On Elective Culture and Hessians

You may have noticed in previous posts on this blog the phrase “elective culture” and its application to the definition of hessianism. Basically, our assertion is that hessianism is a culture in which you’re not born into. “Elective” implies here the power of choice, as all of us in some moment in our lives (early teenage years in most cases) chose to become die hard metalheads as we became enraptured by the power metal gives.

But what is the necessity for “elective cultures”? Did we have these in the past, or are these an exclusive phenomenon of our times? To answer these questions, we need to look at the bigger perspective.

Western peoples have for many decades been experiencing a lost of meaning. Being on the lead in expanding the universal ideals of free market, multiculturalism and relentless economic growth first sponsored by the USA, we have been for quite some time forgetting the value of the original cultures which once defined us.

The generations born after the 60s decade (that’s most of us) met with an unusual circumstance not known in previous eras: the lack of a general foundation in which to comprehend life and base one’s purpose in it. This role was previously given by one’s own culture. As the generations pass it’s becoming more and more difficult to find a meaning to life besides consumerism, hedonism and blind obedience to the system.

It’s not unusual, if one understands human nature, that at the lack of something fundamental one looks for a replacement to compensate. In the plethora of different groupings which characterize our modern pluralistic societies (meaning, not defined by a single culture, but by many sharing the same space), the replacement can only come in what is called an “elective culture”. Among them we have examples in certain neo-paganist sects, sports culture incarnated in dedication and fanaticism for a particular club, and hessianism, or metal culture.

Culture simply means any way of life, any way of being, any form of art. So ‘elective cultures’ like metal are just as much cultures as anything else. However, the question of legitimacy you raise seems to imply the question of whether elective cultures like metal are seen as legitimate in pluralistic societies. While the old ‘high-low culture’ distinction still remains in some parts of society, it is much weaker than it used to be. These days, most people who hate metal would still probably concede that it forms a unique cultural space.

International Day of Slayer asks the Experts: is this a good idea?

I shall go further: by sponsoring a world-view based on nature’s law and extreme realism, hessianism not only becomes a viable alternative to modernism, but its opposite. Metal lyrics and themes have quite an obsession with the past, and from the past it draws its values: heroism, warrior spirit, channeled aggression towards a noble end, etc. These are antagonistic to the modern view of life of comfort and materialism.

Now, in some of you may arise the question: are hessians born or made? Are the values of hessianism so different from the norm that you need to have certain innate psychological qualities, like an unusual lust for power? “I was born to play/listen to metal” is an assertion we hear many times from hessians. How “elective” is metal culture really? If the application of the EC label is more ambiguous than we believe, then, can hessian culture become at some point non-elective? We’ll try to touch the subject on another post.

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Unsilent Storms in the Texas Abyss

From the arid deserts infested with scorpions and snakes to the liberal cities and more conservative rural ranches, Texas carries the memory of the American frontier, the spirit of man against overwhelming odds; an age when harmony with nature determined survival. In the 80′s groundbreaking bands such as DRI, HelstarWatchtower, Ripper and Necrovore created both musical and aggressive anti-normal metal that gave foundations for genres such as progressive metal, thrash and death metal. In the 90′s, the sceptre was mostly carried by death metal influenced black metal bands Absu, Averse Sefira and Thornspawn. Just as the Texas scene seemed to have quieted down in keeping with the hipsterization of metal, the last two years have shown many new promising acts to arise: the occult metal of Dagon, the hyperactive metal/punk crossover of Birth A.D. and the demonic and subliminal Blaspherian. While all of these are formally very much crafted according to the rules of subgenres established by the previous degenerations, their no-nonsense attitude and direct, perceptual spirit in the creation of insistent, spontaneous and un-commercial metal artifacts deserves nothing but applause.

Reviews
Birth A.D. –  Stillbirth of a Nation
Blaspherian – Allegiance to the Will of Damnation

Written by Devamitra

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Genetics of Musical Competency and Communication

Shedding more light on our statement that artistic aptitude in metal is a rare trait, a University of HELLsinki study reveals that musicality is more of an inborn characteristic than most think:

In the study high music test scores were significantly associated with creative functions in music (p< .0001), suggesting composing, improvising and arranging music demands musical aptitude. Creativity is a multifactorial genetic trait involving a complex network made up of a number of genes and environment. Here was shown for the first time that the creative functions in music have a strong genetic component (h2 =.84; composing h2 =.40; arranging h2 =.46; improvising h2 = .62) in Finnish multigenerational families. Additionally the heritability estimates of the musical aptitude were remarkable.

To elucidate the neurobiological basis of music in human evolution and communication the researchers demonstrated an association of arginine vasopressin receptor 1A (AVPR1A) gene variants with musical aptitude. In the previous studies the AVPR1A gene and its homologies have been associated with social, emotional and behavioral traits, including pair bonding and parenting. The results suggest that the neurobiology of music perception and production is related to the pathways affecting intrinsic attachment behavior.

“Music is social communication between individuals,” says Liisa Ukkola. “Darwin proposed that singing is used to attract the opposite sex. Furthermore, lullabies are implied to attach infant to a parent and singing or playing music together may add group cohesion. Thus, it is justified to hypothesize that music perception and creativity in music are linked to the same phenotypic spectrum of human cognitive social skills, like human bonding and altruism both associated with AVPR1A. We have shown for the first time in the molecular level that music perception has an attachment creating impact.”

Science Daily, Genetic Basis Of Musical Aptitude: Neurobiology Of Musicality Related To Intrinsic Attachment Behavior

In more layman terms: ability in music, meaning not just technical skill but creativity and general talent at composing and improvising, is determined mostly by the genes. Not just that, it is also claimed that music making is intimately related with the human traits associated with bonding and communication with other human beings: we use music to transmit to each other ideas so complex that we would be unable to convey with speaking or gestures and do so because we care about communicating those ideas to the world.

All of this data makes one thinks twice about supporting each and every band that comes our way. Not everyone can be an artist and create great, transcendental works, so why should we keep encouraging participation in the metal scene when we can be more concerned about quality and not quantity?

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Heavy Metal Record Stores in Texas

heavy_metal_record_store

Metal-friendly record stores are a blast. These wonderful places keep the metal on the shelves so people can browse. If you’re buying metal on the internet, you need to know what you’re looking for. Go to a store and you can see what’s there and try new things. You can get that feeling of finding something you really want on the first day it’s released. You can also get expert opinions from Hessians who work there.

Although many media figures have been howling bloody murder about mp3s, metal has remained relatively untouched. This is because metalheads are obsessive collectors who like to have all of the music from their favorite artists close at hand. Buying a metal CD means getting artwork, lyrics and the experience of striving for something and then getting it, and also lets you place a vote for what bands you think should be more appreciated.

Austin

Austin suffers from too many people getting paid government checks or parental aid, and too many college graduates willing to work for $8/hour at someplace “hip,” so it’s a hard place to keep a record store going. Longtime local color Sound Exchange closed down, as did 33 Degrees, depriving the city of some of its better metal outlets. Luckily, Encore records still exists and is intensifying its metal selection.

Encore Records
1745 W Anderson Lane
Austin, TX 78757-1335
(512) 451-8111
Hours: Mon-Sat 10AM-12AM, Sun 12PM – 11PM
http://www.revolutionnumber9.com/
encoremusic@austin.rr.com

This store starting selling videos, and has branched into music, but since they’ve hired Dangerous Toys frontman Jason McMaster, they now have a lot more metal knowledge. CDs are $16-19 and selection is good, including of underground metal.

San Antonio

Hogwild Records
1824 N Main Ave
San Antonio, TX 78212
(210) 733-5354
http://www.myspace.com/hogwildrecords

This place is Hessian heaven. They have two long aisles of metal CDs, a huge rack of metal LPs, and tshirts hanging like tapestries, not to mention rarities found in glass cases and behind the counter. The staff are mostly Hessians, speak the language and seem to love the music. Also has a good hardcore punk collection.

Houston

Houston is fortunate to have three stores with active and thriving metal sections. Two are in the Montrose area, and the third is out near Spring. However, they’re each worth visiting and good places to get some killer metal.

Sound Exchange
1846 Richmond Ave
Houston Texas 77098
(713) 666-5555
Hours: Mon-Sun, 11:00 to 7:00
http://www.soundexchangehouston.com/
store@soundexchangehouston.com

This store has been around forever, and has always had a brilliant metal section. It used to be on Westheimer right before Dunlavy, where the antiques place is now. Currently, it’s at Woodhead and Richmond in a solid, comfy brick house. I think the owners live upstairs. If you go in the front door and head straight to the back right-hand side of the house, there’s a small room that may once have been a kitchen, and it has two racks of metal. One is for new and used CDs, and the second is for vinyl and DVDs.

Although the rack is only six feet wide, it has a good selection of new metal as well as classics, with an emphasis on death metal and black metal. Two rows are reserved for local bands, which are sold at highly reasonable prices. Prices for new CDs are $14-17. Before you leave, check under the counter by the register — they stock metal rarities and box sets there. At least one staff member loves metal and likes to chat it up with local bands. The staff are very supportive, knowledgeable about metal and content to let you browse.

Directions: Take 59 to Shepherd. Take a right turn on Richmond, and go for about two miles until you reach Hazard. Sound Exchange is on the NE corner. [map]

Look for the sign:

Sound Waves
3509 Montrose
Houston, Tx 77006
(713) 520-9283
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 10-9 pm
http://soundwaves.com/

Soundwaves hovers between selling surf gear and music, but it’s worth going for the used CD section. The store is divided with the left two-thirds being music and the right third filled with surfboards, shoes, lycra swimsuits, goggles, etc. Right on the border between these sections are used CDs and DVDs. If you scan through the general rock section, you will almost always find underground metal because whoever buys for them seems to like it.

Going back to the rows of new CDs, you’ll find the third row from the left, facing away from the sportsgear part of the store, is about 25′ of metal CDs. These are generally priced at $15-17, which is a reversal from how Soundwaves used to be — an inexpensive high-volume store. They stock a wide variety of stuff from the more extreme heavy metal through the metalcore/nu-metal stuff, but whoever buys for them tries to keep representative CDs of classic death metal and black metal bands in stock.

When they find a band they like, they stick with it, which is why you can get CDs from each segment of Prong’s 20-year career any day of the week. Although this is the busiest of the stores we mention in this review, it also has the highest-profile metal section which could easily be replaced with more indie, electronica or hip-hop to bring in the bucks. Make sure to check the sale racks fronting each aisle as periodically they throw some more mainstream death metal on sale.

Directions: From Sound Exchange, take a left on Richmond. Go until you reach Montrose. Take a left on Montrose. Soundwaves is on your right about three streets shy of Westheimer. [map]

Look for the sign:

Vinal Edge
239 W 19th St, Houston, TX 77008
(281) 537-2575
Moved from:
13171 Veterans Memorial Drive
Houston, Texas 77014
(281) 537-2575

Hours: Mon-Thurs 10AM-7PM, Fri-Sat 10AM-9PM, Sun 12-6
http://www.vinaledge.com/
retail@vinaledge.com

This store is an old school Hessian shop. The front display is a disaster, and it’s piled high with boxes of records and CDs. You have to step over stuff to navigate through the cramped aisles. It is not a large shop. It is not a clean shop. In fact, it’s a giant pile of stuff that people don’t bother to move much. However, they take their metal seriously, even putting notations in grease pencil on used CDs. I don’t understand the misspelled name either.

Having moved recently from North Houston to a trendier location in The Heights, this store remains a metal institution because although it stocks many kinds of music, it loves its metal. Right by the front door is the metal section; about 15′ of new CDs in racks, and a flat shelf storing used metal spine-up. This store does the best job of represented every era of metal. There’s a ton of old heavy metal, a dedicated “stoner doom” section, and then as much new black metal as you can shake a stick at.

Death metal is there as well but less prevalent. They seem to love labels like Southern Lord. However, they also carry a wide selection of death metal and black metal classics on vinyls, have a 7″ section dedicated to metal, and the best metal used CDs selection seen at a Houston store. Staff were friendly, liked metal and played it in the store, and were obvious metalheads. It’s a friendly place to shop for metal.

Directions: from Sound Exchange, take Montrose northward to Washington. Take a left on Washington, and take a right on Yale. From Yale, go Northward into the Heights. Take a left on W. 19th street and Vinal Edge will be on your right. Good luck finding parking. [map]

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The death of post-metal

Heavy metal came from horror movie soundtracks, loud rock, and progressive music mixed into a single package. This style differentiated itself by singing about epic, historical views of humanity and the dark subjects such thinking brings up, in opposition to the self-centered ramblings of rock musicians. It also brought in a new style of playing, where lead rhythm phrases were made of moveable chords into “riffs” which allowed greater complexity in songs, even if it reduced harmonic depth. With such a momentous birth, it took metal a couple generations to catch up with itself.

After its birth, it almost got assimilated by heavy rock and glam bands, but then bounced back by mixing aggressive punk hardcore into the mix. This new style evolved through thrash, which was crossover music for skateboarders, and speed metal, which was more traditional heavy metal, before exploding into form with death metal and black metal.

These styles fulfilled what Black Sabbath had started: creation of an entirely alien, post-human, horror-infused lifeform. Death metal introduced structuralism, or a way of linking together riffs that made the structure of the song the guiding force in lieu of harmony, and black metal pioneered using melody and atmosphere within the death metal framework to make a complete new style.

This new style most clearly resembled early Baroque or ancient Greek music in its atonal framing in which modal patterns are used to build melody, and inherited the tradition of bands from classical to Tangerine Dream of making spacious, lengthy compositions that eschew the verse-chorus tradition of pop music. Metal had transcended rock music.

Once that new wave of music, emboldened by the new easy (mid-1980s vintage) of printing and selling CDs, exploded from its indie roots to popularity, it lost direction. Too much of its impetus had been based on being tiny and alienated; now it was big. Now the crowd wanted to come to it, but they also wanted to change it to be more like the rock music and punk with which they were familiar.

Around 1994, the old guard started to pull back in confusion and pursue other things. In rushed the newcomers. They created two new styles which were basically the same thing: rock done in metal technique. The first, metalcore, mixed punk songs with metal riffs, but never “got” the death metal way of linking successive riffs in context. The second, nu-metal, added hip-hop bounce and alternative choruses to metal, but was basically metal riffs on top of rock songs.

Most death metal from the period 1994-2009 began to resemble metalcore. The riffs were no longer linked, but were variations on riff/chorus structures, and the swing and offbeat emphasis of rock music, and the desire of punk music to provide randomness, replaced the moody explorations of death metal. Black metal in turn got assimilated by underground punk, a cross between crustcore and shoegaze, which eschewed the ragged melodies for more predictable minor key pop songs.

For a long time, it seemed like the newcomers triumphed. Metal was bigger than ever before, in the numbers of fans and CDs sold. But a problem kept cropping up: it had produced no great works, only lots of “good” CDs. People bought “good” CDs and forgot them a few months later because they were not particularly distinctive in content, even if they were distinctive in form. Nothing quite made it to the epic stage of being timeless.

Starting in 2006, and slowly accelerating, this trend — which is as old as the hills, since the first thing that happens to every new genre is that they hybridize it with rock music — began to fade as labels found they couldn’t pump out the new music fast enough because within weeks its novelty wore off and it was forgotten. Profits turned to losses, and then in 2008, a recession hit, driving many labels and zines out of business.

This lucky break helped traditional metal come back into the spotlight. Over the last two years, band reunions and the formation of new bands by old school personnel have become commonplace. Many of the results at first were bad as old school metallers tried to compete with the new sound; however, over the last six months, the balance has shifted and now old school bands are making old school music.

As the Maryland Death Fest illustrates, the crowds are turning out for the old bands and old style bands, even the youngest audience members. They’re looking for a substantial musical experience and are tired of buying an underground version of the same thing they get on the radio.

The linked article illustrates the revolution that is happening in metal: younger people, newer fans and older fans alike are wanting the genre to uphold the styles and tradition of quality it once had. They’re tired of disposable garbage and endless hype that just leads back into the same blender of all quality that is commercial rock music. Bring back the metal, they say, and people are listening.

ANUS predicted this trend in the middle 1990s, and made comparisons to hardcore and past generations of metal, and now we’re being proven right. We knew that there would be a surge of newcomers, and then their lack of ideas would catch up with them, and people would abandon their contentless music for something more substantive. It just took a dozen years to manifest itself.

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Status in metal

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.

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Blaspherian – Allegiance to the Will of Damnation

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.

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Historical perspectives on Singapore and Latin American underground scenes

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

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Iconoclasm Sweeps Norvegia: Impressions of Norwegian Death Metal

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

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Maryland Deathfest VII in Baltimore, Maryland

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

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