Necromantia is unquestionably a force to be reckoned with in the ever-mercurial genre of black metal. Also, their contribution to the more avant-garde and experimental end of the spectrum cannot be discounted in any way – not to mention the plethora of related acts (Rotting Christ, Thou Art Lord, Diabolos Rising, Yoth Iria, Septic Flesh and many more) that are, if not directly associated with Necromantia through shared members, at least Necromantia-adjacent through production, artwork or other artistic collaborations.
And that is what separates The Serpent and the Pentagram: The Official Chronicles of Necromantia from so many other biographical works. Dayal Patterson’s Cult Never Dies or Tero Ikäheimonen’s The Devil’s Cradle are really well-presented investigations into black metal from a top-down perspective but this volume, co-written by scene journalist Aris Shock and founding member The Magus, is intimate, personal and quite astounding in how it documents both the extent of Necromantia’s influence and the burgeoning extreme metal scene of 1980s and 1990s Greece.
Sakis Tolis’ Non Serviam: The Story of Rotting Christ is similar in its description of the time period, but it is very much a musical journey. The Magus’ story is far more nuanced and well-rounded, presenting himself as a more mature personality with interests and activities beyond just the music – even though this is the primary form of expression and red thread binding the narrative together. In this way, Confessions of a Heretic by Adam “Nergal” Darski (Behemoth) is a closer match, being more of a personal journey than a purely artistic one.
Yes, there are anecdotes and tales along the way, corresponding with a chronological discussion of Necromantia and its myriad of offshoots, but there is also a deep connection established with three essential external influences on the band’s development. The first, occultism, is a bone-deep theme throughout the book – both in the shared interest that brought the Magus and Baron Blood together, as well as their approaches to the occult, but also in the way it shaped their musical journey. There are also subtle hints and rabbit holes that colour the proceedings, leading a more avid practitioner into outside areas to research further that add to the air of mystery and result in a more convincing, authentic representation of the band members.
To The Depths We Descend – Necromantia’s final album – is something of a musical epitaph to the late Baron Blood.
The second is the acceptance of media influences: it is all too common for the kvlt-est of musicians to eschew any connection with the modern world and brand anything not explicitly satanic, pagan or obsessed with death as “poseur” music – all while living out role-playing game fantasies in the local forest. Contrastingly, Necromantia celebrates their influences, from pulp horror novels to classic literature to film and even contemporary television series.
We are, after all, inescapably connected to McLuhan’s global village of communication technologies, so the most responsible action in the face of overwhelming globalism is to proactively choose which of those technologies to embrace and how. The Magus’ willingness to cite influences as diverse as Game of Thrones or The Devils of D-Day shows someone who is comfortable with themselves and committed to their own identity, as well as mature enough to present that identity without excessive audience-based editing. Perhaps it is a generational thing, but a similar outlook and considered approach can be found in Primordial frontman Alan Averill’s Agitators Anonymous podcast, where he discusses everything from Irish political history to drunken misadventures, to the recording process, to cult figures like Aleister Crowley and their influence on extreme metal, while also holding meaningful philosophical conversations with his contemporaries.
This recording may be the original demo version of “Feast of Ghouls” from 1992, but the limited release of the book includes this as the A-side of a 7″ vinyl; a re-recording of “Faceless Gods” is on the B-side.
Building on that, the third influence well-represented in The Serpent and the Pentagram is the ongoing commentary from peers and contemporaries. Some – Rotting Christ’s Sakis Tolis or Septic Flesh’s Seth Siro Anton, for example – are local, direct connections, while others – from Cradle of Filth’s Dani Filth, Darkthrone’s Fenriz or Impaled Nazarene’s Mika Luttinen – show the global reach of Necromantia’s art, music and ideology. What is common to all, however, is the abiding respect for Necromantia and the Magus himself that all these contributors share.
In summation, if you’re more interested in a formulaic, ‘I was a lonely long-haired AC/DC fan in a small town with a second-hand Les Paul knockoff…’ kind of origin story, then The Serpent and the Pentagram is probably not for you. If you want a profound, honest depiction of a personal journey, complete with unprecedented tragedy (in the passing of Baron Blood in 2019), then this is the metal biography you’ve been looking for. It’s insightful, touching and intriguing – and the direct register it is written in makes its impact immediate, honest and convincing.
Author: The Magus & Aris Shock
Publisher: Pagan Records
Release Date: March 17, 2022
Format/Length: Hardcover, 224 pages
“Apotropaic Beatnik Graffiti” by Mark Mothersbaugh [Book Review]
‘Apotropaic Beatnik Graffiti’ (Blank Industries) is a fascinating trip into the mind of a unique artist, Mark Mothersbaugh.
Mark Mothersbaugh’s Apotropaic Beatnik Graffiti is a book like no other; no argument. At first glance, a volume of over 500 identical images of a pair of stylized, staring brown eyes, with a distinctively retro (1960s) feel. Each image of the eyes is adorned by Motherbaugh’s daily graffiti (sometimes more than one a day).
That the artist feels the need to add a guide telling us how to view the book suggests that it is not there to be merely dipped into, but the repetition of the pieces also makes it hard to plan a prolonged session in its company. This would possibly suggest an element of self-indulgence on his part, but this is art, where self-indulgence becomes artistic licence. Nobody is forcing you to look into these eyes.
Mothersbaugh is better known as a member of DEVO, the Ohio new wave band who, despite forming in the early ’70s, became known as a product of the ’80s due to their cult hit “Whip It” in 1980. Their appearance, usually in overalls with red cone hats, pointedly staring at the camera, provided a Stateside version of Kraftwerk and fiercely promoted ideas of pop art, surrealism, and Dadaism. If this book can be considered an extension of the DEVO movement, it might make more sense, or maybe it should be viewed as its own mysterious entity.
Various prefaces to the actual artwork provide some context, particularly the artist’s admission that he has always, in whatever capacity, been partially sighted, which has affected his view on life and, therefore, his art, be that in music or visuals. Whilst the daubing on each page, a mixture of seemingly random statements and comic book figures certainly tick the boxes of Beatnik graffiti, the apotropaic element may need more exposition.
Mothersbaugh attempts to put pay to the common assumption that the concept of the Evil Eye is purely evil and puts forth how it can also be a method of warding off evil spirits. Therefore, looking into these artificial eyes can perhaps provide the reader with a healing or cleansing process whilst providing entertainment at a more base level. Some of the images are genuinely funny, while others raise questions and set up food for thought.
A story is offered before the journey begins of a pirate entering a beatnik-strewn café in the ’60s, revealing his evil eye from behind his eye patch, only to be challenged by the waitress who keeps the evil eye in her pants. Their face-off opens up a time tunnel to 2017 when Mothersbaugh first revealed this project. So, the humour is intentional.
Random dips into the book see a left eye warning, “Stay away from the Bassline, it’s far too funky for this,” whilst the right calls out,“Shall we Roll?” Often, the eyes are in their own conflict.
Much like Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit book, this can be taken as a design for life if the reader chooses to go that far. “Watch your step, choose your weapon, then employ it, baby!” or “Try not to crumple that banana” might be sound advice, but “Did anyone see you come in? Look no further Fool!” may be an invite into some illicit behaviour. Solid soundbites and all.
The Americana of the images remains in the past with comic strip-style characters, seemingly ripped from 1960s funny pages, veering into the grotesque body horror of Robert Crumb at times and becoming gynecological in detail when the need arises. But mainly, the drawings are easy on the eye, re-delivering Mad Men-esque sloganeering from a lost age and placing them in a contemporary mindset.
Whether the artist is creating a targeted homage to Dadaism through his stream-of-consciousness ramblings, or merely opening his mind and inviting you to look into and beyond his eyes is up to the reader to decide. Either way, this is a fascinating trip into the mind of a unique artist.
Mark Mothersbaugh’s Apotropaic Beatnik Graffiti is available from big.cartel.com for $60 and is a thing of beauty.
Author: Mark Mothersbaugh
Publisher: Blank Industries
Release Date: March 12, 2024
Format/Length: Hardcover, 548 pages
“The Fascinating Adventures of Little Bee” by Beans On Toast [Children’s Book Review]
‘The Fascinating Adventures of Little Bee’ is a brilliant series, with classic topics ranging from dinosaurs to the moon being offered up to readers with a range of ways to engage and play along with each book.
UK artist Beans on Toast recently released The Fascinating Adventures of Little Bee, a combo children’s book series and album. I’m a sucker for a series. More so when it comes to kids’ books. Call me a completionist, or maybe I just like the look of it on a nursery wall, but there’s something rewarding about having a full run of a children’s lit series. What’s better is when they’re a series you’re genuinely excited to read with your kid.
I was delighted by the disarming charm of the folksy collage-meets-illustration artwork, the handwritten lettering, and the stories themselves. The titular character sports a colander hat, bee-coloured shirt and shoes, and an ever-present look of delight and wonder. The art feels whimsical and accessible, as do the stories. Every book has something different to offer: “Little Bee Goes To The City” is a reflection on diversity, while “Little Bee Goes To The Woods” serves up the wisdom of patience as its setting’s lesson. Each destination offers up similarly well-coupled themes, and each of them is clever, effortless, and fun to read.
Folk singer and author Beans On Toast says in writing the series, “I feel like kid’s books are very similar to folk songs. They’re simple, to the point, with a message about being kind to the world and its people.” To that end, they succeeded in telling simple songs, but there’s so much more to them. For starters, each story is a different song, literally: every book has a different way of playing along to the book in a tune, whether it be guitar, ukelele, piano or any of a myriad of other ways to play along to the rhythmic, sing-song lilt of the words.
In addition, each book has a “Where is Bee?” section, asking kids to search for Little Bee among a scene consisting of characters from the previous pages. Equally clever is the addition of interesting facts about the theme in each book – this is great for kids who are older and able to grapple with the interesting trivia about each setting. It means there are other ways to keep kids engaged. And as with all books for kids, if your young ’un doesn’t like a particular section, it just takes a flip of the page to move on to the parts they do.
It also needs to be said the colours of the various books are visually pleasing. Each chromatic selection is underscored by textures appropriate to each theme (e.g., pockmarked earth rendered in luminescent yellow for “Little Bee Goes To The Moon,” clouds swirling under carnation pink on “Little Bee Goes To An Imaginary World,” etc.), and the variety of colours on display really lets the series stand out.
The Fascinating Adventures of Little Bee is a brilliant series, with classic topics ranging from dinosaurs to the moon being offered up to readers with a range of ways to engage and play along with each book. It’s a series I’ve purchased for my little guy, and I look forward to sharing it with him time and time again.
“To The Sea”
“To The Woods”
“To The City”
“Back In Time”
“To An Imaginary World”
“To A Gig”
Author: Beans On Toast, Jaime & Lilly
Publisher: Play on Words Publishing
Release Date: December 1, 2022
Format/Length: Paperback, 290 pages
“The Ballad of Buttery Cake Ass” by Aug Stone [Book Review]
The Ballad of Buttery Cake Ass reads like it was written by Douglas Adams if he was raised in a record shop by Monty Python and Kurt Vonnegut.
There’s something about lost media that stirs something in us these days. How often do we get frustrated when something we search for doesn’t immediately materialize with that Wiki blurb, some pics and links to socials? Unless that grid of related info pops up, we feel we’ve suddenly stumbled into the ethereal realm, the Flammarion Engraving writ digital. That experience, though, is one of the few remaining remnants of a past we can never again replicate. In the absence of fact, we’re left with the word of others. This bygone reliance on word-of-mouth folklore is how Aug Stone’s The Ballad of Buttery Cake Ass (grab your copy here) unfolds, speaking in tales within tales, a cornucopia of simulacra that gets more and more layered.
The tale begins like phyllo pastry in a cold oven; things heat up as the narrator and his friend prod witnesses about the origins of the titular band in their Hero’s pursuit of BCA’s long-lost vinyl, Live In Hungaria. I have one quibble with Stone’s story: how long it takes that metaphorical oven to heat up. The witticisms, puns and wordplay that saturate the beginning chapters act like harsh feedback at the beginning of a track, challenging the reader’s endurance while the story gets its bearings.
But once the narrator and co. finish covering the lengthy background behind the band’s name, the tone and humour lock into place, and the narrative shines. The wordplay and asides suddenly gain meaning, and with a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it urgency, the plot and humour achieve balance, and the book reaches a calibre that only gets more powerful as it unfolds. Just a few chapters in, I realized: The Ballad of Buttery Cake Ass reads as if Douglas Adams wrote it if he was raised in a record shop by Monty Python and Kurt Vonnegut. It’s an exposition by way of music culture; comedy by way of absurdism; narrative via forgotten tales and distant memories.
Along the way are countless musical references that delight with their obscurity: Cabaret Voltaire, Cleaners From Venus, Fugazi, even a nod to Aquarius Records along the way, all while Stone progressively turns the dial up on the intensity of Buttery Cake Ass’ fateful demise. A slew of fictional bands, artists, musicians, and acts and even a hilariously robust discography are sprinkled throughout the mix. The layers of false media and fake references, on top of all the obscure ones, lend legitimacy to them, fooling the reader (at least this one) on more than one occasion. “Nigel Dinks? Never heard of him, let’s see who- ah,” I mumble as I search for a musician who never existed. Well done, Stone – well done.
By the time the story reaches its conclusion, a theme emerges that I suspect only those who are starting to approach middle age and older will appreciate. The dreams, hopes, and lofty ambitions of artists met with the chaos of life’s circumstances hit home. Chances are good that you and I, reader, will go through this life without becoming famous, and crucially, as the book points out in its closing pages, that’s perfectly fine. Go and live your life, play your heart out, and follow where your heart takes you. If it means you become a wildlife preservationist instead of a big-time record producer or a session musician who gets to have regular work but live in relative obscurity, that’s great.
The Ballad of Buttery Cake Ass thumbs its nose in the face of the attention superstructure, delighting in the experience of sleeping under pinball machines and releasing records that no one outside of a handful will ever hear. “Get over yourself,” Aug Stone tells us, “and chase after the things that delight you and capture your imagination.” Do it without care for the result, do it with wild abandon. Do it, and be content with telling the stories you make along the way to the select few who will listen. You reach a time in your life when you get a chance to go from reckless abandon into an obscure, fulfilling life, and if you listen closely, you can hear your magnum opus beneath the static. Who knows, maybe a couple of kids some day will grow obsessed with what you managed to do, and you’ll be humbled when they fight for decades to get their hands on something you made once upon a time.
Author: Aug Stone
Publisher: Stone Soup
Release Date: February 9, 2023
Format/Length: Paperback, 270 pages
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