Songs of triumph and dark love

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Defining metal has never been easy in part because as time has gone on, all techniques have migrated to just about all genres. For this reason, describing it by loud guitars, screaming vocals and pounding drums reveals very little. Instead, we have to inspect what holds metal together and makes these elements so powerful: its spirit.

Unlike the various popular music genres, metal is not focused on the experience of the individual, but the negation of it. This is metal’s nihilism: it destroys the idea of any thing having absolute authority or inherent meaning. Instead, meaning is where it is found, but it must fit within the whole vision of the world, which boots out most of the self-focused material.

As Black Sabbath created the rudiments of the genre, they referred to the dark soundtracks to horror films. In these, there is a fascination with final states. They look toward death, destruction and a mythological-historical view to determine how any human activity fares. This flew in the face of the flower power music of the late 1960s, and brought a dose of dark realism to the debate. But it also brought a sense of epic adventure, swords ‘n’ sorcery type material, inherited from its pursuit of meaning that cannot be negated.

What emerges from that proto-metal and all (honest) metal since is a focus on triumph and dark love. There is a world of nothingness, swirling horror and eternal emptiness, and then there are those who make something of this. They find triumph in overcoming their limitations to connect to the viewpoint of the mythological-historical, like metal’s two largest influences, H.P. Lovecraft and J.R.R. Tolkien. There is a search for that which overcomes our individual situations in life and unites us, a quest for survival itself.

As part of this, metal embraces a dark love. When a pilot flies a military jet high above his homeland, he feels this dark love. At any minute, a single twitch of the stick could bring about unthinkable disaster, death and destruction. And yet those forces must be corralled and used toward positive ends, much as how metal makes beauty out of the loud distorted sounds of guitars and tortured screams of its vocalists. The love is dark because it is not universal nor is it certain; instead, it rests in the ability to do something great in times of degradation.

Dark love is what a hunter feels as he cuts down some prey and not others. It is what a farmer feels as he prunes his trees, or what a king experiences as he leads his forces into battle. It is what great thinkers know, as they look at history and attempt to steer a path between the disasters of the past toward a future force of promise. It is a love that reaches beyond method to goals, and shows individuals how to rise above fear and reach toward something ineffable, with the promise of triumph.

Where metal fails is when it becomes focused on the individual. Songs of protest, or songs of individual karmic drama, do not reflect dark love but a desire for certainty and absolutes. Metal negates these. Instead, it shows us a world of uncertainty and ambiguity where nothing can last, except that which is eternal and larger than the individual. It is this “largeness” that we often fear as humans because it makes us insignificant.

Although most live in fear of these truths, metal harnesses them. It casts aside the devices we have invented to help obscure our fears, and looks into the abyss, hoping to sculpt with nothingness a great work that instead reveals an inner light. This light is not absolute, but derived from the interplay of nothingness and eternity. It is cosmic, mythological, epic and mystical. It is the adventure of life itself.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UlctXgILld4

Incubus – Incubus re-issued by Vic Records

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In the mid-late 80s death metal was still a vital force in which the standards of the genre were established. The new genre differentiated itself from speed metal several years before, but techniques common to both genres still overlapped without seeming artificial as they would when re-introduced later to make death metal more audience-friendly. This period gave rise to many bands which command universal respect today, but there were also a number of smaller projects which nevertheless imparted the same artistic drive and skill.

Recently reissued Incubus self-titled EP Incubus takes a short three-track voyage through the hinterlands of death metal’s darker yet constructive twisting of prior genre forms. Taking the work of Slayer, Hellhammer/Celtic Frost, and other proto-death metal bands, and moving it into more extreme directions, this is the same trajectory from which Morbid Angel spawned an entire lineage within the genre.

Adept at tempo shifts, in addition to a layering of guitar tones ranging from the subterranean to the celestial, in only three tracks Incubus wrangles a distinctive creation with the trademark frenetic energy of death metal and the more hookish speed metal. Artistically coherent in a way that is rarely if ever seen today, this reminder of genuine purpose married to cultivated skill is very much worth hearing again, or particularly for the first time. Incubus will be released on June 16th via Vic Records.

A hidden influence on neoambient

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The movement that some are calling “neoambient” — a fusion of dark ambient, Conan soundtracks, and neofolk — generally arose out of the metal community. The classics of the genre converge on Lord Wind (Graveland), Burzum and Black Aria (Glenn Danzig). In addition, metal bands contributed to related forms of epic ambient, like Beherit (Electric Doom Synthesis) and Neptune Towers (Darkthrone). Newer entrants like Winglord and Hammemit explore different paths along similar directions.

But how do we trace the influences and evolution of this genre? Glenn Danzig (Misfits, Samhain, Danzig) launched a partial revolution in 1992 with his Conan-inspired Black Aria. Several years later, Burzum followed this with Daudi Baldrs and Hlidskjalf, both of which used Dead Can Dance-themed ancient world music to frame the epic nature of its compositions, giving it a feel not just of Conan-styled epic conflict, but of a cultural basis.

There’s another influence lurking just a few years before Danzig — affirmed by Rob Darken as an influence on his music in Lord Wind — which was the music of Clannad as used in the BBC series Robin of Sherwood:

Yog Sothots – Demo I (1987)

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Much of what attracts newcomers to the heavy metal world is the ferocity of mythology in metal. The unsafe world of endless possibilities that this music projects can be especially attractive to the daring and inquisitive soul. That it further bonds itself to a mysticism of heroes and giants fighting for existential domination of reality itself gives it a gravitas and yet engaging playfulness. And like the dark thrill of a glory ride into Armageddon the sole ’87 demo from Quebecois speed metallers Yog Sothots is a feral litany of war.

Much like the Canadian war metal that would come later, (and to a lesser extent, the hammering simplicity of Von) Yog Sothots deliver a crushing blast of speed metal that is more aligned with the extreme metal that was at the time developing, rather than the tamer likes of earlier bands which had found mainstream acceptance just that year. These songs explode in a fury of whirling carnage that builds intensity like a town tormented by a mighty and growing thunderstorm. The primal nature of this demo combined with the organic and low-fi production makes this a savage though somewhat predictable journey.

The only drawback here is that many of these songs seem to struggle with developing an identity of their own, and tend to grow stale upon repeated listens (the same curse that struck Sodom’s debut). Caught between the developing speed metal tendencies of non-mainstream metal contemporary to its origins and the more focused yet rule-less rage of black and death metal, this Canadian band opted for a compromise. Yog Sothots was swallowed by time, and honestly, better acts. Still, this is a worthy effort and deserving of praise. Though this demo is far from perfect, it captures the true spirit of metal: a headlong dive into the abyss, spawned by the curiosity of what might be found.

Call for contributions to a new edited volume Black Shabbes: Jews & Metal edited by Shamma Boyarin and Keith Kahn-Harris

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When the guitarist Marty Friedman auditioned for Megadeth, singer Dave Mustaine loved his playing but told his manager to get Friedman to change his name because Jews were ‘not metal’

Can Jews ‘be metal’?

Certainly, crude stereotypes of the Jewish male – weak, bookish, awkward, hypochondriac – and crude stereotypes of the metal male – sexually promiscuous, loud and tough – seem to be in conflict. Yet not only do these stereotypes hide the considerable diversity amongst both Jews and metallers (to say nothing of their gendered nature), there is a significant history of Jewish involvement in metal culture.

Jews have featured prominently in significant numbers of prominent metal bands, including Kiss, Anthrax, Biohazard, Death and Guns N Roses. Moreover, in at least some cases, the Jewish backgrounds of metal musicians has impacted on their careers, as in the networks of communal and family support that Anvil drew on during their long commercial decline. Further, there have also been metal bands that have drawn on Jewish sources and themes, including Israeli acts such as Orphaned Land and Salem and a number of more obscure artists in the US.

Yet whilst there has been a more than nominal Jewish involvement in metal, the significance and impact of this involvement is much less clear. What might looking at metal through a Jewish lens and Jewishness through a metal lens bring to light? A sustained consideration of the relationship between Jews and metal will illuminate this hidden history while at the same time raising wider issues in the nature of Jewish and metal identity and culture.

We invite contributions from academics, critics, writers musicians and others, for a volume dedicated to explore the connection between metal and Jews from a number of different perspectives. We welcome both non-fiction and fiction.

Themes can include:

  • The history of the Jewish presence in metal.
  • The use of Jewish themes in metal
  • Israeli metal scenes
  • The relationship between Satanism, anti-Semitism and Judaism as explored in metal
  • Anti-semitism within metal scenes
  • Reading/hearing metal through a Jewish lens – is a Jewish metal criticism possible?
  • Jewish community attitudes to metal

Please submit abstracts of 200-250 words (by September 30 2014), and inquiries to:

Shamma Boyarin sboyarin@uvic.ca
Keith Kahn-Harris keith@kahn-harris.org

Horrid – Sacrilegious Fornication

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The anthemic, direct energy form of death metal is one of the most recognizable strains of the many sub-groupings within the genre. Possibly the most popular type of death metal, it bridges the gap from heavy and speed metal to more developed and darker forms of metal. For most listeners, this zone stretches from Judas Priest Painkiller to Morbid Angel Covenant with many stops in between.

On Sacrilegious Fornication, Italian death metal band Horrid go back to this method of composition (along with ubiquitous Sunlight Studious production) in an attempt to root their latest album in traditional, tried & true death metal creation. Taking inspiration from bands such as (early) Death, Massacra, and Entombed, the well-crafted balance between melody and ferocity that each band embodied is preserved.

By keeping relatively straightforward time, rhythms are simple enough to understand at first listen, freeing the mind to appreciate the whole of the composition without being thrown off by faux-complexity. While simple, riffs are not low-minded, as the phrasal nature of them trancends verse-chorus limitations and provides the framework for vocals and drums to fit in on either side of the melee, merging into technological barrages that wind their way through a journey of war and death.

Some critics may wish to dismiss bands such as Horrid for being just another “Entombed clone” among dozens. While it’s true that there isn’t much to laud here as being “unique,” what instead can be appreciated is the quality of the music, its careful arrangement, and the enjoyment of listening to an album that respects the higher forms of death metal and wishes to preserve them into the present generation.

Sacrilegious Fornication was released on May 1st and is available from Dunkelheit Produktionen.

Sadistic Metal Reviews 05-19-14

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What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? We enforce the reality the metal community runs in fear from: music can be judged objectively, but most people “prefer” junk. They want their music to make them look cool to their nitwit social groups, so they deliberately select moron music. Falses, don’t entry!

triptykon-melana_chasmataTriptykon – Melana Chasmata

You do not hire the Navy SEALs to remove your fire ant infestation. Similarly, there is no point telling Tom G. Warrior to “make an album like all those other ones.” It’s the wrong tool for the job. This album is atrocious because it relies on very familiar and predictable ideas with no density, and then Warrior tries to shoehorn some depth into it but achieves on oil on water effect, like someone trying to layer Beethoven over Pantera. The result just dumb and painful. Run like hell.


lacuna_coil-broken_crown_haloLacuna Coil – Broken Crown Halo

This isn’t even metal. It’s the same smarmy cheesy shit that they sing in lounges for drunk bluehairs in Vegas, but they shifted from open chords to power chords. There isn’t even any particular focus on riffs here, just some blithe chord progressions shifting in the background while the vocals take it. But even worse, the music is entirely predictable. This is different from being “basic” in that it’s not derived from simplicity, but a generic version of the same stuff everyone else does. But that “everyone else” aren’t metal bands, and these entryists are trying to sneak that moronic garbage in through the back door.


aborted-the_necrotic_manifestoAborted – The Necrotic Manifesto

People are not bands. Bands are (composed of) people, but are not people. Even a band with good people in it can end up making music as interesting as poured concrete. “Oooh, look how flat it is!” But that’s kind of the problem here: Aborted is flat. It’s straight-ahead pounding death metal/grind hybrid that tends to like one- and two-chord riffs that shape themselves around a basic rhythm. Songs tend toward straight-ahead structures as well. The whole thing feels mentally hasty, like they aimed for a simple goal and then did one take and called it good enough. The highly compressed production just makes it excruciating to hear.


kill_devil_hill-revolution_riseKill Devil Hill – Revolution Rise

Some bands you don’t want to be noticed listening to lest people think you’re an imbecile. Kill Devil Hill is warmed over 1980s Sunset Strip glam “metal” (i.e.: hard rock) with some alternative rock stylings and occasional Rob Zombie infusions. That’s it, and the style tells you the content. In addition to mind-numbing repetition, like all rock music this dunce material focuses on the vocalist and some imagined fantasy mystical “power” to very cheesy vocals emphasizing very obvious emotions. It’s like watching Shakespeare done by a troupe of brain injury patients. Even the attempts to be “edgy” by working in oddball found sounds and minor techno influences falls flat because the whole package is so blindingly obvious and equally as plainly designed for thumb-suckers.


blood_eagle-kill_your_tyrantsBlood Eagle – Kill Your Tyrants

At least this has some balls, but metal needs both a warlike outlook and an interesting musical development. The latter is where Blood Eagle falls down: too much downstrumming, repetitive riff forms, repetitive song forms and reliance and skull-shakingly basic rhythms that involve a slamming conclusion makes this music no fun to listen to. It is like hearing a constant pounding with Pantera-style angry ranting in a death metal vocal over the top, but the plot rarely changes. When the band gives itself a little room for melody, as in the end of “Serpent Thoughts,” we see how much better this could have been. Instead it sounds like road rage stuck on repeat on a forgotten late night TV channel.


eyehategod-eyehategodEyehategod – Eyehategod

The New Orleans hit factory just keeps cranking them out. WAIT — that’s not what you want to hear about underground metal. Could the writer be implying that this trivial drivel is actually just pop music? Yes, yes he is. Eyehategod started out with a slow punk/grind mix that was boring but kind of aggressive. Then they made it with great production for Dopesick, which was a mildly interesting record. Since then, they’ve gotten closer to the hipster zone. Eyehategod makes me feel like I’ve stepped back into the early 1980s. Punk had just lost direction and every band was recycling old ideas or trying to be “different” with tricks that amounted to little more than stunts. The emptiness was staring us in the face, and no one was talking about it. This album is stereotypical hollow man hardcore with a bit of southern fried bullshit and a couple metal riffs. Why not just go listen to the failed albums by burnt-out and aged punk bands, because they at least have more consistent. This is just an odds ‘n’ ends drawer with a high production budget. You can sniff out the hollowness by how many times they hit you over the head with their image, working in every southern trailer failure term they can, and then performing their party act of ranting vocals over hard rock riffs. It breathes staleness and marketing like a home remortgaging plan.


day_of_doom-the_gates_of_hellDay of Doom – The Gates of Hell

Metal bands should know by now to avoid the formula where the entire song is based around a vocal cadence, with guitars trying for a really basic pattern the vocals can play off of, and drums in perpetual fill mode. This means that the simplistic plodding patterns of vocals define everything else, which means everything else clusters around the lowest common denominator, and you end up with music whose sole (no pun intended) purposes is to make you tap your feet and wave your head to an undulating rhythm. This works great if you’re a sea anemone, but not so good for anything else. Day of Doom is one of those slow-strobing-strum bands that clearly intends for the whole audience to bounce at the same time in trope, but forgets that this is mindlessly boring when you’re not in a concert setting. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with these guys, but what they’re trying to do is wrong (as in unrealistic and stupid).


on_top-top_to_bottomOn Top – Top to Bottom

Mixed hardrock/punk, On Top has a clever name but otherwise is exactly as predictable as you might imagine. Lots of bouncy riffs, melodic choruses, angry vocals that specialize in repetitive tropes. If you derive a lot of value from doing the same thing others are doing at the same time, this might be your thing. It’s super-catchy like Biohazard or Pantera were, with plenty of syncopation in vocal rhythms to give them some kick, and songs even develop one level past pure circularity. It basically sounds like something you would expect the rebellious character to listen to in a movie as he drinks his whisky and drives fast. Other than this one-dimensionality, this is one of the few things in this review batch with any musicality. It’s just applied in such a way that people who aren’t drunk and sixteen will rapidly tire of.

howls_of_ebb-vigils_of_the_3rd_eyeHowls of Ebb – Vigils of the 3rd Eye

Howls of Ebb adopt an interesting strategy, which is to hide a Maudlin of the Well style quasi-prog in the midst of a dirty modern heavy metal band. At its core, this is heavy metal of the late 1980s variety, but this is carefully concealed under fast death metal riffs and whispered vocals which expand into dissonant chording and riff salads of the post-jazz-fusion era. The catchiness of the basic heavy metal riffing and the tendency to use tempo changes which fit in that model remain, but the weirdness accentuates it. If you can image Powermad adopting a bit of grunge and progressive metal, then slowing down half of its parts in a melodic jazzy style reminiscent of Absu crossed with Maudlin of the Well, you have the basic idea. The result is not only not bad but stands up to repeated listens. It will probably stay B-ranked in that its compositions make sense on a musical level but convey little else, and often the riff salads meander off-course enough to leave an impression but not a clear one. Still, this is more thoughtful than almost all of the metal at this commercial level and while it’s not underground, it’s much preferred to the usual tripe.

personal_device-microorganismos_del_malPersonal Device – Microorganismos del Mal

First there was the faux 80s crossover thrash revival with party retro-thrash bands like Toxic Holocaust and Municipal Waste, then bands like Birth A.D. bounced back with actual thrash and reformed the genre. Now Personal Device take it a step both further and in a different direction by being a classic hardcore band that informs itself with early speed metal like the first Metallica and Nuclear Assault albums. The result is bouncy fast and precise punk like Ratos de Porao or even middle-period Bad Brains that is thoroughly enjoyable with riff breaks that resemble “The Four Horsemen” or maybe even “Live, Suffer, Die.” Their guitars are remarkably precise which creates an unusual sound for punk that by making it mechanistic makes it seem more inexorable than like protest music, and the result is a more testosterone-fueled and warlike approach. Mix that with the surging chord changes of speed metal and the fast repetitive chanted choruses from thrash, and you have a high-energy band. Its flaws are that experienced listeners may find this a bit too transparent, and that many of its rhythms are similar, but the band has administered its style with an editor’s red pen handy, cutting out any lesser parts, which gives it more staying power than all but a few albums in this stylistic range. This was a pleasant surprise to find in the review pile.

Century Media releases additional information about Massacra re-issues

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The albums have been skillfully remastered by Patrick W. Engel / Temple Of Disharmony (Asphyx, Desaster, Darkthrone etc), were specially mastered for vinyl and feature heavy 180gr vinyl, a 30x30cm 4-page LP booklet whereas the CD and digital format come along with additional bonus tracks and will be offered at mid-price.

“Final Holocaust” offers tracks from a previously unreleased 1990 live show, “Enjoy The Violence” also contains a rehearsal from 1991 and “Signs Of The Decline” extra live tracks, so look forward to some rare rawness as bonus treats.

The LP booklet and 24 pages CD booklet include all lyrics, detailed interviews with guitarist Jean-Marc Tristani, photos, fanzine snippets, flyers and more.

“Researchers Of Tortures” from Final Holocaust

“Enjoy The Violence” from Enjoy the Violence

“Full Frontal Assault” from Signs of the Decline

Here is an overview on the different vinyl editions and limitations:

Final Holocaust:
200 copies – black vinyl
400 copies – transparent blue vinyl
400 copies – clear vinyl

Enjoy The Violence:
200 copies – black vinyl
400 copies – solid white vinyl
400 copies – clear vinyl

Signs Of The Decline:
200 copies – black vinyl
400 copies – red vinyl
400 copies – clear vinyl

You can order them from the Century Media store.

Interview with Vulk of Wormreich

vulk-wormreichWormreich is a black metal band dwelling within the heart of the bible belt. The best way to describe their style would be Casus Luciferi-era Watain with some symphonic elements and an almost Swans-like sense of horror and uneasiness. The vocalist/guitarist, Vulk, agreed to answer a few questions.

Wormreich is an interesting band name. What does Wormreich signify?

Wormreich is a name that I’ve wanted to use for many years. Not only does it sound powerful and twisted, but there is also a deeper meaning behind it. The worm is a creature perceived by many as ugly, vile, and disgusting. It feeds on decay, and as such it is often associated with death. The worm to me is also a representation of Satan, or at least certain aspects of Satan, because the worm is seen as a resilient, omnipresent force that cannot be destroyed or eradicated. There are also the obvious parallels between the worm and the serpent, which is, of course, another representation of Satan. The German word ‘Reich’ roughly translates to ‘kingdom’ or ‘domain’. So there you have a kingdom of worms, the domain of Satan. At a superficial level, the name also sounds very sharp and biting.

What came first in your life: Black metal or Satanism? Did your Satanism inspire you to pursue black metal, vice-versa?

My interest in metal in general led to a passive interest in Satanism. As a young kid, albums by Slayer and Iron Maiden’s The Number of the Beast fired my imagination and filled my head with images of hellfire and brimstone. It wasn’t until I had discovered Black Metal in my mid-teens that Satanism became a driving force in my life. The lyrics of bands like Dissection and Demoncy were early inspirations for exploring Occult and Satanic literature and philosophy. Since those times, I have expanded my knowledge and developed my own interpretations of Satanism/Luciferianism, the fruits of which are present in Wormreich’s lyrics.

I detect a much more sinister and horror-inspired sound with Wormreich than any other black metal band around today, like the haunting nature of early Swans material or dark ambient. Did you consciously draw influence from any of these?

I wouldn’t call it a conscious decision to incorporate these elements into our work. While I myself am a huge Swans fan, I can’t say that they’ve had a direct impact on our sound. More specifically, ambient/atmospheric black metal works by artists like Blut aus Nord, Lunar Aurora, Nortt, Drudkh, early Kataxu, Summoning, and even early Manes are huge inspirations to us, both individually and collectively. For Wormreich, atmosphere is just as important as violence and intensity. We simply want to create the type of black metal that we like to hear. Musically, nothing is more paramount to us than being able to fully enjoy our work.

Theistic Satanists tend to have a general disdain for the LaVeyan ideology of Satanism. Is it partly due to the humanistic tendencies of the Church of Satan? What’s your view on this?

I don’t view LaVeyan Satanism with the same level of disdain and hostility as many Theistic Satanists tend to. I believe that LaVey’s works are interesting and do serve a purpose, though a dilettantish one. That said, I also view the Church of Satan as a silly organization of glorified atheists who care more about shock value than actual substance, the product of a generation preoccupied with pissing off mommy and daddy.

What can be expected for the future of Wormreich?

We are in the process of working on a split with the Malaysian band Neftaraka, as well as our next full-length, III: Vril, which will also be released via Moribund. We are also in talks to have our debut album, Edictvm DCLXVI, reissued later in the year. We have several US festival dates booked this year, with more in the works. We hope to begin touring the States soon, and we will actively begin to pursue European ventures as well. There are also some other very big and exciting things in the works, but nothing confirmed as of yet, so I cannot go into any details.

Final words?

Only that we greatly appreciate the interview and support. Hails!

Heavy metal antiquity panel seeking submissions for Heavy Metal Classics: The Reception of the Classical World in Heavy Metal

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Following up on the successful 2014 CAMWS panel on the reception of classical antiquity in heavy metal music, we are inviting contributions to a proposed volume on the reception of Greco-Roman antiquity by heavy metal artists. We welcome contributors from a variety of disciplines, including (but not limited to) Classics, Archaeology, Musicology, Sociology, Comparative Literature, and Cultural Studies, to illustrate and explore the enduring connection between heavy metal and the ancient world.

Possible topics include: the use of classical sources in lyrics; visual representations of the ancient world on album covers and in music videos; the role of gender in constructions of antiquity; the appeal of mythology; the use of classical material for political and social critiques; the construction of national identity through appeal to the ancient world; the use of Latin and/or Greek. The ideal contribution will demonstrate an awareness that a study of reception can show us just as much about Classics and its place and meaning in the modern world as it does about heavy metal as a genre. Such a contribution will also make it clear that song lyrics are only one aspect of musical genre.

Our proposed timeframe is: abstract submission by November 1, 2014; contributors notified of acceptance no later than December 15, 2014; first draft of contribution due by July 1, 2015; comments on contributions returned to authors no later than September 1, 2015; second draft of contribution due by December 31, 2015, with the shopping of the volume to presses to begin immediately after that. We will then submit the entire assembled volume to an interested publisher.

Send abstracts of no more than 500 words to heavymetalantiquity@gmail.com by November 1, 2014. Please include a bibliography, discography and current CV.

If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us:

Kris Fletcher, Louisiana State University (kfletc8@lsu.edu)
Osman Umurhan, University of New Mexico (umurhan@unm.edu)