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After the rise and fall of Sepultura and before the advent of populist metal trio Nervosa there was Krisiun. Since 1990 the Kolesne brothers have been proudly flying the flag for Brazilian death metal. Often imitated, domestic and abroad, but never surpassed, their four-album jaunt up until 2001's "Ageless Venomous" was pretty much flawless. "Works Of Carnage" was a stylistic experiment that toyed with shorter, bouncier cuts and big choruses. On 2006’s “AssassiNation” things really took a turn for the worse. Those vainly hoping for a creative renaissance had their hopes squashed with “Forged In Fury”. That record was a bloated, over-long, directionless platter signaling that the brothers three had finally hit rockbottom. “Scourge Of the Enthroned” is their latest and if Dying Fetus, Morbid Angel and Monstrosity can produce decent records in their old age, so can they.

After a quarter of a century and 10 albums there’s bound to be some fatigue to the way a band writes. Krisiun hasn’t been handling anti-Christian rhetoric exclusively since “AssassiNation”. “Southern Storm” and “The Great Execution” were records that dealt with historical and mythological concepts of beasts and war almost entirely. Krisiun has been writing loose concept albums for more than a decade now and with “Scourge Of the Enthroned” the brothers continue that trend. Instead of their usual themes “Scourge Of the Enthroned” is based on Sumerian mythology. Every formula eventually proves fatal and in Krisiun’s instance that happened with “Forged In Fury”. It was probably their most critically savaged recording in the 12 years that they’ve been releasing mere variations of “AssassiNation”. “Scourge Of the Enthroned” is not the much pined after creative renaissance for the Brazilian brothers, but at least it’s marginally more inspired than the insipid and meandering song sets they’ve been releasing over the last 15 years. It is folly to expect them to write another “Black Force Domain” or “Apocalyptic Revelation” but if the riffing is anything to go by “Scourge Of the Enthroned” is a step in the right direction again. Is this the next great Krisiun record? Hardly, but does it ever try.

At least Krisiun heeded the criticism leveled at some of their more recent works and opted for more manageable song lengths. Krisiun are at their best when they stay within the four-minute range and don’t loose themselves in boundless repetition. “Scourge Of the Enthroned” sheds most, if not all, of the trio’s typical extraneous diversions. It’s refreshingly straightforward and doesn’t bother with any of the usual pointless instrumentals that have been littering their albums since “Works Of Carnage”. A good Krisiun record clocks in around the 40-minute mark and this album’s 38 minutes is far closer to “Apocalyptic Revelation” than it is to “Southern Storm”. The songwriting too seems to have improved, although not in any drastic or dramatic sense. The cuts are mercifully more to-the-point and some of the riffing leans closer to “Conquerors Of Armageddon” than it does to “Works Of Carnage” which is always a plus. Max Kolesne’s blasts these days are more concentrated around selective portions of songs instead of being their entire raison d'être. Just like everybody else age is inevitably catching up to Krisiun and they don’t play as rabid and frenetic as they once did. In a more general sense “Scourge Of the Enthroned” is one of the trio’s better offerings, but the days of “Apocalyptic Revelation” and “Ageless Venomous” are well and truly behind us now.

Krisiun has always been about precision. Alex, Moyses and Max are world-class instrumentalists cursed with a fairly regressive concept of songwriting. “Works Of Carnage” was entertaining just because it was an experiment. “AssassiNation” had more of a groove metal inclination but it worked well enough within that context. They were mere creative outliers in a repertoire of largely linear and percussive songwriting that drew equally from Morbid Angel as it did from early Sepultura and Slayer. What people seem to selectively forget is that there indeed was a Krisiun in those long forgotten, halcyon days prior to 2003. That exactly those outliers have since become the apparent norm and the accepted standard to which all new Krisiun output is measured is scary enough of a prospect all by itself. “Scourge Of the Enthroned” brings back at least a fraction of the old riffing schemes and cuts down on the repetition and groove-fixated songwriting choices that have been bogging down the Krisiun assault for over a decade. Alex Camargo is still the weakest link and his barks have been getting less guttural for a while now. Krisiun is, much like Obituary, a band that has embraced its regressive tendencies as if they were virtues. The brothers three have been growing complacent and if “Forged In Fury” conclusively proved anything it was that. Krisiun has been stagnating for quite a number of years now and "Scourge Of the Enthroned" might as well be the first sign of life in a long time. Not that it's bound to become a new classic or even mandatory within the larger Krisiun canon. It's solid and unadventurous.

So where does that place “Scourge Of the Enthroned” in the now extensive Krisiun discography? It’s better than their last couple of records but it’s still no match for their classic first four albums. The angular, linear songwriting of yore has been replaced with more melodic by-the-numbers songwriting that reeks of cold professionalism and years of experience, as much as process. Perhaps Krisiun is not quite as guilty of the latter as some of their contemporaries, but they haven't sounded inspired and inspiring for over a decade. “Scourge Of the Enthroned” might not be the grand return of a band that has been falling to the wayside for quite some time now, but it offers enough reasons to remain cautiously optimistic. We might not demand (or expect) another “Ageless Venomous” from these three brothers but “Scourge Of the Enthroned” offers at least a smidgen of hope of them still being able to concoct a reasonable facsimile thereof. At least it's better than "Forged In Fury" and that should count for something these days...

Plot: high-class escort Sarah Asproon moonlights as a novelist researching a new book

Let it be known that Joe D’Amato can never be accused of not completely milking an idea while it was still profitable. A year after Eleven Days, Eleven Nights (1987) old Joe returned to New Orleans for Top Model (1988), a sequel of sorts to his earlier Nine 1/2 Weeks (1986) knockoff. Back again is ravishing Luciana Ottaviani and in what would be her swansong in the franchise she's given every chance to show off that impressive body of hers. With a screenplay from Rossella Drudi and Sheila Goldberg (as Gloria Miles) Top Model does have an unexpected romantic undercurrent. Which still doesn’t make it anything more than a bog-standard inexpensive soft erotic potboiler for late night cable. At least a Joe D’Amato soft erotic feature isn’t as heinous and painful as some of his infamous horror movies.

The success of a soft erotic movie is relative to the willingness of its star to shed clothes and cavort around naked. Ottaviani, to her everlasting credit, doesn’t shy away from either – even though she’s hardly what you'd call an actress. Ottaviani is exactly what Laura Gemser was in the 1970s. Gemser, three years away from announcing her retirement in 1991, will not be shedding any garments but she still looks rather dashing at 38. The cast is nothing but unknowns. James Sutterfield and Lin Gathright were in Killing Birds (1987), one of the many unofficial sequels to Lucio Fulci’s often imitated Zombie (1979). Gathright would resurface in the series American Horror Story (2014). Jason Saucier had guest roles in Dawson’s Creek (1999) and One Tree Hill (2004). Top Model was Laura Gemser’s first venture as a costume designer and unfortunately she never transcended beyond D’Amato and his ilk. There's something inherently ironic about Gemser, famous for getting out of her clothes for a living, making sure that other actors stay in theirs.

After having engaged in a brief but steamy affair with a dopey construction engineer the year before alleged novelist and present high-end escort Sarah Asproon (Luciana Ottaviani, as Jessica Moore) is working on a new book about high-class prostitution. To legitimize her efforts Asproon and her publisher Dorothy Tipton (Laura Gemser) set up a call-girl agency. Tipton adopts the alias Eva North while Asproon calls herself Gloria. To maximize efficiency and to keep track of customer information and appointments receptionist Sharon (Lin Gathright) and shy programmer Cliff Evans (James Sutterfield) are hired. One of Sarah’s clients Peter McLaris (Ale Dugas) threatens to expose Asproon to the police, which would ruin her career as a novelist. Despite the threats Sarah continues to work and finds herself falling in love with Evans, who initially remains reserved towards her advances. Jason (Jason Saucier), Cliff’s apparently homosexual friend, competes for Sarah’s affection after she properly rode him. Spurring Jason’s advances and foiling McLaris’ blackmailing Sarah and Cliff choose each other. Asproon bids her life of prostitution farewell and focuses on her new career as a novelist. The two move to another city to start anew.

The dreary, humid New Orleans locales ooze with all the depravity and sleaze you’d expect of a Joe D’Amato movie. The men that circle Asproon come from both ends of the spectrum. Cliff and James are regular guys confused why a sensual vixen like Sarah would take an active interest in them, let alone a sexual one. Peter the blackmailing toy factory owner is a sleazebag of the highest order that it makes you wonder why he wasn’t played by Gabrielle Tinti or David Hess. Asproon’s clients are the usual variety of reptilian abusers, including an exploitative photographer, a profusely sweating toned African-American that should have been Fred Williamson, and the client that books Sarah for himself and requests that her friend Eva North rides him like a bull. An entire subplot is dedicated to the sexual dynamic between Cliff and James, who are obviously attracted to each other, sensual Sarah cures both men of their confusion by mounting and riding them, seperately. In fact Sarah rides James to such an extent that he becomes straight. Cliff, feeling merely sexually inadequate in Sarah’s presence, is mounted creatively into self-confidence.

It’s hard to believe that Top Model was helmed by the director that gave the world Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1977), the gothic horror-slasher hybrid Buio Omega (1979), and the splatter classic Anthropophagus (1980). There's an inherent sweetness to the entire thing that you'd earlier find in Bitto Albertini's erotic potboilers. Luciana Ottaviani wasn’t much of an actress, and she was cast in movies mostly to take her clothes off, but she never deserved to dwell in the muck that she did. Ottaviani had a body similar to Serena Grandi, Donatella Damiani, and Debora Caprioglio, and it’s nothing short of puzzling that she never appeared in a Tinto Brass production. Ottaviani had junk in the trunk and Brass loves a baby that got back as much as Sir Mix-A-Lot. That she somehow never entered the sphere of Jess Franco is a miracle in itself. It stands to reason that luscious Luciana was tainted by her exploitation beginnings, and she would never ascend to the A-list erotica of, say, Bernardo Bertolucci. Not that she would be able to carry such a movie by herself, mind. Top Model is curiously low on dialogue for a reason and that the plot is moved forward by every other character that isn’t Sarah Asproon should clue anybody in exactly how much of an actress Ottaviani really was.

After Top Model Ottaviani moved on from the franchise and D’Amato continued with new lead Kristine Rose, who prior to acting appeared in Playboy (August 1991, February and April 1993 – never making it to the cover). Rose starred in a further third sequel confusingly titled Eleven Days, Eleven Nights 2 (1990). Like in much of his 1980s output Laura Gemser has only a supporting role, and unlike in The Alcove (1985) she refrains from shedding fabric. A year later Moore would be starring opposite of Pamela Prati, Loredana Romito, Laura Gemser, and Gabrielle Tinti in the erotic potboiler Reflections Of Light (1988). That one did give her a chance to act. After her tenure with D’Amato Rose made appearances in the actioner Total Exposure (1991), the Charles Band production Demonic Toys (1992) and the Zach Galligan-Corey Feldman comedy Roundtrip to Heaven (1992). Rose has filmography so depressing that she played second fiddle to latter-day Andy Sidaris regulars Julie Strain, and Teri Weigel. Not exactly something to be very proud of, or at all.

That Joe D’Amato’s voluminous softcore output is far more enjoyable (and often technically superior) to the many and maddeningly wild exploitation – and horror movies that made him famous was a foregone conclusion. What is also evident is that D’Amato’s direction is technically solid, workmanlike, and indifferently professional, even when Ottaviani is naked and in the frame. D'Amato doesn't exude any kind of the artistry, individuality, or thematic follow-through that made Tinto Brass such a revered household name. Luciana Ottaviani is given enough flattering angles whenever possible and D'Amato will let his camera glide across her curvaceous canvas every chance he gets, but isn’t nearly enough to make Top Model anything more than a bog-standard erotic potboiler marginally better than late night skinflicks headlined by the likes of Shannon Tweed, Julie Strain, Lisa Boyle, Sherilyn Fenn, or Tanya Roberts. Joe D'Amato was infamous for a reason, yet Top Model isn’t nearly as grime and sleazy as you’d expect. In fact it's stoically demure and unrepentantly utilitarian. Everything works and everything is where it should be, yet if this was meant to be Luciana's star-making vehicle, it missed the mark.

As part of his prolific 1980s period, a decade wherein D’Amato concentrated almost exclusively on soft- and hardcore pornography, Top Model is an unassuming and ultimately forgettable exercise in softcore tedium were it not for the illuminating and arousing presence of Luciana Ottaviani, the embodiment of curly 1980s sassiness. The score consists of pulsating electronic music from Piero Montanari, René de Versailles, and Jacob Wheeler. This should have been the Black Emanuelle series for the eighties. Ottaviani's premature departure deflated the franchise before it could begin, and that was very unfortunate indeed. Eleven Days, Eleven Nights never recovered from the exit of its original and biggest star, and the numerous in-name-only sequels only made that more obvious.