In defense of metal

heavy_metal_audienceI think if you’d ask most hessians, they would say that we live in the age of kali yuga. If you get a chance to speak with lower-case-c conservative people, they express the same feeling: that something is lost. That some form of refinement, culture, and civility is gone from modern culture, if you could even call it that.

One of the complaints that repeats itself regards the state of the arts, and more specifically, music. It is simplistic, they complain. It is crass, uncultured, fatalistic, naval gazing, hedonistic, idiotic and stupefying. None of these is wrong.

It saddens me, then, when people complain about rap, rock, and Lady Gaga, they usually lump metal along with the complaint. I get it, though. The way metal appears to most of the world is not as a refined style. Some of it is also the product of the vast machine of idiocy that turned music into the nightmare that it is today. They made it safe, by making it mockable.

But some of the fault lies with hessians. Not all bands are Pantera and Slipknot. There is an entire world encapsulated in the metal genera. It is one of the only styles that keeps on expanding and developing. We have some commitment, as hessians, to support metal, in the great cultural discussion that extends through the generations.

Good metal will always be there, and will always be a legitimate art form. It would be sad, however, if those who could appreciate it (they don’t have to like it) would appreciate it, instead of buying into this elaborate hoax by the impetus of insignificance espoused by commercial music.

First and foremost, metal is a legitimate art form. A legitimate form of music. Yes, there is metal which is certainly not music. Pantera and Slipknot come to mind.

However, there is something in metal, a movement that existed since its advent in Black Sabbath’s first album, which expresses immortal truths. It feels as a sort of pessimistic conservative message.

Are things running down? Is there a process of degradation, a willful suicide enacted by modern culture? This observation was expressed by Black Sabbath, in an attempt to rain on the hippy party. We won’t go into why hippies are the end of civilization right now, but know that if some movement, since its advent, was diametrically opposed to such movement, there already is some root credibility to it. The hippies wanted to create a world without values, without temples or transcendence. Metal, on the other hand, constantly seeks transcendence, enlightenment, and a form of holiness. It is not base and animalistic, but in fact, a deeply religious experience.

In metal, there is encapsulated an idea that holiness cannot exist in a vacuum. If there is holiness in life, it must be whole. Blasphemy became an act of holiness and worship of life in its fullest.

To truly love life, you must love it completely, including the scary, red in tooth and claw parts. Metal expresses these aspects in purity and vicarious form. There is no need to describe beauty, truth, and love, because you cannot accept them until you have delved into pain, struggle, overcoming, violence, exposing hypocrisy, self reliance, heroism and individuality. These ideas are the bread and butter of metal music. It is not individualism, but individuality.

Undeniably, there is a nihilistic streak in metal. It is not the passive, fatalistic kind of nihilism, but the nihilism that views happiness, success and overcoming as dependent upon choices made by the self. No avoidance of consequences, looking ugly truths in the eye. There are inescapable things in life. Death, pain, lies, predators, and all the degeneration that arises from the human condition.

Do you deny these exist? Deny their necessity? It would be like denying rot and defecation. Ignore them and you’re in for a mess. Accept their inevitability, and you get a daily battle which never ends. It’s like mowing the lawn.

Metal is the tool which shapes this view of life. It might seem bleak, but the happy warrior never despairs. It’s an existential battle, and metal is the fuel, the blood in its veins, the fire burning in its soul.

I wouldn’t be who I am today without metal. Without these immortal truths as my guides and friends. I could be there, smoking the pipe-dreams of modernity. Drinking the kool-aid. Why chose suffering and a constant fight?

Maybe because I believe in tragedies.

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The enduring beauty of Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism

immortal-diabolical_fullmoon_mysticismThis week I have mostly been listening to…. Immortal – Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism

Less often cited as a classic than the follow up, Pure Holocaust, Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism is still to my mind one of the gems of second wave black metal. Some of the transitions between riffs/themes are a bit ragged, and the drummer is clearly not up to much of a standard playing-wise, but there’s great charm in this album, and some real magic about the riff-craft at work on it.

Riff-wise, this album is not fully black metal, but borrows heavily from death metal, although the band covers the fact with a cavernous production and droning under parts. Unlike the straightforward melodic approach of black metal the bulk of these riffs are composed in two parts: a modal/chromatic melodic part that becomes more detailed with iteration, and a counter-part that responds to the first idea at a lower register with an oppositional retort. ‘Epic’ moments are generally more straightforwardly black metal – single-motif melodic ideas with plenty of yearning, emotive harmonies.

The interplay between the epic bits and the controlled-chaos parts are really where this album shows what it’s about – an icy warrior outlook that turns whirlwinds of strife into the joy of the fight and the triumph of cosmic forces.

Musically this is also where things can become a bit rough sounding. Sometimes it works really well – Like around the 3/4 minute mark in “A Perfect Vision of the Rising Northland,” where themes from the chaotic/violent moments intermingle and then separate again to create an excellent fist-in-the-air, hair-flying-in-the-wind sort of moment. Other times, there’s only a steep drop off from one theme to the next; which is a little less satisfying even if the production does a decent job of smoothing over the edges (see certain moments in “Call of the Wintermoon” and “Unholy Forces of Evil” – less obvious when you’re just letting the mood of the music take you along, but a bit more noticeable when you’re listening more intently. Contrarily though, “Unholy Forces of Evil” is probably a better track on the whole than “A Perfect Vision”…).

This style of riff writing disappears somewhat on the following two (more melodic-riff centred) albums, but makes a return on Blizzard Beasts – which, although also a good album, wears the death metal influence in less of an understated way, taking away from some of the mysteriousness that made the first album special. Unlike with some of the other prominent Nordic second-wavers (Darkthrone, Mayhem, Burzum) I can’t immediately think of anyone who successfully and completely took on Immortal’s early riff writing style (although Averse Sefira’s latter two albums sound like they might’ve been at least partly influenced). Perhaps this is down to the more technical/complex nature of the band’s sound when compared to that of their peers, and the hyperactive, difficult-to-repeat playing style of Demonaz. As well as being a quality album then, Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism is also an interesting hint at where black metal might’ve gone had it stuck closer to death metal ideas of riff creation.

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Sixgun Serenade – Fortunate Vessels

sixgun_serenade-avenue_of_the_giantsI think the best way to understand the new band from Texas called Sixgun Serenade is that they are a pop band that likes metal riffs. This song features chuggy riffs from speed metal, noodly lead riffs from tek-deth, but otherwise, is pure alternative-rock-tinged pop music which delivers a gratifying melodic hook in a song that knows, like a dancer in the rain, how to pause and when to move. It combines really effective radio pop with some depth, and battering metalcore and metal riffs that keep the pop from swallowing up a realistic sense of how life is struggle.

If you remember the video for “Cemetery Gates” by Pantera, in which the vocalist had a similar hairstyle and tossed the hair in a similar way, and in which the verses were abrasive and the choruses sweetened by melody and soft vocals, the approach here may seem familiar. In fact, you might see it as a nod or tribute to that video, which kicked off the tendency of metal to accept alternative rock sounds and thus make melodic choruses to counterbalance the rage. Here, the battering metalcore/tek-deth aspects of the music are balanced by what would be a highly successful pop band in the chorus.

Obviously, this is not going to be for everyone. Some say metalcore is a contemporary version of glam metal or hard rock, but I think it’s more like a catch-all rock/metal hybrid not unlike Led Zeppelin or Tool. It aims for a rock audience, and hopes to wean them onto metal, or at least metal riffs, and from there to let nature take over. One thing that Sixgun Serenade do well is that they embrace technicality but, unlike many of the truly chaotic core/tek bands, use it wisely. That doesn’t mean selectively exactly, more than they tailor their techniques to the roles in which those techniques complement the song.

Another thing to like about Sixgun Serenade is that they do not indulge in pretense or hide their origins. This is pop music in the best tradition of the MTV era, where each song is designed to be compact, slightly repetitive, hooky and to have some form of song development that parallels what goes on in the video. The result combines silent theatre, language and music and creates a unified entertainment product. Unlike most pop music, however Sixgun Serenade wrap some guitar fireworks and abrupt riffing into their payload.

Sixgun Serenade released their most recent full length album, Avenue of the Giants, on March 26, 2013 via Dark Slate Records. Describing itself as “a passionate five piece American Metalcore band,” Sixgun Serenade comprises Cody Roye- vocals, Justin Werner- guitar, Stephen Loftin- guitar, Cody Blevins-bass guitar, and Justin Hendrix- drums. Currently the band is touring in support of Avenue of the Giants.

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Metalcore finally admits what it is: a grab bag of random parts

Bassist Craig Horky describes Cavalcade as “self-indulgent music nerds playing Cure-influenced, Fugazi-meets-Black Sabbath bastardization … in three different tunings — with black metal vocals.” Last year, the band even worked out an ‘80s dark New Wave cover set — not a typical move from a gang of headbangers. – Heavy Meta

Modern metal bands like to pretend they’re metal, but really they’re not. Like everything else in this society, they’re a bin of odds and ends because people are afraid of offending someone by leaving something out. The result is a total lack of direction, and this is why fans of modern metal are so adamant that their music is metal. If you point out that they’re listening to a musical garbage plate, it invalidates their whole worldview, which is to not pick a clear direction, to never take a stand, and to never find anything in life worth dying for. That would interrupt their all-important quest for personal authority, wealth and social relevance.

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Gorguts plan return with Colored Sands

gorguts-colored_sands_tourThe might Gorguts, who added atmosphere to thunderous Florida-style death metal before deviating into labyrithine riff progressive death metal on Obscura and From Wisdom to Hate, and then fading into obscurity with only one resurrecting as modern metalcore band Negativa, plan to return on September 3 with a new album entitled Colored Sands and a tour to follow.

If you don’t hear the heavy metal world pounding on the door to demand to hear it, here is why: the name is obviously of the type that is used by modern metal bands, including metalcore and “progressive metal” that is mostly indie with some progressive and very little metal, and thus, it’s unlikely that we’re going to get Considered Dead II, or even Obscura II. In fact, what it sounds like we are going to get is another modern metal album that, because it has abandoned what it is to be metal in spirit and composition, is a diverse collage of bits in the modern style, which means a giant indecisive waffle that leaves you feeling empty after consumption.

As the staff optimist here at DeathMetal.org, I am hoping otherwise, and putting my trust in Luc Lemay and team’s solid record in the past. However, the team is entirely different now, except for Lemay. Kevin Hufnagel (Dysrhythmia) is on rhythm guitars, Colin Marston (Behold… The Arctopus, Dysrhythmia) on bass and John Longstreth (Origin, Angelcorpse) on drums. This also makes metalheads uneasy, because no matter how much they “love true metal,” Marston and Hufnagel are from a hipster metalcore band.

Still, we preserve optimism. The hope is that Gorguts will make something interesting. That excludes technical metalcore. I would rather they released a rockabilly record that join the stupid and horrible trend of mixing Fugazi, frenetic 1970s jazz fusion, and a few metal riffs and calling it “innovation” when by definition it’s a recycling of past ideas. Time will tell, and we can only hope that Gorguts rise above the pack yet again and bring us a vision of something profound instead of something compliant.

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Brutality – Ruins of Humans

brutality-ruins_of_humansClassic Tampa, Florida death metal band Brutality released a new two-song EP entitled Ruins of Humans which continues the style in which a melodic Morbid Angel meets Monstrosity that defined their debut album Screams of Anguish.

The vocals are still the crushing yet discernible Glen Benton meets Karl Willetts style as always, belting out apocalyptic views of human error. They didn’t recreate the wheel, and this won’t start a revolution, but it is still high quality material very much in the vein of their early Nuclear Blast releases, and is a step up from their forgettable swan song In Mourning and the confused 2003 demo.

There is a lot of potential in this as they have still retained their characteristic long flowing melodies that are akin to early At the Gates and blistering blast beat passages, and isn’t misdirected like the recent Convulse and Purtenance reunions. Hopefully a new album from these veterans as well as the upcoming return to form Demigod material will deliver the goods.

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Today is the International Day of Slayer.

The holiday comes every year. The International Day of Slayer is a day to celebrate both being metal and worshiping Slayer by playing loud Slayer and not going to work.

This day is important because it affirms our cultural identity as metalheads through the band that most exemplifies metal of any band through all of history. Slayer made metal into what it always yearned to be: a fully intense, terrifying, apocalyptic and mythological view of human decline and the need to reject society in order to not get dragged down with it.

It’s also singularly intense and powerful music. Today is a good day to not go to work; instead, listen to Slayer.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EdjS4qMXQmQ

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PNMoJiPBVkI

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NbGqPRFyHtg

How to Celebrate

  • Listen to Slayer at full blast in your car.
  • Listen to Slayer at full blast in your home.
  • Listen to Slayer at full blast at your place of employment.
  • Listen to Slayer at full blast in any public place you prefer.

DO NOT use headphones! The objective of this day is for everyone within earshot to understand that it is the National Day of Slayer. National holidays in America aren’t just about celebrating; they’re about forcing it upon non-participants.

Taking that participation to a problematic level

  • Stage a “Slay-out.” Don’t go to work. Listen to Slayer.
  • Have a huge block party that clogs up a street in your neighborhood. Blast Slayer albums all evening. Get police cruisers and helicopters on the scene. Finish with a full-scale riot.
  • Spray paint Slayer logos on churches, synagogues, or cemeteries.
  • Play Slayer covers with your own band (since 99% of your riffs are stolen from Slayer anyway).
  • Kill the neighbor’s dog and blame it on Slayer.
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Evile – Skull

evile-skullIn the year 2013, most good (and bad) metal ideas have already been executed – genre boundaries have been clearly defined, and each has its long list of heroes. Bands striving to create in this age are faced with a choice: do they stay with what is firmly established or do they attempt to find what little unexplored ground remains? British speed metal band Evile has decided to take the former approach, with mixed but mostly positive results.

Throughout the course of this album, the band attempts to survey the history of speed metal from its more occult origins, to the current stage of secular nu-metal influenced syncopated riffage. Touches of other genres make their presence felt: echoes of death metal are heard in some of the riff structures, and hard rock make its presence known in some of the chorus harmonies. The merging of these diverse takes on the genre would be rendered incompatible by many contemporary bands, but Evile manages to pull it off well.

Although its composition may be sound, it’s hard to identify the soul of the album. There isn’t anything individually exciting about it, yet its skill in composition of the whole makes it stand out from the crowd. Fans who are searching for the next great innovation are encouraged to look elsewhere, but for those that are just looking for a speed metal album with good tunes, it is worth investigating.

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Maryland Deathfest 2013

bolt_thrower

With over 70 bands playing four stages in total, Maryland Deathfest has become one of the biggest meetings of metalheads in the US, and it will only get bigger from here on, as the organizers possibly look to cash in on years of service. One only hopes they don’t sacrifice quality in the choice of bands to achieve it, though this year is touch and go. Giving relative unknowns a chance is one thing, promoting mega-bands past their prime or not worth your time is another, though overall it’s a worthwhile four day fest for those who enjoy metal and musicality.

Thursday May 23

The almighty Bolt Thrower was the only reason why the first day of the festival was sold out months in advance. This reviewer also caught sight of Abigail, who one astute festival-goer described as a sideshow Venom/Bathory rip off, though they’re more honest than Cobalt, who play an uncomfortable mix of styles from metalcore to prog-metal to post-metal while attempting to borrow a black metal feel and atmosphere.

Bolt Thrower

Bolt Thrower rarely disappoints, in your CD player or in concert, hence the hivemind excitement and anticipation generated for what to worn eyes must be just another routine appearance in the United States. What is standard is the playlist offered, which is a mix favoring their more ear/crowd pleasing but less inspired later albums. The intent for passion in live performance is still there, only unrelenting socioeconomic pressures get in the way of conveying a totality in epic experience. What we get instead is war metal presented as a theme, with half of the set songs embodying the essence of war more forcefully than the rest. Bolt Thrower up to For Victory… is a progressive evolution from classic grindcore to a peak in the unique and balanced style that stands as testament to the band’s contribution to metal. This is the half that works, and works well, especially in the enclosed “metal tent” setting preferred by these UK legends. After that album they went wayward into non-threatening, passthe-time music, so while it helps to have party music for a live show, the experience is diluted, i.e. not “pure,” but still invigorating and appreciated.

Friday May 24

Credit the organizers for knowing their grindcore and knowing their customers, giving them on day two a mini grind feast that gets the blood pumping and ready for infusion with gore and horror.

repulsion

Repulsion

A comedian vocalist and groupies on stage were employed to keep us entertained between songs as Repulsion, a pair of “fucking old” dudes and a drummer from Criton, ripped through a set of the original™ grindcore that helped define the genre. In truth, this band set the tone and standard for the festival, showing the usual pretenders and prospectives the meaning of grind and the spirit of metal. What is not mentioned often enough in metal is that it is a smashing of ego, which includes all posturing, to see the details of reality for what they are, gory as they may be. This for me is what Repulsion’s seminal 1986 offering Horrified represents and exemplifies, and what this performance more or less achieves, peering at an extra layer of detail that even thrash couldn’t stomach, exploring it in closer to death metal riff form. As an expressive effect of the songs themselves, the physicality of performance (while in a manner appearing more punk-hardcore than grindcore) is a burst of energy that is age defiant while maintaining that nonchalant approach to technicality (though technically sound). To boot, this trio appear as clean-cut, overgrown miscreant types and of note is the popularity of this band, pulling almost as big a crowd as Carcass later this evening. Also played was a cover of Schizo from all time veteran purveyors of satanic imagery Venom.

Pig Destroyer

Right out the starting blocks these fellows made a huge noise appropriate to stir up chaos in the pit, playing a boil of randomness that has its moments but is overall a mess, veering more to deathcore or newer Cryptopsy than early Brutal Truth. Adding depth of timbre to the metalcore vocals won’t hurt.

Righteous Pigs

Mitch Harris from Napalm Death is the standout performer for this quartet who are equal parts speed and grind. His trademark scrowl is matched by intensity in characterization, facial figures of torment and black eyes serving as portals to the abyss. A thoroughly enjoyable set from one of those late 80s/early 90s bands that showed promise but then lost momentum and faded.

carcass

Carcass

When a band comes out of retirement, there should be a community of independently like-minded individuals who question their motivations, forcing the band members themselves to introspect honestly, instead of only appearing to do so. Not many people will admit that after Symphonies of Sickness this band’s career took a drastic trip south in quality in terms of existential seriousness, in fact becoming a milquetoast series of affairs. The mixing engineer did these veterans no favours, but they were doomed from the start to show a huge audience a good time with what turned out to be a performance bereft of soul and even shaky technique as Jeff Walker struggles through his more demanding vocal sections. Personally, this reviewer enjoys on a musical level a great deal of this cheesy porridge, but evidence of this showing is that the forthcoming release will not be worth the time for anyone looking for engagement with any offering containing artistic integrity.

“Suck a new dick.” -Scott Carlson, Repulsion

Regrettably missed: Benediction, Convulse

Saturday May 25

antaeus

Antaeus

As if wary of burn out, Antaeus temper the reckless excess of past live appearances while still managing to engender a metonymy of Satanic Khaos. The serpent, headed by venomous MkM, terminated by the tail-whip of ceremonial percussion, disseminating hateful sermons of sin and sacrifice unto the gathered black mass of devotees who subsume it gladly into bodily rite like wicked creatures unsatisfied with humble supplication. An incarnation of the underworld serving as liminal barrier to the state of silence left when furious life expires. Impressive as ever, frontman MkM refuses to allow stage presence to slip into merely sufficient professionalism, augmenting the latter with evocations of genuine misanthropic disdain. The next hope for this band is that they take this approach to the studio and make something with the same attitude that gave us their 2000 full-length debut.

Regrettably missed: Anhedonist, Aosoth

MkM with Aosoth

Sunday May 26

Cruciamentum

One of the few post-2005 black death metal bands who know how to build mood intensity while maintaining a firm grasp on structure, what I love about this band is that like the best metal of the 80s and 90s songs sound like the subject matter described in the lyrics, and these point to a will to higher forms of life.

Manilla Road

These guys kick off the heavy metal fare for the final day of the fest with probably the most musically aware performance in comparison to the “sludgers” and “stoners” on show like Sleep. This is probably power metal at its best, though it could also be Iron Maiden/Angel Witch rip-off with touches of early speed metal.

pentagram

Pentagram

If you’re looking for doom metal you’ll have more luck with Saint Vitus or Black Sabbath, while the stage antics from decrepit scarecrow Bobby Liebling are entertaining all the same. I must be wrong as this heavy metal crew are widely credited as forerunners to the style, but their contribution above Sabbath seems to be more focus on playing lower in the register while chord/note progression is still “safe”. It just ain’t that heavy in an existential sense, songs are about doom but don’t sound like doom, relegating this band to historical/academic interest.

Regrettably missed: Venom, Carpathian Forest (canceled)

All pictures courtesy Sabrina Ellis and Jaqueline Meraz.

aosoth

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Summoning to release new EP, re-issue vinyl versions of older classic albums

Members of ambient black metal band Summoning have braved the hellscape that is Facebook in order to carry news of further releases.

summoning-old_mornings_dawnEarlier this year saw Summoning release their first album in seven years, Old Mornings Dawn. Our review saw it as “a creative journey into the recesses of the mind and embraces the sentimental alongside the epic, using its ambient structuring to immerse the listener in a world far beyond anything they have experienced.”

Fortunately for us, the band possesses six more tracks from the album session. They will began the process of finalizing their production and expect to release these tracks next year as an EP. Until then, the band will hold its fans over by releasing an “earbook” edition of Old Mornings Dawn, which includes two acoustic bonus tracks; and vinyl reissues of Nightshade Forests, Oath Bound, and Lost Tales.

Unfortunately, it’s not all good news; as the band has stated that this is a prelude to a period of dormancy:

“In the end of next year, when everything is said and done, and all works are finished and released, the forges will get cold again,and we will rest at last. Then Summoning will fall asleep again for a longer time, until a new dawn is rising…”

We hope that this interval will not be as long as the gap between Oath Bound and Old Mornings Dawn, but we recognize that art often needs time to germinate and we eagerly await new material, whenever it may arrive.

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