Archive for the ‘Rock Reviews’ Category

Serious Commentary on new bands that matter

Chains Over Razors

Old Blood, New Ground

By Michael Aronovitz

Good things come in threes, and we gravitate toward them like old friends. As a thematic human design – man, woman, and child is as familiar to most of us as is Father, Son, and The Holy Spirit, and whether our particular circumstance varies in terms of siblings, single parents, or religious platforms, these patterns are embedded in our wiring and shared global persona. We all color the world with narratives of rich national folklore, but all of our stories have beginnings, middles, and ends. We drive cars reflecting different positions in the current financial hierarchy, but we collectively monitor our speed and rate of advance according to the vertical color charts hanging before us on wires and poles flashing red, yellow, and green. We measure our current ability to manipulate resources in terms of bills, coin, or credit, and gauge our behavior as passive, aggressive, or noncommittal.

Yeah…sing it with me. At the beginning of a race, you don’t say, “Ready…set…go…go,” and when your dad readied you for the bandage to be ripped off way back when, he didn’t just count to one unless he was playing that cruel little surprise card. Threes are critical. Birth, Life, Death. Stop, Drop, and Roll, and when you fuck up big enough to confess, it ain’t just two Hail Mary’s, now is it?

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Still, if the number three is some sort of signifier for universal symmetry, why is rock music, and especially metal, so apparently in love with the number four? Most songs are written in 4/4 time. To begin a tune, unlike the commencement of any other event in human culture, you count to four as opposed to three. The basic rock phrase is accomplished with four beats played on a bass drum, snare, high hat, and crash cymbal, and most rock ‘n roll songs traditionally have had four parts: verse, chorus, bridge, and lead. Still, the most significant oddity here in singling out rock as compared with the rest of the world throughout history, is the design-preference for four in the set-up of performers, as exemplified for us in the early 60’s both by the Beatles, (bass, drum, and two guitars with one player doubling on vocals) and The Who (the power trio with vocalist as vocalist for vocalist’s sake).

The Beatles blueprint spawned powerful star-children in super-quartets like Kiss, Cinderella, and Metallica as well as Volbeat, Godsmack, and Halestorm, just like the Who’s family tree is chock full of gargantuan stadium faves like Queen, Van Halen, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Ozzy, Firehouse, and Pantera. Of course, the list goes on almost infinitely, and we could spend valuable time listing all the wonderful rock acts in both camps as well as the various key exceptions who have added respective players to fill in every possible space with a second guitarist who doesn’t sing, a third guitar, keys, violin, flute, or multiple percussionists, (Aerosmith, Skynyrd, Styx, Yes, Kansas, Jethro Tull, and The Grateful Dead respectively, and more recently Avenged Sevenfold, Lamb of God, Slipknot, and In This Moment – adding backup dancers no less, but don’t knock it ‘til you’ve seen it), yet all of them are centered, at least in essence, off of the concept of the “holy four” as a base, making it damned clear that the formula is only enhanced by addition.

Conversely, of course, there are power trios like Rush, Triumph, The James Gang, and Motorhead, but were I to remove myself from personal bias and my deep seated allegiance to these projects, I could objectively argue that all of them, at least theoretically, might have sounded even better if they had had vocalists with a sole focus on his or her given expertise.

And in this lies our paradox. Hard rock has always been about rebellion, but its core equation hasn’t changed direction for more than half a century on account of the idea that if you strip it down to bare bones, the vocals get sacrificed (The best Racer X songs: Technical Difficulties and Scarified are perfect examples), or someone has to double up on something, therefore by default, lessening the importance of one or the other.

Not anymore.

Enter Chains Over Razors, a band from Chicago, Illinois, introducing a startling aesthetic that has already re-set the bar, reinventing hard music in a way that will be studied, admired, discussed, argued over, imitated, and never quite equaled. They got our attention from the get-go with their name alone, and to briefly digress from our argument of threes versus fours for a hot minute, a band name doesn’t usually mean anything, not really, not apart from the phonetics. I no more picture making out with a hot chick when I hear the name “Kiss” than I think of an airplane or “You as well” when I happen to cross paths with the music of “U2.” But “Chains Over Razors” is worthy of a horror movie title, and being that my review series “Goblet of Shock” was initially conceived to find links between horror and metal, I cannot deny the immediate and glorious images this band name sparks in my mind…of some maniac’s basement torture chamber, real smock ‘n goggle stuff, with car batteries, handcuffs, meat hooks, blood spattered sink arrangements, boning and breaking knives, cleavers, hot brands, battle hatchets, barbed fishing line, walk-in freezers, and various high revving power tools. And considering the wonderful horror-metal model initiated by Sabbath and Alice Cooper, and next reanimated by Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson, and Cannibal Corpse, this puts Chains in good company.

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The band also meets current metal expectations by globally arranging their songs with riff oriented growl verses and traditionally sung choruses, and while it might seem contradictory that I call this project revolutionary and in the same breath claim they conform to industry standards, I just wanted to make it clear that this is a competitive metal band in a competitive market through which fans expect certain bench marks to be achieved right out of the chute.

So as for standards and compulsories, Chains Over Razors is a metal band and they rock.

They also do it without a bass player.

Whoa! Wait a minute! This is blasphemy! No bass means no bottom, and whether the musician in question plays roots or a pattern that stands out as its own entity, a bass player is absolutely essential. John Entwistle, Flea, Stanley Clarke, and Geddy Lee are staples, archetypes, heroes, and it is difficult to imagine how this concept is possible, especially live. Suddenly, we are filled with doubts, questions, and crazy assumptions, like maybe there is some sort of contractual agenda through which these guys keep it lean in the writing phase in order to avoid compromise and complications, next bringing some session guy on the road to fill in the holes, standing to the left of the drum kit in black jeans, a black tee shirt, and his hair in his face.

But this isn’t the case, and if we look closer at the way metal has been going lately, it becomes clear that Chains Over Razors is made up of trend setters poised at the very state of the art.

Look at it from a songwriting standpoint. The idea of the “lead guitar” has been undergoing a strange metamorphosis, in the old days featured under a spotlight for a number of measures following the verses and chorus work. But nowadays, these platform solos have become more a thing of taste or effect. Guitar work has gone faster in general, yet has been allocated more to the verse-riff, that which has become more and more rich, driving, and complicated. Being that the percussion during the introductions and verses has also intensified in terms of speed and dexterity, metal has become more an art of rhythm and precision than ego and solo acrobatics.

And Chains Over Razors is the tightest band I have ever seen. No, this is not opinion. This is not subjective, nor emotional. This is fact, and you have to listen to them and watch them play live to understand that I do not speak from a place of favoritism or idealistic hyperbole. In fact, from a scientific standpoint, I will argue that they are the tightest band in musical history. And they do it without putting the vocal responsibility on one of the players. They have a specialist for this, and he is outstanding.

Plainly, Chains Over Razors is a power duo with a singer. They are Franco V Roc on vocals, Mike Vujasin on guitar, and his brother Andy Vujasin on drums, and they are tight. Razor tight. In a moment I will discuss how awesome and addictive their songs are, but for now I would ask that you please humor me just a bit more in my celebration of not only why this bold project has eliminated the idea of the bass player in general, but just how they accomplished it in terms of personnel, instrumentation, and song writing.

Not only are they razor tight, but they have redefined the concept of cohesion.

First of all, Mike and Andy are brothers, twins at that, and when I think of guitar players and drummers as siblings, I can’t help but feel that synchronicity is in their very blood. Or they practiced a lot together during various critical developmental periods over time, pick your position, nature or nurture, but either way one can’t deny the connection we hear and feel straight through to the backbone with the music of Eddie and Alex Van Halen, Dimebag Darrell and Vinnie Paul, and Lzzy Hale and her brother Arejay.

Secondly, the band has revolutionized the concept of “moving air,” a term that has probably been used with scores of bands through the years, all who figured out in the end that the phenomenon has nothing necessarily to do with volume. In the case of Chains Over Razors, it is accomplished first by tonality and clever electrical maneuvering. Mike plays a custom Les Paul seven stringed guitar tuned down for bottom and built in a way that allows him to play multiple melodies and rhythms simultaneously. Conjunctively, Andy has tuned his drum kit to specific note values based on his brother’s pitch, making the tom fills sink into the guitar work with added warmth and support and the double bass round out the bottom with more balls than we usually get from the more typical hummingbird sixteenths played on a standard kit. On electro-technical grounds, Mike uses an octave pedal split between two amps (or stacks), custom-wired to cover a wider berth of the spectrum, and of equal importance to the above mentioned strategies, these two musicians also use speed, breaks, and dynamics in order to make “two” sound like halves completing a whole rather than some antiquated machine in need of a third wheel.

From this creative standpoint, the interchange between Mike and Andy adds even more thunder in the bass frequencies. When I asked them to describe to me this strange phenomenon, they were quite specific in illustrating that they are not so much two musicians “playing as one,” but more, a pair of artists moving patterns in and out of each other creating a super-sound impossible to accomplish with just a mirroring technique. To look at it dimensionally, in terms of the “internal,” Andy’s bottom-end patterns, especially with the double bass, “dance” around the rhythm with a groove, emphasizing the hook by jumping in and out of the guitar work, both players locking in and backing out, therefore using space and strategic interplay to create the illusion of the slap and pop of a bass guitar. In reference to the “external,” or the more general, holistic view, these two brothers construct an intricate, comprehensive portrait in no need of a bottom-border. It’s covered. And then some.

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And now, there’s the music, the songs, the singer Franco V Roc who is an absolute stud belting out spine severing growls and heartfelt choruses that complete us, patterning with our emotions like Mike and Andy do with rhythm and tone, and maybe this is the way rock was always meant to be in its purest form. Three performers, all specialists, connecting with our bio-rhythms so we as audience members are ghosted in as that beloved fourth factor.

I listened to three Chains Over Razors songs off their album Crown the Villain, and I was hooked immediately. From a listener’s standpoint, the tunes have a lot of sweet contradictions that work well together like the industrial heaviness clipped off by smart drum rolls closing each verse in Devil’s Eyes, and the deep groove followed by an atonal lead in Damnation, both surprisingly offset by a massive vocal hook in the choruses reminiscent of the work of the band Creed, but more passionate and fulfilling. Then in Only God Can Judge Me, there is an aura of pure metal funk with a progressive nuance, brought to a fever pitch with an incredibly catchy chorus and a bridge at the 2:30 mark that is spellbinding.

As mentioned, Franco V Roc is a boss, a star, and a vocalist that only needs to be heard once to be long remembered. And Mike and Andy Vujasin have literally rewritten the book on rhythm, melody, electric connectivity, and how these things interact with each other. They have shattered the concept of rock music and how it is formed, and scaled it down in a manner that is no less shocking or profound than the early work of Ernest Hemingway, and when he destroyed Victorian over-writing with his Aesthetic Theory of Omission.

And the songs are outstanding.

As a last point, I wish to add that there is no way something like this could be accomplished without embracing tradition. This is not a cerebral statement, but more a practical one. When all is said and done, new projects, no matter how sophisticated, must appeal to the end user, and as fans, we bring our rock history with us in the form of a beloved banner, a war-flag, ripped and frayed at the edges at times, but no less significant or proudly flown. And if there is any testament to the tradition we know and love, it is that Chains Over Razors is produced by none other than Carmine Appice, THE historic rhythmic cornerstone of the style of music we so revere. I don’t think I have to inform too many readers at this juncture that Mr. Appice recorded with Vanilla Fudge, Cactus, Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, and countless others, but in case you need a convincer, let me just put it this way. Bring your kid to the local music store for drum lessons. The book he will buy the first night is The Ultimate Realistic Rock Drum Method, by Carmine Appice. Talk about influence…

Listen to Devil’s Eyes – Chains Over Razor 

In my brief discussion with Andy and Mike, I asked about Carmine Appice’s role in all this, and aside from his having to jokingly adjust to being “vaped out of the engineering room from their e-cigs,” he took the ideas from the band and gave feedback concerning what “took him for a ride” and “what slowed him down.” It was and is a relationship based on reinterpreting what the band already did and does best, and I can’t think of a better situation for both tutor and specialists. Andy told me that Carmine Appice helped him expand his bass drum creativity, like in live jam sessions and person to person tutorials. Seriously? Did you get any of it on a cell phone? My Lord, if I had Carmine Appice there showing me the ropes, I would never let him leave the rehearsal space, let alone watch him walk into the sunset without asking him if we could make a bid for a reality show that would blow everyone’s doors off!

Chains Over Razors. They have arrived. They have broken the paradox of three versus four, and have done so with an icon at their side, not casting shadows of the past, but using tradition and experience to harness the future.

Ladies and gentlemen, the future is now.

And Chains Over Razors ain’t fucking kidding.

Watch Part 1 of Center of a Lie

Watch Part 2 of Center of a Lie

Watch Part 3 of Center of a Lie

 

Michael Aronovitz fronted a heavy metal band that played Philadelphia and New Jersey clubs in the mid 80s. 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.

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 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.”

A Breach of Silence 2

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

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

To Taunt, To Tempt, and To Never be Tamed

Phoebe Pinnock and Heaven the Axe

By Michael Aronovitz

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

Phoebe4sm William James

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Phoebe 3smMatt Allen, Silk Imagery

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

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

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

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

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

Phoebe Pinnock is not just a “bad girl.”

She is a nuclear explosion.

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

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

Phoebe 2smChucky’s Photography

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

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

phoebeAnthony Pinder

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

Phoebe Pinnock is not just shredding fairy tales.

She’s rewriting the story chapter and verse.

 

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

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

 

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

Saint Diablo

Deconstructing the Blur

“Devil Horns and Halos”

By Michael Aronovitz

            When Tito Quinones, of the hard rock band Saint Diablo, sings of “Devil Horns and Halos,” he is not making a statement about good and evil. That would be too easy, and this talented group of musicians defy simplistic, all-encompassing one word definitions, especially in the banal spirit of “easy,” or “basic,” or “mediocre” or “definitive.” On the contrary, their music is incredibly rich, well crafted, and ornate, and their message is one of complexity, making us look at the way we compartmentalize our own natural tendencies, therefore blurring realities that play out right before us. In this, I am in no way claiming that Saint Diablo attempts to personify “Superman,” spreading truth and justice, but I would argue they are more the iconic dark messenger who would suggest that there is no such thing as “the truth” in the first place. There are only “truths,” depending on one’s point of view. And as for justice, it seems Saint Diablo intends to prove this is an issue of self-mastery, finally freeing us from the old habit of buying into the propaganda forced upon us by those in the super-structure who are, in reality, just feeding us pecking orders to fit ourselves into.

To be clear, the song “Devil Horns and Halos” is in no way direct attack on goodness or God or religion at all, but more an assault on the idea of looking at things in simplistic models of binary opposition. By definition, something that is named a binary-opposite must be the direct antithesis of something else, each dependent on the other for existence. The problem with the western idea of binary opposites in the first place, is that “opposite” is a mathematical term, most often easy to infer, yet difficult to prove. There’s man and woman, granted, yet light and dark come in levels and shades, and good versus evil is relative to thousands of factors, all of them based upon any number of personal experiences, familial circumstances, socio-economic limitations, and learned biases.

Plainly, Devil Horns are not a symbol of evil in Saint Diablo’s clever paradigm. They are presented in the first place to be put up against the symbol of the halo, that which is not a pure religious emblem of good in itself, in fact, it has no mention in the bible at all, either testament. Halos are more a creation of secular art, put on coins, for example, to adorn the images of rulers in the Kushan Empire, as well as battle heroes and saints as far back as the classic Romans and Greeks. Of course, I am not insinuating that Jesus was not depicted with a halo through the artwork emerging in various time periods. I am insisting that the halo has put a glow behind the heads of many different figures, angels included, those who don’t just sing ethereal hymns and flutter around granting wishes. According to scripture they also threw people in furnaces, like Satan, and while it might make an interesting adjunctive parallel, it is not an opposite by any means.

Saint Diablo 1

Consequently, were Saint Diablo, in fact, giving us some sort of demonic endorsement, this review would be quite different. There are a number of films that celebrate our fascination with the one relatively universal figure representing the ultimate evil, starting with Rosemary’s Baby (1968), and continuing with The Exorcist (1973), The Omen (1976), Prince of Darkness (1987), and more currently, Constantine (2005) among many others in a list too long to make mention of here.

But “Devil Horns and Halos” is not about pure good and evil to begin with. If it was, the title would be “Devil Horns and God’s Robes” or something to that effect. The purpose of this song is to illuminate the fact that as a global village, aside from one’s given faith, we search out things like binary opposites so we can try to identify and therefore make manageable measures of societal chaos.

We like being lied to, and we entitle those who continue to perform the function. I do not believe Saint Diablo is making a political statement here, not entirely, though that would be an interesting subject for another review in itself. I believe this fascinating band is speaking more to our everyday euphemisms and rationalizations, those that create a blur around us that is more manageable than painful realization. In the song, Tito claims, “The heart betrays the intellect. The facts get lost in retrospect.” Since the video does in fact feature a lovely female model, we might primarily interpret this line as a signifier for those relationships we go back to even though we know they are bad for us, since it is human nature to block out the negative over time and reform the memory more idealistically. Still, the aforementioned female model is bathed in too much other symbolism, both religious (she wears a monk’s hood that is ripped back) and horrific (she smears blood across the shoulders of her lover) to conclude this is purely a “relationship” video.

I would argue that the above-mentioned line is more about the way we are able to desensitize human atrocities like war and slavery as soon as all those alive during the respective time period have passed on. And while we might not necessarily lose all the “facts” in retrospect through our history books, a “fact” in itself divorced from its impact on those experiencing it in real time or living memory is no longer a fact. It is a dusty statistic. Ink on paper, not blood on the stones if you will. This also brings up the question of who is writing the history books and for what agenda, but as promised, this review would do better not to focus solely on political issues. Instead, we should further investigate Saint Diablo’s idea that we “hang [our] hopes on a lasso” (a striking line in itself poetically) and the notion that we keep falling off the fences dividing the worlds (note plural) that we live in.

Were this one “world” there might very well be these binary oppositions to cling to, yet there are many “worlds” depending on any number of factors and viewpoints. The reason the metaphor of the fence is so powerful is that on its surface it represents stability between two areas most probably volatile, but in Saint Diablo’s model it is the dividing line itself that keeps shifting, a mechanism of the blur, seductively advertised.

This song is not about God and the Devil. It is not about good and evil. It is about the way we keep trying to put things in neat little boxes, therefore imprisoning ourselves in the confines of these antiquated ideals. And we keep buying into the same sort of charade. Saint Diablo is singing about being hypnotized into believing the societal hype, simply because it keeps getting presented relentlessly. We watch the news faithfully, while it follows a destructive “If it bleeds it reads” philosophy, representing vast and diverse communities by the tragedy and violence acted out by only the few. Reporters say things like, “A community is in shock…” or “the public perception is…” when they never actually polled the neighborhood, and they suggest automatic credibility with claims based on “studies,” most conducted by graduate students and doctoral candidates who had recently scrambled desperately to gather “data” that would make something appear valid and reliable by the thesis chapter’s due date, rather than actually proving in the end that it was valid and reliable. We accept the “fact” that an electric toothbrush is good, because some advertising person invents a term making its performance sound “scientific” and carefully engineered (Brocksonic technology), the same way we blandly let ads for film after film claim “It is the best movie of the year.”

When these issues are exposed individually, they seem trivial, but Saint Diablo is not referring to one specific lie twisting an ugly shape into one small patch of the blur. They are talking about a more cumulative sin, the way new diet programs are viewed with such reverence, when eating less would simply make one lose weight. They are talking about school districts taking government money (required spending they have to show to get more funding) and allocating it to staff developments featuring the latest, trendy “behavioral models,” clearly invented by marketing executives depending on our addiction to psycho-babble and bogus hierarchies (When a student begins the process of behavioral deterioration, he or she enters the “Locus of Dysfunction” at the “Pre-stress” level, indicated by fidgeting and complaining. Here, intervention is suggested…). Are you fucking kidding me? Let the kid go to the bathroom. Excuse him from the class work. Send him to the counselor.

We root for a sports team based on a model of geo-politics, when most of the players don’t come from our area. When we make mistakes, we invent enemies. When we do wrong, we find loopholes, and then we convince ourselves that we didn’t actually do it in the first place because we never got caught.

“Devil Horns and Halos” is a scary, brilliant song, and it has little to do with the religious overtones and horrific images the band draws us in with, (though they are admittedly fascinating): the black-eye effect making the singer and members of the band look demonic, the scratches down the singer’s face as if he’s been gored by a wolf, the dark chandelier, the metallic skull mask, the papers from the new testament torn into pieces and floating like ash…and all the blood…smeared across a lover’s back, running down a sword and spotting on a bible, dripping from the eyes, hardening on the fur surrounding the maw of a goat. All this is visually stunning (and darkly pleasing), but note that the lyrics have nothing to do with gore and satanic ritualism. They focus on the manner by which we have dampened the human spirit, (to paraphrase) complicated it, victimized it, suffocated it, and minimized it through a lens of apathy instead of fortifying and treasuring it through awareness and invigoration.

This is specifically why the video is so striking from a musical / performance perspective. While the lyrics describe this complicated labyrinth of lies we are dulled by, the song is anything but apathetic.

Tito Quinones is the epitome of talent and energy, creating an awesome vocal performance as well as a spectacle that is visually impressive. The lyrics are primarily delivered with a death growl, but through an interesting dynamic in the song’s center he goes to a sweet, melodic vocal, not only illustrating the more song-specific message that would deconstruct the concept of binary opposites (a death growl is not an opposite of melodic singing, they are both simply forms of singing), but showing his fans his artistic diversity.

Saint Diablo 2          Justin Adams (guitar) and Tyler Huffman (bass) should be mentioned together, because they create a combined sound that is absolutely mesmerizing. Not only do they play fast, as would be compulsory in this kind of heavy music, but they create a portrait that evolves over the course of the song, almost like a character in fiction developing depth and texture throughout the rise and climax of an engaging story.

And the drumming is spectacular. Though the song is played in a 4/4 time signature, Brian Bush makes the overall presentation deliciously complex not only through rapid-fire double bass riffs and intricate cymbal-work, but also in terms of his interplay with Adams and Huffman. The song begins with 16ths on the bass drums and the guitar and bass playing halves for a triplet feel, leading to double time in the second verse that is not only incredibly satisfying, but uplifting in the sense that the viewer can’t help but want to stand up and start head-banging, to join as one with the addictive, driving pulse. At a latter point in the song, Adams and Huffman daringly weave power chords in and out of tempo for a progressive feel within Bush’s thundering 4/4 foundation. Still, they never alter the breakneck pace the song requires for potency, nor the dramatic line already established melodically, therefore proving this is not only a song of message and power, but one of aesthetics, unselfishly complicated, and rich without arrogance.

“Devils Horns and Halos” is one of those songs that as a result of its raw tension, both audibly and visually, comes off at first like shock theater. The thing that gives us more substance is the multi-layered symbolic message they give us concerning our own codes of ethics and the smooth ways we continue to keep redrawing the boundaries. The best way I can describe Saint Diablo, is that they are a startling awakening, one of power and vision in that they offer us a glimpse of the real through strong, emblematic poetry. Then they make us want to stand up and shout, raising our fists and jumping to the beat, celebrating a new kind of liberation and joy.

Michael Aronovitz is the author of “Phantom Effect,” release date February 2nd, 2016, Night Shade Books.