The Story Of María Elena And Kilter’s Jazz-Metal Opera La Suspendida by William Berger (Book Review)


It seems that necrophilia is the perfect subject for extreme metal, and it has informed classic songs by everyone from Cannibal Corpse to Slayer. However, it has rarely been a topic in the stuffy world of opera, and that’s where jazz-metal band Kilter step in. Despite its controversial subject matter, La Suspendida is a work that’s vast in scope and questions the very essence of life and death, how we are moths dancing close to the flame, and Willian Berger’s book clearly lays out these issues in black and white.

The term “page turner” is an often-overused phrase in literary reviews, but in the case of this book, and especially the opening section The Vaguely Haunting And Curiously Resonant Tale Of María Elena, Also Known As “La Suspendida”, it is perfectly apt. Told from several different perspectives, sympathy is not only elicited for María Elena, who exists in a kind of self-imposed existential limbo, but also for her abuser Carl Tanzler, a rather sad figure whose extra-curricular activities prove to be a strange kind of life force for María. It is the different narrative voices that make the story sparkle and will whet your appetite for the rest of the book.

At just 138 pages this book is a fairly brief read, and while its flowing prose invites you to read in a single sitting, my advice is to rein in those tendencies and really grapple with the ideas and questions this book initiates. Also included are contributions from Kilter members Laurent David and Ed Rosenberg III, who both offer some interesting backstory, and while Berger’s section A Memo From The Border briefly strays (unnecessarily) into autobiographical territory, there’s barely a word wasted in the whole book.

Metal and opera might seem diametrically opposed, yet they share many similarities and are closer than many adherents would like to admit, it is most notable in the use of light and shade, and musical dynamics that pit loud and quiet sections. This book also includes a libretto of La Suspendida, and while you may not have heard (or seen) the opera yet, such is the strong sense of time and place that this book creates, you will have strong visions of what’s entailed as you read the text.

The persuasive and flowing prose that William Berger employs means that you will want to check out La Suspendida, the music of Kilter, and everyone involved in its production. And that’s perhaps the greatest accolade you can bestow on a book about music.