Sadistic Metal Reviews 12-29-08

December 29, 2008 –
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Lubricant – Nookleptia (1992)

After the initial solidification of the the sound of death metal (1988-1990) a number of up-and-coming bands caused it to, like the dendritic expansion of a leafed branch, to explore every possible combination with past elements and stylistic possibility. Among the products of that tendency was Finland’s Lubricant, who sound like a progressive death metal band hybridized with hardcore punk under the direction of a hard rock conductor. Like countrymen Sentenced produced on Amok, these bouncy songs use a melodic core to create two-part expansions, bouncing between not call and response but hypothesis and counterpoint. Riffing makes extensive use of dissonant chords, some voicings in contexts familiar in both black metal and emo, and strip death metal riffs of much of the downstrum-empowered, recursive rhythm complexity so that they ride on a few notes and the rhythms of their presentation like a hardcore band. Although goofy experimentation like spoken and sung vocals in opposition to death growls are now rarities, in part thanks to the overuse of this technique by dreaded nu-metal bands, they occur here with enough ingenuity to be presumed innocent and not MTV in intent. Yet style is only half of a band; the melodies and rhythms here are simple but unencumbered and often beautiful in their spiralling cycle around a fragment of vision, in a way reminiscent of both Ras Algethi and Discharge. They are not quite decisive enough to encapsulate the sensation of a generation or era as some of the greater bands did, but they achieve a powerful observational facility from the periphery. My guess is that this band was overlooked because of its bouncy hard rock rhythm and its tendency to structure songs around breakdowns that filter through past riffs like computer code comparing arrays and finally reduce to a simple riff measurably more poignant than its counterparts. In other words, this is not only unfamiliar ground for death metal listeners, but is less discretely concise like beaded water sliding down plastic sheeting, and therefore, harder to identify and appreciate.

Bethzaida – Nine Worlds (1996)

In both guitar tone and composition this resembles Eucharist with a death metal sense of percussion and tempo, spindly melodic lead lines arching through a rhythm to enforce it in offset, but borrows from the short-lived “dark metal” genre that was transitional between death and black (its most persistent artifact is the first Darkthrone album): cyclic arpeggiated riffs give way to either racing fire of chromatic progressions or looser, short melodies repeated at different intervals in the scale comprising the foundation of each piece. Like Dissection, there is a tendency to etch out a dramatically even melody architected across levels of harmony, and then to curl it back around a diminishing progression to achieve closure; while this is effective, it must be used sparingly to avoid audience saturation with its effect, and it isn’t here. What kept this band from the big time might indeed be something similar, which is its tendency to set up some form of constant motion and, after descending into it, failing to undergo dynamic change. Much of its phrasing celebrates symmetry between resolution and inception, creating a squeaky clean obviousness that in metal unlike any other genre becomes tedious fast, and there is like Dissection a tendency to break a melodic scale into a counter direction and a counter to that, then regurgitate it in the dominant vector, then its opposite, then in turn its antithesis, producing a flow of notes that like a river bends in order to go straight. Zoom back on the scale function, and view the album as a whole: like most postmodern art, it is replacing lack of internal strength (encouragement toward self-sacrificial or delayed-gratification values, e.g. heroism and adventure) with a surplus of external embellishment, including flutes dressing up elaborate versions of tedious patterns and keyboards. Like Dissection it achieves a sheath of immersive aesthetic, and like Metallica (occasional similarities in chord progression) it maintains an internally resurgent energy, but when one peels back this externality, there is less of a compelling nature here than a flawless but overdone, directionless aesthetic.

Depression – Chronische Depression (1999)

Although aesthetically this band resembles a more dominating version of the early percussive death metal bands like Morpheus (Descends) or Banished, in composition it is most like grindcore: one thematic riff repeated unless interrupted by detouring counterpoints, then a series of breakdowns and transitions working back to the point of harmonic inception and rhythmic wrapper of the original riff. Like countrymen Blood this band specializes in the simple and authoritative in roaring noise, but musical development from repetition is even sparser and the anthemic factor of repeating a motif at different tempos and key-locations wears thin after some time. Undeniably, this band have talent and apply it well, but are limited by their conception of music to make sonic art that while forceful is so repetitive that few outside those who delight in the shock of its pure and total deconstruction of music will listen again to these mostly two-riff songs. Vocals are of the guttural alternation with shrieking whisper type and rather than counteracting this effect, bring it into prominence, but that seems to be the intent — this band desire to become the unrelenting assault of early Napalm Death but with rigid and not “organic” chaotic structure, and thus they take a concept sometimes unknown and sometimes built as a subset of known variants (Dies Irae themes, monster movie music, old hardcore progressions) and hammer it home over a sequence of staggered tempos, interweaves with oppositional riffs, and rhythmic breaks. Underneath it all is the kind of sly iconoclasm and gleeful weirdness that comes naturally in times when one must be careful about which truths one tells unmasked. Probably this grinding death CD is the closest we will have in this era to an updated version of DRI/COC-style thrash, and true to this form, it incorporates a number of figures from hardcore music. This will not be for everyone and will not be heard every week, but for an approach to this ultra-deconstructed style, Depression are one of the better efforts on record.

Phlegethon – Fresco Lungs (1992)

Many of the early contributors to death metal were heavy metal fans who wanted to avoid the sickening glossy vocals, dramatic love songs, and moronically one-dimensional aesthetic of heavy metal, so they incorporated the aesthetic and artistic direction of death metal, but underneath made music that could compete with Van Halen if applied to FM radio. Phlegethon is one such act; like “Symphony Masses: Ho Drakon Ho Megas” from Therion, this is a heavy metal album that uses the riff salad wrapped around a narrative thematic development of death metal, accented with keyboards and unusual song structures, to create epic music that eschews the mainstream cheese. Each song is gyrationally infectious and yet understated, like throwing the grenade of an irresistible rhythm into a room and then skipping down the hall whistling (one track deliciously parodies techno). Keyboards guide the root notes of power chords but vary harmony for conclusion or emphasis. Song structures bend out of introductory material into a sequence of candidates for introduction or transition to verse and chorus, and the result is an architectural feel like that of fellow Finns Amorphis as the listener progresses between riffs of different shape and sonic impact, like a flash of light outlining the features of a vast room — similarly, there are lengthy offtime melodic fretruns highlighting descending power chord riffs as that band also used to great effect. Admirably, drums migrate through layers which silhouette the current riff in contrast and foreshadow adept tempo changes; vocals are low guttural death growls that stretch themselves to the point of fragmentation, spearing the beat in each phrase and decaying after each emphatic syllable to create a reference frame of surreal incomplete rhythm. The rampant creativity and pulsingly infectious rhythms of this CD give it presence which so powerfully hints at a more complete musical language that the intrusions of heavy metal-derived music often seem like dilutions, but it is clear from even this glimpse that the world missed out on the future evolution of this band.

Avathar “Where Light and Shadows Collide” (CD, 2006)

A cross between In Battle and Summoning, this band attempts to make epic music but in the uptempo style of black metal such as Mayhem or Abigor. Like The Abyss, this band wield such a lexicon of technique that tendencies in their music become evident early on and seem repetitive by the end of the album. For background listening it is preferrable to the disorganized noise and posing produced by the black metal underground, but one wonders if this is not like most art in the modern time good with technique/appearance but poor at confronting the inner world of meaning.

Order From Chaos “Dawn Bringer” (Shivadarshana Records, 1994)

At the nexus of several rising conceptual directions in underground music, Order From Chaos fuses them sublimely into a subconscious manipulation by music that remains stranded in the older generations of punk and metal by its refusal to integrate longer melodies; it is pure rhythmic pattern and song structure, a Wagnerian demonstration of a course of thought developed through the sensation represented by riffs that like scenes guide listeners through the acts of the drama. It is this theatrical sense that interrupts the verse-chorus spiralling of riffs layered with accompaniment of increasing intensity from drums and vocals and bass, with songs dropping to moments of presentation and equalization when forward action ceases and a quietude of sorts drops over the action. In this, like early Krieg, the music is an improvisational theatre acting out the raw id of human experience when that experience represents those brainy enough to see how modern society and its assumptions (order, legality, morality) are completely bankrupt, but it is a scream of protest and not, as is needed, a counter-construction. Thus while no piece of this is in error, the whole is discohesive and with a good augmentation could become far better; among Nationalist bands (it is fair to note allusions to nationalism on this record, with “Die Fahne Hoch” making an appearance on track two) Skrewdriver remains pre-eminent because they wrote melodic, expressive — while as cheesy, overblown and dramatic as those from the Ramones or the Sex Pistols — songs that gave people something to live for as much as a knowledge of what is lacking in our world. With luck in future albums, this band will approach structure with as much pure energy as they unleash here. Track fourteen (Golgotha) contains a riff tribute lifted from the nether moments of “Reign in Blood.”

Vordven “Woodland Passage” (CD, 2000)

Hearing this album is like running into Boston and screaming “The British are coming!” in 2006: completely irrelevant. A mixture of old Emperor and Graveland stylings, it is perfectly competent but by emulating the past, both fails to uphold that spirit and precludes itself from finding its own direction. We don’t need new styles; we don’t need “progress”; we do need music that has some idea of what it wants to communicate, and can make that experience meaningful. This sounds like retro or a coverband in that everything is bureaucratically plotted: after the keyboard interlude comes the pre-theme, then the main theme, then break for demonic scream and drum battery to drive it all home. Clearly better musicians than many of the original bands, Vordven are lesser artists and thus have less of interest to give us. It feels less dishonest to listen to Muzak versions of Metallica hits from the 1980s.

Warhorse “Warhorse” (CD, 2000)

Sounding like a hybrid between old Confessor and middle-period Motorhead, Warhorse is a rock band playing doom metal with a sensibility for both slow pumplike riffs over which vocals suddenly slow, causing a relative shift that makes the entire song seem to stand still, and the type of pick-up transitions and breakdowns for which both Motorhead and death metal bands are famous. In the sense of bands like Saint Vitus or Cathedral this band is intensely mated to the rock culture and its dramatic self identity, adding over it high pitched vocals that sound like a whisky-soaked Sigur Ros in an Alabama bar. For this reviewer it is a question of relevance: what does one need express in this style that would take a band beyond the level of background music for a local bar? However, among those who undertake this format, Warhorse keeps a sense of style and intensity, even if by appropriately keeping its horizons forshortened in the ambition department.

Revenge “Victory. Intolerance. Mastery.” (Osmose, 2004)

Although in fundamentally the same style as previous releases, the latest from Revenge improves upon it by simplifying the chaotic stew of impulses diverging into every conceivable direction, therefore achieving a greater coherence and thus listenability. That being said, the same problems that plague previous releases are here: distracting directionless percussion, riff salad, a tendency to deconstruct without a replacement ideal. However, by dropping all but the most necessary elements of their music, Revenge have come closer to making an expressive black metal album.

Ankrehg “Lands of War”

Oh, neat: someone hybridized Impaled Nazarene with Gorgoroth and made a band that balances between sawing punk riffs and trills of melodic scale fretruns. Having mastered that technique, this band was left neurotic and clueless as they attempted to find a direction; barring that, they settled on a generalized path and threw everything but the kitchen sink into it, creating songs that leap at every conceivable point of the compass but seize nothing. Their technique is to distract the listener with this constant stream of chaos and hope it is not noticed as irrelevant; with this reviewer, it was, and thus the listening session ended. Worse than shit, this is confusion masquerading as profundity.

Revenge “Triumph. Genocide. Antichrist.” (Osmose, 2003)

Whenever one is handed a piece of music or writing, it makes sense to ask, “What are the artistic aims of this work?” Art does not exist in a vacuum, much as conversation does not; there has to be some joy in it, something shared between listener and creator. Revenge is blasting drums that chase a pace with successive lapses and then catch-up intensifying speed, harsh harmonized vocals that surge overhead like rainbows of oil in floodwaters, and riffs of often high quality; like the first Krieg album however, it arrays these in an incoherent order which results in the stream of consciousness sensation without imparting greater wisdom of any form. As such, this album is a stepping back from what black metal achieved, which was an arch grace and continuity in expressing a meaning to darkness, and a descent into the disorganized deconstructionism that denotes modern grindcore (as if to underscore this, the drumming here is highly reminiscent of Derek Roddy’s work on Drogheda’s “Pogromist”). To communicate breakdown, one does not portray breakdown in its literal form, necessarily – here we see good raw material – powerful percussion, adroit riffcraft – converted into a melange of confusion by its lack of deliberation and planning. No single part of it has anything wrong with it. The whole is a death of ambition, of heroism, of tragedy and meaning.

Vinterland “Welcome My Last Chapter” (2003)

This band is like The Abyss a template of black metal technique recombined around the most fundamental songwriting techniques, but to that mixture it adds lifts from Gorgoroth and Sacramentum to make it a flowing but gracefully intricate and arcane metal style. Nothing here is bad and it listens well, but it manages less suspension of disbelief than The Abyss (first album; the second one is random riffs and screaming) because although its songs are well-written and flow expertly it is hard to find a statement to any of them; what are they about? They’re about being melodic black metal songs. Undoubtedly Vinterland is far better than almost all of what has been called “melodic black metal” since 1996, but it’s only because our standards have fallen that such a band is construed as good listening. Preferrable would be a simpler more honest band trying to communicate an experience rather than partake of membership; in this Vinterland and Deathspell Omega are similar in that while both are at the top of their genre in formal ability, neither captures the essence of this music because they are trying to be the music, not trying to be something that ultimately will express itself in music. Hoarse whispery Dimmu Borgir vocals dive and glide over sheeting melodic guitar riffs, replete with fast fretruns and descending arpeggiations; the band know when to break from meaty riffs into calming simplicity like a ship exiting rapids. Those familiar with black metal history will hear lifts from Ancient, Dimmu Borgir, Sacramentum, The Abyss, Satyricon and Sacramentum, as well as hints of At the Gates and later Emperor. It is not badly done, but that’s not the point: this CD never takes any direction but tries to use summarizes of past paths as a condensed variety show of black metal; while it is an enjoyable listen the first time, it does not hold up as these other bands have, as there is nothing to center all of this technique and its moments of beauty, creating the impression of a sequence of distractions instead of deliberate craftsmanship helping to reveal a secret beneath the skin.

Regredior “Forgotten Tears” (Shiver Records, 1995)

This band of highly talented musicians have created an album that is half excellence and half disaster by focusing too much on individual instruments, and thus failing to organize songs by composition instead of playing, have been forced to rely on stitching together disconnected pieces of music with two-part attention span grabbers: a repeated pattern to seize attention, and then a pause and an “unconventional” response to fulfil that expectation. If that is a desired compositional style, one wonders why this band did not simply make grunge music and derive actual profit from the endeavor? They mean well and play well — the acoustic instrumentals here are beautiful, many of the riffs top-notch in the slumberlike earthmoving simplicity of older Therion, and concepts for songs are great — but the final product is marred by its own showiness and awkward assimilation of different musical impulses. Squeals, offtime drum hits, dissonant guitar fills and rhythmic jolts do not move compelling music along; they advance by inches and drain away the energies that allow bands to make the world-redefining musical statements required for songs to be distinctive and expressive enough to be great. For those who like later Carcass, this band utilizes many of the same techniques and has similar technicality.

Sombrous “Transcending the Umbra” (CD, 2005)

Imagine Biosphere executed with the sensibilities of Dead Can Dance: the same implications of melody in sonic curve rising to full volume and then pulsing like a wave before disappearing to form a cycle, with songs arising from the piling of successive layers at offset rhythms on top of one another. It is slow, percussionless, delicate, and in part thanks to the heavy reverberations used, as melancholic as the echo of one’s lonely voice in an abandoned cellar. The more style-heavy music gets and the farther it gets from something that can be easily played on one or two acoustic instruments, paradoxically, the easier it gets to create once one has mastered aesthetic, and if this music has a weakness it is the tendency to use four-note melodies as the basis of a song and only occasionally complement them with others. Biosphere helpfully used found melodies and instrumentals of greater detail to do this; Sombrous could actually go further within their own aesthetic and layer keyboards as they have but give them more to play than rising or falling modal lines. It would also help to even further vary the voices/samples used here, as too many echoed stringplucks or keyboard throbs start to sound the same; sometimes, one slips too far into the mood generated and boredom sets in. Yet there is something undeniable here in both aesthetic and composition, in that unlike almost all “ambient” releases from the underground this has grace and a sense of purpose that unites these tracks into a distinct musical entity. It is not unwise to watch this band for future developments.

Emit/Vrolok “Split”

Emit is ambient soundscapes made from guitar noise, sampled instruments and silences; it is good to see this band branch out into a greater range and artistic inspiration, but they would do well to remember the listener should be both learning and enjoying the experience of listening: what differentiates art from philosophy is that art is made to be a sensual tunneling through knowledge, where philosophy is a description of knowledge. Vrolok is of the Krieg/Sacramentary Abolishment school of fast noisy guitars over drums that outrace themselves and then catch up with flying chaotic fills. Nothing is poorly executed, but this recording seems to be an artist’s impression of what his favorite bands would do; there are some nice touches like background drones and bent-string harmonics of a sickening nature, but to what end? If black metal has another generation it’s not going to be in retrofitting the past in form, but in resurrecting the past in content, even if all the aesthetics are (like with the early Norse bands) garbage Bathory/Hellhammer ripoffs.

Nightbringer “Rex Ex Ordine Throni”

This is a competent black metal release with a Darkthrone/Graveland hybrid melodic guitar playing style, kettledrum flying battery in the Sacramentary Abolishment canon, vocals like later Dimmu Borgir and composition that, like that of Satyricon, assembles all of the correct elements but does not understand melody intuitively enough to keep the illusion going. If this band delved more deeply into composition and had something to say, this CD would be one of the best of the year because its aesthetic formula is perfect, but its melodies go nowhere and barely match harmonic expectation between phrases, when they’re not outright symmetrical and blatantly obvious; in short, it falls apart when one goes deeper than skin-level. If an ambitious melodic thinker gets transplanted into this band or its members grow in that direction (a big leap), it will be a major contribution.

Polluted Inheritance “Ecocide” (CD, 1992)

This is one of those CDs that came very close and with a little more focus and depth of thought could have been a classic of the genre. It is death metal in a hybrid style that includes jaunty post-speed metal expectant rhythms, such that incomplete rhythmic patterns provide a continuity through our anticipation of the final beat established through contrast of offbeats as necessary, and sounds as a result somewhere between Exhorder and Malevolent creation, with verse riffs that resemble later work from Death. Songs operate by the application of layers of instrumentation or variation on known riff patterns in linear binary sequence, driven by verse/chorus riffs and generally double bridges that convey us from the song’s introduction to the meat of its dispute to a final state of clarity. Probably too bouncy for the underground, and too abrasive for the Pantera/Exhorder crowd, this CD is very logical and analytic to the point that it makes itself seem symmetrical and obvious. With luck this band will continue writing, and will offer more of the ragged edge of emotion or concept which could make this a first-class release.

The Tarantists “demo 2004″ (CD, 2004)

From the far-off land of Iran comes a band with a new take on newer styles of metal. Incorporating influences from Metallica, progressive and jazz-influenced heavy metal, and some of the recent grunge-touched modern metal, the Tarantists render something true both to themselves and to metal as an ongoing musical culture. Prominent jazzy drums lead riffs that are not melodic in the “style” of constant melodic intervals popular with cheesy Sentenced-ripoff bands, but use melodic intervals at structural junctures in riffs that smoothly branch between phrasal death metal styled riffs and bouncy recursive heavy metal riffs. Over this lead guitar winds like a vine and favors the bittersweet sensation of melodies that decline in harmonic spacing until they trail off in melted tendrils of sound; riffing is most clearly influenced by the NWOBHM style hybridized with speed metal’s adept use of muffled and offtime strums to vary up what are otherwise harmonically static riffs. The Tarantists can achieve this melding of motion-oriented and pure rhythm riffing through their tendency to change song structure rapidly after having made their point, such that listening to this resembles going between different parts of a complex city, climbing stairs and finally entering a destination, then jumping back in the car for a manic deviation to another location. Highly listenable, this is impressive work for a demo band and represents a brighter future for metal than the kneejerk tedium of nu-metal or the repetition of past glories offered blankfacedly by the underground. It is unabashedly musical, and takes pride in interlocking melodic bass and lead guitar lines that exchange scale vocabularies as freely as rhythm. The only area that seems unresolved are the gruff Motorhead-style vocals, which might be either updated or discarded for pure singing, as there’s enough sonic distance within this work to support such a thing. The clearest influences here are Iron Maiden and Metallica, but a familiarity with recent metal of almost every genre is also audible. Of the recent demos sent this way, this is the one most likely to gain repeated listening because it focuses on music first and aesthetics second.

Beyond Agony “The Last of a Dying Breed” (CD, 2005)

Trying to mix the high-speed melodic riffing of black metal with the thunderous bassy trundle of mainstream death metal/nu-metal riffing, this band produce something that sounds like Acid Bath without the variation or singing, and resembles Pantera in its tendency to match riffs with clear poised expectant endphrases to rapped vocals and shuffle drumming. It’s a variation on a pattern seen many times before. It’s impossible to tell what kind of musical ability exists in these musicians because these riffs are rhythmic and aharmonic, since their melodic trills exist only to emphasize the E-chord noodling at the low end. Some Meshuggah fans might appreciate this, as might the hordes of people who think Slipknot and Disturbed are OK, but to an underground death metal fan there’s nothing here. These guys are clearly professional and have studied all of the other offerings in the field, and mixed in enough melody to distinguish themselves, and clearly these songs hold together better than your average nu-metal, but when one picks a dumbshit conception of music — which really, the entire Pantera/nu-metal genre is: music for morons to bounce around to while working off their frustration at having their democratic right to be spoiled and bratty constrained by reality — one limits oneself to making things that no matter how smart they get, have the dominant trait of being aimed at supporting and nurturing stupidity. I might even wax “open-minded” if I didn’t know that devolving metal into pure angry, pointless, rhythmic ranting has been the oldest tendency of the genre, and one that always leads it astray, because bands that do this have no way of distinguishing between each other except aesthetic flourishes and therefore end up establishing a competition on the basis of external factors and not composition. Some riffs approach moments of beauty but tend to come in highly symmetrical pairs which demand bouncy stop-start rhythms to put them into context. It’s all well-executed, but it’s standard nu-metal/late Pantera, with touches of Iron Maiden and Slayer. Should we care? Some of the celebrities who paid tribute to the late guitarist of Pantera/Damageplan noted that he had the ability to play well beyond the style which he’d chosen; it sounds like the same thing is evident here, and that seems to me a tragedy, because this style is so blockhead it absorbs all of the good put into it in its desire to provide a frustration condom for burnt-out suburban youth.

Fireaxe “Food for the Gods” (CD, 2005)

If you’ve ever wished that old-style heavy metal would be just a little less effete and self-obsessed, and take the literal attitude that hardcore punk had toward the world but give it that grand lyricism for which metal is famous, you might find a friend in Fireaxe. It’s low-tech, with basic production without the touches of tasty sound that make big studio albums so richly full, and it is often a shade short of where it needs to be in content – often repetitive or too basic in the logic that connects sections, as if it suffers from a surfeit of symmetry brought about by too much logical analysis – but it is what heavy metal could be if it grew up, somewhere between Mercyful Fate and Queensryche and Led Zeppelin, an epic style with a desire to be more of a kingshearth bard than a stadium ego-star. Brian Voth does the whole thing, using electronics for percussion and his trusty guitar, keyboards and voice to pull it off. His voice is thin like his guitar sound, and his solos are clearly well-plotted but do not let themselves go into chaos enough; his use of keyboards is reminiscent of a sparing take on Emperor. This 3-CD set is an attempted historiography of humanity and its religious symbolism, with a cynical outlook on such things as originally perhaps healthy ideas gone perverse and become manipulators. “On Truth and Lies in a Non-Moral Sense”? Perhaps, but this is earthier; in true heavy metal form, “Food for the Gods” delights in the literal manifestations of spacy otherworldly “truths.” Overall musical quality is high, and artistic quality is immaculate, but the CD is often designed less for the listener than to complete its thought cycle, and here it could use an edit; it is so analytical it is almost apoetic, and so literal it is almost a stab against symbolism itself (already in vogue for 90 years with the postmodernists, alas). My advice to Fireaxe would be to stop looking so deeply into causes and to start looking into spiritual solutions, e.g. to “sing” in the oldest sense of praising the beauty of life even in darkness, and lifting us up not into educated obligation but into ignorant but healthy spirits. Think of a bard singing by his cup of mead, looking for a way to console and encourage those who might on the morrow die in battlefields, all through the symbols, song and sense of ancient tales. This album could be cut to a single CD with proper editing gain some denseness and unpredictability it lacks; right now, although its patterns vary its delivery is of such an even mien that it is nearly predictable. The roots of excellent music are here, including Voth’s creative and playful leads, but need discipline into a more advanced and yet less progressive form for Fireaxe to have the full range of voice it requires. It is a welcome diversion from the insincere and manipulative stadium metal, and the guilelessly fatalistic underground music that shadows it (although it will not admit it), and while it waxes liberal in philosophy, does not go toward the eunuch extreme of emo; the heart is behind the music, and the flesh is competent, but somehow, the soul has not yet lifted its wings and flown, yet sits contemplating the right flightpath in radiant detail.

Gnostic “Splinters of Change” (5 song demo, 2005)

Upon hearing of the reemergence of pioneering Atheist drummer Steve Flynn, my curiousity was piqued immediately. I’d always appreciated his slippery brilliance behind the kit, forever giving the impression of struggling not to become caught in the tornado of bizarre rhythmic patterns he himself was creating. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that thirteen years between major recordings and immersion within the materialistic modern-day workplace had not dulled his creativity. In fact, his refreshingly brazen yet occultish approach to rhythmic structuralization is very reminiscent of his previous output, a fact which initially inspired hope. Further, Gnostic is composed of talented players. Former Atheist vocalist Kelly Shaefer produced the album. A concern nags silently: can this band escape the shadow of its predecessor?

As it turns out, no. The band has missed the fundamentally esoteric application of that theory which lends such timelessness to Atheist; say what you will about such a loaded term as “populist” being utilized in musical review, but this is merely music written to “sound good” from a quasi-prog perspective. The musical framework has each component part of the equation stepping all over every other part to prove that the instrumentalists are capable, losing the transcendence which Atheist channeled through their controlled chaoticism. Gnostic is all over the map structurally, with Flynn doing everything he can to hold the ship together at the seams. There is no message here, other than one-dimensional instrumentalism. We’ve already heard these same songs from the same bands for fifteen years now. It seems to this reviewer that this demo chalks yet another victory up to Redundant Mediocrity over Art. Consume, consume, consume. – blaphbee

Therion “A’arab Zaraq Lucid Dreaming” (Nuclear Blast, 1995)

It’s hell on metal bands who want to leave the underground. In trying to popularize their style, they usually kill whatever appeal it had, because those who enjoy their music have found truth somewhere in the alienation and whatever values the band managed to sustain under that assault. Further, the band usually confuse themselves, and end up prostrating themselves as whores, thus losing the respect of their fans. This CD is a collection of outtakes from Theli, a soundtrack and some Therion odds and ends that chronicle this band’s descent into commerciality and simultaneous rise in the esteem of metal fans as a whole. The first two tracks represent everything disgusting about trying to make popular neoclassical music, in that they focus first on making foot-stomping crowd-pleasing music, and adorn it with bits of classical allusion and the like, creating in the end a carnival of confusion. The next track, “Fly to the Rainbow,” is apparently a cover of an old Dio tune, which is amusing considering how similar it is to “The Way” from Therion’s epic second album. This is followed by one of the cheesiest Iron Maiden covers ever, with overdone vocals drowning out the subtlety of the original, and a Running Wild
song that comes across as blockheaded, but is less dramatically re-enacted, and therefore is more welcome. It sounds very much like punk hardcore with a metal chorus. Next is an off-the-cuff cover of “Symphony of the Dead,” from the second album as well, but its mix emphasizes the keyboards to the point where it becomes muzak. Good song, terrible version, and as fully meaningless as the Emperor keyboard-only Inno A Satana. The band have lost their grasp of what made their earlier material great, that it blended the raw and the beautiful, not that it standardized itself for radio airplay as this CD clearly does. All finesse is gone, all artistry, and what replaces it is the populist heavy metal mentality. There’s no class to this, or self-respect, and while any of its elements are quite powerful, the whole is tediously directionless. This syndrome blights the remaining Therion tracks on this CD, which then takes us to the soundtrack portions – these are actually promising. Like a synthesis between Dead Can Dance and Summoning, these are wandering keyboard background musics that maintain a mood and are kept in check by the need to be less disruptively attention-seeking. Although plenty of cliches and obvious figures work their way into this music, it’s clear that (were Swedes to control Hollywood) soundtracks are where the “new” Therion belong.

Aletheian “Dying Vine” (Hope Prevails, 2005)

This album demonstrates how if you mix great ingredients randomly, you end up with something disgusting. About half of the riffs on this album are excellent, and the sense of rhythm the band has is wonderful. But it’s garish, gaudy and overblown. Like a metalcore band, they mix riffs in a merry-go-round of directionless ideas, never actually stating anything. In this case the riffs are of the melodic Swedish death metal meets technical speed metal style, with influences from “modern metal” and showboat heavy metal. Any one part of this could be great, but it says nothing and thus ends up being random elements stitched together in a circus show of diverse and incompatible fragments of ideas. Some goofy modern touches, like synthesized voices, put nails in the coffin. There’s a lot to like here but the whole is not worth loving. My advice to these dudes: meditate and work on your band politics, because the raw material in this album if presented differently would be listenable, but right now it’s a technical mash that has no artistic or aesthetic statement.

Harkonin “Sermons of Anguish” (Harkonin, 2005)

The good news is that Harkonin have good concepts, write good riffs, and understand something of gradual mood shifts. The bad news is that they compress this process, remove the anticipation, and hammer it out in repetitive endurance tests that hide the actual talent of the members of this band. None of the elements are bad; in fact, they’re far above average, and the band has an aesthetic vision – the CD skirts metalcore but incorporates some of the newer urban and rock influences into metal – that outpaces most of their contemporaries. However, they need to find some inner calm, and let it out slowly, and discover the poetry of their own vision, as right now, this album is unrelenting violence that becomes perceived as a single unchanging texture because of its emotional disorganization. Luckily this experienced band has time to take some of their more intense moments of riffing and put them at the end of each song, then re-arrange the other riffs (and maybe develop them by another layer, meaning for each good riff, split out two complementary ones that can resolve into it, Suffocation style) to lead up to that point. If they do that, they will be on the path toward conveying meaning through their music – right now, what it conveys is abrasion, and too much of that will pass in the listener’s mind into a sense of unchanging mood.

Dug Pinnick “Emotional Animal” (Magna Carta, 2005)

Former King’s X member comes out with new album. Any guesses? It sounds like a heavier, groovier King’s X, which seems to be an attempt to make metal sound more like rock music. It’s jazzy and funky, and has some grunge-meets-prog metal riffing, but on the whole, the composition is the same stuff that gets played on the radio. Pinnick would do better applying his talents to something fully proggy like Gordian Knot.

Aphotic/Dusk “Split” (Cursed Productions, 2005)

Like most releases from Cursed Productions, this CD showcases regular guy songwriting enclosed in an unusual form. Aphotic is a fusion of soundtrack doom metal like My Dying Bride and Katatonia, fused with a progressive edge like that of Gordian Knot, creating a listenable package with plenty of depth to its instrumentation. Many of these riffs sound like something borrowed from a Graveland album, but on top of the basic guitar, flourishes of lead guitar and synthesized instruments accent the dominant theme, as does offbeat guitar playing with an emphasis on the internal rhythms for which metal is famous. Although these songs generate a great deal of atmosphere, and are at heart hook-laden and listenable to an extreme, they may be too sentimental for progressive rock fanatics and too straightforward for early 1990s black metal fans. An underpinning of old-fashioned foot-stomping heavy metal may make these popular in the contemporary metal audience, and if there’s any criticism here, it’s that this band could give their instrumentalism greater reign. Dusk, on the other hand, is a much clearer fusion of doom metal and classic heavy/power metal, with growling voices guiding bouncy riffs to their targets. It is proficient but on the whole not fully developed enough to either have its own voice or rise above metal cliche, but it is inoffensive listening especially for one who wouldn’t mind being locked in a room with Cathedral and Prong re-learning their formative material.

Odious Sanction “Three Song Demo” (2005)

These few cuts from the upcoming album “No Motivation to Live” feature the talents of Steve Shalaty, now drumming for Immolation, but that’s about the whole of their appeal. Much like his work in Deeds of Flesh, Shalaty’s percussion is ripe with a precision interplay between double bass and an ongoing breakdown of fills, but the music over it is numbingly empty of anything but relentless interrupted cadence rhythm. Somewhere between metalcore and deathgrind, it lacks most dimensions of harmony and any of melody, resulting in a whirring and battering mechanistic noise that offers little to the experienced listener.

Emit “A Sword of Death for the Prince” (2005)

The microgenre of blacknoise is what happens when one fuses the abrasive Beherit-style cacophonous assault of minimal black metal and the droning sonic collages of acts like Mz. 412 or Claustrum. Where this CD is excellent are the moments when being shockingly extreme and unlistenable are forgotten, and overlapping patterns of melodic or textural fragments knot the listener into moods of darkness and contemplation. Here, Emit has found an outlet for its style, as the guitar is liberated from rigid hardcore/black metal style riffing and can focus on the mournful and regal use of ambient, repetitive melody, hiding it amongst distorted voices and sampled aural experiences of modern life. The pretenses of black metal should be discarded, as this release has more in common with Tangerine Dream and Godflesh than anything else. If this reviewer has anything to suggest, it is that this band not hold itself back, but plunge forward in the direction it is exploring, and use its dense layers of sonorous noise-guitar and vocals to develop a sense of melody and composition, as that is the strength of both this band and non-instrumental music in general, and — well, nothing’s been “shocking” for some time.

P – The Larch Returns (Music Abuse, 2005)

As metal continues, like a snowball rolling over open ground it assimilates all that went before it and thrusts it forward in recombinations hoping to find another powerful aesthetic voice for the eternal metal spirit (which also picks up details, but rarely additions, to its sense of being). P is the side project of Alchemy member P and can be described as a black metal-informed death-doom band, with influences primarily in the Asphyx and Cianide camp with touches from Paradise Lost and Master. Its strengths are its booming, bassy, cinderblock-simple riffs that thunder through repetition in a trancelike resonance. Where many simple riffed bands can be irritating, these are sustaining. Songs move from one perspective to a final response to it without ado because the goal of this music is to carve tunnels of explosive sound through the rock face of silence, enacting mood more than drama. P needs to work on its rhythmic transitions and vocals, the former being stiff and the latter overacted; the local-band style of shout/rasp does nothing for a listener who might prefer to not be reminded of vocals at all should the question arise. Influence might also be gained by pacing riffs, especially introductory ones, differently to radically offset each other and effect a smoother convergence of forces. Three songs are of solid death/doom, and then there’s junk — an Aldo Nova cover that is unconvincing, a duet with a young girl that is amusing, and a comic song about baseball that dilutes the mood — but this is followed by a final instrumental that is beautiful like an unfocused eye, being a careless-sounding collection of sounds so natural that it is both unnoticed and profound in its emotional impact. Should this band ever decide to take a direction and master it, they will be a potent force in the death/doom field.

Alchemy – Alchemy (Alchemy, 2004)

Reminiscent of Abyssic Hate and Xasthur and I Shalt Become, Alchemy creates Burzum-styled ambient drone in a song format that seems inspired by Dark Funeral more than anything else. It is elegant and embraces the listener but beyond getting into said mood, goes nowhere: it is not directionless but each song is monodirectional to the point it might not be said to be a narrative or even statement as much as observant glimpse. If this band wishes to go to the next level, it needs to divide the formative material of each song into two parts, and layer the first one for 2/3 of the song until an apex, at which point it can switch into the conclusion for the last third and be more effective and satisfying to a listener. Far from incompetent, it is best viewed as something in transition.

One Liners

Toil – Demo I

Slick in ability and appearance but boring as rocks except for the enlightening, faithful, identical cover of Graveland’s “Thurisaz.”

Cannibal Corpse – Kill

A formula continuing the tradition of getting more like rap music and Six Feet Under, so is basically like every other Cannibal Corpse album. That alone is reason to avoid it, unless you like music designed to coordinate the head motions of retarded children being electrocuted.

Introduce others to real death metal

December 26, 2008 –
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I was talking with a friend about death metal. His complaint was: much of what he heard was very repetitive between songs and did not seem to come to a clear point of focus; in other words, it was like longer punk songs. This reminds me of how in 1994 or so the term “riff salad” was pejorative, before the overindulgence of metalcore made it seem like a compliment.

As a result, I came up with this small list of works to introduce people to death metal. There’s a lot of overlap with a “best of,” but this list is designed specifically to pick good introductions that in most cases represent the peaks of the bands who created them:

1. IncantationOnward to Golgotha
2. DeicideLegion
3. TherionBeyond Sanctorum
4. AtheistUnquestionable Presence
5. Morbid AngelBlessed Are the Sick
6. GorgutsThe Erosion of Sanity
7. At the GatesThe Red in the Sky is Ours
8. AsphyxAsphyx
9. AutopsyMental Funeral
10. SuffocationEffigy of the Forgotten
11. ImmolationHere in After
12. Cadaver…In Pains
13. ObituaryCause of Death
14. DemilichNespithe
15. CenotaphGloomy Reflections of Our Hidden Sorrows
16. DemigodSlumber of Sullen Eyes

And for those transitioning from speed metal…

1. SlayerReign in Blood
2. Destruction – Infernal Overkill
3. SepulturaBeneath the Remains
4. Rigor MortisFreaks

One aspect of this site is that we recognize that the truth is always more difficult than a partial truth designed to appease others through the appearance of good. As a result, you don’t find lists like this in the media; the authors always throw in their buddies or friends or people their publisher would like to co-promote. This is a list of quality music for people who take their time seriously and don’t want to throw it away on boring or uninspiring crap.

Interview: Unknown I (Hammemit/Emit)

December 7, 2008 –

Emit creates ambient art for those off the beaten path and willing to indulge a contemplate, meditative, obscure trip through undefined sound, like a convergence of Lull, Final and Harold Budd. In addition to being musical, this project is produced by minds who have critically analyzed and chosen their path. We were lucky enough to capture this interview after being blindfolded, driven in circles in a 20-year-old Toyota Tercel, screamed at in Pashtu and Altedeutsch, and finally interrogated by Unknown I while we gobbled our rice rations of the day.

Do you believe that art requires an intention behind it?

Yes, but then all art has some sort of intention behind it. Even if the intention is purely a selfish one, like making money or seeking fame (or infamy), or taking the piss, there’s still a motive no matter how questionable. Deep down there’s a reason for every action made in this world. People complain of “mindless” vandalism but never think about why it is that an ugly steel and glass bus-shelter may seem like an affront or worthless object of derision to others. The fake surroundings we spend most of our lives in are so hideous in my eyes that it was natural to become involved with the courageous cultured barbarism of black/death metal, noise music and so on. To me, these music forms aren’t fantasy escapism but reflections and expressions of deep underlying truth and reality of existence. Most things seem to want to hide reality from you, i.e. your butchers and policemen as my old friend Joseph Conrad said, but certain art exposes inevitable death and reminds you that you’re actually alive and existing. A friend of mine used to badly cut himself on a regular basis, he said that people mainly did it (in black metal circles) because it was a brutal and “evil” thing to do to yourself, but he just did it because he liked it. I suspect that he did it because when seeing his own blood spewing everywhere and feeling the pain of it, he could taste mortality and thus found confirmation of his own existence within that. Do you truly feel that you exist until you realise that you’ll die one day? When you see what usually remains invisible (in this case, that which allows you to live; the internal organs, blood etc), the abyss between merely seeing and actually existing is crossed, said Yukio Mishima, loosely paraphrased.

If so, is art decoration? Is it propaganda? Is it communication? Please explain your choice.

All art communicates something, whether it communicates something worthwhile or not is another matter. The Greeks thought that the sheer craft of even an everyday object like a chair was art by itself, but then their furniture and so on was made by hand, not mass produced to a template by chinese industrial machinery. My own house is mostly purely functional, apart from a few choice objects here and there, the personal worth and interest of which are in my eyes therefore enhanced, or more accurately, are allowed their rightful place and not drowned out by crap. Owning and listening to too many albums, for instance, devalues the really great ones. So I don’t do it. If art doesn’t say anything to me (or if something else says it better) it’s probably useless and I’ve no time to waste on it. Propaganda is for tabloid newspaper readers and decoration as an end in itself only reflects the present culture it derives from, which in our case isn’t very good, from an aesthetic sense or any other. Ancient decorative art (from nearly all ancient cultures) glorifies all that’s great about their people, mythos and culture, truly aspiring towards and reflecting something divine and vital. The likes of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (particularly the mediaeval revivalist offshoot led by William Morris and co), attempted to inject this old ethos back into the increasingly industrialised culture of the West, and with Hammemit’s crude neo-mediaeval music I follow humbly in their footsteps. By “neo-mediaeval”, I mean taking the past and adapting it to modernity, not wearing old clothes and fighting mock battles as if pretending it was still the year 1300. I don’t want to retreat back into the past, I’d rather bring the past into the present day.

Kurt Vonnegut famously referred to art as a “canary in a coal mine”, or a warning signal for society. Other artists, notably Romantics, have claimed that art serves a necessary role in celebration of life. Still others believe it should celebrate the artist. Where, if anywhere, do these views intersect, and is it possible for art to exist as a discrete one of them and not as an intersection?

I used to talk several years ago about “anti-art”, because I considered what I did to be partly a reaction against pretension and fakery where most “artists” claimed to be so very deep and meaningful, but in actual fact their art was nothing but shallow and cheap gimmickry, or entertainment. It’s easy to pretend to say a lot if you hide behind a fog of flashy imagery and other useless bric-a-brac. It’s also surprising to me how many are taken in by it, as I thought art was supposed to go beyond the superficial.

I would have laughed when I was a teenager if someone had said to me that art like that of black metal celebrated life. But ironically, being obsessed with death and general morbidity is actually a healthy state of mind in a society where no one wants to even think of the word DEATH. I found it empowering and strangely uplifting (though it didn’t occur to me that way, back then) to be thinking of death all the time and carrying bones about in my pockets, because it’s a taboo and forbidden realm not to be mentioned in polite cunting society. So to be allied to a “cult of nature processes” ironically made me feel more alive and allowed me to breathe in the cold night air more deeply. Possibly it’s why I found (and still do find) great pleasure in simple things which others don’t find particularly remarkable at all.

Nature! We are surrounded and embraced by her — powerless to leave her and powerless to enter her more deeply. Unaksed and without warning she sweeps us away in the round of her dance and dances on until we fall exhausted from her arms.

She has brought me here, she will lead me away.
I trust myself to her. She may do as she will with me.
She will not hate her work. It is not I who have spoken of her.
No, what is true and what is false, all this she has spoken.
Hers is the blame, hers the glory.

- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Nature, a Fragment

Quorthon of Bathory refers to his music as “atmospheric heavy metal.” What does atmospheric offer that the world of rock music, jazz, blues or techno cannot?

“Atmospheric music” as I would understand the term offers a means of connection with the hidden world beyond, the mysterious unknown. It allows the creation of certain moods, ideas and images within the mind of the imaginative listener. Certain key passages in this kind of music can suddenly infuse you with an almost indescribable transcendence from your surroundings. There are moments like this in Graveland’s “Barbarism Returns” and Enslaved’s “Heimdallr” (the demo version more so than on the album). Simple rock music or whatever is a mere temporary distraction and serves only as a kind of audial wallpaper. Rock music may passively reflect the time in which it was created and the base preoccupations of its creators but that’s it. Atmospheric music pointedly reflects the time in which it was created and also suggests possibilities for the future, or contemplation. That’s the difference between your example of Bathory (I would say spiritual music) and one of their contemporaries like Venom (secular music). Speaking of Hammemit & Emit, I’ve always wanted to create active music for active listening, not passive background decoration, as I listen to music as an activity in itself, not for any other reason. Sometimes if I’m in the car on my own I’ll listen to music to just pass the time on tedious journeys, or boost flagging spirits. I hate martial/military music (outside of its intended context the purpose and point is lost), but I have a tape of good driving tunes by the SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler which encapsulates the optimistic atmosphere of the 1930′s. It makes me smile when crawling through some faceless city at 5 mph to consider that even a 25 ton Panzer IV had a top speed of 26 mph and could easily crush to pieces the cars in front and crash through the walls of the office blocks and shops lining the road, pedestrians scattering about like rural french peasants.

When you write music, do you aim for a completed concept, or develop a fragmentary concept and see where it goes?

I’ve always had a “concept” in mind but as the years went on it became more easily expressed. The Hammemit album is my most consistent work, and conveys my intended ideas simply and without any unnecessary ornamentation. My core beliefs haven’t changed radically but my opinions have changed somewhat from experience and such. I’m too young for my opinions to have fossilised into convictions yet. In order to communicate effectively, an artistic medium like an album of music needs to take a unified approach. It should have a distinct sound, a unique voice both visually and lyrically as well as musically. And this should all come naturally, not be forced in an unnatural, dishonest way like some calculated marketing campaign. A lot of bands understand this but only grasp it on the most superficial level; they have an “image” in promo photos, they use the same font on all their releases or whatever. They miss the point completely. What I want is for someone to look at the layout/images of the Hammemit album, read the lyrics, listen to the music and intuitively take from it something useful to them. That sounds dry and dull in words, but what I mean is that I ultimately aim to create with Hammemit the means for uplifting of spirit and transcendence in the listener that occurs when absorbing great art.

Many attack ambient music, like punk, for the relative lack of musical training or instrumental ability of its progenitors. Do you see this as an important criticism?

I doubt you’ll be surprised by my answer here, but no, of course it’s not at all important. Technique is merely a means through which you can express something. Lack of technique or limited musical ability just means you’re more restricted (or perhaps freer in some cases) about what you can do. Someone lacking musical ability or training couldn’t easily write or perform music like that of Morbid Angel for instance, but then some forms of expression don’t require that level of instrumental skill. Furthermore, technical ability is absolutely worthless if lacking any idea of composition. I think someone who has no real technical ability as such, may nevertheless still have an innate (possibly an unrealised, subconscious) understanding of melody and form, and thus be able to create good music. I don’t understand why it is that low technical skill is nearly always seen as a valid criticism by those who “know about music”. It’s like with these lists you see of “100 greatest guitarists ever”, ok, but how many of them made music that you actually give a shit about? Darkthrone were quite talented musicians but their best music isn’t hard to play to say the least. I bought a new guitar recently (an ostentatious act for me, but the model is not in itself ostentatious) and tried it out in the shop beforehand. I suppose that people usually have a long, showy masturbation session in music shops when trying out new instruments, but I just wanted to see how it felt to play and so on. I’ve never really wanted to drastically improve my playing skills, not through laziness or lack of ambition but because I actually fear losing my unfettered ability of expression. Over time I’ve improved gradually anyway as is natural, but I’m fond of the lack of refinement and “first take” freshness that can be found in recordings of people like Ildjarn or old Mutiilation. It lends a certain immediacy that becomes integral to the overall effect that the song produces upon the listener. For me it’s similar to the curious power of crude woodcut illustrations, which although primitive, nevertheless convey what is intended. I’m not advocating the old punk rock ethos of “anyone can have a go”, because plainly, not everyone has what it takes to create something meaningful or worthwhile. Indulge me and allow me to quote a favourite passage from a controversial figure of 1960′s England; “practically everyone believes they could write a book or compose a song if only they put their mind to it. They believe this simply because they can easily comprehend the finished products of others. It is not until they attempt the act of creation themselves that they become aware of their own limitations, lack of imagination, abysmal powers of self-expression and how unaccustomed they are to thinking deeply about anything at all. Becoming aware of the vast gap that exists between understanding and personal creativity – and the intellectual effort required to capture and express a complex idea in simple terms – is humiliating”. Technical prowess as such doesn’t necessarily hinder the creation of (good) art, but stupidity and a lack of anything to say certainly does. Just look at the music section of myspace.
black metal and ambient music seem similar in their use of layered motifs over a drone or constant beat in which syncopation is de-emphasized.

Is this from a similar world-outlook, or is it a megatrend passing through our time to aim for atmosphere instead of discrete conclusions?

In the first place that’s a really interesting hypothesis which makes a lot of sense to me, but I’m not sure if I know the answer to your question. I don’t really think that a similar world outlook necessarily leads to similar artistic output other than in terms of meaning, so it’s possible that intelligent artists who have something to communicate gravitate towards creating music that they feel speaks to the ancient man who finds himself living in the modern world.

EMIT has emitted (forgive me that) a series of releases, seeming with each to move farther from black metal in form and closer to black metal in spirit. Is that assessment correct? What has engendered this progression?

I think you’re right. With the Hammemit album, there are no percussion elements, no distorted guitar and mostly clean vocals. In previous releases there’s been a fair amount of variation with clean and distorted guitar, but ironically, I wanted to free myself from the conventions of what I used to do by limiting myself to a bare minimum as far as possible. It focused my mind and let me get to the core or essence of what I’ve already been doing for years. I believe I’m getting closer to an ideal stylistic approach, which has taken some time to reach. Now it’s a matter of utilising the approach in the most effective way possible.

When we speak of evil in music, what is its value? Is literal evil meant, or a mockery or evil, or is the metaphor being overloaded to take on new meanings? Are they recapturing the word “evil” like hip-hop groups have recaptured racial epithets? And finally, have you encountered any music you consider “evil” in the definition of your choice?

It seems to depend on whom you speak to. The religious bands of today mean literal evil in the biblical, moralistic sense. So-called “pagan” bands use the word as if to say “christianity turned our gods into devils”, recapturing the word, as you suggest. Overtly blasphemous bands like Havohej take delight in mocking the dualism and entire concept of evil with their crudely effective lyrics and stance. I don’t think I’ve come across any music that I find actually evil, only music seeking to portray that which is generally considered evil, and that isn’t the same thing as “evil music”. I said in another recent interview how I’ve never seen death and black metal as being much concerned with blaspheming, but rather praising or aspiring towards the numinous. That’s what I’ve always endeavoured to do with Emit and will continue to do with Hammemit.

Do you believe music should be mimetic, or reflect what’s found in life, or ludic, and show a playfulness with life that encourages us to experience it in depth? Do the two ever crossover?

When I listen to Hammemit, what comes to my mind is the moors, woods, rural churches, stone circles and ancient places of England as I know it. It encapsulates what I begin to think about when visiting or visualising them, and I believe that music ultimately is an artistic manifestation of thoughts and ideas. For instance, the guy from Absurd used to say that black metal was “listenable ideology”. Taking this further, I would even say that music could be broken down to something like computer language, a series of 1′s and 0′s which look like gibberish but can be understood if you have sufficient knowledge or have trained yourself over time. If you look at guitar tablature, it’s basically a series of numbers telling you where to put your fingers on the fretboard, but when you follow this on an instrument it creates something which we can understand, much like 111110010100110001111 might be code that forms a program for a computer. So if you translate thoughts and interpretations of the world around you into music, it could be said that you’re creating a program which allows other people to experience those same ideas and thoughts. I dare say this makes the whole artistic process seem less “magical”, but I like to try to get to grips with the mechanics of how important phenomena work.

I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who make things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole: some day I wish to be only a Yes-sayer.

- F.W. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

When you create music, do you narrow your perspective to find what you seek to express in life, and then translate it back to sound? Do you feel others do this? What are the ways an artist can approach the task of making art?

I feel I’ve sort of answered this above, but certain noise music to me, sounds like the breath of woodland in a heavy wind or even birdsong, if I’m in the right frame of mind. I’m not sure I’d actually call it music as such, in all fairness, but it’s interesting to think of these mechanistic, artificial sounds interpreted back into naturalistic ones, as if being reclaimed. Trees smashing Isengard. Any artist who wants to communicate something worthwhile will choose a form which he or she thinks is most suitable (and personally enjoys themselves). Usually I’d imagine it’s pretty much intuitive, not so much a conscious choice. I don’t know how other people might go about creating music or writing or whatever, but speaking for myself, it stems from a desire to encapsulate that initial inspiration and rush of ideas and feeling. It’s “just” a matter of working out a way in which to best make it communicable. Not being unique, I suppose this must be how it is for many others, as well.

What influences from the world of ambient music were inspirational for you?

The sound of nearby church bells, rain on the rooftops and wind in the trees is perhaps the greatest ambient music I’ve heard and has influenced me more than anything else. Some have said that the Hammemit album reminded them of work by Brian Eno and he is indeed quite a visionary, though I wouldn’t agree that he was much of an inspiration to me. I like Tangerine Dream a lot, and anything that I like a lot tends to be assimilated somehow into what I do, but there’s no conscious influence from them either. My music is mainly based around the guitar, so two particularly inspirational guitarists for me would be Snorre Ruch (of Thorns) and John Dowland, the latter being a lutenist rather than guitarist but the principle is similar. I think my influences are more in terms of ethos and aesthetic than anything concrete in form.

Like many others, you were influenced by the black metal movement coming out of Norway in the early 1990s. What did you see in that movement that inspired you artistically?

I saw another movement like that of the Pre-Raphaelites for whom “the past is alive”. The music, image, ideas and actions transcended the mundane shit of day-to-day life in the modern world, touching on things deeply buried. “How beautiful life is, now when my time has come”, sounds like a line Mishima might have written. Most black metal bands of today in comparison remind me of the difference between Dead Can Dance and fucking Cocteau Twins. In other words, idiots tell me that if I like Dead Can Dance, I’ll also like these other clowns, but I DO NOT.

The long, long road over the moors and up into the forest–who trod it into being first of all? Man, a human being, the first that came here. There was no path before he came. Afterward, some beast or other, following the faint tracks over marsh and moorland, wearing them deeper; after these again some Lapp gained scent of the path, and took that way from field to field, looking to his reindeer. Thus was made the road through great Almenning — the common tracts without an owner; no-man’s land.

- Knut Hamsun, Growth of the Soil (1917)

Do you have any personal ideologies? Do these inform your approach to your music? Do they provide a groundwork for the content of your music?

I once began to distrust this word “ideology”, in black metal especially it became a word used to say whether a band was “true” or not. People began to talk about “ideological black metal”, which was used to draw a line between bands who stood for something and those newcomers or fakes who stood for nothing but making scary music to amuse themselves. But unfortunately in trying to emphasise the difference, a lot of bands started becoming overtly politically affiliated as if trying too hard to prove they had something serious and important to say. For example, the Polish bands of the mid-90s did this more and more as they saw the Norwegians becoming less interesting musically and much less radical in their statements and so on. I think it was good and necessary to start with, because the normal people refused to listen to politically-incorrect music like that of Veles or Graveland and stuck with safer bands. I gather that people even sent Veles CDs back to the record label because it had the word “aryan” printed in the booklet. It created a refreshing and stimulating, iconoclastic environment similar to that of the original outbreak. But there was a point where overt nationalism and political-incorrectness became sloganeering or even protest music and that’s where I lost interest. The point is that ideas don’t need to be expressed through some existing political party/system, or so obviously. It’s just cheap and vulgar and only appeals to idiots. To be silly for a moment, Hitler wouldn’t have listened to WAR88 but he might have given later Graveland a try. My own music says, “I would prefer to see a million people machinegunned than a forest put to the chainsaw to make room for their ugly houses”, but that isn’t the title of the album.

Do you believe objective reality exists?

Tell a class of schoolchildren to look out of the window and draw a specific tree and they’ll all draw something “treelike”. Therefore you can say that objective reality exists. But each child will probably come up with various subjective interpretations of the tree. Most will try and copy it as exactly as possible (and become frustrated when they fail to do so accurately), perhaps some will try and capture the spirit of the tree, others will not observe at all and draw a generic tree, etc. Personally, I always tried to be faithful to the object in question taking meticulous care over tiny details, usually running out of time and leaving it incomplete. Sometimes I found that when translated to paper, objects looked wrong, even though they had been accurately rendered, so I’d stop looking at what I was drawing and improvise or add what I wanted. I began to think at an early age, in the simple way that children do, that reality is something which although the same for everyone, reveals more to some than it does to others. It was hard not to feel superior when faced with the fact that those around me seemed totally blind to all but their most immediate surroundings. I find it stupid when people say their music is “inspired by nature”, because it seems to me that in nearly every case, they mean a picture postcard version of nature. They see nothing beyond the obvious, they just like the “dark atmosphere” of forests or the “inspiring” sight of distant mountains (what does it inspire them with I wonder). They might as well paint a drab watercolour picture because what they see around them has already been handily interpreted for them by TV and other mass media. We learn to interpret life vicariously through other people, so that when stood in a forest you should feel X, Y or Z, because that’s the limit of human understanding so why bother thinking any different. What’s the difference between visiting Stonehenge or a desert and watching some slickly edited footage of them on TV? I may see the same things such people do, but for all intents and purposes I’m not even on the same planet, my experience of life is not the same at all.

What consciousness if any exists to the cosmos? If one does exist, does it infuse you with a sense of purpose?

Well I certainly believe in a consciousness to the cosmos. But I don’t believe that you need the church or any organised religion as intermediary. In meditations and in my whole life I’ve tried to understand even a tiny piece of this existence and wondered often, and thought deeply about all of creation and the point of it all. My beliefs in recent years have more or less followed ancient gnostic ones, as I felt the closer you got to the beginning, the nearer you got to the truth, in opposition to modern thought, where it’s believed that with each new technological progression you come further to the truth and some ultimate, elusive satisfaction. In modern society people believe that with each passing second the world naturally progresses in a linear way. Well, it’s not “natural” that we should have an industrial revolution at a certain time and I don’t think all progression is necessarily good, or indeed real progression at all. If there’s an alien civilisation out there somewhere, it’s unlikely that they’d have developed the same as we’ve done. Terms like “the Stone Age” are very misleading. Having contemplated life in the modern world it’s very easy to conclude that absolutely everything is stacked against the deep thinking, spiritual person. When you come to this point it’s also very easy to think about suicide and I’ve had periods (now forever in the past) where I’ve vaguely entertained the notion. When I was younger I used to go on walks and towards dusk smell the summer air, listen to the last birdsong and I felt something huge missing within. I had no idea what this “something” was nor any idea of how to discover what it was, but it gave me a direction to strive towards. People always tell me that I think about things too much, but then I’m a spiritual person and contemplation seems to be a key to understanding. The consciousness (what people used to call god) that exists within and without this cosmos (and therefore us) does indeed infuse me with a sense of purpose. I think that changing yourself even at a solely physical level is not something as insignificant as it might seem, because everything is interconnected so such a change is nothing short of altering the entire universe piece by piece. Believing in the interrelation between microcosm/macrocosm as I do, I wonder how anyone can believe that the universe and cosmos will exist indefinitely. Is there any example in nature that suggests this is likely? Every living thing is just a miniature cosmos in itself, so therefore if every living thing has to die at some point, the cosmos itself must have to “die” as well. I personally don’t believe in death as a finite and permanent thing, but as a change in existence, energy moving elsewhere or eventually returning to the source. Worshipping death and the ultimate Death of everything in the way that I describe, makes existence tolerable by virtue of considering its otherwise total worthlessness. Life would be pointless without death after all, but Death still exists without life. It is therefore, the ultimate and oldest form of existence, coming both before and after material manifestations. Energy can’t be destroyed, it has to go somewhere and originate from somewhere, so death is evidently not a total nothingness in the way we might understand the word, despite not being able to comprehend it. There isn’t a dualism between death and life, death is actually a continuation of life in a different (higher) form. I don’t mean an afterlife as such in the sense of “heaven”, but I believe in continuation in different forms, though it isn’t comprehensible to us. You can say that as you can’t remember anything from before your birth, why should after death be any different? Well I imagine it isn’t, but non-awareness only means non-existence in the form that we know. Let’s say the cosmos came into being when it first became aware that it existed. On a microcosmic level, using a biblical metaphor, the first humans became aware when tasting the forbidden fruit and thus realised they were naked. Before that they still existed but were unaware of themselves as entities in their own right. Therefore going back to the cosmos as a whole, one can tentatively suggest that the cosmos existed before it came into physical manifestation, despite there being apparently “nothing”. Zero is still a digit (and a relatively recent concept at that), and there are also minus numbers, meaning you can go further back than nought. Death is a realm separate from the material one, therefore it isn’t possible to experience it by means of the senses or even deep thought – it’s outside of humanity. But it is real.

Nihilists tend to break the world into two groups, those who are looking forward in time toward something intangible that constitutes a purpose, and those who lack any such abstract goal so are focused on the tangible, both in physical and mental construct. Have you observed anything of this nature and, if so, what is it?

When you first look around at the world that surrounds you, you’ll obviously only see the immediate – buildings, people, trees, stars etc. Once you recognise these things and begin to file them away in your mind, you start to allocate meaning to them from further associations that link them and a million other things together build up into a massive network of meanings, memories and so on. Taking everything at face value would mean that none of these things you’ve observed have any intrinsic value whatsoever, other than those which you’ve learned or been conditioned to accept. You would understand for instance, that the paper notes used for currency, or even the shiny yellow metal called “gold”, are not worth anything, apart from the value society has given them. And so-called “human rights” is a meaningless, purely politically expedient concept. You’re then faced with a very difficult dilemma. You can either create or accept an existing mythology to explain the world you find yourself struggling to understand, or believe that you’re on your own and have been left to your own devices. Strangely, following on from gnostic beliefs, I’m actually somewhere in the middle, ha ha.

One of the fundamental divisions of our society is whether or not it can accept relativity. some turn it into relativism; others deny it and insist on “objectivism,” which is a rather rigorous form of scientific Social Darwinism. What do you think unites methods of relativity in linking together phenomena, and the human desire to make life easy and tangible and have us each perceive that reality is as we desire, even if contrary data exist?

It’s true that people prefer to see things as they’d like them to be, and hide away from what they really know is out there. That’s why D E A T H is such a taboo that people give it all these innumerable euphemisms. It obviously sounds like a much easier and “fairer” life if everyone decides to agree to disagree, because it means less conflict and less of people’s feelings being hurt. Unfortunately for utopia, people have a tendency of saying “no, we’re absolutely right in our beliefs, and you are heretics/infidels/cretins/gay for believing otherwise, and now we want to kill you”. You’ll often hear politicians and their ilk talking about how everyone should be able to live in harmony, not afraid to believe in whatever they want to believe in. Although of course, these same people will later go on to say they’re declaring war on another country to fight for what’s “right”. Opposing beliefs and ideas are always going to cause tensions when confronted with another, because to admit that they’re “both right”, or that “no one is wrong” is an admission of uncertainty and lack of faith in your convictions. It’s also blatantly stupid because both parties know that in truth, either one or both of them are utterly wrong. It’s like saying you know for certain that grass is green but accepting that some people think it’s blue. I believe that falling trees make a sound in the forest even if no one’s there to hear them, and that the world exists outside of our perception. It will still be here when I die. As usual, what unites all these things is a fear of death. The world is a frightening place if you suddenly take away everything that shields you from it. That’s why people allow themselves to be led down the garden path, willingly oblivious to the forest that lurks at its carefully trimmed and cultivated edges.

Did black metal die, and if so, what killed it and, has ambient/electronic music gone through similar cycles?

Everything has to die. I feel that like the world itself, black metal could have remained something brilliant, but stupid, shallow people and commerce ruined it. Concerning black metal (but not only that), I think most people including many who “were there” only see an idealised version of reality. Basically they see a relatively brief outburst of creativity and good intentions contained as a single neverending era and not as a finite period of innovation witnessed over time, followed by noticeable decline and inevitable death. I imagine citizens of the Roman Empire in its last days felt that way. Maybe Americans feel like that. People need a sense of continuity and belonging in order to feel secure and black metal is now a boring youth subculture like any other, not an evolutionary artistic movement. It’s about clothes, symbols, scene orthodoxy and total lack of substance for the most part. It’s hard to admit that the dream is over, that something has come to the end of its lifespan. The people who refuse to recognise that are usually those with the most to gain from its continuation and such people are dangerous because they prevent real progress from being made. But those who do acknowledge it are the first to rise from the ashes and forge something new. When an old, beautiful and much loved building falls down, the average guy says “I’ll rebuild this building, it’ll not be quite as good as before but it’ll keep the spirit of the old building alive”. But a radical, visionary architect says “I’ll rebuild this building, and I’ve a few ideas of my own this time”. However there are quite a few people out there who think of themselves as doing something new and original, but who actually aren’t. Playing a saxophone or tambourine or banjo or flute in a black metal context doesn’t necessarily make you a creative genius (in fact I’m damn sure it doesn’t). To cite an example I’ve used before, Darkthrone were obviously a positive evolution from Bathory and Celtic Frost, and to continue the architectural metaphor; are the difference between doric and ionic columns. In other words you don’t need to do anything completely new to be original, you just need to look at what came before in a new light, which is easier said than done of course.

What’s the status of EMIT, and when do we hear new material? What inspired this new material?

Emit has evolved into Hammemit; modern music for mediaeval sensibilities, by which I mean intended for those desensitised to the general chaos of modern life yet retaining a certain spiritual awareness and closeness to the world. The new direction isn’t a sudden development but a gradual progression where I began to lean more towards the calmer works than the noisier ones. The more consistent approach which can be seen in the Hammemit album stems from deep and prolonged contemplation flowing over into a group of connected lyrics. These lyrics really opened the way into a new holistic conception and execution of my musical work. I hope that as many people as possible will read the lyrics and that some will feel a deep affinity with the music, because I know that other people look at the world in the same way that I do. My intention is that people should feel the way I felt when I read “The Centaur” by Algernon Blackwood – that they’d found a kindred spirit. I feel I should elucidate further as Mr. Blackwood isn’t well known anymore, though I believe he deserves to be. He used to be quite a popular figure in his time, and would read his stories on BBC radio and even appeared on the then new cursed medium of TV (when it was basically still radio but with pictures). Yet his books are mostly out of print nowadays and his best works can generally only be found in secondhand bookshops or not at all. Lovecraft was a fervent admirer of his work, though this wasn’t reciprocated and Lovecraft’s writing unfortunately is largely still seen as pulp trash while Blackwood’s is just forgotten. His one major attempt at fully explaining his worldview came with a full-length novel, the aforementioned “The Centaur”. His preferred medium was the short story and it becomes readily apparent when reading it, but despite its very occasional failings as literature, I found it interesting and even exciting reading. What he proposed was not new, but the manner in which he set about describing the idea that the world was a living being and everything living on it were part of one entity, made it sound like perfect sense. This being because I could clearly identify with the two main characters, both of whom seemed to articulate exactly what I myself thought and had constantly struggled with. Blackwood would have as a basis for many of his stories a central character who was enthralled so much with primal nature that they “risked” being consumed by it utterly. This is best seen in his short stories such as “The Trod”, “The Touch of Pan”, “The Man Whom the Trees Loved” and of course “The Centaur”, all of which I recommend reading. As I said, I hope to do with music and lyrics what Blackwood did with his writing, I feel a real calling to do so.

If you were able to make an album that would be given mainstream radio airplay, would you choose to make your music closer to mass tastes but subversive, or attempt to wallop people with something very far from current mass tastes?

I wouldn’t do anything different from what I’m doing now. Why would I want to water down what I do in order to get the interest of shallow people who have nothing in common with the meaning of the music? I’d just be wasting everyone’s time. Look at Dissection and their “Reinkaos” album or Watain’s new one. Why even bother? Seeds on barren rocks. Good luck to them if they think their message will be spread further by simplifying ther music, but I’d rather not pander to the lowest common denominator. I don’t see myself as some supreme and elite being, not through modesty but through thinking about it. I aspire to better myself and to achieve certain goals, and I look at myself therefore as what a human should be like, it’s those falling under that who are below human. There’s only human and underhuman, everything else is aspiration for now. I understand the limitations of the masses and know that difficult concepts are totally beyond them, not always beyond their capacity to understand, but certainly beyond their attention span. The masses are guided by base instinct and self-interest and to make them otherwise is impossible. It’s easy to trick them into believing that something bad for them is actually good for them and vice-versa. As long as they think it serves their own interests they’ll be happy. They’re mere empty vessels who’ve allowed themselves to become corrupted and mindless, a bit like Tolkien’s orcs or the zombies from “Dawn of the Living Dead”. Their greatest and apparently only desires are to eat/consume, fuck and destroy everything beautiful. The individual I quoted earlier once said that serial killers acted the way they did because they were either consciously or unconsciously deeply aware of time passing by and wanted to take action while they could, to live each moment as much as possible and push the limits of experience. The masses are not in the least aware of time passing them by, they don’t think death will happen to them. They imagine an afterlife paradise where all their sickening desires and lusts will be fulfilled for them, so might as well sit and wait for it. A consolation for me is that they will all eventually be reclaimed, as into an amorphous jigsaw with billions of missing pieces…

DEATH DEATH

If you seek the kernel, then you must break the shell. And likewise, if you would know the reality of Nature, you must destroy the appearance, and the farther you go beyond the appearance, the nearer you will be to the essence.

- Meister Johannes Eckhart

Interview: Wolves In The Throne Room

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The air rings with bloviation about “green” plans and, since black metal has always endorsed a naturalistic outlook, it’s natural to look here for some ideas on this topic. Like all ideas who are coming, it remains extremely controversial when it goes beyond the somewhat prosaic task of buying LED light bulb replacements. We were able to encounter Wolves in the Throne Room 150 feet above the ground, where they were conducting a tree-sit to stop loggers from cutting down the remaining Kirk Johnson pine in North America to make it into anal splints. They kindly answered some questions and gave their thoughts on black metal, art, environmentalism and the problem with metal fans.

In your mind, is there a difference between morality and pragmatism?

That being said, I’ll do my best to engage with your question.Let me first say that I have little knowledge of philosophy and don’t really have interest in such matters. Much like the occult mumbo-jumbo that serves to obscure simple and self-evident metaphysical realities, philosophy is often a distraction from that which is right in front of one’s face. The mission of WITTR is to work within the realm of a primal spirit. It is through the accessing of our intuition and deeper selves that our paths are chosen.

I associate pragmatism with the bland drivel spouted by Dewy and Rorty. This has nothing to do with anything I’m interested in. Maybe you use the word in another fashion?

I would define morality as a culture’s system of vices and virtues. I tend to think that the “right” way to be is, indeed, a transcendent constant. We see manifestations of this transcendent morality in every culture that has ever existed, the obvious exception being our own materialistic and short sighted mess.

On the other hand, part of my thought process and part of the mission of WITTR is to explore the idea of evolution. Within the antagonism between the “establishment” and the avant garde lays a powerful spirit of creativity and dynamism. The life I have created for myself is an odd mix of the radically evolutionary and the ancient and time-worn. I would posit that the spirit of ANUS and of Metal culture is no different. Our ventures are absolutely of the now and are our own creations.

Orthodox Black Metal says to us that things have always been a certain way – tribal, place based, caste based, etc – and we must smash modernity and return to this ancient and established way of living. But is this necessarily so? The great contradiction of Black Metal is that it urges acceptance of fear and suffering but is afraid of an utterly new possibility. The spirit of Black Metal is represented in the artwork on Burzum’s albums: apparitions of a time long gone, ghosts pulling the living into the ancient and the desiccated world of the ancestors.

Evolution and growth are biological and metaphysical constants. Rarely in nature do we see lifeforms benefit from stepping backwards. ANUS seems to assert that the lens of nihilism strips away modernist humanistic morality in order to reveal that which is timeless and transcendent. It is not that easy. I think it is possible to make a choice to accept some things from the premodern, heroic worldview and to reject others. As modern people we are in a unique and precarious position. It is the role of artists to define the possibilities.

Skimming the writings on the ANUS site, which I found interesting and thought provoking, revealed a classically conservative worldview which, if manifested in a political reality, would have little room for transgression or evolution. This is no utopia I would care to live in, or help bring about.

This is why WITTR refuse to align ourselves with “right wing” (or left wing) ideologies. The actual reality of the totalitarian, right wing state is not one of peaceful country farms carrying on in time-honored fashion and vibrant urban centers bustling with art and philosophy. It an utterly modern situation of chauvinistic nationalist frenzy, thuggish bullying and simple mindedness. Liberal democracy and fascism are both outmoded political systems that need to be left behind. The idea of returning to the premodern heroic world through modern political means is not an option.

What distinguishes art from entertainment, and if they overlap, is there a difference in goals between the two?

Art expresses the transcendent and, I think, has a spiritual dimension – intentional or not. It has a reality that echoes through time. I am a believer in the otherworld, a reality that lies beyond the veil. Art affects change on this other reality.

I think that art can exist independent of the culture that created it, whereas entertainment is more closely bound to the ephemeral and transitory moment.

Do you think a genre of unpopular “popular music” like death metal and/or black metal can be a form of art?

Sure. I think we are having this discussion because we agree that black metal -sometimes- expresses truths that lie beyond fashion and the politics of the local scene. WITTR come at black metal as outsiders who are interested in “art”, not scene politics. It so happens that the art one finds in BM resonates with the other things that I do.

Nothing is permanent: certainly not the frozen images of barbarous power with which fascism now confronts us. Those images may easily be smashed by an external shock, cracked as ignominiously as the fallen Dagon, the massive idol of the heathen; or they may be melted, eventually, by the internal warmth of normal men and women. Nothing endures except life: the capacity for birth, growth, and renewal. As life becomes insurgent once more in our civilization, conquering the reckless thrust of barbarism, the culture of cities will be both instrument and goal.

- Lewis Mumford, The Culture of Cities (1938)

Does art have an obligation to morality? To pragmatism?

No. Black Metal, in its Satanic incarnation, must advocate for anti-morality. Going well beyond the romantic yearning for a dark, wild and feral world conjured by Burzum or Ildjarn, Satanic BM demands that we pour chemicals into the oceans, smear ourselves with feces, murder our neighbors and rape the pope. This Satanic, insane music is still “Art”. Even in a utopia, there would be a place for Art that represents the insane and the evil because these things are a part of the universe.

As someone who is interested in survival for myself and my friends, and who is interested in ecological things, I think that it is virtuous – moral – to keep a well ordered farm, rotate the crops, kill the animals with kindness and respect, help out my neighbors, etc… For this reason WITTR are often disparaged as “traitors” who do not work for the destruction of all life. I have heard that we receive quite a buffeting in the internet chat-rooms from 14 year old chronic masturbators and has-been methamphetamine addicts.

Do you think heavy metal has a distinctive worldview different from that of “normal” people? is worldview a grounding to an ideology, and can art have either? Do you think the worldviews and or ideologies of artists shape the kind of music they produce?

Worldview is everything, for it provides the metaphysical architecture upon which the art is hung. I think that we would agree that banal pop music created by the accountants at major record labels is just as much a manifestation of a worldview and an ideology as music, such as Black Metal, that is a more (self?) conscious expression.

I cannot say whether heavy metal people have a distinctive worldview. From reading material on your website I gather that ANUS posits the idea that Metal is somehow a manifestation of the long-lost heroic spirit. I don’t think there is a higher percentage of intelligence among metalheads than among any other population.

ANUS does a good job of placing metal, music that is often created by boneheads, into a coherent philosophical system that venerates traditional heroic values. However, metal could be interpreted in many other, less positive, ways. I see most metal as the pathetic mental ejaculation of marijuana addled morons.

On the whole, I am quite dismissive of the idea that metal – as a worldview and ideology – should be something to base ones life on. For me, the proof is in the pudding. Most hessians are deeply engaged with bands and fanzines (or chatrooms) and leather jackets. Often the philosophy and music is very engaging and powerful, but the focus of the hessian life usually becomes myopic and limited.

Like punk, metal is a way to introduce radical ideas that call into question the assumptions that society is governed by. I think that the ideology of Watain or G.G. Alin is not useful as roadmap for future action.

I would rather seek the heroic spirit everywhere – old hippies, bikers, rednecks… It is really more about the individual. To say that metal culture – which, indeed, has this certain romantic spirit – is the best or only way to confront our modern reality makes no sense to me. The underlying worldview which must become common to all people, if our race is to survive, is that humans must see themselves as a part of the greater biosphere. The indo-European warrior culture that ANUS sees represented in Metal is only one possible manifestation of a worldview that creates wholeness.

In the past, members of Wolves In The Throne Room have spoken pejoratively of black metal, and especially the exoteric, buy-a-CD-and-join mentality that has characterized the genre since it became popular in the late 1990s. This seems to parallel past cycles in metal’s history, where a few inventors created and then a decadent mass took over. Does this parallel any developments in human history as well? Is this a repeated pattern, an entropy, or is it something that can be changed from within? If there is a metallic rebirth, how will the genre once again escape the horde? Must things die to be reborn?

I am not convinced that those who have created innovation in the metal genre are superior human beings – they are certainly not in the neighborhood of a philosopher-king! Looking at Black Metal, I think we see a rather spoiled group of rich kids hailing from the richest and most spoiled nations on earth fucked up on methamphetamines and alcohol. Their creative nihilism is the contemporary of all of the angry, bitter and alienated music created – rightly – by youths in modern societies. The validity of the art in BM has little to do with “genius”, in that genius, by definition, is something that one is born with. I see the founding Black Metal groups as unknowing conduits for dark, wild otherworldly energies.

Do you think death metal musicians converge on the genre because it sounds like thoughts or worldviews, and if so, does this produce any compatibility between views?

Yes. I think that the intent of the artist is encoded in the music. We are moved by metal because it expresses an ancient, feral, wild, noble spirit. My problem is that what draws many people to metal is the fantasy aspect. Though one might be moved by Burzum on an emotional level, it is quite something else to make drastic changes in ones life because of that experience with the music. What would it mean to be forced to live by the system of virtue and vice that is suggested by Metal music? The hessian worldview is extreme and homogenous, but it exists in a vacuum where there is no risk of having to actually DO anything.

If one believes, as I do, that our current order is crumbling then one ought find companions who will be ready for the times ahead. I have met very few metalheads who are focused on anything beyond the fantasy- world of bands and dark imagery.

Many people have accused black and death metal musicians of being extremist, or of having a disproportionate response to the conditions of life that comes through in their excessive violent, romantic, alienated music. Do you believe these genres are extremist, or is society in extreme denial, or is there another explanation?

I think we would agree that the extreme nature of metal is a natural and warranted response to western, materialistic culture.

My problem with Metal culture is that it is usually a reaction to something, not a image of what might be. There are certainly elements in metal – veneration of a noble, heroic spirit for instance – that transcend the alienation and despair that creates the morbid and violent imagery that metal is known for.

It is a mistake to define ones self wholly as someone reacting angrily to an insane world.

Although the internet is loaded with tards, one appeal of it is that people can use computers and electrons instead of paper and physical objects. If we were to use the internet to maximum efficiency, would it change metal? Would it offset the environmental damage caused by the sheer fact of human growth?

I am not opposed to technology, but I am opposed to the use of computers and the internet in regard to black metal. Obviously I fail in upholding this principle, but I believe it to be an important notion. I think that BM is a place where we should let a more ancient spirit reign.

Stupid people then say “why do you use electric guitars”? Clearly this music is one of contradiction, struggle and striving.

Past Wolves In The Throne Room interviews have drawn a distinction between “city black metal” and a more vital, fundamental form of the genre. Is this a property of black metal, or cities? What is it about cities that makes them have a similar outlook, one that we might say is entirely human, and removed from nature, and is this why many great artists have preferred the country and unoccupied areas?

Firstly, I would say that artists tend to enjoy the company of other artists, and those artists who claim to prefer nature often spend the majority of their time in a more cosmopolitan setting. This is especially true of Black Metal. Taken as a whole, Black Metal is prone to ludicrously extreme contradiction between the radically primitivist vision of the art and the actual lifestyles of the artists. It is this chasm between art and reality in BM that I find so preposterous.

Cities are an interesting thing. I think that cities are a true expression of the luciferian, that aspect of satan which draws humans away from their source – the spiritual center which is the earth – towards a world entirely of our own creation. The laws of nature are suspended in the city and humans become weak and decadent. But it is this weakness and decadence that often spawns great art and culture. In time, these cities are destroyed and natural order is restored. This does not mean that the arrogant thrust of organized human endeavor is not valuable in its way.

Our culture has taken the idea of the city to an extreme and the crash will be all the more spectacular.

Jim Morrison sang and wrote repeatedly of a “frontier,” or a no man’s land where chaos and conflict ruled, but also open spaces were present. Was he speaking existentially, politically, or both, and how does this apply to black metal’s love of nature?

I think that he refers to the otherworld, which is the frontier of human experience that will never be colonized. In this place we are confronted with the fundamentally mysterious nature of life.

One might believe in the metaphysical “reality” of the otherworld, or see it as a metaphor for the human being’s unconscious mind. Physical frontiers – the wild west, the frozen north, deep space – are representation of this “other” plane of existence. I think it is crucial for humans to be able to have experience with these physical frontiers, with wild places. In these places we access that other(inner) world.

Black Metal is about journeying to the frontier. This is not a place where we can live and create our human world. We go there and return. Some people, often with the help of drugs, lose ones humanity by staring into that void for too long. Enveloped in a dark otherworld, the Black Metaler forgets that the human’s role in the universe to live and create.

My meditations with Black Metal are a powerful communion with forces of darkness and mystery, but I always need to turn back because I haven’t lost all hope. But I understand why one might well choose to completely loose ones self in the void.

Black metal (and heavy metal in general) seem to share many values with Romantic art and literature from two centuries ago, right before Nietzsche began writing: reverence for nature, belief in a transcendental but not dualistic life, independence from humanist morality, desire to create the beautiful and eternal, searching for truth with the self as the lens but not the focus. Do you find these prevalent in yourself and your influences, or is something else your driving force?

The melancholy yearning that characterizes the romantic outlook is, on an aesthetic level, a strong part of the WITTR vision and aesthetic, but this influence does not mean that we are driven by the same things that inspired those artists two hundred years ago.

We think that our civilization, thus the world, is on the verge of great transformation. None of us know what it will be, or even what it should be. Our greatest influence is the spirit of this age, and the struggle to find a meaningful path.

Burzum’s Filosofem, which seems the largest discernible influence on Wolves In The Throne Room, has been described by many as black metal fusing with the aesthetic of shoegaze bands like My Bloody Valentine. What do these genres have in common, and now that the fusion has occurred, how has metal’s feral atavistic idealism fused with the more personal, more “city”-like “progressive” attitudes of shoegaze bands?

Black metal can be a guide for dreaming or journeying into the unconscious. The droning, delicately nuanced soundscape created on an album like filosofem is a portal to altered states. I suppose shoegaze has this same quality, though the spiritual or philosophical dimension is quite different. Perhaps what these dissimilar genres share is a striving to touch some transcendent place by using sound and pulsing rhythm. Maybe this facet of the music is the most important thing anyway, trumping the conscious political beliefs of the musicians.

If Black Metal is trance music that opens the door to mystery, Death metal is concerned with creating a highly masculine, crystalline order that says “this is the way it is.” To use an ANAL metaphor, death metal is the orderly, beautiful, sometimes cruel vision of the philosopher-king. Black Metal expresses the dream-time vision of the shaman: mysterious, ever changing, moon-like.

For this reason, I don’t think that the warlike, tribal spirit in BM must be taken as a war cry to forge that world through the masculine process of ordered creation. BM evokes the archetype of the wild, violent war-god but it also hints at the humor of the trickster and, at its deepest level, the oceanic wholeness of the goddess.

WITTR have absolutely tempered the uncompromising feral spirit of “true” black metal. Our band attempts to express a spirit of unity and wholeness rather than the insane violence of orthodox BM. Sometimes, as individuals, we play music that channels total blackness, but not in the context of WITTR. This band has a specific vision and purpose.

Either the non-symbolizing health that once obtained, in all its dimensions, or, madness and death. Culture has led us to betray our own aboriginal spirit and wholeness, into an everworsening realm of synthetic, isolating, impoverished estrangement. Which is not to say that there are no more everyday pleasures, without which we would lose our humanness. But as our plight deepens, we glimpse how much must be erased for our redemption.

- John Zerzan, Running on Emptiness: The Failure of Symbolic Thought

If humankind emerged from nature, and natural selection, are the processes of our minds “natural”? What is the difference between human thinking and the way nature is organized?

As I age, I become less convinced that humanity is the product of a strictly mechanistic evolutionary process. I wonder more and more if humankind does not have some “special” component that has brought us to this precarious place in history. Every mythic system draws a distinction between man and animal. I am not willing to so quickly discount this intuitive truth.

In other Wolves In The Throne Room interviews, mention has been made of the notion that black metal hates civilization. Is it possible that black metal hates not civilization, but an attitude of certain stages in civilization (as described by Plato in The Republic) or possibly, a parasitic design or organization to certain civilizations? If so, how does this correlate to black metal’s hatred of Christianity and humanism/liberalism/egalitarianism?

To answer this question one must decide whether Black Metal is best seen as a political doctrine or an expression of the intrinsically mysterious and unknowable. I go with the latter.

I contend that Black Metal, at its moments of greatest insight, hates -or, at least, rejects, all civilization including those civilizations who we might consider to be noble and heroic. I don’t care for Pagan metal or Viking metal or whatever. I listen to black metal because of the dark otherworldly energy it accesses. It should be the music of the outcast, the shaman who has journeyed too deep; not the aristocrat, farmer or tradesman, who has compromised his wild spirit in order to exist in the good society.

It is true that Black Metal (along with martial-industrial and neo-folk) often expresses the spirit of a certain vision of civilization. We might call it pagan nationalism or heroic socialism or whatever. For me, though, these political visions have little to do with any reality I am interested in helping to manifest. I loath racist and chauvinistic right wing movements.

Much of the Wolves In the Throne Room philosophy, like that of Rudolf Steiner, focuses on a primal integralism between thought, nature and a design of civilization that permits human “freedom,” but this definition seems different from our modern political one, and applies more to spiritual-existential lack of beholdenness. This seems very similar to Schopenhauerian concepts of idealism, which state that thought and matter/energy share an organizing principle or, as Christopher Alexander calls it, a “pattern language.”

It is interesting that you mention Alexander. I am quite interested in the art of building and Alexander is one of my greatest inspirations. Alexander’s notion of the pattern language is what I mean by a transcendent morality – the successful building or city represents the unity of the universe and man, everything in its place reflecting truth and wholeness.

If intelligence determines what thoughts we can perceive, and those thoughts determine what values we can discover, is there some form of cutoff point before which people cannot perceive the necessity of, say, deep ecology?

There is no clear link between smart people and good ways of living. The worst things in our world have been created by geniuses. The idiots are just along for the ride.

In his book Reverence, Paul Woodruff describes a new way of looking at life that takes into account the multiple forces present at any stage to create the causal present, and posits a contemplative worldview that is religious in outlook but not necessarily tied to a religion; how compatible is this with what you hope to achieve in your music?

I think this sounds right, although I would use a different vocabulary. We are interested in reviving an ancient, shamanic reality that acknowledges the hidden energies and forces in nature, among people and within cultures. We could also say that we desire contact with a spirituality reality that is unmediated by religious/political intermediaries. Maybe this is the same thing as the nihilism ANUS espouses, though the language you use doesn’t really resonate with me.

As modern civilization winds down, many people are like yourselves involved in homesteading, or setting up traditional family and town units in the countryside. Are there any aspects of civilization so far we would want to keep, such as technology or learning, and how would these be integrated into a homesteading viewpoint? will we end up like the end of ray bradbury’s “fahrenheit 451″ (which he claims is about television) where each person has memorized a book and passes along that knowledge?
I am no luddite. I have no problem with what some call appropriate technology. I can get behind the bicycle. Computers, and the vast infrastructure they require, I could do without.

If I had my druthers we would organize ourselves around bioregions. Towns and cities would be largely self governing. Ecological laws would replace our current pitiful and corrupt system of governance. We need to stop population growth. I would rather that people stay in the regions they were born in rather than be forced by economic pressures to migrate en mass into squalid slums in the worlds megalopolises. The “Freedom” that we have come to expect in this age of late capitalism would be radically curtailed.

What differentiates this vision from a “right-wing” green utopia is a rejection of brutal authoritarianism and racism. The unifying force in any new society must be a shared reverence for natural systems, not a hastily conceived race-based pagan religion pieced together from dusty relics and half-remembered stories. The intense locality that we see in Ancient culture will develop naturally. Anything else would ring hollow and quickly fall apart.

As has been discussed in previous Wolves In The Throne Room interviews, spirituality — holism, reverence, transcendentalism — and deep ecology go hand-in-hand because to look at the central organization of the world is to see the necessity of nurturing nature. These things are (as Wolves In The Throne Room members have mentioned) also central to black metal; is there an attitude in black metal, or at least in the older bands, of this contemplative looking at the world as whole that transcends human fixations, and speaks a language of nature?

For sure. Black Metal should try to operate on a nonhuman, mythic level. Myth expresses the reality of the non human world and defines man’s relationship to that world thus our relationship to the cosmos and to the divine. This stands in sharp contrast to the “city” music we have discussed earlier which is purely concerned with the petty and the transient affairs of fashion and trend.

If sound is like paint, and we use different techniques and portray different things in our paintings, what does it say when a genre sounds similar and has similar topic matter and imagery? Can the genre be said to have a philosophy or culture of its own?

I think we have already covered this. I think that we both agree that BM works within a certain spectrum of ideology that is expressed, to one degree or another, by all worthwhile BM groups.

Some have said that death metal and black metal use “narrative” composition, where a series of riffs are motifs that evolve toward a passage between states of mind for the listener. Is this true, and if so, how is it reflected in your songwriting?

Your analysis is quite accurate. We put quite a lot of work into the arrangement of our songs and records. The individual songs are quite long and the songs are conceived as part of the whole album. Drone and repetition are crucial elements in the narrative structure that we make use of. It is good to dwell in passages for a while in order to absorb the feelings conveyed in the music and atmosphere. (sidenote: I checked on the ANUS chat rooms about WITTR and was amused by the discussion. Not only are we communist faggots who should be killed, but our songs are long and boring)

The man of archaic societies tends to live as much as possible in the sacred or in close proximity to consecrated objects. The tendency is perfectly understandable, because, for primitives as for the man of all premodern societies, the sacred is equivalent to a power, and, in the last analysis, to reality. The sacred is saturated with being…Religious man deeply desires to be, to participate in reality, to be saturated with power…The completely profane world, the wholly desacralized cosmos, is a recent discovery in the history of the human spirit…Desacralization pervades the entire experience of the nonreligious man of modern societies and that, in consequence, he finds it increasingly difficult to rediscover the existential dimensions of religious man in the archaic societies.

- Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion (1957)

About our use of language

December 5, 2008 –
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Some have found the vocabulary, phrasing, etc. in our reviews to be a bit much. Here’s an alternate viewpoint:

One aspect of his generosity was that he did not simplify himself. This was partly because he sought to influence the influencers — to make conservatism morally and intellectually defensible in the elite circles where it wasn’t. He was after converts in high places.

But he paid the masses the compliment of taking their intellects seriously. He talked to them the way he talked to everyone. He dazzled them with his never-ending vocabulary, and I think this actually helped them understand what he said: They had to make sense of it before reacting.

Nat’l Review on William F. Buckley, Jr.

I’m not comparing us to this writer except to point out that if you see a big word, it’s an invitation to learn it, and by implication, the belief that you can learn it and enjoy seeing it used well.

Metal Authors

December 3, 2008 –
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Interviews with two metal journalists/authors posted December 3, 2008:

Ian Christie (author of Sound of the Beast and Bazillion Points (publisher) head)

Daniel Ekeroth (author of Swedish Death Metal)

Nice to see literate people writing about metal.

Interview: Ian Christie (metal journalist)

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We are fortunate to have Ian Christe, metal journalist and Bazillion Points editor/publisher, to join us for an interview. He has authored literally hundreds of articles on heavy metal music and several books, covering topics from death metal to Van Halen. Much of his writing studies emerging technology and underground cultures, which makes him a fit for the interviewers as well. We were lucky to catch him at the Chatsubo bar in Chiba City, Japan, for a few words about metal and the state of journalism about it.

You’ve been involved in metal and music in multiple ways for some time. How did you get into metal, and how have you been involved — books, zines, bands — with the genre?

I was thinking about this recently — I’m only moderately old now, but because I got into metal when I was extremely young I remember all this truly ancient history. During junior high school, I lived with my mom in Germany, and when I was 11-12 years old I was using my lunch money to buy Iron Maiden singles, Accept, Motorhead, Judas Priest, and Black Sabbath records. To put it in perspective, when I bought Scorpions’ Virgin Killer, with the kinky pedo cover, the high school aged girl in the photo seemed way older than me. We came back to the States in 1983, when I was 13, and I started doing radio shows at WEOS in Geneva, NY, playing Venom, Anvil, Mercyful Fate, Slayer, Voivod, and lots of lost obscure bands like Thrust, Armed Forces, and Witchkiller. That’s way upstate, but Manowar hails from there, and Metallica and Anthrax had just recorded their debut albums in that area. It was definitely a metal hotbed. I got plugged into the underground through that, bought some Nasty Savage and Hirax demos, and advertised my show in ‘zines like the great Kick*Ass Monthly.

We moved to Indiana in 1985, and it was culture shock. I had long hair, wore a bullet belt, and listened to Destruction, and suddenly I was surrounded by kids unaware of anything beyond Motley Crue and Aerosmith. So out of necessity I got into tape trading, and got into intense bands like Voor, Cryptic Slaughter, Genocide/Repulsion, and of course Death. I skipped school in the spring of 1986 to go see Metallica opening for Ozzy Osbourne, the big moment for underground metal going mainstream, and ended up spending the afternoon goofing around with Cliff, Kirk, and James from Metallica, and also everybody in Samhain except Glenn Danzig. Those two factions were a mutual admiration society, and I was supercharged to be in the middle of it all. I was inspired to start a fanzine after that, IAN Mag, which I titled after myself so I could cash the checks. That lasted through 1988.

I don’t mean to ramble on about all this archaic stuff, but everything I’m talking about is the basis for what I’m still doing as a mature, respectable, gone-legit headbanger. I was basically on a metal mission for the entire 1980s. In the 1990s, I got into different things, learned about the world, and developed as a writer by working in DC, New York, and freelancing for magazines like Wired, Spin, and so on. When it came time to write Sound of the Beast, I fused the professional side to the passion for metal. In fact, I remember my proposal for the book came with a stack of clips that started with the New York Times and ended with an old letter from Dave Mustaine.

As far as music goes, I’ve had a string of very fulfilling projects of every kind ranging from bluegrass to Glenn Branca’s guitar army. I’ve toured Europe and South America performing a kind of musique concrete with a modern dance company. So all of that came together in the crazy Dark Noerd the Beholder dark technology metal project — which sounded pretty bizarre and extreme in 1996.

What prompted your move to self-publication with Bazillion points?

Frustration in two forms. Selfishly, after working with two giant publishing houses, I was very discouraged with the corporate approach to making books. You know, it takes three months to get approval for a tiny text change on the cover, and there’s just no sensitivity for how to customize any aspect of production. With Sound of the Beast, at least I was very lucky to have an editor who was only too happy to put me in touch with the art department or promotions. He got the work off his desk, and I got to have some input, which is rare for an author. Then secondly, it’s frustrating that people like Daniel Ekeroth, Jon “Metalion” Kristiansen, or Jeff Wagner, all hugely respected in their areas of expertise, could never have a hope in hell of getting a mainstream book deal. Well, I realized I could stop complaining and do something about it. Viva Bazillion Points!

Would a DIY book publishing house such as yours have been possible 10-15 years ago?

I don’t know, I definitely wasn’t capable of figuring that out. I have to say it was possible, based on the inspiring successes in the early 90s of classic punk imprints like Henry Rollins’ 2.13.61 and Adam Parfrey’s Feral House Books. But I didn’t have the experience. And the rich earth of unpublished metal books needed time to ferment, too!

What segment of the metal audience or population in general have you seen as the most excited to read the types of books you are publishing?

I can’t answer that yet — a wider audience than you’d expect has responded to Daniel’s Swedish Death Metal book. Though the bands are pretty obscure, the experience of getting caught up in a movement he describes is universal. I couldn’t believe that Publishers Weekly gave Swedish Death Metal a starred review, and made the book its web pick of the week. In three months, Andy McCoy’s book will be out, and then I can tell you how death metal books fare compared to gypsy vagabond rock guitarist memoirs. I think the common trait of Bazillion Points books is that while they’re each very specific, they’re also very good, which is pretty exciting in itself.

Do you find metalheads to be an especially literate segment of the general population?

I don’t think metalheads consider themselves bookish, but yes I think out of necessity metalheads are rabid readers. It’s always been that way, because printed media, email, and web sites are the main lines of communication. There’s very little radio and no television exposure for metal, so metalheads end up reading countless pages of text every day to stay in touch. And metalheads can be very curious creatures — if Ulver makes a record based on John Milton’s Paradise Lost, a lot of fans will go read the book. So the end result is yes, so far Bazillion Points is succeeding because metalheads are thoughtful, thorough readers who appreciate high-quality books about things they care about that they can’t get anywhere else.

If there is in fact, a heaven and a hell, all we know for sure is that hell will be a viciously overcrowded version of Phoenix — a clean well lighted place full of sunshine and bromides and fast cars where almost everybody seems vaguely happy, except those who know in their hearts what is missing… And being driven slowly and quietly into the kind of terminal craziness that comes with finally understanding that the one thing you want is not there.

- Hunter S. Thompson, Gonzo Papers, Vol. 2: Generation of Swine: Tales of Shame and Degradation in the ’80s (1988)

The rock biography, as it is most commonly understood, is given more to sensationalism rather than “analysis” or sometimes anything even remotely musical. You’ve taken on these types of bios with Bazillion Points, including the Van Halen book and the upcoming one featuring Hanoi Rocks. Do you feel what you are presenting differs from this description, if it even matters? Is your viewpoint more coherent with how metal music views itself, or in your eyes should be viewed?

With Van Halen I was mostly interested in deconstructing the personalities and breaking down the key events of the band’s story into manageable, human-sized events. If Van Halen in their prime in 1984 seems impossibly gigantic, I wanted to show all the tiny steps and late nights of practicing that led up to that. It’s meant to humanize guys like David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen who are usually viewed on a pedestal. Andy McCoy’s book is different because he wrote it himself, and so you get to see life through his eyes. Very entertaining. And yes, I’d say my viewpoint is pretty consistent with metal’s values at least — honesty above all, fearlessness right behind.

What makes a specific musical personality even worthy of biographical depiction in the first place?

Public fascination — but that’s a chicken or egg answer, isn’t it?

Rock music is generally written about by insiders and ignored by cultural historians, and so tends to have an insular viewpoint. Since metal came from rock, it is analyzed by the same template. How does this work to describe a genre like metal that seems to want to break away from mainstream rock?

I try to have an inside-outside approach. Writing about the nitty-gritty details from the trenches, reaching out to an audience that doesn’t even realize there’s a war going on. I believe metal has universal appeal — it’s not for everybody, but within every family, clan, or social group in the world I guarantee there are people predisposed to be drawn to the flame. It’s a kind of universal elite, I guess.

You have on several occasions lambasted the use of genre-descriptive terms. However, when we speak of genres like death metal and black metal, we could be describing artistic movements that share among themselves values and methods that differ from similar “sounding” genres. Do these subgenre terms have validity in your view, and what are the limits of this validity?

I don’t think genres should be taken too seriously, and I don’t respect bands who strive to be total slaves to a pre-existing genre and its rules. But yes, the genre descriptions themselves are extremely helpful, and I’m proud that metal has spawned and cultivated so many variants over the decades. And for instance on my Sirius Radio show Bloody Roots, I’ve been picking apart different genres every week for almost five years now, so genres are very much a part of how I think about metal. But I’ll also say that with most so-called subgenres, you’re usually talking about attempts to mimic the music of one or two extraordinary bands. Like with black metal, Bathory. With thrash, Exodus. And so on.

Like rock, metal can be insular. Does it have validity as an artistic movement, and what does it contribute to culture at large? Do you view it as counter-cultural, sub-cultural or counter-counter-cultural, or some mix of the above?

Well, that’s a subject for a book in itself. It’s a form of revolution that’s widely available for a few bucks at every Wal*Mart. It’s distrustful of change, but willing to take huge risks. Metal’s fascinating still. I guess I’d consider it a vast subculture, but not really a counter-culture. Like I said in Sound of the Beast, it’s “a quest for truth in a storm of folly.”

In Sound of the Beast you took on the arduous task of compiling nearly 40 years of worldwide music history into a comprehensive volume. How much have you been itching to revisit and update it since then, and what would you like to change?

I started writing in 1999, so I’d like to thicken the 1990s years tremendously, and then explore the rebirth of metal in the 2000s. I’ve also interviewed Ronnie Dio, Rob Halford, Tony Iommi, and the Scorpions about the 1950s and 1960s, and I’d like to get some of that material out. The book is still timely, and not many of my opinions have changed. But there’s so much more ground to cover now.

Was “objectivity” a concern when you were writing Sound of the Beast, or any of your other books for that matter?

Sound of the Beast was very much a work of advocacy, to grab and secure heavy metal’s place on bookstore shelves. I was very conscious of giving a voice to the millions of fans who had supported tens of thousands of bands over dozens of years. Without losing a critical edge, it was very important to me to state the case for why metal matters, and I’m humbled and honored to say that I think the book succeeded in all those aims.

The contemporary American may have failed, like his predecessors, to establish any sort of common life, but the integrating tendencies of modern industrial society have at the same time undermined his ‘isolation.’ Having surrendered most of his technical skills to the corporation, he can no longer provide for his material needs. As the family loses not only its productive functions but many of its reproductive functions as well, men and women no longer manage even to raise their children without the help of certified experts. The atrophy of older traditions of self-help has eroded everyday competence, in one area after another, and has made the individual dependent on the state, the corporation, and other bureaucracies.

Narcissism represents the psychological dimension of this dependence. Notwithstanding his occasional illusions of omnipotence, the narcissist depends on other to validate his self-esteem. He cannot live without an admiring audience, His apparent freedom from family ties and institutional constraints does not free him to stand alone or to glory in his individuality. On the contrary, it contributes to his insecurity, which he can overcome only by seeing his ‘grandiose self’ relfected in the attentions of others, or by attaching himself tot those who radiate celebrity, power and charisma. For the narcissist, the world is a mirror, whereas the rugged individualist saw it as an empty wilderness to be shaped to his own design.

- Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism (1979)

What has been the most common criticism of your writing to date, and to what degree do you take such criticism into account?

The most common criticism of Sound of the Beast is definitely that there’s too Metallica. I needed a central character for the non-initiated readers, and as the biggest metal band ever by far, they became the common thread. But it pisses me off when people falsely claim that Metallica gets a polish job in the book — their missteps are savagely underlined, and I think about halfway through it’s plainly stated that in the 1990s they were no longer a metal band, but a rock band. Plus the one single negative reaction I got from anybody covered in Sound of the Beast was an angry phone call from Jason Newsted, so I guess he wasn’t thrilled with his moment in the sun. Some critics said the book was too positive about metal, but I sure don’t care what metal haters want to see in a metal book.

What is your opinion on the books on metal (and conclusions drawn in them) written by academics/outsiders, particularly sociologists like Deena Weinstein (Heavy Metal: The Music and Its Culture) and Natalie Purcell (Death Metal Music: The Politics and Passion of a Subculture)?

I appreciate the process and legitimacy of Deena Weinstein’s book, but it’s impossible to create a sociological overview of heavy metal as a phenomenon. Heavy metal fans reflect their surroundings, wherever you go. In a blue collar area, you get blue collar fans. In Queens, NY, you get Asians, Latinos, and blacks at shows. In Dubai, you get rich kids. I like what Katherine Ludwig says in Sound of the Beast about these generalizations: how can you classify metalhead teens as cola-chugging NASCAR fans when that basically sounds like a description of the majority of Americans? So I say the function of metal varies by country, region, and many other factors.

You recently appeared in Time Out New York and received a pretty favorable portrayal. How much have you seen metal crossing over into the indie/art scene over the years?

In recent years, I think the indie scene has been completely infected by metal. If Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth is still any kind of bellweather, he’s lately been singing the praises of Beherit — and Daniel’s Swedish Death Metal book! Fair enough, Sonic Youth influenced Napalm Death and Entombed, after all. But yeah, that Time Out profile is extremely favorable. Another humbling indication that Bazillion Points was a good idea.

What does the common characterization of metal as “violent entertainment” (akin to comic books, horror/gore movies, and true crime novels) mean to you? Are there similarities between these genres, and does this point to artistic motivations in common?

As somebody who watches an extremely violent movie pretty much every day, I think there’s a small but important difference. Metal is fascinated with war, murder, nuclear bombs, rabid dogs, and she-demons because these are all things that no society or moral code can fully explain. So all these great metal songs are small meditations on the thrills and fears of the unknown. Movies tend to take those fears and use them against you! Again — this question is another small book in itself, and I’ve already been blabbering for an hour.

How should publishers (rather than authors) be treated where controversial or questionable works are disseminated?

Only as a publisher, I’ve come to fully appreciate how much the United States protects and values freedom of the press. I know the situation is a lot different in Britain and Germany, not to mention Iran — although my friend Mahyar Dean has written books about Death and Testament in Farsi. But so far I’m happy to say I don’t have any experience with controversy. Books with giant upsidedown crosses on the cover filled with stories of underage drinking, mayhem, and teen suicide? No problems here!

You seem to have some intimate experience with New York death metal from back in the day. Have you considered writing a book on that scene similar in scope to the Daniel Ekeroth book you recently released?

No, it’s not true, I moved to New York in 1992 and for the first couple years was more interested in seeing avant garde music like Swans, Naked City, Borbetomagus, Boredoms, Sun City Girls, and Caroliner. But starting in 1994, when metal went back underground, I saw hundreds of amazing shows in New York in tiny venues, some of my best mindblowing experiences. Still, I’ll leave the epic NYDM history for Will Rahmer to write — but I’ll definitely publish it!

The Edge… There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. The others- the living – are those who pushed their luck as far as they felt they could handle it, and then pulled back, or slowed down, or did whatever they had to when it came time to choose between Now and Later. But the edge is still Out there. Or maybe it’s In. The association of motorcycles with LSD is no accident of publicity. They are both a means to an end, to the place of definitions.

- Hunter S. Thompson, Hell’s Angels (1966)

Visit Ian Christe, his books and the books he publishes at:
www.bazillionpoints.com

Interview: Daniel Ekeroth (Insision, writer)

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When the dust settles on a scene, and its formative years are over, someone needs to chronicle how the people involved got the mental and physical place where they could create that scene. Daniel Ekeroth, bassist of Swedish death metal band Insision, wrote a mighty tome in Swedish Death Metal, a book that appeals to all of us who were ever floored by the founding works of Unleashed, At the Gates, Carnage/Dismember, Nihilist/Entombed, Merciless or Therion.

You bring up the theme of the organic development of (Swedish) death metal a few times in your book, and at one point contrast it directly with the “top-down” method that you assert birthed second-wave black metal. Can you summarize what you see the strengths and weaknesses of these two “approaches” to be with regard to metal/music?

I’m not sure it has much to do with weaknesses or strengths, it’s just different. As something new grows, you never know what will come next. I guess this is kind of exciting, yet it also means that the next direction might not be your personal taste. But the same goes for the opposite situation, where you start with a formula which then transforms into something you might not expect! Even though second wave black metal started with some “set rules”, or whatever, it kind of changed pretty soon as well. And within a few years some of it was VERY far from what bands like Burzum and Darkthrone was doing in the early 90′s. So I guess everything is constantly in change, and you can never tell what will happen. And if something is to prefer over the other, I think is just a matter of taste.

This dichotomy (top-down/bottom-up) is commonly evoked in political and social theory… Do you think any parallels can be drawn between these different approaches in metal and those at broader scales?

You probably could (you can always do that), but I guess the results would be ad-hoc.

Your book has great detail on the development of Swedish death metal as a closed system, but doesn’t touch a lot on external/social stimuli that may have affected it (outside of the mention of the assassination of Olaf Palme). Is there anything else you’ve considered that may have come into play and that you may not have been able to include in the book?

I think it was a very closed system of a few kids trying to have fun, but the system was scattered around the world (South America, Florida, the UK, Finland, Germany). The conditions in the places all over the world was very different, so I don’t think you should draw to big a conclusion about the climate in Sweden. The main thing in Sweden was probably that we had a good economy, and kids could afford instruments and get rehearsal spaces.

Have you ever read any sociologists’ “outsider” accounts (books) about death and black metal? If so, do you think they are just empty academic exercises or can they offer insight?

I’ve read everything I have found, and it is always fun to read such things. Still, the conclusions is doomed to be guesses. My experience is that metal evolves in very different places, around people with very different backgrounds. Just one example: the Stockholm scene was basically made up by working class kids, whereas the Gothenburg scene was based around kids from the upper middle class.

Your editorial choice to give your personal impression of the bands and music is refreshing, as it helps the reader to understand the subject from a perspective of quality and not necessarily popularity. Were most of your assessments fully honest?

Yes. I think this is the only way to make an interesting read. Still, many opinions are of course colored by the mood I was in when I was listening to the music. Also, I might be suffering from nostalgia in a few instances.

The truth is scandalous. But without it, nothing has any worth. An honest and naive vision of the world is already a masterpiece… As you approach the truth, your solitude will increase.

- Michel Houllebecq, To Stay Alive

Most of the insider commentary gives the impression that this was just a ride for a lot of the participants, that they were swept up in a movement bigger than themselves and simply enjoying it moment-for-moment as it came. Anders Schultz’s statements make this very clear, for one. Was this true for most of those involved, in your view?

It was a very small movement, but it was just great fun to find out a few other guys interested in the same music as you. I guess this is true of just about any underground movement of any kind anywhere. People were very young you know, and most didn’t have any clue at all about the world. Anything you did back then was basically for the hell out of it!

In your experience, is it possible to recapture the mood and creative drive (not the exact feeling) of what occurred in Sweden from 1998-1993 in metal anymore?

Certainly so, but not for old geezers like me. Newer generations will find new ways. But maybe it won’t be metal next time, I couldn’t tell.

You never mention Finnish death metal a single time in your book, though they have always had a vibrant and creative death metal “scene” and sound in their own right. How much musical cross-pollination occured between Sweden and Finland?

I think the scenes operated pretty much independently, nobody I interviewed ever mentioned the Finnish scene very much (and I sure did not know anyone from Finland at the time). The Finnish scene deserves a book on its own, bands like Xysma, Demilich and Demigod sure were fantastic.

Every substance is negatively electric to that which stands above it in the chemical tables, positively to that which stands below it. Water dissolves wood and iron and salt; air dissolves water; electric fire dissolves air, but the intellect dissolves fire, gravity, laws, method, and the subtlest unnamed relations of nature in its resistless menstruum. Intellect lies behind genius, which is intellect constructive. Intellect is the simple power anterior to all action or construction. Gladly would I unfold in calm degrees a natural history of the intellect, but what man has yet been able to mark the steps and boundaries of that transparent essence? The first questions are always to be asked, and the wisest doctor is gravelled by the inquisitiveness of a child. How can we speak of the action of the mind under any divisions, as of its knowledge, of its ethics, of its works, and so forth, since it melts will into perception, knowledge into act? Each becomes the other. Itself alone is.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays: First Series

Do you think most people overlook AUTOPSY’s influence on the Swedish death metal sound, or is it overstating things to give them a big role?

They were huge in Sweden at the time, and also the first Death album has that same sludgy feeling that would characterize the original Swedish scene. Dismember would certainly not have sounded the way they do without Autopsy.

What three demo-level bands do you think would have made “history” had they recorded an album? I assume CREMATORY is one…

I would say Mefisto, Morbid and Obscurity. If these bands would have made actual records they would be far more recognized these days. But basically, most of the obscure bands from the 80′s would have been highly regarded had they made an album and gotten some attention.

Besides the emergence of black metal, was there anything else that had a ruinous effect on Swedish death metal’s vibrancy?

Age I would say! You know, people got old and faced problems with apartments, jobs, girlfriends, children and everything else concerning adulthood.

What kind of strange things occured in Sweden at the height of the genre’s popularity along the lines of ENTOMBED being featured on cheesy television programs?

Well, not very much to be honest. The “mainstream” thing has certainly been overstated. Apart from a few interviews and articles in tabloids, and the occasional review in the mainstream press, death metal basically remained underground. Black metal actually got far more attention, and was just everywhere in the mid-90′s.

Is Swedish death metal, and music like it, necessarily a youth-based movement?

Well, not any more is it? I guess today it is a genre for 30-40-year-olds. Still, the best albums have generally been made by youngsters, but this is possibly true about most genres.

Regarding youth, you mentioned multiple times in the book the sentiment that the first demo/album by any band is the best output. The fact that this feeling seems more widespread among people who actually have decent taste is enough to convince me that stereotypes are truth-based memes. Can you name some prominent exceptions to this “rule” (not necessarily limited to Swedish death metal)?

Young bands are usually hungry and use up their best riffs and ideas on their first efforts, but of course there are exceptions. Sweden’s Repugnant went out at their best, and a band like Watain is a million times better today than they were on their debut. Voivod’s third and fourth albums are far superior to their first recordings. And Grotesque’s last recording is by far their best to my ears.

What non-metal influences were most heavily represented in Swedish death metal?

Crust Punk, like Discharge. Especially the Stockholm scene was very rooted in extreme punk.

In what directions may it be possible to extend metal in the future without dismantling the essence of it?

What we need to do is to reclaim the RIFFS! Modern “metal” mainly seems like melodies and harmonies to me, whereas I always thought the riff was the thing that made it metal. Once the riff is back, I guess any direction is open for exploration. Without the riff, I am not sure we can call music metal at all…

Have you seen or read the far more obscure book of similar theme and content that was released after yours (Encyclopedia of Svensk DödsMetall)?

I visited him while he was working on it in Padova, and saw a few segments of it. I also helped him to get in contact with some bands. Still, I have not seen the finished product.

What do you strive to achieve with your own bands? Feel free to promote/summarize your musical history.

I just want to play music that I like, and make me feel good about myself. I played in many punk/progressive bands in the 80′s before I got serious with Diskonto (crust punk) and Dellamorte (death crust) around 1994. Then I joind Insision (death) in 1999, and Tyrant (black) in 2007. Today I am only a part of Tyrant, since I can’t find time for anything else. We actually sound very much like my first band, who only did Sodom and Bathory covers, so I guess my circle is closed!

Delve into the subjects that no one wants to hear about. The other side of the scenery. Insist upon sickness, agony, ugliness. Speak of death, and of oblivion. Of jealousy, of indifference, of frustration, of the absence of love. Be abject, and you will be true.

- Michel Houllebecq, To Stay Alive

Swedish death metal, in part through its sustain-heavy “fat sound” (you did a great video explaining this that showed up recently), emphasized the melodic aspects of death metal, giving a canvas for bands like Dismember and At the Gates to make melodic metal music that wasn’t “melodic” in the sense of heavy metal but interpreted it in a uniquely “death metal” style. Did this influence black metal to develop later in a more melodic direction?

I guess Dissection in particular influenced much of that melodic black metal (and death metal!) – what they did was so great. But also, I guess some of that mid-90′s black metal is so based in harmonies and melodies since the band members didn’t come from metal. They didn’t know about the riff! I am really glad for a band like Nifelheim for bringing back the riff, and that whole 80′s heavy metal touch, back into black metal.

Tusen tack för intervjun! Var snäll och påstå några sluta ord här.

Ok, thank you for your attention! I wish you all the best with all your future work!