Season of the Witch – Peter Bebergal

season of the witch occult rock and roll - peter bebergal.jpgSeason of the Witch : How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll – Peter Bebergal
Penguin – 2014

I like rock’n’roll and books about the occult, but I found this quite boring. Peter Bebergal seems to have set his sights a bit too high. His definition of Occult is very broad (as I suppose it should be), and he attempts to use this open Occultism to spin a narrative that links all strains of rock music.

Season of the Witch contains all the stuff you’d expect- the Stones and their connection to Kenneth Anger, Jimmy Page and Aleister Crowley, Black Sabbath and the Devil… but it also includes lengthy discussions on the influence of voodoo on blues music and prog rock’s fascination with sci-fi. The topics being discussed are interesting, but the scope of the book is so large that the author doesn’t get to go into a huge amount of detail. Also, the book mostly focuses on mainstream artists. There’s a bit on Throbbing Gristle and their offshoots, and Magma get a mention, but the Beatles and Pink Floyd get far more coverage. Berbegal also discusses Coven, Black Widow, and Mercyful Fate, but I’ve read books that go into far greater detail on that kind of stuff.

I feel a bit bad about this review. Berbegal comes across as sincerely interested in the subject matter, and he knows what he’s writing about. This would probably be more interesting to a person who hadn’t already spent a lot of time reading about the links between rock music and the occult.

Speaking of books about rock music, the trailer for the Lords of Chaos movie was finally posted online. It looks truly ridiculous. I’m definitely going to watch it.

We Sold Our Souls – Grady Hendrix

we sold our souls grady hendrixWe Sold Our Souls – Grady Hendrix
Quirk – 2018

The story of a metal band that sold their souls to the devil and their climactic final concert… hang on, didn’t I just review this book?

Fuck it, all heavy metal rips off Black Sabbath, and it’s a metal tradition to wear ones influences on ones sleeves (literally), so we don’t need to worry if the plot of Grady Hendrix’s We Sold Our Souls sounds a little like that of The Scream. Anyways, We Sold Our Souls is the better novel. The characters are more likable, the scary parts are scarier, and while The Scream name-drops U2 and Madonna, We Sold Our Souls has a chapter named after the best Napalm Death album.

Yes. Unlike most of the authors writing about rock music that I’ve encountered, Grady Hendrix doesn’t come across as a total poser. This book references Bathory and Mercyful Fate! Can you remember the time I expressed my desire to read a book about “Glenn Danzig fighting off werewolves in an attempt to track down a copy of a cursed, unreleased Morbid Angel demo”? This book is probably the closest I’ll ever get. It is a truly metal horror novel. The writing is good too; I actually enjoyed the process of reading this book.

Hard rock and horror sounds like the perfect combination, but writing an entirely satisfying rock-shocker seems to be an impossible task. While the bands Dürt Würk, Ghoul, Vargr, FiascoWhip Hand, Celestial PraylinThe Scream and Lost Souls? all sound like they sound amazing, the reader is always left a little underwhelmed by the absence of actual riffage. No matter how good a writer is, they won’t be able to accurately describe a piece of music in writing, especially if their reader has never heard that music. I get a bit antsy when a book spends multiple pages describing a song that I can’t hear, but maybe this is for the best. If I can’t hear the riff, I can’t reasonably say I don’t like it. Still, I’m hoping that We Sold Our Souls is turned into a movie and somebody cool is hired to write the soundtrack.

I’ll keep this review short because this is a new book and there’s a tonne of other reviews online now. I don’t have much to say other than I really enjoyed We Sold Our Souls. It was one of those “I can’t wait to get off work and read on the bus” books. This is the first time I’ve ever reviewed a book during its year of publication. It’s also the last rock’n’roll book I’ll be reading this year. It’s fitting that the book is by Grady Hendrix as several of the rock novels I reviewed this year were featured in his awesome Paperbacks from Hell.

Keep on rockin.

 

The Scream – John Skipp and Craig Spector

the scream skipp spector.jpgThe Scream – John Skipp and Craig Spector
Bantam Books – 1988

A demon possessed, sadistic, post-metal cyber-thrash band attempts to raise Hell on Earth by sacrificing thousands of its fans in horrendous acts of brutal violence. The only people capable of stopping these monsters are a group of heavily armed Vietnam Veterans turned rockstars. How could a book with this plot be anything but amazing?

Hang on. I’ll tell you now.

The Scream is far too long, it has too many characters that don’t matter, and its characterization ratio is a mess. I felt like I knew far more about Pastor Furniss, an insignificant minor character who we get to watch masturbate in the shower, than I did about Jake Hamer, the books hero. Sure, I know that Jake went through Hell in the ‘Nam, but I never really cared. In fact, the entire Vietnam subplot of the book is an unnecessary distraction from the main story. When a book ends with (spoiler alert) an enormous monster stuffing human corpses into its hungry vagina with its own proboscular cock, the readers don’t need a good explanation of where this thing came from. Saying it originated in the jungles of Vietnam is a bit underwhelming. As it stands, The Scream reads like three distinct stories (Rambo, Spinal Tap and Peter Jackson’s Braindead/Dead Alive) that were hastily sewn together – there’s just a bit too much going on.

Like Ghoul (another late 80s book about an evil rock band), The Scream also presents rock music in a confusing light. The authors rail against evangelical attacks on heavy metal, but the real bad guys in this book are the musicians, not the clergy. I suppose that’s just the nature of the beast though. Nice boys don’t play rock’n’roll.

All that said, The Scream is undeniably entertaining. The gore in here is very enjoyable, and it gets more and more intense as the book goes on. The novel culminates in a true splatterfest. Also, this is the only book I’ve ever read, probably the only ever written, to contain the word “vomitcumshitslime”.

I wish that the eponymous band at the heart of the novel were real. I really wish I could hear their music. This book was published in 1988, before the world got news of those Norwegian metallers killing each other, and while the gore in this book is absurd, the notion of murder music presented in here seems prophetic in retrospect.

Despite the abundant gore and the inclusion of perhaps the coolest imaginary band of all time, The Scream is not a great book. It’s a bit like dinner at McDonalds – it’s mucho enjoyable while it’s going in, but it leaves you feeling slightly unfulfilled after you’re done with it. This book is trash, a perfect example of a Paperback from Hell, and I knew that it would be when I started reading it. While I can’t say The Scream was amazing, I also cant say it was disappointing.

Would I read another book by this pair of authors?

dead lines skipp spector.jpgDefinitely.

Alembic – Timothy d’Arch Smith

alembic timothy d'arch smith.jpgAlembic – Timothy d’Arch Smith
Dalkey Archive Press – 1992

Alembic is a novel about alchemy, insanity, sex, drugs, rock’n’roll and  magic. If that doesn’t make you want to read it, this blog isn’t the place for you. Alembic is the only novel by Timothy D’Arch Smith, a name you might recall from my earlier posts on his bibliography of Montague Summers and Books of the Beast, a collection of essays about the books of Aleister Crowley, Summers and Austin Spare. D’Arch Smith is a pretty cool guy.

The plot of Alembic is fairly puzzling. The narrator works for the English Government’s secret alchemy department. While he’s taking some time off work to visit his famous rockstar mate, he bumps into his coworker’s daughter. He falls in love with her, and they have some adventures. This story is punctuated with flashbacks of the narrator’s days in the army. 

In truth, it’s not a very good story.

Most of the novels that I’ve read this year have been of the trashy horror fiction variety. That style of writing is usually fairly to the point, and the books are plot driven, focused on the tale, not the telling. Alembic is quite the opposite. It reads like a book written to showcase the author’s writing. D’Arch Smith uses his verbiage to great comic effect at times, but overall, the writing style is overwhelming. Several secondary characters get lost and blend into each other in the dense text.

cadaver tomb rene chalon richierThe cover image of the book is a drawing of this statue. Originally the statue held the actual heart of René de Chalon. Cool.

When I started reading this book, it reminded me of the early novels of Flann O’Brien. This might have been due to the fact that Alembic was put out by Dalkey Archives, a publisher named after one of O’ Brien’s novels, but the grandiose descriptions of the utterly banal definitely seemed a bit Flannesque to me.  The other influence that I couldn’t help but notice was Nabakov’s Lolita. Yes, unfortunately this is another book about a grown man falling in love with and raping a child. I didn’t like this part. The girl in here is 14. The male is in his mid twenties. Aside from one comically repulsive scene, this book isn’t sexually explicit, but it was still unpleasant to read the narrative of a diddler.

Timothy D’Arch Smith has also written a book about the Uranian poets. These were a gang of paedophiles who liked writing poems about little boys. Hey, reading/writing books about something doesn’t mean you like it, but why put it in your own fiction? I don’t mean to be accusatory, but I did wonder why he didn’t just make the girl two years older. 

One possible explanation might be the fact that the book revolves around a Led Zeppelin styled band named Celestial Praylin. I’m not a big enough Zeppelin fan to have been able to understand the similarities between them and the fake band, but the cover of the book and every review I’ve read of it has mentioned Zeppelin. D’Arch Smith used to be close with Jimmy Page. He was the guy who got Page all his books on Crowley, and he later dedicated his Books of the Beast to the rocker. Anyways, as we all know, Jimmy Page repeatedly raped a 14 year old when he was in his late twenties, so maybe it just felt natural to include a bit of child abuse in a Led-Zeppeliny book. Anyone wanting to play the “14 is old enough to give consent” or “times were different back then” cards can fuck right off. He knew it was wrong and he did it anyway. Page is a nonce.

aleister crowley signatureThe lettering of the title on the cover of Alembic is clearly based on the signature of Aleister Crowley although I’m not entirely sure why. It probably has something to do with the magical child/homunculus motifs that run through the book.

I was a bit surprised with Alembic. I really liked the other books that I’ve read by this author, and I had wanted to read this one for ages. There were several parts that made me laugh out loud, and there are some cool ideas in here, but I didn’t enjoy this as much as I expected to. Given the role of alchemy plays in the narrator’s life, I suspect that there were levels of meaning in this book that went totally over my head.

The Kill Riff – David J. Schow

the kill riff schowThe Kill Riff – David J. Schow
Futura – 1990 (First published 1987)

I wanted to like The Kill Riff. It has a cool name, it has cool covers, and it’s the first novel by the guy who supposedly coined the term “splatterpunk”. Everything about it seemed promising. Unfortunately, this was a fairly crumby novel.

It’s about Lucas, a dude who spends his time hunting down members of a rock group because his daughter died at one of their concerts. The narrative switches between his story and the experiences of Gabriel Stannard, the singer of Whip Hand. Regardless of his responsibility for the death of Lucas’s daughter, this Gabriel guy deserves to die for being such a damn poser. Somewhere in the second half of the book, it becomes apparent that Lucas is also a huge arse, and by the end of the book, I was really hoping that both of these lads would die horribly.

The main characters are obnoxious, and the secondary characters are described in a frustrating amount of detail. There are whole chapters on characters that have no bearing on the actual story. There are also embarrassingly lengthy discussions of psychology that do nothing but slow things down. The book does contain some scenes of brutal violence, but they’re lost in a frustratingly slow plot. The Kill Riff weighs in at 400 pages. It would have been far more effective and enjoyable at 200.

David Schow does his best to let his reader know that he is actually a rock fan. He doesn’t care for post-Roth Van Halen, and he includes a paragraph on the Mentors for no reason. It’s usually a novelty when an author name-drops a band I like, but Schow does it so often that it actually seems a bit desperate. We get it bro, you like guitar solos.

I’m being pretty negative here. I have read books that were far, far worse than The Kill Riff. I just think this was a wasted opportunity. It’s a solid idea for a book, but it literally needed more killer and less filler. I’ve got a few more rock’n’roll themed books lined up that I’m hoping to finish by the end of the year. Stay tuned.

The Satanicons

satanicon - adrian clavex

Satanicon – Adrian Clavex
Blackstar Church – 1993

Picture this:

Times are hard. You’re trying to cut corners to make rent at the end of the month, and in a desperate attempt to avoid spending money on dinner, you ate half a jar of smooth peanut butter and most of a bag of dodgy chicken nuggets from the freezer last night. You consequently spent a good quarter of an hour on the toilet bowl this morning, expelling a behemoth shite from your cankered anus.

Now you’re halfway through your morning jog, but an itching from your hideous rim is making you terribly aware that you weren’t thorough enough when you were wiping your well-greased anal opening after this morning’s crap.

You race back home, and upon getting to the loo, you speedily grab a handful of toilet paper and use it to dab your now sweaty, turd besmirched, hemorrhoid-ridden shit-portal.

If Anton LaVey’s Satanic Bible was the original massive shit, Adrian Clavex’s Satanicon would be the fouled piece of toilet paper you now hold in your hand.

I downloaded a PDF copy of this zine (I don’t think it’s fair to call it a book) out of curiosity after seeing images of a hard copy posted on a Facebook group. I don’t think I ever intended to actually read it, but I found myself with nothing else on the bus yesterday and decided to give it a lash.

adrian clavex
It isn’t worth reading. This is childish rubbish. There’s nothing of any merit in here. It’s an atheistic grimoire of “satanic” rituals. Truly, a piece of a trash. Anyone who could possibly follow the rituals outlined in this book without feeling terribly embarrassed and ashamed of themselves must be a loser indeed.

blackstar church

 

As I was researching this text, I came across a two-piece metal band also named Satanicon. As far as I can tell, there’s no link between the book and the band, but the band is definitely interesting enough to discuss here. I’m actually going to give y’all a trigger warning right now. I don’t like the idea of trigger warnings, but this is actually about to get very creepy. (Not creepy in the spooky, cobwebs and tombstones sense of the word either; I mean creepy in the depressing “Jesus Christ, the world is a sick place” sense of the word.)

I was quite surprised to discover that I had actually encountered one of Satanicon’s members’ music before. Almost a decade ago, I downloaded mp3s of a recording called Prayers to Satan by an act called Lord Asmodeus. It was awful crap, some loser ranting about Jesus through a pitch-shifter, but it’s still on my hard-drive. It turns out that the guy behind it also played bass in Satanicon. In 2015, he murdered his girlfriend and then killed himself. There’s a youtube video that was filmed in his apartment in which you can see his collection of occult books (mostly Crowley and Simon Necronomicons) and the Nazi flag on the wall in his living room. (Check out 45 seconds into that video for a serious cringe.)

nazi flag

Surprisingly, the bassist actually seems to have been the more normal of the duo. Joe Aufricht, the guitar player and now sole member of Satanicon recorded a tape full of rape jokes in the 90s that seems to have been more widely circulated than you’d imagine.  He was also the butt of the joke on a skit on one of nu-metal band Mushroomhead’s albums. He seems like the type of loser that everyone in the Ohio metal scene knows about and avoids.

joe aufricht is paedophile.jpgA physically repulsive scumbag with a low IQ

The more I look into this guy, the scarier he becomes. He used to distribute material around Ohio encouraging the legalization of intergenerational love. He ran/runs his own satanic order, and I made the mistake of downloading some of his literature. It’s genuinely disgusting, and I won’t be reviewing it. It’s just grooming material to trick kids into having sex with him. The guy is a fucking creep. He currently runs a very strange youtube channel of him making stupid noises and acting like a spastic. You’d imagine a disgusting paedophile would avoid using their real name for their perverted internet presence, but this guy is clearly very, very stupid. Check out this screenshot of his youtube feed:
joe aufricht is a sick man
This isn’t funny. It actually makes me feel a bit sick. This guy is a scary fucking creep. There’s an online petition out there calling for him to be barred from certain venues in Ohio because of his sexual misconduct, but I reckon it would be better to lock him up where he can’t do any damage. As childish and petty as it is, I couldn’t resist leaving him a comment:

brasseye joe

It’s not every day that you come across a band comprised of a murdering Nazi and a mentally deficient paedophile comedian. Perhaps the only thing about Satanicon that wasn’t surprising is the fact that they are absolutely terrible. Here’s a video of the two losers playing some awful shit. It’s a real pity that the bassist didn’t kill his bandmate instead of his girlfriend. I mean that sincerely.

I want to again highlight the fact that the band Satanicon has nothing to do with the aforementioned zine or its author. Sure, the zine was a bit lame, but Adrian Clavex seems like a very, very cool guy indeed when compared with the dorks from the other Satanicon.

One for the Rockers – Shelia Bristow Garner’s Night Music, Garrett Boatman’s Stage Fright and Frank Lauria’s The Foundling

horror rock
Heavy metal has a long history of borrowing elements from the realm of horror fiction. Anthrax wrote Among the Living about Stephen King’s The Stand, Iron Maiden have Phantom of the Opera, Moonchild and lots of other songs about literature, Metallica did Call of Kutulu and The Thing that Should not Be about Lovecraft’s work (their Ride the Lightning album also got its name from The Stand), and Reverend Bizarre were clearly big Dennis Wheatley fans, penning songs titled They Used Dark Forces and The Devil Rides Out. (This list is far from exhaustive; I’m limiting my examples to books I have reviewed on this site.) Its pummeling cacophony, sludgy riffs, piercing shrieks and gutteral growls make heavy metal sound like the events in a horror novel, and it’s not at all surprising that several authors have tried to switch things around by writing horror stories involving heavy rock music. (I’ve previously reviewed Ghoul, an awesome novel about an evil rock band, and Shock Rock, an anthology of rock’n’roll themed short fiction.) This post looks at three more horror novels that have chanced their arm wrestling the rock monster.

night music shelia bristow garnerNight Music – Sheila Bristow Garner

Pinnacle – 1992

This was an awful book. It’s about Kitty, a boring, plain-jane nurse, who falls in love with Michael, the singer in Fiasco, a shitty covers band. Soon after Kitty and Michael meet, a new guitarist joins the band, brainwashes Michael with a combination of hypnosis and rohypnol and then initiates him into a satanic cult. As Michael gets deeper and deeper into Satanism, his relationship with Kitty falls apart.

The characters are frustratingly flat – the good guys are good, and the bad guys are bad. Also, the members of Fiasco, the band, are suspiciously familiar – Michael leads, and David, he plays keys. Freddy’s cool but rude, and Jocko, well, he’s a party-dude.

The Satanism in here is never explained. To Sheila Bristow Garner, Satanists are just people who cut out other people’s hearts to worship the Devil. She assumes that her readers think so too. I was hoping that the horror in here would be of the supernatural variety because of cool skull on the cover, but I was sorely disappointed. The Satanic character is a good musician, and while he wouldn’t be the first character to receive his musical prowess from Satan, the book never explicitly suggests this. The most horrifying thing about this book is how dull it is. The main characters are so bland that I spent most of the book hoping that they would die horribly. This book is the literary equivalent of eating a stale cheese sandwich when you’re not hungry. Reading it feels like sitting on a train beside a person who has just farted. As soon as you realise what’s going on, you just want it to be over.

shelia bristow garnerThe author

This isn’t a horror novel. It’s a shitty romantic thriller that mentions Satanism. (There’s a surprising amount of loving, tender, consensual sex in here.) The rock ‘n’ roll element is limited to a few mentions of the blues-rock covers that the band perform. Everything about this book was disappointing. The cover art is by far the best part, and it doesn’t have much to do with the story. Look carefully and you’ll see that it pictures a bass guitar. The bassist in Fiasco is one of the least important characters in the story. He is never involved in any of the Satanic activity, yet the hand on the bass guitar is wearing a pentagram ring! Bullshit.

 

the foundling frank lauria
The Foundling – Frank Lauria

I quite liked Frank Lauria’s Doctor Orient series, and the cover of this book is an image of a devil-child playing an electric guitar. I had to read it.

I had read a rather unenthusiastic review of The Foundling before sitting down with the book, but it really wasn’t that bad. Sure, there’s only 4 or 5 real horror moments throughout, but I found the characters interesting enough to keep things afloat. This is the story of a retired rock-star and his wife adopting a preteen girl in an attempt to save their failing marriage. Unfortunately, the girl is sex-crazed, evil and magic. Whenever somebody annoys her, they end up dying horribly. The fact that the girl is evil is established early on, but the surprising reason for her evilness is only revealed towards the end. (Skip to the next paragraph if you’re planning to read this book.) It turns out that she is evil because she was brought up as part of the Manson family. That’s right. Not content with ripping off Carrie and the Omen, Frank Lauria decided to throw in a bit of Helter Skelter too. Surprised? It doesn’t make much sense in the context of the book either.

As far as rock’n’roll content is concerned, there’s not much to say. The dad character produces an album in the family’s basement, and the little girl writes a song, but that’s pretty much it. The rock’n’roll could be entirely removed from the story with just a few changes. Frank Lauria has played in a band, and the first Doctor Orient book features rock’n’roll mind control, so I guess he just likes it.

This was a quick read. It’s nothing special, but it was enjoyable enough.

 

stage fright garrett boatman
Stage Fright – Garret Boatman
I have been planning this post since the beginning of 2017, but tracking down this book delayed things considerably. I knew on seeing the cover that I would some day read it, but at that time copies were going for about 20 dollars, just a little more than what I feel comfortable paying for a trashy paperback. After being included on the cover of Paperbacks from Hell, this book became very difficult to find, and I had to spend a ludicrous amount of time and effort tracking down an affordable copy. I am delighted to announce that it was worth it.

This book is just as deadly as the cover would have you believe. While not really about a keyboard playing skeleton rocker, Stage Fright is a gory, slimy, slab of entertaining sci-fi horror. The instrument on the front cover is presumably the controller to a Dreamatron, a machine that allows its user to project their imagination into the dreams of an audience. Isidore Stark, the world’s most famous Dreamatron artist, decides to ingest the blood of schizophrenics to enhance his dreamscapes, but this leads to him losing control of his mind and the machine, and the results are very, very bloody. Characters from classic horror movies, the paintings of Bosch, and the books of Tolkien and Lovecraft show up in the “dreamies”. There are certain discrepancies to the story (how does the dream machine actually work?), but it’s pretty easy to let this stuff slide when you’re being confronted with flesh mazes and grotesque monsters tearing people’s limbs off. While this book isn’t about music, its intensity made it feel far more rock’n’roll than either of the other two books reviewed in this post.

I’ve only found one other full review of Stage Fright online. It’s quite a bit more critical than this one, but I suspect that Joe Kenney hadn’t slogged through two very mediocre (boring) rock novels directly beforehand. He is correct in claiming that some of the characters are overdeveloped and that the book is probably longer than it should be. Stage Fright is pure trash, but I prefer pure trash to diluted trash.

Joe Kenney also, very perceptively, notes that the inside cover of Stage Fright advertises another novel by Boatman Garrett called Death Dream. No such novel was ever published, and Kenney suggests that Death Dream might actually have been the original title for Stage Fright. This could explain the fact that the cover and title don’t have much to do with the plot of the novel; Death Dream would be more appropriate for this story.
death dream garrett boatmanDoes this then mean that Onyx had originally commissioned this cover art for an actual novel about a keyboard playing skeleton that was never published? Is there a manuscript of the real Stage Fright in some forgotten archive? We’ll probably never know.

 

I have reviewed these books in the order I read them. If I had ordered them by ranking, they’d be in the same position, Stage Fright being the best, Night Music being the shittest. Despite their incredible cover art, none of these books are really about rock music. My search for the perfect blend of horror and metal continues. Fortunately, I have these two books lying on my shelf for later.
the scream and kill riff