Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Hunters of the Old Oath

This is a short story that I wrote for a contest for 3 Elements Literary Review. Apparently, they didn't like it, so I must publish it here. If you are familiar with the video game Bloodborne by From Software, then you will definitely see connections to this piece of work. Personally, I like it so much that I may just turn it into a full length novel with this as the prologue.

            “Please! You must do something!” a woman shrieked. People were scared.  The unholy ritual—the Festival of Demoniacs—was upon them.
The whole town had gathered in the church by order of the mayor hoping that they would be safe there. Many of the townsfolk wished that he would order the deputy and his subordinates to hunt down the Demoniacs and end their pagan fests. But all brave men became white before the bluffs, before the Tower; an old occult structure reaching toward the sky in defiance to the Elder One. There they would recite their blasphemies performing their arcane and perverse rituals to summon forth harbingers of doom.
“Good people,” started the mayor from the pulpit, “Let me assure you that we are doing all we can.”
“And yet our children go missing, and our livestock dies!” shouted a frustrated farmer.
“Our women are raped by demons and men are robbed of their courage,” added another. “Will God not help us?”
“Peace to you, good people,” said the vicar. “A town divided amongst itself cannot stand. And though we are in the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil for the grace and peace of the Great One is upon us.”
“A lot of good our prayers do,” said an elder. “Year by year we are prey to the wolves and our holy shepherd doesn’t hear our cries!”
“Something must be done!” shrieked the woman. “Hunt them down. Destroy them all!” The people roared approval and moved in closer. “Hunt them down! Hunt them down!”
            “Are we heathens!?” shouted back the vicar. “Again and again this gutless mob has proven itself fruitless against the Tower. What will ye do differently?”
            “I have an idea,” said a tailor. “Let’s offer the mayor and vicar as a sacrifice to them. Maybe they’ll leave the rest of us alone.” Again, a roar of approval. They then began to close in from all sides.
            “Get back, ye devils!” warned the vicar, swinging an incense burner. “Any sinner who touches me with his bare hands will be brained and I’ll have his guts for garters!” He swung the burner at one member who caught it and tore it from his hand. Then the rest of the mob snatched them up and began tying them together. Suddenly, the church door slammed open.
            There in the doorway stood two tall, dark and grizzled characters. They wore long coats, tattered hats, and strapped to their waists were long, curved swords with broad blades. “Put those men down,” ordered the first in a quiet and acrimonious tone. The mob hesitated. “I said, put them down.” The mob obeyed.
            “Who are you?” asked the tailor.
            “We are hunters of the Old Oath.”
            “The Old Oath?!” some repeated, shivers shooting down their spines.
            “We’ve heard tell of your cult of watchers, baying at your doorstep.”
            “We’re here to slay your monsters,” said the second in a more human tone. “My name is Hiram. And this is Logarius.”
            “You don’t mean, ‘Logarius, the Old Hunter’, do you?” asked the mayor.
            “The very same,” affirmed Logarius. Though the church was poorly lit, the townsfolk could still make out the gnarled appearance of his face betraying the decades of hunts and thousands of injuries received at the teeth and claws of malice borne beasts. The man himself was feared for his brutal reputation and many also feared that he had somehow become tainted by those that he so passionately hunted. Very few men had such a blood-soaked past.
            The mayor stammered trying to put together a sentence. His voice would not come, being choked by his apprehension at having not only hunters of the Old Oath in his town, but also at having Logarius, the Old Hunter, before him. “P-please do not be up-up-upset,” struggled the mayor. “B-but I really th-think, we have the s-s-situation under control.”
            “Why would I be upset? I don’t care if Demoniacs torment and kill you. We merely thought that you could use some help. But if you don’t want it… Hiram. Let’s be on our way.”
            “Please wait!” shrieked the woman. She ran forward, but stopped short as Logarius’s gaze fell upon her. The woman trembled clutching her chest. She forced herself forward a few steps, shutting her eyes and bowing before Logarius. “Please save our town!” Her eyes burned. “I know we can be difficult, but please… Someone must do something.” She then felt a gloved hand on her face causing her to whimper. The hand prodded her face up and she reluctantly opened her eyes allowing the tears to flow. Thankfully, it was not Logarius, but Hiram she faced. He was a much younger man, but his scarred face still betrayed years of hunts.
            “Dear woman; do not be afraid.” His eyes greatly calmed her. “We will not bring harm to you or your town. We are honor bound to the Old Oath to hunt this vermin and protect all that is sacred.” The woman exhaled and her legs gave out. She felt both relieved and faint: Hiram had touched her.
            “Will you really save us?” asked the mayor.
            “We shall.”
            “Then, please go. And Godspeed to you.”
            “God has nothing to do with it,” retorted Logarius. “If you’re finished with the woman, Hiram...” Logarius turned and disappeared into the night.
            Hiram cast one last look to the townsfolk and then looked at the woman. “This will be done,” he said before following Logarius into the night.

            As the hunters stalked through the dense forest, night fell and the air became frigid. They pressed on in spite of how dark the woods became. But as they neared the Tower, a bloodied signpost came into view. Crucified to the post was a creature like a wolf, but much more nightmarish with human-like hands, a face in a perpetual snarl, and much less hair. Hiram walked around it as much as he could without straying too far while Logarius didn’t even seem to notice walking within inches of it.
            As they proceeded past the grizzly crucifixion, ghastly music could be heard. There was a sound of something like a flute that sounded like a baby crying, and drums being beaten to an executioner’s melody. Hiram crept closer to Logarius who only pushed on.
            Eventually, the trees began to thin and a clearing could be seen. Hiram and Logarius took cover from behind two wizened trees and looked on. There was the Tower; a tall, strong stone structure that climbed upwards. It was settled on what appeared to be the edge of a lake for it seemed that they had reached the end of world. But both hunters knew, beyond the Tower was not still, black water, but a pit of the abyss from which all manner of eldritch and otherworldly abominations descended.
            In front of the tower was a semi-circle of five stone pillars that increased in height going for the outside in. Upon each pillar stood a maiden with long black hair in a floor length skirt and a strange dark blouse that left their middles bare. The five maidens were performing a lewd dance to the time of the haunting music, whose source couldn’t be discovered. They shook and swayed their hips in perfect synchronization in an attempt to appease their sinister overlords. It didn’t matter for no matter how well their dancing pleased, once the ritual ceased, these pagan whores would be given over to their demonic masters to be raped and mutilated.
            Lastly, before the pillars stood an albino woman with pale skin and hair, and red eyes. She was dressed in a blue, sheer robe that barely gave her any modesty. As the hunters watched, Hiram noticed an ache stirring within his body aroused by the mania caused by the dancers.
Suddenly, the music escalated and along with it, the maidens intensified their dance. Finally, the music reached its climax and a bolt of lightning struck the blue albino witch igniting her in a pillar of flame. At the same time, the pagan dancers had vanished from view, claimed by the pit.
As the pillar of fire began to die, left in its place was a black shape that resembled a cocoon. It wriggled and poked outwardly as whatever was within tried to free itself.
“Logarius,” said Hiram, his voice trembling. “What is that?”
“A metamorphosis of some kind. Stand your ground,” instructed Logarius, drawing his Hunter’s Cleaver.
Finally, a tear appeared in the cocoon and a black ooze dribbled from it. Slender white fingers reached out and grabbing either sides of the tear, ripped it open viciously. There stood the figure of a shapely woman which slowly became more and more revealed as the ooze ran off her leaving none of itself behind. Her skin and eyes were both alabaster while her hair was black with a few white wisps. She was dressed in only a loincloth, a partial dressing about her breast, nothing on her feet, and a long, flowing black cape which gave Logarius the impression of skin. Once clean of the ooze, she looked up at Hiram and Logarius.
“She knows we’re here,” choked Hiram.
“Good,” replied Logarius. “I abhor stealth.”
The woman then approached the trees exaggerating her walk which accentuated her hips. Logarius focused in on her and raised his sword, but just as he was about to charge, she disappeared from view.
“Where did she go?” asked Hiram. Then suddenly, she appeared beside him, hissing and spitting, showing a face that could only be from the underworld. Hiram screamed and ran.
“Hiram!” shouted Logarius, his fury rising. “Get back here, you piss-pant coward! Oath-givers damn you!” Logarius looked to where the woman had appeared, but she was already gone.
Logarius began to strafe around in a circle with his blade raised. His pupils dilated and he was more aware of everything around him. As he circled, he felt something lightly brush his back. He turned, but nothing was there. He heard a whisper to his left, and turning again, he saw nothing. Finally he heard the crunch of snow to his far right. Turning again, he saw her in the distance, half hiding behind a tree and peering between its branches coquettishly. She shook her hips slightly and looked Logarius in the eye—his eyes narrowed and nostrils flared.
She disappeared again only to reappear suddenly standing beside him grimacing fiercely. Logarius took one step back and swung his sword, but it met empty air. He looked around the trees again, this time spotting the creature a few yards away, their views of each other completely unhindered. She draped her cape about her body as if to appear modest only to peel it away slowly revealing her body. She then vanished again and reappeared directly in front of him so close that their noses nearly touched giving him an evil smile. Logarius retreated from surprise before thrusting his sword forward. Again, she was gone.
As her strange act went on, constantly disappearing and reappearing, exposure to her antics began to build a tingly feeling below Logarius’s waist. But as this feeling grew, so did his anger and he tried lashing out at her every time she appeared close to him. Once when she had retreated, she gave him a hurtful look followed by an arousing stare and pursed lips.
Logarius’s composure snapped and he charged for her. She merely smiled and disappeared again, but this time with a flash; and then she would reappear with a flash. Each time she flashed before him, he ran at her screaming and swinging his cleaver wildly. Every attack missed as she lured him deeper and deeper into the forest. Soon they were in a very dark part of the forest and she continued to flash around him, but instead of luring him further, she began to circle him and get closer and closer. Logarius swung his sword in a circular motion at her. Eventually, she flashed one last time, but did not reappear and Logarius stopped.
Logarius faced the night and readied his sword. “Come on out, you harlot. I dare you.” Finally she did, flashing right before his eyes. Logarius was so taken off guard that when he jumped back, he tripped over a log and fell into a pit trap. He fell a good dozen feet before landing hard on his back. The old hunter let out a wail and was paralyzed in pain.
As he opened his eyes, he saw her floating above him, her body parallel to his. She floated down to him and he locked eyes with her. Her lips reached outward and once they met his, he was hers.


Friday, October 23, 2015

Children of Bodom: I Worship Chaos Review

Another review that I did for Metal Xtreme. Original here: http://metalxtreme.com/children-bodom-worship-chaos

        I am at a loss for words when it comes to opening this review for Children of Bodom: I Worship Chaos, their newest album. I’m not sure what I can say about it that can’t be applied to the band’s past albums. To say that there are songs on Chaos that are aggressive with fantastic intros and solos, but have disappointing verses combined with all too awesome choruses would be like beating a dead horse. All those comments can be applied to almost every song COB has ever done. While it can be said that “once you’ve heard one COB album, you’ve heard them all”, it wouldn’t do the band’s hard work justice because of those certain hits and singles that top all of the others, like “Triple Corpse Hammerblow” (Hate Crew Deathroll, 2003) and “In Your Face” (Are You Dead Yet?, 2005). Because COB doesn’t stray far from firm-held themes and genre, it almost always seems like the same band record after record. While some bands, such as Avenged Sevenfold and Evanescence, experiment with their sound and always seem to be evolving, COB doesn’t really do that.

        However, for this album, not everything is the same old COBHC. Going through the track list, the songs that are very reminiscent of old COB are “I Hurt”, “My Bodom (I Am the Only One)”, “I Worship Chaos”, “Hold Your Tongue”, and parts of “Suicide Bomber”. This isn’t to say that these songs are bad. By all means, I rather enjoyed them all. The titular song, “I Worship Chaos” is close to being one of the best songs on the album. The reasons why it isn’t are because it’s overshadowed by the true best songs on the record, “Morrigan” and “Widdershins”, and because at the end of the song, several people can be heard laughing and screwing around. I really wish bands wouldn’t do that at the end of their songs, especially serious ones; it tends to ruin the ambiance of the song.
        The songs however on Chaos that aren’t the usual COB are the aforementioned best two as well as “Prayer for the Afflicted”, “All For Nothing”, and the other parts of “Suicide Bomber”. I’ll return to “Morrigan” later, but regarding “Afflicted”, “Nothing”, “Bomber”, and “Widdershins”, all of these songs have much darker tones to them. You may wonder how it’s possible for a death metal band to be darker than it already is, but if you remember my review of Trivium’s Silence In the Snow, you should remember that I said many of the songs on that record are melancholic. Well, that’s how the above songs are darker—they’re melancholic, especially “Prayer for the Afflicted” which heavily reminds me of “Angels Don’t Kill” (Hate Crew Deathroll).
        As for “Morrigan”, this song is very different from the usual Bodom affair in that it almost sounds like love song. Indeed, this analysis isn’t too far off base as Alexi Laiho, COB’s lead guitarist and singer, said on the “Making Of: I Worship Chaos” DVD that “Morrigan” is about a mortal man who is obsessively in love with a goddess. This is a true departure from COB’s usual lyrical themes of death, destruction, chaos, pain, and suicide. They even made a music video for it, but it confused the hell out of me and didn’t have the stereotypical appearance of the band jamming, so I don’t recommend watching it. But despite all that, “Morrigan” is still an awesome song with plenty of intrigue even if the aggression is toned down slightly. Laiho even said on the DVD that it is one of his favorites.
        Lastly, there are four songs I haven’t mentioned: they are “Horns” and the three bonus tracks: “Mistress of Taboo”, “Danger Zone”, and “Black Winter Day”. I don’t know what it is about “Horns”, but for whatever reason I just don’t like it. In my notes, I refer to it as chaotic quite a few times which may be the reason why. One of the reasons why I listen to COB is because they are melodic death metal. There have been a few metal bands that I just simply can’t listen to because their “songs” just sound like a bunch of noise with no musicality to them whatsoever. “Horns” isn’t completely devoid of musicality, it does have a beat and features a great solo, but I just can’t get behind it. As for the bonus songs… oh boy. If you’re a fan of COB then you’ll know that it is often their pleasure to do covers of other songs and offer them on their albums as bonuses. And the songs they’ll cover vary widely in terms of genre. On Are You Dead Yet?, they did a cover of “Oops!… I Did It Again” by American pop princess Britney Spears. So, some of the covers that they do can be a little weird, i.e. Kenny Loggins’s “Danger Zone”. “Danger Zone” is one of those classic ‘80’s pop rock songs that is covered in that ‘80’s cheese that everything in the ‘80’s was covered in. It’s a cover that makes you want to laugh out loud. “Mistress of Taboo”, originally performed by shock and punk rock group The Plasmatics, features an interesting duet with Laiho and guest vocalist Wednesday 13, frontman of Murderdolls. Though, sometimes I swear I can hear a third voice, like original Plasmatics singer Wendy O. Williams. The third voice definitely seems feminine, but unless COB has found a way to resurrect the dead, she’ll have to be ruled out. “Taboo” also fills in COB’s requirement for a token party song on this album. Now “Black Winter Day” is much more like COB, which makes sense since it was originally performed by fellow Finnish metal act Amorphis. But in exchange for COB’s usual aggressiveness, this song features more melancholic tunes. But, out of the three bonus songs, the only one I would really recommend is “Mistress of Taboo”.
        All in all, I highly recommend Children of Bodom’s I Worship Chaos. While most of it may be generic COB, generic COB is not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination. And the songs that break away from generic COB definitely deserve to be heard and appreciated. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give I Worship Chaos a 4.5 out 5. If you like melodic death metal or are a long time member of the Hate Crew, you’ll love this album.

Trivium’s Silence In the Snow—A Valiant, but Melancholic Record

Here's an article I wrote for the heavy metal forum, Metal Xtreme. It is a review of Trivium's latest album, Silence In the Snow. See the original here: http://metalxtreme.com/triviums-silence-snow-valiant-melancholic-record

           Some of you may be familiar with the American heavy metal band Trivium. For those of you aren’t, they’re a power-thrash metal group from Orlando, Florida who’s style tends toward the fast and aggressive, as a good thrash band should, but there is also something epic about their sound, even in their earlier work which was more metalcore. Trivium is one of my favorite bands. Almost every song they’ve ever written is on my iPod and I own all of their studio albums, one of the few bands that I can make this claim about. So when I heard that they had a new album coming out in October, I had high hopes for it. They’ve never let me down. Until now… kind of. Let me explain.
           Silence In the Snow marks a bit of a departure from Trivium’s usual style. It is often the pleasure of Matt Heafy, the band’s front man and one of their guitarists, to sing with unclean vocals, or scream. He doesn’t do it with whole songs like in death metal, just with certain lyrics. However, Silence doesn’t have any unclean lyrics at all. Reports say that Heafy blew his voice out in 2014 and started working with vocal coach Ron Anderson teaching him a more melodic approach. Whether that’s a positive or negative is largely subjective, but for those of us who have gotten used to Heafy’s screaming, we definitely notice it missing.
          Another thing that may have added to Trivium’s altered sound is that they have a new drummer, Matt Madiro. Before him was Nick Augusto who played on In Waves (2011) and Vengeance Falls (2013). But, so what, right? Bands go through line-up changes. Well I bring it to your attention because I believe their original drummer, Travis Smith who played from Ember to Inferno (2003) to Shogun (2008), was one of the best drummers in all of heavy metal alongside others like Joey Jordison of Slipknot and The Rev of Avenged Sevenfold. Since Smith’s departure, there definitely seems to be something lacking in Trivium’s music. Drums are tricky—when they’re good, they’re fucking great; but when they’re mediocre or worse, they’re just sort of there.  Don’t misunderstand me, both In Waves and Vengeance Falls have some really great songs on them, and not everything done by Trivium before that was immaculate, but something does feel missing since Shogun.

           While I was listening to Silence In the Snow, I also noted something unusual about Trivium—their music on this album has a strong melancholic and somber tune, almost like the band is mourning a loss. It’s a quality to their music that isn’t usually heard except for select songs. On Silence, I heard it in every song, including the bonus tracks. There were also more songs on this album that seemed to have (vaguely) romantic elements. The three songs where I picked this up are “The Ghost That’s Haunting You”, “Until the World Goes Cold”, and “The Thing That’s Killing Me”. Now, there’s nothing wrong with Trivium being romantic; in fact, one of my favorites of theirs, “This World Can’t Tear Us Apart”, I would consider to be a true power ballad (unlike songs like “Silent Lucidity” or “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn”). It’s just that Trivium isn’t known for romantic or sappy music. Again, it feels like the band has suffered a loss or Heafy broke up with his girlfriend. (Maybe he did, I don’t get involved in the personal lives of musicians.)

          Something that also bothered me about this album was that there were songs that seemed almost like filler to me: “Dead and Gone”, “Pull Me From the Void”, and “Rise Above the Tides”. Despite two of the three making it onto my iPod, they all struck me as not quite good enough. Very few songs are 100% perfect, but some songs are better than others. And then some songs are 50/50, or have the bad about them hold down the good (that’s why I don’t listen to 30 Seconds to Mars or Slayer). These three songs all teeter on that 50/50 edge with “Pull Me” having what’s good about it be held back by what’s bad about it. I mean, I want to like these songs more than I do, but I just can’t.

            So, despite all this grayness and badness, is there any reason to listen to Silence? I would argue there is. For me, the best songs on this album are the titular song, “Silence In the Snow” which was originally written for Shogun, “The Ghost” and “The Thing” despite their melancholic romantic overtones, and the bonus tracks, “Cease All Your Fire” and “The Darkness of My Mind” (which gets my vote as the best song on Silence). “The Ghost” and “The Thing” appeal to me because I’m just an angsty teenager at heart, but the other three are all about as close as one can get to what Trivium should be, like what they were in their heyday. These three are fast, furious, and have Trivium’s stylistic groove that makes you want to dance, and not just head bang. As for the other songs that I haven’t mentioned, they’re good enough to make my personal cut, but there’s nothing so remarkable about them that they’re worth mentioning. The biggest problem with Silence is that while it has the musical stylings and progressions of Trivium, that little indiscernible spark that is undeniably Trivium is missing.

              In conclusion, is this album worth getting? Despite my review, I say yes, to both the new listener and Trivium fans of old. Fans will be slightly disappointed and underwhelmed with the presentation of Silence In the Snow, but there are gems here. As for the new listener, you could do worse than listen to Trivium. And who knows, my review may have been negative enough for you to lower your expectations and be completely blown away by what you actually hear. Trivium has that ability.

Can You Pigeonhole Yourself through MBTI?

So, here’s a question for all you MBTI nerds: do you fear that knowing your personality type will pigeonhole you into acting a certain...