Month: January 2014

Evil-Dead

Evil Dead (2013) vs. The Evil Dead (1981)

Ah, remakes. There seem to be more and more of them being released these days, and fans have very strong opinions about them. In the last few years we’ve seen slick 21st century “re-boots” of I Spit On Your Grave, Halloween, Dawn of The Dead, Total Recall, The Wicker Man (Oh God, if only I could wash out my mind with soap and water!). The list is endless. There is even a re-make of Robocop due out in cinemas next month. If I am totally honest, I may not have courage to go and see the theatrical release. I value my cherished memories of the Paul Verhoeven original to much to risk sullying them with a sub-par “re-imagining”. You just know the damned thing will be awash with slick editing and state-of-the-art CGI and totally devoid of the cult vibe that made the original so entertaining. If and by that I mean if I do go and see it, I will write up a comparison here, once I’ve recovered from the inevitable disappointment.

I suppose the real question I should be asking myself is how did I become so jaded and cynical? The truth is, I don’t know. There is just something about modern movie-making that leaves me cold. It’s no one thing, but a combination of factors. They just seem too slick somehow. Too… Polished. And above all, too dark. I know the whole point of remakes is to shed the kitsch, cheesy vibe of the originals and appeal to a hip young audience (who simply were not born when the originals came out). I can relate to that but at the same time, that was what made the originals so special. Classic cult films (of any genre, but particularly horror) have a special atmosphere, a vibe, that cannot be recreated in today’s modern, high definition era. Many have tried, and done a reasonable job at it. Robert Rodriguez largely succeeded with Planet Terror a few years back, and the Soska Sisters films have kicked ass so far. It’s definitely possible, but rarely happens. Another factor is budget. Studios are under pressure to deliver a production quality that will appeal to this generation of movie goers, not just thirty-something horror and heavy metal nerds with a chip on their shoulder (i.e. me!). This, for me is the key issue. Only a fan would make that conclusion but here it is anyway. They are too well made. The quality is so good and the picture is so clear that there is nothing left of that grind house vibe that made them special in the first place. I feel the same sense of anti-climax with most mainstream rock and metal albums. They’re OK, but they are really too clean. I prefer underground stuff with that special quality that, while they may not be as well produced in the technical sense of the word, keep me coming back for more literally years after I bought original disc.

So… On to Evil Dead

(more…)

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Goatess Doomwych

Interview: Goatess Doomwych

Born again

Back in 2012, I started work on a self-published art book documenting the first three years of my record label. The book would have interviews with each band I had released to go alongside the pictures. The Goatess had already designed my logo and the cover of Planet Doom Volume 2, my second compilation CD, so I decided to approach her for some cover artwork. Seeing as she was the cover artist, I thought it might be cool to interview her and have a section in the book all about her artwork and the bands she’s done album artwork for (which include Pentagram, Church of Misery, Stonehelm and the forthcoming album from my own band, Iron Void).

Things started off well, and the Goatess section was shaping up to be the strongest section of the book. Unfortunately, I was a bit overworked at the time, balancing a full time job, running the label, a part-time Open University degree and my band commitments (it was a busy time!). The book suffered as a result and the release date kept getting pushed back further and further. In the end, I decided to keep the cover art and the title, which I used for the Doomanoid Records third anniversary sampler The Story So Far, but the book itself never saw the light of day.

Here it is at last, the original interview which we conducted via Email in 2012. (more…)

Prison

Cult film: Prison (1988)

Prison is a supernatural horror film directed by Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger, The Long Kiss Goodnight). It’s one of a growing number of ’80′s horrors that passed me by before the DVD-era. I have never seen it on TV and I don’t remember its theatrical release (I can vividly recall Ghoulies, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday The 13th advertising campaigns, despite being far too young to see them at the time – I was born in 1979).

The film stars Viggo “Aragorn” Mortenson, back in the days when he used to appear in low-budget horrors (for another watchable example, see 1990′s Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III). He plays Burke, a young petty car thief who finds himself incarcerated in a newly reopened prison. The prison had previously closed some years ago because of the aftermath from an ill-omened execution. A prisoner (Charlie Forsythe) was wrongly accused of murder and sent to the electric chair. His ghost still haunts the prison, which, due to budget cuts, has been reopened

After a quiet first night, things start to go wrong. Burke and a fellow inmate are charge with reopening the execution chamber which (predictably enough), houses Forsythe’s ghost. An inmate attempts to escape, and is literally constricted by pipework and electrical cables when the prison’s inner workings come to life. A stream of gory and macabre incidents follow, with the corrupt warden (played by the late Lane Smith) carrying out increasingly harsh punishments on the inmates, while struggling to keep a hold on his own sanity.

Prison is a cross between The Shawshank Redemption and The Twilight Zone. It has plenty of supernatural scares, gory deaths and some really cool special effects that stand up well even today. Chances are you haven’t seen it, so I won’t spoil the ending. It’s well worth watching if you can find it on DVD. Like most of the cult horror films I will be reviewing here, however, don’t pay too much for it.

Copyright © Steve Wilson and The Third Realm, 2014

Black-Sabbath-13

Album: Black Sabbath – 13

I was as surprised as anyone to hear the news that Black Sabbath would be reuniting with Ozzy Osbourne after over thirty years for a new album. The result is an album that has the potential to divide opinion between fans both old and new. While I did not find the album that appealing on first listen, beyond some catchy vocal hooks from Ozzy, it began to grow on me after a few repeat listens.
Rick Rubin’s production seems a little clinical at first, and the very clean sounding mastering accentuates this. After two or three plays, though, it sounds less harsh to me. This may be down to nothing more than the fact that I listen to a lot of underground recordings that have a far less polished sound. Rubin has perfectly captured Tony Iommi’s signature guitar tone while allowing Geezer Butler’s bass to cut through the mix. The only sore point for me is the snare sound, which sounds a little thin. This may work better for fast songs but it just doesn’t resonate enough here for my liking, creating a pronounced gap between each beat.
In an ideal world, the line up would be complimented by original drummer Bill Ward. Disappointingly, this did not occur. Instead, the drumming duties are handled by Brad Wilk, formerly of Rage Against The Machine. This might seem like an odd choice for the band that are rightfully regarded as the godfathers of doom metal. This is a clear example of the ‘Spinal Tap’ thing, the band foregrounding the three ‘musicians’ at the front, backed up by a faceless drummer. Judas Priest did this exact same thing for years, and it does spoil things somewhat (imagine Iron Maiden with Nickleback’s drummer instead of Nicko!). Fortunately, Wilk provides a solid performance worthy of any of Sabbath’s past drummers.
sab13Black Sabbath 2013 (minus Bill Ward)
Album opener ‘End of The Beginning’ is based around a slow, repetitive riff that is reminiscent of their classic track Black Sabbath, even down a tempo change and jam for the middle section. These moments of deja-vu occur throughout the album. Echoes of the Paranoid and Sabotage albums are clearly audible and the band make no attempt to hide this. The most obvious example is the ending of ‘Dear Father’, which repeats the rain and thunder intro of the band’s eponymous 1970 debut. It would be easy to deride Sabbath for approaching the album this way and accuse them of deliberately retreading old ground but I think they’ve made the right decision. These flashbacks from the classic 1970’s Ozzy-era create the impression of the band coming full circle, echoing their own question: Is this the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning?
The songs are mid-tempo and mostly range from five to eight minutes in length. This gives the band time to jam and add some classic Tony Iommi guitar solos. Iommi doesn’t do anything new, but there is no reason for him to try this late in the game. There are no fast three-minute head banging numbers on 13 but this adds to the doom-laden vibe of the overall record and will not receive any complaints from me.

My main criticism would have to be the album’s length. The last three tracks on the deluxe CD version are by far the weakest on the album and could quite easily have been left out. The Black Sabbath rain at the end of ‘Dear Father’ would have made a perfect ending point. Instead, the tracks that follow give the impression of being added as filler to bulk-up the disc. The market has moved on since the early days of Sabbath, and perhaps an eight song album was considered too short for commercial reasons. The result is another overstuffed mainstream rock/metal album that fails to fully capture the special vibe (for want of a better term) that is present in a lot of underground releases.The only other minor sore points for me are some of Ozzy’s vocals. To be honest, his performance is not really that bad. There are moments, though, when he just fails to hold a note. These are songs sung in the lower register and are largely confined to the first few tracks. It just seems a little strange that no one thought to transpose them into a higher key, or maybe even use a different choice of song, Ozzy’s voice being what it is.

sabclassic

Doom pioneers: The classic ‘Early Sabbath’ line up

There are low points, but they are few and far between, and the album is of a far higher quality than many of the classic rock comeback discs that have surfaced in recent years. 13 is not perfect, and it doesn’t come anywhere near the level of the band’s classic era, but it is worthy of consideration (provided you skip the bonus tracks). Black Sabbath have managed to deliver an album that grows in appeal with each listen and it’s good to have most of them back.
Copyright © Steve Wilson and The Third Realm, 2014
Jex-Thoth-Blood-Moon-Rise

Album: Jex Thoth – Blood Moon Rise

I have been a fan of Jex Thoth since their self-titled 2008 debut. The first offering was a mixture of low-fi fuzz guitar and psyche jamming, but represented a major leap forward in songwriting and performance from their debut EP, Totem, and second full-length is no different. I have read criticism that the first album suffered from poor musicianship, but I never thought that. This one does sound a lot glossier on first listen, though.The most striking change to the band has to be the complete line-up change they have undergone since those first two releases. Two of the original line-up were married (singer ‘Jex’ and bass/guitarist ‘Grim Jim,’ also of Wooden Wand) and are now separated, which I presume accounts for his departure. To be honest, it doesn’t really matter, as the music is as good, if not better than before.

jex band

Blood Moon Rise is a very dark record, and not the type of album that grabs you on first listen. The first time I played it, I was surprised by how smooth everything sounds compared to their earlier efforts. It’s the only word I can use to adequately describe the sound. After a short, moody opening piece, the album starts proper with single ‘The Places You Walk.’ Jex Thoth songs have been described as ‘doom ballads’ in several reviews, and that is definitely the case here. The lyrical subject matters switch between relationships/love back to esoteric occult themes such as the epic closing number ‘Psyar’ (I have no idea what this means without Googling!). So, am I saying that Jex’s lyrics are stereotypically feminine in their themes? Well, yes, I am in a way, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Jex clearly knows what she is singing about, and her voice sounds beautiful and is one of the aspects of the band that benefits most from this album’s superior production. It’s been well mastered, too and sounds clear and warm. These two things are important for a Jex Thoth record for one simple reason: You need to listen to this band on vinyl. I have both the CD and LP versions of their first record and there is no comparison. The vinyl wins every time (if only for the Albert Witchfinder sleeve art).

While I loathe the term ‘female-fronted doom band’ for so many reasons, I will briefly use the term here. While I do hate the term, Jex Thoth stand alongside Witch Mountain as an example of that at its best. Also, listen out for Earth cellist Lori Goldston on the last track.
Edit:
Since writing this review, I have bought a vinyl copy of the album. Like Jex’s previous work, it sounds twice as good on my turntable as the digital version I reviewed here. If you can afford it, get the LP. It’s worth the extra cash.
Out now on I Hate Records
Copyright © Steve Wilson and The Third Realm, 2014