Metal and weightlifting: worship of strength

hrmmphIf this world fears anything, it is strength. Most music artists portray themselves as thin, frail and sensitive. Our leaders like to cry in public. Some however recognize that health does not come from preservation, but pushing ourselves to the limits, in both mind and body. Jim Wendler is a powerlifter and out-of-the-closet metalhead who promotes that point of view.

A professional weightlifter, Jim gives advice on how to properly build muscle so that your body is suitably formed. He’s had numerous successes and he published an e-book where he outlines techniques to become BIG. You will not find advice on diets to slim down here, only diets to bulk up, on the assumption that you’re also flinging iron (a type of heavy metal) around on an hourly basis.

Wendler is part of a new breed of heavy metal associated athletes like fellow bodybuilder Jamie Lewis, who believes that having a tiny head is compliment. Like Wendler, Lewis also advocates metal in and out of the gym, as well as crushing posers wherever he finds them.

If you’re interested in building muscle, check out Jim’s website for tips. From the t-shirts he wears and endorsements he makes, we know that Jim works out to Slayer, Cannibal Corpse, Darkthrone and other metal bands both above and below the underground line. Perhaps the music of strength and the behavior of strength have found a balance with each other. Further, he’s in a metal band that makes death-grind that is alternatingly frenetic and doomy.

First in Line: Slayer – Show No Mercy

slayer-show_no_mercySlayer’s Show No Mercy turned the metal world upside down when it hit the record stores. Keep in mind this was back in the 1980s, so there was no instant effect, more like a quick ripple as it took people time to learn about the album, get to the store to buy it, dub it from a friend, hear it on a weekly radio show, or get mailed a mix tape.

At the time, the world was just awakening to the possibility of speed metal, which grew out of American bands taking the best of NWOBHM, like Blitzkrieg, Satan, Motorhead, Witchfinder General, etc. and combining them, adding in the attitude of hardcore punk and its rhythms. However, speed metal had a defining characteristic, which was the sharp sonic edges produced by the use of the muted strum.

Slayer took another approach, also derived from hardcore (mainly Discharge), which was the tremolo strum. Instead of producing sharp edges, this produced fuzzy columns of sound like an organ or other instrument with huge sustain. The result was that longer riffs could be created and could be relatively independent from the drums. The song structure opened up with guitar as the lead voice.

This innovation basically created all of underground metal. When Slayer was combined with Bathory and Hellhammer, both black metal and death metal emerged. Black metal was a more ambient variety, where death metal was more structuralist, but both used the same ingredients brought about by this combination, namely the techniques and attitudes of these three bands.

However, Slayer’s invention was what was able to unite the long-form song structures of Hellhammer and the atmospheric approach of Bathory into a format that could expand. Immediately recognizing the power of a style of music which put riff changes before harmony or conventional song structure, Slayer expanded their work beyond the verse-chorus using their famous pattern of introductory and transitional riffs.

A new science was born. It was opposed by many in the speed metal world, since it offered competition to what those musicians were doing and signaled the end of that paradigm (speed metal officially hung up its metal union card in 1991, five years after Slayer took this style over the top with Reign in Blood). Others saw the possibility in this new style.

As a result, when you hear metal music today, you are hearing an inheritance from Slayer. Even outside metal music the idea of a guitar or keyboard leading the drums has gained traction, which breaks out of the somewhat rigid format of rock/pop and gives artists more options. It’s not entirely surprising that Slayer burst onto the scene only ten years after the groundbreaking ambient of Tangerine Dream and Brian Eno/Robert Fripp.

Critics have never really understood how to analyze Show No Mercy in part because the album links together so many influences. Iron Maiden lurks in the chord progressions, Discharge and GBH in the technique, Motorhead in the rugged riffing, Kiss in the somewhat grandiose theatrics, and Judas Priest in the conceptualization of riff structure. But what holds them together is this metal first, which is the tremolo strum and its implications for songwriting.

The “First in Line” series celebrates the metal bands and albums who did something important, and did it first. It’s like an inventor’s award.

Disincarnate – Dreams of the Carrion Kind

disincarnate-dreams_of_the_carrion_kindThe brainchild of James Murphy, a guitar virtuoso who released two instrumental “shred” albums through Shrapnel Records, Disincarnate is in theory an underground metal dream made reality. The band released its one and only album in 1993 on Roadrunner Records. Murphy’s legendary lead guitar work on Obituary’s Cause of Death created the promise of a killer album was in the making, only it was never delivered.

Disincarnate is part of the first wave of post-Human era Death/Cynic bands who were making death metal explicitly play nice with the Headbanger’s Ball and Guitar World audiences under the guise of Floridian rhythmic death metal. This watered-down death metal was designed to appeal to the casual Pantera and Chaos A.D. metal fans of the time. On Dreams of the Carrion Kind, song structures are simple and pop-oriented, reminiscent of an 80s speed metal act like Exodus, which is a riff salad without themes developing within it.

“Monarch of the Sleeping Marshes,” the best composition on the album, fails to capture its surprisingly elaborate lyrical concept, impeding upon the momentum of its inspired introductory riffcraft with an awkward pause after the chorus to make way for an incongruous bridge of generic Benediction mosh fare. Other tracks like “Soul Erosion” and “Deadspawn” sound like Brutality playing along to bouncy Fear Factory/Pantera chugging fare with death metal vocals and lyrics adapted around that framework, no doubt in a vain attempt to bridge two trends from the era. At best, it could be compared to a lowbrow version of the first half of Resurrection’s Embalmed Existence.

James Murphy’s dextrous playing and the early Roadrunner Records connection would make this seem innocent, but don’t be fooled. This release is cleverly disguised as something profound but is no more advanced than Benediction’s Transcend the Rubicon. It isn’t awful to the point where you would rather swan dive into a wood chipper, but the overly bluesy doom riffs and the grooved out relaxed tempos of tremolo riffs in cyclical song structures that break for a “guitar hero” solo suggests this band as having the confused character of something that wants to be morbid and sinister, but also pander to the Dimebag Darrell worshipers of that era.

While some of the wiser among us would simply dismiss this as not up to par with other releases in its genre, on closer inspection, this album alongside Malevolent Creation’s Retribution and Obituary’s The End Complete in addition to Roadrunner Records vast distribution network assisted in streamlining death metal into a more rock centric style that allowed the Gutted/Kataklysm mosh fare with flashy distraction breaks to become an Ozzfest/Hot Topic mainstay in the 2000s.

Yass-Waddah – Cities of the Red Night

yass-waddah-cities_of_the_red_nightRising from Italy, Yass-Waddah play modern black metal in a style well suited for live performance. Simple, straightforward songs with coherent progressions bring about the merging of black metal techniques with heavy metal ethos, similar to Gorgoroth or Marduk.

Production wise, Cities of the Red Night (it’s unclear if this is named after the William S. Burroughs novel of the same title) has quite a clear sound for the genre: all instruments are audible and individually identifiable in the mix. Some may prefer this, as it avoids the “live from the sewer” feel of older black metal records, but others will lament the loss of the cold atmosphere so unique to black metal.

Musically, the band hits all the right steps of a band aiming to be invited to Wacken: Succinct tracks charge forward with a well-coordinated assault of blastbeats, high-pitched vocals, in addition to riffs constructed from melodies created by moving minor chords around the fretboard , which give the songs a focused method of attack.

Unfortunately, all songs on this EP follow the same structure, with only a few arpeggios and a bizarre solo sequence on the final track introducing variation. The consequence of this repetitive method of composition is that each track does tend to meld together, and after listening to this EP, one will be hard pressed to remember anything distinguishing them. Repetition in itself is not a negative (see Ildjarn), but the difference here is that there is little in terms of atmosphere and thus the attention shifts to the riffs – which do little to retain.

Nevertheless, the band avoids many of the pitfalls prevalent among its generation: there is no “glitter”, nor strange concessions to other genres included to entice more fans – just honest metal which has the potential to both drawn in new fans and appeal to long-time listeners of the genre. As this was merely a short demo, the band has potential to build from in future releases.

Sammath unleashes title track from Godless Arrogance

sammath-godless_arroganceWhat a difference studio recording and mastering can make. Sammath went into the studio with a demo full of their iconic black/death battle metal, but in the studio, something magic happened: it became transformed into a hybrid of early Morbid Angel and early Ancient, being both relentless and hiding melody inside its rigorous riffs.

Godless Arrogance promises to be a relentless war-charge of high speed percussion, fuzzily distorted fast riffing, and demented mocking vocals which sound like a criticism of the mundane world by something beyond it. The band have upgraded their playing to leave fewer spaces in the wall of sound, and have used production to mate their fuzzy guitars and whirlwind drums into a channel of sonic violence.

To be released by Hammerheart Records worldwide, Godless Arrogance shows this Dutch-German band backing off of the technicality of the last album in favor of the relentless riff assault of their most popular middle albums, combined with the sublime sense of melody that made their first album a keeper for so many metalheads.

Varg Vikernes arrested in France

varg_vikernes-burzumAs related in this news report, Varg Vikernes has been arrested on suspicions of terrorism in France.

The evidence against him appears to be that Anders Breivik wrote to Vikernes some time ago, and while Vikernes then called Breivik a “Christian loser” on his blog (for killing Norwegians), Varg’s wife had recently purchased four rifles legally in France. Somehow these two events add up to a possible massacre.

This is unfortunate because Vikernes has just released the excellent Sôl austan, Mâni vestan, which is like a cross between classic Burzumic ambient and the music of William Orbit. We’re hoping he’ll be freed to make more floaty ambient albums.

We also tend to think the whole thing is dumb and overblown. He went to prison; he served his time. Now he’s living a normal life for the first time in two decades. He should be encouraged to do this! Not only for society at large, but for metal, which now permanently has Burzum in its blood.

Morbid Angel Covenant Tour 2013

morbid_angel-covenantTwenty years ago this year, Morbid Angel released their third album, Covenant, which stepped back from the concept album madness of their second work and seemed to look instead toward the collection of ripping songs and experiments that distinguished their first album.

Working more melody and conventionally-recognizable technicality into the mix, Covenant showed Morbid Angel after most of the initial thrust of ideas from their demos had worn off — leaving them to create anew, from a place where they were at the peak of their musical power. As a result, it is for many people a favorite from this band to this day.

Starting November 7, the re-constituted Morbid Angel of David Vincent, Trey Azagthoth and Pete Sandoval will tour North America playing the songs from Covenant in its entirety. This show be a good chance to introduce your college-aged children, who were conceived to this album, to the magic of Morbid Angel. Tickets go on sale July 19, 2013.

Morbid Angel Covenant Tour 2013:

City Date Venue
Atlanta, GA Nov 7 The Masquerade
Charlotte, NC Nov 8 Tremont Music Hall
Baltimore, MD Nov 9 Baltimore Soundstage
Cambridge, MA Nov 10 Middle East Nightclub
New York, NY Nov 12 Irving Plaza
Philadelphia, PA Nov 13 Theatre of the Living Arts
Cleveland, OH Nov 16 Peabody’s Downunder
Chicago, IL Nov 17 House Of Blues
Minneapolis, MN Nov 18 Mill City Nights
Sauget, IL Nov 19 Pops
Lawrence, KS Nov 20 Granada
Denver, CO Nov 22 Bluebird Theater
Seattle, WA Nov 25 Studio Seven
Portland, OR Nov 26 Hawthorne Theater
San Francisco, CA Nov 27 Slim’s
Los Angeles, CA Nov 29 Henry Fonda Theatre
Phoenix, AZ Nov 30 Joe’s Grotto
Albuquerque, NM Dec 1 Sunshine Theater
El Paso, TX Dec 2 Tricky Falls
Austin, TX Dec 3 Red 7
Houston, TX Dec 4 Warehouse Live
Orlando, FL Dec 6 Beacham Theater
Ft. Lauderdale, FL Dec 7 Culture Room

Armaroth – False Vision

armaroth-false_visionBands seeking to play death metal in 2013 are faced with a curious conundrum: they grew up with undeniably great records that inform their knowledge of the genre, and yet their potential audience in this current generation clamors for simpler material with more digestible melodies. Bands then have to decide to what extent they will incorporate the “modern metal” influence into the death metal which is their reason for playing in the first place.

Armaroth play a fusion of death metal and speed metal, with some modern melodic metal influences introducing cross-generational appeal. Death metal riffs drive the songs forward, providing the backbone for the other elements to build upon. The riffs in their best moments are darker than the typical modern death metal fare, bringing out a sense of foreboding that has more evocative impact than just pure aggression. Speed metal lends itself to connecting riffs between verse and chorus, providing motion with palm-muted riffs that introduce rhythmic variation.

These sections are solid in themselves, but the band often moves from one to the next without giving sufficient care to set up transitions, leaving songs at times feeling as if they’re collections of riffs thrown together rather than conceived with a purpose. Moments as such are aggravated by the modern metal elements, such as embarrassingly catchy choruses and ambiguous guitar wankery which sharply contrasts with the more polished material.

The band recently released their first EP, False Vision. In their future material, if the band were to focus on and improve what they already do well and abandon the tendency towards including concessions for the newer generation, their material would be well above average in the current milieu.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eF7_crOv3uM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EmKdXAZn3m0

Earthen Grave – Earthen Grave re-issued as double LP/CD

earthen_grave

Former Trouble member Ron Holzner joins celebrated violinist Rachel Barton Pine in Earthen Grave, a doom metal band with heavy metal energy and hard rock groove. It fits in the niche between depressive heavy metal doom like Derketa and stoner doom of the Spirit Caravan variety, but has some of the gravitas and theology of Trouble and other depressive heavy metal doom bands from the 1980s.

Earthen Grave, the band’s debut, has been re-issued as a double-CD or double-LP on the Ripple Music label, appearing in stores and online on July 9, 2013. The completely re-mastered debut release now contains a new song, “death is another word….” with drummer Chris Wozniak (formerly of Lair of the Minotaur).

While Earthen Grave has not gotten the overflowing press attention that has accompanied many other doom metal bands, this band offers more of a pure older-school feel to its doom metal, and does not pander to the me-first mentality that many people want to hear in their music. The result is pure bleakness and self-negation that periodically rocks out and then launches into a series of musically erudite solos. As a result, Earthen Grave may appeal to the musicians among us first, and later spread to the rest of the metal audience.

** – EARTHEN GRAVE featuring Rachael Barton Pine

Exhumed – Necrocracy

exhumed-necrocracyFounded by a group of career metalheads, Exhumed started with a simple mission: make grind, but make it entertaining and participatory like the better heavy metal of the past few generations. While they were initially known as a Carcass clone, that comparison involves the vocals, while the guitar music is itself quite different.

Necrocracy continues the tradition with some very professional songwriting. The technique is pure death metal, grindcore and smatterings of punk and speed metal; under that surface, what lurks is old school heavy metal combined with Swedish-style melodic songwriting (which interestingly was also discernible on the debut).

As part of that professionalism, Exhumed fit each song into a series of gratifications: a good introduction, pounding verses, surging choruses, fireworks for solos and then a transition through a minor key melody into a triumphant return to the verse, plus an optional outro. This formula — adopted in part from glam ballads — propelled speed metal and heavy metal bands to the stratosphere. It’s doing something similar for Exhumed.

What makes Necrocracy hold together is that each song is composed of only necessary parts toward achieving this goal, which could be roughly described as half wanting to be a fun grindcore band, and half wanting to be a professional metal band with MTV-ready songs. Much like Amebix recently saw the utility of this format for reaching the slumbering masses, Exhumed use it to inject some death metal into the melange of hard rock, punk, speed metal, grind/death and heavy metal that makes up their songs.

It is probably not wise for old school death metal fans to rush to this album. It has more in common with grindcore and album-oriented stadium heavy metal, since it relies on the verse-chorus and derives much of its effect from application of known songwriting technique instead of straying into odd structures, bizarre twists, and experimental riffs. Its choruses are hooky, its verses catchy and chanty, and the heavy production and technique hides a band that could go toe-to-toe with the big heavy metal bands of the 1980s through 2000s. Their audience is its audience, updated a bit.

Carrying on the tradition of making metal music that pushes past what is socially acceptable, Exhumed return with an onslaught of cynicism about humanity that takes joy in its own dire predictions. Energetic and necrotically enthusiastic, Necrocracy pumps out the energy and the engaging heavy metal tropes in a voice that is all its own, and will serve as a great introduction for many to these genres.

Necrocracy will be released on August 6, 2013 via Relapse Records and can be pre-ordered here. Catch Exhumed on tour:

EXHUMED European Takeover 2013 [remaining dates]:

  • 7/17/2013 Vlamrock – As, Belgium
  • 7/23/2013 Metal Days – Tolmin, Slovenia
  • 7/24/2013 Garage – Munich, Germany
  • 7/25/2013 Eisenwahn – Obersinn, Germany

EXHUMED w/ Dying Fetus, Devourment, Waking The Cadaver

  • (10/4 – 10/19), Abiotic,Rivers Of Nihil (10/26 – 11/2):
  • 10/04/2013 Mojo 13 – Wilmington, DE
  • 10/05/2013 The Soapbox – Wilmington, NC
  • 10/06/2013 Back Booth – Orlando, FL
  • 10/07/2013 The Orpheum – Tampa, FL
  • 10/09/2013 Fitzgerald’s – Houston, TX
  • 10/10/2013 Red 7 – Austin, TX
  • 10/11/2013 Trees – Dallas, TX
  • 10/12/2013 Chameleon Room – Oklahoma City, OK
  • 10/13/2013 Warehouse 21 – Santa Fe, NM
  • 10/14/2013 Rocky Point – Tempe, AZ
  • 10/15/2013 Observatory – Santa Ana, CA
  • 10/16/2013 The Whisky – W. Hollywood, CA
  • 10/17/2013 DNA Lounge – San Francisco, CA
  • 10/18/2013 Branx – Portland, OR
  • 10/19/2013 Studio Seven – Seattle, WA
  • 10/20/2013 Rickshaw Theater – Vancouver, BC
  • 10/22/2013 Republik – Calgary, AB
  • 10/23/2013 Pawn Shop – Edmonton, AB
  • 10/24/2013 Riddell Centre – Regina, SK
  • 10/25/2013 Park Theater – Winnipeg, MB
  • 10/26/2013 Station-4 – St Paul, MN
  • 10/27/2013 Reggie’s – Chicago, IL
  • 10/29/2013 Peabodys – Cleveland, OH
  • 10/30/2013 Chance Theater – Poughkeepsie, NY
  • 10/31/2013 Palladium – Worcester, MA
  • 11/01/2013 Gramercy Theater – New York, NY
  • 11/02/2013 Empire – Springfield, VA