The target date for the release of Ithaca has been set for September 19. The album was release April 25 on CD by Metal on Metal Records to much acclaim. Mastered specifically for vinyl format, the release will include two exclusive 2010, live bonus tracks that were specifically chosen by the band for their quality and uniqueness. The first is a version of band’s own classic “War Tears.” This version of the track is sung in Italian, making the interpretation of singer Gianni Nepi particularly passionate. The second is the long, touching piece “Deep Wake”.
Ithaca is a concept album inspired by the 1911’s poem of the same title by a Greek poet, Konstantinos P. Kavafis (Constantine P. Cavafy), who used Odysseus’s travel from the Trojan Wars back to his home-island as a metaphor for the journey of life; the goal is not important, but the journey itself. Stylistically, it’s a mix of ’80s epic heavy metal with ’70s progressive rock, and some elements of doom.
Unique Leader Records confirms July 24th as the date French death metal band, Kronos, will release Arisen New Era. Recorded, mixed and mastered by David Potvin at Dome Studios (Lyzanxia, Arcania, Under The Abyss etc.) in Angers, France, the band’s latest album features nine tracks of technical death metal in the “brutal” vein adorned in the distinctive cover art of Pierre Alain (Withering Soul, Silentlie, Cyrax etc.).
In an age when anyone can pretend to be a musician it becomes paramount to have a guard at the gates, a slashing axe to cut the unworthy products of these confused minds in half. This bloodied instrument of justice is what the Sadistic Metal Reviews are. Cut away the dead weight of the metal world. Make them walk the plank instead of wasting resources and time on their worthless existence.
Forward Unto Dawn – Alpha
That this music is not metal is evident within less than a minute, as a promising synth intro modulates into a soothing melody that would not be out of place in a Disney movie soundtrack. However, this metalcore band does not pretend to be anything else, and in fact shows promise with some interesting riffs, structures, and lyrical themes that avoid the overt homoeroticism of most metalcore. This band also avoids the “carnival music” feeling of much of their kin by writing songs with solid narrative progression – perhaps an influence from death metal. Unfortunately, the “slamming”, chugging, rhythmically similar riffs soon grow tiring and difficult to distinguish. We encourage this band to progress in their chosen genre and further pursue the unification of theme and musical expression.
Tormention – Chaotic Delusions
Tormention hide their incoherent, metalcore-influenced music behind the veneer of being a death metal band. This release is random, indistinct, and lacking in content. Somewhat in the vein of Cannibal Corpse and Necrophagist, with pointless guitar diddles, chugging, and rapidly shifting structures. This is the kind of band that could probably weasel their way into major metalfests with their presentation of “metal” surface forms, which demands their excoriation, whereas a honest and talented metalcore band like Forward Unto Death (reviewed above) poses no such threat. Avoid.
Nahtrunar – Symbolismus
Within seconds of the first track, Nahtrunar display an obvious influence from Quebecois black-metallers Sorcier des Glaces, with sweeping and romantic tremolo-picked melodies supported by simple, prancing drums. Nahtrunar showcase talented and knowledgeable black metal composition and technique, but fall into the same trap as the aforementioned Sorcier des Glaces – becoming at times so sweetly catchy that the primal and feral nature of black metal is subsumed into an incongruous tender romanticism, more fitting for a lonely and intelligent teenage girl than a savage Hessian warrior. The interludes between every song contribute nothing.
Saturnalia – Temple to the Other
Ah, Sweden. You will never find a more wretched hive of SJWs and cuckoldry. But this talented if confused people have certainly proved their worth in the annals of metal history, which makes a garbage release such as this all the more pathetic. Story: some stoned hipsters into bad psychedelic rock figured out that if they included some “occult” imagery in their music they could sell it to metalheads, who have more money to spend than their barista/thrift-store-clerk/community-college social circle. As they made it into the now totally discredited “Metal” Archives, their plan seems to be working. The music? Just poorly done “stoner” psychedelic rock with the riffs shifted around a few half-steps to give it a pseudo-metal dissonance. These dorks are too incompetent to even make it in the dazed world of drugged-out rock’n’roll, where they belong. INCINERATE!
Ok, so, I was listening to the YES album Close to the Edge with my best friend Rick Ossian yesterday, and as is usually the case when we listen together, I started to contemplate its deeper meaning in a new way.
In a 1996 interview, Jon Anderson mentions Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha as an inspiration for this album, so there is a stated philosophical source. Even taking that statement as true, we can see in the lyrical imagery an embrace of other traditions. Acknowledging one source of inspiration does not exclude the possibility of other literary groundings. I’ve long noted Platonic elements in the classic YES albums. One could say that they are usually close to the edge of a greater understanding. Their lyrics often puzzle us, and it may be valid to postulate that the lyrics sometimes serve as way of adding the vocals into the instrumentation as an element of the overall sound. That in itself is Platonic: seeing that the surface can be altered to serve a greater truth, that it need not be only a linguistic item. That said, it is also possible that the lyrics have an allegorical sophistication that works across other traditions.
I will be arguing just this premise: that the lyrical content of Close to the Edge operates on an archetypal level, and that even if the inspiration is drawn from Hesse, YES uses framing and language from multiple traditions to connect to listeners. So, as I was listening with Plato in mind, and as I did so, I understood how it was that the Platonic elements were woven into this album. I had long suspected a Platonic basis, but yesterday, I looked at the lyrics and knew how I knew. Perhaps without meaning to do so (though there are certainly moments where it appears to be deliberate), YES incorporates imagery from the crucifixion narrative into the lyrics of this album. Those familiar elements serve as the nexus between the words and the Platonic underlay. I may never have noticed this if Rick and I had not sought to listen to this album and Analyze It to Life.
I have long held that Calvary is the most profound literary moment in the Western tradition. There are numerous reasons for this, some of which I’ll discuss. I won’t be saying anything new about the crucifixion itself; in fact, this argument rests on the familiarity of the crucifixion narrative. The thrust of this analysis will be about the ways in which crucifixion imagery activates an archetypal approach to the album. I’m arguing that the Platonic and Christian elements (and even Hesse) are parts of the same basic inventory of archetypes. I’m not seeking any outside sources (for the moment, anyway). The album, the King James Bible, and Plato are my sources. I’m not sure if this has been argued elsewhere or not. An occasional nod to Siddhartha may be needed, but this analysis is devoted to elements heretofore not interrogated. It seems very likely that YES has consciously written in multiple viewpoints, though it is possible some of the archetypal elements may have been included unconsciously. Archetypes apply to everyone, and YES may have been governed by them just as the listener is.
Whether or not they meant to activate the subconscious, YES has done so on this album. The lyrics include the words “crucified,” crucifixion,” “cross,” “preacher,” “teacher,” and “nail.” While the importance of the river can surely be tied to Siddhartha, the biblical implications of a river speak for themselves, and Lethe (the River or Forgetfulness) also plays a role at the end (the edge) of Plato’s Republic. In each instance, the river marks the edge of transformation or edification. There also appears to be a relatively clear expression of, in fact sometimes a recapitulation of, the chronology of the biblical narrative itself, and certainly the path to salvation that narrative offers plays a role in the thematic content of this album, for both individual believers and the savior who holds it. So, that chronology will surface as I explicate the references to the crucifixion narrative. Bear in mind that the purpose here is to reveal the album’s Platonic/archetypal underpinnings. The larger constructs of the actual and the ideal, the GOOD, and the glimpse are the archetypes that seem to rise to the top here, and the biblical imagery surely makes references to Siddhartha more easily apprehended for a Western listener as well. The biblical elements are the illocutionary force (suggestion) deployed in the lyrics; the archetypal elements are the perlocutionary force (perception) that makes this album the enduring masterwork that it is.
Here beginneth the lyrical analysis. I’ll take one song at a time, in the order they occur on the album: “Close to the Edge,” “And You and I,” and “Siberian Kathru.” The order is important. This isn’t an exercise in cherry-picking; it’s an enterprise in analyzing it to life.
“Close to the Edge”:
As I mentioned, there seems to be an observance of the chronological order of the crucifixion narrative, and while that sequential similarity exists in more metaphorical ways across the album, it sustains remarkable fidelity in this song. Given the fact that this song constitutes nearly half of the entire album, it is fair to say that the sequential imperative persists into the remainder of the overall work. An important question, naturally, is “Where does that narrative begin?” Drawing from the order of the album, the narrative begins with Christ’s baptism by John the Baptist. In fact, the first two verses in the song evoke this.
A seasoned witch could call you from the depths of your disgrace / And rearrange your liver to the solid mental grace / Achieve it all with music that came quickly from afar / Then taste the fruit of man recorded losing all against the hour.
The Romans saw John the Baptist as a mentally unstable rabble-rouser, a “seasoned witch” stirring up religious fervor by suggesting that sins needed to be washed away (“call you from the depths of your disgrace / and rearrange your liver to the solid mental grace”). Those who sought purification from him knew that their venal human weaknesses, “the fruit of man recorded losing all against the hour,” would ultimately be cleansed by the Messiah John heralded “with music that came quickly from afar.” John the Baptist’s stated purpose is to call sinners to God’s forgiveness, anticipating the deliverer who would purify them beyond his imitative cleansing, as articulated in Matthew 3:11: I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, andwithfire.”
This begins both the story of the crucifixion narrative (because it foreshadows the eventual sacrifice on the cross required for the forgiveness John suggests Jesus brings) and the Platonic underlay (John is an imitation of Jesus, who is a tangible form of the Holy Spirit). In a masterful literary move, YES has initiated a multilayered allegory in four verses.
The opening verses are followed by four more verses, then the chorus—which explains where the edge is—then another verse with a direct suggestion of divine intervention remarkably indicative of Numbers 11:9: “And when the dew fell upon the camp in the night, the manna fell upon it.” In fact, there seems to be a reference to the first part of the verse before the chorus and the second part after it (not to mention the use of the work “crucified” immediately after the use of the word “Manna”—our link to a biblical level of allegory),
And assessing points to nowhere leading every single one A dewdrop can exalt us like the music of the sun And take away the plain in which we move And choose the course you’re running
Down at the end, round by the corner (Not right away, not right away) Close to the edge, down by a river (Not right away, not right away)
My eyes convinced, eclipsed with the younger moon attained with love It changed as almost strained amidst clear manna from above I crucified my hate and held the world within my hand There’s you, the time, the logic or the reasons we don’t understand
While this is an Old Testament verse, it sustains the idea of divine salvation, and the notion of Manna suggests communion, perhaps hinting at the Last Supper episode of the crucifixion narrative. With the river metaphor evocative of Christ’s baptism interposed as a chorus between the two halves of the verses, and especially the dew (water) and manna (bread) being placed on either side of the chorus, it does seem to echo the verse from Matthew quoted above. Further, the antistrophic “Not right way” in the chorus seems to recapitulate John’s assertion that the true savior’s arrival is imminent: the water washes away the past sins, the bread sustains the future of salvation. From a Platonic perspective, the shadows of human existence are eclipsed by the greater reality of expanded perception as portrayed in Book 7 of the Republic,
Socrates: To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.
Glaucon: That is certain.
S: And now look again, and see what will naturally follow if the prisoners are released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows; and then conceive someone saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision, -what will be his reply? And you may further imagine that his instructor is pointing to the objects as they pass and requiring him to name them, -will he not be perplexed? Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?
G: Far truer.
S: And if he is compelled to look straight at the light, will he not have a pain in his eyes which will make him turn away to take and take in the objects of vision which he can see, and which he will conceive to be in reality clearer than the things which are now being shown to him?
G: True, he now
S: And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he’s forced into the presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities.
G: Not all in a moment, he said.
S: He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves; then he will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and the spangled heaven; and he will see the sky and the stars by night better than the sun or the light of the sun by day?
S: Last of he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of him in the water, but he will see him in his own proper place, and not in another; and he will contemplate him as he is.
YES captures this in the verse “A dewdrop can exalt us like the music of the sun.” We see the same idea expressed in Matthew 3:16: “And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him,” or the heavenly body of the Moon here, the eclipsed moon, that is. After this is the reference to “crucified my hate,” which foreshadows Luke 23:34: “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots”: a stunning Platonic juxtaposition of the eternal truth of forgiveness with the temporal human incapacity to recognize the savior for his clothing, or as YES has it “you, the time, the logic or the reasons we don’t understand”: a basic summary of the Platonic argument quoted above.
The next verses of the song evoke a more Platonic than biblical moment. That said, they do seem to include a basic archetypal motif of elevation and increased perception, of the physical and temporal manacles giving way to the apprehension of a greater truth:
Sudden problems take away the startled memory
All in all the journey takes you all the way
As apart from any reality that you’ve ever seen and known
Guessing problems only to deceive the mention
Passing paths that climb halfway into the void
As we cross from side to side, we hear the total mass retain
While these lyrics surely allude to Siddhartha, the also express the general principles of progressive illumination and serve as a reminder of the Platonic/archetypal foundation of the album: a direct rendering of the philosophical inspiration.
The next verses of the song seem to suggest Christ’s resurrection and appearance to Mary and the disciples as articulated in John 20:11-31:
11 But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre,12 And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.13 And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away myLord, and I know not where they have laid him.14 And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.15 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.16 Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.17 Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen theLord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.19 Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.20 And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw theLord.21 Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:23 Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen theLord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, MyLordand my God.29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.30 And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.
And the YES lyrics,
In her white lace, you could clearly see the lady sadly lookin’ Sayin’ that she’d take the blame For the crucifixion of her own domain
Two million people barely satisfy Two hundred women watch one woman cry, too late The eyes of honesty can achieve
Then according to the man who showed his outstretched arm to space
He turned around and pointed, revealing all the human race
I shook my head and smiled a whisper, knowing all about the place
On the hill we viewed the silence of the valley
Called to witness cycles only of the past
And we reach all this with movements in between the said remark
These lyrics nearly paraphrase the biblical account. The two million people elicits an image of the new faithful, the two hundred women symbolize the two angels, and the lady in white is the immaculately conceived Mary come to take away the body, her crucified domain, and “the man who showed his outstretched arm to space” represents the risen Jesus who instructs Mary and the disciples in how to sustain his legacy.
And You and I
The second song on the album, “And You and I,” also uses imagery from the crucifixion narrative. While the elaboration of this imagery is not as extensive or as sequentially coincident with the crucifixion narrative as “Close to the Edge,” there are several unmistakable correspondences. The first rests in the direct mention of the word “crosses,”
Oh, coins and crosses never know their fruitless worth
This verse evokes Matthew 22:21 “They say unto him,Caesar‘s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore untoCaesarthe things which areCaesar‘s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” This verse rests among the parables, great lessons articulating the differences between the temporal and eternal. Indeed, this passage works on the Platonic level as well. Christ’s message is not one of rebellion. It is a message of higher understanding, and it is delivered in parables, much the same way Socrates (or even Gautama) would do so.
The next applicable lyrics seem again to recapitulate the Christ’s baptism. Whether intentional or not, there seems to be an allegorical expression of Jesus as the preacher and John the Baptist as the “insane teacher.” Further, following from the hint of the Roman Empire’s role in the crucifixion and the subsequent replacement of that Empire with the Church, the lyrics quoted below seem to summarize the overall historical moment under examination.
Sad preacher nailed upon the colored door of time
Insane teacher be there reminded of the rhyme
There’ll be no mutant enemy we shall certify
Political ends, as sad remains, will die
Reach out as forward tastes begin to enter you
The “insane teacher” echoes the truth (“reminded of the rhyme”—temporal truth), the “sad preacher” suffers for that same truth (“nailed upon the colored door of time”—eternal truth) and the “political ends, as sad remains” collapse under the weight of the truth (“forward tastes”).
The salvation motif continues in the next verses.
I listened hard but could not see
Life tempo change out and inside me
The preacher trained in all to lose his name
The teacher travels, asking to be shown the same
In the end, we’ll agree, we’ll accept, we’ll immortalize
That the truth of the man maturing in his eyes
All complete in the sight of seeds of life with you
Speaking in first person now, the seeker articulates an emotional crisis: “I listened hard, but could not see/ life tempo change out and inside me.” The then recalls the preacher and teacher, those before him who brought the message, he ultimately unites with them in achieving the goal “in the end, we’ll agree, we’ll accept, we’ll immortalize / that the truth of the man maturing in his eyes / all complete in the sight of seeds of life with you,” an expression of salvation in the Christian sense or of transmigration in the Platonic sense. Interestingly, the lyrics here step beyond a mere retelling of the Platonic or Christian narratives and postulate the ultimate goal of both, of perhaps all philosophy: living a better life. The key to living that better life comes from what Platonists call “the glimpse” or what Christians may call an epiphany. The only way to open the “colored door of time” is if your journey for truth takes you close to the edge.
The final song, “Siberian Khatru,” holds the fewest direct connections to the narratives being examined here. In fact, the final song extends the expression of the goal explained above. In an idealized and compressed expression of the outcome, the lyrics of the final song create a space to unite the disparate traditions under a final archetypal umbrella.
The first allusion refers to the instrument of crucifixion: the nail. However, the lyrics describe the nail in ideal terms and suggest that it is a fastener not of a person to a cross but of people to each other and to a shared vision: “Gold stainless nail / Torn through the distance of man / As they regard the summit.” Echoing the scene at Golgotha, these lyrics idealize the even and suggest that the unity of those who believe look outward toward a greater truth. Then an implication that the release is at hand rests in these lyrics, perhaps channeling the irony that the nail the used in the crucifixion ultimately became the nail that affixed the Romans to history and freed Christians to supplant them: “Cold reigning king / Hold all the secrets from you / As they produce the movement” and “Cold reigning king / Shelter the women that sing / As they produce the movement.”
The song and album then close with a list of images suggesting many traditions, of movements produced and secrets revealed:
Luther in time
June cast, moon fast
As one changes
Heart gold, leaver
Soul mark, mover
Called out, saviour
Moon gate, climber
Turn round, glider
Thus, these seemingly disparate approaches to faith have reinterpreted the same basic truth and broken free of their oppressors, much as the Platonic tradition would advance a search for truth over an acceptance of immediate circumstances. Both traditions, as well as the obvious references to nature, Jesus, Protestantism, and probably Buddhism as well, have apprehended the truth beneath the truth, which is that truth is not a static object to be held and adored but a living practice to be embraced and interrogated. As John 8:32 has it, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” As Plato and YES (and Hesse) suggest, knowing the truth results from a profound and unremitting search for glimpses of a greater reality that may be seen if you are close to the edge.
Peste Negra, Muetra Negra, the new albumfrom Anal Vomit, is out now on Gates of Hell Records, the new Cruz Del Sur Music sister label. Order the album on CD and vinyl formats at this location.
The release comes after a nearly six-year period during which only a live EP and a compilation from the band were released.Anal Vomit are influenced by old thrash metal and by legendary acts such as Sarcófago, Holocausto, Sexthrash, Vulcano and Possessed.
Tech-death band Cryptopsy have kicked-off their “Back to the US 2015” tour on April 14 in Worcester, Mass. Support on the tour will come from Disgorge, Erimha, Soreption and The Convalescence. The tour will see Cryptopsy premiere a song from their forthcoming EP, The Book of Suffering Tome 1. Dates are as follows:
Ascended Dead is a death metal band that intentionally keeps the production of their music lo-fi. Here, we may recognize two things. The first is the appeal to a sense of nostalgia that this sort of distorted tone may cause in fans of old underground metal. The second is that this choice is part of the band’s aesthetic choice and it contributes in a musical way. The latter is never fully acknowledged even by fans of this particular sound, resorting to embarrassed appeals to “guilty pleasure”.
Now, onto the music. In The Advent, Ascended Dead have brought together a collection of distinct but compatible sources in which, if we squint really hard and try to pierce the fog created by the artistic voice of the band, we can recognize the grindy, obscure, riff-salad Finnish spirit. One or two of the songs even betrays the influence of Demilich in its use of short, clear but twisted melody line motifs, but doesn’t go as far as to imitate the older band. The reference is no more than a head nod.
The Advent consists of a solidly integrated style. Ascended Dead’s songs are balanced and clear-headed in direction, while remaining organic, in line with the riff salad tradition. Riffs balance relationship with each other while introducing the tension needed to move forward, towards a new idea that comes as a massive waterfall releasing the potential energy channeled and incremented in the perfectly-defined course of a river of tumultuous waters. Despite all its merits, the artist’s most difficult task has yet to be completed in this project: finding its own voice. Displaying a musical awareness with which only true musicians are blessed, Ascended Dead give us an album that, although itself powerful, foreshadows possible works that will tower above the vast majority of death metal of our times.
Denver’s doom metal band, Khemis, is set to release debut album, Absolution, this summer. The band is said to sport a classic doom/heavy rock delivery that will appeal to “adamant fans of Pete Stahl and Wino”. Khemis’ sound is characterized by the dual, parallel-motion guitar harmonies and big, towering riffs typical of the most popular acts in the style.
Some albums ignite the listener’s imagination with visions of the different ways in which the would-be composers of atrocious musical attempts could be punished, not for their stupidity as they were just born that way, but for forcing it upon the rest of humanity. This is what the Sadistic Metal Reviews are, symbolic impalement for the weaklings that overstep their bounds. Maleficence – Journey to the Depths
That at a first glance even the classics of black metal appear to be simple, minimalist patterns stringed together is one of the most misleading aspects of the genre. Being a music born out of elitism and of outstanding men, black metal was not meant to be understood by the undermen, the subpar scum made up not by a particular race or ethnicity (which is what the undermen who do not understand Nietzsche actually think) but by the half-assers and those with limited neural capacity. When these imbeciles get together to make what they believe is black metal, all they can come up with is meaningless satanic gibberish that is both blatantly shallow and evidently ironic bullshit.
Satanic Ripper – Southern Black Spells
This is the kind of album that is reviewed sadistically because there is nothing to it. It is not the worse, but it isn’t actually good either. It is your average Sarcofago descendant that makes the same sort of unimproved rubbish as their idols. Add in some squealing leads here and there. Randomly located, of course, these things don’t mean anything. Satanic is Satanic. Praise the Dark Lord. So scary. So black metal. So trve, man.And then reveal your sludge-doom occult rock influences. Take your boring shit elsewhere.
Third Ion – 13-8Bit
Streamlined Dream Theater pseudo-prog, a bit of 8-bit sounds here and there and gay power metal vocals that sometimes drift into Disturbed-like colorations. Contrasting sections for major impact. Reciting of Petrucci-like patterns in the riffs, the phrygian mode has to make an appearance. Disorganized, pointless, showy, unoriginal, thoughtless. Made even more annoying by the way these musicians go out of their way to say “look at me!, look at me!”. Kill that drummer and his ill-placed polyrhythms.
Tyrant Goatgaldrakona – Horns in the Dark
The brutal riff syndrome. Although the band manages to put together riffs that are derived from each other, each song is made of a short progression of ideas that just ends. As ideas, the problem is that they are not concluded in any sort of way. Does all music have to be Beethovenian conclusion-oriented music? No, it doesn’t. But if you make music that appears to do that and then you fail to give appropriate conclusions, then, you have failed. Tyrant Goatgaldrakona, you have failed.
I used to spend a lot of time plagued by the question of whether one can really judge experimental metal. At first glance, this may sound silly, because the tools of music criticism don’t disappear from a little experimentation. You can still ask how derivative it is; what the structure is; if the riffs are any good; and so on. But problems emerge when one realizes that there have been pieces of music throughout history which really defy all convention. I’d put forth Gyorgi Ligeti’s “Atmospheres” as an example which has no melodic or rhythmic content (and in some sense no harmonic motion either).
Many of you are already screaming at your screen: “Atmospheres” makes you feel something. It is highly unsettling and successfully elicits emotions and responses in the listener. The only objective we need in evaluating music that breaks with tradition is if it successfully does what it intends to do or elicits an emotional response from the listener. I agree this is one possibility, but I reject the idea that abstract art has to have some objective or emotional goal to be worth engaging with. Think of beautiful paintings of fruit. Some may feel moved by it, but I think it is a stretch to claim this is where its value lies. Its worth is in the pure aesthetic experience it gives. Often this is beauty, but we could say “Atmospheres” is worth listening to for its coherent new aesthetic experience it provides. In fact, many other works of Ligeti do not have the emotive experience for justification but are all part of his unified aesthetic vision.
I should address whether this question is even worth thinking about. I think it is, because if we don’t have a way to distinguish quality, we’ll find ourselves randomly accepting or rejecting anything that defies convention. I’ve seen both extremes: the art hipster that defends to the death the greatness of a blank white canvas to the pop idolizer whose ears bleed at anything other than a I-IV-V-I progression over a 4/4 rock beat. Neither extreme is good music criticism, because both are ideologies that pre-judge rather than evaluate an album on its own terms. This means we have to give some thought to the question of whether it is even possible to judge music that pushes the boundaries. I’ll admit that basically no metal album, no matter how experimental, will be so extreme that we lack all ability to use traditional criticism. That’s not the point.
I, and most other reviewers, often get lazy and gloss over anything that is difficult to engage with. I find myself reviewing albums as traditionally as possible and only throwing in mention of experimental aspects without much thought. It usually takes the form of the above ideological lines by pointing out the experimental aspects as “original.” This tends to make any experimentation come across as a good thing in my reviews (when I’m being lazy).
One way I like to think of the messiness of experimentation in music is through an analogy to other arts, even though the analogy isn’t perfect or historically accurate. One could say that abstraction techniques in painting arose in part due to an identity crisis. Early paintings were very much about accuracy and representation of the world: portraits, landscapes, still lifes, etc. Probably in part due to the birth of photography (though it started a bit earlier), painters needed to add a human element to be able to justify its purpose. “The Weeping Woman” by Picasso may be a portrait, but it deviates from an accurate depiction of the woman in order to more powerfully portray her emotional state. A perfect picture of the woman couldn’t capture the tragedy and suffering so well. What I’m trying to say is that painters realized they could experiment in order to filter something through a point of view to create a messier, more human art.
Music usually lacks a subject, so in some sense the starting point is closer to abstract expressionism in painting. Strangely, music tends to be more rigid than painting for various reasons usually involving time. If your song is in 4/4, it is very difficult to make something sound messy, because members of a band are locked in an orderly pattern. One way to add a messy, human element is change up the time signature. This gets us to a value judgement. Take a stereotypical progressive metal band, Between the Buried and Me, for example. Often their use of varied time signatures comes across as tidy, carefully planned, and gimmicky. This is an example of bad experimentation, because it doesn’t fulfill its purpose of making something sound original, messy, or unexpected. Say what you will about Behold… the Arctopus, but at least they fulfill their purpose of experimenting with time to disorient the listener.
This brings us back to an earlier point. We can judge the experimentation on whether it fulfills its purpose. Theodor Adorno has probably written and thought about experimentation in music more than any other person. One of my favorite points of criticism from him is his explanation of how terrible it is when the sound of music is in contradiction with its purpose. He uses as an example Joan Baez singing protest music against the Vietnam War. She completely undermines her point about the senseless, incomprehensible violence of war by wrapping the song in a neat, easily digestible pop song. How can making war palatable possibly fulfill the purpose of a song that war is not palatable?
A great example of a metal album in which the sound fulfilled its purpose is At the Gates’ With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness. It isn’t quite experimental in the sense we’ve been discussing, but it serves as an example of metal where the sound reinforces the content (which, let’s be honest, was an important factor in much early death metal). We’ve reverted to easy cases again. Before tackling the hardest cases, I think one easy-to-spot bad thing is what I call an “experimentation poseur.” The album is fairly boring and uninventive, so the band tries to hide this and appeal to a certain crowd by throwing in some experimentation. Not only does this cover-up not work, it is embarrassing, because it is so obvious to an intelligent listener that you are trying to fool them. Something like Buckethead, Iwrestledabearonce, or much that self-identifies as “mathcore” work for examples. Harder cases are Jute Gyte, Psyopus, Behold… the Arctopus, and Cloak of Altering. These bands are uncompromising in their difficulty throughout the whole album. They also appear to have something like a coherent and consistent aesthetic vision which differs vastly from other metal. As proof, give me a new track I’ve never heard from one of those four bands, and I will have no difficulty telling you which one wrote it.
I often hear the complaint that anyone can create an ugly mess of noise with no structure or feeling, reminiscent of the complaint that anyone can drizzle paint on a canvas like Pollack. We’ve already addressed why this is lazy criticism. But it is also intellectually dishonest, because I don’t think anyone but the most skilled musicians could copy these bands. Anyone that thinks they merely “dripped ink onto a staff” and played whatever happened hasn’t really listened to them, and frankly, is so disengaged from honest discussion that their opinions can be dismissed as irrelevant. They sound nothing like Milton Babbitt, for instance, which basically wrote music using a dice roll. This is not to say any of these band’s albums are good. Figuring this out is the point of the discussion: how can we tell? Hopefully those who were skeptical about the question originally can see its relevance now. I must come back to this idea of the pure aesthetic experience. Now I’ll reveal that I stacked the deck with these four choices. I think we can give rough tiers for each of these band’s most recent albums.
Psyopus tends to be absurd for the purpose of being absurd. This means they have a lot of internal inconsistencies in their sound and musical language. One moment they play fast chromatic riffs, the next they glissando up and down, the next they drone with a girl shouting. It tends to be all over the place with the only goal to be different or weird. This is not a high quality aesthetic experience. I’d level the same charge at Cloak of Altering, but a step up. He is a bit more consistent, and I think the album has more worth.
Jute Gyte is much better. His musical syntax is more internally consistent. After a few listens, the album makes sense within its context. It isn’t microtonal for the sake of being different, it’s microtonal because that is a deliberate and consistent aesthetic choice he makes. I’ll reiterate, you may not personally find the experience worthwhile, but it is justifiable as a work of experimental metal. This is the whole point of experimentation. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
I know, 90% of you just shit your pants and decided to leave the site forever, because I’m about to say that Behold… the Arctopus is the highest tier of this list. It would take another post as long as this one to make the argument, but the key idea is the same. They have a consistent tonality, sound, style, musical syntax, and so on which creates a coherent aesthetic experience. I have no problem with someone listening to it and saying, “Nope. Still a worthless waste of time,” in the same way that I have no problem with someone looking at a Rothko and saying, “Nope. That’s just rectangles, not worth looking at.” The thing is, art criticism is old enough and mature enough that someone can separate that personal reaction from the idea that Rothko had a legitimate aesthetic program.
Thinking about metal as art is a bit too new. We tend to treat our personal taste and reaction to an album as the final word. All this is to say, I think there are ways to tell the difference between crappy experimental metal which tries to dupe a certain crowd into praising them and legitimate experimental metal which has a concrete aesthetic program being carried out in earnest. It is an important step in treating metal as art to have serious discussions on the worth of various experimental bands, but we can’t do that if we get stuck in the mindset that all the ones we don’t like are equally bad.