Archive for the ‘Goblet of Shock’ Category

As Paradise Falls

A Call From the Abyss

By Michael Aronovitz

The song “Star Blind,” by Eclipse recording artists As Paradise Falls, is the potent and devastating first cut that appears on the forthcoming album Digital Ritual, worldwide release July 21, 2017. This is a song about death and denial, a terrifying binary that links a desolated finality with our lifelong attempt to dress up the journey leading to it with alternative facts, hip Instagram accounts, and a barrage of metaphorical selfies smiling back at us like circus creatures in an eerie ring of carnival mirrors. As Paradise Falls is Danny Kenneally on guitar, Shaun Coar on vocals, Jon Messer on bass, Jimmy Upson on guitar, Christian Rady on drums, and Glen Barrie on guitar. I mention Glen Barrie here, because they kept his guitar tracks on this album. I mention Glen Barrie here, because he died in 2015.

Not to become a character in my own review, that which would be seen as pretentious (and rightly so), I nevertheless feel it is important in this particular case to discuss my process. I had a choice. I could have talked about As Paradise Falls as if the current five members are the band, that the lifeblood of this project is pumping through a brand new heart in a brave new super-being about to be born. The “ultrasound” is the sneak-peak we get of “Star Blind,” and the glorious birth occurs on July 21, 2017, when Digital Ritual comes out and we get to perceive the band as brand new phenomenon, as if they belong to us, our precious find, something we helped discover from the point of inception.

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            On the other hand, I could have called this album what I might argue it is going to actually become: a memorial for a great one who has fallen, and the song “Star Blind,” among others, a testament to the importance of his life, not only to the other members of this powerful musical project, but to listeners fortunate enough to celebrate his legacy.

Of course, the video for “Star Blind” is grand, almost majestic in its aesthetic representation of stark hopelessness. Visually stunning, the performance footage takes place on a beach with empty desert sand under a bleak or dying sun. Many of vocalist Shaun Coar’s shots are presented in dark profile with the background of storm clouds bleeding the dusk, and in between the close ups of bands members, the more profound clips show the distance between players in what seems hundreds of yards on the crest of this wasteland.

Considering the complexity of the mixed meter verse riff, its heaviness, and absolute razor sharpness, the visuals of vast emptiness almost play the viewer like being beaten into a state of vertigo, especially at the moment the camera is brought straight up looking down as if from a crane five hundred feet high over drummer Christian Rady, showing just how isolated he is from his band mates.

The female model does a nice job in the story shots at the beginning of the video exemplifying the lyrics, those which directly address the latter side of this binary, indicating that we are living virtual lives and losing our sense of self and collective identity. She is looking at her tablet, unhappy with her social media, and then it is indicated that she is being perceived (possibly by herself) as this monster in a mask with goggles, similar to the killer in My Bloody Valentine, (1981). The lyrics back this up with the lines, “When was the last time you saw it for what it is (alternative facts), “We’re all dying from “exposure” yet we never see the sun (we are “exposed” to social media more than being exposed to life), and, “We got blind people screaming at deaf men” (all of us posting and hoping for the likes that our “friends” are only giving in return so we’ll reciprocate the gesture in some sick, incestuous circle).

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            All of this works. The message is clear, the music fits it, and the optics make it real. This song has a phenomenal beat, an outstanding vocal, and a buzz-saw riff that gets you right in the spine. If I wanted to go metaphorical, I could easily raise the point that the sand here seems oceanic, almost like a “sea of life,” and I don’t think there are too many that would disagree that As Paradise Falls could very well be illustrating the idea that when we are cast out into the cold water some of us have a sliver spoon. Others get thrown to the waves in a rusty dinghy, and to make matters worse, we brag that it’s really a clipper ship. In terms of this part of the paradigm, the band nails it. They have made a powerful statement audibly, visually, and emblematically on two levels. What more could one ask?

How about the primary part of the binary?

Fact is…they left some of Glen Barrie’s guitar tracks on the record posthumously. That makes this song more than a song. It makes it more than a hit too, though I will cheer for the band when it becomes one.

Glen Barrie’s guitar tracks are on the record.

Growing up, I was a rocker through and through, and I will admit to you, I never liked New Wave. Still, the band The Police came up with an album name I never forgot: Ghost in the Machine, probably alluding to Arthur Koestler’s novel, The Ghost in the Machine,” 1967. Here, in the case of As Paradise Falls, the concept takes on a whole new relevance. I might word it differently, as I do not consider Glen Barrie a “ghost,” as that has a schlocky, B-horror movie feel to it, and this band is anything but schlocky. I might call this “the spirit in the mechanism,” for Glen Barrie lives in this band, in their fingers and their fiber, and their music has an almost machine-like proficiency. If it stopped there, however, As Paradise Falls would be generic Industrial Metal with a heartache, and I believe it goes further than that.

Listen to the music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yi4zId0ae7w

There is a pristine, unbreakable loyalty embedded in this mechanism, and a glorious phantom working the pistons and the crank shafts in the shadows of the ones who will never forget him. This song is about desolation, but one walks away from it feeling enlightened on a number of complex levels. This is an amazing thing for one song to embody, but the stakes could not have been higher.

This was the one As Paradise Falls defined themselves by.

This one was for Glen.

Michael Aronovitz is a published horror author and a college professor of English. He has a story called “Breath” coming soon in the Hippocampus anthology – Nemesis, and another short story titled “The One Armed Brakeman” to appear in S.T. Joshi’s upcoming anthology Apostles of the Weird. Aronovitz is the author of the novels Alice Walks and Phantom Effect.

 

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

Twelve Noon

The Faces We See In Our Shattered Reflections
By Michael Aronovitz

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            I have constructed what is now an ongoing proposal that Eclipse Records is not just a “Deathcore” label, or even one that merely produces and distributes “New Metal.” That would be the definition of a conduit, and Eclipse is more like a canvas. Though I would admit that bands like Our Last Enemy, Saint Diablo, Cold Snap, A Breach of Silence, Despite, and Mindshift share the common signature of tight and razor sharp rhythm sections, it is clear that each project brings something new to the table, something altogether unique, and above all, multi-dimensional. Being that I was a professional metal club musician in the 80’s and currently teach English rhetoric at the college level, my standards for “multi-dimensional appeal” are not limited to tight rhythm sections, spectacular lead platform solos, and daring vocals, though I treasure the manner by which they are delivered by the extraordinary musicians currently recording under the Eclipse umbrella. I am additionally searching for metaphor, for dramatic precision, and a distinct literary thread that the given band would weave into the broadcloth of art and humanity, and Eclipse bands are consistent in their ability to live and breathe in both worlds, something I find magnificent.

To briefly digress, I see Our Last Enemy as interpreters of a modern day Renaissance similar to the way that Saint Diablo reinvents the lens of psycho-religiosity and spiritual awareness. Cold Snap cleverly articulates the paradox of media influence and conservative brutality, as much as A Breach of Silence offers a profound pathway to the human spirit, architected on the poetic level of a Whitman or Frost.

If you will allow a second digression, this brings me to the work of the greatest American author on record, the ground-breaking inventor of Modernism, Ernest Hemingway, and it is more than clear that Eclipse Records has made it a subtle yet powerful mission to provide us a number of bold innovators who would create aesthetic masterpieces reanimating and therefore redefining the influence of Hemingway’s dark, poetic vision. The band Despite explodes with the violence and glorified spectacle that Hemingway portrayed in his war scenes just as much as Mindshift illustrates a brilliant portrait reminiscent of Hemingway’s cold manifestations of boyhood dreams, biting realities, and harsh rites of passage. In terms of Ernest Hemingway’s fascination with the ebbs and flows of bodies of water, and more specifically the distorted reflections we might stare into during our given searches for identity, I have not seen a more striking modern example than the single, No Way Out, by one of Eclipse’s newest bands called Twelve Noon.

First off, these guys can play. Before getting into the literary comparisons, I come from a primary position of loving rock for the sake of rock, and while the press on this project says that they are “An American Alternative Metal Band” I want to make the broader statement here that regardless of “brand” or “label” or “genre,” this particular group is a rocker’s dream. If you grew up on The Who and graduated to Sound Garden (rest Chris Cornell’s soul), you’re going to love Michael Loew’s vocal. If you were raised listening to Aerosmith’s Joe Perry and found God in Van Halen, you’re going to dig Rob Heil’s guitar work. If you were one of the ones like me, who not only got off on Angus Young, but fucking LOVED his brother Malcolm’s chops, you’re going to want a tee shirt that says John Devlin on it, and if you could never get enough of Sabbath’s rhythm section, or Zeppelin’s or Purple’s for that matter, you are going to get hooked on watching Tim Clark work his bass in and out of Justin Runkel’s clever drum work all through the No Way Out video. Again and again and again.

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            I do not mean to infer that Twelve Noon is “throwback.” In fact, they are incredibly fresh, demonstrating the more current growl vocals and hummingbird sixteenth double bass drum licks all the modern deathcore and more commercial metal guys are throwing out there, almost like benchmarks, like a line in the sand, claiming, “Are you good enough to do these? Well, you’d fucking better be.”

            The difference is that Twelve Noon uses these standards and other “metal tropes” if you will, not for the purpose of checking off boxes or making grades. They use the various techniques where they are appropriate, where they come as surprises, always themed in a pattern that plays into the idea that it was constructed for the greater good of the song. Twelve Noon is a team. They come off as a band, not a bunch of free agents, and that is their primary appeal once you take in how damned good they are in their given roles.

The funny thing is that their image is a strange one, weird optics, and if one looks at them without hearing the music it might seem that they come from different parts of the world. Loew has perfect short hair and that perfect cowboy jaw, like a Hollywood star wearing sunglasses, while Clark and Runkel look like they work for Harley Davidson. Devlin could live next door to you, while Heil is your partner in fantasy football and the clean-up hitter on your softball team. But the real funny thing (funny-ironic) is that it is clear they were born to play together, and it doesn’t take a genius to see how well they mesh once the song starts. Moreover, the track is a hit, and you don’t have to have a bunch of tunes from Octane to compare it to. Sometimes you just know. Twelve Noon makes it easy.

It is clear the band musically follows the vision of guitar extraordinaire Rob Heil. I have watched the video eleven times today, and come away from each performance in its entirety with a feeling of absolute joy. I think it’s the idea that he has that rare ability not only to help engineer a smash single, but float in and out of it through a kaleidoscope of techniques that are as diverse from each other as they are holistically true to the general theme. There is a finger picking intro, tasteful as hell, gripping at your heartstrings the way old time songs bring you back to some specific moment in your past that you measured yourself by. Effortlessly, that becomes a riff, into a call-to-arms lead, into a quickie-run, into the hard picking that backs the verse, into the tapping in the themed bridge during the growl vocal, into the speed-metal riff, into the half-chord lead mixture supporting the catchy chorus. Then, just when you thought it couldn’t get any better after verse and chorus number two respectively, there is the power chord transition where Runkel does his entertaining cross-cymbal crashes, the slow down to the uplifting wake-me-up-with-the-sunrise strumming (two measures), then the pull-off lead, the melodic chunk-a-chunk, the acrobatic lead, and back to the chorus of the decade.

Hell. If I was a guitar instructor, this song would be my demonstration for the parents at the spring festival showing that I was worthy. Like everyone, I have seen and heard those song/videos where the guitar player is just showing off tricks (The Freebird Syndrome…even though I still love that song), and this is not one of those ego-filled demonstrations. It is one of the most beautifully textured and engineered backbones to a song that I have ever seen. And the Van Halen bird-chirp tapping (really introduced in 1932 on the ukulele by Roy Smeck) is delivered with such a specific Heil appeal, that we can do nothing but smile right along with him and give a nod to the allusion.

Musically, there are other areas in here that add to the “wow” factor of Twelve Noon. While Loew is the stud on vocals, managing a broad range of tapestries and personalities, Clark is exceptional in his doubling work, playing it rough or tonal depending on the echo that best flavors the phrase. And Runkel reminds me of a very, very tight evolution of Deep Purple’s Ian Paice, hard and everything metal, but smooth on the fills like fine silk.

On literary grounds, this band is all about growth and hard rites of passage, the theme of Hemingway’s debut, In Our Time. In his collection of short stories, we are given a variety of tales and scenarios of attempted bravery by those too young to address the given circumstances. It is no small coincidence that lyrics in No Way Out mirror these things, with exclamations such as, “Here’s my anthem from the time I was young,” and “A change inside me ignites,” moving to “Turn the tables on the things I have done.” All this reflects tests of youth and the following transition to adulthood, and Hemingway fans will literally sit back with a satisfied smile when they hear, “Fighting the bull now. And grab it by the horns,” as the central vignettes in the book In Our Time are all about bull fighters, and whether they face their deaths bravely.

Instead of grabbing them by the horns, however, Hemingway has his performers get it “through his sword hand” and “through the belly” (83), and after the trials and tribulations in the bull ring, metaphorical and literal, Hemingway has his non-bull-fighting lead character (Nick Adams) healing his own sorts of wounds at the Big Two-Hearted River, looking in the rushing water at his distorted reflection trying to figure out who he is and how he got there. The most striking part of this comparison between art forms and generations, however, remains both audible and visual, as Loew tries to “Re-enable what I have become,” only reversing it into the question, “Re-enable what have I become?” sharing the idea with Hemingway that we spend much of our time in a state of “static odyssey,” standing in place while we sort through our shattered self-images. Why else would Twelve Noon use the otherwise random effect of having the camera filming the band intermittently “shake” as if something was just dropped into river-water, creating this disturbed liquid mirror?

Twelve Noon is a worthwhile, legitimate, and talented rock band performing on a label with an established reputation for precision and excellence, statement and metaphor. No Way Out is a part of the canvas, an important thread in the broadcloth, a rich aesthetic, a guitar player’s golden template. But mostly, it works. Mostly, it moves us, and altogether, when everything is all said and done, it’s simply just one great fucking rock song.

Click here to see the official video for No Way Out.

This review is in anticipation of Twelve Noon’s album – Saints and Sinners, to be released in the Summer of 2017.

Michael Aronovitz is a college professor of English. He was a professional metal musician in the 1980’s and currently writes horror fiction. He has a story called “Breath” coming soon in a Hippocampus anthology titled Nemesis, and another short story titled “The One Armed Brakeman” to appear in S.T. Joshi’s upcoming anthology Apostles of the Weird. Aronovitz is the author of the novels Alice Walks and Phantom Effect.

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

Despite

Lifeblood to Wear and Labels to Trash

By Michael Aronovitz

It’s funny. I went on YouTube to watch a video and celebrate this new band signed by Eclipse Records. They call themselves “Despite,” and even the name brought interesting thoughts to mind. “Despite” is one of those multi-faceted terms that commands our attention more through it’s secondary usage, for the initial appearance in Merriam Webster’s Dictionary has it represented as a noun, and therefore, linked directly with words like “contempt” and “malice.” Still, we primarily use the term as a preposition, one of those key words in the middle of the sentence that makes us sit up straighter and take notice, because we are about to witness an action that was performed “in spite of.” This is more where I think this band marks its territory. “In spite of” suggests that there was a new idea just conceived that would oppose traditional and antiquated norms, conceived by those baptized by fire, and illustrated for us in vibrant explosions of color and contour straight in the face of blurred truth, fine print, and euphemism.

Plainly, the band Despite rocks the living shit out of you, and they do it in a way that is ultimately surprising and refreshingly unique. Their roster includes vocalist Peter Tuthill, bassist Anthony Cui, drummer Janne Jaloma, and three master axe grinders – Timmy Leng, Andre Gonzales, and Zoran Panovic – who play eight-string guitars and tune them a full step down in order to add a heaviness and bottom that will knock you bow-legged. There is much to say about their performance ability and musicianship, yet before giving close analysis to their newly released single “As You Bleed,” I thought it more than appropriate to dovetail back to the idea of “definitions” and the way this band shatters the concept.

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I looked up some of their videos “pre-Eclipse,” and in reading the comments below the “Show Me” prompt, I marveled at some of the “definitions” fans pinned to this wonderfully diverse project.

“Deathcore.”

“Melodic death.”

“smth like melodic djent.”

“Massively stupid w/all the genres and subgenres. Didn’t sound like djent in any remote way, clearly jazz influenced melo-black rapcore death.”

I sincerely hope the last one quoted is aware of his own use of irony, yet either way it brings a couple of interesting issues to the surface. First, in the metal game, fans are possessive, emphatic, and defensive about the trivia, almost like maniac-historians, drawing up flowcharts and marking specific historical shifts in the landscape determining the birth and strange, complicated journey heavy metal has taken since Black Sabbath shocked the world with their debut album in 1970. And if you happen to try and stick a Post-It note to the timeline yourself, well, you had better not get a fucking detail wrong. All too often, metal-heads are not patient tutors. Still, their allegiance to the art is unshakable. They might not always articulate things in crystal prose and poetic nuance, but they are certain as fuck when they know what they know and they are never even minutely unclear.

Then comes a band like Despite, and in this overarching, multi-faceted genre, where precision is celebrated as much as rebellion, where truth is exposed to be raw and untamed, where musicians would show us experimentation before formula…we have come to a strange juncture where it has become appropriate somehow to define, pigeonhole, and compartmentalize the new vision playing out before us, all according to “rules” seemingly carved into some sort of ancient, holy monolith and enforced by strict fans who police the territory like stone faced assassins.

But I thought metal was all about breaking rules, about questioning standards and using the guidelines mostly so you could draw outside of them. Look. Despite is a metal band. They are from Gothenburg Sweden, and they do in fact celebrate the guitar, the hard chunk, the current and fashionable metal-groove delay, and a buzzsaw vocal that will rip your spine apart. The percussion is complex yet driving, and the overall effect of the project is one that makes you a part of it immediately. OK. Standards are standards, and we can check off a few of the neat little boxes.

However, as one can see in the “As You Bleed” video, off the album Synergi, release date July 22nd, 2016, they do some things within the general framework of metal that are refreshingly unique, and this begins with the way they utilize their guitars and the instrumentation around them. The piece begins with a riff that is both funky and industrial, an addictive hook in itself, but for the purpose of texture and mood, there are velvety patterns developed on both sides (atop and below) if you will, featuring intricate, hummingbird double bass drum work like dark supple bottom feathers and then melodic, sustained lead as if ethereal wings above it all, heartbreaking in its subtle dissonance, layered in the second part of the phrase in harmony.

When Tuthill comes in with the first verse in growl, the harmony guitars drop out and join the background riff, but we are quick back to the theme of sustained notes, like keys backgrounding the hook where Tuthill has cleverly switched to a traditional vocal. Just when we are comfortable in a theme, however, it evolves, and the one line chorus ends with a break, a vocal roar, and a traditional melodic leads that erupts. That’s right. It explodes off the neck, and while melodic leads don’t normally do that we appreciate the contradiction, especially since it develops quickly into a strange, almost Mediterranean vibe that not only fits the dissonance, but compliments the background sustain still echoing in our memories.

The song is full of changes, in other words, that do not fit too many past patterns and standards, but make sense within themselves. This is new. This is art, and the portrait is startling and glorious.

Watch Despite – As You Bleed

After the first two verses, there is a break, a smart drum riff, and the lead guitar goes to an octave technique, an arresting transition that sends us off deep into a journey of the unexpected. The octaves continue, and the vocal joins the background guitars in the ongoing theme, brought to the forefront unexpectedly, and giving the song a medieval, choral feel. Talk about irony; presented to us is a mood and tapestry the opposite of what we would have expected, though the themes were already given to us in other contexts. Were this a film or a book, we would call it brilliant foreshadowing leading to an unexpected climax or plot-twist. And while Despite’s aforementioned fan might not even be aware of his own verbal irony, it is more than clear that the band drew this one up purposefully. To break trends. To blow us away.

The balance of “As You Bleed” returns to its original themes and hooks then, offering the riff and the chorus for reinforcement, and by the time the song is over, you know it like the back of your hand. You can hum it even, but don’t expect to sell the dissonance as if delivered on some heavenly feathered wing. That gift belongs to Despite, and lucky for us, they’re willing to share.

On thematic / visual grounds, the song “As You Bleed” features blood, lots of it, and if you look at Despite’s latest press releases, they claim that the song is a sort of an ode to the violence and glory of the UFC. Cool. I happen to watch the UFC exclusively, and truly believe it has made boxing obsolete, but the idea of the ring, the arena, and the octagon does not just address the literal boundary in professional fighting. The “crucible” is a metaphor for a physical or psychological trap that forces people to confront things they wouldn’t ordinarily choose to. In other words, for the sake of modesty, it seems Despite has offered us a particular and singular read of their song, when there are some universal emblems that would mark the periphery of their work with added depth and dimension.

From a novelistic standpoint, the crucible is a vital part of the lexicon that writers use for the sake of structure and heightened dramatic potency, in many ways as effective as an overt conflict or time limitation. These difficult traps are all around us, and when forced into one, we soon discover that it is a dramatic playing field defined by wins and losses. In a literal sense, this is our “octagon,” our football fields and basketball courts, but aside from sport, we can alter the lens slightly and consider other crucibles that dictate similar tensions, like the courtroom, the classroom, the bedroom, the home. Put two people in a situation through which they must interact unhappily, with borders, and you have just as much a form of dramatic imprisonment as a scene from the film Saw.

In the case of “As You Bleed,” I would argue that the blood (and the video is filthy with it) and their allusion to the UFC, both more represent the metaphorical human arena, where we are sometimes put up against a wall so to speak and we must act, come out of our comfort zones, lose our cool, sacrifice our aura of control. To make a point. To die on a hill if necessary. If you can’t quite picture this phenomenon, ask any parent that ever has to defend his or her child against stacked odds. Whether the adversary is a bully or a school administrator you do what you have to do. For your child. For the family. You might get “bloody” and it might not be pretty, but you enter the arena to win. Then you do it. We all have. It is how we are built and the way our personal narratives are constructed at their very core.

Despite has given us this distinctive video titled “As You Bleed,” and the blood-effect plays more about wearing your heart on your sleeve than victory on your chest. There is a heavenly overtone despite the heavy, riff-oriented structure, and a feeling of jubilation that builds inside the viewer as opposed to the dread such gore would normally initiate.

Despite.

The opposite of what we would expect, and in that spirit, maybe we should just pull out all the stops and categorize them as Deathcore Medieval-Ethereal Power Thrust Labarynthian Nuance Trance Metal, with an undercurrent of Black Meta Fusion Def and an overlay of Mock Corinthian Slaughter-Groove that would hint at Gregorian Maniacal Funk Thrash and Goth Steampunk Killer Muse.

Or maybe we should just say that Despite rocks, that they walk the walk, that they say it and play it, and maybe after all the labeling, they are just plainly and simply a great fucking band.

 

Michael Aronovitz fronted a heavy metal band that played Philadelphia and New Jersey clubs in the mid 80’s. He is a Professor of English and currently co-hosts a radio talk show linking horror and new metal called “The Wikked Goblet of Horror” with DJ WikkedLiss on her station WCR247 WikkedChikRadio.

Aronovitz’s latest novel titled Phantom Effect was just released February 2nd, 2016 through Night Shade Books. http://tinyurl.com/jcg59wo

Past Publications:

Seven Deadly Pleasures (collection), 2009

The Voices in Our Heads (collection), 2014

Alice Walks (novel), 2013

The Witch of the Wood (novel), 2014

Serious Commentary on bands that matter.

Bill Leverty

Music First

by Michael Aronovitz

(Dedication and thanks to Liss Casler for R & D)

When I watch Firehouse videos that would be considered vintage (and historic) representations of pop metal in its finest form, I always get a feeling of “team” more than “gleam” even though it was more than clear that C.J. Snare was absolutely stellar on vocals and Bill Leverty could “shred” with the best of them. Of course, they had the costumes, the big hair, some signature choreography, flash, pomp, and circumstance, but the most notable issue with this particular project was always the way they never upstaged each other, nor tried to.

This was quite odd actually, considering the fact that the power-trio with vocalist always seemed to invite a brand of glorious narcissism by design, as demonstrated to us over the years by The Who, Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, and scores of others giving us four diverse performances going off in different directions and making us choose favorites as if from a given gang of super heroes. In terms of the former list, I always gravitated toward Keith Moon, Robert Plant, and Eddie VH, just like I chose to focus on Freddy Mercury, Randy Rhodes, Tommy Lee, and Serj Tankian.

When I enjoy the old Firehouse videos, however, I do not see sales presentations advertising various super powers. I see perfection. I see subtle discipline, musical cohesion, and a clear vision that would celebrate the song before the performance, though the latter was, and still is, highly engaging. In terms of the band members and their management during the writing phase and the particular moments in the 90’s when these songs erupted as mega-hits, this took intelligence, maturity, patience, and possibly one of the greatest (and rare) talents in the human condition: true vision and leadership.

Considering the timeline, it is no secret that Firehouse was a bit of an anomaly, taking a pure glam pop metal feel into a period where the Grunge influence seemed to drift into everyone’s artistic process if even in the corner-shadows, and one must take a moment here to acknowledge Bill Leverty, guitarist and founder of Firehouse, for the architecture. He built an elegant fortress based on a selfless vision of the whole that stood the test of time and trend, yet instead of constructing its walls of mortar and stone, he made archways and open doors. For us. Forever.

Bill Leverty

Currently, Leverty is rocking with Firehouse on their 25th Anniversary Tour, but since 2004 he has been working a solo project that has become a significant part of the landscape that would define American music both historically and aesthetically. Most solo records, especially by guitar players, offer a distinct brand of instrumental wizardry that surfaces again and again within similar scaffolding, in the end leaving us with modified brushstrokes inside a repeating mosaic. Moreover, solo albums usually remain solo in terms of the math. One and done. Bill Leverty, however, has created a continuous and vibrant portrait of Americana (four albums and counting) that not only celebrates rock and the blues, but provides us a way to redefine our own personal journeys.

Each of Leverty’s solo records offers a diverse musical narrative, but more specifically, the albums simply feel different from one another. Wanderlust (2004) is an absolute must for rock connoisseurs: an uplifting collection of kick-ass tunes featuring Leverty’s extraordinary guitar work in a funk and blues framework thematically designed to celebrate the American tradition of the road and the traveler, while Southern Exposure (2007) is an instrumental record written and performed with the kind of down-home hard-edged licks, riffs, and runs that would please everyone from old school southern rock die-hards to modern metal enthusiasts. Deep South (2009) is a different sort of cover album, giving heart-felt, modern renditions of classic folk songs from our deepest roots and bringing us back to the railway, the meadow, the sunset, and porch with songs like “Boll Weevil” and “Nine Hundred Miles,” and Leverty’s tribute album Drive (2013) is simply spectacular. Listen to it, and tell me that you don’t get chills, for example, when this exceptional guitarist unleashes his lead between the first two verses of “Fortunate Son.”

Of late, Bill Leverty has been working on a new record, building it one piece at a time and releasing songs individually. Moreover, he is the guitarist in another project called Flood the Engine, featuring Keith Horne on bass, Andre La Belle on drums, and Jimmy Kunes on vocals. La Belle delivers in a big way on some of the new Leverty material, as one can see in the striking video “Ace Bandage,” and it becomes clear at this juncture that the breadth of Bill Leverty’s ever-growing portfolio is so expansive that furthering the overview might be an exercise in sweet futility.

In response to this, I would argue that maybe the best way to celebrate the work of Bill Leverty is to focus on one current release, and through close analysis we might possibly determine more specifically what makes this artist so crucial a thread in the broadcloth of American music, both technically and thematically.

Of the awesome songs Bill Leverty has been compiling for the new record, a favorite of mine is titled “Strong,” that which illustrates by example the three staples Leverty has put in place with his solo work that would initiate his unique and intricate paradigm for success. First, he plays with outstanding percussionists, in this particular case Michael Foster, who was with him from the very beginning in Charlotte, North Carolina, making the demos soon to become the Firehouse sensation that would take the world by storm for decades. Pop metal drummers are often under rated, but Foster is a true thumper, playing not only with taste but with feel, translating the peaks and valleys and bringing the listener onto the pathway with him in an intimate way that remains exciting, rich, and dramatic.

Watch Video – Bill Leverty – Strong

The next staple in the Leverty module echoes the first in a couple of significant ways that make for a natural segue. The solo project is stripped down, brought back to its roots, like Leverty and Foster first collaborating, but they have added prior-mentioned bassist Keith Horne, who wears his instrument up high for the purpose of precision and unveils clever, intricate runs that don’t just mirror Foster’s snare and bass drum work, but provide texture and depth. In other words, these two don’t out-play, out-shine, or upstage one another. They fortify the project from the baseboards to the rafters, somehow keeping it both “cool” and “popping” in a manner that is fresh and unassuming.

And last, there is the music. I do realize that in naming the “first two lynch-pins” and personifying them as the primary members of a power trio, one would expect Bill Leverty to be recognized as the third and most important cornerstone. But we don’t quite go that way, and this is Leverty’s magic. He was the lead guitar player in the most powerful and famous pop metal band of the 90’s and did it unselfishly, always contributing to the whole before the self while at the same time providing guitar work worthy of mention alongside the masters of modern metal, like Paul Gilbert, Zakk Wylde, and Slash. In any solo project, one would expect the “solo artist” to be the feature, but Bill Leverty isn’t about featuring solos and leaving them there on the platform alone like a mascot. That is not to say that the sections featuring Bill Leverty’s leads are not exceptional, but I believe we all can agree that this particular artist is more about the music, the overall song, and the idea that the one listening to the music is the star of his show.

We see this quite clearly in “Strong.” It is filmed in a small space walled-up with pallet racking, in a clear testament to roots, to beginnings, to the basements and garages where dreams are made. The camera plays it daringly close, and it isn’t too much of a stretch to grasp the idea that the band wants you right in there with them, down in the trenches where you can see everything in razor-sharp detail and feel the vibe straight through to your backbone.

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Foster begins the song with a fill that is all power and burst, and as previously mentioned, it feels as if you walked straight into a session, stepping right between the musicians and taking your place directly in front of Foster’s ride cymbal. The guitar sound is full, rich, and bluesy, and while you are standing there with the band, alongside the band, and in the band, you can’t help but start moving your hips. Horne plays it cool off to the left, accenting Foster and establishing the ornate, tasteful floorplan, while Leverty is revealed to us during this introductory phase in and out of visual focus. Ironically, the band is playing under the glare of bare lightbulbs, so the combination of the camera work and the lighting seem to indicate that this is Bill Leverty’s moment of unveiling if you will, approaching the microphone as the front man from the gauze and the blur, but doing it under bright lights that hide nothing, keeping it real.

And Leverty’s vocals are superb: accessible, smooth, and heartfelt. The song itself is one of triumph, celebrating strength as indicated in the title, but as always, Leverty doesn’t over cook the product. He is wearing sunglasses, but he is smiling. He interprets the lyrics with physicality, but never in a manner that seems melodramatic or overly choreographed. Music first, always, even in a project where the singer / lead guitar player must manage most of the stage-time visually, audibly, and conceptually.

Moreover, Leverty does not play this so “quiet and cool” that the presentation comes off low keyed or soft-sold. On the contrary, the song is upbeat and surprisingly fun, filled with interesting chord changes and a driving chorus that fill the viewer with joy. But that’s the point, isn’t it? By the second verse we are not only nodding our heads in rhythm and humming along. We are smiling. Like Bill. After all, he invited us into the box with the bare bulb lights, his garage, his playing space, his world, and he is a confident, gracious host. Music first. For us. Always.

Of course, we are not naïve. This is a lead guitar player from an historic project in the 90’s when lead guitar playing reached new levels of virtuosity and complexity, currently presenting for us a key song in his solo project that is named for him. There is going to be some axe grinding here. And subtle or not, Leverty owes it to himself and his fans to show something in the section of the song where we expect him to shred. Something potent and profound.

Leverty does not disappoint. He takes that maroon guitar with the lucky “13” on it, and makes it tell stories. And while many of these lead-spots in most songs feature either fast acrobatics or lots of bends for feel, Leverty offers a three-section composition that is ultimately compelling, first and foremost, in terms of the writing. Of course. This is Bill Leverty, and it is always architecture first…ornamental ironwork, decorative trim, and dazzling flashing to come later in a tasteful blitz.

For set-up, Leverty begins his lead section with syncopated half-chords, both relevant to the running musical theme and strategically placed on auditory grounds as a technical transition, a clever shoehorn if you will, so there isn’t such a stark difference between the full chords and bared notes to come.

Leverty moves smoothly then into a melodic, bluesy lead that closes the phrase with an absolutely blistering four-finger run up the middle of the fretboard. At this point in the solo one would expect the “norm:” a series of mirror-runs up the neck, right to the point where the frets are so close together the guitar pitches and squeals. But that wouldn’t fit this particular context, so in place of gymnastics for the sake of gymnastics he gives us a subtle and seamless lead-in to the song’s climactic moment. A hint. A tease, dotting the hammer-ons with his pick hand and holding the notes for feel.

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In the third section of his lead, Bill Leverty more than delivers. For another measure or two he gives us an anticipatory thrill by doubling the speed of the hammer-ons and then holding them out in the breeze if you will: “one-and-a-two-and-a-one-and-a-two,” and he next unleashes what I would call the climax of “Strong” in the form of his signature, insanely rapid and dexterous version of “Tapping,” introduced on ukulele in 1932 by Roy Smeck and popularized in modern rock by Eddie Van Halen in 1978 with “Eruption.” Leverty’s version, however, contains some fascinating and unique work with the pick-hand, utilizing the two middle fingers alternately as opposed to solely the middle or the index. And while we saw this particular move, or versions of it, in Firehouse, I do not think I have ever seen it pulled off this fast, in this particular manner, and with this level of precision. From any guitarist. In any genre or timeline.

In closing, I feel it is necessary to mention that this review series titled “Goblet of Shock” usually highlights the link between metal and horror fiction, yet when I review a project with no overt or emblematic ties to terror, I expand the thematic definition of my column by putting the given players in more comprehensive literary and historical perspective. Clearly, Bill Leverty does not translate to the horrific, yet I might suggest here that in reference to his work I see a connection with modernist Ernest Hemingway, and most notably, his last published piece before his death in 1961, titled The Old Man and the Sea.

In brief summary, the above-mentioned classic shows us an old man who catches a huge marlin that drags the tiny rowboat out to sea for three days and three nights, and while the fisherman is successful in harpooning his catch and roping it to the gunwale, by the time he reaches shore his prize has been eaten by sharks. The irony is that no one on land besides a couple of other fisherman understand that the bones belonged to the biggest fish any of them would ever see. The question is whether we need the confirmation of others to validate success, and the theme is that tragically, we reach levels of expertise in our professional lives that few can relate to on a deep level, leaving us unable to communicate our triumphs and left to a position of isolation.

I see a lot of metal guitar players trying to communicate their expertise note for note, ripping ultra-long solos and multiple arpeggios and tricky pentatonic scales so fast, so hard, and so long it would all make our heads spin. Bill Leverty never needed this kind of affirmation. To him, it was always about the journey, about the sun coming out from behind the clouds, the gentle sound of an oar sliding through the surf, and the sun making shimmers and sparkles on the waves. It was never about the marlin, though Leverty never came home empty handed. It was never about the glory and the recognition, though Leverty has certainly earned both. It was always about the music, and the way this brilliant musician could take you on a journey, not as a passenger, but right up next to him, there at the wheel.

 

Michael 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. He is a Professor of English and currently co-hosts a radio talk show linking horror and new metal called “The Wikked Goblet of Horror” with DJ WikkedLiss on her station WCR247 WikkedChikRadio.

Aronovitz’s latest novel titled Phantom Effect was just released February 2nd, 2016 through Night Shade Books.http://tinyurl.com/jcg59wo

Past Publications:

Seven Deadly Pleasures (collection), 2009

The Voices in Our Heads (collection), 2014

Alice Walks (novel), 2013

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

Mindshift

Horizons and Dreams Versus Merchants of Fallacy

Heavy Metal music is rebellious, highly technical, and gratuitously loud. It has survived all the pop-genres otherwise altering the mainstream through the years, almost like a steady electrical current on a different wavelength. Still, it remains the foundational element that provides definition and proportion to those shifting and fleeting trends that would light up the sky for a hot minute, then blow off like tumbleweeds, weightless, skeletal, and forgettable.

Undoubtedly, metal has always been there for the long haul, in the concrete, the substrate, the floorboards, and the I-Beams. It might not make many appearances on the Billboard Top 100, and it could very well be treated as a cheap ghost at the Grammys until the end of time, but one thing is for sure…you can’t stop it, you can’t kill it, and fans will keep coming to those outdoor festivals, all mud and combat boots, hippies and Harley’s, that shit is supposed to happen, just ask WikkedLiss of WikkedChikRadio247, spinning new and classic metal all day and all night like that die hard townie who refuses to let the bandstand in the park deteriorate or the dancehall in the town square get torn down for condos.

Mindshift 1600x800Metal is our constant, our rock (pardon the pun) and common denominator, but this in no way means that it has been stagnant or predictable since Black Sabbath came out with their debut album in 1970 and shocked the world. In fact, anyone who believes “all metal looks and sounds the same” just ain’t looking or listening very hard, and for the sake of brevity I won’t commit here to a comprehensive description or detailed history of the evolution of metal in all its genres, sub-genres, and off-shoots, even though I have my many personal favorites in each and every one of them. More generally, however, it is rather enjoyable to consider the face paint, leather, studs, pyro-technics, quadruple humbuckers, Marshall stacks, masks, chains, tattoos, power chords, long hair, mo-hawked hair, no hair, spandex jump suits, pouty poses, sweet vocals, hard-ass vocals, double drums, multiple toms, boots, belts, skulls, medieval candles, shining Flying V’s, mic stands with silk rags, mic stands with spikes, mosh pits, motorcycles, makeup, and madness.

It’s a show, a celebration that reminds us of the very best of times, when we were young and headstrong and reckless and wired. That being said, there is an awesome and paradoxical dichotomy that often exists within the construct of Metal, in that it draws a certain potency from the reserves of our formative years (whether we are currently experiencing them or looking back), while simultaneously addressing complex world issues we face as adults. On scholarly grounds then, metal lives in strange contradiction and could be therefore seen as enigmatic or even nonsensical. Poetically however, it dares to dance hard and heavy with the thickest of darkness, and this is as universal, ageless, and relevant as you can get. If there is something youthful, impractical, and wild about that, so be it. If you’d rather use music as background to relax to, or space to, or paint lovely background mosaics so things look quaint and posh and pretty and tamed, go right on ahead. The Metal-Heads surely won’t mind. They are too busy feeling the vibe in the concrete, the substrate, the floorboards, and the I-Beams, dancing, shouting, head-banging, and living large, raw, and hard.

Like we all used to do.

These issues considered, the melodic deathcore metal band Mindshift has tapped into youth, naiveté, and a daring world-view with their album “Horizon,” that which brings us to a place of literal and emblematic introspection both beautiful and frightening. Mindshift, one of the newer bands on the Eclipse record label, is made up of Johan Lund on guitars, Marcus “Mao” Uggla on vocals, and Fabien “Fabz” Perreau on drums, and before entertaining more cerebral commentary, it should be said up front that this project is musically outstanding right down where it counts in the trenches, featuring a rhythm section (as is an Eclipse trademark) of guitar, bass, and drums that is air-tight and ultimately satisfying. And the old school metal fans will especially enjoy this particular project’s seeming preference not only for those wicked hummingbird 16ths on the double bass drums, but a thick dose of back beat grooves cut to halves, loaded with “wow,” and bolstered by massive power-chords and power-notes heavy with balls and bottom.

Instrumentally, Mindshift also explores terrain of surprise and variety, inserting clever dramatic pauses (as evident in My Revenge), glorious and complicated fills and breaks (Absolution), and a taste of absolute metal-funk (A Thousand Scars), making listeners feel it “in the heart and the hips,” as label-mate Tito Quinones of Saint Diablo would say. Vocally, there are often background harmonies so ethereal one would swear the audible tapestry reaches a level of spirituality, and Marcus “Mao” Uggla does a phenomenal job meeting what seems the current standard for vocalists in new hard music, executing an enormous, throaty death growl in the verses (mostly) and a heart-felt, traditional vocal in the chorus. It is Mao’s visual presence, auditory stylistics, and lyrics however, that not only set this band apart from other metal projects, but add fresh colors and banners to one of the tragic themes introduced to us by Ernest Hemingway back in the early part of the twentieth century.

To be blunt, Mao looks young and startlingly innocent despite the rough and tumble wife-beater he wears in the “Horizon” official music video and the multiple tattoos he’s pattered his arms with. He is by all means “for real,” but he has a baby-face, complimented by a traditional vocal so pure and adolescent, we might expect at first that we would more commonly hear it fronting projects like The Jonas Brothers or One Direction.

All part of the plan.

To think Mao, the band, and the label unaware of this would be naïve on our parts indeed. Not only have they all created a brand most original and rather unprecedented, but those involved with this bold project are clearly all in, musically, visually, and thematically. The album, as said, is called “Horizon,” used as a signpost for youth and the power and heartbreak of developing world vision, as Mao asks himself in the title track, “What will it take for this horizon to stay?”

Clearly, this is the idealistic voice of the child, not realizing the fluidity (and transience) of this kind of beauty, thinking it dependable and stationary, like an old portrait or favored plaything always returned to one specific place. He will soon realize that the horizon is a mirage, changing with time itself and additionally spawning multitudes of interpretations, literally as the observer himself grows taller, and metaphorically as he gains psychological and societal perspective.

There is also the idea that chasing a horizon is no more than a doomed venture, since every step initiates a new horizon equally distant and unique. And if Mao merely sang about the idea that chasing dreams is a fool’s game, we could certainly appreciate the surface representation. Dreams are wonderful ideas, even essential at times, but one of life’s hardest and most necessary lessons might very well be that one has to tailor aspirations at some point to those that are actually attainable. Again, this rather primary issue in the model Mindshift proposes does indeed make a good deal of sense, causing us to question the real-life possibilities of dreams, and the fact that the way they are promoted often instigates damaging fallacies.

Personally, I have never been a fan of the misleading adage, “You can do anything if you try hard enough,” even though I would instinctively celebrate the idea for its spirit of intent as a sort of general motivation. Still, it is the mathematical absolute presented here and the impossibility of its translating to any sort of logical or consistent fruition that bothers me, especially the way parents and educators seem to use these hyperbolic and unrealistic maxims more to keep kids focused, quiet, and sitting still than projecting the real potential of their actual abilities. Harmless hyperbole? Maybe. But kids take things at first glance and face value, don’t they?

Ok, fine. We all basically knew this anyway, deep down at least, admittedly adding under our breath with every exaggerated encouragement that the NBA might not be a realistic ambition, stardom is not a practical idea, and you might as well stop thinking about Harvard, at least with those SAT scores. We’re not stupid. We provide a blend of advice, some of it story-book fluff and at times nothing other than the hard bottom line, and if Mindshift wanted us to stop feeding kids false motivation altogether, it would be rather easy to shrug our shoulders, say, Yeah, what the fuck,” and toss out the old sayings, start telling the truth about Santa, and break the habit of succumbing to the trendy social pressure that we give out participation trophies and tell kids they are talented when all they really have is a bit of flamboyance.

But that’s not all Mindshift illustrates here.

Lyrics in the title track also claim the representative child here is “Being tied to one special thing like ropes around [his] life.” This is not speaking to caregivers tossing around false encouragement and random compliments. This is a finger in the face. This is about tyrannical parents imposing difficult ideals and their own broken dreams on impressionable offspring, usually in the form of one of those improbable castles in the air reflecting spotlights and stardust: the mother who forces her daughter to take ballet classes even though they make her back ache and her feet hurt, or the father who gets his ten year old batting lessons based on micro-mechanics, then films him hitting three hundred balls off the tee each night in the basement and lectures him for having an elbow a quarter-inch off or letting his shoulder fly open, then signing him up for little league, tournament travel, and two AAU teams that play year round, watching each of the kid’s at-bats with wide eyes and fingers curled tight in the fencing, ready to give it to him hard in the car on the way home and punish him if he strikes out on the same pitch twice or rolls one over to the shortstop because he transferred his weight and committed too soon.

“On these broken legs I stand fighting,” Mao says.

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If we take this to the extreme, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to connect the idea with the horror movie Misery (1990), where we have the mad (and mothering) ex-nurse literally break her prisoner’s feet with a sledge hammer because he alters the “horizon” she envisions for him (she discovers he had killed off a character in a romance series he was writing, because he felt his heroine had gone stale. It is the nurse’s favorite protagonist, and she forces him to rewrite it).  Of course, on a rather crude and rudimentary level, this works as a figurative parallel. The parent forces the child to stay focused on one horizon, stunting his or her growth and mobility, and therefore erasing variety and choice in terms of hobbies and extra-curricular activities. I would argue however, that there is another aspect to this, a haunting one.

In this module, the idea of breaking the legs and roping one in place links effortlessly with being made to stare straight into the blaze of a horizon (or adulthood) that parents would force their children to embrace before their time, and I am not just referring to ballet, baseball, and romances with or without fairytale endings. I am talking about rites of passage that surpass games and safe works of fiction. Not to pun or play this as coy, I would argue here that Ernest Hemingway’s revolutionary debut work In Our Time (1925) speaks directly to this idea, in that children are not “little adults,” but impressionable beings crying out to their demanding parents that they will only be ready for adult horizons in their own time.

To be textually specific about this collection of short stories and the way it ties in with Mindshift’s paradigm, I would present to you the idea that Hemingway’s lead character Nick Adams struggles to manage his youth while constantly being thrust into adult situations he isn’t quite ready for. As a young boy, he is forced to watch his father perform a C-Section on a Native American woman, and then witness her husband’s suicide (Indian Camp). He is given access to liquor and guns when he is too immature to even look in a mirror and understand the image looking back at him (The Three Day Blow), he is thrown off a train and threatened at knifepoint in the woods when he is too green to be out wandering the countryside on his own in the first place (The Battler), and he is made to go to war when barely out of his teens (Italicized Pre-Chapter 6). The result, which directly connects to Mindshift’s lyrics, is that his legs are made useless, “Nick sat against the wall of the church where they had dragged him to be clear of machine-gun fire in the street. Both legs stuck out awkwardly. He had been hit in the spine” (Hemingway 63).

Of course, a sniper could have gotten him, but the more likely scenario would be that Nick was too inexperienced to be there in the first place, and he was running away, forced into cowardice. The “parent” in this scenario is his country, and while Nick has reached the horizon in that “The sun shone on his face” (63), he was been tragically discarded by this uncaring national patriarch, only to be acknowledged for his efforts by another disillusioned (and wounded) metaphorical child, “Rinaldi was a disappointing audience” (63).

The horizon Mindshift sings about is not uni-dimensional. It is all around us in a terrifying 360, just as the video has the band performing within a ring of ever-changing neon lines, like futuristic prison bars, flickering on and off. We are forced into these arenas of harsh masculinity and overly experienced femininity long before we are seasoned to the task, and we are held to impossible standards by those who have long lost the ability to see the beauty and wonder of youth. And when we finally realize that the horizon is no more than a mirage and a lie we get Mao’s pain and anger, his massive death growl, and like the heartbreaking character of Nick Adams, the boyish voice struggling to be heard in a landscape already luring him into the blur, the status-quo, and the death of idealism.  

Michael 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. He is a Professor of English and currently co-hosts a radio talk show linking horror and new metal called “The Wikked Goblet of Horror” with DJ WikkedLiss on her station WCR247 WikkedChikRadio.

Aronovitz’s latest novel titled Phantom Effect was just released February 2nd, 2016 through Night Shade Books. http://tinyurl.com/jcg59wo

Past Publications:

Seven Deadly Pleasures (collection), 2009

The Voices in Our Heads (collection), 2014

Alice Walks (novel), 2013

The Witch of the Wood (novel), 2014

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

Cold Snap

The Seductive Call of the Vampire

 

Murder. Burglary. Extortion. Corruption. Misogyny. Rape. Is this our world?

Some would have us think so. We are then forced to ask how we might gain the courage to get up and go to work every morning, and unfortunately we have gained personal assurance through desensitization, slowly buying in over the years, ingesting snake oil and false sacraments without even bothering anymore to crane back our heads for a view of the shifty covered wagon or the false foundation of the soothsayer’s pulpit. We have been so bombarded, overwhelmed, and saturated with terror-snippets that we have surrendered to a numb sort of acceptance, letting it all wash over us to the point that we have adopted compartmentalization and regression as if standard procedure. And the grifter, no the pusher here is a blood-sucking vampire, smiling brilliantly, looking dashing and lovely, feeding us horror in digestible portions and inflicting this disease soft-sold as vaccine.

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You know the drill. This evil vampire (sounds just like “Evil Empire, no?) has been operating thus for decades and decades, drawing us in with their loyal thugs, male or female and often prior models, who would bank on our affinity for physical beauty and the mistaken idea that this element directly relates to truth or intelligence. The fashionista then stands in front of a dark tenement and tells us “A neighborhood is in shock” because of a recent murder when the neighbors were never actually interviewed, and that “The public perception is…” when no one being referred to was ever polled, I know…small white lies, even maybe just a tiny dose of “harmless” hyperbole, but they set the stage for more damaging deceit. We are inundated with news story after news story detailing various flavors of violence, ninety eight percent of them in urban areas populated by minorities. This accomplishes two things. It lets those of us not living in the ghetto thank goodness that it always happens “over there,” and it initiates within the inner city community a mentality that crime is a way to get your fifteen minutes.

It also breeds racism, and while one could stanchly argue that the news is “reflecting the truth” since many urban areas that are populated by a high percentage of minorities have the grossest levels of poverty and reactive crime, I would humbly suggest that The Vampire, sorry…the “news,” is purposefully not showing the inner-city single mother of four working three jobs to put food on the table, the 140,000 urban high school students who in any given week decided not to fight, to do their homework, to learn something new, to help a friend, to accomplish a goal, or to master a skill. It is not showing enough marching bands and school choirs and small successful businesses and those feeding the homeless and others chipping in to grow neighborhood gardens. Instead it glorifies the ignorant actions of the few, absolutely inundating us with road rage, bar fights, gang violence, teen violence, domestic violence, and mob violence.

The scary thing is that The Vampire here isn’t just sitting back gaining ratings, using the old newspaper maxim, “If it bleeds, it reads.” This is not some passive, philosophical, or cerebral atrocity. News that glorifies bloodshed and sections off terror invents teeming pockets, mini-volcanoes, and time bombs. The poison incubates, waiting for an outlet. And all the while The Vampire gets stronger, richer, more daring and arrogant.

In an attempt to bolster viewership, one of the three major news stations operating in my local area recently resorted to the oldest scam in the book of political dirty tricks, by launching an ad campaign about the show that is an out and out lie. A few weeks ago they billed themselves as “Optimistic News” in a twenty second (or so) spot featuring the various anchors smiling in still shots. Since then, they have been running similar ads with quick clips of some of their more goofy feature segments that only air sporadically or late at night, tagging the Good Question segment, “Original Reporting, ”where the anchor, a past beauty pageant winner, holds up a sandwich and asks “Why do they call this a hoagie?” Next, under the heading of Meaningful Stories, they show the recent clip of a guy turning in to police 15,000 dollars he found in the street, and the ad’s finale claims the station makes us “Feel great about living here,” followed by the station’s ex-NFL cheerleader who does the silly human interest spots occasionally, in this case, up in the cab of a crane tower acting girlishly frightened, silly, and “cute.”

But if the station is offering “optimistic news,” that is “original,” “meaningful,” and “makes us feel great about living here,” why did the 5 PM broadcast just this past Monday, March 28th contain a segment on the Washington shooter, someone else who tried to break into the white house, Terror in Brussels showing relatives of victims going to church to weep, the continuing search for the terrorist in a hat, the police carrying out further raids, a warning for dog owners on the main line to look out for a torturing dog-napper, a hazing scandal at a local high school through which a football player was violated with a broomstick, a city hall meeting talking about gun violence in the city – specifying minorities in low income communities no less, the Cubs/Mariner Spring Training game interrupted by swarms of bees, a Georgia governor who will veto a bill that would allow shop owners to discriminate against gays, then the violent protests and backlash, and finally a “Health Watch” segment claiming cancer patients live longer at home with a series of clips showing the most decrepit, sick, and elderly they could find. The only “news” that was not absolutely horrifying came in the form of the “filler weather” where we were told in a thousand different ways it was windy, the mayor visiting a learning center to help with universal preparation of reading for children, and two spots detailing the “Final 4” in March Madness.

Nine segments of terror. Then basically weather and sports. All while they smile and claim “optimism” with their Hollywood grins. This is not just location or situation-specific however, and here it would be prudent here to go national and pinpoint The Today Show as the most self-indulgent, condescending, and brazen of the elitist, mind-numbing collections of shysters, force-feeding us bad comedy and a simultaneous illusion of serious news with an undercurrent inferring they have the bottom line on the pulse of cultural tendency.

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On February 14th, 2014 at the Olympics in Sochi, Matt Lauer and meteorologist Al Roker did a bit where they were going to “try out the luge,” and within the first minute we were bombarded with a litany of poorly masked gay jokes: “Whoo…that’s not the handle…Passion lives here…I would be riding on top…How many curves do you want to hit…I was on top.” And I was not only offended because of the cheap pot-shots at homosexuality. I was infuriated because I was subjected to these as if it was even the slightest bit appropriate coming from “journalists” who call themselves “serious” the moment they come off the sled.

And the “serious interviews” are often disgraceful. After force-feeding us these slapstick routines, the anchors try to sell the idea in their very next breaths that “responsible reporting” involves one on one with Ray Rice (December 2, 2104), and Joyce Mitchell (September 11, 2015). The same physical space, filming style, and format is also used for interviews with doctors, scholars, and politicians, and while it should be clear that this blasphemous merging of clientele not only dummies down America, but subtly advances The Today Show’s campaign of selling more through the thrift of one conduit, they continue this disreputable sort of programming by manipulating our sense of what is important. For clearly, wife-beaters and criminal seamstresses who plan to kill their husbands after aiding in prison breaks do not deserve the air time. And worse, neither of these embarrassing interviews were even advertised as being factual. They were “sold” as “emotional” and “intimate,” offering the very worst in sensationalist gossip under the transparent disguise of journalistic empathy.

I think the one that got me the most however, was the New Year’s Eve coverage, 2015, when they featured Meghan Trainor’s hit, It’s All About the Bass, along with “serious commentary” about the way society has lately gained a new appreciation for “booty.” I want to personally thank The Today Show for finally giving me permission to like ass. The reason that this is not a joke, and in fact quite dangerous, is that many of the cast of The Today Show have infiltrated serious national news at 6:30, and deductive reasoning would indicate that if they are “selling” instead of “telling” with a dig in the ribs to each other and a laugh up their sleeves at the viewer, they are not in the business of exposing truth.

They are committed to making monsters, because it guarantees viewership.      

Volcanoes.

Dynamite ready to explode.

Plainly, the media created the chaotic and ludicrous political climate for the upcoming presidential election, and Megyn Kelly is as much to blame as the one she accused of calling women “fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals,” because by asking that question (which no doubt needed to be asked, no one would deny this) she quite conveniently put herself in the limelight of her own asinine media hype, similar to her compatriot Chris Wallace, who in a later debate seemingly screwed the same candidate to the wall with graphics proving his economic platforms were flawed. Wallace here, quite shamefully, attempted to make Fox News seem “credible,” like they have always been our “watchdog” exposing the truth, while he and his team and all the other “news” agencies across the country invented this particular candidate to begin with. So why would Wallace mess with his precious creation? Ratings. And to his fiendish delight, the normal rules don’t apply. The Vampire can draw blood from both sides, always winning, never questioned, like that “friend” who gets two other friends fighting, laughing all the way home where he puts the scuffles on You Tube, suddenly becoming a “player,” soon invited to swagger on up to the popular table in the school lunch room.

On CBS Sunday Morning, 4/3/2016, Megyn Kelly (to her obvious delight) was questioned about her recent starring role in making the news become news. Of course, she was first asked what she thought about this idea, and she oh-so-amicably “yuck-yucked” it off, making it seem like it wasn’t her bold intention to raise her visibility to begin with. It’s a shifty child’s trick: willingly confront the violation up front (she may as well have brought it up herself) to be automatically excused through what appears to be transparent and trustworthy self-analysis. Still, there is no honesty here. Again, it is the news setting all the rules, play-acting impartiality, yet imposing ownership of all the boundaries. The bully’s blood brother cannot be the mediator in a dispute with a victim, yet we keep allowing the liars and instigators to define fair and foul, mark off the playing field, and referee the event featuring their own star players. In the case of this CBS weekend news program and Megyn Kelly there were two winners: the CBS news and Megyn Kelly. Then they would inadvertently ask us to thank them for letting us in on the process.

The crucial thing The Vampire seems to forget about is that the monster doesn’t just fade out with the show’s closing credits. For this beast is addicted to the compartments too, the pockets, volcanoes, and time bombs, all ready to explode unless we continue to question these things and support art forms that come from a place of aesthetic truth rather than hype.

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The metal band from Croatia “Cold Snap” illustrates the idea that we must be aware of fiends who rise to power through media terror, first banking on prejudices and fear, next ruling with an iron fist that would crush more than spirits. Cold Snap is Jan Kerekes on vocals, Leo Friscic on guitar, Zoran Ernoic on bass, and Dennis Roskaric on drums, and continuing the theme that I have observed of other bands under the Eclipse label, the rhythm section here is outstanding. Both songs off their album World War III titled “Silent Killer” and “Rise Again” contain superior riff and break-based instrumentation that remains an absolute joy to observe, be it exemplified by the pattern built off of the bass introduction played with a severed hand in “Silent Killers” or the glorious atonal lead atop the razor-sharp syncopation bending meter this way and that in “Rise Again.” Clearly, any potential fan giving this project a test drive will note that in terms of their compulsories, these guys have aced them, meeting and surpassing standards in the industry for modern hard music in the sense that Roskaric is an absolute beast, and Ernoic is just as innovative and technically proficient as is Friscic.

And the music rocks.

Every song on the World War III album stands on its own for its own reasons, but for the purposes of this particular argument, I want to employ a model of cause and effect in specific relation to the thematic thread initiated by “Silent Killers” and realized in “Rise Again.” The former seems to play heavily on an allusion to films that would highlight the “mad scientist” motif, like Frankenstein (1931), Re-Animator, (1985), and a slew of others, but the point here is not gore, props, and splatter (though the video is riddled with horrific images of blood, bugs, potions, beakers, hairy waste being pulled from the throat, gas masks, needles with green fluid, bloody pulp, bloody throats, bloody mouths, and bloody instruments). The issue Cold Snap is bringing to light in a theater of wonderful melodramatic exaggeration, is that there are those who would try to control us, now our superiors, once our brethren, no more clearly indicated than at the 1:22 mark in the performance when the “Mad Professor” character draws up his hands with the rest of the band and brings them down in rhythm.

Orwell taught us this lesson in Animal Farm (1945), when the downtrodden livestock rebelled and soon discovered they had become enslaved again by those who they had called their own. In “Silent Killers,” the band plays those manipulated by a false associate, one who has come from their ranks to control them on a private and rudimentary level. At the end of the video the band members finally revolt, committing “murder,” using the violence inflicted upon them to destroy their oppressor. In a sense (and isolated within itself) this is a stick-figure metaphor, the grotesque and gratuitous presentation leading us to treat it almost as we do fairy tales, chuckling at the seemingly simplistic overplay and deferring straight to the rather familiar thematic design of remaining aware of those in our personal lives who would manipulate us.

The real terror is when we connect this video to the live performance unleashed in “Rise Again,” same band members, but no longer locked in the basement. They have a bit of power now, spotlights, a stage, and a pulpit. The fiend they warn against here once again came from their ranks, as made clear by the lyrics, “What did you expect? From me – your closest friend, at the same time your enemy.” Of course, the one they “rise against” in this video cannot be the cartoonish mad scientist. They killed him. In effect, the guy in the lab coat was the slum lord and they were the poor. Now they are the middle class, and though their graphic of animated red lines marching across Europe actually represents places they have played on tour, the effect also comes off like “war-mapping,” possibly a mockery of the hostile take-overs so often executed by rich politicians who have masqueraded as one of their own, then using the media, propaganda, and fear to influence others to draw in behind.

In this clever paradigm, Cold Snap plays a “rock band” playing a show, and it is no coincidence that there is something hauntingly “military” about their presentation, all of them wearing shirts with a common chest-insignia, some of the jerseys sleeveless, giving the visual impression that they could just as easily be leaders of a rebel army at a political rally as they are musicians in a concert arena. The architects of this Cold Snap video even address the idea that the representative “Cold Snap” realizes that they can create their own version of grass-roots media hype, with cell phones, small camcorders, and homemade video clips, represented by the small guitar-cams affixed to the top of the instruments up near the tuning pegs, giving an “inside line” on the performance, yet presenting it as fish-bowled to let us know that the players themselves are well aware that once something is “documented” it can be misrepresented, misinterpreted, and used for an agenda.

 

And the band isn’t on this new pulpit in a vacuum. They have an audience now, mostly “shadowed-in” by a doubled camera effect, and the fact that the mass of supporters are superimposed suggests their ghost-like and transient quality, as followers of any kind can so easily turn, become violent protestors, an easy transition from mosh pit to mob. This is clarified in the latter part of the song during the “slow-down,” where Kerekes sings, “I have control of my life. You will never take it from me,” and a smiling fan gives back two middle fingers.

The message that Cold Snap quite bravely illustrates here by offering up themselves as characters playing a rock band, is that we must be careful with power, wary of those who oppress us and what we are “re-animated” into when we wear the colors of rebellion. Of course, the “Rise Again” video shows the triumph and courage of those with a voice who would have the gumption to speak out against the power structure. The genius of the video is that they do not show what they become when the unnamed dictator, the man originally from their middle class neighborhoods who became the rich elite and stormed the countryside, is defeated and it’s Cold Snap’s turn to rule (or enter some sort of power-position in the socio-economic hierarchy).

Will they spread wisdom or infection, creating scholars or monsters?

And what will they do when the cell phones, mini video recorders, and fish-bowled guitar cams illuminate a path to fame, fortune, and the dark and seductive call of The Vampire?

 

Michael 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. He is a Professor of English and currently co-hosts a radio talk show linking horror and new metal called “The Wikked Goblet of Horror” with DJ WikkedLiss on her station WCR247 WikkedChikRadio.

 

Aronovitz’s latest novel titled Phantom Effect was just released February 2nd, 2016 through Night Shade Books. http://tinyurl.com/jcg59wo

 

Past Publications:

Seven Deadly Pleasures (collection), 2009

The Voices in Our Heads (collection), 2014

Alice Walks (novel), 2013

The Witch of the Wood (novel), 2014

 

 

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

A Breach of Silence

Review by
Michael Aronovitz

The concept of the “human condition” is a fascinating one, because it is a story we are writing about ourselves, with whispers coming from the dark creases in the room on all sides that would suggest to us what the plot should be. Seems simple enough. Shit happens. A wide spectrum of life phenomenon unfolds all around and we sit in the middle of the space taking it all down, less the writer and more the painter, with a canvas, easel, and color palette, developing a never-ending portrait we hope will eventually dictate that we found our place in the world through some profound personal presentation that adds beauty to the mosaic.

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The problem is that it is not so simplistic. The human condition is an ideal, or rather some pristine illustration that we would like to believe entirely circumstantial, exemplified by reactive behaviors based on those aforementioned whispers from the dark corners: cultural influences, religious pressures, economic hierarchies, class distinctions both subtle and overt, inner psychology, personal perceptions of implied public view translated by the media and national tradition, various social constructs, biases, and thousands of other external factors that would shape a human being through time. The issue I raise here is that the human condition is not formed solely by external factors imposed on us in conjunction with the ones we might exact upon others. It is fabricated by our interpretation of said factors, and being that these elements are based on multiple interpretations themselves, we create a never ending ping-pong effect as opposed to something concrete, a hall of mirrors. Sadly, (and also wondrously) the human condition is not some dusty book we can just take off the shelf when we have pain and peril in our lives, stopping the world, adjusting our reading glasses, looking up remedies. We are caught up in the whirlwind of writing the text (or painting the picture) as it plays out in live time, chained to our chairs, shoulders to the wheel, teetering on a foundation of ever-shifting cause and effect, a slippery structure based on the learned and instinctive reactions and counter-reactions of others caught up in the same cyclone.

All of us listening to the dark whispers.

Translating them into our living, connective murals.

Of course, we would like to think of ourselves as individuals, developing internally in a manner divorced from the voices coming from the shadowy creases, the soft suggestions, the overt and inadvertent agendas trying to shape our own, but in the end that “verbal mist” is a part of us, poison or sweet. Realizing this might be the truest form of self-actualization, and it would expose the more accurate artistic representation of self, the more permanent statement, painful and somehow glorious.

The problem is that circumstance doesn’t always play fair, keeping its place as a dormant sort of “idea,” buried inside the dark whispers. Sometimes circumstance drops tornedos in populated areas, burns your house down, sneaks cancer into your pancreas. It is with this rare type of scenario that you, the author, the painter, the architect, are cast from your perch straight down to the floor. And now there’s a choice. Fight for your place in the mural, or start crawling toward the dark whispers.

In a rather benign and subtle manner, Robert Frost connected images to this idea with his poems, The Road Not Taken (1915) and Stopping by Woods (1923) respectively. In the former, an unnamed traveler recalls being caught at the crux of “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood” (845), the proverbial “crossroads” that has been romanticized in our folklore as the symbolic point where one must make some sort of difficult life-decision that will re-forge the path of his or her given life journey. The latter poem seems to connect to its predecessor, in that another unnamed traveler, this time on horseback, stops before a wooded area, no longer yellow, but dark and “[filling] up with snow,” (548) at what seems to be the tail end of his odyssey. Many critics claim that “The woods…lovely, dark and deep” (548) represent death, possibly a desired release to be self-inflicted, and that our traveler decides in a melancholy sort of resignation that there are things he still must attend to before finding peace, as made evident with the lines, “But I have promises to keep / And miles to go before I sleep” (548).

Ironically, on a first read of the former poem, The Road Not Taken, many novices feel that the theme is one of rebellion and triumph, a testament to those who blaze forward on the road “less traveled by” (846) where others would choose the more popular path to conformity. Still, in this primary scenario, again, the man is not currently standing in the yellow woods, those which are filled with vibrant potential. The decision he made is represented by flashback where in the present tense looking back he sighs, regretting his initial decision. Then through a flash forward effect to Stopping By Woods, he currently sits on horseback, contemplating the woods now shadowed, considering with fondness the idea of crawling toward the dark poison.

This is a wonderful example of the human condition on a pessimistic sort of platform, but I would argue that the module remains incomplete. Life is not always about coming to a fork in the road, taking a path, and later regretting it, even if circumstance has fucked us so bad we are thrown from our chairs and left on the floor.

Some of us choose not to crawl or consider gentle defeat with fondness.

Some of us decide to get up.

The power core metal band from Australia, A Breach of Silence, offers a potent statement of hope and triumph with their single, The Darkest Road, and it is here that we can celebrate perhaps the most important component of our evolving human masterpiece, providing balance and beauty, even when the horrific whispers from the corners would impose upon us the darkest of prophecies.

A Breach of Silence is Mat Cosgrove on guitar, Blair Layt on bass/vocals, Rhys Flannery on lead vocals, and Kerrod Dabelstein on guitar. As mentioned, the song/video that will be discussed here is the title track from their sophomore album of the same name, The Darkest Road, yet it should be noted up front that this particular band is musically outstanding, representing their record label with what appears to be a signature we also observe with other Eclipse projects such as Saint Diablo and Our Last Enemy, in that the rhythm section is particularly tight, powerful, complex, and satisfying. There is also a wonderful vocal dynamic this project offers, in that the death growl is used for climactic effect by both Blair Layt and Rhys Flannery, both whom additionally possess the ability to unveil traditional singing both potent and beautiful. In The Darkest Road single, however, we are given much more than a demonstration of musical proficiency. Here, A Breach of Silence takes a concept softly delivered by one of America’s greatest poets, and fills in the side of the proposed human paradigm that would give us all a fresh and insightful view of the canvas.

The video begins with an informational banner almost like a disclaimer-graphic on black background, with a similar effect as a Hollywood production announcing that the forthcoming film is “Based on a True Story,” (creepy because it implies that there will be a lot of truth in the presentation) or “Inspired by Actual Events,” (creepier, since there will be less “truth” and more tailoring in order to create climactic dark symmetry). The difference here, is that A Breach of Silence is offering an absolute truth, not only affording us no poetic distance from the devastating impact of the song’s subject matter, but letting us know they have given over their artistic expression to the song’s concept in the purest possible manner, all in, heart top to bottom and the soul to its core.

“Christmas Eve, 2012: A near fatal water slide accident occurred leaving our close friend, Dan Graf, quadriplegic. Now with the offer of treatment he has decided to achieve the medically impossible and learn to walk again. This film clip is dedicated to Dan Graf and his journey along “The Darkest Road.”

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It is no coincidence that in the opening shot (and through much of the video), A Breach of Silence performs in front of a stand of woods, colored light green by floodlights facing backward at the base of the drum kit. Of course, it would seem that the woods would preferably be “yellow” in order to tie in to the first Robert Frost poem, but one must remember that the band is affixing their own thumbprint on the symbol. Also, their friend Dan had an accident involving water, and green is more the color of the sea, more appropriately the way a pool might look at night with the moon reflecting off of it.

When the music kicks in the guitars are working with the bass and drums in hard, tight syncopation, but there is a notable difference between the technique here and other metal rhythm tracks. Usually, these patterns are played at the bottom of the given guitar’s neck, as it makes the sound fuller behind and in between the vocal. Here, A Breach of Silence risks starting the pattern at a mid-point on the neck, next moving it up dramatically at the end of the riff. Musically, this makes the chorus (where the song begins) exciting, and on emblematic grounds, it could easily be interpreted as a man underwater struggling upward to break the surface, relating in direct parallel to the devastating result of Dan Graf’s experience on the waterslide and soon after.

If there was any doubt that the band was completing Frost’s paradigm, or rather, rewriting the accepted world model, there is a yellow flash spliced in between the musical performance footage and various shots of a symbolic Dan Graf sitting before a candle he has lit in a state of personal remorse or prayer, then carrying the candle in a lantern canister through a number of settings where a stand-in is shown walking as if in Graf’s own wistful recollection. Here, the band formally acknowledges that the yellow wood is a thing of the past, a poetic blink lacking truth and form, with “the crossroads” better represented by real-life (and more current) footage of Dan Graf in his wheelchair entering the rehabilitation facility, like the second Frost poem, in the latter part of his journey sitting on his own proverbial horse, passing through the doors of the center with hope and determination.

The middle of the song The Darkest Road depicts the journey, showing us clips of Dan Graf getting his legs stretched and working on Universal weight machines. It is no coincidence that one of the band’s performance shots during this section shows Mat Cosgrove demonstrating his own form of acrobatics, hailing back to Philadelphia’s Cinderella, flipping the guitar around his back and catching it in rhythm almost to show Dan that he realizes just how difficult and wonderful these motor functions can be.

The conclusion of the song The Darkest Road contains one of those aesthetic moments of consummate epiphany where all of the symbolic threads, allusions, and pieces of foreshadowing come full circle. Robert Frost proposed that we make choices, sometimes regretting them later and then giving up, crawling toward the voices in the corners, the mist in the creases, the woods that have turned dark and welcoming in a seductive attempt to bury us in the depths of the shadows. A Breach of Silence rewrites the metaphor by having the figure with the lantern finally join in with the wakened, living spirit of Dan Graf to throw his candle-lantern on a pile of kindling, in effect burning down those dark fucking woods and creating new light.

 Watch The Darkest Road Video

A Breach of Silence is not just an important project. They are not just musicians, though few could argue the superiority of their technical expertise. Guitarists Mat Cosgrove and Kerrod Dabelstein prove they can stand on their own as “premier modern ax grinders” with incredible intricacy and dexterity, while also performing, at times, in such clever unity, one would swear they were one instrument. Blair Layt is a master musician, making complicated patterning on his bass both massive and at the same time accessible, and in terms of vocals, both Rhys Flannery and Blair Layt demonstrate an unbelievable amount of versatility in their use of the harshest growls juxtaposed against some of the richest traditional vocals I can remember from a band playing metal, though one would have to go “extra-textual” to more fully experience this and listen to The Darkest Road, the album in its entirety.

Clearly, A Breach of Silence are not just rock performers. They are poets, rewriting our verses, retelling our stories, and offering a world view that would suggest we are not limited to one or two pathways.

For the roads are endless. And hope and possibility make for a bonfire we can always choose to ignite.

Michael 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. He is a Professor of English and currently co-hosts a radio talk show linking horror and new metal called “The Wikked Goblet of Horror” with DJ WikkedLiss on her station WCR247 WikkedChikRadio.

Aronovitz’s latest novel titled Phantom Effect was just released February 2nd, 2016 through Night Shade Books. http://tinyurl.com/jcg59wo

Past Publications:

Seven Deadly Pleasures (collection), 2009

The Voices in Our Heads (collection), 2014

Alice Walks (novel), 2013

The Witch of the Wood (novel), 2014