Thursday, August 29, 2013

Good Reads: The Pointy End

The book: Piercing by Ryu Murakami

New father Kawashima Masayuki is obsessed with the fear that one day he will stab his infant daughter in her sleep. He stands over her crib many a night contemplating the way the icepick would slice into that tender baby flesh, savoring the horror of it all, questioning whether he could actually commit such a heinous act. He doesn’t really believe he would ever harm his child, but once he gets the idea, it takes over, consuming him. The only way to clear his obsession, he decides, is to murder a prostitute, stabbing her to death to expel his demons. Unfortunately for Kawashima, he picks the wrong hooker. Escort Chiaki is just as tortured and violent as he is. What follows is a meditation on violence, compulsion and how your shitty past inevitably fucks up your future and how we prefer to inflict our shit on others rather than face up to our problems.

A representative passage:
Inspired by a magazine article he’d read and photocopied in the library, Kawashima had decided to buy a knife as well as an ice pick. The article was about a thirty-two-year-old ‘soap tart’ who’d been found murdered in a hotel room, with her Achilles tendons severed. An anonymous police detective had volunteered this explanation: “When you cut the Achilles tendon, the sound it makes is as loud and sharp as a gunshot. The killer must have known that and taken pleasure in it.” Kawashima decided that before stabbing the victim’s stomach with an ice pick—or afterwards, if need be—he’d slice her Achilles tendons. He was curious what it would sound like exactly. And he wanted to see the expression on the woman’s face when it happened.

The album: Red on Chrome by Crowpath

There’s a clinical dispassion to Crowpath’s murder metal. They’re a band that understands “The Precise Art of Knives.” But for all its musical ferocity, Red on Chrome feels like one of those true crime reality shows set to music, a cold eyed, objective recitation of the details of the crime. This is far more cold and calculated than the hot blooded second degree murder of something like Rotten Sound's primal Murderworks. Instead, Crowpath mirror the way Kawashima methodically goes about plotting his murder, even writing out his plans extensively in a notebook. It’s not slasher film monsters that are terrifying. It’s that quiet guy next door who just snaps.

A representative song:  “The Precise Art of Knives”

I love how it all came through. It’s amazing how it aims on the target. A dream now in practice, so touching. Hail for the new. This bizarre violent creation speaks volumes. It’s precise and dominating. It clears a path through the everyday madness. An examples has been set, a map to follow. It’s infinite, hard and cold, absolutely brilliant. The new surgery.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Good Reads: Deep Thoughts

The book: The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace published his first novel at an age when most of us are still mastering the art of the keg stand. And if that were enough to make him an overachiever, Mr. Smarty Pants’ debut, The Broom of the System is actually a super meta in-joke about philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s thoughts on the way language mediates our perception of reality. But don’t let that deter you. If it makes you feel less inadequate, it’s obvious Wallace was young and trying just a little too hard and owed a too obvious debt to Thomas Pynchon. The Broom of the System is the convoluted tale of awkward, overly cerebral Lenore Stonecipher Beadsman (a thinly veiled, gender-bent version of the author) and her search for her missing philosopher great-grandmother that careens through fat men determined to eat the world, ominous shadows and a smart mouthed cockatiel in a twisty, hilarious romp through mid-America in the late ‘80s. It’s also an easier entry into Wallace’s oeuvre than the intimidating 1,000 page (+100 more pages of footnotes, some of which have their own footnotes!)  virtuosity of Infinite Jest, which is well worth reading too.

A representative passage:
There were two reliable ways to identify the Bombardini Building, which was where the firm of Frequent and Vigorous made its home. A look from the south at Erieview Tower, high and rectangular not far from the Terminal section of Cleveland’s downtown, reveals that the sun, always at either a right or a left tangent to the placement of the Tower, casts a huge, dark shadow of the Building over the surrounding area—a deep, severely angled shadow that joins the bottom of the Tower in black union but then bends precipitously off to the side, as if the Erieview Plaza section of Cleveland were a still pool of water, into which the Tower had been dipped, the shadow its refracted submergence. In the morning, when the shadow casts from east to west, the Bombardini Building stands sliced by light, white and black, on the Tower’s northern side. As the day swells and the shadow compacts and moves ponderously in and east, and as clouds begin to complicate the shapes of darknesses, the Bombardini Building is slowly eaten by black, the steady suck of the dark broken only by epileptic flashes of light caused by clouds with pollutant bases bending rays of sun as the Bombardini Building flirts ever more seriously with the border of the shadow. By mid-afternoon the Bombardini Building is in complete darkness, the windows glow yellow, cars go by with headlights. The Bombardini Building, then, is easy to find, occurring nowhere other than on the perimeter of the sweeping scythe of the Midwest’s very most spectacular shadow.

The album: Dogma by Asterisk*

Asterisk* is what happens when a philosophy graduate student like Wallace tosses over writing and gets really into Discordance Axis. The Swedish trio followed the Jersey Boys’ lead in elevating the intellectual and emotional aspects of grindcore on their retrospective master's dissertation Dogma. Their weapon of choice was grind that flirted with linguistics, philosophy, literature and pop culture in a way that hadn’t been seen before and rarely rivaled since. While the music may have nodded back to Discordance Axis, Asterisk* established a lyrical identity that was wholly their own.

A representative song: “Phrase Structure Tree”

You'll probably need a phrase structure tree just to keep up with a few of Wallace's more virtuoso sentences.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

G&P Review: Fuck the Facts

Fuck the Facts
Big Cartel

If you took a hammer to Fuck the Facts’ seven-song Amer EP, you could probably kludge together a halfway decent screamo/shoegaze jam from the remaining shards and a bit of Krazy Glue.
Amer’s first moments on “Une Triste Vue” run through a tinkling crystalline forest, like listening to Jesu on fast forward. But winter is coming and the night is dark and full of terrors. So as the snow drifts pile up, and you have a premonition this won’t end well. From there leap ahead three songs to the befogged bewilderment of “A Void.” Decisions have been made in the gloom, unthinkable, irrevocable. Another judicious use of fast forward will wrap you in the Vicodin overdose warmth of the second half of penultimate song “L'enclume et le Marteau” and its resignation in the face of death. Taken together those snippets make a suicidal triptych of longing and the inability to cope.
While that all makes for a great game of what-if, you’ll notice we’re skipping over a lot of material. You can’t really overlook the fact that grindcore is these Canadiens’ chosen avocation and that the four or five minutes of slow motion mopery you could stitch together out of the remnants of this 17 minute EP are far more interesting than anything that blasts a beat. Against the open veined crimson of Fuck the Fact’s extra-genre digressions, the actual grind feels as gray and rigor mortised as a week old corpse. There’s something lifeless behind the eyes when Fuck the Facts start blasting that leaves the grind portions wanting. While that can be a bit disappointing, there’s no denying Amer is ripe for a clever remixing.

[Full disclosure: the band sent me a download.]

Monday, August 19, 2013

Good Reads: The Devils You Know

The book: Devils (aka The Possessed) by Fyodor Dostoevsky

I continually flip flop between Devils and The Brothers Karamazov as my favorite book of all time. I usually read both about once every six months just on general principle. Devils, one of Dostoevsky’s lesser known novels, is the tale of would be communist revolutionaries fomenting chaos in a rural Russian enclave. It’s a set up that allows Fyodor Mikhailovich to dwell on the corrupt soul of man through the characters of the venal, manipulative Peter Stepanovich, the decadent Nikolai Stavrogin and the melancholy suicide Kirillov. It’s a story of vice, murder, suicide and social decay as Dostoevsky chronicles a society that rots from the inside out but still begs for something noble and righteous to cling to. If they cannot differentiate between the sublime and the foul, that's only one more cause for weeping. While Dostoevsky’s prescription, embracing a reactionary form of Orthodox Christianity, may not resonate with too many grindheads, his sorrow at the sheer waste of it all is palpable.

A representative passage:

“Life is pain, life is fear, and man is unhappy. Everything is now pain and fear. Man loves life now because he loves fear and pain. That’s how it’s been. Life is given in return for pain and fear now, and that’s the whole deception. But man is still not really man. There will come a new man, happy and proud. He who doesn’t care whether he lives or dies – he’ll be the new man. He who conquers pain and fear – will become God. And then the old God will no longer exist. […] God is the pain of the fear of death. He who conquers pain and fear – will become God. Then a new life will dawn; there’ll be a new man; everything will be new… History will be divided into two parts: from gorilla to the destruction of God and from the destruction of God to… […] … to the physical transformation of the earth and man. […] Everyone who wants absolute freedom will have to dare to kill himself. Everyone who dares to kill himself will have discovered the secret of deception. There’s no freedom beyond that; that’s everything – there’s nothing more. He who dares kill himself is God.”

The album: Moksha by Cloud Rat

There’s a similar sorrow that undergirds Cloud Rat’s most recent album. It’s the soul sickness of the survivor who watches friends and family succumb to the kind of inner pain that drives them to reckless extremes (chemical, emotional, physical) to blunt the torment of their existence. But underneath it all, there’s a brooding sense of hope at war with the despair that plagues humanity. Short of death, lives can be changed and mistakes can be atoned, sins can be cleansed, peace can be found.

A representative song:  “Aroma”

Should have let me choose, shouldn’t have you? Rebellion leading to freedom. Burned alive. I smell you. I smell like you. I am awake and inside out. “Awful punishment awaits bad people…” Jenny taught me. And it will be heroic to try and stop me. It’s still happening and it’s not changing. So you’re lying lying lying. My voice is in your throat. And it all must burn burn burn.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

G&P Review: Kratzer/Kvazar


7 Degrees/Blastbeat Mailmurder
There’s a gray-scale anti-rainbow that haunts the periphery of the visible spectrum and Kratzer and Kvazar divide its hues between them on their fog-colored split effort. The effect is like a reverse Wizard of Oz where all of the color and joy are leached out of a broken and disappointing world.
German crusties Kratzer dwell at the center of a bizarre Goode homolosine projection of the punk rock world in which the sneaky melodicism of Scandinavian d-beat somehow abuts raging Japanese hardcore. Kratzer chip their seven crusted cries from the cracking cement of abandoned playgrounds, ruptured highways and crumbling brutalist highrises, choked in the ash of industrial smog and sickened by the pestilential runoff of industrial waste. It’s the gray grime of our own claustrophobic modernity as its plaster veneer chips away, exposing the flimsy foundation beneath. The moody, mercurial “?/!” glooms its way through the broken landscape, the pivot point of Kratzer’s contribution, a murky slow motion encapsulation of their dimmed horizons and pervasive hopelessness.
After Kratzer managed to paint so evocative a portrait using only monochromatic tools, it’s kind of a bummer that Kvazar’s side is also bogged down in gray. Only this time it is the uniform mush of a bowl of oatmeal.  Apparently the band has been lurking in the Greek grind scene since time immemorial and these, their final songs, were trapped in cryostasis until they recruited Dephosphorus’ Panos Agoros to come in add the missing vocals. Unfortunately, the murky, mushy production that squashes everything together doesn’t play to the astro-grinder’s strengths, burying his distinctive yelp behind flat sounding drums and guitars. The endless gray horizons of one anonymous song after another only makes things worse as Kvazar just slog their way along colorlessly. Where Kratzer’s grays are an accurate snapshot of a black and white world, Kvazar’s contribution is a despondent drone through a missed opportunity. After the intriguing opening half, it’s a shame the second side of this promising split doesn’t live up to its amazing gray art.

[Full disclosure: 7 Degrees sent me a review copy.]

Monday, August 12, 2013

Good Reads: Dark Knight of the Soul

The book: Arkham Aslyum: A Serious House on Serious Earth by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean

I currently have subscriptions to three separate Batman titles. My home library has a dedicated Batman shelf. I have a different Batman shirt for just about every day of the week (not including my hoodie, pajamas and ubiquitous hat). My only contribution to decorating Lil Grinder’s room was installing a Bat Signal night light. I’ve been known to blow whole weekends watching Batman movies, starting with Adam West and working my way up to Christian Bale, only stirring from the couch as my bladder and stomach demand. I would go gay for Kevin Conroy. What I’m trying to say is I have a thing for Batman. (My wife would say that “thing” is an “obsession,” but what do she and that psychologist at my intervention know?) Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum is my favorite Dark Knight story. No other Batman tale is as visually arresting, artistically dazzling or as thematically rich as the hypnogogic menagerie of Carroll-ian revelry McKean and Morrison magicked up in 1989. The very loose inspiration for the game of the same name, Arkham Asylum locks Batman in the titular madhouse to be h(a)unted by a roster of his most challenging villains after the Joker springs them loose on April Fool’s Day. From there, Morrison weaves a symbolic, psychologically rich story that casts Batman in a whole new light, forcing him on to the path of the hero’s journey as he plumbs the depths of his own fear. Let’s just say it’s not every day you see the Dark Knight crying for his mommy like a little bitch. It also turned the Mad Hatter from a B-list joke to one of the absolutely creepiest villains in the entire rogue’s gallery. McKean's impressionistic, multi-modal art would only intensify the fractured, dreamlike logic that pervaded the entire story. Unlike the Bat-titles Morrison would pen later, here he has no interest in rehashing the mythos of the stoic Caped Crusader and his implacable quest for justice. Instead, Morrison breaks down Batman psychologically, forcing Gotham’s favorite crypto-fascist plutocrat to contemplate the warped motives that would drive a man to dress up in a rubber suit and spend his nights beating up the diseased and deformed, the impoverished and insane.

A representative passage:
“Afraid? Batman’s not afraid of anything. It’s ME. I’M afraid. I’m afraid the Joker may be RIGHT about me. Sometimes I… QUESTION the rationality of my actions. And I’m afraid that when I walk through those asylum gates… When I walk into ARKHAM and the doors close behind me… It’ll be just like coming home.”

The album: Tree of No Return by Tusk

While not Batman themed (and oh does the world ever need a Batman themed grind band!), Tusk’s grind/sludge masterpiece is psychological horror tale about a dude getting lost in the woods, going insane from exposure and dehydration and eventually getting eaten by bears. Both Arkham Asylum and Tree of No Return are possessed by the notion of how your surroundings can affect your outlook (the relevant phobias being claustro- and agora-, respectively), something that has intrigued me since my first visit to the psychological gauntlet of the Holocaust Museum.  The wide open woods have never felt so fraught as they do in the hands of 75 percent of Pelican gone grind. The songs blast and snarl at the start but elongate and warp as the album wears on, drawing out into sludgy psychedelia as our protagonist loses not only his sense of direction but his sense of self. It’s much the same psychological breakdown Batman suffers in the shadow-haunted halls of Arkham.

A representative song: “Starvation Dementia”

Black swarms cut the moon apart. Leather wings carry rabid heart. Skyward hordes over moon-swept wood. Wraiths of madness fro blackest earth. Lunarscape shown bright, now gone. Nowhere lands orbit on. Unseen vissoth stir about. Hidden something , crawling sounds whipper out there from a rock, scratching round tree bark.

No more feeling like a human being. Necron spider limbs rattle along herky jerky from wilderness to beyond. No more feeling like a human being. No more.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

G&P Review: Heartless

Certain Death
Halo of Flies

Certain Death’s finest moments perch on that nanometer wide precipice that razors anticipation from action. Heartless are a hardcore band that revel in that held-breath moment that comes before unleashing chaos, and their eight song EP is a punk rock pep rally that’s there to prep you for the big game. While this Pittsburgh quartet never quite achieve that orgasmic release they keep building toward, you won’t walk away from Certain Death with your rabbles unroused either.
Like a leaner Black Ships or a less intricate Trap Them, Heartless yank the hardcore rip cord and set off in a straight line to stomp, obstacles be damned. The slow burner “Mute” eventually crashes through the scenery at a near grindcore pace, but Certain Death’s strengths come in the down moments where guitarist Rick Mauck nearly scrapes his knuckles on the pavement trying to get low. It lays a foundation for vocalist Cory Smith to bark his way into your heart has he rends his trachea at the world. Certain Death stumbles to its demise 11 minutes later with the bummer trip of its title track, a chug-a lug-roundabout that takes the peaks Heartless spent the EP cresting and bleeds its out to a gray faced death. But by then you already know that only death is certain.

[Full disclosure: Halo of Flies sent me a download.]

Monday, August 5, 2013

Good Reads: Roommates

The book: The Room by Hubert Selby

A petty criminal, The Room’s only character, sits in a jail cell awaiting his trial. Isolated physically and emotionally, the unnamed narrator spins elaborate fantasies of increasingly violent and depraved revenge for purely imagined slights. He builds himself up as the pure avenger of wholly imagined wrongs, a fantasy paragon at odds with his anonymous, routine criminality. The criminal lashes out against the imaginary strictures that have landed him in jail in a chilling portrait of incoherent violence and the cost of fraying social ties. Like The Catcher in the Rye, The Room is thin on plot, but Selby penned a stunning character study, probing the fragile psyche of a born loser whose egomaniacal rage and incoherence are just as much of a prison as the bars that keep him locked up.

A representative passage:
Just twist it around and shove it up their asses, treading the floor of his cell, nodding his head with strong approval, shove it up and break it off. Those ugly mothers cunts. I dont need no fucking lawyer to make those cocksuckers look like idiots. When I get through I/ll fixem good. I/ll showem. The dumb sonsabitches. Krist, what a bunch of ignorant slobs Filthy, fucking slobs and they can shove people around just because they have a badge. Ignorant fucking okies who dont know their asses from a fucking hole in the ground and they get away with murder because they have that fucking uniform and a crew cut, the flattop bastards. The fucking flattop bastards. Drive around like theyre king shit. Drink coffee and eat donuts like they own the fucking joint. Looking down their noses at people. Who in the fuck do they think they are. Nothin but a bunch of ignorant slobs and they look down their noses at people. Jesus, what a pair of balls they have. What a fucking pair of balls, pounding across the floor, waving his hands, take away their guns and they aint shit. They aint worth a fiddlers fuck. I dont know who in the fuck they think they are, but I/ll be goddamned if theyre going to get away with it. I/ll showem. I/ll be a rotten sonofabitch if I dont showem.

The album: Prowler in the Yard by Pig Destroyer

J.R. Hayes’ head is a Selby-esque place, full of lurking horrors, crippling emotional vacancy and self-inflicted nightmares. Prowler in the Yard’s stalkerriffic story line could easily have been culled from Selby’s work. Transpose it into Selby’s idiosyncratic grammar and you could practically slide it into any number of the Brooklyn author’s works. Selby and Hayes both weave tales of impotent figures who can only take their rage out on imaginary targets, too passive and cowed to act out in life. They’re characters that have regressed into an inner fantasy land because real life has left them beaten and ignored. Both take you deep into the mind of a person you definitely don’t want to be, but, if you’re honest, can probably relate to more than is necessarily comfortable.

A representative song: “Junkyard God”

My knuckles are bleeding on your front door and these flowers are wilting in the rain. They were for you and now they are for no one. They are irrelevant as mercenaries in times of peace. They are smoke twisting off the lips of a movie star. Here is a boy with paper skin who longs to touch the girl of broken glass. She loves it when he wears his skin like that. In tatters.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

G&P Review: Infanticide

Misconception of Hope

I once had a Dodge Neon with a failing transmission. It would whine and strain and huff at low gear, but if you persevered and rode it out, it would eventually lurch into third and you were good to cruise. So that was all good, provided all you wanted to do is cruise around in third. That’s sort of how I feel about Misconception of Hope.
Sweden’s Infanticide have turned in a cruising record the revs past the low gears and never settles down again. But it feels like interstate cruising; it’s two lanes of blurring blacktop anonymity as songs slide into each other like endless highway mile markers. Infanticide are competent composers and performers, but Misconception of Hope is lacking some intangible vitality that would add some interest to this cross-country grindcore road trip. Instead, this feels like a monotone gray bit of background noise to fill the emptiness as you drive between the boundaries of two radio stations. The riffs never rise to the level of memorable and the overall production is missing that gut punch that blastbeat junkies crave. Even on the first listen you can anticipate where the growls will drop out and the shrieks take over. It all just feels so rote.
Infanticide’s prior work put them squarely in the 50th percentile of the grindcore Bell curve, but they were enjoyable efforts nonetheless. Ninety percent of Misconception of Hope evaporates like a gas spill in a hot parking lot the minute I stop listening. I’ll never forget that piece of shit Neon though.

[Full disclosure: Willowtip sent me a download.]