The Sweetest Goth Album Ever: A Review of The Spiral Sacrifice

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When Anna-Varney Cantodea (Sopor Aeternus & the Ensemble of Shadows) first announced The Spiral Sacrifice last year, I had mixed feelings. While I was eager to receive a new Sopor Aeternus album into my life, I feared that The Spiral Sacrifice would, like its predecessor Mitternacht, reiterate familiar ideas she had already done better on previous releases. In part, The Spiral Sacrifice does exactly this but it revisits old ideas with a fresh perspective. While it isn’t quite as innovative as previous albums, The Spiral Sacrifice is nevertheless an accomplished work that is consistently engaging and quite touching.

Listening to The Spiral Sacrifice evokes in me a perculiar sensation of deja vu and this is, at least in part, due to the fact that most of its contents are revisions of songs that previously appeared on The Inexperienced Spiral Traveller (1997) and Voyager: The Jugglers of Jusa (1997). It is well known among fans that Anna-Varney abhors both of these albums and has long desired to remake them. When she announced the crowd-funding campaign on FaceBook in 2017, she made it clear that the remake would be a loose interpretations and not necessarily resemble the original material. Even some of the lyrics, she promised, would be omitted entirely.

The result is, at least for me, a refreshing interpretation of her older songs. The new arrangements are beautifully performed and are great improvements on the originals, many of which are monotonous and sound painfully cacophonous. The Spiral Sacrifice expertly avoids this and breathes new life into the old songs, blending their playful folk and medieval inspired melodies with the unearthly sounds of the theremin into an more fluid and enjoyable compositions. The only thing I could possibly say against the music is that I wish that some of them had been longer than they are. Many of the songs are, perhaps, usually short for a Sopor Aeternus album but this is a minor problem.

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The sumptuous collectors edition.

While most of the songs are based on old material, I was surprised to find and even a little disappointed to discover that all but one set of original lyrics were performed. This disappointed was particularly painful because I had hoped for a new version of Totenlicht, one of my all time favorite Sopor Aeternus songs, but after some thought I realize this is likely for the best. One of the problems that plagued The Inexperienced Spiral Traveller and Voyager were its lyrics, which were so cumbersome and awkward that Anna-Varney had to force them to work with her melodies. The Spiral Sacrifice left the most awkward lyrics behind, which was most of them apparently, and even omitted all of the original titles, which is fine since most of them would not have made any sense without their original lyrics and some were quite silly anyway. Plus, as Anna-Varney said herself, she would not include any lyrics she longer identified with and I can’t fault her for that.

The new lyrics are a different matter and are another reason for my eerie sense of deja vu. The album revisits a familiar topic from past albums, particularly Les Fleurs Du Mal and Mitternacht, and explores her feelings towards the object of her misplaced affections and how they have changed with time. In contrast to every other Sopor Aeternus album, The Spiral Sacrifice does not tell a story. Only one song even comes close (The Broken & Shattered Moon) and it’s a fairy-tale about a fairy who curses Anna-Varney’s childhood self with ugliness. It’s an unusual form for a Sopor Aeternus album but it works well here. Most of the lyrics are well written and poignant. A few restate sentiments she has expressed before and can feel redundant but they are conceptually consistent with the overall themes of the album and are even expressed better here than previously.

What ultimately saves The Spiral Sacrifice from feeling utterly redundant is the new insight Anna-Varney brings to her past. When you love a Man, If I could go back in TimeLet me say it now, and Through your Eyes poignantly reexamine her failed relationship and finds meaning in the pain. Although she was ultimately hurt by her partner, she nevertheless values the moments of genuine affection he gave her and expresses the desire to see in herself the qualities that he found so attractive in her. For an album that is grounded in sadness, anger, and frustration, it is a surprisingly sweet note to end on, and leaves the listener with a warmth that is rare for a musician known for her dark, despairing songs.

The artwork is striking eerie and is, at least in my personal view, some of the best she has done in recent years. The imagery does not directly illustrate the music, as in many previous releases, and instead captures the motions of a Butoh-like dance that perfectly compliments the complex emotional journey expressed throughout the album. I prefer it to the drawn illustrations that accompanied her last album and appreciate the focus with which she conceived the artwork. It’s quite straightforward and simple, a stark departure from the standards of previous examples, but it keenly demonstrates that less can indeed is more.

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My personalized and signed letter of authenticity.

Now, something has to be said for the packaging. Sopor Aeternus albums tend to be released in rather luxurious formats and The Spiral Sacrifice is no exception. In fact, the packaging for this new release might be some of the best yet. I ordered a copy of the very fancy Supporters Edition box-set, which comes with the the album on CD and vinyl, an art book, a signed and personalized letter of authenticity, a 7″ picture disc vinyl, and a t-shirt. The box-set is exceptionally well-made and may even be superior in quality to previous physical editions. I suppose it’s something you have to feel to believe. The letter of authenticity is a nice addition, since Anna-Varney signed each with the name of the recipient. I cannot tell you how overjoyed I was to see my name (even my middle name) written out in her beautiful, almost calligraphic handwriting. Other editions, including a standard CD book and vinyl set are also aviable, and are, except for a few details, identical to those contained in the Supporters Editions box-set.

 

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Dream Daddy (Video Game Review)

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When I first heard of Dream Daddy, I was immediately intrigued by the game’s theme (dating older men, a.k.a. “daddies”) but I was also hesitant. I had not played any other visual novels or dating sims before, and my only exposure to this type of game was through watching a short segment from Coming Out on Top. My concern was that the game would be primarily erotic in nature (Coming Out on Top has nude artwork for the sex scenes) and would lack any real drama but I was pleasantly surprised by Dream Daddy. Its various plotlines are generally well written, offering many genuinely sweet and sexy moments (through without any nudity) and even some beautifully bittersweet moments that make it far more emotionally compelling than a game about dating would be.

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Mr. Vega can lecture me any day …

Without giving too much away, I can say that each of the dad characters have a core conflict that the player can help to resolve. Most of these are relatively minor problems but make for very sweet, heartwarming stories. From the start, I was most drawn to Hugo Vega, or “Dr. Dad” as my husband and I like to call him, initially for his handsome exterior but was utterly sold on his after discovering he writes scholarly papers on 18th century literature. How I would have liked to talk to him about Ann Radcliffe and Charlotte Smith! His plotline is typical for the game and will end very happily if you play your cards right.

Not all the various plots ending happily, however, and add a much-needed element of dramatic, that elements one character story considering and making another rather gut-trenching sad. The better of these two stories is Robert Small’s, a mysterious and potentially dangerous fellow with a heart of gold. His story ends in a poignantly bittersweet manner, appropriate to his character’s history and personal conflict. I ended up loving his character all the more even though I didn’t quite get him in the end (no pun intended). The other dramatic story belongs to Joseph Christiansen, a sweet and perhaps too flirtatious minister with a wife and kids. I won’t go into his story much, because it would give far too much away, but suffice it to say,

“Some men are like chocolate
but most of them are like shit
and if you don’t have the experience
to spot that tiny difference
you’re likely to fall for all of it.”

As wonderful and effecting as the stories are, I found myself a little disappointed by how constrained the protagonist’s character is. While you can determine the character’s appearance (which include “binder bods” for trans men and some make-up for us genderfluid men) and name, the protagonist’s personality is largely decided for you. There are numerous situations where I would have liked to have more reaction options–instead you have no other option but sound like a square.

One other aspect of the game I found disappointing was Mary Christiansen’s character and plot. When you meet her for the first time, she comes across like a mean and hostile person but over the course of the game, the player is given opportunities to provide her some emotional support. They’re wonderful moments because they force you to re-evaluate her behavior and understand that they come primarily from a place of pain. While this does not excuse everything she does, it humanizes her and is important for understanding Joseph’s character. It’s such a pity then that the game never explores her story beyond these few encounters. I would so have enjoyed bonding with her over a few drinks after … oh, well, I said I wouldn’t say anything more about that!

Dream Daddy is a delightful experience through and through despite some minor faults. The romantic moments are sweet, frequently funny, and often sexy, but its more dramatic moments are what make Dream Daddy worth your time and attention (and money). They add a emotional complexity to the various plotlines makes the game more interesting overall and actually intensifies the romantic moments in an unforgettable way.