Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Axis of Perdition - Deleted Scenes from the Transition Hospital

I serve none but Korrok!

Now, clearly I'm just rushing out a Halloween themed review, but the question I'm sure many metal fans may be asking is "If you're such a huge King Diamond fan, why not post something he was involved in like Fatal Portrait or Melissa?  They both contain themes pertaining to Halloween".  Well hypothetical reader, you're right, King has a fascination with this holiday that celebrates the dark and macabre like no other.  But let's face it, though Halloween isn't really a "scary" day, in the days leading up to it, we all try to be scared.  Horror movie marathons, haunted houses, getting blackout drunk and trying to take home Big Rhonda, we all do things that we hope will scare us.  King is goofy as hell, I love him and you (should) love him too, but the dude embodies April Fool's Day more than Halloween.  And that's why I've chosen to review the British industrial/black/ambient creatures in The Axis of Perdition, namely their second album: Deleted Scenes from the Transition Hospital.

I'm going to veer off track really quick and explain my thoughts on what horror truly is, what it is that genuinely scares people.  Nobody is truly scared by slasher movies made post-1980, basically only  Halloween and Friday the 13th have any real sense of dread, every other slasher movie since then has all been about the spectacle (unless you count the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre from 1974 as a slasher flick, then there are three acceptable scary ones).  Haunted houses have a bit more emotional investment since you yourself are actually involved, but you know that you're just on rails and will be safe and sound in about a half hour, so there's no real suspense or danger about the people jumping out at you.  When it comes to film, it's the ones that focus on what you don't see that are truly terrifying.  The ones that build slowly and present a suffocating, claustrophobic atmosphere.  John Carpenter's The Thing is my favorite movie ever, and I maintain that nothing else has ever had such a perfect balance of claustrophobic, paranoid terror, and the disgust and grotesquery when things go downhill.  I can't explain what makes Takashi Miike's Audition so great without spoiling it for you, but trust me when I say you should watch it pronto.  Ju-On (what would be remade in America as The Grudge) was probably the last movie to truly scare the fuck out of me, and it's not even a good movie.  It builds up for 80-90 minutes with awful acting and bland characters and shit I just couldn't care less about, but the climax makes you realize how well everything came together, and concludes with such a harrowing final sequence that my breathing was noticeably accelerated when it ended.

And then we have videogames.  Yeah I realize it seems silly, but believe me when I say a videogame, when well done enough, can be the scariest fucking thing imaginable.  The good ones take the slow building, helpless, paranoid atmosphere of good horror films and adds the tension of haunted houses by placing you in control.  Yeah, you can turn the game off, but when you're invested and playing, you may not escape, you may not make it out alive.  One bad choice and you may find yourself face to face with your own mortality.  Most games pegged with "horror" are silly, as I'm sure many people think of the Resident Evil series, which is about as scary as a white sheet with eyes drawn on it, but you catch the right thing and you're in for some grade-A nightmare fuel.  Clocktower, Fatal Frame, Silent Hill, Amnesia, it's series like these that make you feel helpless and alone and terrified of a malevolent something that wants you dead.  Anybody who has ever played these games knows what I'm talking about.  Hell I haven't even been able to find the balls to play Fatal Frame without being surrounded by friends, that shit is soul-draining.

Why the long diversion?  Well part of it is because tangential tirades are as much a part of my shtick as food similes and toilet humor, and the other part of it is because The Axis of Perdition gets their inspiration from the darkest and most twisted of the aforementioned ways to scare the piss out of you, the Silent Hill series.  If you're one of those people who can easily be lost in the imagery that music can create, then I beg of you not to drop any acid or eat too much cheese before listening to Deleted Scenes from the Transition Hospital.  The band's cultural background of being from England seeps through as well, as anybody who watches Cracked After Hours like I do was recently reminded that English horror seems to center around urban environments.  That's what Deleted Scenes truly is, the horror and madness of a long dead and abandoned insane asylum, roving with malevolent apparitions whose sole purpose is to mindfuck you so hard that you give mindbirth.  To nightmares.

There is a strong black metal influence at first, but it seems to diminish as the album goes on, eventually ending more into unsettling ambiance.  "In the Hallway of Crawling Filth" is pretty much the perfect opener for this kind of experience.  Ten minutes of uncomfortable atmosphere, punctuated occasionally by the soulless, dead sound of insanity.  The drum machine works well here as opposed to being distracting like it normally would be.  The cold, dead sound really brings to life the lifelessness of the afterlife, if that deliberately confusing sentence makes any sense to anybody other than myself.  The old, long dead spirits have no empathy, and could not give less of a shit for your well being.  They are cold, dead, soulless beings that want to make you an ex-person yourself, and the frantic sound of the drum machine encapsulates that lifeless frenzy so much more than any warm, tonal human player ever could.  And even then, it is used very sparingly, only a handful of times on the album is there ever any real explosions of traditional music.  Most of the time it's the quiet sound of hooks swaying in the breeze, big steel doors being slammed shut, large, rusty generators churning for the first time in eons.  It is an industrial wasteland that houses horror yet unseen.  And as the album goes on, the frantic drum bursts and distorted screams of torture and dissonant guitars become less and less prominent, with the last big chunk of the album being predominately ambient.

What this creates is that terror of the unknown I mentioned earlier. It makes you anticipate horror behind every turn, but the more turns you take without finding that macabre wretchedness that you're expecting, the more it builds, the more it permeates into your very consciousness and tests the limits of your sanity.  This is what makes a jump scare work, it has to be earned and not just something popping up into frame accompanied by a loud orchestra sting.  It's a fear that embeds itself inside your very core.  And my favorite part is that in the last fifteen minutes or so of Deleted Scenes, there is precisely one loud part, and it's not even the end of the album.  That's what makes this stick with you like the slow building horror of Japanese films, even when the album is done, you still feel that anticipation, that cautiousness that behind this next door could be some other unspeakable Lovecraftian monstrosity.  The near constant white noise in the background of the entire 55 minute experience tests your sanity and loosens your grip on reality.  It shows a disconnect between the real world and this nightmarish realm you've stepped inside, and it's small touches like that that make this album work so well.  Moreso than anything else in this style, the background noises are really what make this so harrowing. The screams, the clicking, the creaking and moaning, the monologue in "One Day You will Understand Why", everything strikes just the right chords within you and puts you in this nightmare you've created for yourself.

Now with all of that said, this record is not perfect.  I find the metal parts really do distract the listener from the atmosphere of the ambiance at times.  The buildup is great and the release is wonderful, but I find it goes on for too long.  It does the right thing, it's not particularly fast or musical, it's more droning, dissonant chords and anguished moaning punctuated with hellish roaring which does keep the mood where it needs to be, but the quiet, ambient parts are just so much more effective that I wish the album was 95% entirely that.  "Entangled in Mannequin Limbs" jumps between the two styles too much to really let my mind take in the imagery, and it suffers for it.

But even with that quibble, I'd still highly recommend Deleted Scenes from the Transition Hospital, as it's probably one of the very few metal albums that actually conveys a sense of dread and terror, even if the metal parts themselves are the album's main downfall.  In a perfect world, this would be almost entirely ambient, consisting only of horrid noises and the occasional anguished cry from the depths of the unknown.  But as it stands, it still manages to depict a world of filth and decay populated by the restless dead who envy the living to the point of hatred.  I love the atmosphere, and the Silent Hill influence is rather strong when the imagery is at its best, and that alone is reason enough to give the album a listen.

Happy Halloween, kids!

RATING - 84%

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