Welcome to Tales From the Metalnomicon, a new twice-monthly column delving into the surprisingly vast world of heavy metal-tinged/inspired literature and metalhead authors…
Gonzo dark fiction author, screenwriter, martial arts sensei, serious connoisseur of heavy metal and hardcore — there’s a lot thrown into the mix when it comes to the literary force of nature that is Dustin LaValley. Dip even a toe into his ever-growing oeuvre, however, and you’ll quickly begin to see how the Hiram Grange Award-winning author weaves these disparate elements together to create an atmosphere of startlingly idiosyncratic, exquisitely harrowing (semi-controlled) chaos.
Below LaValley gives Tales From the Metalnomicon the lowdown on the inspirations behind/soundtracks to three of his greatest hits…
“And I know this ghost — I have seen it before” — Converge, “The Saddest Day”
Lowlife Underdogs is my first published collection of short fiction. Weird horror would make a good summation. The stories, ranging from social commentary on the foster care system (“Baby Crane Adoption Agency”) to religious fanaticism (“Bologna Jesus Phenomena”), to misunderstandings of philosophical texts (“Tampton Clark”), to surrealist horror and straight-up human-derived horror in the title story, were written over a span of two or three years and then collected.
I always write while listening to music — almost always something fast and heavy or slow and heavy… But I also like to throw in some blues, like Robert Johnson, the man who sold his soul to the devil for his guitar skills. There would be no hardcore, doom, sludge or stoner metal without true blues or jazz.
It’s hard to pin down a specific record or band I listened to while writing these stories. I was on a rotation of Nailbomb, North Side Kings, One King Down, Unsane, Helmet, Snapcase, Mr. Bungle, and Acid Bath among others. Looking back, I’d have to say that the overall chaotic tone of Lowlife Underdogs was largely influenced by Converge — how epic is “The Saddest Day”!? Their ability switch between the polyrhythmic sound and slower tempo, of being balls-out and then suddenly, bringing in a note of slow, beautiful sing-song is reflective of the composition.
“You would look so magnificent – Crawling on those bloodied knees” — Isis, “Poison Eggs”
The idea for Spinner initially came out of conversations with my father, a Corrections Officer at the Max facility, Great Meadow. He spoke of a man known as “The Butcher,” a mafia hitman who used only blades and was suspected to have carried out hits on over a hundred mafiosos. I was intrigued. When I began looking into becoming a C.O. my father used scare tactics to keep me from taking the tests — one of which was allowing me to read all his paperwork from his twenty-five years in the system [including] the papers on “The Butcher.” That was around the time I learned of the local serial killer, Robert Garrow. The man made [the crimes of] Ed Gein — awesome band by the way — look like a slap in the face. And having always been interested in Native American culture, the lore of the Wendigo fit well within the story, as it takes place deep within the Adirondack Mountains.
[For] Spinner I was influenced by bands that had a stoic yet visceral tone — Isis, Irreversible, Knut, Pelican, Sleep. Their deep, guttural drone, heavy and rhythmic guitars and repetitive beat, groove and being light on vocals helped allow me to explore mentally without my process being interrupted. But it was Isis’ The Mosquito Control EP that was the most prominent and most looped. Pure beauty.
On a side-note I have to give a shout to my buddy Cory Galusha of Drug Church for providing me with the awesome cover art. He also did the art for the collection, Lawson Vs. LaValley.
Lawson Vs. LaValley
“Devils want to take what’s yours/Take your life by the streetlights/But don’t let them succeed/Don’t listen to their words/Don’t you ever believe!” — Trapped Under Ice, “Believe”
Fellow author John Edward Lawson and I have been collaboration for years and a few back, decided to do a split collection of short stories as our voices go so well together. We jokingly called it Lawson Vs. LaValley and the title stuck. It’s made up of short stories and micro-short stories and has intros for each author, to kid and bash each other and the work. Here you’ll find more weird, strange yet not quite bizarro fiction. Some, like “Honk an’ Bonk,” are for fun — all dialogue taking place during the rise of Lovecraftian creatures slaughtering all things human, announced over a morning talk show that finds the whole situation humorous with perverse and offensive language. Others are sentimental and hit home to anyone who has lost their best friend, such as I did with my 11-year-old Rottie, Chino. I wrote a micro for him during his final days, “Sympathy or Selfishness?”, and it’s one of the most powerful stories of the collection.
That giant, 160lb beast of a dog was the kindest, gentlest friend I’ve ever had who saved my ass more than once from robbery and assault.
Here, in this period I know exactly what I was listening to — Cold World, Bitter End, Pig Destroyer, The Sword, Trial, and Lair of the Minotaur come to mind. Trapped Under Ice’s Secrets of the World, with its street-wise lyrics and groove-brand of hardcore with hip-hop influence, was a record I wrote to in particular, “Believe” being the standout track for me. It’s a flash of hope in a bleak world. It’s never-give-in and never-give-up — a symbol that I and fellow authors live by as rejection letters pile up until that break we all strive for, when someone gives us a look and a chance and from there, things get better and that sense of bleakness starts to turn into a different hue. Their style flows with that of my section of Lawson Vs. LaValley. It’s a sign that there are those who are hungry and hurt and are going to do what they can to find relief while never losing their spirit.
I’d also like to praise the authors, friends and assorted peers who’ve given a hand, such as Brian Keene, who opened up the dark fiction world for many of us outsiders. Without him, we’d still be in our own ruts and, as a fellow metalhead, I must send a sign of respect and salute. Jeremy Wagner of Broken Hope and Trevor of Obituary, were the kindest of hosts, talking horror with me while watching The Road on the bus after a show, helping develop aspects of my novella, The Deceived. John Edward Lawson is a badass author who keeps up with me during conversations on 80s hardcore and punk. Glenn Underwood of Gaining Ground and his wife have been there for years for me to bounce ideas off of and have been blatant about saying, “No Dusty, that’s a shit idea.” Danny Marianino of North Side Kings is a buddy of many years now, lending a hand and supplying me with some of the best hardcore in my collection.
To the members of every band I have mentioned, thank you. Without you I wouldn’t have the voice and style I own now. But it is of great importance to thank those, past and present of Converge, Trapped Under Ice and Isis. You’ve been a continuing source of belief within myself and kept me going even when I thought all was hopeless. You are beautiful.
The following micro-short story, “The City that Bleeds,” was inspired by the Trapped Under Ice track, “Believe.” It is set to appear in my collection, Odds and Ends from Black Bed Sheet Books, due out in late January, 2013.
This city bleeds… through the streetlights golden memories fade and drip to the worn and weathered concrete. Florescent fluid left bubbling in the summer heat, sticking to the soles of corner-girls and John Does.