Saturday, July 6, 2024

Short Story Time: Vengeance Is Mine

It’s the first Saturday of July, so it’s Short Story Time! This month’s novella is widely considered to be my very best one: Vengeance Is Mine. I spent a couple months researching everything about Jack the Ripper prior to writing it and my attention to details, times, locations, and names of the victims make this one historical fiction. Here's the lowdown on it:

First published as part of the multi-author novella collection Creeping Shadows in 2009 and reprinted in Alan Draven’s 2012 collection Spooky Showcase, now a stand-alone novella: Vengeance Is Mine.

Alan Draven’s classic re-telling of the Jack the Ripper murders—with a twist! London 1888. Jack the Ripper leaves a trail of mutilated bodies as he terrorizes the district of Whitechapel and baffles the authorities. From beyond death, one of his victims returns to haunt him and shows him the meaning of living in fear.

You can download it as a free PDF right here. If you’ve missed the previous installments of Short Story Time, you can download each tale at the links below. Until next month, stay scared!

The Dark Emissaries” is a novella about a girl named Harmony who returns to Bitternest for a friend’s funeral. She encounters a strange man who only goes out at night that tells her there are dark beings sucking the life out of Bitternest’s inhabitants and turning them into stone. They are called the Dark Emissaries and a sign that they are but a taste of much worse things to come. Harmony will learn that she has a bigger role to play in the fight against the Dark Emissaries.

Cellar Door” is a novella about a court proofreader who picks up white noise on the recording of a transcript: A girl says ‘Help’ and ‘Find Cellar Door’ on it. He begins to dig deeper and discovers troubling details about a little girl that went missing in Bitternest. He embarks on an investigation to uncover the truth and answer the ultimate question: ‘What is Cellar Door?’”

A Madman’s Atonement” is a story about a serial killer in Bitternest. That’s all I’ll say about it. It’s become a fan-favourite over the years and I’m damn proud of this one.

"Beyond the Doomed Cave", is a Bradburyesque Gothic coming-of-age tale about a witch in a churchyard.

Silently It Creeps” is a short and nasty, creepy little tale about the monster under the bed.

The Chilling Hour” is a tale about Nick Kubrick, a horror DJ who investigates and debunks supernatural myths in his spare time in the foggy city of Bitternest, Louisiana. He would go on to star in his own novel, Nocturnal Offerings, a few years later.

The Errand” is a tale about a man who goes through the woods of Bitternest to run an errand and will see the course of his life altered forever.

Hershell’s Motel” is a strange tale about an unusual motel where, you guessed it, bizarre things happen.

The Rattling Man” is a coming of age Halloween tale. Do you believe in the bogeyman? Do you believe in the Rattling Man? Find out who or what he is!

Crimson Nightmares” is my take on the “Halloween” movie series. Written and initially published digitally back in 2011, this 106-page novella picks up 33 years after the events of the second "Halloween" film from 1981, the night when Michael Myers terrorized Laurie Strode (played by Jamie Lee Curtis) and the residents of Haddonfield, Illinois. It follows little Lindsey Wallace, the little girl Laurie Strode babysat in the first “Halloween” (1978) film, who is all grown-up now and bears the scars of that terrible night to this day. She has moved to my fictitious town of Bitternest, Louisiana to get away from her past and has been leading a quiet life, that is until something inside Michael Myers snaps and he comes looking for her on Halloween. Add to that a killer clown with an agenda of his own and it’s a Halloween you won’t soon forget. It’ll be a showdown for the ages when Michael Myers comes to the eerie city of Bitternest.

The Bypassed Mind”, a romantic suspense/fantasy story with some hypnosis thrown in for good measure that was directly inspired by the late, great Richard Matheson's novel Bid Time Return also adapted as the film "Somewhere in Time".

Breaking and Entering”, the story of a man who enters people’s homes just for kicks, never stealing anything, just to see what goes on behind closed doors. One day he’ll stumble upon something that will change his life forever…

Scapegoat”, a tale about the Curse of the Cubs, the love of baseball, some time travel, and a whole lot of nostalgia. Even if you're not into baseball, this fantasy tale filled with mystery is sure to entertain you.

Last but not least, fans of Conan and Dungeons & Dragons can also download a PDF of the first two tales of the ongoing adventures of my Sword & Sorcery character AMOK right here. 

Saturday, June 29, 2024

2024 Mid-Year Top Ten

The first half of 2024 is already history! I think it goes by faster with every passing year. These first six months have been absolutely phenomenal music-wise and it’ll be hard to top that for the second half of the year. So, as I did last year, I thought I’d do a Mid-Year Top Ten to see where we’re at. Some albums that I ranked really high upon the first couple of listens dropped down a bit in the rankings and vice versa. Essentially, these are the ten LPs that I keep going back to, week in, week out. Each album listed features a link to its respective review.

10. Blaze Bayley – Circle of Stone

9. Freeways – Dark Sky Sanctuary

8. Tonnerre – La Nuit Sauvage

7. Castle Rat – Into the Realm

6. VAZUM – Western Violence

5. Ace Frehley – 10,000 Volts

4. The Mercury Riots – In Solstice

3. Bruce Dickinson – The Mandrake Project

2. Sebastian Bach – Child Within the Man

1. Judas Priest – Invincible Shield

And those are my picks! What are your favourite albums of the year so far? Hopefully my list will make you discover an album you’d overlooked or that you just found out about for the first time. Summer’s in full swing so enjoy your weekend and listen to music! 

Saturday, June 22, 2024

Double Dose of Reviews - Thunder Horse & Dream Evil

Greetings! Here’s another double dose of reviews for you. First off, the San Antonio, Texas quartet Thunder Horse will release their first live album via the mighty Ripple Music on July 14th titled Dead Alive in TX. They’re going the classic route KISS and other ‘70s rock bands took of putting out a live album after three studio LPs. I must say, I wholeheartedly endorse this wonderful initiative. Over the last couple of years, Thunder Horse has become one of my top three favourite bands from the Ripple Music roster. Dead Alive in TX features songs from their self-titled debut from 2018, their now-classic sophomore effort, Chosen One, from 2021, and of course, their masterpiece from last summer, After the Fall, which I reviewed exactly a year ago today, strangely enough.

Man, what a kick-ass record this is! This album sounds crisp and crystal clear from beginning to end and there isn’t a dull moment to be found. Stephen Bishop’s vocals boom over each song while Todd Connally’s blistering guitar, and the thundering rhythm section of Dave Crow on bass & Johnny Lightning on drums unleash crushing doom goodness on our senses. From the heavy and doomy “Let Them Bleed” to the anthemic “New Normal”, the entrancing “Song for the Ferryman”, to a reinvigorated “Chosen One”, closing the set with a breakneck rendition of the Motorhead signature song “Ace of Spades” that would make Lemmy proud, Dead Alive is nothing short of perfection in terms of a live album. My only gripe is that I wish it would’ve been longer, with three or four more songs. Was this recorded at a festival where they performed a shorter set or is this an abbreviated show for the purpose of fitting it all on a single vinyl? In any case, I’d love to have a full, one-hour plus live album from Thunder Horse the next time around.

A perfect gateway to the band for newcomers, Dead Alive in TX is a riff-loaded “Best Of” of the band’s greatest tunes as well as a testament to just how powerful they sound in a live performance. I hope they’ll continue the tradition and release another live LP in about five or six years once they’ve put out album number six. Pre-order/add this one to your Wishlist on Bandcamp ASAP—it’s required listening for all fans of doom/heavy psych/classic rock.

Ripple Music’s Bandcamp page for Thunder Horse: https://ripplemusic.bandcamp.com/album/dead-alive-in-tx

Next up, hailing from Gothenburg, Sweden, heavy metal band Dream Evil will be making a comeback with their first album in seven years. The legendary Swedish metal group celebrates their twenty-fifth anniversary this year and their latest LP, Metal Gods, will see the light of day on July 26th via Century Media Records. The quintet has put together a stellar album perfectly tailored to their long-time fans and devotees of old school metal in general.

It’s a record chock-full of highlights, with the anthemic opening title track and first single—an homage to the gods of metal like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. “Chosen Force” with its catchy chorus and harmonious synths. “The Tyrant Dies at Dawn”, a battle song with superb guitar playing. “Lightning Strikes” is a melodic gem while “Fight in the Night” is a kick-ass tune with heavy riffage. The slower-paced, bass-driven “Masters of Arms” is a beauty, and “Born in Hell”, a song that feels like the spiritual twin of “Metal Gods”, is equally great and Priest-like in execution.

Dream Evil are back in a major way. Metal Gods is a breath of fresh air and shows that the quintet hasn’t lost a beat after all these years. If anything, they sound rejuvenated here. Masters at crafting melodic metal hooks, riffs, and guitar solos with pop sensibilities, they deliver hands-down one of the best metal LPs of the year with Metal Gods. Whether you’re new to the band or have been following them for the past twenty plus years, there’s plenty to love on Metal Gods. Join the celebration and pre-order this collection of gems at your earliest convenience.

Century Media Records’ Bandcamp page for Dream Evil: https://centurymedia.bandcamp.com/album/metal-gods-24-bit-hd-audio 

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Sword & Sorcery Spotlight - Neither Beg Nor Yield

Welcome to what is my last Sword & Sorcery Spotlight for 2024. As I had said in my post explaining this back in March, as promised, here is my review of Neither Beg Nor Yield, a fantastic, massive anthology edited by Jason M. Waltz. It was published by Rogue Blades Entertainment on January 26th, 2024 in print and on Kindle. It features a stellar cast of yesterday and today’s best S&S authors.

It took me about four months to go through all twenty stories, certainly not because it wasn’t a good read, but due to a lot of outside factors. I moved out of town back in March and that was time-consuming, there’s also the fact that due to my ever-declining eyesight, aside from comic books, I seldom read books anymore (whether it be in print or PDFs—audiobooks are the way for me, and I devour Audible content day in, day out). I’m also focusing a lot more time on my own Sword & Sorcery fiction, writing tales in my Amok saga which is close to completion—more on that in the coming weeks and months. So, I read about a tale every week from Neither Beg Nor Yield, took notes, and here we are now, 487 pages later (PDF version) and I can finally share my review on the blog. When it comes to short stories, I’m very picky and anthologies such as this usually hold a good number of average and subpar tales. I was pleasantly surprised that this wasn’t the case with Neither Beg Nor Yield. So, without further ado, here are my ratings out of five, along with a quick summary, and my thoughts on each tale.

1. “Hunters and Prey” by C. L. Werner – 5/5 – A samurai named Shintaro Oba embarks on a quest to slay a demon, the Spider King, while being hunted by another samurai. This was a terrific tale of revenge and deception.

2. “Prince of Dragons” by William King – 3.5/5 – A child by the name of Kormak grows into a warrior on his quest to slay the Prince of Dragons—a demon. To me, this tale written in the present tense creates a false sense of urgency and lessens what is an otherwise excellent story.

3. “Suspension in Silver” by Eric Turowski – 5/5 – A tattoo parlor gets a visit from an unusual biker gang. A modern take on the S&S genre that exceeded my expectations. Lots of fun.

4. “Soldier, Seeker, Slayer” by John C. Hocking – 5/5 – Creon, a warrior whose daughter was stolen from him, embarks on a path to seek answers but not all is what it seems. This one felt like an old school S&S tale and is one of my favourites of the entire book.

5. “Harvest of the Blood-King” by Steve Dilks – 4/5 – Bohun, a huge warrior, is hired to take part in a mission to rescue a senator’s son. This was my third Bohun tale and he’s really growing on me as a staple of modern S&S. This action-packed tale delivers plenty of S&S thrills, but feels a tad long.

6. “The Stone from the Stars” by Chuck Dixon – 5/5 – Two mercenaries, Hagen and Pilsner, are hired by a woman to wage battle on a sorcerer’s familiar, a beast from a different plane. I’ve been reading him since my teens and Chuck Dixon can do no wrong. This one was a ton of fun with all the back and forth banter between the two leads.

7. “Evil World” by John R. Fultz – 5/5 – Gnori, a 12-year old boy, seeks to avenge his father who was killed by a brute, the Giant King. He must wait until the age of 21 to rid the world of Earth Giants and their pet demons. Lots of world-building for a short story and done extremely well. Made me want to read more of Gnori’s adventures.

8. “Reckoning” by Keith J. Taylor – 4/5 – A group of seamen joins pirates at sea to look for wrecked ships guided by a woman with powers of clairvoyance. Mayhem ensues. A very enjoyable fantasy tale with lots of S&S elements.

9. “Golden Devils of the Crypt” by Phil Emery – 4/5 – Corlagh, a barbarian living in a post-apocalyptic world, joins a thief, Norad, and they go through a demon city, encountering an astromancer along the way, leading to a mysterious crypt. I’m usually not a fan of post-apocalyptic stories but this one was a blast to read.

10. “The Void of Sul-Atet” by David C. Smith – 5/5 – Engor, a warrior, along with his leader, Etain, lead soldiers against a sorcerer named Kessek, having made a deal with a demon, Sul-Atet, to vanquish him. A dark tale, very well written, and engaging from start to finish.

11. “The Shades of Nacross Hill” by Frederick Tor – 4.5/5 – Kaimer, a tomb raider, encounters a sinister group at a cemetery. Ghosts and sorcery are thrown in for good measure. This one’s a cool blend of S&S and horror loaded with atmosphere.

12. “The Organ Grinder’s Monkey” by Joe R. Lansdale – 2/5 – Bob and Olo, two buddies, go on a psychedelic adventure in another dimension to hunt down a monkey. A fun premise but ultimately a tale that didn’t deliver for me. It felt silly at times and I just never got into it.

13. “Vengeance, by Wind and Tide” by Eadwine Brown – 4/5 – A pirate tale about Azirah, a female captain and her crew of corsairs, who seek a sorcerer and his tower. This story was great; it had shades of Robert E. Howard’s classic Conan tale “Queen of the Black Coast”; classic S&S.

14. “Isekai Sengokumonogatari” by Glen Cook – 3/5 – A youth, Shinzutoro, escorts three orphaned children and their guardian through a forest on the other side of the island. I’ve mixed feelings about this one; some of it worked really well and other parts dragged. A good but not great tale.

15. “Bona Na Croin” by Jeff Stewart – 5/5 – Fergus, a wanderer, along with his loyal pony and a druid, join King Conall to exact revenge on a rival king by the name of Morthesa. Superb fantasy elements and a gripping story.

16. “Virgins for Khuul”- by Steve Goble – 5/5 – Calthus, a warrior-king, seeks to rescue captives from the clutches of the dark god Khuul, a terrible giant beast who will awaken and require a sacrifice before going to sleep again for centuries. A Conan-type tale that is absolutely fantastic and may very well be my favourite of this anthology.

17. “The Last Vandals on Earth” by Steven Erikson – 3/5 – A tale of historical fantasy about a cook, Ulfilas, and his wife, Respendial, with pretty much the whole world against them. I did enjoy the story’s humoristic tone but overall, it felt like a convoluted tale that never really landed for me.

18. “The Barbarian’s Lawyer” by Lawrence A. Weinstein – 5/5 – A S&S courtroom drama with a lawyer, Cynric, defending a barbarian, Blazgorn, accused of stealing from a corrupt lord. What a unique story! Full of clever humour, this was a brilliant tale that, if not my favourite of the book, is at least a close second.

19. “Reflection from a Tarnished Mirror” by Howard Andrew Jones – 3.5/5 – A tale about a rebel by the name of Hanuvar posing as Fabius in a secret war of liberation. Hanuvar wants to free the Volani slaves. A false Hanuvar causes much interference throughout. This was a clever story that outstayed its welcome in the end, in my humble opinion.

20. “Maiden Flight” by Adrian Cole – 3.5/5 – Ulric, a warrior, fights alongside a Valkyrie as they face an army in a tale of mythical proportions. A well-crafted, epic tale that is a solid way to close out the anthology.

My overall rating of the book rounds out to 4/5 stars which is above excellent for me. Neither Beg Nor Yield is an ambitious anthology that accomplishes the rare feat of delivering an incredibly diverse selection of Sword and Sorcery stories that embody the S&S attitude in every possible form. Drawing inspiration from classic Conan tales as well as giving us more modern and edgy takes on the genre, the tales all sit perfectly with one another. Jason M. Waltz’s vision for this passion project was achieved magnificently and we can all be thankful that this marvelous anthology exists.

Get your copy now! 

Saturday, June 8, 2024

Double Dose of Reviews - The Mercury Riots & Motivik

Time for a double bill of reviews! First off, a kick-ass, old school hard rock band from Los Angeles, California by the name of The Mercury Riots will be releasing their debut LP, In Solstice, on June 21st. Recorded last year in Vancouver with legendary producer/engineer Mike Fraser (AC/DC, Metallica) who co-produced, mixed, and engineered the album at The Warehouse Studio and Armoury Studios. The mastering was done by Ryan Smith (The Black Keys, Greta Van Fleet) at Sterling Sound. So, all the ingredients are here for an explosive LP.

The quartet delivers a unique brand of muscle rock reminiscent of AC/DC and Aerosmith. Some of the highlights in this 10-song collection include the opening track, “Make It”, where frontman Justin Walker channels AC/DC’s Bon Scott for a fiery rock ‘n’ roll tune. The first single, “Be Yours”, is catchy as all hell. “Sweet Melody” is a bluesy retro ballad with melodic hooks. “Save Me a Drink” is an anthemic party song. The closing track, “Nobody Knows”, with its epic feel and gorgeous guitar work is pure perfection, and my favourite of the lot. The Mercury Riots put together a phenomenal first effort that fans of melodic rock, hard rock, and classic rock will cherish for years to come. In the end, In Solstice is a celebration of rock ‘n’ roll at its finest.

The Mercury Riots Online: https://orcd.co/insolstice2

Next up, Motivik, a thrash metal/melodic heavy metal duo comprised of multi-instrumentalist Ryan Roebuck and vocalist Courtney Simmons out of Atlanta, Georgia will be releasing their sophomore LP, Renouncement, on July 1st through Roxx Records. This record is packed to the brim with 13 songs that feel like a concept album at times. The LP features a multitude of guests such as vocalists Jason Weaver, Chris Ackerman (Betrayal), Jason Wisdom (Becoming the Archetype) and Andre Chiang (Shamash) to guitarists like Greg Minier (Applehead, The Crucified) and Derek Corzine (Burial Extraction, Crowned in Sorrow).

Spectacular melodies and infectious choruses abound on Renouncement. Some of the highlights for me include “Dethroned”, a track that kicks the doors off their hinges and immediately announces that Motivik aren’t taking any prisoners. “Break the Walls” is a gem of a song with its melodic riffs and rhythms. “This Man I Am” is an instant classic, a rallying cry for the masses. The first single, “Harbinger of Demise”, is a stellar thrash metal tune and if you swapped the word “demise” for “doom”, it could easily become this blog’s anthem. “Final Hour” might be my favourite of the bunch and is easily the most accessible track of the LP—a powerful and heartfelt song. “The Storm Within” with its machine gun guitars features storytelling at its best in terms of songwriting. “Dead by Daylight” has got riffs, guitar solos, and more riffs! “Once Again” is a terrific closer filled with emotion; a grandiose song in every sense of the word. Motivik puts on a masterclass in melodic heavy metal with Renouncement. Its superb instrumentation and high production values make it an essential album to own for old school metal aficionados as well as modern thrash fans.

Motivik on Bandcamp: https://motivik.bandcamp.com/album/renouncement 

Friday, June 7, 2024

Musings: VAZUM - Western Violence

One of my favourite duos of recent years is back with a vengeance: Just released this past Thursday, out of Detroit, Michigan, VAZUM, unleashed their latest post-punk/deathgaze opus, Western Violence. Consisting of Zach Pliska on vocals, guitars and drums, and Emily Sturm on vocals and bass, the enigmatic duo spent nine months assembling this beast of a record. Twelve tracks, all killer, no filler.

They have a unique sound which echoes The Cure with vocals channeling the heydays of Marilyn Manson and Debbie Harry. Followers of this blog are well aware of my love for this band. They remind me of the golden age of goth and industrial music of The Cure, Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy, Nine Inch Nails, and Marilyn Manson. Back in the ‘90s, those bands literally kept my alive. Music (and movies to a certain extent) were the only things that kept me going. Had VAZUM been around then, they would’ve been part of that group of bands that I listened to religiously day in, day out. I also firmly believe that had they been making music during that period, they would be legends by now. Their music is simply astonishing.

The album opens with the title track, a dark and catchy tune sung by Emily. The song pulls no punches, brimming with raw energy. “Breach” follows, one of the earlier singles with Zach on vocals. A definite highlight of the album. “Alien”, featuring Emily on vocals, has an ultra cool ‘80s vibe to it. “Embryo” is an earworm, with dual singing at times, it’s one of my favourite tracks ever from VAZUM. “Get Out” is a slow-burn of a track, an addictive gem beautifully sung by Emily. “Stellium” was another single from a while back titled “Double Stellium” and although I haven’t heard it in a long time, I’m pretty sure this version sounds better as I was instantly hooked. “Blush” almost feels like a classic song by now, released as one of the singles earlier this year, it’s got everything you want a hit tune to be: melodic and infectious. “Done” hit me hard; a song of gentle despair with Emily’s siren voice placing the listener under a trance. “Acteur”, a song about fake people, features Zach at his best on vocals. “Exile” has the duo sharing vocal duties for the most part; another terrific track. “Nightshade” was first released well over a year ago in a different iteration. Both versions are pretty awesome. “Precious Ones” is another single from a long time ago played slightly faster here to great effect with Zach on vocals.

VAZUM has crafted a masterpiece with Western Violence. It’s without a doubt their most versatile album yet and maybe even their best, only time will tell. I’ve loved everything they’ve put out since I first found out about them back in 2020. They have a way of constructing songs much in the way new wave bands of the ‘80s did with a joyful sound chock-full of dark lyrics, akin to Tears for Fears’ “Mad World.” Western Violence is an album for the tortured souls, the disillusioned, and the dreamers of this world. It’s a harsh critic of the state of America in this tumultuous 21st century. And you know what the best part is? It’s a Name Your Price album on Bandcamp so you have NO reason not to get it. Be generous and show them some love—VAZUM is one of the hardest-working and most creative bands around today. A must for the Top Ten Albums of the Year lists. What are you waiting for, pick it up right fucking now!

VAZUM on Bandcamp: https://vazum.bandcamp.com/album/western-violence 

Saturday, June 1, 2024

Short Story Time: The Dark Emissaries

June is here! It’s the first Saturday of the month, so that must mean that it’s Short Story Time! I’ve moved on from short stories to novellas starting last month and it continues in June. This one stars one of the characters from my first novel, Bitternest (2007), and my last novel, Once Upon a Time in Bitternest (2022), as well as the Dark Emissaries, those dark shadow beings who first made their appearance in my short story "The Chilling Hour." Here's the official synopsis:

“First published as part of Alan Draven's 2010 collection The Bitternest Chronicles, now a stand-alone novella: The Dark Emissaries.

Harmony Evans returns to her hometown of Bitternest for a friend’s funeral. She begins to suspect that he was murdered by something unnatural. A strange and charismatic man who only goes out at night confirms her fears and tells her there are dark beings sucking the life out of Bitternest’s inhabitants and turning them into stone. They are called the Dark Emissaries and a sign that they are but a taste of much worse things to come. Harmony will learn that she has a bigger role to play in the fight against the Dark Emissaries. Will she and her mysterious new friend find a way to defeat them before the irreparable happens?”

You can download it as a free PDF right here. If you’ve missed the previous installments of Short Story Time, you can download each tale at the links below. Until next month, keep it spooky!

Cellar Door” is a novella about a court proofreader who picks up white noise on the recording of a transcript: A girl says ‘Help’ and ‘Find Cellar Door’ on it. He begins to dig deeper and discovers troubling details about a little girl that went missing in Bitternest. He embarks on an investigation to uncover the truth and answer the ultimate question: ‘What is Cellar Door?’”

A Madman’s Atonement” is a story about a serial killer in Bitternest. That’s all I’ll say about it. It’s become a fan-favourite over the years and I’m damn proud of this one.

"Beyond the Doomed Cave", is a Bradburyesque Gothic coming-of-age tale about a witch in a churchyard.

Silently It Creeps” is a short and nasty, creepy little tale about the monster under the bed.

The Chilling Hour” is a tale about Nick Kubrick, a horror DJ who investigates and debunks supernatural myths in his spare time in the foggy city of Bitternest, Louisiana. He would go on to star in his own novel, Nocturnal Offerings, a few years later.

The Errand” is a tale about a man who goes through the woods of Bitternest to run an errand and will see the course of his life altered forever.

Hershell’s Motel” is a strange tale about an unusual motel where, you guessed it, bizarre things happen.

The Rattling Man” is a coming of age Halloween tale. Do you believe in the bogeyman? Do you believe in the Rattling Man? Find out who or what he is!

Crimson Nightmares” is my take on the “Halloween” movie series. Written and initially published digitally back in 2011, this 106-page novella picks up 33 years after the events of the second "Halloween" film from 1981, the night when Michael Myers terrorized Laurie Strode (played by Jamie Lee Curtis) and the residents of Haddonfield, Illinois. It follows little Lindsey Wallace, the little girl Laurie Strode babysat in the first “Halloween” (1978) film, who is all grown-up now and bears the scars of that terrible night to this day. She has moved to my fictitious town of Bitternest, Louisiana to get away from her past and has been leading a quiet life, that is until something inside Michael Myers snaps and he comes looking for her on Halloween. Add to that a killer clown with an agenda of his own and it’s a Halloween you won’t soon forget. It’ll be a showdown for the ages when Michael Myers comes to the eerie city of Bitternest.

The Bypassed Mind”, a romantic suspense/fantasy story with some hypnosis thrown in for good measure that was directly inspired by the late, great Richard Matheson's novel Bid Time Return also adapted as the film "Somewhere in Time".

Breaking and Entering”, the story of a man who enters people’s homes just for kicks, never stealing anything, just to see what goes on behind closed doors. One day he’ll stumble upon something that will change his life forever…

Scapegoat”, a tale about the Curse of the Cubs, the love of baseball, some time travel, and a whole lot of nostalgia. Even if you're not into baseball, this fantasy tale filled with mystery is sure to entertain you.

Last but not least, fans of Conan and Dungeons & Dragons can also download a PDF of the first two tales of the ongoing adventures of my Sword & Sorcery character AMOK right here.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Rapid Fire Reviews: Sebastian Bach

What a year it’s been so far for solo records and it continues with another superb release, this time from former Skid Row frontman Sebastian Bach. The charismatic singer from Peterborough, Ontario, Canada returns with his fifth solo album, Child within the Man, a follow-up to 2014’s Give 'Em Hell.  His former bandmates Skid Row put out a terrific LP back in 2022, The Gang’s All Here, so I was eager to see and hear how this album would stack up against it. One thing’s for sure, Bach’s powerful and distinctive vocals are just as amazing as back in his Skid Row days.

The album opens up with the awesome “Everybody Bleeds”, which was the second single. It’s got a vintage vibe while delivering a reinvigorated hard rock sound. Bach is in top form here. “Freedom” follows, a high-octane rocker with a catchy riff. Next up is “(Hold On) To the Dream”, the third single and a highlight of the LP. It may very well be my favourite track on this record, but only time will tell. “What Do I Got to Lose?” was the song that got the ball rolling late last year, the first single. It sounds just as great now as it did when I first heard it, even after the excitement of hearing a new song in such a long time has waned. “Hard Darkness” is an apt title as it’s a darker, heavier song with a metal edge. “Future of Youth” features tremendous guitars while “Vendetta” fires on all cylinders with its metal sensibilities. “F.U.” doesn’t stand for what you think it does; it’s an anthemic, kick-ass rock tune with a splendid guitar solo that’s simply one of my faves on the record. “Crucify Me” just crushes it, an all-around cool headbanging tune, while “About to Break” has a Joe Satriani feel on guitar and is one of the best songs on the LP. “To Live Again” closes the set, a softer tune and the closest we get to a bona fide ballad on this album. I dig it a lot.

After a couple of spins, I can already say that Child Within the Man is a strong contender for the Top Ten Albums of the Year list. Is it on par with Skid Row’s 2022 offering? You bet your ass it is! As much as I loved Erik Grönwall singing for Skid Row, Bach reminds us with this new record why he’s a phenomenal vocalist who deserves to be recognized as one of the all-time greats such as Freddie Mercury, Ronnie James Dio, Rob Halford, and Bruce Dickinson. Child Within the Man is all killer, no filler. You won’t find a skippable track here. It’s a pure hard rock delight from top to bottom. Bach has a sound of his own that doesn’t sound like just another Skid Row album. Although, I wouldn’t have minded an old school ballad just for old times sake. In any case, this is easily Bach’s best album in over twenty years.

Sebastian Bach Online: https://www.sebastianbach.com/ 

Saturday, May 4, 2024

Short Story Time: Cellar Door

Happy May the Fourth! It’s the first Saturday of the month, so you know what that means: it’s Short Story Time! Now that I’m done with my horror short stories, I’m shaking things up a bit and I’ll be sharing my novellas for FREE over the next four months. First published as part of my 2010 collection The Bitternest Chronicles, now a stand-alone novella, I give you Cellar Door. Here’s the synopsis:

“Justis Samson, a court proofreader, picks up white noise on the recording of a transcript that he is proofreading. He hears a girl say ‘Help’ and ‘Find Cellar Door’ on it. He begins to dig deeper and discovers troubling details about a little girl that went missing in Bitternest. He embarks on an investigation to uncover the truth and answer the ultimate question: ‘What is Cellar Door?’”

You can download it as a free PDF right here. If you’ve missed the previous installments of Short Story Time, you can download each tale at the links below. Until next month, keep it spooky!

A Madman’s Atonement” is a story about a serial killer in Bitternest. That’s all I’ll say about it. It’s become a fan-favourite over the years and I’m damn proud of this one.

Beyond the Doomed Cave", is a Bradburyesque Gothic coming-of-age tale about a witch in a churchyard.

Silently It Creeps” is a short and nasty, creepy little tale about the monster under the bed.

The Chilling Hour” is a tale about Nick Kubrick, a horror DJ who investigates and debunks supernatural myths in his spare time in the foggy city of Bitternest, Louisiana. He would go on to star in his own novel, Nocturnal Offerings, a few years later.

The Errand” is a tale about a man who goes through the woods of Bitternest to run an errand and will see the course of his life altered forever.

Hershell’s Motel” is a strange tale about an unusual motel where, you guessed it, bizarre things happen.

The Rattling Man” is a coming of age Halloween tale. Do you believe in the bogeyman? Do you believe in the Rattling Man? Find out who or what he is!

Crimson Nightmares” is my take on the “Halloween” movie series. Written and initially published digitally back in 2011, this 106-page novella picks up 33 years after the events of the second "Halloween" film from 1981, the night when Michael Myers terrorized Laurie Strode (played by Jamie Lee Curtis) and the residents of Haddonfield, Illinois. It follows little Lindsey Wallace, the little girl Laurie Strode babysat in the first “Halloween” (1978) film, who is all grown-up now and bears the scars of that terrible night to this day. She has moved to my fictitious town of Bitternest, Louisiana to get away from her past and has been leading a quiet life, that is until something inside Michael Myers snaps and he comes looking for her on Halloween. Add to that a killer clown with an agenda of his own and it’s a Halloween you won’t soon forget. It’ll be a showdown for the ages when Michael Myers comes to the eerie city of Bitternest.

The Bypassed Mind”, a romantic suspense/fantasy story with some hypnosis thrown in for good measure that was directly inspired by the late, great Richard Matheson's novel Bid Time Return also adapted as the film "Somewhere in Time".

Breaking and Entering”, the story of a man who enters people’s homes just for kicks, never stealing anything, just to see what goes on behind closed doors. One day he’ll stumble upon something that will change his life forever…

Scapegoat”, a tale about the Curse of the Cubs, the love of baseball, some time travel, and a whole lot of nostalgia. Even if you're not into baseball, this fantasy tale filled with mystery is sure to entertain you.

Last but not least, fans of Conan and Dungeons & Dragons can also download a PDF of the first two tales of the ongoing adventures of my Sword & Sorcery character AMOK right here. 

Friday, May 3, 2024

May Bandcamp Friday Be with You!

It’s that time of the month once more, Bandcamp Friday is here! Sadly, it seems that the enthusiasm for BC Friday has greatly waned over the last several months. I’ve decided that for the rest of the year, I won’t be writing anymore Bandcamp Friday roundup articles after this one. I’m very busy these days and the time I have to dedicate to the blog is minimal. I’d rather focus my energy and time elsewhere if only a fraction of my readers chooses to read and encourage bands on that special Friday.

It might just be that the concept has run its course. Started as an initiative from Bandcamp about four years ago as a way to help artists during the pandemic when they could no longer play live and saw their earnings significantly diminished. So, in the meantime, until who knows when, show some love to those hard-working artists as Bandcamp waives its revenue share and all the money goes directly to the artists and labels for a full 24 hours. Here are my five picks to help you find some cool tunes and albums for the month of May.

First off, War Grave, a British heavy metal five-piece band, released a stunning self-titled debut EP last week. A blend of traditional metal and thrash metal, if you like it old school, then they’ll hit the spot for you. Read my thoughts about it here and pick up the EP over here.

Second, Freeways released their sophomore LP last week, Dark Sky Sanctuary, and it’s a thing of beauty. If hard rock and/or classic rock is your thing, then look no further, Freeways have got you covered. They are the best at what they do and they’re fellow Canucks on top of that! Read my thoughts on it here and purchase it right here.

Third, out today, master of horror John Carpenter along with his son Cody and godson Daniel Davies are unleashing the fourth volume in their Lost Themes series, titled Noir. Judging by the two singles released thus far, it’ll be another phenomenal set of synthwave instrumentals. I, for one, can’t wait to listen to the full thing. You can pick it up here.  

Fourth, also out today, from the mighty Ripple Music, The Watchers make a triumphant return after a six-year absence with their most metal album yet, Nyctophilia. It’s a solid affair from top to bottom that’s sure to please long-time fans as well as newcomers to the band. You can read my thoughts on it here and show them some love over here.

Fifth, releasing next week, The Hazytones’ third LP, Wild Fever, is their best yet, in this humble reviewer’s opinion. If you dig old school doom, rock ‘n’ roll, and stoner rock, you’re gonna love it. You can read the interview I conducted with them here and you’ll soon be able to pre-order Wild Fever over here.

That’s it, folks! Open your wallets, if not today, then any other day and buy some independent music, you’ll be encouraging a hard-working band and allowing them to make more great music for us. 2024 continues to be a stellar year for rock and metal in all their iterations. Enjoy the tunes and I’ll catch you later. Excelsior!