Storm Corrosion – a Review of the Eponymous Debut

Whenever an album is released by Opeth or Porcupine Tree, more often than not you never concretely know what to expect until you hear the first cut from it. The main creative forces between those bands (Mikael Akerfeldt and Steve Wilson, respectively) consistently have delivered an ever-evolving and soul-enriching sound, whether it’s the almost literary brutality of Ghost Reveries or the cerebral pendulum of The Incident.

Back in the autumn of 2011, Opeth released their Heritage album, which challenged their listeners, yet galvanized their hardcore fans. Shortly after, Wilson (who mixed Heritage) released his indescribably beautiful Grace for Drowning. I purchased both when they were released and I absolutely adored them. They were and are testaments to unearthly musicianship that make no apologies for beauty and take you on a remarkably cathartic journey.

Then the idea was mentioned by one of them that these were two pieces of a greater (yet unofficial) trinity. A collaboration between them, something anxiously awaited by fans of both, was under way. Even though fans were going mad with expectation (just look at the Facebook page’s wall), they kept the sound deeply under wraps until they set loose the video for the first cut from it.

Now we have the rest of it.

Those who heard/watched “Drag Ropes” will have a good idea what to expect. Storm Corrosion is dark, brooding, intellectual and atmospheric. The melodies are delicate and modest, while the moods and depth are utterly lush. The album is unlike anything I’ve heard and yet you can hear the strains of Opeth and Wilson’s solo project within it.

And that’s one of the most interesting facets of this jewel: you can hear certain melodic hooks that are indicative of Akerfeldt’s song-writing and atmospheres that are all Wilson (and vice versa), yet in spite of this identity, the two blend together seamlessly in the songs, rather like various wine grapes that have been blended and still retain the traits of their original states.

The album has a weight to it that challenges metal for depth of emotional evocation. It’s the foil to the in-your-face chainsaw of so many harder bands. While they are the hordes of warriors, hacking into the enemy, Storm Corrosion is something far more powerful that can conquer with a whisper. You can spin something like “Drag Ropes” or “Hag” and find something more sinister than any black metal band, yet more gentle than the likes of Bach or Mozart.

As a result, those who are expecting the usual heaviness of Opeth will be disappointed. This is not a bad thing, as long as you have an ear for their Damnation or Heritage albums. This is an album for those who can transcend melody and technicality (even though there are both aplenty on this recording) and just let the whole thing wash over you.

In short, it’s my opinion that this is probably the most important album to have been released in 2012, so far. Not for any specific genre (indeed you can’t really classify this as anything but prog-ambient-folk-industrial-classical-jazz-rock and that would still be wrong), but for the contemporary music scene in general.

As soon as I send this off, I’m pouring a glass of Lucid and spinning it on perpetual repeat while I work on a painting.


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Storm Corrosion – Drag Ropes

For anyone who is a fan of Opeth and Porcupine Tree, the news that Mikael Akerdeldt and Steve Wilson have managed to collaborate on a full-blown musical project is about as important a piece of news as a revelation of man strolling on the moon. I myself have been giddy about it (if you know me, that doesn’t happen often). Both bands are known for producing challenging music that stimulates both the heart and the mind, while also telling a story, in a way.

Recently they decided to unleash the first cut off their eponymous Storm Corrosion album. Animated by UK artist Jess Cope, the video tells a story of its own. The song is brilliant. The film is brilliant. Put the two together…well…there are no words. I will say that when this album drops, I will be sitting with candles and a glass of absinthe letting it submerge me.

In the meantime, set aside a few minutes to watch this. You will not regret it.

Versinthe – a Bitter Anti-climax.

Versinthe Absinthe

Country of origin: France
Distillery: Not sure.
LCBO price: Approx. $50 from Vintages when available
Neat colour: A luminescent gold with a hint of green.
Neat aroma: A profound presence of anise which overpowers all. The alcohol smell is felt rather than scented. No wormwood detectable.
Neat taste: Surprising. Very little sting to it. The anise is very present, though the wormwood is an overly-prominent contender. Most noticeable (besides the anise) is the intense sweetness of it. Blatantly and excessively sweetened. I’m thinking I should forego the sugar cube, but protocol’s protocol.
Louched colour: The first few drops through the spoon created beautiful milky swirls. Eventually it settled down into an opalescent greenish yellow.
Louched aroma: The water seems to bring out that herbal smell. Anise is barely there, but alcohol smell is gone.
Louched taste: Definitely could do without the sugar cube. The anise is barely there at all, but that bitter herbal flavour is very prominent in the finish. It almost seems as though it’s a delivery system for sugar and bitterness.

Vinnie is unimpressed not only with the absinthe, but with the author's photographic skills.

When I began my absinthe sojourn, this was one of the few brand names I knew about, and that only for the anise liqueur, which at the time was sans wormwood. When I was presented with this bottle, I was delighted to discover that this was made with actual wormwood, albeit the wrong part of the plant.

Even though it louches beautifully, I find it rather unremarkable. The intense wormwood flavour is grossly out of proportion. It’s not unlike what I imagine the rant of a politically-embittered old man would taste like. The buzz does sit rather prominently in the head, but there’s something a bit belligerent about this, almost as though it’s a kid on the playground trying to pick on the taller kids to prove himself.

In short, this is an absinthe when there’s nothing else in the bar. Since it’s not fair to say that Vinnie disapproves outright, yet cannot justifiably give it his approval, i am going to expand the ratings a bit. Therefore, Vinnie is unimpressed.

Happy National Absinthe Day (US)

National Absinthe Day (US) is today. Perhaps a more appropriate day would have been March 1, as it would have been the 7-year anniversary of the repeal of the absinthe ban in Switzerland (absinthe’s birthplace). Nevertheless, this evening I will be celebrating it.

The holiday, whatever the origin and day, is an important one whether you partake or not. The rescinding of a ban is always a cause for celebration. The only reasons why bans are put into effect in the first place are because either the item in question is a threat to the powers that be or because the abuse of a banned thing is dangerous due to ignorance and stupidity. Both apply to absinthe.

The remedy for this is tolerance and awareness. If people act based on a lack of information, they should expect to take responsibility for their actions and either get informed or suffer the consequences of leaping before having looked.

Therefore, let’s all raise a green glass this evening in a toast to responsibility!

The Pantheon Part I : The Maker of the Beast – Derek Riggs

Some ideas don’t ever get fully understood or appreciated because they lack a form to match their function. When it comes to art, this is one of the deepest quandaries of any artist who does not take an abstract route to express an idea. Artists are tasked with giving shape to the numinous. Thoughts, philosophies and concepts all must be given a form if they are to be comprehended.

In short, the idea must be given a face.

Derek Riggs is one such person who has given a face to an idea that was (and still is) relevant to the disenfranchised and outcast. His name is one that should be readily familiar to any metalhead worth his salt. Anyone outside the metal scene, however, will still have seen the undead grin of Eddie, the mascot of Iron Maiden.

“He wasn’t my favorite picture,” Derek recounts, “but he was the most commercially successful. I had done quite a few album covers before that, only a few of which I can still find copies of. I was doing quite well as a commercial illustrator before Eddie happened.”

As he was self-taught in his craft, the beginning of Derek’s art career proper came more or less on its own.

I never really did decide that I wanted to make a career out of art,” Derek says. “It was never a conscious decision or a single moment in time. I am not sure how it happened really. I think that slowly it just became obvious that there seemed to be nothing else that was worth doing, everything else was just boring. At the end of the day there was just no place else to go. So I just got on with it.”

Many artists that one speaks to these days have a black or white view of art school. Some praise the discipline they ostensibly espouse while others deplore a scholastic approach to creativity as being too limited. In Derek’s case, he found himself rather disenchanted with the outmoded methods they proffered at the time.

“Art school was rubbish. They didn’t really have any idea about what would work in the real world. All their teaching and training was based in a world that had ended by the mid 1960’s. It was already 9 or 10 years out of date. All of the techniques I learned there are now completely obsolete. Not only do people not do things that way any more, but if you did things that way, then nobody else would know what to do with it afterwards.”

But as with any disillusionment, there is some wisdom to be gleaned: “My experience there didn’t sour anything because it was not relevant to anything. What it did teach me was to be self sufficient and learn things for myself. Really, at the end of the day, other people can’t teach you anything much about being an artist. You have to learn all the important things for yourself. you just have to keep trying and keep learning until you get something to work.”

Having spent a number of years painting album covers for punk bands and the like, the story (according to Wikipedia), was that Rod Smallwood, the manager for the then-freshly-signed Iron Maiden, had seen Derek’s art on a poster for another musician and had approached him. The name “Eddie” had previously been applied to a series of sculpted faces used on-stage by the band which would vomit blood or smoke during their eponymous song. It was decided that “Eddie the ‘Ead” needed a more permanent, iconic face that would make him symbolic for the band. Enter Derek and his apocryphal painting Electric Matthew Says Hello, which would then be modified to become a face to last for many years to come.

“There are no copies of Electric Matthew. You will have to imagine the first Maiden album cover with short punky Mohican style hair. Actually if you look carefully you can work out which bits of hair were on the original and which were added later.”

So now the question comes, where did this undead beauty come from?

“I was working with symbolism at the time. I was trying to work out how to make symbolic imagery that people could read and that had some relevance in the culture of the time. So Eddie became the symbol for the wasted youth, the disenfranchised generation who couldn’t get a job and had no obvious future. I used a dead figure and dressed him in t-shirt and jeans and put him in London where I lived. He wasn’t some alien creature in some far off land, he was in your neighborhood and in your face.”

“There is a story that he was inspired by a photo of a dead soldiers head, this is a wrong,” Derek continues. “He wasn’t inspired by that at all, that photo was just the place that I went to to get the skin texture of a corpse. There is a bit of a difference there.”

Whatever the difference, Derek’s images made all the difference to the aesthetic for the band. Eddie evolved in an almost storybook fashion, from the street-punk zombie on the first two covers to the hell-spawn from Number of the Beast. From the Somewhere in Time cyborg to the surreal and undefinable Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. His menacing brow and glowing eyes always carry the promise of destruction. His jaw, alternately grinning or shrieking with the aggression and play so typical of the musical genre he would indelibly be tied to.

Even the covers would take on a unique life of their own. Minimalist covers like Piece of Mind or the debut were the rarity, though. Sometimes it would be elaborate to the point of the full gate-fold of Live after Death, where every moon-washed blade of grass breathes life to the landscape Eddie rips his way out of. Sometimes it would be as enchanting and sinister as Number of the Beast or Seventh Son…, where the landscape becomes a little more active. Then we come to the Bosch-like masterpiece of Somewhere in Time. So many ornate homages to earlier Maiden songs and so much agonizingly enthralling detail in a single painting. One of the most intricate album covers ever designed, you say?

No, Somewhere in Time is the most intricate album cover ever designed,” Derek corrects us. “There has been nothing that detailed before or since. In fact you can’t do that level of detail on a modern CD cover, it just won’t work very well. It acts as camouflage. Somewhere in Time only just about works on a CD cover. The only reason I got away with it in the first place is that it was done for an album cover (remember vinyl?). Twelve inches square is a lot more forgiving that a five-inch CD cover. Also it took three months to do all that work, nobody will pay you to do that any more.”

These were the days when there was a lot of thought and art put into album covers. When you had artists with very recognizable styles. To this day, you can look at covers done by Derek or by Ed Repka or Dan Seagrave and recognize their signature style in the same way as one would recognize the style of Rembrandt or Goya or the aforementioned Bosch.

“I have not found any interesting rock covers for years,” Derek says. “The subject matter is boring, the execution is dreadful. the imagination is just not there at all. Most of it is just copying what the last guy was doing. All fantasy figures now look roughly the same, and they all seem to be based on the latest computer game anyway. The trouble with copying computer games is that they are not created by single artists, they are created by teams of technicians, so the end result is just an big average of what everyone thought it should be. Art should not be made by committee. Also many of the artists working in those fields do not have even a basic understanding of composition, anatomy, or colour theory. they are just some guy with a bit of software. So the pictures on CD covers, for the most part, don’t work and don’t do the job they should do. which in case you didn’t know, is to advertise the album and to sell merchandise which keeps the band on the road.”

Creating an image that not only sells the album but also stands on its own as a piece of engaging art is no small task. One needs a work ethic to pull of something that can fill both roles.

“An awful lot of bands, in the absence of any good ideas, have reverted to a style that looks like tattoo art. You know, winged daggers, winged skulls etc. These ideas are all crap and do not belong on a CD cover. I mean, for fuck’s sake make some kind of an effort.”

So then the question arises, when one puts the same kind of effort into creating an album cover of quality, something that will endure, what sort of approach would Derek take? Again, while there’s a profound effort that goes into it, the whole process still comes in a very natural fashion.

“When I am painting, nothing much is going through my mind except the technicalities of actually doing the job. To make a good image you just get a good idea and then you try hard to make it work. The details all come as you go along and you realize what needs to go into it. If you try to work all that stuff out first the picture will be shit and you will give yourself a migraine. Look at Maiden’s covers since I left [after No Prayer for the Dying – P]. They really think they can work all that stuff out but they don’t have a clue where to start. So Eddie ends up sitting in a chair or just breaking things.”

But every process evolves in its way, either technologically or philosophically. When Derek was fairly green to the industry, he worked with gauche, then later with acrylics (Somewhere in Time was done with acrylics) and then with alkyd, which is a fast-drying oil-based paint.

“Traditional oil paints dry very slowly over a couple of weeks, this makes them unusable for commercial illustration where tight deadlines are the dominant factor.”

Derek now works digitally, having relinquished the alkyds for health reasons. As he describes it, however, the medium is largely unimportant:  “I don’t actually care much which it is. The medium is not relevant. The image is what I make pictures for, not to fuck about with paint. I really had to stop using paint because the nasty poisonous chemicals were making me ill. If it wasn’t for the convenient invention of computer art I would have stopped painting all together in the early 1990’s.”

For which, the rest of us are eminently grateful.

“Painting pictures is a long process of learning things, learning how to make this illusion or that texture. I would work my way through a big commission and by the end of it I think I had learned enough to go back to the beginning and do the painting properly. although of course I never had time to really do that.”

So what does Derek spend his time doing these days? Sadly, he says he will be hosting no exhibition of his covers, amazing as such an event would be, as all of his covers for Maiden were sold to the band. When asked about the prospect of a graphic novel, he replies, “A graphic novel might be interesting and I did have an idea for one but I am not convinced that I could make a profit from it. They don’t seem to pay people very much for doing it and it looks like a lot of work. All of my professional illustration projects are viewable on my website.”

One of his recent projects was a series of scrolling backgrounds for the Sony Playstation which are available from Studio Output, one of which featured a charmingly sinister Halloween theme.

While it doesn’t have the same kind of intensity of the usual Maiden covers, it has a lush, macabre mood and shadowy beauty, both of which are unmistakably recognizable in his style.

In the film House of Wax, Vincent Price’s character said “Once in his lifetime, an artist feels the hand of God.” Whether it was the hand of God, the mark of Satan or the grasping claws of the undead, Derek gave shape to a unique idea and, even though others have attempted to run with it, the sinister wit of his vision and the frightful tangibility of his style will always be the perennial throne to which others can only pretend.

Updates and apologies AGAIN!

Hello again, children.

As some of you may have noticed, the House of Wormwood has been a little inactive for a few months. Between my computer dying at home, various pressures and an over-whelming drive to work on my art, I have had little capability to devote the appropriate time to my journalistic endeavours. However, that is about to change. The Derek Riggs interview will be complete by this evening and, once I get Derek’s approval on the piece, will be posted presently. Then I can get to work on the other interviews and articles I have been meaning to do.

Apologies for my absence. Time to rectify things.

An Absinthe Colouring Book? (Not Quite….)

I’ve been immersed in a profound melancholy of late. Between the emotional challenges of suddenly finding myself single, attendant strife and the fallout therefrom (which includes the woes of being without a working computer at home), it’s been rather hard to find the time and energy to focus on anything but my own artwork. That being said, there are a few things that invariably cheer me up: The Misfits, Naked City, film noir, absinthe (of course) and art (also, of course).

Relevant to the last one, I do take a certain delight in browsing art supplies. To that end, I strode into The Artstore of Waterloo the other day. Lynn, April and the other ladies and gent that work there are all quite friendly and knowledgeable, always taking the time to chat with me about sundry things related to art. On one such occasion when I was chin-wagging with Lynn (taken literally, that’s a humerous image, I must say), I happened upon this, sitting on a small, table-top easel:

Anyone recognize this painting? It also happens to be this one:

"L'Absinthe" by Edgar Degas

They even took the liberty of painting the absinthe the right colour. How very novel to find a classic piece of absinthe art gracing the front cover of a colouring book. However, I wonder what a full-on absinthe colouring book would be like.

I envision black and white images of Van Gogh’s self-portrait and various line drawings of joyous Parisian revelers raising their glasses and pouring water over sugar-bearing spoons. Scenes of Victorian-era patios adjacent cobblestone streets and gaslights, interspersed with portraits of Verlaine, Rimbaud and Hemingway. I could even see a gradual evolution in the drawings as the quality of absinthe diminished. Despondant, ghostly souls lurking in cafes, momento mori images involving skull-faced faeries and tortured addicts. Then a tableau of the insidious ban, with stone-faced temperance tyrants chastising the green faerie while wine makers hide in his shadow, snickering evilly.

I may just have to make the time to produce this myself, I think (insert jingling of a cash register here).

Ontario does it again!!!

So, the other week I was in an LCBO (again, for those out of province, the LCBO is the the provincially-regulated liquor store), meeting a good friend of mine, with whom I was going to visit, drink, share my woes and loot his library (long story and it’s not some clever metaphor for anything sexual, sorry ladies). While there, I had just enough time to investigate the current absinthe situation.

Last time I checked was a few months ago and the LCBO carried Pernod, Taboo, Sirene (which I ordered a bottle of but suddenly found myself too poor to afford) and a certain, unnameable swill. I checked the shelves, expecting only the swill and my cynicism was rewarded. Then I remembered that Taboo was available in the vintages section. No sign of it. My wormwood-sense was tingling.

I haunted the steps of an employee of this establishment for five minutes, being given sidelong glances while they served a woman who was apparently unable to understand that the four numbers on a bottle of wine are actually the date on which that wine was bottled. Once she was satisfied with his explanation, I attempted to inquire into the absinthe scenario, however he fled at my approach. After much pursuit, broken bottles, collateral damage in passers by and a grueling interrogation at the point of a shard from a bottle of crème de menthe, I got some answers.

Everything has been de-listed.

The only thing that is left that they stock is the vile swill. I eyed the bottle with indignation. Did you do this, I mentally asked it. Were you, somehow, behind this? Are you in league with the Ontario government to ruin the presence of absinthe here? Treacherous bastard!!!

I then asked about ordering in the last few remaining bottles of my beloved Taboo, however he refused as it is stocked in the Vintages section. Nothing else is available anywhere.

My friend arrived and we returned to his house, where I promptly drowned my sorrows in a bottle of East Dell’s Black Cab. When I finally got home, I drunkenly vowed to never buy from the LCBO again. How dare they blockade themselves against my favoured elixir!?! Then I remembered that they were the only game running for spirits. So much for that stand.

The situation almost smacks of the old Unholy Alliance that initiated the great absinthe ban back in the day. The nefarious scourge of the Temperance Movement and the French wine trade conspiring together to undermine the Green Fairy. The official story about Ontario’s absinthe anxiety is that the Ontario government has strict rules over thujone content, however I can’t help but speculate. Could it be that there is something at work in the Ontario government that seeks to prevent absinthe’s presence, especially seeing as how the swill doesn’t really count as absinthe? Could it be the conservative government at work? Or perhaps the makers of the swill have made an unholy alliance of their own to make sure they are the only product with that name, real or otherwise, on the Ontario market. Even the Americans have greater access to absinthe.

But, avast! There is an opalescent lining to this black cloud.

It may be a little known fact, but there is a source for absinthe in Ontario which is not dependent upon the LCBO. Here is what you do….

  1. Acquire a credit card if you don’t already have one. If credit is a problem for you, there are various places where you can buy pre-paid Visas, Master Cards and AmEx cards. It works somewhat like a gift card, except you don’t need to feel like a dork because you just bought yourself a gift card.
  2. Log onto These guys used to be called Rue Verte. Beyond doubt, they are one of (if not the absolute) best absinthe distributor I can find. They have an incredible selection of absinthes from across the world, with the swill nowhere in sight, and most importantly they guarantee shipment to Canada. Note, however: they do not list Taboo on their site, so for that specific brand, repeat all of this here, instead.
  3. Order whatever you want/can afford. When you browse the site in English, all prices are in $US. Make sure to give yourself room for shipping, however. Their prices per bottle are amazing, but the shipping, as everywhere, will sneak up on you like Ezio in the fog (I just totally geeked myself).
  4. Make sure you send it to an address you will be able to receive it at. They ship by DHL, so if you can talk to your boss about having it shipped to your place of work, that might be easiest.
  5. Wait patiently.

And that’s it.

In the meantime, if anyone makes a sojourn to Brantford to acquire the last remaining bottles of Taboo, I will gladly pay you substantially extra for a bottle or two.

More dishes coming VERY soon

Hello, all.

Once more, apologies for the delay in getting new writings to you. I have been both swamped with work, buried under domestic strife, afflicted by financial woes and beset by artistic obsession. I’ve been working like a dog with everything except my journalistic endeavours, but I am hoping to get caught up with all my blogging this week. Here’s what’s distilling for you as we speak:

  • Pantheon interview #1: Derek Riggs – as I mentioned before, I am embarking on a series of interviews entitled “The Pantheon”, which will entail interviews with the creators who influenced me the most in my artistically formative years. First up, the infamous illustrator who invented the most iconic face in heavy metal and whose art deeply influenced the mood of much of my earlier work.
  • Pantheon interview #2: Tim Vigil – the notorious comic rebel has agreed to answer some of my questions – for a small price (more on that later). Come with me as we stroll though the mind of the master of macabre erotica.
  • Pantheon interview #3: Tim Bradstreet – If you don’t know his illustrations for Vampire: the Masquerade, then you’ve probably seen his covers for the various comics, including The Punisher and Hellraiser. If you’ve still never heard of this guy, oh boy are you going to find out! This man is probably one of the greatest of my artistic heroes still alive and he’s going to be put to the inquisition. Keep your eyes open.

Before all of these, however, I have a small rant to deliver about this damned province I live in. Stay tuned later in the week for it.

Until next time….

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