Robocop (2014)

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Certain movies or albums clearly reveal the presence of bad management. Either leadership by committee, which isn’t leadership so much as compromise that satisfies no one, or a bad manager who spends too much time worried about surveys, business objectives and the like to place his focus on whether or not the product is good. Such is the case with Robocop 2014 version, a movie so stunningly bad that with its obviously huge budget it can only be the result of thorough mis-management and execrably poor judgment.

Following up on a winning franchise is never easy because viewers have high expectations, but one thing is clear: the new movie must be at least within the ballpark of the old, or it will be interpreted as having the same failure as most sequels which is too many cooks in the kitchen, too many fingers in the pot, etc. The 2014 version comes nowhere close to the 1987 original on any level and even where it attempts to pay homage to the original, completely misses the point. This occurs because management decided the 2014 version must fit within the parameters for television shows, namely that each scene must have one unambiguous point and one only. Remember, that which communicates clearly wins out over the truthful when you’re dealing with the masses, and so these filmmakers decided to sacrifice not just nuance so that every idiot in the room could understand it, but also depth. The result paint-by-numbers script is as excruciating as a Creative Writing final exam, moving from point to point with absurd over-emphasis on the basics so that even if you are brick-stupid, obese, lazy, drunk and distracted, you will still understand what is going on. Which, as it turns out, is not a whole hell of a lot.

Instead of taking the intelligent course of action and creating a sequel set in 2014, the filmmakers decided to re-tell the Robocop backstory but with new actors and new settings. This becomes troublesome because they insist on dumbing this down and, as if pitching this movie to millennial women, centering the plot on the surface emotion of a generic character in its setting, rather than letting the emotion arise from this character’s struggle to understand his circumstances. Everything is surface level, cut from whole cloth in broad colors with boundaries double-underlined in thick market like an idiot kindergarten teacher might do, and the result is that the characters become caricatures. The expressive Jennifer Ehle (Pride and Prejudice) is utterly wasted in her role, and the excellent Michael Keaton and Gary Oldman are expended without purpose in theirs. Keaton portrays a CEO who dutifuly turns evil as the gimpy plot requires, instead of focusing on the fascinating side of his character which seems an amalgam of Dot-Com CEOs in his pursuit of technology and wealth with the zealous belief that nothing but good can come from progress. Oldman also experiences a character deformation as he goes from a good guy scientist to a self-interested quasi-villain to a hastily rehabilitated hero. Even Samuel L. Jackson becomes neutered as he must contort his acting to fit within the manipulated plotline. The filmmakers seem narcissistic in the worship of their own cleverness, forgetting that “writing in” details does not obscure the form of the plot itself, which shakes off their little footnotes and rampages straight into paradox.

The above are terrible sins against the artisanal craft (heh) of filmmaking. But the worst sin of all is that they removed the fun and terror from Robocop. In the original, audiences were shocked by the situation, the horror of people themselves and the self-serving decisions they made, and the clash between man and machine. The whole movie might be described as man emerging from within the machine to triumph over it. The new movie removes the tension. Combat scenes are outright boring, with Robocop playing the role of either omnipotent effortless victor or duty-bound moral martyr, but the tension of tight situations and intelligent responses to them dies in a video game simulation that looks about as boring as most first person shooters are after the week they get introduced. Even more, fight scenes are over quickly with little resolved. The movie just moves on like a checklist between points the filmmakers wanted to establish, with utterly zero dimension to the characters. It is probably difficult to botch a story with this much promise, but the director and his staff on this one did so with ease, which is about the only effortless and unforced thing about this movie. Avoid!

#metalgate: When bullies play victim

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#Metalgate began with a passive-aggressive attack: so-called “social justice warriors” decided metal needed to reflect the SJW ideology, and so moved into media, academia and bands to write metal that used their worldview like a propaganda weapon. Then they began complaining that they were victims of intolerance.

This was related to the previous issue with #gamergate, where SJWs moved into the gaming industry and when their mediocre “contributions” were not recognized, claimed discrimination was the cause. As usual, this was a power grab: under the guise of being victims, they claimed the right to bully others for not having the “right” opinions.

Now, it seems, the bullies are crying out as they are hitting us because feminist writers are claiming harassment from “the internet”:

Part of what’s different now is the existence of organized misogyny, with groups of men who are angry at feminism gathering under banners such as the Men’s Rights Movement and Gamergate, a diffuse network of video-game enthusiasts furious at attempts to curb sexism in the industry. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, “the mainstream culture of the media was more anti-feminist. That was when you had all that ‘feminism is dead, all women just want to get married’ kind of stuff,” says columnist Katha Pollitt, my colleague at the Nation. “But the men’s rights people, Gamergate, that’s new. There is this cadre of incredibly enraged men who have all found each other.”

As in #metalgate, these people have made a career of intruding where they are unable to compete, blaming other people for their lack of success, and then trying to cultivate an audience of other people who have failed. This is a typical strategy for taking over a group and it is known to parasites everywhere, most notably the “think of the children!” politicians and the advertising marketers who convinced people to like abominations like low-fat cheese, lite beer and tofurkey because “it’s healthier.” All lies, by liars, to seize power.

In the meantime, organized SJWs from Metal Archives continue to insult and belittle those who disagree:

At what point do people wake up and realize that #metalgate, #gamergate and the ongoing failure of our media have a common point of failure, which is the substitution of “social justice” for a detailed look at reality?

The only reason the SJWs and complaining, by the way, is that people are fighting back. Adria Richards heard a developer joke about a dongle and his friend make a joke about “forking” someone else’s project, and decided she was oppressed, so she snapped a picture and tweeted it with a typical SJW shaming/bullying message:

Her only complaint is that, as The Guardian reports, she got owned when people pushed back against her passive-aggressive victim-mentality bullying, instead of pitying her as she thought they should have:

Someone launched a DDoS attack, which overwhelms a site’s servers with repeated requests. SendGrid, her employer, was told the attacks would stop if she was fired. Within hours, she was fired.

‘‘SendGrid threw me under the bus,” she later emailed me. “I felt betrayed. I felt abandoned. I felt ashamed. I felt rejected. I felt alone.’’

They attempt to portray those of us who oppose them as “racist,” “homophobic,” bigoted, “sexist,” and other terms with no fixed definition, when really our statement is a middle path: we do not accept the reality-controlling language of either side of the debate. We look at reality as reality itself, or as close as we can get, instead of hiding it in all these neat little containers which tell us what we can think and what we must fear.

The more SJWs have made it into media, the more media has declined, mainly because it reports propaganda instead of what concerns normal people trying to live normal lives. As this image from the AEI shows, newspaper revenues are in free-fall:

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This is the same phenomenon we see in metal which is that while there is still a huge audience of indie/punk rockers who have showed up after 2001 to take advantage of this new territory to conquer, metal media is stagnant and declining, as are the new genres of metalcore and indie/shoegaze-metal/punk, mainly because like SJWs they are one-note shrill voices that seek to bully us and control our thinking, and have nothing to offer musically or artistically. Their message is always the same, and not surprisingly their music sounds the same, about like Christian metal or those annoying white power bands, come to think of it.

SJWs are death to metal and death to media. #metalgate has pushed back and now they complain about a victimhood of their own creation in the hope that uninformed people will take pity on them, fight back against those fighting back against the invasion, and by that act let the invasion succeed. Spread the word: SJWs are invaders and bullies whose complaints are hollow and whose every word is a lie.

For those who care about metal, it is time to stop supporting SJW-friendly Metal Archives, which has been distorting what is viewed as metal for over a decade in order to enforce its own agenda. A boycott is not enough; they have abused their position as journalists, and it is time for Metal Archives to be destroyed along with all other SJW media. These people are a cancer and they are bullies and until they are removed, we are all under threat of them attacking us.

Alchemyst – Nekromanteion

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Purveyors of occult black/death Alchemyst introduced their ominous presence in the underground in 2009 only to seclude themselves in 2014. During that time the band released three demos, a compilation, a split, and the full length effort in question, Nekromanteion. While the atmosphere that this band deploys finds kinship in the mystic aura of black metal, its genesis lies in the archaic realms of ultra-cryptic riff-labyrinth death metal.

Alchemyst manifests through cavernous, dark death metal with an atmosphere that crushes the listener under pressure while simultaneously enervating them with despair. Songs are comprised of unique, murky, and arcane riffs that resound varying moods, which creates a dark and meancing instability. The compelling essence of the atmosphere originates in the unpredictable motion of the music, which varies both tempi and riff form on a constant basis, like musical quicksand obliterating any consistency or hope wherever it finds it. Bass plays an equally vital role in the dynamics of the song, both structuring songs through foreshadowing, and traversing a vitriolic, dark tone that goes hand in blender with the chaos that the guitars conjure. Penetrating the sense as though breathing serpent fire, the ensuing descent feels like having a luminous light permeating your body and devouring it like nuclear explosion from the inside out.

Alchemyst share a kinship with contemporary abyss-dwellers such as Antediluvian, Abyssal, and Lantern, in its use of dark, meditative resonance as the basis of its mood. However, it takes a different route toward instability, which is to base its sound in unexpected variation rather than constant grinding.

the Doors (1991)

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Idealizing the darkest edge of the first wave of 1960s rock that carried the true stamp of the counter-culture revolution that was forming, the Doors hit in 1991 just as the first Generation X kids — the children of the 1960s generation — were graduating from high school. At the time, it was perceived as glorifying the culture of the 1960s and the legend of Jim Morrison, but on seeing it many years later, it seems more a revelation of the emptiness of that time.

To understand the 1960s, one must first understand why the counter-culture was so influential. Rock music gripped the American mind because it had both messianic and commercial possibilities. As Sam Huntington observed in his epic American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony, the lack of unity in American thinking arising from its democratization causes periodic mass movements with the ecstatic character of a tent revival — like witch hunts, civil wars, moral panics — called “creedal passions” in which Americans buzz like a hive to clarify their own values. The 1960s were one such time, a generation removed from the Second World War when it became apparent that not only did society lack direction, but it seemed to be sinking further into the 1950s commercial morass at the same time its social and cultural aspects deteriorated.

As part of a youth movement that re-interpreted the American vision to be far more universal through lowering standards for entry, rock music created a democratic mass hysteria in addition to making many people very rich. Into this fertile environment that The Doors dropped their first musical salvos, adapting the fantasy, hobo, dropout, hippie and beatnik themes of early 1960s rock into music with a darker edge. This was three years before Black Sabbath and other bands dropped the common viewpoint of “peace, love, (drugs) and acceptance” to issue forth Nietzschean warnings of doom.

In the Doors, Oliver Stone approaches a figure who remains influential in rock music and through it, the counterculture and American politics, which are now still in the hands of the Baby Boomers and will soon pass to millennials (Generation X having all but dropped out). Rock music idealizes its heroes with the kind of reverence that only a circus covered in rhinestones and dreamcatchers can create, and Jim Morrison represents one of this millionaire trailer park’s attempt at legitimacy. He was a poet. He read, you know, Nietzsche and stuff. He went to college and could have graduated. He was deep, therefore we are deep, because we are part of the same activity that he was in. And in that thought we see the essence of mass movements: people want to believe that participation conveys upon them the attributes they desire, when really they are just cosplaying as people of significance. It is a revolt of the nobodies. Naturally this has its dark side for performers, and the Doors is the story of that negative side to the feedback loop.

Stone captured the transition from 1980s to 1990s cinema with fast cuts, lots of background detail, and longer shots which move through complex sets. A good deal of attention to detail went into the Doors and it shows not through the kind of detail a viewer might revisit to notice new aspects, but a kind of gestalt of each scene where it appears both perfectly realistic and as cartoonishly articulate as writers need their subjects to be. The movie follows a linear path after introducing the so-called pivotal event in Morrison’s life, which although disputed by his family he found meaningful, in which he saw a group of Navajo laborers dying after experiencing a brutal automobile accident. At first, the movie follows a biographical path. We see Jim going to UCLA film school only to drop out, meeting up with Pamela Courson in a method that in our current society would be identified as “stalkery” and “rapey,” then singing his songs to the one person who believed in his films and forming a band with him. From that point on, the movie becomes a rockumentary showing events of significance from a brief biography of the doors, including controversial performances in New Haven and Miami Beach that later led to arrests and prosecutions. During this process, it works in the American Indian theme — Baby Boomers love nothing more than new groups to universalize, and Indians (Free Leonard Peltier!) were high on their list — to show Morrison gradually colliding with his inevitable fate, just to show that this rock god was made of legend and mysticism not drug and alcohol addiction.

While Stone takes a gentle view of his subject, he also keeps a fair and balanced outlook which requires removing the pink-tinted sunglasses and seeing the 1960s for what it was: a hairy, sweaty, flabby and filthy mob united only on wanting to be part of something really big, man, behaving with the decorum of those at a carnival not a cultural revival. The concert shots and interactions between Morrison and those “closest” to him increasingly show the selfishness and self-importance of the people attracted to this scene, which remains consistent to this day as anyone in the funderground can demonstrate. On the surface, we see the tragedy of Morrison the misunderstood poet; beneath the surface, we see how the whole thing was a farce from the beginning and the audience came not for enlightenment, and cared not a whit about his Dionysiac rantings, but was there for the spectacle and the hopes that it might convey the strength of the ritual onto its individual members, like some primitive superstitious mystic rite conducted by people wearing grass skirts and holding spears. Morrison was an egotist confined to what he allowed himself to notice, and aided by drugs/alcohol in that regard, and his audience were narcissists locked into him through a BDSM reaction where they wanted to see him self-destruct and feel important for having “been there.”

Like many before and after him, Morrison became trapped by the paradox of mass culture: in order for something to be popular, it must confirm what the crowd already wants so they can project themselves onto it, and by that process it becomes unrecognizably adulterated. The public then approves of this neutered version, turns it into a herd trope, and then wonders why its magic is gone. Like carnival-goers, they then shrug and rush on to the next “new” delight, finding no importance there either because through the process of popularity, anything important in it got filtered out beforehand. This leaves guys like Morrison and Kurt Cobain in a bad light. They lack the greatness of their influences, whether the brew of William Blake, Aldous Huxley and Friedrich Nietzsche that Morrison cooked up or the cloning of hardore greats in a grunge setting that put Cobain on the map, and that leaves them as merely cheerleaders for an audience that exercises its ultimate power in not wanting to hear or understand the cheer. This drives the anti-hero leader to self-destruction as they he has become irrelevant, but delights the audience, who have a sadomasochistic relationship to celebrities where they both want to be them and want to see them fall for being the chosen ones. When Morrison ultimately self-destructs, it is as anticlimax and late arrival to the party, like a misdirected package arriving sufficiently after the holiday that no one remembers at first what it is for.

Stone wisely does not explore the various mysteries of Doors lore, such as whether Morrison died of a heroin overdose in a nearby nightclub during a flirtation with the drug in retaliation for Courson’s extensive use of it, or the various mythologies that contribute to the idyllic picture of the band’s founding and culture. He covers all the bases needed to make a big-budget high-grossing profile of Morrison, but introduces a hearty amount of artistic skepticism as well. He portrays rock as “entertainment” in the oldest sense, or people using other people to amuse themselves with no concern for the end result. He shows self-destruction and the cult of the anti-hero as a kind of egomania, where the anti-hero cannot conceive of anything beyond himself and so concocts the ultimate narcissistic act of shutting out the world permanently. Finally, he reveals the loneliness of someone who — having made his way to the top of the rock crowd — realizes that no one understands or cares who he is, or what he thinks, because their only concern is their own participation in the mass phenomenon. Probably a movie best watched twice in life, once as a teenager to pick up on the mythos, and once as an adult to see how cheap, tawdry and pointless all of it was.

Interview with Hatred developer Jarosław Zieliński

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As society circles the drain, some notice in art, music, literature — and video games. Increasingly misanthropic and world-cynical games like Hatred show us the direction things are going and possibly, give us a reason to fight back. Destructive Creations CEO and lead developer Jarosław Zieliński was kind enough to give us a few minutes to discuss this antisocial video game and its connection to evil metal…

What made you decide that the market was ready for an “un-PC” game about slaughtering other people seemingly at random?

I didn’t know if it was ready, actually. But observing all the shitstorm around since our reveal trailer, I think the market is ready. We’re small team from the middle of nowhere and now everywhere you have news about our game. Even Forbes! We don’t care about all the hate that is thrown in our direction. People who would like to play this title, now recognize it.

How much was this influenced by 1998’s Postal, a game with a similar theme? Any other game influences?

It was very influenced, obviously. There are many other games we played for entire life and many of them had influence for our creation, but the main inspiration is the first Postal game.

I noticed you’re a Black Witchery fan from the t-shirt in the Destructive Creations team photo. Are you the only metalhead on staff? How much did metal influence your choice of this career path?

I don’t like the “metalhead” word. I don’t listen to “metal”; I listen to some of its genres while I actually hate the others. I don’t really think there’s a link between living with this music and working on video games. Actually modding games was first in my life, since I got the first Wolfenstein 3D editor. I was like seven years old at the time. And I really doubt that making games influenced what music I listen to.

Can you name some death/black/etc metal favorites you have?

Umm, that would be a shitload of bands. I’m a lot into stuff like Revenge, Truppensturm, Bestial Raids, Black Witchery, Teitanblood, Archgoat, Wrathprayer, Goatpenis, Inquisition, Bestial Mockery, Dead Congregation, Ad Hominem, Nocturnal Graves, Goat Semen, Demonomancy etc. The list is in random order, from the top of my head, but I do have quite a spread in my taste, from Disgorge or Devourment to Enthroned or Urgehal, if you know what I mean. But it’s all in the black-death line. Someone may say that it’s dull to stick only to these genres, but I would tell him to fuck off, I don’t need more (it doesn’t mean I didn’t ever try). There’s still plenty of bands to discover.

Which genres do you dislike?

Actually: all the others. I respect thrash metal, for example, but I don’t listen to it, because I don’t like it. And I really don’t understand how someone can listen to heavy metal stuff like King Diamond or Manowar, it fucking hurts my ears, the music is cheerful and vocals sounds gay. Well, let’s say I like “evil” metal, not “cool” metal, I hope you get it. If it’s a low-distorted blastbeating about satanic tanks crushing graves of christians and hordes of MG42-armed hellspawns spreading genocide then it’s most likely my taste. :)

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Why do you think “Hatred” upsets people? Is it similar to the reasons death metal and black metal at least used to upset people?

No, I don’t think so. I think metal used to upset people because they don’t understand the music itself, rather than lyrical themes. Hatred is making people crazy, because of its context, not because its shell. If we were to make the same game but with any other plot, they would accept it with no problems.

Why are people drawn to dark themes like in metal and video games? Do you think that this attraction will mean that Hatred will become a household name?

Because every one of us has some side of evil nature deeply-rooted inside. Some of us like to get along with the dark side, which is why brutal music sometimes makes the evil grin on your face or you get chills. I want the same player’s reaction while playing Hatred. I have no idea whether it will become a household name.

Can you tell us about yourself, when you got into metal, and how you ended up becoming a video game developer?

I don’t really feel like talking about myself, I have a lot of something you might call “underground nature.” Most parts of my life were strongly tied with death/black metal and still are, but I don’t like connecting it with my job publicly. My engagement with the metal scene is my private thing, while making games is my occupation (and a hobby too). You know, I’ve comercialized one of two of my biggest passions, and I will never do the same with remaining one.

For more information on Hatred, visit the Destructive Creations web site.

#metalgate zombies want you to like “Christian black metal” now

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The same SJWs in journalism and the media zombies who follow them want to destroy the black metal idea further by forcing it to include another genre of thought which conflicts utterly with its own, this time Christianity (in addition to the politically correct navel-gazing that provoked #metalgate). As reported in Metal Injection, Christian “black metal” is being mainstreamed:

Accuse me of not being kvlt enough, but I’ve always felt that black metal was better defined by the sound and not so much the message. We all know that black metal has signature sounds to it, and that both heavy and satanic music exists without being under the label of black metal. Having this mindset has let me into the world of unblack metal, and allowed me to understand and appreciate the goals of these bands. There’s just something intriguing about a group of Christians getting into a scene of music created with goals that specifically includes their persecution.

He says it clearly enough there: we know this is against what you believe, but we’re going to force your genre into generic status (“better defined by sound and not so much the message”) so that you are manipulated into accepting our propaganda. Whether it is Christian propaganda or SJW neurotic propaganda, the result is the same: the destruction of your genre by making it paradoxical.

I have a better idea. Let’s crucify some SJWs so their zombie political correctness gets recognized for the religion that it is, and then nail up the Christian metal bands so they can go to their holy deliverance and leave our genre alone. Then put the heads on pikes to warn others that we do not want your crazy world invading our oasis of sanity and refuge in which we can actually express a true thought without worrying about who it will offend. Fuck off!

Control (2007)

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Control looks into the life of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, who committed suicide in 1980, through the eyes of his wife Deborah who wrote a book of her experience, Touching from a Distance: Ian Curtis and Joy Division upon which the movie is based.

Joy Division remain important for the world of music because most of 1980s indie aggregated Joy Division post-punk guitar technique into bouncy pop-punk and formed of it the post-rock which also influenced the chaotic post-hardcore that is the basis for metalcore and modern metal. Where the newer bands were totally circular, Joy Division created more of an unsettling atmosphere of unsystematic and dissymetric music.

The film pitches the idea that Curtis suicided because his diagnosis with epilepsy condemned him to the side-effects of the drugs he took for the condition, and the tendency of seizures to hit at moments of high emotion made him fear the things that ultimately fulfilled him, like band, family and friends. As a result he became increasingly isolated at the same time his symptoms increased, with the exception of his remora of a Euro-girlfriend, Annik Honore.

It’s an interesting thesis, but suicides are too often blamed on medical conditions instead of an honest perception of the utter misery of life. Control shows us the more innocent and purposeful world in which Joy Division arose, the strong bond between the men in the band, and the left field attack of fame and seductive power. Without being a Joy Division historian, it is hard to say how accurate its perspective is, and it may be 100% true, but Deborah Curtis gets shown in a kind light. To its credit, the film does not extensively vilify others, except perhaps the extramarital affair (I’m told these are now called “side bitches”) which is portrayed as parasitic in this and other sources.

What makes Control worth watching is that it portrays artistic force as the utterly incoherent thing that it is; musicians have no idea how to articulate what they are doing, and yet they do it and often incorporate a good deal of thinking into the end result despite being unable to explain it. If anything, the movie could have done with more band scenes — the actors practiced together and became a Joy Division cover band for the purpose of the movie, with actor Sam Riley’s interpretation of the songs as a more Morrisonian Joy Division sometimes giving them new power — and less of the family drama behind it, but it is good to see that included, as it is to see the environment in which this band arose. Joy Division remains provocative and adored to this day, joining a long line of controversial rock vocalists who self-destructed upon seeing the ruin that is modernity. Perhaps this movie would have been stronger if it, like The Doors, incorporated more of that vision, but as it is it makes for an interesting introduction to Joy Division and post-punk.

Video games for misanthropes

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Most products are designed for people who want to get along with others. They make you feel happy and successful like you are the center of the universe and your narcissism is validated. They both make you passive, and make you cheerful, like opium or politics.

Some products are designed for gleeful misanthropes. We are the people who recognizes that in accord with Sturgeon’s law, 90% of humanity is basically chaff and the 10% are endlessly persecuted by the rest who realize they look mediocre in comparison. Imagine the slaughter of the herd…

The original Carmageddon came out in the mid-1990s just as black metal was burning and murdering its way across Europe. Inspired by the 1976 movie Death Race 2000, this video game emphasized carnage. To the horror of uptight parents, it gave points for every pedestrian killed — with bonuses for multi-kills and shattering pity objects like nuns and orphans — as well as for smashing other cars. It was followed by Carmageddon 2 in 1998 (using the dubious tag line “race war”) and then Carmageddon Total Death Race in 2000. But the Carma camp has been silent for awhile.

The wait is over. Carmageddon Reincarnation has not only been announced but is in public beta for those who wish to purchase early and murder their way to virtual happiness. For more information, click over to the Carmageddon website and begin the unholy slaughter.

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

Compilation of Death – Volume II Issues I & II

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In the many years of reading about metal, I have often wished for something like Compilation of Death: a zine that goes back through other zines, pulls out the best content and annotates it so that a historical record is composed from many sources. Each of the stories in this zine are like a shelf in a great library of metal, usually about a band but equally possibly a scene, a sound or a time.

What you will find among these pages is a carefully curated view of metal, which borrows whole pages from zines from the periods in which these bands were active, combines them with current-day interviews and perspectives, and assembles them into a kind of metal investigative reporting that shows us a well-rounded picture of each band or topic.

Compilation of Death carefully gives credit to each of the source zines and includes information on how to contact them, so in addition to being a feast of metal zine information, this is a promotion for the entire idea of zines, which are experiencing a renaissance as people tire of the information overload — which guarantees a predominance of low-value content — and endless useless people who clog today’s internet. Democratizing content merely means that every bad idea gets repeated thousands of times and good ideas get driven to the periphery, so that established commercial interests with the bucks to advertise on the big sites win out. Zines on the other hand are by their nature curated, meaning that someone plays the role of librarian/editor and picks bands deliberately, asks questions with intent, and reveals something unique to that subject with the resulting reporting. This is different than the assembly line process of web sites and big metal magazines, who process whatever the labels send them in roughly the same way with surface changes so that the “quirky” outlook hides the utter sameness and entropy of it all. What made zines powerful was that they had purpose, which allowed them to reveal a truth non-objectively and for reasons of itself, instead of secondary reasons like popularity and profit. Compilation of Death doubles down on this concept by not only choosing direction and topic, but picking from the vast number of zines out there the best of what is written on that topic.

These two volumes offer reading matter that can be pored over many times because they are bursting with details that become increasingly relevant the more one knows about a topic. In addition, metal historians will find many unknown but important details here confirming the motivations of bands and their art, in addition to a broader perspective on the people behind the music which is never revealed by the more uptight, formal and procedural interviews conducted by big magazines. For those who want a heavy dose of information about the underground in a form that rewards the diligent reader with a deep understanding, Compilation of Death is a treat that can be revisited time and again to bring out the nuance of its topic.

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A case study in wallpaper black metal and a discussion of its apologetics

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This album presents a perfect case study in wallpaper black metal and a discussion of its apologetics. The title, formed from three repetitions of the Swedish word for “holy,” incurs two different wallpaper metal infractions: pointless repetition of riffs and pointless contrasting ideas.

Pointless repetition of an entire rhythm or riff, as opposed to reusing a theme in a different context, occurs when a composer has one of several possible aims. Traditionally this has been to let the listener get familiar with an idea, to let it sink in, as some would say. The most popular aim of repetition in the more ambient-oriented black metal field is to create atmosphere. The aim of the latter is to lead the listener beyond familiarity with the riff and into a kind of stupor. The listener is taken into this state with the purpose of preparing him for something else: a deeper dream level, as it were, which would follow. But apologetics of wallpaper music claim that all ambient-oriented repetition, even the one they themselves may admit to being meaningless, achieves its goal if it brings the listener to the aforementioned state of stupor without necessary deepening of mood.

Pointless contrasting ideas serve to redirect of a musical path or modify the nature of the stupor in which the listener is in, such as from an anger-fueled one to another infused by sadness or even happiness. The use of a contrasting idea makes sense if it interacts with its context and primarily with its adjacent riff sections, much as in writing each sentence in a paragraph must relate to the topic and the sentences before and after it. When contrast lacks that purpose in context, it becomes a technique for distracting from the stupor so that the listener does not realize that the trick behind the stupor is repetition alone and it will lead nowhere, which converts a dream-state into a state of boredom in instants.

Wallpaper Music

Wallpaper is defined as: “paper that is pasted in vertical strips over the walls of a room to provide a decorative surface.” It provides a decorative surface only without reference to what surrounds it. Its context does not matter so long as it covers a blank surface and provides something to look at. It is not meant to have any meaning. The frescoes, carvings or statues of classical art, on the other hand, were meant to be both pleasing to the eye and to convey a certain meaning, inviting the visitor into a different dimension (in the mystic-spiritual metaphorical sense).

Now the following question assails us, would someone completely unfamiliar with Western art become induced into the mental state that the authors of such art intended? Not necessarily. The degree to which that person’s reaction to art approaches that which was intended depends directly on the similarity of the background in culture and experience of the subject to that whence the artwork sprung from. This, like context, comprises the memories that give a new musical figure meaning.

In fact, herein lies our key to reverse engineering intention (of the author) and/or purpose (which may be independent of the author’s conscious intent) in music. This key is context. Let us be clear here that this does not refer to Epistemic Contextualism, which does not lead to a discussion on inherent meaning arising from some original intention but to that of attributed meaning as interpreted in any situation, even alien contexts to that which gave rise to the original product. The intended meaning of context in this article is precisely the conventional one described in the previously linked article as:

…certain features of the putative subject of knowledge (his/her evidence, history, other beliefs, etc.) or his/her objective situation (what is true/false, which alternatives to what is believed are likely to obtain, etc.)…

This allows us to appreciate the sense and coherence of a work independently of if we agree with its tenets. On a separate but related note, it is also from this vantage point that its connection to a more transcendent nature can be gauged, since the particular context, that which is temporal, is known.

Analyses, use, limitations and power

Perceiving context in a particular way and analyzing a problem in the real world is the subject of studies that produce methods to approach them. Everything that is perceived is subjective in the sense that depending on our experience and background we may highlight and give importance to different factors. After that, methods are devised to point out objective qualities that are pertinent to the aspects we want to analyze. This is true of mathematical analysis, and even of scientific analyses in chemistry and physics.

Of course, there is a catch here. The complexity, in terms of scope, of what is being analyzed matters in no small measure to the objectivity of the results. In the case of the sciences, the scope is reduced to what is known while assumptions are made about what is not known and then, given the reduced and strictly defined boundaries of what is being analyzed (which is usually not the whole system but rather a model of the system), completely objective results are obtained in the context of the reduced-system model. As a more knowledgeable person in the field would put it:

The larger the scope of the analysis of a system becomes, the more assumptions regarding the conditions that enable the system to behave in a certain way become present. Sometimes these assumptions are made deliberately, but sometimes they are present unknowingly. This is due to the complexity associated with an increasing scope of analysis, which makes it unfeasible to obtain a straightforward solution. Furthermore, complexity is associated with the relationship among the different factors (variables) and the system/phenomena being observed. — L. Garrido

The error factor grows alongside this scope and it may even become unmeasurable if we do not know how to precisely quantify a particular element like purpose or intention. Which is precisely why they are not included in the scope of any scientific analysis. It must also be clarified that the error factor of a problem does not represent its concrete error, but the maximum magnitude of all possible errors. Meaning our analysis could indeed be perfect, although this is unlikely.

Analysis in Music

In music, a very wide scope must be admitted into its analysis. This is necessarily so since we acknowledge that music is much more than the notes themselves, than the organization of these notes alone, than the context in which they are perceived, or the intentions of the artist. Musical quality encompasses all of them at the same time and, in a Renascentist-Magical holistic view, ultimately engenders a separate entity altogether which is none of these elements and is rather born from all of them. Any music analysis consists on the breaking of music down to its components with the aim of understanding how they function as parts of a greater whole.

olivier_messiaen

One of the most intriguing techniques for the analysis of “conventional” tonal Western music is called Schenkerian analysis. This was a system named after the theorist who devised it, Heinrich Schenker (1868-1935). It consists of demonstrating how music can be divided into a hierarchy of notes which range from background indispensable notes to more those of a more “auxiliary” nature, although the terms “neighboring” and “passing” are more suitable since they do not carry such a strong connotation of these notes being less part of the music. Before him came Arnold Bernhard Marx (1795-1866) whose revolutionary way of analysing music included judging the purpose, character and direction in music independently of the composer’s conscious awareness through the subdivision of sections until one finds indivisible components. These can belong to one of two kinds: the self-sufficient and assertive Satz or the motion-oriented, forward-moving Gang. Schenker’s method is, in a way, a formalization of the more intuitive process of Marx, who used a more holistic approach (and a wider scope, more assumptions), into a more mechanical approach — though still subjective to a certain degree.

Despite wild claims by detractors of this way of analyzing music which want to reduce Schenkerian analysis to subjective make-believe so as to dismiss any objective value in it, an argument is to be made in favor of its objective and logic and characteristics. The user of this analysis at his best can be compared to a detective following clues. The best detectives are not clueless idiots blindly following a manual. Detectives first take note of context, use psychology and decipher motives and even subconscious processes that the criminal himself might not be aware of. There is a lot of guessing involved, but educated guessing, which while being subjective interpretation cannot just be dismissed as simple opinion (in the passive-derogative and dismissive sense) since it follows a method based on objective points. It is important, of course, to point out that the detective also relies heavily on experience.

It is here that we turn again to the idea of context. The ideas of direction, stability and instability, and character inherent to these style of analyses is born out of concrete knowledge of the development of music during the Common Practice Period (roughly 1600s up to 1900). These are “concrete” in the sense that they were not just an archaeological approach to understanding the past, in which the theorist is separated from the data in question and is always forced to look at it from the outside. Rather, the theorists who developed these analyses were part of the musical “subculture” (and the culture at large which encases it and is an audience to it) which engendered the music they studied. So their subjective views and experience are, in my opinion, validated as relevant by that same fact that places them as insiders.

The reader might rightly question this last claim denouncing that this in itself cannot possibly give the theorists and historical critics license to judge the music at the subjective levels previously mentioned. I will address this by calling attention to the music theory “standard”, or rather a “musical language”, that came into being in the first half of the 17th century thus producing what we know now as the Common Practice Period. This language is based on harmony that is built by contrapuntal norms, avoids certain musical effects and favors a narrative style. From its very beginning up until the 19th century, a certain significance, as meaning in a spoken language, was attributed to musical phrases, melody direction and movement, harmonic tension or instability, together with rhythm. What is relevant about this is not that these beliefs existed, but that they were part of the music education and culture of that time. The rules and conventions (even the ones relating to extra-musical implications) by which these theorists and critics measured and judged music were the same that the composers themselves ascribed to. This does mean that some of the less talented critics would see superficial aspects as set in stone, but this was not true of A.B. Marx who saw music as an everflowing, ever-evolving transformation of styles whose steps beyond what he knew in his time were only as visible as vague shapes in the horizon.

Is the application of Western European analysis and philosophy to metal music really justified?

Now, if this analysis belongs to the Common Practice Period, would it be fair to apply it to metal music? After all, the processes that produced Metal music are different. It would not make sense to apply the same analysis to Iranian or Indian music which follow their own systems whose musical constructions have inextricable spiritual and religious significance in the culture that engendered it. Neither would we thus judge jazz, which is the result of African-American music borrowing European art music notions to produce a language and a more sensual purpose of its own. My opinion is that we can say jazz gets excused because the ultimate product is more African-American than European.

When taking a look at music and judging its “coherence” one can metaphorically refer to it as its logic. When taking a look at a logical argument, we first take look at the premises or assumptions and from there follow it through its process. If the argument fails to make sense based on its premises we can say it has failed. The same applies to music. We can judge musical construction according to the premises it sets for itself. The style it chooses, yes, but more importantly, the general music language (Iranian classical music has different harmonic notions and goals, for example, as does jazz) it chooses for itself.

Metal starts with Black Sabbath taking rock-based music (which itself subscribes to the use of Common Practice Period harmony, but used in a more mechanical way to produce simple verse-chorus music) and bringing back the more theme-based approach of horror movie soundtracks. Soundtracks which were themselves inspired on 19th-century Romantic music. From then on metal develops as this rock-and-dark-Romantic musical hybrid and at different points borrows elements from other music genres but always distinguishing itself as Metal by always keeping an entrenched Romantic music orientation. One can then distinguish deserters who fled to the rock camp by abandoning of this orientation (Metallica is a clear example). The more the genre evolved the more marked the difference between rock defectors and those who remained metal became. This is because the latter would try to distinguish themselves more from the rock element which was so prominent in the former. This is the process that originally gave rise to the terms sell-out and underground. It must be clarified that what is meant here is not that the rock element in any music is bound to produce poor music.

The only constant at the heart of metal then, is the Romantic sense of theme-based music with a serious and heavy character. From this point it follows that the “premises” that metal has chosen for itself stem directly from the Common Practice Period in general. This does not mean that we should try to read metal music as we would read a Beethoven symphony — at least not on the surface. The characteristics that metal has borrowed from classical music affected the genre at multiple levels and thus surfaces in different bands in different ways and to different degrees. We cannot judge all metal in the same way either because just as different musical genres choose different languages (different premises for their arguments), so it is that different bands choose dialects of their own which require us to understand them and part from there on. But they must be seen as precisely that: dialects of the broader language of metal. Thus they still fall under the umbrella of our discussion (Ildjarn would be a particularly interesting case to discuss as its surface and the first impression it gives one leaves no room for obvious comparison to Romantic traits).

One understands the intense repetition of some black metal as stemming from the same purpose it has in electronic music. Black metal remains metal because it still ascribes to the dark-Romantic principles metal is defined by. Part of this is tonality and how harmony is used to create movement, which along with rhythm creates pulse and is tied by theme and the large-scale interplay of sections. Part of it is the more complex interpretation of how the character of each section and song speaks out and relates to the other sections or songs.

arnold_schoenberg

This character was an important trait during the Common Practice Period and it plays an important role in metal. When it goes unchecked, even if the outer technical aspects of music were all carefully crafted, the inner sense is perceived to be empty or messy. This thinking was very evident in the thoughts of both great composers and historical critics from the Romantic period such as Philipp Spitta (1841-1894) whose biography of Johann Sebastian Bach reveals extensive discussion, analysis and critique that encompasses everything from historical context and evolution of genres along with their influence over the German master, to detailed score analysis and explicit separation of what he refers to as “inside” and “outside” musical traits. The latter being musical expression itself, the structures, and the former being the character/aura/personality of not only the music pieces themselves but also of individual sections and their relation to the whole.

Modern metal unknowingly fails catastrophically by trying to create interest out of pure contrast. Still, some of the best modern bands keep a constant style and even use theme to tie a song together, but little or no evident thought is put into the aura of each section of a song and its balance with the rest of the song (see Fallujah).

The modern variety of metal bands which identify as “technical” (as opposed to Atheist, Immolation or Gorguts which were dubbed so after the fact) try to create interest by approaching this as if it were a textbook exercise, playing with the theme, placing it in different contexts, creating smart texture changes and witty variations. Since all that was cared about was the technical correctness of the piece, the evocation power of the music is negligible as it is not born out of Idea, but out of technical exploration (see Ara). The apologist comes in at this point and says that “emotion” is also in the process and that all parts are judged by passing them through this emotional filter. This is never denied here. But this statement would actually reinforce the notion that this music follows a backwards process: outside to inside, rather than inside to outside. The writer of purely technical music uses hard logic to drive his music creation and then judges it from an emotional vantage point. This works for science, but it spells out death for art.

Whereas in all productive men instinct is the truly creative and affirming power, and consciousness acts as a critical and cautioning reaction, in Socrates the instinct becomes the critic, consciousness becomes the creator — truly a monstrous defect. — Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, Chapter 13

This general idea has been understood in the European classical music traditions for centuries and awareness of it has given the world some of the most refined and whole works of art music. It is only in our post-modern era that we erroneously want to strip everything away from its original meaning and validate poor art by arguing that all that matters is the writer’s own intentions, which nobody can guess or question.

Defenses for Wallpaper Music

The most stalwart wallpaper music apologist is bound at this point to support the previous statement by stating the fact that our modern culture (and even more specifically, that our metal subculture) is very different from that which engendered classical Romantic music. While I consider this argument to be debatable, I will concentrate on the biggest issue that comes out as a result of this reasoning as a whole. This is the idea that because modern artists are free to choose how to express themselves they can pick from any musical-philosophical camp and just smash it together, twist it around in whatever way they see fit or their limited organizational skills and inspiration allows them to, with little or no justification other than their “need” or “right” to express individuality.

Allowing that artists are, indeed, free to choose their means of expression, their music can be rubbish in the context of the language they choose if they attempt to use it in ways it was not meant to be used. Can a previous “musical alphabet” give rise to a new “musical language”? Yes, and this is precisely what jazz and metal (separately and in very different directions, the former separating itself far more from a philosophical perspective while the latter remained akin in spirit) have done with Common Practice Period theoretical knowledge or general concepts.

A “smart” wallpaper apologist remark here is that we at DMU “fetishize” the European classical music outlook. But we do not ask bands to ascribe to the metal language which has explicit ties to that European tradition. If a band does not want to be judged from this perspective, then choose a different set of premises, a different language to speak. I would be very interested in witnessing attempts at using metal instrumentation to play music built on the principles of traditional Indian music. It would not be metal, but it would be a thing of its own with coherent expression.

Does it mean that everyone making music has to subscribe to already-existing musical languages and that there is nothing new to be had so that we can only indulge in superficial variations? This is what post-modern short-sightedness would have us believe and in doing so somehow justify the trivial superficiality of the so-called experimental bands. But then you can turn to great composers such as Arnold Schoenberg(1874-1951) and Olivier Messiaen(1908 – 1992) who effectively created brand new musical systems for them to express the music they wanted. They were both world-renowned advanced composition professors, which says a lot about how difficult it is to single-handedly accomplish such a task. Furthermore, as Uri O’Reilly’s article Developmental variation and underground metal implies, defined constraints and limits that guide genres and the languages they speak do not themselves imply a prison for the mind or shackles for creativity, but rather a tool much like a sniper rifle’s scope to reach precise and far-off targets. Bands that build incoherent music out of disparate musical languages or fail to use their chosen language effectively and expect the listener to submit to the purely emotional shock of the music, or worse, listen to exuses and rationalizations to “explain” the art, have missed the point: context is meant to be referred to, much as we expect language to have consistent approximate meaning. To ignore that meaning is communicate with no one, whether in music or the written word.

Defenders of wallpaper music will react in a populist manner and say that all that matters is that one likes the music, and ask rhetorically and spuriously who is to judge music otherwise. To assume that art should have meaning is to judge one subjective experience over another, they say. Some might say that in that case, anything deemed to be wallpaper from a point of view might be seen as meaningful from another. While this may be theoretically true, in application it is the same as claiming that spewing random syllables cannot be labeled as gibberish since they may, in fact, mean something in some hypothetical human language. The next wallpaper apologist complaint here would consist of pointing out that while language has hard and precise meanings (which is actually, not entirely true), music appeals to general emotions and moods and so, if the work accused of being wallpaper achieves some sort of reaction in the listener that produces coherent thought, then it has “meaning”. But this, again, is just the same as the random syllables reminding anyone of something in his own language and thereby acquiring a meaning provided from the outside.

 

Return to Chalice of Blood Heilig, Heilig, Heilig

Just like Romantic-era critics with knowledgeable background and cultural familiarity with their genres allowed them to make criticisms not only of technical construction (outer traits) but also of character and sense (inner traits) of the classical music of their time, so is the educated metal critic who understands the objective nature and origins of metal endowed with the same capacity to dissect metal music.
A track by track approach to Chalic of Blood Heilig, Heilig, Heilig will illustrate the concept of wallpaper music and reveal its failing as a method of artistic communication.

We start off with “Hoor-Paar-Kraat”, which, if seen as a song or independent piece fails immediately as it consists of a chord progression in four bars in standard time signature played through 1:39 minutes with no variation besides different pick-up and ending percussion patterns, and a background guitar strumming the same chord progression in different ways (more sparsely here, more vehemently there). One is then tempted to see it as just an introduction, a sort of prelude to what is to come.

It is then that we face “Nightside Serpent” whose structure consists of an introductory or main riff followed by two distinct verse riffs. The riffs talk to each other convincingly in their contrast and similarity. They clash against each other in a way that makes one think of the classic of classics, “Transilvanian Hunger”. But while Darkthrone used as little as two riffs per song in that album to create whole sections with functions ranging from intro, to verse to a sort of ramp into meditative climax, only to bring us back to its initial aura, Chalice of Blood’s song is simply that: a main riff, a verse, a second verse. This is simply played two times and brought to an abrupt and meaningless end at the 3:19 minute mark. It is here that we start to suspect that the presumed introductory track may just be a taste of the incompleteness and vacuity of this music.

The third track goes by the title of “Shemot.” It can easily be divided in four parts. The pick-up measures are soft and consist of a strummed chord bent by a whammy bar which applies vibrato at the same time. Then the first of these parts is a Darkthrone-intense section with use of the raw energy of hard-picked tremolo and fast Immortal blast beats. This section dissipates into the second. The texture changes drastically into sparsely strummed chords and mid-paced double-bass drums to the beat of a snare in duple time. We then climb back to the intense texture shown in the second section as a way of climaxing that brings back the riding first riff to function as outro as well. This all happens in 3:18 minutes. The focus here is how much “atmospheric black metal” riffs can they use contrastingly to create shock. Other than that, there is little eloquence to this.

“The Communicants” is probably the most deplorable song in this album with the most obvious wallpaper thinking displayed. The whole song is built by repeating the same slow-moving chord progression of 8 measures from beginning to end. The only thing that signals different points in the piece are the drum patterns and the presence or absence of the vocals. This repeating chord progression is not used as one would see one of the German master composers create vast amounts of content through clever variations and chaconnes, but it literally consists of repeating the exact same music ad nauseam. Or ad 7:11 minutes, to be precise.

Finally, we reach the last inconsequential, empty track named “Transcend the Endless.” In here we are presented with 3:30 minutes worth of the same minimalist black metal approach sans substance.

Albums such as these remind us how little understood monuments such as Transilvanian Hunger really are. The greatness of the classic lies in the careful use of the least number of riffs in arrangements that together with voice and drums created complex structures with cleverly placed articulation points. The minimalism of Darkthrone’s masterpiece is only in how little tools and riffs they used. It is not a minimalism of complexity of thought or construction.

A blatantly simple music which expects emotional shock and some consistency in style to do all its work, Chalice of Blood Helig Helig Helig gives us almost twenty minutes of essentially nothing. Nothing except transient noise.