Monthly Archives: April 2016

Bazar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King (Book Review)

So, the Master’s sixth volume of short fiction, which normally appear in seven-year cycles, dropped late last year to the delight of his rabid army of Constant Readers. As with previous collections, it proved a weighty tome. A total of twenty stories comprise the 495 pages, including a revised version of the recent stand-alone ebook Mile 81, the fictional baseball-based novella Blockade Billy from 2010, two previously unreleased stories, and several assorted rarities. There’s even a poem.

King has championed the novella form for most of his career, and is arguably at least partly responsible for it’s current popularity. It’s no accident that Amazon turned to him when they wanted a big-name author to write something publicizing the then-new fangled Kindle. The result, UR, is one of the highlights in Bazar of Bad Dreams. Of the rarities, the most interesting is probably Bad Little Kid, a twisted little tale about a lawyer defending a child murderer. However, the case is far from straight-forward. Originally published only in French and German, this creepfest appears here for the first time in English, and is vintage King.

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In the introduction, King makes the analogy that with this book he is assuming the role of a street vendor, who only sells his wares after midnight. And it proves quite accurate. There are a few absolute gems hidden away here, some bang average items that barely hold your attention, and even a couple of stinkers. Just what you’d expect to find in a dodgy market. Several entries can barely be described as dark fiction, nevermind horror. Perfect Harmony is a study on what makes marriages work, and ‘Morality’ is about the state of affairs that could arise if someone accepts money to do something questionable, a la Indecent Proposal without the sex. But this isn’t really anything new. King has been stereotyped as the creepy bloke who wrote Carrie, ‘Salem’s Lot and The Shining, since the seventies. A victim of his own success. In actual fact, relatively little of his output since those heady days have contained much in the way of extreme horror as we know it today, or even many supernatural elements. Indeed, this summer’s End of Watch will be the third and final book in a series about a retired cop.

One of my personal favourite stories in this collection, The Dune (originally published in high-brow British literary magazine Granta in 2011) is, on the surface, the story of a man on a never-ending treasure hunt. On another level, however, it’s about growing old, and facing up to one’s own mortality. Understandably perhaps, given King’s advanced years (he turns 69 this year), this has been a recurring theme in much of his recent work. The story ‘Afterlife’ goes one step further, and takes us to a place where a recently deceased man is given the option to live his flawed life all over again. Reviewing Bazar of Bad Dreams for the Daily telegraph, Sarah Crown says ‘Death hangs like a dark cloud over Stephen King’s latest collection of short stories,’ and she isn’t wrong. Elsewhere she makes the observation that the book is ‘closer to philosophy than horror.’ True, as King matures, his work not only seems to be developing more layers, but is becoming more intellectually astute. There’s usually still a reasonably high body count, but these days there are less monsters and vampires, and more real-life conundrums and existential crises. Interesting times for fans of the King.

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Review of Sker House

Nice review of Sker House by Dan Cheely at the Haunted House Project. Cheers, Dan!

The Books of Daniel

SkerHouseWhat is an epic? When I think of “epics,” I think of kingdoms, knights and warriors. I think of castles and magical caves. I think of a fictional place from a long time ago in a place far away. I think of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter. All that said; let me move on to the book under review. There’s something about C.M. Saunder’s novel Sker House  that has me classifying it as an epic and yet, it has none of the aforementioned items. I need some help. Let me consult the ever-reliable online dictionary of Merriam-Webster.

Yes!  The dictionary came through like a charm!  It gave me a definition I can use:

Extending beyond the usual or ordinary especially in size and scope.

The definition fits. Sker House is a rich tale goes beyond the ordinary.

It’s not that it’s a long book…

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BABYMETAL – Metal Resistance (album review)

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To steal a phrase from Roger Shackelford of Tainted Reality, ‘Is it weird to like BABYMETAL?*’

The answer is ‘Yeah. Probably.’

For the uninitiated, BABYMETAL are a manufactured J-Pop/thrash metal crossover act group comprising of a trio of teenagers in tutu’s and a backing band wearing corpse make-up and white flowing gowns. At first glance, it’s hard to take them seriously. I never liked Japanese music before. Or Chinese. Or Korean. It’s mostly horrible and you have no idea what they are singing about. But, God forgive me, I do like BABYMETAL. I just can’t put my finger on why.

Let’s not beat around the bush. They are weird with a capital W. They have a whole invented mythological back story about a Fox God sending them out into the universe to save heavy metal, and on their last tour they pretended to crucify the singer Su-Metal live on stage while the other two girls Moa-Metal and Yui-Metal danced around inanely. The theatrical element borrows heavily from the likes of Alice Cooper and Kiss, and it certainly adds something extra to their live performances. They’ve been huge in Asia since forming in 2010 and since then have slowly began to make their mark internationally, especially on the summer festival circuit. The video for Give me Chocolate has racked up over 46 million views on YouTube (only about half of which are mine) and last week they played a sold-out SSE Wembley Arena in London to kick off their 2016 tour in support of album number two. Metal Resistance was released on 1st April which they dubbed, ahem, Fox Day. And no, it wasn’t an April Fool.

Metal Resistance kicks off with the anthemic title track, whch has been a staple in their live set for a while now, before launching into Karate, the first single. Karate is typical BABYMETAL, pop sensibilities laid over a crunching guitar riff. That’s followed by Awadama Fever, which I think is about bubblegum gum. No, really. Don’t let that fool you, though. As with the first album, these songs have depth and creativity, seamlessly veering from speed metal to something akin to raggae or dubstep in the blink of an eye. The contrast, and the overall effect, is mesmerizing. Whoever writes these songs is truly gifted. As are the backing musicians, the Kami band. Listening to the album you would perhaps think the sound is a result of studio overdubs and fancy knob twiddling. But that’s not the case.

Look…

See? How tight is the Kami band? They have to be one of the most technically proficient outfits around today. And did you see that circle pit go off? Dear me. Anyway, back to the album, and another early highlight is Meta Toro, which sounds suspiciously like a nursery rhyme with marching drums and death metal growls. I told you it was weird. The track GJ features some frankly awesome fretwork and yet another killer chorus while Sis Anger is obviously a nod to Metallica. At least somebody liked St Anger. The pace relents toward the end for the lighters-aloft ballads No Rain, No Rainbow and The One, but sandwiched between them is something called Tales of the Destinies, possibly the most experimental track on the album, which sounds a bit like Dragonforce on crack. In his review for Classic Rock magazine, Stephen Dalton said, “Sometimes overwhelming, always exhilarating and occasionally jaw-dropping, Metal Resistance could well be the greatest album ever made.”

And he wasn’t even kidding. At least, I don’t think he was.

At the end of the day, I think if you try to explain to someone what BABYMETAL is, they would probably think you’ve lost your mind. But somehow it all fits together, and it works surprisingly well. The musicianship, the image, the choreography, the songs, the message, even the contribution of the Fox God. The whole operation is a finely tuned machine founded on raw talent, and this ‘difficult’ second album at least proves that the success of the debut wasn’t a one-off. If anything, Metal Resistance features an even stronger set of songs, with more depth and clarity. Undoubtedly another step on the road to world domination. Bow down, all ye unbelievers. Resistance is futile.

*Just so you know, BABYMETAL is stylised in BLOCK CAPITAL LETTERS. I don’t just get really excitable when I say their name. Although, I kinda do.


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