Marilyn Manson- 2007 to now

These movie poster fan-art pics are made by @ProviderModule on Twitter

As if writing text bricks about Anne Rice and Sopor Aeternus wasn’t enough, I’m about to fully confirm myself as goth trash by writing about Marilyn Manson.

The last thirteen years, ever since the release of Eat Me, Drink Me in 2007, have been interesting for Marilyn Manson fans. Most of us were hooked by one of three albums that Manson has named the Triptych: Antichrist Superstar, Mechanical Animals or Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death). In fact, I originally thought of this post as a review of Marilyn Manson’s post-Tryptich material, since a lot of us can’t help but wonder when the next big, crazy-ambitious project was coming.

But when people talk about recent Marilyn Manson material, they typically mean the material generated between 2007 and now. One reason why the last thirteen years feel different is that he never seems to integrate the new material into new setlists equally with the nineties material. The vast majority of Marilyn Manson concerts will feature a generous amount of music from the most recent album and a lot from Antichrist Superstar through The Golden Age of Grotesque.

Stuff from 2007 through whatever the prior album is never seemed to make the cut. Almost as if each new album is meant to be the real follow-up to Golden Age and replace the others. I mean, what would a setlist consisting of nothing but new material look and sound like? Absolutely nothing from before 2007? Can the material from the last thirteen years stand on its own, independent of anything older? The insecurity visible in how he has treated his current “new” album as existing alongside the older material with nothing intervening does not inspire confidence. I don’t think it’s impossible, though. In anticipation of the upcoming album We Are Chaos, let’s go through the list!

Any current Marilyn Manson fan probably remembers what the release of Eat Me, Drink Me was like in 2007. The polarized response to it, though, caused some of the album’s more subtle virtues to be overlooked. For example, how well Tim Sköld incorporated the influence of British glam rock from the early seventies. Especially after the years he spent honing the unique industrial sound of KMFDM and the rhythmic, electronica-influenced instrumentation on The Golden Age of Grotesque. Perhaps the memory of Twiggy Remirez never would have allowed the fan base to give him a chance, but no other Marilyn Manson albums sound like the ones Tim Sköld worked on.

The song from this album I listen to the most these days is Are You The Rabbit? Honestly, I’m surprised it was never a single. Especially since it has such a distinct personality that would make it stand out compared to many of the more famous singles (The Dope Show, The Beautiful People, etc). If I Was Your Vampire is also undeniably memorable.

Sadly, Eat Me, Drink Me also has one of Manson’s most grating, mind-numbing mistakes ever (You and Me and the Devil Makes 3).

The High End of Low catches more hate than any other Marilyn Manson album since 2007. Both the lyrics and the vocal delivery are probably the most uninhibited and experimental since the Spooky Kids.

You know how I said You and Me and the Devil Makes 3 is “one of” Marilyn Manson’s biggest mistakes? Unkillable Monster is the biggest, with I Want to Kill You Like They Do In the Movies getting an honorable mention. I Want to Kill You… is saved by some decent instrumentation and creative mixing, but I can’t think of a single redeeming feature of Unkillable Monster.

With those weaknesses out of the way, The High End of Low has some truly different and powerful material. I know this is probably in no way related to what the lyrics are actually talking about, but I listened to WOW frequently around the time I started to come out to people as trans. Four Rusted Horses probably has the best lyrical use of imagery on the whole album. Manson’s use of Americana started with that song as well, which I think has turned out for the best.

Without a doubt, this is my least favorite Marilyn Manson album. There were songs on Eat Me, Drink Me and The High End of Low that were painful to listen to, but those records had enough originality and creative risk-taking to make them memorable. Born Villain was the very first Marilyn Manson record to be just “meh”. As in so many other situations, it is always better to experiment and stumble then to play it safe with blandness.

Still ain’t all bad, though. Overneath The Path of Misery is as good as his best material. No Reflection has a cool back-and-forth between imagery and the cadence of syllables and word placement.

You’re So Vain is also probably my favorite out of the songs from other artists that Manson has covered. (If anyone cares, my other favorite covers are Cat People, Five To One, Working Class Hero and Down In The Park)

The Pale Emperor is my current favorite from Manson’s post-2007 material. I hear these songs in my head probably more often than any other recent album of his. First pick is Slave Only Dreams to be King. It makes me think of the version of Oswald Cobblepot from the show Gotham. (Which is funny, because not long after it was released there was an FMV uploaded to YouTube using the song Killing Strangers and Cobblepot footage)

The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles balances emotional catharsis with camp in a way that really reminds me of the lyrics of Queen. Which meshes beautifully with the ass-kicking rockabilly syncopation of the drumming. Back when I was considering writing the script for a “fan-fic” Batman comic, I would hear this song in my head when thinking about either Batgirl or Red Hood. Having mentioned that comic twice in reference to The Pale Emperor, it’s clear that the album, for me, evokes the feeling of being in a dream-like, paranoid, fantasy city in the mid-twentieth century. Perhaps this stands to reason since Manson wrote and recorded this album with the film composer Tyler Bates.

I also cannot get enough of the cover of the Bowie song Cat People (Putting Out Fire) that Manson did with Shooter Jennings. That’s one of those songs where every version except the one from the Bowie album is great. I mean, the song appeared on Let’s Dance, but that was a version that was recorded specifically for the genre experiment that Let’s Dance explored.

My feelings are mixed on Heaven Upside Down. It takes occasional risks and Tyler Bates continued to be an asset. Familiar sounds were used creatively as well, though: the album swings between Tyler’s familiar blues-rock and some nuances that almost sound like very early Marilyn Manson. Revelation 12 and Je$u$ Cri$i$ both remind me of the Spooky Kids music. Saturnalia sounds like some of the best material from Antichrist Superstar. Tattooed In Reverse is catchy, beat-driven industrial metal, which is a familiar genre for Manson, but still sounds different.

The influence of seventies glam rock on Marilyn Manson is well-documented and Threats of Romance is the best expression of it in a while. It’s exactly what a modern, metal interpretation of Bowie, Roxy Music, etc. should sound like.

Imaginary set list with nothing but material from the last thirteen years:

Saturnalia

Killing Strangers

No Reflection

Are You The Rabbit?

Tattooed In Reverse

Blank And White

Revelation 12

Overneath The Path of Misery

Four Rusted Horses

The Devil Beneath My Feet

If I Was Your Vampire

WOW

The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles

Threats Of Romance

Cat People (Putting Out Fire)

Heart-Shaped Glasses (When The Heart Guides The Hand)

I Have to Look Up Just to See Hell

Slave Only Dreams to be King

SAY10

Deep Six

Heaven Upside Down

Cupid Carries A Gun

You’re So Vain

My playlist w/ Bowie & FFVII music

Most of the Bowie material are electronica instrumentals from the late seventies Berlin trilogy with a few exceptions. Son Of Chaos, Sephiroth’s Wake and Of Transformants & Brevity are all covers of FFVII music from ocremix.com.

1. A New Career in a New Town (Bowie, Low)

2. Heart of Anxiety (FFVII)

3. A Small Plot Of Land (Bowie, 1.Outside)

4. Under The Rotting Pizza (FFVII)

5. Joe The Lion (Bowie, “Heroes”)

6. The Oppressed (FFVII)

7. Who…Are You? (FFVII)

8. The Hearts Filthy Lesson (Bowie, 1.Outside)

9. Sense Of Doubt (Bowie, “Heroes”)

10. Flowers Blooming In The Church (FFVII)

11. Son Of Chaos (Shinra Company)

12. Hallo Spaceboy (Bowie, 1.Outside)

13. Warszawa (Bowie, Low)

14. Forested Temple (FFVII)

15. Outside (Bowie, 1.Outside)

16. Words Drowned By Fireworks (FFVII)

17. Weeping Wall (Bowie, Low)

18. Lurking In The Darkness (FFVII)

19. Segue: Ramona A. Stone/I Am With Name (Bowie, 1.Outside)

20. Of Transformants & Brevity (The Nightmare Begins)

21. We Prick You (Bowie, 1.Outside)

22. Sephiroth’s Wake (Trail Of Blood)

23. I’m Deranged (Bowie, 1.Outside)

24. J-E-N-O-V-A (FFVII)

25. Subterraneans (Bowie, Low)

Island Of The Dead by Sopor Aeternus

While I’m significantly late on this it is now time to review Island Of The Dead!

This album was released almost a month ago but, because I’m a purist idiot, I refused to listen to it digitally until I had my hard copy. All of these pictures were taken after letting it sit for three days after it came in the mail. You know, because of the now global pandemic.

Individually numbered….!!!!! ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

I can’t describe how happy this made me when I finally opened it. The happiness over receiving an individually numbered CD copy also brought my attention to other aspects of the presentation and delivery. I don’t know all the specifics of this, but hard copies of Sopor Aeternus albums tend to only be available through the band and record label’s website around the time the album in question is to be released. I read that Sopor Aeternus worked briefly with John A. Rivers who, in the world of goth music, is a fairly big name, having produced albums for the likes of Dead Can Dance, Love And Rockets, Daniel Ash, etc. As far as I know, I don’t think Sopor has ever come any closer than that to approaching major label representation.

In fact, when I search for Apocalyptic Vision Records online, it seems that Sopor Aeternus and The Ensemble Of Shadows constitute the majority of their output. This goes back to early albums like Ich tote mich…, Todeswunsch and the earliest known version of Es reiten die Toten so schnell, which makes me suspect that Anna-Varney Cantodea herself must have some kind of personal involvement with Apocalyptic Vision Records. Maybe I’m way off base, but if they were working with Sopor Aeternus since the very beginning then I think her personal involvement is likely. If the production and release of Sopor Aeternus music is Anna-Varney’s own personal labor of love, then it makes sense that hard-copies of their work would only be made in proportion to purchases if, perhaps, money needs to be saved for studio time, production costs, studio muscians, etc. So little things, the amount of detail put into the physical object itself…reflect a much more personal and deliberate touch. Which is why a hand-written 878 in front of the /1000 warms my heart.

Now for the actual music and lyricism: there isn’t a specific and obvious genre affiliation like there was with the death metal album Death & Flamingos but modern touches are distinctly present. Songs like Poison, DeathHouse, Saturn Rising and Nightbreed have noticeable new-wave and new-romantic influences. This shift in creative direction happens along with the preservation of the personal, memoir-style lyricism from Death & Flamingos. The lyrics here are very direct and have very personal \ conversational word and sentence construction and the vocal delivery has the same rawness as the previous album. Minotour has a conversational delivery similar to Kinder Des Teufels from Death & Flamingos, You Cannot Make Him Love You from Mitternacht and Something Wicked This Way Comes from Songs from the Inverted Womb.

The closing song, Goodbye, is very lyrically streamlined: when you read the lyrics in the booklet it looks like a personal note between two individuals, like something meant for someone to read. When Anna begins singing, though, the cadence and rhythm of her voice is perfectly musical. The same goes for Mourning, The Void, Saturn Rising and Cold. Mourning struck me as a little challenging at first- I actually didn’t listen to this album all at once, as a single body of work, the first time I heard it. Which will definitely effect the impression of each song. Anna-Varney Cantodea makes albums that are whole, distinct bodies of work, meant to be taken in as a whole. Now it feels like one of the most important songs on the album. Not least of all because of the lyrical stream lining mentioned earlier. The use of verbal repetition is different on this album- in fact, I don’t think lyrical repetition is used quite the same way in anything else by Sopor.

On Mourning, repetition is used in a way comparable to the function served by a chorus in an ordinary rock song, but still gives the rest of the more conversational lyrics room to define the overall tone. The longer instrumental sections also provide necessary atmospheric breathing room for the song to work. As a kind of orienting “center” to the album, this generous use of space is very justified.

Saturn Rising, while just as streamlined overall, is more of an equal split between conversational and conventionally rhythmic lyricism. The alternating slow and fast pacing and the use of electric guitar give the song a recognizable alternative-shoegazey feel. In fact, all of the electric guitar usage on this album reminds me of shoegaze.

The lyrics of Burial Ground are more rhythmic than conversational but retains the shoegaze flavor. Poison, DeathHouse and Nightbreed all riff on shoegaze but go a bit further into the land of straight up gothic rock. On that subject, Nightbreed is particularly satisfying. Very cheeky and angry and contains one of my favorite personalized lyrical bitch-slaps on the album:

I’m not your pal, your aunt or your mother!

You asshole, I’m your FRIEND!

But if all that is too much to ask for,

Then, please…don’t pretend.

If you don’t care to have me

In your busy and happy life,

Then don’t you dare

Say that you love me!

Go and

Tell that shit

to your wife

I love love love how she spits the words “Go and \ tell that shit \ to your wife” ❤

The new familiarity with direct, memoir-style lyricism and rock experimentation on both this album and the last one seems significant. Death & Flamingos and Island Of The Dead both sound more like direct and personal statements from Anna herself, as opposed to Dead Lovers Sarabande or Songs from the Inverted Womb which employed less literal narrative devices. This, in addition to the release of one album a year for three years so far makes these new works seem like an important moment in her artistic career.

After the release of The Spiral Sacrifice in 2018, Anna did an interview with the German LGBT magazine Seigessaule in which she said that The Spiral Sacrifice will “probably” be her last album. This made sense in that interview, as she described the 2018 album- which was in fact a reimagining of her 1997 album The Inexperienced Spiral Traveller -as a journey through time and a stock-taking. This made The Spiral Sacrifice sound like a grand, finishing statement, to say nothing of the fact that Anna is in her sixties and could hardly be faulted for slowing down.

Not only did Anna release new music in 2019 and 2020, but look at the contrast with the 2018 album. The Spiral Sacrifice is almost luxuriously introspective, poetic and slow-paced. I listen to it often while writing or drawing, as I do with Poetica and Ich Tote Mich. The Spiral Sacrifice was constructed with room for the listener’s mind to occupy the material alongside Anna’s presence. In the last two albums, Anna herself dominates all the space and is singing literally about herself in lyrics that make you hear her as both an artist and a private person. So far from being a final album, The Spiral Sacrifice appears to have marked the beginning of a unique chapter in the life of Sopor Aeternus and The Ensemble Of Shadows.

If ever I have the chance to have a hard-copy made of any book I write or video game I design in the future, this is the kind of personal touch I would want to add ^^
This image and the next one both give me a distinct Dead Lovers Sarabande vibe

Jabberjaw…Pure Sweet Hell

Back when I was more of a Ween fan, I’d search YouTube for live performances since they seemed to pull those off well.  Ween’s lyrics and imagery are typically either surreal or juvenile but they’re great musicians and they have done some very witty genre deconstructions. The early seventies glam rock decon of Captain Fantasy and Beacon Light, the country decon of 12 Golden Country Greats and the prog decon of The Mollusk all come to mind.

And they’ve been known to do some killer live shows. So I was browsing YouTube for Ween concert footage and I stumbled upon a cover version of the song Birthday Boy by someone called Mary Lou Lord.

The original Birthday Boy has the stonerisms turned up to eleven. It starts with a groggy and exasperated voice saying “Jesus Christ…pain…take one!” before some electric guitar strumming kicks in. One of the two Weens (either Dean or Gene) then starts caterwauling as warbly and discordantly as he can, dragging out vowels at the end as his voice cracks to add an extra touch of insanity.

The guitar riff, the subject matter and specific word choices suggest that this is a deconstruction / parody of a country song. The lyrics are deliberately repetitive and simplistic and the crazed vocal delivery clearly is poking fun at the earnestness of a country break-up song. To add to the stoneresque weirdness the song ends with a voicemail containing someone singing the Happy Birthday song. I can actually imagine the original version of Birthday Boy fitting in just fine in an Earthworm Jim game, honestly.

So I find the Mary Lou Lord cover and she plays it completely straight. The riff is slowed way down, almost like grunge, even though the country influence is still noticeable. And I couldn’t believe it- it totally worked. The self-effacing humor of the barebones lyric construction actually seemed to lend it some non-ironic feeling. And I was actually really into it.

But while there was some Mary Lou Lord material on the digital market, that particular cover of Birthday Boy was nowhere to be found. After some googling I found out it was credited to an album called Jabberjaw…Pure Sweet Hell. The album art seemed to even mesh with some of the imagery from the video on YouTube.

So after awhile the inevitable happened and I decided that I needed to have it. Sooo a few months and a few bucks later:

As the track listing tells us, it does in fact have Mary Lou Lord covering Birthday Boy, among many other things.

Go! by Brainiac is a lovely, crunchy little lo-fi piece that makes me feel the same bouncy energy I used to feel while drinking cheap booze to get fucked up as quickly as possible when I was twenty-two or playing 16-bit beat’em up games when I was seven. The Charm by Steel Pole Bathtub and Shine by Laughing Hyenas are precisely the kind of dark, growling 90’s alternative that I love.

Speaking of the kind of transformative re-imagining that Mary Lou Lord pulled off with Birthday Boy, Star Lust by Redd Kross seems to invite something similar. It just has a really strong, sturdy and simple pop-rock structure. It’s simplicity serves it so well that I can easily imagine this song being re-recorded as a stripped down acoustic song or something resembling a 60’s or 70’s singer-songwriter track.

Low and Everclear do covers as well. Low has a stripped down, shoegazey version of I Started A Joke that’s relentlessly melancholy. Not tears in beer so much as tears in vodka. I can imagine it being used in a movie in a scene where someone commits suicide or goes on a depressed killing spree. The Suicide Squad rendition of that song for Harley and the Joker doesn’t even come close to this level of darkness.

Everclear’s cover of How Soon Is Now is believably energetic, but whether or not I enjoy it depends on my current mood. It follows Go! by Brainiac, which works in its favor. But unless I’m listening to the album from beginning to end, I don’t normally wish to hear it the way I wish to hear Go!, Birthday Boy, Star Lust, The Charm, Shine or I Started A Joke. I also can’t stop comparing it to another post-punk Smiths cover, the rendition of This Night Has Opened My Eyes recorded by At The Drive-In, which I much prefer. Everclear’s How Soon Is Now also reminds me a little bit of Filter….but after doing a bit of research, the odds are more in favor of the relationship being the other way around.

Jabberjaw, actually, was the name of a Los Angeles music venue that became famous among the post-punk underground and later, to the dismay of those that cherished its comfortable obscurity, achieved fame among the established grunge and alternative bands. The CD I had hunted down is actually one of a few different anthology albums of the venue’s regulars.

A Vice article with Brian Ray Turcotte, a contemporary of Jabberjaw founders Gary Dent and Michelle Carr, discusses the intentions and circumstances of the self-proclaimed “coffee house” wherein brown-bag alcohol was often welcome. Jabberjaw was founded by music lovers who simply wanted a place to listen to their favorite bands and be around others like themselves.

It’s a nice read (link below) and actually made me a little nostalgic. In my hometown, I have a few friends in local bands and I often went to house parties and bars to hear them perform. I even humiliated myself a few times as a teen by going to open-mic nights to read excerpts of a fantasy novel I started at fourteen and finished at eighteen. Which got me laughed at by very polite people who tried very hard to contain their laughter before losing control. Early experiences of suffering for my art and making connections with others who did so as well helped make me the woman I am now. That, and I don’t think I’ll ever encounter another punk-R&B fusion band with the lyrics “I wanna make love to your asshole.”

https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/exqbn7/jabberjaw-was-the-coolest-la-venue-youve-never-heard-of-511

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, courtesy 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.