Article: CONFESSIONS OF A DEPRESSED CHRISTIAN: Staring Into The Void

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empty eyesSomething is missing. That much I know. I’ve had this feeling, gnawing inside of me, for decades now. No, I know that the feeling that something is missing is a constant. While the closer I get with God, the longer I go down this journey, the stronger the hold the Holy Spirit has with me, the more I’m aware that this sensation that something inside of me is missing is there. I have been learning what it means to be content with where I’m at, what I have and where I’m headed. He is my Lord in the darkness as well as the light, the high points and the low points, the peaks and the valleys. He is my all-in-all.

And yet…something’s missing. A dark, sucking maw that hasn’t been filled yet. Empty. I cannot fill it, no one else can fill it but God, and that’s in his timing. Yet, that sensation persists. And it always gets the most pronounced and amplified this time of year, it seems.

This is the major reason why I’m not that big on participating in the Holiday Season. I’m a terrible liar, and thus I’m not able to bring myself to pretend to be happy for the benefit of others. So I avoid being around people as much as I can, save for the family gatherings that really do pick me up a bit. But, ultimately, I have to bear this feeling that’s something’s missing…not alone, for I have the Holy Spirit with me always. But I do wish I knew what it was this will all benefit for His glory.

Because, in the end, I know that’s all this is leading to, really.

::END TRANSMISSION::

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Book Review: CHOOSING DEATH: The Improbable History of Death Metal & Grindcore

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choosing death book coverAlbert Mudrian
Feral House
2004

In 1986, it was unimaginable that death metal and grindcore would ever impact popular culture. Yet this barbaric amalgam of hardcore punk and heavy metal would define the musical threshold of extremity for years to come. Initially circulated through an underground tape-trading network by scraggly, angry young boys, death metal and grindcore spread faster than a plague of undead zombies as bands rose from every corner of the globe. By 1992, the genre’s first legitimate label, Earache Records, had sold well over a million death metal and grindcore albums in the United States alone. Choosing Death: The Improbable History of Death Metal & Grindcore examines the rise, fall and resurrection of death metal and grindcore through the eyes and ringing ears of the artists, producers, and label owners who propelled the movements.

I first discovered the brutal goodness that was death metal back in the wee hours of the morning on the second day of the year 1993, when, on a long trip from Texas back to Nebraska, someone lent me their cassette of Mortificaiton’s self-titled debut album, after noticing I had a Vengeance Rising cassette in my collection. Certainly, you could argue that Vengeance Rising was doing a grindcore thing on Destruction Comes, and Mortification’s self-titled was really more thrash-based than actual death metal…but, I’m not doing this review to argue the finer points of genre-placement. Just giving you an idea of when I first became addicted to this form of brutal music goodness.

Choosing Death: The Improbable History of Death Metal & Grindcore showcases an interesting history of two of the more extreme forms of metal. Starting off with a rather amusing introduction by the late, great John Peel, we’re lead through the history of the early days of the grindcore scene that mutated out of the hardcore punk of the early 1980s, with bands that strove to be the fastest, hardest and brutal. From there, the evolution of the style through the Thatcher/Regan years, the emergence of specialty record labels and culture, through to the development of death metal and all the wackiness that brought about.

Outside of oral histories and personal stories from the front line of the movements, we also have some lists of definitive grindcore and death metal albums, as well as a list of where former artists are at now and what they’re doing, and a list of those who have fallen to the great equalizer of mankind: Death. Not the band, either. That robe-and-sythe sportin’ Swedish dude. You know the guy. Has a thing for chess.

As of this writing, a fully revised and update edition of the book has been released. The copy I found was the original pressing; if I were to urge you, though, it would be to buy the updated version, which I’m probably going to be doing myself if I happen upon it. Otherwise, Choosing Death is essential to have in your \,,/METAL\,,/ reading.

Movie Review: FINAL GIRL

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final girl movie posterCinedigm
2015
R

I have to admit, Final Girl was not the kind of movie I was expecting. From the description from the Family Video website, I was expecting more of a general Most Dangerous Game type scenario: A bunch of rich socialite boys hunt and kill unsuspecting girls for sport in a local wood. Instead, Final Girl turned out to be more like The Most Dangerous Game, if the hunters were unwittingly going after the girl from the movie Hanna.

That reminds me: I need to review Hanna some time. Anyway…

We begin with a young girl being interviewed by that creepy neighbor kid from American Beauty, asking questions about her dead parents and, from the kid’s answers, reveals she’s something of a sociopath. This leads to her being trained throughout her life as something that can kill you several ways, and look really adorable doing it. After growing into a young lady, instead of going to her prom, she’s taken to assassinate a group of boys whose hobby is to lure unsuspecting girls into the woods, dressed in their finest tuxes and gowns, and hunts them for sport. And when they decide to let her in on the festivities…well, to say that things don’t go as they planned is an understatement of the year.

As a movie, Final Girl was fairly decent, given its La Femme Nikita styling to the age old Most Dangerous Game story. It’s a fairly taunt thriller with very effective cinematography and ambiance. Character wise, it does leave more questions as to back story or motivations; it’s really this lack of fleshing things out that hinders much of the movie. Otherwise, Final Girl wasn’t a bad movie, it was really another “meh” movie. Worth checking out, but really not more than once, it seems.

Book Review: BROTHER SAM- The Short, Spectacular Life of Sam Kinison

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brother sam book coverBill Kinison w/Steve Delsohn
William Morrow and Company, Inc.
1994

Sam Kinison was Lenny Bruce at warp speed.  He was not only beyond hip, he was beyond gonzo.  He was a white Richard Pryor; a preacher-turned-comedian, a primal screamer who shrieked for our sins.  He was knwn as the “rock and roll comic” – a burly, volatile high-wire act, calculated to offend, demolishing taboos on national television with brute force.  When he lost his life in April 1992 at the age of thirty-eight, behind the wheel of a sports car east of Los Angeles, many of his fans didn’t know about his past.  The most successful comic of the 1980s was the son of a poor Illinois preacher – an unhappy child from a torn, dysfunctional family, plagued by low self-esteem and fated for disappointment.  This first full account of Kinison’s whiplashing life is written by the person who lived closest to its subject – Sam’s brother, Bill Kinison, a traveling preacher for seventeen years who gave up his vocation to manage Sam’s comedy career.  Bill covers Sam’s checkered early years; his sudden ascent to fame in 1985 and flamboyant life in show business; his personal struggles wiht liquor, drugs, and sexual excess; and the feelings of a brother doomed to take care of a brother born to raise hell.

I first discovered the comedian known as Sam Kinison in one of the more unlikely places to discover stand-up comedy – within the pages of Circus Magazine, a music rag dedicated primarily to rock and metal.  First I saw the ad for his just-released album, Have You Seen Me Lately?  Then a write-up piece describing a Kinison show that culminated with a bunch of bigger names in rock at the time joining the comedian on-stage for a jam-session.  Okay, that got my attention.  Then I stumbled upon the video for his cover of “Wild Thing” on MTV later that year while visiting my grandmother (who had cable), and being blown away by this stocky built, anti-pretty boy in a head scarf and a trench coat screaming altered (and funny) lyrics to a hard rock rendition of a 1960s classic.  I remember thinking, crap, this is that guy?  This was the greatest thing I’ve heard at the time.  Keep in mind, it was the tail end of the 1980s and I was a Midwest-dwelling 15-year-old rural boy.  Of course, finding any of his comedy albums at the time was hard, and then convincing my parents that I should spend whatever money I had on it when I did find something was even harder.  Mostly, I got my fix by borrowing a schoolmate’s copy.

Over the years, I was still interested in this man’s spectacularly intense and brief life, if not so much his comedy routines. After finding this particular biography of Sam Kinison at Half Price Books, I have a bit more insight outside of the Wikipedia page, and this from the perspective of Sam’s brother, Bill Kinison.

The story unfolds for Sam, growing up the son of a preacher, his dysfunctional family life and his own brief stint as a Pentecostal preacher, then his introduction to comedy, working his way up through the clubs, to his fateful appearance on Rodney Dangerfield’s Ninth Annual Young Comedians Special in 1985, to his prominence as a rock star comedian, partying along with the Los Angeles Sunset Strip scene, and getting lost in a sea of drugs and booze along the way, to the eventual death he endured on the way to a show soon after his marriage. As to the minute specifics…well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out. Yeah, I know; I’m a jerk like that.

As a biography, Brother Sam is a fairly breezy read. So far, it’s the only biography I could find on the man’s life, and so we’re with only one perspective. Reportedly, Sam’s widow Malika Kinison sued Bill Kinison for allegedly portraying her in a negative light; but so far, she hasn’t produced anything from her perspective yet, so it’s really all just speculation from here on that. But overall, it was a short yet fascinating life of a man that seemed to be suffering more from a personal dichotomy from the fame and let the debauchery be kind of a toxic balm for this. It would make for a very interesting biopic, methinks. Someone get on that.

Movie Review: KRAMPUS

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krampus-poster-galleryUniversal Pictures
2015
PG-13

“I just got my ass kicked by a bunch of Christmas cookies!”

When his dysfunctional family clashes over the holidays, young Max is disillusioned and turns his back on Christmas. Little does he know, this lack of festive spirit has unleashed the wrath of Krampus: a demonic force of ancient evil intent on punishing non-believers. All hell breaks loose as beloved holiday icons take on a monstrous life of their own, laying siege to the fractured family’s home and forcing them to fight for each other if they hope to survive.

For an old curmudgeon like myself, who has no use for this manufactured “Christmas spirit” that’s forced down everyone’s throats starting in September and going through the end of the year, it’s a rare movie that actually gets me to smile and get that warm glowing feeling about the part of the Holiday Clusterbomb Season that, more often than not, brings out the worst in everyone. And as you could probably surmise, the recently released Krampus is one of those rare movies that does just that.

Normally, I would wait until the DVD release to watch a movie like Krampus, even though I was greatly intrigued by the fact that it was done by the guys who brought us another favorite holiday classic: Trick R’ Treat. But, I was treated to it as a birthday present, and thus caught it on the day it was released into theaters. And boy howdy, did this dark horror comedy bring me a much-needed distraction to the ongoing existential quandary that comes with turning another year older.

We begin our story with a suburban upper-middle class family preparing to celebrate Christmas with the arrival of the mother’s sister’s family. When gathered together in one house, this goes about as well as would be expected in a Hollywood Christmas movie. That is to say, manufactured tension and drama up the chimney. In a fit of anger, little Max tears up his heartfelt letter to Santa and tosses it out the window the first night, then wakes up the next morning to a surprise blizzard that has frozen the entire neighborhood and knocked out the power. Also, a mysterious snowman has appeared in their lawn. Then a massive scary-looking shadow begins appearing on the rooftops, followed by people disappearing one by one. Then the grandmother tells the tale of when she accidentally summoned Krampus as a child to take everyone in the village she grew up in, except for her as a form of torment. Of course, this is believed to be the senile ramblings of an old lady…until Krampus’ minions arrive to wreak Gremlins-style terror on the clan, until the Anti-Claus himself shows up to drag everyone to the netherworld.

Since seeing this film, I’ve been proclaiming Krampus as an instant Holiday classic. And for good reason: It’s equal parts National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Gremlins, and Ridley Scott’s Alien mixed together and baked into a grizzly looking but tasty cookie. The family dynamic of the characters is palpable enough to warrant a bit of caring about them, and I’m glad they took the time at first to build that. But, of course, this being a holiday horror movie, the horror part is just as effective, managing to build the tension and wisely keeping the scary things in the shadows and implied. And when the scary things do show their ugly mugs, it a very effective usage of mostly practical effects that push this thing over the edge. I say “mostly”, because there’s some unavoidable usage of CGI for what I’ll just refer to as the “cookie attack” that I can understand having to resort to, but still seemed a bit more hokey than I could take. Also, kudos on the movie for faking me out with making me think this was going to take the old “It was all a dream!” cop-out at the end. Very satisfying ending to a very satisfying movie.

So, now I have another movie to add to my list of Christmas themed movies that don’t make me want to vomit up tinsel into the wassail. Indeed, Krampus is destined to be a Holiday classic for those of us who consider “Bah, Humbug” to be a catchphrase this time of year.

Movie Review: ELF

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elf movie posterNew Line Cinema
2003
PG

“I’m sorry I ruined your lives, and crammed eleven cookies into the VCR.”

Once upon a Christmas Eve, an orphan baby crawled into Santa’s bag of gifts and was taken to the North Pole. Raised by Papa Elf, Buddy comes to realize he doesn’t fit in with the other elves. Determined to find a place where he belongs, Buddy searches for his real dad–in New York City! In the Big Apple, Buddy finds out why his dad is on the naughty list! But almost importantly, he sees that the world is seriously lacking in Christmas spirit, which causes Santa all kinds of problems! So with the help of a beautiful department store elf, Buddy tries to teach his dad and the world the true meaning of Christmas spirit and to prove to everyone that Santa really exists!

Elf is one of those movies that you would think I would not like all that much at the very least. First off, it’s a Christmas movie, and if there’s one type of Holiday-themed movie I dislike the most, it’s the Christmas movie. They’re more formulaic than the zombie movie, with their saccharine bombardment of warm fuzzy feelings being crammed down your throat, usually with the aide of cute adorable whatnots and an ending that lulls you into a false sense of optimistic security…

Okay, sorry, I promised myself I wouldn’t let my inner curmudgeon run rampant. He smells manufactured Holiday Cheer(TM), and that’s like a shark smelling blood in the water. Anyway…

Once in a while, though, a Christmas movie comes along that, despite being as formulaic as they come and stars a comedian actor that I’m more or less “meh” about, somehow works together to make me enjoy it. Normally, this kind of emotional manipulation to make me feel things that are foreign to my cold, unfeeling blackened heart makes me want to do violence to the nearest Christmas carollers to happen upon the dwelling place of the METAL DEMIGOD, and decorate my trees with their entrails in the spirit of the Yuletide season. But this…this is an anomaly.

Somehow, the story of a human that was raised by Santa’s elves after a bit of a mix-up during his usual deliveries, coming of the age of realization that he is, in fact, not an elf but a human, and goes off in search of his true lineage in the magical land of New York, with wackiness ensuing, makes me do something my human friends refer to as “smiling”, which makes my face hurt. A kind of a…I cannot describe it outside of a “warmth” of some sort that, while initially triggering my blind rage, smoothed over to tingly enjoyment that itched more than I’m comfortable with. Truly, after watching this, it fills me with the urge to embrace the humans that I pass by, not in a crushing death blow, but in what I’ve come to understand is called a “hug”, and is considered more socially acceptable than life-crushing death embraces.

This, as you may have imagined, does not sit well with the METAL DEMIGOD. This is why I cannot watch Elf more than just once a year, around this season you refer to as “Christmas”. It fills me with warm fuzzies, something I only allow to infest my being but once a year. You too may find yourself enjoying Elf. And if you haven’t seen it, might I invite you to do so. Soon.

Book Review: STAR WARS vs STAR TREK

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star wars vs star trekMatt Forbeck
Aadams Media
2011

Who rules? Captain Kirk or Han Solo? Could a Jedi Knight use his light saber to deflect a beam from a phaser? Could a Cardassian beat a Chazrach in a fair fight? Would a Federation ship making the Kessel Run crack the Millennium Falcon’s record of less than twelve parsecs? And most important…in a fight between the Empire and the Federation, who would win? Ever since the first Trekkie walked out of Star Wars in 1977 and said “Meh!”, fans of the two stories have gone head to head over these questions. Now you can line up—side by side—aliens, technology, story points, weaponry, and heroes from the two greatest SF sagas of all time. Whether you can pronounce “Heglu’meH QaQ jajvarn!” (that’s “Today is a good day to die!” in Klingon) or can recite all the names of the members of the Imperial Senate (which meets on Coruscant), you’ll want the detailed information Matt Forbeck has compiled about both universes, as well as trivia, quizzes, quotes, and information drawn from these two iconic settings. So phasers on stun and light sabers at the ready! It’s on.

I came across this extended bit of bathroom reading material at one of the Bargain Priced book kiosks at a local Barnes & Noble, and thought the title was intriguing enough to pick up. At the very least, it would prove an amusing distraction. And it was…for about a few hours, as I happened to breeze through the entire book, cover-to-cover within a day. Which is not a bad thing, mind you; it speaks to the book’s easy accessibility.

Star Wars Vs. Star Trek takes the ever-popular “Who Would Win In A Fight Between…?” debates that are prevalent within the various geek subcultures, and crafts amusing scenarios that pit them against each other to determine the outcome in a surprisingly logical manner. After a couple of forwards written by Jeremy Bulloch (the original Boba Fett) and Tim Russ (Tuvok from Star Trek: Voyager), and a brief introduction to set the stage for the bits to come, we’re given a list of sections that explore every aspect of both the respective universes to see which side comes out superior, from the weaponry and technology, to the alien cultures, to how bad the villains are, to the ultimate showdown between the iconic characters themselves. Stats are given for the advantages and weaknesses of each character/type, and then a brief showdown write-up is made, providing an outcome and a winner which you may or may not agree with, but at least it’s given some thought beyond the “I prefer this, ergo it will win, neener neener neener.” argument.

Star Wars Vs. Star Trek worked best as bathroom reading material, or as a distraction while riding the bus or train or whatever. I don’t see reading this more than once, though. But, just in case you were wondering who—or what—would win in a showdown between these two iconic worlds, well…it’s worth a look-see.

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