The Jobless Writer . . .

The Jobless Writer . . .

Sits in the corner of a small café, bent over an aging laptop.  Takes a sip from a cup of coffee:  Black as space.  Bitter as death.  Could dissolve corrosion from battery terminals.

Chews on the bottom half of a bagel for lunch.  The top half was breakfast.

Rubs his eyes from the glow of the screen.  Looks up.  The faces of the people next to him have changed.  Replaced by new faces, doing the same things.  Frantically talking into earpieces that blink blue.  Slamming down scolding-hot lattes.  Leaving unused napkins on tables. Image

The jobless writer digs deep into his pockets for .52 cents.  Finds a quarter, two dimes and three pennies.  Rummages through a ratty backpack and finds four pennies hiding under a copy of Vonnegut’s Slaughter House Five.

Stretches his legs with a fresh cup of coffee in hand.  Sits back down.  Slaps the headphones around his head.  Turns up the album Svartir Sandar by the metal band, Solstafir.  Their lyrics are sung in Icelandic.

Gets back to work.  Pounds out a few more sentences.  Sits back and crosses his arms, constructing the perfect setting in his mind for the next scene:  A busy train station.  Downtown.   Late at night.  It’s snowing outside.

Writes a few more sentences.  Sighs. Highlights and erases the entire paragraph.

Starts again.

After two hours, the jobless writer grabs his grumbling stomach.  Switches to the other Word document.  Scans his cover letter for an administration job.  Reads through his credentials.  Corrects a typo.  Thinks about the seven other cover letters he sent out last week.  Checks his email.  The number zero sits obstinately next to the inbox.

Sips from the cold cup of battery acid and switches back to his novel.  Chapter 12.  The scene takes place on an Amtrak train.  Somewhere between Harrisburg and Philadelphia.  Just after dusk.  Rain instead of snow.

The hours pass.  His character never makes it to Philadelphia, enduring several fates:  First she dies from a bomb carried by the passenger sitting next to her.  Then she dies of an aneurysm.  Then she’s mangled when the train jumps the rails.  Her fiancé is eagerly waiting for her at the downtown train station, holding a bright-red rose.  He drops it when a conductor tells him—

The jobless writer feels something at his leg.  A small child pulls on the laptop’s power cord.  The mother chastises the little girl and goes back to reading 50 Shades of Grey.  The jobless writer smiles and winks.  The little girl giggles and smiles back.

Now his character is in the hospital, unconscious.  The fiancé thinks she’s dead.  He’s collapsed on the cold, marble floor of the train station.  The concerned conductor pats the fiancé’s shaking shoulders, accidentally stepping on the rose.

Stands and paces along the back wall.  It’s dark outside.  Realizes for the first time the sun has long disappeared.  The café closes in an hour.  Digs through his bag and finds only a nickel and three more pennies.  Adds water to the half cup of cold coffee.  Asks the girl behind the counter to nuke it.

An hour later, he’s walking home, ragged backpack slung over sunken shoulders.  Commuters drive past, illuminating the sidewalk with bright headlights, casting a brief shadow that quickly slides into darkness.

Walks past a neighborhood restaurant with an outside patio.  The smell of grilled beef and fried chicken makes his stomach growl.  Turns and walks down an alley.

The cat meows as the jobless writer pushes open the door, a furry body winding its way between his ankles.  Fills the cat bowl.  Adds water and a few ice cubes to a glass, setting it next to the feasting feline.  Scratches behind the cat’s ears.  It purrs as it eats.

Dons a sweatshirt, drinks a glass of water, then warms a bowl of Ramen noodles.  Only uses half the packet.  The other half for when Chapter 12 is finished.  Warms his hands and face with the steam from the soup.  Opens the laptop and glances at the cover letter again.  Closes it without making any changes.  His Inbox reads two new messages.  Closes the web browser.

The jobless writer crosses his arms and leans back.  He creates in his mind a cantankerous conductor punching tickets.  A child, a little girl, running up and down the passenger car pulling on power cords.  His character applying lotion to her hands just before the train jumps the tracks.

The cat jumps up and lands on the keyboard.  Pushes its head against the corner of the screen.  The jobless writer smiles.  The cat looks back and purrs, smiling back.

Maldire: A Curse Wanting

It was shortly after one in the morning when I opened my laptop and made my way to the Metropolis website.  It was the 11th of September, and Velvet Acid Christ’s Maldire was just made available for purchase.  I hastily bought the album, along with the t-shirt that featured Quartier Macbre’s beautiful and gruesome artwork.  I clamped my headphones over my head and pushed play.

Wicked harmonies ensued.  Bryan’s curse was cast.  My ears bled.

I discovered the music of VAC in 1998 by happenchance in a used CD store in Utah (of all places).  I was flipping through a pile of CD cases when I came across Church of Acid.  The eye-catching artwork garnered my attention, so I pulled it out of the pile and listened to the disk in the store.  I was immediately enthralled.  Never before had I heard music that so accurately paralleled my own anger, isolation, and depression so elegantly—and with such intense malevolence.

I’ve been a fan ever since, following Bryan’s career and evolution with enthusiasm.

Maldire is an excellent throwback to some of his earlier work on Fun With Knives and Twisted Thought Generator, combined with a more experienced, developed sense of sound and structure that occupies Lust for Blood and The Art of Breaking Apart.

The album begins with an audio clip from the television series Dark Shadows, an ideal way to launch Maldire with the incantation of “charred and blackened clouds that reigned (or rained for the pun) at your beginning.”  Indeed the gloomy clouds gather thick and heavy as the track unfolds with weighty, thunderous beats that threaten to crack your skull, while layers of synths mercilessly pummel your ears.  Then Bryan’s booming vocals tunnel into your mind with the perfect amount of maliciousness.  By the end of the song, my own heart was scorched forever black by this blight evoked.

“Maldire” itself is one of the strongest songs on the album, with a powerful, captivating beat that forces your body to move to the music like a demon helplessly following Lucifer’s lurid commands.  The duality established by Bryan’s lyrics are intoxicating, and you can’t help but sing along, face distorted, eyes narrowed as you lament about casting spells and cutting your own flesh, frightening the patrons of the coffee shop who happen to be sitting next to you when “Maldire” starts playing in your headphones.

There are two instrumental songs, “Septic Rinse” and “HyperCurse.”  Bryan has a knack of juxtaposing buoyant trance tracks with thick layers of despondency that drip with obsidian.  Beauty eviscerated and sealed in black glass before being thrown to the ground, shattering into a million pieces that slice your bare feet.

“Dream Curse” consists of the album’s only spoken-word track.  Like being flung into an ethereal nightmare from which you can’t awake, narrated with images of melting faces, chattering bones and blood raining from the sky, threatening to drown you in ambivalence toward this world we inhabit.

Maldire is paradigm for electronic albums today, spiking high above the white noise of industrial music that has inundated the scene to the point that discovering anything unique or innovative is a chore, and a scarcity.

It’s the kind of album that, like the first time I listened to Church of Acid in that Utah music store, grabs you by the throat and tears out your vocal chords just to get your attention, then soothes you with evil melodies as you slowly bleed to death on the floor, unable to think of a better way to slip into oblivion.

Listen and buy Maldire from the Metropolis website here.  European denizens click here.  You’ll be cursed with deafness if you don’t.

The Dancing Dead in Denver

The Dancing Dead in Denver

After a 16 year hiatus, the talented and diverse group of musicians known as Dead Can Dance (DCD) returned with a much anticipated album entitled Anastasis, followed by a world tour.  On August 19, they played to a packed Buell Theater at the Denver Performing Arts Center.

ImageLead vocalists Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry formed the band thirty-one years ago in Melbourne, Australia.  Incorporating instruments from all over the world, the duo have crafted a plethora of albums that run the gamut of musical influences from Ireland to Africa to the Mediterranean to China.

But the real power behind DCD comes from the vocals of the duo.  Gerrard is renowned for singing in Glossolalia, an evocative expression of emotion through voice that has no defined language.  Gerrard has stated in interviews she feels language to be too restrictive, and Glossolalia to be a more authentic expression that communicates to all who listen, regardless of language or culture.  Her songs are ephemeral, haunting, and painfully beautiful.

Perry grounds DCD with his solemn vocals and introspective lyrics. Many of his songs originate from centuries-old ballads, reliving the struggles humans have endured in love, loss and that ceaseless search for meaning and purpose. “We are ancient, as ancient as the sun.  We came from the ocean, once our ancestral home,” sings Perry in one of their latest songs, “Children of the Sun.”

The show opened with DCD percussionist David Kuckhermann sitting alone on stage.  On his lap was a mysterious-looking instrument called a hang.  Created in Bern, Switzerland, the instrument consists of two large metal bowls sealed together.  Kuckhermann would strike the top side with his hand, producing different tones depending on where he hit the pitted surface.  The hang was tuned to a specific eight-tone scale.  The audience grew overwhelmingly quiet as he played, the single percussion instrument filling the entire auditorium with eerie, otherworldly music.

Soon the entire band took to the stage and the crowd was on their feet, cheering before the first note was played.  DCD opened with songs from their latest album, Perry’s voice booming through the theater just as strong and stirring as it was thirty-one years ago.

The energy of the fans (mostly the older fans) swelled when DCD began playing pieces from their previous albums.  The celebrated song “Rakim” began with Gerrard playing the yang-ch’in: a stringed instrument of Chinese origin in which padded bamboo sticks are used to strike a series of strings corresponding to specific scales.  Perry accompanied the yang-ch’in with his own Glossolalia.

As the concert moved forward, the music stirred many audience members out of their seats, several finding their way to the back of the auditorium to dance.  Others leaned forward in their chairs, closing their eyes and allowing the music to saturate the senses.  A few even wiped away lingering tears from wet cheeks.

The Latin phrase Tempus Fugit (time flies) was analogous to the audience’s experience.  Almost too quickly the entire theater stood and applauded as the band left the stage.  But as the auditorium remained dark, the adoration only grew louder and more intense.  Soon DCD returned, Perry signing a fan favorite, “The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove” with the sound of sitars weaving through his dynamic vocals.   Still, the crowd was insatiable and cheered after another exit of the band.  And then another, Gerrard returning for the third encore with her mesmerizing voice accompanied only by a keyboard player.

At the end of the concert, though Gerrard’s voice could carve canyons with its intensity and precision, she quietly leaned forward into the microphone, whispering a thank you to the audience, followed by “you are all beautiful.”

ImageAnastasis is fitting lexicon not just for the new album but for the entire concert experience.  Coming from the Greek word meaning resurrection, DCD brought to life long forgotten music and ancient instruments from all over the world, bringing with them the spirits of those musicians who lived and died centuries before Denver was even a city.

And in the back of the Buell Theater, where audience members stood and sang and danced, you could see the dead dancing right along with them.

The Dreaded E-Word

As many of you already know, the word epic is used far too often.  And not just in metal reviews.  Some examples you might hear are as follows:

TV Commercial:  “If you’re thirsty, try (insert shitty sugary sports drink here) to quench that epic thirst!”

Movie Review:  “Bruce Willis stood in front of the White House in a torn, bloody t-shirt while firing machine guns and bazookas in slow motion with explosions raining down all around him as terrorists were being blown away by the dozens.  It was fucking epic!”

A Friend:  “So then, we go to (his or her) place and start having sex on the kitchen counter, and (he or she) pulls out this epic glass dildo from the cupboard!”

As Islander has lamented in previous posts, the word epic has proliferated metal blogs to the point that its overuse has the opposite effect.  Epic now equals insipid.  Superficial.  Commonplace.  I become very skeptical about an album when I see it in a review.  I can’t help but think it’s being used to compensate for music that’s just plain bad.  Or maybe the author of the review was just too tired after a long day at work and passed out at the desk looking for a thesaurus.  (I’ve been there.)

This is unfortunate.  Because there are a few bands out there who are epic.  There are a few albums that are epic.  Even a few songs.

The first time I listened to the song Crimson by Edge of Sanity, epic was the first word that came to mind.  Holy fucking shit! were the next three words that came to mind.  When the song ended, I just came.

To begin, there are some talented fucking musicians at the helm:  Dan Swanö and Mikael Åkerfeldt.  Those names alone should give you a raging boner, and an idea of the professionalism and epic talent behind the music.

Shit.  I used the e-word.  Awesome talent?  No.  Massive talent?  Meh.  That works.  I’m tired.  Next paragraph.

Crimson is forty minutes long.  A one-song album.  When any song runs longer than the average television show, a number of assumptions might be made:  The song contains tasteless, long-winded solos that are less about art and expression and more about the musicians showing off.  The riffs become mind-numbingly repetitive.  There are probably large sections of creepy ambient noise and samples from bad horror movies linking transitions in the song to add to its length.

Crimson avoids such pitfalls, keeping the listener engaged form the beginning, punching you in the throat right at the start.  A nice pace is established as the song vacillates between well-placed clean vocals and growls.  The song develops not unlike a caterpillar morphing into a beautiful butterfly—an evil fucking butterfly that will chew out your eyes as you scream helplessly, your muscles paralyzed from the venom which digests your flesh just before its slurped up by the insect.

Anyway, as you listen to the song, you get the sense that you’re part of some epi – . . . part of some legendary struggle.  Maybe fighting alongside Ghangis Kahn’s army as you clash with the soldiers of Vlad the Impaler in a macabre orgy of death to determine the fate of all mankind.

Which isn’t too far from the truth.  Crimson is a concept album, the lyrics outlining the narrative of a future kingdom in which the human race is fading away.  Bearing a child has, for some unknown reason, become impossible.  The king of this vanishing empire dies.  Then there’s a successor.  The successor is challenged.  Battles.  Bloodshed.  Betrayals.  A single miracle child.  Malevolent deities drinking the blood of men.  Reminds me of a Greek tragedy.  Only with really loud guitars and very angry actors growling out their lines.

There’s even a section where the dead king returns as a ghost urging his dejected soldiers to fight on, Dan’s voice layered in this ethereal reverb that punctuates the scene nicely.

Even the artwork on the cover of Crimson is epi—. . . remarkable.  Duncan C. Storr draws a surreal, psychedelic chamber of stasis pods that contain the leaders of the kingdom.  They have been frozen until a resolution to the impending doom can be found.

Doom.  Almost as bad as the word epic.  How about the word calamity?  Impending calamity.  That works.  Next paragraph.

It’s important to note that Crimson was recorded in 1996.  This was before the popularity of “progressive” metal was as it is today.  Take just about any current band that combines growls with clean vocals and you can hear the similarities.

Like any good story, the song unfolds naturally like acts in a play.  By the time it comes to an end, the body count is enormous.  The future kingdom lies in ruins.  But it has been saved by a brave few . . . sort of.  I won’t spoil the ending.  Just know that your brain will be mush from banging your head so hard for so long.

There is art.  And there is exceptional art.  Crimson certainly falls in the latter category.  (Its sequel, Crimson II, is an excellent follow up, but lacks the authority of its predecessor).  So, I argue that Crimson reclaims the power and substance behind the word epic.  Conquers it, really.  Dismembers the word and bashes your skull in with the bloody limbs—and it does this for forty epic minutes.

Note:  The word epic is used fourteen times in this review.  The irony is palpable.

Agalloch: Marrow of Denver’s Spirit


It was just after 5pm, and I was pacing back and forth in my apartment, trying to watch a movie.  The concert didn’t start until 8pm, and I was attempting to exercise some patience.  Then I thought to myself:  “Fuck patience.  And fuck exercise, too!”  I grabbed my ticket, some cash for swag, and my ID.  I ran out the door, jogging (not walking) towards the theater where Agalloch was going to play.

Normally I wouldn’t stand in line for two-and-a-half hours to see a concert.  Now days I’m more content to hang back and enjoy the music with a cold beer in my hand.  But Agalloch isn’t just some nominal band rolling through town, and this wasn’t going to be just another show.

The concert was at Denver’s Bluebird Theater.  An official historical landmark, the brick building is one year shy of being a century old.  It was once a movie house, and its maximum capacity is only 500.  This creates an intimate atmosphere between the crowd and the band.  Best of all, it’s only a fifteen minute walk from my apartment.

There were only a few people at the door when I arrived.  We chatted about metal, memorable concerts (mine was Depeche Mode at Red Rocks), and how this was the first time any of us were going to see Agalloch live.  Soon I saw Aesop Dekker and Don Anderson walk out the front, lighting up cigarettes, though they kept their distance from the growing line of fans.

The doors opened at 7pm, and I made my way to the front of the theater.  I snapped a few pictures of the interior architecture:  Tall marble columns and long, flowing crimson curtains along the walls.  Between the columns were bowl-shaped light fixtures with intricate designs carved into their surfaces.  Mounted to the front of each fixture was what looked like a demon mask—white faces with malevolent smiles and black holes for eyes.  Something a shaman would wear from some ancient, forgotten civilization to frighten off disease.

The band Velnias from Boulder, Colorado took to the stage first.  They reminded me of Morgion, with slow, doomish tempos building and growing until a fortification of frenzied black sound came crashing down on our headbanging heads, pulverizing the skulls of the hapless crowd with primal screams, explosive riffs and devastating drum beats.

Taurus followed, slowing things down with muddy, morose guitar playing.  Guttural screams pushed against the walls from the throat of the female lead singer, punctuated with frantic, feral drum fills.  I feared the drummer’s body would fly apart as she played, her performance reminding me of Animal from the Muppets (which is a huge fucking complement).

Finally it was time.  Smoke and darkness rolled onto the stage as John Haughm came out holding a single candle.  The entire theater grew quiet, and I swear those pagan masks turned their faces toward the front as Haughm lit the signature incense that starts each show, the soft light from the candle illuminating his face with a soft orange glow.

The aroma filled the air: rustic, saccharine, earthy.  Soon the rest of the band members donned their gear, and the opening riff to “Limbs” spilled out of the large speakers.

Being a former drummer, I watched Dekker closely.  His performance was flawless and intimidating.  Though he was tucked away in the back of the stage, his volatile drumming carried through the venue, threatening to knock over those marble columns.

They played their latest song, “Faustian Echoes,” and the horde became unglued, starting a short-lived mosh pit before the song slowed.  You’d swear Agalloch sold their own souls to Mephistopheles to play so brutally and beautifully at the same time.

One of my favorites followed, “Bloodbirds.”  That eerie lead guitar winding its way through the percussion and bass as Haughm screamed into the microphone, “the god of man is a failure!”

To everyone’s elation, Agalloch played several pieces from Pale Folklore and The Mantle.  When “In the Shadow of Our Pale Companion” filled the auditorium, I tried to film the performance with my phone.  But at around the 11:30 mark, the band members become blurred images in the clip as I slammed my head forward.

And I swear those pagan masks on the walls were doing the same.

Agalloch has a reputation for putting on a memorable show, and their first concert in Denver was no exception–superlative, vicious, august.

When it came to an end, the multitude screamed for an encore, but the lights stayed on.  I blame the high altitude with its thin air, because the crowed was ravenous for more.  We would have stayed for another set.  Two sets.  The rest of the fucking week.

Before I left The Bluebird, with ears ringing, I bought a t-shirt with the lyrics to “Black Lake Nidstag” printed on the back.  Then I bought a second t-shirt referencing “Faustian Echoes.”  Then an Agalloch patch.

Then I ran out of the theater before I emptied out my bank account paying homage to these pagan metal deities who descended upon the mile-high city and were made flesh, gracing for one night a hand-full of fanatical Coloradans with their Cthulhu-like providence.

Shades of Gray

Growing up in a Baptist home, being gay was not just an abomination, it was a sickness.  A scourge in the eyes of the Lord.  So terrifyingly reprehensible that the subject never came up in conversation.   Not with my teachers at the private Christian school.  Not with friends.  Certainly not with my parents or my older brother.

I remember as a teenager coming to the horrifying conclusion that I was gay: a one-way ticket to the eternal lake of fire.  I hated myself for it.  Pushed it inward with all my strength.  Tried (very poorly) to play the straight guy.  Ended updating a self-proclaimed tomboy.  She was better at sports than I was.

But my repression manifested itself into something dangerous.  Depression can be compared to ash falling from the sky—thick, heavy, quietly blotting out the sun and extinguishing all color.

When I graduated high school, I left home and joined the Air Force.  The ash grew thicker.  I wanted to talk to someone, but Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell kept that closet door sealed.  I worked harder to play the part of the straight guy—clubs, strip joints, posters of blond women in bikinis.

It was during this time I found a temporary respite, paid for with headaches, bloodshot eyes, and lost memories of the night before.  Friends joked I was a functioning alcoholic.  It helped me keep my secret.

But when I moved back to Denver as a civilian, I was choking on the ash.  My older brother and parents wondered what happened to that ebullient, laid-back kid who built snow forts, played the drums, and did card tricks.

I wondered, too.  So, one day I walked into the library looking for answers, trying to remain inconspicuous as I strolled over to the section on human sexuality.

I grabbed a stack of books at random, sat cross-legged on the floor and opened the first one.  The top paragraph was an echo from my past:  Homosexuality is a disease.  It is a perversion of nature. Hell awaits those who choose to be gay.  I lowered my head and set it aside.  Unable to bring myself to open another book, I left.

The ash became too thick to breathe.  I wrote multiple notes, different drafts. The first sentence always read: I am gay.  The rest of the letter outlined what to do with my corpse.

My volunteer work for HRC stems from a very personal, very visceral sense of obligation to those who occupy those same billowing clouds of ash I wandered in for too many years.

As is evident from this blog, I never taped those notes to my apartment door.  My family, my older brother in particular, became my lifeline.

When I finally came out, I was surprised to discover organizations, such as the Human Rights Campaign, declaring with a loud voice that homosexuality was not a perversion of nature—that I was someone who deserved love and respect, no different from anyone else.

I still struggle with depression, and not everyone from my past accepts me for me.  But I am now surrounded by a network of friends, family and colleagues who love me for who I am.

There are many who are not so fortunate.    There are many who have no lifeline.

The iconic rainbow flag is a reminder to me of where I came from—a world consisting of shades of gray.  I volunteer with HRC to help wipe away that thick blanket of ash so that others can breathe.  So that others can see those vibrant colors for themselves.

Confessions of a Lithium Addict

“If you knew the answer to that question,” the doctor responds, clearing his throat, “then you’d probably win the Nobel Prize for Medicine.”  He chuckles, tapping his pen on the desk.

“So, no one knows how it works in the brain?” I ask.

The doctor’s thin-framed glasses hang on the edge of his nose as he scribbles the word Lithium onto a small pad.  “Not exactly.”

He doesn’t elaborate.  The doctor’s been acting strange since I walked into his office.  I think he suspects.

So, I work on fighting my hangover until I get my hands on that prescription, but my skull feels like it’s been sealed in a metal barrel of wet cement and flung down the side of a mountain. My ribs hurt and are covered in bruises—I don’t know why.  My cell phone is missing.  Hell, I don’t even remember where my car is.  Not that it matters.  Not after today.

I do remember stumbling around a bath house with a guy who wore nothing but a Rockies baseball cap.  Before that I was snorting cocaine off the bare chest of a guy named Mustang in the back of his Corvette.  All part of my big last hurrah.

The doctor rips the top page from the prescription pad.  “I want you to do some blood tests before we increase your dosage.”

“How much am I taking now?”  He looks annoyed.  “Two pills, right?”

“600mg.  If the blood tests show no toxicity with the Lithium, then we’ll increase it to 900mg.”  He pauses, looking at me over his glasses.  Four eyes blink back at me.  “That’s three pills.”

He hands me the prescription order, but when I reach to grab it, his grip tightens.  The doctor tilts his head, narrowing his eyes.  He’s definitely on to me.

“Got it doc,” I reply, puling harder on the slip of paper.  He doesn’t let go.

It’s bad enough planning my suicide with framed pictures of his wife and kids staring back at me with disapproval.  Now this.  Plus, the white walls crowded with framed diplomas are reminding me of everything I haven’t accomplished with my life.  I try to forget I’m only a few months younger than the doctor.

“How’s your drinking?” he asks, pulling the prescription paper away and leaning back.

It’s my eyes.  I should have bought eye drops at the 7-11 behind the bus stop.  “A few beers here and there.”

He sighs that familiar sigh, trying not to sound like a parent but not trying hard enough.  “We’ve talked about this.  Lithium, combined with too much alcohol, can shut down your kidneys.”

No shit.  “It can do that?”

“You need to abstain.”

“Not even a beer?”

“It was more than just a beer last night.”

It’s my breath, too.  I should have bought some gum at the 7-11 behind the bus stop.  “I’ll work on it curbing it, Doc.”

“You blacked out, didn’t you?”  He pauses.  “That’s a strong indication that—”

I jump up and snap the prescription order out of his hand before walking to the door.  I open it and turn around.  Surprisingly, he’s still in his chair.  The damn doctor just leans back again, staring at me with that condescending fucking smile.  “You don’t remember anything, do you?”

“I remember that Lithium is number three on the Periodic Table, having only three protons. Atomic weight: 6.941 grams per mol.  The only lighter elements are Helium and Hydrogen.  Lithium controls the glutamate between neurotransmitters, which in turn controls the amount of serotonin and dopamine in the brain which in turns controls the patient’s mood.   This helps stabilize those suffering from bi-polar.”

“Wikipedia is not a great source of medical knowledge,” he says.

“And neither are you,” I reply, slamming the door shut.

Image

I can’t stop smiling as I pick up my bottle of Lithium.  Those will be the last words he ever hears from me.  I jog across the street to a bar called The Emergency Room.  I sit next to two guys wearing scrubs and order a pitcher and a shot of vodka, pulling out the bright orange cylinder out of a small white paper bag.  I pop open the lid and shake four pills into my palm, washing them down with one gulp of beer.  Seven more pills.  Two gulps.  The guys in scrubs look over.  I smile back.

I’m on my second pitcher and third shot of vodka when someone sits down next to me.  “Your car’s parked two blocks from my house,” he says.  I turn.  I didn’t recognize him at first without the glasses or the white coat.  “I drove you home,” he adds.  A Rockies baseball cap covers his head.

“It was you?  How the hell did you . . . my car?”  He doesn’t answer.  He just motions for the bartender.

“Fine,” I say, shaking the empty prescription bottle in his face.  “Stay silent as forty pills of Lithium and a shit-ton of alcohol leak into my bloodstream.”  The doctor keeps his gaze ahead as he orders a gin and tonic.  Someone plays “Hotel California” on the jukebox.  “My kidneys will shut down in a matter of hours.  Even if you get me back to the hospital—”

“They’re placebos,” he says.  “And we still have a problem to fix.”

My stomach drops.  “Sugar pills?”

The doctor sighs that familiar sigh before taking a sip of his drink.  “The body is still in your trunk,” he says nonchalantly.

“The . . . what body?”

The doctor sets my cell phone on the bar next to the empty pitcher.  “And my wife found this in my car.  That took a great deal of explaining.”  I just stare at it, the glass surface of the phone reflecting my perplexed expression.  “After all, we can’t deal with my wife like we did her gym trainer.”

I drop the empty prescription bottle.  It bounces on the floor as I grab my head, trying to squeeze out even a flicker of a memory from last night.  Nothing.

“Of all the bath houses in the city . . .” The doctor shakes his head.  “I happen to meet you.  Break every rule there is concerning doctor-patient decorum.  Then my wife’s gym trainer happens to see us together.”

“I…you?  You’re lying,” I say weakly.

He looks over at me.  “He fought like a gorilla.  How are your ribs?”

A Citadel Called Morgion

It was a small music store tucked into the side of an outdoor malljust south of Hill Air Force Base, Utah.  I was flipping through a stack of used CDs (remember CDs?) and found this subtle yet intriguing album cover.  It had a hand-drawn picture of a solar eclipse with a diagram of our solar system labeled in Latin.

I sat on a small stool near the cashier, sticking the disk into their CD player.  I pulled the headphones over my head and pushed play.  A sense of gloom coiled itself tightly around my body, and I couldn’t help but smile.
Listening to Morgion’s Solinari is a bit like being dragged slowly out of a bog just before you’re pulled under.  As you lay on the ground gasping for air, your faceless rescuer comforts you withsluggish tempos, mournful whispers and haunting keys.

Then the tempo quickens.  Guitars grow loud and angry.  The whispers mutate into indignant growls.  You watch helplessly as your rescuer picks up a large rock with both hands.  The music surges to its apex, and the rock comes crashing down on your chest over and over until it breaks through your ribcage.

The music then subsides.  Acoustic guitars fill the void, and your rescuer tosses your broken body back into the bog, watching silently as it sinks beneath the surface.

It was the first time I heard doom/death metal.  I found a bastion.  A medium to purge the past.

Almost ten years earlier I stood next to my older brother in our backyard.  The sun was sitting comfortably in a naked sky.  Not a cloud to be seen.  The wind blew hard as my mom dug a small hole.  My brother was visibly annoyed, but he knew better than to say anything.

She gathered all of my brother’s cassette tapes into a pile. (Remember tapes?)  Then my mom set them in the pit, coated them with lighter fluid and lit a match.  As the music of Def Leppard, Huey Lewis, and a smattering of 80’s hair bands melted beneath dancing flames, my mom told us how she was clearing the house of demons, something her church told her she had an obligation to God to do.

I was young, incredibly naive, and eager for my mom’s approval.  I became convinced Satan was ensconced in secular music and vowed never to listen to it—not even the radio.

But the metal bug had already hatched in my brain and was eating its way through my temporal lobe, laying eggs along the way.

I started listening to Christian metal bands.  To my surprise, my mom didn’t care (as long as it was Christian music).  But the teachers at the religious school I attended told me electric guitars were instruments of the Devil—that I should burn my albums.  I went out and bought more.

Then I graduated high school and joined the Air Force—escaping home and the church. I gave away all my Christian CDs, looking for something which reflected my anger at a church telling mothers to burn their kids’ music.  My frustration at having to remain in the closet because of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  My despondency that I was stupid enough to believe Beelzebub lived inside a compact disk packed with digital data.

When I listened to Morgion for the first time, I found salvation in the very music I was taught would damn me forever to perdition.

I went back to that store knowing next-to-nothing about the metal.  But those eggs embedded in my brain began to hatch.  Emperor’s IX Equilibrium: A wall of swinging sledgehammers that pulverizes your bones into a fine powder (used by Ihsahn to season his meals).  Daemonarch’s Hermeticum:  Infectious riffs and guitar solos that jab at your ears just before Fernando Ribeiro’s vocals claw your face from your skull.

I couldn’t listen to those albums enough.  Some of the airmen I worked with cringed when I played them in the shop.  One guy refused to carpool with me after Morgion’s “Nightfall Infernal” bellowed out of my truck’s speakers at top volume.

My brain is now a festering, writhing swarm of metal.  A pulsating hive spawned by an innocuous death/doom metal album sitting in a small music store in Utah.

Check out the song below.  Sinking slowly into a bog with a large hole in your chest never felt so fucking great.

Things Most Gay Men Don’t Like: Metal

Mastodon finishes shredding the frenzied crowd.  The drummer tosses his sticks into the throng.  The lights go up.

It’s between sets, so I sit with my back against a metal barrier that separates me from the larger crowd below.  I shove in a pair of earbuds, turning up “Black Rose Immortal.”  A twenty-minute Opeth piece of metal magnificence and mayhem that chokes out the white noise of conversations around me.

There’s something about heavy metal that’s primal. Cathartic.  A juxtaposition of raw, exposed animosity eviscerated and dismembered by beauty herself, left on the dusty ground in a pool of blood to die—with a smile.

The lights drop, and I jump to my feet.  I yank out the earbuds.  The crowd stirs.  The only illumination comes from the Fillmore Theater chandeliers hanging from the ceiling—glowing purple.  Movement on the stage.  The crowd starts yelling in anticipation.  I join in.  Blue lights grow bright to illuminate that signature O.  Mikael Akerfeldt walks onto the stage.  Metal ensues.

Opeth starts with their progressive rock from Heritage, Akerfeldt singing God is Dead!—the chorus from “The Devil’s Orchard.”  Between songs, Akerfeldt comments that he loves Denver because the thin air makes him feel drunk without having a single beer.  Someone from the crowd yells, play some fucking metal!  “Patience,” Akerfeldt replies. “Or I’ll play the song ‘Patience.’”

Soon we are all rewarded for our patience, and the intro to “Demon of the Fall” begins.  Angry growling death metal ensues.

Slamming my head forward with everyone else, punching the air above me with the traditional devil horns, I realize there’s another important characteristic to metal—solidarity.

Metal is about getting lost in the futile anger, disappointment and frustration of life, drowning out your problems for three hours.  Finding absolution, and knowing it’s only temporary.  Then slamming your head even harder, growling with everyone around you to each line of the song as your throat blisters and you start to gargle on your own blood.

Young or old.  Bald or hair hanging below your ass.  Straight or gay.  During a metal concert, these trite distinctions just don’t matter.

Outside of a concert, when people find out I’m gay, they usually respond with, “you don’t act like it.”

Which is true:  I don’t watch musicals.  I loathe the music of Lady Gaga.  I was dragged into a Banana Republic once.  I wanted to light the entire building on fire.

I do own about a hundred band t-shirts—from Dead Can Dance to Agalloch to Velvet Acid Christ to Opeth.  I drive a Dodge Ram (the lesbo-mobile, it’s been fondly called).  I’m not offended (nor do I care) when someone around me uses the word gay to describe something stupid.  And I fucking love metal.

Most of the music I hear in gay bars and on the radio lacks depth.  Feels synthesized and forced.  The songs have shitty lyrics.  In a word—kitsch.

Nietzsche wrote that art made for the masses is valueless.  Conversely, he added, music made for the sake of making music “at every moment make[s] life worth living at all, and prompt[s] the desire to live in order to experience the next moment.”

The concert ends with “The Grand Conjuration.”  Opeth takes a few bows before leaving the stage.  My shirt is plastered to my back with sweat.  A woman I’ve never met before smiles, “that was fucking awesome!”  Adrenaline still saturating my veins, I can barely stand still as I wait in line to buy (yet another) t-shirt.  A guy in his fifties with a big, gray bushy beard and a tie-dye t-shirt stands next to me.  Words like concert, kick-ass, epic, intense, and fucking are being thrown around—though not in that order.

And this moment is about sharing the experience of being pummeled by head-stomping riffs, double bass fills, and Akerfeldt’s demon-like growls.  It’s about no one giving a shit I’m gay.

The sidewalk carries me away.  Denver’s Fillmore Theater is swallowed up behind me.  The traffic on Colfax Avenue saturates my senses.

I stick the earbuds back in.  Take my time as I walk back to my truck, finishing “Black Rose Immortal.”  Those pesky problems I forgot about are still lurking at the periphery, waiting patiently to rise blindingly with the sun.

But the rest of the night belongs to the fans.  This moment belongs to metal.