The Graveyard

Robert starts himself awake, breathing in the cold night air, his face awash with dew. He shivers in his thin black trousers, rolls over off the crushed flowers and wet grass, and sits up, facing the gravestone. It’s happened again.
This is the fourth night this month that he’s woken up in the graveyard, each time next to a different gravestone, but always with that same interrupted dream of something moving towards him through the forest, trying to be quiet as it stalks him between the trees, but he can hear the rustle and crack of branches or dry, dead leaves and with every step whatever it is is closer, and closer, and closer…
What wakes him up is not the footsteps of the invisible beast gaining on him through the woodland, not its hot, rotting-meat breath or the dry crackling of snapping twigs. What wakes him up is the voice. Always a woman’s voice, and always saying one name in a stage-whisper right in his ear.
Robert blinks his eyes now and tries to recall the name from his dream, and in so doing, looks at the gravestone.
HERE LIES VERITY COLLIER, the stonework reads. A grim smile unnaturally twists Robert’s lips as he mouths the words he can read. His breath steams the night air.
Verity Collier, he thinks. Who were you?
And he knows, now, that hers was the name whispered by a dream-ghost in his ear before he woke. He knows that because it’s what happened the other three times he’s woken up here. Each time, the name on the gravestone was the same as in his dream.
Robert shivers, and heads for home.
Once home, and showered and warm, Robert gets out his little notebook. In it, he’s been capturing how the dream progresses and what name the woman’s voice whispers to him before he wakes.
February 4th
Something’s following me and in my head I know it’s a dream but I’m moving too slowly to be able to get away from it and I’m somehow in a forest and I can track the thing’s movements by listening to the branches it snaps but it’s getting closer and I can’t find a way out of its path and that’s when she whispers MARTHA WILCOX right in my ear and I wake up in the graveyard right by Martha Wilcox’s grave
The dream remains pretty much the same each time, but the names change. And each time, the gravestone next to which he wakes bears that name.
February 9th
February 18th
Robert clicks on his ballpoint pen and writes today’s date and the name.
February 25th
A knock at his front door startles him, and he pads down the stairs to answer.
‘Mr Jones?’
Palms sweating now, because the young gentleman on his doorstep – no, peering past him Robert realises there are several young gentlemen on his doorstep – is wearing a police officer’s uniform and holding a piece of paper which bears Robert’s own name.
Robert breaks down and confesses to it all. How, over the last month, he killed each of the women in the forest a mile from his house and buried them in the abandoned graveyard on the outskirts of town, probably on the sites of old burials. How he carefully, lovingly fashioned gravestones for each of his victims in the workshop at the bottom of his garden and sneaked back to the graveyard in the dead of night, erecting each stone above the place where he’d buried them before falling asleep where he stood. How each and every one of them deserved it, wearing those high heels and short skirts, those red-lipstick, fuck-me smiles and then shutting him down when he tried to make a move. Hell, it’d be enough to drive any man crazy.
As the cuffs ratchet into place around his wrists, Robert smiles. An hysterical giggle escapes his lips.
‘Enough to drive any man crazy. Wouldn’t you agree, Officer?’
Inspired by Deftones’ cover of ‘If Only Tonight We Could Sleep’, by The Cure.

SADAKO VS. KAYAKO: A Rebuttal Before We Even Start

It is a truth universally acknowledged that mash-up sequels are always terrible. Alien Vs. Predator. Freddy Vs. Jason. Alien Vs. Predator II: Requiem. So you’d be forgiven for thinking that Asia, that absolute paragon of deliciously screwed-up, genuinely terrifying and controversial horror (Ring, Audition, Dumplings (*shudder*)) would elegantly keep well away from it.
You would, however, be incorrect. This week, (along with some others) unveiled plans for a crossover film featuring the iconic evil spirit girls from Ring and The Grudge, titled Sadako Vs. Kayako and slated for release next year (around the same time that, coincidentally, Hollywood, in it’s infinite wisdom, is releasing yet another remake-sequel to the American The Ring saga, titled Rings. As a side note, I’d like to remind you that the entire premise for titling the first American remake of Ring as The Ring is wholly misleading. People who don’t know the original will watch it expecting a horror film about a ring, when there are no rings. Instead, the original film is called Ring because every time an ill-fated teenager watches that infamous video that sounds their death-knell, the phone rings. You’d have thought someone in the Dreamworks studio would’ve caught that. But I digress).
So, here’s the kicker: what’s the new film actually going to be about? I mean, both characters are long dead even at the beginning of the original films. Ring and The Grudge (or Ju-On, to give it it’s original title) are not, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, set in the same universe or at the same time in multiple universes — they’re not even by the same director. What could these evil spirit girls possibly be pissed off with each other about that’s worth waging war over? They don’t kill people in the same way, or for the same reason. The only correlation between these two characters is that they’re both young dead girls with long hair and fucked-up fingernails. When put like that, it sounds like Mean Girls set in a morgue.
J-Horror has ever been a respected contributor to the world of horror films, but the question needs to be asked: is it running out of steam? What is the point of making this film? I’d say money, but I can’t really even see it making much of that, to be honest. No crossover film in the (admittedly, short) history of crossover films has ever done particularly well. AVP made just over $38,000,000 on it’s opening weekend, where Freddy Vs. Jason did even worse at just over $36m. They don’t really work as a sub-genre for precisely the reasons listed above (TL;DR: paper-thin premises), and, with the best will in the world, their execution (sic) is clumsy at best.
Asia has produced some outstanding, bloodcurdling original horror. I’d hate to see a well-deserved reputation (and two critically-acclaimed films) discredited for a quick buck.

Better Brutality Than Boredom

I produced this show for Rampant Theatre Productions, who are taking their next show The Gambit to Edinburgh this summer. Not for the faint of heart, Brutality… is a short sharp shock of a show which leaves the audience questioning how far is far enough when it comes to entertainment.

When I Feel Like Crap I Google Kim Kardashian Fat

I was assistant producer for this show when it was first being put together and I’m so proud of what these incredible women have done with their source material. A stunning, magical show that is as hilarious as it is thought-provoking. Go and see it!

All Hail The Yeti

All Hail The Yeti, Manchester Academy 3, 12/02/15
Connor Garritty says the highlight of this current tour is simply the tour itself. ‘We’ve never been here before’, he tells me. ‘Every day it’s something new. It’s surreal.’
Connor is the frontman for Hollywood metal outfit All Hail The Yeti, who are in the UK for the first time on tour with 36 Crazyfists, and, it seems, are loving every second.
This is certainly reflected in their live performance. The band exude a monstrous presence onstage, Garritty coming out with mic in hand, standing on a wooden box with an upside down cross on it, arms raised to either side like some unholy Messiah as the crowd clamours and stands entranced by this band that, on questioning some of the crowd later, few had ever heard of before.
This seems set to change. AHTY has already seen comparisons to some huge names in metal, including Pantera and Lamb Of God, and it’s not hard to see why. Garritty’s guttural, tortured vocals and the violent, moody subject matter of his lyrics echoes and even trumps the darkest visions ever committed to tape by Phil Anselmo, and the way their show is put together is pitch perfect, complete with encroaching background recordings of what sounds like wind whistling, church bells and chanted mantras that all comes together to deliver something that sounds like it’s fallen out of the most notorious of horror films.
Musically, AHTY does not disappoint. A heavy influence from Southern metal bands such as Down can be seen a mile off, the guitars menacing and tuned low, and the drumming… Let’s talk about the drumming. Glendon Crain’s fierce, relentless assault on his drum kit is a force to be reckoned with. The only drummer I’ve come across lately who does anything like what Crain does is Brad Fickeisen of Trap Them. Overall, it’s a stunning display of all-out, unapologetic war and it’s to be hoped the UK sees much, much more of this band. They’re building a new church for the future of heavy metal. So bow down. Worship. All Hail The Yeti.

36 Crazyfists

36 Crazyfists, Manchester Academy 3, 12/02/15
I didn’t know quite how I was going to write this review, because despite having been listening to 36 Crazyfists for over 10 years, I’d never seen them live and I know very little about them as people.
Let’s start with the easy part. 36CF has been a stalwart of the metal genre since they exploded onto the scene with ‘Bitterness The Star’ which showcased the almost anthem-like Slit Wrist Theory, and have been winning audiences and critics over worldwide ever since with every single release. Now, with new record ‘Time And Trauma’ out on Feb 17, it’s time to see exactly what Brock Landow and his band mates have been hiding up their sleeves since their last record dropped in 2011.
The fans go crazy the second the band steps to the stage, Landow waving and producing a microphone to begin the opening track, Vanish, which leads perfectly into crowd favourite At The End of August. What’s so great about 36 Crazyfists’ stage presence is that they seem to be having as much fun as the audience, playing a wide range of old favourites (Bloodwork) and new songs from the latest record (Sorrow Sings). It’s great to hear Brock’s voice sound just as cracked and beautiful as it ever did, balancing bloodcurdling screams with the softest silky clean vocals.
Of course, there’s the usual bout of crowdsurfing which is swiftly dealt with by the security team, and when a medic is called (sometime during The Heart And The Shape) it’s good to see Landow acknowledge the work of the team in keeping everyone safe. From my interview with him, it’s clear that he’s so humbled by audiences’ reactions to his work and so grateful to be doing something he loves, and this is reflected beautifully in his interactions with the audience during songs, whether it’s high-five-ing fans or just getting right in the middle of the sweaty, overheated mess of the mosh pit while he screams a lyric and the crowd screams it back in one voice.
For the encore, three classics emerge: Destroy The Map from bestselling album ‘A Snow-capped Romance’, for which Landow invites a fan up onstage to sing with him – much to the audience’s delight when the guy matches Brock note for note, scream for scream. Then, finally, two early tracks, Circle The Drain and Slit Wrist Theory, which leaves the audience in a dervish of flailing limbs and sore throats as they scream the lyrics, the band even stopping the music altogether during the climax just to hear us sing.
If this gig sets the bar for everything else I’m seeing this year, then everything else has got a tough act to follow. A brilliant, fun and nostalgia-driven party.
At The End of August
I’ll Go Until My Heart Stops
The Heart And The Shape
Also Am I
We Gave It Hell
Skin And Atmosphere
Midnight Swim
Sorrow Sings
Swing The Noose
Time And Trauma
Destroy The Map
Circle The Drain
Slit Wrist Theory

Eyes Of Mara – 'Eyes Of Mara'

Originally written for Manchester Rocks and reprinted here with permission:
Imagine if Hatebreed and Oathbreaker put out a record together. Hard to picture, right? Well, that’s pretty much exactly what California death/hardcore outfit Eyes Of Mara sounds like. Formed in 2010, the band bring standard low-tuned death-metal guitar work and blast beat drumming but infuse it with the kind of retched, screeched vocals reminiscent of Deafheaven or, to some extent, Punch. And it totally works.
Kicking off with ‘Vicious’, Eyes Of Mara strikes the listener instantly as incredibly ambitious and obviously very talented, but there is a feeling that there’s too much going on on this track, especially given the (count ‘em) four different vocal styles being presented. Fortunately, they lose the pig-squealing aspect fairly early on and it never resurfaces.
Moving on, ‘Control’ and ‘Don’t Get Close’ both show off those brilliant retched vocals again, and certainly with the latter song, there is a sense of a nu-metal, early Slipknot vibe in the opening which is fantastic. Both the retched and the standard death-growl vocals are presented together on ‘Pain And Fear’ and they actually really complement each other. These tracks are clearly very well written, meticulously rehearsed and organised, and very well produced. Nothing is too much, no one aspect of a song overshadows anything else, it all just…works.
‘New Direction’ kind of does what it says in the title. It’s got an instantly catchy riff, has all the trappings of a crowd-pleaser, and then employs an incredible clean vocal for as close as these guys get to a chorus. There’s also some offbeat drumming here which harks back to something like early Converge.
‘Rebirth’ also signals a change in dynamic. It’s the only fully instrumental track on the record and is a great diversion from the rest of the album, showing off the band’s talents in other musical directions. This bleeds perfectly into ‘Colder’, which starts off sounding like something you might have heard in a 90s teen movie before crashing into this soaring post-metal atmosphere before introducing the death vocal. It’s kind of a shame there wasn’t more done with this track, but it’s still a solid addition to the record as a whole.
Definitely worth a look if they’re ever in a town near you, Eyes Of Mara offer the kind of blistering, no-holds-barred fusion of styles that is really interesting and will certainly get them noticed by anyone with ears. Don’t be put off by the radically different vocal styles, this band is doing something unusual with their sound and it’s not to be ignored.

Ten Records That Changed My Life

These records went some way towards making me the person I am today. I’ll be posting them (near as I can) in the order I discovered them, so that a general trend can be seen in my music taste. So I guess you can blame some angry Americans for my sarcastic, angsty demeanour and my general hatred for the human race.
Apart from Hercules and Love Affair. Hercules and Love Affair are lovely.
10. The Slim Shady LP by Eminem – Foul-mouthed, explicit and disgustingly funny. I was probably way too young to hear this when it came out (I was 12) but it’s a masterpiece. 
LISTEN TO: ‘As The World Turns’
9. Significant Other by Limp Bizkit – Hanging my head in shame a little bit. But pretty much everything I do is for the nookie.
LISTEN TO: ‘Break Stuff’
(Side note: why the fuck is Jonathan Davis from Korn in the video for this? He doesn’t feature on the track, he’s got nothing to do with anything. He and Fred Durst sucked each other off WAY too much back in the ‘Significant Other’ days. I now don’t know who irritates me more. At least Korn had the decency to continue making decent music for a bit, even if it WAS basically all about paedophilia.)

8. Evil Empire by Rage Against The Machine – The first album I heard that made me realise you could be seriously pissed off and eloquent about it. Listen to that moment of pure frustrated anger during ‘Down Rodeo’ when he screams ‘Just a quiet, peaceful dance…’ – Makes me shiver every time.
LISTEN TO: ‘Bulls On Parade’
7. Adrenaline by Deftones – This record defined my first year of university and remains one of my favourite records of all time.
LISTEN TO: ‘Nosebleed’
6. Blackwater Park by Opeth – I don’t even care if you’re not a metal fan, this is a phenomenal piece of work. 68 minutes of some of the most outstanding musicianship these guys have ever come out with.
LISTEN TO: ‘Bleak’

5. Lateralus by Tool – Mathematics, philosophy, Fibonacci sequences, it’s all here. Probably the most pretentious band out there but my God they can write.
LISTEN TO: ‘Lateralus’

4. Hercules and Love Affair by Hercules and Love Affair – This is a dance record, completely steeped in the old-school New York house vibe and absolutely stunning. These people are clever, interesting and will blow your mind. I always go to Hercules and Love Affair if I feel stressed or upset and their music alway calms me down.
LISTEN TO: ‘Blind’
3. You Fail Me by Converge – It’s a record about drug addiction. It’s not pretty, it’s not fun, it absolutely does not glorify drug taking in any way and is completely and utterly bleak. Fuck Trainspotting – give your kid a copy of the lyrics to this to deter them from drug abuse. ‘This is for the hearts still beating…’ Chilling.
LISTEN TO: ‘Eagles Become Vultures’
2. Jane Doe by Converge – Don’t ever cheat on an angry vegan, because you get their seminal album dedicated to you and pretty much every song on the record is about how much you fucked up their life and you’re a bad person. I challenge anyone to listen to this album in full and not feel completely ruined by the end of it. Not to mention the death-mask face on the cover and the pure, unbridled rage that spills out of Jacob Bannon’s mouth (especially the bitter way he screams ‘I’ll take my love to the grave’ during ‘The Broken Vow’). There’s a reason that they rarely play anything other than ‘Concubine’ off this record, because as an experience, this album is just so emotionally painful to hear. I would hate to have been the girl this album was written about.
1. Sunbather by Deafheaven – This is a new-ish album, just released in 2013 but already ranks among the best heavy music I’ve ever heard. Crushing, complex and in places very beautiful, these gentlemen deserve your full attention.
LISTEN TO: ‘Dream House’

Fear As Entertainment

I wrote an article for TEDXSalford which was posted up there the other day. Here it is:
Last week, I posted a simple Facebook status asking for someone to recommend a good horror film. I outlined parameters for my personal definition of ‘good’ (no found footage, no terribly-acted films involving possessed children, no independently-moving furniture, that kind of thing) and waited for responses. Some fifty-plus comments later, I had wound up with a list of sixty-seven different horror films (several of which I’d already seen, I’m a massive horror addict) and one burning question: what is it about fear that is so attractive to film-makers and their audiences?
Novelist Karen Thompson Walker at TEDGlobal 2012 spoke about fear as one of the catalysts for imaginative storytelling and how it makes us consider our own possible futures. She outlines the story of the doomed whale-ship Essex, the inspiration for Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, as an example of fears – or rather, stories – having the power to fool people into making what could be ultimately fatal decisions.
It’s interesting to consider our fears through another’s eyes: what’s terrifying to you or me may be laughable to someone else, and vice versa. But there does seem to remain a constant desire among horror audiences to be petrified. This relationship between fear and entertainment, of enjoying being scared could, at its simplest level, be boiled down to the rush of adrenalin you feel when experiencing fear, whether it’s watching Leatherface run after Sally Hardesty through the trees in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, going into an important business meeting or even just sitting on the front row of a roller coaster. Fear is exciting. Fear is sexy. Fear is one of the most complex, and yet simplistic, of human emotions, and we crave it, whether we think so or not.
But why is this, exactly? Well, bizarre as it may seem, it’s a safety thing. Horror films depict our worst nightmares without confronting us directly with them – you can always press the pause button; you can always flick a light switch if it gets too much. There is no pause button for life, no light switch for the darkness of reality. The trouble with fear becoming an entertainment source is that it can drive people to the worst levels of voyeuristic schadenfreude: see, as long as a screen separates the audience from ‘the bad thing’, they can pretend it’s not real. This was seen no more (unintentionally, I’m sure) cruelly than just over a week ago, when American journalist James Foley was decapitated on camera by an ISIS extremist and the video went viral on the Internet. People were suitably outraged by Foley’s cold, brutal murder and his forced statement alleging he was ashamed of his American heritage, of course they were – but that didn’t stop them posting it on their Facebook walls and sharing it on other social media sites. Eventually the video was deleted from YouTube and the world, shocked, moved on to the next disaster.
The fact that a global audience flocked to the nearest computer screen to gawp, ghoulishly, at a fellow human being being slaughtered like cattle is not a little disquieting. What have we become? What does fear mean to us these days? It seems we are becoming more and more desensitised to actual problems, really horrific events that are happening in the world in which we live. Humans are scared, fragile animals who have been jumping at shadows since the dawn of time, and of course there’s no way Hollywood’s not going to exploit that, but perhaps it’s time to step away from the television set, to put down the remote. We’ve grown fat on Jason Vorhees and Michael Myers for far too long. We are still human beings, we are still capable of compassion and emotional involvement, and we should constantly seek to remind ourselves that the suffering and fear of our fellow man is not a mere movie of the week. We are better than that.

LIVE REVIEW: Deafheaven

Deafheaven, Gorilla, Manchester, UK, August 16th 2014
San Francisco metal giants Deafheaven are so talented it’s actually terrifying. Their epic 2013  record Sunbather is a genre-defying, hour-long mixture of black metal, shoe gaze and spoken word moments, all wrapped up in George Clarke’s retched vocals. It’s an album that has entered various ‘album of the year’ charts in high positions, and not just within the metal community. It’s a more than worthy follow-up to 2011’s Roads To Judah and if you’ve not heard it yet, you’re missing a trick.
Supported for this tour by the incredible Chelsea Wolfe (who I shall review separately), Deafheaven has made it their mission to get up close and personal with their fans on the tour, meaning no barriers, meaning fans can interact with the band members and fully immerse themselves in this album as a live experience.
George Clarke approaches the stage and takes up a position front and centre, gripping the microphone and assuming something approximating a war stance, glaring at the audience as if daring them to come forward. And come forward they do. Opener Dream House, the first track off Sunbather, begins in a blaze of distortion and yelling fans, all of them scrambling to be right at the front. Clarke screeches the opening lyrics and the insanity begins on the floor, kids shoving and pressing together to try and be a part of the song. There’s a quiet moment about halfway through the track, in which George Clarke stage dives for a bit and then stands staring at the floor before motioning for the crowd to approach the stage once more as the song reaches it’s climax and every single kid at the show tries to grab Clarke and scream the final set of lyrics back at him.
The crowd is covered in sweat already, and so are all grateful for the band to play Irresistible next, a three-minute beautiful piece of instrumentation which calms everyone down slightly as they gaze at George Clarke and the rest of the band, Clarke not even looking at the crowd, just leaning on the microphone stand and preparing himself for the next song. And so Sunbather begins. This track is eleven minutes of black metal beauty, the guitar work hypnotic and forceful, the lyrics screeched on top, poured over the instruments like liquid gold. Clarke stands in front of his captive audience like a messiah, reaching his hands out for people to grasp, stage diving as he screams and finally just falling into the audience, grabbing one man by the neck and offering him the microphone, touching their heads together, their sweat and breath mingling as they scream.
The next track is the new one they have been hinting at since June, an excellent meld of haunting guitar-playing and tortured vocals that lasts a mere eight minutes by my count. They then dive into the final trackThe Pecan Tree, which showcases their drummer’s excellent command of blast-beat styles while also showing off a beautiful middle section of clean guitars and piano melodies before Clarke comes crashing back in with the final lyrics: ‘I am my father’s son. I am no one. I cannot love. It’s in my blood.’ On the record this final lyrical part lasts for just over three minutes, but as part of the live show, Clarke keeps it going for at least twice that, surrendering the microphone and motioning everyone still closer to the stage.
The band leaves and the lights go down, but no one’s moving. The atmosphere is electric. They then come back onstage and do one final track, and George Clarke dedicates the set to Chelsea Wolfe and all the people who have supported Deafheaven throughout the last year while they’ve been on the road for this record. The show is over, and it’s been like a religious experience. I cannot urge you enough: go out and see this band live and listen to their music. You will thank me.
Dream House
New song
The Pecan Tree

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