Category: Book Reviews

David Lynch & Kristine McKenna – Room To Dream – Book Review

Authors: David Lynch and Kristine Mckenna
Title: Room To Dream
Publisher: Random House
Release date: 19 June 2018
Pages: 592

In our dark ambient community there should be few people unfamiliar with the name David Lynch. The soundtrack to Eraserhead is still wildly popular 41 years later, with a recent re-issue selling out in no time. The Eraserhead soundtrack is a testament to Lynch’s natural understanding of dark ambient atmospherics. These rich textures and layers of drone, wind, and industrial noise evoke a dark vision of the not so distant past and, on an emotional level, a sense of claustrophobia and social anxiety. Going forward to 2007, Lynch worked with his in-house sound engineer Dean Hurley to create The Air Is On Fire, a thoroughly dark ambient music experience which was created as a soundtrack to accompany his art exhibition of the same name. While these are certainly not the only two times Lynch has dabbled in what amounts to dark ambient, they are solid proof of his dark ambient sensibilities.

Since the release of Eraserhead in 1977, Lynch has been slowly climbing the ladder to cult superstar status. His relationship with the movie industry, film critics and fans is one that is constantly changing in dynamics. Love him or hate him, most people that have experienced enough of his work to properly judge have some strong opinion. This has never been an issue for Lynch. He has almost always worked in a way that puts the integrity of the final product as the only important concern. On the very few instances that he’s strayed from this goal, he’s learned his lesson the hard way, becoming even more committed to his internal vision with each passing project.

The current, and possible life-time, culmination of all his experiences comes in the form of Twin Peaks: The Return. The revival of this series, twenty five years later, put Lynch into the spotlight in a way he hasn’t experienced since the success of Blue Velvet and then the original Twin Peaks series. Mulholland Dr. got people talking, but it was more of a slow-burner, taking years for many people to come around to its aesthetics and sensibilities. Twin Peaks: The Return had no trouble with its launch. Lynch has graced covers of popular magazines over the last two years and his body of work is being discovered by many new and younger people. Simultaneously, his older followers are taking the time to re-evaluate their feelings about his other works.

In this climate and at this point in his career, now seems to be the perfect timing for Room To Dream to hit the shelves. Though we likely all hope to have many more productive years for Lynch, we must realize the world is a violent and dynamic place. There is no time like the present, and Lynch has luckily deemed it necessary to sit down and give us the best details to-date of his life and experiences in it. Those ten years between Inland Empire and Twin Peaks: The Return have given Lynch the rest he needed, but also gave him time to properly evaluate what he wants to be remembered for in this world after he’s dropped his body. That really shows in Room To Dream, it’s easy to see that Lynch may not be on the exact path he envisioned, nevertheless he is confident in his past and eager to see what the future holds.

People searching for an answer to the final episode of Twin Peaks: The Return will find no solace in the pages of Room To Dream. Lynch has repeatedly stated, in regards to numerous projects, that telling us his version of “the truth behind the story” would be doing a disservice to the viewer. And indeed I’ve returned to Inland Empire, Mulholland Dr. and Lost Highway so many times that I’ve long since lost count. Even last night, re-watching Inland Empire for the 20th+ time, there were new ideas and possibilities jumping out at me.

However, those interested in what made Lynch the man that he is today, and why he decided to take this direction with his art, will find a treasure trove of information. In Room To Dream each chapter has two sections, a biographical format by Kristine McKenna sets the foundation for the narrative, giving us many quotes from the people relevant to Lynch during each given period (Everyone from Dennis Hopper to Michael Cera). McKenna is able to speak with authority on these topics, as she has been one of Lynch’s most trusted interviewers throughout the years, and has previously written a number of articles on the subject of his life and work. The second part to each chapter is then written by David Lynch. Lynch reads the previous section, then gives further details, caveats, and corrections to the “popular narrative” of his life and the meaning/direction of his various works. Since we are able to hear Lynch’s take on the topic it gives us the best of both worlds, a standard biography which is paired with a sort of memoir/autobiography.

There were disappointments and failures along the way, like the crumbling of the mesh that held Dune together, and the subsequent critical backlash. But Lynch bounced back from Dune with the masterpiece Blue Velvet, and he bounced back from the death of the Mulholland Dr. television show with a feature film version that many consider his magnum opus. Room to Dream takes us through these ups and downs and gives us an idea of Lynch’s thought process when navigating these projects and life-changing events.

Throughout the narrative there are few truly negative statements made about Lynch. This doesn’t seem to be an omission so much as a reality. By all accounts, Lynch is a ray of sunshine and a pleasure to be around. But like in so much of his body of work, things aren’t always as they seem. While it seems absolutely true that Lynch is a delight to be around, he also suffers from a great deal of social anxiety. We need look no further than his debut film Eraserhead, seeing the tribulations of Henry Spencer as he attempted to navigate social norms. These differing extremes, being the nicest guy in the room and also being the most self-conscious, may be partly responsible for one of his Lynchian trademarks, showing opposing moods and atmospheres pushed to their very limit and then fused together in a chaotic orgy of raw emotion and symbolism.

Emotions abound in Room To Dream for the reader. The way we are able to experience the feelings and stories by these many many people whose lives have been changed for the better by Lynch is quite heart-warming. But, we also get the negative vibes. I can’t help but feel a real disappointment, knowing Ronnie Rocket will likely never see the light of day. Knowing how much footage was destroyed in the editing of a certain film, and how many of those deleted scenes could have made it back into a director’s cut. But again, these ups and downs are part of the journey with David Lynch. Who doesn’t remember the elation of hearing the announcement of a third season of Twin Peaks? Only to be followed by an announcement that Lynch had pulled out of the project. Then the subsequent campaign by the actors to get the film/show back in motion. It was a turbulent process, and yet somehow it was almost magical.

Room To Dream isn’t the key to all the secrets behind Lynch’s filmography. The closest you will get to that is the haphazard attempt by so many film students seeking to fit his work into some category, genre, or psychological framework. What you will get from this book is a renewed appreciation for Lynch’s body of work, not just in film, but also in music, painting, drawing, print-making, sculpture, photography, etc. Room to Dream is about showing how Lynch has, in fact, given himself room to dream. Just as his films so often give the viewers “room to breath” in those long and mundane sequences, we see how Lynch’s life has been plotted out in a similar fashion. After a lifetime’s work, Lynch finally has room to dream and we will all certainly be awaiting the day that his works will grace the screen once more. In the meantime, though, Room To Dream uncovers a plethora of various works that we may have missed by Lynch over the years. I suggest you keep a notepad close by when reading this one, there will be so many things to check out later to further enrich our appreciation for Lynch not just as an auteur of the film industry, but as a first-class artist across countless forms of media.

Review written by: Michael Barnett

Room To Dream is available in hardcover, e-book and audio-book formats, with readings by David Lynch and Kristine McKenna.
https://soundcloud.com/penguin-audio/room-to-dream-by-david-lynch

Mortiis – Secrets of my Kingdom: Return… – Review

Author: Mortiis
Book: Secrets of My Kingdom: Return to Dimensions Unknown
Release date: March 2018
Publisher: Cult Never Dies / Crypt Publications

Mortiis is a name that needs little introduction in the dark ambient community. His work on Cold Meat Industry in the 1990s helped to spawn a new genre, which he called dark dungeon music at the time. What was once a light scattering of artists creating music in this style has, over the past few years, turned into a blooming community of eager artists and listeners. These sounds have slowly been re-labeled as dungeon synth.

After years of keeping distance between his Era 1 sound and his current industrial rock sound, Mortiis has recently reexamined his Era 1 material. Understanding its impact and realizing its value to the dungeon synth community Mortiis has since started the process of re-releasing all material from that first era. New vinyl and cassette editions have been crafted for his Era 1 releases. All these vinyl editions have had their cover-art reimagined by David Thiérrée.

Secrets of My Kingdom: Return To Dimensions Unknown is the final element in the re-invigoration of Mortiis‘ Era 1. The first edition, originally titled just Secrets of My Kingdom, was released in 2001 on Earache Records in a limited leather-bound edition of 850 copies. By that time Era 1 was becoming a fading memory for him, and The Smell of Rain was driving him into new and uncharted territory. Nonetheless, those 850 copies found homes. Since that time, the book has continued a life of its own in the second-hand trading/selling world. Through this year, especially with the recent bloom of interest in Dungeon Synth, the original book was easily selling for $150+ in the used book and band merch markets. With all this excitement around the world about dungeon synth, multiple featured Bandcamp Daily articles, exponentially growing Facebook groups and message boards, high quality new record labels being established, Mortiis decided to reexamine this book to see if it still had potential and relevance 15 years on. Deeming its pages worth discovery by this new dungeon synth community, Mortiis went about the process of updating and re-releasing the book.

For those familiar with the original version, everything you may have liked about the content will still be intact. All the original illustrations by Juha Vuorma and Mark Riddick have been retained, as well as all the original text. But this edition has been expanded in many ways. Readers will immediately recognize the new, aforementioned cover-art by David Thiérrée. The book starts with some reflections on the original book and it’s re-imagining, before jumping right into the original material. This is then followed, starting on page 154, with a large section of original notes, handwritten lyrics, and unused texts. These are all direct photocopies of the original texts/sketches, and they are given explanation where needed for context. There is then an extensive interview with Mortiis, covering many topics related to his Era 1 work and its legacy. There are also interviews with artists Juha Vuorma, Mark Riddick, and David Thiérrée; as well as Mortiis‘ contemporaries Forgotten Kingdoms, Balrog, Chaucerian Myth, Proscriptor of Equimanthorn and Absu, Tomas Pettersson of Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio, and finally Albert Mudrian of Decibel magazine. The book closes with 26 illustrations by David Thiérrée which are based on the texts in the book, and were used for select Mortiis performances in 2017.

I didn’t truly appreciate the Era 1 work of Mortiis until well passed it’s prime. Like many, I didn’t fully discover dungeon synth until this most recent boom in popularity. Then, like so many others, I began working backward, discovering the material which has found such a warm place in the hearts of Mortiis fans for over two decades. Even Mortiis had to go back and sort of rediscover/reevaluate his own material, after so many years of disregarding Era 1. Whether you believe Mortiis sincerely returned to Era 1 out of a genuine longing to revisit his roots or, alternatively, you think this is all an opportunity for a cash grab, I don’t think this issue should matter too much to those genuine fans of Era 1 Mortiis. My opinion is that he is being genuine and is very pleased to see such renewed interest in his early work. But even if he isn’t being genuine, we cannot deny that it is wonderful to have access to new cassette and vinyl editions of some of his classic albums. A new edition of Secrets of My Kingdom will be very welcome to newer Mortiis fans that discovered the original book, but found that they could not possibly afford to curate a copy for themselves. It will also be welcome to any longtime fans that may have sold, lost, or destroyed their original edition, and have since had a longing for its return.

Critically, Secrets of My Kingdom: Return To Dimensions Unknown has its ups and downs. The original text by Mortiis isn’t necessarily the most eloquent or engaging material. Reading through the poems, I’m not surprised that Mortiis continued with his music career and set this written medium aside. Nevertheless, the original text accounted for the sales of the original edition, and is the main attraction for this reissue. What Mortiis lacks in poetic technique, he makes up for in depth of content. Those that are interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the greater story and framework behind Era 1 Mortiis albums will find this collection indispensable. The second positive element, and a reason I was interested in buying a copy, is the addition of context and commentary. Reading Mortiis‘ reflections on this book, years after its inception, and seeing how it has impacted others helps give new fans a better idea of Mortiis‘ history from an emotional standpoint, rather than technical. I was also very impressed with the work of David Thiérrée on the vinyl re-issues, so I was eager to see the final section of the book with his graphical interpretations of Era 1 events, characters, and scenery. I would have liked to see Thiérrée’s illustrations in a larger format, rather than two per page, but this is understandable, as Thiérrée likely intends to sell these works as original art and so his section of the book should be seen more as a catalog of his Mortiis works rather than a section of full size prints, like we would expect in a proper art book dedicated to his work. In regard to the physical book itself, I haven’t held the original, but I gather that the original leather-bound edition may have looked a bit nicer than this new – hardcover but not leather-bound – edition. Of course, this can be easily explained away by a preference for availability over obsession with quality. The fact is that a second leather-bound edition likely wouldn’t have seen as many copies manufactured, and would also have cost a good deal more to purchase.

I would recommend this edition to any true fans of Mortiis‘ Era 1 material. There is a wonderful array of material to enjoy here. Even if you have already read the book’s original text, this new edition comes with so much extra material that it should still be worth the purchase price. I haven’t sat down to a deep reading of the original text, but I enjoy reading a few passages here and there, especially while listening to his Era 1 material. The large sections dedicated to interviews are really helpful for giving older fans a look at Mortiis current mindset on Era 1, but they also give the younger fans a deep look at where Mortiis fits into the great world of music. If all this sounds enticing, then I highly recommend Secrets of My Kingdom, but if you are likely to feel that the original text isn’t up to par, and also don’t care much for the added insights, then I would recommend you stick to books by authors that have dedicated their lives to creating fiction. This is, undeniably, a book for the dungeon synth community.

Written by: Michael Barnett

All Internal by Terence Hannum – Book Review

Author: Terence Hannum
Book: All Internal
Release date: 30 April 2018
Publishing House: Dynatox Ministries

I briefly met Terence Hannum at the APEX Fest 2015 here in Baltimore, Maryland. He’s involved in a number of different things around the music and art scene here, and so it was only a matter of time before we crossed paths. Most interesting to me was his musical work as the singer/synth/electronics guy in the band Locrian. He recently released his debut as part of the Lynchian sort of darkish synth-pop group The Holy Circle on Annihilvs Power Electronix. He’s also recently begun to release albums and perform solo as the power-electronics project Axebreaker. While all these projects are quite interesting to me, they all dance around the edges of dark ambient, and I’ve yet to properly cover one, though I have listened to and enjoyed all three of these named projects repeatedly.

Hannum’s first novella, Beneath the Remains, released in 2016 and focused on a young boy in Florida, as he dealt with the aftermath of his older brother’s disappearance. It often raised feelings of nostalgia, yet there was a darkness that always lurked beneath the surface, creeping up through various events as the story progressed.

Two years later, Hannum returns with his second novella, All Internal. A story which takes a deep look, literally and through allegory at some of the darker elements of the age of social media, and the underbelly of video-clip internet porn and webcam modeling. But, Hannum doesn’t simply give us a standard tale of someone’s misfortunes. All Internal instead takes the horror/ sci-fi/ weird-fiction route, with a large helping of graphic (sexual and otherwise) detail along the way. In this way, Hannum is able to blend together his passions for fine writing and cultural politics, highlighting his more academic side, with his loves for darker topics, previously explored through his musical projects and artwork.

All Internal takes some pretty interesting twists and turns along the way. Not knowing what to expect next, or understanding the context in which something is happening adds a lot to the overall effect here. So, I won’t be going into the actual storyline in any detail in this review. Instead, I’d prefer to focus on the reasons why, and type of person that may enjoy this sort of story.

Hannum’s writing style on All Internal makes use of quick snippets of information. Scenes/chapters which may only last for 1 – 3 pages on average. I find this to be an incredibly potent writing style in our current culture, where the average person consumes the majority of their news through headlines and talking points, not in depth articles and discussions. A time when presidents make their case for policy in 280 characters or less. But, any possible disdain for this situation aside, these short paragraphs really do make for a meaningful reading experience. When you are able to consume a section of text, and then stop to think about its possible deeper meanings.

As for deeper meanings, there is a lot to unpack here. One could innocently read through this 100 +/- pages of text without taking any allegorical meanings or greater contexts into consideration. Which would be fine. But it is quite interesting to dig into the topics and scenarios presented, and wonder exactly how much more Hannum could be conveying. As I read through the story, I took note of various ideas arising, things that seemed to parallel Hannum’s narrative.

One huge and recurring theme, for me, was the question of the soul. Hannum clearly points out the question of mind or body. But, this question is taken to its furthest extents. Do we have free will or are we slaves to our ritualized patterns. Is the mind really telling the body what to do, or is the mind just noticing that the body is doing, without any ability to influence. Another important topic that seemed, to me, unavoidable when reading All Internal, is the question of women’s reproductive rights. Or in an even broader sense, humanity’s ability to fully comprehend and then influence decisions on reproduction in relation to the planet’s overall population and ability to sustain itself.

Hannum’s writing style is certainly modern. The topics I believe he is alluding to are front and center in modern times. But, as I read All Internal, I also felt that Hannum found a lot of influence and inspiration from the weird-fiction authors of the 1920s and 1930s. Maybe this is just because of my constant saturation in this topic, but I seemed to notice some striking allusions, or at least nods, to the writings of H.P. Lovecraft and maybe even more of Clark Ashton Smith. Without going into any detail that would speak directly to plot twists, there were several moments, especially in the second half of the story, as Hannum begins to unveil more specifics of the story’s framework. Whether I’m right or wrong to make a connection there, I would certainly say that fans of those authors, and more modern authors like Neil Gaiman and Thomas Ligotti will certainly find things to love. In many respects, Hannum takes these sorts of themes and steps the intensity up, to something more on par with our current societal norms/boundaries.

All Internal is a quick and enjoyable read. One that you could knock out rather quickly, if the story so engrosses you. Or, one which you can casually read in these short 1-3 page sections, over a greater period of time. While I already loved Beneath the Remains, I found All Internal more stylistically in line with some of my favorites, and so I would want to recommend this as well to our readers, many being generally fans of the same sorts of stories and films. I found my playlist of dark ambient awaiting review was the perfect accompaniment to this story, at certain times playing things on one end of the spectrum, but as the story took twists, I was adjusting the music’s themes accordingly. An all around enjoyable experience. I’m definitely hoping Hannum does more future work in this vein!

Review by: Michael Barnett

DARKLEAKS: The Ripper Genome – Infinity Land Press – Book Review

Authors: Jeremy Reed, Martin Bladh and Karolina Urbaniak
Book: DARKLEAKS – The Ripper Genome
Release date: 16 April 2017
Publisher: Infinity Land Press

Infinity Land Press is continuing to prove itself to be one of the most exciting new developments in the world of book publication. Since the company’s inception a few short years ago, they have already brought together a combination of art-books and psychological treaties which firmly set them apart from anything that could be considered a normal format. The Void Ratio by Shane Levene and Karolina Urbaniak brought together photography and poetry to form a powerful picture of the life of mental destabilization matched to crippling drug addiction. Altered Balance by Jeremy Reed and Karolina Urbaniak delivered an unorthodox variation of a tribute to Coil, through the memoirs of Reed and the emotive monochrome photography of Urbaniak. The Rorschach Text by Martin Bladh showcased his brilliant use of collage in creating a narrative. Many of these elements have come together in DARKLEAKS – The Ripper Genome to form what I consider to be the best work yet by Infinity Land Press. Bladh, Reed and Urbaniak bring to the project their own unique talents forming a powerful portal which transports readers throughout landscapes and thoughtscapes to help us understand the inner workings of this so-called ‘ripper genome’, the tendency throughout recent history for various people to share in a sort of template which draws them toward murder as an art form or even a religious rite in some instances.

As explained by Stephen Barber in the introduction, Reed and Bladh both perform their own sort of ‘cuts’ throughout the book, bringing their work in harmony with the knife work of Jack the Ripper. As they narrate stories bringing other figures throughout history into the context of a sort of split personality disorder, believing or disbelieving themselves to be Jack the Ripper reincarnated, they are in essence becoming part of the story themselves, taking on the murderous knife work of Jack the Ripper through their own media. Jeremy Reed makes ‘cuts’ into various times of history, embodying historical figures such as Burroughs, Baudelaire and Sickert. While Martin Bladh’s cuts are even more literal. Martin uses the scalpel to cut the pieces for his collages which at times bring the faces of two or three different men together, as if drawing them all into a set narrative. For me, the most frightening example of this was toward the end of the book where he combines Aleister Crowley, Anthony Hardy and the physician who was believed to be Jack the Ripper himself, adorning the right page. With the clippings from three articles detailing the works of these three men on its opposite. The combination is a fitting example of the way this entire book works. We are given snippets, flashbacks and narrated accounts of the thoughts and desires of so many different people throughout recent history, since the time of Jack the Ripper. This amalgamation of swirling narratives comes together to form a picture of this ‘ripper genome’, this hardwiring of the brain in some people which naturally inclines it toward these savage deeds.

Reed moves between the narratives of the victim, the killer, and random figures who aren’t sure if they are the killer or not, as well as people who glorify the killings. The story of Brother Martin (pg102) combines a little of all these elements. It takes the perspective of the victim, as the killer excitedly tells her the supposed old tale of a Brother Martin who killed many people, including his sister. She is spooked and leaves, having nightmares about the man. A few days later he finds her in the streets, exclaims that he is Brother Martin as he murders her.

Sometimes Reed will only focus on the atmosphere of the London streets, always coming back to the presence of a thick fog. He uses colors, emotions, disjointed narratives and allegories to bring the reader stumbling toward an understanding of the whole theme. To add even more complexity, and often disorientation to the mix, Reed hops from prose to poetry and back again. Some tales from the view of our modern times, others taking place in the late 1800s – early 1900s.

Reed moves for a section through the streets of London, blinded by fog from the Thames. He recollects a conversation with Sleazy of Coil, they reminisce about Balance, alcoholic turned visionary. About how they created music which recollected their time travels, rather than trying to induce them for the listener. Sleazy relates a story about how him and Balance had witnessed the Jack the Ripper murders in a mushroom-induced interpersonal vision. The killer was Michael Maybrick, they concluded, a sort of celebrity/pop star in his time.

We find out, through various newspaper and magazine clippings toward the end of the book, much of what we may have been missing throughout the narrative. For example, we find that, “After the stroke Sickert would have ‘ripper periods’ in which he would dress up like the murderer and walk about like that for weeks on end.” Many examples could be shown of what at first seems to be random, disjointed snippets later proving to be crucial elements of the whole.

Martin Bladh takes on a more direct form with his writings. Each piece of text is accompanied by a collage… or vice-versa. The text is most often an imagined or real note written by a murderer to the police. Taking on the persona of the killer himself, Martin uses misspelled words, archaic phrasing, and a sharp sense of humor to lure the reader into the mind of the killer. Sometimes the notes seem to be written by more than one person, is the note from the killer or is it a fake written to seem like it is by the killer? Martin makes this conundrum central to his narrative. Sometimes the killer will take on the mantle of godly vigilante, as showcased in Martin’s work ‘Good Morning Amen’ on page 109. At other times Martin will take us directly to the crime scene, with a detailed list of the wounds and positions of the murdered body. As if he is the contemporary crime scene investigator.

The last piece in this brilliant collection is only included in the Limited Edition Boxset. A six track CD brings some of the sections of DARKLEAKS to life in the form of spoken word over a dark and cinematic soundtrack. Karolina Urbaniak, on her first foray into music, produces a set of tracks which reflect the disjointed snippets of story. Her soundscapes include many field recordings. We hear footsteps, dripping waters, slashing knives and screaming victims in their death-throes. Over this backdrop the tracks are distributed between Martin Bladh and Jeremy Reed with spoken-word excerpts from the book. Bladh, also vocalist for IRM and Skin Area, takes on one of his more chilling vocal styles reading several of his notes written by the killers. While Reed recites some of the more poetic clips from his works. With the disc being full of spoken-word elements it should be looked at as its own individual addition to the set, not as a background listen when reading. Each track helps color the stories in even more detail, bringing each segment to life in a totally different format from the written words and collages.

For anyone that is already familiar with the works of Infinity Land Press, this purchase should be a no-brainer. As described above, I truly believe DARKLEAKS brings together the finest elements of each of its contributors. The years’ experience of Reed and Bladh are brought to a pinnacle on DARKLEAKS. While the experimental elements of the accompanying disc prove to be an utter success. This could be the perfect entry point for discovery of the works of Infinity Land Press, giving readers a bit of an introduction to many of the contributors to other works in their catalog of releases. DARKLEAKS is a whirlwind of emotions and contrasting styles which keep it fresh and engaging from introduction to conclusion.

Written by: Michael Barnett

In the Mountains of Madness: The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of H.P. Lovecraft by W. Scott Poole – Book Review

Author: W. Scott Poole
Book: In the Mountains of Madness: The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of H.P. Lovecraft
Release date: 13 September 2016
Publisher: Soft Skull Press

H.P. Lovecraft can be found everywhere these days. His stories are constantly being reprinted. His ideas are used in films, games and musical compositions. I found my way to his work through one such project, the Lovecraft Gods series on Cryo Chamber. Seeking to understand the meanings of his system of Gods, I began to delve into Lovecraft. But, with so many stories, many of which only barely touch on any of the structural order of the Gods, the task proved to be daunting. This is when I came upon In the Mountains of Madness.

In the Mountains of Madness is a 300 page book which serves as a historically grounded biography as well as a means of connecting Lovecraft‘s legacy to current trends in the entertainment industry. W. Scott Poole is certainly not the first author to set out on this task. Where his telling becomes unique is in its attention to fact over myth or prejudice.

Most books in the market on Lovecraft serve one of two purposes: to glorify his life and legacy, or to provide a highly critical antithesis to his cult followers’ works. Authors like S.T. Joshi and August Derleth have dedicated their lives to furthering the influence of H.P. Lovecraft, and to covering up his less desirable traits in the process. Their opposition most significantly focuses on his deeply held racist beliefs. One of the victories of the opposition was the removing of the “Howies”, the award busts of Lovecraft, from The World Fantasy Convention.

Lovecraft in 1915, age 25

Poole manages to walk the thin line between these two camps. Throughout In the Mountians of Madness he consistently shows both positive and negative aspects of Lovecraft as a person. He is able to achieve this goal because of his focus on historical accuracy above all other considerations. This has led S.T. Joshi to voice some of his criticism against the project, even while contributing to its accuracy by way of an interview conducted by Poole. Poole has the necessary nuance to admit that S.T. Joshi is the most dedicated and accurate of Lovecraft scholars, while simultaneously attempting to debunk some of Joshi‘s long-held beliefs/findings on Lovecraft.

Poole leaves himself open to lavishing Lovecraft with the deepest praise where due. Speaking of a correspondence between Lovecraft and Robert Howard (creator of Conan the Barbarian among other tales of swords and sorcery), Poole states, “Lovecraft writes to Howard in an early 1930 letter that ‘the basis of all true cosmic horror is violation of the order of nature and the profoundest violations are the least concrete and describable.’ Perhaps no better short description of the chills Lovecraft administered to his readers has been written.” Yet moments later Poole states that, “Unfortunately, most of their letters are unrelievedly boring. Both are contemptuous of immigrants and African Americans and pour into their missives venomous indignation about the ‘mongrel hordes’ allegedly swamping the United States.”

Oct ’79 cover of Heavy Metal Magazine

The question of Lovecraft‘s racist leanings is revisited often throughout In the Mountains of Madness. Poole argues against the excuse of Lovecraft‘s position being a product of his time, by showing evidence of some of his closest friends attempting to change his views on these topics. Yet, Poole simultaneously admits that since Lovecraft had very close friends which held these opposing views, he clearly wasn’t given to shouting down those with beliefs contrary to his own. In conclusion, he admits that the topic is very complicated and both sides of the argument have valid points, while neither camp will ever fully admit to the complexity of the matter.

Poole speaks in detail about the women of Lovecraft‘s life, from his mother and aunts to his Jewish wife of a short-lived marriage. Speaking of his wife, we are shown a perfect example of the complexity of his racist leanings. The fact that he was able to marry a Jewish woman and still hold derogatory views about her heritage is very telling of these complexities.

Poole convincingly explains how it was unlikely that Lovecraft‘s mother played such a negative role in his life contrary to many previous biographers. Pointing at numerous documented events throughout Lovecraft‘s history, he shows how Lovecraft‘s mother, through allowing her son to indulge all of his unusual interests, gave him the perfect foundation for becoming the revolutionary author which he is now remembered to be.

Providence, Moore

As the book draws near its close, Poole gives us a brilliantly presented overview of the most recent happenings related to Lovecraft. Poole speaks about Providence, a new graphic novel series by Alan Moore which focuses on a character who is very much like H.P. Lovecraft and explains how Moore has managed to capture the essence of the man behind the books, with all his flaws and short-comings. Poole then goes on to document a vast and international list of stories in which Lovecraft himself is the main character, leaving readers with a huge catalog of books and comics to track down, if one so desires.

Poole‘s attention to minute details, and his ability to objectively analyze Lovecraft‘s life events, gives readers the means to accept Lovecraft for his achievements as well as his flaws. Then, he gives an informed overview of the legacy of the man, through all the adaptations of his works into various entertainment media. So, in these roughly 300 pages, there is a great deal of important information for readers new to the life and writings of Lovecraft. Yet, there is also some much needed criticism of the years worth of analyses of Lovecraft as a person, giving well-read fans plenty of new information to analyze. At a relatively cheap price and having just been released in 2016, Poole‘s In the Mountains of Madness should be a must-read book for anyone and everyone with any interest in H.P. Lovecraft.

Written by: Michael Barnett

book cover

Cracked Amber Solid by Phil Barrington – Book Review

Author: Phil Barrington
Book title: Cracked Amber Solid {Frieze of the Faded}
Release date: 14 March 2017
Publisher: Barrington Arts

Cracked Amber Solid {Frieze of the Faded} is the third book by Phil Barrington. In this art book, we see the faded and corrupted memories and ghosts of lives once lost. Over the better part of three decades, these photographs were collected by the author. After the revelation of this project, he left these photos outside for three whole years. Over this time the photographs were often distorted beyond recognition. Those which are still perfectly clear at least have a fade and filth of antiquity.


Cracked Amber Solid is a look at life and death, through four sections: Life, Love, Sex and Death. Throughout these sections Barrington uses collages of these images as well as often disjointed text to build a greater picture of his vision. While at first this vision may seem quite disjointed, the relevance quickly presents itself. In combining these images and texts, Barrington manages to bring out emotions in the reader which can be quite surprising and unexpected.

Barrington thanks, among others, The Caretaker in the beginning of the book. I found this immediately interesting, as one who lives for music. Not sure if this was The Caretaker musical project of Leyland Kirby, I allowed it to remain an open question as I proceeded. Moving through the book, it became abundantly clear that this was the musician in question. The use of repetitions and thoughts which fragment and distort immediately reminds of a written companion to the aural style of The Caretaker.

Much like The Caretaker, Barrington lets ideas repeat and fester throughout the publication. What seems odd and out of place at the start gradually becomes a necessary key to the overarching concepts. An example of this is the recurring mention of the girl being run over by a bus. In its first mention this seems strange, but as the book progresses toward its final section of death, the connection between random events, innocent childhoods, and that innocence slowly being lost throughout the struggle of life becomes much more obvious.

In a second comparison to The Caretaker, Barrington has used collected fragments of history, which come together as a whole. In his collages of photographs and text, he paints a vivid and altogether original picture. This is quite similar to the process Leyland Kirby uses when creating his albums, by digging through the old forgotten belongings of the deceased, finding antique records to use for his modern musical project.

Though only one section of the book is specifically dedicated to love, this seems to be an overarching idea throughout. As he often illustrates, love makes life, love is sex, and love ends in death. Though this order and concept are easily mangled by the cruel ironies of life itself. The allusion to the young girl being killed by the bus brings this cruel concept to fruition. There are many other examples presented of the ways love can manipulate and often destroy lives. For instance, it is seen in the recurring use of variations of the phrase, “When distant wedding bells chime and a noose swings.” This is a morbid and depressing comparison, but one that strikes true throughout.

As a whole, Cracked Amber Solid is a depressing piece of work. One can’t help but reminiscing back to times in their own lives, or the lives of their loved ones, when parallel circumstances presented themselves. Barrington uses this mechanic masterfully. He is able to take these disjointed and seemingly random sets of photographs and text, and bring them all together to form a powerfully moving work of art. The images themselves are quite thought provoking, if often filled with extremely vivid sexual themes. Reading this book and absorbing its imagery was certainly time well spent. As a person who is often prone to boredom when reading the works of many authors, this was never the case. Barrington has certainly showcased his talents well here. This could be an easily recommended read for anyone with a darker sense of imagination and a love for unorthodox forms of art.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Barrington‘s book, Cracked Amber Solid {Frieze of the Faded}, can be purchased in two formats: as a high-resolution pdf and as an ultra-limited hardback art-edition. These can be found on Barrington Arts webstore: http://www.barringtonarts.com/my-shop/
A free low-res version can be found here: http://ow.ly/k1Yk309M8gJ

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

%d bloggers like this: