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House Of Tudor 

Uncomfortable with Sadness

Wednesday, May 23 2001
I'm uncomfortable with sadness -- not other people's sadness, but my own. So it's understandable that Casiotone for the Painfully Alone makes me uncomfortable. Comprised of one man and a half-dozen thrift store keyboards, Casiotone offers seemingly simplistic, blurry pop ditties (some of which were recorded on an answering machine, all of which were written by Owen Ashworth) that tug and taunt at the tiny knots tied around romantic failures. On Answering Machine Music: A Brief Album in Twelve Parts, Ashworth chronicles lost loves in careful detail -- the high school crush, the supermarket crush, the waiting by the phone crush, and the fantastic international spy crush -- revealing the belletrist behind the faded sweat shirt and fuzzy synth notes. On his upcoming second effort, Pocket Symphonies for Lonesome Subway Cars, Ashworth carries on sadly and sweetly, demonstrating slightly more technical savvy (was that a cello I heard?), which gratefully does nothing to detract from the bare, boy-in-the-basement essence of his gently told tales. The mice still keep him company while he waits by the phone; he still notices the quaver in his girlfriend's voice before she does; and, while he says he will never again count the 26 steps to her door, we're fairly certain he will. Casiotone for the Painfully Alone opens for J Lesser and EC8OR on Friday, May 25, at Bottom of the Hill at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $8; call 621-4455.

The Hammers of Misfortune, as they have come to be known since their reign as Unholy Cadaver ended, could not have chosen a more precise appellation, given the theme of damnation and malevolent weaponry explored in their current dark metal opera, The Bastard. Released on local label tUMULt Records, The Bastard is a Greek tragedy carved from the dark forests of Baroque Europe and executed by the musical offspring of "black metal" gods, "dark ambient" demons, and "classic thrash" muses. Performed in three acts, the piece tells the tale of a sapling boy raised in the wilderness. As the boy comes of age, he is visited by a dragon, who tells him how his cruel, plundering father (the land's king) left his illegitimate son for dead. Village prophecy suggests that such a boy will journey to the heart of hell to retrieve an ax that will free the common people from tyranny, on one condition: In exchange for the throne the young king must grant the dragon a single request.

The bastard child hazards the fires of hell and claims the weapon of legend; the moon runs red and the stones drip with blood as he plucks the moist crown from his father's fallen head. For his one demand the dragon requires that a road be hewn from the deepest part of the forest to the gates of the city. The Bastard King submits, and the prophecy is fulfilled: Trolls and wood demons march on the town, slaughtering every man, woman, and child, and the Bastard King learns, at last, of his true lineage. He is a child of the winged demon.

While such tales are hardly scarce in Scandinavian metal, few American acts have been able approach them without falling prey to mimicry, banality, and, more commonly, complete absurdity. Fear not. The Hammers of Misfortune are both unique and qualified. Collectively, the four members of the local group have been, or are, members of Gwar, Osgood Slaughter, Auntie Christ, Stone Fox, L7, Our Lady of Napalm, and Thunder Chimp. More important, the players' passion for all that is dark and heavy is not shackled by metal's usual thundering bass and growling vocals, nor is it chained by the standard intricate guitar riffs and Gregorian choruses. As with any mindful composer of opera, the group adapts its vocals to suit its characters: The urgent soprano of bassist Janis Tanaka's Villagers' Prophecy rises over the growling death metal snarl of guitarist John Cobbett's Tyrant King; the classic allegretto of guitarist Mike Scalzi's forlorn Bastard gives way to the peculiar dissonance created by Tanaka's and Cobbett's shared Blood-Ax voice. Delicate melodies and classical guitar dissolve under the crushing rumble of Chewey Marzolo's drums, only to re-emerge as a fierce fortification of pure metal filament. While the leaps in style might be prickly for some "purists" (who imagine purity as a tedious fanaticism), The Bastard will satiate any lover of blood, bombast, terror, and true metal. The Hammers of Misfortune perform all three acts of The Bastard on Sunday, May 27, at Kimo's, with Asunder and the Monitors opening at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5; call 885-4535.

It seems natural that the work of science-fiction author Philip K. Dick would lend itself to experimental music. In Dick's stories, time flows backward, machines have feelings, the Axis powers prove victorious, and death can be postponed on lease. Dick's shimmering worlds -- including Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, upon which Blade Runner was based -- are shaded by the warm sepia tones of pulp fiction. Outlandish sounds perforate the pages' landscapes like silvery hovercrafts, as neon bar signs and saxophone wails point the way to solace and sewage.

For this installment of the "Static Illusion Methodical Madness Music Series," the PKD Vortex Project presents "A Tribute to the Dark Master of Pulp Fiction." While it is unlikely that this experimental sextet, which features musical inventor Tom Nunn and saxophone madman Rent Romus, will be chosen to score Spielberg's upcoming interpretation of Dick's murder mystery Minority Report, it is imaginable that the PKD Vortex Project might use the I Ching to finish its compositions -- much in the way Dick did while writing The Man in the High Castle. "Static Illusion Methodical Madness" will be held on Sunday, May 27, at the Musicians Union Local at 7:30 p.m. Australia's Clocked Out Duo, a piano/percussion group, opens the show. Tickets are $8-10; call 575-0777 or visit

About The Author

Silke Tudor


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