Apocalypse Then…

Recent events have convinced many that, if we aren’t actually living in the End Times, we are certainly experiencing a period of unprecedented tumult and despair. The historian Paul Lay brought this to mind in a recent piece for History Today ‘Social media is abuzz with the question: is this the worst year in history?’ he begins. ‘The year so far has been a challenging one: a huge refugee crisis, born of the suffering in Syria and Iraq; increasing terrorism in Europe, a continent bewildered by Brexit; a failed coup and its sinister aftermath in the strategically critical state of Turkey; the Zika outbreak; growing racial tension in the United States; famine in northern Nigeria…’

distant As Lay, rightly points out, there have been far more traumatic times to be alive. Indeed, by most measures, most of us probably qualify as pampered. But this does touch on something I’ve long found fascinating. Namely, why do so many of take such perverse pleasure in pretending we are living in some kind of historical nadir? It’s a tendency I think I first really noticed when reading Barbara Tuchman’s acclaimed history book A Distant Mirror. It’s portrayal of the medieval world was well wrought, but her central thesis – that the apocalyptic era of the mid-1300s somehow reflected the tumult facing the world in the 1970s when it was written – was, frankly, far less convincing.

danse macabre I would, in all honesty, support the case for the 14th century as a leading candidate for the worst in recorded history if pressed. Endemic total war, famine caused by a minor ice age, religious conflict, and violent widespread rebellion, all under the shadow of the Black Death, which claimed around half of the population in much of the Known World. It is true that from the ashes of such wholesale tragedy many positives emerged, but that is a story for another day (and the basis for a book I’ve been planning forever).

aids-virus-ad_2416090b In my own lifetime, I think I’d single out the 1980s as a particularly grim period. The Cold War mushroom cloud spectre of nuclear annihilation hung over us in playgrounds across the globe. AIDS struck just as my generation came of age, forcefully connecting pleasure and death in our collective subconscious. Mad Cow Disease was still a frightening unknown, the prospect that what we’d eaten, courtesy of industrial farming techniques, might well fell a large number of us with a horrific neurological disorder. Worst case scenarios were competitive with the Black Death in terms of mortality, and even more fearsome in the way it claimed its victims by eating away at their grey matter.
220px-ProtectAndSurvive Some time back I was asked to pen a piece on the Apocalypse for the metal magazine Terrorizer. Researching it reminded me of the music I’d grown up with. While there were intimations of the apocalypse in 1970s rock – most notably ‘Electric Funeral’ by Black Sabbath perhaps – the transformation of the possibility of nuclear holocaust from a possibility to something that felt iminent, defined much of the music of my youth. Bands like Nuclear Assault dominated the cutting edge thrash movement in the 1980s, Nuclear Blast would go on to become one of the most successful genre labels in the world, while a search of the Metal Archives site throws up over 100 bands across the globe with ‘nuclear’ in their names.

Nuclear_Assault_-_Game_Over.

Yet it wasn’t all so dark. Most of us remained comfortable and fed – in the UK at least – and many of the threats we felt so keenly never manifested. But we do still take a perverse pleasure in pretending we live in ‘the worst of times’ don’t we? A quick skim across the internet reveals legions of jeremiads of every political persuasion insisting things are sliding into hell and that, by implication, were once much better in some mythical golden age.

But it’s balls isn’t it? Perhaps we feel the potential for loss greatest when we have most to lose? Maybe melodramatic doomsday declarations are a masochistic luxury afforded us by comparative comfort?
One thing I would suggest is that the worst of times are not when we fear that the world might end, but when we hope it will…

Throwing BabyMetal Out with the Bathwater – or – Clickbait Music Journalism and the Rise of Troll Metal

I haven’t done any music journalism in some time. So I thought it high time I reminded myself why. The subject of today’s lesson is a Japanese novelty act named BabyMetal. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you’re a lucky person, should close this page, and get on with your life knowing that I envy you. If on the other hand, you read any of the rock press, then you can hardly have avoided the tsunami of hype that has surrounded this otherwise unremarkable, unhappy marriage between Oriental bubblegum pop and generic session metal guitars.

If BabyMetal is of any interest, it is as the band that happened to be in the right place just as the metal media fell under the spell of clickbait journalism. When they discovered the sad fact that the magical internet travel can be driven more effectively by irritating your readers as impressing or informing them. And so everyone began running pieces that riled their core audience, which also attracted a new influx of commentors who enjoyed watching serious music fans being upset.
bmetal
The music press had effectively begun trolling their readership. And no subject worked better than a trio of Japanese teenage girls, recruited to pretend to front a heavy metal band by one of Japan’s leading talent agencies. BabyMetal, by default, became the first troll metal act.

What caught most by surprised – including one suspects the band, their management, and the magazines hyping them – was when the constant coverage actually started to turn into concrete success. As any advertising executive can tell you, shove anything under people’s noses often enough, aggressively enough, and you’ll thrust it into their subconscious, becoming a trusted and recognised brand, regardless of how objectively low quality it may actually be.

I could’ve picked any one of an endless stream of articles about BabyMetal to illustrate my point. But this piece entitled ‘ROB ZOMBIE Shuts Down BABYMETAL Haters In Epic Fashion’ from Metal Injection’s a particularly depressing specimen. If you’re in for the ride, you can read it here. The article does at least have the virtue of brevity. Indeed it combines so much irritant into such a small space that I think it deserves some sort of Pullitzer prize. So, what’s wrong with it? Where to begin?…

Well, BabyMetal. Duh. Every time you wheel out this clickbait product an actual band dies.

‘Haters’. Haters is not a fucking word! You can have critics, detractors, opponents – hell there are countless synonyms to employ – English is a wonderful language. So quit writing like a teenager with ADHD fluent only in txt spch.

And if somebody is a ‘hater’, maybe they ‘hate on’ this plastic donkey show for a reason. Implying that somebody hates something just because that’s what they do is infantile sophistry. Sometimes, believe it or not, some of us dislike things for a reason.

And few if any metal fans hate the band as such. We just hate what they represent in terms of hype, manufactured pop, and clickbait journalism. Many got into metal to avoid this kind of crap. Shove it under our noses often and vigorously enough and we’re entitled to react.

And can we put this ‘metal elitist’ drivel to bed too. Since when did picking your music on merit become a bad thing? I can see why cynical record execs might like to foster an environment where docile fans will swallow anything you dump in front of them. But if a music journalist finds themselves spinning a similar line, it’s time to look in the mirror.
babymetal-haters-rob-zombie
Nobody was ‘shut down’. People seldom are when the liberal media employ this stupid, teeth-gratingly triumphalist expression. Somebody may have deleted a tweet because they were being confronted by somebody they had long admired, who has disappointed them.

And Rob. Rob… I like a lot of what you do, have often defended you from ‘haters’, and you were very personable when I met you. But nobody can accuse you of having impeccable critical judgement. I thought Lords of Salem was bold and interesting. But Halloween? Your choice in hats could use some attention too.

On the subject of energy at gigs, when I’ve seen Rob performing, he was clearly giving it his all, but looked pretty tuckered out by halfway through. Energy isn’t everything in music you know. Nor does being a performer give you the right to ‘shut down’ your fans. The guy whose taste you criticised is clearly one of the guys who put you were you are by buying your albums. Or was…

Rob-Zombie-Babymetal

I hesitated to write this. As I’ve already emphasised, the vast majority of the problem most BabyMetal ‘haters’ have is not with the ‘band’, but the way in which this product is being so crassly promoted. By writing this, I’m inevitably contributing yet further to the vast surplus of coverage lavished on this daft novelty act.

To misquote an old adage about religion… Bad music taste is like genitals: we’ve all got some, and they can be great fun. But there is a time and a place, and keep thrusting them in everyone’s face and you’ll start losing friends.

I am aware that the overall tone of this article has been a tad negative. So in the spirit of inclusiveness I shall abandon my metal elitism. Indeed I’m putting together a band of my own. The future of metal! You saw it here first…

Blobbyhammer

The Perils of Honesty and the Politics of Achievement…

Just for a change of pace, some politics.

Recent revelations about the financial affairs of the UK’s leading politicians have proven compelling viewing for those who enjoy watching the rich and powerful squirm. Particularly revealing – and a tad bizarre – was the recent statement by the MP and former Tory minister, Sir Alan Duncan, who spoke out in Parliament in defence of his master, David Cameron, after the Prime Minister came under fire for his dubious tax arrangements.

“Shouldn’t the Prime Minister’s critics really just snap out of the synthetic indignation and admit that their real point is that they hate anyone who has got a hint of wealth in them?” began Sir Alan. “May I support the Prime Minister in fending off those who are attacking him, particularly in thinking of this place, because if he doesn’t, we risk seeing a House of Commons which is stuffed full of low-achievers who hate enterprise, hate people who look after their own family and know absolutely nothing about the outside world.”

The phrase, with friends like that… leaps to mind. It certainly doesn’t sound much like what somebody with any knowledge of the outside world might say in full view of the electorate.

Duncan probably imagined he was making the point that government needs the involvement of businessmen, who might be scared off if their tax arrangements routinely come under scrutiny. In doing so, he must be one of the few political commentators arguing that big business doesn’t have enough influence over politics, at a time when pretty much everybody else is trying to work out how to stop business lobbies from corrupting governments. Setting that aside, I think his statement tells us a few other things about a certain mindset that prevails in much of modern politics.

If nothing else, Sir Alan is to be applauded for his candour. It was one of those rare moments when you felt somebody in the House of Commons let the mask slip and inadvertently gave a glimpse of what they really think. Candid perhaps. Smart: not so much. Duncan’s one of those characters who is just astute enough to fool himself into thinking he’s a good deal cleverer than he actually is. Dazzled by his own brilliance, he’s blinded to his own serious limitations.

If Corbyn wants to win the next election he should just use this on a loop as the Labour party political broadcast.

It’s an archetypal example of the toxic Tory myth of the businessman as ubermenschen, of privilege being the same as virtue, that our value can be measured in pounds, shillings and pence. But it’s a myth so easily dismissed. Nobody outside the sociopathic realms of business thinks that somebody who, say, saves lives in their daily work is worth less than the besuited parasites who cheat people using small print.

We don’t hate anyone with a hint of wealth. But if you’re reasonably savvy, you’re instinctively wary, because most of the methods for accruing fortunes are not indicative of good character.

Sir Alan might sneer at the under-achievers, but what’s he achieved? Well, he was a very successful businessman, earning substantial amounts dealing in oil with the Gulf States. But if one region threatens world peace, it is the Middle East, and if one thing destabilised the region it was the willingness of Western businessmen to deal with corrupt Arab regimes for quick profits. If Britain became involved in any dubious conflicts, then the interests of our oil magnates were the trigger. It is difficult to imagine we would be allied with some of the most immoral tyrannical states on the planet, if it didn’t suit the interests of businessmen. Like Alan.

Then Sir Alan went into politics. To try and undo any harm he may have done as a businessman? Not quite. He has repeatedly tried to abuse the system, pocketing public funds, boasted about it, then been obliged to back down and apologise. Duncan tried to fiddle the justly infamous buy-to-let scheme. He was among the worst of the abusers of the MP’s expenses scheme. He infamously claimed thousands for gardening. Then topped it off by claiming that the MP’s salary of 64 grand (not including expenses natch) was impossible to live on, that MPs “live on rations and are treated like shit.”

In short, Alan is most definitely an achiever. Though many of his achievements might warrant prison under a less deferential justice system.

I’m not sure the country can handle too many more over-achievers like Alan. After all, somebody’s got to do something fucking useful with their lives.

Meanwhile, ever the consummate politician, here is the man himself in action, showing the mixture of charm and foresight that make for a born statesman…

Meet Lucifer’s New Librarian…

By day, Christopher JC is a literature academic, working in New York City. But by night, he toils as the Internet’s definitive Satanic Scholar, author of a new website dedicated to the Romantic interpretations of the Prince of Darkness, pioneered by the puritan poet John Milton in his epic masterpiece Paradise Lost some 350 years ago.
lucifer tv2
Christopher’s scholarship is impressive, but what really makes the site shine is his evident passion for the subject, transforming a topic that so often feels dry and dusty into something alight with vivacity and relevance. The trigger for the launch of Christopher’s Satanic Scholar site was the debut of the first episode of the high profile new Fox series Lucifer, in turn based upon the acclaimed comic of the same name by writer Mike Carey.

While at this early stage the jury’s still out on the TV show – though it’s provoked the regulation calls for a ban from right-wing Christian lobbies like the American Family Association – Christopher believes Carey’s Lucifer is one of the strongest interpretations of the Miltonic anti-hero to date. In the following interview I asked him about this, as well as the broader Romantic tradition, and how his academic studies dovetailed with his own views and philosophy…

GB: How important is Milton’s Paradise Lost in how we see the Devil today – did it change our view?
CJC: ‘Paradise Lost completely revolutionized the concept of the Devil, and I don’t believe we can overstress the significance of Milton’s Satan. Inadvertently, Milton’s magnificent portrait of the arch-rebel restored lustre to Lucifer’s much tarnished name and face, and the Miltonic Satan lent himself to the refined radicalism of the Romantics. Satan’s principled revolt was inspiring to a number of the era’s most prominent intellectuals, poets, and prose writers, such as Godwin, Wollstonecraft, Hazlitt, Blake, Shelley, and Byron. The Romantic Satanists’ penchant for putting the Miltonic Satan’s celestial revolt to earthly use as a sociopolitical countermyth has had a greater impact on the Devil’s majesty than the proceedings of any occult order, and there simply wouldn’t have been a Romantic Satanism without Milton’s Satan.’
Paradise Lost fall

GB: What drew you to the character of Lucifer in the first place?
CJC: ‘Even when I was a young kid, the story of Lucifer’s rebellion and fall was far more exciting than, say, Jesus doling out the loaves and the fishes. But the real dark epiphany for me was when I first encountered the eloquent fallen angel found in the pages of Paradise Lost later in life, awestruck as I was by the noble defiance of Milton’s Satan. I was always attracted to anti-heroes, and Milton’s Satan was the archetypal anti-hero—the challenger of omnipotent authority, dauntlessly defiant against all odds, heroically unbowed even in defeat. I was delighted to discover the tradition of Romantic Satanism and its Satanic School, presided over by Byron and Shelley. Their grand approach to life as little Lucifers—magnifying their own diabolical dispositions through adoption of the Miltonic Satan—was rather thrilling to me. Whether or not Milton was, as Blake famously theorized, “of the Devil’s party without knowing it,” I certainly was.’

GB: How do you rate the comic-book version of the character?
CJC: ‘I believe Mike Carey’s Lucifer—the Vertigo spinoff of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman—to be the place to find the Miltonic-Romantic Satan’s true heir. You undeniably get sympathetic Satans in George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman, Mark Twain’s Letters from the Earth, and Anatole France’s The Revolt of the Angels, but they are not on equal footing with Byron’s Promethean Lucifer, let alone Milton’s epic hero Satan. I daresay Carey’s Lucifer is. Visually, he is a blonde-haired, golden-eyed, smooth-faced, handsome Devil, whose wings are even restored to their former, feathery state. Portraying the rebellious Lucifer as beautifully angelic rather than frightfully or comically demonic is very much reminiscent of Romantic renditions of Milton’s Satan in the visual arts.’
Lucifer comic
Lucifer’s grand ambition of absolute autonomy is just as appealing as his outer beauty. Carey’s Lucifer may be so individualistic that he lacks a sense of loyalty to his brothers-in-arms (one of the finer qualities of Milton’s Satan), but his pride definitely has its virtues. Lucifer’s sole commandment is thou shalt have no gods, which includes him, and in this he is not only the Miltonic-Romantic Satan’s successor, but superior. Carey’s Lucifer is an icon of illustrious independence, and while I’m not sure how much of this will translate into the TV series adaptation, to even see his proud name gracing the small screen is rather surreal.’

GB: Do you believe in the Devil?
CJC: ‘No. I’m an atheist, so I definitely do not believe in the Devil as some cosmic bogeyman. I do however believe in the Devil insofar as I believe his myth and how it was told by Milton and exploited by the Romantics holds a great deal of power. Many secular humanists would like to see the Devil discarded into the dustbin of history, but I believe it would be a shame to simply shun the Miltonic-Romantic Satan because he’s fictional. I’m a fervent admirer of Lord Byron, but in this I am closer to Shelley, whose militant atheism embraced the symbolic potential of mythical figures like Satan or Prometheus. It was Baudelaire who said that “God is the only being who, in order to reign, doesn’t even need to exist,” and if that’s the case, I find the Miltonic Satan—“the most perfect type of male beauty,” according to monsieur Baudelaire—to be the most appropriate weapon against that reign, Satan’s nonexistence notwithstanding.’

Blake_Satan
GB: What would you say to people who think showing sympathy for the Devil is wrong or even dangerous?
CJC: ‘I would advise them to take a good hard look at the figure the Devil is defying. Even if we place theocrats aside for the moment and limit ourselves to mythology and literature, the biblical God strikes me as the epitome of genuine evil. In the Old Testament, God is worse than any maniacal tyrant plucked from the pages of history. To cite a few nasty examples, He promises to spread excrement upon the faces of His own people should they fail to glorify His name and to force them to eat the flesh of their own children should they disobey Him.’

Contrary to popular belief, the New Testament God is immeasurably worse, as the same Son of God who preaches turning the other cheek and love for enemies promises to see plunged into eternal flames all who fail to bend the knee to him and his Father. That divine despotism is what we see Milton’s Hell-doomed Satan defying in the opening books of Paradise Lost. Milton’s Satan lambasts “the tyranny of Heaven” and Byron’s Lucifer castigates God as an “Omnipotent tyrant,” and I think these diatribes possess such force.’

I find a great deal of sympathy for the Devil cropping up in atheist circles—however tongue-in-cheek it may be—and I believe that the more theocratic elements spread like cancers at home and abroad (is it coincidental that the holiest portion of the globe is also the most hellish?), the more appealing Lucifer will become. It’s the fallen Morningstar’s time to shine, and I’m proud to be a part of that…’

falllen
To sample some of Christopher’s Satanic Scholarship – which I would most heartily recommend – check out his website here. Meanwhile, once the Lucifer series has progressed, we plan on chatting again…

Future Frights

Aber-poster-724x1024 As most of you know, I’m a big fan of horror, and make a point of visiting as many genre festivals as I can. A consistent favourite has been the Welsh festival Abertoir, and I’ve attended every year now since 2008, giving lectures at some of the events, and also covering them for sundry publications and websites. This year, I thought I’d deliver something a little more pithy and practical for my friends at Alchemy England. A lot happens over the six days of Abertoir, but I figured unless you were there, it’s the premiers of new films that are of most interest. Which upcoming chillers are worth looking out for in the coming months? So, if you want my recommendations for the most interesting, innovative and plain old wonderful indie horror that premiered this year, then check out my Alchemy blog here… thewitch-691x1024

Thanks for Nothing

We Brits keep importing all of these American holidays, so why not Thanksgiving? I’d be all for it. We could give thanks for getting rid of all of our religious twunts over the Atlantic. There should probably be an element of apology towards the Native Americans.

On a faintly more serious note, one almost universally ignored reason for the American Revolution was the refusal of the British Government to back the colonists, when the colonists wanted to break treaties made with the natives.

I was discussing this with a historian friend the other night. I observed that the religious nutters in New England began by condemning the natives as children of the Devil because they’d never heard of God and were ‘red’. They then decided the French King was the Antichrist when English-speaking colonies came into contact with rival French Catholic settlers. And finally, George III was identified as the Antichrist once the British had driven the French away and wanted the colonies to pick up part of the bill. Forbidding the puritans from stealing from the ‘demonic’ natives at gunpoint really was the final straw.
Pequot_war

You can sense a pattern in American politics establishing itself way back.

My friend observed that he’d been reading an article arguing that the Pilgrim Fathers weren’t exiled from England. The British were following a very liberal religious policy at the time. As long as you didn’t make a song and dance of it, you could pretty much worship what you wanted (many of the most powerful in the land belonged to Hellfire Clubs). The puritans didn’t want tolerance – they had that – they couldn’t tolerate the beliefs of others.

puritan-whipping In other words, the Founding Fathers didn’t need freedom from persecution, but craved the freedom to persecute. Which explains a lot about American history if you think about it.

Anyhow, happy belated Thanksgiving everyone!

England, Evil and an Interview…

As anyone who’s had the misfortune to follow my misadventures can attest, around this time every year I make a pilgrimage westward, to indulge in the unholy delights of the Abertoir horror festival. This iniqitous Welsh institution is now in its tenth year – a notable achievement in the increasingly competitive film festival market – and I have little doubt that the organisers will be pulling out all the stops to make this anniversary something pretty special. Indeed, for the first time, passes have sold out – a just reflection of the word-of-mouth on an event that’s become a highlight of my year.

I’ll be making my usual modest contribution in the form of one of my dreaded talks. This time, I shall be fulminating on the indelible links between the English and Evil. It’s on Wednesday (the 11th) at 4pm. While passes are sold out, some tickets for individual events are available. For specifics, check hereRprop011. Meanwhile, the charming chaps at the Terrestrial site interrogated me over the weekend. To find out if I revealed all (or talked any sense at all) click here.

A Face for Radio

baddeleycemetery

This Halloween I hosted my Nightmares in Black and White event at York Cemetery’s Victorian chapel of rest. It wasn’t the biggest audience I’ve ever addressed, but I’d like to state publicly that it was one of the best, and it was a pleasure to meet you all and speak to you. Many thanks also for all of the positive feedback! I did a brief interview with the local radio station on the event and, for want of anywhere better to put it. Have appended it to this post. A belated happy Halloween to all and sundry!

Nightmares in York Cemetery this Halloween

Dracula-poster-4
I’ll be hosting a special event this Halloween at the Grade II listed Chapel of Rest in York’s picturesque Victorian cemetery. Entitled Nightmares in Black and White, and running between 2-5pm, I’ll be taking people on an illustrated tour through the twisted roots of horror cinema. Informal, but informative, and suitable for both curious newcomers and seasoned horror fiends alike, we’ll lift the (coffin) lid on the stories behind the classic Hollywood monsters we’ve come to know and love so well. The local paper ran a two page article on the event, which you can read here. If you’re interested, do please send me a message via this site, or the event’s Facebook page here
York chapel.

Being a Count in Whitby

stoker_poster With due apologies for the short notice, I will be attending the Bram Stoker Film Festival in Whitby tomorrow, the 22nd of October, where I shall be delivering a talk at 2.30pm. Entitled, somewhat impudently, Who are You Calling a Count?, I shall be exploring the links – or lack thereof – between the fictional Count Dracula and his 15th Century historical namesake Vlad the Impaler. The Festival lasts throughout the weekend, and alongside horror film premieres, also features a vampire ball, and performances by the likes of Goth rock gods Fields of the Nephilim. For further info, click here. Maybe see some of you there…