Witch Switch

Below is one of the best album-covers I’ve ever seen. It’s a triumph of subtlety and simplicity:

Burning Witch, Crippled Lucifer (1998)


The American blackened doom sludge-sters Burning Witch used Sorgen / Sorrow (1894-5), a painting by the Norwegian painter Theodor Kittelsen (1857-1914), to conjure an atmosphere of despair and darkness. Here is the original painting, skilfully combining snow, darkness and despair:

Theodor Kittelsen, Sorgen (1894-95)


But while the painting and album are good examples of less-is-more, the album is also an example of less-and-more. Part of its power comes from the contrast between the simplicity of the wandering figure and the complexity of the scripts used for the band’s name and album title:

Crippled Lucifer (detail)


Usually images are more detailed than writing. Here it’s the reverse. And while you can easily read the writing, despite its complexity, you can’t “read” the figure, despite its simplicity. Kittelsen’s skilful simplicity raised questions that can’t be answered. Is the figure male or female? Why is it sorrowful? Where is it going?

Well, you can say where it’s going in one sense: it’s walking from left-to-right. And that made me wonder whether the album could have become even starker in its contrasts. If you’re literate in Norwegian or English, you naturally read images from left-to-right, because that’s the direction of the Roman alphabet. On the album, you read the figure and the writing in the same direction. They contrast starkly in other ways, but they don’t contrast there. So let’s try making them contrast there too. Compare these two versions of the cover:

Crippled Lucifer (original cover)


Crippled Lucifer (figure-and-snowscape mirrored)


I think there’s something emptier and more despairing in the mirrored figure, walking from right-to-left. On the original cover, the figure is in some sense walking into the future, despite the weight of sorrow it carries. As we read from left to right along a piece of writing, what’s to the left of our eye is the past, and what’s to the right is the future. The figure carries the same implication. And because the figure moving towards the highly-complex-but-perfectly-intelligible band-name-and-title, there’s almost an implication that its story will be told, even if it’s moving towards death or suicide.

When the image is mirrored, all that disappears. Moving from right-to-left, the figure seems to be walking into the past, not the future. It’s no longer near or moving towards the complexity-and-intelligibility of the band-name-and-title. It’s abandoning the world more strongly: there’s no hope, no future, no implication that its story will be told.

I think the same happens, though less strongly, when the original painting is contrasted with a mirrored version:

Sorrow (original)


Sorrow (mirrored)


The contrast is less stark because, unlike the album-cover, there’s no complex patch of writing in the painting and the figure is moving away from what writing there is: the artist’s signature in the bottom left. In the original, the figure is abandoning identity and intelligibility by moving away from the signature. That’s why I’ve removed the signature in the mirrored version of the painting. It would be anomalous on the right, whether or not it was mirror-reversed, and it would be anomalous if it stayed on the left.

Finally, here’s a photo of two musicians in Sunn O))), the band into which Burning Witch eventually evolved:

Sunn O))) in black robes


In the original, Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson are walking from right-to-left. Here’s a mirrored version for comparison:

Sunn O))) photo (mirrored)


I think the original photo has more power, because the robed figures are walking against the grain, as it were — against the direction in which our Roman-alphabet-conditioned eyes read a photo.

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #67

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Killer Chiller ThrillerNight Without End, Alistair MacLean (1959)

Above and BelowThe Archaeology of Underground Mines and Quarries in England, John Barnatt (Historic England 2019)

Wannabe Wonder-WeaverThe Best of Robert Westall Volume One, Robert Westall (1993)

All Glitter, No GlowA.C. Swinburne: A Poet’s Life, Rikky Rooksby (Scolar Press 1997)

Recycle, RepeatRevival, Stephen King (2014)

Gained in TranslationCuentos de Averoigne: Todos los Cuentos de Averoigne de Clark Ashton Smith, traducción de Enric Navarro (Pickman’s Press 2019)

Sean of the HeadAm I Evil? The Autobiography, Brian Tatler with John Tucker (2009; second edition 2017)

Posted at Overlord of the Über-Feral:

Maximal MozMorrissey in Conversation: The Essential Interviews, ed. Paul A. Woods (Plexus 2016)

Absence and EssenceAbandoned: The Most Beautiful Forgotten Places from Around the World, Mathew Growcoot (Ebury Press 2017)


Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Loose the Juce

Gazelle Amber Valentine of Jucifer live on stage


Pre-Post-Previously Post-Pre-Posted

Decibelle — Amber Valentine with her amplifiers


Post-Performative Post-Scriptum

Well, it’s your actual double entendre, innit.

Capnic Caravan

Sleep, Dopesmoker (2012 reissue)


I’ve never been able to get into the band Sleep and, not being a keyly committed core component of the hive-mind, I’m not a fan of dopesmoking either. But this is a good cover by the artist Arik Roper, with a nice Dune-y vibe.


To engage issues around the title of this incendiary intervention, see here:

capno-, capn-, capnod- (Greek: smoke; vapor; sooty) — Wordquests

Hal Bent for Leather

It isn’t the best possible phrase to be governed by “in terms of” in the pages of
The Guardian
, but the combination below may be the archetypal item of Guardianese:

And what about the leather? Was that also a signal? [Rob Halford:] “It wasn’t conscious. But how ironic that I chose that look – Glenn, the biker from the Village People. That wasn’t my attachment, in terms of the gay community, but I understood the power of that look.” — How Judas Priest invented heavy metal, The Guardian, 10×2010.


Elsewhere other-engageable:

All posts interrogating issues around “in terms of”
All posts interrogating issues around the Guardian-reading community and its affiliates


Poovy Postscript

The title of this post was originally “Highway to Hal”, which is feeble. I don’t know why I didn’t think a bit longer and come up with the present title, which has a double entendre (your actual French, ducky).

Hair Today

“We had a roadie guarding his dressing room, to stop him [Graham Bonnet] getting out, because he was threatening to have his hair cut. It was very petty, but it had become an obsession with me. But he got out of the back window and went and got his hair cut. I didn’t see him until we went on stage, and, sure enough, he’d had his hair cut really short. He was doing it just to annoy me.” — Ritchie Blackmore: “[…] Music is very serious”, The Guardian, 25/v/2017

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #38

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Nature by Numbers30-Second Elements: The 50 Most Significant Elements, Each Explained in Half a Minute, ed. Eric Scerri (Icon 2013)

Fresh FleshThe Complete Illustrated Guide to Freshwater Fish & River Creatures, Daniel Gilpin and Dr Jenny Schmid-Araya (Hermes House 2011)

The Reich StoffRocket and Jet Aircraft of the Third Reich, Terry C. Treadwell (Spellmount 2011)

Past MastersJustice for All: The Truth about Metallica, Joel McIver (Omnibus Press, revised edition 2014)

Ant on E – Burgess on Waugh

M.O.R. of BabylonSleazy Listening: Frottage, Fladge and Frenzied Fornication in the Music of the Carpenters, Dr Miriam B. Stimbers (University of Nebraska Press 2015)


Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR