Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Monthly Blast: January '17

This month, Apteronotus joins the fray as we do our best to articulate thoughts on a myriad of genres and bands. Black Metal takes up quite the amount of space and time with bands from across the globe including Poland, Portugal, Iceland, and Croatia. Two bands, Infinite Earths and Teleport both draw comparisons from each of us to Australia's Stargazer, which is an odd and yet interesting development in what we determine to be an ever-increasing influence in style. Heavy Metal is given it's moment to shine as I give thoughts on Girlschool's '82 album, Sweden's Instigator, and Argentina's Steelballs. There are also a couple oddballs, as Apteronotus pokes around at the dissonant wizards of Lorn and I give some time to accommodate French rockers Wolve.

Duch Czerni - Reality Of Black Spirits (2016)
Polish Black Metal group Duch Czerni have been around for a few years now with a handful of demos and minor releases out. Reality of Black Spirits is a more recent effort. Most impressive here is the overall atmosphere given off by the release. Depressive Black Metal is a clear influence and bands like Silencer or Trist are a good point of reference. Duch Czerni steer clear of falling off into truly ambient territory making this a listen that would not be well received by those that have approached the style from that trajectory. Present are the common twangy dust-coated guitars, upfront drums, shrieking high pitched vocals, and noisy sub-melodies. Momentary bursts of shouted vocals add some variety. The release drifts in and out mostly, particularly second track "Grim Night of Eternity," leaving the listener with the sense that guitarist Azazoth and vocalist Wened Wilk Sławibor were mostly focused more on the atmosphere than the impact of the release. "Dismal Aura of Melancholy" is probably my preferred track here as the six-minute offering crawls through slow building layers of atmosphere into a final faster climax and culmination, but the general sameness of the tracks and their structures would be served by some variety. Though relatively enjoyable, probably skippable unless you approach depressive black metal from an aficionado position. (Orion)

Girlschool - Screaming Blue Murder (1982)
The longest running all female rock band's early catalog is ripe with killer tunes and their third album, Screaming Blue Murder, is no exception. The opening title track sets the tone straight off - upbeat and punkish NWOBHM infused Heavy Metal - and throughout the entirety of the album, a driving and powerful wallop of riffs is thrown at the listener. For me, top tracks are the memorable "Don't Call it Love", the almost Motorhead rip-off "Hellrazor", and slick "Don't Stop". The outlandishly sensual "Flesh and Blood" is the single most interesting track on the album, with sultry spoken verse and breathy almost whispered choruses but dumped at the end of the release relegates it to the b-side of a b-side band's album; a footnote for a footnote. While this is an enjoyable listen, it's nothing special to me other than the tracks mentioned. Shakin' Street is a comparable in sound but superior in song with Ross the Boss providing guitars. A fun throwback listen. (Orion)

Infinite Earths - Into The Void (2016)
Florida's Infinite Earths play a progressive style of Black Metal which, possibly due to high-notoriety releases from bands like Stargazer and to a lesser degree Blood Incantation, has becoming increasingly noticeable. For Infinite Earths the comparison to Stargazer is strongest; both bands utilize bass guitar as the central melodic instrument and guitars are often windswept yet add technically diverse segments throughout. This will appeal to a swath of the metal spectrum who find engagement in Gorguts, Cynic, and Vektor. Vocally, Josh Joel Mazorra presents his vocals like buckshot, all over the place, intense, and in myriad shapes and forms as Into The Void sees five tracks presented as individual acts to form a concept based on a comic book of his own creation. As the tracks swirl through structures and riffs, we're given numerous segments and ideas to ponder over. "Act 2: Amalgam of Madness" contains a particularly striking section where Mazorra does some nasally singing behind a guitar lead before reverting back to his raspy screams. "Act 3: Chaotic Good" opens with a breakdownesque riff and drums. Final track, "Act 5: Grave New World," ends on a high note with a melodic guitar line for a minute or so before noodling it's way towards the end of the track in a Dream Theater-esque fashion. A Strong EP, but it doesn't quite
capture my attention the way other bands are doing this style. (Orion)

Lorn - Arrayed Claws (2017)

Lorn is the kind of band that may come across as pure dissonance worship at first glance, but if a bunch of janky sounding chords won't scare you off their EP Arrayed Claws has a lot to offer. At the outset, it's important to revel in the band's song structures because they have a lot in common with traditional black metal's hypnotic tremolo picked repetition. While there are quick flourishes peppering the melodies, the changes are often incremental and obscured by an underlying sense of flow - making the music simultaneously smooth and harsh, it's whiskey. It makes Lorn a difficult band to pin down and that's a great thing, especially with how different all of the tracks are from another. After listening to metal obsessively for years upon years it takes a special band to stand out from the coma-inducing hordes of mediocrity and adequacy. Lorn though is a special band, have a listen to "Abstract Trap" and tell me that the harmonics that pop into the song at three minutes in don't absolutely slap you in the face. Really fascinating band, the relaxed outro reminds me of Vorde with the lush retro science fiction kind of sound. (Apteronotus)

Lux Ferre - Excaecatio Lux Veritatis (2015)
Another Portugese entity, Lux Ferre's Black Metal is not unique but is competent. The opening moments of Excaecatio Lux Veritatis should cause some minor salivation and a desire for a few additional sessions with their no-nonsense worshiping of Black Metal motifs. The ten minute long "A Luz Ofuscante da Verdade" opening, the length and relative lack of variety in the track, and the additional two minute long intro draws out and slows down the listener's ability to familiarize. The best tracks are shorter in nature, to emphasize Lux Ferre's intensity without a seemingly perpetual wall of sound. The overall best track here is "Miséria" with it's doomy intro, pendulistic melody, and even some variation in the vocal performance of Devasth in the form of a groaning yell in contrast to his more predictable screams. The track has a little bit of everything. Overall, I think that Lux Ferre's main conflict will be differentiating themselves from others, as the recording is quite generic. (Orion)

Pogavranjen - Jedva Čekam Da Nikad Ne Umrem (2016)
Weird Black Metal from the outset, Pogavranjen start the listener off running for their lives with a noisy cacophony of cymbal hits and guitar noise. The rest of Jedva Čekam Da Nikad Ne Umrem's six tracks and fourty-four minutes is a unique and airy mixture of Black Metal and Jazz. Deathspell Omega appears to be an influence throughout but at a snails pace. Into The Woods and Ved Buens Ende should be considered as well. There is little velocity in most of these tracks. Pogavranjen take, instead, an awkward pace through uncomfortable melodies, similar to Emanation but with a greater focus on clarity and less utilization of ritualistic ambient formations. The percussion is quite an interesting component throughout and is the jazziest component, evident in the usage of poly rhythms. Vocalist Ivan Eror is a mixture of clean shouted vocals and the sporadic harsher black metal screams. With nine different musicians contributing the record, it's difficult to offer praise to each, however as an ensemble praise is due. A good listen for fans looking for inventive and avant-garde black metal. (Orion)

Instigator - Bad Future (2015)
A strange Swedish Heavy Metal / Thrash mashup reminiscent of Master's Hammer without the classical music bombasticism, Vektor with stripped down instrumentalism, and Voivod's late 80's wackiness. Bad Future is four tracks peaking at fifteen minutes making this a quick listen and demonstration of the band's style. The inclusion of samples, numerous guitar tones and effects, and the kitchen sink all emphasize either a marked disinterest in being typical or an obsession with being different. "Black Magic" has a decisive Heavy Metal flair to it more than the thrashier "Anabolic" and  "Inseminoid." "Undetectable" closes the release with a running bass line that gives me déjà-vu. It's also a little long-winded for my taste. Instigator have a heavy personality and identity present here that's probably too wacky. Kind of like the class clown in elementary school, toned back a little bit, they might be in a sweet spot, though, and grow up to be famous comedians. (Orion)

Sinmara / Misþyrming - Ivory Stone / Hof (2017)

On this split Sinmara and Misþyrming prove that there's nothing quite like Icelandic black metal. While a lot of bands across the world have tried to jump onto the dissonant bandwagon many of them miss the mark and land firmly in wanky mathcore territory.  Not so for this two-song split. The riffs are distinct, abrasive, and most importantly carry forward melodies that have an energetic structure. Sinmara in particular really pushes the edges of clarity in mixing - the broad sound from layering dissonance and heavily distorted guitar lines somehow never feels messy. Misþyrming comes across a fair amount dirtier but it just hardens the band's edge rather than muddying up the sound. While I prefer Sinmara's razor sharp approach, there is a special charm to how Misþyrming's beefy percussion helps create order to a lot of the delightfully shrill chords and tamer sections throughout their song.  (Apteronotus)

Steelballs - Steelballs (2016)
Argentinian Heavy Metal in the vein of early Blind Guardian, Helloween, etc. Goofy name aside, this is relatively inoffensive to the taste of fans of this style of metal. It's a heartfelt rendition and manifestation of typical influences into original material. While "Steelballs" opens the EP, second track "Farewell" is better and more nuanced. More attitude is to be found in the more monotone melodies and sharper attack. Guitarists Juan Manuel Herrera and Lucas Galarza rip through well composed solos in all the tracks and Juan Pablo Churruarin's - who also provides accordion duties in Folkearth - vocal performance is hopeful. Final track "Inquisitor of Faith" is the most intricate of the album with a handful of dueling harmonized guitars. The Witches Brew version also has a competent cover of Helloween's "Starlight." Overall, probably an unnecessary listen unless your loins ache for this style of Power Metal. (Orion)

Teleport - Ascendance (2016)

If you like your thrash metal on the technical/progressive side then you absolutely have to at least check out the track "The Monolith" on this EP. Thrash always seems like an existential disappointment in metal, a genre whose best days are long since gone and plagued by heartless imitators and those who fail to take their music seriously (I believe the appropriate technical terms are re-thrash and pizza-thrash). This EP on the other hand has a lot killer riffs throughout its songs and the kind of pacing variety that, you know, actually thrashes about. This isn't cheap fast/slow music/ambient-bullshit variety either - check out how "Realm of solar darkness" transitions later in the song and the creepy intro to "Path to omniscience." A really good example of the band's smart ear for melody is how the solo in "Artificial divination" weaves into and plays off of the main melody rather than the lead guitar player just whipping out his fastest runs and swinging them around. Some of Teleport's sexier bass moments remind me a bit of a toned down kind of Stargazer. Not to imply the band is second rate, but their approach is more straightforward and traditional - at least in terms of progressive/technical thrash. (Apteronotus)

Wolve - Lazare (2016)

Lazare is Wolve's October 2016 released four song EP. It follows 2014's Sleepwalker album. This French rock band incorporates elements of soundscape and world music into their rock foundation. This is evidenced by the tabla playing in the title track and rhythmic approach which shows through in other tracks. Wolve are at their best when they incorporate these elements into their tracks. Wolve are likely to burst into big alternative rock choruses as well. Guitarist Julien Sournac's vocal performance is commendable. He mixes between soft and dreamy and laced with more emotion and aggression but is always within the pop-rock realm style. "Porcelain" is the most standard track on the release yet still incorporates an adventurous vibe through the a fuzzy bass and a playful panned percussion mix. The forty second long "Inferno" is a unique mash-up track with an edge compared to the other material. "Far" is an effective alternative rock song which toys with an experimental ambient interlude competently but the opening title track, "Lazare" is the most interesting on the record. Wolve's half-rock half-world/soundscape can be unique and rewarding. (Orion)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

An Empirical Look at 2016's Top Metal Releases

Just like we did for 2015 and 2014, Contaminated Tones has gathered up a bunch of data on what people generally think the best albums are for 2016. The data this year is from 37 different year end lists/polls. While not scientifically rigorous, this is probably the broadest data available on what people "think" is the best, along with information on information on which sub-genres were most popular and what labels did best in terms highly regarded albums.

Orion: One thing to note this year, is that it was fairly difficult to find dedicated lists that fit the guidelines of our year end analysis. In 2014, Apteronotus worked off of 40 lists and in 2015, 47 lists were used. Compiling the lists this year was increasingly difficult as I noticed a decisive drop in the amount of blogs, sites, and zines that were putting out best of lists for the year. 37 lists were available at the close of December, 2016 including those that were last minute additions to the data set. Whether this number is a sign of an overall drop in coverage of the genre or an outlier will be a question to review next year.

Top 2016 Metal Releases:

This graph shows the top 23 metal releases for 2016, based on what percentage of lists the release appeared on in the data. Only bands clearing the 10% threshold are shown. These top 23 bands comprised 35% of the top ten list occurrences, and the top 8 bands comprised 18% of the occurrences (both of these figures indicate a more diverse field of bands compared to 2015 and 2014).

Khemmis's Hunted took the top spot this year, appearing on 29.7% of the lists, which for comparison was essentially identical to how popular Ghost's Meliora was in 2015.

Here are the top 2016 metal releases in list format:

Khemmis - Hunted
Opeth - Sorceress
Oranssi - Pazuzu - Varahtelija
Gojira - Magma
Metallica - Hardwired to Self Destruction
Blood Incantation - Starspawn
Nails - You Will Never Be One of Us
Cobalt - Slow Forever
Destroyer 666 - Wildfire
Haken - Affinity
Inquisition - Bloodshed Across the Empyrean Altar Beyond the Celestial Zenith
Neurosis - Fires Within Fires
Vektor - Terminax Redux
Abbath - Abbath
Alcest - Kodama
Anthrax - For All Kings
Dethspell Omega - The Synarchy of Molten Bones
Deftones - Gore
Hammers of Misfortune - Dead Revolution
Inter Arma - Paradise Gallows
Megadeth - Dystopia
Oathbreaker - Rheia
The Dillinger Escape Plan - Dissociation

Top 2016 Sub-Genres:

This graphs shows a breakdown of the same data while looking at the sub-genre of the entries. The numbers add up to over 100% because bands can have more than one genre. Having multiple genres was the most common arrangement this year by a fair margin at 31.5%, which is on par with 2015's figure of 30.25% for the same variable.

Overall, black and death metal continue to be the most popular genres, at rates comparable to last year. You'll notice that non-metal releases were more popular than many of the other sub-genres. Non-metal releases were similar to 2014's 12% rate, at 12.9%, and down from 2015's 17% rate. A pretty interesting trend toward stability in the data. Thrash and progressive metal however are both up compared to last year.

Orion: One trend to notice is the attention paid to the Heavy Metal and Power Metal genres. Power Metal has had poor showing three years in a row, but a consistent rise is notable, with 2.25% of the overall selection in 2014, 4.26% in 2015, and 6.9% in 2016. This trend is one to take notice of; over the past few years, interest in US Power Metal in particular has increased, with notable Germany-style festivals appearing in the US. Death Metal, in contrast, seems to be on the decline the past three years with 35.25%, 23.62%, and 21.8% showings in 2014, 2015, and 2016 respectively. I wonder if this can be correlated with the changing composition of Maryland Deathfest, arguably the largest metal festival in the US. The inclusion of more USPM bands, Doom bands, and Heavy Metal bands in their roster has been notable over the past four or five years.

As explained in the methodology below, genre information, including metal versus non-metal, was decided using the Metal Archives, rather than relying on the opinion of anyone at Contaminated Tones.

Top 2016 Record Labels:

This final graph shows which labels were most common on year end lists, representing each label as a percentage of the total possible spots. In other words, a 100% means that a label released every release on every single top ten list etc. Unlike previous years, where Nuclear Blast and Century Media were neck and neck,  Century Media had a bit of a decline in popularity in regards to top releases. Keep in mind that there can be a lot of variability in a label's release schedule. This is perhaps best illustrated by Season of Mist's jump from the 14th most dominant label in last year's data up to second.

No label data was attached for non-metal bands, and this fact in conjunction with the entire point of the research (top ten lists only) means that these figures should not be read as reflecting total sales of any particular label for a certain year. The above 20 bands took up 58.38% of the available year end list slots. From an economics standpoint, this data is highly competitive, and more competitive than the prior two years with a Herfindahl-Hirschman Index of .0223. This indicates a diverse field of labels, similar to the top spots for individual bands. Interestingly, this happened while unsigned/independent bands dropped in frequency compared to last year.

  •  Information on genres, whether a band was metal or not, and label data were pulled from the Metal Archives.
  • No bands were excluded for not being metal. If a list included a band, we included it. Otherwise we may as well just be posting our own lists.
  • Only the top 10 from any list were included. This was done to have some continuity across websites in terms of the weight of their data. We excluded sites with lists of less than 10; this way each website is on equal footing.
  • Since different websites can have in-house tastes, websites with multiple lists were selected only once, and at random.
  • Other than looking at only the top 10, rankings were not considered or averaged. Rankings like these are what is known as ordinal data and typically cannot be averaged in a meaningful way.
  • As a quick example, suppose List 1’s author thinks we had a weak year and would rate their #9 album at 73/100 and their #2 spot only 75/100. We can’t meaningfully compare this with List 2’s author rating their #9 album a 80/100 and their #2 100/100 because we have only rankings, and not ratings.
  • No individual website’s list is reproduced here, neither is the entire dataset.
  • Label data was gathered only for metal bands. It’s also important to keep in mind that not every label releases music every year.
  • The list of websites accessed is in the spoiler tag below.
Websites Accessed:

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Attacker - Sins Of The World

Before reading onward, if you're not familiar with Attacker, go find copies of 1985's Battle At Helms Deep and 1986's The Second Coming immediately. Both albums are essential Heavy Metal and belong in every record collection. Then buy Sins of the World.

It's been three long years since Giants of Canaan, Bobby Lucas' first showing with Attacker, one of New Jersey's legendary US Power Metal bands. The combination of the ex-Seven Witches, Ex-Overlorde and Morbid Sin vocalist with Attacker has proved to be a match made in Heavy Metal heaven. Not only does Leatherlungs Lucas' range and ability surpass the majority of other local singers, but he has brought a new dose of energy to Attacker. This energy has been recognized throughout the local area as younger metal heads are increasingly embracing more traditional metal, especially older veteran bands, such as Attacker. On their new album, Sins of the World, Lucas is once again flanked by original drummer Mike Sabatini, original guitarist Pat Marinelli - who retired shortly after the recording of this album - and veteran Mike Benetatos who was part of the original reformation in the dawn of the millennium. Brian Smith fills the bass position.

I'm of the opinion that Sins of the World is an improvement over the strong effort on Giants of Canaan in terms of overall impact. Stylistically, Sins of the World is a perfect blending of Second Coming's more thrash influenced style and the NWOBHM-inspired melodicism of Battle at Helms Deep. A perfect example of this would be "Choice of Weapon",  "Archangel", or the album's title track. Giants of Canaan employed the same tactics of mixing the band's formative styles but was not as totally successful. There is a higher memorability factor, stronger dynamic presence, improved pacing, and a sense of urgency. This could be in part to a better mix and clearer production. I felt there was a dullness present on Giants... Attacker are wielding a sharper blade now. "Carcosa" and "Garuda" show off this clarity early on the record with punchy and aggressive riffs helped in no small part by an absolutely crushing bass presence and performance by Smith. Liner notes reveal that Benetatos wrote the majority of the material here and I can't help but admit that I'm extremely impressed at the revitalization back to full health of the early styles which made Attacker an important US Power Metal band in the early 80's.

Though the first half of the album is great with "Carcosa" leading me to buy an old copy of Ambrose Pierce's Can Such Things Be and "Garuda" making me want to go back and re-watch Mystery Science Theater episodes, The second half yields as strong a set of B-sides as I think exists on an album. I felt that "Glen of the Ghost" was the most prominent track on the last album for it's campfire story. Even better is the similar storytelling finishing off Sins of the World with the Conan inspired duo of "By The Will Of Crom" and "Where The Serpent Lies". I do wonder why they were separated into two tracks but the transition is not hampered in anyway by the split. "Archangel," is my favorite pie on the table here due to the entirely different approach of extremely catchy and memorable contrasting verse-chorus form with an extended instrumental section to split the song. Lucas' powerful vocals scream across big chords and barely noticeable progressive metal influenced rhythmicism. Also the song is about aliens which gets extra points in my book because not enough bands approach the material-ripe subject of aliens, extraterrestrials, UFOs and human breeding programs thousands of years in the past by the Grays.

"We Rise" is the only dud - if you could call it such - but I get it's inclusion from the point of view of the German audience who loves these types of anthems. It wouldn't have been as bad if it wasn't for the constant repetition of the chorus awkwardly at the end of the track. Whatever.

Sins of the World is not only Attacker's best album of their catalog but to be completely blunt, this is as close to perfect Heavy Metal as I've heard in years. The riffs and rhythms and passion well up in your bones, flesh, and teeth. The melodies and progressions unravel in ways as to inspire emotive face-wincing and nose scrunching throughout every song as the need to whip your head and bang your fists increases. Far-flung vocal pronouncements speak both to the heart and mind through Lucas' lyrics which, at times poignant and elsewhere purely innocent, propel songs into territories of quality reserved for only the strongest of warriors. There is that New Jersey edge - a sense of opinionated arrogance, attitude, and virility - that inexplicably hardens the material. It's as if Attacker literally walked into the local bar, fearlessly pushed their way through all the regulars, and just planted themselves in their seats without asking.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Interview With Witch Mountain's Nathan Carson

Nathan Carson is as close to a modern day renaissance man as one could come. He hasn't discovered any new planets, developed important new theories in physics, or sculpted masterpieces of stone or marble (...yet) but the combination of Drummer, Writer, Artist, Promoter, and all-around nice guy should be enough for anyone to support the honorific. Having witnessed the power and impressive performance that has been a constant throughout Witch Mountain's history, and read Nathan's most recent weird-fiction novella, Starr Creek, there were forces beyond my understanding compelling me to get in contact with Nathan and draw some attention to his artistry.

Contaminated Tones: Hey Nathan, I really want to get into your awesome book, Starr Creek, but since this is ultimately a Metal site, let's get some short questions about Witch Mountain out of the way first. You did a US tour with The Skull and Saint Vitus in the fall. How do you feel the tour went? Was this the first large scale tour with new vocalist Kayla Dixon?

Nathan Carson: Kayla and our bassist Justin Brown both joined in early 2015. We almost immediately went on tour with YOB that Spring. It was quite the trial but the new members handled themselves really well. Then in October 2015 we were hand-selected by Glenn Danzig to support on his Blackest of the Black tour. So this 2016 trip with Saint Vitus and the Skull was the third large-scale tour we’ve done in the last 18 months. This lineup has done more shows than any other in the band’s 19-year history. I’d be very happy if we never have another member in the group, unless we add an organ player or something.

CT: It seems the band took a little break since the tour. What is planned for 2017?

NC: Well we got home from a rigorous 28 shows in 30 days just before Halloween. We all needed a break after that. But we just played a very festive New Year’s Eve show here in Portland—ushering in 2017 on a note of profound doom--and will immediately get back into writing mode. It’s time to make the best WM album yet, the first full-length with Kayla and Justin involved, and to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the band.

Witch Mountain Live at Saint Vitus Bar during North American tour with Saint Vitus and The Skull
 CT: Describe the typical Witch Mountain creative process in forming
and crafting your songs.

NC: Well, as the drummer, I have a lot more to do with dynamics and arrangement. I have written songs for WM in the distant past, but generally our guitarist Rob Wrong writes the music, and the singer writers the lyrics. Then we bat GarageBand demos back and forth before finally jamming on the tunes in our rehearsal space. That’s when I tend to speak up if there’s something I believe can be improved. There have been exceptions along the way, but this process seems to work very well for us.

I trust my band mates entirely to generate great music, and I have so much say as manager and booker that I don’t have any ego issues with how the band operates. However, it’s obvious that the drums are not a melodic or lead instrument. That’s why it’s important for me to have other creative outlets. The many years I have spent making collaborative art with groups of people has really inspired me to take my fiction writing to the forefront so that I can share my voice with the world in a way that is unfiltered.

CT: What bands have been major influences for Witch Mountain?

NC: Rob and I have always cited the classics: The Beatles, Black Sabbath, Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, ZZ Top. You can’t really make the best music if you’re only listening to the radio hits of today. Of course we also have added in dashes of early Judas Priest, Uli Roth-era Scorpions, and liberal doses of Candlemass. But each of us has our own specific influences as well.

To my ear, John Bonham and Keith Moon didn’t live long enough to be as good as Dale Crover. I love a spectrum of drummers from Ringo Starr’s brilliant minimlism to Simon Philip’s session work on Judas Priests Sin After Sin.

CT: Leading into your writing and Starr Creek, is there any direct crossover between Witch Mountain and your writing? Do any specific songs from Witch Mountain connect to the book or other writing?

NC: Not really. The main crossover is that I have been selling a ton of books from the merch table on tour, for which I’m exceedingly grateful to our fans and my band mates. Reading my work at bookstores is nice, but aside from my release party at Powell’s, I’ve tended to sell a lot more books at concerts than I have at readings.

I’m not the lyricist for Witch Mountain and, aside from naming the South of Salem and Cauldron of the Wild albums, I tend to be more of an executive producer and art director rather than a songwriter. I would say that the WM song that most closely resembles Starr Creek would be “Aurelia.” And perhaps that’s because the lyrics were written by Uta Plotkin, who grew up in the same small Oregon town that I did.

CT: What inspired you to start writing?

NC: I’ve been writing since I was six years old. When I was nine or ten, I wrote a bizarro western story about an anthropomorphic loaf named Billy the Bread. In high school I wrote a ton of Lovecraft/Barker pastiches that were godawful. When I was 19, I read a Damon Knight book called Creating Short Fiction in which he implores young would-be authors to go out into the world and gather some wisdom and life experience before attempting to write. I took his advice to heart, and didn’t really get serious about my fiction until shortly after my fortieth birthday. By then, I had an opinion on everything, haha. And I’d traveled a great deal and met and interacted with thousands of people. Of course, I’ve also been a professional music journalist for about 15 years. That hasn’t hurt. I always excelled in English over, say, math and science. So it was natural that I would eventually try my hand at short stories and longer works. The key is to not be a hobbyist.

CT: Starr Creek is such an enjoyable read for fans of weird fiction. The characters all had awesome personalities and the relationships between everyone in the book were well thought out and propelled me through the pages more than the plot, which was also teeming with vivid details and intrigue. For those that haven't read Starr Creek, can you give a quick summary of what the reader could expect to experience?

NC: Here’s the blurb from the back of the book: "Starr Creek is the debut novella by Portland writer and musician Nathan Carson. Set in 1986 rural Oregon, Starr Creek features Heavy Metal teens, Christian biker gangs, and hopped up kids on 3-wheeled ATVs. They all collide when strange occurrences unveil an alien world inhabiting the Oregon woods."

CT: You have a knack for description. At times it's subtle nuanced implications and other times you go all out with the descriptive. One of my favorite chapters was Ethan and Charles riding around on the ATVs thinking they were badasses but in reality they were these two kids in plastic costume helmets and shit. When deciding on how to describe different parts of the book, where does the inspiration come from? What is your favorite description in Starr Creek and why?

NC: The first two chapters of Starr Creek were written (in rough form)
many months before I decided to expand it into a novella. Because of that, the language is a bit more florid in the very beginning. Once the story starts to unfurl, I consciously ran it as clean and fast as possible.

So to answer your question, I really enjoy some of the first descriptions of Puppy’s life. Readers can enjoy an excerpt here on Vice’s science fiction site Terraform. http://motherboard.vice.com/read/starr-creek

CT: The dog food eating contest opens the book essentially. Where did that come from? Did you have Puppy's name decided on before or after that scene?

NC: When I was in third, fourth, and fifth grade, I lived in Monroe, Oregon. The Long Branch tavern (it’s still there) had a marquee that advertised these dog food-eating contests. Of course, as a youth, I could only imagine what they were like. I wondered, “Is this what adults do?”

Anyway, I’ve still never witnessed a real contest like this, so I just imagined what it might be like. As for Puppy’s name, that was sort of a lucky coincidence. I knew I wanted to do animal names, and I knew I wanted to have a dog food-eating contest. When I got to that point in the story, it just felt like one more favor my subconscious mind had done for me.

CT: Other than being a fun overall read, was there any deeper themes you wanted to get across to the reader?

NC: Well I’d hope everyone would get something different out of it. It’s a work of fiction. But I certainly wanted to create characters that would act in believable ways, even during unusual or
fantastic situations. I was very inspired by characters like the kid in Phantasm who tapes a bullet to a hammer in order to escape his locked bedroom, and the Frog Brothers from Lost Boys who fill their Uzi squirt guns with holy water.

As for themes, I guess one of the main points of the book is that entropy is unavoidable. My AP English teacher once told me that if you’re ever writing an essay and you need to pull a theme out of your ass, “Man’s Inhumanity to Man” will work 99% of the time. So I’ll pass this tip along to you and your readers.

CT: There are a host of paranormal and controversial weird science topics mixed into the book but I think one of the most surprising twists was the inclusion of UFOs and Cult Imagery that appeared later on. Heaven's Gate is hinted at with Rex's cult. Where does your interest in these subjects come from? What are your opinions on UFOs and Extraterrestrial life?

NC: I grew up near Starr Creek. I’ve seen some weird and unexplainable shit. Having said that, I do not subscribe to the idea that we are descendants of lizard people or that Area 51 is full of alien corpses. I do know that the universe is unimaginably huge. Of course there is extraterrestrial life out there, though I assume it’s weird and abstract, and nothing remotely like anything we have yet considered. The reason I put a cult on Starr Creek road is because there WERE cults on Starr Creek road. I just decided to invent my own, based loosely on concepts from The Golden Bough.

CT: What authors do you look to for inspiration? Who has influenced your writing style?

NC: My favorite author is Gene Wolfe. Reading 30 of his novels has probably done more for me than any writing class or workshop. I would stay Starr Creek was also specifically influenced by Richard Brautigan, particularly his short gothic western novel, The Hawkline Monster. My editor also asked me to read some Raymond Carver before doing my final edit.

CT: What other material have you written? Do you have any future books or novels planned?

Photo: Jon T Cruz at 1369 Photos
NC: I have short stories in the anthologies Cthulhu Fhtagn! (Word Horde), Swords v Cthulhu (Stone Skin), Eternal Frankenstein (Word Horde), and The Madness of Dr Caligari (Fedogan & Bremer). There’s also a story in an issue of Strange Aeons magazine but it’s out of print. In all of these anthologies, I’m in the company of some of the best writers currently working in underground horror. Each has been an honor to take part in.

I’m currently working on my first comic script. That’s due to be available in time for Halloween of 2017. I have ideas for several short stories that are ready to write. And of course I plan to follow Starr Creek with a proper novel set in the same universe, only 76 years later.

CT: Where can people buy your book, Starr Creek?

NC: I prefer to direct people to their local independent bookseller. But you will honestly get the most immediate results from Amazon.com.

CT: Nathan, Thanks for taking the time to do this interview! Hopefully we'll see Witch Mountain here in NYC again real soon!

NC: Thanks for taking the time, and especially for reading and
supporting Starr Creek!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Furia - Księżyc Milczy Luty

Black Metal can take many forms. Furia are a veteran outfit who, with Księżyc Milczy Luty, if not already landing fatal blows are within striking distance of that elusive perfection which so many strive to grasp. What makes Księżyc Milczy Luty such an endearing and impacting listen is how each element bonds with the other elements to form a totality while simultaneously maintaining individual importance and identity. Far from being a muddy atmospheric mess, Furia create atmosphere in the way a classical composer would approach atmosphere - with melody, percussion, and clear dynamics. If there was a top black metal album for me in 2016, Księżyc Milczy Luty stands on that summit and the rest are still at a base camp far below.

The LP version of the album has a different cover compared to the CD.
The approach taken on Księżyc Milczy Luty is refreshing. Space is given for the listener to find an angle into the material and each listen can be approached from a new trajectory**. There are as many gentle gifts to lure the listener into Furia's world as there are massive black metal explorations to stir up fury - the english translation of the band's name. It is apparent from the first two songs this is not going to be a normal predictable listen. The first salvo of "Za ćmą, w dym " and "Ciało" start as a building bass-heavy plod, an inverted pointer finger motioning to come closer, hinting at secrets and rewards. Often songs have this opening technique, much the same way as Iron Maiden has used clean guitars and introductions on recent albums to set the melodic mood. Furia have a knack for this and twist it mischievously. "Zabieraj Lapska" and "Tam Jest Tu" also incorporate this method. Each of these four tracks is wholy unique and enticing.

The other two songs, "Grzej" and album closer "Zwykłe Czary Wieją" are the album's more immediately impactful tracks. "Zwykłe Czary Wieją" has a more blackened doom vibe throughout, making use of Nihil's incredible barking vocal style. It's an uncommon ornamentation that makes Księżyc Milczy Luty more involved and dynamic than the endless screams and shouts normally hanging all over ninety-percent of the other black metal albums out there. "Grzej" is the album highlight for me. It has everything that one would want in a black metal track. The memorability factor is astronomical. Opening with a viciously alien bass line over atmospheric guitars, the song ebbs and flows between the bass line like wind whipping through trees on a mountainside. The song slows and builds dynamically throughout, particularly midway through as tremolo guitars take prominence leading into drawn out harsh clean guitar chords and feedback. Drummer Namtar's snare work in the song is excellent and driving. The song effectively "ends" but continues in silence, periodically accents of melody pierce. The song is truly mammoth.

With so much going on in each song, it would have been very easy for Furia to over-reach, for the album to seem disjointed. Instead it's as if they held back in spots and culled ideas specifically to make sections seem more minimalist and raw. The whole central section of "Tam Jest Tu" for example would have been a perfect place for a lesser band to simply fill it with ideas and shit but instead Furia left it practically completely empty. The silent sections of "Grzej" is another example. Few bands, especially in a genre that prides itself on being noisy and harsh, have the skill to utilize these voids in a way in which they become part of the atmosphere and songs themselves. Amidst all the awesome riffs and ideas and music, the incorporation of these lulls comes across in a manner that one could easily say Furia were truly inspired in the creation of this album. It's because of this totality of songwriting that Księżyc Milczy Luty is truly impressive, even to seasoned listeners. Furia have presented an old gilded chest full of remarkable treasures; each object unique and finely crafted, the heirlooms telling stories and stirring emotions.

** Orion's Note: Sars' bass playing on this album is absolutely incredible. I've listened to this four or five times in it's entirety just listening to the bass lines.