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How to write bad black metal: the hot tub

March 29, 2010 –

On an intuitive level, we can tell that some black metal sucks, and some is good. The difference mostly has to do with the state of mind of the musicians.

When a musician is in a sane frame of mind, they want to show us a journey that parallels life. They are passing along learning, as all art does, but they’re doing it in a form that shows us the experience, and not the conclusions.

Lazy musicians, propagandists and idiots take another approach. They view a song as a binary proposition, with a good and a bad represented directly by parts of a song.

You can see this in all boring or pointless art: there is no journey, no struggle, no learning. The characters or objects in the art face a dark evil, then suddenly see the light, go to the other side and everything is OK. That light can be God, Satan, liberalism, Nazism, sex, drugs or any ideal. It’s just a very basic technique that’s common to people who haven’t thought through the whole “art” side of music.

To them, it’s just music. You find something that sounds cool and hey, that’s all there is to it. This is what mature artists hate about jazz and avantgarde music. They hate “music for music’s sake” that it means nothing, so it either comes with some baggage of theory to “explain” it, or is like that art exhibit where you see a stuffed rabbit impaled with a dildo sitting on a Bible wrapped in a condom, and you’re supposed to think it’s profound.

And when you think about it, all really great art resembles some struggle we’ve faced in our lives. Early black metal sounded like social isolation and a yearning for more in life. It sounded like a rejection of the comfortable sounds of the blues and church music, replacing it with minor key distorted hellhavoc from which elegant melodies somehow emerged. Not what you expected? Or more likely, what you experienced: when you get away from the crazy crowd, and look at nature and your own soul, you find something of greater value than the callow affirmation of “we can all get along, honest” peers.

Bad black metal — and bad metal in general — suffers under what I call the “hot tub” syndrome. Because it is binary, and has a good state and a bad state, and wants us to go from bad to good, the song can have only one major event: the transition. Because that transition cannot be explained by the art itself, but requires added “theory,” it’s random. As a result, the song needs a lot more embellishment to make the transition believable at all.

The result is a lot like this:

Eddie Murphy – James Brown’s Celebrity Hot Tub

We sing a song of the hot tub — how great it will be to be in the hot tub, how cold it is out here, how lonely we are outside the hot tub, etc. ad nauseam. Then we get into the hot tub, and how warm it is! And then the song ends.

Watch your favorite terrible black metal bands and pay attention to how they compose the songs you hear. Are they two-tone, in/out of the hot tub songs, or like early black metal, are they epics that slowly and subtly build to a point where you are ready to make whatever steps are necessary to get in the hot tub?

RABM = NSBM = UBM = 100% garbage

March 27, 2010 –

There’s an old expression, “to put the cart before the horse,” which I think originated on Brokeback Island.

It’s comparable to two others: “the tail wags the dog” and “throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

Each one describes a type of superstition. Superstition is what happens when you confuse an event — that occurs at the same time as a certain effect — with being the cause of that effect.

For example, we burned some heretic and then the rains came after a long drought. Therefore, we should burn heretics to get rain. QED, muddafugga.

In music, we can confuse having an ideal with repeating the symbols of that ideal.

Really good music is always motivated by an intense conviction. You belief in something, therefore you make music that sings its praises and uses its opposite to illustrate why it is good. I sing a song of food, which is awesome, and doubly awesome after a famine. Makes sense.

At that level, politics and philosophy — and even religion, and personal preference — are part of the same spectrum. That spectrum is the conclusions you’ve reached. These aren’t preferences, like “I like pink.” They’re adaptations. If burning heretics doesn’t make rain come, but everyone around you is still burning heretics to end the drought, you may become an artist motivated by the idea that burning heretics is stupid. Is that politics? Is it philosophy? Common sense? One thing’s for sure: it’s not semi-arbitrary like choosing to get your new laptop in pink and not green. There are consequences to which choice you pick, and because we live in a consistent world, they’re consistent from observation of effect to cause.

But people who preach the symbol blindly have gone about this process backward. Instead of having a viewpoint that drives the music, they’ve gotten superstitious. Having a certain viewpoint is associated with being smart, or making good music, or having an audience, so they adopt it. It’s the same on left and right this way.

For every bad NSBM band out there, and except for a handful (Legion of Doom, Absurd, Burzum, Darkthrone, Veles, Infernum, Graveland) they’re all bad, I can find a bad crustcore, emo or indie band that is just as banal. People don’t see this if they agree with the politics expressed. To them, Infernum is bad and Wolves in the Throne Room is good, and they won’t admit — superstition again — that the only reason is that they agree with one, or feel that being seen to agree makes them look smarter, nicer or sexier. Whatever.

Liking these bands is a social decision, not a political or intellectual one (or even an emotional one). People want to seem smart or extreme for liking this stuff, so they use the band as a symbol of who they are. Nevermind that in the process, the art — which I’ll loosely define as a means of finding appreciation for life through distinguishing what one finds beautiful versus what one doesn’t — loses out to cheerleading for the “correct” side.

But with the rise of this hilarious offshoot of black metal-flavored crustcore, which people are calling “RABM” for “Red and Anarchist Black Metal,” we’re seeing again that the same rules apply on both sides of the spectrum. Wolves in the Throne Room = Drudkh, to pick the best of these political bands. Even more, we’re seeing that “unblack metal” (UBM, or Christian black metal) is just as bad. That makes sense since modern populist Christianity is as liberal as secular humanism, just that it argues that God makes the individual sacred, instead of the individual being sacred for “moral reasons” and progressive dogma.

RABM, NSBM and UBM are many heads of the same hydra, which is a deranged mental state that puts the social and symbolic associations of a band before the music. Instead of finding ideas, and making music about them, they find the appearance of ideas and try to use that to convince you to like their droning mundane music. Like all stupid trends, the sooner this one burns, the closer we get to quality music.

Immolation – Majesty and Decay

March 24, 2010 –

The mind can’t erase what the soul can’t embrace

The most anticipated death metal release of 2010 (along with the upcoming Morbid Angel, of course) Majesty and Decay has everything to please any sophisticated fan of the genre, yet still doesn’t quite meet the impossibly high standards of the group’s past. The 2007’s Shadows in the Light while it seemed to have retained all the ingredients of the New York masters’ brew somehow failed to live up to spoiled listeners’ expectations. The unfortunate flirting with “nu metal” elements as well as almost complete discarding of drumming-based structure poisoned the arrangements and conveyed a bad aftertaste to the whole record. Still head and shoulders above any fellow North American squad Immolation has taken the prolonged break in order to revise their direction and yet again prove themselves the ruling kings of the genre.

The best news Majesty and Decay has to offer is Steve Shalaty’s drumming. The man has been replacing Immolation’s godly Alex Hernandez ever since 2005’s Harnessing Ruin but it is only here that he unlocks his true talent. Steve has surely developed his own musical language since 2007 and the band has finally regained its rhythmic “pillars”. Everything has fallen into place at last: blasting endurance, inventive drum breaks and mid-paced punishment. The “inverted” riffing – although not as all-pervasive as on, say, Close to a World Below, – stresses the drumming very nicely and allows for some smooth gliding down the interwoven landscape of melody. Indeed, what sets the album apart in the vast Immolation discography is the use of melody. While the band is still a riff-fed beast, the heavy metal melody injecting the solos and seeping through the riffs enriches the sound world of the group, introduces “humanity” to the demonic environment of their instrumentation. The songs are shorter compared to the classic 90s era material, more to-the-point composition-wise, and definitely more “human” than we have come to expect from these New Yorkers.

Vigna (wonderfully supported by Bill Taylor as usual) goes right after Shalaty in this album’s list of heroes. The tight, powerful riffing, the wild soloing echoing with sadness and despair – all of it enhanced by the tasteful and balanced production ensures a satisfying listen. Guitars are put to good use in both the “Intro” and the “Interlude”, which indeed set the atmosphere very well. Ross Dolan’s vocals have become completely decipherable on here without loosing the emotion and recklessness, while his bass is so elegantly put into the mix that it acquires percussive quality at times. All of the above perfectly reflects the lyrical themes of the album: the loneliness of modern man lost in the midst of colossal fight for world domination, the evaporation of values and purposes igniting intrinsic hells and leaving no hope for the spirit.

“Our threatened kingdoms The world is divided Trample ourselves While we claw for the prize”

Still, the album comes with its share of flaws too. The band implements the tension buildup/release approach in some of the songwriting here and not only fails to achieve the desired effect, but sometimes looses momentum completely (most notably “The Purge”, “Divine Code”, “Power and Shame” ). The distribution of Immolation’s volatile energy here often reduces the impact instead of boosting it. This new trick is still very raw/unrefined and cannot fully replace the mathematic complexity of their 90s output. The classic (and eagerly awaited) “last song devastation” is also pretty much wasted here: next to all the best, epic songs scattered across the album “The Comfort of Cowards” feels pretty weak (while certainly not entirely filler) for a killing blow. The cover art is a disgrace. This computer game-like visual representation does justice neither to music nor lyrics. Also, the band probably needs to consider revising their logo after all these years of using a stretched font as one.

All in all, this is a mandatory purchase for anyone with at least a slight interest in today’s metal. It is entirely possible that Immolation’s return will be the finest mainstream death metal album by the end of the year (even with all the mentioned flaws taken into account) as this reviewer doubts Morbid Angel or any other competitor for that matter has the guts to top this material.

-The Eye in the Smoke-

Swedish Death Metal – Daniel Ekeroth

March 23, 2010 –

Swedish Death Metal by Daniel Ekeroth is an easy and enjoyable read that recounts the glory years of Swedish Death Metal told in large part through the mouths of those who actually lived it. Ekeroth presents the history of Swedish death metal, focusing mainly on the release of seminal albums and demos, and the means by which fanzines and tape trading played a role in the development and proliferation of the Swedish death metal genre. This is definitely a worthwhile read if one is looking for a chronology of all of the important bands, namely Bathory, Nihilist/Entombed, Dismember, At the Gates, and Therion, that played an important role in the development and consolidation of Swedish Death Metal. Additionally, the layout of the book is such that it is easily navigable, making use of handy headings, subheadings and band headings, which also make this a great quick-reference text. However compelling, it is a slight draw back that the various snapshots throughout the book interrupt the flow of the read, and are laid out in such a way as to provide a distraction. One may be better off reading the book through and then returning to the snapshots at a later date.

In addition to analyzing the careers of many important Swedish Death Metal bands, Ekeroth indulges the curiosity of the reader and earns additional merit for mentioning important non-Swedish bands such as Master and Deathstrike, and for emphasizing the role of Morbid Angel in the overall development of Death Metal. Interestingly, the author seems at pains to make sure that the reader understands the relationship between Crustcore, Punk, and Metal and adds some welcome depth to his account of Swedish Death Metal by mentioning Discharge, whose strumming style and melody would influence countless metal bands. If you are looking for a chronology of the glory days of Swedish Death Metal, this book proves enlightening. Thankfully, there is little mention of Slaughter of the Soul and second rate Swedish bands such as In Flames and Soilwork that would later hijack, dilute and all but destroy this once living art form.

With that said, readers beware! Ekeroth has a tendency to try and convince his reader that death metal was all about “fun” back in the day and tends to present the extracurricular activities, namely drinking and partying, as the highlights of many bands careers. Although Ekeroth’s goal was to tell the history of important bands, releases and tours, I believe this book could have been improved had Ekeroth attempted to explore the philosophical underpinnings of this genre and refrained from presenting Metal culture as simply an offshoot or replication of self-indulgent rock culture. New frontiers await those willing to explore this aspect of Swedish Death Metal and Ekeroth’s book may in fact prove to be a trailblazer. Time Shall Tell.

-TheWaters-

The music industry snags a clue

March 19, 2010 –

For the last five years, they’ve been sitting around wringing their hands saying, “MP3s are coming, what do we do?” In the meantime, many people buy MP3s but even more do not because they know that if the place they bought them from goes bankrupt, they’ll have DRM problems and will not be able to re-download those MP3s if their hard drive crashes or a virus eats their operating system.

But now, the industry is back in fighting form:

The Universal Music Group could rewrite U.S. music pricing when it tests a new frontline pricing structure, which is designed to get single CDs in stores at $10, or below.

Beginning in the second quarter and continuing through most of the year, the company’s Velocity program will test lower CD prices. Single CDs will have the suggested list prices of $10, $9, $8, $7 and $6.

To accommodate the lower pricing, UMG labels also plan to step up deluxe versions of albums that can sell at higher prices for the more devout music fans and collectors. – Billboard

They used to blow off the internet because it’s for nerds, but that changed, and now everyone uses the intertard. Completely weird. But I digress.

The old days of the record industry were big profits. They got these fat profits by signing foolish people like Elvis Presley, Britney Spears and Michael Jackson and having them produce a slightly more quality version of really dumbed-down music. Then they got millions of people to buy it, and reaped record profits. Now, recording is easier and cheaper; you can do it at home and have it sound like a studio. CD pressing is cheaper. Even advertising is cheaper. But there’s piracy among those who want very simple things. That means mass piracy of Britney Spears that affects her record sales because her album is most valuable when new, but not much of an effect on a band like Deicide, whose album “Legion” is immortal.

The new industry will be more niche sales, cheaper CDs, and more extras. Bands will record to tour and tour to eat. It’s less of the Brave New World of the 1950-2005 record industry, and more of a dose of reality that was there all the time.

Birth A.D. to destroy hippie music festival

March 16, 2010 –

Take old thrash bands like DRI, SOD and throw in a dash of The Misfits, and you get Birth A.D. from Austin. They write short songs with punk/metal riff hybrids. They’re funny and insightful. Even more, they scorn your civilization. They are a mocking voice of discrimination against stupidity.

And now, they’re going to help destroy SXSW, the music festival in Austin. They’re going to overturn the overflowing portapotties! Smash the overpriced drinks! Disruptive the self-indulgent, navel-gazing indie rock tripe that passes for “profound” among the clueless! And probably sodomize some eardrums.

They’ll be a Headhunter’s on Saturday, 3/20 at midnight. For more information, see the SXSW show directory or read the Examiner article.

When in hipster-infested, poseur-ridden, hippie-aggrandizing, ego-centric, egalitarian and oblivious Austin, don’t get AIDS (there’s really nothing else to recommend there, except maybe seeing the FREE Voivod show).

Dantesco – Pagano

March 14, 2010 –

The challenge of creating relevant but still traditional Heavy Metal in this current age where even the most commercial face of Metal has been changed by the extremity of the underground seems to be an almost insurmountable task. The most recent efforts of mainstream veterans like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest in continuing the genre provides little in and of themselves to enthrall the masses as they did with their once advanced, Romanticist art. There are also the countless Power and Doom Metal bands that have hijacked the older forms and do so with little to none of the magic that possessed the music of the seventies and eighties. Though the secrets of the grand, old tradition have been apparently condemned to obscurity, they can never be lost and befitting the nature of lost wisdom, have turned up in the least likely of places.

Dantesco hail from the small Latin American island of Puerto Rico and through their music, divulge a rich tradition of Spanish music and highly exoteric and vibrant Catholicism. Although chronicling the triumphant Heathen soul at war with Christendom, ‘Pagano’ conjures the sounds of the immanent culture and possesses it with a bestial inflection, as the vocals of Erico that dominate this album resemble a Latin black mass arranged with the magestic sensibilities of an European opera. Infact, the vocal style is as properly operatic as imagineable in Heavy Metal music, putting the high-pitched aspirations of a Rob Halford or Messiah Marcolin in their places, though still conveying a sense of extreme primality and visceral power rivalled only by the demonic throats of Black Metal vocalists. These sermons are conducted exclusively in the native Spanish tongue, which suits the guitars incredibly well, as the melodicism of the riffs is only supplemented by the Doomy heaviness of Candlemass influence, but really crafted with Spanish classical guitars in mind. This is where the music really comes alive, before there’s any chance of hearing the vocals as just a unique ethnic gimmick to fill space with. The compositions are constantly engaging, commanding narratives the scale of the epic title-track to Iron Maiden’s ‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son‘ with attention to mood dynamics often passed over in favour of an intentionally one-dimensional wallowing by other bands who play this melodic, traditional and Doomy kind of Metal. All the techniques on show have been long perfected, and more recently, have even found their way into the mallcore slang of pre-teen alternative/hard rock bands (via. Gothenburg), but fortunately, it’s all found an orderly, emotive and inspiring expression in ‘Pagano’. The tight but hyperbolic interplay of vocals and guitar is a feast for those that love to follow several strands of ancient melody at once, as if transforming the old Hispanic anthems of Mexico’s Luzbel into rousing, harmonised hymns, tempered and then unleashed to invoke the spirits of pre-Christian warriors. True Heavy Metal, fit for contemporary ears, giving the current crop of extreme-influenced Pagan and Black Metal bands a serious run for their money.

-ObscuraHessian-

Sarcophageous film on Finnish heavy metal culture

March 11, 2010 –

Promised Land of Heavy Metal is a documentary about the history and philosophy of Heavy Metal and how it became such a big deal in a small country called Finland.

We tell the story of Finnish Metal, from its early “underground” days to the present success stories, by interviewing famous musicians, experts and events organizers, a psychiatrist and a doctor of theology. The film takes us literally from the graveyard to the Finnish President’s palace!

Why is Metal a religion for so many? What are it’s links to satanism and ritualistic murders? What made Metal mainstream in Finland? Why does the Finnish Church have Metal Masses? What’s the future of Metal, after LORDI won the Eurovision song contest and even the President approves? We hear strong opinions: some see Metal as the new folk music, while others detest it’s commercial aspect.

The film is narrated by Kimmo Kuusniemi, a filmmaker, Sarcofagus guitarist and a forefather of Finnish Metal. Kimmo has lived in England for 16 years, and sees the current popularity of Heavy Metal as a strange phenomenon. He was the one who fought for the metal message 30 years ago! What happened in Finland in his absence?

One of our aims over the years has been to prove how the vital undercurrents of Finland produced cultivated metal sensations over the years from the earliest heavy metal days, best exemplified by the inimitable Sarcofagus, to thrash and the Finnish death metal movement, finally creating a discharge of consciousness that erupted in mainstream metal sensations all over the world, leaving most of the more focused and gloomy explorers to repose in the depths.

Kimmo Kuusniemi, the founder of Sarcofagus, the earliest Finnish metal band, has aggregated his unique vision into a documentary giving sporadic but meaningful glimpses into metal culture in search of the ultimate question: why?

Written by Devamitra

Cosmic Atrophy – Montis Ex Dementia

March 4, 2010 –

Cosmic Atrophy near completion of their second full length concept album, Montis Ex Dementia. Based on the work At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft, the album will be available soon on Dark Descent Records, which is connected to the band.

Previous Cosmic Atrophy work sounded like a hybrid of Timeghoul, Demilich and first-album Incantation. Montis Ex Dementia backgrounds those elements to inject a hybrid of Carnage and Cadaver, with a focus on tempo changes foreshadowed by internal rhythm changes, and melodic riffs that complement each other en route to thunderous conclusions.

You can hear a full length song at the Cosmic Atrophy myAIDS. There’s also an interview with Cosmic Atrophy and album close-up.