The Book of Detri Mental | Music / Reviews | Coagulopath

The Book of Heavy Metal was my least favorite trad power metal album once, but that was ten years ago. Now it’s nostalgic, because the genre has become unimaginably worse. Like reminiscing about a decade-old case of cancer on your skin now that you have it in your nutsack.

Dream Evil were/are a band combining several noxious trends. They’re a Band Named After A Famous Song Or Album. I won’t name names. Let’s just say that once you go past the Rollilng Stones and Judas Priest those drop off in quality. Second, they’re a Band Fronted By A Producer. Those tend to be glossy, polished turds where 90% of the effort was expended on getting the cardioid mic angled perfectly on the speaker cab and 10% writing songs. Third, they’re a Fake Supergroup. Dream Evil was founded in 1999 by Fredrik Nordström on rhythm guitar and Snowy Shaw on drums. Those are your stars. Rounding out the lineup is Peter “who?” Stålfors on bass, Niklas “seriously, who?” Isfeldt on vocals, and Gus “doesn’t count, Firewind wasn’t famous yet” G on lead guitar. They’re all good musicians, but if you have as many Swedish letters in your lineup as you do celebrities, you are probably not a supergroup.

Fourth, and most annoyingly, they’re a Funny Metal Band. You know what I mean. Songs about fighting dragons and drinking beer. They probably have stage costumes that are cute bunny rabbits or something. Wouldn’t that be ironic? Hopefully the four guys in the pit at warmup o’clock get a kick out of it. Everyone else is taking a piss and waiting for the real headliner to take the stage.

Their first album, DragonSlayer, was a solid bit of Hammerfall worship (the one-sentence verdict on Dream Evil is that they worship Hammerfall, but we persist). Their next album had its moments. Now we get to this one, which is a disaster.

When I played the first song, loud noises echoed through my condominion: my own uncontrollable laughter. What a terrible song. The principle riff is the most idiotic I’ve ever heard. The constipated “UHHH! UHHH!” backup vocals in the chorus are just asinine. It’s a quantum anomaly: a four minute song that seems to run for ten. Years ago I tried writing a review, gave up at “I want the Readers Digest version”, and that crap joke is funnier than anything on this disc.

Then we get a good song. “Into the Moonlight.” Actual power metal, with some cool hooks and vocal moments. The band comes together here. Dream Evil always had potential, they just needed  to not self-sabotage.

“The Sledge” returns us to moronic gym bro chugging. The Boys(tm) don’t appear to know what a sledge is: it’s a land-based platform that slides across snow or ice on runners, often pulled by a team of dogs. Lines like “It hit me right between the eyes” are confusing: is this a tiny sledge pulled by ants? Maybe they’re thinking of a sledgehammer, but human eyes are about two inches apart, and the head on every sledgehammer I’ve seen is wider than that. Do the band members have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome? Does Sweden have small sledgehammers? I must resolve this mystery.

“No Way”: forgettable and forgotten, a mildly uptempo song that sounds like WASP at their worst (WASPnt, innit?). “Eeeeet’s only rock and roll!” Out of all the famous, distinctive metal vocalists you could have pastiched, you pick Ozzy Osbourne? By the way, if you were waiting for a fast song, this is it. You just heard it. Good decision from Nordström: everyone hates fast songs on power metal CDs.

“Crusader’s Anthem”. Two good songs one album? Sirs, you spoil us! It has Niklas Isfeldt’s best vocal performance, and some crazed blues-inspired soloing from Gus. Someday I want to cull all the good songs off every Dream Evil record: I think there would be enough to make a 12-14 track CD by now.

We’re now trudging through a wasteland of filler, and my interest is flagging. “Let’s Make Rock.” Let’s not. “Tired” does not stick in the memory at all. “Chosen Twice” is a callback to the big song off DragonSlayer, “The Chosen One”. Don’t worry, they changed it by removing the catchy parts. “They calleth us Anti-Christ”. Doth they verily? “M.O.M.” Whatever they’re trying here, nobody cares, least of all me. “The Mirror” is unreviewable, I just heard it and I can’t think of a thing to say. “Only for the Night” has a good main riff (for once in their careers) and a catchy chorus (likewise), but the rest of the song is just drab and unmemorable. That harmonized lead part just stinks of “quick, just give me something that sounds like Iron Maiden!” “The Unbreakable Chain”. Six minutes of this rubbish? “United we are strong / but weak on our own / No one can break this chain.” No, you’re thinking of bundles of sticks. A single chain link is the strongest chain possible. Each new link of a chain makes it weaker, because the chain now has to pull the load plus the weight of the additional chain links. This detour is pointless, like this album.

Now entering disrecognized space | Books / Reviews | Coagulopath

Aeon Flux is an animated exploration of psyche and politics. It’s a hard show, a cult hit where “cult” rings truer than “hit”, and it raises questions that carbon-based minds are ill-equipped to answer.

“I have been accused of caring nothing for the truth, but o­n the contrary, I value the truth so highly that I make sure it is hidden away someplace safe, where it is not soiled by dirty hands, embarrassed by prying eyes, or worn out through overuse.” – Chairman Trevor Goodchild

Fans can’t let go of the idea that Aeon Flux’s ambiguities are actually puzzles. Why are Monica and Bregna fighting? Were Aeon and Trevor ever in a relationship?

We’re not supposed to know these things, and episodes like “Utopia or Deuteranopia?” (featuring a deluded disciple who painstakingly “deciphers” the notes of his missing leader, only to learn that they’re nonsense written by a madman) deride you for caring. But it’s still the typical line of analysis Aeon Flux receives: witness this grueling interview where Peter Chung is asked whether Aeon is a robot, a cyborg, or a clone. I mean, she keeps dying and coming back to life and surely there’s a rational explanation for that.

In 1995, MTV’s publishing arm decided to explain Aeon Flux’s universe once and for all – something like The Star Fleet Technical Manual may have been the model – and commissioned a couple of the show’s writers to write a book. I doubt they wanted anything like the Herodotus File, but they still put it in print. It was reissued in 2005 to tie in with the craptacular Charlize Theron movie.

It’s framed in a clever way: as a dossier from Bregna’s internal police. In tone, it’s like The Screwtape Letters, written by bureaucrats for bureacrats, dripping with creative malice and venal, bland bullshit.

Chairman Goodchild seeks to crush a heretical movement that claims that Monica and Bregna were once a single state called Berognica, and the dossier provides rap sheets on all of Monica’s most feared operatives – including Atilda Ram, a 657lb belly-dancer who smuggles contraband inside the folds and orifices of her body, and Loquat, who can adopt any disguise or identity perfectly (even being two different people in the same room!), thus creating uncertainty about whether he/she even exists.

Of course, the most fearsome is Aeon Flux herself, whose interests include infiltration and domination. She does modeling on the side.

The conflict between Bregna and Monica is just a proxy war for Aeon and Trevor’s deeper, weirder war. They have the oddest relationship imaginable. They pretend to want to kill each other but clearly don’t: countless opportunities to eliminate the other are ignored. They care very deeply about each other in a way irreduceable to mere love or hate.

Basically, Trevor Goodchild is a benign Orwellian dictator. He’s not a villain, but he’s often misguided. He wants to progress humanity, and views individual rights and liberties as sand in the gears. “One doesn’t want to be trapped into making a particular choice simply because it’s right.”

Trevor lives in the hell of every totalitarian dictator; he can’t tell the truth to the people, and his underlings deceive and backstab him in turn. The gulf between what he wants and what he gets is incommensurable. He seeks to build a rational, open society, without secrets, yet he exists in nest of snakes, unable to trust or connect with anyone.

Aeon Flux, his opposite, exists in a different hell of her own.  Freedom has brought her nothing. Her actions often have nasty consequences, and unlike Trevor she can’t even hide behind noble intentions. The reverse of hell is not heaven.

The Herodotus File was written by Mark Mars and Eric Singer. Mars is a colorful guy Peter Chung met at CalArts. He has done virtually nothing aside from Aeon Flux, but he created many of the show’s most electric moments (“ready for the action now, danger boy…?”) Eric Singer was a lowly production assistant who cold-called Chung one day. He is possibly the most financially and critically successful person ever associated with the show (he was nominated for an Oscar Award for American Hustle, and co-wrote an upcoming Tom Cruise vehcle).

The danger of a book like this is that it will talk the show to death. Aeon Flux discusses universal problems of censorship, surveillance, etc. This goes away when you specifically place it (as the movie did) in a particular point in time, such as the far future. Specifics are the enemy.

The book threads this needle by being completely ludicrous, far more comical than the show, and impossible to take seriously. But there’s a lot of wit and fun along the way. The book makes me wish the show had contained a little more of Mars and Singer’s humor to lighten the dourness.

Aeon Flux fans probably can’t trust one word of The Herodotus File. Peter Chung (who had little involvement) has said it should be viewed as a work of propaganda or disinformation. Unreliable. It’s a window into the Aeon Flux world, but not an accurate one. Take it as seriously as brings you pleasure.

All whitemare long | Movies / Reviews | Coagulopath

Some art forms are like staring across a large and flat field. Sunday morning comics (do they still exist?) are all the exact same quality. There are no good ones or bad ones. Garfield could be the best of its kind or the worst. There’s no way to tell. Their bell curve is a bell line: a single vertical stroke that is both infinitesimally thin and high enough to leap into the stratosphere.

2D animation is different: its a plain ridged by great peaks and crevassed by huge gulfs. When it’s bad it’s incredibly bad: the worst thing ever conceived of by the human mind is probably animated. But for me, great animation exists on a level that basically nothing that’s not an animation can touch.

Son of the White Mare, or Fehérlófia, is a 1981 Hungarian animated film that I watched on Peter Chung’s recommendation. I was curious as to what I’d get out of it, considering I know only one Hungarian word, “Tökfej” (lit. “squash-head” but with idiomatic sense between “idiot” and “asshole”), and only because a heavy metal band recorded a song with that title.

It’s like a Disney film, in that it adapts a folk story (in this case, an “ancient Hunnic and Avaric legend” of the three brothers, Fanyüvő, Kőmorzsoló, Vasgyúró, who fought a war against an army of dragons). But where Disney films are reverent as a dull church service, Fehérlófia is energetic and lively. And where Disney films try for styleless realism, Fehérlófia wants to be like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

A realistic myth is a contradiction in terms, and it wastes no time in trying to be “faithful”. Instead, it’s a surrealist vapor that seems made to be inhaled rather than watched. This is one of those midnight movies viewed by college kids who snicker “what drugs were they on?” Probably none. Something can invoke a psychedelic state without being authored in a psychedelic state – it’s probably easier if it isn’t. LSD is formulated by trained chemists, and pressed into pills by machines.

Imagery grows on Fehérlófia’s cel plates like mushrooms on a fallen log. Colors mean things, shapes mean things. It’s a masterclass on how to talk with paint instead of words. I found the voice-acting to be annoying and anti-climactic, and if not for the music (which was nice) I probably would have viewed the film on mute.

There’s a lot of “shape language”, and things get pretty symbolic, with the heroes having rounded, organic shapes and the monsters having an industrial, Soviet brutalist aesthetic. I don’t think Fanyüvő ever calls a dragon a tökfej, but he should have: they’re real pieces of work.

There’s also a psychosexual undercurrent you wouldn’t get from Disney – somehow, Fanyüvő’s  sword always ends up hanging between his legs.

It’s technically creative, too. Fehérlófia does not have a single line. Color is allowed to clash directly upon color, without dark penstrokes getting in the way. This gives it a fluidic feel, like watching a lava lamp bubble. And though it might seem the opposite of the ligne claire style of Tintin, it achieves the same effect: combining everything on the frame into the one level. Most animation has a clear distinction between foreground action and background plate. Here, it’s basically all action.

(I’m interested in how exactly the key animator worked. Were lines drawn as a reference and then discarded? Were cels painted freehand?)

It’s a testament to visual storytelling that my illiteracy didn’t seem to matter, because I was fascinated by Fanyüvő’s quest, and the way it was depicted in abstract incinerations of light and color.

The film was created by Marcell Jankovics worked under the auspices of Pannonia Film Studio, one of Hungary’s few native animation studios (One of Pannonia’s alumni includes Gábor Csupó, who co-founded the animation studio known for Rugrats et cetera). He made several films, which have a certain niche appeal. His most famous mainstream moment was probably the film that ended up becoming The Emperor’s New Groove. What’s the the Hungarian version of “Alan Smithee”?

According to IMDB, production was difficult.

According to the director, the animation crew had to work under horrible conditions. Their work building was a rickety wooden construction added to the main studio building. Concept art and other production papers were carelessly littered across the floor and trampled over, as the studio saw no point in preserving them. The celluloid sheets were scratchy and of low quality, and the paint had a tendency to form clumps and crumble off the cels after drying. At one point, 600 completed animation cels had to be thrown out and hastily redone because they were unusable. The animators eventually decided to start manufacturing their own paint, and Jankovics himself helped out with painting the cels. He recalls that the work was so stressful, one of the artists broke out in tears. To buy more production equipment that Pannonia Studio couldn’t afford, the people working on the film even had to take up additional jobs elsewhere.

Movies like this don’t make money. Animation in general was in a slump in the 80s – even Disney was in a precarious situation – and animation for adults has always been a rough sell. The fact that Fehérlófia was made against adverse winds adds to its scrappy charm.

Some things entertain, illuminate, inspire. But some do something more: make a case that their medium is worthy of existence. Fehérlófia is one of the heights of animation. It’s a brilliant, elegant lawyer’s brief for the entire animation genre, showing what’s great about it, and why it’s important.