Oceans of Slumber release video for “Remedy”

oceans_of_slumber-aetherialHouston-based progressive band Oceans of Slumber release the video for the song “Remedy” of the song off their self-released debut Aetherial today. They represent the best of this new style of “progressive metal”: musically literate, disciplined and tasteful.

I don’t think it makes sense to call this style “metal.” It’s a polyglot, based in the late 1970s changes to progressive rock, which went more toward a collaborative musician’s musician jam than the epic and overblown custom song structures of the early 1970s.

Similarly, this song mixes up a lot of styles: djent for the rhythm riffs, jazz for the soloing and harmony, alternative rock for the transitions, and a lot of hidden elements from punk, techno and metal in how it frames rhythm and change.

Ultimately its goal is not really to sound like metal so much as it is to be a progressive jam band, which allows this band to drop some of the metalcore-influenced extremes that have blighted “progressive metal,” and instead focus on what jazz does well: stitch together different types of things into an ongoing narrative. This “quiltmaking” has always been part of the heritage of jazz, which has specialized in taking mainstream pop songs and reinventing them with bits of music theory scattered by other genres.

It may be that there are two real styles of writing music. One revolves around the musicians and listeners, and is a personal style that is likely to frame things from the perspective of individuals. The other is a devotional style, in which musicians and listeners are but some members of the group who can receive the signal sent by the music and participate in its meaning.

As a result, “Remedy” is more for those who want the first type of music rather than the second, even though it takes inspiration from it. What impresses me about this track is how polished it is, in the older sense of the word that means every part fits together and there’s no stuff that doesn’t clearly relate to what’s going on. The worst excesses of prog are purged and replaced with a good listen.

While I thoroughly enjoy this song, and note its metal inspirations from 1970s hard rock through death metal, it’s hard to claim it as a metal song. Thus it’s wise to hear this with an open mind and no expectations of metalliness. It’s a universal music now, given freely to the world, not claimed by a genre.

Aetherial was released on February 1, 2013. It “deftly blends an array of styles, emotions and atmospheres” and features former Insect Warfare drummer Dobber Beverly along with a cast of accomplished musicians. Aetherial is available through all major online music retailers or by visiting www.oceansofslumber.com.

The art of Larry Carroll

Reign in Blood

Damn good albums need damn good album covers. Kerry King of Slayer once mentioned how the band’s music makes it sound as though the world is about to end, and artist Larry Carroll’s visual representations are not far off the mark. Carroll started collaborating with Slayer in 1986 and has painted four of their album covers so far. Some of those albums are among the best in metal, and so, I would argue, are the covers.

Carroll says he usually makes a collage out of drawings and photographs. This was before Photoshop was born, hence Carroll used a good ol’ Xerox machine to multiply, resize or otherwise manipulate the individual pieces. The coffins in Seasons in the Abyss are a good example.

At the time of painting the Reign in Blood cover, Carroll was doing political illustrations for various newspapers, and had not done album covers before. Producer Rick Rubin contacted Carroll, who was left with more or less free reins, building upon “a rough idea of something about a goat’s head”. Once finished, however, it turned out that his unique style was not an obvious choice for Slayer. But once the mother of one of the band members commented that the painting looked “disgusting”, any doubts seem to have melted away (in a living inferno).

And sure enough: there is something nauseating about Carroll’s Slayer covers, as though they were depicting the sickest aspects of society of the 1980s. Not only could modern life come back to us in dreams as collages of twisted, disproportionate human shapes with pope hats and erect penises (cf. RiB), but the netherworldly use of colour in Carroll’s paintings was one of a kind. Black and red are the classic colours of blood/fire/death – Carroll’s black strokes are high-contrast burns reminiscent of coal or oil – but to this Carroll added revolting tints of green, brown and yellow, a fitting backdrop to the fires of mental hell.

But rather than depress us, Carroll’s paintings are majestic. Carroll shows that he, like Slayer, is fascinated by death, and, like some fallen Lucifer, makes a stroll south of heaven an enticing exploration of potential.

Impiety announces release date for “The Impious Crusade” mini-album

impiety--the_impious_crusadeSingaporean war/terror metal band Impiety recently announced a new mini-album, The Impious Crusades, and now reveal that the slab of screaming death will hit your mailbox on August 6th, 2013, as released by Hell’s Headbangers Records.

According to frontman Shyaithan, “Mission accomplished, and honestly really satisfied with how this record turned out! The Impious Crusade is a giant leap ahead from the last Impiety album, and to top this one is going to be severely difficult. But that is what I enjoy most, and shall continue to further challenge myself pushing wider, deeper, and even further beyond boundaries of untamed death and chaos.”

The Impious Crusades unites itself on the Impiety motto of “crush, kill destroy” and includes a cover of Sorcery’s “Lucifer’s Legions” and artwork by cult paintbrush Lord Sickness. Although the band have released no information about style, it now seems it will be coherent with their past years of blasting, racing, raging and deconstructive fast simple death metal with undertones of melody.

Although self-referential titles are generally harbingers of poor quality releases, the band seems united on this mini-album as a kind of short and quick mission statement, which could lead to a summation of past works into a single hard-hitting dose. Fans await this exciting release as the band makes the tracklist available:

1. Arrival of the Assassins
2. Commanding Death & Destroy
3. Accelerate the Annhiliation
4. The Impious Crusade
5. Lucifer’s Legions (Sorcery Cover)

What is the opposite of metal?

I’d imagine it’s this: pleasant music to lull you to sleep with easy answers and make you think that everything will work out just fine without your intervention. Or if you must intervene, it’s by empty platitudes like “peace” and “love” taken out of context and made into catch-all answers that answer no real question. Metal is the watchful eye in the night, the warrior scanning the horizon, the scientist in her lab seeking an answer to a problem no one else has contemplated, the leader mulling over maps late into the night. Metal is awareness, not pleasant anaesthesia. This is why metal came roaring out of the 1960s with a dark message, to snap people out of the dream and to make them look at reality instead of their own drama and wishful thinking.

Nocturnus launches kickstarter to fund album re-issue

nocturnus-thresholdsClassic Florida progressive death metal band Nocturnus, famous for spidery riffs interlaced with outer space keyboards, dominated the metal world’s appetite for bizarre and uncompromising music back in the 1990s, but their music is now out of print.

Their label, Earache Records, wants to re-issue the Nocturnus classic Thresholds, but there’s a catch: the fans have to pay for it in advance. Unlike the usual underground pre-orders, where individual fans order the album and when there’s enough cash the label takes it to print, Earache is using a Kickstarter page to launch the funding request.

If demand is met, Thresholds will be pressed on 100 clear, 200 green, 300 purple and 400 black LPs with the recording taken from the original DAT master. For more information, visit the Nocturnus Thresholds re-issue Kickstarter page.

Interview: Jester King

Jester KingMany metalheads enjoy a nice brew. It was only a matter of time before a beer company was founded by fans of metal.

Being from Texas I have noticed a new brand of beer that has infiltrated my local corner stores. I observed a common face-painted figure on the label. It piqued my interested to purchase my first ‘Black Metal Imperial Stout’ beer. It was dark. It was strong. Oddly when I drank this beer I was listening to Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, but the alcohol enhanced it; almost gratingly. Some may perceive this as Black Metal further being commercialized, but that already happened in the 90’s. Jester King is operated by metal fans, which assists in promoting metal in commonplaces. In the scheme of things, this may further bring attentions to the genre.

Jeff from Jester King has offered some of his time to answer my questions.

Howdy Jester King! Thank you for your time. First off, what started Jester King? Did it start as a micro-brewery?

Jester King was started by my brother Michael and me. We began working on it in 2008 and eventually opened in 2010. We started and still are a micro-brewery making beer in the Texas Hill Country.

The main reason I am conducting this interview is to inquire about metal. What started your Black Metal beer? Are you guys Black Metal fans? How did you come up with the mix for this beer?

I listen to Black Metal and thought there were some similarities between the music and the beer. The beer is dark and punishing, but it also has some more symphonic notes from its fermentation with farmhouse yeast. I thought the musical style fit the beer. As far as the recipe, it’s a hybrid between the English and Franco-Belgian brewing traditions. The malt and hops are all English, but the fermentation is with Saison yeast.

Outside of Black Metal, what other types of music do you enjoy?

I also enjoy crossover thrash, blackened death metal, third wave ska and western swing

I noticed a lot of rather ‘morbid’ or ‘twisted’ themes with your beers. How did this come to be? Did you want to make a statement with each new recipe?

We try to make beer that’s a reflection of who we are and what we believe. We want what we do to have meaning, and that meaning comes from within. We try to put out work that has authenticity and character. We’re confident that if we be true to ourselves and do good work, there are others out there who will embrace it, even though we know mass appeal is something we’ll never have. We’re comfortable with that.

Some of the imagery, artwork and language we use can be somewhat dark and disturbing from time to time. Again, we try to be true to ourselves knowing full well that it’s not going to be for everyone. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

How has the response been to Jester King? I’ve noticed that grocery stores carry it now. Are you continuing to gain momentum? Will you eventually take on Shiner Bock? Do you even like Shiner Bock?

It’s been good. We’ve been really flattered in many cases by the reception it has received. We put a lot of thought, trial and error, great ingredients and time into our beer, so we’re grateful that it’s had a good reception. Right now we’re focused on unique flavors from wild yeasts, barrel-aged wild beers with fruit, and 100% spontaneous fermentation using our coolship.

I doubt we’ll ever make much more than a few thousand barrels of beer a year. By comparison, the Spoetzl Brewery that makes Shiner Bock is over 500 times larger than us. We’ll never come remotely close to their production volume. I actually haven’t had a Shiner Bock in quite some time, but I’m sure I’ll revisit it at some point. When I drink locally usually I’m having beer from Texas breweries such as Live Oak, Real Ale and (512).

Since we’re on the topic of Texas beer, I have always thought of Lonestar tasting like the dirty convenience stores that it’s often bought in. What are your thoughts on Lonestar? They do have a rather great marketing slogan of “The National Beer of Texas”.

The last I heard was that the Lonestar brand was owned by a hedge fund in Connecticut. I would hope that most people see that slogan as no more than hollow marketing rhetoric. I actually don’t have a problem with light lager. If someone loves light lager, that’s great. What I have a problem with is the companies that produce light lager (and their distributors) propping up laws in Texas that make it more difficult for small breweries in Texas like Jester King to sell beer.

When your team brews beer is metal allowed in the workplace? Is it part of the process of making your beer?

Metal is encouraged! My brother Michael listens to metal too. Lately he’s been playing Nile and Gortuary. Metal is definitely part of the beer making process for me. I can’t envision doing my work without it.

If I were to visit the brewery can I receive some extra beer for conducting this interview?

We’d be glad to share some beer with you.

 

Death Metal Underground podcast 05-04-13

death_metal_underground-podcastDeathMetal.org continues its exploration of radio with a podcast of death metal, dark ambient and fragments of literature. This format allows all of us to see the music we enjoy in the context of the ideas which inspired it.

Clandestine DJ Rob Jones brings you the esoteric undercurrents of doom metal, death metal and black metal in a show that also exports its philosophical examinations of life, existence and nothingness.

This niche radio show exists to glorify the best of metal, with an emphasis on newer material but not a limitation of it, which means that you will often hear new possibilities in the past as well as the present.

If you miss the days when death metal was a Wild West that kept itself weird, paranoid and uncivilized, you will appreciate this detour outside of acceptable society into the thoughts most people fear in the small hours of the night.

The playlist for this week’s show is:

  • Slayer – Necrophiliac
  • Cruciamentum – Rites to the Abduction of Essence
  • Extracts from Hugh Selwyn Mauberley by Ezra Pound (read by the poet)
  • Blaspherian – Invoking Abomination
  • Stravinsky – Symphony of Psalms, first movement


Without a doubt the Internet has been the great communications revolution of our time, changing the shape and the pace of commerce and culture alike.

For metal, the internet has primarily meant a far wider audience-reach, enabling the growth of the larger labels and festivals into massive unit-shifters, and allowing even the feeblest of bedroom bands to find five minutes of someone’s attention.

High speed downloading has made metal music across the board more heavily pirated than ever, yet simultaneously given the whole genre far more exposure than before.

Perhaps most significantly, the ability it gives individuals to both broadcast and share content has allowed forgotten bands – who, for the quality of their work, should have been classics – to reach audiences and acclaim they previously missed out on.

The internet, like society itself, however is not one great monolithic thing, but simply a series of networks, meeting points and exchanges, always changing and adapting piecemeal to developments in both technology and culture, and in-turn shaping the society it forms part of.

Where in the early years of the internet small localized networks allowed for basic communication and facilitated real world interaction, the present-day internet has through its size, speed and centralization become like an immersive parallel world, spawning its own cultural and even linguistic tropes; substituting in many ways for tangible real world interaction.

Three years ago Wired magazine actually pronounced the death of the world wide web, noting that after hitting a peak around the year 2000 the number of sites we visit and ways that we access them has become narrower and narrower. Sites like Facebook, Google and Wikipedia have an increasingly dominant share of global traffic, in the process marginalizing independent sites and narrowing both the kinds of information we receive and how we consume it. This is not necessarily a straight battle between the evil-empire corporations and the idyllic small world everyman (in the way that some activists like to portray politics in general), but a trade off between different advantages and disadvantages.

Fewer sites means greater efficiency and organisation with which content can be managed and shared, and also ups the standard for site design, development and security. The downside is that it enforces a steady uniformity on both the way in which things are communicated and on the prominence they are able to take. No one thing any longer can particular amount to more than the same little square box of information that makes up any search engine result or item on a social network feed, and everything comes and goes as quickly as anything else does in the same continuous stream.

Also, perhaps counter-intuitively, it puts an increasing amount of power in the hands of ‘the community’ in the most amorphous and anonymous sense. Facebook for example, beyond a few specific algorithms, is far too big for those that run it to police the content everyone posts on it, so it relies on its users to flag antisocial content and determine what should be shut down. Obviously such a system is hypothetically open to exploitation from particular groups, but above all it enforces a status quo line of thinking on what is to be considered legitimate or acceptable information.

So the internet as it currently exists has helped put limits on both what we say and how we say it.

Metal music before the growth of the internet had been a largely underground cultural phenomena: specifically spurning group-think methods of quality-control and organizing more along Darwinian/Nietzschean lines, wherein the strength and boldness of the music determined its ascension to and effectively perpetual status.

The growth of the internet has therefore sometimes jarringly co-existed with metal. Early hessian websites like the Dark Legions Archive and the BNR Metal Pages set the tone for metal on the internet as it had existed in the real world up until then: an enthusiast-centered mixture of devotion, and unsparing praise for bands and albums whose quality made them deserving. Newer and essentially more democratic net developments however harbor a conflict between those who represent the old ways, and those used to the confused standards, egalitarian platitudes and big media saturation that characterize metal in its later years.

  • Birth A.D. – Shortbus Society
  • Primordial – The Black Hundred


The democratization facilitated by the internet hasn’t so far created a widespread resurgence in quality. The re-exposure of forgotten musical gems and past scenes has not so much led to a revival of the spirit that went with those bands, as much as it has contributed to the stagnating plurality of lifestyle options and consumerist flavors offered by our crumbling utopia. For example, the growth of retro-thrash, complete with authentic caps, sneakers, d-beats, nuclear-themed artwork and Anthrax-style vocals – or the retro Swedish style bands, all playing roughly the same bouncy down-tuned death metal through a boss hm2. Outwardly they ape the sound of the genuine article, but beneath the surface offer little of substance, never really aspiring to do more than just reproduce the appearance of those older experiences. Fundamentally this is no different than the obvious and easily called-out hipster cult – that fetishizes the random ephemera of past fads for the sole aim of shallow self-aggrandizement. The retro-thrashers and their like are metal’s own version of hipsters – products of the dead end civilization, endlessly and emptily regurgitating its own past for lack of any meaningful inner direction.

In this respect, the internet has only heightened the dopamine-addicted individualism of the consumer society and absorbed metal into that; allowing more of us to wall ourselves off inside our own heads – where we can play out whatever inconsequential fantasy we feel like and make affectations of action and authenticity without actually living it.

For those who know how to use it – and are cautious enough to keep its negative effects at arm’s length – the internet can be an invaluable resource for both sharing ideas and educating oneself. Metal on the internet need not be any different. Enough great music, previously under the radar, can (and has) come to light because of the internet to justify its utility. And, provided you are smart about it, it can also be an effective promotional tool for quality metal and for higher standards; as long as, above all else, you are careful not to get sucked into treating it as the ego feedback loop that most people use it for.

  • Timghoul – Rainwound

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Why “South of Heaven” may be the best metal album of all time

slayer-south_of_heavenArthur Schopenhauer once wrote that there were three kinds of authors: those who write without thinking, those who think as they write, and those who write only because they have thought something and wish to pass it along.

Similarly, it is not hard to produce a decent heavy metal album. You cannot do it without thinking, but if you think while you go, you can stitch those riffs together and make a plausible effort that will delight the squealing masses.

But to produce an excellent heavy metal album is a great challenge. It’s also difficult to discuss, since if you ask 100 hessians for their list of excellent metal albums, you may well get 101 different answers. Still, all of us acknowledge that some albums rise above the rest.

South of Heaven is to my mind such an album because it hits on all levels. Crushing riffs: check. Intense abstract structures: check. Overall feeling of darkness, power, evil, foreboding and all the things forbidden in daylight society: check. But also: a pure enigmatic sublime sense of purpose, of an order beneath the skin of things, resulting in a mind-blowing expansion of perspective? That, too.

Slayer knew they’d hit the ball out of the park with Reign in Blood. That album single-handedly defined what the next generations of metal would shoot for. It also defined for many of us the high-water mark for metal, aesthetically. Any album that wanted to be metal should shoot for the same intensity of “Angel of Death” or “Raining Blood.” It forever raised the bar in terms of technique and overall impact. Music could never back down from that peak.

However, the fertile minds in Slayer did not want to imitate themselves and repeat the past. Instead, they wanted to find out what came next. The answer was to add depth to the intensity: to add melody — the holy grail of metal has since been how to make something with the intensity of Reign in Blood but the melodic power of Don’t Break the Oath — and flesh out the sound, to use more variation in tempo, to add depth of subject matter and to make an album that was more mystical than mechanical.

Only two years later, South of Heaven did exactly that. Many fans thought they wanted Reign in Blood: The Sequel (Return to the Angel of Death) but found out that actually, they liked the change. Where Reign in Blood was an unrelenting assault by enraged demons, South of Heaven was the dark forces who infiltrated your neighborhood at night, and in the morning looked just like everyone else. It was an album that found horror lurking behind normalcy, twisted sadistic power games behind politics, and the sense of a society not off course just in politics, economics, etc. but having gone down a bad path. Having sold it soul to Satan, in other words.

The depth of despair and foreboding terror found in this album was probably more than most of us could handle at the time. 1988 was after all the peak of the Cold War, shortly before the other side collapsed, but Slayer wasn’t talking about the Cold War. For them, the problem was deeper; it was within, and it resulted from our acceptance of some kind of illusion as a force of good, when really it concealed the lurking face of evil. This gave the album a depth and terror that none have touched since. It is wholly unsettling.

Musically, advancements came aplenty. Slayer detached themselves from the rock formula entirely, using chromatic riffs to great effectiveness and relegating key changes to a mode of layering riffs. Although it was simpler and more repetitive, South of Heaven was also more hypnotic as it merged subliminal rhythms with melodies that sounded like fragments of the past. The result was more like atmospheric or ambient music, and it swallowed up the listener and brought them into an entirely different world.

South of Heaven was also the last “mythological” album from Slayer. Following the example of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” Slayer’s previous lyrics found metaphysical and occult reasons for humanity’s failures, but never let us off the hook. Bad decisions beget bad results in the Slayer worldview, and those who are happiest with it are the forces of evil who mislead us and enjoy our folly, as in “Satan laughing spreads his wings” or even “Satan laughs as you eternally rot.” The lyrics to “South of Heaven” could have come from the book of Revelations, with their portrayal of a culture and society given to lusts and wickedness, collapsing from within. (Three years later, Bathory made the Wagnerian counterpoint to this with “Twilight of the Gods.” Read the two lyrics together — it’s quite influential.)

Most of all, South of Heaven was a step forward as momentous as Reign in Blood for all future metal. We can create raw intensity, it said, but we need also to find heaviness in the implications of things. In the actions we take and their certain results. In the results of a lack of attention to even simple things, like where we throw our trash and how honest we are with each other. That is a message so profoundly subversive and all-encompassing that it is terrifying. Basically, you are never off the hook; you are always on watch, because your future depends on it.

Slayer awoke in many of us a sense beyond the immediate. We were accustomed to songs that told us about personal struggles, desires and goals. But what about looking at life through the lens of history? Or even the qualitative implications of our acts? Like Romantic poetry, Slayer was a looking glass into the ancient ruins of Greece and Rome, onto the battlefields of Verdun and Stalingrad, and even more, into our own souls. Reign in Blood broke popular music free from its sense of being “protest music” or “individualistic” and showed us a wider world. South of Heaven showed us we are the decisionmakers of this world, and without our constant attention, it will burn like hell itself.

I remember from back in the day how many of my friends were afraid of South of Heaven. The first two Slayer albums could be fun; Reign in Blood was just pure intensity; South of Heaven was awake at 3 a.m. and existentially confused, fearing death and insignificance, Nietzschean “fear and trembling” style music. It unnerved me then and it does still today, but I believe every note of it is an accurate reflection of reality, and of the charge to us to make right decisions instead of convenient ones. And now with Slayer gone, we have to compel ourselves to walk this path — alone.

Slayer

jeff_hanneman-slayerAnd so, after a long time of thinking he was immortal, we have to say goodbye to Jeff Hanneman and hope that all the doubters are wrong and there’s some metal Valhalla where he’s drinking Heineken and exploring all those solos that he did not have the energy on earth to discover.

In the traditions from which I come, the way we handle death — which we handle badly, if at all — is to describe the meaning of the life. This enables us to get away from the person, who is either nothingness or eternity per the rules of logic, and instead look at what they fought for.

In other words, what drove them to engage with life and reach out every day, which are things most people don’t do. Most of us just “attend” to things, like jobs and families, and hope for the best. The giants among us are driven onward by some belief in something larger than themselves or than the social group at large. They are animated by ideas.

For Jeff Hanneman, the idea was both musical and a vision of what that music should represent. He peered into the dystopia of modern times with one eye in the anarchistic zone of the punks, and the other in the swords ‘n’ sorcery vision of a metalhead. When he put the two together, he came up with something that makes Blade Runner and Neuromancer seem gentle.

Having seen this, he came back.

“I have seen the darkened depths of Hell,” the chorus begins. For Hanneman, his sin was too much sight. He saw the failings of his present time, like a punk; he saw how this fit into the broader concept of history, like a metalhead. Putting the two together, he saw darkness on the horizon encroaching and assimilating all it touched.

To fight back, he created music for people such as himself, youth adrift among the ruins of a dying empire. He created music that made people not only want to accept the darkness, but to get in there and fight. Not fight back necessarily, but fight to survive. He helped us peel away social pretense and reveal our inner animals which have no pretense about predation and self-defense, unlike civilized people. Hanneman prepared us for the time after society, politeness and rule of law fail.

This was, in addition to the shredding tunes, his gift to the world: a vision of ourselves continuing when all that we previously relied on has ended. Like all visionaries, he was before his time, and like many, did not live to see his vision realized. However, for millions of us, he gave us hope.

It is also worth noting that Slayer renovated heavy metal in such a way to set its highest standard. In any age, Reign in Blood, South of Heaven and Hell Awaits will be a high point for a genre. They fought back against the tendency of metal to become more like the rock ‘n’ roll on the radio, and to lose its unique and entirely different soul. Hanneman and his team pushed forward the frontier for metal, and pushed back the assimilation by rock music.

In the wake of Hanneman’s death, we are without a king, so to speak. The elder statesman role passes to a new generation, and they must find in their souls the bravery and fury to create much as Jeff Hanneman did, a standard and a culture based in a vision that surpasses what everyone else is slopping through. We are poorer for the loss of Jeff Hanneman, but our best response is to redouble his efforts, and push ourselves forward toward a goal he would respect.