Living After Midnight
Acid Grave Press
$0.99 (Kindle version)
Review by Darkeva
The Review: An anthology of six short stories with each one named after one of their favourite metal bands as the title. It’s designed to appeal to readers who are both horror fiction fans and metalheads (myself included). And the book’s title couldn’t be a more appropriate choice, named after one of the greatest Judas Priest albums.
The first story is “Spooky Tooth” by Randy Chandler, in which Dakota Joe Cadillac, a strange guy getting his head shaved by a girl, tells us how he murdered Dogberry, a fictional famous and popular rock star. Dogberry made a deal with who he thought was the devil (really a shapeshifter), naturally at a crossroads in true music lore fashion after the story of blues musician Robert Johnson. The story also utilises a refreshing narrative structure by revealing who the murderer is first, and then leading the reader through how the events came to be.
Despite the forthcoming nature of the main character, a “bald wraith” confession comes from a girl, Zinnia’s, point of view. She has an equally exciting twin sister who spices things up.
The spunky, blunt tone of the story works well, although the story had a few confusing spots because of how little the author reveals in each sentence.
In this tale, one doesn’t become a werewolf by a bite, spell, or ritual, which was a nice variation. The point of view of Zinia’s sister, Columbine, is included as well, right before the murder scene. It turns out that Dakota is a journalist, which explains why there are newspaper/magazine quotes before the story, but not why a werewolf rock star would admit to being one albeit in private quarters.
The rock star, Caleb Dogberry, has disjointed dialogue at times, and although intentional, the Non Sequiturs in his speech can be challenging to follow. His revelations of how he comes up with song lyrics is interesting, especially because of the way he describes it. Sometimes the gritty humour really stands out and Caleb’s “Judd Nelson as Bender” tone is fantastic.
He is angry and full of venom towards this journalist, which was an interesting twist, because when I started reading the story, my sympathy had originally gone to Caleb, but after you spend time with him in this story, you’ll see how toxic his attitude is and you’ll want to keep watching him despite your repulsion.
There’s also a lot of phallic symbolism in this story, which was an interesting choice, as well as a hilarious “Dear Reader” aside. Caleb makes Dakota into a werewolf in a sadomasochistic erotic ritual. It’s truly sickening, and I don’t mean that lightly. The whopping ending will wallop the reader, and you will most definitely get an “I got punked” feeling after you finish reading this. Although I will confess that I’d never heard of Spooky Tooth before getting this anthology, it’s a fantastic story.
The second tale, “Iron Maiden,” is my favourite. Before I read the story, it riled up my excitement, because I’m a huge Maiden fan. This tale takes place in 1980, a great year for heavy metal, and this is a British story with the main character, Dom, being a rocker in a band. The Iron Maiden is a ship, which I thought was a pretty neat revival of the traditional torture device known as the Iron Maiden. An ethereal voice continues to call out to Dom. Eventually, his bandmates start to wonder about him. In particular, the band’s Norwegian drummer, Olaf, is pretty funny with his clipped English.
Although it was obvious that the voice is a siren, when Dom sees her, she looks more like a mutated bird or a Valkyrie. Soon, the whole band has noticed his absence and is lured to the ship. It’s tragic what happens to the characters, and unfair, particularly in the case of the band’s lead singer.
If you think sirens are lame or overused, you definitely won’t after reading this story. They’re quite invasive, tricky, and surprising in this tale. It’s an amazing sea voyage nightmare story that actually feels like Symphony X should have written it or based one of their albums on it.
The emotional connection that I felt to the characters was the one of the strongest I’ve had, especially for a short story, and although the ending is horribly sad, it’s appropriate and will resonate with the reader.
Next up is “Black Sabbath” (another of my favourite bands) and this one deals with a zombie apocalypse. This one I had a harder time getting into, but it’s still an enjoyable tale.
My second favourite of the stories was “Judas Priest” by David T. Wilbanks. Before reading this, my expectations were as high as they were for the Maiden story, and it definitely didn’t disappoint. The main character, Billy, has been stabbed in an alley. Apparently, he has been stabbed and shot many times and an older doctor has always patched him up. He’s involved with some kind of mobster, who he does hits for. His sister uses magic to make him powerful luck charms, but when she refuses Billy’s request for a more powerful one, he finds the name of a wizard on her fridge — someone who will help him, but at a high cost.
The descriptions in this story are fantastic, and the wizard, Leiss, is vividly drawn as a creepy old wizard who seems shifty at every turn. This story echoed shades of Clive Barker to me at times. I never thought the words “Judas Priest” could be transformed into something that, though it’s very different, seems like it could be the subject of one of the real band’s songs.
We’re then treated to “Mötorhead” in which a guy named Hawley has a snake inside him that can alter the environment and cause other creepy hallucinatory images. The snake has turned him into a power-hungry monster, and this is a torturous tale that can be hard to stomach at times.
“Slayer” by L.L. Soares introduces the first main character, Abercrombie, who is pledging his devotion to Saint Rainier and the city of Admah, one of five cities that God destroyed along with Sodom and Gomorrah. He goes around murdering people in the name of Rainier when the narrative introduces us to the second main character, Leon, who is part of a washed up 80s band that is trying to get back to the top.
Apparently, it’s a little known legend that Saint Rainier and a select troupe who survived the destruction at Admah. Rainier was descended from Admah survivors and he healed people until others persecuted him as a witch and proceeded to disembowel and mutilate him for his troubles. Abercrombie claims that Rainier never wanted his powers.
When we get back to Leon, we see him arguing with his vicious ex-wife and trying to get his son’s attention, but the boy isn’t having any of it. The only criticism I would have is that it wasn’t immediately clear what Leon and Abercrombie had to do with each other, but eventually the two do meet.
Leon is a complex character. Although formerly married and a father, he’s gay. He wears his heart on his sleeve, and he has a lot to be sad about in contrast to Rainier, who is unreadable. This is one screwed-up tale that I’ve been awaiting for a long time. This one is a bit longer than the other stories, but the ending is well worth the wait.
Any die-hard metal fan will absolutely devour this well-edited, well-written anthology.
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