The Black Dahlia Murder’s “Abysmal.” Reviewed by Nic de Sena

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The Black Dahlia Murder have, for many years now, impressed me with their ability to write Death Metal without falling into common writing ruts stylistically. Their seventh studio full length entitled Abysmal showcases those exact traits and then some. Abysmal offers exactly what you’d expect from the American Death Metal stalwarts: Blasting, guttural vocal delivery, tremolo picking and palm muted riffing that is par for the course and definitive for the genre. While many American DM acts are passed up due getting caught in aesthetic rut, The Black Dahlia Murder seems to avoid this by referencing classic DM and grind acts such as Carcass and Dissection. The connection being that Abysmal, by all rights, is an incredibly melodic record. An uncompromising, incredibly heavy record but leans heavily in a vast quantity of angular, non-traditional riffing.

Trevor Strnad, (Vocals) and Brian Eschbach (Rhythm guitar) have been the mainstay members of The Black Dahlia Murder, while the band has had a plethora of other members since the bands inception, this lineup has held strong for a few years now. Previous efforts by the band have always been worthy of a listen but with the addition of Ryan Knight (Lead guitar), the band certainly was able to begin writing much more technical and genre warping songs. Knight’s lead work seems to be the centerpiece of Abysmal, creating a great juxtaposition to the often unorthodox guitar work. A great emphasis have been placed on harmonization between Eschbach and Knight, a technique that has always been a staple in their writing but hasn’t been executed as precisely until now. Nearly every track on the record goes through a myriad of tempo changes which makes for a varied listen with any aggressive band, especially like DM which can easily move into realms of monotony. It certainly does not seem to be any mistake that the record opener, “Receipt,” exemplifies all of these qualities.

Abysmal’s drum work is certainly worthy of credit. Alan Cassidy’s drumming reflects a wonderful amount of restraint and tact. He delivers exactly what the riff calls out for, nothing more, and nothing less. Impressive, well timed fills that accent the song as a whole and build a cohesive experience. “Threat Level No. 3” is a fine example of this. Smooth transitions, flurried fills with plenty of attack.

Of course, one of the most prominent features of The Black Dahlia Murder has always been Strnad’s ranged vocal delivery. This record is no exception, his often grating vocals often make one wonder how it can be sustained for such long periods of time live, which he does flawlessly. Again, his delivery is heavily reminiscent of Death Metal/Grind legends Carcass, especially that found on Heartwork.

Although the band has made an obvious effort to move into a more melody-driven manner, there is no shortage of heavier moments. Laced in are blunt, masculine, palm muted riffs. “Re-Faced” one of the highlight mid-tempo tracks is built around a trademark Black Dahlia breakdown, something very reminiscent of Unhallowed-era Black Dahlia. Perhaps the breakout track of the record or rather the most surprising is “Asylum.” A track found at the tail end of the record which relies heavily on a crescendo effect, building up into a uncharacteristically strummed, rock beat driven chorus. At first this can be a bit off-putting, but in the grand scheme, this track has become one of my favorites, simply because it is so different, not only for the record, but the band. With that in mind, it still compliments the record as a whole.

Abysmal is a welcome addition to an already overflowing catalog of material. Since getting a hold of it, it hasn’t left my rotation and I suspect it won’t be replaced for some time.

Screeching Weasel’s “Baby Fat, Act 1.” Reviewed by Taylor Farner

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And now for something totally different, again. Screeching Weasel, or the new Screeching Weasel, rather, has come out with a story-driven record that branches out of their normal angsty genre of being who we are and saying what we think, bringing in a bunch of guests to the carnival, including their tour mates of the last couple of years. Blag Dahlia was there, along with Roger Lima from Less Than Jake, Chris Barrows from The Pink Lincolns, Todd Congelliere from F.Y.P. and Toys That Kill, and a handful of other musicians from bands I’m less familiar with.

I’m a fan of bands branching out and trying something new. I don’t buy the new records of a 30 year old band expecting it to sound the same as their first record. Sure, Weasel plays really fucking well live, but who wants to record the same music for 3 decades?

Because they blended a bunch of other people into the album, it goes beyond just a Weasel album, even if Ben Weasel wrote the majority of the music. That may have to do with Blag Dahlia’s very distinctive voice and style… or maybe something more.

The premise and story behind the album is Blag Dahlia, named “Baby Fat,” is the manager of a band called “Serpentello,” of which Ben Weasel, or “Tommy Swank,” is the singer for the band and owner of a “The Reptile House Club.” Throughout the album the different characters in the play follow a lot of typical band drama. The singer gets a superiority complex, the manager disagrees with the members decisions, unreliable crew members are making the whole situation boil.

The story starts to take a turn around the song “Things Aren’t So Bad After All.” It starts to turn more towards the social issues than the practical dilemmas that every band encounters, ever. It starts to involve an actual narrative in this “play” of sorts.

I’m not the biggest fan of the album, honestly. I really like that they did something different, I just don’t think this worked well for them. I think that the only way to really get into it is if you’re already a huge Screeching Weasel fan and will sit through it a couple of times to get through it, or have the booklet in your hands so you know what these characters are and what’s really going on. That is to say, I am a Screeching Weasel fan–not so much a Ben Weasel fan, but I like the music. What I like about them is that they’re catchy, they have thought provoking lyrics, and, while their stage antics and band history doesn’t stand up against their own music, they’re good at what they do. This, however, was not catchy, and unless you sit through it a few times, you’re not really going to feel like you’re living in the music–hence, why you have to already be a fan.

However, for my second contradiction, I will listen to Baby Fat, Act 2. Even if, on my first listen, it sounds the same and has some of the same problems, I’ll still give it a try, because this is the first time Ben’s done something like this, and as I said, I can appreciate what he’s doing in trying to create something new. He had a style that he probably perfected early on in Boogada Boogada Boogada, and My Brain Hurts, and has played off that style ever since.

Out of curiosity, I did check around online to see what other people thought, and my findings seem to match up with what I thought: fans will love it, and people who like SW, but don’t crawl out of Ben’s ass every time he beats someone up to defend him, they will probably have a hard time convincing themselves they need to put the extra effort in to get behind it. Based on his personality, I’m sure Ben didn’t write it for those people.

Letter from the Editor, Issue #2

It seems, ladies and gentlemen, that I’ve finally found it. I didn’t need a map, no one told me where to look, and I honestly didn’t even know I was looking for it, but I found myself in a rut. Maybe not so much a rut, but whatever it is that everyone ends up running into that’s a real eye-opener, something that tells you Hey, things don’t get to stay so easy. It’s the experience where you graduate on time, you got “lucky” and got a job right out of college, and all of a sudden you don’t have time for anything, that “lucky” job wasn’t paying you as much as you thought it would, and your not-impressive-but-decent body suddenly grows a beer belly.

That was my life a handful of weeks ago. I overworked myself to try and make the money I thought I’d be taking home, come home too exhausted to take care of myself, and just sat at the computer–not working on anything useful or productive like, oh I don’t know, finishing up Issue #2 of a certain zine, but binging on online games, or watching T.V. show after T.V. show. The ironic part was I also got addicted to hearing Gorilla Biscuits “Start Today,” each day on the way home. Maybe it helped get this show on the road? But anyways, there I was, sitting on my ass, smashing away at the keyboard, and I look over my side to see the full-length mirror on the wall, and the pale blob of a gut covering my crotch and said out loud, “What the fuck.” Not to mention no one likes living with someone who only focuses on getting to level 100 or doing your raids for the week. So fuck it, I quit. And by quit, I meant what that Gorilla guy meant. I’m gonna start today.

Obviously not today-today, cause you’re reading this, I hope. My descent into gluttony and laziness, and my subsequent recovery from it are the reason why you’re reading this in January, and not the previous July. I hit that rut, and I’m crawling out of it. I may not be where I was before I fell in, but I’m getting there. And I’ll keep the stories coming.

Before I knew for sure I’d be continuing the zine after my Capstone, I received a lot of support from friends, friends of friends, and family, and said something like “as long as people are there to help me out and bring content to the table, I’ll keep putting this all together,” because I truly enjoy it. Unlike getting your warlock to level 100, or getting the most KBs, this is one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my life. It means something to me and helps us be better people. Not just me, but for everyone who helps out, who creates material, and everyone who reads the zine. We’re contributing to the skills and confidence of artists with real passions, who want to share their work with the world, and improve themselves.

We’re doing this for other people to read, but also for ourselves. Knowing people are reading something with your name in the byline is one of the most exhilarating things. It’s like the moment after you’ve made the jump off a cliffside. You’ve done the hard part, and once you make the splash, you’re going to want to jump again.
Like kicking a bad habit, you feel unstoppable when you read your name in print. Like when you’ve fully immersed yourself in a good book, you feel like you’ve found your place and purpose.

All of that said, I’d like to express my gratitude to everyone who didn’t let me off the hook, who asked “So when’s the next zine coming out?” and reminded me that life is about pushing yourself and following your dreams, not being a out-of-shape asshole yelling at his computer. Instead I’m now the slightly-less out-of-shape asshole trying to figure out how to make white text look good over an all-black spread. I owe it all to everyone who helped out with the Indiegogo page in March and April, and the fans we’ve gathered along the way who showed that they were interested in what we’re doing, and the great friends I have work-shopping material with me and being my motivation to make Issue #2 happen.

To all of our wonderful readers and contributors, Negative Assets thanks you again for showing your support and interest, whether you pre-ordered or found it in the random little shops I managed to sneak this into. We are most appreciative. One of the many reasons we write and draw and try to create something out of nothing is for you. We want to know what you like and don’t like, and how we’re doing. If you’d like to provide feedback, feel free to write to us.

Shoot an email to taylor.farner@negativeassetszine.com. If you are interested in writing for the future zines, visit our website, www.negativeassetszine.com, and click on the Submissions tab. You can find all the information you need there, and don’t hesitate to run stuff by me if you’re not sure. This is my passion and a dream of mine. I’d be happy to take a look at anything you’d want to share.
I hope you like this issue. It’s a bit different from the first, but we write what we like and what’s important to us. It’s going to be a little different all the time.

Enjoy.

 

Taylor

Ensiferum’s “One Man Army.” Reviewed by Luis Balderrama

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I am going to come clean. I am not the biggest fan of the albums after Iron. I am one of those people that really dug their teeth into their self-titled album Ensiferum (2001) and Iron (2004). The “post-Iron” albums, although not bad by any means, were lacking something; some factor from their first two albums. However, that is to be expected when the majority of the band members are changed from the original line up. The band is not going to be the same. [2005-2007 saw the change of 4 of the 5 members of the original band.]

That being said, One Man Army really challenged that opinion of mine. This addition to their album lineup went in a much different direction than previous albums from the “post-Iron” era. There are a lot of vocal ensemble components mixed in and a lot more composition and thought in the writing. Not that their songs aren’t composed, but it really sounds as if they took that extra couple minutes to perfect every part of the album.

The title song “One Man Army” fits the current Ensiferum formula. It’s well written, it’s high energy, and it will get you head banging pretty hard. There is plenty of thrash influence mixed in with melodic riffs, ensemble vocals, and their usual Viking Kalevala lyrics. Petri’s intro scream is nothing but epic, and the rest of the song follows that same intensity. But, oddly enough, what really caught my ear was farther down the song list. The real gem of this album is actually “Descendants, Defiance, Domination.” Let me explain.

“Descendants, Defiance, Domination” is not just a run of the mill song, it’s one of the best written and musical compositions I have heard from Ensiferum to date. It’s got all the right stuff: older Ensiferum style riffage mixed in with the multiple sections of obvious musical differentiation, bridge sections, and a recitative. The exposition hits you with a very western Clint Eastwood style melody. I could almost see the tumbleweed rolling by. The sections have a perfect mix of clean and dirty vocals that complement each other while blending with the rest of the bands supporting and melody chords. The vocal ensemble at 5:10 is such a great counterpoint to the rest of the song. The more I think about it, the more I understand how odd it is, but it flows flawlessly and bridges the gap between two musical sections and statements. This example among more really showed me that Ensiferum can, not only write, but compose a 10+ minute song and keep the listener intrigued the entire time. All in all, this piece is very impressive and it’s a great mix to One Man Army. I really hope Ensiferum lean more in this direction for future works. They really have a knack for it. This isn’t the only notable piece on the record though.

The beginning of “Cry for the Earth Bounds” was a nostalgic throwback to “Into Battle” from Iron. So I was VERY pleased to hear that first epic vocal chord once again. The song itself has lots of layered rhythms and melodies intertwined with the clean vocals of the band as well as Petri’s epic lyrics. This song seems to be another obvious draw away from just pure dirty vocals and more of a mix of clean vocals, acoustic sections, and epic chords from the vocal ensemble, which closes out the piece. The ending of this song could be the end to the album. It brings that sense of closure to it, like an intermission during an orchestral concert.

“2 of Spades” is the comedic break in the album, but, oddly enough, it fits right in with the rest of the album. It still has that folky upbeat sound, but it’s mixed with a Techno drum beat and some killer funk-guitar lines. It’s a great piece to head bang to with a giant smile on your face. It just makes you laugh. When the first lyric of a song is Petri screaming, “I go all the way” you know it’s going to be good.

My complaints on the album are few are far between. The obvious one is that this is not old Ensiferum. As much as I would love to hear Jari Maenpaa at the helm once again, it’s just not going to happen. Another complaint I have about this album is, oddly enough, what I was praising the album for. As much as I enjoy this new direction and musical influences, the album is highly produced. And that removes some of that gritty-ness heard from the older albums. It had a slightly raw feeling that just is not existent in these new albums and this album is a heavy offender missing that aspect.

Overall, One Man Army is a great addition to their album line up. Ensiferum have a solid grasp on their musical identity and the more I listen to this album, the more I am coming to like the band as a whole and the musical direction that they are going.  I hope to hear more of this in the near future.

“The Lights,” by Harmony Hertzog

I see lights. Do you see them? They’re out there in the field. Look to your right. Do you see the lights? I see them, driving home on the long, dark farm roads. They’re where no roads go, and the flat darkness makes them seem to move. Or do they move? Do you see them? They look much closer tonight. The lights. If I wasn’t so tired I would try to find the source of the lights. Perhaps tomorrow. Perhaps.

I see lights again. Can you see them? Thick, yellow lights entwine with the fog that layers the fields in a sickening yellow-gray. They still look close tonight. Can you see the lights? But there is no road to the lights. The curiosity is really getting to me. Can you see them? Jaundice-colored lights in the right field. They look even closer. But there is no road. Where are those lights coming from?

The lights are closer. Do you see them? I can gauge their distance between the road and the mountains. The lights are moving closer to the road. Do you see the lights? There has to be a road. The lights have to be coming from something. Are the lights coming from the fog? No, the lights are above the fog. But the fog is so dense where the lights are. And the lights are getting closer.

There are no lights during the day. The fields to the right are normal, flat spans from the road to the mountain. I can’t tell where the lights are at night. Can you tell? I think the fields look different in some spots. Are they sick? Is it from the lights? There is a dirt path. Do you see it? It leads into the fields. Will you go with me? I wonder if the lights will be even closer tonight.

I see the lights. The sickly, sticky fog is yellow with the lights. The path is dark. The lights do not illuminate the path. You can’t tell, because you didn’t come. The lights are not normal lights. They do not illuminate the path, or the fields, only the fog. The lights are ill. The fog is infected with the lights. The fields under the lights are sparse. I’m almost inside the lights. I’m scared. They’re pulsing. The lights are a contamination.

I’m in the lights. They are bright, but they don’t shed light on anything. There is an electrical taste in the air. The lights are like an illness. They are not coming from any visible source. The sick, yellow lights mingle with the gray fog and that somehow sustains them. The lights are ill. I’m not so scared now, but I think there is something wrong. The lights are a contamination.

The lights are still out there. Have you seen them? I don’t go down that road anymore. I have not seen them. But I can feel them. The lights are a contamination. I can feel their sickly, yellow glow inside of me. Can you see the lights? The lights are not ill, they are an infection. I can feel them inside of me. I’m scared. Do you see the lights? I don’t see them, but I feel them, spreading. The lights. The lights are a contamination.

“I Found Love in a Dental Place,” by Jamie Elmer

The location is the dental waiting room. The occasion is my companion’s root canal.

I did not plan accordingly for my stint in the dentist’s waiting room. I can hear the faint sound of the suction as I swallow my hunger. She has left me with her water bottle, but I can see its impending emptiness. I am hopeful that she will take no notice.

I have forgotten all forms of entertainment, from laptop to tablet, and am not even sufficiently prepared on my phone. A mere 35% battery life is left. This could only mean imminent death.

The magazine offerings here are a pittance. A disgrace. I could learn thirty-eight new sex tricks, or how to find my sparkle, but I think I’d rather jump into their fish tank and eat their goldfish.

The hunger has gotten so bad that the thought of grilled gold fish is not entirely as disgusting as I know it should be. This is worrisome.

My eyes roam for a sweet release and come upon a dream–my only form of foreseen sustenance is the peanut m&ms upon the front desk. I long for their chocolately, nutty flavors meeting my tongue in an explosion of yes. I must have them.

I face multiple dilemmas in acquiring said chocolatey lifesavers. The first includes the eyes of the prying waiting room occupants and dental assistants. Long has someone been present at the desk, but I fear for the moment when I make my attempt and they appear at the scene of my guilt.

There is also the contraption in which my delectable saviors are contained. Upon further inspection, I have noted that this is no simple turn of the dial candy machine, but a high-tech monstrosity placed here likely for the reason of thwarting the fulfillment of my desires. I could rescue these pleasures of my stomach from their oppressor and send them directly to the safe haven of my stomach, where they will return to their former selves, completing their mission on this Earth.

I have discovered a knob on the back that could be the button that will deliver me from this hunger. And the delusions. But I am at an impasse, still impeded by my former struggles.

Look at them there, with their bright, enthralling colors, wide bodies promising a smooth chocolate coating surrounded by a pleasant, crunchy inside. Pure lust.

What temptation the dentist has left me. Do the caretakers of teeth find it amusing to leave treats that can only harm their patients? Do they think they are witty, attempting to ruin my chompers so that I may return to them, punished for my hunger? What a cruel world. Their attempts do not terminate my longing.

If someone would return, I could go about the task respectfully by asking for a small trifle, the least of what they could give me for this torture. Instead, the desk remains empty and the drill continues on, drilling away both her teeth and my hopes.

I fear this is the end for me. The darkness is coming; I feel it with every shallow, starving breath. I will think of you, my dear peanut m&ms, with my last dying breath.

Sweet relief! Just as the darkness threatened to overcome me, the ruler of the desk returned and I resorted to my last attempt at life.

“How do you get these?” I asked, pleadingly.

“Oh, like this,” she said, effortlessly demonstrating the placement of her hand under the shoot, performing magic so that the sweet symphony of love fell upon her hand.

My eyes lit up, my hand outstretched – finally. We are united. A true love story has occurred in this place. Pure bliss.

“Journey by Train,” by Jamie Elmer

Arrival: I am a half hour early due to my father’s excitability. He called me 8 times from the grocery store before my alarm even went off to wake up. 15 minutes before the train is scheduled to arrive, an announcement goes off but, after “train fourteen,” it’s cut off from the screeching of the freight train on the opposing track. Bastards. A lovely conductor (is that what she would be called?) on a tram asks me where I’m going and tells me to jump on, as the train arrives farther down the track. I board.

Hour one: I am seated next to a friendly older man who shakes my hand and tells me his name, which I quickly forget because my memory is abysmal. He’s sticking with me almost to the end and has the window seat. Curses. To my dismay, I find that the free WiFi I was promised is nonexistent at the moment. Curse them as well. I settle with reading a chapter in The Hobbit while sustaining myself with a chocolate chip muffin.

Hour two: I’m already tired of being on the train; that’s got to be a bad sign. I’ve finished my chapter and have pulled out my computer to attempt work that is useless until WiFi becomes available again. Which I hope is soon. After learning from his phone calls that he has been to jail, is on probation, had a great talk about God at AA, and is moving to Texas with his daughter, my neighbor ventures off to find the lunch compartment and has not returned.

Hour two & a half: The older lady beside me tells me I have great concentration. I’m pretty sure she thinks I’m in high school when she asks if I’m doing school work, but I do have a giant elephant on my sweater so I concede. My neighbor comes back once, mentions a hotspot on his phone, and then disappears again and has still not returned. Hopes for WiFi dashed again. Curses. I begin eating my turkey sandwich just as the train comes to a halt. Now the pitiful air conditioning has turned off. I will soon be dead.

Hour three: We were stopped for almost 20 minutes and the air was painfully turned off for most of it. I fear they have an agenda against me. My neighbor shuffled by with new friends he made, and wandered off with my hopes of a hotspot in tow. We finally move, and I wish I could sleep away the coming hours of travel.

Hour four: Train bathrooms are almost worse than airplane bathrooms. I didn’t know that this was possible. I am both impressed and disgusted. I tire of reading and riding trains and hope that my finally-returned neighbor requires Internet.

Hour five: Signal is intermittent. WiFi still nonexistent. Being cut off from the outside world while being surrounded by mountains is only made worse by the fact that we haven’t been to a station stop in so long. I overhear the man in front of me say, “I asked and they said that we’re 25 minutes behind.” Nothing can dash my hopes more.

Hour six: And we’ve stopped again. I am most displeased with this situation. I long for my off-key singing ringing in my ear and the hum of my vehicle scooting on its way. I would be not long for my destination if I had driven. I must think positively for I have many hours to go and additional precious minutes that could be spent doing productive things, like sucking face. I have completed my first draft of a cover letter, so there’s at least that to show for my suffering. Why must it be so hot?

Hour six and more than a half: I’m pretty sure I saw an Amish child pass three times now. Are there special train exceptions nowadays, because I don’t blame them for not wanting to take a carriage across California.

Hour seven: Nausea has kicked in. I’ve never felt a greater need for fresh air than I do in this very moment, pitifully sucking the salt from my pretzels. They never mention feeling queasy on the Hogwarts Express. I bet wizards don’t get queasy. Bastards.

Hour eight on the dot: The sky is fading around me and I feel like I am fading with it. I was told by my neighbor that we’re running an hour and a half behind. I pray to all the Gods that this news is incorrect. Never again. No trains. Death would be a sweet release.

Hour eight, continued: Upon checking the status on my phone, I will arrive only 29 minutes late. Although dreadful, it is no hour and a half. If this status is lying, I may punch a baby in the throat. I dream of the moment when I can twirl in the fresh night air like a woodland nymph frolicking in the forest. In the meantime, I will hide my possessions and use the disgusting facilities and hope that I can read once I have splashed water upon my saddened face.

Hour nine: In a perfect world I would soon be departing, but in reality I will be hitting hour ten with an unhappy stomach and a heart full of regret. A woman nearby took a picture with her phone of the train. I was blinded by the flash. This is my existence. Half blind, hungry. I feel as Bilbo Baggins does on his own journey, the old people are the trolls in the mountains and the train is the dragon I must overcome. Let us hope that during my remaining time in seat 50 this granola bar sustains me as the Elvish bread sustained Bilbo.

Hour ten: Alas, I have finally come to a countdown that brings me hope! One hour until I am free from this wretched mechanical beast! I can hear my new neighbors whispering about my work and am glad that my font is tiny enough to avoid the prying eyes of the elderly. I can at least count my blessings that I am not the old woman who got on with me, who still has more than twelve hours to go! I shudder at the thought.

Hour ten and a little past half: It is almost time to depart, and I put my book down in my excitement. Awaiting me is freedom, a boy, and a burger, so I say adieu to this train journey and repress the knowledge that I will be back for another in four days time.

“Fired,” by Andrea Harsma

It’s raining. It doesn’t always rain, contrary to what some people think, but it is common. The clouds hang low in the sky. The Space Needle’s light isn’t visible, but neither is much else. Traffic crawls by on the 405. It has been said that every freeway called the 405 is at a standstill all the time, and that is probably true.

Umbrellas are everywhere. Some malls have public-use umbrellas at their entrances and exits. They aren’t generally stolen; people are too nice for that. Really, other than the snobbery, most people in Washington – state, not D.C. – are very nice. Granted, there are some ghettos in the state, but it just doesn’t seem as bad as places on the news. It’s almost as if the Pacific Northwest is isolated from the rest of the country.

The building, like most in the city, is nondescript. It’s tall, concrete, with many stories. Two people, a man and a woman, exit the front doors and walk down the stone steps. Both hold umbrellas, extended, that cover their faces and shield them from the rain. Their walk is nearly synchronized as they reach the bottom of the stairs and turn right. As they continue down the street, a third umbrella-toting figure comes out of an alley alongside the building and walks the opposite direction, posture slouched as he trudges along. The pair in tailored suits walks with a purpose, not talking, not caring to avoid the puddles. When they are a block away, the seventh floor windows of the building they left explode outward in a fiery shower of glass shards.

***

Bellevue was for rich kids. No, really. He was pretty sure if he tried to come downtown for anything but work, he’d be “asked” to leave. He couldn’t count the number of Lincolns or 5- and 7- series BMWs that rolled by pedestrians in perfectly tailored suits that cost almost his whole month’s pay.

Reuben hated suits – he’d hated them as a child, when he’d had to dress up for church, and he hated them now. The tie was like a noose around his neck, ever tightening. He leaned back in his chair, surveying the view before him. It really wasn’t bad; his seventh story office had huge picture windows that overlooked half of downtown Bellevue. Well, it did from an angle, if you leaned back far enough, as he was. Older buildings like the one that housed his office were closer to the outskirts of downtown; central Bellevue had been undergoing a facelift for the past decade and now boasted a variety of newer office buildings with modern designs. The rent in them was astronomical, though, even for downtown. The rain pelted against the glass, again, like most days. Reuben had learned to accept the rain, even though he didn’t care for it. It was as inevitable as the traffic that accompanied it all the way back across the I-90 bridge to his dingy apartment in Tukwila.

God, even the name was awful.

He glanced at the clock. Another hour, and this would all change. Maybe not the traffic that even now inched by on the streets below, but the rest of it.

He moved his hand to check his watch, then stopped. It wouldn’t do to look anxious. Instead, he slowly turned his seat to face his desk again and pretended to be very focused on cross-referencing something in the database with a client file. They hadn’t gone paperless yet, and this would work to their advantage.

He’d miss his desk most: a lovely, L-shaped mahogany wood, made to look handcrafted, that probably weighed more than a baby elephant. It was his favourite thing in the office, and the only thing that he’d ever really felt was his.

***

“Sam” got her interviews where “Samantha” did not. She knew – she’d applied as both, staggering application and resume submissions. As a child, she’d wanted to grow up to rule the world – or at least a multinational corporation with underlings to do her bidding. She’d found school easy, but boring. The boys hadn’t been particularly impressed by her dreams to have it all, and her teachers had given her a condescending smile and suggested she devise back up plans.

It took her years, most of her life to date, to discover that no one wanted her to be in charge because she was a girl. Over time, she’d learned to adjust her habits and word choices accordingly. She learned to cater to their egos, letting them think her suggestions were their ideas, and dressing more feminine on occasion to downplay the effects of her authoritative tendencies. She still wore pantsuits, but had invested in some skirt suits as well at her mother’s insistence. Her mother had long ago advised her to “play the game,” and it had taken Sam several years to understand what that really meant.

She blended in now: short trendy haircut with highlights, tailored suits, trim figure from spending her nights working off the frustration of dealing with them. Ugh. Men. Reuben was the same as everyone else. She let him think he was in charge – just like those before him. If they thought they were in charge and that everything was their idea, they became incredibly easy to manipulate. Reuben had been easy pickings; his power trip tendencies were easily exploited by mention of an overheard plan to replace him. Whether that conversation had ever actually happened wasn’t important; it gave her the out she needed to start over. Maybe the next company would be smart enough to see her potential and give her the position she deserved.

***

Edgar was nervous. He couldn’t help it. He was always nervous. His palms would get sweaty at the first mention of deadlines or crunch times. That was why he’d dropped out. He never told his parents; they’d have been devastated. Better to let them think it was the economy’s fault that he wasn’t doing anything with his degree…the degree he never got. Thankfully, he’d had Reuben.

Edgar and Reuben had met in college; they’d been in several of the same classes, and both sat in the back of the room, though for different reasons. Edgar sat in the back to keep his stress levels lower because no one would call on him in the back. Reuben wanted to screw off all the time, sleeping in class or trying to hit on the girls that sat too close. He’d thought himself one of the “cool kids” as though that didn’t die out in high school.

They’d kept in contact, though Edgar never knew why. It had saved him though when he’d found himself jobless and quickly running out of options to pay for a roof over his head. DSHS didn’t care for single, childless men like it did single mothers. Reuben had put in a good word for Edgar with the building manager, which was how he’d gotten the job in the first place. “Facilities Manager,” like it wasn’t the messy, god-awful job it’d always been when people called it “janitor.” At least there had been some honesty once.

Now, it was all layers. Layers of political correctness and fluffing covered everything. Reuben and Sam were right; he was underpaid. If he quit, he would be ineligible for unemployment. It would be so much easier if work just didn’t exist anymore.

***

The worst they’d be hit with would be negligence, but he had a feeling it’d really only be Edgar. Reuben wouldn’t be quite so willing to go through with it otherwise. Thankfully the building was the sort to have the anti-suicide windows, ones that didn’t open and were just there for decoration and to see the outside world but never touch it, which only served to add to the feeling of being trapped. Those windows would factor in nicely.

They’d planned carefully, allowing for even those that might be in the office late to have left. The one rule had been no deaths. They didn’t need that on their hands, didn’t want anyone looking too hard because they had a death to investigate.

Reuben had been very angry when he’d first caught wind of the home office’s plans to remove him from his post as boss of their local franchise. They didn’t know he knew, of course. He’d put so much of his own time and livelihood into this crappy job, to little end. He hated the politics of these rich people determined to cut everyone off at the knees in order to save themselves a few bucks. Selfish bastards. He’d show them, and they’d never know.

***

Edgar tapped his fingers on his janitor uniform’s khaki pants as he leaned against the wall in the supply room. It was a bit bigger than a standard janitor’s closet, but that was because the building had so much space to clean that they needed tons more space to hold all the stuff for it. He glanced at the clock on the wall, then at his watch, trying to gauge how accurate the wall clock was. He waited impatiently, expecting someone to walk through the door and ask him why he wasn’t working. Couldn’t waste even a few minutes of their time, after all. Time is money, and all that.

A minute later – he knew, he’d been watching the clocks – the door did open, but it wasn’t his supervisor. Sam poked her head in and eyed him expectantly.

“What’s wrong?” Edgar tensed immediately, heart pounding, eyes flicking over her shoulder to see if he could spot anything out of place.

“Are you ready?” Sam brushed a speck of lint off the shoulder of her tailored blazer as though the speck was his question.

“Yeah. Yes. We have thirteen minutes by my watch, but it’s more like twelve by the wall clock. Twelve and a half, maybe.” He glanced at his watch again, then at the clock on the wall. Sam blew out a breath, ruffling her bangs.

“Great. Don’t screw it up.” She turned, began to pull the door shut behind her.

“Sam?”

“What?” Her voice, like her movements, was impatient, clipped. Edgar recoiled slightly, took a breath.

“Are you…sure?”

She hesitated for just a moment before her face twisted into a smirk, eyes raking over his janitor’s cart.

“Oh, yes.” She shut the door behind her, leaving him alone in the room once more. He glanced down at the cart, at all of the bottles of fluids with warnings plastered on the labels.

“In Defense of the English Language,” by Andrea Harsma

What did English ever do to you?

Poor, broken English

battered, lying in the corner

lonely, asking why you hate it so

What did English ever do to you?

It just wanted to help you sound pretty

But no

You had to run it down, beat it with sticks

“dead horse” you say, laughing

What did English ever do to you?

You don’t even try

To sort your yours and you’res

Let alone those theirs, they’res, and theres

Smugly lazy

Do you even capitalize?

What did English ever do to you?

You can’t even manage a full word? ru and ur and u and r

Even worse, these new bastardizations

With the swag and the YOLO

Don’t you know swag’s for curtains and skirting?

You

Obviously
Lack
Originality

LETTER FROM THE EDITOR, Issue #1

What I hope I’ve accomplished with this project is bring a new opportunity and dose of vigor to my own writing, that of my peers, and to those, like me, who are looking for an outlet and a chance to showcase their passions, their dreams, their talents.

Largely, this is a literary journal. I have published stories, alongside fellow CSU Channel Islands students, alumni, and community members. It’s something that’s very important to me and my fellow contributors. Having your writing read is a huge step in giving yourself a name and creating confidence in your career. A project like this is also essential to knowing the ins and outs of the industry, and learning how to start at nothing and get to something. It brings a true sense of accomplishment to know that you got where you are because you put in the time and effort to make it happen.

Vector Portrait by Taylor Farner
Vector Portrait by Taylor Farner

The DIY aesthetic thatNegative Assets adopted stems from punk roots. It says “No one else is going to do your work for you, and you shouldn’t expect them to. You have to do it yourself.” It is this sentiment that drives our creativity, and pushes us to make our content seen and read. But it isn’t just about making your name heard. It’s about showing what you’ve spent your time creating and learned to love.

CSU Channel Islands is small, but densely packed with talent, eager to be seen. Beyond skill, the students have drive and are prepared to put in the hours to make their voices heard. There is community here, and culture.Negative Assets will hopefully help foster that culture, and strengthen the campus’s place in the world.

A lot of students leave school with their degrees and their debts, and the realization that there aren’t many opportunities for them. This project is about taking the initiative to get your work out there and let the world know you’re here, you have talent, and you’re ready to put it to use.

I’d like to thank everyone who contributed to this project, and all of our sponsors that helped make Negative Assets a reality. You’ve helped cultivate a new outlook on pursuing dreams, and giving your work purpose and light. I hope that Negative Assets continues to drive people, bring them passion, and make their work seen and enjoyed.

Taylor Farner