April 28, 2011
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Daniel Kraus's new novel Rotters combines a teenage boy's new relationship with his estranged father and a secret sect of grave robbers into an often grisly, always compelling, and unique coming of age tale.
Like his first novel The Monster Variations, this book may be marketed toward the YA market, but will be enjoyed by readers of all ages.
Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:
"A first-person narration from 16-year-old Joey provides a genuine foray into the mind of an intellectual young man who injects himself into a seedy brotherhood with hopes of simultaneously belonging and escaping the demoralizing social mores of small-town life. A cerebral romp through a fascinating, revolting underworld."
Long before I had written one word, I had made the decision that I would write the whole novel while listening to the dark, ominous subgenre known as black metal. I started digging (so to speak) in places both obvious and non-obvious, taking wild chances on weird blogs written in languages I couldn't read, downloading who the hell knew what—and oftentimes being bowled over by the results.
What I found—and it really should not have surprised me—is that, once you dig in, black metal is as faceted as any other genre; there's as much sensitivity and innocence and melody to be found as there are ghastly wails and punishing blast beats. (There's also, unfortunately, a lot of fascism—it's exhausting having to play investigative reporter for every cool-sounding band you come across, and eventually you run out of time and energy. Here's hoping the folks on this list are on the level.)
Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves, though—as the character of Foley says in Rotters, handing my hero a bag full of metal CDs, "Prepare to kneel at the steel throne of the might bloodbeast." Naturally, some will take issue with me saying that all of these bands are "black metal," but screw it. It's my list.
Here are my top 13 (of course) tracks.
1. "I," October Falls, Sarastus
This Finnish band is prized (to me, anyway) for their pastoral acoustic ditties. Black metal music has a tendency to go long—15-minute epics are the norm—but October Falls is known for tossing out Bob Pollard-style nuggets and turning in albums that always feel frustratingly like EPs. They're teasing us.
At 12:01, this is the longest track on this list, but it's a good example of what's going on in black metal as we speak. With a band name taken from—surprise!—Tolkien, Falls of Rauros is one of my current faves, so much so that I sneaked a reference into my novel: my protagonists live on Hewn Oak Road.
3. "Kneel to the Cross," Agalloch, Of Stone, Wind, and Pillor
Whenever my Rotters playlist shuffle wasn't cutting it, I'd just scroll up to Agalloch—pretty convenient, as they were first alphabetically. Arguably the best-known group on this list, Agalloch long ago became more than just my favorite black metal band; they're my favorite band, period. This oldie but goodie is from an essential 2001 EP.
The characters in my novel become obsessed with a fictional band called Vorvolakas (see #13 on this list), but the band I was imagining as I wrote was Nachtmystium. They're Chicago based, and for inspiration I took in multiple live shows while writing Rotters. No single song is more inextricably tied to the book than this one.
During the writing process, I made repeated trips to the legendary Chicago record store Metal Haven (R.I.P.). My favorite memory is standing in line to buy a Empyrium album, when the innocuous-looking teen girl in front of us noticed I was buying the same record and gave me the most forceful, painful high-five of my life. Think you know metal? Try this medieval madrigal on for size.
Technically filed as metal, this is one of the greatest rock songs I've ever heard. If this doesn't make your fucking day, well, you're dead to me. Side note: I was introduced to Primordial via the fabulous Pagan Fire, a compilation CD of the rousing (and occasionally mocked) sub-sub-genre of Viking Metal.
7. "Sanguis," Waldteufel, Sanguis
Trying playing this full-blast and see how fast the cops show up looking for your ritual sacrifice, especially during the chants of "Sanguis! Sanguis!" near the end. A very select few of you are going to fall in love with this; if this happens, do not panic! Just purchase the 2-disc Wilde Jaeger, a collection of similar alpine pagan folk. I've never heard such an esoteric music scene so cunningly curated.
8. "The Breath of Emptiness," Marblebog, Csendhajnal
There's a notion among the hip that Sunn O)))'s Black One is the scariest album ever. It's pretty damn upsetting, no doubt about it, but for my money I'll take the kind of recorded-in-a-dank-basement, kid-wailing-like-he's-being-tortured stuff that Marblebog epitomizes. Happy nightmares.
A few armored-and-spiked costumes away from being a bona fide heavy metal opera, San Francisco's Hammers of Misfortune has put out a line of LPs and EPs that are staggering in their lofty ambition and spit-take levels of audacity. Resistance is so goddamn futile.
10. "Deserted," Valkyrie, demo
Half of the albums on here I owe to Aesop Dekker's Cosmic Hearse, which might be the first blog worthy of a MacArthur Fellowship. But even the mighty Aesop was a bit stymied by this obscure 150-count cassette tape release. Thankfully, his equally brilliant commenters confirm that this gorgeous little acoustic item came from the gnarled, hellish dungeons of Columbus, Ohio(!!).
Hailing from Moscow, this group may just be the best Agalloch emulators out there (and, believe me, there's a bunch). What happens at 2:32 might be my favorite black metal moment EVER.
Lots of black metal bands are one-man projects created under bizarre aliases—it all adds to the mystique. Most impressive among these solo geniuses is Daemonskald, the seriously multitalented force behind (have fun pronouncing this one) Sig:ar:tyr. Daemonskald does it all: scream, sing, thrash, and noodle like a savant jazz guitarist. Impossible to pick one song, so I chose this ballad to ease us out softly.
13. "Greifland," Vorvolakas, Greifland
This is the fictional band in Rotters, playing the song mentioned repeatedly in the book. So is this is a hoax? Or is this band merely underground the underground? And who is The Implacable, who claims to play "all instruments"? All I'm permitted to say is that it's a mystery. As good black metal should be.
[Bands that caused me dark, stormy, fist-to-the-sky, black-metal-style grief when I had to cut them out of this playlist: Dark Tribe, Dornenreich, Drudkh, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Heidevolk, Istorn, Jacula, Melencolia Estatica, Sunn O))), Veil, Yakuza, and the first song off the first album by Black Sabbath. Of course.]
Daniel Kraus and Rotters links:
Bloody Disgusting review
The Book Smugglers review
Bookshelves of Doom review
The Diary of a Bookworm review
Escapism Through Books review
Horror Drive-In review
Humble Reviews review
Kirkus Reviews review
The Lone Writer review
Misfit Salon review
My Bookish Ways review
Random Beans review
Time Out Chicago review
When Librarians Attack review
Adventures in Children's Publishing interview with the author
The Book Smugglers guest post by the author
Booklist profile of the author
Chicago Unbelievable interview with the author
The Inner Bean interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for The Monster Variations
also at Largehearted Boy:
other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists