Summer Warfare: Bahimiron, Averse Sefira and Masochism in Houston, Texas

August 28, 2004 –
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Bahimiron, Averse Sefira, and Masochism
August 28, 2004
Cardi’s
Houston, Texas

This city stretches like a dry riverbed across the flat land of South Texas, ending near the mud-brown ocean in which floats medical waste and human shit. Like most modern cities, it is both strikingly ugly and possessing some rare beautiful architecture, but the majority of it is open shopping centers and freeways. Lots of concrete to reflect sunlight and absorb toxic rain which rises in a sticky mist. Its strength is its verdant natural land, but as more people from every country on earth pour into it, this too is consumed.

Naturally, a place like this is perfect for a black metal show.

The show promoters at Extreme Texas Metal put together a type of show that is popular today, called in the vernacular the “shotgun,” since it is formed of a collection of marginally related bands fired out in sequence with the hopes of finding at least one that each member of the audience can like. Consequently, they are schizophrenic in atmosphere, with the decorum of a food court as portions of the audience assemble for each band while others sit back and comment. However, this is how one must make money in a bloated “scene,” and the Extreme Texas Metal staff did a competent and fair job of setting up the show.

Being a dilatory malcontent, our reviewer showed up late and was able to catch the last three bands, who together represented a battering ram of black and death metal.

BAHIMIRON

At this point, Bahimiron were barely taking to the stage. With an original member of Texas evil metal legends Imprecation (think of a more ritualistic, less bassy take on first-album Incantation) on vocals and lead guitar, and the two deviant minds of “Where’s My Skin?” magazine on bass and drums, this band is clearly a powerhouse of minds in the present community. Its adaptation to the current scene both affirms and negates it, making for a rocky adjustment as this band finds and refines its style.

Their style is a hybrid of the grim and necrotic fast and simple black metal of the later changes to the style, merged smoothly with the grand interiors presented by architectural melodic black metal such as Gorgoroth or Impaled Nazarene. Songs generally cycle between riff pairs at different tempos, then reach a stage of presentation in which pace often shifts dramatically, before inverting the process of reaching it and drawing out to a violent and usually abrupt conclusion.

On this night, the band professionally presented the same, with the addition of more confidence in moving and playing onstage and greater technical accuracy and synchronization. A new guitarist has joined the band to their fortune, as his rhythm guitar solidity allows a foundation on which other members can build. Percussion varied from hardcore rally beats to the metals-heavy blasts which allow them to pick up speed, no simple task since most chords are strummed at high speed regardless of tempo.

Vocalist/guitarist Grimlord, formerly of Imprecation, commanded the stage with his voice whipping from guttural to shriek to conventional singing as demanded by the material; his guitar playing is fluid and self-assured, and allows him to enhance his vocal delivery. Bassist Jenocide added a mute aggression and bulletlike low-note commentary to her impassive stage presence, while drummer Blaash was precise and energetic. Tearing through a mixture of old and new material, this longstanding Texas-Arizona front presented well and left no doubt as to their stature.

As many bands have, they suffered under the hands of sound production problems, mainly because Cardi’s was breaking in a journeyman audio engineer that night, and as a result peaking monitors cut out and distortion sometimes became a wash, disrupting the forward motion of the band. To their credit, Bahimiron held out until the problem was mostly corrected and then moved forward without losing atmosphere or becoming bitter, which was as unusual for a current band as it was appreciated by the audience.

If our reviewer had to make irritating suggestions, it would be that they worry not at all about having a “unique” personality and let their music talk. There is no need for a whisky-based endorsement in black metal, nor does this band need any cachet to invoke their (dark) spirit. The music addresses all that they have to say. If they have a weakness, it is on the knife-edge between minimalism and the hopelessly indeterminate riffing of the black hardcore bands; they will be fortunate if their more ancient and eternal influences win out. Regardless of these footnotes, this band is one of the few worth tracking in this age of black metal.

AVERSE SEFIRA

Many in the audience assembled had come to see Averse Sefira, if the sudden proliferation of metalheads at the stage and their equally conspicuous disappearance after the show was any indication, and the veteran metal band did not disappoint. Having apparently decided long ago to focus more on bringing their music to the world than on gratifying the comatose Austin metal market, Averse Sefira showed every bit of their touring experience and nailed out a highly professional set with very few breaks. This reviewer wonders why the club did not let them continue further, as there was time to spare thanks to three-count pauses between songs.

Guitarist and vocalist Sanguine A. Nocturne, astride a gleaming red B.C. Rich monster axe, seared the halls with a hissing and animalistic vocal delivery, backed up with the more on-the-beat enunciations of his cohort Wrath Satariel Diabolus, who roared into life with a black monster of a bass whose undertones drove the music forward with an urgent possession of emotion. This was framed and accentuated by the bullet-precise drumming of The Carcass, whose experience in numerous death and grind bands does not hide his familiarity with the technicality of percussion, mastering both exact timing and the deft transition of texture necessary to impel the music without drowning it in method.

Lucky enough to hear new material, the audience absorbed it in a state of contemplation and shock that would have pleased a Vedic philosopher, watching for details and essence alike. The newer songs can be described as an outpouring of this band reaching a musical and worldview apex, in which their mission has developed past requiring elaboration to the point of being demonstrated in many different forms; with their intent clear, they are confident in approaching even broader range of technique without fear of corrupting what is to be communicated.

As an example, rhythm is far from the rigidity of their first album or the delighted violence of the second, but like a groundswell changes topography to accentuate the expression particular to each part of a song. What was once abrupt is now sublime, and without venturing into jazz-metal territory, they invoke the languid as well as the militant in alternating sequence, creating an aura of insidious infiltration. Guitar technique has branched as well to use quick erratic notes in a wash of distortion as an instrument of harmony, creating a queasy uneasiness that like oil on water blooms into a rainbow when revealed in the contrast of light.

Newer songwriting continues the Averse Sefira tradition of writing epics, confronting the audience with a basic motif and then descending into its explanation, letting dissonance swirl around the audience as unexpected twists and turns converge on an occult mystery unifying the visible and the unseen. Clearly the presentation of older material has been affected, as it shows successive layers of adaptation reflecting both the changes in writing for Battle’s Clarion and the preparatory musical adaptation for the new album. It will be both exciting for the fan and an event for the community when their new work comes out.

Their playing reflected precision and professionalism throughout, with the presence that only an experienced band can have, dominating the stage and, as most cannot, using that supremacy to take a wide range of emotions and channel them into an expression of their work. Without falling into matyrdom at all, they bore out the indignities of periodic sound production problems and humidity without flinching, even honorably dedicating their set to the memory and continuing legacy of Imprecation.

MASOCHISM

It was with a great deal of professional integrity that this band took the stage, the hour having grown late and most of the fans departing after Averse Sefira slashed through their set. This would crush most bands, and is the most difficult circumstance under which to perform, but to their credit Masochism took the stage and wouldn’t let it go until they had sent their sonic disturbance into the universe.

This was fortunate for our reviewer, who remembering the performance of this secretive and rarely-sighted act from an Austin event two years prior, anticipated the set with high expectations. These were not disappointed.

Lead guitarist Juan Torres, who has supported a diversity of metal acts with his practiced and charged playing, forms the majority of the sound and direction of this band, and this night he led with alternately pummeling chords and incredibly fast lead picking which makes this music a study in contrasts. A progression leads into a song and varies through two riffs, then slams home with a conclusive dirge, only to be torn apart in the undulating rise and fall of melodic lead rhythm playing.

Similar in style thus to older Incantation and Sinister, the essential form of this band stretches to include a plurality of influences, ranging from older speed and heavy metal to modern black metal styles, something which is absorbed by a deft understanding of how riffs fit together. Transitions are often breathtaking in their boldness with enough subtlety that they are unexpected, and the procession of textures that compose verse material are both hypnotic and jarring.

Bassist/vocalist Kean Koite held down the set with remarkable free-hand (not picked) stringwork, being a master of both the techniques required to give his playing thunder and enough of bass playing as a science to insert adept fills and accents. One of the highlights of the show were his semi-poetic introductions to each song, in the style of Tom Araya many years ago, where a small vignette concluded in the topic and then name of each song; this may not be to everyone’s taste (and what is?) but it was appreciated by those of us attending as it brought a small intrigue to anticipation.

Percussion was exact and bellicose, matching the tight structure required by this style with an underplayed reliability that eschewed sophistication for effectiveness; few players have the ability to set aside getting more personal attention for the promotion of the aura of the presentation as a whole. Masochism are musically ahead of most local bands as they are in songwriting, but song titles and some stylings seem stuck in the late 1980s-early 1990s death metal movement, which suggests an update.

While Masochism are masters of fitting together surprisingly convoluted riffing with adept translation between radically different textures, their songwriting could benefit from more use of a unifying theme or concept around which to wrap this tapestry of forms. It is not a disadvantage, but this final tiny fraction of the creative process is what awaits to take this band from being overpowered for the style they have chosen, dominating it almost too much with their talent, to matching form and content and creating something of enduring breadth and significance.

As a side note, it was gratifying to see a clear national pride in Mexican origins shared between band and fans, with Mexican flag present on an amplifier; nationalism fits all ethnic groups, and pride in one’s tribe is a trait common to all strong individuals. If anything, this should no longer be downplayed, and in an age when NSBM and covert use of nationalist symbols is common in black metal, perhaps Masochism should visit aztlan.net more frequently and take advantage of that freedom and speak loudly and clearly about their cultural preference.

Impressive in performance, and in professionalism, they were an essential part of this concert presentation, and those who left early missed out. As a symptom of their single-minded determination to perform well, the band did not let it usurp their intent and ploughed right ahead. If you get a chance, witness Masochism when they come to your area; the right-hand guitar technique and interplay between bass and drums from a technical perspective, alone, makes it a worthwhile experience.

CODA

At this point the night was well underway, and even a giant cosmopolitan wasteland charged by the momentary escape of work drudgery afforded by a Saturday night was finding closure, so all departed into the flamboyant heat and uncountable incandescent advertisements of the Texas night. The show was a success because of the strength of the bands and the relative laxity of the promoters in encrusting a successful platform with too many local band-of-the-moments, but if this reviewer had one wish, it would be that next time these three bands and one local band (perhaps the reformed Crimson Massacre, who could not play because of personnel issues) could share the stage and complete the show earlier, giving each of these standouts more time to show us that among the few quality underground metal lives on.

Bands:
Averse Sefira
Bahimiron
Masochism

Promotors:
Cardis
Extreme Texas Metal

Why I am not a Satanist

August 24, 2004 –

Both religions have the same core: me first, reality second

Of all the subcultures to emerge following the dominance of rock over popular music, heavy metal and its associated genres remain unique in that they have maintained a counter-culture that targets not just the visible “establishment,” but also all things that hold the core values of that philosophical system; metal is a naturalistic movement opposed to the utilitarian values of modern society, but it has kept its head up and thus far mostly avoided assimilation by not taking an explicitly political stance, but an artistic and metaphorical one.

This outlook has increasing driven it out of the mainstream consciousness, which has allowed it to keep its independence in part by mostly separating itself from the crowd of hopeless people looking for an identity and an easy, one-size-fits-all solution to they subliminal angst they feel about living in a fatalistic and submissive era. Of course, it has not managed this exclusively; some of the biggest sheep, and most profound losers, of our time have been metalheads, even some who have been very influential in the genre. In this way, within the metal genre the drama of the larger society is acted out in microcosm: the few who understand pulling away from the mass which wants what they have, and would emulate it to the point of drowning out legitimate voices in the genre.

What makes the mass destructive is the nature of a crowd, by definition: it is people who come together on the basest pretense and, out of fear for their individual selves, enacts a mass-will upon society at large to remove anything that threatens the herd. When you see a crowd, you are not seeing uniform people, but vastly different people who are disorganized and thus can only accept the lowest common denominator motivation, which is usually as follows: do not criticize me for anything that I do, insofar as I do not violate this basic tenet of crowd-belief toward others; give to me everything that our best people have, as I am participating in the crowd and thus “contributing.” As with all utilitarian systems, this mentality punishes the more capable in order to keep the broader masses from feeling inferior, or that they’re missing out.

Heavy metal music, by its very nature and alienation, recognizes that society operates on two levels: a public level, which comprises the kind of things you’d tell a crowd to make them feel you have their best interests at heart, and a private level, at which actual motivations are acted upon using the tokens of the public level in such a way that their function does not match their definition. It is a lot like hacking, actually; you overload some kind of input buffer with data that appears to be harmless, but contains concealed instructions that the machine, unaware that something labeled “data” might be “code,” executes and hands control to the intruder. William S. Burroughs famously declared, “Language is a virus,” and thus explained the same concept as applies to modern mass-media psychology.

What happens in a computer is that it confuses appearance with reality; the code is reality, but the idea that it is harmless data is the appearance. Similarly in our society we are divided between appearance, which generally consists of happy nonsense to keep you distracted, and reality, which is the relentless pursuit of wealth and a spiritual emptiness that justifies it. (As mentioned here before, this takes us back to a split that the Greeks noticed, between things as they are and their abstractions, which are often mentioned as that which casts a shadow, with the shadow we see being what we know of “reality.”)

Since any tokens manipulated on the public level have dual meaning, and are thus meaningless, heavy metal targetted something more sublime: emotions and self-image. The Gothic, Romanticist, naturalistic and elitist-individualist imagery of even Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin did this, but it flowered from there into a proliferation of forms, each of which took the basic concept and developed it further, all without explicitly knowing why or what was being done. This ignorance of an articulation of what is being done allowed it to be passed, from mind to mind, through the subconscious channel of appealing imagery and concept in personal life, much as it was done in Romanticist literature, art and music: those who found greatness in the past, specifically medieval and ancient civilizations, and could process a melancholy acceptance of death and desire for personal greatness in heroic accomplishment, would naturally find the music appealing.

This is in part because, in addition to imagery, metal music literally sounds like the description of Romantic ideals above. It doesn’t embrace the centralized harmonic structures of rock music, which is Indo-European folk music simplified to the degree of fixing a harmonic center and manipulating major/minor changes for mood, over a syncopated beat so that even the dumbest person can follow it, and it doesn’t embrace the pleasing sounds and casual human vocal noises of pop. Where pop attempts to define beauty and approximate it as a medium, metal attempts to find what is beautiful in that which is, on the level of things that explicitly defined, ugly. If society exists on a level where public discourse is manipulated by private reality, metal is an inversion of that, such that the meaning of public discourse is found within private reality.

Metaphorically, metal almost exactly mirrors Romanticist literature, even down to its fascination with nature and the occult. Loneliness and alienation create independence; obsession with the forces of nature and the power of warfare creates a post-moralistic sense of seeing how life works rather than judging it; wandering into the embrace of Satan affirms the pagan belief that there can be no public level of “good” separated from “bad,” but that good and bad are forces which together create a meta-good, mainly the ongoing process of life itself. These are the values of metal, and they are almost never explicitly spelled out because to do so, in the music, would be to expose the inner workings of the subculture to manipulation by those who have not discovered this meaning on their own; emulation and cheapening would follow.

For this reason, it is important to remember that Satanism in metal is metaphor. Many of the largest proponents of Satanic imagery in metal were Deists and some were Christians, but used Satan in a way similar to that of John Milton or William Blake to describe the individual Will or Ego; when Black Sabbath wrote “War Pigs,” and described how modern society sends its workers off to die in foreign fields for abstract and mostly irrelevant political objectives masking a private reality of profit and power, they concluded it with “Satan laughing spreads his wings” not to praise Satan but to describe, in theological metaphor, what had occurred: humans had confused public reality with absolute truth, and thus been manipulated, and from that, an inner resentment and fatalism expressed itself in the confusion that followed. Satan laughing spreads his wings: a statement of the futility of our time, and in later bands, of the uselessness of religions that conflate Absolute truth with the public level of reality.

In doing this, metal attacked the fundamental Platonic split between the world of appearance and the world of structure; appearance was seen to be aesthetic, and not necessarily related to structure, which was defined by context, something which theological and occult imagery, by the nature of its cosmological outlook, expresses succinctly. While hardcore punk musicians attempted to rearrange the symbols of the public imagery into a meaningful private discourse, metal brushed past and declared the public reality defunct, urging its listeners to look instead toward their inner motivations and animal feelings. However, as with all things, the surging crowd – those who by definition did not and thus could not do it the first time around – sees something it likes and apes it furiously, producing a parody of it by only understanding the level of appearance and taking that appearance as truth, something which belongs to the domain of structure alone.

For this reason, although I have never been a Satanist, I have often employed Satanic and occult imagery in my writing, much as the smarter metal bands have done. In a world ruled by a Christian or secularized Christian (liberal) concept of absolute truth as public reality, one strikes back by upholding all that cannot be ruled by such a petty device, in the process pointing out that such dualistic thought patterns are in fact a simple rhetorical device misinterpreted by the crowd and thus used for its own purposes. In contrast, the crowd embraces Satanism as a truth in itself, and tries through silly literal rituals and laughable posing to be “truer” Satanists that the others, or more “extreme,” or some variation of attempting to find a devotional truth in life. It cannot be done, and therefore these bands and individuals tend to ring hollow to the thinker, and their works — well, let us say that in the years following 1996, there have perhaps been three black metal bands of the caliber of those who occurred 1990-1996, and it is similar in their own times with other subgenres of metal.

I can extend this concept further. National Socialism is popular in some black metal circles, but that is mainly because it’s easier to label oneself a National Socialist and start collecting gear and posing than it is to understand the core concept of National Socialism, which is a feudalistic ethnocultural post-moral revival of classical Indo-European culture. That relatively complex thought gets distilled down to, as Faulkner said, “a hatred of black skins” alone, and thus parodies itself. What kind of idiot believes that African genocide will solve humanity’s problems? Black Sabbath were more advanced in thought with “Satan laughing spreads his wings” than all the goose-stepping fools, or those from the opposite end who make the same mistake, the leftist: they assume that by labelling themselves as egalitarian and tolerant that humanity’s problems will resolve themselves on the level of public discourse. All of them are misguided, and represent waste by the roadside of a path to knowledge.

Death metal and grindcore had its own version of this comedy. Bands like Carcass and Morpheus used intricate descriptions of death and decay as a way of reminding their audience that public reality is a dream designed to deny death, and that when we realize our own mortality, we can comprehend that meaning is not found in public discourse or in liberal/conservative platitudes, but in addressing reality – yes, actual reality, including that good and bad are needed to produce meta-good – we liberate ourselves from illusion and can begin work on the real task. They were followed by unnamed and now thankfully forgotten bands who found an identity in glorifying death, bloodshed, violence, disease, perversity and disgust, all in full ignorance of the original concept. It is not surprising the music of these bands was also of a lesser nature, as their thinking was clearer on a more basic, linear level.

In my view, there is truth to be found in all of these viewpoints, if interpreted correctly. National Socialism and liberalism are not that far apart when we look at their basic motivation; both want to establish healthy cultures where people are not left to the predatory whim of speculative capital. Satan and gore both wish to affirm natural belief over that of the thing-as-named public reality. Even Christians and pagans have the same essential goal, which is to find a larger reason to have values outside the material and thus find meaning in existence. However, our time is confused, as somewhere along the path to this “great” industrial society we have lost the systems of thought that give a whole meaning to the entire process of life, instead of selecting some aspect with which to label oneself and hold up as a shield of “meaning” against death. In a confused time, only a few actually seek truth, while everyone else looks for it as they might a product on a shelf or the best fruit among the ripening burden of branches.

This article is not an attempt to discredit or assault bands who use Satan as metaphor; much like Blake, or Dante, or Eliot, or any number of artists, their quest is legitimate. It should serve, however, as an introduction to the theory of metal as an art form, and an explanation of why there are so many mediocre imitators, of “Satanist” or leftist or NSBM variety alike, and only a few leaders, and thus, a mandate for future thinkers in this genre to start with the leaders and not the followers. Metal remains under assault by both public culture and public “counter-culture” (an anti-establishment affirmation of public cultural beliefs, in trendier form) alike, and thus must keep an intellectual and artistic lead or it will be assimilated and left with Slipknot, Korn and Creed as its tombstone.