Tag Archives: Michael Szul

Fallen Nation

Michael Szul reviews Fallen Nation: Babylon Burning by James Curcio from the Key 23 archives.

How can I put this lightly? Fallen Nation is like Neil Gaiman’s American Gods on an ayahuasca trip, while rocking out to the noise of Mushroomhead, with the lyrical subtext of Steely Dan. To all those that thought Curcio’s Join My Cult! was good, this is James Curcio to the second power… with spicy mustard for added kick.

There has been a lot of comparisons made between James Curcio and Robert Anton Wilson, Philip K. Dick, or even a little Neil Gaiman. Throw those out the window – even my comparison above. If you’re reading Fallen Nation with those comparisons in mind, you’re not doing the book – nor Curcio – any justice. This is something totally new. Curcio’s book is specifically meant to stimulate the missing art of storytelling and hijack the archetypes of mythology that have – for too long – been buried in your subconscious.

Curcio has stepped up his game since Join My Cult!. Fallen Nation is big on cultural warfare, but unlike the rebellious “teenage revolution” feel of Join My Cult!, Fallen Nation is the more mature sibling that knows which battles are best to fight, and goes in with a game plan rather than a grenade. This isn’t to say that its tame; to the contrary, it makes it that much more powerful.

For additional information – and downloadable content – check out the book’s web site.

Ghosts I-IV

Michael Szul reviews Ghosts I-IV by Nine Inch Nails from the Key 23 archives.

If you’re a casual Nine Inch Nails listener, this digital download is probably not for you, unless you’re also a fan of slightly ambient industrial noise. If you’re a hardcore Nine Inch Nails fan – or a computer using musician – then this is definitely going to excite you. In fact, from the musician angle, this is probably the best thing you’re going to get your hands on in quite some time.

When you boil it down, Trent Reznor just, essentially, released a 36 track database of industrial noise and music under a license agreement that lets anyone grab it and run with it. On the downside, there is probably going to be a lot of crappy NIN-esque imitators with songs floating around the cybersphere. On the upside, musicians without the cash to pay for licensing or equipment are going to be able to have a nice collection of base material to build upon… and you’ll end with some great songs to counter the poor ones mentioned earlier.

Reznor has really done the unthinkable with this release. This is probably the most significant contribution to industrial music – and music in general – to come along in quite some time. I’m interested to see where it’s heading.


Michael Szul reviews Apocalypto, directed by Mel Gibson, from the Key 23 archives.

With the 2012 meme hot on the minds of alternative archeologists, occultists, religious fanatics, and the rest of us crazy people, the Mayan civilization has started its steep upward climb back into the minds of modern civilizations. Mel Gibson – fresh off of his Passion of the Christ work, in which he laughed at traditional movie distribution all the way to the bank – decided to try his hand at the ancient civilization equation with his Mayan epic Apocalypto.

As the title suggests, this is a story about the beginning of the end of the Mayan civilization, as told through the narrative of Jaguar Paw. His village invaded, and his people captured, Jaguar Paw is trekked across the Mexican jungle to a great Mayan city to be sacrificed. His only goal: surviving to get back to his wife, whom he left down a shallow cavern to save her.

Jaguar Paw’s ordeal is your traditional action/adventure; but his story allows Mel Gibson to give viewers a glimpse into the world of the declining Mayan civilization during a time of an immense drought, waning resources, and resulting in a large number of human sacrifices.

The movie, for the most part, is historically accurate, with some liberties taken to enhance the awe of the spectacle. Many people have complained about the movie being inherently racist with its portrayal of the Mayan’s as bloodthirsty savages; and though I will admit that the scientific and mathematical accomplishments of the Maya were glossed over in favor of the human sacrifice, we do know that a great deal of human sacrifice did occur during the Mayan decline. Gibson may have portrayed the Maya as overtly savage, but the scenes between Zero Wolf and his son showed compassion, and the city scenes showed a complex society built on more than just bloodshed.

Another complaint that a few had, was that they felt Gibson was portraying the conquistadores at the end as the “saviors with crosses” of these savage people. I disagree. If this were the case, then Jaguar Paw would have been “saved” by the them. Instead, he returns to his wife and seeks a “new beginning” deeper into the forest, away from the Spanish.

The DVD contains a nice documentary about the making of the film. Particularly interesting is the making of the city and costumes. The deleted scenes – or should I say scene – only contains one brief moment where an injured deer passes by.

The film itself is phenomenally entertaining and anyone caught up in the 2012 meme – or anyone who’s an ancient cultures buff – would do themselves a good deed by sitting down and watching it.

Fight With Tools

Michael Szul reviews Fight With Tools by Flobots from the Key 23 archives.

So I’m driving down the road listening to your stereotypical alternative rock station when they decide to play a song called Handlebars from a group named the Flobots. The first ten seconds sounded ridiculous, yet catchy; then the song broke out into rap music and I was totally mesmerized by the combination of intellectual lyrics and rock/rap beats. I was hooked.

I immediately turned on my laptop – the first chance I got – and previewed the album off of Amazon.com’s MP3 Downloads. More of the same. I liked what I was hearing. I bought and downloaded the entire album.

This is powerful rap music with a meaning. It’s not gansta rap. They aren’t rapping about money, guns, drugs and women, or killing people (over money, guns, drugs and women). It’s almost like a cross between the political rap days of Public Enemy, the thought-provoking lyrics of Mike Shinoda and the youthful enthusiasm of Gym Class Heroes.

This is an album everyone should listen to – whether you’re a rap fan or not.

2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl

Michael Szul reviews 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl by Daniel Pinchbeck.

I was phenomenally impressed with Daniel Pinchbeck’s Breaking Open the Head, so when 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl was published, I jumped on purchasing it as soon as I could.

It has taken me a while to complete the task of finishing up this book. I had started it several months afters its publication, but had to put it down as other things had occupied my attention. The enthusiasm to pick it back up had wanned a bit, and it wasn’t until a few months ago that I decided to task myself with completing the read.

Whereas Pinchbeck’s Breaking Open the Head was a subjective journey into psychedelics and the spiritual nature of these indigenous catalysts – which ultimately led Pinchbeck to accept the spiritual realms – 2012 is his continued journey into the belly of the spiritual and paranormal – with continued psychedelic use – as he attempts to search for truth and find a place for himself in this new spiritual worldview. In his first book, he was a man in a mid-life crisis attempting to look for something more in his shallow post-beatnik literary New York world. In his second book, he’s a newborn making discoveries and drawing conclusions in an attempt to make sense of his new knowledge. It was an interesting transition to watch him go through.

Pinchbeck is well learned; and 2012 is an excellently researched book. It offers a springboard for several points of study should the reader want to go off in any one of the many directions that this book takes. Pinchbeck brings up everything from psychic abilities, the occult, to many other fringe sciences and archeology. This book is not one that you tread lightly in. Leave the TV off. You’re going to need your concentration.

Pinchbeck spends a lot of time focusing on crop circles in what is probably the most entertaining section of the book. I’m not a crop circle fan, but his work in this area does make me want to investigate some of that phenomena further.

Pinchbeck’s style is very multi-tiered. He mixes normal events in his personal life with researched material as well as spiritual experiences. In this way, 2012 can be read from several different angles: as a research tome, as a spiritual investigation, and as a personal look at the psychology of the author. It wasn’t until the latter 2/3’s to 1/4 of the book that I felt that the third tier was overpowering the rest.

Two significant things happen in this book that affect the rest of the writing: Pinchbeck comes to his epiphany about crop circles, and he cheats on his partner by making out with another woman. Both occur at roughly the same time. When Pinchbeck has his epiphany, he makes the transition from researcher to philosopher. He takes his conclusions and runs with them, believing that he has found the key to the crop circles and trying to find someone to hear him out. This epiphany, in many ways, seems to affect his outlook on spirituality. He builds a condescending attitude towards the New Age and flippant tiredness towards events like Burning Man – an event where he decided to trip and then stretch the experience by refusing to sleep and fasting.

Furthermore, Pinchbeck begins to preach the necessity of polyamorous relationships, and seems to be trying to use indigenous relationships, and a search for a new way at viewing sexuality, as a justification for his infidelity. I know a few people who are polyamorous, and one thing I know for certain is that they accept all ideas of sexuality. They have never tried to preach the virtues or “rightness” of theirs over another’s beliefs. Pinchbeck’s insistence on polyamory boils to the point of a “voice” in his head demanding that he sleep with a woman who had previously turned him down or else kill himself by walking off into the wood. This is later understood by Pinchbeck to be the yearnings of a past self, but his insistence and attitude during this episode is a contradiction to the open-mindedness displayed earlier in this book.

Whether the end is near or not we’ll never really know until it is upon us, but one thing that shines through dramatically in this book is the necessity to pay attention to the indigenous cultures of the past and heed their myths and stories. These people were far more in tune with the world than we ever were. They know that the environment is having issues… now it’s out turn to listen and act. Daniel Pinchbeck gives us a phenomenal look at one man’s journey to find his place in all this madness. Maybe it’ll move some of us to do the same… and along the way, maybe we can fix some of the damage that we’ve done. [via]