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

A Mirror’s View Through the Glass Eyes of Dolls

Shinobi Ninja

Review by Michael Aronovitz

 

There are elements of terror in everything artistically worthwhile, for this is the essence of dramatic tension. Comedy is based on darkness in order to inspire the most effective moments of irony, just as good romance is always laced with an underlying fear of judgment, failure, and rejection. Mystery is hinged on the trepidation of not knowing, and even the most banal of biographies that would dryly illustrate one’s goals and accomplishments is usually rooted in obstacle and circumstantial restrictions one must confront and finally overcome.

No conflict, no story. Period. We no more want to read that the day was like any other day than we wish to hear music that doesn’t raise in us some sort of reaction, and I would argue that even the most joyous musical celebrations only succeed because they can be compared to an opaque sort of coexisting undercurrent. I head-bang because I am constantly told to behave. I shout, because I am trained to listen. I sing, because my expression is most commonly rewarded when I robotically formulate five paragraph essays in school, and I dance because I am trained for most of my life to sit still.

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            The band Shinobi Ninja with their song “Bang Bang” instills in their viewer/listeners a desire to absolutely erupt: head bang, shout, sing, and dance, “HSSD” if you will, and the reaction does not come from the brief footage they inter-splice with the man-sized puppets fake-fighting almost in comic relief. I suppose we should start with this thread, since it initially seems so contradictory to the skillful musical performance footage and the intimate portraits we get of lead singer Baby G in front of a mirror studying the haunt of her own self-reflection in a dark and mysterious way that is almost Noir. Plainly, the man-sized puppets, including the “mascot-like” Cyclo Ninja, are not there to be considered literally. They are a springboard to a much more complicated statement, ironic because the music immediately detonates our need for HSSD, while simultaneously bringing us on a more cerebral journey into the splintered reflection we have of the self.

To be clear, puppets and dolls (though overtly playful) are automatic subconscious fear-triggers as was evidenced through our cinematic fascination with Karen Black and her Zuni doll in Trilogy of Terror (1975), the puppet-fiend in Magic (1978), the clown under the bed in Poltergeist (1982), and our favorite evil piece of factory-plastic, Chucky in Child’s Play (1988). Of course, this particular toy chest of horror is crammed to the gills, ritualistically brought down from the attic again and again to our sadistic and continual delight, featuring those like the various players in Puppet Master (1989), Demonic Toys (1992), and Blood Dolls (2005), not to mention boyfriend in the wheelchair in Saw (2004), and the latest appearance of Annabelle (2014).

Still, as I mentioned previously, the Cyclo Ninja and his egg-headed adversary in the “Bang-Bang” video are parodies, and while they come off a bit cartoonish if viewed in isolation, the broader context makes it clear that they are a far cry from slapstick. They are, in fact, the comic detonator for a musical explosion that leaves images in its wake of the dark, shattered psyche.

First and foremost, however, this song pops. It is exciting, with a hard edge and a dance vibe, all delivered through performance – shots of the players in action: Baby G on vocals, Alien Lex on bass, Terminator Dave on drums, DJ Axis Powers on turntables, Kid Shreddi aka Maniak Mike on guitar, and DA Doobie aka Duke Sims on vocals and guitar. The tune is a mega-hit from the very first chords, and watching the players execute this through to fruition is a pure pleasure. HSSD – automatic. Booya.

Still, through an intricate sort of underscoring process, there are the deeper and darker emblematic levels the band reaches when one considers the clips of Baby G sitting in front of a mirror, analyzing herself, and slowly painting her face into a disguise, using her mascara no less, the instrument that would normally “bring out her eyes,” those which in any other scenario would be mirrors to the soul.

At the 45 second mark in the video, we see Baby G approach the aforementioned make-up mirror and then we get her eye in close-up, a reflection of her inside it, brought sideways in a moment of personal disequilibrium. At the 102 second mark, we see she is in front of the same mirror, applying her mascara, but the result winds up being the beginnings of a mask, eyes overdone and curved up toward her temples like Cat-Woman, and the mouth drawn up at the sides, giving that odd effect like scary clown-makeup, revealing the smile that’s not a smile, making the kids at the carnival cry and the mothers nervously look into their rear views backing out of the mulch-covered parking lots. At the 243 second mark, near the video’s conclusion, Baby G looks at herself blandly, and the reflection staring back at her is one of a stranger, a stone-like replica of a woman’s face ritualistically covered in X’s and other strange markings reminiscent of the symbols hanging from trees in The Blair Witch Project.

Baby G has evolved. The question is…into whom…or what.

Let’s do the odd math. This character approaches a makeup mirror, about to play the role of a singer, yet she sees in the reflection – her own eye which refracts her image and pitches it sideways, meaning the internal “person” is not standing on solid ground in her own interpretation of self. She applies makeup that makes her performer’s face into a mask of its prior self, that which was an effigy formed by public and commercial demands. Finally, she makes a mask over the mask over the image reflected in the eye of a fractured self, that which looks like witch-insignia, or even more, like the broken pieces of a mirror realigned on the fragile personas reconstructed beneath in jagged tiers.

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The haunting key to this reflective spiral that seems to ping-pong back and forth between perception, self-reception and what really lies underneath it all, can be found in the lyrics.

First, there is a clear indicator that the ecstatic bounce and feel of the song itself, hitting on all cylinders of HSSD at its very core-best, is shadowed by a dark portrait of the psyche, taking form and foundational contour from the lexicon proposed by the inventor of American horror, Edgar Allan Poe. “Bang Bang” is an example of onomatopoeia, a literary device Poe made so popular that one can see his name in the spelling. The idea of “knocking on the door” which surfaces multiple times in the song, also harkens back to the more specific work of this iconic author, as his lead character, the old man, is confronted by a knocking door and the knocking under the floorboards in The Tell Tale Heart (1843). A knock upon the door is frightening in the right (or wrong) context, as we have gone back to that particular well many times, the most recent coming to mind being the actions of the masked predators in The Strangers (2008), but in Shinobi Ninja’s demonstration of the phenomenon, we are given these extra reflective (and deliciously) terrifying layers.

Critics call the technique Shinobi Ninja has executed here, “The Chinese Box Effect,” most notably evident in Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1603), when the Prince of Denmark watches his mother watch Ophelia watch her father watch Horatio watch his uncle watching a play. In the lyrics of “Bang Bang,” we reach the outskirts of this reflective funnel-shaped maze with what seems the intentional grammatical misuse of “they’ll” instead of “there’ll” in the repeated line: “Knocking on the door no more / Cuz you know they’ll be a cover up.” Note that Baby G is not referring to the intruders in the sense that there will be a cover up, but more that the intruders themselves are a cover up, embroiled in their manufactured reflection of self as deeply and with as much shattered complexity as their target, almost making it seem that this hall of mirrors has become an endless infinity of copy upon copy of copies until all that is left in the end is the blank, staring mask, empty for all but the insignias and societal brands that have long become antiquated and meaningless.

And the terror isn’t that someone’s knocking on the door. Look closely at the lyrics. It’s the fact that they are “knocking on the door no more,” in a clear suggestion that in today’s world, with all the noise on social media, we can’t even get negative attention that lasts long enough to stick. We are ignored, left to our masks and our endless cyclones of refraction, leaving the soul no more than a haunt of a distant replica.

All while we head bang. All while we shout, and we sing, and we dance.

Shinobi Ninja is a celebration of the spirit and the self, pure HSSD, and it feels oh-so-good to see Baby G getting ready for the fight with the opening chords, cocking her head one way, then the other. It is exhilarating when the verse kicks in, when the turntables scratch, and the drummer hits the cymbal so hard in slow motion it seems like he’s knocked the thing clear out of tension.

There are intricate levels here.

The song rocks. It coaxes you in with tasteful, meaty musical hooks, and visual stimulation coming from multiple angles. In the end, however, it is the offset that catches us. It is the way baby G leans forward and swings her hair in a 360 like a metal-head, then stares into the looking glass with her blank eyes and her war paint, it is the parody of the puppets juxtaposed against the complexity of our symbolic masks, the musical hooks and the lyrical depth put up against the eyes that are mirrors into no more than existential caverns leading to nothing but memories of once having memories.

This song is a hit and a poetic statement. It gets you from multiple perspectives of attack and makes you think. And scream. HSSD. I coined the term, because Shinobi Ninja defines it. And their song “Bang Bang” makes you get up and fucking DO it.

Watch Bang Bang by Shinobi Ninja

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 was just released February 2nd, 2016 through Night Shade Books.

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