J – Joy Division

Joy Division has been a huge influence on my own music and writing for a number of years. Ultimately I finally stopped buying Joy Division cds because I figured that having half a dozen or so different versions of most of their songs was more than enough. My media player says that I have a little over 200 Joy Division tracks in my library. Not bad for a band that maybe only ever had maybe 50 songs in their entire repertoire.

This is one of my favorite takes of I Remember Nothing, and it’s one that’s not in my library of 200 tracks.

JD’s music has always managed to evoke a sense of darkness, despair and paranoia, something which definitely resonated with me during one of the darker times in my life.

I got my first Joy Division CD and my first (and last) New Order CD on the same day.

Bleagh!

Edit: if you only plan on getting one Joy Division CD ever, get Permanent.  Sure it’s a “best of” but I’ve been doing some relistening, and of all of the versions I have of the tracks on there (Regular, special edition, Heart & Soul, live, etc.) the versions from Permanent have the best audio-quality.  They’re mixed a little loud, but they’re much crisper sounding than even the special edition versions, whose sound is closer to those you’ll find on the Heart and Soul box-set comp.  Even with the Heart and Soul comp, which is fairly comprehensive, the versions on Permanent sound better (and/or different) enough to justify having both.

X-TG’s New and Final Albums

The Final Report of X-TG has been leaked onto youtube.

For some background, X-TG is an incarnation of Throbbing Gristle (who were at the forefront of the electronic noise scene in the late 70s and the founders of Industrial Records, for which the genre Industrial takes its name) sans Genesis P.Orridge, who quit the band in the middle of a tour. The remaining members continued on briefly as X-TG without P.Orridge until the untimely death of Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson (also of Coil fame).

For awhile, I was a collector of all things TG and had amassed myself a pretty little collection, but lately have begun selling off chunks of it. Part of this comes from my own experience as an industrial musician who was involved in a spat with Genesis P.Orridge. My only real claim to fame was that Genesis P.Orridge very publicly shat all over my band’s facebook group, which was (though by no desire or inclination of my own) loosely TOPI affiliated. We were thus at the center of a (very) minor (and not the first) schism within TOPI, during which a handful of very active members of the online TOPI community very vocally left the ‘tribe’, condemning Genesis for her thought-policing and copyright of belief.

I, for one, have always kind of hated TOPY/TOPI and thought it was hella stupid, and circumstances proved my skepticism of Genesis and her fan-atics somewhat justified.

But I have nothing at all against any of the other members of TG; Cosey Fanni Tuti was actually an early fan of mine and offered some much needed encouragement early on in my music career. Considering that in every interview I’ve heard her say how much she hates all the bands that were coming up through myspace and claiming to be industrial, her private message telling me she liked my sound meant even more.

But all of that said, I’m just not ‘feeling’ TG anymore. And the Final Report of X-TG and the total rework of Desertshore are no exceptions. You listen to them, and immediately everything you expect of a TG ambient jam is there. And it is predictable. And if there’s anything that industrial/noise should not be, it’s predictable. The Final Report meanders and wanders like a ghost; in some ways, this is appropriate, because it’s the funeral march for one of the most varied and innovative musical bodies of the 20th century. TG, however, can be hit or miss, and this is a miss.

Most of the original Desertshore ended up recycled and thrown together into Third Mind Movements, with Gen’s vocals stripped out, so in some ways that album was a disappointment to someone who’d had the Desertshore Installation. But now the new Desertshore just sort of languishes on, like it’s strung out on heroin. Gen’s vocals, mediocre as they were, are superior to guest vocals, and both versions are inferior to the original gothic masterpiece by Nico.

You can judge for yourself.

2012 Music Mini-Roundup

There were some great albums that came out in 2012, and I’d like to highlight a few of them. Is this RPG related? I’d say yes, because a lot of these albums are great atmospheric pieces, fit into common RPG themes, or are just plain nerdy as all get out. Of course this list isn’t exhaustive, and I’m sure there are a lot of other amazing albums that came out in 2012, but these are just a few I’d like to bring particular attention to.

Ahab – The Giant
Awhile back, I mentioned that what I’d heard of Ahab’s new album wasn’t that great. I WAS WRONG. The Giant is an absolutely amazing work, a concept album that revolves around Edgar Allan Poe’s Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. The Giant is just as haunting and mystical as Call of the Wretched Sea, but pushes in new and different directions of post-rock influences on the traditional funeral doom formula. If you like songs about the high seas, this album is a must have.

Monarch! – Omens
I’m still not entirely sure what to think of Omens. I enjoy it, a lot, but it remains a bit of a mystery to me. Monarch!’s latest album, Omens is one of the first that is not overtly nautically themed. Or at least that’s how it seems. Unlike the other albums I have by Monarch!, it doesn’t come with liner notes or lyrics, and given Eurogirl’s french accent and vocal style, is not particularly conducive to easy interpretation. Nonetheless, the songs on Omens feel more structured and purposeful than some more meandering previous efforts. Not that meandering is bad, it’s what Monarch! excels at. As much as I like it, I don’t know how well it would stack up against Mer Morte or Dead Men Tell No Tales for use during roleplay.

Burzum – Umskiptar
There have been many mixed responses to this album. The most negative was perhaps Pitchfork’s, which declared Burzum to be an irrelevant old fuddy-duddy who should just hang it up. One of my metal maven friends said “At least as good as Bellus, better than Fallen”. Well, I, for one, loved Fallen. I don’t know if I love Umskiptar, but do appreciate it. Every artist, I think, is entitled to self-indulgence, because if you’re not pleasing yourself, you’re not really creating art. This recitation of the Voluspa set to music (I’m hesitant to call Umskiptar metal; while it is unmistakably Burzum, calling the eclectic mix of folk, martial, and balladry ‘metal’ just doesn’t do it descriptive justice) is clearly something that Varg wanted to do because HE wanted to do it, not because he thought it would be cool, hip or particularly influential to play guitar with a lot of tremolo while reciting the names of around 20-odd random dwarves. If anything, Umskiptar is reflective of Varg’s love of mythology, which has recently taken him back in the direction of fantasy role playing. Varg has been working on his own fantasy RPG, and, based on his previous music and writings on mythology, love him or hate him, agree with him or disagree, it should be very interesting to see.

Towards Darkness – Barren
I don’t really know what to say about this, other than Barren is probably the most beautiful doom album of 2012. Fire up your PIP-Boy, grab a short wave radio and whatever provisions you can. Barren will take you through the end of the world. If you’re like me and like doom metal with a synth heavy rhythm section, you’ll love this album. If you hate hour long albums that only have 4 tracks, you’d probably want to avoid it.

Arte Sacra Atelier – Ade, New Album Out

In my other life as a record label executive, I have put out a handful of albums, covering goth, punk, metal, and industrial.  The latest album to be released on Retro Virus Records is “Ade”, by an artist of whom I am a huge fan, Arte Sacra Atelier.  You can buy it here!  It’s only $5.70+ shipping.

If you’re looking for something audio-wise to spice up your dungeon crawling, I highly recommend it!

1. Alfa Romeo
2. Baby
3. Fenice
4. Inverno
5. Mexican Tones
6. Mozart
7. Rain
8. Swans
9. Tu Sei Chi Chiamo Madonna

Later, I’ll be posting an interview with Francesco Perdona, the genius behind Arte Sacra Atelier.

Dungeon Music

Several years back, I went through a prolonged, mind-searing journey into the blackest depths of industrial music. I’m not talking about Skinny Puppy or KMFDM or rivet-head club music. I’m talking about “plunge your mind into a world of eternal darkness where the only comforts are the sounds of scraping metal echoing through the catacombs of the infernal machinery of low-tech iron hell” industrial music.  A lot of what I was listening to, one of my friends referred to as “Dungeon music”.

This label gave me an idea: not all, but many of the albums I’d been listening to made for great ambiance during some of the grueling dungeon crawls I’d cooked up for my gaming group. It’s amazing what a little background music can do to enhance the mood of a gaming session. Distorted, barely audible vocals over gently rumbling electronic noise and feedback, “the sound of orcs echoing in the halls” of a prison had some of my players genuinely scared!

Really, you want to pick and choose something that suits the mood you’re trying to create, and nothing so loud that it would be distracting, but adding dungeon music can make for some great sessions.

A few of my favorites that I used were tracks by Critical Theatre and OLoF NiNe. Critical Theatre may be a bit harder to find, as most of their releases were on hand-made cd-rs, but they’re more than worth hunting down. Last I saw, they had a Bandcamp here: http://criticaltheatre.bandcamp.com/

OLoF NiNe’s entire discography is free to download at http://omnicorn.com/pganza/. For my dungeon crawls, I particularly used the album “Fuck, You’re Dead”. Warning, some of the images may be considered mildly NSFW. I even recorded an album with the guy from OLoF NiNe for a project we called Kathedrikos Maschine (http://astrangerparadise.com/releases/offb026-alex-kimball-&-ian-linter-kathedrikos-maschine). Maybe it’s kinda Ravenlofty?

Lastly, there’s another band, whose entire purpose seems to fit this theme. Sadly, they disappeared years ago, but there was an experimental noise band called “Forgotten Realms” who put out a handful of albums that were all free for download. From what I gathered, they would play live shows in the dark while stuff like Ator played in the background. I’m still owed a physical copy of Warrior Turned to Stone. Anyway, since I don’t know if any of their old free stuff is still hosted, I’ll go ahead and host this for now.  Behold, “Instant Death: Deck of Many Things“! (Forgotten Realms, get in contact with me if you want me to take this down or if you want to finally send me your last album). They had a youtube video of them playing live, once upon a time, but good luck finding it…

If the game hadn’t broken up for other various reasons, I’d planned to use something like Sopor Aeternus for a scenario with an ancient true neutral vampire bard, whose melancholic violin music would echo through the halls of his crypt. I do hope I get a chance to use that character eventually.

Anyway, I’d love to hear from other GMs, DMs and STs about their thoughts on using music in gaming to enhance the mood.