Nubility

Baudelarian

Sure, some can be read as straight-up gross-out mindfucks—“I Cum Blood” and “Necropedophile” immediately come to mind—but others, like “Entrails Ripped From A Virgin’s Cunt” and “Addicted to Vaginal Skin” mix a Baudelarian sense of poetry and an almost alien observation of the human body. Tomb of the Mutilated is Cannibal Corpse’s first experiment with violence unknown; presenting a circuitous approach to murder that was as much a case file as it was a splatterfest.”

You’ve got to love Invisible Oranges. The adjective ‘Baudelarian’ isn’t usually seen in the company of metal music, especially not Cannibal Corpse.

And, of course, how could you mention Cannibal Corpse without dropping an album cover?

Notice the surprised (or traumatized?) head bottom-right.

The Art of the Cover

I’ve been listening again, after a couple of months, to Laibach’s Volk LP. Consisting exclusively of re-imaginings of (mostly European) national anthems, it’s a quietly ironic look at the violence that typically forms the core of nationalism and anthems: as Slovenians, Laibach are better placed than most to comment on it. The purpose of this post, however, is more prosaic.

A little digging on Laibach revealed that one of their most popular songs is a cover of the delightful “Live is Life” (or is it the other way around?) by the Austrian band Opus. It has all the trappings of an 80s pop gem: an incomprehensible concept video, an egregious reggae beat, and a moustache (on the vocalist) that I sincerely hope remains where it belongs - in 1985. 

Laibach are no strangers to oddball covers: they’ve covered (with varying degrees of success) The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Queen, and Europe.

But Opus?

Just where did that come from?

Needless to say, there are practically no similarities with the original, with the sole exception of vocalist Milan Fras’ gloriously luxuriant moustache. Gone is the reggae beat, now replaced by an equally simple martial rhythm. Milan Fras’ rasping croak is classic martial-industrial, meshing perfectly with the grandiose synths to produce that claustrophobic, totalitarian atmosphere we all know and love. It’s a fine re-interpretation. 

But the video? Ah, that’s where Laibach’s real genius becomes apparent. Beginning with a group shot (there are four of them) against the backdrop of icy mountains, it swiftly spirals off into more bizarre terrain. Milan Fras, for instance, sports T.E. Lawrence-style headgear, while throwing what looks like a Nazi salute. Except he does it with both hands, looking more like an enthusiastic alpine tour guide than anything else. 

The rest has to be seen to be believed. Perplexed deer blink at the camera, just as nonplussed as the viewer. Laibach frequently appear in more group shots, staring into space, at a distant something. Alternatively, they prowl rather aimlessly around the woods. In fact, it resembles nothing so much as one of those formulaic black metal videos that were to become all too common by the mid-90s. Immortal, anyone?

Just look at this.

See what I mean?

"Life is Life", then, is noteworthy on at least two counts. One, Laibach managed to transform an innocuous hit by a minor German (ok, Austrian) band into a threatening martial anthem, the effect of which is completely nullified by an accompanying video which reduces to parody the dramatic theater of totalitarianism. I don’t know which is more ridiculous, the original or the cover. Two, they anticipate the paganism, mysticism, and pantheistic fascination with nature which was to obsess black metal bands in the next decade. Except the latter, sadly, weren’t joking. 

That’s not too shabby for a four and a half minute cover.

Bely

An excerpt from Petersburg; but I’m posting it since it’s the most powerful passage I’ve read in a long, long time:

There is an infinity of prospects racing in infinity with an infinity of intersecting shadows racing into infinity. All Petersburg is the infinity of a prospect raised to the power of n. 

While beyond Petersburg there is - nothing.

irrational

The newest post on the Becker-Posner blog deals with immigration, and reminded me of something that has always vexed me: thinking economically. ‘Cost and benefit analysis’, ‘rational choice’, call it what you will, it’s a hopelessly blinkered, unrealistic approach. It’s always struck me as crass utilitarianism by another name. 

Take an example: Becker, in his post, recommends an up-front payment of $50,000 (or alternatively, a partial payment of $10,000, with the rest being a government loan. How magnanimous!) for illegal immigrants to acquire citizenship. This is, he suggests, an amicable solution to all: citizens concerned about migrants getting a ‘free ride’, governments looking to cut down ballooning deficits, and immigrants seeking security from deportation and harassment. 

Seriously?

I won’t even try and point out the difficulties with this kind of approach. Think about it for a few minutes on your own.

Yet, it’s this mode of thinking that has been the dominant influence over governments, policy makers, and (most alarmingly) society in general for the past couple of decades. Attempting to appeal to a higher, altruistic motive is immediately derided, perhaps as being opposed to our ‘nature’ as rational beings. Indeed, it is difficult now to conceive of any other mode of thinking. Tony Judt put it all in perspective in his excellent Ill Fares the Land when he points out that this is, in effect, a “discursive difficulty”. We have not, except for brief periods in history (such as now, and the heyday of ‘classical economics’), always thought this way. It is not in our nature to do so, no matter what current trends might suggest.

A major source of the problem, in my opinion, lies in according to economics the status of an (more or less) exact science. Too often, we take an economist’s words as gospel. This is not, of course, to deride an entire field of knowledge: but economics is notoriously inexact, prone to misuse and ideology, (having read Hayek, I’ve realized just how terribly his writings have been misappropriated by the Chicago School and others on the right), especially when dealing with the really big question - how must we organize ourselves for our collective benefit?

Even at an individual level, as Judt points out, it is now ethical to think in this manner. We pride ourselves in our relentless pursuit of material wealth. This is something, I’ve found, that is especially present in people of my own age (20): any appeal to a ‘higher’ ethic, for example, a concern for the environment, is instantly derided. Why? The usual answer is “it’s not in my interest to give a damn”. Mention a new policy with the imprimatur of economic justification (to take an example, flogging agricultural land to private entrepreneurs at ridiculously low prices in the name of ‘development’) to the same person, and it’s usually received with hushed reverence. 

I do fear for us. 

Us? Do I really have anything in common with these fools? I don’t believe it’s in my interest to admit to it. 

* * * * 

 - A general, informed reading on the immigration debate (in the context of Western Europe): Jeremy Harding in the LRB.

- I’d highly recommend reading Ill Fares the Land, it puts things into perspective. 

* * * * 

I’m not communist, intellectual, or crazy: just a concerned citizen.

Bely

A Hooligan’s Little Song


Once there lived both he and I;

To be friends we had to die.


Skeleton, he’d visit me…

Winters, summers… frequently.


Simple heart and solid bone;

We strolled this graveyard alone.


And with laughter he’d recall 

That gay day: our funeral.


How they bore box behind box…

How the priest tagged… over rocks…


Censer smoke filled up the nose.

Fat coachmen made coffin rows.


'Rest with all saints and the Lord!'

They pressed us down with a board.


Once there lived he and I… long…

Til-ly, til-ly, til-ly dong.

Russian Poet of the Week #2

Andrei Bely

Continuing on the thread of symbolism. Like Bryusov, I first heard of Andrei Bely (pronounced ‘Biely’) when I read of his book Petersburg. The notoriously disdainful Nabokov listed it as one of his favourite novels:

My greatest masterpieces of twentieth century prose are, in this order: Joyce’s Ulysses; Kafka’s Transformation; Biely’s Petersburg; and the first half of Proust’s fairy tale In Search of Lost Time.”

I still haven’t gotten round to reading it. It’ll probably have to wait for War and Peace  to be done (which could take a while). Bely was also, however, a notable poet (there’s an Andrei Bely prize in poetry). His style was primarily symbolist; the significance of which is best explained by the man himself: “When I say ‘I’, I create a sound symbol. I assert this symbol as something existing. And only at that moment do I create myself.

A prominent literary theorist as well, Bely attached great importance to phonetics, to the rhythm of words. This, granted, is nothing new: Tolstoy himself, perhaps unconsciously, paid close attention to such details, creating unbelievably intense passages. An example:

 Kápli kápali. Shyól tíkhii góvor. Lóshadi zarzháli i podrális. Khrapél któ-to. 

Drops dripped. Quiet talk went on. Horses neighed and scuffled. Someone snored.


Bely, from the little I’ve read of him, develops this style far more consciously than The Count: making translation that much more challenging (I really wish my pace of learning Russian was quicker).  Pure form apart, he’s a poet of formidable ability, most of which is still visible in translation. In today’s poem, for example, two impressions stand out: an almost comic sense of absurdism, and a brilliant evocation of light and colour (I suspect he had some form of Synesthesia)

The first of this week’s poems is:

On The Mountains


Wedding wreaths crown the mountains.

I’m ecstatic… I’m young.

And all over my mountains 

Such a pure chill is hung. 


And behold - to my rock 

Came a gray-haired hunchback, shuffling-stumbling

And the gift that he brought

Was pineapples from an underground dungeon


O he danced - wearing bright crimson-red 

Praised the sky’s azure glow.

He swept up with his beard Whirlwinds of silver-blizzarding snow.


With a cry 

Deep as gravel 

He threw into the sky 

The pineapple.


And then arching a line,

Lighting up its environs,

The pineapple fell - brilliant with shine

Through the unknown


Radiating a glow

As if dew of gold ducats were falling…

They agreed down below:

'It's a disk of pure flame - a sun shining.'


Golden fountains of fire,

or else heavenly dew

Dew like crystal and red as a pyre,

Brightly flew 

Down and bathed the rocks too.


Then I poured out some wine in a glass,

Sneaked aside for a moment,

And I drenched the hunchback

with a light, foamy torrent. 


Thrash Done Right #1

Whoever said Thrash was dead? In this (sporadic) series of posts, I’ll highlight the many noteworthy bands still driving the genre onwards and upwards.

For today, it’s going to be Nekromantheon.  

They might be from Kolbotn, Norway, but Nekromantheon reveal a staggering range of influences: Teutonic thrash (Sodom and Kreator, especially); hints of perennial favourites like Sepultura, Dark Angel, and Slayer; and more than a little of the grime of fellow-Norwegians Aura Noir

Rise, Vulcan Spectre, their second LP, doesn’t break any new ground, but by god, it does shake it. A 30-minute blitz of balls-out intensity, frenetic cymbal crashes, and even more frenetic soloing, it never, ever lets up. Vocalist/guitarist Arild “Arse” Myren Torp has a wonderfully throaty, raw shout, which is quite a bit harsher than the style employed by your typical thrash troubadour. This is by no means a bad thing: it adds to the overall atmosphere of dirtiness. Filthy, grimy, sweaty, jagged - I can’t emphasize just how utterly unclean Nekromantheon sound. They create an awful lot of noise for a three-piece band.

Some might view this as a failing. True, Nekromantheon don’t seem to have been catapulted straight from outer space like Vektor, for instance. Neither are there any riffs and solos you haven’t heard before. They don’t attempt any cutesy interludes or even attempt to change the pace of proceedings. This is not to say that Nekromantheon are sloppy or unimaginative musicians: quite the opposite, in fact. Disciplined is the word that comes to mind. Tightly-controlled fury, be it in the drumming, vocals, or guitars.

It’s thrash done right, in other words. No subtlety, no refinement: just the raw aural assault that drew us all to rock music in the first place. 

Rise, Vulcan Spectre is an unusually consistent album, which makes picking individual songs difficult. If pushed, I would probably point to “Coven of the Minotaur” as the best song on the album: it has a great chorus (“the Minotaur is ravenous/Let the ritual begin!”), and even better dual-guitar soloing. “Rise, Vulcan Spectre” is unbelievably fast, an all-out thrasher, with arguably the best riffs on the album. 

I can’t recommend Nekromantheon highly enough. Find yourself a copy of Rise, Vulcan Spectre

Bryusov

Pompeian Woman

'My first husband was quite a wealthy merchant,

My next - a poet, third - a piteous mime,

The fourth - a consul, now “five” is a eunuch,

But Caesar married us himself this time.


The master of the empire loved me madly,

but I was fond of one Nubian slave.

My belt undid for many. And I never

Dreamed Casta et Pudica above my grave.


But you, young friend, my shy one from Mysia,

Forever… ever… I am yours alone. 

Love, don’t believe that all women are liars;

Among them there was found a faithful one!’


And so she spoke, and she was pale and breathless…

Lydia, a matron, as in some vague dream,

Forgetting that all Pompei was in panic 

And that Vesuvius’ sky was flame and steam.


And when the lovers tired and became quiet

And they were overcome with potent sleep,

Masses of gray dust fell upon the city,

And it was buried under ashes deep.


Centuries passed, and as from greedy jawbones,

We tore the past from earth here in this place.

We found a symbol of immortal passion:

Two bodies well-preserved in their embrace.


Erect the sacred monument still higher:

Live sculpture of eternal bodies found!

So memory will keep the world reminded

Of passion which transcended every bound.

* * * 

Note: Casta et Pudica = pure and chaste.

Bryusov

The Fierce birds

Fierce birds, with feathers made of pure fire,
Flew above the entrance into God’s Empire.
The inflamed reflections reached the marble whiteness,
And the strangers vanished in the waters’ vastness.

But, on the virgin marble of the steps of the entrance,
Somewhat ever reddened by unnatural radiance,
And by gates and arches, everlasting, purest…
Angels drank from goblets of mysterious lures.

Russian Poet of the Week #1

Valery Yakovlevich Bryusov (1873-1924)

(Image from here)

A good way to bring some scarcely-available artists to light, I think.

I first encountered Bryusov in Modern Russian Poetry by Vladimir Markov and Merrill Sparks, was quietly impressed, but somehow turned to other things. As luck would have it,  I came across Bryusov yesterday on Writers No One Reads. Turns out he was a prominent prose author: Fiery Angel sounds extremely appealing, especially given the comparisons to Bulgakov. He’s far more prominent, though, as one of the foremost poets of the Russian Symbolist movement

For now, I’m restricted to the limited English translations I have of his work. “Amaltea" reflects Bryusov’s (and apparently a lot of Symbolists’) concern with Greek and Roman mythology. I can’t really comment on the symbolism here, but it’s very enjoyable even at the level of metaphor. 

Amaltea


Nobody lives on dull Avernus’ coast; 

The sacred forest trembles round the lake;

Rock ledges are reflected blurred and tossed.


The skies are dark like curtains, And awake 

In silence here - within this secret den,

Listening all the time as voices speak - 


A sibyl lives. The destinies of men

And worlds pass before her; - names,  faces, souls

In quick dream-play follow each other then.


And shaken by the way that dreams change roles

(Not knowing what their meaning seems to be),

She speeds to write it all down on the scrolls:


The sounds of words, the prophecies and the 

Prophetic visions… mysteries divine.

And as she writes, she trembles in frenzy 


And in terror she reads those words - each line.

But that one scroll is finished and with laughter

Maliciously she drops it. With no time


To look she takes one more like it thereafter,

And - slight-breathed - writes in anguish most profound.

Wind from the rocks murmurs death verse. The wafter 


Sweeps the scrolls up…off… with a rustling sound.

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