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Flash Fiction Month #3, Episode 1: Malicious Noncompliance

Flash Fiction Month is back… …again! I’m sticking with the last two years’ rules. Each month’s posts will be a self-contained story, most likely of about the usual 400-500 word length. I make no guarantees of subject, style, or anything else. You can read last year’s installments here.


Monday, 11:31 AM. I always like to clean the men’s restroom before the big lunch time rush. Can you imagine a horde of jocks stampeding the facilities, stumbling over themselves to get to the toilets before they become toilets, only to find that some hung over executive had a little too much hair of the dog and has filled a stall with his… well…

Okay, perhaps I should be honest with you. My challenges as a janitor in the Winnebago Building go above and beyond what my fellow travelers in the sanitation industry have to deal with. Still, I like the challenge – it keeps me busy and gives me an opportunity to exercise the power and responsibility my supplies give me. In that spirit, I head into the restroom to make everything shine… and the first thing I see is a clogged toilet disgorging filthy water all over the floor. Someone’s stuffed nearly half a roll of toilet paper into the bowl! I have a philosophy when it comes to using such quantities of paper – flush early, flush often, pay your penance when the water bill comes. You do not try to see how much the system can handle in one go.

This is, in fact, the fourth time this has happened in this cell this week. It’s not my duty to name and shame whoever’s abusing the fixtures, but I can at least hope to educate the people I serve. As part of my supplies, I keep a pen, paper, and some clear tape so I can leave messages as necessary. How does this one go again?

“Please stop flushing so much toilet paper in one go! If you need to use a lot of toilet paper, then flush multiple times in order to prevent the pipes from backing up. Thank you.”

I find appending pleasantries at the end usually improves compliance. Usually. There are some exceptions. I return to the men’s restroom the next day and open the door for the first round of morning cleaning, only to find a veritable wall of white rushing towards me-

It took me a second to put it together – this is toilet paper! A heck of a lot of it, too! A quantity of toilet paper so enormous that it’s buried me up to my knees and jammed the door open in the process. I look up to see a solid, impenetrable wall of thin tissues, except for a small indentation where it collapsed on me.

“Who did this?” I shout at the tissues. They are unmoved.

“What were they thinking?” They remain unmoved.

I figure I’m going to need my claw tool for this. Usually, it’s reserved for removing stray turds from the corners of toilet stalls, but for all I know some of that toilet paper could be smeared with unmentionable waste; best that I put a little distance between myself and the product just in case.

“What’s going on here?” says a voice to my side, just as I’m pulling on my gloves. Oh crap. It’s the building owner; he likes to patrol the halls at odd hours for whatever reason.

“Some monster filled the entire bathroom up to the ceiling with toilet paper, as far as I can tell! You’ve got to call the cops or something,” I respond. The building owner shakes his head and grimaces at me.

“I can’t get the cops involved on this! It’s probably just a prank. You’d better get this bathroom usable before everyone else gets here.” With that, he wanders off, as if this happens all the time. I can’t argue with him; I’ve got fifty, maybe a hundred bucks in my savings account? I spend easily that much a month on cleaning supplies!

Today is going to be a long day.

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King Crimson – Thrak (1995)

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Wow, King Crimson reinvented themselves again. I’m so surprised. This installment of King Crimson is supposedly inspired by ’90s alternative rock and metal, and the previous two major eras of King Crimson – their improvisatory proto-metallic approach of the 1970s, and the New Wave/math rock fusion of the 1980s. In cliched terms – the more things change, the more they stay the same. If I were writing this review in 1995, when this album was still new, I would expect to focus on the new things (like the ‘double trio’ lineup, the evolution of Fripp’s guitar soundscapes, etc). Instead, it’s 2017, I’ve been familiar with KC’s discography for nearly a decade now, and what really strikes me about this is how it continues so many of the band’s past tropes.

Despite this, it does bear mentioning that Thrak does represent new territory for the band. While King Crimson has many an intense moment in their catalog, Thrak emphasizes the louder, dirtier parts of the band’s aesthetic in ways that previous albums didn’t. Part of it’s the greater emphasis on guitar parts – compared to something like the band’s debut, Thrak is certainly not a panopoly of instruments even if Robert Fripp occasionally relies on mellotron patches to provide more variety. The production is also more assertive, and arguably more ‘digital’ or otherwise synthetic sounding; that might be a natural consequence of the advancing decades, though. Either way, it’s enough of a change from the thinner and drier (if occasionally psychedelic) Three of A Perfect Pair that it inevitably will color your understanding of the material.

From a structural/songwriting perspective, Thrak is most notable for how it mixes and juxtaposes elements from the band’s past. While the overall intensity levels have been notched up, King Crimson also manages to throw in a few ballads that likely would’ve fit well in the radio rock universe through pop songwriting, even if something like the shimmery, clean, studio flavored “Walking On Air” isn’t exactly a match for the decade’s stereotypical grunge. Like any band that seeks to create such a clash of sounds, they also mix elements within songs, allowing a track like “Dinosaur” to abruptly jump from heavy rock to synthesizer textures, or providing a place for the infamous “Frippertronics” in the otherwise improvisatory “B’Boom”, or whatnot. Despite the skilled performances of all the other musicians, Adrian Belew is Thrak‘s MVP by virtue of being versatile enough on vocals to tie everything together. That seems to happen a lot with the more self-consciously avant-garde rock and metal albums out there, and the fact that it outpaces his distinctive guitar stylings is cause for consternation, at the very least.

Ultimately, when Thrak succeeds, it’s due to the double trio’s ability to mix, match, and coordinate despite the strain of being a lineup of six musicians already famous in their own right. Arguably, that lineup later imploded, although exactly how you interpret the existence of King Crimson’s late ’90s “ProjeKcts” is up to you. I’d say that it usually does succeed, and even when it doesn’t, it still makes a good soundtrack to the multimedia frenzy of its time.

Highlights: “VROOM”, “Dinosaur”, “THRAK”, “Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream”

Devin Townsend – Transcendence (2016)

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This review is only for Transcendence proper. I might give Holding Patterns a feature of its own someday, though.

Devin Townsend is, as previously established, a musician of many styles. Transcendence isn’t without precedent, but its approach is markedly different from anything else of his that I’ve covered on Invisible Blog. My writing on this subject has mostly focused on his more aggressive material (with a few diversions into other stuff, like the straight up pop-metal of Sky Blue). Transcendence, though, is generally pretty laid back and chill, at least by comparison. Buzzwords of choice aside, Devin’s latest isn’t entirely free of intense moments, but the more interesting dichotomy here isn’t quiet vs loud, but instead how it walks a thin line between Sky Blue style pop and extended progressive rock style compositions.

The closest analogy you could make without heading out of Devyspace is that Transcendence develops some of the ideas we saw on Devin’s early solo albums, up to about 2001’s Terria or so. This album even starts with a remake of “Truth”; while it hews fairly close to the original, this new arrangement is slower, cleaner, arguably less chaotic than the initial 1998 version. Make no mistake of it – even though the amount of layered instruments is similar to your average DT album, the production style threw off my initial appraisal.

The other major gimmick on this album is that it contains significantly more songwriting collaboration from other members of the Devin Townsend Project. Devin remains the lead songwriter, though, so nothing here sounds completely alien. Maybe if his compositional range was narrower, this would pass with more commentary. Between that and the prog-styled songwriting, though, even the obviously pop structured songs seem to go through more distinct sections and otherwise unexpected transitions than usual. Other than that, I can’t say that this has as significant an effect on the songwriting as I was initially expecting, and that Devin most likely still plays the leading role. Guess we don’t have to worry about strange coups in Vancouver.

I digress – yet again this is an album I accept without second thought because it’s by Devin Townsend, and it isn’t completely outside the realm of what I expected. Transcendence has all the amenities you’d expect from his recent work – multiple styles of songwriting (sometimes even within the same song), quality vox from Anneke van Giersbergen, and a high level of instrumental to go alongside everything else. Sometimes, more of the same-but-slightly-different is a good thing.

Highlights: “Secret Sciences”, “Higher”, “Transcendence”, “Offer Your Light”

Atheist – Unquestionable Presence (1991)

maxresdefault.jpgAs an obscure blogger on some corner of the internet, it is my sacred duty to claim that people don’t notice when their favorite bands subtly change. I want to say, based on what I’ve read, that Unquestionable Presence is a relatively minor evolution from Atheist’s debut (Piece of Time). Unfortunately, that’s yet another statement I can’t confirm, because I haven’t given the first album the intensive listening I would need in order to do so. The narrative, though, might be useful to some of you – Unquestionable Presence is unquestionably more jazz-oriented than its predecessor, showing off some rhythmic and harmonic advances that weren’t common then. Make no mistake of it, though – it is still a tightly structured metal album with little room for improvisation or other stereotypical jazz elements.

Were it not for the jazz, Atheist’s marketing would probably buzz about the speed/thrash/death metal fusion that underlies their sound. It’s a nebulous sort of extremity – Kelly Shaefer’s vocals are plenty distorted and maniacal, but more in the high pitched sense you’d expect from a band like Destruction. The instrumentation here’s also pretty fast and percussive, but the emphasis is way more on intricate instrumental interplay and technical wizardry than you’d expect if you didn’t know about the jazz influences. One nice bonus is that the bassist (Tony Choy) plays a big role in shaping this band’s sound, playing his share of distinct slapped basslines and boosting the rhythmic power of this band.

All of this musicianship is packed into 32 minutes of dense and straight up angular compositions. Atheist works through more distinct song sections on this album than your average radio musician does in their entire career… well, either that or I’m deliberately exaggerating, but it does mean there’s a lot of distinct sections to these songs. The transitions are consistently abrupt, which definitely fits the chaotic mood, even if I’m not necessarily a fan of such in general. The sheer musical density does mean this’ll strain your brain and energy reserves more than your average half hour blast fest, at least if you try to analyze as you go.

As far as I’m concerned, Unquestionable Presence doesn’t have a lot of hooks to draw in a casual listener, but there’s enough substance that it will draw in those who give it the study it deserves. In my personal experience, the fuse on this one wasn’t as slow to fire as the one on Onward To Golgotha (which still holds some sort of local record),  but it still took me a while to appreciate this, especially compared to more synthy takes on the jazz-death formula like those of Cynic and Pestilence.

Highlights: “Unquestionable Presence”, “Retribution”, “An Incarnation’s Dream”

Bathory – Twilight of the Gods (1991)

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Twilight of the Gods is like Hammerheart, except more so. While that album showcased most of the innovations Quorthon had been working on for the last few years, this one refines them and polishes up the sound a bit more. As such, it is (painfully obviously) not black metal of any sort, but even this approach has made its way into the genre. Every time you listen to the latest ‘epic’ or ‘viking’ themed black metal band to make their way onto Spotify, you’re imbibing Bathory, even if it’s Bathory filtered through a million artists trying to exceed the band’s work. You’re also drinking Springfield, but I digress.

As I said before, much of what applies to Hammerheart also applies to Twilight of the Gods. Quorthon’s choice of improvements, while subtle, help tie the experience together more effectively. First and most immediately notable is that the long songs here are more coherent. I don’t know if I’d put the title track here above “Shores in Flames” overall, but while Hammerheart‘s first track has its hooks and novelty, this one explores more ideas without losing its crucial coherence, and I definitely appreciate that. While most of the instrumentation is broadly similar to the previous album, the vocal end of things has definitely improved. Quorthon’s singing voice is stronger and generally less strained, and he also multitracks his vocal backing more effectively.

If those characteristics lead you to believe that this album is entirely superior to what came before it (at least within its genre of choice), then you would probably end up with the same expectations that I had when I first listened to it. Times have sure changed since then. While Twilight of the Gods is certainly accomplished in what it sets out to do, I usually go into Bathory wanting the black metal aggression of their past. Even Hammerheart retained a hint of that in its rougher moments, but it’s sorely missing here. I also feel that, at least in comparison to the first half, the second half of this album drops the ball. Oddly enough, that might actually be due to the trackination. Some editions of this album merge the first three songs here (“Twilight of the Gods”, “Through Blood By Thunder”, “Blood in Iron”) into one megatrack that would make a fine EP if released separately. The other track lack a sense of unity and cohesion by comparison, even if it’s an artificial decision possibly brought on by manufacturing requirements.

Even if it falters later on, Twilight of the Gods‘ first half soars above even the peaks of Hammerheart. The two are inseparable as far as I’m concerned, and many a band has been launched towards untold glory through the formulas popularized here.

Highlights: The first half. Did you even read this post?

Vektor – Terminal Redux (2016)

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Alright, I’ve been sitting on this one for a while. I wrote a quick teaser for this one on DMU when the first single (“Ultimate Artificer”) came out, but had long since finished my tenure by the full album’s release in May 2016. Since then, I’ve had a lot of time to ponder the music of Terminal Redux. To get it out of the way after last week’s officially noncommittal “review“: I highly recommend this album to anyone who’s even remotely interested in metal music, and it is definitely a worthy successor to Vektor’s previous works.

Those who have listened to Black Future or Outer Isolation will find much of the same on here – songs composed of numerous fast, technically intricate riffs under ear piercing shrieks and backed up by similarly accomplished percussion and leads. Terminal Redux is a refinement, not a reinvention of past Vektor. The sound and songwriting are just that hint better, which makes sense that the band had an entire five years to refine their craft since the last album. The formulas on display here, though are probably closer to the first album, showcasing a general preference for its style of extended songwriting over the more compact tracks on the second. There’s also more in the way of aesthetic experimentation, as a few tracks on the edges feature sung vocals from both main vocalist David DiSanto and two guest ladies (Naeemah Z. Maddox and RoseMary Fiki) who drop in to help the band respectively charge and recharge the void.

If there’s one thing I could say against Terminal Redux, it’s that it’s edge-loaded, and I feel like by doing so, I’m unnecessarily straining in the name of some unachievable level of journalistic balance. The album feels like it’s strongest at the beginning and the end, and that’s a direct result of them placing the tracks with varied vocals at such points on the album. The more conventional tracks are dumped into the middle, where it doesn’t matter that Vektor’s presumably putting as much effort into them as the hit singles (hypothetical VH1 style tell-all Behind The Music type documentary’s information aside).  This is a 73 minute long album, so even some of the most ardent and enthusiastic listeners are inevitably going to burn out after a while. I suppose I shouldn’t really hold this against Vektor, since it’s a common marketing strategy to put all the standout tracks and hit singles at the beginning, as well as a few at the end in an attempt to hide the use of these tactics from the listener.

Ultimately, the fact I can’t come up with a negative other than “Some tracks are better than others” is most likely going to be what convinces you to support Terminal Redux, and Vektor as a whole.

Highlights: “Charging the Void”, “Cygnus Terminal”, “Recharging the Void”

Future Sound of London – Lifeforms (1994)

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More 1990s downtempo ambient IDM buzzword music on Invisible Blog! Compared to the more focused (but still varied) Dead Cities a few years later, Lifeforms is a sprawling compilation of every idea Future Sound of London had in the kitchen sink. It covers enough sonic ground to make describing it as a whole more difficult than it ought to be. Still, this double album is bound together by a few shared techniques, sound patches, and a coherent aesthetic that the retrofuturist types have been slobbering on for a few years now.

One thing I’ve noticed about Lifeforms (which is possibly sort of implied by the cover art) is how organic it sounds at times – it relies heavily on sampled instruments and sampled… samples whereas some of its in-genre competition is more accepting of its own electronic nature (or at least that’s what you’d believe from the more obviously synthetic instruments). Sometimes this borders on soundscapes, but in general FSOL relies heavily on recognizable consonant melodies to drive their songwriting. Possibly unfamiliar sounds and techniques aside, this makes for easy, non-threatening listening; something that you can usually leave on in the background and occasionally marvel at how gradually the tracks evolve into one another. Just keep an ear out for the more menacing second half.

While Lifeforms is “…a primarily instrumental album (with some vocal textures)” just like its predecessor, the overall arc of its two CDs is the opposite of Dead Cities. Here, the second half is more challenging than the first, most likely peaking with the ritual and outright creepy “Vertical Pig”. It should go without saying that I don’t get the same post-apocalyptic vibe, even in this album’s harshest and most intimidating moments. Much of this is due to the increased variety. On one hand, I’d expect more substyles from a double album just for the sake of not boring the listener. On the other, I think FSOL intended to explore and cover as much ground as possible on this album, even if it means that some of the ideas presented get limited attention at best.

In general, there’s at least one good lesson you can learn from the differences between Lifeforms and Dead Cities – you have to find a good balance between quantity and quality. Lifeforms understandably represents the former, and the extra variety makes for a more dynamic experience, but this comes at the expense of having more filler than Dead Cities. This might sound bad, but Lifeforms also has higher peaks of quality than that successor album, which might be a direct result of firing more shots at the listener. This is something critics are going to have to take into mind if they want to directly compare the albums like I just did.

Then again, my review of Dead Cities ended with me jokingly evading a proper rating of how good or bad it was, so I’m guessing it’d only be appropriate for me to do the same here.

Highlights: “Flak”, “Amongst Myselves”, “Vertical Pig”, “Vit”