Interview with Clayton Gore of Harkonin

March 26, 2011 –
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Modern metal.

You can’t say those words in a room without dividing the audience. Some love you, and some want to feed you to the gators.

St. Louis’ Harkonin is the musical project of Clayton Gore, formerly of early 1990s Tampa death metal “best kept secret in the underground” Eulogy. Where Eulogy straddled the dead middle of the old school, Harkonin is modern metal of the death-metal-influenced style of later Kataklysm, Ion Dissonance and others. In other words, it’s technical metalcore with death metal leanings.

As someone who strives to be honest, I’ll admit that when modern metal gets mentioned at a party, I’m back in the cocktail line before you can say “fist Jesus.” The reasons for this are not important, but while it doesn’t limit my objectivity, it does limit my desire to listen to modern metal and thus, to write about it.

However, I’m a longtime Clayton Gore fan and, as someone who strives to be honest, haven’t hidden the fact that me and modern metal are incompatible. I don’t think that should be used as an excuse to ignore a talented musician and his output, so instead of talking about modern metal, I asked Clayton some non-trivial questions so you, our readers, can see why we at the Dark Legions Archive listen avidly to this man. Without further ado, here he is!

Eulogy – Consecration of Fools

What’s the difference between “modern metal” (2000s) and “underground metal” (1990s)?

Not just metal but music in general is necessarily different. Newer music is generally more well-polished and processed whereas music from two decades ago was generally more raw. This is not law – one can find examples of both in both eras. But generally speaking, this is what I observe. Metal back then was breaking new ground constantly. With each new album that came out, I remember being curious to hear what “new” had been done. Each new album had the potential to redefine and shape the genre.

In contemporary metal, rarely do I hear something that feels “new” to me. It seems most metal bands attempt to find “newness” in production values or post-processing sounds and frequencies. This can lead to a high degree of sterility. Now, what would have been a very advanced professional studio twenty years ago is essentially available to everyone with a computer and some knowledge and/or patience.

This is both good and bad. Like any tool, it can be easily misused or abused. Used correctly, it can enable a person to express themselves in ways they may never have been able to previously. Again, both good and bad.

Is the idea of an “underground” still viable, or necessary?

A term like “underground” implies some sort of unity or feeling of kinship between like-minded people, and I think that is long gone. When metal was really first starting, it felt largely positive. The subset of people to whom such music spoke would seek each other out to trade or just correspond about the music. Reviews would rarely be largely negative. Even if a reviewer didn’t particularly care for the album, they would generally try to find something positive to say about it. There was a feeling of being a part of something big, of something larger than one album or band, and each was at bare minimum a piece of a larger foundation. There was a “collective-good” mindset.

There are many factors that have brought about great change in this attitude since the early days. The early thoughts of nurturing and fostering a greater metal scene have caused complacency in some bands and relative newcomers, a perception that since innovation is difficult it is okay to stand on the shoulders of giants and mimic the movements. A proliferation of also-rans and knock-offs lead the parade to mediocrity. The underground was something special – a person had to take time, to go out of their way to write a letter, to produce flyers, to create tapes, to make a trip to post a package, etc. It felt like there were few of us and we should stick together.

The Internet has given everyone a voice. There is no journey of exploration which leads to knowledge – it’s all available at your fingertips at all times. Following the journey of Bathory from heavy metal fan to black metal innovator to Viking metal pioneer took a decade, with years between each album to study and absorb it. Now it takes minutes. Context is lost.

Forgive the digression… to answer more directly, there is no “underground” any more.

Every band – from bedroom metallers with their digital desktop studio and drum machine to the most skilled at their craft – all have equal voice and opportunity courtesy of the Internet. Word of mouth can spread faster than I can type this response. Everyone is a critic, quick to dissect and dismiss the stack of music they received this week alone if the first ten seconds of each song do not make sounds like they expected to hear.

As much as such a web of connection could be a great tool for a true collective “underground” in the spirit of the old days, it is just not so. Everyone is an island and is quick to judge. As such it’s very difficult for there to be anything “new” of value.

Also, the music industry as a whole seemed to realize in the mid-late ’90’s that metal has the potential to be commercially viable and has proceeded to milk the lowest common denominator to death, shoving it down the throat of the populace at large. I could walk into the nearest shopping mall and buy a Darkthrone shirt in a store. By no means am I suggesting that Darkthrone represents the lowest form of metal, not at all – I love Darkthrone – just using such marketing tactics as an example of the creation of “hipster metallers” or “mall metallers”. Marketers use brand recognition that bands have worked hard at creating over a few decades to sell the idea of metal. Such dilution is common when a power feels threatened – divide and conquer.

Metal isn’t “threatening” any more. The mysticism that once empowered the music and brought like-minded individuals together is gone. Now it is a perpetual seeking of the next trendy band or sound. Very little time is spent digesting what is in your speakers now or searching for quality among the masses.

Do punk and metal have an ongoing relationship and if so, what is it? How did it affect modern metal?

Absolutely. Look at some of the earlier “cross-over” albums (a term which doesn’t really exist anymore) from bands like Cryptic Slaughter, COC, Die Kreuzen, Life Sentence, DRI, Crumbsuckers, etc. Punk pre-dates metal and as such plays a role in the evolution of anti-popular music, music that is at odds with society in general. There are many common threads – the anger and aggression, neo-political and/or anti-establishment, anti-religion lyrics, etc. Any societal more that seeks to bind, limit or brainwash people was fair game to be attacked. It was/is an outlet for the unheard few.

There was also an element of “street”, “urban” or poverty in some punk. It was an expression spawned from life experiences at their basest, not just anger or “anti” for their own sake. It was true and pure, as was the earlier metal. But all innovators were eventually bastardized by those who were physically capable of mimicking the movements and sounds but who lacked the life experience or hunger to create meaningful art. Both genres saw a dilution.

Metal saw a fork where the music and ideology went more toward mythos and fantasy/fiction for some while others retained a foot firmly in the reality of “now”. This is where punk begot grindcore, with bands like Napalm Death, Extreme Noise Terror and Doom leading the way. Without punk bands like Discharge, there would be no Napalm Death I think. Musically there were other bands that had played such speeds prior, but I think the UK kept the punk spirit and ethos alive in grindcore. Some poetic justice for punk there, some geographical truth.

I think Slayer’s “Undisputed Attitude” album illustrates the relationship pretty well.

Is metal rock music? Is death metal? Is hardcore (punk)?

Insofar as we are cavemen, yes.

Music evolves but its lineage can easily be traced. Foundational rock featured the guitar and was guitar-driven with easy-to-understand song structures. From there you can pretty easily trace a direct route to punk rock to metal to hardcore to death metal to… ad infinitum. If one took, for example, an Immolation record back to the late 1950’s and played it for someone, would they see the similarities? Probably not, but we have the benefit of time and perspective with which to view the musical timeline. Lyrically, the themes are clearly different, but we have no way of knowing how much of that is influenced by external factors and how much is evolution of thought.

Do you think metal has a future at all? Some think it reached its apex, did all it could, and now we’re all living in its shadow. Others think the good days are just beginning.

I am not sure how to answer that question. I mean, take Lemmy as an example. He has been doing the same thing for decades and is more popular now than he has ever been. Same for Iron Maiden, Slayer, Cannibal Corpse, plenty of others. Not citing any of these as the pinnacle of artistic contribution to the romantic idea of metal, just pointing out that the appetite for metal remains strong. I do understand how some take this as a sign of critical mass and predict that metal will implode in the same way as grunge, but what some overlook – particularly newcomers – is that metal is not a “fad” or “trend”. Just because the major labels decided to really push it within the last ten years doesn’t mean it didn’t exist for decades prior.

I think there will always be the “wow” factor – metal is more often than not a very difficult genre to play and requires a relatively high degree of proficiency and mastery of one’s instrument, and this is almost always appreciated even by the casual listener. I also think there will always be an audience for hard, angry, aggressive, meaningful music.

There may be a feeling that there are just far too many inferior, lesser bands out there in the metal world. I can see that – look on the internet, there are thousands upon thousands of bands releasing self-produced albums and demos every day. I’m sure some of them are quite good, but the signal-to-noise ratio is far too high to ever hear them. I don’t think this is a new phenomenon by any means, I just think that the lens of the Internet makes it seem so.

Anyone who was around in what many now consider the high point for death metal can tell you that this has always been the case. Even in Tampa, the “death metal capital of the world” in the early ’90’s, there were a small handful of bands that were really good but there were also tens upon tens of other metal bands that were copycat bands. These are the bands that would play venues on off-nights to help keep the lights on and cut their teeth. They would come and go usually without much notice. But now with the Internet, those same types of bands have the ability to flood the market with demos or what have you, spam mailing lists screaming their existence to the world, etc. Simply because we hear of so many bands these days does not mean that this has not always been the case.

I do think, however, that what we’ve been witnessing the past few years could be another fork in the path of metal. As certain flavors of metal become more mainstream and accepted, there will be the other end of the spectrum that goes back beneath the surface and proceeds in counter-balance to what is popular. There will be a certain degree of “You think that’s metal?? I’ll show you true metal…” feeling. Maybe this will lead to a new type of “underground”, a new banding together of like-minded fans of metal that refuse to just let it die away when it feels like so much has been left unsaid and undone.

Did the audience for metal change between 1995 and today?

Certainly the audience changed. Some people who were fans back then “grew out of their metal phase”, others are still fans and still come to shows. But looking out from the stage it seems to me the core audience is still the same demographic – 15-35 year-old males are a majority with females of the same age group making up the rest. People that come out to shows still demonstrate the same passion for metal as fans did 20 years ago.

Shows are just as chaotic and unpredictable now as they were then. I will say that it seems metal fans are a much more discerning bunch as a whole, demanding a certain level of quality now whereas 20 years ago anything resembling other metal might have been acceptable. If you want people to surrender their hard-earned money to come see a show these days, there had better be some quality on the bill.

What for you defines a band or song being “metal,” and how is it important artistically?

It’s difficult to come up with some sort of qualitative description about what makes certain music “metal” without using very subjective terms. Not only because it is inherently difficult to describe such a thing – something akin to explaining the color blue to someone who was born blind – but because there are so many different kinds and types of metal.

I have an extensive music collection and I struggle with this all the time when filing. It’s something you immediately know upon hearing. It’s the feeling the music elicits from you when you listen. It’s the passion so obviously put into the creation of the music. Loud. Distorted stringed instruments. Bombastic drums. Dissonant, minor chord progressions. Angry, aggressive vocals. Many ingredients make up the stew that is metal, and each adds a unique flavor. Not all ingredients are always present, but it can’t be metal without at least one of those things.

Of course, taking any one or more of these ingredients and applying it to other types of music doesn’t necessarily make that other music suddenly “metal”. Many popular bands in recent years have adapted and integrated some of the elements of “metal” for various reasons and to varying degrees of success. None of this bastardization necessarily makes these other bands “metal”. To me it usually seems like a contrived attempt to reach a more broad audience or to make them seem somehow more “dangerous” or “rebellious”.

There are exceptions where I think the melding has succeeded, but the by and large it seems shallow. This further complicates defining “metal” to a newcomer, or explaining what I do to someone.

Metal was really guitar-driven when it started but over the last decade or so it seems to have moved to being more drum-driven, which is a shame. To me that perpetuates the idea that there isn’t a lot of true songwriting to be found in metal, that metal is largely just a collection of riffs. Metal can be about speed, yes, but the idea that it’s a constant competition to see who can be the fastest is asinine. I’d much prefer “interesting” or “moving” music to simply “fast” music or technical wankery.

And there you have it: food for thought from Clayton Gore. Thank you for being with us today, Clayton, and let’s let the videos roll so our audience can decide for themselves what they think of Harkonin and through it, modern metal. You never know… you might redeem the genre.

Harkonin – Cult Of Sin (Ghanima)

Harkonin – Lost Cause (Ghanima)

Harkonin – Exhauster of Souls (live)

Harkonin – In The Shadow Of The Horns (Darkthrone cover)

Invasion of Carpathians On Ancient Slovakian Pathways

March 22, 2011 –

Wolves howl and demons prowl on all sides of the mythical mountains of the Slavic kingdom, and each one of you well knows the quests of glory from Poland, Austria and Ukraine; yet, Slovakia in between, shadowed in behest of the more expulsive, westernizing Czech Republic, remains without any internationally celebrated “status whore”. As usual, this is not because of a lack of intrinsic quality or statements regarding vital manners and occult pathways; reasons are dealing with the superficial and corrupt nature of mankind. Until about 1989, the communist government hated the rock influenced expression as a tool of capitalist destruction, but worst of all free thinking and youthful rebellion, the enemy of all governments everywhere.

Remember our story of the modern day Toltecs? The same archetypes permeate other heirs of great nations now caught as underdogs of globalist forces. Grindcore influenced thrashers in the vein of Protest were the first to give birth to an underground scene (punk was always vital in Slovakia) which reached fruition with the pure olden Death Metal power of DepresyNomenmortis and Dementor, some of the best Eastern European death metallers (on their early works) besides Poland’s Vader and highly reminiscent of the unhallowed Finnish movement in style. It would be hard to go into these obscure phenomena any further without the aid of local infiltrators/collaborators and thus we highly salute our friend Namtar of Aeon Winds who compiled us an immersive overview of Slovakian metal through the decades, from the grave exhumations of Apoplexy and Acoasma to the barbarian Black Metal winds conjured by names such as Ancestral Volkhves and the hordes of the UBMR Circle (the Slovakian “legions”). We implore you sustain your disbelief and listen for yourself if you deem interesting the battle-skills of the Slavs.

Written by Devamitra

Black magic

March 21, 2011 –
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We knew he was confused:

Megadeth rocker Dave Mustaine refuses to play heavy rock anthem The Conjuring live – because the track is laden with black magic imagery and occult spells.

He tells Total Guitar magazine, “Performance wise, The Conjuring is one of the heaviest songs on the record, but unfortunately it’s got black magic in it and I promised that I wouldn’t play it any more, because there’s a lot of instructions for hexes in that song.

“When I got into black magic I put a couple of spells on people when I was a teenager and it haunted me forever, and I’ve had so much torment. People say, ‘Goddamn, Dave never gets a break, he’s had such a hard life,’ and I just think, ‘No, Dave didn’t – he got into black magic and it ruined his life.’ – Total Guitar via The Random White Third World Metropolis Sun

More likely, Dave, your worship of dollar bills and turning your back on metal is going to get you raped by a rhino.

Calling Opeth gay is an insult to homosexuals

March 20, 2011 –
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Trollsk, arise!

Obviously everything that follows in that link is troll material. This part especially sounds like it was written by someone who barely once listened to half of a song and decided that they are crap:

Opeth “sounds like” prog even if it has none of what made prog great: real musical development, song structures that build upon themes instead of being random, and truly mindblowing chops.

And I’m pretty sure I’ve never read or heard anything about Mike saying they are a progressive death metal band (though they most certainly are imo), but rather just a death metal band so really the foundation of that article, which is to slam their approach to prog music, falls upon itself. Fakken trolls they troll don’t like em – ANUS topic at official Opeth forum

The trivialist band OPETH, who specialize in making boring simple death metal “sound like” progressive rock so that emosexual manpanties neurotic tweebo children of divorced homes and failed lives can cry together, and then consider themselves smarter than the rest of us peons, make their money selling what’s basically warmed over Dave Matthews Band songs with death metal riffs (sometimes). The foolish, unaware, uneducated, illiterate, inexperienced, confused, lost, low self-esteem and possibly uncle-raped flock to it as they search with mooning faces for some kind of meaning in their disposable, interchangeable part lives. And then they get upset when we point this out to them.

I want to make a fatwa here, which is that we make it illegal under ANUS Shariah law to compare Opeth to homosexuality. To do so is to insult homosexuals. Instead, we must focus on the truth of Opeth, which is that it is music for boys to cry to so that they do not have to become men. It is music for people to feel like they’re having a profound experience to, when really they’re just projecting their own neurosis (expanded rectums from parental rape, divorce and repetition of failure). If you like the thought of telling a rapist to go ahead and have his way with your ass, because you’re just too into yourself to muss your hair fighting back, Opeth is for you.

And that, mein munchkins, is why we troll them.

MASTER tour crushed by TSA paranoia

March 3, 2011 –
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You know, 19 brave people flew planes into the World Trade Center and while I think we should take it seriously, our methods sometimes go too far.

I say they were brave because I think it takes real guts (and total hatred for your enemy, which is always love) to destroy yourself by flying a giant plane into a landmark. If you need me to re-assure you that I think they were evil, or that I think they were misunderstood and really meant to bring us falafel and multiculture, I can’t help you; I can tell you they were brave. Imagine doing that sometime and you’ll see what I mean.

But now, we’re not being brave. We’re busting people for the wrong crap, and not busting enough people who need to go to jail. It’s both deterrent and security theater. I’m sure it works, but what the hell is the point in busting death metal bands from Eastern Europe? Al-Qaeda hates death metal.

We arrived Tuesday morning in Holland and after intense questioning we proceeded to the eye and body scan machine. Along with the other passengers we proceeded to the plane. We arrived in Detroit and went to passport control. I waited for about two hours for any word on the guys.

The police came to explain that the visa waiver program didn’t apply to musicians. So they sent me to customs and proceeded to tear apart everything and sent me on my way. I waited for six hours to get on another airplane and return to Europe. Thankfully the lady at the Delta checkout counter was very helpful and confirmed that the guys would be on the next plane in the evening and I could return with them. The guys were escorted to the plane by four police officers and returned their passports when we arrived in Amsterdam.

Since when are musicians and terrorists in the same category? Again I apologize to all the bands, organizers and fans of course.

I guess the CD cover of the Human Machine CD has become a reality! – Paul Speckmann, Master

While I think this is ass, and am somewhat upset at the loss of a Master tour, it’s time for metal bands to start querying actual immigration lawyers before making assumptions about how USA visas work. Unfortunately, at this time the process is so complex that you pretty much need an egghead with a law degree to sort it out. Anyway, the Master tour is canceled, we’re all poorer for it, and Al-Qaeda is laughing at our asses while they plan to destroy us with economic terrorism.

If you want to write about music, have no friends.

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Not self-pitying, just a warning about what it takes to do this job correctly. If you want to be an assassin, you can’t get easily distracted by compassion. Same for record reviewers: you must be ready to kill, rape, sodomize, and write accurately about the value of music in its own right and in context:

I wrote this in an email to someone whose opinion of me I respect, but wanted to be very clear about what my obligations can and cannot be in reviewing a submitted work. I figured I’d elaborate, because these words should exist somewhere:

This will sound like horseshit, but it’s not: a really good reviewer has no friends, and isn’t nice. He must be honest, brutal and quite honestly biased AGAINST most of what he or she hears. It’s not a job for people who like people, which is why I’m only partially good at it.

If you send anything here, keep in mind that it’s my job to be harsh

A good reviewer walks alone. If your dedication is to the music, a subset of art, and thus to the integrity of individual works and their genres, you have to be a real critic. That does not mean someone who is blanket negative, but someone who is able to look into the purpose a work serves and comment on it. Your job is to find artistic vitality only if it exists. 99% of reviewers do not understand this and either approve of everything (which makes them popular with labels and fans, who have short attention spans) or are poseurish negatives who hate everything even if it’s good.

The problem is this: there are many more good people out there than there are musicians who express something profound. Our time on life is short, and we only want the great music, because anything else is filling your time with something relatively inconsequential. Great art requires natural talent, discipline to get control of it, and finally, some stirring in the soul that gives you some content. What passion of life, what conflict and what love, do you express? Most bands express nothing more than wanting to be a band.

Even many good people just want to participate, and so make worshipful but contentless tributes to their favorite genres.

The above makes me sound like Satan or Stalin, but it’s all true. To be a good reviewer, you cannot be a friend to anyone. You must be a reviewer and you must be cynical. Most music is passing in its value, and will be forgotten before the ink dries… your job is to pull out the eternal, and in so doing, you need high standards, and in doing that, you will alienate almost everyone you know and become a leper-like pariah who wanders the earth alone, scorned even by his cats. – Facerook

Blaspherian – Infernal Warriors of Death

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Blaspherian improve upon their promising debute Allegiance to the Will of Damnation, sharpening their focus by developing riffs as themes, stacking multiple variations of a similar idea and then slaughtering it with counter-themes. In the best tradition of death metal, these songs make sense once you’ve heard all the riffs in sequence, but you would not think they’d fit together if you heard them separately. This gestalt allows Blaspherian to create a deepening atmosphere of cavernous doom, using the time-worn technique of old school death metal bands but wrapping it around a new spirit, one in which evil is deliberate and contemplative instead of chaotic. Through this evolution we see Blaspherian staying true to the old school, but allowing gentle influence from the developments of black metal and more recent maturations of the style such as those seen on later Immolation and Beherit albums. The emotional side of death metal emerges but is confined within a cold and inhuman logic, making this music both as natural as an open summer sky and brilliantly outside of the human norm under which we suffer. Blaspherian use a low-tech approach, with percussion that sounds like early Incantation and anchors the riff-fest generated by former Imprecation guitarist Wes Weaver. Detuned, bassy riffs of one to four chords hammer out patterns that then mutate and contort, often with a dropped note or changed picking technique, to produce textural layers through which melody filters. While firmly grounded in the old school, Infernal Warriors of Death opens up new horizons for the old school death metal genre, which now exists in parallel with others. It also shows what made this genre powerful in the early 1990s and makes it doubly relevant now, in the process delivering powerful music with an intense and resonant atmosphere.

-Brett Stevens-

Death Metal and mass media

March 1, 2011 –
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An oldie but a goodie. It’s good of Blabbermouth to report stuff like this, because although it’s not the fanboy stuff, it’s interesting:

The following are the total sales figures for several of the genre’s forerunners, according to Nielsen SoundScan (all numbers include any DVD and VHS releases, where applicable):

CANNIBAL CORPSE: 558,929
DEICIDE: 481,131
MORBID ANGEL: 445,147
SIX FEET UNDER: 370,660
OBITUARY: 368,616
DEATH: 368,184
NAPALM DEATH: 367,654
CARCASS: 220,734
ENTOMBED: 198,764

The top-selling death metal albums of the SoundScan era are as follows:

MORBID ANGEL – “Covenant” (1993): 127,154
DEICIDE – “Deicide” (1990): 110,719*
DEICIDE – “Legion” (1992): 103,544
OBITUARY – “The End Complete” (1992): 103,378
CANNIBAL CORPSE – “The Bleeding” (1994): 98,319

Blabbermouth

We forget now that these bands also were the first into stores, back in the time before 1997 when suddenly you could get obscure death metal in chain stores. During most of the early 1990s, the only things you’d find in regular record stores were the Roadrunner releases. I’m surprised “The End Complete” outsold “Cause of Death,” but it was a bit more musically refined in a conventional sense. Doubly amused that 18 years on, these are the only albums I still listen to from that list:

MORBID ANGEL – “Covenant” (1993): 127,154
DEICIDE – “Deicide” (1990): 110,719*
DEICIDE – “Legion” (1992): 103,544