Vex, Averse Sefira, Ayasoltec, Dagon, Abythos and Nodens in Austin, Texas

January 27, 2007 –
Comments Off

Vex, Averse Sefira, Ayasoltec, Dagon, Abythos and Nodens
January 27, 2007
Redrum
Austin, Texas

Extreme Texas Metal presents a number of shows adapted for the new millennial audience. As is demanded by those who own clubs, these shows address the problem of too much music and too few willing to buy by lumping together related bands into a longer show, hoping to create a sense of similarity in a genre and to help each band market itself through exposure, much as bands now market themselves with MP3s. In addition, as black metal and death metal have both ceased growth and are now in a time of middle age maintenance, set upon by tedious hybrids like metalcore (emo) and nu-metal (hip-hop), these allow the genre to circle its wagons and retain whatever of its own identity it can preserve. Unlike most promoters, Extreme Texas Metal have been mostly successful in picking acts which share aesthetic similarities enough to provide a contiguous show.

In this naturalistic view of music, the local favorites are grouped together and given a chance, after which we all see who rises and who falls. Names and faces from the past have come and gone, with some remaining, according to an order that previous generations would have seen as the will of heaven and in pagan years before that, as the judgment of nature. The show began on an interesting note with death metal band Nodens, who came from Houston to play to about thirty people. Their music resembles the mid-paced death of former years as updated with a simple form of the harmonic churning popularized by Burzum and other black metal bands, but it retains much of the punch and drop from rising drive to collapsing breakdown that makes death metal popular to this day. While it is clear that Nodens are still developing, there is promise here should they choose to develop it, although at this time the effect is somewhat underwhelming owing to a prevalence of simple patterns designed more to carry a crowd that express what the more esoteric and ambiguous portions of their music offer.

Ayasoltec

After presentations by Abythos, who emit a black metal mixture approximating the mean of Dissection and Darkthrone, and Dagon, Watain-inspired melodic black metal battery, the show took on a different aura when Ayasoltec took the stage. This band rose from the ashes of longtime Texas legends Masochism, who united a sense of Chicano identity with the insurgent desire for localization of early-1990s death metal like Cenotaph or Sepultura, creating a unique voice that never came fully together through lineup changes and the confusion of identity that plagued death metal after black metal arrived. With Ayasoltec, the musicians responsible have clearly targetted a new direction but are still feeling out how to develop it. Their desire is to evoke the second culture of the Americas, who integrated an ancient race of explorers (probably those who created also Easter Island and the cities of pre-Incan Peru) with the Amerinds who arrived later from Asia. These ancient cultures, as seen in Toltec and Olmec and Aztec, produced works of vast culture that are recently being discovered more in depth throughout the Yucatan and Central Mexico, and unlike the Catholics to follow were sun-worshippers who adored the idea of blood sacrifice as much as they relentlessly invented nurturing societies and high culture. One of the most revolutionary statements a band can make today is to bypass modern American culture as well as modern Mexican to exhalt these ancestors of amoral, occult religion and culture.

Ayasoltec balance this concept unevenly between wanting to find an outlet for their death metal riffcraft and exploring those genres which might unite a group of people behind an idea superior to anything else offered as relevant to them today. In this, their obvious guidepost is Sepultura’s work from “Arise” through “Roots,” which integrated indigenous rhythms and themes with the tumescent power of death metal. Their material as such is balanced between rhythm riffing which is often single-string playing, like a hybrid between “Roots” and early Vader, and the adroit riffcraft of Masochism, as well as new style based upon fast harmonic motion that would be called “solos” except for its rotating sequence of pattern choices that make a growing melody out of what would otherwise be a series of riffs. Like Gorguts attempted with “Obscura,” this new effort uses less conventional guitar techniques and a tendency toward abundant noise and develops songs around conventional riffing mated with exploratory work, as if bringing us out and then inside an esoteric mystery.

It is quite promising for a band to develop this much imagic and musical specificity, but this is balanced by the growing pains of fusing death metal with the more rock-oriented rhythmic format that Sepultura adopted in their later work (as did other bands; Sepultura is the most convenient example). Songs incorporate doomy riffs, the aforementioned riff cryptograms of periodistic development, and the acerbic ripping death metal in the style of Imprecation or Massacra that distinguished Masochism. The audience was fortunate to hear a good deal of this before one of Ayasoltec’s amplifiers decided it desired the hatred of the 150 people gathered there, and began intermittent failures through which the band and lead guitarist Juan Torres played with aplomb until it was obvious that catastrophic equipment failure ended the show. It was a highly professional performance and all attending channeled ire at that amplifier and hate it to this day.

Averse Sefira

After Ayasoltec, the undernoticed but unflagging Texas metal legends Averse Sefira took the stage with no fuss but much anticipation as the crowd swelled. The concept behind Averse Sefira is esoteric as that of Ayasoltec, in that they unite the stages of spiritual development between earthbound and celestial through the mysteris of Kabbalah, an ancient Sumerian science later appropriated by Judaism and Christianity in less of an amoral, blood worshipping form. Through this voice Averse Sefira channel abundant pagan nature worship and cosmology, as well as a healthy dose of modern heroic transcendental holistic idealism, using a synthesis of melodic black metal and the savage energy that early technical death metal bands like Morbid Angel and Incantation held high like a banner of war. As drummer The Carcass was playing on an unfamiliar, triggered drumkit loaned graciously by Ayasoltec personnel, it took Averse Sefira a song to reach a balance of intensity while adapting to the new rhythm format, but after this a set of songs from their past two albums seared the ears of the audience. In this, they showcased their most aggressive and imaginative attack to date, “Tetragrammatical Astygmata,” with standouts from the sleeper hit “Battle’s Clarion” that never got the distribution or production it needed to become as legendary as it is in live presentation.

The Averse Sefira attack is well-honed not only from touring practice, which the band have gotten on jaunts to South America, Quebec, and Europe, but also from a study of successful extreme metal during the past twenty years. Like the most vital years of Deicide and Morbid Angel, they are short on pauses and small talk but launch immediately into each song with a one-line introduction adapted from the style of Slayer’s Tom Araya but with more lyrical relevance and grace. Their songs use a thematic flow of melodic riffs balanced against interludes of pure rhythm in the form of “budget riffs” that assemble a few notes into direction changes or augmentations, and build a rhythmic attack as they cycle periodistically but not linearly through a developing motif. Guitarist Sanguine A. Nocturne slashes out riffs in his precise tremelo playing while growling and whispering and screaming in a range of timbres in a style that must have been influenced by Burzum, yet in live performances balances the adroit precision of this playing with a small amount of swing that kicks in a demonstrative gesture of attack and release. Noisier adaptations of past riffs are deliberate, not accidental, and contribute to both the organic feel and the edginess of this performance.

The Carcass adapted well to the new drumkit after some experimentation, and was able to shape his organic battery around the highly audible exactitude of triggered drums, producing a sound that was more militant than previous Averse Sefira shows. The third member of this cosmological wrecking party, Wrath S. Diabolus, wielded his base with what seemed to more than one observer a greater degree of comfort and familiarity, showcasing a newly flexible style that complements the improvisatory chaos of his stringed counterpart. The band played six sounds with the presence that has made them legendary, standing defiantly in front of the crowd and delivering a top-notch show, while maintaining the mystery that has made this band a favorite of underground observers since their 1996 demo (and it is only fair to note that all members were in artistic projects for nearly a decade before that). It is hard to see why this band has not been acknowledged as the successors to Absu and Necrovore as the vanguard of Texas metal, but it is in part their quiet professionalism and musical and conceptual depth that makes them alienated from much of the scene which would prefer easily digestible music. No sonorous Twinkies here.

Vex

Coming out on stage after a brief equipment shuffle, Extreme Texas Metal band of the year Vex both impressed and disappointed. When one thinks about it, bad record reviews for competent musicians all take the same form: the elements were good but did not fit together into something that made sense or communicated an intent, so becoming like quality wallpaper an interesting accessory but not the experience of transcendental rediscovery of life that truly powerful art provides. Vex has become a similar story: their style ranges from At the Gates to Gorguts, but their songs are more a collection of riffs bent around a verse-chorus structure than a coherent whole or communication. Their new vocalist adopts poses and attitudes adopted most clearly from Pantera’s Phil Anselmo, sounding as out of place as a NAMBLA member at a Klan meeting, and the discoherence of overall songcraft allows each musician to masturbate profligately without enhancing the song. Guitarist Cioran seemed to contribute the subtler and more intelligent aspects, but the rest were jamming along to a tune known only to themselves, and the result sounded like a collision between Opeth and Cannibal Corpse trying to be a lounge act. Although many praise this band now, unless they gain enough discipline to pick a direction and have each individual make the sacrifice in glory necessary to make it work, they will become more of the detritus lining the long road back from failure, at least in the eyes of those fans who make their biggest contribution as a genre winds down by picking those who history (however brief) will remember.

The show as a whole was magnificent, in that few areas are fortunate enough to have this kind of force of organization making available the choices in art that we have here in Texas, and the promoters and club are to be praised for enforcing sensibility without making decisions the fans alone can make (or hopefully, the smart fans: a proliferation of the usual Austin crowd of dilettantes, hipsters, hangers-on, poseurs and assorted parasites were present but not overdominant, but we the thinkers would rather those idiots make no decisions for us). The night is best summed up by remembering the triumphs of Ayasoltec and Averse Sefira, the good initial effort from Nodens, and the speech made by Averse Sefira’s Wrath during the final soaring of their set, in which he drew a distinction between those who feel and believe in the music as a way of life and a mapping of philosophy that shows us a values system for living heroically, and those for whom it is only fashion. Time will tell that ultimate judgment, but for now, the power and determination of these bands suggests an intense future for Texas metal.

Bands:
Vex
Averse Sefira
Ayasoltec
Nodens

Promoters:
Extreme Texas Metal
Redrum (Austin, TX)


Another take:

Fall has ended; winter has arrived, and the die-off is upon us. Those who saw metal as a fun trend are hopping onto the next one, and, resultingly, there will be fewer and fewer bands aiming towards this crowd. With this dying of the bands, however, comes room for new entities, similar to how a pack of wolves picking off the sick and weak deer creates room for more deer to exist. This show seemed to reflect aspects of this transition; the percentage of bands worth seeing was perhaps the highest of any show this author has been to.

Nodens

Nodens plays relatively brutal death metal, but with some melodic enlightenment, with two guitarists playing deft riffs in counterpoint over the requisite blasting drums. Songs do a good job at shifting moods in a logical order, implying a coherent narrative, although the overuse of certain songwriting techniques (all instruments dropping out to create a climax while bringing in a new riff) robs them of their power, and each song seemed to lack a finale, a closing statement, a destination to the journey. Nodens is worth keeping an eye on, and worth witnessing live, but in their current form, they still need work to reach the upper eschelons of the genre.

Dagon

Watain for retards.

Abythos

Seemingly attempting to combine every sub-genre of metal known to man, Abythos is probably most comparable to the more tolerable parts of the post-”Slaughter of the Soul” Gothenburg sub-genre, in that it melds mostly traditional heavy metal riffing with distorted vocals and occasional blasting sections, with a few doom sections and undistorted intros thrown in for “good” measure. The problem is that in this mish-mash of ideas, no internal logic shines through, and thus the entire thing can only be interpreted as disconnected emotions, pure sacharrine, melodrama with no drama, which quickly becomes BORING. Musicianship is good, but who cares? Only reccomended for those trying to cure extreme insomnia.

Ayasoltec

It’s impossible to win when fighting against problems with gear, but Ayasoltec handled it as well as imaginably possible. On the border between avant-technical death metal and a distinctly Mexican take on Graveland’s “Thousand Swords”, Ayasoltec thrives on serpentine, arcane lead-riff work, with amazingly organic song progression crafted from the ability to manifest small changes in a melody to profound effect over time, and in the usage of discordant “solos” (quoted not as a method of slight or insult, but simply because it’s difficult in this case to determine what should be considered as a solo, and what should be considered more of the lead riffing, so complete is their integration) that flow in and out of the lead riffing amazingly well. The band also wins favor with this author by having a bassist who is not simply a stage prop, but who, while mostly following the melody of the guitar, brings in differently accented rhythms, giving a second angle on the music. Unfortunately, the appreciation of the music was somewhat dampened by factors beyond the band’s control; the guitarist’s amp had problems, causing the guitar to frequently drop out. The band handled this admirably, though, with the two remaining members continuing to play while the guitarist sorted out the issues as quickly as he could, and managed to get right back into where the band was without faltering, until the next drop out. A few rough edges exist musically- a few of the transitions are unduly sudden for music that largely depends so much on flow and gradual change- but, for those who would like to experience art that is truly mystical, art that conjures storms and spirits from beyond this world, Ayasoltec is strongly reccomended.

Averse Sefira

Judging by the number of people on the floor, Averse Sefira was the first of the bands who played that night who attracted Hessians to Austin. Facing difficult circumstances, with drummer The Carcass playing on triggered drums, a sensation completely unfamiliar with him, the band faltered at first, but quickly pulled together, in a particularly noisy and intense set pulled entirely from the band’s most recent album, “Tetragrammatical Astygmata”. Guitar and bass combined to form a musical haze of sound, creating something akin to a more poetically evocative version of Antaeus’s “CYFAWS”, intertwining energetic physical motivations with a zest towards the transcendent ideal, bestial fury with spiritual contemplation, in a manner such that the former of those pairs exists to work towards the realization the latter. Guitarist and vocalist Sanguine Mapsama provided the central element of the assault, with fast, dissonant lines inciting the flesh towards bloodlust and throat-damaging shrieks programming the audience by example of their complete inhumanity. Master percussionist The Carcass, who is apparently too demanding for ordinary mortal drum sets, created amazingly complex yet completely mesmerising rhythms, tastefully enhancing and embellishing the guitar’s rhythms, and directing the dynamics of the pieces. And finally, Wrath Sathariel Diabolus, the bassist of the trio, anchored the band’s sound, occasionally briefly playing with no accompaniment, as a forshadowing of renewed attack, and also greatly helped the band’s stage presence, being the most visually imposing and physically active member of the band. The crowd was appreciative, if not fully understanding, of what occured before them, and all were seemingly changed by the experience. Then again, who could remain un-touched after witnessing such a potent, if obscure, art? A special word must be given to Wrath’s short speech on the meaning of metal as a genre. War is raging between those who see metal as a genre communicating the transcendental and eternal, as a lifestyle striving for meaning in a plastic world, and those who see it as trivial social entertainment, and Wrath directed that which he is named for at the latter camp, to the appreciation of a surprising number of those in attendance.

When I make this sign, it means I stand for metal as an art form, and as a way of life. It has nothing to do with your stupid metal cartoons or your Spinal Tap movies. Think about what you mean when you make this sign. If it’s something you think is fun to do on the weekends, something that you think is funny, something that makes you smile, then FUCK OFF! We’re taking it back.

- Wrath of Averse Sefira

Approximate setlist:
Plagabraha
Decapitation of Sigils
Helix in Audience
Cremation of Ideologies
Hierophant Disgorging
Mana Anima
Detonation

Vex

A stark contrast to the previous band; rather than a statement of the esoteric, Vex seemed to be an embrace of the transient, fulfilling every metal cliche along the path to entertaining many yet making no definitive statement. If you can imagine a non-musical sign of a bad crowd-pleasing metal band, it was probably present here; from the tough-guy vocalist wearing a tank-top, to said vocalist jumping into the crowd to mosh, to one guitarist’s utterly insipid way of trying to sound “cool” while asking for water. Musically, “fragmented” barely begins to describe it; blasting death-metalish sections are followed quickly by random acoustic parts, followed by traditional metal breaks and doom passages, into outright stadium rock. What is sort of tragic about this, though, is that many of the individual pieces are quite good. Guitarist Ciaran obviously has a good ear for a melodic riff, and if the band would focus on these aspects of the music, without worrying about throwing in other elements to keep people of all tastes entertained, and give each song a clear concept to work towards, an overarching vision, it would be excellent. However, this doesn’t seem to be happening, and therefore this reviewer is unable to reccomend this band to others.Compared to the previous show seen at this venue, operations have improved vastly. The club was much more “under-21 friendly” (previously, they charged more for minors), and the bathroom, while still not pleasant, was improved. The venue continued its tradition of letting people to congregate on the outside porch between bands and during bands which they had no interest in seeing, an idea appreciated by this reviewer. Also, the crowd featured fewer attention whores and seemingly fewer hipsters than the previous show this author attended (probably by virtue of it not being marketed as a Halloween party), an appreciated improvement. The show ran smoothly, and the soundman seemed to know what was going on, and found a reasonable sound for each band.

- Written by Cynical

Metal as Mythic Imagination

January 18, 2007 –
Comments Off

The notion of a prism represents the first challenge to our early worlds of concrete time and space. A device that fragments light, and reveals a space withina solid known quantity, seems to us an expansion of dimension. As we get older, we realize the expansion of dimension occurs within ourselves as we assemble a more complex view of the universe.

Metal music as art is composed of sound and lyrics and imagery. The pure aesthetic expands as we analyze it and recognize that it is beauty found in chaos; the songwriting expands as we see that its narrative motivic composition is more poetic than the looping closed circuit cycle of rock or pop; the keyless melodic nature of it becomes in our fertile minds a sense of construction not by a “third party” of rigid harmonic theory but by the unfolding narrative. Metal music like all great art begins by appearing simple, but opens to reveal greater complexity when we look into the dimension that it creates for itself.

From this alone, we might conclude that metal is prismatic in the same way modernist classical composers and the ancient Greek plays that bonded song to poetry to theatre were. Two more elements demand our consideration: that metal represents an escape from the karmic cycle as described by numerous philosophies, and that it inspires mythic imagination in the way both Sophocles and Wagner did.

***

Most of what we see in life affirms the karmic cycle. The rock music that plays from passing cars, the lighted billboards over our roads, the conversations of our friends and neighbors: who are you going to be in love with? And marriage? Or what will you buy? Where you go? How will you build your identity using material things, including your body?

This fascination might be called aphilosophical because it is not reaching for anything more than what is in front of us, one object after another, in the process of life. This is called the karmic cycle because it deals with the functions of birth and death and sustenance and nothing else. It is not an active philosophy or an aspiration toward ideals, but a continuation of what is presented to us, a reaction to life itself.

Metal music does not oppose the karmic cycle, as it is fully hedonistic, but it views it as secondary to an idealistic quest for meaning. This quest is expressed in the sound of metal, which unites beauty and ugliness in the pursuit of a kind of power, or “heaviness,” in which the burdens of life are converted to a sense of pride in not only survival but a quest for higher things. Metal bands glorify war and the occult, death and heroism, victory and defeat, without taking on that tone of self-serving lament which protest music brings.

Fear runs wild in the veins of the world
The hate turns the skies jet black
Death is assured in future plans
Why live if there’s nothing there
Sadistic minds
Delay the death
Of twisted life
Malicious world

The crippled youth try in dismay
To sabotage the carcass Earth
All new life must perish below
Existence now is futile

Convulsions take the world in hand
Paralysis destroys
Nobody’s out there to save us
Brutal seizure now we die

- Hardening of the Arteries, Slayer

Death is now the day
When the fires fall from the sky
Let us pray
When the darkness falls we will die
Endless pain
Crucifying death from above
We must pay
Day of darkness

Question our fate when day of darkness
Forces of evil now upon us
Forces of evil on display
Forces of holy brought this day

Death is now the day
When the reaper calls for the dead
We’ll be saved
In this world of desecrating minds
We must pay
Crucifying world of evil death
Let us pray

Day of darkness

- Day of Darkness, Deicide

It is an introduction to basic transcendental theory in that metal does not deny the suffering and horror of life, nor our desires within it. More pointedly, it looks beyond them to the beauties and greatnesses that can be found in this vast unpure mix of good and bad that forms a “meta-good,” or the space of life itself in which our decisions can reward us — even if we are personally destroyed. Where rock music is a descent into the karmic cycle, metal points its gaze above it toward the ideals a karmic cycle can serve.

In doing so, metal introduces meaning through nihilism, or a denial of all accept the immanent. It rejects morality and eschews religion, preferring a pragmatic idealism in which death may be final but there are things worse than death such as dishonoring oneself or becoming cowardly. It seeks to find meaning in the emotions of an individual that have accepted the logic of life as suffering and transcended it, or found meaning in existence to balance that suffering and make it less consequential. Metal tears away all of our illusions to show us life, and then reconstructs our belief in life by showing us the beauty and power outside of our artificial reality of morality, money and social esteem.

Among popular music genres, metal is the only one to explicitly strive for this goal, although it might be said that industrial acts like Kraftwerk or folk acts like Väsen aim for the same as exceptions to the norm. In a time when most products are tangible, and therefore require karmic fascination, and most political power is derived by tantalizing people with the reward of karmic tangibles, and all social prestige falls within the egosphere of karmic need, metal is the odd man out who has cast aside the normal trappings of life and is staring at the sky into the infinite space of his own mind and that of the universe.

***

In this idealism, or belief that thoughts and the physical world act by similar principles if they are not outright dimensions of one another, metal reawakens something that has lain dormant in humanity during its time of modernity: the mythic imagination. While our modern world deals exclusively with attempts to allay the suffering of the karmic cycle through technology, metal is geared toward finding uses for that suffering in the form of greater glories against which suffering and death become puny. In that state of mind, one has awakened not just a higher aspiration but a sense of magical possibility (miracles, dreams, a positive order beyond the visible) in which life itself is a living continuity of mind and reality.

Pascal is right in maintaining that if the same dream came to us every night we would be just as occupied with it as we are with the things that we see every day. “If a workman were sure to dream for twelve straight hours every night that he was king,” said Pascal, “I believe that he would be just as happy as a king who dreamt for twelve hours every night that he was a workman. In fact, because of the way that myth takes it for granted that miracles are always happening, the waking life of a mythically inspired people — the ancient Greeks, for instance — more closely resembles a dream than it does the waking world of a scientifically disenchanted thinker. When every tree can suddenly speak as a nymph, when a god in the shape of a bull can drag away maidens, when even the goddess Athena herself is suddenly seen in the company of Peisastratus driving through the market place of Athens with a beautiful team of horses — and this is what the honest Athenian believed — then, as in a dream, anything is possible at each moment, and all of nature swarms around man as if it were nothing but a masquerade of the gods, who were merely amusing themselves by deceiving men in all these shapes.

There are ages in which the rational man and the intuitive man stand side by side, the one in fear of intuition, the other with scorn for abstraction. The latter is just as irrational as the former is inartistic. They both desire to rule over life: the former, by knowing how to meet his principle needs by means of foresight, prudence, and regularity; the latter, by disregarding these needs and, as an “overjoyed hero,” counting as real only that life which has been disguised as illusion and beauty. Whenever, as was perhaps the case in ancient Greece, the intuitive man handles his weapons more authoritatively and victoriously than his opponent, then, under favorable circumstances, a culture can take shape and art’s mastery over life can be established. All the manifestations of such a life will be accompanied by this dissimulation, this disavowal of indigence, this glitter of metaphorical intuitions, and, in general, this immediacy of deception: neither the house, nor the gait, nor the clothes, nor the clay jugs give evidence of having been invented because of a pressing need.

– from On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense (1873) by Friedrich Nietzsche

A myth elides the tangible into a visible manifestation of invisible forces, only some of which can be explained by material science. Whether or not it is technically “correct” regarding the immediate causal relationship between impetus and result, it is a correct description of the cosmic order as the human sees it and feels it. There are balances between voids and solidities, certainties and doubt, horror and beauty. In the mythic state, a human being focuses less on a singular moment and singular end result than on the continuing relationship between many results and the tendency of mathematical organization to the universe they suggest.

The foremost thrust of mythic imagination into art in the modern era (post-Middle Ages) was the art of the Romantics, who in literature and painting and music and dance crafted a world where symbols were no longer literal but spoke of a personality of a living existence. They replaced God the judge of moral actions with Nature the god of function that rewarded the best, and in this more realistic view of life crafted a conception of the human being as looking inward for ways to complement this external greatness. They were not individualists in the modern sense, rewarding themselves with pleasures of the flesh, but they looked into the individual soul to find by intuition not only what was true but what was desired.

Some attack this view as “aestheticism,” meaning that it rewards that which seems beautiful instead of that which is functional, or, in the humanist view, moral. Humanism like materialism is aphilosophical in that it approaches the karmic cycle as an end in itself, and tries to preserve “freedom” and material comfort and survival for all individuals. Humanism does not recognize that a tragic death is beautiful, or a heroic death majestic, because its only concern is with maintaining the flesh and meat of human beings. Humanists claim mythic imagination is aestheticism because it sacrifices individuals to beauty and thus is amoral.

To this those who have made the journey from materialism and fear of death to the other side where death is not only accepted but seen as a challenge, by nature of the learning gained on this journey, admit gleefully to being laughing amoralists who are unconcerned by morality. In the aestheticist view, having a beautiful and meaningful life far surpasses living for the safety of morality and spreadsheet-style risk management; aestheticism sees the best life as the one lived intoxicated with the beauty and potential of existence, and that precludes safety labels, warning rails, and fear of dying. Death is certain, but life is not, and that uncertainty comes in the form of finding an “aesthetic” that bestows upon us meaning.

In this sense of the world, where the entirety of life is connected by a logical yet invisible system of purpose, it is possible to have vir or the “warlike” virtue of ancient peoples. The Greeks and every other civilization that rose from the mire of infighting over karmic goods and status possessed this warlike spirit, as Nietzsche noted, and metal reflects this in its “inhuman” sound and lack of personal, gender and desire-oriented language in its lyrics. It reaches beyond the karmic cycle for the cosmic order, and in doing so, transcends humanity to find what makes us most human: our search for meaning beyond the suffering that being alive entails.

A dream of another existence
You wish to die
A dream of another world
You pray for death
To release the soul one must die
To find peace inside you must get eternal

I am a mortal, but am I human?
How beautiful life is now when my time has come
A human destiny, but nothing human inside
What will be left of me when I’m dead?
There was nothing when I lived

What you found was eternal death
No one will ever miss you

- Life Eternal, Mayhem

When night falls
she cloaks the world
in impenetrable darkness.
A chill rises
from the soil
and contaminates the air
suddenly…
life has new meaning.

- Dunkelheit, Burzum

Tears from the eyes so cold, tears from the eyes, in the grass so green.
As I lie here, the burden is being lifted once and for all, once and for all.
Beware of the light, it may take you away, to where no evil dwells.
It will take you away, for all eternity.
Night is so beautiful (we need her as much as we need Day).

- Decrepitude I, Burzum

Where modern society in a desire for safety imposes values designed for an average person onto all of us, and assumes that our material and humanist wellbeing constitutes meaning in life, Romanticism explodes from within. It is not a philosophy of cautions, but of desires for the intangible, and as so it worships risk and conquest and a lack of fear toward the karmic existence. It transcends the desire to either live karmically, or live akarmically, because it sees karmicism as a means to an end and concerns itself only with the end: the ideal.

In this, Romanticism constitutes a philosophy because it posits intangible ideals as a balance weight to the certainty of death. It seeks a sense of unfolding; the discovery of something new in a prismatic space hiding behind the mundane. In doing so, it renovates life itself by working from within and renewing the brain in its aspiration and heroic transcendence of the karmic drag, in the exact opposite principle to modernity, which is materialism/humanism as supported by technology and populist political systems.

Its philosophy rises above life, and above categories like political and religious and cultural, because it is a principle of the highest abstraction and so can be expressed through any number of outlets. Like Zen, it is a discovery of the connection between life and mind with a slap, but unlike any other formalized system, it goes further to demand that the slap of life have a meaning, and it invents this meaning and then creates aspiration within it through its mythic imagination. Despite the overwhelming solidity of most modern art in affirming the opposite, Romanticism continues to live on.

One of its voices is metal music, whether through the seize-the-night ethos of heavy metal or the “only death is real” of underground metal. It is nihilism, but it is also idealism; it is realism, but it is also religion. Perhaps this is why every time we think heavy metal is dead it rises again, as people still seek meaning in life despite the crushing gravity of need and obligation that is modern living. Heavy metal is eternal because its truth is eternal, as for any existence there will be a potential end, and thus a need to find not only a reason why but a reason for living not just to survive but to exceed.

As this emotion was true to the existence of thinking beings in the time of the Greeks, and allowed them to rise and make one of the greatest civilizations known to humankind, it is true now and inspires those who have rejected the long path through lighted signs and fleshy desires and moneyed popularity. For those who seek more, it is a doorway. Like our souls, heavy metal is a prismatic dimension unfolding beneath us and within us, and a journey we are only too glad to undertake.

Hans Graf and the Houston Symphony Orchestra perform Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in Houston, Texas

January 13, 2007 –
Comments Off

Hans Graf / Houston Symphony Orchestra
January 13, 2007
615 Louisiana St
Houston, Texas 77002

Saturday brings crowds to the record stores, looking for the experience of being around music. Yet as relaxed fingernails trail down the spines of thousands of CDs in the Used rack, it might occur to us how transparent these ruses have been for the past four decades. Rock music succeeds where it panders to expectations without revealing the manipulation that so resembles parents and high school teachers. But to one iota of that is the comfortable anarchy zone of “if it feels good, do it” that makes rock millionaires.

This image lingered in the mind for the long passage through the winding freeways of downtown Houston, through the parking lot where newsprint stained thumbs are licked to separate change for a twenty, and into the dark cavernous quiet of Jones Hall to hear Hans Graf conduct Anton Bruckner. Opening the piece with a chorus singing Bruckner’s “Ave Maria” from the lobby, Graf paused briefly and then raised his wand, to which a synchronized rising of instruments announced the descent from our world of tangible objects into the abstraction of music had become. The concert began from a silence in which the echoes of human voices still faded.

Since we live in a time that has produced almost no classical music of note for several generations, we are burdened with interpretations, as if the truth passed us once and now we are bickering over the details. As if a mirror of our political and social systems, there are two extremes in the history of Bruckner performances, namely Eugene Jochum and Herbert von Karajan; others, like Carlo Maria Giulini take a more emotive and earthy approach. Jochum and von Karajan however are the yardsticks by which Bruckner performances are assessed, and if von Karajan is the stormy “Beethoven” approach, Jochum is the more “Brahms”: an organic wave of emotion that approaches Bruckner less as a logician than a channeling of an inherent spirit, a will toward a spiritual view of existence.

Into this difficult environment Graf descends with little more than an exuberant love of Bruckner on his side, but it seems enough. Of all things that could be said about this performance, it is most important to state that Graf appreciated the juncture between personality and intellectual direction that defines Bruckner. We know him as a simpleton in political matters, but a humble genius who preferred simple pleasures and intangible spiritual ecstasy to the normalcy of function. Graf captures these traits in the gestalt of his conducting, yet also adapts his technique to be fertile to this unification of ten thousand nearly inobservable details. He is the interpretation of Jochum applied to the methods of von Karajan, with the kind of technical eye for modernism that an experienced interpreter of that era such as Esa-Pekka Salonen can provide.

Graf’s interpretation of perhaps the most challenging Bruckner symphony not just to conduct but to introduce to a public, despite being very much organic, targets the logician in Bruckner as well. Graf has his orchestra play individual phrases and themes with a bouncy old-world air, as if Haydn-izing Bruckner for the sake of appealing to his ancient soul. He places these suddenly humanized phrases into the dynamic delivery of a von Karajan, but dynamism sensu Graf is more aware of how too many dissonant phrases rising into clarity before expanding into vast harmony of unison can tire an audience. He is selective and if von Karajan is a stormy genius and Jochum a religious contemplative, Graf remains a humble observer of nature. His Bruckner is looser, without the regularity of rhythm that makes it machinelike, and yet descends to earth for its spiritualism. Motives are presented less in an apocalyptic storm than a natural evolution from their simpler origins.

As noted in the program guide, Bruckner composes “prismatically,” so that there is little linear or formulaic repetition, but so that each meme is repeated as a reintroduction of theme like familiar symbols in poems. This creates a labyrinthine navigation between known points and a form of internal discussion that relates them to both similar and dissimilar themes, meaning that musicians must both play the work accurately and never lose sight of its narrative. The Houston Symphony, known for quietly performing undernoticed masterpieces when it is not distracted with more populist classical fare, performed diligently in this intermissionless marathon. A few glitches in the brass section stood out momentarily, as did an unintended dissonance in the strings, but these were minutiae compared to the whole of a not only solid but energetic and powerful performance.

Graf never flagged, perched deftly on his stand and attacking the score with an inner vitality that showed not only dedication but interest. The intensity was compelling, as was the response of an orchestra that navigated a circuitous pattern of overlapping motives with alacrity and grace. For almost eighty minutes, the audience was bathed in a hush of concentration brought on by the abject sensation of beauty and inner mental silence this piece triggers in its listeners. Whether history will record this grand performance, or even last long enough to notice, becomes academic for those who were there to be thrust into the existential colonnade which in classic Brucknerian style unified the ambient and the linear to become immersive, revealing space within itself in the best definition “prismatic” can offer, and from that point of contemplation unleashing a profound stillness and re-introduction to life as majesty and divinity.

Those who were there were changed, unless numb as cut wood, and in this transformation glimpsed a chance for a life on earth that aspires to the organization and beauty of the celestial, much as humble heavens-gazer Bruckner must once have done in creating it. As the transcendental onslaught ceased, and those who listened were drawn back into the world of rustling concert programs and strange winter clothing exuding odors of the still air of closets, it was clear this was not the same audience who had entered the concert hall with their thoughts divided like panicked insects. These were people who had been brought to the point of realization by a musical experience, and the inherited wisdom showed on their faces of calm concentration.

Outside Jones Hall the streets pulsed with a cold wind from the north as people hurried home, or to the warmed bars for a drink before braving the solitude of sleep. A few miles away the record store slept in the abrasive hum of its security lights, the titles of several generations of rock aspirants slowly relinquishing their fascination with the here and now and sensual in steady decay, bombarded by space-traveling particles from before Bruckner was born. Industrial machinery rose over the landscape, awaiting the dawn light that would begin its own process of breakdown, and the ghettoes and suburbs alike rocked with discontent, hidden in one case behind doors and polite words. But to seize that moment when the culmination of intricate virii of phrase wrapped themselves into a final peace, a state of mind both stormy and compassionate for life itself, that was to leave all of this behind — and perhaps to determine in the inner world each person carries where an impetus to change might begin.

Composer:
Anton Bruckner

Performers:
Houston Symphony