Book Review: The CHRISTIAN CULTURE SURVIVAL GUIDE

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1-22 - Book Review: The CHRISTIAN CULTURE SURVIVAL GUIDEMatthew Paul Turner
Relevant Books
2004

By taking a hilarious look at the peculiarities and churchisms that have been added to this thing called Christianity, The Christian Culture Survival Guide leaves you with a knowing smile and the reassurance that true faith is only found in Jesus…not in the gift aisle at the Heaven Sent Christian Bookstore.

One of the greatest gifts that the Holy Spirit hath bestowed upon me is the ability to find satire and parody within the Christian culture in which I haplessly dwell. I hate to say it, but we do tend to make it rather easy, almost self-parody at times. And it’s hard enough trying to remain graceful to my fellow followers of Christ Jesus, and still point out the utter ridiculousness we produce in the name of Sanctified Pop Culture. But, as much as we want to confess otherwise, we do have our own sacred cows, and I happen to find they make the best cheeseburgers. And I’m really not the only one.

Which brings us to Matthew Paul Turner’s first publication, The Christian Culture Survival Guide. I first discovered this in an add within the pages of Relevant Magazine back when it was first released. The title and description struck me as being by someone who possibly shared the same sense of humor I have about these things. And, as it turns out, yeah he does; I just didn’t get around to picking up this book until years later, when I stumbled across it in the shelves of the oft-mentioned Half Price Books. By then, I was well acquainted with Turner’s blog, Jesus Needs New PR, and have read his memoir Churched. So I nabbed the copy, and proceeded to read the entire thing in a few hours.

Yeah, The Christian Culture Survival Guide isn’t what you would call deeply theological, but that really isn’t a slam. It’s a complement, actually; Turner writes in a very accessible conversational style, telling stories and observations about the topic at hand, having been involved within CCM and witnessing things first-hand, showing a wry sense of humor that’s playfully biting but never nasty. There are several side-bars and notes within the chapters, as it’s layout is one of those hip hyper-kinetic styles that leaves me wondering if it was intentionally trying to ape the style of those youth group workbooks that I’ve seen back in the 1990s.

In any case, The Christian Culture Survival Guide is funny, spot-on and something everyone should read. At the very least, it should be issued to every kid in every youth group in America.

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Book Review: SOUND OF THE BEAST- The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal

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1-20 - Book Review: SOUND OF THE BEAST- The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy MetalIan Christe
!t Books
2003

In this first-ever atlas of the heavy metal phenomenon, Ian Christe delivers a bird’s-eye view of this dark and forbidden music. The ultimate head-banger history, Sound of the Beast reveals tales of concert hysteria, courtroom drama, and musical triumph with: Interviews with Black Sabbath, Metallica, Morbid Angel, Megadeth, Twisted Sister, Kiss, Slipknot, and many others; Genre boxes explaining black metal, power metal, thrash metal, nu metal, and more; More than a hundred rare and unpublished photos; A thirty-year graphic timeline of metal milestones, hilarious metal lists, and the twenty-five most original recordings of all time.

One of the limitations of publishing a book with the phrase “The Complete History Of…” in the title or subtitle is that, given the nature of time itself, it never really is the complete history. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to revise things, and even then, that’s not going to truly be the complete history. Unless the world blows up and society as we know it crumbles at the very moment the update is published, and whatever theoretical alien archaeologist that comes across a somehow preserved copy of it can claim it really is the complete history…

…and once again my brain has hijacked a perfectly good intro to another book review. My apologies, my tender dumplings.

All pedantic speculation aside, being a \,,/METALHEAD\,,/ as well as a general pop culture history junkie, running across a copy of Sound Of The Beast was a rather nice find in that Fremont, Nebraska Hasting’s store that one afternoon several years ago, browsing for nothing in particular, but snatching this up when I saw it there.

As a history of the only music that really matters in life, Sound Of The Beast is one of the better tomes written. It’s written more in a traditionally journalistic style, rather than the coffee table book style; and by that I mean, it’s doesn’t rely on a whole bunch of pictures with the wordy bits put in there scrapbook style. It isn’t a glorified magazine; this is an actual book, giving a well-written detail on the early roots of Metal, and exploring the origins and history of the various differing genres under the great Metal umbrella. Everything is covered here, the good, bad and ugly: Heavy Metal, Pop Metal, Thrash Metal, Death Metal, Black Metal, Hardcore/Crossover, Grindcore, Alternative Metal, Industrial Metal, and all points in between. And yes, there are pictures in here, rather interesting supplemental pictures, as well as side-bars recommending certain albums from the particular sub-genre of the chapter, as well as appendixes. My particular copy that I purchased happens to be one of the updated copies that includes a chapter on metal from the Middle East.

Overall, Sound Of The Beast is perhaps one of the best books published on the wide-covering topic of Heavy Metal I’ve read. This is one I’m going to be keeping in my personal collection for some time. At least, until I can justify upgrading to an “updated” complete history. Highly recommended.

Book Review: LORDS OF CHAOS- The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground

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1-13 - Book Review: LORDS OF CHAOSMichael Moynihan / Didrik Soderlind
Feral House
1998, 2003 (revised)

At the close of the last millennium, more than 100 churches in Europe were torched and desecrated by adherents of Black Metal, the most extreme form of underground music on the planet. In an escalating unholy war, Black Metal bands and their obsessive fans have left a grim legacy of suicide, murder, and terrorism that continues to spread from Norway to Germany, Finland, America, and beyond… Written by two journalists with unique access to he hellish demimonde, the acclaimed cult bestseller Lords of Chaos has now been revised and expounded, with startling new revelations. This award-winning expose’ features hundreds of rare photos and exclusive interrogations with priests, police officers, Satanists, and leaders of demonic bands who believe the greater evil spawns the greatest glory.

My interest in the highly controversial \,,/METAL\,,/ style known as Black Metal began exactly the same way as my interest in Death Metal: by way of a Christian artist under the guise of Horde. Which seems counter-intuitive, really: if there’s any kind of metal that Christians shouldn’t be involved in, it should be Black Metal, right? Yeah, that’s adorable. But, that’s a story for another blog post. Right now, we’re looking at the book that remains in my library of \,,/METAL\,,/ learnin’: Lords Of Chaos.

Purporting to be the history of the rise and development of Black Metal, Lords Of Chaos seems to be a book that has gained its own sort of notoriety in the so-called Black Metal underground for…reasons. Let’s face it, the rhetoric that can be spouted by those who take the lifestyle so seriously can boarder on hilarious. Since none of these detractors have produced any kind of counter-point to this in a rational manner (i.e.: NOT resorting to phrases like “CRUSH YOUR BONES IN HELL!” in all caps, etc.), and this book has been given an updated version and is still in print, I’m guessing it holds a bit more journalistic weight.

The book starts with the history of black metal’s early progenitors, from bands like Venom, Celtic Frost and Bathory, who were more proto-black metal that inspired the isolated youth in Norway to bring about the infamous Second Wave, with bands like Burzum, Hellhammer, and–the main focus on much of the later chapters–Mayhem, among others that were part of the so-called Black Circle.

Much of the book is dedicated more to the nefarious extracurricular activities that gained notoriety in the early Nineteen-Nineties, from church burnings, to feuds between bands, to murder and the fallout. And while that is very much part of the culture of Black Metal, it made the overall feel of the book more sensationalist than it should have been. Otherwise, with its bit of music history, several essays, interviews and news reports, as well as pictures and a look at the development of Black Metal in other countries outside of Norway and Scandinavia, Lords Of Chaos is a rather interesting look into a subgenre that has come a long way since it was birthed in the cold darkness. It’s worth checking out, if anything to get a detailed look at the early eras.

Book Review: NIGHTMARES & DREAMSCAPES

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1-1 - Book Review: NIGHTMARES & DREAMSCAPESStephen King
Viking / Signet
1993

Nightmares & Dreamscapes is Stephen King’s third collection short stories released during his career (both Different Seasons and Four Past Midnight being collections of novellas than short stories, if you want to argue the point), originally in 1993. This was the period in my life where I was denouncing any kind of reading of fiction as “not what a good Christian does”, and having gotten rid of my rather extensive Stephen King collection along with the rest of my fiction literature that I deemed not worthy my time anymore the summer prior, when this one was published, I pretty much ignored its existence for a good decade, until I got back into enjoying fiction without that pesky self-acquired guilt that comes with self-righteous hoop-jumping. Long story. In any case, I came across a hardcover copy of Nightmares & Dreamscapes for a couple of bucks at a local Goodwill one early Fall afternoon in 2005, and dug into this rather massive tome not too long after that. And here’s my blow-by-blow of the thing:

“Dolan’s Cadillac”
A widower gets revenge on the mob boss that had his wife killed…it’s rather cathartic for him, really…

“The End of the Whole Mess”
A scientists discovers a chemical that reduces aggressive tendencies in people; only, too late after the fact, do they realize that it does the job too well…

“Suffer the Little Children”
A third grade teacher begins to suspect that the phrase “little monsters” may be less figurative than she thought…

“The Night Flier”
A reporter is chasing down a serial killer who thinks he’s a vampire…because vampires don’t really exist, right?

“Popsy”
A child abductor for human trafficking abducts the wrong kid…let’s just leave it at that…

“It Grows on You”
An old house in the town of Castle Rock seems to be taking on home upgrades all by itself…

“Chattery Teeth”
A guy buys a pair of novelty wind-up walking teeth and a hitchhiker, then proceeds to have a very bad, very weird rest of the day…

“Dedication”
A hotel maid has an encounter with an eccentric writer…then something weird happens…

“The Moving Finger”
A Jeopardy! enthusiast discovers a human finger poking its way out of the drain in his bathroom sink. Wackiness ensues.

“Sneakers”
A recording studio exec discovers that the pair of sneakers he’s been seeing in the adjacent stall in the work restroom belong to the ghost of a drug dealer killed by the studio exec’s boss. I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence.

“You Know They Got a Hell of a Band”
A couple get lost driving around Oregon, and happen upon a town called Rock And Roll Heaven, which may be a bit more that just an eccentric town name.

“Home Delivery”
A young and pregnant widow lives on a small remote island called Gennesault–“Jenny” for short–when an alien thing orbiting Earth at the South Pole causes all the dead to reanimate and attack the living. Again, I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence.

“Rainy Season”
An out-of-town couple rent a summer vacation house, and discover that it probably wasn’t a very good idea.

“My Pretty Pony”

An elderly man decides to give his grandson the gift of a pocket watch and an existentialist lecture, in that order. Fans of the precursor of the My Little Pony toy line will be sorely disappointed.

“Sorry, Right Number”
Originally a teleplay written for an episode of the Tales From The Darkside television series, this is the script form which tells the tale of a lady who uses a phone to talk to her long-dead husband years ago on the night of his death.

“The Ten O’Clock People”
A smoker tries to quit his habit, and because of that chemical imbalance has a They Live! experience…

“Crouch End”
Two London police officers discuss a case where an American woman’s husband disappeared one night, when the town turned into a Lovecraftian nightmare.

“The House on Maple Street”
Four children arrive back after Summer vacation to discover that their house is slowly turning into some sort of space ship. They then decide to use this to deal with their tyrannical stepfather. As one would do.

“The Fifth Quarter”
More of a hard-boiled crime story, written and published under the pen name John Swithen in the 1970s, this is the story of a crook getting revenge on the death of his friend after a botched caper.

“The Doctor’s Case”
A Sherlock Holmes mystery written for the 1987 collection The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, this one finds the legendary detective’s investigation into the murder of a sadistic British lord waylayed by a bunch of cats.

“Umney’s Last Case”
A 1930s Raymond Chandler-style private investigator has a very, very bad day.

“Head Down”
This is a non-fiction essay about Stephen King’s son Owen’s little league baseball team.

“Brooklyn August”
Another baseball-themed piece, this one a poem that waxes nostalgic for the so-called American national pastime.

“The Beggar and the Diamond”
Kind of a re-telling of an old Hindu parable, a beggar is kind of down about his situation in life, when he happens upon a shiny object that changes his life.

Overall, Nightmares & Dreamscapes is a rather decent collection. It showcases King’s ability to write beyond the label of “horror fiction”; and while that dark undertone of personality is always there, it just serves as a flavoring for the stories, no matter what kind is being written about. Fortunately, for all of you dark fantasy horror types, the stories are mostly of that variety. Maybe pick up a good mass market paperback of this and enjoy.

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.

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.

Book Review: I GAVE DATING A CHANCE: A Biblical Perspective to Balance the Extremes

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i gave dating a chanceJeramy Clark
Waterbrook Press
2000

In recent years, “dating” has become a dirty word in many Christian circles. So dirty, in fact, that young believers are now encouraged simply not to date. This position has provoked an open debate among teens, their parents and youth workers, and single adults. For a great number of them, many questions remain unanswered. “Lord, what do I do with this desire to date?” “Can dating be an option for young adults who love the Lord and long to please Him?” Is not dating really the only acceptable option in God’s eyes? The answer, assures author and youth pastor Jeramy Clark, is a resounding “No!” The time has come for a sound, biblical, and practical approach that balances out the extreme perspectives: dating without responsibility versus a complete withdrawal from the dating process. Learn how you can confidently pursue healthy dating relationships that are characterized by holiness and integrity–and ultimately bring glory and honor to God–in I Gave Dating A Chance.

Having been personally involved in youth ministry outreaches in one form or another since the mid-1990s, I remember exactly when the book I Kissed Dating Goodbye by one Joshua Harris hit, sending a cultural shock wave through youth groups everywhere not unlike the one that happened when Praxis exploded in Star Trek VI. Soon, we suddenly found ourselves having the virtues of something called “courting” extolled as the proper method of relationships for the Christian youth, with the concept of dating becoming something of a pariah in the wake of the release. Entire lessons were whipped up based around this concept, with promises that doing this would guarantee the youth to remain pure and untouched by the temptations of lusty hormones.

I was a bit dubious of this trend when it came about. I wasn’t openly critical, mind you; I’m all about extolling virtuous behavior in teenagers, Christian or not, and I don’t really find anything about Joshua Harris’ book to object to. As a matter of fact, I would recommend reading it as well. What I came across, however, was the reactions this book caused. Namely, some of the knee-jerk legalistic reactions caused just by uttering the word “date”. And the objectors could never really explain why they objected, outside of “the book said so”. I hope you can understand why I was more than a bit concerned about that kind of development.

Fortunately, I found I Gave Dating A Chance at one of the handful of Christian booksellers in Omaha back around the turn of the 21st Century. I didn’t buy it then…they had comfy chairs, so I sat and read the majority of it in a couple of hours there. Then, after fifteen years, I finally managed to find a copy of the book again…by way of Google Books. Yeah, I got a download of the book and read that. In one setting, I should point out, while doing laundry.

First thing I wish to point out is, I Gave Dating A Chance is not an anti-I Kissed Dating Goodbye kind of book. While the beginning does claim inspiration for writing this book as a response to that other book, it merely exists as a balanced argument for looking at dating as not the taboo thing in Christian circles, and how the Godly man and woman (or boy and girl, depending on your age, I guess) can and should engage in dating relationships while maintaining integrity in their relationship with God.

It may seem a bit archaic now, considering the time frame, but there are still a lot of anti-dating and legitimate questions regarding youth and dating. I Gave Dating A Chance presents some helpful discussions on the topic, as well as handling relationship issues in a casual yet profound style that can be understood by both adults and youth reading this.

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