Archive for March, 2020

Update 03/13/2020: Moribond accepted for Spectral Realms #13

Posted in Chelsea Arrington, Clark Ashton Smith, Frank Coffman, Hell-Flower, My Bantam Black Fay, Pickman's Press, S.T. Joshi, Spectral Realms, The Averoigne Legacy, The Fell Fête, Weird Poetry with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 13, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Last night I received confirmation from S.T. Joshi that my poem Moribond has been accepted for inclusion in Spectral Realms #13, where it will join My Bantam Black Fay, and Hell-Flower, respectively. After so many prose poems, it’s nice to be able to offer some verse again. Admittedly, I would not have been able to accomplish this without the help and guidance from my colleagues Ms. Chelsea Arrington, and Frank Coffman, who both commented on my work in progress. Mr. Coffman in particular gave me useful advice on how I might improve on Moribond. I am grateful to them both.

Note: the character of Moribond also made an appearance in my tribute to Clark Ashton Smith, The Fell Fête, which can be found in the anthology The Averoigne Legacy from Pickman’s Press.

Black Sabbath turns 50

Posted in Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation, Black Sabbath, Django Reinhardt, Geezer Butler, Gustav Holst, H.P. Lovecraft, Heavy Metal Music, N.I.B., Nativity in Black, Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Works inspired by J. R. R. Tolkien with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 12, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

February 13th 2020 marked the 50th anniversary of the debut LP by Black Sabbath. No matter what anyone tells you, this was the birth of Heavy Metal. There may have already been hard rock bands like Cream, Led Zeppelin, or Deep Purple, but Metal, as we know it, began here.

Black Sabbath (1970, Vertigo) released Friday the 13th, 1970.

Black Sabbath had a unique sound, mostly due to the guitar style of Tony Iommi. The story has been told many times before, but if you don’t know it, here are the basics: Tony worked in a sheet metal factory in Birmingham and right when he decided to leave and take his music career seriously, he had an accident there which took off the tips of his fingers. Dejected, he went into a depressive funk until he was turned on to the guitar playing of Gypsy Jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, who developed a distinct style of playing after suffering injuries in a fire which rendered the ring and pinky fingers on his left hand useless. Inspired, Iommi soon found a way to play around his own injuries using false finger tips which he created from plastic bottles he’d melted down. To accommodate the sensitivity of his foreshortened appendages, he also down-tuned his strings creating a unique sound, which countless riff-masters have tried to emulate since.

Iommi is also known for his ability to compose doom-laden guitar riffs. Black Sabbath’s eponymously titled debut album kicks off with one of the most iconic of these riffs, the title song of their debut album, and the group’s theme song, Black Sabbath. Based loosely on Mars from Gustav Holst‘s The Planets Suite, Iommi also incorporated the tritone, a/k/a diabolus in musica, which in Western music has sinister connotations, creating a wicked sounding backdrop to a lyric which comes off like a voiceover outtake from a Hammer Horror film. Since then it has become de rigueur to use the tritone in the composition of Heavy Metal music.

The lyrics were based on an experience bassist Geezer Butler had in the early days of the band:

According to the band, the song was inspired by an experience that Geezer Butler had in the days of Earth. Butler, obsessed with the occult at the time, painted his apartment matte black, placed several inverted crucifixes, and put many pictures of Satan on the walls. Ozzy Osbourne handed Butler a black occult book, written in Latin and decorated with numerous pictures of Satan. Butler read the book and then placed it on a shelf beside his bed before going to sleep. When he woke up, he claims he saw a large black figure standing at the end of his bed, staring at him. The figure vanished and Butler ran to the shelf where he had placed the book earlier, but the book was gone. Butler related this story to Osbourne, who then wrote the lyrics to the song based on Butler’s experience. The song starts with the lyrics:

What is this that stands before me?
Figure in black which points at me

[, retrieved 02/02/2020]

Inner sleeve featuring inverted cross and prose poem.

I remember being fascinated by this song and by it’s dark imagery. I used to stare at the album cover with the grainy photograph of the green-faced woman (presumably a witch) standing in front of the Mapledurham Watermill. The inner sleeve of the European version contained a big inverted cross and a creepy prose poem, which inspired me to write a spooky prose piece of my own featuring the witch-woman, that I recall my 8th grade home room teacher accepting for extra credit with some trepidation. Decades later, the origin story behind the song N.I.B. would inspire me to write the prose poem Nativity in Black.


The European version also had the cover version of the song Evil Woman by Crow, which was released as a single backed by the original song Wicked World–a superior song in my estimation. In the US, Wicked World replaced Evil Woman on the LP. However, because I had the European version of the album, I didn’t hear the song Wicked World until much later. I was aware of it’s existence though because my copy of the 1976 compilation We Sold Our Soul for Rock ‘n’ Roll had it listed on the back cover even though it wasn’t on the actual vinyl album. What a tease!

The rest of the album is a heady mixture of Blues-based psychedelic rock with song topics ranging from the occult to literary fantasy references. There is The Wizard, supposedly inspired by the character Gandalf, from J.R.R. Tolkien‘s Lord of the Rings series, and featuring some rare harmonica playing by Ozzy Osbourne; Behind the Wall of Sleep, purportedly a nod to H.P. Lovecraft‘s Beyond the Wall of Sleep; the controversial N.I.B. the significance of which I have discussed previously at length in the post about my story Nativity in Black,  treats of a besotted Lucifer, who falls for a mortal woman. The album closes with a couple of jamming tunes, starting with the atmospheric Sleeping Village, the lyrics of which read like the set up for a folk-horror tale, that turns into a jam that segues into a cover of the Blues-Rock number Warning, by the Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation.

The openly devilish imagery on this album did attract attention from some unsavory types, like Anton Lavey and the Church of Satan, who lead a parade in their honor when they arrived in LA for their first American tour, so on subsequent albums they toned down the deviltry and tackled more worldly topics and things that no one else had the nerve to talk about like social injustice, the consequences and politics of war, mental illness, drugs, and the devastation of the planet.

Despite practically no radio airplay, save for maybe the single Paranoid, from their sophomore album of the same name, Black Sabbath managed to become one of the most successful rock bands of the 1970s. Success however took a toll on the band, and after a couple of lesser efforts in the mid-70s the band fired Ozzy for his unreliability and excessive substance abuse, which started the revolving door of line-ups that would persist to this day.

Black Sabbath The Dio Years (2007, Rhino Records.)

Along the way, the band had brief moments of brilliance, like during the Dio years, starting with Heaven and Hell and culminating in the formation of the band of the same name in 2006, but that’s a story for another day.

Black Sabbath 13 (2013, Vertigo).

Ozzy came back a few times, once during the 90s to do the Reunion album, and also in 2013 for the album 13 but despite a some decent live shows the magic wasn’t quite there anymore. The new songs on Reunion were unremarkable, and although 13 was better than that by a long shot, it was still lacking the inspiration of the first few albums of their heyday.

Even so, their influence can be heard in countless hard rock, and Heavy Metal bands over the years. Aside from being the progenitors of Metal, their early albums in particular have inspired the offshoot Doom Metal, which specializes in slow-tempo dow-tuned riffs and lyrics that focus on death, despair, and the occult. I expect they shall continue to be relevant in the decades to come and this album will still be beloved at the 100th anniversary.






Good Manners (2017)

Posted in Good Manners (2017), werewolf films with tags , on March 11, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Last night I watched a DVD of the Brazilian film entitled As Boas Maneiras (Good Manners), which I can only describe as a Gothic Fairy Tale in an urban Brazilian setting. Clara, a disenfranchised nurse takes a job as a housekeeper and nanny to Ana, a pregnant young uptown woman. The two become unlikely friends as Ana confides in her and comes to rely on her during her unusual pregnancy. Clara notices that Ana has a habit of sleepwalking during the full moon phase wherein her behavior becomes ferine. One night Ana goes for a walk out of the apartment and Clara follows, only to see her eat a cat. Then one full moon Ana gives birth and that is when the story takes a dark turn.

I won’t say anything else, so as not to spoil it, but I will say that I really enjoyed this movie. It was full of heart and dealt with an old trope in a different way.

Good Manners (2017)