Death Metal Underground

Status in metal

May 31, 2009 –

Part of being a metalhead is observing other metalheads. At concerts, in record stores, or in public. I was first attracted to the idea of “status,” or social rank within a community, above and beyond normal status when I observed how brazenly metalheads wore their tshirts, and how much they selected as a group by what was on each shirt.

Some guy dodging through a crowd at a metal show is going to look for a tshirt that appeals to his “type” of metalhead, and he may scorn the guy wearing the Cannibal Corpse shirt as an idiot while wanting to know the dude wearing a Demilich shirt. Your shirt signifies your taste, which signifies where you’re going in life.

Metalheads don’t like to talk about this, but each group has its goods and evils. Power metal people fear the kvlt black metal tshirt; death metallers scorn the power metal people; in black metal, your tshirt marks your political identity as well as whether you like mainstream black metal or kvlty underground stuff.

Even in social groups, metalheads tend to prefer people who share their taste in music or at least approximate it. Social networks like last.fm capitalize on this tendency among music fans in general, but among metalheads, the competition is even fiercer. If you like power metal, you may scorn black metal for its low technique. If you like black metal, you may scorn power metal for being crowd-friendly.

The first person to really bring status into the public eye was the author Tom Wolfe, who explained in social terms what sociologists tried to explain in academic prose. These definitions resonated with me as I immediately thought of metalhead status:

I was by no means the first person to get excited over Weber’s “status.” The concept was well known within the field of sociology, although it was more often expressed in such terms as “social class,” “social stratification,” “prestige systems,” and “mobility.” Six years later Weber’s terms “status-seeking” and “status symbols” began showing up in the press. Soon they were part of everyday language.

The great American sociologists of the 1950s, W. Lloyd Warner, the Lynns, August B. Hollingshead, E. Digby Baltzell, C. Wright Mills, David Riesman, were turning out studies of how Americans rated others and themselves, often unconsciously, according to race, ethnic group, address, occupation, vocabulary, shopping habits, bill-paying habits (personal checks in lump sums as opposed to installment payments in cash), bureaucratic status symbols (corner offices, fine wooden desks as opposed to metal ones, water carafes, sofas as well as chairs, speaker phones, etageres of brass and glass), education (the great divide existing between those who had bachelor’s degrees from a respectable four-year college as opposed to those who didn’t), even sexual practices. The upper orders made love with the lights on and no bed covers. The lower orders–in the 1950s–found this perverted.

Sociologists never rejected Karl Marx’s brilliant breakdown of society into classes. But his idea of an upper class–the owners of “the means of production”–and their satellites, the bourgeoisie, in a struggle with the masses, the working class, was too rigid to describe competition among human beast in the 20th century. Weber’s entirely novel concept of “status groups” proved to be both more flexible and more penetrating psychologically.

Status groups, Weber contended, are the creators of all new styles of life. In his heyday, the turn of the 19th century, the most stylish new status sphere, no more than 30 years old, was known as la vie boheme, the bohemian life. The bohemians were artists plus the intellectuals and layabouts in their orbit. They did their best to stand bourgeois propriety on its head through rakish dishabille, louder music, more wine, great gouts of it, ostentatious cohabitation, and by flaunting their poverty as a virtue. And why? Because they all came from the bourgeoisie themselves originally and wanted nothing more desperately than to distinguish themselves from it.

- Tom Wolfe, The Human Beast, 2006 Jefferson Lecture

In many ways, metal itself was a status-driven offshoot of rock. While rock musicians worshipped simple blues songs and had a hippie ideology of hedonism and universal tolerance, metal was dark and embraced the “historical” view, in which universal tolerance was a failed idea and individuals were flotsam in a sea of larger forces, ideas and ideologies.

I’ve identified three general ways that metalheads use memes, or ideas conveyed through language or image, to manipulate each other through status:

(a) Convince people their lives as they are constitute the best option for them;
(b) Convince people that by picking a “higher” form, they are raising their status;
(c) Convince people that they can raise their status by construing another group as stupid or destructive.

Included in this is “anti-status,” where one trades rising in social ranks for a desire to dive to the bottom of them in the idea that being more Satanic, more impoverished, more intoxicated, or more violent makes one more authentic or “real.” Like Bohemians, they are trying to escape the direction everyone else is going, which is heading upward to bourgeois contentment and wealth in the suburbs, so that they can be “real.”

Here’s a short list of status trends in metal:

Category A:

  • Pantera – Want to feel like your hard-working blue collar life, and hard-partying weekend lifestyle are the best it gets? Pantera affirms this through its projected masculinity, defiance and disrespect for social order. At its heart, Pantera is a revolutionary band: screw the people in charge, we’re doing fine right here, because this is our identity.
  • Venom – Venom makes people feel good about treating life like a joke. Its humorous Satanism and poppy songs convey a basic message that the world is a farce, and it’s fun to oppose it, but nothing’s really going to change so let’s hang out and praise Satan ironically. It is no surprise this band is the favorite of hipsters.

Category B:

  • Cynic and Opeth – With a single CD purchase, you can feel like a guitarist on the rise. People love Cynic and Opeth because the purchase of a few CDs gives them an excuse to feel more musically literate than others. They believe they are raising their status by going “higher” in musical complexity. At the same time, at the core of their compositions, both of these bands are very poppy and often discontinuous. This technique is valuable because it is baffling, and that allows the Opeth or Cynic fan to tell people, “You just don’t understand it” and feel smug as a result.
  • Kvlty black metal – Ever wonder why someone is listening to incomprehensible, chaotic, droning dreck that sounds like ten thousand other bands? They’re competing for anti-status by trying to pick the most obscure, violent, primitive and dirty metal they can. They frequently one-up each other in contests for naming the most obscure band, and have created a cottage industry out of recording engine noises and selling them on eBay in 7″ format.

Category C:

  • Political bands – Some band like Rage Against the Machine or Arghoslent wears their political ideology on their sleeves. The point is to find an absolute political “truth,” and to construe themselves as higher in status than those who oppose it or are ignorant of it. The main objective is to make others feel politically illiterate and thus inferior to these altruistic, seemingly wise bands. While we deliberately mention a rightist band, this phenomenon is far more prevalent among leftist bands because they are inherently altruistic.
  • Manowar – “True metal it is or no metal at all, wimps and poseurs leave the hall” says it all. Listen to Manowar, because it’s the true and authentic experience, and by definition, others are poseurs and wimps who may need beating down. Either way, you raise your status by finding the true authentic experience while others flog on in ignorance. (Note: this doesn’t mean that there aren’t wimps and poseurs out there, just that the division may not be as simple as envisioned in Manowar lyrics).

Does this make these bands any less artistic? Possibly; it varies from case to case. What it is, however, is smart marketing. You want someone to buy your product again and again, even if it’s unsatisfying? Convince them it makes them smarter than others. Most television ads work by this principle: one housewife muddles through with her broom, while another has a super-vacuum that cleans it all. Same principle.

Does this negate the truth of say, a political band? Not necessarily. However, it’s a great way to market your political ideology. Just vote for this guy, and you’re automatically smarter than others, and therefore have raised your status. Other people think they know the truth? You’ve got a higher truth, or in rare cases a lower truth (libertarian Social Darwinism zealots, raise your hands!). Either way, you’re smarter and have higher status as a result.

Status-raising products are popular because they’re easy. There’s no initiation or lengthy learning process. Instead, you find a place that has the CD, and they’re never more than two steps away from the neighborhood record store, and buy it. Some erect barriers like demanding cash only, using obscure formats like CD and tape, or even screaming fascist rhetoric at you, but still: the stuff’s for sale and they need to sell it. Ka-ching! Thanks, you’re now elite.

Socioeconomic status is not the same as status, as Wolfe points out. If “all you do is” earn a bunch of money, many people are going to view you as another ignorant bourgeois fool, unaware of the authenticity of true kvlt black metal as well as the legitimacy of popular revolt in crustcore. You may also earn very little money, but claim you’re “keeping it real” by living in violent primeval poverty with your true kvlt black metal or crustcore.

Status can also compensate for other factors. You’re starting out on guitar, and the kids who know more really shake you up. Go get an Opeth CD and ram it down their throats. They may have years on you in playing, but you figured out the game ahead of them because you’re a smarter monkey. They like Pink Floyd? Opeth and Cynic to the rescue: they’re more syncopated, technical, harmonized, or something, and that kicks your status above theirs. Take that!

By the very nature of this compensation for both socioeconomic status and ability, status is addictive. Once you buy one status-raising product, it’s not enough. Time passes; it’s not new: you need to buy another. So you do, and you keep doing it, because your identity is now wrapped up in the status-raising properties of these products. Some call it cognitive dissonance, or using status to “compensate” for real-world disappointments.

When you walk into a crowd of metalheads, and see them assessing each others tshirts and knowledge, you’re seeing a battle as old as nature: a quest for dominance. In the case of most teen metalheads, they’re just trying to grow up and emulate the adult world. But in others, especially career metalheads, you’re seeing a gambit for social power that will define their relationship to this music for life.

Blaspherian – Allegiance to the Will of Damnation

May 30, 2009 –

While most of the world has gone nuts trying to make black metal into a blasphemous yet trendy extreme, Blaspherian go back to the roots of the death metal genre. Allegiance to the Will of Damnation uses the simple riffs in complex formulations that made bands like Morpheus Descends and Asphyx favorites among the old school.

Nodding to the American punk tradition, Blaspherian also employ a number of one- and two-chord rhythm riffs that ride an unsyncopated rhythm into bounding, pummeling heaviness. Vocals resemble the occult rantings of Sadistic Intent or Resuscitator, and song pacing calls to mind the spirit of the aforementioned Asphyx. At its heavier moments, this EP will appeal to those who enjoyed early Obituary or Infester.

While it does not work to distinguish itself in style, this music gains a voice of its own by how it combines the artifacts of the past and finds a new voice for them within that style. This expression, while somewhat chaotic as first releases always are, surges forth with a voice of its own despite keeping itself firmly anchored in the old school tradition. In that, it succeeds where others have gone nuts over style and forgotten substance.

Historical perspectives on Singapore and Latin American underground scenes

May 28, 2009 –
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While the basics of black metal and death metal were mostly laid down in the basements, clubs and rehearsal rooms of USA and Europe, the interest in morbid and extreme metal that mirrored the chaotic world, the hypocrisy of religion and the evil of politics which exist regardless of where you live, was inevitably spread to farthest reaches of Western youth culture: the alleys of the mega-city of Singapore and the hot shores surrounded by slums in Latin American lands. Key bands such as Sarcofago and Sepultura from Brazil and Impiety from Singapore, cranking out satanic, unhinged, delirious forms of early death metal and thrash, were reciprocally a tremendous shock and inspiration to underground metal fans in USA and Europe of the late 80′s and influenced a complete transformation of attitude in underground black metal from Mayhem to Beherit, leading to the so called second wave of black metal. As information about these phenomena outside the centres of main black and death metal culture is often scarce because of a lack of mainstream interest, social and language barriers etc. it is indispensable to have this kind of phenomenal resources and articles where to study it from:

Metaleros – A comprehensive resource on Latin American metal
Necromansy – Vasp Necrogoat’s underground metal page, including a massive article on Singaporean metal

Written by Devamitra

Iconoclasm Sweeps Norvegia: Impressions of Norwegian Death Metal

May 25, 2009 –
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1. Introduction
2. Pure Fucking Metal: The 80′s Underground
3. Vomit: Still Rotting CD
4. Mayhem: Deathcrush MLP
5. Cadaver: Hallucinating Anxiety LP
6. Darkthrone: Soulside Journey LP
7. Mortem: Slow Death EP
8. Old Funeral: The Older Ones CD
9. Thou Shalt Suffer: Into The Woods Of Belial CD
10. Arcturus: My Angel EP
11. Thyabhorrent: Death Rides At Dawn EP
12. Generalization: A Statement Of The End

Written by Devamitra with Fenriz (Darkthrone), Anders (Cadaver) and Manheim (Mayhem)

Introduction

 

I have had this Vision
of a voyage in mind and soul
Through silent Somniferous scenes
within the enclosed chambers of my
untouched spiritual experiences
Soaring through damp air
Seeing faces, twisting, plunging through my colour

- Darkthrone, Soulside Journey

 

From the downbeat plays by Henrik Ibsen to the introverted nightmare paintings of Edvard Munch, the Expressionist era of Norwegian art had a hundred years ago remembered the voices of the dead and listened to the weeping of the living.

Art connoisseurs took note of the summoned ancestors and the frozen shades of the Norse era, that had been united into jagged juxtapositions of a modern life and an industrializing society – a world of pain. As Norway rose in material wealth throughout the 20th century and discovered the dubious ideals of social democracy, the nation was forced to hide their deep embedded pride, honour and dignity into the bottomless domains of subconscious and hidden symbolism. Ghosts of the Nazi occupation haunted and shame caused people to understand moral problems. If grandmothers and grandfathers still had remembered the rites of witchcraft, the oaths spoken to the wallowing mist of the fjords, they were now abandoned to a worldview committed to science, humanism and well-being.

Pure Fucking Metal: The 80′s Underground

Young minds were seething with fury, anxiety and barely contained stellar potency of creation. Norway around them was filled with McDonalds, idiotic TV programs and insipid pop by A-Ha. The generation between 16 and 19 years of age had integrated into their worldview the stylistic tenets of punk, thrash and heavy metal, whose nexuses in the beginning were the heavy capitalist societies of the USA and the UK. The resulting chemistry was to inspire the manifestation of the most evil and brutal sounds possible, in retaliation towards the satiated ideal of “peace” that reeked of old, dying people and blasphemed the Viking ideal of death through battle.

Sweden, always ahead in trends of Western Europe and America, had led the path towards the Scandinavian idea of death metal with the original black metal sorcery of Bathory and followed with a string of demo-level bands (Corpse, Hellfire, Obscurity, Morbid and Sorcery to name some) years before death metal mania exploded. Finland lagged behind with Norway until Xysma and Abhorrence opened the gates of Hell there and death metal bands formed by school pals and neighbours surged from even the quietest suburbs that barely knew about heavy metal, as in Sweden.

Fenriz: There was no scene in Norway. For instance the Swedish punk scene wasn’t only 10 times as strong as Norway in early 80′s… try thirty times bigger! Finland was just a bit better with metal, but much better with punk. So we were like a third world country, and it was Mayhem and the Slayer mag that put us on the map originally in ’84-’88 (more intensely ’85-’87). Then a bunch of us others joined the underground with our bands too.

One without the experience of death metal life without public attention can not dive into the extreme and alienated emotion of a morbid artist who is intent on creating noisy demos with batches of cruel artwork, releasing only tapes or meager 7″ EP’s on mostly rip-off labels and this has to be kept in mind when the eternal “rock star” accusations are levelled towards the same people now. The spiritual impact of what these misfits created in the 80′s was as extreme of a phenomenon, if not more, than to commit crimes known to everyone in the vicinity. They were practically admitting to being insane.

Fenriz: There weren’t any fans. Everyone had own bands and were because of this isolation of course total maniacs. We had to make our own fans here, ha ha. But punks liked us, and we played good show at Blitz, famous Oslo punk house in 1990. Norway was not important, it was only underground work with snail mail that was important to me. That was 90% of my work.

Anders: This was before the Internet and to get a hold of an album like “Reek of Putrefaction” by Carcass meant
you had something truly extreme in your hands. The whole idea of being true and anti-normal came mostly from Euronymous and his developing Black metal philosophy. He had a strong impact on all of us and it was hard to get away from his force so to speak.

Manheim: It felt good, I can tell you that much. People didn’t understand it much. A lot of musicians and friends around us told us that we wasted our talent, and it wasn’t music that the average listener liked. But we didn’t make the music for the masses, we did it for our selves and for the few around the world that liked extreme music. We tried to make something new, and I do think we succeeded on that one.

In musical respect, the kickstart of the scene was from the capital Oslo, a violent clash between the anti-social, minimalist riff of hardcore and the agility exercise of speed metal; these sounds can particularly be heard in the demos of Vomit. Mayhem, also from Oslo, initially represented a similar style of music and Vomit members sometimes filled positions in Mayhem and vice versa, but it was soon to be conjoined with the extreme attitudes belonging to black metal, far before any other band in the world adhered to them. Small town (Kolbotn) thrash kids Gylve Fenris, Ivar and Anders created Black Death, which combined the speed metal of Destruction or Dark Angel with humorous lyrics relating to their daily life and later developed into the extreme entity that is Darkthrone.

Fenriz: 80′s metal scene was nothing in Norway, we made it ourselves, and broke away from all (lack of) standard here. Global underground was everything to us. Norway was not important, but became much better in ’89. Impostor was also a cool band, but had nothing to do with death metal.

Vomit: Still Rotting CD

The hyperactive Vomit was never to get a professional release for their material back in the day; this recent compilation hosts demos and rehearsals and the same line-up also reformed as Kvikksolvguttene in the 90′s to play some old and new songs. This CD contains several demo versions of the same tracks but it’s easy to listen all the way to such basic, catchy and hilarious manifests. Surprisingly sensitive, like a much simpler Slayer, this hyper-organic sequence of thrash aims its nuclear warheads towards society because of the realization that it is malfunctioning. It gives memories of early COC and Cryptic Slaughter, even Minor Threat in its high energy fueled rebellion – just check “Demonoid”‘s violence. The assaulting harsh vocals ranting about the legions from Hell remember Venom.

Musical cues from Kreator and Sodom in tracks such as “Rotting Flesh”, while rudimentary, suggest the evil power of proto death metal — confrontational punk metal in the spirit of Sepultura’s first album: non-produced and immature. When slowing down to groovy and grinding, the chaotic leads and chromatic chord progressions sound like a band from the old Earache catalogue. The primal energy in tracks such as “Armies of Hell” is simply infectious, inspiring to action for the sake of feeling, thrill and power, like this was a middle finger against the city, these kids were hanging out, overturning police cars and breaking windows. Overall it’s much better than today’s retro bands in a similar style.

FenrizVomit was the rawest well played band in mid-80′s, death thrash, completely awesome, as good as “Hell Awaits” or Dark Angel’s “Darkness Descends”.

AndersThe first Mayhem EP “Deathcrush” came out in 1987 and this is by far the most interesting release of the time.

Mayhem: Deathcrush MLP

Mayhem overturned the Norwegian underground with their maniacal proto-black metal, with an air reeking of chainsaw murders, snuff movies and glue sniffing. The barbaric simplicity of the songs defies even the logic of Hellhammer. We are witnessing the birth-gasps of the BM underground here as krautrock’s Conrad Schnitzler’s magniloquent, twisted avantgarde intro leads into an infernal journey through vistas of butchered early black metal. The recipe is mixing together the primal elements of speed metal and punk, then mangling them as unrecognizable traces of rock music that used to be “fun” but now torn to sarcastic pieces in the hands of bestial psychopaths. Any kind of elegance or progression was unknown to these guys. They make up for this bluntness by organizing with raw vitality and a clear purpose for doing it this way as the pieces of the image fit together. While Euronymous’ riffing is primitive-inventive and Manheim’s heavy drumming is perfect for the material, one can hear that the songs are still mostly in the level of demo versions for a band of Mayhem’s stature developing slowly towards their full potential. The impudently vicious lyrical side centered on gore and blasphemy would fare better through the mouth of the next vocalist Dead while on these recordings Messiah (not Marcolin!) stands out as the superior of Maniac of the two featured voices, as his Sodom-influenced pacing lends power to the old demo track “Pure Fucking Armageddon”.

ManheimThe band image and style was something that came quite early. But it wasn’t the reason for the formation of the band. We started the band because we shared the same ambition to make something different and extreme. I’ve tried to explain it on my blog post “Am I evil”. I recommend that you watch the documentaries “Pure Fucking Mayhem” and “Once Upon a Time in Norway”. The main musical influences were of course metal related, in combination with extreme musical genres. Lyrics were inspired by many sources, but were specifically designed to fit the musical soundscape and the aggressive image surrounding the Mayhem concept. The interest for avantgarde music was something Euro and I shared. We also formed a project we called L.E.G.O. where we explored ideas and concepts within noise and experimental music.

FenrizMayhem was unique, but not an inspiration for death metal. Euronymous only liked death metal up to “Scream Bloody Gore”. He was sceptical to Autopsy when I played him the demo in ’89. But we loved and still love Autopsy of course.

Cadaver was the next major band to heed the call to arms, from the small coastal town of Råde nearer to Sweden, playing a version of death metal not too far removed from the bass heavy, electric sound that was already becoming huge in Sweden and not surprisingly, Cadaver was to be the first Norwegian death metal band to release a full-length album on a label, racing past Darkthrone who still continued developing through a serious of demos in death, doom and black metal style incorporating a psychedelic tendency that was unique, Norwegian and unforgettable, actually sounding more like the Munch paintings come to life than loud rock rebels. By this time various other death metal bands were spawned by the soil which had absorbed the blood of the sacrifices to Odin. Like mushrooms bands such as Old Funeral from the pagan and occultist infested Bergen, Thou Shalt Suffer from the sports and music obsessed Telemark countryside and Mortem from “global” Oslo sprung up, all being practicing grounds for a legion of musicians destined to fame and glory in future projects.

Cadaver: Hallucinating Anxiety LP

The viral and persistent Cadaver took the death metal art in Norway to a new level: besides violating the listener with speed, the intricate composition aims to rip through artificial examinations of reality through morbid revelations. This controlled and logical death metal experience is not quite the absolute psychic expressionism of Darkthrone’s masterpiece but musically soars high above the previous releases and most of what was to follow. Quoting Celtic Frost and Morbid Angel for listenability, hardcore influenced beats underpin a consistently brutal and bludgeoning riffwork in Carcass’ minimalist vein, bringing to mind images of an industrial age wasteland. Vocals are harsh, grating commands in the rhythm of Brazilian bands, promising continuity of experience all the way into grim death. While hateful, arrogant and mid-paced, centered around gore and loss of hope, some of the most beautiful tendencies of Scandinavian death metal already arise on this release and are made all the better by incorporating the best of the deconstructivist tendencies from grindcore music. Twisted and narrative in arrangement, the barbarous and thundering old school death metal riffs of Cadaver proceed to explain the magic of reality in their series of devastating conclusions, proving the album a long lasting gem.

AndersWe had a variety of favorite bands that inspired us at the time. Apart from the bands mentioned we were all into Napalm Death, Kreator, Sodom, Slayer, Death, Autopsy, Paradise Lost, Mayhem, Equinox and not forget Voivod. We were a part of the scene and into all the stuff that came out on demos etc. too so it is not right to say we were influenced by just a few bands. We were into hardcore stuff like A.O.D., S.O.D., Carnivore etc. as well as black metal bands. It was a wild mix.

FenrizCadaver was absolutely great in ’88 and ’89, we played with them and saw them live many, many times! Cadaver was the first Norwegian death metal release, we came right after with the 2nd.

Darkthrone: Soulside Journey LP

An album released 20 years ahead of its time, it’s one of those timeless classics that defy description and comparison. Even today it’s impossible to find death metal that sounds quite like it. It somewhat escaped people’s attention back in the day and has existed on the verge of rediscovery with the sporadic bootleg and official releases of the Darkthrone demos but is still not very widely known among the Darkthrone fanbase. Resembling Celtic Frost taken by the hand of a witch doctor through a series of cosmogonic explanations while on an LSD trip, what starts as gnarly and crawling doomdeath becomes an experience from the beyond. The album has very little in the way of the overbearing brutality of Florida death metal or the catchy Slayer-punk riffing of the Swedes, but it is full of parts that stick to mind and make you come back to its sequences of mystical, foreboding and inconclusive themes and landscapes. Some of the resolutions of its parts are almost disgusting in their divergence from habitual speed metal, death and thrash and they wrack the mind. The evil and brooding melodies crawl over your neck like alien insectoids. Nocturno Culto’s vocals already show their depth and power and so do Fenriz’ inimitable lyrics. On this release Fenriz’ unique drumming skills are the most apparent; pure cult in the making. The eerie use of synths heard on this album would undoubtedly have spiced up some of the later Darkthrone material too. This is the birth of “death metal for the intellectual”.

FenrizThere’s only one Celtic Frost riff on “Soulside Journey”! We were inspired by Possessed, Autopsy, Death, Nihilist, Sepultura (“Schizophrenia” album only), Nocturnus (2nd demo), Devastation (Chicago) and such, Black Sabbath too… but most importantly we had a mission statement: all the riffs should be able to slow down and play on a synth as horror movie effects. So we played technical horror death metal with doom elements and also our eternal inspiration, visions of the universe: even our first demo in early ’88 had an outer space painting as cover.

AndersThe Darkthrone debut album has some great songs in it and it blew me away at the time. It sounds very Swedish and if it had the grim sound of lets say Autopsy it could have showed a different path for Norwegian death metal along with us for young bands at the time. Who knows?

Mortem: Slow Death EP

Mortem’s seldom heard EP boasted some of the most catchy riffs of Norway’s early death metal and one of drum legend Hellhammer’s earliest performances on record. Mortem joins the company of Vomit in aiming to produce the death metal experience with hardcore-like simplicity. Tracks such as “Milena” and “Slow Death” are pure headbanging mania, not much else, though the latter also has an interesting modal type of guitar solo. Considering the general sound quality, drums are surprisingly clear and powerful and show Hellhammer’s early skill in arranging rhythm. Such elements and the beautiful intro to “Nightmare” leave one wondering a bit how it would have been if this band had recorded an album. The heavily distorted vocal performance is of a dubious benefit, like an overblown imitation of Maniac’s already annoying screams on “Deathcrush”. However, they lend a chaotic, absurd and insane element to the proceedings of what is rather usual demo level death metal from a young band.

Old Funeral: The Older Ones CD

At times nearly reminiscent of “Soulside Journey” in enwrapping the listener with pure twisted melody riffs, its surprising that this compilation of material from some of the most interesting line-ups (future Immortal, Burzum and Hades members) of death metal is not too much celebrated. It’s easy to already hear traces of the epic ambient guitar that would characterize the members’ later bands – the Wagnerian “My Tyrant Grace” could easily be an early Immortal recording. Old Funeral’s recordings do often fall short of brilliance, songs having good parts but being incomplete. Old Funeral had potential to be a magnificent band but sadly never got a stable enough line-up or enough work and attention to make it happen. At worst (“Lyktemenn”) the material is unorganized and thrashy, emotionally anguished in a selfish way and using half written heavy metal influenced melodies in a despicable way, inconclusively jumping from one phrase to the next – obscure but not visionary or evolving, just a collection of moods. “Into Hades” approximates early doomdeath. “Abduction of Limbs” is inspired by technical US death metal and succeeds in building an evil ambience. “Devoured Carcass” is more obviously Scandinavian in manufacture, akin to the barbarous blasphemies of Treblinka or Beherit as microbic riffs intone trances of darkness in a nightmare of lost souls. Slower funereal passages on the compilation echo traces of ancient Cemetary and Therion. The black thrashing of “Skin and Bone” reminds of Bathory or early Voivod while throwing some sparkling, clever leads into the mix, creating a surprisingly war metal-like high energy plutonium explosion. This ripping and rocking track manages to approximate brilliance. The core simplicity of most of Old Funeral’s material will hinder the pleasure of the elitist metal listener, but much of it remains highly listenable as even the live recordings work surprisingly well.

Thou Shalt Suffer: Into The Woods Of Belial CD

Thou Shalt Suffer was the product of an already long development from band formations such as Dark Device, Xerasia and Embryonic, composed of future music-magicians who would form Emperor, Ildjarn and the Akkerhaugen sound studio. Mostly early 90′s Swedish satanic death metal in style, Thou Shalt Suffer assaulted the listener with disorganized yet compelling demo level death metal noise with submerged, intense and evil soundscape. Seriously brutal in nature, interlocking chromatic riffs in the vein of Incantation or early Amorphis race on, sporadically bursting into uncontrolled grind. Vocals are super-dramatic in Ihsahn’s craziest early style, ranging from humorously weird to total evil and synths repeat a few doomy patterns, foreshadowing Ihsahn’s later neo-symphonic obsessions. The songs are expectedly not quite there and everything sounds unplanned and spontaneous but for pure spirit it can be quite exhilarating to listen to it today. The discordant, fractured and genius stream of melody of the main riffing recalls ideas later developed further in beautiful way while the expert rhythm guitar is able to create the texture of an infernal landscape. Fragmented but compelling, it should go without saying that it has already done more than most of today’s death metal releases. A special award should be presented for the long experimental outro track “Obscurity Supreme”, seething with a truly avantgarde ambition beyond the later “art metal” habits, worthy of its title.

Arcturus: My Angel EP

The Mortem line-up returned with this piece of madness before plunging into black metal sounds using this band name. Arcturus started its career reminiscent of Swedish second tier satanic death metal bands in the vein of Tiamat, cutting through the intricacies of the narrative death metal of Cadaver and Darkthrone to hammer out Wagnerian power chord doom, with not much appreciation for subtle nuances. The first track “My Angel” starts out psychedelic and impressive, foreshadowing the deep symbolic exploration of the internal cosmos done later by bands such as Tartaros. However, in Arcturus it remains as just another eclectic act, as the dramatic development proceeds in an expected way. While the impressive parts are there it doesn’t reach the magnanimous stature it’s trying to achieve, with the keyboard melodies from film soundtracks and the evil vocals reminiscent of early Samael. “Morax” is a track with gothic, Cathedral-inspired doomdeath wrapped in a synth layer of Nocturnus. Arcturus attempted to obtain a complex, insane atmosphere of invocation but it was not to be their forte; the careening splendour of “Aspera Hiems Symfonia” would be better music.

Thyabhorrent: Death Rides At Dawn EP

Thyabhorrent, led by Occultus (another figure from the early black metal history around Mayhem and Helvete), specialized in simple death metal which used some speed metal riffs and emotive lead guitar interludes. Occasionally similar to Dissection, it seems to carry an eerie foreshadow of Gothenburg and today’s mainstream death metal style while still proudly enwrapped in the mystique of the Norwegian underground. The catchy metal riffing and try-hard vocals in “Condemnation” are halfway to serious power, falling short of the atmosphere obtained by almost all other works of the era. The good riffs are wasted by the very simplistic construction of songs and the unfortunate tendency to rip a wrong context: heavy metal. “Occultus Brujeria” displays an elegantly romantic tendency which could have been something with more development: doomy clean vocals herald simple black metal of expressive, gothic, über-dramatic character. Some of the interludes suggest ideas that could have turned this into an elaborate progressive black metal band but as it stands, it’s a much weaker and tamer version of the kind of material released by Necromantia, Burzum or Isengard early on.

Generalization: A Statement Of The End

The original death metal underground of Norway was alienated, silent and private and thus gave a chance to develop all these ideas towards their full fruition. When the scene burst into the attention of a million of trendy fans, it dealt a blow to the atmosphere that could not be recovered from it. The sanity of the fragile artistic mindset required that the adherents move away towards new areas of quietude and purity (“away from the noise of the marketplace” in the words of Nietzsche) to continue the serious contemplation of darkness. What follows is the history of the early 90′s black metal phenomenon; Cadaver remains the sole band of the ancient underground that is still around cranking out evil death metal.

Anders: We split up in 2004 – so no, we are not around. To call Death Metal trendy is a sidetracking of the whole thing. I don’t share the idea that we ever played something trendy. To play death metal in 1999 was as un-trendy as it could be. I call what I play death metal still because it is my playing style. Death metal can mean much more that most people think. I am a death metal man by hand and a black metal man by soul.

Fenriz: I can with my hand on my heart say that I only bought like 5-6 death metal releases in 1990, and maybe 2 in 1991… or none. The studios like Morrisound and Sunlight were fresh in the very beginning, but organic sound is the best and I quickly learnt to hate these click click bass drum sounds that started to ruin metal in ’89 and have completely ruined generations of metalheads later on. In ’89 death metal compilation tapes were overflowing the underground, I had already been through hard rock and heavy metal and power and thrash and everything possible, then I saw that thrash metal got boring and too copied and the same thing happened with death metal, it was too many bands, but the sound was good in ’89. But to me, I heard Hungarian Tormentor on one of those tapes, and got back into more “evil” sound again, like Destruction “Infernal Overkill” and such, as I hadn’t listened to them for a while. I saw it as just thrash, but after getting an evil revelation with Tormentor, I saw a lot of the thrash I had from before in a new black light, and I got more and more into Bathory. And in 1990 I mostly listened to the more primitive stuff, but our craft was technical death metal and we needed to complete our album. Even after our album we had lots of material pouring out of us (became “Goatlord” album) but it had to stop with this technical style, we were all agreeing on this except Dag. We took a U-turn unto the primitive lane in 1991.

Even a cursory investigation to the workings of the early Norwegian metal underground should dissolve one of the most persistent illusions about Norwegian black metal bands such as Burzum and Immortal: that they did not know how to handle their instruments, or did not have an extensive background in musical expression. Do you think they simply wanted to pose evil with corpsepaint? They were talented musicians who had years of experience playing technical styles of death metal before the black metal explosion. The simplified sound of black metal was due to the ethics of black metal and the spirit of black metal. The black metal resurgence intended to develop metal music to a new level of intensity and create a purer atmosphere, unpolluted by the social agreements of the new death metal people.

For most metal fans Norwegian death metal means either black metal or the new digitally produced bands in the vein of Zyklon and Blood Red Throne. The intent of this excursion has been to show how pure death metal was the fundamental force in establishing the original Norwegian underground metal scene and how it ultimately grew into the most vital and archaic musical movement of the 90′s, Norwegian black metal.

Anders: The bands such as Darkthrone, Mayhem and Immortal were in fact very inspired by death metal. If you listen to the latest Emperor, Satyricon, Dimmu Borgir albums they all have strong elements of death metal in them. The scene that was to become the Norwegian black metal scene was never a “one-way-street”. The issues with Swedish bands in ’91-’93 was mainly about the fact that death metal became conformed, predictable and non-dangerous. The strong standing of the black metal scene overshadowed any death metal band for many many years and this is still the case.

Manheim: I of course felt and feel proud of being responsible for giving people inspiration. That so many people in Norway and around the globe have taken this further is of the good. Of course there’s a lot of bands that appeared that didn’t do anything else than copying those before them, but the development of genres like Norwegian BM and others shows that there’s a lot of creativity and wonderful musical contribution that has been done after Mayhem released its first demos and “Deathcrush”. My personal favorite releases are Darkthrone’s early works – and if I have to choose, “Under a Funeral Moon”.

Fenriz still works on Darkthrone, promotes his favorite underground bands and speaks against forest industry. Anders has been playing live guitar and bass for major bands such as Celtic Frost and Satyricon. Manheim composes and performs experimental music and writes a good blog on culture and music. Deathmetal.org thanks them all for their kind contribution.

Cosmic Fear arrives, I hold a dead one,
Surrounded by my many candles
(I burn to cleanse the air)
Rotten Unclean Sacrifice Nightmares
Unreal Psychedelic Journey
Ride The Darkside
Search The Soulside

- Darkthrone, Soulside Journey

Maryland Deathfest VII in Baltimore, Maryland

May 23, 2009 –
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Maryland Deathfest VII
May 23, 24 and 25, 2009
Sonar, Baltimore, Maryland

The summer metal festival — Europe has a number of them: Obscene Extreme Fest, Party San, Wacken. Seemingly long gone are the days when North Americans had their own Milwaukee Metalfest to make pilgrimage to at the end of every summer. Fortunately, after several years of festival lull, two metal fans decided to put on a show that featured “real” metal bands again.

The Maryland Deathfest is now an annual event that takes place for three days near the end of May. This past year featured an impeccable lineup, perhaps the very best seen at MDF thus far, a strong hint that quality and old-school death metal and grindcore remain vital forces in the greater metal world.

After making the trip down the coast to Baltimore a day early, my cohorts and I decided to attend the pre-show for a mere ten dollars. Not much was of note during this “pre-fest”. Czech grindcore band Jig-Ai showed themselves as instrumentally competent, and able to cook up a good riff, but a lack of dynamics and irritating pig squeals prevented their music from being enjoyed further. Following Jig-Ai came a few more bands that were not significant, so relaxing outside in the cool spring night was much preferred.

It was not until Lethal Aggression that the pre-fest picked up. This reviewer had never heard said band before, but they presented a charming fusion of crossover thrash, early grindcore, and the best of hardcore punk. It could be likened to Cryptic Slaughter mixed with Siege and a hint of speed metal. Their performance was quite spirited, and the band ripped through an assortment of songs with professionalism and an impermeable cohesiveness as a group.

The headliner of the night was Ghoul, a “supergroup” of sorts made up of members from Exhumed, Impaled, and Dystopia, among others. Musically, this outfit melds together speed metal, hints of death metal riffing, and a surface aesthetic very much like Danzig-era Misfits. From their ridicule of the new, ridiculous “retro-thrash” trend to their spraying of liquid all over the audience in a bottle labeled “swine flu,” their performance did not disappoint for pure satirical entertainment.

Day One

Despite the “deathfest” name, grindcore has always figured prominently into Maryland Deathfest’s festival repertoire. The grindcore scene, as with death and black metal, has come upon hard times, with very little of excitement being generated. Still, this general trend was not enough to prevent several fantastic grindcore bands (as well as a few merely good ones) from appearing on the Friday bill.

Following a good night’s sleep, my cohorts and I met with up with other friends from around the city and trekked back to the venue. It became readily apparent that Sweden’s blast-and-forget black metal crew Marduk would not be playing, due to troubles concerning their visas, which was of little loss to festival quality as a whole.

Instead, the outdoor stage schedule was modified to include Cephalic Carnage, and the indoor show would end earlier than planned. The first band of my day was Sayyadina, who sounded much like a more aggressive Nasum. The Swedegrind sound has never been terribly interesting, as most bands who are involved with it are wont to make it much too technical and polished. This contrasts readily with the unrefined edge required of grindcore; instead the entire experience is spoiled with a big budget and nice, “clean,” rock-n-roll production. Fortunately, based on their live performance, Sayyadina seem to integrate much of the early 1990s American grindcore style into their take on the genre. The downside would be their insistence on blasting — way too much of it — and not enough variation in rhythm. Further investigation will be needed to determine this band’s ultimate listenability.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most anticipated band of the night was Mayhem. The band took the stage and opened with “Pagan Fears.” What was immediately apparent were two things: the first being how truly inhuman Attila Csihar’s voice is, and the second being that the sound engineers had absolutely no idea how to mix black metal in a live setting. The guitars were so unbelievably screechy that I had to move back from the stage in order to prevent my eardrums from imploding. Apart from this problem (which was only partly fixed roughly halfway into the set), Mayhem delivered a commendable performance, with plenty of highlights (“Deathcrush”; “Freezing Moon”), and even a very surprising presentation of the title track off De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. Atilla’s presence was undeniable, almost messianic, as he warped his vocal chords into his own plaything: screeching, bellowing, chanting, and growling to great effect. The two new guitarists had a decent understanding of Mayhem’s material, apparent despite the detriment of the horrific sound.

One strange thing to see was how many people turned up for Mayhem, and how about half of them looked like they had never heard the band in their life. Given Mayhem’s controversial past, one might be inclined to believe that half of the people there were just turning up in the hopes of seeing some immature novelty act. Further proof that in the underground metal world, hipsters unfortunately abound.

Up next was the legendary Dutch death metal group Asphyx, playing their first-ever American show, which was accompanied by a unanimously great reception by the large crowd. For the occasion, they were given the honor of wrapping up the first day of the outdoor stage. Vocalist Martin Van Drunen, though becoming a death metal gray-hair, was easily one of the most engaging and sincere frontmen this reviewer has had the pleasure to see live. His banter with the audience and habit of high-fiving crowd surfers contributed to the sense of fun that permeated Asphyx’s performance. In blazing through several tracks from a variety of studio albums (save for the embarrassing God Cries), Asphyx even managed to play “Abomination Echoes” from the Crush the Cenotaph demo. Unfortunately, Mayhem’s longer-than-anticipated set forced Asphyx to cut theirs short in accordance with the ludicrously early outdoor sound curfew of 11 pm. Ending with the massive title track offThe Rack, the sound engineers axed the power to the amps with only about a minute left in the song. Coincidentally, the original recording ends by fading out, so in essence the audience was able to experience a full studio version of it. Asphyx bowed off the stage to massive applause.

Upon heading inside, I caught the set of crossover/hardcore “supergroup” Venomous Concept. Made up of half of Napalm Death and half of Brutal Truth, this quartet retains interest through their exploration of embryonic extreme metal and hardcore styles. A very energetic and very intoxicated Kevin Sharpe kept the crowd on their toes, even cutting his forehead open after smashing it with the microphone. After pummeling their way through a half-hour set, Venomous Concept left the stage, and this reviewer hiked back to his hotel room.

Day Two

The next day, feeling energized and with ears freshly ringing, my group headed down to Sonar for day two of the festival. After skipping over the many bands of no interest, the first band of day two we encountered was P.L.F. (formerly known as Pretty Little Flower, now apparently going by the name Pulverizing Lethal Force). This Texas grindcore trio was highly impressive with their regressive style, revealing influences from the best of the genre, chiefly Assuck andTerrorizer. The singer/guitarist joked that their merch was available in the back room, and that they brought plenty of long-sleeved shirts, as only true Hessians wear them in such obscenely hot weather. Despite a very short set time, P.L.F. managed to rumble through their setlist with a few minutes to spare, and received mostly positive reactions from the audience.

Since the next batch of bands was not of interest in any way, my friends and I skipped them in favor of finding some food, after which we returned to catch Sweden’s Rotten Sound. Although one may look upon them unfavorably because of their association with the Nasum/groovy-grindcore scene, Rotten Sound are not, sonically at least, deserving of such condemnation. Their music is like Dead Infection or Sweden’s Dawn: wholly unoriginal, but executed in such a manner that one cannot find much fault in what they do. Their brand of grindcore is much more “British” (for lack of a better description), in that it takes more influence from early crust and hardcore than it does groove metal.

Following Rotten Sound, this reviewer chose to relax in the shade with a cool water and rest while Hail Of Bullets played on stage. Their album was not impressive in the slightest, and neither was their performance, despite the ever-present charm of the previous night’s star vocalist Martin Van Drunen. It is quite probable that if the lineup did not include such prominent members of the death metal scene, the album would not have received a second thought or listen by anyone.

Thankfully, Brutal Truth took to the stage next, alleviating the crushing boredom wrought by Hail of Bullets, immediately stirring me from my needed respite. Bassist Dan Lilker commented that his throat was hoarse, and he would be unable to do backup vocals; luckily, their performance was not hindered by this revelation in any way. Frontman Kevin Sharpe, sporting a nice cut in the middle of his forehead from the previous night’s on-stage chaos, was as engaging as ever as the band merged classic and new in a seamless display of veteran competency.

After a short stint of watching Misery Index (who were capable, though nearly totally unfamiliar to this reviewer,), the ever-anticipated Immolation was up next on the outside stage. Baffling is the fact that Immolation is not a more recognized band in the death metal community; they have been together for over two decades, and have received a good deal of praise and notoriety, but when the heavy hitters of the genre are mentioned, Immolation is rarely on the list — modern audiences seem, unfortunately, to be fixated on flashy technicality, blast beats and other novelties rather than on songwriting, one of the talents at which Immolation has always excelled.

A highlight of Immolation’s set was a favorite off of Dawn of Possession, “Into Everlasting Fire.” Unfortunately for them, equipment problems at the beginning of their set forced the band to shorten their playing time. Nonetheless, their performance was top-notch, and those who have not witnessed them in a live setting are truly missing out on one of death metal’s legendary acts.

Atheist was poised to perform shortly thereafter on the outside stage. The long-awaited return of Atheist was most certainly a reason for many who attended MDF. Before their initial arrival, the feeling that one was about to hear such classics as “Mother Man” and “Piece of Time” in a live setting seemed almost unreal. Despite this overwhelming anticipation, it seemed almost immediately that their performance that night would be good, but not great, as might be expected on such a fortunate occasion from these exemplary musicians. Vocalist Kelly Shaffer (who, thanks to his well-known tendonitis affliction, was not playing any instruments) apparently smokes a lot of cigarettes, and it showed in his strained performance almost as if it hurt him intensely to do his characteristic snarl. Despite the slight disappointments, it was a welcome sight to see Atheist performing together again, and musically there were few real mishaps.

Up next outdoors was one of the bands that I specifically wished to see: Napalm Death. Their material from 1985 to 1992 is some of my favorite music from any genre. After that period, a lot of mediocrity and occasional awfulness plagued the band. More recently,The Code is Red had enough fire in it to be a moderately enjoyable album — a breath of fresh air for old time fans. Despite their last two albums feeling more like a band having totally given up, rather than one whose enthusiasm and creative drive are intact, I was still eager to see them perform. All-time classic tracks — “It’s A! M.A.N.S. World,” “Deciever,” “Life?,” “Scum,” “The Kill,” and of course, “You Suffer” — were battered through with the confidence and poise of professionals clearly beyond comfortable with their abilities, inducing the crowd (including myself) to a violent moshing melee. With luck, this confidence will shine through in future recordings to provide the element of desire that has been conspicuously absent in their latest works.

The final performer on the outside stage at MDF was none other than England’s Bolt Thrower. After years of prodding by the event organizers, Bolt Thrower was finally convinced to cross the pond to headline Saturday’s show. A quick glance around the concert area told me that Bolt Thrower had quite possibly drawn the largest crowd of the fest thus far — with good reason, as this would be Bolt Thrower’s first show in the USA in 14 years. A thunderous ovation erupted as the band took the stage. It was a welcome return for some of the older spectators; for most on their first time through, it was a near-magical experience to see one of death metal’s stalwarts performing their numerous classics in the flesh. As expected, Bolt Thrower unleashed an audio barrage upon the helpless audience, the sound rolling over the crowd like an armored division. Particular highlights were “The IVth Crusade,” “Cenotaph,” and “For Victory,” though every song, old to new, was performed flawlessly. The fervent feedback from the audience fed the band members, who thrived off the positive energy.

Day Three

Day three began like the other two days: with a bunch of bands no one gave a shit about. Apart from Magrudergrind’s violent intensity, there wasn’t much to see until Absu took the stage outside.

When Absu did finally take the stage, they began playing immediately. After a short ambient intro piece, Proscriptor greeted the rather large turnout. Strangely, Proscriptor mostly stuck to drumming, providing backup vocals through parts of the set, but only leading on a few songs. This choice proved to be a bit disheartening, as the new guitarist/singer is comparatively timid = vocally. Absu soldiered onward regardless, doing what they manage given their criminally short set time. With their latest album being a mishmash between excellent instrumental performance and less than stellar songwriting, it wise probably wise that only one song from the album was played.

After Abscess and Aura Noir, who were both competent (especially the latter), Destroyer 666 took the stage to end the final night of outdoor performances. The Australian quartet was greeted with an enthusiasm that was transferred directly to their fiery presentation. Like the other major acts present, D666 were tight instrumentally, and frontman KK Warslut was able to whip the crowd into a demonic frenzy. The booming choruses of “I Am The Wargod” and “Black City – Black Fire” were particularly memorable. All in all, an appropriate high point to conclude the outdoor stage.

Pestilence had apparently run into visa issues, and like Marduk, were not able to enter the USA. To compensate for this, the outdoor stage bands were given slightly longer set times, and it was announced that a surprise performer would take Pestilence’s time slot on the inside stage. Rumors abounded as to who this surprise would be, and it turned out to be Bolt Thrower, who had stayed behind to tear through a second set in top-notch fashion and enthusiasm, which will only further cement their weekend appearance as one of latter-day death metal legend.

Maryland Deathfest, while somewhat choked with vagabonds and hipsters — an inevitable side-effect of the longevity of the festivals themselves and urban environments in which they are nearly always held — was well-attended and exceptionally well-organized. Coupled with the amicable staff, this made for a superbly positive experience often lacking in metal gatherings at this scale. Besides the superb planning and execution in the background, the line-up was likely one of the best of any fest of recent vintage, including several notable reformed death metal acts and a number of rare appearances in the same three-day span.

Refreshing was the fact that the more hipster-oriented bands did not receive nearly the reception of the respectable and established bands; more refreshing still was the welcome that awaited the old guard death metal/grindcore bands — the likes of Asphyx, Bolt Thrower, Brutal Truth, Immolation and Atheist — who after years of struggling against the “deaths” of their respective genres and the attendant mediocre aftermath are finally again reaping the rewards of writing and performing music that embraces original ideals. Perhaps this is just a part of a potential rebirth of metal, hopefully one that MDF will continue to foster by providing sanctuary to the bands of quality that have made these genres exciting to listen to since the beginning.

- Written by deadite

Bands:
Bolt Thrower
Asphyx
Napalm Death
Mayhem
Atheist
Abscess
Immolation
Destroyer 666
Aura Noir
Brutal Truth
Absu
Hail of Bullets
Sigh
General Surgery
Cephalic Carnage
Venomous Concept
Cattle Decapitation
Birdflesh
Pig Destroyer
Misery Index
Wolves in the Throne Room
Rotten Sound
The Red Chord
Devourment
Victims
Sayyadina
Trap Them
Phobia
Despise You
Flesh Parade
Catheter
Antigama
Splitter
Crowpath
Krallice
Pigsty
Jig-Ai
Kill the Client
Unearthly Trance
Weekend Nachos
Gnostic
Magrudergrind
Withered
Lair of the Minotaur
Pretty Little Flower
Maruta
The Endless Blockade
Yakuza
Triac
Agenda of Swine
Complete Failure
Drugs of Faith
Hero Destroyed

Promoters:
Maryland Deathfest

Cliff Burton, the prototypical hessian

May 19, 2009 –
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Yes, I know this news bit is one month late, but for someone who so perfectly filled the classic hessian profile as Burton, it is well worth posting:

Castro Valley rock legend Cliff Burton was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the Bay Area band Metallica this month.

Burton’s father, Ray, accepted his son’s honorary induction during ceremonies in Cleveland, Ohio on April 4.

(…)

Brackett recalled Burton as a quiet and cheerful musician who appreciated classical pieces by Bach as much as he loved the songs of punk pioneers the Misfits.

(…)

No matter how busy he during rehearsal and recording sessions with Metallica, Burton always found time for one of his main loves—going out and fishing on Lake Chabot, according to Brackett.

Robert Souza, CV Rock Musician Cliff Burton Inducted in R&R Hall of Fame, Castro Valley Forum

Cliff Burton was not just an easy going, long haired maniac with a superior compositional talent and one hell of a bass player, he was also fond of nature and of centuries-old european music, sported bell-bottomed trousers long since it stopped being fashionable to do so (usually justifying his taste in clothing with “this is what I wear, fuck you”) and was the true creative leader of the world’s most known speed metal band, Metallica.

To remember this exceptional musician, here are some Cliff-related videos for you to enjoy.

Metallica’s classically influenced track “Orion”:

A rare 1984 interview with Cliff (not so rare now since it’s on YouTube):

Playing with Metallica, “For Whom the Bells Tolls” in 1985:

 

May 16th, 2009 – Skepticism in Helsinki, Finland

May 18, 2009 –
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Shall the words not sing of sorrow
Leave for others words of lament

The label ‘Funeral Doom Metal’ is used to describe a plethora of bands that share a largely fatalistic ideological outlook in common. This is an extreme interpretation of the inherent misery of Doom Metal as a wider movement that dates back to when 70′s bands such as Pentagram and Pagan Altar, and 80′s bands St. Vitus, Candlemass and Cathedral from the early 90′s carried the baton bearing these surface qualities taken from Black Sabbath. It was, later still, passed on to bands best represented by Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride and Katatonia, who integrated this slow and doleful style with Death Metal techniques, as this movement had reached it’s apex in the remarkable ‘goldmine’ period (1989 – 1993). This style called Doomdeath would eventually become more extreme, spawning suicidal and eschatological Funeral Doom Metal bands such as Mournful Congregation, Paramaecium, Worship and Pantheist. They would claim more of a descent from the band most synonymous with the tag: Finland’s Skepticism, however, whose consistancy and contribution to Metal music as a whole far outweighs their status as the archetypal form of some sub-sub-genre. Emerging almost simultaneously from the South of Finland, both Skepticism and Thergothon were playing music less concerned with the self-obsessed emotions of Doom Metal; infact, they followed more in the footsteps of Death and Black Metal, illustrating their reverence for nature/cosmos, it’s eternal patterns and magestic forces that confront our fragile and often illusory perceptions (and feed the despair of most Doom Metal in it’s fatalism).

This appropriately brings us to the annual ‘Dooomstock’ festival held at the Lepakkomies bar in the Sörnäinen district of Helsinki. More importantly, it brings us to Skepticism’s role not only as headliner, but the most uncompromising example of what has been discussed so far: that Skepticism – who bring the epic spirit of Romantic, nihilistic Metal to the Doom scene – reign supreme in a sea of shit. It’s the second day of the festival, and the opening act – Funeral Planet – amounted to little more than an extremely heavy and slow Rock band, which is the most unfortunate symptom of this kind of Black Sabbath worship. Thanks to the trial-and-error, improvisational nature of Rock composition, one or two riffs could be enjoyed but, without some meaningful musical context, only as a soundtrack to consuming bottles of Karhu – Finland’s premium lager. The Celtic Frost cover was a nice addition to the set but only served to increase the anticipation for Skepticism by hearing the work of another legendary band. Such an honourable title, the Finns in attendance would tell you, couldn’t be more applicable to the country’s original Doom Metal band and second act on the line-up: Spiritus Mortis, now being fronted by Sami Hynninen who is more well-known as Albert Witchfinder from Reverend Bizarre. Their brand of traditional Doom Metal is more competent than the preceding act, in that their sound hybridizes a wider range of influences, from Trouble and St. Vitus to the somehow rousing dirge-anthems of Pagan Altar and post-Nightfall Candlemass. But was there more to the set than a collection of tightly-played tribute songs for a diehard group of Finnish Doom Metal connoisseurs? Beside’s Sami’s enthusiasm for singing to his own band within this lot of fans, in a voice more suited to Spiritus Mortis than to a bizarre cover of Burzum’s ‘Dunkelheit’, the answer would be that there was no more meaning. The next band, Ophis from Germany represented the new generation of Doomdeath bands, and delivered almost as promised, a juvenile set of clichéd tracks that rip-off the approach played first by diSEMBOWELMENT and littered this with token chugging lifted from the cruder moments of Worship’s first album. Ending the set with a cover of a band that nobody had heard of planted Ophis solidly into the grave, but it did feature a lot more of that chugging which is ambrosia for the Doom Metal fan, as shredding is for speed-addicts.

With all of this noise done and dusted, the stage was set for the mighty Skepticism, and those who seemed to have better understood the significance of what would come made their way to the feet of the masters. Skepticism’s image is about as disparate from their peers’ as their music is, with the band maintaining a strictly non-Metal sartorial code, led by Matti on vocals and his dishevelled conductor’s suit. The set began with an awe-inspiring and trance-inducing rendition of the classic ‘Sign of a Storm’, opener to the debut album. The opening words are growled more chthonically than on record, accompanied by Matti’s gestures as he appears to summon and conduct the elemental forces of nature, explaining his customary choice of attire. His performance as vocalist is in sharp contrast with Sami’s; his actions are erratic extensions of a music which is greater than himself and, though he is aware of the audience, knows his role as mediator at all times. In the basic element of sound, Skepticism sound more like a coherent whole rather than an unbalanced loudspeaker for an isolated riff, some crowd-friendly chugging or double-bass layer. The next song, as the tracklist of the Stormcrowfleet album dictates is ‘Pouring’ and demonstrates the brutal harmony of their sound. None of their coherence is sacrificed as the set enters the classic ’Aether’ from the second album, which creates a lot more ambient space and dynamic demands that are delivered expertly. ‘The Curtain’ and ‘The Arrival’ from the latest album, Alloy follow to demonstrate the quality music that Skepticism is still creating – a very rare phenomenon in the world of Metal. Next came two tracks that, while enjoyable, explain why ’Farmakon’ was such a hit-and-miss affair. The riffs are quite cumbersomely arranged, but with their characteristic power and glimpses of innovation, Skepticism drive them forward regardless. To close, nothing could have been a more fitting choice of song than the epic ‘March October’ as the band returns to ‘Alloy’ one last time. What a gift to leave behind for the audience to be inspired – sonic patterns of the continuum of life. The epic Skepticism transcended the Doom Metal festival in every aspect of their music and performance, and this is what, perhaps paradoxically, makes a Metal band great; by letting the form of the music be shaped and directed by the fundamental impulses that inspire it, like the sea upon the coming of a storm.

-ObscuraHessian-

Proudly join the tunes sounding
Gallant ways the pulse beating
Take their place in the Alloy
Fortify the compound forming
And unite the substance growing
And meld matter made for lasting
To complete the March October

Interview: David Herrera (Imprecation)

May 17, 2009 –
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In the late 1980s/early 1990s in the expansive United States, the nascent genre of death metal developed multiple strains. The more accessible of them included the well-known, technically-impressive bands from the scenes in New York and Florida, respectively. A third major bloodline, arising from the likes of early Morbid Angel, Necrovore and Possessed found itself in darker territory, more readily embracing deep occult themes with palatable atmospheres of musical evil to match. Imprecation, hailing from Houston, Texas, were among the early participants in this subgenre, helping carry it to its mature phases in the mid-1990s along with acts like Incantation and Fallen Christ. The bands’s 1995 discography-to-date release, Theurgia Goetia Summa, is a succinct statement of death metal’s ability to inspire moral horror that reaches beyond the banal graphic fantasy often associated with it.

Answers by vocalist David Herrera.

What was forming a death metal band like, back in the early days before people really knew what death metal was? How did you explain it to people, and how did they react?

It was kinda strange, the whole “Earache” scene was starting to gain momentum, and yet there was an even ‘darker’ undercurrent that was gnashing it’s teeth into the throats of Christians. This is the cauldron that we bubbled out of! It was very unknown at the time, especially with everything being heard solely through tape trading or if you were lucky an underground radio program that would turn you on to bands that were only existing on word of mouth such as Incantation, Profanatica, Impaled Nazarene, Beherit, Phlebotomized, Demigod, Archgoat, and more. We had a radio program here in Houston called “Sweet Nightmares” airing on Tuesday nights/Wednesday mornings from midnight to like 4 am, hosted by Wes Weaver and Bill “the Master” Bates. We’d stay up out in the woods with lots of acid and alcohol and make bonfires to this radio program to check out all of the unknown stuff that they would turn us on to, it was such a drag when it stopped airing as this was a weekly ritual for us. I remember the first time I heard the new extreme in the underground, it was on this show in ’89 or ’90 and Wes had just got the advances from Earache of Morbid Angel’s “Maze of Torment” and Terrorizer’s “After World Obliteration”. He played them back to back and it completely floored us. That ‘s when I knew that I had to be creating this music, to actually live it!

I understand that two members came from the Kreator-y/Slayer-y “Dark Reign.” What caused them to make such a stylistic jump to greater extremity and darkness?

Well, Dark Reign were such a repected band in Houston, really no one was nearly as extreme as they were when they were around. To find out that I was gonna be in the same band as the main songwriters, well I could not believe it. It was like going from the pit to the stage in one swoop, I really lucked out to have my first official band to be rounded out with guys who took their craft seriously. I always felt that the “Ceremony of the Nine Angles” (NOT ANGELS! people to this day seem to think we misspelled this haha!) demo had a lot of Dark Reign and Undertaker (which was basically what Imprecation morphed out of) all over it. Basically I came in as a guitarist, they heard my vocals and decided they wanted me to contribute that way instead. The darkness was honed through some of the lyrics that i brought to the table, although Ruben and Phil were already some dark motherfuckers. I just let them know that if I was gonna be their vocallist, i wasn’t singing politics or government or anything of the kind, not that there is anything wrong with that. But my love lies in utter darkness, and blasphemy is my scripture.

What were the influences on early Imprecation, and did these change over time?

eh, basically it was more that we were inspired by certain bands, and these inspirations remain firm almost 20 years later. Phil came to me when we actually started to piece together our first song “Blinded” and said he was really bitten by the sound coming out of Sweden at that time, most notably Entombed and Carnage. I was always a big fan of Nihilist, so I completely understood! He’s also a big Hellhammer/Celtic Frost fan, along with Dark Angel and Possessed, so I think that is where we got our music stylings guitarwise from, kinda a mixture of those styles. Ruben has a drum style completely all to his own, Ben Falgoust once said that you could make a comp with a hundred bands on it and throw a project with Ruben involved and he could pick his drums out of the lot. I totally agree 100%! I once asked Ruben what made him tick, and he just basically said he was a big John Bonham and Keith Moon fan, as well as a fervant supporter of Mercyful Fate, Slayer and Exodus. To this day he definitely marches to his own drum beat heh heh. My vocal stylings were born of early Morbid Angel, Blasphemy, Beherit, and Immolation worship. Also a healthy dose of early Deicide, I always dug Benton’s approach especially on the self titled LP and “Legion”.

What is good?–Whatever augments the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself, in man.

What is evil?–Whatever springs from weakness.

What is happiness?–The feeling that power increases–that resistance is overcome.

Not contentment, but more power; not peace at any price, but war; not virtue, but efficiency (virtue in the Renaissance sense, virtu, virtue free of moral acid).

The weak and the botched shall perish: first principle of our charity. And one should help them to it.

What is more harmful than any vice?–Practical sympathy for the botched and the weak–Christianity…

- F.W. Nietzsche, The Antichrist (1888)

Theurgia Goetia Summa is most often compared to early Incantation, with a healthy infusion of early Morbid Angel. Did these bands influence you at all, or do you think you hit on a style that’s inherent in metal?

eh, Incantation is fuckin killer but I’d be lying if I told you they were an influence. I was a big fan, and still very much am, but they never came into the equation when we were writing any of our material. I saw them on their tour with Anal Cunt, supporting their “Entrantment of Evil” 7inch and their “Unholy Massacre” cassette at both the Pik n Pak and the Axiom and let me tell you, in 1990 it was a unheard of to see a band of their magnitude live. At least down here in Texas. Also in that same year we saw Morbid Angel on their “Altars of Madness” tour, with heh heh, you guessed it, Dark Reign supporting their Texas shows. I cannot deny the impact that performance had on my life, and what that album plus their “Abominations….” album did for us muscially, but as I said before it was pure INSPIRATION. I feel to this day that Imprecation were on to something special and original, especially with the “Sigil of Baphomet” ep and the Mark Beecher fronted ‘deathymns’ (A.S.!) that started the first three tracks on “Theurgia Goetia Summa”. Even when Mark took ‘em in a more black metal direction it still had that Imprecation low tuned crush that made us easily identifiable!

What, in your view, is the difference between black metal and death metal, if any?

Well if you are talking about pure negligent praise of moral destruction and the end of life as we know it, there is no real difference. But that is where it stops when talking as a genre in it’s entirety. I always felt that true Black Metal was very focused on atmosphere and infernal aesthetics, kinda like a funeral shroud that draped around your being, candles lit and pure Satan worship whether Satan existed as a deity or a form of negativity. True Death is more embracing the soil, the musk of things decayed, the creak of a coffin lid, the chop of an axe, and focused on bringing it to you in a very unforgiving and pummeling assault to the senses. I prefer when either style mixes a little flavor of the other to make it a grand combination of destruction. That is where I think Imprecation succeeded most of all, through a perfect balance of Death and Black. Bands like Archgoat, Necros Christos, Teitanblood, Katharsis, Incantation, Watain, and Portal bring this type of rotting stench to my speakers! Death Metal that is as pitch black as a bottomless pit, falling through the infinite abyss…..

Do you think that metal bands, like indie bands, need to develop a “persona” that they support with a unique lingo, habits, styles of dress and mannerism, etc?

Sometimes it is okay to have something that can bring identity to one’s stylings, you know to give ‘em that certain trait that makes them all their own. Venom, Voivod, Sadistik Exekution, Hellhammer/Frost, Carnivore, Judas Priest, Blasphemy, Bolt Thrower, Mayhem/Darkthrone, Misfits, W.A.S.P. hell; even Manowar whom I fuckin hate had something that made them stand on their own. I don’t think a band has to develop it’s own original persona or sound to succeed, however, but it definitely helps when they have CONVICTION in their musical execution!

You (David Herrera) also write and perform for Bahimiron, a gutter-vicious Gorgoroth/Motorhead-styled black metal band. What’s the difference in your songwriting there, as opposed to when working with Imprecation?

Huge difference. Where Imprecation focuses on getting most every note played with tightness and clarity, we in Bahimiron believe in being akin to “an eyeball loose and wild”. We embrace death and the devil, and are at one with ways of alcohol abuse and loaded firearms. Heh heh I know a certain someone who does not embrace our love for whiskey and the such, maybe “misguided” in our directions (I’m looking at you, Mr. Prozac!) but none-the-less it is how we live. As the Electric Hellfire Club once proudly displayed on an album “Drugs, Death and the Devil”. It is not for everyone, but when we proclaim that we are Whiskey Fueled Black Metal it is not in a “party” attitude, rather a result of the harm that this way of life can do to one’s self or to any who get in the way!

Our national drug is alcohol. We tend to regard the use of any other drug with special horror.

- William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch (1959)

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 that sounds about correct. I mean, that is how cults are born, a group of individuals who try to accomplish the same goals, missions, or end results. I think as far as true death and black metal it definitely qualifies, especially if one lives it’s message as a completely dedicated lifestyle.

Like in the late 1970s, metal feels to many people like it has lost direction and become hollow. Is a change in direction needed, and if so, will that come from within metal?

Well it depends. I like my metal true to form, and if you start mixing techno or emo punk into it then it is complete shit in my ears and I could give a fuck if that is the new “saviour” of metal. I mean, look at the nu metal scene. And by that I am not talking Korn, I am talking Killswitch Engage or Job For A Cowboy. If that is the change needed to bring metal to a different plateau, then I’ll stay in the valley with my old standbys. I still put in my “Seven Churches”, “Reign In Blood”, “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas”, or “Fallen Angel of Doom” records KNOWING how many bands aped these styles, and it still summons the demon abyss from my speakers. Even the bands that border on plagerism of these styles score high points with me as compared to what some idiots are calling death or black metal nowadays. I’d rather hear a Blasphemy rip off than God Forbid any day!

Did you learn music theory? Did it help you or slow you down in achieving your musical goals? If not, did musical illiteracy help or hinder you?

No. I do not think that one needs music theory to create music. As a matter of fact i think when one knows TOO much about their instrument, it fails to “wow” me and the end result is total boredom. I get more out of a band who are shaping their music through pure devotion to make it work with the skills or lack of skills that they have than a band who is worried if they are playing in 4/4 time or how many diminished triads they can pull off in a measure. All the music theory I need lies in my record collection.

It has been observed that death metal and black metal use “narrative” composition, where a series of riffs form a sort of poem that tells a story about a change in states of mind. Is this reflected in your songwriting at all?

I’d like to think so. I mean, that has always been the appeal for me through a lot of metal: where are the instruments taking me? I need passageways to form lyrics to, sometimes a narrow corridor covered in blood will do, other times an ocean of blood with floating corpses does my mind good. Some people write their lyrics before music, I write my lyrics THROUGH the music. I let the Devil take my mind, and the instruments guide my pen to paper. Most lyrix i have writ were on the first stab.

Do you think a genre of unpopular “popular music” like death metal and/or black metal can be a form of art? What distinguishes art from entertainment, and if they overlap, is there a difference in goals between the two?

Absolutely. What seperates the two? Art succeeds from the within, damn the outsider’s opinion. Entertainment comes with the ideals that for it to succeed, you must please a group of people whether large or small. I think it is possible to be a bit of both, as when we write music we do it for ourselves firstly, but we do care if our message poisons the right people. I mean, if you really did not care if your music or art was embraced by anyone then why release it? Now, it does not bother me if we get negative response, if we wanted to be liked by all then we would be involved in a band hunting for a major label and become a tool for their bank accounts. That is where it ceases being art, and falls strictly into the “please the sheep” category!

Have the values of metal music changed from the early 90s? How and why?

Somewhat. Like I mentioned earlier, there are kids that really think these bands like Unearth are Death Metal. Pathetic.

Are there any skills you have learned from being a death metal band that can be applied to other areas of life?

eh, the only time it was a benefit for me was when I worked in the field of Demolition. Now I am a construction foreman, and i don’t think that really applies to the fine art of fuckin shit up!

Imprecation has just reformed after a dozen years absent, and now you’re opening for Mayhem. How does that feel? Where are you going next?

It feels great man. It feels natural that our first show back is gonna be with Mayhem and Marduk onstage. I mean, our very first show as a band was in early 1992 opening for Grave/Massacre and the very next one was opening for Entombed/Exhorder, so we are used to “breaking the ice” on a big stage. We have a real killer show planned in June with Father Befouled and Thornspawn, and we will be playing in Mexico in August and New York in December with some killer bands.

Is that live recording that made it to tape ever going to see a general release? What about a re-release of TGS?

No. It was only a small production, never meaning to be an official Imprecation release. If you got one, cool, but it stops at that cassette as far as our involvement with it. As far as Theurgia Goetia Summa, it will be re-released this summer on Die Todesrune records in Spain. The original release never gave proper credit to Phillip or myself. I mean, Phil wrote the music to at least 6 of those songs and my lyrics and vocals were on 6 of the nine tracks to no mention. Everyone who don’t know us think that Mark Beecher does all the vocals, when his vocal contribution stops after the third song. From then on it’s me, and Phil is playing the guitar on everyone of the Sigil of Baphomet and Ceremony tracks as well. So that’s gonna be re-released and also we have a killer new 7 inch that has been recorded on Negativity Records that will be entitled “Sigil of Lucifer”, to be released this summer.

We appreciate your spending so much time on these questions, and know it’s going to be important information in the underground. If you have anything else to add that we were too dumb to ask, please stick it here.

Thanks Herr Prozak for the interview. Hails and horns to ANUS.com, and to all affiliated with its writings!!

Here and NOW is our day of torment! Here and NOW is our day of Joy! Here and now is our opportunity! Choose ye this day, this hour, for no redeemer liveth. Every attempt made to organize the future must necessarily collapse. The present is our domain, and our chief duty is to take immediate possession thereof upon strict business principles. Strive therefore against them that strive against you, and war against them that war against thine. Lay hold of shield and buckler or their equivalents; stand up! Be a terrible one in thine own defense. Raise up also the clenched hand, and stop the way of them that would persecute you. Say unto thine own heart and soul: “I, even I, am my own redeemer.” Let them be hurled back into confusion and infamy, who devise thine undoing. Let them be as chaff before the cyclone, and let the Angel of Death pursue them, nay, overtake them. In a pit they have hidden a trap for thy feet; into that very destruction let them fall. Then, exultant, “sound the loud timbrel”. Rejoice! Rejoice! in thine own salvation. Then all thy bones shall say pridefully, “Who is like unto me? Have I not delivered myself by mine own brain? Have I not been to strong for mine adversaries? Have I not spoiled them that would have spoiled me?”

- Ragnar Redbeard, Might is Right (1896)

Composing Impulse – What Makes Metal Musicians Write Music?

May 9, 2009 –
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Musicians are basically storytellers, like writers are. In literature, great works are deemed so not just for their superior arrangement of elements (i.e. how “beautiful” or “organized” a certain piece is), but by how well they tell a central message or idea which the artist tries to communicate to his audience.

Putting aside the need to earn a living, I think there are four great motives for writing, at any rate for writing prose. (…) They are:

1. Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. (…)

2. Æsthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. (…)

3. Historical impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.

4. Political purpose.—Using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.

- George Orwell, Why I Write

In the above quote, the english author George Orwell indicates that writers have a special urge to fulfill their purpose, which also goes with a kind of appreciation for aesthetics that surpasses the experience of most people. All of that concentrated towards a goal: to express thoughts that go beyond the individual, a concern towards society or the world as a whole.

In an interview with another famous writer, Aldous Huxley, we can find a similar notion:

Interviewer: What would you say makes the writer different from other people?

Huxley: Well, one has the urge, first of all, to order the facts one observes and to give meaning to life; and along with that goes the love of words for their own sake and a desire to manipulate them. It’s not a matter of intelligence; some very intelligent and original people don’t have the love of words or the knack to use them effectively.

- Aldous Huxley, The Art of Fiction

Both views could be summed up to 1) writers wish to satisfy a personal urge towards creating beauty and 2) through their art, they share their vision on life, the world and its direction.

Music, like literature, also focus on expressing ideas, but in a different language and with a similar care for aesthetics, or how well the elements expose that idea.

Metal is no exception:

This isn’t something we do to pay the bills, it’s not a job and it’s not a chore, its something we are truly passionate about. It is something that each one of us needs in our lives, because without it, our lives would have a huge void. It’s very hard to convey this feeling to some people, but it is like a drug, a powerful driving force that we enjoy following year after year, record after record. So this is what kills complacency, our love for what we do and our passion and drive to move it forward and improve on it.

(…)

Well, I really can’t speak for anyone else, but I would imagine and would like to think musicians use their music to express their thoughts and feelings, whether it be on religion, or just their take on the world. For us, Death Metal was the perfect vehicle for conveying our feelings, sometimes angry, bitter and sad, but ultimately to express ourselves through the music.

I don’t think musicians sharing similar views will necessarily create the same types of music, because music is an individual thing and it is personal. Our music is very aggressive and powerful with a lot of heaviness, dark melodies, and very haunting at times, and this certainly reflects what the lyrics are saying. Some bands do have something to say in their music that is real and will make people think, other bands like to go in a different direction and create lyrics that are fantasy, pure entertainment for the listener, which is also fine, and we have also incorporated some of this to drive home our point on some occasions, but I think for the most part we fall into the first category.

We usually have something to say, and we don’t like to be preachy about it, but we like to present it in such a way that it does paint a bleak picture, and I think this certainly drives home the point quicker once you understand what the point of the song is. This genre definitely has a culture AND a philosophy all of its own.

- Immolation interview

For hessians, metal is beauty and order expressed in the language of fury and noise. The best works in the genre were created by people who are artists by nature, like Orwell and Huxley were and musicians like Ross Dolan are. Not everyone can become an artist and that’s why any form of art that encourages participation above all gets swamped into mediocrity.

Knowing that, hessians should think twice before giving their approval towards anything that comes their way. Be more critical. Some tips regarding that will appear in a future post.

Interview: Wes Infernal and Matt Mayhem (Blaspherian)

May 7, 2009 –
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Blaspherian comes from Houston, Texas, and makes old school death metal with its own voice. Their music does not sound like any known band but is clearly influenced by the old school of booming, primitive, dark, introspective and alienated metal. Formed in 2004, Blaspherian arose from the collaboration of Wes Infernal — formerly of Infernal Dominion and Imprecation — and Desekrator, but rapidly branched out to include Matt Mayhem on drums and Apollyon on vocals and bass.

Since that time, through several releases culminating in Allegiance to the Will of Damnation, after which Joe Nekro replaced Apollyon, the band has been crawling its way to the top of the Texas death metal stack, and will release a new album, Infernal Warriors of Death, shortly. We were fortunate to get some moments to talk with members Wes Infernal (guitars) and Matt Mayhem (drums) about this raging force of death metal.

Is it hard for you to create new riffs, ideas, songs and a “voice” for yourselves in old school death metal, since so much of the genre was established before?

WES: Not at all. We’ve been at this for long enough that it comes quite naturally, although there are occasional “dry spells.” One thing that sticks out is out guitar sound… once you hear it, you know it’s us. That and the way I write creates an original “voice” for us, as I see it.

MATT: Wes and I continuously get better at writing together. I think both of our hearts are in death metal. That and our strict guideline of writing songs is what keeps the ideas flowing. The right part for the wrong song, the song as a whole, and most importantly to remain evil and heavy at all times.

BLASPHERIAN finally has a stable line-up. How did you (Matt and Wes) decide to form the band; what was the catalyst?

W: BLASPHERIAN was created by myself and Desekrator, the original vocalist. Matt joined a short time afterwards, when Desekrator and I decided to get a lineup together. We originally had the idea of starting a thrash band back in 2004, but then I realized for me it had to be Satanic death metal, as that’s my true unholy calling. I had been without a band for about a year, and had enough time off…it was time to create this sick unholy force known as BLASPHERIAN.

I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen;
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And ‘Thou shalt not’ writ over the door;
So I turned to the Garden of Love
That so many sweet flowers bore.

And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tombstones where flowers should be;
And priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars my joys and desires.

- William Blake, Songs of Experience (1794)

Have the values of metal music changed from the early 90s? How, and what does it make you think?

W: The values have not changed for the diehards, for the true. But in the poseur world, of course their values change with every trend, with most of them eventually getting out of the scene altogether. To me, metal is a way of life, forever — until death. Long live the true metal warriors of death!

M: Unfortunately, I wasn’t there to experience the glory of the old days. I’m only 25, but the majority of the death metal I listen to is from the late 80s to early 90s. From what I see happening now, there are a lot of new killer bands coming out that keep that tradition alive. People are getting fed up with the bullshit that’s labeled “metal music” nowadays and rightfully so.

Wes Infernal has hosted the “From the Depths” radio show for a long time now. How long has it been, how has the show contributed to knowing metal, and has it showing you what is important to the listening audience influenced your approach to writing music?

W: I’ve done “From the Depths” since 2000, anno satanas. The show really hasn’t contributed to me knowing metal. I do the same things I’ve always done: buy CDs, collect records and magazines. The fun is turning all the listeners on to the stuff I get.

M: Honestly, I think to the older generation “Sweet Nightmares” was more important. Especially from the late 80s through the 90s. I know from my own experience before meeting Wes, “From the Depths” was definitely a pivotal point as far as finding out about new music goes. Me and my friends would get together and drink every Sunday and listen to awesome music we had never heard before. It eventually became a game of sorts, guessing which band he was playing at the time as well as an opportunity to test your knowledge of the underground.

When the band HELLHAMMER said, “Only Death is Real,” what do you think that meant?

W: To me, HELLHAMMER were one of the first metal bands to introduce death into their lyrical and visual themes. Life is short, death is eternal, therefore only death is real.

What were the early influences on your playing and songwriting, both individually and as a band?

W: Without a doubt, POSSESSED… and SLAYER. Which later developed into DEATH, MORBID ANGEL, etc.

M: In the beginning I think we were very influenced by INCANTATION, DEMIGOD, IMMOLATION, GRAVE, MORBID ANGEL and POSSESSED. I still try to incorporate those influences as much as possible, but I think that BLASPHERIAN has developed into its own beast by now! As far as drumming influences: Chris Reifert (AUTOPSY), Jim Roe (INCANTATION), and Craig Smilowski (IMMOLATION) are considered before all!

Does being fully metal conflict with having a career, family or non-metal friends? How do you all balance being in an occult death metal band with the needs of normal life?

W: Yes. It’s not easy, dealing with people that do not, and will not ever, understand the things I believe in or the things I do. You just have to go through life standing up for what you believe in. Try to explain, and most never get it. The few that do still think you’re crazy, which to me is hilarious. Explaining to a Christian how they are the embodiment of the herd mentality, and a slave in every way possible — I look forward to it sometimes.

When you write songs, do you start with a concept, or a riff, or something else?

W: It works either way. Sometimes a song title can trigger music, sometimes music will conjure a song title. But for the most part, at least so far, music gets written first.

How did you learn to play? Do you use music theory or another method? Did musical illiteracy help or hinder you in learning to make music that sounded the way you wanted it to?

W: I used to just jam along to SLAYER, METALLICA, and DARK ANGEL records. That was the foundation for me to learn everything I needed to learn. I know very little theory, really it’s more about pure feeling and emotion, each riff must mean something on a purely emotional level. So to me musically illiteracy has definitely helped, as strange as that may sound, because I would hate to have any kind of limitations, which is what theory is in my opinion.

I am not disclosing any trade secrets. In fact, the manager said afterwards that Mr. Kurtz’s methods had ruined the district. I have no opinion on that point, but I want you clearly to understand that there was nothing exactly profitable in these heads being there. They only showed that Mr. Kurtz lacked restraint in the gratification of his various lusts, that there was something wanting in him — some small matter which, when the pressing need arose, could not be found under his magnificent eloquence. Whether he knew of this deficiency himself I can’t say. I think the knowledge came to him at last — only at the very last. But the wilderness had found him out early, and had taken on him a terrible vengeance for the fantastic invasion. I think it had whispered to him things about himself which he did not know, things of which he had no conception till he took counsel with this great solitude — and the whisper had proved irresistibly fascinating.

- Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (1902)

Starting with INCANTATION, occult death metal bands have a unique way of titling their songs, like “Enthroned in Blasphemous Triumph” that emphasizes an older, more complex, more formal way of speaking. Why do you think that is?

W: I’m not really sure. I just know I like titles like that — they are from the heart, that is the heart of pure darkness and evil — and to me that’s what it’s all about.

What are the differences between BLASPHERIAN and IMPRECATION, and how do these reflect what you’ve learned or thought in the intervening years?

W: The most obvious difference is that Phil and Ruben wrote most of the music in IMPRECATION, at least early on. In BLASPHERIAN, I write 99% of the music thus far. I will say that without IMPRECATION, there would be no BLASPHERIAN…plain and simple. Those guys showed me everything, 666 goat hails to those wonderful lads!

What distinguishes great music from bad? Can it be distilled into technique, or is it something less easily defined?

W: Lack of honesty, really. You know you hear something, and you know if it’s real; to me that’s the most important thing, moreso than sound quality or production…those things mean nothing. It’s what’s in the intent, the meaning behind the music, that matters, not production.

Your riffs sound to me like there’s a heavy MORPHEUS DESCENDS and ASPHYX influence. What are the pivotal bands for all old school death metal acts to know?

W: I love old MORPHEUS DESCENDS but it’s not like I listen to them all the time. More often, I listen to IMMOLATION, INCANTATION, old MORBID ANGEL, GOREAPHOBIA, and of course IMPRECATION. You mentioned ASPHYX; I would definitely throw them in there as well as old DEICIDE, PARALYSIS, CRUCIFIER… so many.

If you could re-live the underground years of 1988-1994, what would you do differently? Do you think that kind of era is coming back again for metal?

W: I’d collect more old records, go to more shows, collect more demos and posters. I’d keep all of my old stuff in better condition. Some of it got fucked up along the way. I hope the old era will come back. It seems to be going in that direction, at least on an underground level. A lot of the newer death metal bands are keeping the old spirit alive, like DEAD CONGREGATION, NECROS CHRISTOS, just to name a few. Hail to the old school, and hails to those that keep it alive.

Is metal a culture, like many other “subcultures” which are part of this one big culture we call modern society? If so, what are its values?

W: In a way, it is a subculture. Definitely a counter culture to the norms of modern society. Metal values — hmm — standing up for real metal, as well as keeping vinyl, spiked gauntlets, denim vests, patches, crushing poseurs, collecting metal, not following the herd mentality…fighting against the blind Christian fools… you know, the fun stuff in life.

Some have claimed that art is a warning to society; others say art serves a necessary role in celebration of life. Still others believe it should celebrate the artist. Where, if anywhere, do these views intersect?

M: Our goal is to spread as much negativity as possible. The music is most important to us, not recognition as artists or opinions of others. We create this music for ourselves but we also welcome those that enjoy what we do as well.

Now that you’ve got several shorter releases out, the most prominent being 2007′s Allegiance to the Will of Damnation, how are you going to expand your empire? Has your songwriting or approach changed?

W: We’re working on our debut full length, for one. As for changes, there are none really but I think the new songs are stronger. Better riffs, better arrangements… and more fast stuff. But unquestionably along the same lines.

Although your music is old school death metal, your songs seem to concentrate on creating an atmosphere of pervasive doom, then rushing back into energetic metal as if to imitate a camera panning away from a battlefield of devastation. What is the importance of this atmosphere in your music?

W: Contrast, kind of like a roller coaster ride. Not all fast, not all slow, a mixture to keep things interesting. At least, that’s what I shoot for.

Is there a relationship between how an artist sees the world, and the type of music he or she will then make? Do people who see the world in similar ways make similar music?

W: Interesting question. I’ve never thought about it; I don’t see how others see. But if I had to guess I’d say no. I think for someone that feels exactly like me, their art could manifest itself completely differently. I mean, if you look at death metal, most bands sound different, but some may have the same hate and the same musical influences.

The CD version of Allegiance to the Will of Damnation has two additional tracks that the vinyl does not have. Were these recorded at the same time? What’s their story?

W: The first track we recorded as a band was “To Walk the Path of Unrighteousness” and it was for the split 7″ with Adumus. The other tracks were recorded at the same time. We used “Of Unholy Blood” for the split with Evil Incarnate. It’s been an honor to work with these bands, and with these labels…horns forever up!

I’m excited about how good this CD is and am looking forward to future output, live performances and presence in the genre from BLASPHERIAN. I think our readers are too.

M: Thank you Brett for the tons of support!

W: Thanks for the great interview, absolutely one of the best so far. Also thanks for the support, and thanks to all that support true death metal. We do this for ourselves, because we love to create heavy evil, Satanic music… it means a lot when others enjoy it as well. Look for our debut Infernal Warriors of Death soon. Hail!

We shall be able to gather, if not to create, this Life; to transmute it into other forms of force, as now we transmute heat to light. We shall be able to store it, to harness it, to guide it; to absorb its energy ourselves directly, without resorting to our present gross, inefficient, cumbrous and dangerous means of abstracting it from ores (if I may say so) mechanically, blindly, empirically, and with such toil and strife. Our journey–by such means of transit–is necessary and hateful; our travelling companions are our diseases, and the host to ease us at the end of the short, the weary day, is Death.

- Aleister Crowley, Liber CCCXLIII: AMRITA (1920)

Photos by AngelaTXDM