Friday, May 31, 2013

Movie Poster of the Week: Escape from New York (1981)

Hyponic - Black Sun (2001)

The debut of China's Hyponic, 'Black Sun', is a bit more death metal than its successor, 'The Noise of Time'. If I didn't know any better I would've sworn these guys were from New Jersey as their music sounds uncannily similar to early Incantation, Symphony of Grief, Solemn and others from that area. Suffice to say that this is some supremely evil sounding shit!

As I mentioned above, this album is definitely a bit more on the DM side of the fence but fear not, there is plenty of doom to go around as well, but do not expect the droned out Esoteric worship found on Hyponic's sophomore LP.

Vocally, this is some putrid shit, right up there alongside Craig Pillard and Mark Mastro (Rottrevore). There is a righteously evil vibe that emanates from each guitar riff and though the pace is decidedly faster than what the band would go on later to produce, things never get too fast, meaning that the rotten vibe of this album is never trampled over by mindless blast beating. Thank Yog-Sothoth for that!

Unfortunately, these guys are supremely sluggish at releasing material as evidenced by the fact that their last album came out in 2005!! And even then, that was four fucking years after this album! Apparently they are still around as they have a Facebook page (which you can visit here) that they seem to update every so often, but as far as new material goes, your guess is as good as mine.

Imprecation - Satanae Tenebris Infinita (2013)

This is one of those rare death metal albums that has come along in the last ten or so years that I genuinely like. I don't know if it's because I'm getting closer and closer to 'old fuck' status or what, but death metal has become increasingly unbearable to listen to, not to mention that as each year passes, I find the fans of this music to be that much more irritating to be around. Make no mistake about it... if we're talking about the shit I grew up on (old Entombed, Carnage, Accidental Suicide, etc), then fuck yeah, I have all the time in the world for that, but there's something about the last ten years that has really put me at odds with it all, be it the super over-produced "Michael Bay" sounding bullshit, or the ridiculously clinical noodling of the more technical faction or the side-splittingly laughable attempts at out-"undergrounding" everyone around them by the 'old school death metal' crowd (a trend that I find to be mind-bogglingly quizzical).

One thing I never understood was the insistence on labeling Imprecation a "blackened" death metal band. Vocally, they are about as death metal as you can get. There are no pussy black metal fag screeches to be found here. Speaking of which, this guy's vocals pick up exactly where David Vincent left off on 'Covenant'. I mean, they're just a cunt hair shy of being a fucking dead ringer, which is great as David's vocals on that album are among the best of all time.

The guitar riffs are thick and lean towards the lower end of the spectrum. Again, hardly a black metal trait, which is traditionally to jack up the tuning to the point of sounding like a transexual with his balls in a vice. Imprecation's guitar sound is nice and low with a rusty sheen that gives it a raw edge. The actually songs are definitely in the Incantation/Morbid Angel category of 'evil' sounding death metal. Some of this has to do with the "blasphemous" nature of the lyrical content, but make no mistake, the music needs to match the imagery and Imprecation are absolutely no slouches at painting a dismal atmosphere, proving that you do not need to hail from the lower Hudson River Valley in order to create hauntingly evil death metal of the highest order.

Hopefully it doesn't take another twenty or so years for these guys to release their next album as quality death metal bands like Imprecation are few and far between. Bravo fellas.

Blood Ceremony - The Eldritch Dark (2013)

Wow, what a disappointment. Don't get me wrong, BC haven't drastically altered their sound or anything, but they have consistently gotten more and more "light in the ass" with each release. Whereas their debut album was a refreshing and colossal slab o' doom, this is just basically a folksy sort of rock record, which, is not a terrible thing, but for anyone who was hoping that the band would return to the heavier sound of their first album, you can hang up your hopes and notions immediately.

I still prefer these guys as opposed to the millions of other female fronted/occult rock bands that have been cropping up like a bad case of genital herpes as of late. The tunes on this album are really not that bad, albeit a bit boring, and they certainly have a knack for conjuring that warm, late '60's/early '70's feeling that so many try and fail to capture. Again, I wish there were more doom riffs such as those found on the first album. That record sounded like the perfect combination of Sabbath and Coven with perhaps a dash of Mellow Candle to spice things up. This time around it seems as if the band grew tired of the doomier aspects of their sound and opted for a more lighthearted approach. I've certainly heard worse and for what it's worth, the band is good at what they do, but it would've have been nice to hear them take a slightly darker approach, nonetheless, no matter what the pace, Blood Ceremony are infinitely more interesting than the stupendously overrated 'The Devil's Blood'.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Movie Poster of the Week: The Driller Killer (1979)

Accidental Suicide - Flesh Parade (1991)

Accidental Suicide. One of the most criminally overlooked bands in the history of death metal. It's a fucking shame as these guys epitomize what classic, early '90's death/doom is all about. Though the band is from Wisconsin, you could easily be fooled into thinking that they were from Scandinavia as they possess that same sort of "chainsaw" guitar sound and exhibit a mastery over slower 'doom' tempos that rival anything that the funeral doom genre itself has to offer.

Vocally, Ed Jackson is a fucking hideous monster, ravenously cannibalistic yet tortured by insanity. Ed has one of the broadest ranges I've heard from a death metal vocalist in well over twenty years. This guy can go from blood curdling shrieks to one of the most commanding lows in the game. Not once, while listening to this did I get the feeling that this was "some dude with a cool death metal voice". Ed really sounds like a crazed beast and that trait of being able to convince the listener that what he/she's hearing is not human further cements the morbid atmosphere conjured fourth by the rest of the band.

The drummer aint no "George Kolias" or anything like that, but he doesn't need to be. I never felt by listening to his work that he "should've did this" or "could've done that". He perfectly answers everything that the guitars throw at him and that's all I could ever ask for. The guitars themselves are absolutely monstrous and effortlessly paint ruinous landscapes amidst the grey desolation that vocalist Ed Jackson resides in.

This demo actually contains pretty much the same versions of these songs that are found on the band's debut full length, only here they are actually tuned lower, thus giving them an even swampier sound.

I understand that finding a physical copy of this is close to impossible, but what with the zillions of blogs and file sharing programs out  there, it shouldn't be terribly difficult to obtain a digital rendering, which I highly suggest you do as doom/death of the classic era does not get any better than this!

Mastication - Demo # 2 (1991)

I would have to say that this was an improvement over Mastication's first demo, which was decent in its own right, but this time around the band sounds that much heavier by deciding to leave out some of the goofier elements found on their debut such as the down picked chugs that just sounded completely amateurish to these ears, especially in comparison to what else was going on in Sweden at the time. That down-picked chug thing can actually get on my nerves if not done properly and convincingly. You not only need the right sound but you have to pick the right notes as well and I felt that Mastication failed to do so the first time around. This time, however, Mastication wisely decided to leave the goofy chugging at the door in order to concentrate more on atmosphere and and overall more "evil" vibe. Still heavy, mind you, but with that much more "flavor", if you will. An infinitely more complete package than its predecessor. It's too bad that they called it a day afterwards as this demo really put them in the same ranks as the more polished acts of that time. Personally, I think these guys had way more going on. musically, than Grave and Unleashed, both of whom have gone on to enjoy lengthy and rather successful careers. Oh well... "and so is life".

Cemetery Earth - Here Rest Remains From Centuries of Demise (1992)

This is one hell of a juicy piece of rotten flesh!

Straight from the rancid bowels of the Northeastern sector of the United States (Philly, to be exact) comes this long forgotten gem of low-tuned gloom guaranteed to please those obsessed with the cavernous sounds of Crematory (Swe), Magus and Feretrum. The guitars are super low and sludgy and the vocals have that sort of demonic power that only rarely comes around. There are plenty of slow to mid-paced riffs that create  a rather horrific and unsettling atmosphere as death metal should but rarely does.

As mentioned above, this demo reminds me very much of Sweden's Crematory what with the riff fluctuations and command over slower tempos. Also like Crematory, if there's one flaw to behold here, it would be in the production, which probably has more to do with the fact that this was released on cassette back in '92 and hasn't aged well, soundwise that is, not musically. Musically this is on par with the mightiest of the ancient death metal bands of the early '90's.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Gilles De Rais (1404-1440)

Time has a way of reducing history down to its simplest forms. Looking backward, historical characters are cast in the role of hero or villain, sinner or saint. National heroes attain mythic proportions soon after they pass into the ages. Their foibles and warts are overlooked in favor of their heroic deeds. Likewise, ordinary scalawags become the basis for horrific legends and tall tales. There is little middle ground in history. The neutral historical figure is relegated to second-tier status while the evil and the good enjoy center stage.

But such reductions to either the good or bad side of the balance sheet are inherently unfair and inaccurate. No person, save for perhaps a Stalin or a Mother Theresa, is exclusively a monster or a saint. Everyone has the power to do evil or good, and most practice both to some extent. But ultimately, in the black and white world of history, the notable citizen is assigned immortality in either the pantheon of heroes or the dungeon of the villains.

Gilles de Rais
Gilles de Rais

So it is with one of historys most remarkable convicted murderers, the 15th century French nobleman Gilles de Rais. This soldier fought along side Joan of Arc and served as the equivalent of Frances military chief of staff, and was one of the wealthiest men in France. History tells us that Gilles hid a dark and sinister side for many years, during which he kidnapped, tortured and murdered hundreds of peasant children (mostly young boys) while working with alchemists who used black magic in their attempts to turn base metal into gold.

One of the most powerful men in France, Gilles de Rais was ill-equipped to deal with the awesome right which society had given him. Raised by an equally powerful and even more politically astute grandfather whose main reason for taking on his ward was to increase his own land holdings, Gilles lacked the necessary moral fortitude to rein in his passions and exhibited a political naivete that would ultimately contribute to his downfall.

Gilles confessed (under threat of torture) to being a pedophile and homosexual in a time when either of these two activities could result in the forfeiture of life and property. He was a spendthrift who managed to bring his family to the brink of financial ruin in pursuit of his hedonism. Gilles de Rais was a kingmaker and fearless, cunning soldier whose exploits saved France from utter defeat in the Hundred Years War. However, that same drive led him to murder young boys in search of sexual thrills and to practice black magic in the quest of more wealth to continue his outrageous lifestyle.

But history has assigned Gilles de Rais to the ranks of the sadistic killers, rather than to the roster of national heroes. Most scholars agree that he was a monstrous sexual predator, although there are those who argue that evidence presented at his trial was trumped up and that Gilles was ill-equipped to defend himself against such outrageous charges. No one, they claim, could have gotten away with the shocking crimes de Rais was accused of for as long as he did. He was merely a pawn in a greater game of politics that his intelligence and personality rendered him unable to play.

Who then is the real Gilles de Rais? Was he a psychopathic killer who got sexual pleasure out of the torture and murder of dozens of peasant children? Or was he a simple soldier born into a powerful family who happened to get in the way of others who coveted his lands and authority?

The Childhood of Gilles

The death of Amaury dCraon was the first of three significant losses for 11-year-old Gilles de Rais, for dCraon was his uncle and his grandfather Jeans sole male heir. Gilles mother, the former Marie dCraon had married Guy de Rais, one-time heir of the incredibly wealthy Jeanne la Sage, as a political marriage which merged three wealthy and powerful households. The marriage of Guy and Marie came about after Guy changed his name from Laval to de Rais in order to inherit the properties of Jeanne la Sage the last of the de Rais family - whose marriage to Jean de Parthenay had been annulled because they were too closely related. However, la Sage reneged on the promise to take Guy as her heir and instead gave her inheritance to Catherine de Machecoul, the mother of Jean dCraon, Maries father. To prevent war between Guy de Rais, the Machecoul clan and la Sage, Jean dCraon offered a politically astute compromise his daughters hand in marriage. The marriage of Guy de Rais and Marie dCraon was solely political and financial in nature and there is no mention in the chronicles of whether or not they even liked, let alone loved one another.

Nine months after their marriage, Marie gave birth to her first child, Gilles de Rais. Within two years Marie had given Guy a second son, Rene.

The first years of young Gilles life were nondescript. As the son of one of the wealthiest men in France, he was brought up in what today would seem a cold and loveless way, for in France at the time, the philosophy of child-rearing treated young children as mini-adults and they were expected to act as such. Gilles rarely saw his parents, he was raised by a nurse with only infrequent visits by Guy and Marie, until his seventh year, when he reached the age of reason in French society.

As a 7-year-old future nobleman, Gilles was trained in the classic arts and humanities, learning to read and recite Latin and Greek, as well as receiving training in military arts and courtly ways. The records show that Gilles was a capable student and expert in martial training, but that as a political being he was unskilled and rough. He would never be a master of the machiavellian conspiracies and court intrigue that was required of a Frenchman in the 15th century.

Marie de Rais died soon after the Feast of the Epiphany, 1415.

It was shortly before Agincourt that the third death that helped shape Gilles life occurred. His father, Guy, was boar hunting in the woods near one of the familys many castles when the boar turned and gored him to death. Guys demise was a slow one, and he had time to draw up a will and make instructions on how his sons should be nurtured.

There was no love lost between Guy de Rais and Jean d Craon, and de Rais had left instructions in his will that his children should be raised by a cousin, Jean Tournemine de la Junaudaye. Guy made it clear that under no circumstance was Jean d Craon to have a hand in bringing up either Gilles or Rene. Historians have speculated that de Rais wanted his children away from Jean dCraon because he still harbored ill feelings about having to renounce his own family crest in order to inherit Jeanne le Sages property only to have Jean dCraon snatch it for his own family. Others presume that Guy de Rais knew all too intimately what kind of man dCraon was and how his children would be lost if entrusted to him.

The Saint And The Sinner

Having come this far in the story of Gilles de Rais and not encountered a single murder, after sitting through a brief history of the Hundred Years' War (Shakespeare wrote six plays dealing with the subject we have covered in a few thousand words), the reader is asked to indulge in just a little more 15th century politics. For the sake of brevity we will compress the next decade or so into a few paragraphs. For the reader who desires a more in-depth study of the years of Gilles' rise to power, a detailed timeline and bibliography follow this article.

In the throes of insanity, Charles VI disinherited his son, the Dauphin Charles VII and allowed for negotiation of a peace treaty with England that named Henry V heir to the French throne. The treaty was rejected by many in France who considered the Dauphin to be Prince Regent because of his father's madness. Among the Dauphin's supporters were Jean d'Craon and Gilles de Rais. This backing of the Dauphin was fortuitous for Gilles, because he was with the Prince Regent at Chinon when a young woman hearing voices of the saints convinced Charles VII to give her an army with which she promised to relieve the besieged city of Orleans and deliver the throne of France to Charles. This maid was Joan of Arc.

Dressed in white armor with the Dauphin's coat of arms, Joan traveled with a 10,000 man army. Her primary advisor and general was Gilles de Rais. Over time and several pitched battles, Joan and Gilles liberated Orleans and were able to present the Dauphin to Reims, the ancient site of the coronation of French kings. Gilles de Rais, was charged with carrying the holy chrism, or anointing oil, from Paris to Reims for the coronation. The year was 1429 and the child murders would begin in less than two years.

Political intrigue, infighting among the French, and the first of several sales of property by Gilles de Rais marked the next 18 months or so. Gilles had been given the title Marshal of France – in effect becoming the nation's highest-ranking soldier. His bravery and intelligence on the battlefield were widely known and admired, but he demonstrated a lack of skill in the political arena. He made many enemies among the powerful men of France, enemies who were waiting to pounce on him when the rumors of his bloodlust began to circulate.

An artist's rendering of Joan of Arc
An artist's rendering of Joan of Arc
George La Tremoille, the king's chief advisor, viewed Joan of Arc as a threat to his own power. An opportunist of the most ruthless sort, La Tremoille had risen to power after kidnapping and murdering Pierre de Giac in 1427 with the help of Constable de Richemont. Pierre de Giac was the favored advisor of Charles VII, and not only did La Tremoille replace him on the king's council, he replaced him in his bed, by marrying Pierre's widow, Catherine – who was suspected of being an accomplice to her first husband's murder. Shortly after being named Chamberlain of France, La Tremoille turned on Richemont and had him banned from the Court of Charles VII.

Tapestry of Joan of Arc
Tapestry of Joan of Arc
As Joan was more and more triumphant and held in high esteem by the people and their king, La Tremoille saw his own influence wane. He set about rectifying the situation by convincing the king to abandon the siege of Paris, where a young Henry VI had crowned himself king of France and England. Joan disagreed with this decision and her downfall from grace began.

La Tremoille's power peaked in 1430 when Joan of Arc was wounded and captured by the Duke of Burgundy, ally of the English. As the chamberlain negotiated a peace accord with Burgundy, Joan languished in a Burgundian prison. Under the customs of the day, she could easily have been ransomed, but La Tremoille managed to convince Charles VII that this was unwise. Gilles de Rais also abandoned the Maid of Orleans who had contributed so much to his career.
 In the spring of 1431, Joan of Arc was burned at the stake at Rouen, thanks in great part to the machinations of La Tremoille. She was considered a heretic for several years, until the fall of La Tremoille and the ascendancy of her supporters to power. Joan was raised to heroic status by the French; she was canonized in the early 20th century and her feast day at the end of May is a national holiday in France.

For all intents and purposes, Gilles' public career ended in early 1432 when Jean d'Craon died. On his deathbed, Jean expressed remorse for his harsh lifestyle and regret for having raised the monster Gilles de Rais. Attempting to make amends to those he had harmed, he gave property and money to his peasants, compensation to those he had robbed and endowments to two hospitals. He left his sword to Rene de Rais and recanted his prideful living. This public snub of Gilles was a message to Jean's survivors about what he thought of his eldest grandchild. At his request, a simple, humble funeral was held for one of France's most cunning and powerful men.

As Gilles' public service ended, his life of debauchery and decadence began. Freed from the shadow of his grandfather, believing to his core that he was exempt from the laws of decency, amoral and still very wealthy, Gilles devoted the rest of his life toward satisfying his demons.

The Murders Begin

With the accord between the English and the French, the Hundred Years War ended and King Charles VII retired to his estates to begin ruling over a country finally at peace. The political wrangling subsided somewhat, and the noblemen were expected to disband their armies and return to their own estates to rebuild and re-accumulate the wealth which had been lost during the war. Gilles, having been allied with both Joan of Arc and La Tremoille, was in a precarious position after the death of his grandfather, even though dCraon and de Rais had quarreled bitterly when Gilles was forced to sell a family estate to pay his private army. When La Tremoille was arrested and banned from court, Gilles returned to Champtoce.

The sedentary lifestyle of a retired war hero was not for Gilles de Rais, a headstrong young man whose only life experience to date had been the glory and carnage of battle. He yearned for excitement and blood, but was forced to become a murderer to fulfill his desires.

If circumstances had changed, Gilles had not Restless activity, killing and violence, coupled with theatrical display had been the conditions of his existence, wrote a biographer, Jean Benedetti. His society had a vested interest in his capacity for violence; under certain circumstances it legitimized and honored it. The psychopathic urgency of his private needs had been concealed by the general brutality of military practice.
At his trial, Gilles told his inquisitors that he killed in cold blood for the first time in the year his grandfather died, either 1432 or 1433. In his confession, Gilles stated that At (Champtoce) he killed children and had them killed in large numbers how many he is uncertain. And he committed with them the sodomitic and unnatural sin Sometime after the death of dCraon, Gilles moved his courtiers to Machecoul, where the murders began in earnest.

Castle of Horrors

As the record-keeping of the 15th century was not as fastidious as we have come to accept in court proceedings, actual dates of the disappearances of children are rough at best. In few cases can dates be assigned, and in many cases even the year is suspect.
The first child-snatching attributed to Gilles de Rais occured, historians believe, sometime in 1432, when Gilles de Sille, a cousin of de Rais, reportedly abducted a young apprentice whom de Sille wanted to carry a message to the castle at Machecoul. The anonymous 12-year-old boy, apprenticed to Guillaume Hilairet, a furrier, was the son of Jean Jeudon. When the boy disappeared and Hilairet sought out the nobleman de Sille, he was told the boy had been kidnapped by thieves in the village of Tiffauges. In Gilles trial, the events were testified to by Hillairet and his wife, Jean Jeudon and his wife, and five others from Machecoul. There is no evidence linking Gilles de Rais to this kidnapping, but he was charged with the boys death.
In Jean Benedettis biography of Gilles de Rais, he speculates what happened to the youngster:
He was pampered and dressed in better clothes than he had ever known. The evening began with a large meal and heavy drinking, particularly hippocras, which acted as a stimulant. The boy was taken to an upper room to which only Gilles (de Rais) and his immediate circle was admitted. He was then confronted with the true nature of his situation. The shock thus produced on the boy was probably an initial source of pleasure for Gilles.

An accomplice in many of the crimes, Etienne Corrillaut, known as Poitou, testified that de Rais then raped the boy as he was hanged from a hook by the neck. Before the child died, Gilles took him down, comforted him, repeated the act and either killed him himself or had him slain.

Poitou testified that the child victims were murdered sometimes by decapitating them, sometimes by cutting their throats, sometimes by dismembering them, sometimes by breaking their necks with a stick, and that there was a weapon specifically for their execution, known as a braquemard. A braquemard is a short, thick double-edged sword.

Gilles de Rais rarely left a child alive for more than one evenings pleasure, Poitou claimed. Many times they were dealt mortal wounds before de Rais sodomized them. He would then take his pleasure as the child died. Occasionally, he would perform a sex act with a dead child.

In his own confession, Gilles testified that when the children were dead he kissed them and those who had the most handsome limbs and heads he held up to admire them, and had their bodies cruelly cut open and took delight at the sight of their inner organs; and very often when the said children were dying he sat on their stomachs and took pleasure in seeing them die and laughed

Many of the bodies were disposed of through cremation in the chamber of horrors. The fires burned slowly over time so as to minimize the smell, testified Henriet Griart, another co-conspirator. Poitou also claimed the ashes were then dumped in the cesspool or moat.

The Conspirators

As noted previously, the trial of Gilles de Rais revealed that de Rais was not alone in his perversity. In the beginning, he kept the number of conspirators at a minimum, but as time went on and the tally of victims rose, more people both men and women were brought into the butchery.

The first accomplices were de Rais cousins, Gilles de Sille and Roger de Briqueville. Gilles de Sille seems to have been the earliest procurer, bringing both the first and second victims to Machecoul. There is no record in the trial documents of de Sille participating in the sexual aspects of the crimes, but he clearly was a willing partner in their planning and clean up.

The first five disappearances happened rather close together, in about the span of a few weeks, the transcripts show, although the recorded dates are not very reliable. In both the first and second kidnappings, de Sille played a prominent role, including being observed wearing a long mantle and veil over his face talking to second victim, a child of 9.

The vanishing children caused a stir in the village of Machecoul, with concern for a supernatural presence at work. Testimony of one parent, Andre Barbe, revealed that de Rais and his cohorts were at once suspected of participating in the foul play. He adds that nobody dared speak for fear of the men in Lord de Rais chapel, or others of his men; those who complained risked imprisonment, or ill-treatment, should anyone report their complaints. Barbes testimony also revealed that Machecoul has begun to develop a sinister reputation in the area. When he met a man from Saint-Jean-dAngely and tells him he comes from Machecoul, the man recoiled and says they ate little children there.

Benedetti reports that soon children were supplied to Gilles de Rais by a woman known as La Meffraye (the Terror), Perrine Martin, although her role appears more fairy tale than truth: She roamed the countryside, enticing any children she came across wandering or tending animals. An old woman, nicknamed the Terror, kidnapping children sounds like a tale parents tell naughty youngsters. Martin, although not named in the trial transcript, apparently features in the testimony of Guillaume Fouraige: (Madame) Fouraige declared that for a year she had sometimes run into an old woman whom she did not know, wearing a paltry gray dress and black hood: this woman was small; once she had a young boy with her and said that she was going to MachecoulTwo or three days later, the witness saw her returning without the child; she said she had placed him with a good master.

For her role in the crimes, Martin was confined to prison in Nantes, Brittany, where she confessed her sins before she died.

The disappearances caused a commotion in the village and de Sille was forced to concoct a story to placate grieving parents. The children were kidnapped, he admitted, but they were given by order of the king to the English, where they would be trained as pages. Whether this relieved the parents is not recorded, but the disappearances continued.

In addition to the Terror, de Sille and de Briqueville, Poitou and Henriet are later brought into the inner circle of debauchery. Poitou, who was brought to the castle as a victim but spared because of his beauty, confessed to abetting de Rais in the procurement, killing and disposal of the victims.

Black Magic

Mysticism, spirituality and religion played important roles in the life of Gilles de Rais. The evidence of his apparent piety is in direct conflict with the homicidal secret life to which he confessed, leading some scholars to doubt the veracity of the reputation history has given him. He was a generous supporter of the Church, building several chapels and one cathedral, as well as endowing them so there would always be clergy to serve his people. As his fortunes turned and Gilles needed money, he was not averse to pawning the gold from his various churches, but that does not imply a lack of faith, merely a lack of funds.

As a companion to Joan of Arc, he was a witness to her miracles. Gilles observed a shift in the wind direction that favored the French during the siege of Orleans that is attributed to Joans prayer for just such an event. He saw the Maid pull a quarrel, or dart, from her shoulder and recover from a wound that would have put the average knight in bed for a month. Gilles witnessed Joan call upon Gods help to lift the siege at Orleans and accomplish in four days what the finest soldiers in France had been unable to do for more than a year. Gilles was present when Joan made fabulous prophecies that came true. Belief in the supernatural was not difficult for Gilles de Rais. This faith spread from the acceptable teachings of the Church to work in alchemy and, according to trial transcripts, necromancy and devil worship.

Alchemy had been outlawed by the Church and the king in the 15th century, but that did not stop believers from searching for the fabled Sorcerers Stone which would enable them to turn lead or iron into gold. Modern chemistry can trace its roots to these early experimenters, who, regardless of their motives, did make some discoveries that benefited humanity. Most of the alchemists, however, were charlatans and con men who used simple sleight-of-hand or more elaborate tricks to fool their unsuspecting marks.

A woodcut of an alchemist and his apprentice mixing a brew (CORBIS)
A woodcut of an alchemist and his apprentice mixing a brew (CORBIS)

The greed of Gilles de Rais made him easy prey for bogus alchemists, and he never seemed to learn that he was being conned. His biographers report two instances where he was taken in by tricksters, each rather humorous. In the first, de Rais favorite priest, Blanchet, introduced him to a goldsmith who had discovered the means to convert silver into gold. Gilles and the alchemist met at a local tavern where de Rais gave the man a silver coin. Gilles left the alchemist alone to practice his craft and upon his return found the chemist intoxicated and unconscious. Apparently all the man could do was turn a florin into a flagon of wine.

The second con cost Gilles a little more money.
 Again Blanchet produced the magician who claimed to able to summon the Devil. One evening, with a sword and dressed in white armor, the magician, Jean de la Riviere, took Gilles and his party into the woods and had them wait in a clearing while he went off to summon Satan. Blanchet later testified that he heard a great clanging, which he believed to be Riviere banging on his armor, and then an ashen-faced and frightened Riviere appeared saying he had seen the devil in the form of a leopard which crept past him into the woods. After this, Blanchet testified, (de Rais, Riviere, and others) went to Pouzauges and indulged in many pleasures and then slept.

Gilles had been convinced of Rivieres sincerity and skill. He was on the hook, and Riviere knew it. The magician told Gilles that he needed some supplies to continue his evocations and Gilles gave him 20 ecus, telling him to return as soon as he could. Of course, Riviere disappeared with his loot and was never seen in those parts again.

Summoning The Devil

Gilles wasnt solely interested in alchemy to restore his wealth, he wanted power as well. Harnessing a demon to do his bidding would make him the most powerful man in France, he was told. But how? He sent his priest Blanchet in search of a man who had control over the netherworld. Blanchet found such a man in Italy, a Frenchman named Francois Prelati. Spinning stories of the fabulous lifestyle that de Rais could provide, Blanchet convinced Prelati to accompany him to the estate of Gilles de Rais.

Prelati was a handsome, 22-year-old conjurer and charlatan who exuded confidence and charm. He was intelligent and clever, fluent in Latin, Italian and French, and Gilles was taken with him at once. The way the 33-year-old Gilles reacted to Prelati is like a young man in love. He could not see that Prelati was playing him for a fool and taking advantage of Gilles hospitality.

Prelati and Blanchet arrived at Tiffauges sometime around the middle of May, 1439, but it is not until the eve of the vernal equinox, Midsummers Night Eve, a time when spirits and mystical forces are particularly active, that Prelati and Gilles get down to the business of summoning a demon. Throughout Europe peasants often celebrated this night by lighting fires in streets and marketplaces. Although the fires were often blessed by priests, the celebration was generally conducted by the laity. Midsummer eve celebrations were a continuance of the Teutonic pagan festivals and fertility rites associated with agriculture at the time of the summer solstice.

This would not be the first time that de Rais attempted to summon the devil for his own purposes, but it would represent the first time he played an active role in the ceremony. In the 15th century, when so many natural events were not understood the way they are in modern times, God played a much more active and visible role in the everyday lives of citizens through rapid changes in the weather, untimely deaths or mysterious coincidences, for example. So it was not unusual that a man who proved his bravery in battle as did Gilles would act like a frightened child at the idea of beckoning a demon. It is unfair to judge Gilles de Rais a coward because he trembled as Prelati prepared his hokum incantations.

Shortly before midnight, Gilles, Prelati, Poitou, Henriet, Blanchet and Gilles de Sille went into the lower hall of the chateau at Tiffauges. There, amid the tapestries, coats of arms and artifacts of war, Prelati drew a large circle on the floor and began tracing crosses, mysterious symbols and signs within it. Gilles de Rais carried with him a large book, leather-bound with a great metal lock. Inside the pages were written in red ink or was it blood? There was a rumor swirling around the village that Lord de Rais was kidnapping children, murdering them and using the blood to write a book of spells and incantations that was filled with the names of many demons under his control (if only! Gilles must have thought).

Ever the showman, Prelati warned his audience that under no circumstances were they to make the Sign of the Cross, no matter how frightened they became. He ordered the four windows of the great hall opened. Then, with the candles burning and the room prepared, the lord of the manor ordered his servants to leave him and Prelati alone. This dismissal must have come as a relief to de Sille, who was terrified of the supernatural and had once jumped out a window of Champtoce when a magician managed to convince the two cousins that a demon was present in the room. The servants waited in Gilles de Rais bedchamber as Prelati went to work.

In addition to the childs blood book, Gilles held in his hand a note he planned to give to Satan when the Dark One appeared. In it, he promised to give Lucifer anything he desired, except his soul and his life, if the Devil would only grant him fabulous wealth. Sometimes kneeling, other times standing, Prelati lead Gilles de Rais through a farcical ceremony to summon the demon Prelati calls Barron. For two hours they pleaded and cajoled Barron to appear, but the demon did not.

Up in Gilles bedroom, the others waited nervously. Once they claimed to have heard the sound of hooves on the roof of the chateau, but shortly after two in the morning, Prelati and de Rais joined the others, disappointed that Barron had snubbed them. The pair said nothing of any hoofed creatures appearing. Fortunately for Prelati, a weather front did appear during the ceremony, bringing with it a significant change in the wind as well as rain and thunder. The sign only served to confirm Gilles confidence in the young man.
Perhaps he was bluffing, as it is unlikely that de Rais had confided in Prelati his perverse sexual habit, but Prelati unfortunately told de Rais that Barron wants a sacrifice of a childs heart, eyes and sex organs. Soon after, Gilles de Rais fulfilled Prelatis gruesome demand. The sacrifice came after Prelati managed to make Barron appear of course, the magician was alone at the time only to have the demon beat him mercilessly. Locked out of the room, de Rais and his cohorts could only listen in horror as Prelati was roughed up. Blanchet, who was clearly a non-believer in sorcery, compared the sound to that of someone hitting a feather bed.

Another time, Prelati, alone again, conjured up a mighty serpent. Terrified, he ran from the room into the waiting arms of Gilles de Rais who also became afraid and fled to his chapel where he grabbed a crucifix that contained a sliver of the True Cross. Returning to the site of the serpents appearance, he was both disappointed and relieved to find it had returned to the netherworld.

The shenanigans went on for more than a year, and ended only when Gilles de Rais was arrested.


Just because Gilles was trying to summon a demon did not mean his bloodlust was ignored. Rather, the debauchery and murder continued unabated. Gilles had several near-misses in terms of being caught, and historians speculate that Rene de Rais and other close family members were quite aware of what Gilles was doing. The relationship between Rene and his brother was strained, but amiable. Rene, who had taken the name of his grandfather, la Suze, was constantly after his brother for his spendthrift ways. As in so many families, Rene and Gilles were opposites in many ways, although Rene was just as brave in battle. He was equally devout and more fiscally conservative.

Rene managed to have the king issue an edict preventing Gilles from selling any of the family estates, and gained control of the chateau at Champtoce. When Gilles learned his brother was moving into Champtoce, he panicked. Rene was clearly acting in an aggressive manner to curtail Gilles' spending and it was only a matter of time before his younger brother moved to have Machecoul taken as well. That would spell doom for de Rais, who took action to cover his tracks. Gilles dispatched Poitou and Henriet to Machecoul and ordered them to burn the bodies of the 40 or so children he had stored in a tower.

They complied, but by then it was almost too late. Some noble friends spied on the two servants as they completed their grisly task. Their reaction was not what one would expect: they ignored what they saw. After all, the victims were only miserable peasant children. "Justice reacted on the occasion of another affair; under certain circumstances justice might have closed its eyes," wrote French historian Georges Bataille.

Gilles' fear that Rene was on the march and intended to occupy Machecoul was well-founded and correct. Three weeks after moving into Champtoce, Rene and a cousin Andre de Laval-Loheac occupied Machecoul to prevent Gilles from liquidating any more family property. Gilles de Sille and a servant had been charged with making sure the castle was clear of evidence - the alchemy tools had been destroyed earlier when Louis, the Dauphin, came to visit. It was de Sille's job to clean up the bones and he botched the assignment. Two skeletons were found on the grounds and the captain of the guard interrogated Poitou and Henriet about them. The pair denied knowing anything, which was a lie, and the matter was hushed up. "A wall of silence (was) erected round the family," Benedetti writes. "Besides, if they spoke up, the local peasantry might come forward and tell what they knew and the whole family would be plunged into disgrace."

But time was not on the side of Gilles de Rais. Retired from the military at just 36, politically impotent and clearly mad, Gilles was like a wounded shark in a feeding frenzy. He had no real allies and no money to pay an army, he was on thin ice in the eyes of the very powerful church and worst of all, his property was coveted by many different camps. Like predators circling a weakened animal, his enemies waited until the right moment to strike. Gilles' days were numbered, and nothing, supernatural or otherwise, could change that.

The end came in 1440, after a Gilles desperately put together a group of brigands and converged on the church at St. Etienne de Mermorte during High Mass. Breaking into the church, wild-eyed and brandishing a double-edged axe, Gilles threatened the priest and hauled the man away. The priest was the brother of the treasurer of Brittany who was charged with occupying a chateau owned by Gilles, which he was forced to sell. Gilles demanded the priest relinquish Brittany's claim on the property.

Although Lord de Rais had sexually assaulted and murdered at least 30 children, robbed and pillaged the merchants and bourgeois inhabitants of Brittany, Anjou and his own province of Pays de Rais, and dabbled in the forbidden arts of alchemy and black magic, it wasn't until he kidnapped an important priest from inside a church that someone decided that he had gone too far.

It was no secret that Jean V, duke of Brittany, coveted the lands and estates of Gilles de Rais, and would do whatever was necessary to have them. He formed an alliance with the Bishop of Nantes, Jean de Malestroit, who had been an enemy of de Rais for many years. Once again, as it was when the nobles watched de Rais' valets dispose of his Champtoce victims, the deaths of peasant children meant nothing to the duke and the bishop. This wasn't a justice issue to them, it was purely economics.

Malestroit began secretly taking depositions and gathering information about Gilles de Rais. One can only imagine what he must have thought when he learned of the book of spells written in children's blood or how Gilles enjoyed sitting on the stomachs of dying children and masturbating. Even though his stated purpose was to ruin a political foe, the bishop's stomach must have turned as he heard witness after witness come forward with tales of missing children or suspicious men with their faces covered by black veils prowling the countryside kidnapping innocent shepherd boys.

It was in July 1440 that Malestroit went public with his findings. As bishop of Nantes, he published an incendiary account of interviews with seven commoners who live in under the rule of Gilles. In the report he asserted that "Milord Gilles de Rais, knight, lord, and baron, our subject and under our jurisdiction, with certain accomplices, did cut the throats of, kill and heinously massacre many young and innocent boys, that he did practice with these children unnatural lust and the vice of sodomy, often calls up or causes others to practice the dreadful invocation of demons, did sacrifice to and make pacts with the latter, and did perpetrate other enormous crimes within the limits of our jurisdiction..."

Despite the harsh words from the cathedral in Nantes, Gilles remained resolute in his defiance and naivete. He was the Marshal of France, the king's military chief of staff, summoner of demons and lord of Pays de Rais. No one would dare come to Tiffauges to accuse him of heresy or murder. His co-conspirators, however, were not so confident. Gilles de Sille and Roger de Briqueville, having stashed away money for just such a situation, immediately fled Tiffauges and disappeared into history. Poitou, Henriet, Prelati and Blanchet remained in Tiffauges with their master to await their fate. Henriet was so frightened of what the future held that he considered slicing his own throat.

In August, the Constable of France, brother of the Duke of Brittany, seized Tiffauges and waited for permission from the secular authorities to arrest Lord de Rais who remained holed up in the castle at Machecoul. In a separate inquiry from the ecclesiastical probe, representatives of the king heard much of the same evidence and also prepared documents to arrest de Rais. But it was not until September 14, 1440 that Bishop Malestroit issued the arrest warrant for the gang. In a letter to all the priests under his jurisdiction, he ordered them to find Gilles de Rais, arrest him and bring him to Nantes to face an inquisition.

The next day, the Duke of Brittany's men arrived at the gates of Machecoul and took Gilles and his servants into custody. He was brought to Nantes, where he first appeared before the secular court to answer for the allegations concerning his attack on the church at St. Etienne. Interestingly, the transcript of this hearing makes absolutely no mention of any murders or supernatural dabbling.


Three days after he was taken into custody unlike the commoners, Lord de Rais was held in comfortable chambers in Nantes the inquest into Gilles acts began in earnest. Pierre de LHopital, chief judge of Brittany began the process by having interviews with the parents and relatives of the lost children of Machecoul. One mother tells the heartbreaking tale of being coerced by Poitou to turning over her son to him and Lord de Rais who promised to care for and educate the boy. The next day, as the boy and the murderers were preparing to leave, the mother had second thoughts and begged de Rais to return her boy. Gilles did not even acknowledge her presence and rode off with the 10-year-old child. The woman never saw her child again.
LHopital and his prosecutor, the friar Jean de Touscheronde, heard the complaints of 10 families whose children had disappeared and who blamed Lord de Rais for the kidnappings. From September 18 through October 8, LHopital and the secular prosecutor listened to the plaintive wails of grieving parents who feared their children had fallen into the hands of a monster. During some of the inquest, the ecclesiastical authorities were also present, in the person of the Vicar of the Inquisitor, Jean Blouyn.

By October 13, the judges had heard enough testimony from the relatives of the victims and formally indicted Lord de Rais on 34 charges of murder, sodomy, heresy and violating the immunity of the church. This last charge was in connection with Gilles robbery and kidnapping at St. Etienne. The indictment claimed 140 children had been the victim of Gilles and his accomplices, over the course of 14 years the indictment set the date of the first murder at 1426 when in fact it did not occur until at least 1432. Included in the charges were accusations that Gilles had on several occasions expressed remorse and shame for his acts, once promising to take a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to cleanse his soul. But the killings continued instead.

Standing before the ecclesiastical and secular judges, Gilles was asked to answer to the charges. Instead, he verbally attacked the authorities, calling them ribalds and simoniacs (someone who sells ecclesiastical pardons or indulgences) and asserting that he would rather be hanged by a rope around his neck than respond to such ecclesiastics and judges. Four times the judges asked Gilles to make a plea, and four times he ignored them. Left with no other choice, the Bishop of Nantes excommunicated Gilles de Rais. The hearing adjourned.

Two days later, a contrite Gilles appeared again before his judges. Having been denied Communion and the penitential rite and apparently fearing for his immortal soul, Gilles recognized the authority of the court and admitted to having maliciously committed and perpetrated the crimes described in the indictment. A tearful and humbled Gilles asked forgiveness from the court for his verbal outbursts earlier. The vice Inquisitor and bishop absolved him and readmitted him to the Church.

Gilles then went on to admit to many of the crimes he was accused of, except the summoning of demons. He swore upon a Bible and offered to take a test of fire to show his innocence. The prosecutor, however, stood by the accusation and produced Poitou, Henriet, Prelati and Blanchet who each testified to Gilles attempts to conjure up the devil. The testimony of the accomplices was taken over the course of five days, and at the end, the judges asked Gilles what he had to say now. Cooperative but still reticent, Gilles replied he had nothing to add and agreed that the testimony should be published as a warning to heretics.

Torture implement, using a sharp iron bar under the chin
(Torture implement, using a sharp iron bar under the chin)

But the prosecutor was not satisfied with Gilles response and asked that he be allowed to apply torture to force a confession from Lord de Rais. The judges agreed and ordered Gilles to be taken to the dungeon at La Tour Neuve. They hoped that a visit to the torture chamber would loosen Gilles tongue.

Confession and Execution

The judges were correct. Gilles, who undoubtedly used implements of torture during his bloody reign, had no stomach for being on the receiving end of the Inquisitions tool chest and after his visit to La Tour Neuves prison, agreed to answer the questions of the judges. He asked if he could confess in his own chamber, rather than in front of the torture implements in the castles lower hall, and the judges agreed.

The trial of Gilles de Rais (Bibliotheque Nationale de Paris)
The trial of Gilles de Rais (Bibliotheque Nationale de Paris)
In excruciating detail, Gilles confessed before Bishop Jean Pregent and Pierre de LHopital. His signed confession admits that it was given voluntarily, freely and grievously. He told the two judges that he alone was responsible for his actions.

He committed his crimes according to his imagination and idea, without anyones counsel and following his own feelings, solely for his pleasure and carnal delight, and not with any other intention or to any other end, a contemporary transcript of the confession reveals. It is possible that Gilles stressed this point as a last-ditch attempt to save his skin. The crime of peasant murder, even multiple times, was not as grievous in the eyes of French justice as heresy. If the judges believed he committed the crimes as a sacrifice to Satan, then his life was forfeit. There was still the chance that he could be pardoned for the killings.

The judges brought Prelati in to corroborate Gilles statements, and together they confessed to placing a childs hand, heart and eyes in a vessel in an attempt to summon the demon. After the judges finished with Francois Prelati, Gilles turned to him and in tears wished him well in a most pious way, clearly indicating his fondness for the sorcerer.

Goodbye, Francois, my friend! Gilles said. Never again shall we see each other in this world; I pray that God gives you plenty of patience and understanding, and to be sure, provided you have plenty of patience and trust in God, we shall meet again in the Great Joy of Paradise.

Gilles was correct, he never saw Prelati again. The sorcerer was convicted of his crimes and sentenced to life in prison. He escaped, but returned to his old ways and was caught, tried and convicted again of heresy.

That time he was hanged.

The next morning, Gilles repeated his confession before the ecclesiastical court, in which he admitted that unbridled, he applied himself to whatever pleased him, and pleased himself with every illicit act.

Again, the court excommunicated Gilles, and he fell to the ground pleading, sighing and moaning on his knees to be reincorporated into the Church. The Bishop of Nantes, for the love of God, absolved Gilles of the sentence of excommunication and welcomed him back into the Church, our Mother, and allowed him to participate in the sacraments. Restoring Gilles into the Church would allow him to die with absolution and be buried on sacred ground, the Bishop said as the sentence of death was delivered.

Shortly afterward, the secular court handed down a similar verdict and sentence to Gilles, Poitou and Henriet. They were to be hanged by the neck until dead and their bodies burned to ash. Gilles asked that he be allowed to die first, to set a good example for his servants. The wish was granted.

Gilles de Rais and his coconspirators went to the gallows on October 26, 1440. Prior to his execution, Gilles gave a lengthy sermon to the large crowd gathered for the event on the evils of uncontrolled youth. He admitted his sins to the crowd, exhorted them to raise their children in a strict manner and be faithful to the Church. His sermon has been lost to history, but the records that remain claim it was a fine example of Christian humility and repentance.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Van Halen - A Different Kind of Truth (2012)

I was very surprised after listening to this. I was stunned that a band that had largely altered their sound from its original incarnation and had not performed together in over 20 years (well, 3/4's of the original line-up, anyways) could pull off such a convincing return to form. After hearing the rather pedestrian single, 'Tattoo', I was almost led to believe that conjuring fourth "hits" was the last thing on the band's mind as the majority of this album finds them getting down and dirty by going back to their roots, which they have done in fucking spades.

Again, not only am I surprised with how close this sounds to the band's "classic" era, but I am also astonished to hear that Diamond David hasn't lost a fucking thing as well. It does seem as if he cut down on some of the more gratuitous aspects of his approach, but this hardly takes away from the finished product.

Both Eddie and Alex sound just as great as they did in their prime and being that I don't usually pay much attention to bass guitar, I guess Eddie Junior did a great job as well, I mean, I don't hear any "suck" coming from out of his corner, so...

Now I understand that some people got butthurt that this album didn't live up to their expectations. I'm not exactly sure what it was that they had expected other than perhaps the band revisiting the ultra-gay "Van Hagar" era, which I am fucking ecstatic that they did not! I'll just pretend that the albums between '1984' and this did not exist altogether.


Monday, May 20, 2013

Pungent Stench - Dirty Rhymes & Psychotronic Beats (1993)

For me, this is where PS began to really cook and come into their own. Sure, I loved the previous two albums but as someone who grew up listening to as much Zeppelin and The Doors as Bolt Thrower and Entombed, I was ecstatic to hear the band go all out with incorporating more rock elements into their sound. I also found the techno remake of the band's chestnut, 'Blood, Pus and Gastric Juices' to be a mind altering blast as well, not to mention the band's filthy cover of The Mentor's 'Four 'F' Club'.

I wasn't terribly surprised to see the more "militant" faction (which comprised the greater half of the underground in those days) of PS fans get butthurt and abandon the band as a result of the growing number of "outside influences" began to make its way into their aural arsenal. I always found that to be rather unfortunate as you can clearly see that not much has changed in regards to the overall aesthetic and besides, I always felt that the more straightforward aspects of the band's previous album (Been Caught Buttering) were a bit dry and quite frankly, uninteresting. This time around I felt as if the band had quelled their ever-so slight dilemma by incorporating just the right amount of weirdness into the equation by adding rock riffs, techno beats and industrial elements into the mix. With the release of Entombed's 'Hollowman' ep and then this, I was very open to the future of this rather bizarre and groovy result of blending unconventional elements with the more fundamentally extreme sounds of death and grind.

To this day 'Dirty Rhymes...' sounds just as fresh and as far out as it did way back in 1993. I'm almost certain that once everyone's transparent and "apparent" obsession with "old school" death metal subsides, all eyes will be turned towards this rather bizarre faction of extreme metal where death and grind were brilliantly mixed with industrial, classic rock and electronica, and why not? I couldn't think of a more deserving form of music. One that never really caught on with many folks due to their inability to properly categorize and thoroughly pigeonhole the bands within that faction, beyond the absolutely lame and rather erroneous moniker, 'death -n- roll'. Oh well, even if they don't "catch on", fuck 'em. I've found that most of the denizens swarming around on this planet have unbelievably lame taste in things and I've never sought out the approval of anyone else to determine if something is good or not. For my money, DR&PB is not only good, it's fucking grrrrreat!

Blood Duster - Str8 Outta Northcote (1998)

I absolutely fucking love this album! I remember during the mid-late '90's, many grindcore bands were beginning to kook out and incorporate such elements as techno, industrial, classic rock and other such groovy oddities. For me the result was pure sonic bliss. I've always loved my music to be a bit on the weird side and so I wholeheartedly embraced this micro-revolution and looked forward to each and every bizarro release that came my way.

I remember first hearing a couple of tracks off of this album on the godly 'Solid' compilation put out by Relapse back in '97. I was thrilled to hear that Blood Duster were delving deeper into the classic rock that they toyed with on their earlier releases (Fisting the Dead, Yeest) what with the inclusion of Hammond organs (!!!!!) and plenty of foot stompin' grooves scattered throughout. This album reminds me a lot of Groinchurn's stellar 'Sixtimesnine' LP which itself reminded me of a cross between Dishormonic Orchestra's 'Not to be Undimensional Conscious' and Pungent Stench's ass kicking 'Club Mondo Bizarre'. Make no mistake though, this isn't just a compilation of knee-slappin' hootenannies. There are quite a few absolutely brutal numbers that go straight for the fucking throat, complete with absolutely maniacal shrieking and low end roars. Of course the sick and bizarre humor of the boys from down under is what makes this album a complete package for me. As much as stuff like early Napalm Death made an impact on me at the time of its release, I began to grow tired of their rather straightforward approach and I for one was relieved when they opted for a more death metal influenced sound on 'Harmony Corruption'. The reason I bring that up is that I've always found grindcore as a genre infinitely more interesting when it's not taking itself too seriously. In fact, the goofier, the better (Monastat 7, People).

At the time of this album's release, I have to say, Relapse was on fucking fire! I was still in my early 20's and consuming a fair amount of pot and hallucinogens and every time I attended a show, I could count on one of those utterly bizarre Relapse comps to be in circulation. It was around this time that I began to loosen up from my rather "militant" death metal stance and started to enjoy there wackier side of grind, industrial, etc. It was a perfect time for me to delve into the confinements of this album!

From the hilariously gruesome fold out CD inlay to each and every track within, Str8 Outta Northcote is a bona fide classick in my book and fully representative of the limitless essence of grindcore. Aces!

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Way's From Best to Worst: Suffocation

Effigy of the Forgotten (1991)

The one that started it all. Sure, they had a demo and an 'ep' before it but 'Effigy...' blew the fucking door off the hinges and for better or for worse, you can thank this album for the lion's share of br00tal/tech-death band's that have flooded the underground since.

Two things that will always ensure that this album stays way ahead of the pack is that aside from the obvious brutality, there is a sort of evil whimsy throughout its duration as well as the fact that each of these songs are fairly memorable, quite the astonishing achievement when you take into consideration the amount of riffs clustered throughout. Vocally, Frank Mullen beefed up his chops a bit after his absolutely frightening delivery on both the 'Reincremation' demo and 'Human Waste' ep, which resulted in one of the greatest vocal performances throughout the history of death metal. There is no shortage of singers that have attempted to ape his style but none have even come remotely close to the pummeling brutality of Frank Mullen on this album.

Human Waste (1991)

I actually prefer Frank Mullen's voice on this release as well as the demo before it. Though it may not carry with it the depth of 'Effigy...', his vocal performance here is by far the most frightening sounding of his career. The music leans a bit towards the transitional death/thrash approach which was quite common in the late '80's/early '90's. Most of these tracks would be re-recorded for the band's debut album and as a result would sound much beefier, greatly benefiting from the classic Morrisound production courtesy of then go-to guy, Scott Burns.

Reincremated (1990)

Sounding similar to the Human Waste ep, the band's sole demo, 'Reincremated' showcases songs that would turn up on 'Effigy of the Forgotten'. Here they sound a bit leaner but no less intense. Again, Frank Mullen's voice is absolutely fucking insane here! It is absolutely mandatory to hear this.

Despise the Sun (1998)

After the gluttonous technical duo of 'Breeding the Spawn' and 'Pierced from Within' Suffo decided to cut back on the meandering riff fluctuations and deliver what is undoubtedly their most straightforward release to date and the result is an ep's worth of material that brings to mind the bludgeoning brutality of the band's earlier releases. Long gone are the days of Mullen's Human Waste era rasp, but that is of no consequence as the man is top fucking condition here, relentlessly beating the shit out of the microphone with absolute hateful brutality.

Pierced from Within (1995)

I've gotta say, I'm not the biggest fan of this album, nor do I think it sucks. I do like it, but I certainly do not love it. If anything, I think it's safe to say that this is probably the album that should have succeeded 'Effigy of the Forgotten'. The production here is sort of a more "sophisticated" version of that found on 'Effigy...'. My problem with this record is that a lot of the songs tend to meander. This has actually always been a problem that has plagued the band from day one, but I believe that the earlier material of the band was, thankfully, a mite bit more straightforward. 'Pierced...' certainly sounds more polished and controlled than the abominable pile of shit that is 'Breeding the Spawn', but again, the tendency to meander is prevalent here and I unable to look at this as anything but a creative hang-up. Oh well. This isn't a bad album by any means and there are certainly some great ideas scattered about, but I just can't get into the whole "mindless tangent" thing that a lot of "technical" death metal bands wind up exploiting.

Souls to Deny (2004)

I'm not quite sure what it is about this album that caused everyone to piss and moan, but I can assure you, if you dug what the band was doing on 'Breeding...' and 'Pierced...' then there really shouldn't be any reason for you to dislike this album as it pretty much sounds like a combination of the two, Obviously the production is better than that found on 'Breeding...' and perhaps the songs are slightly less technical, but overall this album carries with it the same vibe as that album as well as 'Pierced from Within'. Again, I'm not terribly fond of this style, but if you are then I can't see why you wouldn't like this album. I guess some people need something to piss and moan over.

Pinnacle of Bedlam (2013)

This is probably the most diverse Suffocation album since 'Pierced...', though I wouldn't fret much as all of the typical Suffocation hallmarks are in place here. Honestly, even though the band are making obvious attempts to branch out while keeping their signature elements in place, this all sounds a bit old hat to me, which, face it, has been Suffocation's number one flaw all along. Not a bad album by any means, and really, there truly aren't any "bad" Suffocation albums. Just a whole bunch of boring ones! This one, I think it's safe to say, is anything but!

Blood Oath (2009)

This is a pretty boring album. Heavy? Sure, but excruciatingly boring. As with most Suffocation albums, there are definitely moments of brilliance scattered throughout, but overall this one's a total snoozefest. The best part of this album is the ridiculously killer cover art.

Suffocation (2006)

Although I really stopped "truly" giving a fuck around 'Pierced...', this is where I shut the door completely. I realized beyond a doubt that Suffocation was one of those bands that persistently releases mediocre material every few years and will never quite reach the bar they themselves had raised so many years ago with their debut album. Basically what you have here is a bunch of braindead "brutal" riff fluctuations drenched in what is probably the most questionable choice of production since 'Breeding...'. No, it's not quite on that level of bad, but it aint good either! Lastly, as if it were some sort of unconscious giveaway to the generic mediocrity of the music within, the cover art is mind-bogglingly tame and I was somewhat surprised that the band opted to go down the 'self titled' route as if they ha run out of laughably retarded song and album titles (Epitaph of the Credulous, anyone?).

Breeding the Spawn (1993)

Here it is... the absolute cream of the crap. I highly doubt that even the hipster faggots who try and pretend as if they like every shitty little morsel that crawled out of the ass of the early '90's likes this album as much as they front that they do. I understand that in many internet circles it is now the "in" thing to cherish and praise certain "misunderstood" albums released so long ago but believe me folks, this is one effigy that is better off forgotten. I'm not even going to get into how bad the production is because that's really not much of a surprise to anyone who's read a review or two on this album, but what I will say is that the actual music on this album sucks as well. I mean, from top to bottom, beginning (of my sorrow) to the end, this album is an absolute drunken fucking mess and without a doubt the lowest point of Suffocation's career.

Movie Poster of the Week: Devil's Angels (1967)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Hypocrisy - Inferior Devoties (1994)

Before he felt safe to jump completely out of the closet with the release of 1996's 'Abducted', Peter Tagtgren used to pretend that he was a "macho man" and was intent on selling that illusion by releasing a couple of ultra-generic Swedish death metal albums in the early '90's. Looking back on it now, it's rather plain to see Tagtgren's raging homosexual tendencies as 'Penetralia' (the title says it all) and 'Osculum Obscenum' ('Exclamation of a Necrofag', anyone?) were rather paltry and half-hearted attempts at coming across as some sort of purveyor of brutality. Throughout the years we would see Peter sneaking out of the closet to indulge his cravings for cock with forays into black metal (The Abyss, War) and  techno/industrial (Pain) but it wasn't until 1996 that Peter had had enough of pretending to be something that he wasn't (a heterosexual) and decided to come crashing out from the confinements of his closet stronghold, full bore, and declare himself 'King of all that is Gay', a title that would go unchallenged, for the most part, until the arrival of 'In Flames' (again, title says all).

Hidden in between Hypocrisy's fraudulent beginnings and their grand declaration of homosexuality lies the one release that I can say I enjoyed, which came in the form of the 1994 ep, 'Inferior Devoties'.

For a hot second it seemed as if Hypocrisy were onto something here, but then they would end up taking the sound they had discovered here and redress it with their former mediocrity for their next full length 'The Fourth Dimension'.

In all fairness, 'Inferior Devoties' finds the band at their most vicious. If I had to draw a comparison I would say that this comes pretty close to what 'Liers in Wait' were doing on their 'Spiritually Uncontrolled Art', though considerably less technical than that release. 'Inferior Devoties' is more straightforward than 'SUA' but no less vicious or abrasive. The riffing is high in quality as I honestly cannot detect a dud among any of the songs showcased here, except, of course, the title track, which is merely an updated rendition of an older track originally released on the rather average sounding 'Osculum Obscenum'.

I do have to say, for all his faults, Peter's vocals are absolutely fucking awesome here. makes me wonder why they bothered with the fat guy who sang on their previous material. For a guy who looks like he's been on a year long crack binge, he belts out some unbelievably powerful and commanding death metal roars and some impressive screams as well.

Unfortunately the band didn't sound half as convincing as this when it came time to release their next full length, and again, it was back to the boring bullshit that they had used as a foundation for their career, though by that time they had chosen to forsake the tried and true Sunlight style for a weaker, more timid sounding affair.

Entombed - Crawl (1991)

I was absolutely fucking mortified when I heard this  way back in 1991. I find it utterly mind-boggling that Entombed would replace the godly vocals of L.G. Petrov with the monstrously homosexual rasp of the guy from Nirvana 2002. I mean there is just absolutely zero comparison here folks and as great as Entombed is (or were), having a bottom of the barrel singer such as Orvar Safstrom vocally embellish your music is like demolishing a skyscraper a day after building it.

Out of the three tracks here, the only one worth having is 'Forsaken' as it does not appear on any other album. 'Crawl' sounds infinitely better on 'Clandestine' and the re-recording of 'Bitter Loss' with Safstrom's vocals in place of Petrov's is like some sort of sick and twisted joke devised by the band during the down time in between albums.

I'm telling you right now. Anyone who claims that this 'ep' is great or even good is either A) absolutely full of shit, or B) has the worst fucking taste in metal imaginable and I would ignore any suggestions they made from that point on. This is worth having ONLY if you are a diehard fan of Entombed. Even the inclusion of the fairly rare 'Forsaken' is not worth the trouble of having to endure the ultra-gay vocals of Orval Reddenbacher.

Gorement - Within the Shadow of Darkness – The Complete Recordings (2012)

Aside from the monstrously hideous 'Human Relic' demo, I really don't give a rat's ass about the rest of the material here, which perfectly falls under the category labeled 'Generic Swedish Death Metal', and boy oh boy is that category filled to the fucking brim!

I'm sure all the "OSDM" wannabes will be farting out hymns of praise to honor this band, but truthfully I've heard the style of death metal that Gorement apes done much better by the likes of Carnage, Entombed and so on. Again, the only thing worthwhile here is the remastered tracks off the 'Human Relics' demo. I've always been a fan of pitchshifted vocals (ala Dismember's 'Defective Decay', Entombed's 'Premature Autopsy') and Gorement goes fucking ballistic with that concept here, adorning each and every track (sans the intro) with a generous coating of pitchshifted insanity! Unfortunately, all of the band's material onward is mired in mediocrity from the generic, powerless vocal performance down to their anemic renditions of sub-standard Swedish death metal.

I will say that if you are a fan of Gorement or the classic Swedish death metal sound, then this should sate you until the next discography of some long forgotten Swedish cult comes rolling around the bend. However, if you actually prefer quality over quantity then you may just want to let this one go by, though the inclusion of the 'Human Relic' demo makes it an almost mandatory purchase. Bastards!

Centurian - Contra Rationem (2013)

Can't say that I'm the biggest fan of Centurian's take on the metal o' death, but I have to give credit where credit is due and Centurian are without a doubt one of the more creative bands to have emerged within the underground.

First and foremost, 'Contra Rationem' is the type of comeback album that you hope and pray for. It is a flawless continuation of where the band left off on 2001's 'Liber Zar Zax' (though it can be argued that the band had been honing its craft all along under the Nox moniker, releasing the stellar 'Ixaxarr' in '07 followed by the 'Blood, Bones and Ritual Death' ep in 2010).

Centurian play a sort of "fast and furious" version of death metal that many have accurately compared to that of Deicide, though the riffwork itself is more along the lines of early Morbid Angel what with its bizarro string bends and overall unorthodox fretboard explorations. The vocals are not quite as raging and hateful as the earlier Deicide albums nor are they monotonous and laughable as that band's latter works. If anything, the vocalist of Centurian sort of sounds like Glen Benton's "little Brother" sans the shrieking gaia back-ups.

Again, Centurian's brand of blasphemous death isn't my particular cup o' tea, nor is it something I despise. The band excels at what they do and I can't help but admire their conviction. This will most certainly appeal to fans of Brazilian and Floridian death metal.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Classic Covers: Dismember - Pieces (1992)

The Way's Best to Worst List of Morbid Angel Albums

Covenant (1993)

I was sort of a late starter with Morbid Angel. Sure, I remember when 'Altars of Madness' came out and everyone was going ape shit over it, but I was always into slower, low tuned death metal. To me, 'Altars...' didn't hold a candlestick to 'Left Hand Path, 'Realm of Chaos' or 'Cause of Death'. Besides, by the time I had heard the gurgled burps of Carcass and the raging, hateful vocals of Glen Benton, I was sort of done with the "witchier" sounding vocals of thrash. They certainly served their purpose but I had found something more to my liking. Now when David Vincent decided to drop his vocal pitch down a notch for 'Blessed...', I thought, "fuck yeah, now that's more like it!". On 'Covenant' he would drop it even further and the result is absolutely fucking bestial sounding!

Covenant is also the first Morbid Angel album to incorporate the bottom heavy sound that they've pretty much used ever since. The riffing here is just as bizarre as it was on the band's debut but there is also a generous amount of doomier, sludgier riffs thrown into the proceedings as well as a couple of stabs at what could loosely be considered "commercial hits". Not that there's anything gay going on here (although I could've totally done without the inclusion of 'Angel of Disease', a re-recording of oneof the bands older tracks), but you could tell that the band were making an honest attempt at writing more "straightforward" material, such as 'Sworn to the Black', 'Vengeance is Mine' and 'Lion's Den'. Oddly enough it would be the rather bizarre doom song (God of Emptiness) and Altars-friendly rager, 'Rapture' that would be both chosen for promotion.

Covenant is arguably the heaviest and certainly most well rounded MA album to be released and by far my favorite. This is where I began to really dig what the band was doing.

Formulas Fatal to the Flesh (1998)

In many ways, FFTTF feels like the rightful successor to 'Covenant'. Where 'Domination' was a hodgepodge of styles and ideas, FFTTF is a bit more focused (yes, there are weird little techno songs and tribal drum solos, but thankfully all of that shit is stored at the very end of the CD).

Though I'll always prefer David Vincent's sort of arrogant and cocky flair, I have to give (then) new guy Steve Tucker credit for being able to convincingly sing Trey's lyrics on this album. The pattern arrangements are ridiculously thorough and I can only assume were a nightmare to not only memorize, but sing live (never mind every night while on tour!). Trey certainly didn't do this guy any favors when he wrote the lyrics, of which I must say are surprisingly brilliant. Again, I've always preferred Vincent's more "poetic" entries, but here Trey really let his imagination run rampant and the results are among the best lyrics I've read by a death metal musician.

Also of note is the drumming of Pete Sandoval. I've never been on that dude's dick like seemingly everybody else. I always thought that, sure, he's definitely a good drummer, but far from the "best", or the fastest for that matter. On FFTTF, however, the guy is a fucking raging beast. Easily the performance of a lifetime. I'm not sure what exactly the guy thought he had to prove but boy oh boy does he make a lot of people look stupid here!

Domination (1995)

At first I was relieved that they still had that monstrous guitar sound used on 'Covenant'. I was also happy to hear that they were continuing to write more barbaric sounding death metal (as evidenced on the title track as well as the doom laden sludge-fest, 'Where the Slime Live'). Then came the third track and I began to worry. After the album ran its course and all was said and done, I didn't know what to think. There were obviously some great songs on here, but there were others that I was not too sure about. After repeated listens, I began to piece together the genius of this album. The total mockery of 'Where the Slime Lives' lyrical delivery by depicting the complete annihilation of the human race through the guise of a children's fable. Brilliant! Another worry that ended up being cast away was the intro to 'Caesar's Palace', which sounded rather cheesy, but in time grew on me, and then of course, 'Inquisition', which was easily the most troublesome piece on the album, until I realized that the structure of the song, as well as the lyrics, were just a perverted mockery of the more conventional style of rock & roll. MA rolled the dice with this album and the gamble ended up paying off, at least from a creative standpoint. Of course, the gloves would come off for their next album, 'Formulas Fatal to the Flesh'.

Altars of Madness (1989)

I have to say... while everyone was jacking off to this album, I was being enthralled by the likes of Pestilence and Obituary. Hell, I even preferred Deicide over Morbid Angel. Of course, years later the tables would turn around the release of 'Covenant', but during MA's much heralded debut, I just wasn't feeling it as much as everybody else.

Now, after 'Covenant' came out, I was forced to go back and reconsider the band's legendary debut and that was when I realized the error of my ways. I always preferred the side A tracks over side B (yes, my first copy of 'Altars...' was on vinyl, then cassette. In fact, it would be many years until I finally obtained a CD copy of this record). Side A obviously showcased the "newer" songs, written after David Vincent's addition to the lineup, while side B was primarily filled up with re-recordings of older material (ie Chapel of Ghouls). One way to decipher the older material from the new was by looking at the writing credits for the lyrics. Vincent's songs tended to be a wee bit more cerebral, poetic even, while Trey's reeked of teen angst and the desire to "offend" as most adolescents are wont to do during their formative years. The music, however, is seemingly beyond the capabilities and comprehension of of mere mortals, yet here it is... four guys from the Southern region of the United States, conjuring fourth perhaps the most twisted and spiritually abstract music that they themselves would rarely touch upon in the years since. Certainly no one else has been able to come up with anything as original as this. Sure, there are folks who have come close to capturing the vibe, but that is only because Morbid Angel laid out the blueprint long ago.

Blessed are the Sick (1991)

Perhaps the bands first "divisive" album. I remember when this came out, lots of folks didn't quite know what to think, what with the slower songs, Vincent's drop in pitch as well as the "dreaded" inclusion of acoustic guitars and keyboards. This was definitely the band's first "experimental" album and its funny that all these years later, the same people that decried the band for "selling out" are now the loudest to scream how this is the last of the "classic era" for the band.

As I mentioned above, this is the album where Vincent began to incorporate a deeper, more commanding sounding vocal presence and the band themselves were starting to write slower, almost Sabbath-like riff fluctuations such as album opener 'Fall from Grace' (of course you can count on a blast from Pete to embellish the Iommi-like rhythmic sequence, a stroke of pure fucking genius I might add!).

The only stuff that I'm not too fond of on this album are again, the re-recordings of old MA chestnuts such as 'Thy Kingdom Come (yeah, sue me) and 'The Ancient Ones'. Other than that, this is a pretty solid album and one that accompanied me through much of my late teens during the early 90's.

Gateways to Annihilation (2000)

In many ways this album reminds me of 'Blessed are the Sick' or even 'Domination' what with the slower pace, although this album takes that approach farther than anything the band had/has done throughout their career.

For the most part I like this album, a lot. I'm not terribly fond of Steve Tucker's vocals on this album. I thought he killed it on 'FFTTF', but this time around he just sounded goofy. You can forget about the arrogant flare of MA's former frontman here. Tucker on this album just sounds like any typical death metal frontman "trying" to sound demonic. Oddly enough, the albums strongest vocal performance comes from Trey on 'Secured Limitations' where he and "Tuck" run through a rather convincing and effective exchange with one another.

Surprisingly, this album is almost completely devoid of blasts, an ingredient that one could rightfully assume is inherent to Morbid Angel's sound, despite the band's rather colorful songwriting history regarding various tempo changes. On 'Gateways...' it's almost as if the band were challenging itself to write as much material without blasting its way throughout, to see if it could actually be done. I would say, for the most part, they succeeded. Unfortunately, while Pete gave a performance of a lifetime on the band's previous outing (FFTTF), 'Gateways...' showcases one of the most sterile and machine-like drum recordings in history. While I'm not one to bitch about a drummers decision to use triggers and the like, on 'Gateways...' it sounds painfully obvious and could easily have been the work of a nerd and his drum machine rather than a death metal drum god!

Heretic (2003)

At first, I thought that this album might be a throwback of sorts to the band's debut, and then as the album "progressed" I realized that A) the album opener was just a fluke, and B) this was going to be another one of those "experimental" Morbid Angel albums with a dumptruck load of kooky ideas haphazardly strewn about.

Again, ol' "Tuck" delivers a largely forgettable performance and as on 'Gateways...', his lyrics are laughable attempts at coming across as being "mystical" yada yada (barf).

The sound, at first, is not that great, but as the album runs along I find myself not paying much attention to that aspect, which is a good thing, meaning that although it's not great, it's not so bad to the point where I can't listen beyond it. Overall, the album's main flaws are in the songwriting itself. I'm not quite sure what the fuck was going on inside Trey's brain during the writing process for this album, but there are some bonafide snooze-fests on display here. After the first three or four tracks, things begin to get a little tedious and it's almost as if Trey is trying to give "old school death metal" a go as the song structures here are about as simplistic as they get. Laughably so. The third quarter of this album is loaded with a veritable onslaught of Trey's obligatory keyboard ramblings, none of which are mandatory listening endeavors.

Overall, 'Heretic' is a sloppy, unfulfilling mess with a few decent moments clustered throughout. Certainly not the worst thing I've heard, but they probably should've let this one "cook" a little more before pulling it out of the oven.

Illud Divinum Insanus (2011)

I for one am not one of the legions of Facebook hipsters that shit all over this album merely because it was the "in" thing to do at the time. I really tried to be as objective as I could when listening to this. I also did not get mortally butthurt and offended by the band releasing a collection of total duds, either. I've been a fan of this band, more or less since the beginning and have supported them throughout their victories as well as their creative misfires and other endeavors. With that being said, this album would have greatly benefited from a change in tracklisting. Starting the album off with an excruciatingly boring instrumental that clocks in at 2:28 is not a good idea, whatsoever. Then to follow it up with (what I assume to be) an industrial "techno" song hich showcases some downright embarrassing lyrics is to only dig yourselves deeper into the pile of shit that you you were determined to create and release. Unfortunately, by the time the "true" Morbid Angel comes rearing her diseased cabeza around the corner, the damage is already done.

Now mind you, I do not think that this album is without merit, however scarce it may be, but when this album is bad it is downright fucking embarrassing to behold.

I really actually don't mind 'Destructos vs The Earth'. Beneath Vincent's "chanting and marching" there are some really killer doom riffs going on, and overall I think the song's tribute to Robotech is a shade of the band's former glory in terms of cleverly weaving an audacious theme with the band's more bizarro and doomier riff surge.

To me 'Illud...' is more 'Into the Pandemonium' than it is 'Cold Lake'. Where 'Cold Lake' was a straight plunge into the realm of homosexuality, 'Into the Pandemonium' had its fair share of tracks that stayed true to the Celtic Frost vibe. Same thing goes with Morbid on this album. The one thing that goes against the more traditional MA fare here, is that the songs are not that strong. it sounds as if the band were more interested in experimenting with the weaker aspects of this album rather than concentrate on doing what they do best.

I certainly do not hate this album like most seem to, but overall it is certainly the band's weakest entry, by far, and hopefully they come back strong after this one.

Abominations of Desolation (1986)

Yeah, yeah, yeah... "how could you not like this album?? I mean, it's "necro" as fuck for Christ's sake!!" Yeah, that's probably why I don't like it. I've never been impressed with outright shit production values. Sure, some of my favorite albums, demos, etc weren't exactly recorded under the "best" circumstances, but nonetheless, I'll always prefer it when a band invests a little care into the proceedings. Now don't get me wrong, the production here is probably the thing that bothers me the least. First off, I am not and never was a fan of Mike Browning's voice. His vocals are mighty weak, even for the "witchier" variety of death/thrash singing. I mean, Mille or Angelripper would bury this dude in an instant. I'm also not a fan of the tempo of the majority of these songs. Unfortunately for 'Abominations...' I heard 'Altars...' first, so that' wherein lies the template, despite the fact that this album is home to the original incarnation of some of those songs. To me they sound lazy and anemic here. Browning's "skills" as a drummer are severely lacking here as well. There's a reason why this guy got the boot from not just one, but two legendary bands throughout his career. Sure, all the nostalgia freaks will probably motherfuck me til the end of my days, but I seriously couldn't give a fuck less. I know what sounds good to my ears and this does not. This sounds like garbage. It sounds like shit and I don't blame Trey for trying his best to sweep it under the rug. The only good thing about this album is the mindblowing intro, which just may be the greatest of all time, even managing to outdo Slayer's 'Hell Awaits'! Unfortunately though, the music that follows serves as the ultimate anti-climax.