Experience Skallagrim – In the Vales of Pagarna by Stephen R. Babb in all its forms. This post covers everything to get you hooked, from a summary, review, excerpts, and links to the complementing albums from Glass Hammer. Reading Skallagrim feels like you are a witness to the live version of Frazetta’s “Against the Gods” painting! You actually witness a hero grab a sword from the sky.
The opening scene poses a set of mysteries as the titular protagonist is brutally attacked in the streets of Archon, the Dreaming City. He loses his memory during the struggle, by wounds or sorcery, so the hero and the reader want to know: Why Skallagrim in a melee? Who is he, really? Why does he feel protective over a maiden kidnapped during the conflict? Why are multiple sorcerers after him? Why the hell can he grab a sentient, screaming sword that materializes from a sudden storm?
The rest of the book unravels these questions, as Skallagrim races against time to save the mystery maiden. He’ll wrestle with eldritch, chthonic creatures, a herd of ghouls, a few necromancers, and an assassin. As Skallagrim unearths the weird history of Andorath’s Southern Region, we get to learn about it as he battles. The book stands alone, but did you know that Stephen R. Babb has been a progressive rocker and theatrical-album-leader for thirty years (more on Glass Hammer below!). Poems and lyrics infuse the prose. For the full effect, readers should listen to the complementary Skallagrim albums. These are not Audio Books. These are thematic rock sets chronicling Skallagrim’s heroic journey. Embedded below are the opening songs to (1) and (2). Listen to these! Babb is creating a rich world here.
Anyone who has perused Goth Chick News regularly, knows that if Ed or Gavin (aka Midnight Syndicate) ever come knocking on my chamber door – I’m home. In fact, they were the very first professional interview I conducted for Black Gate following the release of their fourth album, Gates of Delirium, in 2001. From that point forward, they were and are the one and only goth boy-band that can still make me fangirl squee.
If you have managed to miss their many appearances in Goth Chick News, then allow me to catch you up. Midnight Syndicate has been working primarily in the genre of gothic music since 1997 and is based in Ohio. The band refers to their CDs as “soundtracks for the imagination” and their songs are characterized by a blend of instrumental music and sound effects. Midnight Syndicate music is commonly used to provide atmosphere during the Halloween season in haunted attractions, retail stores and theme parks. However, they have also done movie sound tracks, and rumor has it, were the preferred background music at the notoriously famous Halloween parties held at a certain LA mansion, which may or may not have been associated with bunnies.
As anyone who reads old comic books can tell you, the cheesy ads in the back pages are often more fun than the actual stories. Warren magazines like Creepy and Eerie were especially good in this regard, aimed as they were at a slightly more adult audience than comics like The Flash or Sub-Mariner were – or if Warren readers weren’t that much more mature, they probably at least had a little more money in their pockets than their slightly younger, allowance-dependent brethren did.
For instance, the last fifteen pages of my copy of Creepy #59 (January, 1974) consist of nothing but ads for such treasures as Planet of the Apes Hobby Kits (“TEN MILLION FANS ASKED FOR IT!”), Vinyl Movie Monster Masks (“NEW! FROM HOLLYWOOD!”), 8MM reels of stop-motion action scenes from Ray Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts and The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (“A FEAST OF FEARFUL IMAGINATION!”), EC Comics reprints, and pages and pages of paperback books and “Monsterific LP Record Albums!” The latter were mostly a mixed bag of ancient radio shows, “spoken word” renditions of Poe and Bierce stories, movie soundtracks, and those compilations of haunted house sounds that the copywriters assured us would be “great fun for parties!”
The album that always caught my eye (and that’s all it caught – $5.98 wasn’t easy for me to come by in those days) was called Drop Dead!
For this article, we’re going to be shining the virtual spotlight on a fairly recent and intriguing addition to the Avex music label roster in Japan, the singer Kalen Anzai. Although she’s definitely not part of the popular trend of ‘virtual idols’, for a time there was some debate on that — not about whether she was an idol (as she’s clearly not, at least not in the strict genre sense), but whether she was actually real or virtual…!
A few weeks ago, actually probably a couple of months ago, now that I think about it, an artist I have been following for a while dropped a music video. Ordinarily, I’d not really mention it here, though I do think the artist in question is extraordinary and the song is a bop, as the kids say. It wasn’t the song that kept me watching, however. Most times with music videos, I open them on my YouTube, then go to a different tab to do work.
Not this time.
What I watched wasn’t really a music video. I mean, it was a video and it did feature a single song, and was created for the specific purpose of presenting the song to the world. However, the video itself was a story – a short film. It had an inciting incident, the hero’s lowest point, and a satisfying conclusion. This tale was specifically, it was a short cyber-punk Robin Hood tale. The visuals were spectacular, the acting quite good (if somewhat melodramatic), and the story compelling.
I’m doing something different this time around, a mini-concert of music videos to help ring in a new and hopefully better year. You don’t need me to tell you how all-around lousy 2020 was, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel and hopefully the tunnel is not too much longer. All these videos are for one reason or another, important to me. Some are well-known, with millions of views, some are obscure. Some are both. (You’ll see.) I hope you all enjoy some of them as much as I have.
First up, BRRRUUUUCCCEE, with a fantastic live performance of NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER as kind a defiant send-off to last year, and also a hopeful anthem for the year to come. With some completely unexpected on-stage guest performers.
Next is a pair of videos that are in the way of public service announcements for fairly recent projects which should be called to your attention. One of the first movie posts I did mentioned a film called STREETS OF FIRE that I guess you’d say is something of a cult film. Shout Factory has done a recent Bluray release that has unsurpassed in clarity and quality. See for yourself.
The Mexican horror film is definitely an under-served genre when it comes to availability in the U.S. market. Many of these movies are hard to impossible to find subtitled (my preferred format) or even dubbed, which I usually find more problematical than subtitling. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but I thought it might be useful to briefly cover a few titles you might not be familiar with. The following films are grouped chronologically rather than by quality.
I have been attending Gen Con regularly since 2009, and reporting on the events and new games here on Black Gate. It’s one of the highlights of my year, honestly. But this year, of course, Gen Con has suffered the same fate as so many other major in-person events … a shift to online participation. Gen Con Online will run from Thursday, July 30, through Sunday, August 2, 2020.
Registration for Gen Con Online is free for attendees. There will also be three different Twitch channels that are livestreaming demos, live games, and other broadcasts related to Gen Con, with links available here. There is also supposed to be a Discord server set up, though that is still coming. Not surprisingly, it looks like there will be ample abilities to purchase games through the Gen Con Game Store, and of course to purchase Gen Con merchandise. All of that goes live online when the convention begins on Thursday. Once you’ve signed up for your badge, you can register for individual events on the Event Page, though at this point many of the most popular events are sold out. (It is still worth checking in, though, as some people might not show up for their registered events.)
Favorite annual major events from Gen Con are still taking place, though in modified forms. For example, the annual Costume Contest allowed entries throughout the first half of July. Finalist videos will be placed on the Online Costume Contest website on July 29, allowing for votes from fans (1 vote per person). It isn’t going to be quite the same as the Saturday parade of costumes through the convention center, to be sure, but I’m definitely glad that they’ve found a way for these impressive cosplayers to show their stuff and get recognized for it.
The year 2020 will always be associated in my mind with the Warrior Soul album Drugs, God and the New Republic. Explaining why requires a little back story, but let me assure you that this is the most relevant album in 2020.
In 1991 when the album came out, I was a senior in high school. While not in school, my friends and I spent many hours throwing dice on the table, role-playing different characters in a variety of different settings. One of the games we played a lot that year was Cyberpunk 2020, a dystopian future game set in the year 2020.
One of the futuristic details of Cyberpunk 2020 is a genre of music called “chrome rock”. As far as I know, chrome rock is never really described in any detail, so I have no idea what Mike Pondsmith and the other writers of the game intended it to sound like. I always imagined it to be lyrically very anti-authoritarian like a lot of punk songs, but musically more like metal and very “shiny” (clean and well-produced, I suppose?) like, well… chrome.
And that’s the perfect description of Drugs, God and the New Republic if you ask me. I heard the album and thought, “Holy f**k. This is chrome rock.” The sound seemed way ahead of its time back then, and I’ve never really heard anything quite like it before or since (except Warrior Soul’s debut album Last Decade Dead Century, but for some reason I didn’t pick that one up until years later). It’s got guitar riffs and drum smashes that would be at home in metal, bass grooves that might not be too out of place in funk, vocals that are more of the gritty hard rock G’n’R style, and lyrics born from a wholehearted punk attitude. Though Warrior Soul was generally considered “metal” at the time, they never neatly fit into that genre. That and the fact that grunge was just becoming huge when the album came out are the main reasons they never received the recognition and praise I think they deserve.
Sadly, I don’t know enough about the specifics of music recording to articulate exactly how their sound was created. Maybe someone more knowledgeable about sound equipment and mixing can tell me what pedals and filters might have been used to make it so unique.
In Part I and Part II, we looked into the real-life/anime bands Roselia and RAISE A SUILEN, as well as the franchises with which they are most specifically associated — Cardfight!! Vanguard and BanG Dream! Here we round up a number of other media selections, newer and older and variously related, within the Bushiroad universe.
There are many more things coming from Bushiroad than we’ve examined here, or even mentioned in passing, really — so, definitely lots going on! Even in regards to the two main franchises we’ve focused on, there is plenty more to uncover — including a treasure trove of older theme songs for Cardfight!! Vanguard, for instance… and also the other groups from BanG Dream!, beyond the three actual concert-performing bands.
Well, I’m going to toss at least one of those into the fray here, before we’re done. But first, no look at the ‘Bandori’ universe can claim to be even halfway complete without taking a closer look at the number one main band of the entire series — which of course, is the inimitable Poppin’ Party!