Review: Sutekh Hexen

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , on May 11, 2019 by Magadh

Sutekh Hexen, S/T (Sentient Ruin Laboratories)

What seems like a lifetime ago, I was flipping through the Bandcamp offerings when a came across a new release by a death metal outfit from Barcelona called Cruz. I was mostly curious about them because I have some contacts in the Barcelona hardcore scene, and so wondered what was happening on the metal side of the tracks. Culto Abismal was not rich with novelty. But it was some chunky, riff-driven death metal that was well produced and catchy as hell. It’s still one of my favorite discs to this day. I got it via the Oakland-based label Sentient Ruin Laboratories. As time went on, I investigated some of the other offerings from SRL’s catalog. I think the next thing I got was VRTRA‘s My Bones Hold A Stillness, a weird mix of doom and crust that kind of sounds like Deathspell Omega on ketamine. Then I hooked up The Creeping Unknown by Noose Rot, which is some of the filthiest death metal you’re ever going to hear. I could go on. Pretty much everything that I’ve heard from this label has been weirdly brilliant (or brilliantly weird). The ultimate conclusion here is this: Sentient Ruin releases some seriously fucked up shit.

Fast forward to the present day. Magadh is sitting in his office in the public library, once again flipping through Bandcamp’s offerings in the hopes of chasing the boredom the comes with doing a bunch of repetitive tasks. I’ve rocked a few of SRL’s more recent offerings, especially De Val by the Dutch black metal outfit Verwoed, a real masterpiece of discordant atmosphere, and I start to see a lot of positive buzz around the recently released cassette by Sutekh Hexen. I’m game, I think. I’ve heard my share of black ambiance. This might be the kind of thing that will put me on edge…in a good way. About forty-five minutes later I’m sitting in my chair, eyes open wide, thinking about the place in Beyond Good and Evil where Nietzsche wrote, “Wer mit Ungeheuern kämpft, mag zusehn, dass er nicht dabei zum Ungeheuer wird. Und wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst, blickt der Abgrund auch in dich hinein.” [“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.”] The abyss seems to have looked back into me, and taken something, and I’m not entirely sure how to get it back.

The opening cut, “Descent,” sounds like the background noise as Charon ferries one across the river Styx: a weird buzzing cacophony in which the screams of the damned echo. This sets the stage for an odyssey that will last the better part of an hour which juxtaposes passages of echoey black metal with long stretches of modulated noise. Sutekh Hexen assaults the senses, most effectively I think because, as a listening, one is constantly trying to make some kind of sense of the aural composition with which one is confronted. But the attempt to turn this into something systematic and comprehensible must ultimately fail. The composers of this music simply will not allow the listener to find any kind of comfort or consistency. These sonic collages cannot really be parsed. They can only be experienced with greater or lesser degrees of psychic damage.

I’ve been listening to this record for a second time in the half hour or so that it’s taken me to compose this review. It’s really starting to freak me out. There are some parts that are just overwhelming. Other sections, like “Segue I: Ouroborus” sounds like what you’d hear while you were waiting for Pinhead to show up with some sort of giant, spinning blade to grind out the contents of your skull. I love this stuff, and simultaneously hate it because there is simply no way to get comfortable while listening to it. This is the lost soundtrack to the first Alien, redolent with horror, and using creeping menace in ways just as effective as the overwhelming walls of sound (which also appear from time to time).

I’ll probably get around to reviewing a number of Sentient Ruin’s other excellent recent releases, including Chasm by Suspiral, which is one of the most strange and depressing black metal releases I’ve heard in years. But for now, I think I need to sit alone in silence and try to recompose the fragments of consciousness that Sutekh Hexen have utterly fucking smashed.

Review: Nervosa

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , on May 3, 2019 by Magadh

Nervosa Downfall of Mankind (Napalm)

As a band, São Paulo’s Nervosa have a lot going for them. To begin with, and clearly most importantly in this context, they play absolutely ripping death metal. Also, they’ve got something to say which, sadly, is not the case with most bands in this genre. Sure, it’s funny to hear songs about zombies gobbling up people’s entrails. But it’s refreshing when you hear a band that deeper ideas than what they saw on last night’s splatter offering…and can back it up with flawless chops.

 

Nervosa are the whole package. Downfall of Mankind, released in June of last year, serves up 13 helpings of blistering Brazilian death metal that speaks truth and takes zero shit. As with a lot of Brazilian bands, Sepultura are an important reference point. On their previous records, Victim of Yourself (2014) and Agony (2016), that similarity was alloyed with a kind of filthiness. Listening to Agony puts one in mind of Beneath the Remains, but as if the cuts were being played by Black Breath around the time the recorded Sentenced to Life.

Downfall of Mankind still recalls Sepultura but asserts its own sound. The recording is crisp and clear, allowing guitarist Prika Amaral to drive the music forward with a mix of rapid back picking and triplets. Luana Demeto’s drumming is absolutely rock solid, using a mix of single and double bass techniques to keep the music at maximum warp without letting things degenerate into chaos. Fernanda Lira provides thundering basslines and vocals that absolutely hit the sweet spot between intensity and being able to hear what she’s saying.

 

The latter is important. As this story from Blabbermouth.net (and the accompanying interview clip) clearly illustrate, Nervosa are smart enough to recognize the fucked up politics of their homeland (and elsewhere) and articulate enough to put build that into their air without compromising either in any way. This is a hard mix to get right for even the most experienced bands and artists. Watching these young women at the top of their game, politically aware, unapologetically feminist, and fearless, is pretty amazing.

 

They’ve done a number of videos, which mostly involve them playing the songs, and are mostly pretty good. For my money, the best is this one for “Raise Your Fist.” Lira, grinning wickedly, opens with “This one goes for the activists! This one goes for the militants!” in a hyperaggressive growl the lets you know that she means fucking business. The video itself features live footage interspersed with clips of from well-known scene figures (you know who they are when you see them) and average people engaged in struggles for freedom, equality, and human dignity. The picture of the little kid in a t-shirt that says, “Strong, resilient, indigenous” is too awesome to be fully expressed in words.

 

Nervosa are currently on tour in Europe. I want to see them here, now. So come to North America, because we need you here too. Nervosa are propaganda of the deed of the highest order. They absolutely stick the boot into the deathmetal boys club, and that’s a good thing. This is the kind of thing that you want every girl to see, to feel her power, and to know that her strength and her truth can blast their way into the world.

 

P.S. For those interested in a deeper dive, here are a couple of videos that Napalm posted of the band talking about the songs on Downfall of Mankind.

The Dark City

Posted in Articles with tags , , , , on May 1, 2019 by Magadh

Dark CityI am riding, alone, in the dark city. The city is vast. Sometimes I see it in daylight, but it is dark in the sense that film noir is about atmosphere. It comprises fragments of all the cities that I have ever inhabited: Portland, Seattle, Boston, New York, Berlin. Or, perhaps, it is more correct to say that they are manifestations of a place that only exists in totality elsewhere. I don’t know where I’m going. Or I do know where I’m going, but the topography has changed in unexpected ways, and somehow my errands become knit together with other stories that don’t conform to the linear structures of the workaday world. Most compellingly, I can glimpse at a distance the outlines of people I know, some of whom I haven’t seen in years, some of whom have sloughed off this mortal coil entirely. But I can’t find them, and once again the tides and momentum of the dark city carry me on to other avenues.

I dream like most people. Or at least I think I do. I’ve had the standard dreams that you hear discussed: showing up unprepared on test day, falling, getting chased and not being able to run, dreams of desire and satisfaction, dreams of fear and terror. When I was working on my PhD and had occasion to make a deep dive into the literature on the Holocaust, I began to have (and still occasionally have) dreams of pursuit by Nazi goons or mass executions. I think these must be, in some sense, normal. The trauma of surplus horror needs to be discharged somehow, and the sleeping brain causes it to coalesce in order to dissipate its force.

I have been told that it is possible to retroactively affect your dreams. More than one person has told me that, after waking, it is possible to think through the dream, employing this is or that strategy that would have resolved the problem. Freddy Krueger chasing you through the night? Just wake up and imagine yourself armed with an M-32 grenade launcher and see how threatening he looks once you’ve vaporized everything but his little finger knives. I don’t know how this is supposed to help in the case of showing up for the test completely unprepared. Maybe I should get up and read a book. In any case, I’ve never actually been able to make this work. The existential aura of the dreamscape remains until the fragments of the dream have disintegrated like ashes in the wind.

dc4

I’m riding alone in the dark city, in a part of town that looks like a cross between Belltown in Seattle and the far south end of downtown Portland. The streets are mostly empty and the streetlights illuminate the streets in the sort of harsh glare that makes everything look kind of yellow. I know that I am working, and this I have jobs on. Far ahead of me, I see Henry Hellbender, OG from the Portland punk scene of the early 80s, long time bike messenger, my friend from years ago in my courier days. Henry died several years ago, in his sleep, from a problem with his meds or something like that. I’ve felt his absence ever since. Like an amputated limb that keeps aching.

And now I can see him, as I so often did, spinning along smoothly on an Eddy Merckx road frame. And I know that I can catch him, because Henry never moved that fast, probably because he never wanted to seem like he gave a fuck. Just a few hard spins and I will be up to him, and we can meet again on the dark streets, and I can tell him that I miss him, and thank him for all the things I learned from him. But I can never quite close the gap. There is traffic in the way, or I see somewhere that seems like my destination, and when I look up again he has darted off down a side street and is gone again. In the dark city, resolution is always tantalizingly close, but always out of reach.

I dream, as people often do, of times long gone. I think that these dreams are like the revenants in old ghost stories, desperately trying to work out the residuum of unfinished temporal business. One of the most common settings for my dreams is the campus of Reed College, where I spend my days as an undergrad, or its environs. I have the normal range of failure dreams (today is the last day of class for a course that I haven’t managed to attend all year), but more often I dream about the series of decrepit houses that I lived in during that time. And, as usual, I dream of people that I haven’t seen since then, many of whom I will never see again, and I’m still looking for a way to reply to something they said that showed how much smarter than me they were (and probably are).

I dreamed of a town that could have been Walla Walla, Washington, where I grew up. I saw people I knew there, but as adults, going here and there. But all the time the dream centered on a cave that looked like a crack in the bank of a fallow wheat field that I knew we had all hung out in back in the long, long ago. Something terrible had happened there, but I couldn’t remember what, and I was drawn to it an repelled by it in equal measure. In the end, there was no resolution. Just long drives down empty roads on the outskirts of the dark city, where its suburban reaches give way to a vast emptiness.

I am riding alone it the dark city, in a part of town that starts out like inner southeast Portland, but then turns into the Rixdorf section of Berlin, a place where I never road a bike in my life (although I lived there). It’s raining and as the scenery shifts to Berlin I notice that the streets are cobbled, so I need to mind my p’s and q’s to keep from going over. It is twilight and the lights and neon signs from businesses along the way wash the shining streets in color. I realize that I have just passed Big Frank, sitting astride his bike on a street corner, as I so often saw him when we were messengers.

Frank, wearing the Vietnamese peasant’s broad-brimmed hat that he often wore (never a helmet). Frank, who was half in the bag a lot of the time. Who showed up at my apartment one time with a half rack of Rainier and a bottle of Vikings and who, after how down two pills and four beers in half an hour I had to tell that if he was intent on suicide he would really be doing me a solid by croaking somewhere else. In all the time that I can remember, he never got so much as a skinned knee, which was weird because every bike messenger falls occasionally. And then he sobered up and became an actor, and tripped on some stairs at a workshop in Columbus and died. And I thought, “How fragile is the flame,” for all the reasons just mentioned.

I see Frank on the corner, sitting on his top tube, legs akimbo, watching the cars go by. Square jaw, dreadlocks, ebony skin, and a smile that could be kind of threatening, at least until you got to know him. I want to talk to him, about Marx, or Heidegger, or the Bulls, or Shakespeare, or any of the hundred things that used to chase our friends away. But I can’t stop, because braking on wet cobbles is a recipe for a fall. So I decide to go around the block, But by the time I come back around I’m somewhere else and Frank has disappeared into the twilight.

dc5The dark city is not in all my dreams. But there are dreams when I know I’m there, when I know I’m in a twilight landscape that is both familiar and deeply uncanny. From all my visits there, I cannot escape the suspicion that perhaps I have things backwards. Perhaps it is the dark city that is true, and that all the landscapes and environments that I inhabit in waking life are but fragments of the totality that contains and combines them all. Perhaps the living and the dead, the waking and the dreaming are simultaneously there and elsewhere, or are only there and flash in and out of the daylight world. Somewhere, in some corner of the dream time, my true self is spinning, trying to make that one last delivery before the offices close, or my ride breaks, or the lights go out.

The Technological Plane

Posted in Dispatches with tags , , , , , on March 16, 2018 by Magadh

baud1“The technological plane is an abstraction: in ordinary life we are practically unconscious of the technological reality of objects. Yet this abstraction is profoundly real: it is what governs all radical transformations of our environment. It is even – and I do not mean this in any paradoxical sense – the most concrete aspect of the object, for technological development is synonymous with objective structural evolution. In the strictest sense, what happens to the object in the technological sphere is essential, whereas what happens to it in the psychological or sociological sphere of needs and practices is inessential. The discourse of psychology or sociology continually refers us to the object as apprehended at a more consistent level, a level unrelated to any individual or collective discourse, namely the supposed level of technological language. It is starting from this language, from this consistency of the technical model, that we can reach an understanding of what happens to objects by virtue of their being produced and consumed, possessed and personalized.”

Baudrillard, The System of Objects, 3

Review: The Punisher

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 1, 2018 by Magadh

A chamber in a dark castle in the mountains of northern Latveria. Around a stone table, mid-level executives sit, nervously fingering silver goblets filled with virgin blood. Torches flame and splutter on the walls.

 

At length, a tall and shadowy figure rises at the head of the table. Above his head, inscribed in letters of fire, the word “Marvel” floats in the empty air.

 

“Thank you for coming, gentlemen,” he says in a voice that sounds like the lid of a coffin creaking open. “We have a problem. We are losing the fight to DC. Our talent is fleeing, our readership is declining. The days are growing dark!”

 

The bravest of the mid-level executives stands up. “Not so, my dark lord. We still have the MCU. Age of Ultron grossed more than a billion dollars even though it had 37 central characters and no discernable plot.”

 

“Be not deceived,” the dark figure intones. “Batman v Superman grossed nearly as much even though absolutely nobody wanted to see it. Zack Snyder has cornered the market on dark, soulless superhero noir. He even managed to drum up $800 million for Wonder Woman!” He speaks the last words as if they burn like eternal flame in his mouth.

 

“We could release a Black Widow movie. Lots of people want that. Or how about Rogue? I have writers among my minions who could produce a salable script inside of a week.”

 

“No no! Our fans do not want lady movies! I know it in my bones. I feel it in the air and in the earth. It is with men, and the killing of the occasional female, that our destiny lies.”

 

“Perhaps Stan Lee can help us,” pipes up a voice from the far end of the table.

 

“No! He must not be awakened! The sarcophagus must remain closed for another two cycles! We must solve these problems among ourselves.”

 

“Sir, I have it,” says the chief of the mid-level execs. “We can make a Punisher series for Netflix. It has everything: darkness, violence, man pain, all the things our viewers want.”

 

“Yes…yes! That could be just the thing,” the dark figure muses. “Everyone loved him the second season of Daredevil, even more than the swarms of ninjas. But it will need to be epic. Man pain of this magnitude cannot be communicated briefly.”

 

“The number of the episodes shall be 13, in conformity with your will,” opines the lead exec.

 

“But wait,” pipes up the voice from the end of the table once more. “Aren’t we committed to doing another series of Jessica Jones next?”

 

“Speak not to me of Jessica Jones and her lady problems,” thunders the dark figure. “They shall be swept away in a hail of man fire and a wave of man blood! So I have spoken, so let it be done!”

 

And with that, the dark scene fades away.

 

the-punisher-season-1This is very much how I imagined the origins of the Punisher stand-alone series when I first saw the trailers for it a couple of months ago. As a character, the Punisher is a product of the anti-crime hysteria that arose with the end of the postwar boom in the early 1970s. It should come as no surprise that the first of the Death Wish movies was released in the same year, or that Travis Bickle made his debut shortly afterward. The economic downturn in the leading economies of the industrialized world and the perceived decline in American power dealt severe shocks to the national psyche, and whatever bitterness was not directed at the Soviet Union, its proxies in Southeast Asia, or (after the oil shock of 1973) the Middle East, filtered down to the purported wave of criminality on American streets and in American neighborhoods.

 

Frank Castle, like Paul Kersey (played with homicidal intensity by Charles Bronson in five iterations of the Death Wish franchise from 1974 to 1994), had lost his family to the unrestrained greed and brutality of the criminal element. Unlike Paul Kersey, and this was the unique element that the Punisher added to the genre, Frank Castle was a former Marine Corps sniper who turned skills learned in the military toward the goal of exacting vengeance on the mafia (which was directly responsible for his family’s death) as well as on criminals in general.

 

There is an interesting generational difference between Frank Castle and Paul Kersey. The latter is a middle-aged architect, probably old enough to have served in Korea and only haltingly prepared to turn to homicidal violence as a means to address society’s problems. Castle, as did so many young men in the early 1970s, had cut his fighting teeth in Vietnam and returned to the United States fresh memories of mayhem and the skills to undertake it. Straight up vigilantism, in which the targets were to be killed rather than simply trussed up and handed over to the proper authorities, was a novelty for American comics. Although originally meant as a sort of secondary character, Castle was popular with readers. It will come as no surprise (to anyone who doesn’t know it already) that the Punisher came to real prominence as a character in a run of Daredevil done in the early 1980s by Frank Miller, he of dark inclinations and moderate neo-fascist politics.

 

In that series, and in several others right up to the present day, the Punisher has been presented as a sort of other side of the coin in terms of strategies for dealing with evildoers. This has most often been the case with Daredevil, as Matt Murdock’s (often somewhat paradoxical) commitment to the validity of the system of criminal justice, as well as broader moral codes precluding the taking of human lives when not immediately necessary, contrasts starkly with Frank Castle’s “when I put ‘em down they don’t get up” ethic.

 

There is little in the way of surprise that Marvel decided that the Punisher would be a good subject for a stand-alone series in its collaboration with Netflix. His appearance in the second season of Daredevil was the best thing that show had going for it, especially since the second half of the series was devoted to the slaying of hordes of (already dead) ninjas and the pursuit of a gigantic hole of (at that point) indeterminate significance. Just as an aside, the question that I had after watching Daredevil Season 2 was: suppose you’ve got 200 zombie ninjas to get from place to place in New York City. How in the hell do you do it? It’s not like you can just all get on the subway. Does The Hand own its own limo service? Now that I think about it I’m sure they do, but are you going to roll up the stretch Humvee with the dancing pole in it to get your ninjas from place to place? Maybe you would. My experience with zombie ninjas is relatively limited.

 

In any case, Frank Castle really did add something to Daredevil. My most comics-aware friend and I argued for days about the difference in approach between Frank Castle and Matt Murdock. Her view, and given the otherwise moderate nature of her character, was that Murdock was being hypocritical since he had no real way of being sure that the extremely rough treatment that he was dealing out to be guys was, in practice, not going to be lethal to them. In any case, she argued, Frank Castle is dealing with some very, very bad people, so it’s probably all for the best that he kills them. Also, and with this part of her argument I had rather more sympathy, Frank is altogether honest, whereas Murdock’s dishonesty with people (particularly Foggy Nelson and Karen Page) was likely to put them at even greater risk than simply telling them the truth.

 

Much as I love Daredevil, and people who know me will know that my interest in that particular character is just this side of obsession, I had to admit that she was right. Of course, I still think that there is a non-trivial difference between the possibility that one might kill or permanently disfigure one’s opponent and seeking to kill them as the first tactic out of the box. On the other hand, it really did no good not telling Foggy and Karen about his avocation, since they were in danger either way, and knowing the actual situation might have allowed them to make an informed choice about whether or not they were cool with that. One thing you’ve got to admit about Frank Castle, when he says something you can be pretty certain that it reflects the state of the world as he knows it.

 

[Before going further I should now point out that there are spoilerish things in what follows. If you intend to watch the series (and strongly suggest that you do) you might want to put off reading this until you’ve done so. Unless you don’t care. Then just plow ahead.]

 

The first five episodes of Punisher were pretty much exactly as I feared. They were slow, overwrought, and featured so many flashbacks to Frank’s dead family that I came to feel that I’d rather that he put me out of my misery than have to watch even one more. You might think that, given the spasm of catastrophic violence with which Frank blazed out of Daredevil Season 2, the list of names on his list of those-upon-whom-vengeance-must-be-taken might be relatively small. But you would be wrong. Much time and effort are expended in episodes 1 through 4 or so establishing that the conspiracy that led to the killing of (the vast majority of) the Castle family was rather more extensive the previously supposed.

 

Ripping their plot from the headlines (or at least of the headlines from a few years ago), it turns out that the whole thing related to a secret CIA running assassination program in Afghanistan. Indeed, one of the most excruciating episodes in the whole series explores a great depth the kind of program that anyone with a lick of sense assumes is going on there all the time. Frank’s foil, as he sets out on the project of ejecting those responsible for his family’s death from this mortal coil is a neurotic former intelligence analyst who, having discovered the operation, was forced to fake his own death and now spends half of his time plotting his revenge from a computer lined bunker and the other half voyeuristically checkout out his family on the spy cameras he installed in their home. I suspect that this was meant to demonstrate the intensity of his concern for his family but invariably came off as creepy and controlling instead.

 

Pursuing the case in parallel fashion is DHS operator Dinah Madani (played by Amber Rose Revah whose previous work include the character of Mary Magdalene in The Bible), who both my friend and I found rather irritating in the first few episodes. This has a lot to do with the fact that the writers have her engage in a romantic fling with another character (Billy Russo) who might as well have “Main Perpetrator” tattooed across his forehead. They seemed very much to be setting up the all too frequently seen “woman gets played” trope. This turns out not to be the case, or at least to the extent that it does, it sets up a massive turning of the tables which adds a very interesting dimension to the plot. In too many thrillers to count, the bad guys are the sort of infallible supermen, only brought to heel in the end by the countervailing superhuman efforts of the hero (usually male and bleeding profusely). But Madani’s turning of the tables on Russo, while not quite succeeding in the way, or to the degree that she intended, still shows that he is fallible and this makes the plot significantly more interesting, and more palatable.

 

Karen Page also makes a few turns in this series, and to very good effect. I must admit to being a bit skeptical of Deborah Ann Woll. Her extensive run in True Blood didn’t give one much to go on in terms of what might be expected of her as a dramatic actress. But she was quite good in both series of Daredevil, especially the second one in which her experience of having straight up plugged a guy with his own gun in Season 1 gives her a basis on which to relate to Frank Castle. My friend, who managed to get through the whole of the series a few days before I did, swore up and down that the relationship between Frank and Karen Page, which is not quite romantic but not simply friendly either, made a lot of sense. I told her I thought she was nuts but (as usual) she turned out to be right. Frank and Karen’s relationship works because he is always and unfailingly honest with her. Unlike Murdock, who simply couldn’t understand that Karen’s need for honesty trumped all the other stuff, Frank only speaks truth to her. She knows it and respects it. Also, unlike Matt, who wants to argue the ins and outs of the superhero code, Karen really just wants to ask Frank where it will all end, once he goes ahead and does what he says he’s going to do.

 

TheDefenders-s01e03-1As an aside, and unrelated to any other serious topic, I ship Messica (i.e. the relationship between Matt Murdock and Jessica Jones). I know with certainty that this will never happen. Canon calls for Jessica Jones to be with Luke Cage, and that’s fine, although I have a little trouble believing that the fact of Jessica’s having killed Luke’s wife wouldn’t present problems, Killgrave mind control or no. The writers of The Defenders did a really nice little vignette with Matt and Jessica that highlighted how well their personalities work together. They’re both damaged by things that happened to them in childhood, and both have a sort of challenging relationship to the truth. Jessica would probably be better for Matt because she doesn’t need to hear the full story about every last thing. Also, she’s pretty indestructible and very much able to take care of herself, so being with Matt wouldn’t engage his (very irritating) savior complex. Perhaps most importantly, Jessica is willing to talk to Matt in a way that he takes seriously and that would keep him in line. One of my very favorite scenes in any of these Marvel/Netflix productions is the one in which Matt Murdock tries stop Jessica Jones (who he’s only just met) from doing something dangerous to which she responds, “If you grab me like that again, I’ll punch you so hard, you’ll see.” It was a message that Matt needed to get, delivered in such a way that he got it.

 

Much as I started out to write an unstintingly negative review, I actually found Punisher at least reasonably enjoyable in the end. There is no magical Kunlun bullshit, and Finn Jones is nowhere in sight (although it would have been nice to see Frank bust a cap in him, but anyway…). There is also a refreshing absence of ninjas, and (unlike in the case of Daredevil) there isn’t any attempt to force the characters into relationships that don’t make sense. It does contain one of the most gratuitous and amateurish sex scenes I’ve ever witnessed (you’ll know it when you see it). It is graphically and catastrophically violent, but anyone spinning up Punisher in the first place should be prepared for some grisly images. To its credit, Punisher manages to integrate some story elements that, if they don’t quite disrupt the expected order of things, at least make it more bearable than thirteen unreflective hours of splattered brains, spurting veins, and man pain would have been. Having said that, I do also want to point out that there are a lot of things that I would have preferred to see. These include a Daredevil series without significant ninja intervention, a Jessica Jones series that focuses on her work as a P.I. and doesn’t involve Killgrave, and an Iron Fist series in which Danny Rand falls into a jet intake in the first five minutes and everyone moves on with their lives.

 

I recognize that you can’t always get what you want. And the fact of the matter is that the whole Marvel/Netflix thing is likely not long for this world, since Disney bought Marvel and is planning to offer its own streaming service in 2019 (or so rumor has it). But for the time that they have left together, and for anyone else planning on doing superhero miniseries, it is really worth thinking hard about whether whatever project you’ve got going can actually support the number of episodes you have planned. Punisher was ok, but all the stuff that went on in episodes 1-5 could have been much condensed without serious loss. Jessica Jones had a lot of dead space, Daredevil Season 1 had interminable scenes of bad guys sitting around talking about doing bad things, and Season 2 was going pretty good with the Matt/Frank interplay until it jumped the shark and boarded the express train for Ninja-ville. Defenders was, oddly enough, somewhat too short, although it seemed to drag on at the end due to a surfeit of (you guessed it) ninjas. Perhaps the larger lesson here how you do what you do is at least as important as what you’re doing to begin with.

 

John from the East Side

Review: Dödsrit

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , on December 30, 2017 by Magadh

Dödsrit S/T Alerta Antifascista Records/Bloodsoaked Records

 

dodsrit1Moments of absolute perfection are rare. This is probably a good thing since they are indubitably subject to a sort of quantity theory. If we didn’t have things to gripe about, even in the context of things we like, the world would be a duller place. And if our hopes and desires were always being optimally satisfied, life would likewise be impoverished. Maybe the philosophers of dissatisfaction are correct when they say that the payoff that we get never rises to the intensity of the expectation. But there are moments when the joy of realization’s asymptotic approach to the ideal gives one something approximating the joy of real fulfillment.

 

My most recent brush with this region of experience was the first time I spun up Dödsrit’s self-titled mini-LP, available via Bandcamp from Germany’s Alerta Antifascista Records (and in Sweden by Bloodsoaked Records). This disc literally has it all. From the cover photo featuring hoary northern woods bathed in fog, to the skillful melding of crust and black metal styles contained within, Dödsrit is constantly demanding an answer to the question: How could this be done better? And, frankly, most of the time I am left concluding that it couldn’t.

 

The driving force behind this epic is former Totem Skin guitarist Christoffer Öster, already of worthy renown. Those who follow the crust/h.c. scene will know without needing to be told of the complex brilliance of that band. Over the course of two full albums and a number of other releases, Totem Skin bludgeoned listeners with an effective mix of dark styles: from crust, to black metal, to screamo, to passages that verged on the more esoteric realms of emo. Their collective talent for arrangement and composition left in its wake a collection of ripping h.c. cuts the quality of which holds up with the passage of time.

 

In Dödsrit, we have the quintessence of this stylistic mix. The songs are slimmed down (relatively), sacrificing complexity for epic power. Bombastic melodies spiral over cascading blast beats, before spilling vertiginously over broad expanses of battering double bass aggression. This release comprises only four songs, but they are longish, ranging from five to eleven minutes in duration. The question one always has to ask when h.c. and crust bands start crossing the 3 minute barrier with regularity is: Do these cuts really contain enough ideas to justify added length? I will say that, after repeated listening, Dödsrit always leaves me wanting more.

 

It is only a few years since blackened crust really started to be a thing. It’s not totally surprising that those on the darker end of the crust scene would want to try to integrate some of the power and atmosphere that lower fi black metal has often managed to achieve. But all too often this amounts to the excuse for the multiplication of blast beats without concomitant melodic or atmospheric overlays and it ends up just sounding lame. Dödsrit, on the other hand, are the real deal. The integration of crust and black metal elements is absolutely seamless, carrying the listening along on a flood tide of sonic aggression and dark ambiance.

 

Such is the perfection of this record that it’s a little difficult to know where Dödsrit could go from here. At least in my opinion, and you’re welcome to think what you want about what I have to say, they’ve set the bar incredibly high. But that’s a question for the future. For now, it is enough to ride along with them into battle among lonely graves and northern fogs.

–John from the East Side

R.I.P. Fred Cole

Posted in Dispatches with tags , , on November 10, 2017 by Magadh

fred2I heard today that Fred Cole of the legendary Portland band Dead Moon had died of cancer. I regard this as a tragedy, but if I may be permitted to utter a bit of heresy I will say that I never liked Dead Moon all that much. They just kind of weren’t my thing. I saw them plenty of times in practically every state of mind (other than stone cold sober of course), but I never quite got the lo-fi magic that everyone else seemed to be tuning in to. That said, I will say that there are few people with whom I have crossed paths in music for whom I have so much respect, and perhaps that distance between the first thing and the second is worth a bit of comment.

It was hard to avoid Dead Moon if you came up in the underground scene in Portland, Oregon in the 1980s. It was Fred who handed me the first musical instrument I ever bought, a Gibson SG bass that he recommended because I was left handed and it would be easy to restring. He even showed me how to flip the nut so that the strings would fit right. All of this happened in the course of a twenty minute conversation at Tombstone Music out in Clackamas (after I’d spend an hour trying to find the place because it was on 82nd Drive, not 82nd Avenue). Anyway, it was useful advice, and he didn’t hiccup at the fact that, at that point, knew just about zilch about musical instruments or what to do with them.

I must have seen Dead Moon at the Satyricon twenty times at least. They had the feel of having being around forever, even though they really only formed in 1987. Now, to be 100% honest, I hung around the Satyricon a lot and wasn’t terribly picky about what I was seeing there. In point of fact, I saw The Mentors like three years running (they used to play every year around Christmas on their way up to Seattle), and please believe me when I say that I had no inclination to see them even one time. For me, Dead Moon was kind of like sonic wallpaper in an environment which I was naïve enough to think would never really change.

It never really occurred to me that anyone outside the Willamette Valley actually cared about them until one night in the 90s when a bunch of us were chatting with Dregen Borg after a Backyard Babies show at Satyricon. Someone asked him how they like Portland and he was like, “Yeah, we love Portland. Dead Moon are great!” That was pretty close to the time that I actually moved out of town, and by that point I was so wrapped up in black metal and its more obscure variants that I didn’t really have the space in my head to wind back the clock and revise my judgment.

Well, Fred is gone now and I wish him a happy trip to Valhalla or wherever the legendary rockers go. He had a commitment to doing things his own way, and he clearly never gave a damn about making big or any of the other bullshit trappings that come with playing music. He just went his own way, churning out dark country music recorded in mono. There is something in that fundamentally worth respect. There are and will be many imitators of that way of doing things, but one thing I knew about Fred was that it was a fundamental expression of who he was, and I salute another idol as he fades into the twilight.