Ginger Nuts of Horror
For a subculture so frequently concerned with purity and with being “true,” black metal sure does mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people.
For some, it is a spear in the side of the messiah, a gleefully Satanic rejection of Judeo-Christian morality and all its virtuous, vacuous, turn-the-other-cheek propriety. For others, it is a pagan communion, a ritual through which man’s animal spirit may reunite with those dark primordial forces of untamed nature that lurk beyond the metropolitan monoliths of civilized society. For others still, it is a warlike call to arms, a justification for hideous indulgences in Aryan supremacy and terroristic acts of right-wing violence.
For struggling session musician Roland, though, black metal is just a job. A high school dropout with a chip on his shoulder, Roland thinks he might finally be on the cusp of respectability—and, more importantly, financial stability—when he’s hired to plays drums on the eagerly anticipated comeback album of fading black metal legend Max (a.k.a. Strigoi).
Of course, art always requires sacrifice. In Roland’s case, that means not only weathering the unpredictable mood swings of the unstable and heroin-addicted Max, but also making a long, arduous trek far from home, to the almost alien landscape of post-Soviet Eastern Europe. There, Roland and Max will record their album at the estate of Wisdom of Silenius, an eccentric band made up of cosmic-nihilist militants and mystics. In the process, Roland and Max will finally learn the real meaning of black metal from those for whom it is more than just music, those for whom it may very well be the key to ultimately negating the aberration known as mankind once and for all.
It would’ve been all too easy for David Peak’s new novel Corpsepaint to resort to camp, or even to fall into it unintentionally. Taking as its inspiration a genre of music that is simultaneously so damn silly yet so damn self-serious, the danger of characters being reduced to mere caricatures is very real. Likewise, there is also the danger of the story’s more overt supernatural elements coming off as hokey or cliché when put into the context of an artistic subculture that already makes rather un-subtle use of horror imagery.
Peak, however, navigates these pitfalls deftly, crafting a narrative that achieves, in prose, the same effects which only the very best black metal groups have managed in music. What’s more, Peak pulls off something equally impressive, successfully commenting on the genre’s most absurd excesses without making a joke out of them. Quite the contrary, Peak’s vision of the black metal and its fans is disturbing not in spite of the macabre pageantry of it all, but because of it; all the spiked gauntlets and rambling talk of death-worship is cheesy only so long as you don’t think about the implications of what it might means for those who really, genuinely believe in it.
Or, as Max himself observes at one point, “Black metal doesn’t exactly attract well-adjusted people. Hard drugs and corpsepaint were symptoms of the same disease.”
That said, an encyclopedic knowledge of an admittedly niche genre of music is far from a prerequisite to enjoying Corpsepaint. Sure, leather-jacketed headbangers will no doubt find their dedication amply rewarded with the nods to Mayhem vocalist Maniac, Wacken Open Air, the Dissection-affiliated Misanthropic Luciferian Order, and the infamous con-artist antics of Nachtmystium’s Blake Judd. But take such insider allusions away and something special still remains: a bleak, bestial behemoth of horror which taps not only into the philosophically driven weird fiction of authors H.P. Lovecraft, Algernon Blackwood, and Thomas Ligotti, but also into the real-world atrocities of AK-toting doomsday cults like the Branch Davidians and Aum Shinrikyo.
An icy hymn to apocalypses both cosmic and personal, David Peak’s novel is as savage and grim as the music of Darkthrone, but also as intricate and otherworldly as that of Emperor. A black metal masterpiece all its own, Corpsepaint is the literary equivalent of Mayhem’s De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas.
Translation for all you non-metalheads out there: Get your hands on this book, pronto!
BY WILLIAM TEA