Our staff is on vacation for the next two weeks, possibly longer. We’re re-assessing what we’re doing at the same time we’re sipping fancy cocktails on a beach somewhere, which suspiciously resembles our basements with a space heater and a poster of Florida. Our goal is to reach people with a message of DEATH METAL and it make take some re-assessment to make sure we’re going about that the right way.
Norwegian black metal band Mayhem have released the first side of their upcoming single, entitled “Psywar.” At 3.5 minutes it shows the band continuing their foray into modern extreme metal aesthetics.
The track starts out with palm-muted tremolo picking, which shares more with simplistic death metal than the band’s history of black metal. The verse begins with shouted vocals, with the guitar riff beginning to incorporate modern black metal’s ambiguous arpeggiated aesthetics; which then over-take the track in a short breakdown section, consisting of needling treble notes and “profound” whispered vocals. The track then goes back into action with rather standard modern black metal minor chord strumming, before a short homage back to basic death metal which concludes the track. In short, formulaic and predictable, though it is put together well and probably will garner the band financial reward.
Mayhem was noteworthy for its foundational role in shaping the Norwegian black metal scene. Although a few other bands may have had a more prodigious output, the role provided by the band in organizing the metal scene and the strength of its De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas album cemented the band’s legendary status.
If you’ve suffered through even a few years of big media, you’re probably aware how it functions through symbols. Where literature might describe something, big media trots out a handy symbol that might be described uncharitably as a cliche. Drinking = troubled. Strip bar = edgy. Slow dance = love. Motorcycle = rebel.
This follows the primitive superstition of simple people interpreting religion. When something is bad, put a demon on it. When it’s good, it gets angel wings. The world falls into rigid categories based not on what people do, but what category they belong to as assigned by the cult. This type of cult religion is most commonly seen in mass entertainment, corporate culture, fanboyism, politics and sometimes, even religion itself.
Metal is a useful marketing tool for big media. It enables them to label something as rebellious, “edgy” and dark without it actually being a threat. The albums are available in any store or Amazon. It’s not like joining the Thugees or Cosa Nostra. Like the motorcycle, it’s a cheap way to describe a character without having to actually think about it. And that character will be as much of a cliche as everything else in mass media because it’s designed for the lowest common denominator.
Black metal’s most familiar tropes are Satanism and painting your face to look like a clown. I mean a corpse. But every black metal fan I’ve ever met is, like me, friendly to animals and disinclined to perform human sacrifice. It would’ve been more interesting if Nevill had played against stereotype and made the evil children big Pet Shop Boys fans. As tiresome as Bret Easton Ellis is, at least Patrick Bateman in “American Psycho” listens to Huey Lewis and Genesis.
This is how metal often functions in genre fiction: a lazy signifier of a character’s darkness, alienation and instability. In Elizabeth Hand’s “Available Dark” (2012), a girl describes someone obsessed with serial killers: “He’s creepy. He was into death metal, then black metal. Mayhem and Vidar and Darkthrone, bands like that.” Note the progression: death metal, a gateway drug, is less evil than black metal, but it still indicates that something’s not quite right: Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander listens to death metal. This is one reason it’s funny when two characters in Thomas Pynchon’s “Bleeding Edge” meet cute by learning that they share a love of “Norwegian Black Metal artists such as Burzum and Mayhem.” (Burzum is the musical project of Varg Vikernes, who also played bass in Mayhem until he murdered the guitarist.)
These examples show us the place metal has taken in the culture of mainstream society.
It is a certain kind of riskiness, a certain darkness, and a certain commitment to alienation. People who bond over liking black metal are people who have receded from society at large and are trying to go their own way. But with that truth, there is also the realization that metal forms a handy symbol, like the word “edgy” once did, for what the mainstream considers safe alienation.
It is alienated, true, but the fans aren’t the ones burning churches and murdering people. They are just spectators. It is for this reason that the music industry keeps trying to create “safe” versions of this music, so that people can feel like symbolic rebels but never venture beyond the safety of being obedient little cogs.
Old school swampy death metal band Autopsy continues its revival by pumping out another album of its newer incarnation of high-energy death metal, Tourniquets, Hacksaws and Graves, which will see release via Peaceville Records on April 29, 2014.
The seventh studio album from Autopsy will be right in line with its predecessors, with the band claiming that “blood will flow, brains will be destroyed, coffin lids will be opened…” Recorded at Fantasy Studios with producer Adam Munoz, the new album promises to sound and feel roughly like its two immediate predecessors, mixing rapid sawing riffs with slower, sludgy dirges.
- Chris Reifert – drums/vocals
- Danny Coralles – guitar
- Eric Cutler – guitar
- Joe Trevisano – bass
If I ever have to declare a field of study — and I hope I never must — I will declare my intention to study transitional material. It is the most fascinating by far, and Black Sabbath Tyr demonstrates why.
Emerging in the final days of the 1980s and the first days of the new decade, Tyr shows Black Sabbath trying to keep one foot in what succeeded in the previous era while gesturing at inventing the next. The band is not bold enough to simply invent it, since they are too invested in being an industry in themselves. That puts them in the position of defending what they have by incorporating the current, not by redefining it and trying to become something new.
The 80s influences are most painful in the vocals, which bring back flashbacks to Miami Vice and War Games. The 1980s were above all a sentimental time: the late 60s had changed the nation, and now we were in the grips of a Cold War that threatened to eliminate us all in the absolute erasure of kill zone radius extermination. People sought emotion, a fleeting sense of beauty and hope in the night, before the coming darkness swallowed all. It was really a prolonged version of what Berlin must have been like in 1945, but no one could recognize it. They buried themselves in things: in work, in religion, in warfare or in ideology. And so the 1980s sound is that of the lover glimpsed on a passing train, a moment of hope in the doom, a taste of what could have been, drowned out in mechanical rumblings and coalescent submerging blackness.
While the elements of the proto-metal/prog fusion that Black Sabbath pioneered by adopting the longer phrase moveable melodies of modernist classical influenced Italian horror movie soundtracks are still present, the majority of the riffing on this album resembles 1970s hard rock emulating the electronic rhythms of 1980s pop. It’s not surprising that Ministry may have borrowed a few rhythm/riff-idea combinations from this album, given the raw creativity put into them and their mutual inspiration in the basis of 1980s “industrial” music through electronic body music (EBM). Black Sabbath balance the shorter, more mechanical hard rock riffs with their usual spanning chord progressions that give the sense of the camera pulling back to reveal a vista.
The result is highly melodic and merges with the vocals which sound like they’re right off a Mike & The Mechanics or Red7 record. The result neuters Sabbath to an uncomfortable degree because the focus is on vocals and synths and the guitar takes a rhythm role that supports those from the background. That has not stopped guitarist Tony Iommi from coming up with some rather odd and noisy variations on the riff that he uses to add uncertainty and a sense of being lost in a windswept plain to the otherwise more straightforward compositions.
Where Black Sabbath reach toward the future is in the layout of these songs and album. They are deliberately expanded structures with more variation between them, like scenes in a movie or different rooms in a house in a pursuit dream. This both reflects the influence of MTV and the increasingly technological nature of music which allowed radical changes in instrumentation, thus musicians could stick in entirely radical dynamic changes and have them work as more than a distraction. The album follows the same thought process, beginning with an acoustic introduction with semi-chanted vocals, as if invoking the Druids and giving the entire production a visual leadoff. The album itself moves like a conversation, starting with its most obvious big points and indulging in all the conventions of its decade, but then gradually bringing those back to roots and then expanding them with the final tracks, notably “Heaven in Black,” where hints of a more metal-oriented Sabbath emerge (especially in its recapitulation of the riff-idea for “Symptom of the Universe,” which as my colleague Martin Jacobsen writes, precapitulates the muted-strum technique used by all speed metal bands). Much of this anticipates the more epic conceptual and structural layout of both songs and albums that black metal and death metal would popularize; it is unclear whether Black Sabbath heard early prototypes of this notion, such as Bathory Blood Fire Death, but the similarities are great as they are to later Judas Priest like Sin After Sin and Iron Maiden’s epic 1980s material such as Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. Interesting also is the choice of Odinist thematic matter wrapped in Celtic imagery, as if questing for a new identity for metal that united its past with future.
Tyr shows Black Sabbath twenty years into their career. They are less innovators than standard-bearers and so their tendency is to absorb outside influences and translate them into heavy metal to give their genre relevance in the wider world. There are also other influences from within the metal world, such as a notable increase in Iron Maiden-styled galloping riffs and broader themes. As one reviewer once said, some albums are more interesting than good for listening to, and thus are more compelling to write about; Tyr may be too 1980s for me to listen to again, and I remember chucking it across the resale counter at a used CD shop over a decade ago for that reason. However, it shows us a nodal point for heavy metal in its evolution and anticipation of the next era.
As part of our exploration of the ideas behind the metal, we take frequent peeks into the world of academia, where a number of metal academics are writing, teaching and evangelizing heavy metal as a cultural and artistic force. This is one mechanism for metal to rise above mere “product” status and be understood as a phenomenon with something to contribute to our understanding and society at large.
Today we chat with metal professor John Sewell, author of “Doing it For The Dudes”: A Comparative Ethnographic Study of Performative Masculinity in Heavy Metal and Hardcore Subcultures and the University of West Georgia’s resident metal analyst. We’re grateful to him for sparing us the time to chat about the meaning behind metal, and what it is that makes this genre quite difficult to pin down.
How did you become an academic? Was this something that you aspired to your whole life?
The academic thing kind of happened by accident. I wanted to be a musician — and I kind of was. For around 20 years I played in bands while supporting myself as a pizza delivery guy and, after finishing my BS in Journalism in 1997, a freelance writer for alternative newspapers. Most of my bands did OK, meaning that I toured a good bit, played on several independent releases, and had a little bit of regional notoriety. But I (finally) had my midlife crisis and accepted that music wasn’t going to happen for me. I enrolled in a Master’s program in Journalism, mainly because I didn’t know what else to do with myself at the time. And then it got interesting.
Do you identify as a metalhead? Or maybe I should ask: is there a pattern of metal music listening in your past?
I have always listened to metal, but I consider myself more of a punk rocker who loves metal than a metalhead per se. In the early 80s I discovered Venom and Motorhead, and then the metal/hardcore crossover thing. I especially loved Black Flag, who had a definite metal influence on their later albums. I listened to a lot of metal in the 80s and 90s, but it was kind of an addendum to the punk and hardcore music I really loved. During that period the metal bands were really macho and seemed too focused on getting mainstream success, which turned me off. But metal has always been an important part of my musical menu.
In 2006 I moved to Atlanta to be in Georgia State University’s Ph.D. program in Public Communication. I’ve always gone to a lot of shows, and Atlanta’s metal scene is huge, and there are tons of excellent bands right now. So I ended up going to a lot of metal shows and really digging it. By this time, metal, hardcore and punk had kind of morphed into this big ugly thing that I loved. I found myself being able to relate to the metal crowd better. The metal shows gave that unified-yet-dangerous feeling I used to get at punk and hardcore shows. Seeing these bands live made it click for me. Metal is best appreciated at shows. I’d see these crazy-ass, discordant bands I’d go home and listen to the music on my own. The noisy, extreme stuff started sounding more like music to me.
What do you find interesting about metal, both (a) individually and (b) as a research topic?
Metal is interesting because it’s never going to go away. Metal has the most ardent fans of any rock music subgenre. What’s really interesting is that metal has become more underground instead of being absorbed into the mainstream. In this way, metal subculture has had kind of a backwards progression. Diehard metal fans know their music isn’t going to get wildly popular and their scene isn’t going to be coopted per se. The bands just get more extreme and the scene gets more alienated from the mainstream. It’s perfect.
Metal is interesting as a research topic because there’s all this crazy stuff going on. Metal is not just music, it’s a collective identity. And this identity has a lot of implications about power, race, class, gender and sexuality. There’s this perception in the mainstream that metal is kind of dumb — that it’s this “trash” culture. And metalheads almost embrace this proud pariah thing. Being a metalhead might have negative impact on social mobility, but metalheads really couldn’t care less.
Your research indicates that black metal finds importance in “transgression.” What is transgression?
I’m a little bit wary of this question because I don’t want to establish some static definition. What seems transgressive for one person might seem like conformity to another. Kahn-Harris does a great job of addressing this with his concepts of transgressive and mundane subcultural capital.
Anyway, I think of transgression as purposeful refusal and/or inversion — finding beauty in ugliness, power through alienation or embracing the queer, for example.
You say that, “Black metal’s self-maintaining categorical imperative produces a constituency strictly demarcated and alienated from the mainstream” and suggest that black metal’s subcultural rules serve to further separate its members from mainstream society. Why do you think this behavior has evolved, and has it succeeded in what it was an attempt to do?
Black metal is interesting because its progenitors (well, the few surviving ones, that is) keep rewriting their histories to fit grand artistic and ideological schemes. From the onset, the early black metal guys like Dead, Euronymous and Varg Vikernes probably just wanted to make the wildest, heaviest music possible. They were kids who were playing around with dangerous stuff.
The crazy stuff like murders and church-burnings, well, that seems like adolescent one-upmanship to me — kind of a contest to see who could be the most hard and evil. But the murders and church-burnings were the grist for the hysteria, and the hysteria drew worldwide attention to what was before a sub-underground phenomenon that may well have otherwise frittered out.
Here we are over 20 years later and the progenitors (Hunt-Hendrix terms this bunch “hyperborean black metal”) are still, more or less the archetypes in terms of sound, self-presentation and at least to a degree ideology. I think USBM has backpedaled on the Norse/Aryan/Nazi stuff, which is bullshit anyway. But that ideology of transgression/refusal remains a linchpin of black metal. In this way black metal (like all other long-running subcultures) is a thing that cannot be: Can a collectivity of rebels really rebel? And if black metal’s categorical imperative is the annihilation of the self, why has it stayed around so long? “Success,” as the annihilation of the self, would have impelled an end to the subculture. And black metal is not going away.
I think the difference here (and the reason for the persistence of black metal subculture) is that we are talking about artistic and symbolic transgression — not transgression in the lived world per se. Dead and (especially) Varg Vikernes, among others, crossed the boundaries between symbolic transgression and transgression in the lived world, and ended up dead or in jail as a result. There’s not so much idiotic behavior associated with black metal today, or at least it’s not as idiotic. And so it goes.
The filmmakers of the black metal documentary “Until the Light Takes Us” refer to their film as a study in the decay of meaning. Does meaning decay? Is there any way to stop it from doing so? Does this correspond at all to the in-group behaviors you have observed?
It’s been a few years since I’ve seen the movie, and I think I should go back and watch it again. I only saw it once on cable, and I was probably playing guitar, eating dinner and working a crossword puzzle at the same time. When I saw it I thought it was pretentious and slow.
This is a tough question because I don’t know exactly what the filmmakers meant by “decay of meaning,” and I don’t know whether this decay of meaning was what they really intended to convey in the film — or if that was just a hifalutin concept to tack on in an interview.
Anyway, I don’t think meaning decays as much as it evolves. Meaning is polysemic. Meaning is relative. I think it’s most productive to look at black metal music and subculture as discourse. Meanings, within discourse, are not static.
A better way to understand black metal might be as an evolution of myth instead of as a decay of meaning. Black metal is in its way ideological, and thus subject to semiotics. Black metal subculture is — like it or not — a collective phenomenon. And subculture is the terrain upon which shared meanings are contested and policed. In black metal (or any subculture), meanings evolve through interaction. “Decay of meaning” sounds more badass, and thus more black metal. But I don’t think meaning is decaying in black metal. Meaning is actually fertile in black metal — especially the meaning of myth. And the collective negotiation of meaning in black metal is where the action is.
Further in this paper — this is Pure Fucking Armageddon — you say “Black metal atomizes the ‘I,'” — forgive me if this is redundant, but are you sure that black metal did this? Are some people so constructed that their spiritual, social, philosophical and mental needs are incompatible with our current civilization?
Black metal at least symbolically atomizes the “I.” And this brings us to another of black metal’s many paradoxes. Black metal’s refusal/transgression is in its way individualistic, but the identity of the individual in black metal is oftentimes atomized — or at least obfuscated. I mean, look at the interchangeability of people with corpsepaint! Look at how similar (and similarly unreadable) the band logos are! And when Joe Smith changes his name to Sardonicus, well, Joe Smith is symbolically annihilated.
Sure, some people’s spiritual, social, philosophical and mental needs are incompatible with our current civilization. This is nothing new. Subcultures are collectivities that exist within the greater culture — and these collectivities, even black metal, operate as havens for the proud pariahs. Black metal indeed fulfills spiritual and philosophical needs for the alienated — and it also offers an identity and a sense of belonging. So in some ways people actually find identity through the conduit of black metal. It’s strange.
Do you think there’s a point to academically chronicling black metal past the 1993-1994 watershed era? Is the music today even from the same genre?
This is another yes and no answer. Today’s black metal is far evolved from what Mayhem and Emperor did way back when. Personally, I don’t think the music of any of those bands associated with murders and church-burnings was that good, anyway.
Every subgenre of rock music undergoes continual redefinition. For example, today’s hardcore is nothing like what hardcore was in 1982. Today’s psychobilly is not the same as the psychobilly of 1990. And of course the same goes for black metal.
Genre classification seems a necessary evil, though. The meanings of genre and accompanying subculture classifications evolve semiotically, and today’s meanings are never exactly yesterday’s or last year’s meanings. Scholars from the symbolic interactionist camp would probably have a lot to say about this. I think that genres and subcultures should be conceptualized as continuums with permeable, ever-evolving boundaries.
Today’s music and today’s scene is not the same as, aargh, “back in the day,” but the archetypes of hyperborean black metal are still hugely influential.
You say that maintaining boundaries is a key function of subcultures. Why is this?
This questions brings me back to Kenneth Burke’s idea that identification is an act of negation. By identifying as one thing, we negate the other. By saying what we are, we are also necessarily saying what we are not. To have an insider group, you must also have an externalized other. Maintaining difference (or some might say faux individuality) is a categorical imperative of any subculture.
You also mention that the kind of acts that succeed in a subculture environment are those which set the individual apart from the herd, and include criticism of the subculture itself. Wouldn’t that make a subculture self-consuming? Are any of them post-individualist?
Subcultures are kind of things that cannot be — or at least they become things that cannot be as they balkanize. This is to say that yes, subcultures are in a way self-consuming and/or self-negating. Such subcultural self-negation is especially prevalent in rock music subcultures. For example, there are scads of scrawny male musicians with that dyed black comb-over haircut who play guitar-driven, post-pop/punk songs about longing and heartbreak and insist that they are “not emo,” when they are exactly that.
More often than not, music subcultures that purport to be individualistic are in fact post-individualistic in that the act of joining the subculture actually negates one’s individuality in a process of conforming to the norms of expression, behavior and self-presentation of that enclave.
And then there’s the black metal bunch, of which some participants claim to be post-individualist. For these folks, black metal negates the “I.” Still, this negation of the “I,” of obliterating Joe Smith’s identity in the process of becoming Sardonicus, paradoxically provides a means to set oneself apart — even sometimes operating as a portal to small scale rock stardom. Many black metal musicians decry fame and popularity — unless and until the potential for said popularity becomes a possibility, that is.
You mention another thinker (Butler) who says that black metal is comprised, to an extend unmet by other forms of music, of references to “the enduring, the abiding, and the transcendent.” Why do you think black metal values these things? Can you think of any other philosophies or belief systems that value similar ideals?
When I was a kid, KISS was my favorite band. After one of their shows, I was talking about the experience with one of my friends. He was saying that a KISS concert was like a religious revival in that it was a cathartic, theatrical experience where a group of people worked themselves into a collective frenzy, led by a charismatic leader. That was a pretty perceptive analysis for a 12 year old. It blew my mind at the time, but I knew it was true.
While black metal (as Butler contends) indeed references “the enduring, the abiding, and the transcendent” most overtly, I think it is a bit of a stretch to say that black metal is in fact more spiritually transformative than other genres. I’m sure that fans of jazz, classical music and techno, for example, would all tell you that their preferred form of music operates as a portal to other realms of consciousness — much in the same way that black metal (or football, for that matter) does for its adherents. Any form of music, any form of ritual, surely, offers an entrée into the realm of the ecstatic — for someone.
In this way, all music (black metal included) operates as a portal to the numen, the ur-mind. I daresay that all philosophies or belief systems value similar ideals. They just have different ways of getting there. Loud music is my way of getting there.
In your paper Pure Fucking Armageddon, you repeatedly refer to the black metaller as the “sin eater, a pariah who finds spiritual illumination through the excess for which he is damned.” Do you see a parallel in this to the writings of William Blake, who notably said, “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” Is there some reason that all us post-moderns are trying to break through mundanity, trying to get back to the real underneath the surreal “real,” as if we trusted the “subtext” more than the “text” in our modern existence?
I’ve heard that Blake quote several times, but I’ve never actually read his work.
I also find the use of the term “real” somewhat problematic here — mainly because I’m intimidated by “real” in a Lacanian sense. I could keep reading Lacan for the rest of my life and never be exactly sure that I got it.
Anyway, I think that all forms of ritual and creative expression have always sought to break through the mundane to some degree. Baudrillard, Bakhtin, Huxley, Nietzsche and Marcuse (among countless others) have theorized this forever.
So, in a postmodern sense, one could capably argue that genres such as black metal seek to shatter the hyperreal (see Baudrillard) in an attempt to “get real,” as it were. And what could be more “real,” more shattering, more pre-cognitive, more pre and post symbolic than death itself?
In Doin’ it for the Dudes, you define heavy metal as being centered around “power.” What is this power, and why is heavy metal obsessed with it? How does this correspond to heavy metal’s fascination with all things dark and evil?
There is nothing about heavy metal that isn’t contradictory in some way, it seems. There is a lot about heavy metal that I’m uncomfortable with. There is a lot about heavy metal that is downright dumb. But the wrongness and the dumbness of heavy metal is, for me, part of its allure.
There are few, if any subtleties in heavy metal. The “power” of heavy metal is blunt force. The shows are as loud and physically punishing as possible for fans and performers alike. A metal show is something to be endured as much (or more) than enjoyed. Lyrically, metal is about war, the occult, torture, dismemberment, totalitarianism and death.
Ultimately, heavy metal is masculine power, performed by and for males.
You write about how heavy metal is hypermasculinized, yet doesn’t challenge conventional genre roles. Do you see a parallel between those two?
I’m not sure I understand this question. Why would hypermasculinity challenge conventional masculinity? I see hypermasculinity as the amplification of conventional (hegemonic, heterosexist) masculinity.
What I have found through my work is that the performative (hyper)masculinity of heavy metal bolsters the hegemonic masculinity of the culture at large in a way that, nevertheless, is not empowering for heavy metal males in an extra-subcultural sense. Heavy metal masculinity is double-edged masculinity.
Heavy metal links the performativity of masculinity with the performativity of working classness. This is to say that heavy metal males, quite often from middle or upper-class backgrounds, enact archetypes of working class masculinity. These symbolic enactments of working class masculinity by metalhead males function to render a disempowered heavy metal male subject. In other words, by participating in a proud pariah subculture that is considered by many to be “white trash” or “low” culture, heavy metal males become “white trash” or “low” culture.
Of course, it would be wrong to paint the heavy metal experience for males in a single, broad stroke. Heavy metal males also experience their subcultural participation as empowerment. They don’t care what society at large thinks of them. And if they experience participation in metal subculture as empowerment, then, for them it is empowerment. After all, however we experience something is, for us, reality.
By enacting a mutated, caveman-style masculinity that is so over the top it’s almost satirical, heavy metal males support hegemonic masculinity — which is a hierarchy of males in a heterosexist hierarchy. The male power exerted in heavy metal’s male hierarchy does not translate as power in the masculinist hierarchies of the greater culture, however. You’ll rarely see heavy metal males becoming senators or corporate CEOs.
So, in a nutshell I’m saying that heavy metal dudes, in the process of becoming heavy metal dudes, join an outsider enclave and are relegated to the fringes of society. And they celebrate this. They don’t care what people think about them, their music and their subculture.
What have been the consequences of your heavy metal research? Has it led to you being thrown out of fancy restaurants and ostracized by your peers? Or are people opening up to this art form?
I rarely go to fancy restaurants and have yet to have been thrown out of one for my metal scholarship.
That said, I do sometimes get the impression that some (by no means all) of my peers in academia think that heavy metal is not something that is really valid and that, in turn, metal studies is not a valid pursuit, either. Some folks think the academic study of metal is about as worthwhile as the academic study of professional wrestling, for example. (There are many parallels between metal and professional wrestling, by the way. And I think professional wrestling is a worthy topic for academic study as well.) I’m guessing this all somehow comes back to the distinction of “high” and “low” art.
If metal became acceptable for the mainstream, that would mean the genre had been rendered toothless. If metal didn’t offend somebody, well, it wouldn’t be metal anymore. Metal (and therefore metal studies) will probably remain to a degree relegated to the low art ghetto, and that’s just fine.
Where has your research taken you since the two papers, Pure Fucking Armageddon and Doin’ it for the Dudes, that launched your career as a heavy metal academic?
As you know, academic publishing is a painfully slow process. I submitted a couple of articles based on chapters of Doing it for The Dudes to academic journals and am waiting for the reviews. I expect that I will have at least one metal studies article published this year. I am attending the Heavy Metal Music and the Communal Experience conference in Puerto Rico this spring. I hope to make some important contacts at that event.
I don’t limit my research work to metal studies, however. All of my work somehow merges cultural studies and critical theory traditions to examine the interplay of gender, race, class and sexuality in constructed group identities. I have written an article examining the evolution of the term “queer” using Ernesto Laclau’s logic of equivalence that will be published this October. It’s a provocative piece, I think. I’m proud of that one and looking forward to seeing how that is received.
My metal studies work would be useful for anyone studying how gender is enacted as a collective identity. Likewise, my gender studies work might be useful for someone who is studying metal.
What do you think a study of heavy metal has to offer the wider society around us?
Studying heavy metal allows scholars the opportunity to examine the interconnectedness of (here we go again) gender, race, class and sexuality in a particular art form/subculture. So the study of heavy metal offers clues — on a micro level — as to how gender, race, class, sexuality and (yes) power are deployed in the whole of society.
If you are an academic with related interests to Mr. Sewell’s, he welcomes communications via email at [email protected].
Continuing the tradition of Texas shows that require the National Guard to calm down the audience afterward, Last Nightmare Productions presents Destroying Texas Fest VIII, featuring the following acts of pure power:
For more information, consult the Destroying Texas Fest Facebook page.
Occasionally, even the most cynical members of the DMU venture into the outside world to a realm where supergroups come together and convulse the media in marked excitement. Corrosion of Conformity members Mike Dean and Reed Mullin have put together a project entitled Teenage Time Killer, a 21-track album featuring many prominent names within the music industry.
Confirmed members via blabbermouth:
- Randy Blythe (LAMB OF GOD)
- Dave Grohl (FOO FIGHTERS)
- Corey Taylor (SLIPKNOT, STONE SOUR)
- Neil Fallon (CLUTCH)
- Jello Biafra (DEAD KENNEDYS)
- Lee Ving (FEAR)
- Tommy Victor (PRONG)
- Nick Oliveri (MONDO GENERATOR, ex-QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE, KYUSS)
- Aaron Beam (RED FANG)
- Pete Stahl (SCREAM, GOATSNAKE)
- Greg Anderson (SUNN O)))), GOATSNAKE)
- Karl Agell (ex-CORROSION OF CONFORMITY)
- Tairrie B. Murphy (MY RUIN)
- Mick Murphy (MY RUIN)
- Vic Bondi (ARTICLES OF FAITH)
- Clifford Dinsmore (BL’AST!)
- Pat Hoed (BRUJERIA)
Other guest musicians that were previously announced as taking part in the project:
- Max Cavalera (SOULFLY)
- Tony Foresta (MUNICIPAL WASTE, IRON REAGAN)
- Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein (MISFITS)
- Keith Morris (BLACK FLAG)
- Phil Rind (SACRED REICH)
In a recent radio interview, Mullin stated that the project originally was conceived of as a short EP endeavor, but quickly grew to a larger album (seemingly) encompassing the earlier styles CoC has been affiliated with over its career, describing it as a mixture of “old hardcore punk, punk and metal stuff.”
Additionally, the band has revealed they have completed recording and are in the process of mixing their new album entitled Corinthians, which will be released via Candlelight. A release date has not yet been set for either record.
Corrosion of Conformity was best known for its foundational role in the 80’s scene, which along with Cryptic Slaughter and D.R.I created the genre of thrash, an organic fusion of punk and metal. Eventually, the band lost its sense of direction and started playing stoner rock for Scion AV festivals. Here’s to hoping the words about a return to the punk and metal days of the band represents an artistic change from their recent albums and is not simply a marketing ploy to intrigue older fans.
Regular DMU readers may have noticed that Puerto Rico has been on this site’s radar since Brett Stevens interviewed José “Chewy” Correa of Organic last year, and for good reason. The “Island of Enchantment” is more than just beaches, bikinis and piña coladas; it’s also home to one of the most active and diverse metal scenes that you’ve probably never heard of.
So what’s going on in this little-known metal outpost in the Caribbean? More and more international bands play here every year. Local bands are touring and inking deals overseas. There’s an online metal radio station broadcasting live shows every week. An international academic conference on heavy metal will be held at the University of Puerto Rico in March. We even have a biannual metal flea market where metaleros from all corners of the island gather to buy, sell and trade metal merch while local bands provide the live soundtrack. And this is only a short list; there’s a lot more happening here.
Cultural idiosyncrasies aside, all national and regional metal scenes are built with the same three human components: the bands, the fans and the people who have the initiative to organize and execute the business and logistics of the scene, otherwise known as “the people who make things happen.” These men and women of action don’t often get the recognition they deserve, yet they continue to work behind the scenes to bring your favorite bands to a venue near you. (Kreator didn’t play their first show in PR last year just because people “liked” their Facebook page; someone had to organize and execute a plan and all the logistics involved.)
Some of these men of action, such as Ray López of Thrash Corner Records, have also managed to actually make a living in the metal music world — not to mention help build and shape Puerto Rico’s metal scene — while balancing the responsibilities of a dedicated family man. (In fact, I didn’t know that Thrash Corner was his livelihood until I asked him what his day job was in a followup email.) So is he lucky that he’s living a “metalhead’s dream” or is it his work ethic that makes things happen?
Ray López was kind enough to take time from his busy schedule to answer some questions about his label, Puerto Rico’s metal scene and his most ambitious project to date, the first Metal Expo Convention of Puerto Rico.
You’ve been active in metal for over 20 years, so let’s start with your label, Thrash Corner Records. What motivated you to start your own label?
I’ve been a metalhead since 1980, and my label has 20+ years in business. The story is kind of weird. One day I just got up and said, “I’m tired of going to the store (never finding what I wanted) and ordering by mail (waiting sometimes up to two months to get my goodies).” An idea came to my mind. What if I call a distributor (those days it was Caroline Records and RED Distribution) and tell them that I opened a store and want to buy wholesale? So I just got the numbers and decided to call, and to my surprise they just opened an account for me and I started buying from those companies.
I said to myself, “that was very easy,” then another idea came to my mind. Let’s say I call Relapse Records, Century Media, Metal Blade and many others. Can they sell to me direct? But then I had to remind myself that I was in Puerto Rico and most of the people in the mainland don’t know the status of what we are. Most of them don’t know we are a territory of the US, so I took advantage of that and also started buying direct from them. Then I got deeper and deeper into the underground and saw how things were moving with the small labels (everything was about trading productions between each other), so I just jumped on the wagon and Thrash Corner Records was born.
What were some the most significant challenges in those first few years?
To be honest, everything was happening so fast that I was surprised with what I had accomplished in just the first year. If I have to mention something, the first thing that comes to my mind was trading with the other labels outside the US. Back then with no Internet, setting up a trade sometimes took up to 4 months (all the communication was via letters).
What are some of the highlights and gratifying milestones up to this point?
Those are many and I don’t want to bore you with that, so I will just mention a few:
Traveling to different places, meeting with bands, hanging out with them and sometimes becoming friends (the ultimate metalhead dream come true).
As a label, signing bands from other countries, getting distribution across the US and other countries (and that is more gratifying knowing that you were the first one to do that and in some cases the only one to accomplish that).
I understand that Thrash Corner has had distribution deals with US bands such as Hirax and Deceased. What are some of the other bands on your roster, and are there any upcoming releases we should be looking forward to?
Yes, Deceased released one album with us called As the Weird Travel On, considered by many an underground masterpiece. With Hirax there is a licensing deal and we did their complete catalog (the only title we don’t have will be the new one, SPV is the one releasing it). Now that Hirax signed with SPV, we feel very proud because we worked very hard with them as a team to get the attention they deserve and finally it pays. We also worked with both Asesino re-issues (Corridos de Muerte and Cristo Satánico). Those were out of print for many years, but now you can find them. Right now we are working with the death/thrash band from Florida, Solstice, doing our own version of the album The Dust (their 2009 full length). We decided to do that one because it had a limited distribution and we want all the fans to own this piece of art.
From our chat prior to this interview, I got an unequivocal impression that you’re a firm believer in the old saying: if you want something done right, do it yourself. Is Thrash Corner Records a one-man operation? If so, how important is it to have total control of your business and freedom to do things your way?
You are totally right: Thrash Corner Records is just one guy doing everything. It is hard work but it is worth it. You control everything and you make the decisions, right or wrong (no one to blame, just myself, but I can live with that, hahaha!!!).
I can say without conceit that I work in metal 100% and I’m the only one making a living from it here. It hasn’t been easy, but if you strive for your goals you can achieve them. My normal job is the label, selling retail and wholesale on eBay, my website and Amazon!!!
During that chat you also mentioned that you were born in the US and that English was your first language. How old were you, and were you a metal fan already when you moved to PR?
Yes, I was born in New York, but moved to PR when I was 5 years old. I wish a was metalhead at the time, but the concept of heavy metal was not invented yet, hahahaha!!
The good, the bad, and the ugly: Can you tell us what the overall situation was like for independent record distros, promoters and bands in PR back when you started Thrash Corner? How does it compare to the situation today?
Back in the old days of my label and distro, it was hard in some aspects and easy with others. Right now there are a few more distros and labels, but back then I was the only one. As for promoters, I was involved in 90% of the shows here, one way or the other. Now there are more promoters and they found the formula to do shows without my help. I don’t mean that in bad way, back then I had a lot of contacts because of the distro and the label and I was the only bridge that they had. Now with modern technology you can find bands with the click of a button. And about the bands, basically most of them are in the same situation now as they were back then (let me make a BIG NOTE: we had a few bands doing things the right way, but I can say we have more now than back in the days).
How did the idea for the Metal Expo come about? Did you formulate it and then presented a plan to people who could help you make it a reality, or did you discuss the idea and sketched it out over time with input from friends and associates?
I was crafting this idea for a while (let’s say the main concept is mine), but now that we have a team everybody is bringing ideas to the table!!! That’s why we had to change it to two days (in the beginning it was going to be a one-day event).
Was an event like the Metal Expo imaginable 20, 10 or even 5 years ago? What are the “pieces of the puzzle,” as you put it, that make this event possible today?
20 years ago – impossible.
10 years ago – maybe.
5 years ago – yes (but some pieces were missing).
About the pieces of the puzzle, I prefer to keep them to myself (this topic is too sensitive, so I prefer to make no comments)!!
There are quite a few underground metal promoters here in PR (some might say an unusually high number for such a small place). Why did you choose to join forces with your co-organizer, Paul Martínez of Bloodstained World Entertainment? Can you tell us a bit more about him?
For me this is the biggest thing that I’ve ever assembled. I needed a person that I can trust 100%. We have a perfect communication and we have known each other for more than 30 years. When I started Thrash Corner, he was one of the first people to give me a hand. (The story is too long, we leave that for another day!!) Paul has been into metal his whole life, so he was perfect for the job. I know that if he was the one with the idea for the Expo, I would be the first one to be invited to participate!!!
As co-organizers, what exactly are your responsibilities in the Expo, and what is Paul’s role?
This is a 50%-50% responsibility, that means that we are sharing everything, we both brought ideas and we are working together with the other part of the team!!!
Can you tell us about the other local promoters involved and what their roles are in the Expo?
The Shownet Group just joined us over a month ago. We are very happy that they joined us. Now it is a three-way split of responsibilities!!!
You were going to start announcing one confirmed artist per day at some point back in December. Why did you choose such an evil way to build suspense?
Initially that was the idea, but some information leaked and we had to announce what we had earlier than planned. For now we have:
- Band seminar by Rafael Bracero of Khaosmaster Productions / Puerto Rico Metal Alliance.
- Trailer premiere of the documentary on Puerto Rican Metal and discussion panel with Prof. Nelson Varas and the crew of Puerto Rico Heavy Metal Studies.
- Guitar clinic by Ramón Ortiz (Ortiz, Puya, Ankla).
- Drum clinic by Alex Marquez (Solstice, Thrash or Die, ex-Malevolent Creation).
- Plus trivia, competitions, meet and greet, exhibitors and vendors.
- Anger as Art
- Thrash or Die
- Blood Feast
- Six Feet Under
Is the bill already full or is there still room for interested bands to sign up? What about exhibitors and vendors?
The bill is done for live acts. We are negotiating with the exhibitors and vendors. If you want to know everything, all the information will be announced on the official website. Visit us and click “like” to get all the updates.
One of your stated goals for the Expo is to bring worldwide attention to Puerto Rico’s metal scene. Why not do the typical two-day metal fest with just music instead? Should metal festivals offer more than just music?
If we do a festival we will never get the attention (they will see it like a big show). With the Expo you can add so many different things to get more attention. Just say the name of the event, “METAL EXPO CONVENTION” and tell me if you’re not curious and want to know what it’s all about???
The Metal Expo follows hot on the heels of another important event: the academic conference dealing with the topic of heavy metal music as a communal experience. Do you think it’s a positive thing that scholars have decided to study heavy metal, not only as a music genre, but as a cultural phenomenon? Some see that as “infiltration from outsiders.” What’s your take on the issue?
I think it is a positive thing that they decided to study heavy metal as cultural thing (metal has been around for nearly 40 years). That kind of exposure for us is perfect, specially in Puerto Rico. It will help our scene in many ways!!! We have the privilege that the person who is studying our scene is also a metalhead (Prof. Nelson Varas and the crew of Puerto Rico Heavy Metal Studies), so we have an ally. I was just investigating and I noticed that most of the professors of the International Society of Metal Music Studies are into heavy metal music, so there is no infiltration or outsiders. They are part of us and they just found a way to contribute to our movement with their profession.
At first I thought that the Expo would be held at a stadium or convention center, but it will be held at La Respuesta, which is the venue where most of the visiting underground metal acts play. Was that venue choice a conservative decision to keep things manageable? Tell us about the venue and the setup for the Expo.
La Respuesta opened their doors to heavy metal a few years ago, and it’s the official venue for most of the metal shows in Puerto Rico. We wanted to keep the Expo there for a few reasons: most of the metalheads know the venue and feel comfortable there, it has perfect spacing for this event (we’ve been running the Metal Market there five times and it runs smoothly) and we prefer to spend the money on the bands and not on a big venue. We want to give the fans the best experience they can get.
The island’s metal fans are expected to show in full force at the Expo, but in addition to them, do you expect to draw international visitors?
The response of the scene here has been great and we already started working with the promotion and invitation for visitors from outside PR!!! With this interview and some other notes that came out in other websites it will draw some attention to visitors from outside.
Internationally speaking, do you think that the island’s metal has flown under the radar? Are we at a flash point where Puerto Rican metal will conquer foreign shores? What bands do you think will lead this charge?
Yes, the island is getting some attention. These last few years we had so many more international acts here than we had in the last 20 years. Those bands are spreading the word when they go back to their countries, and all the promoters are getting more messages from international acts that want to play here. Years ago Puerto Rico had attention with bands like Puya, Cardinal Sin and Ankla, then there was a gap and now we have a few bands making some noise outside: Dantesco, Pit Fight Demolition, Zafakon and Severe Mutilation.
From what I’ve heard so far, most of the major metal genres are represented by various underground bands in PR. What do you think makes Puerto Rican bands different from other international scenes? Is it a combination of our mixed ethnic traditions, our socio-political situation, and the simultaneous identity pull/friction of being both a Latin American country and a US territory?
Like other countries, we have most metal sub-genres represented. The difference here is that our bands don’t sound alike, even if they are from the same metal sub-genre. Take two local black metal bands, like Argyle and Humanist. They are the same sub-genre, but they don’t sound alike. In other countries, bands within a sub-genre tend to sound alike and sometimes you can tell what country they are from just by listening.
Why is this? In my opinion, it is a little of everything you mention in the question, but in the end it’s hard to tell.
Ray, I know you’re a very busy man, so I want to thank you for your time. I’ll let you have the last word to all of our readers around the world.
A supergroup composed of King Crimson musicians, The Crimson ProjeKCt, will release Live in Tokyo through InsideOut Music on March 18, 2014. To commemorate the announcement of the live album’s release, the band have issued a video of their live performance of the 1974 King Crimson classic “Red” off the album by the same name.
“Red is one of the pre-80s instrumentals that has remained an integral part of King Crimson’s repertoire up until the early 2000s. Our interpretation of this classic piece is uniquely energetic and always ‘on-the-edge’, especially the double drumming from Pat and Tobias. Markus is doubling the main guitar part in a baritone register, which adds a subtle new pushing element to the song. The roar going through the audience when we start playing this is one of the highlights of our shows for us,” said the band in a statement issued collectively.
The Crimson ProjeKCt is organized in the “double trio” lineup that King Crimson popularized from 1994-1997, and features Adrian Belew, Tony Levin, Pat Mastelotto, Markus Reuter, Julie Slick and Tobias Ralph, all of whom have played with King Crimson during the past. The band mostly focuses on later King Crimson work that was popular from the early 1980s through mid-1990s.
- Frame By Frame
- Elephant Talk
- VROOOM VROOOM
- Larks’ Tongues In Aspic Part II
- Thela Hun Ginjeet
- 5th March – Heichal Tarbut, Tel-Aviv – Israel
- 6th March – Bingo Club, Kiev – Ukraine
- 7th March – Usine A Gaz, Nyon – Switzerland
- 8th March – Amager Bio, Copenhagen – Denmark
- 9th March – Cosmopolite, Oslo – Norway
- 11th March – Ziquodrome, Compiegne – France
- 12th March – O2 Shepherds Bush Empire, London – UK
- 13th March – Trabendo, Paris – France
- 14th March – De Boerderij, Zoetermeer – Netherlands
- 16th March – Arena Club, Moscow – Russia
- 17th March – Palace of Culture Lensoveta, St. Petersburg – Russia
- 19th March – Palladium Club, Warsaw – Poland
- 20th March – Klub Studio, Krakow – Poland
- 21st March – Neuberin Halle, Reichenbach – Germany
- 22nd March – Konzerthause, Karlsruhe – Germany
- 23rd March – Frankfurter Hof, Mainz – Germany
- 25th March – Grughalle, Essen – Germany
- 26th March – Z7, Basel – Switzerland
- 27th March – Archa Theatre, Prague – Czech Republic
- 29th March – Auditorium Supercinema, Chieti – Italy
- 30th March – Auditorium Manzoni, Bologna – Italy
- 31st March – Auditorium Verdi, Milan – Italy
- 1st April – Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome – Italy
- 2nd April – Viper Theatre, Firenze – Italy
- 4th April – Kongresu Nams, Riga – Latvia
- 24th June – Auckland – the Studio – New Zealnd
- 26th June – Melbourne – The Hi-Fi – Australia
- 27th June – Sydney – The Hi-Fi – Australia
- 28th June – Brisbane – The Hi-Fi – Australia
- 2nd July – Fremantle – Fly By Night – Australia