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“Do you know why people fight?  It is never because of their differences.  It’s because they are the same.”

Sent off to the killing fields of the American Civil War, the erstwhile Reverend Gregory Trask is paired with a most unlikely companion…the lovely but sinister witch Angelique DuPres Collins. 

Picking up directly where The Wicked and the Dead left off, we find Trask at the climactic moments of existential crisis, culminating in his suicide in the walled up room.  But rather than the apparent closure of the earlier story, it appears Trask’s afterlife has only just begun…

Tasked with an unwinnable competition to be the first of the two to actually perform an unselfish act, each tries and fails miserably at their assignment.  Trask attempts to offer absolution to a dying soldier, only to be spit upon and blasphemed.  Angelique raises the dead, only to be faced with a sort of Frankenstein monster outside her control. 

Eventually, they encounter a very strange woman, whose incongrously elegant presence amid the casualties of warfare bears a bizarre secret…while above them, ever circling, gathers a murder of crows…

While still delivering an amusingly pompous performance as the murderously womanizing extortionist Reverend Gregory Trask, Jerry Lacy gets far less of a chance to shine here than last time around as part of an ensemble cast and effectively sharing the floor with Lara Parker’s astonishingly ageless sounding Angelique.  As I’ve already addressed Lacy’s return to the role of Trask here, I’ll only speak to Parker’s performance this time around.  

At times, it’s hard to tell that so many years have passed, with Parker deftly essaying the affected, almost quavering tones of speech Angelique fans are well accustomed to.  Hell, things are so close at times that even her shrieks seem to fall in the same ballpark as those she delivered before I was even born.  Occasionally, her true voice slips in, lending an unfamiliarly throatier and more steady tonality, but all in all, it’s practically uncanny to hear just how many folks are able to closely approximate their younger selves in today’s audio performances.  Kudos.

Semi-regular Companion Chronicles director/composer Nigel Fairs (who doubles as the voice of satan herein) provides a stronger score than usual for a Dark Shadows installment.  Particularly of note are the early battlefield scenes, which are suffused with eerie, bombastically haunting music that sounds like it was lifted from a Cradle of Filth concert.  With choral lines matched by a throbbing keyboard orchestral line and tympani rolls, a more frightening evocation of war and its aftermath simply cannot be envisioned.

Complete with a several minute recap, spoken word intro by Parker and even the expected (but seldom heard) “Dark Shadows is a (Big Finish) production” closer, some pains were taken to make The Carrion Queen feel a tad more authentically Dark Shadows than other Big Finish DS productions I’ve experienced.  

While clearly off in a far more fantastical realm than even the wildest story arc of its televised progenitor, little touches like this mean a lot.  Further, given the gap in time between installments of Trask’s ongoing story, the opening recap surpasses aesthetic considerations to achieve a far more necessary function, reminding the audience of where things left off two and a half years agone.

“Not so pretty now, is she?  The real face of war…a parasite, feeding on men’s strength.  There’s no majesty in battle, Trask.”

Suffused with an intense sense of atmosphere provided by Fairs’ accomplished scoring and the evocative scripting by authoress Lizzie Hopley (who also stars as the mysterious woman haunting the fields of war), The Carrion Queen is simultaneously a condemnation of the lie of the supposed “glories” and “honor” of warfare and a more personal reminder of the direct parallels of two selfish, and ultimately evil, people.

“You two are bound together by your multitude of sins and your utter belief in their justification.  Look into each other’s eyes…witness infinite selfishness, reflected.”

While Trask fancies himself a man of God, religious, conservative and accusatory of the human foibles of those around him, he is in fact no better or less a child of satan than the more existentially honest practicioner of the black arts Angelique represents. 

Much as today’s “religious right” hypocritically and openly espouses the dog eat dog Social Darwinist elitism of Ayn Rand without noticing that their very philosophical standpoint marks them as far more directly allied with the core philosophies of Nietzsche and satanism (LaVeyan or otherwise) than the openly progressive if not nigh-anarchistic Jesus they claim to follow and serve, Trask actively deludes himself into believing he is something far more elevated than he actually is. 

“Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons, and in your name perform many miracles?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you, depart from me, you evildoers, workers of iniquity.” (Matthew 7:22-23)

Justifying his own selfish desires, pride, greed and misogyny under the trappings of ostensible religiosity and nominal ‘Christianity’, Trask is in effect today’s Tea Partier, the modern Bible Belter who holds a Bible in one hand and lives in line with the philosophical pretzel logic of the Fox News crowd on the other, never realizing the intrinsic and essential incompatibility of the two. 

While Angelique is indeed evil, setting in motion the better part of the happenstance Dark Shadows hangs its long history upon, her delusion is that her vengeance is justified – a spurned mistress demanding her “rightful place” more truly a cold hearted social climber, attempting to break the “glass ceiling” of socioeconomic division, never realizing that like John Leguziamo in George Romero’s excellent Land of the Dead, she could never be accepted in the closed elitist world of the exclusionarily rich and haughty Collinses. 

In sum, the two are much the same…and yet, Trask’s sin is far worse.  A whitewashed sepulchre, he pretends at being the arbiter of morality and truth while effectively being little more than a liar, willfully self-deluded into the imaginary ‘justification’ of his own intrinsic failings, and in point of practice, evil.

And in the end, there is no greater evil than one who believes himself to be good, while attempting to impose his own will and deficiencies upon the rest of us…or as the man himself puts it in Matthew 5:46-47, a nominal servant of Jesus whose only true interests, compassion or empathy are reserved for himself and those he loves.

http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/the-carrion-queen-153

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