Friday, March 6, 2015

Mentallo & The Fixer - “Zothera” 3xCD

Reissued 90s electro-industrial mayhem

Back in the late 80s and early 90s, when I was editor of a small-press zine centered on “industrial” music, I received a C90 demo tape from Texan brothers Dwayne and Gary Dassing. It was a heaping amount of well-produced sequencer-driven electronic music that bared much resemblance to acts like Skinny Puppy or Front Line Assembly, with elegant strings bringing a beauty and warmth to the hard programmed beats and heavily-distorted vocals.

Shortly after that demo, the band signed to esteemed German electro-industrial-dance label Zoth Ommog, where they released several albums and singles to much acclaim, especially overseas with the growing legions of industrial fans. Personal strife ended the band in the early 2000s, before they regrouped for Belgian industrial label Alfa Matrix in 2007. 

This boxed set is a remastered comp of their first 2 albums for Zoth, “Revelations 23” and “Where Angels Fear To Tread”, alongside a third set of unreleased and remixed material titled “Apocrypha”. Looking back, Mentallo & The Fixer were certainly not trend-setters of their genre, yet these early albums do capture a moment in time when this kind of sound was on the rise, and it seemed poised to make inroads commercially, even. Well, that never quite happened, but Mentallo nonetheless built quite a following over Europe with these albums. 

There’s not much I can say individually about these albums, as they are quite similar. The lyrics have little bearing as they’re too distorted to decipher without a lyric sheet. I can report that the remastering adds some depth and kick to the already well-produced sound, and the brothers do manage some rather intricate layering of programming (some of which shows an affinity for the Berlin school of synth-sequencer units, and most likely German synth pioneers like Tangerine Dream). There is a moment of respite in the 1+ minute piano interlude, “Bleek Seclusion, but nearly 4 hours of the sequencer stuff starts to grate, so for serious fans of Mentallo’s aggressive electro, this is a heyday. Casual fans like me? Enjoyable in small doses. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

“Positive Force: More Than A Witness - 30 Years Of Punk Politics In Action” DVD (director: Robin Bell)

Enlightening and inspiring punk doc

The punk music scene has evolved into a fully-established family tree, with branches drifting away from the original sprout in often surprising and diverse fashions. The nihilism of progenitors like the Sex Pistols or Stooges eventually became a lame stereotype, so punks (particularly ones in Washington DC), partially inspired by the anarchist ideology of English band Crass, became “positive”. This film is a lovingly rendered documentary of the Positive Force movement, spearheaded by the Discord Records roster of artists, and most often associated with Ian MacKaye and Minor Threat/Fugazi, who paved a lot of ground for angry, politically, and socially aware punks.

Director Bell brings together loads of pertinent artists, activists, and musicians here, often with slightly different ideologies, but united to make change. It sounds corny and idealistic, but these are people who are fighting for our own rights, confronting issues like racism, homophobia, homelessness, poverty, war, corporate and government corruption, animal rights, and environmental conservation. Positive Force has been and still is driving change like few others. 

This feature-length DVD (which includes a wealth of bonus short films and live performances) boasts of rare music clips, as well as footage both old and new to illustrate the grass-roots movement that Positive Force has driven for 30 years now. Of course, names like Fugazi, Bikini Kill, Nation Of Ulysses, Rites Of Spring, Jello Biafra, Dave Grohl, Ted Leo, Kathleen Hanna, and many more appear here, so you know there are good things going on.

In short, this is a superb document of a movement that may not garner a lot of media attention (naturally), yet is an essential component of our homegrown American music scene. Support work like this, and give this cause a boost, as it can make a serious difference in all of our lives. Word.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

"Brew Britannia" by Jessica Boak and Ray Bailey

“Brew Britannia - The Strange Rebirth Of British Beer” by Jessica Boak & Ray Bailey (2014 Aurum Press UK, softcover, 5.3”x 8.5”, 304 pages)

England’s history with beer goes back hundreds of years. Britain is known the world over as a major player in the world’s craft beer scene, creating great brews for generations. But just as industrial beer corporations took over America for so many years, a similar consolidation happened to England. However, just within the last 50 years, England has “taken back the pint”, and this book details that struggle.

Authors and beer bloggers Boak and Bailey chronicle the beginnings of the notorious “CAMRA (Campaign For Real Ale)”, as well as the writers, beer critics, curmudgeons, and cranks that stubbornly refused to have corporate interests water down their ales (and lagers). We get names, places, and hometown breweries that put their own hearts and wallets into creating real beer for real people, and a pretty well comprehensive history of the wheres, hows, whos, and whys behind England’s re-emergence as a major brewing destination of the world. There’s not much as far as illustrations or photos to illustrate this journey, but the book reads well, and most certainly has a place among any legitimate beer book collection. All said, it’s a great piece of British brewing history, and a great document of a story that needed to be told.

"African Brew" by Lucy Corne and Ryno Reyneke

“African Brew: Exploring The Craft Of South African Beer” by Lucy Corne and Ryno Reyneke (2014 Random House Struik, South Africa, softcover, 7.5” x 9.75”, 256 pages)

Anyone who supposes that the craft beer world revolves around America, or even England or Belgium, think again. This fine book details, in depth, a wealth of African craft breweries that are bringing it, with inspiring brews outside of the corporate mainstream. Authors Corne and Reyneke go into great detail, speaking with brewmasters about their inspirations, ideas, and business. A ton of photos accompany each entry, illustrating the local flavors of South Africa’s rising beer scenes. Ever imagine an ancient ale from the Zulu nation? Hint: It's a sorghum brew that's been enjoyed for thousands of years. It's listed here, alongside tons of other brews both traditional (pilsners, stouts, india pale ales) and more unconventional (several brewmasters here state that they were inspired to make “weird” beer by watching Sam Calagione’s sadly-defunct “Brew Masters” show on cable TV!

As well, the authors provide tasting notes, food pairings, and even plenty of recipes utilizing the local beer, as provided by the pub and brewery chefs themselves. It's really a pretty comprehensive text, though I have to wonder if the rest of Africa may have other renegade brewers rallying against the multinational SABMiller corporation. Undoubtedly there are. But that's nitpicking. 

“African Brew” is a well-written and well-researched guide to the present day South African scene, and is a fascinating and fun read — damned essential for the worldly craft beer fan. This is a fine book with a shit-ton of info you won't find anywhere else (not even beeradvocate), and that's worth the price of admission alone, if you ask me.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

“Morris County” DVD (director: Matthew Garrett)

Powerful and intelligent indie drama/horror

Man, this indie trilogy really hits hard. Director Garrett here weaves a series of three distantly-related tales that could almost function as “lost” “Tales From The Crypt” stories, but with more emotional resonance and less gratuitous gore and sex. “Morris County” could be broadly considered horror, but it’s not so in conventional sense. I give great credit to the smart storytelling or Garrett, who takes these “everyday” lives into unseen and often horrifying sides, without evoking any supernatural or serial killer stereotyping.

The first story, “Ellie”, presents a rather unfortunate day in the life of teenaged Ellie, who withstands a series of poor judgement calls. Without putting out any spoilers, let’s just say it’s a riveting and painful journey to experience. Ellie is played exceptionally by Darcy Miller, conveying an unspoken air of trauma and confusion. "The Family Rubin” is a story of an upstanding Jewish family with plenty of ghosts in their closet. Startlingly similar in spirit to “American Beauty”, this is the lower point of the film, if only due to its similarity to that better-known film. The final story, “Elmer and Iris”, is a sad story of a seemingly happy elderly woman who, upon being cut from her office job of many years, finds herself painfully alone when her husband dies. Suffice to say, it gets weird, but remains very human and absolutely memorable.

As mentioned earlier, “Morris County” isn’t horror, but a well-scripted and well-acted trilogy of dramas that reflect a breakdown in traditional life in the suburbs. All the tales here are harrowing and edgy, but realistic. The portrayals are believable, as are the stories themselves. This is the ultimate strength of the film. Kudos to everyone involved, as this is a powerful movie that lingers in the psyche long after the disc has stopped.

As well, it should be noted that there is a plethora of bonus materials, including a creepy short film by Garrett called “Beating Hearts”. And the subtle electronic score by David Kristian is masterful, too.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

“A Dark Place Inside” DVD (director: Mike O’Mahony)

(Serial) killer micro-indie

So, my expectations here were quite low, I don’t mind stating. The other films that arrived at Goatsden HQ from Sector 5 were pretty, shall I say, hideous, derivative, and unwatchable. Not the case here. “A Dark Place Inside” is a supremely sick and repugnant serial killer flick, with a believable villain (played well by newcomer Chris Dalbey), great camerawork, and a story that’s harrowing yet magnetic. 

So, the gist of “A Dark Place Inside” isn’t too complex. Loner Andy (played by Dalbey) works a menial job, has no social life, and spends his spare time stalking and brutally murdering women, some of which he dismembers and brings home to “admire”. Sure, some of the gore effects are a bit cheesy and visibly low budget, but the point is driven home well that Andy is one troubled individual. We’re shown interspersed clips of Andy’s childhood, and his brutal torture at the hands of his abusive father, so as to explain his predilection for cruel and inhuman acts.

Along the film’s trajectory, we meet some of Andy’s annoying coworkers, and even get a brief glimpse of something that could almost resemble a flirtation with romance, before our anti-hero lapses again into his murderous ways. Director (and writer and producer) O’Mahony does an admirable job with this one, and I actually enjoyed it. Well-done serial killer horror on a shoestring budget.? See, it can be done.

Sector 5 Entertainment

“Zombie Isle” DVD (director: Robert Elkins)

Living dead stinker

I hope George Romero is filthy rich. Or at least very comfortable these days. After all, he's been ripped off so many thousands of times, he deserves more. Or maybe he just has an awful lot to answer for? Regardless, this micro-budget indie further recycles the tired formula into a virtually unwatchable mess of scratchy digitally enhanced  "70s film" stylings, and a nonexistent storyline involving a group of students "researching" an abandoned and forgotten island, only to find military quarantine signs and, you guessed it, zombies!

To give some credit where it's due, some of the gory flesh eating is suitably foul and repellant. And the electronic soundtrack is actually well done. But that's where my accolades end.

Doesn't any good trash film require some sex, nudity, or at the least some breastage? Sure, this attitude will have me labeled a sexist. Oh well. Purists and serious horror fans will agree with me. So forget about cheap titillation during "Zombie Isle". You'll get no.such satisfaction here, despite the cast full of attractive ladies.

A shame that this has to fail on nearly every level. "Zombie Isle" does nothing but nail shut the coffin on a genre that, though trendy, hasn't seen any innovation or creativity in a very long time. Let the living dead rest and avoid this stinker!