Death & Flamingos by Sopor Aeternus

Last October, I became a huge fan of Sopor Aeternus and The Ensemble of Shadows when a close friend linked me to Sopor Fratrem Mortis Est on YouTube and the playlist continued with A Strange Thing To Say.  So I couldn’t help but be super hyped when Anna Varney-Cantodea released another Sopor album last February.  I read about it some weeks before it was due to be released and I instantly coughed up the fifty-odd dollars for a hardcopy to shipped to me from Germany as soon as it was available.  A lot happened between then and now, though, both with my living situation and (apparently) with the package itself.  After getting forwarded from another place, I finally got my hands on my beautiful, textured hard copy of Death & Flamingos.

I felt nervous about this album at first because this was to be Anna’s first frank step into rock.  Black metal, specifically.  She’s definitely did loud music before.  I mentioned A Strange Thing To Say and I found some more rhythmic, electronica-infused material that was originally supplemental to La Chambre d’Echo (currently available in the huge anthology called Like A Corpse Standing In Desperation).  I’ve also found that I really enjoy drawing while listening to her debut album, Ich Tote Mich, which has the original version of Do You Know My Name, which you might, arguably, compare to lo-fi industrial.  Might.  I also went through a phase of really enjoying Les Fleurs Du Mal, which was a stark departure from most of Sopor’s MO for a few reasons.  It’s definitely a loud album and her lyrics are way more light-hearted, snarky and raunchy than usual.  At the time that I heard it, I would have called it the Sopor album with the most “drag” or camp influence.

I suppose….it still might.  If Les Fleurs Du Mal hasn’t lost that title to Death & Flamingos, then the two albums are closely sharing it.

Not only does Death & Flamingos whole-heartedly embrace electric guitars and rock drumming, but it’s also very snarky and very conversational.  In the liner notes, Anna writes “This album is based on an interview.”  And it definitely shows.  Being the tactile weirdy that I am, as soon as I received this album in the mail I immediately took it out of the shipping box and carefully inspected the booklet, which is itself the CD case (thick card-stock cover, backing and spine, with a disc sleave at the end).  At first glance, the lyrics don’t even read like song lyrics so much as snatches of conversation.

The song Spellbound starts with the words “Ideally…well, obviously” and Kinder Des Teufels starts with “I never had my  tonsils removed”.  One of my favorite points of contrast here is one of the songs that I find particularly re-listenable, Coffin Break.  Opening lines: “I do take offense / I won’t excuse this point today / it’s such a hurtful thing to say”.  It’s instantly (well…almost?) obvious that this is framed as a response to something that was said by someone else earlier.  But it actually flows really well.  The Boy Must Die also has a few lines that sound “stream of consciousness” that actually turn out to flow quite naturally once Anna starts singing.

And I’ll get to the other songs soon enough, but for now, Coffin Break: the subject matter is, in a strict sense, a simple topic that I think a lot of queer people could relate to.  This being the lifelong messaging, both overt and understated, that we are diseased and insane and the lifelong struggle many of us have with it.  Speaking personally, I’ve lived with suicidal ideation as a regular fact of life starting from age thirteen or so until maybe about two years ago.  When a thought pattern sticks with you that long, it wears deep paths in your head and it’s influence can be felt long after the problem goes down in its intensity.  A certain kind of combative self-talk can be tempting for this reason, and sometimes, in the right circumstances, can even be helpful: if the whole natural world is against you and needs you to die, then why not stand your ground and kill everything else?

It’s not the least understandable thing to think if you’re trying to resist a lifetime of conditioning with little to no resources.  And the song Coffin Break is pretty much about that, exactly.  The use of camp is really successful in these lyrics as well.  As with most of the album, there are some really blunt rhymes.  Intentionally blunt, probably, and intentionally contrasting with Anna’s more expected poetric lyric construction: “Why should I put a bullet / in my beautiful head? / why not get rid of the vermin / and kill everyone else instead?!”.  Talking about putting a bullet in her “beautiful head” makes the subject matter approachable through a little bit of camp while also personalizing it: an idiosyncratic word choice that sounds unique to a person lends credence to the “I” in “why should I”.

Anna fleshes out the thought with:

If I had the power,

I would create the quiet earth

I would erase all human life

From this and every other universe.

 

On any given day

I’d push that button most happily…

Then Anna drops her singing voice and says, conversationally: ” ’cause I’m a homosexual.”  I’m sure this could be read very differently, but stuff like this really sells the blunt, memoir-like format of the album to me.  The snarkiness of that tone shift does what many other singers couldn’t do with a guttural metal roar.  The song (to say nothing of the album) is definitely a blood-letting, but this kind of humor enables her to show ownership (or mastery) of her pain while at the same time bluntly validating the whole reason for the internal dialogue.

This effect is also achieved in the first song with singing in it, Kinder Des Teufels, which is a pretty direct telling of a story many fans have heard Anna tell in one context or another: a traumatic and possibly dissociative out of body experience she had as a child while being anaesthetized.

In order to achieve the honesty that quality memoiring demands, one needs to be absolutely at peace with their vulnerability.  It’s best to lead with, not only the most painful thing, but potentially the most discrediting thing.  And the two tend to go together.  Often our most powerful experiences, both agonizing and ecstatic, are things we have a very hard time describing to other people.  And if you pull off the godlike task of describing it, then you’re faced with the more horrifyingly gigantic prospect of legitimizing it.  I hope you weren’t burnt out from all that self-interrogation you did just to be able to open your mouth about this, because we’re only just getting started.

The words that precede our first taste of the chorus seem to address this very anxiety.  After an outline of the surgical out of body experience, she says “I’ll tell you something far more interesting / childhood is a fleeting thing, / but trauma stays”.  She expects not to be taken seriously and uses this as an opportunity to emphasize why it is serious.

While this album is abundantly snarky, it’s not without earnestness.  The song Van Dem Tode Traumen Wir has some superficial sonic resemblances to a few different moments from Mitternacht, which has got to be the perfect opposite-equal to Death & Flamingos, being open and earnest in exact proportion to the combativeness of Death & Flamingos.  Tode Traumen Wir is a simple meditation on how your internal validation of yourself is more real than any outside validation, which moves on to album’s final songs, Death Waltz, Charnel House and Mors Ultima Ratio (to only name the songs that have lyrics).  All of which deal with the more angsty side of cosmic and social indifference.  Death Waltz and Mors Ultima Ratio are particularly tongue-in-cheek and campy about it, though, which is consistent with the album’s use of humor to take ownership of pain and anger.  I also just love that I now own an album that has the line “worms will eat your face” 😀

All in all, I’m very happy with this album, both on its own and as an elaboration in Anna Varney-Cantodea’s body of work.  Before I got this CD I was regularly listening to POETICA- All Beauty Sleeps, which sets the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe to music, while writing.  POETICA is also a very earnest album, so the difference of this new release hit me particularly hard.  Luckily, though, in a good way 😉

listening to Spiders From Venus: Indie Women Artists and Female-Fronted Bands Cover David Bowie

Years ago, when I was first hooked by David Bowie, I went on an extensive internet scavenger hunt for any and all known rarities and curiosities, including bootlegs, album outtakes, literally anything I could find.  If I couldn’t obtain a physical or digital copy, I at least had this weird satisfaction knowing that certain stuff existed.  Sooooo inevitably, I learned about a compilation album called Spiders From Venus that consisted entirely of women covering David Bowie.  At the time it seemed potentially interesting but I didn’t dwell on it.

Nearly a decade later (just a few months before now, actually 😛 ) though, I found a YouTube playlist that had every song from Spiders From Venus in sequential order and a little while later I was losing my shit over iTunes not having this in their digital library.  So inevitably I tracked down a hard copy, which I received in the mail yesterday.  I mean, seriously, this stuff should be way more easily obtainable than it is.  I know for a lot of people the very idea of a compilation album of covers of their favorite bands is kind of a gimmicky turn off, but as a die hard Bowie fan, I don’t think there’s a single weak spot anywhere on this disc.  Even though, inevitably, some tracks are more memorable than others.

Pitch Black Dream’s cover of Space Oddity has an ethereal, modern feel which I found welcome, but I also…erm…don’t really care for Space Oddity in general.  It’s like We Will Rock You by Queen or Marilyn Manson’s cover of Sweet Dreams.  It’s so well-known that it’s grating, even to fans.  I’ll totally cop to that being an irrational bias, but that being said, this is a decent cover.

However…The Man Who Sold the World, covered by Bug Funny Music Foundation, is a strong, recent favorite.  I mean, rather like Space Oddity and many other memorable, time-honored classic rock standards, it’s very simple, almost dangerously simple.  Simple ain’t bad, it’s just risky, and the hallmark of a good rock or pop musician is the ability to cultivate depth in a small space.  Because of it’s simplicity, though, Nirvana more or less did everything there was to do with a straight-forward, vanilla cover.  The live versions of the song from Bowie’s mid 90’s tours are atmospheric and ear-catching, but in a way they sacrifice part of the accessibility for the sake of atmosphere.  The Bug Funny cover, though, pulled off the dark science-fictiony atmosphere of the mid 90’s live versions while still keeping the riffy backbone intact.  And I love this woman’s delivery, whoever she is.  The wordless vocalizing at the end perfectly captures what she brings to the song. In general, I can listen to this repeatedly ( and have, since my disc arrived yesterday).

Joe K’s Kid covers Changes, which is one of the most starkly different from the originals.  The lead singer sounds very androgynous, with a slight masculine edge, which is fitting.  The electric guitar and the way the chorus is sung makes it sound quintessentially 90’s.  Like, ’94 alternative.  You know, slow verse fast chorus, like Where Is My Mind, Lithium or Today.

Kooks, covered by Andrea Perry- one of the less memorable songs, tbh.  It’s pleasant, but it doesn’t do much for me other than provide a segue from the 90’s-ish Changes to the whimsical cover of Moonage Daydream by Wendy Ip.  And that one is pretty strong.  It starts off sounding like a piano ballad which is amazing before the rest of the band chimes in.  The piano comes back at the end of the bridge which almost calls back to the fast, slow structure of the Changes cover.  I suppose it’s mostly strong- I feel like, by making it more of a conventional rock song in the middle, Wendy Ip missed out on the chance to do something a bit more daring.

Starman, covered by the May Hart Band, is another one of the better songs from this album.  It’s one of the songs I can listen to almost compulsively.  When I first heard The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars in my senior year of high school, Starman was one of the songs that I didn’t know what to make of.  One opinion I have that many older Bowie fans might take issue with is that I think his three glam rock albums from the early 70’s got better with each release.  Ziggy Stardust was a rough blueprint of what was to follow, Aladdin Sane was a stronger and more imaginative second draft and Diamond Dogs was the fully mature incarnation of Bowie’s glam rock swing.  I don’t know what it is about this cover that I like so much, though.  Maybe the camp is just more lucid in this version, or maybe the camp just sounds more playful.

Shesus covers Hang On To Yourself and it’s great.  I love the more jangly punk bands on this album, especially the ones that cover the glam rock material.  As odd as it sounds, Bowie’s glam rock meshes nicely with punk.  I suppose it’s no accident that Bowie discovered Iggy and The Stooges during an early American tour in support of Aladdin Sane.  The manic energy segues nicely into the more chill cover of Watch That Man by The Fur Ones, which has a softer vocal delivery that adds an intriguing change to the impact of the lyrics.

Yay Zeta Bane!  Covering Cracked Actor!  Freaking love ittt!!!  This is making me want to hear a female punk album covering Bowie’s glam rock material.  Very, very listenable.  I still don’t know what my favorite version of Cracked Actor is.  It’s sort of like All The Young Dudes in that nearly every live version is superior to the studio version (at least the studio version from ’73 or so that they put on Best Of compilations these days).  The Zeta Bane cover is probably in my top three.  The other two are probably from David Live and the soundtrack to the Ziggy Stardust concert film.

The spazzy bouncy happiness continues with Teagan and Sarah’s cover of Rebel Rebel.  The vocal delivery is freaking spot on.  It’s plenty loud and fast enough, but still has this distant quality, it makes me think of like…Screamin’ Jay Hawkins or Alice Cooper with a female singer.

ALL THE YOUNG DUDES!!!  SWITCHBLADE KITTENSSS!!!!!  THIS is the definitive version of All The Young Dudes, as far as I’m concerned!  I mean, that beginning: “You know what I like about living in California?  All the young dudes!” Aaaahhhhhh this song was always meant to be a punk song performed by a woman.  This cover, for me, is pure, auditory crack.

Essra Mohawk’s cover of Golden Years is decent but it’s roughly at the same level as Andrea Perry’s Kooks.  I also get the impression that the lead singer is trying to sound like Bowie.  For all I know, that could be her ordinary singing voice, but it seriously sounds like an imitation of Bowie.  However, it is making me wonder what Essra Mohawk sounds like when they’re doing their own material.

Boys Keep Swinging, covered by Aspyg, is one of the more stark re-imaginings on Spiders From Venus.  It resembles Joe K’s Kid’s cover in how dramatic the differences are.  Based on this example alone, Aspyg sounds like a stripped down, earnest electronica band before that stuff saturated the market with the likes of Owl City a decade later.  I know this song was always meant to be a sarcastic riff on patriarchy which makes it a bit more accessible with a female voice.  I do think the Bowie version was a master class in camp and irony, though.  On it’s original album, Lodger, it also had a nice thematic consistency with other songs like DJ and Repetition.

Next, Astrid Young, daughter of Neil Young, covers Modern Love as a folk ballad, and holy shit if she doesn’t channel her dad.  This one hit me in waves the first time.  First impression I was like “Ooohhhh okay, this is like Johnny Cash covering Hurt, we’re taking an electronic song and making it sound as acoustic and earnest as possible”.  And then, after you’ve been listening for awhile, the slower pace actually let’s both the music and the lyrics breathe a little, which changes the character of the song a lot.  Not that I like the original early 80’s dance song any less, but this is some good stuff.

As The World Falls Down, covered by Ce Ce Zen, EASILY reaches par with the original in my opinion.  When I first heard this I almost wanted to stop it and listen to the Labyrinth soundtrack to make a comparison, and then I realized I didn’t actually want to.  This version of As The World Falls Down and the Switch Blade Kittens’ cover of All The Young Dudes is the kind of shit that makes me want to start my own band just so I can cover these songs myself.

OH GOODY 1.OUTSIDE MATERIAL!  1. Outside is criminally under-rated and for a few years it was actually my favorite Bowie album.  I still think it’s up there.  Anyvay, Lunasect does a delightfully crunchy industrial cover of The Heart’s Filthy Lesson.  Along with Joe K’s Kid’s version of Changes and Aspyg’s cover of Boys Keep Swinging, the mirror of Bowie’s own androgyny is beautifully front and center here.

Oh there’s a second 1. Outside song?  DOPE.  Hallo Spaceboy, covered by First of June.  The piano sections of the original were some of its defining qualities, courtnesy of Mike Garson’s genius.  The dual emphasis on industrial music and acoustic piano is still present in this cover and First of June makes both halves their own.  First of June’s re-imagining of the piano segments are probably the most distinctive quality, though.  Like Wendy Ip’s Moonage Daydream, I feel like this cover could have benefited from a little more risk-taking.

Next we have I’m Afraid Of Americans, covered by Q.  It sounds like something that should be used in a dark science-fiction video game, maybe something with a survival-horror angle.  I get the impression that this would be a fun band to see live.

Last song- Afraid, covered by The Jenn Beast Band.  Very lovely capstone for the CD.  The main deviation from the original is a hazy, lo-fi surf-rock emphasis.  This is another band whose live performances I wonder about.

The fact that the album ends with material from Heathen reminds me of the long gap between 2003 and 2013 when it seemed like everyone had implicitly decided that Bowie was retired.  There was even a biography released in that interim that ended with the author wondering, tentatively, if Bowie was done being a public person.  Then The Next Day was the biggest and best blindside ever.  Which then…leads us into territory that might be better saved for another entry.

So yeah.  Spiders From Vensus is a solid tribute album, well worth the money if you can find it on eBay or Amazon.  I truly don’t see how this flew under everyone’s radar when it was released in 2003.  It might not be everyone’s thing, but if you like Bowie and female-fronted bands, this is absolutely worth a listen.

Let’s listen to Nightwish! (Showtime, Storytime)

Fair warning: lots of colorful language and a few emotional tangents.  Some of which may or may not be the kind of thing you want to read.

 

So for awhile I was planning on revealing this blog on my other social media which, over time, turned out to be less and less feasible.  While most of the content here is pretty innocuous, I do appreciate the opportunity to get a little more personal every now and then.  More personal, perhaps, than would be welcome to my immediate friends and family. Besides, if I keep them separate, it creates the chance for this blog to grow entirely on it’s own momentum without relying on large numbers of people who know me irl.

With that disclaimer out of the way, I’m going to go ahead and say that for years I’ve struggled with alcoholism.  For nearly a decade I was very good at hiding it and, while it never interfered with my job, it did take a toll on my mental health and relationships.  And lately I’ve been sober for longer than I have been in almost ten years.

When one starts to distance themselves from substance abuse it’s interesting to revisit the things that you used to experience often while under the influence.  While one may remember what it was like to be a heavy user, it’s interesting to go back to things from that time with a sober frame of reference.

This brings us to the concert video and live album Showtime, Storytime by the Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish.  Between 2013 and 2015, I would often watch the whole thing on YouTube from beginning to end.  Not that I didn’t appreciate Nightwish while sober- I absolutely do, but for some reason that particular concert recording had a special resonance for super-wasted Ailix.  No clue why.  Anyway, I was putzing around the internet a few days ago and I came across a few clips of my favorite songs from that concert, which led me to buy the live album on iTunes.  So here we are, with a disjointed live-blogged listening party-

We start, then, with Dark Chest of Wonders and Wish I Had an Angel.  When I first started listening to Nightwish, it was a few years after the release of Dark Passion Play and a person I was in a relationship with at the time swore up and down that Annette Olzon was horrible and the memory of Nightwish should begin and end with Tarja Turunen.  I soon learned that this issue was widely dividing Nightwish fans at the time.  By nature I’m sometimes inclined to be contrary, though, and I didn’t sample any of Tarja’s work until years later.

When I did finally listen to Once, Tarja’s final Nightwish album and one of their most beloved by fans, I was very pleasantly blown away.  Put simply, it made me feel like I was chopping heads off from horseback on a medieval battlefield, which I know many Nightwish fans can relate to.  While I appreciated the opening two tracks (Wonders+Angel) they’re far from the strongest part of Once.  Nonetheless they made my little high-fantasy loving heart giddy.  Wish I Had an Angel reminded me of a Final Fantasy boss fight.  As I listen now with sober ears, I’m loving the difference between Tarja and the vocalist on this recording, Floor Jansen.  Particularly the non-verbal notes while bassist Marko takes the vocal foreground during the chorus.  The original album recording had this intense, narrowed feel, which definitely suits the song, but I love how the open feeling of the live setting gives it some energetic breathing room.

And now we’re at She Is My Sin, which I never heard before, and so far so good.  To my recently detoxed brain, it’s apparent that Floor Jansen is adept at straddling a middle ground between Tarja’s classical vocal acrobatics and Olzon’s rock / musical theater voice.  This particular song is well-suited to that middle ground, as it doesn’t straddle genre’s in the blatant way that Nightwish is famous for.  A conventional bottom-line of rock is a good idea in a song that has a lot in common with ordinary heavy metal with a few more flamboyant symphonic flourishes here and there.

GHOST RIVER!!!!!!!!!!!! Love this song from Imaginaerum!  Both the vocals and the instrumentals straddle metal and musical theater.  I can easily imagine this in a high-fantasy video game or a supernatural cinematic musical with a nice fat budget.  Marko and Floor (also Olzon on the original) sound like they could easily be playing characters.  I have seen the film Imaginaerum and there were a few cool, dramatic visual interpretations, but I sorta felt the absence of Ghost River.  And holy sh!t do I ever love Marko on this song.  One of the things I really loved about Imaginaerum the album is how it kept the symphonic metal blend while creating something that sounded a little more suited to a cinematic musical, maybe something with a bit of irreverent whimsy, a cinematic musical by Darren Arronofsky, Julie Taymor, Terry Gilliam or maybe the Watchoskis or an animated film by Henry Selick.  With a plot dealing with the transmigration of souls and the afterlife, of course.

Hey there, Ever Dream.  I fucking love this song.  I want to make a movie or a video game just so I could use Ever Dream in the trailer.  I’d say, for this live album, we’re staying in the milieu of Ghost River with this choice.  While the electric guitars seem a little more noticeable in this song (is that just me?) it’s still at that experimental cinematic musical sweet spot.  Aaaaaagh I almost can’t assess this live recording rationally.  I remember being super-wasted and wishing with my whole heart that I was Floor Jansen while I watched her sing this song.  Jesus fucking Christ why is the original studio recording of this song so fucking hard to find on the American market BLAAARRRGGHHHHjfiadjfilksjaefj;oiejfoijiJOLDJFDSKFLSFIJSEEOIHF

Alrighty, what next.  Storytime, shit yeah.  My favorite single from the Annette Olzon era.  Very Henry Selick, Arronofsky and Taymor.  Listening to Imaginaerum is sort of like listening to the freeware Smashing Pumpkins album Teargarden by KaleidyscopeMechanical Animals or Holy Wood by Marilyn Manson, Halfaxa or Visions by Grimes, Flowers and Formaldehyde by Sopor Aeternus or the Silent Hill 4 soundtrack.  I actually heard the SH4 soundtrack before playing the game and it stands on it’s own as an album so fucking well.  But yeah, like those other albums, it’s like I can feel and sort of see a story going through my head as I listen to Imaginaerum or any version of any song from it.

I Want My Tears Back is on now.  Was this song released ahead of the Imaginaerum album, promotional style?  Like, around the same time as they dropped Storytime as a single?  I think I heard it ahead of the album and I was sort of…doubtful, at the time.  It reminded me a little too much of The Islander.  As if they were trying to squeeze a formula for all it was worth.  It made me afraid that the album was going to be trying to milk the concept of a Celtic-sound with Marko singing lead in a completely cynical way.  Luckily I was wrong.  Not that I dislike The Islander- I love that shit, it’s just that my gimmick hackles went up a little when I heard I Want My Tears Back ahead of Imaginaerum.  A part of me sort of wishes Annette stayed around longer.  Maybe I should check out what she’s doing with the Dark Element.  Oh well.  Pretty sweet shredding on this live version.

Nemo!  Sh!t yeah.  One of the more luxuriously visual songs from Once. With a lot of frank literary references in music and other mediums, I don’t instinctively think of any literal expression of the original.  Which is good- making something your own goes a long way.  When I listen to this, though, I either think of vampires or the version of Captain Nemo from Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics.  Anna-Varney Cantodea couldn’t resist riffing on 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea either, on the A Strange Thing To Say EP.  The title track from A Strange Thing To Say– that is some shit I would love to see live if Anna-Varney ever broke her rule about never performing.

Aaaaaand what do we have here?  Ooooh cool.  Last of the Wilds.  Either I never saw / heard this back when I was drinking whiskey and vodka like there was no tomorrow or I blacked it out.  I fucking love that intro though.  Very different from the Dark Passion Play original. I’m kinda liking this better than the original, honestly.  Aaaaahh Nightwish, you’re so fucking perfect.  I’m checking out Endless Forms Most Beautiful.  I was grossed out early on when they had bitchy stupid anti-feminist douchebag Richard Dawkins doing a spoken word segment at first, but I think  I can get over that.  Sam Harris kept his intellectual integrity and passion for philosophy for years before he sold out to the right in the wake of the 2016 election, so I’m willing to believe that the so-called Brights of yesteryear aren’t all bad.  That dude was so much cooler back when he was talking about the philosophical dimensions of neurological research and meditation and, you know, not giving platforms to amoral, fascist-friendly dipshits like Jordan Peterson and Charles Murray.

Bless the Child!  I either scorched that part of my memory clear with alcohol back then or I never saw it.  Very cool so far, though.  The chugging metal guitar and Floor Jansen’s non-verbal singing in the beginning makes me think of the opening of a horror-themed action movie from the eighties or early nineties.  Something with colorful magic creatures and demons and vampires and shit.  I’m getting a self-contained vibe from it- possibly for no better reason than that I never heard it in the context of its original album -but I’m liking that effect.  Like a flash-fiction story or something.  I think this is gonna end up being something that I listen to all the damn time like Ever Dream.

Oh hey, Marko is addressing the audience, talking about a previously established tradition I know nothing about, involving a recitation of an open letter to either an imaginaery or hypothetical significant other.  Is that the tradition, or is the live recording of the DVD the tradition?  Hm.  The dude loves sausages, apparently, and with that disclosure we will proceed to Romanticide.

Already I’m loving the different feel that Floor Jansen is adding.  I don’t know if this is her, the soundboard arrangement of the recording or both, but I feel like her voice is more in the foreground and it’s giving this song way more personality than the original.  I think this was something the former significant other (from the beginning of the post, remember her?) and I used to go the rounds over.  She’s actually a classically trained soprano and a music nerd’s music nerd.  As such, she was able to appreciate the operatic chops of Tarja Turunen better than I could.  Anyway, I’m loving it when Floor get’s guttural with her voice- and holy shit, did the drums sound that good on the original?  Holy shit, sweet skin-pounding with Marko singing while Floor does that sweet fucking dramatic metal snarl with her huge-ass voice.

Oh hey, Amaranth!  That’s pretty cool.  The call-and-response with the crowd is a neat touch.  For a giant horde of randos, they sound pretty good.  Sorta like Dark Chest of Wonders, though, this is kind of a typical metal song which has it’s own set of limits.  That call-and-response with Floor’s delicious enthusiasm gives an exhilarating sense of the hugeness of the venue and the performance.  Gaaahhh I’m won over, this totally mops of the floor with the original album version.

GHOST LOVE SCORE SHIT YAAAAZZZZZZ!!!!!!!!  Fuck yeah.  I remember listening to this song a lot around the time I was reading the Anne Rice book Cry To Heaven and I instinctively associate it with Tonio Treschi and his gradual climb toward vengeance near the end.  And it’s such a gloriously huge sounding song and with so many other songs on this album I think of gloriously explosive high-fantasy chaos, but Ghost Love Score reminds me of Cry To Heaven of all damn things.  I guess it also kinda makes me think of things that were happening around that time.  I had just come back to my hometown and I was struggling with this dread that I may have to be totally closeted for the rest of my life and just acclimate myself to sneaky, fearful, private crossdressing and alcoholism.  Yeah, I’m pretty sure there’s strong emotional connotations there.  I had to reiterate my promise to myself not to commit suicide like every damn day, only to break that promise years later.  And then pick up the pieces after that particular disaster.

And holy shit, does Floor ever make this song her fucking own.  This woman is a fucking miracle of a singer.  Someone needs to cast her as a swash-buckling dark anti-hero in a high fantasy cinematic musical.  Maybe some sort of bad-ass, brooding, gothy super-heroine version of Gerda in a dramatically interpretative movie-musical adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen.

Song of Myself!  One of my absolute favorites from the intoxicated nights of hard liquor and dark, dramatic music!  And of course her voice is this total personification of a blood-letting superheroine.  I mean, I really do appreciate the work Annette Olzon did with the band, but if Tuomas & co. decided to re-record the two Annette Olzon albums with Floor, I’d be okay with that.  This live version dispenses with the spoken word segments that were at the end of the album version, which I can live with.  The thing with mediums like rock bands, where you are expected to do live versions of old material regularly, it makes sense that you’d have to reinterpret them every now and then to suit the band’s current creative swing and the sensibilities and aptitudes of any personnel changes.  Some musical acts are absolutely amazing at that.  This one, for example.

Our next song is Last Ride of the Day.  I’m fucking ready.  The back and forth between Floor and Marko is fucking awesome in this version, and I feel like this is sort of a return to the same feel that the live version of Ghost River had earlier but more pounding and urgent.  Aaaahhh the fireworks.  Sigh.  I remember that from the YouTube video(s).

And we’re closing with the Imaginaerum outro.  I don’ think I ever stuck around for this back when I was drinking.  I can tell things are happening on stage from the crowd noises.  This is a nice little breather, easing us out of the listening experience.  Which I appreciate.  I mean, I figured Showtime, Storytime would hold up well from a sober perspective but goddamn.  I’m definitely gonna be playing the shit out of this album.

Sopor Aeternus & The Ensemble Of Shadows

The last few weeks have been a little rough on me.  I have ADHD and Borderline Personality Disorder, which means I have to be a little extra vigilant with monitoring my mental health and self-care.  And let us not forget Puberty Round Two, close friend and confidant of any transsexual in their first years of hormone replacement therapy (I’m going on year four but, erm, still.  My dosage was recently adjusted as per blood work).  Receiving my signed copy of Blood Communion in the mail caused a brief spike in excitement but didn’t really effect my mood in the best way.  I saw things in the characters Benedict and Rhoshamandes that made me dwell uncomfortably on bad decisions I’ve made in past relationships.  A close friend sent me a link to a song on YouTube, though, that cheered me up for the first time in days.  That little emotional bump was probably the spark I needed to write my big’ol text brick of a review for Blood Communion.  And that bump is named Anna-Varney Cantodea, mastermind of Sopor Aeternus & The Ensemble Of Shadows.

You know something speaks to you in the right way when you start to return to things you normally enjoy.  That is, when you regain your ability to feel mental pleasure and satisfaction and you realize how deep your anhedonia actually was.  What specifically happened was that my friend linked me to Sopor Fratrem Mortis Est, and the playlist went on to A Strange Thing to Say.  I then proceeded to immerse myself in the brilliance of Anna-Varney when playing Bloodborne with the sound on the TV turned all the way down.  For the last week, Sopor Aeternus has been my go-to band, with occasional digressions into Cake Bake Betty and Francoise Hardy.

You also know you’re something of a special cupcake with extra special frosting when Sopor Aeternus, of all bands, opens a floodgate for your emotions and makes everything feel okay.  For those who don’t know, Sopor is popularly associated with sub-genres like dark-wave, dark cabaret and neoclassical and it is said that the memory of Rozz Williams of Christian Death was on Anna-Varney’s mind while writing the Dead Lovers’ Sarabande albums. Sopor Aeternus also takes strong direction from medieval European music and can run a gloriously chaotic mental, emotional and spiritual gamut.

I’m fascinated and often blindsided by the easy overlap of camp and earnestness.  In It, the character Richie Tozier has a moment of internal dialogue where he reflects on the thin line between what is funny and horrible.  It’s kind of like that.  I think part of that is, as a queer in a small rural community, self-loathing has often been very close at hand.  Especially for a transsexual.  Even now that I’m an adult who has been frankly out as trans for years with a supportive family.  Maybe I only feel like this because I’m pre-op, but gender dysphoria seems like something that’s always going to  be there, at least a little bit.  Do I actually believe that?  I try not to…I try hard.  Perhaps the delicate segues between self-celebration and self-effacement, humor and horror, also speaks to the thin divide between humor and anger.  Recognizing these things in another mind can be a vital safety valve.

This makes Anna-Varney Cantodea a new hero as both an artist and a fellow transperson.  To say nothing of the fact that the music of Sopor Aeternus is like an on switch for my mind.  As soon as I put on Es reiten die Toten so schnell or Mitternacht I’m probably seconds away from pulling out the journal to brainstorm or vent.  Es reiten die Toten so schnell is immersive and otherworldly, easing you in and out at the beginning and end and has a consistently elaborative emotional nature.  It’s very self-contained and each song builds directly on what came before it.  Mitternacht, though, is more manic and, to my ears, more personal.  Beautiful, La Prima Vez, Confessional, You Cannot Make Him Love You and If You Could Only Read In My Mind all gave me chills.  The alternating energy between the short and long songs and the long melodic sections with the louder parts also give the whole body of work a comfortable dream-like framing.  The dream-like nature is also supported by Mitternacht‘s covers of Bang-Bang and Into the Night.  For some reason, Anna’s rendition of Into the Night has a way of reminding me of the parts in Stephen King’s Dark Tower novels with Mia and Susannah holding palaver on the allure of Castle Discordia.

However, I heard those two albums along with The Spiral Sacrifice after I had heard the EP A Strange Thing To Say and I almost don’t know if I can go back to it.  Anna-Varney pulls off visceral camp exquisitely but there’s just something about her longer and more emotional albums that I just can’t stay away from.  Maybe it’s because so much of what she does comes from situating things within a specific body of work.  Each album is self-contained with a beginning, middle and end, which speaks to the novelist in me.  Which can make digressions like A Strange Thing To Say a little awkward to return to, as much as I love that EP.   I especially liked the video for the title track and how it elaborates on the song’s metal sensibility (her music is only occasionally inflected with metal).

I also plan on checking out Poetica (All Beauty Sleeps).  Anna-Varney Cantodea may be the first artist I’ve encountered to use the Edgar Allan Poe poem The Conqueror Worm, which I particularly like, as direct inspiration.

I think I’m also gonna end up having my will power challenged as I’m a total sap for owning hard copies of music and books.  I don’t shy away from the digital market but there really is nothing like holding a copy of something in your hand, and Sopor Aeternus puts together gorgeous bundles.  This is more special with musical artists that cultivate a direct relationship with fan communities as the more obscure acts are wont.  There is this unknown punk band in Pennsylvania called Gash that self-published an EP called Subspace a few years ago and I still have the packaging that it came in, with the hand-written address.  Granted it has my dead name, but there’s nothing quite like that personal touch from an artist you love.  Anna-Varney, similarly, cultivated support for the latest Sopor Aeternus album through Patreon with rather cool rewards for supporters.  So my crazy little collector’s soul will have to be reigned in before it bankrupts me 😛

I feel like a total groupie fan girl for adding this last part, but I love Anna-Varney’s presentation in interviews and her reflections on herself.  Por exemplo, she tends to get asked why specifically she devotes herself to the Hellenic deity Saturn and always refuses to answer.  This rings true to me: spirituality and devotion, when it’s part of an authentic journey of one’s soul, can be a deeply intimate and personal thing.  As someone who was raised with traditional ethnic spirituality, I can identify with this.  To make myself look like an even bigger fan girl, I’m impressed by the fact that she is, as of this writing, sixty-six years old.  As a transgender queer, the world can often seem like a treacherous and inhumane place.  Anna-Varney Cantodea has been living that life longer than twice the amount of time that I have, and at her age she seems so powerfully confident in her presentation and gender.  This warms my queer little heart to no end.

So thank you Anna-Varney Cantodea for being the hero that you are, in this world of Caitlyn Jenner, Laverne Cox and insane anti-trans bullshit in the gutters of the internet, in the mainstream of American thought and in the White House.