Whistling Past the Graveyard

Released in the plague year of 2020 by Strange Attractor, There Is a Graveyard That Dwells In Man is a companion volume to The Moons At Your Door. Like that book, it’s an anthology of short stories selected by David Tibet, the creative mind behind the pioneering ambient industrial/apocalyptic folk project Current 93 – weird tales that have tickled his fancy and prompted his creative instincts over the years.

Two H.R. Wakefield stories bookend the collection; the first story here is A Black Solitude, which is notable for breaking from the precedent set by Wakefield’s own “He Cometh and He Passeth By” – and M.R. James’s Casting the Runes, which “He Cometh” was very much a pastiche of – by presenting a Crowley caricature who is not an antagonist but is instead presented much more sympathetically.

It’s not that Wakefield had suddenly gone full Thelemite or something – he still presents the thinly-veiled Crowley analogue as being 90% a big sleazy charlatan – but he’s much less hostile to that side of him, and he’s willing to credit the remaining 10% with some actual occult nous (but not enough to stop the culminating horror from consuming him). “He Cometh” emerged in 1928, whilst A Black Solitude was published in 1951, and evidently in the intervening years Wakefield seems to have decided that Crowley was kind of cool in his own way. (The character even has a celebrated mountaineering career, as Crowley had, which might have helped persuade Wakefield that Crowley wasn’t just a total waster.)

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Hauntings of All Phases

Though David Tibet will likely be primarily known forever as the mind behind Current 93, which as previously chronicled started out as part of an esoteric circle of influential industrial musicians before mutating into a poetic Gnostic weird folk project (after steering uncomfortably in the direction of fascistic neofolk before Tibet wised up, righted the ship, and changed up his collaborators), this is not the only string to his bow.

As well as a sideline as a visual artist, Tibet has also maintained a long career as a collector of vintage horror fiction and weird tales, and has also turned his hand to publishing, editing, and facilitating the reprinting of rare material from time to time; for instance, he played a key role in rediscovering and making available again the eccentric work of Count Stenbock, and it was his suggestion which led to Wordsworth releasing The Drug and Other Stories, the most substantial collection of the short stories of Aleister Crowley ever put between two covers.

Tibet has also, more recently, tried his hand at being an anthologist. The Moons At Your Door, published in 2015 via Strange Attractor and released in conjunction with the Current 93 album which shares its title, is a collection of fiction which has over his years of reading and collecting continued to resonate with him. Inevitably, a lot of this has seeped its way into Current 93’s musical output, because Tibet is the sort of creator who isn’t shy of acknowledging his influences, and so the selection is in some respects idiosyncratic and reflective of Tibet’s expansive range of interests and obsessions. But is it any good to read for anyone who isn’t David Tibet?

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The Essence of Stenbock

Count Stanislaus Eric Stenbock (1860-1895) was until recently a comparatively forgotten literary figure. Montague Summers briefly mentioned enjoying one of his stories, but other than that his life and career was left largely uncommented-on for much of the mid-20th Century. John Adlard wrote a brief biography of him – Stenbock, Yeats and the Nineties – in 1969.

Timothy d’Arch Smith, who had aided Adlard with a bibliography of Stenbock’s work, would later mention him in Love In Earnest, a study of the English “Uranian” poets of the late nineteenth century – chaps like Lord Alfred Douglas who used poetry to explore themes of homosexuality, though in a way which in retrospect was rather problematic in the way it bluntly refused to separate out homosexuality from pedophilia in the way we would today. (Much inspiration was taken from Ancient Greek sexual mores, in particular.) Such was the Victorian period, when heterosexual men were hardly more discerning about the age of consent.

As a gay man with a tendency towards mysticism, religion, and art, it is no surprise that Stenbock should have shown up on the periphery of this circle, but that is hardly the only thing which stands out about him biographically, A member of the Swedish aristocracy whose ancestral lands were in Estonia, he was nonetheless born and raised in England, and after a brief stint in the old estate after inheriting his title in 1885 would largely make England his home base, though he would tour Europe extensively. Addicted to alcohol and opium, he scandalised not just with his sexual inclinations but his religious views, which seem to have involved a strange syncretic brew of Catholicism, homebrewed paganism, and Buddhism. A possibly-apocryphal story claims that in later life he was accompanied everywhere by a doll or puppet he referred to as his son, and that he’d paid a lot of money to a Jesuit priest to educate this puppet-son.

Though Adlard and d’Arch Smith kept Stenbock’s name in circulation, we largely have David Tibet – the mastermind behind the Current 93 musical collective that was one of the subjects of England’s Hidden Reverse – to thank for recent efforts to put his work back into circulation. D’Arch Smith’s account of Stenbock in Love In Earnest inspired Tibet to look deeper into Stenbock, perhaps in part due to the parallels between Tibet’s and Stenbock’s religious interests.

Though the Count only published three thin volumes of poetry and a single brief short story collection, Studies of Death, during his lifetime, the amount of Stenbock material available has increased appreciably thanks to Tibet’s efforts. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Tibet had turned his hand to publishing through his own imprint, Durtro Press, and through this avenue he reprinted Stenbock’s collected poetry, reissued Studies of Death (expanding it with an additional story, plus two Stenbock translations of short stories by Balzac), as well as putting out volumes such as The Child of the Soul presenting previously-unpublished works of the Count’s. The Current 93 album, Faust – a return to the project’s dark ambient roots – included a booklet containing the Stenbock story of the same name, which was in fact the first time it had seen publication in any form.

More recently, Strange Attractor Press have released Of Kings and Things, a Tibet-edited one-volume collection of pretty much all the Stenbock you need, constituting so far as I can tell all the short stories of his yet published, plus most of his published poetry, plus a biographical sketch by David Tibet of Stenbock’s life and an afterword by d’Arch Smith detailing how he came to feature Stenbock in Love In Earnest – and how a reader from the publisher queried whether many of the writers featured in the book had even existed, which is a measure of the level of obscurity they had fallen into.

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Labyrinthine Phenomena

Somewhere in the Alps, in a region thought of in folklore as “the Swiss Transylvania”, young tourist Vera Brandt (Fiore Argento) just missed the bus she needed to catch. With no bus coming any time soon, Vera sets off hiking to see if she can find help. Coming across an isolated house, she enters… and somewhere inside the house, someone who’s been chained to the wall breaks their bonds. The unseen prisoner, now freed, slays Brandt and her body falls into a rushing mountain stream, speeding it away from the murder site swiftly.

Eight months later, a string of women of about the same age have disappeared in the area, and the police have only found a few body parts. Inspector Rudolf Geiger (Patrick Bauchau) and his unnamed assistant (Michele Soavi) resort to seeking the help of Professor John McGregor (Donald Pleasance) – a forensic entomologist whose expertise allows him to assess the approximate age of the grisly finds based on the extent to which insects have fed on them and spawned maggots within them.

The Professor has every reason to want to help them; his assistant Greta disappeared some time back, and given the profile of the girls who have disappeared he has every reason to believe she is another victim of the killer. Alas, an accident has left him using a wheelchair – though he’s not without help, especially in the form of his highly talented chimpanzee friend Inga (played by Tanga, also a chimp).

And more help is on the way. Jennifer Corvino (Jennifer Connelly), daughter of Hollywood heartthrob Paul Corvino, has just arrived in the area to take up a place in the Richard Wagner International School For Girls, a private school based out of one of the buildings in Wagner’s old estate, as staff member Frau Brückner (Daria Nicolodi) is proud to declare. Jennifer has a tendency to sleepwalk, and seems somehow telepathically aware of the killer’s activities, being prone to visions when they are taking place. She has also has an astonishing affinity for insects – so powerful that it can inspire a male beetle to start emitting his mating pheromones even though it isn’t his species’ mating season, or a nocturnal swarm of flies.

When Jennifer and the Professor cross paths, he turns out to be the best ally she can find in the area, especially after Jennifer’s roommate Sophie (Federica Mastrolianni) is slain by the killer. The school headmistress (Dalila Di Lazzaro) and the other students hate and fear Jennifer for her abilities, but the Professor sees them as a gift – a gift which might make Jennifer a uniquely capable detective. But this is a Dario Argento movie, so you know the killer’s not going down easily…

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Footprints In the Sands of Time

One of the interesting developments in rock music as the 1960s gave way into the 1970s was the diversification of styles. The loosely connected genres of folk rock and psychedelic rock had made a case for popular music in general and rock in particular to be a medium for genuine, grown-up artistic expression, rather than disposable entertainment for teens; but once you say “this doesn’t have to be like that“, you invite people to imagine all sorts of different ways it could be.

Folk rock and country rock singer-songwriters used the medium to examine tradition or social roots, critically or uncritically. Glam rock took the popular acclaim and youth appeal of earlier years, teased out the sexuality, and made it a bit more ambiguous. Blues rock gave way to hard rock if it still cared about being sexy, metal in slow and fast flavours if it went for other moods. Progressive rock groups explored just how far you could stretch the rock format, cramming in tools from classical or jazz as necessary to broaden the field available to them.

In a decades-early preview of the musical fragmentation we see today in this Bandcamp age where nobody has to listen to exactly what everyone else is listening to and it sometimes seems there’s more microgenres than musicians, the experimental wings of rock music ended up creative bands with astonishingly distinctive personalities. Oh, sure, you could sort them under one broad umbrella or another, and there were plenty of me-too groups out there inspired by others sounds, but within prog (for example) you’d never mistake Jethro Tull for Yes or King Crimson for Genesis.

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Digging Up Spooky Roots

“Folk horror” as a subgenre has gained increasing recognition of late, in part because of the efforts of Facebook groups like Folk Horror Revival. The major players in that community operate, among various other projects, Wyrd Harvest Press, a self-publishing umbrella for various folk horror-relevant materials; Wyrd Harvest’s repertoire includes the Folk Horror Revival journal series, of which Field Studies represents the first entry.

Now in its second edition and edited by a cross-section of members of the Facebook group, Field Studies offers a range of essays, interviews, and other snippets on the general subject of the folk horror subgenre, coming across much like a genre-specific take on Strange Attractor.

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The Current, the Coil, and the Nurse

Once upon a time there was a group of performance artists called COUM, who transformed into a band called Throbbing Gristle, who crafted a thing called “industrial music” out of the toxic sludge of mid-1970s Britain’s malaise. Eventually, that band broke up, and two of its members – Genesis P-Orridge and Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson – went on to form Psychic TV, a new band with an associated chaos magick occult movement called Thee Temple Ov Psychick Youth. Important contributors to both the first two Psychic TV albums (Force the Hand of Chance and Dreams Less Sweet) and the early propaganda and doctrines of TOPI included John Balance, a Throbbing Gristle fan who’d begun a relationship with Sleazy which would last the rest of his life, and David Tibet, an eccentric young man who was in the middle of a serious Aleister Crowley phase.

Meanwhile, gentle-natured music nerd and big time Krautrock fan Steven Stapleton had formed – and soon became the sole consistent member of – Nurse With Wound, whose surrealist experiments with sound tended to be lumped in with the “industrial” movement because Throbbing Gristle was the only thing which anyone felt able to compare it with.

Tensions arose within Psychic TV – with Sleazy, Balance, and Tibet all dropping out and establishing new projects. Sleazy and Balance would form the core of electronic industrial pioneers Coil; David Tibet would start producing nightmare soundscapes with a rotating cast of collaborators under the overall project name of Current 93. Befriending David Tibet, Stapleton soon became Current 93’s in-house producer, a position he’d hold more or less consistently for the next quarter of a century or so, and Stapleton, Tibet, Sleazy, and Balance would spend much of their future careers trading ideas with each other.

Eventually, all three projects would in their own way start expressing a strange and deeply non-traditional take on old-style pastoralism. David Tibet eventually reconfigured Current 93 as one of the most important exponents of what you could call “weird folk” of the latter 20th/early 21st Century, with musical partners such as Douglas Pearce from the controversial Death In June and, ultimately replacing Douglas, Current 93 superfan Michael Cashmore aiding him in producing some of the most delicately melancholy music ever produced. Coil would move to Weston-Super-Mare and start producing a more prog-oriented brand of “lunar music” as a counterpoint to the harsh “solar music” of their early career. Stapleton would move with his partner Diana Rogerson, who’d hit the industrial scene as part of the BDSM-themed performance art unit Fistfuck, to establish a family artistic commune in the west of Ireland, creating strange sculptures deep in the rural wilderness even as he continues to produce nightmare industrial soundscapes.

And through their various musical releases, the bands in question have produced a musical expression of rural and urban Englands which are very different from the sanitised take on the land that the authorities would have been comfortable with – what author David Keenan calls England’s Hidden Reverse.

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Lords of Chaos, Friends of Tyranny

With its movie adaptation finally releasing (to lukewarm reviews), it’s a good time to take a look at Lords of Chaos. This is the book which in many ways solidified the myths surrounding the Norwegian black metal scene of the early 1990s.

Not that it necessarily took much to do that. It was more or less inevitable that the Norwegian wave of black metal in the early 1990s would cast a long shadow. Along with a creative explosion which set a new bar for extreme metal, it was also a scene built around a volatile set of key personalities who, so intent on outdoing each other in establishing an “evil” reputation, ended up resorting to increasingly extreme acts.

There are few things messier than a pissing contest that’s gone out of control, and what happened in the 1990s black metal scene is no exception to that. Dead, lead singer of Mayhem (the band at the forefront of the new wave of black metal) performed on a stage decorated with severed pig’s heads, buried his clothes so that they’d smell like the grave, and engaged in alarming acts of self-harm onstage. Eventually he shot himself to death in the band’s communal house; band leader Euronymous, the scene’s major ringleader, took photos of the scene which eventually got used as the cover to a quasi-official Mayhem bootleg, Dawn of the Blackhearts. Picking up on previous waves of extreme metal’s embrace of Satanism, Norse heathenism, and general aggressive anti-Christianity, multiple members of the scene took to burning churches – including beautiful historic stave churches. Varg Vikernes used a photo of a burned church as the cover of the Burzum EP Aske, and was closely involved in many of the burnings. Faust, drummer of Emperor, callously murdered Magne Andreasson, supposedly not out of any sort of homophobic motive but simply for the sake of venting aggression.

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Jim Jarmusch Via Germany, Part 2

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

In the previous article in this miniseries, I covered (through the medium of a Germany-exclusive blu-ray boxed set) Jarmusch’s early career up to Dead Man. That movie benefitted in part from an excellent country-industrial soundtrack by Neil Young, so it’s only fitting that Jarmusch would return the favour with a project focused on Young himself…

Year of the Horse

This is a documentary about Neil Young and Crazy Horse which isn’t entirely of Jarmusch’s own making; specifically, it mixes footage shot by Jarmusch on Crazy Horse’s 1996 tour with backstage footage from Neil Young’s archives from 1986 and 1976, to offer a glimpse of the musicians in three different decades. In principle, this should be an exciting prospect, because that happens to catch three very important but distinct periods in the group’s career. (It’s important to remember that Crazy Horse isn’t so much Neil Young’s backing band as it is an independent entity that Neil Young happens to play with regularly – they have made Neil-less releases, and on the documentary Neil introduces himself as the “guitarist with Crazy Horse” rather than the band leader or a solo artist or anything like that.)

To be specific, 1976 saw Neil at the height of his creative powers (and his closest physical resemblance to Neil from The Young Ones); the previous year had seen him release the epochal albums Zuma and Tonight’s the Night, the latter of which was recorded in 1973 as a response to the death by heroin overdose of Crazy Horse lead guitarist Danny Whitten and and Bruce Berry, one of Neil’s roadies. The two albums couldn’t be more different – Tonight’s the Night is the saddest entry in Neil’s sorrowful “Ditch Trilogy” along with Time Fades Away and On the Beach – whilst Zuma found him moving beyond the trilogy with a more tonally varied release and a new lease of energy.

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That’s the Hell of It…

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

The mysterious Mr. Swan (Paul Williams) is a legendary record executive and producer – Mephistophelian in his bearing, Svengali-esque in his powers of persuasion, and Phil Spector-esque in pretty much every other respect. His current hit group, the Juicy Fruits, have spearheaded a nostalgia wave to the top of the charts, and his Death Records label dominates the industry. Now he wants to open the Paradise – his very own deluxe concert hall – and he wants the perfect music to open it with.

Enter humble Winslow Leach (William Finley), a skilled pianist and songwriter who’s written an epic rock opera based on Faust. Overhearing Leach performing some of his material, Swan sends his thuggish agent Philbin (George Memmoli) to acquire it – having done so, Swan and Philbin cut Leach out of the process entirely. As Leach tries harder and harder to get them to listen to him, Swan’s empire wrongs him more and more – first they throw him out, then they beat him up, then they have him arrested on trumped-up drugs charges and sent to Sing Sing, where the governor arbitrarily has his teeth removed and replaced with steel teeth. Flying into a rage when he hears a news report that Swan intends to have the Juicy Fruits perform his material, Leach escapes and goes on a rampage against Swan’s business interests, during which he incurs further horrible injuries, loses his voice entirely, and is thought to have died.

Under the circumstances, there’s only one thing to reasonably do: sneak into the Paradise, cobble together a spooky costume from the props cupboard, and do the whole Phantom of the Opera thing to terrorise Swan. Trouble is, Swan is difficult to scare – and very persuasive. On encountering the transformed Leach he offers to put on Faust the way Leach wants it, once Leach has rewritten it to suit a new vocalist. Having fallen in love with showbiz hopeful Phoenix (Jessica Harper in her first movie appearance), Leach agrees and signs a contract – in blood, naturally – on the condition that Phoenix be the lead singer.

Swan, naturally, reneges on the deal – leading to an escalation of the conflict between them that reveals supernatural twists to Swan’s history and culminating in a chaotic final sequence which is a triumph of carefully choreographed chaos. Characters die and hearts are broken – but the party’s so good and the music’s so hot that barely anyone notices. All this is naturally set to a great soundtrack – penned by Paul Williams himself – concluding with perhaps the best song of the lot over the credits, a catchy Elton John-esque number about how the fallen characters’ lives were totally meaningless and they’re better off dead.

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