Category: Book Reviews (Page 2 of 2)

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:
A free low-res version can be found here:

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