I remember when Guitar Hero games were ubiquitous and inescapable. Game stores seemed built out of Guitar Hero boxes. Then, for no perceptible reason, people stopped playing them, people stopped buying them, and game companies stopped making them. The franchise imploded like a bubble in the Marianas Trench. Three years later, it’s actually getting hard to believe that Guitar Hero games even once existed. Gone…all of it gone…
Marilyn Manson was huge in the mid 90s, and a national tragedy made him huger. But there was always this deadness at the centre of the Manson hype. He clearly wouldn’t be around for long. Nobody cared much about what he actually said or did, and certainly nobody cared about his music, people only cared about his image — the evil satanist rockstar, and his image that often forks away from the truth (Manson’s only involvement in the Church of Satan was to accept an honorary priesthood while a guest of Anton LaVey’s.
He also marked an ominous cultural tidal change: the exploitation and monetization of controversy. Amazing, once people thought that getting arrested or sued or libelled in the papers was a bad thing. Now, you milk it for all it’s worth, and guys like Manson showed us the way. Bad press is a like a psychotic millionaire sugar daddy. Some say you should avoid him. But say and do the right things, and you can go on the ride of your life, even while he’s breaking your teeth off at the gumline with his fists.
Between these two points, the music often gets overlooked. At times it seems music is the least important part about this band. Antichrist Superstar is Manson’s most enduring album, but it is flawed. It is as long as NIN’s Broken and Ministry’s ???????? combined, and is inferior to both those releases. The band seems to be too busy chasing heroin around on tinfoil to write good songs consistently. It has many impressive moments, but they don’t flow steadily or reliably.
“Irresponsible Hate Anthem” is noisy punk rock song, in one ear and out the other. “The Beautiful People” is great, it’s catchy and features an instantly recognisable tom-tom beat by Ginger Fish. The whole album has really good instrumentation. The songwriting often gets floppy, but all the parts are played with intensity and conviction. How to make a Marilyn Manson album: pack the rafters with talented musicians, supply drugs, and hang on for dear life.
The album is long as fuck, and full of frustrating Good Cop/Bad Cop songs that entertain and bore in clear-cut, alternating sections. Occasionally there’s a genuinely thrilling idea (the thrashing chorus of “The Reflecting God”, the Black Sabbath riffing on “Kinderfeld”) and then the band drops it like a senile old-timer dropping a TV remote. “Cryptorchid” is a pure waste of space, just a mess of ambient industrial shards.
Manson’s voice is commanding and creepy, although he has some tics that never really sat well with me. His cutesy falsetto is just plain annoying, as is his habit of taking a pithy lyric and shouting it over and over again, as if he’s worried we’ll miss the point (with good reason, as it happened).
Antichrist Superstar is unique and powerful, but it is not quite a classic. It’s strength is mostly in its heraldry: it’s the most shocking, the most outrageous, etc. Musically, Manson never learned the difference between songwriting that articulates fucked-upness and songwriting that’s plain fucked-up.
Published in 1998, shortly before the release of Mechanical Animals, it tells the story of a young boy called Brian Warner, who escaped a childhood of decorum and religion, embraced drugs and satanism, and — after a failed writing career — found his true calling in music (to torture a Clive Barker quote, writing is masturbation, while playing in a band is an orgy). Somewhere along the way he has an epiphany: there there were worse things than being rejected by the cool kids. Being accepted by the cool kids, perhaps. Like Antichrist Superstar, this book has three parts, and with the final part documenting the aforementioned album’s creation and the beginnings of nationwide controversy.
I don’t hate Manson, but I don’t pity him, either. Yes, he was subject to many defamatory attacks, and he was blamed for many things that weren’t his fault…but he has profited handsomely from the controversy, too. He sure as fuck didn’t become the most famous rockstar in America because his music was good.
The book was co-written with Neil Strauss, who is a talented writer — relentless at paring away the rind and getting straight to the interesting parts. If Strauss was a DVD player he’d skip over the movie’s opening credits, start you in the middle of the first action scene, and fast forward through all the dialogue at 3x speed. Reading his books can be exhausting because he throws so much stuff at you so quickly.
The book is full of interesting moments — Brian describes his run-ins with police, his meeting with Anton Szander LaVey, and provides some affidavits from the American Family Association that make him sound like the worst monster of the 21st century (I’m sure he appreciates this very much). I wish there had been fewer random groupie sex stories, and more about Trent Reznor. For a while it seems the working relationship between the two men is building to something big, but the expected payoff doesn’t occur.
The book finds time for lots of philosophising. The revelation Manson has is that nobody is pure, and that it’s all a charade. The Holy Hannah schoolteacher who kept softcore erotica books in her desk drawer. The much loved uncle who had a huge collection of bestiality porn. Everybody has skeletons in their closet. You will think of the verse from the Bible that talks about tombs: beautiful and whitewashed from the outside, dark and seething with corruption on the inside.
Manson has no filter. He talks shit about records labels, old bandmates, current bandmates, and, most of all, himself. His honesty is appealing. Whether he’s poking fun at Daisy Berkowitz’s stupidity (“hey, this album’s about Jesus going on a rock tour, right?”), or outlining his attempt at murdering at ex-girlfriend, he is always direct and blunt. Despite the outlandish content of Hell, it seems more trustworthy than many biographies I read. If this is the expurgated and censored version of Manson’s life, then I don’t want to know about the things that were left out. Manson has always had things to say, but usually those things dance an awkward two-step to (and with) musical accompaniment. Now, the message is unfettered and free.
Aquarium – also known as “the album your little sister used to listen to” — makes no attempt at disguising what it is. It’s not varied, or subtle, or smart. It grabs hold of a single working formula (fun danceable bubblegum pop) and spends forty minutes mugging it in a dark alley.
The songs are simple but very tightly constructed, with production as light and airy as spongecake. Lene Nystrøm’s voice has a strange but not unpleasant tonality to it, her voice sounds like that of a talented singing alien. Male vocalist René Dif exists mostly as a foil to Nystrøm’s voice. He could never carry a song on his own, but his back-and-forth exchanges with the female vocals are fun and energetic.
Aqua songs are very catchy. The melodies have a tendency of entering your head and kind of barricading themselves in there, Rorke’s Drift style — armies of Zulus may be needed to dislodge them. “Barbie Girl” is the most famous track (Blender or someone referred to it as “Scandi-Wegian pedo pop”) but “Doctor Jones” and “My Oh My” are also very good. “Be a Man” is boring, but “Turn Back Time” brings the album to a new level of class (ie, any level of class). You’d be ashamed to listen to the rest of this album in mixed company, but “Turn Back Time” sounds mature and sophisticated.
For the most part, the album is full of childish nursery-rhyme lyrics are both adorable and entertainingly creepy. There’s a fair few double-entendres here and there, no doubt an adult could fit his or her own experiences to the words.
Still, the album was clearly written with a particular age range in mind. “Heat of the Night” has Rene Dif confiding “the tequila is here” in an aren’t-I-scandalous voice. So, he brought tequila. I wonder what else he brought that we can’t tell mom and dad about. Alcoholic chocolates shaped like hearts? Stripped by Christina Aguilera…the UNCENSORED version? Plainly, shit is about to go down.
Aquarium is very embarrassing but I think it survives better today than Drake or Pitbull’s albums will in 15 years. It’s catchy, and relatively free of annoying 90s gimmicks. If you want the manly version of this album, acquire I Get Wet by Andrew WK, which is 95% the same but has loud guitars.
Tigers in the Mud is the combat memoirs of German tank commander Otto Carius. Rejected twice from the Wehrmacht for being underweight, Carius rose to become one of the most deadly men of World War II, credited with over 150 tank kills. He was awarded the Knight’s Cross, to which Himmler would affix the Oak Leaves in 1944. He served on multiple fronts, fighting “Ivan” in the east and then American soldiers crossing the Rhine. This is his story: WWII from behind the 88mm cannon of a Tiger.
Carius describes the legendary Tiger I with something like awe and something like love. They were the German answer to the Russian T34, huge, ugly, but not without some inner grace. Controlling them was easy (“It drove just like a car”, Carius says), and they could make 45kph on a road and 20kph cross-country. They packed massive firepower. Carius describes stunts such as letting an enemy hide behind a house, and then shooting them straight through the house’s walls.
It’s not all about tanks, it’s also about people, and Carius acclaims the men he fought beside (and under). He seems eager to emphasise the patriotism and camaraderie of the Wehrmacht at the front line, and says that nobody was forced into battle. Some men were Nazis, some opponents of Nazis, some motivated by nothing more political than the glory of their homeland.
Some parts are nail-biting, like when a stiff-necked Oberst orders Carius to advance into a deathtrap. Carius ends up shot once in the forearm, four times in the back, and once in the neck at point blank range.
Some parts are downright bizarre. It seems German administration was lax at writing documentation for the Tiger I. The Russians, however, published excellent guides on the Tiger I’s strengths and weaknesses. The result was a surreal process where German tank drivers had to learn about their own tanks using captured enemy literature.
Carius tells in detail of his meeting with Heinrich Himmler, who is described as calm and friendly. Himmler offers Carius a place in the Waffen-SS, which he declines. Then, in another bizarre scene, Himmler asks if Carius has seen the sights of the city, and gives him a car to go joyriding through Salzberg. The war is winding down at this point, and soon Carius tells of less happy things: the grim conditions of American prison camps where, he says, the Yankees set about proving that they were worse than the Germans. A quote stands out: “peace is hell.”
Carius was a gifted soldier but only an average writer, which is better than the alternative. Had he been a gifted writer but an average soldier he likely would have been killed, which poses great difficulties if you want to write a book.
Nevertheless, I wish there was more detail, and more elaboration. There are many amazing things in this book, but alas, we see them only as sketches. One example is found in the book’s early pages. Carius describes a tank tipping over while falling off a ramp. What happened next? How do you get a sixty ton tank back upright? Who’s job was that in the army? How badly damaged was the tank? I wish he had gone a bit deeper into some things. Tigers in the Mud is a fascinating tour through WWII, but it is a rushed one, and gunsmoke sometimes obscures the view.
It is difficult to talk about this band without becoming sarcastic. I heard some songs on 2009′s Smash the Control Machine, which struck me as activism-obsessed liberal mallcore, heavily influenced by Slipknot and Hed(pe), with an annoying female vocalist. But it was music. When you pressed play, loud noise boomed around the place.
When you press play on this, the only loud noise booming around the place is the sound of your uncontrollable laughter. Hydra is practically a spoken word album. It’s 70 minutes long, with at least 50 of those minutes being angsty mutterings, ambient noise, or silence. What a retarded idea. Who the fuck wants to listen to this?
Finding good songs on STCM required a bit of dumpster diving. On Hydra there are very few songs at all, let alone good ones, so all you can do is enjoy the occasional inspired moment. “Hag” has these Nile-sounding blastbeats. “Blowtorch Nightlight” gets really uptempo and fun in the last 40 seconds. Other tracks like “Seduce and Destroy” have heavy guitars but are just utterly boring and limp along like Captain Ahab and Professor X in a three-legged race.
The rest of the album is just a book on tape with a few fragments of metal riffs and keyboard melodies. Otep Shamaya’s voice is the only consistent factor: it is consistently annoying. Whisper… BLAAARGGHHHHH… whiiiiiine…
In general I’m wary of bands with political or socially conscious lyrics, no matter what those lyrics are. When you have (hypothetically) catchy, entertaining music, write lyrics about Iraq, and fill a thundering stadium with fans…are so you deluded to think that your political views are the reason they bought tickets? Do you think that you’re now the leader of a social movement? Henry Rollins is the classic example of a guy crossing his urine streams in such a way. He keeps trying to reinvent himself as some kind of poet/activist, when all anybody truly cares about is a punk rock album he made thirty years ago.
Otep is a bit behind the eightball (they haven’t made a great album yet) but the principle is the same. In general, the bands that become famous for political lyrics do so because of novelty, not because the lyrics themselves are that compelling. In an ocean of brainless Ramones soundalikes, The Clash’s lyrics stood out. In an ocean of brainless speed metal bands, Metallica’s lyrics stood out. If The Clash or Metallica had submitted their political views to an op-ed piece, they would have sunk without a trace. Even in “seen it all” 2013, it’s not ridiculously common for metal bands to address political issues (I’m talking about actual, in-depth commentary, not “fuck the system!” or “support the troops!”), and when you’ve got a female vegetarian lesbian as the singer of your band, then you have more novelty value than most. But that’s all it is: novelty. If you’re a metal band famous for political lyrics, it’s not your brilliant opinions people are noticing. They notice you because you are like a dog that has learned to walk on its hind legs.
The long-ass closing track “Theophagy” just goes on and on forever, repeating itself like a broken record. Recurrent lyric: “I will rise like a Hydra / from the ash.” I assume she’s talking about a phoenix. The Hydra doesn’t rise from the ash. Fire is how you kill it (or at least Hercules did), so ash is the last place you’d expect a Hydra to rise from. And “Hydra” is a proper noun. It refers to a specific, singular monster. Saying “I will rise like a Hydra” is like saying “I will bike through France with a needle in my butt like a Lance Armstrong.”
If you like this band, get a life.
I highly recommend this book, but you shouldn’t buy it. It’s entertaining and well worth reading…just don’t spend money on it, yes? I do not offer this advice out of concern for your finances. Even if you are rich, you should acquire this book through through other means. Moving on…
There’s two things to review here, the work of Suehiro Maruo and the translation/editing of “James Havoc” and Creation Books. Maruo’s manga are brutal and nasty but very heartfelt and even strangely bathetic. They make you feel things. His characters are usually sweet, vulnerable-looking young people and his calendar seems permanently set in the nostalgic past.
His art is really interesting, there’s not too much I can compare him to except those 17th century Ukiyo-e woodblock prints. Maruo’s is a pure, unalloyed sort of manga, removed from all influences of Walt Disney and western iconography.
People call Maruo a mangaka/illustrator but I really think “illustrator” should come before the slash. Maruo draws manga but he’s more at home with stationary, tableaux-like images. He draws motion poorly, and whenever he tries a more stereotypical manga trick (like speed lines) the result appears artificial and disjointed.
“Putrid Night”, the earliest work on here (1981), is about sixteen year old Sayoko, who is married to a cruel and brutish samurai. He is hinted to have killed his first wife and soon we only feel glad at her fortunate escape, for marriage to this man is hell. Sayoko hatches a plan to kill her husband and escape with a young suitor, but of course, things never work out quite right, and sometimes all you can do is enjoy hell. “Shit Soup” is a gross-out comic, probably inspired by George Bataille, that features people having sex, drinking piss, eating shit, et cetera. Hard to believe that Maruo would just make a throwaway porn comic, I guess he wanted to make some kind of transgressive statement but needed to sex it up a bit before he could find a magazine that would print it. “Voyeur in the Attic” is about a man who witnesses infanticide, and rather than do anything socially responsible he becomes a participant in a dirty game. “Nonresistance City” is a 82 page comic set in post-war Tokyo, and is maybe the most mature and emotionally engaging thing on here.
I am a huge fan of Suehiro Maruo. Unfortunately, there’s a middleman here.
The book was edited by “James Havoc” (a pen name for another author), and he does nothing but fuck up the book. Sound effects aren’t edited into the art, they’re reproduced in awkward looking block text at the bottom of the panels. I wouldn’t mind too much if this was a scanlation, but come on, this is an actual product for sale. Some professionalism, please. The quality of the images looks faded out and weird, like bad quality scans.
Worst of all, he takes it upon himself to “improve” the book with extracts of his trademark “William S Burroughs on even more drugs” prose. “WE ARE BLACK SUNLIGHT, A VORTEX OF ANAL SWEAT IN THE SUCKLING SKY.” Oh, fuck off and leave the book alone. We’re here to read Maruo, not you. This sort of nonsense finds its way into nearly every single comic.
With the annoying editing, and the fact that Maruo likely has never seen a yen from this collection (tip: type “Creation Books” into Google), you’d be stupid to buy this. One hopes more (and better) English-language releases of Maruo’s work will be forthcoming. Treat this as a view into the world of one of Japan’s most provocative artists…however, you must look through a distorted lense.
This is Monolith’s innovative but obscure mecha-themed first person shooter from 1998. It’s full of cool stuff, but it isn’t a classic. This is the type of game that comes out, impresses some people, and then just goes away.
I’ve never seen a game so eager to impress. It cavorts like a puppy. It has a strong and stylish anime theme, an complex and detailed story (by the standards of the day, anyway), lots of features, and an early test drive of the flashy Lithtech engine. Shogo does look the part. But soon you realise that the game’s content is not able to match its presentation.
Everything seems…rushed. Unready. Unfinished. There’s definitely a meal here, but it bleeds and squeals when I cut it. The game is a two-part experience. There’s on-foot FPS missions, and mecha missions – which are the same but from the perspective of 50 meters in the air, with you shouldering past buildings like Godzilla, and people running around your feet like little ants. Both parts of the game feel half-completed, as if the designers were trying to do too much and then eventually gave up.
Pour water into any part of the game and it leaks.
Weapons? The game basically gives you the entire arsenal from the start of the game. Unsatisfying. Where’s the thrill of progressing through the game and finding more and more powerful weapons? Imagine Doom if it gave you the plasma gun on the second level and the BFG 9000 on the third.
AI? Hopeless. In mecha mode your robot enemies get stuck going around corners, kill themselves with explosive weapons, etc. On the ground, you progress through hallways, fighting static groups of enemies that stand still even while you blast their friends from just around the corner. There are friendly soldiers that help you from time to time. You can kill them without consequence.
Level design? Not interesting, there’s a level ripped off from Quake where you ride around on wind turbines etc but otherwise it’s your usual series of techbases and “gritty” urban locales where you must flip switches and find keys. I think there was one level where you have to interrupt your quest to save the world to rescue a lady’s pet cat.
Giant robots? Here’s where the game really keels over and fucks itself. This game never makes it feel like you’re riding a hundred ton battle mecha. You can stop on a dime, make huge, floaty jumps, execute impossible mid-air pirouettes – the physics are all wrong, and it destroys the immersion and atmosphere of the game.
Story? Fairly expansive and detailed for an FPS, but it lacks colour and human interest. Shogo’s story feels like Metal Gear Solid’s story retold by an autist or a sociopath. Characters and their motivations are described in plain, anodyne terms (such and such is the brother of so and so, who is the girlfriend of who and who). The anime theme seemed cool in 1998 but these days you’d be better off playing anything from the later Touhou games to Viewtiful Joe. In general, the largeness and outlandishness of anime is missing. Monolith has copied the words but they don’t seem to hear the music.
It didn’t help that Shogo was released at just the wrong time. Half Life caused better games than Shogo to be forgotten.
During the golden age of piracy it was common for pirates to deceive merchant vessels by flying the flag of a friendly country, such as the Union Flag or the Cross of Burgundy. Only when escape was impossible would they run up the Jolly Roger. This book used a similar trick on me. It starts out as a funny story where a caddish young politician, drowning in bad publicity, flees the country on a boat bound for the far East. Soon (while he’s at sea, incidentally) The Torture Garden completely changes in tone and style.
Octave Mirbeau was a 19th century French journalist, novelist, and full-time burr in the establishment’s saddle. This is one of his most remembered works: a very excessive satire story that seems to be the bang-from-behind offspring of Jonathan Swift and the Marquis de Sade. The hero (nameless, as best I can recall) meets shipboard a depraved young woman called Clara, who has all sorts of issues to discuss with her inner child. She seems demur and immune to flattery, but comes to life at the slightest hint of cruelty, violence, or pain.
The book is very funny. The characters are picaresque and exaggerated like the ones in George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman books. I laughed at several parts, such as this exchange, where a sailor is attempting to impress Clara.
“Well then?” she said maliciously, “so it’s not a joke? You’ve eaten human flesh?”
“Certainly I have!” he answered proudly with a tone that established his indisputable superiority over the rest of us.
Clara and her male companion journey to China’s famous “Torture Garden”, a place where criminals go to die. The Asians are sophisticated and evolved in this matter. Where Europe allows its prisoners to languish in dark dungeons, China’s prisoners live and die in massive gardens well equipped for all forms of torture. Viburnums enriched by bilirubin. Azaleas watered by arterial gore.
Mirbeau writes satire really well. One of the funniest parts has a seasoned Chinese torture ranting about Westerners invading the land and bringing their crude and barbaric methods of torture with them, with no respect for Chinese tradition.
Our protagonist’s goes on a tour through this garden, learning about plants and pain. The garden is really quite extraordinary. There is a method of torture involving a rat and a basket and a heated brand that they could never have thought of at Gitmo Bay.
Our protagonist is appalled by everything he sees. Clara laughs and mocks him. These exchanges turn the old trope John Wayne telling the woman to close her eyes as she walks past the dead Injuns on its ear…although it’s hard to feel sorry for our hero. He has the option to turn back at any point, yet he continues exploring the garden. Then, in the book’s final passages, even Clara’s walls and rationalisations break down, and the result is one of the most frank and disturbing scenes of emotional implosion I’ve encountered in a book.
Although it always keeps satire close to its heart, I must emphasise that there are very few books as gruesome as The Torture Garden. The 120 Days of Sodom and Story of the Eye make their nature clear at the outset. The Torture Garden tricks you. I wonder how many idle French intellectuals sat down for a comfortable tale of misbehaving rakes and armchair rebellion, and were exposed to…this.
It’s where a hardcore or scenester or emo or whatever band starts growing their hair long, ripping off Metallica a little in their riff construction, and acting like they’re old-school metal. Tim Lambesis. Bullet for my Valentine. Even Disturbed. Everyone’s done it. It’s like the reverse of selling out. I love old fashioned metal. I hate bandwagon hopping pieces of shit pretending they’re old fashioned metal.
There’s a corollary: trendy modern bands with harmonised guitar leads saying they’re inspired by Iron Maiden. Fact: any modern hardcore band that uses harmonised leads was inspired by In Flames (or some other In Flames sounding band like Arch Enemy). Don’t argue. It’s the truth. Oh, sure…they have all the Iron Maiden albums now, because you have to live the lie…but they were fans of In Flames first.
In Waves is Trivium’s fifth album. They’ve scaled back the overt Metallica/Annihilator influences of The Crusade, ditched the epic pseudo-Iron Maiden trappings of Shogun, and delivered a focused, brutal punch of their not-so-powerful brand of metal. In Waves is as polished as a metal album can get. The production is huge and thick and loud, to the point where Nick Augustomendezdfasdfkhj (who the fuck knows who drums for this band) threatens to blow speakers apart with each snare hit. Matt Heafy and Corey Can’t-Be-Bothered-to-Type-Out-His-Name bring their hardest and toughest guitar tones yet. (The bassist is an Unperson as always.)
Songwriting verdict: all over the place. Trivium alternate good and crap, over and over and over and over. The surging djent riff powering the title track…this is good. The annoying melodic verses and repetitive chorus…this is bad. The powerful rhythmic stomp of “Dusk Dismantled”…this is good. The obnoxious “bree” inhales on the final chorus…look, deathcore is over, you dumbasses. You should be over, too.
Most of the songs feature choppy unmemorable “core” riffs and horrible clean choruses. The entire lead section is greatly simplified compared to their last album. It seems they had trouble replicating Shogun’s three-guitar parts live, so they ditched them for a “only write enough solos to keep up the charade of being old school” approach. Shogun was inconsistent too, but at least it tonally sounded unique and interesting. Now Trivium sounds exactly like everyone else.
I do love one song unreservedly. “Chaos Reigns” is the heaviest Trivium song to date, featuring fast as hell drumming and an amazing set of riffs. Trivium slays on this song. “Chaos Reigns” is actually frustrating, because it shows what the band is capable of. I know the tiger’s there. But they haven’t tamed it yet, and they probably never will. Everyone’s always wondered when Trivium will fully deliver on their potential. Five albums in and you have to wonder how long the wait will be.
It annoys me when bands write an album with just one killer song. In a sense, it’s worse than an album with nothing but duds. Why? Because it’s a tease. I’d rather listen to an untalented band that can’t play music than a talented band that refuses to play music.
What I can’t do is classify Gweel into a genre, not because none of them fit, but because the concept of a genre doesn’t seem to apply to Gweel. It stands alone, without classification. Calling Gweel “experimental” or “avant garde” would be like stamping a barcode on a moon rock.
It may have been written for an audience of one: author Simon Whitechapel. If we make the very reasonable assumption that he owns a copy of his own book, he may have attained 100% market saturation. However, there could be a valuable peripheral market: people who want to read a book that is very different from anything they’ve read before.
It is a collection of short pieces of writing, similar in tone but not in form, exploring “dread, death, and doom.” “Kopfwurmkundalini” and “Beating the Meat” resemble horror stories, and manage to be frightening yet strangely fantastic. The first one is about a man – paralysed in a motorbike accident, able to communicate only by eye-blinks – and his induction into a strange new reality. It contains a rather thrilling story-within-a-story called “MS Found in a Steel Bottle”, about two men journeying to the bottom of the ocean in a bathysphere. “Kopfwurmkundalini”‘s final pages are written in a made-up language, but the author has encluded a glossary so that you can finish the story.
Those two/three stories make up about half of Gweel’s length. The remainder mostly consists of shorter work that seems to be more about creating an atmosphere or evoking an emotion. “Night Shift” is about a prison for planets (Venus, we learn, is serving a 103.2 year sentence for sex-trafficking), and a theme of prisons and planets runs through a fair few of the other stories here, although usually in a less surreal context. “Acariasis” is a vignette about a convict who sees a dust mite crawling on his cell wall, and imagines it’s a grain of sand from Mars. The image is vivid and the piece has a powerful effect. “Primessence” is The Shawshank Redemption on peyote (and math). A prisoner believes that because his cell is a prime number, he will soon be snatched from it by some mathematical daemon (the story ends with the prisoner’s fate unknown). “The Whisper” is a ghost story of sorts, short and achingly sad.
No doubt my impression of Gweel differs from the one the author intended. But maybe his intention was that I have that different impression than him. Maybe Gweel reveals different secrets to each reader.
I can’t analyse it much, but Gweel struck me as an experience like Fellini’s Amarcord…lots of little story-threads, none of them terribly meaningful on their own. Experienced together, however, those threads will weave themselves into a tapestry in the hall of your mind, a tapestry that’s entirely unique…and your own.