Let the darkness consume you...
Let the darkness enlighten you...

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"I am the brain fart of Deity.
Spit into a meat suit, embodying an idea discarded.
I am the lost, the forgotten, the becoming ..."    

                                                                           ​- Quantum Mystics

​Updated 5/2/2019

In the Shadow of the Witch - Dark Tunes

Author Brian White revelas the music that inspired his novel, In the Shadow of the Witch.

Enter the dark world of the Coma Witch, where good deeds are twisted to evil ends and innocence must be abandoned by those seeking justice. In this distopian world we meet Trevor, a blacksmith, who in an attempt to save his son's life is forced to make a deal with this witch. When he is unable to live up to his end of the bargain a chain of events is unleashed that finds Trevor chasing the witch searching for vengence and enlightenment. 

Some of this music sparked the inspiration and development of the plot, such as Coma Witch, while other music advanced the philosophical questions I wanted to delve into; Monster in Every Man and I. 

Then there was the music that I utilized during the writing process that helped me to set the mood (Wavering Radian, Dreamless), enter the mind of the character I was exploring (Clearing the Path to Ascend, The Way of the Fist), or advanced the story by inspiring me to add elements to the story I had not though of previously (Quietly).

There is some great music by some great bands and I thank each of them for the inspiration. I hope you enjoy the music as much as I did.

Also check out the playlist which creates a soundtrack for reading the book. Enjoy!

In the Shadow of the Witch - Dark Tunes​

Coma Witch by The Acacia Strain

The inspiration for, In the Shadow of the Witch, came from listening to this album. I’ve been listening to this band for a while and all of their music is heavy, atmospheric, and angry. But I found this album to be in a whole new category all its own. The 27 minute epic Observer begins with the chittering of nocturnal insects dropping your psyche into a dark desolate forest at night. The guitars come in low, gaining in volume with a hypnotic rhythm and then the deep growling voice bellows, “Instead of fighting the sickness she is, you become the disease.” then repeats, “Give your life to the witch.”

This song particularly disturbed me (in a good way). The song contains a few spoken interludes one of which talks about dreams and monsters, another has a woman reminiscing about how things used to be and how losing that has led to loneliness and depression creating a life no longer worth living. “It’s hard to dream when everything you used to dream about is a nightmare… Because this isn’t living, this isn’t anything at all. I would rather die.” Followed by a section I interpreted as a suicide attempt that ends with the person being rushed to the hospital.  Guitars thunder back in and again the singer growls “Give your life to the witch. Surrender your last breath to the witch.”  The final monologue talks about murder, judgment and making a friend of horror. The song ends with the beckoning cry, “Bury me in a nameless grave.”

Every time I listened to this song I pictured the menacing character of the witch, a being that would rot people’s souls not simply by cursing them but by forcing them to make hard choices, morally challenging choices, bringing them to a place where they questioned the purpose of life. The more I listened, the more the character of this dark hag began to form, raising questions I wanted to explore: In the pursuit of judgement or vengeance, at what point can we lose ourselves? At what point do our actions become morally ambiguous? At what point do we cross the line and become indistinguishable from those we seek to take vengeance upon? Are the dark characters in our lives forces of nature that lead us to ask these questions becoming dark deities whose true goal is to lead us to deeper revelation about the nature of reality, right and wrong, or bring us to the realization that such judgements don’t even make sense, that concepts such as good and evil, are nothing more than the products of an illusion? And so the witch and her world were born.

If you get the opportunity, listen to this song with headphones on, sitting outside in the woods in the dark and see if you can keep your sanity. I didn’t. The witch visited me often.​

Monster in Every Man by Through Lifeless Eye​s

This album immediately fell into the whole theme I was trying to explore. The concept that there lurks a monster in every man is something Observer viscerally lodged in my psyche. Monster in Every Man, got me thinking further about the philosophy of evil and the nature of judgement. I started to do thought experiments with how I would explore these topics in a story. The witch was the perfect antagonist but I didn’t want this to follow the normal storyline of vengeance. I wanted a twist. I wanted to explore what could expose that monster that hides deep within. Trevor, the protagonist, was born while I listened to this album. He is a man put in an impossible situation with an impossible choice and then has to live with the consequences of that choice. Was there a monster lurking in Trevor? What would it take to expose it? What would happen once it was exposed? These are the questions I pondered while listening to this album which led to a further expansion and refining of the plot.

Eternal Kingdom by Cult of Luna

This is a great album by a great band. Like many of their albums it is a concept album describing the hallucinations of strange psychotic nightmare world populated by owl men. This album definitely provided a lot of the atmosphere and backdrop to the world of the witch. The original working title for this novel was, Coma Witch due in part to the influence of The Acacia Strain album but also because the world and people the witch leaves in her wake exist somewhere between life and death. They are in limbo, in a coma. As I listened to the song, Ghost Trail with its slow buildup reminiscent of The End by The Doors, this world began to transform for me. Trevor is chasing the witch but he’s always in her shadow. Once she’d entered his life he can never step out from under her shadow and his whole worldview is shaped and transformed by her malignant presence. He’s trapped within the darkness she casts and for all we know the whole world is.

Like the pace of the book, Ghost Trail builds layers of sound on top of one another, leading to an interlude that reminded me of the music that signals the beginning of a dark quest.  For some reason I conjured the scene of the dueling banjos in the movie Deliverance, the characters pausing for a moment to enjoy some music, not yet aware of the danger of their journey believing for a moment that all would be OK, right before everything went terribly wrong. The music sent me on a journey following a trail fraught with mystery, possibility and danger. For a moment after this interlude there is silence and then a pattern of drum and guitar that ever so slowly picks up in tempo until the frenetic pace reaches it crescendo with a final trill coming to a dramatic end. This pace fit perfectly with what I was trying to accomplish in the novel and was an influence in that timing pattern.

This band always includes a myriad of instruments in their songs which is one of the unique things I love about them. There are horns, synthesizers, and bells incorporated expertly into the fabric of the songs. I don’t know what it is with me and bells but there are some twinkling bells and a xylophone in one of the songs that reminds me of the type of music that would come from a mobile hanging in a baby’s nursery. The presence of those bells in a song dark and haunting created an ominous atmosphere and got me thinking about some of these phantom objects that would inhabit the world of the witch, like a dilapidated rusted cell tower that leans twisted and precarious outside a small town that Trevor visits. These oddities taken out of context with only legend and stories to explain their purpose can be quite terrifying. As Trevor had been told by his grandfather, these towers once carried voices and ideas through the air, ghosts whispered in your ear all around you.

The Eternal Kingdom inhabited by owl men and ghost trails is certainly terrifying as is the world of the witch.

Blood Mountain by Mastodon​

I’ve been listening to Mastodon for years and this was one of those strange surreal concept albums that can make even the sane feel psychotic. Circle of Cysquatch has some great guitar parts which then delivers you onto the psychotic shores of Bladecatcher which actually sounds like the soundtrack of madness. The Colony of Birchmen conjured for me an ancient race of being that live within trees and occasionally make their appearance to unwary travelers.  Since every good quest for a witch needs some psychosis, monsters, ancient tree spirits and a mountain to climb I included Blood Mountain as one of the sites in the book to pay homage to the album that inspired the journey. 

Quietly by Mouth of the Architect​​​

I found this band during the writing process and had never heard them before. They are now at the top of my list of bands I will frequently dip back into for inspiration.  The songs on this album have a slow build up on a journey that delivers an amazing tapestry of interwoven sonic patterns that can be simultaneously beautiful, angry, and haunting. The singer’s voice has a unique quality and is definitely a standout on this album.

While listening to this album I was transformed into a new world, a ghost town with a black church that transforms into something ominous (I’m not going to say what and give it away) during a certain event. The environment is desolate and eerie. Danger lurked around each dark alley, ghostly forms hid behind windows, and the church is a constant threatening and malicious presence. Many time while I listen to music I am suddenly transferred into these surreal worlds, a motion picture going on in my head that I then merely need to chronical. This was one of those occasions.

In the song, Quietly a bell tolls during odd points in the song. The first few times I listened to the song, I couldn’t anticipate the gong. The end of each refrain seemed to call for it but the ringing would wait and then when I’d thought I missed it, there it came, ringing in some event. There was almost a sense of expectation in it, waiting, wanting, creating this atmosphere of suspense which then became dread. The tolling of that bell which sits in the tower of the church is pivotal to this scene. I won’t give it away but the bell transformed this scene as it did my psyche as I wrote it.

Wavering Radiant by Isis​

Another one of my favorite bands. This was pure atmosphere and mood for me. The lyrics that attempt to channel Jungian psychology didn’t play a role in the story line but the hypnotic doom created in the attempt was where I needed to be for some of the scenes. The opening song, Hall of the Dead begins with a rhythmic guitar riff that draws you into its spell and then takes you on a journey circling up and down through the levels of consciousness, wavering. I listened to this album a lot during the scenes towards the latter half of the book.

Clearing the Path to Ascend by YOB

A band I rediscovered during this project. I first heard YOB a few years ago when they opened for Tool. This is atmospheric metal at its best. The singer has one of those voices that seems to scream from the pit of Hell. This was the music I listened to whenever I thought about how tortured the main character Trevor must be. Caught in Hell and ever descending while at the same time coming to grips with the fact that the world isn’t what he thought it was; that in essence nothing was what it had seemed. The singer captured that feeling of being internally tortured; his scream the only thing that could give voice to some of that pain.

The first song on the album, In our Blood, starts with the spoken line, “Time to wake up.” Guitars come in soft and thick with clean chorus, delay, and flange effects before the distorted power chord rumble starts. For Trevor, time, space and qualifying his reality in terms of dream, real, asleep, awake, not only becomes difficult but almost irrelevant. His eyes seemed to close and open and each time they do he’s not sure what he’s going to encounter. This opening line came to me whenever Trevor went through these periods where he was trying to determine if he had been asleep or awake. The interval between that line and when the power chords march in was the soundtrack to this slow transition in his mind where he either came to a definition of the reality he awoke to or came to the conclusion that it didn’t matter.

The second time this line is spoken later in the song the guitars immediately boom in, followed by a deep painful growl which I interpreted as another phase of the transition. At times Trevor was willing to take things at face value or gradually come to a decision on how he would define his reality, this was the slow transition at the beginning of the song. At other times, however, he was immediately confronted with a world of pain and fear which caused him anguish. This was a wake up of the second variety. Both were important to the story line and the development of Trevor’s character.

There was also a song, Quantum Mystic on the album Live at Roadburn 2010 that was the inspiration for the two competing magical forces in the universe. These forces are capable of being manipulated by sorcerers and one force is capable of transforming or annihilating the other.  The beings that control these forces I began to identify as quantum mystics. For those that have read my novel, The Strands, these beings are very similar to the Conductors that were capable of expanding peoples’ minds’ to see alternate dimensions. In this story, however, the quantum mystic’s ability is more specific, manipulating the fabric of reality itself. They can modify reality’s structure or purpose at a base layer. This quantum layer of reality, or more specifically the dark aspect of it, I called the darkta (haven’t finalized on the name yet but this is how it is written currently).

Quantum Mystic has a magical, surreal quality to it. The guitars start slow with a lot of echo, delay and distortion that has that fuzz sludge sound to it and reminded me of the type of interludes and buildup present in Zeppelin’s, No Quarter.  As I listened to this song I could imaging the slow buildup of a magical ritual or spell and it was the perfect backdrop for those times when Trevor was attempting to learn the ways of the witch or was attempting to conjure the dark power and force of the darkta.
Australasia by Pelican​​

This was a new band for me that I found while searching for similar bands to Russian Circles and Mouth of the Architect. The song Untitled conjured the image of someone weeping for a lost lover and crying out for something to fill the gap. This was what I felt Trevor was doing and many times while I struggled to put myself in his shoes and place his mask on my psyche this was the song I would use to transform myself into the man who felt he had lost it all and yet was finding there was yet more to lose.

In parts of the song the guitar that is played sounds out of tune, the atonal notes can immediately be picked out, they stand out as an affront to the ear and yet fit so perfectly into the context of the song. This atonal complexity is increased during the song with the addition of a saw being played with a violin bow which wavers in and out hauntingly, sounding like crying and weeping that emerges from within the acoustic guitar out-of-tune madness melody.  The atonal oddities of the song are layered and multiplied on top of each other (the low rumble of a horn makes its appearance at odd times) and sounds so perfect in the context of the overall song. It placed me in this very strange desolate landscape inhabited by entities that would waver in and out of existence, ghostly forms filling my vision only to disappear and scratch at the nape of my neck with a light touch. Creepy, surreal, and beautiful.

The song switches gears towards the end, the tone more ethereal, the chords lighter, the saw and the horn disappear and for a moment you have reached solid ground after slushing through a dark mysterious quagmire. Having made it through the sea of madness the song takes a moment to relish in that small victory. The tone remains haunting, a warning, a reminder; the witch is still out there, waiting…

I  by Meshuggah​​

Pure insanity. Screaming, spoken words, a wall of 8 string guitars and double bass drum. At times the drumming on this track seems super human. It is 20 minutes of heavy metal madness and virtuosity. Hang on for the whole ride and you will be rewarded. Mushuggah is by far one of my favorite bands and their name will appear often under music that inspires me. For this particular story “I” put me in a place to explore a world turned upside down, surreal landscapes that had no meaning and the fear that such places create. Whenever I listened to this song I thought of a descent into madness as Trevor tries to grasp the powers of the witch and the universe, much of which is incomprehensible except to those willing to forego their current beliefs of reality.

To Trevor everything is paradoxical. His way to salvation is to mire and envelop himself in darkness. In many ways he feels that he must become what he most despises if he is to be victorious in his quest. At times he must ask himself if revenge is true justice. It is then that he begins to question the nature of reality. Characters and events make him question his internal motivations. Is he a puppet being led by much stronger forces than just the witch?  Do concepts like good and evil even apply? Is he judging the witch only by her actions? What about the outcomes that he may or may not see?  Here the song’s influence rears its head again. The opening lines:

I – this fractal illusion burning away all structure towards the obscene
I – to cleanse, to purge, to breach eternity and smother all life

What fractal illusion is being burned away? The illusory veil I believe is reality? I identified the illusion as the structure of the universe and that of the mind, one projecting the other, an illusion projecting an illusion, a dream within a dream. This belief in the reality of the dream is the universal lie that must be abolished, that must be burnt away. To the obscene? It must be annihilated to expose the lie which shatters the obscene belief in self in “I”.

This self defacing, self annihilating I, must cleanse and purge the images burned upon its ego projecting lens in order to breach the eternal.

Pondering the lyrics in I made me start questioning the nature and purpose of the witch’s universe. The judgment of good and evil should not apply to forces of nature and are usually mischaracterizations of their true purpose. Is the tornado that takes a life evil? Or is the god that wills such a force evil?  If the witch is a force of nature, can we see her actions as evil? Is she the force or the one controlling the force? Is she a god? What is the aim and purpose of such a force or god? Spiritual enlightenment? And would the end justify the means? If we are saving souls do we need to concern ourselves with saving lives? Is the flesh a mere tool, an illusion to be discarded and sacrificed once it has served its purpose? What is capable of teaching us that lesson? What cleans up the mess and refuse left behind?

Shifting through worlds from chaos, to chaos, to chaos
I devour this manure of existence – infertile, barren, whole
Rancid redeemer. Virulent deterioration of faith

The words, rancid redeemer, kept echoing in my head as I explored these questions. It is a title reserved for a savior but with the negative qualifier of rancid. The universe and its forces are chaotic. The world we create through ego projection is even more clouded and colluded. As I explored in, The Strands, is it possible that the only solution to a chaotic broken system is its annihilation. Here again the question beckons. Is the witch a force meant to devour the refuse of the system, to take this infertile, barren system and devour it whole? Is she a rancid redeemer, the fire that clears the forest to give opportunity to new life? The black hole that clears the star waste of the universe creating the singularity of heaven in its infinite center. Or is Trevor the redeemer? Do these forces, light and dark, need to be aligned, balanced? Should Trevor forgive or kill? Turn back or move on?

Progress finally, emergence of doom complete
Here only to reverse the flow of life

Is this progress in the wake of annihilation? Is it physical or spiritual? Reversing the flow of life; birth to death flipped, becoming death to new birth, new beginnings. The world is swallowed, annihilated, dead, a state which brings with it the opportunity for new birth, a new system built upon different principles. These are the concepts I wanted to explore.
This song in particular gave me a lot to think about and still think about. I’ve not fully digested everything here. The witch and Trevor are helping me at least create the framework to ask such questions and hopefully deliver some theories because there are no real answers. Answers are just another illusion.

The witch haunts and hunts, Trevor chases and ponders, and somewhere within the journey hides the dark revelation.
End of first draft
A Pause for process

I’ve been writing since I was a kid and have always done all my first drafts longhand. I carried around a notebook and would then write whenever the mood struck me (the only other option would have been to carry around a typewriter in a backpack). With the advent of laptops and now smartphones and tablets I could write directly to digital. It would certainly make the process easier/shorter but good, bad, indifferent I’ve never acquired the knack for it. Although I’m still trying. Notes and ideas are done on my mobile, but when I sit down to write the first draft of something it is still done longhand in a notebook.

First draft complete for me means that I’ve finished the longhand version and have transcribed that into digital which is no easy feat as my handwriting is awful.

I then move into second draft mode. There are a lot changes and alterations in this draft. The first draft is a skeleton, a framework with a plot and characters but the second draft will add more mood, atmosphere, history and characterization. The music I listen to is as important in this phase as it was in the inspiration and first draft phase. In some cases it is the same. For instance, the scenes where Trevor is traveling alone in the woods for the first few days of his quest was perfectly pictured for me when listening to Cult of Luna’s song, Ghost Trails and I wanted to recapture the emotion of that scene as I had lived it originally and therefore listed to that while editing the scene. The song Quietly by Mouth of the Architect is another example. I loved the dark transformative scene brought on by the tolling of the bell and wanted to relive it while doing the second draft.

The music I listen to in this phase can add elements, texture or emotion to scenes and characters adding layers to the story. These additional pieces can add to the richness of the worlds I am trying to create, taking me on side journeys. These tributaries are now all part of the same river, flowing inexorably to the stories end, which may also change, but I now have a map of the territory they travel through.

With that said I came across some great new music while doing the second draft and was re-acquainted with some of my favorite tunes. Because this music adds to the complexity of the story the combination of first draft and second draft music really begins to form a soundtrack to the novel.

So here is the music I enjoyed while doing the second draft.
Mariner by Cult of Luna​​​

Julie Christmas! I loved her in Battle of Mice and love her even more here. Her voice runs through her entire range on this album. This was released just as I was finishing up the first draft and upon hearing her voice this immediately became one of my favorite Cult of Luna albums. At times she can sound like a child singing a lullaby, at others she is screaming like a lunatic demon or chanting like a monk. In one instant her voice is pitch perfect and at others raw, cracking. I felt as if she were in the room with me, her tortured cries so real, scraping against my ears delectably. Once I sat down and started listening to this it was the only thing I listened to for a week.

Cult of Luna typically does concept albums and this one is no exception, however, I just loved the orchestration, Christmas’s voice, the sections where her singing seems to create a dissonance to the music or was locked in combat with the throaty yell of Johannes Persson moving from syncopation to synchronization and back again. I didn’t bother with the concept because I didn’t want it to influence the current track of the story but I will revisit it in the future and do a deeper dive. The music was more than enough for me to focus on.
It may be needless to say at this point but of course upon hearing Mariner I had to go back and listen to Battle of Mice and then Christmas’s solo album. They will appear later both in this project and the future, Horn and Dagger.

What else was standout other than Julie’s voice…. Everything else. The guitars, the complex percussion, etc. As I said of The Eternal Kingdom I’ve always appreciated the additional sonic elements that Cult of Luna uses throughout, synthesizers, odd percussion, and on this album one standout addition was an instrument that sounds like a slide whistle enhanced with effects. It is used on a few songs but I especially liked its use on, The Wreck of the S.S. Needle, halfway through the song Julie sings the lyrics, “Put me down where I can see you run.” And then the guitars break in and the slide whistle starts. Julie screams back in, “Put me down where I can see you run.” This was said over and over again in various tones by Christmas and it became a mantra. 

I kept thinking of Trevor who just wanted to catch the witch. No matter what she did to him he was going to get her. Fueled by hatred, anger, and a need for justice he would forever chase her. No matter how she puts him down he gets up and fights back. But what is he really chasing?

This is one of my favorite albums now. I thank Cult of Luna for continuing to change and challenge themselves creatively. Brining on Christmas really changed the dynamic of the music in my opinion and I couldn’t have been happier with this album. In addition they re-acquainted me with one of my favorite voices. That line in, The Wreck of the S.S. Needle, will haunt me as I think of Trevor, the witch, and my own struggles, “Put me down where I can see you run.”
Detestor by Humanity’s Last Breath​​

This album starts out with the song, Ocean Drinker. The beginning of this track sounds like a tribal alarm with a horn blowing in the distance which sounds like an air siren which is then combined with tribal drums and other sound effects to create an atmosphere laced with dread. While listening I envisioned this as a warning cry that enemies were approaching and that it was time to flee and hide, people scatter, some preparing for battle others seeking protection.

This was a song that helped conjure an atmosphere of anticipatory dread whenever Trevor was approaching the unknown. It provided the perfect soundtrack to the events that transpire as Trever traverses a cursed village in pursuit of the witch. It is the warning directly proceeding or following the tolling of the bells supplied by the song, Quietly by Mouths of the Architect. Right before the bell tolls this visceral warning cries out, telling everyone, hide, something dark and monstrous is coming. It reminded me of the alarm that would call in the darkness in Silent Hill or signal the coming of some dark being in countless other horror movies.

Tribal drums and an eerie violin usher in a primal growl. Guitars rush in followed by the machine gun rattle of double bass drum and then the lyrics:

A bottomless pit swallowing all
Gravitating towards infinity
Eating the fallen world
Drowning in endless doom

These are lyrics I thought about when picturing the world the witch lives in and how everything seems as though it were being pulled by the gravity or her intent.

The air is poison.
…They are here for you so run.

Both in the village and the lair of the witch the air is poison. Trevor can sense the noxious quality of the air. With the end of the ringing of the bells, with the last echo of the screaming siren he knows something is coming, that it is dark and terrifying and that it is here for him.

Then there is a single guitar note that rings out, followed by, what I would call, a signature Humanity’s Last Breath repeating guitar pattern, that goes from deep distorted fast picked arpeggio, followed  by a quick trill, then to high pitched squeal. Repeat. Then the lyrics:

The sea replaced by a barren wasteland

The concept that the creators of this world have returned to drink the oceans dry, create a wasteland of the sea and bring about the destruction of the world is a theme that constantly arises in the novel. Is the witch an incarnation of the ancient science that brought the world to the brink of destruction? Is she still trying to finish that process or is she a mindless automaton set in motion by the logic and reason of a bygone era? And how different is Trevor? How different are we? Would Trevor blindly drink the oceans dry to find justice? Is he not led blindly by his emotions?

Towards the end of the song there is a sequence of down tuned djent guitar riffs followed by pick slides, the sequence repeating over and over in a hypnotic pattern. Then in a deep growl the lyrics, “Ocean Drinker” are repeated over and over till the end of the song, echoing in the ears even as the song ends; the nightmare continuing.

Detestor, the closing track was another standout. The song starts with the slow thump of drums and then explodes into machine gun double bass and then slows again to more signature Humanity’s Last Breath guitar riffs with the inclusion of some high pitched E string slides and screams.

This barren wasteland that is myself
Emptied of all content
Regurgitating the filth
Ridding the body of humanity

These lyrics are a great description of the process that Trevor is going through. The question is, can he get through it with his humanity intact or will he become a machine of hate?

But my favorite part of this song is the addition of what sounds like the moaning and wailing of a tortured soul throughout the second half of the song supplied by the voice of Jessica Currys. It added an air of troubled sadness, the expression of one locked in an existential battle for one’s soul that is so characteristic of the novel in general and of Trevor specifically.

The Bad Wife by Julie Christmas​

I warned you it was coming. Julie Christmas got into my head with Cult of Luna’s, Mariner so I had to follow up with her solo album.  Of course I love Julie’s voice and the range she always displays. One of the qualities I enjoy most in her singing is the way she repeats lyrics in different tones, voices, pitches, screams, screeches, crying, and whispers as she displays in the song, When Everything is Green. She repeats this phrase multiple times in different ways to haunting effect. After listening to her I often found myself replaying these lyrics in my head. They became ingrained in my brain and haunted my psyche. In much the way the witch haunted Trevor, Julie’s lyrics and voice haunted me.

Trevor would often wake to memories of his wife or filled with the fear that the witch had changed something in his world. As I placed myself in this world during the writing process I would often dream of it and I would wake up with Julie’s voice ringing in my ears, singing:

When everything’s green
When everything’s green
The raindrops will come
And the world is undone
When everything’s green
When everything’s green

The Way of the Fist by Five Finger Death Punch

Typically this is pure emotional, angry, workout music for me, packed with heavy groove guitar riffs and memorable, in-your-face lyrics. While working out I had this album on and the lyrics to the song, The Devil’s Own, stood out, especially once taking into consideration the themes that, In the Shadow of the Witch explores.
Where did I go wrong? Who was I supposed to be? When it’s said and done…Will you remember me?

Questions Trevor is constantly asking himself. He resents himself, the witch, and in many ways life itself. I pictured him repeating the following lyrics to himself many times:

It’s because of you I’m broken.
It’s because of you I’m dead inside.
I never asked to be here
It’s because of you I’m God forsaken.
I never wanted this.
It’s because of you I’m dead inside.
...I hate what I’ve become

This captured for me how Trevor must feel, the questions that must constantly plague him which causes that battle inside that fills him with anger and resentment. It is this hate that is fueling him. But when he takes the time to question what he’s doing and where it may be leading him he doubts his motives and in the process hates what he’s become. Then he blames the witch for forcing him into this and the entire insane circle repeats itself. It is the cross he has to bear and all the while he is realizing that he may never get the answers he wants or the redemption he seeks.

Coma Ecliptic by Between the Buried and Me​

I have to be in the mood for Between the Buried and Me. It’s not my usual high energy death/doom metal. But I started listening to this album one evening and was immediately drawn into the atmosphere and landscape created by the first two songs, Node and The Coma Machine, which to me sounded like one long song. With further listening I began to think of the entire album as one giant opus.

First off, for some reason I kept thinking about the movie, Donnie Darko while listening to the album. It felt like music that would have been great for that soundtrack, which has nothing to do with the novel, but I found it interesting. With that said, these songs became for me the soundtrack to the dream sequences in the novel. We don’t always know what is real in the world of the witch (if that term even applies) and these songs seem to bounce between different realms of consciousness, sleeping, waking and everything in between.

While I listened to these songs I thought of Mary’s early morning phantom visitations to Trevor. The piano and singing in Node put me into these scenes. The quiet, the beauty of Mary’s face, the emotion she elicits in Trevor. Her appearance is idyllic, seductive and healing. And then suddenly Trevor is waking, with the sonic beat of drums elicited at the start of, The Coma Machine, the singer starts with the lyrics “You teach us what was.” Mary is what was and Trevor is starting to question if he is still the same man that loved her. But is he awake? The confusion he experiences becomes ours. Was he sleeping? Is he still sleeping? Was he ever asleep or ever awake? No matter what, he’s drifting between different layers of consciousness and we never know exactly where he is on the ladder. That is what these songs represented for me.

Of course there is the obvious connection between the influence of, The Acacia Strain’s, Coma Witch, providing the original story line and now, The Coma Machine, which acts as the machinery that keeps the dream, the delusion, the coma, echoing throughout the narrative.

All in all I enjoyed this album, the orchestration, the concepts, the singing. Definitely one of my favorite albums from this band and I found myself returning to it often for inspiration.

Dreamless by Fallujah​

Great atmosphere created throughout this album and my favorite by this band with great guitar work, percussion, singing, lyrics and pace.

Face of Death has that slow dream sequence beginning, mimicking that period of time when you just start to fall asleep and the dream begins to tap against your skull, a new world opens up, expanding, drums accompanied by synthesizers roll and flow in to take you on a tour of this new world, growled lyrics give you the back story and history of the world you’re traveling in.

This was the album I listened to when picturing Trevor trekking across swamps and forests to chase the witch. At times these landscapes were cold, damp and foreboding and then at others he would see the beauty they hid, as when he would wake and see ice crystals shining in the sun. Every dark thing held a spark of beauty that could only be revealed at certain times. Face of Death captured that paradoxical feeling, moving from atmospheric synthetic tones to brutally growled lyrics and technical guitar leads.

The Void Alone, was another great song. The female singing added an extra dimension of loss and sadness which I identified with while contemplating what Trevor was going through. The lyrics captured and extended a lot of the sentiments and paradoxes that were brought about in Face of Death:

Compulsion and numbness become
The only way that I can survive
This moment is the closest thing
I’ll ever have to paradise

This is what Trevor sees when waking at times, that peace and serenity that comes with seeing beauty in the world and forgetting the evil that lurks in its shadow.

Forget the past
Or be swarmed with regret
A pulse in the veins
As I wait for the end

Trevor can’t forget the past and is swarmed with regret. He needs to complete his quest for the witch because living in this limbo, filled with pain and regret, is a life he does not want to live.

I don’t want to face the Void Alone
The warmth in me swallowed whole

The witch is the Void. She is the darkness that haunts Trevor and he no longer wants to face her alone. He feels as if he’s lost everything and that loneliness makes him feel “other than” as if he has no place in this world. That feeling opens a void in him and he and the witch become inexplicably linked through that void. Is there a way to fill it? To heal it?

I listened to this album towards the end of the novel. It’s the time when reality becomes a slippery thing for Trevor and he spends more and more time contemplating the nature of darkness, his world, and that of the witch.

Monoliths and Dimensions by Sunn O)))​

Sunn O))) is new age music for the dark and depressed. Its low droning guitars that move from one sustained chord to the next has the pace and crunch of glacial ice. Sunn O))) music could be the soundtrack for the entire novel. It captures and holds the dark atmosphere of a surreal scary world where monsters roam and evil lurks.

Whenever I needed to re-enter the world of the witch this would consistently place me there. Add the pounded piano keys, off key flute playing, and haunted whining strings in the song, Aghartha and you have a slow descent into madness.  The song drones along from the bowed sustained chords of a stringed instrument to high pitched squealing raked tones of a violin, all of which comprises an atonal cacophony accompanying, “The Voice”. This deep growl, speaking in a foreign language, sounds as if it is prophesizing the end of all things. To add to this insane tonal assault, additional sounds filter in, boards are creaking, the gate from Hell spilling open as the demons struggle to be let loose to the sound of muzzled horns, deep breathing, water splashing, and insect swarms. At least that is where the song took me.

This album was pure atmosphere for the novel. It serves as a subtle sound-current running beneath and behind the entire dark world of the witch. It is the sonic representation of the darkta.

Boundless by Midnight in Alaska​

The title song is great, vacillating between screamed lyrics, deep distorted guitars, then clean guitar tones and a progressive sequence at the end that is cosmic sounding. This leads into a great guitar riff in Deconstruct which gets heavier as the song progresses and then slows again into that clean guitar and growled lyrics.

I treated the first three songs as one long song. The whole album could really be viewed that way in which each song seems to complete or extend what was done in the previous. But the opening three songs spoke to me of the conflict that Trevor would often have, one moment embracing his darkness and the next, questioning his motives and actions. The way these songs could switch tempo and mood so quickly reminded me of the frenetic thought pattern that Trevor kept exhibiting, one moment he was confident in what he was doing and why and the next minute was tortured by questions.

The first three songs also played a role in the scene when Trevor comes to a physical and spiritual crossing over point where he knows that if he crosses this line his old life is gone. These three songs were the backdrop for that scene. What choice will he make?

Magma by Gojira​

Another one of my favorite bands. I was really excited to hear this album and felt like I had been waiting years for its arrival. One of the things I love about Gojira is that they have a distinctive sound that you always recognize. You know an album is Gojira as soon as you start listening to it and yet each album is different. The signature fret tapped guitar riffs and Joe Duplantier’s unique voice are the staples of Gojira. But like all other Gojira albums, Magma explores new territory.

Stranded and Magma are the tracks that will be on the, In the Shadow of the Witch Playlist but I could have included the whole album. It’s all I listened to when it first came out. No matter what I was doing this was the album I listened to.

In the context of the novel the musical style followed the juxtapositions of thought and emotion I strove to capture. At this point in the editorial process the story line was completed and I was looking to flesh out the tone and pace of the book and Magma definitely played a role in that.

Where I see the difference in approach for this album compared to previous Gojira albums was in the pacing of the songs and the clash of musical styles as if they placed their new sonic experiments in-between their more signature style tracks as interludes.

As an example, the track, Yellow Stone is a lesson in sludge metal filled with droning fuzz laden guitars channeling Black Sabbath, The Melvins and High on Fire. The song is a strange jarring interlude between the heavy thunderous rhythms of Stranded and into the more eclectic and complex soundscape of Magma with its subtle guitar rhythms that included natural harmonics and clean prayerful singing, which then flows perfectly into the next song, Pray with its subtle tapping percussion, flute, guitar, clapping, down tuned guitar riffs, drums, singing/praying, cry baby wah. This sequence of songs and the pace of each take you through a strange symphonic journey, with each song flowing into the next while meshing multiple styles. It is what I appreciated and enjoyed most about Magma.

Liberation, is an acoustic finale that had a tribal feel but was also touched by sadness. I’d like to see Gojira expand on this experiment in the future. It was a fitting finale to a great album that wove its way through all that Gojira has been, is, and is promising to be.

A Final Pause for the Process: Editing and finishing touches

The novel now goes off to an editor for comment, some back and forth and then the final line editing. During back and forth I will read aloud while listening to the above music, enshrouding myself in the atmosphere of the novel while also ensuring that the flow works and that the world becomes real for me and I feel that same dread, horror, elation fear, etc. that I felt while seeing the world in my head.

The soundtrack is complete; words, voice, music. I’ll create a playlist based on the most inspiring songs from the albums I listened to and will play this repeatedly during the process. This playlist acts as a soundtrack to the novel and after line editing and final touch up I will rearrange the soundtrack to match the scenes they inspired.

Sitting there reading the book one final time with some of my favorite music I am reminded of the entire process of bringing this creation to life; the inspiration, the effort, the long hours. This has all become part of a much larger ritual. The final run through is a recapturing of the entire process of building this dream thing. It represents the alchemical transformation from thought to form. Regardless of its success or other people’s opinion of its worth, for me it is complete.

There is still a lot of work to do to get the book to print but my dream as it relates to this tale, has been realized, and there is no better feeling than believing you have just done what you were meant to do and wouldn’t have done it any differently. Round peg in a round hold, alchemical gold.  

The book is due out Halloween 2016, and will be available for pre-order in September so please look forward to updates on the main page coming soon with cover images and sample chapters. In addition I’m working on the next book,Horn and Dagger and will have an update for the music inspiring that tale.

As always, thanks to all the musicians who put their hearts and souls into their music. I thank you for the inspiration.


In the Shadow of the Witch - Playlist


Chapter 1
Observer, The Acacia Strain

Chapter 2
The Monster in Every Man, Through Lifeless Eyes
In our Blood, YOB

Chapter 3
In our Blood (continued)
The wreck of the S.S. Needle, Cult of Luna
Ghost Trail, Cult of Luna

Chapter 4
Hall of the Dead, ISIS
untitled, Pelican
Face of Death, Fallujah
I, Meshuggah

Chapter 5
I (continued)
Stranded, Gojira
Magma, Gojira
Detestor, Humanity’s Last Breath

Chapter 6  
The Void Alone, Fallujah
Quantum mystic, YOB (Live version on Live at Roadburn 2010)

Chapter 7
Ghost Key, ISIS
Unmask the Spectre, YOB

Chapter 8
Generation of Ghosts, Mouth of the Architect
Nightendday, Pelican

Chapter 9
When Everything is Green, Julie Christmas
Circle of Cysquatch, Mastodon
The Colony of Birchmen, Mastodon
Harm, Humanity’s Last Breath

Chapter 10
Dreamless, Fallujah
Approaching Transition, Cultof Luna

Chapter 11
The Shooting Star, Gojira
The Devil’s Own, Five Finger Death Punch
Human Disaster, The Acacia Strain
Node, Between the Buried and Me
Quietly, Mouth of the Architect
Ocean Drinker, Humanity’s Last Breath
Chevron, Cult of Luna

Chapter 12
The Coma Machine, Between the Buried and Me
Australasia, Pelican
Send Help, The Acacia Strain
Pray, Gojira
Xxcc, Midnight in Alaska
Boundless, Midnight in Alaska

Chapter 13  
Deconstruct, Midnight in Alaska
Liberation, Gojira
Eternal Kingdom, Cult of Luna
Aghartha, Sunn O)))