“I Am A Loyal Dog!”: Cult Leader’s One-Band Rebellion Against Conformity

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Photo credit: David Martínez

If your only image of music coming out of the state of Utah is limited to The Osmonds or if you thought that Salt Lake City punk was just some old 90s movie, then you haven’t checked out Cult Leader. Touring on their 2015 debut album Lightless Walk, I caught the band opening for Dragged Into Sunlight at Club Congress on Sunday, July 17, 2016 in downtown Tucson, AZ. Interestingly, when I first saw the band they were opening for Sleep during the Southwest TerrorFest last October, which was also in downtown Tucson, only then it was across the street at the Rialto Theatre. Both shows were awesome. However, the gig at Club Congress was more intimate. Not to say that there were any kumbaya moments. On the contrary, Cult Leader is totally grindcore, some would say crust, both of which evoke an intensity expressed in rapid hardcore licks, growling vocals, and lyrics that rage against the suffocation of conformity. The song that I recorded, “Mongrel,” is from the band’s 2014 EP Nothing For Us Here. It’s a song about a dog and about loyalty, which is taken to gruesome extremes.

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Dragged Into Sunlight: When Misanthropy and Music Collide

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When the prisoners of Plato’s allegory of the cave were compelled out of their subterranean domain, where they lived with the shadows of deception, into the light of truth, they convulsed at the onslaught of a relentlessly bright world. Only after their eyes slowly adjusted did they begin to appreciate, even adore, the world revealed to them. However, what happens when the sun is too painful because it’s simply not your natural environment? Like a vampire, werewolf, or ghost, your world is the world of darkness. So, if you’re dragged into sunlight against your will, your impulse will be, not only to return to the shadows from where you were found, but perhaps even seek the deeper recesses of your realm of choice. When the extreme metal band Dragged Into Sunlight was asked in an interview with Slug Magazine about why they perform with their backs to the audience on a dimly lit stage, they answered, “Dragged Into Sunlight is an ugliness best kept in the dark.” At the same time, the band also stated, “There is definitely some beauty to be found in the unknown.”

On Sunday, July 17, 2016, in the hot and humid cavern of Club Congress in Tucson, Arizona, I saw Dragged Into Sunlight perform for the first time.  They were touring on their recently released collaboration with Gnaw Their Tongues NV, which stands for “negative volume.” However, their set was a mix of their current release and tracks from their first full album Hatred For Mankind (2014). What I experienced in that small venue was an apocalyptic eruption of grinding chords, pounding drums, and vocals from the pits of Hell. True to form, the band played their roughly fifty-minute set in an alternation of dim stage lights and constant strobing, which was off-set with a huge candelabra standing in the middle of the forestage.  I never saw any of the band members’ faces once, including the bassist, whose microphone was setup to face the audience.

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As for the music, the show opened with “To Hieron,” which is the fourth track on Hatred For Mankind. Like many song lyrics, the words of “To Hieron” evoke different things to different listeners. According to DarkLyrics.com, what is sung in a highly stylized voice of anguish and aggression are the words:

Watching, waiting, visible

Skeleton witch,
Starved for weeks

Dethroned, defleshed, and stoned to death,
Lashed to the grinder

Jaws locked around your face
Think before you fucking speak

With respect to the origins of Hieron, it is an ancient Greek word for “temple” or “sacred space,” in addition to being the name of a 5th century BC kingdom on the island of Syracuse. Does the song have to do with either of these meanings? Obliquely, at best. More obviously, in my mind, the song conjures an image of utter destitution and forlornness, the kind of punishment that only an angry god can inflict upon someone. What I’m trying to say, then, with regard to Dragged Into Sunlight’s performance is that “To Hieron” set the tone for the entire show, which was fucking loud and amazing! If William Blake were alive today to form an extreme metal band, it would probably be Dragged Into Sunlight. There is, indeed, a kind of beauty to the unknown. By the time the band ended its set, no one spoke to the audience once and the show suddenly ended with a completely darkened stage. No thank you or goodbye. It was a brilliantly conceived stage show. In the end, my long wait to see this band perform live was well worth it. In fact, it seems nothing short of a dark miracle that their tour found its way to Congress Street in downtown Tucson. I hope the forces of darkness send them my way again. Please enjoy the video clip I recorded below:

Photo and video credits: David Martínez

‘This Is England!’: Shane Meadows’ Pre-Brexit Story of a Depressed British Isles

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Spurred by recent events in the UK, including the British pound’s abrupt decline to its lowest value since the mid-80s and David Cameron’s embarrassing attempt at quoting The Smiths’ “Cemetery Gates,” I felt a compulsion to watch Shane Meadows’ This Is England. Released in 2006, the story takes place in 1983, in the aftermath of the Falklands War.

As This Is England begins we are introduced to “Shaun” (Thomas Turgoose), whose father was killed in action, leaving him and his mother, “Cynthia” (Jo Hartley), to fend for themselves in their working class seaside town. They live in a flat next door to a Church of Christ bearing the graffito “Maggie is a TWAT!” on its front. Feeling alone and grieving for his dad, Shaun, a sullen twelve-year-old, is also the target of bullies. Things seemingly change for the better, though, when Shaun happens upon some drifters under a bridge, who decide to befriend him. “Woody” (Joseph Gilgun), the leader of the gang, takes a particular liking to Shaun, becoming a kind of big brother. As Shaun finds acceptance among his new mates he soon takes on the attire his adopted post-punk skinhead life, complete with “Lol” (Vicky McClure) shaving his head.

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However, things take a dramatic change when “Combo” (Stephen Graham) returns from prison, having done three-and-a-half years on Woody’s behalf for an unexplained offense. What becomes apparent as Combo reclaims his place among friends is that he’s assumed a political awareness based on race and class, but especially race, which, according to Woody, wasn’t like him before. This Is England is ultimately about how vitriolic racism disguising itself as patriotism, ie the National Front, feeds on the listless and uneducated; people who are in desperate need of someone to tell them that their depressed and impoverished lives are not their fault. It’s the London establishment and immigrants who are ruining the country, or so the blood and soil rhetoric of nationalism goes.

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Which ones will follow Combo and which ones won’t? A once tightly-knit group of friends suddenly starts to fray. As for Shaun, he misses his dad terribly. So, he unfortunately thinks that following Combo will enable him to redeem his dad’s death in a pointless war over the last remnant of a fallen British empire. The story of Shaun, along with Combo, Woody, and Lol, not to mention “Milky” (Andrew Shim), the lone person of color in this debacle of grassroots hate-mongering, is the story of a Britain that has long struggled to define itself amidst the shards of a former colonial glory. This is England then. Yes. This is England now.

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Don’t Be a Draag! René Laloux’s ‘Fantastic Planet’ (1973)

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I still remember feeling mesmerized by the trailer for Fantastic Planet as it played late at night on television. Even as a mere ten-year-old boy, I sensed something special in the images of blue red-eyed people with fins for ears and the caveman-like beings that populated a landscape that reminded me of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. What were those vicious creatures that those two men were fighting with? What was this movie really about? I wanted to see!

What I don’t recall is when I finally got to see the Franco-Czech production. However, when I did it was like seeing the pages of Metal Hurlant or listening to Tangerine Dream for the first time. A previously unknown and, I thought, very European world opened up and I eagerly dove in to look around. What I saw, more specifically, was a world, Ygam, in which the Draag dominated a race of tiny Om. Ostensibly an advanced society, the Draag are an androgynous race who place much value on meditation and learning, complete with a highly developed technology. Yet, they treat the Om alternately as pets and pests, revealing a dark side to their otherwise philosophical nature.

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Fantastic Planet, more to the point, is told through the voice of Terr, an Om whose mother was killed by Tiwa, a Draag girl who was carelessly playing with the mother and child. After taking the infant Om and making him a pet, complete with a collar with which she could control him at will, the story moves slowly—perhaps meditatively is the more generous term—through the years, until Terr becomes a young man. As Tiwa grows into young womanhood, she has lost interest.  No longer a little girl, her childhood pet is less interesting than the new knowledge she is gaining as part of her education.

When Terr escapes, he takes a headset that Tiwa had been using to acquire her learning, which will later become a valuable resource for the Om he encounters. Wary of his connection with the Draag, Terr is forced to prove himself to his new community, which lives in fear and loathing of the Draag. However, because of the access that Terr has provided the Om to Draag knowledge, through Tiwa’s headset, the Om learn to their dismay that the Draag are planning to exterminate them. Ultimately, Fantastic Planet is about Terr’s leadership role in the Om rebellion, as they fight to save themselves, eventually finding a way to bring the Draag to their knees and sue for peace.

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As an allegory, Fantastic Planet avails itself to a variety of interpretations. Because of its release date, December 1, 1973, some have seen the Om-Draag rivalry in terms of the Cold War.  Others may find the movie to be about oppressed peoples everywhere, who are tormented by a supposedly sophisticated civilization.  Still others may find the Om-Draag relationship to be two halves of the same person, symbolizing the wild and civilized parts of the human psyche. At least when I was kid, the story of Terr and the travails of the Om under Draag control was a source of escape, not symbolism, no more meaningful than watching Don Chaffey’s One Million Years BC (1966) or Douglas Trumbull’s Silent Running (1972). More than allegories, movies like Fantastic Planet stimulated the expansion of my imaginative world, in which the mundane gave way to the extraordinary, forever altering my sense of the possible.