Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a veteran entertainment journalist whose writing and live photography has been featured in Blabbermouth.net, Dee Snider’s House of Hair Online, Fangoria.com, Horror News.net, About.com Heavy Metal, MetalManiacs, New Noise, Music Dish, AMP, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained,Noisecreep, Impose, Pit, The Big Takeover.com, Rough Edge.com, Pitriff and others. His blog The Metal Minute won a “Best Personal Blog” award in 2009 from Metal Hammer magazine and he wrote and produced his own hard rock e-zine, Retaliate.

He has contributed essays to UK author Neil Daniels’ Iron Maiden and ZZ Top biographies. Ray’s fiction has been published in various periodicals and anthologies, including his flash fiction piece “Off the Record” for Akashic Books’ “Mondays Are Murder” noir series. His recent short stories “Before the Ball” and “Widow” were featured in subsequent editions of Alex S. Johnson’s Axes of Evil anthologies. Ray wrote serialized original superhero fiction for Cyber Age Adventures and five of those stories appear in the anthology Playing Solitaire. He was the winner of Quantum Muse’s fiction contest in 1999.

Ray is a former NHL game analyst for The Hockey Nut and one-time host of the forum “Comic Books” at ReadWave. He has done beat reporting, photography and lifestyle articles for Metromix, an affiliate of The Baltimore Sun, Carroll Magazine, The Northern News and The Emmitsburg Dispatch.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Ray Has Joined Blabbermouth.net and Metal Routes T.V.

Greetings, friends!  As of this week, I've been invited to join the album review staff at Blabbermouth.net.  Suffice it to say, this a most welcome opportunity and I am looking forward to making the most of it.  Come on by as I'll be examining the latest from Rush, Ihsahn, Tank, U.D.O. Baroness, Hellyeah and The Company Band in the immediate future. 

I would also like to announce my recruitment as a consultant and assistant program developer for Metal Routes T.V., a new heavy metal-themed show which will initially launch on the web and then broaden its horizons as investors are gained.  Filming begins on the debut episode very shortly.  Stay tuned for details.

Though I've been slow posting here at The Crash Pad, do continue to drop in as I'll have soon some goodies coming here for you as well. 

As always, I thank each and every one of you for your support of this site and all of my endeavors.

Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

This Is Just Wrong...

Thanks for your patience, readers. Actual writing coming anytime now here at The Crash Pad.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Poetry In Your Pocket Day

Today is Poetry In Your Pocket Day and the idea is to carry around a favorite bit of poetry or prose in your pocket to pull out and share with people in your travels today.

I'll take along this sliver from Kahlil Gibran's Sand and Foam:

"Poetry is the wisdom that enchants the heart.
Wisdom is the poetry that sings in the mind.
If we could enchant man's heart and at the same time sing in his mind,
Then in truth he would live in the shadow of God."

Monday, April 2, 2012

Ray Is Featured In the "Be Our Guest" Section at Steppin' Out Magazine This Week

This week I'll be plugging my Smashwords short story "John's Dead" in the "Be Our Guest" segment in Steppin' Out magazine.

A special note of gratitude to Dan Lorenzo of Hades, Non-Fiction and The Cursed for hooking this up for me. You rule, brutha!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Is Social Networking a Benefit Or a Burden to Writers?

Rule number one as a serious author is to never bite the hand that feeds. That holds true for most things in life, of course, but it's an idiom writers are held in check with as a constant truism. Cross swords with an editor or agent who is willing to invest time in an author's career, the author will assuredly be gutted no matter how skilled he or she can parry. Tick off one's audience to the point of blatancy, then forget future royalties.

Like anything else, it's an honest checks and balances system which has its loops to master and potential pitfalls that can ruin a writer's career. It's not always fair but Kennedy warned us ages ago about the fallacy of fairness. In an equal world, fairness would be a standard to which everyone could prosper from, but we hardly live in an equal world.

The internet, for all of its wonders and hazards, tries to serve as an intermediary for fairness--so long as you can keep up the payments with your service provider. Through sheer anonymity behind a keyboard, everyone enjoys relative equality. It's when we choose to put our pictures into cyberspace and express ourselves when the web becomes personable instead of free floating machina. It also starts the competition game. Seeking one another out amidst the cold cybernetic tundra is, of course, commonly referred to as social networking. Even if our purpose is just to have a few online chums with whom to email and instant message about the daily grind of life, social networking is the new culture.

We'd much rather email and text one another these days instead of picking up the phone or, gee willikers, actually pick up pen and paper and snail mail letters to each other. It takes too much time, we have to spend money on stamps which are double the price they were before the internet went mainstream and the whole "green" movement guilt trips us all into conserving our paper-based resources before our world resembles a Once-ler-esque wasteland.

There is, of course, the convenience factor, though, which draws us to the internet, email and Blackberries. You can send a message quicker than it takes to dial a number and engage the other person you're attempting to reach and stay in good conscience you're no snob, you haven't withdrawn from society, you keep up with current trends. In the business world, email is the happy alternative to being forced to speaking with undesirable, headache-provoking parties through the phone receiver. Life moves faster and we fall to pieces faster accordingly, so it's not always in people's interest to jabber on the phone for long periods of time. Besides, there's 600 channels of mindless fodder with which to downtune from the demanding pace of life, right?

Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and the former online social ringleader, MySpace, brings us together from every nook and cranny of the world. In my day, we pen-palled one another all across the globe and it's hilarious now to think how it would take weeks for our letters and care packages to get to one another. Now you can reach your online buddy in Dubai with an email attachment of goodies within seconds, assuming he or she is awake in his or her respective time zone to receive it so rapidly. Semantics, of course, but this instant gratification mode comes part and parcel with where we're at in the digital realm. Faster than lightspeed, we can have it all and we can assimilate information and barely tangible electronic products in nanoseconds depending on our ISP's capacity and how much free RAM we leave in our hard drives. Like Kraftwerk would chirp, we are the robots...doo da doo doo...

Yes, I too work the internet social hubs because it's practically expected if you're to be considered a serious writer. Okay, granted, the web makes my writings more accessible to a widespread, diverse audience who might not have had the means or the physical delivery system to read my articles at Metal Maniacs or AMP, which appeared in many retailers, but not all of them, of course. I am probably more read at my blogsite The Metal Minute than either of those venues, though I received quite a bit of wonderful reader feedback through their editors and printed letters within those periodicals. Many of those readers then sought me out through MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn to hook up with me. Some actually personalized their add friend requests, most did not. It's cool. So long as you're not a pedophile, mass murderer, cyberscum or porn spy, chances are I might very well add you.

As a writer, you're just about compelled to add cyber friends, unless you carry prestige and a long sales record in which your very name draws people to you in legion. Those folks don't need to add friends. They can scrutinize far deeper and those they do choose to communicate with online through postings and tweets only egg everyone else to the point of jealousy. "Hey, I follow you too, Ms. I Sell Millions," becomes the transient emotion from most where wound comes not from face-to-face rejection, but the fact a successful writer won't or is merely shy of time to reciprocate online. The biggest offense in the digital world nowadays, is to not respond to emails, texts or instant messages. Your very cred depends upon it unless you're already bank.

Again, here is where we're at in the world. If you're an up-and-coming writer or mid-tier writer, you must social network. Period. There's no escaping it. There are so many journalists, authors, poets and scribes galore and if you want to stand out, you must dog the internet persistently. You must devote hours a day sending out tweets to your followers, scouting out others to follow who might be down with your own goals and in turn, follow you. It becomes an instant numbers game. If you don't have a minimum of three digits in your friends and followers count, you're not legit. Thousands, you have a shot at making it. Six figures, you're in gold territory.

The theory is, the more people you get behind you in the digital realm, the far more likely your sales count is going to rise. Not always a fail-safe attitude, though, since we are still in tough financial times and there is triple the product in every branch of media. Talent is one thing; consumer willingness to buy is the bigger mandate. Writers today are expected to be marketing geniuses and while I myself possess a Marketing degree, most writers do not. In fact, most wouldn't know an actual prospectus and marketing plan if one was handed to them. Writers are analytical, sure, but most are dreamers, creators, designers, keyholders to portals of imagination. Forcing them into marketing schisms (in my opinion, anyway) puts many on a collision course for failure.

And so you see Twitter filled with billions of abbreviated marketing messages from writers touting their wares. The key, above all in the social networking stratum, is to get other users to re-tweet your self-penned advertisement, so you are likely to see the same messages come flying again from supportive writers. It becomes information overload, to the point your own tweet-pitch becomes just one ionized blurb amidst billions served on a daily basis. McDonald's might soon be balking at that claim, and I'm not going to be a hypocrite and denounce this practice. I've done it plenty and will be tweeting and Facebooking a message about this very post just to bring awareness to my friends and followers with the hopes of luring them all here to read. That's how it works now. We can only dream to serve billions of readers on a daily basis, but it's the driving motivation behind social networking--at least from a writer's perspective.

Also, what this online mania leads to is enterprising writers with certain levels of status or business ingenuity to prey on desperate, hungry writers by charging them a dime or two to sell themselves on their high traffic websites, or in some cases, charging them for a review of their book. I won't name names, but it resembles the practices of a well-known media journal, and this pay-to-play ethic basically robs the integrity of what is considered an "indie" scene. A true indie scene passes the materials around, shares its thoughts amongst one another for free and uses word-of-mouth to spread the media like wildfire--or to go viral, as is the lingo today. It's one thing if you're an assignment writer for a paying magazine, but directly charging an artist seeking your valued opinion? It's more than a gray area. The punk, thrash metal and alternative scenes of the eighties were proof positive that scenes are built and nurtured from within and profiteering off of one another was restricted to buying each other's works and t-shirts and then telling newcomers all about them.

But, like Depeche Mode sang in "Everything Counts," it's a competitive world and even more so with the internet inviting each and every participant with a direct connect into this formerly fabricated marketplace. Web shopping is real now, books are sent and consumed electronically in large (if not larger) amounts than hard copy to your local Barnes and Noble. Of course, I posit that nothing the interent offers compares to the intoxicating aroma of parchment and java at Barnes and Noble, where I feel as much at home as inside a record shop. Of course, you won't be engaged by strangers there as readily as you are on the web. Remember, it's easier to connect with others from the security of our computer-based hidey holes than in the real world.

The biggest thing to social networking for writers is how much do we need to do it and still remain productive in the actual craft of writing? Must we be chained to the Twitter page at the cost of actual writing time? The logical tactic is to minimize Twitter and plow through our paragraphs, bringing the Twitter page back up every so often on breaks to check others' tweets and to throw out more of our own. It's why certain authors who are making a name for themselves online always seem to be on Twitter and their tweets rumble through within minutes of their last ones. It's effective, but it is destined to become pandemic.

Not everyone enjoys the luxury of writing from morning to dinner time. Work, family, obligations, they're all a part of life and definitely a part of mine. Writing time is my most cherished personal commodity. When I must carve out portions of my free time to catch up with my Facebook friends, toss out tweets, thank my followers and answer my emails, often this comes at the sacrifice of valuable writing time. Sadly, I'm soon falling asleep at my computer once I have a manuscript up after all that since I've already had a long day at work, my family is noisy enough to whittle me down and then getting caught up with my digital microcosm becomes encompassing all on its own. I do my blog posts in the morning and it's always a race against my son who normally hears when I'm up and he's chasing my shadow. As you can see by the length of this post, I rose from bed earlier than usual so I could do it in peace, and it has become a part of my everyday habit as a writer. I hate to say it, there was less stringency before the internet, even if I do indeed thank the internet for the blossomed audience I enjoy. As I mentioned earlier, it's unwise to bite the hand that feeds.

Still, I do have to say this in summation: if I don't keep up with my social networking, I notice my followers drop off a few points or stagnate until I resume posting. Even at this site, the hit count reflects its activity, even if The Metal Minute continues to draw hundreds of readers each day, even when I don't post. Facebook, if I'm not reading through and commenting or "liking" my fellow Face-friends' thoughts, I can expect dead air to my own posts. There's the fairness factor I alluded to previously. It is easy, however, to misconstrue not giving a generous block of time in devotion to others in this digital metropolis as snubbing. If you want to succeed as a writer in this computer world, you must find the line between pushing your relevancy out there and hedging the all-important quietude in which to create.

Used to be a writer need simply find the quietude.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Ray's 125 Song Party Playlist

Inadvertently stemmed from a fun Facebook exchange I had with a friend from high school, I got to thinking what it might sound like if I was called upon to create a party playlist. Some of this list contains well-known hits, and some, well...not so much. The genres are bountiful and intentionally broad in scope, but all of these tunes have energy, verve and vibe. In my humble opinion, this list could well carry a party deep into the night. You be the judge.

1. The Clash – “Magnificent Seven”
2. Madness – “The Prince”
3. James Brown – “Doing it to Death”
4. Fatboy Slim – “The Rockefeller Skank”
5. Ani DiFranco – “Knuckle Down”
6. Adele – “Rumor Has It”
7. The Dining Rooms – “Pure & Easy”
8. PJ Harvey – “Down By the Water”
9. Roxy Music – “Love is the Drug”
10. Herbie Hancock – “Rockit”
11. Vampire Weekend – “Holiday”
12. Wilco – “I Might”
13. Buzzcocks – “Ever Fallen in Love”
14. Stereo MC’s – “Deep Down & Dirty”
15. Gorillaz – “Feelgood, Inc.”
16. Jurassic 5 – “World of Entertainment (Woe Is Me)”
17. Blondie – “Rapture”
18. U2 – “Two Hearts Beat As One”
19. The Fixx – “Saved By Zero”
20. Depeche Mode – “Strangelove”
21. The Cure – “Let’s Go to Bed”
22. Judas Priest – “Hot Rockin’”
23. Van Halen – “Hear About it Later”
24. Marilyn Manson – “The Beautiful People”
25. Deftones – “Digital Bath”
26. Smithereens – “Blood and Roses”
27. Paul Westerberg – “Dice Behind Your Shades”
28. Peter Murphy – “The Scarlet Thing In You”
29. Iggy and the Stooges – “Shake Appeal”
30. Redd Kross – “Peach Kelli Pop”
31. Black Flag – “T.V. Party”
32. Radiohead – “There There”
33. Amy Winehouse – “Tears Dry On Their Own”
34. Madonna – “Frozen”
35. Res – “Golden Boys”
36. Prince – “Irresistible Bitch”
37. Gary Wright – “Love Is Alive”
38. Electric Light Orchestra – “Strange Magic”
39. Led Zeppelin – “Going to California”
40. Orlando Cachaito Lopez – “Mis Dos Pequenas”
41. Classics IV – “Spooky”
42. Atlanta Rhythm Section – “So Into You”
43. The Pogues – “Bottle of Smoke”
44. Flogging Molly – “Drunken Lullabies”
45. The Psychedelic Furs – “Love My Way”
46. Devo – “Freedom of Choice”
47. Duran Duran – “A View to a Kill”
48. The Hives – “Hate to Say I Told You So”
49. Traffic – “John Barleycorn”
50. The Doors – “People Are Strange”
51. The Turtles – “You Showed Me”
52. The Grateful Dead – “St. Stephen”
53. Faster Pussycat – “Bathroom Wall”
54. Bang Tango – “Breaking Up a Heart of Stone”
55. Motorhead – “We Are the Road Crew”
56. The Cars – “Touch and Go”
57. The Ravyyns – “Raised On the Radio”
58. Elvis Costello – “Radio Radio”
59. The Cramps – “Goo Goo Muck”
60. Reverend Horton Heat – “Big Red Rocket of Love”
61. Emmylou Harris – “Wrecking Ball”
62. Thievery Corporation – “Guide For I and I”
63. Nine Inch Nails – “The Hand That Feeds”
64. Kurtis Blow – “The Breaks”
65. Public Enemy – “Welcome to the Terrordome”
66. Beastie Boys – “So Watch’a Want?”
67. TheHeavy – “How You Like Me Now?”
68. Otis Redding – “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)”
69. Joss Stone – “Jet Lag”
70. Santo and Johnny – “Sleepwalk”
71. The Ventures – “Walk Don’t Run”
72. The Specials – “Do the Dog”
73. Grace Jones – “Bullshit”
74. US3 – “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)”
75. The Beatles – “Paperback Writer”
76. Beach Boys – “God Only Knows”
77. Santana – “Soul Sacrifice”
78. Canned Heat – “Going Up the Country”
79. Neil Young – “Harvest Moon”
80. Robert Palmer – “Doctor Doctor”
81. Seals and Crofts – “Summer Breeze”
82. Joe Walsh – “Life’s Been Good”
83. Rolling Stones – “Midnight Rambler”
84. Stereolab – “Cybele’s Reverie”
85. Kraftwerk – “Trans-Europe Express”
86. Peter Gabriel – “I Don’t Remember”
87. Paul Simon – The Rhythm of the Saints”
88. Phil Collins – “In the Air Tonight”
89. The Romantics – “Talking in Your Sleep”
90. Jackson Browne – “Somebody’s Baby”
91. Talk Talk – “It’s My Life”
92. Berlin – “Sex (I’m a…)”
93. Simply Red – “Holding Back the Years”
94. Sade – “Love Is Stronger Than Pride”
95. Fugazi – “Sieve-Fisted Find”
96. The Damned – “New Rose”
97. The Jam – “A Town Called Malice”
98. Frank Black – “Los Angeles”
99. Blue Oyster Cult – “Burnin’ For You”
100. Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Me and My Friends”
101. Bob Marley – “Waiting in Vain”
102. SSQ – “Tonight (We’ll Make Love Until We Die)”
103. Tori Amos – “Spark”
104. The Dresden Dolls – “Girl Anachronism”
105. The Civil Wars – “Barton Hollow”
106. Fistful of Mercy – “Father’s Son”
107. Cake – “Comfort Eagle”
108. David Bowie - "The Jean Genie"
109. Blur – “Girls and Boys”
110. The Church – “Reptile”
111. Lush – “For Love”
112. Dramarama – “Work For Food”
113. Beck – “Devil’s Haircut”
114. International Noise Conspiracy – “The Reproduction of Death”
115. Pink Floyd – “One of These Days”
116. Rush – “Subdivisions”
117. Jimi Hendrix – “Spanish Castle Magic”
118. Dead Milkmen – “Punk Rock Girl”
119. Ramones – “She’s the One”
120. The Chantays – “Pipeline”
121. The Moonlighters – “I Only Have Eyes For You”
122. The Temptations – “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”
123. The Main Ingredient – “What You See Is What You Get”
124. Funkadelic – “(Not Just) Knee Deep”
125. Maxine Nightingale – “Right Back Where We Started From”

I Lost It Over This...

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What's New

As an update on my end, friends, yours truly has been going through some new life changes which is slowing blog production, but I'll be revving back up in due time.

A couple weeks ago, I was downsized from my day job in a foreclosure law firm. While the housing market slowly rises back up, that firm has skidded to a halt on their end. Fortunately, I was able to find a new job within a week's time in a well-established title company and I've been rather busy learning their system and growing acclimated to their thread of the industry.

In the meantime, I've been working on my current novel, "Watching Me Fall," since February, though I had a layoff of sorts from that while I sorted out my employment situation. Starting to get back into the groove and I'm about halfway through the first draft of this project.

Of course, I have my short story "John's Dead," available at Smashwords for your pleasure. I want to thank Dan Lorenzo of Hades and Non Fiction in advance for his generous invitation to promote this story at the Jersey-based magazine he sells advertisting for, Steppin' Out. This should be running sometime soon, but for now, please have a go at Smashwords via the link below and as always, thanks for your support.

Click here for a digital copy of "John's Dead": John's Dead, by Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ray's Blurb About The Autobiography of Malcolm X at Goodreads

Autobiography of Malcolm XAutobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the things I've always felt my high school education cheated me out of was an accurate conveyance of the civil rights movement. Our teacher insisted Malcolm X was a hate monger and as a 99% white school body, we should refute his ways. BS, I say. Malcolm X was a figure of change, evolving from criminal to fundamentalist pawn to a man of enlightenment. Unfortunately, he'd made too many enemies in the Hoover administration and the NOI for his enlightenment to be considered in his favor. I refute my high school teacher's so-called "lesson" and invite those who seek the truth about a historically misrepresented figure of civil rights to step up to this book. Enlightenment will then be yours.

View all my reviews

Monday, March 12, 2012

Friday, March 9, 2012

Why The Lorax 2012 REALLY Reeks of Capitalism

Chances are, if you've seen the new theatrical adaptation of Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, you probably went home in a mood as fuzzy as Truffula tree. The kiddos are unified in arms in support of this flick. Of course they are. It comes from the producers of Despicable Me, which happens to have a sequel due for release in 2013. Naturally, the opportunity to pimp Despicable Me 2 isn't wasted in conjunction with The Lorax. You'll be treated to a silly skit teaser of those wobbly minions attempting some nasally acapella with party horn action, all in anticipation of the next film. As if this shrewd (and yes, despicable) ploy isn't enough, you can expect another one of those minions to return seconds later in a cutesy run-in with one of the bears from The Lorax before the latter even starts.

It's pretty insulting, if you ask me, but the marketing power inflicted like a one-two punch is undeniable. Already I'm dreading my son badgering the snot out of me to get him to Despicable Me 2, which he thinks is coming out tomorrow, not a year from now. Those exploitative bastards. This flagrant disrespect for consumers (i.e. parents) already sets a tone that something wicked this way comes by the time The Lorax gets rolling. Albeit, the kids think this abrupt genre collision is way cool. Of course they do. It was way cool in my day whenever Iron Man showed up in a Spiderman comic. Sadly, beneath the chic is just another damn marketing trick.

The common complaint amongst right wingers or at the very least, pro capitalists, is how baldfaced The Lorax is with its guilt-tripping agenda. Well, the original source material was never so much a jab against Big Business as it was a public service announcement about utilizing our global resources with a conscience. Moreover, Seuss warned against corruption and greed as part of a sound business prospectus. Greed is inherent to politics, marketing, sports, literature, journalism, knowledge and religion. Unfortunately for this do-up of The Lorax, greed by its constructors well overshadows any goodhearted intentions to smite greed.

As with the live action film adaptation of The Cat in the Hat, The Lorax 2012 serves up a wonder world that captivates and it salutes the trippy sherbet-colored alterverse Dr. Seuss created. That being said, both films plunder those fascainting scapes bred from a playful imagination and then seizes their own liberties to bloat their works into full-fledged ventures. Both films subsequently veer far from Seuss' concepts and visions, so much they're evident thievery, fail-safe constructs of their own design. They rake in the dough based on a brand name instead of remaining true.

With The Lorax 2012, we get an entire new set of circumstances we're forced to pay attention to instead of focusing on the very compelling, simplistic tale of a young boy coaxing the story of environmental violation from a regretful anti-villain. Seuss never once showed us what the Once-Ler looks like beyond his green-sleeved arm. That's part of the allure to the original story, knowing this ravenous merchant of ridiculous wool "Thneeds" has paid a long-standing penalty for his selfish pillaging. It seemed like a fitting punishment we accepted at face value. His potential ugliness was concealed, as it should've been. There's a darkness to Seuss' Lorax, one who speaks for the trees and whose memory is marked by a stone pedestal with the epochal decree "UNLESS" chiseled around the circumference. This Lorax is a pint-sized soothsayer with as much weight in his mustache as the rest of his furry exterior. He may have annoyed the Once-Ler in his warnings and pleas, but his heart-wrenching exodus from the original story leaves its indelible imprint upon the reader, no matter the age beholding it.

Unfortunately, this newest incarnation cannot opt for that alone. In order to sell tickets as a 3-D bonanza, an entire Thneed-Ville microcosm was ordered up in order to throw blatant, zippy images out to the audience. As if the Truffula valley wasn't enough to enthrall. Well, that's just fine and dandy for its own accord in a different enterprise, but it feels like intrusion in this scrambled tripe. As does the barrage of pop culture references (i.e. disco songs, the Mission Impossible theme and The Dukes of Hazzard, amongst others) which strangely work in the Shrek series but almost nowhere else without coming off as airheaded and obvious. All of the unnecessary slapstick and physical humor which Dr. Seuss never would've approved had he been alive feels like intrusion. It's a miracle this Lorax film avoided the obligatory fart humor that litters almost every other "kid-oriented" movie of this generation. Too bad the same wasn't said of The Cat in the Hat and The Grinch.

After awhile, whatever noble thoughts were conveyed in The Lorax are brushed away with a positively annoying shrimpy little bad guy, O'Hare. O'Hare strangleholds Thneed-Ville (it appears an irksome, dwarf-sized stereotype has bred throughout the CGI universe) by selling air to his citizens due to the pollution hovering outside the city walls. The thought of real trees inside Thneed-Ville would wreck his own capital gains, which prompts a new external conflict that bombards the original one to pieces. It's also a hopeless cliche and it only gets in the way as we're supposed to root on Ted, the main kid of the story whose prime directive for investigating the loss of trees is merely to impress a girl. Later, Ted feels an appropriate responsiblity to do what's right as O'Hare chases after him, but it all just feels like a prolonged provocation. Even the Once-Ler forcing Ted to keep coming back day after day for continued segments of his admission is gross negligence, an obvious padding of the running time.

By the time the core elements of the original story are touched upon, we have a lot more to go with Ted, his main girl Audrey and his spry grandma outwitting O'Hare so they can plant the effective Truffula seed to undo the mess originally propogated by the Once-Ler. Finally, the Once-Ler emerges from his dilapidated compound, redeemed, but before that, we've had to watch his younger self go through a literal song and dance (he even slings guitar at will, Jesus wept) as he first befriends then betrays the Lorax and the very-limited species animal kingdom once frolicking in the Truffulas. It's a weary prospect and Danny DeVito has been praised for his work in this film, but I personally wanted a bit more sage and sullenness in his delivery, not the ambivalence and near-doofiness the script calls from him. "You done good," The Lorax says to the Once-Ler in a return-to-Earth scene that Dr. Seuss never wrote. He sounds more like his fabled Louie DePalma from Taxi than a wise defender of the planet.

To its defense, The Lorax 2012 is a gorgeous film to behold. The CGI serves this film with such texture those Truffulas look like cotton candy and they darn well ought to be preserved. Even Thneed-Ville is filled with an eye-catching blend of brights and darks, creating a smart contrast of utopia and dystopia within one self-contained environment. The desolate wasteland left by the Once-Ler's land rape is appropriately chilly.

All of this is effective but trivial when you realize once again you've been duped into bringing your kids to an overblown kettle whistler filled with pop culture tidbits you're going to recognize but not necessarily your children. It's by design, it's out of place, it's all irrelevant to the spirit of conservation which Dr. Seuss' The Lorax brings to the table. We didn't need to see the Once-Ler's face, much less have a long-drawn origin story. Worse, Seuss' tongue-twisting pentameter is lost in translation. The rhymes (just like the other recent Seuss adaptations) is sparing, just enough to remind you where it once belonged, but the replacement dialogue is self-serving and very un-Seuss-like. Dr. Seuss made his point rather fast in The Lorax and though that point was cryptic, at least it was poignant. This is just an excuse to fill up Universal Studio's tills.

By the way, did you know Despicable Me 2 is coming?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

"John's Dead," an Ebook by Ray Van Horn, Jr. Now at Smashwords

Now at Smashwords, a young boy's coming-of-age moment in light of the John Lennon assassination: "John's Dead," by Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Do you remember where you were the morning of December 9, 1980 when news of the cold-blooded murder of John Lennon brought Beatles fans all over the world to their knees with grief? Ten-year-old Darrin McKenzie wakes up to find his mother sobbing at the kitchen table and the school faculty mourning the death of Lennon. Darrin's young life will take an unexpected turn on this day as another tragedy hits closer to home.

Click here for a digital copy of "John's Dead": John's Dead, by Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Get On Your Bad Motorscooter, Ronnie, and Ride...

Photo by Jim Summaria, courtesy of Wikipedia

With another heavy sigh to be cast amongst us survivors, another music legend leaves this plane for the great rock hall perpetua. Ronnie Montrose, a grossly-underrated axe slinger responsible for some of rock music's most gargantuan riffs and slides, has succumbed to his five year battle against prostate cancer.

I suppose my generation and those within us must be feeling shades of our mortality right about now. First Davy Jones, the daydream believin' frontman of The Monkees passed away last week at age 66. Over the weekend, Ronnie Montrose, 64, follows Jones through the final earthbound turnstile, hopefully to take his place next to an always-warm amp where he can plug in and wail away to his soul's content. Though there's virtually nothing in common between Jones and Montrose, that's two heavy blows my generation has to sustain in terms of our identity and to however extent you read it, components of our popular culture. Before Jones and Montrose, we recently lost Whitney Houston and Don Cornelius. For crying out loud, this sucks.

I'm personally not over the loss of Ronnie James Dio. The memory of my interview with Dio still ranks high amongst my professional accomplishments, but more so, my ear canals feel just a shade hollow without Dio's imprint upon them. Fortunately, he left behind a heck of a recorded catalog, as did Ronnie Montrose.

Problem is, Montrose never really achieved the level of recognition he should have. It's almost to the point of crusade where writers and deep rock aficianados have had to take it upon themselves to educate others about Ronnie Montrose's contributions. If we're lucky, folks know Montrose's self-titled band as the launching pad for Sammy Hagar. The Van Halen sect are the ones most in the know about this tidbit and depending on what era of Van Halen they grew up with, the anecdote of Sammy Hagar residing in Montrose is met warmly or with revulsion.

Seriously, though? Hagar and Ronnie Montrose were a lethal combination, especially on the 1973 debut Montrose album, one any rock fan worth his salt ought to own. That's not bravado speaking, it's gospel. "Bad Motor Scoooter," "Rock the Nations," "Space Station #5" and "Rock Candy" are all foundation blocks of hard rock and heavy metal, birthed from a love of Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, but going one step further. If there's any real connection between Montrose and Van Halen, it's not quite the Hagar bonding agent between them. Montrose was fundamental to the outrageous heaviness of Van Halen in their early years, long before Hagar ever stepped into the latter's realm. Eddie Van Halen owes as much to Ronnie Montrose as he does to Paganini, Bach, Jimmy Page, Link Wray, Ritchie Blackmore and John Lee Hooker. Just as Mick Mars of Motley Crue owes Montrose more than due royalties for liberally borrowing Montrose's grinding outro to "Bad Motor Scootor" as the intro to Motley's "Kickstart My Heart." Tribute may have been Mars' intent, but "Kickstart" became such a massive hit there's an understated angst to be cast against casual rock fans attributing that well-known riff to the wrong originator.

Montrose may not have enjoyed the overt success between his namesake band and nine solo albums, but he was all over the place in the music scene, backing up or laying down contributions to Van Morrison, Edgar Winters, Boz Scaggs, Gary Wright, Kathi McDonald, Kevin Crider, even Herbie Hancock. Let's not overlook his work in the obscure Gamma nor his production achievements with fun in the sun hard rockers Y&T and more extreme metallers Heathen and Wrath. A prime example of Montrose's dexterity, Montrose also produced Mitchell Froom and Jerry Jennings.

Troll through Twitter this very second and you will see an outpouring from seventies and eighties-based rock and metal musicians who are all paying tribute to Montrose and commenting on their time spent around the guy. Cavalier would be the word I'd use to sum up the unified emotions in remembrance by Montrose's past associates. For me, it's just been damned maddening listening to people rave all over Mick Mars for "Kickstart My Heart" ever since the Crue's Dr. Feelgood came out in 1989. Being a rock journalist, you come across like an elitist nobody wants to hear when you set the record straight that orgasmic riff was engineered by Ronnie Montrose first, but it's a statistic worth fighting for, in my opinion. Okay, a number of blues guitarists had a hand in evolving that wailing titania, but Montrose intuitively played it like a growling engine, much like Link Wray figured out that a hard, vibrating twang was the appropriate sound to a street fight in "Rumble."

Even sadder, though, will be the collective question mark dotting people's heads when they see the headline over the web about Ronnie Montrose's passing. That's criminal, but it's also a case of poor marketing and being out of one's place and time. Van Halen made the most of their explosive capabilities and brash stage theatrics and were rewarded for it. Motley were rewarded for the same, plus they gain from the mysticism of how they still manage to walk the earth given the debauchery they've set precedence for. Ronnie Montrose, a mean mutha wielding a savvy collection of distorted cacophony he stitched together to create rock 'n roll heaven. If justice hasn't been served in this world for Ronnie, may the Lord welcome him home with proper fanfare. God is a bigger headbanger than Satan, I guarantee you that.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Where "Julia" Calls Me...

Sefton Park, Liverpool, England, reported meeting spot of Julia Stanley and Alfred Lennon - photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Half of what I say here might sound meaningless, to coin John Lennon's exquisite acoustic ballad, "Julia." Yet as I anticipate the eventual release of a short story I wrote related to the assassination of Lennon via Smashwords, I have to acknowledge the quixotic essence of "Julia" and where it calls me.

"Julia," of course, was written and performed (principally by Lennon) on The Beatles' White Album. Though the songwriting credits are split between Lennon and Paul McCartney (as are most of The Beatles' catalog), "Julia" is a solo shot from John to his mother, Julia Stanley. Perhaps there's some dubbed assist vocals by Paul on "Julia," but really, this is a wounded love letter sent from son to mother. Still, Lennon weaves "Julia" with enough loom to leave open-ended interpretation for his audience. If you don't know the intended muse behind this song, it could just as easily be thought of as a romantic swoon for two lovers or simply a gentle reflection upon a woman who transcends time.

Like Elvis Costello's equally gorgeous tribute to his ailing grandmother, "Veronica," (ironically co-written with Paul McCartney) "Julia" is a song about blood and soul, a coping mechanism meant to assuage the pain of familial loss. Hard not to slip into a trance with Lennon's near-ostinato on "Julia," but its simplistic-yet-grandiose innocence is what resonates most. I most adore the reverse-lullaby effect Lennon created on this song, soothing and stroking the essence of his mother as she no doubt coddled him as an infant.

In writing my story "John's Dead," I suppose "Julia" might've been ringing in my subconscience as the story concentrates more on December 9, 1980 when a ten-year-old boy wakes to the news of Lennon's killing. What the boy sees all around him and how he experiences a coming-of-age moment in the midst of this tragedy is the theme to my story. The hypothetical soundtrack would be relegated more to Lennon's seventies-based body of work, but it's the love-hate interaction between my protagonist Derrin and a young girl harboring a mad crush on him which becomes the "Julia" moment of the story for me.

This girl, Jackie, torments Darrin as much as she loves him, which is the best a little girl her age can do to express herself with building hormones she's unaware of, nowhere near sexual but certainly carrying their own flashpoint tension. Fifth grade is a somewhat gentle age, a breathing period between the explosive I'm-too-big-for-this confusion between ages eight and nine and the tumultuous insanity which comes along between twelve and thirteen. Age ten is but one stepping stone towards maturity and as mature a song as "Julia" is, I have to think there's as much a self-acknowledgement of Lennon's foibles and his angst in growing up as there is a sweltering ache for his lost mother.

At the base of true love is bewilderment, terror and rage. Parental love is ingrained and subsequently reinforced through courage, interaction and nurturing. Jackie's lashing out against Darrin, however, is a teeter-totter expression of what constitutes the belief of true love at a delicate age most people will forget about in adulthood.

"Julia" is waif-like as much as it is heartaching and sentimental. Lennon wrote it for his mother. As my short story is based on very-real events, "Julia" is a soft caress that pats me on the shoulders and offers me a chance to laugh at the very-real Jackie (albeit she appeared in my young life in a different grade) and how she must've felt in her befuddled junior mind. More than likely, this Jackie wouldn't even remember me now, but there exists a brief time and place in our lives where we connected. It's not something to dwell on for too long since those are a silly set of emotions and events that are hardly relative to adult life. Still, don't we all at times crave the inherent fostering Lennon's love-lullaby offers?

Nonetheless, "Julia" might've taken John Lennon straight to the bosom of his mother or at least the ripples of Sefton Lake, but for me, it's the penultimate peck on the cheek from a little girl who used to chase me around and slug me as often as she passed me goofy, child-penned love notes. Jackie's breath is perpetually cinnamon and toothpaste to me though the shadow of her memory serves best where it originated from 1977 to 1978. Obviously, "Julia" has far deeper implications in the spirit Lennon wrote it. In my microcosm, this is dedicated to a sparing few minutes of yeoman, untested love as sweet and as brief as a Push-Up pop. It's a pretty song meant for pretty girls regardless of age, and thus I will never think of anyone but young Jackie whenever this nostalgic song hits me with its windy smiles and shimmering, glimmering ruddiness.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Cool New Metal Releases For March

Earth - Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 2
Southern Lord Records
Release Date: Out Now

The Deacon of Drone, Dylan Carlson, returns with the sleepwalking finale to his Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light couplet. This remarkably spooky and soothing installment is abetted by a screeching, wallowy cello courtesy of Lori Goldston. Peaceful in the opening number, "Sigil of Brass," expect Carlson, along with Goldston, Karl Blau and the mistress of skin shambling, Adrienne Davies to take you on another creep-along through a dark and dusty desert trail where even Duane Eddy might fear to tread. When it comes comes to this vibrating, somnambulist vibe, nobody can touch Dylan Carlson and Earth.

King Giant - Dismal Hollow
Path Less Traveled
Release Date: Out Now

Just when you think the entire sludge-doom sect has said all it has to say, up steps King Giant with a demonstrative command of the style, sounding like complete masters within only two albums. Myths and passed-about terror tales within the Appalachian Mountains are the reported inspiration behind Dismal Hollow. While the songs never get beyond mid-tempo, there is still a throbbing punch and a headbanging kick that transcends the implied glut and gloom King Giant overpowers their own amps with. Heavy, heavy, heavy stuff.

Cannibal Corpse - Torture
Metal Blade Records
Release Date: March 13th

As we are in the midst of a subcultural renaissance of zombie worship, it's no surprise Cannibal Corpse are thriving. Moreover, they're growing, at least in their song structure, if not their sicko splattercore lyrics. As indicated on their previous few albums, The Wretched Spawn, Kill and Evisceration Plague, there are only so many grinding triplicate speed zones they can extol in succession without stirring the sinewy stewpot at least a few times. Produced by Hate Eternal's Eric Rutan, Torture is one of Cannibal Corpse's most precise slabs of controlled mayhem in their considerable catalog. Don't let the sophomoric titles "Intestinal Crank," "Followed Home Then Killed" and "Torn Through" deceive you. Cannibal Corpse throws heaps of rock grooves into their blistering thrash on this one, freshening up as much as they slice 'em up. It shouldn't be any surprise Cannibal Corpse sounds so perfectly calibrated, but this band has truly refined their songwriting, even though they were bloody likely watching a marathon of Don't Let Him In, Cyrus: Mind of a Serial Killer and Chromeskull: Laid to Rest 2 while penning Torture.

Exciter - Death Machine
Massacre Records
Release Date: Out Now

Also quite likely watching an equally set of gory films as Cannibal Corpse while working on their 2010 album, Death Machine, are legendary Canadian speed mongers, Exciter. Death Machine, being re-released for a second trip through Masscare Records, will still likely be doomed as far as mass market distribution due to this nervy, disgusto album cover that never would've flown back when they started in the eighties. The good news for their fans, however, is that Exciter is now probably the fastest they've ever been. Death Machine is ruthless, chunky and massive, even though it is all tone-drenched to the point of primitiveness. That seems to be Exciter's objective, though. The songs are beyond immature, the title-repeating choruses are laughable and at times monotonous, but Death Machine is still a riotous, dirty throwback to thrash's (and Exciter's) infancy years when Heavy Metal Maniac ruled the underground. For better or worse, this is how it all sounded when there was such a thing as Cryptic Slaughter, Dream Death, Carnivore and Cyclone alongside Exciter, Exodus and Overkill.

Sigh - In Somniphobia
Candlelight Records
Release Date: March 20th

Japanese black-death-proggers Sigh continue to astonish on their ninth soon-to-be masterpiece, In Somniphobia. While we wait to find out if Gonin-ish has anything left to offer the metal world following their spectacular Naishikyo-Sekai from 2005, Sigh (along with the mighty Boris) prove once again to be the elite metal lords of Japan. If you thought Sigh's genre-splicing Imaginary Soundscape was mind-melding, prepare yourselves. In Somniphobia summons the synthesizers and glam theatrics spread throughout Imaginary Soundscape's skull-crushing speed, but the velocity and the out-there possibilities are uncapped twofold this time around. You will find yourself dizzy from Sigh's courageous genre clashing of everything from fusion jazz to Gregorian chant to (say what?) dreamy waltzes and tangos. All part of the plan as Sigh whirls their listeners through a hellish audile examination of dementia and terrifying dreamscapes. As I've said in the past, Japan (and all of Asia, for that matter) represents the final frontier of metal excavation.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Oh, So You're a WRITER...

No doubt Shakespeare had those moments where his voice seemed like the only one in the world he could hear. The Elizabethan age in which Shakespeare penned some of mankind's greatest literature no doubt had its share of disinterested folk who quite possibly viewed him as a loafabout, a daydreamer, a man of isolated talent that was only shared in theatrical productions of his works. More than likely, William Shakespeare was viewed by the feudal working class as an unproductive escapist.

Time and tide has proven Shakespeare immortal, but you can imagine a commoner's conversation with the man ringing with frustration. "Oh, so this bloke's a writer, eh?" he quite likely heard ring out in a courtyard or what constituted as a pub in his time. Assuredly such a retort carried a hint of blase pacification, implying in a subtle manner he was a wanderlust dropout. There might even be the implication he was a sissy, given the trade of the opposite conversant. Knights, swordsmen, archers, acrobats and those who were capable of wowing crowds with feats of strength were more valued at-large than writers. It must be an absolute, because it's the same of future ages. Of course, Shakespeare had his share of supporters, an artisan community with which to commune and compete with and a noble upper class which commissioned his plays for both private and public consumption. In the end, a writer of any era must have the appreciative audience along with the naysayers. 'Tis the yin and the yan which seasons the craft.

In the 2000s, it's not much different. We celebrate actors, athletes, CEOs and modern day aristocrats as the upper crust elite worthy of the beacon light cast upon their every move. Last night's Oscars is proof positive, but forget televising a book awards program. After all, writing is hardly a glamorous profession; it's an introverted form of artistic expression instead of extroverted and the latter will always summon the camera's lens. In the same breath, only a handful of superstar writers in this technologically-blossomed age are placed upon a pedestal, while hundreds of thousands of reader-hungry scribes scratch and claw for attention. Writers today would settle for just a tenth of Stephen King's readership, or Patricia Cornwell's, J.K. Rowling's or John Grisham's. Given the fierce competition nowadays, that's doing rather well for yourself. There are few--if any--restaraunts or bars where writers can wait upon potential agents and clientele who will allow them the opportunity to shove a manuscript into their mits, not like the classic case of L.A. and Hollywood starlets who fortuitously served coffee and pie to the right studio exec. Pitching your writing to a literary agent today is as difficult as a major league hurler tossing a no-hitter.

The thing with modern literature is the fact our world has tripled in population since Ray Bradbury wrote his dystopic masterwork of the early fifties, Fahrenheit 451. Quadrupled since Robert Graves' I, Claudius was published in 1934 and Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure in the late 1800s. It's not so hard to fathom those gifted authors struggling at first to refine their craft, much less hunt down an interested party to back their visions in print. Even Woody Guthie and Pete Seeger had moments where nobody cared what they had to say as often as they were celebrated voices of their time. Of course, they lived in an age of communist condemnation, and their association with that party both won and lost them favor, even amongst the literati of their time.

In today's world, we live in a quick-consuming social stratum. This is a 24-7 world acclimated to instant gratification. With that comes increased want and desire, which means brevity sells. We want results yesterday. We want our sports teams to always win, or they're automatic losers. If we're forced to wait more than three minutes for food to arrive, we complain and/or walk out of the establishment and spread the anti-gospel of bad service.

Likewise, we're more interested in one to two paragraphs in a film or music review. Skip the pomp and circumstance, can the excessive detailing and superlative spinning. We want fast caption headlines to pique our interest, but tell us the story with compelling photography and a yeoman narration so we can move on to the next thing in our hurried-up lives. Nowadays, we're paring down and purging hard copy books, albums and videos, placing our faith inside of massive gig hard drives to store oodles of media. Handheld tablets are quickly becoming the new norm of reading consumption. Bradbury might say he told us so. This is good for an internet-based league of authors who don't necessarily have to wait inside a slush pile on a hopeful literary agent's desk, but inhernently, it's a dumbing down of the publication process. Of course, there are so many talented writers out there who could use a lending hand which tech provides. It's a brave new world, but its soldiers have become so fortified it's hard to pinpoint who will rise to future glory once the commercial giants have had their day and fade into a next-world simulacrum of perpetual lexicon. In other words, the challenges presented against writers today are twofold due to the complexities of our current social order, but it can be conquered with discipline, fearlessness and the gift of time with which to operate.

Tell me, though, fellow scribblers, doesn't it feel like pacification if someone asks what you do for a living and you tell them you're a writer? It puts a fair amount of people off as if saying you're a lawyer, which we most certainly have enough of in this world. They too are the recipients of butt-end jokes behind their backs, and sometimes, that's what being a writer constitutes, having the fortitude to know your chosen life's path isn't for everybody, but it sure is crowded in fellowship nowadays. Like the law profession, excelling at writing takes many years of dedication. Some have the fast track to success (most notably celebrities) while most authors give up the chase in futility.

If you really want this, if you truly consider yourself an author, a journalist, a poet or a screenplay smithy, then accept the fact you are scrutinized by society even more than you are by your peers, editors and of course, your audience. Shakespeare wrote volumes of reverential drama and his society was far less advanced than ours. I'm rather certain they were far less accepting of his chosen profession, as well. It takes sheer guts to do this job. Oh, so you're a writer... Well, damn skippy you are.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Excalibur: A Daring Gem Of Its Time

In the modern era of filmmaking, only The Lord of the Rings trilogy as a "sword and sorcery" epic has been able to compete (and grossly outclass, we can say) with the lush opulence and the gory chaos that clangs and swoons through 1981's Excalibur. Ridley Scott's 1999 masterpiece Gladiator (the film that launched the wildfire career of Russell Crowe) swings worthy of this cleaved-up genre of storytelling, but then, Gladiator is set in the Roman empire and sorcery plays very little in its sinewy ode to vengeance.

In the midst of its beknighted majesty, an onslaught of armor-plated, blood-soaked films trailed after Excalibur: the 1982 Conan the Barbarian and its silly, guilty pleasure sequel, Conan the Destroyer, Red Sonja, Beastmaster, Fire and Ice, Deathstalker, Krull, Clash of the Titans, The Barbarians, Kull the Conqueror, Sword of the Valiant, Dragonslayer, Merlin, A Knight's Tale and so forth. Most of these films border from mediocre to dreadful. Monty Python and the Holy Grail, however, is a riotous devil with its own legend and tireless, "Nee!" shrieking fan base.

Kenneth Branagh turned Shakespeare's Henry V into a masterwork in its own right, while Mel Gibson (love him or hate him) did marvelous work with Hamlet, not to mention his immortal Celtic epic, Braveheart. Tip of the hat to Liam Neeson's Rob Roy, while we're in a highland frame of mind. Then Laurence Fishburne achieved the impossible with a modern hike of Othello. Today, the the CGI-aided 300 and Troy have become the closest rivals to Excalibur, while the Spartacus cable series is besting that film's then-groundbreaking sex and splatter. As for the 2010 Conan the Barbarian reboot, not a bad job, honestly, though I'm still well on the fence about the pointless Clash of the Titans remake. I'll take Harryhausen's claymation Kracken over a computerized beastie-blob any day.

Excalibur is more in tune with folklore and the purported history of English liege, King Arthur. Based upon Sir Thomas Mallory's over-imaginative writings, Le Morte d'Arthur, Excalibur is to be considered high fantasy (an associated tag of this particular genus of film and fiction), especially if you're to accept a mythical sword bequeathed from a shimmering aquatic angel. Much less the fact the sword stays locked inside a boulder, laying in wait of the one true king to retrieve it and thence rule the land. In this case, it happens to be a teenaged squire who accidentally yanks it out and turns the tide of history.

Nevertheless, this outrageous premise is built upon an even more outrageous premise in which our noble future sovereign was born out rape aided and abetted by sorcerous transfiguation. Never mind Arthur himself will be deceived by his own "sister" (really, a half-sister if you put it all together) into conceiving an archangel daddy slayer, Mordred.

Okay, so we've established Excalibur as a giddy romp of nonsense, yet there's something about John Boorman's vision that beholds grandeur and spectacle you cannot veer from. Instead of turning Camelot into a big sing-a-long (as Monty Python and the Holy Grail would roast of Richard Burton's orchestral realm, 'tis a silly place), Boorman consults both the woe and the valor of the Dark Ages. Excalibur is a wondrous world bred of greed, dishonor and complete fatism. Its principals are both beautiful and ugly and in the end, only God and nature prevail, despite a mortal king's best efforts. In peace, Arthur shines. In war, he glowers. His kingdom reflects both cases. In telling the tale, Boorman's locations are inspirational, the action is savage and no film since has sang the song of steel with such graceful clings, clunks and silver-kissed wails like Excalibur does.

I remember the first time I saw Excalibur on VHS in the mid-eighties. For us teen boys, Excalibur had a reputation. We'd banded together in our neighborhood and marveled at Arnold Schwarzenegger carving half up the cast and pumping his seed into a small handful of women throughout the first Conan film. Excalibur, we were told, matched Conan's overflowing buckets of blood and sex scenes.

Well, yes and no. Conan the Barbarian was gratuitous in both measures, taking cue from Robert E. Howard's (and all of his succeeding scribes) pulp novels. That film was supposed to be full of the crimson, the fantastical and hetero-aggressive sexuality. It's nearly a shocking thing Conan actually feels for Valeria in the first film, that he actually has a romance instead of a fleeting night in the hay like he does with almost half of the women he comes into contact with through the novels. His mourning of Valeria is a wow moment of the Hyborean universe.

Excalibur treats sex in both a discomfiting and compelling fashion. Arthur and Morgana in the first case, Guenevere and Launcelot in the other. One side is deceptive rape (the aforementioned Arthur-Morgana tryst, plus that of King Uther Pendragon and Igrayne, the wife of his nemesis, the Duke of Cornwall), while the other is sensuous and ultimately devastating. All of Excalibur's sex lore is proposed prophecy, all leading to tragic events, even if Arthur's blood father, Uther, might be heralded with just the smallest shade of pride for siring a legend. Pride, of course, becomes Uther's undoing and for that matter, his son's.

As teenage boys, it's the sex we were all after once Excalibur landed into one of our VCRs. We were happy campers in that department, but we were likewise transfixed by the swinging cutlery, Orff's sweeping gusts of "Carmina Burana" and we were mesmerized by the gusty Medieval world John Boorman presented before us. It was one of the highest forms of visual art a young male could appreciate, even if the basest parts of our DNA fueled our approval. We never once thought it was dumb The Lady of the Lake stuck her hand out of the water to retrieve or hand over the mystical sword of Excalibur.

I've said it a thousand times that I'm privileged to have grown up in the eighties. I'm not saying every film we had was a gem. We offer Krull as a caveat to all future generations. As spectacular as Excalibur is, there was Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments before it. Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz before them. Even Star Wars preceded Excalibur, but in the latter's case, we related to it more because it represented a fictional part of mankind's history. It still felt like we belonged to that world in some transient fashion. Of course, we had no idea Patrick Stewart and Liam Neeson would go on from this film to become pop culture icons, but it's fun to watch and reflect now.

At the moment, there's a remake of Excalibur helmed by Bryan Singer sitting on the shelves of Warner Brothers. No offense to Singer, but I can't fathom a replication of Boorman's eye for detail, for battle-hungry wonderment, for his constructive lust for glory. Then there the urgent quest for God's salvation that's deeply affecting from Paul Geoffrey's ceaseless trials to Arthur's dispatching by his own son. Once Sir Perceval hurls Excalibur back into the sea and the angels sail away with Arthur's remains on the floating pyre, it's a perfect, if melancholic finale to a grueling ode. At the end, Excalibur offers the very real precept that the cosmos is bigger than us.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Welcome to the Dream, a Documentary by Rat Skates

When I produced my debut issue of Retaliate digital magazine, I'd sat down with former Overkill drummer Rat Skates, one of my thrash metal heroes I've since become friends with. Rat has recently issued two critically-acclaimed documentaries related to his time spent in the music industry, Get Thrashed and Born in the Basement. Born in the Basement especially delves deep into the foundations of Overkill and how effective the DIY ethos was for Rat and the original lineup of the band. Watch it and learn, folks. This is a blueprint to marching your way up through the underground.

Rat is currently filming a new documentary about the music industry and since we've interviewed together, I've become involved in this project, plus a separate venture Rat and I will be undertaking in the immediate future.

Welcome to the Dream: The Rude Awakening of Stardom is an investigative analysis of truths and realities behind making it in the music industry, as conveyed by Rat's guests, which include members of Lynard Skynard, Twisted Sister, Megadeth, Anvil, Living Colour and former Dream Theater/current Avenged Sevenfold drummer, Mike Portnoy.

While a large portion of Rat's film has been completed, the bottom line to this independent enterprise is, of course, needing a new bottom line to finish the project. Rat's objective to Welcome to the Dream is to serve as a wake-up call and a warning to up-and-coming musicians and artists that the industry should be approached with certain caveats. Nobody who's ever come into music without the proper knowledge has ever not been taken for a ride.

Even with all the Behind the Music specials and deep probing backstage in other documentaries for new artists to consult, the youth of today starting a band still comes in blind. The music industry is seductive, everybody wants to become the next overnight sensation. The internet may serve as a key inside that has previously never been there, however, the unspoken rules are still there and still...well, unspoken. Until now.

Please have a look at my interview with Rat Skates to get deeper into his mindframe behind Welcome to the Dream and then visit his site with a mere click below. If you want to get involved or you know of a financier who would like to help back this project, please contact myself here or through Rat's site. Your support is genuinely appreciated...

Welcome to the Dream website

Saturday, February 18, 2012

DePalma's Carrie Outdated? As If.

I suppose it's relative to every generation. The new devours the old if they have the stones and the means to do so. It's the natural order of things within a predatorial habitat, whether you're referring to the Monolithic period, the Dark Ages, The American Civil War, Prohibition or the new Renaissance of tech which has now fossilized much of life as we've known it since Ronald Reagan took office.

The brash declaration of youth's arrival in society is countered by a stubborn wherewithal of their elders to compromise to the new order which subliminally changes every seven or eight years. The term for senior folks who resist change is being "stuck in one's ways." Some older generations are savvy and courageous enough to adapt to altering climates and mores because time waits for no man, so it's said. Still, I find often there's bravado up-and-coming generations possess which reeks of arrogance and disrespect, even when there's a rooted respect prompting their actions in the first place.

In this case, I'm referring to Stephen King's Carrie, moreover, Brian DePalma's revered film adaptation from 1976.

I recently read about the intent for another bloody hike down Carlin Street in the fictitious town of Chamberlain, Maine. A new version of Carrie for a new generation that has already ripped off its ancestors of every single horror standard that existed in a time that was not theirs. At the core of their heralding, you have to smile and give thanks the youngsters appreciate what we had, but it's been a bitter pill to swallow watching Generation Tech reboot, revamp and regurgitate with nearly no conscience to what they're doing. They were babies (if even on the planet at all) when Jason Voorhees, Leatherface, Freddy Kruger and Michael Myers pillaged and dismembered countless teen victims from our era. Ditto for a time when Smurfs, G.I. Joe and Transformers ruled the toy stores and VHF television.

Now, I'm not so much of a dandy prick to wholly dismiss Generation Tech's attempt at recreating our favorite terror zones for their own. I mean, Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolf Man have been reincarnated every decade and will likely continue after all of us have joined Mother Earth. I will give props to the recent remakes of Dawn of the Dead and I Spit On Your Grave for having the fortitude to make their own nerve-chewing renditions of legendary splatter lore. Moreover, there was that respect I mentioned.

Though we're still awaiting details of the new Carrie venture, I'm already dubious just by statements I've read indicating the new filmmakers feel King's debut novel should be revisited for the third time (not including the embarassing "sequel" Carrie 2: The Rage) because they feel it needs an update. The word "outdated" (uttered from other parties) has been cast against Brian DePalma's visionary masterwork and I find that absurd and more than a little bit crass.

Yeah, Steven R. Monroe and Lisa Hansen indicated their reason for taking on one of the most nefarious flicks ever shot, I Spit On Your Grave, was it needed updating. One of its promoters said the same exact thing to me directly before sending me a promo copy for review. Well, really, Meir Zarchi had already set an uncouth bar with his original geek film from '78 and he not only blessed the remake but oversaw it. Props to Zarchi (if you feel like giving them) for letting some new blood recharge an already sadistic premise highlighted by even nastier business--in particular Sarah Butler's brutal revenge tactics. In a way, Butler outdid Camille Keaton to the point we will soon begin remembering Butler ahead of her predecessor, despite all the physical grief and exploitation Keaton endured the first time around.

Will the same be said of Carrie? How in God's name can anyone outclass Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie? They tried it in a made-for-television jaunt with Angela Bettis and Patricia Clarkson and it hardly measured. We're not even going acknowledge Carrie 2: The Rage again after this sentence. Spacek and Laurie were both nominated for Academys following their gruelling onscreen duel. Sissy Spacek testifies what outlandish lengths she went to undercut another female lead in the auditioning process and win her prized role as Carrie White. Amongst these, dressing in shabby rags and nailing her lines to the cross, pun intended. Spacek is sympathetic and better, she's flat-out beautiful in a flaxen country girl demeanor. The dynamics she fused into Carrie White's skittishness, inhibitions and growing wonderment at her telekinetic powers is exhilirating to watch.

Nobody and I mean nobody will ever outdo Spacek in the shower sequence. Spacek has already established Carrie's nervous lack of self-esteem in the opening scene at the volleyball court. As PJ Soles and Nancy Allen spurn and curse Carrie White for losing the game on their side, we're already on Carrie's. It's almost a stunner we find Spacek showering in full frontal to a height of strange eroticism. This is a young flower with the oppportunity to blossom, save for the fact she's hated in school and her zealot mother abuses the tar out of her. It's heart-breaking when Spacek injects deplorable fright into Carrie's face when she gets her first period and has no idea what such a thing is thanks to her bible-whumping mama. Even worse when Carrie's classmates can't see the shock and dismay before them and they pelt the aggrieved lass with tampons and maxis. If you're not rooting for Carrie White at this point, you will be once she inadvertently bursts a bulb in the girl's locker room from her terrors, as you will once she lashes out at the school principal for his lack of attentiveness to her name. As you will once she derails a snotty young boy who taunts her with "Creepy Carrie! Creepy Carrie!" from his bike. All using this strange new gift that has started to rise inside her with budding hormones and the arrival of her first menstrual cycle.

I just can't imagine anyone of this day with the same measure of commitment and the rare gift of both fracture and assurance which Sissy Spacek threw into her role. By the time she finally stands up to her domineering mother, you're clenching a fist in her favor and you're praying that Tommy Ross has genuinely noble intentions about taking her to the prom. You already know other parties are at play in skunking Carrie's big night out, but with that knowledge, you want the poor girl to have at least one dignified moment first.

Of course she does, and both Sissy Spacek and William Katt deliver a believable connection to what appears suspicious and awkward at face value. Amy Irving's Sue Snell goes to such implausible lengths as to deliver her boyfriend as Carrie's shining knight, yet this gesture is purported to be guilt over Carrie's wicked chastisement in the girl's shower. In the real world, you might have to question if anyone holds the capacity for such honor, but DePalma and Irving made it work. Sue Snell skipping out on her own senior prom to make amends for a girl she never has dialogue with was something that needed skill to sell, from DePalma to the actresses.

Spacek exhibits Carrie's glow she's kept hidden from her peers as she and Tommy Ross are voted prom king and queen. Again, Spacek reveals both the shattered id inside of Carrie White and the exuberant superego which has so desperately needed nurturing through the entire film. She's been too busy getting walloped upside the head with the bible from her mother and accused of harlotry when "the curse of blood" strikes her as it would any teen girl. At least Spacek and Katt sell their newfound bond, so much you don't even balk at Tommy Ross for succumbing to the moment and kissing Carrie. DePalma's brilliant usage of the rotating camera angles ignites the sudden connection between Carrie and Tommy and it's inherently more erotic than the shower sequence. Somehow you don't feel Tommy and Carrie are going to become a long-term couple (sex is most definitely out), but their right-there moment of teen zen and silly puppy love is gleeful and endearing. I defy anyone in a future version to outmaneuver Katt and Spacek.

Spacek trooped through the entire pig's blood scene at the prom and even did three takes of the dousing. Knowing it was coming, Spacek still conveys a gut-tearing facade of shock, degredation and ultimate fury as she turns on the entire school and raises Hell, literally. To this day, I've never seen a more pissed-off teenager onscreen or off than Sissy Spacek's Carrie.

Likewise, I've never seen such tumultuous, destructive anger suddenly turn into a waif-like implore for coddling. All throughout DePalma's Carrie, Spacek and Laurie go at each others' throats to such extremes not even the balls-out horror underground of today dare tread. Of course, we'll see how daring the new proposed Carrie will tread, but it certainly won't have Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie masterfully engineering a horrific peek inside a suburban hellhole dicatated by a craven Jesus freak.

What bothers me about any renunciation of DePalma's Carrie using the "outdated" lingo is the fact those who utter it aren't looking past William Katt's Frampton-like goldilocks, they aren't looking past the girls' Fawcett-esque waves and they're put off by some of the occasional jokey synth music that is straight out of the pre-disco seventies. When they arrive, they goof all over the tension-breaking scenes of jocularity and are still a gut-buster today--for the right reasons. Listen to the rest of the movie score by Pino Donaggio. I've already discussed the harrowing music of this film in a prior post, but nothing that's been attempted around the dark noir of Carrie White following DePalma's classic remotely taps into the raw skeins Donaggio does. His music is filled with childish xylophones symbolizing innocence held and innocence about to slip away. The Psycho-esque violin shrieks keeps the film on a teeter and the plight-filled piano ostinato escorting Carrie White down those steps of doom in her house can hardly be replicated. Donaggio's tributizing score is rhapsodic, alarming and tragic, worthy of anything Bernard Herrmann composed for Alfred Hitchcock.

The music at the prom is indeed reflective of its time, sure, but is that an excuse to dismiss it? Nobody with a soul bombs Gone With the Wind or The Wizard of Oz for their gusty scores ringing triumphantly of a decades-old Hollywood that's been lost forever. I still think Katie Irving (the sister of Amy) singing over "I Never Dreamed Someone Like You Could Love Someone Like Me" puts the viewer into a full presence of where Carrie White is at that moment in the prom and how much awful shit she's had to endure to get there.

We can't believe what's happening before our eyes, but we're soaking it up before Nancy Allen pulls that godforsaken cord to the bucket of blood and licks her lips lasciviously, knowing she's humiliated her once-defenseless nemesis one final time. You halfway cry for Carrie, but you're already digging into your palms, suspecting she's not going to stand for it this time. The split-screen sequences DePalma utiilzes escalate the danse macabre that is Carrie White's revenge. When the stage ignites into flames, we know it's real. This is 1976 and there's no CGI to cheat through it. Sissy Spacek didn't settle for a stunt double. Within ten feet of her back, that conflagration turns Spacek into a phoenix and Carrie White into one of the most fearsome characters in horror history. Spacek is submerged into her craft and Carrie's vengeance is more eerie than spectacular. If that's outdated, then, well, Jesus wept.

It's DePalma's cast (which also includes the gritty Betty Buckley and a still-green John Travolta) which is hard to recast, as are the primary sets. Carrietta White and her demented mother live in a setting nearly as cryptic as an abandoned monestary. That awful statuette of Saint Sebastian in Carrie's praying nook is just as scary as anything else in this film. Frightening that the throwback White home stands amidst the modern (for 1976, anyway) suburbs like a spook house. Its governness, we learn, is capable of insidious heresy and abject lunacy. The carrot chopping scene is disarming, the outrageous amount of candles lighting up the house when Carrie returns from the prom is funny, but not in a ha-ha way. It's messed up. Worse, Margaret's catatonic state behind the bathroom door is one of the most shivery images the genre's ever cued up. Once that house comes crashing down in the bloody finale, only then do you breathe a sign of momentary relief.

The imposing prescence of Margaret White on one of her public crusades is nowhere near as devastating as the Margaret White bapping her daughter in the face with The Book of Wisdom, demanding in an evil gravel voice that Carrie recite Eve was weak, Eve was weak... It's a lasting impression that haunts after every viewing, as much as Carrie's telekinetic crucifixion of her mother in self-defense. Then there's the notorious final jolt in Sue Snell's dream sequence. Amy Irving looks both virginal and carnal in that scene before DePalma capitalizes on her devastated guilt to drop the hammer upon his audience one last time. Admit it, you flew off the couch and knocked something over the first time you saw that ending. It wasn't how Stephen King wrote it, but it was off-the-cusp genius.

I get why other producers and directors want to try their luck with Carrie. King's story at its basic level appeals to the mistreated outcast teen of any generation, moreover his or her thirst for revenge when acceptance isn't possible. That's an ethos that will ring loud and clear until this planet dies out. Carrie White without her otherworldly powers represents the downtrodden, the scared and the hopeless. With those powers, she's hell in high heels. It's a flashpoint resonance that prompts us to root for Carrie White, at least until her blind rage spells mass murder.

For all this, Brian DePalma's stellar interpretation of Carrie is now considered outdated? Yeah, sure. I give the youth of today more credit than that, but if they do subscribe to this mandated tripe, then I'll just stay stuck in my ways, thanks.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Random Shuffle Shelf Reviews: Carrie Soundtrack, Wavering Radiant and Bloodflowers

Pino Donaggio - Carrie soundtrack

Following an online group chat about the succession of film adaptations and sequels surrounding Stephen King's knockout debut, Carrie, I pulled Pino Donaggio's stunning score off the shelf. As integral to the film as anything John Williams, Hans Zimmer or Bernard Herrmann have accompanied to celluloid, Donaggio's forlorn and tragic soundtrack all but upstages director Brian DePalma's stellar, nerve-wracking maneuvers through 1976's Carrie. Donaggio is as crucial to the storytelling as King's empathetic words and DePalma's astute commandeering.

Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie are the onscreen highlights, pit in an awkward power struggle between mother and daughter. You know the story: Carrie White is the school loser who has no prayer (pun intended), not under the roof of a bible-thumping fundamentalist straight out of a Bosch painting. Mama White suppresses her wallflower country bumpkin, shielding Carrie from her natural womanly growth. Everything is evil and blasphemous, according to Piper Laurie in one of the most harrowing portayals of twisted puritanism in movie history. When Carrie discovers she has the power of telekinesis, Mrs. White goes out of her mind with paranoia, believing Satan has set within her daughter. Indeed, Carrie White conjures Hell itself once submitted to a brutal dousing of pig blood in her single shining moment at the school prom. Her inevitable showdown with Mama is perhaps the most compelling, explosive case of love and hate (and fear, of course) between parent and child you'll ever witness.

Pino Dinaggio's score ought to ring familiar to any horror afficianado, in particular the somber, aloof piano lines set against the gregarious flute accenting the main theme. The flute serves as Carrie's innocence, but its forthright presence in the theme represents Carrie's desperation to belong, to be more outgoing, to get out from the under the oppressive shadow of Jesus. Dinaggio's tormented strings and orchestral sweeps on "And God Made Eve," "Bucket of Blood," "Mother at the Top of the Stairs" and "Collapse of Carrie's Home" resonate as snippets of horror history. The fugue grinding through "For the Last Time We'll Pray" will automatically sweep you right to Piper Laurie's fanatatical sign of the cross with her butcher knife, a hand-in-hand terror zone that's just as discomfiting without the horrifying visual.

With Katie Irving breathing life into Carrie White's country-esque prom ode, "I Never Dreamed Someone Like You Could Love Someone Like Me," the tragedy of Stephen King's uncompromising tale is made even more bittersweet. The usage of it by DePalma is understated as we're more focused on Carrie's awkwardness with her hunky date (by '76 standards, considering William Katt's Frampton-eseque whitey-fro) Tommy Ross. Isolated from the film, however, "I Never Dreamed" tears at the soul, just with the knowledge of what those truly evil teen bitches have in store for poor 'ol Carrie. No laughing matter, when all is said and done...

Grade: A+
Choice Cuts: "Theme From 'Carrie,'" "And God Made Eve," "Contest Winners," "Mother at the Top of the Stairs," "For the Last Time We'll Pray," "Collapse of Carrie's Home" and "I Never Dreamed Someone Like You Could Love Someone Like Me"

Isis - Wavering Radiant

Here is a band I truly miss, but I do respect the reason Isis called it a day not long after releasing their 2009 magnum opus, Wavering Radiance. Oceanic has long beem heralded as this art-drone champion's masterwork and In the Abscence of Truth its finest encapsulation of slow-sculpting, ultimately rugged theatricality. Yet Wavering Radiance is a befitting deneumont to a brilliant career for which we should offer Isis praise and thanks. From Celestial to In the Absence of Truth, Wavering Radiant is the sparkling encapsulation of Isis' entire body of work, realized to the richest textures of aggression and grandeur they had to give. Wavering Radiant, thus, is mission accomplished.

The thing with Isis' escapist brand of expressive metal was it hailed a conjecture of beauty and voluptuousness and yet on the turn of a dime they could drop the floor and plunge you into a tar pit of sonic din. There really is no experience like Isis, even as Pelican, Rosetta and Mouth of the Architect are now their inheritors and Neurosis their be-all foundation.

The biggest acceleration to Wavering Radiant is its profound cleanness. Isis reduces the feedback miasma pounding their creative flow, yet Wavering Radiant is the recipient of twittering guitars from Aaron Turner, Michael Gallagher and Clifford Meyer which captures a refreshed cadence atop their traditionally fuzz-laced rhythms. Grounded with the always-methodic bass of Jeff Caxide, Isis is perhaps the most psychedelic they've ever been on this album, using the hypnotic, serpentine note lines slithering through "Hand of the Host" as an example.

As with In the Absence of Truth, Wavering Radiant is one of the most investigative efforts Isis completed in their lengthy careers. As Aaron Turner has stated numerous times, Isis tried hard not to replicate themselves from album-to-album, and the biggest evidence of that on Wavering Radiant comes in various measures such as the Kyoto guitar whispers leading the first number of bars on "Ghost Key" and the tear-inducing, gorgeous high-note swoons on "20 Minutes/40 Years." Turner reportedly got the ass of fielding questions in search of the meaning of Isis' music, partially prompting their break-up. Isis' leftover legacy thus becomes yours to explore and decode as you will without the band's direct provocation, no doubt as Turner intended it. In fact, it's almost pointless to select individual songs when the entire recording presents a full-on journey not to be disseminated or short-cut through.

Grade: A
Choice Cuts: "Hall of the Dead," "Ghost Key," "Hand of the Host," "20 Minutes/40 Years"

The Cure - Bloodflowers

I admit, when I first grabbed Bloodflowers, I was slightly put off. For the traditional Cure fan, Bloodflowers was the mope-a-dope, shoegazing distant cousin to Disintegration and the bitter pill pal of Pornography. The latter album gets my vote as the most depressing slab ever recorded, though by all means, one of the fiercest, most engaging albums in The Cure's catalog. I think Bloodflowers resonated only with hardcore fans and critics who scratched their heads at the sprawled interchange of Wild Mood Swings. Everyone else who'd jumped on board with The Cure for Disintegration and Wish had jumped someone else's train after Bloodflowers, as Robert Smith might say.

Smith also says Bloodflowers is the completed trilogy (along with Disintegration and Pornography) as the true representation of what The Cure is intended to be. Never mind the sexy electro slides and jazzy springs of Japanese Whispers. Never mind the bollocksy post-punk of Boys Don't Cry. Never mind the brilliant antipop of Head On the Door. Bloodflowers is dark yes, and we're asked to accept this plodding dirge as encompassment of how its leader desires to be perceived. Personally, I would like to hope The Cure's most recent offering 4:13 Dream is what they're about, considering it plays to both the brooding interests of Smith and the rock-mindedness of the fans.

As I said, I was initially jittery about Bloodflowers, which is strange, considering The Cure is one of my all-time favorite groups and I'd been more than well-versed in their dynamic changes of tempo, style and of course, mood. The fact Bloodflowers stays on a single, roaming tangent, what this keyed slowness provides The Cure is the opportunity to dash and color in nearly the same wondrous (if tenebrous) textures as Disintegration. By all means, "Out of this World," "Where the Birds Always Sing," "The Loudest Sound," "The Last Day of Summer" and the 11-minute, tone-crushing drove of "Watching Me Fall" are all elaborate, decorative and strangely soothing.

This is an album that requires a lot of work on behalf of the listener, make no mistake. Bloodflowers is not an instant grab and it's hardly a Friday love affair. Its strict mid-tempo pacing isn't easy to digest. However, it is easy to get lost in the trailing guitar gusts through "Out of this World" and "The Loudest Sound." The latter track actually carries an upbeat fragrance with its electronic pulse tapping beneath the layered guitars and Robert Smith's nearly-idealistic vocals. Repressive he might be most of the time when he sings, there's a methodology to Bloodflowers which sees Smith and the group wallow, grouse and implore before they rise up and dissolve the acid off of their crimson tongues. There's life after death splayed out through these nine songs and thus, Bloodflowers becomes more of an accomplishment than outsiders give it credit for.

Rating: B+

Choice Cuts: "Out of This World," "Watching Me Fall," "Where the Birds Always Sing," "The Loudest Sound"