Monday, August 2, 2010

Ozzy Osbourne - Scream review

Ozzy Osbourne's tenth studio album, Scream, suffers from the same problem as so many other new albums by aging rockstars. It wants, more than anything to at least be a "good" album. When you reach a certain age it's the most that fans can hope for. Instead, Scream collapses under the weight of its own excess. A hodgepodge combination of commercial power ballads, processed vocals, monster truck rally anthems and modern rock radio fare (peppered with occasional teases of goodness thanks to Gus G's heavenly lead guitar and the occasional Sabbath-esque riff), Scream shows a beloved (though not so much anymore) heavy metal icon grasping at the last straws of relevance.

The album opens with "Let it Die," which sounds promising at first, opening with an interesting riff. The production is clear, with good separation between the bass, drums and guitar. This all falls apart as we enter the pseudo-industrial verse, replete with throbbing bass and Ozzy's processed, practically rapped vocal part. Track two (and the album's first single) "Let Me Hear You Scream" establishes more issues for the album. This is a blatant pop song, obviously written to be the intro music for some third-rate professional wrestler to walk out to. The chorus may quite possibly be one of the dumbest things Ozzy has ever sung (right behind the last album's "I Don't Wanna Stop.") This is a cold, calculated and downright dumb attempt at hooking the "18 to 35-year-old male demographic" with a piece of music that embraces every ham-fisted thing that is wrong about modern metal.

As we progress through the album we have "Soul Sucker," another sludgy industrial tune with lame, processed vocals in between verses. The chorus comes off as sounding something one would find on a Disturbed album. Not even the awesome, uptempo lead break midway through is enough to save the song. Hey, Kevin Churko (the album's producer and main songwriter), just because your riff is one note, slow, bent and downtuned does NOT make it "heavy!"

Then we get the album's first ballad, "Life Won't Wait." Ozzy's solo career has always been renowned for its' high quality ballads, and Scream continues the trend. In fact, I would go as far as to say that the ballads are the album's best quality. They may suffer from the same calculated pop sheen as the rest of the songs, but at least Ozzy sings them with honesty and feeling. The song is also a showcase for bassist Blasko's fantastic fretless basswork. Plus, I don't feel like some 500-pound slob is drooling on my arm during a John Cena vs. HHH match when I listen to them.

Beyond this point it's hard to continue on a track-by-track review. Rather, we can review the rest based on what dumb cliches they embrace. For example, we have an epic track questioning God (Ozzy even mentions His Only Son by name!), complete with a palm-muted open string chug that would make even Munky and Head blush with envy. Then we have a rocker whose chorus begs to be shouted by an arena of adoring drunken rednecks, another power ballad, some more arena rockers (including at least two with lyrics either about rocking, how Ozzy will never stop rocking or how much Ozzy wants you to rock for or with him), a song about a serial killer, and FINALLY, the song named after his signature catchphrase, the minute-long piano ballad "I Love You All."

So no, Ozzy can't sing anymore. He can't write lyrics, his judgment in collaborators is very poor, he's chained to a career that exists somewhere between caricature and self-parody and his wife runs his life. At least he has a sweet band behind him. If only he'd let them write the songs instead of letting his producer write 11 pop tunes, add some distortion and call it a "metal" album. Don't get me wrong, Ozzy's music has always been concurrent with what's popular. However, in the 80s he had the benefits of great band chemistry, strong songwriting and energy fueling albums that are now considered classics by many. Writing some hip tunes and cheesy lyrics for a 61-year-old man to spew over them might sound like a good idea when Sharon Osbourne is paying you to do it, but in the end what we have is a mishmash of bad ideas, lyrical cliches and blatant pandering to demographics that continue the Prince of Darkness' further downward slide past irrelevance into obsolescence.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"But I saw the sky, and I never wanna die"

On Sunday, May 16th, I got so many condolences you would've thought I lost a friend or relative. But I didn't. I did, however, cry like a newborn baby denied the milk of its mother. On Sunday, May 16th, 2010, Ronnie James Dio died of complications due to stomach cancer. He was 67 years old. Normally, I don't cry so easily. And I sure as hell wanted to when I first heard about it. I officially got the news about 4 PM that day while I was at work, and it ruined that day for me. Things moved more slowly than they ever did before, the world in front of me seemed far less interesting and relevant than ever.

Dio's dead.

For several hours that night, those were only words. At about midnight or so the reality hit me and that was when the tears came. Mourning the loss of a celebrity can be tacky, it can be silly and it can be overblown, but this is probably the first time in my life where it honestly hit home and made me feel like I'd lost something.

When I was an awkward, uncool, lanky and scraggly fifteen-year-old I wasn't good at much. I struggled at running, school was boring and uninteresting, I couldn't play an instrument. I watched anime and listened to metal and fit in with a dozen or so different kids who were all "off" for different reasons. Social skills eluded me. Hell, I wasn't even cool enough to smoke weed. Escapism was my biggest joy. Music, video games, comic books, you name it, I was drawn into it.

Iron Maiden was my gateway drug. The larger than life persona of their mascot, Eddie, the over-the-top but still intelligent fantasy lyrics, the bombastic stage shows and power of their music sucked me into the world of heavy metal for life. This was about when file sharing really took off, and right before Napster became a pay service. I discovered AudioGalaxy, which had individual songs by every band I could think of. From there I slowly discovered other bands in the style, namely Black Sabbath.

Black Sabbath was what changed everything for me. Something about their earlier music seemed rawer and realer than anything I'd ever heard, still containing the escapism of Iron Maiden that I loved so much. I sucked up their earlier Ozzy-era records like a vacuum cleaner and still wanted more. The band's history was more convoluted than the Western world's. Someone on Iron Maiden's official messageboard clued me into the fact that the band's years with Ronnie James Dio would be a good place to go from there, and so one day, when I was at Exile on Main Street (my local record store) I saw two used copies of the band's Heaven and Hell and The Mob Rules albums. Without a second thought I dropped sixteen bucks on the CDs and let them take hold of my life.

Suddenly this new and exciting world of music was open to me. The Dio era of the band was able to marry the realness of the original Black Sabbath with the high fantasy, escapism and swords-and-sorcery atmosphere and fast tempos that I loved so much about Iron Maiden. Holding it all together was the little man with the big voice, Ronnie James Dio. His at times nonsensical imagery and lyrics bordering on the absurd, the two albums were exactly what my fifteen-year-old self demanded. Dio understood me, throwing himself a hundred percent into whatever flights of fancy he dreamed up, no matter how ridiculous they were.

Fifteen-year-old me wanted to be cool. He wanted to fit in, be understood and loved and a part of something. Through the music and words of Ronnie James Dio, that fifteen-year-old eventually learned that even if you don't have all those things, the best thing a person can have is the ability and strength to be himself, no matter how derided or ridiculed he may be, no matter how much he may want to be someone else. Through his art and devotion to his fans, Dio taught us all that giving up is not an option, that the individual will triumph through hardships and carry on and be stronger for it.

Thank you, Ronnie.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Top 10 of 2009 Part 2: 10-1

Here's the follow-up to the first ten of the top twenty of 2009. I don't claim to be a critic so I don't deal in cultural milestones, pop music or any of the other crap your friends at Rolling Stone may be soiling themselves over. This is just music that helped get me through a very exciting and turbulent year. Hopefully if anyone reading this sees something they like I will have gotten some of my favorite bands new fans!

10. Them Crooked Vultures - Them Crooked Vultures
Another supergroup???? Normally releases like this are massive hype/income generators for the musicians involved (or in the case of Velvet Revolver or Audioslave, mainstream radio rock shit heaps) that fade away once it's time for the main bands to put out a record. Where TCV differs is in the music itself - it's fresh, vital and out of the ordinary. Many fans complained that the band sounds too much like Queens of the Stone Age, but I get the feeling that those people gave the album one or two listens and gave up. If this was put out under the QOTSA name I'd say it was their best release since Songs For the Deaf. As it is, TCV have unleashed a rocking and textured album that recalls not only the best moments in Homme's post-Kyuss catalog, but also includes elements of classic Zeppelin, Cream and psychedelia. Definitely more of a grower than a shower.

Recommended Tracks: No One Loves Me and Neither Do I, Bandoliers, Reptiles, Warsaw or The Last Breath You Take Before Giving Up, Caligulove

9. Fever Ray - Fever Ray
My exposure to electronic/dance oriented music has been very limited, and my knowledge of Sweden's The Knife even more so, so the fact that one of my favorite releases of the year is a sideproject of their singer is kinda bizarre. A friend of mine played me a track off this album sometime in November and I was hooked. The combination of ethereal, haunting vocal melodies and otherworldly atmospheres sucked me in from the first track. The beats and use of texture on this album are exquisite, drawing the listener in one track at a time as each song improves upon the last.

Recommended Tracks: If I Had A Heart, Seven, Concrete Walls, Keep The Streets Empty For Me

8. Porcupine Tree - The Incident
I think Steven Wilson has been spending a lot of time listening to his own solo work. And who can blame him? His latest album, 2008's Insurgentes is a mix of classic Porcupine Tree riffing, psychedelia and ambient noise. The influences on that record have definitely found their way into the 'Tree's latest two-disc offering, a shocking left hand turn coming off of 2007's successful Fear of A Blank Planet. Where the previous album dealt in Meshuggah-esque heaviness, bewildering song structures and the occasional bit of pop, The Incident takes every element of the band's twenty-year career and consolidates them into a single fifty-minute suite. While lacking in some of the great hooks that made albums like In Absentia and Lightbulb Sun so rewarding, The Incident is one great slow-burn of a double album that slowly yields its rewards over time.

Recommended Tracks: The Blind House, Drawing The Line, Time Flies, I Drive the Hearse, Bonnie the Cat

7. Shrinebuilder - Shrinebuilder
This album has the noteworthy distinction of being the second supergroup on the list, the second album to feature Wino and the third to be self-titled. I would also consider it to be the first "meta-doom" album ever released. After all, with a lineup like Wino (The Obsessed, Saint Vitus), Scott Kelly (Neurosis), Al Cisneros (Om, Sleep) and Dale Crover (Melvins), anything they release can be considered kind of a commentary on the past, present and future state of doom metal. The music on here is surprising considering the members' pedigrees - rather than tap into the misanthropic dirges of Neurosis or the rocking swagger of The Obsessed, the album plays out closer to an Om record with multiple vocalists and harmony guitars. Although it's very easy to pick out parts ("That's a Scott riff, that's a Wino riff," etc) it's the way each member contributes to the whole that makes this a compelling listen.

Recommended Tracks: Pyramid of the Moon, The Architect

6. Heaven and Hell - The Devil You Know
This is nowhere near the best recording that Ronnie James Dio, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Vinny Appice have made together, but I'll be damned if it isn't the freshest sounding. Let's dispense with the formalities, this IS the record Black Sabbath would've made if they were still together in 2009. Although it's a flawed album (some of the song structures are repetitive and some tracks are lackluster), the fact that it's this GOOD and HEAVY and springs forth with more life than a lot of bands half their age shows how much the world still needs a working Black Sabbath lineup. And work they do... Dio's on his third chemo treatment for stomach cancer and they already have tourdates booked for June of this year!

Recommended Tracks: Atom and Evil, Fear, Bible Black, Follow the Tears

5. The Appleseed Cast - Sagarmatha
Okay, I said Animal Collective's newest would be the prettiest-sounding album on the list and that was a lie. Sagarmatha by the Appleseed Cast is! Let's just ignore the fact that the artwork on the CD version is a complete joke (the LP sleeve is what's pictured) and discuss the shimmering, orgasmic music contained within. Their brand of indie/post-rock is all-too-commonly imitated in today's musical landscape and it's refreshing to hear that the band can still come up with interesting, vital music that leaves imitators dead in their tracks.

Recommended Tracks: The Road West, One Reminder An Empty Room, Like A Locus (Shake Hands With the Dead)

4. Katatonia - Night is the New DaySo their last two albums were kinda nu-metally (kinda as in "hey, let's play heavy like Tool and swear a lot to captivate American audiences!") but not really that bad. As a fan of the band's great albums Last Fair Deal Gone Down and Tonight's Decision, though, I longed for the day Katatonia would return to a more textured, atmospheric sound and Jonas would go back to crooning as though his heart had been torn out and stomped on. While still a natural progression from 2006's The Great Cold Distance, NITND finds Katatonia in a very dark, desolate place. The band finds solace in the sadness of Jonas Renske's vocals, Anders Nystrom's heavy riffs and the deep, dark blanket of synths provided by newcomer Frank Default. The most exciting thing about this album, though, is wondering how the hell they're gonna follow it up!

Recommended Tracks: Forsaker, The Longest Year, Onward Into Battle, Nephilim

3. MF Doom - Born Like This
Doom went into obscurity for a good four years only to reappear in early 2009 with this dark, angry and cynical release. Sure, there are some recycled beats and tracks here and there but it's all capped off by Doom's insane flow and cryptic, scathing and humorous lyrics. The production is uniformly good and the inspired guest spots (including Ghostface, Raekwon, Empress Starhh, Bumpy Knuckles and others) help to set this album apart from so many others released this year.

Recommended Tracks: Gazillion Ear, Ballskin, Batty Boyz, Angelz, Microwave Mayo

2. Doomriders - Darkness Come AliveI like Doomriders' first album, Black Thunder. It sounds like Danzig and Entombed had a little too much whiskey one night and had a baby and then let a bunch of street punks adopt it. It was a fun little record, backed up by a tight and fun live show. I honestly wasn't expecting a followup, and certainly not one this good. Darkness Come Alive makes Black Thunder look like an anomaly, the difference between graduating middle school and graduating college. While BT was a fun-time party record, Doomriders seriously up the ante on their second release, crafting an album that manages to be both stone-cold serious and fun at the same time. The riffs are fantastic and diverse, covering ground between old-school heavy metal, tough-guy hardcore and stoner rock without seeming derivative or forced at any time. The vocals scream and yell with passion and venom. This album is so good I almost wish Nate Newton would quit Converge and tour with Doomriders full time.

Recommended Tracks: Come Alive, Crooked Path, Lions, Blood Avenger

1. Church of Misery - Houses of the Unholy
Everything about this album is perfect. From the excellent, Blue Note Records-inspired artwork to the crushing but clear production, Church of Misery's third full-length album swaggers confidently out of Japan into the U.S via Rise Above Records (now distributed by Metal Blade!) and we are all better people because of it. They take elements of Eyehategod, classic heavy metal (Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Sir Lord Baltimore [who see a hell of a cover on this album]) and a weirdness associated only with the Japanese and make a miraculous, clever and blood-soaked album that should be mandatory listening for any fan of doom metal. Every element, from the artwork to the serial killer themes to the music itself, coalesces in a way that somehow manages to one-up every other album that came out this year.

Recommended Tracks: El Padrino (Adolfo De Jesus Costanzo), Blood Sucking Freak (Richard Trenton Chase), Born to Raise Hell (Richard Speck)

Honorable Mentions:
Dalek - Gutter Tactics
The Gates of Slumber - Hymns of Blood and Thunder
Mastodon - Crack the Skye
Parlamentarisk Sodomi - De Anarkistikske An(n)aller
Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Top 20 of 2009: 20-11

Yeah, I know we're already half a month into 2010 but that's given me ample time to reflect upon the bounty of musical riches that 2009 gave us. This list went through a lot of editing and reflection to get to it's present form and I hope readers get something out of it.

20. Candlemass - Death Magic Doom
Was it really three years ago already that Candlemass announced Solitude Aeturnus vocalist Robert Lowe would be joining their ranks? In that time the band has toured the world (including the U.S. for the first time in seventeen years), put out an EP and this confident, eight-song full-length release. The music is aggressive, dark and intense, probably some of the strongest material this band has ever put out. DMD also finds Lowe coming into his own as Candlemass' mouthpiece, delivering an assured, malevolent and confident vocal performance that outshines 2007's King of the Grey Islands.

Recommended Tracks: Demon of the Deep, House of 1000 Voices, Hammer of Doom

19. Big Business - Mind the Drift
These guys are busy, between touring with the Melvins and as themselves it's a wonder they have any time to write and record new Big Business material. it's a good thing they do, because this record has some of the best material the band has ever written. With the addition of Toshi as a full-time guitarist (rather than just a live player), BB has the opportunity to explore all sorts of textural nuances they never could have otherwise in a duo context. Rather than just play rhythm, Toshi plays screaming lead licks and textures that compliment the already massive wall of distorted bass.

Recommended Tracks: Cats, Mice, The Drift, Theme From Big Business II

18. Wino - Punctuated Equilibrium

As a Wino fan, I bought all of the Hidden Hand's material despite my reservations about its' quality and the horrific vocals of bassist Bruce Falkinburg. I was kinda relieved when the band broke up, knowing that whatever project Mr. Weinrich took part in next would probably have less grating vocal stylings. Lo and behold I was right! January 2009 brought us this colossal gem, an album Wino has been waiting his entire career to unleash on the unsuspecting masses. A lot of why this album works has to do with the fantastic rhythm section of Clutch's Jean-Paul Gaster and Joe Blank (RIP), whose drum and bass stylings add a loose, funky classic rock groove to the proceedings. And those riffs! It's refreshing to hear Wino let rip as only he can, unfettered by the restrictions of a lesser band.

Recomended Tracks: Punctuated Equilibrium, The Woman in the Orange Pants, Secret Realm Devotion

17. Vektor - Black Future
For a great deal of 2007 and 2008 you couldn't swing a vintage pair of 1980s Converse Chuck Taylors without hitting someone holding a neo-thrash album. This cute trend, which attempts to emulate the sounds of such bands as Testament, DRI, old Slayer and Exodus, is full of seventeen-year-old losers writing songs about beating up poseurs, rocking out in the pit and wearing daddy's old patch jackets. Where bands like Municipal Waste were content to create their own visual aesthetic and sound based on the bygone era of eighties thrash, countless other bands swooped in to rip off classic artists in an attempt to cash in. This is not the case with Vektor. At first glance, their artwork (and logo!) paint them as nothing more than Voivod rip-off artists. Musically, this is not the case. Vektor, on their second album, whips together a frenzied cocktail of old Voivod, Coroner, Watchtower and Destruction into a potent blend of sonic destruction. Even the production sounds distinctly late eighties, whereas the music itself points squarely towards the future of the thrash genre.

Recommended Tracks: Black Future, Forests of Legend, Hunger For Violence, Accelerating Universe

16. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post PavillionThis is probably the prettiest sounding album on the list, and with damn good reason. It has hooks like a Japanese whaling boat that sink in and (unlike a ship used to kill innocent sea mammals) won't tear you apart. On this release, the band temporarily abandons some of their more experimental/avant-garde tendencies and makes a shimmering alt-pop masterpiece that leaves its sonic imprint on your brain long after the last listen.

Recommended Tracks:
My Girls, Summertime Clothes, Lion in A Coma

15. Eagle Twin - The Unkindness of Crows
The twisted, drunken lovechild of Tom Waits and Scott Kelly has noisy baritone guitar intercourse with the heaviest-hitting drummer this side of Dale Crover. The music itself is dense, noisy, twisting and turning, piling Gentry Densley's whiskey-soaked blues baritone on top of some of the heaviest riffs to see release in 2009. These guys deliver live, too, a rare feat for a two-piece built upon such density.

Recommended Tracks: In The Beginning Was the Scream, Storytelling of Ravens, Crow Hymn

14. Converge - Axe to FallConverge take a step back from their brutal 2006 offering No Heroes and decide to paint outside the lines a little bit. This plays out like a combination of their last three efforts, taking the assured, confident songwriting of No Heroes, the dark experimentation of You Fail Me and the unbridled aggression of Jane Doe and combining them in one effort. Guitar solos and melodic vocals on a Converge album? Hell yes. Never worked better before.

Recommended Tracks: Dark Horse, Reap What You Sow, Worms Will Feed/Rats Will Feast, Cruel Bloom, Wishing Well

13. Sunn O))) - Monoliths and DimensionsSunn's new album is like the continuation of the steps made forward on Altar and Oracle. The addition of brass instruments and the continued contribution of Attila Csihar on vocals creates a dark, impenetrable atmosphere that envelops the listener. I'd also like to point out the fantastic artwork - this is a record to be experienced in full at 2 AM, under some otherworldly influences with the album art spread out in front of you.

12. Cable - The Failed Convict
A massively underrated band who's broken up countless times and should be as big as their contemporaries Coalesce and Isis, Cable reunited to play some shows in 2008 and then released this album in late August to almost nonexistent reception. This is a shame, because on their sixth full-length release Cable show a great deal of diversity. The Failed Convict is a concept album about, well, a convict. I won't spoil the story but needless to say, he isn't a very good convict. Luckily for us, the music is great, combining southern rock influences, noisy post-hardcore, sludge and other elements into a diverse and potent stew. And the gang vocals! Holy shit, the gang vocals.

Recommended Tracks: Be the Wolf (holy southern chain gang vocals, Batman!), The Smashing Machine, Men on Mountains, Running Out of Roads to Ride

11. Gnaw Their Tongues - All the Dread Magnificence of PerversityThis is one of those albums that made me feel like taking a shower after listening to it. It's kinda like the audio equivalent of Lars Von Trier's fantastic Antichrist. At first I felt as though I needed a really good reason to justify liking something like this. My familiarity with noise is very limited - I'm not quite sure at times how to judge the genre on its own merits beyond "this doesn't annoy me." The more I listen to this, the more I hear the various layers and sounds Mories has deliberately laid down for the listener to discover. The atmosphere is thick, disquieting and creates an aura of repulsion and sickness that few recordings managed to get across in 2009.

Coming soon: 10-1, Top Movies of 2009 and the Top Films of the Decade!!!!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Stoner by John Williams

If you're like me, you probably spend more time browsing at Borders than you do actually shopping there. Because books are so readily available cheaply it's much easier to treat a visit to Borders as research - find out what books are out and then go to your nearest secondhand store or library book sale and get them for a fraction of the cost.

One day many months ago I was browsing the fiction/literature section of my local mall's Borders when I came across a title that caught my eye. I saw the title Stoner and had a good laugh. Huhuhu, "Stoner." Like a pothead. Someone who gets high recreationally. I then picked up the book and was surprised to see that the cover was not, in fact, a white guy with dreadlocks and a bong, but a painting of a stoic, dignified-looking man set against a drab tan background. Intrigued further, I read the description on the back of the book and found it was first published in 1965, before the word "stoner" became popular vernacular for marijuana user. In fact, "Stoner" is the title character's last name!

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, when my town library has their annual book sale. Books are dirt cheap ($1 for trade paperbacks? hell yes!) and in large amounts. I had the great fortune of finding a copy of Stoner there and quickly dug into it.

The book focuses on one William Stoner, the son of poor farmers who in 1910 at the age of nineteen goes off to Columbia University to study soil chemistry, hopefully to one day return home and allow the family farm to prosper. He lives with distant cousins, doing farm work to pay for his room and board. Stoner quickly discovers that he is not destined to till the earth like his father - rather he takes a sophomore year literature course that changes his life and begins a life-long love affair with the written word. From there Stoner graduates, becoming a student teacher and eventually pursuing a doctorate.

Set against the backdrop of the first half of the twentieth century, the perpetual late bloomer finds himself falling in and out of love, fathering a child, having a late-in-life affair and discovering that the two constants in his life - literature and the love of his daughter are the two things that keep life worth living. Although he endures many tragedies throughout the novel, Williams does not paint Stoner as a tragic character. Instead, Stoner endures and perseveres almost heroically, turning what would be an otherwise mediocre existence into an inspiring one.

Williams takes a character whose life should be by all accounts boring and transforms him into someone fascinating and lifelike through the simplicity and emotive qualities of his writing. The way he describes Stoner's blooming love of literature is evocative of a first love. He describes the hero's lone walks through the library as

"...he wandered through the stacks, among the thousands of books, inhaling the musty odor of leather, cloth and drying page as if it were an exotic incense. Sometimes he would pause, remove a volume from the shelves, and hold it for a moment in his large hands, which tingled at the still unfamiliar feel of the spine and board and unresisting page. Then he would leaf through the book, reading a paragraph here and there, his stiff fingers careful as they turned the pages, as if in their clumsiness they might tear and destroy what they took such pains to uncover."

Stoner displays a similar awkwardness when he first meets Edith, his future wife. Her character is fascinating. She is a proper lady, brought up to play piano delicately and keep house in a moderately wealthy family. Initially their relationship plays out in a "love at first sight" manner where the two are clearly enamored of one another, but as the relationship progresses both find they have very little in common.

Much of the couple's relationship deals with the large amount of sexual repression and inexperience both have, which ends up being one of the key ingredients that makes their marriage so damning. Nowhere is this summed up as best as it is on their honeymoon night, where Stoner is consumed with desire but finds

"...Edith was in bed with the covers pulled to her chin, her face turned upward, her eyes closed, a thin frown creasing her forehead. ...Stoner undressed and got into bed beside her. For several moments he lay with his desire, which had become an impersonal thing, belonging to himself alone. He spoke to Edith, as if to find a haven for what he felt; she did not answer. He put his hand upon her and felt beneath the thin cloth of her nightgown the flesh he had longed for. He moved his hand upon her; she did not stir; her frown deepened. Again he spoke, saying her name to silence; then he moved his body upon her, gentle in his clumsiness. When he touched the softness of her thighs she turned her head sharply away and lifted her arm to cover her eyes. She made no sound."

In fact, the only time her character shows any sort of sexual desire is when she finally decides she wants to conceive, during which time she spends the day at home in the dark, awaiting her husband's return so they can have lustful, animalistic sex. Their relationship is incredibly unhealthy - it exists in extremes without any sort of love or communication to balance them out.

I feel as if I could go on all day about this book. I actually stayed up until 5 AM the other night finishing it because I couldn't put it down. The subtle and moving qualities of Williams' writing, the sharpness of his characterizations and the almost existential tone of Stoner's life wove a spell over me from which I had no escape. This criminally overlooked novel was reprinted in 2007 by the New York Review of Books, hopefully giving countless other readers the opportunity to discover it for the first time as I have. It paints a picture of a man who stands like a sturdy redwood tree in the middle of a tornado: alone against the forces that would otherwise tear him down.