If Metal was a Painting

November 30, 2012 –

Les_Demoiselles_d'AvignonThe other day I looked up Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. I had seen it before a couple of times and heard it was important. It’s basically some chicks from a brothel with bodies deformed by Pablo’s furious brushstrokes, eyes staring at you uncomfortably and somewhat comically. A painting central to the evolution of Cubism, apparently. The point is that this is where visual art collapsed. The year was 1907; the nightmarish figures of modern art had already been around for decades, but now all traditional assumptions had to be annihilated, paving the way for all modern things to come – for all things post-modern as well. In hindsight, it’s simply the putrefaction of dying tradition doing its job. And we understand you, Pablo; you, the genius, had to show us what this meant, you had to show us the horrors of having no perspective at all. (How do we even start looking at a woman with two and a half arms?) Comedy aside, make no mistake: Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is sheer terror. As such, it suffices, it does what it should – it works. Those disconnected shapes told of all modern art to come, avoiding conformity to the most extreme degree.

But as with all such experiments, it fails to tell a story. It’s easy to point fingers at modern art because of its apparent ugliness, but its real weakness is that it’s a simple cry in the dark. Yes, the modern world leaves quite a few existential challenges for man to take on, but making your art as pointless as you perceive the world will make us all end up in a downward spiral. If you have something to tell the rest of us, then wrap it up properly and share the experience. You can’t do that with a “perspectiveless” experiment. But that is, unfortunately, how modern and much of contemporary art has interpreted the world.

(Now, I’m no expert when it comes to modern art and I have no problem saying that all modern art is not crap. But when you’ve come to understand its overall idea, you don’t have to be an expert to dismiss it. As with jazz, the very idea behind modern art is “faulty”, which is why the probability of finding beauty among the rubbish is very modest.)

Heavy metal music chose a different path. Black Sabbath knew the world was not all beer and skittles when they recorded their first album, but they weren’t crybabies either. They didn’t, like Picasso, make an experiment based on how we have nothing to base things on. Instead, they told a mysterious and intriguing tale of what the world had become. Following in their footsteps, bands like Slayer, Deicide and Emperor put all this ugliness in musical narratives which in themselves were paradoxically beautiful. Not as direct mirrors of our world and society, but as stories with a glimmer of excitement.

This is how metal music rediscovered tradition, a tradition of storytellers who have supported our souls through the ages, from Homer to Bach to Rembrandt to old men by a fire in a small hut in a murky forest. Metal was chaotic, especially at a glance, but underneath it all was a spirit that believed in life. This way metal music created a resonant mythos for people in the postmodern era.

But finding tradition seems a happy coincidence in this case, or, more likely, something which metal music realized only through sheer necessity. Deliberately reinventing tradition in art isn’t always a good idea. It has been tried before, and in my experience the results are actually worse than a cry in the dark. If we go back to the visual modern arts and look across the spectrum from Picasso’s wild experiments to the opposite side, we find (among others) the Academics, like William-Adolphe Bouguereau. This is from the wow-I-can-definitely-see-what-it-depicts-but-it’s-boring-me-to-tears school of art. It has no urgency. Great art is almost by necessity always inspired by personal experience in the world and time we live in. Trying to remove yourself from it will turn the art into stories about virtually nothing. And that’s what we see in Bouguereau. An artist trained in the old school, with all the craft of tradition but none of the spirit gained from experience. That experience doesn’t need to be one of terror, but giving an artwork weight demands an ability to pick up what is going on around you and inside you. And we are not talking socio-political particularities here, but an existential understanding. What does it mean to be human during this time and this place?

One may find it hard to believe that the musicians of the most extreme bands in existence ever thought about this, and perhaps many of them never did. But somehow their instincts have sniffed in the air the feelings of the time, remolded it in their heads and had their guitars resound of what it tells – even if they motivate it by, “Listen to this sound, man, it’s awesome!” The artist is told something about the world, and tells it back to us. Bouguereau in comparison sure makes fancy wallpaper, but it’s anything but awesome – it’s lifeless.

Metal music, then, builds anew in accordance with a tradition that the Academics only very superficially mimicked. It also sees much of the same things Picasso saw, but while he screamed with pathetic terror, metal screams with delight.

Voivod release preview track from upcoming album Target Earth

November 29, 2012 –

Quebecois metal gods Voivod have released a preview of the title track from their forthcoming album Target Earth.

If the two tracks released so far are any indication, then the album sounds exactly as the promo blurbs have been describing it (which makes a change): a cross between the claustrophobic, spacey weirdness of Dimension Hatross and the rockier, more mid-paced Nothingface with a touch of the sing-songy style of Angel Rat.

Unusually for a band of Voivod‘s stature, their decision to continue touring and making albums after the death of original guitarist Piggy has been greeted mostly positively. This is probably because his stand-in, Dan Mongrain, at times sounds more like Piggy than Piggy did; studiously recreating the tone and feel of classic Voivod whilst helping craft new material faithful to the era of the band most people always wanted to hear continued.

The album is released in Europe on January 21st and in North America on the 22nd. Eagerly awaiting this one.

Full tracklist for album is as follows:

1. Target Earth
2. Kluskap O’Kom
3. Empathy for the Enemy
4. Mechanical Mind

5. Warchaic
6. Resistance
7. Kaleidos

8. Corps Étranger
9. Artefact
10. Defiance

Bolt Thrower to attend Maryland Deathfest

November 27, 2012 –

Bolt Thrower liveEnglish battle poets Bolt Thrower will, according to their homepage, be playing at the Maryland Deathfest on May 23rd, Chaos in Tejas Festival in Austin a week later and Tuska Open Air Festival (Finland) on June 28th. At Deathfest they’ll be joined by Antaeus and Carcass among others.

Bolt Thrower made deathy grindcore during the late 80s and early 90s probably culminating in the epic …For Victory (1994).

Earthen Grave violinist melds classical, metal

Classical music and metal are not as strange bed-fellows as first seems. Both try to take the listener on a journey from A to B via certain key points emphasizing conflict/discovery/victory in a narrative style that’s as old as the hills.

Both rely on a sense of heaviness of life itself in their songwriting, classical from a typically more light perspective, and metal from a darker one. Both are full of references and allusions to literature and ancient history.

As classical violinist Rachel Barton, who plays in doom metal band Earthen Grave in addition to symphony orchestras, points out, metal finds inspiration and even riffs in classical music, but even when it’s going in a different direction it draws from the same well of inspiration.

“When you listen to the great guitar soloists, they’re stealing licks from Vivaldi,” said Pine. She mixes Led Zeppelin, Paganini, AC/DC, Vivaldi and Black Sabbath in some of her live shows, when not creating crashing curtains of doom metal with Earthen Grave.

Classical music is named for its creators’ desire to allude to ancient civilization in form and ethos, specifically but not exclusively the classics – Greece and Rome. What could be more metal than obsessing about the ancient world? In the post-Renaissance world that classical music came out of, studying those older civilizations and reviving their aesthetic values was seen as enlightened and forward-looking, contrary to the “newer is better, always” argument we’re used to hearing about our own times.

Metal and Classical also have in common then that they are both a kind of romanticism: oddly traditional whilst at the same time being futurist and affirming. Through an embrace of the powerful and epic in life, both use an acknowledgement of life’s heaviness to find meaning in its struggle.

Heavy metal fans: brighter than you think

November 25, 2012 –

A new survey has found that “metalheads” are more athletic, socially successfully and musically literate than fans of other genres.

According to The Australian, one of the largest surveys of Britain’s metalheads discovered that metal is considered “an overwhelmingly positive force in the lives of those who love it.”

The article categorizes metal as “escapist,” meaning that it helps its fans through hard times. Nearly three quarters of the respondents to the survey said metal had helped them through a tough period in their lives, and 79% said they felt “energized” after listening to metal.

Its most interesting factoid came from Spinefarm managing director Dante Bonutto, who counterpointed the idea of metal as escapism with a note on its practicality. “[Heavy Metal] defines itself against the mainstream, the ‘short-term’ music fans that don’t play or think too much about music…Metal defines you against that shallow form of music,” said Bonutto.

Conducted by the British Phonographic industry, the survey asked 3,600 visitors of participating metal labels, metal magazines, and music industry sites about their listening habits.

Birth A.D. releases title track from new album “I Blame You”

Thrash band Birth A.D., who seem to be a continuation of later 1980s thrash like SOD and DRI, have released a streaming track from their new album, I Blame You.

The new album has been recorded with 80s metal guru producer Alex Perialas and includes re-recorded tracks from the first Birth A.D. release, Stillbirth of a Nation. Much like early DRI albums, this will give fans the band’s entire oeuvre in an updated form.

According to Blistering.com, the new album is “angry, fast, catchy as hell.” Should be a contender for album of the year if nothing else.

Thrash was a hybrid between extreme hardcore and extreme metal that arose in the early 1980s with bands like DRI, MDC, COC, Cryptic Slaughter, Fearless Iranians From Hell and Suicidal Tendencies making short, fast, punk-structure songs with metal riffs.

Currently most people refer to the genre as “crossover thrash” in order to differentiate the term from “thrash metal,” which was a 1980s teen metal name for “speed metal,” and comprises the range of music from Metallica through Destruction.

Immolation recording new album

NYDM founders Immolation are in the studio and preparing work on their ninth full-length album, according to apeshit zine.

According to the report, Immolation are in Sound Studios in Milbrook, NY with veteran producer Paul Orofino with Zack Ohren behind the mixing desk. The band state the album will be “one of their strongest yet.”

Starting out in the late 1980s as a speed metal band with death metal vocals, Immolation morphed in death metal and then technical death metal with 1996′s Here In After, regarded by many as the apex of the band.

After a long absence, they returned with a series of late death metal albums like Unholy Cult which used a simpler but more streamlined style of death metal.

With 2010′s Majesty and Decay, and later the Providence EP, Immolation went in a more commercial direction, taking the simple songwriting of radio metal like Slipknot and adding to it death metal and speed metal riffs.

As long-time fans, we’re hoping they’ll return to death metal because they do it so well, but we’re not so delusional as to forget that death metal very rarely pays the bills. Good luck to this long-running NY band.

Goatcraft – Infinite Death

November 22, 2012 –

“Our research proved that, during the occurrence of the northern lights, people can hear natural auroral sounds related to what they see. In the past, researchers thought that the aurora borealis was too far away for people to hear the sounds it made. This is true. However, our research proves that the source of the sounds that are associated with the aurora borealis we see is likely caused by the same energetic particles from the sun that create the northern lights far away in the sky. These particles or the geomagnetic disturbance produced by them seem to create sound much closer to the ground,” said Professor Unto K. Laine from Aalto University.

Details about how the auroral sounds are created are still a mystery. The sounds do not occur regularly when the northern lights are seen. The recorded, unamplified sounds can be similar to crackles or muffled bangs which last for only a short period of time. Other people who have heard the auroral sounds have described them as distant noise and sputter. Because of these different descriptions, researchers suspect that there are several mechanisms behind the formation of these auroral sounds. These sounds are so soft that one has to listen very carefully to hear them and to distinguish them from the ambient noise. – Science Daily

As the philosopher Susanne K. Langer has put it, man “cannot deal with Chaos”; supernatural beliefs solve the problem of this chaos by providing meaning. We are not mere things; we are lovingly crafted by God, and serve his purposes. Religion tells us that this is a just world, in which the good will be rewarded and the evil punished. Most of all, it addresses our fear of death. Freud summed it all up by describing a “three-fold task” for religious beliefs: “they must exorcise the terrors of nature, they must reconcile men to the cruelty of Fate, particularly as it is shown in death, and they must compensate them for the sufferings and privations which a civilized life in common has imposed on them.” – the Atlantic

Summoning album in the works

November 20, 2012 –

The latest offering by Austrian Tolkien-inspired black metal band Summoning was Oath Bound from 2006, an album that “re-explore[d] the medieval and naturalistic nature of black metal” and delivered “a new chapter of full-bore dark exploration that dominates almost anything from the last ten years of this genre.”

What of the new album? The Summoning homepage reports that the guitars will be recorded this November and that Napalm Records “will put a one minute trailer to advertise the new CD on [their] homepage, that hopefully will happen around december.” According to earlier news the album will probably be released during the first quarter of 2013.

In the meantime, our forum members have expressed a few requests concerning the future release, including varying the melodies and song structures within songs, cutting down on the drums and using instruments that are “less fruity”.

Music has gone Emo over the past 50 years

November 14, 2012 –

Boo Fucking HooA lot has happened in the last 50 years.

A whole cultural revolution took over, starting in the 1960s, that combined the post-war “Me generation” with the progressive theories of the 1930s. Birth control, Viet Nam, Civil Rights, better quality marijuana, educating women, white flight to the suburbs, the EU, a radical decrease in traditional values and religion. We’ve been weaving in and out of that great cultural change ever since.

Generally, we think of modern pop music as the “counter-culture,” meaning it opposed the culture of its time. Many consider metal counter-culture, still others (paying attention to the early words of Black Sabbath, who claimed they were there to rain on the hippies’ parade) see metal as a counter-counter-culture or a subculture.

Either way, metal’s roots are in pop. Pop music is as eternal as the wind; millennia ago, it was the folk songs of isolated people who sang them to each other in their small towns. In the cities, these became High Art through theatre and later specialized music. But roughly the same idea remains: catchy tunes that make people think of important things in life in an offhand, slightly cynical, humorous and casual way.

During these last 50 years, pop has changed quite a bit as it has become more introspective, less complex and more minor-key:

In the 1960s, 85 percent of the songs were written in a major key, compared with only about 40 percent of them now. Broadly speaking, the sound has shifted from bright and happy to something more complicated.

When the researchers analyzed the beats per minutes (BPM) of each song, they found a decrease from an average 116 BPM in the 1960s to approximately 100 BPM in the 2000s. Songs in the 1960s tended to run under three minutes, whereas more recent hits are longer, around four minutes on average.

Even more interesting, perhaps, is that our current favorites are more likely to be emotionally ambiguous…studies in the past have linked music preferences to personality traits, such as a preference for sadder music being tied to more empathy, openness to experience, and less extroversion.

This points to an interesting facet of our culture during this time.

We too have become “tied to more empathy, openness to experience, and less extroversion.”

We’ve also become more alienated, and more likely to retreat to familiar experience.

Part of this can be explained by the sheer terror of the times. With nuclear missiles ranging around the skies, and non-stop internal turmoil and war abroad, we can’t be blamed for wanting to stay in the basement sometimes.

But even more, we’ve become Emo. Emo music is self-indulgent, a bit more depressed than melancholic, but most of all, it is self-pitying. It is music of the hopeless, kids who’ve given up and so they cut themselves to feel alive.

Our whole society has slowly gone Emo. People talk about their feelings and want someone to make it right for them. If something is difficult, people throw up a half-hearted stab and then run off to the TV or pub. We pity ourselves and idealize being a victim, because then others will take care of us.

In short, we’re an exhausted culture and our music, too, is exhausted.

Where does metal fit in? It’s usually minor key, but also chromatic. It throws the “complicated” emotions out on their ear and replaces them with fervid, warlike, and muscular riffing that fits together into a story.

If Emo is the disease, metal is the cure.