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Living After Midnight: Hard and Heavy Stories / Edited by David T. Wilbanks and Craig Clarke

Acid Grave Press / November 2010
Reviewed by: Martel Sardina

“Which do you love more: Heavy metal music or horror fiction?” is a question this reviewer would have a hard time answering. Any longtime fan of both art forms knows that the two are, have been, and will continue to be wonderfully intertwined. A common theme found in many metal songs and many horror stories is that of chaos. From war (an external and obvious form of chaos) to love to alienation to the degradation into madness (the internal battle waged in the mind), many of the works in both forms are filled with imagery that plays on that theme.

The stories in Living After Midnight are filled with manifestations of chaos. In “Spooky Tooth” by Randy Chandler, the chaos is more of the internal kind. Dakota Joe Cadillac, a Hunter S. Thompson-esque rock journalist, gets more than he bargained for when he finally gets the opportunity to interview Caleb Dogberry, the “(were)wolf at Metal’s door.” Chandler captures the characters’ voices perfectly. Having read this piece several times now, it gets better each time. The words flow with a poetic grace that I hope to capture someday in writing of my own.

Next up is “Iron Maiden” by Matthew Fryer. Set near a pub on the Thames River, Fryer captures the eeriness of London as Dom stands outside, smoking a joint, his calming pre-gig ritual. Dom hears a voice calling his name. He’s stunned to see a ghost ship – appropriately, the Iron Maiden – materializing in the fog. Is he smart enough to resist the siren’s call?

Steven Shrewsbury’s “Black Sabbath” offers a different take on the chaos that ensues after a zombie apocalypse. In this world, zombies are not immune to the effects of rot and decay, leaving survivors to fear something far worse than the undead. Nothing conveys the pain and sorrow of this piece better than its closing line, “God will understand.”

“Judas Priest” by David T. Wilbanks invokes a little black magic to bring the chaos in his tale to life. What good is protection from earthly harm if its cost is torment in another plane of existence? Kent Gowran’s “Motorhead” is the story of a heist gone wrong. And finally, L.L. Soares brings the anthology to a close with “Slayer.” This story is probably the most extreme in terms of violence and sexual content. Abercrombie has pledged his life to Saint Rainer. Leon, lead singer of the 80s band Honey Load, is being pressured by his former bandmates to capitalize on the resurgence of metal music and get the band back together. When the two meet, whose interests will be served?

While filled with action, these three latter stories lacked the emotional connection their predecessors possessed. This reviewer felt less vested in what happened to the characters over time. In Soares’ piece, in particular, that lack of emotional connection was felt the most. When a character dies, the impact of that loss needs to be shown; otherwise, the violence and gore are just for show.

In the introduction, Wilbanks explains that the anthology was born after asking several author friends if they would be interested in writing a story with the name of their favorite metal band as the title and the chosen band’s musical vibe as the loose inspiration. For this reviewer, “Spooky Tooth” was the clear winner in that challenge. However, fans of metal music and horror fiction can expect to find something else to love in the virtual pages of this book, if they don’t agree.

Purchase Living After Midnight, edited by David T. Wilbanks and Craig Clarke.

Posted on Sunday, March 13, 2011 at 12:06PM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

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