There was a time back in my middle-school days when friends of mine were allowed to join those ‘record clubs’ that you could find in magazine ads. You might remember these deals, where you’d pay like a penny and get twelve cassette tapes if you promised to buy six at regular price over the next year. Now for an eleven-year-old, this was a pretty significant addition to a small tape collection, so imagine my chagrin when I’d see friends show up with all this new music and me still with such a modest collection.
It was during one of these bulk purchases that my best friend at the time, Jason, picked up a copy of Asia Alpha. Jason eventually moved away after 7th grade, but years later, we became roommates in college during our freshman and sophomore years in the dorm. During our time together, around 1990, I purchased an Asia collection (Then and Now) on disc and Jason asked what I’d purchased. When I told him, he replied ‘I don’t know that band’, and I was like, ‘What!? You owned Asia Alpha back in middle school!’ and he was like ‘I did?’ I guess the moral of that particular story is that when providing twelve tapes at once to an eleven-year-old, it might be more about the bragging rights and cool factor than the music.
Anyway, the prime reason I’d remembered he had the tape was that the album cover was so incredibly cool. It was far beyond anything I’d seen at the time and to this day I’m still pretty enchanted with it. Many years would pass before I discovered that the artist was Roger Dean, and that he’d been doing funky and incredible alternate fantasy images for more years than I’d been alive.
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In late 2013, a strange event occurred: Steeleye Span, a British band that has outlived just about all other contenders except the Rolling Stones, released a CD entitled Wintersmith.
Coincidence? After all, there’s a Discworld spin-off by that name, too, a Terry Pratchett novel aimed at the young adult market and starring the infinitely resourceful tween witch, Tiffany Aching. Could there be a connection?
Indeed. It turns out that Pratchett has been a fan of Steeleye since the early seventies (“Boys Of Bedlam” was a particular favorite), and Steeleye’s lead vocalist, the incomparable Maddy Prior, has been, in turn, an unabashed fan of Pratchett’s. They got to talking, and next thing you know, the world was gifted with a terrific fantasy-driven album of folk, rock, and traditional Morris dances, all tied together by the Great A’Tuin and a nasty case of winter.
Pratchett’s Wintersmith is the third installment in the irregular Tiffany Aching series, a sort of sideline to the “official” Discworld novels (The Color Magic, et al). The story centers on Tiffany’s impulsive decision to “dance the Dark Morris,” a rite that shifts summer to winter – except that when Tiffany includes herself, both summer and winter, elemental godlings, take note of her and seek, in their own ways, to possess her. Tiffany now faces the possibility of endless winter, in the demi-human form of a smitten teenage boy.
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The CBC’s Tom Allen and the Gryphon Trio do some amazing musical detective work, following the clues from Mahler to Brahms to Beethoven to the 23rd Century, in this delightful single-take through the twisted subterranean corridors of Paul Hahn’s piano studio in Toronto. Also starring teleporting pianist Jamie Parker, and a little cosplay.
Cover to CONAN’s split release “Conan Vs. Slomatics” (2011)
What is the sound of Sword and Sorcery?
It probably sounds a lot like CONAN. This U.K.-based power trio gives a whole new meaning to the word heavy. But these guys aren’t hampered by “Cookie Monster” vocals or the demonic noise-worship that often plagues today’s heaviest acts.
CONAN have coined their own genre, calling themselves “caveman battle doom.” For hardcore fans, this is simply a new sub-category of the “Doom Rock” scene. For the rest of us, it’s an amusingly accurate description of CONAN’s unique sound.
As the band’s own bio puts it: “CONAN are as heavy as interplanetary thunder amplified through the roaring black hole anus of Azathoth.” TheObelisk.net christened them “Europe’s heaviest battle-sloths…” It doesn’t get much cooler than that.
After releasing an indie debut EP in 2010 entitled “Horseback Battle Hammer,” the trio signed to Burning World Records and released their critically acclaimed magnum opus, “Monnos.”
Both albums are perfect for headbanging, slow-grooving, couch-tripping, or simply cranking up loud enough to vibrate the walls of your apartment. And your skull. They are super sludgy brilliance in the vein of early BLACK SABBATH, KYUSS, MELVINS, and TOOL. Call it “stoner rock” if you will, but absolutely no drugs are necessary.
Fantasy and sword-and-sorcery themes are essential to CONAN’s lyrical cosmology, which makes perfect sense for a band named after Robert E. Howard’s famous barbarian.
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Imagine if the Cookie Monster joined a Madness tribute band and persuaded them to adopt a heavier guitar sound while he rapped.
There’s a half-naked man on stage and he’s got pointed ears — not the rubber Vulcan/Elf ears you see at parties; full on floppy troll ears. More importantly, he’s not doing this for comic effect. He addresses the crowd in a crisp Finnish accent; ”Did anybody buy the album!”
Incoherent roars and yells from the pit where long-haired students wait to “mosh.”
Somebody must have boasted about getting a pirate download because Mathias – Finntroll‘s lead singer – shoots back levelly, “#### you, sir. We have the vinyl over there. You can go buy it right now.”
Perhaps the pirate retorts that information wants to be free, or that musicians should play for the love of it. If he does, his words are lost because the music starts.
Gamer Dad and I have hauled ourselves to the Classic Grand in Glasgow, a city which reminds me of late Constantinople; the inhabitants live out a vibrant life amid the crumbling relics of Victorian glory, repurposing old buildings until the very scars in their fabric tell the sagas of lost milieus. This venue started life in 1915 as a cinema. Now it’s a rather good rock club.
We 40-something dads have the shortest hair in the room and are at the upper end of the demographic, but we don’t care. We’re here to see Tyr, who are playing support tonight. They’re more melodic than their cohorts and sing about Viking gods and the old ways. Robert E. Howard would approve (but that’s another story). However, we’re in no rush to get our train. We stay for the main act.
Finntroll are… not easy listening.
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I have no explanation for why a fairly cheesy Bride of Frankenstein remake from 1985 popped into my head while listening to this, but it did.
There I was in my headphones, taking in what can only be described as seductively creepy orchestrations, when suddenly Sting appeared in my subconscious, leaning over his “monster” in the form of a dewy-eyed Jennifer Beals.
Maybe this is normal when you finally eat red meat after a long hiatus…
Perhaps I’d better back up and explain.
In celebration of the upcoming “season,” musician Ken Elkinson had sent over a copy of his new release, Halloween Ambient, and I was giving it a listen prior to approving it for play over the sound system in the Black Gate offices.
The last time I allowed my seasonal music to be played without previewing it first, Howard Andrew Jones and John O’Neill were moved to go shirtless, don fake fangs and red contact lenses, and hang around the interns’ canteen asking everyone’s blood type. After that incident, I promised the Black Gate lawyers there would be no further public playing of music which had the potential of inciting poor staff behavior.
Halloween Ambient was definitely not getting played.
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It might have been at a sleep-over, huddled around the TV and a local public broadcasting station, or more recently around an older sibling’s laptop.
It could have been in a midnight show at the broken-down theater in the town where you attend college or, heaven-forbid, at the cliché of a drive-in.
Wherever it was, you’ll never forget it – that night (for it certainly was at night) when you discovered the classic movie monsters.
Who was first?
It doesn’t matter. The impact was the same. And whether you went on to be a lifelong fan of the genre or just a Lugosi devotee, there will forever be a place in your heart for that first time.
It’s a lot like love, only with more running and screaming.
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I came across Lonesome Wyatt as I nosed about a funnel cake shack in an abandoned amusement park built on a prairie settler boneyard. He had a rotted sack of popcorn in one hand and he dragged a crowbar in the other. Twilight filtered in through a roof hole. Something skittered across his hat. He hummed an old-time dirge.
This being Lonesome Wyatt of Those Poor Bastards. This being the man behind Lonesome Wyatt and the Holy Spooks. This being the author of the pulp horror novel The Terrible Tale of Edgar Switchblade and the composer of its companion album, Behold the Abyss. Which, really, if you’re in the mood for a cloven-hoofed, knife-wielding bounty hunter with step-daddy issues chasing an albino werewolf with supplementary gothic country tunes, there is no better pairing than that which Lonesome Wyatt has provided.
Under normal circumstances…well, you try to avoid talking to mad-eyed men on decrepit fair grounds; but I – being the steadfast and fearsome Black Gate minion I am – AHEMed. Stood my ground. Waited for him to turn around. I am not one to be intimidated. A man can’t hex you by humming. Usually. And this was a man I wanted to talk to.
Lonesome Wyatt turned and sneered, or possibly he smiled; these things are hard to tell. He agreed to do an interview before I had the words out of my mouth to ask. He is a mysterious revelator of mayhem and wonder, and quite possibly he is psychic.*
For your perusal, here lies the exchange Black Gate had with Lonesome Wyatt in that shadowy funnel cake shack…
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Yours Truly, C.S.E. Cooney
First of all…
HALLOOOOO Black Gate Readers!
I don’t even know if you remember me; it’s been so long, and I think there are probably a lot more of you now. Anyway, I’m C.S.E. Cooney, and I’m a writer, and sometimes I blog here, and today is one of those days.
So, hi. Again.
This last weekend, I attended Readercon 24, as participant and performer. This year, instead of signing up for ALL THE SCARILY CLEVER PANELS that I’m mostly unsuited for, I signed up to perform stuff.
Caitlyn Paxson, Jacqueline of All Trades
Because I like performing.
And since performing is so cool, why, Caitlyn Paxson (another writer, also a storyteller, also a harpist and banjo-player, also the Artistic Director of the Ottawa Storytellers and All-Around Belle Dame Sans Merci, only, like, Avec Merci) and I proposed to teach a workshop at Readercon called “From Page to Stage: Adapting Your Text for Performance.”
But I get ahead of myself.
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Did you really think a Goth Chick would have a thing for One Direction or NKOTB? Okay, forget I even know who they are in the first place; there are some things you just cannot escape when you spend all your free time studying pop culture.
Nope, instead it is imperative that as purveyors of the dark and disturbing we crush on the equally dark and disturbing musicians who write and play tunes that worry people older than us and align with our own personal, parent-scaring idioms.
Which is precisely why I am Midnight Syndicate’s devoted Chicago-area groupie.
Whether they like it or not.
For almost two decades, composers Edward Douglas and Gavin Goszka have been known as Midnight Syndicate, creating symphonic soundtracks for the secret dimensions of our minds’ eye (cue lightning and thunder clap).
To many of their fans, they are Gothic music pioneers, brewing a signature blend of orchestral horror music and movie-style sound effects. To others, they remain the first “haunted house band” that forever changed the Halloween music genre and became a staple of the October holiday season.
And still others know them as the duo that teamed up with Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast to produce the first official soundtrack to the legendary Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game, or the lucky devils who created the ear candy for Hugh Hefner’s Playboy mansion Halloween bashes.
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