AVAILABLE NOW!

BUY-LINK : https://www.cemeterydance.com/dancing-with-tombstones.html

DANCING WITH TOMBSTONES

An exotic lifetime collection of short stories and novellas by Michael Aronovitz.

This is published by Cemetery Dance.

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COMING MARCH 1st, 2022

THE SCULPTOR

Michael Aronovitz brings you this terrifying serial killer / mystery being published by Night Shade / Skyhorse Books. Guaranteed to raise the hair on your neck. You will only pick this novel up once.

Pre-Order here:

https://www.skyhorsepublishing.com/9781949102543/the-sculptor/

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Phantom Effect – My 2016 Release

Phantom Effect

PhantomEffectWithBloodSerial killer Jonathan Martin Delaware Deseronto is stuck with two flat tires on an abandoned construction site with the body of his latest victim, the lovely co-ed Marissa Madison, in the trunk.

What he doesn’t realize is that the girl was psychic, and her ghost will force Deseronto to live the last fatal week of her life inside her body as a passive passenger, making him experience the mind numbing terror of being stalked by himself.

Available at:

https://www.skyhorsepublishing.com/9781597808460/phantom-effect/


Review by Publisher’s Weekly

Psychological obsession and surrealist complexity lend interest to fetishistic violence in a perverted parable that challenges traditional moral norms and reader expectations.

When serial killer Jonathan Deseranto gets a flat tire, an unexpected encounter leads to an automobile accident that, in turn, reveals the animated corpse of Marissa Madison, his most recent victim.

Cast into a purgatorial time loop and forced to inhabit Marissa’s life as well as his own, Jonathan realizes his victim had “gifts he didn’t know about.” Reliving Marissa’s domestic strife and enduring grim reunions with his abusive mother, Jonathan becomes both hunter and prey.

Razor-sharp description, breakneck action, and sympathetic characters undermine the reader’s preconceived notions of past and present, and of reality and delusion, in a thriller designed to question as much as entertain.

The genre staple of a killer’s psychosexual metamorphosis is invigorated by the theme of a fragmented identity haunting itself. Perspective shifts lend depth to a philosophically rich fearfest that’s recommended for readers who prefer their titillation to include some complexity.

Link to review.


Michael Aronovitz is the author of the acclaimed short story collections Seven Deadly Pleasures (Hippocampus Press, 2009) and The Voices in Our Heads (2013), Alice Walks (2013), as well as the novel, The Witch of the Wood (Hippocampus Press, 2014).

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Michael Aronovitz Reflects

2021 was a good year.

For anyone who lost someone to Covid-19, I offer my deepest sympathies. For anyone who looked on in horror and shock at what the political climate became in the last half-decade, I sympathize as well. Still, this is a blog post of hope, and I don’t mind claiming here, loudly and with great fanfare, that I had a wonderful, productive and celebratory year.

For those that don’t know, I am a college professor of English at three different institutions, and from a teaching perspective, 2021 was awesome. This was also a red letter year for me creatively. I published a lifetime collection of short stories and novellas through Cemetery Dance Publications, titled: DANCING WITH TOMBSTONES.

https://www.cemeterydance.com/dancing-with-tombstones.html

This was released in October, 2021. I also published (at least for pre-order) my fourth novel titled THE SCULPTOR – Night Shade Skyhorse Publishing. It was supposed to come out in September, but shipping delays have meant publishing delays. It will release March 1st 2022.

https://www.skyhorsepublishing.com/9781949102543/the-sculptor/

Here is a guest blog post I did on December 9th, 2021 for Flames Rising Dot Com

https://www.flamesrising.com/the-tales-themselves-are-eclectic/

Moreover, I completed the sequel to THE SCULPTOR just the other day, on December 29th, 2021. It took me a year and a month to write, and so 2021 is a year I will always remember fondly in terms of creative output. I have sent THE SCULPTOR II to my mentor, Lovecraft scholar and anthologist S.T. Joshi, and look forward to his take on it.

Though I am not much for “self promotion,” the books have given me an excuse to get on some podcasts and YouTube interviews with old friends. Recently, Jason Henderson had me on for a chat. He runs Castle Bridge Media, The Castle of Horror anthology series (I have had fiction in four of the volumes), and he wrote the young adult horror series: Alex Van Helsing. Here is that podcast – December 2, 2021.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PP51pq9ykLM&t=12s

I also have had a couple of appearances with Cody Walker and Ralph Buso, on their show “ALHSY!” (or Alot’s Happened Since Yesterday!). They started the podcast / YouTube Show November 20th, 2020 with yours truly as their first guest.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XFIGghejKZ0&t=1939s

The history of this is kind of cool, as Ralph and his band Ravenscroft were the subject(s) of my first professional rock review (December 9th, 2015 on Hellnotes, the famous horror blog). My review focused on their hit, Cauldron of Deceit.

http://www.horrorreview.com/the-inside-scoop-on-upcoming-horror-heavy-metal-band-ravenscroft/

I originally started doing these reviews, because I had to have something to post besides my buy-links. I have additionally seen a connection between metal and horror from day one, and this was a way to express my love for heavy music in a big way. Also…just saying…I am a professor of English, so writing a fortification analysis is second nature, especially since I was in a professional glam metal club band in the 80’s. I am familiar with the ins and outs of the business.

I was also Cody and Ralph’s 50th guest just the other week, November 15th, 2021. Many feel the show was particularly engaging, and I especially like the rapport between the three of us. Remember, there is no “coaching” or script. Everything is done on the fly, and I especially enjoy a great improvisation! Moreover, their editing is superlative. Check out the inserts of Joker and Jaws. Looks like we planned it, but no, we did not; Cody and Ralph are simply that good.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fymcmLW7efM&t=824s

Speaking of music, this past year I got into watching viewer reactions to my favorite bands on YouTube. My favorite artist to put in the search was Queen, of course, as they are my favorite all-time band. Interestingly, Cody and Ralph also have a reaction show called, Rocker Reaction / ALHSY!, and they had me on the other night, December 29th, 2021, to react to my new favorite band, The Warning. They are a hard rock/metal power trio, three sisters from Mexico, who are simply the best new band playing now. Instead of going into it too deeply here, I have provided the reaction show I guest hosted, through which we discussed the single Evolve, the live version.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iVnNF_vaPZs&t=1201s

Altogether, I have written over a hundred rock reviews, (probably more like three hundred), for Heavy Music Headquarters and Metalheads Forever Magazines. Though I did tail off a bit on the volunteered reviews this past year, I freelanced the bio reviews for a few new signings at the boutique deathcore label Eclipse Records. My work is featured on Eclipse’s main page concerning the bands: Violet Blend, The Stone Eye, April 21st, and RiseUp.

https://www.eclipserecords.com/

As for 2022? I have six classes (so far) set up, starting mid January. In terms of new writing, I am still catching my breath from the last novel, and to be honest, S.T. Joshi’s response to it will dictate which way I go. If his response is lukewarm, I will most probably search out a new theme and story for the next novel. I will also probably write some short stories. If his read is highly favorable, I might go all the way and make THE SCULPTOR into a continuing franchise. Hey…my stuff isn’t for everybody, but I always keep it real.

Peace.

1/1/22

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If You Say You Write Horror, Fucking DO It

I was at a horror convention years ago, and a “horror writer” on one of the panels claimed of his serial killer-character, “Oh, I HATE him! He’s SO mean!”

Well pal, fuck you, go write romance. If you’re trying to be politically correct, you’re coming off fake and pukey, and if you think your plea is gender-sensitive, it actually paints you as the creepy uncle, the condescending misogynist.

If I am going to write horror, I am going to focus on the horrific, and if I am to do that effectively, I can’t have an antagonist who is a cardboard “bad guy” based on cliches (the equivalent of lipstick on a pig) or the seeming opposite end of the spectrum – the melodramatic fiend performing massive acts of hyperbole, like stabbing a victim FIFTY TIMES (the equivalent of a middle schooler’s scribble in the margins during math class).

I talked to another horror writer who claimed serial killers are stupid. I wonder then, why I am reading about them. If I am to have worthy protagonists, doing exactly what I would do a moment before I think of doing it, then what does it say about my overall story structure (and character-building) if my antagonist is a dumb-ass to begin with? I would also respond with examples like Buffalo Bill. Stupid? Maybe, but he was a foil for Hannibal Lecter, who was anything but. The killer in the movie Seven was far from stupid, and though Fortunato was simple enough to walk to his own crypt in the catacombs, Montresor was pretty fucking slick with that trowel.

I like reading (and writing) about “bad guys” who are smart, who make me see things differently, who show me their craft in a way that if only for a moment, alters my perspective.

That, is interesting. Far more than the rather “farty” and “girly” – “Oh, I HATE him!!”

Not to get technical, but if I want the killer in a story I am reading or writing to become something other than that hideous sow or that indiscriminate side-scribble, he or she might just wind up being the lead character. This however, forms a paradox, a tough one, but a good riddle nonetheless. I am not making the claim that it is anything new or “special” in having the protagonist as the “bad guy,” but more, if I am creating a horror book (or movie) how do I hide the monster if the monster is the main player?

My theory is that it is not only possible to solve this puzzle, but celebrate it. To do so, however, I would argue that we have to flip the idea of viewpoint characters on its head.

I know. All of a sudden we have the naysayers coming out of the woodwork with all their trendy little dark omens. “Third person is better than first person! Never do full blown flashbacks! Never do multiple viewpoints! Never, never, never…”

If I was interested in “never” I would have avoided teaching, let alone writing fiction. I have always believed that there are no real rules in writing, but rather, a platform for the given artist to make his or her own parameters from word number one.

So then, why can’t my serial killer be the lead character?

I just finished my fourth novel, titled The Sculptor, and I’ll tell you straight up, I FUCKING LOVE my sick-o killer-dude. Whether or not I succeeded in making a frightening, smart, and above all – interesting character will be up to the reader. Whether or not this will be a success will be determined of course, by Night Shade Books, where I landed the novel for a fall, 2021 release.

In terms of the writing of the thing, here was my thinking:

My mystery/thriller will use the serial killer motif to probe broader questions related to the use of technology and our buried capacity for darkness. Since we know the identity of the killer from the first line of chapter one, when in 1986 at age seven, Michael Leonard Robinson commits his first murder, our initial “twist” is a play on genre. Michael himself is the mystery. From the start he is an enigma, a recluse, the kid no one notices at school, yet he is also a bizarre sort of prodigy, turning tragedy into an aesthetic. By the time he turns eighteen, he has become an expert with computers, gaming systems, and the art of video imaging. And now in his forties, fully realized, he has long erased his digital footprint. He is thirty years ahead of our most advanced scientists, military ops tacticians, and elite information tech specialists. He is a master of disguise. He can invent projected realities.

Therefore, the question initially raised in reference to this “mystery” is not “Who done it?” but rather, “What devious methods will this mysterious fiend use to next manipulate his playthings?”

Before discussing the viewpoint characters however, another question one might raise would be concerned with overall motivation. Michael Leonard Robinson could very well work his dark vision on larger scales, putting a ghost in everyone’s cell phone at a Phillies game and making them all explode when the singer hits the high note in the national anthem. He could shut off all the electric, take over the cell towers, then hide in the sewers for ten years while we clawed at each other on the surface. Why not world domination considering his superlative cognitive advantages?

Because this is more about fetish, about Robinson living in his own sort of pornographically violent fantasy, up close and personal, as he leads his victims down paths haunted by their fears and repressions. Robinson doesn’t need “the world” for a thrill, just a police captain, his receptionist, a detective, a rookie junior officer, his sister and mother, and a lot of dark theater. “Who done it,” hell. How about “Where is he?” and “What’s coming next?”

Since our lead character is Michael Leonard Robinson, and he appears to us only in disguise, film clips, and flashes, our viewpoint characters provide disquieting glimpses. The aforementioned players are also slave to personal interpretation and psychological bias, as is the killer’s design, so “point of view” is part of the overall story’s masking technique, hiding the monster with tactical reveals.

The multiple viewpoints are puzzle pieces.

When they fuse at the end, we have our final sculpture.

That said, it would appear that the novel is thematically based, more symbol than substance, and this simply is not the case. This is a house of cards shaped like a mousetrap, and the devil is in the details.

All that said, it seems I always write from a standpoint of rebellion. As a writer, I so often find that there are a lot of people telling me what I can’t do. Ok. Then, the question is, did I enjoy writing The Sculptor…

Yes. Because it was fucking hard.

Yes, because hard as it was, it was true to itself all the way through.

Will people be disconnected because there is no hero lead character to interpret things through? Maybe. But I will guarantee you, no one will ever accuse me of being farty or prissy or politically correct.

 

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For 70’s Rockers

A number of years ago I started writing stuff about 70’s rock and growing up, and it turned into a fun flashback and heartfelt tribute to my good friend (and guitar-God) Lou Pastalone (RIP). I’ve been added bits here and there in between novels and short stories, and I thought I’d post some in case anyone was feeling nostalgic. Here’s the beginning.

Alongside a Prodigy

What my life was like before, during, and after

my collaboration with guitarist Lou Pastalone,

(the great one few would ever know about)

Introduction

Know up front that this is a love story.

Not in the usual sense, and I’m sorry to disappoint anyone who would expect me to get into some sort of sentimentalist melodrama. As a novelist I don’t run away from scenes of tenderness, but as a baseboard sort of admission, I should say up front that my genre of choice for writing is horror. Literary thinking horror. I am a professor of English and more a believer in the power of paradox than the highs and lows of emotional currency.

Still, this is a love story just the same.

It is a story about a love of life, of childhood and coming of age, of music, and the smoky, electric sounds of the 70’s. It is a celebration of youth I still remember and the songs back then that put patterns in my mind that painted the world full of colors and dreams, a testament to how aesthetically enabling it was to wake up in the morning without social media, without microwave ovens, without bank cards, or cable, or cell phones, or computers. In many ways we were the pioneers of the New Social Modernism. Just as Hemingway left behind the horses, carriages, and overblown Victorian prose, so did we break away from our parents with the most powerful technology on the planet besides radar, rocket ships, and muscle cars.

We had rock.

And we had it different than the 60’s and The Beatles, far more advanced, though not many experts seem to make this distinction. Almost like foreshadowing, Elvis, in his ’68 Comeback television special, spoke of The Beatles not so much as equal musicians, yet more the ones at the state of the art in terms of technology. Still, to make The Beatles some sort of stopping point on technical grounds is wholly inaccurate, as they were more the centerpiece in the greater analogy. Elvis was to The Beatles as The Beatles were to Led Zeppelin. That being said, I would argue that Zeppelin’s contribution to the “New Social Modernism” was more about writing and improvisation than technological evolution, just as I would claim that the double album Frampton Comes Alive (1976) was more about setting the post-Beatles blueprint for image, packaging, and concert promotion. Arguably, the best band of the 70’s was The Eagles, first with their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) released in 1976, and then Hotel California (1976), but the band that blew everyone’s doors off metatextually so to speak was Queen with their groundbreaking masterpiece – Night at the Opera (1975), taking genre, structure, and electronics to amazing new heights. So much for analogies.

I remember listening to this particular Queen album in absolute astonishment. Admittedly, I had heard “Killer Queen” from Sheer Heart Attack (1974) in passing, and I distinctly recall thinking it strange, kind of cool, yet rather “girly” and inconsequential. Here in this new work however, there was multi-tracking of vocals no one had ever heard before, (hundreds actually in Bohemian Rhapsody and The Prophet’s Song) and guitar work that exhibited a sort of melodic sustain so unusual they chose to put a disclaimer on the record claiming no synthesizers had been utilized. There were a variety of arrangements that were classical, beautiful, progressive, sassy, and somehow heavy as lead boots on a magnet…techno-socio-aesthetics to the max, with a stage show rivaling Wringling Brothers, a 4th of July fireworks finale, and New Year’s Eve in Times Square! We had it in the palm of our hands, and some of our parents didn’t know how to react. Fuck cable, computers, bank cards, and Facebook. We had rock like it had never been heard before, and while today kids have their parents’ and grandparents’ music on their I-phones like old bedrocks to fall back on as well as VH1 documentaries more detailed than an AP history class, in the context of the time, tech, and social construction through which my generation came to awareness, we had something different, something real, something all of our own.

While many critics look harshly on the music of this time period, calling it “Corporate Rock” (whatever that means), I believe the thing they forget is how very new it was at the time, how state of the art in terms of writing and recording techniques, how much joy it brought to teens slumming through high school.

I realize how cliché and childish this sounds, but the music of the 70’s was just happier than that of today, even when it was “sad” somehow. Not to get too far down the flowchart (or rather the rabbit hole) where all the genres and subgenres have developed over time, it is relevant to note here, that hard rock (or metal) has become what my son presently calls “sad-as-fuck” with most of the platform solos squeezed down and replaced by incredibly fast, but repetitive riffs backing the vocals on lower strings doubling the bass, with screamo-growl vocals in said verses, and traditional singing in the chorus work, usually bouncing off a lot of minors and melancholy climaxes.

Hey. I love Five Finger Death Punch too, but back in the day it was uplifting from a different angle with a different vibe, different strike-points.

Between my years of 15 and 17, there seemed a distinct move in the music industry toward brightness and fun, and we purposefully forgot about the “legitimacy” of the garage and “protests” and “hippies” and “politics.” Not that we didn’t love the living hell out of zoning to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (1973), which had wonderful garage simplicity, spacey leads, and enough psycho-social context to satisfy anyone’s post-sixties therapist…but we also shamelessly rocked the living shit out of “Freebird” Lynyrd Skynyrd – Pronounced (1973) until we were seniors. We made out to Fleetwood Mac (The White Album) and Rumors (1975 and 1977 respectively), tore donuts in the high school parking lot blasting Ted Nugent’s “Cat Scratch Fever” (album of the same name– 1977), ripcorded cold Genesee beers to “Tush” (ZZ Top – Fandango – 1975), and did all of the above to Toys in the Attic (Aerosmith – 1975). With gusto.

That being said, during those awesome formative years between 15 and 17, I distinctly remember being especially affected both musically and culturally by Boston (1976), Kansas Leftoverture (1976), Foreigner (1977), and Styx Grand Illusion (1977).

Not to get in a pissing match…

I mean, guys. Gals. Stop. Settle down. I do realize that this document, or reminiscence, or memoir, or whatever you decide to call it, will come off as overly opinionated, sometimes unfounded, questionably pretentious, and fatally subjective. Guilty as charged. Still, I’m painting a picture here, there’s a method to my madness, and I would hope that you would kindly suspend disbelief, argument, and genuine (and admittedly valid) disdain for my one-sided viewpoint. I will make it make sense with shape, context, and purpose, and by the end of this thing I hope to at least make some new friends despite my bad attitude. Thing is, to understand Lou you have to “get” me, and at the risk of giving more primary attention to myself as opposed to the more talented and relevant, I have to lay down some groundwork.

Please understand that Lou Pastalone was a true prodigy, and I am attempting to be the mouthpiece that articulates his legacy. Since there is a historical element to this that requires a certain legitimacy, I am forced to be brutally honest. This is not story narrative, so the prose should be blunt. And this is about rockers, so hence, there’s the attitude. In other words, if I am going to talk about Lou I have an obligation to keep it real, warts and all, presenting material that would possibly interest some of you, and quite probably offend many others.

Honesty.

Jerry Maguire called it brutal for a reason.

So let’s have it, out in the air and out of the way. I never could stand New Wave (skinny ties and bad vocals on purpose), Grunge (flannel and unwarranted depression with no lead guitar to speak of), 90’s metal (dissonant reworked Grunge and by the way…Metallica has average drums and shitty vocals), and Hip-Hop (please…), but understand that this doesn’t mean I sit here arguing that these genres don’t translate to legitimate art forms. I write horror and many people shun me because of it. My wife liked the movie Wild, (gag me with a fucking crowbar), because it “spoke” to her,” so who am I to judge?

I don’t.

I am a realist, and in my own (very) small way, an artist “in the business” with my horror books. In concrete terms art can be anything, and in business terms (they do call it show business after all), we must give street-cred to anything a bunch of people throw money at. It is the way of the world.

But back in the 70’s we didn’t see it as “corporate” or “falsely manufactured.” It sounded good. It was fun. It…spoke to us.

The intellectuals liked Jethro Tull, Emerson-Lake-and Palmer, and Yes. The rebels wearing untucked flannel and engineer’s boots liked Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet, and The Outlaws. The drinkers liked George Thorogood, Aerosmith, The Who, and the Doobies, and the heavies dug Sabbath, Purple, Blue Oyster Cult, and Montrose.

But even that is a generalization.

We all loved them all. We still do.

There were only two major “rock” projects in this particular time period that I just never understood, at least from the standpoint of talent, performance, studio production, and technique: The Grateful Dead and Bruce Springsteen. In terms of the former, sure, they improvised, but as mentioned, Zeppelin did it better. The Dead’s guitars lacked finesse and distinction, and none of the lot could play a fucking blues scale. The package, vocals included, sounded like a reach to me, like bad, blurry country music, and to this day, I honestly feel they were invented for people who simply didn’t know anything about music, or so little that they thought themselves deep if they learned an open chord or two on the acoustic.

And Bruce? Muddy romanticism with bells and shit in it. Not my thing. I saw him once at the Vet before they tore it down, “Born in the USA” tour (I know…not too legit coming in so late in his odyssey, my apologies to the die-hards). He was good. I enjoyed myself. Never bought the album and never will. Lou (again…I’ll get to the big guy in a hot minute) called Bruce Springsteen “Loose Bedsprings.” I always thought that was rather poetic.

So here is my testament. I have no right to be the “chosen one” penning this and I want you to know that I know that up front. Plainly, I was the guy who was around, the one with access to a great one. I’m sorry you didn’t inherit a more qualified historian, but I’ll give you the best that I’ve got.

Attitude.

Warts and all.

For Lou.

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Why “Joker” is so Important Right Now

The film Joker does, in fact, include some painful, realistic scenes depicting mental illness, but the film does not come off as a public service announcement. More, the disability, well written and well played, paints the character as blatantly real in glorious, uncomfortable brush strokes. There are scenes that depict a man possessing a gun without a proper background check, but this is not necessarily a critique of the N.R.A. Instead, it makes the film suspenseful and raw. There is a scary clown, but this is no horror movie. His infamous walk down the outdoor concrete steps in the light mist, finally in costume and visually realized, is epic, not frightening. No Jack-in-the-box scare moments. No misdirection with some mounting, dark soundtrack, making us jump when a cat comes suddenly from around a corner…cue-off music…then a maniac with a mask and a hatchet from behind the rust-spotted water boiler…no.

It is not a super hero movie either. No one in the script has special powers, and we don’t see zip lines hitting buildings at perfect angles five blocks away, nor “super human” jumping, flipping, feigning, and punching. While I could criticize the film for not showing Joker’s full evolution (Bruce Wayne and his father are characters, so we are fully expecting Joker to become THE JOKER, the ultimate nemesis of Batman, using his mental instability to outsmart his opponents), heck, I would suppose it means that there is going to be a Joker 2.

And it is not finally the point. Joker is not a social justice movie, nor a political movie, nor a horror movie, or a superhero movie. It has beautifully filmed violence, stark and shocking like the types of filmatic shots mob movies employ, but it is no mob movie. It has family drama out the waazoo, but it is no Lifetime special, no weeping mistresses, no burning beds. We feel for the character, but it is no tragedy, and God DAMN there is a lot of laughing in this motherfucker, but it is no comedy in any sense of the word.

It is a movie that has defied genre, and writers of weird fiction should be rejoicing. Not the splatterpunks, nor the Lovecraft copiers, but the poor bastards who have been relegated to the small market because we write horror with a literary feel, something that has no place on the bookshelves, at least those in the metaphorical bookshops of mass popular appeal.

For once, we have something entirely, deliciously disturbing, that doesn’t fit into a “category.” And for writers sticking to their guns, for their lives, authoring pieces of writing true to their own given vision, bottom’s up for you! Maybe we will finally earn shelf space at Barnes and Noble, where those fat and lazy, boring and pretentious “cozy mysteries” have been taking up space for too many years.

 

 

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Publications and Such

Why do you write horror? Why do you like metal? Why do you drive a Mustang? Why do you wear your heart on your sleeve?

Because I see the cloud differently. Because I’ll never give up my love for a raucous guitar-sound. Because it’s fast and flashy, and the truth is so much more fun.

Lately, I’ve had some publications go on the calendar, so I figured I’d chatter from the rooftop for a minute.

There was a fucked up ghost story they used to tell at my summer camp in the Berkshire Mountains in Becket, Mass. It was called “The One-Armed Brakeman;” some campfire bullshit about a train operator who lost his arm saving a kid on the tracks. If you camped out in the Becket woods by the lake he left a cinder mark on your forehead and stole your arm, sewing it to his stub. A couple of years ago, I saw on line that they had made a movie about it. I thought it was odd, because the ad had two arms rising up to the dark sky in pain. Two arms, ha. Then, it said something about Naomi Watts playing a role. Still, it was not in her IMDb credits. I found the phantom movie to be more haunting than the old, unfinished ghost story, so I decided to write the final and complete tale. It will appear in early 2020 in PS Publishing, a boutique British horror press I’ve been curious to do business with for awhile, so a win-win! The anthology is edited by S.T. Joshi and titled “Apostles of the Weird.”

I was teaching a class at the community college last summer and found I wanted something to write after taking a break from finishing my fourth novel titled “The Sculptor.” For fun, I asked the class-members to each to rip out a piece of paper and write a sentence describing what would make a good horror story. I got a lot of solid (yet generic) stuff in response, but one student wrote, “There is a pale witch on a white horse on the highway.” Another student wrote, “There is a haunted section of beach where those drowned haunt the trespassers.” I liked both of these ideas, and took a week or so to write “Cross Currents.” I landed that story in the new magazine – Penumbra, to be published by Hippocampus Press in 2020.

Last July, Jason Henderson, author of Van Helsing, Young Captain Nemo (and a ton of other cool stuff) decided to edit and publish his first anthology. I have a story titled “The Tool Shed” in his first Castle of Horror anthology, and Jason just accepted my baseball horror story “The Boy in the Box” for the holiday edition coming out this Christmas.

Joy is stronger than misery. The hardest thing is finding the former when you don’t have a lot of company.

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Some Don’t Even Know They Are Trolling

I put up a blog post yesterday, and some might say I was trolling. I am sensitive to this, as I have been bashed around at times since I started a Facebook in 2013, (mostly to meet other artists). I had to learn the etiquette, and along the way, I have seen some bullying that makes me want to scream. On the other hand, I have also seen some counter-bullying and strange social media practices that put some “trolling” into a gray area.

Yesterday, I posted about Robyn Cage, actually, but in my introduction, I mentioned how disheartening it is to see people (not her) putting up condescending mini-games as if suddenly my kindergarten teacher. Hey. If you entertain yourself and your friends by saying, “Hair Metal or Speed Metal – GO!” then all the power to you. The problem I have with it is that other authors have told me that to build their following they spend half their day on social media doing this stuff. That, in my humble opinion, is an incredible waste of time, and I think it lowers the credibility of the artist in general. (The given writer is embedded in these things when he or she could be writing fiction). I also strongly believe it causes an awful lot of trolling in itself by design. To take the above-mentioned example, I was a member of a couple of metal and guitar-player groups that were literally filled with these postings, the responses actually the ugliest shit I could possibly imagine. I actually had some “Speed Metal” guy scolding me like a child for not celebrating the “Big 4” enough, as the spandex guys like Bon Jovi and Cinderella were “never really even considered metal.” It wasn’t until our thread got lengthy with red-hot back and forth, that I uncovered the fact that he had never even played in a band except once, repeat, once to do covers. I calmly wrote back that I was in one of those “Hair Bands” in the 80’s, playing originals in clubs, and knew tons of the “Speed” guys. We jammed together, and this supposed “war” was non-existent.

Usually, the trolling is way worse on these silly “game” threads, and so I blame the “innocent” instigators as much as the participants. I saw a video on Twitter yesterday from Ali Spagnola, a comic and musician into big time fitness (who is pretty cool actually) doing an anti-hate-trolling song, protesting in the beginning, specifically, the phrases: “That’s so gay,” “What a waste,” “Fix your face,” and “You need to get laid.” I agree with her 100,000 percent, but I still believe the condescending, time consuming, self degrading practice of putting up ridiculous “game” posts, asking people to waste their time writing about subjective things as if concrete fact, becomes a nest for trolling that should be put into this conversation. And oh, I have seen much worse than her examples on these threads.

Another aspect of this that is important to mention, is that “ultra-troll-sensitivity” actually goes against not only the non-trolling idea in general, but makes it harder to teach analysis in college. Let me explain.

When the last season of Game of Thrones came out, I complained about a couple of the episodes on a personal Facebook thread. I did not tag anyone, nor did I copy it onto anyone else’s thread. My complaints, I still feel, were quite valid. The battle scene at Winterfell was too darkly filmed. The heroes lived too long in the crowd of White Walkers to be believed, and the ending of the Night King was cheap. The conflict between he and the Three Eye’d Raven was never realized, and though foreshadowed that “you kill him, you get them all,” Arya jumping in from nowhere and doing a “knife-trick” looked hackneyed. Better would have been something like Sam and Cersei’s doctor (who was experimenting with genetics and stuff) to have had to join together, next inventing a way to make dragon glass airborne. The battle scene as the White Walkers are slowly poisoned to death would have been brilliant, as we would have seen the first medieval gas masks on the humans.

Well. I got an immediate backlash. Since I am a horror writer and rock reviewer, I have many people on my Facebook I don’t know. Some of them made themselves heard, calling me things way worse than the stuff Ms. Spagnola was singing about. One of my actual friends (wife of my son’s Babe Ruth coach years ago) sent me a private message basically telling me that if I criticize something a lot of people love, I am indirectly trolling them. I find this to be a blasphemous and horrendous reversal. My comments were comprised of logical, fair criticism, that which was delivered politely, without calling anyone “gay” or a “waste,” or anything like that. This was not criticism of a person in the private sphere, but a work of public art the writers are getting paid for. Moreover, again, I did this on my own personal thread. The people calling me “douchebag” and “fuckface,” and “asswipe” and “numb-nuts” were people I didn’t even know…those to whom I had never spoken a word, invading my personal thread.

Furthermore, to the same point, I have noticed lately that my college students in intro to rhetoric have trouble understanding that it is not only acceptable, but preferred, that they look at a source for a given research paper and criticize it. It seems that ironically, Facebook and anti-trolling sentiment backfire here, creating a generation of “yes-men and women” thinking it is necessary to simply “agree” with everything. It stunts critical thinking, and ensures we will have a bunch of college graduates afraid to question anything. Still, I am sure they will be more than qualified to go online and say, “Anthrax or Slayer. GO!”

I’ve been trolled. I don’t like it. I don’t like when politicians do it or when someone on one political side somehow makes those on the other, “America’s enemy.”

I just don’t prefer to watch this ironic sort of reversal make it so we police each other to the point of all becoming “yes-people.”

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Robyn Cage: An Exceptional Talent

I won’t put up a review on Metal Heads Forever unless the given artist talks to me personally. It’s got to be real or else I’m just another cheater. Anyone can comb the Web and deep-dive. It almost seems as if some feel this has become a legitimate alternative to a college education, next putting up embarrassing “participation” comparisons as if kindergarten teachers, suddenly qualified to prompt a classroom discussion. An example of this would be: “Anthrax or Slayer, GO!”

Since anyone can get that on Facebook (and join in this hideous and condescending practice) I figured long ago that I would leave that to the people who actually felt that there was meaningful self-measurement from “likes” to begin with. I long figured it was better to write reviews celebrating genius when I saw it, next getting the real story from the actual trend-setter so I could start some real discourse about process. And trust me, in my reviews, I’d never ask for a concrete response to a subjective – remedial question, and patronize my readers with – “GO!”

I contacted Robyn Cage about a week and a half ago, because I was looking for the meaningful shit in my feed, the music performance clips, some live, some not, that every so often came off solid enough to share on my timeline. Suddenly, I saw this stunning red head in a shiny dress fronting a cool band doing “Moonage Daydream” by Bowie. I want to avoid the more specific analysis here, as I say it better in the review I took a few hours to “make syntactically and stylistically bold and beautiful,” but to say the least, I was hooked.

I have attached said review below in a link. Please read. The video is on the actual piece three quarters of the way through, and even though the MHF guys somehow did this weird overlap of her logo onto her pic in the beginning (and I forgot to include my “By-Line…fuck…) the review looks really super.

The part I didn’t mention in the review is the email conversation I had with Robyn and the way she handled it. Robyn Cage, my friends, is a charming professional. I know she is busy. I know she has multiple projects going on and a plethora of obligations and responsibilities, but gosh darn-it, she took the time not only to respond, but respond in depth. I learned more about the business of being a star from her than all the conventions I’ve gone to featuring my horror books (and other “star” writers) and all the other rock reviews I’ve read and interviews I have seen. She made me feel that my questions were important and she treated me like a friend from the get-go. I have had similar positive experiences with Bill Leverty of Firehouse, Frank Bello from Anthrax, Halestorm’s management, Ralph Buso from Ravenscroft, the boys from Sifting (Eclipse Records), and Ben Bruce of Asking Alexandria, who talked to me on the phone in his limo, actually reading a short story I had written about Trivium as sort of my “audition” for his band. (It was the gig I had with Pure Grain Audio for a year, writing original horror stories starring actual band members). But hey…all that is awesome, but keeping it real…will my little article in the little rock mag I write for make Robyn Cage a super-star overnight? Probably not. But this front-goddess is doing it right, and as small a force as I am in the entertainment world, I would drop everything in a heartbeat to help Robyn Cage. Maybe the secret formula for success isn’t just talent and swag. Maybe you have to build an army. One person at a time.

http://www.mhf-mag.com/content/cd-reviews/robyn-cage-when-the-artist-becomes-her-own-sculpture-review/

 

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Castle of Horror Promo: Free Book Today!

We are running a one-day FREE promotion on the Castle of Horror Anthology– so if you haven’t read it, today is your chance! That’s right– the Anthology is FREE– JUST FOR TODAY!

https://amzn.to/2Ztxw58?fbclid=IwAR3jmChopX5efeCvjT51n__IKUe8QLlvWXveMFFQbFAhuizCU90ar36zDrA

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Review – Sifting “The Infinite Loop”

I recently posted this review in Metal Heads Forever Magazine. I thought it would be cool to blog it too. Here’s the link if you want to see it in the full layout with pics:

http://www.mhf-mag.com/content/cd-reviews/sifting-the-infinite-loop-album-review/

It is no secret that I am a fan of Sifting, the progressive metal band from Los Angeles, California who blew our doors off with their debut record, “All the Hated” in 2013 and wowed us in September of 2017 with their second full length record titled “Not From Here.” I was fortunate enough to have seen them at the TLA Theater in Philadelphia a year ago May, second row, dead center. Plainly, it was a stellar performance delivered with that perfect mix of dynamics, sophisticated instrumental wizardry, and explosive theatrical precision, comparable to Rush on the 1978 tour of their “Hemispheres” record, a concert I thought could never be topped.

At the aforementioned Sifting gig (where they were opening for Sons of Apollo) I caught a guitar pick which currently sits on my desk right by my computer. I screamed myself hoarse. I was fortunate enough to get an interview with the band after the show, out in the rain, under an overhang across from the venue on South Street, and I was so taken with the spectacle I’d just witnessed, the emotive perfection, the superior execution and outright fucking joy with which these guys played, that I didn’t even conduct a real interview. I just raved to them about the parts that blew my mind apart. I said to founder, guitarist, and lead singer Edu, that his vocal melody choices were of the most original I’d ever heard. He asked specifically where, and I sang back to him the chorus of “Not From Here.” He could have laughed at me. He didn’t. He sang it with me and the band joined in…did you just fucking hear me? I sang for a moment with Sifting in the street in the rain under an overhang…a dream come true I will NEVER forget.

My son was with me for the show and interview, home from college, and we’d been bickering a bit as parents and older children might. After that evening however, we forgot what we were arguing about, and I want to thank Sifting right here and now. You made my cynical son look up to me. You made me feel like a boss. Every time I listen to your music, which is often, I get that same rush. I like feeling that way. I want it all the time, bro.

When Paul Gilbert came out with his new progressive blues record titled “Behold Electric Guitar” this past May, I named it the album of the year in the column I write for Heavy Music Headquarters. I want to state officially; however, that Sifting’s new record titled “The Infinite Loop,” dropping September 27th, 2019 shares that honor, in fact, I don’t think you can look at one without the other. Paul Gilbert is the greatest living shredder. I know there are arguments for many others, so many I won’t name them here for fear of missing ten or twenty, but if you will allow me a moment of subjectivity, I believe I can make the case that Gilbert and Sifting are linked. Gilbert is in the latter stages of a monster career, including, of course, his work with Mr. Big and Racer X. He is the past. His present is spectacular, yet quite definitive, as he has now put out a blues record with what I would call a phenomenal (yet casually dressed-down) bar band. I recently saw him at an intimate five hundred-seat club and enjoyed his performance, through which he proved himself a true master-craftsman, commanding the stage-space in a smart black suit and playing the blues. He made that guitar talk…weep…tell stories. He is the aesthetic twilight.

Sifting are the spectacular sunrise, the present, the morning – crisp blue skies with majestic jets doing fly-overs. Their album “The Infinite Loop” rounds out the binary starting with Gilbert’s former contribution to the equation as the exiting elder connected to this fresh kid reinventing the game.

Sifting’s new album, “The Infinite Loop,” is of the best I have ever heard. To drop some names, I want to say here that I believe Edu (Eduardo O Gil) is a genius with star power and the potent musical instincts one could compare in certain ways to David Bowie. No, Edu doesn’t sound like him, but he has a distinct crooning sort of tone in his repertoire just as did Mr. Stardust, and he somehow comes up with chord changes in his melodies that are “distinctly Edu,” as did Sir David. The difference is that Edu can also sing in momentous high tenor, heartfelt baritone, powerful mid-range, a modern growl, and in a clean or slight rasp, always bold, always bolstered by fundamental authenticity and technical mastery.

In terms of the drums, Joey Aguirre is an absolute MONSTER. He reminds me of Neil Peart in a way that is different from other drummers who may be mechanistically sound, even superior, yet machine-like, all numbers. Joey can and does pull off the speedier tempos with an awesome mix of feel and expertise, even going triple and quadruple-time when everyone else is dancing on the halves, and therefore, delivering to us the wonderful oxymoronic mix of fierce rapidity and monumental heartfelt undertow (a trick used by many black metal bands). However, he can also pound with the best of them, and I challenge anyone to find me a band with a current record that confronts us with a richer “wall of sound.” In reference to “impression” and interpretation, we can especially appreciate Joey’s accenting techniques. He has the ability to architect a “regular beat” and make it amazingly special without hindering the makeup of the overall product, and that, my friends, is the mark of both the prototypical champion and the consummate professional.

That being said, Wins Jarquin is the kind of bass player that doesn’t just play “roots.” He stands out when appropriate, and cements the band’s sound on an exotic sort of footing, almost like a sculptor, especially considering the mixed meter time signature changes Sifting employs with the apparent ease of taking a stroll on a mid-summer day. Across the stage, newcomer Xavi Leon is outstanding. To be able to manage the guitar acrobatics along with Edu can only be described as “magnificent,” and the songs on “The Infinite Loop” are absolutely bad-ass.

The opening track, “Agony,” begins with an acoustic vibe, full of passion and anticipation. The drum work is superior, especially in the sense that Aguirre establishes early that he is not over-dependent on double-bass tricks, though he whips off those hummingbird sixteenths with the best of them. His tom-tom work is intricate and tasteful, filling your mind with pictures, and when the band “patterns-in” with a feel like Metallica on steroids, they deliver that “Sifting” vibe that makes the experience both rich and funk-a-licious. For me, however, the signature of the record is established with the first chorus, through Edu’s vocal choices that can not be compared to anyone, current or classic. The harmonies both break your heart and lift you the fuck up, no exaggeration, no lie. It is the crucial element that makes this band different: metal with meaning played by progressive pioneers not caught up in equations but more the meter of the soul.

The second track, “A Critical Affair,” is a show-piece number, batting second for a reason. It is the song built upon the prior-mentioned rapid time signature juxtaposed up against the vocal in half-time, and featuring an amazingly complex platform guitar solo. This composition is an establishing piece…a mark in the stone, a line in the sand, making it quite clear that this band is musically superior. It is very much like a fighter coming out of his corner in the second round and establishing himself with a hard-right hook straight to the jaw, fuck the jabs and body shots, I’m coming for you. I’ve trained harder, planned better, and developed quicker than you’d ever expected, and tonight, you’re in for a spectacle.

Track number three, titled “Enough,” is not only the song of the album, but possibly the song of the year. It might very well be the tune that makes Sifting superstars, and I don’t at all find it ironic that the composition is “ballad-like.” This band is technically superlative, with double guitar attacks like blistering fireworks and time signatures that would confuse physicists with two Ph.D.’s, but the locus of their appeal is emotion and heart. To be blunt, the song is lovely, an immediate classic. It is everything you would want in a “slow burn” that marks a place in your life you always look back to with fondness. I know I am showing my age, going old-school, but this one is to Sifting like “Dream On” was to Aerosmith. I would not at all be surprised if “Enough” became part of playlists on stations other than (yet including of course) Octane, this genre’s and generation’s Holy Grail. I would predict that major rock stations in the biggest markets would pick this one up, hell, I’ve never been into “art for art’s sake devoid of the importance of mass public appeal.” If I were “that guy,” I’d be writing to you about some deep dude playing an acoustic in Harvard Square with a coffee can for change by his knee. Sifting are superstars. Period. It’s about time everyone knew it.

Track four, “Stop Calling Me Liberty,” is the cornerstone for the guitarists, making a frame with the second cut in terms of musical virtuosity. At the 3:06 minute mark, there is a lead that is rather amazing, and at the 3:18 mark or so, the tone and structure is so unique and striking, it is difficult to picture exactly how the patterns are being expedited on the fretboard. The listening experience here rings similar to the way it felt when Eddie Van Halen unleashed the tapping technique for the first time. I look forward to seeing Sifting pull off this specific move live.

Track five is the “artist’s special,” titled “The Fifth Element.” It is where Wins Jarquin stands out with bass-licks taking over the melody like some glorious hood ornament, and the band comes together behind him with a crush that would make Ozzy jealous. At the 3:10 mark, it is difficult not to notice how cleverly and distinctly Joey Aguirre dresses up a more standard rhythm, and the guitars take on a personality akin to some mad scientist making magic in the lab. In “School of Rock,” they jokingly called it “musical fusion.” Sifting aren’t joking. They are showing us something new.

Track six, “What If (Dichotomy) is a song defined by a great hook and pleasing harmonies, seemingly acting as an introduction for the album’s second big heavy hitter titled “To Who I Am.” Sifting has an uncanny sense for overall structuring and like the novelist, often use “threads” for theming purposes, positioning songs for dramatic foreshadowing and payoff, or what I would call “come-backers” in my horror books when I revisit something introduced earlier, and blast it onto the new page in fresh context. “To Who I Am” is linked to the blockbuster-to-be, “Enough,” and it’s more than an echo technique. The vocal here is so unique to this style of music, that it becomes the back half of a signature. A definitive one that alters the playing field, not only for Sifting, but metal as a genre.

Track eight, “Ghost of a Lie,” is where the band pulls out all the stops. Here, it seems they open their treasure chest of musical expertise and give us a glimpse of the most sophisticated gems in the hoard. It is a multi-faceted, intricate lexicon filled with innovation and historical allusion, awesome technique, and a bold sort of psychological perception that maintains the integrity of the song for the sake of pure composition yet lets the band members shine. This was a significant mechanism in the Deep Purple playbook back in the day, and it is no surprise that Sifting brought in Derek Sherinian of Sons of Apollo, Dream Theater, and many other famous projects (Billy Idol, Kiss, and Alice Cooper to name a few) to solo on keys. The performance is outstanding and dovetails perfectly with Edu’s falsetto, his vocal hooks, Wins Jarquin’s standout bass work, and the guitar acrobatics by both axe grinders that epitomize the hybrid of drama and speed.

Track nine, “Emotionless Shells,” for me, is the necessary composition on any metal record that would offer solid proof of agility and technical speed. Though this band is “progressive,” I am sure they don’t want the reputation of simply being “tricky” with meter. Metal bands play fast and they play hard. The genre, especially today, demands super-human execution and dexterity, and the idea that humans can create such rapid virtuosity directly addresses those who just sample stuff (like Kanye West) and basically tells them to fuck off. I am sure the purpose of this record is not political, but witnessing heroes, true maestros who play their own shit at supernatural velocity, is part of the tattered banner we wave. It is why metal will never die, and so a salute here to Sifting for carrying the flag and melting our faces like they are supposed to do.

The last song, the title track “The Infinite Loop,” is not even a “song,” but more a canvas on which we can paint our emotions. There is a huge difference between the ballads that almost become parodies and the idea that “deep” can come at you from a more centered location, delivered patiently, slowly, lovingly. I actually teared-up when I listened to the beginning of this song. The introduction was as good as any musical score I’d ever heard at the end of any great film I’d seen over the years, and the vocal line took me on a journey down the paths of my own personal life-map. Yes, I get it. They are my paths, so how did Edu know? My answer to you, is that writing a good tune makes you a rocker. Writing a song that somehow becomes the blueprint for the given listener’s past…each listener with a different mural, a different story to tell…makes the composition a classic. Timeless greats offer us templates so we can fill in our own experiences. That is why these masterpieces never get dated. This song is a classic, as is the entire album. The only regret I have is that often, when a classic first hits the streets, it is not recognized as such. We do that best in retrospect. How lucky we are; however, to be a part of this thing from the start.

“The Infinite Loop” is the record of the year. It has something for everyone, and it is one of those rare albums that doesn’t have a weak track. You can pre-order it here.

https://www.eclipserecords.com/release/infinite-loop-sifting/

I would do so, now. I have been writing about music for years, and I know a good one when I hear it. “Join the revolution,” as the band says. Good music can heal, inspire, and invigorate. “The Infinite Loop” does all of that, and then some.

 

Michael Aronovitz is a music reviewer, college professor, and horror author. His latest story titled “The Tool Shed” is featured in the anthology “Castle of Horror” edited by Jason Henderson (author of Van Helsing), that which dropped July 1st, 2019.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07QMBYLLG

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