Courts and media blame death metal for suicide again

truman_edley-death_metal-suicideWe have a problem in this world of respecting people’s choices too much. That is, they choose to lead a dysfunctional life, and disaster results. Then we go looking for scapegoats.

Our courts and media tend to like to blame heavy metal if they can. When the Columbine shootings were news, we heard all about how the shooters loved heavy metal. Other shooters also got profiled with the “heavy metal test.” In 1996, candidate Bob Dole even mentioned Rotting Christ as a sign of our country’s decline.

When Judas Priest went to trial in the early 1990s for the suicide of two kids, the courts and media focused on heavy metal. They did not focus on the broken homes, alcoholism, teenage drug abuse, previous suicidal behavior and outright misery of these people; that would be criticizing their choices. Instead, the courts and media chose to blame an outside force, heavy metal. That way, no one was to blame. That way, we can keep making stupid decisions and pay only money for them, and not think we might be the guilty parties endangering ourselves.

Truman Edley, 15, took his own life in November 2011. At the inquest we were told, as tabloid and social gadfly the Daily Mail reveals, the “schoolboy killed himself after listening to death metal on his iPod.” The coroner “refused to name the band he was listening to or publish the extreme lyrics which formed part of the evidence,” which reminds me of one classic band’s disclaimer, “lyrics too brutal to print!”

However, a more detailed view reveals the following addition details: he was prone to self-harm, his parents were divorced, and he had low self-esteem. God (or Satan) forbid that those factors might have been the biggest influence on his mental state, and that he might have sought death metal in addition to his regular music listening — both sources agree he mainly listened to regular rock and pop — to express those dark and horrible feelings. Another source tells us that Truman’s mother had him at age 18, and that he’d recently “seemed more withdrawn,” in addition to his enjoyment of social media and video games, other favorite media targets. Friends have set up a tribute page for Mr. Edley.

It would be too much for us to honor this teenager’s memory by looking into the source of his misery, which looks like it lies mostly with decisions made by his parents, himself and/or the society around him. Instead, we are given the cheap shot and easy answer, which is to blame the music that was playing on his iPod while he hung himself.

It looks better in the news that way, and we don’t have to face the unsettling fact that we might be acting in such a way to guarantee more such suicides. Just ban heavy metal instead; that way, we keep on doing what we’ve been doing and can brush Truman Edley and those like him from our memories.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame snubs metal again

judas_priest-band_photo

Despite having inducted Metallica, AC/DC and Guns and Roses, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame shows that it’s geared more toward rock, blues and RNB than metal, which continues to have its legions of influential acts excluded despite being more popular and influential than many already on the list.

Entertainment Weekly noticed the conspicuous omission of Judas Priest (and several other notables) from the ranks of the elite among rock’s historical and present acts. EW then went on to note that other classic metal bands have not been recognized.

It might be too much to expect what is basically a moneymaker for Northeast Ohio’s tourist industry to induct, say, Deicide or Morbid Angel; it’s arguable that heavy metal is outside rock ‘n’ roll, and doubly so that death metal is. Even more, asking them to include something like Demilich would counteract their mission of making material available that the vast majority of people would be inclined to enjoy on an aesthetic level, since there’s no evidence that mainstream culture adores labyrinthine riffs and low-end vocals.

Qualifications required are few, but the process is ultimately a popularity contest among a small elite. The only objective requirement is that 25 years have passed since a band’s first release. At that point, an internal committee of experts vets the suggestion and then passes it to a vote of 1,000 rock historians and other experts worldwide. Since most of these are rock fans, and rock fans traditionally disparage metal, it’s unlikely they’ll vote for a metal band.

However, it might be nice to see recognition of metal. It’s possible that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is the wrong place to do it, and that metal needs a hall of fame on its own. Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Slayer at a bare minimum need to be in there. Of course, if it were metal-based, it could even have more diverse listings, such as a “Best of Death Metal” so we can finally expose mainstream America to Demilich.

Interview: Professor Josef Hanson

josef_hanson-university_of_rochesterAcademia’s recent acceptance of metal comes in several prongs. One prong is the study and publication of theories about metal; another at a more fundamental level is the teaching of metal and analysis of metal to a new generation.

Professor Josef Hanson of the University of Rochester teaches “High Voltage—Heavy Metal Music and its History,” a class which studies metal as music from a theory point of view, in addition to studies of musicology and lyrics as literature. While most music studies have focused on classical or popular music, increasing recognition of the similarity between classical and metal has driven wider acceptance.

Hanson’s class focuses on the music itself, its history and its significance. He was generous enough to grant us some of his time, and to allow us to interrogate him about his teaching, modes of study and most importantly, how he views heavy metal and why it’s important.

As I understand it, you teach at the Institute for Popular Music at the University of Rochester, and you teach “High Voltage—Heavy Metal Music and its History.” Is this more of a history class, anthropology class, sociology class or art class?

Thanks for taking the time to reach out to me! I offer High Voltage through the Department of Music at the University of Rochester, where I also teach music theory, basic conducting, and direct a brass ensemble. The Institute for Popular Music is a recently formed entity at UR that packages and promotes all of our courses in popular music and also sponsors a lecture series, performances, and fellowships for those pursuing research in popular music. I like to think of High Voltage as, first and foremost, a music class, but I also incorporate elements of sociology and modern history, since it would be foolish to omit the historical and socio-cultural factors that helped forge metal. So, I suppose you could say that the course attempts to be all of those things…but the music always comes first.

How long have you been teaching this class?

I am currently completing the second iteration of High Voltage. We try to offer it every other year. In actuality, the idea started with a summer version of the course I created in 2008 called “Bang Your Head!,” which I still offer every July through the Rochester Scholars pre-college program for high school students. I think we had five or six students sign up that first summer, but it gradually gained popularity, and now I have nearly 50 undergraduates enrolled in “High Voltage.”

Generally, what do you cover?

Historically speaking, we start in the 1960s with the collapse of the psychedelic movement and progress through the decades until we reach the present day. I spend every other week on one of the major “eras”: Sabbath and early metal, NWOBHM, thrash, black metal, death, etc. In between these stops on the chronological timeline, I spend time covering broader issues like the influence of classical virtuosity and the blues, censorship, iconography, and gender. So, generally speaking, I alternate between a week of chronological history and a week focused on philosophical issues, back and forth, for the 15-week duration of the course.

What’s the typical student like who takes this class? How has student response been, so far?

The student response has been very positive thus far. I attribute this partly to the subject matter itself, and partly to the design of the course, which is highly dependent on the students identifying their interests and then pursuing them through a variety of volitional learning activities. I don’t give a lot of exams that require rote memorization or trivia-style guessing…kids today can look things up on their smartphones in the time it takes most of us to recall an album release date or obscure song title! The makeup of the class can be quite interesting. I’d say 50% of the class is comprised of die-hard fans, complete with Iron Maiden t-shirts and studded belts. But the other 50% are new to the genre, and are taking the course because they know me from another class or because they want to try something that is completely new and different for them. I really enjoy witnessing the interactions that this combination creates.

You speak of heavy metal having “an impressive history of censorship, rebellion, and redemption.” Can you give examples of each of these events?

We spend a lot of time on the PMRC witch hunt of 1985, and the rebellious response of musicians like Dee Snider and Frank Zappa. But rebellion, in a broad sense, is one of the signature features of this music, so I also ask the students to critically analyze how metal artists’ refusal to obey a host of authorities permeates their tonal and rhythmic choices, their song lyrics, and the visual and behavioral aspects of what they do. And redemption…well, there are certainly plenty of instances of something resembling redemption in metal lore, starting with Tony Iommi overcoming the metal shop injury to his fingers, thus spawning the downtuned sonic landscape that still exists today. I think redemption is one of the signature messages of the course. Heavy metal music has been reinvented, and therefore, redeemed, over and over again. You just can’t kill it. There is nothing else like it in the history of popular music.

Your syllabus says you teach “both the musical structure and the fascinating social/cultural history of hard rock.” What sort of musical structures do you have in mind? Do these correspond in any way to the social/cultural events of the time?

That line in the syllabus is meant to convey the multifaceted nature of the course: equal emphasis on the music itself AND the context in which it was/is created. In addition to reading and discussing the history of the music, the students spend time learning about the scales, modes, harmonies, rhythms, and song forms common to metal. For example, the tritone, or flatted fifth scale degree, plays a prominent role in the sound of most metal artists, from Black Sabbath to Metallica to King Diamond and beyond. So, I make sure that the students can recognize that interval both aurally and visually. And yes, the musical structure is sometimes influenced by the context of its creation, but the progressive nature of metal from a formal/structural standpoint is probably more the result of musicians simply trying to push the genre to new extremes, as the music is passed down from one generation to the next. Whether or not the pursuit of purely musical innovation corresponds directly to social/cultural events is subject to debate, but my feeling is that a connection does indeed exist on some level.

You state that students should be able to “define the separation between ‘rock,’ ‘hard rock,’ and ‘heavy metal,’ and aurally differentiate between the various subgenres within these classifications.” How do you see these different genres as being musically and culturally different? Is there a purpose to their difference? What is the role of subgenre, and why in your view is it important to distinguish between them?

Labels are a curious thing. “Rock” has become an all-encompassing term to many, and therefore, has lost its value as a label for music. The line between “hard rock” and “heavy metal” is very subjective, so what I do is simply provide the students with numerous (often conflicting) sources that attempt to draw that line. Some people claim that Led Zeppelin is the “first heavy metal band,” while others (myself included) feel that Black Sabbath is the obvious choice. My role as instructor and “tour guide” for my students is not to force feed these judgment calls; I want to help the students understand that many smart people have produced intelligent yet conflicting arguments regarding what constitutes “hard rock” and what constitutes “heavy metal.” Then, I ask my students to compose an essay outlining their own opinions and hand it in, and I am always blown away by the depth of thought they display when considering these issues. Subgenres…well, that’s another story. The seemingly endless array of subgenres in metal is incredibly unique — I’ve never seen anything like it in music. While I do feel that it is important for those who engage with this music to know what I refer to as the “core competencies” (hardcore, metalcore, grindcore, deathcore, etc.), I’m ultimately not that concerned about labels. There are many shades of grey in between one subgenre and another, in my opinion. What’s important from my perspective is whether or not the students can tease apart the various elements of each subgenre, so that they can intelligently communicate what they are hearing even if they don’t know how to label it.

The syllabus speaks of metal lyrics as existing between the opposite poles of chaos and ecstasy. What are these poles? Do they explain the appeal of heavy metal despite its enduring negativity?

In her landmark book Heavy Metal: A Cultural Sociology, Deena Weinstein introduced this chaos/ecstasy duality, and I have found it to be a very effective way of establishing a continuum for students to use as they come to terms with the lyrics they are hearing. That being said, it is also easy to make too big a deal about the meaning of metal lyrics, which are (often simultaneously) metaphorical, intentionally inflammatory, absurdist, and unintelligible. In my class, we have identified themes of apocalypse, warfare, death and dying, and political unrest as inhabitants of the chaos pole. On the other end of the continuum, you have mostly glam and “lite” metal lyrics about alcohol consumption, sex, and generally having a good time. And more recently, extreme metal artists have written lyrics that paradoxically combine the two. So I don’t know if I would agree that there is an “enduring negativity” that defines metal lyrics…this is going to sound corny, but perhaps Danny Lilker helped coin the best phrase to describe the appeal of metal — a “Brutal Truth.” Now that’s a succinct and enduring description of the metal worldview!

You mention “myriad political/social/economic/cultural factors that forged heavy metal.” What are these, and how do you answer those who think music has no connection to phenomena outside of the music itself?

I can’t imagine a single effective argument positing that music has no connection to outside influences. Just look at the cultural melting pot that was New Orleans in the early 20 th century, or the effects of the Russian Revolution on composers like Shostakovich and Prokofiev. Metal, too, has been shaped by outside forces. There are many examples—the end of the counterculture movement and Altamont, the PMRC, Reaganomics, MTV, various wars and politicians. But the best example is the terrible economic conditions in Birmingham, England at the end of the 1960s, which undoubtedly played a role in the development of Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and other early metal acts. In the Journal of Social History, there is a fantastic article on this very topic by Leigh Harrison entitled “Factory Music: How the Industrial Geography and Working-Class Environment of Post-War Birmingham Fostered the Birth of Heavy Metal.”

You use both Ian Christe’s Sound of the Beast: The Headbanging History of Heavy Metal and Albert Mudrian’s Choosing Death: The improbable history of death metal and grindcore (in addition to about a dozen other books!). What do you like about each of these books? Why do you use both (what does each lack)?

Ian’s book is the main text for the class, and I use it because it is engaging and well-written, hits most of the highlights required for a thorough understanding of the music, and frankly, because it is also inexpensive (the average cost of a semester’s load of books these days is over $500!). I then supplement with book chapters, scholarly articles, films, web sites, or anything else I can find. The point is to give the students a holistic view of the genre, not just one person’s perspective. Actually, part of the fun is finding the points of disagreement among several authors and debating those issues in class.

Apparently, you assign your students listening for each class period. How many songs do you assign them, and how do you select these songs? Can you show us an example playlist?

Roughly every other week, I assign a playlist of 15-20 songs (sometimes less than that). The makeup of the playlist is directly related to the era(s) we are studying and the philosophical issues we are debating. So, we might have a few thrash songs, a few early black metal songs, a few hair metal songs, and, if we are discussing gender, a few examples of misogyny in metal or a few tunes by all-female bands or bands with female lead singers. I also give my infamous “riff quiz” at the beginning of the semester, a drop-the-needle test of students’ knowledge of 30 classic metal guitar riffs.

    THRASH

  • “Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?” Megadeth (1986 from Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?)
  • “I Am The Law” Anthrax (1987 from Among The Living)
  • “Raining Blood” Slayer (1986 from Reign in Blood)
  • “Creeping Death” Metallica (1984 from Ride the Lightning)
  • DEATH METAL

  • “Infernal Death” Death (1987 from Scream Bloody Gore)
  • “Hammer Smashed Face” Cannibal Corpse (1992 from Tomb of the Mutilated)
  • CHRISTIAN METAL

  • “Calling on You” Stryper (1986 from To Hell With The Devil)
  • “Live to Die” Bride (1988 from Live to Die)
  • EXAMPLES FROM THE “FILTHY FIFTEEN”

  • “Eat Me Alive” Judas Priest (1984 from Defenders of the Faith)
  • “Into the Coven” Mercyful Fate (1983 from Melissa)
  • “Animal (Fuck Like A Beast)” W.A.S.P. (1984 from W.A.S.P.)
  • WOMEN/AFRICAN-AMERICANS

  • “Spit” Kittie (1999 from Spit)
  • “Blood Pigs” Otep (2002 from Sevas Tra)
  • “Night of the Living Death” Black Death (1984 from Black Death)
  • “Black Veil” Straight Line Stitch (2008 from When Skies Wash Ashore)

I interviewed Martin Jacobsen, who teaches a class at West Texas A&M University about metal lyrics and their significance as literature. Do you analyze metal lyrics, or do you view them as secondary to the music itself (guitars, bass, drums, vocal rhythms/textures)? If you do analyze lyrics, how do you do it?

Metal lyrics are incredibly interesting and certainly qualify as a form of literature, in my opinion. We do a bit of lyrical analysis in class, and we could probably do more. I certainly don’t view the lyrics as secondary; I’m just more adept at discussing the tonal and rhythmic materials of a song because my background and training is in music. Students in my class who find themselves drawn to the lyrical aspect of the genre often engage in lyrical analysis as a large-scale final project.

Do you think metal lyrics are metaphorical to the political/social/economic/cultural (PSEC) factors you mentioned in the syllabus?

Yes and no. While metaphor and symbolism are certainly at home in the metal lyricist’s toolbox, so too are honesty and bluntness. One of the refreshing elements of certain metal lyricists is their ability to cut through the typical songwriting blather and get to the truth. Bands like Slayer may, at times, court controversy, but they speak what is on their mind in ways that U2 and Bob Dylan never could and never will.

If heavy metal has a message, or some contribution to the history of art, what do you suppose it is? Can it be handily summarized, or is it a messy categorization, like the list of attributes of Romantic poetry that ends up being more of a laundry list than a central topic statement or mandate?

Funny, I was just grading my students’ mid-term exam, which consisted of one question: “What is heavy metal?” They could choose to answer it any way they like. And the prevailing thought was that heavy metal is the disturbance of what is considered normal, polite, or acceptable, whether musically, visually, behaviorally, or in the direction of chaos and/or ecstasy. It’s hard to encapsulate in a single sentence. Although it is incredibly subjective, I think the message ends up looking like a collection of things, a nexus of truth, rebellion, perseverance, and power.

Your syllabus mentions having guest speakers and musicians. Anyone that the larger metal audience would recognize?

Here in Rochester, we are well-positioned in terms of connections to heavy metal. Metallica recorded Kill ‘Em All in downtown Rochester (at what is now known as Blackdog Studios), and I have taken students there on a pilgrimage of sorts, since the layout of the studio is basically the same as it was in 1983. We’ve got Manowar to the east of us and Dio hailing from a little further beyond that. In terms of actual guests, I have been very fortunate to get to know Danny Lilker (who lives in Rochester), and I have asked him to visit on multiple occasions. You should see the looks on the faces of the students when six- and-a-half feet of pure metal walk through the door! Danny is extremely generous and entertaining, and his visit is always a highlight of the class. Chris Arp (Arpmandude) of PsyOpus is also local, and he is incredibly intelligent and energetic in the classroom. He came and played for us a few weeks back and just blew everybody away. I have been in contact with other metal “celebrities,” but our schedules haven’t lined up well enough to facilitate a visit. I do host other speakers and musicians, either fellow professors or members of local bands, and I am very fortunate to have some extremely talented up-and-coming metal musicians enrolled in the class, most notably, Cody McConnell of Goemagot.

How much of the underground metal (death metal, black metal, grindcore) do you teach? Do you see it as a recognizable extension of earlier metal, or has it gone to an entirely new place?

I feel I must include the more extreme or underground subgenres of metal in order to tell the story effectively. Everything is connected musically in some way, even if just through the use of power chords or the tritone. Considered more broadly, any underground scene is normally the result of the continuous rebirth of metal that has defined the genre’s existence; indeed, it is this “diversification” that has given the genre its incredible staying power. Thrash bands wanted to push the boundaries established by the NWOBHM, early metalcore bands wanted to push the boundaries of thrash, and it goes on and on. It is a never-ending process of creative destruction and reinvention, so the newer and more extreme tangents of metal are just as central to the story as the classic material. Besides, if I skipped Grindcore, how would I find a way to include “You Suffer” by Napalm Death?

Imprecation – Satanae Tenebris Infinita

imprecation-satane_tenebris_infinitaThe long-awaited first real album from Imprecation resembles less their 1995 debut Theurgia Goetia Summa but a more streamlined and moody creation. While the demos compiled into that album revealed a raw understructure of a morbid subconscious arising, the newer work from Imprecation focuses on deliberate and meticulous ritual.

Shifting from a predominantly fast-riffed approach, Imprecation meld 1980s-style speed metal back into their death metal. Satanae Tenebris Infinita use extensive palm-muted downstrumming to carry riffs that are less phrasal than previously, and as a result are less distracting from the vocals and their integration with drums and (occasional) keyboards. IN addition to speed metal influences, riffing reveals the Slayer tendency toward angular riffing and an enmeshment with riff forms from earlier death metal.

While songs break to fast riffs, and vary standard song structure on a regular basis, the majority of the work here is mid-paced death metal with melodic underpinnings. In old school metal style, riffs start out simple and run into contrasting riffs, which fit together by relationship of riff shape and the emotions evoked. Songs later pick up on earlier themes and conclude; this patterning is reminiscent of early Celtic Frost. Lead guitars appear like schools of fish in twisting metallic sounds that dissipate into the dark surroundings.

Satanae Tenebris Infinita shows a band mastering their riff-craft and intensity of their earlier work by adding layers of dark moods, combining several genres of metal to produce a mid-paced death metal epic with the emotional depth of doom metal or early Metallica. The result resembles a ritual descent into an occult netherworld, and achieves the suspension of reality for which death metal is famous, filling the void with a world of grotesque beauty and raging death metal energy.

How to get into death metal for under $100

get_into_death_metalA cold swimming pool presents a challenge. Do you dip in a toe, and prolong the agony? I suggest instead holding your breath and jumping straight in, so that when you get over the shivers you’ll be ready to rip.

Exploring death metal is the same way. This genre rewards those who immerse themselves in it and figure out its nuances so that they can derive its purpose. Death metal is after all an intensely artistic movement that carefully rejects the world around it. To get into it, you need to leave the world behind and go to planet death metal.

Luckily, planet death metal is not far away. Since the genre birthed itself in the years 1983-1986, it has undergone many mutations, but no real changes since about 1996. That leaves 13 years, 17 years ago, as the vital time period. This means that death metal is now relatively cheap to acquire.

To immerse yourself in death metal, buy yourself a starter collection. This list of classics ought to do it:

  1. Formative Generation: 1983-1986 ($60)
  2. Classic Years: 1987-1992 ($39)

This isn’t a complete collection, but it gives you everything you need to get immersed in this vital genre. There’s a lot more to explore, including the next generation of death metal and the many niches of metal’s evolution.

However, for less money than it takes to fill up a Suburban, you can have yourself the beginnings of a death metal collection. You could buy six nu-metal or metalcore albums for these prices, or you could simply score some real music and do yourself a favor.

Anxiety, depression high among metal fans

heavy_metal_anxietyLook, science journalism, it’s time for us to have a chat. I read you every day, but when you write about metal, I wince even before I read the article.

Here’s why: check out this article in which it summarizes research findings that ‘An analysis of 551 college students found “significantly higher levels of anxiety and depression among listeners of heavy metal/hard rock music, as compared with non-listeners.”’

While this is a reasonable assessment of the original study, keep in mind that science is a world in which we find out relationships between things before we find cause. Thus, there’s a few problems with this article:

  1. 551 people from community colleges around San Diego is not exactly a representative sample;
  2. The term “heavy metal” means a lot of things to a lot of people, but that doesn’t make them all right;
  3. We’re not sure whether this anxiety pre-dated the heavy metal or not;
  4. We’re not sure whether this anxiety is a result from honest and realistic fears about the future of society, whether brought on by minds opened by metal or not.

You can forgive us for being a little twitchy here in the metal world. Every time someone shoots up a school, there’s someone in the media or Congress looking to blame heavy metal. Heck, they almost banned us back in the 1980s with the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC). But when studies come out, and then you give them a headline that makes it sound like heavy metal “causes” these problems, you’re giving ammunition to the bad guys.

Even more, this article has a huge picture of Rage Against the Machine on top. Who ever considered them to be metal? They don’t even like metal. They’d hate being called heavy metal. That’s like calling Nirvana metal, while Kurt Cobain was talking about how heavy metal was out of ideas and offended him politically.

Now let’s look at the good news:

Among those who listen to heavy metal, there were no significant differences in anger, anxiety, or depression among frequent as opposed to occasional listeners. The key factor seems to be the inclination to be drawn to this music, rather than the amount of time spent listening to it.

Translation: there’s something in fans before they hear heavy metal that makes them prone to being anxious about the future of our world. It’s unclear whether they’d be anxious in a different society, or even a more stable one.

Naturally, this pushes back against the idea that pure, perfect children turn into drug-abusing, crime-committing, sheep-raping suicidal maniacs the instant you let them listen to heavy metal. It also suggests that trying to slam that barn door extra hard after the horses are gone, and shutting off your kid’s music, won’t do any good.

Fortunately, it also points out that metalheads aren’t prone to anger or depression. In fact, as other research points out, it may be the smarter kids who are drifting toward heavy metal. This suggests that anxiety may be a side-effect of intelligence and awareness of what’s going on in the world, not “heavy metal poisoning.”

Vemod – Venter på stormene

vemod-venter_pa_stormeneNostalgia is like going back to your rapist and asking for your first kiss. If I were a 2000s kid, I’d want to be part of those glorious days of the early 1990s. As a 1990s kid, I might want to “go back.”

Yet you can’t go home again. All you can do is re-heat and imitate the past, and hope that the magic comes back. But the magic came from the convergence of the time, what was going on in the world, and the art. That isn’t to say the music isn’t still relevant; it is eternally relevant. But what made it great was how it was organized in the minds of its creators, not the techniques they use. Trying to imitate the techniques is thinking backward, or going from the whole impression to try to recreate the idea it conveys, instead of finding that idea and using it to make another (not necessarily new, but more accurate) impression. I could buy ten truckloads of these retro-imitative albums and I’d still be in nowheresland, ready to trade my left testicle for the ability to buy Transilvanian Hunger or Pure Holocaust again and to experience the joy of discovering it again, like the very first time!

But it is not to be. We wouldn’t want it to be that way. Time marches us forward both toward doom and toward greater heights. Vemod adopts a mix between the Ulver-styled late Nordic material and the French-style barely-holding-on black metal of the wave after the Nordic black metal explosion. That being said, there’s nothing to criticize Vemod for. They play perfectly, many of these riffs are catchy, and they use extended interludes well. There’s just something missing at the center, sort of like there has been in modern life, where we wonder what the point of it all is. As it is, these songs leave us with a feeling of melancholy, having missed the bus to the land of adventure, and maybe a bit of dark loneliness. But after that, it is just decoration.

Terminate – Ascending to Red Heavens

terminate-ascending_to_red_heavensAny band making music of a vaguely “Swedish style” is going to attract both absurdly high hopes and cynicism, and Terminate fulfills some expectations from each column.

Mixed emotions about Swedish-style death metal appear mainly because the recent “revival” of Swedish death metal is more like an “imitation” of the past using the bad techniques of the now. A lot of bands picked up Boss HM-2 pedals, dimed their amps and switched to flying Vs, then mixed a few classic Carnage, Nihilist and At the Gates riffs into their bog-standard death metal with the design philosophy of a cardboard box.

Terminate may or may not fall into this category, but their rendition of Swedish death metal is more like what happens now than what happened then. Its verse-chorus approach is sparse with riffs and heavy on repetition, and its songwriting is blocky, in that these riffs don’t particularly appear to relate to each other and the need to drop in a note-shifted favorite from Left Hand Path or Like an Ever-Flowing Stream cramps their songwriting. The other struggle this band faces is that their choice of notes, chords and rhythms is what we might call “obvious,” meaning that these will always be common variations of the most basic approach to writing this style of music, and they’re not particularly evocative ones.

As any reader with an IQ over his or her shoe size can guess, the overall style here is “Swedish death metal,” which is now as much TM as the Nordish foods at the front of Ikea. Terminate use the crunchy riffs that gradually create a melodic mood, although here it’s more like a side-step from crunch to melody, and build an architectural sense of the sonic space in which death metal moves. Vocals are equally gruff and guttural, sounding a lot like Carnage or Utumno on a bad day.

Ascending to Red Heavens distinguishes itself because it is not cynical toward its subject matter. The band dives right in and goes for the death metal thrills of thunderous riffs and dark passages culminating in near-nuclear levels of antagonism. Whether this rises above the average is an exercise for the reader, but at least this band, like other Swede-worshippers Disma and Decrepitaph, enjoys its subject matter and tries to be faithful to the idea of it as a whole.

The metal-academic connection goes mainstream

keith_kahn-harrisThe pace of recognition for metal studies in academia accelerates with an article in the Wall Street Journal. This article covers The Heavy Metal and Popular Culture International Conference which occurred at Bowling Green State University.

In academic circles the movement to grant recognition to heavy metal and to study it has gained momentum recently with the launch of a heavy metal journal, the International Society for Metal Music Studies forming, classical musicians reaching out to metal ones, political recognition of heavy metal as a subculture, and at least one highly talented professor using heavy metal to teach literature. The article points out that from 2000-2011, 224 academic papers were written on metal, with 63 scholarly articles written last year.

“You have to keep that 16-year-old mentality,” said Todd Evans, a former member of GWAR and participant in the Bowling Green State University conference. At the same time, these academics or “metallectuals” as the article dubs them, are attempting to discern more of the meaning behind this intense and powerful subgenre. We who have advocated Hessian Studies for almost two decades are glad to see this welcome development and hope there’s more to come.

Photo Credit: Keith Kahn-Harris, by Eva Roca for the Wall Street Journal.