carnby needs someone to translate a certain passage of the Necronomicon (yes, that Necronomicon) which was not included in the Latin translation, but which Ogden suspects has an occult significance to Carnby despite his protestations to the contrary. Even so, he seems to blanch at every bump that goes off in the darkness of the creepy old house. “The house is full of rats.” he says, unconvincingly in explanation. The “rats” return on subsequent nights and each time the racket they make becomes louder as they seem to encroach upon Carnby’s chamber. Ogden himself even catches a brief glimpse one night of something ” …much too pale for a rat and its form was not at all suggestive of an animal. I could not have sworn what it was, but the outlines had seemed unmentionably monstrous.” (from “The Return of the Sorcerer” by Clark Ashton Smith, 1931)

It is apparent, by his jitteriness that Carnby is anxious about something more than rats and the aforementioned grimoire passage, once translated, gives some foreshadowing of the final act, so I will skip it so as not to ruin the tale for you. It is perhaps a bit predictable, but it is also ghoulishly effective and definitely fun to read how it plays out in Smith’s Gothic prose stylings.

Marquee for “The Return of the Sorcerer” retrieved from the Night Gallery.net site.

In the Night Gallery adaptation the source of Carnby’s anxiety and the main reason for his wanting to accurately translate the excised Necronomicon passage is revealed much too early, thus diminishing it’s power in unlike when it was accompanied by the ensuing grisly denouement.  Aside from Price, the Night Gallery episode stars Bill Bixby as Noel Evans (a stand in for Ogden who is only known by his surname in the tale), and there is an added provocative female assistant for Carnby named Fern (played by the lovely Tisha Sterling). In the DVD commentary it is explained that Fern was added to explain what was going on to the audience, but nothing she says in this regard isn’t said by Carnby in the original tale, although she does have a monologue about overturning the patriarchy in the dinner table scene. To be honest, I believe she was added for eye candy, despite her feminist diatribe, and there is a whole subplot about her deposing Price and seducing Bixby, which I found unnecessary and distracting.

What’s also distracting is the campy gags which take away from the dread of the original tale and I think demean Smith’s work. For example the  addition of a scene with the goat at the dinner table. In the final act, the gruesome climax is reworked into a mock Black Mass (not in the story) where Carnby and Fern recite the palindromic chant from the Sator Square: SATOR / AREPO / TENET /OPERA / ROTAS. In the commentary it is divulged that Ms. Sterling felt very uneasy about saying it as she believed it was part of a genuine Black Magic rite. In reality, it is a protection spell, dating back to the days of Pompeii, which has since been used for other benevolent uses in it’s many variations.

Unlike Boris Karloff’s Thriller, which I feel did right by many Weird Tales alumni in their adaptations, Night Gallery didn’t seem to give the material proper respect and many potentially interesting teleplays were ruined by camp humor and watering down the fantasy and horror elements so as not to offend or overtax the bland tastes and small minds of their intended audience. Occasionally they came close, but missed the mark more often than not. Even so, as my buddy Chester is wont to say, the book/story is still there for one to enjoy no matter how bad or unrecognizable any given adaptation might be.

On a final note, Smith’s tale was also adapted by comic artist Richard Corben. Unlike his Poe adaptations, he remains more or less faithful to Smith’s tale and retains some of it’s gloomy baroque atmosphere.

A page from the 1992 comic adaptation of the tale by Richard Corben.