Thursday, January 19, 2017

Album review: CLARK ASHTON SMITH The Muse Of Hyperborea

CLARK ASHTON SMITH
The Muse Of Hyperborea
Cadabra Records
Poems collected and read by S.T. Joshi
Experimentation was always the number one underground rule, and if you’ve stayed in touch with this industry to see how many doors can be opened since 1995 you’ve probably been rewarded with recordings memorable for daring to try something they discovered on their own. If you thought the roads you’ve encountered couldn’t continue, consider acquiring releases from a new independent label dealing specifically with spoken readings of classic horror authors. The factor setting Cadabra Records apart is that it’s purportedly the first of its kind. Earsplit Compound is taking a chance advertising and promoting this label, having previously worked with recording artists since their inception as a public relations company (Earsplit has since expanded into a distro and indie label called Compound Records). Cadabra’s past releases since their gestation in 2015 include readings of Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (read by Tony Todd of Candyman and the 1990 Night Of The Living Dead remake), all released on vinyl. Their latest full length features the poems of Clark Ashton Smith narrated by S.T. Joshi. Some background orientation if these names are unfamiliar: Clark Ashton Smith was an author of fantasy, horror and science fiction who lived from1893 to 1961. His writings have appeared in such publication as Weird Tales, Strange Tales and Wonder Stories, and have been lauded as having approached the beauty in darkness and death since E.A. Poe. His use of language was revolutionary for its time, with a perception as far reaching as the cosmos and an acerbic sense of humor. Smith himself referred to his writing as a form of verbal black magic, constructed more as incantation than verse. S.T. Joshi is a literary critic and bibliographer who studies Lovecraft and has penned an extremely extensive collection of books on Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos and a variety of other subjects. Knowing this, it’s not a stretch to understand the reason Earsplit is promoting this release and the label making it available for perusal. Not only does it fit the tastes of its target audience but it can expand the horizons of the average fan of brutal and extreme music by treating them to worthwhile classic literature, hopefully making them want to learn more about both authors. Smith’s darkly imaginative imagery and Joshi’s hypnotic, spellbinding intonation make for an experience like you haven’t had before. Haunting music serves as a background to these incantations, though it’s not specified who composed it. All the same this is a bold move to expose metal and stoner rock fans to entertainment of its magnitude, and perhaps the beginning of something that will benefit the underground, taking it to even loftier plateaus of sophistication. The Muse Of Hyperborea is being released on a limited edition run of three hundred releases on red vinyl, so contact Earsplit or Cadabra for info.  -Dave Wolff

Track list:
1. The Muse Of Hyperborea, Side A
2. The Muse Of Hyperborea, Side B

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

CD Review: DIVINE WEEP Tears of the Ages

DIVINE WEEP
Tears of the Ages
Metal Scrap Records
Recorded from March – September 2015, Polish classic heavy metal outfit Divine Weep deliver 50 minutes of traditional heavy metal music in the vein of Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Helloween. Soaring melodic vocals underpinned by tasteful soling and a very adept rhythm section showcase this well produced and attention grabbing release. Production is clear enough for all parts to be heard but not overdone. Lyrically, existential themes and ideas of fantasy are explored. “Day of Revenge” is probably an attempt at rock star glory with its chorus lending itself more to a hard rock than metal sound “The Mentor” and “Never Ending Path” are probably the best songs on this 6-track release. A re-recording of “Age of the Immortal” rounds out the release which may be of interest to fans of the band. Guest musician Wojciech Hoffman also plays a solo on the title track in attempts to add diversity to the album. Whilst a quite captivating release technically and compositionally, the listener can’t help but feel they’ve heard this same formula tried and tried before. This isn’t a bad thing by any means if you’re a fan of the style. However, there is nothing to separate this release from the plethora of other releases in the marketplace for this genre. This is despite the album being a very enjoyable listen. The band just simply need to put more of their own style into their compositions instead of leaning so heavily on their Maiden/Priest influences. -Simon Brown

Track list:
1. Fading Glow
2. The Mentor
3. Day Of Revenge
4. Never Ending Path
5. Tears Of The Ages
6. Age Of The Immortal (Re-recorded version with new vocal; taken from single 2014)

CD Review: WRATH FROM ABOVE Beyond Ruthless Cold

WRATH FROM ABOVE
Beyond Ruthless Cold
Apathia Records
Hailing from Nantes, France, blackened/war/death metal act Wrath from Above deliver a Soviet communist ideologically charged wall of spiteful nastiness. Exactly what raw black metal in the vein of Tsjuder, Marduk, 1349 and others should be. Forget about overdone production, solos, breakdowns or tempo variation here. This band have come with only one purpose in mind and that is to destroy all who oppose. Vocals, drums and guitars are audible enough and as the listener should expect, bass lines can only faintly be made out. Very true to the style, compositionally there is enough to keep interest through rasp and growled variation in the vocal lines. “Permafrost” is a highlight with string skipping riffs and nice arpeggio hooks in the melody. The only drawback to this release is after a while it can start to sound monotonous as there is no variation whatsoever in delivery. Then again, that is the point of this music: to blast the listener out of existence. “Storm the Sky” is another highlight with increased use of the low growl backing the rasps of the main vocalist and some lines on their own. Another quality French release, which quite unfairly for many French metal bands may go ignored. -Simon Brown

Track list:
1. Beyond Ruthless Cold
2. Prevail
3. Permafrost
4. They Came At Night
5. Storm The Sky
6. Empire
7. Scorching Ground (Interlude)
8. Besieged
9. Concealed Weapons
10. World's Burning
11. Everlast

CD Review: NORÐ Alpha

NORÐ
Alpha
Inverse Records
From Odense, Denmark, NORÐ plays melodic progressive metal with rock influences and occasional growled vocals. Their delivery is powered by highly energetic compositions and melancholic soundscapes. A unique style of heavy music with a variety of influences is present spanning many genres. Lyrically, themes centre upon a dystopian universe with contempt for human decadence. NORÐ aims to reflect Nordic atmospheres with a combination of ambient melodies, tight riffing and heavy riffing and vocals to counter the ambient soundscapes. Production wise Alpha is clear, yet gritty enough to not be overdone. The vocals have an incredible range, from guttural growl to a solid clean range including sustained high notes. The lead guitar adds some nice hooks and licks to the melodies composed and the bass work, whilst not pronounced is some of the best I’ve heard in a long while. “Rosehip Garden” and “Restless are definitely the highlights of this release with very well thought out and composed solo work. It is refreshing to hear an artist release something these days which not only nods to their idols but goes out its way not to lean so heavily on their influences they plagiarise. An upbeat death/doom album (albeit the mere concept of doom being upbeat is a misnomer). Highly recommended and highly original. To be released March 3rd, 2017 digitally through Inverse Records. -Simon Brown

Track list:
1. Kill the Marshalls
2. Rosehip Garden
3. Restless
4. Omega

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Video Review: ARMORED SAINT March Of The Saint

ARMORED SAINT
March Of The Saint
From the live album "Carpe Noctum" (Metal Blade Records)
Filmed live in Aschaffenburg, Germany
Directed by Oliver Barth
Armored Saint needs no formal introduction, having formed as one of the first American heavy metal bands in 1982. They had more in common with old Iron Maiden, Saxon and Riot, untouched by the commerciality that surfaced in the genre a few years later. Armored Saint were part of that exclusive but vital school filling the slot between commercial metal and thrash. This school included the likes of Virgin Steele, Helloween, Flotsam And Jetsam and Obsession, all skillful bands that kept the spirit alive. Though overshadowed by hair bands of that era, Armored Saint had a solid career and their work received critical success. John Bush was widely known with Anthrax after leaving the band in 1992, but they stuck things out until 1998. Bush helped reform the band with bassist Joey Vera and the revitalized Armored Saint has remained active to this day. In support of their latest full length Carpe Noctum they released a total of two live videos, Aftermath in November 2016 and March Of The Saint this month. Both promos were directed by Oliver Barth and showcased tracks appearing on the album. Recorded at a recent headlining slot of theirs in Germany, the video is a straightforward example of their continued ability to deliver a good show and handle their earliest material many years after it first saw the light of day. Bush still has an impeccable vocal expression, even without the traditional images usually associated with metal, as he is backed by Vera, guitarists Phil Sandoval and Jeff Duncan and drummer Gonzo Sandoval. The entire band seems comfortable playing this classic, considering it must have been played countless times by now. They channel into it the vitality we remember from the first album, with the brief intro from the studio version omitted to move things forward. Gonzo comes across as the most seasoned musician, pushing the song onward with rigorous, concentrated percussion. The live videos for March Of The Saint and Aftermath can be viewed at the above Youtube profile. Preorder information for Carpe Noctum is at Armored Saint’s Metal Blade like along with tour news and information about the band’s PledgeMusic campaign. -Dave Wolff

Monday, January 16, 2017

Video Review: OVERTURES Artifacts live at Spazio Rock Festival 24.09.2016

OVERTURES
Artifacts live at Spazio Rock Festival 24.09.2016
Artifacts appears on the album 'Artifacts’ (Sleaszy Rider Records 2016)
Neil Peart of Rush said there are two means to make it in the industry: an accidental or manufactured ‘hit’ or a steady, gradual climb aboveground via excessive touring. Gorizia, Italy’s Overtures opt for the latter means, and it clearly works. If this video is an indication of their typical show, this band has its act together as they plan to tour Europe in 2017. Granted the dates are limited, but they should be sufficient to establish them a reputation. Their vid at last September’s Spazio Rock Festival in Italy has reinforced with a vengeance my belief that a band’s music speaks for itself no matter how all-encompassing MTV has become. Spazio Rock is just one of the many Italy based fests where Overtures appeared in 2016; there were Over The Noise, Festinenda and Isola Rock just to name a few. That so many Italian festivals are active proves the validity of their audiences. Before their next tour with fellow Italians Temperance stopping in Italy, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, France and Switzerland, their live performance of Artifacts will give you an impression of what they’re capable of onstage. Backed by minimalist lighting and a pair of female backing vocalists, Overtures deliver a five minute opus heavily inspired by classic metal, symphonic metal and prog metal, with underlying hints of black metal and melodic death metal. The guitars, vocals and keyboards take you to a world far from the mundane, and the bass is afforded enough presence in the final mixing and the drummer is a solid anchor without expending too much energy. The band members are clad entirely in black to establish presence for the fans, but this video holds talent and ability as important as their image if not more so. The backup singers are present to enhance the song and not for the sole purpose of eye candy, revealing minimal skin in the long gothic dresses they wear. Their voices add to the choruses as if dark angels are suddenly emerging onto the scene. The lead singer exhibits a range that carries the piece to new heights as it progresses. Artifacts the full length is now available for purchase, pick it up if you’re a fan of Queensryche, Dream Theater, Nightwish and Moonspell. -Dave Wolff

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Whistleblower Retribution by David Smith: Part One

Whistleblower Retribution
Novel by David Smith (http://www.davidsmithbooks.co.uk)
Available on Amazon with all his works including Whistleblower

“The strength of two connected neural pathways is thought to result in the storage of information, resulting in memory. This process of synaptic strengthening is known as long term potentiation.”

*****

“Who can say where inside a man’s body his soul is kept? Who can pinpoint a part of his brain, or even a single synapse, and say this is or is not the essence of that person? Can one body be possessed by two souls, and if so is one equally as guilty of the crimes committed by the other?”

Part 1

It’s the end of an easy shift and I’m having a beer with the guys in Jessup’s, a nice enough place. It’s not exactly a Mom and Pop joint where you’d take your date for a romantic evening; sometimes the clientele like to let off steam. It’ll do for our gang though at 3 o’clock on a Tuesday morning.
We’re sitting in a booth in the corner, each sucking on a Bud or a Heineken and chewing the fat when Darren, the barman, whistles above the incessant stream of country music twanging out through the Tannoys. That’s a sign to his patrons that there’s a phone call for someone. We all look over and Darren nods at me.
Who the hell would be calling me in a bar at three in the morning? I got my cell in my pocket and anyone that wants or needs to talk to me can get me through that. The guy next to me shuffles off the end of the banquette so I can squeeze out. At the bar Darren hands me the phone, but doesn’t turn the music down, so at first I struggle to hear who’s on the other end.
‘Hello?’
‘Jek?’
No one’s called me that for a couple of years. I recognise the voice straight away, Miss Trouble, my ex, Jane Kreiff. Jane and I are ex partners in both senses. After all the shit with our adversary from another world, Krillik, was over we had a great time together for a while. But her lifestyle as a Special Ambassador for the United Nations and mine as a humble detective in the Polk county police were never going to make it as a long term bet. So reluctantly we called it a day. She moved on and we gradually lost touch. Now, all of a sudden here she is on the other end of a land line to my local bar in the middle of the night. My brain knew this wouldn’t be a social call but my heart was hoping like hell that it would.
‘Nice to hear from you after all this time…’
She doesn’t let me get into my stride with the long time no see chitty-chat, ‘Put your cell on the floor and walk out of the bar right now! Don’t go to your car, head for the freeway on foot, and as soon as you’re outside run like hell!’
In the short time I worked with Jane one of the many things I learned from her was that when she said jump you didn’t question why, or ask how high. You just jumped, straight away, and as high as hell, otherwise you’d find yourself dead. I put Darren’s phone back on the bar, turned and headed for the exit. As I walked away I slipped my cell phone from my inside jacket pocket and put it on the first barstool that I passed. Shame, it was new and I was just getting the hang of using it.
‘Hey Red!’ one of my compatriots shouts over to me, heading back to our booth with a fresh tray full of drinks, ‘Where the hell you going?’
I wave my hand in the air back at him, one of those non committal waves that say everything and nothing. Seconds later I’m out in the fresh air. There’s a breeze blowing and it’s cold, but away from the bar it’s good and quiet. There’s nothing out of the ordinary, just suburban night sounds. I can see no reason to run but I do, fast and straight across the parking lot and towards the road leading to the freeway. I’m about a hundred yards from the bar when I hear something very unusual for Polk at three in the morning, chopper blades batting the air. I reckon there are three, possibly more. At least two are troop carriers, Chinooks. I can tell by the distinctive whap-whap noise they make when their opposing rotating blades cross. However many there are, they’re travelling fast and straight towards me.
Half a minute later I’m at the edge of the slip road to the freeway for the southbound lane. I don’t want to run down it, I’d be very conspicuous; a big man in a suit running like crazy in the dark. So, I slow to a walk. The choppers scream over my head, their down draft bending the tops of the trees nearby and scattering dust and litter in their wake. I slip into the shadows and watch. I should be running but I want to see what happens next.
There are three choppers, two army Chinooks trailing right on the tail of a police Eurocopter Dauphin 2, The Eurocopter spins round above the bar I’d just high tailed it from and the pilot flicks on his search lights. Suddenly the whole area around the bar is brighter than the Washington Nationals’ baseball diamond at a mid season game. The Chinooks dump down in the parking lot and disgorge a couple of platoons, all fully kitted out, and all with serious looking weapons. They spread around the bar and take up poses that suggest they’ll shoot the fuck out of the place should anyone inside as much as twitch at them.
I watch as a small team of soldiers manoeuvre towards the front of the bar. I figure everyone inside the bar, even those hard of hearing, would know by now something extremely out of the ordinary is going on. The curious inside are at the windows trying to see what the cabaret’s all about. I see two of my buddies come through the front door, beer bottles still in their grips, wanting to see first hand what the fuss is all about. Luke, my best buddy, a big gutted lug with the balls of a bull, starts walking towards the troops. I can’t hear what he’s saying but knowing him he’ll be asking less than politely what the fuck they think they’re doing. I squint hard to see exactly what happens next. The lot is brightly lit but the chopper is swaying so the lights, and the shadows they’re making, are constantly shifting.
I see Luke flop to the floor like a sack of doorknobs, and a fraction of a second later hear a noise I recognise, the scream of a man that’s just been hit with the bolts from a Hi-V. Moments later half a dozen goons are on top of him. I can’t see but I guess he’s being given the benefit of their weight on his limbs and chest while one of them straps restraints on his wrists and ankles. Four goons lift him up and try to carry him back to one of the Chinooks. Good luck with that. The guy weighs at least 300 pounds. They give up and drag him across the lot to the Chinook, and he’s out of the game while the cabaret continues.
Someone with a bullhorn steps forward, the born leader, and he hollers, ‘Stay inside and get down on the floor now! Anyone not lying flat on their face with their hands and legs spread wide will be shot.’
The goons then start to move towards the bar, standard close combat assault pattern, and it’s time for me to go. These guys are trained professionals, well armed and look pretty determined to finish whatever they’ve started. I don’t know that they’re looking for me but Jane’s call would suggest they are. Why? What the fuck do they think I’ve done now? Whatever it is it isn’t about late return of library books. It’s serious.
My first thought is to boost a car and put as much distance between me and the cabaret at the bar as possible. It’s a bad idea. The force back there is a combined one, police and army. The resources they’d have between them would cover most options. As soon as they discover I’m not in the bar they’ll set up road blocks. In ten minutes this area will be locked down tighter than a drum, every road going anywhere would have half a dozen patrol cars and a couple of dozen goons checking every car, bus, truck, anything that moves.
I’m just standing there in the dark by the roadside trying to figure out the best of my options when I hear a voice. It’s some distance away to my right, a man’s voice. It’s a shouted whisper.
‘Jek!’
I look in the direction of the voice. It’s coming from a small wooded area about twenty yards from me. It’s where trees and bushes have been planted up to try to lessen the impact on its neighbours of the railway line that cuts through the county before swinging east to the coast. It doesn’t do its job very well. The long crocodiles of gondola trucks with double headed diesel-electric engines thundering backwards and forwards day and night aren’t exactly a pleasant back drop noise around here, especially when the gondolas are empty. It’s quiet now though, and I hear him call out again.
‘Hey Jek! Over here!’
Whoever this guy is flicks on a cigarette lighter so I can locate him in the bushes in the dark.
Alarm bells like the peels at a royal wedding are ringing loudly in my head. In the whole of my life on Earth only two people have ever called me Jek. One was Jane. The other was an alien called Noone. He was reputed to have saved the human race from annihilation from the deadly Revelation spore. I knew the guy in the bushes sure as hell wasn’t Jane, and I knew it couldn’t be Noone either. He was off world, somewhere out there, pleading the case for the survival of the human species. So, who the fuck is this?
I ease my hand inside my jacket and pull out my Beretta 92FS, and make sure it’s ready for action. He calls again, a harsh whisper.
‘Hey Jek, they’re hunting for you. Jane says to come with me and you’ll be safe. I got a van parked just round the corner.’
‘Who the fuck are you?’ I say quietly, but I know he can hear.
‘I work for Jane. I’m on your side.’
On my side? I’m not aware there are any sides right now.
‘Where’s Jane?’
‘She sent me. She’s waiting for us but we need to get out of here real quick.’
‘You still haven’t told me who you are,’ I say.
It’s then I hear it, faint, about ten yards to my right and a little behind me. It’s a sound I recognize and an ice cold chill runs through my body. This guy isn’t alone. He has at least one other person with him. The good news is they’re not going to kill me, they want me alive. The bad news is the noise I hear is the short high pitched whine of a Hi-V charging up. They want to take me with them whether I choose to go or not.
Are they working with or for Jane? Are they here to help me escape whatever’s happening back there at the bar? My instinct is to fire a couple of slugs at the space where I heard the Hi-V and hope for the best. But I don’t. It would be a dumb move. Dropping me with a Hi-V and explaining to me later that it was in my best interests is just the sort of trick Jane would pull.
So I crouch and run. I’m just in the nick of time. The bold from the Hi-V whizzes through the air where my shoulder was a fraction of a second earlier. I run hard and fast, straight towards the flame from the cigarette lighter. I hit the guy going full pelt and it’s like hitting a brick wall. In the fraction of a second just before we collide and I knock him to the floor I see the guy’s face. I don’t know who it is but I do know what it is. I recognize the Neanderthal features. It’s a fucking Dreek.
The momentum of my body knocks the Dreek backwards but he turns as he falls and we land with him on top of me. He must weigh over 250 pounds and all muscle. In the collision the Dreek drops the lighter and we’re tangled in the bushes in the dark. I have my gun in my hand and now feel perfectly justified in blowing this bastard’s head off, but the Dreek wraps one of his huge hands around my wrist holding my gun hand at arm’s length. I’m a big guy but I’m no match for the sheer power of the Dreek and in seconds he’s pinning me down, my back flat on the muddy ground. I fight and writhe underneath him to get the shot away but it’s a lost cause. The Dreek grabs my other wrist then slides his knees over my chest so he’s on top of me, pinning both my arms to the ground and crushing the weight of his bulk into my chest.
He leans his head close to mine and whispers in my ear, ‘Stop fighting me Jek, the game’s over. You lose.’
I hear the noise of branches being pushed aside as someone comes towards us. I sense rather than see the second Dreek stepping through the scrub as he comes over to stand beside us. I hear the Hi-V charging up again. In one swift move the Dreek on top of me moves off my chest, still keeping my wrists pinned down. I know what’s going to happen next. The whine of the Hi-V stops. It’s ready. The goon on top of me moves aside so his buddy can fire the bolt into my guts.
‘Sweet dreams, Jek,’ says the Dreek kneeling on the muddy ground beside me, still pinning my wrists. In a sudden, quick movement and using all my might I push my left hand, the one without the gun, hard away from me. I take the Dreek’s arm with me as my arm flies out sideways. With all the Dreek’s weight down on my wrists he has no choice but to splay out, his chest landing with a thump on top of mine.
At that precise moment the Dreek standing over us fires the Hi-V. At such close range the bolt from the Hi-V buries itself deep into the back of the Dreek that’s on top of me. He squeals and bucks with the sudden shock of the impact of the bolt, and pain from the high voltage charge released from the weapon. All the Dreek’s muscles are instantly tensed then relaxed repeatedly, draining them of all their power due to the pulsing shocks. In the fraction of a second after the bolt hits home the Dreek releases his grip on my wrist. I swiftly turn my gun upwards towards his compatriot.
Balm! Blam! Blam!
I can’t see exactly where he is so I take no chances. At least one of the shots must have hit home because seconds later the full weight of the dead Dreek comes crashing on top of us, knocking all the breath out of me. In his death fall the Dreek let’s go of his grip on the trigger of the Hi-V. At once the powerful muscle numbing pulses of electricity stop being pumped into the Dreek pinning me down. He starts to regain consciousness almost straight away.
So here I am lying on my back in the dark with two Dreeks pinning me to the ground, one dead, one very much alive and soon to be as fully compos mentis as a Dreek can ever be. With his compatriot lying dead on his back I don’t think it’s likely he’ll want to be my new best buddy. To make matters worse, the Dreek I shot landed on my gun hand when he fell. My Beretta is now useless to me, jammed between the dead Dreek and the one lying on my chest. I wriggle and pull hard to free my hand but it’s well and truly stuck.
The Dreek that’s still alive and on top of me snaps back into full consciousness.
‘What the fuck?’ he says as he shakes the last remnants of the shock out of his tiny brain.
It isn’t long before he figures out what’s happened. He starts to push himself upwards and shrug off his dead compatriot, but the sheer weight is too much and he only moves part way off his back.
‘I’m supposed to bring you in alive, Jek,’ he says in a low menacing voice, ‘but you don’t play nice. Dead or alive makes no difference to me.’
In an instant one of the Dreek’s powerful hands is across my throat. This hand takes his and that of the dead Dreek’s full body weight as he swings his other hand off the ground and locks it around my throat with his other in a tight, choking grip. Almost instantly I feel the pressure cutting off the blood to my brain. My world starts to spin and I know it won’t be long before his throttling grip will take not only my consciousness but my life. He straightens his elbows and stretches his arms out to increase the power of his grip. I feel the weight on my chest ease a little as the dead Dreek slides further off the back of the one busy choking me. It’s just enough. I tug and wriggle at the gun and just as I feel I’m passing out I feel the gun slip free.
Blam!
It’s too dark to see the Dreek’s face but I know his part in the story’s over. His grip on my throat relaxes just as his dead, heavy head crashes onto mine, the collision splitting my lip and almost busting my nose. I feel the blood flow returning to my brain and I suck in the clean, sweet air in deep gulps to clear my head. I was always taught in the army that after an engagement with the enemy the first thing you do is take stock of your situation. So, that’s what I do now. I’m lying on my back in a tangle of bushes on muddy ground in a small wood by a railway track. I have two dead Dreeks lying on top of me. I don’t think at this point in time I have the strength left in me to shift their weight off me so I can start moving again and get away from here.
Lying here panting to get my strength back I try to figure out what’s going on. A few minutes ago I was in the bar with my buddies sucking on a Bud and sharing jokes. How quickly things change. It would appear the authorities with all their might are trying to find me, and judging by the way they’ve come looking it’s not to give me a promotion. That little cabaret back at the bar would indicate that the combined forces of the army and police are pretty keen to have a little chat with me and don’t care what human rights laws they break to track me down.
But why? What have I done?
It would also appear that someone else is keen to talk with me as well, and this ‘someone’ is using creatures that shouldn’t even be on this planet. I’ve just been attacked by two Dreeks. To my knowledge there are only twenty Dreeks left alive down here. They’re all in special super-high security prisons, and all being studied like lab rats by the top brains of humanity.
So, how did these two get here? How did they know about Jek and Jane? All the alien shuttle portals were destroyed a couple of years ago, all except the one in Melville, Long Island. Our top engineers and scientists are taking it apart piece by piece to find out all its secrets so they can replicate it and build more, but this time for the benefit of mankind.
I’m lying here just about getting my heart rate down and my breathing right. I can still hear the whapping of helicopter blades and the occasional echoing bark of orders through a bullhorn back at the bar. They must be still checking out the clientele at Jessup’s, and spitting blood that I wasn’t sitting waiting for them. I hear a different noise, distant but getting nearer, the long rasping screeches of a locomotive’s whistle. Then I hear the rumble of the engine and rolling stock growing louder as the train gets a little closer. What I don’t hear is the rustle of the bushes or any noises of movement through the woods. So it’s a shock when I suddenly hear a voice in the dark, nearby, almost next to me. It’s a woman’s voice, one that I recognize.
‘Hell, Jake, don’t just lie there. We’ve got a train to catch,’ says Jane in that ‘get off your ass and do something’ voice of hers.
A bad morning just got worse.

*****

It’s a struggle to get the two dead Dreeks off me but Jane pulls the one on top aside so I can squeeze from underneath the other. I’m blood soaked and muddy and not in the mood to say hello and how’s it hanging to Jane.
Instead I say, ‘What the fuck’s going on, Jane?’
Her answer is as vague as I’ve come to expect from her, ‘What the hell did you use your gun for? If those goons in the choppers heard they’ll be over any minute.’
‘I used it because if I hadn’t I’d be trussed up somewhere nasty by now, or even worse, dead.’
‘Hear that?’ she says, cocking her head to one side. The rumble of the freight train is now much louder as it trundles towards us slowly, ‘Get your ass over that fence and pick a gondola. We’ve got to put some distance between us and here double quick.’
When Jane says jump, I have little choice but to jump. No sooner am I on my feet than she’s pushing me towards the fence. I scramble over it and drop down the other side, Jane a half click behind me.
‘That one,’ she says, pointing at an empty open topped gondola truck. She scrambles down the short shallow embankment to the edge of the railway track and starts to run till she’s the same speed as the truck. She grabs a rung on the iron ladder at the front of the truck and jumps up onto it. She then steps to the top and swings her right leg over.
‘Hurry up, for fuck’s sake!’ she hisses at me, sitting astride the top edge of the gondola.
I have a moment of indecision. What’s the best thing to do? Ten minutes ago everything was uncomplicated and as normal as a cop’s life can be. Now of a sudden Jane’s back in my life and I’m thrown into a world of shit. I’m being hunted by the army and the police and I’ve just been attacked by aliens, Dreeks that shouldn’t be on this planet, and they had orders to abduct me. Whose orders? I have no idea what’s going on. The only thing I do know is that Jane will be right at the centre of whatever it is, that’s for sure. I can’t just wander off home, clean up and have a good night’s sleep. Those days for Jake Redwood seem to have just ended. I also know I’ll never get to the bottom of this mess if I don’t get on that train with Jane. I have no choice.
I have to run hard to catch up with the gondola that Jane’s picked. I only just make it before the train starts to pick up speed as it leaves the suburban area for the long straight run to the coast. I jump and catch a rung half way up the ladder and skip along on one leg while trying to get my other leg on the bottom rung. I heave my bodyweight against the centrifugal force of the outward swing of the train on the curved track. I bump my body hard against the side of the truck a couple of times before I can pull both legs onto the bottom rung. In a few moments I’m sitting astride the edge of the gondola alongside Jane.
She pulls me over the side and into the well of the truck. There’s an old tarpaulin sheet lying on the floor of the truck and she unceremoniously bundles me underneath it and hisses, ‘Lie flat and don’t move.’
She rolls in after me just as the police chopper cruises over the top of the train, its searchlights blazing down, and its crew scanning the ground below in the fierce light, searching for any trace of Jake Redwood. We lay still, our faces almost touching, our breath shallow to reduce any movement. The memories of lying in bed together flood back in an instant, the warmth of her body, her silk like skin, and the faint, pleasant odour of burnt almonds that comes from the skin of every Torp.
We don’t move for a good ten minutes, perfectly still, neither of us uttering a word. It’s hard to hear if the chopper’s moved away due to the racket made by the gondola as the train rumbles and lurches along the metal tracks. There’s no searchlight any more so we take a chance and slip from underneath the tarp. It’s a pitch dark moonless night. We’re away from the suburbs now and there’s no light pollution so we can see every star we could’ve seen back where we started, and a billion more. We sit with our backs pressed against the inside of the gondola, side by side, like we used to sit on my porch sometimes on hot summer evenings, but this time we’re not sipping wine and holding hands.
‘Where are we going?’ I eventually say.
‘How the fuck should I know,’ says Jane, very direct language from an international jet setter and senior UN diplomat, ‘Wherever this train is hauling us to I suppose. I think it’d be sensible to jump off at some point soon. We should be through the area pinned down with roadblocks by now, so we can borrow someone’s car.’
‘Take a car to where?’
‘…like I said before,’ she says.
Okay, it’s time for some answers. I’m just about to start in on her when typically for Jane the tables are well and truly turned on me.
‘What the hell’s going on Jake?’ she says, turning to look me in the face.
What she says stops me dead in my tracks and I’m lost for words. My jaw drops open, moving, but no words coming out.
‘Well?’ she snaps, as if it’s all my fault.
She wants an answer, and I can see by her face she isn’t faking it. So, I give my head a little shake of astonishment and tell her my side of recent events. I tell her I was having a quiet beer with the guys when she calls me at Jessup’s. She stops me there.
‘I never called you,’ she says.
‘Yes you did,’ I say emphatically, ‘Don’t start with the mind games…’
She cuts across me, ‘What exactly did I say?’
I try to recall word for word. I’m a detective and it’s not that difficult but I know Jane. She’ll want me to be precise.
‘You called me Jek then said “Put your cell on the floor and walk out of the bar right now! Don’t go to your car, head for the freeway on foot, and as soon as you’re outside run like hell.” So that’s exactly what I did. I put my cell on a bar stool and skedaddled. I had to leave an untouched Bud on the table. You owe me for that, Jane.’
She thinks for a few moments then says, ‘Answer me honestly. When was the last time you can remember me calling you Jek?’
It doesn’t take me long to answer, ‘It was in your bedroom at the Marriott hotel in Melville, the first night we…’
‘…and never once after that,’ she says cutting across me.
She’s right. That night we’d agreed that Jek didn’t exist. Jane’s called me Jake ever since.
‘But it was you on the phone. I’m positive. I know your voice better than I know my own. Why else would you be suddenly here in Polk after such a long time away?’
She doesn’t answer my question. Instead she says, ‘We should move on. Looks like a bunch of lights up ahead, probably a small town. We should hop off this ride before the train hits the town and reduces our options.’
She’s right. There are lights sprawled out about a mile ahead and the train is slowing.
‘Come on,’ she says as she slips over the side of the gondola and scampers down the iron ladder.
She holds on to the bottom rung and waits till the train is travelling at about running speed then drops down to the ground. She manages a few paces but the stony ground trips her and she stumbles down the grassy embankment and out of my sight. I’m a fraction of a second behind her and dive straight for the embankment. The momentum bowls me head over heels and I tumble almost to the road at the bottom. When I eventually come to a stop I lay there catching my breath looking up at the fabulous starlit sky. It looks so beautiful and benign, and it’s hard to believe there are civilizations out there, tens of thousands of them.
Somewhere amongst them is a place where Earth’s advocate, Noone, is arguing the case to The Powers that the human species here should be allowed to exist in its own right. No doubt Grow, the corporate entity that created the human species down here, will be arguing to the contrary. Regardless of the outcome of this dispute the nations of the world have joined together down here to ensure we’re equipped and ready, and any attempt to invade, or bring about the genocide of mankind will be crushed. The successful bringing together of all the nations with one common cause, the unification of previously warring cultures to face the ultimate threat, the extinction of the human race, is the result of Jane’s hard work. She was, is an alien, and was once part of a team sent to Earth to annihilate mankind. So, who better to put the case for pooling each nation’s resources to collectively repel the biggest threat ever to the human species?
I sit up; brush myself down then stand up slowly, checking all my bones are still intact and looking around for Jane. The train continues on its way rumbling along off into the distance, a receding noise growing ever fainter till it blends into the background noises of the small town ahead.
‘Jane?’
No answer.
‘Jane? Are you okay?’
I hear footsteps on the road below me and a figure steps out of the shadows.
‘Over here.’
I scramble down the rest of the embankment and step onto the road. She doesn’t walk towards me, just stands there half in shadow. The street lamp from the road is behind her and puts her face into shadow.
‘There’s a van round the corner that’ll do. Come on,’ she says and sets off with me a few paces behind her.
‘Hold on,’ I say, ‘What’s the rush? Let’s take a breather for a few minutes. I need some answers, Jane. We need to talk about what’s happened to the both of us to get us in this mess.’
Jane stops and turns back to look at me. I can almost hear the cogs turning in her brain.
‘You’re right,’ she says, ‘We don’t need to run right now. Perhaps we should put our heads together and try to figure this out.’
She looks around and takes in what she can see. We’re by the side of a road that runs alongside the track. The road heads off towards the conurbation, the outskirts of a dormitory town. We’re on the edge of a suburban housing estate, neat wooden boxes all with their lights out inside but probably have PIR security lamps switched on. It would be crazy to go that way. It’s three thirty in the morning. If we walk into the estate we’ll have little yappy dogs barking at us and Halogen spots flashing on every ten yards. Some good citizen will look out the window and see two strangers looking battered and bloodied strolling through their pissing ground and will call the cops.
In the opposite direction the road bends towards the major freeway heading east. The rail track runs alongside the freeway most of the way out to the coast, swinging in to run parallel, then out again depending on the contours of the land. Where we are now the highway is about half a mile away. We can’t see it but we can hear the rumble of the traffic a way off to our right.
‘Let’s head towards the freeway,’ says Jane, ‘There’s probably an all-nighter open near the slip road. We can clean up and grab a coffee.’
Sounds like a reasonable plan to me so we head off down the road in that direction. We walk in silence for a while before I start with the questions.
‘What are you doing here Jane?’
‘What do you mean? Here now or here in Polk?’
‘Both.’
‘Saving your ass,’ she says.
‘Saving my ass from what?’
‘Arrest…those Dreeks back there.’
The noise from the freeway is getting louder and I know we can’t be far now. I see a pole sign just above the brow of the next hill, a diner, a national chain type, bland food, bland everything but it’ll have a restroom just inside the lobby.
‘Arrest by whom and what for?’
‘Let’s save that till we’ve cleaned up a little.’
‘No,’ I snap at her, ‘Jane, in a few short beats my life’s turned to fuck. I want to know who wants to arrest me and why. What the hell do they think I’ve done? I also want to know where the hell you sprung from. I haven’t had sight or sound from you in months and suddenly you’re here dragging me back into a world of shit.’
‘Okay, okay!’ she snaps back, ‘I’ll tell you as much as I know.’
It’s a quiet road and there’s been no traffic while we’ve been walking, but out of nowhere I hear a vehicle racing up from behind us. Whoever’s driving is in one almighty hurry. We stop talking, turn and look back down the road. Headlights on full beam, pin pricks at first, growing bigger by the second as the vehicle scorches up the road towards us. We step off the road onto the sidewalk as it rockets past. It’s a white panel van being driven by a maniac. The driver jams on the brakes hard just as it passes and the van spins a full 180 then rocks to a stop. We’re caught full in the beams from the van’s headlights. We don’t have time to react. The driver’s side window is down. An arm comes out, the hand clutching a gun, a semi-automatic.
There’s a sudden noise, the brup-brup of the gun unleashing its deadly power. I’m frozen to the spot, unable to react as the driver empties a full magazine into Jane’s chest. She half turns towards me, a look of shock on her face before she crumples to her knees then slumps forward onto the sidewalk. A pool of blood slowly spills from under her body and spreads across to the gutter.

End of Part One

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Video Review: SLECHTVALK We Are

SLECHTVALK
We Are (official lyric video)
From their latest full length 'Where Wandering Shadows and Mists Collide' released December 20, 2016
Taking a huge leap of inspiration from modern Dimmu Borgir (with a restraint in keyboards) and Amon Amarth, Dutch quintet Schlectvalk present their latest offering. Taken from the release “Where Wandering Shadows and Mists Collide,” the single “We Are” gives a perfect indication of the modern blackened death approach this band delivers upon. Production is clear with all instruments defined as the listener should expect. Soloing adds a nice touch but doesn’t really stand out as a highlight. This is because it feels almost expected there should be a solo as part of the commercial approach the band undertake. Vocal lines are rasped in the style made famous by modern Dimmu Borgir releases. Probably the highlight of this release for were some nice bass hooks and the percussion. This is also a double-edged sword as with this style, the drums are almost always over-produced. Thankfully it is not too prevalent in this example. Not a bad release, in fact very well executed. Hopefully this band showcase more of their own style without leaning so heavily on the Dimmu Borgir/Amon Amarth stylistic tendencies. Worth a listen. -Simon Brown

CD Review: RAJALLA Diktaattori

RAJALLA
Diktaattori
Inverse Records
Released December 30, 2016
Founded in 2011, Rajalla is a Helsinki based Finnish thrash metal quartet. Their debut album "Diktaattori" (Dictator) presents 13 tracks of intense, straightforward and aggressive thrash metal. Lyrical themes explore issues such as guilt, life choices and responsibilities. Thematically, lyrics explore the sociology of Finnish life and all lyrics are written in their native language. From the opening title track it is clear this album has been digitally produced but this does not detract from the overall performance. The reason for this is the vocals are not sung in that monotone shout which seems to be the leading trend in the thrash/crossover movement at present. Here, the solos add to the music rather than being thrown in as an afterthought in a commercial approach. Very precise drumming and lines from the bass round out the sound in a good manner. “Arpa” shows a diversity in a mixed tempo and variation in vocal tonality which works successfully. Whilst this band make huge nods towards modern Slayer and Testament, “Kurittaja” and “Taaka” I found were notable tracks. Like most bands of this genre, most songs clock in at around the 3 minute 30 second mark. An exciting band to look out for in the future with a solid release. -Simon Brown

Track list:
1. Diktaattori
2. EVK
3. Etsijä
4. Arpa
5. Ihmisviha
6. Kurittaja
7. Verivala
8. Taakka
9. Vihan Kieltäjä
10. Rajan Taa
11. Viisi Vastaan Yksi
12. Isäntä
13. Risteyskohta