Regulars here will be familiar with my affinity towards metal, and it’s the blackest of metal on most occasions is what I can be found listening to. Yes, that abrasive, caustic stuff where singers shriek, garggle and howl into the microphone, guitars cut and scythe and drums blast you into a state of perpetual unconsciousness. Admittedly, it isn’t for everyone and so might be the case with this novel from David Peak published by the fabulous Word Horde.
If Corpsepaint had a soundtrack then it would be split into two halves. The first half of the novel would perhaps march to the beat of Harakiri for the Sky. The Austrian two piece play a style of black metal much smoother on the palette. There are melodies aplenty running alongside the thundering rhythms and barked vocals. It’s actually very…..tuneful! Such is the case with David Peak’s novel which introduces us to Roland and Max: two black metal musicians off on a journey to Europe to record a new album. There is a certain spark about these two. Their relationship feels combustible like something could go off at any second. There are moments of recklessness with the pair and this was certainly a feature of many black metal musicians back in the 90s when church burnings were all the rage! Corpsepaint hints at things to come but nothing too crazy happens…yet!
If the first half of the novel was Harikiri for the Sky then the second half would have to be A Blaze in the Northern Sky by Darkthrone. Darkthrone‘s classic album is a brutal assault on the senses and in keeping with this things get pretty dark as our two musicians arrive at a camp in the Ukraine wilderness under the watchful eye of cult act Wisdom of Silenus. What could go wrong?
Corpsepaint doesn’t fall into the trap of being exclusively for black metal elitists, though if the genre has ever held any sort of fascination and you like horror then you need to read this book. I think Peak expertly captures the feel of the genre, not only this, but the beautifully bleak landscapes of Eastern Europe come to life on the pages. The characters feel realistic in keeping with genre attitudes. The only thing they care for is the music. Their nihilistic approach to everything else is lifelike with many attitudes displayed during black metals heydays.
The two main characters, Max and Roland and both are fascinating. Max is a legend of the scene. With three classic albums under his belt, he is worshipped by many. Roland is a talented musician, Max’s protegé, though a little naive and foolhardy. Their relationship is fraught from the beginning, which can often be the case when creative types come together. I liked how Max often felt aggravated by the success of his bands earlier material and how everybody always seems to want to discuss those records. I imagine this is a thing for many bands, I mean how many times do Metallica get asked about the black album?! It drives him to make this new record even better, but at what cost?
The couple’s arrival in Ukraine sets off a chain of events culminating in a bloody finale. Relationships are stretched further and further with the cult living in the compound where the album is to be recorded. This leads to bloodshed and a journey into the outer realms of the old gods where the entire collective is threatened by forces beyond their control.
It’s a testament to the quality of Peak’s writing in the fact that there are no likeable characters in this story. Most are drug abusing, drunk, morons and yet I was compelled to find out what fate had in store for them.
Corpsepaint is certainly a bleak reading experience, as a fan of black metal, I’ll say this is the best book I’ve read that truly captures the essence of the music and the scene. The cosmic horror elements towards the end are fantastic, the dream sequences take this book to another level and I loved the mythology behind it all. In some ways, the latter half of the story reminded me of Adam Nevill’s The Ritual but Peak’s book is definitely something else.
I loved Corpsepaint. I love black metal, I love cosmic horror. This book is a match made in heaven (or should that be Hell?!) for me.
5/5 anthems to welkin at dusk from the Grim Reader.
Pick up a copy from here.