Monday, September 22, 2014

Blog: Isaac Baranoff's Top 5 Progressive Metal Albums

With my new album, None More Black, being sold for only $1 through Bandcamp, I thought I'd take a look at one of the lesser-acknowledged musical genres, progressive metal, and list my personal favorites from that unique combination of aggressive guitars, and the technicality and composition structure of jazz and orchestral music, accompanied by videos from each album listed. For those of you who are slightly insane, try playing all the videos at once and listening to all the songs simultaneously until the voices in your head tell you to look for the hatchet.

Opeth's best album is a unique blend of '60s-style psychedelic rock, jazz fusion and old school heavy metal. This is an album that merits repeated listening from start to finish.

Their label pressured them to release a more metal-oriented album for the purpose of commercial viability, and the song-oriented approach of the album works for Dream Theater, especially in tracks like "6:00" and "Lie", making this the band's best album.

A sci-fi/horror concept album about human evolution pushed forward by the consumption of psychedelic mushrooms, in which Mudvayne derives its imagery from "2001: A Space Odyssey" ("Internal Primates Forever"), Ed Gein ("Nothing to Gein") and H.P. Lovecraft ("Severed").

Jazz and metal meet in an iconic fusion album. Cynic's first major tour was as an ill-suited opening act for the death metal band Cannibal Corpse, and as a result, Cynic's debut, Focus, was met with largely confused or disdainful responses from metalheads at the time, but has since gone on to become a huge influence on modern metal/jazz fusion bands.

Voivod combined the tenacity and fury of thrash metal with the bass guitar-driven arrangements and technicality of progressive rock, creating the appropriate sound for an ill-fated future on a series of sci-fi metal classics, including "Nothingface", which includes a cover of Syd Barrett's "Astronomy Domine". The alternative metal band Nothingface is named after this album.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Music: Isaac Baranoff - None More Black

The new album by Isaac Baranoff features music rooted in traditional melody arrangements, plus the 37-minute avant-garde piece "None More Black".

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Blog: "Forced Entry" Review

The pornographic film, usually deemed as a form with no artistic merit, produced a series of artistically interesting films in the 1970s. While “Forced Entry” is one of these, its execution is unfortunately flawed. The 1973 film stars Harry Reems (“The Devil in Miss Jones”, “Deep Throat”) as a disturbed Vietnam veteran who, feeling gipped over his treatment in the war, decides to take his anger out on the rich, beautiful women who frequent his gas station.

The film is a crossover between the slasher horror genre and the pornographic film, but although the film features some interesting editing techniques and a killer ending (which I won’t spoil here), it is far too flawed, and, ultimately, one of the lesser art-porn films of the ‘70s.

The first rape/murder scene is shocking, but when the same scene is repeated with a different actress, it is far less effective as it essentially reuses the same dialogue and there’s very little variance in the actions. A little variance occurs when Reems’ character forces one of his victims into anal sex and then angerly scowls, “You got my prick all full of shit!” – which is one of the worst lines of dialogue ever written.

Most of the film’s detracting qualities are the very poor cinematography, where the explicit sex is often out of focus and there’s several shots that could have been edited out in favor of reaction shots or the frequently-appearing Vietnam stock footage. The most interesting part of the film occurs when a pair of hippie women drop LSD and have sex with each other, which leads up to a GREAT twist ending that almost elevates the film, except it has too many flaws to be a good film.

The film’s many flaws are unfortunate, as it does contain some interesting moments, such as the frequent montages of Vietnam stock footage intercut into the film, and the sequence in which the line “Dirty hippies!” is looped repeatedly on the soundtrack. But the frequent looping of dialogue can be annoying elsewhere in the film.

Overall, while “Forced Entry” has a disarming atmosphere reminiscent of films like “Taxi Driver”, it is badly made and not one of the better attempts at mixing storytelling with pornography. Actor Harry Reems has stated that this film is the only film he regrets making. It was remade as a R-rated horror film in 1975, without the hardcore sex scenes.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Blog: Isaac Baranoff's Top 5 Favorite Mike Hammer Novels

Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer novels were critically assaulted in the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s for their violence and sex, but over the years have been reassessed and a dedicated fanbase has been influenced by them; Mike Hammer provided the template for many of the most popular tough guy heroes over the years, including James Bond, John Shaft, Dirty Harry and Jack Reacher. The heroine of Max Allan Collins’ comic book series “Ms. Tree” was inspired by both Hammer and his secretary, Velda.

Spillane’s hardboiled narratives have influenced my writing style, and, whether I’m writing Spaghetti Westerns set in Soviet Russia or acid noir featuring werewolf private detectives, Spillane’s novels are often in the back of my mind when I’m looking for inspiration, so I decided to put together a list of my favorite Mike Hammer novels.

This one starts off with Mike’s old friend being murdered, then he finds himself racing against time to find out how to stop a biological weapon which could wipe out the entire planet, encountering potheads, hippies, hookers, gangsters, the elite rich, crony politicians and two-timing femme fatales. This is the craziest Mike Hammer novel ever, which makes it my favorite.

Mike finds himself surrounded by police with the body of an old friend nearby, who committed suicide with Mike's gun, after a night of drinking. But Mike doesn't think it was actually a suicide, and seeks the truth. This novel has my favorite twist ending ever. I named one of my experimental rock demos after this book.

Co-written by Max Allan Collins and Spillane (who died in 2006). Mike faces off with drug dealers, and gets spiked with LSD. Definitely check this one out!

Mike’s debut, which caused all manner of moral panic at the time of its 1947 release, this novel sets up Spillane’s hardboiled narrative style and pushed the era’s boundaries of noir violence and sex. Mike seeks revenge after an old World War II buddy is murdered. This is a must-read!

This one has another one of my favorite twist endings. It sees Mike as father figure to a brilliant, but troubled genius child, but as people die around them, Mike finds out that things aren’t as they seem. One of Spillane’s best, check this one out!

UPDATE (09/16): Thanks to Max Allan Collins for posting a link to Horndog Studios on his site's news section and for correcting my earlier mistake about the authorship of "The Big Bang".

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Blog: An American giallo with werewolves

When Enzio Corbucci opened the door, I put a bullet through his neck. 

Enzio Corbucci looked like a warthog in heat… he had trough manners, body odor and the intellect of a savage… he looked like one of those Elvis impersonators, that is, fat Elvis, not good looking Elvis…he had the sideburns, and he was eating a piece of fried chicken, with peanut butter, banana and bread crumbs still on his face from the last meal. 

I could hear his hooves thudding on the floorboards of his apartment as he moved towards the door after I knocked on it and he asked “What the fuck do you want at this hour of night” and I disguised my voice and said, “You mean, you didn’t order a pizza?” 

He finally opened the door and I shot him in the neck. He fell to the ground, gasping for air as I stepped into his apartment, the blood leaking out onto his shag carpet. 

“I bet you thought you would never see me again, did you, Enzio, when you left me for dead, bleeding like a stuck pig, much like you are now… you thought I was a dead dog, didn’t you, Enzio, well so did I, Enzio, only… I didn’t know how far off I was from the truth, you see, I’ve changed quite a bit since you last saw me, and, as you can see, your death is going to come quicker, and a whole lot more painful than you realize.”
As I was talking, my eye color had changed from green to bright yellow, my face started to look like I’d been run over by a Mack truck, and it was getting real hairy.
When I finished talking, Enzio was face to face with a hungry wolf and the last thing he saw was the gnashing teeth going into his face. 
What you've just read is an excerpt from my new novel. I’d describe “A ClawFull Of Blood” as my giallo novel. “Giallo” is the Italian word for “yellow”, and, in terms of literary significance, it refers to Italian pulp fiction (giallo being the color of the paper, because cheap, pulp paper is yellow). In cinematic terms, giallo films are mysteries which often involve serial killers and murder. One of my favorite giallo films is Dario Argento’s “Deep Red”, which is often considered to be a horror film, but is more of a murder mystery. I don’t consider “Deep Red” to be a horror film at all. Some giallo films, like Mario Bava’s “A Bay of Blood” paved the way for the American slasher film, pushing the extremes of the mystery genre’s violence into horror territory.

“A Claw Full Of Blood” is also the third in my “Spaghetti Trilogy” which began with “A Boot Full Of Blood”, a revenge tale set in the Old West and involving vampires, and continuing with “AFistful of Molotov”, a revisionist revenge fantasy set in Soviet Russia. These novels each draw from the Spaghetti Western genre, as does my new novel, in which I return to the genre in which I had first written novels in: the hardboiled detective genre, but this time around, pulp mystery is combined with elements of both Spaghetti Westerns and giallo films.

I started with the basic idea of a werewolf detective, and built from there. I kept the idea of a man transforming into a wolf and that silver bullets would kill him, but came up with my own approach rather than following a specific mythology closely, because there are many, and all are inconsistent. I liked the idea from Joe Dante’s “The Howling” of having werewolves being able to transform any time they want, rather than just at the full moon (as in John Landis’ “An American Werewolf in London”, and in “The Wolf Man”, starring Lon Chaney Junior). Since a talking werewolf would appear extremely silly, I had the wolves communicate to each other through telepathy.

I decided to elaborate on the “silver bullets kill werewolves” idea by suggesting that silver bullets are the ONLY way to kill a werewolf, and that werewolves are otherwise immortal, because it made things more interesting to me. Also, I decided that you could become a werewolf by drinking the blood of one as you die, alluding to vampire mythology.

While writing the book, I remembered Anton LaVey’s “The Satanic Bible” and thought that I could use LaVey’s philosophy as the basis for the philosophy of werewolves in my literary universe, which necessitated that they could not murder innocent people, and only kill in revenge or self-defense, which is why the main character is turned into a werewolf as a result of benevolence and not assault. (I think LaVey would approve, considering his admiration for “Dracula” and “The Wolf Man”.) I must strongly remind my fans that I am not a Satanist and never have been, so the elements of Satanism in this novel are the beliefs of my characters and reflect nothing having anything to do with me. (I watched the documentary “Inside the Church of Satan” and found the ritual so boring that I had to fast-forward through it, but the people seemed likable enough.)

It should also be noted that characters from “A Fistful of Molotov” and “A Boot Full Of Blood” make appearances in this novel. I’d originally intended “A Fistful of Molotov” to include references to “A Boot Full of Blood”, but ultimately I decided to make that novel a stand-alone work in hopes that it would be a national best-seller, divorced from the context of a more cult, non-mainstream horror novel. I still have no idea why I thought “A Fistful of Molotov” could have had any mainstream success, considering that it contains narration like this:

He’d passed a dead horse that had been shot in the head and left in the middle of the snow being eaten by maggots and flies, its horse brains exposed as flying insects circled them. The animal’s long horse tongue that once spent many nights happily lodged in the assholes of submissive fillies, was now hanging out of the horse’s mouth, nearly entirely chewed away by the things that flew around it.”

I was CERTAIN that this would be a mainstream hit. THIS. A brief remark about horses rimming each other probably wouldn’t have raised too many eyebrows among Horndogs, but it’s not the stuff that mainstream novels are made out of, even though the theme of “A Fistful of Molotov” tested really well – the same kind of audience that would enjoy watching Quentin Tarantino’s Jewish soldiers in “Inglourious Basterds” killing Nazis surely would embrace a similar fantasy about Jews and an American capitalist killing Communists, but somehow “A Fistful of Molotov” didn’t do as well as I thought it would.

So, “A Claw Full of Blood” is going to be another cult novel. In general, this  new novel is pretty out there. I combined giallo, werewolves, the Yakuza, the Mafia, Spaghetti Westerns, Satanism and kung-fu into one novel. I decided I’d write as outlandishly as I wanted. Which included writing the most explicit sex scene I’d ever written in my life, which I ultimately decided to tone down when I felt I’d passed the acceptability of what most readers can take. The original reference for the scene was the orgy sequence in “Caligula” – but I realized that writing an orgy was boring as hell because of the mechanical nature of mass group sex, so I decided to bring down the number of participants to one man and three women because it made the scene a lot less impersonal.

Aside from giallo, Spaghetti Westerns and “The Satanic Bible”, the other major influence on the novel was Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer novels. I was reading Spillane’s “The Body Lovers” while writing “A Claw Full of Blood” and an attempted assassination in Spillane’s novel struck me as being kind of Spaghetti Western-esque, so I decided that I’d adapt the scene to change its setting from a claustrophobic stairway to a snowy street. In fact, a lot of the Spaghetti Western-esque scenes in this new novel are in the snow, possibly inspired by the great film “Cut-Throats Nine”, a Spanish Western which is currently being remade with Harvey Keitel in the cast and funding from guitarist Slash. I still say that Slash should have gotten Violent J from Insane Clown Posse to play one of the roles in the remake.

So, to recap: “A Claw Full Of Blood” contains:

Giallo-esque death scenes
Snowy, Western-esque shoot-outs
Satanic Sex

Sound like something you want to read? Good. Then buy the new novel. You’ll love it. And it’s out just in time for Halloween, too.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Blog: "The Wellkeeper" #1 Review

There’s been some whisperings of whether I’d produce any more episodes of my web video series, “Comix from the Underground”, in which I played a sarcastic comic book reviewer called the Comix Scrutinizer, and, let me state for the record, the answer is, “I don’t know.” It’s not that I don’t want to. Quite the opposite, in fact, I do. But I don’t have the proper editing and filming facilities at the moment, and my time is currently wrapped up with trying to write a werewolf detective novel called “A Claw Full Of Blood”,  due to the fact that I cannot draw any comics of my own at the moment, due to the fact that I no longer have a scanner, which makes it impossible for me to upload any new content either for web viewing or for publication purposes, so, at the moment, I’m sticking to publishing other people’s comics and writing hardboiled pulp fiction novels, rather than trying to draw anything.

But since there seems to be a legitimate interest in seeing more comic book reviews from me, despite the fact that the Comix Scrutinizer videos were never real reviews but satires of comic book reviewers, I’ve decided to start posting some out of character reviews in which I highlight any comic books I’ve read recently, which will both highlight hidden gems in independent comic books, and even mainstream comics I’ve enjoyed. The difference between these upcoming reviews, such as the one you are about to read is that I’m not going to mock the comics, and these are going to be my own opinions, instead of sarcasm. Hopefully, if you hadn’t understood before, these reviews should show the difference between what I think, and what the Comix Scrutinizer, as a character thinks.

The debut issue of Derrick Fish’s “The Wellkeeper” is well designed and drawn, in a style that keeps a fine line between its playful elements and the grand adventure story it presents. Fish draws you in from the introduction of its heroine, Zoe, as she is being chased a fiery, demonic-looking dog, and soon finds herself caught between two different forms of danger – the dog who is pushing its way through the fence, and the oncoming train. Arriving in a new town, she develops a friend in pizza delivery boy Sebastian, and Fish leaves you on a cliffhanger to eagerly await the next chapter of the story.

The black and white artwork is highly detailed, with fine shading, drawing from both comic book and animated film influences (the raccoon), with the little things making Fish’s characters stand out even more, such as the intentional decision to draw 14-year-old Zoe plus-sized and wearing glasses, a contrast from most other heroines, young or old.

Whether its potential plot elements, like Zoe’s earring, which is too large for her head, meaning that it was intended for someone much older, or little nods like Sebastian’s family having a copy of the Chuck Jones biography “Chuck Amuck”, as a tribute to one of Fish’s influences, it is these details that enhance the sweeping story, which is definitely in the vein of classical comic book storytelling, but with much originality exclusive to Fish’s sensibility, making this one well worth a look.

I know this is probably not what you expected me to be reading or reviewing, considering the fact that most of what I usually review is of an adult nature, and “The Wellkeeper” is family friendly (that’s not a bad thing), with nothing violent, obscene or profane, unlike what I’ve reviewed on my web series, or quite frankly, what I publish (including my own comics and novels), but I’d definitely recommend checking out “The Wellkeeper” – this was a nice change of pace for me and I think you’d feel the same.  It’s set in New Jersey, and if you like the story-based form of comics like Jeff Smith’s “Bone”, this is worth looking into.