Reviewing Hell: The Shannara Chronicles Episodes 3-4

A lot television shows struggle after the first few episodes. In those first few episodes, you have to so much to do: introduce characters, build a world, establish tone, etc., that it’s easy to carry the first few hours along. Then the hard work begins: you have to come up with new stories every week.

The Shannara Chronicles seems to be settling into its week to week episodes fairly well. The show is beginning to establish a “demon of the week” pattern, where our trio of dreamy adventurers will confront and overcome a demon: the fury in episode 3, the Changeling in episode 4, and it seems like the Reaper in episode 5. Throw in the quest motif, and it seems like the series will be able to keep things moving nicely along.

General atmosphere/demonic spookiness: Lots of demons, special effects, and elfstone magic. The show has kept things brisk and exciting, and the demons seem like enough of a threat to keep the action moving forward. I’m worried that if our heroes keep defeating the demons so easily, they won’t come across as very demonic. Perhaps once more demons escape and threaten the kingdom with some demon armies . . .

Faithfulness to the book: At this point, The Shannara Chronicles is completely off-script from the book. In the books, Eretria isn’t always hanging out with our other two heroes Wil and Amberle. In the show, they’ve gone to convoluted lengths to get them all on screen at once. They’ve also greatly beefed up Eretria’s father’s role. These are probably good additions. You can’t have a love triangle unless it’s triangle-ing.

All in all, The Shannara Chornicles has been a good demon show through 4 episodes. It presents a new kind of demon on screen, and it’s interesting to see a fantasy world where demons (and not dragons or orcs) are the enemies. I hope they can keep up the momentum.

Score: 7.5 out of 10 demons.

Reviewing Hell: The Shannara Chronicles, Episodes 1-2

It may strike you as odd to see a review of The Shannara Chronicles here at Hell Mythos, but Terry Brooks’ fantasy series is heavily rooted in the demonic. *Light spoilers follow*: the main antagonists in Elfstones of Shannara, the novel The Shannara Chronicles are based on, are demons, and Brooks linked those demons to our our own world in his World and Void Trilogy. Those books start with Running with the Demon (review up shortly), and are super demon-focused. So, all in all, Shannara is deeply inflected by visions of demons. As such, it goes up here at Hell Mythos!

It’s also the golden age of demonic-themed TV shows in January 2016: Lucifer debuts later this month. I’ll also do weekly reviews of that series once it starts. I’ll be interested to see if such Hellish television can be successful.

So how is The Shannara Chronicles? I won’t use my standard  rating criteria until the season is over, but here are my thoughts on the first episode:

General atmosphere/demonic spookiness: This is where the series shines. The landscapes are beautiful, complete with well done CGI to keep the vistas impressive. Since Shannara takes place in our world after technology has fallen, we get a good amount of wrecked buildings, roads, etc., amidst the bright green landscape. The first episode showed an impressive range of locales as well.

The demons were equally impressive and frightening. In the first episode alone, we get numerous demons and even a full-fledged demon fight. That’s a far cry from Game of Thrones‘s slow burn with their supernatural enemies. I thought the demons looked good, even if the CGI was a little on the fake-side in a few scenes. The design of the Dagda Mor was genuinely disturbing (influenced by Hellraiser). I look forward to seeing more of them.

Plot/action:Shannara is more of a straightforward epic quest than Game of Thrones. There was a little too much exposition in this first episode (there has to be to explain a complex fantasy world), but plenty happened. It looks like Shannara will be very fast-paced, which should help the series out.

Acting: The knock on The Shannara Chronicles is that it’s the “teenage romance” Game of Thrones, and that certainly is reflected in some of the acting and dialogue. The main characters are the kind of blandly pretty stars you often see: cast more for their looks than for their acting talent. When they’re dealing with each other, they don’t have a lot of chemistry yet. The show also tries too hard (at times way too hard) to sex things up. We’ll have to wait and see if the cast can develop some more chemistry. The actor playing Allanon did an excellent job, to the point that he seemed to be in a different and far more serious show.

Faithfulness to the book: They changed a fair amount from the book, mostly to get us into the action faster. They sped stuff up, gave Amberle an initial boyfriend (why?), gave Allanon a spurned lover (WTF?), and added an early fight with a demon. While the increased romance angle was a little jarring to a fan of the book, I’ll take a wait and see attitude. Overall, the first episode was faithful to the characters and general plot, if not particularly faithful to details. Eretria looks like she’ll have a much bigger role here than in the books.

So, all in all, a promising start to a new series. It’ll be interesting to see if the television show can capture the urgency of the book, and whether or not they can successfully get Terry Brooks’s vision successfully on the screen.

Initial rating: 7.5 out of 10 demons.

Reviewing Hell: Black Sabbath (1970)

Black Sabbath’s first album starts with the sound of rain and the tolling of bells—and then you get forty minutes of Hell that invented heavy metal and brought Satan roaring back to the mainstream. This self-titled debut is many things: loose, messy, menacing, spooky, and completely unlike anything that had come before it. By the time Ozzy Osbourne sings “Is it the end, my friend? / Satan’s coming ’round the bend” near the end of the first track, music history had already changed for the better. Since then, a thousand bands have tried to take us back to Hell, and none have ever done it better than Black Sabbath did on their first record.

The Set-Up: Black Sabbath is a series of haunting “songs”—there aren’t any choruses, and the only musical hooks are provided by Tony Iommi’s riffs and Ozzy’s terrifying voice. From the underworld perspective we focus on here at Hell Mythos, it’s the title track “Black Sabbath” and the multi-part “Wasp/Behind the Wall of Sleep/Bassically/N.I.B.” that are the heart of the record. Both are songs explicitly about Satan, setting heavy metal along it’s dark path. With sludgy, grinding riffs, Black Sabbath takes us on an odyssey into the black parts of the human mind, whether the songs be about wizards, sleeping villages, or Lucifer’s hollow promises. A little more unity across the songs would be nice, but that’s nitpicking. 9/10.

Scope: Ozzy and the boys take us across a surprising range of topics and sounds: “Black Sabbath” is spooky sludge; “The Wizard” has a kind of demented blues feel complete with harmonica; “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” references Lovecraft with a hooky opening riif; “N.I.B,” which most people mistakenly think stands for “Nativity in Black,” is our open love-letter to Satan. There’s even a mediocre cover of a pop song in “Evil Woman,” shoehorned into the album in a misguided attempt to make it more popular. That misstep aside, this is a musically broad album, with an impressive range of content. 9/10.

Horror: Before Black Sabbath, no one realized how scary rock and roll could actually be. There’s always been a despairing, minor-key dirge buried deep in the blues and jazz, and Ozzy and the boys bring it out here. If you want to think of heavy metal as a horror movie on record, this is a great place to start—other albums have been more shocking and more grisly, but none have been darker than this. 10/10.

Originality: You can argue that Black Sabbath invented most of the major sub-genres of heavy metal, from death metal to thrash. I want to focus on what else Black Sabbath brought back to the forefront, which is the revitalization of Hell, Satan, and demons as part of the horror canon. Authors like Lovecraft had been pushing horror in a more cosmic direction, with Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos recasting the demons and devils of traditional mythology as aliens and creatures from the beyond. Brilliant stuff, but the sheer terror of the underworld was being lost—Black Sabbath put us back on the path of supernatural Hellish horror, and we’ve stayed on it ever since. 10/10.

Enjoyability: Paranoid has catchier songs, and Black Sabbath IV may be their darkest and gloomiest masterpiece. But this is Black Sabbath at their blackest and most Satanic. The whole album is charged with the excitement of a band finding their voice and their material. You could ask that the songs be more organized, the riffs and singing more focused, but that would be missing the point. To listen to Black Sabbath is to listen to heavy metal becoming itself, and how could that not be enjoyable? 9/10.

Total: 47/50. If you listen to one album about Satan, this should be it!