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.

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"

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