The Ruins of Beverast – Blood Vaults

the_ruins_of_beverast-burial_vaultsThe worst reviews are the ones that say a band is right in the middle: “They do a few things well, but there’s not really some unifying theme, so this album is great if you’re a huge fan of those things they do well.”

A better review reflects conflict. This is one of those reviews. Dear Ruins of Beverast: you have potential, but you need to edit your material. In a huge way. In such a huge way that I don’t think most people will finish listening to this album. And change the name. What’s wrong with “Beverast” instead of a sentence-band name?

Many of the ideas on this are great. However, they’re spaced out with filler that amounts to repetition of some very tired ideas. Further, this allows this one-man band to gimmick its way through, so instead of carefully composed songs we get extended interludes that do nothing but dilute the mood. When The Ruins of Beverast decide to shred, the result is bare-bones riffs that build up to a climax.

After that, confusion reigns, so this composer avoids that point. That in itself is a mistake. Building to a peak requires a snowballing of intensity, and that produces the type of dynamic change that made black metal so much fun. But after that, what must be done — as in any Tolkienesque journey — is to Romanticize the quest and then contrast the end result to the inception.

If songs don’t lead to a path that shows a clear growth process, they become circular. With circularity, the conclusions resemble the precepts. That means that we’re hearing sheer atmosphere pieces with no actual development, since any “development” that is created doesn’t uncover a mystery or lead to new heights, but plunges back into itself.

This composer is afraid of his own work. When he writes a good riff, it takes him to some point where he must go somewhere with it, and that freaks him out. What’s there? It might just be darkness. But in the darkness he does not see romance, only permanence. So he goes back to gimmicks with chanting, distorted voices, interludes, etc. It strips him of his own strengths.

If someone took the twenty minutes of promising material from Blood Vaults and arranged it with some verve, the result would be three to four very powerful songs. Instead we have an extended detour into pointlessness that sacrifices the best abilities of this songwriter to his worst fears.

Sammath debuts “Fear Upon Them” from Godless Arrogance

sammath-godless_arroganceDutch-German furious black/death metal band Sammath unveil their most promising material to date with a new song “Fear Upon Them” which reveals the many influences of this underground metal band. While some of its works sound like Morbid Angel or Perdition Temple with an underlying melody line, other songs are wholly melodic and go more into black metal ambiance.

“Fear Upon Them,” which is the latest single released from Godless Arrogance, shows Sammath going back to their roots. Specifically, the most furious melodic black metal bands to walk the earth, namely Immortal and Bathory. By slowing down the drum tempo but speeding up the strum tempo, Sammath create an unearthly sound like a dream in fog.

On top of this, the band add riff development and a sense of the unexpected yet not obviously quirky and contrarian, which means that songs slide into their own personalities and transcend their influences. In this case, “Fear Upon Them” wears its influences on its sleeve, more as a tribute than a blueprint for emulation.

The album Godless Arrogance will come out on Hammerheart Records later this year.

Gyre – Second Circle EP

gyre-second_circleNew Jersey metalcore band Gyre has a surprise: not only are they not heavy metal, but they’re in fact alternative rock, and a very competent version of that hidden beneath the skin.

I guess sometimes it seems like it’s best to disguise what you’re doing as what everyone else is doing, but this seems puzzling to me, as if Gyre dropped the metalcore stylings and let loose their alternative band, I think they’d be in every record shop across the nation.

True, the surface is off-putting to a death metal fan. These are the emo-punk-style metalcore riffs, complete with fanning of power chords and a few odd voicings thrown in with the off-beat quicky rhythms that jump around like a protester having a tantrum. And the metalcore vocals, which wail-rant.

In fact, much of the surface metalcore could have come straight out of the 1990s and found commonality with bands like Pantera and Dillinger Escape Plan. It bounces, and then it creates a kind of plaintive lag, like someone getting arrested by the cops to make a point. Then it rebounds.

Underneath the surface, in a method reminiscent of Metallica’s …And Justice for All (subtitle: But We Get Paid Anyway), Gyre weaves melodies around the bittersweet narrowing of intervals that gave alternative rock its distinct whiny, resistant sound.

Second Circle will get dismissed by most because metalcore is already yesterday’s news. However, most metal fans haven’t found anything more compelling yet, so you speak to the audience you have, not the one you want, I guess. It’s a shame because these winding melodies, reminiscent of Nirvana or Stone Temple Pilots, grant to the music a depth and power it would not otherwise have had.

As a metal album, Second Circle wouldn’t really make sense. It barely fits as metalcore. But when you burrow under the skin, and stop worrying about whether it looks tough enough to your friends, there’s a lot to think about even in this short format.

The origins of music

This article is a counterpoint to Jon Wild’s
Social functions of heavy metal music
.

the_origins_of_musicThe question of why humans invented music—and continue to be enthralled by it—has long puzzled scholars. While some, including Charles Darwin, have guessed it grew out of a courtship ritual, recent research has focused on its ability to strengthen bonds within a community. Think military marches, or fight songs at a football game.

I disagree. In my view, music is a cognitive hack. It taps into a number of different pre-existing ways that our brain uses to interact with and make sense of the external world, not least our inherent hard wiring for pattern recognition and the (evolutionarily useful) enjoyment of discovery, surprise and invention.

Steven Pinker calls it “auditory cheesecake, an exquisite confection crafted to tickle the sensitive spots of at least six of our mental faculties.” Its ability to harmonize a social group is secondary, or at least in historical terms probably came after the psychological/cognitive side of things. Music’s social functions aren’t the reason for our having music in the first place, but are consequent to its tangible nature and the internal responses it produces in us.

Musicians do well [supposedly] in the evolutionary stakes, not just because music works for humans like feathers do for a peacock: ostentation/display of a purely secondary characteristic that doesn’t really do anything by itself, but communicates “I have so much spare resources to expend I can put effort into this pointless shit and still be walking around in one piece — I must be a worthy mate!”, but more-so because a sensitivity for music demonstrates a mind that’s strong at apprehending pattern and detail; kind of like success in sport demonstrates physical fitness.

Sociological explanations of music almost always confuse causation and correlation, not to mention that the research methods often sound a bit phoned-in; check out this from the study mentioned in the above linked article:

112 adults recruited online filled out a series of surveys. One measured their “need to belong,” asking them to agree or disagree with such statements as “If other people don’t seem to accept me, I don’t let it bother me.” A second measured their emotional reactivity by assessing their agreement with such statements as “I get upset easily.”

A third survey measured their emotional and physical reactions to music. The researchers found their response to music has a “unique predictor” of the need to belong, above and beyond their general emotionality. In short, those who reported a greater need to belong also tended to have more intense involvement with music.”

I don’t doubt the findings (although it’s not unknown for academics to fake research to get the conclusion they want), but I wouldn’t be willing to base a theory of music’s origin on them. This case may boil down to a question of origins within the individual versus the social functions that allowed society to tolerate music. In other words, origins versus utility.

The information seems to paint a pretty narrow picture of music and of certain types of people. Yes, some music is part of a social experience, but some however is a very private pleasure. Many great musicians spend a great deal of their time introverted and happily practicing by themselves, something that simply wouldn’t make sense if this study’s conclusions were more broadly evident.

In a similar way, sociological studies of metal have always missed the mark, because they view the social as primary, rather than seeing that people might listen to a certain type music for, ye know, the music. For some sorts of music — the kind where the actual music doesn’t matter beyond a few simple features (e.g. 4/4 kick drum accent on every beat, easy melody, interchangeable lyrics about partying, sex etc) — the social experience is undoubtedly about all there is to it.

For something like metal, which takes a bit of effort to construct and to get into it’s a different story. In these case people usually get into the music because certain melodic shapes, harmonies, disharmonies, timbres, trigger off a kind of deep rooted psychological semiotics, coupled with some semi-learnt information on musical forms – and the feelings and ideas that these together help communicate appeals to them. The music symbolizes some emotion or idea that they find meaningful.

While that is closest to the idea of social harmonization as proposed by this article, it’s also entirely different in that there is not a central social force causing people to harmonize to it. Rather, there’s an offering, like a flower with bright colors, and bees of their own volition come to take its message (pollen) along with its appeal (nectar).

Looking at some of the most obvious descriptions we tend to attach to metal music: ‘assertive’, ‘violent’, ‘primitive’… Perhaps these descriptors aren’t really all that arbitrary or socially-defined; rather the music really does hearken back to things you could fairly associate with those descriptions.

Imagine the sounds of primates screaming at each other as they bite and tear shreds off one another, the din of battle, etc. These impressions embedded somewhere inside our psychology from generations past are brought to the forefront by metal. If rock ‘n roll is the rhythm of sex, then metal is the rhythm of battle, of running, of methodically tracking then pounding the skulls in of prey.

Add this to the cognitive ‘cheesecake’ delight that music is designed to excite, then metal becomes that feeling of a fight well fought, of victory, of dinner time after a successful hunt, and all the resulting endorphin rushes that all these things would’ve induced in our ancestors. Which takes me back to the cognitive hack: metal sounds like life, but turned up to 11.

Why I listen to music on YouTube and left my MP3 player behind

death_metal_unlocks_divinityLike most of you, I experience a prevalence of dual-use time in my life. That is, I have to be here at the computer doing something, but like most things in “mature” “adult” “responsible” society it takes half a brain at best, so I put on some tunes and shift most of my brain and mind that way.

Originally, back in the dire proto-technological days of the 1980s, we had to manually throw on an LP, CD or cassette to hear music. Otherwise, there was the radio, but there wasn’t as much choice there. Radio was both the last resort, and a way to hear new music. It served a sacred role in the latter and could be an event in its role as the former.

If the rare metal show in your area showed up only one night a week, that became party night while you and your buddies checked in for the weekly connection to the world of metal. Sometimes, it was just for fun. It was easier to let someone else DJ and pick the tunes, and if the price you had to pay was every third tune being a stinker, no big deal.

Then in the late 1990s, people started getting crazy with the multi-disc changers. Now you could have five or six discs in rotation and just let them roll. Put in what you wanted, throw it on repeat, and listen for three hours or longer. I used to put my Harmon-Kardon on shuffle repeat and bathe people in music of disparate form but similar content, which created an immersive wave of exploration in that topic.

But it all changed with broadband and the evolution of the MP3 codec. When we launched our radio station back in 1997, the Frauhnofer MP3 codec we used was really excellent. But since that time, innovations have occurred in variable bit rate, compression and sound dynamics that add on to that strong basis. Now MP3s are a better delivery mechanism than tape and, given adjustments for physical electronics degrading sound, almost as good as CD.

Listening to music via MP3 was different however. Generally, you saved a ton of MP3 files to some directory on your Winchester disk. Then you pitched those into a playlist and started somewhere. The player would, like a merciless harvester of ears, keep going until you told it to stop. So it was more like tuning into a radio station whose playlist you chose, but one which favored sequential albums. You could also randomize.

The problem with this style of listening — as you’ve guessed, doubtless, being the intelligent reader — is that it’s autopilot. Want to listen to Slayer? With two clicks you’ve launched everything beginning with “S,” and then the playlist begins again when it runs out of those. You can conceivably keep your entire record collection streaming in the background.

However that loss of choice can be disturbing. You’re no longer choosing to listen to something past the first choice. You get caught up in the playlist. If you randomize, it’s only a little bit better. In the end, it’s like radio without the human intervention of the DJ, and takes power away from you.

This is why I’ve come to enjoy YouTube. It’s like putting an LP on the record player more than anything else. I think of an album; I type the name and “full album” (LOL search engines) into YouTube, and up pops a version of it. I hit play, and sit back and listen to it. But then comes the magic: when it’s done, it’s done. I have to manually, physically and deliberately choose another piece of music or sit in silence.

In this, I get the best of both worlds. The (nostalgia aside) beauty of choice, where you have to walk to the shelves, think of an album, find it according to your filing system, and then manually put it on the player. And yet, the promise of digital technology and convenience of MP3s: no record you can scratch, no CD you can fumble, no cassette to entangle. The two are united by typing that search into the YouTube site.

There’s some ethical issues of course. I’d be happier if all bands posted official full albums so I could kick them the $0.02 per play that YouTube pays. In the end, that might pay more than traditional record contracts; I don’t know. Most bands don’t seem to care, as many of us using YouTube are doing so in places where we can’t bring our record collections, like work, friends’ houses, church, missile silo, etc.

But at the end of the day, what really matters about music is preserving the magic. That sense that behind the next corner, something amazing lurks. A buried treasure; an undiscovered secret. An explosion of imagination, or emotion, or even pure logical calculation. That life is ongoing, and infinite, and we’ll always find something new to quest after.

Ultimately, this is what makes YouTube compelling. It requires a choice. There is no constant rolling playlist. I must go to the site, type in the band name and album name, and start the process. This makes me the person in charge who then rapidly loses control as the music sweeps over me. This is the experience of listening, and in this sense, YouTube brings back the beauty of the LP with the convenience of the iPod.

Social functions of heavy metal music

metal_onlyThe origins of human fascination with music remain unknown. A number of hypotheses have arisen throughout the years in an attempt to explain the utility of music to human civilization.

These vary from viewing it as arising as an individual occurrence with unique philosophical implications, to seeing it as a side-effect of language-based communication; a pleasant phenomenon but without any meaning beyond that. Regardless of its cause, the functions music provides are generally easier to identify.

Via the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, newly released academic research into the social implications of music has claimed that music functions as a way of bringing people together within a group. Specifically, the authors claim that music is a vehicle for projecting “information about the group’s shared mental state to a number of individuals at once.”

In this view, music is a type of broadcast that attracts people based on a topic and brings them together in unity of experience. This enables the group to consolidate its knowledge and then distribute it to all of its members, not unlike the social functions of good political science books, novels, speeches, movies or other memetic/viral communications.

As evidence for this new research, multiple studies are presented in which the authors posed questions to a test group designed to determine their emotional need to belong, and then compare it to how strongly they react to music. The findings were that there was a direct connection between this desire and its fulfillment through music. As a corollary, after researchers attempted to break down a group’s sense of belonging, the effect music had on it increased further.

While some metal fans may not wish to admit this, the genre does serve this role for many of its enthusiasts. That’s not to say it’s the primary reason for listening, over the sound itself; but metal as a social component does exist. Regardless of a person’s position within society, those who appreciate metal (therefore excluding those who listen ironically, i.e. hipsters) share something in common.

Alienation of modernity is present within all art forms of metal — whether politically, spiritually, or just plain exasperation at our disposable TV dinner culture — but unlike the solutionless protest music of yore, metal provides a constructive way of overcoming this. It allows a group of people who in some cases may not be able to describe themselves directly, to communicate through an art form.

What makes metal interesting is that it operates on many levels. At the lowest, it is simply exciting music. Higher up, it is complex music that attunes the individual to a certain naturalistic outlook. At the highest, perhaps, it helps metalheads reach others who feel similarly but perhaps never consciously examined their beliefs, and from that build a community around understanding.

Vikernes suing French government for false detention

varg_vikernes-burzum-band_photoAt least one metal musician has learned that if society attacks, you counter-attack. Varg Vikernes of Burzum, who was arrested several weeks ago and charged with inciting racial hatred, is attempting to sue the French government for an arrest that ultimately led to no new charges because of a lack of evidence.

“We want to sue the authorities for arresting us for no good reason whatsoever, doing so in the most brutal way possible and with children present,” Vikernes wrote on his blog.

During the early 1990s, Vikernes created a one-man band named Burzum which knocked out a series of innovative, multi-riff songs designed to blur the boundaries between metal and ambient, and “awaken the fantasy of mortals.” Some metal historians believe that Burzum’s Hvis Lyset Tar Oss effectively ended black metal’s development by raising the bar above that which others could follow.

Since that time, Vikernes has spent sixteen years in Norwegian jails, written several books, and continues to both produce music and write political texts. His most recent work, Sôl austan, Mâni vestan, is an ambient work that recalls the power of earlier Burzum.

Exhumed kick off North American tour with release of Necrocracy

exhumed-necrocracyExhumed, the band that combined up-beat Swedish death like later Fleshcrawl with the crepitant grind of Carcass but gave it the bounce of more punk-oriented grindcore bands, has returned from the dead and unleashed Necrocracy, an infectiously catchy but hard-hitting slab of recreational grind that should keep listeners in motion.

Following an early career of more grind-influenced music, the band began to see the possibilities in more energetic and listenable ventures, and so began to mix enthusiastic heavy metal into the grind and then blur the grindcore technique with a fair amount of death metal. Like many revival movements, this aims to put a modern superstructure into the aesthetics of the past.

Necrocracy represents the kind of thrill that came with later Ministry albums. Speed, excess and unflagging energy combined to make a record that could both motivate you to drive 120 mph down a lonely road, or socialize with friends while shouting lyrics about masticating corpses. The band kicks off a US tour this October.

EXHUMED w/ Dying Fetus

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

Manowar – The Lord of Steel Live

manowar-the_lord_of_steel_liveWhen snide ironism takes over music, authentic spirit and power are forgotten and ignored. That is, if you read the music media and listen to the music hipsters. However, back in everyday life people love it because it does what music does best: affirm life and urge us on to greater heights. It inspires.

Manowar joins superbands like Metallica and Iron Maiden in pleasing crowds with a kinder, gentler and non-dark version of heavy metal. The perfectly adjusted mix of power metal, speed metal, glam metal, hard rock and classic heavy metal, the music of Manowar is focused on the vocals and on chanted cadences that build up to foot-stomping, fist-swinging, chanting explosions of emotion.

It’s not unlike a church service or political rally. These songs usually start out slow with melody, and then build up the pace at which muted E chords shoot past. Over that, vocalist Eric Adams chants and sings, weaving melody in with a compelling rhythm to outline the rhythmic hook of the chorus. Suddenly it bursts out fully formed, a virus ready to take over your brain. You join the collective motion.

And yet with Manowar, there’s an honesty other styles of music don’t have. It isn’t about projecting yourself into the love story of two idealized people, which like porn makes you feel like you’re living out someone else’s life. This is fantasy on a grand scale, with wars and wizards and lone gunslingers, into which you want to join. But it isn’t about you. It’s about the thing you’d join.

This at least is what I hear seizing these crowds and propelling them to ecstatic emotion. Recorded throughout Europe and Eastern Europe, The Lord of Steel Live revisits classic Manowar hymns mostly from The Lord of Steel with a couple from other works and slows them down, focuses on the vocals, and creates a gospel of metal.

The slick blackened underground crowd will disagree of course. This isn’t metal like Necrocorpsemolestor, which is made in a band down by the river and accessible to only 500 die-hard fanatics worldwide. This is metal like Ozzy charming 100,000 people at a live festival, or Iron Maiden taking over Donnington, or even Metallica drawing out three generations of people in the tens of thousands. It’s music for the masses to discover music again.

The Lord of Steel Live is an EP with only six tracks. These are fairly lengthy, which puts this at a long EP or a short album, and creates the perfect escapism to drop out of life for twenty-seven minutes and indulge in some fantasy. Suddenly the living room has evaporated, and you’re shirtless and wearing viking armor as you assault the non-believers. You fight, you bleed, you struggle, you win, and then you come back to life to be another kind of hero. Perhaps the kind that fixes the leaky faucet, heals a kid’s wound and reconfigures the Wi-Fi.

While Manowar have not gotten enough attention from the media in the last few rounds, it’s clear their presence inspires many and those fans show no sign of waning. In fact, as underground metal has been swallowed up by hardcore and the true metal fanatics have shifted to power metal, the audience for metal has come closer to Manowar than any time in the past twenty years. It’s good to see this celebration of their work ready to inspire a new generation.

We come from different countries
With metal and with might
We drink a lot of beers
And play our metal loud at night
Fly the flag of metal
Brothers all the same
Born to live for metal
It ain’t no game

Emperor reform to play shows with In the Nightside Eclipse lineup

emperor-in_the_nightside_eclipseNorwegian black metal band Emperor have announced that they will be participating in 2014’s Wacken heavy metal festival.

In addition, the band will have the participation of Bard Faust, the drummer notable for his role on the In the Nightside Eclipse album. Along with Ihsahn and Samoth, this concert will be a reunion of the core lineup that produced the band’s most notable release.

As of now, the band has announced no future plans beyond that point. Ihsahn strongly expressed his disinclination towards a future album, stating that the interests of the various members have diverged too great an extent. That is probably for the best, as the last Emperor album was far removed from black metal and suffered from stylistic confusion.

The earlier Emperor albums were epic, narrative tales featuring overt symphonic influences. The band formed a landscape of sound, in which melodies would crystallize before melting away underneath a crushing rhythm track that took the focus again. Stylistically, they presented a sense of solitude, through which allowed the listener to appreciate the beauty hidden around him. If the band can carry across that original spirit two decades later, they have the potential of inspiring a new generation with their music.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpa5yR2r42I