Professor uses heavy metal to teach literature

February 19, 2013 –

Heavy Metal as  Literary Genre class at West Texas A&M University. Photo by Jeff Heimsath / Amarillo Globe-News.

Heavy Metal as Literary Genre class at West Texas A&M University. Photo by Jeff Heimsath / Amarillo Globe-News.

Yesterday we reported on how a Texas professor has been using heavy metal to teach literature. Today we are fortunate to have an interview with Professor Martin Jacobsen, who teaches “Introduction to Literature: Heavy Metal as a Literary Genre” at West Texas A&M University.

Professor Jacobsen uses heavy metal music to introduce students to literature in a class that he says is “50/50″ lecture and listening to music. Among other topics, he tackles the history of metal, the reason the first songs on metal albums are important, the artistic superiority of …And Justice for All among Metallica albums, and the progression of first generation black metal.

Apparently this class arose from a sentence diagramming exercise in another class. How did you realize that this could be a class of its own?

The students realized it. I just mentioned it would be cool to have a class on heavy metal, and the response was crazy. Word spread and people started asking me about it. The boss was in favor of it, and we had already been offering some classes off the beaten path. So, I proposed it.

Approximately how many of your students do you think are heavy metal fans?

That’s a hard question. It’s fair to say most of my students aren’t. I teach a lot of elementary education majors, and most of them are not metal fans. But the English majors are. And among them, it seems to cut across genders and ages and other factors. You’re probably right that Romantic literature and metal have much in common, and the questioning mindset of a humanities major surely brings them in line with heavy metal.

“Introduction to Literature: Heavy Metal as a Literary Genre” teaches English using metal from over its forty-year history. What generations of metal do you consider, and can you give us some examples of each?

It’s pretty even across decade: 1970-Classic Metal; 1980-NWOBHM; 1990-Mainstream Metal; Nu Metal-2000. These are centers rather than inceptions, and I mean to suggest that this is when they reach a type of critical mass (i.e. albums Paranoid, British Steel, Metallica, etc). The early 1980s are when all the genres became established really — especially black, death, and thrash metal. All of them persist into the present. Prog metal is surely an outgrowth of RUSH, but there seems to be a lot more of it since the 1990s.

Do you think heavy metal artists are actually reading and influenced by literature?

Yes, some of them are. Or the news. Or some other source of ideas. Geezer Butler and Ronnie James Dio have talked openly about their reading. Clearly Steve Harris and Bruce Dickinson are very familiar with literature. Rush and Dream Theater in prog metal use literary themes and models (like Ayn Rand’s ideas in 2112 or the Hamlet motif in DT’s “Pull Me Under” or the Metropolis suite). Movies play a huge role too, and metal artists seem to see books and movies rather equally. Iron Maiden seems especially prone to use imagery from movies, though literature and history are also clearly sources for them.

Of all the literary movements throughout history, which one do you think is the closest in form and content to heavy metal? Is heavy metal an artistic “movement”?

That’s a very interesting question. I think it follows them in some ways. Much of it is similar in nature to Romanticism. Surely Death metal and Black Metal have postmodern elements. It is a movement, I think, and what’s interesting to me is how it has so many sub-genres within it. We can really analyze metal as a literature of it’s own making. While it’s interesting that metal artists use so much from literature, it’s even more interesting that they have enough depth and innovation to create an independent ethos.

Do the literary qualities of metal change between generations of metal, for example between NWOBHM and black metal?

That’s a good question. Some of the newer stuff seeks to be shocking for the sake of being shocking. That ruins it a little bit, I think. But even at that, one of the things metal does is put every question on the table. That’s what art does. It’s like cubism in painting or baroque in classical music. Take the norm and skew it and then re-present it to the world so they can think about it. I think new groups can ask the questions more explicitly, but I’m not sure the questions have changed. Death, pair, fear, war, pessimism, metal stability–all of these recur again and again. And they are questions that need asking. If heavy metal serves the world, it does so by interrogating notions every other approach seems afraid to interrogate. There are a lot of scary ideas in this world. And some people think that metal is one of them, I suppose. But any real metal fan will know that the real point is to talk about these things openly. Maybe that’s why we’re so loud. We talk about things no one else dares to engage. We have to speak up to be heard.

How have the students responded so far? Do you see more engagement with this as the subject matter, versus literature at large?

Way more. But, many of the students are in the class precisely because they are metalheads. Other literature classes at this level are seen as ‘have to’ humanities classes. I usually teach classical literature when I teach these classes. I get pretty good responses in those classes, but nothing like this. The students called the secretary the other day because we had a blizzard here and they wanted to make sure class was meeting. They didn’t want to miss it. Usually, a blizzard is a day off for most students, especially for a core class. This class draws people who want to be there. It’s not a fair comparison in many ways.

Thank you, Professor Jacobsen and students for taking the time to answer our questions and send over classroom materials. We hope this class becomes a regular at your college — and others!

Demilich, Jess and the Ancient Ones, and Winterwolf live streaming concert

February 18, 2013 –

jess_and_the_ancient_ones-astral_sabbatMark your virtual calendar for Fri, February 22, 6:05 PM EET (which translates to 10:05 AM Central time here in the States) for a live concert which will be streaming over the internet to your screen.

In particular, this is reportedly the last ever concert of Finland’s Demilich, who despite being legendary and making legendary music, have probably seen their last days since guitarist Antti Boman is happily ensconced in Jess and the Ancient Ones.

Also playing will be Winterwolf, a band that calls to mind the buzzsaw guitar and dark melodies of God Macabre and Amorphis. Most likely the luminaries of the Finnish death metal underground will be there as well.

The concert, entitled Farewell to Rubble, includes the following bands:

  • Demilich
  • Jess and the Ancient Ones
  • Winterwolf
  • Blind Men of Doom
  • Standard Whore
  • Aben Erikois Housu Miehet
  • Cypher Acid

If you’re interested, you might as well go on over to the Google+ page for the event and add yourself. Then hit up the site to watch the video when it’s live.

Introduction to Literature: Heavy Metal as a Literary Genre

February 17, 2013 –

martin_jacobsen-heavy_metal_as_a_literary_genreAfter years of people wondering about the connections between metal and literature, a thoughtful university professor listened to his students and as a result, has created a college literature course that uses metal lyrics to teach sentence structure and literary technique.

In one of his other classes, he diagrammed a sentence using the lyrics from Iron Maiden’s “Out of the Silent Planet” and found that students enjoyed the relevant yet thoughtful source material. As a result, Professor Martin Jacobsen launched a new class this year, Introduction to Literature: Heavy Metal as a Literary Genre.

According to the course syllabus, the class will “examine the forty-year history of heavy metal, interrogate major themes and how they persist and/or change with(in) the principal metal movements and sub-genres, and speculate as to the potential literary future of heavy metal.” Jacobsen has created a private Facebook group for the page and the class will use an etext for the text book.

To all of us here who have been collecting and noting the similarities between heavy metal and Romantic literature for some time, it is gratifying to see that someone else has a similar vision. Also, this class sounds fun as hell. Lucky students to have such an interesting experience!

Details emerge for forthcoming Aosoth album

February 16, 2013 –

On April 16th, France’s Aosoth will release their forth album IV: Arrow in Heart via Agonia Records.

aosothiv

Aosoth’s third album III: Violence & Variation hemmed in repetitive riffs and enshrouded them into bleak atmospheric black metal. Reminiscent of Antaeus, Aosoth twist and contrive distorted tones to create an intransigent body of work.

The band expressed their progression from III to IV:

“We’ve spent such a huge amount of time on defining a darker identity, yet open to a wider range of influences. Those tracks still haunt us, as delivering them was a painful and excruciating experience, and left some of us even physically wounded… Which gives that album even more of a spiritual value, as it involved a form of sacrifice.” The band also added: “This fourth full-length release is without a doubt a great step forward for us in term of music writing, and sound.”

In addition to the release of IV, Agonia Records will release black vinyl versions of II and III on April 16th.

Tracklist for IV: Arrow in Heart:

1. An Arrow in Heart

2. One With The Prince With A Thousand Enemies

3. Temple of Knowledge

4. Under The Nails and Fingertips

5. Broken Dialogue 1

5. Broken Dialogue 2

6. Ritual Marks of Penitence

The Suffering and Celebration of Life in America by Shane and Amy Bugbee


The Suffering and Celebration of Life in America
by Shane and Amy Bugbee
532 pages, $50 (direct: paperback $25 ebook $10)

the_suffering_and_celebration_of_life_in_america-shane_and_amy_bugbeeShane and Amy Bugbee are no strangers to controversy. Shane helped produce the original Milwaukee Metalfests, then ran several of his own Expo of the Extreme shows, while publishing classic Ragnar Redbeard texts with intros by Anton LaVey and running a radio show called Radio Free Satan with the blessing off the occult community.

In addition, the Bugbees put fingers into about every pie in the outsider art community, from banned comic book artist Mike Diana to — well, evil metal, now that you mention it. Their book The Suffering and Celebration of Life in America is a tour of the USA to discover its roots, but it’s also a series of interviews with some of metal’s greatest minds.

Originally, Shane and Amy Bugbee, a married pair of artists and entrepreneurs, planned an adventure called A Year at the Wheel where they would drive the length and breadth of the United States during an election year and record what they saw.

Luckily these artists are also metalheads and so decided to visit with a number of classic figures in the underground or related scenes. They interviewed Jeff Becerra (twice), Ian Mackaye (Minor Threat), Averse Sefira, the West Memphis 3, metal artist Jeff Gaither, and Gene Hoglan (Dark Angel).

These interviews tend to be in-dept explorations of the motivations behind metal artists, and include a number of statements that are crushing in their honesty and profundity. In many ways, they showcase the best of metal when all of the rock-star impositions are removed.

For example, take this selection from Averse Sefira:

Some people think the only real difference between black metal and other forms of metal is the fact that you wear corpse paint and that you scream instead of growl. That’s really, really short sighted. You look at a band like Emperor. You could not write a song like ‘I Am The Black Wizards’ in death metal or thrash or anything like that. You could not write a song like ‘Blashyrkh’ the song that Immortal did in any other genre but black metal. It wants to transcend and that is why we are involved in it. (307)

Interview questions become interesting as the Bugbees interrogate their subjects about historical mysteries, and in doing so, lay bare to some of the vital issues conflicting them. For example, Jeff Becerra (Possessed) on his Satanism and censorship:

We had to take the upside down cross off of the second and third records, well we didn’t, the record company did. We actually toned down the Satanism for the second and third because it was the bonfire of the vanities, the Christians were throwing books on the fire and burning shit up that might be important. People’s moms were making them switch to catholic school cause they were getting caught with shit, like it was drugs, people were afraid of Satan then, no one is scared of Satan now… It’s a trip because if people find spirituality without fear it’s gonna be okay. Life is
scary enough at this point in time, we don’t need to put metaphysical boogie men in our children’s heads. (445)

Not all of the interviews are metal per se, but it’s hard to deny the influence of Minor Threat on underground bands who came after them. Much as punk is different than metal however, the punk outlook as expressed by Ian Mackaye (Minor Threat) is less metaphysical and more political — in fact, this may be the most significant difference between metal and punk, now that I think about it:

In my mind, at least in our culture, the overriding emphasis is on profit and wealth. I think it’s actually the modern form of power. Before there were royalty and kings, or this guy has the biggest knife and cuts off more people’s heads. Now the warriors, the really powerful people are the rich people, and profit is so dominating in all business conversations. (514)

What makes these interviews interesting (outside of the content) is that they are not in a fanzine. This is a book about driving across America to figure out what it’s all about. The goal was to discover it, and themselves, for the authors. In doing so, by approaching many classic musicians from non-standard angles, they captured a lot of what motivated them.

In addition, the Bugbees are no strangers to the type of experience that a metalhead has in a society that, whether motivated by Jesus or money or something else, doesn’t like the disobedient and too smart to conform and get in line for the easy jobs and abundant shopping. In their case, it was a professed interest in Satanism, horror movies, metal and pornography that attracted negative attention.

In America’s heartland, they had to abandon a town and a successful business when a “poison pen letter” outed them as the authors of several atheistic and not-so-very-Jesus blogs that might have endorsed Satanism. Along their trip, they lost other jobs too, as well as non-profit opportunities. In a few cases, they almost lost friends or other contacts but were able to rescue the situation.

Wherever they went, these accusations seemed to follow them. It would make anyone paranoid. It explains what so many metalheads feel in this society, which is that the instant it identifies us as outsiders, it goes on the offensive. We are seen as a threat to its way of life, whether it be conservative and Christian or politically correct and urban.

For this and other interesting explorations of what it is to be an outsider, The Suffering and Celebration of Life in America is a great read for anyone who has stepped outside of the mainstream, and wants to find a reason not just to be outside, but to celebrate it.

Black Sabbath return to their roots for new album

February 15, 2013 –

Black Sabbath‘s forthcoming album 13, to be released in June this year, will apparently be less heavy metal and more blues. Quoth mastermind Toni Iommi:

You can’t always repeat what you’ve done, you’ve just to go on… It’ll be today’s version of how it was 40 years ago.

The initiative, however, seems to come from producer Rick Rubin, who referred to the band’s début album and told the members to “keep it in mind” and play the music like a live gig, and according to Ozzy Osbourne, Rubin “didn’t want the songs to be verse, chorus, verse, chorus, middle eight, bridge — he wanted it to flow”.

It seems then that we might expect a modern version of the dark atmosphere that deflected the hippie optimism of 1960s, as heard on the classic showcased below. This will be awesome.

Christian “Metal” is Torture

February 14, 2013 –

Back in the hazy 00′s, psychologist Philip Zimbardo released his book ‘The Lucifer Effect‘, which its title derives from the metaphorical transformation of Lucifer into Satan. It was a study about how good people can do bad deeds, and its substance was mainly on his findings about how prison guards turn to abusing inmates. The ultimate point Zimbardo was trying to make was that there is no good or evil person, since each person can be seduced to “good” or “bad” undertakings.

christianmetaltorturedevice

However, torture can be a very sufficient way to throw your enemy into turmoil. With the outright contradiction that is ChristianMetal“, it can catapult the listener into a world of confusion, thus becoming a very suitable device for torment.

According to Esquire Magazine, a gaggle of Navy SEALs were using the music of Metallica to torture Iraqi militants. Once  Metallica received notice that their music was actually resulting in something proactive, they issued a press statement requesting them to cease. “Part of me is proud they chose Metallica, and then part of me is bummed about it. We’ve got nothing to do with this and we’re trying to be apolitical as possible – I think politics and music, at least for us, don’t mix,” said James Hetfield.

Saddened by Metallica‘s decision, the Navy SEALs embarked onward to take things into their own hands and forged the most psychologically destructive torture device known to man: ChristianMetal“. They enlisted the imagery and audio idiocy of Demon Hunter to show the militants true patriotic strength.

Demon Hunter said, ‘We’re all about promoting what you do.’ They sent us CDs and patches. I wore my Demon Hunter patch on every mission – I wore it when I blasted Bin Laden,” one Navy SEAL stated.

One could assume that lunatic Osama Bin Laden took the easy route out. Death before ChristianMetal“.

Source: RT

The Funderground irks longtime fans

February 13, 2013 –

rttp_fundergroundA tension has been simmering under the surface in metal for the better part of a decade now and shows no signs of calming down. It concerns the division of metal into old and new.

Up through the late 1990s, metal was fairly consistent: it was music based on riff Jenga and distrust of society’s pleasant illusions. It was not protest music, but it was outsider music.

Then came an influx of people who were “alternative,” meaning that they wanted to escape the mainstream, but still wanted what it offered, which was essentially protest music.

In our society, popular music tends to take only a few forms. One is the standard song of individual gratification, usually love or longing. Another is protest at how people are treated.

Hardcore music was a breath of fresh air. While it was opposed to society, it did not protest how people were treated. It protested an insane existence. There was no bad guy, only a dying society.

Metal picked up on this vibe and mixed in the metaphorical and otherworldly approach of early Black Sabbath lyrics. The result was something truly outside of any perspective that was mainstream or alternative.

Now the alternative types have recaptured metal, using their superior numbers to reduce it to something palatable for mainstream and/or alternative consumption.

A counter-revolution against this tendency burst onto the underground recently when pro-OldSchool trolls took over longstanding New England metal blog “Return to the Pit”:

A place where metal is happy and not disgusting. A place where somebody would rather message you on Facebook or text you when you’re nowhere near them in the show.
A place where one man’s smile is another man’s laughter.
A place where the boisterous voices of jokes and YouTube discussion outweigh any serious topic.
A place where it’s okay to have star tattoos covering your flabby forearm.
A place where MetalArchives reviews are that of a fact.
A place where moshing and dancing lost their edge.
A place where everybody knows your name and is friends with you on Facebook.
A place where threads are made about you on a dying board that is absolutely horrible now thanks to the FUNDERGROUND.

While we can’t lend our stamp of approval to the trolling which has essentially devastated this forum, we can point out that there’s some truth in these allegations.

Since 2000, metal has increased in popularity by a vast degree. There are more fans, and more bands, than there ever have been before.

However, these aren’t the same type of bands. They sound more like late hardcore bands, who specialized in putting unrelated riffs together to achieve a “carnival music” or “variety show” effect.

Modern metal seems to have lost sight of who it is, and instead borrows its personality from crowd-pleasers like *core, indie, emo, lite jazz and rock.

The term “Funderground” refers to people who are using the underground as a way to socialize, instead of a way to make music that expresses their viewpoint on the world.

When you think about it, metal has always been anti-social and distrustful of social impulses. We can now see why: when socialization comes out, good music goes away, and with it, the best of metal fans also disappear.

Think metal, be successful

February 12, 2013 –
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hmmA couple of years ago, a venture capitalist and a former investment banker realized that to succeed in business, a startup needs “a fantastic story and a vision, mastery of its craft and must ‘trigger basic human instincts’”.

Now, what is sensuous and epic enough to promote such a strategy? Heavy Metal of course! Using metal as metaphor for business, Pär-Jörgen Pärson and Hans-Olov Öberg have written Heavy Metal Management, in which they argue that successful companies appeal to our emotions and that metal music and culture serves as perfect inspiration for young entrepreneurs to make their dreams come true.

The metaphor works quite well according to The Guardian, “epitomising the archetypal work hard/play hard ethos, the personal commitment, the experimentation and a kind of tribal recognition and respect”. Metal’s concept of creative destruction seems well-suited even to industrial paradigm shifts (like offline industry to online industry, and online to mobile).

Heavy Metal Management will be released in the UK in late March.

Death Melodies Series: Sergei Rachmaninov

February 11, 2013 –

The Death Melodies Series (DMS) continues with one of the last Romanticist composers.

rachmanRachmaninov was born in Russia in 1873 and died in 1943. After the Russian Revolution, he spent most of his time in the US and Europe. He’s known as a late Romanticist while Modern styling was becoming prominent. He’s widely considered a virtuoso on piano, which his piano concertos have become standard in classical music performance.

Toward the end of Rachmaninov’s life he drifted from American lifestyle and would rather speak in his natural Russian tongue. His circle of friends that he would regularly visit were mainly Russian nationals.

When Rachmaninov was in Paris in 1907, he stumbled upon Arnold Böcklin’s fourth version of the painting ‘Isle of the Dead‘, which inspired him to compose his symphonic poem about it. The fourth version was black and white, which Rachmaninov stated that if he had seen the colored version that he wouldn’t have forged his somber symphonic villanelle. The fourth being rather recondite, it’s easy to see the correlation to the temperament Rachmaninov sets in the first half of his piece.

The painting depicts a man being ferried to an island. Böcklin never mentioned the meaning behind it, but others surmise it’s of a lifeless man being transferred to afterlife. It has been a source of inspiration for Salvador Dali and many others. Hitler was also noted to having a version in his office.

After the austere waves of sound passes in the first half, it shifts to pure beauty.

On the piano front, Rachmaninov composed many pieces. When he was 19 he wrote his “The Bells of Moscow” Prelude in C Sharp Minor. This piece gained enormous popularity. At one point he stopped composing and would just perform shows to earn money for his family. The crowds always wanted to hear this piece. He was embittered to it as he grew older.