History of the band Mayhem

Like a dark breath of forbidden fantasy, black metal came into a world of orderly containers and sprayed them with foaming blood, black bile, and most of all a poisonous uncertainty about the safely egalitarian but boring lifestyle of the first world. In this genre, Mayhem were the band that by sheer persistence evolved into being one of the founders of the new black metal style, but only after years of thrashing in the dark and confusion of the fatalistic tendencies that eventually brought the band to artistic collapse.

Formed in the early 1980s by Oystein Aarseth, or Euronymous, the band released two demos which built upon what Bathory and Celtic Frost had achieved by making it more minimal, less coherent, and less friendly to the ears; in truth, the first anti-social music. The latter of these, “Pure Fucking Armageddon,” had attributes of extreme crustcore infused into its fractured heavy metal stylings, bringing criticism from a metal world which was then just beginning to accept Morbid Angel, Kreator, Destruction and others as a new form of “music.”

As time went on, two important things happened: first, Mayhem released “Deathcrush,” their first release and the best snapshot of the musical style they were attempting to produce, and second, the vocalist “Dead” [Per Yngwe Ohlin] from the Swedish band Morbid joined Mayhem to replace previous vocalist Maniac. The underground was slow at first to embrace the newer music, but soon there was a firm niche carved out for Mayhem: those who rejected the desire for logicality, in the modernist style, that death metal represented. As Euronymous said, “Black Metal is so extreme that not anyone can get into it. This isn’t any funny hobby which stupid kids shall have after they comes home from school.”

With the introduction of Dead, the conceptual impetus behind the band changed, and soon the blocky and deliberately awkward music of “Deathcrush” was metamorphosizing into a sleeker, melodic variant with more dynamic change in the songs, producing different “settings” to tell a tale, somewhat like a micro-opera in harsh guitars and howling vocals. Similarly, the appearance of the band went from t-shirts and jeans to black clothing, black boots and facepaint – corpsepaint – in black and white. In concert, Dead cut himself onstage, surrounded by the carcasses and heads of slaughtered animals. A full rejection of the positivity, pity and focus on individual lives of democratic humanism, the new appearance and music of Mayhem emphasized the bold, terrifying, morally ambiguous and deathlike in life itself. To understand it, one had to realize that the passion given to the music was an affirmation of life, but a different form of life, than that endorsed by the nominally Christian Nordic countries.

With this change, the following of Mayhem increased, especially as their recognizably different image placed them ahead of other musical efforts in the world of metal as less socialized and thus more extreme. Mayhem played a series of concerts across Europe, but recording and songwriting were sporadic, thus little material emerged from this period. At the end of it, Dead, in a moment of nihilism and darkness in 1991, slashed both his wrists and blew out his brains with a shotgun, leaving only a note: “Please excuse all the blood.” Euronymous, upon returning to the band’s shared dwellingspace to discover the cold corpse, took pieces of the brain and integrated them in a stew of ham and vegetables for the pleasure of eating human flesh; the band’s drummer, Hellhammer, took pieces of the shattered skullcap and made them into a necklace. As if a primitive ritual, the members of Mayhem paid their respects in death as in life: with coldness, feral opportunism, and a denial of any “sanctity” or “feelings” toward life, even that of a friend and collaborator. As Euronymous said later, about his form of “evil,” “It is basically hate to humankind. I have no friends, just the guys I’m allied with. If my girlfriend dies I won’t cry, I will missuse the corpse.”

During this time, Euronymous and his band were instrumental in the forming of a new black metal social group, or “scene,” centered around his record store in Oslo called Helvete [Hell]; the downstairs was a necrotic and bleak excuse for a commercial establishment in which the hatred and disassociation from commercial process was as much a barrier to purchase as anything else, but the upstairs was a practice room where Nazi flags and weapons hung over instruments decorated with inverted crosses. During the daytime, the store was a gathering place for musicians and fans of an anti-social nature; at night, Euronymous indoctrinated those who might be useful to the scene by inviting them to wild parties in which orgiastic appetites for alcohol fueled self-mutilation and eventually, rampant church and graveyard desecration [in Europe and many older American towns, the graveyard surrounds the church – a strangely forthright admission of the role of religion in society!]. Euronymous also started the first record label of the modern black metal movement, Deathlike Silence Productions. While these events stood against everything that Norwegian society of the time valued, authorities were permissive and did not “connect the dots” until far later.

It was at this time that many of extremist views, such as the skinhead-turned-rocker Kristian Vikernes – also performing in Burzum, joined the circle – and joined Mayhem on bass. Vikernes was an interesting counterpoint to those in the association so far; he was a hater of life but, like Dead, had an uncanny passion for life through art, and seemed to value his time in nature, away from people and their imaginary rules. His intent could be summarized in his most clarion statement, “I see Burzum as a dream without holds in reality. It is to stimulate the fantasy of mortals, to make them dream” – a replacement of morality with the über-Romanticist ethos of adventure and heroic classicism. Between the Gothic neoclassicism of Dead and the postmodern Romanticism of Vikernes, black metal became more than a style of music, but an ideological and social tool for change away from a highly regimented, moralistic society. Vikernes again: “We want to create the most possible fear, chaos and agony so that the idiotic and friendly Christian society can break down. We are overall not interested in that the truth comes through. When we spread lies we cause confusion and confusion leads to chaos and at last breakdown. People shall be oppressed and we support everything that oppresses man and takes from him his feelings as free individuals.”

It was part of this denial of the supremacy of the lives of individuals over ideas, emotions and even real-world activities that helped what happened next to occur. Two polar opposites existed in black metal, the fatalism and negativity of Euronymous versus the political and violent doctrine of Vikernes, and these were brought into conflict through the personalities. Vikernes claims Euronymous delayed the release of Burzum albums [on Deathlike Silence] by spending the money instead on degenerate pursuits; Euronymous presumably did not care and was more interested in the upcoming Mayhem release, which was moving slowly because of the personality conflicts in the band. Eventually, reality followed imaginary projections: on the night of August 10, 1993, Euronymous was stabbed to death by Vikernes; of 26 knife wounds, 2 were to the head, five to the neck and 19 to the back. Thus began the projection of Mayhem into legend, since it provided black metal in the modern sense with not only its first model of technique and imagery, but also its first martyrs. Dead was eulogized in a 1992 release, “Live in Leipzig,” which recorded an excessively bloody and violent Mayhem concert in East Germany. Teaming up with Attila Csihar of Tormentor, the remaining members of Mayhem put out “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas,” one of the most impassioned black metal albums released, yet one with its feet firmly grounded in old-school Venom/Bathory heavy metal styles. Their nihilism was so great they left Vikernes’ bass tracks on the album next to the guitar work of the man he killed, claiming in the press to have removed them so not to attract unwelcome attention from his family.

While the lives of its members had mostly run their course, and its most epic work had been produced, at least in conceptual form, before these deaths, afterwards the social and political importance of Mayhem was fully recognized. First, it gave many a central point with which to identify the new movement, and generated a wave of publicity especially in unison with the news of 22 churches burned in Norway, mostly by black metal “Satanists.” Even more importantly, Euronymous himself became a central figure, and his ideas [and those of Dead and Vikernes, who heavily influenced him] became dissected and discussed across the globe. Not only was this influential in the fanbase, but labels and bands worldwide began to see the importance of the new black metal movement: unlike anything from popular music since the 1960s, this was shocking; the people in black metal lived on the edge and fought to the death, something metal bands had always sung about but never acted out, much to the derision of punkers and other underground fans. The image of Helvete – the church of the anti-life – became predominant in the minds of many when conceptualizing new forms of social expression to the anti-oversocialization impetus that black metal and heavy metal share. In the years following the death of Euronymous, the focus he brought to the scene brought it to a dramatic rise and sudden death, as in late 1997 the genre became swamped with commercial bands in the mainstream style.

Mayhem itself continued on in the form of two major works, “Wolf’s Lair Abyss” in 1997 and “A Grand Declaration of War” in 2000, interspersed with numerous live albums and re-releases. where “De Mysteriis…” continues to be their most popular work, “Wolf’s Lair Abyss” is regarded by many as a highly proficient black metal album in the style of Satyricon mixed with old Mayhem, producing something with the same rhythmic thrust as “De Mysteriis” but with less of the operatic lack of total consistency in songs. “A Grand Declaration of War” is more problematic, taking a divergence into math-metal and pseudo-progressive stylings, which creates an album which sounds more like soundtrack than foreground listening, with Marilyn Manson influences in both songwriting and image. Because of this, and other factors such as the vast commercialization of black metal during the last six years, Mayhem is effectively dead in the underground and a small player with a devoted fanbase in the mainstream metal scene at this time. However, for every person who gets into black metal, the chorus of voices suggesting “De Mysteriis…” has an effect, for people continue to buy it at a great rate and praise it as immortal metal music and unmatched spirit in a genre filled mostly with angry people of little imagination.

Regardless of the current tedium of record sales and popularity contests, Mayhem contributed an indelible influence on not only metal, but music of resistance to socialization as a whole. Their ideology – part blank-faced fatalism, part fascism and part feral atavism – was carried upwards by the voices of many who were similarly frustrated with the pity-oriented egalitarian society of the first world, which preached that avoiding death was more important than achieving heroic or passionate things. Against this belief system black metal, and Mayhem most visibly, agitated. “True satanists are superhumans,” stated Euronymous in a now-infamous interview. A few years later, Vikernes gave a clearer view: “Strife is evolution, peace is degeneration.” This did not sit well with not only Christians and Jews, but also many people who had become dependent upon society and its pity toward those who are less-able as a whole, thus raising a cry against black metal as music of “hate” or “intolerance.” While those would clearly like to file black metal into a wholly political category, the raw artistry and imagination of bands like Mayhem make that appear a one-dimensional look at the story. As Ihsahn from fellow Nordic rockers Emperor said, “You’ll never understand me because you sit in the audience at a horror movie. I’m up on the screen.” There is no place in the current society for bands like Mayhem; they are beyond its rules and mental conditioning, and always will be. And for this, wherever anguish at social predominance grinds, there will be new fans of the fundamental works of Mayhem, which not only outlive their creators but will forever be a mythos larger than life itself.

Black Metal History

The genre that came seemingly last of all the metal genres was the one that considered its ideals the most seriously and consequently, produced a radically distinctive form of music. While black metal was somewhat of the cousin of speed and death metal during its early days, during the 1990s it bloomed into full musical form after developing a philosophy more coherent with its dark aesthetic than the hedonism and liberalism of the past. In a consequent blaze of controversy, the black metal genre streaked across the public perspective briefly before proliferating into a variety of styles and mainstream versions of its sound, forcing older variants out as a flood of similar bands absorbed the genre.

The Early Years

Black metal existed first as a singular concept in aesthetics, and later began to proliferate musically, only differentiating itself from death metal in the theoretical arena when its philosophical divergence became clear to the Norwegians in the early 1990s. A comparison from history can be found in the invention of the telephone; while Alexander Graham Bell invented the phone itself, the complex switching systems necessary to connect multiple parties within a city awaited later inventors. Similarly, the aesthetics [appearance and stylistic refinements of music] of black metal were created long before it really existed as a genre, influencing a period of long lull in the 1980s.

There is confusion as to who “invented” black metal, but it is clear that like death metal, its origins came from the same general area and were spread across creators worldwide contributing to the process. While Venom were the first band to grab headlines with their sensationally stripped down riffing and overtly occultist yet ludicrous image, it was Bathory, Sodom and Celtic Frost who gave the genre its enduring form. Where Venom was limited musically to deconstructed heavy metal, these bands took the neoclassical phrasing and minor key melodies of NWOBHM bands like Angel Witch, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden and matched them up with the droning three-note roar of early crustcore as exemplified by Discharge. As both bands depended on diminished melodies in power chord riffing it was a seamless match.

During this formative era of black metal, several general styles emerged. First was Bathory with a smoothly flowing, fast-tremolo picked flow of sound over consistent throbbing drums; next was Sodom, making three-chord primitivism which moved at high speed with unsteady and abrupt changes of riff, tempo and texture; also included were Hellhammer, who specialized in droning minimalist music that often resembled hardcore punk played in minor keys, and Celtic Frost, the continuation of that band into grandiloquent constructions resembling the musical staging of operatic scenes; finally, there was Venom, who continued to produce their heavy metal/punk hybrid which delighted in using the simplest possible musical devices to convey the broadest changes available.

From this time onward, the genre slept while innovations were made in the death metal camp, with a few notable exceptions soon to be covered. The same year that Bathory unleashed its first opus brought about a small but intense wave of hardcore/metal hybrids front by Slayer but including within the next two years formative works from Sepultura, Possessed and Morbid Angel. While the basic approach of death metal was to create intricate arrangements using extended phrasing in an architectural style, its essential approach involved rhythm and chromatic progressions which did not admit much obvious melody. The tightly-woven, complex and interlocked riffing used by early death metal bands produced a sense of deconstruction and immersion but gave little new direction. As the genre wound up for its grand entrace, black metal again split from the pack in the 1987-1988 era with Sarcofago and Mayhem, and was then silent for another four years while death metal raged.

Sarcofago presented something offensive, abrupt and even ludicrous to people of the time who were schooled in the riff salad style of death metal, with stilted and broken sounding rhythm changes matching akward, nearly imbecilic riffs which fit together into songs with an uncanny, barely discernible continuity. While the majority of the formative work of Sarcofago, “I.N.R.I.,” was abrasively disassociative rhythm riffing, the album held itself together with some admirably sonorous yet barely logical melodies, seemingly as if formulated on a whim by demons of a distracted but perversely insightful mentality. Ignored at the time by most, Sarcofago in part generated the impetus toward the bizarre and primitive that spurred the next generation of black metal into action.

Simultaneous to the release of “I.N.R.I.” was the fourth release from Sweden’s Bathory, “Blood, Fire, Death,” in which the rippingly fast and simple works of earlier albums had been turned into theatrical yet emotive quasi-operatic pieces in which rasping vocals and singing coincided and song structures staged dramatic encounters of their parts more than repeating cyclic patterns. Across the water in Norway, Mayhem were putting the finishing touches on a massively incompetent but enigmatic work known as “Deathcrush,” in which tortuous guitar patterns arced over drumming with the grace of an exhausted pack animal, and horrific howling vocals textured the mix. The following year, Merciless assembled “The Awakening,” a fast speed metal album with touches of death but an undeniably morbid melodic sensation. Together these releases defined what would go into the mix of the genre coming next: the aggression and grandeur of Bathory, the abrupt and convoluted structures of Sarcofago, the rough aesthetic of Mayhem and the dramatic staging of Celtic Frost, who had just unleashed their discontiguous but impressive masterpiece “Into the Pandemonium.”

The Modern Era

Again some years went by in which death metal was the primary focus of the community and fans. Where mainstream metal had vanished under the dual onslaught of grunge and the progressive selling out of speed and heavy metal bands like Metallica and Testament, the underground shot to the forefront of the minds of those who expected metal, and consequently, became the area where development in metal occurred while the more popular bands did their best to reiterate their essential sound and presence as a means of not losing ground. As death metal became more accepted, however, it became slowly infested with the same mentality that clogged mainstream metal: an underconfident, socially dependent, accepting and undiscriminating mentality which placed excellent bands next to derivative, unimaginative acts without thinking twice.

Born of the desire to surpass this mess, the modern era of black metal began in Norway with the first releases from Darkthrone, Immortal, Emperor, Burzum and Mayhem. Each differed from the death metal before it in an emphasis on melodic composition and intricate, classically-inspired song structures which functioned as motifs, returning to not verses or choruses but clusters of riffs and musical ideas which framed their concepts in a setting, not unlike the work of an opera or ancient Greek tragedy. This new form of metal was more vivid and emotionally evocative than the thunderous assault of death metal, and also less concerned with the immediate social values around it; it embraced independent thinking, a dislike for all social dogmas and humanism, a Romanticist love of nature and predation, and a penchant for fantasy and thoughts of ancient times.

The reaction of the death metal boy’s club was unanimous: “fags!” However, the new style rapidly gained ground and soon a second generation of the modern era, including bands like Ancient, Gorgoroth, Graveland, Behemoth, Abigor and Gehenna among others landed in the crowd. Many of these bands were inspired as were original black metal pioneers Darkthrone by the melodic tremolo picking of Swedish death metal bands from the previous generation, which caused the pace to be picked up as the aggression, but the fundamental differences remained. From the reaction to the first wave of black metal, and a desire to get “purer” and farther away from the possible infestation of death metal bands, black metal bands starting with Darkthrone on “Ablaze in the Northern Sky” began to use a fuzzed-out, lo-fi sound and primal song structures similar to those of Hellhammer, early Bathory, and Venom.

While this initially drove away the more sycophantic fans, it was a failing strategy for the same reasons it failed in the production of hardcore music: it made the genre extremely easy to emulate. As demonstrated by bands such as Dark Funeral, it was easy to transition from death metal and make primitive and fast melodic black metal songs which sold in the underground, and soon there were more ex-death metal, ex-crustcore and ex-rock personnel surging into the scene. By the time of the middle 1990s, bands such as The Abyss and Marduk had joined the party, creating in their process templates which any bands could use to emulate the style – and did.

In a few short years the genre had gone from a handful of bands making distinctive music to a horde of bands making indistinguishable music identified only by novelty factors of instrumentation, voice and concept. Nothing was any longer being achieved in the central group of black metal bands, so most of the “old guard” of Norwegian bands backed out and allowed their music to dissipate, as indicated by Darkthrone claiming their “Total Death” album would be final one from the band. As the hordes of scenesters and clone rock artists gathered, bands such as Graveland, Summoning and Ildjarn began experimenting in ambient forms of the original style, writing longer melodies and integrating semi-symphonic instrumentation in digital form in some cases and making rawer, less rock-like music in the case of Ildjarn.

The Drama

Much has been said about the dramatic entry of the Norwegian scene in the early 1990s. Articles ranting about the terror the “Inner Circle” and “Black Circle” would bring to Christian society overstated the case, and so by the year 2000 most fans were tired of hearing the same stories of the genesis of the scene. These will be mentioned here only for the purpose of conveying the ideology of black metal, and its effect upon society at large that in turn reflected the response of civilization to black metal and some of the factors that contributed to its demise.

In the beginning, there were a handful of black metal bands in Norway loosely unified around some ideals and a few meeting places, including the shop Euronymous from Mayhem ran called Helvete [Hell]. There is some debate over whether or not there was a formal “Black Circle” as initially was claimed by American and British publications, but clearly the members of these bands communicated and met within the 4.5 million person country. Strange things began happening in Norway: churches burned, a homosexual man was slit open, miscellaneous assaults and grave desecrations occurred, and then to cap it off, Euronymous was stabbed one night in his apartment. Furthermore, implications of fascism and/or Nazi beliefs were pointed at many members of the underground, most of whom quickly denied them.

First, the vocalist Dead of Mayhem committed suicide with a large knife and shotgun, leaving a note “Excuse all the blood.” Some time later, Varg Vikernes of Burzum was arrested for burning churches and murdering Euronymous; at the time of this writing, he is still serving his term [when arrested, Vikernes was near famished from lack of money to buy food, yet had 150kg of explosive in his basement for use in destruction of churches]. Over 20 other black metal musicians and fans were arrested for burning churches; a total of 77 burned in Scandinavia during that time, although not all have been definitively linked to “Satanists.” Several other musicians did time for killings, assaults, desecrations or unrelated arsons, including Jon Notveidt in Sweden who served 8 years for being accessory to a killing, and Hendrik Moebus in Germany, who served several years as accessory to a murder before being arrested for making a Roman salute while on parole. While the carnage was not widespread, the effect was; Europe saw a wakeup call to some Pagan values and anti-Judeo-Christian sentiment, and America saw a chance at rebellion and consequently, marketing.

Further, the community of black metal had a chance to demonstrate its values. While most members of the scene when pressed denied they had been involved in fascist or Nazi politics, they were indifferent to the roles of others in such things. Equally noncommittal were many around Euronymous after his murder; Hellhammer, the drummer of Euronymous’ band Mayhem, shrugged and said, “One of them had to die,” when queried about the feud between Vikernes and Euronymous. Most bands interviewed spoke positively of nature, negatively of Christianity, and displayed disdain for social behavior that placed the lives of individuals above that of a collective movement. This made many uneasy, especially in tolerant, peaceful and normally quite uneventful Scandinavia.

The Aftermath

When the mainstream bands such as Dimmu Borgir, Cradle of Filth and Marduk that attracted hundreds of thousands to black metal are confronted with the ideology of the founders of modern black metal, they quickly shake their heads and walk away. “Not for us, thanks.” In addition, their music is fundamentally different from that of the underground bands; where the originators of this style used diatonic and chromatic riffs and melodic modes, most of the “aboveground” black metal uses pentatonic scaling and much of the same riffs and rhythms of metal bands from the 1970s. Thus is exemplified a split in the genre: the bands who are doing what metal bands always have, and the bands who are moving away from traditional metal toward a more neoclassical, less rock-n-roll, more intricate musical form.

This split extends to every area of the black metal scene at the time of this writing. On one side, let’s call it the “left,” there are bands who embrace the current era and its variant aesthetics, including the mainstream genres outside of metal; a good example here would be Ulver or Sigh, both of who create postmodern metal from fragments and samples of other genres arranged into pieces delineated by key or rhythm. On the right would be the classicists, the old-schoolers who either only support black metal in the established tradition or who embrace a “purity” of both musical rawness and ideological allusion to the Greco-Roman, Viking or fascist values. For all intents and purposes this split is permanent, with the sides diverging into assimilation on the left and obscurity on the right, yet somehow they keep attracting audience, albeit a degraded one.

Some would say that there was a mystique about black metal that took a long time to die; it didn’t break in 1996, when The Abyss made an album so textbook Norwegian black metal that it provided a template for other bands to follow, and it didn’t even break in 1998 when all but a handful of the original bands had moved on to making more contented music. The year after however appears to have brought the death of black metal in a form emerging from within, similar to the story of Baldr’s death that conceptualizes a later Burzum album: betrayal from within. When the first of the more mainstream bands emerged, the underground took a clue from Darkthrone and it became de rigeur for the non-commercial bands to slap out albums with monochrome art and blindingly distorted, low-technicality music. As before however, this made it easy for further emulation to occur, diluting a genre with exactly what it opposed, and turning it from a movement where concept, music and action were joined into another form of entertainment for couchbound teenagers.

Black Metal Belief Systems

Conventional wisdom in the Judeo-Christian west holds that nature is lawless, dangerous and pointless; to give life meaning, there must be a moral goal, such as civilization itself: the conquering of natural frontiers and environments, taming of natural impulses in humans, and reduction of the law of the fittest – an equalization, as F.W. Nietzsche and later others pointed out. Nietzsche saw this equalization as a form of “revenge” on nature by depriving nature of what makes it threatening to the individual human, namely the potential imminent death – a form of judgment – for being less than capable in a situation calling for endurance and survival.

Sixty years after Nietzsche’s most influential period of work, explosions on the Polish border awakened the globe to the second world war. In this war, a conflict between the most fundamental division of ideology was established: collectivism versus individualism, with the latter favoring the kind of product-oriented, technologically-based, container-logical lifestyles currently seen in the first world nations. It was those insular and self-pleasing ways of living that first irked black metallers, and demonstrated to them a social devolution: there was no longer any competence needed, only obliviousness. Many black metallers, like Nietzsche, found greater inspiration in nature than in post-Judeo-Christian western society, and identified what Christians find horrible – the bloody, competitive, anti-individualist character of nature – to be an example of the most sublime beauty.

The ideological inclination of black metal remains disturbing to most and illegal in many countries. Yet it is not unique to black metal; as history shifted in the 1960s from a predominantly conservative society to a liberal society, thanks to the counterculture, and its effects were only felt with the children growing up in the 1980s, their response mirrors that of some who rejected the flower powery view of the politics and society. Among the thinkers and dissidents now coming back into favor are ecological fascists like Pentti Linkola and Theodore Kaczynski, as well as various stripes of nationalist and racial separatist leaders. [The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish self-defense organization, claims that National Socialist and Neo-Nazi movements are increasing “worldwide.”] It’s hard to see what the future holds but this controversy remains in the forefront of not only black metal, but international politics, as shown by the amount of air time it is given by the entertainment industry, news media and American/U.N. politicians.

Interestingly, black metal joins not only the far right, but the far left, in many of its sentiments. As the world anti-globalist and anti-capitalist movement picks up speed, it echoes many of the ideals of black metal: natural ecosystems; ethnic uniqueness; population control; an end to technology-driven, product-oriented, convenience-based lifestyles. Protestors across the world in anti-war and anti-globalism protests would be shocked to know they have something in common with a group of bloodthirsty church-burning fascists who idealize the occult, but perhaps would be glad at least for a sympathetic ear. Interestingly also, the “modern primitives” movement as seen in events like the Burning Man festival and the survivalist trend around the time of Y2K align themselves in the same general direction these ideals seem to be taking, but the final synthesis has not yet been heard.

Subdivisions

After the initiation of modern black metal in the Scandinavian style, a fragmentation occurred along the general lines of techniques used to unify song composition, creating a number of subdivisions in the black metal subgenre [genre = metal, subgenre = black]. The following are general descriptions of these substyles and what they implied for changes in black metal as a whole.

Rock

The heavy metal style of black metal, descended directly from Venom and NWOBHM bands like Angel Witch who inspired them, is essentially rock music with some neoclassical influences in the loosest sense. Pentatonic, verse chorus music that stays within basic harmony, heavy metal/rock-styled black metal is recognizable for its radio friendly ways, redundant harmonic constructions and verse/chorus arrangements. Good examples include Venom of course, Dimmu Borgir albums after Stormblast, Cradle of Filth and Dissection.

Raw

Descended from Hellhammer and some early Bathory, this is mostly rhythm music which like hardcore punk is fashioned from the harmonic space of a basic interval between two anchoring notes, often a fifth. While this style is easy to do, it is difficult to do well, as the number of bands emulating Hellhammer and falling far short of what Hellhammer produced have found.

Epic

Symphonic styles and epic song structures often seem to go together, as seen in bands like Summoning, Graveland, Heidenreich and early Emperor. Where most bands indulge some complexity, these bands aspire to a demi-operatic state of unifying concept with staging, projecting a theatrical view of the action described in a song through the pure sound and arrangement of riffs. These bands are often the closest to classical music in types of melody and depth of layering, but it is important to note that epic is mainly a description of the complexity and arrangement of a band, not its techniques, so there is complete overlap with other styles mentioned here.

Trance

Music designed to utilize the undulating nature of the sweep picking of a guitar as suspended between unchanging percussion of a basic nature, this style is inspired by generations of metal with ambient experimentation, including Slayer, Von, Massacra, and Bathory. The most notorious band working in this group is Burzum, but other bands such as Nargaroth, I Shalt Become, Ildjarn and Darkthrone have created great works in this area.

Melodic

The oldest style of modern black metal, the melodic compositional approach was first utilized by Norwegian bands looking for a way to make simple power chord music more than thudding rhythm and chromatic patterns. Immortal’s “Pure Holocaust” is the best example of this, with highspeed tremolo picking whipping distorted noise into a flood of searing yet beautiful sound, but there are also examples to be found in Behemoth, Darkthrone, Mayhem and Sacramentum.

Immolation, Deicide and Skinless in San Antonio, Texas

Immolation, Deicide and Skinless
June 22, 2005
Sanctuary
San Antonio, Texas

It’s not often that one gets to see one of the few enduring pieces of death metal history, and even rarer than the performance is memorable. By now, most death metal bands have either lost momentum and stopped caring, or have in a misguided attempt to sell records turned themself into the same old thing, at which point no one gives them any respect and they in turn stop caring about their audience. A few remain, and Immolation is one of them: an Immolation show is one of the few to which you can take someone ambivalent about metal, and know they’ll see the genre at its finest and be exposed to the minimum of destructive elements.

Unfortunately, this show was at a little hole of a club called Sanctuary, which has a large amount of physical space but so little class that it feels like watching a show from a polyester-sheathed bathroom. $24 tickets at the door were accepted with avaricious glee by the club owners, who then managed to do so little right that I wondered if $4 would be paying too much. They were basically morons, but no one noticed, since most of the crowd there were clueless little kiddies who wanted to rebel and listen to some evil metal, therefore were busy scurrying around doing anything but paying attention. It was a terrible place for anyone with a brain. Only the credulity of the audience saved this club, as if the audience had been 50% or more savvy people, they would have had a riot on their hands for their terrible sound system, collapsing light display, arrogant low-IQ security people, and of course, usurious policies at the bar, merch stands and door. The Sanctuary is garbage. Never go there.

Skinless

There were several opening bands, but by the time our intrepid reviewer arrived, Skinless was beginning their set. The guys from Skinless are undeniably nice people, quite personable and cordial, but their music is the kind of waste of time that degrades metal to idiot fodder and attracts fools into the genre, creating a kind of negative evolution by which the audience gets dumber and thus, to sell CDs to them, the bands get mega-stupid. The artistic statement that Skinless makes can be summarized as “4”: 4/4 time, first four frets, and about four minutes before your eyes glaze over. They attracted mainly the kind of dysgenic blockhead that I generally experience as taking forever in grocery lines, slowing traffic, or finding landmines with pickaxes. Waves of thudding bassy power chords, a bouncy cadence, and some throbbingly one-dimensional vocals are the appeal of this band; it’s like death metal with all the adventurous parts taken out, leaving a constant breakdown that has more in common musically with hip-hop than the brainy acts in underground metal.

Immolation

The real highlight of the night for anyone who could count to ten backwards without a visual aid was Immolation. Hailing from New York, this band has battered out the tunes since 1988, and while they have “progressed” in a convergent approximation of contemporary “metal” with the recent album, the quality of the music itself is high, and my feeling is that they’ll move on to something with more enduring impact. What makes nu-metal distinctive is its tendency to want to sound like trash, because people devoid of self-confidence, like mice, like to burrow into garbage and hide. Luckily the numu elements on the latest Immolation, “Harnessing Ruin,” are a tiny influence considering the whole of its composition, which is mostly a musically erudite version of their 1990 masterpiece “Dawn of Possession.” A welcome change is that they like using more harmonic playing and phrases sinuously deployed on the partial beat, which shows off the guitar work of Bob Vigna and Bill Taylor.

Taking to the stage with characteristic nonchalance, Immolation played mostly new material, but live it took on a life that is not captured on record, being partially faster and more aggressive, but also deprived of any studio finery and stripped down to what can be done on the fly on some stage in some club. New drummer Steve Shalaty was not only completely on cue but also knew when to restrain himself. This and the collective attitude in the band enables them to work together as one, without members standing out or contributing random elements by error, and the result is a militant wave of coordinated action that hits like an occult ceremony. A few older works filled the set, but the band had tired of playing songs from the first album, and this let them adopt their newer persona in full. For this reviewer, it was a welcome move: the band was staying current where so many others lingered in the past.

Vigna’s guitarwork is always impressive not just for its precision but for the flair with which he manhandles his guitar; some joker from Deicide sprayed him with silly string during the first song, and in some sympathy between accidental symbolism and reality the sticky ropes of plasticine goo joined Viga to his guitar like the organic connective tissue of symbiosis. Ross Dolan, on bass and vocals, threw his entire reserve of energy into the perfomance as always, and created not only deafening bassy growls but a surly, contorted facial expression that altered itself in time with the music: eyebrows moved to the high hat, chin to the bass drums, and snarling smile to the pulse of four-string and snare. It seemed too much for the retrograde elements in the crowd, as the dufus horde retreated to the bar and bathroom to let the most complex band of the night play.

Deicide

To his credit, Glenn Benton seems like a nice guy, but the years have clearly taken a strain on him. Where there was once belief and direction in his life, now there’s duty, and Deicide suffers for it, since he was the glue that held that band together, along with drummer Asheim, and now they’re the only two original members. Some loser who used to play guitar for Tampa Christian metal band Death joined one of the losers from Cannibal Corpse, and together, they filled in for the mercurial Hoffman brothers, but that didn’t matter much as the PA cut out halfway through the first song. Then some idiot woman who was apparently dating the loser ex-Christian metal guitarist started pitching water on the crowd, and all the kiddies – many of whom were literally under five feet tall – started showing the effects of the beer and weed they had oh so rebelliously consumed. Personal drama overwhelmed the show, and Deicide kept playing despite the fact that no one could hear them. When it became clear the sound was not going to get fixed, the few remaining smart people left, abandoing a crowd of groping, sweating, posing, whining teenagers who could not have comprehended Deicide in its prime. The club, having collected $24 from each person there, didn’t have any staff members will to lift a finger to help, so at this point the concert degenerated into a day care center and your intrepid reviewer left. Summary: never go to the Sanctuary in San Antonio. It’s a wasteland.

Summary

Immolation played an excellent set. If one attended with a brain, this was the focus. It’s a shame they weren’t given more time, as apparently the wise and expensive club decided to cut short each band’s set, which was convenient as, this being the last night of the tour, they all had to jet off to different places and were ready to leave. However, it was unsettling to watch Skinless recruit more people so profoundly dumb they’d already failed at life by seventeen, and equally disturbing to witness Deicide – what’s left of it – egging on a crowd so braindead it couldn’t tell the guitars were inaudible. On the whole, I have to say that San Antonio is probably even more mentally defective than Austin, as there were very few people there would could have read a Joseph Conrad book and understood it. This to me shows the parallel decay of metal and American society, and having seen this vapidity in action, I now know why mediocre bands are praised and bands like Immolation are slighted.

However, Immolation never let it show – their performance was impeccable and highly professional, and I got the impression that these gents were so focused on creating their music, and then reproducing it well live, that they were almost oblivious to the fluctuations of the crowd. As Dolan said in an interview,

What’s kept Immolation going all these years? We love what we do, plain and simple. It hasn’t been the easiest road to travel down and for almost 18 years… sometimes I think we certainly must be nuts, but then there is nothing else I would rather be doing. That includes every aspect of what we do, from writing, to recording, to rehearsing, to touring and traveling and meeting people all over the world. I stop and think about how fortunate we are to still be doing this and to still really enjoy it and that’s all that matters in the end.

– Ross Dolan, Immolation interview (source)

This attitude resurrected this show from being a total loss to a performance that showed the power of death metal in its original form. The cryptographic song forms and abrupt technicality of Immolation invoked the same effect that death metal as a whole did when it emerged, as people realized they not only could barely recognize it as music but, being well versed in rock, had no language for even understanding it. For this reason, their shows are devoid of the “evil” posing, sophomoric political stances, and blatant blockhead cultivation that blights most death and black metal today, and it makes it worthy to see this band if they come to your town (as long as it’s not at the Sanctuary club in San Antonio).

Bands:
Immolation
Deicide
Skinless

Promotors:
Sanctuary Club, San Antonio

VNV Nation and Imperative Reaction in Austin, Texas

VNV Nation and Imperative Reaction
May 14, 2005
La Zona Rosa
Austin, Texas

The choice of venue for this show was particularly apt, as it avoided the twin pitfalls of Austin clubs, which are either cheesy, deliberately-seedy rocker establishments or urine-stained bars with a stage attached. La Zona Rosa is clean and utterly utilitarian, with a medium-sized bar, a good stage and a wide concrete floor for attendees. It can fit quite a crowd, and its airconditioner was working at peak performance, which is appropriate for a show where digital technology is the primary instrumental focus. This created a backdrop of non-event and let the event itself stand out.

As with many musical genres, electronic music is not clearly defined; to generalize, it was an outpouring of people trying to reinvent music after rock went stale in the late 1960s, finding themselves opposed to the mindnumbingly predictable spectacle of rock stardom, fan worship, and schmaltzy brainless songs about love affairs and other ego-drama. Interestingly, of the early electronic music acts, most of them took a more functional view of life, seeing humankind and technology as working together for some purpose, with the role of art being to define that purpose. This was a dramatic contrast to the “me, me, me” attitude of rock music, and was manifested in things like Kraftwerk’s poignant warnings about the robotic psyche of modernity, Devo’s hints that perhaps our individualism drew us away from meaning, David Bowie’s notorious interview in which he praised far-right dictatorships, and of course the repeated appeals toward a new collective order which boiled over into industrial music.

In this collision of subcultures, styles have proliferated, each with their own tendencies, but over time, critics have observed, these have veered back toward the indulgent self-drama of rock music. One anomaly has been VNV Nation, who take industrial themes and put them into a positive, techno-influenced, trance-y form of synthpop which bounds across the eardrums in regimented throbbing beats, with classically-influenced keyboard playing underlying it. It is as Romantic in a sense of morbid foreboding as industrial music, but it is practical like pop, in that it channels its doubt into an energy returned to the audience with the sense of rising above the morass. It steers a tight path between the mournful and serious tirades of industrial and the vapid and distracting arias of pop, as if deliberately created to bring the two attitudes together for a values definition in the tradition of electronic music.

While VNV Nation drew the crowd, the opening act was Imperative Reaction, who inhabit that misty world of industrial music crossed over with gothic-styled synthpop, emitting a bouncy but dark and sacrificial vision. The gravel-tinged voice of the lead singer mixed with the shoutlike delivery of the keyboard/console player, who sequenced sounds and riffed along on the keys while adding necessary density to the singing. That is, it was often sung, but as frequently pitched in the purring whisper of throaty chant that seems popular in this genre. A live drummer skimmed digital pads with energy, contrasting the dancelike motions of the vocalist and the constant bobbing of the keyboardist; the result was visually engaging, although somewhat trite to those cynical observers who clustered toward the rear of the audience.

Imperative Reaction’s music is wrapped in the guise of pop industrial, complete with haircuts and eyeliner popularized by Trent Reznor most recently, but at its heart, it is simple pop; its construction ramps up to a cycle of verse-chorus and then segways through a conclusion to reach equilibrium and conclude. This left an anticlimactic pause after each song, leaving the audience with memories mostly of lush, ceremonial choruses and surly growl-murmur verses. This band is talented, and writes memorable pop songs, but there is nothing more to their intent and thus not much else to derive from the performance. Audience reaction was favorable.

After the usual set break, the VNV Nation logo appeared on two video screens and the intro to their latest album, “Matter and Form,” played softly. A brief hush gusted through the audience, and then the band took positions behind two keyboard-laptop units, an electronic drumkit, and a microphone. Singer Ronan Harris immediately drew focus for his aerobic mastery of the stage, introducing himself while pacing the range of the stage, and then launching into the first track from the new album. While his presence was commanding, the rest of the band performed with a term that describes the entire VNV Nation set – professional. They moved in time to the music and accentuated each motion they made in performing it, which is necessary when one’s set involves activating switches at the right time, whether on laptop computers, synthesizer keyboards or drum pads.

The professionalism was evident in the band’s tight set, with no technical lapses audible and short breaks between songs, and in their interaction with the crowd. Beaming as if he were in a state of perfect mental balance and joy, Harris massaged the audience with questions and jokes, hinting at the concept behind this music: in a dying world, focus on what can be done by bringing people to a doubtless, energetic and exuberant mental state, in which any self-sacrifice that might be necessary comes without the neurotic confusion that comes with existential fear. He brought health and benevolence to the group assembled before him, clearly happy to be where he was, and also expressing interest in those who had assembled. While it was definitely cheesy, in the way any stage banter tends to be, it was also somewhat fulfilling: a connection between the philosophies, music and appreciators of VNV Nation.

Drummer Mark Jackson at what looked like six feet six inches tall was the most imposing presence on the stage, his strong-chinned British face shining over the metal array of his drum triggers, and put this presence to good use through regular, commanding motions that resembled a cross between martial arts and modern dance. On either side of him were the two keyboardists, who kept a flow of sampled sounds integrated with their keyboard patterns through sequencing software on their laptops. Harris introduced them later; one was Norwegian, the other German. During the same interlude, he brought up the topic of languages, and addressed his audience in English, German and Gaelic, while speaking indirectly about the pleasure one can take in heritage and history.

The music played is both easy and difficult to quantify: it is a fusion of techno and synthpop, with the unrelenting pounding beat of club-oriented music, but it is styled in song structure like some of the more adventurous industrial bands, and in aesthetics like radio pop. Keyboard tones are friendly, and there is little of the indulgence in abrasive or otherwise amusical samples, nor is there much attempt to manage atmosphere through aesthetics: that is done entirely through the writing of the music itself. The result presents well and is easy to hear, but nonetheless more emotionally engaging with greater range than “alienated” bands, while avoiding the saccharine addiction to lovesongs and other personal drama that marks rock music.

VNV Nation started their set with a selection of their work that is alarm-inducing in its insights of the psychological mindset of our current time, then drifted into lighter fare from older albums, interspersing it with five non-instrumental songs from the most recent album. Older material was tuned up a small bit, but not so much as to lose its anthemic familiarity with the crowd, and newer songs were played much as they are on record, although it seems the keyboardists improvised with effects and timing in parts. After a satisfyingly long show, in part enabled by the band’s insistence on pausing for only a few seconds between most tracks, VNV Nation delivered a double encore, closing with “Perpetual,” which as the last song on the newest album serves as an answer to the first song played (“Chrome”), and “Entropy,” both of which dissect the thought process of modernity in excruciating detail reminiscent of 1980s industrial rantcore.

This concluded a full show on the material which most accurately posits a mental response to our time, and grants to those who listen and hear a method of conceptualizing a response, including some of the most ontological lyrics in popular music. In this it formed a culmination of sorts, as if summarizing the entire VNV Nation concept and history into a tangible, practical course of action, even if on the spaciest of topics. As if to reinforce this idea, during two of the encore tracks Harris and Jackson performed alone, as they had done on previous tours. The lights dimmed finally, and with a wave and some friendly words, Harris and company departed looking as satisfied and glad to be alive in the company of the like-minded.

Bands:
VNV Nation
Imperative Reaction

Promotors:
La Zona Rosa (Austin, TX)
Austin, Texas

Permafrost, Gates of Enoch, Vex and Averse Sefira in Austin, Texas

Averse Sefira, Vex, Gates of Enoch and Permafrost
April 9, 2005
Live at the Backroom
Austin, Texas

What is it that makes people become headbangers? After all, it can’t be the material reward. Every person at this show who was identifiably a metal person (for lack of better term) had given up something: jobs that longhairs can’t have, tattoos that scare off landlords, preferences for the loud that keep away friends and potential mates. It can’t be as easy as it seems, even for the high schoolers, who are different from adults mainly in that they don’t have to constantly pacify the system of money and image that drives this sad excuse for a society. They’re probably sick of hearing it from their peers.

Most academics who study metal make a big deal of the concert “ritual,” but this is generally a product of academia itself, which builds upon established ideas and finds it difficult to take new directions, and since academia started its study of rock music with the notion that concerts are a cathartic ritual, they extend it to metal as well. They’re not entirely wrong, but I think they miss most of the metal experience, which begins before the concert. After all, the fans choose which concert they wish to attend, and which bands they pick says a lot about what they’re thinking. This is why metalheads wear tshirts: your taste in bands reflects what you can comprehend, and thus is a good basic guide to the person beneath the shirt.

Before the show, these people decided to become headbangers. The vast majority of metal fans are sluggish minds moving sheeplike toward something that promises what they couldn’t otherwise have, whether it is a spotlight in a local community or a steady pot connection. The few who think tend to be selective about what they hear; it has to have, more than a certain sound, a certain spirit, and these discerning fans eschew that which falls short of their goals. Terms like “sellout” and “trendy” are used as pejoratives to dismiss those that fail. Much as metalheads pay a price for being metalheads, these selective fans pay a price for being choosy within the metal community. But to the concert they come anyway.

It would be hard to give an assessment of metal as a whole, then, but let’s focus on the interesting fans: those who look for something and give a damn. Those are the ones who willingly make sacrifices to their subculture, knowing they will never fit into the mass no matter what they do. They like the bold bands, the ones that step away from repeating the tired cliches and create a world of their own imaginations – a world that possibly looks in some ways enough like this one to be a comment on it. They like the loud, and vigorously assert their intention to deny the foolish and temporary illusions that people drift into. They affirm imagination, but as a basis for it, they also demand reality.

Forget the amateurs posing as “evil.” Look past the posturing people who lack self-confidence and compensate with beer, drugs, or obnoxiousness. In any crowd, there are a few who for reasons inarticulable, know what’s going on. These are the ones you look toward. They show us that there’s a reality to being a Hessian, a reason to stand proud and independent, to cast aside all reality except a few slices of idea expressed in music and to say, this is closest to my ideals. As televisions and politicians alike babble on incoherently, the few who think take their stand, and often do it by picking of the thousands of metal bands the smart ones to support.

This could be seen at tonight’s show, both in positive impression and its inverse. The ones who were there for the music and the spirit were focused on the music, and maybe it approached the ritual described by academes – not a cathartic one, but a ritual of bonding to a certain vision of reality, of affirming it and vowing to live by it. In the photonegative, there were the clueless ones, drifting lost in a haze of beer and awkward, socially retarded actions that are pathetic only to those who know the contrast. When bands took the stage, it was revealing to see toward which audience they played.

Permafrost

In truth, this reviewer did not make it to the venue in time for Permafrost, but can relate secondhand what occurred: this young band were happy for a chance to prove themselves, and showed their passion by working past adversity to get that difficult first big show over with. While the name is terrible, and the music has a ways to go, Permafrost made up for that to some degree with a lack of rockstar attitude and genuine caring about the music. It made the experienced fans glad at least to see that recognition of the reality of metal: adversity is your friend, as in struggling against it, you get better. Those who care about the music value getting better, while others are simply there to look like they’re important. It’s a crucial distinction.

Gates of Enoch

Although this band showed energy and technical poise, there was something missing in the complex puzzle of black metallic art that unites thought and emotion, structure and substance. While clearly they are fine instrumentalists, and can execute complex rhythms and passages with ease, Gates of Enoch linearize the concept of black metal into a rigid and numerical exercise. As a result, their songs have power as parts, but not as a whole, and the sum of the parts is less than the whole as each element leads the whole in a contradictory direction. It makes sense to define art, “objectively,” as a process of communication between artist and listener, and if that is the case, Gates of Enoch communicate disorganization and lack of purpose, without the intent to use that as an artistic statement.

For that reason, the band was able to punch out a competent set that meant nothing to those listening except a few cool riffs. Like most metal music past 1996, the experience was therefore one that was not bad, but was not memorable either, and thus left one feeling an appreciation for the skill of the band but not their vision. Instrumentalism was competent but unsubtle, and this was not demonstrated more effectively than in their choice of covers, a song from later Dissection and “I am the Black Wizards” by Emperor. The Dissection cover, being like Iron Maiden a slightly more informed type of rock music hybridized with metal, went off well and benefitted from their dispassionate regularity in playing; on the other hand, the Emperor cover was a disaster.

Where the point of the original was to have guitars detach themselves in diaphanous fronds of frothy sound from the animalistic battering of drums, and to then develop the song with subtlety, Gates of Enoch slash and bash a rigid and unyieldingly obvious version that while still beautiful misses the gently interwoven emotions of the original delivery. It sounded like a deathgrind band covering Emperor. A similar critique could be applied to their songs: the drummer rode his snare too hard at the end of each phrase, and composition tends to follow a two-step pattern of melodic decoration crashing into percussive anchor riff. Guitarists play like they’re reading tab, but with plenty of energy, which is gratifying. The vocalist clearly listens to a lot of Gorgoroth.

In reality, there are only two types of music reviews: “it’s good” or “needs work,” no matter what permutations we invent to euphemize those extremes. This reviewer is not crafty enough to disguise the truth as I see it and too experienced to lie: Gates of Enoch needs work. I do not say this to discourage them, however; depending on where they are in their development, it is possible they have far better things ahead. My advice to them is to stop studying their black metal favorites as technique, and begin studying them as effects on the listener, working backward to diagnose in that context the function of technique.

Vex

Hybridized from death metal, power metal and black metal, Vex is a band with a great name and plenty of promise, but remains disconnected from producing great art because the focus seems divided between the music and secondary elements. For their age group, these musicians are impressive, having mastered not only playing the notes but a range of techniques to add tension, emphasis and texture to each phrase. However, there’s a lack of artistic consensus, which shows not only in how they perform, but how they compose.

Live, Vex sounds most like a death metal band with black metal elements, although a diverse lineage of metal can be discerned from among their winding riffs. It shows an impressive knowledge of metal, but ties together poorly, being reliant on a duality of elements that unite in chorus and then potentially shift through a series of “unexpected” riff changes to convey to the audience — well, what? Mostly what comes across is the contribution of individuals in the band, or so it seems, as sweet riffs get piled onto one another without regard for the sound as a whole, or any concept of organization to the piece in question.

The vocalist needs to change his sense of rhythm and vocal texture, as currently he sounds like an emo or metalcore vocalist, and the effect is one to offset the already busy rhythmic background with a cadence more appropriate to an Iraq war protest than a metal concert – and for those of you who are thinking about open-mindedness, it also fails to lift or augment the music. Guitar playing is fabulous, as is bass and drums, but their integration is one of mathematical timing and little else. Their stage presence however is energetic and appealing.

Ultimately, Vex is another “needs work.” Rhythmically the band integrates its work fairly well, and thus to most listeners, these disadvantages are not apparent, but over repeated listens, they’ll become apparent. This is not an attempt to discourage, because the impression one gets is that this band is perfectly capable and if they could all agree on what each song they’re writing hopes to express, the raw tools they have at hand are overabundant for the purpose. It reeks like a collision of personalities. This may not come in the form of disagreement, but perhaps too much tolerance for cramming in admittedly excellent pieces, soup style, into what eventually emerges as a formless and indistinct mass of sound.

Averse Sefira

Taking to the stage with customary elan, Averse Sefira stepped out of the blackness and proceded to abrade their audience with slicing aural intensity delivered in a disciplined and natural style. In perhaps one of the fastest black metal sets on record, they performed the entirety of their new work, “Tetragrammatical Astygmata,” followed by an encore of three of their most popular songs from previous albums. Although there were two pauses in the rendering of the new album, and one lengthy break before encore, the songs themselves were ripped out in a martial style at high speed with only a few seconds separating them.

A smooth continuation of previous works, the newest songs from Averse Sefira are, like those on the previous album, “Battle’s Clarion,” a hybrid between the fast melodic work of Immortal and the relentless aggression of maniacal bands like Demoncy, resulting in a type of black metal that uses the foreboding and oppressive speed of death metal in the context of songs which interleave moods through streams of notes changing color like a singing human voice. An addition from the last album is the use of simpler riffs at times, giving the music a primitive and unsettled feel, and the circuitous redirection of song structures to replace repetition with a cycle of gained intensity. It is both highly listenable and challenging in its mystical architecture of symbols, tones, and textures.

Drummer The Carcass has upgraded his technique to use a lighter touch on the drums without dropping precision or helicopter blade cadence, extending his stamina and allowing drums to sound at a volume which integrates more cleanly with guitars. The result is a style less like an execution and more like a battle, allowing the organic ambiguity of rhythmic inflection to smoothly reinforce guitars. Bass playing has reached beyond doubling the riff and now counterpoints it with internal rhythms and explosive underscores, sometimes surging along calmly before degrading into pure noise from which it returns with a mechnical plunge to take up the motif of the riff.

For a band with one guitarist, Averse Sefira create a wall of sound that leaves no doubt as to its allegiance to Apollo and worship of Dionysos, constructed rigidly with plenty of chaos in the naturalistic, erratic rhythms of strumming and the use of Burzum-style sweeps of harmonizing notes, like an underwater arpeggio heard through the resonance of metal and water. Guitarist Sanguine A. Nocturne pauses strategically and then not so much plays but leaps into the guitar, causing it to splinter from silence and rise in dopplerizing melodies which shudder downward like collapsing escarpments. The guitar is both creator of abstraction and death hiding in an open but twilight-shrouded landscape.

The result of this battering ensemble of morbidity and passion was not lost on the audience, most of whom appeared to be motivated specifically to see the headlining band. While there was action and violence in the pit, most eyes were on the instruments and the personae who played them. The band rounded out the show with “Ad Infinitum,” “Battle’s Clarion” and “Fallen Beneath the Earth,” at faster speeds than on the albums, and at that point, an exhausted audience was grateful for their abrupt exit and the fading of the lights.

Bands:
Permafrost
Gates of Enoch
Vex
Averse Sefira

Promotors:
Extreme Texas Metal
Morbid Thoughts
The Backroom

The organization of this show was professional; the club did an adequate job. Thanks to the staff at Extreme Texas Metal, Rigor Mortis Records, and Morbid Thoughts for their work.

Quantity versus Quality in metal

We measure our lives by either quality or quantity. If it was a great steak, we say so and leave it at that; if it was mediocre, we say that sixteen ounces of it for thirty dollars was a “good deal.” The quantitative view is most popular because it is accessible to everyone, since only those who are endowed by nature with the sense to know a good steak from a crappy one can tell you its qualitative value. Since most people are not so fortunate, we talk about what a “great deal” it is that you can get something that legally qualifies as steak in prodigious amounts at a low price per pound. This is the essence of democratic liberal free enterprise society, in that it eschews all things which require a higher kind of person and replace them with the kind of assessments even a moron can follow (and congratulate himself for the “good deal” he’s getting).

But how does the qualitative work in a society? After all, say the “wise” pundits, wouldn’t it be hard to organize a society around qualitative value, since only a few can assess it? This column offers an example in the small. Peer-to-peer file sharing can take many forms, but one of the most common is that of a hub; this is a small community where people exchange files. Normally, to get on a hub, you must have some quantity of files to be shared, and without that, you can be excluded “fairly” because, of course, everyone can see that you need to have a minimum amount of stuff to get on. Like cheap steak, it might be stuff that would only appeal to morons, but it shows you’ve done the effort and therefore deserve to be on the hub – that’s “fair,” sensu liberal democracy.

The hub toward which A.N.U.S. contributes, the neoclassical hub, does not operate this way. There is no minimum share size to get on, and there is no reward for having more stuff; instead of quantity, the hub focuses on quality, because unlike liberal democracies it recognizes that unlimited moronic music is not “equal” to a small amount of quality music, no matter how much the average voter can’t tell the difference. You can get on the hub right now and start participating, but the admins who periodically peruse shares will eventually check out what you have and — Slipknot? Cradle of Filth? Pantera? — those who have moronic music get booted. I frequently get mail from these people, objecting that their ejection was not “fair,” and these mails invariably contain the line, “But I had (amount) of share!” These people are used to a quantitative, passive society, where no matter what the quality, as long as you get enough there to put a number in the blank on the form, you’re considered part of the club.

Not to say that a hub is a club, of course – a hub is a tool for sharing files, and a social space, as well. But what it is more than anything else is a reflection of the values of those who meet there. People who want to listen to crowd-pleasing music go to the bigger hubs and hang out with other people who like Britney, or cool jazz, or light rock, or even indiscriminate metal and grindcore – what the crowd wants is acceptance for mere quantitative participation, such as the number one (1) – if there is an (1) individual, then it should be equal, and admitted to the club, because – look – it exists, after all. This is what the crowd always desires, which is the paradoxical concept of group participation through pseudo-individuality. You can’t tell them their taste in music sucks, because then they’ll wail about how they’ve been wronged and it’s not “fair.”

For those who have made their way out of the biggest slice of groupthink, it’s healthier to find an enclave, or a smaller place where their views are protected from the majority view, which is the quantitative. If you have unending time and nothing better to do, it might appeal to you to listen to all 100,000 death metal, grindcore, black metal and heavy metal bands yet created. More likely, unless you’re a retarded invalid, you’ve got other things to do and so depend on finding the quality stuff through socialization and information resources. Naturally, the crowd will oppose you wherever you try to do this, as they like to believe either (a) that all music is equal or (b) that the most popular music is the best, and therefore you don’t need to actually look – just see what they’re playing on the radio now; “trust us.” The enclave ideal is naturally opposed to that of open to the public group participation.

Any social unit based on this notion of qualitative logic, and eschewing unnecessary quantitative logic, would naturally be a better place to live. Quantitative logic gets you the lowest common denominator, but if you return assessment to that of degree of quality, you instead get only the better efforts. Select the better people to be part of this community; that’s inherent to its nature. Let them pick the better art, learning, science and products, and then you’ve got less garbage (inferior products break frequently, and can rarely be repaired). When they make rules, they don’t have to worry about everyone – oh no, fat people in wheelchairs cannot fit into our new library – but those who actually make a difference. To people concerned about quality, the opinions of the mass are not important, and thus they don’t have to worry about offending people and can actually tell it like they see it – something you cannot do in our liberal democracy, or you’ll be blacklisted and investigated and eventually forced to take a job as a janitor somewhere.

A qualitative society is by nature structured toward building consensus. If you have something of quality, you hold it up as a shining example, and what is agree on is not that we should all have a similar quantity of thing, but that we should all work toward having a similar quality of character, strength, intelligence in ourselves. Since your society only admits people of quality, you don’t have to assume that every other person on the street is a moron, and thus can have compassion for random people in society – and have the option to socialize more, since you don’t have to first apply a filter to screen out the idiots. This is how society used to be, but it was lost in the populist revolt that demanded we all be equal and have an equal right to quantities of money; see what you’ve given up, in order to please the crowd? Well – at least on this hub, there’s a sliver of what once was, and what, if we work toward it, will be again.