Archive for November, 2017

Johanna Sadonis: Queen of Satanic Doom

Posted in Black Sabbath, Blood Ceremony (band), Doom Metal, Gaz Jennings, Johanna Sadonis, 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. I think that I did confirm for him that the lyrical content did lean towards the diabolic; but in truth, Sadonis’ themes are not like that of say Venom, or Slayer, both of whom focus on demonism, maleficia and blasphemy, whereas her lyrics lean more towards metaphysics and ritual magick.

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 (like in Izrael)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.

PS: I have noticed that a lot of haters have been posting on Youtube that Johanna is just a Jinx Dawson wannabe. For those of you who are not familiar with Ms. Dawson, she was the vocalist and primary lyricist for the band Coven whose 1969 debut album Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls was a minor hit in the underground music scene. Despite their Satanic subject matter, Coven’s music was psychedelic pop without much heft. They were definitely unique and probably one of the very first bands to openly sing about occult topics and especially witchcraft, but they never really were metal in any way shape or form. Jinx Dawson, now accepted as the Grande Dame of occult rock has rebooted her career and is touring with a new band brandishing a heavier sound and touting herself as the Metal Goth Queen.

Album cover for Coven’s Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls (1969,Mercury). Jinx Dawson is the pictured on the far left side.

Now, with all respect to Ms. Dawson and her legacy, the only similarity between them is that they both have long blonde hair and they both have occult themed lyrics. One might argue that Dawson paved the way for the likes of Sadonis, but I don’t hear any specific similarity in their styles or even stage personas. Don’t drink the haterade, don’t believe the trolls.

Update 12/28/2017

After living with these albums a while, I find that I cannot get enough of  Lucifer I. I still dig the Oath album, but find myself returning to the Lucifer album time and again. Basically, what keeps me coming back are the catchy minor keyed melodies, the choice fuzzy riffs and the clean vocals. I really get tired of the fact that every time I find a new heavy band I like, the vocalist sounds like the Cookie Monster. I also find the lyrics intriguing. It also helps that there are numerous live videos of the band on Youtube. The best one being a gig at a record store in Oldenburg, Germany. The video and audio quality is great and the band burns through a 50+ minute set which basically includes Anubis and most of their debut album.

Loser 7″ (2015, Rise Above).

Apparently there exists a limited edition of the LP that includes a 7″ single featuring two cover songs, Devil’s on the Loose and Loser (the former originally by The Rattles and the latter by Angel Witch). I have heard Loser on Youtube and it is a decent tune but doesn’t quite fit with the Sabbathy sound of the album proper. I am curious to hear the other track and shall look for this version in the future as well as the Oath LP with the Night of the Demon single.

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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.