25 February 2010

Harvey Milk - Harvey Milk (a.k.a. The Bob Weston Sessions)


Hydra Head (1993/2010)

Following critical acclaim of Harvey Milk's latest album Life... the Best Game in Town (2008), current home, Hydra Head, has gone into the archives for this new/old album. Originally recorded in 1993 by one Bob Weston, these recordings never officially saw the long-playing light of day. Until now. The band is known for being somewhat curmudgeonly, and this proto-debut is fittingly nasty and strangely disconnected. Not for the 'Milk the youthful exuberance of early spotty Metallica or grinning Slayer.

It's classic sludge - true sludge, of a bygone era - which means that deep within its shroud of brutality is a real sense of melancholy. People think of the term 'sludge', with regard to rock music, and they think of bass-heavy, booming rock, that's not as sharply-mixed as more typical heavy metal and hardcore. But real sludge goes beyond the superficial, past the guitar sound of the Mastodon or Kylesa of today. It's music of the most direct lineage from the progenitors, Black Sabbath. Sludge is not about heaviness as personal empowerment: the Darwinian strength through aural brutality espoused by Pantera, Hatebreed or early Rollins Band. Sludge's heaviness is the unbearable weight of the world wearing on you.

'Merlin is Magic' has the snaking, heavy, guitar melodies of late Black Flag, at that point where their early, frenetic, assault had given way to the more philosophical frustration of the Henry Rollins era; guitarist Greg Ginn only too happy to take his guitar to similar places. But after the relative brevity of 'Merlin is Magic' and the more up-tempo 'Dating Pressures', we arrive at the ten-minute 'My Father's Life': proper badboy sludge that really lets you know what the genre's about. It begins slowly, quietly, as though it's a ballad. And then that massive, fat, guitar smears itself all over the mix, a walking melody line like a tramp trudging shit into your house.

As is the way with pacing on this kind of rock album, that epic is followed by a couple of short, faster tracks ('fast' sludge not being far off vintage punk rock in pacing and delivery), before more meaty fare is served up, in the shape of 'Jim's Polish' and 'F.S.T.P.'; together, they are as long as 5-6 of the shorter songs on the album combined. Maybe I'm biased, but its on these longer compositions that a band like this can really show you what they're made of.

'Jim's Polish' (whether it's about a can of Glade or the fact he's a compatriot of Stanley Kowalski is not made crystal clear) is an exercise in insistence. It settles initially into a single note, repeated over and over, drilling into your brain like Chinese water torture. It eventually develops into a fine display of sauropod-scale riffery, switching tempos from slow to slower, but the sheer agitation of that opening segment is glorious. Throughout, Creston Spiers bellows like a wounded bear. Sometimes he's aggressive and blustery, but at other times his roars are strangely affecting, like a much filthier version of Crowbar's Kirk Windstein.

This album is not a shining example of elite modern recording or production techniques. It was left unreleased at a time, within a scene that wasn't magnificently recorded (certainly not for CD) at the best of times. So, where even your Griefs and Buzzov*ens didn't quite equal The Orb or Underworld for 1993 production values, this Harvey Milk set is poorly produced. In all honesty, such murk is really a virtue. You can hear the muddy guitar, tree-trunk rhythm section and pained vocals, and that's all you need from this. It pays to be lo-fi in this game.

While the Bob Weston sessions aren't as advanced as either the 'proper' debut My Love is Higher Than Your Assessment of What My Love Could Be (1994, where some of the better songs here eventually ended up), or the belated breakthrough Life... The Best Game in Town, it's a fitting snapshot of a great band in chrysalis. It's also a fine example of 1993 second-tier sludge, below the real monsters offered up by Neurosis, Eyehategod or Dazzling Killmen. One for 'Milk completists, then, while we wait for the proper new album. That should be an ugly beauty.

20 February 2010

Jaga Jazzist - One-Armed Bandit


Ninja Tune (2010)

Half a decade after the gorgeous What We Must, Jaga Jazzist finally return with a band album. Lars Horntveth did recently release an album of his own, the forty-minute song Kaleidoscopic. And he was involved in the second National Bank album, in 2008. But it's not the same: you hear something as life-affirmingly perfect as All I Know is Tonight (a cruel edit, I must add), and you naturally want more Jaga. It'd be nice to think Shining's leader, Jørgen Munkeby, threw the gauntlet to erstwhile bandmate Horntveth, as both bands' albums have been released at the same time. That theory is yet to be confirmed, sadly. After such a long time away from the game, and with such a lush album to follow, it's interesting to see what this Norwegian nonet have to say for themselves.

After 'The Thing Introduces...', a preface so slight as to nearly not exist, the title track spoils us with almost too many sonic riches. It goes through so many changes of mood, tone and instrumentation that you imagine it might soundtrack one of those TV shows whose title sequences show the cast members' different personalities. Maybe if you ran the Desperate Housewives theme (a real highlight of Danny Elfman's career, its arrangement is pretty mind-boggling for such a brief piece of music) over the Thundercats visuals you'd get a real-world example of what this song is about. It's like Henry Mancini stepped out of cryogenic suspension in search of a modern equivalent of Charade or Arabesque to soundtrack.

'Banafleur Overalt' is classic Jaga, in as much as it recalls the last album's sense of lake surface-serene beauty without overly troubling one's aesthetic sensibilities. It's the kind of chilled-without-being-bland thing that fans of early DJ Shadow or Cinematic Orchestra tend to love, while also turning off the people who'd rather a bit more grit in their life: it could be accused of being background music by those more churlish than your reviewer. Besides, the rhythm section really fires it up about halfway through, taking the song on a joyride before returning it to its more careful owners, Horntveth and the keyboardists.

Rather more earthy is '220 V / Spektral'. Despite the similarity of nomenclature, it doesn't really sound like anything off Squarepusher's Just a Souvenir. Clarinet drifts up like smoke signals in the right speaker while electronics stew away in the left, before electric guitar texture adds grain to the mix. As the sonic picture fills, everything suddenly drops out again. That punchy rhythm remains as buzzing bass and crystal-sharp clarinet take centre-stage. Maybe this binary is what the title is referring to: a song of two halves in which noise and clarity, electricity and ethereality coexist. Similar is the shimmer of 'Toccata'; waves of piano sparking over and over, like Philip Glass and Trent Reznor dropping Es and re-fixing the latter's 'La Mer', as booming brass and breakbeats gradually take over.

The trick Horntveth and co. hide up their collective sleeve, and the main detail that differentiates it from What We Must, is this sting in the record's tail. 'Prognissekongen' echoes the title track in as much as it assaults you with change after change, but each time returning to a familiar phrase to keep the composition grounded. Everyone has their own riff, and plays it at the same time, but it all seems to fit. 'Music! Dance! Drama!' is the popcorn percussion of Prince's 'Sign 'O' the Times', paused and stretched out into a frozen moment, before the band realises the tape's stuck and get to work cranking up the machinery for another dose of magic.

Concluding piece 'Touch of Evil', despite the name and occasional guitar riffola, doesn't sound all that malevolent. I'm not sure Jaga can do. It is suggested by the respective bands' current cover art, but it is becoming ever clearer that Jaga Jazzist and Shining seem to have a yin/yang relationship, however unintentional. The darker and more brutal one gets, the other is equally more pleasant, but no less technically astounding. It's almost like a martial arts film. It may be another half-decade until the next album, but there is enough here on which to feast for a while. I just hope that, if Jaga are the yin to Shining's yang, the bands never reach a state of quiescence.

18 February 2010

Random play

Today was another of those days when the portable music player just seemed to be fantastic at DJing for me. Granted, it was yours truly who actually populated the thing with music (from scratch, since the great iPhone 3.13 upgrade debacle), but the boy done good. Oh, according to Google Docs, 'debacle' is not a word. Suggest the accent then, you nincompoop of a virtual office suite. as time has gone on, I have developed a taste for the faster side of music. Energy music, I call it, where upbeat pop, grindcore and punk rock can all meet quite happily as long as they all energise me. Be Your Own PET, Andrew WK, NOFX, Melt-Banana, KoxBox, Kelly Clarkson: me not bothered.

So I banged on a bunch of energy music for this most recent playlist refresh. Ke$ha went on, as she's clearly my thing of the moment. Her album has only been out for a few weeks, and she has already entered my top ten most-listened for the last 12 months on my last.fm thing. Yes, I am hooked on her album. So she made it on. I have also been rocking the thrash for a while now. Technically a few years, but only in the last annum have I been rejoicing in the newer offerings from the sub-genre. Stalwarts such as Megadeth, Testament, Overkill and Sacrifice have all been bringing it in a big way. So I banged on some Sacrifice, Testament and Overkill.

And, because they're related in the big tree of heavy metal, I also included some grindcore (Agoraphobic Nosebleed: Altered States of America; Discordance Axis: The Inalienable Dreamless; Gridlink: Amber Gray) and metalcore (Strife: In This Defiance). Funny thing about metalcore. It was one of the coolest things going in the mid-late 90s. Strife split up (or at least went on a long hiatus), Earth Crisis went a bit pump, Integrity made their name even worse by adding a '2000' on the end, and I stopped paying attention. Next thing I know, the scene has been listening to a lot of Swedish death metal and 'metalcore' is a dirty word. Strife, though; there was some lean, brutal, metallic hardcore. I've been meaning to revisit Gothenburg-core of late, though, so who knows.

I've also put some music that mixes the thrashing and the punking, like Slayer's Undisputed Attitude (their best, fastest, heaviest and most aggressive album), and the ever-present Propagandhi. And Captain Ahab and Genghis Tron, who mix the electronics with the rocking to fantastic effect. Oh, and I have a Blink-182 album on there because it's energetic and great (Enema of the State). So, with that fine-tuned lot, I walked home from work in random land. That was the method of playback, not the area in which I work. Hoping for some Slayer, the first song was... Slayer! 'Spiritual Law' epitomises that album's efficient approach to delving into hardcore punk's history and pulling out exhilaratingly modern-sounding rock. But not really 'rock': this stuff is way angrier than Reign in Blood, and it's a decade later!

Given grindcore's fondness for songs brief and numerous, I got a lot of DA and AN. But strangely no GL. Surprise surprise, The Inalienable Dreamless tracks (including the bostin title track) were better than the ASA ones. But hey, I'm a grindcore heathen who prefers Agorapocalypse to AN's older stuff. Soz. I also got a choice selection of Propagandhi - 'Rock for Sustainable Capitalism' and 'Name and Address Withheld' (two of the finer songs from their magnum Potemkin City Limits opus), which was nice. The thrash veterans reared their heads for some weirdly modern-sounding material: 'The Devil's Martyr' and 'For the Glory Of' really stood out. The one Strife song I got, 'Force of Change', really energised, but the real treat was saved for the home stretch.

If you have the time or inclination, play these songs in this order:

Slayer - 'Mr. Freeze'
Discordance Axis - 'A Leaden Stride to Nowhere'
Genghis Tron - 'Greek Beds'
Discordance Axis - 'Sound Out the Braille'
Blink-182 - 'The Party Song'

It works so well, and I'd never have thought of putting them in sequence. We begin this run with another of those concise blasts of precision hardcore brilliance from the California thrashers. Then, the DA track lets us know how far extremity came in four years. It's an epic for the album, clocking in at over four minutes, and it complements the fury of the Slayer track perfectly. Six years on, Tron hits us with a slice of cybergrind that is rare for them in that it kicks in instantly. While it sacrifices DA's finesse for sheer volume it's nevertheless a fine example of the band. (An even better example would be 'White Walls', so get that listened.) As though this were a considered compilation, DA return with the far briefer 'Sound Out the Braille', to provide both an accidental bumper and happily coincidental thematic coherence. After less than a minute, that rage is replaced by... a man swearing under his breath. It's Blink-182, to provide comic relief and a dynamic swing. I must add, though, that this is probably the fastest Blink song I've heard. While it's very silly, it's also really good, and rounds out this set of songs quite nicely.

08 February 2010

Albums in the year 2009

Bit later than planned, isn't it. The reason for that is I wanted to write a bit more than usual, and am doing. But it's all taking rather longer than planned. Best laid plans and all that. But I'll stop saying 'plans' and move on. I'm going to do what Cephalochromoscope have done (although I did decide on this quite independently), and write a short thing now, and link to the fullness. But I'm doing this in reverse, with the brevity now (brevity, moi?), and the justification to follow.

Anyway, 2009 was a good year, with old favourites bringing the impressive, and a bunch of new favourites being installed. The new Captain Ahab album spent another year not coming out, but I hear on good authority that The End of Irony will finally see the light of day next month. The intervening time between their last and next albums has seen Ahab-lite see a lot of success, most notably in the form of Ke$ha and 3OH!3, who display a level of satire, but not really. And not as good. But that's for 2010. And this, my friends, is 2009. [Cue wavey lines as we journey into the recent past.]

01. PropagandhiSupporting Caste

Be warned: while I haven't banged on about this pon blog, I will, and it will be in a big way. Album of the year, by a long way. 2009 was all about the 'Gandhi for me. Not only was this one fantastic, but I got into their older stuff like never before, even Potemkin City Limits, which I had previously thought I'd got the fullness from. Massive stuff. March to December, seriously. Every other album by every other artist suffered. I even have some stat JPEGs that I'm gonna bust out at a future date to visually evince this fact. And, after years of limbo, I could finally settle on a new current best band in the world. And it's not even a contest.

But why are Propagandhi so good? Well, I'm gonna save the detail for later, but they have the best lyrics of anyone. They manage to take the political and make it personal. They make it interesting, and something you want to sing along with. And they take those fantastic, incisive lyrics, and they stick them over brilliant rock music. Propagandhi used to be a pop-punk band, like your NOFXs and Millencolins. And they were fine. And then they got a bit heavier, and seem to have finally completed their transformation into a thrash-punk phenomenon. They slow it down when necessary, are pretty much always melodic, and write better songs than anyone else. That those songs mean something is a bonus. Best album since... the last Propagandhi album.

02. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion

Back in January 2009, I thought this was it, in terms of album of the year. After spending half a decade unconvinced by the Baltimore crew, I was really impressed with this one. The messy nonsense of Sung Tongs was relegated to mere memory, as hot pop bangers like 'My Girls', 'Bluish' and 'Also Frightened' blew me away. People dissed 'Lion in a Coma', for some reason, but it was one of the best songs on the album. Pop-Flaming Lips (just not rubbish)-Underworld festival madness.

Which is what the album was all about: despite being released in January, they wanted this to be an outdoor, fun, communal experience. I didn't see them at a fest, but their Leeds gig in 2009 had a nice atmosphere, and the album is just a massively consistent collection of well-arranged electronic pop songs. That doesn't really do justice, though. It's as if that first Gnarls Barkley album was all as good as 'Crazy' and 'Smiley Faces'. Didn't end up the album of the year, but who knew Propagandhi were going to dump everyone else on their collective head?

03. MadLoveWhite With Foam

This was a pleasant surprise. Didn't even know it was coming out til it was on the verge of doing so. Trevor Roy Dunn, what was in Mr. Bungle and Fantômas, decided to do a poppy album, rather like Mike Patton did in 2006 with Peeping Tom, and released it on Patton's Ipecac label. Err, rather like Patton. But, unlike Patton, Dunn brought the pure musical fire with MadLove, instead of being disappointing. Press release cited bands like The Pretenders, Cheap Trick, X and Blondie. Not far off, then, as Dunn brought in jazzy singer Sunny Kim, to provide technically superb female vocals. And some dudes from Kitchen Motors, Xiu Xiu and other bands on other instruments. Comprehensive!

So it's melodic pop-rock, which means that the tunes have to be excellent for it to work. And they are. I'll never forget the first time I listened to it, each new melody a brilliant surprise. And the details are all there, from synth lines that spring out of nowhere to obscenely luxurious backing vocals. This being Dunn, the album is inordinately technically proficient, with some odd time signatures. But it is never to the detriment of White With Foam's accessibility; it just subtly adds to the majesty. Only lower than the Animal Collective because the quality drops ever so slightly in the final third. Gorgeous stuff though, and the best Ipecac album for some years.

04. Ear.PwrSuper Animal Brothers III

2009 was clearly the year the pop took over for me. Not so much the bigger cool-pop names like Dizzee and Annie (though they're fine), it was all about the surprise. Which is what we have here. Now, I've blogged about this duo (now trio) in the past, as they are a colourful ball of childlike enthusiasm, and actually made me get off my arse and write something. They're just that damn motivational. The album was released on Car Park records, and I got sent it. Have to admit the artwork is not really to my taste, which meant I wasn't expecting much from it. But the title of the record made me play it, and I was glad I did.

Super Animal Brothers III is an exercise in energy. And one in awesomeness. It's ostensibly very simple stuff, with Devin making synth splodges which Sarah sings over, but it's an alchemical mixture that works massively well. The lyrical themes are so innocent (best song being about a 'Sparkly Sweater'), and performed in singalong nursery rhyme fashion, that you just can't resist. It all finishes before you can even think about tiring of it. A masterclass in how an unassuming record can knock you for six.

05. ConvergeAxe to Fall

Reviewed this one already, so won't say too much about it. It's Converge: it's angry, it's heavy and it's great. It's a lot better than the disappointing No Heroes (2006), and not as good as Jane Doe (2001). There are a lot of guests but, last two songs aside, you wouldn't really know it to listen to them; it's Converge through and through. The guests who are obviously identifiable are Steve Von Till and Mookie Singerman, and they're from Neurosis and Genghis Tron respectively, so it's all good. Funny thing I realised is that, however heavy and macho they get, Converge will always be a set of emo kids at heart. As the gatefold reads: 'we may get better... we won't get well'. They're one step away from 'I'm not OK (I Promise).

06. EvangelistaPrince of Truth

Reviewed this one already too. And, like the Converge album, I've not really listened to it since finishing the review. Also like the Converge, it's the latest fantastic album from a ridiculously consistent talent (top ten albums in 2006, 2008 and 2009 is not bad going). Also also like the Converge, I liked this one so much that I got it on vinyl. And the vinyl version is lovely. What more can I say than I said in the review? Prince of Truth is dark, involving, sounds wonderful, and is just a deep, deep album. I'm really looking forward to the new Joanna Newsom album, but I doubt it'll be as good as this. That's right homes.

07. Sa-Ra Creative PartnersNuclear Evolution: The Age of Love

This should be higher. I've just not listened to it enough. For some reason, I don't really like the first song, which kinda put me off listening to it as early as I should have. That, and I held off downloading it for as long as I could. (Somebody buy me it on vinyl please.) Finally got to listening, and it's a hip hop/soul epic to rival Stankonia in terms of last-decade (last decade?!) thrills. There is nobody quite like Sa-Ra: the closest would be Timbaland or the Neptunes, but way more psychedelic, and without turning to crap like the more famous producers did. Seriously, Neps could do no wrong til about 2003. From 2004 onwards, their output was pretty unmitigated.

Sadly, Sa-Ra are yet to enjoy that level of commercial success, but they seem to be working more like a boutique than the chainstore the Neptunes became. So they produced the highlights of Erykah Badu's wonderful latest album, but saved the best for their own record. This was technically their full-length debut, but everybody should listen to The Hollywood Recordings, which was a collection of their singles/EPs, and was just divine. This is still grand, though, as a super-modern soulsploitation work of art.

08. Agoraphobic NosebleedAgorapocalypse

Ah yes, the record with which Agoraphobic Nosebleed sold out, am I right? Gone is the millions of songs per album model for ANB, replaced by a quite sordid collection of quasi-grind episodes. The best, and most logical, point of comparison is the last proper Pig Destroyer album, Phantom Limb. This is partly because both bands feature the not inconsiderable talents of one Scott Hull on million-string guitar and production, but because Pig Destroyer also saw accusations that they were no longer grindcore, and merely death metal. Eww! Well this isn't quite on the level of Phantom Limb (the main difference being J.R. Hayes, PD's thrillingly twisted lyricist), but it's brutal, brilliant and nasty. And the artwork is just inspired.

09. Black DogFurther Vexations

So. If you want to be cynical about my list, the Sa-Ra was this year's Erykah. ANB was this year's Pig Destroyer. Evangelista was, let's face it, most definitely this year's Evangelista. Making Further Vexations this year's Burial/Neil Landstrumm. Well that's fine, but these things aren't intentional; I'm not quota-filling, honest. Though completely different, a whole lot classier, and 100% less metal than the ANB record, Further Vexations is nevertheless a dark piece of work. The production is amazing. On triple vinyl, this thing sings like few others in the last few decades. Ken Downie and the Dust Science boys are on a roll at the moment, as there has been little in music (electronic or 'organic', I guess it'd be) as seductive as a new Black Dog album.

Radio Scarecrow (2007) was mean stuff, I unfortunately didn't hear Silenced (2005), and this is just stark and brilliant. I actually prefer this lot to Boxcutter, and possibly Burial. They're definitely better than Martyn, but for some reason are being slept on. There's as much bass on this as on most other records, and it's easily as well produced. maybe Downie is too associated with his legendary early 90s work with the dudes who ended up splitting off into Plaid, I dunno. What I do know is this is one of those records that I need to devote a lot more time to (told you, it's that bladdy Propagandhi thing again), and it's as good as any other British music in absolutely ages.

10. CoalesceOX

Coalesce are back! In fact, they had this and OXEP, which were both great. Not quite as good as the Converge, but you'll have inferred that from the numbers sitting next to the respective albums. One of many victims of Propagandhi striding, Godzilla-like, through everybody else in 2009, I listened enough to know that OX was definitely worth Coalesce coming back for. And, for a band dormant for a decade, this is vital stuff. It's pretty damn vital for a band that hadn't been dormant for a decade. I know, they had that 'Salt and Passage' single, but that was a single. This is an album. It sounds enough like Coalesce to justify the name, but not so much like Coalesce that there was no point making new music. It's a broadening of horizons, but within reason.

OXEP pushed things a bit further, which was heartening. It means the next album (yes please) should be a branching even further out and, if they can get anywhere near the prolific run that led to their three original albums blasting out at your ears in three years (1997, 98 and 99 - and they can all fit on one CD, brevity fans), then I'll be really excited. And hopefully they can return to England, as I had to go to Iran on the day they played Sheffield. Serendipity, I know. Tech-brutality, and I love it. I need to hear the Psyopus album a few more times, but I love Coalesce, so this is my pick to round out the 10. I'd like to have fit L'Acephale, sunnO))) and Tobacco (as well as a bunch of others), but that's maths for you. 10 = 10.

***

So what's to look forward to in 2010? Hard to say, especially when we've already had great albums from Shining, Jaga Jazzist and Ke$ha. Let's just say, though, that I'll be surprised if at least one of Dillinger Escape Plan, Captain Ahab and Pig Destroyer fail to make it into the hallowed dectet on 31 December this year (I promise!). Then we have the people that I think are doing new albums but I'm not sure: Gridlink, Genghis Tron, Swans (SWANS!), Aphex Twin... Rye Wolves? Akimbo?! LIFT TO EXPERIENCE?!?!?

Okay. Obviously not Lift To Experience. A girl can dream, though, right?

01 February 2010

House of 1000 Corpses

Cedric rolled over and fell asleep. For the last time.Dir: Rob Zombie, 2003

I don't know why it took me so long to watch this one. I had wanted to do so ever since it first came out. And, it turns out, it's very easy to watch. Not in the sense that the events therein are of a pleasant or relaxing nature. Quite the opposite, in fact: the events therein are of a most grizzly and sadistic nature. But the pacing, which wastes barely a second; and the direction, which is rather inventive; move it along at such a decent clip that its hour and 25 minutes pass by in a flash of kaleidoscope horror.

Part of the reason why the film flies along with buttery ease is because we've already seen it. Well, most of it, in other films. The four smarmy middle class kids are a staple of these films. The ones in this film (featuring some great casting: Rainn Wilson, from American Office; Chris Hardwick, of mid-90s Singled Out err... 'fame'. Still, he worked with Jenny McCarthy and Carmen Electra) are a satisfying combination of sarcastic enough that you want them to die, but still sufficiently innocent that there are pangs of guilt when they do get dealt with. Especially when you see quite how they get forced off the mortal coil.

Other genre hallmarks include the southern-states hick family (The Hills Have Eyes), who are both physically and psychologically monstrous; masked giants abound (The Texas chainsaw Massacre); there is a cute blonde in the family (...The Munsters?); the know-it-all victims are attracted to their ultimate doom by a local legend (The Blair Witch Project).

So it's derivative. But it is all put together with aplomb. I checked the wiki, and apparently the critics didn't like it. This is to be expected: it's not a film for the critics. It's not low-fi enough to be truly gritty, nor is it smart enough to be satire, according to a person at filmcritic.com. But that's not really a weakness, as far as I'm concerned. Genuinely low budget attempts in this post-Blair Witch world tend to be overburdened with high concepts in an attempt to distract from the lack of means.

Take Session 9, a film whose good idea was extinguished by a concept that didn't know whether it was a psycho-thriller or a supernatural spookfest. It just didn't make any sense, and that line is too fine for many films to tread. Similarly, I think/hope we're past the ironic/satirical stuff at this point. What the market really needed was a well-done traditional horror film. The first Saw film was great, but didn't see release until the year after this one finally emerged, blinking, into the light of day (lest we forget, House of 1000 Corpses was completed in 2000).

You can tell that Rob Zombie loves horror, and that he doesn't just have a funny name. By the time his rock band, White Zombie*, gave up the ghost, he had created an effective aesthetic for them. His art was really good, their brand of shlock-metal with a hint of industrial has aged surprisingly well, and they were just cool. They had the darkness of a Marilyn Manson, but without the self-importance, and the slacker post-grunge look, but without the self-loathing. Anyway, they were a 90s Misfits when it came to the fun horror rock (and then the Misfits themselves returned just as WZ were ebbing away. Synergy!).

What this means for the film is that everything is done well. Yes, it's the horror equivalent of a Tarantino film in the way it borrows aspects of classics to create its own (Frankenstein's) monster. I find it strange that when a director takes great ideas and makes something of them that is quality in its own right, they are considered plagiarists, while musical artists like DJ Shadow and The Avalanches have received plaudits from all corners for essentially doing the same thing. Well, House of 1000 Corpses is Since I Left You with the zany nonsense replaced by viscera and tons of style. Yet another reason why the pacing just feels so right is because the film proper is regularly juxtaposed with grainy, illustrative asides, that tend to last only a few seconds at a time. Some may consider them too on-the-nose, or an affront to naturalism, but really the film is a cinematic equivalent of Captain Spaulding's ghost train, and they drive it along perfectly.

The weak point of the film (as long as you're fine with gore for gore's sake and a quite intentional lack of originality, as I am), is the plot itself. It's fine to begin with, and the victims' descent into the Firefly family's demented depravity is handled perfectly well. But, in the third act, they get taken to see Doctor Satan (he of aforementioned local legend), and it all goes a bit screwy. We get introduced to a subterranean (un)civilisation, a collection of catacombs that might make sense in a video game (ludology over narratology, innit) and, for some reason, a workshop in which Doctor Satan - coincidentally estranged patriarch of the Firefly family - experiments on people. And there are monsters and stuff. All in the space of a few minutes. But it ends well, at least.

You get thrown by one or two effective twists: you start the film thinking the clown-faced Spaulding from the (UK) posters is the source of evil, and that his domain is the eponymous House. But it turns out that he runs a relatively innocent establishment (when he's not getting stuck up by some goons), and the really horrible homestead is a little way down the road. And then it turns out, in an ending more than a little reminiscent of Friday the 13th, when he picks up the hitching survivor in his nice car, Brother Otis pops up from the back seat! He's in cahoots with the baddies all along. D'oh! But the lesson is: everyone in the country is weird, and make sure you don't offend them while they're doing burlesque karaoke.

The bonus about having watched this film is that, now, I am ready to watch sequel The Devil's Rejects. I hear that's really dark. I shall save that one for Valentine's day; build up to it with [rec], Dead Man's Shoes, Inland Empire, and whatever else I can lay my hands on. Probably not Storytelling, though. Did you know that Solondz is this year releasing a sequel to Happiness? A proper one, with the same characters? It will most likely be harrowing.

* 'Coincidentally', Rob's wife Sheri Moon looks not unlike former WZ (then Famous Monsters) bass player Sean Yseult. Is it just me?
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