It’s a Long Way to the Top…

…and this book isn’t even halfway there.

shock rock - jeff gelbShock Rock – Edited by Jeff Gelb
Pocket Books – 1992

Shock Rock is a collection of horror stories about rock music. I love horror stories and rock music, so this book seemed very appealing to me. Unfortunately, out of the twenty stories in here, maybe four are interesting and only two of these are really good.

The longest story by far, and probably the book’s biggest draw, is Stephen King’s You Know They’ve Got a Hell of a Band. I read this in Nightmares and Dreamscapes when I was a kid and again a few years ago. I didn’t bother reading it a third time. It’s basically a second rate version of Children of the Corn but with dead rock stars instead of creepy children.

The only two stories in here that I really liked were Richard Christian Matheson’s Groupies and Thomas Tessier’s Addicted to Love, neither of which feature any supernatural elements. And while I did quite enjoy reading Tessier’s story, it’s a blatant rip off of American Psycho. (Tessier’s copyright is from 1992, Bret Easton Ellis’s novel had been published in 1991.)

The rest of the stories aren’t absolutely horrible to read, but they were mostly pretty forgettable and fairly similar. They are nice and short though (they’re more like music videos than films in their scope), so this book made good reading for my commute to work.

I reckon it’s fairly difficult to overestimate the power of music; it changes the ways in which people think and act. It’s is a very elusive force though. A song that brings a person to tears might have no effect on that same individual at a different time. Also, unlike a painting, which exists as a physical object, music isn’t something you can point a finger at. Trying to use text to describe the way that music sounds is absolutely futile, but without its sound music can have no effect. Novels or short stories about music can never really deliver what they seem to promise. I suppose that the only way around this would have been to have put out an accompanying soundtrack with the book.

I actually think a book of short stories with a prescribed musical soundtrack could be really cool, but I don’t think this would would have saved Shock Rock. There’s a pretty wide range of stories in here, covering several genres of rock music, and the musical accompaniment for the collection would be too discordant and jumbled to be enjoyable.

And maybe I’m just an annoying jerk, but my complaint about Michael Slade’s Ghoul can be applied here too. The music discussed in this book is largely inappropriate for the subject matter. Why would anyone write a horror story about Jimi Hendrix or Bob Dylan? Neither wrote scary music, and neither of these stories’ plots actually rely on their featured rockstar; the authors could have replaced Jimi with Jim and Dylan with Kristofferson with minimal effort. The editor of the book, Jeff Gelb, thanks the following bands, singers for their inspiration: The Beach Boys, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Tangerine Dream, Vangelis, Kate Bush and AC/DC. While those bands (or at least most of them) are cool, I probably wouldn’t include any of them on the soundtrack to a horror film.

I suppose that the line between commercial appeal and a worthwhile product is a tricky one to walk. A book of stories about a living Glenn Danzig fighting off werewolves in an attempt to track down a copy of a cursed, unreleased Morbid Angel demo might not have had the same appeal as Shock Rock, but I guarantee it would have been a better book.

I’m discouraged, but not defeated. My search for the perfect blend of horror and rock’n’roll continues. Coming soon:
horror rock novels

Ghoul – Michael Slade

ghoul michael sladeGhoul – Michael Slade
Signet – 1989 (Originally published 1987)

I bought this book at a library booksale last year because it had a spooky name and it only cost 25 cents. I don’t think I have ever made such a fortunate purchase.

After a prologue which describes a gang of teenage boys burying their friend alive while listening to Black Sabbath and talking about H.P. Lovecraft, I put the book down and took a deep breath. A novel about teenage mischief, heavy metal, and classic horror? This had to be awesome.

I read a few chapters more. After some remarkably graphic violence, the narrative moves to a rock club in Vancouver that is “Situated on the main floor of a rundown skid row building” with “no sign to mark its presence for those not in the know”. Now, most of my readers won’t know this, but aside from reading and reviewing spooky books, my other main hobby is attending and playing concerts in unmarked, rundown buildings on Vancouver’s skid row.

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At this point, I wondered how a text, written by another person, could be so specifically relevant to my interests. I first considered if the author had stalked me and then gone on to write a book tailored to my tastes. I was only one year old when the book was written though, so this seemed unlikely. No, this book was not written for me to read. I was born to read this book.

The rest of the novel is a fast paced thriller about a collection of insane, depraved murderers, at least two of whom play in a Lovecraft themed rock band named Ghoul. The horror here is of the bloodthirsty, slimy, two-headed freak locked in a cage variety. I’d be afraid to call anything splatterpunk because I’m not really sure what that means, but this book defines itself as such, and the label seems quite fitting. It has guitars, mohawks and a lot of blood and guts. I’ve read books that describe horrendous acts of violence before, but don’t think I’ve read anything quite as grossout gory as this. One scene describes a man disemboweling another individual, cutting a hole in his skull, debraining him, and then proceeding to fill the victim’s cranial cavity with his own internal organs. Cool.

Just because a book is about cool things doesn’t mean it’s going to be a good read. Ghoul, however, is a mighty enjoyable novel. It’s extremely well researched and plotted out. The authors are a pair of lawyers who specialise in the criminally insane. They are also clearly fans of classic horror. One wouldn’t have to be a horror buff to enjoy this novel, but I was glad to be able to understand the bits about Lovecraft’s stories. The only aspect of the book that I felt the authors could have researched more thoroughly was rock and roll stuff.

First off, Ghoul’s music and how it sounds isn’t very important to the book at all. Whether it’s punk rock, goth rock, heavy metal or some other genre of cacophony is unclear. I’m going to refer to it as heavy metal based on other bands that are mentioned in the book.

Iron Maiden, Alice Cooper, Motley Crue, Twisted Sister, Black Sabbath, Grim Reaper and AC/DC are Ghoul‘s musical influences. Aside from Grim Reaper, these bands are all household names. Heavy metal fans might listen to all of these groups, but within any underground metal scene, it’s standard practice to champion lesser-known bands. Bands who play in the venues that Ghoul play in and who act like Ghoul usually make a point of letting people know how esoteric their tastes in music are. I know this book was written more than 30 years ago, but even at that stage Venom and Mercyful Fate had put out several albums each and been brought to the attention of the public by the PMRC, the Misfits and Grave 45 had put out a bunch of horror themed punk records, Metallica had recorded and released several songs about Lovecraftian entities, and Death and Black metal were starting to take off. Instead of researching and referencing this stuff, the authors chose to go backstage at a Motley Crue concert for their insight into rock’n’roll. The novel was presumably written to appeal to lots of people and referencing bigger bands might make it more accessible to the masses, but seeing that the authors worked pretty hard to make the detective stuff believable, I thought they should have put a bit more effort into the rock’n’roll side of things. The version of rock that they present is the imaginary rock of which evangelical parents are afraid.

At one point, they refer to Highway to Hell as a Grim Reaper song. Grim Reaper have lots of songs with Hell in the title, and I wouldn’t hold it against anyone for getting them mixed up, but confusing Grim Reaper and AC/DC is a sin against rock.

That being said, some of the trends in heavy metal that these authors imagined soon became reality. It was only a few years after the publication of Ghoul that the shit hit the fan in Norway’s Black Metal scene and heavy metal band members started murdering people and burning buildings down. Also, Lovecraft’s mythos has become an extremely popular topic for death metal bands to write songs and albums about. Most prophetic of all though, would be the authors’ idea of a band called Ghoul that put on elaborate stage shows and sing about death and violence.

Ghoul (the real ones) are a metal band from Oakland that have been together since 2001. Like the Ghoul of the novel, this band also have a hyper-violent horror theme going on. I can’t say for certain how deliberate their choice of name was, but I can’t help but presume that at least one of the members has read the book. Their song lyrics are about sewer dwelling maniacs (Sewer Chewer), axe murders (Maniaxe, Bury the Hatchet), catacombs, crypts, graveyards (Into the Catacombs, Forbidden Crypts, Graveyard Mosh) and torturing freaks (Mutant Mutilator). These are all important motifs in the book. The band even have an album (and song) called Splattertrash. A few years ago, I actually saw the real Ghoul playing a show in a rundown building on Vancouver’s skid row, almost exactly like the Ghoul in the novel.

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Written in the era of Video Nasties and the PMRC, Ghoul’s stance on rock music and horror is a bit confusing. One would think that the authors of an extremely gory, horror novel would do what they could to defend their creation, but the text seems to imply the potential culpability of both horror and rock. Not only are the dangers of reading horror fiction and attending rock concerts discussed at length and demonstrated by the characters, but a list of actual rock’n’roll-related acts of violence is given at the end of the book. Were the authors just trying to give their novel an extra edge by making it seem dangerous, or did they actually write it in an attempt to encourage violent acts? The latter option might seem ridiculous, but remember that the authors were both criminal lawyers. By encouraging acts of violence, they’d be setting themselves up to get more work.

I have never been so pleasantly surprised by a book. Ghoul is an awesome, awesome book, and I recommend that you read it immediately.

Lucifer Rising – Gavin Baddeley

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Plexus – 2006

This book deals with the different manifestations of Satanism within modern culture. It focuses on rock music and heavy metal, but it also discusses serial killers and horror movies. Sounds pretty great, right? A recommendation for this book showed up on my goodreads account, and my copy was ordered within moments of reading its description. I’m pleased to say that it didn’t disapoint. The author is a priest in the Church of Satan, and the history and outlook of LaVeyan Satanism is central to this book. I like LaVey, so I was entertained, but the author’s tone might be grating on some readers, particularly if they were Christian.

The first few chapters give a short yet surprisingly comprehensive history of Satanism, but the latter half of the book is mostly taken up with interviews. Some of these are excruciatingly embarrassing (Glen Benton is an idiot), and some are genuinely hilarious (Euronymous is precious). Varg Vikernes from Burzum has claimed that the interview with him is entirely fake. (He also claims that this is the worst book that he has ever seen.) I know lots of Burzum fans who claim to dislike Varg. Well, I always thought Burzum’s music was crap,  but I think he’s a pretty funny guy. (Don’t get me wrong; I know he’s a right-wing scumbag, racist, murderer and all-round crazy person, and I certainly wouldn’t say that I ‘like’ him, but let’s be honest; he regularly brings the lols.) There were a few interviews in here that weren’t hugely insightful, and it seemed that some of the interviewees may have been chosen based on their availability rather than their unique insight or authority on the topic, but this doesn’t take away from the cooler parts of the book. It might also be worth noting that I’m a fan of quite a few of the musicians interviewed herein, so I was probably more entertained than most people would be. If you don’t like rock music, this book might be a bit boring.

Baddeley suggests that there are as many different forms of Satanism as there are forms of christianity. (He also shows how hazy the lines between some forms of christianity and Satanism can be.) This book acknowledges the fact that Satanism is a very loosely defined set of beliefs and behaviors, and the author provides a thorough and entertaining account of the movement’s more interesting facets. (I picked up some cool recommendations for bands, movies and books too.) Overall, I would recommend this as a good primer for anyone with an interest in the Devil’s place in Rock’n’Roll.

I started writing a paragraph about my own take on Satanism, but it turned very lengthy very quickly, so I think I shall save it for a later date. Until then, Hail Satan!
(Update: This is what that paragraph eventually turned into.)