If you like metal, why tolerate weak metal?

Once upon a time, black metal had a mystical component. Its bands tried to write songs about an idea, and shied away from writing songs that were variations on a known form.

This is a split as big as the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning for rock music, which got popular because it’s easy for anyone to make a variant on a template. That way, everyone could participate.

People now like to act as if black metal is still a mystical genre. They take themselves seriously, use ancient and blasphemous language, and claim grand importance for CDs that sell to 50 people who can’t tell them apart from any of their other CDs.

There is no unity in the genre, just a lot of people using it for their own ends, namely to have something to do and some reason to claim they’re important. “But I am Gezagorath of Impietorturous Blasphemic Anal Mayehm!”

I think it’s time to just declare it rock ‘n roll. It’s no longer far from rock music in structure or theory; it’s variations on the pop song format with pentatonic solos, minor/major shifting, and three-chord riffs about the same handful of tired symbols. Not even grandmothers are frightened by Satan and corpsepaint anymore.

It’s also changed in outlook. It used to be the genre of the frontier, of singing about that which was both lawless and a terrifying confrontation with mortality, but also permitted exploration outside the narrow-minded humanist herd mentality. Now people say blatantly humanistic things to keep their music safe, and wonder why we’re all bored.

Yep, it’s just all rock ‘n roll to me now. I don’t see the point pretending the post-1994 black metal is anything more than another variation on hardcore punk, a genre which also lost its mystique and got really normal only a few years after blossoming.

Everyone can participate, and so there is nothing mysterious or unusual about black metal now. We need to start treating it like any other rock or punk music, and stop posturing and pretending we’re true to some ideal that ended long ago. Burn all the idols, not just the convenient ones.

Either you make music to communicate something unique, in which case form is shaped by substance, or you make music to fit within the form that’s popular, in which case substance is shaped by form.

The paradox is that all substance comes from observing the world, not from within the self (a form), so the only substance comes from reality itself. Songs about self-motivations are about the form of human beings, not the profundity of life itself. They’re narcissistic and fall into the same problem as songs where substance is shaped by any other type of form.

Like hardcore punk before it, and speed metal and death metal, black metal fell into the trap of letting in the masses. At that point, the level of quality declined because the goal was inclusivity and not the art in itself. So now we have a lot of black metal that is basically dressed-up garage rock.

The solution is to be intolerant of weak metal. If you love anything, don’t coddle its failures. Instead, nurture its successes, even to the point of radicalism. Acceptance is another word for lower standards, and lowest common denominator genres converge on that optimal utilitarian pop style known as rock ‘n roll.

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Gary Valentine Lachman – Turn Off Your Mind

When it appeared, I thought this book mostly worthless, because from a few glances the factual errors, opininiated attitude and the fact that it’s aimed at hipsters who ironically appreciate the counterculture were obvious. Lately I have changed my mind: this is a valuable book for beginners who are wondering about the new age, cult and heretical obsessions from Lovecraft to Crowley, Manson to Castaneda and parallel topics that inflitrated heavy metal from the beginning and even more obviously death and black metal. The writer Lachman has previously contributed to the underground through his work in early post-punk bands Blondie and Television. He comes across as a honest and astute writer, even though his ultra-liberalism causes him to be very unobjective when facing topics such as nazism and murder – it seems he sometimes chooses not to see the context.

The best part is that obviously he himself was very much oriented from a young age towards the topics of the occult in the same spirit as old death and black metallers were: picking up those parts that seem to benefit the empowerment of man, reveal the experience of the mystical in life and reach towards transcendence no matter how “crazy” deemed by the public. And despite the aforementioned shunning of brutal elements in Western culture and counterculture, his conclusions tend to be sane and without the excessive burden of moralism. Overall, while labeled as a book about the 60′s, possibly for marketing reasons, in describing the threads that connected popular culture to esoteric practice throughout the whole century it’s a better guide to reveal the spiritual tendencies behind death metal, from Morbid Angel’s deities to Deicide’s blasphemy, than books that are actually about death metal itself.

-Devamitra-

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Beherit – Engram

Scheduled for release on April 9, Beherit Engram faces high expectations. Thanks to the generosity of some people devoted to art, we were able to hear six of the seven tracks on the new album, and get you a brief review.

Engram thrusts forward through the past in a return to form for black metal, but takes it to the next dimension past Burzum’s Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, which effectively ended black metal by taking it to ambient in the first place. Developing on the concepts shared between ambient music and metal, Engram is really raw but intensely structured, with a deepening mood.

Instead of opting to make a black metal/ambient fusion, Beherit combine the ideas of raw primitive ambient black metal with atmospheric music that works with the texture of sound more than discrete notes. Faster than Drawing Down the Moon, it resembles the material from the Archgoat split given more structure and prismatic depth without losing its primitive gestalt. This is a smart way of not trying to reinvent black metal, but recontexting its riffs in such a way as to pick up where Burzum’s Hvis Lyset Tar Oss left off, which is an attempt to create a mood where one is barely aware that there’s music but gets lost in the muscular clarity of a raw emotion reflecting a primal, naturalistic reality.

The use of repeated non-distorted motifs reminds me of Burzum’s Hlidskjalf as well. There’s a clear Sarcofago influence, and something that sounds like a fusion between Bathory albums The Return and Octagon, sometimes augmented with a noisy, melodic cornering reminiscent of later Darkthrone. Like most Beherit works, these songs uncannily grow on you like mysticism in the darkness.

Black metal has been so stale and boring for the last fifteen years, it’s awesome to have something to look forward to with excitement again. This does not just rehash the past, but inherits it, and subtly develops its ideas consistenly and yet with creativity, moving to a new space for this music to flourish. Engram may win you over surprisingly quickly; it’s organized, has heart, and in the transitions of its dark moods tells us something for the ages about how to survive humanness with elan. Perhaps it is a template for the next generation of black metal.

01. Axiom Heroine
02. Destroyer of Thousand Worlds
03. All in Satan
04. Pagan Moon
05. Pimeyden Henki
06. Suck My Blood
07. Demon Advance
Length: 43:02

Spinefarm pre-order page

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Amor fati

My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it — all idealism is mendaciousness in the face of what is necessary — but love it.

– Friedrich Nietzsche, “Why I Am So Clever” in Ecce Homo, section 10

This a great summation of Nietzsche’s method; an outlook unswayed by the petty gusts of popular opinion, or common knowledge, in pursuit of what is real, including acknowledging both the “ugly” and the “beautiful.”

It is also essential to the approach taken by metal: recognize the world for what it is, pull no punches in describing it and use this relentlessly regardless of mere social consequences.

ATHEIST, one of death metal’s most cosmically literate bands, seems to agree:

Another notch in a cosmic climb
Reveal our sanity, reveal your plan divine
To grasp reality is to grasp your biggest fear, you see
Every circumstance is very meant to be

– ATHEIST, “Piece of Time”

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Is downloading MP3s “stealing”?

Stealing depends on the intent of the downloader and the artist.

With death metal, for example, where 5000 CDs sold is an out-of-the-ballpark smash, artists love it when you download their music — much of which is out of print. They gain fans; sometimes, enough fans leads to CDs being re-pressed.

If the artist wants to gain fans, and the downloaders want to buy the CD if they really connect with the music, the situation is good.

As with all downloads, there are some people who will never buy anything and will just leech. However, they weren’t going to buy the CDs anyway. Leeches just leech. DRM doesn’t stop them, but it does hassle ordinary users who might want a second copy of Deicide’s “Legion” for the car or something.

In my view, downloading is a boon to small and niche genres with fanatical fans; it’s a loss for big box store style pop genres, whose fans only care for novelty. Oh well — the destruction of that music is a win for art :)

TechCrunch

Death metal never plays by the rules. People buy the music because it’s eternal, not new. They want to own it so they never lose it, not because it’s worth something outside of its enjoyment. And, almost everyone else hates it and thinks it’s degraded noise made by failed reprobates. But luckily, not playing by the rules means you’re outside the popularity leads to money and power game. Instead, you can focus on the art itself. That’s transcendence of a kind.

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Comeback albums you can forget

We all know the syndrome: old band with a recognized name pops up, and we think, their old stuff was good; it’s great they’re back!

What they’re thinking is that they don’t want to go back to working at Target, so here’s a chance to cash in on the old name. They no longer hope to get big, but now, they just want six months or a year of something more interesting, and they’re going to use you toward that end.

Of course, they’ve forgotten that even though most of the metal audience are dunces at this point, the rise of MP3s means that we can hear the stuff in advance, and pitch it in the bin for being junk. So their comebacks fail.

Pestilence – Resurrection Macabre

Did you ever wonder what would happen if you streamlined the dry production of PESTILENCE’s Testimony of the Ancients to meet modern standards, and kicked around substandard versions of some of the band’s backcatalog riffs into mind-numbing ABABCAB cut-and-paste architecture? What if the illiterate jazz was jammed in every song in the form of the guitar solo? Nary a song passes without hammering the one- or two-word song title home as chorus in some manner; the bafflingly sophomoric lyricism is merely occasionally deferred. Just another testament to the pervasive laziness of this entire affair, and revealing of the pathetic scheme they are implementing in trying to sucker in the most ancient of the longtime fans. Without that motive, it is nearly incomprehensible that a band would return from a giant sabbatical to cobble together this rubbish.

Absu – Absu

There’s no polite way to say this but: this CD sounds like everything else out now. A whole lot of power metal riffs, a few death metal structures, and some melodic parts borrowed from the new wave of Swedish black and death metal bands. What does it add up to? Randomness. No one cares except the kids who’ve invested themselves in being metalheads and so pretend to like this stuff. For serious listeners, this is a waste of good musicians on disorganized, repetitive, obvious material.

Suffocation – Suffocation

Yeah, this is an oldie. I mention it not because it’s incompetent. It barely changed styles, and all the rules are still followed. It just has no soul. It’s a hollow album that you can listen to for several weeks, then wake up and think, if it left my life, would I care? And then you realize that if Pierced from Within left your life, you’d shit bricks. It’s in the “A- and why bother” category, which is sad given the vast potential of this band. I think after the style they invented got appropriated by Cannibal Corpse, who took it to vast popularity, they got bitter and have been trying for revenge by success ever since. Doesn’t work that way.

Seance – Awakening of the Gods

This is every bit as painful as the Pestilence, but less cynical. I think they tried to figure out what The Kids Today like, and so made a product, but it ends up being unsubstantial, yet not catchy enough for the kids who are buying the real idiot fodder. So they’ve both alienated their own audience and failed to gain the big-time audience, which makes this album an uber-fail. Banging drums and super-loud distortion run around my head in circles, riffs are made like Soulfly without the bounce, and the whole thing is a grab-bag of influences and half-finished ideas. Next, please.

Lots more death metal bands are up on the block. If they didn’t have the presence of mind to keep going after the 1990s metal boom, they’re probably not going to fit today’s audience, which means that if they’re writing an album, they should simply target the old schoolers and do what they do best instead of trying to fit in. Also, they should know that any self-reference title, or reference to resurrection, rebirth, awakening, etc. means the album will blow ass because they are thinking of nothing but themselves. I expect none of them will figure that out.

The best metal albums continue to be those composed by intelligent, thoughtful, realistic people who make music that they think they would enjoy. Not surprisingly, other people of the same inclination also enjoy it; it gets lost in the flood of music for drones, like emo, nu-black/hardcore/shoegaze, carnival music, bad heavy metal, and other stupefactive nonsense.

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PESTILENCE — or — The Failure of Revival, Pt. II

The Failure of Revival, Pt. II

(Part of a LONG ongoing series, I’m afraid. Don’t even bother to download this album.)

PESTILENCE – Resurrection Macabre

Did you ever wonder what would happen if you streamlined the dry production of PESTILENCE’s Testimony of the Ancients to meet modern standards, and kicked around substandard versions of some of the band’s backcatalog riffs into mind-numbing ABABCAB cut-and-paste architecture?

No?

What if the illiterate jazz was jammed in every song in the form of the guitar solo?

To give you an idea how unfathomably unimaginative this album is, the vocals on the first two songs begin by repeating their respective, inane two-word titles immediately after the opening riff. In fact, this happens on no fewer than five out of the eleven tracks on the album. Nary a song passes without hammering the one or two-word song title home as chorus in some manner; the bafflingly sophomoric lyricism is merely occasionally deferred. The vocal delivery is so dispassionate that it persuades you they know exactly the kind of boilerplate tripe they are spewing.

Maybe even more convincingly braindead: they’ve introduced a sequel to a song in Dehydrated II (how does that happen a second time?). They’ve cleverly lifted the opening riff from the original track and inverted the melody in order to buy themselves another three minutes (inverted old-timey riff, chorus riff, inverted old-timey riff…etc.) Unfortunately, they’ve also revealed their entire comeback formula by failing to come up with only one more clich

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Nocturnus – Thresholds

Nocturnus - Thresholds

Thresholds, the second offering from Mike Browning’s (ex-Morbid Angel) sci-fi death metal tour de force, is an uneven, messy, fusion-inspired, lurid and occult death metal album. The best bits on here such as the sparkling, baroque, Mozart-ian lead guitars on “Aquatica” and the super-addictive chug and rhythmic chant on “Climate Controller” will stick to mind but at times the observation leaps through that Browning & co. are nowhere near the composers that for example Azagthoth & Brunelle were. The polyphony of the looming synthesizers is mostly awkward atmosphere building instead of solid thematics incorporated with the guitars. Browning does have an uncanny primitivistic yet accurate touch with the drums, one he obviously is going for, even naming a track “Tribal Vodoun”. All in all, it was probably a disappointment for many who bought it back in the day simply because Trey Azagthoth was always wearing a Nocturnus shirt in promo pictures. Nowadays as a rare and seldom heard item it has both nostalgic cult value and alongside the equally fusionistic, strange but compulsive “Spheres” by Pestilence shows imaginative directions where death metal could have followed if it hadn’t been abandoned to the blind flocks with their “brutal chugging” and “melodic wanking” trends.

Devamitra-

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On the Importance of Hardcore/Punk

Guest post courtesy of Tyler Gebar

If one were to closely examine the foundations of death and black metal, they would most likely notice the thematic composition passed down from Romanticist composers like Bruckner, Brahms, and Schumann immediately. However, there is one other genre that has been a major influence to the structure of extreme metal: Hardcore Punk. One may wonder how musicians so tightly interconnected with the classical realm could possibly draw inspiration from the dogmatic mire of punk music, but the aspects of punk in black and death metal are extremely obvious particularly in the area of phrasing.

It is common knowledge amongst most fans of punk music that hardcore punk had an extraneous goal beside simply making music. This goal was to completely alienate their style of music from that of the bland cosmopolitan music that dominated the radio waves. One must ask themselves, though, what intent was placed behind this goal, and what did hardcore punk hope to achieve through its alienation?

During the 1980’s there was a large obsession with hedonistic “glam metal” (a marketing term for image-based rock). This music was a full-flowering of the excess generation beget by the previous hippie generation. The egalitarianism espoused by hippies had passed down a me-first attitude to their children which confounded them despite the fact that their selfish children were products of their own ideology. It seems that the idea of promoting equality amongst everyone and everyone believing their desires should be met without opposition or criticism are unrelated in the eyes of the jaded 70’s counter-culture. Music reflected this attitude by encouraging the pursuit of immediate gratification as a viable path in life. After all, the was is over, a global community is on the rise, and we’ve reached a level of technology so advanced that fear of survival has been eliminated; do whatever you want! It’s not going to hurt anyone!

Punk musicians of the time sensed this loss of purpose, or the loss of spirit if you will. Although they may have not always been articulate, they reflected their desire to rail against this lack of conflict and excitement in life by creating music that exemplified the brevity of an individual’s time on earth, and the explosiveness of war. More so than punk that came before or after, hardcore punk obtained a balance of perfect representation in music. Their refusal to compromise song structure or sonic aesthetic enabled them to compose more dynamic songs, which although didn’t reach the classical level of using several themes to create a transcendent journey that resolved in an affirmation of life, resembled it in it’s desire to speak to a person’s senses through art.

Predominantly this could be seen in the way that chords were used. The main staple of hardcore was the perfect fifth, or the power chord as it was commonly known. This chord did not imply a major or minor tonality (hence being “perfect) regardless of pitch, unless a third (or numerous other tones) were played along with it. What this chord did was enable hardcore punk groups to write lengthy phrases that were not inhibited by tonality. Mainstream rock bands were dynamically opposed to this style of writing because they restricted themselves to using open chords that were required to dwell within their key in order to remain pleasing to the widest audience possible. Along with tonal restrictions, the chords were often merely used as back dropping to the dominant vocal melody which was focused on to shift attention to the lyrics that reveled in the self-serving perspective of the day, thus supporting people’s banal desires to do as they will which they latched onto wholeheartedly.

Speaking of vocal melodies, hardcore eschewed the popular method of gritty gospel-based blues vocals and instead employed a harsh shout that simultaneously moved focus away from the voice and used it as a rhythmic exclamation mark to the terse melodic sentences that were bashed out or fluidly strummed by the guitarists.

In terms of cadence, melodies played by the guitars were aimed to be as unconventional as possible. To achieve this hardcore punk musicians simply refused to compose anything that was rhythmically oriented by not using the drum beats as a guideline. Rock however reduced music to a bodily function by centering chord cadences around constant 4/4 drum patterns (which were easily digestible as the time was split into simple three and four bar phrases) interspersed with tiresome fills that were only amounted to pointless displays of technical talent. Hardcore drummers usually battered out a d-beat (an off-time rhythm that sometimes would not variate through an entire song) or sometimes used more conventional rhythms along with the occasional blasting. What this did is create a rhythm section that was more of a percussive tapestry that underscored the melody as opposed to becoming a simplistic egg-timer like most drummers of the day.

Metal most definitely adopted this form of riff writing, and expanded upon it to feature several melodic themes per song; where as punk often displayed one major theme in an explosive fashion. Despite its quick-hitting nature, hardcore punk was a very relevant influence upon future generations of artists who sought to grasp onto the lagging sense of meaning in this world. Unfortunately, the youth of the suburbs who were always looking for a more radical statement to use as their source of catharsis before they were assimilated into the back-breaking rigor morale of modern society quickly converged upon the art-form of hardcore. Before long they created a formulaic sound by bashing unimaginative three-interval power chord riffs in an attempt to merely sound extreme, but use that extremity for absolutely nothing.

In spite of its unfortunate demise, hardcore punk proved that unrefined youthful rebellion can sometimes transcend its origins, and proved its own point by self-destructing, in a fashion. The music was probably the most beautiful and well-written punk music out of the entire genre, and closest to the classical spirit of art (although the artists themselves certainly weren’t aware of it). The mark of these great musicians will echo throughout time, as in an age where most were content to say nothing… hardcore screamed at the top of its lungs.

“Lied to threatened cheated and deceived
Hear nothing see nothing say nothing
Led up garden paths and into blind alleys
Hear nothing see nothing say nothing ”
– “Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing” by Discharge

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Funeral Mist – Maranatha

Metal since 1998 has produced a whole lot of favorites that seem to be forgotten six months later. Funeral Mist Maranatha is going to be the latest, although for the next 96 hours people will tell me I’m wrong, stupid, primitive and dumb for thinking that.

While the hype on this album is hot, let me say that it’s the latest to be overhyped and then forgotten, because unlike foundational black metal — what the Scandinavians did with the genre in the early 1990s — this has no organizing principle. It’s a number of imitations of successful things from the past thrown in together, which means it has no spine, no soul and no purpose.

In other words, it’s the musical equivalent of buying a cheap Mazda and putting ground effects, a spoiler, and a phat stereo into it — you can’t polish a turd enough to make it stop stinking. It’s no different than what Dimmu Borgir did when they started making carnival music for those with no attention span. Stuff happens, and then something completely different happens, and nothing ties it together, so after five minutes they add a final-sounding riff and it’s a “song.” During that “song,” it throws in every “different” cliche it can, and tries to be as “diverse” as possible, because there’s no plan — no organization to hold the song together and make it, like all good art, convey something of poetic importance — so the goal is to distract you for five minutes that, if you put your brain hold, you might consider “enjoying music,” later. That abuse of categorical thinking occurs here but in kvlty vndergrovnd extremity, which means that instead of trying to make music to please you, it makes music to remind you how ugly life is.

This anti-hero aesthetic worked when Jim Morrison did it because he used it as a springboard for something else: “Hey, I thought I’d mention… your society’s falling apart… and I’m here to celebrate the apocalypse, until you figure it out.” But people never did. Funeral Mist and their ilk, who are basically Britney Spears styled pop dressed up in distortion and ugliness, use being an anti-hero as a justification. We hate life… life is ugly… we accept you even though you’re ugly… come be ugly with us, because all we care about is that you buy the album… — a ten buck meth whore attitude.

The music, which some have compared to Marduk ROM 5:12, is like the fecal playtime of stupid children. There’s an introduction to every song, usually a riff that gets heard again played at twice the speed. Then there’s a melodic hooky riff. Then there’s an updated Pantera riff, in that the drums fall into cadence but the guitar plays that muted strum off-beat speed metal riff style but starts it on the beat, so it doesn’t sound quite as bouncy — I think they hope it’s grim. Then more carnival music, where phrases wander all over the place with urgency that people hope makes them seem important, then get grim again for some two-chord blasting so you know This is Serious Ugly Art.

Predictably, the album borrows from every black metal band that ever made it big, from most speed metal bands that made it big, and even capitalizes on dumb death metal cliches. Could this thing fucking suck any more? Well — you can always go lower, like meth whores who don’t mind your big dumb friend with AIDS joining in — but for a band of this stature and potential, it’s hard to imagine how people this intelligent can screw up so badly.

We — as metal fans — should just admit that we want to separate the men from the boys. Metal is mostly failure, with a few peaks when smart people got together and made good music, like the NWOBHM or early black metal or the death metal burst of the late 1980s. The rest of the time, it’s kiddie music for simple people who refuse to or cannot mature and face the grim realities of life and yet make something great of them, which is the purpose of art. Do we need songs telling us life is ugly? No, because that’s a half-truth. We need songs telling us life is both ugly and beautiful, but that we can make a new kind of beauty by using the ugly to make the greater beauty out of the fact that in life, we get choices, and if we fucking face reality, we can reign supreme in beauty — even if it is beauty, like metal, made from ugly things like distorted chords and clowns being sodomized noises.

Funeral Mist Maranatha is kiddie music. It hasn’t grown the balls to have something to say, so it apes the past and throws it all into one big distracting ball of fail so hopefully its audience won’t notice for the two weeks they listen to anything before, like bratty kids with cheesy toys, they “get tired of it.” This is not metal for grown men and women. There is a way to hold on to your youth, but it’s in the spirit that continues to view the world as a playground in which you can make beauty. Funeral Mist instead merge the worst of kiddie brats and disillusioned, embittered old men who make excuses for failed lives and want to drag everyone down into their misery. “Life is ugly,” growls the ancient failure. “So you had no choice but to fail, to not grow up, and to be a brat your whole life.”

Nu-black metal like this latest from Funeral Mist gets a lot of hype because everyone has hopes for it. Stupid kids who will be listening to hip hop in six months hope to socialize by buying things. People who failed at life and so work in the record industry so they can justify having a shitty apartment, a sub-par salary, and a spiritual weather forecast of CONTINUED FAILURE have hopes this album will make them seem hip and get them some cash. Bands like Funeral Mist, who aped better bands and seem to have no ideas of their own, are hoping this will keep them afloat for another year or so, after which point it’s back to being hipsters selling novelty releases in record stores.

But these hopes are based on lies, and so this latest favorite will be a hype vortex for another week, and then be forgotten, because it has no eternal childlike soul mated to a warlike adult vision which creates the poetic beauty which made black metal worth noticing in a sea of distracting, pointless, disposable kiddie music.

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