Archive for the Reviews Category

The Return of Jessica Jones

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , on March 20, 2017 by Magadh

jj2I’ve been a little behind in my comic reading, so I’ve only just gotten current on the run of Jessica Jones that’s going on right now. This was a title that I had (and to an extent still have) high hopes for. Jessica Jones is an interesting character and, Brian Michael Bendis (who wrote the original Alias series of that title) is running the show again, and it comes with a reader’s advisory tag, which at least means that people confronting life threatening emergencies won’t respond by saying “oh darn.” Having gotten through the first arc I will say that, although I enjoyed it, the presentation of Jessica Jones has, once again, not quite lived up to the excellence of Bendis and Gaydos’s original.


Ok, I’ll admit it, I’m kind of obsessed with Jessica Jones. I blame my pal Meredith, who first turned me on to Brian Michael Bendis’s original arc from Alias that ran from 2001 to 2004. When I got done with it I was pretty much ready to give up reading comics because I wasn’t sure there was anything better left to do. Bendis’s arc had an undeniable brilliance. It combined elements of continuity and discontinuity to tell a compelling story. For instance, the creators used collage in a way that I have not seen very often (especially in Marvel-linked titles). They also brought in J. Jonah Jameson in just about the most interesting way I’ve ever seen. There’s a seriously hilarious sequence in which Jessica Jones is out on a date with Scott Lang. They’re having dinner at an outdoor restaurant when Dr. Octopus rolls by being chased by Spider Man. They spend a moment considering whether they’re going to do something about it, and then Scott Lang says something like, “I don’t really have my gear with me” and they go back to their date.


Jessica Jones is interesting because, and precisely to the extent, that she doesn’t fit the traditional mold of the comic book super hero.  Bendis created a character that is an expression of the complex web of agency and fallibility in which human beings live their lives. She was an Avenger, but decided that she didn’t really fit in there. Instead of going out as a solo costumed hero, she chose the more low key life of a private investigator. This is clearly meant to be read as an outgrowth of her will to define and defend her own agency. Being part of the Avengers means compulsory teamwork. Being an individual costumed hero also means being beholden to others, perhaps to the public at large, but at least to screwball pseudo-populists of the like of J. Jonah Jameson. Working as a private eye allows her to control the obligations that she takes on.


And therein lies a further point of interest. Although Jones is a reluctant hero, she also feels a certain obligation to help people who are vulnerable. While this sort of duality in terms motivation is not entirely unheard of in the world of superheroes, more often than not it is rendered in the key of macho which effectively drains its emotional force, at least for readers older than about 12. Bendis has really done the world a service by presenting us with a female superhero who doesn’t have to be perfect, who gets drunk sometimes, who fails sometimes, and who is still dead set on living her life on her own terms and no one else’s.


The central event in the Bendis narrative is Jones’s encounter with Zebediah Killgrave (alias the Purple Man), a deeply nasty individual capable to compelling people to unquestioningly obey his commands. There’s a lot of backstory to this guy, the essential points of which can be picked up here, but suffice to say that this former Daredevil villain is seriously horrifying. Jones’s interaction with him is particularly grim because he takes from her the one thing that she views as most essentially hers (agency), turning her into a weapon for the accomplishment of his ends.  Ultimately, Jones is able to free herself from his control (and breaks his neck) because Jean Grey had implanted a psychic defense trigger in her mind after an earlier encounter with him. Once she knows she has a choice, the reclaims her agency, dispatching Killgrave in the process. The panel below is one of my favorite ever:


Needless to say, I was really excited when it was announced the Marvel was going to be partnering with Netflix to bring out a full fledged Jessica Jones series. I didn’t know much about Krysten Ritter at the time (although I’ve since watched Don’t Trust the B**** in Apartment 23 and quite enjoyed it), but it seemed to me that casting David Tennant as the Purple Man was a pretty good sign.


jj4Sadly, the end product didn’t quite live up to expectations. Partly it had to do with some unfortunately plot decisions. At one point, Jessica Jones decides that the way to show people Killgrave’s power and criminality by getting herself thrown in a supermax prison. Ok, clearly it’s very difficult to demonstrate mind control to people, but this is a plan that couldn’t possibly work, and, although I think it was meant to reflect her desperation, it ended up making her seem stupid. Later on in the show, Jessica Jones manages imprison Killgrave in a room where his voice is muted (his power is based on the interaction between his voice and some sort of microbe that he exudes). She comes up with a plan that involves introducing Killgrave’s parents into the room. Shockingly, this plan also goes horribly, horribly wrong and anyone who thought about it for around two second beforehand would have been able to predict this.


At a more general level, I really wish that we had gotten to see a bit more of the Jessica Jones PI aspect of things. Killgrave was made creepier by his absence. In fact, his proxies were much more frightening than he was when he was actually on screen. Although Tennant played him to nauseating perfection, it would have been better if we’d seen him less. But there was simply no way to do that given the fact that they had cast a big name like Tennant. It wasn’t his fault, and in a way it wasn’t fault of the people producing the show, since I’m sure that they reckoned (correctly) that Tennant’s name would draw viewers who might not be all that interested in the character of Jessica Jones. Still, it meant that they had to turn him into a middle of the screen type of villain, which didn’t really do the overall atmosphere of the show any favors.


jj3I had high hopes for the new comic version, and these hopes may still be fulfilled, but I’m afraid the first mini-arc hasn’t quite filled the bill. We start with Jessica Jones having just gotten out of prison, for what we are never actually told, but it’s something that compromised her relationship with the Avengers as well as with Luke Cage, the father of her child. The arc starts off strong, with some interesting interplay between Jones and Cage, and with some of the kind of JJ as detective material that one really wants to see. But then it spirals off into some weird things that don’t seem to develop JJ’s character very much. Worse yet, from my perspective anyway, is the connection that it forges with the Civil War II arc which a) went of for too long already and b) wasn’t all that interesting to begin with.


One of the things that the comic version has going for it is that, unlike with the MCU and their Netflix partnership, it’s possible to include some other superheroes  without paying whatever gigantic sum it would cost to get Chris Evans or Robert Downey Jr. (to say nothing of Scarlett Johansson) into the action. So it would have been nice to see some other superhero type interactions over and above the obligatory stuff with Carol Danvers and a somewhat entertaining Jessica Drew cameo.


What the original comic series has going forward that this new version seems to lack is a kind of emotional depth. It’s not as if the story isn’t entertaining, but there doesn’t seem to be the same collage-like approach to creating the character that made the first iteration so entertaining. Admittedly this isn’t entirely the fault of Bendis and co. In the first place they did create a very high bar. And in the second, they were very much working with a tabula rasa in terms of Jones’s character, since she hadn’t been developed very extensively at all up to that point. Still, it would be nice to see a bit more of the little story pieces that add up to something more than the sum of the parts.


Just so we understand each other, I think this is worth getting. The artwork is dark and beautiful and sometimes almost looks like woodcuts. They’ve had a series of covers done by David Mack (who also did the covers on the rerelease of the original series), predominantly in watercolor (or at least so it looks to me) and those are really beautiful. Given the creative team involved and the willingness of Marvel to put money into this title (since there’s going to be a second JJ series after she appears in The Defenders later this year), there’s every reason to believe that they can up the level of quality to what it was in the original. But it hasn’t quite gotten there yet.

Review: Nashgul

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , on March 17, 2017 by Magadh

Nashgul Cárcava Selfmadegod Records

nashgul1I’m not an alcoholic, although it’s probably fair to say that from time to time have had a relationship to alcohol that was not entirely healthy. I mention this because I’ve been told in such a way as to believe it that one characteristic of alcoholics is that they’re always chasing after the high that they get from the first drink. I certainly can relate. That first beer tends to go down awful smooth, and then for the rest of the evening I’m wishing I could find the level of enjoyment that I got at the very beginning.


My relationship to grindcore maps on to this. I’ve been listening to exemplars of this kind of music for a lot of years. And I’ve gotten a lot of enjoyment out of it. From Napalm Death, to Repulsion, to Brutal Truth, and lots of more obscure acts than that. But for me the truly defining instance of grindcore is Terrorizer. I can still remember hearing the opening bars of “After World Obliteration” and being absolutely stunned. Admittedly I actually heard World Downfall after some of the others. I’d heard Mentally Murdered, From Enslavement to Obliteration, and Horrified (just to name a few) months before I heard Terrorizer, and (for what tiny amount this is worth) I actually saw Napalm Death a few times in 1986 (at which point they were doing like 30 songs in fifteen minutes). But World Downfall is the disc that defines the genre for me.


Nashgul2I have to admit that I got something like the old feeling the first time I cranked up Cárcava, the new disc from veteran Spanish grinders Nashgul. Which is not to say that this sounds a great deal like Terrorizer (as you might expect from my natterings in the preceding two paragraphs), but this record does have a lot of similar qualities. The guitars sound like someone tearing a piece of sheetmetal apart. Although downtuned pretty considerably, they are still crisp enough for one to actually hear what’s going. The singer kind of sounds like he’s gargling thumbtacks, very much as you’d expect, but he’s actually coherent enough that I might actually be able to understand at least some of what he’s saying (if it weren’t’ for the fact that it’s all in Spanish). Most importantly, they use the blast beat judiciously, employing it for emphasis but not getting married to it. This gives the music a varied quality that goes a long way to keeping one interested.



This is their first full length in seven years or so. In the meantime they’ve done a few ep’s and splits, including one with War Master that was quite good, although they only released a couple of hundred copies. But one thing you will notice if you go back and listen to El Día Después Al Fin De La Humanidad that there is a common (and very high) quality across the two recordings. Lot’s of this stuff it available on Bandcamp, so you should probably go ahead and get it there, if for no other reason that the incomparable joy of instant gratification.


Ok, pretty much any band with a Tolkien reference in the name will get me to listen at least once, but I must say that I was pretty stoked to find this release. All too often bands in this genre just go through sort of formulaic progression. Obviously, the thing that defines the genre is, to some extent at least, adherence to some sort of formula. But these guys execute their thing with serious aggression, but also enough variation from the norm to make this a really enjoyable disc.


My Life as Scored by Bob Mould

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , on August 13, 2016 by Magadh

mould coverBob Mould, Patch the Sky (Merge, 2016)

It goes without saying that, generally speaking, I make no pretense of objectivity, at least when it comes to matters of art. This is true as a general principle, but it applies with particular force when the matter under consideration is the work of Bob Mould. On his new record, Patch the Sky, Mould produces and excellent exemplar of his stock in trade: expansive guitar melodies carried along on a dense, metallic swirl. This is what I want from Bob Mould, although strangely he hasn’t always given it to me.

I can still recall riding home from my local record store (Hot Poop in Walla Walla, Washington) in the summer of 1983 with a copy of Hüsker Dü’s first album, Everything Falls Apart in a bag slung over the handlebars of my ten speed. I remember thinking how different it was from most of the punk records that I was listening to in those days. The guitar sounded thick, not tinny as on so many early punk releases, and Bob Mould’s voice had a note of melancholy that I found gripping. I listened to it again and again, especially “Gravity,” the breakdown section of which still makes the hair rise on the back of my neck.

Metal Circus, released in the fall of that year, moved their game forward considerably. The recording was better, the songs more compact and aggressive. The lyrics had developed too, addressing topics like alcoholism, rape, and political violence at a level above the standard punk polemics, but in a way that was accessible, at least to my adolescent way of thinking.

The next summer the band released Zen Arcade, one of the most complex, inventive, and challenging records that the punk rock underground ever produced. At the time I was not exactly sure what to make of it. It had songs like “Something That I Learned Today” and “Pink Turns to Blue” that seemed to build on the melodic direction of their earlier work. But it also had things like the Hare Krishna chant and “Reoccuring Dreams” that made me think that perhaps they’d taken a little bit too much acid while in the studio (which may not have been too far from the truth).

I got New Day Rising while I was away at camp in Minnesota, about six months after it came out. It was much more coherent and direct than its predecessor. Clearly, Hüsker Dü were moving in a more pop direction, and this caused a lot of debate within the punk scene as to whether that was ok. I was fine with it. Their sound was developing, and the fact of the matter was that they continued to write songs that I found compelling. Well, when I say “they” I really mean Bob Mould. I was just never a fan of Grant Hart’s music. It seemed too reminiscent of the pop music of the 1960s, and to me that was one of the things against which the new music was rebelling. Bob Mould’s songs were expansive and melodic without looking backward, and that was what kept me listening.

If New Day Rising provided the anthemic backdrop to the summer of 1985, that winter’s soundtrack was Flip Your Wig. Hüsker Dü’s music was changing, their lyrics becoming more introspective. I listened to “Green Eyes” a lot (the rare Grant Hart song that I really liked) because it reminded me of a girl I had a crush on. But the song that really stuck with me was “Games,” where Bob Mould struggled to come to terms with what it meant to be prominent, and the meaning of fame more generally. I had never really thought about that before. I always assumed that being famous would be great, and that anybody who complained about it must be some sort of jerk. It had never occurred to me that it might be troubling to have so many strangers care about your opinion, probably since in those days very few people gave a crap about mine. [Not that it’s much different today, I just care about it less…]

Hüsker Dü and I parted ways in 1986. I moved to Nottingham and got very involved in the European crust/d-beat scene. But I did know that the shift to Warner Bros. had caused a lot of turbulence among the band’s existing fan base. As I recall, Bob Mould actually wrote a piece in the January 1986 edition of Maximum Rock n Roll trying to explain and justify the jump to all the people who had followed them in the underground scene. The people that I was hanging around with in those days, mostly anarchists, squatter, hunt saboteurs, and the like, were completely dismissive of this. I too felt kind of betrayed, but I was also suspicious about what the demands of major label production would do to the band’s sound.

When I got back I ran into by best friend Chris, who had loved the band as I did. I asked him about their most recent release, Candy Apple Grey.

“It sucks,” he said, “don’t bother.” And I didn’t. I probably didn’t listen to Candy Apple Grey, or its successor, the diffuse and directionless Warehouse: Songs and Stories, for 15 years. When I finally did I didn’t really like either one. Candy Apple Grey just sounds empty to me, and whether that’s a matter of the producers trying to mute Mould‘s overwhelming guitar tones, or my own residual feelings of betrayal (or some combination of the two) I still don’t have enough personal distance to say. The songs on Warehouse (with one or two exceptions) have always sounded to me like outtakes from the sessions for the previous album.

Nor did I listen to Bob Mould’s first solo release, Workbook, at least not more than a couple of times. At that point I was still morally opposed to solo releases by people who’d been in bands that I loved. To me it smacked of self-indulgence. I did buy (and am still one of the few people to really enjoy) Black Sheets of Rain, after I read a review of it in Rolling Stone that began:

If you thought Bob Mould’s angst-ridden solo debut, Workbook, was a blast of heavy weather, you’ll need a steel umbrella to withstand the torrential distortion and gale-force rage of Black Sheets of Rain. This album contains none of Workbook‘s pensive acoustic eloquence or diligent guitar orchestration. Black Sheets of Rain is nothing more, or less, than a long, loud howl of pain – blinding anger, unremitting loveache, debilitating loneliness – broadcast from power-trio hell.

I think that record only sold about 7000 copies (I bought two). The recording quality was remarkably bad. It sounded like Mould was in one room and the two guys from the Golden Palominos were in another, and they just hadn’t bothered to integrate the tracks. Still, that record spoke (and speaks) to me in a way that Workbook never did. I went and saw him on tour that year. The show was actually a lot better than the record, at least in terms of how it sounded. For an encore he came out alone with his acoustic guitar and played some Hüsker Dü songs (I don’t remember which ones but it was great). Then the rest of the band came back on stage and they played one of the best versions of Cheap Trick’s “Surrender” that I’ve ever heard in my life.

Mould’s next project, Sugar, started out strong for me. Copper Blue was a fabulous record. It was a bit of a change for Mould in the sense that his guitar was slightly more muted and better integrated with the other musicians. It still had the same compelling melodies that had defined his music from the outset and the lyrics were heartfelt and, in the case of “The Slim” unbearably moving. Having said all that, I really didn’t get into either Beaster or File under Easy Listening. It’s not that they were bad records, I just didn’t like the songs.

Then I sort of lost touch again. This was in part due to the fact that the mainline of my tastes runs to things harder and faster. It will come as no surprise to anyone who has read few of my posts that I spend my time listening to Skit System, and Disfear, and Martyrdöd and that I generally don’t have a lot of time for things melodic and/or mainstream. I listening to Bob Mould (1996) and The Last Dog and Pony Show (1998) maybe once or twice apiece, but they just didn’t grab me and I consigned Bob Mould to the ranks of artists from whose work my tastes had moved on. This was a sad thing for me. Every now and then I would spin up Metal Circus or  New Day Rising and wish that there was something that tapped whatever it was that I loved about those records for me again. But it didn’t happen.

Then last year I was up late at night and I happened to be watching David Letterman. This in itself was real serendipity, since I haven’t watched a whole episode of that in the better part of a decade. But I was watching and I happened to catch Bob Mould do a couple of songs from what was at that point his most recent album (Beauty and Ruin, 2014). And they were burning. Apparently they were performed at such volume that dust shook down from the rafters. In that moment I thought, “Ok, I’ve gotten enough joy from this guy’s music that I’ll give whatever he puts out at least a chance.

So now we come to his latest release, Patch the Sky. Like his preceding two records (Silver Age and Beauty and Ruin), it’s out on Merge Records, and his association with this label seems to have come about at the same time as the move away from the sort of navel-gazy period that he went through in the oughties. I’ve now gone back and listened to most of those records, and I don’t feel like I missed that much. Patch the Sky, however, rocks quite as hard as his other Merge releases (i.e. hard).

The opening cut on Patch the Sky is the kind of Sugar-esque “Voices in My Head,” pleasing but not mindblowing. But the then Patch finds its stride with the over the top, overdriven melodicism of “The End of Things” (which could perhaps be the theme song for my life right now). “Hold On” is a minor key rocker that wouldn’t have been out of place on Black Sheets of Rain, but is better recorded and mixed than any of the cuts on that record.

“You Say You” features another one of those broad, exuberant melodies that Mould had been churning out for the best part of four decades. “Losing Sleep” pulls things back to a more contemplative place, but maintains the fullness of the albums overall sonic profile with some well-considered chordal additions from bassist Jason Narducy. And perhaps this is moment to say that the players that Mould is now working with are, for my money, the best that he has worked with since the 1980s. Narducey and drummer Jon Wurster seem to have a visceral understanding of what Mould is trying to accomplish and fill out the sound without stepping on it.

“Pray for Rain” is another that evinces Sugar pretty strongly, joyfully spinning through series of dense and beautiful sonic landscapes at foot-tapping tempo. “Lucifer and God” slows things down again but with a spiraling melodic overlay that gives the song a lush, almost intoxicating groove. “Daddy’s Favorite” seriously sounds like it could have been recorded by Ozzy Osbourne, with a wealth of sorts of metallic guitar overlays that give Mould‘s compositions their more hard rocking dimension. “Hands Are Tied” is a straight ahead melodic punk tune that wouldn’t have been out of place on New Day Rising or Flip Your Wig.

An so it goes. The songs change focus and tempo, but the overall content is consistent and the quality is consistently high. Patch the Sky is more than just a suitable companion to Silver Age and Beauty and Ruin. It is, to my ear at least, the place that those discs were going. Bob Mould seems to have rediscovered the muscular melodies that have driven his music since the 1980s, and his latest return to form gives one hope that the well of creativity from which he has for so long drawn has not yet run try.

Review: War on Women

Posted in Reviews with tags , , on August 4, 2016 by Magadh

War on Women s/t Bridge 9 Records

wowI always like seeing women break into the rock and roll boys club. I’ve heard about as many songs about man pain as I can stand at this point. Truth to tell, the thing I always liked about the underground scene was the space that it set up for women to express themselves outside the framework of dude-centered culture. And thus I was so often disappointed when the same old dude-centric tropes seemed always to be reproduced, whatever the rhetoric of inclusion might have suggested.

It’s been my privilege to see a lot of women with powerful souls getting their rock on. I wish everyone could have seen Tam Simpson fronting Sacrilege in their heyday, inscribing the poetry of the apocalypse across their blistering metal swirl. That was brilliant, but it was one woman in a four piece, and if it’s not quite fair to say that that doesn’t count, still it doesn’t seem to quite get to the cultural place of bands like Bikini Kill or Sleater-Kinney in which women were the entire creative force.

Baltimore’s War on Women is a hybrid between these two conditions. Three out of the five members are women, including singer Shawna Potter, guitarist Nancy Hornburg, and bassist Suzanne Werner. But War on Women’s feminism is not so much a matter of having women at the skill positions (although that’s important too) but in their unabashed and unapologetic political stance. From their name, to the cover of their most recent eponymous release (which gets my vote for best of the decade), to their forthright discussions of topics like rape, abortion, and dude culture on the internet, this is a band whose values are front and center, and whose way of expressing them takes no prisoners.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that their message is delivered in a musical voice that would make you sit up and listen even if they didn’t have something important to say. There’s a lot of this disc that sounds like Swiz without the metallic overtones, or a slightly less melodic take on early Dag Nasty. But then there are also plenty of passages that are simple, fist-to-the-jaw punk, and the mixture makes for very interesting listening.

War on Women ticks all the boxes. They’re a punk band that actually has something to say, which is, frankly, all too rare (and not just these days). This is something that underground music (to say nothing of American culture generally) needs more of. War on Women demand to be taken on their own terms and to have their commitments heard and taken seriously. And they rock, which doesn’t hurt at all. They’re on tour in Europe now, and if you live over there, go see them. Yes, you.

For more on War on Women

Review: The Siege Fire

Posted in Reviews with tags , , on September 25, 2015 by Magadh

The Siege Fire, Dead Refuge (1859 Records)

[I’m a bit distracted today, as I have been for the last few. I’ve been waiting on the new Black Breath disc, which drops today and my excitement level is making me kind of stupid (well, more than usual). I’ve been meaning to finish this review of The Siege Fire for the last few days, but I just haven’t been able to concentrate properly. But now, as I sit here checking my email inbox about every 90 seconds I feel like I’ve just got to do something to dissipate the pressure before I go mental. So here it is.]


I have mercifully few regrets in life. But one of them certainly is having left Portland, Oregon apparently a couple of days before it started along its path toward being the melodic crust capital of the world. The Rose City had always had a pretty thriving underground scene, from the Wipers, through Poison Idea, Sado-Nation, and Final Warning, and up into its more anarchist phase with bands like Resist, Unamused, the Deprived, and Defiance. People who follow this scene will know that this barely scratches the surface, but my point here is not to display the breadth of my knowledge of Portland bands (about which I could go on ad nauseam) but just to register my surprise at the effect that one signal event (the relocation of From Ashes Rise in 2001 from Nashville to Portland in the very early oughties) seems to have wrought.

tsfOk, I know the story is more complicated than that, both in terms of personnel and in those of the histories of style. Fragments of His Hero is Gone showed up first, and Tragedy arose out of those embers, but my view is that From Ashes Rise has always been among the purest exemplars of the melodic crust style, while Tragedy and His Hero is Gone were darker and more dissonant. Which is not to say that they were not awesome, quite the contrary. Still, for me From Ashes Rise is actually stylistically closer to a band like Sarabante, or even to a more d-beat styled group like Martyrdöd than they are to Tragedy.

All of this is splitting hairs. What is undeniably the case is that in the years since I left Portland has become a sort of rookery for dark, melodic crust and I think that the results have been, and continue to be, quite positive. A case in point: The Siege Fire. Their Dead Refuge 12”, released by 1859 Records earlier this year features some really ripping tracks, coupled with some effective atmospherics. It’s the kind of record that gives one the feel of walking through the remnants, like the jackals howling in the ruins of Ephesus. With civilizational collapse imminent, The Siege Fire has delivered the perfect soundtrack for our collective demise.

In one sense you could hear this disc and recognize it as clearly within the stylistic ambit of melodic crust. At times they sound like HHIG, at others like Burning Bright, at still others like Agnosy. But this is not to say that their sound is derivative or tired. There is an energy and freshness to The Siege Fire’s songs that carries the listener along. Their licks are simple and to the point, while the vocals have the sort of urgency that grabs the attention. You (or at least I) can actually make out the words, which is a good thing. One of my real pet peeves with extreme music the way that vocalists simply give themselves over to sounding like a wookie with its paw caught in a blender. Anyone can grunt incomprehensibly. Contributing to the extremity of a band’s sound while still allowing your audience to have some idea what you’re going on about takes a bit more in terms of imagination (and effort). Yeah, The Siege Fire ticks that box as well.

I think it’s fair to say that we are living in the golden age of this music. In a few years the hardcore scene will probably have moved on to some other fascination. But we will still have the artifacts of this era, and I suspect I’ll be spinning this one for a long time to come.

Flying the Nerd Flag High

Posted in Reviews with tags , on September 18, 2015 by Magadh

Felicia Day, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost): A Memoir (New York: Touchstone, 2015)

weird1I used to play World of Warcraft (WoW). It feels funny to admit this in public. I started in 2005 after spending the previous four years heavily engaged in Ghost Recon/Ravenshield online play. As such, I viewed WoW as numbering among the childish things. A friend of mine who was, at the time, a nationally ranked Tribes player summed up his disinclination towards WoW by saying, “I already have a job.” But since my best friend had devoted a lot of time to it, and since we were now living on opposite coasts, I took it up predominantly to have some gab time with him. I was never all that great. I just didn’t have the patience for grinding and I just could never master PvP. But I hung in because of the people.

They were a lot nicer than the folks I’d met playing Ravenshield. True, I’d met some cool folks there, but the vast majority of people that I came in contact with in the online FPS community fell on a gamut running from hard right to monster raving lunatic fringe. I didn’t quit when I was subjected to a two hour discussion in coms about where Saddam had hidden his WMDs. I didn’t quit after one of my clan mates hassled me for an hour about liberals (which I’m not) being wishy-washy (which I’m also not). I did quit after I logged on to coms one day to hear one of my clan mates (one that I’d always sort of thought was a right guy) talking about how if he became president there would be one day a year when every American could kill one homosexual. I never logged on again.

The people who played WoW were, mostly nicer, and with a few exceptions my interactions were pleasant. Which is not to say that there was not some weirdness in that community as well. After I’d been playing for a while I decided to experiment with playing a female avatar to see if people treated me any differently. They quite often did. One fool chased me across three zones trying to get me to date him. Yes, that was a thing that happened. Finally I was like, “Look, in the first place, if this was an open PvP server you’d be in the graveyard and I’d be running around with your stuff. In the second place, I’m a dude.” The second thing took a remarkably long time to sink in. Other experiences ranged from slightly nauseating “Yes, Milady” faux chivalry to comments about the quality of my (completely fictitious) boobs. Women of WoW (and of the gaming world generally) I salute you for your willingness to put up with that crap. Men of the gaming world, please grow the fuck up.

In any case, relatively soon the game got boring for me. You can’t build anything that endures in WoW, and it’s really weird to kill a monster with some spectacular effect only to have his friends five feet away go on with their lives as if their colleague has somehow not just been burned to cinders. I got to the point that I would fall asleep while raiding. Want to make yourself really unpopular? Cause a 40-man raid to wipe because you’ve nodded off at your keyboard (“Ahhh Magadh, I see your DPS stream has dropped off dramatically…”). Still, I soldiered on until 2009 or so before I finally worked up the energy to shift to another platform.

In the waning days of my WoW career I tumbled onto Felicia Day’s pioneering web series The Guild. It was funny, mostly in a way that only people immersed in the WoW culture would get. But it wasn’t dismissive of the subculture as, for instance, the South Park episode “Make Love, Not Warcraft” pretty clearly was. At the time, neither I nor practically anybody else recognized how important these little windows into the world off MMORPGs would turn out to be.

Felicia Day’s recently published memoir, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), makes clear exactly how important The Guild was, although one has to interpolate a bit due to Day’s graciously self-effacing writing style. Along the way, readers learn a lot about Day’s path from a (sort of) hippie home-schooled kid, through double majoring in music and math at UT-Austin, to her current status as one of the most fascinating characters in the modern media landscape.

There is so much interesting stuff in her book it’s difficult to get to it all, but the most interesting story line is that of how she turned her obsessive interest in WoW (and in online gaming more generally) into a media enterprise that sidestepped the established channels of production and distribution and, in doing so, opened up a new path or, more properly, new paths that challenged the media entities’ standard operation procedures. One of the most enduring features of Day’s personality is her love of performing. As a child she sought out amateur theater groups wherever her family touched down. As an adult she showed a remarkable facility for finding creative outlets that didn’t require her to cave in to the expectations of the media establishment. Her ability to do so is the hallmark of her career to date.

There is a lot to respect about Felicia Day. She has a wry sense of humor that illuminates the weird and the beautiful without ridiculing. She is seemingly endlessly creative but, as her story makes clear, also subject to the full range of doubts and personal insecurities. There is a very inspiring quality to this. Even in those areas where she is a virtuoso, Day always also has an element of insecurity. The reader comes away (or at least this one did) with the feeling that pursuing creative outlets it worthwhile simply out of love, and that too is a worthwhile message.

Certainly the saddest part of the book is toward the end when Day describes her experiences with #gamergate. I very much regret that I wasn’t actively posting here when that was going on, if only because I missed the opportunity to support the victims and say appropriately nasty things about the bunch of numpties behind it. Day made the mistake of believing that what was going on was, at its root, some sort of misunderstanding among civilized people. The wave of abuse that she received in return from the gutless halfwits who associate themselves with #gamergate, sadly, came as a real shock. And while she was not subjected to quite the level of aggro received by Anita Sarkeesian, Zoë Quinn, and others, she did get a large volume of exactly the sort of invective that illustrates exactly how timely critical analysis of gender issues in gaming currently is. And she got doxed. Which is bullshit.

Day’s book is light-hearted and enjoyable to read. It’s also important. In general terms it’s important because it gives succor to those people (whose numbers must be legion) who have the creative itch but don’t feel like they have the courage or wherewithal to realize their dreams. But it’s also particularly important because of the role modelling that Day does for girls and women who are generally underrepresented and almost universally undervalued in media related industries. Day has a wealth of the sort of anecdotes about what happens to women in the world of media (i.e. the general unwillingness to take them seriously, the insistence of viewing them as pleasant furniture or potential sex objects, etc.) that make thinking people want to vomit. But hers is a sort of simple unwillingness to play by bogus rules. Maybe that’s not a path open to everyone. But it’s an aspiration that is (or should be) available to anyone.

Review: Monolord

Posted in Reviews with tags , on September 14, 2015 by Magadh

monolord1Monolord, Vænir (RidingEasy Records)

I have to admit that I have a relatively short tolerance when it comes to doom as a musical style. This might have been different back in the days when I was sparked all the time, but the new more sober version of myself more often than not doesn’t have the time and/or tolerance to listen to one down tuned note played over and over for five minutes. Admittedly this is kind of a caricature, or it would be but for Sunn O))) and the bands that imitate them. There is still some life left in the genre, and Vænir, released by Gothenburg’s Monolord in April makes this point in crushing fashion.

monolord2On the doom gamut running from Sabbath (or Sleep) to Habsyll, Monolord plod down ancient pathways closer to the former end. Their recorded sound is satisfyingly chunky, their licks simple but evincing a range of pleasing and subtle variations that hold one’s interest nicely. In other respects they tick a lot of the boxes in terms of what you want from your doom band: judicious use of the wah wah, atmosphere that’s dark to the point of obscurity, and vocals that sound like someone singing a lament for lost souls from a ruined battlement.

Their six songs clock in at just over 50 minutes, which is respectable, and they have only two songs that run over ten minutes (“Died A Million Times” only just makes the cut), so you get a reasonable amount of variety. I was listening to this on my car stereo on the way to work. This usually isn’t a very promising format, in the first place because the speakers don’t provide the optimum low end response, and in the second because doom is really meant to be something in which one loses oneself (usually after about half a dozen bong tokes). But I took an extra detour on my way just to hear a bit more of this, which is a pretty good sign.

Review: Krigblåst

Posted in Reviews with tags , , on March 30, 2015 by Magadh


Krigblåst Power till Demise (Selfmadegod)

Before getting down to the meat of this review, I thought I might relate a little anecdote. Krigblåst is a side project of Phobia vocalist Shane Mclachlan. At least I think it’s a side project, which is to say that I’m pretty sure that Phobia is still a going concern. In any case, I will say that I think Shane is a pretty nice guy. I’ve only actually met him in person once: when Aftermath opened up for Phobia at the old Mississippi St. house in Portland. I ended up chatting with him before the show, introduced by my bandmate Ward who knew him (I think from Ward’s days in Resist). Anyway, I happened to be wearing a Return to Desolation sweatshirt. Not out of any particular sense of adulation, but because the was the only sweatshirt I owned at the time. Shane and I were chatting away and at one point he says, “That’s a cool sweatshirt. Unfortunately we don’t play any of those songs anymore.”

“That’s ok,” I said, “I can’t tell your songs apart anyway.” We had a good laugh about that.

Later on he gave me pretty much the best compliment I ever had in my life in bands. We’d just got done playing and I was out on the street having a smoke. He came up to said, “Dude, it’s like I’m in Sweden!” [Aftermath as a sort of a d-beat style band] I nearly had a stroke. That was very much the effect we were striving for, so to have him say that was pretty awesome.

Well, on to the matter at hand. Right off the bat there is a lot to like about this Austin-based band. The music is crisp and aggressive, the production impeccable. Those familiar with the catalogs of the likes of Anti-Cimex, Wolfbrigade, Masskontrol, etc., will not find much beyond their ken, but this is raging d-beat delivered with precision and pleasing melodic elements. Their vocalist is slightly on the more comprehensible side of Jonsson, which means that one has some prospect of understanding their words without the help of the lyric sheet, but he still provides a suitable level of aggression. I’m kind of post-artifact these days, but in this instance I actually ordered up the CD and I will say that it comes in a nice package. The insert is nicely done with effective graphics and an overall vision that contributes nicely to the project as a whole. The CD is also worth getting as it includes the four songs from their debut EP, among which is a skillfully executed cover of Darkthrone’s “Transylvanian Hunger”. A very entertaining release, and one on which I can at least identify the individual cuts. Available via Bandcamp or directly from selfmadegod.

Review: Black Code

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , on June 11, 2013 by Magadh

black code

Black Code Hanged, Drawn, and Quartered Tanker Records

There’s been a lot of interesting music coming out of France recently. Most of what I’ve heard has been bands like Direwolves, Birds in Row, and Haut et Court that, if one may be allowed to generalize, mix elements of power violence with stylistic fragments that recall black metal. Admittedly, this statement doesn’t do justice to the wide variation between the bands just mentioned, but I think it fair to say that they all share a commitment to push the envelope in a direction that involves time and tempo changes and significant admixture of atonality.

Black Code, hailing from Besançon, about 50 miles from the Swiss border in eastern France, are operating on a much different theory. Rather than relying on weird time signatures and atypical chords, Black Code go straight for the throat with a crushing band of metal tinged crust. They have two releases, so far as I am aware. They put out a split EP with Lust for Death earlier this year, and now they come out with a full LP entitled Hanged, Drawn, and Quartered. Both releases are very strong. The guitar sound is crunchy and angular, downtuned with strong metallic overtones. Indeed, if one were to pick out points of comparison with other bands, those might be more along the lines of Dismember or Nominon that of more hardcore influenced crust. Their songs are mostly in middling tempos, with guitar chug and lots of thudding double bass. The songs on Hanged, Drawn, and Quartered are consistently excellent, well arranged and powerful, with enough variation in terms of structure to hold the interest.

Currently it’s a little difficult to get copies of this record in North America. I heard it on Bandcamp where it can be listened to but not downloaded. Paco from Instinto put me in touch their record label who told me that they are going to try to get some copies distributed over here through Profane Existence, but that’s yet to happen. Readers are strongly encouraged to check this out on Bandcamp and then email the band insisting that that they get over to North America and give us a firsthand look at their music.


Review: Passiv Dödshjälp

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , on June 8, 2013 by Magadh

Passiv Dödshjälp Kollektiva Mönster Embrace My Funeral Records

pd coverI discovered Passiv Dödshjälp in one of those beautiful moments of internet serendipity in which I was looking for something else. As I recall, I was trying to dig up some information on their fellow Swedes Totalt Jävla Mörker when I stumbled on to an upload of Passiv Dödshjälp’s crushing 2010 release Häng Dom in the indiscriminate vastness of the web. There could hardly be a better advertisement for modern Swedish crust. Simple and aggressive licks dripping with overdrive, spun over a background of thundering drums and a vocalist who really sounds like he’s on the verge of a psychotic break. The songs on Häng Dom are mostly mid-paced. In those moments when they slowed down the music retains its punch, sounding at times like Tragedy’s more downtempo material. This was straight Swedish crust in a d-beat sort of mode, one which for the most part eschewed the melodicism associated with bands like Wolfpack and Martyrdöd in Europe, and with acts like From Ashes Rise on this side of the Atlantic.

Intrigued by this, I sought out their other releases. At the time these included a blistering split with Bergen’s Livstid, and a second full album from 2011 entitled Fasader. This latter release reflected a slightly more melodic approach than its predecessor. What followed, 2012’s Skit På Repeat 7”, was a trip to a much gloomier place. For fans of Häng Dom this was meat and drink. The stylistic theory was much the same as on the first LP, but the sound and atmosphere were if anything darker and angrier than on the earlier release. As on Häng Dom, the songs tended to be built around single string lines structured to accentuate impact rather than melody.

On Kollektiva Mönster, Passiv Dödshjälp’s latest recording, the theory has changed somewhat. The compositions are based around chords to a rather greater degree than on previous releases. A rather more rocking influence seems to have taken hold, with some of the songs reminding one more of bands like Kvoteringen or Fleshrevels than of the darker Swedish crust that marked their earlier style. Still the essentials remain: angry vocals, bludgeoning drums, and that razors-through-flesh guitar sound for which the Swedes seem to have a special talent. There are a lot of shorter songs on this release, but the pick of the litter is “Virtuella Bojor”, which clocks in at over four minutes and is rocking and aggressive all the way along.

In this day and age it is a little shocking to me that so few people outside of Scandinavia seem to know about these guys. Kollektiva Mönster is an excellent introduction to their work: an illustration of the aggression and dark atmosphere that have been the hallmarks of Swedish crust for so long. Andreas tells me that the disc itself won’t be out until sometime in July, so start saving your pennies because you will definitely want to get this when it hits the distros.