Monday, December 31, 2007

The Future Is Here!

Greetings earthly incarnations! I am The Amazing Criswell and only I have the power to peer into a time that exists solely past right now! The proprietor of this blog, after having proved his inability to see past the nose on his face, has graciously asked that I take his place as Master of the Future. So, for the upcoming incarnation of the fourth dimension that we call two-thousand and eight anno domini, here are ten events that are not predictions at all. Because I can see into the future, they can only be the truth!

Number one!

Randal will still not get up close and very personal with Alessandra Ambrosio after she swoons to the recitations of his love sonnets! You must let go of such unattainable dreams, my young friend! And for the last time, she is not your wife, no matter how much you wish that to be so!

Number two!

Nor will he travel to France, assuming he ever does! [The Amazing Criswell does know the answer to that query, but out of respect for the unwritten ethical code of your so-called internets, I fear crushing the poor lad's soul and therefore must refrain from answering. For now.]

Number three!

The Cleveland Browns, sadly for the denizens of Northeastern Ohio and their expatriated fans scattered throughout the globe, will not come close to the Super Bowl once more!

Number four!

The Cleveland Indians, sadly for the denizens of Northeastern Ohio and their expatriated fans scattered throughout the globe, will not win the World Series once again!

Number five!

The Cleveland Cavaliers, sadly for the denizens of Northeastern Ohio and their expatriated fans scattered throughout the globe, will not win the NBA championship for yet another season!

Number six!

Iraq will still be flush with American troops many years from now! And I can say with the utmost confidence because of my supernatural and quite unique gift, that it will be much longer than you both think and hope!

Number seven!

Poetry will come back into vogue with a furious head of steam, various collections of such unkempt and improper verse pushing the likes of Tom Clancy, Danielle Steele, Stephen Colbert and Oprah®-approved authors far, far down the New York Times bestseller list!

Number eight!

The earth will be visited by extraterrestrials bent on world domination! Yet, as humanity teeters on the brink of total collapse, an unlikely vaccine against the alien infection will eliminate this potential extinction....

...and once the invaders have melted into bubbling puddles of sticky green goo after watching mere moments of this toxic television network, we will promptly resume our wars and violence and racism and homophobia and other assorted evils that no one in the universe is more skillful at!

Number nine!

The erudite and ostentatious campaign of Dr. Zaius and his delicious running mate Germaine Gregarious will bring the simian medical practitioner ever closer to the presidency as he skyrockets up the polls, shocking and awing the minions with lavish promises of a more equitable form of socioeconomic enslavement, go-go boots, lesbian robot minions and soylent green for all! Yet, with blinding, unexpected speed...

...the grand finalé, the denouement, la fin, das endischenposten, la finitoritto de la posto arrives...

There will be no Presidential election on Tuesday, November 4.

Farewell new friends, I must be leaving as I have a to-die-for party invitation that I must honor. One of my dearest associates, the witty and cutting-edge director of Plan 9 From Outer Space and other classic monuments to the theatrical is throwing, in the parlance of the young people, the swankiest shindig in Hollywood this evening. I now turn the proceedings over to the landlord of this internets site, the esteemed Mr. Randal Graves. À bientôt, mes amis !

Yeah yeah, everyone just shut up for a minute, okay?

Shut. Up.

Alright, since all you fuckers will no doubt be getting plastered during the various hot Caligula-esque internets webcam orgies while I battle for the computer with my crazy offspring and lunatic wife before falling asleep on the couch watching some stupid bowl game after having downed one too many pizza rolls - because that's the kind of thrill-a-minute motherfucker I am - I must bid everyone a possible adieu, au revoir, auf wiedersehen - man, where's my copy of Heaven Tonight? - and wish you all - 'long-time' blogging buddies, new ones, those that have disappeared, poet laureates, red weasels, fellow Francophiles in the United States and elsewhere, people I actually know in the real world, novelists, radical Christians, ornithologists, hilarious ducks, Canadians, artistes, anarchists, primates, presidential candidates, lesbian babes, angry young men, snarky young chicks, curators of large breasts, algebraic wizards, information overlords, unruly lefty mobs, packs of ranting crazies, do-gooders, pop culture maestros, Noo Yawkers, eaters of brains, bad suburban housewives, audio-visual masters, angry gay voters, Packer fans, fellow Ohioans, people who just aren't nice anymore, bakers of delicious cookies, hex-casting beerdrinkers, hellraisers, martini connoisseurs, friends, Romans, countrymen - a stupendously fantabulous and memorable in the best sense of the term 2008. Unless you have the remotest hint of Republican in even the smallest of your 206 bones. You know, the ones that are buried unseen deep in your ears. Then I wish you nothing but painful, blood-curdling torment, loss and irrelevance as the continual shunning of your obscene worldview forces you to ball up into the dankest corner of your horrific, cockroach-infested abode where endlessly repeating echoes of laughter ring in your miserable skull until you feel that, short of spontaneously combusting, only a frightfully quick jaunt to the nearest army recruiting office will do because there's still ten months left before it all ends and someone on World of Warcraft said the army was giving away cases of Cheetohs if you join before your 65th birthday.

Ah, here it is!

Auf wiedersehen!

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly 16

The Real JC returning a punt for a touchdown in the Browns' 20-7 victory. He even had a kickoff return TD called back on a very questionable illegal block call. Hell, Jim Mora agreed, and do you really want to piss off Jim Mora? Since we're on the subject, let us permit the coach to perfectly summarize our season-long woes on the road:

The Good: A home record of 7-1 for the first time ever, ten regular season wins for the first time since a pre-genius Bill Belichick mumbled on the sidelines of snowy Lake Erie, Joshua Cribbs proving once and for all that he's the best all-around special teamer in the league, Jamal Lewis still running like an angry young man, Brady Quinn, filling in for the injured DA late in the first half, looking sharp on his one and only drive. No, hetero ladies and gay dudes, I was talking about his play on the field, but he's still quite the local corporate pitchman.

The Bad: Hmm. Where did I put that tape recorder? Oh, here it is. [pushes play] "the run defense sucks" [pushes stop].

The Ugly: Far too many dropped passes, including a couple of potential touchdowns thrown by Quinn. Which, on second thought, might be a blessing in disguise. I'm not ready for idiot talking heads on the radio and their idiot mouthbreathing callers chatting up a non-existent quarterback controversy. The invisible block that led to Nate Clements diverting a field goal was pretty ugly, too, but nowhere near as ugly as waiting those four hours until the Indianapolis-Tennessee game.

The Ugliest: The Titans winning.

Up next: cleaning out lockers, tee times, motorbiking, sky diving, pot smoking, binge drinking. Wait. That last one is mine.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Dude, that is so gay!

Yes, true believers, I think you've come down off your rapturous, Fundie Jesus-inspired high and are now ready for the final - for now - installment in our nebulously cosmic series of crazy album covers! But you lovers of the Republican Lord, alas, there is no Holiest of Holies here, no ma'am. In fact, if you insist on reading this post until the end, you're choosing to be gay.

Hey, don't yell at me, that's what the nicest guy in America says. If you want to be an asshole and argue with him, that's your prerogative.

At least until the criminalization of publicly endorsed and institutionally supported aberrations begins.

Oh, those Gay 90s, with Bubba and his Lesbian Wife/Cat Killer/Murderer, Hitlery, seeding the arteries of power with their Diabolical and Very Radical Homosexual Agenda! What a grand ole time we had back then, didn't we? All that cocksmoking and rug munching...and the styles! Why, John Bolton himself would be jealous of that moustache! Oh, Miss Rudy!, your outfit is just divine! Come on, show us those gams before you nuke Iran!

Don't you feel like wide stancing?

We're a stance, stance, stance, stance, stancing machine
Watch us get down, watch us get down
As we do, do, do our thing
Right in the stall

I know I'm feeling eligible. Aren't you?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Twelve Months Ten Years Gone

Because it's always time for some Zep.

Friday, December 28, 2007

I love/hate the 80s

Since some of my lovely internets pals are doing sexy, 80s-related posts - okay, that last one was late 70s, but since we were all alive then - sorry if any of the passers-by were born after Saint Ronnie was sworn in - it's close enough. And being a follower, not a leader, I figured why the hell not. Like I plan on doing any more work the rest of the day.

But what to write about?

I've already used up my one vaguely-interesting story from that godawful decade, I didn't have acid-washed jeans or a mullet, I didn't listen to mainstream radio all that often once I discovered metal so I have no cherished memories of Wham! or Poison or Bow Wow Wow. I do recall air guitaring quite often to the following fellows. It's what us geeky, 13-year old suburban kids did.

I also played copious amounts of video games. I play them less now - all that brilliant writing to complete, obviously - so even though my skills have deteriorated immensely, my crazy offspring still grab me for assistance. Fools.

That's what my wife usually says before - oh, nevermind.

I remember the insane amount of hype surrounding The Day After - good thing that's one horror we don't have to worry about anymore, huh. Thank you President Reagan for single-handedly defeating the nuclear boogeyman once and for all! The television schedule itself was pretty lame - Family Ties, The Cosby Show (sorry apologists, didn't dig it - Fat Albert was the far better Bill Cosby vehicle), Whiz Kids, Jake and the Fatman - full of garbage soap operas showcasing the tawdry, bloated Reagan years in all their vain glory, soulless, over-the-top action junk or shows way past their prime, so nothing worth recalling there save the rare gem such as 21 Jump Street or Max Headroom. Now that was some big time TV.

So, like, I'm like totally stumped and it's like not gnarly so gag me with a spoon. I did have light blond hair back then, which has since darkened (and disappeared) slightly, so I would've been a perfect candidate to be one of the children in a Wal Mart Über-Aryan Pro-Family ad. Good fucking job, mom and pop. I coulda been a star, gone through dozens of cars and B-movies, been strung out by fifteen, and wasted what little money I had left on hookers and blow before finding Jesus in rehab, finishing up by appearing in an episode of I Love the 80s.

What was the point of this post? Oh yeah, stay outta my booze.

The Seven Deadly Sins Lies

She got up close, and personally sneaking a link in my drink - which she had the audacity to accuse yours truly of doing! - quickly sped away, cackling in all her sultry glee.

I might have to rethink this whole 'FranIAm is a good Christian woman,' because lordy, she certainly is not! In order to wash away this naughty feeling, I must confess seven facts about myself. Seven untrue facts. Confused? Don't be. Let me enlist the help of a well-respected celebrity to explain today's proceedings:

Hello. I'm Leonard Nimoy. The following tale of revelation is true. And by true, I mean false. It's all lies. But they're entertaining lies. And in the end, isn't that the real truth? The answer is, no.

Thanks, Leonard, for making everything as clear as crystal.

Now, onto the faits faux de moi.

1. I was the Fifth Beatle. But they weren't rockin' enough for me, so I quit those mop tops and became the Sixth Stone. I don't want to come right out and say I came up with a lot of the Glimmer Twins' most memorable riffs, as that would be bad form, so I won't.

2. But wait, you all shout, you're not that old, Randal! Ah, mes amis, how easily we forget! Who do you think wrote all those works, Lord Byron himself? Bah! You try penning The Giaour, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage and Don Juan when nearly all of your time is spent chasing skirts through every tavern and alleyway in Europe!

3. Before my blogging days, I was a male model. The others were so jealous of my rugged good looks and vast bevy of female admirers that I was blackballed out of the industry.

4. I strut before the windows naked because, hey, I'm all about returning the pleasure to those admirers constantly camped out on my front lawn.

Karma, man, karma.

5. I invented the Thermos.

6. I never cry, because crying is for girls.

7. Once I saved a school bus full of children by shouting a cloud of obscenities at the driver of an 18-wheeler headed straight for them that was so vile, so heinous, the mere sonic vibration of unlimited fucks, motherfuckings, fucking assholes, goddamn fuckerys and go-fuck-yourself-you-fucks shorted the circuits of the rig's on-board computer and the synapses in his brain to where they both instantly and simultaneously shut down, the weight of his comatose body transferring to his left foot to where he slammed on the brakes, fishtailing to within inches of the screaming, youthful horde. No one was hurt, and I got a key to the city that was made of chocolate. I ate it on the way home, but I still have the gold foil wrapper framed above my fireplace, which I also strut naked in front of when the mood strikes.

Nothing gives me greater joy than spreading the sin around, than corrupting the incorruptible, so consider yourselves fellow shish-kabobs in various circles of hell: Mary Ellen, Marjorie, Candace, Snave, Colleen.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Rembrandt Q. Einstein's Sixty-Ninth Annual List of the Top Ten Classical Albums of the Year!

Yesterday, I presented you the riff-heavy favorites of my filthy, out-of-style metalhead persona, complete with ridiculous black t-shirt. Today, you get the highbrow favorites of my well-groomed, out-of-style classical persona, complete with suave black suit. Oh, I'm still a moody, melancholy jerk - relax, I don't have any plans to blow shit up - yet - only the style of the strings has changed. And as much as I adore the power chord - and Lucifer, do I fucking ever - if I happen to get saddled with the desert island treatment, the complete symphonies of Beethoven it is. Now that is a pinnacle of the human soul, of all our hopes and fears, dreams and nightmares, loves and losses. In short, the world. Old Gustav was right, after all.

Thus, I present to you, not-so-gentle reader, the top ten classical albums of 2007 according to your friendly neighborhood jackass. Why only an even ten this time around? Because sonata forms are orderly, you bastards! All caveats outlined yesterday still apply.

1. Leif Ove Andsnes and the Artemis Quartet, Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms, piano quintets. The most romantic of the Romantics poured his Teutonic soul into this, for all intents and purposes, musical love letter to his hard-won bride, virtuoso pianist Clara Wieck, and the players on this disc prove more than worthy of baring that soul for all to hear, especially in the dark lament of the purely melancholy second movement and the shadowy joy of the propulsive finalé. Mr. Andsnes, a supreme player of all things Greig, provides the perfect counterpoint of romantic sensibility to the talented Artemis Quartet. If only the rest of us mere mortals could come up with as enduring a statement on love as Mr. Schumann did over a century-and-a-half ago. Oh, and the Brahms isn't too shabby, either.

2. András Schiff, Ludwig van Beethoven, piano sonatas, volumes IV and V. Yes, these have been recorded dozens upon thousands of times (as I'm sure has been, and is being, repeated ad nauseum by reviewers everywhere), but Schiff continues the brilliant interpretations that he started during his collaboration with cellist Miklos Perenyi on The Man's complete works for cello and piano. Schiff has peeled away much of the heavy residue that has dirtied up these works over the years. Everything sounds crisp and new. I still dig Wilhelm Kempff's 1960s recordings a lot, but these rank right up there. Plus, the Moonlight continues to make me well up every time I hear it, so one more fresh spin is always welcome.

3. Julia Fischer, Piotr Tchaikovsky, violin concerto. Sweet Mephistopheles, Fraulein Fischer is a looker. Oh yeah, she can play a mean bit o' violin, too. Notorious 19th century music critic and professional asshole Eduard Hanslick hated this piece, but he was a fucking fool. Humanity has come to its senses since then, and my dear Julia pushes the outer edges of the work with aplomb. And the central andante? Sigh. But just wait until the finalé, marked allegro vivacissimo, thunders like your heart feeling those first pangs of soul-melting love. Full-blown, supercharged romanticism, mes amis. I defy any cold, calculating, logical bastard to not love that. Vivacissimo, indeed.

4. Osmo Vänska, conductor, Ludwig van Beethoven, symphonies nos. 1 and 6. The edition of these musical pillars conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe have been the benchmark by which I, with my utter lack of grounding in musical theory, judge every other set that plods along. I just go by what stirs my soul. But you know what? These are about as close as anyone has gotten. No overwrought Bernstein-ian melodrama, no tinny, period-piece instrumentation - like the Maestro wouldn't have used the loudest fucking strings available - this series continues to be lithe, athletic, rhythmic, powerful, and when necessary, as in the nearly obscene beauty of the Pastoral symphony, gentle and uplifting. Awesome, in the most traditional sense of that now-trite word.

5. Graham Johnson, Kate Royal and others, The Songs of Robert Schumann, volume 10. Master pianist/interpreter/writer of the finest CD booklets ever Graham Johnson spearheads the penultimate volume of Hyperion's ongoing series. Running the gamut from 1840, his 'year of song,' through the rest of the decade into the next, Mr. Johnson has enlisted some of the finest singers around (Felicity Lott, Ann Murray - no, not that one) in addition to newcomer and supreme babe, Kate Royal. The obvious care that went into bringing out the sheer, unabashed romanticism (yeah, that again - what can I say, I'm a big sap) of the the tortured German is plainly evident. Beautiful, heartfelt songs, and if I was ever to create anything remotely decent enough to be published - stop laughing! - Mr. Johnson is the only man I'd choose to be my patron. You want to know about the poems and poets Schumann selected, the insights into the music? You've got it in overflowing, lucidly-written abundance.

6. Roglit Ishay and Peter Bruns, Charles Koechlin, Chansons Bretonnes. A series of short, enchanting works for cello and piano, the dreamlike world of ancient Brittany flush with slowly fading Arthurian tales is easily brought back from the brink of oblivion with the players' full-bodied, determined sound. Composed in the last century, these modern, yet tonal works carry nothing but the utmost respect for the traditions of the past. The bonus Koechlin and Debussy sonatas are just as exceptional. This is one of those discs where you press play, close your eyes, and let the notes take you somewhere magical.

7. Marc-André Hamelin, Charles-Valentin Alkan, concerto for solo piano. The French-Canadian is not human. Or if he is, he must've traded in his flesh-and-blood hands for the cold steel ones of the robot devil. According to the experts, a lot of Alkan's output is fiendishly difficult to play; it certainly sounds like it to this fellow's untrained ears, yet Hamelin continues his wizardry with these, if difficult, also immensely beautiful and permanent works. If there was any justice, we'd have a lot more Alkan in the performing repertoire. After hearing this, if you disagree, I'll ship you to Guantanamo myself.

8. Joel Frederiksen, The Elfin Knight. Given the tradition of fine countertenors who've interpreted Elizabethan-era song - the legendary Alfred Deller up to today's Daniel Taylor - it's a rare thing to hear a bass singing Watkin's Ale, Go From My Window or Greensleeves. Well, the man pictured to our left certainly can, and has risen above mere singer to become a storyteller in the best sense of the word. Songs that for so long were associated with lilting, higher registers gather an earthy, street-level quality that offers proof of the variety of interpretation available to the artist. A superb disc, and hopefully a precursor to record labels allowing the bass to stretch out beyond disc after disc of opera.

9. Yevgeni Sudbin, Alexander Scriabin, piano works. Alexander Scriabin was one wacky dude who composed some genuinely avant-garde works that even today have some listeners shaking their head. Yevgeni Sudbin may or may not be one wacky dude, but the young man can play with gusto, mixing well-known Scriabin pieces with some you rarely hear. Yes, the infamous - as far as classical pieces go - piano sonata no. 9 in F major, the 'Black Mass,' is here, and despite having been recorded probably more than anything the Russian ever composed, sounds novel, dangerous and full of controlled lunacy more than any other take I can remember. An exceptional recording.

10. Duo Trobairitz, The Language of Love. Faye Newton and Hazel Brooks skillfully bring 12th and 13th century France to life. Brooks' sweet, yet sinewy vielle highlights and strengthens Newton's soprano in tales of courtly and pastoral love. Her voice soars yet never overwhelms; it's strikingly reminiscent of Vivien Ellis' work with Sinfonye and the Dufay Collective. Though spiced with the occasional moment of medieval humor, the work beautifully presented on this disc is of an idealized world of rarely fulfilled, often heartbreaking stories of that most treasured, alluring and frustrating of human emotions. The imagined world of the troubadours and trouvères is mostly a creation of the medieval masculine-dominated mind, yet if Newton and Brooks don't inject that world with a modern feminism, they go far in making that time more universal.

Let me stand next to your fire!


Nothin' says fun like an even more destabilized Pakistan.
Can't wait to see how the media helps the Republicans spin this in their favor.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Handsome B. Wonderful's Thirty-Fourth Annual List of the Top Ten Rock Albums of the Year!

Thirteen, actually. Why? Because ten is never enough of anything - save neocons, perhaps - not of bowls of homemade Chex Mix, not of love sonnets, nor kisses, getting extremely busy and sweaty in the most enjoyable way possible in every conceivable position and location, Super Bowl trophies, and certainly not an end-of-the-year collection. In addition, thirteen is oh so spooky! Further, and perhaps most important, it's always fun to correct the mistakes of others through your own tedious pop culture list. I mean, the audacity of some to have different tastes than you! What hubris, diabolically masquerading as the purported love of a particular art form! I'd scream the most terrifying banshee wail imaginable as my sweet, sweet revenge, but this mediocre blog doesn't have an audio component. And I don't have a criminally cool voice like Barry White, Clint Eastwood or James Earl Jones. So consider yourself mercifully spared of any such pain.

Caveat: quite a few CDs have been released this year that I've only heard snippets of, or not at all (and I had to stop at a reasonable number because I'm not clever enough to write more than what you see here). Thus, since my wife likes gas in the car and parading around the boudoir in sexy lingerie and my kids have this strange love of eating food and staying warm in the winter, more purchases will have to wait. And frankly, it's disingenuous to review a piece of music from sound samples or even a few spins. You have to absorb the sound, allow it to mingle with your emotional DNA. Et si c'est un poison à votre âme, rejetez-la. Si non, aimez-la toujours.

Caveat deux: the rankings that follow are for all intents and purposes, arbitrary. Yes, I judge art the same as every other human with working senses - I have things I love and things I loathe - but each of these albums is nearly equal in stature in the mind, heart and soul of yours truly. I listen to a particular piece based on my preexisting mood at any given time, or the mood I wish to summon forth, not some artificially-assigned number. You can't quantify art, which is why I'm slightly embarrassed that my town has the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Leave the Hall of Fame part out and you've got a deal. It's fucking art. "Think Jasper Johns will get enough votes this year for the Painters Hall of Fame?" Fuck off. Oh yeah, the list.

Now, motherfuckers, let's (occasionally) rock. BYOB+B.

1. Moonsorrow, Viides Luku: Hävitetty. It's not merely melodic death, it's not just Viking, but it IS epic and it IS from Finland. Easily this band's finest hour, almost literally, it consists of two 25+ minute songs that are a masterclass in dynamics and instrumentation. Serene folk elements conjuring up images of primeval forests slowly manipulate the tension, building into monolithic, hypnotic riffs that bludgeon with intelligence, captivating the listener with ease. And you don't even need to know Finnish as the band have generously provided English translations of the lyrics which sing of fire and destruction, of cataclysm, of oblivion, of the end of all things. Ragnarok and Roll. How appropriate, no?

2. High on Fire, Death Is This Communion. You have to understand something, motherfucker: it's ALL about The Riff. Chuck Berry taught us that, and Keith Richards, Pete Townsend, Jimmy Page, Tony Iommi, Lemmy Kilmister and James Hetfield amongst other celebrated acolytes continued preaching the master's gospel. With instrumental flourishes and colors to augment said icon that sits on a shoulder-crushing pedestal, Matt Pike and his power trio from hell further the homage to those legendary and always misty days of yore begun once upon a haze with crack stoner-y doomish outfit Sleep, now deceased. But this album throbs, it kicks you in the ass, grabs you by the throat and demands that you air guitar with digit-breaking rapidity. And don't forget to snap your neck to the sheer intensity of it all.

3. Electric Wizard, Witchcult Today. Sweet fucking Satan, does it get any better than bong-rattling, heaven-shattering, hell-erupting slabs of hope-eating doom? After the monumentally classic Dopethrone, the band took a hiatus, vocalist/guitarist Jus Osborn returning with a new lineup - including his lovely wife Liz Buckingham on second guitar - with 2004's We Live. The new platter doesn't up the ante as much as pummel it into submission. These wizards are supreme masters of pacing and spacing, their murky compositions, their dark paeans to the obscure and wicked bringing more joy than a thousand chocolate ice cream cakes. Now if you'll excuse me, it's time to light up and hang out with those of questionable character.

4. Neurosis, Given to the Rising. Apocalyptic density. Heavy as a really heavy thing. A bit less psychedelia and a bit more (well, a lot more) wall-of-water washing over the world around you, leaving behind in the upturned sands countless defleshed bones to be picked at by armies of carrion-hungry birds, Neurosis forges ahead with an uncompromising, epic songcraft. It shouldn't need to be said, but heaviness comprises so much more than the downtuning of your 7-string and trying to channel Rasputin through the dime-a-dozen metalcore persona that's so prevalent these days. So put on your headphones, turn off the lights and let the musical violence pull you away from the mundane, quotidian world that endlessly threatens to put out the fire of your soul. Did I mention that this is heavy?

5. Dwelling, Ainda É Noite. Gods, what beautiful, ethereal melancholia. The classical guitar expertise that these Portuguese have shown up until now remains in pleasant abundance while the influence of the strings is thickened to create a slightly more lush sound. The lovely vocals of Catarina Raposo float above the bed of dark chords and lilting violin to enchant the listener and lure him or her further into the darkness. I won't say that this has topped Humana, as it's far too early to make such a concrete statement - gotta get drunk and write some bad poetry to this a few more times, methinks - but it wouldn't surprise me to be making that claim in time. Stunning.

6. Ataraxia, Paris Spleen. I know this was officially released in late 2006, but I didn't pick it up until the stateside shop I patronize got it in stock this calendar year, and since it's my list...though they have since released Kremasta Nera. Stop being so fucking prolific! Anyway, the sound of a macabre cabaret right in your living room is reason enough to plop down your hard-earned or embezzled cash. The trademark medieval stylings are less prominent this time around, the sound here infused with an absinthe-fueled musique de la rue most at home in fin-de-siècle Europe and in the hearts of anyone who shares an affinity for the atmosphere of those heady days.

7. Amorphis, Silent Waters. There's nothing silent about these Finns, who've moved from the legendary dark/death-metal masterpiece Tales From the Thousand Lakes, through the Kalevala-inspired Elegy, up to the moody, Katatonia-esque rock of Far From the Sun. With one album under his belt, 'new' vocalist Tomi Joutsen comes into his own with a deft mix of clean and harsh vocals that wonderfully join with the band's heaviest - yet supremely melodic - guitar sound in years. Weaving a tale of Lemminkäinen’s search for the Swan of Tuonela, Amorphis blast with literary dexterity through both darkness and light.

8. The White Stripes, Icky Thump. Speaking of retro - huh? - no mainstream act gets more rotten vegetables thrown at them for precisely that than this dynamic duo. Fuck rehashing that crap. You love 'em, or you hate 'em. I love 'em because they write catchy tunes, can be happy, sad, despondent, schizophrenic and can riff like a monster rock outfit when necessary. There's a little hint of extra strangeness in the varied styles the band tosses in their bubbling cauldron of rock, yet the focus is a bit more laser, a bit more clear whilst the edges remain gleefully blurred. Oh fuck, that nearly ventured into pretentious Pitchfork territory, didn't it. My fucking Satan, I apologize from the bottom of my blackened heart. Chicks and dudes, rock the fuck on.

9. Dark Tranquillity, Fiction. These unabashed torch-bearers for the heyday of the NWOSDM continue to push the melodically brutal boundaries on their eighth full-length, threading heavy, sophisticated riffs, subtle electronics, pulsating keys and not-so-cookie cutter, er, cookie monster vocal stylings into a sharp, society-eviscerating soup that's so catchy that you'll die from overdosing on the broth, leaving behind a poisoned, yet smiling corpse. No matter though, this is the kind of music you'll hear over the elevator speakers in hell. You want the vapid Muzak of the critical flavor-of-the-month? Go behave yourself.

10. Phazm, Antebellum Death 'n' Roll. Death metal and southern rock are sitting around a dying campfire, having downed one-too-many brews and smoked one-too-many joints while spending the hours laughing, fighting, pining for something more, all to the sound of Ozzy-era Sabbath blaring on the box and decide, as the first rays of the goddamn sun creep over the horizon, to start a band. After Entombed switched gears what seems like years ago from evil Scandinavian metal to a deathy Motorhead boogie with the classic Wolverine Blues, so many other acts tried to wear this style and failed with disturbing frequency. Phazm triumphs with devil horns ablaze, Mister Berry wearing a shit-faced grin as he watches from the side of the stage, tapping his foot, and giving the horns back. Whiskey not included. And the Francophile in me is pleased as well. The origin of these swampy, horror movie nods to zombiedom? La belle France. [editor's note: this was released in late 2006 as well, but hey, close enough, time is all relative, plus it's my fucking blog]

11. Witchcraft, The Alchemist. These guys sound like they recorded this in 1975. Retro in the best sense of the word, the psychedelia-tinged doom of these Swedes captivate with a solid Sabbath/Pentagram base while moving ever so forcefully away from those metallic Mt. Rushmore acts to propulsively carve their own niche in spirit and bone. Never aimlessly hammering, the band lulls you to drop your guard with a warm, yet unsettling fuzz that would surely be amped a bit with just one more hit. Pure stoner rock this ain't though, folks, simply a crafted-with-care homage to all those shadows we encounter in life.

12. Primordial, To the Nameless Dead. The pagan Irish death folk doomsters - how's that for a bullshit-sounding, yet-entirely-accurate label? - return with a ridiculous slab of molten heathen metal, arguably their best platter yet, and that's saying something. The raw, despondent emotion that filters through the wall of near-black metal guitars is beyond palpable: it seethes, and you will fucking feel it. With everything underscored by an unbreakable feeling of a long, inevitable defeat, the inviting darkness is a potent elixir for those who prefer to brood with the lights off.

13. Alcest, Souvenirs d'un autre monde. No longer black metal, still very French, the shoegazer quality of the music is immediate, and very intimate. Layered, wall-of-sound guitars and judicious use of time and tempo conjure grainy images of temporal sadness and memories thought long gone. Not so much a collection of songs as one long, beautiful aural poem, one-man-band Neige (ooh, black metal-y! stagehand! corpsepaint! now!) somehow manages to make depression welcoming. Fuck, I can feel that in my sleep I know, but he could even make you share in it, yes you, happy-go-lucky bastard.

Oh, what the hell. Extra bonus evil, just 'cause I can! Muahahahaha.

14. Wolves in the Throne Room, Two Hunters. Hailing from the forbidding landscape of Olympia, Washington, these introverted fellows have crafted a masterpiece of black metal violence that firmly worships at the altar of Mother Nature. No sir, no Satanic cheese here, simply bleak, epic hymns to man's communion with the elements, with the flora and fauna, the animal natures that form the basis of the primordial images sleeping within the deepest recesses of our soul. The symphonic flourishes, coupled with excellent use of beautiful female vocals, enshrine the album with an aura of oneness, of all archetypes coming to the surface.

Yay! It's done!

A sweet, sugary, delicious, mouth-watering 364 days from the next annual blasphemous vomiting of colossally annoying human tricks!

Time to break out the tunes, booze and bong!

Hope Santa left scantily-clad grooviness underneath your dead or plastic plant!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Birthday, Mithras!

I hope you've gotten everything you want - I didn't, again - on this holiest of days, if you've been initiated, that is. The rest of you mere mortals are stuck with simple Saturnalia shenanigans of cheap, tawdry orgies and the inevitable overflow of the vomitorium. And don't get me started on that impostor and would-be usurper, Sol Invictus. Our god will destroy you, Unconquerable Sun, just you watch!

But what to make of you wags with your whole 'Jesus' thing? I don't think that'll last. I give it another decade, tops. Crazy, messianic lunatics.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to find a bull to sacrifice.

Oops, I've said too much.

[In all seriousness, I hope all you self-aware entities have an exceptionally groovy day. Just don't tell anyone that I was a nice guy for even a moment. Would completely ruin my hard-earned rep as a juvenile jackass.]

Monday, December 24, 2007

If you've been naughty...

...the Robot Santa will fucking kill you!

Before I head off to wingnut hell, I wanted to express my holiday joy that someone has taken this threat assessment seriously and is prepared for whatever state-of-the-art anti-naughtiness weaponry he'll be dishing out (I wonder if her Magical Go-Go Boots will prove to be better protection than my Sneakers Various and Sundry). So, mes amis, take heed of this timely leadership and be sure to lock your chimneys and have your nuclear-tipped, shoulder-launched rockets at the ready!

On an even darker note, since I won't be getting what I want for Xmas -

we never do, do we? - here's sincerely hoping your suffering is at least the equal of mine. And leaving out martinis and cookies doesn't work you fools, so, bottoms up!

Lastly, sleep tight, but don't have visions of sugar plums dancing in your head.

Those are grenades.