Tag Archives: Occult

Renaissance In Extremis

Akercocke

Today’s offering is from London-based black / death metal band Akercocke. The group was formed in 1997 with an initial line-up featuring guitarist / vocalist Jason Mendonca, guitarist Paul Scanlan, bassist Peter Theobalds and drummer David Gray.

Akercocke – Rape Of The Bastard Nazarene

Debut album “Rape Of The Bastard Nazarene” (1999) nailed the act’s colours pretty firmly to the mast with its mix of brutal death metal style riffing mixed with eerie horror interludes and a distinctly Satanic theme in the lyrics. The album didn’t boast the best production in the world so suffered somewhat from a muddy sound.

Akercocke – The Goat Of Mendes

The approach on second album “The Goat Of Mendes” (2001) was to refine things musically whilst ramping up the erotic content of the still- Satanic lyrics and the end result was a definite improvement on the debut. It was 2003’s “Choronzon” that first got me listening to Akercocke. This was a quite simple brilliant album, showing more progressive tendencies whilst still being chock-full of heavy riffing and yet more eerie interludes and film dialogue samples.

Akercocke – Choronzon

By now the band had a rising profile and were notable for being a black metal band who were dressing in suits rather than studs and corpse paint while hanging out with nubile lovelies – as perfectly demonstrated in their video for album highlight “Leviathan”.

The Devil Rides Out

To me that visual approach, together with the Satanism and sexuality of their songs gave them an air of having stepped out of a film such as the 1968 Hammer classic “The Devil Rides Out”. Despite what this might suggest, back in 2001 they’d given an interview in which they’d discussed their Satanism at length, saying that they weren’t “…preaching Hammer Horror Satanism…”.

Akercocke – Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone

That same interview contained quotes from both Mendonca and Gray stating “….this band is all about Satanism, there could never be a non-Satanic Akercocke song…” (Gray) and “…no Satanism, no Akercocke…” (Mendonca). This is significant when we come to the new album. Before we get to that though there were a further two studio releases from the group in “Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone” (2005) introducing guitarist Matt Wilcock in place of Scanlan and “Antichrist” (2007) seeing Theobalds replaced on bass by Peter Benjamin. Both albums continued with the same subject matter and both showed further progression musically – though I do retain a fondness for “Choronzon” over all of their initial five albums.

Akercocke In 2007

The band essentially disappeared off the radar for the best part of the next decade, with only sporadic gigs followed by a period of practically no information surfacing prior to the band’s official breakup in 2012. Subsequently Gray issued new music under the banners of both Voices (with Benjamin on guitar) and The Antichrist Imperium (which also featured Wilcock).

Akercocke – Antichrist

Then, nearly ten years after “Antichrist”, came the news that Akercocke were reuniting – Mendonca, Gray and Scanlan together with new bassist Nathanael Underwood and keyboardist Sam Loynes. Gone are the suits and so is the Satanism (so much for “no Satanism, no Akercocke” eh?! ). Hmm…

Akercocke In 2017

First track “Disappear” begins furiously enough before transforming into a brief lighter mid-section and then back into the metal again. The musicianship is top class from all concerned, and Mendonca’s vocals take on a number of approaches throughout the record.

Highlights for me include “Unbound By Sin”, “Insentience” and the excellent closer “A Particularly Cold September”. This is recognisably Akercocke – less dense and brutal than the first few albums, certainly more death metal then black metal in style, and with the progressive elements again more evident – but Akercocke nonetheless. And on the musical front it is most definitely a success. Lyrically I’m not so sure.

Jason Mendonca

I gather that Mendonca struggled massively with mental health issues during the band’s time away and the track “One Chapter Closing For Another To Begin” references his moving on fro that bleak period into more positive waters – and this has clearly fed into his songwriting in a big way, with a lot of positive phrases to be heard on this album. I do, I most confess, miss the out-and-out Satanic wordplay that adorned their previous work but that doesn’t stop this record from being a very high quality progressive death metal release. Welcome back Akercocke…

“Renaissance In Extremis” tracklist:

1. Disappear / 2. Unbound By Sin / 3. Insentience / 4. First To Leave The Funeral / 5. Familiar Ghosts / 6. A Final Glace Back Before Departing / 7. One Chapter Closing For Another To Begin / 8. Inner Sanctum / 9. A Particularly Cold September

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Evil Takes Many Forms

A few nights ago I finally got around the watching a movie that’s been on my to-watch list for a while, the 2016 feature-length debut from writer / director Robert Eggers, “The Witch”.

Ralph Ineson

Subtitled as a “New-England Folktale”, the film begins in 1630 with a scene in which William (Ralph Ineson – “Case Sensitive”, “The Office”) is appearing before the elders of the Puritan plantation on which he and his family live, as he has a fundamental difference of opinion over interpretation of the biblical text by which they live their lives.

Kate Dickie

William, his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie – “Midwinter Of The Spirit”, “Prometheus”) and their four children are banished from the plantation and set off to make their lives on a farm near the edge of a large forest some distance from the plantation.

Anya Taylor-Joy

Eldest child Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy – “Split”, Morgan”) is struggling with the demands of the family’s faith but determined to do the right thing. One day she is playing peek-a-boo outside with Katherine’s new baby Samuel when he suddenly disappears. We, the viewer, then see the baby’s body being used by a witch to make a flying ointment. Katherine is devastated and clearly feels that Thomasin is at least partly to blame for Samuel’s disappearance.

Ellie Grainger & Lucas Dawson With Black Phillip

The young twins Mercy (Ellie Grainger – “The Village”) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson) claim that the family’s goat, Black Phillip, speaks to them and they take next to no notice of instructions given by their elder sister, increasing her inner torment.

Harvey Scrimshaw

The parents discuss sending Thomasin away to work for another family as she approaches woman-hood and the farm’s crops fail once again, a conversation overhead by their daughter and her younger brother Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw – “Oranges And Sunshine”). This leads Caleb to set off in the early hours into the forest in an attempt to hunt for food so that Thomasin won’t have to leave. She goes with him but falls from the horse when Caleb rushes off after a hare and is knocked out.

Sarah Stephens

Deep in the forest Caleb spots a small hut and when he approaches is met by an attractive young woman (model Sarah Stephens) who proves to be a witch, and maybe not as attractive as she first seems. When Thomasin reawakens she manages to find her father but, though they search, there is no sign of Caleb.

Black Phillip

Katherine takes this as further proof that Thomasin is evil, and when Caleb returns, naked and barely conscious, her impression is further strengthened when the young twins, Mercy and Jonas, tell their mother than Thomasin had claimed to be a witch. Thomasin counter-claims that the twins speak with Black Phillip. William responds by locking the three children, along with the goat, in the stable for the night, intending that the family should return to the plantation the next day. However, with all kinds of weird and violent events unfolding thereafter what will become of the family?…

The Witch

I’ve probably said too much already, but I really can’t go too much further into the story without definitely giving too much away. Suffice it to say that this is a pretty decent film. The cinematography gives the whole thing a suitably bleak feel, given the hard times that William’s family are enduring, and it all feels nicely atmospheric too.

Anya Taylor-Joy

The ending of the movie felt a little strange at the time of viewing, but a subsequent read of this article helped to make more sense of things – though it’s best read after viewing the movie! Taylor-Joy and Ineson, in particular, were excellent in their roles but all of the small cast are very good.

The Witch

The dialogue and religious aspect of the film felt realistic for the period of history in which it is set, when witch trials and executions were happening in New England and indeed the end titles claim that much of the dialogue is based upon real diaries and court transcripts etc. from that time, throwing light on the effects of a strict religious lifestyle mixed with the superstition of the age.

Overall, I thought “The Witch” was an intense, gripping, spooky and indeed thought-provoking way to spend an hour and a half – a well recommended movie to lovers of folk horror…

You Will Always Belong To Him…

“Seb Logan is being watched. He just doesn’t know by whom.

When the sudden appearance of a dark figure shatters his idyllic coastal life, he soon realises that the murky past he thought he’d left behind has far from forgotten him. What’s more unsettling is the strange atmosphere that engulfs him at every sighting, plunging his mind into a terrifying paranoia.

To be a victim without knowing the tormentor. To be despised without knowing the offence caused. To be seen by what nobody else can see. These are the thoughts which plague his every waking moment.

Imprisoned by despair, Seb fears his stalker is not working alone, but rather is involved in a wider conspiracy that threatens everything he has worked for. For there are doors in this world that open into unknown places. Places used by the worst kind of people to achieve their own ends. And once his investigation leads him to stray across the line and into mortal danger, he risks becoming another fatality in a long line of victims…”

“Under A Watchful Eye” is the eighth novel from Devon-based author Adam Nevill. I have read nearly all of his previous books, including the previous two “No One Gets Out Alive” and 2015’s “Lost Girl”.

Whereas the latter was based more in a sci-fi future world with “Under A Watchful Eye” Nevill is back onto more familiar ground, falling squarely into supernatural horror territory, in this case with a narrative penned from the perspective of horror author Seb Logan who encounters problems when an old roommate from student days, Ewan Alexander, reappears in his life. Before he knows it Seb finds himself immersed in a nightmare scenario involving a long-dead author, M.L. Hazzard, who it transpires was involved with some kind of cult.

The character of Hazzard was apparently inspired, at least in part, by the strange tale of Dr. Charlotte Bach although the activities here are centred around astral projection and out-of-body experiences rather than evolutionary gender theories.

Adam Nevill

The book is based in the Devon area, where the author resides, and the use of a dilapidated manor house in a secluded part of Dartmoor helps to add to the atmosphere as the story progresses. It also felt like a bit of a throwback to “Ritual”, Nevill’s debut novel that was set in rural Norway. A further reference to the author’s previous work comes within the text with a couple of references to the Temple Of The Last Days cult featured in his “Last Days” book, as well as the film-maker at the heart of that tale, Kyle Freeman. There are also some nods to a few metal bands included.

This certainly shouldn’t suggest a lack of ideas however. I think it’s true to say that stories of this kind can take a little longer to get into, as the imagery can demand more visual imagination than in, for example, your average crime thriller and I did find that to be the case here. That said, the horrors are so well described that it soon becomes all too easy to picture them in your head and imagine what Seb is experiencing!

I really enjoyed this story, going along for the ride as Seb’s organised and comfortable life is steadily eroded by events and characters in the tale and you wonder if there is any way he can make it through relatively unscathed. Another highly recommended novel from the excellent Mr. Nevill…

Tour Of Misrule

The latest concert outing saw another trip to Bristol – probably the closest big city that has a reasonably regular supply of decent acts appearing. This time it was to a new (to me) venue, and quite likely the smallest venue that I’ve attended a show at to date, the Louisiana, to see psychedelic occult rock band Blood Ceremony on their latest UK jaunt in support of latest album “Lord Of Misrule”.

The Louisiana, Bristol

The show took place in the small upstairs room (capacity just 140) at the pub. The event was billed as a sell-out by the promoters, but when I went up and presented my ticket ten minutes before show-time I had doubts about this as I found myself alone in the room with just a set-up-and-ready-to-go stage area for company!

Stage At The Louisiana, Bristol

Feeling more than a little self-conscious I took a photo of the stage and then chose a vantage point along the side of the room, propping myself up on the bar / shelf that ran along the wall as a few other folk began to troop into the darkened room. One downside of this positioning was that as the room filled up I had a less clear view of the low stage and was unable to get any decent photos – hence all the remaining piccies used here were found out there in internet land.

Steak

When tickets had gone on sale the support act hadn’t been announced and although heavy rockers Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell were mentioned on the tour poster they weren’t down as appearing at the UK dates in London and Bristol. Shortly before the show date I discovered that the support on the night would be London stoner rock band Steak.

Steak

Bang on 7:00pm the four members of the band – vocalist Chris “Kip” Haley, guitarist Reece Tee, James Cameron (bass) and Sammy Forway (drums) – made their way through the expanding audience (the dressing room area is at the opposite end of the room to the stage) onto the stage and launched into riff-heavy opening track “Pisser” from their 2014 debut album “Slab City”.

Steak

Numbers such as “King Lizard” and “Overthrow” from their new album “No God To Save” left me with a definite sense of Soundgarden being channelled and Kip himself struck me as being a mixture of the aforementioned Soundgarden’s late Chris Cornell, Jim Morrison (The Doors) and Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam) – which is certainly no bad thing.

Reese Tee

A band that are often compared to stoner rock legends Kyuss, Steak have bags full of heavy and groovy riffs being belted out of Tee’s fuzz-drenched Les Paul and went down pretty well with the crowd. Kip mentioned that they’d had a five-hour journey to play the gig, and with a slot of just thirty minutes I hope that they felt it was worth it – I’m sure most of those who witnessed them first-hand did. Impressive stuff…

Setlist:

1. Pisser / 2. King Lizard / 3. Living Like A Rat / 4. Liquid Gold / 5. Hanoid / 6. Overthrow

1, 4 and 5 originally from “Slab City” (2014) / 2, 3 and 6 originally from “No God To Save” (2017)

Blood Ceremony

After Steak had dismantled their gear and carried it through the thinned-out audience (many of whom had disappeared downstairs for liquid refreshment) the members of psychedelic / occult rockers Blood Ceremony and their one roadie / driver (I think) ensured that their gear was ready for their own set, which began at 8:00pm.

Alia O’Brien

By that time the room was absolutely packed and the reception afforded to the headliners was more than a little enthusiastic! The focal point of the band is undoubtedly vocalist / keyboardist / flautist Alia O’Brien, and with her long dark tresses, make-up, velvet catsuit and witchy hand gestures she certainly looked the part of mistress of occultic ceremonies!

Alia O’Brien & Sean Kennedy

Following opener “Old Fires” the band turn to classic “Goodbye Gemini” from 2013’s superb “The Eldritch Dark” album – an album that is justly very well represented tonight, accounting for five of the thirteen songs aired. “Drawing Down The Moon” is up next and is, like “Goodbye Gemini” a textbook example of the group’s potent mixture of psychedelia, groovy 70s riffs and O’Brien’s vocalising interspersed with evocative keyboard work, with flute being prominent too in the earlier track.

Sean Kennedy

The next two tracks are among my favourites from last year’s record before the Black Sabbath worshipping “Return To Forever” which boasts more flute and some great axe work from guitarist Sean Kennedy and, like everything the band did, received a fantastic response from the hairy rockers, gothic girls and assorted others – so many of whom knew every word and sang along – filling the room. Unlike other shows I’ve been to of late there was precious little chatter amongst the audience too.

Lucas Gadke & Alia O’Brien

“Lord Summerisle” was book-ended by a couple of songs from “Living With The Ancients”, the album that introduced me to this great band. Bass player Lucas Gadke took the mic for “Lord Summerisle”, which is surely a track that would fit nicely amongst the soundtrack for “The Wicker Man”, the film that inspired it.

Alia O’Brien

The main portion of the set was closed by the brilliant “Witchwood”. Once the initial guitar riff and keyboard atmospherics had given way to the groove of the song the room resembled a scene from some cool 60s horror movie where a club full of people get down to the infectious sounds of the house band. In fact a good number of folk had been grooving throughout, illustrating just how accessible the group’s songs are and the reaction that it provokes, as whilst Blood Ceremony might just be the perfect band for a 60s / 70s Hammer Horror type film they are also very much for today and have clearly made a connection with the audience.

Michael Carrillo & Alia O’Brien

Rather than trying to make their way through the audience only to return for an encore the quartet (completed by drummer Michael Carrillo) elected to remain on stage and get straight into the final two numbers of the evening, “I’m Coming With You” from their debut record and finally the magnificent “The Magician”. A (black) magical and spellbinding performance to be sure and a band that I’d love to see go onto bigger and better things in the near future…

Setlist:

1. Old Fires / 2. Goodbye Gemini / 3. Drawing Down The Moon / 4. Loreley / 5. Half Moon Street / 6. Return To Forever / 7. My Demon Brother / 8. Lord Summerisle / 9. Oliver Haddo / 10. Lord Of Misrule / 11. Witchwood / 12. I’m Coming With You / 13. The Magician

1, 4, 5 and 10 originally from “Lord Of Misrule” (2016) / 2, 3, 8, 11 and 13 originally from “The Eldritch Dark” (2013) / 6 and 12 originally from “Blood Ceremony” (2008) / 7 and 9 originally from “Living With The Ancients” (2011)

 

Not Everything Can Be Forgiven

Recently my wife and I watched the feature-length debut film from writer / director Liam Gavin – the horror / drama movie “A Dark Song”.

Catherine Walker

Sophia Howard (Catherine Walker – “Patrick’s Day”, “Dark Touch”) arranges to rent a large isolated house in North Wales for twelve months. She then heads off to meet a man at a railway station.

That man,  Joseph Solomon (Steve Oram – “The Canal”, “Sightseers”), is being hired by Sophia – at great expense – to perform a ritual for her. Initially he declines clearly troubled Sophia’s offer until she admits the reason she gave for wanting to undergo the ritual wasn’t true and tells him something that attracts his attention.

Steve Oram

Stocking up on supplies for the months ahead, as they will be unable to leave the house once the process has begun, the pair head to the house where Joseph makes preparations and gives Sophia instructions about what his demands on her will be.

While Sophia has suffered a great loss, and is still very obviously suffering because of it, Joseph comes across as a rather unpleasant and, at times, abusive individual whose motivations are unclear aside from the large fee that he is promised and his own reward from the ritual…

Hammer Horror’s The Devil Rides Out (1968)

This is a very different take on the whole occult ritual type of movie. About as far away from the classic way Hammer Horror films would glamourise something like a black mass with the stereotypical candles, pentagrams and heaving cleavages as you can get. The ritual involved here seems to be the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage – a several-months-long affair that is attributed to Abraham of Worms (1360-1460) from Germany that seeks to contact one’s Holy Guardian Angel.

The Bookf Of The Sacred Magic Of Abramelin The Mage

This text was apparently of great interest to both Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and seems to involve lots of cleansing, fasting, and the use of numerous candles and symbols.

Shot in Ireland in less than three weeks, I believe, this is a rather intense film that I guess would fall into the folk horror category. Although there are a few other actors that appear on-screen briefly this is for the vast majority of the 100 minute duration an in-depth look at what happens when the two leads are holed up in the house for months on end.

Steve Oram & Catherine Walker

Whether Joseph is a genuine occult expert – albeit a particularly rude and decidedly weird one – or just a charlatan is really left to the viewer to decide as the film could be interpreted in either way, even when we get to the climax of the film which could as easily be in Sophia’s mind as actually taking place.

In truth it is the final section of the movie that lets it down a little. Neither my wife or I were completely sold on the ending and the small budget shows most tellingly at this point too. That said, it does not detract from all that’s gone before that seems to be a far more grounded depiction of the work and personal sacrifice that goes into the kind of ritual being used. Not an easy watch, by any means, but with two excellent performances from Oram and Walker the film is riveting and compelling nonetheless and will likely stick in the memory for some time to come…

Lord Of Misrule

Lord Of Misrule

Sean Kennedy
Sean Kennedy

Originally hailing from Toronto, Canada, psychedelic occult rock band Blood Ceremony were formed sometime in 2006 by guitarist Sean Kennedy, who recruited vocalist / flautist / organist Alia O’Brien, bassist Chris Landon and drummer Andrew Haust.

Alia O'Brien
Alia O’Brien

The band’s name was apparently taken from the English translation of the Spanish horror movie about the Countess Elizabeth Báthory from 1973 titled “Ceremonia Sangrienta”. This is rather appropriate in two ways. Firstly the band’s music is firmly rooted in the early Seventies, the likes of which you may have found on the legendary Vertigo label (particularly early Black Sabbath) as well occult rockers Black Widow and the great Jethro Tull, the latter thanks to O’Brien’s flute work. Secondly the band’s lyrical stance is concerned with all manner of occult themes – witchcraft, magick, devil worship etc.

Lucas Gadke
Lucas Gadke

The group’s debut album “Blood Ceremony” was released in 2008 and was followed in 2011 by the record through which I originally discovered the band, their second album “Living With The Ancients”. By this time bassist Landon had been replaced by current bass player Lucas Gadke.

Michael Carrillo
Michael Carrillo

A further line-up change occurred prior to the recording of album number three “The Eldritch Dark” (2013), with Michael Carrillo taking over the drum stool from Haust. That record, influenced in part by classic horror film “The Wicker Man”, had a much less overt Black Sabbath influence than the first two, and continued the improvement in the band’s sound and material.

Blood Ceremony
Blood Ceremony

Now, following lead single “Old Fires”, comes the group’s fourth album – and second with the line-up of Kennedy, O’Brien, Gadke and Carrillo – titled “Lord Of Misrule”. The album kicks off with a fabulous seven-minute-plus song “The Devil’s Widow” which contains all that is great about this band. Doom metal style guitar riffing, progressive twists and turns, folky flute playing to rival that of the aforementioned Jethro Tull and a nicely sinister vocal delivery from the frontwoman – not to mention that it’s really catchy too.

Sean Kennedy
Sean Kennedy

Chief songwriter Kennedy has done a marvellous job here, as there is not one duff track and the album feels like a natural progression from the last one. Gadke and Carrillo provide solid foundations, but it is the material and guitar playing of Kennedy and the multi-talented performances of O’Brien that really give this band their magical retro-inspired sound.

Alia O'Brien
Alia O’Brien

Personal highlights on the album include “Loreley”, the acoustic “Things Present, Things Past”, the brilliant “The Weird Of Finistere”, “Half Moon Street” and “The Devil’s Widow”. The band have stayed true to their early Seventies vibe and pagan sensibilities whilst also managing to broaden their sonic scope. A great album that really appeals to my love of Seventies progressive and folk rock, great songwriting and, of course, matters related to paganism and the occult. Fabulous stuff and highly recommended…Roadburn-2016-Blood-Ceremony

“Lord Of Misrule” tracklist:

1. The Devil’s Widow / 2. Loreley / 3. The Rogue’s Lot / 4. Lord Of Misrule / 5. Half Moon Street / 6. The Weird Of Finistere / 7. Flower Phantoms / 8. Old Fires / 9. Things Present, Things Past

The Wicca Woman

“Thirty years ago a young girl was found murdered in a sleepy Cornish village, and her death was the trigger for a spree of other killings.

The rest of the children have now grown up, and are still living in the same Pagan village.

But they have become as disturbed, frenzied, and often as dangerous as their deceased parents.

They still follow age-old sacrificial rituals to bring peace and prosperity to their lives.

But are the adults, who witnessed horrors in their childhood, now corrupting the next generation?

Into their midst comes the lithesome and mysterious, Lulu, who is determined to save the village.

But death, mayhem and terror follow in her wake.

And on Millennium Eve, ‘The Wicca Woman’ comes to its terrifying ritualistic and sacrificial climax.

But is this only the horrific beginning of what is yet to come…?”

wicca woman header

David Pinner - Ritual
David Pinner – Ritual

When I recently stumbled over English author David Pinner’s most recent novel “The Wicca Woman” I knew instantly that I had to read it. The reason for my enthusiasm is that it this was the sequel to his debut novel “Ritual”. Published in 1968, “Ritual” was the inspiration for the cult classic horror film – and a huge favourite of mine – “The Wicker Man” – which clearly influences Pinner in his choice of title for this new (published in 2014) book.

Now, I must confess that I have never read “Ritual”, but figured it must be pretty good to have been responsible, even indirectly, for such a fantastic movie.

Well, having now finished “The Wicca Woman”, I have to say that if the first book was anything like this then I am frankly amazed that “The Wicker Man” came to be such a revered film. I really struggled with this book.

Aside from a few continuity errors – a character named Jimmy gets referred to as Paul then as Jimmy again, a chair becomes a sofa mid-scene – I found the actual writing to be the biggest barrier to enjoying the book.

David Pinner
David Pinner

None of the characters are particularly well-developed, so you don’t get a real feel for their personalities, and they all speak in a practically identical way. There are so many sentences that begin with “Yes…” or “See…”, as well as many passages of speech being punctuated by “…well,…”. To make matters worse no one actually says anything, every character’s speech is “riposted” or pretty much anything other than “said”.

Added to that is the overly flowery text, seemingly following the mantra why use one word when a dozen will do, and the constant reminders of who people are – a journalist / writer is referred to as “the writer” more than once every time the character is involved.

Far too much background information is presented in the form of the various characters’ thoughts, as if they all go round constantly thinking back over all manner of things, and the number of times that a group of characters, be they a group of children or of adults, seem to be able to react to things by “chorusing” complicated sentences together beggars belief.

Ultimately this would have made an OK short story, but not nearly enough action takes place in between all the purple prose to keep the interest going and I found the climax of the tale to be something of a let down too. I always try to be as positive as I can when writing about things – books, music, films – but in this instance that’s proven to be a challenge. Disappointing…

wicker2-e1332201029869

Luciferian Light Orchestra

Luciferian-Light-Orchestra-2015-Luciferian-Light-Orchestra

Christofer Johnsson
Christofer Johnsson

Back in 1987 Swedish multi-instrumentalist and composer Christofer Johnsson formed death metal band Therion. Over the subsequent years that band moved away from death metal into the realms of symphonic metal, including choirs and orchestral instruments to their performances.

Thomas Karlsson
Thomas Karlsson

Lyrically the band have focussed on themes of ancient traditions, magic, the occult etc., with Swedish author Thomas Karlsson penning all of the group’s lyrics since the mid Nineties.

Both Johnsson and Karlsson are members of a left-hand path organisation called Dragon Rouge, led by Karlsson, which has existed since 1989.

Therion
Therion

In 2015 Johnsson unveiled an occult-based side project under the banner of the Luciferian Light Orchestra. The project’s self-titled debut album was released on 30 April 2015. This date was perhaps no coincidence as Walpurgis Night falls on 30 April each year. In Sweden this is traditionally a celebration of the coming of Spring but in wider Europe there are connections to witchcraft etc.

Mina Karadzic
Mina Karadzic

Details of the Luciferian Light Orchestra are deliberately thin on the ground. Johnsson revealed that, aside from himself (guitars, keyboards, backing vocals) and his girlfriend Mina Karadzic (backing vocals), a further twenty-two musicians were involved in the recording of the album. There were apparently four lead vocalists, five backing vocalists, five guitarists, five keyboardists, two drummers and one bassist which included a mix of current and previous members of Therion.

Luciferian Light Orchestra
Luciferian Light Orchestra

However, Johnsson decided to keep the specific identities and roles under wraps as he was keen that people concentrate on the music itself rather than the personnel. The lyrics are again penned by Karlsson and whilst on the one hand they are fairly typical occult rock lyrics there is also a depth and detail therein that reflects Karlsson’s knowledge of the subject matter.

Musically the album is steeped in a Seventies style vibe and is far more classic hard rock than one might expect given Johnsson’s background in death and symphonic metal. Opening track “Dr. Faust On Capri” sets out the project’s stall straight away. Catchy guitar riffs, Hammond organs, choral backing vocals in places, some fairly deep but perfectly understandable male vocals and all topped off with the a beautifully sweet female vocal.

Luciferian Light Orchestra
Luciferian Light Orchestra

The latter is especially effective on “Church Of Carmel” where the singer (possibly Mari Karhunen) sings “…take off your dress, join us in the Sabbath, become the Master’s mistress…”. I remarked to my wife that if all occult and / or satanic music was as melodic, catchy and, frankly, seductive as this then there would be a lot more people investigating that path!

Baphomet
Baphomet

“Taste The Blood Of The Altar Wine” talks of bowing “…before the black crucifix, hear the demons sing… for the Lord, the goat of Mendes, Baphomet…” and elsewhere you will hear references to the “…Lord of Topheth…” (a place in Jerusalem where followers of the early Canaanite religions sacrificed children to Moloch and Baal by burning them alive) in “Moloch”, as well as “…Astaroth…” (the Great Duke of Hell) alongside unnamed incubi and succubi in “Sex With Demons”

Luciferian Light Orchestra
Luciferian Light Orchestra

There are hints of the likes of classic Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin to be heard, particularly on tracks such as “Dante And Diabaulus” and “Venus In Flames” (which declares that “…we hail Sathanas, Venus, Lucifer…”). There are also parallels with other occult bands around at the moment, such as Blood Ceremony and Purson (not to mention the sadly missed The Devil’s Blood) in terms of the vintage vibe and female vocals.

Luciferian Light Orchestra
Luciferian Light Orchestra

Ignoring the lyrical direction this is a great, concise (just over thirty-eight minutes in length) album with some superb musicianship and very high quality vintage sounding hard rock songs. Add in the occult imagery and you have an irresistible package and one of the most instantly rewarding albums of the year. Excellent!

therion-2016tour

“Luciferian Light Orchestra” tracklist:

1. Dr. Faust On Capri / 2. Church Of Carmel / 3. Taste The Blood Of The Altar Wine / 4. A Black Mass In Paris / 5. Eater Of Souls / 6. Sex With Demons / 7. Venus In Flames / 8. Moloch / 9. Dante And Diabulus / 10. Three Demons

New World Order

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Void Of Sleep Live In 2011
Void Of Sleep Live In 2011

Time for a little something from the dark side today. Formed in 2010 by singer / guitarist Andrea “Burdo” Burdisso, guitarist Marco “Gale” Galeotti, bassist Riccardo “Paso” Pasini and drummer Andrea “Allo” Allodoli, Italian band Void Of Sleep describe their music as occult progressive metal.

Void Of Sleep - Tales Between Reality And Madness
Void Of Sleep – Tales Between Reality And Madness

A debut album, titled “Tales Between Reality And Madness” saw the light of day in 2013 and the group’s follow-up effort, “New World Order” has recently been released.

In theory, given the increasing amount of occult and extreme metal, not to mention progressive rock, that I’ve been listening to in recent years, this should be right up my street. So?…

Andrea “Burdo” Burdisso
Andrea “Burdo” Burdisso

The record follows in the steps of the promotional lyric video “Slaves Shall Serve” which has a procession of images providing an effective visual accompaniment to the song’s Luciferian theme. Although bearing the same title, this is a more 70s hard rock / doom sounding song than the Polish black metal act Behemoth’s ferocious track.

Marco "Gale" Galeotti
Marco “Gale” Galeotti

The album’s opener “The Devil’s Conjuration” has a nice sludgy doom metal feel topped off with vocals akin to Ghost, and picks up the pace a little towards the track’s climax.

“Hidden Revelations”, meanwhile, hints at influences from the likes of Opeth with its progressive metal guitar riffs and melancholic vocal passages.

Riccardo "Paso" Pasini
Riccardo “Paso” Pasini

The aforementioned “Slaves Shall Serve” is followed by “Ordo Ab Chao” (translation – order from chaos) which has plenty of light and shade even though the song is generally slow and heavy.

“Lords Of Chaos” is a forty-two second interlude and introduction to the title track which sees the band channelling Tool at their most reflective, and is one of the highlights of the album.

Andrea "Allo" Allodoli
Andrea “Allo” Allodoli

That just leaves the closing number “Ending Theme”. At a little over fourteen minutes this is by far the longest track on the record. It starts with some atmospheric and discordant guitar before the drums and vocals join the fray, and before you know it all those influences mentioned above are making their presence felt through your speakers.

Void Of Sleep Live In 2014
Void Of Sleep Live In 2014

Given those influences this is clearly not a hugely original album. What the band have done, however, is to take those influences and produce something fresh and interesting from them. The band members’ musical ability is not in question as they shine throughout.

Is it up my street then? It’s certainly in the neighbourhood. As a whole this is an album rich in texture. There is plenty of great guitar riffing to get your teeth into and harsh vocals to display aggression, whilst there are more memorable melodies and harmonies present than on your average album of this type. The sound gets more complex and challenging as the album moves into its second half, but flows beautifully as a whole piece of work. So overall this is impressive stuff…void-of-sleep-new-world-order-promo-album-banner-2015-033069momnss3

“New World Order” tracklist:

1. The Devil’s Conjuration / 2. Hidden Revelations / 3. Slaves Shall Serve / 4. Ordo Ab Chao / 5. Lords Of Conspiracy / 6. New World Order / 7. Ending Theme (I Mourn / II Triumphant / III Void)

The Magus Of Hay

“The castle was moonlight-vast, all its ages fused together by the shadows, chimney stacks like the backs of hands turned black…

Hay-on-Wye : an eccentric medieval town known for its dozens of secondhand bookshops… and for having its own king. Now in the grip of recession, Hay is fighting for its future. Not the best time to open a bookshop, but Robin and Betty are desperate, and only Betty worries about the oppressive atmosphere of the shop they’re renting.

Merrily Watkins, diocesan exorcist for nearby Hereford, knows little about Hay until a body is found in the dark pool below a waterfall on the outskirts of the town and the police ask her to assist. The dead man’s peculiar interests will open a passage to the hidden heart of Hay and a secret history of magic and ritual murder.

And Merrily is alone and vulnerable as never before…”

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The latest novel that I have read was written by British author Phil Rickman. The twelfth book in a series featuring the character of Merrily Watkins, a vicar based in the fictional Herefordshire village of Ledwardine.

Some years ago I had tried to get into “The Wine Of Angels” (published in 1998), the first in the series, and at that time couldn’t get into it. More recently, however, I picked up a copy of book ten “To Dream Of The Dead” (from 2008) in the local library and was instantly hooked, leading me to read book eleven “The Secrets Of Pain” as soon as it was released in 2011.

I think as I have got older and felt more of a connection with nature and an interest in the ways of our ancestors I have been able to identify more closely with some of the ideas in Rickman’s books. It doesn’t hurt that Merrily and her pagan-leaning archaeologist daughter inhabit a part of the country not too far from that in which I live, also close to the River Wye and England / Wales border.

“The Magus Of Hay” finds Merrily having to spend some time alone as boyfriend Lol Robinson is on tour and her daughter Jane is away on a dig. It’s at this time that police detective Francis Bliss gets in touch to get Merrily’s unique insight – as diocesan exorcist for Hereford – into the home of an old man whose body has been found in the river close to his home at Cusop Dingle.

Phil Rickman
Phil Rickman

The story is set entirely in and around the border town of Hay-On-Wye, with its many bookshops suffering from the effects of recession and the rise of the e-book, where a pagan couple, Robin and Betty Thorogood, have taken the decision to open a bookshop, devoted to pagan books, in a vacant shop.

While Merrily digs into the background of the dead man, Bliss finds that one of his colleagues, a young PC who lived near where the body was found, has gone missing.

Meanwhile Robin and Betty begin to find out that there is a hidden history to their new shop which man not be terribly positive.

I really enjoyed this book, and would say that it is certainly the best of the series that I have read so far (I will, in due course, be going back and reading books one to nine in this series). Rickman’s depictions of both character and locations are excellent. So much so, in fact, that I am looking forward to revisiting Hay itself as well as discovering Capel-y-ffin and some of the other places in the story.

With ingredients including ghosts, castles, stone circles, paganism, girls disappearing, magic, murder, Nazi occultism in World War II and a neo-nazi group going by the name of the Order Of The Sun In Shadow, and the addition of real-life characters including Richard Booth (the “King Of Hay”), author Beryl Bainbridge and artist Eric Gill, there is plenty to get your teeth into and to keep the old grey cells ticking over.

81ZlGQkAy9LIn my humble opinion this is a fabulous book, with a superbly plotted story. I very much look forward to book thirteen, to be titled “Friends Of The Dusk”, which is due later this year…