Progressive rock has often been seen as the red-headed stepchild of the family when it comes to the various subgenres of rock. In its heyday in the early 1970s, it was rivaled only by early heavy metal in terms of how much critics hated it. Granted, even as a big progressive rock fan myself, I can acknowledge that some of this criticism was warranted. Prog artists tended to take themselves way too seriously, and their often idealistic and fantastical lyrical themes became increasingly out of touch to average Joes as economic woes set in toward the latter half of the decade. Some bands managed to escape this stigma by having more cynical lyrics (i.e., Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Van der Graaf Generator) or having a sound more compatible with the radio rock format that was becoming more popular (i.e., Rush, Queen, Supertramp). But most ended up being overtaken by the much more DIY working-class sensibilities of the punk rock movement or the much more radio-friendly experimentation of new wave music.
One way that newer prog bands tried to counter this was by taking influence from these new styles, especially new wave. This led to the creation of neo-progressive rock, a primarily British scene featuring bands like IQ, Pallas, Pendragon, Twelfth Night, and Arena. However, some North American groups like Saga and Spock’s Beard have also been included under the label. However, the biggest band in the subgenre was undoubtedly Marillion.
The band experienced its highest level of popularity during the 1980s when it was fronted by charismatic Scottish singer Derek William Dick, who earned the stage name Fish due to the long baths he liked to take. The band had no less than eight albums reach the Top Ten spots in the UK charts between 1983 and 1994. The high watermark of their chart success was undoubtedly the 1985 concept album Misplaced Childhood, which spawned the chart-topping singles “Kayleigh” and “Lavender.” The former even entered the Billboard Top 100 in the United States.
Unfortunately, the album’s success quickly began to wear on Fish as he began to fear that the excessive touring schedule and pressure from management would lead to him drinking himself to death. This is especially obvious given that the band’s next album, Clutching at Straws, tells the story of an unemployed man who dives further and further into whiskey bottles to escape the shambles that his life has become. Fish performed his last concert with the band in July of 1988, and the band has continued with singer Steve Hogarth ever since.
Fish would begin his solo career in January of 1990 with the release of his debut solo album Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors. Several well-known musicians performed on the record, including former Dire Straits guitarist Hal Lindes, future Iron Maiden guitarist Janick Gers, veteran prog-rock keyboardist Mickey Simmonds, Big Country drummer Mark Brzezicki, and Spandau Ballet drummer John Keeble. And it is the title track of this album that I want to focus on for this episode of P.J.’s Ultimate Playlist.
The track, totaling almost nine minutes in length, begins on a soft note, with Mickey Simmond’s keyboards giving the song an almost new-age sound for the first two minutes. Fish’s vocals start out equally soft, singing about his alienation in a world that’s gone mad with consumerist greed and political violence. He asks the crowd around him to quiet down so he can find another soul who shares his disillusionment.
I get so confused I don't understand.
I know you feel the same way; you've always wanted to say,
But you don't get a chance;
Just a voice in the crowd (in the crowd).
The vocals take a sharper tone in the second verse as Fish talks about how the way our society is set up has left him in a confused and depressed state, with Frank Usher and Hal Lindes’ guitars making their entrance with big power chords.
I don't know the score anymore!
It's not clear anymore!
I can't tell right from wrong anymore!
I just don't understand.
From there, the song turns to a more traditional rock format as Fish describes the betrayals in his life by authority figures in his life that lead him up to this point (“I was sitting here thinking of exchanging a new world for old, like changing channels on the TV, or the dirt that we stand in to gold.”) He recalls words from his father about the nature of good and evil in the world:
When I was young, my father told me only bad guys die;
At the time just a little white lie.
It was one of the first, but it hurt me the most,
And the truth stung like tears in my eyes;
That even the good guys must die.
There's no reasoning, no crimes, and I never knew why.
Even now, it still makes me cry!
As the chorus rolls around, Fish appeals to a higher power to show him the truth about the world, to tell him if the authorities of this world really are all a bunch of liars or if he is the one who is deceiving himself (“If there’s somebody up there, could they throw me down a line? Just a little guiding light to tell wrong from right? Just some answers to the questions that I’m asking you.”).
He vows to “keep a vigil in a wilderness of mirrors, where nothing here is ever what it seems.” The phrase “wilderness of mirrors” was initially coined by T.S. Elliot in his 1920 poem “Gerontion” and has since been used in spy fiction as a metaphor for disinformation. This seems to indicate that Fish has dedicated himself to studying the mirror maze he has found himself in so he can finally parse out the truth for himself.
The chorus and the following verse are separated by an instrumental passage dominated by a bagpipe solo performed by Davey Spillane, who also plays the tin whistle alongside Phil Cunningham. This section is likely there to remind listeners that Fish is very proud of his Scottish heritage.
The next verse shows Fish applying this “wilderness of mirrors” approach to others who claim to share his radical beliefs to determine if they actually agree with him that the system needs to be overthrown or if they are simply telling Fish what he wants to hear in order to undermine his cause from within.
And you sit there and talk revolution,
But can you tell me just who's in command?
When you tell me the forces we're fighting,
Then I'll join you and gladly make plans.
But for now just our T-shirts cry freedom,
And our voices are gagged by our greed;
Our minds are harnessed by knowledge,
By the hill and the will to succeed,
And if that's not what you believe,
Would you just let me know I'm not standing alone,
That I'm not just a voice in the crowd?
The chorus repeats one last time before the song ends, this time with additional lyrics that reflect on both the hope that a better world is possible if only the powers that be would just get out of the way and let us have it…
You're reaching out, you're so close you can touch it,
But it all disappears when it's always so near,
But one day we will find that we stand in the light!
…as well as the fear that Fish might be putting a target on his back by criticizing said powers in such a public manner.
I'm scared to shout in case I draw attention
From the powers that preside over our hearts and our minds
When they find what I want is the deadliest weapon;
That is truth.
The last part of the song then tones back down to the soft keyboard tones present at the beginning, with Fish’s vocals calming down equally as much as he croons about how the need to do something about his decaying society is building inside of him.
Day by day, it's getting louder,
And day by day, it's getting stronger,
But when I can't scream no more, and I need reassurance,
I listen to the crowd.
This somewhat hopeful note of solidarity with the lower class masses negatively affected by the grinding nature of capitalist greed is contrasted with this spine-chilling spoken word passage at the very end of the song, which, alongside portraying the David and Goliath character of the struggle against late-stage capitalism, also instills an almost Lovecraftian sense of existential dread is this particular listener.
And the boy stood and stared at the hill,
And the hill stared back.
This song perfectly captures my feelings of confusion in these politically fraught times. To be sure, the era in which Fish wrote these lyrics was equally fraught. America and Britain were just coming out of the Reagan and Thatcher administrations, which were an absolute nightmare for people like him with left-leaning sympathies. The LGBTQIA+ community had been devastated by HIV-AIDS, which Reagan had ignored; both countries had engaged in controversial military actions in Central and South America; and the neoliberal world order that devastated the world with a new era of laissez-faire capitalism was codified. And now, thirty years later, here I am feeling the same things Fish likely was as the seeds planted during the 70s and 80s have grown into the poison oak of climate change and wealth inequality.
This song also captures the feelings of paranoia I have espousing leftist beliefs in a country that has been historically hostile to such ideologies. My own family is very conservative, with my dad, in particular, being a very enthusiastic Trump supporter. Indeed, the verse that begins with “When I was young my father told me only bad guys die” is incredibly relatable to me because I was raised to believe that the moral divide between conservatives and liberals was as clearly good and evil as the one between the orcs and elves in your average epic fantasy novel. So you can only imagine how frustrated it makes me feel to learn about things like the U.S. backed coups in burgeoning socialist countries that installed murderous right-wing dictators like Augusto Pinochet or the truth about how law enforcement agencies treated civil rights leaders and organizations like the Black Panthers and Martin Luther King Jr. It also frustrates me how my father continues to view Trump as overall good for the country despite things like the “grab them by the pussy” tape and his instigation of the January 6th attack on the Capitol building.
This makes it very awkward since Trump pretty much destroyed any sense of patriotism I once had for the United States and eventually drove me into my current affinity for anarchism. But I’ve had trouble coming clean about this to my family members because I tend to take even the smallest amount of criticism very hard, and I can only imagine what kind of shitstorm coming out as a socialist might do to my family.
Still, though, I know I’m right about the real causes of the problems in the world. I’ve never been more sure about anything in my life. And I know that nothing my family members say can change my mind on this. Who knows, my sister and brother are younger than me; maybe I can sway them before they get older and set in their ways. The possibilities are endless.
And that’s all I have to say about this tune. Be sure to check out some of Fish’s other stuff, and maybe look up Marillion as well. They are a criminally underrated band, and both the Fish and Hogarth-fronted eras are chock-full of fantastic music. Join me next time for another episode of The Complete Noobs Guide to the Left, where I talk about Marxism-Leninism, the official political ideology of most socialist countries that formed during the twentieth century. But that will most definitely have to wait until after Thanksgiving. Hope you have a festive one this year, beautiful watchers!
(Content warning: the following blog post will contain discussions of fascist and antisemitic hate speech, as well as very brief discussions of pedophilia, although that won’t come until later in the article. I will give a second warning later for those who are sensitive to those topics.)
So here’s a question: what kind of music do you like to listen to on Halloween? Maybe it’s the silly novelty songs like “Monster Mash,” “The Purple People Eater,” or “Spooky Scary Skeletons.” Perhaps it’s a spooky classic rock tune like “Season of the Witch” or “Witchy Woman” or “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” Or you might indulge in some supernaturally themed heavy metal and punk music like Helloween’s “Halloween,” Diamond Head’s “Am I Evil?”, or anything by King Diamond or Black Sabbath, or anything by Powerwolf or Rob Zombie or the Misfits. Or maybe you like to be hypnotized by the industrial horror of “Frankie Teardrop,” or the stark gothic blues of a spooky Nick Cave or Tom Waits track.
For a voracious music consumer like myself, all of these are equally valid options. However, there is one band over the years that has managed to worm its way into my fear centers like no other for a variety of reasons: their nihilistic lyrics, their theistic Satanist religious outlook, their incredibly harsh and dissonant music, and their extreme reclusiveness, to the point that no one knows who they even are. That band, coming to us from the city of Poitiers in west-central France, is Deathspell Omega.
Deathspell Omega, or D.S.O. for short, was founded in 1998 out of the ashes of the black metal project Hirilorn. Its lineup consisted of Frederic “Shaxul” Sescheboeuf on vocals, Christian “Hasjarl” Bouche on guitars, Khaos on bass, and Yohann Pasquier on drums. Pasquier left before the recording of the band’s first album, Infernal Battles, in June of 2000, as the other Hirilorn members were angry at him and second guitarist Sinn for participating in a hardcore recording. The name of the drummer who replaced him is unknown.
Indeed, that’s one of the biggest gimmicks this band has- its complete and total anonymity. They have no official website, no social media accounts, and have never allowed themselves to be photographed. They have never performed live, do not credit themselves in their liner notes, and conducted no interviews between 2004 and 2019. This lack of information certainly plays a large part in the nightmarish mystique of the band.
Even so, several names have been attached to the band over the years. For example, Tobias Forge of Ghost, in a 2018 interview with Loudwire, stated that the band’s producer was Frank Hueso, a fellow Poitiers musician best known for his synthwave project Carpenter Brut. The vocalist who took over after Shaxul’s departure is often suspected to be Finnish musician Mikko Aspa (which has caused no small amount of controversy for the band for reasons I’ll get into later). Another vocalist is suspected of having joined the group sometime around the recording of the 2010 album Paracletus. Most fans suspect him to be Spica, vocalist for fellow French black metallers S.V.E.S.T. (who, incidentally, haven’t put out any new material since recording a split E.P. with D.S.O. in 2008).
In any case, most fans generally agree that the band didn’t become truly great until after Shaxul’s departure following the release of their second album, Inquisitors of Satan, in May of 2002. Shaxul later clarified that he was uncomfortable with the shift in themes that the band was undergoing. The band’s music consisted of orthodox black metal, very similar to pioneering Norwegian bands like Darkthrone and Mayhem at that time. However, starting with their next album, the band would find a new sound that would catapult them into the highest echelons of the French black metal scene, alongside Peste Noire, Blut Aus Nord, and Alcest.
Si Moventum Requires, Circumspice
The first and most apparent difference one might notice between this album (released in February of 2004) and the previous two is the change in music and vocal style. The music has changed from the orthodox black metal style to a much more avant-garde style, making heavy use of polyrhythms, dissonant and atonal riffs, and weird chord structures. The vocals have changed from the typical black metal shrieks of Shaxul to a deeper, more full-throated growl closer to death metal vocals (or the operatic rasp of Mayhem vocalist Attila Csihar).
The album’s title is Latin for “If you seek his monument, look around you,” and is taken from an inscription on the tomb of widely celebrated English architect Sir Christopher Wren. In this context, however, the title is not for the aggrandizement of a single great man. No, here, D.S.O. is inviting us to see the monument to their Lord and Savior, Satan. And that monument is Earth itself.
This concept is further reinforced by the album art, drawn by Timo “Davthvs” Ketola, which features a decaying cherub corpse over a globe, its genitals hanging over the Levant in an apparent middle finger to the holy land of all three Abrahamic religions. But that’s not all the symbolism going on here. The cherub as a whole represents all three of the album’s most significant themes: antinatalism, antinomianism, and putrefaction.
Antinatalism is the philosophical belief that procreation is a moral evil, usually borne out of environmentalist concerns or because they think it violates consent to be born. This theme appears most clearly in the lyrics from “Blessed are the Dead Which Dye in the Lorde,” which I quoted above. This sentiment is also clearly stated in a Latin phrase that appears in the closing track, “Malign Paradigm,” which translates as “the house and church of our Lord is childless.”
This antinatalist stance is closely tied with the band’s symbolic use of the concept of putrefaction. D.S.O. takes the common Christian concept of original sin and cranks it up to eleven, arguing that a spiritual rot is inherent in every human’s soul, making Heavenly salvation impossible. For the heart of a lost angel is in the Earth, and that heart belongs to Satan. As the lyrics of “Carnal Malefactor” state, “He that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption.” The empty throne of Christ that resides on the Earth will forever remain empty because humanity will never be spiritually pure enough to receive His kingdom. Again, in “Carnal Malefactor’s” words, human nature is a “ciborium of shame and waste.”
With that, D.S.O. offers the third theme of the album as a solution; antinomianism. Antinomianism, which Wikipedia defines as “any view which rejects laws or legalism and argues against moral, religious, or social norms,” is often used in Christian contexts in the same vein as “sola fide,” or “by faith alone” in Latin (that is, when it’s not referring to heresy). Several Christian scholars have criticized this notion.
D.S.O. is equally critical of the notion in the context of their metaphysical Satanist perspective. Faith in Satan alone is not going immanentize the eschaton and finally render humanity to the dustbin of history where it belongs. One must commit evil acts in the name of Satan to bring about his will on Earth. Such actions might take the form of the nightmarish avian-assisted abortion portrayed in “Carnal Malefactor”:
A phallic communion that sanctifies interior wastelands,
When a woman is knead by the claws of fowls attracted
By seminal odors no longer hidden by dignity,
And purified by their beaks rummaging her swollen vagina.
The carrion birds extract the woman’s unborn fetus, which is then used as part of a Satanic Eucharist in the following track, “Drink the Devil’s Blood.”
The whole theme of the album is that humans are far more susceptible to Satan and his influence than to that of God or his angels. Thus, in the words of this Pop Matters article, the album is about how “Satan is pervading every aspect of our material and metaphysical realms and how Man’s relationship with him should be one of reverence and devotion.” In short, if you can’t beat him, join him.
The band would take this premise a step further in the 2005 E.P. Kenose, named after the Greek word for “emptiness.” This concept is one method by which Christian scholars have theorized that Jesus’ relationship to God the Father worked while He was performing His miracles on Earth. Upon incarnating as a human child in Bethlehem, he emptied Himself of all divine attributes to live on Earth as an average person. D.S.O. seized on this possibility to argue that Jesus Himself ended up falling prey to the putrefaction inherent in the human soul, and thus His death upon the cross to redeem humanity’s souls from the grip of Satan was all for naught.
S.M.R.C. would only be the first in a trilogy of albums dealing with humanity’s relationship with Satan. The second would be released in July of 2007.
Fas-Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeturnum
This album gives us what is probably the most chaotic music out of all of D.S.O.’s discography. Featuring riffs that almost sound more like random noises than chord progressions and drumming that is equally breakneck and madcap, the music is surprisingly fitting for the absolutely shattering existential crisis that the main character is going through in this album’s story.
Although the album title (Latin for “Divine Law- Depart From Me, Ye Accursed, Into Everlasting Fire”) and art above may seem to represent Satan’s fall from God’s grace, the lyrics indicate that Satan’s and man’s fall from grace are one and the same. Because, again, the heart of a lost angel is in the Earth, and that heart belongs to Satan.
This album is where the band really starts to show off the influence of one of their biggest literary idols: the French post-surrealist philosopher Georges Bataille (pronounced buh-tie). His book Inner Experience is quoted extensively in the lyrics, alongside texts like My Mother, Theory of Religion, and The Solar Anus. Bataille’s philosophical writings were obsessed with limit experiences and acts of transgression. The basic thesis of his entire life’s work is probably best summarized by this quote from Inner Experience, which also appears in the track “A Chore for the Lost”:
Every human being not going to the extreme limit is the servent of the enemy of man and the accomplice of a nameless obscurity.
Georges Bataille, Inner Experience
Bataille saw no differences between the emotional states aroused by divine ecstasy and extreme horror and thus came to believe that humanity must seek experiences that drive us to our mental and physical limits to discover the absolute truth that lies within our souls.
In Fas-Ite…, D.S.O. argues that that truth lies in “Oobombration,” derived from the Latin word for “shadow,” which provides the title of the opening and closing tracks of the album. The Oobombrations seem to represent the darkness that comes before birth and after death and demonstrates humanity’s fragility and insignificance compared to their all-powerful, all-knowing God.
The four tracks between them show the stages of the protagonist’s journey after discovering this fact. He starts by going insane with terror in “The Shrine of Mad Laughter:”
A senstion of everlasting rot and those frantic wails!
No, it is not a fall into the abyss,
The defiance of descent,
A coronation beyond liberty and slavery!
The protagonist tries to cling to some semblance of normalcy in “Bread of Bitterness,” even as the truths he built his worldview on crumble around him:
From a suppliction without response,
The essence of man, his ground giving way,
Comes illumination by a sun of great evil that sets aflame the inner core
And enthrones suffocation and the intolerable without respite
As the joyful reward for a million aborted truths.
The protagonist than realizes that all of this was predestined in “The Repellant Scars of Abandon and Election,” and thus decides to follow the left-hand path away from conventional morality:
I was beyond withstanding my own ignominy.
I invoked it and blessed it.
I progressed even further into vileness and degredation.
Am I resurging, intact, out of infamy?
Finally, in “A Chore for the Lost,” we see the protagonist finally embrace the intoxicating transgressions that all men succumb to one way or another, for Satan is the unquestioned Lord of this World. Thus we must “be a blight… on all orchards of this world.”
What pleasure of inconcievable purity there is
In being an object of abhorrance
For the sole being to whom destiny links my life!
Darkness encloses the human soul every step of its journey through life, and one way or another, the darkness always reclaims us.
The title for this album comes from a Greek word that literally means “he who was called for/sent for.” It has also been used as “advocate” or “helper,” primarily in Christian contexts where it is used as an epithet for the Holy Spirit. Here, however, D.S.O. seems to be taking inspiration from French writer and Catholic apologist Leon Bloy, who is quoted in Raymond Barbeau’s book Un Prophete Luciferian as arguing that Satan will rise out of Hell at the end of days to become the Paraclete.
D.S.O., of course, spins this idea in a much darker direction, portraying his rise from Hell as being the final battle between God and Satan as depicted in the Book of Revelation. Of course, the seven-headed dragon illustrated in the album art is a big giveaway in this regard. There are other more subtle hints, however; for instance, the albums runs for just over 42 minutes, which is a reference to Revelation 13:5, which states that “The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise its authority over forty-two months.”
Indeed, the lyrics have a very apocalyptic feel to them. The first half of the seems to show Satan’s followers chanting an epiklesis, or “invocation,” to rise out of Hell to claim what is his. He commands his followers to undergo abscission, shedding parts of themselves that they don’t need, much like a maple tree sheds its leaves in autumn (likely shedding all sense of self in the same type of limit experiences Georges Bataille was so fascinated with). Meanwhile, those who still insist on following God are left without any sense of unity in His absence. Any perceived case of Him answering His followers’ prayers is nothing more than the spiritual equivalent of phosphenes, the phenomenon in which the eye perceives light without light actually entering the cornea.
The following five tracks describe the chaos that reigns on Earth as the final battle between Heaven and Hell rages. The rivers and seas boil away into nothing, and sickness and famine spread among the emaciated populace. Perhaps “Devouring Famine” depicts:
It is senseless to fight against this infinite stream.
Behind this threshold life exhausts itself, loses itself.
Rejoice! For tonight it is an eerie birth that we celebrate!
And with dusk, as shadows slowly recover the land,
The most extreme solitude drapes the shoulders
Of a distant silhouette bearing a glacial emptiness,
Laden like a luminous storm in which sun and lightning are prolonged;
A wound through which, hastening from all points of the universe,
Desolation spreads in chaotic convulsions.
The album, and the trilogy proper, ends with the track “Apokatastasis panton,” meaning “recreation of the universe” in ancient Greek. Usually, the phrase is used in the context of universal salvation, as with the Leon Bloy quote above. But of course, D.S.O. uses it to mean Satan is remaking the world in his image after his victory in the final battle. The track’s stark lyrics seem to represent Satan’s last message to all those poor souls who still cling to a belief in the essential goodness of humanity:
You were seeking strength, justice, splendor!
You were seeking love!
Here is the pit!
Here is your pit!
It's name is Silence!
In between the main albums in the trilogy, D.S.O. released several E.P.’s that examined topics adjacent to the themes presented in the albums. Most of them only contained one song, usually running around twenty minutes in length. In order of their release, they are:
Mass Grave Aesthetics: Originally released in 2005 as part of a split L.P. titled From the Entrails to the Dirt, the song was eventually released as its own E.P. in December 2008. Lyrically, the song is based on this quote from the 19th-century French anarchist Laurent Talihade, which was responding to a terrorist attack against the Chamber of Deputies:
What matter the victims, provided the gesture is beautiful? What matters the death of vague human beings, if thereby the individual affirms himself?
Laurent Talihide, December 1893
D.S.O. uses this quote to argue that human self-affirmation is only possible through acts of violence, whether against oneself or others, especially to prove one’s loyalty to certain ideologies. Or, as Georges Bataille argues:
To choose violence is to choose freedom. What evil in essence rejects is a concern with a time to come. It is precisely in this sense that the longing for the summit-that the movement toward evil-constitute all morality within us. Morality has in itself no value (in the strong sense) except inasmuch as it leads to going beyond being-rejecting concerns for a time to come.
Geroges Bataille, On Nietschze
Diabolis Absconditus, meaning “the devil is hiding” in Latin, was also released on a 2005 split L.P., this time titled Crushing the Holy Trinity. It also received its own E.P. in May 2011. Here, the band portrays the traditional patriarchal archetype of God being replaced by a sexually depraved feminine archetype. This concept was heavily inspired by a Georges Bataille short story titled Madame Edwarda, in which the narrator hires the services of a prostitute who claims to be God on Earth.
Veritas Diaboli Manet in Aeturnum: Chaining the Katechon: Released in December of 2008, this track revolves around the concept of the Katechon, a figure from New Testament esoterica who is believed to hinder the rise of the Antichrist as well as the second coming of Jesus. Thus, this Katechon needs to be chained so the apocalypse can proceed as planned. Indeed, one could interpret this as a direct prequel to Paracletus, especially in this repeated verse in which the Satanic cultists summon their Lord from the firey pit and experience an appropriately Lovecraftian response to his appearance:
We went to the trough, Lord!
We went bent and convulsed!
We saw blood, Lord! It was glittering!
You dispensed it and we drank it!
We saw your image!
The gap of your* eyes and mouths is void!
We went bent and convulsed!
It broke us and dissolved us!
*The lyrics in the liner notes read, “The gap of our eyes and mouths is void,” but the singer to me seems like he’s saying “your eyes and mouths.” I don’t know. I kind of think it’s cooler and scarier that way.
But by far the most consequential E.P. the band ever recorded was Drought, released in June 2012. It acts as an epilogue to the trilogy, showing the aftermath of the final battle from the point of view of the poor human souls left to rot on a dying planet Earth. God has surrendered to Satan, and, whether because He thinks humans are not worth the trouble anymore or because He has lost any power to save them from their fate, He has abandoned them to Satan to do with them as he pleases. Satan thus leaves Earth as, in the words of the track “Scorpions and Drought,” “a desert with no life but scorpions coming as a swarm, as a flood, with an abundance of deadly stings.” Naturally, D.S.O. views this as a mercy kill, “like the shooting in the head of a horse with a broken leg,” in the words of “Abrasive Swirling Murk.” All is truly lost.
The Synarchy of Molten Bones
Despite not being related to the trilogy in any direct fashion, I like to view this and the next album as prequels to the trilogy. Although calling Synarchy an album feels kind of wrong, as it only clocks in at slightly over 29 minutes, seven minutes shorter than the Kenose E.P.
The album art depicts Nimrod, a Biblical king who is often attributed as the man behind the Tower of Babel, thus portraying him as a rebellious and hubristic ruler who tried to usurp the authority of God. Some Jewish and Islamic traditions also describe him as an evil counterpart to Abraham. However, the artwork here is inspired by Book I of La Fin de Satan, which was Les Miserables and Hunchback of Notre Dame author Victor Hugo’s answer to Paradise Lost. Book I depicts Nimrod, who, having conquered and laid waste to the Earth, decides to conquer Heaven. To this end, he constructs a makeshift cage driven by four eagles drawn upward by lion carcasses. After traveling for a whole year and seeing nothing but blue skies, he finally shoots an arrow into the infinite and is thrown back to Earth.
D.S.O. uses this story to portray a group called the “Synarchy of Molten Bones” who take inspiration from the figure of Nimrod and decide to find a way to kill God so that they can become the ultimate power of the universe. For those wondering what a “synarchy” is, Wikipedia offers two definitions. Going by the original Greek, it comes from the words for “joint/harmonious rule.” However, D.S.O. seems to be going for the other definition, which is “rule by a secret elite.” Indeed, this was the definition popularised by French occult philosopher Alexandre Saint-Yves d’Alveydre in the 1880s as a conservative alternative to anarchism that preserved the existing hierarchies rather than abolishing them.
Indeed, the central thesis of this album’s story seems to be that humanity’s boundless ambitions will only end up destroying us in the end, both materially and spiritually. The result of the Synarchy’s meddling, according to the final track, “Internecine Iatrogenesis,” will be “a brazen holocaust, brighter than a hundred suns, that slowly consumes God and man.”
But D.S.O. isn’t content with simply stating that the Synarchy’s reign and their insatiable quest to conquer Heaven and Earth will create a nightmarish hellscape in our world. They want to show us what that world might look like…
The Furnaces of Palingenesia
This album, released in May 2019, presents possibly the most unambiguous themes in their entire discography. The album is presented as a speech by an authority figure who serves as the spokesperson for a fascist organization called the Order. The lyrics present fascist rhetoric in its purest form, divorced from all the alt-right’s promises of a utopia waiting beyond all the bloodshed. The spokesperson admits that the Order is only looking to amass more and more power for itself and those who swear loyalty to it.
Granted, the band does throw some shade at left-wing authoritarian governments as well, as another big theme seems to be that every violent revolution, regardless of its stated goals, contains the seeds of its own destruction. Takes this passage from “Ad Arma! Ad Arma!” which quotes Mao Zedong almost verbatim:
Nothing from the world of yore deserves to be preserved;
Every particle is infected and corrupt.
The great cleansing shall take as long as necessary,
For power exclusively stems from the gun barrel.
On a glorious dawn,
The odoe od tear gas shall replace the scent of fresh brewed coffee,
The dust of crumbling buildings shall darken the horizon and fill your lungs
As the sun reaches its zenith;
Victorious chants will resonate at dusk
To the rhythm of cracking necks and the gunfire of mass executions.
Behold the glorious beauty of unrestrained fraternal compassion and love!
However, these passages are far outnumbered by others that directly condemn various fascist beliefs, including some that have become mainstream talking points among traditional conservatives (because we live in the worst timeline). Take this quote from “Sacrificial Theopathy,” for instance:
Thou shalt decree that thine enemy comes from shores unknown to the man of virtue,
Strange lands that breed beings devoid of any redeeming qualities.
Anyone else getting major Tucker Carlson/Stephen Miller vibes from this quote? “Absolutist Regeneration” also contains a promise that “we will clean out the marsh at all cost.” In other words, we will drain the swamp. Of course, the Order’s spokesperson has a much less outwardly altruistic motive for doing so than Mango Mussolini, as the preceding sentence states that “We will turn this world into a cemetery rather than not regenerate it in our own way” (which, let’s be honest, is probably what Individual 1 meant anyway).
Several other passages speak to the cutthroat nature of the late-stage capitalist economics that most fascists prefer, especially this one, also from “Absolutist Regeneration/Year Infinity”:
Those who nourish the famished shall be left to starve.
Those who heal the wounded shall be maimed.
Those who console the lamenting souls shall be buried alive,
Thier stomachs filled with ignonimous larvae.
Rats shall feed on the eyes of those guilty of empathy towards their fellow men.
That which is not our credo is not to be.
And now I get major Augusto Pinochet vibes from this passage.
The album goes on like this for ten songs for about forty minutes, the spokesperson ranting like a deranged and murderous psychopath over music that is much more straightforward than the other albums but no less dissonant and discordant (unlike all other D.S.O. albums, this was apparently recorded live in the studio). The final track, titled “You Cannot Even Find the Ruins,” dispenses with this to present much softer (yet still heavy) music, as the narrator describes the end result of the Order’s rapacious power grabs:
You cannot even find the ruins
of the jewels of yesterday
they're ashes gone
memories wiped clean
Indeed, this may reflect how another fictional fascist organization called “the Order” left the Earth after its final victory. The classic white supremacist text The Turner Diaries ends with much of the Earth becoming an irradiated hellscape with 90% of the human population wiped out and the remaining 10% likely soon to follow. But the author wants us to view this as a good thing because at least all the Jews and non-whites are dead, right?
But here is where we address the larger controversy that this album spawned upon its release. While the majority of listeners have (rightly, in my opinion) come away from The Furnaces of Palingenesia seeing it as a double-barrelled dark satire of fascist rhetoric, given the massive amount of self-aware irony present in the lyrics, some are accusing Deathspell Omega as a whole of being an outright National Socialist Black Metal (or N.S.B.M.) band.
Remember that content warning I gave way at the top of this essay about fascist and antisemitic hate speech and pedophilia? Yeah, here’s where I warn you that anyone sensitive to those topics should proceed with caution because here is where we discuss the one person who is the reason why D.S.O. is accused of being fascist sympathizers.
Mikko Aspa (aka The Elephant in the Room)
Mikko Reino Juhani Aspa, from the city of Lahti, has long been recognized and decried for being a leader in Finland’s National Socialist music scene. Aside from his suspected involvement in Deathspell Omega, Aspa has racked up a truly massive number of other musical projects over the years, including but not limited to:
A one-man black metal project called Clandestine Blaze
A Rock Against Communism group called Vapaudenristi
A one-man funeral doom metal project called Stabat Mater
A pornogrind project called Creamface
A noise project called Nicole 12
Guest work for bands like Goatmoon, Mgla, and Pagan Skull
Of all the bands listed above, probably Stabat Mater is the only one not embroiled in controversy around white supremacy or Aspa’s somewhat disturbing obsession with taboo/illegal sex acts. For instance, Creamface songs have sported such lovely titles as “Rimjob Teenager” and “Underage Anal Girl,” and Nicole 12 was a project that was apparently centered on the lyrical theme of pedophilia (although Aspa apparently shelved that project after becoming a father in 2011, so… good on him, I guess?).
As for the white supremacy accusations, those most prominently come up in relation to Clandestine Blaze and Vapaudenristi. I won’t go over all the details here since the Finnish Antifa network already went over Aspa’s connections in this beautiful article on their blog. Suffice it to say, though, Aspa’s ties go pretty deep.
For instance, in October of 2016, Vapaudenristi participated in a benefit concert for Jesse Eppu Torniainen, a Neo-Nazi activist sent to prison for the murder of an anti-fascist activist named Jimi Karttunen. The band has also gotten flack for anti-Semitic rhetoric in their lyrics, which seems to be true if Google Translate is working correctly.
Anti-Semitic themes are equally present in the Clandestine Blaze song “Tearing Down Jerusalem” from the 1999 E.P. On the Mission:
War! Strike to the holy city!
Torture the followers of weakening God!
Let the blood stream through dirty streets!
Zionist cancer faces zero tolerence!
Tearing down Jerusalem!
Crushing Zionist power!
Victory of unholy forces!
Granted, Aspa seems to have toned down the anti-Semitism in more recent albums, although that probably has more to do with not wanting to appear too extreme to the unconverted rather than a genuine heel face turn. Indeed, as recently as a 2020 interview with the WordPress blog Excuse the Blood, Aspa identified Pentti Linkola as an influence, a Finnish ecofascist who once said he preferred dictatorships to democracies.
As for his history with Deathspell Omega, the band released their first two albums on Northern Heritage, a record company founded by Aspa in 1999. Ironically enough, though, all of the albums with Aspa reputedly on vocals were released through D.S.O.’s self-publishing label Norma Evangelium Diaboli. Some have argued that someone other than Mikko Aspa is the vocalist, at least since Synarchy, usually Hasjarl, Spica, or Frank Hueso. However, I took the liberty of listening to “Ad Arma! Ad Arma!” from Furnaces and the title track of the 2018 Clandestine Blaze album Tranquility of Death back-to-back, and I am pretty well convinced that Mikko Aspa is indeed the vocalist.
Personal and Concluding Thoughts
I admit that I was pretty excited to talk about this band back toward the beginning of this month, as the band seemed the perfect scary topic for the month of spooks and specters. However, right after I finished the previous article on paranormal triangles, I decided to read that article I linked above outlining Mikko Aspa’s connection to the Neo-Nazi underground, and subsequently became much more conflicted. Am I indirectly supporting fascist movements in the Baltic region by listening to Deathspell Omega? How much in the way of royalties does Aspa receive via his participation in this band?
D.S.O. themselves have stated that their intention was for Furnaces to be interpreted as anti-fascist in a 2019 interview with Bardo Methodology, in which they said that a minority of their contributors stand on opposite ends of the political spectrum from the core French collective “and are therefore irreconcilable political foes.” They also point to the historical friendship between French communist philosopher Louis Aragon, Gaullist Andre Malraux, and fascist Pierre Drieu La Rochelle as a parallel to their relationship with Aspa. However, they fail to mention that Aragon and La Rochelle became enemies when the latter sided with the Vichy French government after the Nazi takeover of Paris in May of 1940.
A part of me does get a sense of schadenfreude listening to Aspa singing the lyrics to Furnaces as his bandmates take the piss out of an ideology he clearly holds dear. But then I wonder if it’s just slightly hypocritical that the band is working with an avowed fascist while writing lyrics about how fascism is the ultimate expression of human evil.
Then again, I feel that the band has been operating on this mantra that opens the Furnaces track “Absolutist Regeneration” since the beginning of their career: “The only truly malignant evil is hope.” Indeed, just by reading the interviews the band gave around the release of Furnaces, they seem to think that humanity is incapable of finding a way out of their inevitable destruction, that fascism or some version of Stalinist Russia or North Korea is the logical endpoint of human progress. Thus, they don’t see collaborating with a known fascist collaborator.
Indeed, any reader who is aware of my previously stated political beliefs might naturally be wondering why I’m giving this band the time of day in the first place. Well, the answer is probably similar to many other people’s fascination with true crime or with violent gangster rappers: humanity is evolutionarily hard-wired to pay attention to dangerous people who might say or do things that may cause them harm.
Deathspell Omega is truly a one-of-a-kind band, for better or for worse. They took a tried and true black metal tradition, bashing Christianity, and took time to actually engage with the religion they were criticizing rather than attack a caricature of it. And while I disagree with most of their conclusions, especially their view of human nature, their lyrics have given me a possible philosophy for the human villains of The Divine Conspiracy to work off of. So maybe there’s some good one can get out of this band.
So, what are your opinions? Am I a terrible person for profiling this band despite it collaborating with a fascist? Is it possible to separate the art from the artist in this case since Aspa has been confirmed not to contribute songwriting in any way? Or is it best for me to just leave this band behind and focus on more wholesome artists? I appreciate any and all comments and responses.
In the meantime, that’s it for this article. Join me next time when I do a P.J.’s Ultimate Playlist Episode on an obscure Scottish progressive rock artist from the 1980s. Until then, have a safe and happy Halloween, and remember: “Judica me… perinde ac cadaver!”
Guess what, beautiful watchers! It’s October! And you know what that means; it’s time to delve into the spooky side of things.
You may recall last February when I last talked about so-called paranormal hotspots that were labeled “triangles” thanks to the infamy of Bermuda’s supposed vortex. In the spirit of Halloween, I wish to continue that globe-trotting adventure by looking at ten more lesser-known paranormal triangles, both to tell you the stories and to see whether any of them can hold up to scientific scrutiny. Let’s not tarry about and jump right in.
1. Bass Strait Triangle (Australia)
Author Jack Loney identified this triangle in his 1980 book Mysteries of the Bass Strait Triangle. The strait has long had a reputation for being treacherous for passing ships, but is this because of supernatural goings-on, or do these disappearances have a more earthly origin? Let us examine some individual incidents to find out:
1797: Bass Strait is first discovered by European explorers after the Sydney Cove wrecks on Preservation Island (its namesake, George Bass, becomes the first European to sail through it the following year while circumnavigating Tasmania, then known as Van Dieman’s Land). Things take a turn for the mysterious when one of the salvage ships, a sloop named Eliza, vanishes during a return trip to Sydney.
February 1858: The Royal Navy brig HMS Sappho vanishes while en route from the Cape of Good Hope to Sydney, with a subsequent search turning up no trace of the ship or her crew. Most scholars believe she foundered in the Bass Strait, either holed by rocks or capsized in a gale (she was last seen off Cape Bridgewater on February 18). HMS Sappho is only one of several ships that went missing in the strait in the 1800s; other notable incidents included the Harlech Castle in 1870.
1901: The SS Federal disappears along with its 22 crew members and its cargo of coal. Its wreck was discovered in 2019.
1906: The German cargo ship SS Frederick Fischer vanishes en route to Tasmania.
September 10, 1920: A schooner named the SS Amelia J disappeared shortly after entering Bass Strait. A barquentine named the SS Southern Cross and an Airco DH.9A aircraft also vanished while searching for her. The wreck of the Southern Cross is the only wreck to have been discovered so far. Witnesses reported strange lights in the skies over Bass Strait around the time of the incidents.
October 21, 1934: A de Havilland DH86 airliner named Miss Hobart inexplicably went missing while flying over Bass Strait, despite being in perfect weather. All eleven people on board were lost with it. Only a small amount of wreckage was ever found on the coast of Victoria. Eerily, much like a similar incident 44 years to the day later, the pilots radioed that the passengers witnessed an “aerial machine” approaching the airliner before all contact was lost.
1935: The Loina, a Holyman airliner, vanishes near Flinders Island with five people aboard. Officially, the cause was human error compounded with the poor design of the craft. However, a small piece on the plane’s floor was among the wreckage recovered, which showed a burned patch several centimeters wide, which someone had attempted to stamp out.
World War II (1939-1945): Several strange incidents were reported by pilots flying over the strait during the war. Seventeen military planes vanished during this period, despite no record of enemy combatants ever coming near the region (official sources blame inexperienced crew flying too close to the ocean’s surface). One Bristol Beaufort bomber flying over the strait in 1944 claimed it was followed by a “dark shadow” for 20 minutes until it suddenly shot up into the sky. A fighter pilot claimed he was followed by a bronze disc-shaped craft in 1942 while investigating local reports of strange lights in the area.
April 6, 1966: Children and school staff in Melbourne witness a huge disc-shaped craft lazily drifting over their cricket field, which they follow until it vanishes over the treeline. Other witnesses later come forward to say that they saw five smaller craft trailing behind it.
1972: A vintage de Havilland Tiger Moth owned by Brenda Hean and Max Price vanishes while en route to Canberra to protest the proposed hydroelectric dam on Lake Pedder. Investigators believe the plane crashed somewhere between the East Coast and Flinders Island and may have been sabotaged by pro-development interests.
October-November 1978: A flap of UFO sightings occurs along the coasts of Tasmania and Victoria. A husband and wife pair of motorists describe a bright light coming down from the sky and following their car on October 9. A month later, a taxi driver in Hobart slams on his brakes when he sees a green light on the road in front of him. The light vanishes when he takes his eyes off the road to tend to his radio, which is suddenly on the fritz. On November 25, a woman reports seeing a “doorway of light” appear in her driveway. Some ufologists have suggested a connection with the following incident in this list…
October 21, 1978: When 20-year-old amateur pilot Frederick Valentich set off from Moorabbin Airport that Saturday evening, he likely had no idea he was about to become the subject of one of the most infamous UFO incidents, not just in Australia but in the entire world. He radioed Melbourne air traffic control at 7:06 to inform them of a strange aircraft that seemed to be following him from about a thousand feet overhead. He described the craft as having a shiny metal surface and had green landing lights on it. Over the next six minutes, he described the craft approaching him from the east and “orbiting” over him. He claimed his Cessna 182 was experiencing engine problems and then said these ominous words about the strange craft: “It’s not an aircraft.” When air traffic control asked Valentich to clarify, all they got in response was what they described as a “metallic scraping sound.” When he failed to arrive at his destination at the King Island Airport, the search was on.
Despite the search covering 1,000 square miles, no trace of the aircraft has been found, although an engine cowl flap belonging to a Cessna 182 washed up on Flinders Island five years later. Theories for what happened to Valentich abound. Some say he faked his death and landed the plane elsewhere. Others say the strange lights he saw were because he was flying the plane upside down without realizing and saw his own lights reflected in the water (something that should have been impossible with the Cessna’s gravity feed fuel system). Others speculate that he may have found himself in a graveyard spiral, in which a pilot thinks he is flying level when they are actually in a banking turn, which they didn’t realize until it was too late. The supposed lights on the UFO were actually the planets Venus, Mars, and Mercury and the star Antares.
True, the graveyard spiral theory is probably far more likely than an alien abduction, but there is still one strange aspect of the Valentich incident that I feel I would be remiss not to discuss. On the same evening as the Valentich incident, a plumber named Roy Manifold was photographing the sunset near the Cape Otway Lighthouse (well within Valentich’s flight path) when he and his son, Jason, heard the sound of a plane overhead. Instead of gradually fading off in the distance, however, Jason claims that the engine’s sound cut off entirely at one point, “as if someone had turned a radio off.” Later, when he and his dad developed the photos, one of them came back like this:
Some other anonymous eyewitnesses came forward later to claim that they saw a plane flying down toward the ground at a 45-degree angle while a green light floated 1,000-2,000 feet above it. They never saw the plane crash. None of this necessarily proves that Valentich was killed or abducted by aliens, but you never know…
December 1979: A yacht named Charleston vanishes while en route to Sydney to join the Sydney-Hobart yacht race. Theories for what happened include wind damaging the mast or a loose container damaging the rudder, leaving the boat helplessly adrift. The family of the owner of the yacht even contacted a clairvoyant who told them the vessel had come ashore on an island south of New Zealand. Whatever the case, no trace of the yacht has ever been found.
Admittedly, the Bass Strait has long held a dangerous reputation for things other than UFOs. The prevailing winds and currents breaking up against King’s Island in the east combined with the strait’s shallow depth (160 feet at the deepest) and numerous reefs and submerged rocks can create very rough seas, especially in bad weather. Still, the strait’s history with UFOs is hard to ignore, especially after the strange phenomena was immortalized in the 2016 TV show The Kettering Incident. The series co-creator, Victoria Madden, has explained in interviews that the show was inspired by several odd incidents that occurred around the north coast of Tasmania while she was growing up. These included missing persons, cars suddenly coming to a halt, “dome objects in the Lake Country,” memory loss, etc. Madden herself recalls a childhood memory where she and her friends witnessed lights hovering over the trees, making a weird noise before they suddenly vanished.
Some have even gone as far as to argue that there may be an underwater UFO base in the region. I’m not going to agree or disagree with this argument, even if I’m a bit on the skeptical side here.
Little Egypt is the colloquial name for the southern third of Illinois, bordered by the Wabash, Ohio, Mississippi, and Missouri Rivers. Often divided from the rest of Illinois by Interstate 64, the region is often renowned for having a distinct cultural identity from the rest of the state, principally due to its association with the antebellum South (for better or for worse). However, several paranormal investigators have also argued that the area is a hotbed of paranormal activity, with a high concentration of haunted buildings, UFOs, and cryptid sightings.
For example, in Madison County, Alton has often been described as “the most haunted town in America,” hosting such hotspots as McPike Mansion, the First Unitarian Church, the Mineral Springs Hotel, and the Milton School. Other haunted locations that one can find in the triangle include (but certainly aren’t limited to) Cave-In-Rock State Park (allegedly home to buried treasure and moaning cries), the Crenshaw House in Equality (ironically home to a place where free blacks were sold into slavery in a reverse Underground Railroad situation), the Coate Mental Health Center in Anna (a mental hospital that burned down twice. Need I say more?), and Lebanon Road in Collinsville (a local legend says that if you pass under all seven bridges on the road at midnight, a portal to Hell will open up!).
As for UFOs, St. Clair County hosted one of the most infamous so-called “black triangle” sightings when, for two hours starting at four in the morning on January 5, 2000, several eyewitnesses (including four police officers) saw a triangle-shaped object flying overhead. They described it as having three white lights on the vertices and a red light in the center. One officer even managed to photograph the object. Even though Skeptoid podcast host Brian Dunning has built a rather compelling case that the “UFO” was nothing more than an advertising blimp, the incident has remained a mainstay in Illinois urban legend, even being referenced in Sufjan Stevens’ landmark 2005 concept album Illinois.
As for cryptids, southern Illinois has played host to several sightings of animals that seem out of place. Out of place big cats seem to be very common in Illinois. Champaign County was plagued by a particularly vicious one in 1963 that killed a lot of livestock, including dozens of chickens. Shawnee National Forest has also been a historical hotspot for big cat sightings. One of the more dramatic reports to come out of this region happened to Mike Bubsy on April 10, 1970. He was tending to engine problems outside Olive Branch in Alexander County when a six-foot-tall black feline attacked him. It only stopped when a passing semi-truck startled it and allowed Bubsy to catch a ride to the hospital.
Phantom kangaroos have also been reported in the region, as have several Bigfoot-type creatures. One particularly alarming encounter occurred near Cairo in the evening hours of July 25, 1972, when Leroy Summers reported seeing a 10-foot hairy white creature standing near the Ohio River levee. The area also boasts its fair share of lake monsters, the most famous being Du Quoin’s Stump Pond Monster that was sighted several times between 1879 and 1968 when the lake was partially drained.
But by far the most infamous and strangest cryptid to come out of Little Egypt is probably the Enfield Horror, which stalked White County in April and May of 1973. On the 25th of that month, Henry McDaniel went to his front door to examine a strange scratching sound. He claims to have found the culprit squatting between two rose bushes. “It had three legs on it, a short body, two short little arms, and two pink eyes as big as flashlights. It stood four and a half feet tall and was grayish-colored.” McDaniel fired on the creature, but it did not seem to be affected by the bullets. It leaped away, covering a distance of fifty feet in three jumps.
The sighting sparked panic, with the police having their hands full arresting would-be monster hunters for hunting violations. The hysteria quickly vanished as suddenly as it first appeared, and nowadays, several skeptics have argued that the townsfolk mistook an escaped exotic pet like a kangaroo or an ape for “a monster from outer space.”
W. Haden Blackman, The Field Guide to North American Monsters (NY, Three Rivers Press, 1998)
3. Ossipee Triangle (New Hampshire)
This one covers a vast swath of the Granite State if this map is to be believed, with the vertices being in Franconia in Grafton County, Ossipee in Carroll County, and Salem in Rockingham County. The whole area is centered on Lake Ossipee and was a sacred area to the indigenous Abenaki tribes. The lake was surrounded by a 100 million-year-old volcano and several glacier-carved kettle lakes. One of these, Snake Pond (formerly known as Mystery Pond), is reputed in local legend to be bottomless. UFOs have been reported diving into it and other deep ponds in the region, which has led some to argue that underwater tunnels connect the ponds.
Indeed, one of the most famous alien abduction incidents in UFO history occurred around the north edge of the triangle in 1961. Portsmouth residents Betty and Barney Hill were returning from a vacation in Canada on September 19 when they spotted a strange light just outside Lancaster around 10:30 in the evening. The craft, which they later described as “pancake-shaped” and covered in red lights, followed them until it caught up with them around Indian Head, near Franconia, and hovered about a hundred feet above them. They observed several humanoid figures in the craft’s windows.
Suddenly, the Hills realized they had lost two hours and were driving near Ashland, about thirty-five miles south. They later recalled that the aliens had taken them on board their ship and physically examined them. When Betty asked the beings where they came from, they showed her a map that astronomers later identified as being near the Zeta Reticuli constellation. Some astronomers have argued that the Hills inadvertently discovered a new star system in the process, although some skeptics, most notably Carl Sagan, disagreed. Indeed, a fair number of skeptics have argued that the whole incident was a hallucination triggered by the stress of being an interracial couple in the early 1960s (Barney was black, Betty was white).
Another notable UFO sighting occurred near Exeter on September 3, 1965, when a hitchhiker named Norman Muscarello witnessed a large red glowing object descending upon two houses. When Muscarello persuaded a police officer to follow him back to the site, they saw the same UFO hovering about a hundred feet off the ground. The incident inspired the “Exeter UFO Festival,” which started as a fundraiser to benefit children’s charities in 2010. New Hampshire was also the site of what is often considered the very first photo ever taken of a UFO, which was taken over Mount Washington in 1870.
Finally, there is the mystery of America’s Stonehenge in North Salem, a thirty-acre archeological site whose origins are hotly debated. It is reputed in local lore to have a pre-Columbian origin and to have been created either by local indigenous tribes or by monks of the Irish Culdee order or even ancient Minoan or Phoenician explorers. However, most archaeologists disagree, as no artifacts from pre-Columbian times have been found in the area. They conclude that the site was built by white settlers in the 18th/19th centuries for farming purposes and that William Goodwin, who purchased the land in 1937, started the fantastical stories to drum up business. Either way, it certainly seemed to attract the attention of horror literature icon H.P. Lovecraft, who may have based his story “The Dunwich Horror” on the megalith.
Dennis William Hauck, Haunted Places: A National Directory
4. Aroostook Triangle (Maine)
This tiny sliver of Aroostook County, Maine, which occupies a 10x25x25 mile sliver of wilderness south of Presque Isle, occupies a rather prominent spot in the work of local folklorist Michelle Souliere. Aroostook is the largest county in New England, which, in Souliere’s eyes, makes it a perfect spot for a colony of Bigfoot to hide. Indeed, the area which she and fellow Mainer cryptozoologist Loren Coleman have dubbed “the Aroostook Triangle” has long been a hotspot of activity commonly associated with Bigfoot lore: wood knocks, snapped trees, large rocks being thrown about, unidentifiable roars, etc.
What follows are a sampling of alleged Sasquatch encounters in Aroostook County collected by Souliere in her book Bigfoot in Maine, presented in chronological order:
c. 1983, E Plantation: An anonymous John Doe claims that he was camping out in his cousin’s backyard when they were woken up by what sounded like rocks being banged together. They went back to sleep, thinking it was a horse in a nearby barn. But when they checked the barn the next morning, the horse wasn’t there.
They had more sleepovers that summer and more weird encounters. Something followed them while they were walking in the woods and growled and ran off when they tried to get a closer look. They later saw a long, humanoid arm reaching over their tent one night after they were woken up by something brushing up against it.
Later in life, John Doe would learn that his sister had once seen an ape-like face peering through her bedroom window, that his brother had seen what he thought was a rock stand up on two legs and walk away, and that one incident in which his mother had ordered him and his siblings back into the house, shotgun in hand, was because she had seen a black shape lurking around the bushes.
May 1990, near Island Falls on Mattawamkeag River: Mike Dunphy Sr. was out on a Memorial Day fishing trip with his son Mike Jr. when a creature walking on two legs and covered in dark brown hair emerged from the woods and crossed an old logging road. They immediately packed up and left and didn’t speak about the incident for years afterward.
May 2007, Moro Plantation: Jeff Kaine was fishing in Green Pond when the peaceful silence was broken by two loud knocks, followed by what sounded like a small tree being snapped in half. Around 7 p.m., Kaine was getting ready to pack it in when a monstrous roar ripped through the evening air. Scared out of his wits, he immediately made a break for his truck and tore out of there. Kaine would later learn that a friend had had large rocks thrown at him during another fishing trip to Green Pond.
Of course, there are probably others, but that’s all I could find from Souliere’s book. Maybe you have your own. Let me know in the comments!
Michelle Souliere and Loren Coleman, Bigfoot in Maine (SC, Charleston, The History Press, 2021)
5. Pag Triangle (Croatia)
This location is a rarity in that it is one of the only paranormal triangles that is an actual, physical triangle. The triangle takes its name from the island that houses it, Pag, and can be found just outside of the small town of Novalja. It was discovered by geologist Zlatko Grabovac in 1999 while surveying the region around Velo Tusto Celo Hill (which means “Big Fat Forehead” in English).
The triangle itself, officially known as the Pag Venture Star, is unusual in several ways. It seems to form a perfect isosceles shape, with two sides measuring 72 feet and another measuring 105 feet. It also consists of rocks of a different structure than those surrounding it, being of a much lighter color. Since science still has yet to explain how the triangle came into existence, many fringe theorists have come up with their own answers.
Some, like Stjepan Zvonaric, have noted that Pag Island seems to be a UFO hotspot and has accordingly suggested that the rocks within the triangle were superheated when an extraterrestrial spacecraft landed on the spot 12,000 years ago, which is the scientists’ best guess on when the triangle was first formed. Some have pointed out the fact that one of the angles of the triangle seems to point to the star Sirius as further proof of this theory.
Others, pointing to a local legend stating that Jesus Himself visited the island after His resurrection, argue that it is a sign from God and that the three vertices symbolize the Holy Trinity. Father Zlatko Sudac, a famous priest with stigmata, even claims that he received his wounds while conversing with a friend about the triangle.
Whatever you believe about the triangle, there is no denying that it is a fairly popular tourist destination, with half a million people having visited in the two decades since its discovery. Several of them have claimed to have experienced unusual activity inside the triangle, including GPS’ turning off or connecting with six satellites at once, batteries on electronic devices spontaneously draining, and overall eerie feelings.
This UFO hotspot, also known as the Welsh Triangle and the Dyfed Triangle, centers on St. Brides’ Bay in the province of Pembrokeshire, located on the tip of Wales’ southern peninsula. Although it was the wave of sightings that occurred in this region in 1977 that really put this area on the ufology radar, at least one prior sighting has also been recorded.
Taking place near the town of Castlemartin in 1952, it involved a Mr. Thomas who was taking a lunchtime stroll on the sand dunes when he noticed something unusual. A group of men was standing over a metallic object that was partially buried in the sand. When Mr. Thomas approached the men, they warned him not to approach any closer, as he was not adequately protected from the deadly rays that the object was giving off. After warning him that Earth was on a self-destructive path and that they had been monitoring the planet for hundreds of years, they told Mr. Thomas the name of the planet they came from, a detail that Thomas had forgotten by the time he finally came forward with his story.
As for the 1977 wave of sightings, as usual, here’s the most notable incidents recorded in chronological order:
February 4: A group of fourteen schoolchildren are playing football outside of Broad Haven Primary School when a yellow cigar-shaped craft lands in a nearby field. Six of them also see a humanoid figure with long ears and a silver suit emerged from the craft. When the headmaster asks the witnesses to draw what they saw, he is struck by the similarity of their drawings. A teacher later comes forward to say she saw a shiny oval-shaped object with a slight dome departing from the same field, making a humming noise as it did so. The same craft allegedly made a repeat appearance at the school on February 17, witnessed by three teachers.
March 13: 13-year-old Steven Taylor sees a domed object land in the field near his house. When he goes outside to investigate, he is approached by a tall humanoid wearing a shiny one piece suit. After he punches at the figure, it vanishes. That same evening, a 17-year-old Milford Haven resident claims she was menaced by a three-foot-tall humanoid standing on her windowsill.
April 7: 64-year-old Cyril John, another Milford Haven resident, is woken up at 5 a.m. by a light shining through his window. He looks out to see an egg-shaped object about four feet wide floating above a nearby field, colored silver-grey with a reddish-orange light on top. Floating beside it is a faceless humanoid wearing what looks like a silver-grey boiler suit. The being and the object hovered like that for 25 minutes before slowly moving off.
April 19: One of the more infamous sightings to occur during this flap happens to Rosa Granville, owner of the Haven Fort Hotel in Little Haven. She was woken by a light shining through her window around 2:30 in the morning. She looked out her window to see a craft shaped like an upside down saucer in a nearby field, spouting flames of all different colors from its underside. The heat was so intense that Granville claims her face felt burnt afterward. She also sees two faceless humanoids with pointed heads next to the craft. The saucer disappears in the time it takes her to gather other witnesses. She investigates the site the following day and discovers that the grass has been compressed and scorched.
April onward: Whatever was behind these incidents seems to have held a grudge against the Coombs family, the owners of Ripperston Farm. The family consisted of Billy, his wife Pauline, and their three children. They experienced numerous incidents throughout 1977 that some paranormal enthusiasts have compared to Utah’s infamous Skinwalker Ranch. These include lights that chased Pauline as she drove the nearby country lanes, whole herds of cattle being transported to different fields in the time it took Billy to brew a cup of tea, electrical items in the house constantly going haywire, and perhaps most disturbingly, a seven-foot faceless humanoid staring through their living room window.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, as there were also several cases of people claiming to have been abducted by the aliens that were haunting the region at the time. The reports were compelling enough that the British Ministry of Defense sent an investigator to see what he could find. He became convinced that the sightings were all the work of a practical joker, something that seems to be backed up by local businessman Glyn Edwards coming forward in 1996 claiming that he was the silver-suited spaceman.
Even so, sightings of cigar-shaped UFOs have continued to trickle out of the region sporadically, and several witnesses have continued to stick by their stories, including the boys from the primary school incident and Rosa Granville.
This sliver of the Scottish lowlands covers the area between the towns of Falkirk, Stirling, and Bonnybridge and lies rather close to the capital at Edinburgh. It has been described as the UFO capital of the world, with 300 sightings being recorded every year!
The sightings in the area seem to date back as far as 1979 in the nearby town of Livingston, when a forestry worker named Robert Taylor was chased by a metallic black flying dome in Dechmont Wood and may have been the victim of alien abduction (he reported being grabbed by metal rods around his hips that pulled him toward the ship before he blacked out). The sightings in the triangle itself would begin in earnest about ten years later:
1989: A firefighting crew is battling a blaze in Gradrum Moss when a red object approaches them. It hovers over them for several minutes before speeding away. Suddenly, a second object approaches them, this time glowing white before it too hovers and then speeds off.
November 12, 1991: Two photographers at the Polmont Reservoir see two flashing lights over Kincardine Bridge. Despite thinking it was a helicopter at first, the pair noticed that it made no sound. The craft approached them, and the pair reported hearing a quiet, pulsing hum.
1992: Local businessman James Walker becomes the subject of the most famous encounter to come out of the triangle. On his way home from work, he encounters a star-shaped UFO that starts following him and eventually cuts him off. As he gets out of his car to take a closer look, the UFO shoots off at blinding speed. It never makes a sound at any point during the encounter.
March 1992: The Sloggett family is out on an early morning walk outside Bonnybridge when they spot a ring of strange lights over a nearby moor. When the family books it back toward their house, a blue football-shaped craft lands in front of them and opens a door, out of which a howling roar bellows.
August 1992: Gary Wood and Colin Wright are driving along the A70 highway through West Lothian near the Harperring Reservoir when a UFO intercepts their car. They suddenly experience a case of missing time lasting two hours. Under hypnosis, they claim to have been taken to an underground base, where they were experimented upon and saw walls lined with people frozen in glass jars.
January 19, 1994: A motorist in the town of Larbert is chased by a white light, which a bystander manages to capture on tape in an 18-second film.
September 1996: An airforce family reports a truly bizarre encounter in Falkland when they claim to have seen a field swarming with ant-like beings seemingly being commanded by taller white entities to make nests out of saliva and hay. They also claim these beings were being teleported out of a black triangle the size of a stadium via an array of bizarre lights.
1999: The town of Gorebridge is claimed to have been placed under siege by UFOs. Reports range from a 737 jet being buzzed by three glowing objects while approaching Edinburgh Airport to two men being chased by a “floating green eye” while looking for Christmas trees near Blinkbonny Mine to an apparent alien being who was photographed standing on someone’s roof.
Again, those are just some of the more infamous sightings. As the 300-a-year figure noted above indicates, there are far more sightings where those came from. There are, of course, many theories as to why this area is such a significant hotspot.
Some have seized upon the Wood-Wright account to posit that there is indeed an underground base in the region out of which the UFOs are operating. Others argue that the area’s rich history has something to do with the sightings. For example, not only did the celebrated Battle of Bannockburn occur within the confines of the triangle, but some legends state that the town of Camelon was the site of the Battle of Camlann, in which King Arthur fought his battle to the death with his bastard half-son Mordred. Not only that, but Midlothian also houses Rosslyn Chapel, which is popularly believed to hide the Holy Grail, among other holy artifacts, within its walls. This legend was popularized by Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, although most scholars agree the story has no basis in fact.
Many ufologists have noted the similarities between alien abduction stories and old legends of encounters with fairies and elves, suggesting that the fair folk were just how people in the Middle Ages and before conceptualized extraterrestrial beings. Indeed, Scotland and other Celtic countries have a long history of fair folk traditions.
Then again, many local residents have accused local leaders of making it all up to turn Bonnybridge and other towns into tourist traps, arguing that the strange craft are just experimental military technology being tested on one of several military bases in the region. That is, admittedly, the most plausible explanation, but one can never really know for sure…
This town is nestled within the southern reaches of the Ural Mountains in the Kishertsky District of Perm Krai. The town is located on ground that was sacred to the indigenous Mansi people, who believed it was a gathering place for gods and spirits. Maybe that explains the wealth of paranormal phenomena that has been recorded in this triangle, also often known as the Perm Anomalous Zone or the M-Zone.
The M-Zone first gained international attention from ufologists in 1983, when Russian UFO enthusiast Emil Bachurin led an expedition into the village’s thick forests. Not only did he witness a purple light rising out of the trees that left behind a patch of melted snow 206 feet across, the team was also chased by orbs of light that burned them with rays and even knocked one of them unconscious.
Over the years, various people have reported mysterious lights in the sky, luminous translucent beings stalking through the trees, sightings of Chuchunya (Russia’s answer to Bigfoot or the Yeti), weather anomalies like strange-colored lightning, disembodied singing voices, malfunctioning compasses and electronics, and watches stopping or even ticking backwards.
Another ufologist expedition in 2005 reported seeing a giant glowing ball above the trees. Chillingly, one of the team members went missing afterwards, and the last photograph taken of him allegedly shows a beam shining on the man from the UFO.
The American TV series Sightings also filmed a segment on the Perm anomalies in the early 90’s, and allegedly had their camp surrounded by orbs of light later that evening. Not only did locals confirm that the mysterious phenomena had long since been accepted as a fact of life among them, but the TV crew was also warned beforehand by government officials that staying more than 24 hours in the M-Zone might be hazardous.
Despite this, there are also several people who believe that the region has healing properties. Sure, ill health effects like headaches, nosebleeds, muscle aches, nausea, and dizziness have been reported. But others have claimed that the unique energies have a refreshing and enlightening effect and can even cure various ailments.
Perhaps the most famous case of the M-Zone’s alleged healing abilities comes from journalist and cosmonaut Pavel Mukhortov. After being turned away from the cosmonaut program due to physical disabilities, Mukhortov traveled to the M-Zone to do a possible story on it. While he didn’t see any UFOs, he and his traveling companions did fall ill. But soon after, they became filled with “an intense sense of well-being,” and claimed to have suddenly had their heads filled with visions and knowledge that seemingly came from nowhere. Mukhortov claims that these effects allowed him to pass the Soviet Space Program with flying colors when he reapplied, and thus finally fulfilled his dream of becoming a cosmonaut.
Whether or not this is because UFOs are drawn to the strange electromagnetic forces endemic to the region, or it’s the electromagnetism combined with infrasound that is causing hallucinations of UFOs, one cannot deny that there is something weird going on in the woods around Molyobka. However, if you want to check it out for yourself, be forewarned; the area is apparently overcrowded with other “pilgrims” seeking answers to the phenomena. Just make sure you’re not placing too much strain on the locals.
This is certainly the smallest triangle I’ve covered in either triangle list in terms of the total area it covers. It spans only a tiny 4 1/2 square mile area of Suffolk County on Long Island, New York, between the towns of Islip and Oakdale and Heckscher State Park. What sets this area apart, according to local urban legend, is its history of UFO sightings. Indeed, with 554 sightings recorded between 2001 and 2015 alone, Suffolk County has been described as the UFO capital of New York. Some notable sightings include:
May 1908: Several residents witness what they describe as “a string of lighted beads” flying across the sky. At one point, the lead UFO stops, causing the others to merge with it and “spin like a Fourth of July pinwheel” before taking off at great speed.
July 1954: An Oakdale resident calls his wife and son, named Tom, out to the yard. They witness three glowing objects in a V formation up in the night sky. Tom remembers seeing a discharge that reminded him of Christmas tinsel pouring out of the back of the objects before they disappeared behind the trees.
May 1997: A female motorist, as well as several police officers and many persons in a nearby building, witness six golden-colored lights hovering in the sky. Oddly enough, several other people in the area later claim they saw nothing unusual.
July 2014: Several Islip residents report seeing a bright orange fireball traveling east-southeast around 10:30 in the evening.
According to ufologist Cheryl Costa, there have been 40 sightings of UFOs within the perimeter of the Great River Triangle between 1918 and 2014. What attracts them to the region is unknown.
This one comes to us from the Philippines. With its three points resting on the Conception municipality in the north, Sibuyan in the southeast, and Dos Hermanos in the southwest, the triangle encompasses the entirety of the Romblon island archipelago, hence the name. The Sibuyan Sea that surrounds the archipelago has gained a nasty reputation over the years for being involved in several of the worst maritime disasters in history, wartime or peacetime. For example:
October 24, 1944: The Battle of the Sibuyan Sea was part of the larger Battle of Leyte Gulf, which is often considered not just the largest naval battle during World War II but the largest battle in the entire history of naval warfare. Out of the 200,000 naval personnel involved in the battle, 15,500 died, all but three thousand on the Japanese side. The Allied Forces’ victory in this battle allowed them to take the Philipinnes back from the Japanese and left the Japanese navy as but a shell of its former glory.
One big reason for this was the loss of the Musashi in the Sibuyan Sea, the first of four major engagements in the Leyte Gulf affair. The Musashi, alongside her sister ship Yamato, was the largest battleship ever constructed, displacing 72,000 tons. Not that it did her much good in the end, as she was sunk by 19 torpedos and 17 bombs in 4430 feet of water with the loss of 1376 of her 2399 man crew. The Yamato would suffer a much worse fate off Okinawa on April 7, 1945: struck by 11 torpedos and six bombs, she capsized and exploded with the loss of 3055 of her 3332 crew.
April 22, 1980: A ferry called the MV Don Juan, belonging to the Neros Navigation shipping company, collides with the oil tanker MT Tacloban City at 1 p.m. between Dos Hermanos and Conception islands. The Don Juan sank with the loss of only 18 lives, although 115 were reported missing. Still, 745 survivors were recorded, which is far more than I can say for the next shipping disaster on this list…
December 20, 1987: The severely overcrowded ferry MV Dona Paz sets out from Tacloban on Leyte en route to Manila. Around 10:30 that evening, the ferry collided with the oil tanker MT Vector in the Tablas Strait off the island of Marinduque and subsequently burst into flames. The ships sank within two hours and four hours, respectively. Although the ferry’s official capacity was 1424 passengers, survivor testimony places the actual number of people aboard closer to 4000. Indeed, out of the only 24 passengers who survived (plus one crew member), only five were recorded in the ship’s manifest. Current estimates place the death toll over 4300, making the Dona Paz incident the worst peacetime shipping disaster in history.
June 21, 2008: The Romblon archipelago suffers another deadly ferry disaster, this time thanks to Typhoon Fengshen. The MV Princess of the Stars was on a voyage from Manila to Cebu City when the typhoon, then a Category Two storm, unexpectedly changed course. The ferry was caught in the middle of it, and after being battered by the stormy seas for twelve hours, it capsized around one p.m. off the municipality of San Fernando on Sibuyan Island. The heavy seas prevented any rescue ships from reaching the foundering vessel for another twelve hours. By the time help finally came, only 56 of the 870 people on board were left alive.
So far, there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly mysterious about this triangle. Indeed, as the Philippine Coast Guard has pointed out, there hasn’t been much we’ve talked about in this entry that couldn’t have been caused by typhoons, high tides, hidden rocks or reefs, or navigational errors. That is unless you think Lolo Amang is somehow involved.
Lolo Amang can be described as the Philippines’ answer to the Flying Dutchman. He reportedly sails the waters around Romblon in a golden ship so shiny that it can be seen from a mile away. Those who approach close enough have reported seeing a massive party on the decks, full of food, music, and fair-skinned dancing women. Indeed, if we believe some eyewitness accounts from the MV Don Juan incident, the ships collided because the Don Juan’s captain was steering to avoid colliding with Lolo Amang’s ship.
Of course, many are inclined to believe that the Lolo Amang legend is nothing more than a sailor’s fairy tale born either from booze or an attempt to escape liability for a shipping accident. Still, legends of strange incidents in the region seem to date back to the Spanish colonies in the 16th century, with many galleons plying the Manila-Acapulco route leaving offerings to the spirits and mermaids living in the cursed seas around Sibuyan.
Who knows? Maybe the age of myths from the indigenous tribes of the Philippines is still alive and well in the seas around Romblon.
And there you have it; ten more paranormal triangles profiled and examined! I will most definitely be returning to this subject again at a later date. I’d like to determine whether the Vile Vortices are really that vile and to examine some famous incidents in the Bermuda Triangle to see if they really are all that strange. But for this Halloween, be prepared for me to introduce you to one of the most mysterious and terrifying Satanic black metal bands ever to exist.
Welcome to my new multi-part series on this blog! You could view this in some ways as a continuation of my “How Anarchism Works” post that I wrote way back around the time I first started this blog. I still think it holds up splendidly as an excellent introduction to the kind of things that anarchists like myself believe in.
However, I do feel there is one big issue with the piece as a whole: It’s far too narrow in scope, as it doesn’t cover the beliefs of every different strand of anarchist thought. In “How Anarchism Works,” I mostly only covered the strand known as “anarcho-communism” and its closely related partner “anarcho-syndicalism.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing. For starters, social anarchism, of which the above-stated ideologies are a part, is the most popular anarchist ideology. And, of course, trying to cover the beliefs of all anarchist doctrines would turn the post into a book, and that would be far beyond the scope of someone like myself who only discovered this stuff mere months before I started this blog.
For these reasons, I have decided to start a series dedicated to individually examining the different ideologies of the political left to see how they compare and contrast with one another. This won’t be restricted to just the libertarian socialist left, however. I also want to examine several leftist ideologies that don’t fall under the anarchist umbrella. I want to understand, for example, how the Marxist-Leninists differ from the Maoists, or Stalinists from Trotskyists, or what separates collectivist anarchism from mutualism. This is just as much for my benefit as for my readers since I’m still a complete noob at this myself. I fear that my affinity for anarcho-communism might make me somewhat biased in my coverage of several of these ideologies, especially non-anarchist ones. However, I still need to know, and I want to share whatever knowledge I have gained with whoever might be interested in hearing it.
But enough about explaining my motivations for starting this series. For now, let us begin with the very first ideology I wish to profile in this series: anarcho-primitivism.
Anarcho-primitivism is often considered to be the most extreme wing of the larger “green anarchism” movement. Green anarchism (which also includes schools of thought like anarcho-naturism, green syndicalism, and social ecology) is often contrasted with classical anarchism (sometimes referred to as “red anarchism”). Green anarchists tend to argue that classical anarchists do not place enough emphasis on the human relationship with the natural world and that we must think about how we may liberate the non-human plants and animals of the world from the same hierarchical forces that led humans to dominate other humans.
Anarcho-primitivists (who I will call “an-prims” for short from this point) go a bit further than that. Their basic thesis is that the problems with human civilization are rooted in the very creation of civilization itself. Specifically, they believe that the shift from hunter-gatherer to agricultural societies during the Neolithic Revolution is at the root of the widespread coercion, social alienation, and social stratification that socialists of every stripe want to see eliminated from human society.
As such, an-prims advocate for eliminating all technology developed after the advent of agriculture and especially after the Industrial Revolution in favor of hand tools, minimalist housing, and wild food sources. It is from an-prims, as well as the green anarchist movement as a whole, that we get the term “rewilding,” which refers to the process of undoing not only the domestication that humans inflicted on wild plants and animals during the Neolithic Revolution but also the domestication that agricultural (and later industrial) societies have inflicted on humanity.
Suppose you want a picture of what an ideal an-prim society might look like. In that case, one essay I found in The Anarchist Library quotes a passage from Chuck Palahniuk’s classic novel Fight Club:
Picture yourself planting radishes and seed potatoes on the fifteenth green of a forgotten golf course. You’ll hunt elk through the deep canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center, and dig clams next to the skeleton of the Space Needle leaning at a forty-five degree angle. We’ll paint the skyscrapers with huge totem faces and goblin tikis, and everything what’s left of mankind will retreat to empty zoos and lock themselves in cages as protection against the bears and big cats and wolves that pace and watch us from outside the cage bars at night.
Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club, 1996 (pgs. 125-126)
Now, eliminating technology doesn’t necessarily mean “literally everything we’ve created since 12,000 BCE needs to be destroyed.” The primitivist view of technology tends to be more ambiguous than outright evil. They don’t tend to think that it’s their duty to take the destruction of modern civilization into their own hands. They tend to believe that our current technology-based society is inherently unsustainable and prone to collapse any day now. When that happens, they see themselves being there to lead the wayward sons and daughters of Mother Earth into a new and more harmonious age.
History and Prominent Figures
Some have argued that the roots of anarcho-primitivism go back to Henry David Thoreau’s classic Transcendentalist work Walden which advocates for a self-sufficient lifestyle in harmony with nature in opposition to the then-current Industrial Revolution. Thoreau’s work (and that of Leo Tolstoy and Elisee Reclus) would influence the anarcho-naturist movement in the early 1900s, which shocked more conservative onlookers in Europe and Cuba with their proclivities toward nudism and free love.
In the United States, an-prim is generally best known for its association with the Philadelphia-based MOVE organization and Ted Kaczynski, better known as the Unabomber. MOVE, founded in 1972 by John Africa (born Vincent Leaphart), can be understood as the missing link between the Black Panthers and the naturalist communalism of the hippie movement. It is especially infamous for its involvement in the May 13, 1985 incident in which the Philadelphia Police Department dropped C-4 explosives on a house with thirteen MOVE members (six of them children) holed up inside, John Africa being one of them. Not only did the ensuing fire kill all but two of the MOVE members (Africa being one of them), but the fire department simply let it burn until sixty-five houses in the surrounding neighborhood burned with it. Unsurprisingly, subsequent investigations and lawsuits found that the city had used excessive force and violated the MOVE members’ Fourth Amendment rights.
As for Kaczynski, his writings, especially the 1995 essay “Industrial Society and Its Future,” were embraced by an-prims for its core thesis that the Industrial Revolution ushered in a harmful process that destroyed nature and human freedom by making them slaves to advanced technology. As such, his bombing campaign was his way of attempting to topple this industrialized society to mitigate the devastation it wrought. However, even though he was friends with prominent an-prim John Zerzan for several years, Kaczynski has criticized the primitivist movement as having an overly romanticized view of hunter-gatherer cultures, as well as leftists politics as a whole for, in his view, trying to replace the current organized, technological society with a different, collectivist one. As such, several eco-fascists like the Christchurch and El Paso shooters have cited Kaczynski as an inspiration, although Kaczynski has also condemned fascism as a “kook ideology.”
From what I’ve gathered, the most popular writers in the field of anarcho-primitivism are the aforementioned John Zerzan and Derrick Jensen (Daniel Quinn’s 1992 novel Ishmael also seems to be highly regarded amongst their ranks). Zerzan is best known for his essay collections, including a 1994 compilation of his own writings titled Future Primitive and Other Essays and 2005’s Against Civilization: Readings and Reflections, which collects writings of others who have influenced primitivist thought.
Derrick Jensen, for his part, is probably best known for his two-volume book Endgame, published in 2006, in which he advocates for the overthrow of our unsustainable civilization through violence, in a similar manner to the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. I confess that I haven’t read either of these men’s work, although even with the somewhat cursory research I’ve done on this philosophy, I feel comfortable in sharing my opinions on what I’ve seen.
As someone with strong romanticist leanings, I will admit that there is a certain appeal in the prospect of going back to a bygone age where humanity lived in harmony with nature instead of trying to strangle it into submission. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen abandoned houses or other buildings on the side of the road during a drive in the country and wished we would just let the buildings rot and let the lots they lie on be reabsorbed back into Gaia’s bosom. But when looking at the primitivists’ ultimate end goal, my rational side immediately kicks back and says, “Now hold your horses there, buddy”!
First of all, there’s no way of getting around the fact that achieving the kind of civilizational collapse that an-prims seek would undoubtedly condemn millions, if not billions, to premature death. True, an-prims generally don’t want to perpetrate deliberate genocide to achieve a Malthusian cull of human overpopulation. Still, the simple fact remains that they want to abolish the current technological infrastructure that has made modern living standards possible. Do an-prims seriously believe that humanity will just give up indoor plumbing just like that?
This brings me to my second significant objection: I find the entire foundation of the primitivist worldview, that all technological development since the Neolithic Revolution has been nothing but bad for humanity and the world, to be ridiculous on the face of it. I mentioned indoor plumbing above, and the modern medical system is another thing that has benefited humanity (well, at least when it’s not driven by profits like here in America). Yes, technology has several bad effects, like war and the harmful effects of social media, but it’s not civilization itself that is to blame here. It is the capitalist perversion of it, seeking human suffering and misery and ecological collapse on a scale we’ve never seen for the sake of the ruling class’s bank accounts.
Finally, an-prims don’t seem to realize (or don’t care) that systemic racism and classism inherent in the capitalist system would mean that marginalized communities would be disproportionally affected by the kind of civilizational collapse that the primitivists advocate for. Indeed, not only has the an-prim movement as a whole faced several accusations of transphobia in the past, but it often seems disturbingly easy to draw a direct line between anarcho-primitivism and eco-fascism, even if, as stated above, an-prims aren’t seeking deliberate genocide or to deny certain ethnic groups resources so the “superior race” can keep them for themselves.
All that said, though, I generally don’t think the an-prims are a significant threat to the world in the same way that fascism as a whole is. Even many an-prims seem to be self-aware that their philosophy is far too extreme even for most leftists and that it has more utility as a critique of late-stage capitalism than a practical alternative to it.
I’m still doggedly in the anarcho-communist camp myself, but I’m by no means dogmatic about it. Anyone who wants to make their own communes based on their own philosophies are free to do with them as they wish. Make it Marxist-Leninist if you want, or black separatist, or even anarcho-primitivist. I really don’t care. I just care about overthrowing the capitalist system so we can finally be free to make those choices for ourselves.
So that was my first entry in this new series about leftist ideologies. Let me know how well I did, and join me for the next episode in the series. I haven’t decided what the next philosophy I will discuss is yet, although I have been leaning toward Marxism-Leninism. We’ll see about that, but first, Halloween is coming, so I will be delving back into the mysterious world of paranormal triangles for the next blog post. Until then, stay golden, my beautiful watchers!
Today on P.J.’s Ultimate Playlist, we cover one of the most (in)famous bands to come out of the late seventies post-punk movement. Post-punk is an umbrella term used to describe several different styles of music that tried to apply punk rock’s energy and DIY stylings to genres not necessarily within the parameters of rock, like electronica, jazz, funk, dance music, etc. The movement produced numerous bands of note, from Siouxsie and the Banshees, Public Image Ltd., and Pere Ubu to Devo, the Talking Heads, The Cure, The Fall, and Gang of Four. It was not only the starting point of a surprising number of commercially successful bands, like U2, R.E.M., and Depeche Mode, it also helped influence even more experimental genres like goth rock, no wave, and industrial.
However, the band I want to focus on today is best known for the life of its lead singer, who died tragically at a far too young age and thus cast a shadow not just on the band member’s reputations but also on the history of post-punk as a whole. So let’s talk about Ian Curtis and the genre he helped define.
The band was conceived in the town of Salford in Greater Manchester, England, after childhood friends Bernard Sumner (guitars) and Peter Hook (bass) attended a Sex Pistols concert on June 4, 1976. After acquiring the talents of Stephen Morris on drums and Ian Curtis on vocals, the group initially chose the name Warsaw, after the David Bowie song “Warszawa.” However, the group soon decided to rename themselves to avoid confusion with an obscure punk group from London called Warsaw Pakt. Their new name, Joy Division, raised some eyebrows at the time since it was inspired by sex slavery programs run in Nazi concentration camps. This, combined with the illustration of a Hitler Youth prominently displayed on the cover of their debut EP, An Ideal for Living, led to accusations of Nazi sympathies.
But this minor controversy didn’t deter local TV personality Tony Wilson from signing the band to his independent Factory Records label shortly after. The band would go on to release two albums with Factory. Unknown Pleasures was released on June 15, 1979, followed by Closer, released on July 18, 1980. The non-album single “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” released the previous month, became their first chart hit, reaching the 13th spot on the UK singles chart.
Sadly though, Ian Curtis would not live to experience this success. Ian had epilepsy, which would often cause him to experience seizures in the middle of a concert. This condition did not mix well with the band’s relentless touring schedule, and Ian quickly drove himself to exhaustion. Bouts of insomnia, alcoholism, and a failing marriage finally combined to send him beyond the breaking point. His wife, Deborah, found his body hanging in his apartment on May 18, 1980, with the album The Idiot by Iggy Pop playing on the turntable and Werner Herzog’s Stroszek playing on the TV. He was only 23 when he died.
Both albums would go on to influence the alternative rock scenes on both sides of the Atlantic. Joy Division itself had made a pact to change their name if any member left. Thus, after recruiting Stephen Morris’ partner Gillian Gilbert as a new guitarist/keyboardist, they regrouped as the seminal new wave group New Order.
But what exactly was it about Joy Division’s sound that made them so influential to future bands as diverse as The Smiths, Radiohead, the Pet Shop Boys, and the Smashing Pumpkins. Maybe I can do my best to explain as I examine the opening track of Closer, a stark and riveting piece of music titled “Atrocity Exhibition.”
The song takes its title from the experimental anthology novel The Atrocity Exhibition, written by J.G. Ballard and published in 1970. Inspired by recent tragedies like the Kennedy assassination and his own wife’s sudden death from pneumonia, the book attracted controversy for its sexually charged nervous breakdown of a plot, which sees the narrator fantasizing his way through several different roles and scenarios to try to make sense of the chaotic world events he’s living through. Ian Curtis only read the novel after he had written the majority of the lyrics, however.
When listening to the song, one may scratch their head, wondering why the band chose this of all songs to open the album. It sounds nothing like anything that Joy Division has done before, be it the straight punk of An Ideal for Living or the dirges on Unknown Pleasures that sound like Black Sabbath minus Tony Iommi’s heaving metallic crunch. Granted, the calm and steady bass riff sounds like business as usual, as does Ian Curtis’ vocals (albeit a bit more strained than usual).
Stephen Morris’ drums, on the other hand, sound much more tribal and African inspired than the more straight-ahead beats of “Shadowplay” and “New Dawn Fades.” This chaotic atmosphere is further reinforced by the guitar work, which dispenses with recognizable riffs and instead simply bangs away with random screeching, clattering, and scraping sounds that might sound more at home with future noise rock groups like Swans, Big Black, or The Jesus and Mary Chain. This may have something to do with the fact that bassist Peter Hook and guitarist Bernard Sumner switched instruments for this track. The result, as TV Tropes put it, sounds “like a chorus [read: cacophony] of deformed souls moaning in agony.”
Martin Hannett’s production, which shaped the sound of both albums, is the final piece that brings it all together. His cavernous and atmospheric production style has been widely praised for how well it complements Ian’s tales of isolation and mental torment. However, Sumner and Hook hated it at the time mainly because they thought it was too far a departure from their more aggressive live sound. On the other hand, Morris and Curtis liked what they heard and thought it would be asking a bit too much for Hannett to make an exact copy of their live sound.
The lyrics seem to be Curtis spelling out his view of society and human nature, with a chorus that solely consists of the phrase “This is the way, step inside.” What exactly is Curtis beckoning the listener to see? Allow the first verse to illustrate:
Asylums with doors open wide,
Where people had paid to see inside.
For entertainment they watch his body twist;
Behind his eyes, he says, "I still exist."
This verse likely references the practice of 19th century Englanders to visit mental asylums to watch the struggles of the mentally ill inmates, as if they were animals caged up in a zoo. It also has a much more personal meaning for Curtis related to his epilepsy. While he was initially open about his diagnosis, he started to become paranoid that much of the band’s audience was there hoping Curtis would have a seizure on stage. It’s certainly not hard to see how Ian could draw a connection between such sick ways of getting entertainment, given the continued stigmatization of those with mental and developmental disorders.
The darkness and nihilism only grow more in scale as the song progresses. The second verse adds to the asylum inmate’s ordeal:
In arenas he kills for a prize,
Wins a minute to add to his life,
But the sickness is drowned by cries for more;
Pray to God, make it quick, watch him fall.
Here, Ian reaches further back in history to the gladiator games of ancient Rome for another case of humans being entertained by atrocities, especially those the ruling class considers so far beneath them as to be barely even human.
After this point, Ian’s narration seems to take the form of a godlike outside observer, watching with glee as the lower classes of humanity struggle against the powers that be, only to be knocked back down into the stations their rulers have chosen for them and slaughtered if they refuse to stay put.
You'll see the horrors of a faraway place,
Meet the architects of law face to face,
See mass murder on a scale you've never seen,
And all the ones who try hard to succeed.
The song ends with this spine-chilling parting message from the omniscient narrator:
And I picked on the whims of a thousand or more,
Still pursuing the path that's been buried for years.
All the dead wood from jungles and cities on fire,
Can't replace or relate, can't release of repair.
Take my hand and I'll show what was and will be.
Here, the narrator seems to admit that he’s been orchestrating these atrocities from behind the scenes and argues that these atrocities will always plague humanity for as long as they continue to exist as a species. The verse takes even darker personal implications for Ian’s mental health at the time if one interprets the last line as an answer to this line from the Unknown Pleasures track “Disorder”:
I've been waiting for a guide to come
And take me by the hand.
Those familiar with my political beliefs probably already know where this is going: late-stage capitalism and America’s cultural takeover of the world. It’s hard not to draw parallels between the third verse and America’s forever wars (“See mass murder on a scale you’ve never seen”), its ongoing problems with racism and police brutality (“Meet the architects of law face to face”), and the rigid class divides enforced by the moneyed classes (“And all the ones who tried hard to succeed”).
I can certainly relate to the last line of the first verse (“Behind his eyes, he says ‘I still exist'”) as a person on the autism spectrum. In a society that looks down on the neurodivergent, it’s hard for me not to be self-conscious about my disorder. I usually keep it secret from my coworkers and friends out of fear that they may simply dismiss me as a “retard.”
I feel like Ian Curtis might have been having the same thoughts I’m having right now when he wrote this song. Indeed, many of the lyrics in the last two verses seem to be referencing various capitalism-induced crises that have only gotten worse in the four decades since his death, from the cycle of poverty to the destruction of the environment (“All the deadwood from jungles and cities on fire”). He had previously talked about the bloody history at the roots of the current global order in “Dead Souls”:
Where figures from the past stand tall
And mocking voices ring the halls.
Imperialistic house of prayer;
Conquistadors who took their share.
Fortunately, I have faith that there is a way out, and it lies in what the fourth verse refers to as “pursuing the path that’s been buried for years.” You can call that path whatever you want; Daoism, anarchism, socialism, paganism, the indigenous peoples’ ways buried by the tides of imperialistic conquest. There is no need to surrender to the defeatist attitude that Mark Fisher named “capitalist realism.” We can fight this, and we should.
And that’s all I have to say about the song “Atrocity Exhibition.” Next time, I will be starting a new series where I will dive into various leftist ideologies to teach my readers (and myself) how they would run a post-capitalist world. So until next time, stay safe, beautiful watchers, and rest in peace, Ian Curtis, wherever you may be.
It was, without a doubt, one of the worst tragedies to happen to the United States since the end of World War II. Twenty years ago, on September 11th, 2001, 19 Islamic extremists, employed by the terrorist organization al-Qaeda, wrested control of four American jet airliners from their pilots and proceeded to cut a swath of destruction that would leave nearly 3,000 innocent Americans dead. Two of the jets slammed into New York City’s iconic Twin Towers at the World Trade Center, both of which soon collapsed. Another jet crashed into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. Yet another was presumably headed for a target in Washington D.C. but ended up crashing in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania after the passengers heroically fought back against their captors. In the aftermath, the U.S. government took the offensive, declaring war on terror that resulted in some successes, not the least of which was the assassination of al-Qaeda’s founder, Osama bin Laden.
That is the official story, but some Americans believe the whole event was a false-flag operation; that is, an operation made to look like it was perpetrated by someone other than the actual perpetrator. In other words, the U.S. government carried out the attacks, not Middle Eastern terrorists. In honor of the twentieth anniversary of the attacks, I would like to take some time to debunk some common myths about that infamous day, mostly from the 9/11 Truth movement but also some myths spread by the U.S. government itself in the wake of the attacks.
First of all, though, I feel it is important to examine what the Truthers think the government’s motives were in murdering its own citizens in such a barbaric manner. According to Monte Cook in his book The Skeptic’s Guide to Conspiracy Theories, “a poll in 2007 indicated that about 5% of Americans believed that the U.S. government was involved with the attacks in some way.” One page on 911truth.org titled “40 Reasons to Doubt the Official Story of 9/11” lists several possible motives, including but not limited to “The Need for a New Pearl Harbor” (the government had been waiting for an excuse to invade the Middle East and achieve “worldwide military hegemony”), “Perpetual War on Terror” (so the government can attack anyone it perceives as an enemy), and “Resource Wars” (so that the government can more easily obtain oil from the rich fields of the Middle East). But as the old saying goes, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and unfortunately, much of the Truthers’ so-called “evidence” simply does not hold up to scrutiny.
1. Flights 11 and 175 were unmanned military drones.
According to the official story, American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower at 8:46 a.m., leading to its collapse at 10:28. United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower at 9:03, leading to its collapse at 9:59. This led to the deaths of over 2,700 people, including the terrorists and other occupants of the planes. This account is backed up by cockpit recordings, mobile phone calls from passengers, and the simple fact that none of those passengers or crew returned home.
But that hasn’t stopped Truthers from arguing that several photographs of Flight 175 show an anomaly under the base of the right wing that could be construed as a missile, bomb, or piece of equipment consistent with something one might find on an air-refueling tanker. One of these photographs is Rob Howard’s infamous photograph of Flight 175’s final descent toward the South Tower (pictured above).
However, when Popular Mechanics sent the photograph to be analyzed by Ronald Greely, director of the Space Photography Laboratory at Arizona State University, he came away with a much different conclusion. He discovered that the “pod” was actually the right wing faring, a pronounced bulge common to all Boeing 767s which contains the landing gear. It was simply a trick of the sunlight glinting off it that gave it an exaggerated look.
Some other Truthers have seized on statements by witnesses of Flight 175’s crash, perhaps most notably that by FOX employee Marc Birnbach, to claim that there were no windows on the planes that crashed. They also point to video footage that apparently shows that the planes had no windows.
Of course, these claims ignore the fact that a) Birnbach was nowhere near the WTC site when the plane crashed, b) that the video footage only seems to show no windows because of low resolution, and c) we have photographic evidence of windows in the plane wreckage.
2. Flight 93 was shot down.
United Airlines Flight 93 was the last plane to crash that day, slamming upside down into a field that had once been a coal strip mine at 10:03 a.m. The official story was that the passengers fought back against the hijackers, sacrificing themselves to stop the plane from reaching Washington D.C.
But the Truthers have come to believe that inconsistencies in the evidence suggest that Flight 93 was brought down by a heat-seeking missile. For example, they argue that there was no way that one of the plane’s engine fans could have ended up 300 yards south of the crash site unless there was a pre-crash breakup. This ignores the fact that the plane was heading south at the point of impact, meaning that it’s perfectly reasonable to suspect that the force of the impact threw it that far.
Other Truthers have pointed out the presence of wreckage floating in Indian Lake, which they claim should be impossible because a) Indian Lake is six miles from the crash site, b) the plane crashed west southwest of the lake, and c) a cold front moving from south to north was passing through the area, meaning that the wreckage would have had to travel perpendicular to the wind.
The problem is that none of these statements are true. Indian Lake is only 1 1/2 miles away from the crash site, the plane came down to the northwest of the lake, and the wind was blowing in the same direction in which the plane was traveling. Therefore, lightweight debris finding its way to the lake’s surface is perfectly consistent with the official account.
Of course, if Flight 93 was downed by a heat-seeking missile, one must wonder if any other planes were around to fire it. Truthers have pointed to two candidates: a mysterious white jet seen in the area shortly after the crash and a General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon piloted by North Dakota Air Guard Major Rick Gibney. Retired Army Colonel Donn de Grand-Pre made the latter accusation on Alex Jones’ radio show in 2004.
First of all, the white jet was a Dassault Falcon 20 business jet owned by the apparel and footwear company VF Corp. that happened to be in the area at the time and was asked to survey the crash site by the FAA.
As for Lieutenant Colonel (not Major) Rick Gibney, he was indeed flying an F-16 that morning, but he was nowhere near Shanksville. He first traveled from Fargo to Bozeman, Montana, to pick up Ed Jacoby Jr., the director of the New York State Emergency Management Office, and then flew him to Albany so he could coordinate the 17,000 rescue workers engaged in the state’s response to the attacks on the Twin Towers. Jacoby, in particular, had some nasty words for those implicating Gibney in the plane’s crash:
It disgusts me to see this because the public is being misled. More than anything else it disgusts me because it brings up fears. It brings up hopes- it brings up all sorts of feelings, not only to the victims’ families but to all the individuals throughout the country, and the world for that matter. I get angry at the misinformation out there.”
Ed Jacoby Jr., Interview with Popular Mechanics, Feb. 3 2005.
So basically, the theory that Flight 93 was shot down has itself been shot down. Ironic, isn’t it?
3. The military was ordered to stand down.
This myth comes from the Truthers’ lack of comprehension of how the U.S. military could have possibly let these attacks go unimpeded. Indeed, considering the fact that there were no less than 28 Air Force bases within range of the four hijacked flights, it’s no wonder that some conspiracists suspect foul play. The only logical explanation, they say, is that NORAD either issued a stand-down order or deliberately delayed the scrambling of the fighter jets to allow the attacks to proceed.
The problem with this theory is that it assumes that NORAD and Air Traffic Control had systems in place to automatically warn those on the ground of planes going off course. The truth was that there was no such system in place before the events of September 11th, especially since there had been no hijackings in American airspace since 1979. As Major Douglas Martin, public affairs officer of NORAD said, Air Traffic Control “had to pick up the phone and literally dial us.”
Not helping matters was the fact that, except for Flight 175, the transponders on all the planes were turned off by the hijackers, which made it extremely difficult for ATC to track down the missing planes, especially in some of America’s busiest air corridors. Not to mention that NORAD’s radar only looked outside of U.S. airspace for threats (remember: not since 1979).
That should also explain why no military jets intercepted the flights before they crashed, and even if they could actually find the planes, they wouldn’t have reached them in minutes, as conspiracists claim. Take the only NORAD intercept of a civilian plane in the previous decade, for instance. In October 1999, a Learjet belonging to golfer Payne Stewart experienced a cabin decompression, rendering all six passengers and crew unconscious. It took an F-16 intercept about one hour and 22 minutes to reach the derelict plane, mostly because supersonic flight was forbidden on intercepts. The plane eventually crashed in a field in Edmunds County, South Dakota, after it ran out of fuel.
Keep in mind that there were only 14 fighter jets on alert over U.S. airspace on September 11th. Also, keep in mind that the warning time that NORAD got before each flight reached their targets was eight minutes for Flight 11, nothing for Flight 175, three minutes before for Flight 77, and three minutes after for Flight 93. It really shouldn’t be a mystery why the military was so slow to respond.
4. The Twin Towers’ collapse was a controlled demolition.
The reason why the Twin Towers eventually collapsed should seem fairly straightforward. Two large jet airliners loaded with fuel crashed into them, virtually gutting the interiors and starting fires that weakened the structures to the point that they could no longer stand. But conspiracy theorists are convinced that the crashes alone could not have brought the towers down. They insist that the crashes were covering for a controlled demolition project.
One piece of evidence they cite is the extensive damage documented in the lobbies of both Towers shortly after the planes hit, especially by Jules Naudet in his acclaimed documentary 9/11 that came out the following March. At first glance, it doesn’t make sense how impacts on the 94th-98th floor of the North Tower and the 78th-84th floor of the South could wreak havoc on the buildings’ lobbies. But keep in mind that the burning fuel carried by both jets would have inevitably started flowing downward after the initial impacts. Also, the impacts would have most certainly severed elevator cables, leading to several of them plunging all the way down to the ground floor. Indeed, Naudet even saw people on fire in the lobby, which didn’t make it into the final film for obvious reasons.
Conspiracists also insist that the fire couldn’t have brought down the Towers because the melting point of steel (2,750 degrees Fahrenheit) was higher than the highest temperatures recorded in the buildings (1,832 degrees). However, experts agree that the steel frames didn’t need to melt to make the Towers give way; they just had to lose their strength. At 1,832 degrees, the steel in the frames lost 90% of its strength, which wasn’t helped by the fact that the impact of the jets likely blasted the fireproofing insulation off the beams.
Other conspiracists point to strange puffs of debris being ejected from the Towers as they collapsed, like in the above photo. They insist that only explosive devices, not the force of the collapsing buildings, could have created those puffs. However, as Popular Mechanics points out, “Like all office buildings, the WTC Towers contained a huge volume of air. As they pancaked, all that air, along with concrete and other debris pulverized by the force of the collapse, were ejected with enormous energy.”
Yet another piece of evidence cited by conspiracists is the presence of iron-rich spheres found among the dust clouds kicked up by the collapse. They claim that these spheres could only have been produced by temperatures hotter than a typical office fire, such as a thermite charge explosion. However, other engineers have pointed out that thermite reacts far too slow to be a practical tool in building demolition. Also, the type of iron-rich spheres found in the dust of the Towers can be produced by temperatures much lower than Truthers claim.
5. WTC 7 is the smoking gun for the demolition theory.
A little-known fact about the World Trade Center complex was that it didn’t just consist of the Twin Towers. There were seven buildings at the WTC site, all of which were destroyed or damaged beyond repair by the attacks. WTC 7, in particular, interests conspiracists because of how it collapsed without the aid of burning jet fuel. Indeed, it’s not unusual to see Truthers claiming its collapse as the smoking gun for their controlled demolition theory.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) begs to differ: “…[T]here was, in fact, physical damage to the south face of building 7. On about a third of the face to the center and to the bottom-approximately 10 stories- about 25% of the depth of the building was scooped out.” The problem was exacerbated by an unusual design which caused columns and trusses near the damaged areas to support an impossibly large amount of weight. And if that wasn’t bad enough, a fire on the fifth floor burned for seven hours until the building collapsed at 5:21 p.m., fed by diesel fuel that many tenants in the building used for their generators.
Perhaps Popular Mechanics puts it best: “WTC 7 might have withstood the physical damage it received or the fire that burned for hours, but those combined factors- along with the building’s unusual construction- were enough to set off a chain reaction collapse.”
6. The fact that no steel-framed building had ever collapsed due to fire proves demolition was involved.
There are two main reasons why this argument doesn’t hold up. First of all, the argument that no steel-framed high-rises have ever collapsed due to fire is simply not true. There have been plenty of steel-framed buildings that have collapsed due to fire, even before 9/11. Some examples, in chronological order, include:
1967: The heavily steel-constructed McCormick Place exhibition hall collapsed only 30 minutes after a small electrical fire broke out.
February 1991: Firefighters evacuated the 38-story One Meridian Plaza in Philadelphia due to fear that the fire compromised the structure. While it did not collapse, it was still written off as a total loss and remained abandoned until it was demolished in 1998. Three firefighters died of smoke inhalation.
December 20, 1991: Four firefighters are killed when part of a floor from a burning unprotected steel-frame building in Brackenridge, Pennsylvania, collapses on top of them.
May 10, 1993: The Kader Toy Factory fire in the Sam Phran district of Thailand’s Nakhon Pathom province claims 188 lives and injures a further 469, thus making it the worst industrial factory fire in history. The disaster is exacerbated by the fact that the doors were locked and fire escapes not even built, but by the fact that the steel frames holding up the facilities’ three buildings were uninsulated, causing one of them to collapse.
January 28, 1997: The state-of-the-art Sight and Sound Theater in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, collapsed due to fire despite having similar fireproofing insulation to the Twin Towers, albeit newer and higher quality. And yet, it still managed to be knocked off the steel beams by normal renovation work. It makes you wonder how it would have fared against a crashing 767, doesn’t it?
The second reason why this argument doesn’t hold up is that the conspiracists aren’t taking certain abnormalities of the Twin Towers’ construction into account. They assume that the Towers were built with a steel web like most steel-framed buildings.
The Twin Towers were instead built with what is called a “tube within a tube” design, with most of its steel web built into the skin and around a central core to make more room for office space.
This just goes to show the obvious: the Twin Towers weren’t constructed like other steel-framed buildings, so it’s not reasonable to assume that they would behave like other steel-framed buildings given the unique factors that led up to their collapse. Indeed, none of the other buildings had their fireproofing insulation sheared off by an errant Boeing 767, as well as had its vertical load-bearing columns removed in such a violent manner.
7. The Pentagon was hit by a satillite-guided missile.
American Airlines Flight 77 smashed into the first floor of the Pentagon’s west side at 9:37 a.m. 189 people were killed as a result; 64 on the plane and 125 in the building itself. There are dozens of witness testimonies and well-publicized security footage showing a passenger plane crashing into the Pentagon. But again, the Truthers insist on a different set of events, mainly that a radar-guided missile hit the Pentagon.
One thing that the conspiracists seem to have trouble wrapping their heads around is the fact that the holes left by the crashing aircraft seem to be way too small for a Boeing 757. For example, the hole in the exterior wall was 75 feet wide, which seems awfully small for a plane with a 155-foot wingspan. A hole left in Ring C seemed even smaller, at only 16 feet across.
Several experts justifiably ask if the conspiracists expected the plane to leave an “impact silhouette,” which is TV Tropes.com’s name for the cartoon trope involving a character or object passing through a solid leaving a perforation shaped exactly like that character or object.
Indeed, given that the holes left by the planes that hit the Twin Towers were shaped like planes, wings and all, you might be forgiven for seeing this as a logical complaint… until you factor in that a) the plane had struck the ground before impact and thus had reduced its speed, b) one wing had been partially severed by hitting the ground, and c) unlike the Towers, the Pentagon’s concrete walls are specifically designed to withstand being shelled at point-blank range by enemy battleships, meaning the wings likely just disintegrated on impact.
Meanwhile, the fuselage “flowed into the structure in a state closer to liquid than a solid mass,” as Popular Mechanics puts it. This can help explain the 12 ft. (not 16 ft.) hole in ring C; it wasn’t made by the whole fuselage, merely a piece of the plane’s landing gear.
Conspiracists are also puzzled about how some windows even right above the impact point remained intact even though they’re part of a military facility and were obviously designed to be blast resistant. Indeed, if they were still intact after an outside impact from a derelict Boeing 757, that means they were doing exactly what they were designed to do.
Finally, for any Truther who insists that there was no plane wreckage found at the site, take the testimony of blast expert Allyn E. Kilsheimer, the first structural engineer to arrive at the crash site to coordinate the emergency response:
It was absolutely a plane and I’ll tell you why. I saw the marks of the plane wing on the face of the building. I picked up parts of the plane with airline markings on them. I held in my hand the tail section of the plane, and I found the black box. I held parts of uniforms of the crew members in my hands, including body parts. Okay?
Allyn E. Kilsheimer, CEO of KCE Structural Engineers PC, Washington D.C.
Or if you want a more concrete example, try this photograph on for size:
8. Insider traders knew in advance.
This is admittedly going to be tricky for me to comment on since, at least for me, trying to understand the stock market is like trying to understand how people think Donald Trump was in any way qualified to be President of the United States. Snopes.com summarizes the gist of the theory like this: “In the days just prior to the September 11 attacks, large quantities of stock in United and American Airlines were traded by persons with foreknowledge of the upcoming 9/11 attacks.”
Market analysts have indeed confirmed that unusual trading activity involving the two airlines was noted in the month before the attacks, with put and call options being 25 to 100 times normal. Bloomberg’s electronic trading system also registered the options volume of UAL (United Airlines’ parent company) as 36% higher than normal. These abnormalities reached their highest spike on September 6th, when the number of options on UAL jumped from 27 the previous day to 2,000. And if that wasn’t weird enough, the investment firms Merryl Lynch and Morgan Stanley, which were significantly damaged by the attack, experienced a downturn in value.
But is this necessarily evidence of foul play? According to investigators, no. Per the 9/11 Commission’s official report:
…[F]urther investigation has proved that the trading had no connection with 9/11. A single U.S. based institutional investor with no concievable ties to al-Qaeda purchased 95% of the UAL puts on September 6 as part of a trading strategy that also included buying 115,000 shares of American on September 10. Similarly, much of the seemingly suspicious trading in American on September 10 was traced to a specific U.S. based options trading newsletter, faxed to its subscribers on Sunday, September 9, which recommended these trades.
The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States
Once again, I must admit, I don’t know jack about how the stock market works, so I have no way of checking whether this is true. But considering that most of what the 9/11 Commission seems to be verified by what I’ve debunked so far, I’m tending to think they may know what they’re talking about here as well.
9. Israeli employees knew in advance.
Here’s where the conspiracy theories take an uncomfortable turn into anti-Semitic territory. Once again, Snopes.com summarizes the basic gist of this theory: “Four thousand Israeli employed by companies housed in the World Trade Center stayed home on 9/11, warned in advance of the impending attack on the WTC.”
This rumor apparently started with a September 12th report from the Israel-based newspaper The Jerusalem Post commenting on how there were 4,000 Israelis believed to be in the area of the WTC and the Pentagon around the time of the attacks. Somehow, Syria’s state-owned Al Thawra newspaper spun that into the “4,000 Israelis mysteriously failed to show up for work” claim as little as 3 days after the attack. The Lebanon-based television news station al-Manar soon followed suit.
However, if Israel really was that bent on making sure no Jews died due to terrorist attacks it knew in advance about, they did a rather poor job. Estimates of the number of Jews who died in the World Trade Center run from as low as 270 to as high as 400. At least five have been confirmed to have been Israeli citizens, and at least one Manhattan synagogue reported to have lost six members. It just goes to show that the 9/11 attacks affected everyone equally. Be they Christian, Muslim, Jew, atheist, or agnostic, no person of any faith (or lack thereof) was spared the wrath of the hijackers that day.
10. The government had advance knowledge of the attack but chose not to act on it.
Perhaps one of the more reasonable conspiracies to come out of the Truther movement is the theory that the government didn’t directly perpetrate the attacks, but they knew the attacks were coming and didn’t do anything about it. It’s very similar to the conspiracy that Franklin Roosevelt’s administration knew in advance that the Japanese would attack Pearl Harbor but chose not to act because they wanted to join World War II.
Indeed, Wikipedia lists several potential warnings about the possibility of terrorists using planes as missiles that the government received in the years before 9/11. A lot of conspiracists are baffled as to why the Bojinka plot didn’t ring any alarm bells. For those who are curious, the Bojinka plot was another planned al-Qaeda escapade involving planes set to go forward in January 1995. The plan was to assassinate Pope John Paul II, destroy 11 airliners en route from America to Asia to shut down air travel and crash a plane into CIA headquarters in Fairfax County, Virginia. Fortunately, the plan was foiled by an inopportune chemical fire drawing the attention of the Philippine National Police, but not before one of its architects, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, was able to escape and help plan the 9/11 attacks.
Indeed, that seems like a major oversight, especially in the eyes of the conspiracists. However, while this may just be my inner anarchist talking again, I think these people are vastly overestimating the competence of the U.S. government, as well as its ability to keep a secret. Former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger testified that “We heard of the idea of planes being used as weapons, but I don’t recall being presented with any specific threat information about an attack of this nature, or highlighting this threat, or indicating that it was more likely than any other.” NORAD, for its part, reported that “The threat of terrorists hijacking commercial airliners within the United States and using them as guided missiles was not recognized by NORAD before 9/11.”
Perhaps it would be wise for conspiracy theorists to keep Hanlon’s Razor in mind before they go accusing the government of hiding things: “Do not attribute to malice that which can be easily explained by stupidity.”
But still, out of all the different ways that we can debunk the conspiracies of the 9/11 Truth movement, I don’t think any is more devastating than the sheer number of people who would have to be sworn to secrecy to stop the truth from coming out. As this writing, the list includes President Bush’s administration, the NYC firefighters, the NYPD, the courts, the NYC Port Authority, everyone who works at the Pentagon, the more than 1,600 widows and widowers of 9/11, the media, the photographers, Popular Mechanics, PBS Nova, the NIST, then New York Governor George Pataki, the NYC scrapyards, every single structural engineer in the world, the CIA, FBI, FEMA, NORAD, the FAA, the American Society of Civil Engineers, American Airlines, United Airlines, every airport that the planes took off from…
Yeah, I think you get the idea. I think Jason Pargin, writing about the Truther movement for Cracked.com, put it best when he wrote that “Covering this [controlled demolition of the Twin towers] up would be like trying to keep the atomic bomb a secret after Hiroshima.” He especially questions the common Truther narrative that everyone in on the conspiracy could possibly be paid enough to keep quiet about the whole affair, especially the NYC fire department who, need I remind you, lost 343 firefighters in the attacks.
Indeed, when you really examine the implications of the Truther conspiracists, it really seems that they think everyone except them is willing to take any amount of money to cover up a deadly false-flag operation and subsequent government cover-up. It really makes them seem to have a view of humanity as a whole so cynical that it would make even Thomas Hobbes go, “Dude, that’s messed up!”
Indeed, when viewed through that light, it’s probably easy to see how the 9/11 Truth movement may have led to the proliferation of even darker conspiracy theories like the QAnon movement. Pargin even mentions in the Cracked article how the infamous Truther documentary Loose Change was funded by a man who “says the world is run by a massive Satanic cult that enslaves prominent politicians by delivering kidnapped boys for them to molest and then blackmailing them about it later.” Did I mention this article was written in 2007?
Perhaps the most succinct summary of everything wrong with the 9/11 Truth movement comes from this 2006 interview with Noam Chomsky:
I think the Bush administration would have to be utterly insane to try anything like what is alleged, for their own narrow interests, and do not think that serious evidence has been provided to support claims about actions that would not only be outlandish, but that would have no remote historical parallel.
Noam Chomsky, 2007, What We Say Goes, Allen & Unwin, New Zealand
He even speculated that the government itself might be secretly fueling the conspiracy theories to draw attention away from more pressing humanitarian concerns. What sort of humanitarian concerns, you may ask? To answer that question, let us examine another 9/11 related myth, one that we know for sure the government has been pushing for years:
Bonus Myth: The terrorists did it because they hate our freedom.
Americans are asking, “Why do they hate us?” They hate what we see here right in this chamber- a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms- our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.
President George W. Bush, Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People, September 20, 2001
It certainly is a nice thought that Bush is expressing here- that the terrorists attacked us simply because we’re the good guys. But it’s a blatant lie that relies on us believing that the real world operates on fantasy novel “black and white morality.” But, as even CIA operative Michael Scheuer (leader of the agency’s bin Laden unit) was quick to admit:
Bin Laden has been precise in telling America the reasons he is waging war on us. None of the reasons have anything to do with our freedom, liberty, and democracy, but everything to do with U.S. policies and actions in the Middle East.
Michael Scheuer, quoted in Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen
In a 1998 fatwa titled “Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders,” bin Laden listed three main grievances against the United States. First, he criticized the U.S. occupation of the Arabian Peninsula, the Muslim holy land. Second, he criticized its embargos against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. Third, he criticized America’s continued support of the state of Israel in the face of its continued persecution of the Palestinian people.
Let me make something explicitly clear here: I am not saying that the September 11th attacks were in any way morally justifiable. Bin Laden and his recruits willingly murdered innocent Americans who had nothing to do with his people’s oppression in the course of committing these attacks. Plus, his characterization of all Jews as morally responsible for Palestinian oppression rather than just the Israeli government is wildly anti-Semitic and wrong on so many levels.
But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t right about the United States’ culpability in horrific crimes of imperialism in the Middle East. The U.S. has been ruining democracy overseas ever since the Age of Imperialism, as has been documented as early as 1935’s War is a Racket, where former Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler recalls his services in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and China helping American corporations secure profits in foreign markets through the art of war. Indeed, September 11th is also the anniversary of the fall of Salvador Allende’s government in Chile in 1973, engineered by the CIA to install the murderous right-wing junta of Augusto Pinochet, who was more amenable to U.S. corporate interests. It happened in the Middle East, too, most infamously when the U.S. and U.K. teamed up to oust Iranian prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh after he moved to nationalize Iran’s oil fields in 1953.
And to whoever 9/11 Truthers who may still be reading this, I want to ask you: Why do you think the U.S. would need to engineer 9/11 to justify blowing up brown kids overseas? When has the United States ever needed an excuse like that to maim and kill nonwhites? Do you forget that this country was literally built on the backs of African slaves? Do you forget that America only has as much land as it does because we slaughtered the indigenous populations to get it? Do you forget that these peoples are still overwhelmingly kept in poverty because we refuse to acknowledge that the racist ideas of our forefathers are still enshrined in our laws and institutions, and our lionized view of them means we are still, after two and a half centuries, unwilling to face up to this fact?
To this, I have only one thing to say, my friends.
And that’s the end of this article. I actually based it on an essay I wrote for a high school English class in May of 2012. It was very loosely based, though; for instance, one of the sources I cited in the original was a book called 48 Liberal Lies About America. It was written long before I managed to extricate myself from the philosophical cul-de-sac that is American neoconservatism, so don’t judge me!
As for the sources of this article, those include:
Jason Padgin’s Cracked article “Was 9/11 an Inside Job?” which focuses on the sheer lunacy of the conspiracy theories (be warned, though: the writer is a bit cavalier with the word “retard.” Did I mention this article was written in 2007?).
The website Debunking911.com, which has sadly gone defunct in the nine years since I wrote the original essay.
www.911truth.org, which was my main resource for the Truther side of the argument.
Hi there, blog watchers! I just wanted to let you know that I’ve finished the Divine Conspiracy project on DeviantArt and am ready to return to PrestonPosits. I just started on the 9/11 Truther conspiracy list I promised all the way back in July. My plan is for that to come out on Saturday the 11th, exactly twenty years to the day after the tragedy. My plans to revisit paranormal triangles in October are also still on the table, as are other potential supernatural subjects that I won’t spoil here.
I also mentioned something involving a list of anarchist philosophies that I wanted to do sometime in the future. I have given that subject some more thought, and I think a project like that might be better accomplished as an individual examination of each philosophy rather than a comparative list. Anarcho-primitivism would get its own articles, as would Proudhonian mutualism, egoist anarchism, collectivist anarchism, etc. I’d also be willing to examine some leftist philosophies that don’t fall under the anarchist umbrella, like Marxist-Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism, Luxemburgism, etc.
But that’s all for me to figure out once the 9/11 article is finished. I hope you’ll stay tuned for that. Otherwise, this is Preston, signing off.
So, my big retrospective on Watership Down is finally complete. You may ask, “Preston, what’s next as far as writing on the blog goes?” And my answer to that would be…
Yeah, I think I deserve to have a break from this blog after completing such a big project.
Don’t get me wrong; this doesn’t mean I won’t be doing anything with the blog for the next several weeks. I still need to check up on it regularly to see if any of the plugins need updating. Plus, there are a few more modifications I’d like to do on the technical side. For example, I need to figure out why the address bar still says this site is “not secure,” even though I know I have SSL certification. I also need to decide which of my articles on here I want to enshrine as “cornerstone content.” Maybe there are some other things I’ve forgotten about, but for now, let’s discuss what I’ll be doing in the interim.
I won’t be taking a break from writing altogether during this period. I’ve been neglecting my DeviantArt profile for a while now because of how this retrospective has consumed my spare time for the last two months. Indeed, I haven’t posted any of my writing there for the last five months, despite constantly promising my watchers that I would have the first part of my Divine Conspiracy pilot out by the end of the month. I wish to remedy that sometime between now and September, and The Divine Conspiracy is what I will be primarily working on during that period.
So, yeah. The remainder of July and the whole of August is how long this break will last. I will still be writing throughout that break (barring a week-long family camping trip the last week of July), just not on Preston Posits. I may still find some room to slip a smaller, less work-intensive article here or there. I’ve particularly been interested in doing a “P.J.’s Ultimate Playlist” post on a Joy Division song I heard not too long ago, so you may expect something like that in August.
As for when the longer articles return in September, you might expect that essay I proposed at the end of May, where I compare different anarchist philosophies to see which ones I like best. I was originally going to do it as a ranked list similar to my “Problem of Evil” article, but I decided against formatting it that way because I don’t want to contribute to leftist infighting. Also, aside from anarcho-primitivism to a certain extent, I don’t really have any moral objections to any anarchist philosophy, because they basically all want the same thing I do; death to all unjust hierarchical systems, be they centralized governments, multinational corporations, and unjust law enforcement apparatuses.
I also want to make a top ten list like my one about climate change myths, this time debunking 9/11 Truther conspiracies, as the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack comes upon us, so probably expect that one first. Of course, October is not that far off either, so maybe you can expect me to make a continuation of my paranormal triangles list, as well as other spooooooky subjects.
But yeah, the long and short of it is, don’t expect to see me much on this blog before the end of August. But maybe stick around my DeviantArt page to finally get a taste of what The Divine Conspiracy has to offer. Here’s a link to follow for those who are interested: https://www.deviantart.com/pjdominy.
That’s all for now, beautiful watchers. Until next time, take care.
Our final entry in this retrospective takes us to 2018 when the third screen adaption of this classic tale of bunny heroics was unveiled to us by Netflix on December 23rd (it was released a day earlier on the BBC network in the U.K.). The BBC had announced a new adaptation in July of 2014, with Tom Bidwell of My Mad Fat Diary, Eastenders, and Casualty fame being hired to write four hour-long episodes.
Further announcements came in April of 2016 when Netflix announced that they had purchased the global distribution rights for the series. Also announced were the other production companies involved, including 42 and Biscuit Films, the production company of the series director, Noam Murro. The announcement also included several of the voice actors set to participate: James McAvoy as Hazel, Nicholas Hoult as Fiver, John Boyega as Bigwig, Gemma Arterton as Clover, Freddie Fox as Captain Holly, Anne-Marie Duff as Hyzenthlay, Miles Jupp as Blackberry, Olivia Coleman as Strawberry, and Ben Kingsley as General Woundwort. I can remember reading that Christopher Lee had been attached at some point, but he died in June 2015, aged 93.
Two other deaths would hang much more gloomily over the project shortly after. First, Richard Adams passed away at the ripe old age of 96 on Christmas Eve, 2016. The next month, on January 25th, John Hurt, the original voice of Hazel, died just three days after his 77th birthday after a 14-month battle with pancreatic cancer. Naturally, this led to many utterances of “My heart has joined the Thousand, for my friend stopped running today” among the Watership Down fandom.
Maybe this created expectations for the new miniseries that the producers and animators couldn’t reach. When the series finally came out in December of 2018, it received some rather mixed reviews. It did manage to receive a score of 77 and 76 on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, respectively, with the summary on the former reading, “Though its animation leaves something to be desired, Watership Down is a faithful adaptation that will resonate with viewers of any age.” Reception among the fandom seems to be much more divided, with some liking it and others hating it.
As for me, this adaptation really isn’t anything to write home about. It’s definitely not terrible, and the creators clearly did have a vision that they were committed to. But not only is the animation woefully outdated and stilted, but some of the directorial choices and changes that the writers made left me scratching my head. Allow me to explain.
Perhaps the best place to start would be the thing that most viewers will notice right away: the lackluster animation. Even most positive reviews tended to agree that the animation itself was the series’ weakest link, especially in comparison to the film. Whereas the film’s animation remains just as vibrant and colorful in 2021 as it was in 1978, many reviewers unfavorably compared the animation style here to the animated cutscenes from early 2000s video games. True, the animation isn’t anywhere near the godawful level of quality offered by the likes of Video Brinquedo. Even so, the rabbits’ movements feel jerky and robotic, like they’re not properly interacting with their environment.
Not helping the poor animation is the hyper-realistic style that the artists used for the character designs. For one thing, it’s often hard to tell which rabbit is which. Looking at the picture I used as a header for this article, I can tell that the three rabbits in the middle are Fiver, Bigwig, and Hazel. I can’t remember which of the other three rabbits are which, though.
Another problem with hyper-realism is that the rabbits aren’t allowed to emote like they could in the two previous adaptations. This often creates a disconnect between the often lively performances from the voice actors and the muted facial expressions on the rabbits, especially in far-away shots. Indeed, Bigwig barely seems to react in the third episode when the Efrafans catch him in an escape attempt with Hyzenthlay and her does.
Perhaps now would be a good jumping-off point to discuss my problems with how several characters were portrayed in the series. I didn’t particularly enjoy what the series did with Hazel, for instance. Hazel, in this version, is much less confident in his role as a leader, which annoyed me to no end. He constantly second-guesses himself and just awkwardly stands around while others make decisions for him. It gets especially egregious when, during the Efrafa operation, he seems far more worried about Clover than Bigwig or the other does imprisoned in Efrafa (we’ll talk more about her in a bit).
Bigwig also gets the shaft in this version, as he becomes much angrier and confrontational, constantly arguing with every decision Hazel makes. He even threatens to kill Fiver for making a nuisance of himself at Cowslip’s warren in this version. I get the sense that Bidwell did this because he thought it would make his character development in Efrafa more noticeable, but it just made me want to make hasenpfeffer out of him. Also, Hazel’s plan to get Bigwig into Efrafa hinging on making their best fighter into a storyteller was stupid, especially since they didn’t even give Bigwig time to memorize a few stories beforehand.
Another character who gets the full asshole makeover is Kehaar, who becomes much more selfish and rude, flatly refusing Hazel’s offer to help them find more does and even abandoning them shortly afterward, only returning when he finds out that his wing isn’t fully healed yet. True, he does eventually pull through for the Watershippers in the end, but his behavior up to that point doesn’t make his arc in warming up to the rabbits feel natural or earned. Not helping this is that Peter Capaldi decided to use his natural Scottish accent to voice Kehaar instead of affecting an Eastern European/Scandinavian accent like in the other adaptations. I can understand not even wanting to try to top Zero Mostel or Rik Mayall, but it still feels like one of Kehaar’s major defining traits has been gutted as a result.
I feel like Bidwell tried to sell the unnaturalness of Cowslip’s warren a bit too hard in this version. For example, Cowslip himself is introduced dancing on his hind legs, which I feel is way too unrealistic for a story that grounds itself so firmly in realism. The fact that several rabbits in the warren are seen worshipping a crystal formation also doesn’t sit right with me, as it pretty much throws all the slow-burning subtlety of the sequence right out the window.
Bidwell’s interpretation of Efrafa also feels very wrong to me, not the least because he put the enemy warren in the ruins of a human-made factory. Doesn’t that kind of defeat the whole purpose of Efrafa? In the novel, the warren was specifically designed by Woundwort and his council to be hidden from human eyes. True, this factory is clearly not in use by humans anymore, but what’s to stop them from knocking down those smokestacks one of these days and basically nuking the warren even worse than Sandleford?
Some of the ways in which Woundwort’s character is handled also rubbed me the wrong way. Episode Four starts with a retelling of Woundwort’s backstory that just feels all wrong since it deviates from the story told in the novel, and not for the better. For example, Woundwort’s warren is not killed by a farmer in this adaptation, but rather a pack of foxes that he was too tharn to warn them about (since when did red foxes hunt in packs?). We don’t even get to see Woundwort’s time as a hutch rabbit, even though that’s a major reason why he is so attracted to Clover when she appears at Efrafa. Even with Ben Kingsley giving a performance every bit as menacing as Harry Andrews and John Hurt’s portrayals, his character still feels a bit flat in this iteration, especially since the writers didn’t really do anything with his backstory to try to flesh his character out.
Speaking of Clover, though, here’s where I get into my issues with how the does are portrayed, especially her and Strawberry. Yes, this time, Strawberry takes his turn to be the token gender flip, being something of a hyper-active Genki girl who leaves Cowslip’s warren because she wants to live in a place where she doesn’t keep losing her friends to the shining wires. Unfortunately, once she gets to Watership Down, she ends up being consigned to almost singlehandedly digging the new warren because, in this version, does are inherently better at digging than bucks. Not only is this biologically untrue (the only reason does dig more than bucks in real life is because they need the burrows for their litters), this also goes against the novel, where Hazel even pointedly says that the problem is that “Bucks won’t dig. Not can’t, won’t.” Even if we ignore the digging issue, though, the fact that Bidwell chose a sheltered and naive rabbit with little to no survival skills as the token female is… a bit poorly thought out if you ask me.
Clover, on the other hand, is a whole different can of worms. It is understandable on a meta-level why she was made Hazel’s love interest instead of Hyzenthlay. James McAvoy and Anne Marie-Duff, their respective voice actors, had gotten divorced shortly before the series went into production, so Bidwell probably figured he shouldn’t pair them together. The problem is that the series tries way too hard to sell the two as a couple, practically turning Clover into a Mary Sue in the process.
In this version, for example, it is Clover who rescues Hazel from the drainpipe instead of Fiver, which I feel robs the story of the one moment that really solidifies his and Hazel’s brotherly bond. Not helping this is that Clover chooses this moment to utter the famous line, “Man will not rest until he’s spoiled the Earth,” which feels really out of place coming from her since she’s lived in a very well-kept hutch her whole life. True, Lucy’s father seems much more callous in this version, as he indiscriminately shoots at Hazel and his own daughter’spet rabbits during the breakout. Still, there’s no indication that Lucy herself treats them any worse.
Clover’s expanded role in Efrafa also comes at the expense of Hyzenthlay’s character. Hyzenthlay here is much more beaten down and defeatist and far less trusting of Bigwig. Indeed, at one point, Clover is forced to try to bargain with Woundwort to save her from execution, offering to become his queen if he agrees to spare Hyzenthaly’s life (he rather rudely declines). She consequently seems to take Hyzenthlay’s place as a leader in the group, much to the detriment of the latter’s character.
There are a few elements that I did like from this adaptation. For instance, Fiver’s visions are suitably eerie, with objects and even live rabbits floating motionless in mid-air. The way Fiver’s “the roof is made of bones” comment is visualized in Cowslip’s warren was especially creepy. I also thought this series’ depiction of Bigwig’s close encounter with the snare was appropriately intense, even though the only blood we see in the scene comes from Fiver of all rabbits, from cutting his lip trying to chew through the peg.
The fight scenes were the only time where I felt that the rabbits actually moved like real rabbits, their quick movements showing what real damage a rabbit’s claws can do to an opponent. Again, though, the series seems strangely reluctant to show any blood except during Bigwig and Woundwort’s climactic battle, which is weird since it doesn’t seem to be aiming for that young of an audience. Still, the confrontation with Woundwort under the railway arch was a definite highlight, especially when Kehaar comes flying in with a genuinely awesome slow-motion shot.
I think that this series’ reinterpretation of the Black Rabbit of Inle is fascinating. Instead of the fearsome harbinger of death we saw in the book and previous adaptations, he is presented here as a doe with soft-black hair and a soothing voice provided by Rosamund Pike. It really helps to illustrate how death isn’t really all that scary when you get right down to it, especially given how the Black Rabbit has been portrayed in all Watership Down adaptations. That said, though, I really don’t like how the final scene where she takes Hazel was handled. I don’t really feel like Hazel earned his spot in the Black Rabbit’s Owsla since the writer undermined his leadership skills with the way he wrote the character. Also, it seems like his death occurs only months after Woundwort’s defeat, which feels cheap to me. Still, his and Fiver’s final conversation is suitably emotional, especially since it’s clear that Fiver knows what’s coming and has no power to stop it.
Even if the script didn’t really give them good material to work with, the voice cast was solid. McAvoy and Boyega were especially undersold, as I felt their performances could have been even better if their characters were closer to how they were portrayed in the book. Nicholas Hoult was great as Fiver, perfectly capturing the vulnerability of the character. Lee Ingleby and Freddie Fox’s performances as Campion and Holly, respectively, were also highlights. Here’s an interesting piece of trivia about Cowslip’s voice actor, Rory Kinnear: he’s the son of Roy Kinnear, the voice of Pipkin in the film adaptation (who, along with Silver, is Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Adaptation).
Finally, I feel I should give a shout-out to “Fire on Fire,” the theme song composed by Sam Smith for this version. It is a pretty good song, tapping into the themes of love, friendship, and hope present in the story. Even so, I can’t help but agree with Mike Batt’s criticism that it doesn’t really have much to do with the actual content of the series itself, and it definitely isn’t nearly as memorable as “Bright Eyes.” The score by Argentian composer Federico Jusid also didn’t really leave much of an impact on me, as it didn’t really have the folksy charm of the film and ’99 series scores and felt like generic film music.
So yeah, overall, this adaptation was just a disappointment in my eyes. Even the few elements I did like (the voice acting, the background animation, the fight scenes, etc.) were often overcome by the series’ faults dragging them down. The characters often felt like downgrades from their book counterparts. The pacing often felt much faster than the film (despite having a runtime three times as long). The deviations from the novel’s story almost always felt like changes for the worse (seriously, why was the boat escape cut? I sincerely doubt the Watership rabbits could simply outrun Efrafa’s Owsla). And the lack of colors just makes the whole series look lifeless and drab. I give the series a 4/10. I think the series’ creators really were trying to make something good but were too caught up in giving their adaptation its own identity and missed much of what made the original story so good in the first place.
So now we come to the end of this retrospective. It took a lot longer to finish than I initially anticipated. When I first announced it in May, I definitely didn’t think it would take me until July to finish it. Am I going to put myself through something like this again next May when I turn 27? Maybe. We’ll wait and see.
For now, though, I want to close off this retrospective by answering one last question. Say I actually did manage to achieve a professional writing career and decided that I wanted to have a go at my own adaptation of Watership Down. What would I want to see in my own adaptation?
Obviously, the best place to look would be what I liked and didn’t like about all three screen adaptations. The film was definitely the closest to the original story and did an outstanding job at hitting all the plot beats and staying true to the characters and the dark tone. At the same time, though, the ninety-minute runtime often made it feel like it was merely scratching the surface of the plot and themes and is barely able to let any characters other than Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig, Woundwort, and maybe Cowslip and Hyzenthlay to have much of an impact.
The 1999 series makes up for this by having three seasons of 13 episodes each, allowing more room for the plot and characters to stretch their legs. Unfortunately, the writers on that show somewhat shot themselves in the foot by stretching the Efrafa conflict out over two seasons and including filler episodes that forced themselves between very plot-relevant episodes, often leading to adult viewers developing arc fatigue. While season three somewhat remedies this by having the Woundwort take over a meaner and scarier warren after Efrafa is destroyed, the writers reshot themselves by suddenly introducing supernatural elements that allowed them to resolve the conflict with a bloodless deus ex machina. Plus, since the series creators were aiming for a younger audience, much of the violence that gave the original story its identity was stripped away, along with much of the sense of danger that followed the protagonists everywhere they went.
There isn’t really much from the Netflix series that I feel inclined to emulate, aside from the voice cast. I would be interested in having James McAvoy, Nick Hoult, John Boyega, and Ben Kingsley back to have another go at voicing Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig, and Woundwort again this time with the characters acting far closer to their book counterparts.
With all that in mind, I think my perfect adaptation of Watership Down would be a three-season TV series like the 1999 series. The first season would cover the original novel’s story, ending with Woundwort’s defeat at the beech hanger. Season Two would explore what would happen if Woundwort actually survived his fight with the dog, defied the Black Rabbit’s call to follow him to the spirit world, and secretly worked behind the scenes to rebuild his empire; his refusal to follow the Black Rabbit causes the Watership Down rabbits to deal with strange supernatural events as the spirit world is thrown out of balance. Season Three would feature Woundwort retaking Efrafa only to lose it again and be forced to return to his original home in Darkhaven. I would like to redo Campion’s arc from the ’99 series, hopefully better this time, especially better developing his romance with Blackberry in the second season (yes, she’s a doe again in my version. Sorry to all the purists out there, I just liked Doe! Blackberry best).
I especially would prefer not to do that thing that both television adaptations did where the Sandleford rabbits reach Watership Down at the end of the first episode, as I feel it cheapens the arduous journey that the rabbits have to go through to reach their destination. Also, would it kill the creators of these adaptations to have Watership Down actually look like the real Watership Down?
Not really sure if there’s much else to say on this subject or if I’m just tired of working on this project after two months, but I think this is where I finally close the book on the subject of Watership Down. Be sure to stay tuned for updates in a few days, where I’ll explain where this blog is headed next after this project comes to an end. Remember to be cunning and full of tricks, and I’ll see you next time. Thank you, buh-bye!
We’ve talked about the subject of Watership Down’s supposed political and/or religious allegories in previous entries in this retrospective. Richard Adams, as noted before, insisted that it was simply a story that he made up for his children that they finally persuaded him to write down one day. Still, it seems that people keep reading their own political opinions into the novel. I tend to believe that what is going on with Watership Down is the same thing that J.R.R. Tolkien suspected was happening to The Lord of the Rings whenever people started reading political allegories into his work as well:
I think that many confuse “applicability” with “allegory,” but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.
J.R.R. Tolkien, Forward to The Lord of the Rings
Indeed, while Tolkien readily admitted that his experiences as a soldier in World War I certainly influenced his worldbuilding, he denied that he was consciously making commentary on the political affairs of the real world in his work.
As for Adams, we’ve discussed how characters like Hazel, Bigwig, and Kehaar were inspired by characters he met during his service in World War II. Therefore it’s definitely not much of a stretch to assume that Hitler or Stalin may have influenced General Woundwort and Efrafan society in general. As for the journey undertaken by Hazel and his band of hlessil, I think author Rachel Kadish, in an essay talking about how she compares the novel to the founding of Israel after the Holocaust, puts it best:
Turns out plenty of other people have seen their histories in that book. Turns out some people see it as an allegory for struggles against the Cold War, fascism, extremism. Or a protest against materialism, against the corporate state. Watership Down can be Ireland after the famine, Rwanda after the massacres. A quick online search for “Watership Down allegory” definitively proves that the book is an adaptation of Homer and Virgil, or of the life of Jesus, or of Native American religion.
Rachel Kadish, “Whose Parable Is It Anyway?”, Moment Magazine, September/October 2011
And this is where Fall of Efrafa comes in.
This band’s history begins in the southern coastal city of Brighton, East Sussex, in 2005 with two friends, Alex Bradshaw and Steve McCusker. McCusker was a touring musician, playing guitar with several local punk bands. Bradshaw was a graphic artist struggling with chronic fatigue syndrome, from which he would derive his future stage name, Alex CF. Steve happened to be reading Watership Down, and the two began discussing the political allegories they saw in the story. As their discussions continued, they hit upon the idea of starting a band based on the concept of examining the mythology of the book through their own radical left-wing viewpoints, with a heavy emphasis on promoting atheism and animal rights. And thus, Fall of Efrafa was born, with the lineup being completed by Neil Kingsbury on second guitar, George Miles on drums, and Michael Douglas on bass guitar.
With the quintet in place, the band entered the studio in May and June of 2006 and, with producer Peter Miles at the helm, released the first of three albums in their Warren of the Snares trilogy in October of that year via the German indie label Alerta Antifascista.
The Warren of the Snares Pt. 1: Owsla
Before we discuss the actual music on the three records, I should probably give you an idea of what kind of music to expect from this band. One might expect music based around a bucolic setting like Watership Down to be more similar to the laid-back folk-rock tunes that Mike Batt wrote for the movie and TV show. Fall of Efrafa could not be further from that if it tried. The music here exists at the intersection between the grimy crust punk of bands like Amebix and Discharge, the slow and atmospheric post-metal of Pelican and Cult of Luna, and the sludgy and plodding doom metal of Crowbar and Neurosis. This may seem strange to the uninitiated, but it makes sense given what kind of story the band creates off of the source material.
The story told in the Warren of the Snares trilogy is a deeply dark and cynical allegory that examines the tyranny of organized religion, the rise and fall of empires, and humanity’s seeming inability and/or unwillingness to learn from its mistakes. Efrafa, as represented here, seems to represent humanity, taught from birth to see themselves as superior to their animal brethren because God supposedly gave them a soul. Meanwhile, the titular Owsla are kept as the elite warriors of the rabbit hierarchy, with much emphasis placed on how they are often portrayed in the book as pushy and abusive to their underlings, far more concerned with showing off their power rather than dealing with the threat of the Efrafa.
Interestingly enough, Owsla is actually the story’s finale, documenting nature’s last stand against the Efrafa. We see the animal populace begin to question their leadership in the opening tracks, “Pity the Weak” and “A Soul to Bear,” noticing that humanity is inching closer and closer to wiping them out entirely. They are the fastest and most intense tracks in the band’s discography, being the most punk-influenced, although the cello playing on the tracks helps keep subtle hints of post-rock present. After the short instrumental “Lament,” the band launches into the much slower but still punchy “Last But Not Least” and “The Fall of Efrafa,” running a total of ten and fifteen minutes, respectively (although ambient rain sound effects take up the last five minutes of the latter).
These two tracks follow the Owsla populace as they take a final stand against the Efrafa, charging into a hopeless battle to halt the advance of humanity’s mechanized capitalist empire that is inevitably doomed to failure. The animals are left as nothing but bloodstains on the ground and ragged clumps of fur hanging from the hedgerows. The warren is empty.
The Warren of the Snares Pt. 2: Elil
Whereas Owsla dealt with themes of extinction and apocalypse and explored the punk side of the band’s sound, Elil, released in September of 2007, explores the band’s post-metal influence and consists of three tracks that all run over twenty minutes in length. As one familiar with the Lapine language might expect, this album deals with the theme of predators, especially in the form of institutions and religious beliefs that tell us to keep our eyes on some faraway paradise while said institutions pollute and rape all our earthly paradises.
True to the style of post-metal, the three songs (“Beyond the Veil,” “Dominion Theology,” and “For El-ahrairah to Cry”) are slow-burning arrangements that rely heavily on crescendo and atmosphere to evoke despair and hopelessness instead of the brutal crust punk pummeling of the previous album. There are several faster and more punk-oriented passages in all three songs, but they are still slower and darker than anything that Owsla had to offer.
The elil of the title are El-ahrairah, Frith, and the Black Rabbit of Inle, portrayed here as capricious and uncaring masters unwilling to help their subjects in their hour of need, instead demanding the animals take part in outdated and archaic rituals that have no bearing on their present situation. Thus, the populace rebels against the three-headed godlike elil and slays them down as punishment for their dereliction of duty.
These atheist morals are further accentuated by the latter two tracks, which feature recordings of speeches by the notorious atheist philosopher Richard Dawkins. “Dominion Theology” features the speech that begins with “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all of fiction.” “For El-ahrairah to Cry” features Dawkins trying to make the case that numerous coincidences lining up at once to bring us into existence is far more meaningful than us being willed into existence by some outside intelligence.
The cello player left between Owsla and Elil, as he was frustrated that the band couldn’t figure out how to balance their sound in a live setting so he wouldn’t be drowned out. Alex stated in an interview that this helped the band become better musicians, as they couldn’t rely on the cello player to carry their sound anymore. And it definitely shows, as the band is in fine form here.
The Warren of the Snares Pt. 3: Inle
The third and final album in the Warren of the Snares trilogy was released in October of 2009. Perhaps fittingly, considering the theme of death on this album, the music here explores Fall of Efrafa’s doom metal side, with occasional flashes of the shoegaze-influenced black metal of bands like Alcest and Agalloch. The music is slow and gloomy while still containing classic punk energy, with songs ranging from ten to seventeen minutes. This album is the beginning of the saga, taking place right before the society of the Owsla self-destructs. The leader of the theocratic dictatorship, represented by General Woundwort, is murdered in a populist uprising, leaving the populace free to face humanity’s threat. Of course, as Owsla demonstrates, their battle against humanity is ultimately doomed to failure.
The music here is probably the most varied out of any Fall of Efrafa album. We start with “Simulacrum,” a lightly instrumented piece that features a morbid poem about the Black Rabbit of Inle that Silverweed could easily have easily composed. We then transition into the heaving “Fu Inle,” told from the point of view of the Black Rabbit himself as he takes a rabbit (Hazel?) to join his Owsla.
After that comes what is probably my favorite Fall of Efrafa song, “Republic of Heaven.” The powder keg lying under the proletariat of the Owsla society finally detonates as they decide to end the torment that Woundwort keeps inflicting on them. The driving arpeggiated guitar riff is what really makes this song for me (some editions of this album include another track after this one called “The Burial,” originally released as a single about six weeks after Inle).
“Woundwort” tells the story of how the leader of this theocracy finally falls and features Alex’s vocals at their most strained and desperate, especially in the chorus (“Where we lay! We will build! Though we may falter! We will build!”). After a short instrumental interlude called “The Sky Suspended” (named after the chapter in the book where Woundwort is defeated), the trilogy concludes with the seventeen-minute epic “The Warren of Snares,” with the newly-liberated populace reflecting on the battle ahead, both with the remnants of the theocracy trying to salvage their empire and with the much greater threat of the Efrafa, which they know they are not likely to survive.
In addition to being told in reverse order, the story is also cyclical, especially demonstrated by the cello playing at the end of the album echoing the cello in the intro to Owsla. This really helps drive home the trilogy’s themes of how humanity keeps building oppressive empires (Rome, Britain, the United States) and never learning from their past mistakes.
Where Are They Now?
In an interview with the Aristocrazia webzine in May of 2020, Alex revealed that he had ideas for a fourth album, tentatively titled Zorn (Lapine for “destroyed”), telling how the system dies and is then reborn in a sort of Satanic ouroboros situation. By this time, the rest of the band had had enough, however, and, after their final concert in Brighton on December 5, 2009, formally disbanded.
As far as I’m aware, Michael and George haven’t done much of note in the music industry since. Neil Kingsbury and Steve McCusker formed a stoner/sludge band called Blackstorm that lasted from 2007 to 2014, and Kingsbury has performed guest work with several other stoner bands, perhaps most notably Orange Goblin since 2013 as a live guitarist. He also recorded a demo for a project called Charybdis in 2015, in which he played all instruments.
Alex CF has been the busiest out of all of them, having founded several other concept bands in the decade-plus since Fall of Efrafa. He started immediately after with Light Bearer (musically similar to Fall of Efrafa except with more influence from prog rock and ambient music), inspired by Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series of books. Other bands he was involved in include Momentum and Carnist. Encyclopedia Metallum currently lists him as fronting four bands: Pnakotus, Anopheli, Morrow, and Archivist. I’ll admit that I haven’t listened to material from any of these bands (except Light Bearer, but that was a while ago). However, I do find the concepts behind Morrow and Archivist fascinating. The former follows a tribe of humans trying to make their way in a post-apocalyptic world. The latter follows the sole survivor of an ecological disaster on Earth as she ponders what led to humanity’s extinction alongside the artificial intelligence named Construct that controls the spaceship she is traveling on.
In addition to these musical projects, Alex has not only continued his graphic arts career (perhaps most notably with the fictional museum based on fictional cryptozoologist Thomas Merrylin), but he also took the unused concepts from Zorn and repurposed them into his own work of xenobiological mythology, featured in the books The Orata and Seek the Throat from Which We Sing, with another titled Wretched is the Husk on the way.
This band likely influenced my development in my later teenage years almost as much as the novel that inspired them. While I was a pretty firm metalhead at the time, I tended to avoid more extreme subgenres like black metal, death metal, and anything to do with hardcore punk. It all just grated on my ears, and I didn’t have much of a desire to see the messages hidden under all that sonic grime and muck.
Fall of Efrafa definitely changed that for me. Knowing that my favorite novel inspired them helped me to know what I was getting myself into when I first looked up the band on YouTube. And it turned out to be an enriching experience. I remember being annoyed at the Richard Dawkins speeches sampled in the Elil tracks, as I was much more devoutly Christian back then. Nowadays, having grown more aware of the abusive nature of organized religion (as well as hierarchical power structures in general), I find myself much more sympathetic to the general ideas behind them… even if I still think that Richard Dawkins is a pretentious jerk.
As for the band being a gateway to more extreme and experimental forms of music, I ended up checking out a lot of the bands that Fall of Efrafa cited as influences on their sound, like Neurosis, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Agalloch. Agalloch especially has become one of my favorite music artists in any genre.
Thanks to Fall of Efrafa, I was also able to stop worrying and form healthy respect for black metal artists like Immortal, Enslaved, and Deathspell Omega; death metal groups like Bolt Thrower, Death, and Arch Enemy; and hardcore punk outfits like Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, and Discharge. Although I still tend to prefer power metal over any of these subgenres.
Speaking of which…
Epilogue: Rabbit’s Hill Pt. 1 & 2 by Trick or Treat
Before I end this article, I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t mention another rock n’ roll concept album experience inspired by Watership Down. This two-part series comes to us from the city of Modena in northern Italy’s Po Valley, courtesy of power metallers Trick or Treat. Parts One and Two were released in November of 2012 by Valery Records and July of 2016 by Frontiers Records, respectively. Rather than the political allegory approach that Fall of Efrafa took with the source material, Trick or Treat’s adaptation is a simple, straightforward retelling of the book. Part One follows the story from Fiver’s vision of doom at Sandleford to Hazel’s near-death experience at Nuthanger Farm. Part Two tells the rest of the story from that point, centering on the conflict with Efrafa and ending with Hazel surrendering himself to the Black Rabbit of Inle.
Is it any good, though? As someone who is already a power metal convert, I think it’s pretty damn good. The genre is rather prone to being very cheesy, though, and these records are no exception. Indeed, the cheese factor here is pretty high, not the least because of lead singer Alessandro Conti’s performance and songwriting. The guy’s Italian accent is very thick, and it’s clear from reading the lyrics that his grasp of English isn’t all that good, at least at this point in the band’s career. It gets especially hilarious when American vocalist Tim “Ripper” Owens, singing as Woundwort on the Part 2 track “They Must Die,” sings the line “They have defeat me, now they must pay” exactly the way Conti wrote it. I don’t know about you guys, but that makes me sic.
If you can look past all that, though, the music here is pretty solid. The instrumentalists are excellent (what else would you expect from a metal band?), the solos on the title track from the first album being a special highlight. Aside from Owens (best known for his stints in Judas Priest, Iced Earth, and Yngwie Malmsteen’s band), the albums have several other notable guest stars from the power metal world, including the late, great Andre Matos (Angra, Viper, Shaman), Davide “Damnagoras” Moras of Elvenking, Sara Squadrani of Ancient Bards, and Tony Kakko of Sonata Arctica.
I might especially recommend this band to the nerdier side of the metal fandom, as the band seems to have an affinity for anime and cartoons. Not only did they release a metal cover of the Disney anthem “Let It Go” as a single in December of 2014, but they also released an album called Re-Animated in 2018, consisting entirely of covers of anime and cartoon theme songs. In addition, their most recent album, The Legend of the XII Saints, was inspired by the anime Saint Seiya, which I have not seen but heard good things about (I think it’s on Netflix).
And that’s all I have to say about the world of rock operas and concept albums inspired by Watership Down. Join me next time when I complete this retrospective with a look at the 2018 Netflix miniseries. Until next time, beautiful watchers!