Tag Archives: John F.D. Taff

Savage Beasts

We have always been right upfront that Shock Totem would not exist were it not for the staff’s mutual love of music. Ken and I originally met on a music forum and music threads its way through most of what we do. So when I was asked to review a collection of horror stories inspired by music, I was all in. I’ve read similar anthologies before—Shock Rock, Shock Rock II, Dark Notes from NJ—but most of those were inspired by one specific genre of music. Savage Beasts proves a little more interesting in that it is inspired by many genres of music, that multi-faced beast, classical, prog rock, metal…all are given a chance to leave their bloody thumbprint on a reader’s forehead.

The collection opens with “To Soothe the Savage Beast,” by Edward Morris, a story of history and a haunting, one steeped in jazz and violence. Karen Runge gives a strange tale of love and animals (literal and symbolic). Shawn Macomber offers up an itchy story called “Pestilence by Beemahr,” where he shows that the quickest way to horror country is with icky, ooky, creepy, crawly, squirmy bugs. Although, this is lot smarter than your average insect horror tale, this one is steeped in consequence.

“Killing Noise,” by Konstantine Paradias, is an exploration of music as a weapon and it certainly is not the kind of music you’re expecting it to be. “When Death Walks the Field of Battle,” by J.C. Michael, is exactly what the title promises. Paul Michael Anderson’s “Crawling Back to You” is a dark song about bad relationships, addiction, and the darkness that swaddles them both. The anthology closes out with “The Musik des Teufels,” by T. Fox Dunham. I can’t even fully describe what he’s done here…almost mad scientist journal filtered through opera/musical linen and drunk with fever by flawed and fractured souls. Beautiful and strange.

I liked the overall tone of the collection and the concept, a few of the tales while good did not resonate as long as others. Stoker Award-nominated editors, Anthony Rivera and Sharon Lawson, did an excellent job here, compiling a variety of tales inspired by a variety of musical styles. The inclusion of story notes always wins points with me.

Savage Beasts is available from Grey Matter Press.

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Horror Library Volume 5

I’m a huge fan of anthologies and collections. They’re great for those short attention span periods when you want to read but can’t commit to anything lengthy. They’re awesome for lunch breaks and in the bathroom. (Don’t give me that grimace, you know you read in there!) The problem with them is they are most times an uneven offering of material. Several great stories sprinkled in amongst a majority of meh or even terrible tales. Once in a while you get one that knocks the cover off the ball…but that’s rarer than a four-leafed clover.

Cutting Block Press has been putting out the Horror Library series for a few years now, but this is the first I’ve gotten the chance to dig into. Thirty stories rear their ugly heads here, the majority by authors I have not read before, but a few by those I have. Let’s get into the particulars, shall we?

We open with Pat MacEwen’s “Blown,” a gritty almost noir-ish tale of death and forensics. We go then into Ian Withrow’s wonderfully bizarre story of a lonely boy and his calling, entitled “Jerrod Steihl Goes Home.” John F.D. Taff’s “The Immolation Scene” is a grisly expose on arson and treachery. “A Body At Rest,” by Lorne Dixon, one of my favorites, is a darkly sad tale of loss and grief, drenched in terror and the surreal. This is followed by J.S. Reinhardt’s “By the Time I Get To Five,” in which we meet a man trapped in his own hell.

Next up is a fantastically eerie sliver by one of my favorite authors, Bentley Little, entitled “Notes for An Article on Bainbridge Farm.” Just chilling. Sanford Allen’s “Noise” is about a concert that is not intended for everyone’s ears. Shane McKenzie’s “Open Mind Night at the Ritz” is a weird story about flesh bending and performance. I was blessed to witness him read this at KillerCon a few years ago. Shane can always be counted upon to bring the “What the fuck?” With “Almost Home,” Kevin Lucia hands us a bleak and symbolic story of loss. Michael A. Arnzen’s “Pillars Of Light” explores faith and the powerful grip it can have.

“Footprints Fading In the Desert,” by Eric J. Guingard, is a story with an almost urban legend vibe. “The Vulture’s Art,” by Benjamin Kane Ethridge, is heavy in its symbolism and grisly with its message. “Activate,” by Boyd E. Harris, left me slightly confused but seemed to carry a sinister tone. Adam Howe’s “Snow Globe” is an old fashioned tale of the repercussions of dark deeds. “Intruders,” by Taylor Grant, delivers a somber premise as to what imaginary voices are really about. And Steve McQuiggan gives us an off-kilter, slightly bizarro haunted house story with “The Boathouse.”

While not the most even anthology out there, Horror Library Vol. 5 has its fair share of solid fiction. It is a good companion for waiting rooms, bathroom breaks, and the lunch table, and is available through Cutting Block Press.

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