The Occupation Of Iraq Via Fantasy… Except Worse

New review up from author C.T. Phipps!


A killer new review just rolled in for Light Dawning from fellow author C.T. Phipps, who penned series like Wraith Knight, Lucifer’s Star, Agent G, and I Was A Teenager Weredeer.

According to Phipps, the grimdark backdrop of Light Dawning is like “the occupation of Iraq via fantasy, except even worse!” Read the full review at Goodreads here!



Games I Had To Hide From The Parents

Whether due to apostasy or pixelated blood sprays, these games all had to be played on the down low….

At the risk of sounding like that old man yelling for the children to get off his lawn, I’ve got to say that kid’s today don’t know how good they’ve got it on the gaming front. Rewind 20 years, and we didn’t all have laptops in our bedrooms and smart phones for getting in some quality RPG time at line in the grocery store.

We had to work for our games, and that was often complicated by the fact that gaming wasn’t really considered a legitimate outlet or serious industry back then. Attitudes have definitely changed, now that parents are just as likely to be playing Rock Band or hogging the Switch as the kids.

When you threw in the fear many parents had at the time of Satanic cults and video games causing violence, some us of had to work doubly hard to play the latest games. Considering that I went to a private Christian school during my middle school years, you can probably guess what my parents thought of video games in general and role playing games in particular.

Although there was a massive list of banned games in my home as a kid, I actually got off better than some of my class mates. I remember one kid in particular who wasn’t even allowed to play Cruisin’ USA on the Nintendo 64.
What could possibly justify banning a racing game with no violence or objectionable content of any kind? Because a fully clothed girl dances while holding your 1st place trophy at the end of a race, and that was just too smutty.

fuck       This was just too risque for 12 year olds to see apparently
In an environment like that, getting to play anything with demon enemies or a supernatural bent in the slightest was a careful balancing act. They usually had to be played late at night when the parents were asleep, or else by going over to a friend’s house whose parents weren’t as crazy on the religious side.

Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night

castlevaniaSOTNWhile a horde of games in the same style have since flooded consoles and handheld devices, when it came out Symphony Of The Night was revolutionary.

To this day it remains an excellent game that has aged well (with a few minor issues), but what’s notable is how some of the Japanese attitudes towards western religions broke through in the original text.

In the opening segment as Richter and Dracula are arguing, that big bad vampire is amused by Richter’s characterization that he steals men’s souls and turns them into salves, idly responding “perhaps the same could be said of all religions.”

Couple that little exchange with Alucard using items that cause gigantic pentagrams to appear on the screen, and SOTN was definitely a game to play on the down low if I didn’t want it removed from the home in a religious purge.

Revelations: Persona

You might not expect it from the pixelated graphics and unrefined gameplay of this earlier era, but there were some seriously subversive ideas getting thrown around as gaming was just getting its footing.

On the PC side you had games like Fallout introducing the first same sex marriage possibility in a video game, and then on console there was the oddball PS1 RPG Revelations: Persona.

Once again the Christianized west wasn’t quite ready for some of the text coming from a game rooted in Japanese culture, which has a very different take on demons and religion. Although it has aged horribly and is nearly unplayable now, as kid I couldn’t get enough of this game with its non-traditional RPG setting (a Japanese metropolis) and cast of characters (teenage high school kids surviving the apocalypse).

The moment that most sticks out when I first realized the game was going to get tossed if discovered was when one character off-handedly mentioned that Christian winged angels are actually based on the goddess Nike, and not on anything found in the Bible. Throw on the fact that the party could negotiate with the demon hordes instead of slaying them, and you had a perfect storm for a game every religious parent would loathe.

Vandal Hearts

There are so many classic PS1 games that tried pushing the boundaries of gaming in new directions when we started counting polygons instead of pixels.

Vandal Hearts is an interesting example that and had a story deeply rooted in politics (which is actually oddly relevant to modern day U.S. in a lot of ways).

That wasn’t the reason why I had to keep my Vandal Hearts sessions relegated to late nights or weekend mornings before the parents got up, though. Nope, that was squarely on the shoulders of the GIANT GOUTS OF BLOCKY BLOOD that went flying across the stream whenever you defeated an enemy.

They are sort of hilarious to look at now, but at the time this was about as gory as a game could get. Oh yeah, and then there were the flaming pentagrams when your wizard characters cast spells — that was a surefire way for a game to get banned!


While I managed to sneak quite a few games into the house that would have been otherwise declined, there wasn’t even any point in trying to install Diablo on the family computer.

Flaming letters? M rating? Giant demon guy on the cover? Yeah, check and mate. Wasn’t going to happen.

When the original came out I had to stay over at a friend’s house to play this classic of the ARPG genre on the weekends.

When the sequel landed, it took trips to a local internet cafe and to part with 4 bucks an hour to finally get to play Diablo 2! Years later I found that particular gem at Goodwill for a paltry $2.99 and couldn’t believe my luck.

Baldur’s Gate

There was an irrational terror of the phrase “Dungeons & Dragons” in my home growing up, no doubt brought on by the ludicrous Satanic Panic of the ’80s.

That D&D logo was the kiss of death, which made getting Baldur’s Gate really tricky.

There was no way I was going to miss this renaissance of the CRPG style, so I had to immediately throw the box away at the store and instead just keep the manual and CD insert.

That insert was a thing of beauty, flipping open and holding all 5 (yep 5!) discs… it also happened to have flaming skulls on each panel, which resulted in a frown and a “harumph” when my mom saw it sitting by the computer.

To this day It still amuses to me to no end that the flaming skulls were more acceptable than the words “Dungeons and Dragons.”

Final Fantasy 7

ff7I wasn’t one of those kids who got new consoles for Christmas or was just given a car by the parents. As a teenager, I had to save up a whole lot of money for a very long time to get a PS1, and it was all for one reason — Final Fantasy 7.

Now, the game itself was approved and everyone knew exactly what title I’d first be renting once I had enough to buy the Playstation (yeah, having cash enough to outright buy a new game was another matter, so renting was the way to go that weekend).

What caused the problem wouldn’t pop up until playing for a few hours…

It might not be apparent based on how they are viewed today and the powerhouse industry that has developed, but there was a time when games were thought of as just for children.

While any given Battlefield or Call Of Duty will have soldiers throwing out some expletives — and there are series like Kane And Lynch or GTA 5 where racial slurs and F-bombs drop from meth head mouths with great frequency — once upon a time the notion of someone saying fuck or shit in a video game was unthinkable.

Final Fantasy 7 might have been the first game I ever played that had those dreaded four letter words in them, and I knew as soon as Barret Wallace started talking that I’d have to be strategic about not letting those dialog bubbles pop up on the screen whenever a parent might be walking through the room. Not long after, Final Fantasy Tactics caused similar problems, but man was it ever worth the tight rope walk to play!

New Year Of Fantasy And Sci-Fi

28 books from 18 authors all at 99 cents!


2018 is here and its time to fill up your TBR pile! I had the distinct pleasure of teaming up with 18 killer authors for the New Year Of Fantasy & Sci-Fi promo running right now.

Until Sunday the 14th, we’re offering 28 of our collective books in the horror, sci-fi, and fantasy genres at only 99 cents each.

For less than a cup of coffee pick up my Light Dawning or anything by these stellar authors in the lineup like Rob Hayes, M.L. Spencer, Damien Black, Frank Dorrian, Richard Nell, and many more! Check out the full lineup here.


Underground Book Reviews Covers Light Dawning

Indie grimdark fantasy holds its own against the big name publishers!


We’re kicking off the new year with a killer new Light Dawning review from Underground Book Reviews! Here’s a little of what Steve Wetherell had to say about the grimdark fantasy novel:

Though filled with magic and monsters, Light Dawning is not about escapism. There are no heroes, only people making hard choices to stay alive. There are no noble sacrifices, only senseless deaths and desperate murders. In short, if you’re looking for jolly dwarves and sarcastic elves, maybe look elsewhere. However, if strong writing and palpable mood is your thing, by all means settle in.

Read the full review right here and be sure to leave a comment letting Steve know if you agree!


7 Albums That Changed My Perspective On Music, Part 2

Symphonic death metal, Tom Petty covers, and pirates all appear in these albums that radically changed my view on music!

After plenty of news on Light Dawning, its time to jump back into the metal for another look at killer albums that totally redefined my perspective on music.

Part 1 over here focused on 8 albums that radically changed what I thought was possible in music as a teenager well before I started working with Metalunderground. If you missed it, that one covered genre-bending, breaking, and making albums from Amorphis, Opeth, Samael, Peccatum, Tristania, Katatonia, Dimmu Borgir, and Arch Enemy.

After becoming a writer with MU, the number of albums that hit my inbox monthly exploded to a level I’d never possibly be able to keep up with. I’ve had the pleasure (and pain) of hearing some truly bizarre, and in some cases unbelievably awesome, albums. From big names to indie bands I guarantee you’ve never heard of, there’s a whole world of music out there that’s ready and waiting to expand your horizons.

The Alien Blakk – Bekoming

alienblakkThis one hit my speakers way back in 2010, and I can’t believe this album remains almost completely unknown in metal circles to this day.

Their Facebook page has 75 likes. There is no Bandcamp page. The official website looks like it was made ’95. NONE of the songs from this album are on YouTube or Spotify.

Contrast that with the fact that The Alien Blakk mastermind Joshua Craig has composed for a ton of video games and T.V. shows, in addition to working in the studio with a ludicrously wide range of bands.  David Ellefson and Kevin Talley perform on Bekoming. Mark Hamill (yep, Luke Skywalker and the voice of The Joker himself) does a voice over on the first track. What the WHAT?

On the first listen through of this wild ride of non-traditional metal, I remember idly musing that if Faith No More hadn’t broken up (and remember, this was a solid seven years before they got back together) that a modern day rendition might sound something like this.

There’s a really wide range of styles and song directions on the album, from totally bizarre to hauntingly emotional. The album features an absolutely killer cover of Runnin’ Down A Dream that sounds even better than the original as an amped up metal tune. Bekoming is an absolute trip, and one that’s a serious pleasure to take every now and again.

I wish I could embed a video here of the music, but to this day I’ve never found any online. You’ll just have to grab the MP3 album on Amazon and take the journey for yourself.

Alestorm – Captain Morgan’s Revenge

maxresdefaultQuite a few odd sub-genres in the metal world popped up over my time at Metalunderground that often faded back into obscurity, from djent to the bizarre resurgence of nu-metal to the totally unexpected pirate metal.

Of the latter, Alestorm was easily my favorite band, pumping out some really solid drinking songs that also happen to be killer metal tracks. Opening track Over The Seas from Captain Morgan’s Revenge had me immediately hooked, and the chanting, anthemic chorus to the title track only drew me in further. With fist pumping, gang chanting songs like Set Sail And Conquer, you can’t really go wrong here.

When I first heard Captain Morgan’s Revenge back in ’08, Megan and I held a pirate party that night and invited friends and family, drinking a whole lot of – you guessed it – Captain Morgan. Sadly we didn’t know about The Kraken Black Spiced Rum yet then.

That’s OK though, because the epic closing track Death Throes Of The Terror Squid (yes, that is a real song title) wouldn’t appear on an album for another three years. The latest album No Grave But The Sea has lost nothing of the ferocity or the humor, with the amazingly-titled Fucked With An Anchor an absolute treasure of hilarity.

Although there are other bands like Swashbuckle and The Dread Crew Of Oddwood nominally in the same category, Alestorm is really the only band with that sub-genre title to nab a major label and keep on going strong at the same level throughout the years.

And yeah, yeah, I know, Running Wild is actually the original pirate metal band, but frankly they don’t really put that theme forward in the sound nearly as much as Alestorm and are really more a power metal band than an explicitly “pirate metal” one.

Leprous – Bilateral

LeprousBilateral’s totally weird ass artwork could have landed it in my earlier look at fantastic albums with ridiculously bad covers.

Like with those other releases, ignore what’s happening visually here (not that that should be a problem for the digital generation that doesn’t hold albums in their hands anymore).

Bilateral was unquestionably the best prog release of 2011, hands down. I still listen to this album a couple of times a week nearly seven years later.

Every track offers something unique, from the frantic two minute and 45 second Cryptogenic Desires to the 10+ minute Forced Entry, which never gets boring for a single second of that lengthy run time. Ihsahn of Emperor appears for some harsh vocals on fourth track Thorn, and there is a fabulous collection of varied tempos and vocal stylings throughout, like the low-key piano opening to Mb. Indifferentia that just builds and builds and builds to a vocal climax.

Sadly, I haven’t been a fan of any album from these Norwegian prodigies since Bilateral. Follow-up release Coal was unlistenable garbage and I still can’t wrap my head around how anyone liked that obnoxiously repetitive excursion in sonic pointlessness. Down the line, The Congregation and Malina are both just tepid and less interesting versions of Bilateral, with a few dashes of the obnoxiously repetitive nonsense that was that lump of Coal.

Oh well, they’ve got this one album that’s still among the top releases in all of prog metal, ever, so they deserve some major praise anyway.

Solstafir – Svartir Sandar

solstafirSomewhat like Katatonia, Tiamat, Amorphis, and Samael before them, Solstafir is a band that started more on the extreme metal side and then became something very, very different.

2011’s Svarti Sandar was point blank just completely different than any style of metal I’d ever heard before.

There’s a strong base of atmospheric post-rock, but tempered by legitimately heavy aspects, and a tendency to create these big, wide open sonic adventures that bring to mind vast landscapes.

The band isn’t afraid to experiment, with extremely concise 1 – 3 minute songs next to 11 minute tracks that build up over time.  The sound shifts freely between haunting, slow moving segments and fast paced tracks with harsher vocals.

While Svartir Sandar overall is probably my favorite album, the best track from Solstafir is probably She Destroys Again from the Kold release. I always identify the song with the music video and see the two as one in my mind.

I was pretty bummed that Gummi left (or apparently was kicked out under unpleasant circumstances) back in 2015, as he was a big part of what made the band great, but he’s got his own project Katla now, so there’s a silver lining there for fans in getting two bands instead of one.

Freak Kitchen – Land Of The Freaks

freakHahah, oh man, a phrase like tongue-in-cheek doesn’t even begin to describe Freak Kitchen. I mean, Land Of The Freaks has a song called God Save The Spleen.

What’s interesting about this oddball album is that its not really a comedy release like you might be thinking. This isn’t Psychostick or Weird Al.

Freak Kitchen consists of incredibly solid musicians recording awesome metallic rock, and it just happens to frequently be silly in the extreme or even laugh out loud funny.

From the suburban soccer mom take down Honey, You’re A Nazi to the baffling Smell Of Time, and even Michael Jackson-esque pop flourishes on Sick Death By Hypocondria, there’s an absolute grab bag of oddity here, but its all wrapped up in a stellar sound.


Septicflesh – Communion

septicfleshI was never  particularly interested in the previous albums from these Greek demons, but you better believe Communion got my attention.

From those curiously evil guitar lines opening Lovecraft’s Death, it was clear this was going to be something special. Lots of bands add “symphonic” to their descriptor, but Septicflesh absolutely marries the symphonic elements to death metal in a perfect way, ending up both a horror movie soundtrack and a full force death metal album.

The review I wrote on this album ended up being like two solid pages long as I listened to the album over and over for hours that day. I even took my laptop and headphones to a house party that night so I could listen through again!

Septicflesh does a pheneomenal job on this album of keeping things fresh and interesting between songs, with totally different tones and tempos between songs like Anubis or Babel’s Gate (an absolutely crushing number). Sunlight, Moonlight has clean vocals and goes a totally different direction from the destructive power of the title track, but both sound like they belong together.

That’s a tough balancing act to maintain, but these guys did it. Even crazier, follow-up album The Great Mass manages to top it!


Tiamat – Amanathes

tiamatI picked this album up alongside Moonspell’s Night Eternal,and Ihsahn’s AngL all on the same day at our local Hastings (remember when record stores were a thing?!?).

Simply put, I’ve never hit the jackpot like that before. Those are three of my favorite albums from all of these bands, and that’s a day I’ll never forget.

Although significantly less heavy than something like Septicflesh, Tiamat still does a stellar job presenting subversive themes,  rejecting both god and the devil.

“Amanes” in particular has always struck me as a song about growing up and realizing Satan needs to be cast aside just as much as god. There’s a wide range of sounds in the 14 song journey to reach that conclusion though, from the empowering Equinox Of The Gods (ending with a creepy children’s voiceover segment), to the remembrances of glory past on Will They Come, to the straight up melancholic Misantropolis and Amanitis. For good measure, then there’s heavier and darker tracks like Raining Dead Angels.

I didn’t often give out 5/5 ratings when I was reviewing professionally, but this was one of those discs that got a perfect score.

New Lettering On Light Dawning

The light of a new day has dawned for this book cover!

I spent the last few weeks mulling a re-lettering on Light Dawning, looking for a way to make the title pop a bit more.

After going through several of my own iterations and collaborating with a few of the fine folks at the Grimdark Fiction Readers & Writers Facebook group, I finally ended up hiring Rob Matheny from the Grim Tidings podcast for the new edition.

Today I’m proud to unveil the new version, which can be seen below. If you like what he did with my cover, be sure to hit up Rob for your own books! The new cover is now online for the Kindle edition, with the paperback to follow shortly.


The Storyteller’s Corner Dissects Light Dawning

New video review online today!


Seems like some folks are finally starting to pay attention to a little indie author’s bleak grimdark world! After yesterday’s review from DavidsBookBlurg, today a new video review has come online courtesy of The Storyteller’s Corner.

This one goes crazy in-depth, so many thanks to Joshua for taking the time to dive so far into the guts of the novel and drag out those steaming entrails for the rest of the world to see. Here’s a little quote that caught my ear:

“Very professionally executed and with a grace to the storytelling technique.”

You can check out the full video review below, or listen in over at the The Storyteller’s Corner podcast here.