It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock and roll; well, AC/DC were close; after reading Polyphemus by Zachary Ashford, none of you will be under any mistake that it’s a road to hell if wanna get to the top of Rock and Roll. And by that, I don’t mean a hellish mash-up of AC/DC and Chris Rea. (I know I could have gone for a double AC/DC reference, but why let that get in the way of a terrible joke and a sly dig at Chris Rea).
But seriously, Polyphemus by Zachary Ashford is one of those novels that will live after you long after you turn the final page, as you sit there quaking from the visceral beating you have just received as the final act of the novel takes a complete turn into WTFery.
However, Polyphemus by Zachary Ashford is so much more than its brilliant, brutal final act; it is also a finely tuned and wonderfully realised look at the relationships, struggles, and woes of being in an up-and-coming heavy metal band. What makes Polyphemus special is the level of care and attention that Ashford has put into creating a believable microcosm of being in a band. Take away the horror elements of this novel, and you are still left with a powerful and moving story of being in a rock band. You can tell that Ashford has done so much research into the dynamics of band life. I can only assume that he devours music biographies, as this part of the novel feels so genuine and realistic, from the fallouts between the band members to the tragic consequences of drug addiction and how it affects each and every member of the ban’s circle to the struggles of trying to balance family life while touring. It is a moving and touching account of being in a band on the verge of making it big. Even without the intermittent horror elements spread over this section of the novel, you will still be left feeling emotionally drained as it is such a raw and honest account of the toxic elements of music culture. There is enough real-life horror here to classify Polyphemus as a horror novel without the supernatural elements coming into play.
You will root for some of the band members, hate some of them, and one, in particular, you will want to take by the shoulders and violently try and shake some sense into them.
Ashford’s care and attention to developing the characters are so nuanced you will be so invested and drawn into the book that it will feel like you are watching a fly-on-the-wall documentary (hey, hey, another AC/DC reference)
Horror and heavy metal go hand in hand; I couldn’t even begin to count the number of songs, myths and legends that combine heavy metal with terrible Faustian deals with the Devil. Right from the very beginning of metal’s roots, Robert Johnson mythically made a deal with the Devil at a crossroads; metal and horror have intrinsically always been intertwined. And even though there are gazillions of songs and stories built around this trope, Polyphemus remains fresh, thrilling, and absolutely commanding in its delivery.
While it takes some time for the proverbial poop to hit the fan, Ashford slowly peels back the curtain throughout the initial part of the narrative], allowing the readers a brief and disturbing glimpse into the shadowy world that is driving the narrative. Props must be given to the author for creating a demonic/cosmic horror that doesn’t fall back on well-worn tropes and rehashed ideas; these deals with the demon are high-voltage soul strippers that will leave the readers with a nervous shakedown.
The book’s final act is a stunning, gory, crimson, and ferocious climax that pulls no punches. I am struggling to think of a book in recent years that comes close to matching the unrelenting, intensive annihilation of a group of friends. Be warned; this is a brutal section of the book; even this hardened horror fan was cringing and wincing at some scenes that Ashord paints with a psychotic brush. However, while the final act is brutal to the extreme, it is so well written that you cannot help but relish the sheer talent of Ashord’s exquisite writing. Cause if you want blood, you’ve got it!!!
If only all Highways to Hell were this brilliant.
Polyphemus by Zachary Ashford
When lead vocalist of Polyphemus Stephen Oaks’s near-fatal on-stage overdose leaves them under pressure from their label, the band’s remaining members must find a new vocalist, pick up the pieces and forge on without him.
Unfortunately, he’s fresh from rehab and desperate to reunite with his old band, In fact he’s so desperate that he’ll bargain with dark forces and sacrifice everything – and anyone!
After the final encore is played and the house lights come down, there is no telling who will remain or who they’ll be in allegiance to. For Polyphemus, obsession costs far more than mere murder.