Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Concept Corner: Jesus Christ Superstar

Tis the season! For guilt! That's right, with the changing of the weather comes the least celebrated Christian holiday, Easter, all about that wild cat Jesus and that whole dying and resurrecting thing he did. Most people who celebrate have a tradition of easter egg hunting, or maybe a big ham dinner, but for me it's been returning to an album (and subsequent film adaptation) that covers our boy JC in an interesting (and arguably heretical) light. Of course I'm speaking of:

Concept Corner: Jesus Christ Superstar



Jesus Christ Superstar was written in 1969 by aspiring musical composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice, both of whom went on to become household names, Webber with stage productions like Cats and Phantom of the Opera and Rice writing lyrics for Disney films Aladdin, The Lion King, and Beauty and the Beast. But those were far in the future for this pair, who at the time were at 20 and 24 years old, respectively, with only one success to their names, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. They wanted their next project to continue the biblical theme, and after the prospect of a musical theater run was rejected by producers, the duo decided to make it an album instead, recruiting talent from both rock bands and musical theater. Of course, the album did gangbusters, leading to a theater run, a film adaptation, and numerous revivals. But we'll be narrowing the scope to the initial album, because that's what I do on this thing.

The Story

Disc 1

We open in the town of Bethany with Judas Iscariot, a disciple of Jesus, voicing his growing concerns about the man and his movement. He worries about peoples' idea of Jesus' divinity, and how there could be backlash from the Israelites and the Roman government if things continue on their present course. [2. Heaven on Their Minds] Later on, the rest of the disciples badger Jesus with questions about their plans and future, to which Jesus rebuffs them that not only do they not want to know, they likely won't care if Jesus came or went. Mary Magdalene soothes Jesus' face, which prompts Judas to ask why he'd associate himself with someone of her profession (prostitute) since it will only hurt their cause and hasten retribution from the state. Jesus responds angrily. [3. What's the Buzz/Strange Thing Mystifying] Mary Magdalene calms Jesus with myrrh for his head and feet, which again Judas criticizes, stating that an expensive oil such as that could have been sold to feed the hungry and poor instead of wasting it on one man. Jesus counters that the poor will always exist, but he will not, so cherish what is there for the present. [4. Everything's Alright] We're then brought to Jerusalem a couple days later on Sunday, where the Pharisees and High Priests have a discussion on what to do about this new messiah everyone's talking about. The possibility that his popularity leads to his followers crowning him King, provoking a violent response from the Roman authorities worries the Priests to the extent that they conclude Jesus must die to protect themselves. [5. This Jesus Must Die] Upon arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus is greeted by a crowd of excited followers and chastised by the High Priest Caiaphas for the rowdy nature of the mob. [6. Hosanna] Simon, one of the apostles, eggs Jesus on, extolling that with his current popularity, Jesus could easily overthrow the Roman government. Jesus chides Simon, explaining how he has knowledge that far outweighs Rome and Jerusalem. [7. Simon Zelotes/Poor Jerusalem] The next day, Pontius Pilate, Roman governor, wakes from a dream he had of a Galilean with an unfortunate fate, and the feeling that he would be blamed [8. Pilate's Dream] Burdened by the knowledge of the future, Jesus has an outburst at merchants in the Jerusalem temple. Upon exiting, he is overwhelmed by the unfortunates that plead for his help, claiming, "There's too little of me," and "Heal yourselves!" [9. The Temple] Mary Magdalene comes to calm Jesus and lay him to bed. [9. Everything's Alright - Reprise] Apart from him, Mary thinks about how she has fallen for Jesus in a way she hasn't for any other man, and is even frightened of him and her feelings for him. [10. I Don't Know How to Love Him] On Tuesday, Judas comes before the High Priests to do something about Jesus despite his immense guilt for having come to that decision. They agree to have Jesus arrested, and even to pay Judas for his services. While he refuses the money, he tells the Priests where they can find Jesus and when. [11. Damned for All Time/Blood Money]

Disc 2

That Thursday night, (Passover to be precise) the Apostles luxuriate on their position and the future success it will bring. Jesus, becoming increasingly agitated, cries out that one of those seated before him will betray him, and another will betray. This makes Judas confront Jesus, bewildered that Jesus would even let the betrayal occur if he knows of it, as if he wants to be arrested. Jesus exhorts him to get on with it, so Judas leaves, his enmity towards Jesus and the way he led his movement prevailing. [12. The Last Supper] At the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prays feverishly. He pleads to avoid the path set out before him, to be beaten and killed, or at least to know what will come as a result. After being granted no answer, he relents and accepts his coming execution. [13. Gethsemane] Judas arrives with the Roman authorities and High Priests. He identifies Jesus, and the disciples are ready to defend him violently before Jesus stops them. The emerging crowd wonders why Jesus does nothing to resist his detainment, becoming excited by the events. [14. The Arrest] People in the crowd identify Peter as someone close to Jesus, who denies the connection to three people. Mary Magdalene reminds Peter that Jesus foresaw what he just did, but how did he know? [15. Peter's Denial] Friday morning, Jesus is brought before Pontius Pilate as a revolutionary, a new king for the Jews. As Jesus is from Galilee he's not under Pilate's jurisdiction, so Pilate sends him to Herod. [16. Pilate and Christ] When Jesus is brought before him, Herod asks for a show of Jesus' divinity. Jesus refuses, which sends Herod into a rage, refusing to deal with him. [17. King Herod's Song (Try It and See)] Judas sees Jesus's condition, bent and bloody from the beatings, and feels ever more remorse for what he has done. The Priests try to reassure him that what he did was just, but Judas knows he will be known as the man who killed Christ. After echoing Mary Magdalene's words about Jesus, he cries out in anguish that God chose him for such a task. As a choir chants, Judas commits suicide. [18. Judas' Death] Back before Pilate, Caiaphas demands that Jesus be crucified. Pilate is reluctant, and questions what Jesus had even done to deserve it, while the crowd demands crucifixion. Pilate relents, giving Jesus 39 lashes in the hopes it will quench the mob's bloodlust. He tries one last time to get Jesus to say any words in his own defense, but Jesus demurs. The mob calls upon Pilate's devotion to Caesar, so he washes his hands of the matter and allows the execution. [19. Trial Before Pilate] The afterworldly voice of Judas and an ethereal choir question what made Jesus come to the world at that time and that place, why he had to die, or if it all worked out according to plan. [20. Superstar] Jesus is nailed to a cross and dies, crying out in agony to God. [21. The Crucifixion] Jesus' body is taken from the cross and laid to rest in a tomb in a garden. [22. John Nineteen Forty-One]

***

Well geez that got pretty heavy! Well, any Passion-play is going to end like this, but how Jesus Christ Superstar gets there is what makes it special. Most people (at least where I'm from) are pretty aware of the whole Crucifixion thing, but most of the time Judas' role is simply that of the bad guy that make Jesus go bye-bye. By showing the political and personal motivations behind it, you're much less quick to judge Judas in this telling. Everyone is scared of Rome. They're the occupiers, the police, the main state power. And the way some of the disciples seem raring to go overthrow Roman control, it's understandable why the Pharisees and Judas would be so apprehensive at Jesus's following. Of course, with the High Priests, they definitely show more of a cowardice than a sincere concern for the Jewish people. It's interesting how Judas justifies all his actions by first saying it's what Jesus would want him to do, and once he sees the results of what he's done, blames God for manipulating him. Oh, and he might be in love with Jesus.

Jesus himself is a departure from how one would expect. Seeing as how this is his last week of life and he knows it, the stress is kinda getting to him. A lot of the more controversial Gospel passages are displayed here, with Jesus (essentially) dismissing the plight of the poor, wrecking up a bunch of vendors in a Temple, then telling a bunch of blighted people to heal themselves. Really it looks like those are to provide context for Judas' betrayal, but they paint Jesus in a pretty human light. Like, shit, ain't nobody gonna be real stable when your expiration date is less than a week away.

It's interesting to note that the nature of Jesus' following mirrors that of the Beatles. This came out on the tail-end of the 60's, where mobs of frenzied fans would meet the Beatles anywhere they went. People even came up to them with the belief they could heal the sick. The thing the High Priests remark upon when Jesus arrives in Jerusalem is how much noise the people awaiting him make. When Jesus is arrested by the Roman,s the crowd of people outside act as mass media reporters, questioning Jesus on his next move, or how this happened. I haven't seen any interviews confirming this, but I have to believe they wrote Jesus as this sort of Superstar because of Lennon's claim that the band had become "more popular than Jesus." The familiar (to listeners at the time) scope of Jesus' following certainly helps one understand the magnitude of it all, and why those in power would be worried.

At the time a lot of religious figures found the album (and subsequent play) to be heretical in nature, primarily because it doesn't show the resurrection, the main thing people know about JC. It goes a little deeper than that, his divinity is questioned a few times through the album, primarily by Judas, who thinks the God stuff is megalomania from becoming so popular. Of course, the evidence is there, if you look. It's chiefly in JC's prognostication, like knowing that he's going to die, or that Peter would deny him. But really, the album is more about the people and culture around Jesus, rather than Jesus himself.

The Music

The orchestration is your general late 60's rock deal, with lead guitar, bass, drum set, and Hammond organ, but with some additions like piano and some big band instruments like flutes, brass, and clarinets This is likely what Webber was familiar with given his stage background, and that he likely planned on making this into a stage show eventually anyway. Though the style is pretty clearly of its time, like most musicals it gets away with feeling like a classic rather than dated.

Something Webber does with the composition is fill the first half with a bunch of motifs that come up again in the second half, so a few songs are reprises of earlier ones, but you get little callbacks during certain moments. "Judas' Death" takes its tune from "Damned For All Time" but takes the motif from "I Don't Know How To Love Him" and ends with the guitar riff from "Heaven On Their Minds." The theme from "What's the Buzz" returns in "The Last Supper" when the apostles get ready to defend Jesus from the Romans. All of this lends the album its own sort of language, where the echos of previous songs inform the latter ones. It's something musicals do more often than concept albums, and it's a trick Webber would use later in his more popular stage productions.

As for individual songs themselves, "Heaven On Their Minds" is a marvelous opening track, a thesis statement for the rest of the album. The staccato guitar lends a tension to the song, the feeling that a dam is about to break. It transitions to a piano and bass arrangement as Judas pleads to Jesus, a more conciliatory tone. Murray Head, a singer and actor who had been in a production of Hair before being approached by Webber and Rice, makes an excellent Judas all the way through. From soft crooning to anguished cries, his range adds a soulfulness that's needed to humanize Judas.

"Gethsemane (I Only Want To Say)" is one of the big standouts, a tormented song about a man facing his own inevitable death. Regal, yet mournful horns are joined by soft strings, punctuated by fervent questions to God.

I'd have to know I'd have to know my Lord
I'd have to see I'd have to see my Lord
If I die what will be my reward?
I'd have to know I'd have to know my Lord

Then Ian Gillan graces us with one of the best wails I've yet to hear. That "WHYYYY" is pretty much your benchmark for how good your JC is. (That NBC Live production did not make a good impression.) Gillan is most known for being lead singer of Deep Purple, and that metal connection seals the deal as my favorite singer for the part.

Jesus Christ Superstar is just a damn good album. Even though it's had many stage adaptations by now, none have had the same cast and energy of this initial release. If you don't have any exposure to this production, or even if you're familiar with the Live show or 1973 film, this album is worth a listen. The story, even with its Biblical roots, manages a new perspective, and provides food for thought even if one isn't religious. In short, it's easy to see how Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice got to be where they are today when they could make an album of this caliber at such a young age. I highly recommend you give this one some time yourself, or at least the film, which gave us gems like the one I'll leave you with, devoid of context:

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Max Lord: From Chaos to Reason

You don't need me to tell you that Wonder Woman 1984 is a bad movie. By now I bet most of you have either watched it, or seen a million takes from every internet film reviewer desperate due to lack of superhero movies, laughed at how silly and bad it is, and then forgot about it entirely. But not me.

WW84 is one of those films that leaves you with a lot of questions (in the bad way) such as: Why did Kristen Wiig become a Cheetah lady? What was the point of the golden armor? Why were the questionable ethics of the body-swap thing with Steve Trevor never really addressed? What's the deal with Max Lord?


The latter question has plagued me for months. Superhero movies are usually pretty simple with regard to their villains. Pick a random Marvel movie out of a hat and you'll find a boring one-note villain that exists just be be an obstacle for our hero. And the weird part is, I'm usually the first person to complain about that, but it does confer one big advantage: It's easy to understand. I'm not at all confused by Ronin in Guardians of the Galaxy. He's evil, he explodes at the end, I don't need to know anything else. So what's the deal with Wonder Woman?

The main(?) villain of Wonder Woman 1984 is Max Lord, and it's pretty apparent from the outset that he's supposed to be Trump. I don't think I'm breaking new ground here. He presents as wealthy, while actually in horrible debt, he responds to accusations that he's a con-man by claiming to be a "television personality." The final scene of the film is Lord ranting like a lunatic in front of the Presidential seal while broadcasting all over the world. He even changed his ethnic-sounding name (Lorenzano, Drumpf) to something plain and triumphant (Lord, Trump). It isn't subtle. But it had me asking: Why? What are they saying with this?


It came to me like a bolt from the blue. If we start with the obvious, that is, that Max Lord is Trump, the plot of the movie starts to come together. By becoming a wish-granting man, Max is able to take something from anyone uses him to grant a wish. He exploits these wishes, working his way up from failing oil magnate. Is there a goal in mind? Of course not! In a normal superhero flick, the villain always has a clear objective for the hero to stop, which made this confusing on first watch. But the answer lies in the typical Centrist position on Trump; the proverbial dog chasing cars, amassing power by utilizing other peoples' short-sighted desires just to have it.


So Max Lord works his way up to the President, getting access to some satellite thingy where the aforementioned ranting takes place. This is pretty clearly Trump becoming the actual President, what with his many rambling press conferences and announcements. It whips everyone who receives the broadcast into a wishmaking frenzy, causing chaos, riots, and imminent nuclear annihilation. None of this is particularly revelatory, I know. But the whole situation is resolved when Wonder Woman shows up to speak some goddamn reason into these selfish impulsive wishmakers.

And they all just... do it. Once Wonder Woman makes her long, exhaustive, platitude-laden speech, everyone just listens to reason and undoes their wishes. Max himself decides it was all a bad idea and runs off to his poor sad son. And somehow, miraculously, everything is better after. The whole event was shrugged off, nobody even bothering the remember that one time where a crazy man on the teevee granted everyone's wishes but also it was bad and the world almost ended. Lord got off scot-free, he wasn't apprehended by anyone, he just went off with his son never to be heard from again.


Now, going by superhero movie logic, this makes no sense. Usually the villain is killed by their own failure, or at the very least ends up in jail. They don't just get to go free. But with the framework we've observed, it starts to make sense. Within the analogy this film creates, once Trump is out of power, everything will just go back to normal. It espouses the Bidenesque notion that the forces harnessed and exploited by Trump and his associates will just evaporate once he's no longer in power. Trump himself doesn't need to be punished, you can just let him go.

It makes no sense in the movie because it makes no sense in real life. This naive fantasy (even for a superhero movie) that we could all move past this era of history without doing anything to address the issues that arose is the whole point of the movie. Almost killed everyone with nukes? Forget about it! A sizeable portion of the population has desperate desires which would lead to an end of life as we know it? That don't matter, everything is instantly back to normal! Orange Man gone!


So that's it. Woman Woman 1984 is a mess of a movie because it relies on an erroneous assumption about how reality works. Superhero movies may be facile and simple, but at least we know who the bad guy is, why he is bad, and why he should be stopped. And now I can rest easy that I've deciphered this tangled headphone cord of a film.

Wait, why is he a POC? GOD DAMMIT

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Concept Corner: Space 1992: Rise of the Chaos Wizards

Have you ever encountered something that, on first blush, looks to be sincere, but upon examination is clearly satire, but once you delve into it more, might actually be sincere? Okay, you may have, given that the term "irony poisoning" exists. But that term is primarily subject-based, as in it's something that happens to a person when something starts ironically but becomes sincere, like Bronies, or 4chan racism. I'd like to talk about a work which both satirizes a subject while at the same time coming from a place of genuine love. An irony so deep, it encompasses sincerity. In one word: Gloryhammer.

Concept Corner: Gloryhammer - Space 1992: Rise of the Chaos Wizards


Gloryhammer began from the ideas of Christopher Bowes, keyboardist and frontman of Pirate Metal band Alestorm. Being a big fan of Rhapsody (of Fire), Bowes wanted a departure from Alestorm, and had the idea to set an epic fantasy story in the nowhere places of Scotland (where he was from.) Thus, the first song came into being, "The Unicorn Invasion of Dundee." After recruiting lead singer Thomas Winkler from a youtube audition for DragonForce, of all bands, Gloryhammer created their first album, Tales From the Kingdom of Fife in 2013. As of this writing, Gloryhammer has three albums out, with the latest being Legends From Beyond the Galactic Terrorvortex.

It might seem odd to write a review only about the second album of a current trilogy, but I think you'll understand why soon enough.

The Story

The story begins in the previous album, Tales From the Kingdom of Fife, in the Tenth Century, the evil wizard Zargothrax attacks Dundee with cursed zombie unicorns to kidnap Princess Iona McDougall. The young prince Angus McFife embarks on a quest to gather three sacred artifacts and free Princess McDougall from the evil wizard's clutches. He makes allies along the way, the mysterious hermit Ralathor, the knights of Crail, and the barbarian of Unst, and with their help defeats Zargothrax by plunging him into a pool of liquid ice, sealing him away forever...

Or not. One thousand years later, in the far off future year of 1992, war was beginning. The evil Wizard Zargothrax, in his icy prison, has been moved to Triton, the moon of Neptune, guarded by the Space Knights of Crail. But a cadre of Chaos Wizards has plans to free Zargothrax, and send the universe reeling. [1. Infernus Ad Astra] The Chaos Wizards are successful, defeating the Knights of Crail and unleashing Zargothrax from his frozen slumber. [2. Rise of the Chaos Wizards] We meet Angus McFife XIII, the Crown Prince of Dundee, knee deep in a battle with goblins on the dark side of the moon. Prophesy states he must do as his ancestor did, and collect the three mighty artifacts and warriors from across the land to stop the plans of Zargothrax once again. [3. Legend of the Astral Hammer] While Angus begins his quest, Zargothrax proceeds with his own evil deeds, traveling to the realm of Dreadlord Myrkanos Barbak, Goblin King, to obtain a magical crystal key that will open a portal to hell underneath Dundee. [4. Goblin King of the Darkstorm Galaxy] We are then reintroduced to the very barbarian from Unst that aided the first Angus McFife in his quest to defeat Zargothrax. In the thousand years since, he traveled across the sea to the land of California, becoming its king through victory in battle and in film, and became known as The Hollywood Hootsman. He joins his former battle companion's descendant to once again rid the universe of evil. [5. The Hollywood Hootsman] On the devastated moon of Triton, only one survivor remains from the Chaos Wizards' assault, Ser Regulon, the last Spaceknight of Crail. He surmises the only way to defeat Zargothrax would be to rebuild the Knights of Crail of legend. Luckily, a hero cannot be defeated simply by making them die. The Technomages of Triton weave a spell over robots, bringing Ser Proletius, the Knight of Crail from legend, back to life as a hologram. His resurrection inspires knights from across the galaxy, who join Ser Proletius to recreate the Spaceknights to fight Zargothrax's forces. [6. Victorious Eagle Warfare] The Questlords of Inverness, led by Ulysses "Snakehands" McDougall mobilize to Mars, where Zargothrax's forces are assembling, unaware that Zargothrax himself is closer than they realize. [7. Questlords of Inverness, Ride to the Galactic Fortress] Angus McFife, having acquired his laserdragon steed, races to Mars, where his destiny awaits. [8. Universe on Fire]

Now that the forces of the Intergalactic Space Empire of Fife have arrived on Mars, Angus McFife XIII addresses the assembled host, the Spaceknights of Crail, the Questlords of Inverness, and the Astral Dwarves of Aberdeen. [9. Heroes of Dundee] While Angus and his forces prepare for battle in the skies above Mars, Zargothrax remains hidden on Earth. In the dwarven caverns beneath Dundee, the evil wizard activates the altar of the Chaosportal to the Galactic Nexus with the mystical crystal key, beginning the process to open a portal to the 18th Hell Dimension, to summon the Elder God Kor-Virliath which would annihilate the entire universe. Back on Mars, the battle turns against the united forces of Fife. The Dwarven King of Aberdeen was slain by a robotic space goblin, the Spaceknights of Crail defeated by the same Chaos Wizard who first decimated their ranks on Triton, and the Questlords of Inverness were obliterated by an infinity bomb which erased them from all of time. Before Zargothrax finishes the ritual to open the hellportal, the mysterious hermit Ralathor discovers his plan, and makes haste to space to warn Angus McFife and The Hootsman of the impending universal destruction. Fly as fast as they might, the heroes are too late to stop the dread summoning. Ralathor surmises only an explosion of tremendous power, one that would eradicate the Earth as well, would be enough to prevent Kor-Virliath's arrival in their galaxy. Luckily, The Hootsman happens to be a cyborg, powered by a neutron star. Despite the protestations by Angus, The Hootsman sacrifices himself, detonating his robot heart in a Neutronic Transnova Bomb explosion, destroying the summoning ritual and the crystal key. However, the ultragravitational terrorflux ripped apart the fabric of spacetime, creating a dimensional rift where the Earth once stood. Zargothrax, having survived the blast, curses Angus McFife and uses the last of his power to fling himself into the rift, quickly pursued by McFife, who swears at any cost to defeat Zargothrax, wherever he might end up...[10. Apocalypse 1992]

***

Hoo! What a rush! Compared to the previous album, this is a noticeable step up in cheesy sci-fantasy technobabble which, if you're not me, may be difficult to take seriously. But that's what I love so much about Gloryhammer; if you're willing to suspend your impulse to ridicule, there's a fun story that can be enjoyed on its own hammy merits. If there's deep themes at play here, I can't notice them beyond this self-consciously epic legend.

I mentioned earlier that Christopher Bowes was a fan of Rhapsody, and if you look at songs like "Power of the Dragonflame" or "Unholy Warcry" I think you can see where the influence is. What makes Gloryhammer special is its ability to be both parody and homage, taking the ridiculous parts of Power Metal to their highest possible point, but still taking them entirely seriously. Now, this is no Ayreon, they aren't trying to make a point with their crazy sci-fi concepts here. It's on the same level as one of those fun fantasy paperbacks you can find for 10 bucks at any bookstore. They're having fun, and they're not ashamed of what they're doing. It's so refreshing to have an album with a crazy concept like this, and it goes full throttle, 100% the whole way. It doesn't have to tell a joke to make me laugh, it just names someone Topazulon McGonagall VII, Herald of Dundee and the fact that this is perfectly normal makes me smile.

I'd be remiss if I didn't point out the particular inspiration for The Hootsman; a Barbarian lauded in Hollywood who obtains the highest seat of power in California and also turns about to be a secret robot in human flesh. Yeah, he's Arnold Schwarzenegger. They just made one of their characters The Arnold. I just think it's neat. In fact, each member of the band plays a character in the story. Thomas Winkler, lead singer, plays Angus McFife XII; Paul Templing, guitarist, plays Ser Proletius; James Cartwright, bassist, is The Hootsman; Ben Turk, drummer, is Ralathor, and most surprising of all, Christopher Bowes, keyboardist, is Zargothrax. The big evil wizard. They have him in the band. On stage they have little fight scenes. I have never been to a show of theirs but it's on my bucket list.

I have but one complaint for this story, and that's the state of our heroes during the narrative. It's essentially just introducing the various forces that Angus already has at his disposal because he is king of an intergalactic empire. You know, the thing that's usually evil in these. Zargothrax presents as a viable threat with that name alone, but the way it goes, Angus has the same warriors with him as his ancestor did to beat Zargothrax the first time. Luckily, Kor-Virliath is an effective counter to The Kingdom of Fife's dominance, even if what his arrival will do to the universe is introduced in the very last song. As a stand-alone, it's odd, but works as part of a larger narrative, despite not following your typical three-act structure. I like the first album, but it's a little too boilerplate fantasy for me to be really interested, and you know how I love Space Fantasy. And this album was just reintroducing the unnamed companions from that album.

The Music

If anything I've said so far has resonated, you can probably predict what I'm going to say about these tracks. Much of what I've said about the story can just as easily be applied to the music, and in the best way possible. They go full force with these tracks, in classic power metal style, complete with an actual orchestra and poorly translated Latin.

Special mention must be made to drummer Ben Turk, who was also responsible for scoring and conducting the orchestral sections, along with the pure orchestrated versions of each track. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that, in the deluxe edition each song has an entirely symphonic counterpart, perfect as background music or if you can arrange it, played simultaneously with the original for a real epic experience.

"Rise of the Chaos Wizards" is a great opening track, complete with chanting that may or may not make sense. It bursts out of the gate with your classic double-bass pound followed by a galloping beat by Turk. Trumpets peek out in the background occasionally, along with a harp during the spoken monologue that I love so much. If you don't know what Gloryhammer is about, listening to this song gives you a pretty good idea.

"Universe on Fire" is one of my favorite tracks, a song that starts with assorted strings and a harp to accompany Winkler, which are joined by drums and bass (played by James Cartwright), before a guitar lick rips in and kicks the whole thing into high gear. It's a very high-energy track, the driving drums and propelling bass provide constant force on the low end, while ascending scales on keyboard and harp provide complexity on the high end. My favorite thing about this song are the little pauses it has, one beat of silence before each chorus. There's one section where every instrument rests save for the harp and keyboard, building back up with bass, again, followed by a key-changed chorus to close out the song. And check out these lyrics!

Gliding across the sun to soak up all its might
Charging my solar gun and prepare for epic fight
Questing through nebulas in search of crystal stone
That gives me the overdose of force to claim space throne

And I would be remiss if I didn't highlight the closer of the album, "Apocalypse 1992". A nine minute thirty-nine second conclusion that cashes in on the preceding album's promises. It starts with keyboard (played by Zargothrax, remember) and a voiceover describing Zargothrax's plan under Dundee set in motion. A scare chord builds on mention of Kor-Virliath, leading to an explosion of guitar and drums. This song has a lot of variety, killing off each of the forces we've been introduced to throughout the album, not to mention two whole monologue segments. It's impressive that this song has such varied verses while returning to the same chorus seamlessly. Let's have a look at that chorus, shall we?

Fly high through apocalypse skies
Fight for the world we must save
Like tears of a unicorn lost in the rain
Chaos will triumph this day
Apocalypse! 1992!

One last thing to note is that the song ends with the same chords as "Rise of the Chaos Wizards" under the final spoken section, wrapping up the album in a beautiful bow covered in atomic flames.

You don't find something like Gloryhammer every day. That's not to say there aren't metal bands that successfully pull off that over-the-top style, but there's few that do so with a wink and a nod you can't really be sure happened. My interest began with the whimsical world and outlandish concepts until I recognized the aspect of parody. But there was a third, even deeper layer exactly the same as the first one. Like with pie. Gloryhammer is still ongoing, though they won't be touring til 2021, at least. Since Space 1992 they've put out one more album, Legends From Beyond the Galactic Terrorvortex in 2019. And considering that album features a magical mystical jetpack, rest assured I'll be taking a look at that before too long.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Books From The Bin: Splinter of the Mind's Eye

Remember back in the before-times, when the world was young, hope was in the air, and we had a Star Wars Expanded Universe? Ah, those were the days, when we didn't have to wait for Disney Plus to trickle out exactly one piece of ancillary content every year or so, because tons of writers and artists were working on their own takes of the outer limits and future of Star Wars. But that time is over now, ever since our ol' Expanded U got flushed down the gutter after its' acquisition by the Big Mouse. I'm sure we all have something we look back on fondly if we were interested in the imprint, like Young Jedi Knights, or maybe The Old Republic series. But have you ever heard of the first Expanded Universe book? I thought not. It's not a story the Jedi would tell you.

Books From the Bin: Splinter of the Mind's Eye by Alan Dean Foster


Imagine, if you will, living in a world in which there is only one Star Wars movie, and it's just called Star Wars. Weird, right? Imagine further, that you were just as desperate for more tales of the spaceship farmboy and his cinnamon bun bonny fighting the black toaster guy. I'll tell you what, if you were alive back in 1979, this would be the book for you!

STRANDED ON A JUNGLE PLANET, LUKE SKYWALKER AND PRINCESS LEIA FOUND THEMSELVES DESPERATELY RACING IMPERIAL STORMTROOPERS TO CLAIM A GEM THAT HAD MYSTERIOUS POWERS OVER
THE FORCE

Luke Skywalker expected trouble when he volunteered to follow Princess Leia on her mission to Circarpous to enlist their Rebel underground in the battle against the Empire. But the farm boy from Tatooine hadn't counted on an unscheduled landing in the swamplands of Mimban...hadn't counted on any of the things they would find on that strange planet.

Hidden on this planet was the Kaiburr crystal, a mysterious gem that would give the one who possessed it such powers over the Force that he would be alll but invincible. In the wrong hands, the crystal could be deadly. So Luke had to find this treasure and find it fast.

Accomopanied by Artoo Deetoo and See Threepio—his two faithful droids—Luke and the Princess set out for the Temple of Pomojema...and a confrontation deep beneath the surface of an alien world with the most fearsome villain in the galaxy!


Okay, now it's probably the most inconsequential thing in that blurb, but I feel like I need to mention how the author spelled the names of the droids. It's not just in the blurb, every time these characters are mentioned in the narrative, they're spelled all phonetically like that. Which is odd, because they're both clearly just designation numbers and not names because they are robots. If you wanna have Luke call out, "Artoo!" when talking to R2-D2, that's fine, it's dialogue, it makes sense to have little idiosyncrasies like that, but it's every time, and it's weird.

Now that last segment may have felt like it was completely superfluous in regard to the overall quality of this book, but the thing is, most of the book has details that feel like that. Because Star Wars wasn't as reiterated and codified as extensively as today, Alan Dean Foster had to just make up a bunch of this. Like, yeah, sure, Leia, who grew up on a lush fertile blue planet full of lakes and rivers, is afraid of water, while Luke, who spent his whole life on a desert planet and has likely never seen a large body of water, is not.

I don't know if I even need to go over the plot; that blurb went into so much detail a recap seems redundant. Let's be honest, we all know who "the most fearsome villain in the galaxy" is. It ain't Boba Fett, because he didn't exist yet. It's Vader, though his dialogue gives me the same vibes as "Artoo Deetoo." He's a lot more of a mustache-twirler, and Lucas hadn't decided Vader was Luke's dad yet, so with the knowledge of the sequels in mind, his character makes even less sense. Oh, and he calls Obi-Wan "Ben Kenobi."

For the most part,this book's only interesting as a curiosity. I can imagine being in a world where there is but one Star Wars movie and you need MORE. But nowadays, where we're inundated with every War that could happen in Stars, it's at most your standard sci-fi novel with details that seem at odds with Star Wars Canon. Though not to say everything in the book was thrown out, the crystal mentioned in the blurb turns out to be a Kaiburr Crystal, and while it doesn't seem to match up exactly with our current conception of a lightsaber crystal, it at least seems to have passed down the name, if not the concept of a force crystal.

In an odd twist of fate, this seems to have suffered the same fate as the Expanded Universe works that would follow, only much quicker. The things that happen in this book make exactly zero impact on the movies. It was made irrelevant as soon as a bigger piece of media followed. I mean, hell, I like to think I know a bit about the Star Wars, but I never heard of it. Alan Dean Foster, as it turns out, first wrote the novelization for Star Wars (which I also found in a bin) and between his more numerous original works, wrote quite a few movie novelizations, including more recently The Force Awakens.

With things being the way they are and corporate conglomerates owning all popular media IPs with strict control of everything released within them, Splinter of the Mind's Eye hits a little different. It contradicts canon, it's got weird spelling conventions, it takes place entirely on a swamp planet with a weird kinda force-user lady, and it doesn't even have Han Solo. But it's this, "eh, fuck it" attitude that gives the book its charm; it was written before anyone could possibly have conceived of a "Wookieepedia" and the only person who had real financial stakes in these characters was George Lucas. It was the Wild West, and sometimes, even though it's a but off-putting, it's nice to go back to before everything became a parking lot.



Update: The day after publishing this, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America posted an open letter by Alan Dean Foster to Disney. Disney has not been honoring the contracts it bought from Lucasfilm with its' acquisition of Star Wars. Splinter of the Mind's Eye is just one of the books that Foster has not been getting royalties from. I don't normally have a Call to Action here, but Disney's being a real asshole here, and if there's one thing I know, it's that it's fun to pester multinational corporations on twitter. So, if you wanna tilt at a shitty windmill, there's the hashtag #DisneyMustPay and maybe Foster can get the money he should be for his books.