Blitzkrieg – Back From Hell

blitzkrieg-back_from_hellBritish NWOBHM band Blitzkrieg have returned with a new album, entitled Back From Hell. Melodic while still retaining structure, this album will appeal to fans of 80s era heavy metal, as well as those who prefer death/black metal but can appreciate skillfully constructed metal whatever form it may take.

Back From Hell has the band mostly keeping true to the traditional NWOBHM sound, with a few elements of further-developed speed metal present. Songs are expertly arranged, with each track featuring a clearly developed concept that never loses focus. This allows immersion within the verse-chorus structure and quickly illuminates the theme present within each. Verse and chorus are linked together with skillful transitions that makes the distinction between them organic, rather than artificial. Ornaments such as solos and fills are executed tastefully, with an eye towards shaping them into the song rather than the reverse.

Tracks are a mixture between heavier material and those that have more in common with 90s radio hard-rock and seem placed solely for commercial exposure. On these tracks the band forgoes thematic development in favor of repetition. Fortunately, those are the exception and not the rule; and while they do interrupt the album’s narrative to an extent, are still competently conceived.

Exuberant and honest in a way rarely seen among contemporary metal releases, in its best moments Back From Hell transports the listener back to a time when heavy metal was still exciting, and for that reason will be present on many best-of lists for 2013, even if it is marred by some concessions.

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Cryptopsy – Ungentle Exhumation re-issued

cryptopsy-ungentle_exhumationHigh speed percussive death metal band Cryptopsy — or at least they were in the mid-1990s — has re-issued its demos compilation, Ungentle Exhumation, containing the demo of the same name.

Cryptopsy rose to prominence in the mid-1990s with None So Vile, an album of blasting terror which utilized the style created by New York’s Suffocation to make simpler and more direct songs incorporating a rock/blues influence.

Although the band’s last decade or so has been spent trying to pursue modern metal styles, the “Ungentle Exhumation” demo showed them in the style of their first album (Blasphemies Made Flesh) but with the manic intensity of None So Vile.

It is thus considered by many Canadian death metal watchers to be the definitive Cryptopsy work. It can be purchased from the Cryptopsy bandcamp page for $8 CAD.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews: Crush the Skull

What does any band deserve? A fair review. If the band is good, it should be said so, to what degree. If it just sucks, it also needs to be said. And that’s why we’re here with the latest edition of Sadistic Metal Reviews.

weekend_nachos-stillWeekend Nachos – Still

If their stupid name didn’t already clue you in, the atrocity that is Weekend Nachos represents a lesser acknowledged evil in the underground music scene: nu-grind, or powerviolence played by MTV2 jockcore fans. Similar to other Relapse bands like Benümb, except all the fast strummed “anger” is a holdover for later day “tough guy” or straight-edge 90s hardcore “everyone mosh on the dancefloor” gimmickry that preys on low IQs who don’t listen to music beyond “breakdowns.”

hate_forest-ildjarn-those_once_mighty_fallenHate Forest / Ildjarn – Those Once Mighty Fallen

The title on this may be ironic because it can apply only to Ildjarn, and only if the band ships something bad. This isn’t bad, but it’s an entirely different form of music. Where older Ildjarn was an idiosyncratic expression in equal parts ambient black metal, drone hardcore and forest Oi/Rac-influenced metal like Absurd, this new material is clearly designed to sound like black metal. Its songs use typical black metal intervals, develop according to the pattern, and even use vocals in the same rhythms as early Dimmu Borgir or other first-and-a-half wave bands. If you’re tuning in to Ildjarn, you expect something at least as lawless and feral as his later work on keyboards; this will be a problem for many listeners. As far as quality, it’s not bad at all and in fact is very natural-sounding, sort of like the first Dimmu Borgir or Graveland albums. Some have hypothesized that Ildjarn did not write the material, and the production changes and incorporation of additional instrumentation, in addition to the stylistic changes, suggest either a casual interest in this as a project to “stay in the game” or delegation of many musical tasks to a new team. Production sounds more recent than the early 1990s Ildjarn material. Use of background keyboards, faster bass riffing, textural discontinuities and other distinguishing effects show an interesting set of musical tools emerging, but the band may need to rediscover its voice. Hate Forest never struck me as being all that significant, but they make a very credible effort here, with production that matches the Ildjarn but is very carefully adjusted to sound as distinctive as possible. Their songs are fairly regulation black metal with an attempt to insert complex fills and transitions, and then to balance that, simplify the chorus riffs. The result is not atmospheric per se but achieves a relaxed atmosphere in which the focal point becomes the interruption, like a sunny sky with an intriguing cloud cluster. None of it is particularly distinctive but it’s not bad either. Songs maintain atmosphere well but there’s not a huge amount of development here, so the band sensibly rely on circularity to keep from appearing jagged. A rumored Ildjarn interview claims that this release was an early 1990s project between himself and Ihsahn of Emperor, which could explain the resemblance to post-Reverence Emperor material.

melvins-bullheadMelvins – Bullhead

Entropy embodied, this is the band that provided inspiration for Southern Lord’s entire catalogue of musical abortions. Deconstructive, linear riffs that seek to express nothing except ennui, combined with faux-crooning self-pitying lyrics ensure that this will continue to be a favorite band of mentally vacant children for decades to come. This is the mentality of grunge in a different form.

code-augur_noxCode – Augur Nox

For a brief while, power metal (speed metal w/death metal drums) looked like it would save True Metal. The problem is, however, anytime you walk back up the metal family tree, you get back toward the stuff metal was formed to run away from. As I listened to the first tracks on this, I thought, they’ve got some interesting riff ideas — let’s see how long it last — however, they sound like they want to be a rock band that’s primarily about vocal performance and personal identification with the vocalist. About half-way through the album, they shifted to tap-dance rhythm riffs and soaring vocals, the combination meaning no ideas but how to rip through some 1960s material. Eventually it got so bad it sounded like Queensryche on a bad day as a disco combo covering old CCR B-sides. If you don’t have an idea, by definition, you are an imitator recycling the old in a new form, and we have a word for that: stagnation.

immolation-kingdom_of_conspiracyImmolation – Kingdom of Conspiracy

Continuing their decline, Immolation return to the bouncy simplicity of Harnessing Ruin, only this time they downplay the “nu” sounds and try to make it sound more aesthetically in line with their old sound. This doesn’t change it from being a predictable verse-chorus version of NYDM and shows Immolation in their most neutered form yet, trying to pander to a metalcore audience whilst retaining their trademark sound. After the last album, I reckon the only reason people see these guys tour anymore is to get a Failures for Gods longsleeve. Linear, predictable, and disappointing considering this group’s potential.

izegrim-congress_of_the_insaneIzegrim – Congress of the Insane

After a few brave people direction-find their way to a new genre, in come the people who want to partake. They often bring superior skills but they don’t understand what they’re doing. Izegrim is a fine example. It’s chanty metal. When metal gets chanty, which is the nerdy equivalent of rapping, you know that a central narrative has been replaced by adherence to appearance and where that doesn’t work, filling in the gaps with the same old stuff. While this band is instrumentally superior to your average metal band, they don’t know what to do with the odd bits and ends they’ve assembled as songs, so they tie it all together with the simplest elements possible. That meants chants, crowd-pleaser but repetitive riffs, and lots of bombast to cover up for the big void within.

nachtmystium-silencing_machineNachtmystium – Silencing Machine

When a band wishes to play black metal without embodying any of its spirit, this is what’s produced. Lethargic, tremolo-strummed droning with ANGRY MAN vocals and uninspired drumming produces an album of tracks that are indistinguishable. Albums like these would be better off as hard rock, because at their heart that is what these musicians are aiming to create…though at least it’s not as bad as the the latest Satyricon abortion.

broken_hope-omen_of_diseaseBroken Hope – Omen of Disease

After failing to become “Oppressor meets Deeds of Flesh” with their last couple albums, Broken Hope return after a long hiatus and have churned out what can best be described as a Unique Leader band covering mainstream hip hop tracks in double speed. Considering their “beefs” with death metal bands and Source Awards concert turn outs, it should be no surprise that this has more in common with Tupac than it does Suffocation, approaching death metal from the same “gangster” outlook that Six Feet Under did in the 90s.

secrets_of_the_moon-seven_bellsSecrets of the Moon – Seven Bells

“Artistic” black metal, otherwise known as black metal watered down with fruity “post-rock” produces a product that is post-art. Designed for a generation that believes interrupting narration with pointless deviations is artistically viable, in form this shares for more in common with modern metal than with relevant black metal bands. Listen to this only if you enjoy consuming pumpkin spice lo-fat frappuccinos.

laibach-sLaibach – S

These three tracks — “Eurovision,” “No History” and “Resistance is Futile” — comprise 2/3 of the EP S (which can be streamed here) released in advance of the new Laibach album to show where the band is at this point. Some might think it odd to review industrial music on a metal blog, but Laibach has been supportive of metal in the past, including the notorious Morbid Angel remixes and positive statements made in public. Further, industrial and metal share a root, which is that we deny the happy vision that came about in the 1960s of love, peace and uniformity that would save us from the horrors of the modern time. Our vision is to point out that the beast is within, and as long as humans refuse to discipline their minds, they will end up re-inventing the horror, futility and self-destruction of the near past and the ancient past, before civilization evolved. Both genres also point to a path outside of what is acknowledged as “higher values” or “the right thing to do,” seeing morality as confining and misinterpreted. That being said, it seems that industrial hasn’t changed much since the EBM days of the 1980s. In fact, much as Nine Inch Nails basically made a more pop form of that genre with added guitars, Laibach have simply made a more stern form, albeit a self-mocking one. What you will find: compelling beats, blasts of static, sampled voices, a surly European-accented voice almost chewing out the lyrics in a conversational growl, and even bits of other musics woven through the material. Ultimately, what makes industrial different than metal is that it knows how to pull off a good pop song and make it sound good, even with machine-ish touches, where metal tries to make something beyond what people consider music. As a result, these songs have heavy dead-beat grooves and build up to a compelling motion. There isn’t as much internal development as metal so there’s some question of whether a metal fan would enjoy hearing these repeatedly, but it’s hard to ignore the sheer pop power and terrifying view of the world brought up by this assault of music and (if you go to the site) imagery.

sepultura-the_mediator_between_the_head_and_hands_must_be_the_heartSepultura – The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be the Heart

Claiming to be inspired by the old science-fiction movie Metropolis, Sepultura collaborate with tone deaf AIDS guru Ross Robinson to create an album that, much like recent Sepultura, is high in pretension and low in musical payoff. Death metal sounds are utilized here but only serve as what sounds like Pantera or later Sacred Reich occasionally lapsing into a parody of Slowly We Rot at its simplest than anything from their 80s output. A guest appearance by Dave Lombardo doing a “tribal” drumming outro feels more like a marketing gimmick, lacking any of the imagination found in his instrumental track for Grip Inc. (incidentally, their only good song). Most of the songs devolve into effects laden meandering, which is to be expected considering the producer. Even then, nothing is gained or lost on this album. Sepultura is still like a fish out of water, churning out another vapid reiteration of their 1998 album that will piss off old fans and make no new ones.

cattle_decapitation-monolith_of_inhumanityCattle Decapitation – Your Disposal

The first riff sounds like screamo, then clean vocals played over what sounds like a “post-black” abomination, then the breakdown with “eerie arpeggios”… this is metalcore. Looking past the “shocking” image stolen from early Carcass made to appeal to self-loathing Starbucks regulars, Cattle Decapitation now seem to be in direct contact with the same focus group Gojira employ when coming up with their gimmick ridden, indie rock friendly vapidity, eschewing the F-grade death/grind of their past for metalcore acceptance. Beyond the aesthetic drape of underground metal, this is nothing more than a random collage of parts “EXTREME” bands play for mainstream appeal under the pretense of having “matured” as “artists.”

twilight-monument_to_time_endTwilight – Monument to Time End

The “supergroup” of a bunch of hipsters that convinced Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth to ruin the genre alongside them, Twilight perverts black metal by using the treble guitar tone and anguished vocal styling to dress up what is middle of the road “post-sludge”. Members pool their collective inability to write metal into one product that comes off like a brain washing tool Scion would use to convince Gojira fans to purchase SUVs, all the while looking “edgy.”

cromlech-ave_mortisCromlech – Ave Mortis

This imaginative release explores the world of Iron Maiden-tinged power metal with an epic metal mindset, preferring extensive clean vocals, lengthy melodic parts and high-speed pickup riffs of the Maiden style. However, it also works in a fair amount of newer technique, sounding sometimes at the edge of later At the Gates. This is interesting material and an ambitious offering. However, this band has a few things it needs to work on. First, the vocalist is too present both in the composition and the approach to songwriting, and needs to go back to being one of the instruments. Second, this CD weighs in at 1:10 and is a B- album at that length, where if they boiled it down to 35 minutes would be closer to an A. (Note to bands: if you can’t listen to your own CD, while doing nothing else, on repeat for several times in a row, make changes). It has genre confusion problems that need to be resolved by getting more comfortable with its own style. Finally, Cromlech should learn from Iron Maiden and focus on making song structures clear: one intro, a theme, a countertheme, and some kind of developmental area where the melody grows before returning to the more predictable parts of songs. This is about their approach anyway, but it’s muddled by uneven application of technique. In addition, it wouldn’t kill them to look through for repetitive themes and excise or consolidate them. All in all, a great first effort, and I tack on all these suggestions because starting bands often need a push to fully develop.

gojira-l_enfant_sauvageGojira – L’enfant sauvage

The biggest sham in metal to this day. Being a propaganda tool used by hippies to turn metal into rock music, Gojira continue what they’ve done since the beginning: making “heavy” parts out of rhythmic chugging with pick scraping sounds before playing “soft” parts that sound lifted from A Perfect Circle. Rock made for angry menstruating Deepak Chopra reading faux-guru hippies. Add the cringe worthy “deep” lyrics and it’s no wonder people thought the world was going to end in 2012 when both this album came out and a new record was set the world over in dolphins beaching themselves.

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Death Invoker – “Demo 2010”

death_invoker-demo_2010This demo offers a new name to remember for the old school fans. Coming from South America, and having a Sarcófago cover as a hidden track on the Polish version, the inevitable comparison for Death Invoker’s “Demo 2010” will be Sarcófago‘s I.N.R.I..

There’s a lot more than that going on here however. Death Invoker incorporate older speed metal material, including rhythms that develop ideas Metallica used, and death metal from the period after Sarcófago. These songs tend to be short and of relatively circular development that builds off of verse-chorus songs with a few deviations and transitions, but this band really know how to set the stage for a song.

Each song has a clear development and doesn’t get lost in the confusion. If anything, some disappear into similar riff patterns that end up creating ambiguity, and a few more distinctive tempo changes would improve this, but on the whole, each expresses itself as its own entity. If the band refines these songs for an album, the biggest area of improvement could be in making each song have a distinctive structure and approach (“angle”) relative to the rest.

That doesn’t limit the power of this demo release, and it is a demo, so deserves more leeway. With choruses following more of the “speed metal” pattern, and being very catchy, and verses speeding along in more of the “death metal” style, this band unites the two in a potent variant on these styles. It will be interesting to watch these guys develop.

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Interview with filmmaker Ryan Oliver

deathblow

Continuing our coverage about the corresponding nature of horror movies and metal, as well as our continuing content of the Housecore Horror Film Festival, we present an interview with metal enthusiast and filmmaker Ryan Oliver from Deathblow Productions.

What initiated your interest in making films?

It’s a long chain of events starting with me watching the Son of Svenghoulie (local horror host) as a little kid, then making some backyard movies with the neighbor kids to theatre studies in college. At around age 30, I was an actor/writer/FX artist who had moved from Chicago to LA, and become immediately disenchanted with acting. I hung it up and got a job in a film vault at Technicolor, FX freelance work, and I wrote a shit-ton of scripts. Eventually I landed back in my hometown and was determined to stay connected to the industry and adapt the ‘big fish/small pond’ attitude towards things. I decided to start directing my own material, never looked back.

How would you compare your work with mainstream Hollywood types of productions? Are mainstream movies too predictable? If so, how do you overcome this hurdle?

Yes, a great many of them are quite predictable. But I suppose that’s a symptom of having millions of dollars at stake, making ‘safe’ choices. I don’t have to deal with that, so I’m not the best one to ask. When it comes to Deathblow, I can pretty much do anything I want/afford to do. I have no one to answer to. So, I try to write to my instincts and from my gut while keeping things as interesting and unique as possible. As a director who’s still trying to fight his way into the club, I have my own unique set of obstacles. I think it’s wasteful of my time to consider what others have going for them where I should be focusing on my own future. I will say this, I got tired of complaining about movies when I hadn’t gone through the process myself. It’s fucking hard to make a movie and to have people want to watch it, it’s double hard. So many things can go wrong from the music, talent, edit, fx, to your own idea sucking. So now that I made one and people seem to dig it, I don’t feel like the fat guy yelling at athletes from the grandstands anymore.

Being that you were featured at the Housecore Horror Film Fest, which featured both metal and horror movies, how does metal correlate to your tastes in music? Which bands have stuck with you throughout the years?

It’s not the only genre I listen to, but it’s ahead by a land-mile. Since you brought up Housecore, I’ll start with all Phil Anselmo projects. He’s an incredible frontman and I’ve bought everything he’s put out since ‘Cowboys’ I like a lot of Doom- Yob,Electric Wizard type stuff. Naturally, I’m drawn to a lot of Chicago bands like Plague Bringer, Harpoon, Witchbanger, The Atlas Moth, Indian, Pelican, Wolvhammer, Lair of the Minotaur, Bongripper, Weekend Nachos, Sweet Cobra, etc. I seek out a lot of soundtrack/soundscape stuff that is great to write or create to- Karl Sanders’ (Nile) solo albums are terrific. If I have to pick an ultimate inspiration it’s The Misfits, I know they’re not metal, but I really latched onto them from the moment I heard them. I was obsessed with these songs, the lyrics were both brutal and poetically divine and I began to see their discography (77-83) was an audible blueprint of the way I felt about the horror genre in general. For me, it was magical to discover those songs.

Do you think it’s significant that Black Sabbath chose the name of a horror movie for their band? What about that their statement in the past that they saw people enjoyed horror movies, and figured they might enjoy music with the same mood?

Sounds pretty significant to me. I don’t want to question the series of fragile events that led to Black Sabbath’s ‘sound’. I’m just glad it worked out the way it did. They’re so overly associated for pioneering metal that it feels too obvious to even bring up at times. I guess it explains their absence from my response to the last question.

Has horror movie music influenced metal? In what ways? Are there any specific instances you can think of?

I’m not a musician. I can’t play a lick of anything, so I may be totally full of shit, but when I think of, I guess you could say, stereotypical horror movie music I think of brooding moments punctuated by ‘stingers’. You know, slow strings or piano keys before a jarring ‘startle’. I hear that in metal often, bands that utilize a ‘slow to fast’ structure. Organs are another one. When I hear a pipe organ I think of two things: Classic monster movies and King Diamond. It’s a tough question, I guess I feel clumsy answering it.

Are there any similar emotions between metal and horror movies?

You know what’s interesting to me is how tough it is to fit metal into a horror film without overdoing it. You’d think it’d be like peanut butter and jelly but I personally don’t think metal compliments horror that easily. For example, John Carpenter and Allan Howarth composed the music for those early films masterfully, but I didn’t care for the metal score/soundtrack in Ghosts of Mars or JC’s Vampires. I like Carpenter on the Casio Keyboard. All those riffs chewed up the scenery for me. Now, my favorite use of metal in a film is probably Sleep in “Gummo” when the young cat hunters are first introduced tearing ass down that hill on their Mongoose bikes. Gummo isn’t exactly horror…but pretty close!

What other similarities have you found between horror movies and metal?

I have found that, for the most part, the overlapping fan bases are a collective of intelligent, well-balanced people that enjoy their lives and are easy to get along with. At least the ones I hang out with are.

Which horror flicks would you claim have had the biggest impact on your creativity?

Lots of Carpenter, Cronenberg, Exorcist 1&3, Texas Chainsaw 1&2, Everything Argento, Early Romero, Hammer Films, Troma Films, Universal Monsters.

Outside of horror I’m crazy for The Dark Crystal, 70’s cinema, Kubrick, Westerns, lots of Kung Fu & Samuari, Mad Max Trilogy, Cohen Brothers, 50’s Sci Fi, & anything weird or bizarro.

Do you derive inspiration from creating a sort of puzzle, then have the pieces fall together as the story progresses? More than just gore, but something that will stick with the viewer long after they’ve watched?

You said it! Gore, in my opinion, is best used as punctuation to a scene. It shouldn’t be the core content. I mean, it can, but I don’t think that’s wholly effective or the most interesting choice all the time. Situations, story and characters should dictate the terror. The audience will always think of something more twisted than what you can show them. It’s been said a million times, but look at the blood content of Halloween and TCM -a spatter or two at best. But everyone swears they saw it! I subscribe to that, for me it works. Tell a compelling story first, then strategically place your gore. That being said, there are some real blood-bath movies that I’m crazy about, Dead Alive, for me, is the crown jewel.

Thank you for your time. What’s ahead in the near future for Deathblow Productions?

We are in post for a new mid-length film called, “Restoration”. It’s a car culture ghost story about the spirit of a little kid who gets relocated from the prairie to a custom car & motorcycle garage. The place is loud, dirty and not to her taste so she throws a temper-tantrum one night. If you want to see a little girl spree-kill a bunch of Rockabillys then this is the movie for you!

Check out Ryan’s film “Air Conditions”:

“Air Conditions” Full Film from Ryan Oliver on Vimeo.

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Profile: Salva Rubio, author of Extreme Metal: 30 Years of Darkness (1981-2011)

extreme_metal-30_years_of_darkness_1981-2011As mentioned in an earlier article, Extreme Metal: 30 Years of Darkness (1981-2011) is a new book revealing the history of underground/extreme metal. Unlike many such efforts, this book approaches the topic from an academic perspective and avoids trying to celebrate the commercial or popular phenomenon.

Salva Rubio, an author and screenwriter in Spain, wrote Extreme Metal: 30 Years of Darkness (1981-2011) in his native Spanish and hopes to have it translated to English and other languages. The book “includes essays about the ethical and aesthetic nature of Extreme Metal, a formal account of what distinguishes each style and how they are meant to be played, a chronological, style-by-style story of how each kind of Extreme Metal evolved.”

Approaching metal as a history is antithetical to what many in the buying public expect from entertainment-related topics. They expected the fan-focused features that celebrate how much interest the genre has created, and how its individual members react and feel. While that approach makes the music identifiable to the listener, Extreme Metal: 30 Years of Darkness (1981-2011) takes another approach, which is to tell the story of the music through its evolution and let the whole story show what influenced individuals, and not the other way around.

Fortunately for us out here in death metal appreciation land, author Salva Rubio was willing to give us a brief run-down on the book, his connection to and inspiration in metal, and the status of the book and possible translation.

What’s your personal history in extreme metal? How did you discover it, what interested you about it, and how did you end up writing about it?

I remember quite well the first time I ever listened to Extreme Metal! I guess it was in ’91 or ’92 when I was already into rock and I bought one of those anime VHS tapes released by Manga Video (it could be “Fist of the North Star,” awesome series!). Then I hit the play button and “The Heart Beneath” by Celtic Frost, which played as an intro, simply blew my mind. As I say, at the time I didn’t have a clue about which band or song was that, since I didn’t have friends who were into Extreme Metal. But with a little bit of research, I started discovering other bands and as they say, the rest is history.

About what interested me, it was rather an intuitive thing: I simply loved the strength, passion and power that that kind of music emanated, and as I read the lyrics, I discovered that very serious and rebellious themes were sung, and at that time in my teenage years metal philosophy played the most important role in my development as a human being.

How did I end up writing about it? When I was studying my degree of Arts History back in 2003, we had this “Music History” subject, focused on classical music. The teacher was a really open-minded guy, so I asked him if he knew anything about Extreme Metal. I remember how he asked back “Do you mean heavy Metal?” — “No, I mean Extreme Metal.” He was so intrigued that he asked me to write a paper on its history, and although he later jokingly admitted that the music itself horrified him, he thought it was formally interesting and worthy of academic attention, and that I should write a book about it and he even offered to publish the book… But unfortunately, he died soon after. A few years later, my life was going through big changes and Metal helped me again deal with all that, so I thought I had to give something in return and write the goddamned book. It resulted in a 250,000+-word, 600+ page mammoth that has given me some of the greatest satisfaction in my life.

How did you pick the dates (1981-2011) for the book?

As I will explain later, this is a rather formalistic book, which means that its main focus is music itself, its structures, its sound, its ways of being played. Thus, musically speaking I think Extreme Metal is born when Punk and Heavy Metal collide with Motörhead, and I think the first band to assimilate those influences in the coherent way that others will formally, ethically and aestethically follow is Venom in Welcome to Hell, precisely in 1981. Just think of the influence it had on Hellhammer, Bathory and everything that came next.

As for the closing date, I started writing the book around 2009 and soon I realized that 2011 would complete a 30 year period in a nice, round way. My publisher agreed so I had to write it during all of 2010 and 2011 until its publication in December that year.

When will the book be available in other languages such as English?

That is a good question, since we are still looking for a publisher! Regarding this, any interested publisher would like to know that in Spanish language we have reached the Fourth Edition in less than two years, and it is currently selling well in Spain, Mexico, Colombia Uruguay, Chile, Venezuela and Perú and hopefully soon it will reach Argentina, Ecuador and other Latin American countries. I already have even an offer to publish it in Polish language once the English version is out.

Should a traditional (paper) publisher be interested in the book, it could be out in a year or less, I guess. There is another angle I am considering, and that is self-publishing it as a series of e-books (one for each style) because it’s hard to sell a 600-page book in e-book format, mostly because of the price it would have. I don’t like that much the idea of splitting the book into smaller volumes but this way at least I would be in control of when and where it’s released. If I finally go this way, maybe along 2014 the first volumes could be released, on my own budget (hard) or maybe after a kickstarter campaign (easier).

Anyway, as you can check in www.extrememetalbook.com, anyone can help get the book published just by drawing the attention of your favorite publishing house to the book. Please support this project as true underground always does!

Can you tell us more about the book? Is it mostly a history, a list of bands, interviews, or some combination of the above? How much is pictorial content?

As I advanced before, the book is a formalistic essay. This is very important; I am NOT a journalist or a critic, I am a Historian. That means my goal was to create a historical narration of how the music itself was created and how it has evolved over the years. What I have done is putting some order in the styles and sub-styles tree, creating a “botany” if you want: classification of bands according to the style they have helped to build.

That means there are around ten main styles (Pioneers, Thrash Metal, Death Metal, Swedish & Melodic Death Metal, Grindcore & Goregrind, Industrial Metal, Gothic Doom & Gothic Metal, Black Metal and Progressive/Avantgarde Metal), each style being a container for further sub-styles, such as Classical Death Metal, Technical Death Metal and Brutal Death Metal in the (obviously) Death Metal universe and Classical Black Metal, Norwegian Black Metal, Symphonic Black Metal, Melodic Black Metal, Death/Black Metal in the Black Metal Universe, and each of them even have their own variants, of course. The goal was to create a logical flow of music development, searching for the, again, formal paths that influences have made each style evolve and split into new sub-styles.

As for the pictorial content, the Spanish edition has about 20 pages of color and black and white photography in separate pages, most taken by myself. As for the English edition, I can’t say how much pictorial content it will feature; I just can say that I have a big personal archive, so we shouldn’t be short on this.

To write this book, I first thought of interviewing bands, as it is usually done by journalists or even critics, but it did not work. Mainly because it usually happens that many musicians are not really aware of the exact kind of music they are playing, and also, many of them like to say that they don’t play in any known style but their own, which is of course, formally impossible. Others claim to play a style (as in “Viking Metal”) which does not represent really a musical style, but an aesthetic tendency: “Viking” bands as Enslaved, Tyr or Amon Amarth play different styles of metal, so they belong to different chapters in the book. I also tend to use more “formally and historically accurate” terminology in conjunction with the traditional one: Classical Death Metal = Old School Death Metal.

As for the structure of the book, each chapter features an introduction, a technical (instrumental) analysis of the style, a lyrical analysis and its development through various stages in the last 30 years. I suggest you check the self-explaining table of contents: http://extrememetalbook.com/table_of_contents.html.

Anyway, something very important to note is that I don’t want this book to tell THE ABSOLUTE TRUTH in an exclusive, self-aggrandizing way. I see it as a contribution to the many studies that are being done on Extreme Metal. Those looking for pope-or-guru-like pontifications will not find it. Those looking for a fresh edge on how Extreme Metal has evolved and developed will enjoy it. You all know the story, I am just telling it in a different way that might make see you your favorite music in a new light (or darkness!).

How did you pick which bands to interview/include?

I used two sets of criteria for choosing the bands: first, obviously, any band who has had an influence over a style, created it, subverted it, re-created it, etc, that is, every band that has kept the machine running is featured. On the other hand, there are the bands, usually lesser known except for the underground, that have inherited their elders’ lessons and have developed them.

The development of each of those band’s histories have been covered in short biographies focused on their evolution throughout their subsequent releases, without filler as discographies, personnel changes, etc. I wanted the book to be readable from cover to cover and these entries are meant to provide an introduction to each band.

And of course, I have NOT tried to make something like a cold-data-encyclopedia (that’s why Metal Archives exists) or something like “the definitive list of.” I loathe those approaches and my choice is to be (and necessarily must be) a product of the Extreme Metal I have been exposed to throughout my lifetime. Suggestions are welcome, of course.

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Interview: Nelson Varas Díaz

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As part of our ongoing look at metal in academia, we speak with Professor Nelson Varas Díaz, who teaches at the University of Puerto Rico and is one of the sponsors of the upcoming “Heavy Metal Music and the Communal Experience” academic conference.

The upcoming conference will attempt to define “community” in heavy metal and has uncovered some interesting starting points. If nothing else, it shows the broadening of academic interests in metal. For more examples, read Professor Varas Díaz’s description of his research and its practical applications below. Where academia once focused on metal as a narrow field, it is now an inter-disciplinary study used to apply that knowledge back to other specialized fields.

We were fortunate to get a few moments via email with Professor Varas Díaz to discuss the conference, his research, his past and most importantly, his views of and participation in heavy metal as both art form and community.

Are you a metalhead? If so, what got you into metal, and what keeps you into it? What type(s) of metal do you like?

I listen to metal music constantly. I am always looking for something new that helps push boundaries of what I listen to within the genre and that continues to surprise me. I listen to metal music across the spectrum… everything from traditional, thrash, death, and progressive metal.

I think that, like most of the people I have met that enjoy metal music, social alienation was an important part of getting into this style of music. I will be the first to recognize that as a young man I felt very much isolated from traditional institutions. It seemed like one had to give up something of oneself to be part of the group, and metal music did not ask that of me. I know this sounds cliché… but at that young age it was very much my reality. There are many other reasons why people become interested in metal music… but that was mine.

Being part of a metal community in Puerto Rico, in the late 80s and early 90s was exciting, and I felt that I could be myself there. Of course, now I can see that process with some years of experience under my belt and recognize it for what it was with strengths and limitations. I am always very careful not to romanticize these experiences, as metal communities can also expect you to mold to certain standards (i.e. dress codes, behavior codes). It is a matter of learning to live within this apparent contradiction between individuality/collectiveness.

I like to think that I have “returned” to the metal community in Puerto Rico as a product of our study with its local scene. The study has been ongoing for the past two years and the first four publications on the project will come out in 2014 as book chapters and papers in peer-reviewed journals. Metal in general keeps me intellectually and emotionally engaged.

You’ve come up with a stumper here: how does metal define community? Is there more than one metal community?

That is an important question… I think people who are engaged in metal music throw the word “community” around as if we were all talking about the same thing. That is understandable because the concept is so frequently used that we don’t take the time to explore its implications.

As a researcher, my instinct tells me to take two steps back and explore the idea in all its potential complexities. A conversation with individuals from different settings will immediately show you how metal communities can be very different depending on their context, and still feel part of a larger metal community throughout the world. So yes… I believe we should always refer to metal communities in recognition of the plurality of experiences that are encompassed in the process of being part of a collective group. But that is not enough… and complexity always shows its face in this discussion.

Some example of this complexity include the role of the market in developing communities that are not organic, gender dynamics within communities, LGBTT issues, just to name a few areas that are currently being addressed by metal scholars working with the concept of community. Academically, concepts like tribes, emotional communities, functional communities, geographical communities, border communities, and scenes are used to describe the idea that we are connected. Some of these concepts overlap, while others include very different criteria for what constitutes a community.

I hope that the conference will allow us to continue a discussion on how we are connected, while also recognizing the complexities that we still need to address in order to have a more comprehensive understanding of the subject.

What do you hope to achieve with this conference? Who is coming? Is it open to lay people (non-academics) such as fans, bands, zines, labels and promoters?

I hope that the conference allows attendants to continue a discussion that began in the Heavy Metal and Popular Culture Conference that took place in Ohio in 2013. That was a simply amazing event that pushed the field of Metal Studies to new heights.

We will have visiting scholars from the UK, the US, and Brazil. These include: Keith Kahn-Harris (University of London, UK), Niall William Richard Scott (University of Central Lancashire, UK), Deena Weinstein (DePaul University, USA), Karl Spracklen (Leeds Metropolitan University,UK), Jeremy Wayne Wallach (Bowling Green State University, USA), Amber Clifford-Napoleone (University of Central Missouri, USA), Brian A. Hickam (Benedictine University, USA), Cláudia Souza Nunes de Azevedo (Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, BR), and myself (University of Puerto Rico, PR).

The conference is free of charge and will be streamed over the Internet for those that can’t make it to Puerto Rico (more details soon on our facebook page). I am sure that non-academics will be an important part of the event and that the local metal scene will support this venture. In fact, the Puerto Rico Metal Alliance and Thrash Corner Records will be cosponsoring the event. These are two historically important institutions in Puerto Rico’s metal scene.

We will also have a concert with local artists Organic, Ortiz and Dantesco (more details soon).

What do you think the study of metal has to offer academia at large?

Heavy Metal Studies has a lot to offer academia. The one thing that I think people in academia are surprised to see is that we engage in areas that are truly interdisciplinary. As a social psychologist, I have shared panels with philosophers, musicologists and musicians while we address metal as a subject of interest. I have had to expand my field of inquiry to converse with others. That is something that is severely lacking in academia. Most people are stuck in their fields and have a hard time letting go. I welcome that experience and hope it helps other academic settings see it as a possibility. This year I have a presentation on metal music in a local psychology conference. My presentation is entitled “Letting go of psychology” as a testament to how engaging in metal studies has required me to change how I think about and approach these subjects.

Do you think the study of metal has picked up lately? Why, if so?

I think there are several reasons. First, we must recognize the work of pioneers in the field like Deena Weintein and Robert Walser. Those books set the stage, at least from my perspective, for the growing number of academic endeavors in the field. Second, more recent books published by Keith Kahn Harris on extreme metal and Jeremy Wallach, Harris Berger and Paul Greene on the global aspects of metal have pushed these reflections even further.

Also, the continuing number of conferences that have been organized played a vital role in strengthening metal studies. Take for example the Heavy Fundamentalisms conference organized by Niall Scott and Rob Fisher for Interdisciplinary.net and the Heavy Metal and Popular Culture Conference organized by Jeremy Wallach, Cláudia Souza Nunes de Azevedo, Amber Clifford-Napoleone, Matthew A. Donahue, Brian Hickam, and Esther Clinton at Bowling Green University. Those were excellent conferences that have yielded great discussions (and upcoming publications) that have strengthened the field.

In terms of organization, the International Society for Metal Music Studies (ISMMS) has played a vital role in promoting metal studies. Also, the new journal Metal Music Studies edited by Karl Spracklen will help strengthen the field in terms of publications. I am part of the editorial board of the journal and am really excited about where it will lead. These are just some examples of individuals that are collectively working very hard to promote metal music studies through different mechanisms. They are joined by so many others that systematically engage in research with little support and resources.

Can you describe your own studies, both in metal and outside of it, and what you think they have contributed to academic knowledge?

Most of my research outside of metal music is related to social stigmatization and health. It has focused on developing strategies to train health professionals to address the needs of marginalized populations without letting prejudice influence social interactions. Now you will say… what does that have to do with metal music? Well, I frequently use heavy metal lyrics to discuss how social stigmatization influences people’s lives. So metal music found a way into my classroom long before I engaged in metal studies. After attending the Heavy Fundamentalisms Conference in 2010 I decided to engage heavily in metal studies as a central area of study and focus on the Caribbean region where literature on the subject is scarce.

My current project aims to explore the development of Puerto Rico’s metal while focusing on the social, historical and cultural factors that have helped shape it. My team is composed by Eliut Rivera, Sigrid Mendoza, and Osvaldo Gonzalez who are graduate students. The study has a mixed methods approach using ethnographic observation, qualitative interviews, and quantitative questionnaires to documents our subjects of interest. We are using these findings to complete a documentary on the local scene, which should be out in early 2014. You can follow our progress through our facebook page entitled Puerto Rico Heavy Metal Studies. Our first data-gathering trip to the Dominican Republic will be in 2014, to continue expanding our study to other Caribbean scenes.

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Treblinka – Shrine of the Pentagram

treblinka_(tiamat)-shrine_of_the_pentagramBack in the hazy days of the 1990s, when society was so innocent it thought it could overcome its problems with better television, Tiamat showed up on the radar screens in a big way.

Basically staying away from bands of its nature, which struck me as more of older styles of metal than death metal, I never fully investigated the band until Clouds. My response was to withdraw in horror. Not only did Tiamat exude older metal, it also exuded rock, specifically the sensitive man alternative college radio kind!

However, I was alone in this opinion. Others praised Tiamat and said it was the future of death metal; this opinion seemed to be very popular at the time. People told me I just didn’t get its evil aura, and were incensed that I found the band laughable. This was the true Swedish metal, I was told, not the washed-out stuff like Entombed.

I was a false, in other words, and I should not have entried.

That copy of Clouds I ditched in the radio station office and left it to the ravages of time. It may still be there. Tiamat dropped off the radar a half-decade later. I never understood why I didn’t like this band until now, having heard Shine of the Pentagram.

I’ll get the blasphemies out of the way: this band is in many ways a prototype for Opeth. Where most Swedish death metal got its strength from hardcore roots, or deep metal roots, Opeth and Tiamat (originally called Treblinka, an innocent usage that was later changed to respect the victims of that place) derived their worldview from rock music. Specifically, indie-rock sensitive-man music, which emphasizes dark and self-pitying moods that have a spirit of uplift in them. Sort of like someone trying to rationalize himself out of depression at the fact that his society and species are failing. Even more, the furthest both bands get into death metal is heavy metal, and the more they try to make it deathy, the worse it fails.

On the plus side, Shrine of the Pentagram shows Tiamat/Treblinka in their earliest state, when they were still producing music that was essentially NWOBHM with an indie-rock vibe as played by Grotesque or a band like them. These riffs and fills are straight out of the glory days of NWOBHM, and the chorus-emphatic songs reflect the stadium rock aspects of that genre. Even though Treblinka have doubled the strumming speed and kicked the drums into battle, this just isn’t death metal. The riffs are old school heavy metal and radio rock; the song pacing, more like a college station. And the moods? Sort of playful, sort of dark, but mostly, self-absorbed, which is the one thing death metal was not.

In other words, this is probably the best material from Treblinka (Tiamat) that you’re likely to ever hear. And it’s done well. The songs here are poppy and high-energy, and if a bit ego-focused at least do so in the inexpert way of teenagers. The musicianship is good, even if the band insists on breaking up songs with out of place percussion drops, blues parts, and melodic interludes that seem to lose momentum.

Production is excellent, all things considered. These originals must have been of horrible sound, and they’re cleared up expertly, such that you don’t notice how bad the originals must have been until there’s one sound like a simultaneous backstage shout and snare hit that shows how much chaos was cleared away. The demos and live material complement each other, showing the growth of the band. Packaging also promises to be really excellent.

Especially if you get the 5-LP version, as opposed to the 3-CD “abridged” version, it’s imperative that you like the dozen songs represented here. Because you’re going to hear them a lot. There are five LPs, and a dozen (or so) songs, which means near constant repetition. Even more, you will hear them in a half-dozen flavors of demo, live, studio instrumental and other visions of the same material.

I had hoped to rediscover a lost treasure here, and I’m sad to say I haven’t. Tiamat has three problems: (1) it’s rock music, not metal (2) while it’s fun, it isn’t particularly repeat-listenable and (3) it misses out on the metal mood and goes to a bad place instead. However, I can’t fault this set for getting to the core of the situation and producing a high quality product for those who love this band. And maybe, I’m just a false and should not entry.

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Metalhead, by Ragnar Bragason

Above you can view the trailer for Metalhead, a new film from Icelandic film director Ragnar Bragason (Children, Parents) about what happens when a tragic event and adults’ inability to talk honestly about it causes an adolescent explosion into heavy metal.

The film follows Hera, who witnesses the accidental death of a beloved brother. He was a metalhead, and in the process of mourning, Hera re-makes herself in his image — wearing his clothes, and listening to and playing music at earshredding volumes — as a method of channeling her grief, rage and doubt.

As the movie goes on, Hera explores greater extremity as her previous acts of rebellion fail to discharge whatever dark psychic spectre haunts her. Metalhead views her without judgment and with compassion, probing deeper into the paradox of grief and the frustration of an inability to express it.

Featuring an all-star cast, Metalhead will be shown at the 2013 TIFF film festival.

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Profile: Jill Girardi and Dead Beat Shop (Malaysia)

dead_beat_mediaThose who have been around the death metal scene will remember the name Jill Girardi. Originally a founder of maverick label Razorback Records, she now runs Dead Beat Shop in Malaysia, where she continues to keep death metal strong. We were fortunate to get in a few words about Dead Beat Shop and Jill’s own history in music.

I understand you run your business from Penang, Malaysia. How’s the metal scene there?

Yes, that’s right. I’ve been living in Malaysia for about four and a half years now. I’m originally from New York! For such a small country, the metal scene here is very big. New bands are forming all the time. In the past, it seemed like bands took a great deal of time to release demos and albums, if at all.

But now there seems to be a new crop of bands coming up such as Humiliation, Succubus, Nonserviam and others, that have an unusual work ethic for this part of the world and work hard to get at least one release out every year, if not more. More bands are starting to take note of this and follow suit, which can only be good for the scene in the long run.

As far as shows go, the size of the crowd really depends on the band that is playing and the scene politics here are much the same as they were in the States.

Can you tell us a bit about your personal history, and how this came to be your path?

Well basically I was a lonely kid and metal was the only thing in my life that made me feel better. Most kids discovered metal because the had an older brother, relative or friend into it, but I found my way to Metal all by my lonesome nine-year-old self.

I started a zine and record label called Mortal Coil in the early 90s with Jay Lipitz from the band Insatanity. That lasted a few years with a few releases, and then folded. I then formed Razorback Records with another partner which was very successful, although I quit the label in 2009 and moved here to be with my fiance (now husband), who is Malaysian.

I was going to quit the music business, but I found there was no other work I could really do, having been doing this for most of my life. So my husband and I opened a metal shop and a new label.. to make a very long story short, Dead Beat Media! haha

What sorts of metal does Deadbeat specialize in, if any? Why do you choose this style(s) over others?

We specialize mainly in death metal as I always wanted to stay true to my “first love”, so to speak. Death Metal has been my life for so many years, I don’t think I could change it now even if I wanted to.

I’m not averse to releasing other styles of extreme music, and in fact I have. But Death Metal is the music I’ve always been passionate about ever since I discovered it. I’m sure you understand what I mean…

You’ve recently released Warmaster – The End of Humanity. What do you think are the strengths of this band?

This band has heart. They love what they do and they truly enjoy playing Death Metal. And I think that shows in the music. The obvious way to promote them is to compare them to Bolt Thrower and Benediction but there are other elements in there as well, a little bit of Cannibal Corpse and also a little bit of a punk influence.

I enjoy the mid-paced songs that will suddenly break into a crushing, catchy riff that hits you like a hammer, and the unique vocals. I’ve released probably something near 100 CDs in my time in the scene, and some of them were sheer embarrassments, haha. But this is a respectable CD I can stand behind and be proud of having released.

If someone wanted to get into old school metal today, what would be your advice to them?

Take suggestions from your friends and peers. There is a reason why the classic old bands are still talked about today. Find out who they are, buy their CDs and explore the genre.

But remember to make up your own mind.. don’t just listen to what other people say or what the critics say. Don’t be afraid to disagree with others’ opinions. Trust your own judgment, and your ability to decide for yourself if a band is good or not.


DEAD BEAT SHOP [ email ]
LOT 2B-04-05 4th Floor
KOMPLEKS TUN ABDUL RAZAK (KOMTAR)
GEORGETOWN, PENANG
10000 MALAYSIA
Tel: +60124460316

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