Serious commentary on horror and how it relates to new bands that matter

To Taunt, To Tempt, and To Never be Tamed

Phoebe Pinnock and Heaven the Axe

By Michael Aronovitz

The literary perception we have of the “willful woman,” or more currently, the “bad girl,” has never been quite fully realized, not in a sense we would consider holistic or real. It is possible that this phenomenon exists because men have always dominated the literary world as well as the mass media. Consequently, women as characters have been historically pigeon-holed as abused and subservient as most of us observe in our earliest contact with literature, most notably the Disney versions of European fairy tales popularized in 1812 by The Brothers Grimm (Rapunzel is trapped in a tower, Snow White is poisoned, and Cinderella is surrounded by abusive relatives). This tradition has been mirrored throughout the various movements century to century, and modernized by the “Scream Queen” of horror films, falling down for no reason, dropping the knife, and volunteering to go out to the woodshed for a beer when the maniac with the burlap bag over his head is waiting for her with a butcher knife in one hand and a Mineral Mountain Battle Hatchet in the other.

Phoebe4sm William James

This is not to say that the rebellious female as a literary prototype has not been given a preliminary sort of pattern and contour. In 441 B.C. Antigone openly defied her uncle Creon by demanding her brother be buried rather than left out and devoured by carrion. In 1400, Chaucer gave us The Wife of Bath in The Canterbury Tales, she who took her fifth husband to task by punching him in the face for reading out of a book about “wicked wives.” In 1590, William Shakespeare offered us a vision of the sexual shrew: impatient, waspish, sullen, and sour, and a few centuries later our “agonist” female heroines defied the odds and braved the cold world on their own in the name of independence and spirituality.

Still, Antigone hung herself in a cave. The Wife of Bath’s husband Jankyn responded to her arrogance by hitting her so hard in the head she became deaf in one ear. Katherina the “shrew’ wound up kneeling before Petruchio and holding his foot submissively, just as the agonist heroines inevitably latched onto older, fatherly figures because they could not make it on their own.

And so the rebel-girl never got very far, at least not in books written before 1900.

 

Yet even in the modern era with the dawn of technology and “liberation,” women of potential strength wound up flawed, almost in a weakened, flickering sister-image of the classic male heroes of yesteryear. In 1925 F. Scott Fitzgerald created Daisy Buchanan, beautiful yes, but also flighty, annoying, and irresponsible when it came to looking after her child. In that same year Anita Loos teased us with Lorelei Lee (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes), laughing and sleeping her way up the ladder like a “professional girl,” yet many critics and readers saw this as the poster-piece for masculine privilege, architecting the social design that would make feministic presence a soulless one, synonymous with exchange and commodity. Of course, Hemingway tried to combat all this in 1926 with Brett Ashley in The Sun Also Rises, she who knocked back whiskey with the boys, but she came off more masculine than feminine, and it was almost as if the blueprint for the female persona got lost in the translation through the ages even though the artists kept coming back to the canvas with the best of intentions.

Modern film makers have made their own sort of stab at investing in more exciting portrayals of strong, assertive woman, but in shedding the sheepskin they all too often soared into hyperbole, yielding a wide playing field of one dimensional cardboard cutouts. In 1981, Faye Dunaway showed us cruelty personified in Mommie Dearest. 1987 was when Glenn Close demonstrated just how unappetizing sex could become in Fatal Attraction, and all the assassins in the Kill Bill series (weird skinny Uma aside) wound up too maimed (scalped, blinded, and subjected to amputation) to think of as anything but corpses or cripples. Of course, there was Cat Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer / Halle Berry) but that character, after all, is a cartoon. The “Mean Girls” were parodies, and the witchy young women in The Craft only found empowerment through magic that inevitably failed them.

This brings up the question of whether it is possible for a woman with a backbone to come forward in the entertainment field without being a caricature of someone else’s outline of an archetype. It seems that rock music has offered an avenue of sorts that certain women have decided to travel down in an effort to at least shed a few of the aforementioned stereotypes, like Ann Wilson, Joan Jett, and others like them that I have mentioned in prior reviews, yet it so often seems that being “different” (or female) comes with a damaging price. Pat Benatar with her short, boyish hair (throwback to Hemingway) admitted that her lover was the “invincible winner” and Cindi Lauper, while “having fun,” did it in those weird boots and grandma dresses that inevitably made her so easy to laugh off and dismiss. And of course, there have been those countless others, bitching about their hearts aching or eclipsing or breaking in two, and while that is appealing in that we’ve blandly accepted it as a sort of common nostalgic emblem, more specifically, it is the nineteenth century all over again: Miss Poor-Poor-Pitiful-Me looking for her sugar daddy to take her away from all this.

Phoebe 3smMatt Allen, Silk Imagery

On the other hand, it seems that lately in terms of female fronted rock bands, there have been flashes and starts along the landscape, stutter-shocks of lightening illuminating a fresh canvas where emotional poetry and raw talent are allowed to dance with attitude and sexuality in a manner that not only pleases the observer, but fills him or her with a feeling of absolute joy.

To the point, one simply cannot watch a Heaven the Axe video without feeling a rush of elation. First off, the instrumentation is extraordinarily powerful in terms of presentation, dexterity, and stylistic diversity. Vocals aside for the moment, the various musicians provide their fans satisfying, innovative rhythm tracks and syncopated changes and progressions that would please those looking for a hard pop feel (Enemy), elements of legit in-your-face Industrial Metal (Good Things Come to Those Who Hate), and the type of addictive power-hook we grew up on with Motley Crue and Judas Priest, brilliantly redefined with what one might now call the “Heaven the Axe” commercial signature (Bogan Hunters Anthem).

In terms of being “tight” I would argue that the bass and percussion tracks in all three aforementioned compositions provide a backbone that is so powerful and intricate, it rings similar to that point in writing a novel where you hit the climax and every word, phrase, and sentence is on fire. Moreover, the guitar playing overall is stellar, complex, unabashed, and creative. And before I leave this particular thread behind, I do have to give a hats off and a nod to Heaven the Axe for offering the viewer the specific section in “Good Things Come to Those Who Hate” where the camera closes in on the fingers playing the lead guitar track. For years I have been frustrated when that particular spot in a song comes up and the producers opt for showing the drummer twirling his sticks, or fans screaming and weeping, or the other players wind-milling their arms at the same time. It’s called “lead” for a reason, and I must offer kudos to the band for getting it right.

But if we are going to discuss the concept of taking the proverbial lead, grabbing the spotlight, and mesmerizing the viewer and listener, one must recognize singer / front person Phoebe Pinnock, and here, I am making the argument that she should not just be considered a front runner in current pop culture, but an agent of historical change and more universal significance.

Plainly, once you see a Heaven the Axe video, you cannot get Phoebe Pinnock out of your head. I know I can’t. And I am not necessarily talking about beauty. (Yes, she’s beautiful). I am not specifically talking about sensuality either. (Yes, she’s sexy). Moreover, I am not altogether talking about vocal ability. (Yes, she’s extraordinarily talented). I am talking about presence and attitude. I am referring to the way she approaches the microphone with the confidence of a lioness and rips through a vocal in a way that reinvents the genre, changing the game, reanimating the way we look at aesthetics altogether starting with those old fucking fairy tales she makes us want to rip to shreds and throw into the bonfire.

Phoebe Pinnock is not just a “bad girl.”

She is a nuclear explosion.

And the thing that is so very striking about this performer is the idea that she embodies a sort of rebellion that is accompanied by a smile, sometimes warm, often crafty, always letting you feel somehow that you can be in on it with her, even when she is tearing down the very walls around you with a vocal tinged with that devastating, high register death growl. Concurrently, we must consider Pinnock’s musical diversity, in that she can also sing traditionally and with memorable heart rending potency, as evidenced in songs like “Enemy” and “Bogan Hunters Anthem.”

In specific reference to “Enemy,” there is an immediate connection with Phoebe Pinnock when the song kicks in after the brief courtroom (story) footage. In what seems to be a Heaven the Axe trademark of sorts, she fills the camera with a sudden and erotic burst of her vocal in close-up. The first note she holds is stunning, and while one could so easily get caught up in the striking visual component she offers, (the unbridled blonde hair and pouting lips, my GOODNESS), the most compelling aspect of the performance is in the subtle, yet rather sophisticated vocal line that explores range and harmony in a manner both surprising and pleasing, creating before our very ears the hooks we were always searching for, but were not quite articulate enough to realize (until Pinnock sang them for us, of course).

Phoebe 2smChucky’s Photography

Then we have (at least in my paradigm) the gargantuan centerpiece – “Good Things Come to Those Who Hate,” as wonderful a display of symbol and anger I can recall in a rock song. With the opening chords, we see inter-spliced mid shots of Pinnock with that hallmark look of mischief, yet she is wearing what appears to be some strange set of Catholic School garb, part black and embroidered with a conservative white collar. She has put that unruly blonde hair into pig-tails, but her bangs, coming down to the chin, act as a veil, only partially covering her disillusionment, that which has come of age, ready to burst into emotional flames. While there are certainly religious overtones to the piece emblematic of more spiritual and therefore global historical fallacy, the most striking part of the vocal emerges when she initiates a more personal “conversation” by claiming “I’ve drank the blood of my innocence,” followed later in the piece with, “In retrospect you never earned your stripes as friend.” In this, Pinnock shows us a terrific awakening which is only accomplished by devouring the prior naiveté of the self, and then recognizing one’s social network as nothing more than a web of apathetic pseudo-psychology. She has been betrayed transcendentally and interactively, societally and most privately, in the heart, the mind, and the marrow. No wonder she’s pissed, and it feels oh-so-good to join into it with her.

Speaking of which, there is no party I would rather attend than the outdoor bash going on in the “Bogan Hunters Anthem” video. In this, Pinnock still wears the girlish pigtails, but now has on military clothing, more poetic antithesis, as she delivers that wonderful, full throated vocal amidst what looks like some raucous and glorious carnival of drunken insanity. There is plenty of footage from what I would imagine is the Australian television show the song is used for (congrats on that!) including women flashing their breasts, men streaking, cars tearing smoking donuts onto the asphalt, and bikini-clad females mud wrestling. In a fashion one comes to expect from a sophisticated project like this, there is a huge change of rhythm in the song three quarters of the way through (going to halves when Pinnock cues us a few times with the warning, “They’re coming”) that which is refreshingly dramatic, and one simply cannot watch this video without wanting to get up and scream. And dance. And above all, celebrate.

phoebeAnthony Pinder

Phoebe Pinnock somehow gets in your blood, in your veins. Included in the body of this review is the picture I found of her on line in those pig-tails, grinning and giving the finger with her long bangs hanging in her face. I would argue that this image in itself is somehow definitive and iconic. I wish I could support this with better phraseology, but plainly, I have never felt so uplifted and ecstatic getting flipped off, and this is finally the point. Ms. Pinnock approaches her aesthetic from what seems an endless number of visual and auditory perspectives and trigger-points, and somehow works the game in a perfect sort of irony (the sharpest tool of the artist and critic). She is the bad girl who gets straight A’s in school, the one that gives you sass but lets you into her world, the one your mother hates and your crazy aunt adores, the one who is tough as nails yet offers you everything.

Phoebe Pinnock is not just shredding fairy tales.

She’s rewriting the story chapter and verse.

 

Michael Aronovitz is a published author of horror fiction: Seven Deadly Pleasures (collection) Hippocampus Press, 2009 Alice Walks (novel) Hard Cover – Centipede Press, 2013, Paperback / Dark Renaissance Press, 2014 The Voices in Our Heads (collection) Horrified Press, 2014 The Witch of the Wood (novel) Hippocampus Press, 2015

Aronovitz has always loved hard rock music, and fronted a heavy metal band that played Philadelphia and New Jersey clubs in the mid 80’s. Currently he is a Professor of English and lives in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania. His latest novel titled Phantom Effect has a release date of February 2nd, 2016 through Night Shade Books.

 

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Comments
  1. […] My novel in progress, Dead Red, will be done this spring. I am also currently writing rock reviews about horror and new bands that matter. The series is called Goblet of Shock, and I have included the link to my latest review on Melbourne Australia’s “Heaven the Axe.” […]

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